Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Books

His Excellency, Ambassador Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem-Abdul-Jabbar-jerseyTo find the earliest stories the Los Angeles Times wrote about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I had to search for his birth name -– Lewis Alcindor Jr. He was a New York high school student being courted by UCLA and other powerhouse basketball schools.

So it took a bit of mind-bending to go from reading about that teenage school kid to interviewing the sports legend who’s about to turn 65 -- the man who, when I talked to him for my "Patt Morrison Asks" column, joked that his arms, the arms that pulled off that phenomenal "sky hook" shot, are getting too short to read the newspaper.

Life after basketball has meant some TV and movie roles (he was hilarious in "Airplane!"), writing and co-writing a slew of books, and now as a U.S. global cultural ambassador. Check him out with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the event in January, where he says, "I remember when Louis Armstrong first did it back for President Kennedy, one of my heroes. So it’s nice to be following in his footsteps."

He’s made his first trip abroad in that new iteration, to Brazil, and I asked him about the job description, and his visit to Brazil.

"They want me to speak to disadvantaged kids about their future with an emphasis on education, and answer questions  about Americans and democracy and what it’s like here in this place we call America."

I wondered whether Brazilian kids knew who he was.

"Yes, I was surprised! They have three or four [Brazilian] guys in the NBA, so the kids there now play the game. They have courts in some of the slum neighborhoods."

And what did they want to know about the U.S.?

"They were very taken with President Obama. They [also] have a history of slavery there. To see President Obama become president, it really gives them a different idea about the potential of democracy. That was something they all wanted to ask about, [whether] this democracy stuff can work for [them]."


Patt Morrison Asks: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- still hooked

--Patt Morrison

Photo: Former basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar poses with a jersey of Barcelona's basketball team during the official presentation of the friendly basketball game between Barcelona  and the Lakers at the Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona on June 1, 2010. Credit: Josep Lago /AFP/Getty Images

Missing James Q. Wilson

James Q. WilsonAlmost once a month, for something like 10 years, I got to have dinner with Jim Wilson.

That's James Q. Wilson, the influential scholar and the "broken windows" theorist who died Friday in Massachusetts.

Jim and Roberta Wilson, married nearly 60 years when Jim died Friday, had returned to Los Angeles from Harvard in 1986 and were living in Pacific Palisades, not far from Jim's teaching positions at UCLA and at Pepperdine.

In time, they joined the book group that former Mayor Dick Riordan and I, along with attorney Bruce Merritt, began over 15 years ago.

Ours is a gabby bunch, many of us interrupting and talking over one another, but when Jim had something to say, everyone stopped to listen. He spoke vividly, precisely and concisely, and never with less than a fully reasoned and deeply insightful observation.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan had once assured President Nixon that James Q. Wilson was "the smartest man in the United States," so he was without doubt the smartest man at that dinner table.

I was always tickled whenever I wound up sitting next to Jim, for the pleasure of the droll sotto voce asides he'd sometimes make about the main conversation raging over the book we had all just read.

We disagreed on some books but found ourselves aligned on others. I was so pleased to have introduced him to a book that he later told me had become a favorite: Jay Winik's "April 1865: The Month That Saved America." And during the memorable and voluble evening when we all went hammer and tongs over one of the who-wrote-Shakespeare books,  he and I were on the same side -- the Shakespeare-wrote-Shakespeare side -- against our  British dinner companions who believed so ordinary-seeming a man could not have written such extraordinary plays.

The months when Jim and Roberta weren't at our book group, they had gone off on a lecture or book tour or on family visits, riding horses in the mountains or snorkeling -- or was it scuba diving? -- in some exotic waters.

They moved back to Massachusetts a few years ago to be closer to their family. We all missed his sage and sensible presence. With his death, I am reminded exactly how much. 


Ripping off Los Angeles

L.A.'s mayor under the microscope

James Q. Wilson: A political scientist's unswerving honesty

--Patt Morrison

Photo: James Q. Wilson is shown in Boston in this 1972 file photo. Credit: AP Photo, File

Michael Mann's counterstrike in the climate wars

Michael-MannClimate change may have dropped off the national political agenda, but unfortunately that doesn't mean the problem has gone away. As of January, the Earth's atmosphere contained 393 parts per million of carbon dioxide. And rising.

