Imposing Content-Based Restrictions on Teachers Through Law Violates Free Expression

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Pen America, July 5, 2022

AZ Capitol Building – Wikipedia Photo

(NEW YORK)– Since Republican state legislators began proposing educational gag orders in January 2021, votes on these legislative restrictions on the freedom to read, learn, and teach have generally broken down along partisan lines.

Last week, however, 11 Democrats in the Arizona House of Representatives introduced HB 2634, an unsuccessful bill that would have banned from school curricula “any textbook or other instructional material…that contains any matter reflecting adversely on persons on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, nationality, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In response, Jeremy C. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America. said: “Government-imposed censorship of students and teachers is always the wrong approach, no matter the motivation, and no matter which side of the political aisle it comes from. Educational gag orders have no place in our schools, period.

Had HB 2634 become law, Arizona teachers might have been unable to assign materials that depict historical or literary instances of discrimination to educate students about why discrimination is wrong — such as the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision or the works of Pulitzer Prizewinning author Toni Morrison. We should never seek to impose content-based restrictions on teachers through the force of law. Doing so violates the principle of free expression and impoverishes student learning in the classroom.”



Bernie Sanders Chair Meme 

Source: Bernie Sanders Chair Meme Photographer Details Famous Shot – Rolling Stone

Sanders, we hear, likes the meme this photograph began and put it on a sweatshirt that sold out immediately. Goodness knows the meme is showing up everywhere, from Facebook to Google searches to everyone with Photoshop who can blend the chair seamlessly into photographs in all kinds of places from what was originally thought to be a fly in Pence’s hair during a debate to Queen Elizabeth’s castle.

According to CNN, “Bernie Sanders inauguration memes are what this country needed.” After all the bad stuff, Judy Gold–who wrote that opinion piece–might be right: “Whatever political party you pledge allegiance to, whatever your socio-economic background, immigration status, language, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion…there is a Bernie meme for you. Bernie Gangnam stylin’, Bernie with Chewbacca, or playing chess in the Queen’s Gambit. Bernie on the subway.”

This picture’s become like that old take-your-yard-gnome-on-vacation gag. The more outlandish the result, the bigger the laugh.

Gotta love it.


Is this my country?

Wikipedia photographs

Some of you lost your innocence yesterday during or after the insurrection about the sanctity of the democratic process and the safety of those in the capitol building carrying out the work.

I first lost my innocence in 1954 when Puerto Rican nationalists fired 30 rounds from semiautomatic weapons in the House Chamber. Five representatives were wounded. Those who say yesterday’s violence was the first in the building since the British invasion in 1814 don’t know their recent history.

Plus, comparing yesterday’s insurrection to the British invasion is not only dramatic but carries the subtext that the mob invading the capitol building to protest what they believed was a stolen election is somehow of the same magnitude as the invasion. It was not a coup attempt in spite of what many politicians and media commentators said.

Many of us lost our innocence again and again during the Vietnam War when the federal government not only faked the Gulf of Tonkin resolutions that “legalized” our participation but seldom told us the truth about the conduct and progress of the war. As a supporter of Eugene McCarthy and a volunteer in the McGovern campaign, I note just how much the Democrats have changed.

Continued racism, violence in the cities, senseless foreign wars, the hoax of the Russian conspiracy investigation based on political angst, lies and faked documents, and the lack of a unified, countrywide COVID response have eaten away at our patriotic soul.

Nonetheless, giving up on our country is not an option. I still believe that.


Time to put the caricatures back in the box

“The new president will also need to redeem his promise that he will be the president not only of those who voted for him but of all Americans. Contrary to what some Democrats seem to believe, there are tens of millions of Trump voters who are not cultists, conspiracy theorists or racists.” – The Los Angeles Times

We’re not the bumbling fools the opposition says we are.

The politics of late have killed many friendships because good, everyday people from multiple positions on the political spectrum accepted as gospel the worst slanders and caricatures extremists on both sides of the aisle disseminated about the opposition.

