13-21 year olds apply by Jan 19 for free Freedom to Read Advocacy program

BPL Freedom to Read Institute header

PEN America & the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) are co-hosting the first-ever Freedom to Read Advocacy Institute in February 2023! This free, online, 4-week program is open to all high school students nationwide. Apply by Thursday, January 19 – applications close at 11:59 p.m E.T. Learn more & apply.

More information about what the BPL offers students who want to be able to read all types of books – even ones that are banned in some places.

Powerful reasons women should stop calling other women bitches

We are all wonderwomen

We are all wonderwomen
We Are All Wonderwomen poster by Sarah & Catherine Satrun

My Facebook post

What is this trend, that even women refer to women as bitches? Stop doing this. Demand respect.

is generating quite a bit of discussion. Lady friend Marilyn admits that she uses this word, but in a popular language context (meaning, not with derogatory intent) and @Han Broekman points out that language mutates with time and across cultural lines. But a bunch of my Facebook friends say they’re glad I took a stand.

(BTW, if you’re interested in the Wonderwomn Poster, one of the twin sister artists talks about it here. And, they have an Etsy store where you can order a print.)

Whereas the language evolution arguments are intriguing, I stand by my point of view. I believe that the women who are using “bitches” to describe ourselves and other women, are unwittingly being drawn into reinforcing a culture of disrespect for women – which I’m sure is neither their intention nor desire. To the extent that language is a creative tool, let’s create a culture of respect and a future where difficulties women face are no longer part of our collective reality. Here’s a list of what needs to go:
Women earn only 77¢ on the dollar that men make
“According to some statistics, more than 50,000 women have been killed by their husbands or partners in the past ten years in this country. More than 25% of all visits to hospital emergency rooms by women are the result of domestic violence.”
Recently, Republicans in Congress, “degraded and continue(d) to hold up passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)”
Violence, “is the leading cause of miscarriage, birth defects, and infant mortality (as the perpetrator/abuser almost always escalates their use of violence when their partner is pregant). Recently, national studies found domestic violence homicide is the leading cause of death during pregnancy.”
National studies estimate that 3 to 4 million women are beaten each year in our country. A study conducted in 1995 found that 31% of women surveyed admitted to having been physically assaulted by a husband or boyfriend. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in our country, and the FBI estimates that a woman is beaten every 15 seconds. Thirty percent of female homicide victims are killed by partners or ex-partners and 1,500 women are murdered as a result of domestic violence each year in the United States.
The community turns out to watch girls from the New Light India School celebrate the joy of freedom of escaping prostitution slavery and being free to learn in school by dancing to the song Break the Chain
From the One Billion Rising Movement
“There are 7 billion people on the planet. Half are women. One third of them are raped or beaten.
V-Day refuses to watch as more than one billion women experience violence. V-Day is going further now, saying no more.
We’re inviting ONE BILLION women and those who love them to walk out, dance, rise up and demand an end to this violence.
On 2.14.13, we will move the earth, activating women and men to dance across every country. The celebration of One Billion Rising will be a WORLD HAPPENING”
Half the Sky Movement on

Gender-Based Violence read more

To students of real history, corruption doesn’t look worse today

People who believe widespread social problems are new to the United States come from ethnic backgrounds of privilege, or didn’t learn true history at home or in school. A Facebook friend and Green Party member thinks he is trying to explain to me that ethnicity does not affect a person’s belief about whether there is more corruption today than in the past. But, what Mark is really doing is demonstrating that he hails from a background where White male privilege is so much part of his personal culture that he is unaware that any other reality exists.

Like most people, Mark has accepted a version of reality based on selected facts provided to him through the influence of family, community and schooling. Perhaps he doesn’t know how many millions of born United States residents have been denied citizenship and voting rights because of ethnicity, gender, literacy and intentional voter disenfranchisement through various means. People excluded from voting rights have been denied full citizenship rights in other ways as well. It’s also possible that Mark has encountered these facts, but doesn’t see them as a corruption issue. If this is true, it will be because his family, community and education did not teach him to view corruption with an objective eye.

The voting rights timeline in the United States reveals historical data more people should become intimately familiar with. Until 1965, for example, Black Americans did not have the right to vote and Mexican-Americans only gained full voting access in 1975. And voter disenfranchisement has reached epidemic proportions in our society: learn more through watching this discussion with TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson and New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, “about the mass incarceration of African Americans that has rolled back many achievements of the civil rights movement. Today there are more African Americans under correctional control, whether in prison or jail, on probation or on parole, than there were enslaved in 1850. And more African-American men are disenfranchised now because of felon disenfranchisement laws than in 1870.” Doesn’t this sound like societal corruption to you?

Formal education always carries within it a subtle form of brainwashing. By selectively choosing the information and facts that students will be exposed to, formal education indoctrinates students into belief in a certain version of history and teaches them to adhere to select cultural norms and behaviour modalities. Schools teach a popularized version of history, one which inevitably reflects a belief system those who dominate society through the power of wealth or politics which to disseminate: either their own beliefs, or one which reinforces beliefs they want the general population to regard as reality. Only individuals who are deeply rooted in broad-based factual learning and whom become committed to apply analytic thinking and critical questioning to everything they learn, can escape coming to accept as real the slanted view of history and what good behaviour is, that is taught in most schools.

