Sunday, March 28, 2010

Librarian humor

My reference professor sent this link to us. It's called "Peep Research: A study of small fluffy creatures and library usage."

These people have too much time on their hands.

Leking in the moonlight with Dave

I never appreciated moonlight before moving to the country. I loved the moon, to be sure, what's not to love. But I didn't know about a moon so full you don't need a flashlight, or the reflection of that cold white light on the snow.

We went on a walk in the back 40 on Friday night, Dave and I, to see the mating dance of male American woodcocks. Those are birds, and the walk was organized by the Broadbrook Coalition, which takes care of the conservation land behind our house. Check this out:

This wasn't ours, but this is what we saw. About a dozen of us, including our fearless leader, a phd birder, and several naturalists. I was paranoid about getting cold, so I wore longjohns and mittens and a warm hat. We wrapped red cellophane around our flashlights for the walk home, but we didn't really need them, with the moon. I know those woods pretty well now, although we drove to a different trailhead, we didn't go in behind our house. We got to the dam and went past it and into Cook's Meadow, which has three meadows, really. It's great to be with people who know what they're doing -- I saw hooded mergansers, which are a kind of duck, and a bluebird. A real live bluebird.

We got to one of the meadows and hung out until dark, when the woodcock made his move. There were three of them nearby, actually, all with this peent noise first, then a wild flight up and around, then a plummet to the ground, all with different calls. The females watch from the sidelines and if they are suitable impressed, off they go.

This certain type of bird courtship is called a lek--we were lurking at a leking, an aviary singles bar, in essence. Way cool.


I have a new weekly commute: Driving to South Hadley, where Simmons rents a couple of classrooms and time in the library from Mount Holyoke College for its western Massachusetts library science grad students. And man, it is lovely. Saturdays are my long day, when I have two three hour classes with an hour in between. It's fine, but long. By the end of the day, I'm pretty whipped. But it's a fine commute, one I'm lucky to have.

Yesterday I pulled out of the driveway around 8am, a little early for my 9:15 class (it's a 20 minute drive). But I wanted to print some stuff at the GSLIS (graduate school of library and information science) office -- very nice perk, free printing -- and catch my reference professor at her "office" hours at the local cafe, the Thirsty Mind, before our class at 9:15, a nice service, on her part.

I had my thermos of green tea, my bottle of cold water, a little bag of almonds, my laptop, and my backpack with my various notebooks and pens and such. The sun hadn't been up that long and the light had that wonderful crisp early-morning quality. It was about 20 degrees--we've been having an unseasonal cold snap; in like a lamb and out like a lion this year--and my iPod was set on shuffle, with Dar Williams' Alleluia cued up first.

Alleluia, indeed. Alleluia, God! I cranked it up and sang along loudly, feeling a bit like a teenager. I'm off to school, I'm at the beginning of a new career, I have tons to do, but I'm working hard and doing well. The sun is still low in the sky, it's going to be a gorgeous clear day, and I am on the cusp of a new career that's exciting and fun and best of all, incredibly interesting and stimulating. Life is good.

Lately I've been flashing on a vivid memory of 20+ years ago. An April Saturday morning, my final semester at Wellesley. Twenty-seven years old, a bit of a late bloomer, and blissfully happy at Wellesley. I had just been accepted to Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, the fulfillment of a dream I'd had since I was at least 12. I was moving to New York City in September! Another dream coming true. I was sitting in the fabulous kitchen of my fabulous rent control apartment in Central Square, Cambridge, listening to Scott Simon reading the headlines at the top of Weekend Edition.

He finished, the theme music came on, all bold and powerful, he said, "today is Saturday, April Whatever, and this, is Weekend edition," all dramatic-like, and I burst into tears. The theme music to my life, my new life--who knew what the future held, exactly, but it was going to be journalism!--and I was on my way. Who knew, I could be working with Scott Simon in a year or two.

This is a little like that. The sun was shining and I was driving down route 47, a twisty, lovely road that follows the Connecticut River south for about, oh, seven miles, through farmland, asparagus fields, corn, hay, horses, cows. A mini-golf range that Lily's been to with friends. A marina on a little inlet of the river, at which point I always entertain a fantasy about keeping a boat at one of their slips.

A little further is a 15-foot sign post with several white markers placed on it, including one nearly at the top: flood markers, with dates on them, the last one was in the 1980s, so not so long ago. Then past trail heads and the road up Skinner's Peak. I've got the river on the right of me, to the west, and I'm curving around Skinner, to the east, on my left. Skinner, the farthest west mountain in the half dozen of the Holyoke Range--unless Mt. Tom across the river is considered to be part of that mountain family.

