Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Banned Book Week + Right Wing Rhetoric + Derrion Albert & The Children

It's Banned Books Week (September 26-October 3, 2009). But you probably already knew this.

Banned BooksWhy do we need a week highlighting the issue of banned books? Because every day all over the US, there are attempts to ban or suppress the sales and circulation of books.

Above at right is a map, drawn from cases documented by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Kid's Right to Read Project (a collaboration of the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression), of the book challenges or bans that occurred from 2007-2009 (courtesy of Banned Books Week). According ALA, at least 513 occurred in 2008, but the total could be higher since up to 80% are never reported. (For more information, you can review ALA's Books Banned and Challenged 2007-2008, and Books Banned and Challenged 2008-2009, and the Kids' Right to Read Project Report.)

In 2008, the 10 most challenged books were:

  1. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

    (Reasons: anti-ethnic, anti-family, homosexuality, religious viewpoint,and unsuited to age group)

  2. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

    (Reasons: political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, and violence)

  3. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group

  4. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz

    (Reasons: occult/satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence)

  5. Bless Me, UltimaBless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya

    (Reasons: occult/satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, and violence)

  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

    (Reasons: drugs, homosexuality, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, suicide, and unsuited to age group)

  7. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group)

  8. Uncle Bobby's Wedding, by Sarah S. Brannen

    (Reasons: homosexuality and unsuited to age group)

  9. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

    (Reasons: offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited to age group)

  10. Flashcards of My Life, by Charise Mericle Harper

    (Reasons: sexually explicit and unsuited to age group)

Joan E. Bertin, Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Censorship , writes in today's Huffington Post about the ongoing problem of US book banning and challenges.

All over the country, libraries and bookstores are hosting events. If you can, please attend one this week. A major launch event, the Banned Books Week Read-Out, took place in Chicago (I wasn't there, so I couldn't attend.) There are a number of other things you can do as well, like these.


Just so we're clear:

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), using some of the most extreme rhetoric yet by a sitting member of Congress against President Barack Obama, yesterday called the president an "Enemy of Humanity" at Phyllis Schlafly's How To Take Back America Conference in St. Louis.

On Newsmax today John L. Perry wrote an article calling for a military coup against President Obama's administration; it urges this step to address the "Obama problem."

On Facebook some creep(s) started a poll asking whether President Obama should be killed, and the post received 700+ votes before being taken down. After blog The Political Carnival and others contacted the Secret Service, they finally began their investigation.

And today, at Schlafly's wackofest in St. Louis, North Dakota Eagle Forum head Kitty Werthmann is urging people to ready themselves with guns for a "bloody battle" against the President, who she claims is both a Nazi and Communist.

All of this is occurring on top of the extremist speech and behavior against the President and Congress, funded by corporations and right-wing groups, fostered and funneled into the wider discourse by major right-wing and mainstream corporate media figures, and furthered at extreme right rallies and gatherings, that we've seen since the height of the campaign last summer.

It is not harmless, it is not cute, it is not worthy of simply being dismissed as wacko or crazy or nutty and yet somehow benign.

Remember the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995?

I have given up hope that either senior members of the Democratic Party, be it the President, leading figures in Congress, or anyone in the party apparatus (especially now that Howard Dean has stepped down), will denounce these people or attempt to ratchet the rhetoric down. As for the mainstream corporate media, they're not worth the breath. Instead, things will continue to spin out of control, as they always do, and if something horrific happens, the question posed in the public sphere will be, How could this have happened? Why did we miss it until it was too late? Why didn't we take proactive steps to address it?

When will we take proactive steps to address it?


Derrion AlbertI heard about and then read this tragic story, and my heart sank. On Friday in Chicago, a group of boys beat 16-year-old honors student Derrion Albert to death, because he happened to pass by the wrong place at the wrong time, though according to other reports, he was killed because he was unwilling to join a gang forming near Fenger High School in the Roseland neighborhood. Albert's death is sickening whatever the trigger, but unfortunately, it's not a rarity. So far this month, two other Chicago teenagers have been killed this month, while at least seven more have been shot. During the last academic year, 36 students were killed and over 500 were shot. One child is too many, a truism so simple and simplistic that I wonder if it hasn't gotten lost in the shuffle.

This is an ongoing crisis that parents and guardians, school officials, representatives of the City of Chicago and Cook County, the State of Illinois, and the federal government, all need to get involved in. One of the chief issues with Roseland, as with so many parts of Chicago, like other urban areas, is the serious economic decline, and concomitant social breakdowns, that set in during the late 1970s and 1980s, and which have never been adequately addressed or turned around, even during the national economic expansion of the late 1990s. The current economic crisis has only worsened things, and while I know that there are ongoing attempts to address this particular situation and the larger social, economic and political issues out of which it's arising, but given that the President has chosen to jump on the folly-fueled bandwagon of bringing the Olympics to Chicago (which could use affordable housing, jobs, jobs, and more jobs instead of yet another Daley vanity project/boondoggle), he and his administration could and should expend some time and political capital on this issue, which is especially serious in his home city, but a problem elsewhere as well.

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