The Coddling of the American Mind

So far this article from The Atlantic has been an compelling read. I also recommend the following piece posted on Vox, I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Students Terrify Me.

And just a little bonus: “The Progressive Stack” (Youtube clip)

I’m a progressive, but sometimes I have my doubts that the progressive movement can form an effective political movement when it becomes bogged down with identity politics and hyper-democratic decision-making processes.

Probably the most perfect rock song I’ve ever heard with a female singer. Just a perfect blend of pop and grungy alt-rock.

(I’m pretty sure this is just a fan-made video. Not official.)

Behaving Badly: A Review


I don’t know why I’m doing this. While skimming, I noticed an article mentioning this movie. Apparently they did some kind of review of this movie, but I didn’t read it. I thought I’d do one myself!

0.00 Setting of movie: well-to-do though non-descript suburb of California.

0.25 Literally the first thing the audience is confronted with in this film is an up-close of the main character’s underwear and his (slightly) bulging crotch. The first lines are a voice-over of him saying “I am so fucked.” My expectations for this movie are the same.

1.20 One minute and twenty seconds in and the movie has already revealed a classic movie cliche: the drunk mother.

1.54 Main character discovers his mother unconscious on her couch, surrounded by a bottle of pills and bottles of alcohol. Christ, this is not very wholesome. Isn’t Selena Gomez like some Disney foot-soldier?

3.00 After mother is taken away in ambulance (not dead, yay!), main character (the son) discovers written in his mother’s suicide note that she is aware that her son has been sleeping with his best friend’s mom, who is also a friend of the mother. Can’t tell if this is the reason she attempted suicide. But the movie doesn’t dwell on it either, and she’s carted off without much fanfare. Did I mention that the son is completely non-plussed during this entire thing?

4.00 Main character keeps breaking the fourth wall to explain plot points. My hopes for this film continue to diminish.

4.23 The audience is taken back to two weeks prior before this incident. We’re treated to another rather disappointing crotch-shot.

5.00 We discover that the mom’s name is Lucy.

5.27 During breakfast at the family’s home, we’re now introduced to the family, who all solidly flaunt their cliches. The mother is a forgetful alcoholic, the daughter is a sarcastic and slutty partygoer, the older brother (Steven) is a dimwitted ape, and the main character is the whiny misunderstood son.

6.52 The son (still don’t know his name) finally encounters the dad sneaking around outside the house. We are told that, apparently, the only reason the dad has not divorced the mom is because he can’t afford it. So instead he sneaks around and has affairs with secretaries. In very snarky, fast movie banter, the two discuss how the son has discovered one of his dad’s sex tapes with one of these women. Again, none of this makes either character uncomfortable.

6.55 Three thing: 1) The main character does not call his father “dad,” but instead by his first name, “Joseph.” 2) Maybe this is an indication of how distant or casual their relationship is, because he then politely asks his father please not to leave any semen on the camera tripod again when he’s done with it. 3) Every scene in this movie thus far has been packed to the brim with filthy, filthy content, as well as that typical movie dialogue in which everyone has a snarky line loaded in the chamber, and these quips are traded with lightning speed.

7.15 Wow, we now have our first full frontal nudity shot. Did not see that one coming. It’s of a girl working a pole in a strip joint. It’s also where the sister (Kristen) works. As a stripper.

7.25 More boobs.

7.30 I’ve lost track of the plot at this point. The main character has been tasked with running an errand for some coke-snorting macho dude at the strip club. He sends the main character to the apartment of a trashy looking woman (named –wait for it- “Cherish”), who promptly offers to blow the main character if he tells her how to get her stomach pumped. To recap: literally every single every woman in this film so far is either 1) an alcoholic; 2) a stripper; 3) an alcoholic stripper; or 4) in the ICU for being an alcoholic.

8.00 Main character does not tell Cherish how to get her stomach pumped, but she proceeds to blow him anyway. To arouse him, she takes off her shirt, revealing her silicone chest. Even more incredibly, the movie shamelessly replays the moment she takes off her shirt over and over, for no apparent reason other than to arouse the audience.

8.07 I remain flaccid.

8.39 I finally discover the main character’s name: Ricky. He runs to his best friend Billy’s house, and his greeted at the door by Mrs. Bender, Billy’s mother. She is wearing a glaringly low-cut black dress and holding (can you guess?!) a glass of wine.

9.00 After an awkward exchange, Ricky asks if Billy is home, and Mrs. Bender indicates that he is probably up in his room masturbating. I am now classifying this movie as science fiction, because none of these characters act or talk like real people. I am also becoming suspicious that this movie was a massive prank by Selena Gomez to punk the several dozen people who watched this film into wasting 90 minutes of their life.

9.02 I realize that the Selena Gomez character has yet to make a genuine appearance, besides as a shimmering, sexual figure of Ricky’s fantasies.

9.14 Ricky bursts into Billy’s room to discover Billy Bender, pants around his ankles, beating off to a Human Sexuality textbook. Nothing in this film surprises me anymore.

9.15 This reminds me of how my college sophomore year roommate -a fantastically conservative Christian kid from South Korea- had to take a Human Sexuality course. If I remember correctly, I recall being surprised when he told me how much he was enjoying the class, saying it was “very interesting.” His grades were always pretty bad, and eventually he left SU and returned to Korea to complete his military service there. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to him. Is he gearing up to defend the homeland from Kim Jong-un? Does he still have a personal relationship with Jesus? Does he cry tears of shame when he yanks it?

9.30 We now know what Billy’s o-face looks like, and we have to endure a painfully long scene of him cleaning up. All in all, Ricky takes the whole scene quite well.

10.50 Billy’s mom sends Billy off to the store to buy more cigarettes, but forces Ricky to stay, clearly hoping to seduce him.

