if the latest campaign news is more embarrassing for the Conservatives, who’ve been caught plagiarizing, or for the Liberals, who’ve been caught napping — for five years.
Wait, make that skinnydipping.
We finally finished combining late last night after a week’s delay. And now we can make bales and haul them home in the sunshine:
And Saturday is the big Pumpkin Festival about an hour away, from which we may return with our own big pumpkin.
Last year and this year, the book has been challenged at the West Haven, Connecticut, Molloy Elementary School Library “because the book exposes the children to the occult”. According to the May 2007 issue ALA’s Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom,
A book in a West Haven elementary school has outraged a mother who claims it has exposed her young daughter to the occult. On February 9, she brought the book back to school to ask other parents’ opinion and to confront the principal.
Wizardology: The Book of the Secrets of Merlin was checked out of West Haven’s Molloy Elementary School library by Cary Alonzo’s eight-year-old daughter.
“Well, it has pentagrams in here. It has how to cast spells with actual spells to say and recite,” said Alonzo. The book even has a few tarot cards. With the popularity of Harry Potter, this book is apparently also a hot item. Alonzo says it teaches an alternative religion that’s potentially dangerous.
“If I cannot go in this library and pick up a Bible or a Koran, I don’t think this should be there either,” said Alonzo.
Showing the book to other parents at Molloy’s movie night, she enlisted support. “Books like that shouldn’t be in the schools. If the parents want to get the books, they should get them on their own,” said Joe Vecellio of West Haven.
Others aren’t bothered a bit and say this kind of attention is a black eye to an otherwise outstanding school. “Things like this put a bad name to the school where it’s a school where teachers work hard, the assistants work hard, the principal works hard,” said Rosemary Russo of West Haven.
“I looked at it, you know, I guess everybody’s different, there are some items that could be taken the wrong way,” said Molloy principal Steve Lopes.
Lopes says Wizardology was ordered through Scholastic magazine and is a part of a series that did go through a selection process. It has now been pulled off the shelf and will be reviewed. That is not enough for Alonzo, who says if one slipped through, there may be others.
“At this level, they’re young, they’re very impressionable,” said Alonzo.
I wasn’t able to find anything online about the status of the school’s review, or whether the school has by now, as it should have, added copies of the Old and New Testaments, and the Koran, to the library shelves; I’d also recommend a copy of The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions, edited by Philip Novak, but I realize I’m pushing here.
I did, however, find an interesting discussion of wizards in children’s literature over at the Rutherford Institute website; the discussion is an interview with Connie Neal, author of both What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter? and The Gospel According to Harry Potter and Wizards, Wardrobes and Wookiees: Navigating Good and Evil in Harry Potter, Narnia and Star Wars. Some excerpts from that interview:
Was it the popularity of Harry Potter that fanned the flames of disdain in these certain Christian circles?
…I first heard about the books from a fellow mother of voraciously reading children, and she told me about this great series where an orphan went to a boarding school to learn all about being a wizard and using magic. Any concerned parent would raise an eyebrow at this. The whole setup of a story about wizardry raises antennas, but when you really look at the books, what is the difference between them and the Chronicles of Narnia? For me, it is the age we live in where kids can go from a Harry Potter fan website in three clicks to a web site where actual witchcraft is discussed. This was simply not the case when C.S. Lewis released his books. Parents are so busy and there are so many more options for their children to get into trouble with; parents think they are too busy to police their kid’s activities. They are scared.
Right off the bat with the Harry Potter phenomenon, the most aggressive opponents have come out of a personal involvement in the occult. They can’t read Harry Potter as we can and enjoy it; their situation is much like an alcoholic going into a restaurant and waiting at the bar for a table—they can’t do it. These attackers with an occult background have helped create this fear and hatred of Harry Potter, but they haven’t realized that not everyone is going to respond as they have and so have ruined the experience of reading Harry Potter for others without their background. These people have a particular weakness, and instead of their background being investigated in Christian media, their views were blindly accepted. With the Christian retailers returning my books and big Christian radio networks stonewalling me, they are killing free speech in the Christian community. This is a much bigger issue than Harry Potter or witchcraft in these books. If this free speech that we have worked so vigorously for is something we take away ourselves, then we have already lost. Both sides of the story need to be told and responsible journalism needs to occur, in the secular media as well because all they like to show are the zealots and their book burning, and that does not represent all Christians. …
Have you found that the Harry Potter detractors you run into have read the books, or more often do they rely on hearsay? And if they have read the books, did they ever give the books a chance?
Sure, there are some who come up to me and tell me how horrible the Harry Potter books are, but their response to my question of “Did you read the book?” is that they saw a quote about how bad they are and they don’t need to read them. There are 64 real references to witchcraft in the first four Harry Potter books, but you have to see them in context to know they are not teaching witchcraft or sorcery. Many of the detractors who have actually read the books already have made up their mind that Harry Potter is evil before they read. They have taken a magnifying glass and picked at the books, using literary reductionism to find what they want to find. You can pick up Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and do the same thing that these people have done with Harry Potter; it is ridiculous. …
* * *
“This is my tutor Merlyn, a great magician.”
“How-de-do,” said the King. “Always like to meet magicians. In fact I always like to meet anybody, you know. It passes the time away, what, on a quest.”
“Hail,” said Merlyn, in his most mysterious manner.
“Hail,” replied the King, anxious to make a good impression.
They shook hands.
“Did you say Hail?” inquired the King, looking about him nervously. “I thought it was going to be fine, meself.”
“He meant How-do-you-do,” explained the Wart.
“Ah, yes, How-de-do?”
They shook hands again.
“Good afternoon,” said King Pellinore. “What do you think the weather looks like now?’
