Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ridiculous Library of Congress Subject Headings: Week of Sept 24, 2007

The Silverfish Team has been hard at work all summer searching for the most ridiculous Library of Congress Subject Headings to share with our fellow students. Here are some choice selections from our database...

  • Nomads-Sedentarizationcat with sock
  • Dream Interpretation - Political Aspects
  • Sock fetishism
  • Sit-down dancing
  • Unemployed, Writings of the
  • Pinstriping of motor vehicles
  • Animal carcasses in art
  • Chocolate Congresses

Found any lately? Add 'em here.

Also, don't miss out on the wacky LCSH competition at the ALISS/Silverfish New Student Brown Bag on Friday, 9/29 from 11:30 to 12:30 in MGH420.

Friday, September 21, 2007

M.I.A.’s Newest Album "Kala" WILL Be the Soundtrack for the Next Dozen iSchool Dance Parties

The Sri Lankan-by-way-of-London rapper M.I.A. (or Maya Arulpragasum, if you prefer) is no stranger to ass-shaking. Her 2005 debut Arular was easily one of the funkiest albums of that year, with its grimy electro beats and much-reviled rhymes about the Palestine Liberation Organization. I was depressed and living in Olympia, WA at the time of its release, and I always used to say that it was an album that made me wish that I had friends so that I could invite them over for a dance party.

With Kala, M.I.A. has indeed come back, in her words, “with power, power.” Mostly recorded during an extended Third World-tour, the songs here are even more globally-minded than on her debut and infused with a hungry, occasionally bloodthirsty, energy. Opener “Bamboo Banga” starts on a fairly inauspicious note, with scratchy Detroit techno drums and M.I.A. intoning the lyrics to Jonathan Richman’s 1976 proto-punk classic “Roadrunner” with her customary sing-songy delivery and thick British accent. It builds slowly, with African hand-drums growing in the mix until, suddenly, Bollywood strings swoop in from nowhere and you’ve got a full-on rocker on your hands. It’s a brilliant opening, taking the audience from the minimalist sound of her debut to the more complex palate of the follow-up in this one song. It’s equal parts mission statement and bangin’ opener.

This raucous pace keeps up through the first half of Kala, as does the free-associative sampling (or blatant stealing). Lead single “Bird Flu” rides on frantic tribal drums and chicken squawks. Stand-out “Jimmy” is actually a cover of an 80’s Bollywood number that Maya remembers dancing to as a kid, complete with swirling strings and canned disco rhythms (check out the psychedelic video at the end of this review). “Mango Pickle Down River” is built around a didgeridoo loop, a human beat-box, and the rhymes of The Wilcannia Mob, a pre-adolescent group of Aboriginal rappers. If it sounds weird it is, but it also achieves M.I.A.’s goal of putting “people on the map that never seen a map” in an exciting way.

Halfway through things finally slow down a bit, and it’s here that M.I.A.’s violently revolutionary lyrics and problematic politics come strikingly to the fore. The cut “$20,” is a delirious bit of psychedelia, biting the bass-line from New Order’s “Blue Monday” and the immortal chorus of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” while discussing the price of AK-47 assault rifles in Africa. In the next track “World Town” a call-and-response style chorus exhorts the audience “Hands up/guns out/represent/the World Town.” The woozy penultimate track “Paper Planes” uses the sound of gunshots as Maya (channeling Wreckx-N-Effect) pronounces “All I wanna do is a [blam! blam! blam! blam]/and a [ka-ching!]/ and take your money!”

What are listeners to make of this kind of posturing? It is in many respects very violent music, and the pacifist in me cringes at the idea of excusing this violence simply because it is so charmingly packaged. This album has far more sampled gunshots on it than any other album I own, and hearing them the first time was a bit jarring and unsettling. Maya's own father has ties to the Sri Lankan revolutionary group the Tamil Tigers, so her affinity for political violence makes a certain amount of sense, and it's brave of her to be so vocal about it in the age of the NSA. It's small wonder she had to cancel her performance at last May's Sasquatch Music Festival due to visa issues (which created no small amount of sadness in the heart of this reviewer).

However, closer examination reveals that M.I.A.’s polemic is both universal and hollow, advocating a kind of global liberation and freedom as an ideal, but not connecting itself to any movement or plan. There's an obvious and admirable concern for the plight of people the world over, but her revolutionary pronouncements become muddled and contradictory. She wants to fight “The Man,” but she doesn’t want to stop and figure out who or what “The Man” is.

