Tag Archives: news

Election Season Reading Challenge

When it comes to politics, there is one thing that most people agree on: making an informed decision about your vote matters. Of course there are myriad ways to stay informed and educated, and it’s great to consult multiple sources of information. So, gearing up for the grind of election season, I decided to give myself a small reading challenge. There are only three prompts, so feel free to join me!

Go Vote

Image by Chris Piascik. Click through for the artist’s website.

1. Read a Book About an Election Issue You Care About – Hot topics in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election include immigration, gun controlhealthcare, and more, but I urge you to define what matters most to you and go from there. In terms of “issues” books, I recently read Not Funny Ha-Ha, a graphic novel that straightforwardly describes two different women who choose to have abortions, and The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap, which I can’t stop talking about. I have plenty more on my “to read” list, including Burning Down the House: the End of Juvenile Prison and Between the World and Me.
2. Read a Book About Media or Politics – To me, the political process is sometimes as interesting and relevant as the outcomes. Insight about behind-the-scene antics help us understand how arguments and messages are being constructed, and interpreted (or misinterpreted).  Right now, I’m in the midst of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class and The Influencing Machine, and loving them both.
3. Read a book about or by a candidate  – There are so many choices, I’m not even sure where to start. Choose your own adventure:
How will you be keeping up-to-date this election season?


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What to Read and Watch While Awaiting Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

Every so often, a moment occurs in the literary world that is so remarkable and so unexpected that one wonders if this isn’t the stuff of fiction.

I’m talking, of course, about last week’s news that a new (sorta) novel by Harper Lee is scheduled to be published this July.

Yes, that Harper Lee, the same one of To Kill a Mockingbird fame.

I can’t speak for everyone here at the Library, but my sentiments are in line with those shared by my colleagues Don Wentworth and Miguel Llinas (“Western Pennsylvania literary community weighs in on Lee news” Pittsburgh Tribune Review, 2/3/2015).

Of course, this announcement has its own plot twist with some accompanying controversy and speculation, which I’m not going to get into here today.  Despite being an English/Communications major in college, I’m just an admirer and appreciative fan of TKAM and Harper Lee — not an expert. Nor do I play one on the Internet.

Instead, what I — and the Library — can offer are some thoughts on what you can read and watch while you’re awaiting Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Chances are, it has been a few years since you’ve picked up To Kill a Mockingbird.  Maybe you never read it in school. Perhaps you don’t remember reading it, or perhaps some aspects of the story have gotten a little fuzzy over the past 55 years. Doesn’t matter. A July publication date means that there is plenty of time to revisit this classic and say hi to your old friends Atticus, Scout and Boo.

To Kill a Mockingbird - DVD

There’s the movie version, which I admit I’ve never seen. (I know. I know.) Must remedy that soon.

Mockingbird - Charles Shields

In my view, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles Shields is required reading for everyone who loves To Kill a Mockingbird.  So much of Harper Lee’s life is written into the pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, which I never realized until reading this.  Shields’ well-written biography is based on at least 600 interviews with people connected to Harper Lee, who is referred to as Nelle, her given name, throughout the book.

Other titles that look intriguing:

Scout, Atticus and Boo

Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird, by Mary McDonagh Murphy

The Mockingbird Next Door

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills

What are your thoughts about To Kill a Mockingbird and the publication announcement of Go Set a Watchman?

And what else Mockingbird-related should I be reading (or watching) to hold me over until July?

~ Melissa F.


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Lies, Damn Lies, and Librarians

You wouldn’t know the truth if it kicked you in the head. – Hitch

I sometimes wonder if the First Amendment should be conditional, though I’m not sure what the criteria or who the arbiter would be.  It can’t be based on education; too many supposedly educated people are horse’s patooties. It goes without saying that it cannot be left up to government at any level or to any party. So, even though I empathize with the Hamiltonians rather than the Jeffersonians, I’ll defer to Jefferson on this one.


