640 Food

It’s not just for breakfast anymore

(Well, actually, it is. For the time being, anyway.)

There I go again, saying I’d abandon the Dewey (R) System and then going ahead and using it anyway. Like I said, the number of hits on this blog is anemic; today, just by accident, I may have found at least one reason why, other than the blog’s having no coherent theme and the likelihood of its being off-putting in polite company. Reason number three: it seems that anyone using a PC without a high-powered microscope probably can’t see the little gewgaws on the right-hand side, the bits and bobs that are so very important to my work here. And, oh, yeah, reason no. 4: this blog is all about me, and as I’m learning more and more, it ain’t all about you.

Be that as it my, I’m asking you all for a favor. I would love to speak with anyone who has any knowledge whatsoever of the origins of the federal School Breakfast Program. By anyone, I mean anyone. Even if you happened to be watering the plants or washing the windows and overheard something when federal officials blew through your town back in the early 1960s and asked all the local city, town or school officials whether students were getting anything to eat for breakfast, please let me know.

I’m doing a research project (full disclosure: it’s with my dad, who used to work for the Agriculture Department) on the School Breakfast Program and a whole passel of other federal child nutrition programs. It’s not a big, dark, secret, Deep-Throat-meets-Michael-Moore type of thing. We’d just like to know how the program got started, who was there when they started it, what research they did, especially in the field, to support getting the federal government involved in school breakfast. I have a whole big  list of other questions I still haven’t finished writing yet. We’d like to know how many sites they visited and who they brought with them.  Respond to me here and I’ll figure out how to get in touch with you without getting all the spammers involved.


John Leonard

098 Prohibited books

E proibido proibir
– Caetano Veloso

If books are outlawed, only outlaws will have books.
– John Leonard

Wifey and I went to the Banned Books Readout downtown yesterday. We caught Lauren Myracle, who was pretty good. She said it affected her pretty deeply when she heard that someone, somewhere decided that her books (for teens and tweens) weren’t fit for public consumption. A couple other folks got up to say similar things, including Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmick.

But, to me, the real surprise of the afternoon was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, one of those authors without whom there almost would be no children’s or young adult departments in any public libraries, anywhere. And there she was, this nice, older woman laying out in words I wish I had written down the dangers of banning books. First off, it’s a terrible thing to do to a kid to him or her not to read a book. She said she once got what was clearly a form letter from some elementary school students, each of whom had copied the letter in their own handwriting, and each of whom had misspelled the word “vulgar” as “vulger,” in reference to her works. But a couple of the students had snuck in their own words before the envelopes were sealed: “We really like your books,” or something to that effect.

Sarah Palin’s been getting a lot of attention about whether she had any books banned as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. As far as I can tell, she didn’t. But the thing that’s moving from factoid to fact status is that she did ask the town librarian how she would respond if Palin asked her to remove some books from the stacks. This is only speculation, but that sounds to me like the kind of “shot across the bow” question that was meant to send a chill down the spine of anyone who even thought about getting in Palin’s way.

I intend to get in her way. If I don’t, I have a pretty good idea what the future will look like for those of us who believe in open access to information: There was a guy at the readout who had tricked out his bike to have a little library on the front, a “book bike,” if you will. Maybe that’s what he called it. I don’t know; I was feeling too shy to talk to him. It was a totally cool idea, and a great way to get books out into the community.

Another way I have seen to get books into peoples’ hands is to use one of those newspaper boxes. Someone has done just that with a newspaper box outside Reckless Records on Chicago Avenue. It’s called the Community Book Exchange or something like that.

Again, a great idea and a great adjunct to a genuine public library. But not a replacement for same, and neither is the book bike. If book readers have to go underground and start doing the whole samizdat routine, stealing around in the night, passing hastily made copies of contraband books to anonymous associates in alleys, it’d be kinda cool at first. Then we’d realize how much it would suck. We’d be embarrassed to have to admit that we lived in a society that didn’t support the free exchange of information, a society that thinks books are more dangerous than guns. Imagine that, a country without libraries, or one with libraries that are so heavily censored that no one takes them seriously.

It could happen. We already have towns without libraries. Fortunately, Chicago isn’t one of them. I found out last Monday that the city government has approved construction of a new branch for the Chicago Public Library in the Goldblatt Building, also on Chicago Ave. I found that out when I went to talk to my alderman, Manny Flores. Heard it from his administrative assistant. Back to you, Jim.

098 Prohibited works

If I were a publisher or an author, I would think having someone (say,
Sarah Palin, for instance) ban my book would bring me the kind of P.R. even the most seasoned media flak only wishes he could drum up. Seems to me it would have the same effect as slapping a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” label (thank you, Tipper Gore) on a CD, or giving a movie an NC-17 rating: gotta have that forbidden fruit, know what I mean?