“I think it looks like an anti-cyclone,” said Merlyn.
“Ah, yes,” said the King. “An anti-cyclone. Well, I suppose I ought to be getting along.”
At this the King trembled very much, opened and shut his visor several times, coughed, wove his reins into a knot, exclaimed, “I beg your pardon?” and showed signs of cantering away.
“He is a white magician,” said the Wart. “You need not be afraid of him. He is my best friend, your majesty, and in any case he generally gets his spells muddled up.”
The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, 1939
If I were more of a cynic, I’d think that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s latest election promise today, a tax credit for children’s artistic activities, is aimed more at competing with the NDP’s latest election promise than at rectifying his recent anti-arts and culture words and deeds:
Speaking in Ottawa, Harper said the Conservatives would extend the new credit worth an estimated $150 million a year to lower-income families, along with the existing children’s fitness tax credit.
The credit will apply on up to $500 of eligible fees for children under 16 who participate in eligible arts activities, he said. ..
The move comes as the Conservatives have faced intense criticism, especially in Quebec, over a decision to cut up to $45 million in federal funding for numerous arts programs ahead of the Oct. 14 federal election. ..
“Today’s announcement shows once again, as I’ve been saying, that this government, in fact, does support culture and arts,” Harper told reporters.
“We spend a lot more on culture and arts, but we do so in a way that we ensure is an effective use of taxpayers’ money and ultimately, in this case, benefits families and all of society as well.
I suppose the lesson is to make the most of those music, drama, and drawing lessons, kids, because once you hit the age of 16, the Canadian government is no longer interested in your artistic pursuits. Better yet, keep up with those no-tax-credit French lessons and you can move to France.
[Tom] Joad looked at him with drooped eyes, and then he laughed. “Why, you’re the preacher. You’re the preacher. I jus’ passed a recollection about you to a guy not an hour ago.”
“I was a preacher,” said the man seriously. “Reverend Jim Casy — was a Burning Busher. Used to howl out the name of Jesus to glory. And used to get an irrigation ditch so squirmin’ full of repented sinners half of ‘em like to drowned. But not no more,” he sighed. “Jus Jim Casy now. Ain’t got the call no more. Got a lot of sinful idears — but they seem kinda sensible.”
Joad said, “You’re bound to get idears if you go thinkin’ about stuff. Sure I remember you. You use ta give a good meetin’. I recollect one time you give a whole sermon walkin’ around on your hands, yellin’ your head off. Ma favored you more than anybody. An’ Granma says you was just lousy with the spirit.” Joad dug at his rolled coat and found the pocket and brought out his pint. The turtle moved a leg but he wrapped it up tightly. He unscrewed the cap and held out the bottle. “Have a little snort?”
Casy took the bottle and regarded it broodingly. “I ain’t preachin’ no more much. The sperit ain’t in the people much no more; and worse’n that, the sperit ain’t in me no more. ‘Course, now an’ again the sperit gets movin’ an’ I rip out a meetin’, or when folks sets out food I give ‘em a grace, but my heart ain’t in it. I on’y do it ’cause they expect it.”
Joad mopped his face with his cap again. “You ain’t too damn holy to take a drink, are you?” he asked.
Casy seemed to see the bottle for the first time. He tilted it and took three big swallows. “Nice drinkin’ liquor,” he said.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939
* * * *
John Steinbeck’s now classic book of the Great Depression has been banned, burned, and challenged since it was first published in 1939.
Opponents of the book since its publication have found it vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, misogynic, pro-union, and have objected to its portrayal of human life “in such a bestial way”. Of course life for countless Americans during the Great Depression, especially those in the Dust Bowl forced to become migrants, was in fact vulgar, immoral, indecent, profane, blasphemous, ungodly obscene, anti-woman (anti-man and anti-child for that matter), and many did live like animals. As Timothy Egan in The Worst Hard Time wrote,
Even the tumbleweeds that had kept farm animals alive were in short supply. [Fred] Folkers had been one of the first nesters to salt his thistle, making it edible for cattle. Now some of his neighbors wondered: why couldn’t people eat tumbleweeds as well? Ezra and Goldie Lowery, homesteaders in No Man’s Land since 1906, came up with an idea to can thistles in brine. Friends asked them how they could each such a thing, the nuisance weed of the prairie. It was as dry as cotton, as flavorless as cardboard, as prickly as cactus. Well, sure. Indeed they tasted like twigs, no debate there. But the Lowerys said these rolling thistles that the Germans had brought to the High Plains from the Russian steppe were good for you. High in iron and chlorophyll. Cimmaron County declared a Russian Thistle Week, with county officials urging people who were on relief to get out to fields and help folks harvest tumbleweeds
US efforts to stifle The Grapes of Wrath are detailed at the American Library Association (ALA) website page for “Banned and/or Challenged Books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century” (as of 2000):
Burned by the East St. Louis, III. Public Library (1939) [I've found mentions that the book was not in fact burned in this case and that the order was rescinded] and barred from the Buffalo, N.Y Public Library (1939) on the grounds that “vulgar words” were used. Banned in Kansas City, Mo. (1939); Kern County Calif, the scene of Steinbeck’s novel, (1939); Ireland ( 1953); Kanawha, Iowa High School classes (1980); and Morris, Manitoba (1982). … Challenged in Vernon Verona Sherill, N.Y School District ( I 980); challenged as required reading for Richford,Vt. (1981) High School English students due to the book’s language and portrayal of a former minister who recounts how he took advantage of a young woman. Removed from two Anniston, Ala. high school libraries (1982), but later reinstated on a restrictive basis. Challenged at the Cummings High School in Burlington, N.C. (1986) as an optional reading assignment because the “book is full of filth. My son is being raised in a Christian home and this book takes the Lord’s name in vain and has all kinds of profanity in it.” Although the parent spoke to the press, a formal complaint with the school demanding the book’s removal was not filed. Challenged at the Moore County school system in Carthage, N.C. (1986) because the book contains the phase “God damn:” Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a “vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.” Challenged in the Union City Tenn. High School classes (1993).
