Sarah Palin’s burning issue

September 6, 2008

A row has broken out over which books Sarah Palin actually wants to ban.

This is due to a story resurfacing that on becoming Mayor of Wassilla in Alaska, Sarah asked the librarian if she could ban some books in the local library:

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Emmons told the Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider any kind of censorship. Emmons, now Mary Ellen Baker, is on vacation from her current job in Fairbanks and did not return e-mail or telephone messages left for her Wednesday.

When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there.

Like many Alaskans, Kilkenny calls the governor by her first name.

“Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?” Kilkenny said.

“I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.'”

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, refused the ban and a few months later Sarah Palin tried to fire her for lack of support.

After a public outcry in Alaska, Palin was instead forced to keep Mary Ellen in her post.

Mary Ellen decided to resign in 1999. “[Palin] essentially forced Mary Ellen out,” says June Pinnell-Stephens, chair of the Alaska Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee and a friend of Mary Ellen Baker’s [Emmons]. “She all but fired her.”

Well it obviously wasn’t for the want of trying!

Some bloggers have a list of banned books but in all the blogs I have read the list actually comes from a site naming banned books – at one time or another – in America.

No-one as yet has come up with a definitive list of books Sarah Palin would like banned.

We know Sarah Palin is a creationist. So it doesn’t take a lot of guesswork to deduce that Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution would be one of the books. Or anything by Richard Dawkins.

We know that America is no stranger to book burning either. Even the Harry Potter books have gone up in flames.

Harry Potter book burning in New Mexico

Its incredible in this day and age that people will want to burn books just because they disagree with their premise or theories. Its almost as if the Enlightenment never happened.

“Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” – Heinrich Heine. The Nazis burned his books among others in 1933.

Of course if these religious fundamentalists like Sarah Palin actually burned some of the books that were left in Travelodge hotels then we’d probably complain less about it!

Top ten books left in Travelodge hotels:-

1. Prezza: Pulling No Punches by John Prescott
2. My Booky Wook by Russell Brand
3. Speaking For Myself by Cherie Blair
4. Don’t You Know Who I Am by Piers Morgan?
5. Angel Uncovered and Crystal by Katie Price
6. You and Your Money by Alvin Hall
7. Lessons in Heartbreak by Cathy Kelly
8. Blind Faith by Ben Elton
9. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
10. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

I mean if it was just the thrill of burning books then there wouldn’t be too many complaints if John Prescott and Russell Brands’ books were in the pile, surely? I mean apart from environmental concerns anyway! Not that the environment bothers Sarah Palin in any case.

But no. Its always The Catcher in the Rye and Catch 22 and the rest, isn’t it?

Once the argument for one book to be burned is made, its easier for religious fundamentalists to carry on burning others. That’s why even John Prescott’s Prezza: Pulling No Punches deserves to be spared.

At least until the first bad winter anyway!

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Güldenstädt and the Caucauses

August 13, 2008

I hope the current ceasefire between Georgia and Russia holds, so that diplomacy can take hold instead of war.

Certainly its a positive sign.

So I’m going to be positive too and write a small piece on a not so famous naturalist, Johann Anton Güldenstädt.

Güldenstädt was a Latvian naturalist and explorer, born in Riga in 1745. He studied in Germany before making the first scentific expedition to Georgia and the Caucauses.

From 1768 to 1775 he travelled throughout the region observing and noting species, languages and culture.

The Terek River starts in the mountains of Georgia. It runs near South Ossetia to North Ossetia before turning east to run into the Caspian Sea.

Its obviously here that Güldenstädt first collected the Terek Sandpiper, detailed in BWP as in 1775. (I say collected as thats what the old naturalists did. They shot the species to identify it, optics being rudimentary at the time.)

Terek Sandpiper

Its a widespread species across much of Asia, even found on African coasts and Australia. Its breeding range now stretches to Latvia and Finland and it is coincidental that it is called a Terek Sandpiper in view of the fact that the Terek River is only on its migration route southwards.

Its a very rare vagrant to Scotland and the rest of Europe.

Another species collected by Güldenstädt is the Güldenstädt redstart. This large mountainous redstart is found in the high altitudes of the Caucauses and the Himalayas.


It is also known as the White-winged redstart but doesn’t Güldenstädt’s redstart sound a lot better?

Its one of the top reasons for birders to visit Georgia.

Güldenstädt also collected and described the Ferruginous Duck and several freshwater fish.

It was only after his death in 1781 that Peter Simon Pallas – a far more well known naturalist – published an edited version of Güldenstädt’s journal; Travels in Russia and the Mountains of the Caucasus.

Perhaps when Georgia gets back to some sort of normality after this conflict, birders will once again travel to see his enigmatic redstart.

The tipping point

July 23, 2008

I am reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point where he argues that once a certain percentage is reached then it catches on and becomes an epidemic.

His tipping point theories can be applied to almost anything. Fashion, the Internet, Crime, Poverty, Politics.

For any idea or thing to become a phenomemon, he argues, you need the right personality types in place – only a few might do – and for the idea itself to be ‘sticky’ i.e. simple, easily understood and passed on.

Once these personality types convince a certain proportion of the population, it can then become an epidemic.

That brings me to the Glasgow East by-election.

The very constituency epitimises Labour’s stranglehold on west central Scotland. If the SNP do well here then the subsequent political earthquake that Alex Salmond predicted may well happen.

I think Gordon Brown will try and ride out the storm.

But the SNP winning the seat or coming so close may just create a situation where public opinion catches onto to the perception that Labour is desperate and the SNP are on a roll. That seems to have a lot of stickiness in the current polls.

The question now is not so much has that tipping point been reached for Labour. You would be hard pushed to find anyone outside of the Labour Party who thinks they will win the next election. Even some Labour MPs think they’ll lose it.

The question now is have the SNP come near to their tipping point? Because when that happens independence will be inevitable.

Like it or not, independence has Gladwell’s quality of “stickiness”. Its easy to understand and furthermore it has lots and lots of independent countries around the world that provide motivation. That motivation is an obstacle for unionists to try and push their own tipping point the other way. Why is independence good enough for other countries but not for Scotland? Its a tough argument to counter morally.

Gladwell, an American, offers the example of Paul Revere; the man who organised American resistance to the British in the American War of Independence.

He says Revere was a ‘connector’ – a man who knew the right people.
Revere was also a ‘maven’ – a man who had the right intelligence.
The other category is ‘salesman’ – obviously someone who can persuade people. And if those people have motivation and can see a multitude of success factors, its an easier sell.

Once these three types are on your side then The Tipping Point can be reached.

I’m sure both nationalists and unionists can identify people in their camps that are one or the other or even all three.

But the main problem I see for unionists is that their message lacks Gladwell’s stickiness.

For one thing, unionists aren’t even agreed on that message. The Liberal Democrats want federalism, the Conservatives are toying with English votes for English matters, Labour may want more powers or the status quo, depending on who you speak to.

Without that ‘stickiness’ of consensus from the unionists, all the connectors, mavens and salesmen of the unionists haven’t a hope of stopping the independence bandwagon reaching that Tipping Point.

Meanwhile, the connectors, mavens and salesmen of the SNP are given a free run towards that 2010 referendum.

Glasgow East might not be the Tipping Point.

But its as near as it gets.