Author: Frank (page 1 of 3)

All Kinds of Michigan Critters

According to the radio, not only are cicadas on the way (though so far the hype has exceeded the reality), but gypsy moths, European chafers, Asian longhorn beetles, Japanese beetles, mosquitoes, and of course the pervasive emerald ash bore are also about to make their presence known. (According to the Michigan State University Extension entomologist they interviewed, the gypsy moth caterpillar is something that “most people are allergic to.” Great.)

I’ve seen wasps, bumblebees, carpenter ants, and a lot of oddly-shaped beetles crawling and/or flying around the house. (Forget about the spiders; they’re around all the time.) The massive infestation of Harmonia axyridis that happened when the temps first started warming up a couple of months ago appears to have largely dissipated, though.

Nature Report

Still no cicadas to speak of. Steve says it’s not been consistently warm enough for them to want to come out.

I have, however, seen lots of birds, including a number I can’t identify (I’m waiting for a field guide on hold at the University library to help with that). One of them I’ve seen twice in the yard this week, pecking at the ground looking for food. It’s a large-ish bird for the type of bird it is—about 7 or 8 inches long, with a long black beak. It’s mainly brown in color, with spots on the tail feathers, but it has a striking black band across its chest and an even more striking stripe of bright red across its nape. I’m really curious to find out what this bird is.

Two Untimely Departures

Tony Randall passed on Monday, followed yesterday by Elvin Jones, probably the greatest drummer (never mind greatest “jazz drummer”) who ever lived.

Jones was born in Pontiac and got his start in the Detroit jazz scene in 1949. He played on some of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, including Charles Mingus’s Pithecanthropus Erectus, Sonny Rollins’s A Night at the Village Vanguard, Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain, and Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. He also played on what some consider the greatest jazz album bar none, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (he appeared on most of Coltrane’s recordings from 1960-1966). Jones also recorded many classic albums as leader of his own combos.

But no mention of Jones in the local papers. Go figure.

Weather Aplenty, But …..

More sudden and unpredictable afternoon cloudbursts today, complete with several suitably ominous lightning strikes and thunderclaps.

But still no cicadas.

Trivial Unanswerable Question of the Day

No titillating “overheards” from Ambrosia today; just a bunch of employees meeting over cheesecake and listening to their benefits person yack about how awesome Blue Shield of Michigan’s health coverage is.

Why this company’s HR meeting was being held in a sidewalk cafe I don’t think I want to know.

UM Museum of Art

Before the dandelion adventure, we paid a brief visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art. (We were thinking of doing part of the 16-site Wander Washtenaw event sponsored by the Washtenaw County Historical Consortium this weekend, but I didn’t get my act together enough to realize that it went on all day yesterday but only three hours today, which wouldn’t have been enough time to do much.) I have passed by the museum almost every day on my way to class or work for the past nine months and today was the first time I’d been inside (pretty pathetic, I know).

They had a fantastic exhibition called “The Changing Garden: Four Centuries of European and American Art” (it goes on through next Sunday), with fantastic engravings, paintings, lithographs, and photos of places like Vauxhall and Versailles, including a fantastic seventeenth-century allegorical drawing depicting the sense of smell, with a couple of French nobles descending an estate staircase with flowers held up to their nostrils and their hounds beating a path in front of them, plus some unexpected stuff: a photograph of the San Gabriel Sanatorium, a place I hadn’t known existed; a photograph of San Francisco’s own Crissy Field; and a photograph of the gardens at the Huntington Library, a treasure in the backyard of my hometown which I’m ashamed to say I’ve never been to.

Apart from the exhibition, there were some astoundingly beautiful pieces of art, including Dirck Baburen’s “Christ on the Mount of Olives” (1620), Bertholet Flémalle’s “The Illness and Cure of Hezekiah” (1614-1675), Daniel Huntington’s “In the Mountain Fastness” (1850), Charles Wimar’s “The Attack on an Emigrant Train” (1856), Eastman Johnson’s “Boyhood of Lincoln” (1868), Christian Adolf Schreyer’s “The Retreat” (1860-1899), and John Stanley’s “Mount Hood from the Dalles” (1871). The only slightly annoying aspect of the collection are the patronizing curatorial descriptions affixed near some of the paintings to alert you to their horrifying political incorrectness.

Reading (Only) What Inspires You

I had this conversation with a friend not too long ago: If you have a ton of books to choose from to read, what’s your strategy? I am myself addicted to having way more books around than I’ll possibly have time to read. This entails choices. Some books you’ll never get to. Some you can weed out by reading reviews, flipping through and gauging whether you really think you’re going to read the book cover to cover, or starting and seeing how you feel once you’ve gotten through a chapter or two.

But what if the book is okay, but not great? Something you feel as though you should finish because you’ve already committed time to it, but are not feeling compelled enough to complete? I used to be of the mind that I had to finish everything I started, but no more.

Elizabeth George, author of the recent Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life [HarperCollins 2004], had a great way of putting it on BBC Radio:

I always tell my students to read up. Always read people whose work you admire. And if you start reading a book and you realize that it’s not good enough and not something that you would aspire to, then just don’t finish the book.


