Back to previous post: A rare, hard-to-find actual “market report.” No, really.

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Open thread 140

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

May 9, 2010

Shadow Boxing
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 01:31 PM *

Via Fandom Wank (whose content and link density I won’t even attempt to match), I hear that Wikimedia Commons is having a bit of a controversy over porn and things that look like porn.

The brief timeline is something like this:

  • April 7: Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger sends the FBI an email stating that he believed that Wikimedia Commons “may be knowingly distributing child pornography.” In the email, he states that his reasons for reporting it are (a) that he has a moral and legal obligation to do so, and (b) “they [Wikimedia Foundation] purport to be a reliable source of information. Moreover … some school district filter managers are not filtering such smut from the view of teachers and students.”
  • April 27: Fox Advocacy News picks up and elaborates on the story.†
  • May 7: Fox follows up with a report that Wikimedia Commons is “rapidly purging thousands of explicit pornographic images from its websites.” This appears to be because it (FoxNews) is “in the process of asking dozens of companies that have donated to Wikimedia Foundation…if they were aware of the extent of graphic and sexually explicit content on the sites.” It then helpfully enumerates some of the larger donors for the benefit of its readers.

Now, Wikimedia Commons holds images for Wikipediae in languages spoken all over the world, including in places with substantially different standards of decency than the US. And suddenly their articles (NSFW‡) found themselves missing illustrations (the last one in that link was removed but has been restored.)

It being Wiki, discussions ensued, on Wikipedia and on Wikimedia Commons. There’s much to discuss in terms of process (were images deleted in a way that is difficult to review and restore?), wider implications (why delete porn-by-American-standards but not images of Mohammed?) and still more process (Jimmy Wales deleting things in advance of an agreed standard, using his own judgement; should he lose his privileges?).

The matter’s winding down now. The Wikimedia Foundation has issued a statement reaffirming its existing policies (“We encourage Wikimedia editors to scrutinize potentially offensive materials with the goal of assessing their educational or informational value, and to remove them from the projects if there is no such value.”). Jimmy Wales announced that he has surrendered most of his powers to defuse the controversy about his own actions.

The porn aspect of this matter doesn’t really interest me; there’s much more interesting pornography available elsewhere on the internet, if that’s your thing. What’s really interesting is how the practical implications of the matter—images missing from articles, long discussions both on Wiki sites and Wiki-criticism sites, Fox stirring trouble and competitors waiting in the wings—are merely shadows on the cave wall, cast by interpersonal conflicts dating back years or decades.

It makes me look again at the other conflicts of the moment: the scandal in the Catholic Church, the Greek crisis, the British coalition negotiations. How many of them are just the external projection of old enmities? What historical events boil down to that (World War I, for instance, which could be considered a squabble among royal cousins)? And what quarrels among currently unimportant people will blow up in unexpected and interesting ways in the future?

(Also, peripherally, I love the description of this picture as “young woman after sex with bird, in front of naked kiddies”.)

† There is also a subthread here about Erik Moeller, a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s staff, and things he has said about children and sexuality. Not touching that matter with a bargepole going into that here, but Russell Coker has a place to start if you’re curious.

‡ ITUS and other countries with similar attitudes toward nudity

Comments on Shadow Boxing:
#1 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 02:53 PM:

An aside from the main topic: "shadows on the cave wall" should probably be linked, as I for one only learned what the phrase is a reference to recently and would imagine there are therefore plenty of other readers here who would not get the reference.

#2 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Well, it's not right after the sex with the bird. It's after her eggs have hatched.

#3 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 02:59 PM:

Jules @1:

You're right. Linked.

#4 ::: Doctor Science ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:02 PM:

‡ ITUS and other countries with similar attitudes toward nudity

I cannot figure out what you're talking about here. Is US=United States of America? What is ITUS? Teh google, it does nothing.

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:10 PM:

In The US

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:31 PM:

Ah, they've reached the Algae Bloom on the Pond stage of their development.

#7 ::: Ken Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:34 PM:

I never knew they did full Brazilian waxes in Leda's day.

#8 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:36 PM:

Jim @6:

They bloom periodically; the Administrator's Notice Board/Incidents page is my favorite source of elaborate internet drama, above even Fandom Wank.

The entertaining times are when they catch fire like the Cuyahoga River.

#9 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 03:48 PM:

*pops popcorn*


#10 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:04 PM:

Ken Houghton #7: Sixteenth century razors apparently reached standards higher than in later centuries..

#11 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:11 PM:

Shadow Boxing, by the bye, is the title of a collection of poems by the Jamaican writer Mervyn Morris. It's work that I recommend highly, and not just because the author is an old friend of mine.

#12 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:14 PM:

Take me to your Leda.

#13 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:22 PM:

When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.

#14 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:22 PM:

This apparently isn't the first time Wikipedia and Fox News have had a falling out over sex.

I suspect that some long-standing grudge-holding is at play.

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:31 PM:

xopher @ 2...

If I may paraphrase Stephen Hawking...
Which came first? The bird or...?

#16 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 04:35 PM:

Erik Nelson #13: Tom Lehrer improves everything.

#17 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Abi@8, that Administrator's Noticeboard/Incidents link is pretty spectacular. I don't ever want to go there again, but still.

#18 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 06:05 PM:

I noodled around on the Wikipedia link for a while, and got captivated/sidetracked/hijacked by the discussion of whether Scots is a language or a dialect. That place is dangerous.

Fragano at 10, I spent a few moments trying to figure out what William of Occam had to do with Leda and the swan or Brazilian waxes, and then I remembered that he died in 1350 or thereabouts. Too much data on the internal hard drive, for sure. I'm also drinking a beer, which has a tendency to scramble the files.

Did the FBI respond? I'm assuming not.

#19 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 06:23 PM:

Lizzy L @ 18... whether Scots is a language or a dialect

Out, out, damn'd Scot!

#20 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 06:40 PM:

I think you hominids are due for another outburst of prudery, and this is part of it. Historically, the end of prosperity has often been blamed on "loose morals," by which is meant people having sex, and, secretly, women.

Besides, I'd really like to hear less wailing about Wales.


#21 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 06:52 PM:

Likewise crowing about Cornwall.

#22 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 07:13 PM:

Lizzy L @ 18:

I've been unable to find any statement by the FBI, though there are reports that the Feds are investigating the presence on WikiMedia of the cover of the 1976 Scorpions album "Virgin Killer", which was banned in the US.

☂ The claim of investigation was made by which seems to be pushing the anti-pornography button hard. Jimbo Wales has stated that "as far as I am aware" there is no investigation.

#23 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 07:14 PM:

Lizzy L @ #18: I noodled around on the Wikipedia link for a while, and got captivated/sidetracked/hijacked by the discussion of whether Scots is a language or a dialect. That place is dangerous.

Good god, that discussion sucks. Okay, not everybody's familiar with all the various languages and dialects, but that's some impressive ignorance being flaunted there. Being ignorant can be excused - being persistently ignorant on an encyclopaedia site can not.

ObPeeve: No, Bokmål and Nynorsk are not different languages.

#24 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 07:29 PM:

When I made a shadow on my window shade
They called the police and testified
But they're like the people chained up in the cave
In the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy

No one understands
No one knows my plan

-They Might Be Giants

#25 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 08:10 PM:

Roy Ovrebo at 23: Ah, but you see, I'm ignorant too. So I enjoyed the discussion for its entertainment value. I did wonder what my friends in Edinburgh would make of it.

#26 ::: cyllan ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 08:55 PM:

Many many years ago, I played on a MUSH. The arguments flying around wikimedia are remarkably similar to the screaming fights that used to take place online as we were trying to oust god. I suspect similar arguments took place in cave-man speak if only we could translate them properly.