11.30 Mrs. Bender proceeds to seduce Ricky on the couch. She offers to help Ricky get better with his sexual abilities by offering to be his “teacher” in this area. This all goes off without a hitch.

13.00 Mrs. Bender and Ricky have sex. (Unseen by the viewer.)

13.01 What are California’s laws, because I’m pretty sure this would be statutory rape in New York state.

14.00 Ricky, realizing the next day what he has done, imagines how every other character in the movie would react upon discovering his transgression. When we get to Selena Gomez, she says “You’re a mother fucker, Ricky Stevens, I will never be your girlfriend.”

14.20 I now find Selena Gomez even more wildly unattractive than I did before watching this film.

15.30 At school, Ricky announces to Billy that he’s going to ask out Nina (Selena Gomez). This is overheard by another boy, who reminds me of a more sinister version of Brainy from Hey Arnold!  This boy, named Karlis, looks like a newsboy from the 1900s, and acts like the kind of person who builds pipebombs and enjoys smelling used panties. He challenges Ricky, on the wager of $1000, that he cannot nail Selena Gomez in two weeks. For reasons beyond anyone, Ricky accepts. I guess this is supposed to pass as the major subplot of the film.

15.41 We learn that Karlis is the son of a mobster. Will they do a spin-off movie featuring Karlis? I would watch that.

17.50 Ricky walks through the hallway of his school and witnesses Selena Gomez as she (for reasons not made clear) promptly breaks up with her slack-jawed boyfriend, Kevin, who shouts “Bitch!” as she stomps off.

18.00 The primary characters (Ricky, Karlis, Billy, Gomez) are sitting in Latin class. Their geriatric teacher tries to get Ricky to conjugate a verb before -and I can still hardly believe it- suddenly having from a heart attack, collapsing, and dying right there in the front of the classroom. From all my deductive reasoning, I have yet for the life of me to understand the purpose of this scene in the film.

19.00 Never mind, the point of his death was to allow classes to be cancelled for the rest of the day, which opens up an opportunity for Ricky to approach Gomez for some flirting. I am glad that old man died with purpose.

20.00 Ricky asks Gomez if she would like to attend the funeral with him. I suppose this is now considered an appropriate place to take a date.

20.05 I have decided that I will now being asking girls to be my +1 to all wakes and/or burials in the future.

21.00 Selena Gomez has a very round face, with puffy cheeks, big wet eyes, and tan skin. Perhaps she is really an Ewok.

25.00 A new sublot emerges in which Ricky, hoping to impress Gomez the Ewok, tells her that he likes Josh Groban. Amazingly, there is a Josh Groban concert the following day, forcing Ricky to scramble about trying to get tickets. Or something. At this point my eyes have mostly glazed over and my testicles have fully retreated back into my body.

20.00 Oh, one more thing: Selena Gomez’s character is a highly prude Christian girl who aspires to be a priest (I’m not making this up.) Obviously, this throws a wrench in Ricky’s plan to take her to pound-town.

20.35 Selena Gomez is not a very good actor.

32.00 Here’s a challenge. See if you can decide which of these are real plot points in this movie:

A) Ricky and Billy discover that their fathers both enjoy engaging in leather-clad BDSM together in a seedy motel room with their neighbors. Ricky and Billy decide to surprise them and photograph them in their BDSM costumes.

B) The actor who played David Puddy in Seinfeld is the principal of the school, and selects a feeble old Catholic nun to replace the dead Latin teacher. This nun also has narcolepsy and falls asleep at her desk. She briefly wakes up before losing consciousness again. However, this time, it’s because she has died.

C) Principal Puddy has an extensive collection of photos from the girl’s bathroom. Ricky and Billy discover these pictures and blackmail him in order to get out of trouble.

D) Ricky somehow manages to get a crooked car dealer to loan him an Aston Martin. Later, while driving it, Ricky is pulled over, and told by the police officer that the car formerly belonged to an infamous Lithuanian mobster. Then, at the police station, Ricky is questioned by the chief of police, played by Gary Busey, who reveals to Ricky that the aforementioned mobster was discovered tied up and dead in the trunk of the convertible.

E) As Ricky and Billy attempt to turn their house into a makeshift strip-joint/brothel full of strippers in order to make some fast cash, Mrs. Bender promptly crashes the party and attempts to force herself on Ricky. She then proceeds to masturbate with an electric whisk. Then Billy walks in and sees his mother doing this. Then she attempts to seduce Billy -her own son- by licking his face.

F) Ricky’s sister is accepted to Stanford University.**

49.47 I learn that Ricky is 17 years old. The age of consent in New York State is 17. So I think we’re good on the earlier statutory rape point. Thank goodness, for a second there I almost thought this movie’s plot was incoherent and disgusting.

50.01 I realize I have made a mistake. This movie was definitely not filmed in New York. After doing some fact-checking, I learn it was indeed filmed in California. California’s penal code defines statutory rape as someone who is not a minor having sex with someone who is a minor (in CA, defined as younger than 18). Therefore, the plot of this film rests on repeated instances of statutory rape (it is implied that Ricky and Mrs. Bender have sex repeatedly in the film). Which, you know, is kinda icky.

50.02 Upon further snooping, I learn that this film took 20 days to complete filming. I then surmise that it took the writers about 20 minutes to establish a working script.

51.34 The only redeeming scene of the movie thus far: M83’s “Midnight City” plays while Ricky drives his Aston Martin. This scene is then ruined by Ricky’s babbling blonde lawyer (not important) who is riding alongside him in the car, and has swallowed a handful of ecstasy pills, thinking them aspirin.

60.44 Selena Gomez is a horrible actor.

60.57 This movie would have been considerably better if they had replaced Selena Gomez with an actual Ewok.

64.18 I’m going to walk away from the movie as it plays for several minutes and see if it affects how I feel about the film.

