THE VAGRANT LIBARY an eyewitness account by David Arthur Walters
Preface The Library is a Big Deal Blaming Kemper The Vagrant Library A Ring Around the Library Just the Facts Ma’am Library Systems Expert Responds Something Smells Fishy In Praise of Kemper’s Folly The Compassion Zone Another Knife Attack in the Heart of America An Inhospitable Aspect Ye Olde Library Courage Undaunted
Waiting on Jonathan Kemper A Scintillating Article Praising Folly Again Compassionate Termination Recommended Thirsty Mind Café and Broken Trust The Library’s Best Title The Cosmopolitan Library Walking on the Wild Side Your Ninety Minutes Are Up The Tao of the Kansas City Library Dispraise of Kemper’s Folly
My eyewitness account of the transfer of a downtown public library collection from a decrepit modern day center inhabited by vagrants to its new lodging in a renovated neo-renaissance bank building may be of scant interest to most readers today, therefore this wee book may never be published. Still, the telling of tales is my pride and joy, and there is always hope that someone might enjoy them. I myself am a vagrant of sorts, a bookworm who is in the main disgusted with the common fodder forked out to the middling herd like so much hay. When I arrived at Missouri’s downtown Kansas City Public Library in late 2003, the kind of books I loved the most, those which few people read, were being weeded out in anticipation of the move to handsome quarters; more edutainment and less enlightenment were to be offered up to
Kansas City’s bulging-belly bourgeoisie. Since I thought of myself as an independent intellectual and was therefore disposed to complaining, I took umbrage with the alleged dimming down of the collection. Of course I suspected the usual suspects of the suspected mass bibliocide; to wit, the commercial powers-that-be, and in particular the man that made the abomination possible: one Jonathan Kemper, a member of the dynastic Kemper family, the banking-on-grain family allegedly to blame for everything that has gone wrong with downtown Kansas City over the last century and more – no doubt where wrong takes place something right is done as well, but never mind that for good effect. The library was to be relocated from the liberal Civic Center to the conservative Commercial Center; the evidence of Jonathan Kemper’s guilt was damning: the new library building, an old bank across the street from his operating bank, was called “Jonathan’s building.” Taking that as my cue, I dubbed the library rehabilitation project “Jonathan’s folly,” and, taking Erasmus to heart, I gleefully derided several of its prominent features. Yet I was secretly grateful to Jonathan Kemper after I had relocated my reading and writing operations to the new quarters, so grateful that I recommended he give up banking altogether and take up the professional directorship of cultural institutions. The wonderful old refurbished building
was one thing. For another, contrary to stated policy, quite a few academic works had not been weeded out – I attributed their survival to negligence or ignorance because I doubted that my vociferously and tardily made suggestions on the subject had made a difference. Furthermore, Jonathan Kemper had given library patrons better cause for self respect, hence more respect for others, by the imposition and enforcement of certain rules and regulations. Naturally those standards of conduct, like all standards, are discriminatory, and no doubt some provision might be made to help needy people abide by the rules for their own good. For example, Chris Dodge, the author of a July-August 2005 Utne article, ‘Knowledge For Sale,’ complained that the new Kansas City library posted thirty-three “customer behavior expectations”, one being that personal belongings must not be too large to fit under one library chair. Everyone knows that vagrants might not have a safe place to stash their belongings; the rest of the public is obviously to blame for that, so provisions should be made to accommodate everything except the kitchen sink, which most houseless people do not have anyway. “Ironically,” Mr. Dodge notes, “it isn’t just the underclass that gets short-changed when libraries cater so single-mindedly to the middle class. Independent scholars, young dreamers, and tomorrow’s world changers have
always shared the library with the unwashed and forgotten, and all may be poorly served by recent changes.” Well, I have been all of the above, except unwashed. I was so independent that I refused to go to school, and, thanks to my father, who had inspired me with the love of literature he had gained in the old Carnegie libraries, I studied and dreamt in the libraries after I ran away from Topeka (NA: a good place to dig potatoes) to Chicago. I was so forgotten that no one but the person who filed the missing person report cared whether I existed or not. I like cash and dislike being burdened by material things. I traveled all over the country, from city to city and library to library during my vagrant youth, with only one change of clothing if that, some underarm deodorant, and a toothbrush – soap served as toothpaste. I will not take credit for the vast changes I made in the world at large, but I will say that being houseless and footloose and fancy free eventually lost its allure and caused me to make the necessary compromises to raise rent money. Of course I was blessed with natural resources and with vanity and luck or providence to make my way in the world with one foot in ideal accounts and the other in accounting.
As for my vanity, I believe I am as good a man as the man behind “Jonathan’s building,” and I believe I would be as generous if I were in his shoes; the poor may be more generous than the rich but ten million dollars still goes farther than ten dollars. But I am not dollar-rich, and I must concede that he is my better for what he has accomplished, and no doubt that gave me good cause to grumble at my lack. Of course any self-respecting bookworm would lay off muttering for a moment, and thank the great patrons of libraries. Therefore this sometimes ungrateful work is gratefully dedicated to Jonathan Kemper.
THE LIBRARY IS A BIG DEAL
I care about libraries because for me, a student and a writer, libraries are educational institutions and work places. I noticed on my first visit to the Kansas City Public Library that the people on the floor were generally courteous and competent but that the library on the whole was badly managed. That much was obvious to anyone who has eyes and ears and who cares about such things. My library research eventually led me to conclude that the library director and deputy directors should be weeded out along with a few
members of the staff who are unable to "let go of the past" with the transition to new technology and new quarters. As for the physical move to the new building on Tenth and Baltimore, it appeared to me that the costs per square foot were outrageously exorbitant in terms of new library space added, that the intention of the donors who were advancing funds was not as charitable as their newspaper was leading the public to believe, and that the intention of the developers was to shift the capital costs and increased expenses to the taxpayer. It also appeared to me that the library trustee who literally made the new library happen, Jonathan Kemper, had apparent conflicts of interest which at the very least created an appearance of impropriety. I was grateful for his initiative and the results, but I recommended that he step down as library trustee. Given his love for the library project, I believe now that my recommendation was foolish, and that I should have recommended that he resign some of his private positions and take up the direction of libraries, museums, and similar institutions. Furthermore, I was more concerned with the library collection itself than with its housing, and I was dismayed that none of the $50 million was going toward the development of that collection. In my opinion, the deputy director in charge of public relations prevaricated on that subject, and did so
with the knowledge of the director. Several staff members complained privately to me about the mishandling of the collection, including "rampant theft," and the inadequacy of funds budgeted for collection development. They also complained that none of the $50 million was being utilized to improve the quality of human resources. They were disturbed that The Kansas City Star "news" coverage and news "analysis" was devoted to "trumpeting" or advertising the physical aspects of the new housing and the moral virtue of the civic leaders involved in the downtown revitalization effort. After I filed numerous reports and opinions on the matter with the newspaper reporters, editors, and the so-called "readers' representative," the Star remained silent on the vital issues and continued to focus on the shell. Hence I opined in all political incorrectness that, in respect to the new library building, a key component of the downtown revitalization effort, the newspaper reporters are "tail-wagging press putas" and "lapdogs of the power elite." Again, I care about the library because libraries have been the most important factor in my life. Furthermore, I care about the community, and I believe that the new downtown library building project is indicative not only of what might be made right about the downtown revitalization effort, but of everything that was wrong with the general effort from the first place. In
respect to the new library building itself, the mistakes might result in another mausoleum-like Union Station - the station is actually my favorite place in Kansas City, and I hope it will remain open so I can have lunch there (shredded beef tacos) on Saturdays. Furthermore, my pet peeves about certain library policies are by no means unfounded or insignificant. Absurd library policies stubbornly adhered to reflect a neurotic or "stupid" state of mind that naturally pervades the entire administration of the library to its detriment. And it is detrimental to the entire community. When we trace foolish policies up the ladder to their origins, from the deputy directors to the director to the board of trustees to the mayors who appoint them, and to the landlords, bankers, real estate developers, and big corporations which the mayors and press putas are inclined to favor for the sake of business, we begin to wonder if they are really morons with over-rated credentials or if they are just negligent. Sometimes I think the Kansas City Library is not being dumbed down but is rather being dumbed up to suit the nature of its trustees, which are of course civic leaders. Libraries have historically been the arks of civilization, the central factors of mental culture; and now the new downtown Kansas City Public Library is intended to be the showpiece of the commercial Library District, the leading light of the power elite’s downtown real estate
revitalization venture. It is with that in mind, and its important to the well being of the community at large, that the following information from the Kansas City Public Library’s online site on May 19, 2004 is provided:. The Kansas City Public Library system is governed by a nine-member board of trustees. Board members are appointed by the mayors of their respective districts (City of Kansas City, MO; City of Independence, MO; and City of Sugar Creek, MO). The mayor of Kansas City appoints seven members; the mayors of Independence and Sugar Creek appoint one member each. Board members serve four-year terms. Olivia Dorsey, current Board President, is the Community Affairs Director for a local television affiliate (KMBC-TV, Hearst Corporation). In addition to Dorsey's professional work, she has been a communications instructor for the Full Employment Council and a VISTA volunteer. Dorsey's most recent activities and awards include service to The Coterie Theater, Women's Employment Network and ReStart, Inc. as a Board member. Dorsey was appointed to the Library Board in 1993. Jonathan Kemper, current Vice President, was appointed to the Library Board in 2001, is Chief Executive Officer of Commerce Bank (Kansas City). Kemper is involved in several community and business organizations in addition to his responsibilities at the Commerce Bank. He is
on the Board of: the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Downtown Council, the Community Advisory Board for the Bloch School at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Kansas City, Kansas City Chapter of Young Presidents' Organization, The River Club, Truman Library Institute, the Citizens Association, Tower Properties and the Kansas City Center for Design Education and Research. Kemper is a member of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and Co-Chair of the Missouri Lewis & Clark Commission. David Mayta, current Board Secretary/Treasurer, represents the Independence area of the Kansas City Public Library service district. He was appointed to the Library Board in 1999. Recently retired as a laser technician at Corporate Express, Mayta currently serves as president of People for Animal Welfare Society, Inc. (PAWS) and serves as house manager for the Independence Symphony Board. He also serves on the board of advisors for the Bingham-Waggoner Historical Society and as a community
representative for the Powerhouse Theatre Foundation. Mayta has also been selected as a charter member of the newly formed Independence Arts Commission. He volunteers for several organizations in the Independence area, including the Vaile Victorian Society and City Theatre of Independence.
Dr. Eugene Lowry, has served on the Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees for 10 years and in other leadership capacities (Board President and Vice President). Lowry is the Wm. K. McElvaney Professor of Preaching Emeritus at Saint Paul School of Theology. He is the author of six books on the subject of narrative preaching, and has lectured on the subject in over 40 theological seminaries in North America. He was featured in the Great Preachers series on the Hallmark TV channel in 2001, and is listed in the Who's Who in America, 55th edition, also in 2001. Dr. Joan Caulfield has served on the Board since February of 2000. She is the President of The Brain Incorporated, a company dedicated to furthering systemic educational reform. Caulfield serves on the Kansas City Board of the National Conference (formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews), serves on the Executive Board for Sister Cities and is active in Delta Kappa Gamma and in the Greater Kansas City Phi Delta Kappa. She has been named to Who's Who in American Education, Who's Who Among America's Teachers (1996), Who's Who in the Midwest and Who's Who of American Women. Caulfield is also a participant in the Greater Missouri Leadership Program. Enrique Chaurand Jr. was appointed to the Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees in 2003. Chaurand serves as a policy analyst and
coordinator of Missouri Governor Bob Holden’s Kansas City Office. Prior to joining the Governor’s office, Chaurand founded Vista Communications. Chaurand also served as a member of the White House Communications Staff under the Clinton administration. Chaurand held positions at Fleishman-Hillard, The Kansas City Star and Mesa Tribune in Phoenix, AZ. He received his B.A. in journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Tina L. Harris was appointed to the Board in July 2003 by Mayor Kay Barnes. Harris is an associate attorney at Shook, Hardy & Bacon. Her litigation practice is focused on employment discrimination, harassment and civil rights matters. Harris serves on the Young Lawyer Section Council of The Missouri Bar and is an active member of the American Bar Association and the National Employment Law Council. She also served as an officer of the Jackson County Bar Association. She has conducted numerous community presentations including educational programs focused on diversity training and sexual harassment training. She received her undergraduate degree from DePaul University and her juris doctorate from Northern Illinois University School of Law. Trudy Jonas was appointed to the Board in 2002 as Sugar Creek's representative. Jonas currently serves as the principal of St. Mary's High
School in Independence. Jonas received a Master's in Educational Administration from Benedictine University in 2003 and a Master's in Integrated Humanities and Education from Rockhurst University in 2000. She attended St. Mary's High School and earned a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education from Rockhurst. Jonas is a member of the Association of School Curriculum and Development, the National Catholic Education Association and the Diocesan Staff Development Council.
My country 'tis of thee, Once Land of Liberty, Of Thee I sing. Land of the millionaire; Farmers with pockets bare, Caused by the cursed snare The Money Ring.
Before I proceed with the amazing tale of the library relocations, the reader should know that I am just a greenhorn in Kansas City. If I am to believe everything I hear from the steers around here, someone named Kemper is to blame for everything that is wrong with Kansas City - never
mind the mayors, city managers, police chiefs, prosecutors and judges, for they do as they are told. Of course there are a number of Kempers in the Kemper Dynasty, but urban lore reduces them to a single, representative Kemper, the one who is to blame. Never mind the Hall Dynasty, for what's not to like about a Hallmark Moment? or the Crayon Center? No kidding, Crown Center is a beautifully designed, heart-warming, all-of-a-piece mini-city, with cars neatly tucked away out of sight; but Kemper's downtown Kansas City is a chaotic mess of towers and historic gaps, all because cautious Kemper held up progress downtown - that is what Unnamed Sources say. Kemper could always make a killing elsewhere while also making a tidy gain downtown, they say, by personally buying up blocks here and there and selling them off piecemeal, hence that gutted-out, downtown look - alas, the architects went from Classicism to Modernism, skipping the Gothic. Rumor also has it that Kemper's banks would not loan money to the buyers of his real estate, for that would be a conflict of interest, and that Kemper did not believe in the projects anyway, so why take the risk? At least that is the dirt on the street. I verified it at the downtown library. For instance, I found a confirming photocopy of the April 1967 issue of Fortune in the Missouri Valley Room. Jeremy Main wrote that, "With
some justification, several of the city's other businessmen accuse the Kempers of failing to use their wealth and influence to stimulated the growth of Kansas City. Says a local real-estate developer, 'Banking in this town has sat on its rump.' " The author mistakenly states that the Kempers "rarely attract attention even in Kansas City." He says, "The Kansas City Star seldom mentions them." That is not quite true. Everybody talks about Kemper on the street. He was a Pendergast police commissioner; he was the National Democratic Committeeman for thirty to forty years; he ran for several offices; he created quite a fuss with his peers from time to time - that is all on the public record. Of course when critics are quoted by the Star, they turn out to be Unnamed Sources whether they praise or blame Kemper. "A friend" dares not be identified lest he be blamed for something; and that is as it should be, for Kemper must be blamed for everything. "If it weren't for Kemper, we would have had an arena downtown years ago. The plans were already drawn, but he wanted it in the Bottoms," said one of my own unnamed sources. "Kemper killed the trolley," quoth another unnamed source. "Kemper won't let us have a grocery store or a
clothing store downtown," said another. And, "Kemper doesn't like bars so we don't have much entertainment downtown." So Kemper is to blame for everything gone wrong with downtown Kansas City. And he doesn't really care what we think because he knows he is right. He has solved everything himself: he does not have to ask or listen, he can dismiss us and walk away. Thus sayeth certain unnamed allegation alligators. So what? What every local beefhead knows is hardly newsworthy, although the herd would buy more papers from Baron Nelson aka Colonel Nelson (founder of the Star) if he bothered to hire a competent gossip columnist to talk dirt and use a few fighting words from the works of Eugene Field:
Twinkle, twinkle, little Star, Bright and gossipy you are; We candidly hear you speak, For a paltry dime a week."
But try wait! While the steers were butting heads and kicking up dirt, maybe the Star missed the really big, international story under foot, that
Kemper may be a major cause of the War on Iraq! The facts are there - all one has to do is to remember the conservative law of thermodynamics and follow the watering holes and the Kaw to Kawsmouth. Think about it. Why did Kemper marry a Crosby and move from Kansas, popularly known as the Great American Desert, to Kansas City in Missouri, the Great Blue Country? Go figure. The Kempers made cannon balls for General Washington, and the Crosbys established sound banking, meaning conservative banking. War and Money: a good match. C.L. Edson knew what was going on when he penned this:
"Come Kansas City, make your story brief; Here stands a city built o' bread and beef."
Now consider the Legal Conservation of Energy. Seed plants that stand together in patches like wheat and corn convert energy into seed. If it were not for catastrophes such as floods and high winds to spread the seed, that would be a bad strategy for survival - other plants stand together and diversify their energy investments according to a division of labor that stabilizes the vegetation. Cultivation of seed crops amounts to a controlled catastrophe or regular revolution by means of plowing and irrigation. The
human population explosion resulting from the supply of the concentrated energy source created a much greater demand than the good old cultivation methods supplied; wherefore the so-called "green" revolution. Outside energy had to be brought in to grow the crops; namely fertilizer - also good for making bombs. A lot of the seed crop is used to feed livestock. Of course a great deal more energy is needed to manufacture and employ the machinery used in cultivation, processing, and distribution. To make a long story short, it takes at least one calorie of oil, and more like ten calories, to produce one calorie of processed food. If everyone on Earth ate like Kansas Citians, who weigh on the average ten pounds more than other urban dwellers because they drive more and exercise less, known oil reserves would be depleted in about ten years. That is why various plans to seize the oil fields in the Middle East have been in place for many years. Kemper could very well be in on that conspiracy. Think about it. Advocates of such nefarious plans speak in Social Darwinian, Machiavellian and Hobbesian terms, in terms of world-power-state politik, real politics, neoconservative or pseudo-conservative, anti-liberal politics, and so on. They deliberately advocate deception as policy: hypocrisy, prevarification, outright lying. Their hackneyed phrases are legion: survival of the fittest, might makes right, Invisible Hand, and other anglo-american-
saxon barbarisms - they abuse the pagan term for the deity. Of course sentimental humanism is despised. Patriotism is preached while the Constitution is subverted. Social programs taxing the wealthy must be gotten rid of. The poor are poor because they are weak, the wealthy are strong because they are wealthy. Greed is good. The business of government should be business unrestricted by democratic and even representative government, that deregulation may prevail until there is no competition left. Most of the strength is inherited nowadays, in the form of wealth, not moral or physical worth, thus we find a race of highly educated morons in high places. Now, then, the Great American Desert is the Bread Basket of America. One does not need a neoconservative brain-washing to link the Heart of America and its bankers with Iraq and the Bush War on Iraq. Did not Kemper move from Kansas to Kansas City with a banker's daughter a century or so ago to get into the grain-mill business and to establish sound banking? And would not regional economics eventually require him to be a neoconservative; to wrap himself in the flag, to join the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies; to write a book about how fascism influenced him; to be a member of a vast right-wing conspiracy; to support a right-wing authoritarian government (OED: 'fascist'); to otherwise support the survival of his fortune by any means possible, including the Bush War on
Iraq? And if all that were not his destiny, why did he not stay in Kansas and become a bank-hating radical? Heed this excerpt from a popular 1890 song of the Populist movement:
Oh, Kansas fools! Poor Kansas Fools! The banker makes of you a fool...."
Excuse me, I got carried away. No insult to Kemper intended. Kemper cause the Iraq War? How absurd! Or, rather, what a great man if he did! We need to eat, so secure that oil and let the crumbs trickle down! Vast rightwing conspiracy? According to the Star, Kemper scoffed at the notion of a "nefarious right-wing conspiracy." So what if members of his group took pivotal positions in the Bush administration?The positions were well deserved. The economy is recovering and adultery and sodomy, the conservative's worst nightmares, are declining, or we hope so. Of this much we can be certain: wherever evil is found some good will also be found. Of course this is not the place to mention all the wonderful things Kemper has done for Kansas City. Maybe next time. Instead of blaming Kemper for everything, we should ask Baron Nelson to have one of his journalists provide us with a fair and balanced book on
Kemper's major deals since he and Charlotte arrived in Kansas City with their son in 1893. After considering the circumstances of them all, maybe Kemper would get more praise than blame.
THE VAGRANT LIBRARY
The present Kansas City Public Library in downtown Kansas City, Missouri is a gray, glass-paneled box at 12th and Oak. It juts up inharmoniously from behind its two-story, brown stone facade, in an incongruous synthesis symbolic of the generally haphazard juxtaposition of old and new buildings downtown, where new revitalization designs periodically appear to insult the old. On a first-floor shelf of the library resided an account of its architecture: George Erlich's Kansas City, Missouri, An Architectural
History, 1826-1990. In his first preface to the book, the historian thanks the staff of the library’s famed Missouri Valley Room for their help with the historical aspects of his work. A photo of the Kansas City Public Library is displayed in the chapter entitled, 'Retreat from the Past: 1950-1970', and the interested reader may learn the following about its establishment:
In 1957 the Kansas City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects produced a massive study (KC/80) of the Downtown Kansas City area, summarized by a large model of the central business district. Large areas were plotted for a modern vital core but preservation was ignored. The Public Library and Board of Education Building, designed by Edward W. Tanner and completed in 1959, was the first modern structure to break away from the tall, 'Neo-classical' style in the downtown Civic Center. Mr. Ehlich wrote that the new Civic Center library is "definitely modern in appearance for its period. Hence it provided valuable, symbolic significance for a community that had been told over and over again that the library on Ninth was woefully out of date as well as overcrowded." However, "The new library also illustrates a problem of reconciling the style of new buildings with the style(s) of older ones in the area. For years the problem was ignored with varying results. In the case of the library and civic center, the problem was more pressing. For this was the first, sizable government building to be added to the Center since the Courthouse, the City Hall, and the Municipal Courts Building had been built. As it stands, the library is a rather awkward visual addition to the mid-thirties civic center. It does not extend the basic plan for the complex... and though some limestone is used for a podium of lower stories to support a short massive
tower of metal and glass, the library neither continues nor really complements the style of the older buildings." That being said, the grimy, trash-strewn entrance was crowded with loiterers when I arrived on December 1, 2003. I walked over to the front desk and applied for a temporary library card so I could gain access to the computers and type out my reflections on Downtown Kansas City. My application was processed on the spot by an efficient but rather dour person, who, I am glad to say, gruffly fended off efforts to interrupt her. I was handed a bar-coded card, free of charge, which I can use to check out books, and, most importantly, to use the library's brand-new Pharos computer system. A librarian, a mature, pleasant lady, was glad to show me the ropes. The system provides access to the Internet and to a broad array of software including word processing, spreadsheet, resume and game programs. I toured the library and noted that, although its collection is much smaller than that of the University of Hawaii's Hamilton Library, my last refuge, it includes more recently published books in my liberal field of interest than does the Hamilton. I also noticed that eight to nine out of ten Kansas City Library users appeared to be poor and/or homeless, and were obviously taking refuge in the library for its warmth and restroom facilities.
Several refugees from the winter chill were sitting alone at tables with no reading material before them. Others were engaged in conversations and occasional arguments, sometimes loudly enough to be disturbing, yet they were making no more noise than some of the library employees who were talking on the telephones, helping people find books, or chatting with each other at a distance in the stacks. Yet other folk were playing games on the computers, or were perusing sports, celebrity and music web-sites headphones are provided for the public's listening pleasure. Two well dressed young men were yelling at each other in the east wing on the first floor; the security guard came over and courteously reminded them that they were in a library, therefore they should keep their voices down. They, in turn, loudly berated him for interrupting them. He asked them to leave; they chose to huffily comply, and he ushered them out. They were immediately replaced by a man who reeked of urine; he proceeded to entertain us, bursting into song. The security guard did not return for his aria. I recalled seeing a poster in the lobby, about a play, called Urinetown. I went up to the third floor and signed up to use a computer. The third floor included the locally famed Missouri Valley Room set aside for the Special Collection, which included genealogical documents. I noted, prematurely, that the third floor was much quieter and more sedate than the
first and second floors. A bookcase with five shelves stood in the corner of the pleasant reading room, representing the 1874 beginning of the Kansas City Public Library. It was purchased with eight out of one-hundred dollars raised from six lectures to buy books - the first books were an eight-volume set of the American Encyclopedia. In retrospect it is rather amazing how much can ensue from nothing but an idea and a few willing people. Who knows? Perhaps my little journal on Downtown Kansas City would become a great magazine someday, I fancied. My daydream was punctured by an argument in Spanish at a nearby table. I understood enough Spanish to know they were haggling over a marijuana deal. I conducted an investigation the next day and was informed that those individuals, known as “the Mexican entrepreneurs,” were regular library patrons. The drugs are stashed behind books bearing certain Dewey Decimal System numbers – the dealers out front sell the numbers to their customers. No sooner had I logged onto a computer on the third floor than someone started banging on the door of the Men’s Room. He shouted that he would defecate on the floor unless the occupant opened the door. I did my best to focus on writing my first email report on Kansas City as the yelling continued.
