Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Notre Dame--the most overrated team in history

College football's Bowl Championship Series rankings may be ok most of the time in deciding what 2 teams should be in the "national championship" game (although Auburn in 2004, USC in 2003, and more egregiously imho, Oregon in 2001 might have good cause to argue even with that!), but its formula in deciding who's 3rd through whatever has got some real problems. The BCS people know this, of course, because every single year it has been around, they have changed the formula they use in their determinations. Human polls have decreased and increased in value, judging strength of schedule has undergone some transformations, and which polls and computer programs the BCS uses have changed from year to year as well. This year, an over-reliance on polls has led the BCS to outrageously overvalue Notre Dame, allowing them to steal a very large paycheck from another deserving school--most likely Oregon again. I don't know why Notre Dame is given such acclaim for its wins and such a dismissal of its losses, but it is obvious this year that the coaches and writers who are polled are insanely pro-ND.
Let's take a look at what ND has done. Yes, they played a heck of a game against USC. But let's face it, they had an extra week to prepare for SC, and SC was playing its 3rd road game in a row, and ND still lost! Gee, when Fresno State played just as well against a rested SC at USC, their poll position didn't budge. ND, on the other hand, moved up in one poll--into the top 10--by losing at home to SC !
Their other loss is, or would be for any other program, embarrassing. Michigan State is the very definition of mediocre this year. In a conference that only has one standout team this year, MSU went 2-6, and was 4-6 overall against teams other than ND. Gosh, when UCLA lost its only game to a similarly bad opponent, they dropped 7 spots in both major polls, and out of the top 10 completely!
Well, maybe ND should be forgiven for its losses; it has usually made up for those by wins against the nation's elite. Oops, not this year: ND's wins have come at the expense of teams that went a combined 42-47 in games otherwise; only 3 of them had winning records, and one of those was Navy, which doesn't ordinarily play too rough a schedule itself. ND's most impressive win--by far--was against a less-than-stellar 7-3 Michigan, who padded their own schedule this year with juggernauts like Northern Illinois and Eastern Michigan.
It is clear that the people who are voting in these polls have an incredible blind spot when it comes to certain teams, and Notre Dame is always at the top of that list. It's virtually criminal that their ineptitude is going to result in ND getting double digit millions more dollars than it earned this year, while a school that actually proved its mettle on the field loses out on that payday. The BCS numbers were supposed to cure these ills by including more objective data in its calculations--after all, how can a coach be expected to watch any games that don't involve his own each week, or a writer see all of the games necessary to make intelligent comparisons every week? That point of view, however, has shown to be unpopular with those same brilliant voters, and the spineless BCS committee caved. Nice system, eh?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Republicans in free fall?

From Jean Schmidt's vicious slander in the House to Smirky's surreal trip around east Asia, things are going poorly for the loons on the right. It's getting so bad that both Smirky and Dick have recently made speeches where they insisted that dissent was ok by them. Of course, they also stated the opposite in those very same speeches, muddying their message badly. Smirky, in the midst of asserting baselessly that Democrats are now "rewriting history", made the charge that "[t]he stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important, for politicians to throw out false charges. These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will." Dick backpedaled even further, claiming that he is "unwilling" to say that "untruthful charges" (i.e., that Smirky and the rest of the clowns lied about Iraq's imminent danger to us) against Smirky hurt our war effort. (He does say, on the other hand, that Senators have no business making such claims, making his definition of dissent rather narrow in this case.) Of course, those "untruthful charges" are hardly that; almost every new report on who knew what when is concluding that our Administration knew full well that Saddam Hussein had no WMD and was no threat to the US. These two speeches, naturally, are belied by over 4 years of statements and actions by members of Smirky's administration intended to cow opposition and stifle dissent.
Why the change of heart, guys? Could it be that since the pollsters now show a majority of US citizens think you all have screwed just about everything up royally you're trying to play nice? Convincing the public that your Administration is filled with anything but ideologues hell-bent on destroying the country's most cherished programs and values will take more than a couple of speeches, especially ones wherein you refuse to admit your errors or the very real concerns the public has for the immorality and illegality of your actions. Patrick Fitzgerald won't be dissuaded from his task of rooting out the nefarious actions of vindictive leakers and liars in your Administration, Smirky, and neither should the rest of us. The more rats that jump off your sinking ship and roll over on their bosses (or get convicted), the less credible your denials of deceptive behavior become. Once people begin to doubt your word (as the polls show is happening), you need to produce actual evidence to regain their trust; I'm betting that will prove impossible, because all the evidence that we get to see confirms the opposite of what you have said to us. Which is why you've been hiding everything behind "executive privilege" all these years in the first place. I can't wait for you all to collapse in a heap of recriminations and finger-pointing, but for that to happen, we need to remain vigilant and steadfast. This isn't "revisionism", Smirky, it's the Truth. But then again, you wouldn't recognize that even if it jumped up and impeached you . . .

