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Sat

10

Mar

2007

Howell: A Postscript
Saturday, 10 March 2007 22:43
by Jayne Lyn Stahl

By way of postscript to a piece I wrote last week which details efforts on the part of the Livingston Organization for Values in Education (LOVE) to pressure the school board, in Howell, Michigan, into removing such modern classics as Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five," Richard Wright's "Black Boy," and Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye" from high school curriculum on grounds of obscenity comes the following:

Late yesterday,U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy III and the Michigan attorney general's office announced that complaints of obscenity by LOVE are without merit, and there has been no violation of federal law by placing the above-mentioned books on the Howell school approved reading list. (ABFFE)

While this is a clear victory for the First Amendment, and shows that there are signs, however small, of intelligent life left in this country, one cannot help but wonder, along with American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression president, Chris Finan, why it is that a complaint by one person to a local school board about what she considers objectionable content would be referred by a U.S. attorney to the FBI in the first place? If one patron in a movie theatre complains about the air conditioning, the theatre seldom turns it off, but if one parent complains about profanity in a novel, it gets referred to the U.S.attorney who then summarily passes it on to the FBI?Hopefully, Murphy's decisionshows that he's done his homework, and recognizes that pursuing this obscenity charge is bothludicrous, and frivolous in light of obscenity trials of the past century

And, at the end of a week in which it was disclosed that the Justice Department has been investigating under reporting of use of the USA Patriot Act to harass companies to turnover personal data about their customers, one also wonders how it is that there is so little focus on, and investigation ofa proliferation of incidents involving attempts to ban books in public schools, such respected titles as "Tiger Eyes," by Judy Blume, and "The Chocolate War," by Robert Cormier? While we are all outraged by the prospect of a presidential pardon of Scooter Libby, where is our rightful sense of outrage over the affliction of right wing agoraphobia into our public schools?
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Kulture Warz
As a long time Michigan resident, I am delighted to see that some measure of sanity has been restored to the public education system of Howell, Michigan by the conclusion of attorney general Mike Cox and US Attorney Murphy that literary works like those of Vonnegut, Wright and Toni Morrison cannot be taken censored to protect the tender sensibilities of the MTV generation. Three cheers for the First Amendment! And I wonder if just perhaps the FBI was planning to use national security letters to get at the circulation list of those seditious volumes but for the timely intervention of the prosecutors on behalf of rule of law and common sense.

For those unfamiliar with the local geography and colorful local history of mid-Michigan, the community of Howell is not exactly renown an "otherwise innocuous" little town as the original post of this freedom of expression dust up suggests.

Howell, Michigan is located almost exactly mid-point on the drive between the libertine Sodom of Ann Arbor and the alcohol drenched Gomorrah of East Lansing. It is a farming community, recently experiencing some intense gentrafication economic dislocation, as many neo-conservative faculty members of U of M & Michigan State (and other traditional value parents of impressionable youth) seek to put some geographic distance between themselves, their kids, and the rampant left wing radicalism now fraudulently ballyhooed as dominating the nation's college campuses.

Howell is fertile ground for such migration. In the 20's and 30's, that area of Livingston county was notorious for its Klu Klux Klan and lynch mob activity. More recently, it's garnered a reputation for Second Amendment fervor as a hospitality outpost for the Michigan Militia. If you head back towards Ann Arbor a little way southeast from Howell, pretty soon you'll bump into former pizza tycoon Tom Monaghan's Dominos' Farm complex, which includes a radical right wing law school none too loosely affiliated with Opus Dei boasting Robert Bork as a professor emeritus.

Small wonder local property tax payers feel entitled to peddle blatant censorship to the Howell Board of Education. That such grass roots pressure is taken seriously - no matter how transparently anti-intellectual and downright wacky the resulting literary judgments are - is either a sad commentary upon our times or perhaps a sign that the Apocalypse really is just around the corner.

Bill from Saginaw
 
March 11, 2007 | url
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