Happy weekend from the Mobley welcome committee

I’m coming down with a cold or something, so in lieu of the great-grandfather story I’d planned to tell, here’s a shot of Grandpa, my dad’s father, standing with the rest of the committee to welcome Mary Ann Mobley, Miss America 1959, home to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. (Larger version here.)

Grandpa stands to Ms. Mobley’s right, wearing sunglasses.

Joel Turnipseed on Micawber’s of St. Paul

The love letters to independent bookstores continue. Below Joel Turnipseed, author of Baghdad Express: A Gulf War Memoir and blogger at Hotel Zero, praises St. Paul’s Micawber’s.

Micawber’s, the last indie bookstore in the Twin Cities not owned by a millionaire best-selling author, is a little gem of a shop that has no need to rely on seven-figure advances or “Buy Local” encouragements to survive. The now-defunct Odegaard’s and Hungry Mind/Ruminator were also very good stores, landmarks, even, but they were all-catering, large-minded literary marketplaces that Barnes & Noble and Borders studied, improved and then replicated on a national scale.

The only thing that Odegaard’s and Hungry Mind provided and the big chains lacked — and I know, I worked at Odegaard’s back in the day and slaved like a junkie for a fix — were staffers almost pathologically committed to books.

Two refugees from the Hungry Mind/Ruminator meltdown, Tom Bielenberg and Hans Weyandt, are the proprietors of Micawber’s. They manage to make a healthy living by running their small store like a fine wine shop. Conspicuously absent are not only the commonest airport trash, but the latest talk-radio bestsellers and even a fair number of the books you might look for after watching a tweedy guest improved out of his Birkenstocks by Stephen Colbert.

They have a floor-to-ceiling shelf devoted to nothing but NYRB’s classic reprint series. The NYRB set used to reside on a couple rows above the magazine rack. When I went in this week to pick up some things on my list, I asked Hans where they’d gone.

“They have their own section of the store now,” he said, “because, you know: it doesn’t make sense to let rediscovered books get lost again.” Continue reading…

Bipartisan legislation would keep library records private

A bipartisan group of Senators has introduced legislation intended to safeguard readers’ privacy by curbing abuse of the Patriot Act’s National Security Letter powers.

National Security Letters are administrative subpoenas that “give the government virtually unlimited access to electronic communications transactions records, including those of Internet service providers and public libraries. Recipients of NSLs are bound to perpetual silence by a gag order.” Presently FBI field agents issue NSLs with no judicial oversight.

The bipartisan National Security Letter Reform Act of 2007, introduced by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI), John Sununu (R-NH), Dick Durbin (R-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ken Salazar (D-CO), and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), is a response to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice documenting widespread misuse of NSLs and to two federal court decisions striking down the NSL provisions of the Patriot Act as unconstitutional.

Passage of the USA Patriot Act gave the FBI virtually unchecked authority to issue these administrative subpoenas without oversight, and the Inspector General’s March 2007 report confirmed that the number of NSLs issued by the FBI has skyrocketed, with more than 140,000 requests for information served between 2003 and 2005, and that more than 1,000, and perhaps many thousands, of those requests potentially violated laws or agency rules. Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Victor Marrero ruled for the second time that the NSL’s gag provision and lack of judicial review violated the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, noting that changes which Congress made last year had failed to correct the fundamental flaws.

The NSL Reform Act would correct many of these flaws. Among other things, it would require the government to make an individualized determination that each record sought with an NSL relates to someone with a connection to terrorism or espionage, and it would place a time limit on the gag order (which could be extended by the courts, if necessary). Significantly, the legislation would also establish an individualized standard of suspicion for Patriot Act “Section 215” orders, which allow the FBI to seize any business records, including library circulation and bookstore transaction records, merely by telling a secret FISA court that the records are “relevant” to an investigation.

Drop a quick line to your senators and house members letting them know you support the measure.

In less encouraging news, seeDear Federal Government: These are the books I took with me on my last international trip, just in case you missed them.”