Franklin Countys First News

Politics & Other Mistakes: Dirty story

Al Diamon

There’s an important difference between offensive and obscene.

To illustrate that point, we need look no further than our president. Donald Trump fully dressed is offensive. Donald Trump naked is obscene.

This distinction is important because Maine law requires us to protect our children from obscenity, but not from offensiveness. Therefore, it’s legal to allow kids to watch presidential press conferences on television because there’s usually a lectern between Trump and the viewers, in case he decides to go pantless.

There are other exceptions to the state obscenity law. Those under age 18 can view all manner of smutty books, pictures, sculpture or video if it’s “for purely educational purposes by any library, art gallery, museum, public school, private school or institution of higher learning.”

How else are kids supposed to learn about sex?

They won’t if Republican state Rep. Amy Arata of New Gloucester has her way. Arata has introduced legislation to remove the legal exemption for public schools from the statute. Her bill was prompted by her teenage son, who came home with a class assignment to read Japanese author Haruki Murakami’s 2002 novel “Kafka On The Shore.” Arata told the Lewiston Sun Journal the book “was very very specific and graphic,” including its depictions of rape.

Murakami’s book has been both critically acclaimed and severely criticized (it’s banned in Hong Kong, for whatever that’s worth). I haven’t read it, and even if I had, I doubt I’d be a good judge of whether it was appropriate for high-school students, since I spent my teenage years in relentless pursuit of anything with even a hint of pornography about it. Obviously, that warped me for life.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that obscene material “lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value” (there goes most of Fox’s prime-time lineup) and contains “patently offensive” depictions of assorted sex acts (looking at you, Bill Clinton). Numerous court cases have found that it’s almost impossible to use that definition to ban written works.

But that only applies to what adults can access. Surely, our impressionable youth are a different matter. Shouldn’t there be protective measures in place to shield them from depictions of assorted naughty bits in the process of unfettered wiggling and waggling?

Oddly enough, there are. And Arata, who’s also a member of her local school board, knew how to use them. She took her concerns to the superintendent and the teacher, who considered her arguments and decided to remove the book from the curriculum.

This process has worked in dozens of Maine school districts over the last several decades to resolve disputes over books ranging from classics like Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to more contemporary works like Dorothy Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina.” In nearly every case, local officials worked hard to separate the obscene from the merely offensive. Sometimes, the works in question were dumped. Other times, the children of parents who complained were offered alternative books. And frequently, school officials found the controversial books to be acceptable. Being offended, they said, was part of a good education.

Arata’s bill would take the authority to judge works like “Kafka On The Shore” away from local schools and give it to the courts or, worse yet, the Legislature, even though it’s likely a sizable number of those esteemed officials think Kafka is an organic breakfast cereal.

That’s not just offensive. It’s close to obscene.

Pull up your pants before emailing me at

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20 Responses »

  1. Al, It is all about context. A picture taken in 1972 in Vietnam shows a naked 9 year old girl running down the road after her village got napalmed, It won a Pulitzer. Now if somebody took a picture of a naked 9 year old girl running down the road, that person is apt to get some serious trouble. The book, is about a subconscious spiritual journey that this 15 year old boy takes in order to find himself. I read it years ago, it does have several graphic scenes in it, but in order to understand them you have to understand the rest of the book, and the life, mental and physical changes of a 15 year old boy.

  2. Thank you for your column. I've read both Mr. Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Ms. Allison’s “Bastard Out of Carolina." Yes, they have caused controversy but the works are valuable pieces of art that provide insight for the reader, even some minors. School is a good forum in which such popular artworks allow students to address complex issues. Hopefully, it helps prepare them for very real-world issues instead of being blindsided. Another controversial work that both our sons read in middle school was 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian' by Sherman Alexie. I read Mr. Alexie's work because our middle-school son said it was his favorite book and urged me to read it. Some of the language and humor was quite rough but led our sons and I into thoughtful discussions about poverty, racism, and social pressures to conform a community's paradigm even if it is counterproductive to a person's well-being. Our sons are now young adults and still remind me of novels they read years ago that still resonate for them today. Well-intentioned parents are doing their kids a disservice by preventing them from reading school material that educators have taken a good amount of time assessing. Thank you again for bringing attention to this important topic.

