You Can’t Read That! is a periodic post featuring banned book reviews and news roundups.
Kansas City MO library parking garage (note all the banned titles!)
From a long editorial titled The Erosion of Free Speech on a conservative think tank’s website, I learn that more than 300 students and professors at Valdosta State University in Georgia signed a petition demanding the withdrawal of the American Library Association’s 2015 Banned Books Week poster. They claim it’s Islamophobic.
A significant number of Americans, many of them in academe, reacted to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack in Paris and the more recent attempted attack on a “draw Muhammed” event in Texas by condemning anti-Islamic speech as “hate speech.” Some are even calling for laws banning such speech.
PEN International, an organization that tries to defend authors from threats of imprisonment, torture, and other restrictions on their freedom to write, has announced it will grant its 2015 Freedom of Expression Award to Charlie Hebdo. Six prominent PEN members have protested the award. Not that many years ago, some Western writers and publishers went along with the Iranian fatwa against author Salman Rushdie, supporting the suppression of his satiric novel The Satanic Verses.
No one wants to sleep with bedfellows like Pamela Geller, but if anti-Islamic speech is banned, what else might be? Anything that might upset anyone?
Here’s something I wrote two weeks ago that wasn’t, but in hindsight should have been, part of a YCRT! column:
From the Columbia Daily Spectator:
“During the week spent on Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses,’ the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
“Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ is a fixture of Lit Hum [Literature Humanities], but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”
The article, written by members of Columbia University’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, proposes educating professors and graduate teaching assistants about “potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students.”
As an older person educated in the literature of the Western canon, back in the day when we didn’t shy away from learning about mankind’s dismal history of rape, slavery, and genocide, I’m starting to feel a bit like the Jeff Bridges character in The Giver, the old man responsible for knowing the dirty and upsetting secrets that must be hidden from the population at large.
Oh, I know it’s a silly thought. Right now there are millions of real-life Givers; pretty much anyone with a decent education and an AARP card. But the way things are going on today’s college and university campuses, never mind the emerging practice of purging library shelves of older books with racial superiority themes, once we die off who will become the Givers? Who will preserve the memories no one wants to acknowledge? Who will write or speak the things no one wants to hear?
YCRT News Roundup
Hmm … who could have guessed the first item in this news roundup would be about University of Minnesota administrators telling professors to take down posters for an academic panel on the Charlie Hebdo attack and the censorship of anti-Islamic speech? The poster features a famous Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoon, semi-covered with a red “censored” stamp.
The second item too, it seems: the New York Theatre Workshop asked a playwright to withdraw a one-act play from a ensemble production of one-act plays protesting censorship. That sentence really needs an exclamation point, doesn’t it? The other plays are okay, but this play is about an actor with a censorship dilemma … whether to take a role playing Muhammad.
People keep telling me to calm down, insisting Kansas’ proposed law banning exposing children to “harmful material” in public, parochial, and private K-12 schools will not be used to prosecute teachers. How can they be so naive? Of course it will, if GOP legislators have their way.
In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, busy parents counted more than 100 “profanities” (such as “bastard” and “God damn”) in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and challenged its inclusion on a local high school reading list.
Like-minded parents in Asheville, North Carolina challenged the teaching of The Kite Runner in a high school AP English class. The novel has been replaced with All Quiet on the Western Front until a school board committee rules on the challenge.
Oh. My. God. The 1965 classic, Perversion for Profit (NSFW):
YCRT Banned Book Review
Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History
I’m still a newbie when it comes to graphic novels and memoirs. I’ll confess that I looked down on them in the past, equating them with comic books, which I consider a lesser form of literature. But I’m trying, and I must say I thought Maus was powerful, perhaps even more powerful than if it had been written as a traditional memoir.
The outline should be familiar to everyone by now: Art Spiegelman, who has a touchy relationship with his father, coaxes him into telling the story of his life in Poland after the Nazi invasion, right up to the point where he and Spiegelman’s mother are captured and shipped off to Auschwitz. Sequels to this first volume follow the family’s experiences in the camps, but I have not yet read those.
Famously, Spiegelman depicts Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and Poles as pigs. The technique seems simplistic, but it is effective.
