In the 21st Century, What Does Freedom of Speech Mean?

The women below are exercising their constitutional right to Freedom of Speech — or are they?


These ladies — who won an international Bridge competition last month — put together their sign in response to questions they got from other teams in the tournament. Members of teams from other countries were questioning how the American government could justify its policies — the ladies just wanted everyone to know that they disagreed too.Well, the United States Bridge Federation disagrees and is now trying to punish them severely — including cutting off their ability to make a living as Professional Bridge players.

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

It’s been a long time since the founders of America put together the US Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

At the head of the Bill of Rights, they chose to put Freedom of Speech as the very first guaranteed right of all citizens. They had lived in a time when speaking out against the King of England was literally a crime punishable by death, so it’s no wonder they felt so strongly about it.

So now, in the 21st Century, have things changed?

With America at war in Iraq and Afghanistan — should people still be allowed to speak out freely? And at what point does criticism of the Government or of the President cross the line? Is there — or should there be — any line that can be crossed to make Freedom of Speech no longer a guaranteed right?

What do you think — should the United States Bridge Federation be able to punish them financially for their actions? And if so, what exactly does Freedom of Speech mean?

On Blog Action Day — Are You Here to Help?

I write about the environment a lot. Mostly, it’s because I have a lot to say about environmental issues.

Sometimes it’s because I’m scared. Not really scared like the apocalypse is coming, although I wonder about that sometimes. It’s more like we’re all about to graduate from high school and we’re faced with the decision of what to do with the rest of our lives.

Regardless of your stance on the issue of climate change, I think that it’s pretty apparent that we can’t go on living the way we are now. There’s not enough oil in the ground, or trees or water either.

It’s just like in high school when the final bell rang and the doors closed behind us for the last time. We always knew that there were real problems and responsibilities out there. It’s just that now we were out there with them.

Like any graduate, we’ve got some decisions to make about the rest of our lives. Of course, any time you throw “decision” in with “rest of our lives” it means you’re talking about something relatively serious. I’m pretty certain that the future of the human race qualifies. When we’re talking about “environmental issues” we’re talking about nothing less. And that’s enough to scare me.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

When I talk about taking responsibility for our future, there is an illustration that I like to use. I’ve stated this in several ways on my own blog and have even found a fantastic video on YouTube that goes over the concept quite well. It works like this. In the end, we have only four options:

  1. We become stewards of our environment only to find that everything would have worked out just fine regardless. We spend a lot of money needlessly, but no one is really hurt by it.
  2. We become stewards of our environment, spend a ton of money and make sweeping changes across nearly every industry, and find that we just barely miss the tipping point of environmental collapse.
  3. We keep doing what we’re doing and hope that nothing bad happens, and we get lucky because it doesn’t. We spend nothing, change nothing, and die leaving the mess for someone else to clean up.
  4. We spend nothing, do nothing, and watch our planetary ecosystem collapse, taking our economic, political, and eventually our social systems down with it. No food, no medicine, and no government to protect us.

I like this illustration because it shows so clearly that it doesn’t matter what we think of the whole global warming thing. Instead, what matters is that we take responsibility for the environment we live in and depend on. I’d rather take some responsibility and switch out a few light bulbs for CFL’s than deal with the whole apocalypse thing from option four. (I think I mentioned that the apocalypse scares me.)

When we begin to look at our responsibility to the environment, we realize that “environment” is just a code word. It means something broader than recycling your newspaper. Do somebody’s shopping. Or fix a child’s bicycle. No one says you have to be Super Biodegradable Boy or Mega Organic Girl to fend off the apocalypse. Making the world a better place is about doing what we can. What’s important is that we do it.

There’s a television show that I like called Ghost Hunters. It’s about a team of paranormal investigators. (Yes, I’m a geek.) One thing I’m always impressed with is how they introduce themselves. When they meet a client for the first time, as they shake hands, one investigator says, “Hi, we’re TAPS.” (TAPS is the name of their organization.) This is always followed by, “We’re here to help.” This is such a perfect example of the sort of responsibility we need to take for the world around us.

Our world won’t function like it has in the past for very much longer. We can’t afford the consequences of not acting. Perhaps it’s time we start prefacing the decisions we make with, “We’re here to help.”

On Blog Action Day, it’s time to ask yourself as well: “Am I here to help?”

Let’s hope we are.

Mathew Murphy brings us Tech Tuesday each week. Matt blogs on technology, the environment and tea on his website at http://mattscuppa.wordpress.com.

Next Actions:

How Peanut Butter helps the planet

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One of the daily decisions we all face is what to eat. How do we eat well and in a way that’s good for the environment — and at the same time have meals that are easy to fix and taste good?

