Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “censorship”

Top Ten Banned Books for Banned Books Week – Tom Rossi

Here are my top ten choices for Banned Books Week:

10. The Kid is not My Son by Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Edwards, with an introduction by Michael Jackson

9. Faithfully Yours by Bill Clinton

8. Uhhhh… What? by John Boehner

7. Face of a Bunny, Heart of a Hart by Newt Gingrich

6. How To Not Put Your Mouth in Your Foot by Joe Biden

5. Dumb? Who Screwed, and Who GOT Screwed? by George W. Bush

4. Liberals: Ha Ha! Suckers! by Barack Obama

3. Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee by Mitt “Shifty” Romney

2. Idiot? You Betcha! by Sarah Palin

1. Meowch! Paul Ryan Shows There’s More Than One Way To Screw a Cat by Paul Ryan, with Michael Crichton

OK, OK… I kiiiid, I kiiiid.

Banned books week just ended (sorry, I was distracted last week) and is actually a really important event. From the Banned Books Week website: “Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events.”

Here is the list of the most often “challenged” (attempts to ban them by various state and local governments or other bodies) books of the year 2011:

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

2. The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa

Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

3. The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

Reasons: anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

4. My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler

Reasons: nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

5. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Reasons: offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

6. Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Reasons: nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

7. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

Reasons: insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

8. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones

Reasons: nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

9. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar

Reasons: drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

10. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Reasons: offensive language; racism

The list of books that have been banned or challenged at least somewhere in America at some time in the past is shocking and includes such titles as, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and… I’m not kidding about this one – the American Heritage Dictionary.

I implore you not to succumb to fear – fear of knowledge or fear of education, especially. Don’t listen when Republicans argue for technical training over real education. As the UNCF says, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

Buy these books from the banned and challenged list. Give them to your kids. Have conversations. Let the gears of your and your kids’ minds churn. Not everything every author writes is an endorsement, nor a recommendation. Books make you think. Books are food for the brain.

Feed!

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

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China and Human Rights Pt. 2

Following on from my blog post on Monday, I have been thinking of the threat China holds over the US. This is not about tanks and nuclear weapons, but money. The US owes China over $1 trillion – I can’t comprehend a number that size.

US companies are falling over themselves to business with China and the government is happy for the revenue.  Ironically, these companies are often collaborating on projects that provide effective tools to quash protests and free speech. A while ago my colleague, Tom Rossi, wrote that corporations exist solely to make money, not to better our society.

Installing surveillance cameras

Here are some examples I provided in an earlier post:

– Cisco Systems (among others) are creating the biggest police surveillance system in the world through a government contract in the city of Chongqing.

– Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, still censors searches in China. Earlier this month, it agreed to provide search results in English for Baidu, China’s leading — and heavily censored — engine. This is taking place 18 months after Google, to avoid aiding the government with such censorship, pulled its search engine out of China.

The Consequences:

1) Shi Tao sits in prison for a 10 year sentence after Yahoo provided copies of his emails to the government.

2) In May 2011, Cisco was sued by Chinese practitioners of Falun Gong who accused the multinational of abetting  the Chinese government through the creation and maintainable of the so-called Golden Shield system. This surveillance system targets and then follows dissidents communicating online, which has led to the detaining and torturing of Falun Gong practitioners.

Cisco took issue with the accusation. The company claims that it does not design it’s programs or equipment to aid the government censor content, intercept communications or track users. It sells the Chinese government standard-issue general network equipment.

In fairness, some of the multinational corporations did begin to take steps after Yahoo’s debacle regarding its role in Shi Tao’s arrest and convictionYahoo, Microsoft and Google joined in the Global Network Initiative which tries to create guidelines to protect “the freedom of expression rights of their users when confronted with government demands, laws and regulations to suppress freedom of expression.”

But these commitments are voluntary. Should the government take a role in clearly setting boundaries? It happened following the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre when companies were barred from selling such technology. Quite rightly, it has been pointed out that effective anti-spam and hacking technology could be adapted to aid repressive regimes.

