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An exercise in futility

A piece of ebook-reader software called Clean Reader has been generating headlines and causing indignation among authors recently:

A new app that allows readers to swap swear words in their novels with sanitised versions is facing a backlash from furious authors, who have accused it of setting a dangerous precedent of censorship.The app, entitled Clean Reader, has been designed to take explicit words out of any book printed in electronic format - with or without permission from its author - to swap them with child-friendly versions.

(I'm not linking to Clean Reader directly—don't want to give them any free inbound Google mojo.)

Mangling an author's text is a clear violation of the author's Moral rights, an element of copyright which is very weak in the United States and very strong elsewhere (primarily in civil law jurisdictions). (The moral right is the right of an author to be identified as the creator of a work, and for the work represented as their creation to be unaltered by other hands, so that the relationship between creator and created work is clear.) Mangling an author's text may be legal or illegal in the USA, depending on whether it occurs before or after sale. After all, I can't stop you buying one of my books and editing it with a sharpie: it's a physical object and according to the first sale doctrine, it's yours to do with as you wish. I may be able to legally stop you modifying an ebook, though: ebooks are not sold but a limited license to download and use them is granted in exchange for money—a fine legal distinction that was borrowed from the software business's tame sharks—and that limited license may permit or deny such usage.

Clean Reader claim to get around this by (a) being a licensed distributor (they provide the app and sell books for it sourced from PageFoundry, a distributor who back-end onto various publishers), and (b) the censorship is performed on the reader device by the reader app, once the book has been purchased and downloaded. There's a bunch of case law around whether or not it's legal to do this to movie rentals or downloads, or legal to skip advertisements in recorded programming on your TiVo—it gets murky fast. But let's suppose they're right and what they're doing ("protect the children! At any cost! From naughty words like 'breast' and 'fuck'!") is legal.

Speaking as an author who deeply resents the idea of his books being mutilated to fit the prejudices of a curious reader's blue-nosed and over-protective parents (hint: I write for adults—if you don't think my books are suitable for your or your child's tender eyes, don't buy them), what can I do about this?

It's worth quoting some correspondence posted on Absolute Write at this point. The PR contact for Clean Reader had this to say, in answer to a public enquiry:

As for how we deal with context, the app does look for specific sequences of letters lick cock, shit, or f--k. But it also requires white space on both sides of the word. So your example of cockapoo would not be blocked by the app. But cock a poo would have cock blocked. There will be times when the app blocks a word that isn't being used as a profanity. Jesus Christ is another example. If a reader is reading the Bible with Clean Reader there will be quite a lot of words blocked; hell, damn, ass, Jesus, etc. The user will have to make a judgement call as to whether or not to use the "Clean Reader" feature with each book. If it's a religious book they may just opt to turn the feature off. Or if it's a book about chickens they may want to leave it off also. But for example, I'm currently reading American Sniper. It seems to have at least one F-word on every page and sometimes multiple per page. It's frankly a little over the top. Otherwise the book is fantastic and entertaining. So even if the app blocks out a word every now and again that wasn't necessarily being used as a profanity, I'd rather deal with that then have to read F--- every page. Those who have written articles about Clean Reader have typically downloaded a book that is riddled with swear words to show examples of how frustrating the book would be with Clean Reader. But I can tell you we aren't selling many of those types of books. I've read several books with the app and I typically only see a word blocked once every few pages. And it's usually pretty easy to get the gist of what was being said. It's just nice to not actually see it.

So. While it might be possible to get my books pulled from that particular distributor, I am more inclined to deal with this idiocy by getting creative with my scatalogical vocabulary.

No more "fucks" freely interjected; instead I shall steal "unclefucker" from South Park.

No more "cunt!" as a free-standing gender-neutral insult[*]; instead it'll have to be "cuntfart!" or "pissflaps!" or "clunge!" (go look it up) ...

... But that's not going far enough.

I am pretty sure there's plenty of context in which the censorbot can be induced to fuck-up a perfectly clean paragraph beyond all recognition, simply by removing words delimited by whitespace. "Chimney-breast" for example, becomes "Chimney-chest". "The cunt line of the mainbrace" becomes "the bottom line of the mainbrace".

How far do you think I can take this?


Cory Doctorow takes a radically different approach ("I hate your censorship, but I'll defend to the death your right to censor"). I think he's missing the distinction between censorship and editing—that what's happening here is not straightforward "you can't read that" blocking, but actual substitution of someone else's words for my own, subtly or unsubtly corrupting and misrepresenting the author's words. One thing is clear, though: while we're having a doctrinal argument, it's important to keep in mind the essential fact that we both think that Clean Reader users are stupid poopy-heads.

[*] That's what "cunt" is, in Scottish vernacular—usage differs wildly across the anglophone world, and in Scotland it carries much less gendered misogynistic freight than it does in American usage.



I don't think it's a bad thing at all.

People don't complain about swear words being "bleeped" on the TV, and I doubt* the creators are up in arms about it either.

Instead of replacing the words, perhaps just starring them would be better. But at the end of the day there's nothing you can do to stop people fucking with your stuff once they've bought it.

I could replace every mention of the word "Bob" from Charlie's books and replace it with "Piers Morgan" and there's not a damn thing anyone can do about it.

If authors really don't want there work tampered with (which I'd argue is futile anyway) then all I can see happening is more and more DRM on ebooks, which is not a good thing.

*have no evidence for this at all... :)


People don't complain about swear words being "bleeped" on the TV, and I doubt* the creators are up in arms about it either.

Yellow card.

I asked a question; you are not answering it, but diverting the discussion.

(Feel free to ask again after comment 100.)


Where is the line between remixing (which you've done yourself) and data mining and censorship, for you?

I ask mainly as someone interested in the various arguments around which CC licenses are relevant for different bits of scientific work, and wondering how it maps outside of that (my guess: not at all...).


That question is derailing.

Do not ask it again prior to comment 100.

(You can consider this to be a yellow card. I asked a question!)


I would not be too put off by the structure of U.S. copyright laws. They may not be specifically structured around the concept of moral rights, but they are nevertheless a rather nasty set of laws - the concept of irreparable harm means that copyright issues exceed any strict contractual limits. (But many legal actions then turn around and focus on contracts, for a variety of reasons.)

Anyways, most copyright actions in the US wind up being a series of feints with many (most?) cases settled "voluntarily" rather than requiring the judge to impose a decision. So... it's a bit of anybody's guess, where a copyright lawsuit will go.

Nevertheless, the combination of typical ebook rental rules (which seem to mean that modifications en masse are modifications of somebody's "property") with some of the copyright rules about derivative works suggest that in the proper circumstances Clean Reader might be liable for more than the total value of the company, and (again, in the "proper" circumstances) the direct consequences of the legal action might extend to publishers who have adopted the "wrong" kind of contract terms with Clean Reader.

And, even if not, I expect that there are a lot of lawyers who would love to weigh in on both sides of this battle.

But that's just one side of the issue.

Another other side of the issue is that any victory won by Clean Reader here weakens the assertion of digital rights by any of the traditional media powerhouses.

An yll wynde that blowth no man to good, men say?


"Shitcunt" works nicely as an insult that wouldn't get picked up by the metric but is really pretty effective. I think it's underutilised generally and deserves a renaissance.

Also what you say about "cunt" in Scottish vernacular is interesting, it's similar in Australia. I think there's a distinction between it and the various penis synonyms in that the latter tend to denote hubris with or without malice whereas the former implies conscious viciousness. I've heard various arguments as to how this distinction ties in with (very real) gender inequality but they all seem sort of tenuous.

The software is alarming and offensive and makes me wonder whether a boycott of any imprint that feeds to it might work. My instinct is that it won't, sadly, because people don't stop to consider the political ramifications of buying a book any more than they consider those of buying a beer or a cigarette. If you're doing any of those things you're not probably doing it from motivations that are subject to much careful scrutiny.


So the software gives not one fuck, but it does take them away?

It is a bit of the thin end of the wedge, it starts with vocabulary, then extends to semantic analysis for vile acts and so through to incompatible ideology.

Or to put it another way, I'd suggest that an entirely abhorrent scene could be written in language which raises no flags with a pattern matching system. Meanwhile there are a number of such words which have perfectly legitimate uses (or in the case of bastard, illegitimate). I could imagine one of your writing challenges du jour being to include reference to female dogs, male chickens and so on.

As to beeping on TV - if it's done at source, that's a production decision. If it's included as part of another programme, that's subject to context. But the mess that can be made editing a film for TV can be somewhere between comic and tragic.


Comparing censoring words written by the author to "to skip advertisements in recorded programming on your TiVo" seems an odd choice.

I suspect you'd need to differentiate between words that have non obscene usages such as 'cock' and ones that don't such as 'fuck'.

They are likely to progress to filter any instance of 'fuck' whether white space sperated or not pretty quickly...

See also "The Scunthorpe Problem" in email filtering.


Yes, exactly: thin end of the wedge.

I'm also concerned about what happens when on-device readers start adding content -- such as in-book advertising. Not just visual display ads, which are distracting enough, but active product placement inserted around matching words in the text (any reference to "soup" being replaced by a three paragraph long digression on the calming digestive benefits of some particular brand, for example). Contract battles were fought to keep ads out of the text of our novels back in the stone age (or the 1980s, in Germany); this could be the same thing all over again.

Also: TV content is made to conform to a set of constraints expected of broadcast media. Books are not written to those constraints, unless they're targeted on specific markets -- there are differences in what's appropriate for a young adult or children's book, or one for a religious publisher, for example. This censorware seems to be an attempt to cram everything into a particular ideological mold, even if it doesn't fit.


I think you need to take it farther: You need to actually get inside people's brains to make sure their understanding of your words is exactly what you mean them to be. You need to rewire people's brains so whenever you use it a word, it means *the same thing* to the reader -- none of this post-structuralist crap. The *author* must the absolute authority, not the reader.


You are familiar with the town of Fucking in Austria, I take it? (They are very annoyed that British tourists keep stealing their street signs.)


Charlie, if you want to make a political statement, I suggest you take all the swear-words, simply inverse them (tnuc, kcuf, tihs etc.) and persuade your piblishers to go with this. It won't be too hard for your readers to read the swear-words backwards.

Then, if Clean Reader adds a special filter to fight you personally, why, it gives you even more publicity.


Inventively obscene portmanteaus will at least cost them time and effort catching up each time you publish, and if you're clever and lucky you'll be able to Scunthorpe them into an unworkable number of false positives, further hindering their general usabilty. This would work best if it were a part of campaign engaged in by a number of authors.

I'm suggesting this for purely helpful, altruistic reasons, not at all because I'd like additional opportunities for puerile pubescent giggles.


I am reminded of a fair amount of Larry Niven's oeuvre, here, Charlie, where censored and bleep stand in as new swear words,thanks to their prevalent use in censoring a previous generation of swear words.

I think you can be far more creative with your scatological vocabulary. Shitcunt, as above, breaks this iteration of this software, although that "Feels" to me to be on the higher, "f-bomb" end of such vocabulary. Finding milder ones to fill out the spectrum is trickier, I think.

The thin edge of the wedge, though, Charlie, is what worries me about this. To be able to subtract is a step toward being able to add, and I really don't want an ad for Customer management software being inserted into the text of a future Laundry novel because the ebook seller got the right to add text to your book based on this precedent.


I would suggest that Charlie has absolutely nothing to worry about in this arena, the concepts are much more disturbing than any particular Anglo Saxon that might get employed. Some bible belt god botherer is going to be much more fucked up by the idea of my little equiod than by the censorable words.

They could do with an AI to 'pre-read' the text to determine if the concepts employed are sufficiently wholesome for their fragile perceptions. Maybe Mk2?

However the purchaser should always have the right to do what they want with what they have purchased, and any little lawyer that wants to whine about 'licences' and Ts & Cs can feel the wrath of a gratis and for nothing collection of choice swear words to be going on with. And I wouldn't be using cunt in the 'jolly mate' Scottish or australian sense.


BTW, Charlie, why are you opposing Clean Reader, yet supporting Ad-block?


My real problem with this is that authors are giving what will undoubtedly be a very poor quality piece of software a lot of publicity...

I product which would have at best played to a few people in Southern mid-west states has suddenly been given worldwide publicity....

As for how an author stops their books from being mangled, I don't think there is much point. Once the genie is out of the bottle its impossible to put it back in....

Any idea if the EFF or the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund have made a comment. The latter has a lot of experience in exactly this type of battle...


BTW, Charlie, why are you opposing Clean Reader, yet supporting Ad-block?

Because I don't pay to receive ads on the internet -- they're crammed down my broadband connection without my consent. (Hence AdBlock, although I will note I use the open-source versions rather than the dodgily commercial AdBlock Pro.)

I'd much rather have a pay-to-subscribe model for internet content than the mess we've got now. (And indeed I do pay for accounts on sites I use daily that provide that as an option, e.g. Metafilter.) Even if it caused 99% of the web as it currently exists to die in a fire I'd prefer it, because too damn much of the web as we know it exists solely to deliver eyeballs to advertisements.

(When I am Planetary Overlord, I will criminalize most business-to-consumer advertising, because of the pernicious effect it has on our cognitive model of interpersonal relations. But that's a topic for another discussion.)


SFWA is chewing over it. Various literary agents are discussing it. Many editors are horrified.

This has not gone unnoticed by the professionals who are affected, and this will (in time) have an effect.


How far can you take it? Till their fucking eyes melt in self defense.
See if living cum stain trips the flag. Or worse. I look forward to being amused.

As to the implications of this thing ... not fun. I hope this gets slapped down by a court some where in the US.


One last observation which, while it doesn't directly address your question, does at least point out the extent to which you're on the side of the angels here: it's a very short step between the additive capabilities of this software becoming widely accepted and the new fields opened by self-published ebooks being monetised by the mandatory addition of advertisements.

This could very quickly leave young genre-bending authors facing all the cons of (for instance) Amazon with none of the pros. We'd all be poorer for it. Best that these fuckers get properly nobbled before they get a clawhold.


"How far do you think I can take this?"

This question gets asked all the time by spammers, and you are far behind the curve, if they decide to use the appropriate technology.


A few weeks back I overheard some teenage girls sitting behind me on the bus loudly discussing if "shitcunt" was appropriate for use on Facebook. They decided it was not.

So how far can you take it? Avengers Assemble has a memorable scene in which one character calls another a "mewling quim". The film got a 12 rating in the UK.

I recall TV cuts of films where badly dubbed "clean" alternatives replaced profanity; "melon-farmer" comes to mind. This is probably more crippling to a scene than bleeping it out; the bleep tells us that the character has said something obscenely insulting, but referring to someone's fruit gardening dismissively is ridiculous.

(Which is not to say that I don't sympathise with people who want to read a book they've heard is good or important, but get, let's say, distracted by [something] in it; it's just that I'd prefer a robust review and rating app and let people make the decision on the original text.)


Oddly enough, there's an article in the Grauniad Online about the debut novel by Natasha Desborough, which she wished to call Weirdoes and Camel Toes. She got told by her publishers she couldn't use the term 'Camel Toe' because it was too rude and risqué for a YA novel.

She ended up calling it Weirdoes and Quimboids.

So the process of inventing new 'rude' terms appears to have a precedent.

It'd be interesting to know whether CR knows 'quim'. The word 'quim' that is.


I wonder how it'd react to political works? I mean, if I'm reading a history of US politics from, say 1988 through 2008, I'm looking at a couple of rather significant names which would be elided.

Bush (as in "George I and II") - UK and Aussie slang for the pudendum.
Dick (as in "Cheney") - English-language slang for the penis.

