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Fred Ruffner

The founder of the company that employs me, Fred Ruffner, passed away this month. He built the company from one desk and an idea in 1954 into something with 400 employees and a large range of vital library references that he sold in 1985 for $66 million. He then started another publishing company, along with a few other library and book organizations. Library Journal had a fine obit for him.

His tenure and mine overlapped for just a short while. I started about six months after the big sale, and he stayed on as president for a year or two after the sale. Of course, since I was a measly assistant editor, our paths did not cross. His influence still impressed me, though. My favorite bits were the odd things he did with the company, such as the reprint business — rescuing long out-of-print reference works across many different subjects (which Gale no longer does). He also purchased artifacts, such as The Bookworm that was mentioned in the LJ article, or the Cotgreave Library Indicator that I photographed last year. People who have been at Gale longer than I have tell fascinating stories about Fred. It certainly is a different company these days, that's for sure.


Aug. 19th, 2014

What a week — I mean last week; I'm a bit late, here. Monday is what really set it off. MOST of the day was all right, but at around 6:30 p.m. I got in my car.

First, I heard the news about Robin Williams from the car radio. It was as if someone cracked a two-by-four across my chest. I didn't realize I felt as much affection and admiration for him as I apparently do. I don't have anything more to say, especially nothing that hasn't already been said. Just ... damn.

And then I started driving. It had rained all day, already, but the heaviest part of the storm was in full swing. I avoided the freeway because the traffic reporters said parts were flooding already, but the surface streets were no better. At one point, one very long, long point, I circled Ferndale repeatedly trying to avoid huge expanses of standing water on the streets. Finally there was nothing to do except drive through some of these expanses. (Well, I could've gone back to Java Hutt and stayed for hours and hours of coffee.) At one point my car was floating, and I passed a stalled commuter bus. It took 4 1/2 hours to get home — it usually takes only 25-30 minutes.

Most of the freeways were closed well into Tuesday. The interchange of I-75 and I-696 didn't open until Thursday, and there is still damage to be repaired in that area. And there are many, many streets lined with furniture, boxes, and carpeting that had been in basements that flooded. Some wag, invoking the huge hurricane of 2005, called this storm Latrina because of the basement flooding. Fortunately, my neighborhood was in between two significant floods and was relatively dry. It helps that I have no basement.

Then add all the other things going on: the civic violence in Ferguson, Missouri, the campaign against ISIL in Iraq, the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, the conflict between Hamas and Israel... it was a rough week and I wasn't even involved in any of that stuff.

A big improvement came with the weekend, though. Dave came up and we went to the Woodward Dream Cruise. This was the 20th annual event, and you would expect photos here, except... well, I do have some. We cruised in my silly modern car on Friday, and on Saturday we parked and walked around Woodward between 12 Mile and 13 Mile Roads. It was fun and I didn't even think about how sucky the world is for minutes at a time.

Neil Young's Letter Home

Neil Young had a new album out. I'd barely heard anything about it when I was in Best Buy looking at the ever-dwindling CD selection, but I grabbed it. It's called A Letter Home and is a collection of songs from other writers that he finds significant. It includes a couple of classic Gordon Lightfoot songs, Phil Ochs, Bert Jansch, Willie Nelson (two from him), etc. It took me a couple of weeks to listen to it, but I popped it into my car's CD player on a trip from Dave's through Ohio. What surprised me first was how lo-fi it was. Turns out it was recorded in a restored Voice-O-Graph booth at Jack White's Third Man operation in Nashville. This particular machine dates back to 1947 and allows one to record direct-to-vinyl, analog of course. It sounds rough, and it sounds authentic. The performances are minimal (there's only so much this machine can do) which is perfect for these songs. There are spoken word bits by Neil, as if he's narrating a letter to his late mother. That just adds to the winsomeness of the whole thing.

My first thought was, if someone like Neil was just starting out, maybe he has a couple of songs of his own but he's mostly performing covers, this is the demo he'd do. There are a couple of songs that, even if he loves them, he probably would've been advised to choose differently. But actually I wouldn't change a thing. This is Neil not just honoring his heroes, and not just celebrating the past. He's creating something that a lot of us can relate to, those of us who think that not everything has to be so goddamn digitally perfect in every bit and byte. There's lots to admire in that.


