Book Banning: Is U.S. surveillance leading to self censorship?

NSA signs with flowers

NSA headquarters in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, northeast of Washington D.C.

Banning books is one thing. It’s even more serious to influence what gets written in the first place. Self-censoring by authors was one of the outcomes in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as authors tried to avoid offending anyone. Eventually, books were banned entirely.

But self-censoring couldn’t happen today, right?

In fact, it’s such a serious threat that nearly 30 famous writers just sent a letter to the U.S. Senate urging changes in the way our National Security Administration (NSA) carries out mass surveillance on Americans. The list of top writers includes lots of writers familiar to high school and college students: Don DeLilo, Nikki Giovanni, John Irving, Tony Kushner, and even the writer better known as Lemony Snicket.

In their longer letter, the writers said: “Mass surveillance invades our private thoughts and lives, chilling speech and spreading fear and mistrust throughout a society. Mass surveillance is censorship.” As evidence, the writers cite a 2013 survey by PEN American Center, a branch of PEN International. PEN’s mission is “to protect free expression and to defend writers and journalists who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted or attacked in the course of their professions.”

Writers are very concerned about government surveillance, much more so than the general public. Over a quarter (28%) say they have “curtailed or avoided social media activities.” About one fourth (24%) say they have “deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations.” And, 16% say they have “avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic.”

One writer said he aborted a book project because he feared his research would attract the attention of surveillance authorities. The topic was “civil defense preparedness during the Cold War.”

Here’s what he said, quoted from the PEN report: “… as a result of recent articles about the NSA, I decided to put the idea aside because, after all, what would be the perception if I Googled ‘nuclear blast,’ ‘bomb shelters,’ ‘radiation’, ‘secret plans,’ ‘weaponry,’ and so on? And are librarians required to report requests for materials about fallout and national emergencies and so on? I don’t know.”

Is self-censoring a price we should be willing to pay if it means more security? Over a third of Americans (36%) in my national surveys agreed with the statement: “I am willing to give up any freedom the government asks me to give up in order to protect this country’s safety.” Half of all Americans disagree, with 14% in the undecided category.

Are you willing to give up any freedom the government asks you if it means better safety and security?

Do you know of any authors who are self-censoring?

Are the concerns expressed in the PEN report overblown or justified?

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Categories: Critical PatriotismFreedom

Banned Books: What’s the No. 1 banned book in the last 10 years?

The American Library Association Banned Books Week

Want to find out more about the American Library Association’s plans to promote Banned Books Week this year? Click this ALA image to visit the group’s resource page for this year’s campaign.

Librarians nationwide already are getting ready for this year’s Banned Book Week—but are you ready? Can you identify the books that draw the most fire nationwide?

Recently, The Kite Runner and Chinese Handcuffs were on the educational chopping block at the public high school in Waukesha, Wisconsin, put there by a parent who objected to the “extreme violence” they depict. Just a few days ago, the Waukesha school committee rejected the parent’s challenge, keeping the books on the high-school reading list. But this is just the most recent challenge.

Do you know what book holds the top spot for the most frequently challenged and banned book? I’ll give you five choices. All of them made the Top 10 list of most frequently challenged books in the last decade. Can you spot No. 1?

  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green

Data on these and other challenged books are complied by the Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association. (See the complete lists here.)

The most frequently challenged book—and the most banned—is the 4th one on my list of five books: Captain Underpants. It topped the list in 2012 and 2013. If you are not familiar with this series (it sold 70 million copies worldwide), here’s a brief synopsis from Wikipedia:

Captain Underpants is a children’s novel series by American author and illustrator Dav Pilkey. The series revolves around two fourth graders, George Beard and Harold Hutchins living in Piqua, Ohio—and Captain Underpants, an aptly named superhero from one of the boys’ homemade comic books, that accidentally becomes real when George and Harold hypnotize their megalomaniacal principal, Mr. Krupp.

The book was challenged (and banned) in many schools and libraries because it was considered insensitive, not appropriate for the age group, and it condoned (and even encourage) kids to disobey people in authority.

What do you think of the recent attempts to ban The Kite Runner and Chinese Handcuffs?

Are you surprised to learn that Captain Underpants is the #1 most banned book?

Are any books challenged or banned in your school district?

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Categories: FreedomPursuit of Happines

Banned Books: Should we burn ‘demonic’ books? Or, ‘obscene’ books?

Book burning fact and fiction Fahrenheit 451 and 1949 American comic book burning

BOOK BURNING FACT AND FICTION: Rad Bradbury’s novel and a later film called “Fahrenheit 451″ envisioned a draconian government burning all books. But, in the lower photograph, church members in 1949 staged a mass burning of comic books in the American heartland.

