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Research

Nov 18 2015

A Woman in Charge

by Hope L

Hill2Will 2016 be the year that a female takes the highest office in the United States of America? Is America ready for a woman president? How about a First Gentleman?

A few weeks back I attended a speech Hillary Clinton gave at Clark Atlanta University. I wondered why, at age 68, this very controversial yet very famous person would even want to go through the rigors, the barbs, the glad-handing, the clawing–let’s face it–the virtual pain in the neck that is running for POTUS and then fulfilling that role should she win. It has greatly aged all 43 men who have come before.

HillSo, I decided to check out Hillary Clinton. I mean, literally, to research whatever I could find out about her.

And, of course, to learn more about Hillary Rodham Clinton is to learn more about Bill, for the road to the presidency and Hillary’s meteoric rise (well, it wasn’t exactly an overnight thing–she’s been in politics most of her life in one capacity or another) to presidential candidacy is almost as much about William Jefferson Clinton as it is about Hillary.

Or, is it the other way around? Was Bill’s meteoric rise to the presidency due in large part to Hillary?

CarlRight now I’m reading A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton by Carl Bernstein.

If you’re interested, DCPL has other books about Hillary Clinton. Click here to see what’s available–as we wait until next November to see who the new person in charge will be.

 

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Nov 2 2015

The Know-It-All Gets Schooled

by Hope L

KIAI’m sure you’re wondering: What can DCPL’s Know-It-All library card do for someone like me, a dyed-in-the-wool Know-It-All if there ever was one?  Through the end of the year, DCPL is running its Proud Card-Carrying Know-It-All campaign to encourage DeKalb residents to get a library card.

Now, I ask you, why do I need a library card? After all, I’ve already claimed to know it all. What else could I possibly learn?

Plenty, I have discovered. There is still SO much to know, to learn, and to enjoy. Or to rant about!

Why, I just discovered Marlene Targ Brill’s book Let Women Vote! at DCPL and learned about Carrie Chapman Catt, a leader of this country’s suffragist movement.  (Note the insistent exclamation point at the end of that book’s title!)womenvote

Catt marshaled the forces in Tennessee in July 1920 in the final fight in the struggle for women’s suffrage–the right to vote.

Thirty-five states had already approved the amendment, which said: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged (limited) by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“Catt packed a small overnight bag at once. She expected to stay in Nashville only a few days, long enough to prove that the women worried needlessly. After she arrived, however, Catt changed her mind. Men and women who opposed the vote had flooded into Nashville. The size and strength of groups against woman suffrage shocked her. Catt quickly sent home for more clothes. For the next six weeks she fought one of the toughest battles in the seventy-two-year-long suffrage war.”

And just consider what I heard on NPR and researched online at DCPL recently: Suffrajitsu and Mrs. Pankhurst’s Amazons!

Suffrajitsu came about when the powers that be in the British women’s suffrage movement got tired of violent threats, being spat on, and frankly, being beaten up by those who were against their cause. (Or, like the famous line from that classic media/journalism movie Network: “I’m mad as he** and I’m NOT going to take this anymore!” Yessiree, Ms. Know-It-All remembers Peter Finch got an Oscar for that role.)

HippolytaAnd then there’s this from the juvenile fiction book by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris, Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons, available at DCPL:

“Hippolyta is a true Amazon princess:  Her heart beats for the thrill of the hunt, the rush of her daily battle training, and the abiding community of her fellow female warriors. She would do anything to protect the secure, empowering life the Amazons have built. But when her entire world is threatened, will this thirteen-year-old warrior be able to save it?

“Battling against time, fighting against incredible odds and even the gods themselves, Hippolyta will have to do the unthinkable to save the legendary race of female warriors:  accept the help and love of a boy. And as she journeys to her nation’s mythical homeland of Arimaspa in search of salvation, Hippolyta finally learns what it really means to be an Amazon: finding the courage to face your fears and overcome them in order to change the world.”