#27 ::: Rick York ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 09:33 PM:

This is Fox we're talking about here, right? That is the only relevant thing here. Anyone who expects even a modest amount of accuracy from that particular corner of the publishing universe, should take off his or her aluminum foil hat.

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 10:27 PM:

Bruce 22: Ooo, where'd you get the cute little umbrella? Is there HTML for that?

Roy 23: ObPeeve: No, Bokmål and Nynorsk are not different languages.

I thought NYNorsk was the dialect of Norse spoken in New York.

#29 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 10:32 PM:

Ken @7, I believe the Greeks used a honey solution in much the same way wax is used today, and were big fans of complete depilation.

#30 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 10:43 PM:

Theology and depilation in the same thread?

#31 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 10:58 PM:

Serge, just be glad we're not discussing the theology OF depilation (see Judges 16:19).

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 11:11 PM:

Xopher @ 31... Angel hair?

#33 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 11:46 PM:

Serge #32: Samson & Delilah.

#34 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2010, 11:51 PM:

Serge @ 32: That's one way to pasta time.

#35 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 02:32 AM:

I saw the light on the night that I passed by her window. I saw the flickering shadows of love on her blind.

#36 ::: ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:02 AM:

I'm sorry if I'm misunderstanding here, but Abi, are you really saying that "the scandal in the Catholic Church" is "just the external projection of old enmities?"

#37 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:14 AM:

Having followed your links, and seen some of the hand-play that makes these rabbits on the wall, I am tempted to think that history may be not so much the 'biography of great men', as the soap-opera of small minds, magnified to occasional monstrosity by the flaring of the fires.

Which would explain altogether too much for comfort.

#38 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 04:15 AM: @36:

I don't think that child abuse is an external projection of old emnities. But I also don't think that's the heart of the scandal.

I think that the protection of abusive priests is, if not an external projection of old emnities, at least the outward form of an internal structure of long-running personal relationships. Look at Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ, for instance, where old friendships and plain old monetary influence kept an abuser in a position of power for decades.

#39 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 09:24 AM:

I was just looking at the Sidelight/Particle about (among other things) the Downfall parodies, and it occurs to me that this is why they work so well: Hitler facing the destruction of his continental empire is expressing the same emotions as, for eample, the guy trying to organise a gaming convention after his friend's mum has binned his games. Whether the situation is petty or grand, we use the same human-scale emotional machinery to deal with it. But what else can we do?

One could speculate that a super-intelligent being (like, say, the Culture's Minds) might have super-emotions appropriate to the scale of managing nations, but it might still come down to who knows who, and who can get along with whom.

#40 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 12:31 PM:

Bruce @18: the Scorpions' cover caused a major row here in the UK last year, when the Internet Watch Foundation (a semi-autonomous body who advise ISPs in the UK on what URLs to block due to child pornography -- not a statutory body, but they work with the Police and Home Office at a high level) ordered the blocking of that picture.

The trouble is, that album sold a lot of copies in the UK, back in the day. And the "they're censoring wikipedia!" thing caught fire, and then the Streisand Effect cut in. At which point, the IWF retreated and basically said "we're dropping this one, it's too controversial and the controversy is spreading the image rather than helping us suppress it".

I'm waiting for the day when someone formally complains to Scotland Yard that News International's newspaper morgue contains copies of The Sun (only a ten million copies-a-day circulation, back in the day) from back when the Page 3 Girl was Samantha Fox ... who started stripping for that paper's photographers before she was 16. (Ergo? News International in the 1970s were kiddie-porn mongers by today's standards). Not to mention the copies on deposit in the British Library, the Scottish Library, and other libraries of record ...

#41 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 12:46 PM:

Is Zeffirelli's Romeo & Juliet porn?

#42 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 12:49 PM:

Does Larry Sanger have a track record of being a fughead?

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 01:01 PM:

Gray #37:

IMO, most "great men" are pretty regular men of above average intelligence and dilligence, who were standing on the spot marked X a couple times, while failing to f--k up badly enough to fall out of favor or wreck themselves. Cf Barrack Obama, George Bush I and II, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, etc. Smart, capable guys, with some connections and resources, but not notably greater than any number of other smart, capable guys with much less power.

Indeed, much of what's wrong with our society and our government is probably the assumption of too much competence in those "great men and women" at the top.

#44 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 01:44 PM:

Sanger is piling onto an issue which as been muttered about in the various wiki-watching sites for ages: there is an awful lot of stuff in Wikipedia which is only there because of fetishests/obsessives. More obviously it is manifested in the various nationalist battles, but there's a whole creepy pattern of various people inserting their sexual, um, specialty into all sorts of curious places. (Man, I can never write about this without generating scores of double entendres.) For instance, there was a notorious case back in February of a fellow who had spent years pushing pederasty all over a range of articles; I also came upon another guy who dropped mention of corporal punishment everywhere. For a long time the article on "boy" had rather a surplus of pictures of naked kids.

There's an awful lot of NSFW material in Wikimedia, and (for instance) one has to wonder exactly why there are so many pictures of the male member. Sanger doesn't strike me as someone who's motives are pure, but OTOH the community's adolescent take on "not censored" made some confrontation like this inevitable.

#45 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 01:54 PM:

Regarding TV/movie censorship, and warnings to parents... It makes me smile whenever they warn us that the story about to begin contains SF violence.

#46 ::: Edgar lo Siento ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 02:52 PM:

So far my favorite elementary particle of comment regarding the need for additional popcorn to fully process this wank, is from Diane Duane:
If every star in the Milky Way was a popped popcorn kernel, and all the dark matter in the Local Group was Coca-Cola... it still wouldn't be enough.

Firstly: OMG!1! It's Diane Duane!!!
Secondly: ZOMG! She knows about Fandom_Wank
Thirdly: YAAAAAAH! Because she's on it!

#47 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:30 PM:

re 38: Well, abi, the enmity most at the heart of the church scandal is that of whoever at the NYT is so determined to hang this around the present pope's neck. It's more than a little ironic that every time I read one of their articles on it I come to the opposite conclusion from what I am apparently supposed to understand. The flip side of it is how this is encouraging the RC traditionalist world who tend to slip into believing that the whole thing is nothing more than the manifestation of anti-papist prejudice in the media.

#48 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:40 PM:

Serge 45: ? SF

#49 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:44 PM:

C Wingate @47:
I'd disagree strongly. I think that the decision of the hierarchy to protect abusive priests, and to claim that it (and the pope) are the real victims in this situation (as opposed to the actual abused people) pretty much makes it open season on the Vatican.

If the Pope wants to stop the criticism, he should try being an example of Christian practice, by focusing on humility, charity, justice, truth and love without being nagged and pressured into it. Lent would have been an ideal time, but Pentecost is coming, and that would not be inappropriate either. But what I see instead is a clutching at power and money, a flailing at every easy target from the gays to the feminists, a martyr narrative that encompasses everything from crucifixion to the Shoah, just for criticism in the press.

And the press as a whole (not just the NYT) has its teeth in the matter because sitting back and letting the Church take care of things manifestly has not worked. What would you have them do? Sit back again while the victims continue to fester?

And I can't help it if the RC traditionalists are encysting themselves in a persecution complex. That's their choice, and wheedling them into caring about abuse appears to be like starting to pay a Danegeld. They've been waving martyrs' palms since Vatican II.

#50 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 03:44 PM:

re 48: It means death rays and explosions rather than bloody spatters and explosions. Most of the time, anyway.