To understand why that's a very sad number, it helps to know that from the dawn of human civilization until the 19th century, the concentration was about 275 parts per million, and that many scientists believe 350 parts per million is a sort of tipping point: Irreversible impacts and feedback loops start to kick in, and the cost of repairing the resulting damage from such things as sea-level rise and droughts not only skyrockets, the cost of adapting to the changes does too. But we've already sailed past that point. And we're heading inexorably toward another one that's far worse: 450 parts per million, the truly scary level at which 3.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial global average temperatures is locked in. The predicted result: centuries of weather extremes, drought-fueled global famine, mass migration, the vanishing of low-lying islands and territories as sea ice melts away, wide-scale species extinction and other horrors too numerous and depressing to list.

To global warming denialists, the above paragraph constitutes the "alarmist" perspective on climate change. Never mind that it is backed by a wealth of research, the world's most state-of-the-art climate models (whose accuracy in predicting the recent effects of climate change has been repeatedly demonstrated), the national science academies  of the world's developed nations (including the U.S. National Academies), the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, among other prominent academic and scientific organizations. To the denial set, these groups and individual scientists are part of a global liberal cabal that is scheming to impose its radical environmentalist agenda on the entire planet via government programs to cut carbon emissions; as proof, denialists point to their own research and studies -- typically funded by fossil fuel interests, performed by non-climatologists and published in non-peer-reviewed journals -- that pick away at the scientific consensus. You wouldn't think such an anti-intellectual and grossly irresponsible movement would have much success in the court of public opinion. You would be horrifyingly wrong....

Continue reading »

Honest Abe, cool superhero -- just spare us the Spandex suit

LincolnFaster than a speeding bullet? No, better not use that one (remember Ford’s Theater).

More powerful than a locomotive? The steamers of his day, maybe.

Able to leap tall buildings? He WAS extremely tall, and had a very long stride.

Hang up the cape, pretty-boy Superman. Go hang in a cave, rich-boy Batman. Honest Abe is commanding the superhero scene.

Presidents Day is officially about George Washington, but to most Americans' way of thinking, it honors both Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Was Spider-man Day ever a holiday, hmmm? I think not.

The Times’ "Hero Complex" has a bit written by the author of a forthcoming novel, "Red White and Blood," with Abe offering advice from the grave to save the present-day president.

He’ll be the subject of two films this year -- one based on the Seth Grahame-Smith novel that makes him out as a vampire slayer (remember that rail-splitter’s axe? It wasn’t just good for rails), and the other a Spielberg homage starring Daniel-Day Lewis. I predict a brief tizzy of indignation on Fox because Lewis was born in London.

Just about anyone can act Lincoln, and has, starting with kindergartners in construction-paper stovepipe hats and acrylic beards. Everyone wants a piece of Lincoln. He was the first Republican president, from the anti-slavery party, opposed by pro-slavery southern Democrats. He also supported the union rather than states’ secession rights.  In the middle of the Civil War, he endorsed the transcontinental railway with government bonds and land (you have to wonder whether such a transportation project would have been embraced by present-day Republicans; high-speed rail, anyone?).

Like the union he saved, he belongs to everyone. Kentucky, the state where he was born, claims him. Illinois, his political cradle, claims him. Some gay groups argue that he was gay. His face is on the most common coin of this nation’s making, carried in a million pockets and dropped into a thousand Starbucks tip boxes every day.

And President Obama, another man sent to Washington from Illinois, put Lincoln’s bust in the Oval Office. The Lincoln books just keep piling up.

Lincoln justly ranks as the best or second-best president, ever. He is at least as great as Washington -- unquestionably a better writer, and I believe his teeth were all his own.

There’s much more super-hero material to Lincoln than to Washington, in part because Lincoln was so real. He told jokes, sweated in the fields, made fun of himself, wept and worked his way through war and the deaths of his children. The backstory, as they say in Hollywood, is Carl Sandberg meets Stan Lee. George Washington, on the other hand, was so intimidating, so august and irreproachable that even his fellow Founding Fathers all but tugged their forelocks around him. Parson Weems made up that "I-cut-down-the-cherry-tree" story out of whole cloth to humanize the Olympian Washington. We admire Washington, but we love Lincoln.

