Podcasts of the Week Ending December 12


Planet Money :: How the Rat Blew Up

The history of Scabby the Rat, the inflatable mainstay of union demonstrations.

This Day in Esoteric Public History :: United States vs One Book Called Ulysses (1933) w/ Kurt Andersen

The history of obscenity laws in the United States.

99% Invisible :: According to Need

A series about homelessness in the United States.

Throughline :: Supreme

A history of the Supreme Court that explains how it became the final arbiter of the law in the United States.

RUNNING TALLY OF PODCAST OF THE WEEK APPEARANCES

Book Review: New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg


Following up on Ric Burns’ New York, I read New York Calling: From Blackout to Bloomberg (2007) edited by one of the stars of that series Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.

This collection of essays looks back with some nostalgia and some disgust at the City in the 70s, 80s, & 90s.  For most of the authors, New York once was full of crime, sex, and drugs, yet the rents were low and the City maintained its own character.  Today they sneer that interlopers have moved in, built luxury lofts, priced out everything that made New York unique and replaced it with typical American suburbia. Most of the essayists to some extent sink into insufferable self-importance which makes this book hard to read at times.

There’s a lot of hyperbole, but there’s truth mixed in.  And there’s still a lot to love about New York.  Each borough gets its own tribute, with the one on Staten Island being the most illuminating since I know little about that area.  There are also great stories on graffiti, civil rights, art, rock music, and ethnic foods.  If you love New York, this book is worth checking out.  If you hate New York, this book isn’t going to change your mind.

New York calling : from blackout to Bloomberg / edited by Marshall Berman and Brian Berger.
Publication Info. London : Reaktion, 2007.
Description 368 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.

Radical Love: the Haley House documentary


Haley House is a great place in Boston where people create community around food. You can call it a soup kitchen, a bakery, and an organic farm, but it’s the people who count. Both poor and privileged come together to share their gifts and learn from one another.

Via Anna at Isak, I’ve learned that a Haley House documentary is in the works. It’s the work of Alexandra Pinschmidt who lives in the Haley House community. The trailer for the film is on YouTube and is quite stirring. Check it out.

I look forward to seeing the entire documentary.

Two Commentaries on Immigration


“It is just so difficult to think that they don’t want us” in Larry James’ Urban Daily written in response to a municipal law requiring proof of citizenship from tenants.

Supporters of the ordinance claim that these hard working, undocumented families use up the scarce resources of the community, including public education and health care. Few will acknowledge the fact that these families pay all sorts of taxes, including sales tax, federal withholding taxes, property taxes and Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim. Undocumented workers are in essence paying for my retirement, with no hope of receiving such benefits themselves no matter how hard or long they work.

The New Bedford Raid and Its Aftermath in Dispatch from the Trenches focuses on how corporate policy — aided and abetted by the government — perpetuates the illegal immigration problem.

It’s the picture of city officials so blindly pro-business that they could walk through that hell-hole of a sweatshop and come away thinking only about how they could help Insolia make more money that puts the 19th century attitudes of modern America into sharp relief. Not one of them appears to have considered for a moment that there was anything wrong or at least suspicious about the crowded, filthy conditions or thought to wonder if these rows and rows of Hispanic women were all legal. Not one of them so much as asked a question about how the workers were treated or raised so much as an eyebrow over an obviously unhealthy workplace. Neither was of the least importance to them. They were focused on one thing and one thing alone: help the owner make more money.

Notes from the Walk for Hunger


Another successful this Sunday. 43,000 people participated raising a record 3.3-million dollars for 400 emergency food programs in Massachusetts! Of course, with poverty on the rise every one of those $3.3-million and more will be needed. It’s not too late to donate, so drop by my personal walk page and make a secure online donation. Thus far my incredibly generous sponsors have contributed $2600 to Project Bread!

My Walk for Hunger Photo Gallery (all the pictures are of people I don’t know, so if your see yourself, let me know).

This year’s walk was different from previous years. Since Susan is out of town, I walked alone for the first time (if you call being among 43,000 people alone). Susan’s absence probably contributed to my sleeping through my alarm for a whole hour before I finally woke up. Starting an hour later than usual, I noticed the walk route was a lot more crowded. On the plus side there were more performers out serenading the walkers at that time than in my previous experience. Since I’ve had a bum ankle for a while, I also decided to take it slow so while I’m usually finished in the early afternoon, this time I pretty much took the entire day to walk. It’s actually a good idea, because in years’ past my legs felt near-crippled after the walk (especially the day after the walk), but this year I felt no more than an ordinary soreness.

I arrived at Boston Common around 8 am and checked in at the Heart & Sole tent. The volunteers are always wonderfully cheerful and they had Dunkin Donuts and coffee to get me started. The city is doing some restoration work on the Common so all the tents were in different locations this year and it was a bit disorienting. I passed under the start line at 8:15 and I was on my way. The weather was good for walking if a bit on the chilly side, especially when the clouds covered the sun. When the sun was out it warmed up considerably but I never took my jacket off the entire walk, which is unusual for a radiator of heat like myself.

