The Feast of Saints Peter & Paul

I’m making this post two weeks two late, but I did not want to let this feast day go past without some note. Saints Peter and Paul of course are two of the most important saints in church history, both being leaders of the early Christian community after the ascension of Christ. I did not make the time to write about this saints, but luckily Baptized Pagan covered this significant feast day. I wondered why Peter and Paul, ofte at odds during their lifetimes, would share a feast day. My theory was that the Church wished to teach humility, that Peter and Paul as important as they were to the Church, were just men, humble before God. BP mentions instead that it relates to their martyrdom in Rome and the establishment of the church in that city.

While at Baptized Pagan, check out his reflections on Paul’s letter to the Galatians from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

More on Peter and Paul:

I hope my lesson learned is not that if I fail to do my work someone else will do it for me.


Movie Review: Swingers

Way back when I saw a trailer for Swingers (1996) couldn’t figure out when it was set.  The characters all dressed in 50’s clothing and drove classic cars, but had the Club.  I read a review and learned that the movie was about a Los Angeles sub-culture where people dress like they did in the 50’s.  It sounded interesting, but it took me 11 years to finally see the movie.

Turns out that the 50’s fashion has little to do with the plot.  It’s more of a visual shoutout to the Rat Pack in much the same way this movie pays tribute to Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino.  The plot of Swingers is very similar to Sideways in many ways, albeit 10 years earlier and the characters are 10 years younger (without looking at IMDB guess the age difference between Jon Favreau and Paul Giamatti).

The story is about Mike (Jon Favreau) a young man who broke up with his girlfriend in order to move to Los Angeles to try his hand at acting.  Despite this he his hung up on his ex and spends a lot of his time moping and hoping she’ll call.  Mike’s friend Trent (Vince Vaughn) continually tries to help out Mike by getting him to hook up with another woman.  Trent is a loudmouth jerk but turns out to really care about Mike when it counts. As they go to bars and parties and smoothly move about Los Angeles, hilarity ensues.  The plot of this movie doesn’t really count.  It’s all about atmosphere, witty dialog, and set pieces.  Eventually Mike does find love with Heather Graham at a swing dance, and his ex predictably calls the next day, but none of that matters.  As I said above, plot doesn’t count, and the movie is better when you don’t think about it.  Luckily there’s enough clever stuff going on that you don’t have to.

This movie makes me nostalgic for the nostalgia of the mid-1990’s.  The liner notes on the DVD case credit the movie with starting the Swing Revival, although I think it already existed.  Better yet, it’s stunning to watch a movie set in Los Angeles 11 years ago with nary a sight of an SUV nor a cellphone.  They did have those things back then although we were still calling them Jeeps and mobile phones.  That’s a time period I could go back to.

Book Review: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

White Teeth (2000) by Zadie Smith is an ambitious, epic-in-scope, yet flawed novel. Starting in 1975 and continuing for two decades it tells the story of two families. First there’s the Jones family. Archie dumb but affable is a English man who narrowly escapes committing suicide on New Year’s Day 1975. Instead his celebrates his new lease on life by crashing a party where he meets Clara, an graceful, much younger woman originally from Jamaica who is escaping her tyrannical mother, a devotee of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have one daughter Irie who is intelligent but lacks confident.

The other family is that of the Bengali immigrants the Iqbals. Archie’s buddy from the army Samad is something of a curmudgeon about modern Western society but unable to strictly adhere to the Islamic beliefs he frequently proclaims. His long suffering wife by an arranged marriage is Alsana who is far more practical to adapting and raising a family in modern day London. They have twin sons Magid and Millat. In a critical part of the book Samad decides to send the slightly older and favored Magid to India where he can be shielded from Western ways and educated properly (much to Alsana’s displeasure and she responds by not directly addressing her husband for several years). Millat on the other hand is not at all studious and tends toward a life of partying and drugs. Still, he’s a leader among children his age (and often a dealer) but as he grows older and angrier he rebels by joining a fundamentalist Islamic group (amusingly called KEVIN). He’s also the object of Irie’s affections.

