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Customized E-Books

Markup language for authors enabling custom versions of e-books
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Books contain much potentially objectionable material: explicit sex, graphic violence, torture, obscenities, racial slurs, "adult themes", etc. Much of this could conceivably be removed by simple texual replacement filters, from the absurd (replace "fuck" with "<Anglo-Saxon four-letter word indicating sexual intercourse>") to the prissy (replace "fuck" with "make love"; leading, of course, to the always evocative "Oh, go make love yourself, you mother-make loveer.")

As illustrated above, even the simplest elements of controversy, single words, cannot trivially be removed from text without compromising its quality.

Yet musicians regularly produce two or even three different versions of their songs, some suitable for home play and some for radio play.

I propose the creation of a markup language for authors which would enable them to easily write alternative versions of their novels (for presentation as e-books, or even as alternative printings in dead tree form). It would allow the author to specify which axis/axes of objection a given textual morph pivoted on, and the alternative text for any given reader tolerance level.

Example: the sentence "Oh, go fuck yourself" would be written as follows:

Oh, go <obscenity><adult="fuck yourself"><teen="to hell"><child="away"></obscenity>!

My personal anti-kink (i.e. "Your kink is fine...WAY the HELL over there") is nonconsensual torture. Having a book filter which allowed me to replace "Malcolm slowly inserted the acid-dipped sliver of bamboo under Tina's trembling fingernails...<deletia>...her bloodied head bowed under the unbearable weight of her agony." with "Malcolm tortured Tina for five hours. At the end, he had broken her." would make me nothing but happy.

And while I don't personally mind obscenities in my books, I do have a six-year-old daughter, and would like to be able to share certain texts with her without any graphic violence, sex, or obscenities. Being able to apply a "violence = child, sex = none, obscenities = child" filter to books would allow me to greatly increase the number of books I can share with her.

In order to overcome neophobia on the parts of the authors, I propose offering this as a free service to a small selection of neophilic authors (Stephen King comes to mind), and continuing to offer it to authors for some time at no cost (using volunteer efforts) until such time as the public comes to accept, then expect, then demand it, and authors become willing to devote their own efforts to the task.

Meowse, Oct 06 2001

(?) Censorship of the Sex Industry in Australia http://www.eros.com...noz.php?articleid=1
Stupid geriatric old farts. Especially, the measures they have taken to regulate Internet content. [sdm, Oct 06 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) Annotated Daddy http://uk.geocities...uartfin72/daddy.htm
With all the off-colour bits clearly marked. [pottedstu, Oct 06 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) WalMart censorship http://music.eonlin...ems/0,1,159,00.html
watch our children while they kill each other With a gun they bought at <shop> <vendor="kmart"> walmart </vendor> <vendor="walmart"> Kmart </vendor> </shop> discount stores [pottedstu, Oct 06 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

Peacefire http://www.peacefire.org
Dedicated to exposing the limitations of filtering software (is this what Meowse means?) (Note: this site is blocked by most filters, and some ISPs refuse to let you access it.) [pottedstu, Oct 06 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]

(?) Suppose it was only a matter of time... http://www.spinnweb...t/cox_moviemask.php
Hide the scary swords and cover the bare breasts. [StarChaser, Oct 06 2001, last modified Oct 04 2004]


       "[Censorship is] like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't eat steak." --Robert A Heinlein   

       If you don't like seeing those words, whatever those words may be, don't read those books.   

       Seems simple enough to me.
StarChaser, Oct 06 2001

       I don't mind people critiquing my ideas. I quite like it in fact.   

       But I really hate seeing it being done in such a knee-jerk, jingoisitic way. Especially by someone (UnaBubba) whose posts I have come to enjoy and whose viewpoints I have come to respect.   

       I am NOT advocating censorship. I can't imagine how you came to that conclusion. Please re-read my idea, and then provide comments somewhat more on-topic than "I don't like censorship."   

       I can't imagine anything *less* pro-censorship than "Let authors voluntarily provide different versions of their books, including the most offensive/challenging to standard mores, and let readers voluntarily choose between those versions, including the freedom to choose the most offensive/challenging to standard mores version."   

       As to reading the Bible in the original form, there's nothing particularly original about "begat". In fact, a modern scholarly translation like the RSV (Revised Standard Version) is quite bit closer to the original than the King James Version. As a Texas governor once said, "If the King's English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"   

       I do agree with you on the topic of paraphrases and other instances of "dumbing down" the language.   

       StarChaser: what if I want to read the rest of the book, but not those words? Isn't it appropriate for me to attempt to negotiate with the author the removal of those words *from my copy of the book only*?
Meowse, Oct 06 2001

       Some authors could have a great deal of fun making the book sublty, wierdly different in its unfiltered parts depending on which of the filters you read with. A new literary form! Croissant.   

       Many readers would skip to the Naughty Parts; dull, but saleable. Croissant.   

       Censorship examines works to suppress ideas, not to make them extra findable.
hello_c, Oct 07 2001

       I would only find this distastefully similar to censorship if it would somehow lead to pressure on authors not to include the version they prefer. Since I don't think that would happen, I like this idea.   