Post Chemo Scan 1

Well, apparently this chemo stuff works; I'm still cancer-free! Now, if I could just stop catching colds and infections, I might begin to feel better. I should have known this would happen this week; I have a long history of getting sick on Thanksgiving. No gift horse-looking here, though, I swear.
I'm sure my body will start feeling normal right around the time I have to go back to work full-time. It would be nice to get at least a couple days off when I feel ok; it's been 6 months, after all! Oh well . . .

Monday, November 14, 2005

CLA, part 2

One other thing struck me as significant about the contours of our profession upon reflection on the California Libraries Association conference. Even as libraries are staunch bridgers of the "digital divide" between those with access to technology and those without, a "resource divide" seems to be growing between libraries themselves. A glance at the list of databases San Francisco Public Library or Los Angeles Public Library offers to its patrons, when compared to that of my own (especially), or even that of the largest library in another state, reveals a marked disparity in quality and quantity of the resources available to their card holders. And while in my library's case our patron base may not necessarily be calling for access to all of these databases, they are certainly in need of more than we can afford. (And for all you snide Republicans out there, this is definitely a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it!)
Our patrons are lucky enough, in that they can get to a local branch of LAPL relatively easily and obtain a library card to that system also to avail themselves of those resources, but there are many locations--even in LA county--that aren't anywhere close to an LAPL branch. I suspect that most public libraries in this country are more like ours or Multnomah County's in the number and type of databases they can offer, meaning that most of the citizens in the country are getting far less access to electronic resources than a select few others. (Sound familiar?)
Unfortunately, there is little that libraries can do about this divide other than to try to get better funding (read, "more money") from their communities; in this severely brain-damaged political climate of "Taxes bad. Must cut taxes, regardless of actual effects on economy or services", however, that is becoming increasingly unlikely to happen for most communities and states. Most librarians don't get that they need to be politically active (or at the very least, politically aware) and PR savvy enough to convince their funding bodies that cutting library services is a really bad idea. Most politicians know this already, but selling the notion of an increase in taxation--even if it's for a good cause--seems to be impossible these days.
I guess. Nobody is even trying it, really. Is it that hard a job to sell people on the idea that some things actually benefit from public funding? From potholes to sewage treatment to mass transit to library resources, public works and services are necessary for a civilization to maintain its standard of living, let alone progress. I'm convinced that freeways are falling apart and that my library needs more money, aren't you? And I can't afford to fix the broken sidewalk in front of my apartment by myself--why should it be incumbent on me to do so, or to round up a batch of others to chip in? Why aren't politicians making these arguments against the neo-con freaks who want to privatize everything in the public domain and eliminate government altogether? Even the most obscene fiscal conservatives understand that there are things that government is good at (although getting them to admit it is another matter!); funding public works is one of them. I think librarians should begin arguing that we are actually akin to a pothole that needs fixing, as opposed to a vital community service, because that approach is failing. Public park land in many states is getting sold to commercial interests for cash (think "logging" or "oil" rights); it's only a matter of time before some political genius thinks that a private corporation would do a more "efficient" job running a public library and offers to sell it off as well, to the financial "benefit" of his/her horribly tax-oppressed constituents. And at that point, the resource divide and the digital divide would crack wide open, because there isn't anything about a public library that realistically turns a profit, if viewed in that narrow-minded way. That's not our mission. It can't be; it shouldn't be.
We need to wake up to the reality that we as a nation are losing our grip on what made our country the most powerful one in the world, which had nothing to do with military might. It was our goal of equality of opportunity for all our citizenry, and as we continue to allow the Republicans to strip away all taxes for the investor class, we are in very serious danger of permanently reducing the economic base necessary to achieve that lofty civic goal. It's great that SFPL and LAPL can afford to purchase access to all those wonderful educational and research tools; it's sad and also quite ominous that all public libraries (and their patrons) can't do the same . . .