More than halfway through the book a third family is introduced, the overly confident intellectuals the Chalfens. The family is headed by the geneticist Marcus who is working on a project called FutureMouse, a genetically engineered rodent. All of the Jones and Iqbal children become involved with the Chalfens through their classmate Josh, and Marcus and his wife become an odd mix of mentors and second family. Josh in turn rebels against his family by joining an animal rights group.

For the first two-thirds of the book, this is an incredibly well-written often laugh-out-loud hilarious novel.  Smith provides spot-on social satire of the immigrant experience, family life, and the generation gap.  Her characters are fully fleshed out and true to life and through them greater social truths are told.  Unfortunately, in the final third of the book Smith loses track of her characters and gets caught up in organizations – the FutureMouse geneticists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Islamic fundamentalists, and the animal rights activists – as they all converge for the most anti-climactic climax on New Year’s Eve.  When telling the stories of individuals, the social message flows naturally and the conflict is nuanced, but when it comes down to these groups meeting up at the end it’s too obvious and the heart and soul of the novel is glaringly absent.

Despite this disappointment, I would recommend reading White Teeth if only to enjoy Smith’s brilliant writing style in the early chapters.

Tuesday at the ALA Annual Conference

Wow! Librarians certainly like to read a lot. I had 112 hits yesterday and my reports from the ALA Conference are looking pretty popular. It’s about time something gave my review of The Painted Veil a run for its money. I’m grateful for the Internet Cafe at the Washington Convention Center and apologize to all those librarians who had to wait in line while I was writing in my blog. Then again I’m impressed with how much I was able to write in such a short time. Over the next few days I’ll go back and revise the conference posts to add hyperlinks and more details as well as correct the inevitable typos.

So I’m back in Boston where it’s hot and stick. It was hot and sticky in Washington today, and the sun felt relentless on Capitol Hill where white marble is more common than trees. I began the day waiting a long time for the shuttle bus which up until this morning had be extremely efficient. There were more waits at the convention center for the bag check and to get into the Closing Session. Yet somehow I did get squeezed into a seat near the front and hear all of Garrison Keillor’s speech. It was nice to hear the warm voice so familiar from “The Writer’s Almanac” and “A Prairie Home Companion.” While Keillor’s ideas of libraries are a bit idealized and out of date, he did have a good sense of their being a quiet place where the imagination can grow, and that they are important for democracy. He particularly liked that they are places where children don’t have to perform for adults and believes the immigrant children he sees reading in today’s Minneapolis Public Library are America’s future leaders. The Library Journal has already written up a good summary of Keillor’s address.

Next I went down to the Exhibition hall to register for Library Day on the Hill.  This consisted of getting a red t-shirt and some hand outs and was all rather anticlimactic.  There was supposed to a big closing day party in The Stacks but it was just more vendors I didn’t want to talk to telling me about products I’m not interested and asking me to sign up for raffles in which I did not want to participate.  It was also somewhat depressing since a lot of vendors had packed up and left giving it a dying Main Street look.  I escaped up to the Internet Cafe to blog and otherwise find ways to kill time.

Just about noon I took a shuttle bus over to the Capitol.  I sat next to a lovely librarian from Prince George’s County, Maryland who told me all about Street Lit which is all the rage among her semi-urban patrons.  On Capitol Hill, much like Jimmy Carter, I had a crisis of confidence.  What on earth am I going to say to my Representative and Senators, especially if they had questions?  I stalled a bit in the exhibit space in the Rayburn Building and read up on my library legislative literature.  Then I wandered through the labyrinthine corridors of Capitol Hill and finally got up the gusto to enter Michael Capuano’s office.  And I talked with his legislative assistant, ever so briefly, leaving behind by contact info and sheet of library concerns.  The same pattern repeated itself later in the Russell Senate Building at John Kerry’s and Edward Kennedy’s offices.  I have to say that just boat loads of people were in the government buildings today. Most of them were in snazzy suits, but there were also other petitioners from the ACLU doing the same type of thing we were doing (they wore white & green t-shirts).  I was also touched by the wall of portraits in Kennedy’s office of big brother John.  Granted, every Irish pub in Boston has a similar display, but it there it was more meaningful.

