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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Inevitability of Death and Taxes

No, I'm not dead. Not even close, dontcha know, with the gorgeous onslaught of spring just begun. But as I reflect on Benjamin Franklin's timeless words, I know I enjoy being one of the loudest mumbling elaborate invectives towards anyone who has ever even entertained thoughts of working at the Internal Revenue Service. Perhaps in a distant alternate universe I will finish my taxes ahead of time. For now, though, I struggle on with the rest of the procrastinators. To ease our pain and to keep our heads clear, I offer the following tax nuggets.
  • Yes, Virginia, there is a Taxman. Did you know that the IRS has put out a publication entitled The Truth About Frivolous Tax Arguments? It debunks popular tax myths, such as "the filing of a tax return is voluntary" and "the United States consists only of the District of Columbia, federal territories, and federal enclaves."
  • Can I claim this? There are tons of crazy stories out there of outrageous deductions people have attempted to claim over the years. My favorite so far? Owners of a rat- and snake-infested junkyard wanted to attract cats to drive away their pests. They set out cat food and were able to deduct the cost as a business expense. Check out these links for some more crazy deductions that didn't seem so business savvy to the T-Men!
  • Never mind a little fallout. One of my all-time favorite books is Alas, Babylon, which tells the story of a small band of nuclear war survivors and their struggles. When Tax Day rolls around, the main character experiences both relief that he will never again pay taxes and remorse due to the cause. "Not so fast, Randy Bragg," says the IRS. It seems that their devilish minds have been busily working and have put into place a plan that details how the agency plans to jump back in the saddle after a nuclear attack. Click here to read about it!
I suppose I can't end a post about the IRS without reminding you how to visit them online. You can meander over to and join me. I'm the one that still hasn't finished calculating my taxes.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Project Compass

Earlier this month I was lucky enough to go to Atlanta, Georgia for Project Compass, an initiative funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The goal of Project Compass is to help state librarians better serve patrons who are looking for employment. I was able to meet with librarians from all across the country and share ideas about how we can make the library an essential part of our patrons’ job search. It was interesting to see how much librarians in Mississippi share with librarians from North Carolina, West Virginia, or Indiana. We discussed the advantages to building closer connections with other state agencies, how to build a more user friendly websites, and how to create lasting networks between colleagues. We all agreed that helping patrons find employment is an important part of every library, especially during the current economic climate. I gained some great new ideas and a few new collaborators along the way and I hope we can make our services here at MLC more inviting for our patrons. If you’re interested in the services we offer to assist Mississippi residents in their job searches, click here.

The Ship Beautiful

While researching a reference question a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon some information about an old transatlantic liner called Aquitania. Nick-named “The Ship Beautiful”, I’d never heard of the Aquitania, but it caught my eye because I’m fascinated by old ships. The R.M.S. Aquitania, which was retired and scrapped in 1950 after 35 years of service, was the last four-funneled ship to cross the Atlantic in regular passenger service. The Titanic comes to mind for a lot of people when they think about old-school transatlantic travel. The Titanic was only one ship in a rich history of transatlantic steamer travel, something I’m learning more and more as I branch out from my obsession with the Titanic to other ships. Here are a few more facts about the Aquitania:

  • She was launched by Britain’s Cunard Line in 1914. This is the same company that owned the Lusitania. Unfortunately, her maiden voyage in May 1914 was overshadowed by tragedy. On May 29th, the R.M.S. Empress of Ireland sank with a loss of over 1,000 people. As if that weren’t enough, the next month, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated, and World War I began.

  • After the Titanic disaster, the Aquitania became one of the first ships to carry lifeboats for all passengers and crew.

  • The Aquitania was 1 ½ times the size of her sister ships, the Lusitania and the Mauretania, which were among the fastest ships on the Atlantic at the time.

  • 901 feet long, she was about 20 feet longer than the Titanic but weighed about 7,000 tons less.

