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This is why we can’t have horrifying things

Some time ago I blogged on the news that the Australian nannies had recognised that the majority of people in Australia are adults and that many of those adults like to play computer games, and finally persuaded the Australian censors that bringing videogame classifications into line with other media was overdue. This was to be achieved with the addition of an R18+ classification by the end of 2011, although to no great surprise (though my general blogging neglect meant I didn’t write about it) it ended up being delayed again. But  at the beginning of this year Australia finally allowed adults to buy adult themed computer games, with more than half a dozen games given R18+ ratings in the first two months of 2013.

Great, you might think. Okay, so there’s a few games that have been classified for adults when the content seems pretty much the same level as games that got MA15 ratings in the past, but since one of the objections to the absence of the R18+ category was that some games were being classified too low that’s probably not a real problem. Besides, if parents decide their younger teens are mature enough to play something that involves lots of gore and splatter and/or occasional tits and ass then they can just go buy the game for them and allow them to play under whatever supervision they feel appropriate.

Unfortunately the censor hasn’t been given its marching orders and is still able to refuse classification, and since all media must be classified anything that’s refused has been given a de facto ban. According to Wikipedia

Content which may be Refused Classification include:

  • Detailed instruction or promotion in matters of crime or violence.
  • The promotion or provision of instruction in pedophile activity.
  • Descriptions or depictions of child sexual abuse or any other exploitative or offensive descriptions or depictions involving a person who is, or appears to be, a child under 18 years.
  • Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    • (i) violence with a very high degree of impact or which are excessively frequent, prolonged or detailed;
    • (ii) cruelty or real violence which are very detailed or which have an extremely high impact;
    • (iii) sexual violence
  • Depictions of practices such as bestiality, necrophilia or other practices that are revolting or abhorrent.
  • Gratuitous, exploitative or offensive depictions of:
    • (i) activity accompanied by fetishes or practices that are offensive or abhorrent;
    • (ii) incest fantasies or other fantasies that are offensive or abhorrent

Which is mostly pretty cut and dried, not to mention reasonable, but appears to give them a number of relatively subjective outs. Top of the list there is the term “offensive”, a meaninglessly subjective criterion since what offends me may not offend you and vice versa – I find it offensive that there are still laws being written in any nominally free nation that include concepts as fucking vague as “offensive”. “Gratuitous”, “exploitative” and “abhorrent” aren’t a lot better.

So I’m kicking myself slightly for feeling at all shocked that in the last week – within the same 24 hour period, in fact – two games aimed squarely at adults, Saints Row IV and State of Decay, have been refused classification and thus effectively banned in Australia.

The Saints Row 4 video game has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board due to the appearance of an anal probe weapon and “alien narcotics” in the game.
[…]
“The game includes a weapon referred to by the Applicant as an ‘Alien Anal Probe’. The Applicant states that this weapon can be ‘shoved into enemy’s backsides’,” wrote the Board.
“The lower half of the weapon resembles a sword hilt and the upper part contains prong-like appendages which circle around what appears to be a large dildo which runs down the centre of the weapon.
“When using this weapon the player approaches a (clothed) victim from behind and thrusts the weapon between the victim’s legs and then lifts them off the ground before pulling a trigger which launches the victim into the air.
“After the probe has been implicitly inserted into the victim’s anus the area around their buttocks becomes pixelated highlighting that the aim of the weapon is to penetrate the victim’s anus. The weapon can be used during gameplay on enemy characters or civilians.
“In the Board’s opinion, a weapon designed to penetrate the anus of enemy characters and civilians constitutes a visual depiction of implied sexual violence that is interactive and not justified by context and as such the game should be Refused Classification.”
The Board also took a dim view of the game’s drug use, especially as it gives the player character extra abilities.

Or as the Board itself put it in a PR:

In the Board’s opinion, Saints Row IV, includes interactive, visual depictions of implied sexual violence which are not justified by context. In addition, the game includes elements of illicit or proscribed drug use related to incentives or rewards. Such depictions are prohibited by the computer games guidelines.

Okay, it’s pretty weird even for a computer game weapon and certainly not something suitable for the Candy Crush brigade, but it’s also cartoonish violence, isn’t it? And I can recall at least one alien anal probe based cartoon gag on the small screen.

1x01-Cartman-Gets-an-Anal-Probe-south-park-18557255-720-540

I’m assuming this episode of South Park wasn’t banned in Oz, and if not I have to wonder how Cartman, with his gratuitous effing and blinding plus the fire farts and alien communications antenna unfolding itself from his arse, got a pass and the equally ridiculous alien anal dildo launcher weapon in Saints Row IV didn’t. Yes, drug use was mentioned, but even without getting into the case for legality there’s been plenty of drug use in movies and TV over the years. The Wire, Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction – did all these and others all not get an Australian classification? Don’t even bother to answer since I have them on DVD.

And then there’s the reasons for State of Decay, which I though sounded like a straightforward zombie shooter but is apparently also a non-stop drug fuelled haze.

The Classification Board’s report, obtained by news.com.au explained that it banned the game because it contains the option of self-administered drugs throughout, in order to restore players’ health or boost their stamina.

“These ‘medications’ include both legal and illicit substances such as methadone, morphine, amphetamines, stimulants, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, codeine, aspirin, ‘trucker pills’, painkillers and tussen,” the report reads.

“Of these, methadone, morphine and amphetamines are proscribed drugs and the term ‘stimulant’ is commonly used to refer to a class of drugs of which several are proscribed.”