67.12 I’ve returned to witness a scene in which the party/brothel has been broken up and, amid the chaos, a greasy looking Italian man has been struck and killed by a live electrical wire from a telephone pole.

67.35 A profound depression overtakes me, though I try to remain optimistic as I am now two-thirds done with my masochistic experiment.

70.09 For some reason, everyone but Ricky is in jail. Selena is in jail, too. I wish she’d stay there.

73.21 This is by far the worst movie I have ever seen. I feel that I am now mentally prepared, should I have to, to watch Scarlett Johansson in Lucy.

76.22 Most of the men (and some of the women) in this movie are getting crabs.

77.22 I’ve lost track of the number of prison rape jokes.

79.43 Ricky goes to the hospital to see his mother. Upon getting to her room, a Jamaican nurse tells him that he is too late, and that she has already died. The actor playing Ricky does a horrible attempt at what appears to be crying. Either that, or the writers purposefully wrote for him to act only mildly discomforted by the death of his mother. I think we all know which is more likely.

81.10 We discover that Ricky had went to the wrong hospital bed, and that his mother is in fact still alive. *sigh*

83.45 Ricky meets with his bosomy blonde lawyer (don’t worry, it’s an irrelevant plot point), who received her degree from Stanford. She then not-subtly implies that butt-sex and chlamydia are rampant at Stanford. Can anyone confirm this?

87.22 We come to what I hope is the conclusion of the film. Ricky leaves the hospital, his family salvaged and now accepting of each others’ differences. Out on the street, Ricky walks in front of a truck carrying caged chickens, causing the cages to spill into the street. Selena Gomez then comes out of nowhere. Amid the raining feathers, he then pronounces his love to the Ewok, and they kiss triumphantly. Fin.

90.00 Cut to credits. We learn that this film was based upon the book “While I’m Dead…Feed the Dog”. While I’ve never been a supporter of book burning, I am reconsidering it.

Bonus: After more snooping, I’ve learned that the author of the original novel as disavowed this film for having gone against the source material of the book. It makes you wonder why the screenwriters of this film didn’t just stick to the original plot of the book. In fact, the producers of this film could have just spliced the Ewok scenes from Return of the Jedi with any B-level porno movie and have made something better than this steaming piece of tripe.

*Apparently, Justin Bieber makes a brief cameo in this movie as a prisoner, during the jail scene. However, his scene must have occurred while I had briefly walked away from my computer. Disappointed at not having seen this, I compensated for this by looking at a picture of Justin Bieber’s actual mug shot.

**Trick question: these are all actual plot points in the movie.


Fizz-Boom: “The Only Boy in the Library: A Memoir”

Kira, one of our interns, puts us all to shame. How cool is this.
Kira, one of our interns, puts us all to shame. How cool is this. It’s hard to see, but the atomic abbreviations all stand for book titles. The atomic numbers -thus, the order of the “elements”- are dictated by the book circulation (i.e. popularity).

Week 2 with no distinction between days

Whoa now! First day to register for the Summer Reading Program!

Only a desk stands between me and the frothing multitudes
Only a desk stands between me and the frothing multitudes


Did you know that libraries throw out books? Like, a lot of books. If a book goes several months without being checked out, it gets withdrawn from the system. Then we’ll try to sell it for a buck. And if that doesn’t happen, then it’s off to recycling!

Another path in the lifecycle of the book is through donation. Lots of people donate their used books to the library. Fun fact: you can actually get a tax-break for doing this. Just ask! However, the sad fact is, if you donate your books to the library, there’s a good chance that most of what you give us is headed straight for the trash. But often, this is for good reason. Countless times I’ve witnessed people carting in these old, water-stained cardboard boxes full of moldy, yellowing, tattered books from their attics and basements. Why do these people think that’s okay?!?! People, we don’t want your crap! So I smile, thank the patron, and haul the junk into the back office, where my boss picks through for something nice enough to sell. But mostly he says, “Check to see when they’re gone, and then take these around back to the dumpster.”

Fare ye well, books. Soon ye shall be pulverized, pulped, and processed back into…you know… $5 romance novels, if you’re lucky.


Oh man, talk about a downpour today. The parking lot nearly flooded again. This wouldn’t be nearly so bad, but the AC in our building doesn’t work very well in our Picture Book room. So take an already warm room, add in 100% humidity, and the Picture Book room starts feeling like a jungle. Add in some little toddler walking around obliviously with a loaded diaper to notch up the temperature an extra degree. Something is rotten in the Picture Book Room.


Hey, we have a lizard now! Hanny the Library Lizard is back with us for the summer. Normally he’s housed in a classroom at a nearby elementary school. But somehow we have an arrangement to watch him for the summer while school’s out.

Watch the throne
Watch the throne

The kid’s seem to get a real kick out of this guy, even though there are days when blinking is about as much as Hanny’s willing to move. In fact, he sits so still that an amazing number of kids seriously question whether or not he’s alive. (Some people walk right by his tank and don’t even notice there’s a freaking lizard sitting in the center of the kid’s section.) Lazy as Hanny is, should you drop a cricket into his domain, he kinda perks up and his beady little eyes dart around. The poor crickets don’t realize their lousy odds upon being dropped into a lizard tank, and most waltz right up to Hanny before they realize that, you know, he’s alive. Which is probably the last thing they think before he lunges at them and gobbles them up whole with his little pink tongue. Hunger Games indeed. At this point, some of the other crickets might get wind that one of them has been served for lunch at the other end of the tank, and they do seem to change their behavior. (Or maybe I’m just rooting for them.) Hiding behind Hanny’s water bowl seems to be a popular place of refuge. And the craftiest of crickets, if they hang around long enough to figure it out, hide in the crevices of the wooden log that Hanny enjoys basking on. Or they’ll sneak under the skull and lie low for as long as fate permits. I know that a cricket has found some temporary refuge in hiding because the children’s section is treated with a pulsing chirp. And, sitting at my desk, as long as I hear those organic notes ring out from the tank, I know that there’s at least one measured struggle for life in the sandy pit of Hanny’s lair. Crickets of PetCo, we salute you!


