December 26, 2005

“Little Red Book” Story a Hoax

Posted by Eric Jaffa
December 24, 2005 @ 12:07 pm
Filed under: Government, Media Watch, Libraries

An anonymous student at University of Massachussetts at Dartmouth claimed he was visited by officers of the Homeland Security Dept. for ordering Mao’s “Little Red Book” for an inter-library loan. The initial article was based on the second-hand accounts of his professors. The student now admits the story is a hoax.

“SpeakSpeak” decided against running this story when it broke, because we were skeptical. Personally, I didn’t like the fact that the initial article was based on accounts which didn’t include anyone there during the supposed visit of federal agents. The fact that Mao’s “Little Red Book” is common for students studying Chinese history to use also made me skeptical.

You can view my expression of skepticism when the story broke in the Comments at Lean Left.

« Why Did the Student Make Up the Story? »

We don’t know the student’s motivation.

But in the Comments section of Pandagon, someone posting as “Frankly my dear” has a great theory: that the student was making an excuse for why he would be late in handing in a paper:

• What was the student’s motive for starting the hoax? Was it just something he was trying as a prank on two professors, and it got more exposure than he expected? Or was he deluding himself as to what happened?

This one seems to be a no-brainer. It’s the end of term and your term paper isn’t done. You know “the dog ate my homework” won’t fly, but “Homeland Security took my homework” might. Having been a student who never had term papers ready on time, the search for novel but believeable excuses is neverending. Doubtless, he didn’t expect it to go any further than his professors. Of course, I can’t prove this, but it seems to me like the most likely explanation. It’s like the runaway bride who claimed she was kidnapped.

Why were some in the “blogosphere” so quick to believe this? Did we want to believe that this kind of surveillance happens routinely?

Because in the present climate it is all too believeable. The student probably wouldn’t have used it if it weren’t believeable.

Are we too trusting? Naive? Gullible? (The three need not be synonymous)

I’d say over-eager. But I’d also say that the fault in this case lies mostly with the professors for reporting hearsay to the media without further investigation. Instead of the student getting kudos for the best “why my term paper isn’t done” story of the year, the student, the professors, and the university have become a national embarrassment.

What does this say about the nature of the transmission of information through the internet in general, and blogging in particular?

The same thing it says (and implies) about journalism in general. Follow the rules: check your sources, and, above all, get corroboration. Relying on a source who is unidentified and can’t be interviewed is like Judy Miller reporting on buried chemical weapons based on an unidentified source who couldn’t be interviewed. Bad journalism.

Obviously, there are other plausible explanations for the student’s motivation. Maybe he wanted attention from the professor and so weaved a tale. Maybe the student just has a habit of making things up. Who knows.

« Why Did the Journalist Write the Story? »

We don’t know that, either. However, Joe Gandelman of “The Moderate Voice” has first-hand experience being a journalist pressured to write a story before all the facts are in to be first.

My position is that the journalist should have waited until he could interview someone actually there during the supposed visit (and never run the story if no such interview was ever granted) but it’s possible that he was under pressure to hurry.


Geography Club Banned in Washington State

Posted by Chris Zammarelli
November 22, 2005 @ 8:08 am
Filed under: Book Bans, Libraries

Brent Hartinger’s Geography Club has been banned from the University Place, WA, school district libraries. Superintendent Patti Banks was disturbed that the book contained a scene in which a student meets a stranger he met in chat room. Hartinger notes that the book is usually challenged for its sexual content; Banks does not say if she was offended by the novel’s gay theme.

Michael Schaub has more at Blog of a Bookslut.


Google Puts Books Online

Posted by Eric Jaffa
November 3, 2005 @ 7:01 am
Filed under: Media Watch, Libraries

From the International Herald Tribune:

Google has completed the first major expansion of its Google Print database of searchable books, adding the full text of more than 10,000 works that are no longer under copyright, culled from the collections of four major research libraries.


The new material includes works of literature, like “Transatlantic Sketches” and other works by Henry James, from Harvard; government documents, like the collected appropriations bills passed by the 50th Congress in 1888 and 1889, from Stanford; history, like the 1903 work, “The Seventh Regiment Rhode Island Volunteers in the Civil War,” by William P. Hopkins, from the University of Michigan; and biographies, like the New York Public Library’s collection of the annual publication “The Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of the City of New York.”

The entire text of the works can be searched and read online through the Google Print site, Users can also save individual pages and cut and paste excerpts from the material. The ability to print is currently limited, however, to one page at a time, Adam Smith, a senior business product manager at Google, said on Wednesday.

It would have been more generous of Google to let people save the entire books to their computers. Only allowing one page at a time to be downloaded seems more geared to keeping people dependent on Google than on the free flow of information.