The road takes me down a couple of dips, across something called a brook that right now, with the spring thaw, looks like a small river. Private homes, some town playing fields, and into South Hadley and the campus. On the way home, the river's now on my left, and depending on when I leave school, I can see the most stunning sunsets, the vast stretch of reds and pinks and oranges lighting up the hills behind Easthampton and Northampton. I could look at the river for hours, and if I weren't so afraid of flooding, especially with global warming, I'd love to live near it, and really get familiar with it.

This is way different from the D train, or the dreaded F, which I did for a couple of years. Those have their pluses -- I can't read on my commute, and I don't get to see stuff like this, below, after Michael Jackson died. If anything, this is what I miss about New York City. But still, I wouldn't trade back. I love my new river.

My latest blog for Simmons is here. And the last couple are here and here. I'll try to be better about posting the links on Thursdays, when they go up.

And this is wonderful:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bears, milkshakes, and iced tea

Three sure signs it's spring. It's spring! It's nearly spring, at least. I first started writing this entry a couple of weeks ago, and the signs are just growing stronger, tonight's predicted low of 16 (!!!) not withstanding.

1) The bears are back. That's a sure sign of spring. A couple of weeks ago, Dave saw a mama and two yearlings, not quite cubs, but not full grown, either. Apparently they mate every two years. They were across the stream --- our house is built on mud, by the way, and would not have been built 10 years later, when the wetlands laws were enacted -- just strolling and snacking. Our neighbor gave us a call too, to make sure we'd seen them.

We've seen them several times since, always the mama and her two cubs, always traipsing that stream, usually in the beginning or end of the day. Last night was dusk. One time I was driving Lily to school and she'd forgotten something, and while she was in the house searching for what turned out to be in her backpack, I saw the bears strolling by. "Look!" I hissed as she came out of the house. "Bears! Get in the car, now!"

They don't scare me, and these are all tagged and sort of our local bears, but I don't want to mess with them. They're more afraid of you than you are of them, the wildlife experts tell us, but two things you don't want to mess with: a bear with her cubs, and two bears mating.

Oh, and among our early spring chores -- put away the snowblower, get out the rakes -- taking down the bird feeders is at the top of the list.

2) Iced tea. I ordered an iced tea last week! Wow! It was warm and springy out and the iced tea tasted great all the way down.

3) Lily got a milk shake. Now, this is not a sign of spring for her. She will have a milkshake any time of the year. But this felt like a special occasion, the bears back, me with my iced tea, so she got a milkshake. It was gone in about 30 seconds.

I have a collection of spring songs, free to anyone reading who asks me for it.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Why I don't apologize for voting for Nader

In case you didn't know, I'm going to confess it right here: I voted for Ralph Nader. Not just for the 2000 election, but for the two following that one, as well. That's right, I did not vote for Obama, although voting for the first black president was really tempting. But much as I love Obama's story, his wife, his kids, his mother, his name, even, and everything he stands for socially, I did not believe he would stand for change political and economic change. And I'm very sorry to say I still don't believe that.

Okay, now tell me everything terrible you've ever thought about Ralph Nader. Take your time. Get it off your chest. I've heard it all before -- when I say I voted for Nader, most people just want to rant about how awful he is, and how he lost Gore's election for him, and how he said the Democrats were just like the Republicans. Few are at all interested in hearing why I actually voted for him. That's okay. Take your time. Feel better? No? Me neither.

Here's the thing: I am glad I voted for Nader because it's so clear to me he was right all along. Unfortunately. I guess I'm writing this because of this article, but it's been percolating inside me for some time now. I cried when Obama made his acceptance speech in Chicago on Election Night. I couldn't believe that this country, founded in racism and made rich and fat off the blood of blacks, was actually electing a black man as president. It was a profound, momentous moment, and I was thrilled to witness it.

But just a few days later, when he started announcing his cabinet, I was back to being glad I voted for Nader. I voted for change, and Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Arne Duncan, Tom Vilsack, and Janet Napolitano do not represent change. And that scares me, worries me, makes me really fear for the future, because the stakes are higher today than ever before, at least in my lifetime, and the situation has gotten far worse in the past year.

Here's Chris Hedges in that article:
"We owe Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney [2008 Green Party presidential candidate] an apology. They were right about Barack Obama. They were right about the corporate state. They had the courage of their convictions and they stood fast despite wholesale defections and ridicule by liberals and progressives."

Clearly the people who are disappointed in Obama and business as usual are not just far-out lefties, whatever that means. Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter. Daniel Ellsberg blasted Obama on Here and Now (scroll down to Ellsberg; the comments start at about seven minutes in) for lying to us about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He compared him to Johnson and Nixon and called for the release of the contemporary version of the Pentagon Papers. Very strong statement. Much of the left, whatever that is, has been criticizing the president ever since he got into office.