Ultimately, M.I.A. shows herself to be more interested in shaking asses than equalizing classes. “Come Down,” the album’s closing duet with uber-producer Timbaland is all about the booty and also more relaxed than anything else here. It’s a stark reminder that this is all just pop music, but M.I.A.’s global perspective and sense of justice are both refreshing and invigorating.

This is a terrific and, I would argue, essential album. There’s not a weak song on here, and it’s guaranteed to keep your blood pumping over the course of the coming winter months. Buy this and start your own dance party immediately. Just be sure to invite me.

Jimmy Music Video

In Honor of National Banned Books Week, SALA Presents "We Read Banned Books! A Celebration of Banned and Challenged Literature"

National Banned Books Week is right around the corner, September 29th to October 6th. To recognize this event, the UW Student Chapter of the American Library Association (SALA) is presenting a special event. Titled "We Read Banned Books! A Celebration of Banned and Challenged Literature," this free event will take place on October 4th, 2007 at 6:30 pm in Room 220 of the Odegaard Undergraduate Library, right off of Red Square on the UW Campus. Head to the SALA homepage for more details.

The following remarks about this important week are from Sonja Sutherland, MLIS student, SALA vice-president, and MC of "We Read Banned Books!":

"At the end of September, libraries across the country celebrate Banned Books Week, as they have done every year since 1982. The American Library Association (ALA) compiles and publishes a list books that were challenged or banned in the previous year. Among the most challenged books over the past decade have been Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Madelaine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, J.K. Rowling’ Harry Potter series, Lois Lowry’s The Giver and, oddly enough, a picture-book by Martin Hanford called Where’s Waldo. Along with these are classics that are continually challenged: The Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, to name just a few.

"Although the ALA spearheads Banned Books Week, a variety of other organizations commemorate it in their own way. For instance, Amnesty International draws attention to the fate of those who are persecuted for works that they write, circulate or read. This year, their list includes writers such as Anna Politskovskaya, a Russian journalist who had been harassed by authorities for writing about the human rights situation in Chechnya, and was murdered in her apartment building last year; it also includes Karim Amer and Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, two prominent bloggers in Egypt who were imprisoned for their writing.

"I’ll close with a tiny excerpt from one of my favorite speeches regarding freedom of expression, delivered by Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. in 1951 to the Authors Guild Council. I find that his words are just as relevant now as they were then. In fact, if one simply substitutes the word "Communist" with "terrorist," the result is startlingly applicable to today’s political scenario:

"'We know that the Communist threat is the basis of the fears that sweep our communities. We know that that threat has substance to it. ... But we also know that the safety of our civilization lies in making freedom of thought and freedom of speech vital, vivid features of our life.'”

We hope to see you all there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Library Student’s First Law Library Experience by Kate Stockert

As the Metro bus expeditiously transported me downtown for the first day of my directed fieldwork at King County Law Library (KCLL), I found myself both giddy and nervous, wondering whether my skills and education would be sufficient for the role. Fortunately, from the first moment I stepped into the library, the KCLL staff welcomed me, sharing their breadth of knowledge, support, and patience. Each staff member took time to explain to me the intricacies of the library and his or her respective role within it. Looking back I realize how invaluable my time at KCLL will prove when I next step out into the job market.

Early Spring Quarter, resume in hand, I met with my advisor Penny Hazelton to discuss the process for setting up a directed fieldwork. Since Penny is a prominent member of the law library community, she was able to put me in contact with libraries interested in hosting me for the summer. Once we found a host library and I had registered for the course, Lorraine Bruce provided the necessary paperwork and instructions.

The first step of the directed fieldwork program required KCLL and me to agree upon five learning objectives as a means of anchoring my experience to achievable goals. The KCLL staff tailored the five objectives to my future career aspirations of working as an instructional and reference librarian, providing me with opportunities to co-teach legal research classes, and a chance to jump on board the technological superhighway by engaging in new Web 2.0 technologies. Each objective offered a good balance of autonomy and guidance, allowing me to spend time on my own to complete projects, and ask for help when needed.

Though learning reference requires several months of intense training and endless practice, KCLL found a way to help me get my feet wet by allowing me to respond to questions generated by members of the public via the library’s electronic QuestionPoint system. After I formulated responses, the KCLL staff reviewed my work and offered suggestions for improvement. These asynchronous email correspondences allowed me room to learn legal reference, since the responses were not needed immediately.

