Carter Stands Up for Equality

On July 15th, a position paper by former president Jimmy Carter was published that discussed his reasons for severing all ties to the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s an amazing piece and I highly recommend reading it. Mr. Carter explains that he can no longer be a part of a religion that views half of the population of the world as inferior to the other half. He explains that this institutionalized sexism is used far too often as an excuse for atrocities.

There is a whole section of the paper briefly touching on some of the ways that sexism around the world is affecting lives and he states that “It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society.” He goes on to say:

“It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.”

Carter acknowledges how difficult it is for current leaders to challenge such deeply ingrained social mores, but he calls on them to work to change these truths anyway. He calls the cherry-picking of bible verses to justify sexism selfish and “in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.”

To be honest, I never thought much about President Carter before. I knew that he was involved in human rights issues and that he won a Nobel Prize, but he was out of office before I was born and so I never paid that much attention. This kind of a call for action is well worthy of attention, though. I hope that it helps to make the difference in the world that it asks for. It certainly made a difference to me.

Cybils Winners Announced!

Cybils LogoThe winners of the 2007 Cybils have been announced over at the Cybils Blog! The panels picked some pretty amazing books, so definitely go check out the winners. I’m especially pleased to see the Graphic Novel winners, since I worked so hard to help narrow down that category at the end of last year with the rest of the wonderful Graphic Novel nominating panel. I can’t wait to get reading on some of the other winners now! The Science Fiction and Fantasy winners are both books I’ve had on my “to read” list for a while and now I’m all the more eager to check them out! Thanks to all the judges for working so hard to decide between so many great books!

Cybils Shortlists Announced!

Cybils LogoAll of the Cybils shortlists for 2007 have been announced at this point, including the graphic novel list that I helped put together! All the lists are great and I can’t imagine how the judges are going to choose final winners, but I’m certain that they will do a great job. Go check out all the lists at the Cybils blog!

Graphic Novels
Young Adult
Nonfiction Picture Books
MG/YA Nonfiction
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Fiction Picture Books
Poetry
Middle Grade

The awards will be announced on February 14!

On the Print/Blog Review Issue

So recently there has been a big to-do over newspaper book reviews. Evidently they aren’t profitable enough to keep printing, so there is serious talk of this being the end of them. Somehow, this is all getting blamed on litblogs. The connection there is more than a little fuzzy to me, since all the litbloggers I know read all those print reviews and most of the people that come into my store asking for things they read about in the paper and hadn’t even heard about before have no idea what a “blog” even is.

I really don’t see any sort of conflict here. I read both. My local paper doesn’t provide much in the way of book coverage, but I read it anyway because it does cover books of local interest that I’m not likely to encounter elsewhere and often sound vaguely interesting. Once I read about an interesting book in the paper, I go look for more information about it elsewhere. But I get that it’s interesting and worth my time to look for from the actual ink stained newspaper that comes to my front door! I do the same thing with books I read about on blogs, in print magazines and on non-blog websites! I even do it with books I hear about on the radio. The source doesn’t really matter, since I’m already choosing my sources pretty carefully and only actually buying the book if further research suggests it’s worth the money. One review doesn’t equal a purchase. The only time I buy a book based on a single source is for a book club, and that’s slightly different, since I originally chose to join the book club carefully.

So I guess I just don’t understand the whole “it’s because of blogs that print journalism about books is being destroyed” thing. It seems just as logical to blame Oprah. Maybe people aren’t reading the NYT Book section because they now only buy what Oprah tells them too (a freakish number of people do that, you know). I know that my local paper regularly hates her book choices, but they fly off the shelves even though we post that review in the store and not Oprah’s. People buy what they want for their own reasons, not because of what some critic in the Times says is good.

I also don’t understand all the sniping at bloggers. Granted, I’m a blogger and I’m a well-educated blogger who generally thinks about books in a fairly academic way, but still… Comments like this have become all to common lately:

I believe the dangers of this indiscriminate reporting on books is that people who have no knowledge of literature can air their views as though they were of value and may influence readers. Critics may not always be right, of course, but at least they have read and studied literature, the great books, and have some outside knowledge to refer to when critiquing our work.

Ok, there are two major problems here. Let’s just ignore the basic issue where this is the internet and you have no idea who a blogger is in real life, so you have no right to pass snap judgments on them assuming you know who they are because it’s been covered a million times before and covered better than I can do it here. Moving on… The first part says that people shouldn’t have the right to simply share their opinion about a book because it might influence someone else. People share opinions all the time about everything and other people are free to ignore them. Bloggers don’t claim to be the absolute authorities on their subjects, even when they are experts. Roger Sutton regularly shares opinions about books and he is certainly someone who could claim to be an expert, but it’s clear that they are his opinions. In fact, they don’t always even match the reviews that come out in the Horn Book! Bloggers have as much right as anyone else to share opinions, even if they really are just some guy. If a computer programmer who has never studied books, has no kids and doesn’t even like kids, but enjoys children’s books decided to start a kidlit blog to share her thoughts on children’s books, she’d be perfectly free do that! We’d all keep that in mind when reading her reviews, but we keep in mind that Fuse #8 is written by a librarian and that Chicken Spaghetti is written by a mom too!