Does the software make allowances for capitalisation, as per the above (i.e. the version which starts with the capital letter is legit, the version which starts with the lower-case letter is naughty)? If so, just put all the swearing at the beginning of its own unique sentence.

(Now I want to feed one of the Dick, Jane, Nip and Fluff books to Clean Reader, and see what comes out. Would there be a book left at all?)

Alternatively, there's acres of space for spec-fic to play in. I mean, inventing naughty words to use instead of the ones banned on television is practically a growth industry. "Frell", "frink", or even just plain old "eff" (in lower case[1], as in "effing hell"). Speaking of which, there's "heck". "Bloody" (the Great Australian Adjective) might not be safe, but "bleeding" probably is, along with "bleeder".

Really, if one went through the dictionary, and carefully removed all words which had even the slightest colloquial reference to matters scatalogical, reproductive, blasphemous, expletive or otherwise, I think you'd find a lot of books would be reduced to nothing more than the punctuation; possibly the odd conjunction or two (oh hang on, no, references to matters sexual as the name of the part of speech - we'd probably lose them too).

[1] In upper case, of course, it's an acronym for the Electronic Frontiers Foundation... wonder how they'd feel about not being able to get their literature through the filter?


A short story written where every substantive word is one that contains an obscene term as a subset? For extra points, find words where automated search&replace turns the word into something containing a different obscene term.

I wonder if CR have addressed the problems of images. Produce a bitmap of the word 'fuck' in a font matching the most frequent ebook settings, and I doubt the existing system does anything. On the other hand, change your font at all and the result would be jarring.


Red Dwarf with 'Smeg'. A lot of Irish works with 'Feck'. And speaking of the Irish, it seems that half their politicians and commentators would be hit if you removed the term 'gobshite'.

('Shite' as opposed to 'shit', come to that. A return to Elizibethan terminology would be odd, but might be better than inventing a whole set of new terms.)


It's too bad that it does blocking out rather than replacement, since with replacement (particularly with replacement within a word) you could engineer words that, when censored, become even more extreme. (I suppose you could cluster curse words such that they are themselves acronyms for other curse words, assuming that this system keeps the first letter.)

If you expect some large number of people to be using this system to read your books, I suppose you could try to be creative in playing with the system. Ensure that revelations of important plot points contain censored words in such a way that the meaning of the revelation hinges upon exactly which curse word was used? Construct pieces of the story that are, when censored, extremely misleading? I don't know how much effort you want to put into this.

Somehow, I don't imagine that the kind of person terrified of exposing themselves to curse words is likely to be a die-hard fan of your work, in the same way that I doubt that group's intersection with fans of, say, WSB and Chuck Pahlinuick is large. But, if you're in communication about this with other authors, perhaps some of them are going to be more willing to actively fuck with users of this system.


A return to Elizibethan terminology would be odd, but might be better than inventing a whole set of new terms.

My point exactly! People have been getting around Bowdlerisations and prohibitions on "bad language" for generations. If they throw tantrums about the actual naughty words, imagine how they'd feel if you threw in a character who was "well hard" Cockney, and used a lot of rhyming slang to swear in? Or if you took it through dialect and gave a transcription of thick Glaswegian Scots for their filter to chew on? Does it choke on Spoonerisms ("wunch of bankers" and so on?). Could it deal with a Mrs Malaprop, and her references to things like "allegories on the banks of the Nile"? Even a reference to earlier years, having all the swearing done in a different language (the earlier example was French - I think I'd like to see either German, Russian, or possibly Japanese in these dissolute days).

There are an awful lot of things (and a lot of awful things) which can be done within the English language to convey the correct impression. I really don't think these people were thinking straight when they decided to tackle written fiction. I mean, they're going up against writers - people for whom words are tools of the trade.

I wonder how large they think their market is, anyway? Pretentious masturbators who want to read the latest literary bestsellers without running across words which could offend their mothers-in-law? Can't be that big of a market.

(May I recommend unto the creators Eric Bogle's "Silly Slang Song"?)


Are they are any insults which would work better after they had been modified? Then it becomes a fun game.


Ahem, "Are there..." the.., ah, clean reader guys screwed up my post.


This wont work in it's current state but how about an entire novel of swear words cut in half, with one swear word in the middle. Like this:

sh fu bol cu bug sh fu cunt ck it ger nt lock ck it

When the central cunt is removed (don't know why that sounds so revolutionary) by the software the newly stitched text just has another one. So that gets cut and it happens again! Over and over until there's no book left.


(When I am Planetary Overlord, I will criminalize most business-to-consumer advertising, because of the pernicious effect it has on our cognitive model of interpersonal relations. But that's a topic for another discussion.)

Oh crap - there goes my day-job!

(Please expand on this topic, when you've the time, should make for interesting discussion.)


How far can you take it?

You've hinted elsewhere that future works will include excursions to Scunthorpe, and I do not doubt that you can write a scene of unimaginable depravity without a single word or phrase detectable to Clean Reader.

It seems to be a law of etymology that euphemisms end up being filthier than the original profanity.

Me, I'd write shaved womble slashfic with brain-eating worms; other visitors are capable of worse, some of it involving hedgehog-themed erotic knitwear.

I'll let the guilty parties own up to that one in a comment, if they ever read this.

Meanwhile, you can't stop me or anyone else using a Clean Reader Bowdleriser on a work I've purchased: but you can and should prevent obligatory use of such a product using DRM or any other means, including Library distribution channels in the schools.

Reading without the right to read as-written is worse thah not reading at all: anything - anything at all, including deliberate political and moral distortion - can be imposed on any written work if a ubiquitous revisionist is placed between the reader and the writer.

As for advertising, I can foresee a world in which a monopolist controlling publishing and distribution to such a degree that it's impossible to make a living as a writer without accepting any terms that they impose - feel free to *not* name names or say enything defamatory or even mildly irritating to such powers when replying - and these imposed terms will include obligatory German-style inserted advertising if you're a low- or mid-list author.

We will, of course, be free to publish as-written on payment of a modest fee. Or by publishing where only a handful of people will ever know the work exists. Or not publish at all; all are valid choices under late-stage capitalism and the successor state of neofeudalism.

That's the medium term. Or maybe the near future.

Here's the good news for the long term:

With time, enforced obedience, and careful sentence-level censorship by the smart semantically-aware successors of Clean Reader, future generations will regard those choices as Freedom-with-a-capital-'F', and congratulate themselves and their far-sighted ancestors - us! - for our contribution to the latter-day Enlightenment.


For the purists, there's always "-ing", as per Mr Tulip from "The Truth", by Terry Pratchett. Actually, Sgt Dai Dickins from "Night Watch" might be another good example here, as well (proof positive even the most saintly language can be used in a "swearing" context and get the meaning across).

Another classic from SF: "Zarking fardwarks" (from "Life, The Universe and Everything" by Douglas Adams).

Reading through the Grauniad article, it seems like the app actually does replace the "bad" words with designated "good" words on some settings - so possibly a solution might be to wait for about a month or so (long enough for some bright folks to feed a few books through the reader and get a feel for what the substitutions might be) and then just go through and carefully use words which will, even when on the cleanest possible setting, make it profoundly clear the speaker is turning the local atmosphere a distinct shade of navy blue.


This is an awful idea. If I buy a book I want to read the words chosen, carefully, by the author not by some algorithm designed by the sort of people who thing breastfeeding in public is tantamount to flashing.

However, I'd consider paying real money for an app that inserted swears in appropriate places in books....

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife with a fancy vajazzle"


Sounds like a plot point for a future Laundy story - outmatched by the equally tech-savvy evil spellcaster, Bob sneaks onto their arcane phone and enables bowlderization - thus fouling up all their rituals.


The app is fucking childish. (As is that comment.)
I assume it's aimed at fundy-christian readers, and reminds me of a video rental shop several years ago that made headlines when it was renting videos edited for language and sex. Don't remember what happened with them, I think the movie studios threatened to sue them into a smoking hole. They might still be around, or similar businesses. I can't be arsed to google it.

As for the question; one possible answer is more non-anglophone characters. Expand your vocabulary with uncommon expletives for fun and profit! Assuming the app is made by the above type fundies, they might not be too familiar with fairly common Yiddish word like Shmuck, Putz, Dreck, Shtup, etc. And, of course, plenty of other languages to choose from.


Hmm. You do have a point there. Hindi swears are special.


Two answers to your question, depending on interpretation.

If there are people who want to read a version of your text with some of the naughty words removed, you won't be able stop them. It's too easy to write such code, it's too easy to access the contents of even DRM-protected text. It's a battle that the content producers and distributors simply can't win. Handbrake, a tool for reading and recoding video files, is readily available in the US even though it's primary use is a clear violation of the US DMCA. There's also a possibility that license terms that preclude things like substituting for offensive words would be found unenforceable, at least in parts of the US. IIRC, California has made many of the common restrictions in software licenses unenforceable.

If the question is, "Can an author set up their text so that it can't possibly be bowdlerized by software?" my answer is "Not without rendering it obnoxious to the point of offending regular readers and hurting sales." I know people who write software that reads and scores essays (with scoring consistent with human readers in an enormous percentage of the cases). At an early stage, the software parses the text in great detail, recognizing misspellings and common typos in the process, and assigns "meaning" to all of the elements in the parse tree. That's overkill for replacing offensive words, but is indicative of what authors would potentially be up against.

To use an analogy that I fall back on too often: it's like fresh produce at the grocery. Grocers have to settle for the fact that 2% of their fresh produce will spoil before they sell it. Authors will have to settle for the fact that a small fraction of their readers filter the text before reading it.


Replacing words would really be fun.

I think the high art would be to write a totally innocent farm story ("The bitch was in heat") which turns pornographic/surreal ("The woman was in heat").

The idea itself is totally laughable. No treatment of CL could for example make "Glasshouse" suitable for children.


When I am Planetary Overlord, I will criminalize most business-to-consumer advertising, because of the pernicious effect it has on our cognitive model of interpersonal relations.

That's the soft option. Daniel Suarez has a nice scene in "Freedom TM" (or "Daemon"?) where there are worldwide raids on offices of professional spammers and everyone inside is shot.


Of course the question was how far you can take it.
Well, you could always write something that the app will make resemble a redacted CIA document--or Swiss cheese. But what would the actual point of that be?

And now I'm reminded of an Iggy Pop interview I read years ago where he remarked that he liked being in some cable TV show because he got to sing/shout "Fuckitty fuckin' fuck fuck!" Beat that Buffalo.


I mean, inventing naughty words to use instead of the ones banned on television is practically a growth industry.

c.f. "Frack", and Firefly's use of "humped"(=="fucked") and Jayne's memorable comment that what ammo they have left is "Three full mags and my swinging cod!"--which also does the Elizabethan thing, as Bellinghman comments.

On the one hand, though, I'm not sure that finding a way around the software is actually the correct response. I have a not-very-coherent feeling that circles around teenagers getting away with things by being rules lawyers and the Temperance Movement.

On the other hand, if people's feelings are so tender that they can't deal with a novel about the Army containing a lot of swear words, I just kind of roll my eyes and pat them on the head. They'll grow up someday, one hopes, and in the meantime it's difficult to take a Sharpie to one's e-book.

On the gripping hand, the nice thing about that Sharpie is that it's blatantly clear that someone's edited the text. The biggest problem with this app is that it (on some settings, apparently) does it seamlessly.


This idea can of course always be reversed. I seem to recall Robert Anton Wilson in one of the books in his Scrodingers Cat trilogy replacing language which some commentators, legislators, and distributors objected to with the names of the most prominent objectors, resulting in sentences like "You really want me to Potter-Stewart[1] you right here on a public beach in broad daylight...?" :-)

[1] A US supreme court justice and originator of the "I know it when I see it..." definition of obscenity I believe...


I recommend the Unicode homograph/homoglyph attack, if ebooks support Unicode.


You know, replacing the word with a euphemism is actually the point. Even though they refer to the same thing, in practice saying "the f-word" is not as harsh as saying "fuck"; for example if I were describing a film to my Mum and said "You might like it, but they do use the f-word a lot," that's less likely to get me tutted at than saying "It's good, but they say fuck all the time".

Saying "Where is that fornicating fornicator?" may mean the same as "Where's that fucking fucker?" but they have a different weight and flavour. Choosing to put one or other of those sentences into the mouth of a character tells us something about them. And this is why the replacement app is a problem and getting around it is not really a solution; vagina, quim and cunt mean the same but are not identical. Although this is at least a creative and amusing response.


I would think that one of the easier ways around this would be to add in some non-native speaker-type profanity. Skip the trigger words and just have the speaker provide the obscene suggestion in words they can't key on without semantic matching. Someone suggesting that their rival 'ram their rod up their bottom' is pretty explicit without ever using a word that their filter would scrub...


So long as the software in question clearly indicates (via font, text size, bold, color, underline, whatever) where these changes have been made - so that it would not be possible to pass off the altered version as the original text (AND this is only for personal use) - I'm not seeing a problem here.

Once I buy anyone's book, once I own it I can do whatever I want to it (doodle, underline passages, hi-light sentences, write in the margins, set fire to it, etc.) as it is now my property.

How I read or enjoy a book of yours that I bought and now own is frankly none of your business as an author. Your work is not sacred text.

You may find it upsetting (I know I would if I was an author) but if someone wants to in effect bleep out words they find offensive in a ecopy of a book they purchased, there is nothing you or any author can do.


I am reminded of one well-known internet site which banned certain "naughty words", and was used amongst other things to discuss film and USian politics. I have had many conversations about Alfred Hitchpenis, Penis Chaney... Enough said?


Directly related are the obnoxious fools who seem to equate "fantasy" to "for children", and "sf" to "for children with explosions".

I was really po'd when I went to see an afternoon matinee of SW Episode III, which was labeled PG-13, when it came out... and some morons had brought their little kids - as in 6 and 8 yr olds - in to see what really was an adult film. (I hope they had to deal with weeks of screaming nightmares, and why are the nanny-state turkeys going after parents for letting the school-age kids walk home six blocks, but not for taking them into a movie like this?)

What they are is adult-hostile.



I think I can see how Clean Reader can branch out into a very lucrative market - far more lucrative than their little niche is now.
Whenever a particular noun makes an appearance they add a product before it. For example, if they were sponsored by Heinz...

"That tomato soup was delicious", he ejaculated.


"That Heinz tomato soup was delicious", he said.

A real winner IMHO.
I'll take my YELLOW CARD now, thanks.


There's a little problem with this idea:

"That Heinz tomato soup was delicious. John ate two portions, before realizing it was actually made from rancid sperm and cyanide".


Also, Unicode contains zero width whitespace characters (U+200B). In theory it should be possible to use these to split 'dirty' words up into unrecognised ones.

On top of this clean words could be split so that they are recognised as dirty, for instance vassal -> v-ass-al -> vbottomal.


Sounds good to me. I'll try their beanz next...


No yellow card applies; I made exactly that observation earlier.

It's the difference between censorship (by blocking part of the text) and editorial modification (substituting words) which is what is so objectionable about Clean Reader.

I can't force people to read my books, and if they choose to do so I can't force them to read every word I wrote ... but I'd rather some third party wasn't re-writing the text -- and presenting it as if the re-written words were mine.


So, next step up is an app that removes homophobic and racist references or indeed sentences. Needs a lot more work and some decent AI, but do-able. I expect Grauniads to die of cognitive dissonance.


The problem you've identified is the reason Facebook ads are so much less effective than Google ads.

Google can generate ads that fit into the context of whatever the reader is searching for -- i.e. they're relevant to the present tense interests of the reader.

