Archive for May 5th, 2006

An unanticipated joy of having children is access to hundreds, thousands, of children's books. And let me tell you, there are some fan-tas-tic books out there. And some lousy ones.

Here's the deal, the books written as concepts, or books written for parents – these books suck. Let me give you an example: “Autumn Walk” by Ann Burg, illustrated by Kelly Asbury. The first warning sign is that it's topical. In this case, an autumn theme. It's about…well..an anthropomorphic dog-boy who takes a walk. And, well, that's pretty much it.

What makes the book particularly odious is that it's written in a strict metric and rhyming scheme, something like seven beats per line, an iambic-esque beat. That's another warning sign, because children's authors who do this end up stuffing their “stories” into a tangle of increasingly complex sentences and metaphors, and they use too many adjectives and adverbs. (Writing advice: like a canoe, a sentence overloaded with baggage tends to tip. At the very least, it looks funny.) The book's storyline, which is why we read children's books, is non-existent.

(Okay – Dr. Suess could do the ryhme thing, the no plot thing, but he made up his own words. “Big F, little f, what begins with f? Four fluffy feathers on a fiffer-feffer feff.” And he was a friggin' genius. I mean, a normal guy would give up the whole alphabet theme thing once he landed on “X.” Not Suess. What does he do? He colors outside the lines: “X is very useful if your name is 'Nixie Knox.' It also comes in handy spelling 'ax' and 'extra fox.'” That's right — you don't have to use words that begin with the letter “X'!)

Here's sample language from “Autumn Walk”:

A whiff of apples and cinnamon toast, air that is corduroy-cold,

The street is ablaze in crimson and brown, and the sun shines pumpkin gold.

Whirling and twirling, the leaves are calling. “Come play with us, come play!”

Laughing like clowns, spinning around – autumn is here, let's play!

Ugh. “Ablaze”? What the h*ll does “corduroy-cold” mean? Corduroy's not cold! So who's “laughing like clowns”? The leaves? Autumn? The dog-boy? Leaves call, my *ss.

That's not even the worst of it. And there's this one panel that drives me nuts – at least since my dad pointed it out. There's a picture of this little dog-boy looking up into a tree, and there's a spider in her web, and two birds building a nest! See? See? It's a book about autumn! The text? “Plump feathered birds search for scraps to pad their cozy nests.” Birds build their nests in the spring, you moron. Unless you're from New Zealand, but then there's the falling leaves, pumpkins, etc…

“Autumn Walk” is a book written by an adult for an adult. Only both adults think it's all about children. There is a surprising amount of this crud on the market.

Now, a great book: “Curious George.”

It stars a monkey. I mean, come on! Do I need to explain this to you?

The language is simple and direct. Take the opening lines of “Curious George,” they'd make Hemingway proud:

This is George. He lived in Africa. He was a good little monkey and always very curious.

What more do you need to know?

Besides being easy to understand and especially laden with imagery, the language is weird. There's a strange juxtaposition between sentences, one blunt statement following the next, implying causation, but really narrating a series of random events. Take the scene where the firemen break down George's door, catch him, then…well…read on:

The firemen rushed into the house. They opened the door. NO FIRE! ONLY a naughty little monkey. “Oh, catch him, catch him,” they cried. George tried to run away. He almost did, but he got caught in the telephone wire [by the way, try explaining telephone wires to a 21st century child], and – a thin fireman caught one arm and a fat fireman caught the other. “You fooled the fire department,” they said. “We will have to shut you up where you can't do anymore harm.” They took him away and shut him in a prison.

Holy smokes! Talk about government workers exceeding their authority! It's like a Bush administration fantasy! But see what I mean? One sentence piling on the next, absurdity multiplying, no messy details or concerns about the “whys” and “hows.” Get that monkey into prison! Forget about due process of law, animal control, the issue of breaking and entering and the theft of the Man in the Yellow Hat's property, the monkey he stole from Africa.

(Off the topic: The cover for “Curious George” comes from this scene. In the book the two firemen – one thin, one fat – have George by the arms. The thin guy looks smug, the fat guy is dang angry and lecturing George and pointing to what we can only assume to be his future in a cell. George looks miserable, as one would expect. On the cover, however, it's the same picture – only George is laughing! Talk about misrepresentation! Some poor kid, from seeing the cover, might think the book is about a monkey enjoying a walk with firemen. Imagine his surprise – his shock — when that innocent image is revealed to be a mockery of George's sufferings! I tell you, this H.A. Rey guy is a genius.)

Things happen. For example, on page one, George is swinging on a vine in his jungle home, enjoying a banana. By page five, he's stuffed in a bag and headed out to sea, captive of the mysterious and sadistic Man in the Yellow Hat.

