Friday, July 25, 2008

Monthly download limits, exemptions from them, and Net Neutrality

Like most ADSL users in Australia, my connection has a monthly download limit. Exceed it, and my connection speed is then throttled down to only slightly faster than dial-up for the remainder of that billing period. Not something I want to happen in a hurry.

So I should be chuffed that my ISP has decided that downloads from iTunes are what my ISP calls "freezone" - they don't count towards my monthly download quota. Likewise, the ABC's new iView service is freezone. In fact, the ABC is specifically lobbying Australian ISPs to exempt their new digital baby from download quotas. My ISP is apparently the first to do it: "...the broadcaster was trying to convince internet providers to exclude ABC channels from download limits and by last night iiNet had agreed."

I should be pleased. But I can't help wondering what the implications of exempting some web services, but not others, from monthly download limits will be on the principle of Net Neutrality...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Full Daily Show and Colbert Report episodes legally available online

I hadn't realised that full episodes of the Daily Show and the Colbert Report were now being made available at the Daily Show's official website. They're available for everyone, too, none of this "you are not authorized to see these clips because you're not in the US" crap I got when they were announced as being available on Mahalo.

Daily Show homepage here, links to full episodes on the bottom-right.

Hmm, I wonder if the show may seem less clever now that I can see full episodes rather than just clips of the best bits?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WYD: can now "annoy" but cannot "inconvenience"

Glad I didn't get round to buying the t-shirt now, since it seems it won't be necessary. Amber Pike and Rachel Evans of the NoToPope coalition have successfully overturned the "annoyance" part of the WYD regulations in court: Court backs WYD activists' right to annoy.

Premier Iemma's spin in the linked article is entertaining: he's emphasising the fact that the regulations' prohibition on "inconveniencing" was upheld, and trying to make out that this means his government still got everything it wanted:
Premier Morris Iemma says the Government will not be appealing against the court's decision. He says police still have adequate powers.

"Two words have been struck out - the words 'and annoyance'," he said.

"'Inconvenience' is still there and they can still achieve the same objective, and that is to ensure that people who do want to make a point in a protest can do so without disrupting the pilgrims or the events.

Did Mr Iemma just admit that his government's attempt to crack down on "annoying" behaviour during World youth Day wasn't actually necessary for the maintenance of order? Then why did your government try and crack down on it, mate?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The current tight-rope for the presidential nominess

Glenn Greenwald describes the most relevant current divide in American politics far better than I was able to do:
While there are substantial, important differences between Republicans and Democrats, critical political debates are at least as often driven not by the GOP/Democrat dichotomy, but by the split between the Beltway political establishment and the rest of the country. As the above-chronicled events demonstrate, all of these assaults on our core civil liberties and the rule of law are not Republican attacks with Democrats fighting against them. They are attacks launched by the political establishment against the citizenry, and they ought to be responded to as such.

Tangential to Greenwald's post, I believe that any presidential candidate currently has the tough job of satisfying the desires of both the citizenry and the American political establishment if they want to get elected. Sure, I'd like a president to represent the people exclusively the way a democratically elected leader is supposed to do, but I don't think that the current American political climate makes that possible.

This is what I mean when I say that Obama hasn't been pivoting towards "the centre", he's been pivoting towards the American political establishment.

Monday, July 14, 2008

"Pilgrims" in Sydney

What a strange feeling it is to say that Sydney, this not particularly religious city, is currently attracting "pilgrims". I'm still putting the word in inverted commas while I get used to the idea.

I passed some of them wearing World Youth Day passes, talking in a language that I think was French, as I was walking to work today. My workplace isn't exactly dead centre of Sydney either. They ignored me, which pretty much sums up the entire WYD experience for those of us who actually live here - we're completely irrelevant to the proceedings.

The insularity appears to be bad news economically: an article in the Sydney Morning Herald claims that the pilgrims (there, I'm getting used to it) are causing a downturn in business in the city, as regular patrons flee from the proceedings and the pilgrims are simply not interested in anything not specifically WYD-related.

