Tag Archives: free press

Banned Books Week 2018

Many social movements begin with the simplest of acts.  In the fall of 1975, a group of parents called Parents of New York United complained to a local school board that school policies on library books were too “permissive.”  Among the offensive tomes were Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five” and Langston Hughes’ “Best Short Stories by Negro Writers,” which, the parents moaned, were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic and just plain filthy.”  In response, the school district removed the books in February of 1976.  But a senior high school student, Steven Pico, and four classmates challenged the board’s decision; claiming the books were removed simply because “passages in the books offended [the group’s] social, political, and moral tastes and not because the books, taken as a whole, were lacking in educational value.”  Other libraries and free speech organizations filed briefs on the students’ behalf, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 as Island Trees School District v. Pico.

While many parents surely were upset that a group of high school kids had the audacity to circumvent their authority, the more significant issue was the school board’s actions.  And, on a grander scale, who has the right to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable?

As the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once declared, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so.  But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

Shortly after the SCOTUS reversal of the aforementioned school board’s decision, “Banned Books Week” was founded.  Since then it has grown into an international event with the goal of ensuring that true freedom begins with our ability and the right to read and see pretty much whatever we want.  There’s a reason, after all, why the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is first.

Like any legitimate scribe, I strongly support the right to free speech and free expression.  We in these democratic societies don’t often appreciate the importance of it.  But speak with anyone who grew up in a totalitarian state – where people are told what to read and how to think – and you’ll realize the value of it.

Sadly this battle will never be won.  We will ALWAYS have to combat those who feel that, since they’re offended by something, no else should have access to it either.  In the current chaos of extreme political correctness and assaults on the media by a deranged American president, none of us should have to tolerate the narrow-minded choices of others.

Keep writing and keep fighting!

Banned Books Week runs this year from September 23 – 29.

Frequently Challenged Books

Ten Most Challenged Books Lists

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National Banned Books Week 2015

Old Covered Books on Table HD Wallpaper

Today is the official start of “Banned Books Week” here in the U.S.; the annual counter-assault against the angry and the self-righteous who dare to tell the rest of us independent thinkers what we can and cannot read. It’s a relentless battle.

This year the theme is “Young Adult” fiction. YA fiction, as it’s more commonly known, is the newest fad among adventurous scribes who want to help teenagers cross the troubled bridge into full-blown adulthood; the period of life where people learn the hard way that they aren’t the center of the universe. Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” trilogy is one highly successful example. Despite its popularity, it has garnered its own share of conservative protestors. I really can’t understand that. Within the context of American mythology, “The Hunger Games” has everything: violence, racial exceptionalism and plenty of bad luck. I mean, people getting shot down like wild animals. What’s more American than that?

One of the more curious books being challenged is Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Henrietta Lacks was an African-American woman, born Loretta Pleasant in Virginia in 1920, who died of cervical cancer in Baltimore in 1951. It’s not her brief life or tragic death that is necessarily so compelling. It’s not even the fact she died of cervical cancer. It’s what resulted from her death, and the variety of ethical challenges her situation posed. The type of cervical cancer she developed was unique; something oncologists at the time had never seen. Shortly before Lacks’ death, doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital removed two samples of the cancer – without her knowledge or permission. They ended up in the laboratory of researcher Dr. George Otto Gey who noticed the cells were unusually durable. Gey isolated and multiplied some of the cells, producing a line he dubbed “HeLa.” The HeLa line would go on to assist cancer researchers in the ensuing decades.

Perhaps the most famous outcome was the cure for one of humanity’s greatest scourges. Jonas Salk used the HeLa line to develop the polio vaccine, which was approved for general use in 1955, after only three years of testing. Immediately thereafter, other scientists began cloning the HeLa cell line; since then, over 10,000 patents involving the HeLa cells have been granted.

The Lacks Family didn’t learn of these advances until 1973, when a scientist contacted them, wanting blood samples and other genetic materials. For them and many African-Americans, this scenario reminded them of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study;” perhaps the most egregious and blatant example of medical racism in the U.S. The tale of Henrietta Lacks is nonetheless a compelling study of medical research and medical ethics. But one idiot in Knoxville, Tennessee has a different view: she calls it pornography. Parent Jackie Sims found Skloot’s book inappropriate for students at L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville. The term “inappropriate,” of course, means: ‘I don’t like it, so no one else should have access to it.’ Sims apparently equates gynecology with pornography. The term “cervical” surely sent her frail mind into a tizzy. Her precious on was given an alternate text (maybe something along the lines of a Disney coloring book), but Sims – like the typical self-righteous curmudgeon – wants Skloot’s tome to be banished from the entire school district. Fortunately, district authorities haven’t backed down, and – as of this writing – the matter is still under consideration.

