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The Other Idiocy of Censorship

The Other Idiocy of Censorship

A few days ago, after Tom Egeland, writer for the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, posted to Facebook the iconic Vietnam War photo of a young girl, Kim Phuc, fleeing a napalm attack, Facebook removed the post and suspended Egeland for questioning their decision.

Much has been written about Facebook’s decision (which they later reversed due to the bad publicity), but the outcry and condemnation missed a vital point. Critics rightly argued that the nudity in the photo is not pornographic in any sense of the word, but is rather an important and powerful statement in respect to our shared history.

What’s missing in the criticism however is the idea that we can avoid the truth by covering it up with a little fig leaf of falseness. Take Facebook’s notice to the poster:

We place limitations on the display of nudity to limit the exposure of different people using our platform to sensitive content…  Therefore I ask you to either remove or pixelize this picture.

This is a perfect example of the other idiotic nature of censorship. Not the primary part where certain things are considered offensive in the first place, but the secondary aspect in which we think a small substitution will change the perception or the result.

Absurd. Pixelated genitalia are still genitalia. Blurring the image in this respect does nothing; the viewer knows what’s behind the pixilation and fills in the gaps. This pretense may satisfy a sort of puritan proof, a proof that the censor did indeed exert due diligence and control, but it changes nothing for the viewer.

This same do-something-that-accomplishes-nothing approach drives a television network to bleep certain words, even at times going to the nonsensical extent to blur the speaker’s mouth movements. This same impulse causes otherwise reasonable people to write site algorithms that change “asshole” to “a**hole”, or to say that fricking clown instead of that fucking clown.

Why bother? The speaker or writer is still communicating exactly what they wanted to in the first place. The reader or the viewer is not deceived.  The only thing that happens when this type of idiotic censorship is deployed is that we give the vulgarity (or the nudity), a slap-dash coat of cheap transparent paint.

It’s residual Victorianism that serves no useful purpose, an emperor without clothes. It only makes the company or person that employs these tactics look like dunces who don’t understand how people perceive and think.


Dear United States of America

Dear United States of America

Thank you for electing Donald Trump as your new president. You’ve saved me a few sleepless nights where I might have been contemplating returning to the land of my birth. I hadn’t really considered it too hard (all the bullets flying every which way and all) but there is a lot that’s great about the USA, and it is tempting. Now, I’ve reconsidered.

Oh, wait. I forget too easily. The USA is a shithole. Don Trump says so, or at least he implies. He’s going to make it great again, as in once more. Meaning: it's fucked up now. He's going to restore its former glory and make sure no one goes without (offer not valid where prohibited by discrimination or by presidential decree.) He’s going to make sure you never have a negative thought about him.

Meanwhile, he’s got a long row to hoe. Speaking of hoes, did you hear the one about… oh never mind. This is a G rated rant. But seriously, D. Trump has a lot of work ahead of him. If he follows through on his promises, a lot of concrete contractors are going to get rich, and Muslims in the UStates will have nothing to fear except fear itself, the signup stations, and the hairy orange armbands. Can I get petition to go with my latte?

The United States of America has great freeways. They’re wide, well-marked, and easy to navigate. The USA has the best technological toys ever to be made in Japan. The US has great movies. I love me a good action flick where Gerard Butler (whatta hunk!!) kicks ass on the biggest bad-time gangsters, kicks them splat into a big concrete wall (paid for by Mexico), lets them drip dark red into a dumpster.

Oops, Gerard is Scottish, not a true US blood. No matter. My point is that the United States has a lot to offer. It has diversity, brains, know-how, can-do, Wal-Mart, glorious mountains, rigged elections (they say), Oregon beaches, long Louisiana bayous, jazz music, toe-tapping senators, holy mosaic rollers, superb artists (I know a few!), and the loveliest street preachers. The USA can make a terrorist kneel before the altar of market-cap and buy-back options.

But it won’t. Now that Donald T is the glorious president, expect an isolationist view (bombs not included). Must expel and remain compelled to bigotry. Must not look in the mirror. Must not look in the mirror. Must divide and devise new ways to keep farmers, shopkeepers, the unemployed, the uneducated (gotta love em!), the religious bakers, the power-hungry, and the average, everyday American Joe who knows in his heart of hearts that the message of Donald J. Trump, the freshest commander-in-chief, is utter bullshit, but has nowhere else to turn, from looking behind the curtain.

Who can blame them? It’s hard to look in the mirror, mirror. But now that you, the Absolute Authority of the North American States United in Bigotry, have elected as your supreme leader, Señor Donald J. Trump, please allow me to offer my congratulations.

You have won! Gold cup to you! A leader such as Trump is nothing without the people who vote for him. You have demonstrated your loyalty. I guess I will stand outside my new home and chuckle at your inability to comprehend the new world of people from other parts. Wave goodbye you grand collection of 50 states! It was nice knowing ya! Goodbye Columbus, goodbye Galileo, goodbye Steve Jobs, goodbye Martin Luther King. I was proud to be a small part of your discoveries, your observations, and your spirits. Goodbye.

Sincerely Yours,

Victor D. Sandiego (hopefully, a bad soothsayer)


After Orlando, A Look in the Mirror

I saw a collage of the victim’s faces yesterday and began to cry. I don’t know any of these people personally, but sadness knocked on my chest and made its way inside. I thought of the time in 2005 when I was in Santa Cruz, California. A young dead soldier victim of the Iraq war was on the front page and I couldn’t help myself then either. He looked so innocent.

