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Wolf Bite Wednesday (Gardening Is Not Elitist)

April 7, 2010 4 comments

I’m sure you’ve heard the people claiming it’s elitist to backyard or container garden.  The “reasoning,” apparently, is that because other people in the world have to farm to subsist, doing so when you don’t have to is rude to them.  Or something like that.  Excuse me, but the assumption that farming is something you only do until you can afford not to is what’s elitist.  It’s looking down on farmers.  It’s looking down on people who are actually willing to get their hands dirty to sustain themselves.  It’s looking down on everyone who works along the line to make the packaged, processed foods these so-called humanitarians eat.

There is, of course, a place for production farming.  It’s a great way to produce a lot of food in a short amount of time at a relatively low price to feed a bunch of people.  It’s obviously far more logical to have a large farm of rice paddies than for me to attempt to make my own rice paddy in Boston.  I’m laughing just thinking about it.

But what about your backyard that is currently just grass?  What about your balcony that’s decorated only with chairs and a few garden gnomes?  What about the 3 feet of space in my kitchen that’s too small to fit an appliance or table in, so is currently just wasted space?  If I grow vegetables and/or fruit there, I’m:

  • Using space that would otherwise be wasted for a valuable purpose
  • Lessening my environmental impact, which is a benefit for everyone
  • Becoming more self-reliant, which is always a good thing
  • Maintaining important knowledge to help pass down to future generations

These people seem to think that big business manufacturing is The Answer to all societal problems, but it isn’t.  It isn’t too hard to imagine a future where no one knows the basics.  Where no one is in touch with the earth or with their food or with their clothing or with the animals.  We’re practically living in it now.  Just look at the obesity epidemic, the violence, the general feeling of ennui permeating modern life.  We’ve become so caught up in the power of manufacturing that we’ve forgotten even good things are bad if they aren’t in moderation.  It’s great that I can get rice and tofu in the store–those aren’t exactly things that I can grow in my backyard.  But it’s also great that I can grow a tomato in my kitchen.  Nothing teaches you where food comes from quite so well as planting the seed, nurturing the plant, and harvesting the fruit yourself.  It’s empowering.  It’s understanding on a close, personal level what we as people are capable of with our opposable thumbs and big brains.  Gardening isn’t elitist.  It’s bringing a sense of humanity back to a people whose culture continually tries to rob them of it.

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall By Anne Bronte

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

coverthetenantofwildfellhallSummary:
Cited as the feminist antithesis to her contemporary Austen’s romantic 19th century ramblings, Anne Bronte’s best-known novel presents the much more dire image of the very real risk of marriage in a time where the wife loses all her human rights to her husband. Gilbert Markham becomes infatuated with the widow Helen Graham who has moved into his neighborhood with her son, but rumors soon start to spark up around her. When he confronts her about her conduct, she shows him her diary. There he learns her travails and sufferings at the hands of her still very much alive husband.

Review:
I came to this book with high expectations. I heard of it simply as the one of the earlier feminist novels written in response to such works as Austen’s. I felt this opened the door to many possibilities, but perhaps I was thinking about this with too much of a 21st century brain. What held The Tenant of Wildfell Hall back was the relentless presentation of Helen as the picture of Christian piety. Given the fact that Helen behaves quite willfully and controversially for the time period by leaving her husband’s home to live separately from him, this was probably quite necessary for Bronte’s contemporaries to find Helen a sympathetic character. For me though her severeness sometimes had me siding with her tyrant of a husband in my mind. He calls her cold and calculating. Well all she ever talks about is living piously now to be joyous in heaven after death. I would find that cold and calculating as well.

This book does hold value for the modern feminist though if we re-position ourselves to look at it through the lens of how society at the time has messed up both Helen and her husband, Arthur. Society tells Helen that it is her job as a woman to be the pious one. Although single men may go cavorting about she must sit respectably at home or go out to supervised dances. Men may behave however they desire as long as they settle down after marriage. This belief leads Helen to make her foolish, egotistical mistake of thinking that marrying Arthur is alright for she can change him after they are married. To a certain extent Arthur makes the same mistake. He has been told the ideal wife is a highly pious one, so he marries Helen thinking she will save him when, in fact, they are the most mis-matched couple ever.

