Saturday, January 8, 2011

Freshening up

Dusting As the snow falls—looks like about six inches so far, and I'm sure there will be more throughout the night—I did some reading and then took some time to change the look here a bit.

What do you think? Bear in mind that if you tell me you hate it, think it's the ugliest thing you've ever seen, that it induces projectile vomiting in you...I'm not going to change it for a while. I like it. I've always dug the turquoise/black combo. I find it very retro, and I even like it when it comes to clothes. (I also like pink and black.) So I'm sorry if you hate it, but I'm not going to do anything about it. Ha! I do like feedback when I try something different, and I quickly dropped the failed experiment of spacer bars when I tried them a while back. A few people said meh, not really necessary, don't bother. I agreed. And the big change came when I dropped Comic Sans on the advice of Milwaukee Dan #2. I believe he said it looked kind of juvenile. *gasp* Kiss of death! I am eternally grateful, Dan, that you saved me from myself.

It looks to be a quiet weekend at Nutwood, with lots of snow (and lots of reading). The original plan was to go to the ND-St. John's basketball game, but then I found out that the Colts are playing at the same time Saturday evening! Drat! It worked out okay, though. Tickets were swapped for another game, everybody's happy, all is well. Now we'll see if my Colts can win and advance in the playoffs. They're favored by about a touchdown, but it's been a tough season with numerous players injured. They seem to be finding their groove lately, so I'm hoping that will continue in the playoffs.

A few further remarks about my previous entry concerning the censoring of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I can in no way, shape, or form justify the censorship of that novel, which is part of our history. I honestly would rather not see it taught. Let parents who love books teach it to their kids. It is a disgrace and disrespectful to one of our greatest writers to revise his book in such a manner. I find it as bad as Texas trying to minimize Thomas Jefferson's role in our country's beginning in their textbooks. I don't know about anyone else, but I've been having such discussions for most of my life, and continue to have them with friends of all stripes. Sanitizing Huck Finn isn't teaching anything. Removing the vernacular from the context of the novel results in nothing more than a fucking Hardy Boys book. It is so much more than that, and deserves to be read and discussed in its entirety.

Anyone who has read me for a while knows that I am virulently anti-censorship; I find it ridiculous that some of our classic books have been removed from the classroom because of epithets or situations deemed unacceptable by a very vocal group of fundamentalists and misguided fools. I just don't see how gutting these books and then offering them up like pasteurized pablum is helping the situation. I hope this will lead to a greater dialogue about what our schools are allowed to teach.

I have to chuckle, though, because I'm guessing that Mark Twain would observe this brouhaha with disgusted amusement. I also think that he would find a certain evil enjoyment in knowing that over a century later, he's still being talked about and still causing controversy. If there were a literary afterlife, I can imagine Twain and Ambrose Bierce sitting down and hoisting a few while they laugh at our idiotic prudishness.

We really are ridiculous. You know that, don't you? Laugh or be damned. That’s how I feel about it, and I choose to laugh.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What the Huck?

Racism Star Trek Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit, it's back-to-back entries from me! I haven't done that for a while, but the issue is censorship, and I'm on that like mud on a pig. Also racism, and I'm on that like white on rice. (See what I did there?) I'm mixing metaphors, but that's not important now.

You've probably heard about a publisher's decision to censor Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In short, the word 'nigger' will be replaced with 'slave,' and the word 'Injun' will be replaced with 'Indian.' I actually revised myself there...I originally wrote 'edit' rather than 'censor,' and I think my revision is appropriate. This isn't a matter of editing something for offensive content; this is censoring a classic American novel because of a word that is now highly offensive.

I read an interesting piece on Politics Daily by Delia Lloyd concerning the Huck Finn controversy, and it served to gel my own thoughts concerning this. I already had an opinion, and it seems that most of my literary-minded friends share it: this is unwarranted and unwelcome censorship of a novel written only a couple of decades after slavery ended in our country. This is not just a classic American novel. It is a historic American novel because of its context. I did understand several of Ms. Lloyd's points, and left a comment there, but I want to address some of those issues here.