Well, Hippolyta may have needed to accept the help and love of a boy, but the Suffrajitsu Amazons did not. Okay, the suffragettes did have husbands and other enlightened men assisting in their battle to be able to vote. But, there were many more men who were dead set against it! Now, they could’ve called a few he-men in to do the job, but no, this called for the Suffrajitsu and the Amazons–sturdy women who would protect the suffragettes in their travels, protests and skirmishes. (Ms. Know-It-All wonders if she could have made the cut as a sturdy Suffragette?! But alas, we shall never know that.)

suffWhy, I even learned that Britain’s Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst, a suffragette, was named by Time Magazine in 1999 as “One of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century.”

(Meryl Streep, Ms. Know-It-All’s favorite actress, plays Mrs. Pankhurst in the female-produced, directed and written film Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, which just opened at the end of October.)

Protests, marches, imprisonment and hunger strikes were some of Mrs. Pankhurst’s tactics. But, when she began getting roughed up, she began evading police by using disguises. Eventually the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, started in 1903 by Pankhurst and her colleagues) established a jujitsu-trained female bodyguard squad to physically protect her.

Now that I’m a card-carrying Know-It-All because of my free, official DCPL library card in my wallet, I’m like the Suffrajitsu, except I’m ready to fight back with the facts instead of fists! You can bet that I won’t leave home without it!

And, by the way… What’s in YOUR wallet?

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Jul 17 2015

Greener than Envy

by Rebekah B

tiny-grassThe science investigating consciousness and intelligence in plants is a fascinating and rapidly developing field of study. The thinking that all intelligent life forms require a brain and “standard” nervous system is in the process of possibly being debunked. Vegans, beware: Cruelty-free living may, alas, be impossible! However, increasing awareness of all life forms does allow us to make better choices, gives us all an opportunity to be grateful, and to realize that to be alive is to cause some degree of harm to other beings. I do love plants very much, and I feel a great affinity with them. As an amateur gardener, I am frequently impressed by the survival strategies of plants, and how they sometimes compete with one another, and sometimes cooperate…not unlike us humans!

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Botany of Desire, among other titles, published a highly informative article on the subject describing recent developments in plant science in the The New Yorker on December 23, 2013, called The Intelligent Plant.” I have read portions of The Secret Life of Plants, mentioned in the opening remarks of Mr. Pollan’s article. Like him, I was deeply intrigued by the experiments with plants and polygraphs conducted by former CIA polygraph expert Cleve Backster, involving events from distances of several hundred miles, in which plants were recorded registering a variety of responses to various thoughts and stimuli. Pollan pursues that the 1973 title compiled a “beguiling mashup of legitimate plant science, quack experiments, and mystical nature worship that captured the public imagination at a time when New Age thinking was seeping into the mainstream.” Here is a quote from the article:

“Backster and his collaborators went on to hook up polygraph machines to dozens of plants, including lettuces, onions, oranges, and bananas. He claimed that plants reacted to the thoughts (good or ill) of humans in close proximity and, in the case of humans familiar to them, over a great distance. In one experiment designed to test plant memory, Backster found that a plant that had witnessed the murder (by stomping) of another plant could pick out the killer from a lineup of six suspects, registering a surge of electrical activity when the murderer was brought before it. Backster’s plants also displayed a strong aversion to interspecies violence. Some had a stressful response when an egg was cracked in their presence, or when live shrimp were dropped into boiling water, an experiment that Backster wrote up for the International Journal of Parapsychology, in 1968.”

macleans35_plants02

While The Secret Life of Plants intrigued a generation or more of minds and hearts willing to change the standard view of plants being immobile, senseless vegetable matter, Pollan claims that the romanticism of the book may have damaged the reception of more recent ventures by plant scientists to more thoroughly explore the cognitive abilities of plants through controlled experiments that can be replicated. Some scientists go even further, claiming self-censorship, fearing that serious scientific studies of plant cognition will be poorly received. Nonetheless, there are scientists who label themselves “plant neurobiologists” who are working to radically transform our perceptions of our chlorophyll-laden friends. Here is another quote from The Intelligent Plant,” where Pollan speaks of a 2006 article from the journal Trends in Plant Science:

