Granberry’s blatant misrepresentation on book banning issue

[Republished article from earlier assignment.]

 

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Can I blame all my faults on reading Dr. Seuss, Peter Pan, and Snow White when I was a child? The individuals who attempted to ban those books probably entertain that belief. Although book banning is hardly a new occurrence, it is likely to be as old as books themselves. There are recorded attempts, and references, hundreds of years before Christ, such as Socrates and Plato (Plato). Per chance even a few petroglyphs were smudged beyond recognition over one clan taking offense at another. However, after reading the prescribed book banning articles for my latest assignment, I feel one should be singled out and positioned away from the others.

In his article “Books Are Being Banned,” Michael Granberry, a Los Angeles Times staff writer, points out how book banning is not only on the rise, but it is being perpetrated by both the conservative and liberal factions. To strengthen his claim Granberry chooses a variety of evidence, combining specific incidents with various organizations that profess local and national book banning agendas. This is seen with his use of individual cases like the book banning situation played out, ironically, in the town of Banning, involving well-known poet Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Granberry then weaves in related statistics from watch-dog organizations like People for the American Way, founded by Norman Lear, along with various authoritative comments by officials representing nationally recognized organizations like the American Library Association. Further solidifying his contentions, Granberry recounts a diverse array of books and authors that have been targeted for banning. The list includes Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, and the Bible: even Dr. Seuss and Snow White. However, in an attempt to show impartiality, Granberry concludes it is not just the conservatives worried about family values; he claims the liberal factions equally weigh in with race, age, and gender complaints. Sadly, although Granberry attempts to portray a sense of impartiality by admitting both conservative and liberal factions participate in book banning efforts, it is a dishonest and feeble attempt so blatantly obvious through unbalanced and manipulated evidence, along with logic and emotional fallacies, that it diminishes his credibility in the eyes of any reader not burdened with a similar bias.

When Granberry plays the sympathy card, although a legitimate practice, in his hands it is nothing short of overkill. He positions the event first and foremost, repeats parts of it, allocates over twenty-five percent of the forty-two paragraph text to it, and succumbs to the temptation of spreading a post hoc fallacy with regards to the incident. The fallacy pertains to the “book banner from Banning” (Granberry) affair with Kathy McNamara, who, if believed, is under the assumption that protesting parents sent her colleague Deborah Bennett to an early grave instead of the unfortunate combination of lung and breast cancer. Although the protesting and publicity curiously had no detrimental effect on McNamara, who went on to acquire the Banning Unified School District’s Superintendent position (Quan, Hill). Unfortunately, accomplice to one fallacy was not enough for Granberry, who carefully practices some subtle name calling. He refers to Christian conservatives as “critics,” “wannabe censors,” and a “religious sect:” sect is a word most modern-day writers use to describe cult factions, like Jim Jones or the Branch Davidians. It is rarely used to simply denote a smaller inner group as it once was. On the other hand, he at least refrained from going as far as Thomas Storck in his article “Censors Can Be Beneficial,” who lumps “Bible Belt provincialism” in the same sentence with Hitler and Stalin. However, back to the Banning affair, Granberry gives voice to McNamara’s claim that “They all say the same thing…,” as if it is not taken on an individual basis, but a combined mob mentality. Then in the very next paragraph he lumps librarians and school officials together for not mustering enough backbone to fight back against the wannabe censors. It is a statement to add credence to Judith Krug, director of the OIF and Freedom to Read Foundation, who claims that librarians and school officials will not put forth that amount of effort because they do not make as much money as those who fight longer and harder against censorship: an inappropriate pass the buck excuse for anyone questioning the fact, and a rather poor image of her colleagues if you ask me.

If Granberry, who is undoubtedly against censorship, but equally a die-hard liberal, would have honestly stated his position instead of giving a half-hearted attempt at impartiality, he would have retained credibility. To act like he was being objective while blatantly stacking the deck is unethical and does not befit a professional writer. Out of forty-two paragraphs Granberry only mentions the liberal factions attempting to ban books a brief three times. How objective and impartial is that? Similarly, his statistics and quotes are only liberal representations, including the fore mentioned fallacies, when trying to support his point of view. He then reverses it and only uses conservative quotes in an attempt to make the book banners look bad. This would not be the case if he honestly wanted to attack both the liberal and conservative book banning factions.