/sarc How can I have been so silly? Of course an open world zombie survival game is going to reward players whose characters in game spend their whole time ripped off their tits rather than running from, hiding from and hacking up zombies. And naturally whenever this happens the player themselves feels the effect by the magic of, er, game magic. Come on, we’ve all puked in our own laps after making Shepard get shitfaced to the point of passing out in that bar in Mass Effect 2, haven’t we?

You didn’t? You know what, neither did I.

So we’re back where we were a few years ago: adult gamers in Australia having to wait around for the game to be specially ruined for the Australia market because the censors didn’t like something in it that in terms of the whole game was a really trivial point.

“State of Decay has been refused classification by the Australian Classification Board (ACB). We’ve run afoul of certain prohibitions regarding the depiction of drug use. We’re working with Microsoft to come up with options, including changing names of certain medications in the game to comply with ratings requirements. Whatever our path forward, it’s going to take a bit.”

Or, as several commenters wrote on both of The Age’s articles, people will just buy Refused Classification games abroad or online. And we shouldn’t be surprised if at least a few take the path of least resistance and get a pirated version instead of paying. But if the government and its regulators are going to make doing the decent thing too hard that will be the inevitable result.

All of which makes me think that if the censor refuses, for sometimes quite subjective reasons, to pass games that people want to play but, for obvious practical reasons, can’t stop people getting them elsewhere there isn’t much point in having a censor at all.

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Bashing the bishop

I re-published Tuesday’s piece on censorship over at the Orphanage, where Woman on a Raft left this pertinent update in the comments:

Popcorn. It turns out that the group who were supposed to have complained did not, and have said so huffily. Apparently one of their number complained in a personal capacity about a separate advert in a magazine.

It is not at all clear what is going on at the ASA but they are supposed to have a competent lawyer in charge of their complaints division, instead of which it looks like they can’t even collate a complaint, read their own code or write a letter without misrepresenting their status.

Checking the Archbishop Cranmer blog it turned out that the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group had quickly announced that while one of their members had been in touch with the ASA it was in a private capacity and not on behalf of the JGLG, though they note on their website that calling for an investigation is not the same as calling for censorship. That may be true in a technical sense but if the motive is a belief that what was said should not have been said because it offended and the complaint is made to a body with the legal power to censor then censorship can easily be the end result. This is possible only because free speech, despite any claims to the contrary, does not really exist in most nominally free nations, the UK very much included.

In the meantime, the moral guardians of ASA have apparently got back in touch with His Grace:

Can’t say I’m honestly surprised by any of that apart from the fact they responded as quickly as they did. It’s speculation until His Grace’s next post but I’m expecting a lot of waffle, bullshit and intimidating references to obscure legislation that according to them gives them power over what can be put on a web page by a UK blogger.

I wonder if WoaR has got any of that popcorn left.

Censorship is [REDACTED]

The gay marriage debate rumbles and grumbles on, and while I’m not on the side of those who want to continue to use the state’s monopoly on force to maintain their preferred definition in law I have just as big a problem with those who don’t want this ended so much as to be given their turn at the controls. And what really gets my goat about this is their apparent enthusiasm for the kind of tactics they’d deplore, and rightly so, if used against the gay community.

As James mentioned at the Orphanage the other day and as I blogged here yesterday, Archbishop Cranmer has been taken to task by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority for including on his blog an ad in favour of the current definition. It was, natch, ‘offensive’ and ‘homophobic’, though whether this is the ad or the act of carrying it isn’t all that clear, and the ASA have told him that they’re investigating and given him a time limit for response. I’d say this is pretty chickenshit of them because, as His Grace points out in his reply to the ASA, Guido and Conservative Home are apparently not being investigated despite carrying the offending ad as well. Helloooo, equality before the law? Where are you? Perhaps it’s worth approaching Muslim bloggers to see if they’d like to carry the ad as well, because I rate the chances of the ASA growing the balls needed to lean on the Muslims to embrace gay marriage as being so close to zero as makes no difference. Or maybe not since some of them would want the definition expanded in the other direction to mean man and ≤ 4 wives. and the ASA might just be capable of the kind of doublethink needed to deal with that. In any case His Grace has penned an excellent reply to the ASA and still has the ad up on his blog, and while I don’t agree with him long may it stay there. I don’t want his definition of marriage to have the force of law behind it but if his freedom to say what he thinks can be limited then anyone else in Britain can be similarly silenced, and that includes, if they’d only stop to think about it for a minute, the gay equality lobby.

And then we come to something else James mentioned, and actually what’s prompted this post. Here in Oz the Deputy Chief Trick Cyclist of Victoria (and I have to admit I had no idea we even had a Chief one – something else taxpayers are being squeezed for despite the state having some money troubles) and one time Christian missionary , Professor Kuruvilla George, co-signed a letter to a Senate inquiry into marriage equality.

Twenty-two Victorian GPs, anaesthetists, obstetricians, palliative care specialists and psychiatrists, including Prof Kuravilla George, have joined 150 colleagues interstate to argue gay marriage poses a health risk to society.

In a letter to the Senate’s inquiry into marriage equality, the group wrote that it was “important for the future health of our nation” to retain the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman.

“We submit the evidence is clear that children who grow up in a family with a mother and father do better in all parameters than children without,” they wrote.

Leaving aside whether there’s merits in the argument it should be noted that Prof George signed that letter as a private citizen, not in his capacity as the No. 2 Official Brain Drainer of the state of Victoria or as a member of the board of the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission. So why this?

… former national AMA president and gay rights activist Kerryn Phelps said the doctors should “hang their heads in shame” and that Prof George’s position on the board of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission should be reviewed.

Or this (from a letter to The Age)?

… Professor George is no ordinary citizen. He has used his standing as a medical practitioner to support claims that are not only scientifically false but seriously undermine any objective assessment of equality or support for good mental health.