I knew very little of the lives of Polish Jews before they were rounded up and sent to the camps. The inexorable process whereby the Nazis, aided by sympathetic and anti-Semitic Poles, first imposed travel and commerce restrictions on the Jews, then took over their businesses, then moved them into ghettos, then began to starve them, then began to round up those over 70 years of age, etc, is as horrifying as anything I’ve read in more traditional accounts of the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s families of mice, struggling to get along and feed their families while trying to believe the latest outrage will be the last one, that things can’t possibly get any worse, are far more sympathetic in graphic form than they would be as mere words on paper.
Yes, I will read the sequels. I have come around to seeing the worth of graphic novels and memoirs.
Maus has been the target of would-be censors and book banners. Even though Maus won a Pulitzer and universal praise, some Holocaust survivors objected to the depiction of Jews as mice (or rats, as some claim) as degrading and dehumanizing. Some Polish readers took their representation as pigs as an ethnic slur, especially since pork and pigs are considered unclean in the Jewish faith. Maus was unsuccessfully challenged in Oregon in 2009 as being “too dark” for younger readers and too insulting to various ethnic groups. More recently, in 2012, a Polish-American library patron, upset over the depiction of Poles as pigs, tried to have the book pulled from public libraries in Pasadena, California. And just today I read, via Bookriot, that Maus has been removed from Russian bookstores … not because of mice and pigs, not because it’s “too dark,” but because it has swastikas in it, and swastikas are banned in Russia.
Adult graphic novels make some adults uncomfortable. As simple-minded as it may sound, I think the cause of their unease is the thought that children will be attracted to what look like comic books, then exposed to dark and sexual adult themes and subjects. It doesn’t take much to push those who think this way to the next step, the idea of eliminating these graphic novels from libraries, schools, and even bookstores.
To date I’ve read three graphic novels that have been the subject of challenges and bannings: Fun Home, Persepolis, and now Maus. In all three cases it struck me that without the drawings, none of these books would have been targeted. You can write about a young girl realizing she’s gay, but if you draw a picture of her and another girl in bed together (Fun Home), you’ve crossed the line. You can write about life in Tehran under the Shah and then the Ayatollah, but if you draw a dissident being whipped (Persepolis), you’ve gone too far. You can write about the Holocaust, but if you draw Jews as mice and Poles as pigs (Maus), you’ve dehumanized your subjects and no one should be allowed to read your book.
Here are some source links on attempts to ban Maus:
California coast, 1970
If you read my motorcycle posts you know I’m a biker truther. That’s what they’re calling members of the motorcycling community who are beginning to question police and media accounts of what happened in Waco, Texas last Sunday, when nine bikers were killed by gunfire and another eighteen injured during an alleged shootout between rival gang members.
Word is bubbling up through the biker community that the shootout was more one-sided than initially portrayed by law enforcement and the media; that all nine of the dead bikers and most of those injured by gunfire were shot by the police. The non-motorcycling media … CBS, MSNBC, newspapers, etc … are so far merely parroting what the authorities are telling them, which isn’t much (although, to be fair, the police have now admitted that some of the dead bikers may have been shot by law enforcement officers).
Yes, MC gang members are violent. Rival gang members fight with and occasionally kill one another. Big MC gangs are heavily involved in organized crime, and as far as I know minor-league feeder gangs are criminal enterprises too. I steer well clear of those guys: I don’t want them in my town any more than the good citizens of Waco or Hollister want them in theirs; I hate it that their bad reputation sticks to me and the motorcycling community at large.
I know, too, that what happened in Waco last Sunday is nothing compared to the injustice of continual police killings of unarmed black men and boys all across the nation. No one cares much about the bikers in Waco, who really are a pack of violent assholes: there’s no denying they went at each other with knives, brass knuckles, chains, and guns in a busy restaurant full of innocent customers.
For good or ill, though, I identify with my tribe. Knowing how the police view MC gangs and gang members, I’m inclined to believe the rumors I’m hearing from Waco; I likewise believe the bikers in New York City who say the SUV driver they beat up in November 2013 started the fight by swerving into their lane, colliding with one biker and causing him to crash, then speeding away. When bikers tell me about the outrageous things cagers do to them, I believe them. When bikers tell me police in Waco are cracking down by imposing martial law on motorcyclists, even forcing the local Harley-Davidson dealership to keep its doors closed, I believe them.