And I can't resist posting this bit from the article above, which is quite revealing about the mindset of all these pilgrims here who claim to follow a Saviour whose teachings placed so much emphasis on helping the poor:
A local Big Issue vendor said he was also having one of his worst days in memory.

Trevor sells the magazine, which benefits the homeless and long-term unemployed, on the corner of Elizabeth and Market street every day, but said today was barely worth the trouble.

"It was dead this morning," he said.

"On a good day I'd make between $100 and $150 ... today I reckon I'll take about $25."

The young vendor said all the office workers seemed to have disappeared from the CBD, and that the pilgrims were not interested in buying the magazine.

"They only stop and ask for directions to the church," he said.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Obama on Iraq - much less "repositioning" than claimed

If you believed, say, The Washington Post, Barack Obama has gone back on a significant promise he made during the Primaries to withdraw troops from Iraq.
FARGO, N.D., July 3 -- Sen. Barack Obama raised the possibility of slowing a promised gradual, 16-month withdrawal from Iraq if he is elected president, saying that Thursday he will consult with military commanders on an upcoming trip to the region and "continue to refine" his proposals.

"My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything I've said, was always premised on making sure our troops were safe," Obama told reporters as his campaign plane landed in North Dakota, a state no Democratic presidential candidate has carried since 1964. "And my guiding approach continues to be that we've got to make sure that our troops are safe, and that Iraq is stable. And I'm going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold."

Obama's own website currently has this to say on Iraq:
Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.

What's also said, and strangely missed by, well, everyone, is this:
He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

Am i misunderstanding the significance of this? His website says that a certain situation that Obama believes would mean that he should not withdraw some troops from Iraq would mean that Barack Obama would not withdraw some troops from Iraq. Seems to me like this is exactly the kind of "planning to respond to the existing situation in Iraq" that Obama claims that he has consistently been doing. If I read the website right, the "16-months" promise, is not absolute, and never was.

Obama has been consistent in stating his goal to be cleaning up the Iraq mess in as minimally painful a way as possible. He has consistently stated that the way he would go about achieving that goal would be based on what's happening at the time. If this makes him inconsistent on what his exact proposed policy is, I have no problem with that. I think being willing to re-evaluate your course of action based on new facts is a good thing, and it's something that's been sorely lacking in, say, the presidency of George W Bush.

Obama's position shifting?

I see Obama's changing (or "fine-tuning" if you prefer) of some of his positions constantly getting described as an example of him "swinging to the centre" and pivoting away from positions supposedly held only by his "left-wing base". Longtime blogger Glenn Greenwald has ably demonstratedhow inaccurate this framing is, on the specific question of withdrawing from Iraq: the supposedly "leftist fringe" position of setting a timetable for withdrawal within 1 to 2 years is actually preferred by nearly 60% of the American population.

I do believe that Barack Obama's position has...finessed on several issues. On the recently passed FISA legislation, it has definitely actually changed, from opposition to support. I do believe that this has been a calculated move intended to shore up support, but I don't think it's intended to shore up support amongst "centrist" voters, or any voters at all, for that matter. I think it's an attempt to shore up support among what some American bloggers call "the Beltway Elite": Washington insiders.

It may seem like blasphemy to an American to point out that their political system isn't a perfect democracy, and that prospective candidates need to accomodate power-centres that exist independently of, even in opposition to, the power wielded by the voting public. But given that their Congress now has an approval rating of just 9%, the lowest ever, and that the same poll shows that 72% of Americans believe members of Congress are more interested in furthering their own careers than in helping people, it may be more believable than it used to be.

