Archive for the ‘Freedom of the Press/Internet’ Category

It’s Banned Books Week (Sept 30- Oct 6), organized each year by the American Library Association (ALA). The awareness campaign was founded in 1982—the same year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a New York school district could not remove Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five from its middle-school and high-school libraries. Well, barely. The court was sharply divided over this decision, split 4-4 as to whether limiting the books would violate the students’ First Amendment rights. Chief Justice Warren E. Burger actually sided with the book banners. The swing vote was cast by Justice Byron White, who concurred with the four that wanted to limit the school board’s ability to withhold books, but he refused to comment on the First Amendment issue. Er, I’m no lawyer, but denying books to students seems a pretty clear violation of both “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press.”

It was close call, but that ruling hasn’t stopped Slaughterhouse Five from being barred repeatedly from school bookstores and libraries, as recently as 2007 in Howell, Michigan. Other frequently banned classics include high-school favorites like A Separate Peace, by John Knowles; As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner; The Catcher in the Rye, by JD Salinger; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; and just about everything written by Hemingway, Orwell, and Steinbeck. Check out the ALA’s list of the Most Frequently Banned and Challenged Classics.

Back in 1918 when James Joyce’s Ullysses came out it was banned from publication in the U.S., Ireland, Canada, and England. Sylvia Beach famously came to the rescue by printing and selling the book from her Paris bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. In 1940, U.S. Post Office actually declared Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls “non-mailable.”

But censorship is not something of the past. Right after the first The Lord of the Rings movie debuted in 2001, a pile of Tolkien’s books were burned outside a church in Almagordo, New Mexico, for being “satanic.” Clearly, these people had not actually read the books (or seen the movie). In 2010, a California school district banned Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary owing to “explicit definitions.”

Last year, the ALA reports there were 326 attempts to remove books from school curricula and/or libraries. The Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2011 include To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (both repeatedly challenged in the 21st century). Of course, the list includes The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, just as a few years back the target was on J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I confess, I feel a bit squeamish about younger children reading The Hunger Games, but that’s a decision for their parents—not the state … or the local town council, seriously?

So celebrate our right to read this week by reading a banned book … or any book. Check your local library for Banned Book Week events. Also, don’t miss the Virtual Read-Out on YouTube. Passages from banned books will be read in video clips by celebrities, famous authors, and just about anyone who wants to upload to the channel. Read on.

30 Year Timeline of Banned Books Week

Top Ten Banned Books of 2011

List of Most Frequently Challenged Classic Books

Banned and Challenge Classics: History by Book

BBW Virtual Read-Out on You Tube

Bookman’s Does Banned Books on You Tube

Flashback Post: Banned Books Week 2011—Celebrate  Celebrate our Right to Read

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Am I the only one who switched from Google to Bing on March 1? Don’t get me wrong. I loved Google, but I have no love for their new shockingly invasive “privacy” policy. As of March 1, Google is saving *and consolidating* all of your data: your searches, your phone number, any Gmail accounts on your computer, your Google+, YouTube, and anywhere that you’ve Google Mapped.

Did you browse for a divorce lawyer? Did you look up side effects of Ambien? Did you ask for directions to the AA meeting? Er, do you know what your teenager has been watching on YouTube? Google does, and they are holding onto all of this information to build a composite of you and your family. Basically, they are creating their own avatar of you which they plan to save indefinitely. Google says it’s for advertising—now you might get ads for Lunesta or for the Wal-Mart near that AA meeting you mapped. (Actually, you are already getting these tie-ins if you use Gmail.)

It gets worse. Google will identify and track your computer hardware model, operating system, software, unique device identifiers, and network information, including your phone number. Once they have your phone number, they will track and save any number that you called, any calls you forward, as well as the time, date, and duration of all your calls. It’s like they commandeered the Patriot Act, minus the semblant subpeonas and court orders. Why does Google need to know about every call you have ever made in order to pop up an ad for Disney or American Airlines???

What’s even scarier, and downright outrageous, is that there is NO way to opt-out.

OK, so it’s pretty tricky to figure out the labyrinthine, Kafkaesque opt-out of say, Facebook. But at least Facebook is acknowledging our right to privacy, sort of. Google is acting like we don’t have any such rights. They are just pushing ahead, hoping we don’t notice—sort of like a quarterback rushing to get the next play off before the ref realizes that the last catch was actually out of bounds.

So now, beware, Google is watching and monitoring your every click … and call. Heck, even the police need a warrant to search your computer or your phone records. I’m no lawyer, but it’s pretty clear Google is violating our constitutional right against unlawful “search and seizure” as outlined in the Fourth Amendment.

