The Remarkable Stories of Women in Congress

August 11, 2011

When I was a kid, I would read from an old set of encyclopedias – just randomly, but with a predilection for famous and not-so-famous people. As a result, I still remember at least something about the lives of the Roman-era scholar-king Juba II of Mauretania, the Seneca chief and orator Red Jacket, the World War I field marshal August von Mackensen, and scads of other people.  It’s useless knowledge, I suppose, but it entertains me and is tolerated (mostly) by friends and family members.

Given my fondness for small-scale biographies, a hefty reference work like Women in Congress, 1917-2006 could put me out of action for days. These meticulously researched biographies, including sources for further reading and a photograph of each Senate or House member discussed, are a treasure trove for fans of American politics and history and trivia buffs alike. Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress and a life-long pacifist, voted against going to war withGermany in 1917, didn’t get elected again until 1940, and promptly voted her conscience again by opposing the declaration of war againstJapan after Pearl Harbor. Like the others in this book, Rankin was more than just a source for a Jeopardy question – in the 1960s, she was still marching for the causes she held dear.

Although many of those discussed in Women in Congress, especially prior to the 1960s, arrived via the “widow’s mandate” – succeeding their deceased husbands in office – many of them stayed to make significant careers on their own. Take Edith Nourse Rogers, for example. After being elected to her husband’s seat in the House of Representatives, this self-proclaimed “Republican by inheritance and by conviction” served 18 terms, noted for her advocacy on behalf of veterans, steadfast opposition to fascism in Nazi Germany andItaly, and dedicated anticommunism during the Cold War.

After World War II, Helen Gahagan Douglas, a former movie actress, was labeled “The Pink Lady” by an opponent targeting her liberal political views. She, in turn, enriched the language of American politics by dubbing her final opponent, Richard M. Nixon, “Tricky Dick.”

Millicent Fenwick, a fiscally conservative but independent Republican of the 1970s and 1980s, was the inspiration for the Lacey Davenport character in Garry Trudeau’s long-running Doonesbury comic strip)

Okay, I’d better stop or this post will never end. Every one of the entries in Women in Congress is worthy of mention, and I know a lot of you have your own favorites, but I just can’t do it all. Happily, you can browse as much as you want right here, get your own copy, or find it in a library.

Oh, and did you know that King Juba II of Mauretania married Cleopatra’s daughter?


Health Information the Easy Way

August 9, 2011

Guest blogger Nancy Faget lets us know about a great resource delaing with women’s health.

I’m a lazy reader.  Yes, I am primarily a scanner more than a reader.  (I hope this doesn’t put me in danger of losing my status as a librarian!) I appreciate a lot of white space and concise writing, which is exactly what the HHS Office of Women’s Health (OWH) has achieved in this new publication:  A Lifetime of Good Health:  Your Guide to Staying Healthy

This publication provides reminders, highlights, and checklists for any female at any stage of life (immunizations through Medicare services). The checklists beginning on page 6 are great tools to help you keep up with tests and immunizations.  Did you know, for example, that they recommend a TDP vaccine every 10 years? 

OWH has produced a slick new publication hitting all the high points.  It’s worth having  available in any family’s stash of medical reference material. You’ll find it to be a great handy reference  and an easy read – I promise!  To read (or scan!) A Lifetime of Good Health, or for more great information on any health issue, contact your local Federal depository library for assistance.


New Caledonia and the New Yorker?

August 4, 2011

From time to time I’ve talked about the little World War II-vintage booklets produced to familiarize Army and Navy personnel with various places around the world that the fight against the Axis might compel them to go. Some of those places are still hot spots, like Iraq. Others were obscure then and remain so today, unless you’re a specialist or someone with an inordinate curiosity about things in general (me).

