Friday: Hili dialogue

December 31, 2021 • 7:00 am

Good morning on the last day of a bad year: Friday, December 31, 2021: National Vinegar Day. Why is the last day of the year Vinegar Day? Well, I suppose the whole year left a sour taste in our mouths.

It’s also National Champagne Day, Universal Hour of Peace Day, and Unlucky Day, plus all the stuff below connected with New Year’s Eve:

Google has an animated Doodle for New Year’s Eve; click on it to see where it goes:

News of the Day:

* Covid-19 is headlining all the news these days, so you probably know that today’s U.S. daily total of new virus cases, averaged over a week, is the highest yet: 265,427 cases a day on average, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s a million new cases every 4 days or so.  However, hospitalizations are not rising nearly as fast:

The seven-day average of hospitalizations, though increasing, is below both the pandemic peak of 137,510 on Jan. 10, 2021, and the smaller peak of 102,967 on Sept. 4, 2021, during the Delta surge.

This is probably because a substantial number of infections are breakthrough infections, and because omicron seems increasingly less dangerous than the previously-prevalent Delta variant. The latter view is supported by South Africa just reporting that it’s passed its four surge of the virus, but with very few deaths.

“The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering,” said Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.” The rise in deaths over the period was small, and in the last week, officials said, “marginal.”

Some scientists were quick to forecast the same pattern elsewhere.

“We’ll be in for a tough January, as cases will keep going up and peak, and then fall fast,” said Ali Mokdad, a University of Washington epidemiologist who is a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist. While cases will still overwhelm hospitals, he said, he expects that the proportion of hospitalized cases will be lower than in earlier waves.

And some good news: the J&J booster seems to provide “strong protection against the Omicron variant.” Will this be the fourth shot we’lll get?

*This was on the NBC Evening News last night, and now is in the Guardian. At a Florida zoo, cops had to kill a tiger that had grabbed a man’s arm that, against all rules, he stuck into the tiger enclosure after hours. What a moron! And it was a rare subspecies of tiger, too:

Authorities in the US have shot and killed a critically endangered tiger after it bit the arm of a man who entered an unauthorized area of the tiger’s enclosure in a Florida zoo.

The man, who is in his 20s and worked for an external cleaning service at the Naples zoo in Florida, suffered serious injuries after an eight-year old Malayan tiger named Eko bit him, authorities said on Wednesday.

“Preliminary information indicates that the man was either petting or feeding the animal, both of which are unauthorized and dangerous activities,” the Collier county sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.

It added that the third-party cleaning service which the man worked for is only responsible for cleaning restrooms and the gift shop, not the animal enclosures.

“Initial reports indicate that the tiger grabbed the man’s arm and pulled it into the enclosure after the man traversed an initial fence barrier and put his arm through the fencing of the tiger enclosure,” the statement said.

The animal, named Eko, was a Malayan tiger, a critically endangered subspecies of Panthera tigris that is native to the Malaysian peninsula. Only 80-120 mature individuals are estimated to survive in the wild.  When I think about the cops killing this animal because it had hold of the man’s arm, I wonder if it was necessary to kill the animal to make it let go. Would a shot fired in the air scare it away? Or a shot in the leg? Is death always to be the fate of such animals when weighed against the loss of part of arm? I hope the man is arrested and fined (or his company fined) a substantial amount of money.

*Sent verbatim from reader Ken:

An Oklahoma state senator has introduced a bill that would require public-school librarians to remove any book within 30 days of a single parent requesting that the book be removed. The bill requires that any librarian who fails to do so be fired and be banned for two years from employment with the state’s public school system. It further provides that the parent could collect $10,000 per day from the school system if the book is not removed as requested.

This seems unconstitutional to me, and Ken’s link says that the parents are targeting LGBTQ+ books. To give any parent the right to get a book heaved out of the library is a violation of the First Amendment, it seems to me. And, in a short time, most of the books will be removed, because, you know, every book will offend at least one parent.