To the extent that Obama's redefining himself, I suspect it's not a case of swinging away from the "left wing base" to the "centre", but away from the voting public to the Beltway Elite. This is probably necessary - I recall reading a blog claiming that George McGovern lost against that crook Richard Nixon because McGovern's own party hated him and worked against getting him elected - but it's still frustrating. And I do wish more people would call it what it is - placating the powerful - rather than constantly mischaracterising it as being based on what actual voters want.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Andrew Bolt vs the art community

Andrew Bolt lays in to Olympia Nelson's father Robert for refusing to lay down and dumbly accept the rhetorical beating that Australia's self-appointed moral guardians are giving to the art community. I could respond, but it seems Robert has already done so in comments. I'll repost here:
Robert Nelson answers Andrew Bolt

Dear Andrew

Let me answer all your questions. Incidentally, I counted eight, not seven.

“One: The argument never was whether looking at a naked child was child abuse. It was whether taking suggestive pictures of naked children exploited them, and left others in more danger.”

Rubbish. Polixeni Papapetrou’s genre stands accused of stripping children of their innocence, which is tantamount to child abuse. Your statement is illogical. If a picture really strips the innocence of a child, it’s clearly abusive. Your reasoning is devious if you think you can now soften the accusation.

“Two: It’s not girls from nice families like Olympia’s that run most risk of abuse when we endorse sexy shots of children.”

So would you care to explain how Olympia’s photograph exposes other children to risk?

“Three: Nelson loaned his naked daughter to defend pictures he actually detested before the public dared attack Henson, too. Three years ago he admitted Henson’s work was “pornographic”, showing a “vulgar relish in depicting naked, pouting teenagers” in a “teasing sexual spectacle” to present them as a “passive target for the viewer’s lust”. Why now defend pornography you once said you hated, Robert?”

No contradiction at all. We are not defending Henson’s pictures in every respect by seeking to justify the artistic use of child nudity in art. I can remain critical of Henson while supporting the principle that his work is art. Also, I have at no stage said that Henson’s work is pornography and not art.

Four: To defend Henson, Nelson and Art Monthly have switched an argument about pornographic shots of a pubescent 13-year-old into one about a mum’s picture of a child too young and demure for most to be thought sex bait. Why the whitewash, Robert?”

You contradict yourself in the very next paragraph where you’re claiming that the pictures inside the journal reveal “a soft-porn pose”. Please decide which you mean. There is no whitewash from us but a great deal of hogwash emanating from you.

“Five: Nelson focuses his defence on the cover shot of Olympia—one even newspapers feel is safe enough to publish. But inside the magazine is one closer to the issues raised by Henson—a shot no paper will publish that has Olympia in necklace and earrings, splayed naked on her arched back with chest bared in a soft-porn pose. Robert, now that your daughter is developing breasts like one of Henson’s models, will you have her pose like that again? If not, haven’t you wilfully ignored a critical difference between Henson’s pictures and that cover shot of your wife’s?”

Polixeni Papapetrou is the artist, not I. If Polixeni and Olympia want to do naked photographs at this age, I will most certainly not intercede to prevent it. This is their inalienable moral right. Do you seriously want to strip them of this right?

“Six: Nelson presented Olympia at the press conference as a girl mature enough to consent to or even suggest the nude pictures taken of her. In fact, Olympia was just six when they were taken, and little girls tend to dress up for pictures, not strip. Indeed, Nelson admits not all the photos were her idea, and I doubt any would have occurred to her without prompting. My suspicion was strengthened by the way Nelson prompted some of Olympia’s answers and actions. Robert, how much was she coached?”

Our house was besieged by reporters. We thought we might do as Bill Henson did and remain silent. As you say, Andrew, it didn’t do Henson any harm to keep his mouth shut. Still, I couldn’t bear the thought of hiding from the media and I spontaneously decided to put on my brightest shirt and speak directly. I rushed out of the house without even putting my shoes on and told them that we’d be ready in 15 minutes. I then completed getting dressed and emerged as promised. You can check this story with the news hounds. Andrew, I should get a new job as a coach if I can achieve Olympia’s performance in the space of 15 minutes while putting my shoes on and jotting down a few notes of my own.

Seven: And even if a six-year-old suggests nude shots, who is responsible for what happens next? The child, or the parent?

