Archive for September, 2021

A Week to Read Banned Books

Saturday, September 25th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

 Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

   It would appear that I’m the kind of guy who, when visiting a book store (remember book stores?), headed straight to the banned book section and got comfortable. (Remember how comfortable.book stores could be?)

     I do not make this confession arbitrarily or boldly, but rather matter-of-factly. Also a bit surprisingly. Until recently, I had no idea that I was such a fan of banned books, Then, Banned Book Week showed up on Facebook and other social media calendars and I started looking at the various lists of books that have been banned or challenged, as the American Library Association puts it.

       Last year I was a few days lacte to mark the annual reminder of the importance of freedom of expression. This year, I’m right on time. September 26 is the start of Banned Books Week. At a time when voices of protest and outrage are being stifled, there’s not a day to waste promoting the free expression of ideas. So here’s my list, in no particular order, of banned books I have read. It’s compiled from a few lists I found on the Internet:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        —.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

        — A Farewell to Arms

     I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. I didn’t get much response to this request last year, but, forever the optimist, I ask again. I know some of you are voracious readers. So please contribute.

     We are living in a time when ignorance runs rampant in much of the country. Indeed, it often seems glorified. Reading, in fact learning of any sort, is under attack by forces — Republicans, Evangelicals if you want to be specific — who seek to maintain power by discrediting education. 

     “East Coast Elites” is supposedly an insult. Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News is full of outright lies. It’s all nonsense, created and disseminated out of fear. Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system — already challenged with adjusting to distance-learning because of Covid 19  — has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start. Even in Covid America, books are available as never before online. Some free. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and reread “1984” on Kindle. Seemed appropriate. And there’s plenty of time to read. 

       The American Library Association began Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

      Reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language, Sounds like a shopping list for Republican politicians. It also sounds a lot like life and one person’s “offensive language“ is another person’s truth.

       The decision on whether any book is appropriate for a child or a teenager theoretically belongs to the parents. I say theoretically because some parents don’t get too involved in such things. My parents were not book readers, although my mother devoured at least four newspapers every day. I don’t remember them expressing an interest one way or another in what I was reading. I guess that’s a decision by default. They trusted me and my teachers. I think it eventually worked out fine for me.

       Other parents, however, are extremely interested in what their children are consuming. That can be a good thing, I think, if it allows for a variety of viewpoints and room to explore. By the way, Captain Underpants is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of my books were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

        Anyway, in a country in which clearly anyone can grow up to be president, I think it would be a good thing if he or she had actually read a book or two, including some that challenged his or her beliefs. But maybe that’s just the Orwell, Vonnegut and Salenger in me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

(This is a slightly modified version of a column from last year.)

 

GOP: A Party of Distraction, not Action

Friday, September 17th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

64B6273B-ABBF-4252-AB3C-3D7FC5AA28C7    And now it’s abortion. Again.

    The Republican Party, as predictable as ever, has reached deep into its bag of political strategems and come up with its old standby. When nothing else works, ban abortion.

     Also predictably, the media, especially TV,  swarmed all over this story as if it has never happened before. TV commentators (I cannot call them newscasters) breathlessly rushed to say everything they always say when Republicans do this, acting as if it is the only important story in America today. Social media, of course, greatly amplified the reaction.

      It’s a distraction. Precisely what Republicans want.

      It’s a proven way to take people’s minds off the failures of the GOP. It’s a proven way to rile up the voter base growing weary of Covid and wondering whether or not that presidential election really was stolen. It’s yet another way to pit Americans against each other, even though Republicans are on the wrong side of this issue as far as the majority of Americans are concerned

    A majority of Americans are pro-choice. Republicans are pro-choice when it affects them personally. End of story.

..    i’m not saying that the right of a woman to control her own body and to choose abortion if necessary is not important. The Supreme Court has already decided it is. So yes, it is disappointing that the current court chose not to consider a challenge to the outrageous Texas law effectively banning abortion. But the law will of course be challenged in court by all the groups that usually challenge such misbegotten legislation. And the Justice Department, free of the shackles of the Trump administration, not surprisingly said it will challenge the legality of the Texas law.

      But meanwhile, let us not forget a budget bill, an infrastructure bill, a voting rights bill, all proposed by Democrats and waiting for congressional approval. Again, the majority of Americans approve of the proposals of the Biden administration, all of which have been opposed by Republicans. Opposing Democratic initiatives is the entire GOP playbook.

      Let’s also not forget the ongoing Covid pandemic, exacerbated and extended in this country by the politically motivated statements and actions of Republican governors, especially those from Texas and Florida. Republicans would rather have Americans argue over abortion than notice people dying in overwhelmed hospitals in Texas and Florida … and Mississippi and Louisiana.

