Retropost: The Worst Night of the Year


A couple of years ago I wrote a post about why I think Daylight Saving Time is evil.  As we spring forward our clocks today, and try to shake off the sleepiness, have more heart attacks, feel more blue and find the roads even more dangerous than usual, let’s look back at my alternate plan:

A better solution is to just change hours. A regular work day would be 8 am – 4 pm. Baseball games would start 6:30 pm. Prime time tv starts at 7 pm. Bars that have last call at 2 am would now call closing time at 1 am. People stay up too late anyhow. My solution would mean that daylight would be “saved” and no one would ever have to change their clocks and most importantly, no one would mess with my sleep.

For more on the dangers and inconveniences of Daylight Saving Time:

RetroPost: What do Presidents do when their term is up?


A couple of years ago I wrote What do Presidents do when their term is up?, possibly one of my most well-researched and better written posts.  In it I examined the post-Presidential career of every US President who survived his Presidency.  The post was prompted by a suggestion that if Hillary Clinton became President, that her husband former President Bill Clinton could be appointed to her vacant spot in the Senate.

Well, now we have the answers to that question.  Looking back at the post, there are a couple of things that make me chuckle.  First,  Hillary Clinton didn’t get elected President, but left the Senate anyway to join President Obama’s cabinet.  Second, I noted that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer would appoint Senator Clinton’s successor, but since that time Spitzer’s governorship has come to an ingnomious end.  Instead, Governor David Patterson appointed Kirsten Gillibrand as New York’s new junior senator.

And thus Bill Clinton continues his “retirement years” as the husband of the Secretary of State.  Meanwhile, as of January 20, 2009 we have another former President George W. Bush. I can only hope that he follows the example of Jimmy Carter in making his post-Presidency years better than his time in office.

This post will be updated again anytime any of these men does something interesting.
This post will be updated again anytime any of these men does something interesting.

Remembering Odetta


I don’t usually do celebrity obituaries on this blog, but I want to make an exception for the folk musician Odetta who died yesterday at the age of 77.  She was a talented musician with a powerful voice and amazing guitar skills.  I call her a “folk musician” but she adeptly performed and interpreted all types of music — blues, jazz, spirituals, and folk ballads from all over the world.  It’s quite impressive to hear a black woman sing The Foggy Dew, a song about the Irish rebellion.  Like other artists of the Folk Song Revival of the 50’s & 60’s, Odetta dedicated her efforts to the Civil Rights movement and other positive social change.

Just watch this clip below of Odetta singing and strumming “Water Boy” and try not to be blown away.  I dare you.

I first became acquainted with Odetta through a boxed set of LP’s that my mother owned called Folk Song and Minstrelsy, which despite the odd name was a collection of artists of the Folk Revival.  One entire record of the four-disc set was dedicated to Odetta songs.  I’m particularly fond of “No More Cane on the Brazos” which demonstrates Odetta unique guitar skills.

On March 18, 2000 I saw her perform at Club Passim in Cambridge.  I particularly remember her standing in the middle of the audience singing a cappella, her voice filling the room.  I also remember that Susan & I were the youngest people there who weren’t brought along by our parents.  After the show, I spoke with Odetta and she noticed the age discrepancy.  I told her about listening to my mother’s record and she responded:

“Ah, propaganda!”

That night I bought a copy of her album To Ella (dedicated to Ella Fitzgerald, and do I ever wish I saw her perform when I had the chance).  Odetta signed it:

“To Liam —
Go Well —
Stay Well —
Odetta”

Book Review: The Devil We Know by Robert Baer


I listened to the audiobook of The Devil We Know: Dealing with the New Iranian Superpower (2008) by Robert Baer and I can tell you right now that this isn’t going to be a good review because this book presents such a different understanding of Iran than any other perspective I’ve ever encountered.  Here are the highlights as I understand them:

