Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Nobel committee judge: American authors need not apply

The head of the Nobel prize for literature feels that no American writer has the gravitas worthy of the award:
Speaking generally about American literature, [...] [Horace Engdahl] said U.S. writers are "too sensitive to trends in their own mass culture," dragging down the quality of their work.

"The U.S. is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature," Engdahl said. "That ignorance is restraining."
A couple of notable Americans in the literature business defend our current crop of writers:
"You would think that the permanent secretary of an academy that pretends to wisdom but has historically overlooked Proust, Joyce, and Nabokov, to name just a few non-Nobelists, would spare us the categorical lectures," said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker.

"And if he looked harder at the American scene that he dwells on, he would see the vitality in the generation of Roth, Updike, and DeLillo, as well as in many younger writers, some of them sons and daughters of immigrants writing in their adopted English. None of these poor souls, old or young, seem ravaged by the horrors of Coca-Cola."

Harold Augenbraum, executive director of the foundation which administers the National Book Awards, said he wanted to send Engdahl a reading list of U.S. literature.

"Such a comment makes me think that Mr. Engdahl has read little of American literature outside the mainstream and has a very narrow view of what constitutes literature in this age," he said.

"In the first place, one way the United States has embraced the concept of world culture is through immigration. Each generation, beginning in the late 19th century, has recreated the idea of American literature." [....]
Having read several recent Nobel recipients (the latest being Austrian Elfriede Jelinek, 2004 winner), I can attest that there is little to commend some of them. Their chief qualities seem to be a hatred of western life, and a willingness to distort it. How very brave they must appear to the guardians of *Literature*.

However, an American they've overlooked - and who clearly fits the bill - is one of my favorites, American ex-pat Gore Vidal. Apart from being an excellent writer, his qualifications include: anti-American enough to live abroad (although he lives or lived most recently in Rome, so I can hardly hold that against him), being gay (The City and the Pillar was an early post war novel that dealt frankly with homosexuality), dislikes organized religion, politics left enough to reassure the Nobel committee (he is a keen-eyed social critic), has written controversial books (e.g., Live from Golgotha), and was damned good throughout his career.

Sure to work against him, though: he has worked in Hollywood, and George Bush is our president. On the other hand he was related to Jackie O and got on well with most of the Kennedys (notable exception: Bobby).

It may be that he can win next year under an Obama presidency - provided he lives long enough.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Obama's comprehensive sex education bill included teaching KG about preventing sexually transmitted infections

McCain's ad about Obama's support of sex education in kindergarten has much of the left and right of the blogging world slinging charges, counter charges and denunciations. None of the posts I've read (admittedly few) have ever pointed to the bill's language to make their point.

So as a service to you, lone reader, I have the link and some incriminating language (passage has been cleaned up to make it more readable; emphases supplied) (this passage is found at heading 9, line 22, through heading 10, line 7):
Sec. 3. Comprehensive Health Education Program. (a) The program established under this Act shall include, but not be limited to, the following major educational areas as a basis for curricula in all elementary and secondary schools in this State: human ecology and health, human growth and development, the emotional, psychological, physiological, hygienic and social responsibilities of family life, including sexual abstinence and prevention of unintended pregnancy until marriage, prevention and control of disease, including age appropriate instruction in grades K through 12 on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV, public and environmental health, consumer health, safety education and disaster survival, mental health and illness, personal health habits, alcohol, drug use, and abuse including the medical and legal ramifications of alcohol, drug, and tobacco use, abuse during pregnancy, sexual abstinence, tobacco, nutrition, and dental health.

Just in case that isn't clear enough, this is from the first section, beginning at line 13:

Each class or course in comprehensive sex education offered in any of grades K through 12 shall include instruction on the prevention of sexually transmitted infections, including the prevention, transmission and spread of HIV AIDS.
Several of the apoligists for Obama note that the bill called for age approproiate education, and true enough, it's there in the upper quoted section. However, it also calls for teaching kindergartners about preventing sexually transmitted infections. Although I am generally in favor of too much sex ed rather than too little, this formulation goes too far. I don't care how it's presented, the topic is simply beyond what a five or six year old should learn. In addition, requiring teaching about the medical and legal raminfications of drug abuse during pregnancy is ridiculous.

Apparently the original draft had the explicit education portion limited to grades 6 through 12 (follow the link and go to heading 1 line 14, and heading 9, line 33). Some legislator(s) lowered it to Kindergarten.

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