Just in time for the annual commemoration of Banned Books Week, the story of Kern County, California, case against The Grapes of Wrath now has its own book, Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” by Rick Wartzman (Public Affairs, September, 2008). Jonathan Yardley reviewed the book for The Washington Post the other week; and Mr. Wartzman has an article adapted from the new volume at AmericanHeritage.com.
Obscene details the Kern County Board of Supervisors resolution in August 1939 against the book. The county in the heart of the agricultural haven of the San Joaquin Valley was the haven sought by most Great Plains migrants, only to find themselves in squalid camps at the mercy of the anti-union fruit growers. After the resolution passed, the head librarian in the county wrote to the four members who voted for the ban,
If that book is banned today, what will be banned tomorrow? And what group will want a book banned the day after that? It’s such a vicious and dangerous thing to begin and may in the end lead to exactly the same thing we see in Europe today. Besides, banning books is so utterly hopeless and futile. Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading. If Steinbeck has written the truth, that truth will survive.
The Board of Supervisors lifted the ban in 1941.
According to a California Libraries article (at the California Council for the Humanities website), which also includes a history of the Kern County case, California Library Association president Sydney Mitchell had said the year before Grapes of Wrath was published, “Librarians should be all for democracy. In the totalitarian state the librarian becomes merely an agency for propaganda, for the dissemination of such information as the authorities care to pass on.” The following year, just before the book’s publication, the American Library Association (ALA) began to consider adoption of the first Library Bill of Rights (see below). And, according to Louise Robbins in Censorship and the American Library: The American Library Association’s Response to Threats to Intellectual Freedom, 1939-1969, “the nationwide ‘rash of bannings’ of Grapes of Wrath helped spur ALA’s appointment of an intellectual freedom committee in 1939.” No doubt aided too by six years of the Nazi book-burning campaign, and war in Europe.
* * * *
I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.
II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.
V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.
VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.
Adopted June 18, 1948, by the ALA Council; amended February 2, 1961; amended June 28, 1967; amended January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 24, 1996.
How could Little Red Riding Hood
Have been so very good
And still keep the wolf from the door?
Job? Father? Mother?
No! She had none.
So where in the world did the money come from?
I need to ask it:
Who filled her basket?
The story books never tell.
from the song “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A. P. Randolph, 1925
* * *
Today’s title is Little Red Riding Hood, retold and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, a 1984 Caldecott honor book.
You wouldn’t think there would be anything wrong with this retelling, based on the lovely cover illustration, would you? But eagle-eyed readers, not just tipsy types, will have spotted the bottle in Red’s basket, and that meant trouble eight years ago in Culver City, CA. You see, Red’s mother had packed the basket with “a loaf of bread, some sweet butter, and a bottle of wine”. Presumably for medicinal purposes only. But according to an AP news article, in May 1990,
First-grade readers of Little Red Riding Hood have more to fear than the Big Bad Wolf, say school officials. It’s the wine she has in her basket.
An award-winning adaptation of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale has been pulled from the youngsters’ recommended supplemental reading list because the heroine has wine in the basket of goodies she brings her ailing grandmother. [The basket, as packed by Red's mama, contains "a loaf of fresh bread, some of this sweet bread, and a bottle of wine"]
“It gives the younger ones the wrong impression about alcohol. If they should refrain, why give them a story saying it’s OK?” said Vera Jashni, assistant superintendent for instruction [with the Culver City Unified School District].
“I don’t think the basket of wine is a good concept for kindergarten or first grade,” said school board member Robert Knopf. He said he would rather have seen “a nice thing like cookies and cakes or a picnic basket with food in it.”
Jashni, who ordered the ban, said it was the final paragraph of the story that sealed her decision — the part after the woodsman kills the Big Bad Wolf.
“The grandmother drank some of the wine, and . . . after a while, the grandmother felt quite strong and healthy, and began to clean up the mess that the wolf had left in the cottage.” ..
Houghton-Mifflin Co., a Boston-based textbook publisher, distributed [the title] as part of a 10-book package, and California education authorities placed it on the state’s recommended supplemental reading list for 5- and 6-year-olds.
Houghton-Mifflin spokesman Sandy Caswell said the ban was incomprehensible.
“The fact that it’s an award-winning book, and one we felt was a good retelling of the story, led us to select it as part of the reading series,” she said. Caswell added the company had received complaints about the book from three other school districts, all of them in California.
Another version of the AP story mentions Gina Grawe,
a teacher at Linwood Howe Elementary School, [who] organized a day-long protest last week over the ban.
“Is this the beginning of book-banning? One person should not have that much control to make that decision,” Grawe said. “I’m sure someone could find something objectionable in any book — there’s drinking in Tom Sawyer.”
And oh so much more. But that’s fodder for another day.
In a nice twofer, a 1925 song about Little Red Riding Hood, “How Could Red Riding Hood?” by A.P. Randolph, apparently holds the distinction of being the first song banned from the radio for being “improper and suggestive”. Click here to hear the song and for more information on the song, and click here for A.P. Randolph’s lyrics.
Of course, the tale of Little Red Riding has long been fraught with meaning, as this history of the story and the page of annotations at the wonderful SurLaLune Fairy Tale Pages points out, well before Bruno Bettelheim examined The Uses of Enchantment and Catherine Orenstein removed the hood in the more recent Little Red Riding Hood Uncloaked: Sex, Morality and the Evolution of a Fairy Tale.