The second part of that quote basically states that no one who writes a blog is qualified to critique and share opinions about books. As evidenced by the fact that Roger Sutton writes and excellent blog and is the editor of the Horn Book at the same time, this is most definitely untrue. Besides that, there are any number of lit bloggers who are graduate students, writers, academics of various standings and generally extremely well-educated people doing all manner of things (from raising kids to running businesses). The fact that one chooses to keep a blog has nothing to do with one’s knowledge of literature or literary criticism. I have absolutely no doubt that there are any number of people out there that have multiple PhDs and are writing blogs just because they want to! Education and knowledge don’t mean you can’t write a blog!

We have no more assurance that the people writing reviews in the newspaper are educated in the ways of literary criticism than we do that the people writing the blogs we read are (less perhaps, since blogs often come with brief blurbs about the writer). I know nothing about the credentials of the reviewers in my local paper and I wouldn’t call anything I’ve read in there or in the NYT book review section a critique as opposed to a review (which is a distinction often given to print reviews over blog reviews). In fact, blog reviews are often longer and more in depth purely because they lack the space constraints of the printed newspapers. This is as often a downside as a benefit, but brevity is certainly not something I look for in a critique. It is something I look for in a review.

My point is, neither format is any better than the other and the attacks are stupid. Bloggers are some of the people most supportive of print book reviews so attacking them when you’re trying to save your medium seems really counter-productive. I’d love to help save print reviews, but I’m not sure how to do it since no concrete solutions have been proposed. All I hear is yelling!

For a much better post on this with actual quotes and such (the quote above, which originally came from Critical Mass was found here) check out Colleen’s wonderful post about this at Chasing Ray!

Two Championships!

This year is a milestone for the University of Wisconsin Hockey department – both the womens and mens teams won NCAA championships! Congratulations Badger Hockey!

Birthdays: March 20

Today is the birthday of two pretty cool people.

The first is Lois Lowry. She has written quite a few books for children, two of which have been awarded the Newbery Medal. My favourite of her books is The Giver which tells the story of a boy living in a “utopian” society who realizes that his community isn’t as wonderful as he (and everyone else) had been lead to believe. It’s a powerful book. I definitely recommend it. Check out Lois Lowry’s website for more information on her, her books and what’s coming soon!

The second person who was born on this date that I want to recognize is Fred Rogers. Mr. Rogers became extremely famous for his PBS children’s show “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood“. I always liked the little models that sat in his kitchen of the puppet people’s houses. He didn’t get them out very often, but you could see them sitting on a shelf in every episode! Mr. Rogers was more than just a television personality, though. He understood children in a way that few people do. His books for kids about dealing with life issues, everything from parents getting divorced and the birth of new siblings to serious illnesses and disabilities, are some of the best on the market. The books explain tough concepts to children in terms they can understand without ever talking down to them. Fred Rogers died on Feb. 27, 2003. He was a wonderful man.

Article on E. H. Shepard

The BBC news ran an interesting article on E. H. Shepard, the man who illustrated A. A. Milne’s poetry collections and Winnie-the-Pooh stories. It is being run because there will be a show featuring his political cartoons at the Political Cartoon Gallery in London soon. The article is interesting because it talks about Shepard’s career as a political cartoonist for Punch, his inspiration for Pooh and the fact that he somewhat resented the silly old bear. It isn’t uncommon for children’s book artists to have their work for a famous book or set of books overshadow anything else they ever did. Dr. Seuss drew scathing political cartoons, but few people remember them because of his wonderful books. And John R. Neill, who illustrated the Oz books, will always be remembered for his illustrations for Baum’s books despite the fact that the majority of his time and effort was spent on beautiful drawings for magazines (lots of fashion plates and such). I understand that it must be frustrating to have what you consider your best or most important work largely forgotten, but at the same time I can’t help but think that it must be nice to be loved forever in a way that the artists of political cartoons or fashion plates will otherwise never know.

More on Standardized Testing

It was reported today that Pearson misgraded a good number of the SAT tests they had graded this year by up to 400 points (a full quarter of the 1600 possible total). The worst part of the story is that they only found out because two students complained. By this point, however, scores have already been reported to colleges in applications. And this isn’t the first time that the SATs have been misscored. Scores were done wrong for some students in Minnesota a few years ago causing them to be unable to graduate high school and sparking a lawsuit.