For out of the way places, you can’t beat New Caledonia. This large island in the Southwest Pacific, a French territory only now looking towards a future referendum on independence, is populated by Melanesian Kanaks and French settlers and has an economy centered on nickel mining. During the war, however, it was the island’s strategic position that made it the subject of a Pocket Guide to New Caledonia. Not long after the fall of France in 1940, the French colonials on the island revolted against their pro-Vichy governor and declared for the Free French, so the island and the harbor at Noumea, the colony’s capital, became a huge naval repair, troop transit, and logistical nexus for America’s armed forces. TheU.S. presence had a huge and generally positive economic, political, and cultural impact on the Kanak population, but stimulated an almost paranoid reaction among Free French officials, who saw the American “occupation” as a threat to their colonial dominance. Clearly, our soldiers and sailors needed some guidance on how to handle these complicated crosscurrents!

Pocket Guide to New Caledonia does a very good job of outlining New Caledonia’s history and cultures, with an emphasis on tolerance and understanding of the customs and faiths of others, whether French or Kanak. It also manages a light touch when discussing some topics, to wit:

“People living in the tropics or subtropics are likely to be exposed to       hookworm and other intestinal parasites, and to be bothered by dysentery. To check this latter ailment, the natives eat a certain grass which is called ‘dysentery grass’ and is supposed to have a herbaceous effect. Our troops have made not a few noble experiments with this particular variety of hay, and up to date nobody has been hurt, though the record is confused as to whether anybody has been helped. So if you see a creature eating grass inNew Caledonia, don’t shoot! It may be the corporal.”

Like other wartime publications, this booklet also benefited from the work of a well-known artist. While Dr. Seuss handled malaria prevention, the great New Yorker cartoonist George Price drew theNew Caledonia short straw (see left) and provides a comic glimpse at GI life in the tropics.

I enjoyed browsing through Pocket Guide to New Caledonia. The Government did a good job of prepping folks for trips to places that most of them never imagined going, and now we can make the same visit thought these little time capsules. You can read it here or in a library.


Wings in Orbit: An Interview, Part II

July 28, 2011

On Tuesday, we posted the first of a two-part interview about Wings in Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle, 1971-2010, a new book published by NASA to mark the ending of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. Here’s Part 2 of that interview with Robert Crippen, the pilot of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s first orbital flight into space, Dr. Helen Lane, Editor-in Chief of Wings in Orbit, Wayne Hale, Executive Editor, and Dr. Kamlesh Lulla, Co-Editor.

 GovBookTalk: Wings in Orbit is beautifully illustrated. Do you have a favorite photograph or other image?

 Bob Crippen: My favorite is the cover shot of the Orbiter in space.

 Helen Lane: Every person involved with this book has a favorite, so there are at least 300 favorites, depending on who you asked.  I was so involved with each graphic that it is impossible to decide.  One of the privileges of working for NASA is the wonderful images and our graphic artists.  We had two outstanding artists to provide these images.

However, I am partial to the first protein crystal, shown on page 433, and the flight of the 747 carrying the orbiter over the desert, page 109. The photos of preparing the Space Shuttle for flight at the Kennedy Space Center are fantastic, but because we had to reduce the size, we did not get the full benefit.  All the photos and many of the graphics are available online through the Johnson Space Center or Kennedy Space Center.

Kamlesh Lulla: In my view, the Space Shuttle provided the scientific community with stunning views of our own home planet. It captured both the natural beauty and human drama: the book contains examples of both. My favorite image in the book is oil fires inKuwait, imaged by the Shuttle crew during a 1991 flight.

Wayne Hale: I particularly like the one of the Shuttle silhouetted against the sunrise colors of the atmosphere.  But there are so many beautiful illustrations, it is hard to pick out just one.

GovBookTalk: From your perspective, how has the Shuttle program advanced space exploration and how will that be reflected in NASA’s future endeavors?

Bob Crippen: It has shown we can operate on a frequent basis of sending crews in space, but more important it has shown the broad range of tasks that humans can accomplish in space.  That knowledge will be invaluable in planning our next major goal in human space flight.

Helen Lane: The focus of the book was the legacy of the Space Shuttle – what would it be remembered for in 10 years.  So much as been made of its failures that we wanted to explore its accomplishments, unlike most of the popular writings.  It is a complex story.  However, I think there are several aspects that changed human space flight forever, and maybe international relationships.

