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Thursday, December 11

Wednesday, December 10

"It better get funny fast or it's just gonna be something that haunts you"

One of my all-time favourites, Carrie Fisher.

Fab-u-lous interview (well, the first bit).

Check out her fabulous books.

Once more - fab-u-lous!

Bush's actual legacy

One minor error (and he doesn't mention the Iraqi body count) but this is Olbermann at his best.

Mr. Bush lifted the economy with his tax cuts and, quote, "responded with bold measures to prevent an economic meltdown."

In 2005, Mr. Bush told a 57-year-old single mother of three, one of them mentally challenged, that it was "fantastic", "uniquely American" that she had to work three jobs unlike half a million people who have no job as of November... in the first presidency for decades during which family earning power fell, and income disparity continued to rise.

The "meltdown" he "prevented" now having claimed several Wall Street institutions which had weathered 1929, and 9/11... but not 43.

And, of course, the old standby, quote, he "kept the American people safe"...

Not counting twenty percent of his first term, January 20th, 2001, until September 11th, 2001. On 9/11, he sat reading "My Pet Goat" for seven minutes after learning America was under attack. Then covered up environmental dangers at Ground Zero, and failed to provide for the health of rescue workers. Helped bin Laden's family flee the country. Opposed the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Homeland Security.

Tried to outsource America's port security to Dubai. Did not keep us safe from the shoe-bomber... alert passengers and crew did that...

Did not keep five Americans safe from anthrax... and never caught their killer.
Still hasn't caught the killer of 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole.

Still hasn't caught the killer of 3,000 on 9/11... outsourcing that to Afghans... turning that country into a narco-state, giving bin Laden a safe haven in the region of Waziristan by literally endorsing a truce that Pakistan signed with the Taliban there.

And most of all, not keeping safe 4,200 Americans dead in his war, a war that made us less safe, invading a country that posed no grave or gathering threat, provided a check on Iran... then igniting insurrection by disbanding the Baathist Party, creating a Muslim theocracy purged of its moderate intelligentsia. One in which freedom has marched backward for women.

Protect the human

Join a global demonstration in support of human rights and Amnesty International on 10 December: Celebrate Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Stand up with people all over the world who want to make human rights a reality for everyone.

Every human has rights. That is the essence of our humanity. It places on each of us the duty to stand up, not just for our own rights but also for those of others - and to help turn the vision of the UDHR into a reality. That is the spirit of international solidarity. That is the true meaning of universal, indivisible human rights.

On this significant anniversary, people will be gathering together in hundreds of places all over the globe, to light a candle, fire or flame as part of a mass demonstration. On Human Rights Day, stand up for human rights and show your solidarity with people all over the world who are committed to making human rights a reality for everyone.

Postscript: IWF give up

IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage

Following representations from Wikipedia, IWF invoked its Appeals Procedure and has given careful consideration to the issues involved in this case. The procedure is now complete and has confirmed that the image in question is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978. However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.

Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the UK will be assessed in line with IWF procedures.

IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users. Wikipedia have been informed of the outcome of this procedure and IWF Board’s subsequent decision.

Tuesday, December 9

Postscript: IWF row back

Is this 'extreme pornography'?

There was some sense of a rowback yesterday and today it's happened:
The Internet Watch Foundation [IWF] says it is still reconsidering whether its ban should remain on the image of a young girl used on the Scorpions' album Virgin Killer, after that ban prevented a number of British users accessing Wikipedia.

A spokeswoman for the IWF said that to her knowledge it was the first time in its decade-long history that any image or page banned by the IWF had been reassessed, and the first time that any page or image on Wikipedia had been banned. The IWF normally bans more than 10,000 images and associated web pages every year.
Here's Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales saying "C'mon! Do your wurst!" (And sounding a mite ignorant of their exact legal position).

And the IWF leader paddling furiously:

And I feel sorry for this poor mite! He's in over his head but trying, trying to do the right thing.

And a good comment from out-law underlining my critique of Wikipedia's libertarianistic bent:
Web hosts must not wait for an image to be declared unlawful by a court when they receive a complaint, albeit only a court can declare an image unlawful. If they wait, there is every chance that the declaration will come at their own trial.
Wales told Channel Four:
How do we draw up a boundary line that allows both routine internet expression and not pedophilia? The Internet Watch Foundation's system has been in operation for a number of years. Is it out of date?
Gonna help, Jimmy?

So what next?

This is really, purely a technocognisenti furore, despite its brief reign as top read story on Although I can imagine the Mail et al bent out of shape trying to take it all in. Grey is the colour rather than back'n'white. The Rebekkah Wade's of this world are now a wee bit lost.

But it's truly much simpler. Simply put: what does the IWF actually do to combat online child abuse? If that scourge has moved on from their simplistic techniques, what use are they?

I still doubt that much will be made of this point but the answer is simple: resource those who can excise these bastards from the net. Amateurism is a waste of time.

Is Britain capable? From January IWF, the charity, will be assessing 'extreme images' on behalf of the government (they already assess 'race hate', bet you didn't know that). Having read of a woman who asked of her local plod whether a 'borderline' image (now's there's a truly British tradition) was 'illegal' - she was referred on to the IWF then the Ministry, no one could give her a 'straight' answer - I have not much hope. The borderline' image is at the top of the post.

Call a spade a spade

Some very interesting comments by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (South Africa) about Zimbabwe.

There is either a solution or there is not! There is, in my book, no such thing as a “made in Africa” solution. Zimbabwe either holds ‘free and fair elections’ like those recently held in America, or it does not.

Zimbabwe either adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which it is a signatory) or it does not. It happens to do neither and no amount of pontificating about “African solutions” can disguise that fact. Her people are starving, the hyperinflation is running sky high, there is a humanitarian disaster of biblical proportions emerging with the cholera outbreak and the country is, for all intents and purposes, not being governed.