       I do think there is a practical problem in that peoples' anti-kinks are generally pretty specific but diverse. Either there will have to be a huge menu of different squickages to check for and provide alternatives for (which would cause the author a lot of work), or the user's control over the writing will have to be annoyingly caorse.
wiml, Oct 07 2001

       I vote yes. Voluntary markup is added info, not censorship (which would be reduced info in most cases...). The suggested markup could enrich communication, not unlike fonts, sizes, colors, and other markup-able entities, and not totally unlike annotation. As I already pay some attention to which browser I'm running under, and I can have different page formats depending on the users choices regarding javascript, cookies, or java, I ask "Why not add to that the ability to tailor my text to different users?" On the practical side, I add to wiml's concern the thought that trying to think of all of the different markups my potential audience might want could be a daunting task. But for some literary styles and authors, it might well be a valuable opportunity. Let the marketplace decide. If it doesn't force anything on anybody, let it roll...
beenthere, Oct 07 2001

       Meowse: You can do whatever you want. I hope it doesn't happen.   

       K-mart and Wal-mart both censor material, by making the record companies provide an alternate version to avoid terrifying the soccer moms and their little bratlings. It remains censorship.   

       If you want to read the rest of the book but not those words, you flip the little paper things until the scary words stop. Or you get someone with a stronger constitution to censor it for you with a marker or something.   

       Do you demand that movie theatres remove the scenes of violence or sex in the movies they show? Or do you just not go to the movie?
StarChaser, Oct 07 2001

       wiml: I suspect that you're looking at a standard bell-curve (as with most human behavior). 90% of people's kinks can be covered with 10% of the topics (sex, violence, language). Another 9% can be covered with another 10% of the topics (torture, nudity, religion). Another .9% can be covered with..etc. I'd personally be thrilled if authors flagged their books to the 99% level, which would probably involve no more than seven or eight topics--only four or five of which would be likely to occur in any given book.   

       Damn. I wish I'd thought to use "religion" as one of the filters in the original idea. I suspect it would've changed the automatic reactions of some annotators.   

       Updated thought: please understand that I do not suggest that all authors support all filters in a book! C.S. Lewis, for example, would be highly unlikely to provide a <religion==none> filter for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". If the concept of these filters were widespread, however, he might well have attached a "Warning: <religion=high>" tag to it. Which would certainly avoid the upset I've heard from some parents, when their innocently agnostic children were accidentally indoctrinated by reading it.   

       Of course, now we're moving (for the first time, I might add...*grump*) into the realm of censorship. Authors who choose not to support a given filter for their books, but who choose to indicate that lack of support by using the homologous "content tag" on said books, are indeed leaving themselves open to censorship by WalMart (sex, violence) or Atheists of America (religion).   

       Starchaser: you complain that K-mart and Wal-mart censor material. I don't have a problem with this. WalMart is a private company, and if they want to cost themselves my business by censoring books and music, they're welcome to. I'll get my "Pretty Hate Machine" somewhere that respects my judgment.   

       The only kind of censorship that I feel truly warrants the name is public censorship, to which I am totally opposed. Private censorship? Hey, it's their retail business, baby.   

       However, assuming the legitimacy of your objection: would you still consider it to be censorship if the CDs sold at Wal-mart contained *BOTH* versions of the music, the censored and the uncensored? Ponder that for more than a moment, please.   

       And by the way--please try to rein in your condescension for a minute. "flipping the little paper things until the scary words stop" is precisely what I do when I encounter something in a book I don't like. But why shouldn't technology make it easier for me?   

       I mean, you could scoop up the little poopie bits in a leaf and bury them in that greenie meadow thingie you quaintly call a "back yard"...or, hey, you could use a flush toilet! :-)   

       StarChaser: >Do you demand that movie theatres remove the >scenes of violence or sex in the movies they show? >Or do you just not go to the movie?   

       I use a mix of strategies. I'm clever that way. :-) Some movies, I just don't go to. Some, I bring a friend who doesn't mind torture scenes, and I cover my eyes and say "tell me when it's over". Some, I wait and rent the "TV version" on videotape.   

       But if movie theaters offered *both* versions, I would just go to the "torture-free" version while you went to the "torture-full" version. And imagine if they sold filtering earplugs and LCD glasses, so we could sit in the same theater like the good friends we are, but you'd get your 100% DV of torture, and I'd get a white noise hum and "Boy, that must've really hurt poor Tina. Ouch." :-)   

       And as to scenes of sex...why would I want them to remove those? I *like* scenes of sex in my movies. But if I could remove them from my daughter's movies, think how many more movies I could share with her.   

       I'm not suggesting that ANY information be kept from ANYONE (except from minors, at the discretion of their legal guardians; which is why we have the concept of "minors" and "guardians" in the first place). I'm merely suggesting that technology can control what EACH INDIVIDUAL sees, at the discretion of THAT INDIVIDUAL. Optimizing and streamlining information transmission, under the full control of each individual human. What could be more anti-censorship?
Meowse, Oct 08 2001

       Sigh. And we're heading back there UnaBubba. [link]   

       As for this idea, it is sort of baked. Ever bought a DVD that senses which region you are in and then adjusts its subtitles accordingly?
sdm, Oct 08 2001

       The Matrix (available in wasp, kosher, and halal)
sdm, Oct 08 2001

       Although I can see the point that Meowse is trying to make, I think that there are at least two fundamental problems with the idea. Firstly, the assumption that you can just replace a few words & still have essentially the same book. From my (limited) knowledge of authors, I can tell you that the good ones slave over every word, writing & re-writing in order to get it just right. They don't just sit down & pound out a few pages of A4 every night. Your Malcolm/Tina example illustrates the point well. The first draft paints a picture which provokes a reaction, helping you to 'live' the experience. Your second draft does nothing to convey the emotion of the situation and may as well be a car maintenance manual.
Secondly, manufacturers like to minimise their costs & book publishers are no different in this case. Unlike, say, record companies who used to regularly push out records on different coloured vinyl (thus selling several copies of the same record to 'collectors'), there is no collectors market for paperbacks (hardbacks are different). Different editions means more production expenses and the economic pressure to produce just one version that you could sell to everyone would create a de facto censorship whether you wanted it or not.
DrBob, Oct 08 2001

       With ideas like this you always hope they'll reveal the stupidity of censorship/bowdlerisation, by converting an intelligent but obscene work of art into a crappy inelegant non-entity.   

