Friday, July 31, 2009

Flailing Snobs, Offended Racists, and Some Really Cool People Ending Hunger

A quick compilation post because I have a story due tomorrow and a few thousand more words to go on it.

Rich Snobs in New York Blocking Children's Library Expansion

My husband sent me a link to this article in School Library Journal.

Library Director Dennis Fabiszak has said that the East Hampton Village Board of Zoning Appeals has expressed concern that an expanded children’s collection would lead to more library usage by those who live in the less affluent areas of Springs and Wainscott.

East Hampton Village is a posh area where a lot of rich people (like Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, Rudolph Giuliani) have summer homes. Certain residents are objecting to a 6800-square-foot expansion to the children's area (which last year was ranked last in available books per child, although the article doesn't say whether that was last in the state or the nation or what) for which private funds -- four million dollars -- have already been raised. The expansion will add ten thousand children's books to the library to go with all that floor space, and most libraries would be delighted with the project.

In fact, the library is delighted with it, and wishes they could get on with the implementation.

The problem is apparently that "The library serves not only the Village of East Hampton but also the less affluent communities of Springs and Wainscott." Ahh, there's the rub. Some of the locals (just enough, apparently) object to the expansion because one never knows what sort of child would come in to use the library if they actually acquired a decent children's collection.

I haven't done any demographic research on these areas (see above for time crunch) but I doubt very strongly that the people of Springs and Wainscott are, like, horribly poor or anything. One doesn't generally build a fashionable community for wealthy people's second (or third or fourth) homes right next to a slum. So my guess is that Springs and Wainscott are probably middle class. If anyone knows otherwise, please drop a note and I'll post a correction, but seriously, I doubt any of the people who live near enough to East Hampton to send their kids to its library are getting government cheese, you know?

Which means that the people objecting to the expansion are horrified at the thought of having to pass actual Middle Class People in the halls of their public library. The horrors! O_O One has to wonder, if they'll fight this hard to keep children who aren't actually rich out of their library, just how much empathy or compassion these people have for those who are actually poor.

Racists Criticized For Racist Remarks Cry Censorship

No, really. Jim Hines posted a thoughtful, down-to-earth entry about freedom of speech and censorship and the consequences of being a jerkwad, in response to this open letter on the Carl Brandon Society site, which went up in response to this series of posts/incidents and particularly the third one. The original incident is over and done, since someone explained to Mr. Ellison that he'd been misled and he apologized (sort of) and Ms. Bradford accepted (see the fourth link) but the basic principle being discussed applies to any discussion and Mr. Hines discussed it in a more general context. The core of his point:

* People disagreeing with you is not censorship.
* People stating that they don’t like your cover art and think its racist, sexist, or whatever, is not censorship.
* People banning you from their blogs is not censorship.
* For the writers out there, an editor rejecting your story for his/her publication is not censorship.
* People saying they don’t like something you said is not censorship.
* People telling you racial slurs are unacceptable is not censorship.
* People criticising, mocking, or insulting you for choosing to use racial slurs is not censorship.

Also this: Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.


And to wrap on a positive note:

Brazilian City of Belo Horizonte Ends Hunger with a System That's Working

This Yes! Magazine article describes a system in which the government, the farmers and the citizens of the city all work together to end hunger, and all benefit. Usually programs to end hunger end up messing someone over. You can only live on government cheese and civil defense crackers for so long before the nutritional deficiencies become clear, and hunger programs based on government hand-outs both diminish the dignity of the beneficiaries and become an ever-greater burden on the taxpayer. Producers are often abused for the benefit of the poor, which drives the former producers into poverty themselves.

Belo Horizonte has figured out a way of making their program work for everyone, though. The poor have access to fresh produce at a reduced price, and the farmers are making more money selling their produce direct to the customers.

A farmer in a cheerful green smock, emblazoned with "Direct from the Countryside," grinned as she told us, "I am able to support three children from my five acres now. Since I got this contract with the city, I’ve even been able to buy a truck."

The improved prospects of these Belo farmers were remarkable considering that, as these programs were getting underway, farmers in the country as a whole saw their incomes drop by almost half.

One of the prime gauges of hunger in a population is the infant mortality statistics.

In just a decade Belo Horizonte cut its infant death rate—widely used as evidence of hunger—by more than half, and today these initiatives benefit almost 40 percent of the city’s 2.5 million population. One six-month period in 1999 saw infant malnutrition in a sample group reduced by 50 percent. And between 1993 and 2002 Belo Horizonte was the only locality in which consumption of fruits and vegetables went up.

Sounds to me like it's working. Major kudos to the people and government of Belo Horizonte.

There's more -- definitely read the article. They've got something here; it'd be great to see it spread to other areas.



Charles Gramlich said...

Nice to see the post end on a positive note. those first two had me shaking my head at the human race.

Angie said...

Charles -- thanks. Sometimes it seems like there's just so much WTF in the world, I feel like I'm about to drown in it. It was great to see that last piece and be able to include it, like when your head breaks the surface of the water and you can finally take a clear breath.


laughingwolf said...

i'm with you both...

but how can any child smart enough to use any library be deemed as not worthy of reading? GRRRRRRRR

Angie said...

LW -- exactly! It's disgraceful, and I hope the people involved are getting a good shaming in the media and in their own community. I'm sure there are many good people in East Hampton Village, but they need to take over from the snobs and do what's right.


Caryn Caldwell said...

Okay, that story about the library made me seriously angry. Where do they get off censoring children's reading materials - which is essentially what they are doing? And if their objection is to the actual kids who visit, what kind of people do they think go to libraries, anyway? In my experience, library patrons are the sort of people you *want* in your neighborhood because they tend to be smart, literate, and open-minded. How can that be bad?

Actually, though, when we had a bond election for our new library many people argued against it for a similar reason. They said that "only hippies and riff-raff use the library" and that they just go to use the internet, anyway, so why spend all that money to upgrade. Ha! A few years after the library was built, it began receiving many HUGE national and state awards. All it needed was a little funding and the library staff and community members did the rest.

Hmm...Can you tell I'm passionate about this subject???

Angie said...

Caryn -- absolutely. [nod] And with all the funding in this case privately donated, they can't even hide behind a financial excuse, so they had to show how classist they are. Either they thought no one would notice, or (even worse) they expected everyone to agree with them. :/

And so what if people go to the library to use the internet? Having free internet available in libraries is one of the major contributors toward narrowing the digital divide. There are great resources online and everyone should have access to them. Even if it's just kids hanging out on MySpace or reading web comics or playing games, there are certainly worse things they could be doing.

And since they're purchasing 10K books, they clearly expect the kids who come in to be reading, which is always a good thing.

Sometimes it seems the world just doesn't have enough sporks, you know?


Caryn Caldwell said...

Exactly. One thing that bothers me is when people try to keep children from reading. For example, the snobs who tell their kids they may read only classics, when they sometimes need to discover the joy of reading through Harry Potter or Captain Underpants or whatever before they become motivated to want to read the classics. When I worked in a bookstore, I watched numerous times as a family would pass and the kids would beg to come in, while their parents just kept tugging them along the sidewalk, in too big a hurry to go browse the books for a while. And the biggest shame in the case you mentioned, of course, is that the money is all donated. It's ridiculous to turn such a thing down.

Angie said...

Caryn -- When I worked in a bookstore, I watched numerous times as a family would pass and the kids would beg to come in, while their parents just kept tugging them along the sidewalk, in too big a hurry to go browse the books for a while.

That's... wow. :/ I hope they were in a hurry to catch visiting hours after Grandma's heart surgery or something. I mean, good grief, it's not like the kids were begging to go into the candy store!