George Likes to Read

US News:

Bush has entered a book-reading competition with Karl Rove, his political adviser. White House aides say the president has read 60 books so far this year (while the brainy Rove, to Bush’s competitive delight, has racked up only 50).

So, now we’re supposed to believe that George W. Bush reads 60 books in 8 months? I call bullshit (and so does The Carpetbagger):

C’mon. We’re talking about a guy who’s supposed to be folksy and simple. It’s an image the White House has worked hard to cultivate over the years. The president seems to enjoy it — otherwise he wouldn’t openly mock people with PhDs.

The fact that the White House gang is experimenting with a new persona — Bush, the reader — is embarrassing. He’s not supposed to be about book learnin’; he’s about governing by instinct and relying on the advice of educated people who tell him what he wants to hear. Switching gears now is not only literally unbelievable, it’s pointless. The die is already cast.

I deal with books for a living. I have giant stacks of them sitting on my desk, on carts, on shelves all over my office. I am surrounded by books and read quite a few in my spare time, too. Some might call me bookish, but then I’m a librarian and it comes with the territory. And there’s no way I could read 60 books in 8 months. Last year, I was trying to match my friend Jenny. We were each trying to read 50 books in a year. I think she made it, but she was counting books on CD that she “read” in the car to work. I don’t listen to books on CD and was unemployed for five months and I still only got to about 30.

And you’re trying to tell me that an incurious mental featherweight, who openly disdains education and mocks intellectuals who also happens to be the ostensible leader of the free world, conducting a multi front war has the time to read twice as many books in 3/4 the time? No fucking way.

Hat tip to Noz.

405+ Attempts to Remove Books From Library Shelves in 2005

ALA:

“Throughout history, there always have been a few people who don’t want information to be freely available. And this is still true,” said ALA President Leslie Burger. “The reason more books aren’t banned is because community residents – with librarians, teachers and journalists – stand up and speak out for their freedom to read. Banned Books Week reminds us that we must remain vigilant.”

Bookstores and libraries around the country will celebrate the freedom to read with exhibits, readings and special events during Banned Books Week, September 23-30, 2006. First observed in 1982, Banned Books Week reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. City Lit Theater in Chicago and ALA will kick off the week with theatrical readings from recently challenged books September 24. The ALA also will participate in a virtual panel discussion with author Chris Crutcher (“Whale Talk”) and 15 high schools on September 25. Participants will hear about Crutcher’s experiences as a frequently challenged author, learn more about the history of book banning in the United States and examine contemporary issues in intellectual freedom and access to information.

There were 405 known attempts to remove books in 2005. Challenges are defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. About 70 percent of challenges take place in schools and school libraries. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported, four or five remain unreported.

“We are as busy as we’ve ever been in fighting censorship attempts in schools and libraries,” Krug said. “Libraries are no longer simply about books – but also about DVDs, videogames and online information.”

Number one on the list of most-often banned books? That hot-bed of radical thought, Judy Bloom’s Forever.

All through September I’ll be featuring reviews and discussions of some of my Favoite banned books.  As always, suggestions are welcome, in comments.

Happy Birthday, Ray

Today is Ray Bradbury’s birthday.

Ray and I go back a long way. Not too long, he is 57 years older than me and we’ve never met, but still. When I read Farenheight 451, I knew I had to become a writer. 20 years later, I’m still working on it. And whenever I get down, I break out my copy of The Martian Chronicles and read a few pages (or chapters) and I get back on the horse. Here’s to another 86 years!

Discussion topic: What stories of his have managed to evoke something in you? Longing? Lust? What?

Harry Potter and the Lust For Life

Colleen Mandor thinks Harry Potter Must Live:

I’m going to make a stand here and maybe some folks will consider me a colossal sap for feeling this way, but the Harry Potter books are written for children and I think that children, especially 21st century children, deserve a happy ending every now and again. Rowling says there need to be more deaths so readers will realize they are dealing with “pure evil”. Well, I think we all figured out the bad guy was really bad when we read that he killed Harry’s parents or uses Ginny Weasley with intentions to kill her or kills Cedric or causes Sirius Black to die in battle or Dumbledore to die or even horribly uses poor Draco (a brat but not necessarily on his way to total evilhood until pushed over the edge by parents and Voldemort) and on and on.

We get it Rowling – trust me – everyone who reads these books gets the bit about evil.

