Blogs: Current events

The short answer is, Yes, people still try to ban books

Here's a recent example right here in Oregon.  In January 2014 some parents in Sweet Home challenged the use in an 8th grade Language Arts class of the critically acclaimed Book Coveryoung adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  According to an article in the Albany Democrat Herald, two parents asked for the book to be removed from the 8th grade curriculum. 

The result?  Again reported by the Democrat Herald, on February 13, 2014, after 3 hours of public testimony the Sweet Home School District reconsideration committee "voted Wednesday to retain the young adult novel, but [the superintendent] will be responsible for determining the appropriate grade level for its use..."

What's the fuss about?

"This work of young adult fiction tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to improve his future, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, [the book], which is based on the author's own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings...chronicles the adolescence of one Native American teen as he attempts to break away from the life he thought he was destined to live." --Amazon.com

Even though the book received the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, it's also been the center of controversy for profanity, racism, discussion of sex, abuse and alcoholism.  But as one of the teachers said, "...it's use...prompts the most intense discussions about racism, bullying, tolerance and the daily choices students make in handling relationships." 

I think that's worth keeping.  What do you think?

And remember, if you need more help be sure to Ask the Librarian!

Old maps are more than just geographical information presented in an appealing visual format – antique maps tell us about changes in the landscape, for sure, but they also inform us about the human past.  After all, maps are made by people, produced within specific cultural frameworks.

A new study of a 9,000-year old mural in the Turkish archaeological site Çatalhöyük argues that it is, in fact, the world's oldest map, and that it shows an eruption of the nearby volcano Hasan Dağı in progress. (The study offers evidence that Hasan Dağı did actually erupt around the time that the mural was created.) If news of this development has you thinking about old and antique maps, you're in luck! Multnomah County Library has a wide array of books about the history of maps, many with beautiful and thought-provoking reproductions and illustrations.  Take a look at the reading list below for a few of my personal favorites.

Detail of the map of the moon, from the Hand Atlas.Remember, also, that Multnomah County Library actually owns a lot of maps!  Most of the library's oldest maps are kept at Central Library, either in the map collection in the Literature & History room (on the third floor), or in the John Wilson Special Collections.  Most older maps, are of course, reference items that cannot be checked out of the library – but there's plenty of room to enjoy them at Central Library!  Here are a few gems:

One of my favorite old maps in the library's collection is the 1896 Hand Atlas über alle Theile der Erde und über das Weltgebäude.  That's a big, long German title, and indeed, the entire atlas is in German!  But maps are visual things, and even if the place names are in an unfamiliar language, this world atlas is both useful and beautiful – particularly if you're interested in seeing a snapshot of national borders in the 1890s.  The image here is from the very beginning of the atlas, in the section of maps of heavenly bodies.  This one, I'm sure you can see, is of the moon.

Detail of sheet 27, which includes the city of Seaside, Metkser's Atlas of Clatsop County, 1930.Moving forward a bit in time, here's a snippet of one of the property ownership maps in the Metsker Atlas of Clatsop County – it's sheet 27 of the 1930 atlas, showing the town of Seaside.  The library has a large collection of atlases published by the Metsker Co., covering all of Oregon's 36 counties (plus a few Metsker atlases of Washington counties that are near the Portland area). Most of the Metsker atlases were published from the 1920s to the 1970s. They contain lovely, detailed maps showing street names and subdivision names -- often this is interesting, particularly when you look at an older map and can see big changes like the neighborhoods that were present before a freeway was built, or farm and forest land where there is now an urban area.  Larger parcels of land are marked with the owner's name too, which can be most illuminating.

"Car Lines in the Business District, Showing Downtown Loops," from Byington's New Nonpareil Guide to Portland, 1944.One great place to look for charming little maps is in the pages of now-out-of-date travel guidebooks, and the library has plenty of examples!  The cutie to the left shows the streetcar lines, trolley car lines ("trolley car" is an old term for an electric bus), and motor coaches (early 20th century-speak for a gasoline- or diesel-powered bus) in downtown Portland, circa 1944.  The map is from Byington's New Nonpareil Guide to Portland.

Detail of "London: from 1800 to 1900," from the Mapbook of English Literature.But the library's collection is not limited to maps showing landforms, details for tourists, and property information.  For a different sort of map entirely, take a peek at the lovely Mapbook of English Literature, an elegantly-drawn collection of maps illustrating important literary-geographical connections.  The section of the London map at right, which features literary facts from 1800-1900, shows details from the world of fiction: "The Quips (Dickens's Old Curiosity Shop, 1840-41) lived here;" and biographical bits and pieces about English authors: "Keats was a student here (1815-16) Guy's Hospital."