In other words, although we believe we are free to do and think anything, we are all products of our upbringing, educations and society; and together with genetics, these factors determine our likes and dislikes. This is explained neatly by contributors who responded to Philosophy Now’s Issue 76 Question of the Month: “How Are We Free?”
Colin Brooks of Leicestershire, England writes,

We are free to the extent that we are knowingly and intentionally able to make choices. To do so depends upon a), our choice-making capacities, and b), our awareness of the possible options. Both are inevitably limited. Our choice-making capacities may be impaired and can malfunction, but even in optimum condition our capacities are influenced by, if not the result of, our individual histories and environments – biological, social and cultural. These also affect our awareness of possible alternatives, and predispose us to veer toward some in preference to others. Of course we can reflect, attempt to compensate for limitations, but we cannot step outside of ourselves. read more


I am beyond disturbed that much greater resources are being spent on finding ways to “leverage” the power of the internet to exploit users, than we users are investing to find how we can harness our own power to use for our own good. This makes no sense when you consider what leverage means: to use a small object and a small amount of force to control a more massive object. In this analogy, the small force are the exploiters, the small tool is social media and the massive object represents the vast base of social media users: us.

In a leverage model, the greatest power is owned by the largest mass, which is us. So, while it’s true that the exploiters have a tool we need (social media), they need us so much more because their tool is both meaningless and useless without a massive user base. In a sense, we users represent the holy grail, the powerful object many wish to acquire and use for personal gain. We should recognize this power; collaborate and brainstorm how to use it and the wonderful, open communication medium that is the internet, for our own collective benefit. Instead, we agree to be used by others for their gain. We agree by just letting this happen.

Facebook and its investors only disagree over how fast increased user exploitation should take place, but clearly neither of them has any desire to protect us. Doing this is our job. We should get on it right away.

Also see: Save the Net!

We must keep the internet open

Vincent Cerf, one of the recognized fathers of the internet, writes in this New York Times op-ed piece:

Several authoritarian regimes reportedly would ban anonymity from the Web, which would make it easier to find and arrest dissidents. Others have suggested moving the privately run system that manages domain names and Internet addresses to the United Nations. …

When I helped to develop the open standards that computers use to communicate with one another across the Net, I hoped for but could not predict how it would blossom and how much human ingenuity it would unleash. What secret sauce powered its success? The Net prospered precisely because governments — for the most part — allowed the Internet to grow organically, with civil society, academia, private sector and voluntary standards bodies collaborating on development, operation and governance.

In contrast, the I.T.U. creates significant barriers to civil society participation. read more

Fight for internet freedom and the open web

These organizations are fighting for your freedom and privacy (and mine) online and in all digital/electronic media. Learn about them – and from them, get involved with their campaigns, support them and publicize their efforts. We’re all in this together.

Use It or Lose It: The Right to Observe

Veryshortlist.com, a reviewer of the short Stand Your Ground filmed in London, expresses concern over, “the privatization of our public spaces,” which is a growing issue in the United States as well – even if it doesn’t trouble citizens even half as much as it ought to. Meeting up with each other in semi-public spaces with “free wifi” such as Starbucks, restaurants and shopping malls provides us with the illusion that we’re free to meet when and where we want but in reality, this is far from true. At one NY Starbucks I was recently told, “If you want to use the occupy a space at the counter, you’re going to need to consume something,” (as if I wasn’t already consuming – oxygen, for starters), but the barista meant, “You need to buy something we sell.”

And, a few years ago I found out that the “mall experience” extends beyond window dressing in shop windows – to every aspect of shopping mall goings-on: social and political groups must obtain permission to congregate in their space. Ditto for tabling outside a supermarket – if either the manager or the big bosses don’t agree with the cause or group you represent, they will not authorize you to set up a table at on their store property. Odder still was the fact that one Bergen County, New Jersey municipality wouldn’t let peaceful demonstrations take place on any city property – although the police don’t bother those who congregate on public sidewalks, as long as pedestrian traffic isn’t interfered with.

Veryshortlist.com also says this about the film:

All six of the photographers were especially careful to stand on public ground. All six drew the attention of private security guards. In three cases, the police were called out; happily, the cops were on the photographers’ side each time. And yet the film is disturbing.

I can attest to the disturbing quality. I couldn’t help but ask myself as conflicts played out in the film, how would this scene have been different if there were no videographer shooting the interaction between the six photographers and the security personnel harassing them on public property, trying to bully them into putting their cameras away.

Domination of society by the rich used to be a bit more subtle in its presentation but today, it seems that the wealthy and powerful consider that we average – and poor – citizens need clear lessons on how to not violate the lines they’ve drawn between their world and ours. Interestingly enough, they don’t appear to be much concerned with citizens’ legal rights to stand in public spaces and observe and document what they wish us not to. For what it’s worth, Warren Buffet agrees with me that the wealthy need to learn how to play nice and share.

I found it chilling that all of the security guards enforcing the will of wealthy employers seem to be working class citizens and are therefor, very much on the wrong side of the debate over the rights private citizens’ have to make our way through this world with freedom and dignity.

The Crime of Reason

Robert B. Laughlin, Department of Physics at Stanford University gave this talk at the Xerox PARC Forum on October 23, 2008.

There is increasing concern about the disappearance of technical knowledge from the public domain, both on grounds that is presents a security danger and because it is economically valuable “Intellectual Property”. I argue that this development is not anomalous at all but a great historic trend tied to our transition to the information age. We are in the process of losing a human right that all of us thought we had but actually didn’t–the right to learn things we can and better ourselves economically from what we learn. Increasingly, figuring things our for yourself will become theft and terrorism. Increasingly, reason itself will become a crime. read more