So I am enchanted with a Lincoln super-surge, just so long as the man himself -- his melancholy, his insights, his complexities, his nuanced and pragmatic politics, and the character that saved this nation with wisdom and patience and perseverance, not muscle-power -- doesn’t  get lost in a simplistic telling of him.

I ask you, graphic book guys, don't inflict on me the sight of a shirtless Abe with six-pack abs, delivering a version of one of his renowned speeches, yowling "A house divided against itself cannot stand -- RRRRRGGGHHH!" as, with his bare hands, he pulls the Mason-Dixon line back into line.


Goldberg: Mr. Right eludes the GOP

Santorum's theology of the outrageous

Presidential giants of our generation, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton

-- Patt Morrison 

Photo: Abraham Lincoln. Credit: HO/AFP/Getty Images

Christopher Hitchens: In our pages, in our memories

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens' influential life was lived out in public argument on panels, at lecterns, in books, magazines, newspapers and on Internet screens, including the Los Angeles Times. He wrote Op-Eds and book reviews, stretching back to 1990. In our pages he quoted W.H. Auden and might as well have been speaking for himself ("All I have is a voice/To undo the folded lie"). He objected to the death penalty ("It is for Congress to pass legislation removing the United States from the company of Islamic despotisms, banana republics and totalitarian dictatorships that still practice this barbarism") and to the "rushed, vindictive" execution of Saddam Hussein, when his reckoning should have been "sober, meticulous and untainted." He unraveled human connections ("We are all brothers and sisters under the skin long before pigmentation was evolved"). He examined celebrity ("Beware of too easy a surrender to the vicarious identification that makes us address people whom we have never met  by their first names"); royalty ("archaic, celebrity freaks"); George Orwell ("Truth, it turns out, is great after all, and can prevail"). He poked,  prodded and opinionated; he annoyed. 

Another occasional contributor to the Op-Ed page, physicist Lawrence Krauss, had this to say Friday about Hitchens, who before he got too ill was writing a foreword to Krauss' upcoming book, "A Universe from Nothing":   

Just before leaving his company the last time I saw him, in a poetic accident,  I was reading a newspaper piece at his kitchen table about an emerging effort to ensure that young people at elite institutions preserve their Catholic upbringing during and after college.    When describing the temptations to depart from piety, the author wrote:  'Exposed to Nietzsche, Hitchens, co-ed dorms and beer pong, such students are expected to stray.' 

I reflected on what a remarkable tribute to the man this simple sentence represented.  To be so overpowering in one's cultural impact that one can be mentioned without explanation is one thing, but to be sandwiched between Nietzsche and beer pong is an honor that very few of us can so hope to deservedly achieve.


Photos: Notable deaths of 2011

Book Review: 'The Quotable Hitchens'

Appreciation: Christopher Hitchens | 1949-2011

Christopher Hitchens dies at 62; engaging, enraging author and essayist

--Susan Brenneman

Photo: Christopher Hitchens. Credit: Christian Witkin / TwelveBooks

Ex-porn star Sasha Grey in the classroom -- or not

comptoncompton unifiedemersonentourageporn starpornigraphysasha grey

Sasha Grey
If former porn star Sasha Grey were a little crazy, she could have faked the whole reading-to-little-kids thing. According to her Twitter account and a photo posted on the celebrity website TMZ, Grey was a guest reader at a "Read Across America" event at Emerson Elementary School in Compton, entertaining the first- and third-graders with a lively rendition of "Dog Breath."

Tweets, of course, can be meaningless, and photos can be staged. But it's more likely that the Compton Unified School District is the one engaging in bizarre behavior -- by refusing to admit that Grey was at the school. KTLA News  reported that the district had released a statement saying it could not confirm Grey's appearance. According to TMZ, the district out-and-out denied that Grey was among its readers.

Grey has been out of the porn business for a couple of years, and as near as anyone can tell, if she was actually at the school, what she did was -- read a kid's book. Nice of her.

But still, stupid of school officials or whoever it was who invited her on campus -- if they actually did. Whether or not Grey is just a charitable person who can bring particular animation to "Dog Breath," a school should know better than to invite porn stars, ex or not. Grey's celebrity is at least partly connected to her involvement in the porn business. It doesn't matter if the kids have no idea who she is. Porn is not a connection that works for schools. And if she's an unfamiliar figure to the children, then why not get an aspiring actress who reads well -- one without the unsavory past?

