This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 26, 1994

January 26, 1994 - CHILD

My maternal grandfather was a free-thinker. In an overwhelmingly Republican county, he was a Democrat. In a town with a church on almost every corner, he was an agnostic.

It was a puzzlement to him that his youngest son turned out to be both a Republican and an Episcopalian.

My Uncle Bill is about the straightest-laced, most conservative member of my entire family. On the surface, he and I don't seem very much alike. He keeps his hair very short. Uncle Bill is the sort of man that even when he's not working, wears his company badge. His idea of "casual" is "T-shirt with wingtips." No matter: he has always been my favorite uncle.

We had dinner together recently. After the main course, we got to talking about the surprises of raising children. My Uncle Bill said something that should be memorized by everyone who thinks that he or she might one day reproduce.

He said, "You spend all your adult life as a parent trying to teach your children to think for themselves, and the minute they do, you wonder where you failed."

See why he's my favorite uncle?

Uncle Bill understands something many people -- conservative and liberal alike -- do not. There comes a time when your child is no longer a child. And at that point, the wise parent ... lets go. As painful as it is. Knowing that there WILL be mistakes.

This insight is something some people just never get. Here's an example: the "Coalition Helping to Insure Laws for Dignity," or "CHILD."

CHILD is a "conservative" group that is sponsoring a proposal for yet another Colorado constitutional amendment. They hope it will be on the ballot in the fall of 1994. If the Colorado Legislature votes it down, we'll probably see a petition drive. In brief, they want to toughen up Colorado's "obscenity" law.

Why? Well, that's a good question. The only literature I've seen from the group to date is a flier that claims Colorado is one of only two states that cannot "protect" its citizens against "the distribution of illegal obscenity." They also claim that "... most scientists who have performed research in the area have concluded that hardcore pornography leads to violence against both women and children, as well as sexual harassment in the workplace and the continuing treatment of women as second class citizens in our society."

The trouble is, both of those claims are lies. As we've seen in Douglas County, citizens are more than able to "protect" themselves from pornography collectively through zoning laws. Individually, they have another popular option: they can choose not to buy it.

I thought conservatives believed in LESS governmental interference in our private lives. Why do we need a new constitutional amendment?

But it's the second claim that worries me, and many other librarians. It happens that I've looked at some of the research on pornography myself. Guess what? "Most scientists" haven't been able to establish any link between pornography and sexual crimes at all, much less "the continuing treatment of women as second class citizens." (Just how many men are supposed to be reading this stuff, anyway?)

The insulting premise of this proposed constitutional amendment is that "the book made me do it." Let's think about that for a minute. If you enjoy reading about football, will you become a quarterback? If you like to read mysteries, are you destined to kill someone?

But suppose someone believed that reading mysteries was "harmful," and you just weren't mature enough to decide for yourself which books you could handle? Suppose that the law determined that even though you considered yourself a grown-up, in fact you were a CHILD, and that you needed to be "protected" from your own poor judgment?

As always, the question isn't "What IS hardcore pornography?" or even "What's offensive?" The real question is, "Who decides?" The proposed "obscenity amendment" isn't about "dignity" -- it's about control.

If you believe that we should put to popular vote the notion that the adult citizens of Colorado need additional protection against books no one is making them read in the first place, then I urge you to support the CHILD constitutional amendment.

Or perhaps you agree with my Uncle Bill that at some point you're old enough to make up your own mind -- even if other adults may not like your choices. And if so, I urge you instead to tell your state representative or senator that you do not wish to be treated like a CHILD.

In either case, do it soon. The CHILD proposal should be surfacing in the Colorado legislature in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 19, 1994

January 19, 1994 - baseball and art

Generally speaking, I believe that people should strive to know as much as possible. I believe that curiosity is a good thing. I admire enthusiasm for a subject -- almost any subject.

But there are a few areas of human effort about which I strive to maintain a near total ignorance. One of these areas is sports.

I suspect that it all goes back to my childhood in Illinois. In the neighborhood baseball games, I played right field. Deep, deep, right field -- somewhere, I think, in Indiana.

There are those who claim (and I suppose they're telling the truth) that they love the game of baseball. I've known otherwise fairly interesting people who have committed to memory vast databases of baseball trivia, and can reel it out for hours.

Mostly what I remember about baseball is an abiding sense of boredom, punctuated by the occasional, random bounce into my territory, and my burst of running, stooping, hurling the ball toward home plate ... and then more boredom.

Once somebody took me to a live baseball game in Chicago. I did enjoy watching the crowd. The hot dog was great -- as only a Chicago hot dog can be great. But the game itself was a major league yawner. And why anyone would want to subject themselves to watching baseball ON TV is utterly beyond my comprehension.

