Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Would-be book censors need to chill out

A display of banned books at the San Jose Public Library (Photo courtesy of San Jose Public Library via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0/The Daily Montanan).

A few years ago, I wrote a book called “You Don’t Sweat Much for a Fat Girl.” It was a “New York Times” bestseller, and I’ll always be convinced the in-your-face title was the biggest reason.

Today, the folks obsessed with protecting the world from anything remotely funny or colorful would change that title to: “You Don’t Show Any Physical Manifestation of Becoming Overheated And, By the Way, The Right Size is What’s Right for You!”

Now. Who wants to order a couple of dozen copies? Yeah. That’s what I thought.

I was reminded of “Fat Girl” when the publishing house Puffin announced it had revised Roald Dahl’s snarky-clever kids’ books to eliminate references deemed culturally insensitive. According to a “Washington Post” article, changes included deleting phrases like “enormously fat,” changing the description of Oompa Loompas from “small men” to “small people” and eliminating the word “stupid” in a description of chickens in “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Apparently, this last was considered insulting to chickens, who would be potentially offended if they read themselves being described in such a way. Which would never happen because, well, chickens.

There was such an outcry about the changes to Dahl’s works, the U.K.-based publisher, demonstrating a corporate spine of Jell-O, announced it would also publish a “Classic Collection.” These books would be for those who like their Oompa Loompas manly (admittedly hard to do while wearing white short-alls with chocolate-striped knee socks); their chickens scholarly; and their fat-shaming kept to a minimum.

Although Dahl, who died years ago, was an anti-Semitic jerk in real life, he did have an undeniable gift for tapping into that stinky, boogery subversive streak most kids have, getting them to …READ. I can’t tell you how many copies of Dahl’s books I sold at Scholastic Book Fair fundraisers back in the day.

Getting kids excited about reading books makes stupid people crazy. It’s why you see them peckin’ around in the dirt at school board meetings cluckin’ about what’s in the “liberry.”

I think the most frustrating thing about what’s happening to books and authors lately is watching two extreme views get all the attention when neither is right.

Well-intentioned but silly humans fretting about whether a satirical chocolate factory “reflects modern standards of inclusion, diversity and accessibility” is, academically speaking, wackadoodle.

This is precisely the sort of ill-considered claptrap that gives liberals a bad name. And as an unrepentant liberal, I just hate that.

And on the other side, the chicken people want to ban books they’re too lazy to read first because they might turn their precious spawn trans or woke. 

Here’s the thing. I never liked “Runaway Bunny” all that much. The notion the bunny could never, ever get away from his mother was profoundly creepy to me. After hatching a few plans to escape, he is utterly defeated and says he might as well just give up having a life of his own and stay with her. She responds with… “Have a carrot.” Whoa. Is it cold in here or is it just me? 

I know, I know. It’s a sweet story cherished by millions but not me. So what? We don’t all have to have the same taste; we just need to quell the hysterics on both sides. 

I don’t need to ban books because censorship is—borrowing a phrase from Dahl’s “The BFG”– something only the most “repulsant snozzcumber” might do. 

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].


Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Sleeping in separate bedrooms doesn’t equal broken marriage

When you’ve been married a long time, there’s just a natural evolution of how, and even where, you go to sleep.

While neither Duh Hubby nor I curl up together at night–“Is that your foot? OMG, why is your foot on my side? Ewwwww!” (and to be clear, that was him squealing, not me) we often marvel at couples who insist they love to “spoon.” So weird. And sweaty.

“I can’t go to sleep unless we’re spooning,” chirped our friend “Dottie.”

“Gross!” Duh and I said in unison.

This isn’t a new development. We’ve been on the same page when it comes to the cuddle/spoon nonsense for three and a half decades.

But even I must admit our sleep routine might look funny to the Chinese spy balloon that’s probably hovering just outside our window.

There’s Duh hubby, C-pap breathing machine affixed, forced air purring through the water-filtered hose that keeps him from snoring and me from killing him. (Where, I ask, is the statue that should be in every public square honoring the inventor of this marvelous machine? WHERE????)

And then there’s me. While I own a Kindle — are you even an American woman of a certain age if you don’t have at least one Kindle, three hardback books and a “Wake Me for the Drink Cart” sleep mask on your nightstand? — wearing, no lie, a head lamp. Yes, the kind cave explorers and auto mechanics wear because I’m considerate that way. If Duh is kind enough to have that creature plastered to his face all night, I do my part by keeping the room dark so I don’t disturb him while I read.