Heather (other children’s librarian) comes in on her day off. With her is Megan, her four year old daughter.  Megan sometimes forgets my name, and only knows me as, quote, “the only boy in the library.” (This is mostly true, our staff is overwhelming female. As for our patrons: children accompanied with their dads are a rarer sight up in the children’s section.) Everyone seems to like this name, and I’ve decided to make it the title of my future memoir that I have no plans of writing.


Kori (children’s librarian, my boss) keeps saying something weird to me. We just finish installing Hanny’s tank, and I’m deciding where to place his daytime and nighttime heating lamps. So I’m standing over the tank, placing the main lamp over his favorite log, then changing my mind and putting it over the skull. Kori walks up to me, saying, “Maybe let’s not put it over the skull. Last summer he got a little burned because he sat on top of it and was too close to the lamp.”

“Oh, okay, no problem!” I say

“Haha, sorry Jake, I’m just being my usual anal self!”

She walks away, and I kinda just sit there for a second, head cocked to the side. Later, I’m sitting at the desk, stuffing folders (aahhrrgg!) and Kori comes up and asks,

“Hey, who folded these recommended-reading pamphlets? They’re all misaligned!”

“Uh. I dunno, one of the high school volunteers?”

“Well they’ve got to learn how to fold!”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Ha, you know how anal I can be!”



Book recommendation: Rules of Summer! I’ve never seen surrealism in a children’s picture book before, but this was fantastic. (But I don’t see how any kid would “get it,” if that’s even the point.) Shaun Tan is the man.

IMG_1195 IMG_1192


“I’m ignoring you, Rachel. I’m ignoring you. I am ignoring you!” a glitzy mom blares for the whole section to overhear.

 A mother (clearly one of those “cool moms” who still dresses young) and her sassy tween daughter are having a tiff about something near the desk. They proceed up to the desk where I’m sitting and ask to register  for the summer reading program. They’re hunched over the desk together as they fill out their personal information on a registration card. The mom is not happy with her daughter’s attitude (pouty), but I can’t figure out why. The daughter is trying to fill out her registration card, but the mom keeps yanking it out of her hands, proceeding to erase whatever the daughter wrote, and correct it. I sit back and watch the spectacle.

“Rachel, I swear to god, I am going to stab you with this pencil. I am going to stab you with this pencil.” 

“We just sharpened them, too!” (It’s true, I had literally just finished sharpening them five minutes ago!)

“There, see, Rachel? Nice and sharp.” 

Fizz-Boom: For God, Children, and Bronies


Week One:


Huh. Well. Back again. Back behind the desk. Here once again to provide my services to the Manlius Library. To throw myself upon the alter and give all I can give to this great public institution until –ay– I can give no more.

What ho! Someone desires to find the fable The Tortoise and the Hare?!

Seek in juvenile non-fiction, call number 398, and ye shall find!

Hark! My son desires to read The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series! Who be the author?

Ay, that would be Kinney in the Ks! Filed in fiction, second shelf from the window, lower right corner! 

Pray mercy, good sir, but my wee child has shat his pantaloons before I could whisk him to the changing station!

Seven hells, woman! 

Yes indeed it is good to be back at the Manlius Library! What’s that, you say? There’s an entitled brat shrieking in the Story Time Room? Some googly-eyed toddler is munching on the corners of a picture book? An enraptured little tyke is drooling over the keyboard at one of the public computers? The children’s bathroom is out of toilet paper….and now it’s flooding? Some liberal suburban mom is breastfeeding quite conspicuously? A senile old man is lost and has wandered in from the Senior Centre down the hall? A pack of one-year-olds are frothing at the mouth and banging on the glass of the fish-tank?

Ease your fears, we’ve handled it all! Just give me a gallon of Purell and my trusty scanner gun, and all shall be restored!

So, yeah. It’s good to be back. Not the ideal place to be, one year out of college. But I happen to really love my job (this will be my…7th year here, I believe), and I work with some fabulous and fantastically quirky people. I had nothing else going on, and they had a position to fill, so why the heck not?

So here’s the deal. I’m the….ahem…”Youth Services Circulation Clerk.” It’s the technical way of saying that I check out books to little kids. And I’ve done this job every summer for several years now, so I’m pretty good with a scanner gun, if I may say so myself. I have two superiors, Kori and Heather. Two children’s librarians who are incredibly down-to-earth, fun, easy-going bosses. I adore them both. We also have a few interns this summer. More on them later.

As far as libraries in Onondaga County go, the Manlius Library is one of the largest. Physically in size, and in circulation numbers. We also have a massive children’s summer reading program. I expect we’ll register around 1200 kids this year, as we did last year. Each year our program grows, causing me to speculate on the incredible amount of breeding that must go on in this small town. The program has a different theme each year. This is not actually decided by us, but by some official board of librarians at the county level. Or something. Anyway, last year it was “Dig into Reading,” sort of an archeology/nature theme. This year it’s “Fizz Boom Read!,” adopting a science/chemistry-set motif. Hence the name of this blog series.

