Yes, it's time to bring a beloved institution into the 21st century -- but not by making it less effective
As a former head of the state library agency in Massachusetts and a taxpayer myself, I read with interest the recent Atlantic editorial in which an elected official from Swampscott, Massachusetts proposed public library user fees as a reasonable and "modern" solution to some perceived imbalance.
Under this proposal, a 50 cent user fee would be added to each book circulated by the library. In addition to addressing the supposed tax inequity created by the current system of funding for the Swampscott Library, the proposal would generate an estimated $300,000 in additional funds for the library.
The fact is: This would be the costliest additional revenue ever generated.
The reasons for this are twofold: First of all, this fee, while described as nominal, would hurt those most in need of the free services the library offers. While Swampscott is a relatively well-to-do town by national standards, there are plenty of unemployed and/or poor people living in the town. The costs that might not make a difference to the wealthiest users would certainly constitute an additional barrier to use for almost everyone else.
This would be even more the case for young people. Given the overwhelming proof that library use makes better readers, higher achievers, and more successful workers, we want our young people to feel comfortable coming into their local library, whether or not they have money in their pocket. The impact of these fees would certainly be a disincentive for those young users who would benefit most from library use.
The second reason is plain old economics. The municipality invested $560,000 in local taxes library services last year, about 1 percent of the total municipal budget and about $40 per capita for each of the town's 14,000 residents. In return, the library circulated 161,000 items in 2009 (not 600,000 as claimed), about $3.50 per circulation. And that's not counting all the story hours for children, public access computer usage, public programs, assistance in locating information on health, financial and e-government information, interlibrary loans and many other valuable educational services provided to the community. The 50 cent fee would actually generate about $80,000 in revenue, not $300,000.
The impact of the "nominal" user fee would unquestionably be a reduction in the library's use. This is very evident in France, where some local libraries charge small user fees in addition to receiving public support. The result: Libraries are used much less, resulting in a much lower return on the public support provided.
In short, the small amount of additional revenue results in a much less effective use of the public support. With a fixed investment in a service that benefits those who use it and their community the more they use it, you want them to use it as much as possible. Seems perfectly clear, right?
Now, as to the notion that we need to stop thinking like it's 1900. Libraries stopped thinking like it was 1900 many years ago, and are now providing users with access to online digital resources (and the really valuable ones are not free) e-books and 24/7 online access to library services. And national surveys show that the public considers public libraries the most effectively run of all municipal services.
Libraries provide all residents with unlimited access to the reading and information resources that will mean the difference between success and failure for Swampscott residents as individuals, Swampscott as a town, and the United States as a nation. They are supported by a very modest contribution of public tax funds, and provide a fabulous return on this investment by any measure.
Sure, the library is an old fashioned concept. So is democracy. So is equal opportunity. So is getting your facts right.
Black poverty is fundamentally distinct from white poverty—and so cannot be addressed without grappling with racism.
There have been a number of useful entries in the weeks since Senator Bernie Sanders declared himself against reparations. Perhaps the most clarifying comes from Cedric Johnson in a piece entitled, “An Open Letter To Ta-Nehisi Coates And The Liberals Who Love Him.” Johnson’s essay offers those of us interested in the problem of white supremacy and the question of economic class the chance to tease out how, and where, these two problems intersect. In Johnson’s rendition, racism, in and of itself, holds limited explanatory power when looking at the socio-economic problems which beset African Americans. “We continue to reach for old modes of analysis in the face of a changed world,” writes Johnson. “One where blackness is still derogated but anti-black racism is not the principal determinant of material conditions and economic mobility for many African Americans.”
As Coldplay blandly strained for the universal, she and Bruno Mars pulled off something more specific and more daring.
What a perfect Beyoncésong name: “Formation.” All great pop involves people acting in formation. So does all great change. And while fans scream that Beyoncé’s a “queen” and “goddess,” her core appeal really is as a drill sergeant. With Beyoncé in command, greatness is scalable, achievable, for the collective. Everyone waves their hands to the same beat. Everyone walks around like they have hot sauce in their bag.
But in pop and in politics, “everyone” is a loaded term. Stars as ubiquitous as Beyoncé have haters, the “albino alligators” who “Formation” informs us she twirls upon. And in a more general historical sense, “everyone” can be a dangerous illusion that elevates one point of view as universal while minimizing others. Beyoncé gets all of this, it seems. As a pop star, she surely wants to have as broad a reach as possible. But as an artist, she has a specific message, born of a specific experience, meaningful to specific people. Rather than pretend otherwise, she’s going to make art about the tension implied by this dynamic. She’s going to show up to Super Bowl with a phalanx of women dressed as Black Panthers.
Will the Democratic Party nominate a candidate who hasn’t been a member of their party, and who has long denounced it?
When a party chooses its presidential candidate, it also chooses its party leader in the election. This year the Democrats face an unusual situation. Bernie Sanders isn’t just an outsider to the party establishment; he’s not even been a member of the party, and has long excoriated it in unsparing language. Although the media haven’t much focused on this history, the early signs suggest it could become a problem for Sanders in getting the nomination—and a problem for the party if he does get it.
According to the entrance polls at the Iowa caucuses, there was a 30-percentage-point split between self-identified Democrats and independents in their support for Sanders. Hillary Clinton won 56 percent of self-identified Democrats but only 26 percent of independents, while Sanders won only 39 percent of Democrats but 69 percent of independents.
For decades the Man of Steel has failed to find his groove, thanks to a continual misunderstanding of his strengths.