One executive from Hewlett-Packard, who are bidding for a stake in the Chongqing surveillance project told The Wall Street Journal: “It’s not my job to really understand what they’re going to use it for.”

Really? Is there no responsibility beyond the profit line? Coming from a multinational, probably not.

Which is why, if the United States truly sees itself as the leader of world freedom, it needs to create not guidelines or principles, but laws preventing American technology helping totalitarian regimes. However, we may discover that since our government cannot even get these companies to pay their taxes, it might have little power over such huge economic conglomerates and their powerful lobbyist allies.

Even scarier is the fact that we are confronting a country that is not only strong militarily, but outdoing us financially and to whom we owe over $1 trillion.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt. 2

On Monday we delved into the potential of Twitter as an effective tool for social change and the legal measures that some regimes have taken to curb twitter in their country. Twitter complies with any legal demand that is not restricted to unrest but covers in this country copyright infringement and child pornography.

Twitter does seek to maintain an open trail. It shares all requests for removal though a website called Chilling Effects. This website was created to advocate for freedom on the Internet and, in fact, members of Twitter’s staff are active on the website. In fact, Alexander Macgillivray, a former Google lawyer, and now Twitter’s general counsel, helped create the chillingeffects.org website while at Harvard, as well as crafting Twitter’s censorship policies.

 Twitter stated in a recent post: “One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can’t.”

Twitter has received praise from a number of free-speech activists who suggest that Twitter’s attempts at transparency have helped them. One such activist, Zeynep Tufekci, who is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and a fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society, was surprised to find herself praising, not condemning, the policies of an Internet company.

“Twitter is setting the bar as high as it can,” Tufekci said. “It does not deserve the reaction it’s getting.”

Jillian York, who is director for international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, agrees with Tufekci. “Once people see how Twitter is implementing this, they will calm down.”

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland credited Twitter with being transparent about its approach to censorship but said it was too early to tell if policy would harm users.

However, many remain angry with Twitter for what they clearly define as censorship and are demanding that the new policy is dropped.

Twitter’s executive chairman received a letter from Reporters Without Borders who summed up the sentiment on the street: “Twitter is depriving cyber dissidents in repressive countries of a crucial tool for information and organization.”

And this is why Twitter’s actions, which curtail instant self-expression and communication, have led to political protests throughout the world.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Tweeting Freedom of Speech Pt 1

I have been getting into Twitter over the past month, thanks to a workshop at a local brewery (always the best kind) by fellow Left Coast Voices blogger, Roger Ingalls. In a few months, I have steadily attracted more than 10,000 twitter followers and stream this blog to them (@alonshalevsf). In addition, I have gathered more than 8,000 followers for my @elfwriter twitter and blog.

I had originally dismissed Twitter as a platform claiming that it lacked depth. How can you have a conversation with 140 characters? I really began to reevaluate Twitter while watching its role and impact  in the Arab Spring. Suddenly this tool, as a focus for freedom of speech,  became particularly inspiring.

Twitter are well aware of this. Chief Executive Officer, Dick Costolo, refers to it as “the free speech wing of the free speech party,” and Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter, even named one of their conference rooms “Tahrir Square” as a point of pride at the role that Twitter played in the Egyptian uprising.

So I became somewhat disillusioned to read that Twitter are considering curbing our freedom. In what many view as an about-face, Twitter now says it has the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government legally requires it to do so, triggering outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries.

Dissidents and activists fear the new policy will stifle free speech and thousands of users are threatening to boycott Twitter.

“Is it safe to say that Twitter is selling us out?” asked Egyptian activist Mahmoud Salem.

Twitter isn’t alone in its struggle to find a way of maintaining its economic goals while considering itself the free speech platform. Facebook, Google and Yahoo all tentatively try and work around complex laws and state-imposed restrictions used to suppress dissident voices and spread the party line.

All these companies have taken down material posted through their sites because a regime felt threatened by the content or deemed it illegal.