Every library has control over how they wish to run their program, and the success and size of any program can vary greatly depending on things like budget allowance, local population size, number of staff available, and the competency and enthusiasm of the staff themselves. We have been blessed in each of these categories. Other libraries not so much, sadly. Which is a shame, because while I don’t have the statistics on hand, summer reading programs are important. No, really!  Kids need to maintain their reading levels while they’re off from school in the summer. Kids that spend those few extra months in the summer reading see huge advantages in reading competency and other skills. Reading in the early years is critical, and the sooner a child begins reading, the more it pays off in spades later in life. Children who are behind in reading at an early age often spend the rest of their educational years behind the curve, and it puts them at huge disadvantages. So that’s why summer reading programs are critical: they maintain reading rates during the “lost” months over summer, and just as importantly, they get kids to love reading! (Which is a beautiful thing to witness: A kid rushes up to my desk balancing a stack of books up to their chin before heaving it down in front of me, and they’re sporting a huge, toothy grin, literally bouncing with excitement and gushing about their favorite stories and characters as I scan the barcodes and place them in a bag for them to take home. It warms the heart.) So, to reaffirm: the second a child exits the birth canal, it should have its face crammed into a book. Trust me, folks, I have a degree.

Look, some kid actually made the basic design of the children’s section! There’s our desk in the front, then the computer cluster, and finally the fiction and non-fiction shelves! Obviously everything is squished down to scale and much has been left out, but this is pretty darn cool!

And finally, to explain how exactly a summer reading program works: well, tis quite simple. Each week, a child comes to the library to show how much reading they’ve accomplished during that week. As a reward for reading, they receive little prizes, which vary each week. Often, the prizes consist of coupons for free treats/snacks at businesses in the area. (Free slice of pizza at the local pizza shop, or a free small ice-cream cone at the…uh…ice-cream shop. Etcetera, etcetera.) We also have raffles, book clubs for the kids, and free book giveaways. Our biggest draw, though, are our programs, which are structured arts & crafts events, science experiments, and history lessons (way cooler than it sounds). We also bring in animals from the local zoo to show the kids, which is always a big hit. So far we’ve never had an animal escape, and no parent has ever offered to give up their child to the zoo. I’m still waiting, though, for the day when some lizard gets loose and territorializes the children’s biography section, preying upon youngin’s who wander back into that area alone. (It wouldn’t be the first time a reptile took up residence uninvited in the Manlius Library. Some years ago we found a large snake in the toilet of the men’s room. We called the police down to deal with it, and even the officer was too jittery to go near it.)  Finally, we also show movies from time to time. Yours truly has the privilege of proctoring The Lego Movie this summer…twice. It’s gonna be awesome! I can’t believe I get paid to do this.

I’ve always wanted to write about my experience running a summer reading program. Behind my desk and amidst the stacks I have always taken mental notes about parenting, child behavior and interaction, literacy and literature, and the evolving role of the public library. I hope to convey some of my opinions about these themes throughout these entries.



Day off! I don’t work on Tuesdays. (Librarians often have atypical work schedules. At our library, 35 hours a week is considered full time. Without going into excruciating details, this often translates to working four days a week, and with rotating weekends. It also often means having a schedule of working days and nights. My own schedule is a bit mixed. Monday and Wednesday I work 2-9. Tuesday I have off. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday I work 10-5. Libraries are often closed on Sunday in the summer (well, at least in our county).

I spent today wandering around Wal-Mart and Wegmans. Then watching PBS documentaries. I’ll write about Wal-Mart at another time, because Wal-Mart seriously fascinates me.



Every kid who signs up for the summer reading program gets a folder. Contained in this folder are all the different papers that he or she will need to help keep track of their reading, as well as all the information on our programs and events over the next several weeks. We have to prepare about 1200 folders (at least), and somebody has to put the various sheets of paper into each and every folder, which usually falls on me and our lowly interns. Whenever I’m approached with “collating materials” (a nice euphemism there!), I know I’ll have a mountain of papers to sort.

So I’m stuffing folders until the end of time when this 5th grader approaches me. He looks a little bashful. He’s rocking two big buck teeth with a nice healthy gap between them, which reminds me of myself in early middle school. There’s also something stuck in his left ear, and it takes me a minute to figure out that it’s a hearing aid. He has a pretty thick lisp, and I can’t determine if it’s from his teeth, or his hearing disability, or, you know, just typical speech development issues. Anyway, not important. He’s holding a My Little Pony book.

“So, I know thith ith kinda thstupid, but my friend and I were reading thith ath a joke…but I really enjoyed it. Do you guyths have any more of thethe?”

Sweet jesus, this is awesome! I can’t believe I’m finally in the presence of a young brony in the making! 

I check the system for any more copies in the series, but all our copies are out. So I place several books in the series on hold for him (“Friendship is Magic” volumes 2-4, “Pony Tales” volumes 1 and 2) and send my little brony on his merry way.

If you’re not familiar with “bronies,” it’s a really bizarre and intriguing subculture comprised of adult males who are fans of the My Little Pony franchise. You can read about it here. Feel free to psychoanalyze.

My Little BRONY, am I right?!

Later that day I was walking back into the children’s section, and I was walking behind this one young girl (probably a 7th grader) and her mother when I noticed the text on the back of the girl’s hoodie. It said CREATION MUSEUM, and underneath a tagline, “Prepare to Believe.”

For those not aware, the Creation Museum is a, uh, “museum” located in -where else?- Kentucky that promotes a young earth creationist view of the world. (Summary: a literal interpretation of Genesis, the first book in the Old Testament. For some hard-line Christians, this has become a platform that asserts 1) the Earth is 6000 years old; 2) a skeptical or rejectionist view of evolution; and, famously here at the museum, that 3) humans and dinosaurs depicted as having coexisted at the same time.)

It’s run by a Christian apologist group called Answers in Genesis, founded and led by a guy named Ken Ham, who you might recognize as having recently debated Bill Nye about evolution versus creationism. 

