Tuesday, January 31, 2023

More weather


I have been so busy complaining about and trying to hide from the snow and ice and absolute grayness of this Winter that I forgot to notice that it hasn't, on the other hand, actually been very cold this Winter.

Until today.

I don't know that I hate the cold. I mean, on the occasion I am personally cold I do find it miserable, maybe slightly less miserable than being hot, but probably not. That whimpering, shivering, unchangeable cold in my very bones is rough stuff, even dangerous.

But cold weather?

Of all the things that fascinated a boy who grew up in Southern California about a Northern Winter, the only one that still remains so alien and strange and compelling after all these years of familiarity, is cold, deep cold- extreme, minus something something degrees cold. There is something fascinating to me about air that simply, as is, is utterly frigid. Colder than any freezer. Colder than fake, produced cold. Colder than anything I can get anywhere else. Colder than I normally understand.

A patron came into the library tonight and I was wearing a thin stocking hat, as I regularly do these days. This person asked if a draft came in from the front doors and made me cold.

I thought. No. It didn't. But it was so cold outside that it radiated off of the patrons when they walked in. People came into our warmish library and for minutes just exuded cold they had been imbued with by merely being outside for a bit. The sheer coldness of the clothes of library patrons was chilling the library!

This happens with books too. They come in on the conveyer belt from outside and it's like they glow with cold, like they've been dipped in something magical and radioactive. I can feel the cold of them from five feet away. When I pick them up it's incredible. They are too cold to warm to my touch. There is something deep about their feel that penetrates so far into them that they become like other things. Things of a Winter world.

Tonight, when I leave to go home, I will step out into the minus five degree weather for a bit. I have done this hundreds of times now over the many years here in Minnesota. But even now when I anticipate it, I am curious.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Musical chairs


My ideal workgroup at my library is a lean, self-sufficient, and harmonious collection of mildly committed co-workers who like libraries. I have had this on occasion. And maybe I will one day again. But right now at my library it's a lot more like a bunch of random people of vastly different capabilities shoveled into a giant pile with the hopes that it will all... work out.

As the command structure of my library (always anathema to me by its very definition), has become even more layered, removed, and bureaucratic, the staffing has gotten increasingly disorderly. While there has always been a tendency towards this here, it has never been a more strongly held approach that if one just sort of shoves enough random workers at the library job it's bound to get done. 

We currently have a collection of old timers who tend to be very bad or very good at the job. We have some middle timers who tend to think they're better than they are, but who I will concede are generally... fine. And lastly we have new people, lots and lots of new people. We have people sent here from other county agencies that closed down, but who can't be let go (and rightly so), and whose skills and inclinations have nothing to do with library work. We have a whole group of people that have been sent here from one of our library branches that reduced to a skeleton staff during a year long refurbishment of their closed building, and we have a couple more people who I'm not sure where they came from or what their names are, but they seem to be around a lot and occasionally show up on the schedule. None of these people are particularly good at this job, or the alphabet. Also these people tend to not be such good co-workers, missing cues and lacking social understanding. They kind of clog up the hallways.

But despite all this we are a team. So nevertheless we must set all of this negativity aside. Yes we are a mass, an unruly undulated horde of labor, but in the end we are all here united in one common goal:

To find an available chair to sit in.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

A virtue of ice


I wandered around taking pictures until my camera's batteries ran away. I did not realize, days later, when I collected my pictures into my computer, that I had taken so many pictures of ice.

This is a Winter of much ice.

So I guess it's kind of hard to miss it.

There is a lot of snow, too. But once a person gets out on all this snow one realizes:

Oh. It's all really just... ice.

The city has a way of compressing. Everything.

So does time.

Sometimes the ice is pretty. Sometimes it looks like it might be something else. And sometimes it's just ice that looks like ice. Its temperature is variable, but does not ever, EVER, exceed 32 degrees.

Here it is:

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Dear Editior: Have you considered...


Dear Editor:

Have you considered publishing a high profile insider's non-fiction book about libraries? 

I have one for you and it will knock you off your feet!

Did you know that Libraries are not the genteel, quiet institutions we remember them as, but rather have become hives of villainy, bloodlust, sex and murder? The ultra rich and mega celebrities have been buying private sections of public libraries to conduct dark rites that control the minds of the nation's Senators and Judges. Secret rhino farms operate under the very noses of innocent library-visiting suburban families, experimental limb replacements are conducted willy nilly in study rooms equipped with one way glass taken from crash landed alien spaceships, Republicans are regularly embroiled in brutal fistfights with karate trained librarians, drugs are freely passed around that grant super intelligence to their users, but with temporary, "Flowers for Algernon" tragic effects, cabals of Christian sects are building Pope Robots powered by sacrificed classic novels soaked in the blood of lambs.