The Orbiters can easily take six and sometimes more people into space.  The Shuttle began when theU.S.was opening up technical jobs to women and minorities.  The Space Shuttle provided the golden opportunity to expand the astronaut core to these folks, plus a wide variety of careers from physicist to astronomer to medical doctors.  No other nation has done that.  Now, it is totally accepted that anyone with the talents, health, and desire can go into space – see the commercial space programs.

The Space Shuttle era moved from the competition (Space Race) between countries to collaborations.  As astronaut Mike Foale (p. 144) said, “When we look back 50 years to this time, we won’t remember the experiments that were performed, we won’t remember the assembly that was done.  What we will know was the countries came together to do the first joint international project, and we will know that that was the seed that started us off to the moon and Mars.”  There were many countries, including our former enemies,Russia and Japan, along with the Europeans involved in the space shuttle.  We flew folks of many nationalities, religions, and cultures.

Many today say it is the Hubble.  The Space Shuttle enabled the Hubble Space Telescope to perform well, leading to major discoveries.  However, through our work with Hubble, we learned to do big construction and repair projects in space.  The Space Shuttle taught us that the human is extremely capable of completing complex tasks in space.  Now, it is accepted that we can do this, but 30 years ago most thought that it was only the dreams of the science fiction writers.

The human, plant, and animal research provides the bases for belief that humans can survive long space flights, probably leading to long-duration stays, including growing their own food.  However, the research provided a warning too – from changes in space craft components, e.g. atomic oxygen, along with orbital debris and radiation, much of which we learned from entering space 135 times.

Finally, 135 re-entries taught us a lot about high attitude hypersonic flight, a must to enable  complex vehicles to come back to earth, manned or unmanned. Prior to the Shuttle program, there were calculations that provided models.  Now, we have real data to use for future modeling of space craft re-entry back to Earth.

Kamlesh Lulla: I agree with Helen. In addition, it is important to remember that each Shuttle mission was a mission to planet Earth. It was both a scientific laboratory and an in-orbit classroom for researchers and educators around the globe.

Wayne Hale: The Shuttle was envisaged as merely one part of a space infrastructure that would eventually lead to missions to myriad places in the solar system.  Since the Nation decided not to invest in the infrastructure to go farther, we learned the most we could from the shuttle; how to operate in space with large teams of people; how to fly safely through planetary atmospheres on the way to and from space.  These are all valuable lessons which will allow future endeavors in space to be successful.

GovBookTalk:  Now that the book is done, what are your feelings about it – and about the Space Shuttle program as well?

Bob Crippen: I am very proud of the book and the Space Shuttle program.  Both are major accomplishments and everyone involved can be proud of the results.

Helen Lane: As with most of the folks that worked in the Space Shuttle program, it is a bittersweet ending – the ending of the longest human space program using these vehicles over and over again in the extremely dangerous environments of space. So I am both sad and proud of working for NASA.

Wayne Hale: It was a privilege to be a part of history; to be a team member trying to do something difficult – nearly impossible – and extraordinarily valuable in the largest sense of the word; historic.  I feel nothing but pride and a sense of gratitude for being part of it.

Kamlesh Lulla: I believe new opportunities will emerge as this era comes to an end. We will continue our journey!

To browse a copy of Wings in Orbit online, click here: http://books.google.com/books?id=aEZo8dHqJbIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=wings+in+orbit&hl=en&ei=kOYeTs3ABYrV0QHi4PDXAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

To purchase a print copy, click here: http://bookstore.gpo.gov/collections/wings.jsp

To purchase Wings in Orbit as an eBook, click here: http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=aEZo8dHqJbIC&dq=wings%20in%20orbit&as_brr=5&source=webstore_bookcard

To find it in a library, click here: http://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_all&q=wings+in+orbit


Wings in Orbit: An Interview, Part I

July 26, 2011

 A few weeks ago, I blogged about Wings in Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle, 1971-2010, a new book published by NASA to mark the ending of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. Wings in Orbit authoritatively documents the many accomplishments of the Space Shuttle program from its origins to the present. Beginning with a Foreword by astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, this compelling book provides clear, accurate, and authentic accounts from NASA’s best subject matter experts, including aerospace engineers who worked with the shuttle program, and leading experts from the science and academic communities. The book captures the passion of those who devoted their energies to the program’s success for more than three decades. It focuses on their science and engineering accomplishments, the rich history of the program, and the shuttle as an icon in U.S. history.

