Friday, October 28, 2011

A few interesting things I've read, October 28, 2011

This is just a list of articles and postings I have read and found interesting. I could not really put them in a specific category, so I am just listing them here to share and highlight. I will probably do this type of post every once in a while since I am always finding interesting (to me) things out there. Whether my three readers find them interesting is another question. As always, feel free to comment.

  • From The Washington Monthly, while civic organizations are pretty much losing members in the U.S., clubs like the Kiwanis and the Rotarians are growing and thriving around the world. Personally, as an adult, I could not care less about clubs and civic organizations. A good number of them always seemed a bit on the elitist side for me. Still, I find interesting how parts of the world embrace these uniquely American organizations whether as status symbols or because they fit well with their social and economic development. 
  • Via AfricaFeed, an article on the Sapeurs of Congo. I found this extremely fascinating: men who, in the midst of the most extreme poverty, save pennies here and there (by means ethical and otherwise at times) in order to dress up in the finest clothes that money can buy. The culture does have ties to anti-war sentiments. 
  • Via Dangerous Minds, a short video of an old (circa 50s or so I think) documentary about Frederick's of Hollywood. The narrator tone blends a bit of the serious straight laced with just a tad of judgmental to add a bit of the sleazy. I find it interesting how back then they do want couples to be sexy so on, and yet it has to be all hidden, what would the neighbors say sort of thing. Personally, I found amusing that there was such a thing as an inflatable bra. Overall, between Victoria's Secret and Frederick's, the latter would have been the choice for the Better Half and me. The article includes a scan of one of their old catalogs. How things have changed. 
  • Via The NYR Blog, on "The Lost Art of Postcard Writing." This seems to be another art that is dying off, people sending postcards in a time when it is easier to just send an e-mail with a photo attached. The article looks at the old tradition of sending postcards when traveling. I don't send postcards much, but when I am traveling on my own, I do try to send my daughter a postcard of the place I may be visiting for her collection. A hat tip to 3 Quarks Daily.
  • Via Mother Jones, Andrew Marantz spends a summer working at an Indian call center.  The whole process, which when you look at it can be quite exploitative, is also fascinating in its scale. These jobs are seen as well paying opportunities (about $2 an hour, $5K a year, assuming workers last that long) in a land where per capita income is about $900 a year. However, the job does come with a lot of costs not only financially for the workers (who have to pay fees for training so on), but also having to become someone else given how they have to learn to lose their native accents. And then the overall picture, which is as U.S. companies lay off people here in droves, they are creating those jobs in India.
  • Via the BBC, The Joy of Sex was a revolutionary book in its time during the early 1970s. It turns out it faced some challenges in terms of illustrating it. I found the article interesting in light of our times now when we pretty much take for granted that a sex manual or similar book will have photos in it.  Read about "How the Joy of Sex was Illustrated." Keep in mind that the book has been updated since then, and yes, it does feature photographs now. Also, the book has opened the way to newer versions and topics. 
  • Here is one in time for Halloween. Via the Fine Books Blog,  a piece on the grimoire of H.P. Lovecraft. This is basically about fictitious books that Lovecraft created for his stories. A fascinating look at some occult volumes. To be honest, some of these books sound more interesting than stuff I come across with regularly. 
  • Tracy Clark Flory interviews sex writer and activist Susie Bright for Salon. This is one that has been sitting in my feed reader's cue for a while, and I finally got to read through it. Learn a bit about her views on the feminist movement and where it went wrong (something that I do agree with), her work, and why she hates the term "casual sex" as well. An interesting piece not just because of her life, which is interesting in itself, but also because it looks at how times have changed and how much more there is to go. The article also mentions her memoir, which I have listed on one of my "books I want to read" lists.

        Friday, October 21, 2011

        Signs that the economy is bad, October 21, 2011 edition.

        Here are the signs that the economy is bad for this week. We are mostly looking at college issues, but I will note a few items that came out specifically out of Texas.

