PointerGate points to the imperative of oversight

In another life I was a stooge on the Minnesota News Council. At some point I, as a member in good standing, read in the press that the MNC was to be no more – no explanation, a simple affirmation that the staff person had acquired a safe position at the University of St. Thomas. Because I was too otherwise engaged to explore the roots of a decision I accepted as a done deal, closed that file, and gave complicit assent to a decision I knew was wrong.

Bottom line: Minnesota News Council, thou art needed at this hour.

Though there are many, the efficient cause of my concern is PointerGate, the most ridiculous travesty of press neglect unfolding in recent journalistic days.

Thanks to The UpTake, a community resource of inestimable value that somehow escapes public acclamation, I just viewed a streamed account of the recent discussion of the PointerGate debacle sponsored by the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. ((http://theuptake.org/live-video-post/journalists-discuss-pointergate/)) The conversation offers clear insights that transcend the episode that has been blown far out of proportion by the press and by social media; the video is well worth a view.

The discussion, mostly among journalists, is enlightening. The questions raised by the audience are illustrative of the questions on the minds of many. There are not so many answers as questions. Still, listening/viewing the open discussion helps me to capitalize on an opportunity to learn and to understand the thinking of the individuals who were and are involved in an ongoing explication of the tempest in a teapot that was PointerGate.

The complexity of the issue expands with discussion – racism, gang-bating, the role of cops, the authority of the mayor, the objectivity of the press, the impact of the press on public attitudes….

On the one hand, there is the PointerGate issue – dead in the water as far as I am concerned. What remains is a question about the role of the press, the way in which the public, not only the press, has a role in determining the actions of the media. It matters.

From my perspective, PointerGate – and a host of press/media related issues – argue for resurrection of a Minnesota News Council that is restructured, given the authority and staff capable to meet the challenges of a fiercely competitive digital market of ideas. This is not the first, just the most obvious, need for the MNC.

I regret to this day that I gave silent consent so easily to a decision I knew was not in the interests of the people.

Options Abound for Minnesota Map-o-philes

Estonian President Lennart Meri, a wonderfully quotable politician, once said that, “If geography is prose, maps are iconography.” He would be pleased at the flurry of cartographic interest that has popped up in recent days on Open Twin Cities, where open government hackers gather.

Maptime MSP is a new meetup, scheduled to hold an informal meeting on Saturday, December 13, 3:00-5:00 p.m. at the Washburn Library, 5244 Lyndale Avenue South. The group which has met just once invites newcomers and beginners to grab a laptop and join the fledging network.

This week’s meeting will follow up on discussion of OpenStreetMap (www.openstreetmap.org), an open data system in which volunteers share a wide range of resources. Contributors include “enthusiastic mappers, GIS professionals, engineers running the OSM servers, humanitarians mapping disaster-affected areas, and many more.”

Local cartographers will also explore an adjunct resource, Missingmaps (www.missingmaps.org). Missing Maps supports the OSM Humanitarian Team that deals with maps and data necessary to respond to crises in unmapped regions, with a commitment to building and leaving behind local capacity and access.

All of the work of both OpenStreetMap and MissingMaps is free and open. Updates on Twin Cities Brigade (https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/twin-cities-brigade)

Treat Your Palate to a Mixed Menu of Readings at Eat My Words

If you’ve discovered Eat My Words, you’ve been there often. If not, the next couple of weeks offer a great chance to explore this charming bookstore nestled in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Area.   Whether you’re a veteran visitor or a newbie you’ll find the agenda of readings during the early holiday season is intriguing, even irresistible.

Start this week, with a talk by Aaron Isaacs, author of Twin Ports by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Duluth-Superior.   Sounds like a tome well-suited for a community pondering the possibilities of a streetcar serving Northeast. Isaacs’ talk is Wednesday, December 10, 7:00 p.m. at the bookstore.

Then, on Saturday, December 13, return to Eat My Words for the launch of Festival in Crime, the newest anthology from the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime! The spell-binder will fill the stocking of the best-read mystery fan on your shopping list. The launch is set for 7:00 p.m. but come early so you have plenty of time to browse the book-laden shelves.