In a first for Government Book Talk, we’ve  interviewed some key players in the development of Wings in Orbit. It’s an honor to welcome Robert Crippen, the pilot of the Space Shuttle Columbia’s first orbital flight into space, Dr. Helen Lane, Editor-in Chief of Wings in Orbit, Wayne Hale, Executive Editor, and Dr. Kamlesh Lulla, Co-Editor, for the first of a two-part discussion about this outstsanding new NASA book.

GovBookTalk: Given the immensity of the Space Shuttle program, it must have been challenging to select the topics for Wings in Orbit, and the authors to write about them. How did you go about that?

Bob Crippen: The intent was to try and capture the legacy of the Shuttle program, the good and the bad.  That helped focus the type of subjects to include.   We wanted to provide data that would help designers of future space craft.  Also it was important to capture the educational aspects of the program because that is a fundamental objective of NASA to stimulate young people to become interested in science and math.

Helen Lane: It was very difficult to determine the material to include, and that took over a year.  We used the definition —  must be an accomplishment that is used in other space programs or on Earth.  Second, we wanted a book of less than 700 pages so we knew we could not cover it all.  With the help of an extraordinary editorial board and interviews from leaders in the Space Shuttle program, we worked with all the NASA centers to finalize the work to be discussed. 

Once we knew the topics, we went to the engineers and scientists that did the work including those that were retired or worked in academia or industry. The contributors were volunteers.  They worked on the book because of their dedication to the Space Shuttle and the desire to let the public understand this program within the context of the accomplishments.  Once we got started, as you can see from the number of authors, we got great participation.

Kamlesh Lulla: The focus of this book is scientific and engineering accomplishments from the Space Shuttle program. This clarity of focus helped us organize the contents.

Wayne Hale: Selecting topics was not hard; eliminating topics and holding writers to a specific page count, that was hard.  Once we outlined the book — about 1/3 on the Shuttle system and how it operates, about 1/3 on the scientific achievements of the shuttle and its payloads, and 1/3 on all the rest, history, society, etc., the community poured out with suggested topics and articles.  It was an overwhelming flood.  Our editors and their staff had to work day and night to reign in the various authors.  The engineers, scientists, and managers associated with the space shuttle over thirty years were yearning to tell the story from their perspective.  Unfortunately we were not writing a set of encyclopedia volumes and were limited to just one book.  So it was a constant tugging match over what got in and what was left out.  I wish somebody would publish the Encyclopedia of the Shuttle because there is enough material out there.  Unfortunately, the magnificent team that was in place during the years of development of the Wings in Orbit book have largely dispersed and getting the people back together to write that encyclopedia would be nearly impossible.

GovBookTalk: The Space Shuttle has a place in our culture as well as in science and technology. For example, I was surprised to find out that both Rush and Judy Collins have written songs about the Shuttle. Did you run across some things along those lines that surprised you?

Helen Lane: We at NASA are probably more aware of the cultural aspects as we have movie companies, TV companies, artists, and musicians that regularly visit along with most sports teams.  Our problem was what to include in this book.

Kamlesh Lulla: I was surprised at the depth of influence Space Shuttle has on our cultural landscape: schools have been named after shuttle astronauts, Girl/Boy Scout local logos have used shuttle; the list goes on and on.

Wayne Hale: The poets, songwriters, movie script writers, and other interpreters of the shuttle really did surprise us.  I am constantly amazed at the outpouring of creative artistic work that surrounds a technological achievement like the Shuttle.  As engineers, we are trained to be “tight-lipped and technical” or as a former administrator once said “I’ll have feelings when I’m dead”.  The impact to society has been anything but tight lipped.  Spaceflight inspires the romantics and the dreamers; always has and always will.

GovBookTalk: One of the most interesting aspects of the book is the number of scientific and technical discoveries made as spin offs from the Shuttle program. Could you tell us about some of those?

Bob Crippen: I believe the book captures a large number of spin offs, an important element of the program.  This provides the public some more concrete results of the program.