#51 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 04:28 PM:

Erik Nelson... C Wingate... Bodies that liquefy. And presumably fight scenes like when Sabertooth used Wolverine as a baseball in the first X-men movie.

"I'm the best there is at what I do."
"What's that?"
"Getting stomped on."

#52 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 04:34 PM:

Edgar lo Siento @46: Hee hee hee. I chuckle fondly. I'm totally with you, btw.

#53 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 04:42 PM:

C. Wingate #44: Wikipedia which is only there because of fetishests/obsessives

Arguably, Wikipedia runs on obsessives -- from filling in the subject matter to defending it from vandalism. Defending it from hostile or misguided obsessives is just part of that package. Jimbo has taken flak before for not realized that the community has become bigger than he is, this is just another case of that.

Albatross #43: Indeed, much of what's wrong with our society and our government is probably the assumption of too much competence in those "great men and women" at the top.

Our leaders still want to be chiefs and kings -- the rest of us still want a chief or king to "take care of things". Human instinct hasn't quite caught up to the idea of a bureaucratic republic. This applies at lower levels and non-governmental contexts too, as with Jimbo.

Similarly, part of the problem for science these days is that it's too accessible -- just as we want chiefs to run things for us, we likewise want proper shamans to face down the Unknown on our behalf.

#54 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 04:46 PM:

re 49: The problem with saying "the hierarchy" is that the more the NYT reports on this, the more it is clear that "the hierarchy" of the time was not possessed of a single purpose, but was indeed (behind the scenes) somewhat at war with itself. While not wishing to exalt the present pope's conduct at the time, the picture I see is of someone who was not actively engaged in hiding these people, and that his urges to deal with the problem people were largely stymied. One of the bigger uglinesses in this is that it has become abundantly clear that JP II had an important hand in suppressing attempts to clean house.

The picture that people would like to have of the papacy as an absolute and tyrannical monarchy just isn't the way the Roman church works. It is the organization for which bureaucracy might as well have been coined. And besides, the media do not seem to be all that interested in any smaller fish than this particular pope himself; nor do they seem that interested (comparatively) in the scandals of other organizations besides the Catholic Church. So I'm going to have to disagree with your assessment of media motivations; I don't think they have clean hands in this either.

If you believe The Independent, some larger act of penance is in the works within a month or so, on top of the apologies that have already been made in various places. Benedict has also begun to move against various clerics who apparently had enjoyed a certain protection under his predecessor. None of this is to say that I want to commend Benedict's handling of the crisis, either in terms of its practical effects or the moral standing of the church. But I see a patent bias in the media's persistent focus on him, trying to find some way to tie him directly to the cover-up and lack of disciplinary response. They hate him, and they always hated him.

#55 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 06:18 PM:

JMcD@6, wasn't he the author of Closing of the American Mind?

Xopher@28, no, they were the Minneapolis Norsk until they moved to NYC to replace the departing Dodgers.

#56 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 06:29 PM:

this is just to say

I have cens0rzed
the pics
wthat were in
the Wikimedia

and which
you were probably
for everyone.

Forgive me
they were controversial
so unsafe
and so hot

#57 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 08:08 PM:

C. Wingate @ 54: "While not wishing to exalt the present pope's conduct at the time, the picture I see is of someone who was not actively engaged in hiding these people, and that his urges to deal with the problem people were largely stymied."

I think you're mistaken about then-Ratzinger's behavior. The most damning evidence that has been leveled against him is from long before he became Pope, and speaks very directly to his personal involvement in and his personal support for continuing to conceal the abusive priests in preference to defrocking them. This is not picking on him because he's clearly the tyrannic despot who organized the whole thing, mwa ha ha. It's because there's evidence he knew about it and participated in the cover-up.

Moreover, as the leader of the Church he should very well expect to be held responsible to a significant degree even if he hadn't known a thing. It's part of being a leader: the buck stops with you.

#58 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 08:25 PM:

Xopher @ 28:

Oddly, that umbrella is a standard Unicode symbol. On a Macintosh, most browsers (Chrome, Safari and Firefox for certain) have a Special Character Dialog availble from the menubar (Edit ➩ Special Characters) that allows you to select from a large selection of symbols, arrows, stars, braille patterns, etc. If there's no such dialog on Windows, you can use numeric HTML codes like this:

for ☂ type &#9730
for ❦ type &#10086
for ➩ type &#32&#10153&#32

The Unicode Character Code Charts are here. If that's too many to deal with (why yes, in Unicode version 5.2 there are 107,156 characters with defined graphic representations, and a total character space of more than a million codess including private and reseserved block), here is a bookmarklet containing a good set of miscellaneous symbols that should work with any browser. There are also extensions for Chrome (Javascript Toolbox) and Firefox (Leetkey should do this) that allow you to paste in a character and find its HTML code.

I wonder who proposed it. If I find a bowler hat as well I'll know that the City of London had a representative on the Unicode Standardization Committee.

#59 ::: Dos Ocho ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 10:27 PM:

I have nothing substantive to add to this discussion, but I wanted to voice my support for the use of tiny umbrellas to indicate footnotes.

I also approve of the use of bowler hats for such a purpose, should they be found somewhere in the Unicode specification.

#60 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 10:40 PM:

Yay little umbrellas!☂ Other symbols I can't wait to use are ♔ and ♖
☂Like this! Yay!

#61 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 10:52 PM:

re 57: It is not as damning as the AP wants to paint it, because pederasty isn't the only scandal involved--it's just the only scandal that the AP recognizes as a scandal. By the time all this was coming down, Kiesle was already barred from acting as a priest; that was apparently felt adequate to deal with his abuse problems (in terms of preventing them from continuing). The issue of laicization came up only because Keisle wanted it so he could marry. The scandal of the day, as far as the pope was concerned (and "pope" at that point meant "JP II"), was the huge numbers of priests abandoning their orders in order to marry (and along with that, the huge numbers of American annulments); the policy at the time was that a priest had to be 40 to be laicized routinely. Keisle, at the time, was 38. All of this seems to have gone right by the AP writers, who assumed that because Ratzinger was concerned with scandal, he was concerned with covering up Keisle's pederastic sins. But even Protestant I do not see how delaying the laicization of a priest actually conceals anything.

Also, this doesn't begin to compare with the kind of shuffling around that characterized the worst abuse cases. The worst that can be said is that, maybe, they should have moved more quickly.

#62 ::: Heather Rose Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2010, 11:30 PM:

Bruce @58

I'm trying to decide if I'm glad that I hadn't discovered the Unicode cuneiform back when I was studying Hittite. (Chances are, they hadn't quite created it yet.) I spent enough cat-vacuuming time practicing my homework with a stylus in clay.

#63 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 12:24 AM:

C. Wingate; I don't know if the NYT "hates" Papa Ratzi or not. Maybe they do; I'm inclined to think not. I think you are correct that they and a lot of other people don't understand how the church works.

I am aware, for example, that in 2001, Ratzinger convinced JP II to put him in charge of dealing with the abuse cases,and under his leadership the whole way the institutional church dealt with these cases changed. Among other things, canon law was updated to reflect the situation, and the ability to dismiss individual priests from the priesthood was taken out of the hands of the diocesan bishops and given to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which then fast-tracked them. As an educated Catholic, I know this. I am grateful for this. I know a lot has changed. In my diocese, for example, everyone, priests, laity, catechists, members of the choirs, volunteers (such as myself) who does anything in any parish must go through "Safe Environment" training, learning how to recognize signs of abuse or harassment, and what to do about it -- and yes, the instructions require notifying the police.

