Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

If I had a "Bucket List" the Haskell Free Library and Opera House would be on it. The public library in Derby Line, Vermont, USA straddles the border with Stanstead, Quebec, Canada. A line down the middle of the floor of the building marks where one country ends and the other begins. There is no port of entry inside the library. Library users are free to walk back and forth between the countries any time.

Charles Pierce discusses the history of the library in Idiot America and explains that prior to 9/11 residents of Derby Line and Stanstead could freely pass between the countries even without going into the library
For decades, it was a point of civic pride for the people in both towns that they lived right atop one of the friendliest stretches of the friendliest borders in the world. People wandered down the tiny, shady backstreets of the place, passing back and forth between the two countries without ever really noticing.
After September 11, 2001, however
The border authorities in both countries acted quickly to restrict access along the side streets in Stanstead and Derby Line. As part of the plan, it was proposed that anyone parking a car outside the library on the Canadian side might well have to pass through a port of entry before walking up the front steps, which are on the American side.
In the spirit of full disclosure I must mention this bit of odd news about the Haskell Free Library and Opera House involving a case of gun smuggling that took advantage of the library's unique location. Canadian Alexis Vlachos had a friend purchase guns in the United States and leave them in the bathroom of the library to be picked up by Vlachos, who entered from the Canadian side. This story might cause some to get their xenphobic hackles up, however, as quoted by Canadian Don Browning in the article "if we live in fear we have to close up every little potential loophole, that would probably change our way of life a little bit and I don't think it's worth it".

Pierce goes on to point out that it (the 2000s) had "not been an easy decade for libraries" citing closure of the the library run by the Environmental Protection Agency by the Bush (43) Administration, and the passage of Patriot Act which allowed the FBI to look at library records without a warrant.

He further uses libraries as a metaphor describing their orderliness, and contrasts it with the disorderliness of "Idiot America" where the gut, rather than the head rules. Rather than separating Fiction and Non-Fiction (as real libraries do) in Idiot America
Fiction and nonfiction are defined by how well they sell. The best sellers are on one shelf, cheek by jowl, whether what's contained in them is true or not.
The book was published in 2009, Pierce could not have known how prescient his words were.

My husband and I listened to Pierce's book on audio during a long car drive between Massachusetts and Maryland. When I heard the piece about Derby Line I realized I would need to blog about it, and had to then request a hard copy of the book through Interlibrary loan.

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