Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Human Smoke

I just finished reading the most amazing book last night. It's called Human Smoke and it's by Nicholson Baker. The book is a series of paragraph to page-long vignettes about the lead up to and first couple years of World War II. Each tiny chapter covers a news story or diary entry and, at some point in the entry, the date will be given. It's written in a journalistic style with very little editorializing by the author. It is obvious, though, that the author's sympathies are with those who opposed the war rather than with those that worked to broaden the conflict.

I have seen at least one other review remark on the similarity between the beginnings of World War II and the current conflict in Iraq. I don't mean that there is any comparison between Hitler and Saddam although both of them were brutal mass murderers. The similarity that stands out in this book is when you compare the desire for war of Churchill and Roosevelt and George W. Bush and friends. In both instances the Western powers spoke of their desire for peace while rushing headlong into war. The similarity in the rhetoric will cause you to doubt your own existence.

What had always been impressed upon me was the inevitability of the Second World War. Hitler was bad and if it hadn't had been for Churchill and Roosevelt and the mighty sacrifices of the 'greatest generation' then we would all be speaking German right now. What Baker shows is the folly of that belief. There were plenty of opportunities to stop the war from spreading in 1940 and 1941. What is intriguing is that it may have been possible to avoid the ultimate horrors of the Holocaust if the goal of the allies was truly humanitarian and not on an aggressive war footing. Imagine that, lives saved by avoiding war.

The reviewer, Mark Kurlansky, sums it up better than I can: "It may be one of the most important books you will ever read. It could help the world to understand that there is no Just War, there is just war -- and that wars are not caused by isolationists and peaceniks but by the promoters of warfare."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Legal Forms

Surprisingly, one of the hardest questions to answer at the reference desk is whether or not we carry legal forms. We do have a few books on our reference shelves that can be photocopied but usually we just don't seem to have exactly what someone desires. There is a nice set downtown that people were always happy with when I worked in telephone reference but a legal form is something most library users don't consider a big enough project for a trip downtown. It is a very useful set of books. They are designed to be legal in North Carolina.

This last Saturday a gentleman came in and needed a Power of Attorney form. I showed him what we had on our reference shelves and he wasn't happy with it. He suggest I check online. I searched a site had saved on my Delicious bookmark page but it was a pay site and the forms were priced at over $25. We decided to search some more. I then searched the bookmarks of other Delicious users and found this form. He looked it over and thought it was perfect and I printed it out for him. I then bookmarked the site myself. If you ever need to do your own search you can do that here.

I never can know when I mention a website like Delicous if everyone knows what I mean. Delicious calls itself a "social bookmarking site." Essentially you use the site to bookmark other websites. You can then share what you find with others and use what others have bookmarked for your own purposes. That is what I did this weekend. I used what others had bookmarked to help me with the question. I searched for "legal forms" on Delicious and went to the site that the most users had bookmarked. After I did that I had the question answered and the form printed out two minutes later. It's the power of the hive mind.

My favorite use of the internet hive mind concept is a section of the site Metafilter (a collection of nerdy people that link to cool and interesting and educational and funny webites) called Ask Metafilter. It's simple, once a week each member of the Metafilter community can submit a question to the hive mind. There are some smart people on Metafilter and you get good answers from the community. I tried it for the first time a week ago and got these answers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

100 greatest last lines

I don't recall seeing one of these lists before. I've seen the 100 greatest novel lists. I've seen the 100 greatest American novel list. I've seen the list of the best opening lines. Now the American Book Review has released a list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke has died. I've been reading his stuff for a long time. I haven't devoured his books over the years like I have Robert Heinlein's but I consider his short stories to be a treasure.
Submit art to the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress is getting ready to unveil a new display that stresses interactivity and they are asking for citizens to send their works of art to this website. They will take just about anything: poems, photographs, songs and essays and whatever else you can send as an email attachment. All they want to know is what inspired that piece of art.

Online Sports Illustrated Archives (Free)

A short while ago I wrote a post about some free quality online reading you can find on the internet. Today I learned about a new magazine to add to that list.

This Thursday the Sports Illustrated website will launch something called the Vault. The Vault will give free access to the archives of Sports Illustrated magazine. We may not know this but Sports Illustrated has been around for over fifty years and the writing at the magazine has been spectacular as long as I have been reading it. I started reading it in the early 80's. My Step Father's Mother bought him a subscription for him to SI every Christmas. You can read a good New York Times story on the story here.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Free Credit Report

A question that comes up every now and then is "How can I get my credit report?" People often end up getting suckered in by sites that will charge you to get your report but there is a free way to get it. Due to a law that was passed you can get one free each year from each of the three major credit companies. You can do it here. If you wish to verify the veracity of this website you can read about at the Federal Trade Commission's website here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Crooked Little Vein

I just finished the strangest book this morning. It's called "Crooked Little Vein" by Warren Ellis. It's a short book and it's about a down and out private detective in Manhattan (think Guy Noir with a potty mouth and a drinking problem) that is engaged by the President of the United States' chief of staff to find an ancient book that allegedly could change our country. The detective, Mike McGill, then embarks on a cross country journey and meets every type of whack job and freak you can possibly imagine. I gather that Warren Ellis has spent way to much time on the internet because he has mined the underbelly of the web and has decided if he's seen it there then it must be everywhere. Maybe it is, sometimes I don't need to know though. A fascinating, occasionally gross and funny book that is not for the timid.

I first came across Ellis because of Bryan Hitch who did the art work for the Marvel Comics series called The Ultimates. I was so taken by that series that I went to the comic bookstore Heroes Aren't Hard to Find and asked one of the always helpful staff to suggest some of Hitch's early work to me. He immediately mentioned a series called The Authority, a reimagining of the superhero team which was written by Ellis with art by Hitch. I love when things come together like that. Warren Ellis has a blog here. It can occasionally be a little not safe for work and he's frank with his use of strong language but he does link to some pretty fascinating stuff now and then. Like I said, he spends a lot of time online.