Thursday, October 16, 2008
Monday, September 1, 2008
Random House Banned from Literary PrizeThe Langum Charitable Trust, which awards annual prizes for historical fiction and legal history or biography, has blacklisted Random House. No book of that publisher will be able to win one of the prizes because the company cancelled production of Sherry Jones's novel The Jewel of Medina because management feared angering Muslims. As the company announced, it had sent out advanced copies and received "cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment."
In other words, Random House caved out of fear. Would some Muslims act in that way? Oh, I'm sure, just as you've seen supposedly Christian groups attack doctors who performed abortions. Jones's book imagined the life of Muhhamed's youngest wife. It may have been fine literature or utter crap - I don't know and likely never will. She's free to seek publication elsewhere, but I wonder whether there was a string that she'd have to return the $100,000 advance she received, and who else at this point is going to pay that sort of money?
The damage is done. Not only has Random House essentially told radical Muslims, and any other group that might threaten to take some action to supress a book, that it will do their bidding, but has helped create an atmosphere in which such people will think that if it worked on one publisher, it will work on any. That's why I have to applaud the words of the Langum Charitable Trust:
"That form of cowardice will only lead to more and more of this form of self-censorship and is an attack on the integrity of literary publication," Langum continued. "We must stand up to it, in whatever ways are available to us. The form that was available to our small foundation was to put Random House out of the running for our prizes."It's not that I think that creating a novel based on religious figures and a likely complete imagination of what people and cultures were like is necessarily something I would want to read, but it ought to be possible to be published. Giving in to censorship is always a bad idea.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Apple Censors ComicIf you've been following the craze for Apple's iPhone, then you probably know that there's a place where you can download applications. One of them is designed to let comic artists provide their content on an iPhone, and it comes with the first episode of a comic called Murderdrome. Yup, as violent as it sounds - and now banned by Apple for its content, even though it apparently allows other types of media that are perhaps less grotesque but not necessarily less graphically violent. Check the Murderdrome link, read the comments, and see the other types of content that are available through the company.
By now, you might have heard that Murderdrome has been banned by Apple. This is due to the part of the sdk that suggests content must NOT offend anyone in ‘apple’s reasonable’ opinion. Here at infurious, we would love to work with Apple to ensure a content rating system can be put in place to allow material that is no more offensive than many of the R rated films available to download on iTunes.Once it was government bodies that banned content, and the U.S. has constitutional protections against such activity. But legal rights don't extend to dealing with private companies, and increasingly they act as gateways to content. One day Wal-Mart decides what is family-friendly enough to be put on sale, the next day it's Apple.
At least digital distribution allows those creating the content to distribute it themselves, but let's be realistic for a moment. Have you ever written anything of length, even a short story, let alone a novel? Ever seen the hours a well-executed drawing can take to complete? Ever sat down with other musicians and tried to record songs? It all takes time - lots of it. That's why creative people need to find commercial outlets, because otherwise they have to do something else in addition to make a living, and while many of us will toil away in extra hours, it's often just not enough. To shut down the few commercial outlets to expression, which might allow more expression, is to cut off the ability for most people to make their creativity available. That puts the control of culture into the hands of corporations. To see the result, turn on a television or radio, or read a magazine or hyped book. Don't think that things can't get worse, because they can.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
IOC Stands for Freedom -- in ModerationAfter all those detailed negotiations to ensure freedom of information access for journalists during the games, the International Olympic Committee now admits that it cut deals with China, which is blocking web sites that it finds offensive:
China had committed to providing media with the same freedom to report on the Games as they enjoyed at previous Olympics, but journalists have this week complained of finding access to sites deemed sensitive to its communist leadership blocked.Reporters Without Borders says it's increasingly concerned that there will be censorship during the games. How small minded. I'm sure the Chinese are just trying to help reporters be more efficient by keeping them from anything that would be a distraction.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Welcome to the Internet, Eric BlairFor those to whom the name in the headline is unfamiliar, you might recognize the associated alias: George Orwell. But whichever you use, it would be handy to remember his anti-Utopia 1984, because a recent spat on the blog Boing-Bloing is making it practically relevant. You can check the link for the quasi-sordid details (one of the involved parties is a sex columnist of notably ribald sensibilities), but after some kind of falling out, one of Boing-Boing's bloggers removed all mention of the other woman's pen name. The New York Times passed on some interesting questions from the blog's readers:
But the Boing Boing readership certainly viewed it as an act taken on behalf of the Web site. Was Boing Boing deceiving its loyal audience by silently deleting the material, even if no one noticed the absences until a year later? What does it even mean to deceive an audience when it comes to a catalog of one’s personal writings? And does popularity convey different responsibilities to the people who produce a Web site?How about a few steps further. What if there comes a time when more and more people relied on the Internet and not books, newspapers, and magazines? And what if, unlike more permanent forms of publishing, all that information could be whisked away in a moment? Such an ability would make the Ministry of Truth's job a breeze. Forbid caching sites (like the Wayback Machine) and trust that over time, people would succumb to laziness and simply look online for the most authoritative and "latest" information. Doesn't sound that much different from today, does it?