Since this project involves public domain books, it is different from a more controversial project in which Google is scanning copyrighted books, which will appear in its search results.

Google’s current plan is to make books that aren’t under copyright available to be read in their entirety online; books that are under copyright will only appear as excerpts in search results.


Patricia Schroeder Opposes Google Scanning Books

Posted by Eric Jaffa
October 21, 2005 @ 3:28 pm
Filed under: Libraries, Courts

Patricia Schroeder with grey hair and gold earings, showing white teeth but not exactly smiling
Patricia Schroeder, president
of the Association of American Publishers

For centuries, books have gone out-of-print and disappeared.

Now Google is doing something about that.

But not if Patricia Shroeder has her way.

The former Congresswoman from Colorado doesn’t want Google to create a digital library.

Google today faced a new legal challenge to its plans to digitise library books, as major publishers sought to block it from scanning copyrighted works.

Five publishing houses - McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education and Penguin Group (USA), Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons - filed a suit in New York yesterday, claiming that Google’s plans would infringe their copyrights.

“If Google can make … copies, then anyone can,” Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, told Reuters. “Anybody could go into a library and start making digital copies of anything.”

If the idea of someone making copies in a library is supposed to fill me with fear, it doesn’t. Besides…

…Supporters of the Google Print project claim… scanning of the full text of the books is necessary to create a searchable catalogue of the books located within the five libraries’ collections. Google says it has no plans to make full copies of copyrighted works available without their owners’ permission.

Sounds like technology which will sell more books.

Just as the video-cassette recorder which the movie industry tried to stop in court resulted in more movie sales.

Library Chronicles

Posted by Amanda Toering
September 19, 2005 @ 11:37 am
Filed under: Libraries

It’s a battle that’s taking place most famously in Oklahoma and Arkansas, but is also being fought it countless other municipalities on the map. Should public libraries carry books that may be offensive to some constituents? If so, should they put them behind a velvet rope? Behind a glass case? In a back room?

Here’s a columnist from Ocala, FL, who thinks his local library director may be a bit too vigilant about upholding the ‘community standards.’

In case you missed it, Marion County’s public library system is hoping a book can, for a change, unite instead of divide the community. Friday marked the kickoff of the One Book/One Community campaign, during which library officials encourage everyone to read “The Secret Life of Bees” to start a local dialogue about social issues.

It’s a good idea, and hopefully it will work. But considering that a trio of books were recently challenged to test the County Commission’s new status as judges, jury and executioners of library materials, my bet is that we’ll soon be at each other’s throats again over library books.

Then again, controversy might be avoided. That’s because Library Director Julie Sieg is doing a pretty good job as gatekeeper on outrageous books.

Case in point: Sieg has refused two copies of “The Turner Diaries,” which were recently offered as free gifts.

For those who may not know, “The Turner Diaries” is a cult classic, insofar as skinheads and the Aryan Nation can be a cult. Written in 1978 by the late neo-Nazi leader William Luther Pierce (under the alias Andrew Macdonald), the plot features a group of White Power warriors called The Order who in the 1990s violently overthrow the black- and Jew-dominated federal government.


That’s unpleasant stuff.

It’s really no surprise that Sieg declined.

She must be skittish after last year’s bitter controversy over her decision to reinstate to the library the sexually explicit novel “Eat Me,” which she had banned because of its content.

When Sieg relented on “Eat Me,” she was hung out to dry. Her bosses largely sat idle as a small but vocal group of social conservatives assassinated her character and stopped just short of demanding her head on a platter. Who can blame her for sidestepping another firestorm?

“The Turner Diaries,” however, belongs in the library — where, ironically, you probably could read it over the Internet — for two primary reasons.

First, according to county policies, Sieg’s mission is to make the library “a diverse source of information, representing as many viewpoints as possible,” even if that offends people. “The Turner Diaries” meets all those criteria.

Books educate, enlighten, entertain. They also anger, annoy, antagonize. Insulating ourselves in our own ideological cocoons, where only voices with whom we agree echo in our heads, does nothing to expand our intellectual horizons.

Secondly, Sieg treads dangerously close to censorship. The difference between keeping a book out of the library because of its content by opting to not acquire it and removing it after it’s on the shelf is a hair’s width.

“The Turner Diaries,” because of its sordid history, retains a certain historical and cultural significance. If we toss a distasteful book like this, it logically follows that we should then dump others, maybe “Mein Kampf” or “The Communist Manifesto.”

A library should be a depository of ideas, open and free to all. It should house as much diversity as possible, from the Bible to the Koran, from Shakespeare to Maya Angelou, from William Pierce to the late Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, whose “Soul on Ice” is in the library.

I understand where Sieg is: standing in the political corner others painted her into. But the community should rally behind her before our political masters lead all of us down a regrettable path.

