Scanlyze

The Online Journal of Insight, Satire, Desire, Wit and Observation

Computerized Internet Censorship is Morally Wrong

This is taken from a response I made on a mailing list discussing technical means of implementing “filtering”, or computerized censorship, of children’s access to the internet in a school environment.

I’m a bit disturbed when I hear people using the euphemism “filtering” for automated, computerized censorship. I understand there may be legislative or political mandates. However, we should never talk about this as though it is a good or desirable or acceptable thing.

I realize this may be seen as off topic from the merely technical discussion of how to implement computerized censorship, but when we calmly discuss technicalities of something which is obviously wrong without questioning it, then the discussion needs to be aired.

“Filtering” is what you do to the water in a fish tank. “Censorship” is when a state or quasi-state agency proscribes and limits access to certain classes of written material.

Here are a few tests we should apply to any such proposed system.

Does it allow access to information about “Romeo and Juliet”? (Underage sex, gang-oriented violence, suicide, murder)

Does it allow access to “Huckleberry Finn” (Slavery, frequent use of the word “nigger”)

Does it allow access to “The Catcher in the Rye” (Use of “fuck”, blasphemy, drinking, smoking, lying, promiscuity, implied pederasty)

Does it allow access to “Heather has Two Mommies” (Lesbianism)

Does it allow access to “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (Information about human health, sex and sexuality)

Does it allow access to “Slaughterhouse-Five” (Genocide, strategic bombing, sex)

Does it allow access to “Of Mice and Men” (Retardation, sex, rape, murder)

Does it allow access to “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Sexual roles, patriarchy, racism, and theocracy)

Does it allow access to “The Kite Runner” (Homosexuality, rape)

Does it allow access to “His Dark Materials” (Anti-state, anti-catholic, magic and witchcraft)

Does it allow access to “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (Alchemy, murder, debauchery)

Does it allow access to “1984” (Torture, illicit sex, anti-state and anti-party politics)

Does it allow access to “Canterbury Tales” (Promiscuity, anti-clericalism)

Does it allow access to “The Decameron” (Anti-state, anti-Catholic and general ribaldry, such as the Third Day, Tenth Story, “How to put the Devil in Hell”)

And in terms of websites particularly,

RateMyTeachers.com

Peacefire.org

Facebook

Myspace

Orkut

Google

YouTube

Sites which criticize the ruling party or government.

Sites which criticize or parody the predominant religion.

Blogs, in general

And classes of internet services such as

Usenet

FSP

Peer-to-peer file-sharing services such as Bittorrent, EMule, Gnutella

In general, censorship is bad and morally wrong; and automated, computerized censorship especially so; and we should never refer to it by a purpose-made and innocuous-sounding term like “filtering” or treat it as though it is morally or pedagogically acceptable.

What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.

–Sigmund Freud, 1933

See: Filtering / Censorship

Copyright © 2009 Henry Edward Hardy

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27 April, 2009 Posted by | books, censorship, culture, education, file-sharing, filtering, literature, scanlyze | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The War Prayer by Mark Twain

The War Prayer

(part II)

courtesy, thewarprayer.com

film by Markos Kounalakis
illustrations: Akis Dimitrakopoulos
voiced by: Peter Coyote, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Erik Bauersfeld

The War Prayer

By Mark Twain
c. 1904
public domain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came-next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams-visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender!-then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation — “God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!”

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever–merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory –

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal,”Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

“I come from the Throne-bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import-that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of-except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this-keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer-the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it-that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory-must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle-be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it-for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

“Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits.”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

Scanlyze: This bitter short story is in line with Twain’s later dark and ironic writing, particularly The Mysterious Stranger. It is rather more reminiscent of the writings of Ambrose Bierce than of Twain’s earlier, better known works such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Of The War Prayer, Twain reportedly said,

I don’t think the prayer will be published in my time. None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.

The War Prayer was written in response to the US invasion of the Phillipines during the Spanish-American War, an imperialistic war in many ways not dissimilar from the US invasion of Iraq 104 years later. I wonder if Twain was not inspired by the first chapter of Isaiah:

And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.
Isaiah 1:15

Oh yes, did I forget to yell, “Support the Troops!”

USA! USA! USA! USA! USA!