The twist, of course, is that for nearly everyone who lives with what the Internet says about them, being unpublished would seem a dream come true. Those photographs from the frat party can be unpublished? Who knew? The essay to the Mickey Mouse Fan Club, too?
Friday, April 11, 2008
Progressive Radio Host Jumps Air America ShipThe so-called progressive radio network Air America last week suspended Randi Rhodes, who was probably its highest profile on-air talent after Al Franken left, for an obscenity laced tirade against Hillary Clinton at an event hosted by the network. But now the temporarily off-air Rhodes has gone on the road to be on-air elsewhere. Try going to therandirhodesshow.com on the web, her erstwhile show's site, and you end up at Nova M Radio, which advertises itself as "Bringing Democracy to the Airwaves!" At least, as is generally true with conservative radio, to the like-minded people who listen and agree in advance.
Air America bounced Rhodes after a stand-up political routine at an event sponsored by a network-affiliated station. Geraldine Ferraro was also a target for her remarks about Barak Obama - taken out of context, according to Ferraro:
“What did they do with Don Imus when he went after the young black team who was playing basketball with kind of the same language? Treat them both the same,” Ferraro told FOX News. “She’s coming at me and Hillary in a … sexist way”Excuse me? Since when are political figures, who place themselves willingly in the limelight, the same as a group of student athletes? Some of the language isn't what I'd use - though the line "Geraldine Ferraro turned out to be the David Duke in drag. Who knew?” is pretty funny, even if some see it as offensive - but since when do we start censoring political speech, particularly when it's not being broadcast? Is it acceptable to say what you will about a candidate if you don't use a swear word, no matter how calculated and even dishonest the language may be, but not when you do? All the democratic presidential hopefuls must be breathing a sigh of relief; there still might be life after office - if Air American can manage to stay in business that long.
Broadway Studios manager Francesca Valdez confirmed that video posted to YouTube was the show held at her venue, and that the booking had been contracted through Clear Channel Communications. She said that she sat in the audience for Rhodes’ 45-minute performance, which was chock full of “a lot of F-words.”Hold it, the venue booked an act without checking it out ahead of time? What kind of business idiots are they? Oh, wait, I've got it - they thought they were booking comedienne Kathy Griffin instead. (Ironically, I accidentally typed Kathy Gifford first. Now there's a scary genetic meld concept.)
“I was actually amazed that she used the F-word so many times,” said Valdez, reached by phone in San Francisco.
So, in the spirit of the First Amendment and political freedom, Air America bounced Rhodes. And the final irony, according to the New York Times, is that the station she's joining, KKGN, is an Air America affiliate in San Francisco. According to a New York Daily News article, Air America will have guest hosts while looking for a replacement:
"We will soon announce exciting new talent that will accelerate Air America's growth," said the statement from Kireker and Green.Oh, yes, anything to keep that raging trickle moving.
