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The Difference Between Censorship in the US and Russia

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We hear a lot of kvetching in the Western press about censorship in Russia. The ever-amusing Josh Keating over at Slate tells us that Russian bookstores have been pulling Maus from their shelves because the graphic novel features a swastika – that dastardly Putin at it again, banning Nazi propaganda:

“Before we scoff too much, it’s worth remembering that Maus has been challenged by skittish school libraries in the United States as well, but the case does illustrate something about how censorship works in contemporary Russia.”

(Before we scoff too much, American retailer JC Penny came under fire in 2013 due to a Michael Graves teapot because said teapot bore an uncanny resemblance to Adolf Hitler.)

In light of this, a recent round of ginned up “outrage” has me so puzzled and wondering if maybe we should be wondering ourselves if we are living in a censorship-free society. Pop singer Ariana Grande was filmed — without her knowledge — in a doughnut shop, licking a doughnut and then daring to disparage a tray of what I can only assume were bacon grease-filled deep-fried butter bombs with bacon-butter icing. The singer, viewing the tray, said the following: “What the f*** is that? That’s disgusting. I hate America. That’s disgusting.”

So, naturally, Americans got offended and Grande was shamed into issuing an extensive public apology and canceling scheduled appearances. Actor Rob Lowe weighed in, calling her apology “lame.” TMZ called her comments “fat-shaming.” Here I was thinking that part of being American means you get to say “I hate America.” I thought we were Je Suis Charlie. I guess not so much.

Sergei Dorenko calls this horizontal censorship. In “The Geometry of Censorship,” Mark Ames analyzes Dorenko’s “vertical” censorship, of which he accuses the Kremlin of employing, and compares it to the “horizontal” censorship of the West:

“This was contrasted to our “horizontal” censorship in the West: rather than coming from a tyrannical top-down force, our censorship is carried out horizontally, between colleagues and peers and “society”; through public pressure and peer pressure; through morality-policing; and from within oneself, one’s fears for one’s career, and fears one can’t necessarily articulate, fears that feel natural rather than imposed upon.

“Under vertical censorship, you know exactly who you fear, and therefore, who and what to avoid or sneak around and oppose. 

But horizontal censorship feels like it comes from everyone and anyone, depriving the censored of martyrdom status.

Which makes our “horizontal” censorship in many ways more effective and powerful than the cruder Kremlin “vertical” approach to censorship—according to Dorenko’s theory.”

I do not intend to take a pro-doughnut licking stance, but I do think that this incident is indicative of a distinct problem in American society. Celebrities and other public figures must issue heartfelt and repeated apologies after their remarks are made public, and are still socially and professionally shamed into retracting their comments. Unless they are Donald Trump and say things Americans secretly agree with and/or find hilarious, many times they are unable to recover their professional standing.

It may be easy to dismiss the pastry-related peccadilloes of a 22-year-old pop singer, but horizontal censorship gets carried over from the entertainment sector into political and foreign policy debates.

In Western society, horizontal censorship is tied to the offender’s self-worth. One misplaced comment or one poorly-worded Tweet, and suddenly that person’s value as a human being goes off the cliff.

Examples of social and cultural censorship in the United States are legion – from the Dixie Chicks criticizing George Bush and radio stations voluntarily pulling their music, to Seth Rogen having to apologize because he didn’t like American Sniper. The example that is particularly heinous is the personal and professional attacks endured by Dr. Stephen F. Cohen over his stance on Russia and Ukraine.

Cohen, a professor emeritus at Princeton University and New York University, a former adviser to CBS news on U.S./USSR relations, and my spirit animal, has consistently dissented from the party line on Russia and Ukraine and has been rewarded for his pains with character assassination in the American media. Even the virtuous Slate got in on the action – running an article about Cohen, entitled, “Putin’s Pal.”:

“As Cohen made Russia’s case and lamented the American media’s meanness to Vladimir Putin  in print  and  airwaves, he was mocked as a “patsy” and a “dupe” everywhere from the conservative to the liberal.

Now, as the hostilities in eastern Ukraine have turned to the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, Cohen is at it again—this time, with a  long article  in the current issue of The Nation indicting Kiev’s atrocities in eastern Ukraine and America’s collusion therein.

The timing is rather unfortunate for Cohen and The Nation, since the piece is also unabashedly sympathetic to the Russian-backed militants who appear responsible for the murder of 298 innocent civilians.”

Never mind that Cohen has been consistently proven right. Never mind that there still is no conclusive evidence that the Eastern Ukrainian rebels are responsible for MH-17.

The shameful treatment of Dr. Cohen is particularly pernicious because, like during the lead-up to the Iraq War, it ignores a voice of peace among those clamoring for war. Only recently has the “liberal” Huffington Post seen fit to include Cohen’s viewpoint on the Ukraine crisis. Considering that U.S.-Russia relations deteriorated to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War while HuffPo jumped enthusiastically on the anti-Russian bandwagon from Sochi onward, their recent about-face appears as a weak attempt to appear unbiased.

In fact, this type of opinion-shaming isn’t limited to Western media sources. Earlier this year, I received a private message on a social network from a Ukrainian in response to post I had written in a news article’s comment section. I kept it so I can quote it here:

“i hope you get ill and die in pain, you dirty russian c**t troll” (Asterisks mine.)

Censorship in the United States comes from all corners, in deleted Tweets, extensive groveling apologies, and condescending lectures on what not to say to vegetarians. In authoritarian vertically censored societies, the devil you know has told the citizenry what speech is and is not acceptable. In horizontally censored societies, the devil you don’t know can appear at any time, to police your words, actions, and where applicable, deem you, your apology, and your value as a human being worthy of acceptance and you of forgiveness.

It sounds a lot like what Keating refers to in Slate:

“We may associate censorship in authoritarian countries with jackbooted police marching into libraries to confiscate banned literature, but more often, in Russia at least, it’s self-censoring for fear of violating intentionally vague laws.

As the Times wrote recently, ascribing the reaction of Moscow theaters to a new law banning obscenity in public performances, Cultural figures in Russia today describe a climate of confusion and anxiety. One publisher was quoted as saying that in Soviet times, at least we knew the rules.”

If Keating’s fear-mongering has any basis in reality, then it must be a brave new world to those who remember living in the Soviet Union to finally experience Western-style horizontal censorship first-hand.

Which is worse — overzealous compliance with laws that, while admittedly vague, give citizens a guideline about what might fall under their purview – or a society that claims to be free and open but has consistently shown that it hasn’t evolved much beyond its infamous witch trials?

I think we can all agree that censorship in all forms is wrong, but I do think that we would all have one less problem without America’s puritanical exceptionalism.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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