Friday, October 29, 2010

Sure, vote for the Teabbagers, and take the country back to the Stone Age

If you have not seen Keith Olbermann's recent special comment on the Tea Party, it is a must-watch. He goes over the lunacies and retrograde ideas that teabagging party members are pushing to basically drive this nation back instead of forward. I don't particularly like the current administration either, but electing these asshats would be a step backwards. Then again, it seems most people in this nation have left their critical thinking and reason at the door (assuming they had any to start). And don't even get me started on the hypocrisy of many teabaggers who rail against government and try to make it the enemy even as they themselves feed off the government via benefits, subsidies, etc. We are basically looking at madness, pure and simple. Anyhow, watch and discuss.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making my stand

(This is cross-posted from The Gypsy Librarian)

"We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!" --Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, from the film Star Trek: First Contact.

I have been attentive to what has been going on with the recent suicides of gay youths due to bullying up to and including the incident of the bigoted school board member in Arkansas. I have written some things in response, but so far, I kept them in my personal journal. The more I listen and watch and ponder, the more difficult I find it to stay silent, to not stand up, to not say anything. So my three readers can consider this post the one where I draw the line because bullies and bigots come and think they can get away with their crimes and uncivilized behavior. Well, no more. Not if this librarian has anything to say about it, and I do have a thing or two to say. What follows are two small items I wrote earlier that I am ready to share.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 6, 2010:

I've been wanting to blog about the recent bullying and suicide stories, but I am not sure what approach to take. Jeff Jarvis, in discussing the tragedy at Rutgers University, summarized it well: "It is a story of human tragedy." What we have here is not just an individual failure. We have a community failure from the parents of those bullies who very likely failed to instill good values like common decency to a society that pretty much is willing to accept bullying. That we had more than one suicide due to bullies in less than a month was probably enough for the media to cover it. But if it had been just one suicide in some small town, no one else would have heard about it, and people in that small town, with the exception of the victim's relatives, would have likely chalked it up to "boys will be boys" or some similar line. A line such as "kids in school will always be kids" should never be an acceptable cover or excuse for bullying, hazing, harassment, or other kind of anti-social behavior. That adults consistently use that excuse reflects a serious lack of character and compassion.

But there is another reason I find it difficult to blog about it. It means making my views more public in a fairly hostile environment. But if I don't stand up and speak, then who will? For me, this is the right thing to do, and yet I have my fears. As a librarian, I struggle with the illusion many in the profession hold of neutrality against the belief that we should help educate, that we should not only provide information but use our best professional judgment in providing good, accurate, and reliable information. Taking a stand breaks that illusion. It raises a flag stating that this is what I stand for and what I will defend or oppose. Yet, if I remain silent, it would not be right. I don't think anyone said this profession would be without some risk. Then again, every time I blog, or even post a shared link online, there is the risk of offending somebody, somewhere, maybe even a future potential employer. A lot of librarianship is about image, and it is a pretty small profession where the wrong blog post can get you shunned. I try not to let it bother me. I try not to self-censor more than is necessary. But I am finding it harder and harder to stay silent. The truth needs to be spoken. We have to take a stand for what is right. In my case, writing and blogging are my ways to do so.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 11, 2010 (National Coming Out Day)

Today is National Coming Out Day. I think it has a special significance this year given the series of LGBT youth suicides due to bullying. As Jeff Jarvis said in a post I read a few days back, those deaths are a human tragedy. 

What I am thinking about today is the bravery of those LGBT folks who do choose to come out, whether today or any other day. Maybe that is just what moves me to be an ally. Maybe it's that I think everybody should be able to love whomever they like and not be discriminated against on that basis. That civil rights should be rights for all, not just for some. That if you choose to live in a committed relationship of marriage, the gender of those involved should not be an issue for receiving the rights and responsibilities of marriage. 

