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My Last Issue

When I first took this on, I thought I'd do three terms as editor.  During the first term, I'd just be getting the hang of it.  I'd take the second term to really hit my stride, and then the third to stretch myself and make my mark.  Since the MLA Bylaws seem to imply that the editor can only serve two terms (although I did figure out a loophole), by the spring of '04 I was reaching the point where I'd have to petition the board to let me serve one more term.  I went to bed one night in April, weighing the pros and cons, intending to use my writing time the next morning to draft a letter to Carla laying out my case.  But when I stretched out on the couch the next day, coffee at the ready and notebook in hand, I realized that sometime during the night I'd come to the realization that I didn't want to give it another three years after all.  I'd accomplished much of what I'd set out to, and I'd put off other things that I was interested in because I didn't have the time.  I wasn't playing nearly enough guitar and it'd been ages since I'd been able to get to Marty's regularly.  And Lynn wanted me back on weekends.

Now I'm in the thick of editing my last issue (it'll come out in April), and I know it was the right decision.  I've been drenched in the library literature for six years, and it's harder and harder to put myself in the frame of mind of the typical reader.  I was getting ready to cut a couple of background paragraphs from one of the articles I was working on yesterday, thinking, "You don't need to go into all this -- everybody knows this stuff...."   And then I pulled myself up short, thinking, is this really common knowledge?  Or does it just seem like it to me?  I left the paragraphs in.

I've always tried to be very conscious of the widely diverse audiences the JMLA has, from academics who are doing pretty esoteric research to solo hospital librarians who are just looking for some practical things they can use to make themselves more effective.  Increasingly, that audience is more international, and comes from outside health librarianship (the impact of open access, as I pointed out in the October editorial).  There have been very few times that I've rejected an article strictly because I felt it was out of scope.  Hell, I'm interested in everything -- shouldn't that be the case for all librarians?

Writing the editorials has been the best part, of course.  The deadlines forced me to struggle harder with writing than I've ever had to before, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.  Twenty-four editorials (counting the two that haven't appeared yet -- one of which I haven't written yet), and there are a solid handful of paragraphs and sentences that I'm proud of.

My favorite moment, though, has still got to be running into Kent Smith in the lobby of the Dolphin hotel in Orlando during MLA 2001.  He greeted me warmly, and thanked me for the editorial I'd written for that January's issue.  He told me that they'd passed it around on the mezzanine at NLM.  "Keep up the good work," he said.

At that point, I'd known Kent for nearly twenty years.  He'd been the Deputy Director at NLM when I went there as a Library Associate in 1983.  His accomplishments and contributions were legion, and whenever I'd see him, I immediately felt like I was still the same 27 year old fresh graduate, in awe of people like Kent, and trying to figure out what this library stuff was all about.  To have him greet me like that, and compliment me like that, was mind-blowing.  I said to Lynn, "It never really occurred to me that people would actually read this stuff!"  Probably a good thing I felt that way early on, or I would have been too intimidated to write anything at all.

Now, I'm eager to have it behind me.  Another couple of weeks and I'll finish up the editing, and then I'll write that last editorial.  I've put down a few paragraphs; I've got a couple of ideas that I'm playing with.  But I never really know how the editorials are going to turn out until I see the sentences emerge on the screen.  I wonder what I'm going to say this time...


The List: Twelve

Jerusalem
Steve Earle
Steve  Earle: Jerusalem

Music For Strings, Percussion and Celesta: Allegro Molto
Bela Bartok
Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Sylvia Plath
Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams: Gold

Trois Gymnopedies -- 3 (lent et grave) a Charles Levade
Erik Satie
Aldo Ciccolini: Satie Piano Works

Single Petal Of A Rose
Edward K. Ellington
Duke Ellington: The Great London Concerts

Alabama
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: Live At Birdland

Cold Irons Bound
Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan: Time Out Of Mind

Beautiful Day
Music: U2 / Lyrics: Bono
U2: All That You Can't Leave Behind

India

(Sunday, November 5, 1961)
John Coltrane
John Coltrane: The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings

The Speed of Light
Julie Miller
Julie Miller: Broken Things

I Fall In Love Too Easily -- The Fire Within
Jules Styne & Sammy Cahn -- Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett: Live At The Blue Note, The Complete Recordings

Amelia
Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell:  Travelogue


The Revenge of the Sith

A couple of quotes from today's New York Times:

"The position of the executive branch," said Eric M. Freedman, a law professor at Hofstra University who has consulted with lawyers for several detainees, "is that it can be judge, jury and executioner."

and

"Much thought goes into how and why various tools are used in these often complicated cases," Tasia Scolinos, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said on Friday. "The important thing is for someone not to come away thinking this whole process is arbitrary, which it is not."