  • She was the only Pre-1914 ship to serve as a troop ship for the entire duration of World War II.

  • Some considered the Aquitania the most popular ship on the transatlantic run, which must be true to some degree if she was able to hang on until 1950. By then, commercial air travel had supplanted steamers as the preferred method of crossing the Atlantic.
If you want to learn more about “The Ship Beautiful” or other ocean liners, Credo Reference, one of our MAGNOLIA databases, is a great place to start. It features full access to a number of reference resources, including the Ships of the Line encyclopedia, which is where I learned about the Aquitania. Credo is fun to poke around with when you’re bored, and it’s a great place to find resources more research. Go check it out!

Source: Credo Reference, Ships of the Line encyclopedia

Hyperbolic Plans, Collective Spoons, Autonomous Robots...

We'd like to extend a hearty congratulations to Daina Taimina, author of Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Plans. Each year, the British trade magazine The Bookseller hands out the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, and Taimina's title (which refers to how needlework and geometry come together) won. Runners up this year were:

What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua? by Tara Jansen-Meyer (second place)
Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich by James A. Yannes (third place)
Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter by David Crompton
Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots by Ronald C. Arkin
In the Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease by Ellen Scherl and Marla Dubinsky

I can only hope that the winner receives the award with as much grace as Sandra Bullock did when she accepted her Razzie for All About Steve (and then the next day, accepted the Oscar for The Blind Side).

Itzkoff, Dave. "As It Turns Out, Maybe You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover." ArtsBeat. New York Times. 26 March 2010.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Martha Maxwell: Mother of Taxidermy.

Have you ever stumbled upon a concept that’s obviously always been there, but you never gave much attention to? And then one day, thought to yourself, “You know what? I know absolutely nothing about _________”? Well, this week, it happened to me. That concept is taxidermy.

I have to admit that my taxidermic epiphany came when someone sent me a link to a website that features odd taxidermy specimens (the internet: gotta love it). It suddenly occurred to me that the practice of stuffing dead animals is rather strange when you think about it. I had to learn more.

However, I do have a short attention span—at least where mounted, stuffed animals are concerned—and after I learned that a woman named Martha Maxwell is responsible for modern taxidermy as we know it, I became way more interested in her than in taxidermy. It happens.

Apparently, according to Notable Women Scientists, “Maxwell is credited as the first taxidermist to pose specimens in a natural position, thus ensuring that natural history displays in museums had authenticity. She also advocated her belief that in such museums, animals should be grouped together by the habitats in which they are found.” I find this fascinating; it never occurred to me that natural history displays were ever grouped otherwise.

Also fascinating: how were specimens posed BEFORE Martha Maxwell and her common sense came along? Unnatural positions?!

Other interesting (and tragic) facts about Martha Maxwell:

  • “Though she was a strict vegetarian and did not enjoy killing animals, Maxwell believed that taxidermy was her way of preserving nature.”

  • “She discovered a new subspecies of owl, which is now known as the Rocky Mountain Screech Owl: “In 1877, a Smithsonian ornithologist named this animal Scops asio maxwelliae for her, the first woman to be so honored.” Go Martha!

  • The Colorado legislature sent her to the Centennial Exhibition of 1876 in Philadelphia, along with her 47 taxidermied animals and 224 taxidermied birds. Only get this: the legislature backed out of their promise to pay for the collection to come back, so Maxwell was forced to stay!

  • She wrote a book called On the Plains, and Among the Peaks; or, How Mrs. Maxwell Made her Natural History Collection. According to Notable Women Scientists, “it did not sell well.”

  • She then ran a bath house-museum, which was not fruitful, and died of blood poisoning from an ovarian tumor. If that isn’t bad enough, “her collection fell into uncaring hands and eventually was lost.”

Next time you go to the natural history museum and admire the collection, think of Martha Maxwell, won’t you?