Do you have a favorite map, or a favorite book about maps?  Share them!

And of course, if you've got a question about maps, the library's collection about maps, or anything else, there's a friendly librarian who'd love to help you!  Just get in touch using Ask the Libarian, or ask at the information desk the next time you're at the library.

 

If you have already broken those New Year's resolutions, you have another chance.  
This Friday, January 31st, marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are twelve animals and five elements in the Chinese zodiac and 2014 is the year of the Wooden Horse,
sometimes called the Green Horse.  For each of the animals, there are certain qualities, which are passed to the persons born under that sign.  Those born in horse years are said to be cheerful, enthusiastic, and enjoy making new friends. To find out what your zodiac animal is, take a look at this chart:

Celebrations for the Chinese New Year include dragon and lion dances, fireworks, the giving of red envelopes, and sweet treats, culminating in a lantern festival. The Lunar New Year will be celebrated at Gregory Heights and Midland Libraries with various cultural performances.  Holgate Library will be hosting Tales from the Year of the Horse. The library will also have a table at the Oregon Convention Center, Saturday February 1, for the Chinese New Year Cultural Fair. If you're there, stop by and say hello!

 

The new year is upon us! 

In addition to remembering to write 2014, making and following our new year’s resolutions, and welcoming the gradual return of the light, we also have a slew of new laws in the state of Oregon that will take effect January 1, 2014.

Large stack of papers.

The news outlets, such as The Oregonian and KVAL 13, have published stories about the new laws, providing a digest of some of the most interesting or unique laws soon to be in effect.

Highlights include Senate Bill 444 A that makes smoking in a motor vehicle with a minor under the age of 18 present a secondary traffic violation ($250 fine for first offense). The Oregon American Lung Association has additional information online as part of the Smokefree Cars for Kids campaign. Another motor vehicle law of interest for many may be Senate Bill 9 B that increases the fine to a maximum of $500 for using a cell phone or other mobile communication device while operating a motor vehicle, some limited exceptions do apply.

A more specific law due to take effect January 1, 2014 is  House Bill 2104 A that will prohibit medical imaging procedures done for any other reason than a medical purpose ordered by a licensed physician or nurse practitioner.  While this bill stops the creation of ultrasound images by nonmedical professional made purely as keepsakes, another bill House Bill 2612 will now permit postpartum mothers to take home their placentas from the hospital if they so wish. Even more unique is House Bill 2025 B that establishes economic liability for bison owners who allow their bison to run at large and cause damage.

Oregon State Legislature Bill and Reports IconsAs you can see there is a new law for almost every occasion. If you are interested in browsing all of the bills from the Oregon State Legislature, even the ones that did not pass, you can view them online.  The bills are broken up into the 2013 Regular Session and the 2013 1st Special Session.  From the  Oregon State Legislature website you can search the bills by Bill Number, Bill Text, or Bill Sponsor by clicking on the Bills icon in the upper right hand part of the screen.  You can also access a list of just the Senate and House Bills that were actually enacted in the Regular Session and the Special Session.  These reports and a number of other legislative reports can be found by clicking on the Reports icon. You can also learn how an idea becomes law and review a flow chart illustration of the process.  For a more animated version try Schoolhouse Rock's I’m Just a Bill.    

As always librarians are not lawyers and cannot give legal advice, including selecting or interpreting legal materials, but we can happily make suggestions about research tools to use to find the information you are seeking.

Wishing you the best in a lawful new year!

 

In June 2013, the Supreme Court issued two rulings that quite possibly permanently changed the face of marriage in the United States: In one, the Justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), making same-sex spouses eligible for the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, such as social security and – in the case of the plaintiff in this case – exemption from estate taxes. In the second ruling, the Court elected not to hear an appeal of a California lower-court decision striking down Proposition 8 – which prevented same-sex couples from marrying – as unconstitutional.

Because the Court struck down DOMA, plaintiffs in states where same-sex marriage is illegal can now argue that since the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages, so must the state.  Same-sex marriage advocates in many states – including Oregon – are moving forward with legal challenges.

More than one third of the states have already legalized gay marriage. In Oregon, gay marriage licenses were both approved and retracted in 2004. A 2013 poll shows 49% of Oregonians in favor of changing the constitution in support of same-sex marriage, and organizations are mobilizing to put a measure on the 2014 ballot.

Plaintiffs in Geiger v Kitzhaber (Wikimedia Commons)Edited to add [5/20/14].  Yesterday, Federal Judge Michael J. McShane struck down Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage that resulted from the successful 2004 ballot measure (Measure 36) amending the state constitution to define marriage as a union of "one man and one woman." "Because Oregon's marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest," McShane wrote in his decision, "the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."