But the bigger stupidity would be if Compton school officials were lying about her appearance. (They haven't been returning phone calls Monday.) This isn't a school district that acted impressively this last year, when parents petitioned to have McKinley Elementary School in Compton turned over to a charter operator. Then, school officials were insensitive to children's needs and indifferent to parental and public concerns. Sound familiar?


Lessons of 'parent trigger'

The impact of the 'parent trigger'

Education: The magic of hard work

Education battle at Compton Unified school

--Karin Klein

Photo: Former porn star Sasha Grey, photographed here by the Los Angeles Times at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, made her mainstream movie debut in Steven Soderbergh's 2009 indie Drama "The Girlfriend Experience." Credit: Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times / May 14, 2009

Saving libraries but not librarians [Blowback]

Dan Terzian, a fellow at the legal clinic New Media Rights and a lecturer at the Peking University School of Transnational Law, responds to The Times' Oct. 26 Op-Ed article, "Libraries can't run themselves," on saving librarians' jobs. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

The views expressed here are the author's own and do not represent those of the organizations he is affiliated with.

The digital revolution, while improving society, has gutted many professions. Machines have replaced assembly-line workers, ATMs have replaced bank tellers, Amazon has replaced bookstores and IBM's Watson may even replace doctors and lawyers. And now, the Internet is replacing librarians.

Or at least it should be.

The digital revolution has made many librarians obsolete. Historically, librarians exclusively provided many services: They organized information, guided others' research and advised community members. But now, librarians compete with the Internet and Google. Unlike libraries, the Internet's information is not bound by walls; from blogs and books to journals and laws, the Internet has them all. And Google makes this information easily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

All but the most heady research can be performed by a Google, Google Books or Google Scholar search. Have a question about whether you should be paid overtime? Just Google "overtime pay California" without quotes, and the first result is a California government website with an answer to your question. Even many college students' first -- and often last -- source for research is Google. Only after Googling fails would the students seek a librarian's guidance.   

The Internet can even advise community members. For example, Goodreads assists you in finding books to read, Penelope Trunk teaches you how to write a resume, the Berkeley Parents Network advises you how to raise teens, pre-teens and young adults. Whatever your question, you can find an answer through the Internet (and Google).

The digital revolution should spark library evolution. Libraries should bifurcate. Some, such as college libraries, should employ classically trained librarians -- those educated with librarian graduate degrees -- to safeguard historical materials and assist others' research. They would serve as a backup when people require more extensive research than the Internet can currently provide.

Other libraries, by contrast, need few -- if any -- classically trained librarians. Instead, their librarians may be made up of English or other liberal arts majors who yearn for the literary librarian lifestyle. These librarians won't safeguard historical texts, nor will they advise patrons on how to comprehensively research esoteric topics like the 13th century Yuan Dynasty. Instead, they will teach patrons basic research in the information age.

After the digital revolution, California's budget woes turned obsolete librarians into unemployed ones. But librarians are not alone in their suffering. Budget cuts have claimed many victims. University students suffer from ever-increasing fees, state and city employees lose retirement benefits, and teachers lose jobs. Countless other examples exist. Librarians must realize that they are not special; they too bear this burden.

But slashed budgets need not lead to libraries suffering. Libraries should innovate, just as the New York Public Library has. Facing multimillion-dollar budget cuts, the library does not flounder, it flourishes through innovation. Its digital strategy -- including e-publications, crowdsourcing projects and a user-friendly online library catalog -- has increased the number of its patrons. The strategy also helped accomplish the seemingly absurd: The library actually makes more money than it spends.

Other opportunities for innovation abound. The closing of big-box bookstores, for example, presents an opportunity to increase library attendance. Many bookstore customers don't actually buy books; they browse. They lounge in armchairs and read books off shelves -- maybe they even buy a cappuccino. As big-box bookstores close, where do these browsers turn? The answer should be the libraries.