"Martha Maxwell." Notable Women Scientists. Gale Group, 2000. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Gale, 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tomorrow's Green Day!

I know that I wrote about this last year, but as a Jacksonian, I have only one thing on my mind come the middle of March. It's magic time again! Once again I can revel in the joy and awe that create the Mal's Annual St. Paddy's Parade.
The parade will follow the same "new" route as last year: StateSt. to Capitol St. to Lamar St. to Court St. The parade's grand marshall is none other than Kermit the Frog, who compliment's this year's theme, "It's Ain't Easy Bein' Green". The actual parade kicks off at 1 PM, but if you want to see any of it, you might want to get there sooner.

One of my coworkers claims to have never heard of the Sweet Potato Queens or their connections to Jackson, Mississippi, Southern Literature or the Mal's Annual St. Paddy's Parade. This being the 28th such event, I am issuing not a Party Foul, per say, but a Paddy Foul. As penance, I think he ought to read every one of Ms. Conner-Browne's estimable books. Don't you?

Sherry Lucas. (2010, January 27). St. Paddy's Parade revels in 'Bein' Green'. The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from The Clarion-Ledger. (Document ID: 1949184521).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Money! It's A Hit!

Up until a few days ago, about the only thing I knew about money was how to spend it. Then one of our regular patrons called with some questions about United States paper currency and now I feel like I could rewrite that old Pink Floyd song! Go ahead; you know you want to...put on "Dark Side of the Moon" and dig into these papery nuggets:

  • Paper notes consist of 75% cotton and 25% linen. ( That's a nice blend!
  • It costs about 5 cents to put a new paper bill into circulation. (
  • It takes about 4,000 back-and-forth folds to make a brand new bill tear. ( Get going! We're going to be at this for a while...
  • Have the need to know about regular wear and tear on those poor little Georges and Abes? Here's how long they'll last according to the US Bureau of Engraving and Printing:
  • $ 1: 21 months (1 3/4 years) $ 5: 16 months (1 1/4 years) $ 10: 18 months (1 1/2 years) $ 20: 24 months (2 years) $ 50: 55 months (4 7/12 years) $100: 89 months (7 5/12 years)(
  • A bill of any denomination weighs 1 tiny little gram. Accordingly, that's 454 $1 bills in a pound. (
My favorite nugget? The fact that I can order a sack full of shredded, recycled moolah! Of course, there is a ten item list restricting what you can do with the "residue" once you have it. Item number two? "The shredded currency must not be recycled into paper of printable quality." ( I suppose it didn't hurt to try.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Fact or Fiction? It's Both!

Yesterday, we received a question from a gentleman searching for a term to describe a certain type of fiction he’s interested in. As he described it, this type of fiction is created when you take history and toss in some fictional elements. Historical fiction, right? Not necessarily. As it turns out, the term our dear patron was looking for was fictionalized biography, a sub-genre similar to historical fiction but not quite the same. What’s different? According to some of the resources in the Credo Reference database, fictionalized biography recounts a real person’s life while supplementing the known facts of that person’s life with fictional dialogue, actions, and/or scenes. Historical fiction, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily focus on or even involve real historical figures. Well-known historical figures sometimes make an appearance, however they are rarely the central characters. Rather than explore the life of one person, the goal of historical fiction is to reconstruct the historical events, culture, and social climate of an era.

Learning about all of this, I couldn’t help but think of Charles Pellegrino. If you don’t know him, he’s the author of the book The Last Train from Hiroshima, a former bestseller which was pulled from the shelves after factual questions about the author and the accuracy of his sources arose. It appears that one of Pellegrino’s major sources falsely claimed to have flown aboard an observation plane when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Did I mention that one of the major premises of the book was based on this source and the fact that he claimed the bomb was a dud? As if that weren’t enough, critics began to question the very existence of two more sources, as well as Pellegrino’s academic credentials.

