Friday, February 26, 2010

Pier 39 Sea Lions

Since 1989, sea lions have been a standard fixture on the K dock of Pier 39 in San Francisco. While their numbers can fluctuate, they peak in late summer to fall and serve as a huge tourist attraction. Recently, their numbers have dwindled and it has been reported that the animals may have in fact moved and will not be returning to Pier 39. Experts originally found this move baffling - they couldn't seem to figure out why the sea lions would simply stop hanging out at Pier 39. Marine biologists reported in January that they believed the sea lions may have relocated to the Oregon coast following their food supply, though, they also noted that such a dramatic relocation was unusual. However, the sea lions appearing at all in such large numbers, sometimes as many as 1700, is unusual in and of itself and also happened rather suddenly.

But the sea lions are returning! It has been reported this month that the number of sea lions spotted on Pier 39 have been slowly increasing. Many expect that the sea lions will reppear in comparable numbers to what has been seen before. The Marine Mammal Center may still be able to attempt rescues of sea lions that have been injured and all who visit the Pier may still be able to watch dozens of huge sea lions play, bask in the sun, and bark at one another. You don't have to be in San Francisco, though, to enjoy this spectacle - just check out the Pier 39 sea lion webcam!


California Sea Lions Use Dolphins to Locate Food
*You need an Austin Public Library card to access this article from home. It is from one of our excellent databases, JSTOR, which is suitable for academic research as well as for finding general interest articles like this one.

This is one of the many reasons I love the internet. Simply keeping the webcam open on my computer and glancing at it every once in a while puts a smile on my face.

*This article from National Geographic Traveler also requires an APL card.

Clips of the sea lions playing and enjoying the sunshine on Pier 39, September 2007

More video footage of the sea lions!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Willie Morris: He is Texan to me

Willie Morris was not born in Austin. He only lived here a handful of years. Those years mattered though. As an undergraduate, Morris edited The Daily Texan, shaking up a stagnant campus with fiery editorials that often found him at loggerheads with the board of regents. After a few years in Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship, Morris returned at the invitation of Ronnie Dugger to assume the editorship of The Texas Observer. He picked up right where he left off: questioning parochial politics, badgering oil and gas, and championing equality. Morris' time in Texas was short-lived. He left for New York in 1963 to join Harper's.

I recently read Morris' North Toward Home, which is his rendering of his Mississippi boyhood, Texas sojourn, and New York experiences. The book manifests the complexities of twentieth-century life. Morris wrestles with the shortcomings of his country and era, but does so with a genial approach that conveys days spent fighting followed by evenings passed on the front porch with friends. It is a great book.

Below are a few of Morris' books along with a biography.

North Toward Home

Shifting Interludes: Selected Essays

The Ghosts of Medgar Evers: a Tale of Race, Murder, Mississippi, and Hollywood

New York Days

My Dog Skip

In Search of Willie Morris: the Mercurial Life of a Legendary Writer and Editor

Monday, February 22, 2010

Dan Fante

Dan Fante has lived a charmed life. He is a success despite himself. It would seem that he has prospered in everything he has tried his hand at. At one point in his life he was averaging around $25,000 per month in sales of computer supplies. He had a house on the beach in Southern California and a shiny sports car to drive around town and impress people with. All this aside, I wouldn't wish his life on anybody.

Dan Fante is an alcoholic. As such, a great deal of personal tragedy and hardship has followed him around during the course of his life and makes its way into the bulk of his prose. It wasn't until he was well into his thirties and was made to write a personal account of his life as part of his twelve step recovery program that he realized he had a talent for telling stories. The exercise involved him writing the narrative of his life for an hour each day at exactly the same time. Consequentially, Dan Fante does not consider himself a novelist. He describes himself as a writer of pages.

Below I've listed a number of titles written by Dan Fante as well as a seminal work of fiction written by his famous father, John Fante who Charles Bukowski cites as a major influence.