She mentioned that she and her husband bought an edited version of an Eminem CD for their 10-year-old son because of language.

There is, to be sure, a big difference between contemporary rap music and a classic of American literature. Or at least so my son thought when I posed this question to him. His view is that rap is an inherently angry genre and, as such, swearing is central to its aesthetic (word choice mine, idea entirely his). But he says that he can still enjoy a rap CD even when it's "sanitized"--it is, after all, still entertaining.

In contrast, he thinks that "Huckleberry Finn" is a book about social relationships. And so to remove the language in which those relationships are couched is both historically inaccurate and distorts the meaning of the text.

That is one smart kid, who seems to get what his parents don't. There is a big difference between a music CD and a classic American novel. If you take out the bad words in music, you're still left with some great music. (I'm never a fan of censoring music, but there is stuff that is probably age-inappropriate--that is up to the parents to control. Good luck with that. haha) If you censor Twain's writings, you are censoring and attempting to sanitize a piece of our history. A shameful history, but one that cannot and should not be forgotten. Lloyd wrote:

I remember a few years back, when one of the teachers at my daughter's school tried to get a group of 8-year-olds to understand racism by having all the white kids in the class yell all the racial slurs they could possibly come up with at all the children of color. Her objective was to get the students to see the idiocy and toxicity of racism. But the experiment backfired. The children were frightened, confused and horrified. And even here, in the less-than-PC U.K., the teacher nearly lost her job. It's not clear that you can do Twain--or racism--justice in the hour you get as a teacher to talk about this book.

Good grief, how is that acceptable? How is hurling epithets a teaching exercise in any way, shape, or form? And why was it the white kids throwing the epithets at the kids of color? If that was an experiment to teach the students about the idiocy of racism, I think it failed miserably and only highlighted the idiocy of the teacher. Why would this book be a matter of an hour of discussion? When we read books in my school, we spent at least a few weeks going through them and discussing them. Lord of the Flies, A Separate Peace, Of Mice and Men, Hamlet, Macbeth, and so many others. These were not works that could be discussed in an hour. Why is Huck Finn confined to an hour? It has many more implications and much more significance than warranting only an hour of discussion on it.

Last year, my colleague Mary C. Curtis wrote about talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger's use of the N-word, which she uttered so liberally during one particular on-air rant that the subsequent outcry prompted her to say she would retire. As Mary points out, "This is the word that people with ropes used as they lynched men and women for an afternoon's entertainment. This is the word craven politicians shouted to stoke racial fear. This word has been used as background music to terror."

Most certainly...but equating Twain's book, a contemporary account of the treatment of slaves and Huck's dangerous friendship with Jim, to Schlessinger's radio rant and inflammatory use of the word 'nigger' in order to boost her ratings is a ridiculous comparison.

In short, the N-word isn't just a piece of regional jargon that marks a particular moment in our nation's history. It's a hateful word. It's poisonous. And it's pervasive. Does all this mean that in the future, children should only consume the kindler, gentler Huck Finn 2.0 that Gribben [the person who is revising the novel] and Co. are peddling? I'm not sure. But this issue certainly isn't as black and white, so to speak, as some critics are making it out to be.

Racist eggs Yes, it IS a hateful word, and it's still in use today. I hear it once in a while, and it makes me cringe and it infuriates me. But strapping a paper strip on the book stating "Sanitized For Your Protection" is not solving anything. It is ignoring a very real, very significant, and very shameful period in our history. If we cannot rationally discuss this with our kids and with our students, we are only perpetuating the problem. Much like some of the Confederate groups trying to revise history and paint the Civil War as being about nothing more than states' rights, it is revisionist history. Huck Finn isn't just an ordinary novel. It is part of our history. It's the story of a young man finding friendship with someone that he isn't supposed to befriend because that is what society dictates.

If our students can't comprehend the full meaning of the book and its place in our history after a reasonable and rational discussion (one that lasts more than an hour), what does that say about us as an intelligent society?

