Friday, April 22, 2005

How can you say that you're not responsible?

A bonechilling report on Morning Edition today about the involvement of some Catholic priests in the Rwandan genocide.

It seems only fair to point out that the story also mentions how over a hundred Catholics in Holy Orders were killed for being born Tutsis, or standing up to the Hutu genocidal mobs, while it sounds like 3 or 4 priests have been legally accused of participating in the genocide. The actions of those handful had an unconscionable human cost, but it's worth keeping both numbers in mind.

What's far more worrying to me is the fact that the NPR piece starts with a familiar story. One of the priests currently standing trial in international court had been shuffled out of the country, even ministering in Europe under an assumed name. This person is accused of participating in the murder of 2,000 of his own parishoners.

The local archbishop denies that any priests were involved, in spite of the fact that some have been convicted by Rwandan and international courts.

Pope Benedict XVI does not need my advice on "where to start." There's plenty of good options. But it might not hurt to make an early acknowledgment that the members of the Church are subject to both canon law and the laws of the land. When a priest commits a crime, he needs to be subject to both ecclesiastical consequences and civil penalties. They deserve due process, of course, the presumption of innocence when possible, and even Christian charity. But we must not dare to be completely above the law.

The Berrigans did their time, as have countless other Catholics who committed civil crimes for religious conscience. It is an insult to our faith, and to the entire tradition of civil disobedience, to conflate "innocent until found guilty" with "innocent until found in Florence or Arizona."

This is how we reconcile being "a city on a hill" with "redering unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Most of us are not called to be separate, we are called to be more. We will hold up the martyrs who succeeded. We must hold accountable, in both worlds, those who have so spectacularly failed.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Pouring off of every page like it was written on my soul

Well, Hugh has hit me with the Book Meme, and so I am compelled to answer. All links go to Powells.Com, because real people who run real bookstores in the world we really live in deserve our support.

(Sidebar: "Librarians must have really interesting taste in books" is a common, if beneficial, stereotype. Truth be told, most of the librarians I've known tend towards voracious consumption of paperback mysteries. That said, I've also known a fair number who read nonfiction extensively, some who are into sci-fi, but only a few with truly deep arty tastes.)

You are stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book would you be?
My knee-jerk reaction is the Collected Works of William Butler Yeats. Like Hugh, I hope verse will be easier to memorize than prose. (Also like Hugh, I've never read Fahrenheit 451, so I'm not clear on how much latitude I've got.)

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

You should really ask more specific questions.

What is the last book you bought?
The last books I bought for myself were on a gift certificate from Amazon: Liberty Meadows: Creature Comforts, and Marvel: 1602. Actually, I think I got America: The Book at the same time. Yes, I read books with pictures.

What are you currently reading?
Neal Stephenson's Confusion, hopefully to progress to The System of the World this week, and Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For More Food. Yes, I also read more dense stuff.

Five books you would take to a deserted island:
Well, if I'm going tomorrow, The System Of The World, for one, because I need to know how this turns out. (For that matter, I could do this off of my to-read pile: Will in the World, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Practical Demonkeeping and ,My Other Life. I got about three thousand pages for my birthday, and another two thousand or so for Christmas, so I'm way behind.)

Of course, there's the old "Boat Building for Dummies" joke. But if I'm going to have to recreate the art of cuisine, I really am going to need Cookwise, the most readable (and edible) chemistry/physics textbook you'll ever see.

I'm going to need a copy of Little Gidding just to survive, so a copy of the Four Quartets or the Complete Works of T.S. Eliot. "The end is where we start from."

I'm going to want a copy of the 1991 edition of the New American Bible, if only so Lemming and I can have theological debates by floating bottle.

Hmmm... here's another non-answer: all 5 volumes of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. In the 1960s printing with the cool abstract covers, please. If I have to pick one, I guess The High King. (Hugh... you were looking for young adult lit a while back, and these might work.)

Who are you going to pass this book meme to and why? (only three people)
OK... I'm going to pick 3 people who might need an excuse to keep their blogs active... Spoon, Alison, and Ben.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Picking out a book, check it in, check it out

National Library Week ends on tax day.

