Banned Books: Is U.S. surveillance leading to self censorship?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Banned Books
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 DeLillo, 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?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Banned Books
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?

Comments: (2)
Categories: FreedomPursuit of Happines

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

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Banned 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: Is the ALS Icebucket Challenge truly good?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Doing Good

Muppets Kermit the Frog takes the ALS Ice Bucket challengeNOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: Please welcome back guest writer Gayle Campbell. I’ll tell you more about Gayle at the close of today’s column. Here is the first of her five parts on “Doing Good” …

By now, you’ve certainly seen it exploding across your social media feeds: Friends, dumping buckets of ice water on their heads, and challenging their friends to do the same. The Ice Bucket Challenge is a social campaign designed to raise awareness and funds for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease), a fatal neurodegenerative disease.

Celebrities from former President George W. Bush to Bill Gates to Lady Gaga have all partaken in the challenge, which has brought in over $53 million in donations for the ALS Foundation, compared to $2.2 million they raised in the same time period last year.

The marketing seems brilliant: Succumb to peer pressure to prove your altruism, or face judgment from your peers.

And it’s clearly working: Facebook announced last week that more than 28 million users were talking about the challenge and 2.4 million Ice Bucket Challenge videos were shared on Facebook between June 1 and August 17.

But it’s this same logic that’s caused the campaign to be criticized by some as “Slacktivism”—online engagement that requires very little time, effort or money, offering participants the satisfaction of doing good without actually making much of an impact. One blogger even argues that participation in a feel-good cause like the Ice Bucket Challenge might lead one to compensate by doing fewer good actions in the future, an effect known as moral self-licensing.

Criticism aside, it’s hard to argue with the over 2,000% increase in donations to the ALS Association, which will be used to fund global research for treatment and a cure for the disease that affects approximately 30,000 Americans.

What do you think? We want to hear from you!

Have you participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge? If so, what motivated you to get on board?
If you’ve avoided the campaign, why?
Do you think the challenge promotes activism, or “slactivism”?

COME ON …
WATCH A FEW MORE COOL VIDEOS

KERMIT FACES THE DELUGE …

TINA FEY RESPONDS …

AND ONE FROM THE AMERICAN HEARTLAND …

PLEASE TELL FRIENDS …

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!

CARE TO READ MORE FROM GAYLE CAMPBELL?

Long-time readers of OurValues may recall that Gayle Campbell once was Media Director of our online project. A University of Michigan grad, today, she’s a professional communicator in Washington D.C., working in the fields of international development and exchange. Gayle occasionally returns to write on millennial matters, social justice issues and doing good. Click here to enjoy her earlier columns in OurValues. (If you click here, you’ll see today’s column at the top of the new page, but you can then scroll down to read 10 more).

Comments: (1)
Categories: Pursuit of HappinesRespect

Get Out the Vote: Gerrymander got you locked up? Or will you go vote?

This entry is part 1 of 10 in the series Get Out the Vote
Original 1812 Gerrymander

BICENTENNIAL CREATURE: Did you know that gerrymandering was named in 1812? This election strategy is nearly as old as the United States itself, although no one held a bicentennial parade for this strange creature in 2012. Click on this original newspaper cartoon to read more of the history at Wikipedia.

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER: This week, welcome back contributing columnist Terry Gallagher!

Primary elections are being held across the country this week, but who cares?

With widespread gerrymandering that guarantees one-party rule in many districts, primary elections are more important than ever when selecting our representatives.

So why do so few voters show up? According to a headline in the Washington Post a few weeks ago, “Voter turnout in primary elections this year has been abysmal.”

The Post reported, “Overall, voter turnout among the 25 states that have held primaries is down 18 percent from the 2010 election. There were almost 123 million age-eligible voters in these primary states, but only about 18 million of them voted.”

In 2010, the New York Times’ redoubtable FiveThirtyEight analytic column reported that participation in primary elections has declined steadily since 1966, especially among Democrats. One significant factor is that in many states, primary voters are required to register by party and fewer voters are willing to identify with one party or the other.

It’s not just the primaries, though: turnout in general elections has been declining for decades, too.

“During this same period, other forms of political participation have also declined, such as voluntary participation in political parties and the attendance of observers at town meetings,” according to Wikipedia.

The Our Values research has shown that an American core value is our embrace of freedom, usually taken to mean the right to participate in politics and elections.

So why don’t we get out and vote?

How about you? What will you do this week?

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS SUMMER: Terry Gallagher will write one more OurValues series this summer. He also is working on a book-length collection of his reflections on American culture and values. In recent years, he has written about a wide range of topics: baseball, generosity, friendship, death, the Catholic church and home-made soup. You can read more than 100 of his past columns by clicking on this link. Email us at OurValuesProject@gmail.com with suggestions for Terry. And Please, we always invite you to comment (below) or to share this column on Facebook (use the blue-“f” icons).

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Categories: Freedom

Free Agent Nation: Scented Jeans? ‘Ficks’ a hangover? High-tech bookmark?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Free Agent Nation

Fragrance Jeans

NOTE FROM DR. WAYNE BAKER—This week, we’re spanning generations and perspectives in welcoming guest writers Kathy Macdonald and Miles Grofsorean. In this five-part series, they are reporting on some very creative ideas from entrepreneurs. Here is their third column …

America isn’t the only Free Agent Nation, and today we’re taking you on a quick trip around the world to show you three more products we’d like you to rate—and tell friends (via the blue-“f” Facebook icons or envelope-shaped email icons) if you think these ideas are worth sharing.