        • The Marines may be looking for a few good men, but they are not willing to pay for their education. According to this story out The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Marine Corps is seriously slashing the education assistance benefit for Marines.To make matters worse, the Marines are not the only ones doing this. According to the article, other branches are moving in that direction. 
        • And the indentured servitude continues for college graduates. The outstanding balance on student loans has reached the one trillion dollars mark. Not that society as a whole gives a hoot since they keep electing people hell bent on slashing funding for education overall. Because at the end of the day, people love to give lip service to the importance of a college degree. They just refuse to help pay for it nor invest in the future by educating our young people. Via USA Today
        • People now post signs in front of their homes telling would be thieves there is no loot in their homes. That is just what this man in Austin, TX did after having been robbed twice.  At the rate things are going, a few of us may take this idea and apply it. I may as well tell would be thieves not to bother since I don't have much of value in the house as it is now. Not like I can afford it. Via KYTX CBS 19.
        • Another one via CBS 19: Texas has decided not to feed lunch to prison inmates on weekends.  According to the short pieces, they are doing it to save some money, and the prisoners will still get their nutrition and needed caloric intake. I am not sure if I should really see this as a sign the economy is bad, or just Texas being cruel to prison inmates yet again. 
        • And finally for this week, this one hits close to home. Houston Baptist University's campus paper, The Collegian, reports their library is "likely to lose 80 percent of database funds."  This is not just HBU. This pretty much affects any library in Texas that gets database funding via TexShare, and this includes us here. We are already talking about some massive cuts to resources. I will not comment further in relation to my workplace in the interest of self-preservation, but this story does hit close to home. By the way, this story apparently did not make our student newspaper's radar.

          Friday, October 14, 2011

          Signs that the economy is bad, October 14, 2011

          I wish I could say that I am finding some good light pieces like I used to when I started this semi-regular feature, but the economy is not getting better. If anything, given the oligarchs who insist on pretty much squeezing everyone else for yet a dollar more, and the rest of us, signs are becoming serious. However, I will continue to search for the subtle, and at times not so subtle signs, that the economy is bad. Someone has to do it because we cannot just stay silent about this. Something has to happen. Maybe presenting the signs and evidence is a small start.

          • Colleges are moving to sell off their campus radio stations. Another case of colleges strapped for cash looking to make a quick buck at the expense of something that does benefit students and often gives them a unique voice. Basically, these campuses are selling learning opportunities and silencing student voices to get a few bucks. (via USA Today). 
          • The 99 Cents Only Chain was recently sold.  I am sure a lot of people may say, "so what?" Well, look at who is making profits in the deal, and how they are making said profits. This is basically a chain that caters to the poor, though they are increasingly catering to middle class struggling to find a cheaper deal. That the chain, and others like it, are making more sales in things like groceries is certainly a sign that things are going from bad to worse. FTA: "The majority of the country is suffering in a bleak economic climate with high unemployment and scraping by as they hunt for the cheapest possible way to get food on the table, and the discount retailers and Wall Street are all too ready to capitalize on the desperation." Via Current TV. 
          • A new report states that "nearly one in four U.S. households with children struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families in 2010." In a way, this is not really news. It is pretty common knowledge by now that feeding a household is getting more difficult. This is just more evidence. Via the Food Research and Action Center, and a hat tip to Full Text Reports.  This is one of those things that always gets me: in a nation that is so wealthy as the U.S., they allow children to go hungry on a regular basis. 

              Reading about the reading life, October 14, 2011

              Here we go with another post featuring a few things about the reading life I have recently read. I hope my two readers may find one or two interesting as well. This week there are a couple of items on writing and keeping a journal which made me reflect a bit given that I keep a journal myself. I have been blogging less, especially over at the professional blog. This has been in part due to work being very busy, but it is also due because of some self-censoring. Whether to avoid drama, overkill on a topic, some degrees of retribution (librarianship, for all its claims to tolerance, diversity, freedom of thought, so on, can be extremely intolerant of anyone asking questions outside of the establishment), or just because for some topics in my profession, I just could not care less, my professional blogging has slowed down a bit. That's not a bad thing as I am still writing in my journal, in fact, doing so a bit more these days. Anyhow, it is what it is.