I’m a biker truther. And I wish the media would do their job and start asking questions.
I know everyone wants a Schatzi update, so here she is, our little football:
I’m taking her in later this morning to have her stitches removed. How’s she doing? She’s her old self again, although still a bit wobbly on her back legs. I’ll ask the vet about that, praying the answer will be “This is normal, it takes them awhile to fully recover.”
Meanwhile, we’ve set up a ramp to the couch and I’m trying to train the girls to use it all the time. They like using the ramp to get on the couch, but if someone comes to the door they forget it’s there and try to jump to the floor. Schatzi jumped down from the couch last night before I could restrain her, and I nearly had a heart attack. Worse than toddlers, these dogs … you have to watch them every second!
I’ll keep you all posted on Schatzi’s progress.
Our niece Rebecca’s been working toward a master’s degree in social work at Western New Mexico University. She did a semester in residence a couple of years back, then moved back to Seattle to finish her coursework on line. She graduated last Friday and we went with her to Silver City NM to watch her walk across the stage. Congratulations, Rebecca!
Rebecca combined her graduation with a trip to Tucson to see us. She flew in Wednesday from Seattle with her husband Nate. Her father Steve arrived from London that night and also stayed with us. The five of us drove to New Mexico on Thursday. We spent two nights in Silver City and drove back to Tucson Saturday. Steve flew home Sunday; Rebecca and Nate left Monday afternoon (after a detour to the local cineplex to watch Mad Max: Fury Road, and as you can probably guess I watched it with them).
Friday morning, while Rebecca was at rehearsal at WNMU, the rest of us drove to nearby Santa Clara to explore spooky old Fort Bayard, an abandoned Army post that for many years was a VA tuberculosis hospital (my mother spent a year in such a place in the early 1950s). The fort and hospital were shut down many years ago. The old wooden officers’ (later physicians’ & nurses’) quarters were briefly used as HUD housing but are now empty and quickly falling apart, as are the hospital buildings, roads, and other structures. Locals say the place is haunted.
Here are some photos from Rebecca’s graduation weekend, plus another set of photos from Silver City and Fort Bayard. Click on the thumbnails to see the full sized images on Flickr.
Rebecca & Nate
Donna at our Silver City hotel
A rainy ceremony
Rebecca & her dad Steve
Happy uncle, niece, & aunt
Downtown Silver City
Ft Bayard, main hospital
Ft Bayard, old nurses’ quarters
Ft Bayard: officers’/physicians’ quarters
Silver City is a mining town with a 1940s appearance and vibe, similar to Arizona mining towns like Bisbee, Globe, and Superior. It’s in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico, not far from the Arizona border, a three-hour drive from Tucson. We have a few Tucson friends who own vacation property in the hills outside Silver City, so I don’t think including it in the “local color” category is much of a stretch. I’ll visit southwestern New Mexico again … I like the hills and mountains and am already planning a return trip, this time on the motorcycle.
This is a follow-up to a previous post, Historical Thingness, where I posted an old photo of The Thing in its original Route 66 location near Barstow, California. Today The Thing (pictured at left) resides near the southern Arizona town of Dragoon, just off Interstate 10 at Exit 322.
The Thing is an old-timey roadside attraction, ballyhooed in eerie-looking script on screaming yellow and blue freeway billboards for a hundred miles in either direction. I use photos of those billboards for the header image of this blog, and the “Thing” in “Paul’s Thing” was inspired by it. My About Paul’s Thing page is a short photoessay about The Thing.
For someone who’s so into The Thing, you’d think I would have paid the price of admission and checked it out before now, but no … although I’ve passed Exit 322 a hundred times, and actually pulled in for gas a few times, I’ve never been inside to see it. That changed today, when Donna and I stopped on our way back from our niece’s graduation ceremony at Western New Mexico University in Silver City.
What you see from the freeway is a typical tourist stop with gas, souvenirs, and a Dairy Queen. Inside, against the back wall, is the door to The Thing. Admission is a dollar. When you go through the door you find yourself outdoors, following giant yellow footprints that take you to three shed-like buildings. Here’s Donna on the trail of The Thing.