Facebook ads are associated with FB "likes" which have a past tense association -- there's no point pushing a shampoo ad at someone on the basis of an FB posting saying they bought and liked a rival brand, because they're stocked up on shampoo already.

And that's before we get into FB generating highlights of someone's year in review that cause pain rather than pleasure, like this. Context is everything, and Facebook is utterly crap at understanding social context.


Nope, opposed to that, too.

I use homophobic and racist terms of abuse in my fiction. Go look for it: it's there.

Hint: again, context is everything, and there's a difference between describing something and endorsing it.


Natasha Desborough, a YA author, wasn't allowed to call her novel 'Weirdos vs. Camel toes' because her publishing company said that the language on the front wouldn't allow them to sell it to the booksellers.

However, 'Weirdos vs. Quimboids' was fine. I decry the lack of a classical education ...

In a similar way, I remember a copy of Hellblazer where Constantine wasn't allowed to say 'Fucking hell' but he could say 'Felching heck'.

That's the problem with censorship - it's just likely to make the underlying issue worse.


Arch - and now I see Bellingham@25 said much the same, but much earlier. All die. Oh, the embarrassment.


Gah. I have been playing "Star Wars: Commander" on the phablet. The game is a Disney product, I think, and one of the most infuriating features (besides the unterlame AI and the disheartening unreliability of the Disney game server) is the censorship of the chat between allies.

You can't ASSess an enemy base for weaknesses. Neither can you ASSault their rear, allowing tanks to pASS. You can't scRAPE a one point win (that last might be crap...), and you certainly can't **** them over completely.

Heavy sigh.

Charlie, if you managed to brutally punish a censor in court via some cunning linguistics, I would be very pleased.


Never assume that the enemy will stay stupid: Facebook will get better at this.

Meanwhile, the consistent stupidity of adware and censorship developers will, eventually, correct itself to mere negligence when it comes to securing their software...

...But they need to get very clever indeed: adware and censorware are fundamentally intrusive and therefore intrinsically insecure. It might not be possible to secure them at all.

Teenagers will unlock it; so, too, will pranksters who wish to extend the 'Santorum' neologism, or insert some unpopular politician's name into the sex scenes - or flat-out replace the villain's name throughout the text.

And, of course, religious fundamentalists, over-controlling parents, teachers in repressive cultures, etc. will make strenuous efforts to censor the text *anyway* if the API exists, and to Hell with the law.

My biggest concern remains the 'Thin end of the wedge', in which the crude find-and-replace won't stay stupid for long.

Semantic logic for rewriting sentences will come within a decade and it will get clever very quickly. Clever enough to do product placements; clever enough, eventually, to write the gay character out of the booK, or make them repulsive, and seamlessly redact all non-Christian behaviours and opinions.

Which is why Clean Reader needs slapping down *now*: it won't stay stupid for long.


I can't force people to read my books, and if they choose to do so I can't force them to read every word I wrote ... but I'd rather some third party wasn't re-writing the text -- and presenting it as if the re-written words were mine.

This seems exactly like the debate back in the 80s when Ted Turner started colorizing older black and white movies so they would look "newer" or "nicer" on his new movie channel. It ended with the US passing a law that an altered movie had to have a quick disclaimer at the front saying what had been altered. Of course now almost every movie on TV says it's been altered for some reason. letter boxed, clipped for time, language and/or scenes bleeped or substituted, whatever.

I wonder if this was done in other countries. And if the laws would apply to eBooks. Getting a separate law passed in the US just now for this might be hard.


I guess I'm caught here. On the one hand, an auto-Bowdlerizer sounds pretty gosh darn stupid. I mean, would it catch something like "After a long and thoughtful pause, the cop said '...fuck.'" Or would that stay unredacted to scorch my metaphorical maiden aunt's eyeballs?

On the other hand, as the late Sir pTerry demonstrated repeatedly, you don't need to use any profanity to truly mess with someone's mind. Censorship positively breeds subversive creativity. Nothing like constraints to make things more...suggestive.

The amusing thing to me is that inserting little black redactions all over the page makes it look dirtier than it is? I mean, imagine what it would do to a treatise on chicken husbandry and selective breeding. Then imagine a pubescent boy reading it and getting the wrong impression.

I can also imagine the effect of a redacted book on an imaginative young reader, who's reading books "much too mature" for her tender sensibilities, and gets those lovely redact-o-matics. It's not like she doesn't know the naughtier words (any potty-mouthed boy would have told her), but imagining what's behind the redactions is so much better than the rather boring reality. It's a great way to encourage things like imagination, creative thinking, and perhaps even hacking, if kids start figuring out how to mess with the reader. Keeping their minds clean? I don't think it'll work very well.


"How far can I take this" might actually be interesting grounds for a novella or something. Like how Scalzi's Redshirts we far less about being a redshirt and way more about playing with narrative, perspective, plotting structure, prose, and the craft of writing in general, making it more of a meta-book.

In this case you'd be looking to tell a perfectly clean story through using dirty-out-of-context words (or conversely and probably more fun, telling a story that is absolutely as filthy as possible without actually using any tip off words)

Which seems like a nice little practice challenge.


You don't need a special reader for that. Just one that does OpenType fonts properly. Someone clever has leveraged the syngergy of ligatures to block bullshit: see for an example. You can download that font as well, or make your own from one you like better.


Sort of like:

"Roger that," said Squadron Commander Dick N. Bush, as he shooed the seamen out of his cockpit so he could enter. "We'll penetrate their box and take them from behind."

Or, to take the other tack, perhaps a nursery rhyme like "Pop goes the weasel?" Or "She'll kill the old red rooster when he comes..." Those, of course, aren't dirty. Not at all.

I guess the bigger problem is that, if you assume that creativity thrives on subverting limits, are limits a good thing or a bad thing? Or are they just a thing?


I seem to recall the homophobic stuff coming up in Rule 34 and Halting State, but the racist stuff is much more hazy... I'm guessing in Merchant Princes since it deals with the DC crew quite comfortable in tossing them around? Or are they more UK slurs that don't register as much to an American (eg "gypsy")?


I'm with Cory on this. It would seem that the only way to prevent e-readers from doing this would be with DRM. But one of the most often cited reasons for detesting DRM is that it makes it harder for people with disabilities to be accommodated, e.g. with text-to-speech for the blind.

What if we charitably just called extreme swearword sensitivity a disability? Does it really matter if such a person reads a bowdlerized book and enjoys it? Where's the victim here?


That's the "moral rights" Charlie referred to -- a very big deal in Europe, pretty much non-existent in the US, and it prevents someone from doing exactly this, making a derivative work without permission.

(I mostly disagree with "moral rights," but I can also empathize with Charlie's anger and disgust at someone doing this to one of his books. The fact that something he didn't wright is being presented as something he did write? That's on the same order of saying he didn't write something he did.)


It would seem that the only way to prevent e-readers from doing this would be with DRM.

Clean Reader AIUI sources books and sells them with DRM applied. There is no escape: DRM is orthogonal to the issue.


When the state of Nebrahoma requires by law all public libraries and everything in schools (including both textbooks and "required reading" literature, and why not get private schools and colleges into the fold while we're at it) to pass through CR's algorithm, that's when the fit will hit the shan. And if no enterprising author or publisher gets a US court to say their app is illegal before that, "state's rights" will trump whatever you can throw at them at that stage. This is not about someone's sensitivities when they read their newly purchased work of literary art, nor is it about helicopter parents protecting their special snowflakes. This is about (or will be much sooner than one would expect) about public mind-control. And if you want to sell a book in the US, you can't risk having half the country read one version of it, and the other half a different version, so you adapt. And now entire sections of the dictionary (and in the future, entire pieces of the Human Experience, and later entire ideologies) are gone in a puff of smoke.

So to your question Charlie: you (the collective you, the Writing Class) should take it as far and as fast and as hard as you can throw these guys. They need to have an opt-in process for the authors, on a per-book basis, and _cannot block the sale of a book they can't modify_. If they want to post a warning, or require a parental-approval code for such works, that's probably acceptable. But they must allow the sale, if they are a contracted distributor.


I was wondering if anyone would mention the "mewling quim" line from Avengers. It was the first thing I thought of as Charlie started to mention alternatives to the more mundane obscenities. I remember hearing it in the theater and being amusingly shocked that they'd gotten it into the film.


A "...warning, or ...parental-approval code" sounds to me to hold the seeds of an excellent idea. An app which held a database of various elements of books (including, but not limited to, profanity, various types of scenes, types of characters, settings, level of violence etc.) would allow readers to opt in or out of works containing such things and give warnings to people who are probably okay but don't want to wander in on it unawares. We could call it, I don't know, a "review" or something.

Some idiot would use it to ban books from areas they have authority over, but that's not a problem that would go away with the app*.

* I reference this scene from Donnie Darko:

Rose: Do you even know who Graham Greene is?
Kitty: I think we've all seen Bonana.


Anything that re-writes a book-shaped thing as your are trying to read it is inimical to the author-reader relations, and which is why I don't regard ebooks as actual books, just pieces of code that simulate the reading experience.

I didn't read OGH's Equoid until I owned it in hardback, and I've only really downloaded one book, because the dead-tree version was prohibitively expensive.

Only the dead-tree variant is guaranteed to have the words the author wished to use, in the correct order, and there's little you can do to change that, beyond bricolage.


What if we charitably just called extreme swearword sensitivity a disability?

Except that it isn't. Otherwise one might as well call racism a disability next...

BTW, there is a medical condition for the opposite.


One woman's euphemism is another's curse.


It would be interesting to see how many metaphorical passages containing descriptions of genitalia and raunchy sex scenes Clean Reader would completely pass over in a John Cleve SPACEWAYS book. Yet it would be sure to change all those cuss words though for clean reading. It’s so utterly absurd and so very wrong.

Posting/publishing an author’s novel rewritten via Clean Reader or otherwise on the web without consent would be illegal. However, if they’re running a novel through their favorite censorship software and reading it in the privacy of their home, good for them. I would suggest they start with a John Cleve SPACEWAYS book. Snicker.


This reminds me of the short lived fuss over a browser plugin that allowed people to lay their comments over people's websites for others with the same plugin to see. No idea what happened to it, but it obviously never made the mainstream.

However, this raises wider questions that will have to be addressed with augmented reality, where scenes are edited. For example, do I have a right to not have my image messed with in real time? Do shops etc have a right not to have any street adverts overwritten by rival ads?


Two thoughts:

1. Authors may need to start digitally signing their eBooks soon to certify an original version as being the original. (Please to not hand out your signing keys to third parties.)

2. A FOSS app that reverts the effects of Clean Reader would not be difficult to write. In fact, it's kind of been written already, in the form of the Herp Derp plugin. All one would need to do is adjust the regexes.

2b. Come to think of it, a global search/replace of "bottom", "chest" and "gosh-darned" with "cunt", "breast" and "motherfucking" could yield amusing results over and beyond simply undoing the bowdleriser's actions.


How far can I take this?

Well you have to believe somewhat in AI, but a while ago you suggested a rather drastic solution to the spammer problem.
"Clean Reader" could be understood by the literal minded as a command. Disclaimer: I am not advocating this.

BTW - I haven't posted here recently and "exercise in futility" applies to creating a new account. I have no confidence I'll be able to log in again. I have no idea why it thinks I'm "D". I posted before as BobH and tried to reinstate that name. May show how far from True AI (tm) we really are.

BTW2 I reposted the GodMan cartoon from boingboing to my page as part of a long running discussion with an evangelical friend about the nature of god. The ads that got posted alongside are the games Siegelord, and Slotomania


Don't forget the German town of Wank, just north of the Fernpass - or the wartime censors missing the significance of photos of an RAF Spitfire named "Fochinell". And I suspect that the towns of Maidenhead and Scunthorpe will have to appear on an exceptions list...

I do find the insistence on sticking fingers in ears and going la-la-la puzzling; but then, I let my just-turned-thirteen son work his way through the Laundry novels. Including the vampire hunter; if I can't introduce or discuss concepts like atypical behaviours, or pornography, or the sex industry, how's he going to cope when the numpties in his class start discussing "50 Shades", or shoving graphic porn in front of him, courtesy of smartphones? (Not yet for the latter, but I suspect not long now).

Aside: it took a while, but he finally picked up and is halfway through Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother"; his comment so far is "it's making him think" :) Result :)

So, back on topic - any way of invoking the shades of the GNU Public License on this? Or the "No Derivatives" form of the Creative Commons License?


The answer is to prosecute Clean Reader to the full extent of your abilities and resources and to encourage other authors to do the same. Showing mercy to your enemies is a sin.

Suppose there's an e-book distributor called Safe Reader that edits book content to avoid triggering victims of oppression, for use in the safe space of university English classes. You would selectively relinquish your moral rights and attack authors who do not follow suit. Assisting your allies is a virtue.


rcetqeix, do you intend to highlight the difference between those two scenarios? You're comparing altering a book against an author's will and altering it with the author's blessing.

But you can accomplish much the same thing with censorship with summaries -- ideally easily lifted censorship -- as you are suggesting using wholesale alterations for. So it's not an effective example.


If I had not read the comments, I would not have learned about Sans Bullshit Sans, so my evening is now complete. Others have already scooped my helpful ideas of appropriating appropriate names (Santorum, Bush, and Cheney are all obvious choices) and spooner-encoding (Chucking Face, that would be me). There's always igpay atinlay and Cockney slang.

It might be better to directly co-opt allegedly positive words instead of making up new bad ones, since that allows you to retroactively subvert existing marketing-speak. Among some of my friends, "special" and "enhanced" are not good attributes, as in "I love the La Fiesta mole, but it gives me a special tummy the next day" or "I love how they've enhanced the medical plan".

I note, apropos of not much, that a friend of mine once spent the time and effort required to convert a reel-to-reel tape recording of the Dead Kennedy's "Too Drunk to Fuck" into "Too Drunk to Kcuf", then recorded it to a cart(ridge tape), and it was frequently played on the radio. People not listening carefully that though were hearing the real thing. I'm not sure where this would fall on the "moral rights" scale, since a work of art was literally sliced up with a razor, but it yielded an outcome that I think would amuse its creators. (I later tried to repeat this act using digital tools and was impressed at how hard it was to do a similarly good job.)

Clean Reader would be a lot more amusing if readers were allowed to monkey with the rewrite tables.

Or perhaps you could just broaden your readers' horizons and teach them to curse in many languages.


So it it will soon be possible for Minitrue to automate the cleansing of history. How long before Winston Smith is out of a job?


dhasenan, the difference is that anyone who engages in the former is a dangerous Christian theocrat, but anyone who doesn't wholeheartedly condone the latter is a problematic misogynist.

Charlie occasionally coaches political or business disagreements in terms of global moral outrage. You may have gotten distracted by the censorship rhetoric. Strip the superfluous framing away and the payload core emerges -- "how can I hurt my political enemies?"

Your suggestion of summaries is, of course, quaintly conservative. Once you've accepted the legitimacy of postmodern discourse on campus, you will concede any and all speech restrictions. Easily lifted censorship is a bug, not a feature there.


One wonders how long it will be before Clean Reader hacks show up on 4Chan. This seems tailor made for messing with.


Funny thing: a DVD player that does something similar to movies has the distinction of having had its business model specifically authorized by an act of Congress.

Since it doesn't alter the original work, just the way in which you read it, it may legally be a fair use, at least over here in the States.

Of course, nothing prevents people now from decompiling e-books, running their own search-and-replace, and recompiling them. If I was ever in a situation where I felt I needed to do that (heavens forfend!) I certainly wouldn't rely on someone else's app to do it for me.