  • Americans and the West in general have a distorted view of Iran and especially of what Iran wants.
  • Iran is a country that is trying to modernize, participates widely in the internet, and even watches a lot of American television.  They are not like some other Islamic states trying to return to pre-modern times.
  • Iranians desire empire and wish to be recognized as a major player in Middle East politics, perhaps even a superpower.
  • We should not be scared that Iran will build and use nuclear weapons nor that they desire some nihilistic destruction of the west. What Iran actually really does do and what they’re capable of is actually more unsettling if unnoticed by the West.  Iran succeeds through asymetrical tactics and weapons
  • Through proxy wars, Iran has carried out their quest for imperialism throughout the Mid East.  Baer asserts that through Hezbollah, Iran won the first military conflict against Israel in 2000.  Through cunning and strategy Iran has achieved many military goals and won over the support many Muslims even Sunnis & Arabs who traditionally are at odds with the Shiite & Persian Iran.
  • Nations the US currently allies with are weak (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE) or not really states at all just strong armies (Pakistan).  Plus the oil fields in Saudi Arabia are emptying out and Iran’s hegemony has them in position to control the oil supply for the future.
  • In general, Shiite Iran is hierarchical, commands come only from leaders with extensive religious trading, and they carry out their campaigns with specific goals and targets in mind.  Sunni Arabs are not hierarchical, leaders with no religious training give out commands (such as Osama bin Laden), and carry out attacks for slaughter’s sake alone.  Western governments have successfully negotiated peace with Iran because they can not only find someone to negotiate with but because they are open to negotiation.
  • Continuing on the present course will require a huge outlay of money and military force to either contain Iran in a 30+ year Cold War or to actually engage them in battle.  In addition to losing many lives and bankrupting the country, Iran would shut off our supply of oil. Baer does not believe the US populace would stand for any of this.
  • In the end Baer gives several reccomendations for the US to bury it’s pride and recognize Iran as a major power, grant them a role in restoring order to Iraq, and allow nations artificially created after WWI (such as Iraq and Pakistan) to be disolved into smaller states.  Baer believes this realpolitik approach to Iran’s de facto superpower status is are only sensible option.

I obviously know only a little about Iran and the Mid East in general, and Baer seems to be stacking the deck to support his thesis and has certain obvious prejudices (especially against Sunnis/Arabs.  Yet its a compelling argument, and a very nuanced understanding of today’s Iran.  It’s not likely that American politicians will follow any of these suggestions, and perhaps with good reason.  Still it’s an eye-opening account that challenges the accepted wisdom.

Some professional reviews:

Author Baer, Robert.
Title The devil we know [sound recording] : [dealing with the new Iranian superpower] / Robert Baer.
Publication Info. Westminster, Md. : Books on Tape, p2008.
Edition Unabridged.
Description 8 sound discs (ca. 74 min. each) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.

Get out the Vote


Tomorrow is Election Day.  While the Presidential Election is well-publicized, if you’re like me you may find it hard to find information on the other elections and ballot-initiatives that are taking place.  Here are a few resources I’ve found and I hope this may help any readers in making informed decisions when voting.

  • Imagine Election – for Masachusetts voters, creates a web version of what your ballot will look like in your district.
  • Elections Division – the Commonwealth of Massachusetts election website, more comprehensive but less user-friendly than Imagine Election.
  • The Swiss Army Librarian recommended both of the above resources in a great post that explains the ballot in the way a librarian helps a patron.
  • 2008 Ballot Guide – Boston.com’s summary of the 3 ballot questions facing Massachusetts voters.
  • Ballotopedia – a wiki for ballot measures nationwide.
  • League of Women Voters – always a good organization for information on elections.
  • Protect My Vote – resources for what to do if you’re not allowed to vote or think your vote may not be counted.

Also, f you’re voting in Boston, bring some canned food to help the poor!

I personally believe that local government has a great influence on our daily lives and communities, perhaps even greater than the influence of the President, so please take some time to researche the candidates and issues, and then vote!

Papal Mass in Washington


Yesterday, I watched Pope Benedict celebrate Mass with 48,000 people at Nationals Park in Washington. I wouldn’t usually do this because like fireworks, there’s something about Mass on tv that just isn’t the same. I’m also something of a “low church” kind of Catholic, to use an old fashioned term. But I was home from work and really curious. Since I’ve become active in liturgical ministry in recent years I wondered how they would share Eucharist among 48,000 people and whether people would kneel on the cold, beer-stained concrete of the grandstand during consecration. I also hoped I might see my friend Edward who was in attendance.