Likewise, claiming the censorship advocating parents are carrying out a “war on books” is an oversimplification fallacy by Granberry, in an obvious effort to polarize his target readers. It is here that he transitions to the statistics and opinions by far-left liberal factions, such as the People for the American Way, and various quotes from the aforementioned Krug. Krug has not only been director of the OIF within the American Library Association for over forty years, but she has partnered with the ACLU, serving on their board for three years, and was instrumental in lowering the responsibility level of librarians through the amended Library Bill of Rights, as Helen Chaffee Biehle diligently points out in her article “Libraries Should Restrict Access to Offensive Books.” In other words, the evidence speaks for itself, shooting Granberry’s credibility all to hell.

Anyone can make a mistake, and oversights can be forgiven, but Granberry’s style of writing is so clearly misrepresentational that any chance for serious consideration is gone. A writer cannot stack the proverbial deck with statistics and opinions from the extreme left, succumb to perpetrating a half dozen fallacies, and allocate approximately 5% to liberal book banners and 95% to conservative book banners, and expect anyone but extreme liberals to believe them. And yes, I acknowledge that there are extremes on both sides, but moderate liberals and conservatives are more interested in the truth so they can make more informed decisions, or at least be able to base their beliefs on provable facts. Any professional writer who takes a serious topic and blatantly attempts to scam the readers through manipulation of alleged evidence forfeits all credibility, and should not even be a professional writer.

Therefore, Granberry’s feeble attempt at impartiality has done nothing to persuade me to give up my moderate view on book banning. There are simply things that minors are not mature enough to properly grasp. How would you like to learn that a rebellious and unsupervised youth living next door to you just acquired the step-by-step instructions for building a bomb using nothing but items found under the sink or in the garage? Or find out that the ten-year old boy that molested your six-year old daughter had been constantly indoctrinated with verbal and visual images of rape through books, music, and videos? Are you then going to confess to your daughter that you stopped the local censors from taking the inappropriate material out of the hands of the immature youth that hurt her? And yet, going overboard on censorship can be nearly as detrimental, though I would rather err on the side of safety for all. Therefore, the keyword should be responsible limits.

 

Works Cited

Biehle, Helen Chaffee. “Libraries Should Restrict Access to Offensive Books.” Opposing

Viewpoints: Censorship. Tamara L. Roleff. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002. Opposing

Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. ORBIS Central Oregon Community College. Web 6 July 2009.

Granberry, Michael. “Books Are Being Banned.” Opposing Viewpoints: Censorship. Byron L.

Stay. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale.

ORBIS Central Oregon Community College. Web. 6 July 2009.

Plato. “Republic II.” Molloy Edu. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Revised & Edited by Michael

  1. Russo. Sophia Project. 376d-383a. 2000. Web. 6 October 2009.

Quan, Douglas & Hill, Lisa O’Neill. “Officials’ Credentials Questioned.” The Press Entreprise.

Web. 2 October 2009.

Storck, Thomas. “Censorship Can Be Beneficial.” Opposing Viewpoints: Censorship. Ed. Byron

  1. Stay. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale.

ORBIS Central Oregon Community College. Web. 6 July 2009.

 

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Review of “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and a Road Unknown” by Walt Whitman

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“A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and a Road Unknown” is a Walt Whitman poem in the Drum Taps section of Leaves of Grass. Ironically, the section begins with a poem called “First O Songs for a Prelude” which deals with a different kind of march – the patriotic pep-talk inspiring and praising the quick response to take up arms and go to war. But as the reader traverses Whitman’s poetic fare in this section the ebullient flag waving gives way to the somber realities the author would experience or observe. Although Whitman was educated, older than many in uniform, and dealt with the wounded, his personality and writing style favored the common man. After all, he still aspired to be and maintain the position of America’s Poet.

