OPINION PIECE EXCERPT
“Some Muggles Aren't Impressed”
By Larry Atkins
Kids around the world are spellbound by J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. However, some people are out to muzzle the young wizard.
Throughout the country, parents, school districts, religious groups and others have attempted to censor the bestselling Harry Potter series because of the books' alleged occult/Satanic theme — its witchcraft, wizardry, encouragement of dishonesty, religious viewpoint, and violence. According to the American Library Association, the Harry Potter series has topped the list of books challenged for content or appropriateness.
Several elementary schools nationwide have banned the books, and there are efforts to ban Potter from public school classrooms in 26 states. During the last two years, religious groups in New Mexico and Western Pennsylvania burned the Harry Potter books, citing the witchcraft theme.
In 1999, a school superintendent and school board in Michigan banned classroom readings of Harry Potter, required parental permission for older students to check out the books from school libraries and forbade librarians from ordering future books in the series. A teacher and a reading tutor organized students, parents, teachers and others who opposed the ban to form “Muggles for Harry Potter.” (In the Potter series, muggles are people without magical powers.)
Within nine months, 18,000 people nationwide joined the campaign. Through the protesters' efforts, the Michigan school district lifted all restrictions on the books, except for classroom readings for kindergarten through fifth-graders.
The Potter series joins a long list of challenged books such as Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, and John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
In Board of Education v. Pico, the United States Supreme Court held in a 1982 decision that local school boards may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion. The Pico plurality opinion indicated that removal of books is permissible where the book contained pervasive vulgarity or if the book was educationally unsuitable. The court stated that the First Amendment includes the right to receive ideas.
Readers could object to many great books on many counts…. But how far do you take it? Should parents prevent kids from reading the Bible because it contains bloody stories? Should you ban The Diary of Anne Frank because the Holocaust is a disturbing subject?
Authors of great books take creative risks and challenge the reader to use his or her imagination. Otherwise, kids' books would be as bland, noncontroversial, sugarcoated and uninspiring as a Bob Saget sitcom or a Teletubbies script.
With all the evil and violence in society, it's natural for parents to want to protect their children from bad influences in the books they read, movies and television shows they watch, music they listen to, and video games they play.
But, a parent must view a book in its entirety. The Potter books do focus on magic and the occult. However, there are overwhelming themes of morality, love, bravery, loyalty and good triumphing over evil. Kids across the world have identified with and related to Harry as he works his way through life's struggles. Harry's even made it cool to read books and to wear glasses.
The greatest magic of the Potter series doesn't occur at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or at the World Quidditch Cup. It occurs when millions of kids around the world put down their X box video game and eagerly pick up a 870 page book.
Reprinted with permission of the author. Appeared in Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 27, 2003.
“Raising Champions: Helping Your Children Reach Their Athletic Goals”
By Cory Bank. PhD
One of my primary responsibilities as a sports psychologist is to make sure each athlete is training intelligently in order to enjoy the process and ensure success. Parents often ask how they can assist in helping their child achieve their goals in a safe, enjoyable, and effective manner. The following are four common and crucial areas that can play a key role in helping parents increase their children's confidence, create more enjoyment and overall success with their respective sports.
Pay Attention To Your Child's Physical Training. Specifically, this involves avoiding the trap known as overtraining that many children who play organized sports fall into. Symptoms are feeling burned out … feeling sluggish, a decrease in athletic performance, and a higher resting heart rate….
In my clinical practice, I recently worked with a female swimmer who was swimming for school and a club team and practiced two hours a day for six days a week. She did this routinely almost all year long for four years. Thanks to this grueling workout schedule, she tore her rotator cuff and had to have surgery. She rushed her recovery, tore it again, and the colleges that were scouting her withdrew their interest. By the time I began working with her she was very frustrated and depressed.
Be careful to avoid overtraining by working out the majority of days on the easier side….
Implement A Bit Of Psychological Training. Teaching children to think positively can contribute significantly to the success and enjoyment of your child's sport. Use cognitive scripting, a branch of cognitive psychology that states the way we think about our situations will largely determine whether they will have a positive or negative outcome….
