Monday, February 25, 2008

John Berry: how market ideology is killing librarianship

John Berry's editorial in the February 15 issue of Library Journal is brief, but it ruthlessly critiques the ways in which business-oriented management practices are destroying the foundations of the library profession. The money paragraph:

The resulting “destination” libraries resemble the cookie-cutter design of the grocery store, aimed at making sure everyone who comes in goes out with “product” (books, CDs, DVDs, or downloads). What the patron takes is of as little concern to the storekeeper librarian as it is to the supermarket manager. The success of the enterprise is measured in the number of products collected by patrons, now called “customers.” It is no longer measured in the usefulness or impact of the service on the quality of life in the community served.

Read the whole thing here. Spot on. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Say No To Nader

Here we go again.

I voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and even in 2004 (please don’t crucify me, the votes were cast in New Jersey where the Democratic nominee won handily both times against Bush). I have nothing but respect for his decades-long commitment to protecting American consumers and workers from corporate predation, and his criticisms of the American political system and the two main parties are for the most part undeniably accurate. But after witnessing his announcement yesterday on NBC’s Meet The Press, it’s clear to me that Nader’s 2008 campaign deserves no support from young people on the democratic left. This is a vanity campaign, seemingly motivated primarily by a personal vendetta, which will amount to nothing more than an enormous waste of time and energy for anyone that gets involved with it. Here’s why.

Nader represents nobody but himself at this point in his career trajectory. He is not attached to any third party, and is not the main spokesperson for any kind of existing social and political movement. All of the social forces that brought some substance to his 2000 campaign, namely students and youth, for better or worse are clearly in Barack Obama’s camp. They will not be going anywhere else, even if Obama makes no attempt to stake out a more progressive position before the November election, assuming he is the nominee (a possibility that looks more likely every day). Nader simply does not appear to have any substantive reservoir of electoral support to draw from, rendering his effort little more than a vanity candidacy. In this context, support for the Nader campaign represents a withdrawal from actual politics and an empty moral gesture. Where the hell were you the past four years, Ralph?

Further, I can’t discern one iota of strategic thinking motivating Nader’s latest decision to run for president, unless his “strategy” is to do whatever he can to make sure the Democratic nominee loses the election, as if this would somehow help the party and our country move in a more progressive direction. If anything, as an article in yesterday’s New York Times indicates, this run seems primarily motivated by Nader’s personal vendetta against the Democratic party, which worked to keep him off the ballot in many states in 2004. I was not happy with the party’s treatment of Nader during that election either, but he might as well have just gotten on Meet the Press and said “nanny-nanny-poo-poo” to explain to the Democrats and to the country why he’s running again. It’s much more accurate than his rather offensive comparison of himself to African-Americans under Jim Crow (a statement symptomatic of his general tone-deafness on issues of race and identity, I might add).

Michael Harrington, the dean of American socialism from the 1960s to the 1980s, counseled us to aspire to build the “left wing of the possible.” This new Nader candidacy represents the exact opposite. There is no possibility of a Nader victory, and its only possible outcome besides total irrelevance is facilitating the continued occupation of the White House by the right wing. Young activists on the democratic left should offer critical support to the Obama candidacy and build relationships with young Obama supporters while pointing out the shortcomings of the candidate and the political tendency he represents broadly. As democratic left activists have said hundreds of times, while electoral politics is incredibly important, building the movement in our campuses and communities is what matters most. Nader’s quadrennial crusade gets the equation exactly backwards and threatens to divide whatever progressive energies already exist. That’s a resource we can’t afford to squander.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A new Prince in the kingdom of vegetarians

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder recently solidified his place in my man-crush pantheon by announcing that earlier this month, he became a vegetarian after reading a book about the horrors of factory farming (the article does not name the title of the book, however). One wonders how this development will affect his fantasy baseball value; if anything, I'd say this lifestyle change should add at least five steals to his season total. Hopefully his power numbers won't dip so carnivores won't be able to claim that vegetarianism makes you weak.

Famous vegetarian sports personalities: Who would have expected Robert Parrish to make that list?

Friday, February 15, 2008

5 Theses on Public Libraries and Social Networking

Lately I've been thinking a lot about public libraries and their use of social networking sites in their work with children and young adults, and because I'm feeling lazy right now, I just want to list some ideas I've had in this regard Martin Luther style. I suppose I just have 90 more to go.