"He shit on the floor! He shit on the damned floor!" someone yelled. I had not noticed that the library had only two public men’s bathrooms with one toilet each. The restroom on the third floor can be locked from the inside by the occupant. Indigents use the bathroom facilities not only to relieve themselves but to change and wash clothes and to bathe in the little sink, hence a long line tends to form on the third floor when the library opens in the morning. The Ladies Room on the third floor is kept locked from the outside – out of desperation, men ask the librarians for the key to the Ladies Room, but no dice. When the stench of fresh human excrement reached my nostrils, I did not take a journalist's interest in verifying its placement – I saved my email draft and went downstairs to the second floor, where I read books on positive thinking for awhile. Then I tried to log onto a computer again, but I was barred from doing so with a statement that I had used up my allotted ninety minutes. Alas, I had only been on line ten minutes before that man crapped on the floor! Someone had sat down at the computer I had been using and had swiped my time; thus did I learn to log out with a reboot after each session. Come to think of it, ninety minutes a day is not very much time to drum up a positive urban spirit in Kansas City by means of short little
articles on the downtown scene, which happens to be a dead scene at present. In fact, ninety minutes a day is hardly enough time for a serious author to conduct serious research and writing on any subject whatsoever. The supply of computers usually exceeds the demand for them, so perhaps some exception to the rule should be made for PLM (people like me) since it would not interfere with sports and music entertainment usage. I asked a librarian whether a special dispensation might be made for serious users – "That would be highly unlikely." I noticed certain persons associated with the Mexican entrepreneurs using the same computer every day for three to four hours per sitting; my investigation revealed that they do not have library cards – they are immigrants who do not have the identification required to obtain library cards. I observed another individual, who had several library cards and/or card numbers and PIN numbers, come around to hand out more time to the illegal immigrants – they do odd jobs for the dealers. Since the possession of multiple cards or confidential card data could result in the theft not only of computer time but of other property, not to mention the possibility of untraceable breaches of national security, I tried to report this activity several times. An insider told me that the computer program developers were "complete idiots," that the "firewalls" were
inadequate, and he told me how to fool the program into giving me unlimited time. At first there was a complete lack of interest among the librarians in recording the information I was eager to provide – they simply did not want to be bothered. I went up to the administrative offices and declared to all within earshot that there was a "scandalous breach of security" and “a hole in the new computer system big enough to drive a truck through." If only someone would take a look immediately, I said, they would apprehend an unauthorized user who was abusing the system as I spoke. I was told that the deputy director was the only one whom I could speak with about the matter, and since the deputy director was in a meeting, I would have to come back some other time. And no, they would not apprize the deputy director of my report or make a note of it – I would have to do that in person. I returned to the Missouri Room and persisted; finally, three librarians took a keen interest in the issue, and discovered that my complaint was warranted by the facts. They did not confront the abuser; they said the subject of abuse would be broached in the next committee meeting. Since they did not thank me for my efforts, I thanked them for listening to me and for helping the people of Missouri and visitors improve the library. “You’re welcome,” said one.
Now I have not yet affirmed the received proposition that drug dealers, vagrants, vagabonds, runaway kids, and unfortunate homeless people are running and ruining the downtown library. I have not presumed that the library would fill up with the bourgeois reading public and arrogant intellectuals if the usual suspects disappeared. As it is, pending the full downtown revitalization, there is a general lack of interest in coming anywhere downtown for any reason whatsoever except to work. But the library is notorious, perceived as a dangerous place. One librarian did say the abusers had frightened away "legitimate" users. Another said he does not want to personally intercede with the abusers or to get involved in the bathroom disputes; he said his on-the-job experience with “the homeless,” including their blatant disrespect for the library staff, has rendered him unsympathetic with their plight. Nonetheless, although the number of visitors is down, the majority of present library users are relatively quiet and they mind their own business. Some of the vagrants do study; two “barefoot” scholars are writing books - they certainly can type up a storm. As with other populations, a small minority of careless or thoughtless people tend to get out of hand. The library tiny security force tries to keep order given its perspective on the civil rights everyone has according to current law, but it obviously
could do much better. For one thing, the security staff could make sure the drug dealers are arrested instead of looking the other way. Urine-soaked opera singers could be escorted from the premises right away and banned. Security could show up when the restroom opens on the third floor in the mornings, instead of making itself scarce and leaving the librarians with a great nuisance. That the library is a public facility is no excuse for the toleration of public disrespect and nuisances: on the whole, the library is “blighted” in comparison to other government buildings in Civic Center frequented by the public, where such misconduct is not tolerated. As for the beleaguered and besieged librarians, their credentials are adequate, and I witnessed them providing excellent professional service to users. Two librarians told me that they love their jobs very much but were tormented by the deplorable public circumstances. They complained that vagrants and criminals had seized the library and had run off the regular patrons. More generally speaking, what Kansas City, Missouri obviously needs is some sort of constructive and productive downtown day center for the down-and-out folk from the half-way houses, shelters, and detention centers in the area. A number of people are on the streets because of misfortune and social injustice if not because of their own shortcomings. They all need a
hand up. Besides psychological and moral resources, they need bathrooms, clothes, laundry facilities, showers, lockers, clothes, and access to telephones, just to seek work and to keep themselves clean. Of course a few of them need to be in mental institutions or jails where they can be supervised and rehabilitated, and that they are not so treated is one reason why the downtown area is so dangerous after dark. The downtown library is expected to be moved into the old First National Bank Building at 10th and Baltimore in January 2004. It will supposedly have adequate restroom facilities. No doubt such a big move will require many strong hands and backs. I reckoned that some of the more competent indigents could be hired to help. But no, I was informed that the work must be outsourced to a reputable moving company, and at a high cost. At least that might provide a few temporary jobs to the illegal immigrants. Hopefully the new library will enlighten Kansas City. After all, Kansas Citians are told by their City Manager from Denver, a new public library was the essential component of Denver's successful downtown
revitalization. Downtown Kansas City could use a renascence right now.
A RING AROUND THE LIBRARY
What constitutes news in the newspapers is often far from the truth. All too often a few telephone calls are made to higher ups of various interests here and there, many of whom do not have the low down on what is really going on downstairs, and there you have it, the so-called news. More often than not it is replete with hypocrisy, prevarication, and outright ignorance. Take for instance the December 24, 2003, article in The Kansas City Star entitled 'Plan seeks ring around library – Criminals would have to keep distance.' Community leaders are worried that vagrants, panhandlers, petty criminals, and homeless people who loiter in and around the old library near the courts, jail and police headquarters, will ruin the fancy new library scheduled to open this coming Spring. The new library, in the renovated old First National Bank building at 10th and Baltimore, across the street from the office of Jonathan Kemper,
president of Commerce Bank, will be the centerpiece of an 8-block commercial real estate development project called the Library District. At the very least, the power elite want to empower city and county judges and prosecutors to keep petty criminals away from the showpiece after it is opened. The Downtown Community Improvement District, a business league funded by downtown businesses, will help keep the new library safe by staffing it with a few “Safety Ambassadors” – officers of its quasi-private security force. And rumor has it that Mr. Kemper's Tower Property Security forces, which have the "meanest" reputation in town, may assist in the new parking lot and on the perimeter of the property. But most importantly, a socalled legal ring is wanted around the new library. It would be drawn by city and county judges and prosecutors. Criminals who had been convicted of crimes near the library would by force of that law be required, as a condition of their probation, to stay several blocks away from the new library. Incidentally, vagrants tend to loiter at the open-air Metro bus center directly across the street from the new library building, so there will be an effort by the Safety Ambassadors to run them off if they overstay the designated time allotted for catching busses. More to the point, parolees from various halfway houses are regularly dropped off at the bus center, where they then catch busses to work or otherwise go about their daytime business. The
proposed law would subject them to revocation of their parole if they had by chance robbed, for instance, the conveniene store on the corner. As far as this critic is concerned, a convicted criminal on parole after robbing the Osco store on the corner adjacent to the new location should have just as much access to the library's free education as the criminal who robs the Grand Slam liquor store several blocks outside of the designated area. In my lay opinion, derived from my six years of daily experience with a fine, 5-million volume library that happens to be frequented by a few serious-minded "homeless" people who are entirely welcome there, anyone who violates regulations in or around the immediate premises of a library should simply be ticketed with a TRO (temporary restraining order), and arrested if they return. Now here is the rub: the neglected old library is located in the historic Civic Center, where civic leaders have so little respect for their own workplace that they do not see to it that their own area, where the central police station is located and which is adjacent to several missions, half-way houses, churches and apartment buildings, not to mention the jail, is adequately policed during daytime let alone after dark – after they have gone home to the suburbs. Indeed, residents of the Pinnacle Tower apartment building can look down and behold vagrants drinking, dealing drugs, and
fornicating on the Catholic church-steps on the corner. In fact, the rule of thumb among the residents of the historic Civic Center is: "Do not go out after dark." City officials have sworn that the Civic Center area has been made safe: they lie through their teeth, and the cops not on that beat know it. The unofficial police policy, according to a cop with twenty-six years of experience, is: "Harass them, push them to east and keep them there so they will have some place to go." Another law enforcement officer, who works for the federal government, said, "If I were commander, I would not tolerate these people. I would throw them in jail. When they got out, I would throw them back in jail. And I would keep throwing them in jail until they learned their lesson. Not enough jail space? Then build more." Fortunately, residents of the neighborhood know that the officials are lying when they say that the Civic Center district is safe at night: they cloister themselves in their apartments after dark to keep the crime rate down in their neighborhood, which, by the way, has only one small store open at night at this writing – a convenience store whose clientele are feared.
If a local resident becomes desperate for a hot dog or a pizza, and decides to run the risk to get to the Diamond Shamrock, the rule of thumb is: "Avoid groups of threes, and get away from anyone who looks behind him as he approaches you." A standing joke in the Civic Center district, not only among residents but among the few business that close early in the afternoon, is that the closer one gets to the Metropolitan Kansas City Police Headquarters in the Civic Center, the more dangerous the streets are at night, and the longer it will take a cop to respond to a call. Wherefore a few questions arise in the minds of local residents and investors in the Civic Center district who have not already become too cynical to bother asking questions: "Just where are the safety and the new stores the mayor promised us? Why didn't they build a new library in the vacant plaza where those stores were supposed to be, between the City Center and Federal Court House, and put stores all around it? Why didn't they provide the security we have all needed, not only at the library but in the entire neighborhood? Why don't civic leaders have respect for their own workplace and employees? Why didn't Mayor Barnes put her Christmas tree and some lights down here for government workers and residents to enjoy?"
Notwithstanding the usual grumbling over business as usual, almost everyone is still grateful for the new, "free" library, although they keep thinking that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and suspect that the new facility will virtually be a private library. After all is said and done, the old library is a fetid dump, one reason being that he library administration gets little cooperation from the co-tenant and former partner who controls the building maintenance: the Board of Education. Jonathan Kemper is the prime mover of the library relocation. We do blame civic leaders for the blighted east side, yet we do not blame Mr. Kemper for not wanting to drag the blighted aspects of the old facility into "his" remodeled-bank library. I have not spoken to every librarian, but several have expressed this opinion: If Mr. Kemper would avoid the old problems, he should also use his influence to dump most of the current library administration including its director, because they are (allegedly) topdown, intimidating managers who have allowed the library to sink into a cesspool. They do not know what is going on because they do not come down from their offices and work on the floors for any length of time – they use a private elevator to exit the building so they will not be accosted by employees or have to encounter unseemly characters. Of course all that
might be said of many organizations public and private. Still, one wonders at the following statement in the aforementioned article: "Joe Green, executive director of the Kansas City Public Library, said homeless people would be welcome at the new library, and he did not believe they would pose a problem or drive off others." Mr. Green is prevaricating or at least quibbling. Of course he refers to the future, perhaps with the new security measures in mind, the ones that he should have had in place at the old location. And he did not define "homeless." The term is difficult to define other than to say that, generally speaking, we might mean that a "homeless" person is someone who is "houseless.” Is not a man's home where his heart is? Must he have a roof over his head and a pot to micturate in to be a homebody? By the way, your author works long hours in libraries, as strange as that might seem nowadays, hence a security guard once asked me if I was "homeless.” Why did he not ask me if I were a vagrant or an indigent man or a bum or a wanted criminal? But never mind; here is the fact: Librarians who have been on the scene for many years know very well that vagrants ran off the regular clientele who used the library for its traditional purposes: to educate or mentally cultivate themselves.
"The homeless people frightened away our patrons, and to tell you the truth, sometimes they frighten me," said one librarian. "Oh, he's (Mr. Green) wrong," said another, "the difference is between night and day. People used to come in from the offices during lunch and right after work, but not anymore, not since these people took over." Of course the American tradition differs between rich and poor, and between private and public libraries. The aristocratic interest in limiting free speech to the rich and in keeping the majority ignorant and poor was resisted by the early democratic-republicans during the Federalist versus Republican struggle. Matthew Lyon was a prominent proponent of public libraries and public education – we recall that he was called a traitor for his so-called rabblerousing, and charges were brought against him for sedition. Many of the clients of the early democratic libraries, which sometimes comprised a few volumes collected in a log cabin by a volunteer librarian, most likely had a grubby appearance and were smelly even shortly after bathing. Some of them were practically illiterate, and came to the library to keep warm: that situation provided an opportunity to the librarian interested in
enlightenment, just as it does to the minister armed with a sandwich and a bible.
Wherefore, in respect to vagrant library frequenters, we have certain political interests to consider and balance. First of all, we should not lie to sound good and be politically correct; or we must not be ignorant because we do not allow the truth to reach our ears, or do not care to visit the works we manage and get our hands dirty. The best reporters are on the street; the best managers practice hands-on management; the best kings go incognito into the streets to take their subjects' pulse. The best leaders want to know the truth about problems. They accept responsibility for and directly address real problems – not mere "issues." The fact of the matter is this: vagrants come to the library to keep warm and to use the bathrooms to relieve themselves and wash their clothes. If that sort of usage is deemed legitimate for public libraries, then let us provide adequate day-care facilities, perhaps on a separate floor: restrooms, showers, laundry facilities. If not, then security should prohibit those uses. As for criminals, criminals should be arrested, period. According to the Star article mentioned above, Evie Craig, director of reStart, the downtown homeless shelter, said that the library is "often critical for homeless people who use its computers to search for jobs or to contact family." No doubt some homeless people use the computers to search for jobs; nonetheless, as anyone knows who actually monitors usage at the
library, very few people use the computers for that purpose. According to my direct observations, the computers are being used primarily to listen to music on the headphones provided by the library, to play the games provided, to watch Internet videos, to visit sports and pop-culture sites. On one occasion only did I observe a man using the resume program and searching job listings. Every morning I observed unauthorized computer usage. Still, anyone who wants a decent steady job needs much more than Internet access. Job sites are a highly overrated resource. To land a good steady job, a competent seeker needs a telephone and voice mail; a neat and clean appearance; a mailing address; and moral support. That is to say that what she or he needs is a home or a close resemblance thereto. A pertinent but ironical note on the original sin of private capitalism is in order: private capitalism must keep things scarce and keep some people in desperate need of work in order to keep wages down and make a profit. Kansas City’s historic Civic Center was a successful Depression Era public works project – of course pseudo-conservatives try to repudiate the success of such projects, but without those projects and the moral uplift they provided the unemployed, the kind of socialism much feared by neoconservatives might have become an American institution. Americans who have a moral duty to work do not have a corresponding political right to
work in the United States. No, a right to a job cannot be provided by the "free" market system in this great nation of ours. Governments can hire millions of bureaucrats but can no longer create jobs for the unemployed. Even the Democratic Governor of the Free State of Kansas has decreed: "The government cannot create jobs." Still, the so-called homeless person can email home from the library, and that is very nice. But what home does a homeless person have? Is not that the problem? Can someone please get on the telephone and persuade the families of these poor creatures to take them in, to bring them into the fold again, to get them off the streets? Yes, email is frequently used at the library; indeed, it is the most common feature resorted to by all Internet users. Would not more personal, face-to-face contact do a lot more good for many people? "Why don't we just tell the truth about what is really going on at this library and deal with it?" I asked a librarian. "Otherwise the same thing will go on and on at the new location." "The truth can’t be told. That would be utopia," he responded. "What is the ALA (American Library Association) position on this problem?"
"It is certainly not the position of rank and file librarians. The people at ALA sit around in their offices reading liberal papers and talking on the phone – they don't know what is going on," he said. Kansas Citians might very well object to the plan to throw up a legal ring around the new library and the plan to harass poor folk, whatever they might be called. More pointedly, they wonder why the existing laws are not being enforced and why taxpayer funds are funding the vested interests instead of being invested in civil services. They enjoy civil liberties but they do not want to be harassed on the public streets or libraries, as if obnoxious people had a civil right to harass them. Kansas City Star reporter Joe Lambe called the executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington and the executive director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri to find out the current state of the law on that subject. Apparently it is legal to harass poor people whose crimes are petty. That is good to know. No doubt it is illegal to harass rich and powerful people whose crimes are large –even their small petty crimes have a large effect. And since they make and buy the laws, most of their crimes are no longer crimes. Alas, they cannot be arrested, fined and imprisoned for their legalized plundering and other social abuses. Still, nobody, rich or poor, should have a right to
harass anyone. The definition of harassment is flexible, but everyone has a pretty good idea of what it means. We are allegedly equal under the law; we all have the same civil rights. I refuse to believe that people have a civil right to harass anyone, or to make a nuisance out of themselves at a public library. As far as I am concerned, the rules should be clear, and violators should be arrested when appropriate, or tossed out on their ear with a temporary restraining order in their pocket.
JUST THE FACTS MA’AM
Several questions were put to the Kansas City Public Library staff in response to anonymous internal allegations that less floor space had been allotted for the total library collection at the new downtown library facility the renovated bank building intended to be the showpiece for the surrounding Library District real estate development project - and that the collection therefore had been reduced to a smaller size, and "dumbed down to mass market" via a weeding process to "fit the institution" or the presumably herd-like mentality of its run-of-the-mill Midwestern customers, including those relatively unfortunate and successful persons who had not had the wherewithal to attend Ivy League universities back East instead of
the leading local universities such as Kansas University and the University of MissouriI. Mind you that the downtown library had been more or less a research library for the local intelligentsia some years back, but times had changed: not only were a greater number of people interested more in entertainment than in weighty tomes, the academically inclined, thanks to the advancing Information Age, had global access to alternatives at their fingertips. In fact, the Kansas City library’s online catalogue includes volumes available from a consortium of cooperative educational institutions; a particular course for profound thought can be had, a few clicks and a few days later. But those books are not just-in-time for all. Just as the fattest cattle are wont to graze at their leisure for the best grass in the field, so do bookworms love to browse the shelves for immediate sustenance. Although few in number, these impatient library patrons (not customers), many of whom are brilliant authors, have a most profound effect on the progress of world enlightenment, wherefore they should not only be entertained but their tastes should be catered to wherever possible. Now one of the most important reasons that had been officially offered for relocating the collection into new quarters was that the old library was "too small." The total spatial parameters disclosed to the public
indicate that the new building, plus an administrative annex at the rear of the library, are altogether larger than the old building, yet it has been asserted that too much of the new space is being employed for mere "show business", much to the cost of content. Of course your brilliant author put the most obvious "bookkeeping" questions to the library staff in order to ascertain, for example, the total quantity (whether accessible to the public or not) of square footage available at the old library, (whether it was actually used to keep the collection or not); and the total quantity of space (whether accessible to the public or not) allotted for the collection at the new library. With that data in had, "before and after" comparison be made to prove or disprove the claim that the old library was too small. As for the collection itself, the respective collection sizes were requested for before and after the so-called winnowing or weeding process. A list of some of the books weeded was requested so that qualitative opinions could be rendered. Therese Bigelow, deputy director of Kansas City Public Library's Branch Services and Collections, said she was unable to provide a list of the books weeded, nor was she able to give the dates withdrawn and reasons withdrawn for certain good books identified in a random search - listings that had not yet been purged from the computer system. Nor did she respond
to a request to query the database for a list of all withdrawn books not yet purged from the database. She did provide one set of "current" figures, for the collection, as of December 31, 2003: 380,612 25,266 5,366 8,032 2,195 641,282 sources 1,067,816 total collection - the total includes a large number of miscellaneous items in special collections that do not fit the above categories. Ms. Bigelow did not respond to several requests for collection sizes prior to that date so that side-by-side comparisons could be made, nor did she affirm or deny a rumor that nearly 50,000 books had recently been withdrawn from the main library collection. In response to this independent journalist's subsequent complaint, that the public library obviously could not account for the public property entrusted to it, she attributed the difficulties to an inadequate computer system: books videos & DVDs audio books & books on Tape compact discs periodical subscriptions government documents including microfilm, microfiche and print
"We are getting a new automation system this spring that has better tools for collection analysis than the one we have been using for probably 20 years - I have only been with the library system since 1994." As for the alleged "dumbing down" in quality corresponding to the relocation of the library, Ms. Bigelow denied that the quality had been changed for the move, and asserted that there had been no weeding process for some time. "Prior to this year the collection at the downtown library had not been systematically weeded or inventoried in over 30 years. The collection inventory is more responsible for any reduction in collection size than the weeding project which was undertaken to align the collection with the Collection Development Plan rather than to fit the collection into the new library." Further, "The collection inventory is more responsible for any reduction in collection size than the weeding project which was undertaken to align the collection with the Collection Development Plan rather than to fit the collection into the new library." Ms. Bigelow was asked to state the qualitative impact on the collection resulting from the fitting of the collection into the new library, something 'close enough for jazz' that would demonstrate that the real nature
of the fitting was not being buried or hidden in the prolix professional rhetoric about collection development. "There is no qualitative affect," she responded. "No effort was made in planning or otherwise 'to fit the collection into the new location.' I have been on record for many years telling people that the collection will both fit and have room to grow. The reasons you get what seems like wishy-washy answers to your questions is that, until we did the inventory, we did not really know how large the collection actually was. The final count on shelving for the new location was not determined until recently. Some of the planning was changed as we went along to establish what parts of the collection would be in the different areas. I can get you those figures if you are interested in having them. There is one factor that must be considered in comparing shelving to shelving at the two locations. Shelving capacity does not determine the size of the collection. It is a combination of shelving capacity and circulation. A library with a good healthy circulation can own far more books and other items than a library with a stagnant one." Shelving configuration is certainly relevant to collection size; however, the fundamental consideration is floor space available for consideration. In any case, the size of a collection does not necessarily determine its quality: no doubt a somewhat smaller library might contain a
better collection than a larger one. Ms. Bigelow provided the following square footage used for all purposes at the old library: A level B level 1st Floor 2nd Floor 3rd Floor 4th Floor 5th Floor Total 25,851 27,063 28,996 23,592 13,339 13,339 10,364 142,544
"My understanding is that the square footage at the new location is 175,000, plus an additional 15,000 sq feet at the Annex," said Ms. Bigelow. "As an aside, the shelving on A and B was never full," she added. In respect to the collection, her official statements seems to belie the well publicized reason for moving, that the old space was too small. The A and B levels, or 'stacks', were in the basement, comprising most of the 70% of the collection that not accessible to the public; the accessible portion was identified as 'Circulation' in the online catalog.