So why do more major characters have to sacrifice themselves in order for Rowling to feel like she’s gotten her point? And more than that, why do children have to experience death at the youngest age (even in their literature) in order to grow up right? Why do we all have to be exposed to it as early as possible? Why do we have to understand that one day our parents will be gone, our friends might be in horrendous accidents, cancer will come, airplanes will crash, it all will end sadly or badly or both.

Why do we have to accept this at the age of 8?

[…] Some of us still need happy endings, you see.

Good does win sometimes, it does beat the bad guys, it does come out on top. And I can’t help but think that if Rowling kills off Harry it won’t be because it’s best for the story but because she has a message she wants to get across and she will use him to do it. In fact, I can’t help but think that she will be taking the easy way out and letting down her fans in the process if all the dire predictions about Harry come to pass.

But honestly, don’t we get enough death and destruction without it reaching into all our favorite books as well? (If you need to cry and rage at the world just go read Old Yeller.) And Harry Potter means the world to so many kids – so very very very many kids. Why teach them the harshest kind of lesson just to make a point (and make a bunch of adult critics happy?). Why can’t Rowling be truly brave and let Harry and his friends live? Why can’t she be bold and give them a happily ever after?

Link via Bookslut

Death And The Order Of The Phoenix

Phil Maynard at the Guardian Blog thinks Harry Potter Must Die:

Ever since young lips were set a-wobbling by the demise of Dumbledore in HP6 (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince) it seemed likely that the mighty author’s pen would strike further blows in the seventh and clinching episode (expected next year).

And so it seems: JK Rowling has let slip that the final chapter of the saga contains the deaths of more than one major character, stoking rumours that Potter himself may be bumped off.

The rumours alone of Potter’s demise, whether or not exaggerated, will be enough to bring the issue of mortality firmly on to the breakfast table where it will further loom over many a school run in the coming weeks and hype-filled months.

Children have to learn to deal with death sooner or later, it’s the reason they have hamsters for pets. Or so it was once explained to me one tearful morning when Hammy wasn’t on his wheel.

Link via Bookslut

The Dragon King of Hogwarts

Discovery Channel news:

Dracorex hogwartsia, which translates as “Dragon King of Hogwarts,” was unearthed in 2003 in the Hell Creek Formation of South Dakota by three amateur fossil hunters working in cooperation with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. But it wasn’t until it was at the museum, while the fossil was being carefully prepared, that renowned dinosaur researcher Robert Bakker happened to catch sight of it while visiting. Bakker then recruited pachycerphalosaurs expert Sullivan and other paleontologists to take a closer look.

As for how it got its name? A group of children at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis drew the connection to the fanciful school of witchcraft that the famous fictional wizard Harry Potter attends and came up with the name hogwartsia..

“It’s a very dragon-like looking dinosaur,” said Sullivan.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, has been notified and apparently rather likes the new name.

“I am absolutely thrilled to think that Hogwarts has made a small claw mark upon the fascinating world of dinosaurs,” said Rowling, according to a museum press release. “I happen to know more on the subject of paleontology than many might credit, because my eldest daughter was Utahraptor-obsessed and I am now living with a passionate Tyrannosaurus rex-lover, aged three.

“My credibility has soared within my science-loving family, and I am very much looking forward to reading Dr. Bakker and his colleague’s paper describing ‘my’ dinosaur.”

Zizek On Moral Atheism

PZ Myers brings to our attention to this fine little defense of atheism by Slojov Zizek:

During the Seventh Crusade, led by St. Louis, Yves le Breton reported how he once encountered an old woman who wandered down the street with a dish full of fire in her right hand and a bowl full of water in her left hand. Asked why she carried the two bowls, she answered that with the fire she would burn up Paradise until nothing remained of it, and with the water she would put out the fires of Hell until nothing remained of them: “Because I want no one to do good in order to receive the reward of Paradise, or from fear of Hell; but solely out of love for God.” Today, this properly Christian ethical stance survives mostly in atheism.

Fundamentalists do what they perceive as good deeds in order to fulfill God’s will and to earn salvation; atheists do them simply because it is the right thing to do. Is this also not our most elementary experience of morality? When I do a good deed, I do so not with an eye toward gaining God’s favor; I do it because if I did not, I could not look at myself in the mirror. A moral deed is by definition its own reward. David Hume, a believer, made this point in a very poignant way, when he wrote that the only way to show true respect for God is to act morally while ignoring God’s existence.

It’s a nice little reversal of the usual take on atheism; presenting a moral analog to religion that is not dependant on the mythology to derive it’s moral weight but possessing an equivalency none the less. He goes on to make a point I’ve been trying to verbalise for some time: that if Theists want to be taken seriously as rational individuals they need to take responsibility for the fundamentalists in their midst just as we atheists need to treat all Theists as, “serious adults responsible for their beliefs.”

