Blogs: Current events

Protesters in Ferguson, MO August 2014These three words have entered our consciousness, spoken by Eric Garner as he was choked to death by New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in July 2014.  In Portland, James Chasse, Jr.  died after an encounter with Portland Police officers in 2006

How many have died?

The journalists at ProPublica have analyzed recent federal crime statistics and report that black male teenagers (age 15 to 19) are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than white male teenagers of the same age. The New York Times reported on the increasing numbers of situations where the “police officers find themselves playing dual roles as law enforcers and psychiatric social workers,” often with deadly consequences.

Portland Copwatch tracks local incidents of deadly force by the police beginning in 1992; however, its reporting by race is spotty.

The public outcry and demonstrations recently have been fueled not only by the deaths themselves but by the decisions by grand juries not to indict the responsible police officers.

How do I find out what happened?

When events like this trend, we hear about it at the library. People come with questions:

  • What exactly happened?
  • Where has it happened before?
  • Who is in charge and what is s/he doing about it?
  • Why does this happen?
  • How can I help change things?

We have a wealth of resources here at the library, along with the skills and experience to help identify which are the most relevant and impartial.

Library resources

If you were searching for a comprehensive list of articles and analysis of the shooting death of Michael Brown and the subsequent decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson, an excellent place to begin is at the library database, Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Just search for Michael Brown.

Dig deeper into Opposing Viewpoints for a broad range of information addressing police violence, including discussions from many sides of this important topic. While police violence is not yet an official (i.e., listed) issue in this database, I believe it soon will be. In the meantime, search for police misconduct or police brutality.

Check out this booklist for more in-depth research. 

A number of other libraries have created research guides to finding out more about police violence and its unarmed victims.

Or, how a holiday celebrating friends and family became an exercise in crass commercialism.

Shoppers at Walmart on Thanksgiving Day 2013. Image from Wikimedia Commons.The confluence of Thanksgiving Day and the beginning of the holiday shopping season is pretty much a second-half-of-the-20th-century phenomenon, spurred by the burgeoning consumer economy that took off following the end of World War II. The Friday after Thanksgiving became “Black Friday” originally in 1961, coined by some disgruntled Philadelphia police officers who grew to hate the downtown traffic jams created by shoppers. It was only in the 1980s that the term took on a economic meaning: Success on this day sends retail businesses into the “black.” Big box retailers attract shoppers with deep discounts on popular gift items, discounts only available on Black Friday.

In this century, Black Friday just keeps creeping forward: 6 am on Friday morning, midnight on Friday morning, 8 pm on Thursday night, 5 pm on Thursday, to the absolute nadir (in this writer’s opinion) of 6 am on Thanksgiving morning. Kmart owns this dubious honor for 2013 and is repeating it this year. Of course, there’s a name for this: Brown Thursday or Gray Thursday.

Small Business Saturday

Using an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em philosophy, smaller retailers gave into the Black Friday juggernaut in 2010, redirecting shoppers away from the big box stores by creating their own shopping “event,” Small Business Saturday. Sure, this event says, you’ll probably want to take advantage of those big sales at the big boxes, but -- while you’re still in the shopping zone --  wouldn’t you like to support a local business too? And many of these retailers (not all of them small businesses) can’t resist a poke at those open on Thanksgiving Day: We pride ourselves on letting our employees enjoy a day off with their families.

Portland, being Portland, has created its own version of Small Business Saturday: Little Boxes. Shoppers are gently encouraged to “welcome in the holiday season by discovering the quality and variety of Portland’s indie and local retail shopping scene.” Only in Portland do we have an “indie” shopping scene. Still, there are prizes.

Buy Nothing Day

A countermovement to Black Friday’s unfettered consumerism sprung up in the 1990s with Buy Nothing Day, created in Canada and spreading to the United States and elsewhere in the West over the past 20 years. Its founders encourage waggish bits of civil disobedience such as “whirl-mart” -- a conga line of empty shopping carts making its way through a mall or big box store (see video) -- and the “zombie walk” -- staggering through retail establishments with a blank stare.

For those of you who prefer to spend that Friday enjoying a roast turkey sandwich, some leftover pumpkin pie and a good book, here’s a reading list about shopping (or not) in America. And never fear, the library will be open!
 