Let's take an example where a runner estimates that her first mile time for a 5K race should be six minutes, but actually takes seven. She might ask herself, “How come I ran so slow and how am I ever going to make up all that time?” This might lead to a negative outcome in which she feels doubt, increased stress, increased body tension, and ultimately a slower time. However, if she asks herself, “How can I make up a bit of time in the next few minutes and enjoy the race as much as possible?” she will more likely realize a more favorable outcome because she is assuming she will enjoy the race and is focused on only the next few minutes….
When we believe we have more control and power over a situation, we tend to feel more confident and respond more favorably. Practice with your child by asking effective questions to increase his or her sense of control, confidence, and power….
Nutritional Training: re-hydrating and eating within a half an hour after training sessions, practices, and races…. If your child does not re hydrate and eat within half an hour after training and racing, he or she is decreasing chances for maximum recovery….
Pay Attention To Your Child's Preferences To Ecological Variables of Competition….
If you are looking to maximize your child's performance, confidence and enjoyment in athletics, it is wise to find a good fit between your child's personality characteristics and the environment of the types of different sports.
For example, if your child prefers competing in a team environment then he would probably prefer basketball over golf. Does your child like short events such as a four hundred meter race or does she prefer entering and running the mile? … Knowing your child's answers to these questions should help you both select with greater accuracy fitness activities that will maximize confidence, performance and enjoyment!
Reprinted with permission of the author. Appeared in Parents Express, December 2008.
Mom, There's a Man in the Kitchen and He's Wearing Your Robe
By Ellie Slott Fisher
Preening in her new lavender underwear while contemplating a closetful of expertly tailored but boring business suits, newly single Gladys agonized over her first date in twenty-five years. She had no idea what to wear, where to go, or who would pay. When a friend suggested she feel romantic and treat herself to a teddy, Gladys was thinking stuffed animal.
She dug out her dog-eared copy of The Sensual Woman, dabbed on expensive perfume, applied new makeup, and carefully slid her first-ever issue of Cosmo under her bed like a teenaged boy hiding Playboy.
All suddenly single women can relate.
After years of feeling more at home in the bathroom than in the bedroom and being so clueless to think streaking meant she was out of Windex, Gladys had to update her knowledge of social rituals and take stock of herself.
Rewarding dating experiences are preceded by a boost in self-confidence, an improvement in attitude, and, if necessary, a refinement of appearance. Whether you exercise, enter therapy, order a subscription to the New York Times (at least read the front page), change your hair color, or undergo plastic surgery, if you feel good about yourself, mentally and physically, dating will not only be life altering and life affirming — it will be a blast.
Don't let a negative reaction from your children to your first date dissuade you from going on one. It's a first for them, too, and time, honesty and patience (especially yours) will ultimately result in their adapting to this change in your life.
Reprinted with permission of the author.
PERSONAL ESSAY EXCERPT
“Train to Nowhere”
By Richard D. Bank
Sometime on 9 November 1938, under the cover of night, my grandparents boarded a train bound for nowhere. Or, more precisely, the train pulling out of an otherwise empty station in the German town of Odenbach did have a destination. It's just that my grandparents did not.
While the house where they had lived and raised a family was being ransacked by SA troopers, assorted Nazi thugs, and anti-Semitic rabble, my grandparents slipped away unnoticed. With few worldly possessions, they stole down the street glancing back only once to see a neighbor rummage through the clothing piled on the curb. My grandparents never saw their home again….
Using as an excuse the killing of a legation secretary in the German embassy in Paris by a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynzpan, the Third Reich unleashed the virulent throngs and added a new dimension to the persecution of Germany's Jews. When Kristallnacht, as the bleak hours of November 9th and 10th came to be known, reached a fiery end, Hitler had instigated the worst pogrom in German history: 500 synagogues were burned; seven thousand Jewish businesses were destroyed; tens of thousands of homes were invaded; 90 Jews were killed; hundreds of women were raped; and 30,000 Jews were arrested….
In the ten months following Kristallnacht, another 100,000 to 150,000 Jews fled the country that had been their home for centuries. Those who stayed behind did so for one reason only — they had nowhere to go; which is what made my grandparents frantic hours endured on a lurching train both symbolic and prophetic.
A sympathetic conductor, who knew my grandfather from his frequent business trips, cautioned them not to disembark in Mainz where they had family. It was much too dangerous, he whispered. They had no money to go any farther, but he allowed them to remain until late the next day when they scurried off in the city of Furth, skulking through alleyways to a temporary haven with other family members.