Responsable adults take full credit for their actions, good or bad. They don’t blame the Devil for their own selfishness (as it creates complacency in the face of genuine, human evil) or defer to some ambivalent deity in the sky the windfall of good timing and reasonable actions.
Or, as Hume said: to show true respect for God by acting morally while ignoring God’s existence.

There’s much more about Zizek and his writings on Wikipedia. He also has a new book out, for the really curious.

Another Children’s Crusade

Today, I catalogued a glorious thing, a first edition of Slaughterhouse-Five. Being a bookish sort (a bookish Librarian? Do I repeat myself?) I couldn’t help read the first page or twenty. What struck me was the profound sense that here, in my hands, was a book that I was sure George W. Bush has never read. I’ll bet money on it. Seriously. If you can tell me honestly and truthfully that the Codpiece Killer has read this book and still thinks War in general and the bloody heap of the one in Iraq in particular is worth anything, fifty bucks is yours.

I’ve read Slaughterhouse-Five before. It’s one of my favorite books, one of those that has had a profound effect on me and my life, not just my writing. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of the madness and death that Kurt Vonnegut and millions of people have seen and are seeing, right now. And it hurts. You read Slaughterhuse-Five and if you have, you know what I’m talking about: that raw exposed nerve that you can’t help but fondle, gently at times, other times, you bash it like a drunk dentist with a rusty hook. You don’t read Slaughterhouse-Five and come away with a good opinion of war. Maybe that raw pain fades and you no longer feel nauseous at the idea of killing people. Fine. You’re less human for it, but hay, the world needs robots, apparently.

Somewhere, very likely in the vicinity of Fox News Channel or the White House (again, do I repeat myself?) there is someone right now who has accepted in their heart the idea that some human being has the power to wage a peaceful war, one in which no one gets hurt. This ignoramus has accepted George W. Bush as their personal savior. They have renounced reality in all its multiform beauty and tragedy and embraced a cult of personality the likes of which this country has never seen before. And they have not read Slaughterhouse-Five. How could they? If they had, they’d know that Bush has an asshole just like everyone. Only, he has a rare condition where his asshole is in the lower middle half of his face rather than nestled between his buttocks. That’s why he always looks like he’s just smelled something bad.

These same people of faith claim that I and others like me who are opposed to War as a general principle and the Iraq War in particular are defective humans. That we somehow aren’t right in the head because we think that mauling other people and turning them into rotting meat is a bad thing. They don’t understand how we can find the idea of burning someone’s flesh off with chemicals a nauseating prospect. This is because they’ve smelled what comes out of the hole beneath Bush’s nose for so long, they can no longer tell when something stinks.

Because once you accept George W. Bush as your personal savior, you no longer have to put up with the burden of compassion or empathy. You also get to ignore people with different opinions, people who still can think for themselves and feel familiarity with other, different humans. These people scare me because they are loud, obnoxious, vote and have never read Slaughterhouse-Five, or anything. They’re probably planning on banning it from the Public Library so that their junior ADHD brat won’t accidentally skim a few pages and have a thought or two.

The Indian Rope Trick

You’ve all heard of the Indian Rope Trick, I’m sure. That’s the one where a magician hurls a rope into the air where it catches on some invisible force and hangs, as if descending of its own volition from the sky. The Magician’s boy climbs the rope and disappears. In some versions, the boy reappears from another place, such as a basket in full view of the audience, sometimes he does not return at all.

A more gruesome variation involves the Magician chasing the boy up the rope with a giant knife and them both disappearing, followed shortly thereafter by screams and the boy’s severed limbs and body parts falling piece by piece back down to earth. The Magician descends, tosses the body parts in a basket, says an incantation and the boy reappears from the basket, unharmed.

It truly is a marvelous trick. Or would be, except that the whole story is a hoax. Peter Lamot, in his book, The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick: How a Spectacular Hoax Became a History, details the intricate web of stories, myths and hoaxes that surround this infamous trick, and how it has never been preformed, only told by people who know someone who know someone who saw it happen years ago, or maybe it was a story their uncle told them when they were a child.