However, as an educated, aware, and faithful Catholic, I also know that some bishops spent decades ignoring, denying, and concealing the abuse of children. I want them all to resign. You say that there are reports that some larger act of penance is in the works. Penance by whom? The last time Benedict spoke of penance he suggested this was something the whole church needed to engage in. No. No. I want to see the bishops do penance. I want to see all of them on their knees, asking forgiveness of the children their priests abused, asking forgiveness for having ignored the reports, or worse, for having browbeaten, intimidated, and scorned the children and parents who trusted them enough to tell them what was happening. I want some of them -- perhaps many of them -- to offer their resignations, and I want those offers accepted. And I want the Pope to make this happen, because only he can.


I'm tired, so I'm going to stop here.

#64 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 12:52 AM:

Heather Rose Jones @ 62:

Unicode is the premier cat-vacuuming application of the last couple of decades. I can't even begin to total all the time I've spent playing with it. There's something there for everyone:

Mahjong Tiles
APL Symbols
Geometric Shapes
Ancient Greek Musical Symbols
Yijing Hexagram Symbols

Also there is a proposal under review for Tengwar script if you like imaginary scripts, and there are initial proposals for Linear A and Indus River Valley Script, if you're into really old writing.

Sorry, Klingon was rejected by the committee.

#65 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 01:29 AM:

Xopher @ 60... Little umbrellas are quite handy in case of dehydrated boulders.

#66 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 01:45 AM:

Waving distantly at the original discussion, isn't "shadow boxing" the stuff you see if your computer doesn't have a font for that Unicode letter? And if it absolutely refuses to show you Chinese characters, is that a Boxer Rebellion?

#67 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 03:34 AM:

albatross @ 43: Since I'm essentially a Tortoise Anarchist, my only quarrel with your characterization is that the things such 'great' folk are especially smart and competent at... are primarily not things it is smart for the rest of us to reward. One aspect of this is that they are not necessarily large-minded to an even average extent: egoism is a petty vice by nature.

And even the genuinely great are, as you say, much more like their fellow-humans than unlike them.

The historical rôle of the Hissy Fit, the Overdose Of Coffee, and the Snide Remark Lord Snooty Made At That Dinner Party Four Years Ago, may be gravely underestimated.

#68 ::: m.k. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 03:51 AM:

I am reminded of a chapter in a book on Victorian paintings (cannot remember the title) that covered the removal of many paintings of nude children from museum displays and later editions of books on Victorian art because the changing times had made the subject matter so uncomfortable. I recall seeing a note of frustration in the authors having to go with a "you'll have to trust me on this one" rather than printing samples as for why the paintings had troublesome erotic overtones. I understood the choice not to include the visual reproductions, as well as the frustration.

#69 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 07:04 AM:

I have not been following the controversy, but Wikipedia does attract a large contingent of young men who feel that their own pride and joy is the right illustration for articles such as "Erection," "Foreskin," "Semen," etc. Who needs sexting when you've got Wikipedia?

Many such images were (or perhaps still are) housed at the Wikimedia Commons. Given Wikipedia's tradition of protecting anonymity, there was no good way to check ages, or who was photographed by whom, or much of anything else.

#70 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 09:26 AM:

Gray #67:

Yeah, that's a good point. Many politicians seem to be far better at getting and keeping power than at actually using that power to accomplish anything useful. And that's not so surprising, when you consider that getting and keeping power is their actual job. We may vote for them in hopes of getting particular policies or ideas enacted, but that's pretty clearly not how they see things.

#71 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 09:46 AM:

Lizzy L @63, applause

#72 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 11:11 AM:

Lizzy L. (63)

I understand your frustration.

The bishops'/archbishops' *active* efforts to suppress any of this is one of the reasons that I crossed over to /T/h/e/ /D/a/r/k/ /S/i/d/e/ /O/f/ /t/h/e/ /F/o/r/c/e/ the Episcopal Church.

Mind, it wasn't the *only* reason, but one of them. And my reaction to it was long before the NY Times and other major media "discovered" the abuse.

But I took the coward's way out and jumped ship to what some people call "RC Lite" -- and in the congregation I worship in, there is a large proportion of people like me, who I refer to as "Roman Retreads."

Each has their own primary reasons for leaving the Roman Church, for some it's the current Church's retreat from "Vatican II," for others it's the treatment of LGBT congregants, or the refusal to recognize women as having a leadership role in the Church outside of the Alter Guild, or the seeming complicity with oppressive regimes, or the elevation of reactionary groups such as Opus Dei.

But the common thread was the sadness of feeling they had to leave because they felt they could do nothing in the Church to address their concerns, and the joy that the EC at least recognizes there are warts and tries to fix 'em.

#73 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 11:53 AM:

Bruce @64: They've also got the Shavian alphabet.

#74 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 01:53 PM:

re 63: Actually, I'm pretty much in agreement with you as regards to what the various bishops ought to do.

#75 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 02:29 PM:

Craig R at 72: I'm glad you've found a home there. I've thought of it, believe me. But I'm very, very stubborn, and having returned to the RC church after over 25 years absence, I refuse to be driven out by bureaucrats and bigots, especially ones in funny hats. Not leaving.

#76 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 03:50 PM:

re 72: the occasional term in these (Md.) parts is "soft shell Catholic".

#77 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 03:56 PM:

Lizzy L, if you haven't read "Faithful Dissenters" by McClory, you might enjoy it. Stories of a number of people who were at odds with the church of their day but later viewed as correct.

C. Wingate @76, I'd never heard "soft shell Catholic". Snort. I consider it myself occasionally - raised Episcopalian, been Catholic for 30-some years, sometimes feel like if the hierarchy annoys me enough more I might revert back to my youth. But it's not my preference.

#78 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2010, 04:23 PM:

Thanks, OtterB. I'll take a look at it.

Many Catholics I deeply respect, in recent history at any rate (say, within the last 200 years) spent part or most of their lives at odds with the institutional church.

#79 ::: DN ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2010, 04:15 AM:

C. Wingate and Lizzy L -- I just wanted to delurk long enough to applaud and thank both of you. Patiently explaining misconceptions, and expressing the desire for redress without jumping straight to blind (ultimately unjust) revenge: laudable and helpful, both.

#80 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2010, 10:58 AM:

#75 Lizzy: Not leaving.

As we used to say in the Fleet: "If you get out because of all the assholes there'll be no one left but assholes."

#81 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2010, 11:12 AM:

But James, once that happens, the whole organization becomes an asshole organization, and can be wholeheartedly denounced as such, or even consigned to the ashheap of history.

I don't think that's a likely scenario with either the Navy or the RCC. I just don't think it's a very good argument against getting out (especially since the RCC doesn't have the Navy's trait of being valuable even if entirely composed of assholes).

#82 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: May 12, 2010, 11:42 AM:


It is technically proper to end a numeric character reference with a semicolon, i.e. • for •. Most browsers will assume it if you don't, but the difference becomes relevant if I want to write, say, ±1 as ±1 (as opposed to &#1771 which is ۫.

Also, in my opinion it is better to use hexadecimal numbers, which are marked with an x, e.g. &#x2022; instead of &#8226; — because Unicode codes are often assigned with alignments on blocks of 16 (for example, superscripts are at hex 2070 and the corresponding subscripts are at hex 2080), and because the standard notation for referring to Unicode characters is U+<4 or 6 hex digits>.

#66 Waving distantly at the original discussion, isn't "shadow boxing" the stuff you see if your computer doesn't have a font for that Unicode letter? And if it absolutely refuses to show you Chinese characters, is that a Boxer Rebellion?