Thursday, November 10, 2005

CLA conference, part 1

TBO and I attended the California Libraries Association conference last weekend, so I thought I would take this opportunity to remind anyone watching that I am, still, a librarian, and to make some observations about the conference. As with most conferences, I suppose, CLA offered several "tracks" to guide participants to the workshops (an obvious misnomer--all I saw were "presentations"!) they would find most useful. In this case, all of the talks I saw were from 2 tracks--reference and technology. Since the job of a modern reference librarian involves the use of a wide range of technology, there should have been a lot of informational overlap between these two tracks, but instead I noticed some serious divisions, mainly in the attitudes of (at least some of) the presenters and the audiences.
One would assume that presenters in a "technology" track for a conference would necessarily be optimistic about the use of newer and better hardware and software, regardless of the audience, and that was indeed the case at CLA as well. In fact, at the "What's Hot in Technology" talk, the main emphasis of the discussion was that even if libraries don't (or can't) currently provide the newest technology to their patrons, this stuff is "out there" and people are using it, and our profession must address these new usages regardless of what we think about them. The all-too-real alternative is that we will become mired in outdated and archaic practices and prove useless to our patrons.
One of the problems this creates for us as a whole, however, is that this progressive outlook on technology is unsupported by the traditional "ideology" espoused by many librarians. I witnessed this traditionalism firsthand at the "Reference Tricks They Don't Teach You in Library School" talk from the reference track. Many of the "tricks" involved the use of Google's advanced features, almost all of which have been in existence for years, but even so, many members of the audience could be heard audibly gasping in wonder. (Seriously!)
I was even more taken aback, though, by the hostility shown toward the Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia that is almost completely open for editing) by the presenters. Instead of taking the opportunity to explain the technology and urging the audience to participate in this grand experiment in communal knowledge building, the presenter archly condemned Wikipedia by showing the audience how easy it is to deface it, without even taking the time to assess whether the information contained in it was accurate. The presenter's cynicism and dismissive point of view were instantly and powerfully transmitted to the audience--who were clearly horrified--making it extremely unlikely that any of them would view this particular emerging technology with anything but disdain. I was disgusted, and the fact that the presenters are professors at one of just two library schools in southern California made me realize how many librarians out there are being trained and/or reinforced in a belief of distrust for technology and the public.
The success or failure of Wikipedia (or any other collaborative technology or endeavor, including society as a whole, I'd argue) depends on whether there are more people in the world willing to do good rather than evil in this instance; this presenter clearly feels that's not the case. That he chose (and presumably continues to choose, in his position as professor) to air his pessimism from a position of authority is a disgraceful shame, because he probably just added about 100 people to the side that won't do anything to help.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Chemo 6

Well, it's over (for now?). Thankfully, I survived this one without any severe traumas--no visits to the ER and only a couple of attacks of that weird poisoned feeling on Wed. night. Yay! 2+ weeks of feeling side effects, and then onward and upward to health once again. I can't wait! My waistline can't either--taking all this time off of working out has taken its toll, that's for sure. I am so weakened, obviously enough, that it's going to be a loooong while before I'll be anywhere near "in shape" again, but given the givens, I am even looking forward to beginning that process. I haven't let any of this sink in just yet; it'll probably hit somewhere around day 22 (when I would have gone in for the next treatment) on Nov. 24. Thanksgiving should be quite joyous! I've certainly got a lot to be thankful for, that's for sure, huh? Let's all hope I never have to write a "Chemo 7", ok?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

One More Time. One More Time. One More Time . . .

My last chemo treatment is slated for tomorrow/Thursday. Given that last time--heck of the times--didn't go so well, I'm a bit anxious about it all. We're taking all the possible precautions against calamity, but it's hard to be too optimistic, since that's been the case each time also. I am grateful that this is the last time, God willing, but it's been getting progressively harder to recover from these sessions. I do have my disgust of Smirky and his gang to keep me going, though . . .
; )
One more time. One more time. One more time . . .