Arthur enjoys cavorting, playing cards, and drinking. Helen refuses to do these things out of piety and nags Arthur not to do them. They both come to realize they are mis-matched, but in their society divorce is a painful embarrassment to both parties. Helen doesn’t even consider it for Christian reasons; Arthur in order to save face. This leads to their gradual loss of caring for each other, although Arthur’s comes much faster and more brutally when he carries out an affair with the wife of a visiting friend.

Arthur no longer wants Helen, but she is his wife and he would be a laughing-stock if he couldn’t control her, so he starts abusing her emotionally–repeatedly telling her it disgusts him to see her pale skin, for instance. He also carries out the afore-mentioned affairs with her full knowledge and at first forbids her from having any of her own. I am not condoning Arthur’s ill-treatment of Helen. He made the situation far more worse than society alone would have had them make it. He could, for instance, have allowed them to set up separate households, which was sometimes done. He at least could have shown her the respect she deserved as a human being, but instead he came to view her almost as a hated prison guard. This would not have been the case if they could have parted ways amicably.

I must admit what struck me far more than the restrictive society was Helen’s restrictive religion. She almost constantly lives only thinking of her reward after death in Heaven. She possesses nearly no joy for her beliefs require that she squander her life away serving a man who hates her. The only reason she even leaves him for a time, relieving some of her pain, is because she believes her duty to raise a pious son outweighs her duty as a wife, so she is justified to remove her son from the soul-risking influence of his father. Helen’s faith seems to bring her no joy, but instead demand she behave as a judging marble statue.

Although The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not an obvious feminist manifesto, it as an excellent rendition of the oppression of 19th century society on both men and women. Reading of their struggles and realizing as a 21st century observer that there is essentially no way out for either of them beautifully demonstrates how far we’ve come. Bronte’s writing style is complex enough that what could be a bit of a boring, straight-forward tale remains interesting throughout. She changes perspectives a few times via diaries and letters. She does suffer from the 19th century literature trap of overly extensive descriptions of settings, but these are easily skimmed. An excellent example of 19th century literature, I wish Bronte’s realistic work was assigned more often in literature classes than Austen’s fluffy, unrealistic drivel.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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The Library as Virtual Place

Last week, a patron walked through our library door and excitedly exclaimed to us, “I haven’t been here in forever! I’ve been living electronically.”  He went on to explain to us that he’s been conducting most of his research in his office via our library website.

In my graduate classes, we often talk about the library as place.  By this the professors mean establishing the library building as a place the community thinks about.  “Let’s go to the library” should be as natural a thought for a group of friends as “Let’s go to Starbucks.”  Yet a library doesn’t only possess a physical space, they also possess a virtual space patrons frequent.  Often far less, if any, thought is given to branding the library’s virtual space.

Most libraries have some sort of home page in addition to the online catalog (OPAC).  Many also have a few pages directed toward certain patrons, such as a teen page in public libraries or research help for the humanities for academic libraries.  The more cutting-edge libraries might also have a blog and a link to a twitter account.  In my exxperience, there is no cohesiveness among these pages.  There is no clear brand that this is Noname Library’s virtual space beyond perhaps a bar across the top of the page with the library’s name on it.  Although I know a lot of effort is usually put into designing these pages, they often seem haphazardly thrown together.  There is no cohesiveness.  Worse, especially for a public used to the cutting-edge of technology, many libraries are using old, out-dated, and even proven inadequate website design theories.  It’s like the designer has paid zero atttention to the research conducted in the last decade showing what works best for making a website browsable.

Thus, while Noname Library may have the most up-to-date chairs and the best seating arrangements at the actual library, their website screams the 90s, and most likely turns off at least a few users from coming back.