I remember back in the Apple IIGS days that the system font's square-box-for-unrecognized-symbol had a drop shadow, making it look sort of like a blank piece of type or something.

These days it's a LastResort font instead, which at least tells you what category the character is in. Unless the character is actually invalid (e.g. malformed encoding) and has been processed as such, in which case we have a question-mark-in-black-diamond symbol.

#83 ::: rgh ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 10:44 AM:

the discussion of whether Scots is a language or a dialect.
Scotch is a drink, Scots are people too, Scottish is what English people would speak if they were better educated and pronounced the language like it is rit.

#84 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Oh Lord, why do you torment me by allowing people to create Unicode characters that my computer can't read?

At least I have ק and its ilk.

#85 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 01:32 PM:

Lizzy L at #63 and C. Wingate at #74

If that happens, it will not be for another decade or three.

Back in 1995 & 1996, I was the secretary for my diocese's vicariate pastoral council. I learned a lot about the non-faith side of the church. The RCC is very much run like a business. So is every other organized religion that relies on tithes for its physical existence~. (Churches, seminaries, housing for its people, land/buildings occupied by various orders, etc.) Infrastructure costs a lot and must be maintained which also costs a lot. This is distinctly separate from the needs of faith and the care of the congregation's spiritual and emotional well being (which is mostly left to the priests in the parishes, IME).

All change in this corporation comes from the top (the Pope and his advisers). While the congregations may be consulted, their responses are "taken under advisement" when they are passed up the corporate chain of command.

In short, what you want is a bunch of corporate middle managers to admit to making mistakes, not once, but repeatedly. This apology and penance will have to be made with the full knowledge that their former peers, who made the same mistakes, made worse mistakes, and who didn't get exposed for making those mistakes have gone upward on the religious corporate ladder.

While I don't like Pope Benedict on a personal level, I will say this: he is addressing the problem of priests abusing and molesting children by making an example of a long term offender in upper management. The Pope is starting his changes at the top with the most powerful offender in the religious corporate structure.* I have no doubt that he has plans to get as many of the sexual predators and related offenders to leave active service and turn to a life of forced prayer and contemplation.

That is the worst (and best) punishment the Pope can hand out this side of heaven. To have accrued all the power and money and not be able to access it while they watch others use it to undo all they built? Not only is it poetic justice, its precisely designed to cause the most aggravation.

Craig R. @72

My discovery of the church as a Religious Corporate Entity turned me off all organized religion for several years. All of the other organized religions I saw had the same symptoms, so I was not tempted to convert.

Thanks to a couple of renegade priests^ I now consider myself an indifferent Catholic - not lapsed, but not active either. I only attend church when I feel the need for formal prayer.

~ That was during the preparation for the new millennium celebrations. In addition to seeking converts, we were urged to gather up the lapsed Catholics to bring them back to the church and anonymously nominate others who we thought we make good priests and nuns+. It wasn't for the sake of their souls, it was for the missed revenue and lack of needed support staff to run the day-to-day operations. (Not that they were that blunt in their order and exhortations, but they kept hitting those same themes pretty hard.)

* From what I was able to observe about Religious Business combined with what I've gleaned from the news reports, this is the latest move in a long, multi-player chess game.

The players in this game are all trying to get as much money, power and influential friend (or influence over friends)as they can to promote their own agendas and protect themselves. Pope John Paul II may have been the better ambassador, but he was a crappy "housekeeper". Pope Benedict sucks at being an ambassador, but he is cleaning up the messes in his house. His worst fault, as I see it, is letting some people go relatively unpunished in the short term, so he could get more offenders in the long term.

^ They were the ones who bucked their own system to do what they thought was right, up to and including telling their Bishop off over some order and refusing to obey it. One, I knew before my revelation, one after. Since then, I've come to cherish the small rebellions of the priests when I see them. They're protecting their flocks.

+ And someone nominated me. All I can say is whoever volunteered me must not have known me at all.

#86 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 02:10 PM:

Victoria at #85, I appreciate your clarity. I know about RCC & Company: that's why, for the sake of my sanity and my soul, I don't volunteer for anything past the parish level. Besides, I think they wouldn't take me -- not having been brought up Catholic, I'm not automatically deferential to folks in funny hats. I want them all to give up their hats and houses and cars and go live among the people they were called to serve.

What you said is why I said that only the Pope can move the bishops toward the penance I believe they must do. Until it happens -- or until something else I can't imagine or foresee happens -- the church will keep losing members, and losing the respect of even those who stay.

You may be right -- it may take decades. OTOH: who knew in November 1959, one month after his selection as pontiff, that John 23 would eventually throw open the doors of the Church and convene Vatican II? They all thought he was a caretaker pope.

The Holy Spirit blows where she will.

#87 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 03:18 PM:

LDR @84 and upthread: Oh Lord, why do you torment me by allowing people to create Unicode characters that my computer can't read?

The Japanese term is mojibake-- I was particularly irritated earlier this year when reading a novel translated into English by TokyoPop in which a conversation was specifically about some kanji that were printed as miscoded characters instead.

Conversely, I am ridiculously charmed by the illustration for the Russian subsection of Wikpedia's mojibake entry.

#88 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 04:22 PM:

Lizzy at #86

I didn't know about the "Caretaker Pope" and Vatican II bit, but I suspect that Pope Benedict has gritted his teeth and prayed for the patience and strength to persist until he was in charge and could implement changes that would address a very urgent problem.

While I agree with you about "the people in funny hats," we are also part of the Universal Church. Consistency across great distances and many languages and in a multitude of vying cultures is its own form of infrastructure. A niece-in-law converted recently (less than a year after marrying my nephew) because she liked that the message was the same everywhere she attended mass. Faith didn't get twisted up and changed around to support some individual's vision of how things should be.

The infrastructure of theology also takes people, machinery, physical plants and money to pay and maintain those very same people, machines and buildings. The men (and women) in funny hats are a necessary evil for constancy in scripture and message. However, there is a difference between doing evil things to fight evil and being evil.

#89 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 06:45 PM:

Victoria, #88: However, there is a difference between doing evil things to fight evil and being evil.

Taking this rather more meta than you probably intended it -- wasn't that the point behind one of Christ's temptations? When Satan showed him a vision of the world and said, "All this will be yours if you fall down and worship me," -- I was taught that Christ's rejection of this was specifically a rejection of "the ends justify the means" reasoning, which is another way of saying "doing evil things to fight evil."

#90 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 08:05 PM:

Character palette: I just noticed all the Zapf Dingbats have funny names. My favorite is the almost oxymoronic Heavy Sparkle ( ❈ ) and the Heavy Black Heart ( ❤ ) and the eight teardrop spoked propeller astersisk ( ❊ ) and balloon spoked asterisk (❉)

#91 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: May 13, 2010, 08:14 PM:

and it knows the name of the linear B ideogram for HE-GOAT without actually having it.

#92 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 12:08 PM:

“You dingbat!”

I wonder, without bothering to actually do research, whether the dingbat names were invented with the glyphs (presumably Zapf), or assigned by the Unicode Consortium when they were encoded into Unicode since every Unicode character codepoint scalar value, oh, I give up, character has a name.

[May I recommend adding ins, del, and u to the permitted HTML list?]

#93 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 12:32 PM:

Lee @ 89

This is why I generally avoid religious discussions and debates about doctrine. I never got out of catechism what my teachers intended. Here's why. I see faith as something very distinct and separate from doctrine. It bothers me a lot to see people mixing the two interchangeably.