As usual after such a tragedy (the Orlando shooting, not the one of Iraq), plenty of cowardly Neanderthals slithered from the dark confines of their self-interest to belch the usual arguments: if only more guns, if only more patrolling, if only more ratting out your neighbors, if only harsher treatment of suspects, if only we could rid ourselves of those damn communist/socialist/muslimist bad actors, then we could all sleep peacefully again.

The problem is that cowards can’t look in the mirror to see if perhaps they could be part of the problem. Tiny minded cowards who have absolutely zero capacity for self examination can only point the finger at the scapegoat of the day while other tiny minded cowards who support them and also have absolutely zero capacity for self examination cheer.

Yeah, I’m a bleeding heart. But I’m also not a coward (at least not in this respect; I admit that I am afraid of cows). I also know that enemies exist. But if you want to defeat an enemy, it does no good to become him. I’d say that most demagogues know this, but don’t care. Demagogues aren’t interested in defeating the enemy, only in having one as a way to get people to go along and allow them to exercise the power they think will fill the sad poverty of their heart. Good ol’ Pogo got it right years ago. We have met the enemy and he is us.

As a nation, the United States has the capacity to do something, to take some steps in the direction of a less violent society, a more peaceful society, a more peaceful world. But as these shootings become more common, the thoughts-and-prayers-with-zero-action platitudes more predictable, it becomes clear that although the U.S. has the capacity, it completely lacks the will.

News flash. People don’t like it when their friends and family are killed. It doesn’t matter where they live or what color their skin is. Who would? Some will accept that their friend or family member put themselves in harm’s way and therefore knew the risks, but many others – too many others, I’m afraid – know that their loved ones were just going about their business, or having fun with their friends, and were suddenly turned into collateral damage.

And yes. The Orlando victims are indeed collateral damage. Directly, or indirectly, the United States has a tremendous amount of influence in the world. Some of it is good, and inspires people to great things, but there is still too much of it that moves people towards a mind-blackening vengeance. That’s not to over simplify and say that the U.S. is completely at fault in Orlando – the shooter bears the brunt of the responsibility – but radicalization and perceptions that violence is the answer don’t appear in a vacuum. This would be a great time as a nation for some serious self-examination, to ask: what might we have done?

The U.S. is strong. Check. Got a lot of cool toys. Check. Super TV and movie industry. Check. Many a Walmart, awesome pizza, delicious coffee. Check, check, check.

Still, internally and externally, the U.S. could lead by setting a better example. World wide arms sales; drone attacks that kill innocent civilians; unaccountable, out of control internal police forces; civil asset forfeiture laws that enable authorities to seize a person’s home, money, and other possessions without a conviction, without even charges filed; indefinite imprisonment; a for-profit prison industry; the corrupt political system; covert intervention in the affairs of other countries. These are areas in which the U.S. could make significant changes in the way it operates. To do so – as the Dali Lama recently said – would require moving away from “old thinking”. It would require prioritizing human rights and livability within societies over pure economic and territorial interests.

And the U.S. can still be an economic powerhouse, perhaps even more so. It has the clout to influence the world in many ways, in many directions. It’s a matter of deciding what’s important. It could start by acknowledging that its own actions (and its inactions) have played a part in producing this new pile of bodies in Orlando. If the U.S. ever collectively decides that peace is more valuable than violence, they may begin to move themselves – and slowly the world – into a new era of maturity. This is my dream, that all of those men and women in Orlando, and all the child and adult victims before them, may provoke at last, at long fucking last, an awakening. It is my dream that they did not simply die in vain.


Every Man Is An Island

This is the part that scares me. If it scares you too, you may belong to my tribe. The tribe of incomprehensible blankness. Oh, I don’t mean blankness of mind, I mean that which is probably worse – blankness of spirit.

Allow me to explain. I have lived a million miles of landmines and have come to expect that the rest of world has too. Probably worse. So I feel that everything I might have to say has been said by people more worthy of their suffering. I’ve been hungry but I haven’t starved. I’ve lived under bridges but it was my choice. I went for many long periods without love, but it was of my own volition.

These days it seems there’s a thousand-fold bout of suffering that my own trials – as if they might be ants trying to leap atop in one bound a boulder – cannot possibly match – and to which their effort cannot possibly compare. Every day, it’s more: kid killed by cop, gun-hungry cop afraid of kid, bang bang, leaders afraid of truth, lies the new baseline.

To whom or for what to I have to complain? I’m outside the grid, an ex-pat who goes cold-turkey from the news every few months just to escape the madness. Now we approach an election. Okay, we’re always near an election. But this time, things have gotten way beyond rational. Now we’re talking fear. And not just any fear, but fear of everybody and everything. Mexican workers, Muslim worshippers, dead voters, Chinese hackers, even encrypted cell phones.

There’s no end to this madness. In fact, it must escalate to even hope that it can stay relevant and keep pinging the radar of the average attention span. We live in an era of intense competition for information; calm facts are buried in the avalanche. Most people are afraid of the other who they see as coming to take their hard-earned gains.

This is of course exactly what most leaders want. To lead, most leaders need an enemy. It keeps people focused on what’s important. It’s not what you’re for, it’s what you’re against that counts. When an enemy runs out of steam, when the image of one organization or one individual starts to inspire a ho-hum fatigued response in the populace who has seen the endless images of these enemies, a new enemy must be created.

The only way out of this cycle is to jump off the bandwagon that keeps endlessly circling, to start making decisions about what is right and what is wrong for yourselves. Ask if something makes sense on its own, or if it only makes sense in a certain light. When truth is no longer considered important to those who would claim to circulate it, it is up to rest of us to publically shame the lies – and to demand in their place the unvarnished truth from which we can make informed decisions.


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