Am I raising the bar too high?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A new year, a new start

Sky drawing I hope everyone had a good time at whatever New Year soirees you chose to attend! I was with a small group of family members at my sister's house, and we all got silly with Rock Band. It was great, as always, to see my niece Jen (she was visiting from San Diego), and I sure wish we lived closer! I also got to know a little better a young lady who I guess would be my great-niece by marriage. She was just the coolest kid, wearing an awesome hat, putting up with all of us coots...haha! It's really great to be around a cool kid like that. It gives me hope for our future.

Anyway, as far as I know, there are no pictures from that night, which I am quite happy about. Full disclosure is highly overrated.

Well, the Republicans took the reins of the House of Representatives this week. I suppose the title of this entry sounds fairly optimistic. I generally am an optimistic person, but I see very little to make me feel that way as I watch this change. I wouldn't say that I'm pessimistic; I don't believe this is the end of our country, unlike the cries we heard from the conservative right about, for example, the passage of the health care bill signaling Armageddon. Who would say such a silly thing? That would be our current Speaker of the House, John Boehner. (Just so you don't think I'm lying, that's a FoxNews link.)

I started to look for a picture of him to put up here, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, I chose something pretty and non-orange.

I don't know...I listen to the things being said and I feel an odd mixture of disgust, hilarity, outrage, and disbelief. I'm doing my best to go with the hilarity part (apparently Michele Bachmann is considering a run for President...HAHAHA!), because I really want to believe that we'll get through this. The truth is that this is far from a new start. There might be a change of guard in the House, but we seem to have gone back a few decades to a time when women stayed at home and knew when to keep quiet and knew when to make sandwiches and anyone who caught teh Gay did their best to pray it away and all those black folk just plain knew their place and shut the hell up. I suppose that's a bit of an exaggeration. Oh, except I heard Boehner say in his interview with Brian Williams that aired tonight that what he wants for kids is to have the America that he grew up in.

That's coming from a guy with eleven siblings.

::sigh:: I'm pretty sure we'll be okay. There will be a lot of things happening that make me feel ill, but I believe we'll ultimately survive. What bothers me the most about Boehner's statement, one that is echoed by teabaggers far and wide, is that he and his ilk just don't seem to understand that the America of his youth (and mine, since we're about the same age) is gone. As Roland Deschain would say, "The world has moved on." Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I suppose it depends on your outlook. Although I certainly miss the simplicity of those times, and recall my childhood with fondness, I know that there have been many amazing advances in many disciplines. Socially, medically, many good things. However, the American Dream is out of reach for more and more people these days. There is a growing gap between the richest among us and the poorest. We continue to give breaks to the richest rather than asking them to pay a proportionately higher share of taxes.

Why is this happening? I was listening to a story on NPR the other day (Boehner and his cronies want to consider defunding NPR, despite the fact that only a fraction of their funding comes from the federal government...just thought I'd mention that.) that talked about the very good wages for manufacturing jobs in countries like Germany, Sweden, and Denmark. Why are they able to keep such jobs and keep the wages high, much higher than those paid for American manufacturing jobs? The MIT professor being interviewed said that although there are many factors, education is key. These countries have a highly-educated workforce, and that education continues with job training. If an employee loses their job, they are easily able to obtain another because they are highly skilled workers.

I know that there is much more to our problems than this one part, but education is certainly key. We don't place a premium on higher education, and more and more people are unable to afford it. I laughed out loud when Boehner gave Brian Williams his advice for young people, which included "Get a good education." It seems a little disconnected to be advocating a good education when your party is not only giving the super-rich huge tax breaks, it is ridiculing those with a college education as some sort of "elites," especially if they went to an Ivy League college, or happen to live on the east coast or the west coast, anywhere but Real America™, or if they frequent liberal bastions like the salons of Georgetown.

It's a big world out there, with all kinds of people, not just rich straight white (or orange) Republicans, and if we want to compete on a global level--which is the only way to compete now--we have to place a high value on education and stop ridiculing those who actually get one as some sort of "elites."