The footprints imply a creature of some size
The first shed features old cars. I liked Hitler’s Rolls-Royce.
You’d think they could have found an old Mercedes
Also, too, a Very Special Exhibit depicting ancient methods of torture, the only one of its kind in the world.
Needs more blood, and maybe a soundtrack with screams
The second shed is filled with grotesque creatures carved from tree trunks, gnarled branches, and driftwood.
Donna with the grotesqueries
The third shed houses The Thing.
At last, I behold The Thing
But what is it?
Whatever it is, it didn’t make those footprints
All right, a bit of a letdown, not much of a wonder, but what do you expect from a roadside attraction? I was happy. It was worth the dollar. I even went back to the store and bought a coffee cup.
A desktop reminder, in case I ever forget the name of my blog
Following up on yesterday’s post: the vet said Schatzi was back on her feet and ready to go home, so I picked her up from the animal hospital. She walked from the hospital door to the car, but she’s still wobbly on her hind legs and had to sit down a couple of times. When I got her home, Maxie the auxiliary dog came running to welcome her back and has been solicitous of her ever since … she knows her friend’s been through the wringer. Of course the condition of Schatzi’s post-operative back is a dead giveaway:
The poor girl may as well have been stepped on by a horse, and she’s suffering. She moans and groans and cries, but we have faith she’ll recover. The vet has done hundreds of these operations. We’ve been carrying Schatzi to the back yard to do her business, but otherwise keeping her close by and letting her rest, as she’s doing now next to me on her computer desk pillow.
Actually, we shouldn’t be carrying her at all. She needs to work those back legs. We’ll just have to harden our hearts. That won’t be easy for us, or for Schatzi.
The smaller dressing on her back covers a pain medication patch. The medication (or maybe her body’s natural reaction to invasive surgery) makes her bloated; we’re giving her anti-inflammatory pills twice a day to counteract that. The pain patch comes off tomorrow. She’ll keep taking the anti-inflammatories until they’re gone, and two weeks from now go back to have the sutures removed.
Meanwhile, we watch over her and hold her and let her know we love her.
This past weekend, long-time investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (the reporter who in 1969 exposed the My Lai massacre) published a long, fascinating article in the London Review of Books. Its subject is the killing of Osama bin Laden, and it undermines most of the official story (except for the most important part … the part where we found and killed bin Laden).
Backlash to Hersh’s story has been immediate and ongoing, most of it based on his apparent reliance on a single informant who cannot be named, some based on the fact that Hersh published his article in the LRB rather than The New Yorker, for whom he normally writes. Some say he’s fallen for a conspiracy story.
I’m not joining the backlash chorus, at least for now. One, Hersh has consistently gotten the goods over the years, and unless he’s suddenly gone soft in the head (as some hint), there’s no reason to think he’s suddenly writing unfounded trash. Two, others have previously reported some of what Hersh says about the bin Laden killing. Three, The New Yorker famously fact checks everything it publishes, which would explain why this article came out in another publication … anonymous source stories are by definition not fact-checkable. Four, the official story has always been full of holes (especially the bit about the burial at sea). Best to wait and see what comes out in the wash.
No matter what, though, Osama’s dead and Obama got him. That’s the important part, and the haters will just have to keep sucking that bitter lollypop.
Donna and I will be in Silver City, New Mexico, from Wednesday through Saturday. Our niece Rebecca graduates from Western New Mexico University on Friday with a master’s degree in social work. Polly is driving in from Ajo today to house- and pet-sit while we’re away, and I know she’ll be all over Schatzi. Donna’s sister Georgianna is flying in from Detroit for a few weeks … she gets in Friday and will keep Polly and the critters company until we’re back from New Mexico.
After Rebecca’s graduation there’ll be no more traveling for me until late August, when we’re doing an old-fashioned car trip to northern California, Oregon, and Nevada (cue theme from National Lampoon’s Vacation). Donna, I think, has a sewing convention and trade show in southern California in July, but I’ll be home. Saving money. Donna, if I haven’t mentioned it before, retires for good in another week or two. She’ll be home full time, trying to make more of a go of her embroidery business.
Imagine that, the two of us home together. Every. Goddamn. Day. Now there’s a lollypop for you.
