This week begins the annual “Banned Books Week” which lasts through October 2. The yearly event is sponsored by the American Library Association and promotes literacy, free speech and a free press. It’s the regular battle against the self-styled, self-appointed overlords of what is supposedly proper and improper for everyone to see and read. I’ve always believed this should be a year-long event, as free speech and free press are under constant threat – not just in, but in totalitarian regimes, like North Korea, but even in open societies, such as the United States.
Keep writing and keep fighting!
The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked 156 challenges to library, school, and university materials and services in 2020. A total of 273 books were targeted for removal, but here is a list of the most challenged, along with the reasons cited for censoring the books. Some are familiar classics, while others are new arrivals.
George by Alex Gino Reasons: Challenged, banned, and restricted for LGBTQIA+ content, conflicting with a religious viewpoint, and not reflecting “the values of our community”
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds Reasons: Banned and challenged because of author’s public statements, and because of claims that the book contains “selective storytelling incidents” and does not encompass racism against all people
All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, drug use, and alcoholism, and because it was thought to promote anti-police views, contain divisive topics, and be “too much of a sensitive matter right now”
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson Reasons: Banned, challenged, and restricted because it was thought to contain a political viewpoint and it was claimed to be biased against male students, and for the novel’s inclusion of rape and profanity
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie Reasons: Banned and challenged for profanity, sexual references, and allegations of sexual misconduct by the author
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano, Marietta Collins, and Ann Hazzard, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin Reasons: Challenged for “divisive language” and because it was thought to promote anti-police views
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and their negative effect on students, featuring a “white savior” character, and its perception of the Black experience
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck Reasons: Banned and challenged for racial slurs and racist stereotypes, and their negative effect on students
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison Reasons: Banned and challenged because it was considered sexually explicit and depicts child sexual abuse
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas Reasons: Challenged for profanity, and it was thought to promote an anti-police message
Overall, it appears that some of them are designed to oppress the basic human and constitutional rights of certain groups. The Texas State Legislature meets every two years and, in 2019, their principal goal was to loosen gun restrictions even more than they already were. Those of us who aren’t obsessed with firearms (meaning we don’t suffer from Pencil-Penis Syndrome) wondered how much more lax these rules could become. Stupidity never ceases to amaze me, and conservatives in the Texas State House always deliver.
This year’s session, though, has raised eyebrows and tempers across the nation – and mainly because of two of those 666 laws in particular. One deals with voting and the other with abortion. Abortion has always been an open wound for social and religious conservatives. To them it’s worse than the growing economic inequalities in the country, the prescription drug epidemic, or the fact that so many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Pro-life conservatives are “pro-life” – up to the time that baby is born. Once it pops out of the placental oven, it’s pretty much on its own.
Known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, it is the most ardent assault upon reproductive freedom since the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. It bans abortions no matter the circumstance (including rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) after the sixth week of pregnancy, which is usually before most women learn they’re pregnant. It bears that moniker because an embryonic heartbeat allegedly can be detected at the sixth week. In reality, the heart hasn’t developed by that point; only the muscles that eventually will become the heart have formed. The term is misleading. The sound of a heartbeat is generated by the opening and closing of the heart valves. Those valves haven’t formed yet at 6 weeks. When someone detects this so-called “fetal heartbeat”, it’s the sound generated by the ultrasound machine. But self-righteous conservatives in the Texas State Legislature don’t see it that way. It doesn’t conform to their narrow view of reality. In other words, a group of (mostly male) politicians have decided they know more about human development and reproductive health care than actual medical professionals.
But the “fetal heartbeat” law goes even further – allowing anyone who assists in an abortion after that sixth week to be held liable as a criminal accessory and sued for up to $10,000. This isn’t aimed strictly at those in the medical industry. Giving a woman a ride to an abortion clinic, for example, opens them to criminal charges under this law; which means cab drivers are subject. Perhaps comforting a woman after the abortion could be considered criminal. Would a plumber who repairs water pipes in a women’s health clinic be deemed a criminal? It’s not the state that would bring the charges; the $10,000 penalty is for any individual who files suit under the law. Thus, if someone is upset (gets their feelings hurt) because of an abortion, they’re entitled for up to $10,000 compensation.