But what does it have to do with me? I am a straight male (at least I was last time I looked, haha!), so one would think I have nothing to gain or lose. In fact, I may have more to lose--from folks suddenly thinking I may be gay to workplace concerns; East Texas is not a particularly friendly place if you do not fall within its norms and parameters. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I do it because I look forward to the day where coming out won't matter because it will not be an issue. Just like I hope for a day when no one is judged by race, handicap, so on, I look to the day no one is judged by their sexual orientation. I don't think I will live to see that day given how much work and education this nation needs before it truly embraces diversity. But I hope that some day, maybe in the days of my daughter's grandchildren, they will look back at our society and say things like "what the fuck were they thinking?" or "discriminating because someone is gay? How quaint." Maybe some day, and I hope that day arrives sooner rather than later. 

In the meantime, coming out (as an ally) is the small part I can do to bring about better days. It is my small way of saying to those in the LGBT community and the rest of the allies that they are not alone. It is my way of saying that as a librarian my skills and knowledge are at the community's disposal, and if I can't find a resource, I know someone who does know. I am here for those who may need a supportive person. 

Do I want to be "that" librarian? I sure do. It's the decent thing to do, and I cannot do anything less. And if certain coworkers don't like it, then let them stew in their bigotry. They will either see the error of their ways and do the right thing, or history will simply pass them over. 

I thought I could remain silent, but I can't. Not anymore. I am coming out, and I am letting others know.

* * * *

Other readings I had in mind at the time I was writing: 

Update Note: (11/1/10): Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the Academic Librarian, picked up on this post, and he wrote a very detailed, thoughtful, and reasoned response on librarians and our neutral (or not) stances. It is worth reading it in its entirety.  

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Wired comes up with 7 skills you should have

    I started this post merely as a small note about the article for my commonplace blog, Alchemical Thoughts. What started as a small note turned into a short post, so I decided to crosspost it here to share it with my three readers.

    * * * * 
    I thought this was a pretty neat list. I don’t agree with all of it, but there are some very good items. The two items I would emphasize right away are:
    The first one on statistical literacy. This is a must. We need as a society to do a much better job in teaching people about statistics, how to figure basic ones out, and how they are used and misused. I liked the suggested assignment of comparing a liberal blog versus a conservative blog. This assignment is very good, and it should be something an average, well-informed citizen, “well-informed” being the key concept, should be able to do:
    Daily Kos Versus
    Find three examples of the same set of numbers presented in entirely different ways on the liberal blog Daily Kos and Andrew Breitbart’s conservative Big Government site. In each case, show which source is using the more aggressive spin and determine which side—if either—is being more honest in its presentation of the facts.
    How often are you watching the news, and you get pundits debating back and forth about the latest numbers of such and such from the CBO (that’s the Congressional Budget Office). You think to yourself, “well, the CBO is nonpartisan, so the numbers must be good.” Sure, the numbers are probably fine, but you have to pay attention to how they are actually being used. And then you have figures and polls from all sorts of agencies, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, so on, which often have a bias or a particular agenda. I am not saying that some of those agendas are bad (personally, I think working towards things like social justice are important), but you still have to keep those things in mind. Expanding on that, this is where I would add a good course on information literacy, where you learn to evaluate information, more than just the statistics. So, if it was me, I would do more than just statistical literacy. We need broad ranging information literacy.
    Second, I definitely like the Post-state Diplomacy course. Folks in the U.S. need some serious education on international affairs and how the world works right now. The folks at Wired write:
    “Power has always depended on who can provide justice, commerce, and stability. Successful insurgents aren’t just thugs; they offer their members tangible benefits—community, money, education, and a sense of order (even if the rebels are the ones creating disorder in the first place). We must learn how they gain loyalty, even if our goal is to undercut it.”
    Again, I don’t think the folks at Wired go far enough. It is not only about diplomacy, although that is extremely important. The statement above is not really a new idea; it is an idea that not many people understand or may be aware of. But we also need coursework on global awareness and citizenship, and I would also add geography.

