Posts Tagged ‘censorship’

Kurt Vonnegut vs. the Bible

July 30, 2011

“Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.”
Psalms 137:9

The high school board of education for the city of Republic, Missouri last week voted unanimously (4-0) to ban Kurt Vonnegut’s classic antiwar novel Slaughterhouse-Five from the school’s library. The board was responding to public complaints by one Wesley Scroggins, who was outraged that the city would use his tax dollars to store books which teach “principles contrary to the Bible” for children to read.

Wesley Scroggins, seen here taking some time off from
goose-stepping to the local book burning for a publicity photo

Scroggins is right about one thing. Slaughterhouse-Five, like pretty much every other work of modern literature, does teach principles contrary to the Bible. The Bible tells us we should be happy to smash babies against rocks during war with our enemies (Psalms 137:9). Vonnegut’s novel teaches the opposite; that such acts of senseless slaughter dehumanize us all, even the ones who are doing the smashing. This moral lesson is stated pretty explicitly in Chapter 8:

“There are no characters in this story and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”

Vonnegut, seen here relaxing after a long day
of smashing babies against rocks.

Another problem Scroggins has with Slaughterhouse-Five is that it has lots of cursing in it. In an op-ed for the Springfield News-Leader which has apparently since been taken down from the internets, Scoggins says the book “contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame.” We should remember that we’re talking about a high school library here, not all public school libraries. Nobody’s teaching any of Vonnegut’s racier passages to 8-year-olds. And no competent high school English teacher is going to teach them devoid of any context.

If a student assigned to read Slaughterhouse-Five comes away from the class learning that this limerick from the book encompasses what Vonnegut was saying:

“In my prison cell I sit,/ With my britches full of shit,/ And my balls are bouncing gently on the floor./ And I see the bloody snag/ When she bit me in the bag./ Oh I’ll never fuck a Polack any more.”

… Then the student failed, and the teacher failed the student. If you teach literature that way, then you suck as a teacher and should find another line of work. That’s where the blame lies, not on the book itself.

Figure 1.1: An incompetent teacher

Besides, this guy who is so concerned about “Biblical principles” can’t be seriously offended by this. Here are just a few passages from the Bible just off the top of my head which are also so profane that “it would make a sailor blush with shame,” to borrow a phrase from Scroggins:

“Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your solemn feasts; and one shall take you away with it.”
Malachi 2:3

Yet she multiplied her whoredoms, in calling to remembrance the days of her youth, wherein she had played the harlot in the land of Egypt.
For she doted upon their paramours, whose flesh is as the flesh of asses, and whose issue is like the issue of horses.
Ezekiel 23:19-20

“But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”
1 Timothy 2:12

We’ve also got a guy sacrificing his daughter for God in exchange for good luck in (what else?) war, some incestuous date rape, and countless other atrocities celebrated as good for the sole reason that it pleases this God character. I propose that the sum total of profanity contained in the Bible easily exceeds the same in Slaughterhouse-Five.

But unlike Scroggins, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that even a book as morally inept as the Bible should be banned from high school libraries and English teachers’ curriculum. Like Vonnegut’s work, it is an important part of the canon of Western literature. If a student graduates from high school without at least a little understanding of the Bible as literature – vulgar passages and all – then the teachers and administrators of that student’s school failed to do their jobs in giving them an adequate education.

And there’s just one more thing. I saved this for last. Wesley Scroggins does indeed have children, but they don’t even attend the public school he’s attacking. He home-schools his children. Apparently he can give his own kids an education which is consistent with “Biblical principles,” but that’s not quite good enough for him. He would like more power, please, and apparently the cowardly school board is willing to oblige, embarrassing themselves and their city in the process.

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African-American Jim

January 6, 2011

One of the literary controversies that’s always left me the most befuddled is the reaction to Mark Twain’s portrayal of racism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Critics of Twain’s portrayal of racist characters as… well, racist, have for a long time been trying to either censor or water down some of the language used. And now it looks like they have to some extent succeeded. From Reuters:

Twain scholar Alan Gribben said he decided to reissue the 19th century classic “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” replacing the slur with the word “slaves” in all 219 places it occurs in the text because the original offended many readers.