Helen Lane: There are hundreds of spin offs.  NASA defines spin offs as technologies that can be patented and then licensed to commercial companies.  There is a Web site that provides the some details: http://www.sti.nasa.gov/tto/shuttle.htm  We chose examples to cover the gamut from health care to industrial applications.  This web site also highlights some of the sciences, such as the discussion on pages 421-429 on the bioreactor. 

GovBookTalk: Were there questions as to how to handle the story of the Shuttle accidents?

Bob Crippen: The two terrible accidents were an important part of the program.  We wanted to tell the story accurately to minimize the probability of future accidents.

Helen Lane: Yes, there was a lot of discussion on how to handle the accidents.  The author, Randy Stone, was a flight director during both accidents.  He tells the story as honestly as he could, but at the same time tried to transmit the emotions of the workers at the agency.  It was felt very hard, and he tried to give the reader a feel for that.  We wanted to have enough technical details for the reader, but not overwhelm them.  The crews’ story was discussed with the goal of a very dignified accounting of their deaths.

Wayne Hale: From the outset we promised ourselves that we would tell the truth and examine the bad as well as the good.  Randy Stone did a magnificent job of covering those complex events in a chapter that I wish could have been much longer.  We always learn more from our mistakes and failures than from our successes.  The genius of American creativity is that failure does not stop us but spurs us on to achieve even greater things.

GovBookTalk: The authors obviously interviewed quite a few people. Did they have any particularly memorable conversations with former astronauts or other well-known figures in the space program?

Helen Lane: Yes, we had the opportunity to interview the original engineers and leaders that built the Space Shuttle, including Bill Lucas (former director of  from Marshall Space Flight Center, Bob Thompson (first program manager), Chris Kraft ( founder of Mission Control as well as major leader), Aaron Cohen (former director of Johnson Space Center and directly involved with the orbiter, esp. the thermal protection system), and R.J Thompson, major manager of building the Shuttle main engines.  I was thrilled to be able to talk with them and hear their insights. They provided much of the wisdom and direction for the topics to include in the book. Much of their experiences are recorded on the NASA oral history, available online.  

Kamlesh Lulla: These interviews enriched the contents of the book. Their insights were very valuable in compiling the contents.

Wayne Hale: There were so many and almost every one was memorable; it would be really hard to pick out the top.  I was particularly impressed by the scientists and their discussions of the achievements of the experiments carried by the Shuttle.  As a Flight Director, we were always working on the next flight and rarely had time to look back and read the papers from those experiments which were often published months later.  There was far more in those scientific results than I realized. [End of Part 1]

Look for Part 2 of the interview later this week!

To browse a copy of Wings in Orbit online, click here: http://books.google.com/books?id=aEZo8dHqJbIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=wings+in+orbit&hl=en&ei=kOYeTs3ABYrV0QHi4PDXAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

To purchase a print copy, click here: http://bookstore.gpo.gov/collections/wings.jsp

To purchase Wings in Orbit as an eBook, click here: http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=aEZo8dHqJbIC&dq=wings%20in%20orbit&as_brr=5&source=webstore_bookcard

To find it in a library, click here: http://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_all&q=wings+in+orbit


Good Things in Plain Packages

July 8, 2011

Although I generally try to fight the stereotype of Government publications as weighty tomes with austere, distinctly non-decorative covers, I must admit that many worthy documents do come clad in such sober raiment.

Take, for example, Invest in Women, Invest in America: A Comprehensive Review of Women in the U.S. Economy. This publication of the congressional Joint Economic Committee, like many such documents, presents its material straightforwardly and unadorned except for an assortment of graphs and charts, all in black and white.  But the format is immaterial when matched against the importance of its subject. Indeed, the very sobriety with which the economic progress of American women, or lack thereof, is presented actually increases the credibility of its findings, at least for me.

One important message is that women have made significant economic strides over the last several decades. Yet certain persistent issues documented in this report – the pay gap, under-representation of women in top corporate jobs, and the problems of working mothers – still block the achievement of women’s economic equality.

