At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Saturday, April 24, 2004


NY Times columnist says "liberals need to be more respectful of conservative Christians." Although Philip Jenkins says that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice, this editorialist is right to extend the idea to conservative Christianity in general.

I'm thinking of switching to HaloScan for comments. They can't possibly be any buggier than Enetation, can they?


Some half-baked thoughts on what conservative librarianship would look like, arrived at through considering certain conservative principles and applying them to the profession:

  1. Quality should trump diversity, whether in employment or in collection development. Just because some people believe the Holocaust didn't happen doesn't mean their views should be represented in the library; just because blacks have been underrepresented in librarianship doesn't mean they should receive preferential treatment in hiring.
  2. Hannah Arendt, I think, drew the distinction between "negative rights" (protection against external interference, e.g. rights to life, free association, property, speech, etc.) and the leftist conception of "positive rights" (entitlement to benefits, e.g. a right to food, housing, medical care, etc.) From the conservative viewpoint, leftist librarians make a category mistake in crying "censorship" when a library refuses to purchase a book, or discards it once purchased, on the basis of its viewpoint. The First Amendment gives us only the negative right not to be prevented from promulgating our views; it doesn't give us a positive right that libraries help us do so.
  3. By necessity, any governmental project favors the values of some people over those of others, so there is nothing inherently wrong in a library emphasizing the dominant outlook of its community. As expected, the San Francisco Public Library has a lot more pro-gay than anti-gay books (as far as I could tell from skimming their OPAC, at least). When librarians cease to be responsive to community values, it is reasonable that community authorities bring them in line.
  4. Shushing people isn't anal, oppressive, uptight, etc. It's necessary for the proper functioning of the library as a place for absorbing information.

Updated the blogroll, removing links to blogs which are defunct (Spinster Librarian, Liberry Blooze, etc.) or whose authors are no longer librarians (Retro Girl, Notes From the Mystery Department). Also working on a west Texas blog section.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Shapiro, Ian. The moral foundations of politics. Yale, 2003. 289p index ISBN 0-300-07907-9, $25.00.

Choice: "The author defends modern democratic theory and process as the best ground of political legitimacy in today's world as well as a practical means for getting at truth in politics. In sum, Shapiro advocates a "mature" Enlightenment political philosophy freed of its flaws and failures. Clearly written and argued, the book can be easily understood by both lay readers and those steeped in political philosophy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels." History: Review of New Books: "The title of this book is misleading, and those who pick it up hoping to discover a list of ethical principles that underlie (or that should underlie) political practice will be disappointed. It is, rather, an extended argument about which form of government is most legitimate. He does not apply the same philosophic rigor to democratic theory as in the other cases. Readers may feel that Shapiro does not always keep his eye on the central argument and that he indulges in long side excursions. He sometimes fires his heaviest barrages at what seem like peripheral targets. But no one will feel that he is anything less than an incisive, clear-headed, stimulating, and impressively learned thinker. Even his excursions are fascinating, highly intelligent, and persuasive." Ethics and International Affairs: "impressive...timely as well as philosophically challenging...a solid piece of scholarship that is accessible to the nonacademic, intelligent reader. It is unclear, however, why he thinks of democracy as a competing political theory on par with the three other theories committed to the Enlightenment ideals. Shapiro rightly points out the shortcomings of the three political theories in devising an adequate theory of membership, but he does not give this important issue the attention it deserves...patriotism nets scant discussion...Despite the lack of adequate discussion of certain crucial ideas, Shapiro?s fine book, all in all, is a must-read for anybody interested in democracy and political theory." Independent Review: "The presentation is fair--and fairly standard--though Shapiro has his own views on these theories, which he does not attempt to hide. Chapters 2 and 3 constitute a clear and concise overview of utilitarianism. Shapiro does an excellent job in explaining the sources and nature of Pareto's influence...Though his exposition of Marxism and its difficulties is generally fair and accurate, Shapiro has to distort or depart from what Marx actually said to get him to speak to the concerns that frame the book...The exposition of anti-Enlightenment thought is fair and the criticisms measured...The intended audience is not completely clear. Shapiro offers an introductory treatment of the topic and for the most part breaks no new ground. If a nonspecialist were seeking a relatively brief and straightforward overview of the topic described in the title, the book might be warmly recommended." International Affairs: "does many things well, but it explores insufficiently the central question it asks, "When do governments merit our allegiance?"...engaging and aggressive style...The assessments of the various traditions work well as introductions to the subject and also supply insightful and sometimes provocative contemporary applications of the theories that will interest advanced readers...The book falls prey to a problem common to many works on democracy, that "democracy" must be defined internally in some manner...In addition, the text would have benefited from an assessment of the traditions' interactions not only with each other but also within each other...Despite these criticisms, the book is well worth a read. Although it does not convince, it does challenge and perplex."