Dan Fante:

86'd : a novel

Kissed by a fat waitress : new poems

Short dog : cab driver stories from the L.A. streets


Spitting off of tall buildings

Chump change

John Fante:

Ask the dust : a novel

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hip Hop Portraits

New Yorker artist Alex Melamid - at one time the Soviet Union's most famous dissident artist - unveiled twelve life-size paintings of hip hop icons and stragglers in his first solo show, Holy Hip-Hop, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit in 2008. The exhibt has also shown in LA and New York at the Forum Gallery. The dozen include: Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Common, Kanye West, Reverend Run, Duke, Lil Jon, Don “Magic” Juan, Whoo Kid, Marc Ecko and Russell Simmons. The twelve are dressed in their ordinary clothes but rendered in an “Old Master style,” providing the series with compelling imagery. Only 50 Cent actually sat while the artist painted. The rest of the portraits were done from photographs. Melamid says he got into the project because of his son, "Dan the Man" Melamid, who produces hip-hop music videos. "Realism is the only thing I can do," he says. "I can't do anything else. Like the rappers. They can't play violins."

Melamid used to work with another former Soviet artist, Vitaly Komar, and the Library has two books by the team.

Painting by numbers: Komar and Melamid's Scientific Guide to Art
Komar/Melamid: Two Soviet Dissident Artists

If you would rather listen to hip hop, APL has four of the top hip hop albums from 2009.

Eminem's Relaps3

J Dilla's Jay Stay Paid

K’Naan's Troubadour

Method Man's Blackout! 2

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I want to take a “National Geographic” picture!

Well, who doesn’t??? National Geographic magazine has been the inspiration of lots of photographers that grew up reading its wonderful articles but mostly admiring the quality pictures.

This is the official magazine of the National Geographic Society and its first issue was published in 1888. Now it is translated into 32 languages and has a huge circulation worldwide.

This was the first magazine using color pictures in a time when this kind of technology wasn’t common.  National Geographic, for example, was the first one publishing the first natural color underwater picture in 1926. In 1959 color pictures started to be printed in the cover of this magazine, and in 1984, National Geographic was the first magazine with a holographic image in on its cover.  This is a publication that has impacted deeply the way photojournalism developed over time.

“All the world is watching how the rest of the world lives” said the journalist Maynard Owen. National Geographic has become one of the most reliable windows to the world at our fingertips. Austin Public library subscribes to National Geographic magazine but if you are curious and you want to see an old edition of this periodical you can find bound issues starting in 1913 at the Faulk Central Library. If you want to see some National Geographic photos online, just click here and enjoy!!

*Picture by Mike Yamashita, National Geographic photographer

Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton, a National Book Award winner and twice a Pulitzer Prize finalist, died Saturday. Ms Clifton was born born into a working-class family in Depew, NY June 27, 1936. Her first book of poems, Good Times, was rated one of the best books of the year by the New York Times in 1969. During her long, highly productive career, Clifton became known as a distinctive writer who identified herself forcefully as a mother and a black woman. She published 11 poetry collections and 20 children's books. In 2007, Lucille Clifton,was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Several years ago she had donated her papers to Emory University's special collections library. These were just made public after her death.

The poem below is from the Library's database, Proquest Learning: Literature.

I Take My Glasses Off

it is the hard

edge of things

i am avoiding

the separations

so that i take my glasses off

and then i cannot tell

which are the leaves

and which the angels

like blake

like that man

who lived with lepers

not noticing what was sin

and what was grace

visioning visions vision

i take my glasses off

so i can see

Monday, February 15, 2010


The Winter Olympics started on Friday and the whole world has its eye on Vancouver, Canada for the next two weeks.