Whether those friendships died during a discussion about an issue that exploded into a giant disagreement that could not be healed or simply because one friend or the other could not stomach a supporter of the opposite party, the deaths weakened the country and made the survivors more susceptible to the next words of hatred and contempt from the Republican and Democrat parties, their officials, and their supporters.

We have a chance, I hope, to stop accepting the worst libels flung at or by the opposition.

As the Los Angeles Times said, all Trump voters and other Republicans are not idiots trying to re-establish the ways and means and attitudes of the 1840s into the American of the 2020s, nor are they all advocating the patrol of city streets by unregulated and militant militias of unwashed thugs.

Likewise, all Biden supporters are not “commies in the making” who want to allow the entire population of Mexico into the United States with the same healthcare, employment rights, and voting rights as citizens while trying to kowtow to so many groups they advocate the repression of freedom of speech whenever a discouraging word is said about anyone they support.

Everyone who is somewhat politically aware (or better) can make a list of the caricatures of their opponents they’ve engraved in stone. Some are true. Most aren’t. In the 1960s, some of the antiwar protesters thought that if the U.S. and the Vietcong sat down and sang “Kumbaya” together, the war would end. People who thought so were mocked by everyone. Today, those who want all political parties to step back from the extremists in their midst and work together will be mocked by everyone. Why? Working together sounds too much like childish naïveté.

That’s too bad. The country faces multiple issues that will take multiple ideas and approaches from multiple belief systems to solve. We’ve seen that the slander/caricature approach didn’t work. So let’s try something new: honestly working together. Working together will take work rather like estranged marriage partners trying to reconcile their differences.

But what’s the alternative? Another civil war? Climate change, immigration, and racial conflicts out of control? Loss of our Bill of Rights due to one expediency or another? None of these are acceptable outcomes.

We can do better because if we can’t we will keep doing worse.


On election nights, I want all those talking heads to shut up

All I need is a scorecard as the polls close.

Candidate A is now ahead of Candidate B while Candidate C is toast.

Instead, CNN, Fox and other the networks brought us an unending number of panels of people–most of whom I’d never heard of–telling me what it meant when Candidate A forged ahead of Candidate B.

I thought it meant that Candidate A currently had more votes. Since NCIS was pre-empted for this information, thought, “Dang, these panels that are shooting the breeze about what the night’s totals and trends mean better be good.”

Instead, they found one hundred ways to state the obvious:

  • “Well, Bob, what do you think Candidate X is going to do now?”
  • “Read the handwriting on the wall.”
  • “What wall is that?”
  • “The wall that says a woman can’t possibly beat two incredibly old white men with one foot in the grave.”
  • “That wall’s been around a long time.”

Was there anything new here, new enough to pre-empt Gibbs and the rest of the NCIS crew? No, there wasn’t. Who watches this stuff? I don’t. I mute the talking heads and check the voting totals from time to time.

Then I go and watch a taped episode of “Penn & Teller Fool Us” where the sleight of hand is more interesting than the candidates’ sleight of hand. And less harmful.




Does anyone know how the Russians are meddling in U.S. elections?

I haven’t seen any evidence of it, but then maybe it’s really subtle and/or maybe I’ve been brainwashed.

Some people say Russia is putting ads on Facebook that are filled with disinformation that purportedly makes Democrats look bad and Republicans look good. Okay, let’s suppose that’s true. My response tends to be, “So what.”

Seeing an ad, from Russia or anyone else, doesn’t automatically make me believe it, much less take any action. I still have freedom of choice, so I can’t figure out how Russian-placed ads (if there are any) are any more harmful/helpful than any other political ads.

Or, have I simply missed the boat here?

Now, if the Russians are hacking into our election software, that’s another kettle of borsch. Somebody messed up big in Iowa, but I don’t think the Russians caused it. My wife and I used to write custom software for a living: we were talking about this last night and we are truly happy that we didn’t write any caucus reporting software for anyone.