A library assistant at the information desk on the first floor stated that members of the public could not go into the basement unless accompanied by a librarian, because "they might get lost down there." Furthermore, according to a librarian on the third floor, vagrants had allegedly managed to get into the "fetid" basement and use it as a toilet; there were only two public men's rooms available for that purpose, and two small sinks therein for washing clothes, hence deposits were made elsewhere from time to time, and not only in the basements; the reader might recall that a man defecated on the floor of the historic Missouri Valley Room during this journalists initial visit to the library. When Ms. Bigelow was asked why the basement levels were not opened up and managed for browsing by the public, she replied, "Closed stack areas were a common design in public libraries in the past. Materials were assigned to closed stacks for a number of reasons. During my time with Kansas City materials were assigned to A and B level because they were infrequently used, were duplicate copies, or were out of date reference materials and the newest edition was kept in the reference area. All books were available through the catalog." "Based on the annual circulation figures and Intra System loan figures for the collection housed at Main," she said, "books located in the stack area
are heavily requested through the catalog listing and either checked out here or at one of the branches. Annual circulation for this building was 595,113 last fiscal year, July 2002 - June 2003. We track the figure for "intra system loan" which means the book was sent from one location to another at a customer's request. The total of Intra System loans for Main for December was 6,610 with a total of 97,014 for last fiscal year." Ms. Bigelow did not report specific circulation figures for the basement areas. When asked why she had said, on the one hand, that the basement stacks consisted of infrequently used items, yet, on the other hand, she had bragged of circulation of the stack, she clarified her statement. "For clarification, I am saying that, there is access to the books on A and B level through the computer catalog and through staff. Books were placed on A and B level because they were individually used less than the books on the first and second floor." Ms. Bigelow did not respond to this inquirer’s proposition that books are more likely to be used, whether checked out or not, if they are available for browsing, and that any librarian who doubted the educational virtues of public browsing would be a fool. Further, withdrawing books from the stacks just because they were seldom requested would be an unprofessional practice, and the fact that stacks of some libraries were closed to the public
is no excuse for keeping all stacks closed. In fact, a big selling point at the new Main Kansas City library is that 70-80% of the collection will be available for browsing. As for the current circulation figures, it is interesting to compare with them figures for the year ending June 30, 1905, when the population was a small fraction of today's. In that year, nearly a century ago, 279,591 books were circulated for home use. In 1906, the following year, 47,333 books were loaned out to 20 substations set up in outlying schools - the books were delivered by wagon in canvas bags, each bag holding about 100 books. Given a collection of 380,612 and circulation of 595,113 for 2003, average turnover per volume would be 1.56 X in 2003. On the other hand, turnover for 1906, given a collection of 80,000 and circulation of 279,591, would be 3.50 X per volume. During the course of this brief investigation, a librarian mocked previous investigations, conducted by "reporters with hidden cameras." He said the question of collection quality had also been investigated by a local free sidewalk newspaper, Pitch, and that the spokesperson responding had made a fool of the reporter. Tony Ortega, managing editor of the Pitch, managed to locate the article in question at: http://www.pitch.com/issues/2001-06-14/janovy.html/1/index.html
Ms. Bigelow's current categorical denial, that the weeding process was irrelevant to the relocation of the library, should be considered in context of her statements to the Pitch in 2001. Several librarians back then were making the same "dumbing down" statements as they are now. 'Librarians have a careful process for determining what stays and what goes, and Bigelow says the move is forcing them to do what they've been putting off. "There are experiences even the best librarians go through and ask, 'Do I have to live through that again?' Collection shaping is one of those. We have not evaluated our collection against our collection development plan, and that's what we're doing. We're looking at storage issues [whether material is better stored on microformat], what's in poor condition, what's dated." For instance, she says, "A book on AIDS published ten years ago is a dangerous book." '(Pitch 6/14/2001) Asked once again for information on particular titles of excellent that had allegedly been withdrawn from the stacks because seldom asked for, Ms. Bigelow could not say precisely when or why they were withdrawn from the collection, nor did she have any data to support the alleged reason for withdrawal. Again, she blaming the information system for the lack of information; that is: The computer did it. In one instance she gave a clearly erroneous answer about the information that was in fact available, and
therefore had to be corrected. Moreover, this novice researcher discovered firsthand that two accredited librarians did not understand the information returned by the online catalog system. Ms. Bigelow was questioned on two items which were in the catalog but were not immediately available at the Main branch - a librarian actually searched the shelves for the second book after looking it up in the catalog. The catalog record for the first title, The Torch of Freedom, Emil Ludwig's fascinating biography of twenty exiles, including Stefan Zweig, was marked "No Item" - the librarian said it had last been checked out of the basement stacks in 1977. The second volumn, Balzac, Stefan Zweig's excellent biography of the famed author, had two records in the catalog, a "No Item" record for the withdrawn book, and one record showing that it is available through a consortium. Ms. Bigelow was asked: Why were these books withdrawn? When were these books withdrawn? Were these books in the public area for browing? "In looking at the record for the first item," she replied, "I suspect it was withdrawn as part of the inventory. And since it had not been checked out since 1977, it probably has been missing since then. In looking at the catalog entry for Balzac, the record indicates that we do not own the item
downtown, not that we withdrew it for any reason. When the record says "this branch has no holdings" it means that the title is owned by either a branch(s) within our system or by one or more of the consortium partners who share their collections with us. When you chose all locations it indicates that the title is owned by 4 colleges in this area and because it is available in our catalog you can check it out through our reserve system. This is one of the advantages of the LCLC Consortium, we are able to provide access to titles that the library system does not own. The other way we do this is through Interlibrary Loan." Ms. Bigelow was then informed that all the available information supported the proposition that The Torch of Freedom and Zweig's Balzac were both withdrawn recently as part of the weeding program, regardless of the last checkout dates. Again it was pointed out that there were two records on Balzac. The records for both titles were marked "KCPL MAIN LIBRARY STACKS", not "KCPL MAIN LIBRARY CIRCULATION", meaning that they were in the basement and were therefore unavailable to the general public for browsing, hence less likely to be checked out, thus making the official rationale for withdrawing books on the basis of lack of demand as indicated by frequency of being checked out by the public, who does not have access to almost 70% of the collection, quite irrational. The
consortium helps, yet immediate browsing is essential to broadening the education of the general public as well as the researchers who are pulling one title and happen to see others on the shelf. "I rechecked the catalog and found the second Balzac listing," Ms. Bigelow responded. "I had checked under Author the first time where it did not show up under the separate title listing. I have checked the DRA record. No transactions were ever recorded for this title. I cannot tell from the record whether or not it was withdrawn via inventory or weeding." Based on the official responses of the Kansas City Library, the following conclusions can be reasonably made: The Kansas City Public Library is not able to account to the public for its most important asset, the library collection itself. And the quality of that collection has not been attended too via a "weeding" process for thirty years. The inability to account for the quantity and quality of public property should not be blamed on inadequate automated systems but should be attributed to the human mismanagement of the library systems. After all, manual systems were successfully used to account for enormous business inventories long before automated systems were installed; no competent business would long stand for the inadequacies openly admitted to by the Library spokesperson.
In the absence of sufficient information to make a competent judgment on collection quality, interested parties are left to their subjective prejudices, about which they no doubt feel strongly. The public is basically being asked to trust in their librarians, to take their word for it, couched in dozens of pages of professional jargon, that the best collection possible is being provided to the public, period. The public gets what it deserves. Nowadays it deserves more and more recreational materials, more scintillating circus and less wholesome bread for the mind. However that may be, dedicated readers should make it their business to ask their devoted librarians a few pointed questions about the fare offered for public enlightenment.
LIBRARY SYSTEMS EXPERT RESPONDS
OPEN LETTER David King Systems Training Manager Central Library Kansas City Public Library
May 8, 2004
Subject: Collection Accountability
Dear Mr. King: I have not heard back from you in regards to my responses to the several contentions you put forward in your April 30 communication, wherein you proposed to correct an article that I had published about my research into the book collection because, as you said, my claims "about the library don't like up with actual facts." As a service to the reading public, I have taken a few minutes to summarize our recent exchange. As I said in my last two emails, I have not had time to work to up a presentable "interview" from your communication but your important comments still deserve airing. I have archived your communication for further reference and I may take up some of your other remarks elsewhere. I asserted - in the article you criticized - that Deputy Director Theresa Bigelow denied that the book collection had been downsized to fit the new space in the renovated bank building on Baltimore Street, and she also denied that the collection had been dumbed down to suit the mentality of downtown Kansas Citians. Both of those claims were made to me by a longtime member of the library staff, one who was admittedly fearful of the "topdown, intimidating management." Despite her denial, Ms. Bigelow was
allegedly unable to prove her denial with a simple before-and-after statement of facts, which I had repeatedly asked both her and Dorothy Elliot for by telephone and email. In fine, Ms. Bigelow implied that the staff was unable to account for the library's most important public property, the collection itself, because of the library's inadequate information systems. You responded, "Not true. It's as simple as running a report on items removed from the automation system." Mr. King, you did not provide me or offer to provide me with any report(s) to support your claim. In any case, I responded to you that, if your statement was true, then I believed Ms. Bigelow had misleading me. I noted that Director Joe Green was a party to the communications between Ms. Bigelow and myself, and that I had run the interview past both of them several times; no denial was made to my report that the collection could not be accounted for because of faulty systems. I also said that Ms. Bigelow could or would not provide a list of books purged over the last year, to which you replied: "Would not. The library keeps good records (proved by successful twice a year audits, among other things)."
I stated again, that if that were the case, then Ms. Bigelow intentionally misled me. I was led to believe, despite several requests, that no periodic statements, as would be provided by any legitimate bookkeeping system whether automated or not, could be made. In my published report on the matter, I stated, "A thirty-minute cursory examination of the database uncovered several discrepancies of the kind that would shed light on the number of books removed from the stacks during the last purge if only the database were queried." You commented: "What in the world are you talking about? The only thing you'd be able to access from the "database" – I’m assuming you mean the library catalog – are books and other stuff that can actually be looked at or checked out. There's simply no way to do a comparison of books before and after weeding by using the library catalog system (the public side of it, anyway)." I responded: "As I have previously reported, a thirty minute query at random uncovered several items listed that were not available anywhere, not upstairs, not in the stacks, not in the consortium. The items were withdrawn, weeded, winnnowed, stolen, whatever. I asked for a list of all such items, which could be performed with a rather simple query command. I received
evasive answers along with two false answers as to the missing items; the records I had referred to had been purged, and no list was made available." In other words, I believed that at least a partial list of items withdrawn but not yet purged from the database could have been reported. I hate to be pernickety about it, but I know that the collection is public property, and I suspect that, not only have books been "lost," but many books have been stolen due to the negligence of the staff. As for "weeding", Ms. Bigelow, reported that the collection had not been weeded for thirty years. In addition to my prior statements, I want to add that I have on frequent occasions, including today, found items listed in the catalogue that were neither checked out or on the shelves. In conversations with cooperative members of the library staff – many members of the staff on the floors are forthright and helpful – they have noted what everyone knows, that besides withdrawals due to weeding, a great deal of outright theft was going on at the old library. Indeed, I personally raised the alarm on my third visit to the old library, that certain individuals, some of whom were apparently not U.S. citizens, had access to multiple library cards and account numbers, apparently provided by the itinerant population, and the so-called "entrepreneurs" - library drug dealers.
As I reported elsewhere, my warnings fell on deaf ears for some time before someone finally looked into them – I was turned away when I went upstairs to report an ongoing violation to administration. I was told that I would have to call and make an appointment with the Deputy Director, since she was not in. And no, nobody would write down the information or look into the violation as it proceeded downstairs. But that of course is water under the bridge. Or at least I hope so. I fear that not only the collection but that the staff as well should have been properly weeded prior to the move into new quarters, lest bad habits work their old ruin at the new facility. I understand that you are an expert in your field, one who is involved in training, therefore I appreciate your interest in getting the facts straight, including the fact that, as you succinctly stated, "Books are not the library's most important property anymore." I trust that my clarification of the facts will be useful to you. Yours in truth, David Arthur Walters Independent Journalist
Note: Mr. King did not respond to this letter nor did he contact the author again.
SOMETHING SMELLS FISHY!
A great deal of hype on the front pages of Knight Ridder’s Kansas City Star boosted the plans to move the central library collection into "Jonathan's building,” the old First National Bank building a few feet from Jonathan Kemper's Commerce Bank. Jonathan Kemper is Commerce Bank's presiding officer. The Kemper family dynasty controls the $14,000,000,000 Commerce Bank as well as the $9,000,000,000 UMB bank nearby. The renovation will cost an estimated $50,200,000, $25,000,000 of which philanthropists, including institutions dominated by Jonathan Kemper, shall come up with. It is difficult to ascertain from the journalistic vagaries of the Star the exact nature of the "donations", or, for that matter, the structure of the deal as a whole. In any case, an association of real estate owners headquartered in the Commerce Bank Building and dominated by Jonathan
Kemper put together a limited liability corporation to buy and renovate the property, secure tax credits, make a deal to lease the library to the city, eventually sell the library building to the public library entity. The library presently gets most of its funding from property taxes. An attempt will be made to pass along all costs to taxpayers. Jonathan Kemper is supervising the public's interest as trustee for the Kansas City Public Library system. The Star ran several front-page features boosting the new library, ignoring several well-founded complaints that the editors and reporters had been ignoring significant facts and were deliberately misleading the public by blurring the distinction between news and advertising. Indeed, the official policy of Kansas City’s civic leaders on downtown revitalization seems to be the one recommended to them by the City Manager’s former boss, former Denver Mayor Webb: "Ignore naysayers!" However that may be, time and time again I urged the reporters to do what every investigator worth his salt does as a matter of habit: "Follow the money." It appeared to me that the Kansas City Star, in regards to the library and other, much larger downtown projects involving tax credits of nearly $500,000,000, was prostituting itself to political leaders who were in league with certain vested interests whose "civic-mindedness" was not as benevolent as they would have taxpayers assume from the "news." I
suspected that the Star had a tax-incentive incentive, in the form of its new $200,000,000 printing plant, not to throw stones from that enormous glass building, although it has not hesitated to cast aspersions at Missouri legislators who took away the tax exemption for print materials, a specific act which the editor says portends general doom for private industry everywhere in the state. In any event, I had never read another paper so obsessed with boosting, in the name of downtown revitalization, the projects of a small power elite who will reap considerable benefits in the name of "civicmindedness." The extent of the distribution of crumbs is questionable but not reported on in detail, and the trickle-down effect of the projects boosted is dubious given past history - "There ain't nothin' in it for us," is the constant chorus heard among Jackson County's large population of working poor and unemployed people. As for history, the Star's boosterism brought to mind the words of the patriarch of the Kemper family dynasty when he ran as a Populist-minded Democrat for mayor in 1904: "The Star as a political factor in our city is death to whomsoever it smiles upon because of the fact that the taxpayers and people of our city have found through its record in the past years it has not been their friend,
but has ever fought the cause of taxpayers in the city in behalf of invidious interests." A century later, in a January 4, 2003 article entitled 'Vision turns bank into a grand library,' the Star presented the official pretexts for relocating the library collection. The old library building, it reported, is too small for its collection, and is too costly, threadbare, fetid, and full of vagrants. Was the old library space too small? I have a written statement from the library's spokesperson stating that the bookshelves in the old stacks were not full. Another library staff member informed me that the collection of books had actually been downsized by several thousand books to fit the new library - a very large space is devoted to "show business" - and that the collection had been "dumbed down" to suit the actual mentality of Kansas Citians. The spokesperson denied both assertions, but she was unable to disprove them because, or so she claimed, the staff was unable to account for the library's most important public property, the collection itself, because of inadequate information systems. She admitted that the collection had not been properly maintained for thirty years. She could not or would not provide a list of books purged over the last year; statements of quantities of books in the collection prior to the current period; actual floor space available for shelving books at the old
location including basement stacks, as compared to space planned for shelving at the new location; and so on. When a thirty-minute cursory examination of the database uncovered several discrepancies of the kind that would shed light on the number of books removed from the stacks during the last purge if only the database were queried, she would not provide the list requested and immediately removed or had removed the records brought to her attention. She, as well as a "marketing" spokesperson, continually prevaricated as to the quantity of books, stating that more books would be available to the public than before. Well, yes, more books would be immediately be available for browsing, simply because the public was not allowed onto two floors of the old building; however, books were retrieved from shelves in the "stacks" in a few minutes on request. The rhetoric had its intended effect; for instance, KCTV announced that "twice as many books were available" at the new library, misleading the public to believe that the collection of books itself has been doubled. After receiving dozens of complaints from me to the effect that the Star was ignoring the most important property, the libros (books), while boosting the physique of the $50,200,000 renovated building and praising Jonathan Kemper, the Star almost cleared up the misunderstanding about collection
size in yet another front-page article, dated April 11, 2004, entitled 'Shhh! Libraries leading downtown revitalization.' "And it's not as if the library is ignoring books,” deputy director Dorothy Elliot said. “We still have many, many books.... Look at the square footage….” The new Central Library has 190,000 square feet, versus 142, 000 square feet in its former home. At the old building, a large part of the collection was stored in the basement because there was not enough shelf space. In the new location, almost all the books will be on display." Was the old library building too costly to maintain? I repeatedly asked several reporters and editors to "follow the money" and examine what appeared to be "exorbitant costs" in respect to the boosted project. The April 11 report finally admitted that the new, larger structure would need more funds for maintenance and utilities than the old place. More significantly, the lease payments for the new facility are $850,000 per month as opposed to $142,000 for the old space. As for the total cost to bring the new structure on line, that cost was quoted as $50,200,000, or $264 per square foot of library space - including attached amenities such as the garage. A much larger, brand new facility
could have been had for that amount. To find the cost per square foot to add the additional square footage, we deduct 142,000 from 190,000, which leaves 48,000 square feet added, at a cost of $1,046 per square foot of added space. We can compare the Kansas City numbers to the figures given in the same article for the new Denver library, which was expanded from 130,000 square feet to 540,000 square feet, we come up with $139 per square foot for the whole renovated facility, and $183 per square foot for the 410,000 square feet added. Something smells fishy in downtown Kansas City! The senior architect for HTNB - the architectural firm favored for numerous large projects downtown - apparently feels everything smells fine: he admits that it may be better to tear down and build anew, and attributes the huge difference to the need to reinforce the floors of the old bank building in order to support the books. Was the old library too threadbare? If the old building was too decrepit to serve the purpose, a better library could have been built anew, or the old one could have been renovated, and for much less money up front and over time. The benefactors
could have made certain that the central library remained where it has always been, in Kansas City’s historic Civic Center. But the association of real estate owners wanted it lodged across the street from the Kemper dynasty's historic campus wherein their office is located, smack dab in the middle of the latest revitalization of the commercial district now called the "Library District," where many historic office buildings are now being converted to condominiums making it easier for the historic vested interests to cash out. The bevy of civic minded downtown real estate owners plan to sell the new library building to the city – according to the scheme conceived, the public shall foot costs going forward. And that is why the collection is being removed to that very plot, notwithstanding the pretexts previously bestowed on the enthusiastic public by the Star; the free press did its historic civic duty to the vested interests and boosted the move, and, as duly noted above, the newspaper got a free printing plant for playing its traditional role in the whole downtown revitalization plot. Finally, now that the dust has settled, the Star honestly touts the real reason for the location selected for the new library: the editors dropped the pretext and put the placement in the context of similar conduct in dozens of cities presumably more advanced than the cow town known as the Heart of America, cities that are using public libraries as private
commercial real estate development tools. Mind you that to get anything done in a democracy given its squabbling tendencies, one has to resort to pretexts if not lies; and once the heavy investment is made, one must stay the course. The librarians are naturally ecstatic over the imposing new building. Despite their qualms over the virtual privatization of their public institution, how could they have refused such an offer for a grand, free building? Who wants to look a sacred cow in the mouth? As for the qualms, the business of the government of Kansas City, as the founder of the Star once put it, is business, so why quibble over the imaginary distinction between church and state? The nice thing about the business state is that all taxpayers are its customers for their own good whether they like the product or not. Enter Jennifer Wilding with a special study written for Kansas City Consensus, a policy group, showing that library funding is presently at risk as usual, therefore there should be a tax increase. Furthermore, people outside of the library district should also be made to pay for the new library. (Library funding at risk, study finds’, Star, April 24, 2004) If I were to write a conspiratorial novel based on a true story, I would write that an old library was deliberately allowed to go to seed so that the need to relocate to the new location, where needy business interests would
be best served, would become more and more pressing as time progressed. My protagonist, a library activist, would no doubt fear that his own reports of the pathetic conditions at the old library had added to the impetus. Was the old library building too fetid and full of vagrants? Libraries all over have been "taken over by the homeless" over the last few years, but there was no excuse for conditions at the downtown Kansas City Library. In fact, the house rules under the pertinent library board code were not being enforced at the old library. Fact: the same rules are being enforced at the new location. In fact, library supervision was not only negligent but was in the most serious violation of the code - not enforcing it. According to my sources, staff members on the floor were actually reprimanded for intervening in "security issues." The attempt to blame the lack of discipline on all sorts of poor people under the rubric of "the homeless" and "indigents," identifying them with petty criminals, creating an uproar and widespread hard feelings in the community, was a crying shame, a travesty of justice, a disservice to the community, and more. In fact, the supervision and the top administration were the culprits: supervision should have been disciplined; the director should have resigned or been terminated. Yes, something smells fishy in downtown Kansas City!
In sum: False pretexts for relocating the library were given by the power elite's propaganda organ, the Kansas City Star. The Star dedicated several front-page "news" articles to advertise the move into the new building, emphasizing at all times the Show Business aspects of the renovated structure, and failed to present a cogent and full statement of the structure of the deal among the particular parties involved together with a concise but complete statement of the sources and allocation of the $50,200,000 funding. Jonathan Kemper, who made "Jonathan's building" happen, and who appears by virtue of his various dominant positions to have conflicts of interest which blur the distinction between public and private interests, ultimately justified the move with the typical self-righteous statement of civic leaders who want something for nothing: "It is the right thing to do." For whom was it right? Was it right for land-bankers and landlords? Did they collude with tax-incentive bestowing political leaders in legal and perhaps illegal graft, assembling and holding property for largescale developments? Was it right for big architectural firms and construction companies, big real estate developers and their bankers, the upper-middle class and elite who can afford to buy or rent high-value lofts, condominiums and the like? If that is so, was it right to broaden the gap between the rich
and the poor as the rich shift more of the tax burden to the poor in the form of consumption taxes, fees and the like? Besides the prestige purchased by the elite who have their names and firms advertised, the new library as a business venture would be sheer folly without the expectation of profits and related appreciation of land values and leaseholds from the surrounding commercial real estate development in the Library District and the immediate vicinity. It appears that the prime movers of the new library project expect to recover at about $25,000,000 from profits and related rise in values; the building itself will apparently be sold to the public library entity, but due to inadequate reporting by the Star, the general public has no way of knowing the structure of that intended transaction, or whether the "donations" from "philanthropists" are or are not recoverable; apparently the balance of the $50,200,000 does not come from "philanthropists" but ultimately from the taxpayer. That is to say that the public library is being used as a tool for private profit, and the underlying plan is to unload it on the unwitting public once those gains are assured. But that is not to say that such a scheme is not for the public’s own good nor that greed so organized is inferior to the imposition of socialist alternatives.