In between visiting the House and Senate offices, I played hooky from my lobbying duties by taking a tour of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.  I took a tour lead by an exuberant volunteer.  She liked to point out how the art and architecture of the building were paeans to the European culture that Americans aspired to in the late 19th-Century when the library was built.  It’s very beautiful.  I also looked at the exhibit of American treasures because I never tire of looking at cool, old stuff.

And then I flew home.  I have a lot to read and write and think about.  Luckily I work in a library.

Monday at the ALA Annual Conference

I had a slow start to the day and had to call Susan from my hotel bed to have her tell me to get out of bed and get to the conference center.  It turned out to be a lucky day though.  How often does one get a 1905 Indian Head cent in one’s change from the coffee shop?  For me never.  I can’t believe that it was still in circulation, but it isn’t anymore.  I was so excited about the cent I brought it by the US Mint booth in the exhibition hall.  They were not so excited and probably wished I was a teacher or a school librarian so that they could give me some literature.

Anyhow, enough numismatics, on to to librarianship.  I spent most of the morning in the exhibition halls.  I’m not really into gathering loot like so many of my colleagues seem to be but I did get a number of handouts from vendors.  I visited the Proquest CSA  “funhouse” (it really looks like a kid’s treehouse) and learned of their new historical annual reports services.  Of course they told me that they created the database with the assistance of my library, not that anyone there told Access Services.  Anyhow, that will be a useful resources once it debuts and I’m ready to let the secret out.  I also got a good demo at Ex Libris of Primo a kind of super catalog that searches through a library or a consortiums various catalogs and databases.   OCLC has a similar product in WorldCat Local.

The real eyeopeners were the Resource Sharing products.  The OCLC vendor demonstrated ILLiad for me which was so beautifully easy I could have wept.  I also saw scanners that scan quickly, clearly, in color if you need it, and don’t require profanity to operate.  I would happily use these devices if only my library would purchase them.

Also at the exhibition, Nick Hornby read from his new book for young adults Slam.  It’s a story of a sixteen-year old boy who is trying to avoid the news that his girlfriend is pregnant.  In the part Hornby read the boy wakes up and it is a year later and he’s learning that he’s actually become a good father.  It sounds like an excellent book.

Monday was not all fun and games.  I attended a session at the Grand Hyatt called “Access Services: It’s Not Just Circulation Anymore!”  Three managers talked about Access Services in their libraries and it is interesting to see how there is not even one agreed upon definition of what Access Services does.  Personally, Access Services are any staff who work on the front lines dealing with the public in person, on phone, and online.  The most itneresting examples I heard were about libraries where faculty and IT staff actually work in the library on the library staff.  That seems like such a simple but effective way of getting input and collaborating in an academic library.

The PLA President’s Program finished out the day.  I don’t work in a public library but author Armistead Maupin was the keynote speaker so I went to hear him.  Originally, Elizabeth Edwards was to speak, but as Maupin informed us, she was out on the campaign trail.  He said he liked the irony that he saw her on TV in San Francisco addressing a gay pride event while he himself was here in Washington addressing librarians.  He thanked librarians for putting the Tales of the City books on library shelves at a time when they were very controversial and was grateful that they are not so controversial anymore.

To conclude my day I returned to Arlington and visited with my friend Betsy and Randy and met their newborn baby girl Zoe.  And for supper, once again, we ate Thai food.

Sunday at the ALA Annual Conference

My third day at the conference continued the parade of celebrities I admire. Nancy Pearl is not only a hero but a Library Action Figure. She’s also written several books of book recommendations including Book Lust, More Book Lust, and the new Book Crush for children and teens. She spoke mainly on encouraging children to read and to validate the choices they make in reading. She also warned of the perils of a life of reading as a counterbalance. She told the story of how the Library Action Figure came about, and the 39 librarians with no sense of humor who sent her hate mail.

I’d scheduled myself to attend a Blog and Wikis Interest Group but I didn’t like the looks of it since it seemed to be another committee meeting (with laptops) and that was not where I wanted to go. So I quickly flipped through my program and discovered that a program called Harnessing the Hive: Social Networking in Libraries was taking place in an adjacent room. It was even tagged as being suited to New Bees. I can’t believe my luck, because this may be the best program I’ve attended yet. Three presenters showed off actual working collaborative tools that have improved services and research in libraries. I’ve got lots of links to follow up on this as well.