I ordered three headlamps from Amazon and have been delighted at their performance, so much sturdier than silly little book lights that cast the light everywhere except onto the book. I grew tired of chasing that little light like a cat with a laser pointer. Not so with the headlamp. These babies are built to last: adjustable head strap, bright enough to land a jet plus, if you have to go to the bathroom, you have a built-in flashlight beaming the way. Yeah, that doesn’t look crazy.

While all this must sound very un-romantic to some, at least we’re still sleeping in the same bedroom. According to news reports, separate bedrooms for couples is a huge trend right now. I blame the silly “open concept.” Once you’ve removed all the walls in your living spaces you
surely crave a private hangout more than ever. We live in a 100-year-old house with “walls” and “rooms” and “doors you can shut in case one or the other of you is being a butt.”

There’s no escape from one another with open concept. Kids, dogs, cats, guests…just one big room, the thought of which makes me want to climb into a pantry and watch tub and toilet cleaning reels on my phone to calm down. What? Just me?

Others say the pandemic caused couples to use separate bedrooms and some discovered it was appealing to have your own space to hang out in and watch Season 4 of “Love After Lockup” without all the tiresome judgment.

He: “Hon, you coming back to our bedroom? I just saw on the news the pandemic is officially over!”

She: “I have leprosy.”

Apparently, once separate bedrooms have “happened,” it’s almost impossible to go back to the old ways. And while many couples apparently have no trouble keeping the canoodling alive with what
amounts to conjugal visits “across the hall,” some marriage counselors think without the physical closeness of a shared bed it’s a slippery slope to becoming nothing more than glorified roommates.

Fearmonger much? That just seems a big hand-wringy to me. Love will always find a way. Even if one of you looks a lot like a coal miner.

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Here’s how the FTC’s proposed ban on non-compete clauses would help workers

Photo: John Partipilo/States Newsroom

It would raise wages for low-income workers while letting employers choose who to hire 

American workers generally have little job security. As a general rule, employers can fire non-union workers for any reason, a legal doctrine known as “employment at will.”

Incredibly, in the last decade or so, employers have eroded job security below even this abysmal standard, by forcing millions of hourly workers to sign “non-competes” that prevent them from leaving jobs for a better opportunity. Now many employers are loudly opposing a federal effort to curtail this abuse of employer power.

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a broad ban on the use of non-compete clauses. Non-competes prevent workers from moving to another employer in the same or related fields for an extended period of time after a job ends – if they try it, they can be forced to quit the new job and/or pay heavy financial penalties.

Thus, workers are either stuck in their current jobs, which may have poor pay and working conditions that are difficult to change, or they have to start over, at the bottom of the wage scale, in a different field.

As a legal aid attorney with Community Legal Services (CLS) in Philadelphia where I have represented low-wage workers for 16 years, I have seen the growing need to ban the use of non-competes.

I have worked with many clients such as Ms. Reed, who had been a part-time janitor making $10/hour for a cleaning contractor. When her contract ran out, a Catholic school she had been cleaning at hired her full time.

However, she was quickly fired when the school received a litigation threat from the contractor over a non-compete clause she didn’t even remember existed. In this case, the clause was legally unenforceable – but the school told me it didn’t matter, because they couldn’t afford litigation when it was much less costly to simply hire someone else.

Non-competes were originally intended to affect high-income jobs where workers can bargain for higher salaries in exchange for limitations on their future opportunities. However, employers have considerably expanded their use of non-competes to cover many low-wage workers like Ms. Reed.

Today, at least 18% of U.S. workers are subject to non-competes, and almost 30 percent of non-competes cover workers making below $13 per hour. Read more

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Our increasingly hysterical weather forecasts

Radar imagery from Hurricane Fiona in September of 2022 – Image National Weather Service

Every now and then I get nostalgic for the old days of TV weather updates when the scariest possible event was “black ice,” two words spoken in the gravest of tones by trusted forecasters.

Black ice? Only a lunatic would leave the house with that stuff maliciously forming invisible inky tentacles on roads and bridges, bent on sending unsuspecting drivers into a ditch or, worst case, across Jordan.

Today “black ice” sounds positively quaint. How about calling it something a little sexier? Something like “Frozen Death Pool” because, in case you missed it, weather has become a tad hysterical.

There are “bomb cyclones,” (a fast-developing storm); “the polar vortex” (a big region of freezing air above the North Pole often misused to describe cold air anywhere); and “megadroughts (a drought that lasts longer than usual). See how the labels sound way worse than the real thing?

