Monthly Archives: May 2011

Does History Move or Repeat?

The last time I wrote something here, it concerned the continuation of the Arab Spring specifically in Libya.  It’s one month later and there is no change yet in Libya’s governance or what is left of it.  The rebels are strong enough to not be beaten, but then again, so are Quadaffi’s forces.  Unlike the protests and demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, etc., the Libyan situation seems entirely stalemated, and reliant on limited NATO involvement to keep things  . . . static.  And as I observed wonderingly a month ago, Libya is still pretty much non-news.

In a passing conversation with Schuyler, another Eleventh Stack contributor, we both commented on what the current state of world affairs as represented by the Arab Spring might portend for the world.

  • Is it a good thing?
  • Is it really a significant development?
  • Could the Arab populations establish democracies?
  • Had we seen anything like it before?
  • Is it good for the U.S.?

My observation was that perhaps we’re at a moment in time similar to what the world may have been like in the 20-30 years leading up to WWI.  Before anyone gets too depressed or alarmed, it’s not that I see a major war in the offing, but rather what we’re witnessing today has some historic parallels.  We are seeing a shifting of the relative strengths and influence of the major powers, much as occurred in the quarter century leading up to World War I: the emergence and challenge to British supremacy by Imperial Germany, and the simultaneous emergence of the United States as a military and industrial power, especially taking into account our emergence from the Civil War.  Today it’s the U.S. role as the sole-superpower, and does that really bring any advantages and freedom of action?  It’s also about the emergence of China (and India, Brazil, Russia?) as economic powers, and the lingering effects of the 2008 recession.

One of Schuyler’s comments stuck with me as we parted ways — something to the effect of  “Is there another Metternich today?”  For your edification, Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich was an Austrian-German politician and diplomat.  His efforts as Chair of the 1814-1815 Congress of Vienna established a European political order that remained largely in place until the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, finally crumbling entirely in August 1914.

Crest of the Congress of Vienna

Congress of Vienna

It took over 100 years before some of the nations of the world met again to determine a practical course to peace — I’m excluding here the failed- before-it-started Kellog-Briand Pact of 1928.  Near the end of World War II the soon to be victorious Allies (The United Nations) met at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C. to arrange the structure of the soon to be established UN, including the Big 5 veto in the future Security Council.  Maybe this model has worked, though there’s a side of me (and others) who wonder if the UN wasn’t greatly helped along by the well defined bi-polar world of the Cold War.  Unlike the knife fight in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. seemed to have rules and structure to their conflict.  As the Chinese sometimes prophecy — we live in interesting times.


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Miniature inventions

Did you know that until 1880, in order to obtain a patent you were required to also submit a model along with your application?  The models were small (12x12x12″) working replicas of the invention itself, sort of 3D versions of the illustrations that are still a part of patent applications. Of course, over time the space needed to store all of these models became too much for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to handle, and the requirement was discontinued. 

A model of a Singer sewing machine. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

However, a lot of those models are still floating around out there. In 1908, Congress began auctioning off the models.  Some are on display at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office museum in Alexandria, VA, but the largest collection of privately owned patent models is located at the Rothschild Peterson Patent Model Museum in Cazenovia, NY.  You can even buy a model yourself, if the mood strikes you: here, here, or (of course) here.  Just be prepared to pay more than the cost of the actual product itself, in many cases. 

While librarians can’t help you build a model of your invention, we can help you with parts of the patent process. As a Patent and Trademark Depository Library, we can help you navigate the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website, help you find books and other resources on the subject, and help you find a list of local patent attorneys and agents. 


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Some Music from Syria

Syria is the latest in a growing succession of Middle Eastern or North African countries rumbling with civil unrest.  In Syria’s case, unfortunately, protests are being met with especially violent suppression.

In my dream world, whenever a country or culture pops up in the news, I want a mob of concerned American citizens to come to the library demanding books, journal articles, and documentary films about that particular place.  On top of that, I want that enthusiastic and friendly mob to also explore a country’s art, literature, films, and my specialty, music.