I left the convention center and returned to the U Street area, this time to attend Mass at St. Augustine, a predominantly Black Catholic parish. The priest preached for half an hour, two children were baptized, and the choir sang a whole lot of gospel so the Mass lasted 2 hours! Not that I’m complaining. The liturgy was beautiful and I felt very welcomed. I ate a veggie burger sub at the famed Ben’s Chili Bowl prior to returning to the convention center.

I didn’t have time to visit the exhibitions as planned, but did get to make yesterdays blog entry and head to the ALA Book Cart Drill Team Championships. It was hillarious. The team from Pennsylvania named “Get Down With Your Funky Shelf” definitely had the best name. However, the Divas from Texas who performed the Rosie the Riveter inspired “Riveted by Reading” truly deserved the coveted Gold Book Cart.

Thanks to the power of Youtube, now you <em>can</em> see the ALA Book Cart Drill Team Championships! At least parts of the event.

irst, the Readin’ & Rollin’ team from Milford, Ohio who took fourth place and the autographed DEMCO catalog:

Next, the Bronze Cart winning Delaware Diamonds:

The Silver Cart winning performance by Gett Down With Your Funky Shelf of Gettysburg, PA.

The Book Divas of Houston, TX took home the Gold Cart with their performance of “Rosie is Riveting”, only a snippet of it is available here:

After another long day of conferencing, I visited Northern Virginia to see my friends Annie & Mike. Additionally, a fellow librarian/conferencee/friend Camille (and one of her friends from Ithaca) and Washingtonian/friend Lisa Lynn were there. So the six of us (and Mike and Annie’s in utero son) went out for Thai food in Alexandria (no pun in the name). We actually talked about a lot of library and social networking stuff. Camille and I came up with a creative writing project based on odd reference questions. It could even be like the “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” game where three stories are told and you have to guess the real reference question. This originated from Camille’s story about IM reference where a patron first asked for everything they had about biotechnology and then followed up by saying an illegal alien was living in his apartment. We will be presenting this game at the next conference.

So it was another good, full day. I can’t believe that it’s gone by so fast and there’s only one full day left. I also can’t believe all that I’ve learned. I hope I don’t lose all these great ideas brewing in my head. It’s hard to find time to write them all down.

Saturday at the ALA Annual Conference

When I was a teenager I wanted to grow up to be Ken Burns, or at least a whole lot like him.  Of course I never became a filmmaker nor a professional historian, I became a librarian.  But Ken Burns is down with librarians and addressed us early on Saturday morning.  He spoke of how after The Civil War he didn’t want to make another movie about war because he didn’t want to be typecast nor be mistaken for glorfying war.  Two things changed his mind: 1) that 1000 WWII veterans die each day & 2) that a large (but unnamed) percentage of graduating high school seniors believe that the US fought WWII allied with Germany against Russia.  So he and Florentine Films made The War, a 14-hour film about the experience of ordinary soldiers and ordinary people on the homefront during the Second World War.  He showed us a half-hour preview of the film which focuses on four towns in the United States and how people in those towns were affected by the war.  The film was very powerful and contained the most graphic archival footage of the war I’ve ever seen.  If the 30 minute sample is any indication, this may be Ken Burns’ best documentary yet.  Burns closed with a quote from Abraham Lincoln which he described as the best sentence ever written: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely the will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

From one childhood hero to another.  In the exhibition center Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline signed replica copies of the 1957 edition of Europe on $5 a Day.  I’ve been addicted to reading guidebooks and travel literature since I was a kid, and Frommer was one of my early favorites.  Back upstairs I attended the ACRL 101 session which wasn’t too different from the NMRT Conference 101 session but I got a few useful tips and handouts.

I rode the shuttle bus over to the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill, at lunch and attended two sessions of RUSA STARS on resource sharing.  The first was a committee meeting on reavaluating resource sharing policies which I simply observed.  It was drowned out by the exburant speechifying and applause of another session in the next room.  More interesting was the Hot Topics in Resource Sharing session where my newly aqcuainted colleagues and I talked about customer services issues, copyright problems, and Ariel v. Odyssey.