*Re yesterday’s woeful op-ed in Scientific American calling E. O. Wilson (and others, notably Gregor Mendel) “racists”, the editors of the magazine should be rethinking that article after seeing these tweets:

*I urged Jean, one of the members of Team Duck, visit the “Make Way for Ducklings” monument on the Boston Common; she did and look what she found: ducks and ducklings in winter wear! Yarn-bombed! (Photos by Jean):

*Finally, today’s reported Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is 822,719, an increase of 1,221 deaths over yesterday’s figure. The reported world death toll is now 5,448,536, an increase of about 7,200 over yesterday’s total.

Stuff that happened on December 31 includes:

How did they do it? The Rhine was frozen over:

  • 1687 – The first Huguenots set sail from France to the Cape of Good Hope.
  • 1759 – Arthur Guinness signs a 9,000 year lease at £45 per annum and starts brewing Guinness.
  • 1853 – A dinner party is held inside a life-size model of an iguanodon created by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins and Sir Richard Owen in south London, England.

Here’s a depiction of that great event:

Here’s Owen. He was a good paleontologist (and coined the word “Dinosauria”), but he never signed on to Darwin’s theory of evolution.  He looks mean, too:


  • 1857 – Queen Victoria chooses Ottawa, then a small logging town, as the capital of the Province of Canada.
  • 1878 – Karl Benz, working in MannheimGermany, files for a patent on his first reliable two-stroke gas engine. He was granted the patent in 1879.

He soon made three-wheeled vehicles with that engine, which is shown below:

Here’s a video of Edison talking about his light bulb. I had no idea he’d been filmed—with sound!

  • 1907 – The first New Year’s Eve celebration is held in Times Square (then known as Longacre Square) in Manhattan.
  • 1955 – General Motors becomes the first U.S. corporation to make over US$1 billion in a year.
  • 1992 – Czechoslovakia is peacefully dissolved in what is dubbed by media as the Velvet Divorce, resulting in the creation of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic.
  • 1999 – The first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, resigns from office, leaving Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the acting President and successor.
  • 1999 – The U.S. government hands control of the Panama Canal (as well all the adjacent land to the canal known as the Panama Canal Zone) to Panama. This act complied with the signing of the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties.

Here’s roughly where the canal runs (I haven’t figure out how to draw wiggly lines on a jpg), shown on a satellite image

  • 2000 – The last day of the 20th Century and 2nd Millennium.

Remember when we all worried that our computers would go bonkers because they couldn’t handle the date?

  • 2019 – The World Health Organization is informed of cases of pneumonia with an unknown cause, detected in Wuhan. This later turned out to be COVID-19, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 2020 – The World Health Organization’s issues its first emergency use validation for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1491 – Jacques Cartier, French navigator and explorer (d. 1557)
  • 1869 – Henri Matisse, French painter and sculptor (d. 1954)

Matisse loved kitties and often painted them. Here he is with a moggy and his “Girl on Red Couch With Cat” (1938):

  • 1908 – Simon Wiesenthal, Ukrainian-Austrian Nazi hunter and author (d. 2005)
  • 1917 – Wilfrid Noyce, English mountaineer and author (d. 1962)
  • 1930 – Odetta, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actress (d. 2008)
  • 1937 – Anthony Hopkins, Welsh actor, director, and composer

Here’s a scene from one of my favorite movies, “The Remains of the Day,” in which Hopkins, a butler, discusse with the housekeeper (Emma Thompson) s a “racy book” that she found in his room. They fancy each other, but nothing ever happens. That, in fact, is one of the points of the movie. Two great actors!

Sarah Miles became famous from the 1970 movie, “Ryan’s Daughter”, for which she was nominated for an Oscar (she didn’t win). Here she is being shamed by the townspeople after it was revealed that she’d had an affair with a soldier.