Trina Schart Hyman was born in 1939 and died in 2004 at the age of 65 of breast cancer. According to her online biography by Denise Ortakales,
She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania learning to read and draw at an early age. She credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books by reading to her from the time she was an infant. She spent a whole year wearing a red satin cape that her mother had made for her because her favorite story was Little Red Riding Hood.
Ms. Schart Hyman’s retelling of the Grimm fairy tale, was “one of her favorite stories.” From her Caldecott Honor speech in 1985,
I don’t do sketches, or preliminaries. I think about it instead. I think about the story and about what it means and about how it can be brought to life in pictures. I think about the characters and what makes them tick and where they’re coming from and where they might be going to.
I think about all this a lot. I think about it so much that eventually I start to dream about it. And when my dreams start to become the dreams of the characters in the book, when their reality becomes a part of my subconscious, when I can live in their landscape, when I put on a little red cape with a hood and tie the red ribbons under my chin, then I know what to do with my pictures.
And from an interview with Miss Ortakales, in answer to a question about her favorite childhood picture books,
My favorite book was Grimm’s Fairy Tales. There weren’t picture books the way we know them now when I was a kid. There were books with pictures in them, but the first picture books that I remember were Little Golden Books. I love Grimm’s Fairy Tales a lot. I grew up on them, I believed them. My rules for life were in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I believed in that kind of good and evil, and that magic could happen. That you could walk along and find a magic stone. I believed that for a long time. And I don’t know, maybe I still kind of believe it only it just hasn’t happened yet.
Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor at Columbia University and recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics, in yesterday’s Nation:
A Better Bailout
… The administration attempts to assure us that they will protect the American people by insisting on buying the mortgages at the lowest price at auction. Evidently, Paulson didn’t learn the lessons of the information asymmetry that played such a large role in getting us into this mess. The banks will pass on their lousiest mortgages. Paulson may try to assure us that we will hire the best and brightest of Wall Street to make sure that this doesn’t happen. (Wall Street firms are already licking their lips at the prospect of a new source of revenues: fees from the US Treasury.) But even Wall Street’s best and brightest do not exactly have a credible record in asset valuation; if they had done better, we wouldn’t be where we are. And that assumes that they are really working for the American people, not their long-term employers in financial markets. Even if they do use some fancy mathematical model to value different mortgages, those in Wall Street have long made money by gaming against these models. We will then wind up not with the absolutely lousiest mortgages, but with those in which Treasury’s models most underpriced risk. Either way, we the taxpayers lose, and Wall Street gains.And for what? In the S&L bailout, taxpayers were already on the hook, with their deposit guarantee. Part of the question then was how to minimize taxpayers’ exposure. But not so this time. The objective of the bailout should not be to protect the banks’ shareholders, or even their creditors, who facilitated this bad lending. The objective should be to maintain the flow of credit, especially to mortgages. But wasn’t that what the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac bailout was supposed to assure us?
There are four fundamental problems with our financial system, and the Paulson proposal addresses only one. The first is that the financial institutions have all these toxic products–which they created–and since no one trusts anyone about their value, no one is willing to lend to anyone else. The Paulson approach solves this by passing the risk to us, the taxpayer–and for no return. The second problem is that there is a big and increasing hole in bank balance sheets–banks lent money to people beyond their ability to repay–and no financial alchemy will fix that. If, as Paulson claims, banks get paid fairly for their lousy mortgages and the complex products in which they are embedded, the hole in their balance sheet will remain. What is needed is a transparent equity injection, not the non-transparent ruse that the administration is proposing.
The third problem is that our economy has been supercharged by a housing bubble which has now burst. The best experts believe that prices still have a way to fall before the return to normal, and that means there will be more foreclosures. No amount of talking up the market is going to change that. The hidden agenda here may be taking large amounts of real estate off the market–and letting it deteriorate at taxpayers’ expense.
The fourth problem is a lack of trust, a credibility gap. Regrettably, the way the entire financial crisis has been handled has only made that gap larger.
Paulson and others in Wall Street are claiming that the bailout is necessary and that we are in deep trouble. Not long ago, they were telling us that we had turned a corner. The administration even turned down an effective stimulus package last February–one that would have included increased unemployment benefits and aid to states and localities–and they still say we don’t need another stimulus. To be frank, the administration has a credibility and trust gap as big as that of Wall Street. If the crisis was as severe as they claim, why didn’t they propose a more credible plan? With lack of oversight and transparency the cause of the current problem, how could they make a proposal so short in both? If a quick consensus is required, why not include provisions to stop the source of bleeding, to aid the millions of Americans that are losing their homes? Why not spend as much on them as on Wall Street? Do they still believe in trickle-down economics, when for the past eight years money has been trickling up to the wizards of Wall Street? Why not enact bankruptcy reform, to help Americans write down the value of the mortgage on their overvalued home? No one benefits from these costly foreclosures.
The administration is once again holding a gun at our head, saying, “My way or the highway.” We have been bamboozled before by this tactic. We should not let it happen to us again. There are alternatives. Warren Buffet showed the way, in providing equity to Goldman Sachs. The Scandinavian countries showed the way, almost two decades ago. By issuing preferred shares with warrants (options), one reduces the public’s downside risk and insures that they participate in some of the upside potential. This approach is not only proven, it provides both incentives and wherewithal to resume lending. It furthermore avoids the hopeless task of trying to value millions of complex mortgages and even more complex products in which they are embedded, and it deals with the “lemons” problem–the government getting stuck with the worst or most overpriced assets.