Back at the convention center I went to the convention center to write an email to my friend Sharon who I didn’t see at the Ken Burns session in the morning.  Moments after I sent the email, I heard a voice call my name.  It was Sharon who was also in the Internet Cafe.  We went to the Capitol City Brewing Co. for dinner and talked about libraries and babies.

And that was that professionally for Saturday.  I had plans to go out Saturday night but didn’t do much as I wasn’t much in the mood, but I did go for a long walk around Washington’s 14th Street and U Street neighborhoods.

I’ll write about Sunday tonight or tomorrow.  The Book Cart Drill Team is coming up next!

Movie Review: The Hollywood Librarian

The Hollywood Librarian (2007) debut at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. Do not be fooled, this is definitely a propaganda piece, not that that’s a bad thing. Filmmaker Ann Seidl wants to promote librarians and all we offer, and plans to distribute this film by having it shown in libraries across the country during Banned Books Week in September. She even suggests charging admission since a movie about librarians should garner the same respect as any other film.

With that in mind, I have to say that this is a fairly uneven documentary. At first it’s presented as seeing librarianship through the lens of Hollywood movies. Clips of films showing dowdy, glasses and bun-wearing librarians are contrasted with interviews with actual librarians and their active roles in their libraries and community. About halfway through, the Hollywood angle is ditched and it becomes more of an advocacy piece showing various librarians persevering against political pressure. Both parts are pretty good, but they don’t mesh together well. I get the sense the filmmakers weren’t certain what kind of movie they were going to make. Watching this in a room with thousands of other librarians made it all the more entertaining, especially the clips from vintage occupational guidance films were show. Even if I were alone, there was a lot in this movie that would make me laugh, cry, and cheer. What effect it will have on the general public, I don’t know, but it’s probably worth getting it out there. I think some people may like it a lot, but I fear that it may only end up preaching to the choir.

Watch the trailer here:

Other Reviews:

Friday at the ALA Annual Conference

I arrived Thursday evening and registered but didn’t have much else to do conference-wise, so I visited the Smithsonian museums of American Art and National Portrait Gallery nearby.  Later I met up with friends Edward and Charlene for supper at a restaurant punningly called Thai Tanic.

Friday morning I walked down to the Mall and visted the Air & Space Museum for old times sake and then the US Botanical Garden. 

After lunch I tried to visit the Library of Congress Open House, but the Capitol Police had the street in front of the Jefferson Building closed.  I gave up and visited the Madison Building instead.  The interior is eerie, and I wandered through the windowless corridors lined with solid, closed doors.  I visited the Periodicals Reading Room but there was not much to see there.  I had better luck at the Veterans History Project where the very friendly staff sat down with me and told me about their oral history program. They even took pictures of me for the LOC Gazzette.  Meanwhile another alert went up from the Capitol Police as the Adams Building was evacuated due to a chemical spill. The LOC staff seemed very blase about emergencies and alerts in this paranoid city (I went through 4 metal detectors this day by the way). I also stopped by the Manuscripts Division and saw Abraham Lincoln’s childhood sums book and Alexander Graham Bell’s somewhat childish drawings of the first telephone.  Finally I went to a reception upstairs and lots of LOC staff talked with me.

I went back to the convention center for the New Members Round Table Conference 101 program.  The room was packed, but I stole a chair from another room and was actually able to sit at the same table as my co-worker Leslie.

Following this I walked to the RUSA STARS Happy Hour at the Elephant & Castle pub.  As expected this was noisy and awkward but I did meet some friendly people.

I returned to the convention center for the premiere of the Hollywood Librarian, a moving and funny tribute to all of us librarians through the lens of the movies.  It’s actually a great documentary and a sometimes not too subtle propaganda people.  But our public sometimes need to be hit across the head.

There’s a long line waiting at the internet cafe so I will try to write more later.

On the Way to ALA


I’m heading off to attend my first professional conference, the American Library Association annual in Washington, DC. It should be five days of fun, learning and meeting people. I’m not so good at that last part, but I’ll give it a go. At least it will be a social situation where I won’t have to explain what a librarian actually does to uncomprehending minds. In addition to the conference I’ll be catching up with some of my Washington area friends.

The Official Wiki of the 2007 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC should help me keep track of things.