  3. One person's appreciation is another's offense is another's obscenity.

  4. Al, you DO manage to amuse me, but you surely overworked THIS column to somehow manage to dump on Trump and Fox TV while making your point. NOT really necessary as we all KNOW what side of the political street you walk on! While I may disagree with you about many things, you do keep me coming to The BullDog to read your column regularly because I recall that I quite enjoyed (and was amused by) your old radio program around 3PM 'back in the day'.......... (May I say? You seem to have veered sharply left in the meantime?)

    I recall stealing (borrowing since I put it back?) my father's copy of "Lady Chatterley's Lover" sometime in the early '60's and hiding it under my mattress and reading it clandestinely between French II and Algebra 1 assignments!) at FHS! Didn't know much 'from shinola' what it was talking about but as the book went on, I figured it out since Sex Ed was verboten at that time! Can't say that The Information warped me in any major way despite providing a fascinating Banquet of Food For Thought......... Am not sure whether it met The Supreme's definition of 'obscenity' that deserved to be banned at the time, but it surely was more scintillating than "Pride and Prejudice" and/or "Wuthering Heights".

    While not being a proponent of banning any books, I confess that I consider some of this material now on the Progressive Agenda to be spooky. They get their shorts in a knot about The Way Things Were (because history is now SO offensive to them and must be erased!) yet they find it just fine to expose kids who may not be ready to 'go there' to very adult themes. I may not always agree with Hrtlss Bstrd, but in this case I'm with him about 'context'..........

  5. His man crush LePage is gone so now his opening thought is Donald Trump naked.....

  6. How does this have anything to do with Pres. Trump and Fox News (the most watched cable news channel)?

  7. This writer is a commentator. He is commenting. It's difficult for reasonable people to comment on anything these days without noting how ridiculous the President or Fox News are. These are not political biases, as the President has no political ideology. I'm still waiting for a conservative to tell me why they support Trump in terms other than he supports tax cuts (blow up the debt), wants to build a wall (wish we could get more immigrants from Norway), and he doesn't like the media (no President likes the media). The column is about a particular bill about obscene content and children. You trolls only know how to seize on certain talking points for which Hannity has prepared you.

  8. Our children can't be coddled their entire lives. They are curious and will find ways to learn about things, without an adults consent!!

  9. Very interesting Al... but, you could have made the same point by replacing Trump's name with Maine's new Governor........ As a former Maine Governor once said 'Think about it'.....

  10. Shawn, when you were mentioning a few of President Trumps accomplishments (tax cuts, border security, media accountability) you forgot the biggest one - appointing great conservative judges! Shouldn't be too long before we get to see his THIRD choice for supreme court. What a legacy he will leave after he's done making America great again!

  11. @Jose....Couldn't agree more!

  12. How bout a few more achievements...Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan currently. De-regulations, pedophile arrests, V.A. This is just off the top of my head. No president has done more for patriots than any other since I was born. (50 years ago). And he's done most of this on his own with virtual no help from republicans and with absolutely no help from democrats. All while the deep state elitists: I.E. previous administrations hold overs, democrat media, the CIA,FBI Hollywood all try to undermine him every step of the way.

    Having said that he has a lot more to do: Fire Mueller and Rosenstine, border security, shut down big tech censorship. He still has a couple of years maybe I'm sure he'll get some of these done as well as a lot more.

    BTW. The president does not hate the media. Just the fake news media. Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Yahoo News, CNN are all experiencing cuts. They can't figure out why. Hello! Stop printing lies! People want the truth and they can tell the difference. Buzzfeed would have been at the top if the Dossier was legit. And they didn't learn there lesson because they did it again concerning Cohen.

    I would like to see a law that fines News Media Outlets every time the report false information.

    Also, Abolish the 2 Parties!

  13. Jose, tax cut for the rich, no wall yet, no media accountability Until he make Fox accountable! Tim he has done nothing.

  14. Tim
    If trump were fined every time he lies, there would be enough money for his unnecessary wall.

  15. Tim: North Korea has not slowed down its use of nuclear energy and ability to make weapons, and US intelligence says its highly unlikely they will. The Trump team doesn't talk about North Korea because they know Kim played Trump, and got great propaganda photo ops while getting nothing in return. This is an embarrassment to the US. In Syria the US military says ISIS is growing again and a real threat - all that Trump has done in Syria is allow the Russians to play a more dominate role. Perhaps that was his intent.