The six authors—among them Eric D. Brenner, an American plant molecular biologist; Stefano Mancuso, an Italian plant physiologist; František Baluška, a Slovak cell biologist; and Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, an American plant biologist—argued that the sophisticated behaviors observed in plants cannot at present be completely explained by familiar genetic and biochemical mechanisms. Plants are able to sense and optimally respond to so many environmental variables—light, water, gravity, temperature, soil structure, nutrients, toxins, microbes, herbivores, chemical signals from other plants—that there may exist some brainlike information-processing system to integrate the data and coördinate a plant’s behavioral response. The authors pointed out that electrical and chemical signalling systems have been identified in plants which are homologous to those found in the nervous systems of animals. They also noted that neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate have been found in plants, though their role remains unclear.”

Professor Mancuso

Michael Pollan actually traveled to Florence, Italy, to meet Stefano Mancuso (photo right), who passionately pursues and defends the concept that having a vertebrate-type nervous system and being mobile are not necessary requirements for intelligence. He further explains that because plants are basically stuck where they are and are frequently consumed, their “modular” structures allow them to lose up to 90% of their bodily structures without dying. Because plants are literally rooted to the ground, their survival depends upon their ability to be highly aware of their surroundings and to use various modes of perception to defend and perpetuate themselves. Some scientists claim that plants have as many as 15 to 20 senses to our five, or six, if you believe in intuition. The following is also from Pollan’s New Yorker article:

Plants have evolved between fifteen and twenty distinct senses, including analogues of our five: smell and taste (they sense and respond to chemicals in the air or on their bodies); sight (they react differently to various wavelengths of light as well as to shadow); touch (a vine or a root ‘knows’ when it encounters a solid object); and, it has been discovered, sound. In a recent experiment, Heidi Appel, a chemical ecologist at the University of Missouri, found that, when she played a recording of a caterpillar chomping a leaf for a plant that hadn’t been touched, the sound primed the plant’s genetic machinery to produce defense chemicals. Another experiment, done in Mancuso’s lab and not yet published, found that plant roots would seek out a buried pipe through which water was flowing even if the exterior of the pipe was dry, which suggested that plants somehow ‘hear’ the sound of flowing water.”

If anything, reading The New Yorker article will renew your sense of wonder and respect for the mostly-silent, green beings around us. By some estimates, plants make up over 99% of the Earth’s biomass. Let’s hope they are not plotting to use their smarts to replace the insignificant 1%, of which we are only a small part!

An additional book about plant intelligence and other interesting plant facts in the DCPL system:

The Secret Language of Life: How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate by Brian J. Ford, 2000

Interesting links:

Press releases from the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology

The New Scientist: Smarty Plants (PDF document)

Public Radio International article: New Research on Plant Intelligence May Forever Change How You Think About Plants

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Though it must have been at least seventeen years ago, I still remember the first time a teacher stood in front of my class and proclaimed what has since become standard at the outset of every research paper and class project in schools across the country: “You must include at least one (or two, or ten) internet source(s).”

I’d heard that line at least twice a year over the course of my school career, and it never failed to put a wrinkle on my forehead every time. I am and always have been a bibliophile through and through, and it took me a long time to get over the notion that using anything other than a good old-fashioned book for academic research was sacrilege. Of course, I realize now that my views were probably in the minority; the mid-to-late-nineties was a time of rapid digital transformation, when the ideas and gadgets we now take for granted–all the games, all the programs and devices, and all of the wonders of the Word Wide Web–were still fermenting in the technological brewery. Today, I’m as much a part of this wired world as anyone else, and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.

That said, I do have my misgivings over how much academic research revolves around the internet–not because there’s anything intrinsically wrong with it, but because the attitudes of far too many students literally scream “Everything is Online!” The “sad” truth, however, is that precious little of what’s readily available out there really meets scholarly muster, and as teachers wise up to the yearly round of copypasta they receive from students courtesy of Wikipedia and Google, they are putting a greater stress on quality and reputable resources. Unfortunately, many of these valuable online gems are hard to find; they’re often tucked safely away behind an intimidating pay wall, or lost in a tangle of dead links and dead ends.