To me, faith is what exists between me and my divine. It helps form and is formed by my morals and conscience. It helps me define what is good and what is bad and how I respond to those things. For everything I do, I have to ask myself, "Can I live with this? Will God or I be disappointed with me?" When everything is done, I will have to live with it and answer for it when my god judges me. Faith, to me, is an internal control on my behavior and my nastier impulses. Call it morals or call it ethics, it still has a very strong foundation in faith and my relationship with my god.

Religion and doctrine, by comparison, are external controls on behavior. I see these as rules created by a committee to ensure that a community of people can live together more or less harmoniously*. Doctrine can be based on faith, and mostly is. However, doctrine is still only rules and guidelines. People who obey are rewarded, people who disobey are punished. However, since most of doctrinal judgments are based on self-policing and self-reporting or observation by others, you only get punished if you get caught breaking the rules and defying doctrine. I learned from my teachers that it was okay to fail and break the occasional rule as long as you were truly sorry, did your best to fix it, and tried to never break that rule again. Failure was okay as long as you tried in the first place and then tried again to do better. It is a case of theory vs reality. I learned that, in theory, we should follow doctrine to the letter. In reality, we have do the best we can with the situations we're living in.^

What I got from Christ's temptation in the desert was a lesson on faith and the importance of will power. Yes, it may be more fun and easier to say "yes" to Satan, but it's not the right thing or the better thing. The right thing and the better thing may be harder and much less fun, but you won't be betraying yourself and your relationship with God.

As for doctrine, what is worse? Stopping a small evil, knowing the bigger evil will see your actions and stop you from gaining the power and influence to fight and stop them? Letting the smaller evil go unpunished knowing that "slip into sin" will let you get into a place and have the power to stop the little evil later as well as a bigger evil?

What is more important: the one deed that will save a handful of people or the other deed that will save whole communities and hopefully keep even more people from knowing pain in the first place? To me, the answer to this question lies within one's own faith, not the group's doctrine.

How's that for a meta discussion?

* Have you ever considered why 7 of the 10 commandments are reinforced by our secular laws?

^ During my years in catechism, I also learned through observation of the adults around me who attended church every Sunday and dealt with each other the rest of the time, that doctrine cared for the community's well being more than it cared for the individual's. Not all our lessons are learned from our teachers.

#94 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 12:48 PM:

Victoria #93: I see faith as something very distinct and separate from doctrine. It bothers me a lot to see people mixing the two interchangeably.

Naturally, this confusion is very much encouraged by, and serves the interests of, most church hierarchies.

#95 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 01:13 PM:

Victoria @93 Religion and doctrine, by comparison, are external controls on behavior. I see these as rules created by a committee to ensure that a community of people can live together more or less harmoniously

I disagree, partially. I agree with your point that faith and doctrine are different, and that the relationship between the individual and the divine is more important than the rules. But I think that many of the rules are intended, not as crowd control measures, but as signposts. They say that the accumulated wisdom of people who have gone down this road suggests that doing this thing, or refraining from doing this thing, will yield a more positive relationship with the divine, or more accurately reflect what such a relationship should be like.

Wish I had the Bujold quote handy. Paraphrasing, somewhere in one of the later Sharing Knife books, Dag says to Fawn that rules aren't created just to be difficult. They are created because people saw someone make that mistake, and they don't ever want to have to clean up a mess like that again.

Or, from another direction, doctrine is like a post on FAQ. It summarizes the generally-agreed on terms so that people don't have to re-argue the same points over and over. ;-)

#96 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 01:27 PM:

re 93/94: Faith and doctrine are not distinct, but the way in which they are related depends upon your ecclesiology (or similar concept). If you believe in an infallible church, then doctrine is contained within the faith, and rejection of doctrine means impaired faithfulness. But even if you don't take that strong a position (I don't) I do not think that doctrine can be entirely excluded, because in practice there has to be some doctrinal content delineating the object of faith. For example, Christians who reject the Nicene Creed or cease to uphold it as a standard tend to deviate from seeing Jesus as the object of faith in the way orthodox Christians do: they tend become Arians (see under "JWs"), unitarians (well...), or gnostics, but they rarely stay orthodox because, after all, if they didn't have issues with the standard they would be less inclined to dump it.

Saying that doctrine is about rewards and punishment is an excessively political way to look at the problem. Often enough the politics develop out of the doctrinal disputes rather than vice versa. The (former) lack of doctrinal control in ECUSA, for instance, isn't getting in the way of the developing political split over homosexuality.

Doctrine supports the community over the individual because, after all, it is about establishing community. The big balancing act is between living with disagreement and commonality. Not all differences can be tolerated.

#97 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 08:08 PM:

Otterb at # 95: doctrine is like a post on FAQ. It summarizes the generally-agreed on terms so that people don't have to re-argue the same points over and over. ;-)

Too bad it doesn't work better. :-/

#98 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2010, 09:18 PM:

Allan Beatty @97 Too bad it doesn't work better.


#99 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 01:38 AM:

I've read the page Erik Moeller wrote which apparently triggered the hostile reactions (the first URL has all the details and links and the second URL is the controversial one). I can't find anything in it which clearly advocates any action that breaks Australian laws (there was one issue which could be creatively interpreted to advocate a change to the age of consent laws), and I doubt that anything in that page would go against laws of most EU countries.

While he does advocate permitting some things which are prohibited under US law, even if he was in the US advocating a change in the law shouldn't be such a bad thing as free speech is a fetish there. I call it a fetish because this is an example of what happens when someone freely speaks about a taboo subject.

Erik is also accused of making contributions to controversial Wikipedia pages in a neutral point of view. Given that he has presumably written neutral point of view contributions for a record number of Wikipedia pages that's not a valid criticism.

I think it's poor form to mention someone's name in the context of such things without even attempting to summarise the situation. It's like the Fox News trick of "some people say". I think you should quote relevant sources, make your own comment, or not mention the issue.

One thing to note when considering such issues is the varying definition of the world "child". For example the word "child" is defined as less than 18yo in the context of Australian tobacco and alcohol laws but as 16+ in the context of the age of consent for sex with adults. Usually the most dramatic interpretation for such things will be used, so a 17yo who has sex with a 14yo will be described in the media as an adult, but they will be described as a child if they have sex with a teacher or priest.

Finally in Australia we are having some significant debates about what type of censorship to impose on the Internet to prevent children from seeing Refused Classification material (which incidentally can be legally owned under Australian law and includes less controversial things such as books about how to commit suicide). The low quality of the debate which is partly caused by fear of speaking about taboo subjects has permitted the Federal Police to have their budget for prosecuting child sex offenders cut while budget was assigned to the new censorship which won't actually protect any children.

#100 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 02:43 AM:

Allan Beatty @ #95:

That people will, regardless of its existence, continue to re-argue the same points over and over - this is of course another way in which it resembles a FAQ post.

#101 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 06:15 AM:

Russell Coker @99:

I was not trying to be a completist in that post; I was walling off what I did not have the time to comprehensively research and fairly present on my way to something else. A name allows people to Google, as you clearly have done, and figure out what's what.

I trust my readers to be more capable researchers and fairer thinkers than Fox does. They tend to repay that trust.

#102 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 09:56 AM:

abi@101: On my blog readers outnumber commentators by a ratio of at least 100:1, I expect that readers outnumber commentators by a similarly large ratio here. So while it's reasonable to assume that any reader here is better than a typical Fox viewer/reader I don't think it's reasonable to assume that they will research every issue that goes past.

There has been a lot of research into subliminal messages, a comment such as yours can be interpreted in ways that you don't expect or desire.

When I read your post my first thought was to recall that at some time in the past I had heard him accused of being a pedophile and to then consider your writing to be supporting evidence. I then went and did some research, but I doubt that all readers would go to the effort.