    The rest of the article is worth reading as well. Each skill description does include a “reading list” (I put it in quotes because some of the suggestions may be links to videos or other non-print material) and some questions you may want to consider. Whether you do some of the assignments or not, thinking about them may help you expand your horizons a bit more.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    Signs that economy is bad, October 15, 2010 edition

    Welcome to yet another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. Just a couple of items this week from my never-ending quest to find those oh-so-subtle signs that the economy is in the crapper. Sure, any pundit can tell you that unemployment is high, that business and employers are pocketing the bailout and stimulus money rather than using it to hire people (so, still believe giving them tax breaks gives incentives to hire?), foreclosures are still going on, so on. It takes a bit more effort to find the little hints. This week we seem to have a focus on higher education, where the pinch is also being felt. It seems society overall is not too keen on the notion of investing in students now to get some fruits later. The cost cuts are often short term measures, and college keeps getting more unaffordable. But hey, we can always import workers from Asia to work for Microsoft and let our young people join the service economy; they don't need degrees for that, do they?

    The signs for this week:

    • Colleges begin to outsource their operations to private companies. Arizona State U. has decided to outsource a lot of their distance education to some for-profit education company. Sure, the administrators say it is cheaper to do so, but one always has to ask at what price for the quality. And the question I would really have to ask: how long before a corporation, this one or some other, just takes over a whole university? 
    • This university in New York is just flat out giving up on foreign language programs. According to the Washington Post article, "the State University of New York at Albany has generated a stir in the higher education industry with its announcement this month that nearly all of its foreign language offerings will be discontinued, along with the theater department, because of budget cuts." You read that right: no more foreign language education in that school. Oh wait, Chinese instruction got spared. However, there is a reason for that: the Chinese government gives the school a subsidy for instruction in Chinese. I am thinking this may be a line of fundraising for schools wanting to keep their foreign language programs: just get governments of nations to fund teaching of their languages in American schools. Why the hell should Americans have to pay for teachers and resources to learn something other than English? Those governments want Americans to travel there for tourism, business, etc., let them pony up for the language teaching. (And  yes, I am saying that with a sarcastic tone, in case someone wanders in and thinks I am pulling a "poe.") 

        Wednesday, October 13, 2010

        If I had to get a literary tattoo

        This story out of WBUR's On Point program about people who have tattoos with literary themes caught my attention. I have a sort of love-hate relationship to tattoos. I think that a well-made tattoo by a good artist on the right person can be a beautiful work of art. The problem, and here is where the hate comes, is that a lot of people get cheap ink jobs that look horrible; instead of enhancing their body image, it makes things a lot worse. But since I am a live and let live sort of guy, I say to each their own. But I wondered for a moment what would I get if I had the option to get a tattoo with a literary theme. I am declaring what I would get inked on me if I ever got the guts to actually do it (let alone the money to pay for it).

        • First, I want a tattoo of the old World War II-era propaganda about "books are weapons in the war of ideas." See the two illustrations below. I think I would prefer the one with the eagle diving and the motto on the ribbon, but the other one is cool too. You see, any librarian can just go and get a favorite book passage inked on their body. Me? I am not just a librarian, but I am an information warrior, an agent who fights disinformation and ignorance, and books are indeed my weapons. You try to come at me with your ignorance, you better come armed. I know I will. 
        • Two, I want a simple scroll or ribbon with the phrase "Sapere aude." This is latin for "Dare to know," although some translate it as "dare to discern" or "dare to be wise." Again, what is more appropriate for a librarian, especially one who believes in our educational mission, in our mission to help others find good, reliable, accurate information and thus help dispel ignorance and misinformation? In order to do so, the librarian has to become knowledgeable and wise. He or she has to dare to know whatever is necessary in order to wage war against ignorance, misinformation, fear mongering, so on. I probably would want the phrase written out in a nice cursive script. 

        Anyhow, not that I am likely to get inked. For one, I am not sure I could stay still long enough for an artist to put the ink on  me. Two, well, there is the matter that I am a bit on the hairy side; if I was a bit shorter, I could have played Gimli in that Lord of the Rings flick.  That probably was a bit more information than my two readers wanted to know. Anyhow, just some idle thoughts.

        A hat tip to LISNews.