Here are some interesting facts on the Olympic games, did you know them?
  • The first Olympic champion recorded was Coroebus of Elis, he won the sprint race in 776 BC.
  • Ancient games included a sport called pancratium, which is very similar to today's mixed martial arts or extreme fighting.
  • It was often the case to compete in the nude in the ancient games.
  • The ancient Olympic games were abolished around AD 400 by Theodosius I (or his son), the Roman emperor, because of the festival's pagan associations.
  • The Parisian, Coubertin, fought hard to reinstate the Olympic games, now referred to as the modern Olympics, with the first games staged in 1896 in Greece.
  • The United States has hosted the Winter Olympics more than any other country (four times).
  • The summer and winter games use to be held the same year every four years, in 1994 that tradition changed. The games alternate every two years. The next Olympics will be the summer games in 2012 in London, England.
Some authoritative websites and online information:
The official Olympic website

The International Olympic Committee, the governing body of the Olympic games

NYTimes medals maps, an interesting look at who and how many

Learn more about the Olympics at the Encyclopedia Britannica database.

Check out some books on the topic:

The Olympics for Beginners by Brandon Toropov

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dig Holes

A global water crisis is imminent. It's not going to happen 1,000 years down the line or even 100 years - it is happening right now and is due to catch up to the Western world shortly. In fact, 1 in 5 people do not have access to clean, safe drinking water. In many developing countries affordable, drinkable, and accessible water is a dream rather than reality. As the world population explodes and weather patterns become more erratic, a number of scientists, researchers, and authorities, such as the UN, believe that we may experience a global water shortage in which water will only be available to the few able to pay (i.e. the rich). The world population in 2030 is estimated at over 8 billion people (with the current population at a little over 6.5 billion). This not only means that many, many more people will be needing drinkable, uncontaminated water, but it also means that more infrastructure will be built to accommodate all of these people. With new infrastructure we will see more rooftops, roads, and driveways; all structures that do not allow water to penetrate the soil and, therefore, help replenish our supplies of groundwater (see How Urbanization Affects the Water Cycle). Climate change is a factor as well with droughts becoming a real problem and flooding producing more water than the ground can absorb to help replenish our supply. Most of us are taught in school the beauty of the hydrologic cycle, but that cycle cannot do its work with the continuing onslaught of new buildings and frequent drought.

This is only a very minor part of the problem, though. Perhaps the bigger issues are the bottled water industry and the privatization of water. Bottled water manufacturers typically purchase land and/or establish plants near local water supplies and then pump large amounts of that water supply out, bottle it, and distribute it to others many miles away. There are a number of problems with this practice. The first being the fact that water is being taken from public water supplies, in a number of impoverished countries as well as in the United States, and being marketed to Americans as cleaner, more healthy water (for example, at least one of the sources of Aquafina bottled water is the public water supply of Ayer, Massachusetts). These companies are taking a freely available resource and then selling it for a huge profit. The second problem are the environmental impacts: 1) bottled water must be transported so there is an effect on our ozone and, 2) by removing water from its locality, the industry is pumping out local water resources at a very rapid rate. To further confound this, many local governments have been turning to private corporations to manage their town or city's water supply. This puts water distribution in the hands of an organization looking to profit rather than make sure water is clean, drinkable, and accessible. Often times, in other countries that have privatized, these corporations abuse their power by doubling or tripling the price of water and cutting off those who cannot or will not pay. In fact, in some countries it is cheaper to buy Coca-Cola than water (according to the documentary, Flow: For Love of Water).

There are numerous examples of all of the problems I just described that I'm going to link to below and I hope you will read more about the issue. I don't think there are many that would disagree that water is essential to life and people have a right to it. Here are some ways you can take action:
  1. Do not drink bottled water. The bottled water industry is a billion dollar industry thanks to us Americans (see Columbia Water Center - Bottled Water). As I mentioned, this water is often coming from public water supplies or from countries whose own inhabitants do not have access to clean water.

  2. Dig holes. Sounds odd, but as mentioned, with the buildings we build to house the nearly 2 billion more people that will be living on this planet in 20 years and the rate at which bottled water companies are pumping out local water sources in the US and abroad, we are making it difficult for the Earth to replenish our aquifers and groundwater resources. By digging holes in our yards we are giving rainwater an opportunity to pool and slowly reabsorb into the ground rather than running off the street and becoming useless to us. Not interested in digging a bunch of unsightly holes in your yard? Why not try a few rain gardens? See below for a list of resources.