The parent. We take full responsibility. Please do not imply that Polixeni or I are in any way shirking this by allowing Olympia to have her voice. Brendan Nelson implied this with his disgraceful intervention, saying that Olympia speaking out compounded the damage. This was similar to Hetty’s sanctimonious and cowardly attack on Olympia, saying that she has been brainwashed, thus invalidating the child’s voice.

“Pedophiles often exploit just this excuse: “It was her idea.” Robert, as a good parent, aren’t you horrified to give this line of argument any weight?”

The fact that Olympia instigated some of the images was never used as the unique reason to produce or display the images. It has been raised as evidence of Olympia’s consent, as this has been consistently at issue. Andrew, you know full well that this was the basis for saying that some of the works were her idea. Why do you twist things so deviously in such an aggressive campaign against an artistic family?

If there is any matter that is at all unclear, please get back to me. I can’t read your blog because I have a day job and have to work for a living, but you know where to find me. Our family will not be bullied by this campaign. Neither Kevin nor Brendan nor Hetty nor Andrew leaves us in the slightest bit fazed. In spite of their collective zeal, they have failed to produce a good argument that Polixeni, Olympia, Robert and Maurice have done anything wrong.



Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Even the child being "defended" sees this for what it is

Fascinating: in the wake of the moral panic triggered by a photo of an unclothed 6-year-old girl on an art magazine, the girl herself says that she has no problems with the photos. You'd think that her claim not to need any defense might at least slow down the people rushing to defend her from the big bad artists just a little bit. Not so. And the rhetorical move used to counter her claim is entirely predictable: accuse her parents of putting her up to it
Mr Rudd is standing by his comments and has warned against allowing children to speak out on the issue.

"If people want to make a political point in opposition to me, I don't think it's right they use underage children to make that point," he said.

"They can engage the political debate as much as they want, it's a free country, but when it comes to protection of children, that should be a foremost responsibility for each of us."

Because, apparently, children have no will of their own and no ability to form an opinion that is different from their parents. One of the commentwrs at the ABC website ("kieran" at 07 Jul 2008, 03:02pm) put it best:
It may be the norm for you to treat your children like this (stifling them, leaning on them, making sure they say what you want them to say), however there are parents who do give their children the freedom to think... I can think of a number of parents who are like this, and they are generally involved in the arts (the whole freedom of expression, etc).

Olympia Nelson deviated from the script that the fiction of a child as a helpless and angelic non-entity would require her to follow. It's depressing, but not at all surprising, that her comments are hammered into fitting that script of child as helpless non-entity regardless.

This really is more about defending a magical ideal of childhood that exists in our society than it is about defending any actual child, near as I can tell. Or that's how I read it from the way that the moral guardians are refusing to admit that Olympia Nelson might possibly have a mind of her own.

World Youth Day Regulations are kind of but not really like regulations at sporting events

One of the justifications given by defenders of the World Youth Day regulations - for example by Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione towards the end of this news article - is that they're "no different to those used at sports stadiums and other large public arenas". I don't think many people are familiar with the regulations at sports stadiums. I wondered if this was actually true.

Sporting venues in New South Wales are governed by acts and legislation describing what actions can and can't be performed by the authority in charge of maintaining that venue (usually a private or state-run corporation that's given permission to manage the land). For example, Sydney Olympic Park would be governed by a regulation like, say the Sydney Olympic Park Authority Regulation 2007 - REG 17:
(1) A person who contravenes any provision of this Regulation while at a sportsground, or who trespasses or causes annoyance or inconvenience [emphasis added] on any part of a sportsground, may be removed from the sportsground or the relevant part of the sportsground by a person authorised by the Authority or a police officer.

(2) A person authorised by the Authority or a police officer acting in accordance with this clause may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances for the purpose of discharging his or her functions under this clause.

So people are actually telling the truth that restrictions on "annoying and inconveniencing" people have already existed in some type of NSW legislation. But calling the WYD regulations "no different" from something like what goes on at sporting events is really stretching it.