Aug. 3rd, 2014

It's been a rough month, even considering there was a folk festival up north in the middle of it. I've been sick with what has turned out to be an upper respiratory infection since the Independence Day weekend. What has been really odd about this is, it started out with vaguely cardiac symptoms (!), including tachycardia and headaches and light-headedness. So the first trip to the doctor led to a new blood pressure medication and a bunch of tests. Unfortunately, this was the day before the gunk started settling into my chest and the coughing started. I do wish the doctor had seen that before he sent me off for a stress test.

Fortunately, I was still able to go to the Hiawatha Music Festival to hang out with my friends and listen & play some music. Unfortunately, I already couldn't sing much, but we mostly play instrumentals anyway. This was just days after a vaunted "polar vortex" invaded. Its P.R. overstated things and it actually got too hot, for once. But it was a great time and I was very glad to see my Marquette friends.

Then I got home and the sickness doubled down. Maybe I had fever before I actually got the thermometer out, but I definitely did after I remembered I owned one. (Note: I'm not very good at this sick thing.) Finally, last Monday, I went back to the doctor, saw the nurse practitioner, who gave me an antibiotic and three days of steroids and an antihistamine. I went home, slept all afternoon, and the fever broke that very day.

Now I just sound like a tubercular patient, but really I feel better, unless I have to walk a lot and cough at the same time. My stamina really sucks right now. But I do believe I'm getting better. It just seems this version of the bug takes a while to depart completely. As it turns out, my sister had the exact same thing, a week earlier than I did, with the exact same introduction. My niece, on the other hand, started her version of this out with pancreatitis (right in the middle of her family moving house). If I was a physician, I would be fascinated with the epidemiology of this.

Speaking of the cardiac things, I do have two more tests coming up this month. I guess it's good to be careful about these things, but I wonder if my doctor is actually considering that it was all from the infection in the first place, and I don't have more heart disease than I started out with. I guess I'll know by the end of the month.

ANYWAY... all of this has made me really quiet and inactive here on LJ. I hate doing "I'm sick" posts, but then I'd procrastinate on any other subject. I was having problems staying awake enough to read things, even. Since I'm getting better overall, maybe I'll be able to get back to reading and writing here again. I hope so, since my paid account renewed itself since I last posted.
On the trip home from Dave's on Sunday, I caught the last half of this week's episode of the radio show On Being, which explores themes of religion and spirituality. Luckily enough, later in the evening I caught the whole show a few miles further down the road.

This week's episode, special for Independence Day, dealt with the history of the principle of separation of church and state in the U.S. The guests were two authors, Steven Waldman, who wrote Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, and Philip Hamburger, author of Separation of Church and State.

My prime takeaway from it was, what most Americans think of as "separation of church and state," what they've always thought of, in fact, is the separation of the state from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. In the early days of this country, they were not concerned with religion in general. In fact, most of the colonies had official, established faiths—Protestant ones, though. The last state with an established faith, Massachusetts, finally disestablished it in the 1830s. Anti-Catholic sentiment existed for decades and decades, if it's even gone today. But to say, as some of us do today, that the separation notion means things should be especially secular is something that many Americans vehemently disagree with.

Should "separation of church and state" mean all churches? The wording tends to be broad enough to imply yes.

Another interesting tidbit was the role of the Ku Klux Klan in supporting the separation of church and state. Well known for its racist tendencies, the Klan was at least as anti-Catholic as it was anti-black. So it supported separation of church and state because it kept Catholics down. Supreme Court justice Hugo Black, who wrote several opinions that defined a broader reach of separation, was in his younger days a member of the Klan, though late in life he said it was mostly because he thought it was good for his political career to do so (he was a U.S. Senator before his Supreme Court tenure).

This is all stuff I should've learned long ago. And the radio show covered more, too. Take a listen at the link in the first paragraph.

Clay man (well, clay pot man)

Man of Clay Pots
This gentleman was at an outdoor garden store; I snapped his photo as Dave and I drove by in May to pick up his friend to go to dinner. I'd have to think he'd be a more formidable foe in an argument than a straw man, though perhaps a little brittle in his arguments.


Jul. 7th, 2014

Hey there, how ya been? Yeah, I know I've been AWOL lately. That wasn't my plan, but then I can't really say I had a plan in the first place. I had this vague idea that I would do Stuff and maybe Things, but then I took a bunch of long naps, and there you are. I just went to visit Dave for his birthday; it was one of those with the big round numbers attached, and we ate out a lot as a result. There were also gifts involved, including this, which is kind of incredible. I know one shouldn't brag about gifts one gives, but this one seemed like quite the accomplishment for someone who isn't really any good at gifting.