The plaintiffs in the case, Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson Geiger, (pictured above) were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the decision. Nearly 100 other same-sex couples also obtained licenses from Multnomah County on May 19.

There are many issues, both pro and con, on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. Major religious groups have also taken a stand on both sides of the issue.  

No matter what, if legalization of same-sex marriage passes, the one thing it guarantees is to bring more money to the wedding industry, as evidenced in states where it already exists, like New York and Massachusetts.

Can you, or do you know someone who can, remember what you were doing on November 22, 1963? For baby boomers, this day is as memorable as 9/11 is for Gen Xers or Millennials. It is, of course, the day that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Hundreds of books have been written about the assassination and the brief JFK presidency, and this 50th anniversary has produced even more. A selection of these new materials is below.

One of the enduring mysteries of the assassination is what happened exactly? The Warren Commission said Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone (as did his killer, Jack Ruby), but most Americans don’t believe that.  There are almost as many theories out there as years that have passed since that day. Was it the CIA? The mob? Vice President Johnson? What’s your theory?

And why does this event of half a century ago still resonate?

It’s awards season again!  

What's that you say?   The Grammys aren’t for another 90 or so days and the Oscars aren’t until March? That they haven’t actually announced the winners for the National Book Awards yet?  And the MTV Music Awards have already gone down in infamy for the year?  I say that you aren’t thinking big enough.  It’s Nobel Prize season!  Winners have been announced and the big fancy ceremony isn’t until December, so we still have time to prepare for our Nobel Prize Parties.  

Photo: Graffiti about the Nobel Prize by Quinn DombrowskiFirst awarded in 1901, there were prizes for Peace, Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature.  Added to the list in 1968 was The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel which is a bit more of a mouthful. All in all there have been 561 prizes given out to 875 people.  Which seems like a lot until you remember that there are over 7 billion people on the planet right now.

This year’s Economics prize went to three American economists: Eugene Fama, Lars Peter Hansen and Robert Shiller "for their empirical analysis of asset prices”.  My first two thoughts reading this were “Congrats!” and “Huh?”  I had this vision of scientist working side by side wearing matching lab coats.  As it turns out, it’s all about how markets price things, like stocks and bonds.  And that the scariest thing an economics will probably spill on themselves is coffee, so no lab coats.

Stocks which are explained by a nice video from Investopedia are basically little parts of a company that you buy into. The Stock Market are where people (traders), and computers (big ones!!) buy and sell stocks.   There’s actually a bunch of markets. Wall Street in New York is the one most people hear about, but the idea of everyone getting together and trading actually started in London coffee houses.  The stock market lets you buy little pieces of a company, which gives the company the money to grow their business. This sounds like a really great plan: They get your money, so the company get bigger which means your piece of the company is worth more!  But...   What company?  And what if something goes wrong?  Markets crash when prices people think something is worth gets too far off from reality. What if you pick a company and they don’t make more money?  When to buy? Sell?  Yeah.  I don’t have any answers here.  But Fama, Hansen, and Shiller do!  Sort of, well… Of course, it might have been nice if the answers were the same.

Fama says that you can’t use the past to predict the future.  What happened to a stock last week will not tell you what the price will be next week and that the markets take in and react to new information so quickly it doesn’t really change much for very long.  This isn’t a bad thing and when markets are working well, they look really random because everything is swept along so fast prices bounce around.    And then Shiller came along to say that you can predict the future: but only from a distance.  Because people aren’t as cool and reasonable as economists want us to be it takes a while for things to work out. If you look at what a stock is doing- the price vs. the dividend (the payout you get on the stock), you can tell where it is heading 3 to 5 years from now.  

Photo Ticker board by Frank GruberAnd where does Hansen fit in? He created a model (as in a math not fashion) called the Generalized Method of Moments that actually make both Fama and Shiller make sense at the same time.  

So why is this such a big deal?  Because it changed how people think about economics and markets.  It opened new ways to research and gave real human emotions and actions a place.  It changed how people actually buy and sell things in the stock market.  They changed how we see the world.  And that, sooner or later, will change your life.

Do you want to more than we covered here?  Contact a librarian!

The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI) is currently hosting the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes. We here at the library love Sherlock Holmes! He’s detail-oriented and excellent at making connections - some of our favorite traits - and his amazing tales have brought the love of reading to hundreds of thousands of people all over the planet!

It all began with Arthur Conan Doyle back in 1886 and more than 120 years later, Holmes is still going strong. Not only are tales of his adventures found in novels, but also in comics, movies, television shows and even the Broadway stage.

We’ve created a reading/watching/listening list for all Sherlock fans (or soon to be fans) and we would love to hear about your favorite Sherlock stories in the comments.

