Friday, August 15, 2008

Bigpond music store: problem

Telstra Bigpond has a new online music store. Better, they're offering downloads in MP3 format, which should satisfy all but the most radical advocates of open media formats.

I should be happy with the fact that DRM just got another nail in its coffin, but....

From the linked article:
BigPond now gives iPod users an alternative place to purchase their favourite music in a format that will work on their player. And if they are BigPond customers they will save money on the tracks and download them free of data charges

So an ISP is giving its current and potential future customers preferential access to that ISP's own music store. And why do I suspect that Bigpond's deal with the major Australian record companies will give Bigpond exclusive online MP3 distribution rights?

I was open to the possibility that Itunes' and the ABC's "what download quota?" deals with Iinet could be equitable since both Apple and the ABC were free to make similar deals with other ISPs, but when an ISP is giving preferential treatment to a music download site that it itself runs?

This is not a neutral Net.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Channel Seven reneges on airing GetUp ad, doesn't give straight answer why

Australian Internet activist organisation Get Up is fuming that Channel seven didn't broadcast the ad that they bought time for, intended to draw attention to the situation in Tibet, during the Olympic opening ceremony. Seven's excuses have so far been, in sequence:
  1. GetUp hadn't actually paid for the ads to be broadcast. When GetUp produced spreadsheets showing that the ad had indeed been bought and paid for, Seven switched to:

  2. The ads weren't shown because the Olympic opening ceremony ran overtime. This somehow extended to bookings made with Seven's regional broadcasting partner, Prime Television, to broadcast the ad in timeslots before the ceremony had even started. Seven has pulled a Sergeant Schultz on that one and claimed to know nothing about what Prime may or may not have allegedly possibly chosen to do or not do. Prime has released no information whatsover. Seven has since shifted position again, and is now claiming that:

  3. GetUp supposedly ambushed Seven by claiming that they'd booked time to air their Fuelwatch ad rather than the Tibet ad. The beauty of this of course is that there's simply no way for GetUp to prove their innocence of the charge, making the issue now one of who you believe is telling the truth. I would point out that Channel Seven has already stated on verifiable lie when they falsely claimed that GetUp had not paid for airtime for an ad which they had actually paid for.

GetUp meanwhile is again soliciting donations to run their ad on channel seven. Hopefully. It may be difficult to convince people that the ad will not again be refused for arbitrary and shifting reasons. That may discourage donations in my opinion, unfortunately.

In political theory class today I was intrigued to hear the opinion of many of the youth there that while they were concerned about abuse of government power, they believed the power of transnational corporations was at least as worrying, if not more so, than that of government. I'm vaguely interested in the question of whether the GetUp situation is an example of the Chinese government's abuse of power, corporate abuse of power by Channel Seven, or some combination of both, but I definitely believe that this dishonest approach to the issue by channel seven is a deeply disturbing manifestation of an abuse of power.

Where's that credit card....

Monday, August 11, 2008

Global politics: thought for the week

I think the thing to take home from global political events this week, like the Georgia/South Ossetia/Russia conflict and the Beijing Olympics (and the Olympics is very much a global political event), is that China and Russia have indirectly , but concretely, challenged the US claim of supreme sovereignty over the entirety of geopolitical affairs.

Georgia at the the Olympics

Looking at the lower end of the current medal tally, I saw that Georgia had managed to snag a sinlge bronze medal. "Wouldn't it be funny given the current situation there," I thought snarkily, "if Georgia won their medal in an unbelievably ironic sport like shooting?"

Turns out it wasn't nearly as funny as I thought.

A pity that the Women's 10m Air Pistol bronze medal winner's hug of the Russian competitor have received little coverage outside of the immediate geographical area. Not that I'd expect it to make much difference to the power-plays going on in the region, alas, but it'd be nice to share this small piece of optimism for humanity.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


I've seen the label a couple of times now, and it's the one that seems to come closest to encapsulating my political philosophy. Some aspects of the label appeal to me, some don't. Of course, I could say that about every political label under the sun, but this one seems much more appealing than most.