For a complete selection of this year’s frequently-challenged books, check out this list. Then go out and buy, or download, one of them and read it, if you haven’t already. Remember, true freedom begins with the written word.

Banned Books Week on Twitter.

Banned Books Weeks is partnered with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

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Drawing Lines

Masked-gunmen-stormed-the-headquarters-of-the-weekly-Charlie-Hebdo-in-Paris

In March of 2003, the Dixie Chicks prepared to take a stage in London, when lead singer Natalie Maines declared that she and her bandmates were “ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” She was referring to George W. Bush (who was actually born in Connecticut), and the U.S. was on the verge of invading Iraq. In a sense, Maines was joking, but within hours, her comment thrust the group into the most unfavorable of positions. Country music fans across the U.S. demanded their local radio stations stop playing the Dixie Chicks music, and the group became the subject of hate mail and death threats. Shortly afterwards, ABC correspondent Diane Sawyer interviewed the group, during which she repeatedly asked Maines why said something so disparaging about the president of the United States. In all my years of watching politics and paying attention to how our elected officials interact with the news media, I’d never seen so much antagonism launched at one individual over a simple comment.

For one thing I am embarrassed that Bush claims he’s from Texas. I remain embarrassed that this state put him in the governor’s mansion twice and helped to place him in the White House twice. Bush is one of the worse presidents the U.S. has ever produced. I know plenty of people who would disagree with me, and we could argue about it for days. But one thing is certain: we all know we have the right to feel that way and we certainly hold the right to express our sentiments about the matter. After all, Maines didn’t curse; nor did she call Bush an idiot or a mass murderer. She didn’t threaten his life. She just opened her “big mouth again,” as she later stated, and said something. The trio eventually got their careers back on track, but I don’t think the band has fully recovered in terms of popularity.

I thought about the fiasco surrounding Maines’ comment, when the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo exploded the other day. Three Islamic fundamentalists, apparently angry that the long-running satirical French magazine had the audacity – yet again – to insult their religion and the prophet Mohammed, stormed into the building and gunned down 11 staff members. They’d also gunned a Parisian police officer – a Muslim – outside the building. One of the men turned himself into authorities immediate, while the other two fled and – as of this writing – have been killed. The tragedy reminded many of the 2005 publication of a cartoon of Mohammed in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten and the vitriolic response from many in the Muslim world.

First of all, it is an offense to Islam to publicize any delineation of Mohammed; unlike, say, Roman Catholicism, which is virtually idolatrous with its many renditions of Jesus, Mary and their gallery of saints. Second of all, I don’t care. If anything, Muslims should be upset by the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.; the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombings; or the July 7, 2005 London train bombings. I imagine most were. I’m not one to be judgmental, but I am a strong supporter of free speech. So were the folks at Charlie Hebdo. And now, most of them are dead.

It’s a tricky thing – free speech. Just about everyone I know has expressed their strong support for it. It’s a critical element of any truly democratic and civilized society. But, as with all other freedoms, it’s cumbersome when you confront the words of those who are your ideological opposites; people who say things you find offensive, even vulgar. Free speech (and its ideological cousins, freedom of expression and freedom of religion) was at the center of the push to legalize pornography in the U.S. in the early 1970s. In the spring of 1977, it was a key component of the right a group of neo-Nazis proclaimed when they petitioned to march down the streets of Skokie, Illinois, a community with a large Jewish population. The Westboro Baptist Church relied solely on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to protest at the funerals of deceased military personnel, claiming the latter died for a country that supports abortion, homosexuality and other perceived evils. Their case made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where they won. It’s not okay to call someone a murderer, but it’s apparently okay – according to the decision – to shout, ‘Thank God for IEDs.’

This 2007 cartoon by “Mr. Fish” upset plenty of people.  I still think it’s funny and truthful.

This 2007 cartoon by “Mr. Fish” upset plenty of people. I still think it’s funny and truthful.

Where should that line be drawn? Or should there even be a line?