Libraries should think about themselves the way social networking businesses do when it comes to their presence online.  There should be a symbol that automatically makes the user think of the brand, like Twitter’s bird.  Although pages may look different from each other, they still should be recognizable as belonging to the same website.  There should be space on the library’s website for patrons to socialize with each other, even if it was something as simple as a blog members of the book club were given guest accounts for so they could blog about the current read.  Finally, and probably most importantly, the library website should consistently be assessed for browsability.  Outdated web design ideas should be cleared out from the website, leaving clear, modern space.

While the library as physical place is important, the fact of the matter is, most of our patrons do not solely live their lives in the physical space.  They also have virtual lives, and libraries should be a go-to place in that area of patron’s lives too.

Environmentalism’s Impact on Books

Environmentalists have their good points and bad points, just like any activist group.  I agree with some of their points and disagree with others.  However, there seems to be the stirrings of a new target for environmentalists–new books.  A blog example is this post detailing how you should only buy used books whenever possible as studies show they are better for the environment.  Then there’s the new Netflix-style business called BookSwim, which claims that it’s more environmentally friendly to have their stock of “rentable” books shipped to you in recycled packing materials than it is to buy new books.

What these people seem to be missing is that if people stop buying new books, at some point there won’t be any more new books being published.  It is important that avid readers support the publishing of new books by currently writing authors, as well as the classics.  If the publishing industry encounters a distinct lack in demand for their product, they aren’t going to make it anymore!  Environmentalists need to grasp the fact that we’re talking about books here.  Literacy.  Education.  Possessing an educated public.  That’s a bit more important than a few trees in the rainforest.  They really need to set their sights on something else.  I’m all behind finding alternative energy sources, but we need books to keep being published.

Another point that ye olde BookSwim seems to miss is the low environmental impact of borrowing books from your local public library.  I know in rural areas people have to drive there, but it is often possible to bike or walk.  No books are being shipped, plus you get the chance to meet and encounter people from your neighborhood at the library.  Not to mention the fact that the library is free.  What BookSwim cites as its most popular plan costs $29.97 a month.  They heavily push the idea of no late fees and no due date, but let’s consider this for a moment.  The most popular plan is 7 books at a time, send back 3 and hold 4.  A book is not a movie.  A movie may generally be watched in 1 1/2 to 2 hours, which leads to a rapid turnover.  This is part of what makes Netflix worth the money.  Even the most avid reader generally takes more than 2 hours to finish reading a book.  My friends who read the most avidly finish around 10 books a month.  That means they would have paid $3 a book.  Most libraries charge 10 cents a day for a late book, and allow you to have it for anywhere from a month to two months.  You would have to keep the book an extra 30 days in order for the late fees to equate the cost of the book from BookSwim.  Anybody with half a brain can see that BookSwim isn’t worth the money.  One of the major selling points of BookSwim is the ability to take as long as you want to read a book, but if you do that then you won’t be getting your money’s worth.

Come on, people.  Use your heads.  Utilize your local public library for older books or books you know you will only want to read once, and buy new books from your local independent bookstore to support the future of the book industry.  It is really not that complicated.  Environmentalists should stick to their solar panels.

Overprotected

There is a distinct socioeconomic difference between two parts of the MBTA system:  the commuter rail and the bus.  The commuter rail consists mostly of middle to upper class, white collar, white Americans.  The bus is, well, everyone else.  Suffice it to say, when I ride the bus, which is often, I’m generally in the statistical minority.  In fact, the other night I was the only white person on an almost full bus, as well as the only woman besides the bus driver.  I’m perfectly comfortable riding both, although I must admit, I generally get better stories from riding the bus.  The other night I overheard a hooker planning out her evening on her cell phone.  I digress, back to my point.  I can’t help but notice some distinct differences between the two groups of riders.

