by Justice William W. Bedsworth
When my daughter Caitlin was a little girl, she watched me at the computer one day and then approached her mother. “Is Daddy mad?” she asked. Her mother answered, “I don’t think so. Why?” “Because he’s banging on the keyboard really hard,” said the distressed nine-year-old.
Her mother had to explain to Caitlin that Daddy always banged on the keyboard. The “keyboards” Daddy learned to type on back in the Pleistocene required banging. They were much like Daddy’s brain: unresponsive to finesse and programmed for a certain amount of resistance.
I’ve never refined my typing technique. You can tell from outside my office whether I’m at the keyboard. People unfamiliar with the sound back away from the door, expecting a herd of stampeding hamsters to come thundering out of chambers at any moment.
But I’ve elevated my game in other aspects of computer usage. I can track down cases on the Internet, buy Christmas presents without going to a mall, track down and watch videos of obscure musicians I like on my laptop.1 I can read books, play Scrabble©2, and identify obscure musicians I like3 on my phone.
I’m never going to be able to reside in the electronic world of the 21st century, but I’ve gotten to the point I can walk through it without feeling like I’m liable to be mugged at any moment.
Which apparently differentiates me from the nation of Pakistan.
Pakistan decided a couple of months ago that it needed to control the Internet. Yeah, right. Them and King Canute.
Anyone who has raised even one child to the age of 15 knows you cannot control the Internet. It’s the boogeyman, the Borg, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s the alien intelligence whose celestial arrival we’ve been dreading for decades; it just came from cyberspace rather than outer space.
Putting the Pakistanis up against it is like putting Bonzo the Chimp up against King Kong with a glock.
Pakistan’s opening salvo was censorship. They decided if they could just eliminate bad words from the Internet, it would be safe for their citizens’ morals. So they announced that certain words and phrases would not be allowed.
I know what you’re thinking. George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television, right?
Well, not exactly.
How about 1100 banned words and phrases?
That's right. Eleven hundred things you can't say on the Internet in Pakistan or they will come and pour orange juice onto your keyboard.4
It’s an impressive list. Well, maybe not “impressive,” exactly. What adjective would you use if you found out your next door neighbor collected road kill and had filled three bedrooms of his home with it—segregated according to whether it had fur, feather, or shell. That’s what this list is like.
The list is largely an encyclopedic collection of sex terms demonstrating a mastery of lowlife sexual slang that reflects badly on the Pakistani censors. Hard to look at the words and phrases they thought of to ban without wondering how they got to know so many disgusting terms.
There are things you would expect on the list, like “damn” and “go to hell” and “quickie.” Carlin’s words are on the list.5
And there are things you might not have expected, but don’t really find surprising. I would put “flogging the dolphin” into this category. I’m not really sure what “flogging the dolphin” refers to, but I’m not prepared to defend any of the things—literal or figurative—that come immediately to mind, so I can’t really say I’m offended by Pakistan’s putting it on the banned list.
And there are things that seem . . . um . . . counterintuitive, like “penthouse” and “hostage” and “looser.” There are hundreds of words like these that just seem rather random. “Harder”? Really? “Deeper”? Better not discuss diamonds or swimming pools online.
And then there are the things that are just downright mystifying. You violate Pakistani law if you sit down in Islamabad and transmit the word “deposit.” Honest. “Deposit” is on the list. Online banking will henceforth be conducted by standing on line at Pakistani banks.
“Athlete’s foot” is on the list. So don’t go looking for podiatric help on the web. Your toes start itching, spray paraquat on them and hope for the best.
Both “sex” and “no sex” are on the list. So they’ve got you coming and going on that one.6
“Gonnorehea” is on the list. NO, not “gonorrhea.” That didn’t make the list. Gonorrehea. With an extra “e.” If you can spell, you can discuss gonorrhea on the Internet in Pakistan. That’s your reward for paying attention in sex ed class. Apparently—all indications to the contrary notwithstanding—the government values education.
The next word on the list after the rather embarrassing gonorrhea loophole was completely dumbfounding to me: Gonzagas. I knew of only two meanings for “Gonzaga”: a small Jesuit university in eastern Washington and the guy the small Jesuit university in eastern Washington was named after.
Now, the university in Washington has made a lot of enemies in the last decade by turning out a basketball team whose success has far outstripped anything a tiny school in the Palouse should be able to accomplish. If they had made the list of words banned at Indiana University or North Carolina or UCLA, I could understand it. But Pakistan?
Well . . . it turns out “gonzagas” has acquired a secondary meaning. Yeah, you won’t have to work too hard on this one. Just note that the slang term is plural and ask yourself what plural thing my gender is most hung up on.
Yep. So no Pakistani scholarship kids at Gonzaga for the foreseeable future. And the next time I’m inclined to leer at a woman in a bikini, the image of one of the Jesuits who taught me in college will pop into my head.7
The one that really makes me feel old is “glazed donut.” Apparently there is some sexual connotation to that phrase which I am too old to recognize. And what’s worse, I’ve reached the age where there are days when a glazed doughnut might interest me more than sex.8
But the pièce de résistance, the absolute zenith of goofy censorial policy, is a phrase I absolutely cannot think of without laughing. The government of the sovereign state of Pakistan has declared it illegal to introduce into web commerce the phrase . . . wait for it . . . monkey crotch.
That’s right. Monkey crotch.
If you juxtapose online the word “monkey” followed by the word “crotch” you have violated the laws of Pakistan. And while I don’t know much about the Pakistani correctional system,9 I’m pretty sure if you go to jail there behind a “monkey crotch” beef, you automatically become the [insert banned Pakistani Internet word here] of another inmate.
Let me digress for just a moment. Years ago, I received a letter months after it was mailed. Stamped on the front of it in purple ink were the words, “Found in supposedly empty equipment.”
The letter was not important, and I could certainly see how a few of the trillions of letters mailed every year could get lost in “supposedly empty equipment.” Anybody who’s left a sock in the dryer understands that.
What bothered me was that this apparently happened so often the Post Office had a stamp for it. Rather than telling their people to be really careful when they took the socks out of the dryer, the Post Office had just prepared a stamp for every branch to use when this happened.
That’s kinda what bothers me about the banning of “monkey crotch.” It’s not so much that they’ve banned it. I’m certainly not going to miss it. In my whole life, I have never felt the need to use the phrase “monkey crotch.”10 In all the times I’ve been to the zoo or watched Wild Kingdom or torn my pants, I’ve never felt the need to utter that phrase.
But in Pakistan—a nation that has nuclear bombs—the construction “monkey crotch” apparently comes up often enough that the government felt the need to address its use in electronic media.
That terrifies me. A nation that couldn’t find Osama Bin Laden in their sock drawer has nuclear weapons and monkey crotch issues.
I’d be weeping if I weren’t so busy banging on my keyboard.
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at email@example.com.