Not the revolutionary version, no, nor do I think, as Wikipedia suggests , that "left-libertarianism" is just another name for Libertarian Socialism (which is itself, according to that link, just another name for anarchism anyway). No, it's a different ideology in its own right. And it has more than a few adherents.

The thing that finally solidified the label as appropriate for me was reading a short excerpt from self-described "left-libertarian" Ellen Willis in my Political Theory reader. I searched for a few of her writings online and, after reading them, found myself agreeing with a lot of what she wrote, although not all of it by any means (the two full pieces that I read are here and here; they are critical of both the Second Gulf War (the first one not so much) as well as the modern American anti-war movement, and are fairly controversial in content,imho).

So I suppose I could call myself "left-libertarian" from now on - if it weren't for those pesky other people describing left-libertarianism as an ideology that is the basis of yet another Glorious Revolution. I don't want a revolution. I just want to see government and other sources of coercive power in society curtailed.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

J D Unwin quote from Hopousia: confirmed

Zhasper's Google Book search didn't pick it up for some reason, but a search within Hopousia only for the phrase "human records" (with quotes) yields a positive match for the quote on page 84: "In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a..." and the Google quote ends. Based on other information (this Good News Week article), the full quote carries on over to page 85. Context is still sorely lacking, so it is not yet possible to determine if the quote truly means what anti-gay activists claim it means.

The good news: a copy of Hopousia is currently being registered as sitting on the shelf in the library catalogue of the University of Sydney. The bad news: no way in hell do I have time to get it and look through it properly. I'm barely keeping up with my coursework as it is.

That doesn't mean I won't skive off and have a peak it anyway of course...

Final thoughts: I find the whole idea of "cultural energy" questionable. I'm not the only one, and questions were being raised about the standard that Unwin was using even at the time his work was published. Here is part a review from 1935 of Unwin's original book "Sex and Culture"( full reference for this review is: Benedict R. 1935, 'Review: [untitled]', American Anthropologist, Wew Series, vol 37, no 4, part 1 (Oct-Dec), pp 691-692. I hope I got that right):

The author has studied eighty primitive societies, being guided, he states, only by the character of the descriptions available, and he concludes that there is an invariable correlation between the de- gree of sexual restriction and cultural achievement.

In order to attain this absolute correlation , he has had to manipulate his definitions both of sexual restrictions and of cultural achievement. His correlations, in fact, only concern the limitation of pre-nuptial freedom in women and the nature of religious rites. It is never quite clear why he regards pre-nuptial restrictions as being so much more dynamic than post-nuptial, but restrictions upon the sexual opportunities of women are more desirable than upon those of men, he says, be- cause women are more important in child rearing.

In defining cultural achievement the standard is surprising. The lowest level recognized is that characterized by religion without post-funeral honor of the in- dividual dead or without worship in temples, these two being the criteria of the middle and highest level of primitive cultural achievement. For a culture to rise from the lowest plane to the next higher level it is only necessary to restrict pre- nuptial freedom of women; to rise to the highest level, where they will be capable of building temples, it is only necessary to demand tokens of virginity. It is not necessary that the restrictions shall be enforced for all females in a society. Thus, Samoa has the necessary cultural energy because restrictions are imposed on one girl in the village, the taupou, and rates as a culture with the most stringent re- strictions, whereas Zufii, for instance, ranks as one with complete absence of re- strictions, having, in the author's words, not even "irregular or occasional con- tinence."