Syria is a country at a complex crossroads of ancient civilizations, major religions subdivided into sects, climates ranging from the Fertile Crescent to desert, and a population that ranges from nomadic camel breeders to sophisticated city dwellers.  So I simply offer you four CDs to start exploring Syria’s fascinating musical culture:

  • Souleyman, Omar  Highway to Hassake: Folk and Pop Sounds of Syria — The intrepid folks behind the Sublime Frequencies label collected cassettes to release this disc by sunglasses-wearing Syrian star Omar Souleyman.
  • I Remember Syria — If you really want to hear what Syria sounds like, this Sublime Frequencies double disc is made up of recordings from the radio, city sounds, music, interviews and more.
  • Muezzins d’Alep Syrie: Chants Religieux de I’Islam — The Muezzin is the person who calls Muslims to prayer from the top of the minaret.  They may also specialize in singing hymns as these Muezzins from the city of Aleppo do.
  • Eastern Churches Collection: Chants from the Holy Land — Syria also has some of the most ancient Christian traditions and this disc has a few tracks of Syrian hymns and chants.

Enjoy your exploration of some of Syria’s music!  And thanks to those of you who also explored my suggestions of music from other countries in conflict: Afghanistan and Iraq.

— Tim

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Collection Highlight du jour

I’m thinking of a nonfiction category at CLP—Main that contains more than 6000 books. Gardening? A catalog keyword search turns up 1839 titles. World War II? 2234 titles.

Maybe by now you’ve sniffed out my subject area du jour—cookbooks. The 6,303 titles in the stacks on the First Floor don’t even include new cookbooks. Those less than a year old are shelved with other new non-fiction in the main room of the First Floor.

Each month patrons check out between 800 and 1200 of these cookbooks. Individual books borrowed more than 100 times include Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni (1980), Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant (1980), New Chinese Vegetarian Cooking by Kenneth Lo (1986), and The Greens Cookbook: Extraordinary Vegetarian Cuisine from the Celebrated Restaurant by Deborah Madison (1987).

Last week I attended a staff presentation given by our librarians who tend the TXs (that’s Library of Congress classification-speak for home economics books). Joanne and Karen work diligently to select, organize, and promote this grand collection.

Here are highlights of Joanne and Karen’s talk, in no particular order.

Library Journal reported that cookbooks overtook medicine and health for the top spot in nonfiction circulation in public libraries last year. I’m not surprised that cookbooks circulate so frequently. Cookbooks provide welcome inspiration for breaking out of the dinner doldrums. And if your home library has a TX shelf, you know that cookbooks are expensive. Borrowing a cookbook to try a recipe before investing in the volume is smart.



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After the Fall

All the buzz about the world ending has put me in the mood to refresh my survival skills.  While the label of  “survivalist” is sometimes synonomous with “nutjob,”  you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t spend a little time planning and thinking about what you might need to do if things go completely pear-shaped. As usual, CLP can scratch that itch.

How to Think Like a Survivor by Tom Watson has a great deal of basic information, including some discussion about the psychological states one may find themselves in after an accident. Overcoming panic is the first step!

Build the Perfect Survival Kit by John McCann takes it a step further, guiding one through a plethora of options. Everybody could use a little emergency kit in the car or home. Heaps of advice and information are packed into this little book. One thing missing from the author’s recommendations is any sort of religious text. Personally, my ideal survival kit would include a copy of the Torah, Bible, and Quran. I imagine if my life is in jeopardy I would get religious. With all three books in hand my options would be open.

Wilderness Survival by Gregory J. Davenport is the book to have if you plan to get lost on your next camping trip. I love the simple drawings, the lean-to, the A-frame shelter, all survival classics.

Wild: Stories of Survival from the World’s Most Dangerous Places is an amazing anthology of adventure and survival. These tales make for thrilling reading and will steel the nerves and prepare us for our own challenges.

The above books will certainly arm us against misadventure. But if we need these skills because civilization has collapsed then I would recommend an additional title:

The Art of the Table by Suzanne Von Drachenfel is the go-to book for questions of etiquette, table setting, and menu selection at any meal or occasion. This information will be vital in avoiding something like we saw in Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome. Survival situations are by nature incredibly stressful. If you are in such a situation as part of a group then I imagine etiquette will be vital in maintaining harmony.