  3. Get information about your own water. Where does your water come from? Is it owned and managed by a private corporation? How is your water being managed? Americans have proven more than once that they have a right to their own water supply (see the Wisconsin story and the Stockton, California story).

  4. Use the library's resources to read up on this issue - this blog post is a somewhat cursory explanation of the real issues at hand.


Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water

Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water
Both Blue Covenant and Blue Gold are written by Maude Barlow, the Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a chair of Food and Water Watch, a champion of water rights and access. Her documentary, Blue Gold (which is on order for APL), based on the book by the same name turned me onto this issue.

Flow: For Love of Water (DVD)

Not a Drop to Drink: American's Water Crisis (And What You Can Do)

Rain Gardens: Managing Water Sustainably in the Garden and Designed Landscape

Unquenchable: American's Water Crisis and What to Do About It

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters


2nd UN World Water Development Report

Blue Covenant: Maude Barlow on the Global Movement for Water Justice

Blue Gold
Website for the movie that includes information about taking action

Bolivia: Leasing the Rain
The amazing story of the fight to free Cochabamba, Bolivia's water (including its rainwater!) from the private corporation Bechtel

Communities Speak Out: Nestle, Stop Stealing Our Water

Is There Really a Water Crisis?
Asit Biswas says we do not have a water crisis on our hands, but a serious water mismanagement problem. The reasons he cites for the mismanagement are included in the discussion above.

Pacific Institute: Water and Sustainability Program

Pipeline Not the Sole Option
Since 2007 Pat Mulroy's plan to build a 300 mile pipeline (read some background here) to ship water from rural parts of Nevada to Las Vegas has been much talked about; however, some recent setbacks may prevent the pipeline from ever being built.

Rain Garden Plants - City of Austin/Grow Green

Water Crisis Information Guide

Created by Middletown Thrall Library in New York state

World Water Council

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jefferson: where do I start?

The founders of America are intimidating. Let me qualify that: the writings of the founders of America are intimidating. They left such substantial quantities of written work, and so much of it occupies an exalted position in the American historical, political, and literary canon. So where do we start? Do we dig in our heels and begin with the ample correspondence between Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Washington, Jay, Hamilton, and others? You could. I didn't.

I stumbled upon a wonderful book, Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness. Eric Petersen edited Thomas Jefferson's writings and arranged them in a provoking and digestable manner. Beyond the joy of Jefferson's words, I'm thankful for Petersen's work as it has inspired me to tackle the works of Jefferson and some of those other guys.

Next up for me?

Jefferson Abroad


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Solve for X

I'm a practical guy. I typically don't much see the point of doing something solely for the sake of doing it. For me, the endeavor has to have an ultimate purpose or better yet, use. For example, it would not be very satisfying to me to simply invent a mathematical formula in pursuit of such abstract qualities as elegance, symmetry, or beauty only. I would be much happier developing such an equation whose invention might solve some real world problem like perhaps predicting how a particular stock might perform or how the market might behave over time. Ed Thorp is also such a person. So much so, that he is credited as being the first person to use mathematics to win big at black jack. However, Ed Thorp was not content to limit himself to a life time of counting cards in casinos. His ambitiousness led him to develop similar equations and formulas in an effort to remove, restrict, or hedge against the uncertainty of the stock market. Unsurprisingly, Ed Thorp is also credited with having created one of the first hedge funds.

In a new book entitled, The quants : how a new breed of math whizzes conquered Wall Street and nearly destroyed it, author Scott Patterson introduces use to Thorp, as well as to a new breed of stock brokers who relied on empirical data versus intuition to guide them to great fortunes and financial ruin.

Books by Ed Thorp:

Beat the dealer: a winning strategy for the game of twenty-one: a scientific analysis of the world-wide game known variosly as black jack, twenty-one, vingt-et-un, pontoon, or van-john

Beat the market; a scientific stock market system

Similar titles:

Confessions of a Wall Street analyst : a true story of inside information and corruption in the stock market

Blood on the street : the sensational inside story of how Wall Street analysts duped a generation of investors

Stock market wizards : interviews with America's top stock traders

The pied pipers of Wall Street : how analysts sell you down the river

Friday, February 05, 2010

American Artifact

Tonight, there's going to be a nifty little documentary showing at the Alamo Lake Creek. It features some hometown guys, Frank Kozik and Lindsey Kuhn. Of course, I'm talking about rock poster artists. I blogged about this topic back in March 2008 and I'm still a fan.