One food that fits all this is the simple Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich. According to the PB&J Campaign website:

  • Eating a Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich instead of a grilled cheese or chicken sandwich saves 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. That’s almost half of what you’d save if you switched to a Hybrid car.
  • The same sandwich will save 280 gallons of water since growing peanuts takes less water than livestock.
  • Growing peanuts also takes less land than animals — so your sandwich could help preserve 12-50 square feet of land from being used for cultivation.

I bet you didn’t realize that eating three Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches could have the same environmental impact as switching your showers to a low-flow shower head.

This is the type of information we want to share. How can we change our daily habits to have less environmental impact in ways that fit our busy lives? This one is simple. Eat more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Plus, they taste good and cost less.

In addition to being better for the environment, they’re also very healthy as long as you don’t eat too much. According to WebMD, peanut butter is high in fat, but those fats are relatively healthy ones. Everyone needs some fat in their diets — just not too much — and over 80% of the fats in peanut butter are the healthy kind.

According to the WebMD article, “It is hard to believe that something so wonderful could also be good for you.” Peanut butter “is chock full of good nutrition without those unhealthy trans fatty acids. The only limitation to enjoying peanut butter is the two-tablespoon portion size”

But what about all the fat and the less-healthy oils that sometimes get processed into commercial peanut butter? Does that make it bad? According to Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, that isn’t always the case. “Fresh ground is not necessarily better,” Bonci says. “The fat and calorie content are pretty much the same whether you grind your own or buy commercial peanut butter.”

Again, according to Bonci, the serving size is 2 tablespoons.

Next Actions:

The Ultimate Resource Guide for Commuting by Bicycle

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With the rise of oil prices and the growing ‘green’ movement, people everywhere are evaluating commuting to work by bicycle. And based on the response to our recent post “Choices: Bike or Drive?”, many of our readers are interested in commuting by bicycle.

As a result, we’ve put together this resource guide for anyone interested in learning about bicycling as a main method of transportation.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”

– H.G. Wells

1. Kogswell Cycles

Kogswell makes great bikes patterned after the bikes used by newspaper delivery boys in Paris in the 1950′s. They’re sturdy, well-crafted and give a smoth ride over right terrain. (Note — the pictures in this post are from their gallery of pictures.)

2. Commute by Bike’s list of Commuter Bikes

Commute By Bike is a great site and provides this excellent list of bikes that are appropriate for commuting. A good resource.

3. The Wikipedia entry for Bicycle Commuting

As always, if you’re interested in a solid, fair resource for any topic, Wikipedia is one of the first places to look. If you don’t like it — edit it and make it better!

4. John G. Faughnan’s personal page of commuting by bicycle

This is a personal website page that’s been maintained for almost 10 years now. It has a good list of what to look for in a commuting bike as well as an extensive rundown of bike manufacturers to read through. Another excellent resource.

5. Ken Kifer’s Bike Pages

Another personal site, this one has some good information on estimating the number of people in America that rely on bikes as their primary transportation (looks like at least half a million based on 2000 census data).

6. How To Choose A Bicycle For Commuting

The eHow guide to choosing a commuting cycle. As with many eHow articles, the reader comments are the best part of the page. Also, the links to related articles may be worthwhile. Hopefully, it will improve over time.

7. Jennifer’s Bicycle Commuting Suggestions

Another personal page, but has a pretty good list of useful suggestions and things to think about when commuting by bike. A quick and useful read.

8. Harris Cyclery Articles about Bicycle Commuting and Lighting

Obviously if you’re going to commute you need good lighting. This page reviews a variety of lighting options.

It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.
– Ernest Hemingway

9. Commuter Bicycle

Another personal resource page for commuting by bike. This one has a good set of links and information on different manufacturers as well as good information on other useful equipment.

10. Paul Dorn’s Bike Commuting Tips

An established site with a lot of good information on biking on general as well as specifically on commuting by bike.

11. The Sacramento Transportation Management Association’s page on Bicycle Commuting

California boasts the largest population of bicycle commuters in America, and this local government agency’s page reflects that. It’s a surprisingly rich page with a lot of good information.

12. Commute Bikes page on Nordic Group’s website

This looks like a personal page built by an employee (or an owner) on a business website. I included it in this list because it’s a great site. This person obviously did a huge amount of research into commuting by bike and has commuted by bike for a while. It’s definitely worth a read.

13. The Squidoo Page for Bicycle Commuting

A mid-level average Squidoo page. May have some useful information for some people.

14. Bike Forums

A busy forum for bikers. Information on commuting by bikes and all sorts of other biking topics.

15. Bicycle Commuting Guide from The Bicycling Federation of Wisconsin

A decent site, especially useful if you live in Wisconsin. May be a good model for others wanting to build similar sites in their area.

16. Bicycle Commuting Now

A near dead blog that was posted to extensively for a couple years from 2004-2006. Even though it’s no longer maintained, a lot of the older posts may be interesting to bicycle commuters.

