Five Things: June 22, 2023

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Texas Officially Bans So-Called “Sexually Explicit” Books; Demands Book Ratings from Vendors | Kelly Jensen

TEA has been complicit and encouraging of book bans across the state by “encouraging” parents to give input into what books they believe are not appropriate for students to access. TEA’s guidelines for materials put school board members in charge of deciding collections, not the librarians or educators in the schools. The Commissioner of Education is appointed by the governor, giving the governor powerful influence in the TEA.

The war on books is just one of many fronts in the long-running wars on public education and diversity, fueled partly by too many years of misguided “neutrality” in libraries and a lack of diversity in publishing, but mostly by this country’s inability to deal with its history of slavery and oppression of various peoples of color. The latest twist in Texas officially makes this a tangible day job concern as the onus is being put on distributors rather than publishers, presumably to make compliance as difficult as possible, which I fully believe is the primary goal of most the laws targeting libraries that are being proposed.

While Texas and Florida take turns for worst state in the union run by the worst Governors imaginable, they are absolutely not alone. Even parts of my adopted state, the ostensibly “liberal” New Jersey, are becoming fronts in the war, from attempted book bans in Glen Ridge to outing transgender students to their parents in Middletown.

I don’t have anything useful to add because I’m so worn down by it all right now, but you should be following Kelly Jensen’s excellent work at Book Riot, while keeping an eye on EveryLibrary’s Legislation of Concern and Andrew Bales’ Trans Legislation Tracker to see what’s happening in your part of the country.


Ohio Prison System Bans Java Computer Manual, But Allows Hitler’s Mein Kampf | Cid Standifer

“Could you use [programming skills] for hacking? Well yes, but if you improve your English skills you could use it for social engineering,” he said. “That didn’t seem like a good reason to ban a book.”

Prison libraries aren’t on most people’s radars, but they’re increasingly looking like a model for what some politicians want school libraries to become. Many schools already have armed guards and treat students like prisoners, but if you’re rich enough you can go to a better school, so the similarities are already there. If you’ve never read anything about prison libraries, Standifer paints a pretty good picture in this article focusing on Ohio, but it’s also broadly representative of the entire broken system.

NOTE: While I agree that vocational awe is a problem in librarianship, I still put prison librarians on a pedestal. Jeanie Austin is one, and their Circulating Ideas episode is a great listen if you want to hear from one firsthand.


The hidden cost of ‘free’ tablets in prison | Ezzial Williams

Promotional sales pitches by professional salespeople have marketed these free tablets as a way for us on the inside to self-educate, prepare for reentry, and better communicate with family and friends. However, the underlying economics behind these “free tablet programs” presents a money-grabbing opportunity for every greedy body with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar, from state officials to the distributors themselves. 

This article is part of Scalawag’s Abolition Week coverage, featuring firsthand stories from the currently and formerly incarcerated, including Williams. It’s an insightful read that offers a look at the impact of technology and accessibility through a different lens, but one that’s also pretty familiar if you look close enough.

Someone much smarter than me has probably already connected the dots between the money in EdTech, prisons, and political decisions related to both — and I’d love to read it!


GameStop is doomed, water is wet, and other observations | Brendan Sinclair

“But GameStop has been doomed for a very long time.”

This is a fascinating overview of how long GameStop has been on the brink of collapse, and how they successfully avoided for it for a long time. Even now, with the end in clear sight, they’ll probably hang on a bit longer than you’d think because of meme stock shenanigans.

I still occasionally go into our local store out of curiosity or when there’s a new Pokémon game (the Switch is the only platform we still buy physical games for), and I still subscribe to Game Informer, but that’s not a viable business model for a major retailer in 2023. Their acquisition of ThinkGeek in 2015 and expansion into memorabilia seemed promising for a while, and I’m surprised they didn’t fully lean into TTRPGs and boardgames in recent years, but B&N has a better selection of both, plus all of those books people are still reading in print.

I don’t think there’s a James Daunt savior in the gaming world, though; it’s finally game over for GameStop.


Tom Cruise Shot ‘Mission: Impossible 7’ Motorcycle Stunt on Day One So the Crew Would Know: ‘Do We Continue or Is It a Major Rewrite’ If I Fail? | Zack Sharf

For Tom Cruise, however, there was a far more practical reason for putting the motorcycle stunt on the first day of the “Mission: Impossible 7” shoot. If production on the $200 million-plus tentpole was already underway and Cruise got severely injured or died because of the motorcycle stunt, then a lot of money would’ve been wasted.

Tom Cruise is pretty high on my list of problematic faves, a rarified group of creatives for whom I invoke the similarly problematic “separate the art from the artist” rule, and the Mission: Impossible franchise is one of the biggest reasons he’s on it. M:I has achieved the impossible, improving with each installment after its terrible first sequel should have killed it for good. Plus, Cruise’s willingness to go all-in comes through onscreen, not just for the jaw-dropping stunts or his flawless running form, but also because he makes Ethan Hunt’s relentlessness believable.

It’s not just M:I, though; Cruise has been great in several other favorites, including Edge of Tomorrow, Tropic Thunder, Magnolia, and Jerry Maguire.

2023 is definitely the year movie theatres came back with a bang, and M:I 7 is one of only a handful of movies that are successfully tempting me away from the couch and our “big enough for me” TV.

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