In addition to its use in staving off complete social anarchy, the book is a wild read. I like to periodically read things far outside my usual interests and this was a great choice. I had no idea the variety and purposes of different stemware. And flatware is placed on the setting in order of use, corresponding with the course. This arrangement ensures one always uses the right utensil. I had always wondered.



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Trivia night at the library!

Do you love trivia?  My guess is yes! Do you love the library? Of course you do!  Well, you are all ready then, to come down to Oakland for Trivia Night at the Main Library.  This Thursday, May 26th, from 6-7:30, the hosts of the Pub Quiz at the Brillobox will be guest-hosting a library-themed trivia night in the [not so] Quiet Reading Room on the First Floor.  I’m sure you’re hoping that these folks won’t be in attendance, although I can’t guarantee it.  Were it not library-related trivia, you could use some of these suggestions to get ready.  However, I do have some suggestions that may or may not help you out:

Libraries in the Ancient World Libraries in the Ancient World, by Lionel Casson 

Library: An Unquiet History Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles


The Story of Libraries The Story of Libraries: From the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age, by Fred Lerner

The Most Beautiful Libraries in the WorldThe Most Beautiful Libraries in the World, by Guillaume de Laubier and Jacques Bosser

Carnegie Libraries Across AmericaCarnegie Libraries Across America: A Public Legacy, by Theodore Jones


Good luck!  And see you Thursday!



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The Project Flood

When one of my younger sisters was a toddler, she would chant from her car seat as our mother drove across the Fort Pitt Bridge and in view of the Point, “Allegheny, Monongahela, Ohio, Mississippi!” Her multisyllabic nursery rhyme was pretty adorable, and it nailed a fundamental fact of life on Earth: our waterways connect us to seemingly distant places. Growing up so close to three powerful rivers familiarized me with water’s majesty and entertainment as well as its dangers and inconveniences, so the recent events surrounding the flooding Mississippi have been both fascinating and heartbreaking to witness.

Mississippi River Drainage Basin

Mississippi River Drainage Basin, from the Mississippi River Commission

The Mississippi River is the watershed for 41% of the contiguous United States. This year, abundant spring storms in the Midwest have increased the amount of water filtering through tributaries into the Mississippi. All of this water puts enormous pressure on the system of structures that shape and direct the river’s flow. According to The New York Times, “The flood-control system that arose in the wake of [the Great Flood of 1927] has never been put to such a test.

The most devastating river flood on record in the Lower Mississippi  Valley was the Great Flood of 1927. The Mississippi River and Tributaries Project (MR&TP), which includes members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, developed structures to withstand 11% more water than that flood, and refer to that measuring stick as the project flood. While flow levels in the current flood have been breaking records in some areas, they still probably won’t approach levels that exceed the project flood’s.Rising tide : the great Mississippi flood of 1927 and how it changed America / John M. Barry.

Without this infrastructure, an area of 35,000 square miles over Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana would be in danger of  flooding. Widespread damage from major floods from the mid-1800s to 1927 inspired the centralized initiative to manage the river, making it safer for industry, navigation and settlements along its shores. Many of the locations currently in the news are part of this network, including numerous levees, and the Birds Point-New Madrid floodway, Morganza floodway, Bonnet Carre floodway, Lake Pontchartrain, Atchafalaya River and Red River. When water flow upstream exceeds normal levels, this system allows the release of water by opening levees and spillways (also called floodways) to relieve pressure on structures downstream. Unfortunately, farms, communities, and businesses that have built in these spillways can be damaged or devastated by the water. To understand the astonishing amount of water this system is managing and its potential for damage, one only needs to look at some of the before and after photos of areas affected by the water releases over the past week.

An event as multifaceted and with as much historical background as this one is far too complex to cover in one article, but plenty of sources will continue to offer up-to-date information. For updates about Operation Watershed, visit the U.S. Army Core of Engineers New Orleans District’s Facebook page. Also, Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency has been posting images like the one below of communities and wildlife affected by the controlled flooding on its Flickr page. The New York Times features a Q&A series with experts who address questions such as “How much of this disaster is the result of man-made structures?” and  “Why would people build in a spillway?” Also, stay tuned  to Eleventh Stack for future posts about the Mississippi flooding and its many implications for the people who live near the great river.