A couple of years back there was a song "Don't Marry Her" (by The Beautiful South) that had both a "clean" and an "explicit" version*, with just one word altered from the hook line (have instead of fuck). I remember hearing them on the radio, and never being able to decipher which station chose which version to air at which time. If an author so chooses**, they can serve both a "safe" and "dirty" version of their art. But in that case I prefer the author's judgement on what words to replace and with which alternatives, over any third-party, no matter how great their AI-fu is.
Isn't there a clause in copyright law that a work should not be altered unless explicit permission is given? I'd say find an author that didn't consent and sue the pants off of these guys.

* look for the differences:
And don't give me grief about the order in which they're presented, I had a full twenty seconds of deliberations with myself on it.

** there's also the example of J.K. Rowling publishing US/UK versions of her Harry Potter books (mainly the early ones, I think, but not entirely certain and don't have time to look). I've never had work of mine published (outside of a school paper, that is) so take my sentiments with the appropriate seasoning, but I wouldn't feel comfortable having two versions of my work in the wild, when I think one is clearly better, only for commercial reasons (probably imposed by the publishing chain).


Showing mercy to your enemies is a sin.

No. It isn't.

Assisting your allies is a virtue.

Yes, agreed. Usually.

“Treat your friend as if he might become an enemy, and vice versa.”


I think a creative writer could do much harm with this program in mind. I fail to understand the need for this. As said, if you don't like to read it (or don't want your children to read it), please just don't read it!

As an aside, fifteen years ago somebody did an internet thingie for a reverse version of this. Sadly it's only in Finnish. It's apparently up but not working anymore. It's called "Korsoraattori" after a suburb close to Helsinki which has a reputation for people talking by cursing all the time (and other things - not easy to explain the cultural connotations here). It basically transformed web pages by transforming every 'ks' to 'x' (a letter not found in Finnish words, only some loan words), doing some other substitutions and adding swear words to the text.


This is a horrible tool, but I suspect that it achieves the opposite of what it has set out to do.

Reading "fuck" in the context of the text is a hell of a lot less jarring than reading "f---". It derails your reading and if this is inflicted on kids, it just highlights the swearing and becomes a game of guessing which naughty word was removed.


Commenting before reading all the preceding comments (which may be a mistake)
I note: The app is the brainchild of a mother and father from Idaho, Jared and Kirsten Maughan,
US puritan christains, oh dear.
Welcome to Mr Bowlder ... this is vile....

And, it's totally absurd:
But cock a poo would have cock blocked. And if you are talking about the male of a bord-species, like a literary reference ot a cock blackbird singing in the early-morning rain? ( There was one outside my window about 2 hours back )
Or "prick" with reference to say the Sleeping Beauty story as related by Perrault, f'rinstance.

Paul @ 7 prompts me to ask:
What happens with Stratford Bill's works?
I'm thinking of "Now god stand up for Bastards!" in King Lear ....

Agree, incidentally, since Charlie is ASKING A QUESTION.
It's unwanted & un-necessary censorship & is what 1066 & all that would call: "A Bad Thing"


There used to be a direct train service between Penistone & Scunthorpe - did you know that?
( These days you have to change @ Doncaster. )

Oh the irony!


That isn't new either, more's the pity.
There was an alphabet-list generated some years back, guaranteed to trigger the spook's "security" alarms, by having 26 sequential "suspicious " words, so as to deiberately overload their filters - & this was well before Snowden's revealtions.
Something like:
A is for ammunition, B is for Bomb, C is for Communists, D - Detonate - you get the idea ....


Actually, they were not thinking AT ALL.
US christians from Idaho, remember?


Missed the point by a Cuntry Mile ( there may be a mis-spelling in there, oops)
What bothers a lot of us is the use of this (or similar) to PRE-CENSOR works before others read them.
It's re-writing the "Times" leaders in pure Newspeak in effect.
And that's why it's so bad.
( or the "Index expagatorius" for that matter ... )


Charlie, if you managed to brutally punish a censor in court via some cunning linguistics, I would be very pleased.
Oh dear ...
Don't you mean: "Cunning Stunts"?


FINALLY - someone mentioned 1984.
Which is what this is all about, isn't it?


If the app is a paid-for, licensed service, surely the app (and its creators) are producing a derivative work, a process which is in contravention of the copyright laws.


Don't forget the German town of Wank, just north of the Fernpass - or the wartime censors missing the significance of photos of an RAF Spitfire named "Fochinell". And I suspect that the towns of Maidenhead and Scunthorpe will have to appear on an exceptions list...
The fact that you can not mention Scunthorpe without annoying the nannyware is a recurring bone of contention on one UK car based site I use.


A couple of years back there was a song "Don't Marry Her" (by The Beautiful South) that had both a "clean" and an "explicit" version*, with just one word altered from the hook line (have instead of fuck). I remember hearing them on the radio, and never being able to decipher which station chose which version to air at which time.
I've never heard the "fvck" version, but I'm not sure it really matters because I always heard "have me" as "get to know me in the Biblical sense", so the "cleaning" was totally ineffective.


has leveraged the syngergy

Now that's language we could do without, thankyoueversomuch.

I was delighted by that post, but I'd forgotten about it till you mentioned it. A combination of that and CR would be amusing, if the effect was that CR turned a 'hell' into a 'heck', and then the typeface ligated that into something more obscene than the original 'hell'. In bold.


The 'fuck' version is the one on the CDs. I don't think the 'cleaned' version is on general release, I think they just produced it for those radio stations who wanted to avoid the swear word.

(These days, both versions would be released, one as the 'remixed' one. The downside of digital distribution is the sheer amount of junk you can end up with. No, I don't need three different audition versions of The Gates Of Delirium)


That could explain it; I've never known anyone who was a big enough fan of TBS to buy their albums well enough to listen to music with them.

Having said which, depending on the singer's rendition, I might hear the (punctuation removed deliberately) phrase "don't marry her fvck me" either as per comment_list'current-3 or as "don't marry her!"


So, how far can you take it? Two words from a well known author spring to mind "Krantzberg's Syndrome". Their brains, Swiss cheese.

Having said that I kinda empathise with the concern about drawing attention to a product that is of primary interest to bible-belt theocrats.

I agree this is bowdlerist bullshit, I have never got my head around American prudishness, how can you understand a country that popularised motherfucker but finds cunt distasteful? (thank you Billy)

Is there truly a risk of this establishing a significant precedent? I agree that the US legal system runs on money and that the hallelujah set have plenty of it but at some point reality bites.

1. Never stand between a publisher and a dollar and dammit Charlie you sell.

2. If push advertising starts to become a significantly annoying paradigm then some clever fucker out there (you know who you are) will develop a way around it and tap that market.

Don't get me wrong, I'm dead against it but surely all that a challenge through the courts does is enrich the scum lawyers and give the purveyors oxygen. One could simply wait, if this goes on the middle west will be an ignorant backwater ruled by a theocracy(Bob gets it right again) that will be irrelevant to the great publishing houses of Asia.

Also sad to hear Cory's view. Censorship not the same as free speech. Censorship imposes your views on others, free speech allows others to hear them and make up their own minds. Sorry but category error there I think. If you don't like the artwork, don't buy the artwork, don't look at the artwork. Insisting that others should only see the artwork after it has been mutilated to suit a narrow view of the world is so seriously wrong it gives me the willies the same way as the destruction of important historical artefacts by extremists. And as for "editing" important historical texts so as not to give offence - bullshit! It may be painful but if you can't stand the blowtorch of reality then I have a nice pair of rose coloured glasses I'd like too sell you, mind careful you don't trip over that little red wagon & break your neck. History ... lessons .. repeat! Of course its painful, of course it raises moral outrage, it should, you just can't bubble wrap some of this stuff, that's it's lesson.

Damm, too much for a first time?


The original rendition by Jacqui Abbott is very much one of "Your life with her will be miserable, come have carnal fun with me instead".

We've missed the Sandra Bullocks in that song, mostly because the version I always hear has 'sweaty bollocks' instead.

The Wikipedia article indicates the two versions were the album version and the single version, so (assuming that's correct - I've not checked) which got heard on radio to a certain extent depended on whether the DJ tended to take songs from the albums or not.


I have a Best of CD that has the 'have' version. Didn't even know there *was* a 'fuck' version, actually.


Yeah. It looks like the bowdlerised version was the single, because that would be the one expected to get radio play, and would therefore be the one ending up on the Best Of.

(I usually buy albums and ignore compilations.)


Sorry, but once I buy a copy of a book (dead tree or ebook) I am now the owner of this property and can do what I darn well feel like doing to it.

Should I want a software program to Bowdlerise its contents for my own PERSONAL use (not to misrepresent the book to others, not for resale as if it was the original work, not to misquote) I have every right to do so.

And the author has no say in the matter.


Moral rights in the USA? Uh, yeah. This is the state where Indiana introduced a law that's likely to pass that makes it legal for retailers to discriminate against gay customers, and a Texas congresscritter said "Freedom of Religion doesn't mean Freedom From Religion" on requiring Air Force Academy students to say 'So help me God.'

It's kind of funny that as church attendance continues to decline over here, the self-righteous get louder on their bully pulpits, bullying everyone.


"Sorry, but once I buy a copy of a book (dead tree or ebook)"

But what if you haven't bought the eBook, but instead have entered into some kind of license agreement?


Sounds like a bad thing to me, but might be played with, thinking of the late George Carlin's "Bad words" where he suggests that since "Kill" is not one of THOSE words, yet describes an ugly thing, while "Fuck" being an ugly word for a pleasant activity, why not reverse their useage? A hacked auto-Bowdlerizer might enable Carlin's "Sheriff, I'm going to fuck you, but I'm going to fuck you slow.". And another thing, the software should make it immediately obvious that it's been used, the same way one can tell if the cat's pissed on the towel you foolishly dropped on the floor.


Then it is no longer so simple. But it depends on the terms of the lease agreement, whether it allows such alterations, whether the alterations occur only on my personal reader without permenently damaging the contents of the book, etc.

It would be gettting the book from the local library. That would not be my property and I could not deface or alter it.

But out and out purchase means I can do what I darn well please to my book to enhance my personal enjoyment.


I don't see any inherent difference between "bowdlerizing" a private copy of a work, crossing out, highlighting, or underlining words on a paper copy.

Under US law, once I purchase a paper book, it's mine to do with as I wish. What we're seeing here is a push to treat ebooks as licensed software, not as books. Software licensing is pretty much a joke, though I'm sure the ebook publishers would love them some DRM and license servers... wait, they already tried that, and it didn't work out so well in the market.


I'm pretty sure that the version on Blue are the Lyrics^W^W^Wis the Colour has the non-"Radio Edit" version.

Generally speaking I take Radio Edit to mean that they've substituted out explicit lyrics, although in some cases I guess it can also be a matter of edited for length.

Another recent example of this would be Cee-Lo Green...


Technically, the terms of sale at pretty much any e-book store claim you're just "licensing" it, not actually "buying" it. Which is really kind of ridiculous, given that the button to make a purchase says "buy," not "license," but there you go. (I personally don't let it stop me from doing whatever I want with the e-book apart from passing it on to other people, though. They're not exactly going to come to my house and tell me I can't.)

I don't think the question of whether an e-book is sold or licensed has actually been tested in court yet, though I could be wrong.


I hope all this moral hang wringing doesn't apply to pirated works...


Yes. However...

I've read a lot of 19th century and early twentieth century novels and seen work arounds for (at the time) unpublishable words and situations. I mostly decipher them fast enough to not drop out of regular reading mode. In other words, if one were a regular user of such an app, one would swiftly become used to it.

Conversely certain people (for example my Grandmother when she was alive) strongly disapprove of "bad" language and find it distracting to the point of completely derailing from whatever else was going. (Also, trying to get some teenagers to study when the text is full of smut* is something I sympathise with)

Now I agree that it would be better for such people to avoid works that would be a problem for them, or, if such a work is important in some way, to grimly work their way throught the difficult parts with a disapproving frown. Yet I also understand the people who made the app; if such a small thing prevents enjoyment, why not adjust it? It's just that the small things are important and add up. Every word gets chosen and placed. It's not gratuitous.


But on another note here's a fine thing to come from censorship; Code Words for Lesbianism in Classic Films

* While observing a GCSE English lesson I discovered that between Act 3 Scene 3 and Scene 5, Romeo and Juliet spent the night playing scrabble. Who knew?


While writing my own post on this issue, I bit the bullet, downloaded the app, and purchased a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses.

Apropos your challenge for alternate creative language, you might be tickled to know that Ulysses crashes the Clean Reader mercilessly. It sends it into spasmic, glitchy states of tonic immobility. But best of all, it doesn't seem to blink at some of the most obscene passages of Molly's Soliloquy. That's because Clean Reader, like most of its users, is profoundly illiterate. It wouldn't know a truly transgressive and obscene passage if it crawled up and shat in its breakfast.


"nothing prevents people now from decompiling e-books, running their own search-and-replace, and recompiling them. If I was ever in a situation where I felt I needed to do that (heavens forfend!) I certainly wouldn't rely on someone else's app to do it for me."

I've been in that situation.

John Ringo's Looking Glass sequence tried to become more PG from the second book onwards, by replacing "fuck" with "grap" and something else replacing "shit", I forget what (this was handwaved as alien loan words entering the language after first friendly contact). I found hardass marines saying "Mothergrapper!" to be so silly it took me right out of the narrative, so I did the whole decompiling/S&R/recompiling thing on all 3 books. It was a major faff that had me worrying I might have accidentally deleted a chapter or something. If CleanReader had user customisable seach and replace terms, I'd be very tempted to buy it for this sort of thing.

"How far do you think I can take this?"

I'm pretty sure that you could take this quite far, and there were even some suggestions in the previous comments, but I'm not sure that I want you to.

I want to read the next Charlie Stross work of fiction as Charlie Stross intends it to be read, and want to enjoy it as a (hopefully) good example of your writing. I don't want it to be turned into a vehicle of a war. I don't want you to bend your writing style just in order to deliver a blow to a stupid piece of censorship software. Because it is not a given that this exercise would make your writing style better. And I would hate it if your satisfaction as a writer about having shown the finger to the self-proclaimed guardians of moral would result in a book that is less enjoyable for me as a reader.

In short: in your writing I want you to primarily cater to your readers, not to a stupid piece of censorship software. Reversing this would seem like an oddly backwards approach to writing.


FWIW Soup (the condensed Housemartins / Cream of TBS album) also has the fucked version. So neither copy of the song I have is the cleaned one.


"Dirty" and "clean" versions of songs (for radio stations that won't play the dirty version) is far from new. The Steve Miller Band's "Big Ol' Jet Airliner" had versions that talked about getting caught up in either the funky "shit" or the funky "kicks" going down in the city, and I doubt that was even the first such song. Radio stations could get fined for broadcasting bad words. (See also, George Carlin.)


Anyone remember Clean Films? This seems similar...

The judgement there was (as wiki says):

Editing videos in this way was controversial. CleanFilms was named in a lawsuit along with two other companies CleanFlicks and Play It Clean Video. In July 2006, U.S. District Judge Richard P. Matsch ruled in favor of the directors and the studios. In his decision the judge stated: Their objective ... is to stop the infringement because of its irreparable injury to the creative artistic expression in the copyrighted movies. There is a public interest in providing such protection. [1][2] Due to the court ruling CleanFilms is no longer in operation.

I expect this to go the same way.


