Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:
Texarkana Gazette, Sept. 28, 2015
Banned Books Week celebrates freedom to read, encourages awareness of censorship
Ever since man developed the ability to put words on paper, there have been those who seek to keep some of them from the printed page.
That's because the written word has power. It can change lives, change countries, change history.
For some that translates to freedom, to inspiration. For others it creates fear — fear of upsetting the status quo, fear of challenging longstanding and cherished beliefs.
We see books banned and burned in other countries — totalitarian regimes, for example — and we are quick to condemn. We see ourselves as people who cherish free speech and the free exchange of ideas.
But the fact is that books are regularly challenged and banned in this country — and have been for centuries.
In some cases the folks objecting to certain books are decent people. They think they are doing good, even doing God's will.
But in the end they defeat themselves.
Libraries, schools and bookstores across the country have felt pressure from government agencies, parents, civic and religious groups, and other concerned citizens to remove books from their shelves.
Sometimes they cave. Sometimes they fight. Sometimes they are helped by Americans more concerned about freedom than the perceived dangers a printed work presents.
These battles were more common in the last century. But they still happen today.
The most common reasons books are challenged in the U.S. are because they contain sexual content or strong language. Other reasons include negative racial and ethnic portrayals, unpopular political positions, views that question religious convictions and violent content.
According to the American Library Association, Among the 100 books most frequently banned or challenged in this country are classics such as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou, "The Catcher In the Rye" by J.D. Salinger, "Of Mice and Men" by John Steinbeck, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee, "Native Son" by Richard Wright, "Lord of the Flies" by William Golding, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut.
More recently published targets in the Top 100 include the "Harry Potter" and "Goosebumps" series that focus on supernatural events, gay-related works such as "Daddy's Roommate" and "Heather has Two Mommies," the "Captain Underpants" juvenile series and most everything written by Judy Blume.
This isn't a comprehensive list by any means. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been challenged and removed from libraries, schools and bookstores over the years.
For example, last year's most banned titles — the most recent list available — include "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky, the "Saga" comic book series and even "A Stolen Life," Jaycee Dugard's account of her 18 years in captivity after being kidnapped at age 11 by a convicted sex offender.
This is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read. It began Sunday and continues through Saturday. Its organizers encourage Americans to fight censorship and celebrate the written word.
Those who value the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas should recognize that there are others who do not and will take a stand when books are challenged. That ensures the folks who would ban books can never win.
That's because books can live forever. Book banners definitely do not. All of the works that have been challenged over the years are still with us. And, with vigilance, they always will be.
Everyone is free to decide what to read and what not to read, and what books are allowed in their own homes. That's fine.
But no person should be able to tell another what they can or cannot read.
El Dorado News Times, Sept. 29, 2015
Football death is wakeup call
It finally happened. A New Jersey high school football player died after getting hit on the field. We have fully expected such a thing to happen, but we thought we would see the incident on TV in a professional game. Still, this death may give us the moment of clarity we need to fully examine the future of American football.
From high school to college to the National Football League, football has overtaken every other sport as America's game. Sorry, baseball. Soccer, not quite. Football is the national game of choice. Part of that is the schedule — one game each week. Anticipating the games grows to a fever pitch, and by Friday or Saturday or Sunday, the excitement is palpable.
There is no doubt, though, that the violent nature of the sport is part of its allure, too. Americans like gladiator sports, and football certainly is that. Fans love the big hit. Over the years, those hits got bigger and bigger to the point that sanctioning leagues had to do something to rein them in. We were on a path toward players getting killed while playing. There is simply no way those huge men could collide as they were without someone dying from a broken neck at some point.
To be sure, many sports are dangerous, and athletes have died playing these games throughout history. A 90 mph fastball can kill a baseball player. Boxers have died in the ring, and many of us remember the day Dale Earnhardt Sr. died at Daytona.
Football, though, provides perhaps the perfect forum for barely controlled violence that can result in horrific injuries and now, death.
Look at the evolution of football. Two generations ago, lineman were 6 feet tall and weighed a bit more than 200 pounds. Now, a major college offensive lineman is 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighs well north of 300 pounds. But those aren't the guys who can hurt you. No, that would be the linebacker or defensive back who stands 6 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 250 pounds. He is chiseled out of granite and has a speed burst like a cheetah.
Popular Mechanics studied the art of an NFL tackle using NFL defensive back Marcus Trufant. By NFL terms, he's not a big guy — 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighing 199 pounds — but he runs the 40-yard dash in four and a half seconds, and when he tackles someone at full speed, he's exerting 1,600 pounds of force.
Sixteen hundred pounds of force.
The equipment football players wear has certainly improved over time, but helmets and pads have not kept up with the explosiveness of today's football player. No protective gear can protect someone from the violence of near a ton of force hitting him head on. Leagues have also become more aware of concussions and their impacts, short- and long-term, and that awareness has resulted in concussion rates going through the roof, but it has also led to players sitting out of games when in the past they probably would have played.
And we are learning more about the long-term effects of concussions on the human brain. Several high-profile former players died at their own hands, and initial research is showing that brain injuries may have led to those actions.
It's not out of the realm of possibility to suggest that football might not be around in its current form a generation from now. Parents across the country are pulling their children out of football, encouraging them to play less dangerous sports. At the highest levels, the game's rules have changed, and continue to change, to lessen violent collisions. Some fans lament the watering-down of the sport. We tend to think that the violence needed a bit of tempering.
We don't watch sports to see people get hurt. We certainly don't want to be a fan of a sport that has a discernible chance of someone getting killed through the normal course of play.
Let's do what we can to make the game safer before it has to go away.
Camden News, Sept. 23, 2015
Arkansas leads the way in obesity
A new report says it has the straight skinny on fat America.
"The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" was released recently by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Woods Johnson foundation.
According to the report, Arkansas is the fattest state, with 35.9 percent of its residents identified as obese. West Virginia and Mississippi are the only other states with obesity levels above 35 percent.
Texas comes in just outside the Top 10 — at No. 11 with 31.9 percent of its residents classified as obese.
The state with the fewest number of obese residents is Colorado. Only 21.3 percent of folks there are obese, which is surprising considering recreational marijuana is legal and we have all heard those stories about "the munchies."
This isn't the first time we have heard about the "obesity epidemic" in the U.S. And you can be sure it won't be the last.
We all know obesity is a major risk factor in adult diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, some cancers and other illnesses. That adds up to billions in health spending each year.
And we know that most obesity-related health issues are preventable. The problem is getting folks to prevent them.
All these studies and reports agree there is a problem. And most have the same major recommendation — educate people about healthy eating and the benefits of exercise.
That's fine. Most people already know obesity isn't good for you. Most know it's not good for kids either. But experts keep pounding home the message. Some advocates go a bit further. They call for higher taxes or even all-out bans on certain foods. They tinker with school lunch programs. They seek to limit portion sizes by law.
In other words, they believe in the old "carrot and stick" with a twist. To get the chubby donkey to eat the carrot, you have to hit him with the stick.
We question the wisdom of that approach. Especially since it seems that such efforts to "do something" about obesity have essentially done nothing to make Americans any healthier.
We don't pretend to have the answer. What's more we aren't even sure there is an answer to a problem like this. We don't see how you can force anyone to eat right, exercise, lose weight and keep it off.
So maybe it's time we stopped trying.
Keep pressing the message. Offer help, encouragement and support. But understand people will make their own decisions. If they won't change for themselves, they sure as heck won't change because someone else, no matter how well-intentioned, tells them to.