Finally, we need to impose a special financial sector tax to pay for the bailouts conducted so far. We also need to create a reserve fund so that poor taxpayers won’t have to be called upon again to finance Wall Street’s foolishness.
If we design the right bailout, it won’t lead to an increase in our long-term debt–we might even make a profit. But if we implement the wrong strategy, there is a serious risk that our national debt–already overburdened from a failed war and eight years of fiscal profligacy–will soar, and future living standards will be compromised. The president seemed to think that his new shell game will arrest the decline in house prices, and we won’t be faced holding a lot of bad mortgages. I hope he’s right, but I wouldn’t count on it: it’s not what most housing experts say. The president’s economic credentials are hardly stellar. Our national debt has already climbed from $5.7 trillion to over $9 trillion in eight years, and the deficits for 2008 and 2009–not including the bailouts–are expected to reach new heights. There is no such thing as a free war–and no such thing as a free bailout. The bill will be paid, in one way or another.
Perhaps by the time this article is published, the administration and Congress will have reached an agreement. No politician wants to be accused of being responsible for the next Great Depression by blocking key legislation. By all accounts, the compromise will be far better than the bill originally proposed by Paulson but still far short of what I have outlined should be done. No one expects them to address the underlying causes of the problem: the spirit of excessive deregulation that the Bush Administration so promoted. Almost surely, there will be plenty of work to be done by the next president and the next Congress. It would be better if we got it right the first time, but that is expecting too much of this president and his administration.
From Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman:
One Hour to Madness and Joy
One hour to madness and joy! O furious! O confine me not!
(What is this that frees me so in storms?
What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?)
O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man!
O savage and tender achings! (I bequeath them to you my
I tell them to you, for reasons, O bridegroom and bride.)
O to be yielded to you whoever you are, and you to be yielded to
me in defiance of the world!
O to return to Paradise! O bashful and feminine!
O to draw you to me, to plant on you for the first time the lips of
a determin’d man.
O the puzzle, the thrice-tied knot, the deep and dark pool, all
untied and illumin’d!
O to speed where there is space enough and air enough at last!
To be absolv’d from previous ties and conventions, I from mine
and you from yours!
To find a new unthought-of nonchalance with the best of Nature!
To have the gag remov’d from one’s mouth!
To have the feeling to-day or any day I am sufficient as I am.
O something unprov’d! something in a trance!
To escape utterly from others’ anchors and holds!
To drive free! to love free! to dash reckless and dangerous!
To court destruction with taunts, with invitations!
To ascend, to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me!
To rise thither with my inebriate soul!
To be lost if it must be so!
To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fulness and freedom!
With one brief hour of madness and joy.
* * *
When Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855, many critics and readers found the work obscene. Booksellers refused to carry the volume; Yale President Noah Porter called it the literary equivalent of “walking naked through the streets”; “a British reviewer urged anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in possession of a copy to ‘throw it immediately behind the fire’”; in 1865, Whitman was fired from his position as a clerk at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, by the Secretary of the Interior himself, who objected to the immoral character of the book. And then there was of course the “banned in Boston” business. As Ed Folsom and Jerome Loving wrote last year in The Virginia Quarterly Review about Mark Twain’s newly discovered “The Walt Whitman Controversy”,
The publication of significant previously unpublished work by one of America’s best-known authors is always a major literary event, but when it is an unpublished piece by Mark Twain about another of America’s legendary writers, Walt Whitman, it is cause for a double celebration. …
Whether or not it’s true that he never read more than forty lines of Whitman, by the early 1880s Clemens had clearly become familiar with a small handful of lines in Leaves of Grass, the lines that had been singled out by Boston District Attorney Oliver Stevens as obscene after Leaves had been issued by the well-known Boston publisher, James R. Osgood & Co., in 1881. The New England Society for the Suppression of Vice (affiliated with the infamous anti-obscenity campaigner Anthony Comstock) had complained to the Massachusetts Attorney-General about the availability of Leaves after its Boston sales had gotten off to a good start. On March 1, 1882, Stevens wrote to Osgood and advised the publisher that Leaves of Grass fell “within the provisions of the Public Statutes respecting obscene literature” and advised Osgood to “withdraw” and “suppress” the book. Osgood asked Whitman to prepare a new edition “lacking the obnoxious features,” and he sent the poet the list of passages that the District Attorney had demanded be “expunged” from Leaves. Whitman agreed to a few small changes, but Osgood said “the official mind” would not be satisfied with these and demanded that Whitman agree to the excision of entire poems. When Whitman refused, Osgood ceased publication of the book and wrote to the poet: “as your views seem to be irreconcilable with those of the official authorities there seems no alternative for us but to decline to further circulate the book.” In May, Whitman received from Osgood a payment of $100 and all “the plates, sheets, dies, &c. of ‘Leaves of Grass.’” Meanwhile, the banning became major news, all the more so when a liberal minister quoted one of the banned poems, “To a Common Prostitute,” in a sermon, then had the sermon printed as a supplement to a journal and tested the ban by asking the postmaster whether the material could be mailed to friends and supporters. The controversy raged for the next two years, until Comstock himself lost a case against the radical free-love reformer, Ezra Heywood, who had published two of the banned poems in a journal.
Twain was intrigued by the controversy, in part because Whitman’s banned book was issued by the same house that had published Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper in 1881 and that would issue his Life on the Mississippi in 1883. The fact that this “banned in Boston” scandal had struck his own publisher would have made Clemens particularly interested in just what had been found “obscene” in Whitman’s work, because playing on the edges of obscenity had been something Twain himself had been doing in the years just before the Osgood publication of Leaves in 1881.
Read the rest of the fascinating story here.
An interview with Ed Folsom about “The Obscenity Defense”, from NPR’s “On the Media”
Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education.