All of this is one hundred percent true!

Unfortunately my book mainly focuses on the intricacies of library card registration.

Still, I look forward to hearing from you!


Feldenstein Calypso (Library Insider)


Friday, January 27, 2023

Annual Feedback Form


Thank you for taking part in Clerkmanifesto's Annual Feedback Form.

This form will only take you a few minutes to complete. 

Unless you do the whole thing. Then it will take longer. 

Also reading the instructions will add a significant amount of time. But due to the sunk cost fallacy you're already halfway there so you might as well finish.

I mean: Almost halfway through the first part of the first section, just to be accurate.

Many people ask us:

"Why would I want to take up my time unrenumerated to answer questions that are strictly to your benefit?"

To which I can only say:

It's not unrenumerated!

It's "unremunerated".

Shall we move right along then?

A. Wait, is that the first question?

B. I'm not ready yet. I don't have my number two pencil!

C. Who do I contact to "opt out"?

D. Argh! You tricked me into starting!

Please enter the choice that best reflects your responses to last year's Clerkmanifesto Annual Feedback form:

A. Mostly C's and D's I think.

B. I've done a little research and your last "annual" feedback form was 4/15/19! I have been waiting almost four years now!

C. At this point I can only remember answering anything that I thought would win me a Visa Gift Card.

D. This is a ridiculous feedback form. I would quit right now if I hadn't already put so much effort into it!

How do you best like to read Clerkmanifesto?

A. While drinking and driving.

B. I don't know if this counts, but I best like to reflect upon Clerkmanifesto posts in my head while I'm tying to fall asleep.

C. At work, so I can stick it to the man!

D. Reading Clerkmanifesto isn't really my thing. I'm more of a "Survey" guy.

If you could name one thing you would like to see on Clerkmanifesto, what would it be?

A. I wish that when you have multiple choice surveys instead of using numbered answer choices you switched to a capital letters format.

B. Not to be a copycat but I wish that when you have multiple choice surveys instead of using numbered answer choices you switched to a capital letters format.

C. I would like an opportunity to round up my payment in each blog post to contribute to some positive sounding non profit that is mostly about paying the staff of the non profit.

D. The one thing I would like in Clerkmanifesto is a little more humbleness... from everyone else! Because you, Sir, are one stone cold bonafide genius!

In conclusion please add the following content to the "other comments" section as if I wrote them in myself.

A. A roughly sketched stick figure of a person wearing some kind of hat.

B. A poorly worded request from a Russian Bot that asks you to visit some bizarre website that no one would ever be interested in.

C. Anything that might make me look thoughtful and engaged.

D. An ambiguous, handwritten "Thanx".

Other Comments:

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Van Gogh in the reservoir woods


Yesterday I went to the Reservoir Woods. They are a surprisingly big inner ring suburban woodlands, and many times I could not see out, even in the bareness of winter, to the civilization surrounding me. It was a lovely morning full of snow and also full of me falling through the snow and swearing as the snow then filled in my boots around my ankles and then melted.

Naturally I wanted to memorialize it all for you. Using my phone I took some pictures but they were not good enough to meet the minimum standards required to appear on Clerkmanifesto!

"What" You ask. "Are the minimum standards required to appear on Clerkmanifesto?"

Check in every morning at 6:30 a.m. to find out! 

Each post is worked to its least acceptable standard, no matter how long it takes.

And never an inch more!

Anyway, my solution to this problem of not meeting my minimum standards with my photos was to ask my phone to put penguins into my pictures. That is what I showed you yesterday. It gave a slightly better feel for the area, though maybe it was a bit less accurate, especially since, and it pains me to say this, there were no actual penguins in The Reservoir Woods. But I also had asked my phone to pretend as if Van Gogh had gone walking with me and made a few paintings of the trees when I was taking pictures of them.

And this is the very thing I have for you today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The reservoir wood aquatic birds


This morning I went out to Reservoir Woods to see if I remembered how to walk. I mostly remembered, but it was confusing because every rare step, randomly, my footstep would poke through the surface of the world and drop two feet.

"Crap." I might say. But didn't because of the great peacefulness that had come over me from being in the woods. 

Then I realized a bunch of snow had fallen into my boot.

"Crap!" I cried.

It was quite lovely in the woods and I decided I should take some pictures for you. I only had my phone, and I figured none of my pictures would be able to give the effect, but I took them anyway.