Lots of conference attendees will be sharing their experiences in the Blogging Annual. I think I may add my link but since I don’t have a portable computing device I can’t say I’m “blogging the conference,” more like blogging after the conference.

I’m looking forward to seeing the premiere of Hollywood Librarian, hearing Ken Burns speak (since I wanted to be him when I was 16), seeing the Librarian Action Figure Nancy Pearl in the flesh, witnessing the Book Cart Drill Team Championship, listening to Garrison Keillor’s closing remarks, and visiting the US Capitol to promote libraries (on what is coincidentally an ACLU Day of Action in Washington).

Movie Review: The Mission

The Mission (1986) has long been on my “too see list.” A lot of people I knew in college loved this movie for it’s explorations of faith (“the perfect movie to watch on Good Friday,” said one), it’s cinematography and the soundtrack by Ennio Morricone. So I’ve finally redressed that wrong.

The film itself is made up of three parts.

In the first part, a tribe of aboriginal peoples in remote Brazil in the 17oo’s execute a Jesuit missionary, tying him to a cross which floats down the river and over a waterfall. The leader of the Spanish missionaries Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) takes personal responsibility and sets off on his own mission to the natives above the fall. In a long and harrowing scene, Gabriel climbs the falls barefoot. When he finally encounters the natives, Gabriel pulls out a flute, plays it, and wins their trust. The narrator says “With an orchestra, the Jesuits could have subdued the entire continent.” We later learn that the narrator is the emissary from the Vatican Altamirano. Gabriel establishes a community based on Christian principles and he and the natives live in peace. But all is not well. Slave catchers are venturing into the region capturing people from the community. Gabriel confronts the slave catcher Rodrigo Mendoza (Robert Deniro) but is unable to set free the villagers he caught.

The second part of the film begins back in the city where Mendoza learns that his lover is now romantically involved with his brother. In a rage, Mendoza kills his own brother in a street fight. Gabriel visits the city and is asked to speak with Mendoza in prison, as he may be the only one who could get through to the remorseful fratricide. Gabriel convinces Mendoza to join him at the mission. In another harrowing scene at the falls, Mendoza attempts to climb with a sack of his armor and weaponry tied to his waste. Despite the delays caused by this burden, Mendoza insists on carrying it as his penance. Upon arriving at the mission, the villagers recognized Mendoza as the slave catcher. In a touching and highly symbolic moment, one man draws a knife. Mendoza is entirely at his mercy but he merely cuts the rope to the bundle setting Mendoza free. In the weeks and months that follow Mendoza works hard at the mission and becomes a favorite among the Indians. He decides to become a Jesuit and swears an oath of obedience to Father Gabriel.

The final act of the movie puts the Jesuit missionaries at odds with Altamirano and the Portuguese who have gained control of the colony.  The Jesuits lead Altamirano on tours of the missions showing that they are Christian communities where native Indians are learning European culture and creating profitable self-sustaining communities.  The Portuguese plantation owners of course see this as a threat to their plans of gaining free land and free labor.  Altamirano, a true Pilate-figure, washes his hands of the situation and sides with the land-owners.  Mendoza breaks his vow of obedience and decides to fight to protect the mission from aggressors. Gabriel must stay on the side of love. “If might is right, then love has no place in the world. It may be so, it may be so. But I don’t have the strength to live in a world like that, Rodrigo.” In the culminating scenes, Rodrigo and several other priests  lead the Indians in a defense against the Portugeuse militia.  The succeed at first but cannot overcome military training and weapons.  Meanwhile, Gabriel leads a final prayer services with many of the villagers. Even as he falls to a gunshot, another man takes up the cross and carries on.  The mission is a success even as it is destroyed.

I found this a beautiful and moving film.  Even DeNiro who I usually don’t like is good in his period costume.  Sure, when he talks he still sounds like a mumbling city thug, but he doesn’t speak often and his facial expressions are spot on to the emotion of the moment. Jeremy Irons, a young Liam Neeson, and Ray McNally as Altamirano are also great in their roles.
The Mission at

Washington Post review

19th-Century Weapon Found in Whale

Did you ever have a pain in the neck that just wouldn’t go away?  Some poor bowhead whale was lanced with a weapon by some whalers 115-130 years ago and has carried a fragment in its neck ever since.  Well at least until last week where this whale got caught in another whale hunt off the coast of Alaska and didn’t get away this time.

