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Book published in 1948 continues to be relevant

Posted Wednesday, August 5, 2009, at 7:44 AM

This morning one of my former students sent me this bit of world news from our neighbors across the Atlantic. It always pleases me when the kids touch base with me, but it makes me even happier when they share something that we studied in class. It makes me feel we're still connected and learning in that big classroom called "the world."

Some of them complained mightily when we read George Orwell's "1984" (back in 1985, one smart alec even said the novel wasn't relevant because it "hadn't come true."), but as the years go by, I think they appreciate the continuing relevance of the book. When the term "Owellian" is used, they immediately understand the reference.

The news from Engadget:

"The British use the word 'sin bin' for an Orwellian program whereby "problem families" (currently numbering 2,000, but someday as many as 20,000) are placed under 24/7 CCTV surveillance in their own homes. Chris Grayling, something called the 'Shadow Home Secretary,' puts it thusly: 'This Government has been in power for more than a decade during which time anti-social behavior, family breakdown and problems like alcohol abuse and truancy have just got worse and worse.' Meaning, of course, that cameras must be moved from the streets of England into people's homes, where they'll be used to make sure that kids go to school, go to bed at a decent hour, and eat proper meals. If only they'd had programs like this when we were kids -- maybe things would have turned out differently."

Surely this reporter can't be serious! "Things would have turned out differently"?? I don't doubt that! The question is - Would it have been BETTER or WORSE? There are always unintended consequences for every action.

Another of my former students (This one goes WAY back!) notified me when Amazon deleted "1984" and "Animal Farm" from customer's Kindles.

Amazon sends 1984 down the memory hole:

A seventeen-year-old high school senior has sued Amazon for vanishing George Orwell's 1984 from his Kindle ebook reader - and removing his personal annotations in the process.

In July, Jeff Bezos and company deleted all copies of both "1984" and "Animal Farm" from citizen Kindles after the rights holder complained the titles had been sold without its permission.

A third-party publisher had uploaded the digital texts to Amazon's online Kindle store, claiming that Orwell's two most famous works were in the US public domain.

Michigan high school senior Justin D. Gawronski was among those who saw their personal copy of 1984 disappear down the Orwellian memory hole. Shortly after, Gawronski filed suit against Amazon in federal court, seeking class-action status.

According to the suit, Gawronski watched 1984 "vanish before his very eyes."

Apparently, Gawronski also took "copious notes" on his personal copy of 1984, and though the notes remained in a separate file when Amazon removed the book, they were completely useless. "A note such as 'remember this paragraph for your thesis' is useless if it does not actually reference a specific paragraph," the suit continues. "Gawronski now needs to recreate all of his studies."

Naming another Kindle owner who complained of vanishing Orwell, the suit hopes to prevent Amazon from vanishing Kindle books in the future, and it seeks damages for Kindle owners everywhere.

Amazon's terms of service say that books are licensed not sold. But as the suit point out, they also say that users have the right to keep a "permanent copy" of purchased books and to "view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times." And the terms fail to explain that Amazon has the technical power or the right to remove content from personal devices. Likewise, the suit says, Amazon "never disclosed that it could remotely render useless notes, annotations, bookmarks, and highlighting created by consumers."

The suit accuses Amazon of violating its terms of service, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), and the local Washington Consumer Protection Act.

Jeff Bezos has apologized for Amazon's Orwellian moment. And the company has vowed never to do it again. But at the very least, it's questionable whether Amazon can make such a claim. Now that the company has shown it has the power to remove content from citizen kindles, rights holders may have the legal leverage to force such removals.

Thanks, Jonathan and Hans, for these bits of Orwellian news from our world today! Keep thinking!

Showing comments in chronological order
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I love that book!

I remember that Richard Burton died during the filming of the movie which is advertised in the above poster. They had to finish without him. Burton was the perfect choice to play O'Brien! His cruelty was made all the more chilling, because he was so intelligent and appeared to be so compassionate!

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 8:01 AM

I loved that book too. I read it as a Junior in high school, just for fun. I remember that my teacher saw the book under my desk and showed the class saying it was inappropriate because our class was American Lit and Orwell was English. I can still see the look on his face when I said I was reading that book for fun. Then I handed him "Cimmaron" and said that was the book I was reading for class. Guess he wasn't used to students reading more than what was required. I discovered that year that I liked being atypical.

-- Posted by Ducky on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 8:50 AM

Oh, a friend who owns a Kindle tells me that Amazon told them that the books which were deleted were "pirated" copies. Wonder why Amazon sold them in the first place?

I still don't think I'll pay that much money for a Kindle.

-- Posted by Ducky on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 8:54 AM

I really don't see the advantage of a Kindle over a book. Both have to be read. The other day I was making a 3-hour trip and wished I had a tape of "Watership Down," the book I'm currently reading. I would have enjoyed listening to it as I drove, since all the commercials on the music stations were so irritating.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 9:27 AM

Where we are today can be traced back many decades. Read up on some of the wars fought in the government by Sen. William Jenner and Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Don't take what you were taught in school about McCarthy as fact. In recent years many files have been declassified and much information has been made available from the former Soviet Union. Communists indeed were infiltrating our government in large numbers.

Look up "Current Communist Goals" (1958)by Cleon Skousen. Many goals have been achieved and many are on the verge. The scenario of "1984" could be a reality if we don't pull together to fight it.