Of course, the economic downturn of the last few years only serves to emphasize these issues. I was particularly interested in a survey that covered how employers were dealing with this. A surprisingly large percentage of employers said that they were actively helping their employees to cope with the recession and also maintaining flexible employment policies. I was also struck by number showing that without Social Security, far more older women than men would live in poverty.

Although various submissions within Invest in Women, Invest in America suggest possible solutions to the problems of women in our economy, I was most impressed by the depth and quality of the research, without which no really sound solutions are possible. Sober, serious, and detailed, this publication is a valuable resource for studying a complex and long-running social issue. You can read it here or here or get a copy here. It’s also available in libraries.


The Few, the Proud, the Anthology

July 6, 2011

 Book buyers and book hunters (who tend to be one and the same) are funny about bibliographies. Non-fiction books need to have them, they’re great to skim through to locate more books on favorite topics – but they’re not exactly scintillating reading. When I saw that the title of this 2011 Library Journal notable Government document was U.S. Marines in Iraq, 2004-2008: An Anthology and Annotated Bibliography, I had mixed feelings. What percentage was going to be anthology as opposed to bibliography?

It really wasn’t a problem. Most of the book is anthology – and not just selections from the Marine Corps Gazette, although there are some excellent ones from that estimable publication. It also includes articles from such distinctly non-military sources as Vanity Fair and Foreign Affairs, and they’re not always totally favorable. Coverage of controversies such as the killings of civilians at Haditha and blunt discussions of whether the American course of action in Iraq was selfless or madness make this collection a lot more than just a “how-to” guide to irregular warfare or IEDs (improvised explosive devices). The U.S. Marines might not love everything journalists and experts write about them, but they’re willing to address criticism, not just ignore it – and I liked this open-mindedness. As a bonus, each article begins with a striking color photograph of Marines in their varied roles inIraq, from combat to pacification.

The bibliography, as the title says, is annotated, so it’s a handy guide to the mainly periodical literature covering these crucial four years of U.S.intervention in Iraq and undoubtedly will be useful to scholars and soldiers alike. U.S.Marines in Iraq, 2004-2008 is a fine book for readers and bibliography-philes alike. You can find it here or in a library.


There are Tough Rules – and Really Tough Rules

June 30, 2011

Guest blogger Maureen Whelan reminisces about some REALLY rigorous regulations.

The agencies of the U.S. Government issue nearly 8,000 regulations each year, but whenever I hear people talking about tough Government regulations, I think to myself that they don’t know what “tough” really is. When I was in high school, I attended an all-girls parochial school. We had a list of rules and regulations that every student needed to follow to avoid detention. They ranged from clothing restrictions to discipline, conduct, and behavior matters. There were several degrees of punishment for violators, from the two hours after school type to the dreaded, all-day Saturday detention with the School Sisters of Notre Dame. One of my friends once received a Saturday detention on the weekend prior to graduation for speeding around the school campus during our senior motorcade. Even today, I’m sure that she would rather have violated Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations   (Transportation, Subpart B 365.201 through 365.205, Motor Carriers of Property or Passengers, process on how to Oppose Requests for Authority)  than  oppose the rulings of our Vice Principal!

Seriously, though, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) is definitely the most comprehensive official source for all kinds of proposed and final Government regulations. It’s a great research tool, and there are some really good informational tools at the Office of the Federal Register Web site to help you understand how to use it. I think it’s also an unlikely but important symbol of our democracy, because any concerned citizen can access the rule-making process via the CFR, and that’s what open government is about.

You can browse the CFR here or acquire either single volumes or a subscription here. You can also locate the CFR at a Federal depository library. Best of all, none of these sources will give you detention!

 

 

 

 


The Buzz on Native Bees

June 29, 2011

I’m second to none in my admiration for the great rhythm and blues singer Lavern Baker. Her hit records, like “Jim Dandy,” “I Cried a Tear,” and “Saved” led to her 1991 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Even the greats can go astray, though. In her 1960 recording of “Bumble Bee,” she sang “You hurt me like a bee/a bumble bee, an evil bumble bee.” Wrong! Bumblebees rarely sting and, as native bees, play a little-known but vital role in pollinating  flowers and crops. In fact, growers of greenhouse tomatoes deliberately establish bumblebee colonies in their facilities for pollination purposes.