Who knew whales lived for so long?  Marine biologists probably, but not me.

I first hear the story on NPR and the read about on BBC News via Found History.  It’s a cool story so I needed to share it here.

All of this is a good excuse to visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Biking to Work

The Bike Commute Tips Blog shares the Top 10 Best & Worst Cities in the US for Bicycle Commuting.  Boston is on neither list which doesn’t surprise me because Boston is good enough to have a bike friendly attitude but has not invested in the infrastructure for lots of bike paths, bike lanes, bike racks, and bike traffic lights that some more progressive cities have.  While Paul Dorn posts some questions at the end of his post, I think it comes as no surprise that “That the coastal West is generally more hospitable to bicycle commuting than the South? That compact, dense cities are better for bike commuting than sprawling, sparsely inhabited cities?”  I rode a bike to work in Virginia where the general attitude toward bicyclists was downright hostile.  I expect any parts of the country with newer cities that were built on the scale of the car and thus have many multi-lane roads/highways with lots of sprawl are not going to be bike friendly, and most newer cities are in the South and Southwest.

Streetsblog posts a pie chart showing How Americans Get to Work.   Only 4.7% take public transportation, 2.5% walk, and 0.4% bicycle. These numbers are shockingly low, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.  I fall into all three of these categories at one time or another, but like biking best.

It’s nice that they mention that Boston leads the nation with 12.5% of the people saying they walk to work.  “America’s Walking City” indeed!

Bunker Hill Day

Today is Bunker Hill Day (observed), a legal holiday for government employees in Boston.  Since I don’t work for the government I had to go to work, but figure it’s a day worth mentioning.

Mass Moments recounts the battle and its commeration with the Bunker Hill Monument, a granite obelisk I see each and every day (and enjoy climbing).  Unfortunately, Mass Moments repeats the old canard about the battle really being fought on Breeds Hill.  This fact always seems to be related by someone in a know-it-all tone which really misrepresents the significance of the battle or the topography involved, and thus annoys me.  Breeds Hill is basically an arm of Bunker Hill and the two are adjacent so the preoccupation with defining them as different locations is really overstated.

Boston 1775 makes some great points on the issue in the post What Do We Call the Battle of Bunker Hill, then follows up with Bunker Hill “By Some Mistake?”:

Yesterday I noted the ongoing little kerfuffle over whether it would be more accurate to call the Battle of Bunker Hill the “Battle of Breed’s Hill.” We can do that, I figure, right after we change the name of the Battle of Gettysburg to the “Battle of lots of places all around Gettysburg, but not, you know, right in the middle of town.” It might be a little more accurate, but it wouldn’t really be worth it.

Other Boston 1775 posts about Bunker Hill include:

So there’s your historical reading assignments for this momentous day.  You’ll thank me later.

Saint Botolph

Saint Botolph

This year June 17 is the intersection of three different days that twine together in Boston, MA: Father’s Day, Bunker Hill Day, and the Feast of St. Botolph. Botolph, in a sense is the father, and patron saint of Boston, the name deriving from a contraction of “Botolph’s Town.” The original Boston is in Lincolnshire in England (like Boston, MA a place known for its fens) and is home to a church dedicated to the saint nicknamed Botolph’s Stump. Botolph’s name is remembered in the Hub of Universe in the name of a street in Back Bay, the name of a club, and in the name of the president’s house at Boston College. Pieces of the the Gothic window tracery of Lincolnshire’s Church of St. Botolph are incorporated into the structure of Trinity Church in Boston’s Copley Square. The Puritans who named their “City on a Hill” Boston of course had no intention of naming the city after a canonized saint, merely naming it after where many of them came from. And while June 17th is a holiday in Suffolk County, MA, it is not for the saint but for the battle fought on Bunker Hill on that day in 1775. Coincidentally, the feast day of Saint Patrick, Boston’s other patron saint, is also a public holiday but that is due to Evacuation Day.

So what about Botolph the man himself?