Ursula K. Le Guin [photo by Eileen Gunn]Portlander Ursula K. Le Guin was honored yesterday with The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, at the National Book Award ceremony in New York.

Many of the news stories about Le Guin’s speech focus on her criticism of publishing companies’ increasing corporatism and the profit-driven model of the industry -- particularly Amazon and its conflict with the publisher Hachette earlier this year.  

 

Le Guin also called out a critical issue for public libraries. In her remarks, she highlighted the challenges libraries face in getting access to e-books, citing her own publisher’s practice of charging libraries six times the amount it charges individuals for many e-book titles.

Multnomah County Library Director Vailey Oehlke shares this concern and has been assertive about advocating for greater public access to e-books.  "The ecosystem of reading is changing before our eyes," she said today, in response to Le Guin’s speech.  "The sands are shifting rapidly beneath authors and artists, and not in their favor, as Ms. Le Guin so astutely noted. Public libraries are also challenged to serve patrons as they have come to expect under some of the current models imposed by publishers and content distributors. So long as pricing and access to e-books for public libraries remain unbalanced, readers everywhere are the ones who will suffer."

 

From my own viewpoint as a librarian, I’d say the most stirring aspect of Le Guin’s acceptance speech was the great faith she placed in writers as artists, as creative communicators with a unique ability to imagine solutions and make space for humanity:  

"I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope.   We will need writers who can remember freedom.  Poets, visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."


Would you like to see more?  Watch Ursula K. Le Guin’s entire acceptance speech, or, take a peek at this year’s National Book Award winners, below.

 

Sunsetchoice

noun \ˈchȯis\

the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities

the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision

a range of things that can be chosen

 

Choice. We cherish our freedom to make choices, and Oregonians facing end-of-life decisions for themselves or family members have an unprecedented range of options from which to choose. Sometimes the path forward is obvious, but many times it is not. Fortunately, none of us facing such decisions need feel alone. We have a wealth of information and resources available to help.

How do we even express our choices, though, if we haven’t yet talked with our friends and families? TEDMED speaker Michael Hebb notes that, “How we want to die represents the most important and costly conversation Americans aren’t having.” Hoping, he says, “to spark the gentlest revolution imaginable,” Hebb founded Let's have dinner and talk about death, a web-based initiative designed to give us the tools to have these difficult and potentially transformative conversations.

The National Institutes of Health offers an online “End of Life” module aimed at helping people understand the many practical and emotional aspects of preparing for death. The module provides visitors with information about the most common issues faced by the dying and their caregivers.

Seriously ill or frail Oregonians may opt to talk with their healthcare providers about Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment--commonly known as POLSTs. POLSTs help individuals exercise more control over the type of end-of-life care they receive; they are medical orders that emergency personnel will follow to ensure that the desired level of care is provided.

Hospice care is often chosen when curative treatment is no longer effective or no longer wanted, and when life expectancy is measured in months or weeks. Hospice is a philosophy of compassionate and comprehensive care for dying persons and their families that addresses the medical, psychosocial, spiritual and practical needs of the individual, and the related needs of the family and loved ones, throughout the periods of illness and bereavement. The Oregon Hospice Association provides information on resources for families and patients.

In 1994, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Since then, more than 500 Oregonians have taken their mortality into their own hands. In How to Die in Oregon, available at Multnomah County Library as a program, DVD, and streaming video, Filmmaker Peter Richardson enters the lives of the terminally ill as they consider whether--and when--to end their lives by lethal overdose. The film examines both sides of this complex, emotionally charged issue. More information on the Death with Dignity Act is available from the Oregon Public Health Division and from Compassion & Choices.

Finally, caregivers face special challenges as a loved one faces death. Support and resources are available through the Family Caregiver Alliance and this booklist

Contributed by Jenny W. 

Signing the Equal Suffrage Amendment in 1912Each election, Oregon’s “initiative” system of government produces a number of hot-button issues requiring the decision of our ever-patient voters. (My theory about vote-by-mail is that we didn’t want to spend all the time required to vote on our myriad measures hunched over our ballots in those rickety cardboard “booths” when we could do it in the comfort of our own homes.) Others have addressed driving "cards" for undocumented residents, labeling of genetically modified foods, legalization of marijuana.  I want to talk about a less glamorous amendment to the Oregon Constitution proposed under Ballot Measure 89:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the State of Oregon or by any political subdivision in this state on account of sex.