I'm not concerned about whether or not those decisions are arbitrary -- it's the fact that the executive branch believes that it can make those decisions in secret and with no oversight that shreds democracy and moves us into a dictatorship.  In popular parlance we think of a dictator as one who is imposed and not subject to removal by the democratic process.  But in the classical sense, the dictator is simply the ruler whose decisions are subject to no oversight and no challenge.

Cheney's opposition to the McCain amendment is not principally about whether or not the president has the right to order torture in extraordinary cases.  The fundamental issue is whether or not the president is to be subject to the rule of law.  The people who run our government very explicitly believe that he should not be.  Their arguments are always couched in the language of not constraining the president's ability to prosecute the war in whatever way he sees fit.  There's no subterfuge or duplicity involved in this dismantling of the republic.

But the proper response to that objection should be, "Exactly.  The President should not have the authority to do whatever he feels is necessary.  The whole complicated process by which we hold the delicate American experiment together is predicated on the notion that no one branch of government, and certainly no one person should have the ability to determine an individual's fate.  In giving that up, we are betraying everything that we're sending those young men and women to Iraq to die for."

This is the tragedy of George W. Bush's patriotism.    Relentlessly determined to send more and more of our finest and most idealistic off to die in the name of an ideal that he is steadily destroying.  And I really don't think he knows what he's doing. 


Little Things

I've never been passionately devoted to any particular holiday traditions.  All the time I was growing up, of course, there were certain patterns and rituals that we followed for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and the 4th of July.  They defined the ways that holidays were supposed to be -- and I loved all those details and looked forward to them and hold fondly to the memories.  Still, I never felt any particular loss as I moved into my teens and early adulthood and starting adapting to different practices.

My first marriage had two distinct phases of holiday tradition -- when we still lived in Wisconsin, holidays were a semi-nightmare of trying to get to spend time with both families.  It seems like we spent much of Thanksgiving and Christmas negotiating Wisconsin blizzards, never quite being able to relax and enjoy the season.  Then, when we moved to DC (and then St. Louis), we kept to ourselves, and those holidays were very nice.  I generally left it up to Sandy to establish how things were supposed to be.

These last ten years, I've adjusted to Lynn's way of doing holidays.  She has very set patterns and very particular ways that she wants things done.  It involves lots of house decorating and very set menus for the major meals.  I find all of it quite amusing, and I've been able to add many of my own touches.   

In years past, Marian would have gone to the Earnest family celebration on Thanksgiving day, and come over to spend time with us late in the evening.  That tradition has been getting weaker over the years, and it appears that with her father's death, it finally came apart altogether.   Her aunts & uncles & cousins are all doing their own things this year.  So she and Josie came here for the day.   And naturally, Josie was the center of attention.

She's eating solid food now.  I find it rather fascinating.  I know, in the abstract, all about what messy eaters babies are, but it's quite something to witness it right next to me.   Of course, we all think it's incredibly cute, despite the fact that it's really rather gross.
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Every year Lynn does her version of the full-blown Thanksgiving dinner -- roast turkey with bread stuffing, mashed potatos (that's my job now), green beans, a cranberry ice that is quite delicious.  She makes a wonderful turkey gravy.

Josie appeared to love it all.  She had a lot of fun with the mashed potatos, in particular.

Once we finished eating, and Josie finished rubbing food all over herself (along with stashing quite a bit of it in her chair, as we discovered shortly), the easiestDsc00984_1 thing was just to plop her in the sink and hose her off.

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Yes, I know that this is all old hat for parents and really only cute when it's your own, but for me it's all brand new and mysterious and wonderful.  I've never had any luck predicting where my life was gonna be in five years or ten years, and I gave up trying a very long time ago.  But even two years ago I would never have predicted this.  I certainly would never have  imagined that I would be enjoying it so much.Dsc01003_1

So for now, at least, our holiday traditions are going to evolve around the little critter.  For her, the next several years will establish the way holidays are "supposed" to be.  I'll do everything I can to make them miraculous.