Thanks to Bee Basics: An Introduction to our Native Bees, a 2011 Library Journal notable Government document co-produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s U.S. Forest Service and the Pollinator Partnership, I now know that bumblebees and other native bees are responsible for 75 percent of the pollination of flowers and crops in the U.S. Given the many news stories in recent years regarding the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” affecting the non-native honey bee, the value of native bees described in this neat little booklet really “stung” me into a new awareness of these amazing and varied creatures. (By the way, native bees rarely sting, and many of their stings are mild.)

As I learned from Bee Basics, aside from bumblebees, most other species of native bees are solitary. They build nests in the ground, in dead trees and, in the case of a number of parasitic “cuckoo” bees, in the nests of other species. Thousands of species exist, many with very specialized tastes in pollen and nectar, those protein-laced plant products that convinced prehistoric wasps to give up their carnivorous wasp-ness in favor of a vegetarian diet.  The southern blueberry bee pollinates – wait for it – blueberry bushes, while squash bees pollinate cucurbits (pumpkins, squash, and zucchini to me). Competition from honey bees, environmental degradation, and pesticides all are hurting many of these interesting and literally life-giving insects so, to quote Arthur Miller, “attention must be paid” by all of us who benefit so mightily from them.

Bee Basics is written for the layperson, provides a huge amount of biological and ecological information in fewer than 50 pages, and is available here for you to read. You can also find it in a library.

As for Lavern Baker, I bear no hard feelings. I still love her version of “Bumble Bee!”

 

 


A Military History Buff’s Delight

June 22, 2011

Every so often I like to delve into the pile of magazines that accumulate here at Government Book Talk world headquarters. It strikes me that some of them would be right at home in the periodicals rack of one of the big chain bookstores. Take the latest issue of Army History, for example. The folks at the Center of Military History do a fine job of producing a military history magazine that combines first-rate design and production values with well-researched yet readable articles on the Army’s history.

The lead article in the spring 2011 issue is “Foraging and Combat Operations at Valley Forge.” The author, Ricardo A. Herrera points out the mythos of Valley Forge – martyred Continental soldiers virtuously starving while the sinful Brits feast and frolic in Philadelphia, and George Washington broods magnificently – has obscured the ongoing combat and reconnaissance patrols and foraging expeditions that kept that same army from disintegrating under the impact of adverse weather and supply conditions. His account of the great Forage of 1778, in which General Nathanael Greene commanded a force of almost 1,500 regulars and additional militia forces on a wide-ranging effort to corral any available supplies from the farms of Pennsylvania and new Jersey and destroy what could not be hauled away – both actions to deprive the British foragers of those same supplies – made me look at the year of Valley Forge in a whole new way.

I was particularly interested in the New Jersey segment of the Great Forage, led by General Anthony Wayne. Far from being “Mad Anthony,” Wayne led a relatively successful effort to seize supplies and spar with enemy forces while keeping a really rash cavalry officer – Casimir Pulaski – from getting himself and his men killed through impetuous charges. Some of the action occurred in a part of the state we drive through every summer on the way to the Jersey shore – the next time I’m in the Evesham/Mount Laurel area, I’ll have to inquire about this campaign.

There’s much more in this issue – an account of the repression of Filipino revolutionaries inSamar during the Philippine Insurrection, as well as several book reviews. At least one of the reviews, on the post-World War II war crimes trial of the German general Albert “Smiling Albert” Kesselring almost had me reaching for my credit card on the spot.

You can read this issue here, get a subscription here, or find issues in a library. Trust me, if you’re a military history scholar or buff, you’ll find something of interest in every issue – I sure do.


Cooking (and Eating) With Uncle Sam

June 20, 2011

 The National Archives  just opened a new exhibit that has piqued my interest. “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?” is intended to “explore the records of the National Archives that trace the Government’s effect on what Americans eat.” Although I haven’t had a chance to visit the exhibit yet, it’s been getting great press in the New York Times (subscription required, I’m afraid) and the Washington Post.