I have been informed that Denver now has its own baseball team. To tell you the absolute truth, I don't even know what its name is. I'm sure I've heard it before. And I COULD look it up. But baseball happens to fall into one of my areas of carefully preserved ignorance.

Nonethless, I do understand that this quirk of my character puts me in the distinct minority. We have lots of baseball fans, not only in Douglas County, but within the library district as a whole.

So from January 17 to January 22, the Philip S. Miller Library will proudly display a scale model of the Coors Field. Underwritten by Coors, this exhibit is the object of great curiosity and interest throughout the Denver metropolitan area -- we've already received a lot of phone calls about it.

Accompanying the exhibit will also be a display of books about baseball. I am confident that there will be an enthusiastic audience for both. Catch it if you can.

In addition to the Coors Field display, the Philip S. Miller Library is hosting an exhibit sponsored by the Douglas County Schools' "Adopt A School" program. It features student art work. You can see this one right now, and it will be running through February 25.

It happens that I have about as much artistic TALENT as I have interest in baseball. But there's a difference: art does interest me, and I have been very impressed over the past several years at the quality of the artwork produced by Douglas County students. This year's exhibit has some superb pieces. It's worth a look.

Following that exhibit, we'll have what branch manager Holly Deni calls "the ever-popular 'things found in our books' display." You can only begin to imagine.

Taken together, we've got a little something for everybody -- and the promise of other new and even controversial exhibits in the future.

At your public library, it pays to keep your eyes open. You never know when something might drop out of the sky and ... wake you up.

Saturday, January 1, 1994

30 hour work week

There was a time, not long ago, that whenever I went on vacation, I immediately got sick. There are, I imagine, both physiological and psychological reasons for that.

When you travel, you get exposed to a larger germ pool. Psychologically, the reason you're on a vacation in the first place is because you're running out of reserves. Add the two together, and you may as well tape a little shingle of cardboard outside your sinuses, visible only to malicious microorganisms: "Kick me."

Well, this time, I'm pleased to report, my family vacation was surprisingly healthy. Despite a regional heat index (temperature plus humidity) of approximately 150 degrees, and one incident when we had to strip Perry (our four month old) down to diapers and sprinkle him with ice water, we all managed to have a very interesting and completely illness-free time. My wife and I have both long had an itch to see New England, and we finally got a chance to scratch it.

This time, I got sick when I got back.

It was no biggie, mind, just a summer flu that put me flat out for about three days. But while I was lying around, I got to thinking about our whole pattern of work, play, and worker health in the United States.

I've thought for a long time that much of what's wrong with America has a relatively easy fix. Put simply, I think it's time for us to adopt the 30 hour work week.

This idea isn't as wild as you may imagine. In fact, it has already garnered a great deal of international support. Unions in England, France, Italy, the United States, and even West Germany have all discussed and endorsed it.

Their reasons vary. The French and Germans (according to a piece in the October 27, 1993 issue of the Washington Post) argue that it would enable them to put more people to work at little increase in cost. Incidentally, that was exactly the same line of logic used here in the United States during the Depression, when we went from a six to a five day work week, then found it impossible -- and unnecessary -- to go back.

Some of the West German and American supporters took what may first appear a surprising stance: the 30 hour work week would both increase productivity and provide more leisure time for shopping.

According to an article in the January, 1994 issue of Managers Magazine, numerous studies have demonstrated that reducing both the work week and the work day quite frequently result in big increases in productivity. Why? The article's author suggests some oft-observed realities: "less stress, less absenteeism, less turnover, less personal business during work hours, and lower costs."

Despite all of the above, the truth is that more Americans are working LONGER hours each week than they have in fifty years. Add to this the creeping cost of housing, and you have a situation where grown-ups just don't have much time to spend raising their children. Or surely, not enough time.

Imagine making a living salary, or even enough to support house payments, in 30 hours a week. For a couple, that would free up at least 10 hours per parent per week. As I have noted here before, a national PTA study several years ago found that the average mother spends less than half an hour per day of direct time with each child; fathers, less than 15 minutes. Imagine re-investing that 10 hours of former work time in something of even greater value.

I believe this change will happen, perhaps as soon as the next ten years. And at first, no doubt, the 30 hour work week will prove more expensive: more people, more benefits, for the same total number of "man-hours."

But in very short order, I am confident that we Americans will again demonstrate our astonishing capacity for increased productivity, making the shorter work week a successful investment in both the economic and the cultural infrastructure of our nation.