In February of 2008, my then-ISP, AOL, published a story on how, in 1504, Christopher Columbus allegedly deceived Jamaica’s indigenous Taino Indians into believing the gods were unhappy with their treatment of him and his stranded crew and would cause the moon to turn blood red. Columbus apparently knew of an upcoming lunar eclipse on February 29 of that year. When it did occur, the Taino supposedly became terrified and were convinced Columbus was some kind of deity. There are countless stories like that about early interactions between Indigenous Americans and Europeans. I had never heard of that particular story until I saw it on AOL in 2008. Then I saw something else. Someone had commented that, despite everything “no one has suffered like the Jewish people.” What the hell?! I thought. Where did that shit come from?! It was like commenting how much you like glazed doughnuts in an article about refurbishing your dining room. I quickly responded with a profanity-laced diatribe, pointing out that Jews haven’t endured one fraction of the suffering in the Western Hemisphere that Indians and the African slaves brought over to replace them have. I was careful to mention ‘in the Western Hemisphere.’ Apparently either that original commenter or some other fool got their little feelings hurt and reported me to AOL. AOL then deleted the comment and put me on “probation,” which meant preventing me from commenting on anything on their site for a while. Gosh, can you imagine how mortified I was? When I called AOL tech support in India (the land where Columbus thought he’d landed), a representative couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me who had reported me. I noted that, here in the U.S., foul language fell under the regimen of free speech. After all, I didn’t make a bomb or death threat against anyone. I didn’t accuse anyone of being a pedophile or arsonist. I just called some Jewish guy a dumb fuck, which he was, because of what he said. The tech rep refuted my claim and said she could do nothing about it. Eventually they let me off probation. God, I was so relieved! I wouldn’t have been able to live otherwise.

The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo always pushed the boundaries of personal tastes. Their efforts seemed destined to offend anyone and everyone. It’s curious, though, that France finds itself in this situation over a cartoon. According to Human Rights Watch, between 2004 and 2011, French law enforcement fine 594 Muslim women for wearing the niqab. Yet, in 2008, legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot went on trial for the fifth time because she’d insulted Muslims. She had said that Muslims were “destroying our country.” A devout animal rights activist, Bardot had gotten into trouble previously for disparaging the Muslim custom of slaughtering goats during the Eid al-Adha festival. She was literally dragged into court over these matters. Seriously? In freedom-loving France, it seems political correctness is meted out with a vengeance.

Again, I ask where is that line between free speech and common decency supposed to fall? Whose free speech? And whose decency? It’s a never-ending debate.

Mr. Fish.

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In Memoriam – “Charlie Hebdo” Staff

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“Je suis Charlie!”

This is yet another call for one of my greatest passions: free speech! I don’t care if it pisses off every Muslim, Jew, Christian and other right-wing religious morons! We need more speech, fewer guns and less religion.

Soutenir nos amis en France. La liberté d’expression pour toujours!

 

Frederic Boisseau

Brigadier Franck Brinsolaro

Jean Cabut

Elsa Cayat

Stephane Charbonnier

Philippe Honore

Bernard Maris

Ahmed Merabet (police officer)

Mustapha Ourrad

Michel Renaud

Bernard Verlhac

Georges Wolinski

 

This is the last cartoon that editor Stephane Charbonnier (a.k.a. “Charb”) published in Charlie Hebdo.

Charb

Title: “Still no attack in France.”
Terrorist: “Wait! We have until the end of January to present our greetings.”

Charlie Hebdo attacks.

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Face Butt

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This past Wednesday, May 1, Facebook scolded me.  They issued a dire warning that – I guess – was supposed to frighten me and make me reconsider my entire purpose in life and how I fit into this complicated universe.  Apparently, some gentle soul was offended by a post I’d made the day before.  I used the ‘f’ word in response to the story of Jason Collins, the Washington Wizards player who came out and admitted he’s gay.  Here’s part of what I originally wrote:

‘God forbid some pro athlete should come out of the closet and admit he’s queer!  I mean, it’s okay to have wife beaters (or baby mama beaters) and drug addicts in the locker room, but fags just won’t be permitted.’

When I logged onto Facebook Thursday morning, I received a message telling me the post had been removed because of the “offensive language.”  It also referred me to their “Terms of Service,” which warned about “hate speech” and other admonitions.   Keep in mind this is the same web site with groups called ‘Fucktards Need Not Apply’ and ‘Shit That Makes Me Laugh.’  In fact, I’ve seen the words ‘fucktard’ and ‘shit’ in comments all over the site, along with other equally colorful terms.