  • 1943 – John Denver, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (d. 1997)
  • 1943 – Ben Kingsley, English actor
  • 1948 – Donna Summer, American singer-songwriter (d. 2012)
  • 1965 – Gong Li, Chinese actress
  • 1977 – Donald Trump Jr., American businessman and son of U.S. President Donald Trump

Those whose eyes closed forever on December 31 include:

  • 1384 – John Wycliffe, English philosopher, theologian, and translator (b. 1331)
  • 1691 – Robert Boyle, Anglo-Irish chemist and physicist (b. 1627)
  • 1972 – Roberto Clemente, Puerto Rican-American baseball player and Marine (b. 1934)

Here’s Clemente’s home run in the seventh game of the 1971 World Series, in which his Pirates won 2-0 over the Orioles. He was a very great player, and a generous one: he died at only 36 when a plane he’d chartered to bring relief supplies to earthquake stricken Nicaragua crashed.  I saw this homer live on television.

  • 1985 – Ricky Nelson, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (b. 1940)

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, soon it will be New Year’s Eve, and the cats get scared by the firecrackers and fireworks. Hili seeks consolation in Andrzej’s lap:

Hili: Will there be fireworks today?
A: Unfortunately, yes.
Hili: So I will wait them out here.
In Polish:
Hili: Czy dziś będą fajerwerki?
Ja: Niestety, tak.
Hili: To ja je tu przeczekam.
And Here’s is a picture of baby Kulka taken by Paulina but with Andrzej’s text. Kulka’s worried too!
“Two days ago Paulina documented the fact that there was snow. Today it’s no longer there and Kulka wishes for herself and others not too much noise.”

In Polish: “Paulina dwa dni temu udokumentowała fakt, że śnieg był. Dziś go juś nie ma, a Kulka życzy sobie i innym, żeby nie było za dużo huku.”

Elzbieta sent photos of Leon and Mitek with a caption:

Caption:   The cats send their regards. (In Polish:   Koty pozdrawiaja.)


From Bruce, a cat barista:

From Karl:

From Doc Bill. I love this contest!

And I couldn’t resist linking to this video from FB. Click on the link in the last sentence, and put the sound up!

On to the tweets. Here’s one from God Himself:

From Simon: Videos of an amazing case of mimicry and how it works:

From Frank, who added, “…at last!… Richard Dawkins is right on the money again!”

I disagree because Americans write the dates as December 31, 2021: Month, day, year.

From Ginger K.:  Do look at the linked article, too.

Tweets from Matthew. Is this mimicry?

This video of gamboling otters in the snow is a must-watch!

This thread shows the cat interrupting six games! But the staff still loves him:

Let’s end the year with my favorite aria from one of my favorite sopranos:


69 thoughts on “Friday: Hili dialogue

  1. I disagree because Americans write the dates as December 31, 2021: Month, day, year.

    But isn’t that’s also wrong for the same reasons that Richard Dawkins lays out? You’re just writing the month as a word instead of as a number. 31st December 2021 is OK and the convention in the UK, but I would prefer ISO-8601 2021-12-31 because it’s easier to sort and compare.

    1. I shared this reaction. But on the assumption that our host must have had something (sort of!) sensible in mind, I thought he might be pointing out the comma, as though that provides a different way of parsing the date that evades the Dawkins arguments.

    2. For me, the best reason for writing year/month/day is that it’s easy to sort documents if the name begins with the date; this makes it easier to find.

      1. [ joining this discussion mid-way for no dpecific reason ]

        I found that a three-letter abbreviation for the month is a small extra effort with good unambiguous readout, especially handwritten or hand-typed, for miscellaneous not-necessarily-machine-readable records – for example : 01jan22. It is more human-readable, IMHO.

        Programs can be made to use it, but not necessarily trivially.

  2. > Hili: Will there be fireworks today?

    I miss New Year’s fireworks. How many countries observe that tradition?

    > Year/Month/Day makes sense because it narrows down from large time unit to small.

    YYYYMMDD makes sense, but DDMMYYYY does not. Concatenate the string with a time stamp:
    YYYY/MM/DD/HH:MM:SS is consistently bigendian. In fact, that is the ISO 8601 standard!