Sometimes having a top-heavy church is good: Cardinal Says No Communion for Pro-Abortion Politicians.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


Quentin Tarantino on Gibson's Passion.

"I loved it. I’ll tell you why. I think it actually is one of the most brilliant visual storytelling movies I’ve seen since the talkies — as far as telling a story via pictures. So much so that when I was watching this movie, I turned to a friend and said, “This is such a Herculean leap of Mel Gibson’s talent. I think divine intervention might be part of it.” I cannot believe that Mel Gibson directed it. Not personally Mel Gibson — I mean, Braveheart was great. I mean, I can’t believe any actor made that movie. This is like the most visual movie by an actor since Charles Laughton made The Night of the Hunter. No, this is 15 times more visual than that. It has the power of a silent movie. And I was amazed by the fact that it was able to mix all these different tones. At first, this is going to be the most realistic version of the Jesus story — you have to decipher the Latin and Aramaic. Then it throws that away at a certain point and gives you this grandiose religious image. Goddamn, that’s good direction! It is pretty violent, I must say. At a certain point, it was like a Takashi Miike film. It got so fucked up it was funny. At one point, my friend and I, we just started laughing. I was into the seriousness of the story, of course, but in the crucifixion scene, when they turned the cross over, you had to laugh."


Duriez, Colin. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: the gift of friendship. HiddenSpring, 2003. 244p bibl index afp ISBN 1-587-68026-2 pbk, $16.00.

Choice: "Duriez mined "The Lewis Family Papers," an unpublished collection edited by W.H. Lewis and housed in Wheaton [Illinois] College's Marion E. Wade Center; four recorded interviews (also at the Wade Center); and some unpublished letters for new material. Duriez makes a few slips: e.g., he says that Lewis's only gift to Tolkien's writing of The Lord of the Rings was encouragement, but Tolkien said (in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. by Humphrey Carpenter, CH, Feb'82) that Lewis pointed out passages that needed rewriting and Tolkien revised them. Duriez tries to popularize the book with fictional chapter openings (with sources given in the endnotes). The competition--still the best treatment--is Humphrey Carpenter's excellent The Inklings: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Their Friends (1978), which is biographical in emphasis. Duriez's book is a popular, not a scholarly study. Summing Up: Optional. Lower-division undergraduates and general readers." Church History: “Devotees of Tolkien and Lewis will know many of these events, but Duriez’s knowledge of the two men and of the larger context of their relationship brings important matters to the fore. And the fictional vignettes with which most of his chapters begin give an immediacy and human warmth to his account that a straightforward rehearsal of events would have lacked.” Library Journal: “Duriez handles both men’s lives with great care, tackling their strengths and shortcomings equally…Highly recommended.” Booklist: “a graceful, sympathetic, and appealing dual biography.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


From NY Times: Libraries Wired, and Reborn. "A year after computers are put in libraries that do not have them, visits rise 30 percent on the average and attendance typically remains higher...Melquan Jones, a 16-year-old junior at Samuel Gompers, was looking up information on the history of the printing press for a school report. He browses the nearby books occasionally, he said, "but I come here mostly for the computers."..."Books are never going away, but the future of libraries is much more as community centers," Mrs. LeBoeuf observed." Makes me glad to be in an academic library.


Olien, Diana Davids and Roger M. Olien. Oil in Texas: The Gusher Age, 1895-1945. Texas, $39.95.

Journal of American History: “excellent…the preeminent scholars of the petroleum industry today..a welcome addition to the literature in the field. Not since 1949…has anyone attempted a comprehensive discussion of this type…The book is very well crafted and organized so it is easy to floow the authors’ discussion of this complex topic…they explain technical terms and procedures in ways the casual reader can easily understand. There will be no need for a similar volume any time soon.” Pacific Historical Review: “Oil in Texas is an impressive survey of Texas oil during the first half of the twentieth century…This book is thoroughly researched, and the authors have written a concise, well-organized, and readable narrative of the role of oil in Texas history.” Southwestern Historical Quarterly: “This is an excellent book, providing the reader with the first comprehensive study of the subject since Carl Coke Rister’s Oil: Titan of the Southwest…It is easy to follow…The authors have made a valuable contribution.” Journal of Southern History: “This is a fine book and clearly the best place to start any investigation of the role of oil in Texas history. It would have benefited from am ore nuanced discussion of the role and position of oil in the overall economy and from a more critical assessment of the environmental impact of the industry…Still, no other volume comes close to packing the same information and level of analysis between two covers. This work is a must-read for all those interested in Texas and in business and economic history.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

I enjoyed presenting Crimes and Misdemeanors. Back when teaching was my full time gig I tended to have unrealistically high standards, striving to interest every single student in the class and inevitably being disappointed. Tonight I walked on stage with the thought that if I could reach just one student then it would all be worthwhile. In fact about half a dozen or so out of the thirty who showed up listened attentively to my 15-minute talk and hung around afterwards for discussion--ah, the joy of low expectations! I was also worried that Allen's nebbishy shtick might not fly with the white-bread pure-bred Texan kids, but they laughed at most of the one liners. One good backhanded critique of the movie: a student said without a hint of irony, "This movie sucks because it is just like real life."