The good news is that there are a number of good sources out there dedicated to teaching budding scholars how to separate the wheat from the internet chafe with confidence.  A good place to start would be the About.com Guide to Online Research: Navigate the Web–from RSS and the Invisible Web to Multimedia and the Blogosphere by Wendy Boswell. Yes, I know it’s a book (published in 2007), but it’s a helpful guide for anyone looking to learn the basics of web research. Boswell writes with the casual web surfer in mind and fills her book with helpful hints along with a glossary for readers who want to know an IP from an ISP.  While not specifically geared towards student research, it gives valuable advice on how to evaluate websites, master classic search engines, and many more useful tips for anyone hoping to navigate the internet’s murky terrain.

GALILEOA major topic in Boswell’s book is the so-called Deep Web, the huge sea of websites lurking just beyond the nets cast by the major search engines.  Major components of these hidden websites are the aforementioned pay walls and online databases that form a barricade around most of the information crucial for well-crafted school papers. GALILEO is one such resource, a huge online library portal offering vast, authoritative information from hundreds of periodicals, scholarly journals, and academic monographs. An initiative of the University System of Georgia, GALILEO provides equal access to information for all citizens in Georgia and accomplishes its mission through a network of universities, K-12 schools, and public libraries.  GALILEO can be used as a sort of scholarly Google by typing in queries and collecting results. There’s also a specially-designed GALILEO Kids interface, plus you can access any of its individual resources directly with GALILEO A-Z. These various ways of access are conveniently perched at the top of the Reference Databases page on our library website.

Here are two additional resources specifically tailored for our youngest scholars:

  • Kids Search – Designed with elementary and middle school students in mind, this bright and colorful site cuts a lot of the pain out of researching topics. Its unique check-box topic search helps students narrow down searches without fumbling around to find the right words, and it comes equipped with a dictionary and an encyclopedia.
  • NoveList K-8 Plus – Need to find books in a particular category?  This new junior addition to the popular Novelist database allows young students to browse through subject and genre categories for whatever topic they need.  It’s also a good place for parents to build a summer reading list to get a good head start on what their child may expect in the upcoming school year.

I’d be the first to admit that, if I’m looking for quick, painless information, I’d probably turn to Google or Wikipedia before I crack open a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  The internet is the source for virtually unlimited information, and having all of that at your fingertips can be quite intoxicating. But information access and information literacy are not the same, and if you or your child are trying to get the most accurate and scholarly information you can, you might want to give the Wikiverse a rest and try a resource with a little more meat.

There’s a nice list of student resources available on the library website under Reference Databases.  If anyone has their own hidden gem, please feel free to share.

 

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Vulnerability-BrenneBrownHello readers,

We each try to bring in a new year with the optimism of hopes, desires, resolutions, and plans. Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, is a wonderful guide to help each of us transform not only our own lives, but also those of our children, employees, co-workers, friends, spouses, and eventually the entire world.

The phrase “daring greatly” was drawn from a speech “Citizenship in a Republic” delivered in Paris, France on April 23, 1910 by Theodore Roosevelt. Here is the excerpt that Brown quotes as she defines what it means to dare greatly:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, and sweat, and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…”

What are you protecting in your life? Daring Greatly teaches shame resilience and reality checking. It is a book full of encouragement and hard questions about fear and desire. One of the greatest fears of all humans is to be excluded from the group, to be isolated, to feel unworthy of love and acceptance. We all share the desire to live from our true and authentic self. The two often seem to be at odds, impossible to reconcile. Few have the courage to live fully and wholeheartedly, risking rejection by the group, being shamed, ridiculed, even killed. Humans often shut down their emotions, disengage from the social contract, and engage in cruel behavior, demonstrating cynicism, anger and hatred of self or others in order to protect their hidden most vulnerable self.  The price we all pay for the shaming and the culture of scarcity in which we live is painfully high. Without vulnerability, we lose the ability to be creative, to have authentic emotional connection, and live satisfying meaningful lives. We promote fear, low self-esteem, even self-hatred. Our shame-driven culture is so pervasive, most people don’t even notice that they are engaging in shaming behaviors at home, in the workplace, at school, in politics, and they don’t notice how these behaviors are creating a world of terror and despair. Daring Greatly provides numerous strategies for the ready to remain emotionally intact and empathic even in difficult situations.