Deer in Water

Enforcement agents from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries responding to flooding in Louisiana captured images of wildlife fleeing water that has displaced them from their habitats. The agents were patrolling Tuesday, May 17 between Highway 190 and the Morganza Spillway, inside the guide levees. Agents report all wildlife that was photographed survived. Photos courtesy of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.


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Easy DIY Iced Coffee

If you’re like me, you like your coffee-making to be inefficient and time-consuming with not a single of thought of convenience. For almost all of my coffee addictions, I swear by the french press. I grind my beans for the morning pot, boil my water, stir the grounds in and wait the allotted time until it’s done steeping. Start to finish usually runs around 20 minutes. But, as the mornings gradually slip out of their grey winter gear and change into the greens and blues of spring and summer, I find myself wanting to drink hot coffee less and less. I want it iced. I want it cool. I want it refreshing. Most importantly, I don’t want to spend two dollars and fifty cents at the corner coffee shop every time I want one. But, how to make my morning coffee cold? How about Cold Press coffee?

Cold press coffee is the method of making coffee that is basically no method. Zen coffee. Cold press was out there practicing flawless No Mind while you were still taking Freshman Intro to Eastern Philosophy and having your mind blown by Fellini films. Simply put, you take the grinds and you put them in the water. Wait twelve hours. The coffee is done. Barring the use of the refrigerator and the grinder, you can actually make this coffee with zero electricity. (TOTALLY OFF THE GRID) While I do find that interesting, it’s not really the reason why I’ve been making it this way. The real reason is the lower acidity that cold brewing achieves. It’s the simplest, smoothest cup of iced coffee that you’ll ever drink. Add the concentrate to hot water and you’ll find you have a smooth cup of hot coffee and you don’t have to be a snob to make it.

The first time I tried this method, it didn’t work out too well for me. It wasn’t nearly as concentrated as I thought it would be and my coffee ended up watery. It wasn’t until my fourth try that I really got it right. So, be patient and don’t be intimidated.


1. Grind your coffee for a medium coarseness. Somewhere between drip and french press. I usually grind a bit finer as I like the stronger flavor it produces.

2. Get yourself a jar. I’ve been re-using a 28 ounce spaghetti sauce jar. Any jar will do, but try to find a slightly larger one.

3. Put your grinds into the empty jar. As I’ve been using a jar that holds three cups of water, I mix in around ⅔ of a cup of coffee grinds. Again, this will be something you’ll have to test out.

4. Add the cold water. Now, I’ve read that you aren’t supposed to stir it at all. You add some water. Wait five minutes. Add more water and so on. I think that’s dumb. Fill up your jar with water half way, close the lid and shake it. That way, you’re getting the water in contact with all of the grinds. Open it back up and finsh filling it. At this point, you’ll notice that all of the grinds will be floating at the surface. Over the course of the next twelve hours, they will settle to the bottom.

5. Either on the counter top or in your refrigerator, let your coffee steep for twelve hours. I use the refrigerator as it leaves you with a cold end product.

6. Wait. Wait. Wait for twelve hours.

7. Depending on what you have around your house, figure out the best way to strain your grinds. I was pouring it over a paper towel stretched over a pitcher, which worked, albeit slowly. But, in a strike of pure genius, I realized how dumb I was and just poured it into my french press, plunged the screen down, poured out the coffee and was done. And now that I think about it, I can use the french press for the entire process.

8. If you brewed in the refrigerator, then you don’t have to wait for your coffee to get cold. Since you’re dealing with a coffee concentrate, you need to dilute it a little to get the flavor correct. Try using ⅓ coffee to ⅓ ice to ⅓ water. If you need it to be stronger, just add a little more coffee. I also add a little creamer (soy milk, actual creamer, almond milk and sometimes skim if I’m desperate enough) and a pinch of sugar. Stir vigorously and serve.

