Blogs: Current events

As I’m sure you all already know, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had declared that this week is National Aerospace Week!  Which means it’s time to indulge in some of my favorite things:  Music, frogs, geodesic domes and home cooked meals.  I guess we should add outer space to the list as well.  But first, a word from Carl Sagan about our Pale Blue Dot.  It’s totally worth the minute and a half.  I’ll wait for you.

Ready?  It has been an exciting time at NASA leading up to this week.  It is time again for the Harvest Moon for those of us on Earth and out in space Voyager 1, which launched in 1977 and is older than me, has officially left the building (and entered interstellar space), the Q&A here brings up some interesting points, like how you can’t get rid of those old computers, because the new ones don’t understand what Voyager is sending back.  And the newest member of family, the LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) left Earth for the Moon with some unintended frog assistance:  

LADEE and Frog Launch

But in spite of all these events and their ongoing efforts to increase awesomeness around (and above) the globe, not all the news for NASA has been cheery lately.  Even while working in partnership with private ventures, the reality is that the Space Shuttles have been retired and the NASA budget, like most government agencies, has shrunk in the last years.  (The video is from 2009, but covers the issues quite well.) 

But there is plenty to still study and dream about.  New types of vehicles are being created, new inventions will be added to the list of thousands that are already are a part of our lives, and work for a mission to Mars is underway.  (Including, but not limited to how to cook for long space missions.  Hint: pack tortillas.)

And what do the minds at NASA do when they aren’t being officially awesome?  The make music videos of course! Not only can you watch the obligatory parody, a group from the Jet Proplsion Labratory helped create this merging of science and rock and roll that we will cap our Aeronautics Week!

Want more?  Ask an astronaut... I mean a librarian!

Hazard Diamond displays typesWith Syria in the headlines and talk of red lines, air strikes and diplomacy swirling, the issue of chemical weapons seems to be on the mind.  And even as news outlets are reporting that the Syrian government might have agreed to give up its chemical weapons I find myself wondering what it is about them that frightens us in a way other weapons don’t.

 

Chemical weapons is an umbrella term for a set of chemicals ranging from LSD to Ricin to Mustard Gas that do all sorts of different (and terrible things) to people.  While I conjure images of World War I when I think of chemical warfare (the first mass use was at the Battle of Ypres) its use has been around much longer stretching back Roman times and to an archeological site in, of all places, Syria.  And even after they are banned in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol there is Napalm from the Vietnam War and Anthrax laced letters lurking in our more modern history. 

World War I soldiers wearing gas masks

I suppose part of the reason chemical weapons frighten us so is that it is indiscriminate, works far beyond (and long after) the control of those who release them and can be the work of very few people.  Perhaps it is because many chemical weapons are substances that have been created or used for more positive uses and have been turned into something terrible.  Or maybe we tend to get anxious around too much science.  Or that gas masks are scary. 

From Doctor Who, The Empty Child

Whichever it is, I’m going to go home, hug my puppies and hope for the best.

 

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

When genetically-modified wheat was discovered in an Oregon field in the spring of 2013, the long-standing debate over genetically-modified foods intensified. How was Roundup Ready wheat created? And how did it end up in a field in Oregon, years after it was discontinued? What is the government’s role in regulating such technology?

Citizens and scientists have been debating the pros and cons of GMOs for years. Polls have shown the public is skeptical. Environmental and food safety organizations are concerned about the risks GMOs pose for humans and the planet. However, the companies engineering the crops, such as Monsanto, insist they are safe, as do some farming groups. A number of scientists take a middle ground, acknowledging the potential benefits of genetic engineering but criticizing the current use and regulation of GMOs. Some writers have even argued for an open-source” model of food genetics.

For an excellent overview on this issue, check out Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center in Context, which contains articles, statistics, audio files, and images. You’ll need to log in with your library card number and PIN to access this resource from outside the library.

Are you looking for some specific information not covered here? Contact a librarian for help.

Watergate security log

 

This probably won’t come as a surprise but librarians like questions.  And we really like answers.  We like finding them and sharing them.  But there are questions that don’t work that way:  What is right and what is wrong?  When do you keep a secret?  Is it ever OK to break the law?  Where should a person’s loyalties lie?  Complicated in the best of times, when you enter the world of whistleblowers these questions really get messy.  It’s not that they don’t have answers, more that they don’t have only one answer.  And as the stakes get higher, often the answers are harder to pin down.

According to the National Whistleblowers Center, we have laws to protect people who “stop, report, or testify about employer actions that are illegal, unhealthy, or violate specific public policies”.  Seems pretty clear, right?  Well…only sort of.   It’s just that no one seems to agree on what counts as being whistleblower and what is just breaking the rules.  NPR reported a recent study that found that 55% think NSA leaker Edward Snowden is a whistleblower while 34% call him a traitor.  And any of you who are good at math will notice that those numbers don’t come anywhere near 100%.  So while we wait to discover Mr. Snowden’s future, let’s meet some other players in the whistleblowing world.  And whether you prefer to read the Handbook, follow the official paper trail or sneak a look at Hollywood’s take, the library has you covered.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s  Whistleblower programs each received around 3000 tips from both private and public employees.  They oversee the laws to protect people when they come forward with information.  For many cases, this might be as far as it goes.  Does the relative anonymity of these cases make them any less complicated or risky?  Or is it true that we are all the stars of our own dramas?   At the other end of things we have some of the country’s best known if not always the best loved whistleblowers who were involved in everything from Watergate, to police corruption, to nuclear power, to farming.  And an entirely different approach to whistleblowing was introduced to the world by Wikileaks, who instead of blowing the whistle on one thing publish any and all secrets.   Even from these few examples it’s obvious that being a whistleblower is a precarious and downright dangerous thing to be, even if they do make a movie about you.