Here’s the thing though: If you read that book and your conclusion is that Twain is saying that Huck and his dad are awesome for saying “nigger” all the time and that Huck and Tom should be admired for keeping Jim in bondage when it’s no longer necessary to do so as if it’s part of some really cool game – and by extension that Twain is saying that slavery and Jim Crow laws are wonderful – then you’re not just wrong, you’re borderline illiterate. Someone who comes to that conclusion might be able to mechanically read actual words on a page (probably moving their lips in the process), but totally fails when it comes to deriving a larger comprehension of the words they’re reading. And if you’re worried about the children who might not pick up on the completely obvious moral of the story, then that is the problem of the parents and teachers of said children and not of the rest of us who know how to read.

So either this Gribben person is missing the whole point of this book or he’s catering to those who do, as if they somehow matter. I would lean towards the latter, but either way, the term “Twain scholar” should not be applied to him. And in censoring the book in this way, Gribben’s actually whitewashing late 19th century racism. Replacing “nigger” with “slave” ostensibly makes the racism of the characters Twain is portraying and attacking less offensive (although Roger Ebert disagrees on that point). But what interest should we have in making those who believe in inherent racial inequality more likeable? Why is that a priority for literary critics, or anyone, for that matter?

This is really the most insidious way of attacking good satire that those who would censor it have. They draw on the good instincts we all have against stupidity and racism and then use it against the target of the work in question. But what other choice does an author have? How can you attack racism without actually portraying it in a character?

That’s where all of this starts to get ugly. You have to wonder what it is exactly these “many readers” are offended by. If it’s just the actual word “nigger” devoid of any context at all, then they’re borderline-illiterate morons who have no business dictating how books should be published. But it also could be that they do understand the larger context and just don’t like Twain’s message. It’s not exactly subtle, after all. That’s just not how the guy rolled. They want a friendlier, happier, most nostalgic view of Reconstruction in the south and this book is depriving them of that fantasy. So they’ll try to water it down and censor it even if they have to bend over backwards betraying their true feelings to do so.

Fortunately we’re not all dumbed down enough to let this slide. The Librarian of the Year is speaking out against it (In other news, there is such a thing as a Librarian of the Year), along with other actual scholars who aren’t as stupid and/or sensationalist as this horrible Alan Gribben person.

A tale of two nontroversies

August 23, 2010

I really don’t like getting caught up in the faux-controversies like the two I’m about to get caught up in. The way I understand it, controversies are supposed to involve two opposing positions, both of which are intellectually defensible by well-informed adults. These do not qualify by that definition, but the hypocrisy is just so glaringly obvious that it really needs to be pointed out. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  1. The construction of an Islamic cultural center two-ish blocks from Ground Zero by a Muslim group, the leader of which worked with the Bush administration as an example of moderate Islam, and
  2. A person named Laura Schlessinger on some primitive invention called “radio” said some very racist things to one of her callers.

The right wing’s reaction to the cultural center has largely been that it shouldn’t be built because it might hurt the feelings of New Yorkers and 9/11 victims’ families. There are some notable exceptions, like the Libertarian-style economist Grover Norquist and NYC mayor/billionaire media bigshot Michael Bloomberg. But for the most part the line has been that this offends some people and is opposed by popular opinion. Here is one example. Here is CNN making a big deal of poll numbers. And Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to explain why the “mosque” (which isn’t a mosque, actually) is very offensive and not at all politically correct and must be stopped somehow:

In other words, rights (and bills which outline them) have to be subordinate to popular opinion and political correctness. That’s what the opposition to this is all about. If it weren’t, then there’d be no need to continue the conversation beyond agreeing that they have the right to build it, because whether or not they should is completely irrelevant.