Brené Brown is a researcher of shame and vulnerability, two difficult and primordially important behaviors and aspects of being that we all need to explore in order to lead authentic and productive lives. In her book, she explores the following questions:

  • What drives our fear of being vulnerable?
  • How are we protecting ourselves from vulnerability?
  • What price are we paying when we shut down and disengage?

vulHow do we own and engage with vulnerability so we can start transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead?

Brown emphasizes throughout the book, which is well-organized and easy to read, how facing our vulnerabilities is uncomfortable. When opportunities for growth are present, we will most likely feel uneasy and anxious. This is normal. It takes great courage to face one’s own pain. The greatest gift that comes out of looking within and not shirking from the dread, is the ability to live authentically, to be able to love and to know that you are worthy of love from others. And yet, our societies are built on a foundation of shaming practices and scarcity. Brown explains what scarcity means: Scarcity is the “never enough problem” which thrives in shame-prone cultures that are deeply steeped in comparison and fractured by disengagement. She lists the following examples of scarcity that we encounter every day:

  • Never good enough
  • Never perfect enough
  • Never thin enough
  • Never powerful enough
  • Never successful enough
  • Never smart enough
  • Never certain enough
  • Never safe enough
  • Never extraordinary enough

true selfThe truth is, life is full of uncertainty. We can’t control the outcomes of so many events. We can’t perfectly protect our children or prepare them for everything they will face. We can’t be perfect enough to please our parents or anyone else some or all of the time. But we can choose to stop trying to be perfect and start accepting ourselves. We can stand up for what we feel is right. We can show courage and vulnerability by speaking up for the right to be ourselves and the desire to be celebrated as we are. We can take the risk to show up and put our writing, art work, business plan, music, or our feelings out into the open. People are critical and they judge and compare others when they feel they don’t live up to their own expectations. The confessional blogs and tweets we encounter online, however, Brown explains, are not illustrations of vulnerability. To earn trust in any relationship, we should open ourselves little by little, by stages. Dumping too much emotion and experience all at once, according to the author, is disrespectful of others’ boundaries. Sharing vulnerability is a give and take, and it is the foundation of all true relationships to self and others. Brown teaches the reader to combat shame through a technique she calls “shame resilience” to bullying in schools and at the workplace. She makes a great case for the power of vulnerability and the courage of those who proudly proclaim their own. She takes on shaming in relationships of all kinds, and gives hope that more of us will stand up and own our experiences, our pain, and live up to the promise of our authentic self.

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May 21 2014

Old Lady Blues

by Hope L

hopscotch-ladies“You can only be young once.  But you can always be immature.”  Dave Barry

I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror and saw an old lady looking back at me. When I was a youngster, let’s say a pre-teen, I thought  “old” was around fifty.  And fortyish was middle age because most people live until age 80-85.

But now, having turned 51 this past January, I notice I’m feeling older physically but my mind still feels quite young–juvenile even.  But I remember the truth when I see my AARP card.  Or my gray hair.  You get the idea.

Suzanne Somers, yes, the creator of the “ThighMaster” (or Chrissy, as those of a certain age will remember) says the key to slowing the aging process is, among other things, bioidentical hormones.   In her book Ageless: The Naked Truth about Bioidentical Hormones, she claims:

“By adding back to my system what stress and toxins have depleted, I am reversing the aging process by making myself younger on the inside.  I am staving off disease so that even while growing older chronologically, I am restoring and preserving internal youth and energy.  The number of my age has become irrelevant.  It’s about having young energy.  I have it … you can, too!”

Young energy!  That’s what I’m missing!  Bring on the hormones.