We went to the downtown area today and did some window shopping. West Side Book Shop was one of our stops. I’d never been there, and it’s a cozy, well-stocked store, if a little crowded and tilted more to the antique side than to the standard used-book trade. (There were some fantastic rare books on hand.) We also dropped in at Books in General, which I could spend hours browsing at. There are all kinds of finds there, including a wide selection of rare books that I think might be better than the selection at West Side. This store has a small but thoughtfully gathered British history section, including an amazingly exhaustive (and very Anglo-typical in its compulsiveness) chronology of British historical figures that was unfortunately priced beyond my reach, along with two copies (?) of The Oxford Book of Royal Anecdotes. I also saw a reproduction of the original 1726 edition of Gulliver’s Travels (which I am currently obsessed with; Jonathan Swift is working some sort of spell on me). We played a while with the owner’s dog, a rambunctious and friendly 3-year-old Lab/Chesapeake mix named Lucas who seemed absolutely convinced that my arm was a chew toy (I haven’t been gnawed on like that since I lived with another Lab named Rudy Doogle), and the owner convinced me to buy a used (2004, but not “new”) copy of The Almanac of American Politics [National Journal Group, annually], which no political junkie can (or should) be without.

No to New Library Building in Indiana

Meanwhile, 140 miles away, in Kendallville, IN, a petition is being circulated to stop a proposed $7.9 million library building. Once the opposing signatures are submitted, the library will have 30 days to gather competing signatures. Whoever gets the most signatures wins. The new building is being opposed for the usual reasons. [Story courtesy LISNews.]

The Neighborhood Park

On Tuesday night, Frisinger Park was jam-packed with cars and trucks and a girls’ softball team and their parents and boosters. Passing through the park, which I normally do on my way home as a shortcut, was inadvisable. Wednesday night was less of a zoo, although there were a handful of boys and their dads engaged in softball practice. Last night, the park was deserted, except for a few starlings and sparrows and robins poking in the grass, along with the odd squirrel. The park is full of dandelions in full bloom. When you walk or drive past and there’s a wind, a blizzard of seed-bearing dandelion pods explodes all around you. Fortunately, the dandelion is probably one of the few flora I’m not allergic to.


It was virtually impossible for me to sleep last night. The heat is upon us, and it definitely rises to the top in our house. It was only 65 degrees outside last night but it felt like a Dutch oven indoors, even with two high-powered fans at full blast in the bedroom, except in the basement, which actually did feel 65 degrees.

The TCF Bank clock at the corner of Division and Liberty said 74 degrees this afternoon around 1.00. It felt at least 10 degrees hotter, and with the humidity, who knows what the “real” temperature was. I wouldn’t mind the heat so much without the humidity. I’m a heavy sweater and what days like this do to me is best left undescribed.

Fortunately, there have been winds and breezes all day, along with a freakish burst of torrential rainfall at 3.15 this afternoon that lasted about 10 minutes and vanished with almost as little warning as it started, followed by another more substantial torrent at around 6.15 that left the area around Liberty and William virtually deserted.

I’m told that the rest of the season and summer will be much like this, humid and unbearable for a couple of days and then a break, followed by another torrrid day or two and then another break (except for a time in July and/or August when it will be hellish for several days in a row).

Also Overheard

In between thoroughly (and devastatingly, I might add) trashing the new Wolfgang Petersen “Troy” movie and bemoaning the scariness of having just graduated, two women in Ambrosia were discussing this afternoon why it was that a mutual friend always suffered from the affliction of people developing crushes on him. “It’s because he’s hot but non-threatening,” theorized one. “I’ve always found that the ‘non-threatening’ angle attracts a lot of bisexual women,” chimed in a guy friend who was sitting nearby.

Cautionary Tale

Yesterday I was riding one of the Hatcher elevators with an undergrad who was helping a co-worker cart some ficuses somewhere (aren’t ficuses always either standing in a corner of an office or being carted somewhere?). The co-worker asked him what he was planning on doing after graduation. “Oh, I don’t know, go to law school, I guess,” he said. “I thought about going to grad school, but I’m not that interested in history. So I don’t know what else to do other than law school.”

I wanted to shake him by the shoulders and say, “Don’t do it!” But each of us has to walk his or her own path. I was making the same misguided decision at almost exactly his age. I’m not saying law school is a bad thing, if it’s what you know you want to pursue. But how many of us know anything like that at that age?

I sure didn’t. I got into a law school senior year, not my top choice but by no means a poor school (American University). I had flown out to Washington DC and had almost put a deposit down on a nice apartment in a beautiful brick building in Friendship Heights. And it turned out I hadn’t finished all of my undergrad credits on time. (Long story.) But the crushing doom of not being able to go to law school that September was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. It forced me to spend a long, hot, crappy LA summer looking at myself in the mirror and figuring out what I really wanted out of life (not that I figured it out, but at least I was compelled to think about it). It gave me the chance to come out to one of my best friends from college, and although we’re no longer friends, it was a major step on the road to self-acceptance. And it saved me tens of thousands of dollars and three years of almost certain misery and failure. Because I might have gotten a JD, I might have even been hired at a law firm, but I would not have become a successful lawyer. Not because I couldn’t hack it (although at the time I probably would have had a very hard time hacking it), but because my heart was not in the law. If your heart isn’t in it, it’s hard to succeed in a career as demanding as the law.