Don't Use That Word: Health Database Blocks Use of Abortion as Search TermNPR's Morning Edition had an interesting story earlier in the week of how the world's largest reproductive health database, POPLINE, which is maintained by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, blocked the use of the word abortion as a search term:
[Michael Klag, the dean of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health] says the seven articles that triggered the restriction in late February were from an issue of A, the Abortion Magazine, which is published by Ipas, an international reproductive rights organization.It seems that perceived pressure came from the U.S. Agency for International Development, which funds the database. By law, the agency cannot support abortion activities, and it considers advocacy materials as support. The database has seven articles in it from an abortion advocacy magazine. I guess it was a case of a word so dangerous, you cannot seek it.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
China Unblocks BBC WebsiteAccording to the BBC, people in China are finally able to get full English-language stories on the broadcaster's web site, though not any Chinese-language services or links:
Beijing has never admitted to blocking access to BBC news stories - and there has been no official confirmation that the website has been unblocked.The Chinese government censor information and only make it available when it figured that such actions would be obvious during the Olympics? Pshaw. It was probably all a matter of inferior western technology.
But Chinese users trying to access pages on the site have almost always been redirected to an error message telling them: "The connection was reset."
It now appears that this is no longer the case, and access to the site is much easier.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
ISPs More Than Traffic ConduitAccording to a story from the CBC, at least one Canadian IPS has been intercepting web traffic to customers and modifying it to display information for its own purposes. For those who don't understand how web traffic works, this is easy. Web pages are nothing more than pages of ordinary text with special control codes embedded. As your browser encounters the control codes, it adjusts the display of the text accordingly, including changing fonts and colors, altering spacing, and inserting graphics downloaded from the web. So modifying traffic requires nothing more than programs that watch what is coming in and inserting the additional text and control codes to change the display. The example in the article is of the ISP adding something at the top third of the search page that comes down from Google.
There are a number of concerns that immediately rise:
- Because an ISP is handling and redirecting all traffic to and from its customers - which is must do if Internet traffic is to actually go where it's supposed to - it can monitor everything a person looks at or wants to see. That extends to email, as well. An ISP that decides to operate without ethics leaves someone completely open to spying, even if the person is using an anonymizing service, because the traffic still comes back to his or her account.
- Because so much content on the web is copyrighted - other than that that has passed into the public domain or that was placed their by its owners - I think there's an argument to be made that such sort of activity is commercial use of that content, and an infringement on the copyright.
- If you remember the Orwell novel 1984, the powers that be constantly changed history to eliminate the ability of people to independently verify what they were hearing. This opens the possibility of changing what people see on the fly at whim. If a country's government doesn't like a given story, it could force ISPs to insert changed copy to alter the implications and sense of the report. This would be censorship on a scale that few if any of us have ever imagined - other than Orwell.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Russia Looks to Control InternetLast week, I mentioned how Italy seemed to be looking for control over bloggers. It seems that Russia is as well, according to the Washington Post:
Allies of President Vladimir Putin are creating pro-government news and pop culture Web sites while purchasing some established online outlets known for independent journalism. They are nurturing a network of friendly bloggers ready to disseminate propaganda on command. And there is talk of creating a new Russian computer network -- one that would be separate from the Internet at large and, potentially, much easier for the authorities to control.I remember early on, people claiming that the Internet could not be controlled. But now we've seen multiple models of control: cutting off what a governement doesn't want citizens to see (China, Myanmar), registration (Italy), and using search engine optimization to bury opposition (Russia). Of all the approaches, though, Russia's is the most chilling, because it uses the very features of the Internet to turn it into a propoganda dissemination machine.
There is a growing number of companies in the US that use such techniques to promote their clients or themselves and to crowd out any opposing voices. I wonder how long it will be - assuming this isn't already established - before political parties and those in power use the same techniques to promote their views and interests and to crowd out the inconvenient gadflies.
Actually, a simple search on Google shows that it's already happening. Here's one company that offers a number of Internet consulting services to political campaigns, including online reputation management:
We can effectively displace or bury pretty much any article that's showing up in search engine results pages. We can also preemptively develop and optimize multiple pages allowing us to control the search results for a keyword, and keep any negative listings from popping right to the top.Someone pass the vodka.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Italy Wants to Curb BloggersAccording to Beppe Grillo, the Italian government is trying to restrict bloggers by requiring each one to officially register, and pay a tax. Anyone with a blog or web site would also be required to have a publishing company and "a journalist who is on the register of professionals as the responsible director." I don't think the law applies to sites and blogs hosted in other countries, but couldn't swear to that. And here I thought that Italy was a democracy...