What’s weird about this is that whenever someone casually refers to America as a democracy, it’s always these same people – Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and people like that – who nitpick the point by correcting them. America’s not a democracy, they say, because democracy means everything is decided by a majority vote. And if you really want to get that pedantic about it, then it’s a fair point, because America’s a republic. We make some decisions by majority vote, some are made by elected representatives, but some issues – rights, for instance – aren’t open to debate or discussion. It’s the job of the government to insure those rights for the citizenry. If this were a strict democracy, then a majority could vote to take away the rights of minorities (although, to be fair usually when someone says that we’re a democratic country, they mean by that that we have elections and free access to information and stuff like that, unlike totalitarian dictatorships).

There’s another inconsistency here, too. They don’t actually come out and use the term “politically correct,” but that’s the perspective they’re defending when they talk about how a cultural center at a former Burlington Coat Factory will offend people and therefore plans to build it should be halted. So you would think that when it came to another issue where the shoe is on the other foot, we should expect some consistency from Republicans on the question of rights v. political correctness.

But of course that’s not the case. When Laura Schlessinger went off on a crazy racist rant about how black (or “buhhh-LACK,” as she puts it) people  are overly sensitive and lack a sense of humor, Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to defend the radio host:

And this is almost verbatim what Schlessinger herself had to say about her situation. Apparently her First Amendment rights were taken away because her bosses decided to can her for being an ignorant hick. Also, none of her critics even said anything about government involvement inre: Schlessinger’s right to free speech as far as I know.

But even if we were to be generous and pretend that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights were taken away (she said so on Larry King’s show, apparently without anyone in the government stopping her from doing so, but whatever), this is still a very clear double standard. You’d have to be blind not to notice it. In one case First Amendment rights need to be subjugated to the “will of the people” and cater to hurt feelings; and in the other First Amendment rights are precious and need to be defended regardless of how offended someone might be by someone else using them.

Here’s the best way to illustrate how obvious the double standard is: take any of the statements Gingrich, Palin, Limbaugh, or anyone like that made about Park 51. Then do a quick find/replace so that it’s appropriate to the Schlessinger story. And vice versa. This is what I got:

Schlessinger’s employers were teaching her a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
Charles Krauthammer

In that case, Krauthammer would actually be correct if he said that. The airwaves Schlessinger broadcasted on actually were owned by others: her employers. But he was making an analogy with Park 51 in the original quote and there he’s wrong. The Cordoba Initiative purchased the property completely legally and followed every step of due process in approving the construction of the building with the local authorities. It doesn’t “belong to others” – it belongs to them.

Or how about this one:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc his 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence”isn’t American,not fair”)
-Sarah Palin

That would probably go over well, right? If Palin or literally anybody else tweeted to Rauf to “reload” and fight against the activists taking away his rights, what kind of reaction would you expect from Fox News? Is there any chance in hell they wouldn’t throw a gigantic week-long hissy fit over it?

Whether the Republicans want to be either the people who value hurt feelings and political correctness over Constitutional rights or the reverse, that’s up to them. It would just be nice to have a little consistency. At the very least they could try not to take such extreme and opposite ideological positions on the First Amendment in the span of a few days.

WikiLeaks v. Pentagon

August 1, 2010

So it’s been a week since WikiLeaks published the leaked internal US military documents which detail some aspects of the occupation of Afghanistan which the administration would rather not emphasize. Like how Pakistan’s ISI is funneling our ‘aid’ back to the Taliban, which they then use to attack our troops. And civilian casualties are being massively underreported. And there’s a secret task force which captures and executes Taliban leaders. Oh yeah, and the US military is paying Afghani journalists to write favorable stories about the occupation.

Certain people can be expected to react to this leak in certain ways. Republicans will insist that we firebomb the internet and every last one of its many series of pneumatic tubes. Liz Cheney just now said something like that, as if anyone gives a shit.  Newt Gingrich is calling it treason, etc.

If you’ve paid attention to the Obama administration’s pattern of hostility towards whistleblowers, then it’s not very difficult to predict how they would react. Here’s White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs being questioned:

Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it — besides being against the law — has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.

OK, got that? This is all VERY SERIOUS and will PUT ALL OF OUR TROOPS IN DANGER, and by the way it’s also a FEDERAL CRIME. If it’s putting our troops in danger to have this information publicly available, it must be the case that this is new information in the public sphere. Because if it were already known, then there would be no danger in releasing it. Right? Well, only a few questions later, Gibbs contradicts that line of reasoning:

MR. GIBBS:  Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents.  Based on what we’ve seen, I don’t think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time.