IN PRAISE OF KEMPER’S FOLLY
Kansas Citians are delighted to hear that all systems are go for the Spring opening of the "Jonathan Kemper Public Library" in the renovated First National Bank Building. Of course in all humility and with all due respect to other powers involved, Jonathan Kemper, president of Commerce Bank and prime mover of the library project, does not like to hear the new library across the street from his office called "Jonathan's library", yet without him it would never have happened: he stepped in and led the funding campaign, raising fifty millions when it became evident that the cheaper to operate and already paid for structure at 12th and Oak might be closed for want of funds. Thank you very much. Speaking of funds, the Kemper family controls two large regional banks: Commerce Bancshares Inc., with assets of $ 13.3 billion, and UMB Financial Corporation, with
assets of $ 8 billion. For better or worse, the Kemper family has dominated real estate development in Downtown Kansas City for many years. The librarians will be glad to get out of the Public Library and Board of Education building. The old building, completed in 1959, is an architectural "break from the past" that does somewhat absurd tribute, with its limestone podium, to the edificial limestone structures around it. Edward W. Tanner, architect of Kansas City's famed Country Club Plaza (succeeding E.B. Delk in 1925) was the library's architect. The building is next to City Hall and the Metropolitan Police Headquarters among other public works of the Depression Era. As we have previously noted at length, it has been virtually taken over and "blighted" by vagrants, in part due to inadequate policing in the historic Civic Center and also to the maladministration of the library itself. Besides, the building, once considered to be modern, now looks more dumpy than modern; it has been described as "fetid" by a Kansas City Star reporter, perhaps because he visited the stacks in the basement: although the basement where sixty percent of the collection is lodged is inaccessible to the general public, it is occasionally used as a toilet by vagrants. Furthermore, much to the dismay of the Public Library since its 1988 divorce from the Board of Education, the building is inadequately maintained by the Board; it is with that in mind that the librarians are
concerned that the power elite, with Jonathan Kemper in the lead, may somehow exercise private control over the new library to its detriment; still, they are not about to look a gift horse in the mouth too closely. On the other hand, your investigative journalist has almost been convinced that the management of the library's day-to-day operations and its building should be privatized, leaving, of course, the selection of the collection and the protection of the public's freedom to read in the hands of competent librarians who subscribe to the principles of the ethical code of the American Library Association. Since the Board of Education is allegedly to blame for faults noticed at the library, its administration should be audited for flaws elsewhere, lest the education of the public be stunted. Now the new library location, a Neo-classical and Renaissance structure at 10th and Baltimore, was designed by Wilder & Wight (established 1904), latterly (1916) Wight & Wight. The Wight brothers were trained in Europe, and were largely responsible for the introduction of Neoclassical architecture to Kansas City; for instance, City Hall (1937) and Jackson County Courthouse (1934). The squat and pillared First National Bank building was completed in 1906 and is presently being renovated under the direction of Howard, Needles, Tammen & Bergendoff (HNTB) –
the architectural firm best known for two of Kansas City's most fabulous modern buildings, AT&T Town Pavilion and 1201 Walnut. The sedate old lobby and the vault of the First National Bank have been retained by Mr. Kemper for the library. The Commerce Bank president has a liking for history and old bank lobbies; of course he already presides over the grand antique lobby of Commerce Bank. The First National Bank was once an imposing temple of Pluto, god of wealth and death, and it will hopefully serve as Missouri's ark of high civilization once Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, is properly installed. Since Pluto is god of the economic currency while Athena is goddess of the linguistic medium of exchange, we hope the relationship between Pluto and Athena will be amicable notwithstanding their liking for the death and war which is said to enhance their respective estates – some scholars pose Athena as the goddess of defensive war, in contrast to her friend or brother or consort, Mars, god of offensive war. At least one scholar, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, said that Pluto is the Father of many things which we hold dear as well as Lady Folly herself. Wherefore Erasmus, in his encomium to moriai (pun on Thomas More's name, resembling moriai, folly) puts these words in Dame Stultitia's mouth:
"Neither the first Chaos, Orcus, Saturn, or Japhet, nor any of these thred-bare, musty Gods were my Father, but Plutus, Riches; that only he, that is, in spight of Hesiod, Homer, nay and Jupiter himself, Divum Pater atque Hominum Rex, the Father of Gods and men; at whose single beck, as heretofore, so at present, all things Sacred and Prophane are turned topsie turvie. According to whose Pleasure War, Peace, Empire, Counsels, Judgments, Assemblies, Wedlocks, Bargains, Leagues, Laws, Arts, all things Light or Serious - I want breath - in short, all the publick and private business of mankind, is governed; without whose help that Herd of Gods of the Poet's making, and those few of the better sort of the rest, either would not be at all, or if they were, they would be but such as live at home and keep a poor house to themselves. And to whom hee's an Enemy, 'tis not Pallas her self that can befriend him: as on the contrary he whom he favors may lead Jupiter and his Thunder on a string. "This is my father and in him I glory. Nor did he produce me from his brain, a Jupiter that sowre an ill-looked Pallas (Athene); but of that lovely Nymph called Youth, the most beautiful and galliard of all the rest." Speaking of folly: given the small taxpayer base to support the expensive and the failure of past downtown revitalization projects, some businessmen think "Jonathan's library" as well as the Library District project
might be better named "Kemper's Folly," absent continuous funding from various nonprofit foundations controlled by the local power elite who have vested interests in commercial development in the eight-block Library District surrounding the library showpiece. In the event that Mr. Kemper is in fact, loosely speaking, a moron ("fool"), "his" library would be more likely to succeed: "Fortune loves those that have the least wit," pronounced the Erasmian Lady Folly, "for how can it be otherwise, when Fortune, the great Directress of all Humane Affairs, and my self are so all one that she was always an enemy to those wise men, and on the contrary so favorable to Fools and careless fellows, that all things hit luckily to 'em? "Fortune loves those that have least wit and most confidence, and such as like that saying of Caesar, 'The die is thrown'. But Wisdome makes men bashful, which is the reason that those Wise men have so little to do, unless it be with Poverty, Hunger, and Chimny-corners; that they live such nelglected, unknown and hated lives; whereas Fools abound in money, have the chief Commands in the Common-wealth, and in a word, flourish in every way.... "If Wealth is to be got, how little good at it is that Merchant like to do, if following the Precepts of Wisdom he should boggle at Purjury; or being
taken in a lie, blush; or in the least regard the sad scruples of those Wisemen touching Rapine and Usury.... "In brief, go whither ye will, among Prelates, Princes, Judges, Magistrates, Friends, Enemies, from highest to lowest, and you'll find all things done by money; which, as a Wise man contemns it, so it takes a special care not to come near him." Wherefore every Kansas City fool, including 'homeless' patrons, look forward with gratitude to the new library. But he alone has not brought it to the community. To quote the flattery of the Kansas City Star article, 'Vision Turns a Bank Into a Grand Library' (January 4, 2004): "(Jonathan Kemper) hates that people call the library 'his.' Hearing the phrase inevitably prompts a withered, tolerant smile. Or he ignores it like a slight; slighting to the architects, slighting to the builders, slighting to the hundreds of others who work to make a big project happen." As for the righteousness of the project: "We didn't do this for praise or anything other than it was the right thing to do," quoth Kemper. Furthermore, "There's no doubt that Kemper believes he knows what is 'right.' What works. What doesn't. He's spent his adult life looking at it with the scholarly focus of a Ph.D." Moreover, "And 'right' to Kemper means it works. It fits. It fits its use. It fits its neighborhood. It's lasting and it's natural, as if it were always
there, as if it were always intended to be what it is, just as it embraces the people who use it." "How they beat into people's heads," sayeth Lady Folly, "those Magnifical titles of Illustrious Doctors, Subitle Doctors, most Subtile Doctors, Seraphick Doctors, Cherubin-Doctors, Holy Doctors,
Unquestionable Doctors, and the like; and the throw abroad among the ignorant people Syllogisms, Majors, Minors, Conclusions, Corollaries, Suppositions, and those so weak they are below Pedantry." With all due respect to the Philosophers who are Doctors: "(They) look upon themselves as the onely Wise Men, and all others as Shadows. And yet how pleasantly do they dote while they frame in the heads innumerable worlds; measure out the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, nay and Heaven it self, as it were with a pair of Compasses; lay down the Causes of Lightning, Winds, Eclipses, and other the like Inexplicable Matters; and all this too without the least doubting, as if they were Nature's Secretaries, or dropt down among us from the Council of the Gods; while in the mean time Nature laughs at them and all their conjectures." The Kansas City Star certainly boosted the new library and its Prime Mover with more than two full pages of coverage: the new library's physical features were described; an interview with Mr. Kemper was reported;
negative gossip about Mr. Kemper from anonymous sources was thrown in to amuse the all-too-human readers. However, the front-page feature made no mention of what portion of the $50 million start-up cost if any will go towards improving the downtown collection, which, at least in the opinion of this foolish writer, wants upgrading in several respects. In fine, the Star paid thousands of words of obeisance to the distinguished physical structure of the renovated bank building and to the highly esteemed Mr. Kemper, but no mention was made of the reason people used to go to libraries: books, hopefully the best collection money can buy. And this despite the continuous claims that Downtown Kansas City is a good place to move your corporate headquarters to, because Kansas City is populated with the best and the brightest, the most creative and talented people in the world. Besides the Kansas City Star, what are they going to read? As the reader might have noticed by now, your fervent author is investigating allegations, all from librarians, that, contrary to the public claims in the press, the new library will have less space for the collection; that "two whole floors" at the old facility were deliberately not counted to create that impression; that the collection is being "dumbed-down to the mass-market" because of the space constraint and, most importantly, to suit the demand for the sort of customers the library expects downtown. During
the course his investigation, your diligent independent investigator has detected several signs of serial bibliocide, and evidence that there might be an ongoing cover up corresponding to the shipping off of the severed bodies of evidence. Just last Friday, on January 16, an anonymous assistant at the downtown library's information desk reported that boxes of scholarly works had just been packed into boxes for disposal The assistant said the books were being shipped to the University of Missouri pursuant to an ongoing "weeding" process which is bringing the collection in line with most customers. The assistant said that the library used to be used for research, but since there are so many universities and other libraries in the area, the public library is no longer needed for that particular purpose. Therefore, for example, the downtown library would need more room for popular novels, and it would, for instance, order a half-dozen Clancy novels instead of one or two. Furthermore, he pointed out that scholarly books not on hand may in some cases be obtained on request, from a cooperating consortium of libraries, within a few weeks if not ten days. This foolish sleuth asked Deputy Director Theresa Bigelow for a manifest of titles of the books withdrawn and secreted away to undisclosed locations in innocuous looking cartons. She responded that the boxes
referred to probably contained not scholarly books but rather old government documents. Her indefinite explanation did little to assuage the suspicion of mass bibliocide at the main library. Yet, if scholarly books had been withdrawn and sent to universities, they would still be available, as the assistant said, on specific request. That is fine and dandy as far as it goes, yet it still withdraws books from the immediate browsing area, and with bad consequences. Browsing, as any library patron knows, is conducive to his or her broader education. If books were not available for browsing, the public would be the worse off, especially that portion of the public who are in want of enlightenment via the critical process, and who are therefore subservient to the power elite supported by the salaried intelligentsia. And that is one reason why the constant refrain of the public library's 'Marketing' department, that "twice the number of books are available for browsing at the new location than the old," does not hold water for those books which were not available to browsers at the old location, and were withdrawn from the collection because they were seldom checked out. Another Kansas City librarian, whom I admire for her detached, serene view of controversial subjects, anonymously stated that, although she had not participated in the weeding process itself, that she assumed the collection was simply being developed to suit the kind of institution the
library was perceived to be, and that the guidelines of the American Library Association, the public librarians' professional association, were no doubt being followed by the administrators. Another library assistant who wished to remain anonymous claimed that the collection development program had been and was a "collaborative process." Yet your curious writer could not find a single person downstairs who had a direct hand in determining the ultimate policy. That policy was handed down, said one lady in the known, "by the higher ups," who are “seldom seen on the lower floors.” Of course discrimination is the essence of the collector's business; some collections are much better than others. Meeting the popular demand from the "dumb" herd, who are supposed to prefer entertainment and recreation to serious study, is not the only consideration of the discriminating librarian, who knows or should know that quantity is not equivalent to quality even in our bigger-is-better culture. In fact, a library half the size of the present downtown library could be twice as effective once the desired effect is defined – and a dozen excellent volumes actually read would constitute a better collection than a million books laid aside in a crypt. If the master librarian has a higher education and ethic, she will collect elevating books for the best and the brightest, the most creative and
most talented people allegedly in demand by corporate America. She would not want to simply cram the new space with junk food for the empirical, epicurean, democratic mass mind. Our ideal librarian might be an inconspicuous, quiet type of person, yet she is a priestess of high civilization, a captain of its moral and mental ark. Today she is often accused of the serial mass-murder of the best books ever written – she will claim that she is not really the captain, and that the ark is being pressed to mass consumption and suicidal world war by chauvinistic men, the Captain Ahabs of the library business.. However that may be, what we have here is a microcosm of the historical struggle between the few and the many. In our case the librarian has to balance the needs of a minority, the intellectual elite, for profound works, with the demand of the masses for recreation, not only in the form of popular books but in the form of popular visual and sound media. By way of illustration, your foolish writer will turn the pages of the great history book back five centuries, to two perspectives of the producers of books set forth by Desiderius Erasmus in his In Praise of Folly. Then Jonathan Kemper, the main sponsor of Kansas City's new Neo-Classical, Renaissance bank-library structure, might be seriously amused by Erasmian folly; for Erasmus, who loved books above all things, was perhaps the most important personage of
the Renaissance, appearing at its acme, and was dedicated to the "new science, the restoration of the Classics, for the sake of universal peace obtained by non-violent means. "(Of those) that hunt after immortality of Fame (sayeth Lady Folly) by setting out Books.... In the first (place) are they that do nothing but daub Paper with their empty Toyes. For they that write learnedly to the understanding of a few Scholers, and refuse not to stand the test of a Persius or a Laelius, seem to me rather to be pitied than to be considered happy, as persons that are tormenting themselves; Adding, Changing, Putting in, Blotting out, Revising, Reprinting, showing it to friends, and nine years in correcting, yet never fully satisfied; at so great a rate do they purchase the vain reward to wit, Praise, and that too of a very few, with so many watchings, so much sweat, so much vexation and loss of sleep, the most precious of all things. Add to this the waste of health, spoil of complexion, weakness of eyes or rather blindness, poverty, envy, abstinence from pleasure, over-hasty Old age, untimely death, and the like; so highly does the Wise man value the approbation of one or two bleary-eyed fellows...." On the other hand, "But how much happier is this my Writer's dotage, who never studies for anything, but puts in writing what ever he pleases or what comes first in his head though it be but his dreams; and all this with
small waste of Paper, as well knowing that the vainer these Trifles are, the higher esteem they will have for the greater number, that is to say all the fools and unlearned. And what matter is it to sleight those few learned, if yet they ever read them? Or of what authority will the censure of so few Wise men be against so great a Cloud of Gainsayers?" There were no copyright laws in Erasmus' day, hence writers did their best to obtain some income from books sold by their printers and distributors, augmenting their income by frequently publishing revised editions of certain works – the most income could be had by getting the jump on the market from the first edition by their printer. Creative authors supplemented their income by tutoring. They and other artists depended as well on patrons for their survival; hence we see much flattery flowing from their pens to same. Erasmus, with pathetic results, flattered his patrons with sophisticated "begging-letters" and gave good reasons besides his survival for doing so; but he eventually became the brightest star in letters, standing for the spiritual unity of the political cosmos: popes and princes sought his audience; an original letter from his pen was treasured, copies to be duly published for public edification. And it was with that in mind that your moron (loosely speaking, a "fool") appealed to Jonathan Kemper for the funding of a sort of contest to determine the titles of the book-spines he
plans on painting on the face of the new jumbo-parking building next to the library. Mr. Kemper had previously set forth his selection philosophy: "The biggest question is not what titles to select, but what we want those titles to say to the community." I proposed that the entire community be involved in what is said to the community, in the form of a great writing contest. To wit: the submission of essays, each one recommending a title; the winners to be selected not only on the basis of writing quality but also on the merits of the argument set forth; each winner to receive an honorarium of $500. In the event the same winning title is submitted by several writers, the best writing would win $500 for that title. Of course my submission will be The Praise of Folly.
THE COMPASSION ZONE
It is seven in the morning on this bright Odin's Day, the historic last day of Mars in the two-thousand and fourth year of our Most Common Calender. I have arrived for a historic meeting with myself at the Country Club Cafe in the Muehlebach Hotel, historic host to historic presidents and several other degrees of status, right on down to my unknown self. I am as a matter of course an insignificant nobody drifting through Kansas City's historic, so-called Compassion Zone, recommended by civic leaders for poor folk, with Amleth's fire-sharpened stake in hand. If I am not burned at that stake by the editorial floozies for declaring Kansas City’s Liberty Memorial to be a gigantic lingam unworthy of monetary worship without a matching yoni; if I can rid myself of my compassionate liberalism; if I can steal the monopolist's sheep; if I can poke him in the eye and roll
away the rock to make good my getaway; - I shall fill my stake with gold and set sail. Lest I digress and record the world's longest screed, this meeting with myself is called to order for the purpose of recording the historic origin of the Compassion Zone. Mind you, Alter Ego, that an historic city of refuge, an unofficial sanctuary for vagrants, has existed for several years on the northeastern corner of downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The sanctuary includes Kansas City's historic Civic Center wherein are located city hall, police headquarters, various courts and jails. An assortment of half-way houses, shelters, missions, and main library buildings have always been located within the civic complex until very recently: the main branch is now being relocated to a renovated historic building a few blocks west, where it will be the centerpiece of the commercial real estate development named the 'Library District.' Kansas City's only daily newspaper reported that one of the main reasons for moving the main library was that the building had become a fetid zone infested with vagrants. Now the unpatrolled, unofficial city of refuge was recently named the 'Compassion Zone' by one Sean O'Byrne, a former real estate agent who is the current head of an organization of "safety and maintenance ambassadors"
formed by downtown landlords and business persons; they refer to their organization as the Downtown Community Improvement District. People downtown call the ambassadors "Kemper's Yellow Jackets" because they wear yellow jackets in season and because the dominant and reportedly arrogant power behind the scenes is one Jonathan Kemper, president of the historic Commerce Bank, aka The Boss. Kemper's Yellow Jackets are frequently scoffed at by conservative old-timers for being nothing but a make-work outfit, and they are sometimes jestingly associated with the old fascist Brown Shirts and Black Shirts; but they have in fact done a great job of cleaning up and patrolling the streets – there are seldom any cops to be seen around town unless someone really worth protecting, like Vice President Dick Cheney, shows up at the Muehlebach. The Yellow Jackets are not paid much but they have an excellent attitude and they help everybody. They call ambulances and the police; direct greenhorns away from unsafe places; advise people not to give handouts to panhandlers; and, most importantly, they direct vagrants away from private real estate to the Compassion Zone, where their dire needs will be presumably attended to. The grand opening of the new, virtually privatized public library is coming up soon. The civic leaders would rather not have vagrants loitering
around the building,, drinking, urinating, defecating, using drugs, so on and so forth; wherefore efforts are already underway to train same to behave themselves or else, and to direct them to the Compassion Zone. Yellow Jacket Chief Sean O'Byrne realizes fully well that people in general need a place to hang out, some place where they can let everything hang out and do those things they should be ashamed to do in public, such as expose themselves, drink, snort and shoot up, fornicate and scream at each other and the like. He knows there is no place like a private house for that, and of course he would like every houseless person to have a house or at least an apartment or a room in a flophouse. But of course houseless people whose home is in the Heart of America have no houses – even flophouses are few and far between. Chief O'Byrne does not have the wherewithal to buy them housing, so they hang on the streets when not working; and of course that poses certain unsightly problems for Chief O'Byrne's public safety and maintenance crew. Mind you, dearest Alter Ego, that he has a heart as well as a brain, wherefore not only does he think that the community should do something to houseless people, like keep them penned up in the Compassion Zone, he sometimes feels that the community should something for them.
For instance, hungry indigents leave the Compassion Zone and walk a few blocks west to the Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral to get the most excellent free meals in town; six-hundred gourmet meals, some with wild game, are served each day. Now Chief O'Byrne's heart bleeds to see poor folk "parading" cross town over the uncompassionate downtown area with their blankets and garbage-bag suitcases and such in hand. He believes charitable services should be consolidated within the Compassion Zone. To that end he has suggested a day care center for "homeless" people. Alter Ego, you know that I have good cause to believe that Chief O'Byrne plagiarized my suggestion to build a day care center in what he dubbed the Compassion Zone. However, in my several articles on the subject, I stated that laws and regulations should be equally enforced everywhere; that it would be plainly wrong to identify "homelessness" with criminality; that it would be wrong to banish poor people or even convicted criminals from the historic Kemper Business Campus, now dubbed the eight-block Library District. You, beloved Alter Ego, my most intimate associate, know very well that I said that and sent copies to Kemper's Yellow Jackets. If the civic leaders want to take away the library from people who patronize it as a homeless shelter, instead of providing adequate services and security to that end, I said some alternate facility should be provided, where
vagrants, tramps, vagabonds, indigents, runaways, and maybe nobodies like me can hang out on hot and cold days, clean up, learn things, read and write, find jobs, eat a hot venison sandwich, get a shower and shave and massage, stuff like that. Well, this meeting is beginning to bore me, so we shall adjourn. I am glad you heard me out, my dear Alter Ego, for the officially declared standing policy of the one-eyed civic leaders is to "ignore naysayers", and they also ignore yea-sayers if they are nobodies drifting through the Compassion Zone. You see, the monocled civic leaders believe they are always right; they do not realize that their uptight self-righteous attitude is at the root of the blight on downtown Kansas City. If only Boss Tom Pendergast were still around to remind people that there is more than one or two sides to a story: "There is my side, your side, and the right side."
ANOTHER KNIFE ATTACK IN THE HEART OF AMERICAN
I have quite a backlog of work, so after I got out of bed this morning, I decided to follow the instructions of a librarian at the new downtown Kansas City (Missouri) Library, to catch a bus uptown to a branch library where customers are permitted to use the computers for up to four hours. No sooner had I walked a half-block than the tops of my socks had been pulled down into my new shoes; there is nowhere to shop downtown, so my friend John gave me a ride way out to the Payless yesterday, where I was able to buy a $29 pair of shoes on sale for $16. Anyone whose socks keep getting pulled down into their shoes knows how exasperating that can be; talcum power does not work, so one must try cutting the heels out of the socks to keep them from sliding down. I did not have scissors with me, so I stopped, took off my socks, put them in my free, gray vinyl, Inc. Magazine briefcase, and walked to the bus stop with bare feet in my shoes.
I arrived at the Metro bus center on 10th and Baltimore, directly across the street from the new downtown library, shortly after 8 A.M. A tough-looking young man was confronting another, older man there, yelling sexual-orientation curses in his face – they seemed to know each other. A dozen people were standing by, waiting for buses as a panhandler came around asking for spare change. We didn't pay the two men much mind; the scene appeared to be just another one of those loud disagreements allow steam to blow off, no harm done. Sure enough, the man doing the cursing turned around and walked across the street towards the entrance to the library. But then he did an about-face, came back across the street, pulled out a foot-long butcher knife from his pants leg and quickly slashed his victim several times, shouting "you (expletive-deleted expletive deleted expletive deleted)," then he took off lickety-split around the corner. The victim immediately pulled a cell phone from his pocket and called 911. He was bleeding badly from slashes on his arms. We offered handkerchiefs and T-shirts to bind the wounds, but he calmly refused them, applying pressure to the cuts by pressing them firmly against his body, which did the trick. It took the cops about five minutes to arrive, which is light speed in Kansas City. We described the assailant. Wow! A police helicopter was already whirling overhead.
The cops had witnesses coming out the ears. Since that aspect well covered, a few of us climbed on the bus when it pulled up. We chatted as we rolled uptown. We bet on how many years the slasher would get. Since a quarter of the people I encounter on the downtown streets are on "the honor system," I speculated that the knifer was on parole too, and predicted that the assault with a deadly weapon should cost him at least five years. Someone said he might be charged with attempted murder. I disagreed: he obviously did not intend to kill the man, I said, just slash him up a bit. Another busriding pundit said a cut in the right place would have killed the man, and the question of intent to kill might depend for its resolution on the relative skill of the lawyers. Another gentleman said he had seen Mr. Berg beheaded by terrorists on the Internet – it had taken only eight seconds, he said, for the head to be hacked off, which was too much information for the most of us. Another rider said the bus stop slashing might have been a hate crime. He said gays were having Gay Pride day at the Liberty Memorial; we were passing Liberty Memorial at the moment, and got a chuckle over the fact it looks like an enormous phallus with two testicles. A woman remarked that she would see the crime downtown reported on the Evening News. I countered that it was probably not dramatic enough for television, and that the newspaper would probably not report it because the Kansas City Star
supports Mayor Barnes' billion-dollar downtown real estate schemes. After all, I said, the mayor implied in a recent speech, just before her City Manager said he would cut the police and indigent health care budgets, that downtown crime is just being imagined by the residents who are constantly complaining about it. A lady said “no” to that. There had always been lots of crime in Kansas City, she said, and crime is everywhere, not just downtown, some new crime is being committed every five minutes, so many crimes that the reporters can't keep up with them all. She then cursed the mayor's "stupid politics for rich people" roundly, calling her "B.... Barnes." Our bus was detoured because of a big marathon. I was let off some ways from the library and had to walk quite a ways. No problem. But the library was not open yet because of a problem with the locks, or so a staff member said. No problem. After that was remedied and we entered the library, we discovered that the computers were not working. I took the opportunity to study a new book just out, written by Lester Thurow: everything will be all right as we head towards the Golden Mean. All the new political-economic books say pretty much the same things about the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis I thought – sure looks like some sort of mass plagiary is going on.
The computers were still not working three hours later. I met a nice lady by the name of Catherine as she was trying to log in to a computer. We chatted for an hour about the general level of intelligence in Kansas City, and then about journalism, computers, kids, education, French and Scottish history, working for Hallmark, marriage, dance. Catherine noticed my bare feet in my new shoes but she did not say anything. Then I decided to go back where I came from, the Central Library downtown. Perchance the computers are working there, I thought, and at least I might get some work done. I had spent my lunch money on the bus, but I decided to bust budget and get a $1 double-cheeseburger and a $1 Value Fries at McDonald's. Disgusting! but it took the edge off - I had had a smallish, equally disgusting, cheap knock-off of a Honey Bun roll for breakfast. Alas, when I got into the Central Library, the computers were down there too, so I pulled some books about Herbert Hoover and took some notes about that poor fellow for one of my ongoing projects, one that I believe will be useful in case what I call the Great Turmoil recurs. A kind security guard told me that a few of the computers seemed to be online sporadically. I kept my eyes peeled, and noticed that people were using one particular computer in the main reading room. When a lady got up from using it, I was jolly on the spot.