I have a couple of good ideas for future posts. I've said that before and you've no reason to believe me now, I'm sure, but I will write them, really I will. I'll have to do it this week, though, because next week I'm off to the wilds of the Upper Peninsula for the Hiawatha Music Festival with all my Marquette friends. Remind me to pick up my mandolin and try to remember how to play it.

Anyway, that's the quick news. How've you been? You're looking good, y'know.

Not quite the North Dakota I know

Oil drilling threatens solitude of national park
The park in question is Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. You've possibly heard recently that the city with the highest rents in America is Williston, North Dakota, because of the huge oil boom requiring a whole lot of workers, and there isn't enough housing for them all right now. (And they're getting a new mall, too.) What all these workers are doing is not a new story, though. North Dakota is going through an oil boom that has placed it second behind Texas in oil production in a very few years. Reports started coming out about this a year or two ago. The boom is centered not far from the north unit of TRNP, an area up till now mostly devoted to cattle raising. Oil drilling inside the park itself is not allowed, but the derricks and other artifacts of oil production are increasingly visible from within the park itself. This is especially true at night, when flares from the rigs (burning off natural gas that the facilities can't handle yet) ruin the view of the night sky.

I worked in Medora, ND, just south of the south unit of TRNP, in 1982, and in 1990 I went back on vacation with a camera. Inside the park, the wind and the silence enveloped me, pushing the desolate landscapes and wildness into my spirit. Evidence of the human world was relatively scarce and often historic, such as Roosevelt's cabins. It's the sort of thing the future president himself sought and absorbed in his dark night of the soul in the mid-1880s.

People need to make a living, I understand this. It's still unfortunate, though. It seems humans can't go anywhere without needing to spoil any wildness that survives. I guess the next time I go to TRNP, I'll have to be careful where I direct my gaze if I'm looking for an unspoiled vista.

That was another week that was

I have to admit that Reddit managed to displace my LJ time last week. On a couple of evenings, it would be 11:30 p.m. and I would realize I hadn't read anything on LJ, let alone posted. Mind, it's not as if I'm posting anything on Reddit, either; I'm still trying to get my sea legs there. But there is a lot to read there. I sometimes think that Reddit is what Usenet was once as far as useful and interesting content without a lot of spam.

I only managed a couple of useful things over the weekend, but one of them was getting the air conditioning in the car recharged. That was the last part of the work necessary from my a/c breakdown in Findlay, Ohio last month. It's nice to have a cool car without having the windows down. I don't enjoy high wind noise in my ears at 70 mph.

Yesterday I went for a drive, hoping to find photo locations. I didn't get out of the car much, though, because I'd left the house too late in the day and I was starting to think about dinner. I drove around Wetzel State Recreation Area, which is near where I lived when I went to middle and high school. The park has been under development for a long time but now has a nature trail, some restored wetlands, and a radio-controlled aircraft field. The latter doesn't interest me much, but I want to give the trails a try. I think I heard a sora rail yesterday while I was in the parking lot looking at the park signs and posters, though that's doubtful enough that I would've had to go looking for it.

The rest of the week was pretty routine at work. Still not doing much at home that doesn't involve staring at a computer screen for hours and hours. I got to the gym three times, which I'm happy about.

The missing week

Oh no, I didn't write any LJ posts at all last week! Here are the high points:

1. I registered for Reddit is a site where people post stories, links, and images and then other users give feedback on them. The popular posts float to the top, so it's kind of like crowdsourcing interesting stuff in the world. I don't know what to do with yet, really; I'm still working things out, but I've read and seen some cool stuff so far. I haven't posted anything myself yet. Here's my Reddit user page, but there isn't anything to see there yet. Anyone out there using Reddit? Lemme know.

2. I broke a tire on my car. Hit a curb yesterday on the way to shopping. The "accident" was due to my focusing on a hot dog while driving (note: not a euphemism), so it was actually pretty ignominious. I changed it and put on the spare "donut" in a parking lot, which at least gave me some "adult points" back. I had to buy a new tire today before I went to my sister's, which is a 45 mile drive one-way and the donut isn't really suitable for that.

3. Played jjfmi's relatively new open mic at Claddagh Irish Pub in Livonia on Wednesday. The place is huge (and not cheap, especially if you want dinner too). It was fun, though I have to admit that I struggled a bit, probably because of being out of practice.

4. Work was work, all four days of it (Monday was the Memorial Day holiday), gym was gym, and I slept a lot in between.

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