I don’t have the energy to write about all aspects of this pseudo-museum (website here), but check out the link above to its Wikipedia page. Incredibly fascinating.

And it’s not to say I was judging this young, impressionable girl…but I was absolutely judging her. Sad, I know. Actually, I would say that the girl’s mother was worthy of much more criticism. Congratulations, m’am, your daughter’s perceptions of the scientific world is grounded in The Flintstones. 

Yes, yes this actually from the museum.
Yes, yes this actually from the museum.

(Side note: if you’re interested in religious skepticism, might I recommend one of my favorite podcasts, Reasonable Doubts. This is their website, but you can more easily download their podcasts directly from iTunes. A great group of guys, with lots of humor and hard-hitting facts. They also take Ken Ham and his museum to task in episodes 122 (“A Deluge of Stupidity”) and episode 125 (“Nye Smokes Ham”). I’ve been listening to these guys since I was in high-school. So check them out if you’re interested in atheism, religious (mostly Christian) criticism, and critical thinking. Enjoy!)


Much later that day, as I was stuffing folders (ahhrrggh!), Margot, one of our longtime clerks, comes up to the children’s section with a clipboard and a set of papers. Alongside me at the desk is Kira (one of our interns), Kori, and Heather. Margot is reviewing our library policy on child safety and parental responsibilities. By “review,” she means to say that we don’t have any policy, and so we better put our heads together and make some up. I don’t really know what to contribute, so I stick to listening and, of course, stuffing folders. This policy is actually pretty important, because having informal policies doesn’t cut it- you need rules to be officially written down. In the children’s section of a public library, much of this concerns how responsible parents are toward their own children. We frequently gripe that parents often mistake children’s librarians as babysitters with master’s degrees.

There are all sorts of aggravating scenarios. You have the Preoccupied Parent, who stays with the child up in the children’s section, but has their nose buried in their phone or a magazine, and so is totally oblivious to their child yanking books off the shelf for fun or trying to stick their fingers into the fish-tank. You have the Defeated Parent, who has become so exhausted and worn down after years of raising a hyperactive and/or rebellious child that they seem to walk around in a tired stupor while their little monster screams with joy as they turn the fiction shelves into a playground. And then you have the Non-Existant Parent, who isn’t even there. There are some cheap apartments near the library, and packs of kids will just show up sometimes and spend all day at the library. These are kids who clearly lack an adult presence in their lives, and you can tell that they come to the library just something else to do. They roam around town all day in the summer, and our library is one of the few public spaces with AC, computers, and bathrooms. Unfortunatelythese kids tend also to be the troublemakers who yap too loud and swear and loiter and try to hack the computers and leave trash everywhere. So in between my visions of beating them with a beefy pop-up book, I genuinely feel bad for them, because I know that some of them simply won’t make it to even their own high school graduation. The tragic thing about kids is that they can fall behind at such an early age and never recover. Did you ever go to high school with kids that dreaded the classroom, got into fights, skipped class, got heavy into drugs, and -at least one or two of them- would wind up involved with a pregnancy? I get to observe the little-kid version of those teens from behind a desk. And I’m witnessing them grow up, and grow up fast.

And then there’s safety. Because, as I’ve said, some parents just aren’t attentive, and we have to ask ourselves at what point do we have to step in and -yes- be the babysitters for the parents. Some 1 year-old is scooting awfully close to the small set of stairs leading down into the Story Time Room, and there parent is checking their email on their iPhone; a toddler is climbing on the railings of the stairs; a little boy is leaning back dangerously far in his chair at the computer; two kids are fighting over a toy with no adult around. Most of these common instances resolve themselves without issue. But what’s really infuriating is when we have a kid that’s out of control -screaming, running around, getting angry- and we have to tell them to stop/be quiet…and then the parent will show up and reprimand us for stepping in, usually giving us some crap like “you should have referred to me since it was concerning my child.” Well, okay, except you were over in the other room gossiping with the other moms or checking your phone or off in a totally other part of the library while Junior decided to lose his shit and go Hulk on everything. You’d be amazed how often this happens. We’re either librarians or babysitters depending on when it’s convenient for the parents. So should an emergency ever happen (i.e. a child gets hurt- yes it happens now and then), the last thing we need is Mrs. Milf threatening to sic her lawyer husband on us, all because of her negligence. We’re a public libary…we don’t have an army of lawyers! We might have, like, one. Somewhere. I don’t even know where. 

Kori, Kira, Margot and Heather toss out a flurry of hypothetical concerns. Heather chimes in:

“What about the footstool in the children’s bathroom? Some kid slipped off it last week and hurt himself. Can we get in trouble for that?”

“Oh yeah, that. Yeah I’m not sure about that. They need the footstool to reach the sink! The kids aren’t tall enough!”

“Remember when that kid flooded the bathroom?” Kori buries her face into her hands and shakes her head like a Vietnam flashback.

“So are we going to require that all children be accompanied by an adult? What should the sign on the door say?”

“That all children ‘should ‘ be accompanied by an adult?”

” ‘Must‘ be accompanied?”

“By any adult?”

“How about ‘by a mature adult‘ ?”

“Okay, ‘by a mature adult’. But what about the age. Children that are how old must be accompanied by someone?”

“What age do we say? Eight? Younger than eight? Seven?”

Kori: “Children begin to develop a sense of morals and consciousness around the age of seven.”

“Okay, so they need an adult if they’re younger than seven? Or eight?”

“The ‘age of reason’ is around seven years old. Well, later for boys.” They all turn and look at me, grinning.

Hmph!” I say.

So we have a good laugh and eventually decide on the language of our policy.

