Wednesday, October 29, 2008

They grow 'em crazy up there in Alaska . . .

First on the radar for the general public this fall: Sarah Palin and her severely stunted brainpower. Next came Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who was just convicted on 7 counts of felony graft (in short). Now we hear from their sole representative to the House, Don Young, in reaction to Stevens' conviction:
"'I can remember Richard Nixon, you know, his years of service, what he’s done, and everybody [was] ridiculing him, and he ended up being the greatest president in the history of our century. ... The Senator will be re-elected. He will appeal it. When he does go, he will win it because there’s no way this is a jury of his peers,'Young told the Anchorage Daily News."
The "greatest president in the history of our century" was Richard Nixon? And this comparison is meant to be encouraging to Stevens?
Not needing mention:
All 3 are Republicans.
Worth mentioning:
Both Stevens and Young are trailing--in Young's case, quite badly--in their respective polls to Democratic challengers.
It is to laugh.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Are Lutherans bigots?

Signs point to "Yes"--literally. Our local Lutheran Church has some "Yes on Proposition 8" signs posted prominently on their lawn. These signs are clearly church-erected, because they flank the large concrete and brick structure that shows the name of the church itself, located behind an iron fence that surrounds the church's plot. While support for ballot initiatives does not violate a church's non-profit status, unfortunately, signs like these do highlight their political stances, heinous as they are in this case. One more strike against organized religions . . .
Vote "No" on 8!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nebraska Democratic Senator?

Scott Kleeb is a longshot to take the Senate election in Nebraska, but it's not for lack of trying or a lack of skill. He's a wonderfully articulate and charismatic speaker, and he would be a great addition to our ranks. And oh, yeah, he's real smart, too. Watch how he takes a hostile crowd--I mean, it's a Kiwanis lodge in Nebraska!--to a new level of discourse in this short video. Whatever you might think of his take on the issue the determined audience member pressed him on, his response was well thought out and spot on (for a Nebraska Senate candidate; we're hardly likely to get a full-blown radical elected there, after all!). He would be our 61st Democratic Senator, most likely, if . . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


There's a new "generation" term floating out there attempting to capture a particular cohort's mindset: Generation Jones. Interestingly, it is not a term for a set of people younger than those groups already "defined" ("Baby Boomers", "Generation Xers" "Millenials", etc.), but rather one that encompasses the latter part of the Baby Boomers' era--my age group. Generation Jones is that group of people born between the years of 1954 and 1965 (to which both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin belong, by the way) who have heretofore been fairly lost in the more traditional generational descriptions.
I never felt in tune with the descriptions of the Baby Boomers I have read: I was too young to have participated in any of the seminal events Boomers are normally linked with. I was 1 year and 3 months old when JFK was shot, 4-5 years old during the Summer of Love, 7 years old when the Beatles broke up, and still only 11 when Nixon resigned. How on earth was I supposed to identify with people who not only lived through these events, but actively observed or participated in some of them? In just a single sense, my take on Baby Boomers is that they protested and voted against (or, much more rarely, for) Nixon; I can barely remember him, especially since my parents were not all that political. I left for college in 1979, by which time many Boomers were already thirtysomething home owners and parents of their own school-aged children--what did I have in common with them?
I felt much more akin psychologically and socially to the Generation following me-the Gen Xers. I, too, felt misanthropic and cynical in my 20s (I still do!), as I tried somehow to carve out some sort of career in a job market flooded with Boomers who were more educated and more experienced than I was, and I was drawn to more aggressive and angry musical styles reflecting that angst. On the other hand, I was old enough to have seen (and more importantly, understand what I was seeing) Devo, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello on their original Saturday Night Live broadcasts; I saw the Minutemen and Hüsker live in "over 21" clubs myself (legally). I was old enough to know that Ronald Reagan portended disaster (as we have seen in the '00s, as his policies finally came to fruition via his political progeny), not "Morning in America", as the stereotypical Gen Xer theoretically believes. So I didn't fit in wholly with them, either.
So now I have my own moniker, and apparently this is our bellwether election, as some pundits believe we will be the deciding demographic factor between Obama and McCain. Of course, the pundits shown in that YouTube video are almost all right wing dupes trying their hardest to convince anyone they can that this won't be a total landslide in Obama's favor, which most objective observers are beginning to recognize. Once again, it therefore seems, my generation's salience will be obscured by others acting in concert. Or maybe instead, everyone else has finally figured out that Generation Jones actually contains all the smart people (Sarah Palin notwithstanding) and are following our lead! Yay!