Librarians and Value

Three weeks ago, NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty recently did a report on Catholics and John Kerry that has raised some temperatures in the blogopshere. I won’t go into all that, but one blog quotes the reporter as telling American Libraries in February 2000, “Reporters should be thinking about big ideas and can get bogged down in detail. I write stories with blanks and let the library staff fill them in.”

Sounds kind of a strange admission to make, and it’s possible that Bradley Hagerty may be, shall we say, over-reliant on librarians, but the context is still interesting.

The article (not apparently freely available online, so no link, my apologies) is about NPR’s library staff. NPR’s library has 2700 books, 125 serials, news database subscriptions, and tons of clippings, according to the article. There are actually 2 NPR libraries (a research library and a program library, which sounds more like an archive). The main NPR librarian has been there since 1974. The other two librarians are more recent. One of them keeps an updated pronunciation guide that she sends around the offices during election season so the on-air talent don’t mispronounce candidates’ names. The same librarian has a Rolodex (now an online database, I suppose?) of the contact info for every press secretary on Capitol Hill. An assistant managing editor says the librarian can “find anyone on the face of the earth, even on weekends.” From the sounds of the article, the librarians at NPR face a lot of the same issues that most librarians face. For instance, how do you preserve or transform the tapes of old NPR broadcasts, many of which are reel-to-reel? How do you preserve material while also accommodating user needs (reporters needing to use the tape for dubbing copies?).

The paragraph above the Bradley Hagerty quote is full of praise from an NPR editor and producer for the librarians and acknowledgment of the fact that they do the “heavy lifting of research.” True enough.

Etiquette Episodes

A bicyclist and I came to the same narrow passageway in the sidewalk on Maynard in front of Ambrosia and Madras Masala at exactly the same moment today. (There were people at the outddors tables in front of Ambrosia, making the sidewalk even more crowded.) Should I have yielded, or should he have? Neither of us did, and he almost ran into me as he barreled past.

On a related subject, it still surprises me when people cuss on the AATA buses here and the bus drivers yell out, “Watch the language!” Tonight a tough-looking guy used a relatively common cuss word (you might hear it on TV, definitely not network but assuredly cable), not one of George Carlin’s seven dirty words, and the bus driver scolded him and blared the bus’s automated profanity warning message (I didn’t even know there was one).

Mister Tough was surprisingly apologetic (even cowed). One of his pals chuckled and said that in California the inappropriateness of the profanity wouldn’t have even been an issue. He was right.

There are signs posted on buses in Oakland’s transit system warning against profanity, but any bus driver who risked enforcing the ban would court bodily harm. There aren’t any anti-profanity signs on San Francisco’s MUNI system, period. I’ve heard profanity on AATA buses, to be sure, but I think I would have heard more swear words on a single day in the Bay Area transit system than I’ve heard on AATA in six months. I still remember the morning I was sitting on MUNI on the way to work and being forced to overhear an entire conversation between two crackheads, carried out in graphic language (they were in some sort of dysfunctional relationship), about their sexual difficulties.

All of the energy that’s spent on trying to stamp out profanity and “wardrobe malfunctions,” it seems to me, could be much better spent on far more egregious breaches—road rage, for example. Some would say it’s all part of a continuum, and I would find it hard to disagree with that argument. But the “no profanity” rule on buses seems an awful lot like using a submachine gun to try to kill a gnat.

Local Non-Politics

Speaking of the local election story, the front page article on the subject mentions that Ann Arbor mayor John Hieftje has a Republican challenger in this year’s election—former City Council member Jane Lumm. It would be nice to know what Hieftje and Lumm’s positions are on local issues. The article doesn’t go into that. Neither does another article on the same subject in the Local section. The Local article quotes Lumm as saying that she knows it will be an “uphill battle” to unseat Hieftje, but other than that, nothing about Lumm, nothing about her positions, nothing about why she’s running other than because—well, who knows? Because the sky is blue? Did the reporter even bother to ask?

Scold, Scold, Scold

In today’s Ann Arbor News, there was a huge (why so huge, I don’t know, but it obliterated a far more important story about upcoming local elections) front-page article about high school kids and their midriff-baring and short-skirt fashions and the “tensions” that said fashions are creating. Apropos of not much, in the midst of the article, one student complains that a school media librarian pulled her aside one day last year and chastised her for wearing a too-short skirt. Whether it was appropriate for a librarian to be giving a high school student sartorial tips is neither here nor there. But what does the librarian’s librarianship have to do with the focus of the article? Is it that only a teacher or a principal should have been scolding the student, if someone was to be doing the scolding? Or is it a way of subtly reinforcing the stereotype that librarians are all shushers and scolders and fussbudgets and nags at heart, no matter where they’re employed or what year it is?

Here We Go Again

On tonight’s broadcast of The Connection (an NPR-affiliated radio show):

Blogs offer a constant rush of political opinion: the gloating, the jeering, and those knockout punches. But not everyone thinks bringing punditry to the people is a good thing. New Yorker writer George Packer argues that by blurring the line between journalism and pure rant, blogs may not be the best thing for democracy …. George Packer feels that blogs are a culture of people commenting on other people’s comments.