At Kenmore Square, I looked behind me to check out a passing fire truck and there was Brian of Baptized Pagan fame. We walked together for a bit and he told me he had to be in Worcester by 4:30 pm. As noted above, I was taking it slow so I let Brian go ahead and didn’t see him again for the rest of the walk. Further along Beacon Street, a blond, burly guy in a volunteer shirt called out “Hey Liam!” I had no idea who it was, but it turned out to be another Brian with whom I went to high school! I also went to college with Brian’s older brother Rob, and I don’t think I’ve seen Brian in 10 years since Rob’s wedding. He looked so different, but apparently I don’t since he recognized me right away. I met his wife a bit further down the street.

If one demographic dominates the Walk for Hunger, it appears to be teenage girls, although I don’t have statistics to back this up. A lot of the Walk for Hunger promotional material features photos of teenage girls which begs the question: do the ads feature teenage girls because they participate in the walk in great numbers or are teenage girls drawn to the walk in great numbers because of ads targeting them. Anyhow, it was sweet to see girls walking with their arms linked together, something that has retro-Victorian feel. I don’t remember girls walking arm-in-arm when I was in high school. I think they would have been mocked if they had so things are better these days.

I like the Walk for Hunger because it’s such a community event. Volunteers cheer through megaphones, passing cars bleep their horns merrily, kids set up lemonade stands on the route, and everyone is supportive and having fun. Each walker wears a sticker with their number of walks on them, and I’m always impressed by the people who’ve walked 20-30 times. In fact, I saw a lot of people under 20 years old who wore stickers saying this is my 15th walk! It also makes me a little sad. I like to think that I’ll participate in the walk for as long as I can, but on the other hand, the world would be much better if we could finally eliminate the reasons why we walk.

My ankle felt sore from the start, but oddly felt better the more I walked. I took lots of long breaks, especially along the Charles which was just glorious on this day. The strategy seemed to work as I felt pretty good on the home stretch. At around 4 pm I reached the finish line on Boston Common. It was a bit anti-climactic as I didn’t see a place to get my card marked for the final checkpoint, but I did get ice cream, so all was well. I walked over to the Parkman Bandstand and lay in the sun while a reggae band played. I think I may have nodded off a bit. After that I took the T back home, feeling refreshed and happy.

Overheard on the Walk for Hunger

  • Child, as we approac the Mass Av underpass: “When we get in that tunnel, I’m going to scream my lungs out!” (surprisingly she actually did not).
  • At mile 19.5:
    • Woman #1: “This is why they only have the walk once a year.”
    • Woman #2: “How’s that?”
    • Woman #1: “Because you forget how annoying it gets at this point.”
    • Woman #2: “Yeah, just like labor.”

Five Pictures I Wish I’d Taken on the Walk for Hunger

  • Even though it’s prohibited, a lot of people bring their dogs on the walk which I think is a bit hard on the poor pooches’ paws. But one woman had a small dog in a sling across her chest. The dog wore a custom made Walk for Hunger hat and t-shirt.
  • One picture of each of the Brians I met.
  • More pictures of the great volunteers, especially the great people who staff the checkpoints.
  • A sultry chanteuse crooning jazz in front off a restaurant, although another walker captured this pic.

News and Blogs Coverage

  • Boston Globe – “You’re not supposed to be hungry in America,” Crofton said.
  • Boston Globe – “The Walk for Hunger supports a cause that is near and dear to me,” she said. “I can’t bear the thought of children going to bed hungry. Food should be a given.
  • Boston Herald – “It feeds thousands and thousands and thousands of people,” said Ellen Parker, executive director of Project Bread. “It’s an opportunity for everyone in Massachusetts to come out . . . and revive our connections to one another.”
  • Boston Herald – “Kids want to give back,” Rebecca said. “You don’t hear about that a lot. You don’t read about it too much in the paper, but it’s true. They want to make a difference. People need our support and our energy. Besides, it’s fun to do something for other people you may not even know.”
  • Soft Happiness – I can’t read this blog but it has some great photos.
  • Donna’s colorful world – A ton of photo’s from the walk.
  • Cody and Meredith – more folks on the walk.
  • Freshly Brewed – “It would be faster to tell you what doesn’t hurt, like…my eyelashes. Yes, I can safely say that my eyelashes feel smashing.”
  • azulunar – “Since I had already reached the 8th point, which was also about 15 miles, I was like……why not? It’s just 5 more miles. Why stop now? When the goal was close.”
  • johnsmind – “Why are people so cheap when it comes to helping others???”
  • Quite Quite Fantastic! – “I hope my friends didn’t mind a little spam from me, as it was for a good cause.”
  • Allogenes – “The Walk is bigger than the Walkers. It has a life all its own. We may walk the Walk, but at the same time the Walk is carrying us.”
  • don’t eat alone – “The seemingly endless train of people was as diverse as their fashion senses. We saw girls walking arm in arm, sharing the headphones on a single iPod, groups from both urban and suburban schools and churches, parents pushing strollers, families marking a tradition together, and some folks just walking by themselves for the cause.”
  • imagined-community – “Today was lovely; I even got sunburned. Spent the afternoon cheering on the walkers for Project Bread’s 39th Walk for Hunger.”
  • # Open # Happy @_^ Micky *_~ Spaces – Another nice photo album on a page written in a language I cannot read.