When I commute from my abode in the morning, I take the commuter rail.  When I commute from my man’s abode, I take the bus system.  Every morning that I take the commuter rail, there is a white teenage boy on my train car.  He’s probably about 15, clearly on his way to some sort of prep school.  His mother makes him wait in her car with her until the train is pulling up, then she waits to pull away until he is on the train.  He’s often pushy to the other passengers, never respectful to older men and women.

Every morning that I ride the bus, I wind up waiting for a bus connection.  A black boy, who’s probably about 8 years old, almost always is waiting with me.  He’s got his backpack on and breakfast in one hand.  I’m not entirely certain why he’s taking public transit instead of the school bus to school, but there you have it.  He waits for the bus alone.  He rides the bus alone.  He hits the stop request tape himself to make sure the bus driver stops at his stop.  He often reads a magazine on the bus and is always quiet and respectful.

Clearly, whoever the 8 year old’s mother is, she trusts him to get his own butt to school in the morning and to do it safely.  She (or somebody) taught him how to be respectful in public.  Conversely, the 15 year old’s mother doesn’t trust him to get to the train himself, or even to get on it in the morning.  She’s probably tried to teach him to be respectful in public, but the lesson clearly hasn’t sunk in.

An 8 year old is behaving more maturely than a 15 year old.  I can’t help but think that people rise to the expectations you put out.  Now, maybe the 15 year old’s mother tried to give him more responsibility, and he failed so she feels she can’t trust him anymore.  I seriously doubt it though.  What I’ve seen among the middle to upper-class in Boston is a distinct overprotection that leads to a lack of maturity among their children.  Mommy and daddy might think they’re protecting their kids by always having an adult there every second of the day watching, but what that really communicates to the kid is “Mom and Dad don’t trust me,” and “If they don’t think I can handle this on my own, I must not be able to.”

I know some people are probably upset reading about an 8 year old taking the transit system alone.  However, it’s the morning commute.  It’s not like it’s 10pm at night or something.  Nobody can protect someone else perfectly.  Random bad shit happens to kids; it’s a fact of life.  Isn’t it better to teach kids to be self-reliant?  The 8 year old’s mother has clearly taught him valuable life skills.  He can handle getting himself places without her help.  Imagine how much more confident he’ll be when it comes to things like choosing a college in the future.  Since his mother trusts him, he trusts himself.  I doubt the 15 year old will take any agency in such important life decisions.  If he can’t be trusted to do something as simple as his morning commute on his own, how could he possibly make more important decisions on his own?

I know there’s some risk involved in the 8 year old commuting on his own, but I firmly believe that the overall life lesson he’s getting far outweighs any risk.  People don’t grow, mature, or self-actualize if they’re never challenged.  If life is rosy and easy, there’s no reason to.  When these middle to upper-class parents think they’re protecting their kids, they’re really sabotaging their future.  It’s too bad they can’t see it.

Amazon Isn’t a Library

April 13, 2009 4 comments

Apparently, it recently came to light that Amazon has removed GLBT books from their online ranking system.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t find a GLBT book if you are looking for it though.  I checked myself this morning, so I wouldn’t be going on hearsay.  When I typed in “heather has,” the auto-completion drop down box immediately completed it with “heather has two mommies.”

Another complaint people are putting forward is that a search for “homosexuality” pulls up books that are against the homosexual lifestyle higher in the rankings than supportive books.  I checked this.  The first result I got for “homosexuality” was Dark Obsession: The Tragedy and Threat of  the Homosexual Lifestyle.  The second result was a genre tag for “homosexuality, ” and a choice of fiction or nonfiction.  I clicked on nonfiction and was immediately led to a result page consisting entirely of books supportive of GLBT people, including Gay America: Struggle for Equality.  Back to my original results page, the third hit was a book from a gay erotica series.

Ok, so Amazon is still selling and displaying books supportive of the GLBT lifestyle.  No, they aren’t the first hit.  No, they aren’t included in the selling rankings.