      Of course, there was also Afghanistan. Republicans tried to paint President Biden‘s removal of troops and evacuation of Americans and allies from that country as a total failure. It was not. Again, most Americans are glad to be out of Afghanistan and recognize the fact that the Trump administration created the situation in that country which guaranteed a messy withdrawal. Biden did not apologize for his decision, nor, by the way, did he send out a Twitter storm blaming his generals for the poor advice they gave him on the evacuation.

   With even some establishment Republicans declaring that the 2020 election was fair, not stolen, party leaders have tossed out such distractions as “woke,” cancel culture and critical race theory. Remember them? They all got traction for a brief while in the media until people realized there were more legitimate issues, more important things going on in this country, none of them being addressed by Republicans.

     The most important of those is the congressional hearing into the insurrection of January 6. Republicans in Congress have disgraced themselves trying to convince Americans that nothing serious really happened. Or if it did, Trump was not involved. Or if he was, they personally were not involved.

     This is the important story in America today. The very foundation of this nation is at stake. TV commentators talking about abortion need to ratchet down the emotion a bit, stick to the facts and history of the issue and remember all the challenges this president faced when he took office. He is tackling those challenges methodically and with a calm sense of purpose. I might suggest a couple of other things that ought to be done:

  1. Those three pieces of legislation need to be passed by Congress. Also kill the filibuster. Biden needs to call West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, supposedly a Democrat, into the Oval Office for a serious man-to-man, president-to-senator, Democrat-to-Democrat taking. Something reminiscent of LBJ.
  1. That special commission the president appointed to consider any changes that might be necessary to the Supreme Court needs to be told to wrap up its work quickly with a recommendation to expand the court from 9 to 13 justices. Now. Enough playing nice. And yes, it’s something Republicans would actually do.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

20 Years On, Terrorists Made in the USA

Friday, September 10th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

What TV showed on Sept. 11, 2001.

What TV showed on Sept. 11, 2001.

     Twenty years ago today, like millions of other Americans, I was preparing to go to work. The boys were off to school. It was a sky-blue September day. The news was on the TV, a practice of mine, in case there was something I needed to know about before I got to the paper.

   There was.

   The image on the TV screen froze me and shook the sleep out of my head. Oh, my God!

     What was I seeing? They replayed it.

     I quickly got myself together and headed off to work. But I stopped for a few moments in a nearby park to gather my thoughts and process what I had just witnessed  qThe radio news informed me that, in addition to the two planes flying into the Twin Towers in New York City, a plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and another had hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

     September 11.

     After about an hour of processing reports on what had happened, a meeting was held and it was decided that The Times Herald-Record would publish a special edition that afternoo, the first one, I believe, in the morning newspaper’s history.  My job was to write an editorial explaining what had happened. Or at least trying to explain it. About 500 words.“We need it in an hour.”

     I don’t have a copy of that editorial and I’m sure it was mostly emotion. I do remember writing, “America was at war.”  (Any colleagues who were in the newsroom on that day may feel free to corroborate or add any details you may remember in the comments section.)

       The world changed that day. America changed. We the people had been attacked. We were one nation, under the spell of the dynamic leadership of New York’s mayor, Rudy Giuliani. America’s mayor. We grieved together, healed together and called for retribution together, against whoever it was who had attacked us.

          So we started a war against, not the country where the terrorists responsible for the attacks came from (Saudi Arabia): but against a country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. We justified it by claiming Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction” that it could use against someone, maybe us. That was a lie our government told us. We found out later.

           Then we went after the actual attackers in the mountains of Afghanistan. We actually found and killed their leader, then decided to stay in Afghanistan for some 20 years, trying to save it from itself.

            In those ensuing 20 years, Giuliani went from “America’s Mayor” to embarrassingly ridiculous mouthpiece for every lie put forth by Donald Trump, including the lie that he lost his re-election bid to President Joe Biden because the election was rife with vote fraud.

             Also in the ensuing 20 years, the Republican Party steadily turned itself from a party that espoused defense of all Americans into a party of an aggrieved white minority whose leaders in Congress legislate only in the interests of wealthy donors who contribute to their campaigns..Inro a cult that believes and repeats Trump’s lies or, worse, repeats them for political gain or out of fear.

           Whatever galvanized us into one people 20 years ago (a common enemy I suppose) started disintegrating as soon as we started demonizing any group of people, different from us (Muslims) as the enemy. “Us” became more vague.”

            The World Trade Center was rebuilt, Trump exposed the fear and bigotry at the center of the Republivan Party and gave free rein to the fissures hiding within American society.

             The FBI now says the greatest threat to America is from domestic terrorism. Not Iraq. Or Afghanistan. The threat comes from the white supremacists groups who organized the assault in Washington and still threaten any who reject their cause.

       In 1870, cartoonist Walt Kelly coined a phrase in his Pogo comic strip: “We have mer the enemy and he is us.”

       Indeed.