Why does our education system rely so heavily on standardized tests like the SAT? They are unable to accurately measure anything, yet we rely on them for everything from who gets to move to the next level of schooling to who gets into what colleges. There is a huge market in materials designed to give students the secret to high scores. Clearly there are some major problems with the system, and yet our education system relys on it more and more every year.

Why do we cling to this stupid system? Wouldn’t it make more sense for teachers, who presumably have a good grasp of how well their students are doing, to decide things like if a student should graduate high school? And what does it say about our college system that so many major schools ask only for test scores and grades to admit someone to college without requiring letters of recommendation or writing samples (essays). I think that only one of the colleges that I applied to six years ago actually required an interview. So what do colleges know about their applicants? Not a whole lot.

I just think that there needs to be a better system. I think that our current system of standardized tests is deeply flawed. Even if the tests truly were good at measuring anything, how can we rely on them so heavily when the scoring system is not only prone to inaccuracy, but missing any way of checking if the scoring is accurate? Students never see their tests again after they take them, so it isn’t very fair to rely on them to question their scores (especially when it is so difficult to do so even if you want to). Students cannot be expected to police the scoring system, particularly since they are so far removed from it.

If we want standardized test scores to mean anything (and given how the college application process works, I’m not convinced that it actually matters that they do), then the scoring needs to be consistant and accurate. I’m not reassured that the problems are fixed, especially given that they say that every time errors happen! I don’t understand the process well enough to be able to suggest a solution that has any hope of success, but someone must!

I would love to eliminate standardized tests completely, but barring that I still think the system needs to be heavily revamped. I find it rediculous that these problems are tolerated. There has to be a better way!

Baseball History – Effa Manley

Guess what? Effa Manley has just been chosen as the first woman ever to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame! She was the owner of a Negro League team called the Eagles and a great advocate for African Americans in baseball! She apparently did a lot to promote and push for African Americans in baseball, both as players and executives. She sounds like a pretty amazing woman! And now she is making history of her own as the first woman in the Hall of Fame!

Sometimes I Hate being an American

There are times when I really really don’t want to live in the United States of American anymore, and lately I’ve been feeling like that an awful lot. A lot of why I feel this way is because I’m a woman and it sure feels like being a woman means having fewer rights in this country these days. It certainly means that my body is fair game for extensive legislation.

The Supreme Court is set to make a ruling on “partial-birth abortions” (which is a terribly ambiguous non-medical term). Besides the fact that I don’t really feel that the Supreme Court is an appropriate body to pass rules about what doctors can and can not do to help their patients, this is a big deal. The biggest issue with this law is that it completely lacks any provision for the mother’s health and safety. What the government considers “partial-birth abortions” happen very rarely and almost always because there is a serious issue with the mother’s health or safety as a direct result of her pregnancy. Usually there is a serious problem with the pregnancy for both mother and baby. Often there is really no hope for the baby, but some for the mother. The more logistical and less human issue is that the phrase “partial-birth abortion” is not a medical one at all, in fact, in medical terms it means almost nothing and has so many loopholes as to be meaningless.

To make things that much more fun, South Dakota just passed a law that outlaws all abortions, period. There is absolutely no provisions for the safety of the mother or pregancy as the result of rape or incest, although they were proposed and voted down. The state claims that it’s intention is to force the Supreme Court to make a ruling on the issue. They waited until Alito was firmly in place, you will notice, before taking this step, so one would assume that they expect it to be upheld (or at least want it to be). The problem is that this shows no regard at all for the health and safety of the women of South Dakota. If I were in South Dakota, I would seriously move right now (and if I was already moving, I’d move out of the country).

The third thing is smaller in scope than the first two, but potentially just as violating. Recently the FDA changed the requirements for being given a drug that treats severe acne (the disfiguring kind of acne). They have decided that women and their doctors cannot be trusted to ensure that the women are not pregant before they take a drug that is potentially harmful to an unborn baby. To ensure this, the women must register as part of a national database and must take a forced pregancy test which will be recorded in the database along with the results of the test. There are several logistical issues with the system as well, but the part that concerns me is the forced pregancy tests that are then recorded in a government database. The idea that the government has any right to keep track of whether or not I’m pregant is really unsettling to me. This could lead to so many issues with abortions, women’s safety, misscarrages, even parenting issues (with money, support, anything). I agree that the government has the right to know how many kids I have, but they don’t have the right to know when I get pregnant if I don’t want them to know that.

Basically, I really hate the idea of my safety being decided by a bunch of men in Washington who really don’t care that much. I hate that my uterus is considered as valid a thing to legislate as property is. That equates me to property and that isn’t fair or American. Period.

I want to move.

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