What's the Streisand Effect?

"The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it." - Internet pioneer John Gilmore

Back in 2003, aerial photographer Kenneth Adelman photographed hundreds of miles of California coastline as part of a government-sanctioned effort to document coastal erosion. Of the 12,000 photographs he took and posted online, one happened to include an opulent cliffside mansion belonging to none other than Barbara Streisand. She sued, citing privacy concerns. Not only was her suit dismissed, but the picture of her home went viral, and suddenly what had been an extremely obscure part of a giant project hidden deep within the Internet was featured on blogs everywhere, ultimately being viewed a half-million times. Thus was coined the "Streisand Effect."

There are lots of examples of the SE in action. A pre-Internet example is banned book month, celebrating and highlighting literature that the powers that be have tried to censor. More recently, the Wikileaks website was the targeted for takedown by government agencies; soon after, people sympathetic to their cause mirrored Wikileaks' site across the world, making it impossible to completely remove. (It's kind of like trying to kill a worm by chopping it in half -- then you've got two worms.)

Here's a crazy one: in 2009, Ted Alvin Klaudt, a former South Dakota state legislator convicted of raping his two foster daughters, attempted to claim that his name was "copyrighted" and demanded it not appear in any news articles. This didn't work, of course, and his ridiculous claim got him lots of new publicity.

A recent and relevant example from world politics: in 2007, Tunisia blocked access to Youtube and DailyMotion after a video of Tunisian political prisoners was posted. Activists and their supporters then started to link videos about civil liberties in general, as well as the exact location of the Tunisian President's palace on Google Earth. The Economist wrote that this "turned a low-key human-rights story into a fashionable global campaign." Another example from an African dictatorship: Anonymous vs. the government of Zimbabwe. After dictator Robert Mugabe's wife Grace sued a newspaper for $15 million for publishing a Wikileaks cable linking her and some cronies to the illegal mining and fencing of blood diamonds, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous attacked government websites, even defacing the Ministry of Finance site to read thusly (see above).

Wow. Streisand in full effect.

Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album

Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

What Are the 12 Days of Christmas?

Everyone knows to expect a partridge in a pear tree from your true love on the first day of Christmas ... But when is the first day of Christmas?

You'd think that the 12 days of Christmas would lead up to the big day—that's how countdowns work, as any year-end list would illustrate—but in Western Christianity, "Christmas" actually begins on December 25th and ends on January 5th. According to liturgy, the 12 days signify the time in between the birth of Christ and the night before Epiphany, which is the day the Magi visited bearing gifts. This is also called "Twelfth Night." (Epiphany is marked in most Western Christian traditions as happening on January 6th, and in some countries, the 12 days begin on December 26th.)

As for the ubiquitous song, it is said to be French in origin and was first printed in England in 1780. Rumors spread that it was a coded guide for Catholics who had to study their faith in secret in 16th-century England when Catholicism was against the law. According to the Christian Resource Institute, the legend is that "The 'true love' mentioned in the song is not an earthly suitor, but refers to God Himself. The 'me' who receives the presents refers to every baptized person who is part of the Christian Faith. Each of the 'days' represents some aspect of the Christian Faith that was important for children to learn."

In debunking that story, Snopes excerpted a 1998 email that lists what each object in the song supposedly symbolizes:

2 Turtle Doves = the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens = Faith, Hope and Charity, the Theological Virtues
4 Calling Birds = the Four Gospels and/or the Four Evangelists
5 Golden Rings = the first Five Books of the Old Testament, the "Pentateuch", which gives the history of man's fall from grace.
6 Geese A-laying = the six days of creation
7 Swans A-swimming = the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the seven sacraments
8 Maids A-milking = the eight beatitudes
9 Ladies Dancing = the nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
10 Lords A-leaping = the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping = the eleven faithful apostles
12 Drummers Drumming = the twelve points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed

There is pretty much no historical evidence pointing to the song's secret history, although the arguments for the legend are compelling. In all likelihood, the song's "code" was invented retroactively.

Hidden meaning or not, one thing is definitely certain: You have "The Twelve Days of Christmas" stuck in your head right now.


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