Walla! this one works! But too bad, I cannot get my work done because of the absurd ninety-minute time limit and because the library will close soon. So I am taking thirty minutes to whip this out and answer my email. Security is telling me to get out of the library. Off I go.
AN INHOSPITABLE ASPECT
The so-called Yellow Jackets or safety ambassadors have done a great job at the new library building, eliminating much of the unseemly behavior that was rather common at the mismanaged old library in the historic Civic Center. However, just before and after the new library was open, the Yellow Jackets harassed too many people at the open-air bus center on Tenth and Main across the street, hence Kansas City's metropolitan transportation authority reportedly ask the safety ambassadors, or "officers," as they prefer to call themselves, to stand down. The open-air bus center comprises several small seating shelters for various routes that converge there, a small fountain. a few knee-high walls which people sit on, and a couple of filthy public telephones. The center serves as a waiting area for bus passengers, dropping off place for half-way houses, loitering place for vagrants, place of opportunity for panhandlers and criminals, and a place where office workers and others have customarily sat down on a wall to rest or have lunch. At first the Yellow Jackets ordered
anyone who sat down along one of the low walls to get up, telling them they could only sit down within the bus shelters themselves. They confronted people who were panhandling and harassed or "stared down" others who looked suspicious. A young man with whom I was conversing with near the fountain and I were the subject of a stare-down by a yellow-jacketed man – by the way, white shirts are worn in the summer. I inquired into his identity later on because his stare was extremely hateful, as if he were an experience killer and wanted to kill me and the fellow I was chatting. It was the sort of "dissing" that might have gotten him shot in some circumstances in New York; for instance, a young man who was staring at another man across the aisle in the subway, and he was summarily executed by the subject of the stare, who drew a pistol and put a bullet in his head. One might wonder why adults engage in staring-down activity, but they do, and so do some apes. In fact, I again encountered the fellow who had been staring down me and my acquaintance; he was talking to a uniformed Kansas City cop, who told him, "If you have a problem with someone who doesn't accept your authority, you just call me, and I will come over (to the library) and stare him down myself." So stare-downs are apparently a police strategy as well as a strategy employed by apes and young toughs.
My brand new street-acquaintance was in town from Atlanta to visit his daughter; he was praising Mayor Kay Barnes' plans for a new basketball arena downtown – I was arguing against it. As Kemper's security man came even closer, leering at us as if we were vermin to be exterminated, I glanced down and noticed a plaque affixed to the wall under my foot, honoring the founders of the Kemper family dynasty. For a moment I felt like spitting on it, but decided not to since there is probably an ordinance against spitting on plaques dedicated to civic leaders.
This fountain is dedicated to the memory of William Thornton Kemper and Charlotte Crosby Kemper 1865-1936 1866-1956 Community Leaders in Politics, Banking and the Arts Dedicated April 1999 City of Kansas City, Missouri Kansas City Transportation Authority Emmanuel Cleaver II, Mayor George Huvedick, Chairman
The Doolittle Assocaties, Inc. Alvin Holm Architects Larking Associates Historical Arts and Castings J.E. Dunn Construction Co. William T. Kemper Foundation, Commerce Bank, Trustee
"Why, people cannot even enjoy a pleasant bit of conversation around here without being harassed by Kemper's Yellow Jackets!" I thought. But since that time the private security force has been pulled out of the bus center. And if you have not been down there lately, then believe me, it has really gone to pot: panhandling, drug dealing, sleeping, drinking, and even open-air fornicating can be observed, depending on the time of day and on who shows up. The Yellow Jackets still patrol the inside of the new central library. As I have said, they have done a great job, yet they have gone too far even there. For instance, I visited the library to do some research for a paper that I am writing on Portuguese history. The lead call numbers were 949.9, which happen to be near a bottom shelf on the fourth floor. Since the selection on Portuguese history was rather pathetic, I sat down on the floor to pull out books other than the ones I had found in the catalog, hoping that I might find on the bottom shelves something appertaining to Joao Franco, the prime minister and dictator who served King Carlos, who was assassinated in 1908. I had initially squatted down on my haunches, but, since I am a Westerner and out of shape, the position was uncomfortable, so I sat down
and pulled three books. I was not blocking the aisle, by the way. There was nobody in sight on the whole end of that floor. I could not have been sitting for more than fifteen seconds when a Yellow Jacket popped around the corner and commanded me to get up off the floor immediately; sitting on the floor was not allowed, he declared peremptorily. He knew very well what I was doing; he knows that I am a serious researcher, that I would never sleep, urinate, defecate, or fornicate on the library floors, or block anyone's access to anything. In fact he agreed that the rule as he was enforcing it was "ridiculous." and he agreed that I should make a complaint about it. "Welcome to Jonathan Kemper's privatized public library," I thought to myself, then took 15 minutes to jot down this entry in my journal with this moral of the story: Reform is sometimes called for, but one can go too far to the right and create a very inhospitable environment for the liberal application of humane endeavors.
YE OLDE LIBRARY
Kansas City's first librarian, Carrie Westlake Whitney, averred that the public library in her day was "the only college for the masses." The Missouri Library Handbook 1906 informs us that "Everywhere educators, students, moralists, thinkers, earnest mechanical trade workers, are aiding in the library movement, recognizing it as the great necessary adjunct to the common school and the college. Library workers and friends also know that the library is the only college for the masses - too often the only school after the 'three R's.' For these and other reasons, the library should be all but as familiar as the school house, and but a short time in following it." A number of book titles will be displayed on gigantic facsimile book spines painted on the façade of the garage next to the brand new library at Tenth and Baltimore. We shall see that Jonathan Kemper believes that what those titles have to say to the public is more important than the contents of the books entitled. Superficial architectural advertisement of a building’s function is not a novel idea in the Heart of America: the downtown library of
a century ago, the second downtown library in Kansas City’s history, still standing at Ninth and Locust in the Civic Center, now occupied by Ozark National Life, has twenty nine names of authors carved on its frieze:
Poe Clemens Audubon Jefferson Washington Lincoln Parkman Harte Webster Cooper Hawthorne Morse Whittier Greeley Benton Maury Irving Lowell Emerson Holmes Bryant Agassiz Longfellow Bancroft Motley Prescott Stowe Alcott Franklin
Now that a century has passed, what do the twenty nine names sculpted on the frieze of the old library tell us about the community? A name is meaningless unless we know something about the thing or person named. A catchy title might induce us to pick a book up, but then we might be disappointed with the contents. Most of us give more consideration to the author’s name than the title as a reliable indication of what lies in store for the reader. Several of the persons named are familiar to all of us, yet others are not so familiar. A college graduate may know them all, although that is improbable a century after they were sculpted on the library. Nonetheless, someone certainly believed at the time that the persons named had made
important contributions to the community, especially in terms of literature, the essential content of any good library. Anyone who can read may find out, regardless of his or her level of education, who the authors were and what they did for society. Your instant author, proud graduate of Topeka's Clay Elementary School, has selected two names from the frieze, Mssrs. Agassiz and Parkman, in order to ascertain what the persons named said to their contemporaries. To that end he visited the little private library in his own apartment building, as well as the public institution Kansas City's first librarian said was "the only college for the masses." # Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), a Swiss-American doctor of philosophy and medicine, and a naturalist and geologist as well, was considered to be the wisest biologist of his day. Think fish, fossils and glaciers – he actually built and lived in a hut on a Swiss glacier to trace its structure and movements, and concluded that Switzerland was once covered by a sheet of ice. Agassiz was a friend of Baron Cuvier, imminent ichthyologist and the founder of comparative anatomy and paleontology. Scientific classification of the animal kingdom was blooming at the time: Agassiz called each
species "a thought of God." He served as Professor of Natural History at the University of Neuchatel from 1832 to 1846, then relocated to the United States to study its geology and natural history. In 1848 he became Professor of Zoology at Harvard, establishing there in 1848 its renowned museum of comparative zoology. He was devoted to his students and was considered the ablest teacher America had ever known, stressing the direct study of the facts themselves rather than hearsay from others, thereby creating a "revolution" in scientific research. His "school of schools", set up on in an old barn on an uninhabited island, lasted only three months yet had an enormous influence throughout the scientific world. Dr. Agassiz rejected Darwinism because he mistakenly believed that Darwin's theory implied a linear "progress" contrary to observable facts, rather than a divergence of species by virtue of their own specialization. Agassiz observed that, "We had the highest fishes first." A shark has a higher order of brain than a bony fish. However, Darwinism accounts for this by reference to "divergence" - the lower, bony fish was more fit for aquatic life because of its peculiar specialization. There exists a smidgen of irony in the fact that Agasiz's name is sculpted on the frieze of the old Kansas City library, for he was an empirical
scientist who discouraged the use of books, unless to conduct detailed research. "If you study nature in books, when you go out-of-doors you cannot find her," he said. Further, "It's not text books we want, but students. The book of nature is always open." "Strive to interpret what really exists," insisted Agassiz. Today we often wish more people in all walks of life would follow his advice, and even the more so in those higher offices where leaders rely on second-hand reports from expert advisers and are consequently out of touch with reality, with what is really happening on the floors below or anywhere else outside of their bubble for that matter. Even if they did, they might misinterpret the facts or not have enough of them available for a correct interpretation. Dr. Agassiz adhered to an empiricism that tended to reject metaphysical theories. Empiricists were of course criticized for disregarding theory and reasoning, and depending on direct observation and experience of limited sets of facts, sometimes limited by their unconscious prejudices and their observational tools, the crude technology at hand - scientists have learned to be more rationally sceptical, adhering to a strict albeit evolving scientific method.
A letter Dr. Agassiz wrote to abolitionist Samuel Gridley Howe (husband of Julia Ward Howe - author, composer of 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic') on the question of the disposition of races once the slaves were freed, serves to illustrate the traps students of nature may fall into. Is the mixing of the black and whites races in their best biological interest? Agassiz publicly stated that he believed in the unity of mankind, that all races were "endowed with one common nature, inherited and physical." However, in his private letter to Howe, he said that his initial first-hand observation of Negroes convinced him that the black and white races should be segregated. African-Americans are on the American continent to stay, he opined. In contrast to Native Americans, who tend to disappear before the advance of whites, Negroes are fit to adapt and endure. "The Negro exhibits by nature a pliability, a readiness to accommodate himself to circumstances, a proneness to imitate those among whom he lives - characteristics which are entirely foreign to the Indian, while they facilitate in every way the increase of the Negro." However, race-mixing produces deleterious peculiarities in the offspring: "It (the mulatto) is a half-breed, and shares all the peculiarities of half-breeds, among whose most important characteristics is their sterility, or
at least their reduced fecundity. This shows the connection to be contrary to the normal state of the races, as it is contrary to the preservation of the species in the animal kingdom..." Therefore, "Far from presenting to me a natural solution of our difficulties, the idea of amalgamation is most repugnant to my feelings. It is now the foundation of some of the most illadvised schemes.... From a physiological point of view, it is a sound policy to put every possible obstacle to the crossing of the races and the increase of half-breeds." Wherefore the purity of the races should be fostered to keep them fit: "I believe that a wise social economy will foster the progress of every pure race according to its natural disposition and abilities and aim at securing for it a proper field for the fullest development of its capabilities." That "field" will be in the warmer clime, in the South, once the blacks are freed: "By a natural consequence of unconquerable affinities, the colored people in whom the Negro nature prevails will tend toward the South, while the weaker and lighter ones will remained and die out among us (in the North)." We had best refer to the 2003 The New Encyclopedia Britannica for a general survey of current information:
"Race, cultural construct based on the popular but mistaken notion that humans can be divided into biologically distinct categories by means of particular physical features such as skin color, head shape, and other visible traits that are transmissible by descent.... Genetic studies undertaken in the last decades of the 20th century confirm that "races" do not exist in any biological sense. See also racism." If we do a bit of research at the library, we shall discover that even the notorious Adolph Hitler did not believe in the current existence of human races: "I know perfectly well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race. But you, as a farmer, cannot get your breeding right without the conception of race. And I, as a politician, need a conception which enables the order that has hitherto existed on a historical basis to be abolished, and an entirely new and anti-historic order enforced and given an intellectual basis.... And for this purpose the conception of race serves me well.... France carried her great Revolution beyond her borders with the conception of the nation. With the conception of race, National Socialism will carry its revolution abroad and recast the world." Rauschning, Hitler Speaks, pp 229-230 Yet, as late as 1973, the Britannica had not been updated to reflect the last test scientific truth about race: "Race, biologically, a race is a population
or a group of populations distinct by virtue of genetic isolation and natural selection; in these terms a race is neither an artificial construct, a collection of individuals abstractly selected from a population, nor a religious grouping, linguistic division or nationality. In man, in which only one species, Homo sapiens, survives, race serves as a major basis for distinguishing one person from another." Homo sapiens, indeed! However wise we may be, considerable disagreement still exists on questions of race. For instance, Gobineau and Chamberlain, racialists whom the Nazis were fond of, opined that hybrid races are the strongest; furthermore, the races are already so hopelessly mixed that there is no pure race, hence a super-race would have to be invented. That races do not exist is "counter-intuitive" because "intuition" is supposedly obtained by means of gross sensation, barely modified by the judgmental component of "perception." And what we perceive are superficies. If we all wore special spectro-glasses, we might all look alike but for a little bit of DNA; alas, we would still find some difference to distinguish one individual and one group from another, and fight over the difference. Aristotle once remarked on the tendency of specific types to flock together; no doubt the tendency did some evolutionary good; still, the
wisdom of Homo sapiens, the nature of man, is his special reasoning powers that allow him to not only use the "laws of evolution" for his own good, but to struggle against those laws for his own good. After the Civil War and terrible Civil Rights struggles thereafter, segregation happens to be on the increase today. Folks are proud of their ethnicity and "race", and ethnic and "racial" groups would fain be separate but equal, perhaps mix to work and live separately. I suppose people have a civil right to live where and with whom they prefer. This writer prefers a mix, and fears segregation because of the racialist myths groups tend to develop when thinking of "us" and "them." But let us turn to another professor whose name is sculpted on the frieze of the old Kansas City library. # Francis Parkman (1823-1893), best known for his France and England in North America and is one of the greatest American historians. After graduating from Harvard University, he went to law school and obtained his law degree along with the penchant for fact-sifting and fact-appraisal that served him so well as a historian. Frail of health, he undertook an arduous trek across the Plains along the Oregon Trail to get his breath, starting and ending at Independence, Missouri. He based his history of the great Indian
uprising, History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851), on his observations along the way. He pioneered the field of comparative ethnology, comparing the primitive Sioux with the Iroquois. Member of a distinguished New England family, he had the means to employ copyists in Europe to retrieve and copy documentary evidence for his research. Still, he as a hands-on historian: he visited every site he wrote about. Despite his empirical and pragmatic tendencies, Parkman, the scholar, responding to the anti-intellectualism of popular American culture, championed traditional educational values. In a December 23, 1869 Nation essay entitled 'The Tale of the Ripe Scholar", Parkman deplored the advance of the materialistic culture to the exclusion of the arts and all those sciences without a direct bearing on material results. "Art, literature, philosophy, and science... are regarded as decorations, agreeable and creditable but not essential. In other words, the material basis of civilization is accepted for the entire structure," quote Parkman. Further, "Our civilization is at present a creature with a small and feeble head, a large, muscular, and active body, and a tail growing at such a rate that it threatens to become unmanageable and shake the balance of vital powers." Moreover, "A prodigious number of persons think that money-making is the only serious business of life, and there is no corresponding number who hold
a different faith. There are not a few among us who would 'improve' our colleges into schools of technology...." Indeed we might ask, having heard all of this time and time again in our own era, "So what's old?" Parkman said that Americans had due progressive cause to ignore the vestiges of the monkish learning or devitalized scholarship of the pastyfaced scholars of the Middle Ages, still present in even in Congress, in the form of perplexing Latin quotations - he might have mentioned the Latin maxims of the courts as well. Of course this type of scholarship is still to be tolerated in its own cloisters in case another renaissance needs to be hatched. "Pallid, clerical scholars" in Parkman's day were responding to criticism of their ilk with, "Let us be strong!", turning to Christianity for something original to save intellectual endeavors; but Luther's enthusiasm was his, and was not to be drummed up centuries later on cue. Meanwhile, public education of the vulgar and partial sort was being widely diffused: "The public school has put money in abundance into the pockets of the dealers in sensation stories, sensation illustrated papers, and all the swarm of trivial, sickly, and rascally literature. From this and cheap newspapers, thousands - nay, millions - draw all their mental improvements and pamper their mental stomachs with adulterated, not to say poisoned,
sweetmeats, till they have neither desire nor digestion for strong and wholesome food." So much for that minority which we might call the lower or vulgar class of people. What we bourgeoisie call the "middle" class today was then stronger in numbers and wealth than the lower class, and was more "truly" intelligent. Members of this group are, "In truth, the American people." But do not depend on this class for higher civilization: "It is impatient of cool attention to anything but its daily business, and sometimes even to that." And more, this American public "demands elocution rather than reason of those who address it; something to excite the feelings and captivate the fancy rather than something to instruct the understanding. It rejoices in sweeping statements, confident assertions, bright lights, and black shadows alternating with something funny." Bret Harte, reputed inventor of the American, "local color" short story, referred to the peculiar American sense of humor in his July 1899 Cornbill Magazine essay 'The Rise of the Short Story.' He called that sense the "unexpected factor" that diminished the influence of English literature in the United States and led to the development of the short story: Americans started to use "a funny story" to illustrate principles and clinch arguments.
Professor Parkman said we might look to another type, the popular journalist and popular lecturer, to save the higher mental process; but never mind: "Journalism and the lecture room offer them a field midway between he solitude of study and the bustle of the world of business; but the journal and the lecture room have influences powerfully adverse to solid, mature, and independent thinking." Independent intellectuals in America have been bemoaning the demise of the truly independent intellectual for decades; a great deal of blame goes to the industrial-scientific revolution confronting Parkman and his studious albeit pragmatic peers. Of course pockets of scholarship still survived here and there, and philosophers withdrew to their ivory towers. Intellectuals sold out and became salaried intelligentsia. What is to be done to save free and independent and original thinking from the vulgar, superficial, insipid trash offered by the media in this great nation of ours, which is, at least allegedly, a democracy? Parkman offers two remedies. "A class of strong thinkers is the palladium of democracy. The are the natural enemies of ignorant, ostentatious, and aggressive wealth, and the natural friends of all that is best in the popular heart. They are sure of the hatred of charlatans, demagogues, and political sharpies. They are the only
hope of our civilization: without them it is a failure, a mere platitude of mediocrity, stagnant or turbid, as the case may be." For his second remedy, Parkman offers wisely conducted universities and he urges patrons to support them. Of course the key word is "wise. Today we have difficulty finding in our universities the cultivation of the sort of wisdom he advocates as a palladium of democracy. Sometimes those of us in the vulgar minority and in the bulging middle class have good cause to think most independent intellectuals have sold their souls to the devil under the curse of credentials. We suspect that Pluto rules the universities today. # The library was moved from the elegant Renaissance style building upon which the names were sculpted to a new modern glass and steel building three blocks south in Civic Center. Following that apparent architectural departure from the past, the library is returning to the past in a move to a renovated Neo-classical, Renaissance building a few blocks west, in the city core, across the street from Commerce Bank. A mural displaying several book spines is to be painted on the outside surface of the library's new jumbo-parking garage. Jonathan Kemper, Ph.D., Harvard Grad, Book Lover, History Buff, President of Commerce Bank, is considering
suggestions for the names of the books to appear on the spines; that is to say, their titles. "The biggest question is not what titles to select, but what we want those titles to say to the community," Mr. Kemper was quoted as saying by The Kansas City Star, January 4, 2004. It would be unfair to belabor Mr.Kemper for a casual remark picked up by a reporter during an interview - perhaps he might have been more circumspect if given an opportunity to reflect. In any case, we would not presume that he meant to say that a book should be judged by its cover, for we have all been deceived by tricky titles. We and our heirs a century hence - at least those of us who are not fools - will refer to the books themselves in order to ascertain what the "we" wanted to say to the community on spines entitled in 2004. Of course a title or name of a book differs in kind from the name of an author. A title may be a statement. Mr. Kemper and the other benefactors may want the titles to serve as propaganda or positive affirmations that will tend to attract the community to the new library and the Library District real estate project around it as part of the downtown revitalization program. It is with that in mind that your foolish writer, in a Renaissance mood, submitted his own suggestion to Mr. Kemper: The Praise of Folly.
Finally, of the twenty-nine persons named above, we may say to each one of them as we get to know them, as William Cullen Bryant said in 'To a Waterfowl' -
Thou'rt gone, the abyss, the abyss of heaven Hath swallowed up thy form; yet, on my hear Deeply hath sunk the lesson thou hast given, And shall not soon depart."
Kansas City dynast Jonathan Kemper did not respond to the suggestion I sent along to him for the selection of book titles for the large façade that will decorate the new library garage; it was his idea to paint the book spines on the garage. My vision of the selection process included the whole community and would have been conducted openly by means of a writing contest so that literate people, men and women of letters, might participate in what The Kansas City Star calls the selection of "literary giants." That process would no doubt require a panel of competent judges, say, a panel of librarians, literary critics, professors, writers and prolific readers. Two book titles have just been painted on the front of the new library's jumbo parking lot: Lewis and Clark's Journal of the Expedition, and Stephen E. Ambrose's popular Undaunted Courage. We do not yet know who finally selected those titles. In any event, there will be no writing contest. Members
of the community have otherwise been consulted: suggestions were solicited at the library system's web site and in the newspaper (1/29/04). School teachers, local bookstore managers, and VIPs have asked their friends for recommendations. The titled book spines painted on the garage will reportedly be changed every ten years or so, in marked contrast to the names of authors ensculpted on the frieze of the very old library at Ninth and Locust over a century ago. I also suggested to Mr. Kemper, via his secretary, who said she passed my idea along to him, that the alfresco method for painting murals be used at the new location so that the book spines depicted would be a lasting part of the architecture instead of something temporary and tacky slapped onto the garage. Titles would then have to be selected very carefully since they would be there indefinitely. I sent along a copy of the essay I wrote about the authors’ names ensculpted on the historic library building. The titles chosen shall in retrospect shed some light on the controversy ignored by the press. The Kansas City Star sees its civic duty as boosting the Heart of America and harvesting its product, hence it has acted as the virtual trumpet for the relocation project, advertising the virtues of the physical aspects of the renovation and the personal virtues of Mr. Kemper (some negative gossip was mentioned too), while virtually ignoring the
contents, the real library, the collection itself. Allegations have been made that the librarians were deliberating dumbing down the collection to suit the presumably authoritarian mentality of Kansas Citians. As the reader may know by know, the library representative said there had been no change in quality, but she was unable to provide any facts to support her claim, stating that the quality of the collection had not been attended to for thirty years, and that the library was unable to account for the public property because of its information system, which has been, of course, recently upgraded. The Kansas City Star unveiled the title-selection criteria on March 1, 2004: 1. Are these books that most people would consider as classics? 2. Are the selections diverse, are their mysteries, histories, biographies, poetry, science and fiction? 3. Is there room for Kansas City authors, or books that celebrate the city's culture? 4. Is there something for children? 5. Is there some thing for senior citizens? 6. Is there something for women and men? According to Jonathan Kemper, the content of the book selected is apparently of lesser importance than the propaganda value of the titles: "The
biggest question is not what titles to select, but what we want those titles to say to the community." "I think it will be the most fun many of us have had on the library board." Odd as this might seem, few Kansas Citians were aware of the selection process. In any case, the following titles have already been
selected, providing us with a representative sample of the mentality of the public representatives who chose them:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain Black Elk Speaks by by Nicholas Black Elk as told to John Niehardt The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes Charlotte's Web by E.B. White Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison Journal of the Expedition by Lewis and Clark O Pioneers! by Willa Cather One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien The Republic by Plato Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Truman by David McCullough Only two comments were immediately noticed in the local press: "... of the 16 titles the library trustees have chosen, only three are by women.... While David McCullough may have won a Pulitzer Prize for Truman, what about Toni Morrison and Nadine Gordimer, who have each won the Nobel Prize?" Nancy Cervetti, Humanities Chair, Avila University Letters, Star, 3/8/2004 "The military historian Stephen E. Ambrose is well known among academics for his serial plagiary and allegedly shoddy scholarship, but that certainly does not detract from the fact that he wrote best-selling books. Many best-sellers fade into obscurity in a few years, while great works endure for centuries. Best sellers do give considerable insight into the average mentality of the time they are written. " J.J. Luxe, Ph.D., Comments, Downtown Kansas City Journal, 3/10/2004. I was disappointed that Mr. Kemper or his appointee did not acknowledge or select my recommendation, Desiderius Erasmus' The Praise of Folly. After all, Erasmus was the leader of humanist literature at the acme
of the Renaissance; and now the Kansas City Public Library is presently the centerpiece for downtown Kansas City’s renascence. Erasmus did not bother to visit a town unless it had a superior library and excellent wine. Erasmus certainly would be a fly in the ointment of Kansas City’s dynastic power elite now that the most prominent members have embraced so-called neoconservatism, a supposedly anti-ideological stance which American conservatives adopted from Germany’s so-called New Conservatism, but then stopped referring to its ideological origin when the death camps came to light. Luther curried favor with Erasmus, who the foremost man of letters of his day and the greatest exponent of Christianity as a way of life instead of a mere creed, or feel-good faith that justifies people in what they want to. When Erasmus refused to join the religious fanatics, Luther became his arch-enemy. Erasmus' great dream of European unity was soon forgotten: Europe was plunged into irrational national wars in the name of an idol. German unity was, however, eventually accomplished, but violently, as Germany moved to save the world from itself with pre-emptive strikes along the lines of Frederick the Great's blitzkriegs. Defeated, Germany enjoyed a brief quasi-democracy. Enter Hitler, the maniac who took fanaticism to its extreme. And it is no small coincidence that Hitler and his precedents
admired Luther. We no longer place much stock in race although antihumanist bigotry still runs rampant. We even have so-called black WASPs at the highest levels of government today. The "Anglo-Saxon" ethnocentrism is continued in our country by "Anglo-Americans" who speak of inheriting a "superior northern European culture", and who wrongly lay claim to all of the founding fathers of the United States; wrongly because there was a revolution within the American Revolution, a revolution that continues to this very day. In my opinion, The Praise of Folly would have been an appropriate title to display on one of the enormous book spines at the library; in terms of propaganda, it would represent opposition to the foolish right-wing authoritarian style of the pseudo-conservatism that has become so popular again due to the prevalence of the authoritarian or F-type personality among the masses. But I suppose that is not something the public trustees want to say to the credulous public, who might laugh at them and wake up to what is really happening in This Great Nation of Ours.