        Friday, October 01, 2010

        Tea Party is pretty much a GOP instrument

        This is another one of those posts where I say that to find good journalism you have to go outside the usual news sources. I ask, as I asked before, why am I reading this in the music magazine of all places? Rolling Stone has a very good article by Matt Taibbi on the tea party. The author is certainly more brave than I am. He actually went out and spent a good chunk of time with tea partiers to learn what makes them tick. It turns out that there is not a whole lot of substance making them angry. It's mostly angry with some resentment over the fact that the country is changing. One of those changes is the fact that other ethnic groups, like African-Americans and Latinos, are becoming majorities. So the White folks are suddenly feeling persecuted. That, and a few other things that Mr. Taibbi explains a lot better. The article is worth a look, but sadly it is the type of good, solid writing that a lot of people will miss. Why is this kind of stuff not being covered in the main news channels? Why is it those channels pretty much give a free pass to whatever the tea baggers preach even when it is utter nonsense?

        There are some passages from the article I want to note and comment on.

        This takes place at a rally in Kentucky.

        "A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries as they cheer on the vice-presidential puppet hand-picked by the GOP establishment. If there exists a better snapshot of everything the Tea Party represents, I can't imagine it." 

        The irony of this practically writes itself. Of course, these hypocrites fail to see the irony for, as Mr. Taibbi points out, it's ok to cut programs as long as it is not their programs. These tea baggers are the only ones deserving of government largesse. Everyone else is a free loading slacker.

        Taibbi goes on to say,

        "But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending — only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending — with the exception of the money spent on them." 

        The hypocrisy is pretty much appaling, especially if you have half a brain. I ask not only why does the "regular" press not pick up on this, but why does anyone actually listen to these people? A lot of them are rejects from the past administration who pretty much fell asleep at the wheel when said administration was basically spending the nation into bankruptcy, and now suddenly they feel outraged. And they do it while collecting on the dole. These are people who, sure they may have a right to expression, but they should be laughed right out of the public square with other crackpots.

        Taibbi then goes on to suggest that the rest of us who know how the American system of government actually works may end up getting the last laugh. Sadly, this is not good news. It is pretty tragic when you think about it, but it is something that people in this country have allowed to happen, again by falling asleep at the wheel. What the tea baggers fail to see is:

        "But what they don't realize is, there's a catch: This is America, and we have an entrenched oligarchical system in place that insulates us all from any meaningful political change. The Tea Party today is being pitched in the media as this great threat to the GOP; in reality, the Tea Party is the GOP."

        George Carlin said it so well (link to YouTube for the routine):

        "I'm talking about the real owners now... the real owners. The big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They’ve long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the state houses, the city halls. They got the judges in their back pockets and they own all the big media companies, so they control just about all of the news and information you get to hear. They got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying. Lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want. They want more for themselves and less for everybody else. . . . "

        Exactly. The two party system in this country, combined with a mostly selfish population that would rather vote on the results of American Idol or worry about Snooki's latest skank stunt, pretty much assures that nothing will really change in this nation no matter who you vote for. The tea party, when you really think about it, is pretty much the latest iteration of people being easily manipulated and then co-opted by the big interests, by the real owners.  It's kind of depressing when you think about it. Certainly does make you wonder if voting is even worth it at this point given that both parties are pretty much bought and paid for. I cannot help but wonder if the United States will ever get to the point where it is basically one big corporation, and the only way to "vote" is by owning stock in the corporation. This is certainly not a new idea. See the novel Snow Crash for instance, where the U.S. government pretty much has given the nation away to businesses and corporations. Or you can see the concept taking root in the film Robocop 2, where the OCP CEO says that every citizen, once OCP took over Detroit, would have a a "living unit" clean, quiet and safe, and as for voting, well, citizens could buy OCP stock. We are not that far from such a future, and it is inane, selfish fools like the tea baggers who will enable it all the while cheering the big interests on.

        And back to the article, talk about a con job:

        "So how does a group of billionaire businessmen and corporations get a bunch of broke Middle American white people to lobby for lower taxes for the rich and deregulation of Wall Street?"