As we gear up for Banned Books Week next week, I would like to suggest that the nation’s presses consider doing exactly that: proudly trumpeting the fact that someone has deemed their products dangerous, unacceptable, potentially corrupting or whatever the complaint may be. A sticker on the front cover that says, “This book is banned in 17 states,” or “Most vandalized book of 2008,” “Most Burned Book of the Century.” Something like that. We could call these stickers “Badges of Honor.” Shape them like little medals, give them a faux-metallic finish, the whole bit.

A friend of mine ran a public library in South Carolina where he was constantly having to reorder one or another of the Harry Potter books because someone was always defacing them, tearing out offending passages or just stealing the books outright. I don’t even think the books are that good, but actions like these elevate an otherwise mediocre series to hero status, and, more important, probably don’t hurt book sales much, either.

I had another friend who ran a public library in a town in central Massachusetts. A group of parents who educated their children themselves would come in regularly and demand that this or that book be taken off the shelves. These home-schooling parents made life pretty hard for my friend, one of the most easygoing, non-confrontational guys I’ve ever met. He still grimaces when he talks about it.

So, whether we’re talking about Harry Potter, Robert Cormier, Lois Lowry or Daddy’s Roommate, let’s turn my friends’ nightmares into something good. Let’s remind the enemies of free thought just how badly their efforts at suppressing speech can backfire.

553.3 Conservation, recycling, waste management

CHICAGO–Glass bottles, plastic bottles. Beer bottles, soda bottles, energy drink bottles, milk bottles. Bottles, but not so many cans. Why? Because Illinois has no bottle bill. At least that’s my assessment of the situation, judging by the fact that aluminum cans, for which you can receive a pittance, are somewhat harder to come by, even in places where it seems the garbage has completely obscured the pavement. With a bottle bill, you’d be able to take all your empties, be they green, brown, clear or even blue, to the redemption center and get enough change for, say, another bottle of beer.

I took a bike ride this afternoon, starting at Augusta and Paulina and heading south, cutting over to Ashland at Lake, then taking Ashland down to 33rd St. Then I looked ahead of me and realized just how big Chicago is. I realized, too, that I didn’t have the time or the energy to cross 100 more streets. Ultimately, I gave up and turned around. You would have thought I would have hit the mother lode somewhere along my route, especially after I headed west on 33rd until I hit Western and pointed my front tire northward.

A bridge just before 31st St. yielded a few items to stash in my backpack, and a bus stop across from the White Castle (at Western and Jackson, I think) helped increase my take, but no great shakes. Had I been able to retrieve the beer bottles glinting in the late afternoon sun, I might have just been able to cover the cost of the flat tire I incurred a few moments later. But as much of a do-gooder as I am, there’s just no money in it. I could collect them all and eventually redeem them in Iowa or Michigan, but my wife would kill me. She can barely stand me collecting all these cans of . . .

1. Tecate
2. Modelo
3. Busch
4. Icehouse
5. Coke
6. RC
7. Arizona Iced Tea
8. Heineken
9. Miller
10. Budweiser

. . . and much, much more. And who can blame her? I collect them all week, drop them off at the redemption center at Chicago and Grand on Monday morning, and get at most a couple of bucks. The Chicago and Grand facility (which has an impressive collection of beer cans lining one window) and others like it pay 50 cents for a pound of aluminum. That’s about 33 cans. I went out of my way to find some of the filthiest streets I could think of, and still I think I just barely cracked that magic number in my 2.5-hour journey.

I did some armchair research this weekend on the campaign to give Illinois a bottle bill. There are quite a few groups pushing for it, and at least one pushing against it. Four years ago, the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County published a white paper called “Why a Bottle Bill is Bad for Illinois.” Among the reasons they cite, one caught my attention before my little jaunt, and much more so afterward: “Removing the valuable commodities from our curbside programs will increase costs of the curbside program dramatically.” My simple eyeball examination of Chicago neighborhoods from West Town to Pilsen indicates there are some places where there is no recycling going on at all, curbside or otherwise. If a bottle lying on the ground was like free money, it might entice someone to pick it up.

Florida library braces for ‘perfect storm’

State officials who challenged electronic voting receive Kennedy award.

Lots of good news items yesterday:

Internet Archive wins Patriot Act law suit

Inside the Library of Congress

Despite proven return on investment, libraries still face budget cuts

Ban ‘Second Life,’ Congressman says

Same-sex penguin story leads ‘challenged’ book list

Clintons hold up release of more documents

Another book of crazy library stories

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