  3. Suppose OK passes the law getting books banned, and some parent objects to the Bible. What do you want to bet they’ll find some way to leave it in the libraries.


    1. Suppose OK passes the law getting books banned, and some parent objects to the Bible.

      That was pretty much my first thought too. It’s as close to a probability=1 outcome as you’re going to get in politics. Or, for that matter, theology.
      There are also some potentially problematic ambiguities in the wording as presented, which could easily be used to drag the legislative process into the long grass.
      – Firstly, it discriminates against fine upstanding OKian citizens and tax-payers who are not parents, and want to object to – say – the Bible being in the libraries.
      – Equally, it discriminates against fine upstanding OKian citizens who are both parents and married and (etc…).
      – And what about those OKian people who are married to someone, but not to the other parent of one or more of their children.
      Wouldn’t a considerable number of the legislating house have to recuse themselves, due to being in one of the affected groups? Would their non-recusal invalidate legislation they voted on?
      Maybe OK has some process for reviewing the wording of proposed law before they go to the vote, but given the story of the “Pi=3” law (Illinois, wasn’t it? OK must be jealous.) … I’m not sure about how well they work.

      1. You know how many religious books there are in any given library? Its like one of those creepy old religious gift stores in certain nooks of the kids’ section alone.

    2. They’ve done Texas one better by adding, in additional to the nifty $10,000 fine, the promise of firing and banning a Librarian. Not enough punishment, we can do worse. I predict next year we will.

  4. “Remember when we all worried that our computers would go bonkers because they couldn’t handle the date?”

    I remember it well, and it was a damp sqib because we in the IT community spent several years making sure they wouldn’t go funny, though some of the “temporary” fixes failed a couple of years later when people forgot about them!

    My brother in law earned his retirement nest-egg fixing insurance company databases on the Isle of Man and I was offered an eye-watering daily rate to go off and fix COBOL programs (unlike him, I wasn’t willing to relocate, so I only retired six years ago though the nest-egg was fine, thank you).

    1. We also did some work on Y2K issues.

      When the predicted disaster didn’t materialize, a lot of people said that we were making it all up and there really was no need to worry in the first place.

      They had no idea that the reason the disaster DIDN’T materialize was that a significant number of people worked to prevent it.

      1. Reminds me of a saying that I quote to my governing board from time to time: “The problem with getting it right the first time is that people don’t appreciate all the hard work you put into it.”

        1. I used to get complaints that I did too much testing before releasing software and refused point blank to “get it out of the door and issue a fix if it falls over”. The crop of management at the time seemed to forget what I worked on previously for the company, change machines, where handing out free fivers would be really bad company PR. No matter, they moved on and I retired from the same company after 28 years with a bug record that I am proud of (some of the change machines are still going strong, I wish now I had added the “give me a free tenner if I enter the magic word in morse on the balance button” feature :~D)

        2. Corollary : leave “features” in there which you expect the external testers to find.
          Oh, sorry, rude word : “external tester”. Would it be better if I spelled it “unnecessary expense”?
          From an internal field staff of 30 to 80-ish, I turned in about 30% of the company’s bug reports on software releases, before the paying customers got to try to break the release. Now they’ve got no field staff and the programming staff do all the testing … well, not my problem any more.

    2. We had a neighbor, who seemed otherwise quite sensible, buy very large amounts of non-perishable food and barrels of drinking water. Then he was stuck with hundreds of pounds of rice and beans.

    3. People often tell me that Y2K was fear mongering. I think there have even been studies to suggest it was much ado about nothing. Well, I know that I personally fixed several nasty bugs that would have killed our customers’ systems on 01/01/00. The most high profile one I was involved in (but didn’t actually fix) was the UK passport issuing system which would have issued passports that expired 90 years ago had my colleagues not been on their game.