So the WikiLeaks data dump is at the same time both YAWN OLD NEWS and VERY SERIOUS TREASONOUS TROOP-KILLING CRIMES. Julian Assange must be both a dangerous anti-American criminal and a harmless kid living in his parent’s basement all at the same time. That’s pretty much how it plays out inside the heads of people like Robert Gibbs and the President.

But all that’s not that surprising, especially given the aforementioned administration’s record on whistleblowers and the internet in general. What’s more surprising is that one of the three publications given access to the documents pre-publication, the NY Times, has basically been toeing the administration’s line on their own leak. And the Washington Post has been producing their copy on the subject pretty much directly from the Republicans’ playbook. The two other newspapers (Der Spiegel and The Guardian) have been a bit more responsible and independent, to their credit.

If you’ve been following the ongoing saga of WikiLeaks, you might remember the ‘Collateral Murder’ video they released a few months ago of the US military shooting at a group of people from a helicopter which turned out to be civilians and a journalist. US Army Intelligence Analyst Bradley Manning was charged with forwarding the video based on an online conversation he had with a hacker named Adrian Lamo who subsequently informed on him. Manning is now in the brig in Virginia, where he faces a sentence of up to 52 years. And now the NY Times is quoting unnamed Pentagon officials who claim that Manning is a “person of interest” in the case of these newly-released documents. Here you can find a support group for Manning.

The Pentagon’s also going after WikiLeaks founder/editor Julian Assange, who’s more or less on the run. He is wanted for questioning, presumably to verify or deny whether or not Manning was the source of the Afghan War Diary. And oh yeah, they’d also like WikiLeaks to be shut down, please. For now, Assange is staying out of the US and responding strongly to comments from the administration. As a side note, he’s also trying to turn Iceland into a journalistic refugee’s paradise.

Now two more things just happened in the past day or two. First, a WikiLeaks volunteer named Jacob Appelbaum was detained, searched, and interrogated by US Customs officials at the Newark airport. They asked him to decrypt his laptop, an offer he refused. Then they confiscated it, but his laptop had no storage device and therefore there was nothing for the officials to search. He was later approached by FBI agents at a conference where he gave a talk in place of Julian Assange, who could not attend for reasons which should by now be pretty obvious.

The second recent development was WikiLeaks posting a mysterious encrypted 1.4 GB file called ‘insurance’ on their Afghan War Logs page. There are no instructions or details on what it’s supposed to be, but the general consensus is that a password will be issued in the event that anything fishy happens to WikiLeaks, Assange, or anyone associated with them. This is turning into a very interesting conflict, much better than anti-war protesters v. cops. But don’t bother downloading the file just to see if the password is “password,” that’s already been checked.

Scientology vs. German made for TV movie

March 15, 2010

Germany and Scientology haven’t been getting along very well lately. A couple years ago they tried to ban it, and they also wouldn’t allow United Artists to shoot Valkyrie there as long as Tom Cruise was starring in it because of his status as an outspoken Scientologist.

And they have problems with the media in general too, which I’ve written about before. To them, criticism is intolerance and a fascist attack on freedom of religion. Even just asking a simple question about what they believe is “intolerance.” Freedom of religion to them means that journalists have to pre-screen all their questions with them before the interview.

Now they’re sinking even lower into bottomless pit of uptight, thin-skinned whininess by trying to block a German made for TV movie which profiles an ex-Scientologist. More details about the movie, which is based on a true story are available here.

Apparently the Scientologists who are so upset about this movie haven’t even seen it yet, which makes you wonder how they could possibly be able to tell that it was “false and intolerant” in the first place. From the Guardian:

Scientology leaders have accused Germany’s primary public TV network, ARD, of creating in top secret a piece of propaganda that sets out to undermine the group, and have demanded to see it before it is broadcast…

Scientology officials have said the film is false and intolerant. At a preview screening in Hamburg members distributed flyers in which the filmmakers were accused of seeking to “create a mood of intolerance and discrimination against a religious community”.