If you want to explore this topic more, or if you have more questions about any of this, you know what to do: Ask a Librarian! We’ll be happy to talk more about it.

There has been much tragedy in the news lately and consequently, much talk about how we prevent further tragedies. One topic we are hearing a lot about involves gun control, and today the Senate will be voting on the current gun control measure in Congress. We hear from gun control advocates, we hear from gun rights activists - there are a lot of opinions and facts out there - and it can be overwhelming. But the library is here to help.

We have an amazing resource called Congressional Quarterly Researcher (or CQ Researcher*) that consists of weekly reports written by experienced journalists on current issues. Each report includes an overview, background, data tables, images, opposing viewpoints and bibliographies, and features comments from experts, lawmakers and citizens on all sides of every issue. The different topics they cover are varied, and one of the most recent reports was on gun control*, published in March of 2013 . Whether you are doing a report for school, preparing an op-ed piece for your local paper, or just staying well-informed, CQ Researcher is an excellent first step.

Also see this recent post titled Gun rights and gun control, which includes a reading list.

And as always, if you want to dig even deeper, Ask a Librarian! We're here to connect you to the information you want and need.

* Note: you will need your valid Multnomah County Library card number and PIN to access this database from outside the library

Bridging Cultures is dedicated to promoting understanding and mutual respect for people with diverse histories, cultures, and perspectives within the United States and abroad.  Its most recent effort is the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf, a collection of books, videos and other resources  addressing both the need and the desire of the American public for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.  

Another feature of the Bookshelf collection is access to a library resource tool, Oxford Islamic Studies Online (OISO).  With your library card number and PIN, use this resource to access thousands of reference entries, chapters from scholarly and introductory works, Qur'anic materials, primary sources, images, maps, and timelines. This resource provides a first stop for anyone needing information and context on Islam.

The Bridging Cultures Bookshelf: Muslim Journeys is a project of the National Endowment for the Humanities, conducted in cooperation with the American Library Association. Support was provided by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Additional support for the arts and media components was provided by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

(This is a guest blog post from the Portland Urban Forestry Commission’s Arbor Month Committee.)

You’ve probably heard of Earth Day, but April holds another important earth-friendly holiday you may not have heard of: Arbor Day! Dedicated to planting and celebrating trees, Arbor Day was first honored more than 140 years ago through the dedicated efforts of tree-lover, newspaper editor, and Secretary of the Nebraska Territory, J. Sterling Morton. Morton worked his entire life to promote the beauty and benefits of trees, and Arbor Day has stood the test of time: it’s spread from Nebraska to every US state and more than 30 other nations and is a testament to the widespread love of trees we share as humans.

From “Stump Town” to Tree City USA, Portland has a tremendous forest legacy. We are lucky to enjoy the benefits of mature trees, even as we plant young trees in an act of stewardship and goodwill to future generations. The library has many books to help you learn about the trees in your community and the world: you can go on a tour of remarkable trees right here in Portland with Phyllis Reynolds in Trees of Greater Portland. In The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest, join Jack Nisbet for the story of an adventurous and dedicated Scottish botanist and imagine the Pacific Northwest before Portland was ever conceived. Finally, in American Canopy, Erik Rutkow explores our national heritage, detailing the link between an immense forested continent and the rise of the modern American nation. Find these as well as recommended tree ID books and books about trees for children on a booklist of recommended “Tree Reads” from your Neighborhood Tree Stewards.

In Portland, we can’t fit our love of trees into one day. There will be an Arbor Day Festival in Portland on April 20, 2013, but also be sure to come celebrate the urban forest with us all month long!  Learn how to use a tree ID book, go on a TREEsure hunt of heritage trees in Portland, take a bike-tour of the urban forest, or get dirty planting. This April, you can touch your heritage and leave a legacy.

Gun rights and gun control are on everyone’s mind, after the unfortunate shootings that took place last year. It’s often hard to find good resources that present multiple viewpoints on issues like this, and provide quotable sources.

An excellent electronic resource is Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center in Context. It provides links to articles, videos and audio files from multiple viewpoints (you will need a library card # and PIN in order to access this electronic resource from outside of the library).

The Washington Post created this quick timeline of gun control history in the United States, and LawBrain covers the legal history of gun control back to the U.S. Constitution. Another good listing is Infoplease’s Milestones in Federal Gun Control Legislation  which covers laws up until 2013.

L.A.R.G.O. Lawful and Responsible Gun Owners and the N.R.A. National Rifle Association both support gun ownership in America. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Violence Policy Center both work to reduce gun violence. The Violence Policy Center is also a good resource if you’re looking for statistics related to gun violence (including drive by shootings and suicide).

This Guardian article compares gun crime in individual states and About.com lists Oregon Gun Rights. FactCheck looks at statistics in the media after the Newton shootings, and reports on Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts.  Looking towards changes in the law, gun control is supported by more women than men, and that may have an effect on future legislation.

Need some specific gun facts or laws we haven’t covered? Contact a librarian and we’ll be glad to help

Sometimes there is a newsworthy event in your neighborhood that doesn't make it on the local TV news or to the pages of the Oregonian.  Fortunately, there is a wide array of neighborhood and community newspapers that focus specifically on hyperlocal news! 

You might see these newspapers on free newsstands around town.  Some are available to pick up for free in your neighborhood library and local businesses.  And many community newspapers have websites where fresh news is regularly posted.  Here are a few examples:

If you ever want to read back issues (great when you're researching local history!), you can find archives of each of these at Central Library, in the Periodicals Room on the second floor. 

Are there other community or neighborhood newspaper websites you like to use?  Share them in the comments! 

Questions? Ask the Librarian!  We welcome questions on any topic under the sun. 

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