They did not give the effect.

So I asked my phone to put penguins into the pictures, if it could, to help.

That was better.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The insane price of eggs!


Sure, I buy eggs every once in awhile. Some weeks I'm kind of into eggs, you know, for eating. But more often I just need one or two eggs to make mayonnaise.

Of course I make mayonnaise! Doesn't everyone make mayonnaise?

But recently, as you probably know, all of America started going batshit insane about the price of eggs. I mean, I wasn't that interested, but I still knew all about it because it was simply everywhere. The soaring price of eggs was, dare I say, in the very batter of public life.

The funny thing was in the afternoon before going to the grocery store to investigate the price of eggs and, uh, shop for groceries, I had been listening to a favorite podcast, while shelving books at my library, called "War on Cars". In this show they were talking about "Moral Panics". Moral Panics are when a widespread fear, often irrational and overblown, rises up on bare fragments of evidence, that some evil thing is threatening the well-being and values of society in the gravest of ways. This is often perpetuated by a kind of mass media hysteria, and fed by politicians. Examples include the Salem Witch Trials, Reefer Madness, and the dangers of Rock, and Video Games, and Critical Race Theory. The show I was listening to was bringing in the idea of moral panic to describe what was happening in relation to Ebikes, scooters, and more people using bike lanes in various cities.

But something about this egg thing reminded me of what I was learning about moral panics.

I mean, the price of everything is going up. A lot of it is extremely suspicious to me, and I think has more to do with the Corporate Monopolization of markets than things like supply chain issues, but yes, both are deeply involved. Still, why the egg?

Probably like you, any trip I make to the grocery store these days can provide me with three or four random opportunities to be stunned at the newly high cost of something. I may never have seen cauliflower at five dollars a pound before, or I might suddenly notice that it has become normal for any good cheese to now be more than twenty dollars a pound. I looked at the eggs. They had a dozen on sale for an amount that evoked no particular reaction in me, and though I believe a singular organic free-range egg was 40 cents or so, and this was maybe higher than I was used to, it was not the sort of amount to make my jaw drop. And yet as I wheeled to the check out line the screaming banner headline of our main city newspaper that I passed was about the terrible high prices of eggs.


I suppose it was because it was a symbol, a common food, easily understandable. It could express a broader outrage about rising prices. And maybe too it had something to do with it being neatly ascribable to bird flu.

If everything is crazy, and supply chains are broken, and bird flus are decimating products, and no one will work (for low wages), and we all feel like it's a craziness tearing apart the fabric of society and there's nothing we can do about it except suck it up, or use less eggs, or embrace the new luxury of omelets, then maybe we won't look...   too...    close?

If there is an underlying reason something is 15 percent more expensive, but you raise the price 25 percent, maybe you can shrug your shoulders and make ten percent more off of everything.

Naaaah. Just kidding. It's all fate and luck and beyond anyone's control. But I'm here to help!

Here's how to save money on eggs!

Buy a cheap chicken. It can even be a remaindered chicken.

Take it home.

Put it in your countertop time machine (use the kind with the viewing window).

Dial the machine back eight weeks, but keep your finger on the "stop" button.

You can do whatever until the chicken is getting kind of cute and fluffy. Then, when the chick becomes an egg wait a couple more seconds (this is important, otherwise, yuck). You want to catch your egg just before it disappears. 

If it disappears don't worry!

Dial your time machine forward a few hours and then hit the stop.

One very fresh egg!



Monday, January 23, 2023

Never give them ideas


A library patron comes up to me at the front desk of my library and asks "Do you have magazines that can be checked out and taken home?"

I wave it away as unnecessary. "I'd really just recommend tearing out whatever pages you're interested in."

The patron is a trifle shocked for a moment, then chuckles. At which point I lay out all the actual rules, regulations, and parameters for magazine locations and check outs. Then, because we're great friends now, the patron tells me that the magazines are for a resident at a home they work at, who enjoys magazines related to home design.

I tell the patron we have plenty of those and they exit stage right.

Some time later I look up from my computer and see this patron walking past with an armful of magazines. Smiling they say to me "I'll tear out the pages I need when I get home."

I've created a monster!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Life in a Minnesota winter

At precisely 11:14 in the morning the sun was sighted over my library. One of my co-workers announced it to the back workroom and we all immediately ran to the window. 

Due to the angles and general haze and cloudiness we couldn't quite see where the sun was, but it was definitely different. Two people walking by appeared to be illuminated. Direct light was shining on them.