Oh, and also my memory is slipping.  Can’t Remember What I Forgot: The Good News from the Front Lines of Memory Research by Sue Halpern compares ordinary age-related memory loss to diseases like Alzheimer’s:

“Here are some numbers:  Eighty-three percent of us are worried about not being able to remember one another’s names.  Sixty percent are concerned about our tendency to misplace the car keys.  Fifty-seven percent of us are disturbed that we can’t recall phone numbers a few minutes after we’ve heard them.

“When researchers from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands queried four thousand people, one in two people over sixty-five said they were forgetful.  While that may not be surprising, the researchers also found that one in three people between twenty-five and thirty-five reported memory problems, too.  Invariably, though, the younger folks attributed their lapses to stress, while the older ones thought that they were caused by disease.”

OMG!  (The juvenile in me coming out.)  Just last night I was getting ready for bed and started to spit mouthwash into the trashcan instead of the bathroom sink. I knew immediately it was a mistake, of course, definitely not an old-age thingy (juvenile language, again!). Perhaps I was just tired or preoccupied. Maybe getting old is on my mind lately because I just helped my parents move into an independent living facility here in Decatur.

I’m convinced, though, that exercise is the answer.  In Fitness After 50 by Walter H. Ettinger, MD,  Brenda S. Wright, PhD, and Steven N. Blair, PED, the authors claim the benefits of exercise include:

“Increasing physical activity improves longevity, flexibility, function and independent living, bone strength, restful sleep, weight control and well-being.  Increasing physical activity decreases risk of heart attack, stroke, developing type 2 diabetes, some cancers, fractures, depression, obesity, memory loss and dementia, and gall bladder disease.”

That’s why I see septuagenarians and octogenarians at the gym tearing it up!

“Old is always 15 years from now.”  Bill Cosby

Now, I don’t want to sound dumb, but the one good thing I must say about getting old is that some things are finally making sense.  For example, in my younger days I never understood why the signs on 285 sometimes said north, south, east or west–but now I know it is because it is a circle.  Hence the name “The Perimeter.”   I’ve also just learned that not only are both “baldfaced” and “boldfaced”  lies  acceptable terms for shocking behavior, but that actually most Anglophones in the world  use  “barefaced.”

By age 80, I might just get algebra …

“In youth we learn; in age we understand.”  Maria von Ebner

 

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Judy_Garland_in_The_Wizard_of_Oz_trailer_2“Come out, come out, wherever you are and meet the young lady who fell from a star …”

When I found out that The Wizard of Oz would be coming out in 3-D to celebrate its 75th anniversary and that it would be shown in IMAX  theaters for only 1 week, I went ballistic.  I mean, I was frantic to get tickets.  It was Friday already, which meant it was opening day and probably the only day that I would be able to attend.

But would I be able to score tickets? I was certain it would be sold out if I waited and just showed up without tickets.  Surely there would be throngs  of other Oz afficionados waiting in line. Why, they would probably even be dressed up as Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, or the Wicked Witch.  They might even bring their own Munchkins along with them, explaining how when  growing up they had to watch this  yearly tradition on a little black and white television.

“She fell from the sky, she fell very far …and Kansas, she says, is the name of the star …”

Alas, my companion and I were able to get in without a hitch:  there were only two other people in attendance! And this was at 4:30 on opening day. I was so disappointed. If there were any wild fans out and about, they were only there to see Vin Diesel in Riddick.

But the classic movie itself did not disappoint.  As soon as Leo the MGM Lion announced himself, I knew I was back and that this year the trip to Oz  would be spectacular.

Having  recently read the book Judy, by Gerold Frank, I was able to revisit some of the things I had heard and read over the years about the child actress Judy Garland and the making of the film that would make her a star.

Some interesting tidbits:  according to Judy, her ever-present companion in the film, Toto the terrier,  had horrible breath. All I could think about when I saw the film in IMAX 3-D was what a wonderful little actor Toto was and how he never seemed to miss any of his marks! I’d like to see a cat manage those stunts—don’t get me wrong, I’m a cat lover with three of my own—but there’s just no way.