KCLL also provided me with the opportunity to contribute to the Library’s high-tech projects such as podcasting (KCLL’s SideBar) and composing a “Tech Tip” for the quarterly e-News. I particularly enjoyed writing the Tech Tip since it increases the information literacy levels of patrons, and is a great marketing tool for the library. Both the podcast and e-News helped me appreciate the law library’s need to market services and resources to patrons, and explore the multiple avenues available to libraries to “get the word out.” KCLL’s ingenuity with modern technologies helped me see the future of law libraries and the need for creativity and global thinking.

Overall, I found this experience inspiring and motivating, and it equipped me with new tools to use in class this coming school year. Thanks KCLL for a wonderful summer!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Dwindling Sun an Apt Metaphor for Boyle's "Sunshine"

Director Danny Boyle has made a career out of surprising his audience. From the brilliant twist-ending in his 1994 debut “Shallow Grave” (before twist-endings were hip!), through his darkly comic and heartwarming view of heroin addicts in 1996’s “Trainspotting,” to the last-minute villain switch in 2002’s brilliant zombie flick “28 Days Later,” an audience always has to stay on their toes when Boyle is behind the camera. Heck, every scene of 1997’s Ewan McGregor/Cameron Diaz raucous rom-com (spoof?) “A Life Less Ordinary” seems to exist solely to undermine our expectations, and to terrific effect. Boyle’s films excel when they are at their least predictable, but with “Sunshine,” Boyle and screenwriter Alex Garland prove there may be a limit to such gamesmanship. It pains me to say that, as “Sunshine” could have been Boyle’s second masterpiece (this is being written by a guy who saw Trainspotting seven times in the theater). Instead we’re left with two-thirds of a great movie that abruptly descends into slasher-flick fluff.

“Sunshine” wants to tell the story of a mission in space to save the Sun. It seems the Sun is fizzling out, threatening all life on Earth. An 8-person crew aboard the spaceship Icarus II is sent to drop an enormous nuclear weapon into the middle of the Sun in the hopes of sparking a re-ignition. Boyle and Gardner are plainly walking in the footsteps of Kubrick’s “2001” and Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” in this part of the film, as serene shots of the exterior of the spaceship are mixed with light character development and plot exhibition: the mission is explained to the audience, changed by the crew, and then severely fouled-up by a couple simple mistakes.

This whole part of the film works beautifully, moving at a thoughtful pace while slowly increasing the tension and the stakes, and adding layer-upon-layer of moral complexity and ambiguity. As with the best sci-fi, the actions and choices of individual characters become a representation of the whole scientific endeavor, with brave people reduced to insignificance by the immensity of an untamable nature but struggling valiantly on for the benefit of mankind. Though some of the plot elements (noble sacrifices, team dissention) feel recycled, they are always worked into the story effectively so as to avoid feeling trite or, even worse, like parody.

Then the crew reaches the Icarus I, the ship sent on the same mission 7 years ago which disappeared close to its completion, and all hell breaks loose, both for the characters and in the screenplay. Suddenly the efforts of these noble figures in the face of an already impossible mission are not enough, and an unexpected third-act villain is introduced. The film quickly shifts from its previously serenely eerie pace to a frenetic mish-mash of quick cuts, muddled camera tricks, pointless gross-outs, and slasher flick clich├ęs. We may have been watching “2001” a second ago but all of a sudden we’re watching “Cube,” and the film falls apart because of it.

It’s difficult to know why Boyle and Garland felt it necessary to veer so suddenly into this new direction. Were they trying (and failing) to offer the already rich moral complexities a human foil? Was the prospect of eight people flying into the Sun to save humanity just not dramatic enough? Did they write themselves into a corner and this was the only way they found to escape? Or, most terrifying at all, did somebody remember three drafts of the script into that, while thoughtful philosophical sci-fi doesn’t sell, slasher movies do?

Whatever the reasons, the film remains a spectacular failure. Boyle has always had an impressive and daring visual sense and he pulls no punches here, using creative in-camera and editing tricks and stunning special effects to create an engrossing world and allow us access into the characters’ mental states. The design of the space shuttle is unique and believable, and as the Sun looms ever closer you can feel the heat radiating off the screen. It’s worth a rental for the images alone, though I would advise the reader to skip the end once things get stabby.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do U [Heart] Libraries?

If you love the idea of a classical library with high domed ceilings, Western art, and walls lined with thick, leather-spined books, you'll probably enjoy checking out (ooh! pun intended) these photos from the Curious Expedition blog: "Librophiliac Love Letter: A Compendium of Beautiful Libraries."