If this all sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because you have read George Orwell’s 1984. “Big Brother is watching you.” Or maybe you have read The Hunger Games? Or perhaps you were around 30 years ago when this sort of surveillance was regularly practiced by the Soviet Union’s secret police, the KGB, which in 1983 Time Magazine called “the world’s most effective information-gathering organization.” These tactics were also used by the Stasi, the secret police of East Germany. Note, if you haven’t seen it, this is rendered heartbreakingly in The Lives of Others, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2006.

Perhaps I’m starting to sound alarmist with a twist of conspiracy theory? It’s just Google, after all. But …

Hey, remember that time Google hired the head of the Pentagon’s research arm?” tweeted writer Chris Arnold. Ha ha, but wait. It’s true. Director Regina Dugan, who has overseen the Pentagon’s cyber security R&D for three years, has accepted a job at Google. Hmm. Arnold also compared Google to Skynet in The Terminator. Ten years ago I would have laughed at that. Now, I’m not so sure. Google saves my search data, they scan my Gmail for key words, they track all my phone calls, and they zoom in on my house via Google Earth. Logan’s Run, anyone?

Isn’t it also odd how little buzz has surrounded all this? Only a month ago we had a giant protest and media out lash against the proposed SOPA/PIPA regulations. But, of course, that was promoted on Google, by Google. This time Google is the one pushing the boundaries, and except for Bing and Twitter, there has been surprisingly little criticism from Silicon Valley.

I’m hoping people wake up and take notice. I’m hoping Google gets reigned in. The Attorneys General of of 36 states have banded together to address the issue. Also, several members of Congress have expressed concern. But so far not much has been done. So PLEASE contact them with your concerns. If not, it won’t be long before other internet companies adopt similar profiling measures. Seriously, Skynet!

Meanwhile, I’m using Bing, which I actually really like. Who would have thought that Microsoft would be the “alternative” to the Evil Empire? Or Yahoo would? I’m back to them for email and news etc. I never got into Google+, but if you use it, again, beware! Here are some tips to limit your online exposure to Google’s new tracking system.

I do miss Google. Even though I’ve deleted the apps and the bookmarks, I still sometimes land there by habit. And when I do, I type in “privacy.”

Google’s New “Privacy” Policy

CNN: Google Knows Too Much About You

UK Daily Mail: Google Will Soon Know More About You Than Your Partner

Time Magazine: The Basics Behind Google’s New Privacy Policies

Time Magazine: How to Limit Your Exposure to Google’s New Privacy Policies

Washington Post: Google Announces Privacy Changes: Consumers Can’t Opt Out

Google Hires Pentagon Director of Cybersecurity R&D

Attorneys General Join Together to Challange Googles Privacy Policy

Lawmakers Question Google’s New Privacy Practices

Contact Your Elected Officials

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As today, January 29th, is the birthday of Thomas Paine, I thought it would be appropriate to address freedom of the press … and on the Internet. Paine was a “pamphleteer” who self-published and distributed many essays including Common Sense, which rallied the colonists to war for independence. John Adams famously proclaimed that “without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” Throughout the American Revolution, Paine continued to publish his pamphlets, collected in The Crisis, which spurred on the rebel cause.

If he were around today, Paine would not be a politician or a pundit on TV, but a blogger. His approach was grassroots, much like that of the masses who rose up during last year’s Arab Spring, sharing their thoughts and organizing their protests via blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

It’s pretty clear that freedom of expression on the Internet is inherently tied into freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This has been a hot topic lately, with the recent SOPA blackout and yesterday’s Twitter blackout. I do support the need to protect copyrighted material and understand the frustration of the movie companies and other copyright holders—I try to always link to the official clip, like I did with the Hobbit trailer, or use free clipart. But, there were some draconian provisions in SOPA/PIPA. Internet providers could be forced to block user IP addresses, like they do in, um, China. Also, if someone posted a link to copyrighted material, say as a comment on a blog, that blogger could be held legally responsible and thus shut down. What a relief that these bills have been sent back to the drawing board.

Saturday’s #Twitterblackout protested the announcement that Twitter will begin censoring individual tweets at the request of any country’s government. Hello China and Iran. Reports charge that this new policy is tied to a $300-billion-dollar investment made by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talaj.

However, Josh Cantone at Mashable argues that Twitter’s change will actually aid political activists by highlighting the censorship enforced by these governments. He also says it will be pretty easy for users to get around the censorship. That may prove the case, but I still took part in the #TwitterBlackout. I knee-jerk react against anything that looks to, in any way, limit our freedom of the press. Ok, it was kind of silly, everyone tweeting about how we weren’t tweeting. But it sent a message. Also, the AP reported that “many of the tweets calling for a boycott of Twitter on Saturday—using the hashtag #TwitterBlackout—came from the Middle East.”  So how could I not show solidarity with people who are fighting for the freedoms that we in the US sometimes take for granted?