So they would have had to have made these fliers before the movie was ever screened, since they were distributing them at the screening itself. And if they had already seen the movie they wouldn’t be demanding to see it. The obvious solution to this dilemma is that they know what the movie portrays exactly because it is accurate and they know it.

Someone will probably post a link to a torrent of a subtitled version of this movie here when it becomes available.

Hugo Chavez’s continuing downward spiral of lunacy

March 14, 2010

Even paintings are out to get him now.

Hugo Chavez, probably spurred on by Sean Penn’s idiotic comments about how journalists should be imprisoned for calling him (Chavez, not Penn) a dictator, has proposed limiting free speech on the internet for Venezuela.

This is part of a disturbing trend. Chavez has never been a really big fan of free speech. According to this same Reuters article, he’s been pressuring networks to soften their editorial stances and has refused to renew the license for a network because he didn’t like what they were saying.

“The Internet cannot be something open where anything is said and done. Every country has to apply its own rules and norms,” Chavez said. He cited German Chancellor Angel Merkel as having expressed a similar sentiment recently.

OK, well, no, they don’t have to apply their own restrictions here. Chavez is trying to equate a restriction to norms, and by doing that he can claim that just allowing free speech is just another norm applied in the same way his “norms” are applied to Venezuelan internet users.  And it’s a little weird for someone so critical of the West to cite the German head of state as an example of what he wants to do. It’s a little tiny bit hypocritical.

He’s claiming that his problem with these media outlets is that they’re spreading unfounded rumors. But there’s a huge difference between a civil case for libel and criminal charges for being wrong about something on the internet. There’s really no need for anyone to jump to the latter if they haven’t tried the former.

Even if I were in Chavez’s inner circle I’d be advising him to not do this, if only in the interest of self-preservation of the administration. When you sue a gossip website for saying something that isn’t true, you look weak. Even a E-list Hollywood celebrity would be too embarrassed to sue the Weekly World News or the Enquirer for writing stories about them which are obviously not true. It makes you look insecure and whiny.

So when you start locking up journalists or even just internet bloggers (*ahem*), it only shows your enemies an easy way to get under your very thin skin. The only people it would deter from lying about you or trying to start a coup against you are people who would probably be too cowardly or underfunded to do it in the first place anyway.

UPDATE: Reporters Without Borders is pissed.

Islam news

January 23, 2010

There have been a couple of interesting stories dealing with Islam and its impact on the law, and there’s really not much to say about either so I decided to cover them both in one post.

Muslim Clerics Seek Ban On ‘Funky Hairstyles’ in Indonesia

INFIDEL

Dreadlocks and mohawks are all the rage in religious boarding schools throughout Indonesia these days, and so it must therefore be sinful and therefore needs to be banned according to some unnamed clerics in East Java.

Not all Muslim clerics are so enthused about this, though. There’s something called the Fatwa Commission, and its deputy secretary Aminudin Yakub had this to say:

“So far, we have not seen strong evidence to ban it… It could be discussed in future but right now it is not a priority.”

What’s funny is that this same institution found such immoral practices as yoga and failing to vote to be a priority, since they’ve already banned those, too. At least that’s what’s implied by the Telegraph article cited above. The wording in it is a little funny so it’s not clear if that’s the same Fatwa Commission or some other separate fatwa commission. Don’t you hate it when you confuse one fatwa commission for another?

Moaz Ashhabi sentenced to 1 year for falsification of the Koran

So Moaz Ashhabi is this Yemeni journalist who decided to take part in a discussion on the claims of divine nature of the Koran, which somehow has something to do with how it’s chanted. Anywho, Ashhabi wrote an article called “They Corrected The Koran,” which then translates to a year inside a Yemeni prison. And even that seems to be a bit of a plea deal since he’s apologized to pretty much everyone since he was under investigation.