If you’re curious about what Kori said about the “age of reason,” well, I was, too. Later I poked around on the internet to see what she meant. You can read this article about it, if you like.  Give or take a year, children apparently begin to actually develop a sense of morals around age seven. Things like pride, shame, existential fears, achievement, self-esteem, and a general mental maturity also begin to take shape at that age. (Read the article, it’s really fascinating!) Again, I don’t know the established literature on this, or the neuropsychology of it. Certainly worth keeping in mind, though.


Not our final policy, unfortunately.


We stumble upon weird new items all the time. Today, Heather showed me Dconstructed, an official Disney album comprised of techno remixes inspired by Disney theme songs. Now, you’re probably thinking that this is gonna be super lame. BUT IT’S NOT. I mean, Daft Punk and Kaskade contributed to this album. Check it out on Spotify or Youtube. The Dumbo-inspired track by Kaskade is probably my favorite, but I’d also recommend The Circle of Life and You’ve Got a Friend in Me remixes.

No, but really, this is a pretty cool album.
No, but really, this is a pretty cool album.



Children’s literature is an amazingly creative (and competitive) area of publishing. A perk of my job is that I get to keep somewhat up to date on all the cool books that come out. Here are some books that I seriously can’t wait to read to my kids some day!


IMG_1183 IMG_1185IMG_1184


The front doors, five minutes before opening on a Saturday morning:

But luckily the rush never hit me up in the children’s section. In fact, it was a pretty slow day! I was the only one of the desk for the day, which basically means I got to catch up on all my favorite websites and articles all day. Funny, though, one of my old political science professors from SU came in with his son, looking for books. There’s a fair number of SU professors who live in the Fayetteville-Manlius area, so I see them (and their kids) on occasion. Today it was my Political Analysis professor, who was born and raised in South Dakota. So we chatted about the PSC department and whatnot. I also asked him if he had ever heard of “The Dakota Effect.”  Click that link if you’re nerdy and curious. The political science professors basically set out to understand why the Dakotas are so incredibly over-represented in Congress. By that, I mean:

If you count a state’s congressional delegation not as the number of senators and House members currently representing that state but rather as the number of members of Congress who grew up there, you immediately encounter a striking fact: Easily the two best represented states, in terms of the number of native members of Congress per capita, are North and South Dakota

Because, remember, for example: not every member of Congress in Texas was born in Texas. But every representative in the Dakotas is invariably born in the Dakotas…and then you have a disproportionally large number of congress-members in other states who are native Dakotans. The authors seek to figure out what about the culture/demographics of North/South Dakota might cause this (hint: there’s not much to do there!), and what are the real-world consequences of it (hint: the amount of money sent back to the Dakotas!)

Finally, for less stuffy academic political science material, I read a nice article on The Atlantic’s site. Titled The Left Right Political Spectrum is Bogus , it’s a nice introduction as to why the liberal/conservative dichotomy in political discourse is too narrow to be of any use. And how true this is! Just look at how, for example, libertarians, Christian social conservatives, and neocons are all labeled broadly as “conservatives.” Likewise, there are liberals who are extremely distrustful of government action, and those who still put great faith in it. There are wealthy business elite liberals and those who find that lifestyle quite distasteful. And then consider the overlap between the two camps! Like how many progressive liberals and conservative libertarians actually share common values about privacy, drug policy, foreign policy, and corporate capitalism!

This article proposes looking less across the spectrum of left/right, and more at structures of power in society, which are usually framed as vertical/horizontal (that is, when power is concentrated for a few at the top, versus when it is more democratically dispersed across the population.) So, for example, instead of conservatives yelling “Big government is bad!” and liberals shouting “corporate capitalism is bad!” they should both try to notice the terrible reality that points out how both have grown together over the past many decades (by no accident, too), and what we are left with is a kind of revolving door collusion between the corporate and governmental elite who work to keep each other protected, rich, and in power, while leaving the vast majority of the population left behind with stagnant wages, gutted public services, and a sense of political apathy. This is a portion of what Marxist Theory is all about, so if you’re even still reading at this point and you find this interesting, go check out Introduction to Marx and Engels or Cultural Hegemony in the United States or just anything about wealth inequality, such as The Price of Inequality.



A West Coast Fling: Days 8, 9, and 10: Urban Observations (ft. Beavers!)

On my 9th day in Oregon, I remember checking in to our hotel near the airport and promptly collapsing on the bed. Exhausted, sore, sunburned, dehydrated. Our flight Sunday morning (day 10) was at 6:50 in the morning, so we had to say goodbye to our hotel in downtown Portland and stay the night closer to the airport. I had just spent two days walking endlessly around East Portland. The sun had finally come out, it was warm, and the cherry trees were in full bloom. A proper spring! (Poor Syracuse, I had gotten word that it was still snowing over there.) Here’s just a sample of photos:


Shout-out to beavers for being my favorite animal.
Shout-out to beavers for being my favorite animal. (Also that stone fountain is supposed to be filled with water.)
The famous Saturday market of Portland! Super fun.
The famous Saturday market of Portland! Super fun. This photo doesn’t do justice to how many booths there are to browse.
In a second-hand store. Sam tries to make a friend.
In a second-hand store. Sam tries to make a friend.


That guy in the photo above is Sam, one of my closest friends from home. Except in high school his family moved to California, and he’s been on the West Coast ever since. He lived in Portland for a time, and now lives in Eugene (a really exciting mid-sized city in Oregon). We met up, grabbed some food and drinks, and he showed me some shops in East Portland, including this second-hand stores that made me feel like I was in an episode of Hoarders. 

I think what I’ll do is talk briefly about East Portland, and then try to reflect more broadly about Seattle and Portland.