On Sunday, December 14, 2:00 p.m. children’s book author Alison McGhee will read from Star Bright: A Christmas Story, described as “a perfectly angelic – and perfectly charming – Christmas story that offers a creative twist on the classic tale of the Nativity” for children ages 4-8.

For a change of pace, drop in on Tuesday, December 17, at 7:00-ish for First Case of Beers, featuring P.M. LaRose, known locally to readers of the PiPress. “Beers” is actually the nickname for the protagonist, James Alfred Biersovich, head of security at LaScala, a trendy Minneapolis department store (aren’t they all trendy?) It’s a holiday thriller, complete with Santa and the Scalabrino clan.

Rounding out the week is a Spoken Word Showcase on Saturday, December 20, 7:00 p.m. Local authors and spoken word artists Thressa Johnson, Lewis Mundt, Taylor Seaberg and Chava Gabrielle Davis will share their recent work, showcasing several media formats and various approaches to their art.

Eat My Words is at 1228 2nd Street Northeast in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Area (picture close to the iconic Grainbelt Brewery – one of many in the NEMAA neighborhood) www.eatmywordsbooks.com, eatmywordsbooks@gmail.com, (651) 243 – 1756

A weekend to think about this nation at war and at risk

The coming weekend marks not one but significant dates in American history. Sunday, December 7, is familiar to many Americans as the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the efficient cause of the Second World War. Since 1994 that global tragedy has been officially designated as National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a date that FDR correctly predicted would live in infamy. (See earlier post)

Less heralded is the preceding day, December 6, the historic date on which slavery in this nation was abolished. It was on that day in 1865 that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, was ratified by the states.

The Amendment is as unequivocal as it is brief:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment or crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The story that led up to final ratification of the 13th Amendment is a rich saga of politics, war and presidential power. In 1863 President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring, “All persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” Lincoln actually used his War Powers (a fascinating story in itself) to declare the ban on slavery; still, his power was limited to the Confederate-controlled states.

Thus, the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery. Rather, it had to be followed by the Constitutional Amendment that was not forthcoming until late in 1865. Ratification came when Georgia, the 27th state to do so, cast the vote that gave the Amendment the three-fourths of the states necessary for ratification.

On December 8, 1865 this notice appeared in the Lowell Daily Citizen and News, Lowell, Massachusetts:

Georgia—the twenty-seventh state – has adopted the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery. We have in reserve the states of California and Oregon and the embryo state of Colorado. The legislature of California is now in session, and initial steps for adopting the amendment are already reported. The sublime but noiseless work of prohibition by the supreme law is so nearly consummated, that we may very soon look for the proclamation announcing the accomplished fact. What a grand climax to the process of great historic events which mark our recent history!

At the end of December 1865, following ratification of the 13th Amendment, this newspaper article was published with the title “What Is a Man?”

It is very evident; therefore, from this stand point of the matter, that character makes the man, and not color. And if character is the standard of manhood, we cannot see any just reason for withholding the titles to manhood from any one on account of his physical nature. It is not because a person is six feet high and he is a ‘man’, nor because he has a big brow and thick straight hair, but because he has the moral qualifications of a man. Why then exclude a person form this position because he has a black face. If he displays the character, the moral character of a man with a white face, who, in the judgment of his fellows, is deserving of the title ‘man’ in its fullest sense, common sense and justice, we surely think demands that he receive the same honorable distinction. (published in The Colored American, Augusta Georgia, December 20, 1865

The story of the abolition of slavery is much more complex – and human – than the textbooks suggest.   The relationship of the commemorations on December 6 and December 7 give pause, particularly at this moment in time, perhaps.

There are countless books devoted to both Pearl Harbor and the 13th Amendment. Since time is short, there are also relevant and instructive resources online, many from government sources, that offer immense collections of digitized primary documents, video interviews, guides, newspapers, guides to other resources and more. Examples include:


Access to justice – Law Librarians Define Their Critical Mission

At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.