"What color was the sun again?" One of us asked.

Several colors like green and blue were suggested and it was all very funny. Then we fell silent. It really had been a long time since anyone had seen the sun. A librarian walked by.

"The sun came out!" One of us exclaimed.

"Oh please." She said dismissively. I guess it wasn't out anymore. She was not keen to countenance some brief, muddy, and incomplete glimpse.

"The sun was yellow." One of us said softly.

I don't know if it was a joke or not.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Dear Editor: Wet your beak


Dear Editor,

I know that you are accustomed to receiving book proposals from authors filled with enthusiasm for the importance and artistic vision of their work. But publishing is a business. And no matter how brilliant a writer may or may not be, a book has to make money.


We authors send our books to you and ask you to gamble your precious money. It's not our money we gamble, it's your money.

This is so unfair!

I won't do it! I refuse to come here and ask you to gamble your money on my book, no matter how good I think this book is.

That is why I am guaranteeing the first million dollars of income for the publication of this book. 

If I am confident enough to ask you to outlay your money and resources for this book, surely I should be confident enough to simply outlay my own.

That is why I am sending you one million dollars to publish my book. This million dollars will serve as a guarantee for your first million dollars in earnings for my book and will stand as your minimum earnings. You can still earn more if my book makes more than a million dollars. But you cannot earn less. 

If you run this by your accountant your accountant will say "This is a good deal!"

Then you will look at each other and say, at the same time, "But what's the catch?"

There is no catch!

Except that as an unpublished author I don't have a million dollars.

Can I borrow a million dollars?

I am so looking forward to working with you,

Yours, etc. etc.,

Feldenstein Calypso

Friday, January 20, 2023

How we get money around here


My library did away with late fines officially a little over a year ago. The whole late fine thing, which dominated years of my life working at this library, turned out to be a house of cards in the end. The pandemic came through and it all started to fall apart. And nobody misses it. Which supports my optimistic view that institutions don't need to be so punitive. They can actually be generous!

Okay, I've been around the block a few times with the public, so let me amend that, but only a little:

Institutions don't need to be so punitive. They can actually be cautiously generous!

That's the good news.

The bad news is that someone in the county IT Department might be reconsidering this strategy. 

This, I warn you, is a true story. It happened today.

We recently, after a tremendous amount of fuss and delay, got new self checkout machines to replace the old ones that worked just fine, but... okay. The new check out machines include a small group of minor improvements, a subtle "new machine" sheen, and an array of downgrades that may or may not be temporary glitches to be worked out over the course of the next decade, or not.

One glitch, if you can call it that, is that only one machine in the building so far takes credit cards for fees (despite the end of fines, we still have assorted charges for rental bestsellers, lost materials, and occasional minor purchases like book bags). An older couple I was helping wanted to pay their $2.50 rental book fees, but they only had credit cards. Disliking a debt, they resolved that they would pay it on our self check out station when they checked out later.

Fifteen minutes later they were back. They said the machine told them they owed $2.50. They hit the "pay" button. The machine then asked if they wanted to pay all $17 of what they owed.


I was excited. I wanted to see this action. First I double checked that they owed a straight up $2.50 with no complications. Then we went to the machine and ran their library card under the laser. The screen said they owed $2.50. We chose to pay, on the touch screen, at which point, sure enough, the machine asked if we would like to pay all $17 of what they owed.


I told the couple that maybe they should hold off on paying the fine until I could track down whether we were trying to trick them into paying too much, or it was just some kind of programming mistake.

Often it's both.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

They love my car more than me


Yesterday we explored my ideas about the Disneyfication of cities. It was long for me as a post, though it probably should have been longer to be fully fleshed out. It was about how cities need to be more fun, walkable, and people centric, but with a major emphasis on the fun part. It was inspired by a movement that has much interested me these past years, collectively known as New Urbanism. The best and most entertaining expressions of this movement are a book called Strong Towns and now its assorted activities as a non profit, the wonderful YouTube channel Not Just Bikes, and the podcast War on Cars. All of these are essentially about the creation of and necessity for walkable, environmentally friendly, human centric urban design, and suburban and rural design as well, for that matter. They also do a good job of ripping off the veil of just how awful, toxic, costly, unwise, and unfair is so much of the car centric design we take for granted in our cities today.

But because this material is so well covered in the sources listed above, and in many others I could easily recommend, I have not had much inspiration to bring my own takes to the subject. But lately I have been aware that my life has been so dominated by the seeming inevitability of a culture based on the car, roads, and pointlessly dispersed urban environments also designed for cars, that even as a person now highly attuned to these issues, and well informed on them, there are still so many dismal things I take for granted. And sometimes these might be worth talking about.