Libraries should embrace the digital revolution, even though it entails the loss of librarians. The purpose of libraries -- the purpose of librarians -- is to spread knowledge. The growth of the Internet changes how we pursue this purpose. We no longer need librarians in the same way and in the same number as before. It's understandable why librarians bemoan this; nobody wants to see their profession fade into obscurity. But libraries do not serve the egos of librarians; they serve the people. And in the information age, serving the people requires evolving and innovating.


California must value librarians; libraries can't run themselves

West Hollywood's Standup Librarian isn't laughing

West Hollywood Library's new addition

-- Dan Terzian

Photo: A visitor to the new West Hollywood Library looks for a book. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Hitting the books, L.A. fashion


Sometimes L.A. needs reminding that Hollywood is not its only bread and butter, and that movies and TV are hardly the only form of entertainment.

There’s books. Remember books? Here’s just my weekend’s serendipity of things book-ly:

On Friday evening, as I’m walking out of Vroman’s bookshop in Pasadena, I run into an acquaintance, Ann Binney, administrator of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (a bigger and more thrilling literary event than anything put on by that supposedly book-besotted publishing powerhouse, New York).

And who is that man she’s with? Michael Ondaatje! The Booker Prize Michael Ondaatje! "The English Patient" and "Anil’s Ghost" Michael Ondaatje! In Pasadena! 

Then, as I was organizing next month’s to-do list, I found my invitation to an authors event from Red Hen Press. It’s a Southern California publishing house that’s included some of my works in its anthologies.

I know in this part of the world, I never expect an invitation with the regal dress code of "tiaras and orders." Appropriate attire for this event and for this gaggle of writers, among them my friend T.C. Boyle, he of the singular red high-top sneakers, is detailed in the invitation as "dressy-casual." 

Exactly what does "dressy-casual" mean here? Is it what I’m seeing lately in the mismatched couples –- she’s the "dressy" in a soignee cocktail frock and high heels, he’s the "casual," slouching toward Soho House in jeans and an untucked shirt?

If "dressy-casual" is instead what each person should be wearing, I wish that, rather than the probably compromise –- say, pressed khakis –- my fellow scribes would match one extreme with the other. Frock coats and flip-flops. This would be the whimsical California version of "tiaras and orders" -- the Duke of Windsor, styled by the Marx Brothers.

Also on the November calendar, the ingenious Libros Schmibros is a popup store in Westwood. 

Historically, this cross-town geography would work the other way: some Westside bookstore would generously consent to swan through the less prosperous regions of L.A. This time, with the demise of so many independent Westside book shops, Libros Schmibros, the nifty used bookshop-lending library in Boyle Heights  (for all you Silver Lake/Echo Park poseurs, Boyle Heights is in the one, the only, the original Eastside) is giving the Westside the benefit of its cool.

And lastly, I finally took a good and overdue look at "Afterimage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life." Its author, Carla Malden, is the daughter of my sweet friends Mona Malden and her late husband, Karl, the matchless Broadway and film actor.

Mona and Karl were married, if I remember correctly, between the matinee and the evening performances of some play; they were a few months short of their 71st anniversary when Karl died.

He was 97, and his death was sorrowful but not, at that age, a complete surprise. What was a surprise was that, about two and a half years earlier, Mona and Karl’s son-in-law, Laurence Starkman, married to their daughter Carla, died of cancer, leaving his childhood sweetheart-wife and a daughter, Cami.

It is a bittersweet beauty of a book, measured and unsparing. Carla writes of Cami climbing into the bed where, hours earlier, Laurence had died, "the sheets still clammy, even gamey with his sweat. But it was only there, on that bed" that the girl was able to sleep. Carla busts up all the platitudes and sentimental "certainties" of mortality and wrestles mano-a-mano with the angel of death. It is as good a book as I have read about our own deaths and surviving others', the two inevitabilities awaiting us all.


Patt Morrison Asks: New master Ed Ruscha

Patt Morrison Asks: George Regas, keeping faith

Patt Morrison Asks: The pill's author Carl Djerassi

Patt Morrison Asks: Benefit buster Lanny Ebenstein

Patt Morrison Asks: The brain, Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa

-- Patt Morrison

Photo: Patrons browse at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena. Credit: Hyungwon Kang

Back-to-school night: A shift away from 'passion for learning'

algebraback to schoolbiologybiologychildrencollegeelementaryexcused absenceextra creditfreshmangeometrygradeshigh schoolhomeworkliteraturerubricschool disciplinesophomorestandardized teststudenttest


Back-to-school night has changed over the last couple of decades, and not for the better. It's unclear to me exactly when this happened; it's been more of a gradual shift noticed after 23 years of annual attendance at my kids' schools, all of them in an affluent suburban school district. Three more to go after Wednesday night.