Schools nationwide are starting a new academic year. Already choices have been made about what students can and cannot read. Today, I’m inviting you, our readers, to express yourself. Leave a comment below or share this column on social media (for example, use the blue-”f” Facebook button) and share your comments with friends. Either way, you’ve got an opportunity to be heard on this issue.

What would you do with books like the Twilight and the House of Night series that some are calling “demonic”? Should teens have access to these books in public libraries or schools?

If a Texas pastor has his way, they would be removed from the shelves of the local public library. Phillip Missick, pastor of King of Saints Tabernacle, argued in front of the Cleveland (TX) City Council that the public library offers too many books with demonic and occult themes, like Twilight and House of Night. Other religious leaders have joined in support, according to media accounts. These books are “dark,” Missick said. “There’s a sexual element. You have creatures that are not human. I think it’s dangerous for our kids.”

Some other local pastors agree with Missick: Reading these books will mess up the lives of teens.

The head librarian defended the library’s holdings, saying that books “should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.”

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury described a world in which book censorship ran its full course. It began with selective book banning at the disapproval of special-interest groups, and ended with mass book burnings and the prohibition of reading at all. The book’s title refers to the temperature at which book paper catches fire.

How about banning—or even burning—what some argue is the greatest novel of the 20th Century? That book is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It “was banned as obscene, officially or unofficially, throughout most of the English-speaking world for over a decade,” writes Kevin Birmingham in a new analysis of the book and its history, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses.

And, this “obscene” book was burned by government authorities—over 1,000 copies, says Birmingham.

Book banning and burning are microcosms of bigger issues. For Joyce’s Ulysses, says, Birmingham, “it was a dimension of the larger struggle between state power and individual freedom that intensified in the early 20th Century, when more people began to challenge governmental control over whatever speech the state considered harmful.”

Are today’s struggles over book censorship also the struggle between state (or religious) power and individual freedom?

Should we ban—or burn—books with demonic or occult themes?
Or, should all books be available?

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Categories: Freedom

Doing Good: The Difference Humor Can Make

Breaking down African stereotypes

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is her final column in this five-part series …

We’ve been discussing the science behind “Doing Good”—the state of the charitable sector and the difference our donations can make. Around the world, charities are making a big difference, and so are the donors that support them. But with nearly half the world (over 3 billion people) still living in poverty, we still have a long way to go.

A surprisingly valuable tool in getting there? Humor.

Take, the non-profit co-founded by Matt Damon, for example. The charity is known for their hilarious fundraising campaigns, such as Damon’s “toilet strike”, where he publicly vows, in a video set as a press event, to not use the bathroom until the water and sanitation crisis is solved.

Damon even took a comical spin on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (which is closing in on $100 million raised, which is nearly double the total we reported in Monday’s Part 1 of this series). After he was nominated for the ALS challenge, Damon opted to douse himself in toilet water, highlighting the fact that while hundreds of thousands of people are dumping buckets of clean water on their heads, 800 million people in the world still lack access to clean water.

Damon and aren’t the only charities to invoke humor to make a difference. MamaHope, a non-profit dedicated to empowering local African organizations and communities, uses humor to poke fun at the way African people are often portrayed in pop culture and by other charitable organizations. One video from their “Stop the Pity” campaign features four African men ridiculing Hollywood stereotypes.

It’s the Labor Day weekend—so take a few minutes to watch the videos! They’ll make your day, and they might even encourage you to make a difference.




As we wrap up the series, give us your thoughts on this last post:
Are you more likely to donate to a charity that can make you laugh?
How is humor–and irony–changing the conversation on making a difference? (toilet strike) (Ice bucket) (Stop the Pity)


You know what to do! Use those blue-”f” Facebook icons and other social-media buttons to invite friends to read along with you this week!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Doing Good: Why do the poor give more than the rich?

Money falling into a pileNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Have you told a friend about Gayle Campbell’s fascinating series about the ways Americans are “doing good”—or, rather, the ways we think we’re doing good? It’s easy to share these columns with the social media icons on this page. Here is her fourth of five parts …

Yesterday, we learned that Americans generally donate around 2% of their discretionary income to charity. The number is a far cry from the 10% often encouraged by charities and religious organizations.

We could point to plenty of reasons for the discrepancy—tight finances and a tough economy would likely top the list. But that doesn’t seem to stop low-income households in the U.S. from giving.

Did you know that low-income households tend to donate a much larger share of their discretionary income than the wealthy?

In 2011, Americans in the top 20% income bracket contributed 1.3 percent of their income to charity, while Americans in the bottom 20% donated 3.2 percent of their income. The Atlantic Magazine calls this “one of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America.”

What gives?