I didn’t find out the answers to these questions, but I’m really glad that I watched the Mass courtesy of live web streaming on USCCB’s Papal Visit Site. From all appearances, it looked like a joyous, hopeful, and prayerful celebration. I found it much more moving than I expected. I was especially moved by the liturgical music for the Mass which was a diverse mix of the standard contemporary Catholic songs, music of the many different cultural communities of the Washington archdiocese, and even a communion meditation by Placido Domingo! Pope Benedict is known for his fondness of music and I suspect he enjoyed the best that the American church offers in this joyous and prayerful liturgy. The diversity of the music also tied in well with what Benedict said in his homily:

“Two hundred years later, the Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole. The Church in the United States is now called to look to the future, firmly grounded in the faith passed on by previous generations, and ready to meet new challenges – challenges no less demanding than those faced by your forebears – with the hope born of God’s love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 5:5).”

I recognized one of the cantors, Stephen Bell, a deacon who will be ordained as a Paulist Father in June. I feel like I know him personally, but actually I just know him from when he participated in the BustedHalo Cast a couple of years back (apparently he does know a lot of people though). He has a rich and sonorous voice and it was lovely that he could share his gifts for leading the people in praising God.

The Pope’s homily was also moving with its message of hope. Like Dirty Catholic, I realized that I’d never heard the Pope’s voice before. It’s an obvious German accent, but softly spoken. My friend Edward put it best when he said you expect power from that accent so when you hear it gently spoken it’s “sort of like a powerful man tenderly holding an infant.” Like many Europeans he shames us monolingual Americans by being able to communicate fluently in multiple languages.

I’m particularly pleased that he was able to honestly and empathetically discuss the clerical sex abuse scandal in the homily. I’m even more happy that he met with some abuse survivors for an open conversation after the Mass. Hopefully this will be the beginning Church taking some responsibility for the wrongs of the past and working toward that hope for the future the Pope so eloquently foresees.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to tune into more of the events as the Pope visits New York (even though he’s going to the home of the Yankees, ick). The coverage provided by USCCB was excellent, albeit the screen for the the streaming video is tiny, but I read elsewhere that on tv news the reporters were chatting over the Mass and cutting to commercials so this was much better. Rocco Palmo as always deserves accolades for his Whispers in the Loggia where he’s publishing the text of all the Pope’s public comments as well as much more papal visit coverage.

library links for 19 February 2008


To start things off today a fun Sesame Street clip, “No Cookies in the Library” (via the new WorldCat Blog):

And now a couple of links about reading and writing:

links of the day for 15 February 2008


links of the day for Valentine’s Day


I’m late on this, but love is enduring.

Happy VD to everyone!

links of the day for 12 February 2008


And for once, most of the links are actually from today.

  • Memories of Shea: The Great Gatsby (Loge 13, 12/10/08) – The Mets’ little-known literary link.
  • American Insanity: Killer Commutes by Paul Dorn (Bike Commute Tips Blog, 2/11/08) – I could have written this paragraph – “As a survivor of a suburban childhood, I will never mow a lawn again, let alone pay for the “privilege” of yardwork with car payments and fuel bills. I’m happy to enjoy parks maintained by union-scale professional municipal gardeners.”
  • Three articles on an Open Access proposal at Harvard University:
  • More on Open Access from Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog (2/12/08): A Quartet of Open Access Arguments
  • Why does the U.S. Have An Electoral College by Joe Miller (FactCheck.org, 2/12/08 – I did not know this: “The winner-take-all system is not federally mandated; states are free to allocate their electoral votes as they wish.”
  • Airbrushing Ronald Reagan by John J. Pitney, Jr. (Britannica Blog, 2/12/08) – apparently Reagan wasn’t Reaganesque.
  • Courts Endow Corporations with Unalienable Rights by Jeffery Kaplan (AlterNet, 2/12/08) -“The founding principle of our country is right in the Declaration of Independence: all people are ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ It is not for judges to decide who is and who is not a human being.Nor should the courts play Creator by endowing legal constructs like corporations with human rights. Our constitutional rights exist to prevent large, powerful institutions — whether governments, corporations, or other entities — from oppressing us humans.”