Antivaxers get litigious

January 4, 2010

So if anyone’s reading this on the actual website and not through a reader, you might have noticed that I have a few of these ‘widget’ things on the right side here. The first one is for a campaign by Sense About Science in support of science writer Simon Singh in his ongoing legal battles with the British Chiropractic Association. Here is what it looks like:

You can click on it to read more about Singh’s case, but the gist of it is that he said that the BCA happily promotes bogus treatments, because they do, and the BCA sued him. This all happened in the UK, where libel law is completely ass-backwards and the burden of proof is on the defendant(s) to prove that they’re innocent, instead of on the prosecution to prove guilt.

Anyway, now Rachael Dunlop of the Australian Skeptics is reporting that something similar is happening to Amy Wallace and her publisher at Wired for an article published a few months ago about the anti-vaccine movement. The pdf of the case is here.

Barbara Loe Fisher has a problem with Wallace citing someone who called her a liar, even though she is one. But that doesn’t seem to be in dispute here. Fisher seems to be much more upset that she wasn’t given an opportunity to say to Wallace pre-publication, “Nuh uh, I’m not a liar!” Seriously, just look at the pdf linked to above.

The antivaxers are actually starting to get pretty funny at this point. They skip over the whole point of suing for libel (i.e. proving intentional disinformation, material damages, etc.) and go right into their whiny political rants:

“The article does not present science concerning the risks or the informed consent rights issues that arise from mandatory vaccination but adheres to a bias in favor of the general safety of vaccines and a presumed medical necessity blah blah blah.”

So they don’t appear to have much interest in pursuing their case for the goal of actually winning it; and it’s being done in the US, where libel law is more reasonable than most other places. These two facts together add up to this being nothing but another SLAPP-suit by the alt med industry, just another attempt to frighten and silence critics. And the pattern recently with those kinds of things is that they reveal much more ugliness about the plaintiffs than they do about the defendants. Hopefully this case will fit in that pattern.

UPDATE: Case dismissed.

That rumor about Glenn Beck raping and murdering a young girl in 1990

November 9, 2009

In the least surprising update ever, Glenn Beck’s effort to go to the international courts to get rid of a web site for criticizing him has failed, pretty much for reasons I’ve explained earlier.

Even though this was very predictable, it’s still weird that Beck would have pursued this case at all. After all, he’s the one constantly screaming about how internationalism is evil and that “[o]nce we sign our rights over to international law, the Constitution is officially dead.”

Even that quote on its own doesn’t make sense since Article VI of the Constitution states in part:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

So according to the Constituion, its own authority is equal to that of all treaties made by the US, i.e. they are both “supreme Law of the Land.” If only Beck had actually read the Constitution, he would be able to rant about those evil Marxist internationalist liberal elite framers of the Constitution who gave away American sovereignty!

So for one thing Beck’s a hypocrite for whining to the international courts about people making fun of him on the internet while pretending to think that the international courts are out to undermine the Constituion; but then he’s also wrong in even just claiming that the Constitution and the international courts are somehow at odds with each other.

And what’s even crazier is that a request by the counsel for the defense Marc Randazza was completely ignored. It asked that the proceedings against his client be carried out under US First Amendment law, which is something to which you might expect someone who actually preferred American law to international law to agree. Then again, this is a Mormon who believes that his savior Mohammed Jesus flew up into the sky after he died, visited America and then went to some other planet, so nothing should be too ridiculous coming from him.

Charlene Werner and Homeopathy

November 5, 2009

I try not to write about stuff that’s been dealt with by PZ Myers on his blog Pharyngula, simply because it’s the most popular blog dealing with science and atheism since, like, ever. But the subject of this post probably should be duplicated as much as possible for reasons which should become obvious soon.

About a week ago, this video started being circulated around skeptical circles. It’s a person called Charlene Werner trying to explain homeopathy.

“Do you know what H2O is? Do you know who Einstein was? Do you know who Stephen Hawkings [sic] is?”

Yeah. Wow. Depending on my mood, it’s either hilarious or painful to me.

So it looks like this Charlene Werner person decided to contact the original poster of this video with a sort of threatening letter, claiming that it is copyrighted material. But this isn’t about her trying to make money off of this footage, this is about her being embarrassed about being called names (and rightfully so) on the internet. It seems like Charlene Werner and the king of Thailand both need to learn about the Streisand effect. And they’ve apparently decided to take that lesson the hard way.