        It turns out it is pretty easy to do. It is easy when  you have those high interests making sure that the common folks (even though in some cases, if we look at the tea baggers, they are not that "common," but the label will work for our purposes) stay misinformed and pretty much mostly illiterate. We are talking about people who are pretty much incapable of critical thinking. Heck, the real tragedy is that they are not even aware of their own incompetence. By the way, here is a bit I wrote a while back that includes something on competence theory.

        By the way, the article is worth reading just to get the list of five things you will hear from every tea bagger ever interviewed. Go on and read the article. Taibbi goes on to say that the tea baggers are not so much racist as they are narcissists. I think he is being charitable. These people are racists, and just because they are mostly clueless, does not make them any less racist. Remember these are the folks that, though they rail against bailouts, are happy to vote for rich people getting tax breaks while they blame poor Black homeowners for the economic crisis. Funny how that works.

        I am going to jump to the end of the article, not because the rest of it is not interesting. Far from that. This is a must read. I am jumping because Taibbi's conclusion is something that definitely pisses me off as well. In large measure, it ticks me off because I make an effort to stay well informed. Sure, part of it is because I am a librarian, but it is also because I think that being well informed, thinking critically, and then speaking out are elements of the democracy, a democracy that is pretty much on its last legs unless some serious stuff happens (some serious education reforms may be a good start). I hate being a pessimist; I really do, but I am getting to the point where I just have to say certain things. Taibbi writes:

        "Of course, the fact that we're even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter's unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party's incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms." 

        That is what really gets me. That people's attention spans are so short that they are willing to throw it all away just because change does not come in fast enough. And I am not defending the current administration. Deity of choice knows they have not delivered on a lot of what they promised, they  have been wusses pretty much when they should have been aggressive and enacted true reform, and they pretty much turned out to be the same corporate whores as the other guys. But that people are even willing to consider going back to the politicians and party that wrecked this nation for eight years is the epitome of stupidity. It's more than just masochism. It is plain selfishness and misdirected anger born of misinformation and willful ignorance. The evidence is there for anyone who wants to see it. Of course, for those like the tea baggers, it is easier to go to rallies on a Medicare paid scooter (paid by my taxes by the way) and rail against "big government and big government spending," than it is to think about the common good. And that I really find disgusting, disturbing, and offensive. And so should you.

        A hat tip to Pharyngula.

        The (in)famous First Line Shuffle Meme

        It's Friday, and the two readers who stop by know that it is often quiz/meme day here. Anyhow, I have not done one of these things in a while, so here it goes. Happy Friday to everybody out there.

        As seen in Liz's Tavern, the instructions:Step 1: Put your MP3 or other music player on random. Step 2: Post the first line (or two) from the first 25 songs that play. Step 3: Let everyone guess what artist and song the lines come from. Step 4: Bold when someone gets them right. Of course, you're not supposed to search anything but your memory to find the songs based on the lyrics I post.

        The songs then:

          • Song 1: Never win first place, I don't support the team.
          • Song 2: Broken,/Yeah, you've been living on the edge of a broken dream.
          • Song 3: Step right up and don't be shy.
          • Song 4: I don't look good in no Armani Suits.
          • Song 5: Well you can just believe.
          • Song 6: Haven't we met?
          • Song 7: It's funny how I find myself in love with you.
          • Song 8: Lights go out, and I can't be saved.
          • Song 9: Rat-tailed Jimmy is a second hand hood.
          • Song 10: Summer. . .it turns me upside down.
          • Song 11: When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone.
          • Song 12: I was born an original sinner.
          • Song 13: How can you see into my eyes like open doors.
          • Song 14: I had to escape.
          • Song 15: If you need a little lovin'.
          • Song 16: I hold on so nervously.
          • Song 17: Tell me doctor, where are we going this time.
          • Song 18: My baby don't mess around.
          • Song 19: Call you up in the middle of the night.
          • Song 20: I am the Candyman - Coming from Bountyland.
          • Song 21: On the first part of the journey.
          • Song 22: Please allow me to introduce myself.
          • Song 23: You could never know what it's like.
          • Song 24: Hey driver/where're we going? I swear my nerves are showing.
          • Song 25: A nice breeze blows in.