Also worrisome is the concern that Twitter will begin to kowtow to corporations, who are already sending requests to block specific tweeters and tweets. Check out more than 4000 such corporate cease-and-desist orders.

Whatever you think about Occupy Wall Street, it was pretty scary and Orwellian that such massive civilian protests (with so many arrests!) were not reported by any major media outlet for nearly a month. The only reporting or coverage was online. I was reading the Hunger Games at the time, and it reminded me of the whispered, and covered-up, rebellions in Panem. Chilling. One could almost argue that keeping protests out of the media is as powerful, or more so, than actually suppressing them. After all, it was Glasnost that brought down the Soviet Union, just as social media fueled the Arab Awakening. Information is empowering. Without freedom to exchange information, how can we monitor and protect our other constitutional rights? The Supreme Court recently ruled that corporations have the same rights as individuals. I’m a capitalist, but this is deeply unnerving.

It’s not just political barriers that are being broken down by online dialogue. The Economist reports that bloggers have improved and expanded “the global conversation about economics.” The blogosphere has spotlighted economic theories and ideas that have been largely ignored by academic circles, “advancing bold solutions to America’s economic funk and Europe’s self-inflicted crisis.”

So going forward, I hope we’ll continue to be wary of attempts to regulate or circumscribe voices on the Internet. As Paine said, “such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants is the liberty of appearing.”

Thomas Paine via Wikipedia

Pampleteer Thomas Paine Would Be A Blogger

The New Yorker: Was Thomas Paine Too Much of a Free-Thinker?

Twitter’s New Censorhip Plan Rouses Global Furor

Twitter Blackout: Taking a Stand in Solidarity

Computer World: The Real Reasons Why SOPA/PIPA are Real Bad

The Guardian: Stop SOPA or the Web Really Will Go Dark Says Wikipedia Founder Jimmy Wales

Work Hits Gone Dark to Protest SOPA/PIPA

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Don’t even try to read this post. WordHits has gone dark for the SOPA/PIPA protest blackout. OK, a little early since I won’t be up at midnight. I do support copyright protection and the need to enforce that, but these acts are seriously, dangerously flawed. Freedom of speech. Freedom of words.

If you need to look up something on Wikipedia, better hit that before midnight. They will also be dark for all of Wednesday, January 18. You can read why Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales feels why this is a crossroads in freedom of information and freedom of expression on the internet.

So is SOPA Dead? Not Exactly Says Forbes

Stop SOPA or the Web Really Will Go Dark Says Jimmy Wales

How Does SOPA Work InfoGraphic

Stop SOPA Action Center

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The books that the world calls immoral are the books
that show the world its own shame.–Oscar Wilde

Click for interactive US flag of banned book images.

We expect to hear stories like this out of China, which banned Animal Farm “because it put humans and animals on the same level.” But did you know that last year, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary was yanked from all schools in a California district? That ban only lasted a week, but right now many schools continue to enforce censorship. A Virginia district has banned A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery. Slaughterhouse Five is currently banned from schools in Missouri.

I was shocked to learn that revered classic To Kill A Mockingbird was one of the most challenged books of 2009. And last year, seminal dystopian novel Brave New World was one of the top three disputed books. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and Twilight are the books that seem to make the list of Top 10 Challenged Books in classrooms and libraries year after year. I guess someone does not want kids reading.

In the United Kingdom, some libraries have actually blacklisted The Diary of Anne Frank. Other banned notables there include All Quiet on the Western Front, Madame Bovary, Black Beauty, and, gasp, The Canterbury Tales.

The American Library Association is sponsoring Banned Books Week, to highlight this issue and to celebrate the freedom to read. Get involved:

1.) Call your local library and offer support if they are getting pressure to remove any books from their shelves.

2.) Read a Banned Book:

Most Frequently Challenged Books in US

Most Frequently Banned Books in UK

Banned and Challenged Classics

3.) Visit the Virtual Read-Out on You Tube.
For clips of people, including famous authors, reading from their favorite banned books. Upload a your own video!

4.) Support organizations that get kids reading:

First Book—New Books to Children in Need

RIF—Reading is Fundamental

Uprise Books—Ending the Cycle of Poverty with Banned Books

5.) Check out More Links on Banned Books

Banned Books Week

Top 10 Challenged Books of 2010

Banned Books Trivia Quiz

Five Best Banned Books Made into Films

Time Magazine’s Top 10 Censored Books

NPR Interviews Penguin Editor about Banned Books

Twain Book Returns to Library Shelf 105 Years After Being Banned

Sherlock Holmes Banned by School District in Virginia

Slaughterhouse Five Banned in Republic Missouri

Merriam Webster Banned in California and other Banned Dictionaries

Clickable US Flag Made of Banned Books

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