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Don't Poke Fun at New Zealand's ParliamentIf New Zealand's parliament doesn't want to be satired and ridiculed by people in the country, it doesn't have to be. According to a Press Gazette story:
The new standing orders, voted in last month, concern the use of images of Parliamentary debates, and make it a contempt of Parliament for broadcasters or anyone else to use footage of the chamber for "satire, ridicule or denigration".This is potentially punishable by some time in jail. Obviously Sauron didn't quite disappear from the land when
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
The New Censorship - the Information Age Meets OrwellI came across this World Editors Forum blog entry on Paul Moreira's book Les Nouvelles Censures (The New Censorship, I think) indirectly and finally tracked it down. It's worth a read and some thought. Here's the center of the issue:
Moreira’s thesis is based on this paradox: in a society seemingly – and really – more and more transparent, the forms of censorship and control of information are becoming increasingly subtle and mechanical. In an age in which raw censorship isn’t possible anymore (at least in most true democracies), more and more resources are being put into controlling not what the people hear and see, but how they think and react to it.It's not altogether a new observation - the book and documentary Toxic Sludge Is Good For You looks at the influence of PR on so-called news.
According to Moreira, the journey between (controversial) news material and its actual delivery to the public now typically transits through a “communication filter” – a public relations firm, spokesman, or communication consultants. These filters, commonly known in the US as spin doctors, proceed to a play game of chess with journalists and news media.
But look beyond the "spinning" of the news and you'll see that various interested parties are actually trying to redefine language - decidedly 1984 in flavor. When you control language, you control thought, and if you have enough success, it becomes virtually impossible for someone to oppose you, because you've made it virtually impossible for that person to even conceive of something different. In an age where catsup was supposed to be a vegetable (in the 1980s), the vice president isn't part of the executive branch of government (the current administration), and political parties hire consultants to try and use language to create impressions at contrast with reality, this is no longer a theoretical consideration.
Friday, May 11, 2007
Editor Returns to PC World, But Does "Good" Win Out?In another of my blogs I had mentioned that PC World editor Harry McCracken had left the publication because of pressure from the advertising side of the house. It seems that a pro/con set of articles about Macs - both written by people who knew and liked the machines - had drawn ire either the advertiser didn't like negative press, or someone was afraid that it wouldn't.
So now McCracken is back at PC World after a week and the magazine's CEO, Colin Crawford, has returned to his previous duties as vice president of online content. Some in the publishing industry have been cheering this as a rare victory of integrity over advertising, but I'm not sure that's really the case.
This seems clearly a move to stem bad press. Had publisher IDG really thought that advertising pressure to censor articles was so egregious, I suspect it would have dismissed Crawford. But it didn't. Instead, management transferred him back to from whence he came. But IDG has been vocal about how online is really the future for the company. So the person who was ready to push editors and tailor content (and pretty mild content at that - oooh, the puck mouse was a loser, what a burn!) to turn a magazine into a PR outlet is now in charge of the publisher's future. Now there's a decisive - and telling - move.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
High School Student Removed from School for Making a MapThis isn't strictly speaking about words, but it is about the growing atmosphere of censorship driven by fear. In Fort Bend county, Texas, a Clements High School senior has been removed from the public school and sent to an alternative education center and banned from graduation ceremonies for making a computer game map of the school, probably for use in a shoot-em-up software title. The boy shared the map with some friends. A couple of them mentioned it to their parents, who complained to school system administrators. Supposedly police searched his room, with permission of his parents, and confiscated a hammer as a dangerous weapon. From the frightening to the foolish, civilization marches on.
Monday, April 30, 2007
More on the "Violent" High School Student Near ChicagoYou have heard about the high school student arrested basically for having written a violent essay. A Chicago Times column gets a bit more information out - such as the student's assignment was to write an essay, immediately setting to paper any thought and feeling without censorship.
Wonder if hearing all the stories about Virginia Tech could have had an influence? No, of course not - certainly the educational and law enforcement systems didn't get what they asked for. Oh, and the young man was supposed to enter the Marines in the fall as the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but no longer. The Marines just dropped him.
