What Would Mr. Carnegie Think?

The University of California-Berkeley recently remodeled its undergraduate library. With the remodel, they have lifted the ban on bringing food and drink inside. There is no longer any danger of books in the library being damaged by spilled food or drink. The reason: there are no longer any books in the library.

As we all know, if it’s on the Internet, it must be true, so the library has been re-styled to serve as a gathering place for students to gather for important discussions, complete with power supplies for laptops and whiteboards for recording vital ideas, and monitors to view work produced in PowerPoint, that scourge of civilized discourse.

What, no Foosball table?

“It’s the wave of the future,” a professor said. “The idea of research in a library is becoming archaic, versus Googling on the Internet. Maybe they’re not accessing the best information with what comes up on Google, but people are used to finding things on the Internet.”

Read more about it here.

Postscript: At my high school – an all-boys institution –  a major project junior year was the research paper. This involved evenings of research at the downtown public library. The downtown library was usually frequented by students from other schools – of the girl gender.

Records… What Are Records?

Vinyl records are having a resurgence. Enough people remember what music sounded like before the current era of sterile downloaded digital recordings reproduced through crappy ear buds. Vinyl discs required careful handling, touching only the edges, to avoid scratching the playing surface. When the needle dropped into the groove, pops and skips and scratchy sounds showed the futility of the effort. In spite of that, serious audiophiles spend thousands of dollars on turntables and tube-powered amplifiers.

And record stores are still in business. Some people still purchase compact discs and brand-new twelve-inch vinyl record albums. (No doubt including oldsters who have a much easier time trying to read the notes and deciphering the graphics on the larger album sleeves.) Some artists still record albums with thematic unity. Buying and selling used vinyl and CDs is a thriving business.

Tower Records is gone, but independent record stores are still in business. April 22 is their day. (It’s also Earth Day.) Go visit your local business where they care about the music.


My favorite: Last Record Store in Santa Rosa, California.


You Are What You Eat

Although its economy is shaky, Italy has the world’s healthiest population according to Bloomberg News. An Italian newborn can expect to live into his or her eighties. Sierra Leone, where life expectancy is 52, ranks 163. The United States, with its obese population, comes in at 34.

Italians, known for a diet filled with pasta and prosciutto, also consume lots of vegetables and, of course, extra-virgin olive oil.

We’ve been told breakfast is the most important meal. What is a typical breakfast in healthy countries? (Pop-Tarts or dairy products flavored with Starbucks coffee gets you number 34.) Here’s how people start the day in the healthy countries:

  1. Italy – cappuccino or espresso and, yup, pastry
  2. Iceland – granola or oatmeal with berries, bread and butter,
  3. Switzerland – granola with fruits and nuts
  4. Singapore – noodles, noodles and noodles, usually with broth
  5. Australia – espresso coffee and, um, Vegemite

Denny’s Grand Slam was not on any of the top-ten breakfasts.

The Romans and the First Good Friday

Mt. Calvary (Golgotha) today

The Romans occupying Galilee had a preferred remedy for Jewish rabble rousers stirring up the common folk: crucifixion. It was the favored method of executing slaves and enemies of the state. Being crucified was considered the most shameful and disgraceful way to die. Condemned Roman citizens were usually executed by other means. Crucifixion was a slow, painful death, carried out publicly. Corpses of the crucified were typically left on the crosses to decompose and be eaten by birds and animals, a reminder to others under Roman rule about who was in charge.

To the Romans there was nothing special about Jesus of Nazareth; he was just another itinerant prophet roaming the area preaching and performing miracles. Jesus spoke of another kingdom, the kingdom of god that his followers should be striving for. Jesus and others were guilty of sedition and were dealt with quickly and brutally by their Roman occupiers.

(Here is a Top Ten list of fun ways people were executed in the ancient – and not-so-ancient – world.)

Historians and religious scholars have tried to draw a portrait of Jesus of Nazareth from the scant historical evidence apart from any judgment about divinity. It was Reza Aslan, though, who stirred up controversy with the publication of his book Zealot. Aslan’s offense was having the temerity to be a Muslim of Iranian descent. Never mind that he was a religious scholar and a professor at the University of California, Riverside. Take a look at a popular news outlet’s interview with Mr. Aslan.

The Latest Tourist Destination

You may recall Salinas as the place where Bobby McGee slipped away. It’s also John Steinbeck’s hometown. Salinas was so proud if its native son that they burned his masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath on Main Street. Citizens felt insulted by the roguish characters inhabiting his novels Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men. Many of the picaresque adventures Steinbeck depicted took place in California’s Salinas Valley and Monterey Peninsula.

Over the years, stubborn Steinbeck fans have made pilgrimages to the California coast south of San Francisco to take in the settings and get a feel for the moods of Steinbeck’s novels. As the fortunes of the city of Salinas waned, and commerce moved away from the downtown core, the city leaders struggled with how to revive the local economy. The shiny new National Steinbeck Center opened in 1998 at 1 Main Street. The multi-media museum includes among its features “Rocinante,” the GMC pickup and camper namesake of Don Quixote’s horse that was Steinbeck’s traveling home as he toured the U.S. for Travels with Charley, his attempt to illuminate the soul of America. The facility’s archives contain original manuscripts of the author’s work, correspondence and video interviews.

The Center, and its annual Steinbeck Festival (May 5-7 this year) brings tens of thousands of visitors to the otherwise drab farming town. Restaurants and other tourist-oriented business on and around Main Street are thriving. Travel writers are spreading the word about Salinas as a vacation destination.

The National Steinbeck Center on its own is worth the trip. Only a short distance away is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You will need more than one day to experience both.

Culinary note: If you like donuts, real donuts, not the fancy four-dollar “gourmet” kind, or the hipster Voo-Doo experience, go to Red’s Donuts in downtown Monterey. You will be satisfied.