Superman should be invincible. Since his car-smashing debut in 1938, he’s starred in at least one regular monthly comic, three blockbuster films, and four television shows. His crest is recognized across the globe, his supporting cast is legendary, and anybody even vaguely familiar with comics can recount the broad strokes of his origin. (The writer Grant Morrison accomplished it in eight words: “Doomed Planet. Desperate Scientists. Last Hope. Kindly Couple.”) He’s the first of the superheroes, a genre that’s grown into a modern mass-media juggernaut.
And yet, for a character who gains his power from the light of the sun, Superman is curiously eclipsed by other heroes. According to numbers provided by Diamond Distributors, the long-running Superman comic sold only 55,000 copies a month in 2015, down from around 70,000 in 2010—a mediocre showing even for the famously anemic comic-book market. That’s significantly less than his colleague Batman, who last year moved issues at a comparatively brisk 150,000 a month. Mass media hasn’t been much kinder: The longest-running Superman television show, 2001’s Smallville, kept him out of his iconic suit for a decade. Superman Returns recouped its budget at the box office, but proved mostly forgettable.2013’s Man of Steel drew sharp criticism from critics and audiences alike for its bleak tone and rampaging finale. Trailers for the sequel, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, have shifted the focus (and top billing) to the Dark Knight. Worst of all, conventional wisdom puts the blame on Superman himself. He’s boring, people say; he’s unrelatable, nothing like the Marvel characters dominating the sales charts and the box office. More than anything, he seems embarrassing. Look at him. Truth? Justice? He wears his underwear on the outside.
The insects are miniature transformers that can compress to half their size and still run really fast. The creepy little buggers might even inspire a new generation of search and rescue robots.
Cockroaches get everywhere. There they are, somehow, against all odds, in that room that looked to be totally sealed from the outside world, in that cupboard you swore was tightly shut. Now, Kaushik Jayaram and Robert Full from the University of California, Berkeley have discovered the secret behind their feats of infiltration.
By confronting American cockroaches with an ever-narrower series of crevices, the duo found that although this insect typically stands 12 millimeters tall, it can squeeze through gaps of 3 millimeters—the height of two stacked U.S. pennies. It does this by squatting down and then compressing its body by half. It is the world’s worst Transformer: instantly changing shape from a cockroach into a much flatter cockroach. Delightful.
The former president’s heated assault on Bernie Sanders is a reminder of how the Clintons have long reacted to any opposition.
One of my oldest Hillary Clinton memories: Twenty-six years ago, I stood in the second-floor rotunda of the Arkansas Capitol half-listening to a news conference by Tom McRae, an earnest Democrat challenging Governor Bill Clinton for re-election. Then I heard it: Click. Clack. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.
The sound of Hillary Clinton’s low-heeled shoes on a hidden marble hallway jarred McRae, who in 1990 was Bill Clinton’s biggest obstacle to a fifth term and a presidential bid two years later. The first lady of Arkansas rounded the corner and stormed his news conference. “Tom!” she shouted. “I think we oughta get the record straight!”
Waving a sheaf of papers, Hillary Clinton undercut McRae’s criticism of her husband’s record by pointing to McRae’s past praise of the governor. It was a brutal sandbagging. “Many of the reports you issued not only praise the governor on his environmental record,” she said, “but his education and his economic record!”
Tracking them down is a globe-trotting adventure that rivals any jungle expedition.
In the darkness of the Akeley Hall of Mammals, swarms of kids gawk at beautifully staged dioramas of Africa’s wildlife. The stuffed safari, nestled in the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York, includes taxidermied leopards stalking a bush pig, preserved ostriches strutting in front of warthogs, and long-dead baboons cautiously considering a viper. In one corner, in a display marked “Upper Nile Region,” a lone hippo grazes next to a herd of lechwe, roan antelope, and a comically stern shoebill stork.
“This is my favorite one,” says Evon Hekkala, pointing to the display. “There’s a taxidermied crocodile tucked away down there.”
It takes a while to spot it and I have to crane my head to do so, but yes, there it is—a large crocodile, in the back, mouth agape, next to the hippo. It’s mostly hidden from view, and until recently, it was hidden from science, too.
Immediately, the pings from fellow journalists (and media-adjacent folk) came pouring in, all saying something along the lines of, “Can you actually let me know what you find out? I’m addicted to that stuff.”
They mean “addicted” in the jokey, dark-chocolate-and-Netflix-streaming way, but the habit can border on pathological. For me, rock bottom was a recent, obscenely long workday during which an entire 12-pack of coconut La Croix somehow made it down my throat, can by shining can.
As the discipline began to emerge, a group of passionately religious academics wanted it to become a tool for limiting child labor and fighting poverty.
From its earliest days, the American college was a Protestant enterprise. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and Princeton were all founded to educate Protestant ministers and the men who would sit in the pews of their churches. It was common for public universities in the 19th century, too, to have an explicitly Protestant hue. As late as the early 20th century, elite colleges still discriminated against Catholics and Jews, both as students and faculty members. After 1920, even when Catholics and Jews started to be hired as faculty members, they still could not find work easily teaching American literature or American history because it was thought that only Protestants could properly carry on the lineage that defined the American character.
The trust people tend to feel toward others in the same ethnic, racial, and political groups makes them easy targets for scammers.
Last week’s ABC mini-series chronicled the most famous financial fraud in recent American history: Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme, which devastated elite institutions and families of the American Jewish community. The scale of Madoff’s crimes was breathtaking. There’s much to be said about his crimes—not least about the incompetence of the regulatory apparatus that failed to stop him despite repeated warnings and what researchers Greg Gregoriou and Francois Lhabitant quite appropriately called “a riot of red flags” over many years.