Alfred Whitney Griswold, president of Yale University, from “A Little Learning,” The Atlantic Monthly, 1952
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Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio’s Decameron, Defoe’s Moll Flanders, and various editions of The Arabian Nights were all banned for decades from the U.S. mails under the Comstock Law of 1873. Officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, this law banned the mailing of “lewd”, “indecent”, “filthy”, or “obscene” materials. The Comstock laws, while now unenforced, remain for the most part on the books today; the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 even specifically applied some of them to computer networks. The anti-war Lysistrata was banned again in 1967 in Greece, which was then controlled by a military junta.
The Comstock law also forbade distribution of birth control information. In 1915, Margaret Sanger’ husband was jailed for distributing her Family Limitation, which described and advocated various methods of contraception. Sanger herself had fled the country to avoid prosecution, but would return in 1916 to start the American Birth Control League, which eventually merged with other groups to form Planned Parenthood.
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman’s famous collection of poetry, was withdrawn in Boston in 1881, after the District Attorney threatened criminal prosecution for the use of explicit language in some poems. The work was later published in Philadelphia.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s autobiography Confessions was banned by U.S. Customs in 1929 as injurious to public morality. His philosophical works were also banned in the USSR in 1935, and some were placed on the Catholic Church’s Index of Prohibited Books in the 18th century. (The Index was a primarily a matter of church law, but in some areas before the mid-19th century, it also had the force of secular law. A summary of the contents of the last edition, published in 1949, is available from the Internet Archive. The Index was finally abolished in 1966.)
Thomas Paine, best known for his writings supporting American independence, was indicted for treason in England in 1792 for his work The Rights of Man, defending the French Revolution. More than one English publisher was also prosecuted for printing The Age of Reason, where Paine argues for Deism and against Christianity and Atheism.
Blaise Pascal’s The Provincial Letters, a defense of the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, was ordered shredded and burned by King Louis XIV of France in 1660. France also banned Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered in the 16th century for containing ideas subversive to the authority of kings.
Jack London’s writing was censored in several European dictatorships in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1929, Italy banned all cheap editions of his Call of the Wild, and that same year Yugoslavia banned all his works as being “too radical”. The Nazis also burned some of his socialist-friendly books like The Iron Heel along with the works of many other authors. …
Unfit for Schools and Minors?
The Savannah Morning News reported in November 1999 that a teacher at the Windsor Forest High School required seniors to obtain permission slips before they could read Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. The teacher’s school board had pulled the books from class reading lists, citing “adult language” and references to sex and violence. Many students and parents protested the school’s board’s policy, which also included the outright banning of three other books. Shakespeare is no stranger to censorship: the Associated Press reported in March 1996 that Merrimack, NH schools had pulled Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night from the curriculum after the school board passed a “prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction” act. (Twelfth Night includes a number of romantic entanglements including a young woman who disguises herself as a boy.) Readers from Merrimack informed me in 1999 that school board members who had passed the act had been voted out, after the uproar resulting from the act’s passage, and that the play is now used again in Merrimack classrooms. Govind has a page with more information about the censorship of Shakespeare through history.
John T. Scopes was convicted in 1925 of teaching evolutionary theory (best known at the time via Darwin’s Origin of Species) in his high school class. (For more about this famous trial, including excerpts from the Civic Biology textbook Scopes actually used in class, see this site by Doug Linder.) The Tennessee law prohibiting teaching evolution theory, more specifically that “man has descended from a lower order of animals”, was finally repealed in 1967, but further laws intended to stifle the teaching of evolution in science classes have been proposed in the Tennesee legislature as recently as 1996.
An illustrated edition of “Little Red Riding Hood” was banned in two California school districts in 1989. Following the Little Red-Cap story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the book shows the heroine taking food and wine to her grandmother. The school districts cited concerns about the use of alcohol in the story.
Read the entire page, and see all the links, here.
The Online Books Page website was founded and is edited by John Mark Ockerbloom, a digital library planner and researcher at UPenn. Many thanks to Mr. Ockerbloom for such a wealth of information and vital public service.
And just for fun, some original Atlantic reviews of literary classics that have been banned:
THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER, by Mark Twain, 1876
LEAVES OF GRASS, by Walt Whitman, 1882
THE SCARLET LETTER, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1886
ULYSSES, FINNEGAN’S WAKE, and A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, by James Joyce, 1946
RAINTREE COUNTY, by Ross Lockridge, 1948
LOLITA, by Vladimir Nabokov, 1958
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, by Harper Lee, 1960
I’ve also been looking for an excuse to mention these, too, from the Art Meets Matter website: “With kind permission of Penguin Books Ltd Art Meets Matter designer Tony Davis has created a unique collection of Penguin porcelain mugs and espresso cups. Based on the classic book series designed by Edward Young in 1935 each design takes one title as its theme. Each design features variants on the evolving Penguin logo and the colours of the book jackets.” Art Meets Matter also has a charming Swallows & Amazon range. And just luckily blue and yellow happen to go with my kitchen. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any North American stockists so will have to amuse myself with a virtual cup of coffee until I can talk Tom into a trip. From which it would probably be best if we could return by ship.
This weekend we’re going to wean our calves, which means shriveled udders shortly, and make cider this weekend from all of the apples we’ve picked, which means things will certainly be flecked with pomace. So I thought a bit of Frost was in order today.
The Cow in Apple Time
by Robert Frost (1874–1963)
Something inspires the only cow of late
To make no more of a wall than an open gate,
And think no more of wall-builders than fools.
Her face is flecked with pomace and she drools
A cider syrup. Having tasted fruit,
She scores a pasture withering to the root.