And what are newspapers and magazines? A culture of ….. anonymous sources and power-wielding officials feeding tomorrow’s pre-approved tripe to profit-driven news sharks. The calm, cool, and collected Connection host, Dick Gordon, bless his heart, sounded as though he’d never read a blog until his producer told him he’d have to prepare for tonight’s broadcast.

Apparently George Packer thinks that bloggers should get off their butts and “be reporters” and go out and “talk to people.” True enough. But they already do! I would love it if reporters like Packer actually bothered to read blogs. But no, that would be too much work.

Oops—I mean, that would be reporting !!!!!

“Millions …. Hundreds of Millions”

From this morning’s Free Press:

Historically, Brood X has sidestepped Wayne, Macomb and most of Oakland counties. They were, however, spotted in Bloomfield Hills the last time they came out in 1987.

Go a little west, though, to Washtenaw, Lenawee and southern Livingston counties and you’ll run into them. Millions of them. Hundreds of millions.

I was at work this afternoon and thought I heard the first wave, but it was just someone in the office with some headphones on. When I got home, Steve pointed to a series of definite holes in the dirt near the back patio. Then we stood outside and listened, for several minutes, straining to hear over the blare of a lawnmower: and there it was, off in the distance, a definite cicada song on the breeze.

Summer Reading

Nancy Pearl was on NPR this morning, recommending older political novels to serve as an antidote to all of those scary partisan election-year non-fiction diatribe-tomes on sale at your favorite bookstore. (Some of her recommendations: Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Ward Just’s A Dangerous Friend, and Henry Adams’ Democracy).

She’s got a really appealing presence, she has a sense of humor, she’s charming, she knows her books, and she makes looking for new stuff to read sound fun.

She’s also got a great gig. Librarian, book reviewer, writer, and semi-Oprah rolled into one: how much fun must that be? Plus, she’s fantastic PR for the profession and for the library itself. More power to her.

My only (minor, minor, minor) quibble: Why was the story taped in a bookstore (in this case, Washington DC’s Politics and Prose) rather than inside a library?

No offense—I’m sure P&P is an awesome bookstore—but I’m sure there would have been plenty of libraries willing to open their doors and let Steve Inskeep and Nancy Pearl tape a segment about libraries and summer reading inside their premises. [NPR link courtesy LISNews.]


We’re having regular thunderstorms and thunderstorm forecasts this time of year. Having never experienced thunderstorm season in the Midwest, I find it fascinating. Last night, for example, a fairly rambunctious storm rumbled through at about 11. Tonight, on the other hand, while I was at work, there was a brief burst of rain and thunder, making me kick myself for having not brought an umbrella. It lasted about 10 minutes, then nothing; in fact, the sky cleared up. I’m used to rain and storms being a days-long, miserable, unpleasant event, as they are in the Bay Area during the intermittent rain seasons they have there. The thunderstorms here are actually (thus far, anyway) a pleasant interlude. I’m sure, as with most of my weather expectations, something will eventually come along to change my outlook, but so far I’m enjoying the rain, fleeting though its presence may be.

Cicadas and Libraries

It amuses me, I’m not sure why, that there are more articles on the upcoming cicada infestation in the Washington Post (a search of the Post website shows 17 separate articles on cicadas in the last week alone) than I’ve seen in the local papers, although I suppose the Post’s cicada watch amounts almost to a case of hysteria. There’s this from a May 6 article, a brief mention of the Kensington Park Library in Kensington, MD, and its cicada plans:

To help preschoolers deal with the invasion, children’s librarian Linda Swanson has scheduled an earlier program featuring insects as positive creatures. Come picnic day, “we’ll take a look around at 10 in the morning and see how these cicadas are doing. If there are five of them per square inch, we really don’t have a choice. It’s hard to eat a sandwich if a cicada’s sitting on it.”

Intensity Down a Notch

Seems a little lazier, a little more mellow here than last week (well, except for the freeways, but that’s another story). There were a few people sitting on porches along State Street Row, but less in a party posture than a relaxation posture. Campus was alive and breathing, but not all that hectic: a few classes in summer circles on the lawn, a few Frisbee tossers, a lot of students in shorts and flip-flops. The heat was on: it got up to the mid-80s and it felt hotter and more humid than I can recall it feeling all year. I was grateful for the air-conditioned library today, that’s for sure.

Still on the Beat

« Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still beating ‘em »:

’… The first plane to hit the first Twin Tower
The last plane to hit the last Twin Tower
The only plane to ever hit the Pentagon
The birth of a vast national paranoia
The beginning of the Third World War
(the War Against the Third World)
The first trip abroad by an ignorant president
The last free-running river
The last gas and oil on earth
The last general strike
The last Fidelista the last Sandinista the last Zapatista
The last political prisoner
The last virgin and the last of the champagne
The last train to leave the station
The last and only great nation
The last Great Depression
The last will & testament
The last welfare check for rent
The end of the old New Deal
The new Committee on Unamerican Activities

And so on.

