Coachella Valley Independent

Indy Digest: Feb. 10, 2022

One of the most powerful pieces of literature I’ve ever read is Maus, by Art Spiegelman.

The nonfiction book tells the story of Spiegelman interviewing his father, a Holocaust survivor, about his experiences leading up to and during the Holocaust. I first read Maus as part of a class on the Holocaust I took in college. That class was, by far, the most emotionally difficult yet enlightening course I have ever taken—and Maus was a big part of that.

Maus is so powerful for two reasons. First, the story itself is gripping, tragic and beautifully told. Second is the way in which that story is told: Maus is a graphic novel, featuring anthropomorphized animals. For starters, the Germans are cats; the Jews are mice. In 1992, Maus and Spiegelman were honored with a Pulitzer Prize.

I bring this all up, because Maus has been in the national news as of late, thanks to the actions of the McMinn County School Board in Tennessee. As NPR explains: “The school board reportedly objected to eight curse words and nude imagery of a woman, used in the depiction of the author’s mother’s suicide. Spiegelman told NPR and WBUR’s Here and Now that the board’s decision is ‘not good for their children, even if they think it is.’ The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and other groups have criticized the ban, noting the important role the book—which was originally published in serial form beginning in the 1980s—plays in teaching students about the Holocaust.”

This ban really makes me angry. To be as fair as possible here, I’ll use this description of what the school board found objectionable from a Forbes.com column defending the unanimous vote to remove Maus: “The objections focused more on eight ‘rough’ words—on the order of ‘damn’ and ‘bitch’—and a small depiction of a naked woman (rendered, like all the Jewish characters in the book, as a mouse). But they went beyond that. Board members were also concerned, for example, that the nude mouse, representing Spiegelman’s mother, was depicted lying in a pool of her own blood after committing suicide. ‘We don’t need this stuff to teach kids history,’ one board member said.”

My rebuttal: How can one properly teach kids about the Holocaust without gore and violence?

Anyway … while this vote by the school district upsets me, the consequences have been utterly glorious.

Also from the aforementioned NPR piece: “The Complete Maus had been the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon’s online bookstore on (Jan. 31), moving up from the seventh spot on Friday. … Other booksellers are taking steps to get the book and its important message into the hands of more readers. Ryan Higgins, the owner of a California comic book shop, offered via Twitter to donate up to 100 copies of The Complete Maus to families in the McMinn County area. Illustrator Mitch Gerads and screenwriter Gary Whitta have made similar offers. Fairytales Bookstore and More in Nashville is partnering with school librarians to give away free copies of Maus to local students, and patrons are encouraged to donate to the cause at a discounted price.”

This shortsighted school board vote has led to Maus being placed in far more children’s hands. That is a wonderful thing.

—Jimmy Boegle

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More News

The latest Riverside County District 4 COVID-19 report follows all the other data reports indicating that the omicron wave is subsiding—but not over. (District 4 includes the Coachella Valley and rural points to the east.) Hospitalizations keep declining, and the weekly positivity rate for the seven days ending Feb. 6 was down to a still-high 23.6 percent. Sadly, eight more of our neighbors died due to SARS-CoV-2. The pandemic is not over yet.

• A recent data dump has made Riverside County’s cumulative COVID-19 stats look way worse—and illustrates how truly stunning the omicron wave has been. The Press-Enterprise explains: “Accounting for the newly discovered cases, the county’s cumulative case total went from 464,498 to 575,152. … The huge number of new cases added to the county’s total was the result of a perfect storm of events. First, a bogged down state disease-reporting system known as ‘Cal Ready’ was not verifying suspected Riverside County cases with the computerized ‘auto-confirm’ function and one-by-one checks within the county quickly fell behind, said Wendy Hetherington, chief of the epidemiology program/vital records for Riverside County public health. Second, the counting glitch occurred simultaneously with a surge of people getting infected by the rapidly spreading omicron variant, Hetherington said.”