She runs from tree to tree where lie and sweeten
The windfalls spiked with stubble and worm-eaten.
She leaves them bitten when she has to fly.
She bellows on a knoll against the sky.
Her udder shrivels and the milk goes dry.
Absence of Leadership
It took President Bush until Wednesday night to address the American people about the nation’s financial crisis, and pretty much all he had to offer was fear itself.
There was no acknowledgment of the shocking failure of government regulation, or that the country cannot afford more tax cuts for the very wealthy and budget-busting wars, or that spending at least $700 billion of taxpayers’ money to bail out Wall Street and the banks should be done carefully, transparently and with oversight by Congress and the courts.
We understand why he may have been reluctant to address the nation, since his contempt for regulation is a significant cause of the current mess. But he could have offered a great deal more than an eerily dispassionate primer on the credit markets in which he took no responsibility at all for the financial debacle.
He promised to protect taxpayers with his proposed bailout, but he did not explain how he would do that other than a superficial assurance that in sweeping up troubled assets, government would buy low and sell high. And he warned that “our entire economy is in danger” unless Congress passes his bailout plan immediately.
In the end, Mr. Bush’s appearance was just another reminder of something that has been worrying us throughout this crisis: the absence of any real national leadership, including on the campaign trail.
Given Mr. Bush’s shockingly weak performance, the only ones who could provide that are the two men battling to succeed him. So far, neither John McCain nor Barack Obama is offering that leadership.
What makes it especially frustrating is that this crisis should provide each man a chance to explain his economic policies and offer a concrete solution to the current crisis.
Mr. McCain is doing distinctly worse than Mr. Obama. First, he claimed that the economy was strong, ignoring the deep distress of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have already lost their homes. Then he called for a 9/11-style commission to study the causes of the crisis, as if there were a mystery to be solved. Over the last few days he has become a born-again populist, a stance entirely at odds with the career, as he often says, started as “a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution.”
After daily pivoting, Mr. McCain now says that the bailout being debated in Congress has to protect taxpayers, that all the money has to be spent in public and that a bipartisan board should “provide oversight.” But he offered not the slightest clue about how he would ensure that taxpayers would ever “recover” the bailout money.
Mr. McCain proposed capping executives’ pay at firms that get bailout money, a nicely punitive idea but one that does nothing to mitigate the crisis. And that is about as far as his new populism went.
What is most important is that Mr. McCain hasn’t said a word about strengthening regulation or budged one inch from his insistence on maintaining Mr. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. That trickle-down notion has done nothing to improve the lives of most Americans and, even without a $700 billion bailout, saddled generations to come with crippling deficits.
Mr. Obama has been clearer on the magnitude and causes of the financial crisis. He has long called for robust regulation of the financial industry, and he said early on that a bailout must protect taxpayers. Mr. Obama also recognizes that the wealthy must pay more taxes or this country will never dig out of its deep financial hole. But as he does too often, Mr. Obama walked up to the edge of offering full prescriptions and stopped there.
We don’t know if Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama will do any good back in Washington. But Mr. McCain’s idea of postponing the Friday night debate was another wild gesture from a candidate entirely too prone to them. The nation needs to hear Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain debate this crisis and demonstrate who is ready to lead.
from today’s New York Times editorial (the above link is mine, not the Times‘)
Also worth reading: Timothy Egan’s NYT blog post yesterday, “Crash”, with references to Mad Magazine, Herbert Hoover, and road-kill rabbits and Carter Doughtery’s article, “Stopping a Financial Crisis, the Swedish Way”, about how the country “extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders”, not from taxpayers.
I have emailed and telephoned my Representative and my Senators to let them (Rangel, Schumer, Clinton) know I would like them to vote NO on any and all bailout schemes, and that I am exceedingly disappointed with the rush and the whiplash-inducing leap from asleep at the switch to socialized capitalism, for my sake and that of my three dual-citizen children and future voters.
I was reading the new October issue of the prairie edition of Gardens West magazine last night and noticed just inside the front cover a publisher’s ad for a new book, Food Security for the Faint of Heart: Keeping Your Larder Full in Lean Times by Robin Wheeler (New Society Publishers, September 2008; the book is listed as $16.95 in both Canada and the US). Certainly beats selling apples on street corners — grow your own instead! — and tucking your savings in the mattress, doesn’t it?
According to the New Society website, Ms. Wheeler is “a permaculture activist, author, teacher and founder of the Sustainable Living Arts School. She teaches traditional skills, sustenance gardening and medicinals at Edible Landscapes, a nursery and teaching garden in Roberts Creek, British Columbia.”
And from New Society’s blog post about the book, written long, long ago (alright, August) before billion-dollar bailouts, trillion-dollar debts, and Great Depression threats were common conversation (notice reason #3 — the big tippy bag has indeed fallen over) though in the midst of the Canadian listeria crisis,
Robin’s Top 10 reasons to get food secure:
1. Stuff happens. Earthquakes, trucker strikes, who knows; in an instant, our world could change. We should be better prepared.
2. It can be difficult for low-income families to afford high quality food. Fortunately, it costs little to grow nutritious food so having a safe food source nearby (like your own back yard) is a great equalizer.
3. The World Economy. What’s that all about? Beats them, too! But it’s a big, tippy bag of wrestling cats and we hope it doesn’t fall over.
4. Fossil Fuels. Getting darned expensive, eh? That would explain the high cost of lettuce in January, and of imported olives.
5. Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) and pesticide use. Although some say the jury is still out, my vote is in and that is for wholesome food grown without mucking about with anything made in a lab — something we can reproduce in our own back yards, for instance.
6. Your money stays local. If your community is strong, you are better off and much safer. Support your local farmers so that they can keep you fed and healthy.