Thomas Jefferson


Alexander Hamilton

Where did this originate from to throw my otherwise good nature off (the time is truly ripe for a baseball piece, isn’t it?) I’m sure many of you have online affinity or discussion groups you participate in or observe.  If you’re a Facebook user, you’re used to seeing someone’s snippet of an idea that may or may not convey a profound level of intellectual thought.  At any rate my friends (real and FB imaginary) and I float in that direction rather than posting inane pictures of our cats, dogs and other drooling pets. One of the things I try to do is to mix-up the choir a little bit. Where’s the fun in engaging in discourse if everyone has the same worldview? Ragging on the opposition in a unanimous voice has to get boring, doesn’t it? However, every so often something happens, or someone writes / posts something that leaves you honestly concluding “the zombie apocalypse would be a breath of fresh air.” (I was actually much harsher in an expletive laden sort of way.)  Here’s what was posted:

Saw this and a succession of commentary and my sense of what’s right & wrong went into skeptical overdrive.  Needless to say, using rather common Librarian superpowers (readily available to mere mortals, but don’t tell anyone,) I satisfied myself and some other well intentioned folk that former Fed chief Greenspan never said this, and never endorsed this kind of economic view in any forum.

What Alan Greenspan did do, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in 1997, was outline several of the reasons why inflation was still low to non-existent in the previous 3-4 year period.  Among the reasons he cited and the evidence provided were a recent history of longer union contracts, fewer labor-management conflicts and fewer workers moving between jobs.  He also concluded that the then current phenomena of worker insecurity needed to be further studied to find fully accurate causes.  I will say, he did it in florid and terribly dry fashion –

“The reluctance of workers to leave their jobs to seek other employment as the labor market tightened has provided further evidence of such concern, as has the tendency toward longer labor union contracts. For many decades, contracts rarely exceeded three years. Today, one can point to five- and six-year contracts–contracts that are commonly characterized by an emphasis on job security and that involve only modest wage increases. The low level of work stoppages of recent years also attests to concern about job security.”

The link above takes you to the catalog record for our holdings (on fiche) of the hearings that Chairman Greenspan appeared before, but you can also go one additional step to prove a point (and pass on the fiche.)

1. Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan; The Federal Reserve’s semiannual monetary policy report, Before the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, U.S. Senate. February 26, 1997

2. Job Insecurity of Workers Is a Big Factor in Fed Policy By Louis Uchitelle –New York Times. February 27, 1997

We did this once before around here, only the subject was then Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, and the accusation was that as Mayor of Wasilla, she had actively pursued the censoring of materials from the Wasilla Library.  A little legwork by library staff debunked that story too.  I am a firm believer in letting the honest facts speak for themselves, and letting people prove they aren’t worthy of my time or consideration by dint of their real sins, not the imagined ones.

– Richard

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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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war is northless.

Today is the five year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq which launched the current war.  The casualty count of U.S. soldiers nears 4,000 and Iraqi civilian deaths number at least 80,000 (though varying estimates exist).  The cost in dollars rises by the minute.

Whether you agree with George W. Bush that these were necessary costs, you’re a Pittsburgher for Peace, or you’d rather follow Heath Ledger’s death, there is probably a subject heading to lead you to materials about the war that support your opinion. 

Whatever your position, some of the most undeniably compelling writing and comment about the war comes from soldiers themselves, as evidenced by last weekend’s conference “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations,” an event modeled after the controversial 1971 Winter Soldier conference that involved Vietnam veterans.  The name “Winter Soldier” is a play on the famous opening to Thomas Paine‘s writing “The American Crisis:” 

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”

Excerpts from last weekend’s Winter Soldier conference are available to hear online, and there are numerous books that contain personal narratives from many sides, including heroes, Army interrogators, Iraqis, embedded journalistsa pet dog and less-easy-to-categorize others.  A good amount of fiction related to the war also stocks the shelves.

 A situation as morally complex and with repercussions as serious as war (especially one with such contentious beginnings and with so many many many many scandals) can leave us confused or angry, but at least there’s some comfort in the fact that we can find resources to educate ourselves about it.  And, hopefully, it’s safe to say that, however we think we should get there, we’re all awaiting the day when we can commemorate an anniversary that marks the beginning of peace in Iraq.



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