Or it could go the same way as ClearPlay, who (as I mentioned above) actually had their auto-bowdlerizing DVD player technology explicitly declared legal by an act of Congress.

CleanFilms et al were taking a copy of a movie and creating a bowdlerized copy itself, which they were then selling. ClearPlay basically issued a set of programming instructions to its DVD player on how to play the movie, where to mute several seconds of footage, and so on. ClearPlay seems a lot closer in spirit to Clean Reader.


Then it is no longer so simple. But it depends on the terms of the lease agreement,

Thank you for playing.

The publishers are ahead of you: if you read the small print in the Kindle or Nook or iBooks agreements you will find that you are not "buying a book"; you are paying a fee for a limited license to use the Kindle or Nook or iBooks platform to gain access to certain content, mediated via that platform.

The publishers never "sell" ebooks direct to the public; they always go via wholesale sales channels or specialist resellers like Kindle or Nook who place these restrictions in your path.

In point of fact, four out of the big five publishers will never sell you a "book", they'll only ever sell you a limited license to access the content. And their group-wide corporate policy mandates DRM to enforce that restriction. Sure you can break the DRM, but if you do that, you're violating the terms of your end-user license agreement, you dirty, naughty, no-good, unclefracking pirate, you.

(The fifth of the big five, Macmillan, allows some of its subsidiaries, like Tor, to sell access to ebooks without mandating DRM, because they agree it doesn't help. And many of the smaller publishers follow different business models -- Baen's relationship with their online sales subsidiary Webscription is noteworthy.)

But the point is, if you use Clean Reader you aren't "buying a book". You're paying a license fee for restricted access to texts supplied with DRM through a wholesale vendor who in turn supplies the Clean Reader app with a data file which it then displays to you. And it's possible the Clean Reader folks are violating the publisher/wholesaler license terms and conditions by doing what they do.


What we're seeing here is a push to treat ebooks as licensed software, not as books.

No you're not. That "push" happened 10-20 years ago and it's a done deal -- that's how 98% of ebooks are sold.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is irrelevant to the fact that waking up and noticing it right now is a little tardy.



But it seems to me that people should have the right to edit their own personal copies of literature, for their own personal use, that they then will not sell.

I can see that the artist deserves to have his work presented as he wants it (subject to editor's dictate), but how far should we take that? If I make a video and you buy a license to see it (perhaps a tiacket to a movie theater), do I have the right to insist that you not close your eyes during the torture scenes?

If your name is Dick, and I write a story where the horrible villain is named Dick, and you decide in your own personal copy you want to change Dick to Harry, why is it any of my business?

If Harry sells software that makes it easier for people to modify their own personal copies of things, so what?

If Harry sells a codex that lets his customers each individually change my novel around to suit Harry -- so that, say, wherever I criticize Republicans for being greedy warmongers who're mean to poor people he changes it to Democrats, and on page 212 where Dick removes the girl's bra he changes it to her jacket, I'm not sure whether I have a complaint. His codex is useless without my book, and if each of his customers buys an uncensored copy of ny book and then they read it their own way, how is that my business? Especially if in some private time and place they can read the original and not have to admit it to anybody.

I'd like to be sure, and insist that in that particular circumstance there's nothing wrong. But I'm not sure. I'm unclear about the whole thing.


The original rendition by Jacqui Abbott is very much one of "Your life with her will be miserable, come have carnal fun with me instead".
And we already established that this was what I heard in the "clean" cut of the TBS version.


Interestingly, it seems as if the Google Play store actually sells ebooks, looking at both the language in the Terms of Service and in the confirmation emails, they distinctly say "purchase", not "license".


Automatically bowdlerising anybody's reading is wrong.
When my children were a lot younger I bought a copy of the Just So Stories and found that my first year primary school teacher has "tuned" what she read to us in class. Mostly simplifications like the cat saying "the same to me" insetad of "alike to me".
I decided I would never do this to my children but then got to the end of "How the Leopard got his spots and had to censor the line "Oh, plain black's best for a nigger,' said the Ethiopian.'
I fact I said "Black's alright for me" just as my teacher had done.
But Clear Play should still be stopped, Apart from the morality of altering an author's text without permission sanitised swearing always sounds so lame. It's hard to take seriously any American who uses darned and heck.


Clean Readet not Clear Play. I'm getting old and confused.


I said "Black's alright for me" just as my teacher had done.

Oh the can of worms that is cultural differences across time and space. Yeah, some texts are distinctly problematic, even though within their original culture they may have been comparatively enlightened.

It's hard to take seriously any American who uses darned

Why? There's something wrong with repairing socks?

(Deliberately reading the meaning of 'darned' as 'patched with wool' leads to some somewhat weird images.)


If Harry sells software that makes it easier for people to modify their own personal copies of things, so what?

That could make for some interesting book groups. Imagine the fights over who read the 'real' book, or what it was actually about.


I'd try to bury important infotmation in likely-to-be-altered text. Change the words, lose the information and turn the entire story into a confusing mess.

What if two (or three, or four) characters went by nicknames that would be transformed into the same word? Put them in scenes them in scenes together. Have other characters talk about both of them at the same time. Make them prime suspects in a murder mystery. Then make one of them the killer. That big reveal is going to be very confusing if you can't tell whether the detective is talking about <bleep> or <bleep>.


So this is what happens when you find a stranger in the alps.


How far can you take it? It seems that you are limited only by your creativity, which has proved itself to be both wide and deep.

But let's make some lemonade here. Assume that in the future-as has been suggested above-the thin wedge of Clean Reader has expanded to a thick plank of text modification filters of all kinds: language, style, gender, ethnicity, length, verbosity, whatever. Also, they've added social networking functions, because why not. Call it Instagram for books. Of course there are also unauthorized versions floating around that can do some really freaky stuff. Everyone in publishing hates it and pines for the Good Old Days when a book was static and made out of trees, but there it is and the kids love it.

Could you, as someone who knows more than a little bit about programming, create a novel/code that produces several different but compelling versions of a novel? Kind of an automated choose-your-own-adventure book? What happens when you overlay several different filters? What if somebody hacks a little Harry Potter in there?

I've learned from reading your stuff that the weirder parts of the future are closer than we're comfortable with. (What do you mean my refrigerator was participating in a DDoS attack?) This could be part of it.


Funny thing is, someone's already thought of that. Or at least they had a while back. I haven't looked to see if anything ever came of it.


I'd hope you wouldn't go the language war route. I agree with some of the others. That sort of thing tends to take me right out of the story. Instead, you ought to just make sure they're unable to sell any of your works. Especially since a lot of people seem to think it's perfectly all right to fuck with your text, I'd want to make sure the fucking-with is as difficult as possible.


I suppose the more interesting question is just how much an author's words matter?

After all, any translation of the work is going to be using very different languages, and probably will get many more idioms wrong than this app would.

And you can imagine a near future AI taking Fifty Shades of Gray and rewriting it to improve that quality of the prose. Is that a bad thing?

Maybe you can imagine that AI rewriting OGH prose to remove the scottishisms - or indeed to remove anything else the reader wasn't keen on.

People don't get up in arms when Shakespeare gets reimagined as leather clad bikers, or Austen as a valley girl. Provided they aren't labelled as 'the original', reworking and reimagining for different sensibilities seems OK.

And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway, and that what they meant to say doesn't matter next to the critics perception of reality.

Provided you tell the lawyers to take a running jump; once it's out there all of the 'rights' are only conventions of society, put in place to mean the authors write more books. And society seems to be drawing lines where it wants, not where an author might choose.

Probably bigger and more important fish to fry than the fetted behaviour of a bunch of religious zealots in the US who can't deal with reality.


What can you do about this?

Economic methods are difficult; they aren't selling the app yet. DRM is tricky; you'd have to have a very good implementation to have it check all display programs, as cle re is a display program--it doesn't affect the original file, based on looking at the webpage.

You can, of course, raise a stink. You can ask your publisher to come out against it. Best would be making fun of it and potential derivatives in your books.

The example that blackly amuses me is bowlderizing Game of Thrones. The amount of fuckery and mayhem in that set of works is far, far beyond words. I would not recommend your Laundry series for children, because I don't want to have to deal with their nightmares. And the Laundry novels don't have much swearing in them...

Moral rights of integrity don't work well in a country focused on money (the USA). Internationally you'd get some purchase, if it's not torpedoed by the various secret trade agreements...


to take this further: you could inject a bunch of unicode chars into the ebook that injected shellcode into the censorbot to get it to do some differently interesting things.


This thread is pretty funny

That app is probably about ten lines of code and could easily be written by your average 12 year old

I don't think you are gonna have much luck locking that one up (-:


It's hard to take seriously any American who uses darned and heck.

Why? If that's the family and culture they grew up in and have 15 to 20 years of language usage imprinted they would find it very difficult to use other words unless they made it a project. Which seems like a silly use of time and brain power.

Your beef may be with a great-great-grandfather.

People who say "soda pop" or just "pop" sound silly to me. Of course I grew up where you just used "coke" then told the other person what flavor. "Code", "Pepsi", etc..


But it seems to me that people should have the right to edit their own personal copies of literature, for their own personal use, that they then will not sell.

You're missing the point of a "license". It's not your book. It's is one you are allowed to use under the rights listed and granted.

And Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, etc... will be willing to spend many many millions helping these folks out if sued and it looks even remotely possible for them to loose. Maybe a $billion or more. The software industry really likes their shrinkwrap/download licenses and want to keep them no matter how much it costs in lawyers.


Someone mentioned this was done by some folks in Idaho. If so I have to wonder if they are not associated with Doug Wilson.

I ask because there just aren't that many people there. Idaho makes Scotland look densely populated.

DW gives most conservative Christians in the US heartburn due to his extreme positions.

Anyone know more details?


I await with interest the result of feeding the thing the collected scripts of Round the Horne. Or Up Pompeii, or indeed a number of other fine examples of BBC scriptwriters getting faecal matter past the censor.


"But it seems to me that people should have the right to edit their own personal copies of literature, for their own personal use, that they then will not sell."

You're missing the point of a "license". It's not your book. It's is one you are allowed to use under the rights listed and granted.

Even so. If the original file is still there, unaltered, what are they on about?

I see you don't have the right to sell it as your own work.
You don't have the right to copy it and give away the copies.
Probably you don't have the right to give away one copy and delete your own.
Maybe you don't have the right to make a parody and sell that.
Perhaps you have no right to make a parody and give it away for free.

But if you change the way you view the file in the privacy of your own computer, why do they have any right to even find out whether you did that?


Oh dear, you shouldn't have reminded me.

Formation Goat Nadgering yes, well, um ....
And Rambling Syd Rumpole ( IIRC NOT "Rumpo" as in the Wiki article. )
I see no mention ( He may have been in "Beyond our Ken" ) of J Arthur Fallowfeld - a spoof gardening "guru" whose catchphrase was "The answer lies in the soil" - & which, needless to say, always involved the reproduction of species, various.


Because darned and heck are "sanitised" replacements for damned and hell which are not swearwords to the British.
There was a (very mild) fuss a couple of years ago when a British TV advertisment for Australian holidays used the words "Bloody hell"
I saw a couple of US TV news itens which had to point out that the objections were to the "bloody" not the "hell".


I had a co-worker who was not a native speaker, and whose strongest exclamantion was "gosh!".

For the first couple of times I found this strange, but after that it was just business as usual. Most of the other people on that team cursed a lot more (many Finns, an Englishman and various others).


I suppose the more interesting question is just how much an author's words matter?

It all depends on the context.

A translation is effectively a collaboration; one author writes an incredibly detailed outline, and another author (the translator) uses this as a skeleton around which they write a novel. Ideally it's very similar in message to the outline -- but there's some room for variation when the target language simply doesn't work the same way as the source language (German and weird conditional future tenses that English takes in its stride; Japanese and the second person, which is incredibly rude). But in general, the translator is trying to achieve an equivalent effect in the target language to the effect achieved by the original work in the source language.

Clean Read is different because it's trying to take a source work and create a derivative work that achieves a different effect. Because swearing/scatology is often a form of emphatic punctuation in vernacular speech, and when it isn't, it's descriptive prose that uses coarse language to deliberate effect -- there is a difference of implication between dialog talking about a cunt and dialog talking about a vagina, or ladyparts, or one's "bottom".

Rewriting Shakespeare with biker gangs, or Jane Austen with valley girls, is actually a lot less offensive to my mind because it requires a wholesale re-imagining of the original work -- it can't be done slavishly or mechanically, and the effect is much the same as a loose language translation. It's a new work. Even "Pride and Prejudice with Zombies" isn't quite as remarkably bad as Clean Reader because at least there's some creative human input -- it's not as if the author had used global search/replace to swap all occurrences of the string "Darcy" for "Zombie".

And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway,

I submit that those critics don't know what they're talking about and are idiots. (I will allow an honorable exception for any critics making such claims who are also successful novelists in their own right. But in the absence of experience, they're like the Pope talking about sex: a purely theoretical exercise by a presumptive celibate.)


My wife was[1] fluent in Swedish (with a sufficiently good Stockholm accent as to fool natives), and she likes to watch Wallander and similar, which over here have English subtitles. One of the things that amuses her is the subtitling of swearing, because Swedish is, I understand, somewhat deficient in swearwords.

Apparently the same Swedish word will be translated into English as anything from 'bother' to the bluest of terms, depending on whether Wallander has stubbed his toe or just had his car blown up.

Which raises the CR problem - how would a Swedish version of this work? If there's one word (the 'gosh' example), is it always allowed through or always blocked?

(It also amuses her how the series Wallander, set down near Malmo, is played by cast members who almost all have Stockholm accents. A bit like setting a series in Newcastle, and having your cast more fit for Midsommer Murders.)

[1]And probably 'is', if allowed a bit of time to reacclimatise, but she's spent only a long weekend there in the last two decades, which is where I saw her flummox someone by offering a UK passport as ID rather than an ID card as a good native would have.


I think I'm about fluent in Swedish, in that I can get by in Swedish, at least in the Stockholm area (Scanian is closer to Danish). To me, as a Finn, the Swedish swearwords are a bit lacking. I admit that my knowledge of the street-level speech is also lacking (six years of Swedish in school didn't teach swearwords, also, language changes).

I can see the problem in translating the Swedish swearing to English - it's not particularily easy to translate it into Finnish either, and we even do have a minority of Swedish (most often bilingual) speakers, some of whom are probably good in translating Swedish to Finnish. (The Swedish spoken in Finland is somewhat different from the Swedish spoken in Sweden, though.)

The problem in swearing in English, for me, is that there are so many Englishes around which have different connotations for each word. Not that I don't use 'fucking' too often anyway.


No buts, the road to hell ... and "how an author's words matter"
I too read my daughter Just So Stories. What better way to introduce one's children to the world of words than the lyrical prose of Kippling. I read as written. Exposing a 4 year old to casual racism, no; my girl has Canadian First Nations and Pacific Islands heritage. It gave me the opportunity to start a conversation with her about many things. That very casual racism and how attitudes change over time, how what is not only acceptable but expected becomes anathema, how to understand a person it is important to understand their context, how bad (sic) people can do good things, about the nature of good and evil. a conversation that we're still having 20 years later and that I hope we'll continue for the rest of our lives..Like all great art, still giving, possibly in ways completely unexpected by the artist. And so had I changed 7 words in the name of transient political correctness an opportunity lost and learnings undiscovered. So yes the author's words, the author's exact words, matter. In ways we may not understand at a particular moment. So it behooves us not to fuck with them.