I’m upset there’s so much stupidity in the world. Where’s my financial compensation?
The other new law gaining notoriety is Senate Bill 1, which targets the voting process. SB 1 limits the early voting period and bans 24-hour and drive-through voting. The drive-through voting idea was proposed last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 elections. Perhaps the most alarming feature of this law is that it allows poll watchers greater access. Voter intimidation is not just rude; it’s felonious. But don’t tell that to Abbott and the rest of the Republican mafia in Texas who symbolize ongoing efforts by conservatives nationwide to undermine the right to vote – the very genesis of democratic societies. It’s something we’ve tried to instill in other countries, such as…well, Iraq and Afghanistan. But, just like the World War II generation moved Heaven and Earth to stop fascism in Europe, yet did nothing to end it here in the U.S., conservatives want people in developing nations to be able to vote in clean and fair elections – without putting the same amount of effort at home.
Like most of the nation, Texas is still in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic with a resurgence of infections and increasing hospitalizations. This past February the Texas power grid system almost completely collapsed with the onset of Winter Storm Uri. Scores of people died. Much of the rest of the state’s infrastructure – mostly roads and bridges – are in dire need of repair or replacement. And, of course, all those children in Texas and across the nation who are uninsured…doesn’t pro-life also mean taking care of them?
The new gaggle of laws has a few other gems – good and bad. HB 1535 allows people to utilize marijuana for medicinal purposes. SB 224 simplifies access to the Supplemental Assistance Program for older and disabled citizens; individuals can forgo the normally required interviews and have a shortened application process. Now this measure is what I would deem pro-life!
On the other hand, we have HB 2497, which establishes an “1836 Project” committee produce educational materials dedicated to Texas history. In 1836, the Battle of the Alamo launched Texas’ separation from México. It’s in contrast to the “1619 Project”, which examines U.S. history from the arrival of enslaved Africans.
Moreover, HB 3979 limits teachers from discussing current events and systemic racism in class. The bill also prevents students from receiving class credit for participating in civic engagement and – wait for it – bans teaching of the aforementioned “1619 Project”.
I attribute these social studies bills as efforts by White conservatives to undermine the true history of the United States; that Native Americans were more civilized and intellectual than many realize; that the “founding fathers” weren’t devout Christians; and that the Civil War really was about keeping an entire race of people enslaved and not states’ rights. Like the presidency of Donald Trump, it’s a strike back against decades of progressive thought and ambition.
I never know what to think of these right-wing fools in elected office. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put up that sign on my front lawn offering free rides to abortion clinics.
Hyenas are one of the oldest species of canine on Earth. Indigenous to Africa and more closely related to felines, they exist in four subspecies: spotted, brown, striped and aardwolf. Despite these slight differences, hyenas are carnivorous creatures. They’re also basically scavengers; waiting until a larger animal dies or is severely incapacitated before ripping it to pieces. And – depending on the victim – they leave little behind, except horns, hooves and tails. All subgroups of hyena boast another attribute – they can’t be tamed. They’re not like domesticated dogs, which have become one of humanity’s truest non-human companions. The hyena mindset is too rudimentary to allow it to sit and stay. They’re just too savage and wild to conform to human-induced pleasantries and commands. You really don’t want one as a pet. Hyenas just need to be left alone.
Afghanistan is a hyena. It’s savage and wild. We really don’t need it as an ally. Unlike a domesticated dog, it doesn’t return the love. We just need to leave it alone.