– Chris


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Too Many Nelsons

I’m not sure how it happened, but one afternoon I found myself staring at our catalog and wondering why there were so many Nelsons in it. Here are a few examples for you.

Nelson Algren – He’s the author of The Man With the Golden Arm. When I was a younger Amy, I always got this one confused with The Man With the Golden Gun. Please forgive me.

Manly Adventure awaits you!

Nelson DeMille – He’s the author of pretty much everything. He specializes in what I like to call “manly adventure.” One of his books, The General’s Daughter, was made into a movie starring John Travolta. I’m not sure how I feel about that. 

Nelson Mandela – Activist, former President of South Africa, looks a hell of a lot like Morgan Freeman. I knew that he was pretty old, but I didn’t realize (until I started writing this post) that he was born in the year that WW1 ended. Wow.
Nelson Muntz – Appears on The Simpsons, notable for his blue vest and distinctive laugh. Sometimes friends with Bart, sometimes dates Lisa.
Baby Face Nelson – Portrayed by Stephen Graham in the 2009 film Public Enemies, or as I like to call it, “The Movie in Which Christian Bale Wears the Most Unattractive Pants Ever.” I know that doesn’t teach you much about Baby Face Nelson, but this is my blog post and I’d rather talk about Christian Bale’s horrible pants.

What we really need is a paranormal historical girl cat detective.

Carole Nelson Douglas – I’ve never read her stuff, but apparently she writes about paranormal investigators, mystery solving cats, and historic girl detectives? Something for everyone, I guess. 

Horatio Nelson – Had one arm and one eye, died in the Battle of Trafalgar, played on boats, Brits like him. Pip pip cheerio.
Prince (Rogers Nelson) – Yes, Prince is his first name. And yes, I’m glad that we’re finally past the year 1999. And yes, that song is stuck in my head now.
Willie Nelson – Notable for both his braids and his tax troubles, and a rather prolific musician, too. He has also been spotted with Kermit the Frog.
I know there are many other Nelsons that I’ve neglected, so fee free to add your favorites in the comments!
– Amy


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Country Noir

What an absolute pleasant surprise Daniel Woodrell turned out to be.  A friend turned me onto him a year or so ago when they read about a film adaptation of his 2006 book. The friend, much like myself, likes to read the source material before they see the film version, if possible. They raved about it, and told me that it very much seemed like something that I would be interested in (and I am a sucker for recommendations). I took their words to heart and picked up Winter’s Bone.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that most of the public is aware of just how good the movie turned out. Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay,  for leading actress Jennifer Lawrence, as well as Best Supporting Actor for John Hawkes, all of which are incredibly deserved and make a case for winning (although none of them did). I, having now read the book, was ready to believe the hype. The movie is spectacular, but it is Woodrell’s vision that gave it life. The Ozark mountain setting is so bleak it’s hard to imagine any life would inhabit its space, but he fills the scene with characters so vivid they must be real – they are downtrodden, beat down, rugged and emotional – there is blood pumping at their core and every action is necessary and vital.

Imagine my delight when I found out afterwards (and an embarassingly long time afterwards) that this wasn’t Woodrell’s first novel, as I suspected, but instead his seventh. This guy was an old pro, sneaking out novels right under my nose, but now I have made it my mission to catch up. Since, I have read Give Us a Kiss, which is so gritty that most of the passages I want to share aren’t fit to print. I’m considering saying that I enjoyed it even more than Winter’s Bone, but the two are different enough to not warrant comparison.

I also learned that this wasn’t even the first time Woodrell had been adapted into a movie. Ang Lee took Woodrell’s Woe to Live On and turned it into Ride With the Devil. This was my first experience with not totally enjoying Woodrell’s work, but I did begin to see how apt the comparisons to Cormac McCarthy are – while a book about the Civil War may not have hit the spot for me, the dude is a very seriously talented writer.

Next I’ll be sitting down with The Bayou Trilogy, Woodrell’s “Rene Shade” series comprising of his first three novels, Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, The Ones You Do. As always, dear readers, I will let you know what I think and pass it along to you, because nothing is better than a good recommendation.

– Tony

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