Honest Politicians?

In these dark days at the end of the Republic, we've been trying to watch the Daily Show more often.  Last night was a repeat, with Barack Obama as the guest.   He's a great foil for Stewart -- witty, open, quick.  Best exchange came when Stewart asked him if he feels a lot of pressure from all of the hype surrounding him.  Not so much, says Obama.  "I just try to do the best I can, speak openly about what I believe in.  But yeah, there's some pressure -- the only person who's more overhyped than me is you!"  Stewart nearly fell on the floor laughing and said that was about the best answer he'd ever heard.

So one hopes the best for young Barack and his idealism.  But realistically, can it last?  Politics is inevitably about compromise, and one necessarily ends up agreeing to things one would rather not in the service of attaining a more important end.  Even in my small sphere of academia I run into that all of the time.  I make choices about what I'll pursue, where I'll stand my ground, what risks I'm willing to take, what opportunities I'll pass up.  Fortunately for me, the political stakes are relatively small (this is academia, after all) so I've never been in a position where I've felt that I've had to compromise on principle.  I like to believe that if I were ever put in a position where I couldn't avoid acting unethically, I'd resign.  Fortunately, I've never been tested in that way.  In my world, I get to be honest and still reasonably effective.

But Senator Obama?  In the snakepit that is the United States Senate, how long will it be (if it hasn't happened already) before he feels that he has to make choices that chip away, even just a little bit, at his ethical core?  Where will he decide to take his stands?  What compromises will he find himself forced to make?

Is it possible, in that world, to be truly honest and still be effective?  Many years ago, when I first saw the biography of LBJ on The American Experience, I was struck with the awareness that Johnson had a fundamentally different view of truth and falsity, right and wrong, than what I'd been brought up with.  In his world there were goals and objectives to be reached, and one used whatever tools were at hand to get there.   Notions of "truth" were pretty much irrelevant. 

Johnson did more to improve race relations and to combat poverty in America than any other president.  And yet, in his pursuit of the Vietnam War, his choices made him a war criminal.    Reagan was probably the 2nd most effective president of the  20th century, and his hold on reality was clearly quite tenuous.  He couldn't even get the facts of his own history straight.  But he was a natural-born storyteller, and the truth of the stories was what mattered more to him than any actual historical facts.

A willingness to ignore ethical norms may be necessary for success in politics; but it's not sufficient.  If W's administration continues its collapse, and is viewed in retrospect as the disaster that it has in fact been, it won't be because they played fast and loose with the truth; it won't be because they are ethically corrupt.  It'll be because they're incompetent. 

In recent presidential elections, both parties have cynically played up the "character" issue, as if that really matters.   But the people of the United States have always loved their corrupt politicians, as long as they deliver.

That's the reality that someone like Obama has to face.  There'll come a decision point where he can achieve something that his constituents will celebrate, but only at the cost of a bit of his soul.  What will he do?


Abuse of Language

"...any suggestion that prewar information was distorted, hyped or fabricated by the leader of the nation is utterly false."  So says Dick Cheney as the administration's full court press continues.   He's fond of the word "reprehensible."

It would seem that the evidence of the administration's manipulation of intelligence is overwhelming, but looking at it that way is getting caught up in that "fact-based" fallacy again.  The war at home, the political war, is a war of words and emotions.  And Cheney is a master.  He was able to convince half the public that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks, while simultaneously expressing outrage that anyone would claim that such a suggestion was coming out of the White House.  Now he's praising Murtha as "a good man, ... a patriot" while blasting anyone who agrees with him as engaging in "revisionism of the most corrupt and shameless variety."   

It must've hurt when Bush was forced to say that he completely rejected the notion that anyone disagreeing with his policies was unpatriotic.  His minions had spent the earlier part of the week trying to make exactly that charge.  Maybe it's kind of a "hate the sin, love the sinner" thing -- I reject any suggestion that you are being unpatriotic, despite the fact that your lying reprehensible comments are giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

It's kind of fascinating.   While it's difficult for me to imagine that Bush might recover politically, it would be foolish to discount the possiblity altogether.   Public opinion is pretty manipulable.   It remains to be seen if the growing distrust and disillusion with my president will stick, or if he can somehow turn it around.    Unfortunately, even if he doesn't, he'll be able to continue the debacle in Iraq for another three years.  I don't dare hope that the growing pressure within his party for an exit strategy will be sufficient to get him to actually declare victory and pull out.   If he was just a corrupt and cynical politician, that might happen.  But I still think he's a true believer, convinced he's doing God's work.   