       Take a poem like Sylvia Plath's "Daddy", which I consider to be one of the finest of the last century, a work full of vivid imagery, dark humour, and a deep and complex reflection on the relationship between violence, family, authority and love. Now we are going to try to put Meowse's idea into practice.   

       I have posted on a webpage this poem marked up to indicate content that some might find offensive. This includes references to religion, to suicide, to paganism, to the Holocaust, to violence, bad language, and disrespect towards her father. I omitted to mark up sections dealing with mental illness and bad-taste humour, because both require too much in the way of subjective judgment.   

       My challenge to the Halfbakery, many of whom are very talented writers, is to re-write the poem so as to create a version lacking those offensive elements. It doesn't even use a strict metre, although it rhymes. The unannotated poem can be found at the end.   

       Now tell me you want Plath to write about mental illness, her troubled relationship with her father, the connection between violence and sexual attraction, and the relation between private and public abuse of power, in versions with AND without the elements I indicated above.   

       Next week: a version of Tennyson's Charge Of the Light Brigade without the references to war.   

       I guess, before meowse accuses me of misrepresenting his/her idea, I should point out in words of few syllables that my point is that most works of art cannot be given in multiple forms as if they were some kind of "Choose Your Own Adventure" book. I don't care (much) about disrespecting the author, who may well be dead (Plath) and/or evil (e.g. Pound, Kipling, Eliot). I care about disrespecting the reader, by giving them a version that is not the truest or best.
pottedstu, Oct 08 2001

       As others have said, you can't remove big parts of things and expect them to be the same.   

       It's not worth arguing with you. You want someone to tell you the world isn't scary, and it's just not going to happen. If you want a non-scary movie with no sex, wait till it comes out on TV. They'll have removed everything that might frighten you. <I expect 'Hannibal' to be opening credits, Hannibal going 'Boo!', closing credits.>   

       CDs -can't- contain both versions of the music. They're not large enough. A CD can hold about 74 minutes of music, and you can't cram another 74 minutes of non-scary music into it.   

       Technology can already control what you see. Take a look at the remote control. I'd be willing to bet it's got an 'off' button, or power or whatever. And any book has perfectly serviceable covers that will contain all the frightening parts.
StarChaser, Oct 08 2001

       //until such time as the public comes to accept, then expect, then *demand* it, and authors become willing to devote their own efforts to the task.//(my emphasis)   

       That's the crux of it, Meowse, that use of the word "demand". I suspect that's what kicked off the automatic anti-censorship reaction on the part of many people, myself included. I know you're not actually suggesting expurgating the original so that only the <adjective><restrained="filtered"><unrestrained="bastardised"></adjective> version is available, but at the end of the day the public has one choice when it comes to an author's work - buy it, or don't. The agent doesn't have to take a book on. The editor doesn't have to accept it. The publisher doesn't have to print it. The reader doesn't have to read it. If you want a Disney version of William Burroughs, don't expect any author worth his salt to stand back and smile at the rape of his work. And don't expect them to do it for you. If you don't like them the way they're written, write the books yourself.   

       To reiterate what DrBob and pottedstu have pointed out, a book is not just a series of words put on a page that describe the actions of a couple of joe schmoes over a period of time. There are things like thematic content, metaphorical imagery, linguistic style, the rhythms and cadences of the prose itself, and so on, which most author-types tend to be a little bit precious about. Even in the medium of music (re WalMart, etc.) I consider the blanking out of obscenities questionable, to say the least, when the net so easily widens to obliterate the actual content of the song.   

       Case in point: Wheatus and 'Teenage Dirtbag'...   

       //Her boyfriend's a dick, / He brings a *blank* to school.//   

       What's the missing word, here? What word are the children being protected from? 'Cunt'? 'Fuck'? 'Nigger'? No, it's 'gun'. So a line which associates bringing weapons into a classroom with being a complete and utter arsehole (a worthy sentiment in my book) is gutted and rendered meaningless to the very audience who should be hearing it - the kids. Could the line be rendered with any milder word and still carry the strong, if implicit, condemnation of the macho fuckwits all too common in high school or beyond. Would 'knife' work? Would 'catapult' work? Would 'peashooter' work?   

       No, it's bad enough that anyone trying to make it in the music industry has to drop their trousers, bend over and willingly get shafted just in order to get airplay, without extending this into literature.
Guy Fox, Oct 08 2001

       UnaBubba: actually, the straw men you've set up have sufficiently little to do with my idea that I'm not particularly bothered by your attacks on them. I do thank those people who were willing to address my idea, however, instead of their own preconceptions about it.   

       Winnow, winnow, winnow. The following is my best attempt at a list of the objections raised to my idea so far:   

       1) It's censorship, and censorship is bad.
- UnaBubba

       2) The reader should only have the choice to read or not to read a certain book; they should not have the choice to read an abridged version of it.
- StarChaser, UnaBubba.