1 Comment

Okies from Muskogee Say No to Library Censorship

Posted by Amanda Toering
September 14, 2005 @ 11:21 am
Filed under: Libraries

The Muskogee Phoenix thinks that the Oklahoma City library commission is over-reacting by hiding “gay-themed” kids’ books from their intended audience.

Free access to knowledge is a library tradition.

Sadly, Oklahoma County’s Metropolitan Library Commission feels a need to restrict that tradition and the commission’s fears have gotten the better of its members’ good sense.

The commission voted 10 to 7 late last month to place youth material of a “sensitive nature” in the adult section accessible only by “adults in authority.”

The decision came after a parent complained about children books with homosexual themes being on the children’s bookshelves.

But these books are not pornography — something children need to be protected from - nor do they describe sexual acts or themes inappropriate for children.

The books designated for restriction do present a different idea about the structure of society. And once a commission begins restricting books because they present a new idea, what new idea will they restrict next?

The commission says it will form a committee using “good judgment and community standards” to review which books should be restricted. However, this is only another name for censorship that once started, doesn’t end.

And if the commission wants to keep children away from certain books, it is going about it the wrong way. Like many other morality busts in the past, the commission is only drawing more attention to something it says it wants to hide from the public.

From the Muskogee Phoenix.


OKC Library Puts Gay-Themed Kids’ Books Off-Limits

Posted by Amanda Toering
September 1, 2005 @ 11:49 am
Filed under: Libraries

Remember the battle in Oklahoma over “gay-themed” kids’ books — that is, books aimed at helping kids of gay parents understand that they’re an acceptable part of society? (See here, here , here , here and here.)

The Oklahoma City library commission voted last week to permanently move those books to an area of the library accessible only to adults.

From PrideSource:

After a complaint about children’s books with homosexual content, a library commission has decided to place youth material of a “sensitive nature” in a special collection in the adult section.

Members of the Metropolitan Library Commission voted 10-7 Aug. 25 to place children’s books dealing with “sensitive or controversial topics” into a special collection that only will be accessible by “adults in authority.”

Specific books criticized were “King & King,” “Daddy’s Roommate,” “The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans” and “Heather Has Two Mommies.”

The OKC Library has yet to install the black “Adults Only” curtain between Dewey Decimal call numbers 216.00 and 234.00.


In other news, the American Library Association reports that challenges to library books have risen by 20% in the past year.


OK Libraries Accept Gift of Gay Books; Conservatives Pissed

Posted by Amanda Toering
June 22, 2005 @ 10:24 am
Filed under: Libraries

We reported earlier that the gay community of Oklahoma City, in the wake of the state legislature’s ninny-headed anti-gay-book resolution, offered to donate a couple of nonfiction books to OKC libraries.

The library commission dithered, but finally accepted the gifts. There’s still no word on whether they’ll actually be placed on library shelves.

Moral of the story: Always look a gay gift horse in the mouth.

Rest of the story.


Ain’t No Pride in Tampa

Posted by Amanda Toering
June 22, 2005 @ 9:54 am
Filed under: Libraries

In an ongoing effort to protect the nation’s libraries from gayness, the Hillsborough County commissioners (from the Tampa, FL, area) have voted to “abstain from acknowledging, promoting, or participating” in any gay pride recognition or events.

The vote was prompted by a public library exhibit honoring gay authors. The display was originally located in the library’s foyer, but was moved to a “less trafficked space” after members of the public complained.

Initially approved by library officials, the display was created by University of South Florida SLIS student Meagan Albright, who also works part-time at the West Gate facility. It was moved after officials received three complaints in as many days and is notably missing an accompanying poster that features famous bisexual, lesbian, gay, and transgendered people. “When I saw the [poster] I didn’t feel aesthetically it looked professional enough,” library spokesperson Patrice Koerper explained in the June 8 St. Petersburg Times, adding that the goal was to remove the poster but not the books since their covers “were all appropriate.”

“I do not want to have to explain to my daughter what it means to question one’s sexuality,” said county commissioner Ronda Storms, defending the move to pretend that gay folk don’t exist.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights has promised a lawsuit.

From the American Library Association.

1 Comment

Decency and Rep. James Sensenbrenner

Posted by Eric Jaffa
June 11, 2005 @ 12:18 pm
Filed under: FCC, Free Speech, Government, Libraries

James Sensenbrenner wearing a suit and tie chairing a Congressional committee

Throw people in jail for saying things that are indecent.

That is the desire of Rep. James Sensebrenner (R-WI), as Greg Beato of Wonkette described in April:

James “Stop Makin’” Sensenbrenner (R - Wis) wants to criminalize FCC indecency violations.


Here are Sensenbrenner’s exact words: “Aim the cannon specifically at the people committing the offenses, rather than the blunderbuss approach that gets the good actors. The people who are trying to do the right thing end up being penalized the same way as the people who are doing the wrong thing.”