Awhile back I discussed one of the Government’s efforts to inform the public about food preparation: Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes. In those days, thrifty, filling meals were the order of the day – comfort food that could nourish people struggling through the Great Depression with very little spare cash.The Government is still a player in the food game today, but now the problem seems to be obesity rather than malnutrition. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) has replaced its venerable Food Pyramid with MyPlate, but the aim remains the same: educating the public on portion control and which foods to increase or decrease in the American diet.

This brings me to another 2011 Library Journal notable Government document: the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Grow It, Try It, Like It: Preschool Fun with Fruits and Vegetables, a kit aimed at parents and teachers who want to provide young children with food and nutrition information in a fun way while teaching them all kinds of other things, like growing and cooking vegetables. Kids can improve their small motor skills while getting their hands dirty in a constructive way and then serve up the results – and maybe even acquire a taste for fruits and veggies, that perennial hope of parents everywhere. The kit includes seven booklets, with names like “Spinach Lane,” “Sweet Potato Hill,” and “Peach Tree Orchard,” each one explaining a particular fruit or vegetable’s nutritional value, how to grow it, recipes, and lots more. There are plenty of puzzles and other fun activities, too. Since we’re way past Aunt Sammy these days, technologically speaking, the kit also includes a CD-ROM with more information and a DVD of “Cool Puppy Pup’s Picnic and Lunch Parties.”

So what’s cooking at the Federal level? Quite a bit! You can view Grow It, Try It, Like It here or browse through its components in a library. I suspect that even a lot of us who are way past the Cool Puppy Pup stage might learn something from these booklets – I didn’t inherit my grandmother’s green thumb, so maybe they could actually help me grow some of this stuff!


A new history of GPO – hot off the press

June 15, 2011

As I mentioned some months ago, 2011 marks the U.S. Government Printing Office’s 150th anniversary. Since no history of the agency has been written since 100 GPO Years in 1961, and a great deal has happened to both GPO and the Nation since then, Keeping America Informed: The U.S. Government Printing Office, 150 Years of Service to the Nation is a welcome addition to a relatively sparse collection of books on the subject. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the editorial group that worked on this book and I wrote several of the sidebars scattered throughout – whew, glad to get that off my chest!)

Perhaps because GPO still is at its original location at the corner of North Capitol and H Streets Northwest, just down the street from the U.S. Capitol, it has a remarkable collection of photographs of its buildings, equipment, and especially people. Those photographs really make this new book something special. It’s impressive and oddly moving to see the printers of a century ago gazing solemnly at the camera, “getting the books out” just as we do here today. For many readers, these images will put a human face on a little-known but vital aspect of the Government.

The text is impressive, too. In the 50 year since the last GPO history was published, a lot has happened. There are triumphs (the transition from hot metal to computer typesetting, the advent of the digital age and the Internet, GPO Access and the Federal Digital System) and frank discussions of controversial matters (the McCarthy era investigations of GPO, the 1968 riots that disrupted nearby neighborhoods). There is also more information on aspects of the more distant past, such as GPO’s reluctant role in Theodore Roosevelt’s abortive attempt to simplify the spelling of words in Government documents – and the editorial cartoonists had just as much fun with it then as they would now!

Since I’ve referenced my own peripheral role, I would be lax if I didn’t mention that George Barnum, GPO’s Historian, and Andy Sherman, our Chief Communications Officer, used both primary and secondary sources to turn what easily could have been a turgid “official history” into a clear, readable narrative. George also did a great job of selecting the photos. One of the book’s key sources was a series of articles diligently researched by Dan MacGilvray, a former GPO Historian. Dean Gardei’s book design skills contributed mightily and GPO craftsmen produced a first-rate final product, as always. To quote Don Ritchie, the Senate Historian, “Congratulations on all this work, it’s a great achievement.” 

Above all, Keeping America Informed does a masterful job of showing how GPO has used the best technology available to ensure the dissemination of Federal Government information to the American people – from the original printings of the Emancipation Proclamation and the UN Charter to online versions of today’s Congressional Record and the Federal Register. You can get a copy here.  It’s also available via GPO’s Federal Digital System here. As to which sidebars I wrote, I’d be interested in your guesses!


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