First, sporting venue regulations apply only to sporting venues. This seems fair to me: a person is paying money to enter that space, and should reasonably expect to find their behaviour restricted should they choose to pay for permission to access it. World Youth Day regulations prohibiting "annoyance" and "inconvenience", while they do not apply to the whole city, apply to some pretty important public parts of it. Issue 75 of the Government Gazette of the State of NSW has the complete list starting on page 5822. It includes the Domain, The University of Sydney, Hyde Park, The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Jewish Museum (wtf?), the list goes on. The worst part, and a part which NEVER applies to my knowledge during, say, State of Origin matches, is that the regulations governing the event also apply to transport sites: all the inner city railway stations, Liverpool and Campbelltown stations for crying out loud, as well as various other stations and bus interchanges. This is hardly "no different" from what happens during major sporting events. It's unprecedented.

Also unprecedented is the existence of a $5500 fine rather than merely, as the Sydney Olympic Park Authority Regulation above says, removal from the grounds. Looking at the Government Gazette's reprinting of the regulations, a fine would be incurred for disobeying an instruction to cease engaging in "annoying or inconveniencing" activity rather than for the activity itself. This is less problematic than it could be. But even so, giving civil authorities this much arbitrary power to censor public speech is still asking for trouble. I'm very glad that the State Emergency Service and Rural Fire Service have indicated that they're going to refuse to use these powers.

I actually feel slightly less concerned about the regulations now I've had an opportunity to study them thoroughly, but I still view them as an unwarranted attack on the public expression of freedom of speech. Describing them as similar to those regulations that are in place at sporting venues is misleading in my opinion, as they go quite a bit further than anything that's ever been in place before.

Welcome to the art/children moral panic

Having utterly failed in their witch-hunt against Bill Henson, the self-appointed "moral guardians" of children believe they've found a more readily exploitable target in the form of Art Monthly Magazine. Art Monthly decided to put a photo of an unclothed six-year old on its cover for the most recent issue, and the Sunday Telegraph yesterday ran a front-page article fulminating about how "sick" the imagery was. The rest of the Australian media has since taken off in their reporting about this allegedly evil act.

I deliberately say "unclothed" rather than "nude", because, unlike everyone so far who has piously denounced it as horrific, I've actually seen the image in question, and "unclothed" is a more accurate description. The, according to some ignorant commentators, "illegal" photo is at the time of writing still readily available at the Art Gallery Monthly Website. Funny - the way the papers described it, you'd think the child in question was posing like a Playboy centre-fold or something. The actual reality I see here hardly seems like it warrants all this hand-wringing.

And how interesting that in this currently oppressive media environment, the very act of verifying for myself what the media is trying to dictate to me as the truth about this photo actually feels like a dangerous enterprise. Will I now be accused of trying to access "child pornography" merely for daring to try and make up my own mind about this issue based on my own direct observation of the photo in question?

I don't think I've ever seen something in Australia, including the various emo panics, that so readily fits the definition of a moral panic like this does. The music scene I guess has become accustomed to defending itself against the routine finger-pointing that they have to endure, and can blunt the impact. The Australian art community doesn't yet have that experience.

Take this article from the Daily Telegraph. Members of the art community complained about what Art Monthly did. Reading the actual article, it's clear that they simply didn't want to deal with another round of media-driven conflict about "the community vs the arts". But the Telegraph gives the article a highly misleading title "Art lover slam child porn pictures" which makes it look the disagreement of the art community with the decision to publish is because they agree with the accusations leveled by the Daily Telegraph that the photos are child porn. The liars.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Who asked for the WYD laws? And are they really about "protecting merchandising revenue"?

There seems to be some confusion in the Australian media about it. WYD organisers 'didn't ask for rules' is the headline in the Age, although the article quotes Premier Iemma as saying that the laws "were brought in following consultation with the church and advice from the World Youth Day authority". A headline in The Australian points the finger at the Catholic Church: Church's power request.
The Australian understands the Government acted after a meeting of the Local Organising Committee of the Catholic Church on May 23. The committee, chaired by Cardinal George Pell, was concerned not only with quarantining protesters but also with protecting revenues from merchandise sales and advertising.