In those earlier years, teachers spent most of their time -- admittedly, in upper grades, they're allotted a measly 10 minutes each -- talking about what the students would learn and how they, the teachers, would transmit knowledge, build skills and foster intellectual growth. Sometimes they would talk about goals -- not testing goals, but about sending students out of the class at the end of the year who had more confidence in themselves, or more compassion for others, a sense of being world citizens, or a lifelong reading or exercise habit.

These days, the talk is mostly of grading rubrics, class rules, points deductions for various behaviors, the preparations for the state's standardized test. There were a couple of classes Wednesday night that could have been in any subject; the teachers didn't actually mention anything about the curriculum or the value of learning this topic, but one gave a lengthy talk about the dire consequences of unexcused absences. Another teacher finished early with her spiel about how to navigate her website and how many days students were given to make up missed work, so asked for questions, then seemed nonplussed and unprepared when a parent asked what the students would learn this year.

I imagine that we parents have contributed mightily to this. Students aren't the only grade-obsessed ones around these days; their parents appear to be planning for their second-graders' Princeton careers. If teachers don't mention how the grades work, a parent is sure to mention it. Surely, the most common parental question is, "Do you give extra credit?" This is also the teachers' one big chance to impress a few basic rules on the parents so that no one comes running later for a special break for this little darling or that. The state's standardized tests have added another layer of deadening.

Still, a couple of teachers managed their way around this. One dispensed with the organizational stuff in a minute and gave us the contact information for parents who might have more questions -- and then launched into an enthusiastic pitch about the value of learning both foreign language and culture, and how the students would absorb both. The English teacher handed out an easy-to-parse brochure she'd prepared to take care of the basics and devoted most of her time to helping parents understand the wonderful literature the students would read and analyze, and urging them to immerse themselves in a couple of the books as well.

Various teachers interpreted the school district's new emphasis on college- and career readiness in extremely different ways. One saw that as the virtual end of multiple-choice tests. Long live the lively classroom discussion and essay writing! Another saw it as paramount the importance of tidy-looking homework with proper staples, because messy work is not accepted in the workplace.

The most interesting part of this is comparing the evening with my daughter's view of her daily educational experience. The classes she loves and feels she's learning the most in happen to be the same ones where the teachers showed a passion for their subject and well-focused goals for the students they teach. Goals, that is, beyond well-stapled homework.


Closing California's achievement gap

Teacher turnover and the stress of reform

Newton: The impact of the 'parent trigger'

Ted Rall cartoon: Failing students one budget cut at a time

Blowback: A call for accuracy in evaluating school progress

-- Karin Klein

Photo: A student at Bard Elementary School. Credit: Carlos Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Idaho says no to religious books in the classroom

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles TimesI don't know what the religious right spends on public relations, but some school officials are doing their work for them -- by earnestly overinterpreting legal restrictions against official prayer in public schools.

The latest example is a battle between the Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative public-interest law firm, and the Idaho Public Charter School Commission. The commission threatened to revoke the charter of a school if it used any "religious document or text" -- including the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Koran and the Bible -- or even made those works available in the classroom.

The commission said it was acting according to a provision in the state Constitution that says: "No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article." Taken literally, the Constitution as well as the Bible would be excluded. Taken seriously, only proselytizing would be forbidden. "Shall be used" suggests that interpretation.

The Idaho case involves the state Constitution, but more often it's the 1st Amendment that is wrongly used to justify religion-free classrooms. In banning official school prayer, the U.S. Supreme Court didn't outlaw the study of the Bible (or the Koran, for that matter) as literature or for its historical significance. School administrators who don't understand this provide ammunition to religious conservatives who sniff a secular conspiracy in the schools.


God and 9/11

God and Lancaster

God at the head of the class

The United States of 'Jesusland'?

Being Muslim in America after 9/11

--Michael McGough

Photo credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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