       3) Any censorship can lead to extreme censorship, and must thus be avoided.
- UnaBubba

       4) Changing even just words, much less entire passages, will damage the artistic integrity of the book.
- DrBob

       5) Costs of printing will make it impractical to produce multiple versions.
- DrBob

       6) Some works of art are based largely or entirely on "taboo" topics/themes, and thus would be destroyed by any meaningful degree of Bowdlerization.
- pottedstu

       7) My motivation is to protect my belief in a Care-Bear world from the challenges of reality.
- StarChaser

       8) Existence of the technology to censor will lead to increased demand to censor.
- Guy Fox

       9) My motivation is to protect others from what I think they shouldn't see.
- UnaBubba.

       I have what I believe are salient, possibly even interesting, responses to each of these points. But rather than waste my time tilting at veritable windmills, and open myself to the same accusation I made above (that of setting up straw men for the pleasure of burning them in effigy), I would like to first confirm that these are, in fact, your objections.   

       So please, if you would, confirm or correct the above objections until they do match your intended arguments. And it will then be my privilege and my pleasure to respond to them.   


       P.S. pottedstu, thank you very much for the link to "Daddy". Very powerful, very moving, and very much the kind of poetry I like. Mind, I still think you're a raving lunatic for disliking Kipling and Eliot, but "de gustibus", eh? :-)
Meowse, Oct 09 2001

       Meowse, whilst I think you're failing to understand others' objections, you do have at least part of mine down correctly.   

       Moving to a minor point, I didn't say Kipling and Eliot were bad, I said they were 'evil'. Eliot was an anti-semite with strong fascist sympathies. Kipling is a more marginal case, as his racism and imperialism were shared by a large section of society. But I still think you'd have to cut a large proportion out of them to satisfy modern mores. Fancy editing Kipling to the standard of PC children's fiction?   

       I still don't think they should be censored though. I even think they should be taught in schools (certainly Eliot). But I guarantee that any attempt to classify media by their objectionability would make that less likely.   

       Note to El Pedanto (and his assistant lewisgirl): see, I used media as a plural.
pottedstu, Oct 09 2001

       Nice try, Meowse, but no. Not 'will damage the artistic integrity' but 'may damage the artistic integrity'. It might even improve it in some cases (I bring 'misquoted song lyrics' in evidence, me lud!). And not 'impractical' but merely 'more expensive'.
DrBob, Oct 09 2001

       Meowse, I can't speak for anyone else, but I can clarify my own stance as regards these points... I don't really see technology as having anything to do with the argument. What I'm concerned with is more the legitimation you give to a subtle form of censorship based on commercial pressure and 'consumer choice'. So:   

       1 & 3) "It's censorship, and censorship is bad. Any censorship can lead to extreme censorship, and must thus be avoided." That sounds almost right. Censorship may be the lesser of two evils in some circumstances - and in those cases I may accept it - but it should be approached very warily. It's not a black and white issue, but I think my song lyric example above serves to illustrate how a mild form of censorship - blanking out obscenities - sets up circumstances in which a highly dubious act of censorship can take place. Is the word 'gun' offensive in it's own right? No. Does the line encourage children to bring guns to school? No - if anything, it's the opposite. So why censor an anti-gun, anti-macho lyric? I may be misinformed here, but I understand WalMart even refused to stock a Tori Amos(?) CD featuring a song about the Columbine massacre because the song had a line about the killers 'buying their guns at WalMart'. One might well ask the question: Who were the record company really afraid of offending when they blanked the word 'gun' - children, parents or a major source of revenue? In the end, regardless of the reasoning behind it, I consider that specific example of censorship to be indicative of the horrific abuses that are possible when censorship is endemic.   

       But there's another argument nested in there. Is your idea a weak form of censorship, given that it, as you protest, offers the reader a choice? Well, it becomes a question of availability. Would you argue that records played on radio are 'uncensored' because versions *do exist* elsewhere with the words left unblanked? If the large book chains refuse to stock any versions of William Burroughs which do not replace all references to drug-taking with corresponding terms related to alcohol, such that Burroughs's original texts only become available in specialist stores, is this 'not' censorship? Better still, I'm sure Burroughs's more pornographic works could be rendered much more accessible and palatable to the general reader by replacing all graphic homosexual imagery with heterosexual imagery, graphic or euphemistic. This would mean that homophobes the world over could read a recognised literary classic like 'The Naked Lunch' without any sort of challenge whatsoever to their *anti-kink*. Of course, the original versions will still be available from small specialist shops - sex shops, or gay bookshops, perhaps - or by mail-order, so that's OK. Meanwhile, the large chains will be free to advertise themselves as 'family-friendly'. No worries about children browsing freely from any shelf; all books in stock are 100% safe for all ages.   

       I am presuming that, in your idea, the e-book would likewise have only one version of the text visible at any one time - dependent on user settings - since reading would otherwise be a chore rather than a leisure activity. As I say, it becomes a question of availability. If you filter everything your child reads you are acting as a censor for your child. If you support a political party or lobbying group which ensures that the children's section in the public library is similarly safe, you are acting as a censor for all children. If you only buy from shops which stock the sanitised versions, or, indeed, only buy sanitised versions from shops which stock all versions, then you are exerting financial pressure on shops, on publishers, on editors and, eventually, on authors. If the end result is to render non-sanitised versions less freely available then I have to say I consider it disingenuous to distinguish this from 'real' censorship.   