Protecting merchandising revenue? Really teaching us what's important to the Christian faith there, Cardinal.

So who actually wanted the laws brought in?

Anti-WYD/Pro free speech t-shirts - what would I like?

Are there protest T-shirts for WYD available that protest the anti-annoyance laws without gratuitously attacking Catholics themselves? I don't actually have a beef with the followers - they didn't ask for these regulations as far as I know.

Let's see...this one isn't too bad: "free speech*" with "*$5500 may apply" just under it. This one is interesting: "WYD 08: Is this really what Jesus would do?", but doesn't address my main concern about the whole suppression of freedom of speech thing. Here's one that's apparently pretty popular: "$5500: a small price to pay for annoying Catholics". Okay I guess, but I don't have a beef with the followers.

And there's the dilemma: I want to protest these regulations by being annoying, but I don't actually see the point in annoying Catholics. It won't change their mind. They're not going to suddenly up and say "oh gosh I've been wrong all this time!" based on anything I can do or say. It just, well, annoys them.

The boyfriend is kind of irritated about the whole thing as well. He was considering going in to protest before he learned that the Sydney protests were being organised by people with whom he has strong ideological disagreements. Maybe we should do something together? There's a kiss-in being organised...

Maybe this one is the best option: "WYD has annoyed and inconvenienced me. Pay ME $5500".

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Idiotic World Youth Day regulations

Five and a half thousand dollar fine if you "cause annoyance" during World Youth Day.

You know, I didn't actually feel motivated to be annoying during World Youth Day until I heard about this.

Maybe I should see if I get myself one of those annoying T-shirts that they're talking about?.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Christianist website caught auto-substituting "gay" with "homosexual" - but why?

A number of blogs I read have had a chuckle at the discovery of Christianist "news" site OneNewsNow modifying the content of news articles that they reproduce, replacing the word "gay" wherever it apppears with "homosexual". The process is apparently automated, and was discovered when news reports about an athlete named Tyson Gay appeared on the site. His name was automatically modified in precisely the way you'd expect. My personal favourite response is from Dispatches From the Culture Wars, where a field day is being had over the unintentional double entendres that appeared in the modified article.

Commenters there are also trying to answer the question I have: why? Why would they want to substitute "gay" with "homosexual" in the first place? Several possible answers have been put forward
(1) 'There's nothing "gay" about the gay lifestyle': I've heard this explanation given before, where the earlier meaning of the word "gay" as "happy and carefree" means that the word carries connotations which anti-gay activists don't want attached to the concept of homosexuality. In previous years I've seen attempts to redefine gay people as suffering from something called Same-Sex Attraction Disorder (they're not gay, they're SSAD geddit?) but that seems to have fallen off my radar. Does it still occur?
(2) It's all about the sex: simply put, "homosexual" has the word "sex" in it. The idea apparently is to put "sex" (as opposed to "love" or "relationships") front and centre in people's minds. The focus on sex, the ickier the better, to the exclusion of any other human attribute has previously been noted as an anti-gay strategy. This justification is a little weak by itself, but can tie into...
(3) The Queer Eye for the Straight Guy effect: thanks to inroads made into popular culture, the stereotype of the gay male now has several positive attributes associated with it: we are, apparently, fashionable, stylish and quite useful to have around. Perhaps avoiding the use of the word "gay" in favour of the more clinical "homosexual" neuters this positive effect.
(4) A final possibility which I've seen raised but which I personally find unlikely: the word "gay" is sometimes presumed to refer to male homosexual people only (with "lesbian" being used to refer to female homosexual people). The reason I doubt it is because I don't believe that anti-gay activists know that such a distinction gets made by some people. Or that they would care if they did know.

It's most likely a combination of the above factors. Whatever the specifics, the ultimate purpose is to dehumanise gay people, and to prevent any positive connotations from being ascribed by the language used to describe gay people.