Attorney-General Robert Clark cannot pick and choose which laws he wishes upheld or not [referring here to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights – AE]. Professor George’s private views have demonstrated his unsuitability for both offices he holds. His positions are now untenable, and he should be immediately stood down.

That same freedom of expression that means someone can write to the papers and say that someone’s publicly expressed opinions should get him the sack also means that those opinions can be expressed publicly in the first place, and if lost it applies to potentially everyone. Sadly for free speech, though I imagine happily for Melbourne’s population of trendy Fitzroy lefties who I expect were all fashionably outraged by his views, Prof George has today resigned from the Equal Opportunities Commission.

I might agree with the Fitzroy lefties that Prof George’s argument is bollocks but it worries me deeply that someone can be successfully driven from a job merely for saying something others, whether representing a majority or just a powerfully vocal minority (which here can mean Christians as often as it means the gay rights mob), dislike or disagree with. As I said earlier, if this can be done to one person it can be done to anyone at all once political fashions change and a once accepted opinion becomes the Thought That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

Today it’s homophobic (whether actually homophobic or merely allegedly homophobic) views being frowned on and those who voice them being hounded, but what’s stopping a future in which it’s the other way round or an equally right-on contemporary view being declared unacceptable and attracting punishment? If freedom to criticise the goose is good for the gander then it’s just as important for the goose to be able to say something worth criticising. Without that they’re both mute. And cooked.

I’m Spartacus

Or Archbishop Cranmer.

If either of my readers (hi Mum) have followed much of my comments discussion with James at his post over at the Orphanage or taken note of my post here the other day they’ll know that I don’t agree with the sentiment expressed in that picture. For all I know the statement is accurate and 70% might indeed want to keep marriage as it is, and if so I don’t care. I do not agree with that 70% or that a simple majority should decide on matters of liberty – if the same 70% wanted to bring back slavery I’d very much hope they would not get their way.

My position on this is simple and is based firstly on free speech and thought (which necessarily includes religious belief), and secondly on property rights. The former means I don’t get to tell you what to think, you don’t get to tell me what to think. I get to say what I think and you don’t have to agree, and vice versa. The latter means you get to set rules on your property, I get to set them on mine, and if either of us have a real problem with a particular rule of the other’s then we stay off.

Thus I do not agree with His Grace’s (or James’) position with regard to gay marriage except that it absolutely should not take place in churches or anywhere else belonging to people and organisations that do not want to recognise it, and that those who feel that it’s not really marriage should be free to say so openly and in public. They shouldn’t get to decide for the rest of us, even if as many as, or even more than, 70% of people agree, but for damned sure those of us who don’t object to gay marriage don’t get to dictate what they can do on their property or to demand that they be prevented from airing their views.

In the words (supposedly) of Voltaire, I disagree with what they both say but I defend their right to say it, and I wish Archbishop Cranmer success in his battle with the ASA (do go read if only for a sensational gag early on in his reply to the Authority which I hope is already giving conniptions to some Thought Constable). And since His Grace has made it clear that he’s much too polite to be so direct in replying to the ASA I’m putting up a picture with which I disagree just so I can tell the ASA to go fuck themselves sideways with a billboard if they contact me and complain.

2012 sees fiercest ever competition to be offended by Jeremy Clarkson

The annual competition to be outraged by something that Jeremy Clarkson said is shaping up to be hotter than ever this year, according to both organisers and participants.

First out of the blocks has been the Society for People with Lumpy Faces, whose complaint to Ofcom regarding Clarkson’s comment that a car with a bulge on the back looked like John Merrick and would be ignored by other cars at a party was timed almost perfectly, allowing most people to have forgotten whatever it was he said to upset the Indians. It’s expected that they’ll be followed swiftly by the usual complaints from short people that Richard Hammond never gets to drive the really good cars and shout “Power” a lot.

Adding to this year’s contest for the first time are some of the older and better known charities, who’ve begun to realise that for some years they’ve been neglecting the valuable source of publicity that the annual Clarkson Offence Competition has come to represent.

“Frankly, we’re kicking ourselves,” said Jacquie Russell from Battersea Dogs Home. “All these years Jeremy Clarkson has been describing shit cars as dogs and it didn’t occur to us to say anything about it. And now we find out that we’re too late this year because the RSPCA, Blue Cross, PDSA and Guide Dogs for the Blind are all ahead of us in the queue to complain if he says it again this season. We’re hoping he might say something rude about SW11 and we can join in local offence taking about that instead.”

Meanwhile the Cats Protection League are expected to do poorly with their complaint to the BBC about being marginalised in the competition due to the lack of offensive Clarkson remarks about cats. “It’s completely racist,” said a gorgeous little tabby kitten that you’d need a heart of stone not to adore.

Bookies have said that it’s early days and that there is no clear favourite as yet, while at a press conference the Top Gear producer and representatives for the BBC all insisted that the lucky winner will not be announced until the Christmas Special as in previous years.

“It’s like an elderly gypsy’s incontinence pants,” said Mr Clarkson at his home yesterday.

Offence seeking déjà vu

Do you remember the end of 2010? I do. My very last blog post of the year was titled “Last effort for the Offence Seeking Twat of the Year Award” and was about the Top Gear Christmas special outraging literally some people, most of whom were white, middle class Graun readers. Oh, and Andy Choudary.

Needless to say I haven’t actually seen Top Gear’s “Three Wise Men”, and being a Christmas special I expect it’ll air here between Easter and late June, but it has already made some news here. And it’s all thanks to James May, a rock, a few square yards of black cloth, and bloody Anjem “Is-It-‘Coz-I-Is-Slamic” Choudary. It seems that James May brained himself with a rock somehow and that when he came out of hospital, for reasons I don’t pretend to understand, this was what he was faced with.

Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond disguised themselves as women by wearing Islamic face veils which only revealed their eyes in a Christmas show filmed in Syria.

Don’t fancy yours much.

Andy, with almost gravitic inevitability, was upset because he saw this as an attack on a symbol of his religion, which as far as I could tell the burqa isn’t, having been predictably silent over the years about Muslim attacks on the symbols and traditions of other religions.

Still, all to be expected, and so is the nature and level of outrage directed Top Gear’s way over this year’s Christmas special.

Jeremy Clarkson has been accused of offensive behaviour once again after mocking Indian culture in a Top Gear Christmas special.

Okay, can I interrupt to make a brief point. There’s no ‘accused of offensive behaviour’ about it – if someone was offended then ipso facto his behaviour was offensive. The question is whether that’s a reason for doing anything, and since nobody’s ever done so much as two fifths of fuck all about most of the things that offend me, and since that doesn’t keep me awake at night, I’d say the answer is no, no reason to do anything at all. Being offended is painless and causes no loss unless someone chooses to allow it, which says more about them than what they’re complaining about. By all means take offence and say so if you like, but don’t tell me it harmed you and the other person must be silenced.

Viewers have complained to the BBC after the outspoken presenter made a series of controversial remarks about the country’s clothing, trains, food and history.At one point, Clarkson appeared to make light of the lack of sanitation for poor residents by driving around slums in a Jaguar fitted with a toilet.

And? It’s not the wittiest way of making the point but unless it’s actually wrong and Indian slums typically have indoor plumbing, piped water supplies and sewers now I don’t see the problem. These people are dreadfully poor and literally don’t have a pot to piss in. I’m not saying that Clarkson was subtly highlighting the issue of Indian poverty but it’s not as if he was saying something that isn’t true. Even if he was the appropriate response is rebuttal, not howls of righteous outrage and the usual demand to have him sacked and flogged with broken glass.

And then we have the actual volume of complaints.

A spokesman for the BBC said they had received 23 complaints about the programme, which was broadcast on Wednesday evening.

And how many watched? According to the Graun, who I imagine would like nothing better than the anger of the terminally thin skinned over Clarkson’s shoot public sector strikers remark to kill TG’s viewing figures, five million people watched and it was the most popular show in its time slot. Assuming every one of those 23 who complained actually watched the show that’s 0.00046% of viewers who were offended, and given that about a million people in the UK are of Indian ethnicity it says even more that only 23 complained. Not that all those 23 were necessarily Indian – some are probably white, middle class Graun readers getting offended on behalf of Indians, who presumably don’t know when they’re being offended. Certainly some of the people taking to message boards and Twatter seem to be.

Owen Hathway tweeted: “Whats wrong with the BBC that they think casual racist stereotyping is acceptable on top gear?”

No idea, Owen, but why don’t we leave it up to the million British Indians and the billion Indian Indians to decide whether to be upset. Many of them might think it’s some middle aged white guy making a tit of himself and find it amusing. But no, they’re clearly mistaken and should be as outraged as the Owens are on their behalf, because it’s raaaaaaaacist, see? Raaaaaaaacist!

Which reminds me, where do I write in to complain about this sketch by Goodness Gracious Me from a few years back? I thought it was pretty funny at the time, but now thanks to 23 anonymous complainants and an assortment of condescending pricks I now realise that it was mocking English culture and… what was it again? Oh, yes, I remember: casual racist stereotyping.

I mean, what is wrong with the BBC that they thought it was acceptable?

What’s good for the goose is for the gander, offence seekers, and you can’t have it both ways. Either both are bad and offensive and shouldn’t be allowed, or both are fair play regardless of whether someone somewhere is (or just decides they ought to be) offended by it. I’d say the latter because, as I’ve said before, there is no right to go through life and never be offended, and since one person can be offended by something that is said while another can be offended by it not being said there never can be a right to not be offended.

As someone who’s offended by opening the paper and has moved somewhere that has its own special name for the English my advice would be to get offended all you like as often as you like by absolutely whatever you, er, dislike. Just don’t sit there fuming and expecting it means you have a right to insist that anyone else has to accommodate your feelings, because a free society can never work that way and all an unfree society can do is to pick sides.

Sloppy filter

I haven’t blogged on the proposed webnanny/internet filter/Great Firewall of Australia plans down here for a while because things have gone a bit quiet. There have been enough colours nailed to masts, reputations staked and interests vested that I’m not all that hopeful that sense has been seen, particularly when it needs to be seen by a Communications Minister whose paternalist streak might be coming from both religious beliefs and leftie-ness, but it may be that it’s been realised that a filter that promised much and failed to deliver would be worse than none at all. And I’m quite confident it would fail. Much of the illegal stuff is being shared by P2P anyway, and the filters proponents were forced to admit almost from the start that it couldn’t do a thing about that. And then there’s TORs and VPNs – basically it’ll affect people who don’t google for a way around the filter before the thing goes up, which is more or less everybody that doesn’t need a filter because they won’t be searching the web for baboon porn or whatever in the first place.

More interesting if you’re a baboon, I imagine

But it’s not just that because ISP level filters will be under attack from the other side too, as TalkTalk in the UK and some of its customers have found out.

