Tag Archives: censorship

Stop SOPA!

Tomorrow, this site will be participating in the Stop SOPA protest. When you come to the site tomorrow between 8am and 8pm EST, you will see a splash screen in protest of SOPA with information on how to take action. You will be able to continue to the site, and if I have configured things correctly, you should only see the splash screen the first time you visit. You can preview what this will look like here.

You know those dystopian futures where books are burned, libraries are censored and people have to be careful about what they say? Think it’s just science fiction? Think again. Tomorrow, with many sites on the Internet going “dark,” we’ll all get a preview of a dystopian future we must avoid.

Just a heads-up to folks who visit tomorrow and are thrown off by the splash screen.

Now we can’t say “Super Bowl”?

I might not be a fan of football, but I am fond of the freedom of speech.  I’d noted recently at least two references to the Super Bowl that didn’t actually say the words "Super Bowl".  One reference was on a radio station.  They are giving away tickets to watch the "Big Game" in Barbados and the promotion specifically mentioned that fact that they could not call it by its actual name, but "you know which game we’re talking about".  Another was on an episode of Boston Legal where the day on which the game was played was referred to as "Super Sunday".  This seemed to be an odd coincidence, so I did a quick search and found that indeed the NFL is being overzealous in its efforts to control its copyright on the phrase.  Frankly, I’m speechless.  It gives me yet another reason to despise the NFL.  This is an American sport quashing commercial free speech with ridiculous trade mark claims.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I suppose the NFL is just keeping up with the times.  Free speech is no longer fashionable in American; the NFL is just trying to keep pace with the trends.  George Orwell would be so proud.

There’s a freeway running through the yard

I went to Cleveland Humanities Magnet High School along with strausmouse, the Norm half of vickyandnorm, and kruppenheimer. The school is in Reseda, California, and hearing Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'” always reminds me of my alma mater. It was kind of our theme song.

But a few days ago, strausmouse reminded me of our school, because it has apparently been caught up in a bit of controversy.

I am wholeheartedly with the students on this one, and can only thank the principal and teachers for acting as they did. Had they acted rationally, instead of having knee-jerk reactions, the poor students would never have gotten the publicity that they did. And that would have been a shame.

Banning Wikipedia (for rmstraus)

Yesterday, Ken Jennings had an blog post about how schools are starting to ban wikipedia use.

He makes some good points. I agree with them and reiterate them here with some of my own thoughts added.

Ken points out that this is really nothing new. Teachers have been telling students not to use the encyclopedia as a source since the dawn of time. But what are we really teaching students by “banning” the use of wikipedia or an encyclopedia? It seems to me that we should be teaching students the different functions between first and secondary sources. Encyclopedia have value. They summarize vasts amounts of information. They provide good, general introductions to subjects. And as Ken points out, a encyclopedia like wikipedia can provide up-to-date information on subjects, or provide good general introductions to subjects that are not normally covered by other sources.

Banning wikipedia implies that there is no value to it. It is better to teach the value of sources. Why are primary sources the best? What purpose do they serve? I would argue further that with the budget cuts that school and public libraries face, it is getting more difficult for high school students to find primary sources in their libraries. When I was in high school in Ms. Thatcher’s chemistry class, I grew very interested in chemistry, in particular, how quantum mechanics relates to chemistry (which wasn’t well explained in our class). I discovered that the definitive book on the subject was written by Linus Pauling. The book, The Nature of the Chemical Bond was not available in the high school library. Nor was it available in my public library. So I settled on various encyclopedia articles on the subject. Now, granted, I wasn’t writing a paper or citing sources, but even if I was, I would not have been able to get to the primary source given the resources available to me at the time. The encyclopedia provided a general overview, while citing primary material (and one of the first books cited, was Pauling’s book).

Teach kids to make good decisions about their research and they will make the best use of all of the tools available to them. There will always be kids that are just plain lazy. But I don’t think banning a source of information to prevent the lazy kids from using it does anyone any good. (You might as well ban the whole Internet, Cliffs Notes, any every other possible summary of information on a given subject.)