    Also, the President calls reputable media organizations with stories that are evidenced "fake news" if ever it is negative on him. That's why his approval ratings are way down, and why we now have divided government. To get anything done, he needs Speaker Pelosi's approval. The problem Trump faces is that unlike Reagan, Clinton, Bush the Younger and Obama, he isn't trying to everyone's President. He's is President for his base, and the other side is the enemy. Ronald Reagan famously worked with Democrats, Clinton worked with Gingrich after the 1994 Midterms had big GOP gains. Right now, the Democrats are enjoying a political victory over the shut down, and looking forward to 2020. Trump may bounce back, but he'll have to change his approach.

    Jose: While it gives me more money, I can't support his tax cuts. They ballooned the already dangerously high debt with record deficits. Deficits in the recession were coming down under Obama, but skyrocketed to dangerous levels the last two years. If you cut taxes and don't cut spending, that's bad. It was a GOP Congress and GOP President together who said, "let's add to the debt!"

  16. Diana: This" unnecessary wall" is to help protect you, your family, friends, and many others!!

  17. So exactly what do they want to accomplish by banning this book? Protect our children from what?

    Am I the only one here or do other people think it’s a little ironic that we want to ban a book that has some sexual content in it but we don’t have a problem letting these same kids watch extreme violence on TV or giving these same kids violent video games.

    Blood splattering on a wall, or people laughing as they kill or torture someone, No problem

    But god don’t let little Johnny read anything that has sex, protect him from that at all costs.

  18. @ Shaun

    You should see the Huffington Post or Yahoo News. They regularly use Twitter as a legitimate source of information for their articles. That forces the poor people who have to keep track of the Ridiculous Meter to have to replace the meter's maximum limit every time Huffington Post (or any other media organization for that matter) writes an article that starts with 'America Says...' and to convey what America is saying, they subsequently use three or so Twitter tweets that each have three to five likes. Then of course there is the Yahoo news article title that goes along the lines of 'Twitter Explodes Because So-And-So Said Something That Offends Their Sensibilities...'

    I implore people to please stop piecing together Twitter after it explodes. It would be a great benefit for the progress of humanity and future generations will thank you. It would probably stop climate change.

    @ Diana

    You might be on to something on fining Trump whenever he lies. But why simply target Trump? If we did that for every politician we would pay off the nation's debt in the next 10 years, maybe even sooner, and it would cause the end of poverty as we know it. The fining of lying politicians would be an endlessly sustainable source of income unlike any other known to man because it's such common practice amongst the top brass. You could literally see dollar bills flowing from their mouths whenever they open them.

    Although I suppose in reality all the money gained from politicians lying would devalue very quickly and be worth nothing before we could do anything with it. Meh, reality sucks.


  19. Scott and Diana , 100% disagree with everything you say... it's the total opposite. I know you would like to blame Trump for everything. I get it. It's the popular thing to do. I see that he's trying to reach out for bi-partisanship, but everyone would rather resist. My advice would be to stop listening to government subsidized big corporation bought out news media and come to the realization that both parties are going to destroy us if we don't stop fighting based solely on party affiliation.

  20. Tim, the facts are not no your side here. North Korea is considered by US intelligence to be continuing it's policy, Kim manipulated Trump because he's a weak man who wanted a photo op. The media is fact checking Trump, and making it clear that his Presidency is, up to now, a failure mired in scandals. If Obama had done some of things Trump had done (berating his intelligence officials, getting involved in major scandals, etc.), the right would be all over him. Clearly there is a double standard. I get my information from a variety of sources and cross check. I can tell you that if you focus only on Fox, you're getting a very biased perspective.

    But this isn't just a Democratic perspective. Conservatives such as Jennifer Rubin and many other in the GOP have been horrified by what the President is doing to their party. I agree with bipartisanship - but it takes two, and Trump has only been playing to his base. Right now 56% are certain they will not vote for him in 2020 (I doubt he'll run), and another 18% are uncertain. So far, his Presidency is a failure. The only way he can turn this around is to stop the immature tweeting, it makes him look weak. He has to work to make compromises. He can't get anything done without the Democratic Congress. So let's see if he really is able to make deals and compromises. Or is he too afraid of Ann Coulter?