Immoderate July 14, 2022

OK, so I just got a promotion at the Big Box. I’m heading back to the night shift, mainly to do what I used to do during my previous pre-pandemic stint on the night shift, but for (a bit) more money.

Working overnights isn’t optimal, but even a sub-optimal set schedule will be an improvement over the erratic, prediction- and plan-defying, never-the-same-shift-twice-in-a-row chaos of the work schedule I’ve had for the past year. That predictability makes it a lot easier to write and to post and to carve out chunks of attention for this here blog. So that’s Good News.

What’s not Good News is that you won’t be able to write “Congratulations on your promotion” in comments here because it seems that “promotion” gets flagged as a restricted word by our comment filtering. If that word appears in a comment, that comment disappears into the limbo of “pending” comments. My full-time assistant can then log into our comment moderation portal and approve the controversial comment in question, thereby allowing it to be posted, somewhat belatedly.

But, alas, I do not have a full-time assistant. Or the time to make this a second full-time job for myself.

So I’m going to see what I can arrange with our hosts here at Patheos about freeing this particular blog from some of the restricted-word filters used in our automated moderation. (And also what I can do about, say, barring sea-lioning, dim-witted, fingers-in-their-ears, boastfully ignorant trolls from tracking their sophomoric filth all over the place as “guest commenters.”)

I apologize for the bewilderment and frustration that many of you have encountered thanks to that restricted-words filter. But I’m happy to see that many of you have also come to appreciate the unintentional hilarity of it and the puzzle-solving dilemma of trying to parse whatever it was the filter was intending to do.

Sometimes that’s easy to figure, as some of the restricted words are obviously naughty or likely rude. Among those recently flagged by the filter are: “fuck,” “STFU,” “shit,” “poop,” “bowels,” “feces,” “naked,” “butt,” “masturbate,” “scum,” “jerk,” “anus,” “pee,” “porn,” “asshole,” “jackass,” “idiot,” “dumb,” “pinko commie,” and “bastards.”

I get that. The desire to keep things “family friendly” even seems commendably well-intentioned. And, accompanied by a full-time human assistant, this filter could serve to ensure that our cooler heads and better angels prevail.

But this algorithmic approach, like all censors, betrays itself to have a dirtier mind than those it seeks to protect or to protect against. Hence this filter’s rejection of the following restricted words even when the context was far-removed from the filter’s filthy imagination:

  • “sucking” (Ross Perot quote)
  • “screwed” (up)
  • “screw” (loose)
  • “bowels” (quoting Oliver Cromwell)
  • Ever seen a Mobius strip? It’s hot. Take it off, baby. Take it ALL off.

    “naked” (in the sense of transparent or stark)

  • “Homo” (erectus)
  • “Homo” (sapiens)
  • “who’re” (as a contraction of who are)
  • “weed” (gardening, not Reefer Madness)
  • “bag” (the noun, not the pejorative poetical suffix)
  • “bag” (the verb, not the pejorative poetical suffix)
  • “hard on” (the adjective meaning stern or strict, not the noun meaning an erection)
  • “knob” (a dial on an AC unit, not a British penis)
  • “bone” (skeletal noun, not a reference to the bone-like texture of sexually engorged soft tissue)
  • “bone” (china)
  • “blow” (several non-fellatio-related uses of this verb)
  • “strip” (Möbius)
  • “strip” (verb, but not in the sense of an ecdysiast)
  • “pre-teen” (it’s really creepy that the filter finds every reference to this age group to be really creepy)
  • “penetrate” (the hull of a UFO, nonsexually, I think)
  • “hooters” (owls, not breasts)
  • “Beaver” (Leave It To)
  • “seaman” (actual mariners, not the homophone)
  • “thrust” (noun meaning gist, not as sex-related verb)
  • “virgin” (Mary)
  • “Oral” (Roberts)

Having a pertinent, inoffensive comment filtered for any of those reasons (and those are all actual examples) tends to be mystifying and infuriating — the kind of thing that makes one exclaim a string of words that are likely also restricted by the filter. And again, I’m sorry that this has been happening.

But I’m glad that many of you have also come to appreciate the comic aspects of this absurd AI Comstock. It’s always, on some level, funny when you have to pause and think before realizing that the prudes always turn out to be much dirtier-minded than the rest of us. (And that you’ll perhaps also find it partly reassuring, as it’s evidence that the Rise of the Machines and our tyrannical SkyNet overlords are still a good ways off.)

Similar problems afflict the filter’s also well-intentioned attempts to prevent scammy spam from cluttering up our comment sections. That’s why you can’t say “promotion” or mention that you “work from home.”

Some of the words this filter restricts are a bit harder to find any well-intentioned explanation for.

“Lesbian” is restricted, I guess because it’s a term the filter’s designers think of primarily as a potential PornHub search term. You know what’s far, far worse than using any of the restricted words in this filter? Reducing the humanity of other people to the extent that their very existence can’t be mentioned and revealing that you think of them, primarily, as a sub-category of porn. I try to avoid using phrases like “the heteronormative male gaze” but sometimes I guess you just gotta. Sexualizing the existence of other humans and then therefore barring any mention of their existence as inappropriately sexual is DeSantis-level eliminationist fascist crap.

The word “menstruation” is also restricted, which — at best — has big NASA-sending-Sally-Ride-into-space-for-four-days-with-a-year’s-worth-of-tampons vibes. Let’s be charitable and presume it’s just that kind of incomprehensible refusal to find a clue rather than something more deliberately Gilead-ish and patriarchal. (Although, of course, I’m not sure that distinction holds up.)

Some religious terms are restricted words, which is confounding for a site meant to celebrate and equip us all for life together in a robustly pluralistic society.

“Islam” and “Muhammad” are restricted. I suspect, depressingly, this restriction applies to Christian blogs here due to the hard-learned lesson that their use is likelier to be disrespectful and insulting than to be simple references to the religion of more than a billion of our neighbors. That’s probably a well-intentioned restriction, then, but it puts us in the uncomfortable place of standing alongside the increasingly genocidal religious nationalists of the BJP who also refuse to allow those words to be uttered.

“Arian” is also a restricted word. That one’s just funny. Particularly since reciting the Athanasian Creed would get your comment filtered (“flesh,” “bodily”) and because, I imagine, either “homoiousios” or “homoousios” would get you flagged.

Then there’s the word “slave.” This word was previously forbidden from being spoken in the US Congress because the “peculiar institution” was simultaneously understood — unanimously — to be both a monstrously unjust atrocity and the essential pillar of our laws, culture, religion and government. So, Congress decided it was best just to avoid thinking about it and to forbid even saying the word for the first, oh, four-score and seven or so years of our history.

That was Very Bad then. And, for John Quincy Adams’ sake, it’s Very Bad to include that word now in any list of “restricted words.” The only people that helps are those who are fighting — aggressively and, as ever, violently — to ensure that we never come to grips with, repent from, or correct the vast, monumental, and existential horror of the American Holocaust.

Really the only civil and appropriate response to efforts to once again bar any mention of slavery is to go full-Carlin and resort to a bunch of those restricted words from the first list up there at the top.

I will, however, refrain from starting there when I raise these concerns with our hosts.

Anyway, again, I’m sorry for the inconvenience and the Orwellian funny business. And I’ll try to address it. Thank you for your patience.

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