23 September 2013

Death by Papercuts

I hope that it's not possible, after the amount of packing and shipping I've done in the last week. But then, it beats alternate reality... or not so alternate...

Non Sequitur, 18 Sep 2013

  • In celebration of Banned Books Week, here's another senseless book-banning on ideological — and, in all probability, racist — grounds. What I find interesting is the reasons cited in a parental complaint, keeping in mind that this concerns a book being assigned as an option for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds: "its lack of innocence, its language and sexual content." Lack of innocence???? Watched the news lately? Read R&J? More to the point, read Leviticus or the Song of Solomon — really read them, not just listen to a sermon drawing upon one passage taken out of context?

    What really disturbs me is not that a parent complained. That is going to happen; some parents simply do not believe that "education" necessarily includes "challenge dogma" (they're wrong, but that's for another time). It's the school-board reaction that disturbs me. They are Sarah Palin's "Real Americans" — always in need of sunscreen and seldom-if-ever doing anything worthwhile on Sunday, if you know what I mean. I can pass, if I don't open my mouth; but then, that's an uncomfortable corollary of Ellison's novel...

  • It's bad enough when it's "only" literature. It's worse when it's science. Were I the director of a textbook division of a privately-held publisher — because a publicly-held publisher couldn't get away with this — I'd ignore the Texas market in the name of producing good books. If the Texas school board somehow rejoins reality (hah!), they'd be welcome to adopt my textbooks... but I would not alter my presentation of scientific reality to accord with the myth-tinged, evidence-denying preconceptions of a few idiots. Of course, I'd then be fired by some beancounter who feels that it would be less expensive to put in the effort toward that market with no guarantee of adoption... despite my personal experience in dealing with textbook creation for the Texas market (and by all accounts things have only gotten worse), which led to almost 60% of the estimated potential profit from the market expansion being eaten up by additional editorial and administrative costs.
  • Congratulations to the finalists/nominees/occupants-of-the-long-lists for the 2013 National Book Awards for fiction, for nonfiction, for poetry, and for "young people's literature". Leaving aside that two of the "young people's literature" works are more "adult" (or at least emotionally mature) in their sensibilities than are two of the nominated/longlisted novels, it's rather a case of rounding up exactly the usual number of the usual suspects... among the publishers.
  • Meanwhile, there's unwarranted controversy over the expansion of the Man Booker Prize beyond the shores of Blighty. Frankly, this is long overdue: With very, very rare exceptions, the concept of a "national literature" carried out in English died somewhere around the time that Churchill recognized that the English and Americans are a single people separated by a common language. For every novel purportedly presenting the uniqueness of the Australian experience and outbook, there's a corresponding one concerning the American West and/or the Transvaal. For every novel of interwar class relations in the Home Counties, there's another concerning class relations in Boston or in Dublin or in Toronto. It's not that there's no difference at all among these books; it's that the difference isn't enough to exclude one subset from recognition of all-too-rare excellence solely due to the local dialect of English in which it was initially published. After all, there has never been a requirement that a Booker Prize nominee actually be set in England... as Salman Rushdie's various nominations demonstrate. Even so, a novel set in the City of London has more in common with one set on Wall Street than it does with one set on the moors north of Carlisle.
  • I'm no fan of fanfiction as it is practiced on the 'net. (The sand in other authors' sandboxes too often resembles kitty litter... and I'm a dog person.) Leaving aside that much, and perhaps most, fanfiction as it is practiced on the 'net infringes the original author's rights in some fashion, sometimes things get too reflexively extreme — as when a fanfic author is accused of copying other fanfic, and there's somehow an implication that that was itself a heinous offense.
  • But I am a fan of books, as anyone who has assisted in moving me (ever) can tell you. I'm much more a fan of books than I am of competitive sport organized through (and usually dominating) educational systems... and I say that having participated in them myself, and with one of my remoras having participated in them (the other just isn't interested). One must wonder if anyone has ever done a correlation between "high school athletic ranking" and "prevalence of same-sex bullying"... because anecdotally, anyway, there's enough smoke there to justify looking for fire.

    The darker side of competitive interscholastic sport is that it is often cited as a way to keep marginal students in school — or, anyway, those classified as "marginal students" by the increasingly dysfunctional educational-management hierarchy. Whether this is due to participation or some kind of tribal allegiance to participants is largely irrelevant. The question that is not being asked is a much more difficult one: If we can only keep the students in school with competitive interscholastic sport, what is that telling us about our teaching environment, methods, premises, and philosophy? But nobody wants to answer that question... and in particular, nobody who is even coming close to asking that question can be heard in the first place, having been drowned out in the name of "efficiency" (and, in all probability, having been excluded from the mainstream for other reasons). Then there's the Lake Woebegone problem, in which failing to be "above average" is, above all, "failing"... and mathematically, there will always be instances more than one standard deviation below the mean, let alone just below the mean.