What butthead thought that up?

There are credible threats to the existence of some public libraries, coming from anti-tax activists who think everything is on the Internet, or anyone can just go to Amazon and buy anything they need. (My apologies to Lemming, TRP, and any other professional educator who just threw something out the window in fury.) Moreover, a lot of libraries are seeing restrictions in their collections, services, staffing, and hours, because they have a hard time competing for scarce state funding.

I like to think that I'm insulated from that, working in the private sector of librarianship. But truthfully, the amazing OhioLINK consortium is facing some major cuts in the Ohio state budget, which will mean some group resources will get cut. And while Small Liberal Arts College is weathering these economic times better than a lot of our peer schools, we will feel the ripple when we’re unable to pick up the state’s slack. In any situation, there’s the question of whether the administrators who hold the purse strings actually get what you’re doing and see how important it is to long-term health. (We’re fortunate enough to have a supportive administration here at SLAC, but not everyone is.)

So maybe it’s not actually bad timing. This is a good time to think about whether your tax dollars are going where you want them. If you don't know, it’s a good time to find out. Maybe your local public library can help you with that.

When was the last time you went to the library, by the way? One way to think of your taxes, after all, is that it's paying for services whether you use them directly or not. A lot of these services, like education and welfare, or defense, fire, ambulance, and police, you may either not plan on using or actively hope not to, but you still have some benefits from them existing.

But the library is fully elective. You can buy books, but you can also choose to borrow them for free, or just use them for a while and drop them off. You can rent movies at Blockbuster or Netflix, or you can discover (after years, as I did) that the local public library has a really good collection available for free. Or prepaid, if you prefer. As a Book Person, I certainly understand that some books (and magazines and videos) are objects which you just want to own. But since you’ve already paid for your library to buy the stuff you just want to look at, why not go use it? And if they don’t have what you want, look for a librarian who can tell you why not and what to do about it (and maybe something similar enough for the moment).

That’s what we're here for.

Most people like the idea of libraries. We give people the warm fuzzies, and that’s great. But here’s the basic truth: we need to see you in the doors, on the web sites, using the goodies, going to the programs, and telling the PTB that you did.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Oh-oh-oh, listen to the music

I had a fun musical week, and I thought I’d share it. A week ago Friday, I saw John McCutcheon in concert at a Habitat for Humanity benefit. I didn’t think I knew who he was at all, until he told us that he’s the guy who sings the "I’m gonna wrap myself in paper / I’m gonna mail myself to you" song used in the Christmastime Post Office ads. (Which, by the way, is a Woody Guthrie song… as McCutcheon put it, "in the age of email and instant messaging, Woody and I are helping the Post Office tell people to write letters.")

Then, later in the show, I found out he wrote Christmas in the Trenches, which I’d been vaguely hunting for for about 15 years now.

McCutcheon is a good old-fashioned unreconstructed folkie lefty. He sang songs about unions and workingmen and war and Ashcroft’s Army, and told the most fabulous stories between them. (Having heard most of my live folk music in bars, I’d forgotten how exquisite it was to listen to a storyteller working to music.) But most of the students there (and a lot of the parents too) clearly knew him best from his albums for children. And he did, indeed, perform plenty of songs about fatherhood and family and his kids. I thought it was kind of funny… until I realized that’s pretty much the musical relationship I have with Pete Seeger.

It was McCutcheon’s story about singing Joe Hill in Australia which sold me a copy of his Live at Wolf Trap album. (That makes 2 copies of Joe Hill I own. It gives me chills every time. One more copy and I think I get an IWW card. Two more and HUAC will be at my door.)

And having designs on both Alpha Geek and intellectual property opinionmaker status, how much can I love somebody who got online in time to register as his domain name, and lets you download the "short shelf life" political commentary songs for free.

Then Saturday night, continuing my festival of lefty music, I watched
Green Day
perform American Idiot on VH1. Like a lot of rock operas, it opens really well and seems to drag in the middle, but comes to a pretty interesting end. (Tip to the rock world… if you don't throw in a recitative or two to tell us what the heck is going on, what you've written isn’t an opera, it's a musical without a script.)