Many  people have heard about the fact that Shirley Temple was the first pick  for the role of Dorothy. According to Hollywood’s First Choices by Jeff  Burkhart & Bruce Stuart,  not only was Judy Garland not the first choice for Dorothy, the Tin Man was originally played by Buddy Ebsen.  Unfortunately, though,  he had an extreme allergic reaction to the makeup and landed in the hospital. Jack Haley ended up with the role. W.C. Fields was first pick  for the Wizard, but he turned it down and it eventually went to the delightful Frank Morgan.

Now, about the urban legend that a munchkin can be seen hanging in the background of a scene:  I never heard about this until the age of the VCR and people’s ability to stop, rewind, play and slow-mo through movies. True, when I checked it out and researched it online, the scene did appear to have a silhouette of a person hanging in the far background. I can see where the rumor started!

But, according to snopes.com, the legend is not true—no desperate munchkin took their own life on the set of  the film!  The shadow was actually that of one of the many birds loaned to the film by the L.A. Zoo, most probably a crane spreading its wings.  But I do believe the rumor is a testament to how scared  some of us tots were with parts of this film!  The Wicked Witch had me and the Tin Man and plenty of children all over the world just shivering and clattering.

“Kansas, she said, was the name of  the star …”

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Apr 17 2013

Backyard Birds (part 2)

by Dea Anne M

ssialisI posted here awhile back about my newly discovered fascination with (and delight in) the many birds who inhabit my backyard and neighborhood. I see a lot of small songbirds at the feeder along with larger birds like cardinals, woodpeckers, and the occasional comical mourning dove who’s always a little too round of belly to perch long enough to get his fill.  I often hear an owl hooting in the early morning hours and sometimes catch sight of the hawk that lives in the neighborhood. While the bird feeder gets heavy use all year, my pleasure so far this spring has been to observe the birds as they prepare nests and get ready to bring new birds into the world.

I’m especially happy to see this year, for the first time, Eastern Bluebirds appearing at the feeder. To encourage them to make a home in the back yard, we’ve put up a special bluebird box. The instructions tell us not to be discouraged if the birds choose not to nest there the first year but it’s looking hopeful for young bluebirds and I couldn’t be more excited. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, everything starts with the male bluebird depositing bits of nesting material into the box which he then stands on top of and madly flaps his wings. Once this breathtakingly suave display has secured him a mate, it’s up to the female to actually build the nest and incubate the eggs. Last week, I observed a male bird in full flap on top of the box and since this weekend I’ve seen the female going in and out. The bird box instructs one to check it regularly to be sure rival birds such as house sparrows aren’t squatting (so to speak) but this morning’s monitoring confirms that the box is holding the small, cup-shaped nest made up of fine grasses that is the hallmark of the Eastern Bluebird. Hooray!

Here lately, the only thing that makes me happier than seeing one bluebird is the thought of seeing a lot more. Though bluebirds are migratory, those that live in the Southeastern states often stay put all year. You might have bluebirds in your neighborhood too! Do you want to know more? Check out the North American Bluebird Society for more information or visit the University of Georgia’s site for its Museum of Natural History for facts related to bluebirds in Georgia.backyard

If you’re new to bird watching or if you are, like me, mainly a “Whats that outside the kitchen window?” bird watcher, then you can’t do much better than Backyard Birding: a guide to attracting and identifying birds by Randi Minetor. Packed with high quality photographs and information about everything bird, the author also includes great information about creating a bird’s paradise such as providing water sources and attractive nesting materials as well as dealing effectively with predators.

For the thorough types among us, National Geographic’s Bird Watcher’s Bible: a complete treasury is everything that the title promises. Filled with exhaustive information and the type of high-caliber photography that National Geographic is known for, you will find hours worth of entertainment and knowledge about all things avian.national

If you find that you want to go more deeply into birding (or already have), then don’t miss Derek Lovitch’s How To Be a Better Birder. Lovitch advocates for what he calls a “whole bird” approach to watching and identifying birds and incorporates meteorology, geography and radar along with traditional observation. Lovitch also calls upon avid bird watchers to get involved in conservation efforts—a sentiment with which I must agree.