Out Around Downtown

Downtown was (if possible) more packed today than usual. Must have been the nice weather and lots of out-of-towners. We saw a couple of movies at the State (“Latter Days” and “Good Bye Lenin!”—the latter for the second time), poked around at Kaleidoscope (a great, albeit cramped, store just down State from the theater, packed with used books, pulp paperbacks, old magazines, old toys and games, and all kinds of other cool stuff—like every great find you’ve ever seen at a garage sale crammed into one spot) and had dinner at Full Moon, which has taken over the business of Don Carlos, formerly a block south on Main. (Apparently closed—that’s the second Mexican restuarant to shut its doors since we moved here.) A nice evening out.

A Word from the Proprietors

I don’t think it’s a particularly uncommon thing to want to eat out at a restaurant and (if you’re a non-smoker, or if tobacco smoke makes you physically nauseated or you’re allergic to smoke) ask to be seated in an appropriate section. The restaurant we ate at last night made a pretense of seating us in non-smoking and then the server proceeded to get huffy and pissy when we complained that smoke from the smoking section was wafting over and interfering with our meal. She then proceeded to deep-six us and ring up our order only after we’d sat waiting for her to return with our check for fifteen minutes and we’d gotten up and walked up to the cash register. Along with that, she gave us this treacly, sing-songy little sarcastic number about how “oh, sorry,” she’d conveniently “forgotten” our check. Yeah, a really memorable dining experience, for all the wrong reasons. I’d love to have seen what Larry David would’ve done in a situation like that.

On another subject: yes, this blog is full of rants, kvetches, complaints, gripes, invectives, and questions. The point is, we do have that tendency, as do many blogs, partly because ranting is somehow definitionally part of what it is to be a blog (check out other blogs if you don’t believe me). Yet we also have many moments of wonderment, moments of reflection, moments of joy, and moments of beagleness.

So if you are reading us regularly (or even if you just stumbled upon us), and you’re okay with the fact that we sometimes gripe a little more than maybe we should, we’d like to say that we greatly appreciate your patience, your calm, and your support. Thank you.

How Do You Get People to Use the Library?

Here’s a familiar one.

A newspaper (in this case, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune) interviews a handful of undergrads (in this case, at the University of Minnesota) about their research practices. One student says that she goes to the library and uses it as a kind of away-from-home study hall, but uses it for nothing else. She complains that the library website is hard to navigate and that the library charges fines if a book is a day late.

Other common undergrad library use perceptions: The library system is too big and too daunting. Students want one answer and they want it now (“gimme gimme gimme”). Students like studying at Borders or Barnes and Noble; they can browse, find items quickly without having to memorize LC or Dewey Decimal numbers, take books off shelves and put them back when they’re done, don’t have to check anything out, and all of the books have new covers and attractive dust jackets. (All of the books in the library have had their jackets removed and are therefore “old” to the students.) They can bring food and beverages into the chain bookstore and not get yelled at or told to leave.

And of course, the big one: Everything you want to find out, you can find out on the Internet.

The one librarian interviewed for this article had exactly the right approach: “The question we are asking is what kind of library does the millennial generation need, not what do we want to give them.” She adds: “Faculty members are so annoyed by the low-quality research students do. I don’t want to let that happen. So what do we do to entice them here and make it welcoming and easy to use the library?”

But who knows how many libraries actually have the resources and the determination to put that mode of thinking into hard practice? Almost any of the remarks undergrads make in this article could be made about the University of Michigan’s library system (or, I imagine, most university library systems). The UM library system intimidated me when I first started using it, and I love libraries and everything about libraries, including the rows upon rows of LC-numbered books without dust jackets. It must have taken me at least a month or two of regular use before I shook the feeling that I wasn’t really supposed to know how to negotiate the library. And I forced myself to use the library for some reason almost every day. How, I wonder, would a freshman on a tight class deadline who’s not used the library extensively before feel upon encountering the vast UM morass?

It’s a tough question, and there are no easy answers, but the implications of finding a set of implementable answers are crucial to the survival of the library as we know it.

[Link courtesy LISNews.]

SFPL Commission Votes to Implement RFIDs

Repetitive stress injury workers’-comp costs as a justification for implementing RFID ….. hmmmmm. That’s a new one on me.

I can’t say (as a public library patron) that I wouldn’t check out books that are fitted with RFID, but it sure would make me think twice. On the other hand, since RFIDs are clearly the wave of the future, no matter how loudly the ACLU and the EFF protest, why groan and moan about it?

But will RFIDs answer this perennial SFPL user question: “When the online catalog says a book is ‘missing,’ does that mean it’s checked out?” [EFF link courtesy]

Library/Google Death Match (Part 2)

As usual, puts it way better (and way more succinctly) than I ever could:

Of course, any librarian knows that the best thing to do is to call your librarian [who is at the library already] and then have her [or him] find the answer which might involve using Google but might not.