It is impossible within the limits of a brief review to criticize the long list of absurdities that are involved in the correlations in this volume. They can be indi- cated from the author's handling of American Indian material. No tribes of North America north of Mexico have, according to his definitions, either temples or an- cestor cult, and must therefore have no restrictions upon sexual freedom. He has described twenty-five tribes from North America, but he has omitted without com- ment or excuse the entire area of the chastity belt. If, as he says, he was guided in his selection entirely by the excellence of the ethnographic material available, it would have been natural to include at least the Menomini and the Cheyenne. The latter's prohibition of pre-nuptial sex life would of course have played havoc with his one-to-one correlation between high cultural status characterized by temples,
and the existence of pre-nuptial restrictions.


The volume is an extreme example of the manipulation of anthropological ma- terial to support private programs of social reform, in this case, a program of return to the immediate Victorian past. It makes clear, as has already been abundantly demonstrated in anthropological literature, that any thesis, no matter how unlikely, can be upheld by a suitable rearrangement of cultural facts from primitive peoples. Only insistance upon a greater scrupulousness and a greater intelligence can pre- vent the recurrence of such volumes of special pleading.

I don't think Ruth Benedict was very impressed.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hunting down an anti-gay (mis-?)quote - J D Unwin

One of my hobbies is hunting down misuse of statistics and academic writings by anti-gay activists. An "academic quote" I picked up on recently was an alleged quote by a person named J D Unwin. The quote in question shows up a lot, such as in this flyer from the Traditional Values Coalition. Gotta love that title: "The Destruction of Marriage Precedes the Death of a Culture". Alarmist, much?

Anyway, the quote is "In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist upon prenuptial and postnuptial continence". It's allegedly from a book by Unwin called "Sex and Culture". Anti-gay activists have latched onto it because they believe that it proves that gay marriage will destroy all our society's "cultural energy" once legalising gay marriage destroys the entire institution of marriage in society...somehow. They're always a bit vague on how we get from one to other.

The book is, unfortunately, long out of print (it was first published in 1934). So I count myself lucky that I found myself a copy. A searchable electronic copy too, no less. A group of sites claiming affiliation with something called the Men's Right movement apparently think it's very important too, and they, er, made it available for a time.

It's easy to see why the Men's Right's people like it once you have a look at it: contrary to claims of anti-gay activists, it's not sexual regulation in general that Unwin describes as a supposed gauge of "cultural energy", it's the sexual regulation of the female that is the gauge (and it's ONLY the sexual regulation of the female - men can do whatever the hell they like when it comes to "sexual continence", apparently. Is that REALLY the message to men that you want to send, "pro-family" activists?).

At 648 pages, it's a large book, and I'm a busy person, so I won't be reading the whole thing anytime soon. But as it's searchable, I searched for the quote listed above and found....nothing. A possible mis-scan in the text rendering the search unsuccessful? I tried several searches for various partial text of the quote and...several near misses on phrases that seemed characteristic of Unwin's language (such as "instance of a society") but not the actual quote itself. It's not in there.

The one and only semi-original source I can find online for the supposed Unwin quote is an article in Christianity Today. Phillip Yancy claims to have personally read Unwin's work, and his phrasing seems to confirm that he believes the quote was in the book Sex and Culture. But he did say that Unwin had written other stuff...

I tried plugging a part of the quote along with Unwin's name into Google Scholar and finally got something: Google Scholar thinks it might be in a book, also by J D Unwin, called Hopousia. No text from Google at all unfortunately, not even a preview, and the book is also long out of print. Yancy mentions it in his Christianity Today article, so I suspect that Yanny has read both works and got confused about which one the quote in question could actually be found.

And that's as far as I can get. I have zero access to this "Hopousia" and no idea where I can get it. I sacrifice this post now to the Great Google in the hopes that someone else who wants to track it might be able to continue the search. All I'll say in conclusion is that this is a good demonstration of how claims by anti-gay activists about what "statistics prove" and "academic research has shown" is generally attributed to material that they've never actually laid eyes on. After all, if even one of the people citing this "quote from Unwin's 1934 book" had actually READ Sex and Culture, they would have known that the quote isn't there.

Or perhaps they did, and just don't care.