Back to Nader: I think it's easier to blame him than admit that, as I've said often, our country is broken, our system, a 250-year-old response to a 17th century monarchy, is outdated and old-fashioned. (I've been thinking lately that maybe the solution isn't tossing the whole system, but just getting rid of the Senate. Why not? England disenfranchised the House of Lords. We could easily lose the Senate, and expand the House.)

I wonder if the people who blame Nader have ever read anything by him. His book, Crashing the Party, is a very different take on the 2000 election from the reports in the media. There's a lot of debate about whether he actually cost Gore the election, and the first question is, Why didn't Gore win his own home state? And the second is, What makes you think all the Nader votes would have gone to Gore? He also points out that he had massive rallies, 20,000 people in Washington, D.C., and the Post never covered it.

Third parties are crucial to the American system, and the Democratic and Republican parties have colluded for 25 years to keep them out, beginning with taking control of the presidential debates away from the non-partisan League of Women Voters in 1987 and creating stringent rules about who can debate. Requiring a candidate to poll at 15 percent when the media won't cover them isn't fair.

Often people will come up with a stupid comment Nader made, and then expect his supporters to defend or explain it. And Nader can make stupid comments--he missed the whole thing about LGBT rights and marriage (although I wonder if gay marriage is a misguided use of energy. I don't know a lot about it but many of my gay friends are really annoyed about all the energy going into it).

But why is it that Nader, and others threatening the status quo, are so often held to a higher standard? Why do we think someone in his position has to be perfect, but others get a pass? We can all think of a million things Clinton, Gore, Kerry, etc etc did or said poorly. Why? Much of the recent damaging legislation that is destroying our economy came from Bill Clinton: NAFTA and deregulation of financial markets, not to mention abolishing welfare, the telecommunications act (we have that to thank for one or two gargantuan media companies owning most of the media in the country, the ability of one company to own both a TV station and a newspaper in one market, and the collapse of newspapers), defense of marriage, and the anti-terrorism act that increased the federal death penalty significantly. Why do I want to vote for that?

The one thing I'll give Clinton is that he raised taxes on the rich, and guess what, the economy took off. I think Clinton's first election is the only time I ever voted for the party candidate; I always voted for a third party candidate, and I've never been sorry.

So here's the Nader quote about the difference between Democrats and Republicans, according to an online quote site: "The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." And you know, here's the thing: He's right. He may not have been as right at the time, when he said it; the Dems still counted for something vaguely resembling liberal. Maybe the Democratic party of old was liberal. Every now and then someone says to me that Nixon was more liberal than Obama, but all that means is that Nixon signed more left-wing legislation. Nixon was facing a far more liberal Congress and he lost a lot of battles. He would have been far more right wing had he had the opportunity. And that Congress, as left as it may have been, did not give us national health. Despite how he's being lumped into the mix as a president who tried to reform health care, Nixon resisted an extremely liberal Congress that wanted to go much farther, and he won.

By the way, I started writing this about a month ago, and now I write in the wake of the health care bill just signed. I don't know. I don't see this as a liberal bill--the comment I keep hearing is about the absurdity of the Dems going to the mat for a Republican bill. Maybe that's my biggest disappointment with the Dems, how polarized the country has become, and how they bear responsibility for that. The Dems voted for the Patriot Act, they voted for the Iraq war, and they're allowing the Afghanistan war. These wars have cost Massachusetts alone
$27, 567, 373,000 and counting. And my library has to cut $22,000 this year, two percent of its budget. That's a sin. That's a crime.

I voted for Ralph Nader because I want the corporations out of our government. "The banks own the place," that's what Senator Durbin said, and voting for the Democratic Party of the last 25 or 30 years will never change that equation. I voted for change. The change I see is only getting worse, not better.

Now we resume our regular schedule broadcasting. Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Meryl Streep and ABBA

I'm in love with Meryl Streep. And A. O. Scott. And ABBA. Not necessarily in that order. This is Scott's wonderful appreciation of the wonderful Streep from the Times last week. That scene in Mamma Mia, where Streep first sees her old girl friends and does that funny little dance at the end of the dock, that just kills me.

I love that movie in general, and to see Streep in all her overalled glory just cracks me up. She's a heckuva singer, even though or maybe even especially because she's not known for her singing -- I think it was IMDB that said she nailed Winner Takes It All in one take -- and she has great timing. I love the Greek chorus thing--of course it's taking place on an island somewhere in Greece, right? -- and to see all the local folks singing behind her? Hilarious. This is what IMDB says about that:

The story is set in Greece. They are a Greek chorus. An undercurrent of the film is to structure the story as a Greek comedy (like Aristophanes), including patterns of strophe and antistrophe,a chorus representing the common people,and costumes matched to moods of the characters, including masks and the phallic props typical of Greek comedy.