Okay, so West Portland is where the downtown retail and restaurants are, along with Chinatown, some swanky boutique shopping strips, and Portland State University. Across the river is East Portland, which I would describe as much more suburban and residential. In the northern part of East Portland, I found a warehouse district, some bland apartment buildings, and a shopping mall that felt very much out of place (apparently the vision of a wealthy Californian developer decades ago). But mom and I kept walking north, and eventually came upon some really picturesque houses. Quaint, idyllic, harmonious. Pick an adjective, it all works. For some of these houses, I would describe them as thus: for those of you familiar with the housing in the SU student neighborhoods, imagine if these houses were given proper love and care, and perhaps a little bit more money. You know, on the smaller side, not gaudy, diverse in style. It was an almost meditative experience to meander through these tightly-knit streets, complete with sidewalks, trees, cats lounging in the sun, and people mowing their lawns. And as I eventually made my way to southeast Portland, I discovered that much of the east side is like this. Just a whole gridwork of pleasant streets and homes.

As charming as this was, I was also a bit puzzled, because I’ve heard time and time again that southeast Portland is now the cool place to be. (It’s very possible I didn’t go east or south enough.) Because while there are some main drags lined with cafes and restaurants that cut across southeast Portland, it didn’t strike me as very exciting. I didn’t see too much retail or cultural venues. Also, unlike West Portland, East Portland is much more suited for car and bike travel, not foot.

So, I walked and walked, all day, until my feet were blistered and sore. In conclusion: East Portland would make for a great place to raise a family. Personally, I prefer west-side, but apparently the reason everyone flocks to the east side of the river is because this is where the affordable housing is. It’s a shame I didn’t see where the cool kids liked to hang.


A few last things about Portland:

1) A great introduction by Portlandia to the stereotypes about Portland (certainly some truth, though, and certainly worth watching.)

In regards to some of the things mentioned in the video:

-Yes, I did see a lot of guys skateboarding

-Yes, there is a shop that only sells vinyl.

-The hot girls DO wear glasses.

-Flannel is acceptable (I wasn’t aware that flannel wasn’t cool anymore, though!?)

-I was told that -it is true- “everyone’s an artist or in a band.”

Unrelated to the video:

-There are very progressive free-speech laws here, so Portland has a ton of strip clubs and sex shops. Like, there are shops in the main downtown area that have really busty mannequins in the windows sporting kinky outfits and whips and all that stuff.

-Like Seattle, Portland has a sizable and visible homeless population. They didn’t seem as aggressive as those in Seattle, but it’s hard to make such a generalization.

-Lots of coffee shops here. If you like coffee (or beer!), you will not be disappointed.

-Also, can I say one thing about West Coast food vs. East Coast food? The West knows how to do good donuts. I had some amazing donuts in both cities. However, East Coast knows bagels and pizza. I had a hard time finding pizza or bagel places out here, and I’m sure they wouldn’t compare to the awesome stuff we got east-side.

-Finally, as someone that has now seen a few more cities, I can say with some confidence how unique NYC is. Seriously, that is a city that doesn’t sleep. Especially when it comes to eating. I guess I never really appreciated the perks of the crazy NYC life until I visited some smaller cities. Things do seem to close down and get pretty quiet at night in Seattle and Portland (at least the sections I saw), and I found it hard to find that cheap, grab-n-go food that NYC is so famous for. All I want is a $1 slice of pizza after 9pm!

2) For those interested in urban planning, I highly recommend the blog “The Urbanophile.” Here are two articles about Portland from a more academic perspective:

The first article 

And the second 

If you don’t feel like reading them, here’s a summary of points:

-Portland started investing in bikes and public transportation back when most American cities weren’t, and it’s really paid off. There’s a huge bike culture here, and the trolly system here is extensive.

-The city is generally considered a top example of smart urban planning. (If you visit, you’ll notice that there are like 3 buildings in the downtown that are tall office buildings. There’s an ordinance in the city that keeps building height levels low. Makes for a very pretty city.)

-The main issue with Portland is that it’s such a high-quality city without an economy to show for it. The quality of life is so good, and the culture and brand of the city are now so famous, that everyone wants to move here just to live here and experience it. But Portland’s economy is not good, and it’s unemployment rate is worse than the national average. A lot of people are without a job, or are underemployed.

-The city is having trouble attracting talent, apparently. Lots of musicians and artists willing to (or forced to) take entry-level service jobs, but Portland has not yet become a destination for high-paying jobs (like in tech) that cities like Seattle and San Francisco have well established.

-Portland has more micobreweries per capita than just about any city in the country.

-Statistically, Portland is an incredibly white for a city. Definitely lacking in diversity.


Another thing to add:

I know I gush about Portland, but some critiques worth noting, particularly those echoed by Sam and his girlfriend. I’ll paraphrase some of their critiques of Portland: for one, Portland traps you in a different kind of cycle of poverty. People move here and can’t find work, so when they finally piece together some part time gigs or a shitty, low-paying service job, they can’t actually enjoy the city, because they don’t have any money…because of the shitty job they’re stuck with.

Also, we discussed the possibility that the brand of Portland is at risk of becoming a caricature of itself. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but one thing that Sam, his girlfriend, and I discussed was how perspectives of Portland change depend on whether you’re from the West Coast or the East Coast. From the East Coast angle, I would say Portland is a funky, eccentric, cool place to move to. But Portland invokes more of an eye-roll for West Coast folks. As Sam said: “When someone tells us that they’ve just graduated college and are moving to Portland, we think ‘Yea, you and everyone else around here.’ ”  It’s possible that Sam’s view isn’t commonly held, I’m not sure. (I do trust his judgements, though!)

I wouldn’t say that it’s a bad thing that a city has a great reputation that makes everyone want to move there. But like any city right now that’s desirable (NYC, Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Seattle), it only becomes a problem when the city can’t handle the population influx. Rents rise, good jobs become scarce, young creatives are forced out, and the gentrification process fulfills itself.


Alright I’m tired. More later.