WAITING ON JONATHAN KEMPER
This thing of Warring is no part of Philosophy, but managed by Parasites, Pandars, Cut-throats, Plow-men, Sots, Spendthrifts and such other dregs of Mankind, not philosophers. I still await Jonathan Kemper's response to my suggestion, that a contest be held to determine what titles are to adorn the front wall of the new library's jumbo-parking lot. Mind you that I am not holding my breath while I wait. I do a great deal of reading and writing to pass the time instead. I really do not expect much from Mr. Kemper; as I have pointed out, the Kempers are allegedly to blame for everything that goes wrong downtown. As for Jonathan Kemper, the Star reported that "people have described him as dismissive" and as an "uninterested listener." I certainly hope he has not dismissed my idea. And if he has done so, maybe he was interested enough to say why it was not good enough for him. Foolish as I am, I have some cause for hoping that he will respond: he and I have much in common. First
of all, according to recent press reports, he is a bookish person who loves history. Furthermore, I too come off as "cerebral" "pompous" "stuffy" "righteous" "presumptuous" "dismissive" and so on. Of course my friends say, "That's just Dave," and Jonathan's friends say, "That's just Jonathan." We are both introverts, and we practice "unnatural" extroversion, yet we are "funny," and sometimes we watch The Simpsons. Jonathan's anonymous detractors attribute his traits to wealth, wherefore I must see my father and question my paternity – perhaps I was born rich but the stork laid me on a poor family’s doorstep. A little bird has told me that my own recommendation, The Praise of Folly, should be dismissed because the author, Erasmus of Rotterdam, was not an American, and that only United States authors should be privileged to have their titles on the walls of a library's parking lot. I beg to differ. The United States of America had not yet been founded when Erasmus penned his Folly, but it had existed Erasmus would have been welcome; that is not to say he could have stood its backwardness at the time. The discovery of the New World was the talk of Europe then, but Erasmus wrote next to nothing about it; as a literary humanist he was more interested in the classical texts that had inspired the Renaissance, for the Classical works were considered to be vastly superior to almost everything medieval, especially the barbarous
and irrational Gothic culture. The New World really did not have very much to offer a bookworm. Erasmus’ biographer, Stefan Zweig, said that Erasmus the book-lover loved the art of book-making most of all, so America probably could have put him to work. "Erasmus loved many things," Zweig wrote, "which we ourselves are fond of; he loved poetry and philosophy, books and works of art, language and peoples; he loved the whole of mankind without distinction of race or colour, loved it for the sake of a higher civilization. One thing alone did he wholeheartedly detest and that was fanaticism, which he looked upon as contrary to reason. He himself was the least fanatical of mortals. Erasmus the booklover believed that reading and writing could save the world from the top minds on down. He visited a town or city because it had an excellent library and a clean inn nearby with good food and, even more important than food, fine wine. And scholars and princes often visited that place because Erasmus, the star of letters, was there. No, Erasmus certainly was not an American. Nor is the Renaissance style an American style. Americans did not invent Greek columns and Roman arches and domes and other things classical. Erasmus was a cosmopolitan. He was a Christian but also a humanist who abhorred fanatic nationalism and religious bigotry. Wherefore anyone genuinely interested in the rebirth of the Heart of
America has good reason for associating his name with the neoclassical Renaissance aspect of the new Kansas City Library. The Heart of America has become far too hardened by the Reign of Greed, bigotry, right-wing politics, and warmongering nationalism. Of course his name would appear directly under the apt title, The Praise of Folly – the very satire wherein Madame Stultitia made fools out of warmongers and bigots, and of others including his own type, the scholar and wise man. A broken-down knight and highway robber by the name of Ulrich von Hutten, in Expostulatio cum Erasmo, called his former friend Erasmus a fickle, fortune-hunting coward who had betrayed protestant evangelism. Erasmus replied with a sponge, to soak up Hutten's aspersions, Spongia adversus Hutteni, wherein he stated his aversion to partisanship: "In many books, in many letters, in many disputations, I have unfalteringly declared that I refuse to mix myself in the affairs of any party whatsoever...." Again, "I love freedom and I will not and cannot serve any party." In that context, we might as well quote a child of the French Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson, whom both the Democratic and Republic parties claim as their alma pater:
"I am not a federalist, because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics or anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." (Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson, Paris, March 13, 1789) Erasmus knew that the German Lutheran movement would lead to a national church instead of his desired ecclesia universalis. He eventually charged Luther with throwing the "apple of discord" into the world, inspiring the Peasant Rebellion and bloody reprisals. Early on, in reply to Luther's flattering letter of March 28, 1519, he wrote, "I refuse to have anything to do with party." Further, "So far as may be, I wish to keep neutral in order to do my share in promoting the renascent sciences; and I believe a shrewdly manipulated reticence will achieve more than impetuous interference." Again, recognizing Erasmus in the Heart of America would be particularly apt given the recent drift of the United States to right-wing, antidemocratic public and private corporate government, loosely associated with 'fascism' (see the Oxford English Dictionary) by those Europeans who are more mindful of fascism's horrors during the last century. Although authoritarian Kansas Citians and particularly the power elite eat Texas toast
instead of French toast, although they take pride in anti-ideological neoconservatism and virtually worship the vultures who launched the nation into war, most of the world was outraged that their favored government officially spat in the face of the international assembly three times, then proceeded with pre-emptive belligerence to presumably save the world whether the world liked it or not. Intelligent people all over the world were dismayed by the behavior of the U.S. president, whom they perceived as a fanatic and bigot who was in the pocket of big corporations eager to profit from destruction and reconstruction ("creative destruction"); and they were appalled that Mr. Bush was so popular with his people that they initially gave him a blank check to proceed at will. His nationalism certainly did not include socialism, and the gap between rich and poor widened the rich soaked the poor even more. The few United States citizens who protested against the Administration's drive to pre-emptive war – their numbers were very small in Kansas City – were called traitors and cowards. Many were fired from their jobs on pretexts as flimsy as those for waging war on Iraq. Entertainers who dared to speak out against the administration were penalized economically. Deja vu. "It comes to this," wrote Erasmus in Complaint of Peace, "that if one ventures to open his mouth against war he is looked upon as not much better
than a brute beast, as a fool, and as being unchristianly." And, "The Plaint of Peace is rejected by all the nations and peoples of Europe, and driven forth and slain." As for the hatred between English, French, and German, "Why do such foolish names still exist to keep us sundered, since we are united in the name of Christ?" In a ‘Dedicatory Epistle to Elmer Davis’, Hendrick Willem van Loon wrote about the destruction of Rotterdam by the Nazis, and how Erasmus' home there would no doubt be destroyed in the conflagration, for Hitler care for nothing, he was no recognizer of persons, his violence was indiscriminate: "(Erasmus) wanted mankind to be set free from fear and disaster by being set free from his own ignorance; he hoped for a world in which intelligence, common sense, good manners, tolerance and forbearance should dominate the scene instead of violence, ignorance, prejudice and greed. We now realize that he made a fatal mistake which prevented him from being victorious. He began with the top of the pyramid of enlightenment, whereas he should have begun with the bottom." As for war, Lady Folly observed, "This thing of Warring is no part of Philosophy, but managed by Parasites, Pandars, Cut-throats, Plow-men, Sots, Spendthrifts and such other Dregs of Mankind, not Philosophers."
Furthermore, "War is so Savage a thing that it rather befits Beasts than Men, so outrageous that the very Poets feigned it came from the Furies, so pestilent that it corrupts all men's manners, so injust that it is best executed by the worst of men, so wicked that it has no agreement with Christ; and yet, omitting all the other, they (Christian leaders) made this their only business. Here you'll see decrepit old fellows acting the parts of young men, neither troubled at their costs nor wearied at their labours, nor discouraged at anything, so they may have the liberty of turning Laws, Religion, Peace and all things else quite topsie turvie. Nor are they destitute of their learned Flatterers that call palpable Madness Zeal, Piety, and Valour, having found out a new way a man can kill his brother without the least breach of that Charity which, by the command of Christ, one Christian owes another." (The Praise of Folly) Erasmus admitted that men are by nature violent, but he further observed that small-scale violence burns out unless fanned by an ideal, by some fanatic ideology of a part posing as the whole, enlisting men to mass organized murder in its name. Of course the highest thinkers of high civilization strive for the liberal Universal that peacefully comprises the particulars, instead of imposing a particular perspective upon all as a false universal, absurd the moment that it is proposed, because its assertion of the
part contradicts the rest of the whole. Indeed, the nature of reason itself is to generalize, to mediate, to find similarities among differences, to arrive at a consensus or reasonable compromises, all the while remaining scientifically skeptical of any final solution proposed. Liberty for all under the law means that no particular faction or fraction, whether it be a minority or a majority, will be allowed to lord it over the rest as tyrant. With all that in mind, I have no doubt that Kansas Citians should feel free enough to gladly adorn their new library with a title of the famous book written by Erasmus, the foremost cosmopolitan humanist who graced the world at the acme of the Renaissance, a period whose architecture represented a return to a well balanced, rational order of peace and tranquility. Not that Erasmus was a pagan: he was a Christian scholar. Again, he was not a bigoted Christian: he was an eclectic who recognized the truth of the Christian ideal wherever he found it, including in 'Saint Plato's works. In fact, Erasmus admired the Sermon on the Mount most of all. He contributed to the translation of Greek scripture; for instance, he was attacked for omitting from his bible a pious fraud - the Trinity -perhaps interpolated in John by Priscillian (A.D. 380) - not a single Greek document included the Trinity. He did not agree with the doctrine of original sin, but he did not care to engage in theological disputations on points of dogma. In
fact, many Christians in the Bible Belt would enjoy Erasmus’ Christian handbook, Dagger (Handbook) of the Christian Knight. Erasmus perceived Christian humanism as a feudal order lead by an intellectual aristocracy. He advocated a sort of Christian activism: Christianity was a life, not a creed, and that life should imitate Christ, whose truth is related to the antique truths before him. The ethical and moral life lived is a life tempered by reason. Erasmus, then, was blessed with a synthesis of the piety of the German mystics - the devotio moderna of the Brethren of the Common Life among whom he was raised - and the virtually godless philosophy of the Florentine Platonic Academy. Preserved Smith put the dynamic dialectic this way in Erasmus (1923): "Widely different, indeed mutually hostile as appeared the sources of the inspiration of the German mystics and the Italian humanists, both agreed in asserting, against the stiffening of the religion through dogma and organization, the claims of an inner, personal piety. The mystic, by emphasizing the role of the spirit, the other by cherishing the rights of reason, arrived at the point where theology and ritual alike were regarded as hindrances alike to the inner life, and where the ethical interest emerged uppermost."
In fine, Erasmus promoted Good Literature, the Philosophy of Christ, and Peace. In contrast to Luther's fanaticism, nationalism, rigidity, revolution, irrationalism, militarism, and fatalism, he preached humanism, cosmopolitanism, versatility, reform, reason, peace, and free will. His name and the spirit he advanced should grace Kansas City’s new main library, and those who inquired of him within would be inspired by his works. Yes, Erasmus failed for the time being. His failure was attributed to his belief that reform can be accomplished by reasonable means, from the top down, by educating the leadership. Although princes praised him and cited his pacific phrases, they hypocritically made war. And now our pseudo-conservative leaders supposedly have a much better education than the old princes. They speak of war as a necessary means to keep the peace or to resolve moral conflicts, peace being merely a brief interlude between wars. They seem to believe that patriots should be loaded guns who will shoot on their command. They have contempt for welfare capitalism; they have managed to break the hard-won social consensus. They manage their economic corporations anti-democratically, as if businesses were military enterprises – now engaged in a war in favor of the rich and against the poor and their own employees. But they are not entirely to blame; amazing as it might seem, we have unwittingly been working our own ruin.
A renascimento is presently required, a resurrection of the human mind, of the free human spirit, in correlation with the downtown Kansas City renaissance of Roman architecture and Greek columns. We recall that Greek democracy was limited to the small portion of the population who were Greek citizens. Our democracy is delimited to a very small portion of the population, the power elite who represent or control the "democratic republic." Families and clans have always vied for power over nations and states. Certain family dynasties managed, by virtue of intellect, force of arms, and inheritance to maintain their dominant influence for centuries. The Medici family of bankers and city bosses are pertinent in our context, for they expended vast sums financing the Renaissance – from a financial perspective, the expenditures were foolish. Cosimo the Elder, by the way, sponsored the first public library in Florence. He also sponsored Brunelleschi's famous dome project among other great things – the architect was called a fool by some of his own masons. Cosimo the Elder and Lorenzo the Magnificent worked to undermine republican institutions and to establish a New Rome in Florence. They favored their friends and the lower classes, ruling as a sort of mafioso. The Medician New Rome was resented of course not only by republican leaders from other families but by the likes
of Savoranola - he hated the vain licentiousness of the Renaissance, and worked to establish a theocracy, a New Jerusalem. The Medici family lasted nearly four centuries. Now extinct, its influence lives on everywhere, including downtown Kansas City, Missouri, where local family dynasties, led by the Kemper banking dynasty, have cooperated to finance the new $50 million library. Kansas Citians are glad to have it despite their urban cynicism and the protest of unknown artists, architects, and writers whose suggestions were dismissed offhand. Lady Folly has already said that "Jonathan's buidling" will succeed because he is a fool. "The Renaissance," said Stefan Zweig, "was the result of the triumph of commerce (by means of money and credit) over the earlier medieval method of trading by barter.... the way in which it usually made itself manifest was by an outbreak of widespread interest in architecture.... When they (patrons) presented their townsmen with a new hospital, or a new church, these were evidences of their desire for learning, their respect for true scholarship, their love of beauty." (The Arts 1937) Mystically speaking, time is unreal. Wealthy patrons who speak of downtown revitalizations and renaissances and whose power and prestige and real estate values are enhanced by monumental charitable works deserve
to be praised for their folly. Therefore, after our patron, Jonathan Kemper, said, "The biggest question is not what titles to select, but what we want those titles to say to the community," I urged him to include everyone interested in his “we”, and to consider my own suggestion, The Praise of Folly. I am waiting on Jonathan Kemper, but I am not wasting my time while doing so. The reader may find me working in the new library.
"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." - Albert Einstein A scintillating article entitled 'Literary giants to grace new library', appertaining to the Library Board's selection of titles for the book spines to adorn the face of the jumbo parking lot next to the new downtown library appeared in the March 1, 2004 issue of the Kansas City Star. Star Reporter James Hart reported that library trustee Jonathan Kemper thought that the selection process would be the most fun that many of the board trustees had ever had. Mr. Hart went on to describe the selection process that he had observed. "Darwin and Einstein both were important scientists, but were - yawn - less than scintillating." Wherefore Darwin and Einstein were rejected with an emphatic yawn. At least there is now some other criterion than what Jonathan Kemper and his colleagues want the titles selected to say to the community; namely, "scintillating." Their decision means that Darwin and Einstein works are not brilliant, do not sparkle or shine, just are not flashy enough to awaken the
minds of the Library Board trustees, who lately seem more interested in providing passive recreation for the community than an interactive higher education according to the foundational principle laid down in the 1906 Missouri Library Association's Handbook: "Library workers and friends also know that the library is the only college of the masses – too often the only school after the 'three R's'.... The library should be all but as familiar as the school house, and but a short time in following it." Many highly educated people believe that Einstein's work sparkles. For instance, Paul Davies, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Adelaide in Australia, made these remarks in his book, About Time, Einstein's Unfinished Revolution, published by Simon and Schuster in 1995: "The story of time in the twentieth century is overwhelmingly the story of Einstein's time.... Although Einstein's theory of relativity is nearly a century old, its bizarre predictions are still not widely known. Invariably people learn of them with delight, fear and perplexity.... Einstein's work triggered a revolution in our understanding of the subject, but the consequences have yet to be fully understood...." "Aristotle, Galileo Galilei, Issac Newton, Charles Darwin - these names stand out from the crowd as the shakers and movers of scientific
revolutions. Among this roll call of scientific genius, one name best symbolized both intellectual sparkle and the instigation of dramatic change in our world view: Albert Einstein." Recommended reading for the library board is Einstein's collection, Ideas and Opinions, a book full of scintillating writing. We recall that both Darwin and Einstein were accustomed to rejection in their day. As Einstein said so well, "Great spirits have always found violent opposition from mediocrities. The latter cannot understand it when a man does not thoughtlessly submit to hereditary prejudices but honestly and courageously uses his intelligence." In fact the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life, truly one of the world's greatest books, raised considerable sparks from hell, sparks that are still flying to this very day because it is one of the most widely read books and is still scandalous to small minds. Of course Darwin's magnus opus is somewhat tedious if one does not bring an inquisitive mind to one of the most important subjects in the world, and his rhetoric is not the best in the world. We may prefer to read Darwin's "bulldog", T.H. Huxley, who took off his smock to spread the gospel of evolution. Darwin was a retiring sort of man, oversensitive to criticism, and
he did not care for bitter controversies or for buttering up ignorance with sophisticated rhetoric. There could be not better place for his work to be advertised than in the Heart of America, Kansas City, the Northern capitol of the Bible Belt, the very city where the scintillating subject of another great book, Elmer Gantry, was researched; to wit: How do ministers deceive their flocks? Darwin's book is indeed one of the most scintillating books every written if we are to judge by the light it has shed on natural science and religion. Master of rhetoric he was not, nor was he the first to come up with the idea of natural selection, a process which has been noted here and there since the earliest times. Einstein once wrote, in a cynical vein, that "The secret to creativity is in knowing how to hide your sources." In fact, Alfred Russell Wallace sent Darwin a paper which, to Darwin's astonishment, amounted to an abstract of his own theory. Darwin in turn gladly sent it along with his own work to the Linnean Society; their joint communication was read and published in 1858. No, evolution was not Darwin's idea, but he marshaled the evidence, analyzed the facts, and introduced several partial explanations for evolution, thus laying out the grounds for further development of the subject. He exploded the prevailing view that species are fixed, positing instead that species vary or develop slowly over time: some
variations are crushed by natural causes while some persist, hence 'natural selection' instead of the deliberate selection successfully practiced by humans when breeding their animals. Naturally Darwin's work was offensive to those whose ambiguous god was an excuse for their own arbitrary exercise of power and the inequitable political distribution of the supreme power that authoritarians worship. There is no reason why an omnipotent personal god should not do anything she wants, maybe design a divine evolutionary plan whereby creatures ascend from brutal forms to divine disembodiment rather than fall out of heaven to be tortured below pursuant to the regressive lowbrow doctrine, that brute might makes divine right. Perhaps Darwin should have entitled The Descent of Man, The Ascent of Man. By the way, Darwin did not deny the existence of a one-god: he was not an atheist, but he was rather an agnostic, because what he saw in nature was a sort of muddle and not proof of a plan devised by an anthropomorphic god. On the other hand, Einstein said, "God does not play dice." Not that Einstein was a by-godder (bigot): "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death," said he.
However that may be, we might suspect that the trustees of the Kansas City Public Library have some ulterior motive for "yawning" at Darwin as not scintillating enough for displaying his title, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life, on the wall of the jumbo parking garage of the virtually privatized library. "There are tough questions about faith," said the Star reporter about the selection process he had observed. "Religion is part of the daily life for a lot of Kansas Citians. Shouldn't that be presented somehow? But how do you include one faith without making room for dozens of others, not to mention people who don't follow any faith?" How? The answer is obvious: You impose your faith indirectly by excluding great secular works that might give the lie to your dogma. As library trustee Jonathan Kemper said of the selection process, "The biggest question is not what titles to select but what we want to say to the community." That is, the titles are to be displayed for their propaganda effect and not for their content. Born-again Christianity is popular in the Bible Belt, where the Christian Right version of Jesus happens to be the current U.S. President's "political hero." Right-wing authoritarian governments are attractive to the masses when they are threatened; a few shots in the air will
stampede the cowering herd in the right direction. But, you might object, the herd now enjoys the vestige of the pseudo-Darwinian trend represented by President Reagan’s Reign of Greed; the ideas in The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life, were the stock-in-trade of the "Social Darwinians" surrounding Reagan. Yet the Library Board is not considering Haynes Johnson's title, Sleepwalking Through History, America in the Reagan Years, from which we take this excerpt: "These men around Reagan were a familiar American type, self-made men who espoused rugged individualism, free (that is, unfettered and unregulated) enterprise, and a belief in the survival of the fittest. They were Social Darwinists who made it out of poverty. So could others, if they were worthy. If not, then, to each his own and to each his own fate. Their maxims were simple ones; for example, the Lord helps those who help themselves.... In their minds, their interests were the best interests.... Just keep government out of my way and my business: this was the glory and genius of America. To the extent they had a philosophy of government, that was its essence. A bedrock belief in a laissez-faire approach to society's problems was shared by virtually all those who initially formed behind Reagan."
So why would the right-wing authoritarians not want to advertise Darwin's work and to simply refer embarrassing questions to the Invisible Hand or to God's Mysteries? Perhaps because Darwin's social Darwinism is not what most people think it is. His socialism is truly social. Darwin attributed man's moral improvement to social evolution, to the raising of social standards, not to individual evolution, not to the selection by nature or by the one-god of "rugged individualists." Yet his view of evolution on the whole was balanced: in 1837 he recognized three governing factors: a liberating force of variation; a conservative, hereditary force; the struggle for existence. In fine, whether one is subject to religious superstitions or not, Darwin's work does not provide good ammunition for rugged individualists who believe social progress is caused by each person's natural or divine right to kill one another or steal one another blind in order to survive according to nature's or god's nebulous plan. As for organized terrorism or large-scale violence, Einstein's scintillating words give us food for reflection on our current warmongering: "He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file," wrote Einstein in one of his letters, "has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at
command, senseless brutality, deplorable love-of-country stance, how violently I hate all this, how despicable an ignorable war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be a part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder." Furthermore, we may want to also keep these words of Einstein in mind: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." Furthermore, "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war." Of course social warring over moral points as a mode of human evolution was not beyond Darwin's purview. We have observed animals warring for no apparent reason, but we hopefully differ from the animals by virtue of our reasoning power. "The struggle for existence between tribe and tribe depends on an advance in the moral and intellectual qualities of its members," wrote Darwin in a letter. And, in Descent of Man, "No tribe could hold together if murder, robbery, or treachery were common.... (A tribe) superior in patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, sympathy, mutual aid, and readiness to sacrifice for the common good" would be selected over a tribe without such qualities. Hence we might suppose that man is a dual being, evolving along, say, an amity-enmity continuum.