Most of the muted discussion on this issue has been about whether or not it is necessary.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon (ACLU) says not. “[T]he Oregon Constitution already has the strongest possible protection against sex discrimination and the Oregon Supreme Court has enforced that protection.”  The ACLU identifies Article 1, section 20 as this protection: “No law shall be passed granting to any citizen or class of citizens privileges, or immunities, which, upon the same terms, shall not equally belong to all citizens.”

Supporters of the measure caution that Supreme Courts can change; best to be on the safe side. They also point to the symbolic value of those words in the state’s Constitution, and express the hope that this vote will somehow compel our federal legislators to vote to begin the process to amend the U.S. Constitution. (According to equalrightsamendment.org, such bills have been introduced to every Congress since 1982 [when the ERA failed to meet its deadline for ratification by 2/3 of the states].)

Vote however you please this year, but for goodness sake, vote!  And take a look at these books and websites about the fight for equal rights for women in the past 100 years.

If you're anything like me, you just looked at the calendar and realized Halloween is less than two weeks away. Eek! What is my kiddo going to be for Halloween?! If you have older kids, perhaps they already have strong opinions of their own, which may be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the idea! But for those of us with toddlers, the task of coming up with a cute costume on the cheap can feel a bit daunting, especially if you want to make it yourself. Or maybe you don't have kids but need to come up with a cool costume for the Halloween party you just got invited to. Never fear, the library is here to help! 

 In November 2014 Oregon will vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana. Other states also have many laws regarding weed, although there are a lot of pros and cons about legalizing pot. Although marijuana for medical use already exists in many states, it has its pros and cons too.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington both legalized marijuana usage. Legalization hasn’t solved the problems; it’s just raised new ones. The state of Washington has detailed rules about how marijuana will be raised, sold, and regulated. The state is looking at the business of pot and the many faces of legal marijuana as they move forward. How do you guard the ganja? How does banking hinder the legal weed industry?  Who are the new entrepreneurs?

Need some specific information we haven’t covered? Contact a librarian and we’ll be glad to help.

Earth Science Week logoDo you like maps, plans and diagrams?  Are you fascinated by rocks, soils or earthy disasters like earthquakes and landslides?  Then rejoice!  This Friday, October 17th is a holiday designed for you: Geologic Map Day, part of the American Geosciences Institute’s annual Earth Science Week.

A geologic map shows shows rock, soil, and other geologic features as a part of the landscape.  The theme for this year’s Earth Science Week -- and also for Geologic Map Day -- celebrates Earth’s Connected Systems.  Especially fitting, I think, because maps are wonderful tools for illustrating complex, interconnected systems and structures.

The Connected Systems of the Columbia River on the Oregon - Washington Border, from Oregon DOGAMIThe library has a wide variety of geologic maps (and books about geologic maps) that you might want to check out -- my colleague Ross has assembled some favorites in the list below.

You can also find some really wonderful geologic maps online.  For example, the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) has released a lovely new poster for Geologic Map Day, showcasing the connected systems of the Columbia River on the Oregon - Washington border.  

DOGAMI has a lot of other great geologic map resources on their website.  I’m a fan of their geologic history of Oregon and the wide range of interactive maps they produce on subjects from tsunami evacuation zones to lidar data.

 


Do these great geologic map resources whet your appetite for more and more maps?  Let us know!  Knowledgeable and friendly librarians are always standing by to help you with your map and research needs!  Ask us your map-related questions (or really, any questions) by email or phone, or talk to the librarian on duty the next time you’re at the library in person.     


 

Before I lived in Oregon, Columbus Day was that nice three-day weekend that took the edge off the long working weeks between Labor Day and Thanksgiving (unless you work for an employer who believes Veterans Day is a holiday*). As a newly minted Oregonian, I had a job talking up workplace giving (most commonly associated with the United Way, although I was working for EarthShare) and I started out my pitch on October 8, 1990 mentioning that as an Italian-American, I was really missing the Columbus Day holiday. I cannot express how completely I lost my audience.  Welcome to Oregon, where the arrival of the Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, to the Caribbean in 1492 is viewed a little more skeptically than it is on the Eastern Seaboard. (They have a parade in New York!)