While reading this poem I had no trouble imagining Whitman, while working with the wounded, observing a slew of platoon buddies seeking news of fallen friends, or seeing the newbies drawn to the carnage as if receiving a christening before their baptism under fire. And Whitman, always the writer, could not help but empathize and imagine himself in their shoes.

“A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and a Road Unknown” places the reader into the mind of an average soldier in the Civil War. Like most common troops this young man endures the drudgery, the forced marches from one unknown location to another. The body wearying travel is usually only broken-up with momentary rest periods, or battle preparation followed by skirmish after skirmish – until the brass, on one side or the other, decides they have had enough loss at this location and sends them to another before confronting the enemy again.

The soldier marches with the column in darkness. This time they are the ones in retreat: “Our army foil’d with loss severe, and the sullen remnant retreating.” And retreats are often made under the cover of darkness, and usually throughout the night with only momentary stops. It is during one of those brief halts that this poem primarily focuses on. They draw toward, then rest beside a large church, dimly lit, that is now a makeshift field hospital.

The soldier knows it will be a brief stop, but he is drawn to the “impromptu hospital,” and he sees “a sight beyond all the pictures and poems ever made.” It is one of those experiences no one ever thinks about during the rally ‘round the flag speeches when seeking volunteers to recruit. And I have no doubt that Whitman experienced the pride of patriotism shown in the beginning Drum Taps collection, just as he experienced a change after witnessing the savagery of war. Yet each individual deals with it in their own manner. Some, usually the newbies, have an innocent morbid curiosity. Others have an intense compassion for their fellow man. And still others will not be caught dead around a hospital (unless wounded). Whitman, however, always seems to portray a sense of compassion during these somber encounters:

“At my feet more distinctly a soldier, a mere lad, in danger of bleeding

to death, (he is shot through the abdomen).

I staunch the blood temporarily, (the younster’s face is white as a lily).”

And instead of blocking out the scene this soldier wants to see it all: to remember it. And I cannot help but feel that a similar event evoked those feelings in Whitman during his war experience. The curiosity of the writer is so clear in the following passage:

“Then before I depart I sweep my eyes o’er the scene fain to absorb it all.”

And the scene he describes is not eye-candy; it is human horror, a living nightmare. And this nightmare cannot be contained – not even within the church (such an iconic symbol used in the contrasting reality).

“The crowd, O the crowd of the bloody forms, the yard outside also fill’d.

Some on the bare ground, some on planks or stretchers, some in the

death-spasm sweating.”

This soldier takes it all in. He does not shield his eyes or turn away.

Is Whitman merely recalling personal experience? Or is Whitman still keen on being the poetic voice of America? After all, how does a young country evoke change if it is not willing to confront its problems head-on, with eyes wide open?

The problems facing the Nation at this time were especially hard because they turned brother against brother. It was a solemn duty, a responsibility, to get America back on track. But the outcome was impossible to predict in the initial stages of the war. And Whitman shows us in the use of metaphor. After the soldier takes in the harsh reality, the rest period is over; it is time to resume the march:

“Then hear outside the orders given, Fall in, my men, fall in;

But first I bend to the dying lad, his eyes open, a half-smile gives he me.

Then the eyes close, calmly close, and I speed forth to the darkness,

Resuming, marching, ever in darkness marching, on in the ranks,

The unknown road still marching.”

Like the soldier, the Nation was marching on an unknown road: it marched against itself, and even the best possible outcome would create a rift between the warring states that would require generations to heal.

 

Black Elk Speaks

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The biographical text indeed has a poetic flare (though not entirely) to it that comes across from the introduction onward, and can be seen in both Black Elk and John Neihardt’s speech and writing. For instance, Neihardt writes the following:

“Little else but weather ever happened in that country – other than the sun and moon and stars going over – and there was little for the old man to do but wait for yesterday (p.xxiii).”

 

And Black Elk’s normal manner of speech sings with the aged simplicity of wisdom and the colorful style of the long ago Indian, as seen in the following passages:

“What I know was given to me for men and it is true and it is beautiful. Soon I shall be under the grass and it will be lost (p.xxv).”