The New York Times takes a look back at the Chinese scientist who first let the world know that something odd was happening in Wuhan in late 2019: “Two years after the death of Li Wenliang, the doctor who tried to warn China about the coronavirus only to succumb to it himself, his memory remains a source of equal parts grief, anger and hope for many Chinese. Dr. Li, an ophthalmologist from Wuhan, where the pandemic began, rose to national attention after he warned friends on social media in late December 2019 of a mysterious new virus in his hospital, only to be reprimanded by the local police for spreading rumors. When the government belatedly confirmed that there was an outbreak at hand, Dr. Li became a national hero, seen as an embodiment of the importance of free expression. But Dr. Li soon fell ill with the virus himself. On Feb. 6, 2020, he died. Chinese social media exploded in fury and grief, at both Dr. Li’s fate and the government’s sluggish response to the outbreak generally.”

• Moving away from COVID-19: If you’re one of the people who thinks the nation has moved past “debates” over equal LGBTQ rights, the state of Florida offers up this piece of evidence that you’re very wrong. From Time, regarding the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation: “Florida Senate Bill 1834 and House Bill 1557, both titled ‘Parental Rights in Education,’ ban public school districts from encouraging classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in ‘primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmental appropriate for students.’ … Such a law would directly impact how teachers could provide instruction. At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Republican Sen. Travis Hutson gave the example of a math problem that includes the details that ‘Sally has two moms or Johnny has two dads.’ Republican State Sen. Dennis Baxley, who sponsors the bill in the Senate, says that is ‘exactly’ what the bill aims to prevent.” Sigh.

Our partners at CalMatters explain how a popular tenants’ rights bill died a quiet death in the Legislature despite a lot of support: “The cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles—which rarely see eye to eye on housing issues—as well as every Democrat on the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee had signed on. So why did Assembly Bill 854, which would have curbed an owner’s ability to evict their tenants using the Ellis Act in rent-controlled jurisdictions, die without even a floor vote in the Democratic-supermajority Assembly? … Just as a diverse group of advocates coalesced to support the bill, thousands of property owners—even those outside unincorporated Los Angeles County and 20 rent-stabilized cities directly affected—opposed it, united by a sense that the state is chipping away at their rights, just as COVID-19 has decimated their business.”

If you have kids, your family may be eligible for a huge tax credit that’s not been talked about much. CBS News says: “The Child and Dependent Care Credit was supercharged through the 2021 American Rescue Plan, with the pandemic aid bill boosting how much parents can claim on their tax returns for child care expenses as well as making it fully refundable. The latter is important because if the tax credit exceeds what you owe the IRS, you’ll get the difference in your tax refund.  The Child and Dependent Care Credit isn’t new — it’s been around since the 1970s, and was designed to help working parents offset the cost of daycare, after school programs and summer camps. … The American Rescue Plan created several tax benefits for families. That includes a generous expansion of the Child and Dependent Care Credit, which the Biden administration said was geared toward helping parents return to work. Under the expansion, parents can receive a tax credit worth as much as $8,000—nearly four times the previous limit of $2,100.

Unfortunately, even if you are eligible for this tax credit, it may take you longer than normal to get it. The Los Angeles Times reports: “Millions of U.S. taxpayers could face delays in having their tax returns processed by the Internal Revenue Service and in receiving their refunds, the nation’s taxpayer advocate on Tuesday testified before Congress. Erin Collins, the IRS’ taxpayer advocate, attributed the looming delays to ‘unprecedented’ backlogs of unprocessed returns from last year. That logjam has put the IRS in ‘a deep hole’ to start the 2022 tax season, she told the House Ways and Means Committee. … Collins told the Ways and Means Committee that the pandemic contributed to the backlogs because the agency was forced to temporarily shut down processing centers in 2020. It fell ‘behind on its inventories, and it is still struggling to catch up,’ she said, adding the agency was forced to divert staff to administer COVID-19 relief programs enacted by Congress.

• And finally … if you’re watching the Winter Olympics, you’re seeing a lot of snow—but that white stuff was not created by the heavens. A professor of atmospheric science, writing for The Conversation, explains how manmade snow is different: “Natural snow starts as a tiny ice crystal on an ice nucleus in a cloud. As the crystal falls through the air, it slowly grows into the classic six-sided snowflake. By comparison, human-made snow freezes quickly from a single droplet of water. The resulting snow consists of billions of tiny spherical balls of ice. It may resemble natural snow to the naked eye on a ski run, but the natural and artificial snow ‘feel’ very different.

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Jimmy Boegle

Jimmy Boegle is the founding editor and publisher of the Coachella Valley Independent. He is also the executive editor and publisher of the Reno News & Review in Reno, Nev. A native of Reno, the Dodgers...