You shouldn’t read this

I’m a pretty mellow, easy-going guy. It takes a lot to get me really agitated and even more to get me down right pissed off. One thing that almost always does the trick are stories of censorship.

Apparently, a school board in West Virginia is trying to ban Pat Conroy’s books so that high school students can’t read them. (For those of you who don’t know, Pat Conroy wrote Prince of Tides, among other books.)

Fair warning: the rest of this entry is pure anger talking.

At first, I was mildly surprised by the article. I hadn’t been aware that West Virginians over the age of 18 could read. I don’t mean to single out West Virginians here; if this vile act had taken place in, say, California or New York, I would have been equally surprised at West Virginians’ literacy. Yes, I am denigrating the intelligence of those who would ban books. But only because banning books is one of the most stupid, backward, and ignorant things a person can do. I’m just reading the landscape people.

Pat Conroy called people who would ban his books “idiots”, which is succinct, but greatly understated. There are few words that come to mind right now to describe these morons, but then again, I only have the English language at my disposal. When the school board backed down from outright banning the book, they suggested labeling the book with a warning. I do have a word that describes that brave move: meretricious.

What’s the big deal? I suppose the argument can be made that a school is requiring students to read a book. The students have no choice if they want to get a passing grade. Parents who object to the subject matter (and it is always the people who would never read the book in the first place that seem to object to it) then argue that they can’t teach their own values if they can’t keep their children away from such filth.

Bullshit!

It seems to me that one of the best way to highlight one’s values is by comparing them to what else is out there. Parents who teach high moral standards to their children need only reinforce those standards by letting the children read about people who don’t meet such high standards. If you ask me, some of the characters in Pat Conroy’s books go through quite a bit of hell. It’s enough to turn rotten kid sweet. And they can gain this knowledge without actually having to stoop to the low moral level these books seems to parade.

But that’s just reason talking.

Banning a book (or a TV show or a song) is about the worst thing a parent, school board or government can do. First of all, it reinforces ignorance. Second, it teaches cowardice. Third, it instantly makes the banned object desirable. Students will begin to lust for it, wondering what could possibly be so bad that their school won’t allow them to read it. (It doesn’t hurt book sales either, I suppose.)

People speak in great tones about our freedoms and how we must defend them at all costs. Our freedom to read, to learn, to grow, is among the most precious of all and we must defend that freedom at all costs. Banning books is a cowardly, shameful act. In case that wasn’t clear to the members of the Kanawha County Board of Education: Yes, I’m calling you a bunch of cowards. And you should be ashamed of yourselves. You are cowards because you took what you felt was the easy and “expedient” way out, rather than defend the most precious of freedoms that we can pass down to our children, that of free-thought. What level of Hell is reserved for cowards? I can’t remember. I suspect that in cases where banning a book is successful, the cowardice and ignorance is ultimately passed down to the students. They learn that such behavior is acceptable. Perhaps without intending it, these school boards and parents hurt their children far more than the banned books ever would have hurt them.

If I were a senior at George Washington High School where some of this book banning is taking place, I’d remember this day. And from now into the future, when asked about what I learned in school, I’d say as loudly and widely as I could that my precious high school taught me that it was okay to be a coward, that it was acceptable to hide behind a veil of ignorance, and that it was never worth it to fight the good fight.

And I’d throw it in their faces as often as I could manage.

Andy Rooney: Viewer Discretion Advised

Andy Rooney had a good piece on TV’s propensity for using “Viewer Discretion Advised” labels to attract attention to shows. Personally, I think TV should be able to show whatever it wants and people should have the option of tuning out what they don’t want to see. But, I am in the minority in that I am rational about the matter.

BTW, like Andy Rooney, I too follow a handful of the ten commandments, and I rarely use dirty words (except in my stories, where they tend to appear more frequently than I would like).