       Not so long ago, on January 6 of this year, in fact, I once again stared transfixed at a scene on television. Am I really seeing this? Thousands of virtually all white Trump supporters storming the U.S. Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden as president. Some were ready to hang Vice President Mike Pence to prevent him from fulfiling his duties. People died. Republicans refused to accept the election result and many even claimed there was no riot that sent them running for their lives.

          Today, the war to preserve American freedom and democracy is being fought right here at home. Fortunately, millions of Americans stand on the side of what”s right. Many still remember how we felt as a unified nation in the wake of the attacks 20 years ago.

           I’m not sure I”ll be here 20 years from now io mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, but whether I am or not, I pray the U.S. Capitol is still proudly standing.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zest-of-orange.com. He was editorial page editor of The Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., for 23 years.

 

     

If the Earth is not Flat … Then Who am I?

Thursday, September 2nd, 2021

 

By Bob Gaydos

A version of what some flat earthers believe our plan it looks like.

A version of what some flat earthers believe our planet looks like.

 The Earth is not flat.

  UFOs do exist.

      In this debate about the nature of the universe, I am definitely taking sides.

     A bit of explanation: Firmly ensconced in the second year of Covid-inspired couch-surfing, we stumbled across a documentary called “Beyond the Curve.” I can’t shake the topic — flat earthers. Even in this era of anti-science, conspiracy-obsessed politics, this one baffled me. Still does.

     The movie focuses on three main characters, none of whose names I will use here so as not to give them any more notoriety than they already have. The main character is the apparent flat earth guru, A middle-aged guy with a YouTube show, who, for reasons that still escape me, decided at some point in his life that the Earth is not round. This, even though he can’t prove it. And even though fLat earthers’ own experiments in the film indicate otherwise.

        He believes the Earth is a flat disc surrounded by a wall of ice and covered by a gigantic dome on which someone (the government) projects images of the sun and the moon, which move continually across the fake sky.

         There’s also another, angrier wanna-be guru, who resents the main character’s influence among the believers, and a woman who has become a YouTube star among flat earthers with her “reporting“ on the issue. The group has annual international conferences.

          It’s difficult for me to be as respectful of the believers as the film is because no one in the film ever explains why he or she believes the Earth is flat. Nor does anyone disprove the existing science that proves otherwise. And, as I’ve said, the believers’ own experiments disprove their belief. So something else is at work here.

           Before I speculate on that, let me address that debate I introduced at the top. Obviously, UFOs exist because there have been countless sightings of unidentified flying objects by all sorts of people, Including Navy pilots. It doesn’t mean these are necessarily spaceships from somewhere else in the solar system, piloted by aliens, but I believe the odds are much greater of this possibility than that we are living under a gigantic dome. I paid attention in science class.

             (In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that I live in an area that has been described as the UFO capital of the Northeast. I myself have never seen a UFO, but the hamlet of Pine Bush has a UFO festival every summer, including a parade down Main Street. There’s even a museum. And yes, there have been numerous reported sightings in the area.)

             I guess I’m with Enrico Fermi on this. His paradox wonders why, given the preponderance of information that suggests a seemingly limitless universe, filled with countless planetary bodies, no one has apparently yet decided to pay us a visit. Maybe we haven’t noticed or maybe they can’t get through the dome. 

               Which brings me back to the Earth is not flat. To me, saying the Earth is flat without providing any evidence and indeed, in the face of evidence to the contrary, is akin to saying a presidential election was rigged without providing any evidence and in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s akin to saying vaccines don’t protect people from viruses and face masks don’t help stop the spread of viruses based solely on a “belief“ and in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s akin to saying there was no violent effort to prevent certification of a presidential election at the United States Capital on January 6 when I saw the insurrection with my own eyes on TV, along with millions of other people.

               Some people, for whatever reason, are easily swayed. They will accept even the illogical because they can feel part of something. It provides an identity. Some people, for purely selfish reasons, gain their identity by swaying people to accept even the irrational. If people stop believing what they say, they lose their identity.

             So, if I am not a man cheated out of the presidency, as I claim, then who am I? Or if the Earth is not flat, as I say, then who am I?

           The answer in the first case is simple: You’re a loser.

            In the second case, it’s more complicated. Maybe you’re someone who needed to pay more attention in science class. Maybe you’re someone who never learned it’s OK to say you were wrong. Maybe you’re someone who needs to find a more productive way to gain people‘s approval. Maybe you’re someone who needs to keep walking in the same direction until you either bump into a glass wall or fall off the edge. 

           Or maybe you’re someone who needs to visit Pine Bush next summer when, hopefully, the UFO parade will be held again. Maybe you’re someone who needs to turn your gaze from down to Earth to up, up and beyond. These are true believers, too, but, unlike yours,  their belief has some legitimate science behind it. 

           I understand they’re always looking for new converts. You’d be quite a challenge, but  think of the new identity: The man who stepped back from the edge to play among the stars. Has a nice ring to it. Probably play well on YouTube, too. Just remember your new slogan. The Earth is not flat.

rjgaydos@gmail.com.

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.