Britain’s third-largest broadband provider has been promoting its new “HomeSafe” security product to its 4.1 million subscribers as a way of blocking pornography, viruses and other potentially harmful content.
Unlike the child safety products offered by other providers, it operates at the network level so parents do not need to install or maintain any software. The approach has attracted praise from MPs and campaigners seeking to restrict the availability of pornography on the web.
But for more than a week the system has failed to restrict access to Pornhub, which offers thousands of free explicit videos and is ranked as the third largest pornography provider on the web.
The failure was discovered by Cherith Hately, an IT expert and mother of three teenagers in south London, who tested the service last week. She found that on the Pornhub website the HomeSafe blocking page had been relegated to a small box normally reserved for advertising, leaving its adult content fully accessible.
“The ‘you have been blocked’ page has been diverted to an advertising slot within the Pornhub homepage thus opening access to it,” she said.
“The HomeSafe barrier has been knocked down, technically and literally. TalkTalk should inform all their HomeSafe customers that their children are still able to see pornography so that parents can supervise more.”

Far be it from me to tell me how to bring up your children, Cherith, and I’m sure you’ve already had the awkward conversation with your teens about which one had visited that site, but I’d say that parents should take this as an indication that the best filter system is the parents themselves.

A spokesman for TalkTalk acknowledged the failure and said technicians were working on a fix. He was unable to say whether the HomeSafe system had been deliberately circumvented by pornographers.

Perhaps not, but it occurs to me that if it had been to circumvent another filter that worked the same way it could affect TalkTalk too. In the Aussie context since what the nannies want is effectively ISP level filtering under government supervision all ISPs would have the same filter, and when a website manages something similar to what Pornhub’s done to TalkTalk’s HomeSafe this single point of failure would mean it won’t affect just Telstra or iiNet or Optus customers – it’ll be everyone. Hardly the end of the world because we’ll be about where we are right now, but it does make the whole exercise seem a bit pointless.

“As the only network-level filter, TalkTalk’s HomeSafe is the most effective way of protecting children from content parents consider harmful,” the spokesman said.

No, I repeat: parents are the most effective way of protecting children from harmful content. The filter can’t unplug the computer, withhold their pocket money or threaten to stop paying the broadband bill so there’s no service whatsoever. But it can create a false sense of security.

“While no technical solution alone is able to solve the issue of child internet safety or be a substitute for parental supervision, we firmly believe that HomeSafe is a step in the right direction.”

Providing that false sense of security doesn’t take over leading parents to assume that the filter is doing its job and little or no supervision is necessary, because when you concede that there’s no substitute for parental supervision that would be a step in the wrong direction. Not that Britain’s nannies are any more clued up about that than Australia’s.

Under government pressure the rest of the big four internet providers – BT, Virgin Media and Sky – recently agreed to offer all new customers software to restrict which websites children are able to access, but stopped short of implementing network-level filters.
TalkTalk’s approach is meanwhile supported by the campaigners, and MPs including Claire Perry, a Conservative backbencher who is leading a parliamentary inquiry into online child protection. As well as network-level filters she wants broadband providers to switch them on by default.
“When I started campaigning to make access to internet pornography an ‘opt-in’, many industry experts said it was technologically impossible to provide a network-level filter,” Mrs Perry said.

You idiot. Of course it’s impossible, we’ve just bloody seen that. This looks like it was circumvented at the other end without any effort on the part of the person sitting at home, and it’s not like the person sitting at home doesn’t have ways and means anyway. Look, I can’t put it any better than an Australian blogger, Stilgherrian, put it nearly four years ago (my bold):

Real-world experience in everything from spam filters to the record industry’s futile attempts to stop copyright violations always shows that filters only block casual users. Professionals, the desperate or the persistent will always get through.

However if a politician demands a filter, pretty soon a shiny-suited salesman will appear, ready to sell him a box with “filter” written on the front. It’ll work — well enough for the demo, anyway.

“Look, Minister! Nice Minister. Watch the screen. See? Filter off, bad website is visible. Filter on, bad website gone. Filter off. Child in danger. Filter on. Child happy and safe. Filter off. Voter afraid and angry. Filter on. Voter relaxed and comfortable. Cheque now please.”

When elected nannies like Stephen Conroy here and Claire Perry in the UK wrap their heads around this and stop spunking taxpayers’ money at things which at best will work until someone defeats them and at worst will never work at all they might start giving out useful advice. Advice along the lines of: the government can’t stop your kids from seeing tits and arses and rooting baboons online…

… but if you get off your arse and look at what they’re doing you can.

In which I credit the Tories with something positive for a change

Not hugely positive, and I still loathe the Cobbleition almost as much as the last lot, but this is still good to hear.

Governments must not interfere with the internet, the British government said Tuesday – weeks after suggesting police should curb online access during riots.
Foreign Secretary William Hague said the fact that criminals and terrorists can exploit digital networks is not “justification for states to censor their citizens.”
And Prime Minister David Cameron said governments “must not use cybersecurity as an excuse for censorship or to deny their people the opportunities that the Internet represents.”

As the article points out this is a bit of an about turn from the post riot noises about Twitter clampdowns and turning off mobile phone networks from some in the government, and the cynic in me wonders if this is less a Damascene conversion to the cause of liberty than a dawning realisation that they just can’t stop people talking to each other, but whatever the reason it’s welcome. Not so sure about this next bit though.

Britain supports the less proscriptive idea of internationally agreed online “norms of behavior.” That approach was backed by US Vice President Joe Biden, who warned against imposing a “repressive global code” for the Internet.

And who’s doing the agreeing? I suspect we know the answer already and that it’ll be governments agreeing for their citizens without giving them any say in the matter, which rather sours the happy mood. Still, backing away from overt censorship isn’t a bad thing at all. Statists and authoritarians run so much that any concession they make, any little victory at all, is worth mentioning.