This landlocked pocket of mountains sits at the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East; languishing in another realm, a universe unto itself. Its current borders were established in the 19th century, but Afghanistan bears an ancient history. Its geographic location made it a principal feature of the storied Silk Road, which carried travelers and traders between Southern Europe and China. Excavations throughout Afghanistan prove that humans populated the region as far back as 52,000 years ago; when Neanderthals were the dominant bipedals. Archaeologists have shown that more stable, urbanized societies began developing by 3000 BCE. With its history closely tied to neighboring countries, such as Iran and Pakistan, the Afghanistan of millennia ago was part of two of the earliest and largest civilizations on Earth – Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is notable for evolution of one of the first writing systems in the world.
For almost as long as its relatively modern existence, Afghanistan has been subjected to one barbarous onslaught after another. It fell to the Achamenid Empire, after Darius I conquered it around 515 BCE. Alexander the Great stormed into the region around 330 BCE and defeated Darius III. The Maurya Empire took control of most of the region where it further entrenched Hinduism and introduced Buddhism. A variety of successive conquerors and empires descended upon Afghanistan and surrounding areas. Islam arrived in the 7th century CE via Rashidun Arabs coming from the Byzantine Empire. In 1221 CE, Mongols invaded Afghanistan under their founder Genghis Khan who oversaw unbridled destruction of towns and villages.
All of these invaders had to battle a common enemy: Afghan tribesmen, gangs of nomadic and uncultured warriors who had little more than determination and grit as guiding forces. Even when the British first arrived in the 1830s – hoping to annex Afghanistan and protect the latter’s position as a vital trade route from the Russian Empire – they were confronted with bands of ruthless fighters. Great Britain tried three more times to conquer Afghanistan, resulting in a 1921 treaty to…well, leave them alone!
The most recent invasion attempt came with the former Soviet Union in 1979. While the Soviets had been able to swallow up much of Eastern Europe throughout the 20th century, the seeming backwater of Afghanistan proved to be more formidable than others. The Soviets may have easily overrun such nations as Hungary, but Afghanistan tribesmen fought harder than even the great Russian bear anticipated. The United States likes to claim it helped Afghans defeat the Soviets and drive them out before they could mark a full decade of their presence. But one thing remained certain. Afghanistan just couldn’t be tamed; that is, it couldn’t be conquered.
U.S. involvement in Afghanistan is only recent; dating to the 1980s. Before then, most Americans couldn’t point it out on a globe of the world. Many probably still can’t.
But in the modern schemes of geopolitical events, the fact the U.S. promised to help Afghanistan rebuild after defeating the Soviets and then failed to do it gets lost in translation. It’s this failure that led to the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s. The Taliban rejuvenated antiquated views of how the world should function, including a more brutal version of Islam – which is akin to evangelical Christianity: narrow-minded and filled with more hate than love. What infrastructure remained in Afghanistan collapsed, and women became relegated to a status one step above cattle, driven from schools and forced to walk around dressed like beekeepers. It was this bloodthirsty atmosphere that spawned the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which in turn, culminated in a 20-year occupation of this ragged bunch of mountains and its disoriented tribal factions by the U.S.
And, as of August 31, we’re gone. The U.S. has left the region; exiting as a construction company forgoes building a skyscraper in quicksand. It’s not that America is wimping out and giving up. We’re tired of this place. Just as some people can’t pinpoint Afghanistan on a map, some Americans were surprised to know we were still there.
And now, we’re gone. Good riddance!
I have no qualms about leaving. Afghanistan wasn’t worth the trouble. The U.S. couldn’t maintain its place over there. We can’t always be the ones to protect people from themselves. We’ve spent trillions of U.S. dollars (taxpayer dollars) and have nothing much to show for it. The Afghan Army, for example, surrendered to the reborn Taliban as soon as the Americans started leaving. All that time, effort and money spent to train the locals to fight against the more brutal elements of their own society evaporated. It’s like training nurses to work in the emergency room and then watch them pass out at the first sight of blood.
So what now? Nothing! Once we beat back the Taliban and helped move Afghanistan into the 21st century, the Afghan people should have been able to take control at that point. Instead tribalism and that vehement version of Islam swarmed over the country.
Afghanistan donned the hyena mentality once again. But that seems to be its true nature. It’s wild and can’t be tamed.