The hyperbole doesn’t stop there. Winds are often described, hilariously I think, as “punishing.” Really? Does the wind have a personal beef with me? If so, weird.

These days it’s acceptable for a highly educated meteorologist to say, straight faced, “The temperature will be 65 degrees, but it will FEEL LIKE 75.” Really? You are mildly annoying, but I FEEL LIKE throwing the remote at you. Can we just stick with the actual temperature?

Ditto wind chill hyperbole which pretty much everybody despises.

If it’s 15 degrees, do we need to know the wind chill (whatever that is) is approximately 45 degrees below zero? That’s needlessly terrifying. Not as terrifying as Frozen Death Pools, but still.

If you think you’re sick of all the end-of-days weather reporting, you’re not alone. The New York Times, reporting from the annual conference of the American Meteorological Society (motto: “Your Guess Is As Good As Ours”), found plenty of pushback on some of the sillier trends. Climate scientist Cindy Bruyere said the language used on TV weather, in particular, has evolved to get people’s attention. She bemoaned “buzz words that have no meaning.” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain told the Times he was frustrated by “headlines that sound like the end of the world.”

Meanwhile the TV weather folks in attendance screamed “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!”

Snowpocalypse anyone? Snowmageddon? That’s exponentially more gut-churning than “blizzard” which didn’t even hint at the imminent destruction of the entire world.

So, what’s with trying to scare viewers to death? Well, I’ll tell you after this commercial message. Shock and awe means better ratings—duh—which translates into the ability to charge more for advertising—double duh.

There’s too much weather reporting, if you ask me. Spectrum reminds me to “stick around for weather on the 1’s.” Does anyone need weather every 10 minutes? Cynics say weather’s outsized presence in local news is because it’s cheaper than paying news reporters, which sounds plausible. And if the weather is ramped up with sexy terms like “impact day” (weatherspeak for “some rain”) well who can resist?

What’s that? All of you?

Weather is now intensely personal. It’s “YOUR” weather on the 1’s). It’s like we’re in a relationship with weather but “it’s complicated.” I suspect The Weather Channel started naming snowstorms (ridiculous!) so we’d feel the need to check on the progress of Winter Storm Yvette or Sage (yes, their real names.) We care just a little more when we’ve been formally introduced.

Weather graphics are even ramped up. Gone are the cute smiling suns that gathered dust on the Southwestern states because MELANOMA. Sun will kill you. The UV index is at “Kiss Your Butt Goodbye.” Today’s weather maps appear to use the same color scale as terrorism threats. Wind patterns are wildly animated and an approaching shower is cause to tell your family that you love them.

We don’t need the Jim Cantore-lashed-to-a utility-pole drama and ominous graphics for every lil thunderstorm, right?

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Stop tolerating gun extremists. Shame them.

“How Many More?” is painted on the rock on Michigan State University’s campus after a mass shooting on Feb. 13, 2023 | Photo: Susan J. Demas for the Michigan Advance

America is a country-size arsenal.

There are 20% more guns in the U.S. than people. Americans are estimated to own 393 million of the 857 million guns in the world, or almost half — 46% — of all civilian guns.

And the obscene ubiquity of firearms in the U.S. explains much about why the country is a killing field without parallel in the developed world. Anyone who has studied the matter arrives at a simple conclusion: More guns means more death.

“Most countries do not have a problem with fatal mass shootings,” Daniel Webster, the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, told a Fox affiliate last year after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. “It’s because we have decided to make guns readily available to almost anyone and our interests seem to be more protecting those who sell weapons and want to own them as opposed to the broader public.”

This choice has disfigured American society.

Reform is thwarted by cowardice, corruption and craziness. As young children are slaughtered in their classrooms, conservative officials desecrate their memory by suggesting their deaths are the price of freedom. As mass shootings become a daily occurance, gun-rights zealots double down on the bloodthirsty fantasy that more guns is the answer.

Exasperation with record levels of gun violence has reinvigorated some efforts to enact regulation at the federal and state levels. Legislative remedies are an encouraging development, and several bills promise to make a meaningful difference.

But in a country so awash in deadly weapons and so steeped in the mythology of firearms, regulatory tweaks can protect Americans only so much. True reform will be achieved only through a transformation of culture. This is a generation-scale project, but at a time when guns are involved in almost 49,000 annual deaths and are now the leading cause of death among America’s youth, few national initiatives could be more worth undertaking.

The project must start with a shift away from tolerance of gun extremists. Read more