       2, 4 & 6) "The reader should only have the choice to read or not to read a certain book; they should not have the choice to read an abridged version of it. Changing even just words, much less entire passages, will damage the artistic integrity of the book. Some works of art are based largely or entirely on "taboo" topics/themes, and thus would be destroyed by any meaningful degree of Bowdlerization."   

       You've said that you have no problem with private censorship and, if it's simply a matter of stocking or not stocking a book, then I agree; as I said in my original anno, the publisher is under no obligation to publish the book. Similarly, the bookstore has no duty to sell that book. But this idea is about fundamentally altering an author's work, and, as a writer, I have my own veto here. I'll happily take input from other writers, editors, publishers and, yes, plain old readers, on literary content or commercial viability, but if I've spent a year or two of my life working on a novel I will not, repeat NOT, allow a gutless, ball-less, spineless, soulless travesty of my work to be published under my name. As I say, if you want a filtered version, rewrite the book yourself. If you want more accessible stories for your children, make them up. I am most certainly not going to devote my time and effort to re-rendering a carefully crafted novel as some insipid, anodine, thematically-sterile whore of a work, in order to satisfy the moral and aesthetic whims and vagaries of those too lazy to do the work themselves, however well-educated and well-meaning they may be. You may not like it, but that's my choice. I would walk away from any publisher who wanted to do this to my book. I would sue anyone who circulated such a version without my consent - for fraud (it's not my work, though it purports to be), for plagiarism (directly derived from the text of my work) and possibly for libel (damage to my reputation). The reason I see this idea as censorship, and as bad, is that you seem to consider it acceptable to not just walk all over a writer's hard work, but to actually financially pressurise authors to compromise their own work to such a degree - and this, to my mind, is abhorrent. The way you envisage this, eventually - //the public comes to accept, then expect, then demand it, and authors become willing to devote their own efforts to the task.// Damn writers. How dare they write what they want to write. Let's see if we can't *force* them to write what we wnat to read. Again, I say, BAD.   

       Call it what you want; I call it fishboned.
Guy Fox, Oct 09 2001

       Guy Fox: The song you mention is "Love is a good thing" by Sheryl Crow:   

       Watch out sister/Watch out brother/Watch our children as they kill each other/with a gun they bought at the Wal-Mart discount stores.   

       WalMart refused to stock the album - see link.
pottedstu, Oct 09 2001

       Seconded, UB. I may not agree with your idea or the the arguments behind it, Meowse, but credit to you for tackling the criticisms reasonably and face-on.   

       Thanks for the link, pottedstu. I knew it was one of those pleasant, poppy but intelligent singer-songwriter women - but wasn't entirely sure which one.
Guy Fox, Oct 09 2001

       This is so not even close to censorship! You people are ridiculous! I suppose you think spam filters are "censorship" too?   

       This is simply a technological tool by which authors can create a "multibook" that can have certain settings adjusted by the reader. Meowse unfortunately chose a set of modification axes which resemble those which are often imposed by censors, and that brought out all the knee-jerk moronism.   

       The idea of a "multibook" is not an entirely new one. As some have noted (usually with far more derision than is warranted), it's difficult to parameterize text in such a way that it still works as well.   

       "Squick" axes are not the only ones to pursue. The old concept of "stretch text" posits text which can be adjusted by the reader to any desired length, from a very short summary to a lengthy dissertation; the user chooses the amount of detail they want to capture (literally "stretching" the text out).
egnor, Oct 09 2001

       waugsqueke: Who are you addressing? It's not my idea.   

       Please note that this is a tool for authors (or "text artists" in general) to use! Editing an artist's work after the fact may be "tinkering with art". Adding another tool to the artist's palette cannot possibly be! Individual artists may or may not choose to use any particular tool, but that's a wholly different matter. (After all, some photographers still avoid color processing.)   

       So it's obviously not "tinkering". What's your "carefully considered" objection, again? Are you saying that all works of art must be wholly static and not interactive in any way? That it is somehow sacriligious to give artists the ability to more easily create multiple editions of their works?   

       Let me emphasize again: This is a VOLUNTARY tool for AUTHORS to use if they want. That was spelled out very clearly in Meowse's idea. This is not an after-the-fact modification by someone else!   

       The argument "if this existed, the Moral Majority would force everyone to use it" also doesn't fly with me. Must we limit our own flexibility just to maintain the illusion that we are incapable of pandering to their desires? No -- it is not that we are incapable of pandering to the desires of censors; the technology is not hard. It is that we are unwilling to.   

       Knee-jerk or not, most of the reactions to this idea *are* stupid.
egnor, Oct 09 2001

       Some thoughts:   

       Surely a book like this might sell as an E-book if it included ALL the versions... it would be fammily friendly as long as you could stop children reading more than they should(small problem here, both with technology and deciding an age limit but then age limits are all ready imposed on films <is that censorship?>)...   

       Alternatley they could all be available as downloads at the same site...   

       How about if the writer was encouraged to think of writing the book as a chalenge with the revenue from multiple versions of a book compensating them for their extra work in trying to get all of the versions to work... maybe they could even have different endings (in the kids version the hero lives happily ever after as oposed to sacrificing himself to save the universe... ok pathetic example but you get the idea...)
RobertKidney, Oct 09 2001

       Let me first state that I understand that this is a tool for the Author. If an author chooses to write a mutiversed text, using such a tool, there is no censorship,etc. However, I still object to this idea.

Why? Because it will enable other people, besides the author, to exert control. For example:

- Businesses enforce style settings for online content, employee access (like filtering programs do now)

- Schools will allow access to only the "nice" versions of the texts

enough examples - you get the point

Even if the artist has freedom and control for creation, this could be used as a tool of censorship in distribution and dissemination.