Some experts have speculated that the wealthy are simply less generous, and as wealth increases, compassion, altruism and ethical behavior decrease. What’s more—a study at The Chronicle of Philanthropy found that wealthy individuals who live in affluent areas are less likely to give than those who live in more socioeconomically diverse areas.

Simply put: When the rich don’t see the poor, their inclination to give decreases.

Research by social psychologist Paul Piff, over the last several years, generally supports this argument. Want to hear from Piff? Here’s a 16-minute TED talk by Piff titled “Does Money Make You Mean?”

The percentage of income donated isn’t the only major difference in how the rich and poor are giving. The wealthy tend to direct their donations not to the needs of the poor, but to other causes including cultural institutions or universities (often alma maters.) The poor, on the other hand, tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your experiences!
Are you surprised to hear to hear those with the least are giving the most?
Does increased wealth often lead to decreased compassion?
Why aren’t the rich giving to charities that primarily serve the poor?

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Categories: Getting AheadUncategorized

Doing Good: What 10 percent could do

Chronicle of Philanthropy Stubborn 2 percent

Click this preview image to visit the Chronicle of Philanthropy and read the entire report.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is the third of her five parts …

10% is the number we often hear in conversations on charitable giving. The origins of the figure date back to ancient times, when kings or rulers often mandated civilians pay a tenth of their goods or income to be offered as a sacrifice to the gods, or maintain the kingdom. In many religious traditions today, members are asked to “tithe,” or give back a tenth of their income to God.

On average, however, Americans generally give away just 2 percent of their disposable income, according to Giving USA, an annual report conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. That’s a sizeable difference from the 10% giving level often suggested by charities and churches.

So, what could change if more of us gave our money away?

Giving What We Can, the organization we covered yesterday, gives us one example: “If the average US citizen gave 10% of his or her income to the Against Malaria Foundation, then each year it could distribute 700 mosquito nets, preventing 190 cases of malaria and 2.2 deaths. This would amount to saving 90 lives over the course of his or her life.”

Mike Holmes, of, points out that if all Christians tithed 10%, there would be an additional $165 billion for churches to use and distribute, and over the course of five years, hunger, starvation and death from preventable disease could be relieved, illiteracy eliminated and the world’s water and sanitation crisis solved.

Curious what kind of difference you could make by giving 10%? Check out this calculator to see how many lives you could save by donating 10%.

We want to hear from you!
Do you prioritize charitable giving in your finances? What keeps you motivated?
Are you surprised to hear what the world could look like if everyone gave?


You know what to do! Use those blue-”f” Facebook icons and other social-media buttons to invite friends to read along with you this week!

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Categories: Uncategorized

Doing Good: Not all donations are created equal

Visit the Giving What We Can website

CLICK THIS SNAPSHOT FROM THE “GIVING WHAT WE CAN” WEBSITE to visit this project founded by moral philosopher Dr Toby Ord in November 2009.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, Gayle Campbell is exploring the ways we think we’re doing good. Here is the second of her five parts …

$335 billion—it’s the dollar amount Americans gave to charity in 2013. A Gallup poll from the same year found 83 percent of Americans say they donated money in the past year. In yesterday’s post, we examined the ALS ice bucket challenge, which has brought in over $53 million in 10 weeks.

One thing is clear: Plenty of us are giving. But how much good is our giving really doing?

That’s the question Dr. Toby Ord, a researcher in moral philosophy at Oxford University, posed—not just for Americans but for charitable givers worldwide—nearly five years ago when he founded an organization called Giving What We Can. It’s part of a movement called effective giving, and it’s aimed at helping donors maximize the social impact of their giving. (Wikipedia also provides an overview of the project.)

Instead of focusing on typical charity evaluator metrics like overhead cost, organizations like Giving What We Can and Brookyln-based GiveWell, assess charities’ effectiveness based on the number of lives their interventions can improve or save.

Take helping the blind, for example: A $40,000 donation to fight blindness, Ord points out, is much more effective when used for $20 surgeries that reverse the effects of trachoma in Africa than it would be to provide guide dogs to blind people in the U.S. The former, Ord argues, helps cure more than 2,000 people of blindness, while the latter helps one person overcome the challenges of blindness—a 99.95% value difference.

The difference in where we give our money could mean the difference in thousands of lives.

We want to hear from you!

When was the last time you made a donation? Maybe it was to the ALS Foundation!
How did you decide on your charity of choice? Do you know your donation is making an impact?
Does Ord’s research inspire you to reconsider your giving methodology? Or do you see gaps in his thinking?


You know what to do! Use those blue-”f” Facebook icons and other social-media buttons to invite friends to read along with you this week!

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Categories: Uncategorized