Like all German Jews after Kristallnacht, my grandparents were without assets, dispossessed of their home, and in fear of their lives. The Nazis created the greatest “Catch-22” of all time. In order to avoid death, the Jews must leave … but in order to emigrate, they had to have the funds to pay the exorbitant exit fees and be able to demonstrate to the country of their destination that they had capital and would not be a burden. Much as the German government wanted the Jews gone, they made it practically impossible for them to comply.
Only two weeks earlier, my grandparents had managed to dispatch their two daughters to the United States, not knowing if they would see them again. After Kristallnacht, they had even less hope of reaching America. Instead, my grandparents felt the way they did during those interminable hours spent on a train rambling through the night.
But this time there was not even the promise of dawn, and the next train that would come for them would have a destination beyond their most horrific nightmare. Somehow, it was a train they managed to avoid.
Appeared in Midstream, November 1977
“The Second Crash of ‘08: Our’ Derivative1 World Series”
By Dan Rottenberg
As a former financial writer as well as a former sportswriter, I ask you: What do Wall Street and the World Series have in common? And the answer: Both require widespread suspension of disbelief in order to function effectively. And both collapsed this fall.
John Maynard Keynes once observed that the stock market is like a newspaper beauty contest in which readers must pick not the prettiest faces but the faces that other readers are likely to consider the prettiest…. The rise of derivatives — that is, financial instruments … mortgage-backed securities, for example, arose from the best of intentions. By repackaging a mortgage loan as a security and dicing it into small bits, the risk of lending money could be spread so widely that no lender would feel the pain of an individual default, and consequently home loans would be easier to obtain.
This ingenious system worked wonderfully until it collapsed this year. Only with the recent crash … has it occurred to us that pain and risk are good things: If no lender fears getting hurt in any transaction, no one will take the responsibility to make sure that borrowers are credit-worthy.
Baseball operates somewhat the same way. There is no intrinsic value in the ability of nine men to run around a field throwing, hitting and catching baseballs — unless huge numbers of people persuade themselves that such an activity is important. That's why the integrity of the whole context … is so critical. If you tamper with it too much, the whole structure falls apart for lack of meaning.
Such a moment occurred … on Monday night, October 27, when the Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays attempted to play the fifth game of the World Series in pouring rain and 39-degree weather…. As I watched drenched players wearing earmuffs slosh about in mud puddles and chase windblown pop flies halfway across the infield, the whole thing lost its logic.
“Game 5 is hopelessly tainted by what transpired between the time the game should have been called and the middle of the sixth inning, when it was finally suspended,” wrote Phil Sheridan in the Inquirer. True enough — but Game 4 on Saturday night was tainted too. That contest was delayed 91 minutes by rain; it didn't start until after 10 P.M. and didn't end until 1:47 A.M….
Sheridan raised the right question — why play an autumn game at night, when it is so much nicer and warmer in the afternoon? — but he didn't go far enough. The critical question is: Why is a summer game like baseball still being played at all at the very end of October?
The answer, of course, is the invention, a generation ago, of post-season playoffs … which not only extend the season but also render the regular season largely meaningless. And that raises another question that nobody … dares to ask: Did the two teams playing in this year's World Series really deserve to be there?
In the world of my youth, Major League Baseball consisted of two leagues of eight teams each. Each team played an equal number of games against every other team in its league. When the regular season ended, the winners of the two leagues played each other in the World Series. Simple, fair, and comprehensible….
Today the end of the season is much more exciting but alas also much more pointless. Each league consists of 15 teams broken into three divisions. Each team plays barely more games against the teams in its own division than the teams in the other two divisions. Each team also plays a random assortment of games against teams in the other league. Despite this inequality, all games are counted equally. At season's end, the “winners” of the three divisions enter the playoffs, along with a fourth “wild-card” team that didn't win any division.
In other words, the team that compiled the best record all season long — this year the Chicago Cubs in the National League and the Los Angeles Angels in the American — won't necessarily play in the World Series….
To put it another way: Major League Baseball today isn't really baseball; it's a derivative of baseball. No one really understands how it works. And as sages as diverse as Warren Buffet and the late Robert Montgomery Scott have observed, if you don't understand it, don't do it.
Reprinted with permission of the author. Appeared in Broad Street Review, October 28, 2008.