Darwin's propagandist, T.H. Huxley, and his socialist disciple, H.G. Wells, teache us that genuine Social Darwinism as such is opposed to biological evolution, that man uses his reason to select or to choose what he believes is in his best interest, and that interest may be contrary to his slowly evolving animal instincts, especially when reason has devised weapons of mass destruction that might destroy his civilization if not his species. Haynes Johnson in his discussion of the Reagan years was correct about the familiar type of American who advocates what is really anarchy in the name of onegod or rugged individualism without moderation by social pluralism and, if you will, pantheism or atheism. The relatively recent advance of organized human reasoning threatens to destroy the human race, but that is not a good reason to abandon social amity in favor of individual enmity and hate-based group-love. Lester F. Ward's remarks in an article entitled 'Mind as a Social Factor', published in the October 1884 quarterly issue of Mind, comes to mind here - perhaps the Library Board might want to consider selecting one of his titles. "It is commonly supposed that the highest wisdom of man is to learn and then follow the ways of nature.... In government, every attempt to improve the condition of the state is condemned and denounced.... In commerce and trade, absolute freedom is insisted upon. Free trade is the
watchword of this entire school. The laws of trade, they maintain, are natural laws. As such they must be better than any human rules. And here again we find them insisting that regulation is injurious to trade, although it is at the same time declared to be nugatory. "When a well-clothed philosopher on a bitter winter's night sits in a warm room well lighted for his purpose and writes on paper with a pen and ink, in the arbitrary characters of a highly developed language, the statement that civilization is the result of natural laws and that man's duty is to let nature alone so that untrammeled it may work out a high civilization, he simply ignores every circumstance of his existence and deliberately closes his eyes to every fact within the range of his faculties. If man had acted upon his theory, there would have been no civilization and our philosopher would have remained a troglodyte." In fine, Lester Ward believed that natural selection destroys the weak, civilization protects the weak. Social progress results from the reduction of competition and the protection of the weaker individuals. The human struggle for existence is now the struggle for psychic control of nature and for the supremacy of mind over brute instinct. Man is the active factor, nature is passive. Some scintillating thinkers have opined that the personal one-god is the projection of man's active factor onto a non-existent object;
that the one-god is a god in name only, a name used to justify feel-good faith and any sort of behavior. Other scintillating thinkers do not mind the community's projection providing that the object is true, good, and beautiful. We think that the Library Powers who want to survive might want to rethink not only their collection development methodology but also their method of selecting titles to be advertised on the wall of the commercial Library District's new garage. Since Einstein's birthday is coming up, more on this might be said then.
THE RELATIVITY OF KANSAS CITY
Given my high self-esteem, I am often astonished by the breadth and depth of knowledge of people whom I encounter at the Country Club Cafe on Tenth and Baltimore in downtown Kansas City. I recall, just for example, a scintillating conversation with Jon Garfield, a gentleman banker, and his associate, Susan Freund, a financial consultant, just prior to the anniversary of Einstein's birthday this year. Jon and Susan come into the cafe together regularly. Jon, an unprepossessing grey-haired gentleman of about sixty years of age, always casually dressed, is soft-spoken. His associate, somewhat younger, with short dark hair, stern countenance, piercing brown eyes, always conservatively dressed, is almost as soft-spoken as her colleague. They dropped by the cafe while I was reading an article over my cup of Joe; it was a front-page feature in The Kansas City Daily Advertiser, praising the astuteness of the library trustees for their selection of book titles to adorn the huge bookshelf mural on the front wall of the new downtown library's jumbo parking garage. The article informed the reader that Einstein had been skipped over by the trustees when they were considering the names of
scientists, because his works, they said, are a "yawn", are not "scintillating" that is to say, they are boring. While reading this nonsense my ears pricked up because I overheard Susan say, "Einstein." “Excuse me for interrupting you, Carol, but did I hear you mention Einstein?" "Why, yes, you did, I said his birthday is March the fourteenth," she responded matter-of-factly. The banker looked askance at me with arched eyebrows for interrupting their conversation. "Did you see the newspaper article about the book titles for the wall of the new library parking garage?" I asked. "No," she answered, "I was thinking about terrorism this morning, then I noticed Einstein's name on my calender and remembered he warned Roosevelt about the possibility of the Germans making an atomic bomb," she answered. "I remember that, German scientists were studying fission," the banker joined in, nodding his head gravely. "That led to the Manhattan project and the atomic bombing of Japan. Einstein, I think, was opposed to war in general, and warned that no nation was big enough to own the revolutionary force of the universe. He certainly was a brilliant man." "Will Einstein's name be on the garage?" Susan asked.
"No," I replied, "the reporter said that the library trustees rejected both Einstein and Darwin with a yawn. Books by scientists were being discussed, and the trustees said Einstein's work was not scintillating enough." "Somebody ought to say something about that, maybe call them imbeciles," she said, frowning. "Have you read Einstein?" "I have a copy of his popular version of the theory of relativity on my nightstand, the book everybody is supposed to easily understand. It puts me to sleep. I've read it several times over the years, bit by bit, but I do not understand it really." "Well, there are plenty of entertaining books that explain Einstein's theories – you might try reading them," Carol recommended. "His general theory of relativity is incredibly beautiful. It is not boring at all.” “How’s that?” “Einstein believed that the ultimate test of a theory should be its beauty, and his theories are as scintillating, to use that word, in the intellectual universe as the Sun is scintillating in our solar system. My father heard Einstein speak and was amazed. Einstein was much in demand everywhere. He had a beautiful way of clarifying scientific problems and social problems."
"You mean social issues," I corrected her – she seemed keen on the subject. "I mean problems. My daughter's math text has 'Issues to Solve' at the end of each section; maybe we can do without math problems, but we should not eliminate social problems." "I don't understand the theory of relativity." "Various theories of relativity try to answer the question, Are the laws of nature we use to explain physical situations always the same for different observers even when their states of motion are not identical? The beauty of Einstein's answer was in his reduction of physical laws to geometrical propositions." "What? Were you a science major?" I asked, as her friend Jon stood by attentively. "Business, but I took physics in high school. According to Einstein, the laws of physics are the laws of geometry in four dimensions, laws determined by the distribution of matter and energy in the universe," Carol pedantically stated in a low tone. "What is relative?" "For one thing, time is relative." "Huh?"
"Time is relative to the constant speed of light no matter what sort of change you use to describe time. Time is, as Einstein said, what you measure with a clock, but anything that can count more or less equal increments of any change is also a clock; for example, the earth and the stars can be used as clocks. Change is not what you measure with time; time is what you measure with changes. Now.... " "Whoa, hold your horses," I interrupted, "you are going too fast for me, professor Freund." "She often amazes me," declared Jon Garfield. "But I understand her because I took high school physics. As every school kid knows, Einstein based his theory on the observation that the speed of light is not affected by the velocity of the source that produces it or the velocity of the observer who perceives it. That led him to postulate that the laws of physics must be the same in all frames of reference moving relative to one another with a constant velocity." "Gee whiz, what high school did you go to?" I asked. "Topeka High." "West?" "East. But let me finish. Observers in different but uniformly moving frames will find that the passage of time occurs at different rates as seen in
different frames. According to the theory of special relativity, there is no such thing as absolute space and time. Spacetime is a variable thing." "That's right," Carol affirmed. "All observations, the timing of an event, the length of a piece of string, or the weight of an object, are relative, depending on the speed of an observer. "That strange," I shook my head. "I’m totally confused. Sounds like Einstein was a revolutionary thinker. What is Einstein's general theory?" "Not so revolutionary," said Carol. "He took off from Newton and Maxwell. The general theory posits a relationship between gravity and accelerating frames of motion, in such a way that mass alters structures of space and time, producing an apparent force that causes acceleration. He predicted that light from a star would be bent by the Sun's mass, for example. A satellite is supposed to be sent up soon to demonstrate that our rotating Earth warps time and space. "Remember that energy equals mass times the speed of light squared," said the banker. "Good Heavens," said I. "My head is spinning." "My daughter is more up to date on these things than I am," Carol said. "She is reading Einstein's early papers on the photon theory, special theory of relativity, mass-energy equivalence, Brownian motion, and such."
"Wow, you must live in a prosperous school district. Clay County?" "Johnson County." "One thing that I do know," I stated, "is that most people have the wrong idea about Einstein's theory. They think it proves that anything you can get away with goes because everything is relative." "That is indeed a popular misconception," Susan agreed, "for Einstein posited a universal law. No law, no science, no nothing. Protagoras was misunderstood too, after he said that man is the measure of all things, of those which are, that they are, and of those which are not, that they are not." “Protagoras?” "Precisely," said Susan’s banking colleague with a smile. "Protagoras also noted that, for every question, there are two speeches which stand in opposition to each other. So the standard complaint was made against him as against other sophists, the same complaint we make of lawyers today, that a lawyer can turn the weaker cause or argument into the stronger one and win the worser cause. Of course rhetoric is just a tool, and can win good causes as well. But they went even further with Protagoras, insisting that he was an ethical relativist. He was not an ethical relativist – he was a sophisticated teacher of useful skills. "
"Well said, Jon," Susan complimented him. "To say that a man measures things does not imply that things do not exist according to certain uniform laws. Individuals agree on standards, on uniform objective measures in order to cooperate in their work and to accomplish their mutual objectives. In any real event they may not defy the laws of their universe and get away with it for long. Protagoras was defamed, but in fact he was not a subjective idealist nor was he an anarchist." "Oh, but what nonsense all that was," said Jon to Susan as I sat there, dumbfounded by the scintillating discourse at the cafe – I must be dreaming, I thought, for this sort of conversation, scintillating as it is, could never actually take place in humdrum Kansas City. "Protagoras was a pedant, a grammarian, the intimate friend of Pericles," Jon declared almost under his breath. "He wrote the constitution for the colony at Thurii. He was all for law and order and thought he had found the right standards for same." "Wasn't Protagoras an atheist?" I had to ask. "A wealthy bigot and military officer accused him of impiety because of his treatise on the gods," Susan answered for Jon, "but the gist of that treatise is this: Since our conceptions of reality are derived from sensation of the world and not from intuition of ideal archetypes, the gods, although they
might exist, cannot be apprehended or seized by the human mind. One might have blind faith in gods, but gods are not the subject of belief, for belief is the gradual perfection of knowledge. That is, the more we know about something, the more certain our knowledge is, the more we believe it is correct although imperfect." "It is important to make a difference between faith and belief in the lending business too," the banker observed, "and thanks to your advice, Susan, and the theories of probability, I often make it. I think Protagoras said something like, 'In respect to the gods, I am unable to know either that they are or that they are not, for there are many obstacles to such knowledge, above all the obscurity of the matter, and the life of man, in that it is short." "You two amaze me," I interjected. "I never thought I'd run into bankers and financial consultants who know so much about Einstein and Protagoras, at least not in Kansas City." "It's too bad he drowned," stated Susan matter of factly. "Who drowned?" I asked. "Protagoras. He was convicted, fled town, and was drowned on the way to Sicily. Euripides called him Wisdom, and said to the bigots, 'You have killed Wisdom.' We can thank our lucky stars that Einstein did not live then," Carol said.
"So," I concluded, "Protagoras and Einstein did not believe that ethics is relative? that there is no absolute truth or good? That everything is permitted? That anything goes? So we cannot do whatever if we can get away with it? "Hardly!" Susan exclaimed. "Einstein spoke of rational scientific laws not irrational license. His belief was based on proven knowledge. For example, his mass-energy equivalence theory has been verified time and time again, as has his theory of relativity. He believed that a world of simplicity and harmony could be achieved by acting on principles derived from experience and clear thinking." "I guess I should borrow Einstein's works from the library. I don't quite understand all this." "Einstein could explain it much better than I can. It takes some time to do so, and I must get back to work." "Thanks to Susan and her understanding of statistics and quantum mechanics," said the banker, "I have plenty of time. I'm going to play some golf in Hawaii next week." "Nice chatting with you," I said as Jon and Carol prepared to leave the cafe. By the way, may I quote you folks in my book about the Kansas City Library?"
"Sure," said Jon. "Why not?" said Carol. "I don't know if anyone will believe me. The managing editor of the alternative newspaper would not publish a sample chapter from my book: he said my conversations were contrived and that I should write about what is really going on in Kansas City." "What do newspaper editors know? He doesn't know his culo from a black hole in space," Jon almost whispered. "Go ahead and quote us. By the way, I don't think Einstein would want his name on the library's garage," Jon said as he opened the door. "Have a nice day," said Carol. "The same to you." "Ate logo," said Jon. "Ate logo.”
PRAISING FOLLY AGAIN
"The biggest question is not what title to select, but what we want those titles to say to the community." Jonathan Kemper
Your foolish journalist has thrice submitted the title, The Praise of Folly, to Jonathan Kemper's secretary for his consideration as one of the titles to decorate the jumbo parking garage next to the renovated 'Neoclassical' and 'Renaissance' bank building which will serve as the ark for Missouri's high civilization, the new downtown Kansas City Public Library. And you might recall that this devoted clown has recommended that the alfresco method – widely used during the heavily walled Romanesque period and revived during the early Renaissance – be employed to embed the titles in the garage wall (mur), thus making the mural a lasting part of the architecture. Moreover, your serious jester urged Jonathan Kemper to review the names sculpted on the frieze of the century-old Renaissance-style library building at Ninth and Locust, and then consider what he wanted to tell the community a century from today with his titles. For his edification to that end, an article on that very subject, written by his most subservient joker,
also most truly yours, was recommended to him along with various other, perhaps impertinent, articles on the subject - those articles will be sent along via email provided his secretary dares to disclose her or his email address. Incidentally, this fool has already sent along rough drafts of his newsletter, Criticism of the Policies and Practices of Kansas City Missouri Public Librarians, to those persons he believed should be most interested in them: the librarians at the downtown Kansas City Library. In response, a few librarians anonymously provided scandalous information to this investigator, and he is foolishly attempting to verify the veracity of the sources. One librarian has asked that his name be removed from Criticism’s mailing list, stating that the subject matter is of no interest to him. A library staff member who enthusiastically subscribes to the newsletter has questioned this prolix fool’s recommendation, The Praise of Folly, stating that he has never heard of the book; he thinks the community might get the wrong message and commit itself to folly. In response to which your hopefully favorite moron once again quoted Lady Folly's view, that nothing would get done without foolishness, and referred the gentleman to the scintillating essay, 'Mystical Real Estate Development.' The Praise of Folly has in fact been familiar to book lovers for several centuries. Even those few Lutherans left who still hate scholarly works know
the title well; or at least they know the author by name, for Luther once said to his friends, "When I pray, 'Blessed be Thy Holy Name', I curse Erasmus and his heretical congeners who revile and profane God." Erasmus, in turn, said that he, Erasmus, had caused humanists to celebrate Christ, but Luther then appeared and threw his "apple of discord" into the world. Erasmus blamed Luther for the Peasant's Revolt. Luther, in turn, boasted guiltily of being the cause of the rebels' deaths. "I, Martin Luther," attested Luther, "have slain all the peasants who died during the rebellion, for I goaded authority to the slaughter. Their blood be on my head." Indeed, he had urged the princes to "stab and kill" the peasants whom he had inspired and who had revered him so greatly as a leader: "Those who rally to the side of the princes will become holy martyrs; those who fail, will go to the devil; therefore let all who can, both in public and private, strike down and strangle these miscreants, bearing ever in mind that there is nothing more poisonous, more noisesome, more devilish, than a man who incites the people to insurrection." Furthermore, "The donkey needs a thrashing, and the brute populace must be governed by brute force." Of course Luther stated Christ authorized the killing with, "I come not in peace but with a sword."
Years before Luther penned De servo arbitrio, his notorious response to Erasmus' temperate missive in favor of the pacific pursuit of reform, Luther believed that Germans should go berserk, "I do not think," he wrote to Spalatinus, "that the cause can be carried to a successful issue without tumult, vexation, and insurrection. You cannot make a quill pen out of a sword, nor change war into peace. God's word is war and vexation and destruction, it is poison. Like a bear in the path, like a lioness in the jungle, it attacks the sons of Ephraim." Yet he advised the authorities to kill the peasants, led by Munzer, flying the rainbow banner of God's covenant. When confronted with his contradictions, Luther attributed them to "God's mysteries." As for pacifism, the world's greatest bigot and hypocrite wrote to Erasmus, "Let be with your complaining and clamor (for peaceful reform); against such a fervor no medicine can prevail. This war is our Lord God's war. He has unchained it, and never will it cease raging until all the enemies of His word have been wiped from the face of the earth. " Furthermore, Luther said to his friends, "I intend to kill Satan (Erasmus)" just as I slew Munzer, whose blood is on my head." Erasmus once remarked of the clerical quibbling, prevarication and hypocrisy of his day, that "These words 'Evangel', 'God's Truth', 'faith',
'Christ', 'spirit', are perpetually spilling from their mouths, and yet I see many of them so conducting themselves as if they were possessed of the devil." And, in a letter to Zwingli, Erasmus took issue with the errors of Luther's irrational doctrine: Luther denied the merits of free will; he asserted that all good works are mortal sins; he insisted that justification comes from blind faith in God alone. Erasmus’ Folly was well received by all except the clerics. Princes were much amused by being made the butt of jokes by Lady Folly, who gladly served the purpose of a court clown. This foolish cub reporter was fortunate to stumble over a copy of the book again. Many book lovers have recommended it over the years. For instance, the eminent historian, illustrator, radio commentator, and journalist Hendrik Willem van Loon, best known for The Story of Mankind (made into a movie staring Groucho Marx), admired Erasmus of Rotterdam - Van Loon hailed from Rotterdam. "I have spent more than a half-century reading books...," wrote van Loon in his prefatory biography of Erasmus, "and now I find myself face to face with the terrible problem of 'What in Heaven's name can I read that I have not already read a dozen times before?' The modern output is like a mighty river. At certain spots it is a veritable Rio de Plata, almost fifty miles
wide but so shallow that ever crossing it in a rowboat throws up such quantities of mud that it begins to resemble the mighty Missouri in spring." Hence van Loon returned to the hinterland creeks of his youth to take up the "highly explosive literary dynamite known the last four centuries and a half as The Praise of Folly. So did I.
COMPASSIONATE TERMINATION SUGGESTED
"How do we create an environment in downtown to recognize the needs of the homeless and balance the needs of other people who come there to live and work and to be entertained?" Mayor Kay Barnes I called a meeting with myself at the Country Club Café to identify and recount the main objection to the relocation of the downtown library, so the meeting is called to order herewith. I recently raised questions about the financial structuring of the deal and what seems to be an exorbitant cost of renovation in comparison with average square foot building costs for similar projects around the country. But the most controversial detail afoot is the alleged plan to banish unspecified persons, commonly referred to as "homeless" persons, from the eight-block Library District area – one of those persons has just entered the café as I write, and wants to use this computer. Everybody seems to know about the "covert" banishment plan, the aspects of which I gleaned not only from published reports but from discussions with various sources and from eavesdropping on people in
restaurants, cafes, and halls; to wit: "Homeless" people are to be kept away from the Library District – the downtown area historically dominated by the Kemper family. As we have seen, Jonathan Kemper, president of Commerce Bank and a trustee of the Kansas City Public Library, has used his influence to move the library to a renovated bank building across the street from his banking office; "Jonathan's building" will serve as the centerpiece for the commercial real estate remake. No doubt he has the blessing of many Kansas Citians if not God Almighty for literally saving the library from its old decrepit circumstances. The main objection is not to the new building, but the implied identification of homelessness with criminality. Of course common sense dictates that the crime rate would be higher within a houseless, unemployed, vagrant population, given their natural Hobbesian right to survive by any means, than among people who enjoy housing, Perhaps there are statistical studies to that effect, just as there are statistics indicating that the United States Congress from time to time has one of the highest crime rates of any group in the nation. In any case, I overheard a conversation among political and business lieutenants, over coffee in this very café, that the police would cooperate with Kemper's Tower Security force and Kemper's Yellow Jackets to keep "homeless" people out of the Library District, directing them to the Compassion Zone a
few blocks east. Allegedly Mayor Barnes, and definitely many downtown residents, approve of that unpublished plan. Now the official public rhetoric asserted by the library's director, Mr. Joe Green, welcomed "homeless" people to the library, and he asserted that they will not be a problem. Of course there has in fact been a big problem in the past, not only because of the instinctive fear of poverty among the bulging-belly bourgeoisie, but because a few unruly vagrants and petty criminals have in fact managed to ruin everyone else's enjoyment of libraries. Patrons lost that enjoyment with help from library administrators who failed, after taking their seat upstairs via the private elevator, to protect quiet enjoyment of the old facility by the dwindling number of traditional library patrons. If it were not for the failure in security which continued the status quo, and gave everyone good cause to believe that the new library would be blighted accordingly and to firm forceful steps to prevent it, we would not be having such an acrimonious and hurtful discourse over "homelessness" in respect to the Library District and surrounding neighborhoods. No doubt some good will come of the controversy. Perhaps the laws, regulations, and standards of decency will be observed and enforced everywhere, and perhaps more effort will be made by political and business
leaders to give people who want good homes and houses a hand up instead of devoting most of their time to serving big business to such an extent that many hard-working but impoverished Kansas Citians are saying of the big corporate projects, "There ain't nothin' in it for us." It is hereby resolved by my self and I, for whatever good it might do, that "homeless" people should not be banned from the new library because they do not have housing, nor should they be penned up in the Compassion Zone. Furthermore, it is opined that a few people who have neglected their duties and do have homes and jobs should resign from their positions or be compassionately terminated. There are plenty of people to take up the slack. That would help create a new library and community that would recognize the needs of people who come downtown to live and study and work and play. This meeting is adjourned.
THIRSTY MIND CAFÉ AND BROKEN TRUST
Schaun Colin and Karin Wagner had negotiated a deal with library officials to operate a café in the new central library, and had therefore eagerly prepared for its opening. The Colin family operates other businesses and contributes a goodly portion of its profits to Oceans of Mercy Children's Village, an organization that helps AIDS orphans in South Africa. Karin Wagner's husband is currently working in Iraq; she is a Kansas Citian, and her partnership with Colin is her first business venture. The first floor of the grand new library would open at 7 a.m. on weekdays, reported the Star, and the café, dubbed The Thirsty Mind Café, would be open for business. Schaun and Karin were ready to open the cafe in March, but there were construction delays. Finally, the library was ready for them, but when they went to sign the lease, it was at complete variance with the oral agreement they had made with library officials. Instead of a lease for several years, the lease presented was for one year only – renewal would require mutual agreement. Instead of the library bearing the cost of the improvements made for them to move in, the lessees were expected to pay 70% of the costs at the end of the year. When Colin and Wagner tried to
recover the terms of the oral agreement, they were treated gruffly and more things were taken off the table, therefore they pulled out of the deal. At least that is the account of reliable sources within and outside of the library. When asked why the Thirsty Mind had not opened, the partners simply said, "We decided not to go ahead." I was informed that Mr. Kemper was well aware of the deal with Colin and Wagner to operate the Thirsty Mind, therefore I said there must have been some sort of misunderstanding that could be easily straightened out with Jonathan Kemper, and I offered to go over to his office and ask to speak to him about the matter. After all, Mr. Kemper was the power behind “Jonathan’s building” – the new library. He was the president of Commerce Bank, with $13 billion in assets; Library Board trustee; chairman of the new building's oversight committee; trustee for charitable trusts contributing to the project. Indeed, the fact that he wore several hats at the same time smacked of a conflict of interest. Since even the mere appearance of impropriety is best avoided by reputable people, Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes was asked to remove Mr. Kemper from his posts at the library, but she declined, extolling the virtues of political and business collaboration – the Star declined to report on the request and the mayor's formal refusal. And who was so bold as to make such a request to
Mayor Barnes in the first place? None other than your independent journalist, as follows:
May 5, 2004 Mayor Kaye Barnes City Council Kansas City, Missouri
Open Letter in re apparent Conflict of Interest of Jonathan Kemper, KCPL Board of Trustees Honorable Mayor: I have no doubt whatsoever that Jonathan Kemper is an admirable man and one who should be thanked for making the new Central Library happen, yet it appears to me that his presence on the Kansas City Public Library Board of Trustees creates an appearance of impropriety in the form of potential conflicts of interest between his political and business responsibilities. If you refer to my journal, you may consider the appearance I have painted; you might find it rather insulting but not necessarily unrealistic.