              Here are the links for this week:
              • Article on an Analog Renaissance as people seek out things like typewriters and book binding tools to make zines. Via New York Magazine.
              • Via the Paris Review, on why we need good bookstores. Then again, a lot of their description just sounds like what a good librarian does. So, do they not have libraries in New York (the place the authors discuss)? Then again, a good independent bookstore with people who clearly love books and know what they are doing is a good thing.  
              • Out of the Deustche Welle, a piece on public bookshelves in Germany. What I found neat and interesting about the piece was the care and dedication the local community to maintain the shelves. The shelves are built of quality materials, and they even get sponsors to pay for them. But one part of the article caught my attention: "'It works here because mainly countries in the northern part of Europe have the tradition of common property,' he [ Michael Aubermann from the Cologne civic association] explained. 'People mostly take care of public goods.'" I hate to say this, but sadly, I am not too sure something like this would work in the U.S. Sure, there are places that put simple paperback trading bins or such, but the level of neatness, care and dedication the German communities display I highly doubt would be seen here. That, and given the lack of a common property attitude (here, we get more of the "I've got mine, Jack"), well, you get the idea. Anyhow, I found the idea very neat. 
              • Via The New York Times, a story about McNally Jackson books in Manhattan, which seems to be making a stand against Amazon and the pestilence of e-books (description from the article).  What I found neat about this story is that it shows how a good independent bookstore can survive. You have a good, eclectic, well curated selection with good service and knowledgeable staff. The owner knows she cannot have everything, so she knows her market and acts accordingly. This store offers a lot that you simply cannot get online. 
              • Also via The New York Times, Ok, this is about the reading and writing life. A writer chooses to burn her diaries.  This caught my eye because I do keep a journal (yes, as in the notebook and pen or pencil device). I have been doing it fairly consistently since I went to do my student teaching back in 1992. I do not keep a diary given that I do not write on a daily basis, but I do write on my journal anywhere from once a week to about once a month depending on how busy life may be. I have told the Better Half that I do want my journals burned in the event of my death. In fact, since I want to be cremated (after they take out whatever useful organs there may be), they can use my journals as kindling. Would I reconsider such a decision? Probably not. For one, I have not written anything extraordinary that anyone would want to preserve, and let's be honest, some things are better left buried. It does bring up a point, which is my online writings. I have not decided if I want to exercise the nuclear option on them in the event of my death, but that is a separate topic for another time. A hat tip to Notebook Stories.
              • On the other hand, this article from The New York Review of Books tells about taking care of your notebooks. The article summarizes reasons people want or do keep journals, some of which are my reasons as well. Also, a good, classic notebook has a few advantages over using some notetaker on your smartphone. From the article, some food for thought, "Just think, if you preserve them, your grandchildren will be able to read your jewels of wisdom fifty years from now, which may prove exceedingly difficult, should you decide to confine them solely to a smart phone you purchased yesterday." I would not classify my scribblings as jewels of wisdom my grandkids (or anyone for that matter) would want to read in the future. Then again, I do get a lot of use out of my journal notebooks. Hopefully, I still have some time to decide permanently to burn them or change my mind. . . maybe. 
              • And if you need some inspiration to get reading, Leo Babauta, of the blog Zen Habits, has a nice manifesto on "How to Read More: A Lover's Guide."  Some excellent tips here. One of my favorites from the list: "Find books about exciting stories, about people who fascinate you, about new worlds that you’d love to visit. Forget the classics, unless they fit this prescription." Exactly. 

                    Friday, October 07, 2011

                    Reading about the reading life

                    I am a pretty avid reader, and one of the topics I enjoy reading about is reading. I like reading about books. I enjoy reading about reading habits. I also like reading about what others read around the world. So, I am going to try out using my blog now to jot down some links on items I have found interesting that may not get too much coverage overall.

                    One of the things that catches my eye in the stories related to reading around the world is that, while over here in the U.S we get (or seem to get) all the drama about how e-books will drive print to extinction, in other parts of the world there is concern over getting any kind of book. You find appeals to get people to read more, to write more, to educate themselves. The whole e-book drama has a strong class undercurrent that I find particularly distasteful: the notion that only certain people, if they can afford it, should be able to read and/or have access to books. Here are a couple of examples:

                    •  Via The Vanguard (Nigeria), "Let's educate the nation by writing." This is not just an appeal to make books available. It is an appeal for writers to write. An appeal for publishers to publish the writers' work. For the government to help the publishers. In other words, for a national reading and writing endeavor for a better educated society. Plus, it makes an interesting argument: "It is from thoughts we build nations, the brain exercise in play writing, fiction writing, poetry and story writing can keep thousand of would be criminals out of mischief. . . . " A hat tip to The Literary Saloon.  
                    •  Via the Manila Standard Today (Philippines), Jenny Ortuoste writes about the plight of Filipino creative writers in her column "Books now and ever after." Some of what she writes is stuff that any creative writer can relate to such as having to keep a day job because you can't live off your writing. Then there is the issue of literary writing versus other kinds of writing, such as column writing or journalism. She also asks a key question: "Why are local readers not reading —and buying—the works of Filipino writers?" The author then goes on to present some reasons. This is a well-written and organized piece. A hat tip to The Literary Saloon
                    Another thing that catches my eye is pieces about nostalgia. In a time when everyone rushes to proclaim the death of books, or the death of handwriting, or the death of something else not electronic, there are items that persist.