At my age, I’m cynical about a lot of things it’s probably pointless to be cynical about. But I’m not worried about the Russians trying to influence my vote. When it comes to cynicism, I’m more concerned about the U. S. government spying on me than the Russians: NSA, FISA courts, Patriot Act, oh my.

In terms of the election, the Russkies–as we called them during the cold war–aren’t even on my RADAR. Neither is Putin.  I’m more concerned about finding a viable candidate I like who can win rather than worrying about mudslinging no matter where it originates.

What about you? Can you decide who to vote for without the Russians’ help? I’m pretty sure you can.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”



When politicians eat crow, are they happy?

I’ve never eaten crow, figuratively or literally so I had to Google “eating crow” to see what it tastes like. One answer on a Q&A site said crow tastes a lot like an owl (well, that’s helpful) or like a duck without the grease. When I was in high school, a lot of my friends hunted ducks and they pleased my mother no end by ringing the doorbell and handing her a lot of duck corpses. I knew how to clean ducks, but I was in college, so mother got stuck doing it.

With that in mind, when the growing list of interwoven, atrocious news stories finally comes to an end, the politicians who end up eating crow might have a pretty good meal–a little gamey, perhaps–but not so bad. It’s too bad crow doesn’t taste like chicken since many of the politicians mentioned in recent news were either acting like chickens (scared) or running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Have you noticed? Every day’s news is weirder than it was the day before. In fact, it all reads/sounds like satire, like some Peter Sellers or Jim Carrey or John Cleese movie.  There’s no way everyone out there is telling the truth or even knows what it is. That means, we’re going to need a lot of crows.

As it turns out, crows are smarter than a lot of people in Congress. What a shame to kill them, broil them and feed them to all the liars. How did things come to this?

I guess it’s our fault, the voters, that is. We elected these people. And now, look at the mess they’ve made. I have no idea how to fix it, though I do thinking that eating crow might seem like a reward opposed to, say, fear and trembling and/or jail time. Apparently, we haven’t been minding the store. Out employees–Senators and Representatives–have been doing what they want rather than listening to us. That’s insubordination at best.

Do you have a solution for the mess in Washington, D.C.? Term limits is my solution because it keeps people who are supposed to be working for us from becoming all-powerful millionaires at our expense. No doubt, their staffs keep crow in the freezer just in case.



How political should a novelist be?

If an author writes novels that attack societal ills and/or the effective or foolish programs politicians propose for solving them, chances are good that if the novel is contemporary the author agrees with the focus of his/her fiction. In fact, some activist authors are calling for more novels and poems that focus on the issues in the days’ news.

But what if an author isn’t writing those kinds of novels? Should s/he tell readers in speeches and blogs how s/he feels about the issues? Generally, I think not. I’ve crossed that line on this blog from time to time, and have usually regretted doing it because I’m not an activist author even though I have strong views about many things.

Why the regret? Mainly because the purpose of this blog is to discuss writing and to call attention to my books and the subjects surrounding my books. Since I’ve written three novels about a conjure woman, you’ll find me talking about hoodoo and some of the spells and herbs that are typical of a rootworker. Because those novels involve folk magic, I’ve also written a lot of posts about magic. Or, the silly stuff and important stuff going on in my life. (Like cat gravity and cancer treatments.)

So, even though I’ve crossed the line from time to time and posted here about political subjects that have nothing to do with my books, I really don’t think it’s my place to speak out here about the Kurds in Syria or a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.

Hope Clark (Funds for Writers founder as well as a novelist) made the point in her latest newsletter that she thought it was in poor taste for a publisher’s editor to make comments at a conference for prospective children’s book authors about her negative feelings about President Trump.

According to Clark, that editor risked:

  • “alienating members of the crowd
  • marring the good name of the publisher
  • tarnishing the reputation of the conference”

In this case, the editor was an employee and probably wasn’t authorized by her publisher to make political statements when she was there to talk about best practices for writing and publishing books for children. Employees in other fields have gotten in trouble with their employers for wearing buttons or tee shirts or jewellery that espouses a political or religious opinion because those beliefs might be construed by the public as the beliefs of the employer.