Old Newspapers to Be Housed at Duke

Nicholson Baker has announced that Duke University Libraries has agreed to house his American Newspaper Repository collection. To make a long story short, Baker saved a lot of old newspapers in their original runs by organizing a corporation and purchasing the newspapers from various libraries (most of the collection was from the British Library) that were allegedly getting ready to consign them to the Dumpster. He then wrote a book-length diatribe about the ordeal, Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, that, among other things, claimed that vicious, short-sighted librarians were all but deliberately destroying the cultural heritage that newspapers embody. As the originator of the post about this story on LISNews wryly observed, “Maybe now old St. Nich will quit bashing librarians and stick to writing novels.”

Spring Weather

Humidity was fairly high today (now yesterday). I brought a sweater, but the library complex was strangely warmer. It felt like the first really humid, warm day of the year (though I’m sure there have to have been a couple of others). A couple of middle-school girls spent the whole time on the bus home singing some tunes deliberately off-key, setting everyone’s teeth on edge. I went outside around 11.00 and the air was spookily still, then five minutes later, lightning flashed, a warm breeze picked up, and a thunderstorm raced swiftly through the county north and east of Ann Arbor, causing a little rumbling and noise and a strange tension in the air.

File Under: NextGen

There’s an attention-grabbing Library Journal article about “NextGen” users (born between 1982 and 2002) and their attributes. (Courtesy Creative Librarian.) They’re “format agnostic,” they’re “nomadic,” they multitask, they prefer web sites with content richness rather than table-of-contents-centered navigation, and they “find no need to beg for good service.”

Stanford Prison Experiment Revisited

There is a website devoted to the infamous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, at which you can view a slide show and order a video of the episode. The originator of the experiment, Philip Zimbardo (whose Psych 101 course I took as a freshman), told the New York Times (also reprinted on the front page of today’s Ann Arbor News) that he was “not surprised” that the Iraq prisoner abuse occurred.

Although it’s obvious that Zimbardo isn’t a prison booster (indeed, his whole point is that prisons are by definition inhumane), using the aborted experiment for financial gain (especially when the experiment, originally supposed to last two weeks, had to be terminated after six days because of its effect on some of the subjects) seems to me kind of misguided. Not only that, the potential for his remarks to be taken out of context seems immense.

For instance, the crux of the Times article is not that prisons are inhumane and that the penal system needs to be examined, though Zimbardo is quoted as saying something to that effect, but that the Iraq prisoner abuse was no big deal, no significant failure, because these things happen in prisons all the time. That’s a great message to carry away from this whole sordid affair—that it’s just one more grisly event to which to numb ourselves and for which to make allowances and excuses.

Cultural Signposts

“Friends” and “Frasier” are broadcasting their final episodes this week and next, respectively. “Friends” I watched occasionally but never really got the point of. Tina Brown has written a scintillating column in the Washington Post about its cultural significance, so I suppose I’ll re-read that and try to absorb the Zeitgeist. (There’s also an interesting story over at The Smoking Gun about allegations of harassment and other generally inappropriate and over-the-top behavior by the overwhelmingly male scriptwriters for the series.) I guess the hype and the nostalgia are more about the “lifestyle” (imaginary though it may have been) that the show represented, as well as the pre-reign-of-terrorism time that the show harked back to, than the show itself and its soon-to-be-fading-celebrity multimillionaire stars.

“Frasier” I watched a lot more. I enjoyed some episodes, found Kelsey Grammer sometimes sublimely funny but generally irritating beyond description, and lost interest once Niles and Daphne got together after, oh, seven years of mooning and pining and Shakespearean intrigue. Now “Everybody Loves Raymond” is the sole surviving veteran sitcom (unless you count “The Simpsons,” still going strong, more or less, after almost 14 years).

Sartorial Dilemma

It’s supposed to be over 80 outdoors today. No problem, right? Well, in the past two weeks or so, the huge turn-on-the-air-conditioning project has taken place all over campus (I presume); Scott tells me that they have to schedule months in advance and bring in these vast teams of union workers to manipulate the age-old gears and wheels and cogs to bring the air-conditioning apparatus online. No, it’s not all connected to a mainframe somewhere, and I don’t know anything beyond that. It’s COLD in the libraries now after months and months of endless and uncontrollable heat. I dressed in short sleeves yesterday and didn’t bring anything else and regretted it. So, the dilemma is: bring layers or not? I’m thinking a sweater will suffice.

The Big Tent

According to this account, seven students from Kalamazoo College were banned from entering Bush’s campaign rally at Wings Stadium on Monday. So much for inclusiveness. If you’re not a verifiable Bush supporter (and reading this, I don’t know what you would have to do to prove that you were a supporter in order to gain entry to one of Bush’s events), forget about ever seeing the man in the flesh.


Without going into details, my grades this past term were either as good as or better than I expected. So I came off all right (not perfect, not even close, but better than I expected) in 503, the Search and Retrieval class that had me up until 5 in the morning a couple of weeks ago struggling to pump out the final paragraphs of my take-home final. So, I made it, at least this far. We’ll see how I do in the coming year, when I’ll be shouldering 14 units each term, but at least I have reason to believe that I’ll be able to pull this thing off, and that’s for the good.