However, Twitter insists that it remains fully committed to free speech. When Twitter removes a tweet, it no longer vanishes from the Web, like it used to. In other words, when a tweet violates the law in one country, it will  still be on the Internet in other countries.

The company will only remove tweets when there is sound legal standing in the specific country and claim this will happen only after an internal review. They will also post a censorship notice whenever a tweet is removed.

This creates an interesting dilemma. Tweets have a very short lifetime. They are soon buried under an avalanche of other tweets, whether from the same person or others in their following. This can often happen in under a minute and I am guessing that in a situation such as we saw unfold in Tahrir Square, it is a matter of seconds. How effective and timely can an internal review be?

More on Internet censorship on Wednesday.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Midwest Book Review

Last week, The Accidental Activist, received a review from the reputable Midwest Book Review. My publisher had submitted the novel when it came out last year. Here is the review:

“To push for a better world is not always everyone’s first goal. “The Accidental Activist” is a novel drawing on author Alon Shalev’s own experiences to tell the story of a court case with the world on its shoulders. Focused on the real events of a libel case against McDonalds in the 1990s in London, “The Accidental Activist” uses reality to enrich the fiction and leads to a very entertaining read that pulls no punches or censors no events.”

The Accidental Activist - Alon Shalev

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

The N Word Revisted

A couple of days ago I wrote about the controversy surrounding the new edition of Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn that has changed the N-word for slave.

I wrote that I wasn’t comfortable as it is not for a white person to decide how a person of color feels when they hear the word in the context of literature. I have been thinking about this ever since. Before I share my own thoughts, I want to give the floor to Suzanna La Rosa, co-founder and publisher of NewSouth Books. While admitting their offices have been flooded with negative e-mails and phone calls, she states:

“We didn’t undertake this lightly. If our publication fosters good discussion about how language affects learning and certainly the nature of censorship, then difficult as it is likely to be, it’s a good thing.”

Others, however, have attacked the publishers for “censorship” and “political correctness,” or simply for the perceived sin of altering the words of a literary icon. The hefty “Autobiography of Mark Twain,” published last year, has become a best seller.

English teachers have also expressed their objection to the idea of cleaning up the novel. Elizabeth Absher, an English teacher at South Mountain High School in Arizona, says:

“I’m not offended by anything in ‘Huck Finn.’ I am a big fan of Mark Twain, and I hear a lot worse in the hallway in front of my class.”

Ms. Absher does not teach ‘Huck Finn’ because it is a long book. She does, however teach many of  Twain’s short stories and makes “Huck Finn” available for students.

“I think authors’ language should be left alone,” she said. “If it’s too offensive, it doesn’t belong in school, but if it expresses the way people felt about race or slavery in the context of their time, that’s something I’d talk about in teaching it.”

In another New York Times editorial, That’s Not Twain, the opinion was made very clear.

“When “Huckleberry Finn” was published, Mark Twain appended a note on his effort to reproduce “painstakingly” the dialects in the book, including several backwoods dialects and “the Missouri negro dialect.” What makes “Huckleberry Finn” so important in American literature isn’t just the story, it’s the richness, the detail, the unprecedented accuracy of its spoken language. There is no way to “clean up” Twain without doing irreparable harm to the truth of his work.”

I am not going into the sanctity of literature or the censorship of authors. There is plenty of such reactions on the blogosphere. But, in my previous post, I wrote about how as a white person and even as a Jew, I felt this was for African-Americans to decide. If I am offending them by reading such words and having our children read them.

This is what has been on my mind. As a Jew, I resent when people use the word Holocaust freely. I believe it cheapens what the Nazis did to my people. I think where anti-Semitic words are used in a historical context, I want them to remain so. When my son heard the N-word being used in the audio book I was listening to, he challenged me. What came out of that was a discussion of slavery, of racism, and of the way we can hurt people by using offensive words.

If literature can facilitate such discussions and empower a greater understanding of slavery and racism, I think I side with those who want the N-word left in Twain’s work. Nothing will come out of burying our sins. We need to face them, admit to them, and ensure they will never happen again.
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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