March 2008

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I have written about the Stanford Freshman Reading list before. In my latest alumni magazine I discovered that not much has changed at Stanford (as far as book choices). They now have a Three Books Program, where they mail each incoming frosh three books to read over the summer. Then they have a lecture or two about it when the kids arrive at The Farm. Pretty cool riff on the summer reading idea. But look at the three books they chose for the Class of 2007 (quoting from a 5/31/07 Stanford News Service story).

Book One:

The Way to Rainy Mountain, a short book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author N. Scott Momaday, is told in three voices, comparing historical commentary, Kiowa oral tradition and personal reminiscence.

Wallace Stegner, founder of Stanford’s Creative Writing Program, wrote: “I know nothing quite like this book, and nothing of the Indian that is at once so authentic and so moving.” The New York Times commented: “Written with great dignity, the book has something about it of the timeless, of that long view down which the Kiowa look to their myth-shrouded beginnings.”

Momaday received his PhD in English from Stanford in 1963…

Okay, this could be good. Stegner is a heavyweight. But if we’re going to have Stanford frosh read three books, shouldn’t they be GREAT books? They could be the same three books every year. (The program is for the frosh, not the people organizing the program.) And how about, for instance, one biography, one science book, and one sociology book? Shouldn’t we be trying to expand some minds here?

Book Two:

Jealous-Hearted Me, by Nancy Huddleston Packer, is a collection of hilarious and heart-breaking stories about greed, midlife restlessness, sibling rivalry, aging and misplaced pride in an Alabama family. The stories stand alone yet together read like a novel.

Hilarious and heart-breaking, huh? I’m skeptical. Mainly because Packer wrote the textbook for frosh English and that textbook is a big reason I couldn’t stomach the thought of being an English major. Four years of literary criticism sounded like intellectual hell.

Book Three:

Finally, Lucille Clifton’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Good Woman describes a world of “dissolving tradition,” Fields said. The book, a volume of poetry concluding with short sketches of family members, is infused with the family’s memory of Clifton’s great-great grandmother Caroline, a woman who was “born free in Africa” in 1822 and “died free in America” in 1910, and who urged her family, “Get what you want, you from Dahomey women.” Clifton is this year’s recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. She received a National Book Award in 1999.

Poetry. I would advise against it. These three books seem designed to create English majors or die trying. Again, let’s broaden some horizons. Let’s challenge these incoming frosh. Are these the best Three Books Stanford’s faculty can come up with? Pretty sad. To be fair, some past Three Books have been more impressive, like Kite Runner and Tracy Kidder’s Mountain Beyond Mountains. I would just hate to be a frosh in one of the crappy years. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool if you had the same three books over four-year stretches, so all four classes could talk about them with each other? Especially if the three books were really intellectually demanding.

I imagine it’s hard to pick books. For instance, you wouldn’t want to pick any of the standard classics that kids have probably already read in high school. But there are enough great books out there that you can find some uncommon, mind-bending options.

I sent this email to the higher-ups at KOA/ClearChannel:

Dear Kris Olinger & Lee Larsen,

I grew up with KOA radio. I listened to the Denver Bears, the Nuggets and Broncos games on KOA (I think they were all on KOA at that time). And I always relied on KOA for news. There was interesting talk, too, like Alan Berg. Now, I rarely listen to KOA for the following reasons:

First, the ridiculous number of commercials. It seems like 50% talk and 50% ads. I know you run all those ads because the ratings say you can. But maybe if you didn’t run so many ads you’d get more listeners?

Second, the irrational, deceitful, emotionally hysterical hot-button pushers you have as conservative talk show hosts. I don’t mean Rosen and Caldera. I don’t often agree with them but at least they’re rational. I can get a reasonable idea of the conservative viewpoint from those two.

But the guy you have on during the day on Saturdays is a moron. All his does is spout lies. (Sean Rima?) And Gunny Bob Newman is just as bad. I was listening to him the other night as he was talking about the Obama race speech. He accused Obama of race-baiting. What? Obama has done everything he could to avoid the topic of race. He HAD to give a speech on race. So Newman goes on and on about how Obama is exploiting white guilt. Newman is the race-baiter here. Then Newman becomes an apologist for slavery, excusing it because people thought it was okay back then. (For starters, not everyone thought it was okay back then!) Is Newman completely incapable of understanding the black perspective? I thought he claimed to be a student of history, yet he seems oblivious to the legacy of slavery, sharecropping, Jim Crow and the deteriorating inner city. Then he went into a lecture on propaganda (he had just taken a class) and he accused Obama of being a propagandist because he had American flags next to him on the stage. Was this the first political speech Gunny Bob has ever seen? Can he name one political speech of the last fifty years at which the speaker was NOT standing next to an American flag? Ironically, Gunny Bob brazenly wraps himself in the flag every day of his life. One need look no further than his moniker. He does not speak for America or the U.S. Marines. He is no more patriotic than I am.

Then Gunny Bob went into a long rant about Obama throwing his grandmother under the bus. No, Obama was talking about the complexity of race. Obama gives the most honest, most important speech on race in America since MLK’s “I Have a Dream” — for the first time in years, a politician is treating his audience like adults — and Gunny Bob (clearly not an adult) calls him a race-baiter.

Does KOA have a Rightwing Talk Show Host Academy somewhere where you are training these guys? Were these two bozos the leaders of the class? That’s a good sign for my side. The problem with these guys is NOT that they present the conservative viewpoint — the problem is that they poison the debate with their deceitful spin. They damage honest debate in this country. By putting them on the air, by allowing them to spread hate and lies, you enable and facilitate that poisoning. You and KOA radio have a responsibility to the public — YOU are responsible for what goes out over the airwaves. Will Rima and Gunny Bob be peddling the story that Obama is a Muslim one day and inflaming the Reverend Wright issue the next? (He can’t be a Muslim and a militant Black Christian at the same time, can he?) I’m sure they will find a way.

Why not find some conservative talk show hosts who present their views honestly rather than with demagoguery? That would be good for everyone, wouldn’t it? What happened to the distinguished Colorado institution that was KOA radio?

Thanks,
Will

This hullabaloo over Obama’s pastor isn’t all bad. I figure this should put the kabash on the rumors that he’s a Muslim, right? The right can’t continue to spread those rumors while at the same time trying to pillory him for the views of his Christian pastor of 20 years? Or can they?

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