Columbus Day is not a holiday in these parts.  Other cities or states have replaced it with recognition for the people who were residing on this continent when Columbus arrived, most recently our Seattle neighbors.  Most of Latin America celebrates the day as Día de la Raza (Day of the Latino [mixed Spanish and indigenous] People), commemorating the initial meeting of the two.  According to the article from the President of Mexico’s website linked in the previous sentence, the relationship between the indigenous people and their Spanish conquerors was different than that between the native North Americans and the northern Europeans who settled in what is now the United States, and is still worth celebrating.

The new United States held a small celebration in 1792 and a larger one 100 years later, according to the Library of Congress. This latter celebration ultimately led to the establishment of the national holiday by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934. But as the 500th anniversary approached in 1992, the eagerness to celebrate the “discovery” of the Americas had waned. Perhaps it’s time for the day to be consigned to history, or at least “downgraded” to a holiday a la St. Patrick’s Day (there’s another New York parade on that day, but it’s not a national holiday).

Take a moment this weekend to remember a great storm, Thanksgiving in Canada, other things Italian, or even Leif Ericson. Better yet, take a look at these books to see what life was like in the Americas before the arrival of Columbus.

In spite of everything, I'd still like that three-day weekend back.

*My employer, Multnomah County, believes this to be the case, but at the library we’re open on Veterans Day; we take an “official” holiday on the day before Christmas.
 

See something say somethingPortland’s mass transit agency, TriMet, reminds us if we see something, say something; the message is plastered all over its MAX cars and buses, but I saw something on the MAX the other day and said nothing.

Along with about a dozen other people seated in the front area of a MAX car (the part that you climb the stairs to get to) at about 8:15 on a weeknight, I witnessed an incident of racial profiling and didn’t call out the perpetrator. As is often the case in situations where you want to say the right thing perfectly, it was only after the fact that I could figure out what to say and how to say it.

Here’s what happened: A few stops after I got on the MAX headed east, three young African Americans boarded the train. Everyone else in our section of the car was white (and possibly older, but I can’t precisely recall). They were conversing in what I’d call a “teenaged” way – laughing, a little loud, seemingly unaware of others in the car. Someone in the area had music going loud enough so that it leaked out of the earbuds. (Let me parenthetically state that hearing this “half-music” possibly annoys me more than loud phone conversations on public transit, and I don’t recall being bothered by the sound.) While stopped at the Rose Quarter station, a uniformed woman (TriMet, but not law enforcement) boarded our car, walked up the stairs and spoke directly to the Black youths that there had been a complaint about their music.

When they stated that they hadn’t been playing any music, this person glanced around to the rest of us and sort of generally asked whoever was playing their music too loudly to turn it down. She stepped out of the car, walked around its front to (I assume) speak with the driver because she returned to the car and said – again to the Black youths – yes, it was a complaint about your music and it’s time to turn it down.

Here is, of course, the point that I should have spoken up about what I just saw. I know I don’t want to escalate the situation, so I need to craft my words carefully. And that is so hard to do in the moment.

I have the (awkwardly formal) conversation clear in my head now:

Me: Excuse me, but I would like to point out that I have just witnessed an incident of racial profiling in this MAX car. If you’ve received a complaint about loud music, you must ask each of us if we have been playing music and that we must turn it down.

She: Oh, yes, you’re absolutely right, I shouldn’t have assumed it was the African Americans on this train who were listening to loud music. First, let me apologize to these young people right now and explain to the rest of you here in this section that you cannot play your music so loudly that the driver is able to hear it.

Me: Thank you.

I did send an equally careful comment via the TriMet website but it’s really too late. Cynically, I assume they will send that employee to some diversity training, she’ll be resentful and won’t hear what the trainers have to share, and it will happen all over again.

I hope it doesn’t happen all over again for me. Next time, I hope I’ll have the courage to speak up.

Can you share a situation where you witnessed something wrong and did or didn’t speak up?

(And because I’m a librarian, I found some books on the subject.)

Pages

Subscribe to