So leaving alone if it's ok to deface a work of art because you 'own' a copy and disagree with the artist's creative vision how do you stop it? 80 / 20 rule says you can't. What can you do for 20% of the effort? All of the above? Coordinate the Internet community until ... I saw a bunny!
This is a great start, more tea Vicar?


Similar to attaching a fig leaf onto Michelangelo's David.

I'm guessing that from an author's perspective, the key questions (apart from getting paid) are:

1) Who are you writing for? New readers (never heard of read you before) vs. fans already familiar with your work; demographic/political segments; serious vs. fluff readers, literary vs. reading-as-a-time-filler/distraction, etc.

2) How easily can your argument (book) be distorted and used against you? If all it takes is one word ...


"And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway,"

I submit that those critics don't know what they're talking about and are idiots.

There may be a context where they make sense, and they may be worth a conversation in that context.

Like, some behavioral psychologists used to announce that there was no such thing as consciousness, that there was only stimulus and response. I believe I sense my own consciousness, but it's possible this is only a response I was trained to make by various stimuli. Modern psychologists don't usually follow that doctrine, but there may sometimes be value in discussing that point of view and seeing where it leads. Or possibly not.

The idea that there are stringent limits to communication, that each of us re-creates ideas our own way given pointers (stimuli?) from other people, that consensus reality is built on abstractions which we only approximately share, build on top of memories of our own experience which we share even less -- sometimes it's useful to pay attention to that. Sometimes you might communicate things you don't notice you are sharing. Sometimes it's stuff that so basic -- to you -- that you don't consider other people might not share it, but people who don't share those ideas might get them clearly for the first time from your writing.

Joanna Russ had the experience of fans coming to her and telling her that her writing changed their lives. Pretty often it was in response to writing that she hadn't considered all that important. She commented that she thought sometimes you could write a laundry list and somebody would say it changed their life.

Algis Budrys wrote something that was important to me. An old man was trying to solve a corporate problem, and he was trying to work around somebody whose central goal was to become CEO. And he thought to himself that a corporation was a collection of career trajectories, and how could he even discuss the problem with a man who thought it was a *thing*, like a potato. I had the chance to tell Budrys about it, and he said only that hardly anybody had paid any attention to that story.

It might in some context be worth thinking about the ways that authors create things beyond what they intend. Unfortunately, the guy who starts out by saying that authors don't know what they mean, tends to shut off the discussion at the very start. It isn't that he's necessarily an idiot. (Though he might be.) He just doesn't know how to communicate very well with you. Maybe he doesn't know what he means, and you might find out things from him that he didn't know he was saying....

Clean Read is different because it's trying to take a source work and create a derivative work that achieves a different effect. Because swearing/scatology is often a form of emphatic punctuation in vernacular speech, and when it isn't, it's descriptive prose that uses coarse language to deliberate effect ....

I want to imagine the possibility that there are people who would benefit from your work, who won't read it because of the language. I don't actually believe there are a lot of such people, but I'll go with it for the thought. They have this one barrier in the way. And with slight changes, using different words that for them have roughly the same emphatic punctuation with about the same deliberate effect, then they get it.

If that was true, then a little bit of fine-tuning could expand your readership. You might normally be limited to -- say -- science fiction readers who have a certain background. And you could get read by american conservatives who would be infected with some of your ideas which are to them outrageous.

I would think that would be a good thing. Like translation into foreign languages, but much less. Easier to get something very similar to your original meaning through, because they share a whole lot of language and come closer to a consensus on meanings than people who speak almost-entirely-different languages.

If there was truly a big market that way, it might be worth you doing it yourself. You'd need to understand the alien culture well enough to translate, which would be a bother and maybe too far from your skillset to be worth doing. But just as films often have different versions that vary in their explicitness, because that increases their sales, it's vaguely possible something like that could work for novels too.

I tend to doubt that the people who wouldn't read your own work because of the language, would read it without the language issues. You use too many concepts they'd probably rather not think about. But in principle I don't see it has to be a bad thing.


But if you change the way you view the file in the privacy of your own computer, why do they have any right to even find out whether you did that?

Because you agreed to let them?

This is the entire point (craziness) of click licenses. Or shrink wrap but there are some subtle differences. These things showed up in the late 70s and AFAIK to date there has been no serious legal challenge to them. And now that the folks using them have more money and lawyers than God it is clear they want them to stay around. And so when you buy, err downloaded, a licensed copy of something for which you have clicked some box agreeing to some terms you didn't read, you may have agreed that you would only read it via cheap as dirt reader which displays only 2 lines of text at a time and requires a quarter to be inserted every 5 minutes. No other use allowed.

We're not talking about any of this making sense, we're talking about the current situation being you agree to a set of terms in a license so that's LEGALLY what you are required to do.

Now if you actually read license agreements you've find many times they can get to be downright absurd. Some have contradictory clauses. Some have terms that have aged to the point that no one could actually use the product. But they are there and you clicked that you agreed with them.


Remember Charlie's post about his drive down the US west coast a few years back? He was told it was the scenic route. Almost anyone raised in the US would understand what that meant. Charlie didn't. He seemed to expect some sympathy in his blog post.

Similar issue. Is everyone in the US supposed to understand a change of use that might have occurred a generation or more before their time?

I try and realize the setting I'm in and speak and act accordingly. But as long as I'm not trying to pass as local I feel I should be given some benefit of doubt.


Off piste.
The question is not could Charlie change what he writes to reach a wider / different audience. I think it can safely be said that Charles takes exactly the approach he wants to take, noting the constraints of the Heinlen motivation. The question is how can he fuck-up the poopy-heads. The concerning emergent issue is will the evil overlords see this as a wedge (insert cheese here) to subvert and compromise the sweat of the creative brow for commercial gain while leaving the broader public unaware that the cheese wiz consumed was actually Gorgonzola.


Note: Inkterra, the wholesaler, have pulled all their titles from Clean Reader.

The Guardian has more on the subject (including a quote from this very blog entry).


Still not 100% sure about this.

Suppose I use my Netflix account to watch an epic color move like "Lawerence of Arabia".

But for whatever reason, I prefer to watch it in black and white. So I turn down the color settings on my TV or monitor.

Suppose I even want to watch it as if it was an old silent movie, turning the sound to mute and turning on the subtitles.

I have not bought this movie, I'm watching it under a licensing contract.

But for my own enjoyment on my own screen -w ithout harming or misrepresenting the original version - I have altered its style and content.

I'm not sure what would be morally or legally wrong with altering the movie in this fashion, nor do I see how this would be differeent than using software to bowlderize the words of a license/leased book appearing only on my reader.

Unless for some reason the license agreement specifically forbids such personalization of the media being viewed (movie or book).


I'm not sure what would be ... or legally wrong with altering the movie in this fashion,

Depends on the details of the license agreement you have agreed to when you signed up with Netflix. I doubt it restricts your personal TV settings.


"And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway,"

I submit that those critics don't know what they're talking about and are idiots.

In this case, I agree that the critics don't get it. The issue, as Gibson noted, is that The Street finds its own uses for things. If a reader finds some minor work life-changing, that's really about the reader finding a new use for the work, not the author's "fault" for not realizing how life-changing their work could be.

To take an extreme example of this, the Red Spear Movement, a largely extinct martial arts cult in early 20th Century China roughly equivalent to a red-neck US militia, worshiped a bunch of "Taoist deities" and practiced "hard chi kung" to make themselve invisible/invulnerable/etc. They had some early successes in WWII for the same reason that most such people do: confidence is contagious.

Thing is, some of the deities they worshiped were characters from The Water Margin, which is a very, very old novel. Lest this seem silly, I've seen books of spiritual exercises based around the story of King Arthur and the Round Table, complete with grail quest meditations. And there's the Church of All Worlds, which was inspired by Stranger in a Strange Land. Or the more modern Jedi.

I'm not doing this to poke fun at the Things Believers Do. Rather, I think these cultural phenomena should be repurposed as large, dead fish with which to slap around any critic who thinks that authors responsible for how people repurpose their works. Authors don't have that kind of control. If their works are interesting enough, of course they'll be repurposed.

In my darker moments, I'd even say there are whole subfields of literary studies whose purpose is to write highly conventionalized fan fiction based on their favorite authors' work, and to publish the results as PhD theses masquerading as scholarly research. But that's a different issue.


Sidenote. Speaking of altering content...

One of the more fascinating entertainment technologies descibed in John Brunner's classic "Stand on Zanzibar" was "Mr. amd Mrs. Everywhere".

This technology allowed viewers to insert interactive avatars of themselves, family and friends into TV shows and movies as actual characters in a sitcom, action adventure, rom-com, etc..

How popular would such technology actually be?

How close are we to having this technology?


How popular would such technology actually be?
Think of all the egos it will allow to be boosted. Walter Mitty indeed.

How close are we to having this technology?

It's mostly a matter of pushing pixels. As graphics processors get more and more powerful at some point TVs (XBox IX?) will be able to put your face on top of the actor's IN REAL TIME and it not look like paper and paste from an 8 year old.


Incidentally, I have no problem whatsoever with the existence of fanfic based on my work (as long as the authorship of it is not attributed to me, and it doesn't interfere with my ability to earn a living).

Fanfic is what happens after what I write gets from the page or screen, through someone's eyeballs (or ears), and into their head. I am not responsible for this side of things -- for how the work is interpreted, or what the reader does thereafter. (Although I may occasionally think the reader is very silly or misguided.)


How close are we to having this technology?

I think we could probably demo it tomorrow, if a studio wanted it.

The real problem I can see is the cognitive disjunction between the behaviour/dialog of the actors whose faces/bodies the viewer would be mapped on top of, and the viewers' own idea of how they'd respond to the unfolding plot (or real events) around them. It's one of the hard problems with writing fiction in the second person: "you do [X]" only works as long as the reader can willingly suspend their disbelief in the fiction, and you can blow it right out of the water by telling them they do -- or worse, feel -- something that is incompatible with their self-image.

(That, and the extra cost the tech would add to a production: basically adding motion capture to the actors, then getting suitably processed maps of the viewers to overlay on the actors in the product. But that's not so much, given that current leading network TV shows cost on the order of $10-20M/hour to film.)


There is a lot of work being done where starting with a few facial photos that face can be overlaid onto a face in a scene. In real time.

I suspect taking a face from a very overweight couch potato an putting onto Jack Bower might be harder.

But changing the plot, THAT will be much harder.


I think another problem with that might be the creation of false memories. If someone sees 'themselves' doing something enough times they may come to believe they realy did it. Kind of like well-meaning (and some not so much?) therapists who implant false abuse memories.


After reading that article I almost feel sorry for the parents who made the app. But not quite. They just want to raise their kid as they see fit, which is fine, but then they went and proselytized.


I'm reminded of that this happened in reverse with one of Börje Crona's books published by LFP here in Sweden.

The typesetter deliberately removed various swear words he considered tame, and inserted his own. Only trouble was that he managed to remove some very colourful and pointed swear words, due to lack of linguistic knowledge.

There's a reason the term "kånkelbärsplockare" is well known within Swedish fandom now…


In terms of modifying artistic content in ways that the creator may not have approved of, I find myself asking whether equalizers might be considered immoral.

This came up because I once had an audiophile friend take offense on behalf of an artist because I was listening to a work (on his high end stereo) in Mono. He felt I was defiling the artistic integrity of the artist and his work.

Was I?


Tom: that's nothing. For real auditory mutilation you need something like this.


In contrast to others, I am pessimistic as to how far you can take this. I don't think very far. You can write satire and wordplay, and that might be diverting for a book or two, but your fiction so far hasn't shown that this is your metier. Other alternatives, such as substitute words ("cuntfart", etc.) can easily be circumvented by the next version of the app. Your words, once you write them are fixed. The software changes constantly. I don't know how they've written it, but it might be written like some anti-virus software, and load updates regularly.

Changing your fiction to elude them thus seems to me like admitting you're not a big enough fish to go after. I would rather assume that the vast majority of my readers want to read me, and not what some twits want to make of me.


Possible set list for Death Metal Marry Poppins:

A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Cyanide Go Down
Fidelity Fiduciary Bank (Stole Your Future)
The Penguins Won't Dance When The Ice is All gone
Stay Awake Because They Come For You At Night
I Love To Laugh At The Sound of Your Suffering
Practically Perfect (But Never Good Enough)


One never goes broke underestimating the narcissism of the general public.


You don't seem to have heard of Chaos Magick, whose central paradigm is the use of belief systems as a tool. In other words, if believing ludicrous shit helps you accomplish your goals, then just do it.


> Tom: that's nothing. For real auditory mutilation you need something like this...

Wow. You win, big-time :-). (And my ears lose.)

But the question remains. Did the creator of that video commit an ethical crime against the song writer akin what Clean Reader does? (Perhaps worse, since it's not just for his own entertainment.)


What you said, in itself, is a form of chaos magick.


Everyone else calls it recursion...


The issue, as Gibson noted, is that The Street finds its own uses for things. If a reader finds some minor work life-changing, that's really about the reader finding a new use for the work, not the author's "fault" for not realizing how life-changing their work could be.

What if it turned out that every reader finds his own use for the work, somewhat independent of what the author intended?

What if authors who have a large following tend to write stuff that's easy for readers to twist around to meet their own needs?

While some authors are good at writing in a way that limits readers from changing the meanings to suit themselvs, and as a result they have small followings or tend to be unpublishable, because what they procrust the readers into is usually not what the readers want....

Then the particular story the author wants to tell would not be very important.

I don't assert that this is 100% true. But there could be enough truth to it, that it deserves careful consideration.

Then it would not be the author's responsibility to predict what readers would get from his work. His responsibility would be to create something that a lot of readers will get something from that's worth the price of admission.

People who talk like "authors don't know what they mean" might be heading somewhere useful. But any individual example might be only an idiot -- I can't tell what they mean from this blurb. Critics who say this may not themselves know what they mean.


How is this mess of an idea related to somebody editing a text for their own use or enjoyment? Why keep saying that if you bought a work you can do whatever you please with it?

I'd say this tendency to ignore the point and get offended when somebody who is not a christian american raises a finger is the most troubling part of the procedings. It doesn't matter what people do with books or ebooks in the privacy of their homes, really, or the terms of use or other legalese matters. What matters is the rise of the worm-ridden carcass of fundamentalism in all it's horror. And we've all become desensitized to it all.

Fuck. Oh, one solution would be to forbid using your name and titles if an untranslated text fails to meet your checksum. It really, really matters what a writer wants to say, does say, and our trust in the integrity of what we are reading. I want to be absolutely sure that I'm reading who I think I am - even if it's about a good old granny smearing poopy-poo all over her funny nose so she can be sure that her grandson did not eat that naughty icecream his uncle secretes.

And if somebody censors this I'll get upset and say that they are against good ole' christian family values and caring for our children. Think of the children.


Ya know, it's worth being careful around a religion that say that "blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10).

In other words, when you attack them, that means they're obviously in the right and bound for heaven. If you don't like what they're doing, then pointing out their hypocrisy is a much better tactic. For as it says in Matthew (23:3-4)"So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them."

Not that many fundamentalists appear to have actually read the Bible. Still, the point is you can get a lot of mileage by pointing out how much more they're like the hypocritical Pharisees than they are like the holy martyrs they fondly imagine themselves to be.

Actually, one of the best tools against unthinking Fundamentalism is the Bible, and I recommend reading it so that you can tell the loudmouths who think with their large intestines what's actually in that holy book they never got around to reading. When it's appropriate. If you don't like Christianity, I'd particularly focus on the four conflicting stories of the Resurrection, but whichever.