Want more recommendations of stories involving famous sleuths (or anything else)? Go ahead and ask a detail-oriented and connection-making librarian!

Elizabeth T. Kinney (from Smithsonian collection)Now that I have a niece, I have become even more aware of the amazing female role models that can inspire her to learn and succeed in whatever way she chooses. Women have been instrumental in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) since ancient times (Hello, Hypatia!). Children have survived leukemia because of the work of Nobel Prize winner Gertrude B. Elion. Mathmetician Katherine G. Johnson calculated the flight trajectory for the first American to go into space in 1959. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if not for the work of Grace Hopper, who advanced computers beyond binary. Yet we still tend to think of the accomplishments in these fields as belonging almost exclusively to men.

Ada Lovelace Day, happening this year on October 15, 2013, aims to change that. Named after early programmer Ada Lovelace, Ada Lovelace Day is an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year’s events include lectures, meet-ups, and a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to edit and create Wikipedia entries on women who have made significant contributions to the STEM fields.

In honor of my niece and all of the other young girls (and boys) in my life who might design the vaccine or software that changes the world, I am celebrating this week by learning and spreading the word about women in STEM past and present. The Anita Borg Institute has some fascinating profiles of women in technology; Eastern Illinois University rounds up biographies of women in science and Agnes Scott College brings us bios of women mathematicians through history; and I can’t get enough of this amazing set of photographs of women in science from the Smithsonian.

And I definitely got schooled watching this epic rap battle between Rosalind Franklin and Watson and Crick. (Don’t miss the shoutout to Shirley Anne Jackson at 2:27!)

Want to learn more? Check out the incredible reads below or contact a librarian. And let us know about your favorite woman in STEM in the comments!

This post contains high levels of drugs, crime, and lawyers. What we may be missing is quite enough justice…

Statue of Lady Justice

How often do we hear the words of the Miranda Warning, You have the right to remain silent; you have the right to an attorney in our favorite cop shows?  Usually, that’s where the show ends. And yet the real story is only beginning. 

I admit I really don’t spend much time thinking about criminals or lawyers, except to avoid them.  So when Attorney General Holder gave a speech to the American Bar Association  last month about how we send people to prison, saying that “as a nation, we are coldly efficient” at putting people in prison and that “we must face the reality that, as it stands, our system is in too many respects broken”, I had only a vague idea of what he was talking about. Turns out it is all about numbers: The number of prisoners, the number of years they are in prison, the number of cases that public defenders have, and the money we spend as a nation.  The forces at play?  Mandatory minimum sentencing and the 6th amendment’s right to an attorney.

The right to an attorney can be found in the Bill of Rights. Our modern idea of it is from the case Gideon vs. Wainright:  When Clarence Gideon was tried for stealing $55 dollars and breaking into a pool hall the State of Florida told him they didn’t have to give him an attorney.  He was sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit and used that time to change the legal system

Mandatory minimum sentencing says there are crimes people shouldn’t serve less than a set amount of time for.  They aren’t new- the minimum sentence for the killing a meat inspector was set in 1907- life in prison or the death sentence.  (That's the year after Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle was published.)  Then in the mid 80s and 90s sentences were set for a wide range of drug crimes.  The effect?  The U.S. now has the highest prison population in the world, but not in any equal sort of way, and we spend huge amounts of money ($80 billion in 2010) locking people up.  

Sing-Sing Prison in the early 20th century

When people are sent to prison for set amounts of time no matter the situation, things just get weird.  And don’t let me forget the Cooperation Paradox: the more involved you are in a criminal enterprise, the more information you have to bargain with- meaning that the criminals who are the guiltiest get the lighter sentences.  

So, two very different parts of the legal system.  What happens when they collide? Nothing good.  There are too many people in the system for the number of public defenders.  Many people never actually see their lawyer- or a trial.  In a wonderful if curse laden interview by John Oliver with the director of the documentary “Gideon’s Army” Dawn Porter they explain better than I ever could

Steve Edgar, Prison number 21655

So let’s head back to where we started: Holder’s speech for the Smart on Crime Initiative.  The gist of the initiative is that by focusing on prosecuting the most serious of criminals and not snaring everyone else in mandatory minimum sentencing crimes, the Department of Justice will be able spend money and effort elsewhere, saving people from the system and the system from the burden of all those people.  It’s pragmatic and surprisingly readable.  Changing the laws will literally take an Act of Congress, but the U.S. Attorneys can choose how to charge people.  Will it work?  I can’t tell you that.  I’m a librarian not a seer.  But we can hope for the best.

Curious to know more?  Check out the Reading and Viewing List on the subject or ask us a question!

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