Michel Montaigne, the 16th century inventor of the personal essay, was a pretty wise observer of mankind. “There is no man so good,” he wrote, “who, were he to submit all his thoughts and actions to the laws, would not deserve hanging 10 times in his life.” In short, we’re all mixed bags of good and bad, so who are you to tell me what’s good for me? The Texas A&M AgriLife Research folks want you to eat beef briskets to improve your health. Their “findings confirmed that high levels of oleic acid can be had in beef brisket. You want this because it lowers LDLs (the ‘bad’ kind of cholesterol) and produces high levels of HDLs (the good kind), which are said to promote better heart health.” Plus, the more exotic grain-fed breeds, like Angus and Wagyu, are fatter and produce even more oleic acid. Hurrah!
Many cardiologists and environmentalists aren’t convinced eating cow fat’s the best path to a healthy heart or planet, but the prevailing industrial tactic is funding research to prove your product has redeeming qualities while ignoring the negatives. If you ask the right researcher, butter’s good for us again, just like coffee, nicotine, chocolate and sugar. But remember: as Sophocles pointed out, “No enemy is worse than bad advice,” and no professional’s immune to that, even librarians.
Despite creating a good way to organize information and founding the first library school, Melvil Dewey was a racist and rabid sexual predator. However, my poster child for bad librarian of the century is Ann Carroll Moore, who was the picture of bullying self-righteous small-mindedness who ruled her roost as head of the New York Public Library’s children’s section, even decades after her formal “retirement.” Her successor tried relocating the children’s staff departmental meetings at the last minute to fool Miss Moore, but to no avail; even unemployed she inevitably showed up and chaired the meetings.
Like Dewey, she did some good: greatly increasing story hours open to all nationalities and income levels, and permitting any child who could sign their name to check out books. However, Miss Moore had narrowly specific views on which books children should read. She used a large, red rubber stamp saying “NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PURCHASE BY EXPERT” on title pages of preview books she rejected. Moore preferred, even adored, books filled with innocence and light fairy magic like Beatrix Potter’s tales and “The Velveteen Rabbit,” but she absolutely loathed the new style of children’s literature emerging in the 1940s, especially Margaret Wise Brown’s immortal “Goodnight Moon.”
Moore retired in 1947 and died in 1961, but her dominance in kiddie lit circles was so profound the NYPL didn’t own copies of “Goodnight Moon” until 1972 when the book was regularly selling 100,000 copies annually. That’s why that most iconic and beloved of 20th-century books didn’t make NYPL’s recent “10 most checked-out books ever” list. “The Snowy Day” by Jack Keats (485,583 checkouts) leads the way with Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” (469,583) close behind. Then it’s Orwell’s “1984” (441,770), “Where the Wild Things Are” (436,016), “To Kill a Mockingbird” (422,912), “Charlotte’s Web” (37,948), “Farenheit 451” (316,404), “How to Win Friends and Influence People” (284,524), “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (231,022), and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” (189,550). Unlike “Goodnight Moon,” which has circulated 100,000 times since 1972, they’ve all been around at least since the 1950s. Moreover, “Moon” sells 800,000 yearly now, and it’ll soon make a future NYPL’s “most popular list.”
British Parliamentarian Jeremy Bentham helped equalize his country’s laws for rich and poor, and founded London University in 1826. But he figured he knew best when he devised an algorithm to determine how much pleasure is derived from doing bad things so he could figure how much pain it’d take to surpass, say, the thrill a burglar gets from a heist. Then Bentham designed a whipping machine to apply precise degrees of pain. He also required London University to stuff his body and keep it on campus in perpetuity following his death.
As Shakespeare said in “All’s Well That End’s Well,” “The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.”
Greg Hill is the former director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries. Contact him at 479-4344.