Imagine a totalitarian government (of whatever stripe you wish) being able to say, "Our people are free to read anything they want" while enforcing filters so only the nice versions get through.

quarterbaker, Oct 09 2001

       Of course the schools would only use the "nice" versions... but as far as I know they only use "nice" books anyway...
RobertKidney, Oct 09 2001

       RK, egnor: The problem with presenting ebooks in this format is that some libraries (compelled by politically motivated legislators) will only allow the mild "Go away!" version, and thus this is a mechanism which not only makes censorship easy, but makes it likely. This has happened with the internet in American libraries. So don't say it wouldn't happen. It has. (And we didn't just do nice stuff at school: we did Plath and Eliot and Robert Frost and Tennessee Williams and Burns [mocking religion] and Macbeth [jokes about child-murder].)   

       Although Meowse starts by suggesting it's voluntary, he then offers to do it for authors without asking their permission, and says that people will end up demanding it, which must mean that if enough people demand it authors will have to do it.   

       I agree interactive fiction is an interesting medium for authors to explore, but I don't believe in forcing all authors to write it. If authors want to write their immediate experiences, feelings and ideas without consideration to an audience, let them do that as well. And if you want to do children's books customised to individual kids, that's great too. What we need is variety, honesty and free expression.   

       Someone also raises the issue of abridged books. I know this is popular for audio books, but people involved should realise that an abridged book is not the same as the original. My mother read an abridged Moby-Dick when she was a child; she thought it was an adventure story. That was because the adapter had removed all the references to philosophy, religion and the development of industrial capitalism, which are to my mind what make it one of the best books ever written. Admittedly, it may make quite a good adventure story, but by modifying it, you are losing so much.   

       Finally: are spam filters censorship? The perfect spam filter would not be censorship, because it would only detect cynically-despatched bulk mailings. Obviously, real-world spam filters fall short, and you may block desirable spam; although I've never received any email that could be called art (sorry, Kez). But I don't use spam filters anyway.   

       Post-finally: to win this argument, I need only mention site-blocking software for monitoring the urges of children and employees. Arbitrary, motivated by hidden political and commercial factors, and easy to subvert, it's the perfect argument against content classification. Admittedly, if more care went into it, it might be better, but the same thing might happen with meowse's idea: how much effort and money would it take to modify a book by hand, compared with the effort of running it through a s/fuck/drat/ filter? Based on the state of blocking software, we'd end up with crudely filtered books, almost arbitrarily chopped up. (See peacefire link.)
pottedstu, Oct 09 2001

       [Had a shower. Now feel mellower.]   

       This has been a fascinating argument, conducted with restraint on both sides, and no references to Nazi book-burning, showing small children pictures of women shagging farmyard animals, etc. However, since there appear to be lasting issues of interpretation, perhaps Meowse would like to: not delete the existing description of the idea, but add a new description, explaining it more clearly.   

       Is this, as I and others believe, primarily a method for content classification (analogous to the rating of feature films), which is intended to be applied to most or all fiction? Is it designed to allow the large-scale, mechanical production of "radio edit" texts? If so, then I believe the arguments advanced against it are valid.   

       Or, as some of Meowse's defenders seem to believe, is this an idea for a stylistic experiment, gimmick or jest, similar to Burrough's cut-up technique, the practice of writing stories backwards (like Martin Amis's Time's Arrow) and stories in the form of encyclopedias, indexes or agony columns? If so, it would probably be intended for only a small number of projects, till the novelty wore off. If this were to be the case, I would be prepared to judge the artworks on an individual basis, and I would not cry censorship until and unless it *was* posited on a more widespread basis.   

       An easy way to decide would be to look at a sample document. If the divisions were applied with playfulness, wit or an interest in ironic juxtaposition and contrast, then I would say, this is artistic - in this case you would have to view both versions (or the fully marked-up text) to get the joke. If, however it was purely a matter of (optionally) "beeping out the bad words", and you were only expected to choose one version, I would say content classification, which can (and has) lead to censorship.   

       Assuming it was intended for content classification rather than amusement, Meowse would then have to argue one of the following in defence of his idea:   

       1. Content classification does not lead to censorship.   

       2. Accepting that in the past badly thought-out content classification schemes have led to censorship, content classification by this form is superior in certain ways that prove it would be unlikely to lead to censorship.   

       3. Censorship is an acceptable price to pay, or risk to take, for me not being offended by what I read.
pottedstu, Oct 09 2001

       //Let me emphasize again: This is a VOLUNTARY tool for AUTHORS to use if they want. That was spelled out very clearly in Meowse's idea. This is not an after-the-fact modification by someone else!//   

       [egnor], I've quoted it twice already. I'll do it again, because this is the central point of my objection:   

       //I propose offering this as a free service... until such time as the public comes to accept, then expect, then demand it, and authors become willing to devote their own efforts to the task.//   

       This IS an after-the-fact modification by someone else, and the way it's presented the intended end is that the public should be able to "demand" this of the author. I stand by my arguments.
Guy Fox, Oct 09 2001

       What part of "offered as a free service" implies "involuntary"? I don't believe Meowse is suggesting that copyright law (which forbids unauthorized reproduction of modified works) be changed, merely that people offer to create modified works at no charge. The author can always refuse.   

       And if the public wants it, what's wrong with that? Commercial art -- and books are commercial art -- serves the public. The public demands that their movies be in color, too.
egnor, Oct 10 2001

       Peter: Apparently so, God forbid. And now we're in the same city...   