I used to enjoy watching the Oscars even though the program always ran too long and might reasonably have been called an actors-and-producers mutual admiration society. Be that as it may, I don’t watch the program any more because it has become too much (my view) of a political platform for hosts, presenters, and award recipients. When I did watch it, I wanted to know about the best movies of the year, not what the on-stage talent thought of the President or Congress.

Non-activist writers of fiction can easily get into the same quicksand by turning off the very people who love their books by going on and on about current issues. Current issues viewpoints are not why readers and prospective readers are reading a blog, attending a reading/signing, or listening to a speech at a convention. They want to know about the stories and, possibly, how to write stories of their own.

Why send away prospective readers who might enjoy your next novel by allowing immaterial political beliefs into the mix?








Turkish Delight Banned in the U. S.

Washington, D. C., October 13, 2019, Star-Gazer News Service–In response to the Turkish invasion of Syria to exterminate long-time allies of the United States, the administration has banned Turkish Delight until the Turks stop killing Kurds.

Wikipedia Photo

Banning Tsar Joe Doaks said that, “With Hallowe’en just around the corner, this action will hit Turkey in the pocketbook big time, forcing it to stop the invasion we greenlighted several weeks ago.”

While Kurdish spokesmen remain unconvinced the ban will save their lives or keep ISIS prisoners from escaping blown-up jails, the Administration believes new sanctions will “teach Turkey a lesson.”

“Don’t make us ban turkeys from Thanksgiving,” Doaks said. “If Turkey really wants to suck up to Russia, let them eat Borscht.”

DeepState, a policy thinktank outside the long shadow of the White House, said, “The U. S. can sanction countries around the world until the cows and coffins come home, but statistics show that such sanctions never stopped anyone from doing whatever they wanted to do.”

In a DeepState white paper released yesterday, experts said they found the Administration’s assertions that it had not abandoned the Kurds “laughable” even though two out of three comedians say “it’s no laughing matter.”

The Kurds, who have been U.S. allies longer than Turkey (neutral during most of WWII), said that “At present, we feel no need to ever trust the United States again, especially since the Turkish invasion will lead to more chaos in the region for years to come. When that happens, don’t come back to us with the lame ‘pull my finger joke.'”

Doaks blamed Wikileaks for telling the Kurds about the “pull my finger joke.”

Informed sources say that Americans no longer know “what the hell” Turkish delight is, so most trick-or-treaters won’t be harmed by the ban.

Story by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter






I worry about all the shouting these days

Politics has become very confrontational these days, so much so that the Congress would rather provoke the opposition with tirades rather than work together to actually accomplish something. Even a watered-down improvement in a major issue is likely to be better than inaction.

Most of us know that when a business meeting, city council meeting, or family discussion turns into exaggerations and shouting matches, nothing good will come out of it. Protestors and members of Congress seem to have forgotten this.

In a Facebook discussion yesterday, I got into a debate with somebody who said we are duty-bound as citizens to become counter-protesters whenever a group we despise holds a rally or a “parade.” I disagreed. When certain groups, and their opposites, meet on a city street, the result is shouting. By itself, that accomplishes nothing. Sometimes it leads to violence and property destruction. The news media has a field day and the group that scheduled the march gets a lot of publicity.

I would rather ignore them. Let them have a march that’s met with absolute silence. That hardly makes the news. I grew up in a county where the KKK had a march about once every month or so. Those who supported the KKK stood and watched them go by on the street. Those who didn’t support them stayed away. The result: the news media had nothing to report and nobody got killed or arrested.

Then, as now, anyone yelling verbal threats at the marchers (or getting in their faces) is committing a crime (assault). Is it worth getting arrested to tell members of a group one doesn’t like that they’re really full of it? That’s what they want you to do. That gives them news coverage and lends some of their opposition in jail. Who’s the winner here?

When this kind of thing happens, we all lose. Instead of dialogue that might lead somewhere, we maintain the angry status quo where nothing gets fixed.