Aristotle’s words ring true as justice seekers cope with a host of sometimes violent challenges to law and justice. The words take on practical meaning in a recent publication Access to Justice,  http://www.aallnet.org/mm/Publications/products/atjwhitepaper.pdf

an insightful white paper written and adopted by the American Association of Law Libraries. This is a how-to guide to walking the walk for law librarians and for those who may not yet understand the role that law librarians play in the pursuit of access to law and justice for all.

Sara Galligan, Director of the Ramsey County Law Library, is the principal author of the white paper. The thrust of the paper is the powerful idea that “by pushing their own boundaries, law librarians can gain meaningful perspective on access to justice and can boldly assert their own unique contributions.”

For law librarians, Access to Justice presents a challenge and a road map. Not an end but a means, access to information is paramount. For those who cling to a stereotyped image of librarians the white paper offers enlightenment. A strength of the paper is the clear description of the diverse roles that law librarians play depending on their work setting; the paper presents a sort of “work plan” that expands the image and outlines the possibilities. For those outside the field the paper presents a “who knew?” overview of unrealized potential.

The strength of the white paper is the focus not on tasks but on mission – Access to Justice. Towards the shared goal of access to justice law librarians choose different paths, ranging from supporting the information needs of pro se litigants to building skills and values of law students to lending their information management skills to law firms that know more about the law than they know about how to plumb the depths of relevant legal resources.

The white paper also suggests ways in which law librarians can blend their skills with agencies whose forte is outreach – to legal aid agencies, partnerships with public libraries, to acquainting practicing attorneys with current resources essential to informed practice of the law.

Collaboration, currency of resources, expanding access and sharing the intellectual wealth are means to an end in this significant paper. The prevailing theme of Access to Justice informs the white paper and thus the work of law librarians who daily get up and do what needs to be done to assure access to justice for all.








Human Rights – Common Threat, Common Theme

When Ursula LeGuin and Pope Francis echo each other’s concern for basic human rights being relegated to mere commodities it is time to take heed. As these intellectual giants remind us, human beings have a certain and inalienable right to access to food and access to information and ideas. The right to food and literature transcend the unfettered pursuit of wealth and the power that it affords. Pope Francis spoke at the International Food and Agriculture conference meeting in Rome.(http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=49396#.VHjGY8aC14M). Ursula LeGuin shared her thoughts from the prestigious platform of the 2014 National Book Awards. (http://www.nationalbook.org/amerletters_2014_uleguin.html#.VHjFjcaC14M)

Similarly global voices are speaking out for the human right to Internet access; there is a growing Global Net Neutrality Coalition that now represents more than 35 human rights and technology organizations from 19 countries. (http://thisisnetneutrality.org) Andrea Germanos has written an extensive article on the human right to Internet access in the November 24, 2014 issue o f Common Dreams. (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/11/24/global-survey-internet-access-should-be-human-right.

Clearly, the very definition of human rights is on our collective consciousness.

On December 10, 2014, we will celebrate Human Rights Day, commemorating the date on which the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaiming its principles as the “common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.” The theme of Human Rights Day 2014 is Human Rights 365. There will be local, national and international commemorations of the day and of the achievements of human rights activists over the decades.

To put the issues of 2014 in perspective it is enlightening to review the summary of human rights achievements that have been made since the 1948 Declaration. Since 1993 the High Commissioner for Human Rights has borne the responsibility to advocate, monitor, and train advocates as well as to contribute to legislative and policy reforms to increase accountability for human rights violations and to advance human rights. A summary of achievements over the past two decades suggests a broad range of initiatives ranging from the rights of victims of torture to the rights of LGBT individuals, people with disabilities, rights of the elderly, women’s rights and the human rights responsibilities of business enterprises. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/OHCHR20_Backup/Pages/Achievements.aspx)

In 2013, on the 20th anniversary of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights the OHCHR issued a review of accomplishments. (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/OHCHR20_Backup/Pages/Achievements.asp)

A pervasive message emanates from the chorus of voices calling for attention to the universality of human rights. The 2013 report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlights the single human right that trumps the rampant forces that threaten the inherent rights of human beings on every front:

There is heightened awareness and growing demand by people worldwide for greater transparency and accountability from government and for the right to participate fully in public life. 