I don’t know who got upset enough to report me to Mark Zuckerberg.  They were allowed to remain hidden behind their computer, while Facebook’s treacherous Word Police invaded my profile overnight and hurriedly stripped away the horrid verbiage.  Finally, with the hateful terminology safely obliterated, the pack of Silicon Valley 20-somethings dispatched their carefully-worded ‘Don’t You Dare’ message.  For that one terrifying moment, it took my breath away.  Then, I realized I just had gas.

This whole fiasco reminds me of the time in February 2008 when I posted a message on AOL in response to a comment someone had made.  They had a story about how Christopher Columbus tricked the indigenous Taino people of Jamaica in 1504 by telling them that, if they didn’t provide him and his crew with food, he’d make the sun disappear on February 29.  He knew that a lunar eclipse was imminent on that day.  The Taino didn’t believe him – until the eclipse occurred.  Then, they were terrified and bowed to his commands.  If Columbus had been somewhere on the mainland, say in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, or the Inca capital of Machu Picchu, they’d probably laugh and skewer his Italian ass.  Remember, the Aztecs and the Incas charted the stars with amazing accuracy, as did many other Native Americans societies.  Columbus simply lucked out that he was in the midst of people who were slightly less educated.  As I perused the comments in response to the brief editorial, I noticed some idiot had posted something like, ‘No one has suffered like the Jewish people.’  First of all, Jews had nothing to do with the story.  Second, it always pisses me off whenever some Jews think they’ve suffered more than the indigenous peoples of the Americas.  So I replied, saying something like, ‘Pardon my extreme political incorrectness, but Jews haven’t suffered one bit anywhere in the Western Hemisphere in comparison to the Indians and the Negroes.’  I went on to use the word – brace yourself – ‘bullshit.’  I think I even threw ‘fuck’ into the mix just because it was the kosher thing to do.  Then, at some point, someone got their feelings hurt and complained to AOL who then wreaked revenge by removing my capacity to make comments for a week.  Oh, God!  I was devastated!  I had to drink half a bottle of wine and masturbate for an hour to get over the trauma.  And, of course, the offended person remained hidden; a troubled spirit in the digital night – never to be seen or heard from again.

Now, this shit with Facebook.

Somewhere along the keyboard, my intentions got lost.  I don’t hate homosexuals.  In fact, some of my best friends are homosexualites.  Hell, I’ve had my own sexual encounters with other men – including myself!  But, my comments centered on the irony – hypocrisy – over the hype surrounding Collins’ announcement.  It’s pathetic to see professional athletes reacting with such vitriol at the thought of a homosexual in their midst.  Consider that pro sports is rife with wife-beaters (or baby mama beaters); infidelity; drug addicts; drunk drivers, etc.  How many times have you heard of professional male athletes going out to bars or strip clubs and getting into fights?  How many of these guys have been tagged for steroid abuse in recent years?  I guess it’s okay for a pro athlete to beat the crap out of his wife or girlfriend, but they obviously draw the line at queers in the shower.  I mean, they have standards, right?

Considering that today is World Press Freedom Day and I’m a strong free speech advocate, I won’t apologize if anyone was offended by a briefly-worded post on Facebook.  I made no threats and didn’t slander anyone.

But, I’m glad to know I pissed off someone.  I learned years ago that trying to please everyone will lead to complete insanity, so annoying somebody enough to feel that have to contact an authority figure gives me the utmost pleasure.  Some folks are so sensitive you’d think they’d just had 3 orgasms in a row!  Believe me – I know from experience.  Either way, life isn’t worth living if you don’t piss off a few people here and there.  At least they know you who you are!  And, that you’re not afraid to speak.

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World Press Freedom Day 2013

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Today, May 3, 2013, is World Press Freedom Day, a day to celebrate and honor the value of a free press.  It started in 1993, when the United Nations General Assembly decided to highlight the need for truly independent media – free of censorship.  In scores of countries around the world, media outlets are banned from presenting controversial subjects.  Journalists, editors and publishers have been harassed, injured and even murdered amidst valiant efforts to publicize the truth about an event or a circumstance.  In the past decade, some 600 journalists, social media producers and media workers have been killed while reporting news to the general public.  It’s evident in México, for example, as that nation wages an ill-fated war on drugs.  But, it can be as seemingly mundane as China’s ongoing internet censorship.  Even here in the U.S., the Bush Administration forbade media coverage of the flag-draped coffins of dead military personnel being returned from Iraq and Afghanistan under the guise of privacy concerns for the families.

A free press is synonymous with free speech; the two ideals are intrinsically bonded and are hallmarks of a truly democratic state.  As bloggers, it’s our obligation to uphold this mantle.  Civilization depends on it.

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