Which brings me to…bad things happen. This is a very important feature for a good children's book. What's a better story, “Hansel and Gretl,” or “Barney's ABCs”? I don't know about you, but I'll take the book about parents who leave their kids to die in the woods and a cannibal witch, over a fat, excessively happy purple dinosaur reciting the alphabet.

Lots of bad things happen to Curious George in “Curious George.” He's kidnapped. He falls overboard during an ocean voyage and nearly drowns. He's assaulted by an entire fire department. He's thrown in prison. (Complete with wooden bed and rats!) He's dragged into the air by runaway balloons and nearly falls to his death. At the conclusion, he's living in a dilapidated tree on a tiny island in an overcrowded zoo.

And while we're on this topic, let's talk about the Man in the Yellow Hat. This is the guy who should be thrown in prison.

First he kidnaps George, then he provides no supervision while George is in his care. George falls in the water, fights a fire department, goes to jail: where's the Man with the Yellow Hat all this time? You steal a monkey from his home, you should at least have the decency to make sure it's okay!

And when George is in some particularly nasty tangle, does the Man in the Yellow Hat ever look concerned? Sad? No way! George comes floating down on top of a traffic light causing a massive pile-up at the intersection, does the Man in the Yellow Hat gasp with horror at the carnage? Does he show remorse for letting the monkey get in trouble? Is he angry at least? No! He's laughing! “Ha ha ha, there's my monkey causing a twenty-car pile-up, floating down out of the sky when I thought he was home in my apartment.” I'm curious to see how the movie handles this.

In the first book, at least, we can understand why the Man in the Yellow Hat leaves George alone. He doesn't know what trouble George can make. In the later books, however, the Man in the Yellow Hat has no such excuse. In “Curious George Wins a Medal,” he leaves George home all day. George ends up staining the rug with ink, flooding the apartment, stealing a cow, and destroying a museum exhibit. In “Curious George Rides a Bike,” the Man in the Yellow Hat gives George a bike, then drives off to work! He just gave a monkey a bike! And drives off! Is it any wonder George hitches a ride with two strange men who dress him up in a costume and make him do acrobatics?

And what's with the yellow outfit?

See, these are elements of a great story. Random events linked only by proximity, but causation is implied. Folks, that's how we experience real life. We go throw a series of random events then create a story from them after the fact. The story creates meaning. From meaning we derive comfort for the multitude of sufferings and joys that afflict us.

Kids dig that.

Links…

American Prospect’s Greg Sargent analyzes traditional media’s strong reaction to bloggers: “Bloggers are also a threat because they're in the process of making the opinion-generating profession a purely meritocratic one.” Atrios has an excellent point about the media’s accusation against blogs: they should name names, give specific examples. We're not all the same, believe it or not.

F-Words on Porn. I feel a little patriarchal linking to a feminist’s post because it’s all about pornography, but sex sells! Plus it’s interesting.

A Maine blogger is sued for complaining how his state government is spending money. No joke. Lance Dutson complained about the terrible job the state’s board of tourism was doing. Now the board’s suing. Apparently no one’s heard of the First Amendment in Maine.

Ex-CIA vet calls out Rummy, asks him why he lied about WMDs in Iraq. Yes, a pointless question because Rummy will never admit he lied, but a nice gesture.

Jane Hamsher thinks the recent confrontations of citizens against administration officials might represent “…the simmering public feelings of frustration…” with the President and his minions.

Rightie Blue Crab Boulevard defends the Beloved Leader’s minion by reminding us that Rummy allowed the man to speak. Gee, thanks, Rumsfield! Of course imagine the reaction if Rummy allowed McGovern to be dragged off… Incidentally BCB calls McGovern an “anti-Semite” – confusing Israel with Judiasm – and a supporter of government leakers. He’s referring to McGovern’s support of CIA leaker Mary McCarthy, who let the world know about the CIA’s secret prisons. Um…I don’t think any less of McGovern…

Macsmind confuses the administration with the nation, and calls McGovern a “traitor.” Give me a break. Opposition to the government is hardly treason. H*ll, it’s as patriotic as hot dogs and apple pies.

Righty Captain’s Quarters lists Congress’ “chronic pork supporters.” Guess which Western state’s junior Senator made the list?

Porter Goss resigns as head of the CIA. For his involvement in “Hookergate”? Georgia10: “This isn’t part of some White House shake-up. This is a scandal-plagued Bush appointee resigning just as an investigation into another Republican corruption scandal hits too close to home.”

John at Blogenlust on Zarqawi’s blooper reel: “Actually, with all due respect Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, it makes me wonder why a guy as stupid as you suggest is able to kick our ass all over Iraq.”

So Jon Tester has begun the offensive against John Morrison. In last night’s debate, Tester brought up the questions surrounding Morrison’s ethical conduct in his office’s investigation with ex-lover’s husband, David Tacke.

