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Imagine yourself, a human being. That should be easy enough. Now, imagine yourself relatively young. Since those of us who are not currently young were once young, that should still be easy. Imagine you have hopes and dreams for the future. You see yourself as person capable of independent thought and you want the freedom of action you believe should go with it. Perhaps you would like to be a dancer, or a film-maker, or a writer.

But you live in a country where you are not permitted to dance. Or where the government tells you what to write. Or where religious authorities tell you what to film. Despite this, you are determined to be a human being capable of independent thought and action. You write, you make films, and you find you are threatened with prosecution and violence.

So you flee.

You flee to a country where you have heard that you will have freedom of expression, a country where that is enshrined in law and an inherent part of that culture.

When you get there you are told that you can’t write what you want, you can’t make the films you want. The people who have denied you your humanity at home have followed you to your new country. They speak on your behalf. They say that you do not want this freedom of expression.

Now, what do you do?

I wrote this after listening to Lila Ghobady speak at the Secular 2014 Conference. In the 1990’s she was an active part of the Iranian underground cinema, making films that were not supported by the government.

According to an interview she gave to Bitch Magazine:

After secretly shooting these films, we had to leave the country since it was not possible to distribute the underground films we had made, which we wanted to edit and distribute abroad to introduce the underground cinema of Iran to the world to show that an alternative cinema to the official government cinema exists. Living abroad, we could also help our friends working inside Iran to continue their work on underground cinema. Our friends in Iran have been working on films on issues such as self-immolation and teenage suicide – both of which occur at an unbelievably high rate in Iran today. They are also working on the topic of the role of government gangs who have started sex trade businesses to export sex workers to an international market. In addition, they are working secretly on films about labour and student protests in Iran.

The dark reality is that by creating censorship and phony turmoil, the Islamic Republic of Iran succeeds in deviating paths of artistic and social expression. It tries to dissipate the confrontational energies of the Iranian people and prevent them from organizing. For this, it creates phony social movements. When it cannot hide public poverty, prostitution, trade in children, and the overall devastation that has overtaken Iranian society, it presents itself as a critic that objects to its own doings. With a variety of tactics, it controls social protest by suggesting that transformation and change can come from within the government. It engages in thievery, and plays the role of the anti-thief. It is the executioner that plays the role of the defending attorney. It plunders public wealth and then creates charity boxes for the poor. The underground cinema exposes these tactics, especially in the art and cultural arena.

Ghobady moved to Canada. She attended Carleton University in Ottawa where she recieved a master’s degree in Canadian/Women’s Studies. During her talk, she mentioned how disturbing it was to hear some students ask that speech at the university be limited to shelter the feelings of some Muslim students. She says that she still has nightmares about living under a theocracy.

The reason I started this post using the second person pronoun, was because I really think it is necessary to see these questions from the point of view of the persecuted. There are Muslim women say, “I do not want to be saved.” To them, I say, “I wasn’t thinking of you.” I am a fairly powerless person myself, and not in a position to save anyone. However, to the extent I can support people like Lila Ghodaby, who wants for herself the same things I want for myself, I will.

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By now, everyone must have heard the big news coming out of the UK. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has announced a nation wide filter to block pornography. Internet service providers in the UK already offer optional pornography filters. For the new nation wide filter the default setting will be to have the filter on. Customers will have to choose to opt out. I’ve read about half a dozen general articles on the topic as well as another half a dozen narrower articles about specific aspects and, outside of the “default-on” requirement, I am confused about what it being proposed. Child pornography, which was already illegal in the UK, will continue to be illegal, however the police will be given new, unspecified, powers to pursue it. Images of simulated rape, which was previously illegal to create, will now also be illegal to possess. Furthermore, wi-fi in public places will be required to have a porn filter in use.

As an adult woman going on fifty, I don’t feel that I should spend my life relegated to the children’s section of the library because lax parents don’t know how to protect their children.

A sketch of a naked woman lying on her back.

One of the reasons I don’t call myself a “sex-positive feminist” is that many of the people who use that term appear to me to be less concerned than they should be about a person not being exposed to pornography at moments when they do not want to be. They deny any potential downside to pornography. Although I almost always actively oppose restrictions on pornographic content, denying that there can be any negative side to it strikes me as wishful thinking. If what we read and view didn’t shape our perspective on the world, many artists and writers would stop tomorrow.

However, government imposed filters will tend to support the status quo and anyone seeking to question it will run afoul of the censors. For this reason, I have always felt that feminists in particular should not support bans on pornography. In an article about the new content filter, The Telegraph mentioned that unnamed “children’s watchdogs” speculate that “boys’ attitudes to women and girls were in danger of being shaped by their easy access to pornography online.” I would like to humbly suggest that boys’ attitudes to  women and girls is being currently shaped by everything from advertizing, to movies, to novels, and perhaps nothing shapes their attitudes towards women as much as the interaction of their very own parents. Would the government like to censor the behavior of children’s parents at home? Furthermore, would difficult access to pornography tell them something significantly different from easy access.

Then we still haven’t answered the question of “what is pornography?” Will Courbet be filtered? (I was going to do my own sketch of that painting, but WordPress does not permit close-ups of genitalia.)

Maybe next, the government of the UK will work on the meaning of life and get back to us.

While poking around news from the UK, I couldn’t help noticing in a sidebar some woman was called “brilliant” for producing a boy. I hope the filter isn’t going to block some basic information about how babies are made because apparently Britons need a little more information about how that works.

As an American I’m a little bit concerned by the statement:

A joint British and American “task force” will be created to tackle obscene websites, while Google and other search engine providers will be required to draw up a “blacklist” of the most depraved and illegal search terms, the Prime Minister will announce.

It would be very nice to know exactly what our own government is doing in this regard.

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn't know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

I found this odd plant growing beneath a beech tree in the backyard. I didn’t know what it was, so I left it. A week or so ago, it bloomed. I have tentatively identified it as Epipactis helleborine (Broad-leaved Helleborine).

From the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Why, yes, I do have funny reading habits.): Some artwork by an Israeli comic artist, Rutu Modan, was defaced in an exhibition at a German university. Students also objected to some sexual scenes from Craig Thompson’s comic Habibi. Disappointingly, the university decided to respond by closing the exhibit.

Good Reads has an article on why people stop reading a book and a fun graphic on which books are most frequently abandoned. The fact that Fifty Shades of Gray and Eat, PrayLove are on the list has restored my faith in women.

Over at the Daily Banter, I found an article on the relationship between Libertarianism and racism. It’s interesting. It is, I should add, very much about the history of the United States. I’d have to do more reading to know whether or not I agree with it, but it’s definitely filed in the back of my mind as “something to think about.” Like a lot of people, I’ve struggled with exactly how to regard Thomas Jefferson. Anyone else who has pondered that might want to take a look at that article.

Here’s a nice little article on orchids in New Jersey.

When I was in elementary school, we used to have the little box of cards that would have prompts for creative writing assignments. Somehow, I feel like if I had picked a card saying, “Write something with the title, ‘Comics, Porn, Libertarianism and Orchids,’ ” I should have come up with something more interesting than this.