Born Old

I tell John, "In the last nine weeks, we've been in Salvador Brazil, San Juan Puerto Rico, Atlanta, Charleston and DC (twice!).  We've had marvelous meals in fine restaurants in all of those places..."  Lynn finishes, "...but this meal was the best."  So true.

Seven courses with paired wines at Hot n' Hot.  A salad of tiny heirloom beets to begin with, and a marvelous tray of artisanal cheeses to end.  In between, there was baked cauliflower with bread crumbs & truffle oil, sweetbreads wrapped in bacon (which Lynn didn't care for, so I finished hers), a miraculousy prepared trigger fish, lamb shanks & mushroom risotto and a chocolate sampler.   Small portions each, so that it wasn't until we were just finishing the cheese that we felt pleasantly full.  Wines from California, France and Spain, exquisitely matched to each dish.  A perfect birthday meal.

Today we're playing hooky.  We'll have potato pancakes and champagne for brunch, and spend the afternoon in bed watching movies.  I can't think of a better way to celebrate my half-century.

My Mom has always said that I was born old.  I'm an agnostic on all matters eschatological, but if reincarnation were the way things played out, then I think it's likely that I've been around before.  Many times before.  Obviously I'm too dumb to get it right.  Or maybe I'm just too greedy to give it up.  Van Morrison sings, "And when you get it right...  you don't have to go back..."    Every time I hear him sing the song, one of my inner voices perks up in protest, "But I want to..."

I'm always eager to grow older.  The increasing physical creakiness is annoying, but it's worth it for the expanded experiences.  Mom sent me a wonderful birthday card.  It's a black and white photo of a kid who's probably five or six, with baggy corduroy pants, a striped t-shirt, a Zorro mask, hat & cape, brandishing a plastic sword.  On the front it says, "There's only one of you..."  and inside, "(That's all the world could handle.)"

Perfect.  I may be fifty, but I know that kid is really me.  Thanks, Mum. 


Auburn

Given the reverence for a college education with which I was raised, I've always felt an emotional pull toward the "classic" college campus with the solemn buildings and the broad green spaces.  The pretty little campus of Lawrence University and the vastness of the University of Wisconsin were my earliest memories of what college was supposed to look like.  I carry a bit of mild regret that I've spent my professional career at two urban universities that had very little to recommend them along those lines.   (And I'm quite excited that this is changing for UAB).

So I was eager to stroll around the Auburn campus yesterday during the break between the business meeting and the morning speaker.    Auburn is classic in just about every sense: the oldest university in Alabama, and the largest (28,000 students).  It completely dominates the town, which is tiny on its own.  The campus has many beautiful spaces and they've done a very good job with preserving and restoring the old buildings.  The overall effect is somewhat marred by the amount of construction going on, but a lot of construction on a university campus is considered to be a good sign.

The emphasis on sports, particularly football of course, is a little unnerving.  In the official visitors guide that was in our conference packets the paragraph on Auburn's academic & scholarly achievements is slightly longer than the paragraph touting its athletic eminence, but one does sense a bit of padding ("...nationally renowned for many of its programs and accomplishments, including the invention of the flea pill, super bullet-proof vest, and high-performance dog food ... faculty from the college received an Academy Award in 2005 for achievements in motion technology...")  In fairness, the College of Veterinary Medicine and the School of Architecture are among the country's best, and one can no doubt get an excellent education at Auburn.  Still, that's not what defines the place and it is not what ties the students and alumni to it so tightly.  I said to Lynn as we were walking past some of the fraternity houses, "So what do you think gives the boys a bigger thrill -- those six astronauts who are Auburn grads, or the SEC championship last year?"

Sure, it's a cheap shot, and I really don't mean to sound disapproving, because I don't disapprove.  But I'm someone for whom "belonging" has not only never been desired, it's something I've actively avoided.  Whenever somebody starts talking about the need for "community" I want to run the other way, so the bond that one feels for one's college football team is simply foreign to me.  I understand that this is a character defect on my part.  Probably a fizzled gene.