  • born ca. 610 of noble Saxon blood in East Anglia.
  • studied under monks and became a Benedictine himself in northern Gaul.
  • founded a monastery around 654 a AD at Ikenhoe (ox-island) which once was believed to be at Boston, but recent scholarship points to it being at Iken in Sussex.
  • died in 680 following a lengthy illness while being carried to chapel for compline.
  • little detail known about his life but Botolph is a very popular saint in England and Scotland (where his feast day is June 25) and has many churches dedicated to him.
  • some evidence points to Botolph being of Irish birth, hence his ability to communicate easily with the Scots.
  • patron saint of travelers. In medieval London, the churches at four gates are named for him and are places travelers would go to pray for protection before setting off on a journey and to offer thanksgiving upon arriving safely in London.
  • his relics have been scattered to several locations through the ages including the four St. Botolph churches around London and Westminster Abbey.

So there you have it. A worthy saint and namesake of a great city.

For more on St. Botolph, visit:

Friday Sillies: Apoohcalypse Now

Some disturbed creative genius has taken the audio track from Apocalypse Now and dubbed it over old Winnie the Pooh cartoons. It’s funny, unsettling, and trippy, and they did all of this without including the Heffalump that disturbed many a childhood.

If you’ve seen Apocalypse Now and don’t like the language, be warned it’s unedited here. You may also not want to watch this if you have cherished memories of Winnie the Pooh you don’t want tarnished.

My favorite part is Piglet voiced by Dennis Hopper: “I’m a little man, I’m a little man, he’s… he’s a great man.” Piglet, a little man or a Very Small Animal?

Somerville Madonnas

One of the charms (“chahhms?”) of Somerville are the displays of devotional art in many residents’ yards, gardens, and sometimes even incorporated into the architecture of a house.  The statues are usually a Madonna in a tub-like niche (a “Virgin on the half shell” as my old roommate called them), but there are plenty of Josephs, Francises of Assisi, and even Jesus Christs to go around.

A public defender named Josh Michtom is working on a project to photography religious statues in yards and houses throughout Somerville. He’s documenting his work online at Somerville Madonnas. The Somerville News and the Bostonist have each written about the project recently. Currently, Michtom is displaying 28 of his photographs at the Paradise Lounge gallery in Boston. “Somerville Madonnas: Photographs of Religious Iconography” runs through July 20.

Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Here is another venture into the graphic novel for me, or as the case, the graphic memoir. Alison Bechdel writer and illustrator of the classic comic Dykes to Watch Out For writes about her life and her relationship with her father in Fun Home (2006). Bechdel’s father was a high school English teacher, a director of a family funeral home (the “fun home” of the title), and an obsessive house restorer in a remote town in Central Pennsylvania. When Alison goes away to college and realizes she is lesbian. She comes out to our parents, only to learn that her father has been having homosexual affairs for years, and often with young men who worked as their babysitter. Short afterwards her father dies in an accident that Bechdel believes may be suicide.

Fun Home is both touching and funny as Bechdel explores her father’s secrets and the way in which they were similar despite being polar opposite. This work is steeped in literary illusions. In lesser hands that would be rather pretentious, but here it works. Fiction is a way Alison and her father communicate both in life and spiritually. Much of her father’s life is a fiction and in many ways that fiction holds deeper truths than reality. Also many of the works cited so perfectly parallel events in Alison’s life that it’s eerie.

The book is framed by the myth of Icarus, with Bechdel contending that it was her father rather than herself that fell from the sky. Her childhood in a Gothic home with the family business in the funeral home reminded her of Charles Adaams’ comics. Her mother is an amateur actress who Bechdel compares with an idealist from a Henry James novel. Her father is more of a Gatsby-esque figure, deliberately since he was obsessed with Fitzgerald. Their town of Beech Creek resembles the illustrations from The Wind in the Willows. Her mother’s performance in The Importance of Being Ernest takes place at the same time that her father has to go to trial for cavorting with minors (paralleling Oscar Wilde’s own trial for homosexuality). Reading Ulysses for a college seminar course turns out to occur as Alison is on her voyage of discovery in literature and her sexuality.

I could go on listing all the literary parallels that weave themselves through this rich narrative and strongly illustrated book, but instead I’ll finish by saying that this is just a really good read and worth reading and reflecting upon.