Well, let Darwin, a judge and any number of lawyers sort out this one. Moral and legal arguments are the weapons. The winner is the one who wins.
Personally, I will stick to good clean online crime where there are no grey areas, or at least, none that bother me.


Recommend putting the bible through this app ... sex, violence, slavery/genocide, etc. Might improve it. As it is, it's quite difficult to read the bible because of its many internal inconsistencies, starting with the creation myths. (The Nicene council should have hired some good editors.)


"putting the bible through this app"
I had the same thought. Darn, beat me to it.

That would really freak out fundamentalists. Even if you did it in the privacy of your own home and for your own use, because the Bible is supposed to be unchanging, that would be Heresy.

Actually the Nicene Council is the source of the problem. They were too busy deciding what books were in and what out to do much editing of what stayed in. (Google Nag Hamadi Gospels.) What they did instead was reverse the interpretation of the words. (So much for the claim of unchanging truth as well).

This is particularly striking in Revelation where Rome was the Whore of Babylon, Evil, Evil. Once Constantine converted and Christ became the god of imperial Rome, that was no longer quite PC. So the Whore became heretics, with Jews the essence of evil because they could have accepted "the Truth" but didn't.
If you want to discuss this with fundamentalists, Elaine Pagels has written extensively on this. A fairly accessible set of talks is at


I may have missed someone else making this point. There are a number of comments here talking about people altering a text once they've "bought" it.

Yes, they can do anything from bowdlerizing it to changing the names of the characters.

What they cannot do is publish it or redistribute it.

That seems to be pretty elementary.


In this case it's not being published differently; it's being displayed differently by the reading app -- that's it.


But in general, the translator is trying to achieve an equivalent effect in the target language...

Because swearing/scatology is often a form of emphatic punctuation in vernacular speech, and when it isn't,...

Thing is, if you are a midwest religious zealot, a "goddamm" is probably equivalent to a "fucking shithead" in scottish. If this app were to replace with equivalent, but culturally relevant 'emphatic punctuation' - an argument could be made that it's a translation activity, from normal speech to 'religious zealot'.

And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway,

I submit that those critics don't know what they're talking about and are idiots.

I tend to have the same viewpoint; but it IS something of an orthodoxy in the literary criticism business - and is far more contemptuous of the author that clean reader could ever be IMHO.

However it does hide something that ties in with the above. At basic level, you are trying to convey a worldview/set of actions/concepts/etc. from your head to the head of the reader - through the medium of words. However, they are pretty poor at doing that, such that what arrives is warped and distorted by the worldview and experiences of the individual reader. Someone who has been violently assaulted on a dark street is going to view a narrative of the protagonist being followed quite differently to you. In particular, a born again christian is going to view a series of characters with 'alternative sexualities' as a collection of damned sinners who deserve everything coming to them. Your intent to portray them as sympathetic characters wouldn't get through at all.

In short, the final translator is always the one in the reader's heads - and it's perfectly possible to deduce that a narrative which omits or modifies the author's words into an acceptable form could result in a better conversion of the author's intent into the reader's mind, than the original prose.

Of course, if you want to give literary critics a reason to exist you could also consider a prose that was purposely open for interpretation, with many supposed levels of allegory - would be formed not to communicate the specific ideas, but to communicate the potential for actions and changes in the reader's head - feelings and abstract thought. That's closer to a magical incantation - nonsense talk where the unspoken and the tacit are more important than the explicit (cf Jabberwocky).

Personally I just think it's better that the type of closed minded religious zealot that would attempt to censor coarse language gets to read more than one book (and not a particularly moral one at that). They need their minds pried open; and it's the broader concepts that count more in their case anyway.


"And hell, critics claim that the author doesn't know what they mean anyway"

OTOH, you know what you thought they meant when you wrote them, but we all live in contexts that shape what we write, and we all have a subconscious mind bursting to get out. Often other people can see that more easily than the author.


midwest religious zealot, a "goddamm"

Sorry but you are assuming this all comes from the religious right/zealots in the US. (I have no idea if you're from the US or not.)

For my income I interact with people on all side of the religion issue. Extreme to absolutely none.

Cussing (as it is called in the US) in conversation does NOT correlate cleaning with this. Absence of cussing is much more prevalent for the religious. But it's also very prevalent (absence) amongst the non religious. It's a societal matter.


Re this whole argument about alternative versions and lyrics, Walmart already DOES THIS. The version of a CD you buy there may not be the same as on offer elsewhere and there have been groups who refused to authorize this. But they lose a LOT of sales (or did a few years ago).

Same for videos, only wholesome (tm?) stuff on offer. And I suspect you will almost certainly never see a Charles Stross Novel for sale at Walmart or Sam's.

Actually, Red State America is already rather Orwellian, something I only yesterday realized (On the Road to Bentonville, the scales fell from my eyes...) Literally, Truly. Many of the Local Restaurants have TV permanently tuned to FAUX news. The locals find it so comforting, they object in the ones where you are offered choice when you switch channels on them. I've tried in the local Senior Center, within twenty minutes (or less) someone will switch back.

Incidentally, my NYT comment (Krugman's Column) touching on this yesterday (Why I was thinking of it in the car) disappeared in cyberspace. Big brother seems to have a long reach.

Hm, bumper stickers saying "1984 is Here!"


Many of the Local Restaurants have TV permanently tuned to FAUX news.

And how is this any different from areas that only watch MSNBC?

Yes things are divided.


Doesn't work.
I know the bible quite well, being an escaped christian, & I'v waded through "the recital" too (euw).
I STILL get told to study scripure & theology by these fuckwits.
And/or get the "no true scotsman" argument - every single time.

- also D @ #109
because the Bible is supposed to be unchanging,
Interesting - how do they account for all the different version, especially in the light of post Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries about the Essenes, etc?


Irvine Welsh?


"because the Bible is supposed to be unchanging,"

Interesting - how do they account for all the different version, especially in the light of post Dead Sea Scrolls discoveries about the Essenes, etc?

You're acting like you expect them to make sense. But it's central to the theme that it isn't supposed to make sense.

If you demand that God has to make sense to you, that's pride. Hubris. One of the deadly sins. On the other hand, if you merely insist that current religions don't make sense and ought to, then you might possibly start your own like Martin Luther or L Ron Hubbard.

We mostly don't demand that other things make sense. After each war starts we get a whole lot of opinions about why it did, as people try desperately to find ways to make it make sense. But it might turn out that we are like locusts, and when we get the wrong stimuli then we create hordes and start wars. I rather think that's right. When you look back at the reasons people start wars, a lot of the time they seem pretty stupid, but they're the best we can come up with.

We don't demand the banking system make sense.

Or politicians.

A lot of people believe that the economy fundamentally makes sense. The Invisible Hand makes it all come out right even though nobody understands it or understands how. When things happen that obviously make no sense they either argue that we'd see it was the right thing if we just understood better. Or else that evil governments overpowered the free market and made bad things happen. But when I look at details it does not make sense and people don't insist that it ought to.

Why would you require religion to make sense, alone out of all these other things that don't make sense?


Since the bible and religion and textual alteration are all getting stirred in here, I recommend contemplation of the "Jefferson(*) Bible", at least for fundamentalist USian readers.

(*) Yes, that Jefferson.


What's your point. Most people I know over here (fundi or not) know about Jefferson and his bible.


They're even less wild about being reminded of the council of Nicea. And it pisses them off when I say the Roman martyrs would be embarrassed by their caterwaulings about persecution.


"different version, especially in the light of post Dead Sea Scrolls"
Those are actually fairly consistent with the orthodox version of the Torah. It's at the Constantine point that things are really strange. There's the regular jews, Jesus jewish followers, and the gentile followers of Jesus, all fighting it out over who is correct. A bunch of "gospels" got suppressed and forgotten until the excavations at Nag Hamadi. It's hard to summarize the many variants of what jesus taught "in secret" to different sets of followers. If this really interests you, look at the Pagels link I put in above.

In reply to J Thomas @200, a lot of recent cognitive psychology explores how brains, whatever, are structured to make sense of things even if things are completely random. Contradictions don't matter all that much. It's not that things aren't supposed to make sense, but there IS a pattern even if we don't understand it. In religion it's god's hand, in economics it's the invisible hand of whatever.

I want to be careful not to derail Charlie's question, but this is relevant, because potentially much of the drive to clean texts in the name of god, could go away if the history of how they came to be is better understood.


a lot of recent cognitive psychology explores how brains, whatever, are structured to make sense of things even if things are completely random. Contradictions don't matter all that much. It's not that things aren't supposed to make sense, but there IS a pattern even if we don't understand it.

I would say that with a different emphasis. We are pattern-creating animals. No two events in space-time are exactly the same, or completely different, and we build patterns out of similarities and differences that we think we observe.The patterns are real -- they're as real as anything else that happens entirely inside our heads. Cf scripture:

Sometimes it benefits us to notice that particular patterns cannot be entirely right because they contain contradictions. But sometimes a pattern which often works is worth using. If you think you know something about catching fish, and your methods do catch fish, you'll go on using them until you find something which catches fish better.

Back on topic, I agree with Obrad #186. The central problem here is not that people can change texts, but that there are a lot of disgusting religious fundamentalists in the world.

When I change a text it's for a good reason and nobody should disapprove. When they do it, it's bad. So maybe the issue shouldn't be to keep anybody from changing texts whether it's good or bad in the individual case. Maybe the more important issue is how to get rid of the religious fundamentalists.

Or possibly how to coexist with them relatively peacefully.


" It all depends on the context."

Yes, that about sums it up. And, sometimes,given modern technology, a tribute to an original work can transend the work and become something new and entirly delightful ..thus

" Jane Austens Fight Club ..

The First Rule of Fight Club is One Never Mentions Fight Club "


Wa are not pattern-creating animals.
We are pattern-recognising animals - as a subset of what pTerry, to the point, as always called us:
Pan narrans The story-telling ape.

And the Big Bronze Age book of Goatherders' myths ("the bible") is a damned good story.
But that is all it is - fiction.

[ Similarly, the "recital" is the Big Dark-Ages book of camelherders' myths - more fiction. ]


If you are sure that we are not pattern-creating animals but instead pattern-recognizing animals, tell me what the difference is that you are sure we fit one instead of the other. It's possible we don't disagree about this.

On the other hand, it's possible we do disagree. If you are asserting that the actual patterns are out there in the world and not inside our heads, then we I tend to prefer to say that they're inside our heads. Though I can't think of an experiment that would tell the difference, beyond watching people create patterns out of data you give them.

For that purpose I strongly recommend the game Eleusis.

This is a great game that will change your thinking about how people think.

And the Big Bronze Age book of Goatherders' myths ("the bible") is a damned good story.
But that is all it is - fiction.

Sure. Some people actively create the world they believe in. And sometimes other people go along.


"If you are sure that we are not pattern-creating animals but instead pattern-recognizing animals, tell me what the difference is that you are sure we fit one instead of the other. It's possible we don't disagree about this."

Is there really a difference?

Can you recognise a pattern without on some level internally creating one to compare it with??

Can you create a pattern without the ability to recogise one so that you know whether you've succeeded???

From my (possibly hopelessly naive) perspective it's all about building models, sometimes they're inside our head so that we can compare them with what our senses tell us in order to make some kind of sense of the world, sometimes they're outside our head so that we can either communicate with another entity or physically instantiate the models we've built in our heads....


There's no argument here that isn't also an argument against the Cloud to Butt browser extension. Therefore, you are wrong, Mr. Stross.


More generally, there's no argument here that isn't an argument against the core principles of HTML. You tell my browser about your content, but I determine how that content is delivered.


I've yet to see anyone assure me that, "No, really c*nt isn't a gendered sexist term over here," who wasn't a dude.


"1.there are a lot of disgusting religious fundamentalists in the world....2. how to coexist with them relatively peacefully"
1. true, 2. also true

I would be less hard on the disgusting fundamentalists.
Pagels (mentioned above) asks why hasn't evolution simply made these crazy beliefs disappear? Speaking about the book of Revelation, epitome of crazy, she says:

"There are a lot of people who will find in this moral meaning. The idea that the world, we see all these chaotic and horrible events happening here, plague, [etc etc]. But somehow it all has a coherent order somewhere, somewhere there is meaning. I think it's about meaning, too. John [author of Rev] doesn't ever tell you what the meaning is. But he certainly gives you the sense, if you read his book with any empathy, that you may not understand the meaning, but there is meaning. God has meaning because it's all part of a plan. .... the arc of the world bends toward justice. Well, who knows? But that ... is a conviction that a lot of people want to see, that there's some kind of justice in the world, some kind of meaning...." So it's possible to pick up on the wish for justice and use that to co-exist


Er, HTML is used to define how text appears, but not to change the actual characters.

For example, my browser will show the "how" in para 1 as heavy black, but you could have set yours up to show it as hot pink on a lime green background. We'll both have "...define how text..." as content though.


Or I could decide most people use bold for stupid and annoying reasons and have my browser display bold and strong tags as text the color of the background, and I would see "define text".

If I'm blind, I can tell my browser to read your webpage aloud and when it gets to a picture, I can either have the browser read the ALT text you provide, or I can have it set to say, "There is a picture here," or I could program it to send your picture to a photo-recognition website and have it read aloud whatever results it gets there.


And the Big Bronze Age book of Goatherders' myths ("the bible") is a damned good story.

Um, point of fact. The Middle Eastern Bronze age ended around 1200-1100 BCE. Most of the Torah was written between 950 BCE and 500 BCE, if you accept the orthodox Documentary Hypothesis (which apparently no one does), or after 1000 BCE (if you accept the consensus of a bunch of arguing scholars).

The New Testament, of course, was written after around 60 CE.

I think, therefore, that we have to nail our present monotheistic traditions firmly into the Iron Age, and the New Testament post-dates the invention of concrete by centuries.

This is non-trivial: we don't seem to have any extant, intact(ish) Bronze Age religions, and some of what we do know about them is kind of strange: the Gemini Twins as major gods, with one mortal, one immortal? A female solar deity? Stuff like this was kicking around the Eastern Mediterranean around 1500 BCE, IIRC. The Bronze Age was a bit more alien to our current worldview than we generally assume.


Well, unless you use a text size tag, you'd see "...define per20*3 text..." (Per20 used to produce printing characters to represent white space). You still haven't changed the text delivered, just your perception of it.


I think we are both pattern recognizing and creating critters.

My response to dealing with "digusting fundamentalists" got caught in moderation, but this is a key to coexisting with them.
I worked for a long time as a "family therapist" that based a lot of its interventions on systems theory. Families typically come in with one or several members demanding that the other guy change - their behaviors and/or beliefs. Its a negative feedback loop, and an ongoing prisoners dilemma that could escalate into violence. Recognizing the pattern is important but just pointing it out, is not very helpful. Relabeling problematic behavior as positive in intent can lead to creating a more useful story. (The held comment was about fundamentalists' wish for meaning and justice in a seemingly chaotic world) It's possible to coexist based on that wish.

BTW Arnold @206 Not all reinterpretations transcend their sources. I challenge you to convince my wife that "Jane Austen's Fight Club" has any worth at all. She's an Austen fundamentalist.


I've yet to see anyone assure me that, "No, really c*nt isn't a gendered sexist term over here," who wasn't a dude.

Well, I was once told by Feòrag (Charlie's spouse, if you don't know) that he and she fairly often send and receive texts with that single word, usually as a reply to a snarky comment.


Between you, me and the firewall, I'm wondering if we've found a troll.


The Bronze Age was a bit more alien to our current worldview than we generally assume.

And yet many of our own habits have deep roots.