I don’t buy into the "Green Day isn’t real punk" argument, but then, I’m not a real punk either. All I know is that I heard a fair number of those classic '60s rock figures played real fast and real loud, which was good enough for the Ramones and it's good enough for me. And some really passionate but not real coherent social criticism, which, again, seems traditional. I’m trying to decide whether the whole album is worth a purchase, or if I should just cherry-pick the good stuff from iTunes.

(By the way, it’s "music month" on VH1. Are all my readers old enough to remember when it was always music month on VH1?)

Tuesday night brought a concert by John Holloway, Jaap ter Linden, and Lars Ulrik Mortensen, of music from the 1700s. And what is, to me at least, a brand new sentence.

Lars Ulrik Mortensen plays harpsichord like Mick Jagger would.

He emotes with his whole body, back rocking, eyes piercing, making faces at his colleagues and the harpsichord. Kinda cool.

And to wrap it up, I saw Sahara last Friday. (It’s your basic 3 out of 5 stars action movie… nothing wrong with it, or particularly brilliant about it either.) The group included our History department’s Africanist. He was kind enough to point out the movie’s valuable historical lessons: there really is a continent called Africa, in the Western part of it there really is a country called Mali, and there really is a West African nomadic people called the Tuareg. Everything else was pretty much… um… fiction. ("Wrong" is such a judgmental word.)

But the musical angle is that the soundtrack does a really interesting job of evoking Africa with music. And, sure enough, our Africanist says that some of it was relatively recent African "top 40" music. It’s obviously informed by different traditions than American music, but also produced and composed in a modern enough style to appeal to American audiences. And I can’t help but wonder if African audiences will get a similar cultural code to the fact that the Americans were symbolized with 70s classic rock.

Which got me to wondering: there are Oscars for best song and best score, but why not one for best soundtrack? Shouldn’t there be an award which celebrates the use of existing music to tap into their intense cultural connections? Doesn’t the person who digs through the archives to find just the right song, or who commissions a brilliant cover, deserve some credit?

Right now, I’ll bet you have a copy of the soundtrack for either The Big Chill, The Breakfast Club, or The Commitments in your collection. If you’re roughly my age, I bet either "American Girl" or "Stuck in the Middle with You" will never be the same again. (In fact, I bet you're shuddering right now.) Every last person reading this has sat through to the end of the credits to find out "who was that singing that song." Heck, I hear songs and picture how they might be used in a movie which hasn’t even been written yet. Somebody puts a lot of work into the choosing, licensing, and editing that music… haul them up and let us know who they are!

(And here's a major frustration... according to Amazon, the "Music From And Inspired By Sahara" album only includes the classic rock. None of the African stuff. Thank you, Marketing Department.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

You gotta have heart

I choose to believe that last Saturday’s snowstorm is winter’s last gasp. (Snow in April. Can I tell you how wrong it is to snow in April?) At the moment, we’re having a gloriously sunny day, appropriately cool for early spring. The students are reacting to the sun and warmth like the daffodils do… exploding out of their winter coats in a riot of giddyness and color.

(That’s not a mixed metaphor. In Little College Town, we actually have giddy flowers. Ask anyone. It’s like if H.R. Pufnstuf wasn’t so damn creepy.)

I was in line at the coffee shop behind a couple of students discussing employment options after graduation. "Hi there. I understand everything about post-colonial social interactions in Central America. Hire me. Please. I don’t wanna go back to The Gap."

You’ve probably already heard that old line about how "you can do anything with a liberal arts degree" because "it’s a degree in learning how to think." But chin up, folks, because it’s true. And would you like to know why?

Because there’s a bunch of us already out here who got our jobs on nothing but a firm handshake and that line. We’re not just out here supporting you because of our common experience and shared intellectual values.

We’re counting on you not to be the weak link in the chain. If they find out you don’t have marketable skills, they might start looking for ours. So we’ll do anything in our power to propagate this... assertion.

Not that we’ve got a lot of power. We’ve all got liberal arts degrees too.