You could have walled stuff off by saying "Fox have accused a senior Wikipedia person of supporting pedophiles, here's a start link for some background" and then letting readers click on the link or not as they wish.

Also you didn't say that you lacked time to do research (which among other things would have served as a challenge to readers to discover the truth and write it up), you said that you wouldn't touch it with a barge-pole.

#103 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:12 AM:

Russell Coker @102:

I've linked to your comment from the main post, and changed the phrasing.

I still don't want to touch the matter with a bargepole. Encouraging my readers research the matter and add writeups to the thread means hosting a delicate and painful discussion that I don't have time to police.

I had not realized that it was required to state that I am not an infinite resource. Consider it stated now. I'm also not required to investigate every single aspect of every story I touch on, comment on every issue, or host every discussion that people want to have.

I do apologize if that's a problem for you.

#104 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 03:26 PM:

Victoria, #93: Religion and doctrine, by comparison, are external controls on behavior. I see these as rules created by a committee to ensure that a community of people can live together more or less harmoniously ... Have you ever considered why 7 of the 10 commandments are reinforced by our secular laws?

Yes, I have, in some detail; this is necessary when one gets into conversations with people who think that our secular laws should reflect all of the 10 commandments. Being able to explain why Some Of These Things Are Not Like The Others is an important tool.

However, I do wonder how you're coming up with 7 out of 10. Here's the list:

1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honor thy father and thy mother.
6. Thou shalt not kill. (Generally interpreted now as "thou shalt not commit murder," a more accurate translation.)
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.

The only ones I see being actively reinforced by secular law are #6, #8, and #9*. #1 and #2 are obviously specific to religion. #4 is still around in some places (aka Blue Laws), but not in most of the country. #3 and #5 are matters of social custom, not law; adultery is no longer a prosecutable crime AFAIK, so #7 fits that description too. #10 has never been about something the legal system could touch in the first place, and doesn't seem even to have much traction in the social arena any more. If you include social mores along with secular law, that gives you 6 or 6.5 (given that some places still do have Blue Laws).

As for doctrine, what is worse? Stopping a small evil, knowing the bigger evil will see your actions and stop you from gaining the power and influence to fight and stop them? Letting the smaller evil go unpunished knowing that "slip into sin" will let you get into a place and have the power to stop the little evil later as well as a bigger evil?

This is a somewhat different issue from "fighting evil with evil". Yes, there's definitely a balance issue there, but it's more along the lines of "the lives of the many are more important than the lives of the few, or the one". Which is small consolation if you happen to be one of the few being thrown to the wolves, so I personally tend not to give that line of argument much ethical weight unless you yourself ARE the "one" in question.

OtterB, #95: rules aren't created just to be difficult. They are created because people saw someone make that mistake, and they don't ever want to have to clean up a mess like that again.

This is a point I often make to people who complain about warning labels. If nobody ever DID something that egregiously stupid, there wouldn't NEED to be a warning label about it! So when you see such a label, you know that somewhere, sometime, somebody really did do exactly that.

* This applies only in court under oath, but that's still reinforcement under secular law.

#105 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 06:50 PM:

abi@103: Thanks for that.

I don't think that anyone expects you (or anyone else) to have infinite time. I merely think that you should either do the effort or not name the person when commenting on such things. If nothing else then such a policy will stop debates with people like me. ;)

I agree that it would take some effort to police a discussion about such matters, but I think that's another argument for either researching it or not mentioning it at all.

#106 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Lee @104:

This is a point I often make to people who complain about warning labels. If nobody ever DID something that egregiously stupid, there wouldn't NEED to be a warning label about it! So when you see such a label, you know that somewhere, sometime, somebody really did do exactly that.

I don't think that assertion is necessarily supported by the facts. As far as I can tell, many warning labels appear to be motivated by the imagination of corporate lawyers about things people might do and then sue the company about, or similar things, and are not necessarily based in actual events. The perceived potential cost of a lawsuit is high; the cost of adding some text to a warning label is not.

#107 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 08:30 PM:

You seem to be confusing moderators with authors.

#108 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 15, 2010, 10:57 PM:


I get what Lee is saying here: it's easy to dismiss the value of warning labels/signs and other safety measures without thinking it through. There's a wide range of people using most stuff (tools, medicines, etc.), with widely varying skills, background knowledge, experience, intelligence, education, literacy, English skills, health, tiredness, etc. And I think we all have off days and moments where we're dumb enough to do something disastrous that might have been avoided, if we'd stopped to think about why they bothered putting that big red WARNING sticker right there.

But I also see Brooks' point. ISTM that warning labels/signs have proliferated to the point that the silly, ass-covering kind are effectively jamming the signal of the useful kind. If every substance sold other than drinking water has a label saying "Warning: Keep away from children," then the label becomes uninformative.

The question I often wind up with is: Is this an ass-covering warning label, or an honest-to-God, do this and win a Darwin award type warning label? The wording of the warning often doesn't give much of a hint. Is this something that must be out of reach on a shelf behind a locked door? Or is it more like "don't pour your child a drink of this, it will give her a tummy ache?"

#109 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 01:25 PM:

albatross @ 108: I think it's worse than that.

When the default is "Stuff doesn't have a warning label, unless it's fuming sulfuric acid or Cthulhu-in-a-can", people's rational expectation is that they have to be fairly cautious.

When the default is "Every kebab-skewer comes with a warning that it is Not For Internal Application", a corresponding default is created, implying that J Random Object is safe for anything not specifically warned against. To some limited extent, this is also a rational expectation - it suggests that somebody qualified has already checked the matter out.

The more warnings one offers, with the less assumption of even trivial commonsense on the part of the reader, the more one reasonably needs. This is a degenerating spiral for both readers and writers, which may or may not converge to some tolerable limit.

And so with doctrine of other kinds, IMO. If your only rule is the Golden Rule, a lot of people will get ill-advisedly hurt. If you need a degree in canon law or implicit faith in The Authorities before you know what is wrong or right - well, we don't need to go there. The commonsense view is that there must be some happy and moderate medium.

An alternative, but in my opinion plausible, view, is that the golden mean lies way over towards the, "Do as you will, and know what you're doing," corner. This does, of course, assume a certain faith in people's ability to educate their selves and juniors and peers in such important matters as, Liqueurs seldom come in Winchester quarts, and, Cthulhiel is not in fact an angel at all.

My gut feeling is to trust that better, in the long term, than the results of snowballing legalism. Alas, the latter may be a more socially stable solution. That would kind of suck, if true - but I'm not convinced it's inevitable.

#110 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 02:56 PM:

Some warnings are there because they need to be. Some are there because someone tried to do whatever it was with the product, and the manufacturer doesn't want to get into trouble.

I definitely agree with albatross that when there's no indication of the severity of each warning, the little things will drown out the big things. The ANSI standard safety signs (which are in the process of being harmonized with ISO ones, I think) are a good place to start, perhaps, since they grade the consequences of not heeding the warning.

I can't help but think that some of the more absurd warnings on products are there not because the manufacturer is afraid that someone will actually do it, but rather to reinforce the people sue over stupid stuff and get absurd amounts of money meme. But that's me getting all conspiracy-minded, so it's probably time for me to fetch my tinfoil hat.

#111 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 03:09 PM:

Gray Woodland #109: When the default is "Stuff doesn't have a warning label, unless it's fuming sulfuric acid or Cthulhu-in-a-can", people's rational expectation is that they have to be fairly cautious.