My case in point today is my city's relationship to snow.

It has been a snowy winter, and an icy one as well. But as I look out the window here the roads look pretty good. There is a small strip of snow in the very center of the street, but four lanes of clear asphalt (plowed to the edge of the bike lane which is left under a layer of snow and ice). The cars are free and clear on a perfect surface. The city plows regularly to make this happen. In fact, as I write, the city even has declared some kind of special three day project of plowing some more, over every street, to try to get things just right.

But for sidewalks? Which currently are covered by every condition ranging from brief sections that are mildly walkable to many others that are dangerously treacherous, and with everything in between, every 20 feet is a new danger grab bag. 

This sidewalk care is entirely the responsibility of the property owner.

Which leads to two questions that can only reasonably be answered one way.

Why aren't the property owners responsible for clearing the snow from the section of street in front of them instead of the city?


Why doesn't the city plow the sidewalks as they do the streets?

And that singular answer to these questions?

I refer you to today's title.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Disneyfication of the city


It is strictly meant pejoratively when people talk about Disneyfication. And while I can see a little of what people are getting at- homogenized highly manufactured and controlled environments- I consider Disneyfication to be far closer to a model of what we need in a city than it is the thing our urban environments should fear.

Far, far, far, far, far closer.

And we don't have to even go farther than the car. Besides the Disney model being at a scale that makes it entirely walkable, it also provides as transit options: Trains, aerial tramways, monorails, people movers, horse drawn carriages, and boats. One of the only ways one doesn't get around in these parks is in a motor vehicle. This already puts the Disney model so far above any North American city I've ever been to that it can host half a dozen serious problem before it's brought down to the level of a San Francisco, let alone down to the freeway misery of some place like Phoenix. We are given here in Disney a head start of far better air quality, vastly safer streets, no relentless noise pollution, and healthier, more pleasant commuting. 

That's a major head start!

And when we do bring in the Disney problems nearly everyone of them is far more fixable than the bitter problem of car transportation that degrades almost every city in the world. Housing? There is no housing in Disney, but at least we don't have car centered housing sprawl of inappropriate single family homes that we have to work our density into, often against the will and economic interests of the home owners. We can just build four or five or six residential stories above the restaurants and shops, and most of them already have fake apartments above the stores anyway. We can simply make those real apartments. And as for all the corporate hegemony? I have my ideas, plenty of them, but honestly that problem has to be weeded out of everywhere and every city at this point.

Yesterday I watched an interesting video by RM Transit about aerial tramways. This is a person who makes excellent video essays about worldwide urban transit. And I was relieved to find he was positive about aerial tramways, saying their value depends upon their use and their situation, and that many cities have some wonderful tramways as part of their urban transit options. But I did feel that one important point about these cable cars, traveling on wires above the city, and crossing rivers and climbing steep hills, that was seriously undersold, is that they are charming.

They are a ride.

This is a point that new urbanists tend to undersell, possibly because their arguments are already so good to begin with, but making people-centered, engaging, practical, healthy urban environments can also be fun. Old and unusual transit can add profound charm to a city, whether it be the historic cable cars of San Francisco and Lisbon, the Vaporetti of Venice and Batobus of Paris, or the aerial trams of La Paz, Bolivia. And while I understand some of the economical practicality of busses, my heart rebels at their general joylessness. Just as we probably shouldn't have entirely impractical transit purely for charm's sake, neither should we have practical transit regardless of joy and aesthetics.

The truth is that charm is good for a city in every respect, not least quality of life, safety, and economic or productive vitality. The functional power of a city is essential, but it is only given meaning through the beauty and vitality that makes people want to be part of it. And so it is with transit as a subset of that. I happen to live in a city and in a situation where my journey to work, in a car, is largely full of personal convenience. But it is also bad for the environment, ugly, uninspiring, wildly expensive, unhealthy and dangerous. I'm not saying I have to be able to take a boat ride through a subterranean Pirate city to get to my work to be satisfied (though I would be!), but I am saying I want something better than a bus, even assuming we had nice enough ones that ran with a remotely acceptable frequency and directness.

I could sit here and tell you that we're all going to die from our cars and global warming, or that maybe soon my dear wife and I will be able to chuck it all for some distant city a hundred times more Disneyfied than anywhere in America, but with none of the downsides. But instead I stand here with my hat in hand, optimistic and hopeful:

I would like an aerial tramway please.

Thank you.