The myth surrounding the trick is even more interesting than the trick itself. Teller (the silent part of Penn and) wrote a fascinating acount of the hoax and it’s history:

In 1890 The Chicago Tribune was competing in a cutthroat newspaper market by publishing sensational fiction as fact. The Rope Trick — as Lamont’s detective work reveals — was one of those fictions. The trick made its debut on Aug. 8, 1890, on the front page of The Tribune’s second section. An anonymous, illustrated article told of two Yale graduates, an artist and a photographer, on a visit to India. They saw a street fakir, who took out a ball of gray twine, held the loose end in his teeth and tossed the ball upwards where it unrolled until the other end was out of sight. A small boy, ”about 6 years old,” then climbed the twine and, when he was 30 or 40 feet in the air, vanished. The artist made a sketch of the event. The photographer took snapshots. When the photos were developed, they showed no twine, no boy, just the fakir sitting on the ground. ”Mr. Fakir had simply hypnotized the entire crowd, but he couldn’t hypnotize the camera,” the writer concluded.

The story’s genius is that it allows a reader to wallow in Oriental mystery while maintaining the pose of modernity. Hypnotism was to the Victorians what energy is to the New Age: a catchall explanation for crackpot beliefs. By describing a thrilling, romantic, gravity-defying miracle, then discrediting it as the result of hypnotism — something equally cryptic, but with a Western, scientific ring — The Tribune allowed its readers to have their mystery and debunk it, too. Newspapers all over the United States and Britain picked up the item, and it was translated into nearly every European language.

Other explanations form eyewitnesses eventually reveal that they only ever saw the end of the trick. One popular account tells of a British couple traveling in India. They visit the bizarre where they meet a Fakir’s assistant who tells them to hurry along and come and see the Indian Rope trick being preformed, right now. They reach the place in time to see the rope fall to the ground and several enthusiastic onlookers applaud the fakir and throw him money (which he very likely paid them to throw). The imagination of the couple convinces them that they saw the trick preformed, even though all they saw was a rope tossed by an assistant from a balcony. They simply imagine the parts they missed.

Stupidity So Dense, It Warps Space and Time

Over at Making Light, Theresa Nielsen Hayden brings to light one of those fleeting internet phenomena, a piece of self published Star Wars Fanfic. For sale on Amazon. Another Hope, is being sold by it’s frighteningly clueless author, Lori Jareo. In her “Author Interview” (which I suspect is her asking herself questions) we find this little gem:

Q: Having set Another Hope in an already existing universe, I find myself wondering if there was any concern on your part regarding copyrights?

No, because I wrote this book for myself. This is a self-published story and is not a commercial book. Yes, it is for sale on Amazon, but only my family, friends and acquaintances know it’s there.

My jaw has gone all slack at the gaping stupidity. Luckily, John Scalzi has all the salient criticism about how some one, especially someone purportedly an editor for their very own poetry publishing house should know better than to think this is just peachy and won’t George Lucas just get a kick out of it:

This would be bad enough if this woman were just some clueless person letting off some Mary Sue steam and then getting the idea that, gosh, this could be a real live book, but in fact Ms. Jareo purports to be a professional editor — which is to say she really has no excuse. In her interview Ms. Jareo mentions something along the line of “George Lucas says as long as no one is making a profit, tributes are wonderful,” but I think she rather seriously misapprehends what Lucas almost certainly means here. Leaving aside the fact that even if Lucas tolerates a little geekery on the down-low, he’s still fully invested in his copyrights and can enforce them at will and at whim, there’s the issue of scale. Geeking out with little stories of Yoda and Chewbacca on the Wookiee Planet on a personal Web site that’s visited by your friends is one thing. Publishing an unauthorized Star Wars novel via your publishing company and putting it up for sale on Amazon (not to mention Barnesandnoble.com and Powells.com) is really quite another.

I’ve said before I think fanfic is generally a positive thing for any science fiction universe, but I don’t think being a fan means you suddenly have a license to be stupid. Publishing your fanfic novel and selling it online is just plain stupid, and publishing your fanfic novel and selling it online when you’re theoretically a professional editor is just about as stupid as you can get without actually receiving head trauma from a tauntaun. If Ms. Jareo is lucky, she’ll only get smacked with a Cease and Desist order from Lucas. If she’s not lucky — say, Lucas wants to provide a cautionary example to ambitious-to-the-point-of-oblivious fanficcers everywhere — she and her company are going to get their asses sued, and given the blatant and obvious and self-incriminating copyright violations here, she should be thankful if she gets out of it without all of her assets, and the assets of her publishing company, encased in carbonite.

As it stands I think it’s worth it to start a pool on how long it takes for Ms. Jareo’s book to get pulled from Amazon. I’ll say this next Monday by 3pm Pacific. Any one else want to bet?