                    • The Farmer's Almanac still survives. You'd think this publication would have gone extinct by now, but it still perseveres much as it was in its early years. In fact, very little has changed. How do they do it? "The secret of the Almanac writers is poise. They know their worth and take a quiet pride in their heritage. They believe in their knowledge and believe in spreading it, just like Robert Thomas." (via National Post). 
                    • Michael Dirda on Arthur Conan Doyle and memories of those book clubs many of us had in elementary school. I discovered a few good books via book orders from the book club in elementary school. And Conan Doyle's creation, Sherlock Holmes, is one of my favorite literary characters.  (via The Paris Review).

                        Signs that the economy is bad, October 7, 2011 edition

                        Welcome to another week of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. I wish I had more light pieces, but let's be honest. The economy is in the crapper, and there are no signs things will get better anytime soon. Even with the latest announcement that jobs were added in September, the unemployment rate remains a bad 9/1% (via The Los Angeles Times). For that kind of announcement, I do always wonder just what kind of jobs were added because if it was mostly McJobs and part-time work, then that certainly is no real reason to celebrate. However, while the pundits go over big stories, I go out and keep looking for the things not many seem to cover or care about. Here are this week's signs:

                        • More Americans cannot make it on their own and have to move back in with their parents or other relatives. According to the Pew Research Center, "this helped fuel the largest increase in modern history in the number of Americans living in multi-generational households. From 2007 to 2009, the total spiked from 46.5 million to 51.4 million." If you follow the link for the press release, you can find links to the full report and other related materials. 
                        • Here is one that I have not heard much about in the news. According to NACCHO (Nattional Association of County and City Health Officials), "more than half of local health departments cut services in first half of 2011."  Things are not looking good for local health services given that, for instance, " services for mothers and children among the hardest hit." 
                        • Even the college educated and high income earners are filing more bankruptcies. Then again, according to the press release from the Institute for Financial Literacy, the "high income" is at $60,000 or more, which in some places, given cost of living, may not be "that high." Having said that, it is certainly higher than what a librarian often makes, so my sympathy only goes so far. You can download the full report at the first link, which breaks things down also by ethnicity and other factors. 
                        • And then, there is health care. In a nation that pretty much chooses to not cover everyone and make it health care and access a for profit endeavor instead of the universal human right it should be, well, shit happens. According to the fellows at Rand Corporation, health care costs are pretty much wiping out any gains people may have in income. So, if by some miracle you get a small raise at work, the health plan will likely swallow it as the premiums go up. According to the press release, "While the median-income American family experienced a 30 percent gain in income from 1999 to 2009 (from $76,000 to $99,000 annually), health spending grew much faster. The family's monthly health insurance premium grew by 128 percent (from $490 to $1,115), and out-of-pocket spending rose 78 percent over the period (from $135 to $240)." So Americans pretty much embrace the GOP plan: don't get sick (link to YouTube video) and deity of choice help you if you develop some catastrophic medical condition.  And before anyone says "not all Americans embrace that," I will point out, "why do you keep electing them then?" 
                        • As for economic mobility, that is pretty much down the drain as well if you happen to cling to the idea of being middle class. Pew's Economic Mobility Project has a report out on "Downward Mobility from the Middle Class." You may want to take a look. "Defining middle class as those between the 30th and 70th percentiles of the income distribution, this report find that a third of Americans raised in the middle class fall down the income ladder as adults." And there is more. You can get the full report at the link.
                        On a bit of a serious note, I do not think too many "average" people take the time to read reports be they from the government, for instance the GAO (Government Accountability Office) or think tanks (like Rand) or other organizations.  You can find a lot of good analysis and information, but you do have to do some work. While there are organizations like the GAO or the CBO (Congressional Budget Office) that are truly nonpartisan, other organizations is a bit trickier given biases. For instance, there are conservative and liberal think tanks and everything in between in the political spectrum. So skill at evaluating sources is certainly needed and valuable, the kind of skills called information literacy that (most) librarians are good at (and we are happy to teach). At any rate, many of these documents get mined by reporters, and you often hear mentions of them in the news, albeit small mentions. Not many people, if any, actually go out and seek out the reports. I do. When I hear a survey or a study or a report cited in a news article, I will try to find it when possible and at least give it a scan to see if the journalist was accurate or not. This takes effort, but it is the effort needed to be an informed citizen who can vote responsibly. Want to be a more informed citizen? A good place to start is your local library. Librarians, who are skilled and knowledgeable in cutting through the bovine excrement, will be happy to help you find what you need and decide if it is good, reliable information or not.

                        And that's my two cents for this post.