We no longer castrate priests, but some religions believe priests should be celibate.

We no longer have sex as part of church services, but if we get the STD problem solved it will probably get started again pretty quick.

We no longer sacrifice animals during services, though biologists sacrifice many millions each year. We do continue illegal cockfights, dogfights, etc. And small religious splinter groups do animal sacrifice secretly, as both proof that they're serious, that they're truly different, and that they must stay secret.

But then, they might have been even more alien than we know. Our framework of thought about them comes from things people wrote down, and it was a small minority of rich people who did much of that. And they didn't have anything like TV to homogenize them into a bland sameness.


Well, the reasons for castration and celibacy kind of vary. AFAIK, Roman Catholicism started requiring celibacy because they didn't want priests or monks inheriting churches or monasteries, as they did in the early Dark Ages. It was a way to keep the property in the Church, rather than attached to a family. Still other groups (I'm thinking of Christianity and Buddhism here) practice celibacy to cut their ties with the earthly life by not having to deal with a family. Conversely, I believe Islam and Judaism prefer their religious officials to be married, so that they fully understand the range of human experience. I don't think either has a tradition of celibacy. That may have come from Manichaeism, at least for Christianity and possibly for Buddhism as well.

As for castration, don't forget about the eunuchs in various courts. That was often about keeping out competition with royal sperm, and IIRC, the Ottomans justified this by comparing the emperor to God and the eunuchs to the sexless angels who existed only to serve him. In China where ancestor worship is a key part of the state, having no descendants was a punishment, as well as a form of service.

Incidentally, I slightly misspoke when I said there was no Bronze Age intactish religion. I forgot about the traditions around the oldest Indian vedas, some of which do appear to date to the later Bronze Age. Otherwise, the vedas are about the same age as the Torah, just as the oldest parts of Genesis came from Mesopotamia as well.


Most of the Torah was written between 950 BCE and 500 BCE, if you accept the orthodox Documentary Hypothesis (which apparently no one does), or after 1000 BCE (if you accept the consensus of a bunch of arguing scholars).

This is off-topic, but it's fascinating. Just from reading Torah it's obviously a compilation of at least two works. It says something, and then it says it again a different way. Then it says something else and says again a different way, leaving out some things and putting in others.

It's obvious that somebody tried to make an ecumenical movement, and they didn't want to keep two separate sets of scripture and they couldn't throw one away.

Which time was that? Some time that two different sets of believers were mixing together. It split up after the kingdom split, and when some were sent to Babylon, etc.

There's room for endless argument about the details. But this much looks clear. The pattern is so obvious it has to be true! ;)


... reasons for castration or celibacy of priests ....

Maybe the bronze age religions that practiced these things had similar reasons. Maybe the practices come from unstated cultural stuff, or maybe it's convergent evolution. Without knowing more about the old religions, I can't even argue it had to be the same reasons. But when I look for similarities, I find them. It's the Law of Fives at work!

I like it when scriptures become manifest in the world, as long as they aren't Revelations or something.


So what does Mr. Stross say about the guy who hacked his Legend of Zelda Wind Waker ROM so the text refers to Link as a girl?

Or what about all the times when I read stories to my kids and change the gender of the protagonists or make any other edits I feel like making?


My guess is he would feel you should stop trolling, and read the comments to date to answer your questions.


Oh no, I just thought of the worst outcome possible as a result of this software.

In order to get around srmasats efforts to fcuk things up one can be an annoying cnut--not to be mistaken for the guy from Denmark--with simple juxtapositions of letters, easily indfeietd by a hmaun rdeear but sltil byoned simple find and replace or even rudimentary AI as far as I know.

Naturally this will be the one thing which will motivate the regligious fundies here in the states to begin learning about something and dumping money at it until we end up with a Strong-AI programmed to defend readers from naughty words in the name of gaaaaawwwwddddd.


Just from reading Torah it's obviously a compilation of at least two works. It says something, and then it says it again a different way. Then it says something else and says again a different way, leaving out some things and putting in others.

It's even more confusing than at first glance. Yes, quite a few of our current texts came about as multiple sources got combined. (Trying to untangle the treads is a passtime for experts.) There's also the complication that a quirk of old Hebrew poetry was to emphasize important things by paraphrasing what was just said. So many of these repeating passages are as the original authors had them!

(It's nice to be back. Between computer problems and site login not supporting LiveJournal any more I've been silent for too long.)


It's even more confusing than at first glance. Yes, quite a few of our current texts came about as multiple sources got combined. (Trying to untangle the treads is a passtime for experts.)

I certainly don't want to untangle the treads. I only point out that the general claim is obviously true, apart from the details.

The poetry I noticed involved quick repetition, a line or two at a time. Not things like two different geneologies repeated, or conflicting narratives interspersed. But when it takes more than a lifetime to sort out the arguments that other people have already left unsettled, I figure it's better to just back away.


Max, you're suggesting that authors use a sort of anti-editor to create extended spelling mistakes. This will annoy pretty much all the readers, but it has the advantage of foiling simple text substitutions.

I hope it doesn't come to that. I would be annoyed.


I find the whole concept deeply stupid, but it's stupidity with a pedigree -- Dr. Bowlder et. al.

As long as they do this -after- buying the book, and do not try to -sell or distribute- the modified text, then it's really no different from buying the book and blue-penciling it.

I don't see why I should object. If idiots give me money, long live their idiocy.


How to get around the Bowdlerization? Fanny Hill it- you can make the most horrifyingly explicit descriptions of what's going on while using remarkably prim language. Dialogue might suffer a bit, though.


Can you recognise a pattern without on some level internally creating one to compare it with??

Let's try a simple example. Given the first four numbers in a sequence, predict the fifth.


The next number os obviously 5, because these are the first four numbers in the fibonacci sequence.

But let's try some others.

(1,1,2,3, 1,1,2,3, 1,1,2,3)

(1,1,2,3, 2,2,3,4, 3,3,4,5)

(1,1,2, 3,3,4, 5,5,6, 7,7,8)

For this one, add the previous 2 numbers, ignore the 3rd, subtract the 4th.

Add the previous 2 numbers, subtract the 5th.

Add the last two numbers plus the 4th.

Multiply the previous 2 numbers, add one.

And so on.

Any finite set of observations can fit an infinite number of patterns. The way to solve the puzzle is to guess which pattern the creator of the puzzle saw. Which is of course the Fibonacci one.

In the simple puzzle example, which of the patterns are *really there* in the numbers? I guess all of them are. Each number we know about in the sequence rules out an infinite number of patterns that don't fit, leaving behind an infinite number of patterns that do still fit.

How is it that out of an infinite number of possible patterns, we choose the right one and get into Mensa? It's something our brains do.


Yeah, given any pair of points, there's an infinite number of curves that connect them. Add another point, you've divided that infinite number by infinity, and you've still got an infinity. Repeat ad absurdem.

Here the Fibonacci sequence is the obvious one, because (a) it's a very simple sequence, but also (b) we've been taught it.

It's a potential problem with measurements. The function f(i) -> 1 + 1/(100 * (i - 100)) would lead to a nice straight line apart from an odd huge spike. With experimental measurement, the slight deviation from f(i) -> 1 would probably be invisible at every point except by the singularity, and if you didn't happen to measure there, you'd never know. Scientists follow the principle that given the data you select the simplest theory that predicts that data. It's a good rule for sanity's sake, but you can never really prove that there isn't some absurd variation that you just happen to have missed.

And sometimes there is. But Newton's laws for example are fine for almost all circumstances.


There's no argument here that isn't also an argument against the Cloud to Butt browser extension. Therefore, you are wrong, Mr. Stross.


Clean Reader -- look at it -- is written by a couple of Christian fundies in the mid-west who're horrified about the idea of their children reading naughty words in books. It's glaringly obvious that the primary intended user mode is: parent buys ebooks and sets desired censorship level, then locks app and device down before handing it to kids.

Cloud-to-butt: intended mode of use is that you install it yourself in your own browser profile and use it for lulz to view web pages you choose.

Here's another thing: the ownership model is different. Cloud-to-butt is a browser plugin for folding, spindling, and mutilating content downloaded from the world wide web, presumably freely available. (There are walled gardens on the web: why you'd pay for access to something and then butt-ify it ...)

In contrast, Cloud Reader is a viewer app for commercial purchased ebooks sold with DRM applied. (This is not a discussion about reading unencrypted HTML files.) DRM, you will note, is legally protected in US law by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act specifically to stop end-users modifying or tampering with the content -- so much so that the Library of Congress had to lobby (successfully) for an exception to permit recognized lending institutions to archive material for posterity.

Shorter version: the legal basis on which you read material in a web browser differs from that in which you read material using a DRM-compatible commercial ebook reader. You may not approve of this: but it's the way the law works. (Similarly: using crystal meth is illegal. You may not approve of this, but it's the way the law works.)


I think you're trying to get a rise out of me. Stop that, or else I'll have the mods ban you and remove all your future comments here.


Trivial point-of-fact: Idaho is not in the Midwest. Anything state in or west of the Rocky Mountains (which form the Idaho/Montana border) is well and truly in the west. Idaho's often counted as the easternmost state in the Pacific Northwest. While most people think of Oregon and Washington as liberal paradises, Oregon in particular was founded on a strong white supremacist line. That this image has been subverted to the extent it has says a lot about Portland. Oregon's a lot like Wisconsin: there are pockets of liberal cosmopolitanism around the big cities, but there's also some bloody red conservatism out there too, out there with the meth labs and the run-down farms in the smaller valleys.

Anyway, Idaho's about as conservative as it gets in the US, and there's some inappropriate jokes I won't repeat here about the way that state works. It's a place where a lot of the culture was brought in by people working for the ol' AEC back in the 1950s, although I understand that some hipsters are indeed beavering away here and there, trying to make the state a little safer for diversity.


You may not approve of this: but it's the way the law works.

I am used to getting that argument from reactionaries so I hate it.

"Homosexuality is in fact illegal. You may not approve of this: But it's the way the law works."

My instinct when I hear that line is to work to change the law.

Which parts of DRM are good and should be left unchanged? It looks like you want to keep the part that makes Clean Reader illegal. What else in there is good?


Let's see if this gets through this time. Under European copyright law so-called "clean reader" actually is illegal because you are creating an unlicenced derivative work by using it.

In this context DRM (which Charlie is passionately against) is a straw man.


My instinct when I hear that line is to work to change the law.

Good for you! That's how change works.

DRM is generally bad and stupid: this is one of the rare situations where my principled opposition to it is undercut by an equally offensive bit of bogosity.

The real solution requires us to take a step back and ask why we have copyright ... and via a hop, a skip, and a jump exposes one of the many failure modes of capitalism and highlights the need for a better way to structure our entire society.


Let's see if I've got this right; the original reason for copyright laws was to protect the time that the original author of a work had invested in researching (if applicable) and writing that work. It was signally not to protect the interests of "big business" for evermore.


That's not actually the original reason for copyright laws.

But the original copyright laws were very different from what we have now.


Are you certain? I was speaking of UK copyright, which IIRC was the first nation to create copyright laws.


Nuts. But stick with your first approach, please! You are
well-read enough to use quite a lot of the old terms that
are so sadly neglected nowadays - of course, you need a
suitable character to use them appropriately :-)

I doubt that it would catch even the relatively modern
southern English ones, let alone the ones in Burns etc.
If it did, LOTS of texts would become unintelligible!


I am reminded of a fair amount of Larry Niven's oeuvre, here, Charlie, where censored and bleep stand in as new swear words,thanks to their prevalent use in censoring a previous generation of swear words.

Or the reverse -- "idiot" became disfavored because it started getting applied to dumb people instead of just to mentally retarded people. More recently, advocates for the disabled have tried to get people to stop using "retarded" because they feel it's pejorative of their clients. "Special" got used for a while until it fell to the same fate. Last I heard, we're now supposed to use "differently abled". Well, isn't that special. The vocabulary gets revised because advocates don't want words with negative connotations applied to their clients -- but the reality is that any word used to denote their clients will end up with negative connotations over time, because mental retardation is so very unfortunate to be afflicted with.

But I digress.

Charlie, all of this is doubleplusungood. Just write more fucking novels and get the goddamned things published, 'k? I'd hate to see your style change just to get around the word filters. "Shitfuckcuntbollockscludge, it's Nyarlathotep!" just doesn't have the same ring to it.


I'm right there with you on advertising. I'd love to see your take on it in the other conversation.

One of the most influential novels from my youth.


Thanks; been AFK (At Eastercon; hi to everyone I met there) since 1/4 ~22:00. As a Scot. I'm well aware of Calum Cille and of the fact of his exile from Ireland (to Iona, Western Isles, Scotland) but wasn't aware of the reasoning.


Re Clean Reader:
What a pinnacle of cockstaggering fuckwittery. Welcome to the tenth circle of Heck. What I really want to know is what are the child-friendly versions of the words being discussed here?

When the first Harry Potter book was sold in the US, the title was changed (leading to much confusion in Canada where we saw both British and American editions). I just assumed that the reason was to keep children from asking their parents what a philosopher was, because the parents themselves wouldn't be able to answer the question.

As noted above: "The app is the brainchild of a mother and father from Idaho"
Are we sure we can use the term 'brainchild"? Was the app conceived during a mindfuck?

I recall the early US TV appearance of the Rolling Stones, when they performed "Let's Spend Some Time Together." Later, when the US and (by association? shared market?) Canada got the "Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics" stickers it soon occurred to most musical acts that the stickers drove sales. I remember Iggy Pop had one cover with "Parental Advisory: This is an Iggy Pop record"

With that in mind, how far could you go? You could very well go deep. Very deep. Repeatedly, even. I don't think you'd have to mess up the experience for the majority of your readership, though. One well crafted shorter work, say a novella that breaks the Clean Reader would be enough to boost the word-of-mouth among those unfamiliar with your works. "He's the author who broke/crashed CR, check out this Rule 34, or Equoid etc.

Incidentally, the critic who authored "the author doesn't know what they mean anyway" must be taken to include him or herself as an author. To such critic one might reply: while you may not know what you mean, it does not follow that all authors share your difficulty.

Also incidentally re #176, there was talk well over a decade ago about higher resolution CD formats arriving, and to some extent now, they have, but they haven't swept the market. I read a piece back then that predicted lack of market penetration based in part by some study that found an alarming percentage of stereo owners had each speaker in a different room.


I submit that those critics don't know what they're talking about and are idiots.

I agree.

However this was at one time a popular view and spread by University English Departments. See specifically Whimsatt and Beardsley 'The intentional fallacy', which argues the author's intention in any text might be interesting but is neither available nor relevant to a critical reading. The text was supposed to stand for itself as a discrete artefact. This was more or less the defining position of the New Critics, or the T.S.Eliot through to F.R. Leavis intergenerational gang. Like many of their positions, it may influence some people to this day but for the most part has fallen out of the mainstream. Tacitly dropped even earlier.

The focus of Marxist criticism, which became popular in in the 70s and 80s and has - as far as I understand these things - simply been absorbed into the mainstream, is less on the intention of the specific author and more on the discourse from which the text emerges, its social conditions and the place of the author in those. And perhaps this edges back toward that initial proposition, in that it would provide a mechanism for reading OGH at the same time as, to pick a cross-thread example, that Wright fellow (or even BT or LC, both of whom I admit I find unintelligible) that enables some understanding of their places in their surrounding discourse.

Or something, anyway. I've been out of that sort of world for a long, long time. One of these days taking up these tools again may be worthwhile, not clear for what exactly though. It's a really long road to try to join ontology in the compsci sense to the text-analytical world.



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