“I was born in the Moon of the Popping Trees on the Little Powder River in the Winter When the Four Crows Were Killed (p.7).” Continue reading

Henry David Thoreau: Walden

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During a writing course I attended the class was encouraged to give Henry David Thoreau a chance, and I set my mind to do so, but it did not take long to realize that may be a little more difficult than first imagined. Within the first several pages I got the impression that Thoreau was stuck on himself, captivated by his own voice, and yet, he seemingly contradicts himself more than the Emerson piece we dealt with earlier. For instance, he boasts about building his own cabin in the woods (a mere mile from his neighbors) and diligently surviving two years from the toil of his hands and the sweat of his brow, then he lambasts first the farmers for equal diligence in maintaining a plot of land for their homes, what he calls “a fool’s life” (7), then he targets the equally “foolish” strivings of most men, who, in his eyes, toil religiously with nothing to show for it. He says the “finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (7).

Thoreau did make one statement early on that was rather profound. He said, “It is hard to have a southern overseer (referring to slave masters); worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.” But then, just when I wanted to give him another chance to impress me, he waxes poetic, but without common sense. He begins with the following statement: “No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof” (9). And he follows that with the adage “what’s true today may prove false tomorrow” (9), which is acceptable, but the use of “no” in the former statement stipulates an all-inclusive reality that inevitably proves the contention false, since various truths, once discovered, have been and still are handed down from generation-to-generation.

Furthermore, in an attempt to confirm his view, Thoreau seemingly digs himself a deeper ideological grave. He contends “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new” (9), and claims, “I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from any seniors” (9). And he further states that they can never tell him anything of purpose.

I say that he who has not, does not, and cannot learn anything from others, especially elders, is a fool by all relevant standards. But I will continue through the text with the hope of finding something redemptive along the way. However, I do find that I enjoy reading Thoreau more when I cease efforts to ascertain his personal beliefs and simply enjoy his writing style and how he represents his Walden experiences. For instance, after buying a shanty for boards he recalls passing the family as they were leaving and says, “One large bundle held their all, — bed, coffee-mill, looking-glass, hens, — all but the cat, she took to the woods and became a wild cat, and, as I learned afterward, trod in a trap set for woodchucks, and so became a dead cat at last” (33). And when speaking of a neighbor visiting, Thoreau writes, “He was there to represent spectatordom, and help make this seemingly insignificant event one with the removal of the gods of Troy” (33). And I found his admiration of the cellar, the longest lasting section of the home in his eyes, better than the house above it oddly interesting. He states, “The house is still but a sort of porch at the entrance of a burrow” (34); which equally embodies the nature aspect he is expounding on.

Inevitably, I found Walden fairly enjoyable to read only after I skimmed over any of his futile attempts to be philosophical.

Writers and the Mental Health Connection

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The average American cannot reach adulthood without hearing about the tragic lives of several writers. John Berryman, Emily Dickinson, Hart Crane, and Allan Ginsberg are favorites of the education system. Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allan Poe have a large media influence. For every famous writer who appears to have a Utopian existence there seems to be an equally talented writer who struggles with mental illness, cannot cope with life’s challenges, and meets a tragic end: often self-inflicted. The field of psychology is singularly interested in the connection between writers and mental health. A quick check at PsycINFO for academic papers related to “creative writing” or “creative writers” registered over 1100 hits: nearly half of those since 2000. The nature of many of those research papers was rather surprising. Instead of delving into areas such as childhood, alcoholism, and drugs they attempted to find a connection between the act of writing or creativity and mental health. This paper deals with the three primary connections between writers and mental health as viewed through the psychological studies: creativity and madness, mental health evaluation through a writer’s words, and the “writing cure” controversy. Continue reading

Magic and Mythology: Literary tools of Shakespeare

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Magic and a sense of the divine were often used by Shakespeare, though their use and purpose varied. An example of this variation can be seen when comparing The Winter’s Tale with A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