Is there something in that statement that explains how changing the penalty also changes the crime?

While James Sensenbrenner is eager to lock up other people for offensiveness, yesterday he was offensive in his own way.

During a House Judiciary Meeting on Friday, chairman Sensenbrenner gavelled the meeting to a close, in violation of House rules.

As Greg Beato wrote yesterday about James Sensenbrenner:

At this morning’s Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Patriot Act, he was treating colleagues and witnesses like they were small-claims doofuses arguing over some $50 deal gone awry — no one could get a word in edgewise. Alas, what makes for good TV doesn’t always make for good democracy.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz says Sensenbrenner violated the Rules of the House when he ended the meeting abruptly and unilaterally.

Video of James Sensenbrenner adjourning unilaterally is here.

A statment by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) is here.

Sensenbrenner Broke House Rules

The House rules:

To Adjourn

It is privileged and not debatable.

A chairman cannot unilaterally adjourn. A majority vote of the Members is needed.

Librarians and the Patriot Act

Regarding James Sensenbrenner’s demand at the end of the meeting for Amnesty International to turn over the names of librarians who have received orders for records under the Patriot Act:

They can’t turn over the names, because the Patriot Act makes it illegal for such librarians to speak out.

Sensenbrenner knows that, or he should know that.


♫ Oooooh-klahoma, Where They Still Fear Books They Think Are Gay! ♫

Posted by Amanda Toering
June 7, 2005 @ 12:02 pm
Filed under: Libraries

From the You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding-Me file…

After a recent flap in Oklahoma over whether “gay” children’s books should be shelved in the children’s sections of public libraries, here comes a new debate over “gay” books. (And by the way, as the sexually active book has yet to evolve from the postmordial soup, there’s no such thing as a “gay book.”)

Members of the Oklahoma City gay community group has used its own money to purchase copies of two nonfiction books for every high school library in the OKC system. The books in question are Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked The Gay Revolution, by David Carter, and Lost Prophet: The Life And Times of Bayard Rustin by John D’emilio.

The school board is meeting to determine whether to accept the gifts.

In an age where libraries are cutting hours, dropping staff, and closing doors — can the OKC school board really say no to the book donations with a clean conscience?


The meeting to determine whether the school board will accept the books will be held on June 20th.

Story at ChannelOklahoma.


Save the Libraries!

Posted by Amanda Toering
June 5, 2005 @ 12:50 pm
Filed under: Libraries

Writer Anne Lamott published a piece in the Boston Globe (republished at Common Dreams) about a group of writers and actors who gathered for an “emergency read-in” to save the Salinas, CA, library system. Budget cuts in Salinas, one of California’s poorest cities, have threatened to close the town’s libraries completely.

(A few months ago, actor Bill Murray read about Salinas’ library problem and subsequently donated his winnings from a celebrity golf tournament at nearby Pebble Beach.)

Lamott tells the story of how the writers/actors came together, and why.

Without getting into any mudslinging about whether or not our leaders are clueless, bullying, nonreading numbskulls, let me just say that when word went out that the city’s three libraries were scheduled for closure — the John Steinbeck, the Cesar Chavez, and the El Galiban — a whole lot of people rose up as one to say this does not work for us.

Salinas is one of the poorest communities in the state, within one of the richest counties in the country, the locale of so many of Steinbeck’s great novels: Think farm workers, fields of artichokes, garlic, faded stucco houses stained with dirt, ticky-tacky housing tracts, John Ford, James Dean’s face in ‘’East of Eden,” strawberry fields, and old gas stations.

Now think about closing the libraries there, closing the buildings that hold the town’s books, all those bound stories about people and wisdom and justice and life and silliness and laborers bending low to pick the strawberries. You’d have to be crazy to bring such obvious karmic repercussions down on yourself. So in early April, a group of writers and actors fought back, showing up in Salinas for a 24-hour ‘’emergency read-in.”

My sad ’60s heart soared like an eagle at the very name: an emergency read-in. George W. Bush and John Ashcroft tried for three years to create a country that the East Germans could only dream about, empowering the government to keep track of the books we checked out or bought, all in the name of national security. But they hadn’t counted on how passionately we writers feel about saving the world, or at any rate, the worlds contained in the skinny, silent spines of books.

We came together because we started out as children who were saved by stories, stories read to us at night when we were little, stories we read by ourselves, in which we could get lost, and thereby, found. Some of us had grown to become people with loud voices, which the farm workers and their children of this community all of a sudden needed. And we were mad. Show a bunch of writers a sealed library, and they see red. Perhaps they are a little sensitive, or overwrought, but they see a one-way tunnel into the dark. They see the beginnings of fascism.

Read the rest at Common Dreams.