Herbert Hoover once stated, "We have had many abuses in the private conduct of business.... It is just as important that business keep out of government as that government keep out of business." I certainly realize that politics and business are so joined that their complete separation would be the death of them both, yet as of late they have become too incestuous. Notwithstanding William Rockhill Nelson's opinion to the contrary, the business of the Council should not be business as usual. Under your leadership, with Wayne Cauthen managing, I believe politics and business in Kansas City have become far too cozy for broad political comfort. The library project led by Jonathan Kemper, resulting in "Jonathan's building," is the most obvious case in point. Joseph H. Green, Library Director, in Kansas City Public Library's publication, May & June 2004 Calender of Events, highlighted "the public/private partnership that saved the community millions of dollars." That is not a statement of fact nor would it be a fair projection at this time if the phrase "that saved" was changed to "will save." The fact of the matter is that the partners, led by Jonathan Kemper, "ignored
naysayers" and went ahead and did what they believed to be "right." Now that the deed is done, much remains to be done to make it right, and only then, in retrospect, can it be said that the community saved millions - in that event, who would mind if the landlords, developers, contractors, and bankers involved made millions to boot? Of course there would be no apparent conflict if the new library were the Jonathan Kemper Library. I can conceive of such a library as a viable private project, and perhaps the Library District might want to imagine it as one. And interested parties could consider the amount of revenue that might be raised by way of customer-paid subscriptions - would the actual library customers be willing to cover expenses? But the Central Library is not really a private library, and that much should be clear and further clarified by the absence of apparent conflicts of interest. Now that the "right" deed has been done, I believe that it would be in everyone's best interest if library trustee Jonathan Kemper is somehow relieved of his duty as trustee, with everybody's thanks, so that he may have more time for his
commercial and charitable endeavors. I will be pleased if you kindly pass this recommendation along to him. Sincerely, David Arthur Walters Independent Journalist
I was somewhat astonished to receive a response from the Mayor's office, dated June 4, 2004, but I was not surprised that it repeated Kansas City’s version of the national notion, that the business of politics is business. Mr. Walters: I am responding on behalf of Mayor Barnes to your "open letter" to her in which you posit an apparent conflict of interest of Mr. Jonathan Kemper regarding his involvement with the new downtown central library facility. The Mayor appreciated your taking the time to share your thoughts with her on a matter about which you obviously are very passionate. Kansas City needs passionate people from all segments of the community to be involved in the many efforts currently
underway which are making this city a better place to live, work and play. Every Kansas Citian has the right to express his or her opinion. The Mayor's views on the new library are obviously different than yours. What you see as "politics and business in Kansas City" as being "far too cozy for broad political comfort", the Mayor sees as one more indication that a broad cross section of interests from the public and private sectors and the not-for-profit community have come together to bring a project to fruition. Mr. Kemper's role in helping make the new library project come to pass is similar to the leadership shown by other Kansas Citians in development efforts that will benefit the broader community. The Mayor sees no conflict of interest in Mr. Kemper's role in helping the new library become a reality. Your note of May 21st refers to the Mayor's "promoting the interests of landlords, real estate developers, bankers, big corporations and the upper middle class". From her perspective, the Mayor promotes Kansas City in a broad sense, not the interests of any specific group or groups. That promotion entails
her working with persons in these "groups" you mentioned as well as with many other community interests, both groups and individuals. Although I am unsure of how you define the "Ignore Naysayers" policy you attribute to the Mayor, it is true she has to frequently battle naysayers who think Kansas City can't do this or shouldn't do that. The Mayor is more focused on helping Kansas City move ahead instead of looking for reasons why we can't or won't. Again, thanks for conveying your views on this matter to the Mayor. Richard DeHart Director of Administration Office of the Mayor City of Kansas City, Missouri
Colin and Wagner declined my offer to ask Mr. Kemper to reconsider the promises alleged made and broken. It was too late, they had been insulted, their plan smashed, the trust had been broken, the library officials were untrustworthy, so no further contact with them was wanted.
And what is the moral of this story? Do not trust people to do what you thought they said they would do: “Get it in writing," even when dealing with the most prominent and beneficient civic leaders.
THE LIBRARY’S BEST TITLE SELECTION
Truman, David McCullough's masterful biography, is the Kansas City Public Library board's best choice of titles so far for the mural of a bookshelf now being painted on the front wall of the new downtown library's jumbo garage. I would not go as far as the general who said he would kiss Truman's corpse if it were dug up because Truman dropped atomic bombs on Japan, but I would kiss the hand of the person who first suggested the selection of this title, even if that person were a neoconservative trustee. I am not a Truman fan. I do not approve of the use of weapons of mass destruction except in the case of a nuclear attack on or a pre-emptive invasion of my current country by an overwhelming force threatening the existence of the nation – I believe Iraq would have been justified in using weapons of mass destruction on invading U.S. troops; but that would probably amount to suicide by cop, so to speak. I am glad that Truman dismissed General MacArthur's plan to nuke Manchuria and China, even though I think the plan might have worked well. I had forgotten the Korean
police action until the Vietnam police action came along. Then, instead of hating krauts and Japs and the like, I hated the police chiefs. Needless to say, I am a war baby. I was weaned to toy machine guns and war movies. General Eisenhower was the glamorous hero in my boyhood’s newsreel. Black Beard the Pirate was my favorite movie villain. I had not thought much of Harry S. Truman until I read McCullough’s Truman. He did not seem heroic enough to me in my youth. McCullough's biography is favorable to Truman. Biographers do tend to take a liking to their subjects. Whether or not Truman was as good a man as many people say he was, I am not competent to say. Superficially, Truman seems to be a sort of Goody Two Shoes. But McCullough is an ethical journalist; his book is not a whitewash; he drags plenty of dirt out from under the carpet. McCollough's careful compilation and organization of old and brand new sources is a boon to anyone who wants to know almost everything one needs to know about Truman and his relation to his troubled times. Boss Tom Pendergast's ethical "office boy," might look like a boring bureaucrat; he might sound like your average back road Democrat accustomed to using the N-word; but consider what the uncommon common man was up against, and decide for yourself whether or not he was therefore a "great man," whether or not the “Senator from Pendergast” who became President was
truly representative of the American spirit. Consider whether or not the wars hot and cold were really worth waging; consider his admirable advancement of civil rights and the difference he drew between "equal opportunity" and "social equality." You will not be bored. McCullough's polished rhetoric is the icing on the cake, making the monumental work most interesting to behold. The Kansas City Library has certainly met its title-selection criterion with David McCollough's Truman. We can only wish that the selection of titles for the other categories be equally appropriate. Truman is of course a work of inordinate interest to Kansas Citians, to residents of Andrew Jackson's county in the Great Blue Country, and to Midwesterners and Southerners at large. The biography is must reading for every American whether they like Truman or not. They should agree that this masterpiece has a rightful place among the world's classics.
THE COSMOPOLITAN LIBRARY
The Heart of America certainly needs a cosmopolitan library at its centre. With such a library made available to men and women of letters, the metropolis might become a bona fide residence for rational citizens of the cosmos, a place for sociable pacifists to live in harmony. A citizen of the world used to be a man of no fixed abode, or a man who is nowhere a stranger, someone whose parochial preferences are subservient to universal values, someone who is definitely neither a bigot in the “by-god” religious nor the patriotic nationalist sense of the term. Alas, persons of no fixed abode are not very much appreciated nowadays. Unwelcome are vagabonds with an aversion to labor; and even more unwelcome are barefoot scholars and peripatetic sophists who would corrupt the youth. In fact, Robert M. Ardy, one of the nation's top site-selection experts, was quoted by the Star as saying, "Kansas City is not a cosmopolitan area." Now Kansas City's civic leaders like to brag about the metropolitan area's skilled, educated, and productive work force. However, stated Mr. Ardy, an
attractive work force must also be cosmopolitan and creative. And he mentioned other attributes, such as "flexible, multiskilled, and "cooperative." Well, then, it seems that obedient workers who cooperate in doing what they are told to do as usual. As for multiskilled workers, we might hope against hope that the site-selection expert is referring to the good old Renaissance Man, and not the postmodern multitasker – psychological studies indicate that multitasking actually makes workers stupid and mentally ill. But we suspect that Mr. Ardy’s vested interest, as a member of the credentialed intelligentsia, is in the sort of economic cosmopolitanism that has caused, in the name of free trade and consumer democracy, a great deal of misery for many millions of people throughout the world, for their own good, of course: whether they like it or not, the further increase in the already vast economic inequality will be to their long-term advantage, especially if they go to church and say their prayers. The ultimate objective of economic cosmopolitanism or global capitalism is destroy, in the name of free trade, all barriers to free trade including liberal human rights, so that the world economy may be dominated by American-style corporatism. Ideally, capitalist competition, in the name of competition, will eliminate the competition, and a few gigantic corporations, with the help of their political organs, the various cooperating states, shall make the world turn to their
order. In the final analysis, economically organized greed is bound to flounder, for its unity in the so-called survival of the fittest individuals is too flimsy to maintain in the long run without the forceful imposition of intolerable totalitarian methods, against which human nature will rebel. When economics is raised above politics, the economic war of all against all shall realize the long term disadvantage, mass terrorism and suicide-murder in the form of global warfare. Traditional cosmopolitanism emphasizes the fact that we are all human beings regardless of our place of residence. Cosmopolitanism was one of the humanist ideals of the Renaissance, as well as of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on human reason instead of traditional arbitrary authority. In ancient times, enlightened persons were citizens of the Cosmos regardless of their location on the mundane globe. And now the neo-classical architecture of the new downtown Kansas City Library gives tribute to the Renaissance, and, hopefully, to the Enlightenment. The greatest cosmopolitan man of letters and humanist of the Renaissance period was Desiderius Erasmus, best known for his tribute to Lady Folly, The Praise of Folly. That is why I recommended the title to Jonathan Kemper, the modern Medici and banker who made the new librarybank happen. I believe the new library might succeed if Mr. Kemper is a
cosmopolitan fool instead of just another crafty civic leader who uses hollow sentiments to exploit the public behind the scenes. There is much more to a library than its face, the building it is housed in and its façade. I learned as a child from a book not to judge a book by its cover. That platitude came to mind as I approached Kansas City's magnificent new library. Kansas Citians certainly can be proud of the building. But my concern has always been more with the contents of the library than with the elegance of its housing. Only a fool judges books by their covers. I usually could care less about the cover of a book, for some of the best ones are dilapidated. The contents of a book is what counts – prior to the invention of advanced printing methods, the purchase price of a single book carefully copied and illustrated could buy a house instead. I understand that a man called Diogenes, who lived in a tub and who claimed to be a citizen of the cosmos, showed up at a nobleman’s estate at high noon with a flashlight one day looking for a noble or virtuous man. The nobleman gave him a tour of his elegant palace, pointing out its fine floors and walls and trappings, whereupon Diogenes spit in the man’s face. “Why did you spit in my face?” the nobleman asked the wise man "There was nowhere else to spit," said Diogenes, gesturing at the elegant surround.
THE TAO OF THE KANSAS CITY LIBRARY
Many of the book titles selected by the Kansas City library trustees for display as enormous book spines on the front wall of the new central library's jumbo-parking garage have now appeared. My favorite thus far is Truman, by David McCullough. I personally recommended The Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus, the great cosmopolitan humanist and Renaissance man of letters. The title has not appeared on the garage wall as of yet, and I doubt that it will appear even though it is perfectly suitable to the true nature of the library project. Furthermore, the receipt of my several brilliant essays supporting my suggestion have not been acknowledged by the person to whom they were sent, the very man who made the new library building happen, library trustee and Commerce Bank president, Jonathan Kemper. Since I am an Absurdist who knows very well that the world is surd or deaf to me, and that life in Kansas City is futile if not meaningless, I take the silence in response to my suggestion as lightly as I can. How can a Sisyphus blame the Stone for its dumbness?
An ancient title, Plato's Republic, is already displayed on the garage wall. Plato's work of course has been attacked by the likes of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Popper. His Republic does smack of intolerant totalitarianism here and there. In any case, it is not a republic in the evolving modern sense of the word: it is not a democracy or a democratic republic; but it is definitely a state which an ascetically inclined, intellectual elite I might fancy - not to mention women who do not appreciate being saddled down with kids. Frustrated intellectuals born accidentally into the banking caste might not mind being philosopher kings in Plato's republic, providing they are allotted stately quarters in the grand old classical style. I for one would not mind having a cot or futon in the renovated neo-classical bank building that is downtown Kansas City's new library building. But I'm thinking here of Jonathan Kemper and Rufus Crosby-Kemper III of the Kemper banking dynasty. Jonathan in my opinion should give up banking and become a library director, or, better yet, a museum director. Now Rufus has suddenly stepped down from the top of United Missouri Bank; in my opinion he should become a professor and author, perhaps write a six-volume history of imperialism. Stefan Zweig, a modern cosmopolitan and humanist who idolized Erasmus and whose father was one of the richest Jews in Austria
before the Nazi disaster, observed that a number of Jewish children from fortunate families turned away from money-grubbing and became leading lights of intellectual and aesthetic pursuits. Another favorite title already fastened to the garage wall is Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. Its contents are anti-intellectual, to say the least, if not downright mystical. Methinks fundamentalist preachers of ignorance and pseudo-conservatives (neoconservatives) with imperial aspirations will find their prejudices somewhat confirmed somewhere therein. I happen to love the tao, providing that it is reasonably interpreted by the master teacher and traditional humanist, Confucius. I recall that China's First Sovereign Emperor (Shih Huang Ti - Zhuangdi) burned the classical books and buried the scholars - fortunately his inquisitors did not find them all. The emperor retained those taoist works which he thought were scientific, particularly the alchemical texts - we do find rudiments of modern science in alchemy. He was not the first nor was he the last Chinese potentate whose megalomaniacal native superstition was augmented by the weird whisperings of Taoist wizards. A Taoist political science was developed on the philosophical side of Imperial China. It is not as absurd in practice as it seems to be in theory. For instance, where government is involved, that it should get everything done
by doing nothing is still urged by prominent businessmen, at least until they want more corporate welfare: that sort of handout, by the way, is better done by sleight-of-hand. Furthermore, the government of any organization, including the Kansas City Public Library and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, should be a mediocracy, better kept rather confused and moronic – Kansas City's civic leaders, following President Bush's lead, observe the adage: "Ignore Naysayers." Here is something more on point from the Tao Te Ching:
When the government's dull and confused, the people are placid. When the government's sharp and keen. the people are discontented....
And so the wise shape without cutting, square without sawing, true without forcing. They are the light that does not shine.
Keeping people fat, dumb, and happy usually renders the masses obedient. To that end the library system should have a proper collection policy, a policy that best represents the dumbed-down, multi-tasking, bulging-belly bourgeoisie whom big corporations prefer to employ. Said policy should be shaped like a truncated pyramid or a pear or an obese, headless person. Today's average high-school reading level should be the mode; anything academic or intellectual, any sort of intellectual apex gazing downwards, inducing and deducing from bottom up and to top down, should be lopped off. However, above all, the top administrators, to stay lean and to get a lot for nothing, should not do much studying themselves:
Studying and learning daily you grow larger. Following the Way daily you shrink. You get smaller and smaller. You arrive at not doing. You do nothing and nothing's not done.
To run things, don't fuss with them. Nobody who fusses
is fit to run things.
It does appear that the library trustees selected rightly when they chose the Tao Te Ching. There are several copies available downtown. I have quoted from the version by Ursula K. Le Guin (Boston: Shambala 1997). For those readers who are most interested in tracing things back to the most obscure origin, I conclude with this:
Once upon a time those who ruled according to the Way didn't use it to make people knowing but to keep them unknowing.
People get hard to manage when they know too much. Whoever rules by intellect Is a curse upon the land. Whoever rules by ignorance is a blessing on it. To understand these things
is to have a pattern and a model, is mysterious power.
Mysterious power goes deep. It reaches far. It follows things back, clear back to the great oneness.
WALKING ON THE WILD SIDE
The safety officers who provide private security for the new downtown Kansas City Central Library are keeping the new quarters relatively safe and quiet for everyone's enjoyment. But some of the
impoverished regulars of the old public library are afraid to come into the imposing old bank lobby of the new, quasi-public library. During the closure for moving the collection from the old building to the new, they got the ill wind that they had been identified with the criminal element and were not welcome at or around the new quasi-public library. Now if they are courageous enough to approach the front door and look into the imposing old bank lobby refurbished for library use, they immediately perceive neither tables nor chairs within, and that supports their suspicion that the new ark of civilization is an inhospitable place as far as they are concerned. No doubt they have due cause for paranoia given the attitude of the crowing bourgeoisie to whom impoverished persons are scarecrows, but in fact the poor are welcome within provided they abide by the rules of conduct therein. Some of the poorest folk have been personally invited in by the Safety Ambassadors, who know them from working shifts on the mean streets of
downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
Something more should be done to
restore the desperately poor to their traditional educational institution. Activists should call the library's deputy director and ask her to organize library tours for poor and homeless people, along with the guided tours she provides to notable people. One regular I know has shown up at the new library and is around quite often. She likes to find a quiet place to read, usually non-fiction. I met her at the old library, where I noticed that she and another impoverished writer were typing up a storm on the old typewriters. Her high-speed typing had amazed me, so I struck up a conversation with her and said I sure wished I had known her in the old days, when I wrote manuscripts out longhand and paid a typist by the hour to type them up - one typist in Washington edited them as she went along, wherefore my writing improved considerably. I spotted her in the new library, back in the stacks, quietly reading. I just had to say hello and to exchange observations about the new library. I observed out loud that there were no typewriters for her to write on, that it would be nice if there were a couple of typewriters in the little study rooms. She said she had been writing scripts out by hand lately, and that she likes
the new library well enough on the balance. Although it has no typewriters, she remarked, it is quiet like a library is supposed to be. I was moved to tell her a little story about Nelson Algren, the author of Walk on the Wild Side and other books once quite popular for their realism. Nelson drifted around quite a bit during the Depression, hanging out with the poor and homeless, taking whatever jobs he could find, including selling phony beauty-parlor discount certificates in New Orleans. It was his good fortune to write for awhile under the auspices of the WPA's Federal Writers Project, with the likes of Saul Bellow and other impoverished writers. Nelson was an American existentialist of sorts when the term was first coined. Simone Beauvoir liked him very much and took leave of Jean Paul Sartre, her significant other, to visit the United States and hang out with Nelson for some time. I told my fast-typing acquaintance how Nelson had hitched rides to El Paso, where he was jailed for vagrancy. He went on to Alpine, and found out he could use the typewriters at a teacher's college without being confronted. When he decided to go back to Chicago, he grabbed a typewriter, shipped it to Chicago, and hopped on a freight train. He was busted for theft before he got out of Texas, and he was tossed in the jail, where he stewed for a few months while waiting for the circuit judge to come around. I don't know the
exact details of the case, so I could not say for sure if Nelson got to keep the typewriter, or if he had to make restitution, but the judge set him loose and he high-tailed it back to Chicago. That experience provided him grist for his mill, not only for Walk on the Wild Side, but for Somebody in Boots, and, I think, for Neon Wilderness. She was amused by my story. Maybe the new Kansas City central library will get out the old typewriters for her to use again, I said, if they had not been auctioned off with the rest of the equipment and fixtures of the old location. She shrugged off my suggestion and went back to her reading. As for me, I have written a million words on library computers. The new library has free WIFI for well off writers who can afford laptops. The library has a "hot spot", a wireless facility which laptop owners can access without charge. Otherwise poor writers have to use the library computers and are limited to two 45-minute sessions, a total of 90 minutes a day. I sure wish I had taken that laptop an Internet friend of mine wanted to get for me. I refused it because she was not very rich and her American husband might wonder where her allowance had gone. Of course I don't mind accepting such expensive gifts from rich people. But forget me, as I have a hovel to squat in. Consider instead the impoverished patrons of the Kansas City
library system. Make sure they come back. They should feel welcome and secure now that the predators and other public nuisances are gone.
DISPRAISE OF KEMPER”S FOLLY
Imagine that a city's most prominent civic leader, president of a bank with $14 billion in assets and trustee for his family's charitable institutions, decided to raise $50.3 million and invest it in a troubled business whose recovery he would personally supervise. Imagine that he paid several times what other entrepreneurs had paid to rehabilitate similarly troubled businesses. Imagine that he did not provide for the maintenance and improvement of the troubled business's most important asset. Imagine that he did not replace the supervisors who had allowed the business to be run into the ground and were known by stakeholders for their irresponsibility and prevarication. Imagine that he did not provide funds out of the $50.3 million to cover future operating deficits in order for the business to get on its legs, knowing very well that there would be deficits. Imagine that the only institution auditing his activities ignored repeated complaints about his folly as well as a formal request to remove him from the project, and trumpeted the virtues of the project time and time again, cloaking the real
motive for the investment with four false pretexts until the monies were expended. Now imagine that, six months after the "recovered" business opens, it has a $1.7 million deficit that it is unable to cover, therefore it cuts back its hours and cuts purchases of inventory. Imagine that the institution auditing the business for the public suggests that outside investors should be brought in to save the new business. Imagine that a few weeks later, on August 23, 2004, the auditor publishes a report that walk-in traffic has increased 40%, to about 30,000 customers per month, but that percentage rise is at variance with its April 11, 2004 report that the old business had 350,000 visitors the previous year. The man is Kansas City dynast Jonathan Kemper. The business is the virtually privatized Kansas City Central Library. The depleted and wasting assets are the library itself – the collection. The auditor is the newspaper that boosted the project to begin with, Knight-Ridder's Kansas City Star. The Star recently published an editorial calling for the tax-salvation of the library; the article about the 40% increase in traffic is most likely the second propaganda piece of an oncoming series promoting the salvation plan.
Many librarians are outraged by the proceedings, but they must keep their mouths shut. The alleged agenda was in place from the beginning: Jonathan Kemper and related vested interests, with the cooperation of Mayor Kay Barnes, City Manager Wayne Cauthen, and the Library Board of trustees – all prominent "civic leaders" – would use the public library to promote the commercial real estate venture, the eight-block 'Library District', then dump the building with its high lease and operating costs on the public. The outrageous allegation of a hidden agenda was denied by the library director several moons ago, and Jonathan Kemper said additional funds would be raised from private donors. Given the fiscal problem at the library, we already know who the fool is. Whether or not he is a prevaricator remains to be seen; we already have some evidence of that in the alleged breach of trust with the partners who were supposed to operated the Thirsty Mind Cafe – two people whom library staff publicly defamed by publicly blaming the breach on them instead of on the trustees ultimately responsible for breaking the agreement. Nothing is perfect, and I do not have all the facts in the case nor have I heard Mr. Kemper’s side of the story – he has deigned to respond to my inquiries, and remains a perfect scapegoat for anything that goes wrong with
his project, just as the Kemper family in general is blamed for about everything that people think has gone wrong with downtown Kansas City over the decades. Cynics expect the costly new library to be eventually sold to the taxpayers and taken over again by the vagrant and criminal population. On the other hand, I like the new library building, especially the youth center and the auditorium. Most importantly, library patrons feel safe at the new location, for security is excellent now, thanks to Jonathan Kemper and other private benefactors. They were not about to put up $50.3 million to turn the old First National Bank into a fancier dump for disturbers of the peace, vagrants, dope dealers, stalkers and other perverts to hang out in. Although nearly the same rules apply to the new facility, the difference between old and new is the difference between night and day, because the rules are actually enforced at the new location. The Downtown Community Improvement District organization placed plenty of its Public Safety Ambassadors around and inside of the new library. Big brother is watching you for your own good, and people who are up to no good are not welcome. The enforcement of the rule against public display of pornography has opened up more computers for decent usage. Masturbation is not tolerated even in the Mens Room. The stalker with the ski cap and gloves who was
wont to loiter near the Ladies Room has finally been banned. Thieves have been apprehended. Screaming matches and loud conversations have been curbed. Security will radio the cops if need be, and one will come right over. Anyone who is disturbed by bad conduct may report the disturbance to the Safety Ambassadors for immediate handling. For their own safety, patrons should not personally intervene: the downtown area is a main concourse between the rotating doors of prisons and jails. Patrons should behave as the would in any public area, attending to their personal property and being especially alert around public restrooms The clientele mix is much better at the new library. One occasionally sees writers and students in the library. As long as the collection is riddled and "dumbed down" into a truncated pyramid without an intellectual apex, the institution will not have the pocket of activity that tends to invigorate every human endeavor. But the library keeps me occupied, and I have been pleasantly surprised by some of my finds. I would be awfully bored without the new downtown Kansas City Public Library. Maybe Jonathan Kemper will be proved a genius if not a fool – sometimes both are required for success. I sure hope so for the Heart of America. Whatever his faults, I am proud of what Mr. Kemper has done, as if my grumbling had something to
do with it. I am heading south now, and I look forward to returning someday to the vagrant library.