In The Winter’s Tale, the magical elements are presented more like an illusion, similar to a magician’s trick. And the incidents that are not illusionary are credited to the supernatural, primarily Apollo. Even while Leontes is half-crazed by his own suspicions he still seeks divine confirmation: “For in an act of this importance, ‘twere most piteous to be wild – I have dispatched in post to sacred Delphos, to Apollo’s temple – (2.1.181-183). And to boost the divine element there are several passages which allegedly illustrate supernatural characteristics or acts attributed to the divine. For instance, Cleomenes claims, “But of all, the burst and the ear-deaf’ning voice o’ th’ oracle, kin to Jove’s thunder, so surprised my sense, that I was nothing” – (3.1.9-10). The incidents primarily attributed to divine intervention occur after Leontes claims the oracle’s reply to be false. The death of Mamillius seems but a heartbeat after the false accusation, which is credited to Apollo by Leontes, who quickly begs forgiveness: “Apollo, pardon my great profaneness ‘gainst thine oracle” – (3.2.150). Yet, Paulina then brings word of Hermione’s alleged death as well. And, subsequently, the death of Antigonus and the boat crew are considered byproducts of the supernatural, for they are foretold by Hermione in Antigonus’ dream: “For this ungentle business put on thee by my lord, thou ne’er shalt see thy wife Paulina more” – (3.3.33-35). And in the same scene Clown tells his father how he saw both the ship “flap-dragoned” by the sea, and Antigonus killed by a bear. And yet, the most magical-like incident in the play comes by way of Paulina and Hermione’s 16-years of hide’n’seek, and getting the others to believe Hermione is a statue transforming back into the queen in the final act: “Music, awake her: approach; strike all that look upon with marvel; come; I’ll fill your grave up” – (5.3.99-101). This truly goes to show that suspending disbelief applies not only to the audience, but equally to the characters within the play.

By comparison, and unlike The Winter’s Tale, A Midsummer Night’s Dream utilizes magic in abundance, and not like a magician’s illusion, but portrayed as actual power within the fantastic characters inhabiting the fairy realm. Thus, it is a substantial part of the theme: a parallel between the real and fantasy, and how both worlds fall into disarray when love is out of balance. However, the characters in the real realm, similar to The Winter’s Tale, portray a strong belief in the supernatural realm, though, for the most part, they cannot see it. We see an example of this when Hermia makes a promise to Lysander: “I swear to thee, by Cupid’s strongest bow” – (1.1.169). And confirmation to the reality of these characters follows later in the play. For instance, Oberon confirms the existence of Cupid within his realm when he recalls how Cupid missed a shot and the arrow hit a flower: “It fell upon a little western flower, before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound, and the maidens call it love-in-idleness” – (2.1.166-168). Puck, likewise, speaks of Cupid as a living entity within their realm: “Cupid is a knavish lad, thus to make poor females mad” – (3.2.440-441).

The fantasy realm, magical though it might be, and well able to use their powers to manipulate characters in the real realm, still find themselves plagued with problems. When Oberon and Titania show human-like emotions, both love and pride, it creates disharmony in nature: “Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain, as in revenge, have sucked up from the sea contagious fog; which, falling in the land, hath every pelting river made so proud that they have overbourne their continents” – (2.1.88-92). This event of nature out of harmony when Oberon and Titania’s love is equally in disarray parallels the upheaval caused to Hermia, Lysander, Helena, and Demetrius; both through the prideful act of Egeus, and later, the magical mishap of Puck. Subsequently, when love is once more in harmony it appears to heal most ills, as if, and in this play, with the help of magic. Even Bottom, clearly the most ill-used by the fairies, from ass in action to ass in appearance, feels no animosity after being a pawn in their game. In fact, he feels blessed, as if awakening from a wondrous dream: “I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of men to say what dream it was” – (4.2.207-209). And yet, he still confirms the ass it made of him: “Man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream” – (4.2.209-210). However, dreaming is merely another plot to the play. After all, Shakespeare has Puck recite the following within the closing dialogue: “That you have but slumb’red here, while these visions did appear, and this weak and idle theme, no more yielding than a dream” – (5.1.427-430).