Thai king Bhumibol Adulyadej still an obsessively controlling, sad person

November 4, 2009

It’s just not good enough to write about something crazy that happened anymore. The best kind of story to fit the “strange and unusual” news value is one where the weirdness sets off even more weirdness, and then the series of events in question morph into this mobius strip of insanity. Here is an example of what I’m talking about. And here is a summary of how craziness feeds on itself in this situation:

  1. In 2007, the government of Thailand passed something called the Computer Crimes Act, Article 14 of which allows for state prosecution of criminal libel in response to youtube insults directed at the Thai king.
  2. The economy collapsed.
  3. Obviously, the economic collapsed was caused by the king of Thailand’s failing health.
  4. Three “internet users” put two and two together and publicize their particular brand of craziness.
  5. The paranoid Thai government imprisons them for endangering national security by lying about the king’s health.
  6. ??????????
  7. PROFIT!!!!!!!!

The king of Thailand’s name is Bhumibol Adulyadej, but you can just call him a thin skinned freak with an unwarranted and massive ego Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Bhumibol Adulyadej Mahitalathibet Ramathibodi Chakkrinaruebodin Sayamminthrathirat Borommanatbophit. Really, that’s his official title.

I heard a rumor about how Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990

September 11, 2009

One of the things that makes America great is how difficult it is to sue for libel here. The prosecution in a libel case must prove several things in order to survive in court. So many times when a libel case would be effective in other countries, for example the UK has almost the exact opposite burden of proof, people claiming libel merely resort to threats from their lawyers. For example:

So the first thing the prosecution must prove in a libel case is that the alleged libel has been published. Usually, this is very easy. All it involves is waving around the actual newspaper or book in court. But this is talking only about a “defamatory domain.” Is http://glennbeckrapedandmurderedayounggirlin1990.com/ an example of a published statement, or is it merely a code one can use to access published information? That’s not an easy question to answer, and I don’t think there is any precedent set.

Next the prosecution must prove that the prosecutor was named in the publication. Again, this is normally very easy, but the same problem arises. Is there such a person as glennbeck? Isn’t his name Glenn Beck? Remember, they’re just talking about the internet domain and are ignoring the actual content of the website.

And I’m pretty sure the reason that they are ignoring the content of the website has to do with the third thing they must prove, which is that the published statement caused provable harm. This is usually where most libel cases collapse, because it really is difficult. You can’t just prove that your profits or whatever went down after the libellous statement was published, you have to prove an actual causal relationship. And what makes that difficult in this instance is that content of the website, and even just the “defamatory domain,” is clearly meant to be satirical. Glenn Beck’s attorneys would have to stand up in court and with a straight face claim that some people took the claim that he raped and murdered a young girl in 1990 seriously, and therefore stopped watching his show, which in turn meant lower ratings, which in turn meant less ad revenue. And each of those things would need to be documented somehow.

Glenn Beck huffs paint.

Glenn Beck huffs paint.

Lastly, Beck’s attorneys would have to prove that whoever registered the domain was “at fault” in making the statement that Glenn Beck raped and murdered a young girl in 1990, which I heard he probably did. This is protection for journalists who were simply in error with reasonable cause and couldn’t be held responsible for someone else’s deception. This is also an area where the defendant in this case should emphasize the satirical nature of the statement (even though it’s TOTALLY TRUE) and that a reasonable audience couldn’t possibly take it at face value.

The best part about how the burden of proof is on those claiming libel in the US is that it almost always makes them look like the whiny little bitches they really are. Instead of the chilling effect UK libel laws generate in the press where reporters and management have to do a cost/benefit analysis of running a certain story even if it’s true, we get celebrities who are the subject of such stories calculating the cost of pursuing a lawsuit with the purpose of shutting up a media outlet which will almost always only get more attention as a result of such a lawsuit. And it’s not surprising that Beck and his attorneys would make such a gross miscalculation. I heard that ever since Beck started huffing paint in 1985, his math skills haven’t been so sharp.