 Millions of people have gone on to the streets over the past few years, in countries all across the world. They have been asking for their right to participate fully in the important decisions and policies affecting their daily lives, at the international, national and the local levels.

Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives. Every person shall have the right to vote and be elected, and to have access to public service, as well as to free expression, assembly and association. These are among the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which 167 States are party. And they have been restated in many similar ways in other laws and documents.

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Transparency, which engenders truth, is the foundation for all this.

Robert David Steele 

The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust



Children’s books that explore tough topics – poverty, hunger, life & love

Note: Two years ago I posted this quick list of books that help children understand – and discuss – issues of hunger and poverty. Since that time, friends have suggested other titles and new books have been written. Titles that were not included on the original list are appended here. I decided to post the original list, too, as a reminder that there are wonderful reads that can start a discussion of a topic with which children have questions and ideas. If you have suggestions of titles that should be added here, please let me know.

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For far too many children abject poverty and insatiable hunger are a constant reality.   Still, most children are shielded from the facts that sine of their peers know only too well. For children who live in comfort, good books that portray children with whom they can identify can open doors of understanding, even empathy.

Much that is written for children depicts the travesty of global hunger – starving children who struggle against unspeakable conditions in faraway lands. Poignant as these stories are, some are remote, beyond the experience or even the imagination of a child.

In recent times the world of children’s literature has expanded to embrace the plight of children closer to home.   My amateur search for children’s books about poverty and hunger is grossly limited by my ignorance of the genre.   A good children’s librarian, teacher or bookseller would be a far better resource. My thought has been to explore children’s stories about hunger in our midst. The goal has been to find books that tell a story that will some day have meaning for my grandson whose idea of severe hunger is missing a glass of milk at bedtime.

The unfortunate and statistically inaccurate fact is that ethnicity and family situation play a role in several children’s books that deal with poverty and hunger.   Adults sharing these books are cautioned to take this into account by stressing that the characters are not responsible for their condition. For the most part the causes of poverty are not individual but systemic.

Many books that depict causes and conditions of poverty derive from passed from generation to generation; many come from places and people that enjoy an oral rather than written tradition. Though the setting may be unfamiliar, the message transcends geography. These books come to life when they are shared with caring adults who can interpret the underlying factors that shape the lives of individuals and families, especially children, who are not to blame for their situation.

* A good conversation starter is the classic story of Stone Soup, a familiar tale that has been told in words and pictures by countless writers and artists who know children well.

* Rosie, the Shopping Cart Lady, by Chia Martin, is a story for children, told by a child, a good introduction to the reality of poverty and homelessness for young book lovers.

*Another good read, based on a Chinese folktale, is One potato, two potato retold by Cynthia DeFelice. In this story a hungry family learns that doubling their edibles is less important than expanding their circle of friends.

* In The Roses in my Garden, set in Afghanistan, author Rufshana Kahn tells the story of a young refugee living with terrifying memories. Overcome by thirst, hunger and mud he continues to dream of freedom.

* Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier and Lori Lohstoefer, was first published by Heifer Project International. The book describes how the gift of a goat brought a level of prosperity to a village in Uganda.

* In The Caged Birds of Phnom Penh Frederick Lipp describes how a young girl saves money to buy a bird for her impoverished extended family.

* Sounder, by William Armstrong and James Barkley, is the story of a 19th Century African American sharecropper family.

* In A Shelter in Our Car Monica Gunning writes about a widowed mother and her daughter Zettie who are forced to leave their home in Jamaica. The mother’s strength instills hope and confidence is the little girl.

* Jane Resh Thomas tells the story of Latino migrant workers far from and lonesome for their homeland during the holiday season in Lights on the River

* In Angel City an elderly African man discovers an abandoned baby on a Los Angeles street. With no experience, he rears the child as his own, keeping the child and hope alive with songs and stories.

* A Handful of Seeds by Monica Hughes recounts the story of Concepcion, a young orphan girl who is forced to move to the barrio when her grandmother dies. When she learns that her new friends must steal for food Concepcion decides to sow the corn and bean seeds left to her by her grandmother. The community garden represents hope and illustrates the impact one person can have on a community.