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Ethics and the crazy patron

A co-worker told me last week that he believed the proportion of patrons we help at our library has shifted perceptibly toward the less-than-stable by a wide margin over the last few years. Since he has been in the field a lot longer than I have, I trust his judgment, which confirms my own feeling that the majority of people I "help" on any given day are using us for purposes other than our stated goals of providing avenues for serious research or entertainment to our communities.
There are three elements to this: 1) These patrons are not getting the help they truly need, which is psychological; 2) It is not always immediately apparent that the person with whom we are engaged is "out where the buses don't run"; and 3) In theory, neither 1) or 2) are supposed to matter to a professional librarian--our ethical code is such that we are supposed to treat every question and every questioner as having equal merit deserving the same considerate response. The problem is that because of our ethics, librarians are duty bound to interact with (apparently) more and more unstable members of our society, both in terms of quantity and quality, and for me, at any rate, that is becoming less and less tolerable. I derive no satisfaction from delivering reference service to some patrons, simply because I know for a fact that they are out of their freaking minds. It's really not all that difficult to tell once we begin our reference interviews, because the nature of their questions becomes demonstrably irrational or nonsensical.
For example, I was once asked to provide the "contact information for japanese jazz." I was told that "years ago, [we] had featured a magazine article about japanese jazz" and that now this patron wanted to contact "japanese jazz." At first I was stumped--what was this person really asking for? Their question, on the surface, makes no sense, right? By training and ethic, librarians are forced to delve under that surface to tease out the "real information need", so I proceeded to ask this patron some questions. Did she need to locate that original magazine article (which would have been difficult enough, considering that at no time in any past did our library "feature" articles/magazines for display purposes or anything else one would associate with that term)? No. Did she want contact information for a particular performer/producer of "japanese jazz"? No. Did she want contact information for a record label known for distributing "japanese jazz"? No. With each question I asked, she was getting audibly more angry with me. (This is a common reaction to reference interviews, in my experience, because the patrons can't seem to understand that since we aren't in their heads, we have to ask these kinds of questions to figure out what the hell they are talking about. The more questions we ask, the worse their reactions become, because they seemingly assume that we are actively trying to keep them away from their goal, even if we reassure them that we are simply trying to ascertain exactly what it is they want.) As she got angrier, I became more defensive and frustrated, because it was dawning on me that she wasn't misspeaking at all, she was simply crazy.
I asked her point blank: "Are you asking me for contact information for the style of music 'japanese jazz'"? Yes! "You want me to get you the address and phone number for a kind of music?" Yes! "You don't want names of people or organizations. Is that right?" Yes! I tried reasoning with her, even in the face of this insanity. "I'm sorry, ma'am, this question makes no sense to me, and I don't believe I can help you. There are organizations and people associated with styles and genres of music, but you cannot contact the music itself." Whereupon she began berating me for my unhelpfulness and bad attitude, because what she needed was so obviously simple: we had featured an article several years ago on "japanese jazz", and she just needed the contact information for it." (As she had told me repeatedly already, of course.) She finally told me to "just type 'japanese jazz producer' on your computer and tell me what you get." (This is a request that immediately causes me frustration and resentment, because the person clearly has absolutely no clue what a computer, or the internet, is. People with this attitude think that the box on the counter is magical, and that all we need to do is type their words exactly as they speak them, and the magic box will deliver them exactly what they need. Any attempt at explanation is met with either disbelief or immediate claims of proud ignorance, combined with the exasperation attendant with my clearly deliberate stonewalling their quest.)
I complied with her demand, and told her that there were over 175,000 results. She demanded, with smug satisfaction that she had defeated my intransigence, that I "read what was on the screen" and "give me the names" even though she had, less than 5 minutes prior, told me that she was most definitely not interested in getting the names of people or musicians associated with "japanese jazz." I told her that what I was seeing were just some random names of musicians from various and sundry websites that may or may not have anything to do with "japanese jazz", but in her triumph all she wanted me to do was give her whatever names came out of the box--even though not one of them had an address or phone number attached to it.
This kind of interaction occurs daily, and I am getting very, very tired of the struggle to maintain any attitude of helpfulness. The impossibility of knowing whether the next phone call or person walking up to the desk will result in a person literally screaming at me or abusing me with disdain, simply because I am doing my job appropriately, has created instead an air of dread surrounding my time on the reference desk. That the odds of this happening are increasing, as confirmed by my coworker's observation, is a depressing and discouraging thought. The other possibility, to which I am hardly unaware, is that I am simply a bad librarian, and am causing these negative interactions through my carelessness, thoughtlessness, and ignorance. That would be comforting, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