I first saw the movie when it came out in '89. Waco, where I got my B.A., wasn't exactly an art-film magnet, so I caught stuff like Crimes and Misdemeanors or Unbearable Lightness of Being at the River Oaks Theatre during my infrequent trips to Houston. As much as I enjoyed seeing Crimes and Misdemeanors then, the benefit of 15 years has made it even more interesting. First, I now know the subtext of literary references Allen is consulting: Republic, Crime and Punishment, Macbeth, Primo Levi, Ayn Rand, etc. Also fascinating in a creepy way is Cliff's on-screen affection for his prepubescent niece, given later revelations about Allen's off-screen relationship with his quasi-stepdaughter Soon-Yi Previn.

Anyhow, it was fun to combine two of my main interests, philosophy and film, for the benefit of a few students and fellow faculty members.


Calloway, Colin. One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West Before Lewis and Clark. Nebraska.

Choice: “Massive…synthesizes the history of the West while maintaining all of its majesty and complexity. It is a shame, however, that the 15 mapes were not more detailed, and that there are not more of them. Highly recommended.” Atlantic Monthly: “clearly written, monumental history…synthesizes a vast body of archaeological, ethnographic, and historical scholarship. It will long remain the authoritative treatment of its subject.” Library Journal: “useful and insightful overview…Calloway’s balanced treatment of a topic so easily given to polemics is welcome indeed. Highly recommended.” Publishers Weekly: “The scope is staggering but Calloway masters it, demonstrating a remarkable command of a broad spectrum of historical, ethnographic and archeological sources….a major work.” Booklist: “enthralling and brilliant…masterfully integrates the disciplines of archaeology, anthropology, environmental science, and history to provide a wonderful panorama illustrating both the diversity and the vibrancy of these rich cultures.”

Monday, April 19, 2004

All in a Day's Work

Still trying to spend our money before the end of the fiscal year. Bought some Chemnitz, mostly cause I wanna read him but the purchase can also be rationalized--a Baptist university should own the most thorough and learned Protestant response to the Council of Trent ever written, right? Besides, the new translation of the Lutheran Book of Concord I got us a few months ago has received a circulation, so I have a precedent. Also the Boss asked that we get a bunch of Robert Farrar Capon because she really liked his books on the parables of Jesus that I recommended for her sunday school class. Now I'm preparing for my presentation of Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors tomorrow night, part of the sporadic film series that one of the history profs started last year. I'll throw some Plato, Dostoievsky, and Job at 'em.


"Crackles" is another overused reviewer's word I could do without.

Eagleton, Terry. After Theory. Basic Books.

Nation: “admirable and powerful, but there are problems. For one thing, the argument isn’t coherent, but proceeds instead by zigs and zags, often little more than a grab-bag of discussions, definitions, and digressions…For another thing, Eagleton’s argument is often not much of an argument at all but rather a series of assertions that sympathetic readers are likely to agree with but that hardly stand up to the kind of rigorous analysis he himself uses so tellingly against his opponents…The big problem is that Eagleton doesn’t say the first thing about how to get from here to there, or even, except in the most tritely general way, what ‘there’ would look like.” Library Journal: “As always, Eagleton is witty and convincing…In the end, however, his study offers surprisingly little beyond standard Bush-bashing and repetitive anticapitalist rants. Alas, what could have been great cultural criticism with broad appeal falls short.” Chronicle Review: “Much of what he proposes is a correction and a supplement rather than a rethinking…intellectually impressive, but falls far short of confronting the questions cultural theory faces from within and without literary study…The most serious drawbacks of After Theory are its internal contradictions…Eagleton advocates hard thinking and a tragic, complex view of the world, but he relies on old slogans and easy dichotomies.” New Statesman: “For Eagleton, the unforgivable sin of cultural theorists is to have recognized the unreality of Marx’s revolutionary project…He rarely engages with any actual historical event, and when he does, the results are embarrassingly inept…many of his obiter dicta have no content at all…he writes in a defunct, intra-academic argot that was current a generation ago.” Booklist: “a marvel of speedway wit, vivifying thinking, and humanitarian concerns…His take on academic concerns is acute and deliciously ironic…a welcome breath of fresh air in stifling times.”
Publishers Weekly: “trenchant…brilliant and provocative…virtually every paragraph crackles with fresh and compelling insights, conveyed in a style that’s intellectually sophisticated yet lucid, funny and down to earth.”