      The best story I heard was of a Sainsbury’s automated warehousing system that thought that 2000 was 1900 and therefore that anything with an expiry date after 1999 had to be thrown away. Meanwhile another part of the system would note the low stocks of certain items and order. Of course, as soon as the new stock arrived, the system would note its expiry date was in the early 1900’s and throw it out…

      1. Definitely not fear mongering – several systems that I dealt with were victims of the age: a shortage of storage, so dates were routinely limited to two digits. Several of the embedded systems I worked on in the 80s used real time clock chips that also had two digit dates, so mitigation meant assuming a 20 prefix for dates prior to 1990, and by 2089 when that assumption goes bad they would all be long gone. People really don’t remember the days when a 32K static RAM chip was the height of luxury – I had systems with a massive 2K of RAM that had to be updated to cope with this situation!

  5. The book thing (“book-not-burning”?) strikes me as symptom of weak parents who do not want to do their job, like simply reading great stories to and with their kids, or listen to their kids read.

    Fear is what drives it.

    1. Oklahoma is one of those states where the governor has a very bad case of dumb-ass. He had already told the people in the national guard they did not have to take the vaccine. Many of them who followed his orders may be leaving the service.

  6. Killing the tiger was so unnecessary as you explained. A safe and sure way the tiger would have let go would have been to fire a shot into the ground close by the tiger.

    1. I don’t get why they couldn’t have used a tranquilizer dart?

      Dad had a close encounter with a Malayan tiger when he was forced to do his National Service during the Malayan Emergency.

        1. I think a police anywhere in the U.S. would have arrived at the zoo without tranquilizer guns and even if they had them, would have killed the tiger anyway to save the idiot’s life without giving it a second thought. Police are not notable conservationists. Police training everywhere (except, perhaps LaGrange, Georgia) seems to be “If the situation calls for using a gun, shoot to kill”. In the rural Georgia town of LaGrange, police take courses to shoot to incapacitate. Police organizations and gun supporters consider the idea radical and “woke” and are against it, as is much mainstream media. Here is a link:

        2. There’s plenty of animal tranquilizer available in South Florida, but most of it gets distributed on the black market for human consumption.

        1. The Zoo should have them. There are other ways you manage a large animal, like cattle prods, a Zoo should have them

        2. But they do (sometimes) carry tasers. Which would also achieve the desired effect on the first electric shock.

          1. Trivia I learned :

            Taser is an imperfect anagram of the first letters of some of these words :

            Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle

            … it is the book series that inspired the inventor of the taser.

      1. Poachers are regularly shot in South Africa. Although the guy was not a poacher, and unarmed (disarmed?), he caused a rare threatened animal’s death.
        I think it was Peter Ward who pointed out that if your child is starving you would kill that last living parrot to feed your child.
        Are we too specieist? In any case a tragedy.

    2. Do you have experience separating tigers from their food non-lethally?
      Our host didn’t opine or explain that killing the tiger was unnecessary. He said the police “had” to kill it, notwithstanding the tragic foolishness. How do you know it would have been safe and sure to shoot into the ground? Do you know for a fact that tigers will release their hold on food (while it’s resisting) from the sound of gunfire, or correctly interpret the splat of a bullet hitting the ground near them? (While the shooter is hoping the bullet doesn’t ricochet and hit someone else.)

      The common-sense response of a police officer called to the scene of “There’s a guy at the zoo being eaten by a tiger!!” doesn’t include stopping to read the placard on the enclosure to discover that it’s a particularly rare tiger and maybe we should let the guy die or have his arm chewed off.
      As later entries here show, using non-lethal force is controversial, partly because pistol shots not fired into the centre of mass often miss entirely. A tiger with a gunshot to the leg would likely have to be put down anyway. And while you’re trying out non-lethal measures, more of the guy is getting eaten.

      1. Well, he was a dumbass for putting his arm in a tiger cage. So if you lose an arm for doing something stunningly stupid, that’s the price you pay.

      2. And while you’re trying out non-lethal measures, more of the guy is getting eaten.

        And the downside would be?