Foul Ball

It’s too disgusting to even link to, but Major League DumbBall is putting ads on the freakin’ bases, for cryin’ out loud. And they’re for a stupid, ignorant and inevitably crappy sequel to a crappy Hollywood movie version of a crappy comic book about an freaky arachnid weirdo superhero. Gosh, just when you thought they couldn’t go much lower in our culture, they find new depths.

Meanwhile, one of the game’s heroes, who may be on track to break Hank Aaron’s homerun record, the penultimate baseball stat, petulantly tells the media to either prove he’s on steroids or shut up about it, even as federal investigators were told on 2-Mar that the hero was among six major-league players who received steroids from a California lab through the hero’s boyhood friend and longtime weight trainer. A corroborating source told a newspaper that steroids and human growth hormone had been obtained for the hero for three years.

I’m not exactly sure how much worse the Majors can get; I’m sure it won’t be too long before they dig up Lou Gehrig and put Disney animatronics in him and trot him around to each ballpark in the system so he can do ads for Propecia and Diet Coke.

Or it could be even worse than that. Kevin Costner could make Field of Dreams II (‘If you build it, they will buy Budweiser’).


Today was significantly more crowded around campus than yesterday. Not sure why; was Monday the tail end of a three-day weekend? Anyway, it’ll be interesting to try to get a read on the traffic patterns in the next few days and weeks. It seemed as though a lot of the people out and about today were tourists and townies. The townies in particular (for good reason) seem intent on claiming their space (it is their space, after all) as emphatically and for as long as they can. I saw a couple of people in caps and gowns get video shot in front of landmarks, so there must have been some peripheral ceremonies going on. All in all, still way less claustrophobic than a school day. It only took me about 10 minutes to get from State and William to Industrial after work tonight.

Iron Lady

The BBC is all atwitter tonight about the 25th anniversary of the accession to power of Margaret Thatcher (or should I call her Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven?). I’m not sure how history will judge her. I lived in Britain when she was running for her third term in office, and even then Britain seemed a very polarized, hardbitten, driven place, and that was mostly Thatcher’s doing. There’s no doubt she transformed Britain, but was it for the better? Her legacy is what I suspect hangs over London far more than any contribution of her successors, and from all accounts I’ve read London is now a slick, humming, purring, affluent metropolis, yet essentially cold and hostile. If such is her legacy, so be it. I don’t think it’s a particularly worthwhile legacy.

Ho Ho Ho

All you can do is laugh (unless you’re kicking yourself for forgetting your gloves):

The National Weather Service in Detroit/Pontiac has issued a freeze warning for all of Southeast Michigan from midnight until 8 am EDT Tuesday.

Temperatures will fall below 32 degrees after midnight across

Southeast Michigan. Low temperatures will bottom out in the upper 20s to around 30 degrees by sunrise. Temperatures will climb above

freezing around 8 am.

A freeze warning is issued when freezing temperatures are forecast to threaten outdoor plants. Those with agricultural interests in the

warned area are advised to harvest or protect tender vegetation.

Also … potted plants normally left outdoors should be covered or

brought inside away from the cold.

Poppies and XK8s and Fluffy Bunny Rabbits and …..

My undergrad university’s alumni mag has this article on blogs in its latest issue.

Nothing out of the ordinary, that is, nothing beyond the usual cliches and cant: low readership, cool photos, rants, inside jokes, personal reflection, you can be anybody you wanna be on the Internet (yeah, right), linking to random crap “just because you feel like it,” yadda yadda yadda. I particularly savored the characterization of blogs as “an outlet for post-teen angst.” So this blog is, what? Post-post-post-post teen angst? Middle-age angst? Pre-senility angst? I know not.

I do know now, however, something I didn’t know before reading this particular piece: that the typical Stanford student’s blog is just as likely as not to be filled with photos of Jaguar XK8s and California poppies, which, I suppose, is just about in keeping with the school’s image as a playground for the spawn of the leisure class.

I also notice from class notes that someone from my graduating class lives right here in good old AA. I wonder how many other Stanfordites live in the area?

Alive and Kicking

It was great to hear Loretta Lynn, God bless her, shock and tweak the boring Melissa Block on NPR today during an interview about her new Jack White-produced album, Van Lear Rose. (“It’s been good talkin’ to you too, honey.”)

Sounds like an awesome album too.

Yet Another List

According to Total Guitar Magazine (via BBC), these are the Top 20 Riffs of All Time:

  1. Guns N’Roses “Sweet Child o’ Mine”
  2. Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  3. Led Zeppelin “Whole Lotta Love”
  4. Deep Purple “Smoke on the Water”
  5. Metallica “Enter Sandman”
  6. Derek & The Dominoes “Layla”
  7. Metallica “Master of Puppets”
  8. AC/DC “Back in Black”
  9. Jimi Hendrix “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
  10. Black Sabbath “Paranoid”
  11. Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train”
  12. Free “All Right Now”
  13. Muse “Plug in Baby”
  14. Led Zeppelin “Black Dog”
  15. Van Halen “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘bout Love”
  16. Aerosmith/Run DMC “Walk This Way”
  17. Cream “Sunshine of Your Love”
  18. Queens of The Stone Age “No One Knows”
  19. Guns N’Roses “Paradise City”
  20. Rage against the Machine “Killing in the Name”

This is a more ludicrous list than the Worst 50. Granted, this is a Brit magazine (published in Bath, of all places), but come on. What defines a “riff,” anyway? Who in the hell outside of England has heard of Muse? And two Metallica and GNR selections but nothing from the Stones (”[I Can’t Get No] Satisfaction”? “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”? Hello?) or the Beatles (“And Your Bird Can Sing”? “Yer Blues”?) or Kinks, for God’s sake (“All Day and All of the Night”)?

