Tag Archives: current events

Living History

We lived history this week. The Palestinian Authority, precursor to a government of Palestine, requested membership in the United Nations.  We may have glanced at it in the papers, perhaps saw it as a Yahoo News panel, or listenedto  or watched some commentary or interviews about it. What I wonder is how many of us outside of Israel and the West Bank understood its significance? President Abbas’s address to the General Assembly hasn’t been the only history we lived this week, this year, or even this decade. But outside of 9/11 and perhaps the election of Barack Obama as President, events don’t seem to stick to the ribs anymore.

What hath cable news and the Internet wrought?  Are we exposed to too much news (and not such newsworthy reporting) too often and too rapidly?  Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel seem to think so. In Blur: How to Know What’s True in the Age of Information Overload, Kovach and Rosenstiel introduce us to the concept that we need to become our own editors if we are to make sense of the flood of news and information available to us today. In their words:

The real information gap in the 21st century is not who has access to the Internet and who does not. It is the gap between people who have the skills to create knowledge and those who are simply in a process of affirming preconceptions without growing and learning.

By its very expansiveness and pace, both the news and information in general readily overwhelm us. It isn’t necessarily numbing, but I find myself engaging in information triage everyday, so I don’t become info-numbed. Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has written that his research indicates our brains are just not “hardwired” enough to absorb and process the quantity of information they’re subject too. His work, The Overflowing Brain: Information Overload and the Limits of Working Memory provides (very academically) the data and research used to reach that conclusion and some steps that can be taken to improve memory performance in light of both the volume of information we seek to assimilate, and age.

Going back to my premise about the news, coupled with absorbing it all—or not—is the additional task of prioritizing it. In the same week that Abu Mazen spoke to the UN, the US Congress failed to pass another interim spending bill, Moammar Quaddafi was or wasn’t in exile, nine Republican presidential hopefuls debated in Florida (Orlando no less, but I won’t go there,) and Overdrive announced that Kindle compatible e-books would now be available at public libraries. How do you rank these in importance and impact?

Finally, there is the crossover effect into the worlds of work and study, perhaps even into family life.  If it’s hard to assimilate it all, how much harder is it to organize and make sense of it, in order to make decisions?  That itself is a stand-alone subject. For our sakes, we need to be able to distinguish what is important from the 2nd and 3rd tier news/information without self-imploding or excessive hair pulling.

— Richard

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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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In The News: Libya

I can’t decide if it’s me or Pittsburgh, and how news is covered or presented, or if the quantity of news information available reduces almost every storyline to Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame.  Outside of Queen Elizabeth II and Fidel Castro, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi (and the variations of G, Q, or K in spelling) has been an eternal presence on the world stage since I was 10 years old.

Depending on your outlook and frame of reference, Qadhafi is either an arch Arab nationalist, victimized by President Reagan, who has tried to modernize his country with a unique approach to Islam and Pan-Arabism, or a previously unapologetic supporter of terrorism who has seen the error of his ways.  In either case, the idea that Libya would be the scene of a prolonged popular uprising is amazing,  and yet after two weeks of reporting, it’s all but faded from the headlines.

On the surface, Libya in and of itself doesn’t have the significance of Egypt or the dynamism of Tunisia vis-a-vis the Arab street and political upheaval, but that Kadaffi has lost that much control so rapidly is to me a barometer of where the Arab world is heading.  As we’ve seen in Iraq and post Mubarak Egypt, Democracy doesn’t necessarily translate into the Madison – Jefferson – Adams model we pride ourselves on in the US.  A philosophy and way of life isn’t so readily exportable, it isn’t something that can just be given or imparted – it’s a process.  If successful, at the end of the day it probably won’t look like what we have here and it probably shouldn’t.


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Cool New Digital Tools

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh proudly presents some cool new digital tools for library users.  Grab your CLP card and take these electronic resources for a spin.

ProQuest Historical Newspapers

What it is:   The Pittsburgh Courier in digital form

What it does: Provides full-text access to 91 years’ worth of a prominent African American newspaper.

What you can do with it:  Explore local history; supplement your geneaology research;  get a different view of local and world news;  teach your students about African American history;  search for interesting events that happened on your birthday.

Bonus feature:  You can also search the ABI/Inform business database from the same screen.

If you like it:  See also The African American Experience, or visit The Pennsylvania Department to use Newspaper Archive, another cool digital tool from ProQuest.

Global Issues in Context

What it is:  A clearinghouse of information on current topics and controversies.

What it does:  Collects massive amounts of information into one place, and represents all sides of challenging issues.

What you can do with it:  Get credible information faster; stop wading through 5 million Google hits; read non-partisan information from reputable sources; educate yourself about different cultures and customs; set up RSS feeds for world news sources (separate sign-up required);  challenge your first impressions; become a well-informed citizen.

Bonus feature:  Contains lesson plans and other educational resources for teachers, as well as research and other study guides for students.

If you like it:  See also CQ Researcher Plus Archive and Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center.

Questions, comments, praise and censure can be directed to info@carnegielibrary.org .  And don’t forget:  your chance to weigh in on what role technology — among other things — should play in the future of the library is coming up soon.  Visit the Community Conversation page for more details.

–Leigh Anne
Who will be back with another cool digital update as soon as she can get the dohickey to work correctly with the thingamabob


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Economic Stimulus Made Simple

So, I’m no economist, but I gather that this much-talked-about economic stimulus package that Congress passed on Friday, February 13 is kind of a big deal.  Because it’s so important, here are some articles and resources that provide basic information. 

You can read the full text of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009(ARRA) at whitehouse.gov (where you can also view a slideshow of  Callie Shell-eque photos of President Obama working to win passage of the ARRA).  The House Committee on Appropriations site also provides the bill’s entire text and related information as well as a summarizing press release.  

photo by ShellyS

"Fixing the Money Pipeline" by ShellyS

An important aspect of the ARRA is the government’s promise to be transparent about its use.  In that interest, the not-yet -active site recovery.gov will serve as part of “an unprecedented effort to root out waste, inefficiency and unecessary spending in our government” and allow taxpayers to see how and where the $787 billion are spent.

 News coverage that analyzes the package includes The New York Times, which published a chart, ” The Stimulus Plan: How to Spend $787 Billion,” that breaks down monetary allocations by category.  The Times also approached the plan from an individual perspective with its article “What’s in the Stimulus Bill for You,” as did the Associated Press in “How the Economic Stimulus Plan Could Affect You,” and USA Today in “How Will the $787 Billion Stimulus Package Affect You?”   

To find out how the ARRA will impact Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania, read this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that details the plans representatives submitted for infrastructure improvements in local and state transportation and construction.  It also links to some informative charts that list how PA will spend its $23 billion, a side-by-side comparison of other states’ allotments and more. 

With so much money and our economic livelihood at stake, there are nearly endless sources of information, controversial opinions and uncertainty.  Should you need help navigating them, you know what to do: Ask a librarian.




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