Now for the great irony: at least one town in Connecticut has noticed a literacy gender gap, so Greenwich public school officials want to get boys to write more. After all the news, I'm sure they're lining up, anxious to get their mug shots taken.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Audience Block Walks Out on Monologist - and Tosses WaterSome so-called Christian group (sorry, but this doesn't seem like the action of real Christians to me) apparently got up en masse during a performance by monologist Mike Daisey, walked out while the show was running, and one of them dumped water all over Daisey's notes. According to the report, no one in the group would engage with him, but they ran away. Bullies generally do when really challenged. Here's a video of the incident on YouTube.
Friday, April 27, 2007
Pakistan Bans Play on BurkasThe government of Pakistan has banned a play put on by the Ajoka Theatre group because it makes "unacceptable fun" of Pakistani culture, according to a BBC report. Burkas are the head coverings often worn by women under some strict interpretations of Islam. Here's something from the government, quoted by the story:
"The veil has long been part of local culture and nobody is allowed to make fun of these values," Minister for Culture Ghazi Gulab Jamal said.The play is satire, but obviously the government wanted it literally under wraps, and not out and about them. According to Reuters, not everyone in the government agrees with the action:
Mehnaz Rafi, a lawmaker for the ruling Pakistan Muslim League from Lahore,
opposed the government giving in to the Islamists.
"A few people cannot
dictate affairs of the state. Every person has the right to lead his life his
own way. A few people cannot snatch freedom from society," Rafi said.
The Reuters account also mentions that some female Islamic students in burkas kidnapped three women from a brothel and would only release them after they repented their ways in front of the media, apparently in an attempt to give a black eye to a red eye district. Other students have put pressure on music and video stores.Clearly philosophies can be dangerous things when people focus on the externals and not the actual ideas behind them, reminding me that words can be dangerous, but not as dangerous as not allowing them.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
Illinois Teen Arrested for Creative Writing AssignmentAccording to a Chicago Tribune news report, a straight-A high school senior was arrested Tuesday because a creative writing assignment that was supposed to express emotion was violent enough that the teacher was "alarmed and disturbed by the content," according to Cary, Ill. police chief Ron Delelio.
Talk about the power of words. Allegedly the essay referred to a "shooting," according to the Chicago Sun Times, but there were no specific threats directed at anyone:
The paper allegedly made a vague reference to a fictional school shooting in McHenry County but didn't specify a school or district, a law enforcement source said.The first-year teacher called the head of the English department, who then called the police. According to the police chief:
In Lee's case, "We filed what we thought was the appropriate charge," Delelio said. "We need to be very vigilant today when we're dealing with school settings."In the wake of Virginia Tech, I could understand someone being concerned about violent imagery in a student's essay. But calling the police and arresting the kid? I thought the idea of getting an early warning was to bring in professionals and see if there was a cause for alarm, not to find some pretext of a criminal charge. This is the sort of knee-jerk reaction that obviously leads to self-imposed censorship. What students, or parents, will allow an essay that could get a kid in trouble with the law because people want to react first and think ... never?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
College Basketball Player Told No Book or No PlayThis is one of the most ridiculous stories I can remember. A University of Arizona basketball team forward, Fendi Onobun, was one of a group of six sophomores who had written a book called The Nerdy McFly Manifesto. Was is the operative verb of being - or not being, since he won't be credited as one of the authors. Why? Because the NCAA says that it would mean he was making money off his name and image, and so would make him ineligible to compete.
Here's the NCAA Division I bylaw 126.96.36.199:
Advertisements and Promotions Subsequent to Enrollment - Subsequent to becoming a student-athlete, an individual shall not be eligible for participation in intercollegiate athletics if the individual:(a) Accepts any remuneration for or permits the use of his or her name or picture to advertise, recommend or promote directly the sale or use of a commercial product or service of any kind, or(b) Receives remuneration for endorsing a commercial product or service through the individual's use of such product or service.The student authors have a web site. Although Onobun's name and picture were supposed to come down from the site, there are still images of a half dozen students, it may be that his image still appears there.
Because the book hasn't been published yet, he hasn't technically profited and so can keep playing. Heaven forbid that anyone other than the university and the NCAA profit from his name and image, or that college sports promote the concept that athletes might be able to read and write and excel at things other than putting paying customers in the stands.