       UnaBubba: That argues against *any* innovation in the technology of expression. What fun is that? And I like color movies, and I like hypertext, and I like the Web, and I think the printing press is an improvement over monastic scribes.   

       I'm not sure if this particular idea will work out, but it doesn't seem intrinsically evil, the way it's been painted.
egnor, Oct 10 2001

       //What part of "offered as a free service" implies "involuntary"? //   

       The part that directly follows it, where it is stated that the service will be _demanded_ by the public such that the author is made - sorry, *becomes* - willing to submit their work to this procedure, whether they like it or not, as happens with the radio edits of songs now. And the public doesn't _demand_ that every black-and-white movie be made available, by the creator, in a colourised version. I think many of them would, in fact, baulk at the idea of colourising modern B&W movies like Schindler's List, Rumblefish or Ed Wood, or classics like Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, etc., etc..   

       In fact, colourising old B&W movies has not, to my mind, improved them, and has often been carried out after-the-fact, with the original director having no say about the matter - just as I fear this filtering method could be applied to works now out of copyright, without the author's consent, and with results that would be the metaphorical equivalent of digging up the author's cold dead body, shafting it and then pissing in its mouth. If someone were to post a Film Colourisation tool on the 1/2B (if it weren't already baked) I'd fishbone it for aesthetic reasons. It wouldn't make the movies more enjoyable; it wouldn't make the world a better place. And in movies where a switch between B&W and colour is used for aesthetic effect (Wizard of Oz, Living in Oblivion, Tallin Nights) this effect would be ruined.   

       I see every reason then to object to an idea which I see as, a) pandering to those who don't want art to be disturbing or challenging and see no real difference between excising an intentionally harrowing torture scene from a novel and bleeping out a swear-word from a song, b) ultimately doubling, tripling or even vastly multiplying the work any author has to do just to get their book published in the form they intended   

       In terms of that second objection, regardless of your use of the word 'tool', as I understand it, this idea is based not on any automated product or technological innovation but simply on the creation of a markup language. The laborious manual procedure of marking up the base text so as to allow alternative versions, selecting substitute words, phrases or paragraphs that are both aesthetically acceptable and suitably offensive / objectionable / innoccuous according to 'degree of filtration', would be carried out by sub-editors, presumably, until such time as commercial pressure is strong enough that the author either carries out the work themself or doesn't even get a look in at the publishing house.   

       I believe this is a fairly accurate reading of Meowse's idea. The first paragraph sets out the problem as 'potentially objectionable material'. A comparison is made to radio and home versions of songs as an analogous solution. The proposition is made: 'I propose the creation of a markup language'. An example use is given, where an extensive torture scene would be replaced by a 13-word gloss. The idea is justified as a way to make more adult texts suitable for children to read. The last paragraph tacitly condones the exertion of commercial pressure on authors such that the public can demand that they write their books using this markup language.   

       Or am I reading *my version* of the idea with the objectionability filter set to 'high', while PeterSealy and egnor have theirs set at 'low'?
Guy Fox, Oct 10 2001

       For an alternative use for this technology, check out my Multi-perspective E-Book idea.   

       <geek>My technology uses C preprocessor rather than HTML</geek>
pottedstu, Oct 10 2001

       I've a solution: I always rather liked those 19th-century novels which had chapter headings like "Chapter 94: In which Philip travels to Genoa, and is the victim of an unfortunate accident involving a twine-balling machine, and Tabitha is cruelly murdered by a member of the aristocracy." This would satisfy Meowse, who now wouldn't have to read the offending chapter, and UnaBubba, who would see a return to the styles of yesteryear.   

       At least until authors started playing with the descriptions, making them subtly inaccurate, to create interesting effects on the audience. (And who's to say that wouldn't happen with CEBs as well?)
pottedstu, Oct 10 2001

       I thought it was normal for adults reading adult books to children to edit the really hard parts on the fly. OF course, while doing so, your tone can make clear the significance of what happened without going into too-much-for-eightYOs clinical detail. The Greek myths are still gripping in outline.   

       On another tangent, the fact that Wal-mart will exert a priori control wherever it can doesn't reflect on any particular technology as much as it reflects on Wal-mart.
hello_c, Oct 12 2001

       This has been pretty long, and sometimes I don't have the patience to read it at work. Sorry that I'm replying to older things.   

       I agree with Guy Fox through the whole thing. If you don't like the scary parts, you don't have to read them. If you don't want to read books with scary parts, then don't. But trying to tell people that they have to make their things not scary for you is censorship. You start off by saying that you'd do it for them, whether they want it or not, and hope that the peepul would end up demanding it so that artists of all sorts have to do more work to please a small number.   

       "But won't someone PLEASE think of the children?!?!?" Already done. That's why there are 'children' and 'young adult' sections of bookstores, libraries and movie rental places, and the reason that there are movie ratings. You are warned before you go to a movie that there might be something in it that would upset you. If you go anyway and are upset, there is no one to blame but yourself.   

       But you want your hand held. You've said you take people to movies with you so they can tell you when the scary part is over. And you want to force everyone to have a hand-holder, whether they want it or not. I don't like that. You say it'd be unobtrusive. It would make files larger, as there would have to be two or three versions of everything, it would make movies much more irritating as one would have to make sure you got the right ticket and movie theatres would have to pay for two or three versions of the same movie...all to cater to you.   