Cthulhu-in-a-can, thick and ropey! Yum!! (NSFL)

#112 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 04:24 PM:

When I see a fine-print label warning that a food product "may contain traces of" something which is prominently featured on the main label, it seems clear that it's ass-covering. "May contain traces of nuts" on Almond Fudge Chunk ice cream, for example, with the picture showing a scoop of ice cream with large nuggets of nuts, plus decorative displays of almonds around the picture. Or, for that matter, a jar of peanut butter with a note on the ingredients: "Allergy allert: contains peanuts".

In some cases, it's possible that the warning text is simply being copied, carelessly, across product lines -- it'd make sense to have that "traces of nuts" warning on most of the other ice cream products from that company, if it's all made in the same plant.

#113 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 04:45 PM:

Some of these warnings may be mandated by law letter for letter. "All products produced in a factory which ... must bear the warning label ..." kind of thing. Clearly the ice-cream with nuts is produced in a factory which processes nuts!

The problem with cascades of trivial warnings on everything is that people will get out of the habit of reading the warnings, since they (the trivial ones) don't tell most people anything they don't already know.

#114 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2010, 07:39 PM:

ddb #113: Clearly the ice-cream with nuts is produced in a factory which processes nuts!

That type of warning still makes sense to print: a product may feature a kind of nut which is safe for that particular consumer, but when made in a factory that processes other nuts, it could still trigger dangerous allergy incidents that wouldn't necessarily be obvious from checking an unannotated ingredient list. An example would be cashew-based sandwich spread marketed to people who must avoid peanut butter.

#115 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 12:32 AM:

My own personal high water mark (or perhaps nadir) of stupid warning labels was the one on the stepladder we had when I worked at CopyMat. It was a 2' ladder with two steps and a top, looking rather like this one. On the second step was a warning label reading, "Warning! Do not stand on or above this step! You could lose your balance." If you heeded that label, you could only use the bottom step, gaining all of about six inches worth of height.

Now, we had an eight foot aluminum ladder, with a similar warning on the next-to-top step; that one was a good deal more reasonable. I'm pretty sure that the company which made the wooden ladder just had a blanket policy to put that warning on the next-to-top step of all their ladders, even though on the wooden one it was ridiculous.

(Needless to say I stood hundreds of times on the second step and even on the top of that stepladder, and nothing bad ever came of it.)

#116 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 09:54 AM:

David@115: I have two of what looks like exactly that ladder. I stand on the top of it all the time. Arguably that's what it's intended for.

But I kind of see their point; I use it working against a wall, or for working on the ceiling (where I can steady myself against the ceiling). And a taller ladder would be better for the ceiling work, where I could hang onto the ladder itself to steady myself. Standing on the top step out in the middle of the floor, without touching the ceiling, is pretty unstable.

#117 ::: Russell Coker ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 10:13 PM:

Earl@114: Someone who sees a cashew spread with a warning "contains nuts" will probably assume it's only cashews. In that example it should have a label "may contain traces of OTHER nuts" IMHO.

As for useless warnings, my favorite was a notice on a urinal informing me that the water in it was not suitable for drinking. I can't imagine how someone could be capable of reading a small notice but not capable of figuring out for themself that you don't drink and go to the toilet using the same vessal! Then again, if someone was dying of dehydration then the water in the cistern would probably seem pretty good to them.

#118 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 10:22 PM:

Russell: Thirst will kill you faster than bacteria, or so I imagine Uncle Jim would say.

#119 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 18, 2010, 11:28 PM:

My friend Michael used to be a real-estate negotiator. In one of his meetings they were discussing greywater systems, and someone said you'd have to put a non-potable label on the toilets...

"In my experience," said Michael, "people who drink out of toilets can't read."

#120 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 04:37 AM:

Russell Coker: Speaking as someone who cooks for loved ones who will die if I mistakenly purchase products with peanuts in them (or suffer if I buy things with gluten), I can say the "may contain nuts" warning is not redundant.

I look at labels. If it has almonds in it, but no other nut warning, I may assume it is safe. It it says, "may contain nuts," or some variation (made in a facility which processes...") I don't buy it.

Because that phrase, is a stock warning. For people who have concerns about nuts, wheat, etc., the existence of such a stock phrase is a great benefit, because I can safely rule out (or not) any number of products with an, almost, cursory glance at the package.

#121 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 10:17 AM:

I wonder if there's any easy visual way to distinguish between--well, I'm inclined to call them "warnings" and "advisories", but it's a sort of arbitrary distinction. I'm thinking of the difference between "Not for internal application" and "May contain nuts", where one of them is a warning that everyone using the product should heed, and the other is a warning which is very important to specific people.

No one should drop a hairdryer in the bathtub. (And as a child, I was prevented from using a hairdryer in the bathtub by one of those "obvious" warning labels on the cord, because I was a compulsive reader but not very bright about electricity.) Some people should be aware that a product contains soy, or isn't appropriate for children under the age of 3. It seems like the former are the kinds of things that need to be spelled out explicitly, and the latter would benefit from some kind of universal symbol set, so that parents of two-year-olds could tell which toys are safe at a glance and people looking for peanut-free food didn't have to read through a lot of small print to find out if a particular item qualified.

Then again, I find reading warning labels interesting. When the instruction booklet for my Pokewalker tells me in three separate locations, bolded twice, with a graphic beside one of them, to not put the device in the washing machine, I'm very, very clear on what a common failure mode for users is. Meanwhile, my Wii remote doesn't think it's necessary to instruct me not to wash it, but stresses the importance of using that strap so that the sucker doesn't go flying off into the air towards my television or spouse.

#122 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 10:22 AM:


A lot of unfriendly bacteria you might get from a toilet give you diarrhea and vomiting, which could easily leave you worse off w.r.t. dehydration than you started.

#123 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 21, 2010, 09:57 PM:

Fade Manley @121: I was looking over a laser level still in the blister pack which I found at a church sale. The warnings on the back suggested that I should have laser proof goggles, which sounded reasonable. The suggestion that I should wash my hands after using it was puzzling, and put me off buying the thing.

#124 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 12:50 AM:

Xopher@ 119. My lovely wife points out, however, that such a notice might remind the uprights to keep the lid down so that the four-legged illiterate people (and the two-legged too-young-to-read-people) can't get their face, hands, toys, carrot sticks, etc in there...

#125 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 01:07 AM:

Marna: Details, details. And reality. Geez.

#126 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 22, 2010, 01:46 AM:

Xopher @ 119... I seem to remember that the MythBusters had determined that a dog's mouth is cleaner than a toilet seat. And speaking of dogs, the surgeon who operated on my girl-dog Freya after she tore off her thigh's cruciate ligament examined her today and said that things are healing nicely. He also said that the last time he'd seen such damage was 25 years ago when a cat got itself stuck hanging upside down by one leg.

#127 ::: Lexica ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2010, 02:56 PM:

If a dog's mouth is cleaner than a toilet seat, wouldn't that be a good reason to keep the dog away from the toilet? I feel I have far more control over whether I touch the surface of the toilet than I do over whether a dog that's been drinking from the toilet tries to lick me.

Also, there is the safety issue of the toilet seat possibly crashing down while the animal is drinking, injuring or possibly killing them.

Our household policy is "Leave the seat in any position you wish, as long as you put the lid down after use."

#128 ::: Erik Nelson sees spam at 129 ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2011, 11:39 PM:

of a kind with another spam arriving at same time on "Iran Revolution" thread

#129 ::: siriosa ::: (view all by) ::: July 20, 2011, 02:38 AM:

Toilet seat signals: We keep ours down (some of the cats think it's way fun to dabble in the big fountain), and I find myself tracking which guests observe the original state of the thing and return it there, and which don't.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.