Newsflash:  Amazon isn’t a library.  Amazon has no ethical responsibility to fairly and equally display both (or multiple) sides of controversial issues.  Amazon is a private retailer.  Whoever owns Amazon can choose what stock to carry, as long as it is legal.  They clearly cannot sell pot, for instance.  Amazon may also choose how prominently to display their stock.  Imagine a traditional bookstore.  They choose what books to place in the windows to draw people in.  I view the sales rankings as similar to this.

What it all boils down to is that Amazon has the right, as a bookstore, to choose what books to stock and how prominently to display them.  Even if they flat-out refused to sell GLBT books, that isn’t “book banning.”  Amazon is not the government.  For comparison, a couple of GLBT friends could start their own bookstore and decide that they didn’t want to carry anything anti-GLBT or pro-fundamentalist Christianity.  Do you think the whole nation would be up in arms about this?  No, it wouldn’t be.  They would say “good on them, overcoming that adversity.”  Well, the fact of the matter is, if we’re talking rights, anti-GLBT people have rights too.

Amazon isn’t breaking any laws.  Amazon didn’t make some hit-list of gay people to refuse to sell to.  That legally would be considered discrimination.  Amazon isn’t even refusing to sell GLBT books.  It simply isn’t displaying them as prominently.  Well, they are a private business, and that’s their right.  If you have a problem with it, feel free to boycot them and send them a letter explaining why you will no longer be buying from them.  However, stop with all the hate and fear-mongering against them.  Quit making a mountain out of a mole-hill.  Quit being a wanna-be martyr.  There are far bigger issues in the world than where Amazon ranks GLBT books.  If you have a problem with it, boycot them and move on.

For the record, I won’t be boycotting Amazon, as I like them, and I don’t believe they’ve done anything wrong.  Odd stance for a libertarian librarian, I know.

Your Job as a Librarian

April 1, 2009 5 comments

I’m a librarian, currently working on my master’s degree. Some people are concerned about technology being the downfall of libraries. Observing my fellow classmates makes me far more concerned that they will be the downfall of librarianship.

There’s the students who just cannot seem to properly research anything.
Idiot student: “What?! I couldn’t find the answer to that anywhere!”
Me: “Really? Cause it took me all of 2 minutes…..”

There’s the students who can’t write properly to save their lives, which is particularly a problem for academic librarians who must be published in order to stick around.

I could go on and on with my list, but I’ll get to my point. What I consider to be absolutely the worst idiocy is the students who just don’t get the ethics behind or the point in being a librarian.

Last night we were discussing working the reference desk and having a patron come up and ask for assistance in researching a medical issue such as diabetes or weight loss. (A pet peeve I have with this class is the idiot professor’s assumption that we are all going to be working in public libraries. *sigh*) A student piped up that she would first advise the patron to go to a doctor. I assumed the professor would inform her that it’s none of her damn business to go around telling people to go to a doctor. Imagine my surprise when she didn’t. I put in my two cent’s worth, which led to an epic debate.

Why do I have a problem with this?

Libraries are an essential element in democracies. If we as a populace are expected to actively participate in our governance and to keep an eye on our government, we must be informed. A library is a place where people can self-educate. They can fact-check. It’s largely about not believing everything you are told and investigating it yourself.

So a patron shows up to do just that and your immediate response is to tell them to go to some “authority” the culture has deemed appropriate and to just automatically trust them? See the problem here?

People are not complete idiots. They are aware doctors/lawyers/other authorities exist. If they are coming to the library to conduct their own research, there has got to be a reason.

Your job as a librarian is not to assume your patrons are idiots.
Your job as a librarian is not to reinforce the system.
Your job as a librarian is not to believe you can read people’s minds.

Your job as a librarian is to assist people in educating themselves.
Your job as a librarian is to help maintain (or, hell, produce) a questioning, educated public.

Librarianship is about being radical; it is not about reinforcing the norm.

The fact that my classmates simply do not get this core essence of librarianship makes me envision a Fahrenheit 451 type future where instead of firemen burning houses down, librarians only provide government-approved information and report questioners to The Man.