"I think things don't exactly smell correct there and I think what I am concerned about is that this debate between John and Conrad will … be about ethics between the two of them," Tester said.

So now the game is afoot. As Matt Singer pointed out, conservative blogger Eric Coobs is drooling over the idea of a Morrison primary win. That alone should give any sane Montana Democrat pause when heading to the ballot box this coming June.But what’s unspoken in all of this is Paul Richards’ place in the primary.

Everybody – and I mean everybody — likes what Richards has to say. And everybody thinks he doesn’t stand a chance. The Independent:

And Richards, though he’s transparently correct about almost everything, is clearly unelectable.

Pogie:

Paul Richards has been a real dilemma for me throughout the race. I admire his passion, his beliefs, and his specific positions. He just doesn’t have a chance in this race, in part because the media has ignored him, and he is too far left for the state. Throughout the debate, he was the most impressive to me on issues, with specifics for reducing oil dependence and the need for war. Moderates and conservatives often deride liberal visions of the future as urealistic, but I will take Paul Richards’ utopian hopes over the faith-based nightmare of the Bush Administration any day.

Matt Singer:

A lot of folks have said they would vote for Richards if they thought he could win. I probably wouldn’t for a few reasons, but I respect his willingness to speak up. As Jon Stewart said on Crossfire, sometimes the people who know they can’t win have the most freedom to say what they believe.

Wulfgar!:

My problem with Richards is the Utopian nature of his idealism. As Mike indicates, it borders on closet socialism, and to that degree is unrealistic in any kind of practical setting. I like Paul's idealism, and if I thought there was a ghost's chance in hell that we could implement perfect security of transport, absolutely free higher education, and a fully working socialist health care system without bankrupting the country or violating many of our civil rights, I'd probably be in the Richards camp with full throated support. Unfortunately, perhaps, I don't believe in fairy tales, I don't believe the full blown socialist utopia is possible in America, and I cannot support a candidate who will go to Washington and be ineffective.

Yours truly:

Lovely man. I truly believe that if all 100 members of the Senate were like Richards, we'd be much, much, MUCH better off than we are now. Instead of discussing whether we're going to use nukes in our upcoming invasion of Iran, we'd be arguing over student/teacher ratios, charter schools, and multilingual requirements at the elementary school level. (Note to my conservative readers: that's a good thing.) I agree if we dump all the taxpayer money we've wasted on Iraq and other quixotic military plans and invested it in education and alternative energies, we wouldn't be facing any problems with terror, global warming, or much of anything serious. H*ll, it's what we should do.

Unfortunately, we need someone who'll not only work successfully within the framework of the federal government, but also someone who can actually win this race. That man is not Paul Richards. He is, after all, the candidate that compares himself to a “little ray of sunshine” and claims he'll succeed in Washington because of his “positive mentality.” He's almost a stereotype. He can't win.

Get it? Everybody likes what he has to say. Everybody knows he can’t win. In that post on my impressions on the candidates, I noted that Richards himself knows he won’t win, or else he wouldn’t have shown up to the debate in a string tie, shirt unbuttoned, and hiking shoes.

It’s time for Richards to drop out and throw his weight behind one of the other candidates. (Preferably Tester, who will be the more electable Democrat in the general election.)

Am I cold hearted? Yes. Is this a crass political suggestion? Yes, of course.

Look, at the Missoula debate, Richards was surrounded by his supporters. They were mostly liberal Baby Boomers Paul’s age. And that’s the problem with Richards’ presence in this race. He’s a man of Montana’s liberal past. He helped write the state constitution, he sat on the legislature in the 1970s. Many of those that flock to him do so out of a nostalgic desire to recreate the political excitement of 30 years ago. Others flock to him because he’s pretty much right on.

Only this election is too important. There’s too much at stake.

There’s an opportunity to dump one of the worst, most corrupt politicians in Washington D.C. (And that’s saying something!) We have a chance to improve our government!

We have an opportunity to dump one of Bush’s strongest allies in the Senate. Burns has blindly supported almost all of Bush’s worst policies. Burns is a coward and has refused to stand up to Bush’s misdirection in Iraq, to Bush’s grab of executive authority, to Bush’s racking up of federal debt. (In fact, Burns himself has gleefully contributed to the government’s wasteful spending.)

Finally, we have a chance to hold this government accountable for its misdeeds, for torturing, kidnapping, and setting up secret prisons. For its collusion with big oil. For the manufacturing of intelligence to draw us into a war. For its inability to wage war in Iraq. For its inability to provide its citizens with the basic elements of government.

Paul Richards will steal votes from Jon Tester. If Tester loses by the margin of votes that Richards draws, and Morrison loses the general election, ultimately the race will have been decided by Richards’ stubborn refusal to bow out.

Paul, you’ve gotten your message out. We’ve heard you. Many of us support what you say. Thanks for running. But it’s time to go.




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