Aaaah, look, they’re getting all grown up

For a blog that’s supposed to be the semi-coherent rantings of an English expat upset at the goings on in the land of his birth I feel it’s been a bit overly focused on Aussie affairs lately, and was determined to give it a rest for a bit. The trouble is that while the phone-not-hacking business seems to be dominating news in the UK, and is also being so well blogged elsewhere I haven’t got much to add, there appears to be a wider variety of things going on here that have got sufficiently far up my nose to blog about. Money being wasted, carbon tax, some more money being wasted, different money being wasted elsewhere, politicians saying one thing and doing another, politicians talking complete bollocks, politicians talking bollocks whilst wasting money, politicians destroying the cattle industry – Christ, I’ve just realised I haven’t even done that one, but fortunately the Real World Libertarian has covered that as well. Well, best intentions of mice and bloggers blahblahblah, because I’m going to do another one. No apologies though, because this is important – Australia’s nannies have decided it’s growing up enough to be allowed scary videogames.

SEXUALLY explicit and violent video and computer games banned in Australia could soon be sold here after all state and federal governments except New South Wales agreed to an R18+ rating for video games.

Now as I’ve mentioned before, the reason we don’t already have one was that one state, South Australia, would not agree and that unanimity was required for change on this, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing much has actually changed. NSW abstained rather than objected as SA had done in the past, although the new Attorney-General from NSW, Greg Smith, is reportedly a conservative (yeah, that Liberal kind of ‘liberal’ again) and argued against introducing an R18+ classification.

Mr Smith said he abstained from the vote because it needed to go to state cabinet first as the government was new – it was elected in March – and so he could consult the community.

Same same but different, you’d think, because that’s really not far off the old situation – one strongly conservative view, quite possibly religiously influenced, held by a paternalist know-it-all in a position that lets him decide for the whole country rather than just his state (or better yet, his family) has apparently been exchanged for another. However, the federal government are not letting one state lay down the law for the whole country anymore. Kind of begs the question why they’ve been content to do so up to this point, but nevermind.

Brendan O’Connor says the Federal Government would over-ride NSW and implement the R18+ rating regardless of its decision.

And then there’s that community Greg Smith mentioned, and that can be divided into three groups: the gamers, who overwhelmingly want to be able to buy adult oriented games since so many of them are adults; the non-gamers who mostly don’t care or support the gamers; and the small but phenomenally noisy and, for their numbers, highly influential Christian lobby, who up ’til now have mostly opposed games that would be rated R18+ because of the violence and the risk of a T&A being included. Presumably the feeling is this sort of thing inevitably leads to hot women playing World of Warcraft in the nip and naked gaming parties, which in turn can only lead to sticky sheets, Kleenex shortages and babies, and this game-induced lust-fuelled sexmageddon will meet the game-induced bloodlust-fuelled murderpocalypse head on.

No, I don’t know how they get there either, and that many of the kind of games they worry about are not only not banned but are sold to 15 year olds here in Australia because of rather than despite the lack of an RA18+ rating seems to have escaped them until now. On that point there seems to have been a waking up and smelling of coffee

THE Australian Christian Lobby has overturned its opposition to a new R18+ category for adult computer games, saying a new in-principle deal would keep extreme games out of Australia.

… though it’s not exactly a Damascene conversion.

“The draft R18+ guidelines as originally proposed would have matched the R18+ guidelines for films,” spokesman Rob Ward said.
“This was clearly never in the interests of the community, with the boundaries of the R18+ film guidelines slowly eroded to allow extreme violence, actual sex and simulated pedophilia in films.
“Although ACL awaits the final detail from the meeting, it appears that the existing ceiling for games has been maintained with a commitment to move the more extreme MA15+ games into a newly-created R18+ rating.”

So while the Christian lobby, or at least one of its most vocal parts, has worked out that the current situation is counter-productive they haven’t gone quite as far as conceding that they don’t speak for ‘the community’, just themselves, or that adults in Australia should be able to buy the same games that are available elsewhere without the game developer having to specially ruin it for the local market.

Still, the main thing is that the opposition to an R18+ category has pretty much dried up and I’d say it’s almost certain that it’ll be in place in time for Christmas orders. And I’d be prepared to bet that although the wording on the game classification guidelines may be slightly different to those for other media I’d be prepared to bet that the official censors – the people who’ve been employed to nanny us but have often allowed games aimed at adults to slip through as MA15+ – will allow into Oz unaltered games that they can’t at the moment.

I’d prefer to see an end to the gaming nanny completely, and realistically with online sales growing – my last two games purchases were made via Steam and with the prices of games in the shops I’m likely to carry on buying that way – I don’t see how they expect to stop someone downloading games that aren’t for sale here anyway. Even if the internet filter plan hadn’t stalled I’m sure serious gamers would be working out ways around it so they could download ZombieSplatterKill4 from the US or elsewhere.

So I have mixed feelings about it, but overall there are more positives than negatives. It didn’t go as far as I’d hoped and certainly not as far as I’d like, but baby steps I suppose. Progress has been made and Nanny is going to let us play the scary and slightly naughty games now, which for a country with the biggest and most blatantly sited sex shops I’ve ever seen is probably about time.

View Larger Map — Sexyland, just off the Tullamarine freeway about ten minutes from Melbourne international airport

For those who are interested there’s a good potted history of the road to an adult games rating on The Age’s Screen Play blog.

YouTube’s sense of humour failure

The Go The Fuck To Sleep book is probably pretty well known by now what with the press it got when it came out and especially with the Samuel L Jackson reading. So it’s slightly surprising that when Noni Hazlehurst, who I’d never heard of but apparently was on the Aussie Play School for twenty years or so, put up a clip of herself reading the book Play School style, and which amused me enough to blog and embed it here, YouTube pulled it.

