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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

We wanna be like Russia? Really?

The older I get, the more I think there are basically two kinds of people: builders and destroyers. Between these two, maybe, are those who appreciate things, and those who mostly ignore things. But over the years I've come to group the former with builders, and the latter with destroyers.

"I'm a Leninist," said Steven Bannon in 2013. "Lenin wanted to destroy the state. And that's my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."

I wish I could say that I thought this was hyperbole or posturing. I don't. I believe him. For Baby Boomers, destroying institutions is what we do. Is there conflict between personal and institutional values? Well, one of us must change! Guess who?

It doesn't take much work to trace Bannon's predilections at Breitbart, and in his still early days as chief strategist for Trump. And there's Trump himself, in a bizarre bro-mance with Putin.

The question we need to ask is this: after destruction of the state, then what? What do we replace it with?

Lenin did indeed bring Tsarist Russian Empire to an end. But then he ushered in an authoritarian regime, Stalin's, arguably far worse than what he'd destroyed. In much the same way, Mao Zedong, another follower of Lenin, succeeded in undoing one regime, and replacing it with a government that first led to widespread famine, then to the Cultural Revolution. Both were disastrous.

It's clear that Bannon's and Trump's perspective appeals to the worst in Americans: racism, sexism, nativism. Yet we know that as of 2014, over half of the youngest American children are non-white. Half has always been women. Immigrants have long been our strength, not our weakness.

In the current majority backlash the Trump regime may well succeed in re-instituting the exclusionary, punitive, and domineering rhetoric and governmental bias of our past. But here's the problem: it doesn't change the underlying demographics. It doesn't change the fact that America has already fundamentally shifted.

Trump, and his childishness, is easy to mock. But what follows him is likely to be dead serious. Bannon, and his Leninist nihilism, won't make America white again. It will, however, sow the seeds of resentment and hatred. Is there any scenario in which this plays out well for either the nation, or the world?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A Day in Chicago

King of Chicago

Today I walked past a store that sparked a memory.

Almost a year ago, I had to buy a mop. I was trekking my way back from a Target, and stopped inside a storefront restaurant for some really wonderful and inexpensive middle eastern food. 

"What's with the stick?" asked the man serving me. "You mean my scepter?" I asked. "For I am the King of Chicago." He smiled, handing me my order. "Your majesty." I realize now that I should have knighted him. 


After the midwinter conference in Atlanta, I wrote a blog about the Trump administration's attempt to halt all "public facing communications" by federal agencies,particularly the Environmental Protection Agency. I posted it yesterday. To my surprise, the post has gone almost viral - some 20,000 reposts on Facebook and Twitter. My takeaway: librarians are feisty, and not to be trifled with. This administration may find that its arrogance breeds resistance.


I was walking on State Street and saw a boy, maybe 10 or 12, walking oddly. Quickly, I figured out why. He delighted many people on the street.

the snow falls so slow
smiling boy can catch
the flakes on his tongue

Shoe shop

Just before I moved here, I bought a pair of shoes on the Internet. They were a pair of black Oxford ankle boots from They looked pretty good. They weren't expensive - maybe $100. When they arrived, they felt a little cheaper than I expected, and were just a tad small. But hey, I thought they would be good walking shoes in the city I was about to move to (Chicago), so I kept them. They were warm enough (fabric lining), and kept my feet dry. They looked better than they felt. I worked some mink oil into them, and kept them clean and polished.

But pretty darn quick, the tip of the sole started to separate from the bottom of the shoe. Finally, a few months ago, I took them to a local shoe repair shop just a block away. It cost almost another $100 to get new soles put on them: Vibram. I'm used to paying for repairs. Usually, I keep my shoes for a long time. I try to buy good ones, and take care of them.

Then, a few weeks ago, one of the soles started to come loose again. So I took them back to the store, to find that the owner was packing up. After 17 years in that location, he was retiring. He was, in fact, 82 years old, although he really didn't look it. He was upright, keen of gaze, and gave me quite an oration. While he repaired my shoes for free, he talked about the sharply declining quality of most shoes, most of them made in China now. (There were also some heartfelt comments about work ethics, the difficulty of finding reliable help, and more.) Often, he said, he deconstructed a shoe to fix it to find that the sole was made of cardboard. The sole I was trying to hook onto was cheap rubber. I won't try to fix them again.

Although he made a point of saying that he thought the decline of quality was all about foreign made shoes, in fact, the quality shoes he admired came from Europe, mostly England. I didn't hear about any American-made shoe brands he liked.

When I came back to pick them up, he was in a more thoughtful mood. He was a remarkable man. He'd been in the dry cleaning business, the tailoring business, the shoe repair business. He showed me a couple pairs of shoes he'd built from scratch. They were gorgeous. He told me about the 1960s downtown businesses where if a man got caught in the rain, he could go to the bus station and get his suit pressed, his hat blocked, and his shoes shined. A more elegant age.

He was, in fact, a consummate craftsman - although his lifelong exposure to the chemicals of drycleaning and shoe repair glues in poorly ventilated work spaces was taking its toll on his body. He was looking forward to retirement, although his wife had a notion of starting a school for shoe repairs, because it was almost a lost art. According to the husband, that's because it was easier, more fun, to do your own designs, than have to salvage someone else's.

At any rate, I found him, and his wife, most impressive. I'm sorry to see the shop shutting down, and I have no idea where the next shoe repair station is. I can't imagine it will be as good.