    3. I suppose they could use non letal means, like water from a pressurised hoose or a fire extinguisher. If the Zoo is not prepared to stop the tiger without a gun they should not have a tiger.

    1. Be it Western Australia or Washington state, why would dancing in your own home be prohibited? Can this be true, or is it more fake news?

  7. Killing a tiger? What for ? For man’s stupidity? Well, good he didn’t torture that tiger.
    there is a Polish proverb
    – “the blacksmith is at fault, and the Gypsy has been hanged” in the American reality they would have hanged an African-American.

    I am a Deista but when I see the intensity of stupidity and evil I like to return to “Ezekiel 25:17”

    “fuc * ki * g divine intervention” sometimes even atheists have a secret hope of it (but they don’t talk about it out loud)

    “Courtesy of Poles and the USA, I am having a heart attack, as Mark Twain used to say”

  8. Those curved spokes on drive wheels — was that just an exuberance of Victorian decorative elegance, or was it meant to actually strengthen the ability of the spokes to transmit force? (And is there a specialized term I should have used for rotational analogue of force?)

    1. Looking again in the same photo, there is a thinner and vertical wheel mounted on the far side. It seems to be one of the wheels that runs the vehicle on the ground. The spokes and their arrangement are quite different from that on the big flywheel I mentioned in previous comment. There are many of them, and they are thin and straight.

      But they are not radial. Though straight, they connect the rim to a circular hub, where they are offset quite a bit around the circumference of the hub. This has the effect that a force coming from the rotation of the hub is not exerted in a shearing direction on the spokes, as it would be if the were actually radial, but rather with a major component of “pushing on the end”. Which sounds bad now that I look at it – so maybe they are pulling?

      1. You’re right both ways. A driving wheel, which must be laced with offset spokes on at least one side of the hub, has half the spokes pushing the rim and the other half pulling. The pulling spokes gain tension from the driving device and the pushing spokes lose tension — all the spokes have to be pre-tensioned enough so that none goes slack when it is pushing (or when it is carrying the vertical load of the weight of the vehicle down through the lower-most spoke pair.). The structure is stable only if the wheel overall retains tension in all spokes at all times. If a spoke unloads repeatedly as the wheel goes around it will break prematurely at the elbow from fatigue.

    2. Interesting question. At first blush it seems like curved spokes might increase the strength of the drive wheel in one direction of rotation, but I’m not sure.

    3. The reason for curved spokes, as I read long ago, is to reduce shrinkage of the diameter the wheel, and distortion of its circumference as the hot metal cooled after it was removed from the mould where it had been cast. The curved spoke is effectively longer than just a straight spoke, and also, as the curved spoke shrinks, it tends to straighten, thus maintaining the radius.

  9. On the basis that “a good library contains something to offend everyone,” it seems that the policy Ken reports would soon lead to an empty library.

    1. Nice point, nice post, nice conclusion, but the formal logic translation isn’t quite sound:
      * For every person, there exists a book that offends him/her is not equivalent to
      * For every book, there exists a person whom it offends

      That still leaves me wondering if there is a book that does not offend anyone. Maybe a blank journal… but we’d have to think carefully about the color of the pages and of the cover.

  10. Regarding the OK library bill, first, if I were a school librarian working in that state, I would quit if the bill became law. And I think we’d see mass resignation of OK school librarians as well. Unfortunately, the schools will then staff the libraries with volunteers or clerks who they will then call “librarians,” and these people will do what they’re told without question.
    Second, and I invite Ken K. to weigh in on this, school libraries are not entirely subsumed under the First Amendment in that they are authorized to act in loco parentis. In other words, parents do have some power to determine the selection of books in school libraries, but that power is exercised democratically through the elected school board. What makes this OK bill particularly insidious is that it bypasses the school board and gives absolute power of determination to an individual. Sad to say, this is our society now, wherein anyone, whether on the Right or the Left, who’s offended by anything gets to have their way even if they are a minority of one. No more democratic process.
    I’m monitoring the American Library Association website for any statement on this particular bill. I don’t see anything that specific now, but there’s a general statement opposing censorship efforts.
    FYI, public libraries are fully covered by the First Amendment; it’s next to impossible to censor a book in a public library in the USA.