From the sickening "Is this even news anymore?" file

The Smirky Administration approved the use of torture! The Washington Post is reporting that the White House gave explicit support to at least 2 CIA requests for approval of interrogation techniques that have been classified as torture, including waterboarding. Yes, most of the sane world already knew this. Yes, most of the sane world also knows that everyone in the Administration denied knowing about this, let alone approved it. We didn't believe them then, and now there's unadulterated proof that we were right.
Let's see if any of the insane, unpatriotic, or stupid worlds (read: those who still vote for Republicans) finally get that these people are simply evil and have been lying to us for the entire time they've been in the public eye. I'll be over here holding my breath . . .

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California politics = massive failure

I have a long history of disliking things here in the Golden State. Traffic, air quality, cost of living, my ex-wife--all of these have raised my blood pressure at one time or always. Our political system, though, that one deserves special mention this election season. Without getting too detailed on the history or mechanics of California governance, I want to focus on one particular, incredibly bad idea implemented here: the referendum. Every year, Californians are asked to vote "yes" or "no" on a bewildering set of ballot measures because the bar for getting these on the ballot is set incredibly low. This means that at any given time, just about any legislative idea must be voted on by the citizens of the state, and many times, two competing--or actually opposing--measures can be present on the same (or worse, consecutive) ballot. More tragically, some truly crackpot, dangerous, and clearly unconstitutional ideas that would never have passed out of any state legislative committee get placed on the ballot, troubling and confusing voters who are already struggling to attain civic literacy. Sometimes the proposition itself is written in such a way as to lose its meaning, but more often than not, the various proponents and opponents wage vicious and misleading ad campaigns designed to sway voters.
Case in point: this year's Proposition 8, which has really brought out teh stupid in people. This is a straightforward and hopelessly diseased measure designed to deny a civil right to a single group of citizens. The first thought most people should have had is: How could anybody in their right mind vote in favor of such a thing? And indeed, polling on Prop 8 revealed a fairly negative reaction from the time it was introduced. The latest polls, however, have shown a marked shift in attitude in favor of passing this execrable abomination. What happened? Well, the Mormon church happened. The Mormons, in their infinite evil, have decided to throw their considerable financial and persuasive resources into the movement to pass Prop 8, leading to a wave of pro-8 media ads filled with lies, and the poor saps among us unable to separate lies from fact are being convinced that all Hell, literally, will break loose if Prop 8 passes. The battle isn't even over gay marriage--which is the only thing Prop 8 covers--anymore, because the religious bigot supporters discovered that only a small minority really care about interfering with other people's rights, regardless of who those people are. The ads instead make all kinds of outrageous and wholly deceptive claims for what Prop 8 will do. My favorite is that if passed, Prop 8 will require children to be taught in school about gay marriage. Erp? Here's a direct quote from some apparently brainwashed blogger: "Legalizing same-sex marriage immediately mandates changes to all California public school curriculum to teach that same-sex marriage is the same as traditional marriage."
Ok, kids, here's where you get to play spot-the-incorrect-assumption. I'm going to show you the entire text of Proposition 8, and you get to tell me how the blogger above reached his/her conclusion. Ready?


  • Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California
Well? Do you see anything in there about anything other than the marriage rights of same-sex couples? No? That's because Proposition 8 doesn't do anything but eliminate that right. Of course, deceit comes second nature to Mormons, whose entire religious doctrine is based on the notion that some guy (Joseph Smith) in upstate New York in the late 1820s found some holy golden plates written on in a coded language and a magic hat with which he decoded them, all of which he refused to let anyone see and all of which also somehow disappeared before anyone else could see any of it. Seriously. Upstate New York, golden plates, and a magic hat. These are not people in whom I would rely upon to tell me the truth about anything, because they clearly are not people who value rationality. Proposition 8 is simply wrong. Mormon support proves it.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Customer service gone wrong

