Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Sara (in front) and Dave (in back) paddling with the orcas in Howe Sound last July

Thanks to Jesse for the kind words and support. They brought back a fond memory of last year's fundraiser, which took place not very long after Steve went into the hospital.

The News Blog community was already scrambling to organize itself to support Steve and his family in any way we could; and those of us who'd stepped up to keep the place running were busily directing a tidal wave of outpouring concern and generosity. Blog fundraisers bloom like daffodils this time of year; but amid all this, a few folks felt understandably touchy about asking readers to divert attention from the main cause.

The debate on how we were going to handle the Orcinus fundraiser (which even then had a family tie, so I largely stayed out of it) and, by extension, other similar occasions in the future went back and forth for a couple days. Finally, Jen stepped up and put an end to it. "Steve wouldn't hesitate to do this," she said (not in those exact words, but in pretty much that tone). "Supporting our friends is what he'd want us to do. So we're doing it." Since she was still the Goddess-in-Charge, it was done.

It was sweet and bold -- and one of the first occasions that "What Would Steve Do?" was applied as the cardinal guideline for shared decision-making. By now, it's become so ingrained in us that we just sort of reflexively go there whenever there's a question of policy or attitude. But it's nice to look back from a year's distance, and remember where that came from.

And now for the weird news. Jesse brought it to my attention last week that Websense, the world's largest nanny-ware company, has blocked Orcinus as a "racist or hate site." Which means that many of you who were used to reading us at work or school now can't. I've brought this to the attention of both Dave and Websense. We'll be working it through, and hope to have this cleared up soon.

Even more interesting, however, is the suggestion that Websense allegedly has been on the warpath against a wide variety of progressive websites, as a high school student named Mike asserts on his blog here:

The nonsense of Websense

You hear it everywhere, in the halls, in classrooms, by students and even by teachers. It’s agreed, Websense sucks. According to most people that attend MHS, Websense and its creators could just go to a place that I can’t mention in a school newspaper.

We all know the usual complaints about Websense: the blocking of game sites and it getting in the way of doing research. But there’s something else there. Something almost completely unnoticeable, something hidden.

Underneath Websense’s restricting filter, there’s a bias. A conservative bias… let me explain. Ad·vo·ca·cy: The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; otherwise known as active support. (http://www.dictionary.com/)

According to Websense, advocacy groups are something that we, as students, shouldn’t be able to see at school, and I think I know why. Websense doesn’t want us to be able to see advocacy groups like the KKK or Black Panthers and that makes sense. But by making sure the filters are airtight, advocacy groups including civil liberty unions, homosexual rights groups and a lot of animal rights groups are blocked as well.

What if I try looking at Christian advocacy group websites? If you Google “Christian Advocacy Groups,” you’ll see that almost all of the Christian advocacy group websites are not blocked. They squeeze past the airtight filters, leaking into our computers. Could it be intentional? Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it doesn’t stop there.

Websense also blocks blogging sites by filtering the category “Message Boards and Clubs.” This is why Myspace, Livejournal, and Xanga are all blocked. And I understand why. On most personal blogging sites, you can post anything you want: pornography, hurtful racist remarks, or the ingredients to building bombs, which isn’t good.

But because of that airtight seal, a lot of political blogs are blocked too. Take for example, the widely read Democratic blog, Talking Points Memo. On the other side of that, I’ve found something strange; there’s all these Republican blogs… unblocked.

Linking from the same web site, http://www.wizbangblog.com/, you can see that almost every single Democrat blog site is blocked. Almost every single one. But Republican blogs (remember, linked from the same site) are unblocked. Now this can not be a coincidence, it just can’t.

Why is it that Christian advocacy group websites can squirm past the “Advocacy Group” filter, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website is stopped dead in its tracks? An accident? And how come Republican blogs slide past the “Message Boards and Clubs” filter, but not liberal blogs? A mistake? How can Websense, being the respected website-filtering software that it is, let all of these things go unnoticed? Truthfully, I really don’t think it was an accident. I think it was intentional.

Mike didn't date this post, so I have no idea how old it is. And, since I'm not one of those toiling under the malign protection of Websense, I can't follow his instructions and see what results.

But, that said, I'm not exactly amused at the irony that two people who spend so much time speaking out against racism, hate crime, and the roots of inequality have been tagged as "racist." In fact, mischaracterizing what we do that way is defamatory. And, on a practical level, it's hurting us.

So the suggestion that what's happened to us is part of a larger pattern that's affecting a wide variety of progressive websites (Josh Marshall? The ACLU?) but somehow bypassing conservative ones bears checking out. If you're lucky enough to toil at a workplace or school where your Internet interactions are all watched over by Websense's machines of loving grace, would you check this out and get back to us? GNB's comments threads stand by at the ready.

The blog you help may not only be Orcinus, but every other progressive blog in your bookmarks -- including this one. If what Mike says is happening really is happening, fixing this begins with gathering the facts to make the case.