Honestly, I can’t say I’m all that surprised that something like this happened. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. I’ve read both of Pellegrino’s books about the Titanic, Her Name, Titanic and Ghosts of the Titanic. Both books are interesting reads, but I have to admit to being shocked by Pellegrino’s tendency to “recreate” conversations between historical figures by putting words into their mouths, especially in Her Name, Titanic. I mean, this is supposed to be a work of historical non-fiction. Why do parts of it read like something that would be right at home on

Pellegrino could have probably avoided all of this drama. If he’d presented his work as historical fiction, or fictionalized biography at the very least, it wouldn’t have mattered that his main source lied, and no one would have cared that he possibly made up a few sources here and there.

Conan, Neal. "Publisher Pulls Last Train from Hiroshima." Talk of the Nation (NPR). 3/9/10
Credo Reference database
Hoover, Bob. "Another History Bombs." Pittsburg Post-Gazette. 3/7/10

Friday, March 5, 2010

Dentists, Rappers, and Other Scary Things

Everyone is afraid of something. Whether you’re afraid of snakes, clowns, or Ronald Reagan, you can overcome these fears by visiting the Mississippi Library Commission and checking out one of our books on phobias. Here are three of my favorites.
The first book is Dr. Robert F. Kroeger’s How to Overcome Fear of Dentistry. I chose this book because of my concern for America’s most beloved singer songwriter, Dewayne Carter (A.K.A. Lil Wayne, Lil Weezy, Dr. Carter, Birdman Jr.). Recently Mr. Carter’s sentencing was delayed so that he could get his grill straight (or teeth fixed, for all of you non hipsters out there). Granted, a prison delay would probably give one reason to love the dentist, but Mr. Carter reportedly had to undergo extensive surgery. This leads me to believe Weezy’s been ducking the dentist. Well, if you’re reading this Dr. Carter, here’s some advice from your colleague, Dr. Kroeger. First, learn to relax. Dr. Kroeger argues that practicing “relaxation exercises” can make a trip to the dentist more bearable. These relaxation exercises include: “paced breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, and guided imagery.” (49) By employing these techniques anyone can face a dentist without fear and, if that does not work, Kroeger says, “relaxation exercises work together with tranquilizers and certain other medications to produce very deep relaxation.” (49) Good advice, Doc.
Now that we have Lil Wayne cured let’s move on to America’s second most precious resource, our children. One book that focuses on kids is Dr. Jonathan Kellerman’s Helping the Fearful Child: A Guide to Everyday and Problem Anxieties. Strangely enough, Dr. Kellerman’s book caused me a great deal of fear after reading this passage:

“Babies are not afraid of heights. They remain relaxed while falling and have been known to tolerate severe drops without incurring injury. They are not afraid of snakes, sharks, or public speaking. They react placidly to wasps, mosquitoes, and bees. The site of hideous monsters on TV often invokes only bemused curiosity.” (27)

This quote made me wonder how the good doctor learned these things. Dr. Kellerman’s test babies may not be afraid of snakes, but after these experiences, I’m sure they have a healthy fear of doctors. My advice would be don’t hire Doc Kellerman as the babysitter.
Lastly, it’s important to realize that some fears are perfectly normal. Richard Waters’ book Phobias: Revealed and Explained offers some great examples of things you probably have good reason to fear. Here are a few examples:
Nucleomituphobia: Fear of nuclear weapons
Ballistophobia: Fear of missiles or bullets
Chorophobia: Fear of dancing (especially my dancing)
Mastigophobia: Fear of flogging or punishment.
Well, regardless of what you’re afraid of, you should never be scared to visit MLC and check out a book.
Kroeger, Robert. How to Overcome Fear of Dentistry. Heritage Communications, Cincinnati. 1988
Kellerman, Jonathan. Helping The Fearful Child: A Guide to Everyday and Problem Anxieties. W.W. Norton & Company, New York. 1981
Waters, Richard. Phobias: Revealed and Explained. Barron's Educational Services, New York. 2004

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Way with Words

Yesterday morning when I logged into Meebo, two very interesting questions were waiting for the reference staff. I’m not sure if they are from the same person, but they both inquire about background information about two colorful sayings. I’d never heard of either of the phrases before, so I set out to see what I could find.