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.
–John F. Kennedy

17. WikiHow’s page on How to Commute By Bicycle

A pretty solid WikiHow page. Worth taking a look at — has some good information.

18. Canada’s Commuter Challenge!

From their site: “Commuter Challenge is a national program that aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of sustainable commuting and to encourage Canadians to take action by walking, cycling, taking transit, carpooling or tele-working instead of driving alone to get work.”

In English and French.

19. The London Cycling Campaign

A site dedicated to promoting cycling in London as a means of commuting.

20. The Flickr Photo Group Commute By Bicycle

A Flickr photo group dedicated to those who commute by bike.

Next Actions:

Choices: Take Action? Or Watch?

Global Warming Day of Action at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, MN

Why is it important to take action? And how big does the action have to be before it makes a difference?

Taking action is hard. It’s an additional activity on top of your already-too-busy daily schedule. How can you find time to change the world when you barely have time to get to work and back, take care of the kids and the house, and then have a bit of fun once in a while?

Few people have a lot of extra time. To have the time to work on behalf of global warming and other environmental issues is a luxury that most people just don’t have.

Or do they?

The truth is, many actions you can take actually don’t take that much time. Here are some that actually take very little time at all:

Global Warming Day of Action at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, MN

1. Write a short letter to the editor of your local paper.

Have it say simply this: “I’m writing because I am concerned about climate change and global warming. I hope you will consider devoting more print space to these issues. Thank you very much.”

2. Write a short letter to an influential media outlet.

In this post earlier, we referred to blogger a seigel who wrote a letter to Consumer Reports magazine asking them to make power consumption one of the criteria they used when they ranked television sets. This is a simple action that could influence how many consumers make buying decisions.

3. Read and support blogs and websites that are working to make a difference.

There are many new blogs starting, like this one, that are working to educate people and push environmental issues to the forefront of people’s minds. Reading them will help you educate yourself on what you can do to make a difference.

Also, given the distortion in the media and efforts by corporations to confuse the facts and science behind the issues, educating yourself on the facts behind global warming is your best defense against being manipulated by those who don’t want things to change.

Stop watching TV and do something! Anything!
4. Stop watching TV for an hour and do something. Anything!This is the most important step. By far.Taking action — any action at all — is the most important step because the first action you take is the hardest. It’s the hardest because you’re changing your habits and behaviors.

Taking even a simple action empowers you. It makes you feel great — like you’re making a difference. And, the truth is, you are. Because the action you take — even a small one — might motivate you (or someone around you) to take a bigger action next time.

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Choices: Drive? or Bike?

This is the first post of an ongoing feature here at 21st Century Citizen. It’s called ‘Choices’ and it’s purpose is to present a simple, values-based choice and generate discussion.

It’s also intended to make you think a bit and examine the reasons why you make the choices you make. Here we go with our first installment.

[Note: I'm using pictures from flickr below -- clicking on them will take you to the image's page in Flickr.]

Choice: Drive? Or Bike?



Drive?



Or Bike?

This question may not be as simple as it seems.For example, if you have a long commute from your home and need to drive, well — you could use a bike if you changed jobs and worked closer to home.

So, then what if you could find a job close enough to home? Then would you use a bike?

If it seems impossible to get a job close to home, then how about a job where you work from home?

If you got a job where you worked from home, then you wouldn’t need to drive to commute. Then would you switch to using a bike?

I know it’s impossible for a lot of people to work from home — if you’re a Fireman or a Nurse, fires and sick people don’t usually come to you, so it’s impractical. But for many jobs, it would be possible. In fact, if gas were $10 a gallon, it might turn into a necessity — many people just wouldn’t be able to afford to drive to work and back.

Now what about buying groceries? Would you be willing to ride the bike to get food? Why not?

Again, for some it’s impractical — but maybe not as impractical as you’d think. For example, many people in large cities — like New York City — don’t own cars. They shop a little bit at a time or take a cab. You could do that on a bike in many towns.

In some cases, the roads may not be safe for bikes — for example, here in New Hampshire there aren’t bike lanes everywhere.

Also, for many of us the large grocery stores we shop at are too far to ride a bike.

But what if bike lanes were required by law on all busy roads? Would that make a difference? If so — then shouldn’t we be asking our local governments to adopt rules that require bike lanes? We don’t do this now because we’re used to driving cars.

And if more people road bikes, I’ll bet that local people would open stores up to serve them. Local stores used to be everywhere, in fact, until the big chains put them out of business. If there were local shoppers for them, they’d open back up. Probably pretty quickly too.

So — what do you choose here? Don’t mke the choice you think is ‘appropriate’, tell the truth. And tell us what would have to change to make you use a bike — maybe if we talk about the reasons why we don’t use bikes, it will give us ideas as to what we need to change so more people do.

And if you use a bike now, then tell us how you do it and how practical it is. What problems do you run into? What works well?

Feel free to comment. And thanks for reading!

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