Noni, to her credit, has promptly put it back up again, and bloody right too since other versions of it were never taken down.

Former Playschool presenter Noni Hazlehurst says the decision to remove a recording of her reading mock children’s book Go The F— to Sleep from YouTube was ‘‘laughable’’ and ‘‘absolutely ridiculous’’.
The video was pulled late last night only to be posted again about 5am today.
[…]Her video was removed, but others including those read by German arthouse film director Werner Herzog and American actor Samuel L. Jackson stayed online.
‘‘It’s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, and to leave all the others up there is even more ridiculous,’’ Hazlehurst said.
‘‘The hypocrisy just makes me laugh.’’
[…]
‘‘Anyone with a tenth of a brain would realise this is not meant for kids,’’ she said.

The trouble is, Noni, that some people who look at YouTube probably have less than a tenth of a brain.

A YouTube spokesman said no comment would be made about individual videos, but they could be removed because a user had flagged them as offensive or because the person who had posed (sic) the video was underage.

Since Noni Hazlehurst is in her fifties it sounds like the latter. I’m speculating here, but I reckon some softcock, and sadly it’s probably an Aussie who saw her name and thought ‘Oh, this will be sweet and harmless’, got offended by it and complained to YouTube rather than take the more practical option of turning it (the fuck) off. Samuel L. Jackson’s version? Well, he’s an actor who says bad words in lots of his films so our mystery whinger(s) may never have come across his version. Werner Herzog? Arthouse film director? Hmmm, ditto I expect. But sweet Noni Hazlehurst who used to – she’s not presented the show for a decade – sing songs down the TV at toddlers and make stories with teddy bears and dolls, that Noni Hazlehurst going all potty mouthed? Oh no, the childhood of some 30-somethings is irrevocably shattered. It can’t be borne, so it must be banned.

And of course SupineTube caved in.

Fellas, it’s aimed at adults. It’s humour for adults who can laugh at the frustrations an adult may feel when trying to get a noisy baby to shut the fuck up and give them a little peace. And maybe, according to Noni Hazlehurst herself, a bit of a warning.

The book and her reading are a bit of fun, she says, ”but there’s a serious underlying issue. People need to understand when they’re talking about how nice it would be to have a baby that it’s a huge undertaking.”
[…]
”Many of the kids I entertained are parents themselves now, and I think it’s pointless saying, ‘Make sure your child has a lovely environment to sleep in’. I think we have to speak in a language people understand.”

This subtle distinction is apparently lost on YouTube, who’d rather pull something not meant for a general audience because someone’s had a whine about it, even though other versions remain on their site. It’s a little tempting to go trawling through the place looking for any overtly religious damnation-to-sinners type videos and flag as offensive as many as I can just to see whether or not they pull any of those, but that’d be unfair to anyone who actually did get their video removed. Instead I think I might make and put up a video myself and then log in as someone else with some bullshit complaint about how it offends me, and then we’ll see what they do.

In the meantime, here’s Noni Hazlehurst hosted by EyeTube…

http://eyetube.me/player.swf

Complaints may be addressed to gothefuckaway@tellsomeonewhogivesashit.com

Teh interwebs are so confusing

More evidence that some people in positions of authority have absolutely no idea how the internet works. On this occasion it’s Supreme Court here in Oz.

NEWSPAPERS, including the Herald, have been ordered to remove old articles from their websites after a court ruled they might interfere with a fair trial.
The decision, one of the first of its kind, came after lawyers for three accused men argued jurors might develop prejudice by reading any of 10 selected articles.
The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the removal of these reports from the online sites of various newspapers for the duration of the trial over the death of the former drug dealer Terry Falconer, due to start next week.

Which of course will completely sanitise the whole internet, yes? Oh, except for Google Cache, obviously. And anything else outside Australia. And probably quite a bit inside Australia that’s too much trouble to track down. But apart from that there won’t be a mention.

But the decision has no impact on thousands of other internet hits for the names of one or more of the accused – Anthony John Michael Perish, Mathew Robert Lawton, and Andrew Michael Perish. The court heard a Google search last month found 6930 references to the name of one of the men on Australian sites alone.

Probably more than that now that there will be a heap of articles on the suppression of previously published articles. And you can be sure that people will look them up out of curiosity for what it is that’s being suppressed. Streisand effect, anybody?

The order was imposed even though jurors will be told not to look up the case on the internet or discuss it with anyone.

Okay, it’s right that jurors should be told this and doing so deals with them like adults. Censorship is sending a message that just to be on the safe side the court wants to make sure nobody eats cookies by putting the jar on the top shelf, and if everyone is really good there will be cookies later. Except of course there are cookies literally everywhere and moving the contents of one jar has a pretty negligible effect on availability and possibly a negative one on the willingness to cooperate. So why even do it?

Carolyn Davenport, SC, the barrister for one of the accused, had argued that a juror might inadvertently speak to someone who had read one of the articles online, and the court needed to protect them from ”events that put their integrity to the test”.

Hello? Ever hear of the Streisand Effect?* Yes, a juror might have happened to speak to someone who’d read one of the articles, and now they’re probably even more likely to speak to someone who’s read a copy or précis or comment or blog because you’re drawing attention to it by getting the original 10 articles censored. And protecting the jury members from having their integrity tested? You idiot. For one thing it doesn’t offer any such protection when all you’ve achieved is to censor ten articles and draw attention to the fact there are thousands more out there, and for another you may have just given the jury the impression that you and/or your client thinks they can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t presume to tell you your job but if you were representing me I’d be hoping you’d say and do things to win the jury over, not tell them that we don’t trust them. I’d be wondering how many jurors might be thinking to themselves, “I wasn’t going to look but fuck it, now I’ll have a peek just to work out what it is they don’t want me to see.”