So, TBO and I pay many of our bills automatically, or online, as I'm sure more and more people throughout the country are doing. Saves us the cost of envelopes, stamps, checks, and time, and saves trees as well. The potential problem, though, is that I, at least, don't bother to look at my statements as scrupulously as I should, especially for loan payments. This weekend I decided to open up the envelope containing a car loan that I have with my employee credit union. On our latest statement appeared a $5.oo charge for a "Failure to notify change of address fee." I was peeved, because I think that is a completely bogus thing to ding me on, since we do all our business with them electronically. Who cares where I live, just so long as they get their money on time? I thought I could get this matter settled with a quick call this morning. You see, my understanding has always been that credit unions are supposed to be the local alternatives to large, monolithic/monopolistic, and uncaring national banks, but I now have serious doubts.
The response I got from the rep was, "I don't know what you expect me to do about it. We can't call every person who we get returned mail from. You wouldn't believe all of it we get!" Her attitude was one of a laughing (!) incredulity toward my concern and a steadfast refusal to even engage me in a reasonable discussion of the propriety of such a fee, let alone a gratuitous waiver of the fee in question. When I finally allowed her to "win" the argument (since I was getting absolutely nowhere except angertown), I asked if I could now change the address they have on file, to be told that they couldn't do that over the phone--as if someone would go through that verbal harassment in order to thereupon fraudulently change someone else's address! She "graciously" allowed me to do so by fax, but made sure to tell me that this was a huge favor she was granting me, because they normally only allow changes to be made in person.
Here's the message I sent:
To whom it concerns,
Please note my change of address to:
bryduck's address
Please also note my dissatisfaction with the lack of customer service this charge (and the total lack of responsiveness with which I was met by your agent) implies. You are collecting interest on this loan far in excess of the cost of a few pieces of returned mail--and infinitely more than the cost of a single courtesy phone call informing me of this problem--so I reject that "explanation" for the purpose of this fee. The credit union will no longer be on the list of institutions I will consider when doing any further financial business, and be assured I will take my loan elsewhere as soon as is practical.
Was that worth the $5.00 you've taken from me now?
All this over $5? Not really; if the initial conversation had been handled with more--or any--sympathy on the CSR's part, I would have quickly let it slide from memory, given my already near-total lack of goodwill toward most of the financial world; this kind of thing is expected. I also expected some smarmy half-assed apology and a quick greasing of my wheel squeak, and when I didn't get that, things got ugly.
After the fax went through, I received a phone call from a manager, presumably, of the credit union. I let it go to voice mail, because I have no intention of ever dealing with anyone there again. She's lucky I did, because her first statement was, "I was really displeased with the way you expressed yourself in your fax to us." I hope she was simply mispeaking, because that bit of offensiveness would have inspired some truly epic choice return phrases from me, to be sure, along with an instant transfer out of the loan in question, APR be damned.
It's all about fun here in [name of town deleted to protect the guilty]!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Palin: So evil that even a Republican is calling her on it

Sarah Palin's speeches have been so hate-filled (and both Palin and McCain have allowed the most vile epithets to be yelled at their rallies without garnering rebukes) since her debate that even a Republican Representative has asked her to stop. Granted, he's from Obama's home state Illinois, and he's retiring, so he has nothing to lose by being human. But still . . .

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McCain shooting craps

Most people who know me know I love to hear the phrase, "Do you know who I am?" come from self-important celebrities trying to get out of something (or get something they don't deserve). It's a classically bad form of arrogance and entitlement, and I love hearing stories where it gets used and fails. Well, here's one about our buddy John "I'm unhinged and losing it" McCain. The beauty of this one is that it involves my favorite table game craps, and one of my least favorite people in the world behaving like a total freak. I especially like the part where the pit boss had to get involved (which only happens when something questionable is occurring, and their word in a casino is pretty much the final word you will hear before being tossed out in the street); McCain throws the line in his face as well, unsurprisingly.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's a boy!

TBO wanted me to show the pic where it is exceedingly obvious that we have a boy on the way, but I thought he might take a dim view of that years hence, so I demurred.
Got any name suggestions for us?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sarah Palin: Can't. Turn. Away.

"Sarah, Sarah, Sarah. If our country wasn't so thoroughly messed up, thanks to your party and all the beliefs you hold, I would derive tremendous pleasure in your complete uselessness. I mean, the one time the McCain/Palin campaign allows you to be interviewed in the last couple of weeks (to Katie Couric, who, let's face it, is not someone we would ordinarily think of in the same terms as Mike Wallace or Bill Moyers for incisive or threatening questions), you pretty much destroy any hope the Republicans have of convincing people you aren't radically incapable. It's seems clear that CBS has tried to mitigate the damage you inflicted on yourself by releasing only bits and pieces of this historic interview out to the 'net, but the sheer magnitude of your trainwreck commands respect."

Dear readers, go here to listen, or read the transcript below:

COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news.

The surreality grows with each passing moment, doesn't it?