Yesterday, we looked at Serviceable ideas. Today, we focus on the second “S”—Seductive ideas.

PORTUGESE FRAGRANCE JEANS?

Portuguese fashion brand, Salsa, has created scented jeans.

The pants, made from a blend of cotton and elastane, are embedded with microcapsules of fragrance. According to the manufacturers’ sales pitch, many jean enthusiasts believe that jeans are best left unwashed to protect their style and texture. Obviously, this can lead to undesirable side effects, which prompted Salsa to develop the product. They claim their fragrances will last up to 20 washes, and you can choose from 5 different scents: apple, blueberry, strawberry, lemon and orange.

CALIFORNIA FICKS HANGOVER RELIEF

Ficks Cocktail fortifierIf scented jeans are designed to keep young people smelling sweet even if they socialize night after night—a California company has created Ficks to take care of another problem associated with too much partying.

It’s a hangover solution, an “all natural cocktail fortifier” that was created in tandem with Fortitech, the company that formulated Vitamin Water. Their products are based on “years of research on scientific studies related to alcohol metabolization, liver health and medical causes of hangovers.”

Even Amazon now sells Ficks and so far the six reviews posted on the product page are voting 2 to 1 in favor of Ficks. There are four 4- and 5-star reviews vs. only two 1- and 2-star reviews; no one is wishy washy about this one—not a single 3-star review.

BRAZILIAN READING REMINDER

Dancing the night away? Worried about hangovers? Well, millions of people aren’t tempted in either direction. In fact, a Brazilian company is launching a small high-tech device that encourages—more reading.

Tweet For a Read is a campaign launched by a Brazil-based Penguin-Companhia publishing house. They recently developed a computerized bookmark with a WiFi-enabled computer, timer and light sensor. When the book is closed, the light sensor sets off the timer. When it’s been too long since you last opened the book, the bookmark (which is linked to your Twitter account) will notify the author’s Twitter account, which in turn will send you a reminder to continue reading the book in question. The tweets are actually pre-written by the author, or are phrases taken from the book you’re reading.

Here’s a short video about this product:

PENGUIN BOOKS | Case Tweet For a Read from Rafael Gonzaga on Vimeo.

Like this idea? Will it succeed? You could help to insure its success simply by telling friends.

PLEASE, leave a comment below—and share this series with friends by clicking on the blue “f” Facebook icons or the small envelope shaped email icons.

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Categories: Getting AheadHedonism

Change of Heart: Who is teaching Americans about gay marriage?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Change of Heart

Ellen DeGeneres and Portia on magazine covers“She has been out for so long that it is no longer an issue—and older white women feel comfortable with her show. She normalizes LGBT people.” That’s one way a Pew research report summarizes Ellen DeGeneres’s influence across America.

Legalization of same-sex marriage seems inevitable, large majorities of Americans say in recent polls. This interactive map provided by Pew shows how big clusters of states that have legalized gay marriage are pressing across the U.S. from East and West coasts and the Midwest in mid 2014. But, you can re-set the Pew map to show the status in earlier years. Flip the date back to 2002 and you’ll see: Not one state allowed same-sex marriage.

Americans have had to adjust to this change at lightening speed. Research and media reports conclude: America’s most reliable, friendly, funny guide through this era of cultural change is—Ellen.

There’s no question that Ellen is the most famous gay American, Pew concludes in one study. Since she came out in 1997, Americans have watched her fall in love, mature in her relationships and get married to her partner Portia. Magazine cover stories and TV celebrity shows also have shown Ellen stumbling, problems arise in her marriage—and, this week, on the cover of Closer magazine Americans are watching them come through marriage counseling to renew their vows.

Pew concludes: “More than anyone else, Ellen DeGeneres is the face of LGBT America. Still. That’s the verdict of two new Pew Research Center surveys, one of the general U.S. population and the other of LGBT Americans specifically.

“Not only was the comedian and television host by far the most frequently cited example of a gay or lesbian public figure in the general-population survey, she and President Obama were the leaders when LGBT Americans were asked to name a well-known figure who’s been important in advancing the rights of LGBT people.”

When Ellen first came out, the public backlash reportedly sent her deep into depression for a time. But the multi-talented star quickly recovered. Today, she ranks No. 46 on the new Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women. She also ranks No. 17 on Forbes’s list of “richest women in entertainment.”

Forbes reports: “Daytime’s most likable TV personality—at least according to industry-standard Q scores—keeps dancing her way up our list. She managed to set two records within 24 hours this year: first, the now-famous ‘selfie’ photo she took with a handful of A-list celebs as she hosted the Oscars became the most re-tweeted Twitter post in history—a record previously held by President Obama. The live post-Oscars episode of her popular syndicated talk show the following day became the most-watched in the program’s 11 years on air. Aside from the ratings success of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the 56-year-old CoverGirl is beefing up her producing roster. Her production company is working on pilots for the CW and NBC, and cable network HGTV will air a DeGeneres-produced design competition series next year.”

So, what do you think of Ellen?

Are there other important men or women who’ve taught you about gay relationships?

Comments: (0)
Categories: Equal OpportunitiesFreedom