The first question asks about the origin of the phrase “that’s a lot of sugar for a dime.” My search first led me to the dictionaries and thesauruses in our reference collection, where little light was shed on the nature of this phrase. A search of our electronic databases yielded a similar result, unfortunately. So, I turned to the Internet, a trusty companion in a situation like this.  Google did not let me down. It turns out that the actual phrase is “that’s too much sugar for a dime,” and there’s actually a website that uses the saying as its moniker. According to the site, the saying means that something is more trouble than it’s worth. I also found another site called The Phrase Finder that offered some different interpretations about the meaning of the phrase. The site has a forum where members use their collective intelligence take on phrases with elusive meanings. For “too much sugar for a dime”, one guest suggested that the phrase meant that something was too good to be true. Similarly, another contributor said it meant “overwhelming or false praise.”

Now on to the second Meebo question: What’s the origin of the phrase “son of a biscuit-eater”? According to Rawson’s Dictionary of Euphemisms and Other Doubletalk, the phrase is a variant of a nearly identical, more popular phrase. The phrase most people are probably more familiar with uses another b-word in place of “biscuit-eater”, one that I can’t spell out here on this blog. Let’s just say it’s another word for a female canine and leave it at that.

So there you have it, Meebo guest (or guests). I hope this answers your questions. If not, or if you have more questions, feel free to comment on this post or drop us a line at

Monday, March 1, 2010

How Not to Get Weeded.

While weeding and making my way through the Library Commission’s extensive collection of books on costumes, I came upon M. Channing Linthicum’s Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries (1963). I believe serendipity led me to open this book at page 85, which contained definitions of the following two words:

Puke and Rash.

How do puke and rash relate to Shakespearean drama, you ask? Besides being some people’s reactions to being forced to read Hamlet in ninth grade English class, “puke” is a dyed-in-the-wool cloth, once described as very “fyne” but later mostly worn by middle class folk. Just think: you could be wearing puke right now!

As for “rash,” it’s also a type of fabric, this time a silk and wool blend. Some of the other fabric types have such glamorous names. I think some of these would be good cat names, such as buffin, chamlet, kersey, mockado, motley, russet, and tawny.

There is a chapter on costume colors, which I also found amusing and informative. Green, I found, symbolized youth and joy, “and was therefore, as Shakespeare said, ‘the colour of lovers’” (31). Some of the varieties of green--and believe me, I am quoting here--are as follows: willow (as found in the weeping willow, and therefore representing sorrow); sea-green (self-explanatory); popingay (a blue-green, found in the parrot); and last but certainly not least, goose-turd green. Let me quote at length:

Goose-turd, probably an importation of the French merde d’oie, was a yellowish-green. It does not occur, seemingly, in extant English wardrobe accounts or mercers’ inventories, but it was mentioned by Harrison among the ‘phantasticall colours’ in use in 1577. Jonson named it in Bartholomew Fair as a colour of starch, and again in the Alchemist, and Marston used it to describe unclean teeth, but it seems to have been avoided by other dramatists of this period (33).

Hmm. I wonder why.

The section on red slso contains some lovely varieties, such as Catherine pear, maiden's blush, gingerline (another good cat name--comes from the French zinzolin and has nothing to do with ginger), horse-flesh, and peach-flower. Sigh. I love this book.

Special message to all the other books on the shelf that are looking for ways not to get weeded: have interesting/hilarious nuggets like these to offer! And make sure your pages automatically open to funny words to catch the weeder’s eye.

Linthicum, M. Channing. Costume in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries. New York: Russell and Russell, 1963.
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