But here in Alabama, where the UA/Auburn rivalry is such a big part of the social fabric it's something that fascinates me and that I try to understand.  Warren St. John's book was a great help.  The brilliance of it is that, while St. John is a passionate fan himself, he wrote a book that appeals equally to fans and non-fans.  He was able to blend his passion for his home team with his passion for his journalism to create a piece that clearly deserves all the accolades that it receives.

I was thinking about him when I passed a parking lot sign that said, "No RV parking here" -- not the kind of sign one needs at any parking lot at UAB.  St. John will probably be in Auburn this weekend.  Saturday is the Iron Bowl, the annual contest between Alabama and Auburn.  One of these years, when the game is in Auburn, I ought to spend the weekend there on an anthropological expedition.  I wouldn't even need to go to the game.  I could just spend a couple of days strolling and observing.   I imagine it would feel just about as exotic as the week we spent in Salvador.  I suppose I need to think about booking the hotel room now.


It's Christmas!!

"But I thought Santa Claus wasn't allowed out until after Thanksgiving..."

"That's so twentieth century of you!" said Lynn.

She was telling me that she and Marian would be taking Josie to see Santa yesterday after they went to get her 0017Christmas pictures taken.  I guess I haven't been paying attention to the calendar shift.

I could probably get crankier about it all if the pictures weren't so damned cute.    Still, it's troubling that the point of Thanksgiving seems to have become the big shopping extravaganza that takes place the next day.  But that's not even the beginning of the shopping season anymore.  Lynn said she woke up the morning after Hallowe'en thinking, "Oh gawd, now it's Christmas..."

It's tedious to fuss about the relentless commercialism of it all.  On the other side there's the Catholic League calling for a boycott against Wal-Mart because they're "banning Christmas."   Wal-Mart caved immediately, of course.   The League's defence of Catholicism makes soulless commercialism look downright appealling.

Do I have to choose between a Christian nation and a market driven engine of democracy?  The ideologues on both sides make me want to pull the blinds and go into mourning.    Of course, the reality isn't really that stark.   Most people aren't ideologues, and somehow manage to balance their cravings for stuff with genuine warmth and generosity. 

Getting through the holidaze is a bit of a minefield for everybody, I guess.  It is so heavily emotionally laden.  All the tensions that exist within families rise to the surface.  We all suffer a bit from the nostalgic longing for the way we imagine that things used to be.  Our fears about our own inadequacies are heightened by the rising tide of expectations, both real and imagined.

And still somehow we manage to find the joy and the comfort in mystery that still seem to be at the root of all of the holiday traditions that blend together at this time of year.  Despite all the trappings, it is about renewal and hope.  Maybe as one gets older, it is more difficult to find, but it's there.0009


Edie Carey at the Moonlight

"If I start to cry...  I may not stop..."  We don't know, from the song, if Edie did start to cry in that hard conversation with her father.  It seems likely.  We do know that she stopped, though.  When she introduces the song now, she grins and her face beams, and she gently scolds the audience: "If you need to have that kind of a conversation with somebody, don't wait 27 years like I did...  You never know..."

"When I Was Made" is the song that pushed Lynn over the edge when we saw Edie Carey open for Radney Foster back in June, so it's the one she was most waiting to hear.   She bought the CD that night, but it was stolen when my car was broken into a couple of days later.  Lynn went to Edie's website and bought all the CDs that she had.   So we were familiar with most of the songs.  There was a new one though, about not letting yourself get sucked into hanging on to a bad relationship, that had Lynn 's name all over it.  Edie tells a very funny story about sending the MP3 of the song to a girlfriend who badly needs to hear that message.  "Where were you fifteen years ago?" says Lynn.

The Moonlight is the perfect venue for this kind of a performer.  It just passed it's 2nd birthday, which is kind of astonishing.   Harrelson is clearly a fanatic, thank goodness.  He has a very clear vision of the kind of music he wants to present and, perhaps even more importantly, the kind of setting that will present it to the best effect.  The result is one of the best music rooms in the country and every week he's got great performers coming through.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Jim Ohlschmidt (aka Lost Jim, aka Jim O) who opened the evening.  Superb fingerstyle guitar player with a wonderful warm, rich voice.  His songs aren't as biting as Edie's -- he's more interested in the wit of the wordplay than in plumbing the depths of hurt.  He did a mix of his own songs along with a handful from Mississippi John Hurt, and each one was a gem.