Well, Excuse Me

City JournalYou can still buy Steve Martin’s sexually explicit novel in Florida—you just can’t put it in elementary schools.

“So proud to have my book Shopgirl banned in Collier County, Florida! Now people who want to read it will have to buy a copy!” proclaimed comedian Steve Martin on his Facebook and Instagram pages on November 6. Martin’s post refers to a Florida county’s apparent removal of his debut novella Shopgirl (2001) from its public school libraries.

One might ask how people can buy a book if it has, indeed, been “banned,” or, conversely, how a “banned” book can legally remain available to “people who want to read it.” Surely a man of the sophistication that Steve Martin imprints on many of his characters would realize the illogic of his statement. After all, could Germans of the 1930s buy books banned by the Nazis? Can Ukrainians in the latter half of 2023 buy Russian and Belorussian books? Are liberal American authorities who remove Huckleberry Finn from school libraries, forbid Confederate symbols, or prohibit screenings of Gone With The Wind or Blazing Saddles “banning” those works?

The plain fact is that neither the State of Florida nor any of its 67 counties bans books. Collier County authorities reportedly decided to take Martin’s Shopgirl out of school-age public-education environments because it contains graphic sex scenes, which as of July 1 are prohibited under Florida House Bill 1069. That law, passed by large majorities in both houses of Florida’s state legislature and signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, “requires the suspension of materials alleged to contain pornography or obscene depictions of sexual conduct, as identified in current law” from public schools.

That is a far cry from a “ban” on such material, but unfortunately for Steve Martin’s prospective sales, no Florida law prohibits such materials in any other environment or institution. If Collier County fifth-graders really want to read a story about a rich-but-insecure West Coast Baby Boomer’s relationship with a much younger woman, who predictably ends up with a doofus her own age, they can do so via any bookstore, online media seller, public library, college library, neighborhood book exchange, or older relative who thinks kids might welcome a break from soccer to explore Martin’s tragicomic tropes. That’s all perfectly legal. Collier’s public school students can also freely watch the cringeworthy 2005 film version of Martin’s novella, which stars—surprise, surprise—Martin himself as the clueless Boomer and a young Claire Danes as the girl.

Nevertheless, in a country where many buy into false mainstream-media reportage that Florida bans books, Martin’s mocking social-media posts received a combined 89,000 likes and thousands of comments castigating the supposedly hidebound Sunshine State. One wonders how Martin’s supporters feel about speech codes in American schools, which routinely and legally prohibit obscenity, profanity, harassment, discriminatory speech, school-sanctioned prayer, and, indeed, sexualized language. Apparently, they think B-grade sex scenes written by a man who won fame by playing the banjo with a fake arrow through his head deserve loftier consideration.

Those and other critics of Florida’s supposed book bans often cite data from PEN America, a New York-based nonprofit that claims to stand “at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression in the United States and worldwide.” PEN’s June 2023 report, “Banned in the USA: The Mounting Pressure to Censor,” claims that since July 1, 2022, 3,362 “book bans” have taken place nationally, involving more than 1,500 books. PEN claims that more than 40 percent of these have occurred in Florida. The report warns of a “growing climate of censorship” caused by “coordinated campaigns by a vocal minority of groups and individual actors and, increasingly, as a result of pressure from state legislation.” It does not mention that PEN Ukraine, a partner organization within the PEN International network, endorsed the actual ban of Russian and Belorussian books passed earlier this year by the Ukrainian government, where it is now illegal to import and distribute such books.

As our culture wars rage over the meaning of words, what constitutes a ban is up for grabs. For the radical Left, a ban is any infringement on the expression of its favored ideologies, including the sexualization of small children in public schools in states whose democratically elected representatives have voted to disallow it by law. At the same time, however, actual and far-reaching legal prohibitions of materials that offend leftist ideologies are not bans at all but praiseworthy exercises promoting diversity, inclusion, and belonging. Only a wild and crazy guy could fail to see the hypocrisy, but caprice of this level might not have been seen since the days of . . . King Tut.

Mayor Adams Goes DeSantis

City JournalNew York is now offering illegal immigrants a free one-way flight out of town.