What about Ann Arbor’s own incongruous (and incomparable) contribution to rock history, The Stooges?

No Velvet Underground? Queens of the Stone Age but no Queen? Fine, “Black Dog,” whatever, but no “Immigrant Song”?

What about The Who? “Bargain”? “Baba O’Reilly”? Come on, people!

“Killing in the Name” but not “Fistful of Steel”? “Voodoo Chile” but not “If 6 Was 9”? No “Psychotic Reaction”? No “Wish You Were Here” or “Money”? No “Journey to the Center of the Mind”? I guess I must be showing my age again.

And when will they stop including that tired, worn-out Free song on top whatever lists? I had to bear the torture of hearing that song played ad infinitum when I was at Stanford—it was the semi-official anthem of the university band.

Um …..

Morrissey at the Apollo????? It’s true. According to a link from Gawker, he’s playing there tonight through Friday. That is truly surreal. It’s sort of like, I don’t know, Moby at the Whisky a Go-Go.

Anyway, Morrissey’s new single (“Irish Blood English Heart”) is great, 2:39 minutes of spitting, droning glory and fury. I doubt the rest of his new album will be as good, but one can always hope.

Absolutely, Positively Wrong about Everything under the Sun

Bush was reportedly in Niles, Kalamazoo, and Sterling Heights today on a “bus tour.” His bus has the slogan “America, Yes We Can” on it. Tell that to all the folks in Michigan who’ve lost their jobs in the past three years, Mr. President.

On another somewhat related topic, I was in Borders this afternoon and spied this book. I get a good chuckle out of books like Michael Moore’s Stupid White Men and Jacob Weisberg’s George W. Bushisms. But books like this puzzle me. First of all, how can anyone be “wrong about absolutely everything”? Is the corollary that Kerry (or someone like Kerry, or Nader, or some unknown quantity) is “right about absolutely about everything”? I think not. I don’t think that even Senator Dour, er, I mean, Senator Kerry would assert that as a logical proposition.

There is virtually nothing that would make me want to pick up a book like this; it essentially shrieks “unleavened partisan bias” from across the room. I want to read something that tells me truthfully what’s going on, not something that lulls me into a false sense of my ideological superiority. I am not blind, and I don’t want to read something that presumes that I am (and coddles and flatters that tendency).

Books like this are an insult to the intelligence. (I feel the same way about books like Ann Coulter’s Treason and Sean Hannity’s Deliver Us from Evil). I also think they’re a worrisome trend. Did we see books that screamed similar things about previous presidents while they were in office? What do books like this say about our ability as a nation to get beyond our entrenched partisan divisions? Are future presidents (no matter their party affiliation) destined to be smacked across the face by books like this 15 minutes after they are inaugurated?

Michigan Weather: Never Boring

It’s May 3, but the wind was astonishingly cold and biting this morning, so much so that I regretted leaving the house without coat and gloves. Same story at 12.30, still, though it had grown more temperate within an hour.

Signs of Change

It was not empty in Ambrosia this afternoon, but it wasn’t packed, either. The atmosphere was more relaxed than it’s been in a while.

Campus had a similar feel. Fairly empty at 9 when I got there, but enough people around when I left the office around 12.30 for it not to be a ghost town. The library was empty this morning but (to my surprise) most of the computers in the Science Library on the third floor of the Undergrad were occupied when I passed by this afternoon.

By lunch Liberty was fairly crowded with pedestrians. Again, not the usual weekday school year level, but not depopulated, either. Borders was doing brisk foot traffic.

Curiously, the morning 6 Ellsworth bus was more crowded this morning than it usually is during the school year. Mostly working-class folks on their way to jobs.

The State Street corridor had some vehicular traffic on it, but nothing comapred with the standard weekday (or weekend) school year traffic.

Also, the houses along State above Packard were nearly evacuated. There was one house this morning that had a handful of party-hearty holdouts drinking beer on the lawn at 9.00, but other than that it was dead. A couple of overflowing garbage cans on one lawn. A big stack of red plastic cups for keggers sitting on the porch rail of another house. A carpet-cleaning truck had a hose running into another presumably liquor-soaked domicile. The scary-looking box on the corner of State and Stimson had a pleading, neatly processor-printed sign on butcher paper on the front of it from Oppenheimer Properties reading “WOW! 2BR APTS $745.” Yeah, wow.

There were at least four moving trucks within the environs of our complex this afternoon.

Clearing Out

The town does appear to be clearing out. We took a little drive this afternoon. The area around our neighborhood was quiet, way quieter than usual (as “usual” has been for the past eight months, that is). There was some traffic (foot and cars both) in the Liberty area, but it was nothing compared to the usual level. And the State Street corridor around campus was relatively deserted.