       "My motivation is to protect my belief in a Care-Bear world from the challenges of reality." <shrug> Call it that if you like. You ask for someone to make the world 'safe' for you, compromising their artistic vision in the process.   

       I asked if you wanted the scenes of sex removed from movies. You answered "And as to scenes of sex...why would I want them to remove those? I *like* scenes of sex in my movies. But if I could remove them from my daughter's movies, think how many more movies I could share with her. "   

       Disney makes lots of movies you can share with her. Why would you insist on butchering movies intended for adults so that she can see them as a child? There are thousands of children's movies that already have all the oogy parts hidden from view. Share those.   

       If an author wants to do seperate versions of the same book, that's up to them. But demanding that they produce a book that fits your narrow view of acceptable is censorship. Whether or not there is another version available. As Pottedstu says, libraries will only stock the 'safe' version, thus depriving adults of the ability to read books of a type they may enjoy. 'But they can buy them'. True. So now only people who want safe versions of things can get them free, and taxes will have to go to supporting libraries and such for the censor-happy.   

       Spam filters are not censorship. -I- use filters on -MY- emails to block things that -I- don't want to see. I don't tell anyone else they can or cannot see it. I would very much prefer that spammers not spam me at all, but that's not censorship either. They can get a website and post their crap just like everyone else.   

       Anyway, I have no objection to this being done if the author/artist wants to do it. My objection is forcing it to be done.
StarChaser, Oct 13 2001

       What a monster thread! I haven't read all of it, but I caught [egnor]'s post and he (and others) captured the jist of what I was going to say: There are appropriate types of censorship (keeping children away from pornography), content rating is not censorship (just consumer empowerment) and since it would be the author's prerogative to include alternate versions, no one's artistic sensibilities should be impinged upon.
phoenix, Nov 24 2001

       exactly... but they are all convinced that giving authers choice is bad incase the public come to prefer the new style...
RobertKidney, Nov 25 2001

       No, we are convinced that like all censorship, it won't be used for the intended purpose and will be used to suppress the things that frighten or upset the Mental Minority...like free speech.   

       <Original rant and example deleted.>   

       This is another form of filtering software. Demanding that an author put three or more times the work into $ARTWORK because some people are absolutely terrified of seeing a nude body, reading about a monster, or hearing 'fuck' is just stupid. Yes, as it starts, it's voluntary. Once the camel's nose is under the tent, it will become compulsory by pieces. Libraries will only stock the non-scary version. Stores will only sell the non-scary version. <This already happens.> Pretty soon, publishing companies will only put out the censored version because that's all anybody buys <since stores are the major source of income for the publishers...>. Imagine the movie 'Pulp Fiction' with the characters saying 'Make love you you mother-make lover! Darn you to heck!' and waving teddybears at each other, that spray flowers <as the censorship software in my link above does>. Yes, it could be done. But it's not going to be the original movie.   

       Movies have to be edited half to death to avoid the dread X rating, or NC-17, which amount to the same thing. Nobody will buy an X rated movie, and not all X ratings are sex. That's one of the reasons 'directors cuts' are released seperately.   

       As Guy Fox says, in part, if you don't like a story, write a better one.
StarChaser, Nov 25 2001

       Well said, StarChaser. I don't want to reiterate what I've already said, given that this is already, as phoenix says, a monster thread, but... a short addendum:   

       It's not just about voluntary / involuntary, or censorship / choice. The idea would require _three_times_the_work_for_every_damn_book_I_write_. And Meowse says (in that last paragraph and in later annotations), that it's OK to use consumer pressure to force authors to comply. If I suggest an idea that foists a tripled workload onto your plate, are you going to croissant or fishbone it?   

       I know a lot of writers, published and unpublished. I'd be willing to bet that not one of them, _not_one_, would be willing to participate in this voluntarily, but would, instead, look on it as a cheap novelty gimmick at best, likely only to produce crass commercial hackwork with no real literary merit. And, at worst, as StarChaser says, and as I argue above, I think it's an excuse for <I will not be rude. I will not be rude.> people who don't appreciate intellectually, ethically and philosophically challenging writing in the way that it is intended, to drag committed craftsmen down to the level of <I will not be rude. I will NOT be rude.> the worst purveyors of vicarious sentimental thrills. Without that nasty stuff that actually makes us feel even just a little bit uncomfortable, kitchen sink dramas become soap operas and love stories become no more than a pornography-of-schmaltz. <I will NOT be rude. I WILL NOT BE RUDE.>   

       {{{{{{wavery scooby doo moment}}}}}}   

       Michelangelo, darling, I'm afraid one or two people are a little put-out by the, um, nakedness, of your figures. We can't give you any more money, but we want you to paint these _other_ two Sistine Chapel ceilings - fig leaves on chapel two, full clothing on chapel three - so we can guide more sensitive visitors into the chapel appropriate to their delicate sensibilities. The public demands it, you see, so, well, if you don't want to, we can get someone else to do it. Don't worry, you'll still get the credit for the other two. We'll tell _everybody_ that Sistine Chapel Three, the one with God in a clown suit (makes him look less threatening, you see), is _all_your_work_. All yours! But, you do understand that this is policy now, yes? We'll be expecting this from now on, on any work you do for us. Consumer pressure; nothing wrong with that, is there? What's that? No, you won't get paid for the other two ceilings. No, *we'll* tell you what's acceptable. We'll tell you exactly what to paint. Us and the public, that is.   

       No, no and thrice no.   

       OK, so it wasn't exactly a *short* addendum.
Guy Fox, Nov 26 2001


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