    1. It’s fun I guess to get worked up about this sort of thing. There are a zillion state legislators though and they can and do introduce all sorts of odd legislation. Just a couple of days ago in Washington state legislators introduced a bill to reduce penalties for drive-by shootings in order to promote “racial equity in the criminal legal system” (!) I don’t think that’ll pass either but it’s more likely to pass than the bill at issue here.
      There are a vast number of books, videos, and publications and there is already a selection process going on as to what gets included in a given library. Only a small fraction of works gets included in any given collection. Someone is already making those decisions. That someone is generally the (hushed, reverential tone) the Librarian, and the Librarian is already excluding lots and lots of books for various reasons. (Many of those exclusions I would agree with.)
      However, no author has a First Amendment right to have his or her work included in a given library (or any library). No citizen or library user has a First Amendment right to have a given work included. No Librarian has a First Amendment right to be the sole arbiter of which books are included in or excluded from a collection, whether it be “Beloved” or a book by E.O. Wilson.
      The Librarian has enjoyed being the sole arbiter, but the Librarian works for someone else…in a public library, the municipality, and ultimately, the voters. Most conservatives have and do let a lot of things slide, but other than a mastery of index and retrieval systems, many perceive no particular or unique wisdom or insight adhering to the status of Librarian and see no need to defer to their judgment. Sometimes (especially when age-appropriate issues come up) there is a dispute and it needs to be resolved at a higher level than the Librarian. “The question” Humpty Dumpty said, “is which is to be master…that’s all.”

      1. Disclosure: I’m a librarian, have been for thirty years. The librarian is not and never has been the sole arbiter of what items are selected to be in the collection. Public, school, academic, medical, legal, and corporate libraries all develop their collections according to policies developed and adopted by their governing boards or commissions in line with the mission of the institution. Those policies include provisions for a user/patron to challenge any item in the collection and request removal or reclassification of the item. The governing board, after receiving the challenge, requires the librarian to defend the inclusion and classification of the item in question according to policy. The board then issues a final and binding determination of whether or not the challenge has merit. If it does, then the item will be removed from the collection or reclassified to another section of the collection. If the challenger disagrees with the board’s determination, then he can excercise his power as a voter and vote in new board members who better represent his views. It’s a democratic process from start to finish. The Oklahoma bill is anti-democratic and thus should be opposed.

        1. I don’t think it can be said to be “anti-democratic” if it is passed through the legislature through normal processes. It’s stupid, though. Perhaps it’s modeled after the old Polish liberum veto. At any event seriously doubt that this sort of bill is going to got anywhere.
          I would simply add that the process that you outlined, in which the librarian is the initial and primary, but not the sole, arbiter of inclusion, classification, or rejection, and in which the citizenry has input and perhaps the ultimate and decisive input, has nothing to do with “censorship” or the First Amendment. The people in a community can seek to have their own institutions represent core social values (as they see them) ( and which values can include a robust support for a diversity of viewpoints) and there’s nothing wrong with that. Folks should use their advocacy wisely, though.

  11. Apropos the Washington Post’s “alternate meanings for common words” competition, can I just point out that John Lloyd and Douglas Adams (yes, *that* Douglas Adams) mined this rich comedy seam in their 1983 book “The Meaning of Liff” (sic). Even then, it wasn’t an original idea, although Adams and Lloyd took it to a sublime level.

    1. The Meaning of Liff only used place names though, on the basis that there were many sensations etc. that didn’t have words to describe them whilst many place names were hanging around on road signs not doing very much.

  12. ”An Oklahoma state senator has introduced a bill that would require public-school librarians to remove any book within 30 days of a single parent requesting that the book be removed.”

    Frankly I’m a bit surprised that Oklahoma, of all places, is reaching out to single parents. 😀

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