  1. The basic concepts behind Web 2.0 and social networking sites particularly have the potential to radically democratize media and communications. However, because of the fact that most of these technologies have been bought up by enormous corporations, the profit motive overrides any other social concern.
  2. As such, social networking sites in their current form are just massive data-mining operations to acquire information about kids’ cultural interests and consumer preferences in order to sell products to them. This is insidious and evil.
  3. Through these sites, corporations take our precious social bonds and friendships and transform them into a means of making money. This is also insidious and evil.
  4. Public libraries, as institutions fundamentally concerned with non-commercial ends such as educating the people to participate in a free and democratic society, should not uncritically embrace such technologies in their work, especially with children and young adults.
  5. Someone needs to create social networking and Web 2.0 tools in a non-profit, open source format that they will not sell off to Google, Yahoo, Fox or some other conglomerate. Until then, I suppose public librarians will be forced to make use of tools such as MySpace or Facebook while also informing young library users that through these sites, companies are using them as marketing tools.

Young adult librarians interested in providing media literacy resources to their users (and anyone else interested in these issues) should check out Hey Kidz! Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People, by Anne Elizabeth Moore.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson

Murray Bookchin once made a distinction between "social anarchism" and "lifestyle anarchism," and if we adopt his conceptual scheme this work definitely falls in the latter. It is, after all, catalogued in the self-help section rather than the social science section. This is a lively, wide-ranging and anarchic assault on modern Western lifestyles and a plea to adopt the author's personal philosophy of "anarchy, medievalism and existentialism" as our own.

One of the reasons why I enjoyed this book is that it is so peculiarly English. Hodgkinson makes his case largely through extensive references to the heavy hitters in the English canon: Johnson, Lawrence, Russell, Wilde, the Shelleys, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Godwin just to name a few. Late 1970s and early 1980s English punk rock, as exemplified by the Sex Pistols and CRASS, is a major influence on his argument and his brand of backward looking, almost conservative radicalism is in the vein of William Cobbett, William Morris and George Orwell (and he quotes all of these chaps extensively as well). While his use of his texts is not very deep and indeed rather superficial at times, it's a pleasure to come across so many great thinkers and writers in one book, especially when they are encouraging you to quit your job, drink, have guilt-free sex, start a vegetable garden and engage in work that actually interests you.

The book does possess some serious shortcomings, however. Hodgkinson's depiction of medieval times is rather idealized and almost completely overlooks its more nasty and brutish aspects. His advocacy of completely abandoning any attempt to intervene in the political system does not sit well with me because I think it is a mistake to hand the state over to the most conservative and reactionary elements of society. Unlike the author, I don't think that it is feasible for everyone to completely reject large-scale economic organization to become yeoman farmers. Political and economic struggle in order to secure the basics of life for all is still more necessary than ever, and in order to secure increased freedom and leisure for all such efforts need to be institutionalized in some sort. And there's no reason why the provision of social welfare by the state cannot be decentralized in some fashion. But then again that's why I think anarchism is far more effective as a personal ethic than a political program, and that's why the sections of the book that deal with ways in which to improve your everyday life are far better than his sections on government and class. It's also kind of strange to hear a man who is perhaps best known for running a magazine (the UK-based The Idler) telling his readers not to read magazines, while also telling the reader that they should check out magazines that friends of his have produced.

Still, read this book. It's stimulating and entertaining, and will send you scurrying to pick up obscure Situationist texts while you reference Jean-Paul Sartre to explain why you bought a ukulele.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Perlstein on Obamamania

Rick Perlstein's recent opinion piece in the Washington Post on Obama and the legacy of the 1960s is worth a read, as is most everything written by Perlstein. Like myself, Perlstein recognizes the peculiar psychology surrounding the Obama phenomenon and doesn't particularly like it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Celebrity Endorsement Watch: Pope of Mope backs Pope of Hope

According to reports, Everyone's favorite sexually ambiguous frontman, Steven Patrick Morrissey himself, has come out (tee hee) in favor of Sen. Barack Obama in this year's presidential race. Undoubtedly, Obama now has the coveted "English Romantic literature lover" and "animal rights terrorism supporter" voter demographics all but sewn up heading into today's Super Tuesday primaries. Coming on the heels of Hulk Hogan's Obama endorsement, the senator from Illinois can count on the support of voters who loved The Smiths/Morrissey in high school and voters who beat those kids up. Quite a coup if you ask me.

Still waiting on those Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren endorsements. Keep an eye on this space.