-- Posted by 1stcavdad on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 12:39 PM

In 1968 PBS broadcast a BBC production of "1984" that was shot in black and white on videotape. Videotape was very unusual in 1968, and it gave the production the "feel" of a play -- it was like you were in the audience watching a live performance. You wanted to reach out and stop Winston Smith from being taken to Room 101, where you just knew something very bad was going to happen to him. The movie version with Richard Burton doesn't have that "feel." However, the movie version does capture the unrelenting grimness of the book.

There are competing electronic readers that don't allow the Kindle's very creepy outside monitoring of content. Personally I don't want Amazon looking over my shoulder. Just yesterday Sony introduced an ereader that lists for $199. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketco...

-- Posted by FJGuy on Wed, Aug 5, 2009, at 5:52 PM

Haha! How ironic is that? Amazon is Big Brother!! Who knew??

-- Posted by goat lady on Thu, Aug 6, 2009, at 7:55 AM

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is famous for its large population of Amish and Mennonites, so it is ironic that the most surveiled city in the world is none other than Lancaster, PA. See an LA Times article, "Lancaster Keeps A Close Eye On Itself," http://articles.latimes.com/2009/jun/21/...

Seventeen-old Michigan high school student Justin D. Gawronski has filed a lawsuit against Amazon for deleting his copy of "1984" from his Kindle. He was reading and reporting on the book for his summer Advanced Placement English class. He contends the unauthorized deletion of his book "rendered the electronic notes he had taken worthless." Gawronski says that when he turned on his Kindle he watched his copy of "1984" "disappear right before his eyes." See the Wall Street Journal story, http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/07/30/l...

-- Posted by FJGuy on Thu, Aug 6, 2009, at 2:33 PM

Truth is stranger than fiction. H.R. 3311, a bill to create a pilot program to test the ability of a GPS in your car to send information to the government on how many miles you drive, and tax you accordingly. How great is that!

-- Posted by 1stcavdad on Thu, Aug 6, 2009, at 2:50 PM

Read "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, as well. Since all this health care mess has been slapping us in the face, this short story again states its relevance.

When I taught this story in one of my English classes, the first reaction is to take the plot literally. Then we brainstormed and tried to come up with current events that could be compared...it was amazing...and much of it was how we are racing toward an Orwellian society.

Spooky. Verrrrry spooky.

-- Posted by lovebooks on Fri, Aug 7, 2009, at 1:26 PM

"The Lottery" I remember see this film in the 5th grade (1968). Kind of traumatizing. Must have had an impact. I still remember it.

-- Posted by 1stcavdad on Fri, Aug 7, 2009, at 8:41 PM

Ursula K. LeGuin wrote "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", a short-story on a theme quasi-similar to "The Lottery." You can read it online at, http://www.c3.hu/othercontent/linkbudape...

As an aside, a few years ago I was in a small used bookstore in Cannon Beach, Oregon when in walked Ursula LeGuin and Jean Auel. They both had vacation homes in Cannon Beach and I was able to spend some time talking with them.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sat, Aug 8, 2009, at 12:47 PM

You are kidding! C'mon, now, you made that up!

I love the Clan of the Cave Bear series that Auel wrote!

Lovebooks, "The Lottery" was in the first literature anthology I ever taught from back in the day. It's so understated - no explanation whatsoever, so the reader is just left to say..."What just happened???!!"

I have to admit ignorance of Ursula LeGuin, FJ. I'll check out that site.

It's so pleasant to talk about books!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sat, Aug 8, 2009, at 3:45 PM

GL! How dare you doubt me!!!!!! The bookstore is an old house, and this is the bookstore's website, http://www.cannonbeachbooks.com

Both Jean Auel and Ursula LeGuin live in Portland. Cannon Beach is a picturesque small vacation town on the Oregon Coast about 80 miles from Portland. Cannon Beach has a beach fronting the entire length of the town. The feature attraction is world famous Haystack Rock. See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haystack_Ro... At low tide you can walk out to Haystack Rock, but don't get caught by the incoming tide! The undertow is very dangerous and every year some people on the Oregon Coast get swept out into the Pacific Ocean.

MD, your "libertarian" brother will be happy to learn that Cannon Beach is famous because it has a private non-profit library staffed by volunteers that doesn't receive any government funds. I just checked and it has operated continuously for 82 years. http://www.cannonbeachlibrary.com In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Auel and LeGuin volunteer there when they are in town!

The drive from Astoria to San Francisco on Hwy 101 is one of the most picturesque car trips a person can make in the U.S. It is something that I would recommend to everyone at least once. It is best to do it in late fall or early spring when the highway is almost empty of traffic.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sat, Aug 8, 2009, at 5:13 PM

Actually, I was just pulling your leg, FJ. I've learned to expect the unexpected from you. Your experience is so far outside anything local that it's as if you live on the moon...

I'm impressed that Haystack Rock even has puffins!

-- Posted by goat lady on Sun, Aug 9, 2009, at 8:50 PM

This blog inspired me to obtain the 1956 movie version of "1984" starring Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith, and also a 1949 NBC radio production of "1984" featuring David Niven as Winston.

-- Posted by FJGuy on Sun, Aug 23, 2009, at 2:58 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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