So that’s it for this year. Hope to take the whole family out on the walk next year! And you can join me too!

Library News for April


Here’s my latest collection of news and opinion of interest regarding the library.

The World Almanac puts out a call for help to librarians (and includes links to even more librarian blogs than I already read). Having been a compulsive reader of The World Almanac since childhood, I stammer and drool when I hear my help is needed.

Lots of discussion regarding issues regarding the homeless in libraries (hey, the homeless are patrons too!):

ACRLog debates the future of the Reference Desk. I’m all in favor of an hovering reference-o-matic platforms myself.

This doesn’t really have much to do with libraries, although it is a book that will be in libraries, and the coolest website around: No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories by Miranda July.

I totally want to hang this flyer from Tinfoil + Raccoon in my library. I like the Spinal Tap reference especially.

Tame the Web reports on a Looking for a Good Book readers’ service at Williamsburg Regional Library. This warms the cockles of my heart since this once was my local public library and it’s good to see them at the forefront of technology. The two libraries in the system despite their small size have excellent collections. In fact, when I was in college I often found books I needed at Williamsburg Public Library that were checked out or otherwise unavailable at the college library.

Lorcan Dempsey’s weblog has a good tribute to the book, which in itself is an advanced form of technology. Makes sense, after all I have a degree in Library Science to deal with this technology.

As if I needed BBC news to tell me, LIBRARIANS SUFFER THE MOST STRESS!!!!. Circ and Serve has suggestions for how to manage your time and multi-task to help reduce that stress (none of which involve beer kegs at the circ desk).

That’s it for the cruelest month. There are many librarians a-tap-tap-tapping on their keyboards, so I’ll have more to share in the merry month of May.

Movie Review: Dark Days


Legends are told about the Mole People who live in tunnels under New York City with fantastic and sensational details such as rival clans of Mole People who dine on rats and may even have taken on mole-like features. British filmmaker Marc Singer’s film Dark Days takes a more humanistic approach to documenting the lives of actual inhabitants of a shanty town in an abandoned railroad tunnel on Manhattan’s West Side. Over several years he got to know the very human people who found shelter underground. This stark black & white film is in many ways their own story as the homeless worked as Singer’s crew in filming, and the film is itself a serious of vignettes mainly with two people talking very naturally about their lives. While some parts seem a bit staged — such as one woman who never turns her back to the camera, even when talking to someone behind her — for the most part it is a peak into the lives of the tunnel community.

What strikes me is how their lives appear to be normal in many ways. They live in simple huts of wood and plasterboard which are so well maintained that they could be small apartments in New York. They have stoves, fans, and televisions. One man says they have everything but running water, but even that can be improvised as one man displays by taking a cold shower under a leaky pipe. The residents of the tunnel keep pets. One man shows the pen full of puppies he’s bred, another shows photos of various dogs and rodents he’s kept as pets. They go to work and they go shopping. Of course work means salvaging fully functional electronic goods discarded by the privileged and reselling them. Shopping means searching trash for food, including an entire bag full of fresh doughnuts outside of a bakery. We learn that Kosher stores are the best because they don’t mix the foods with coffee grounds.

Of course, this is not a normal life. Singer lets the camera tell the story, scanning over mounds of trash within the tunnel. I can’t even imagine what the stench is like in there. Surging over the trash are packs of large and hungry rats, a constant source of distress to even the most experienced tunnel dweller. And in case you forget what the tunnel was built for, Singer captures the frequent passing of Amtrak trains, bells clanging, perilously close to some of the shanties. This is a hard life, a dark life both literally and figuratively, where people have gained some security but at a great cost. Over all of this is the scourge of drugs and addiction.

Unexpectedly, this movie has a happy ending. In a cruel and officious manner, Amtrak officials and armed police inform the tunnel residents they are being evicted because Amtrak has plans to reopen the tunnel. Yet through the intervention of Singer and the Coalition for the Homeless, all the subjects of the film are able to secure subsidized housing. The final scenes show the formerly homeless moving into their new apartments, looking happier than we’ve seen them, and hopefully a bright future in front of them. I think it’s no accident that as the film ends we see one of the men standing by a window, the sunlight that was absent for the entire movie flooding over him.

Anyone Have a Tissue?


Stories like this one from the Boston Globe really make we want to weep.

Not even homelessness deterred 9-year-old’s devotion to school.

“School is about learning, and learning is a special way to know what you’re supposed to do,” Brenda said yesterday. “And this is why I like school: You know lots of lessons and different things. You get to see . . . your friends. You go to special places, like school trips.”