Justice Derek Price agreed and said the court had the obligation to do whatever it could to protect the integrity of the process. ”The confidence in the integrity of the jurors does not mean the court should not protect them from incidents that put their integrity to the test,” he said.

Of course the court must make sure trials are fair but ask yourselves if the censorship of ten out of thousands of web pages actually achieves that, particularly when the only people who are being ordered to remove pages are in a position to make the whole censorship order itself very, very public.

Last week, the chief executive of News Ltd, John Hartigan, called for an end to ”the nonsense” of take-down orders. ”They are unnecessary and ineffective … the modern equivalent of burning books,” he argued.

I’d have said just one or two books while leaving the same content available on whole shelves.

The barrister Dauid Sibtain had argued the orders were unnecessary and the media organisations should not be in a position ”less favourable” than others who had posted material.
The orders ”lacked practical utility” because other copies of the article may remain online, but Justice Price rejected this.

For why?

Justice Price said the inability to remove all offending material did not mean the removal of the articles outlined would be futile.

What? How the hell do you work that out? Look, it’s been explained to you:

n IT expert, Nicholas Klein, had told the court material could be republished on other websites. The only way to make the stories unavailable for people searching for them, he said, would be ”to remove every single one from the internet”.

[Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties] said orders against internet publication appeared to discriminate against the internet because courts never ordered ”the removal of a microfiche from every library in the state”.

With that in mind surely at best this achieves nothing due to the sheer amount of material that remains. And it might do more harm than good due to the possibility that the censorship will put the question in peoples’ minds: what are we not supposed to know, prompting them to try and find out.

How can it not be futile unless you believe can trust the jury not to go looking through all the other pages that can’t be taken down or to pay attention to anyone else who has and mentions what they saw? But if you do trust them then you could also have trusted them with the ten removed pages still there in the first place.

* Actually that’d make a good movie title.

Why so (serious)?

The Joke

For Trooper Thompson, who the other day noted:

… Richard Murphy is a curious cove. He has a blog, but he hasn’t quite entered into the spirit of the medium with regard to interacting with his audience. Unless would-be interlocutors are prepared to do the necessary obeisance, they will either never pass the moderation stage or be smothered in a wet blanket of sneering patronisation….

Such inadvertent humour has brought the guy a kind of cult anti-following, and a recent spike in interest occurred when Ritchie seemed to throw down the gauntlet of debate over his ‘Economic Plan B’ – which one commenter identified as being lifted wholesale from Mitterrand’s disastrous first two years in power…

Now would anyone (serious) like to debate it?

Why so (serious) Richard? Does it get you down when commenters don’t agree? Awwwwwwww, c’mon!

Let’s put a smile on that face.

Punching fog.

If the people currently frothing in outrage of the whole Wikileaks things thought they had problems before they need to think again, because now similar sites are starting to appear.

A former co-worker of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange plans to launch a rival website on Monday called Openleaks that will help anonymous sources deliver sensitive material to public attention.

In a documentary by Swedish broadcaster SVT, due to be aired tomorrow and obtained in advance by AP, former WikiLeaks spokesman Daniel Domscheit-Berg said the new website will work as an outlet for anonymous sources.

“Openleaks is a technology project that is aiming to be a service provider for third parties that want to be able to accept material from anonymous sources,” Domscheit-Berg said in a rare interview conducted in Berlin.

Ever since WikiLeaks burst on the international news agenda in the northern spring there’s been speculation about possible copycat sites.

Ironically it seems Domscheit-Berg quit Wikileaks after disagreeing with Assange over transparency in Wikileaks itself, arguing that there wasn’t enough of it, but that’s by the by. What’s relevant is that there is an alternative now, and regardless of which one is more attractive to any individual whistle blower things just got harder for secrecy obsessed governments. Silencing one is hard enough and now they’d have to silence two, and possibly more. If there’s room for more than one social networking site there should be room for more than one anonymous leaking service, especially as you’d expect something like that to be less faddish than the MyBookSpaceReunitedTwitFace stuff.

Of course there is a simple, easy solution for governments that avoids much of the nightmare that multiple leak sites would bring: don’t give access to really important information to a Pfc and at the same time don’t fuck about and waste time classifying gossip.

Assange did break Australian law… unless he didn’t.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. In the same paper, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, and at the same bloody time we have this:

THE federal government has elaborated on its position on WikiLeaks, saying both the initial leaking of classified documents and their subsequent distribution by the controversial website is likely to be illegal.

“The unauthorised obtaining of the information may well be an offence,” Attorney-General Robert McClelland said yesterday.

And also this:

FEDERAL authorities have failed to find any criminal laws that Julian Assange may have broken by publishing what has become a daily diplomatic scandal sheet for the Gillard Government.

The Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department admitted they had so far been unable to determine if there was any law under which he could be charged.

So that’s cleared that up.

Justice – not just blind but occasionally completely shitfaced.

Telly Tubby Bye Bye!!

I’m not a serious gamer, particularly not when it come’s to shoot-’em-ups, but I’m tempted to buy Left4Dead just so I can do this to it.

I’ve always felt that Tellytubbies deserve everything they get, and with Australia’s track record of censoring games and infantilising adult gamers (particularly those interested in the Left4Dead series), it might be the right approach for game developers to take with zombie shooters destined for the Australian market.

Say eh-oh and eat lead, motherfuckers!