7. You get enmeshed in your community. Meet local gardeners and farmers, visit the local organic co-op, go to a canning or earthquake preparedness workshop. Enlarge your circle of connected people.
8. You do not have to be a drain in times of stress. In an emergency, the elderly and injured will need all the help they can get. If you can look after yourself, you will not needlessly drain a system that may not have much left to give.
9. Personal resilience. Well-prepared people have an edge when handling and recovering from emergencies and trauma. That can’t hurt.
10. Being a new community asset. In times of stress, we will need many well-informed, experienced people to spread throughout the community. You may be one of them!
The only review I’ve been able to find is this one, “Farmer-Hunter-Gatherer”, from Sharon Astyk, author of Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front (also published by New Society, also out September 2008). Here’s a snippet from her review,
…this is a terrific book, warmly written, funny and smart. Not only do I now want to read her gardening book, but I immediately found myself fantasizing about hanging out with the author and trading recipes and graden [sic] tricks. That doesn’t happen so terribly often — I’m impressed. I really recommend the book, and I’ll put it in the food storage section of my store once it is out.
I see that Food Security for the Faint of Heart is listed in our library system, but only for one library, it’s “on order” with no date available, and one clever patron is already ahead of me with a holds request. And Depletion and Abundance not even listed. Drat.
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In a similar vein, several Farm School blog posts about some favorite recent titles, Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life and Mildred Armstrong Kalish’s Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression (this one is worth reading or re-reading if the politics of fear is getting to you right about now, and it occurs to me to wonder if anyone has bothered to ask Mrs. Kalish her opinion about current events):
All roads lead to home and hard work (August 18, 2007)
More from Millie Kalish (July 9, 2007)
Food, Family, Fellowship: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (July 5, 2007)
Gosh all hemlock! (July 2, 2007)
More food for thought: connections and disconnections (June 29, 2007)
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to can some pears…
I’ve been so distracted by elections north and south and the Great Depression looming that I’ve neglected the arrival for the third year of the wonderful Cybils kidlitosphere book awards. On October 1, next Wednesday, nominations open for the 2008 Cybil Awards, so start thinking of your favorite new books of the year.
The Cybils have a nifty new logo this year
(that’s a book attached to a mouse, though I must still have gardening on the brain because I keep thinking it looks like a trowel…) and also at least one new category, Easy Readers.
Since I now have a sixth grader, fourth grader, and third grader to teach at home; I’ve taken on some extra volunteer responsibilities with the local music festival; the kids will all start junior curling which means another evening out of the house; and I’ll have two kids in two 4H clubs this year, up from one kid in two clubs, I’m looking forward to sitting out this Cybils season, discovering new-to-me 2008 titles from others’ nominations, and reading all the wonderful reviews in the kidlitosphere blogs. Let the fun begin!
with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz* (scroll down for all of the offerings)
* the author, with Linda J. Bilmes, of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict
It seems less that they want to postpone the Presidential debate than that they want to delay the Vice Presidential debate.
If one of my kids came up with this scheme, I’d ask, Are you focusing on the problem at hand or just stalling for time?
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Gimme a drinka water
I wanna drinka water
No, now, not later, now!
Mommy, what are you doing?
I wanna tell you something
First come in then I’ll tell you
It’s a secret
It’s about Willy and the teacher
And he called her a stupid dope!
Mommy, do you hear me?
Gimme a drinka water
Mommy, turn the light on
I can’t see
The chair’s moving
There’s a funny animal on the wall
Are you coming Ma?
There’s an airplane and it’s flying all around
It’s flying in my head
Gimme a drinka water
Seymour’s mother always gives him a drinka water
He told me
And sometimes his mother lets him get it himself
And that crazy Barbara in school today
She scratched me
It hurts too
You want to see it, ma?
I need to bandage it up
Mommy, oh, Mommy tell me a story
The one about the king who lived in the woods
And he killed the wicked dragon with his magic sword
That’s the one, tell me that one
Tell me that one Mommy, tell me
I’m gonna tell Daddy you’re not a good Mommy
You never listen to me
You bad, naughty Mommy
Mommy, gimme a drinka water
Gimme a cookie too
Turn the light on
Tell me story
The one about the you know Mommy
Tell me a drinka water
Danny Kaye, “Mommy, Gimme A Drinka Water!” (and on the flip side, “On a Clear Day You Can See Kamchatka”)
“It has always struck me as being particularly sad that the arts have rarely occupied a central position in our political discourse. Canada is the arts. If I am sitting with a guy and he says ‘Tell me about Canada’, I am probably not going to say, we are cooking up a fabulous trade arrangement with Columbia. I am probably going to say my country is Margaret Atwood, and Atom Egoyan, and Jeff Wall and Karen Kain. That’s our country.”
Canadian actor and director Paul Gross earlier this month on the Conservative government’s cuts in arts funding
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In Canadian election news today, NDP leader Jack Layton said today that if elected his party would cancel the Conservative’s recent $45 million cut to arts funding: “One of the key things we must do, before we start giving $50-billion tax giveaways to banks and oil companies, is to protect and promote the arts.”
Not to be bested, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion announced that his party would also cancel the cuts and pledged to double the funding for the Canada Council for the Arts, to $360 million. Said Dion, “There is no strong economy without a strong artistic and cultural industry.”
Meanwhile, also today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed the cuts in arts funding as “a niche issue for some”; admittedly, the subject seems to be important to Quebecers than to Canadians in other provinces. Speaking to reporters, the PM said, “You know, I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala, all subsidized by the taxpayers [ahem], claiming their subsidies aren’t high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people.”
Meanwhile, across the pond…
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