This documentary is called American Artifact, and the director lays out the timeline of the modern rock poster, from the 1960s to the present. From the clips, it looks pretty interesting, lots of great interviews and shots of posters actually being made.

Tonight's showing will also feature a little Q&A with the director. Geoff Peveto, Rob Jones and Jay Ryan will also be on hand to answer all your burning poster questions.

The Library has got some great rock poster books. Along with the titles I mentioned in 2008, we've got some new books that are just as exciting. If you want to see some actual work, go to a Flatstock, or both the Center for American History and Austin History Center have very rich poster collections.

Art of the Modern Movie Poster: International Postwar Style and Design -Jeutka Salavetz

Gig Posters. Volume 1, Rock Show Art of the 21st Century - Clay Hayes

Vicious Intent: the Rock 'n' Roll Art and Exploitation of Stainboy Reinel -Stainboy Reinel

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Picturing America

On the second floor of the main library, hanging along the north cubicle walls on the west side of the building, has been on display for more than a year an exhibit from the National Endowment for the Humanities called Picturing America. It’s a set of big, glossy photos of North American art from as long ago as 1100 ce, and includes architecture, paintings, sculpture, silverwork, baskets and pottery, stained-glass, and quilts depicting American icons: native-American designs, missions, portraits of founders, and land- and cityscapes.

If you like colorful oversized art books, you might want to come downtown to see these nicely printed Picturing America posters. And if the exhibit whets your appetite for more information about the artists and more reproductions of their work, look for them here:

Indian pottery and baskets
American painters
N. C. Wyeth
John James Audubon

Monday, February 01, 2010

First American-born Black Communist

The theme for this year's Black History Month is The History of Black Economic Empowerment which coincides with the centennial anniversary of the National Urban League. The National Urban League was founded in New York in 1910 as a collaboration between the city's most prominent professionals, businessmen and reform leaders of both races. It would forego the crusade for civil rights to focus on the needs of individuals as seven hundred thousand blacks migrated north between 1910 and 1920 looking for work. A more radical empowerment movement for blacks is described in Defying Dixie: the Radical Roots of Civil Rights 1919-1950. Yale historian Glenda Gilmore's researches the Southern communists, socialists and expatriates who challenged Jim Crow during the three decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. Gilmore argues that the decades between the wars were not a prelude to the more prominent struggle for black equality in the 1950s and 1960s, but instead represent a more complex campaign that had as its goal a fundamental reordering of American society. Liberal and radical Southerners waged an improbable struggle on behalf of civil liberties and labor rights. The civil rights movement's later demand for "jobs and freedom" was, in the end, nothing new.

Gilmore focuses on the first American-born black Communist, Lovett Fort-Whiteman, who died in a Siberian gulag. A native Texan and a Tuskegee graduate, he became very involved in radical politics. After witnessing the Mexican Revolution in the Yucat√°n and then agitating for socialist causes in Harlem, party officials summoned him to Moscow to teach him about the true nature of the struggle in the American South. There, before an audience that included Joseph Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, he tried to convince them that an interracial coalition of Southern workers would be impossible to achieve. He was overruled by the party leaders, and, for a time, he accepted their vision over what he knew was true. Fort-Whiteman embraced the Soviet Union as a paradise, where Russians would bend over backward to prove their racial egalitarianism. When he returned to the United States, he wore a Russian peasant blouse and knee-high felt boots, his head completely shaved. But he soon returned, in his words, "home to Moscow." Tragically, as Gilmore relates, his new home would prove to be as cruel as the old. In the end, Fort-Whitemn was swept up in the Stalinist purges and sent to a Siberian labor camp where he died a broken man in the winter of 1939.