America’s border crisis is so vast that even New York City mayor Eric Adams admits it’s a problem. In January, Adams announced that the migrants taking refuge in his city, which boasts a universal but increasingly theoretical “right to shelter,” were straining its resources to the breaking point. By September, Adams said that the spiraling costs “will destroy New York City.” By the end of that month, more than 130,000 migrants had reportedly arrived in Gotham, nearly three times the number tallied this past spring. Some 65,000 are staying in city-operated shelters. Adams estimates that caring for current migrants alone will cost $4.7 billion next year and $6.1 billion in 2025. “Our compassion may be limitless, but our resources are not,” the beleaguered mayor lamented in August.

Adams has tried to manage the flow of migrants. Since the early days of the crisis, he has been settling them into underoccupied hotels in and beyond the city limits. He has broken Democratic Party unity to implore the Biden administration to control the southern border. He has called on American municipalities big and small to accept more migrants and thus relieve the pressure on New York. He has housed migrants in schools, soccer fields, and places of worship. He has offered migrants free bus tickets to Canada. He has limited individual migrants to 30 days in city shelters and migrant families to 60 days. Last month, Adams traveled to Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador, where he urged their impoverished populations not to come to New York City. He has suggested quartering migrants in private apartments. Currently, New York’s radical left city council is debating a measure to permit migrants to create encampments on public land, much as homeless Californians so colorfully do on the streets of that state’s once-proud cities.

None of these desperate moves has allowed the city to keep up with the pace of new arrivals. The migrants continue to arrive at an estimated rate of 4,000 per week, egged on after years of hearing city officials boast about New York’s culture of inclusiveness and belonging.

More recently, Adams implemented what much of the media has received as a new idea and quietly accepted as unavoidable. Starting at the end of October, migrants hoping to make a brand-new start in old New York can be directed to a city-operated “re-ticketing” center located in an abandoned East Village Catholic school, where officials will book them one-way flights to anywhere in the world. “We have established a re-ticketing center for migrants,” City Hall spokesperson Kayla Mamelak announced. “Here, the city will redouble efforts to purchase tickets for migrants to help them take the next steps in their journeys.” The re-ticketing center has reportedly posted notifications in English, Spanish, Arabic, French, and Russian informing visitors that no housing facilities are available on the site, but that “we are here to help you get to transportation to any state, or country of your convenience.”

The idea would sound outlandish if we did not live in a country of surreal double standards. Just over a year ago, the media and many Democrats blasted Florida governor and current Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis for flying 49 mostly Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, an affluent island community and “sanctuary destination” in Massachusetts, whose overwhelmingly liberal residents promptly declared that they did not have the resources to support the newcomers and, after about 36 hours of self-congratulatory tolerance, happily stood by as the National Guard removed them to a mainland military base. DeSantis was denounced as a monster, investigated by Javier Salazar, the Democratic sheriff of Texas’s Bexar County, and referred for prosecution on criminal charges of “unlawful restraint.” As recently as last month, Salazar told 60 Minutes that he is still investigating the Martha’s Vineyard case.

Adams is receiving no such scrutiny, even after news reports revealed that, from April 2022 to April 2023, he spent some $50,000 in city funds to fly 114 migrant households to other jurisdictions, including 28 families (the largest number in the group) who were flown to DeSantis’s Florida and another 14 who were sent to Texas.

Unencumbered by media opprobrium or criminal investigations, Adams’s new initiative seems primed to work on a much larger scale than that of DeSantis. Hypocrisy aside, from a fiscal perspective it does make sense for cash-strapped New York, which currently spends $394 per migrant per day on government aid. The average price of a one-way, economy-class domestic plane ticket in the first quarter of 2023, by comparison, was $382. Norse Atlantic Airways, a new international discount airline, currently offers one-way flights from New York to London for just $431. Migrants who have visited the re-ticketing office have reportedly taken advantage of the new policy to fly as far away as Morocco and China, but the fact remains that any migrant making use of the service will cost the city the same amount it spends on them over the course of a day or two.

Has New York suddenly discovered fiscal prudence? “It’s a smart, cost-effective way of getting a win-win,” Adams said of his policy with the slick delivery of a fresh-faced McKinsey consultant. “You go to the destination you want, and taxpayers are not keeping up the tab for [you].” City officials claim that one in four migrants has requested the service after arriving in the Big Apple and hearing that there is no room for them. Perhaps dealing with the harsh budget realities that their policies have created may soon help New York’s mandarins find a way to lure back the hundreds of thousands of former residents who now call elsewhere home. Spirit Airlines is currently offering one-way flights from West Palm Beach to LaGuardia for just $69. Well, pricing follows demand.