* Gowanus Canal is a grubby area in NYC in which a homeless man and a brood of dogs share a common fate. Jonathan Frost shares their story in his first book, Gowanus Dogs.

* Race and poverty play a role in Lucky Beans, based on the real life memories recounted by author Becky Birtha’s grandmother. It’s the story of a Depression-era African American family who enter a bean-counting contest with high hopes of winning a sewing machine.

The Double Life of Zoe Flynn by Janet Lee Carey is the story of a little rich girl with a secret – – that her family is no longer rich but living in a van. Hope and strong family ties help Zoe survive her situation.

Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen is a realistic story in which a young boy sees first-hand the difficult lives of families who are hungry and the kindness they are shown at the workers at the soup kitchen.

* Well-known author Eve Bunting recounts the plight of a homeless boy trying to avoid detection in an airport terminal. Fly Away Home describes how a bird in flight gives him hope.

In Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn, Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu, the young boy Sam discovers the true meaning of the “lucky money’ his grandparents have given him to buy “anything he wants.”

Mama Panya’s Pancakes by Mary Chamberlin and Richard Chamberlin is about a poor Kenyan mother and son who go to market to shop for the ingredients to make pancakes. The generous boy insists on inviting all people he encounters to join the pancake feast.

* Predictably the Berenstain Bears have a tale to tell, a story of conspicuous consumption writ large. In The Berenstain Bears Count Their Blessings Mama helps her cubs realize that love trumps worldly goods, even Bearbie dolls.

* Last on the list, first in my heart, is one of my favorite holiday reads, Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian. Though it’s not strictly about hunger and poverty this book is the perfect holiday read for the whole family and the perfect gift for a young reader with a vivid imagination and a generous heart.

These few titles offer but a quick sample of the treasures on the shelves of libraries and bookstores. In these volumes creative writers and illustrators interpret themes and conditions that are difficult for children to grasp, harsh realities that are nonetheless part of the world in which they live, learn, make friends and come to understand others.   A good story well told can reveal deep truths and subtle nuances that children are just learning to comprehend and apply.

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More children’s books that can start a discussion about hunger – added 11-14

* Maddi’s Fridge, story by Lois Brandt, illus by Vin Vogel. Fall 2014.

Lilliana Grows It Green, story by Amy Carpenter Leugg, illus by Heather Newman. Trans into Spanish by Ale Siekmeier.

French Toast for Maleek , story by Amy Carpenter Leugg, illus by Healther Trans into Spanish by Ale and Ben Siekmeier.*

* Very Hungry Caterpillar, story and illus by Eric Carle, orig. 1969. Picture book.

* We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, story by Mother Goose and Maurice Sendak, illus by Maurice Sendak.

 * Bone Button Borscht, story by Aubrey Davis, illus by Dusan Petricic.

 * May’naise Sandwiches & Sunshine Tea, story Sandra Belton, illus. by Gail Gordon Carter.

The Rag Coat, story and illus by Lauren Mills.

A Day’s Work, story by Eve Bunting, illus by Ronald Himler

 * The Little Match Girl, story by Hans Christian Andersen, illus. by Blair Lent.

Faith the Cow, story by Susan Bame Hoover, illus. by Maggie Sykora. 1955.

Tight Times, story by Barbara Shook Hazen, illus by Trina Schart Hyman. Picture book. 1983.

Seedfolks, by Paul Fleischman.

 * The Good Garden: How one family went from hunger to having enough, story by Katie Smith Milway.

One Hen: How one small load made a big difference, story by Katie Smith Milway, illus by Eugenie Fernandes.

Dear Mr. Rosenwald, by Carole Boston Weatherord, illus. by R. Gregory Christie. Story of the Rosenwald Schools, Depression era schools in the South.

The Lady in the Box, by Ann McGovern, illus. by Mami Backer, 1997.

Esperanza Rising, story by Pam Munoz Ryan.

A good book is always the ideal gift for any child.   In every home, for every child, there is always room for one more….