Mark Twain (wikipedia)
The War Prayer (2006) (IMDB) — note, this is a different film than the one above
Lawrence Ferlinghetti (wikipedia)
Peter Coyote (wikipedia)
Ambrose Bierce (wikipedia)

See also: A Marine’s Poem leads to US Representative David Obey’s anti-liberal tirade
I Dreamed I saw Joe Hill Last Night
Harold Pinter receives Legion D’Honneur
Anthem for Doomed Youth

Copyright © 2007 Henry Edward Hardy

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7 September, 2007 Posted by | Afghanistan, Akis Dimitrakopoulos, Ambrose Bierce, bible, Erik Bauersfeld, film, hypocrisy, Iraq, isaiah, justice, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, literature, movie, peace, Peter Coyote, Phillipines, politics, prayer, Samuel Clemens, satire, scanlyze, short story, slaughter, Spanish-American War, support the troops, USA, war, War Prayer | | 4 Comments

The Children of Húrin: Tolkien’s Tragic Saga Shows a Darker Side to his Fantasy

Tolkien’s Tragic Saga Shows a Darker Side to his Fantasy

The Children of Húrin
Houghton Mifflin Company
2007

Henry Edward Hardy

The Children of Húrin is a tragedy written by JRR Tolkien. The book chronicles the destruction of the family of the noble Húrin of Dor-lómin, a human counselor and ally of the noble High Elves of Beleriand.

JRR Tolkien is best known as the author of the beloved classics The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The Hobbit, published in 1937, and the three-volume Lord of the Rings, published in the 1950’s, tell the tales of two notable hobbits, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and their adventures. The Lord of the Rings is set against the backdrop of older tales which Tolkien started writing in 1916-1918.

The young Tolkien experienced the horror and madness of war while serving in the Great War. After contracting trench fever following the Battle of the Somme, Tolkien was returned to England for convalescence. It was at this time that he courted and wed his teenage sweetheart Edith Mary Bratt, and began writing the posthumously-published Book of Lost Tales. It is the juxtaposition of the joy Tolkien felt in the fields of flowering hemlock at Roos with Edith and the remembered horrors of the war in which most of his friends had died, which provided the inspiration for The Children of Húrin.

The writing in The Children of Húrin is archaic in style, with the characters declaiming with great intensity. The fall of the House of Húrin begins with a great battle, called the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in which,

…all the hosts of Angband swarmed against them, and they bridged the stream with their dead, and encircled the remnants of Hithlum as a gathering tide about a rock. There, as the Sun westered and the shadows of the Ered Wethrin grew dark, Huor fell pierced with a venomed arrow in the eye, and all the valiant men of Hador were slain about him in a heap, and the Orcs hewed off their heads and piled them as a mound of gold in the sunset.

Last of all Húrin stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and seized the axe of an orc-captain and wielded it two-handed, and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Gothmog until it withered and each time Húrin slew he cried aloud: ‘Aure entuluva! Day shall come again!

But even mighty Húrin fell at the last and was captured alive. Unable to break him, Morgoth placed a curse against Húrin and all his folk and then placed Húrin on a great peak whereby by dark arts Húrin, powerless, beheld what transpired to his family in the world below. Thus the curse of Morgoth begins the destruction of Húrin and his wife, brave Morwen and their beautiful children Túrin and Nienor.

Tolkien was a professor at Merton College, Oxford in English language and literature and was a scholar and translator of Anglo-Saxon texts such as Beowulf and The Battle of Maldon. Tolkien saw the ultimate expression of Anglo-Saxon heroism in the man who goes to certain doom in battle against a vastly superior foe, because honor and duty demand it. The Children of Húrin resembles many tragedies, from Oedipus to Njal’s Saga to the Kalevala, in the depiction of the character of heroic men who strive to overcome fate or the malice of one of the Gods, or Valar, as Tolkien calls his angelic demiurges.

Much of the text of The Children of Húrin has been previously published in the book Unfinished Tales and in the tomes of son Christopher Tolkien’s 12-volume History of Middle-earth. Christopher Tolkien has done a fine job of editing and restoring his father’s unfinished tale of Húrin and his progeny. The American edition is handsomely illustrated by Alan Lee.

The Children of Húrin is the work of a young Tolkien made wise and bitter by the dreadful experiences of war. The Children of Húrin is acrid and tragic, but contains many passages of great vigor and heart-catching beauty. Highly recommended.

A version of this review was previously published in Current and Electric Current.

Copyright © 2007 Henry Edward Hardy

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12 August, 2007 Posted by | Anglo-Saxon, Beowulf, book, Children of Hurin, dragon, dwarf, elf, fantasy, Hurin, JRR Tolkien, literature, Lord of the Rings, LOTR, Middle-Earth, orc, review, saga, Túrin, The Children of Húrin, Tolkien, tragedy | Leave a comment