Out for Reel here is an LGBT group that brings movies to Northampton. They have an annual tradition of hosting a Mamma Mia singalong, complete with celebrity judges awarding prizes for best costume. This year Lily and I went, I guess it was the first day of classes for me, so I was fried, and it was a gas. The audience was mostly women and girls--we found ourselves sitting next to our friend Erika and her sister, coincidentally--and everyone was in a great mood. "Ohhh, Mamma Mia! Here I go again, why, why, how could I resist you?" with Meryl rolling around on the roof. "Does your mother know?" with the wonderful Christine Baranski. "Take a chance on me" with Julie Walters, another great. "Honey, honey." All the fun stuff.

Which brings me to ABBA. So I ask you, what's not to love about ABBA? Huh? Is there anything? I dare you to say it. There's a great quick video quote here from Pierce Brosnan (but you have to scroll down to find it) (he's in Mamma Mia) (apparently he said yes to the movie before he even knew what it was about, because he knew it starred Meryl Streep) about how everyone loves to hate ABBA, curse ABBA, dis ABBA, but we've all sung them, danced to them, gotten an ABBA ear worm that refuses to leave for weeks, we've all been there.

I decided to succumb to my inner ABBA-loving self in about 2004, maybe the fall of 2005, when I was at an event at PS 261 and someone had set up a karaoke machine. We were in the cafeteria, I think it was the fall festival so there were all sorts of activities going on. Dave and Lily wandered outside, and all of a sudden I hear this great big voice singing Dancing Queen. I didn't know the words, didn't really quite register that it was ABBA, even. But I looked over and there was a big crowd around the TV screen with the lyrics. I'd never seen karaoke before, and I had to see what all the fuss was about, so I wandered over. And I see this little, little blond girl, fearlessly belting out the song. She was in kindergarten, probably five years old, and boy could she sing. I couldn't believe it. She knew the song cold and she was having the time of her life.

If I'd had a camera I would have taken her picture and put her on the cover of the PTA newsletter with a hedline about, remember this kid's name, she's going to be big. And of course I don't remember her name, oh well. She is going to be big, though. Her father told me later she was a huge ABBA fan and I confess that I beat him out a few months later at the annual auction for an evening of ABBA music presented by Losers' Lounge. He was going to take his kid. I was going to go myself.

After hearing that kid I bought an ABBA gold CD--two disc set; they had a lot of hits--and started listening to it a lot. Lily got into it too, and when Losers' Lounge decided to present them that spring, worlds converged. Our dear friend David Fischer used to get together a group of folks to go hear the LL a couple of times a year present a show of covers of one band -- Stevie Wonder, punk and new age at CBGB's, David Bowie (great night), Talking Heads (another great night), and yes, ABBA. One of the guys who plays with them -- they are doing the Carpenters like, this weekend, so run, don't walk, to see them! -- is David Terhune, and his kids went to PS 261. He offered not only two tickets to the show but free babysitting by his wife, as well. Our bid won and we went out with David Fischer et al. -- and got a nice shout-out from David T. during the show -- and had a fantastic time.

The show was at Joe's Pub, so we had dinner, chatted, and then when the music came up, we sang and screamed all night. The idea is that they provide a house band, actually it's two bands combined, complete singers who dress appropriately (the ABBA boys and girls wore long blond wigs and outrageous white jumpsuits and fringe and stuff, very seventies), and they do lots of songs. But the band also plays for guest artists who sing one song, and you never know who you might hear. My favorite is Broadway star Michael Cerveris, who always played with them.

So we sang and sand, and at the end we were all saying good-bye on the sidewalk, and David Fischer said, but no one really likes ABBA, right? It's just a big joke, right? I protested wildly. Any band that made a million bucks a day at the height of their career was much more than a joke. They were all you heard in the clubs at one time. I had a brief stint in clubs when I lived in Cambridge in the early eighties, I went out a lot, at one point. And I heard a lot lot lot of ABBA.

And I always thought they were bad, a joke, stupid, over the top. And all the Spanish stuff -- Chiciquita? Fernando? What's with that? But you know, in my old age, I think they're hilarious, fun, catchy -- too catchy -- and really great to sing along to. Perfect karaoke music. Listening to them allows me to let loose and have fun, be goofy, sing really loud, get really silly. It's fun to like them. It's most fun of all to crank them up at home and dance around the kitchen with Lily. What's not to love?

So, thank you, Meryl Streep, for saying yes to your inner ABBA, too, and helping us all lighten up a bit.