Finally, if you’re planning a trip to the beach, don’t miss The Armchair Birder Goes Coastal by John Yow. From the Outer Banks to Florida’s Gulf Coast, Yow shares his personal journey of discovery in studying the birds unique to our seacoast. Filled with wit and anecdote, Yow’s book will appeal even if you plan to never pick up a pair of binoculars.

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Mar 27 2013

Best Free Reference Websites 2012

by Jesse M

Alphabits TV AdBack in 2009 I posted about the Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) list of the best free reference websites of the year. Since several years have elapsed, I decided to investigate the 2012 list to see what new and useful reference websites were being featured. Here were some standouts:

Fans of the popular television series Mad Men and nostalgia buffs generally may be interested in Adviews: A Digital Archive of Vintage Television Commercials. Access thousands of historic commercials created for clients or acquired by the D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (DMB&B) advertising agency or its predecessor from a period ranging from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Art lovers rejoice! Google Art Project brings the art to you by linking to thousands of works of art across 30 institutions in the US and worldwide! Just choose a museum from the homepage and then use Street View technology to virtually explore the museum or click on specific works of art and zoom in to view them in high resolution.

Fans of truecrime books may enjoy browsing through The Vault, a repository of thousands of declassified FBI documents including memos, reports and other materials spanning several decades. While some words and passages have been redacted to protect identities or sensitive information, a plethora of dossiers are available on both well known and minor criminals as well as such notable figures as Steve Jobs, Elizabeth Taylor, George Steinbrenner and even the pop group the Monkees. Please note: Some material contained in this site may contain actions, words, or images of a graphic nature that may be offensive and/or emotionally disturbing. This material may not be suitable for all ages. Please view it with discretion.

And finally, a great resource for students, educators, and anyone interested in viewing country-by-country statistical data, the World Databank offers a wealth of statistics gleaned from databases maintained by the World Bank. World Development Indicators (WDI) provides data across many categories such as education, the environment, health, and poverty, while Global Development Finance (GDF) provides statistics about the economic and financial health of countries. The site is easy to use, just plug in the country or countries, the statistics of interest, and the years needed.

Want to see more reference sites from previous years? Check out the combined index of lists from 1999-2012.

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Feb 4 2013

Informed Citizen

by Amanda L

GovTrackOver the last few weeks the Georgia General Assembly and congress have gotten back to work creating and passing laws. Years ago, the only way to find out what these legislative bodies were working on or the “hot” topics for the year was through the press or in the case of congress, the Congressional Record. As with anything in today’s society, raw information is available almost instantaneously and is searchable.

On the national level, the place to find this information is GovTrack. This website allows you to follow legislation through the legislative branch. You can see what is on the docket for the current week, laws that have recently been enacted, passed resolutions and active legislation all from the front page.

To research more in depth, you can browse by subject or  search for a particular legislation. There are statistics for each of the Congresses on how many laws they have enacted, how many resolutions were passed, how many bills were sent to the president, how many inactive legislative actions there was for a session, how many legislative bills failed and how many were vetoed by the president. If you click on the number within each category of legislation, the details about the legislation will display. So for example, if I clicked on  active legislation for this congressional session (113th), it would list and display information on all five current active bills in front of congress.

Interested in congress specifically and not legislation? This website allows you to locate your senators and representative by providing your address. The site allows you to see how each senator and representative voted on any legislation or resolution. If there is a related bill that went through the Legislative branch it will link to that bill also and give you voting records. What I love most about this site is that you can search how congress voted all the way back to the 1st Congress.

The State of Georgia has a website that allows you to follow legislation through the General Assembly. It is not as comprehensive as the federal site for historical purposes but to be an informed citizen, it is useful. On this website daily you can see what is on the agenda for the General Assembly. There is a list of first reads of bills for both the House and Senate. Within the list, you can tell which legislative person was involved in the introduction of the bill and the actual wording of the bill. The website also lists how each State Senator and House of Representative voted on a bill.

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