Just kidding, of course. I can’t wait!
What, you don’t believe me?
Well, I just learned there’s nothing wrong with Schatzi’s farter. I’ll take that as a hint, wrap this up, and take her out back. Please keep our little doggie in your thoughts, okay?
On Saturday morning I went for a bicycle ride with friends. When I came home the dogs were fine and up to their usual mischief. I sat down at the computer to do some work, both of them on the floor at my feet. At some point they scampered off. When I came out of the office an hour or so later, I found Schatzi half in and half out the doggie door to the back yard, facing into the house, as if she couldn’t decide whether to come in or stay outside. After a few seconds she dragged herself through the door and into the kitchen, using just her front legs. I was shocked to see that one of her back legs was dragging uselessly behind her. I gently picked her up and checked for injuries but couldn’t see any, and she didn’t complain when I probed her bad leg.
I thought maybe her leg had failen asleep, as mine sometimes does when I sit on it wrong. I watched her to see if she’d get better, but she didn’t. She hobbled back to the bedroom on three legs and curled up under the bed. When she emerged an hour later she was only able to pull herself along with her front legs. Neither back leg was working. She was getting worse, not better.
I put some blankets on the floor to make a cushion and made her as comfortable as I could. Donna was away at a sewing workshop when all this happened, but once she came home we both watched Schatzi, who seemed alert and not in pain … but definitely not getting better. We carried her to the back yard a couple of times to see if she could pee, but she either didn’t have to or couldn’t. If only she could have told us what was wrong!
Around dinnertime we called our friend Mary Anne, who, with Donna, once worked at an animal hospital and who knows more than we do about local veterinarians and animal hospitals. She called around to Tucson’s 24/7 animal emergency treatment centers, looking for one where Schatzi could not only get an MRI on a Saturday night but also have it read. We found one on the other side of Tucson, with a doctor on hand and a neuro specialist on call, so we bundled Schatzi up and drove over.
We suspected a spinal injury and the doctor agreed that was the most likely problem. We had to leave Schatzi in their care. Around 11 that night they anesthetized her and put her through the MRI machine, then called us with the diagnosis. She needed surgery and they wanted to do it right away so she didn’t have to be put under twice. We gave the go-ahead. They called again in the wee hours to tell us she’d come out of surgery okay and was in recovery.
That’s where she is now, Monday morning, still in recovery at the animal hospital and under close observation. As of yesterday evening she hadn’t yet started using her back legs and was still unable to pee on her own, but she was alert, scooting around in her cage, and able to poop. The doctor and the techs tell us this is normal, that it takes dogs a couple of days to start to recover from spinal surgery. We’re waiting this morning for another update from the doctor, and I hope to pay Schatzi a visit today. I really hope she’ll get her legs back and can come home tomorrow, but we’ll see. One has to have faith they’re telling it like it is and that one’s beloved pet will recover. One is trying hard. Meanwhile, one is a basket case.
Like most dog owners, we’d thought about what we’d do in the event of an expensive medical emergency. When the time came we didn’t hesitate, not even for a second. How much money do you want to fix my dog? Here’s the credit card. There’s more where that came from.
But not much more … Schatzi’s bill is shockingly high. Realistically, we can’t afford to do this again, so we’re going to have to change some things around the hacienda. When Schatzi was new I tacked leftover carpet to a plank and made a ramp for her to get on and off the sofa (tell me you don’t have a dog sofa!). She refused to use it, preferring to jump. I don’t know how she ruptured a disc on Saturday, but it was probably a bad landing from a jump, the one too many. I fetched the ramp from the garage where we’d been keeping it, and Donna already has Maxie trained to use it. We’ll train Schatzi as soon as she’s home. I also ordered a set of folding pet stairs from Amazon and they should be here in a day or two. We’ll see which they like better, ramps or stairs. But no more jumping … that’s right out!
We love our dog. And who needs a new kitchen anyway?
Update (one hour later): the doctor who operated on Schatzi just called. She’s back on her feet and able to pee, recovered enough that I can bring her home. I’ll have a meeting with the veterinarian at the animal hospital around noon, then bring our girl home. Just time time, too … there’a a ground squirrel in our back yard, strutting around like it owns the place.