It is time to call a spade a spade.

Why, for instance, when Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s, did we not hear any voices calling for “Balkan solutions for Balkan problems”? No one said “ah let the people of Kosovo sort it out” or it is “an internal matter for the people of Bosnia”. Yes, it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? In the end, Bill Clinton reluctantly intervened with his European NATO allies.

I believe we have fallen prey to the notion of relative standards: we are expected to hold ‘free and fair elections’ like everyone else, but there is an unspoken bargain that we will be given a bit of leeway. A “bit” of voter fraud or a “few” acts of intimidation – even murder – will be overlooked as long as the election is held and the result expresses the will of the majority.

As an African, who shares the joy of millions of people across the globe at the election of an African American as the leader of the free world, I believe it is time to say that we – as Africans – should be expected to adhere to the same standards as everyone else.

Monday, December 8

Advice to btselem

Footage filmed by Jamal Abu-Sa'ifan, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, documenting a settler shooting two members of his family. The event occures following the eviction of the new settlment in Hebron. Settlers attacked the nearby house of the Abu-Se'ifan family, and during ensuing clashes, a settler fired his handgun at Hosni Abu-Se'ifan (40), who was hit in the chest and is in stable condition, and his father, 'Abd al-Hai Abu-Sa'ifan (65) who was moderately wounded in his arm. the two were taken to a Hebron hospital. The video shows other members of the family manage to overcome the shooter, then a security guard from the nearby settlement Kiryat Arba arrives and the scene, and fires his weapon in the air.
The Israeli organisation Btselem has done a good thing in distributing 100 small video cameras, bringing the reality of the occupation's effects on Palestinians to Israeli TV screens amongst other things.

But if you visit their site, the video page uses a terribly old hat and clumsy method (though you can download them) and - most importantly - doesn't connect with the sort of viral tools that have become de rigueur with other campaigners such as Amnesty as well as, obviously, clued-up politicians.

Btselem have a YouTube channel but they don't promote it. Once I saw this video, I had to hunt for it to bring it to you (and thereby increasing the viewership for Btselem) because - of course - papers like The Guardian and others insist on turning it into 'their own' copy and it's unebeddable.

They should just embed the YouTube copies on their website as well as adding download links to them and also include the YouTube logo linking to the channel, promoting subscriptions.

Privatised censorship and actually protecting children

NB: in about fifteen hours since this screenshot another 370,000 have viewed the page.

Today's furore over the Wikipedia block by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has already done its job: the IWF has rowed back and will (hopefully) face much scrutiny of its operation.

Mere moralistic calls when faced with the 'collateral damage' to Wikipedia (UK users blocked from editing it due to an inept process) and the availability of the image in numerous other places clearly haven't and won't work. In fact they've created 'the Streisand effect' yet again - thousands more viewing something 'they' don't want you to see.

No doubt someone will try this line but faced with a Wikipedia editor on Radio 4's Today this morning, the IWF spokesperson could only sound flustered and annoyed - and more than a little technically lost.

For me, this episode highlights the issue with privatising censorship which I've written about before (tagged posts). The IWF may be a charity but their decisions, like those of the companies which manufacture filtering software, take place away from any process which can be effectively challenged by you or I. They're unaccountable.

They have four staff 'trained by police' who have five URLs an hour (and probably hundreds more after this episode) to review. Much like YouTube etc. this will result in many 'false positives' and my second point about 'censorware' regimes such as this.

'Over-blocking' is what happens with software filters and it happens with badly thought through systems like IWF's. 'Over-blocking' causes collateral damage, often to those who won't know what's going on or have the resources to do something. The classic example is blocking of vital sex education information to teens and educational materials to teens and the rest of us. Art censorship is another by-product.

Two comments, one from The Register and another from the Wikipedia editors thread show how this happens:

I'm a member of the EFF, FSF, Liberty and Amnesty International, and a founding member of the Open Rights Group as well. (I mention this not by way of boasting, but to demonstrate that I'm not one of the knee-jerk, Daily Mail-reading, "hang teh peedos!!1" brigade; and incidentally that's also why I'm posting anon on this occasion.[1]) ... the reason for filtering images like this; the notion that (a) paedophiles will use them for sexual gratification, and that (b) men (or more likely adolescents) in the early stages of sexual development may get imprinted with a sexual response to the image, such that they become in effect paedophiliac themselves.


Hey guys. I work for a company in the UK which contracts to the police to forensically process computers in child protection cases ... I can tell you now that this image is *not* classified as CP (the IWF are mislead somewhere along the line). The image would be classed (on the UK Copine scale) as "Relevant" - which means alone would not allow for a conviction on CP charges but it indicative of intent. Viewing images like this in a non-sexual context (such as this article) or as *part of the arts* (music cover) is not classed as an offence.

Further more: the original image is NOT CP because it is covered by "for artistic purposes" (whereby the image makes a statement as part of a work of artistic merit) - it is extremely possible that the photograph of the cover is similarly classed. Plus I also believe there is a little used classification of "for informational merit" where the image can be justified as educational or informational (for example a text book on human development etc.).

Summary: this image is legally not a problem.

Pro-smoking early C20th poster

If you want to see truly 'problematic' images which most definitely are art and definitely meant to be 'problematic' check out Balthus (on Wikipedia). Collected by Picasso, Balthus had societal approval in spades but wouldn't pass an IWF harassed staffer:
Prime Ministers and rock stars alike attended the funeral of Balthus. Bono, lead-singer of U2, sang for the hundreds of mourners at the funeral, including the President of France, the Prince Sadruddhin Aga Khan, supermodel Elle McPherson, and Cartier-Bresson.
Or Nan Goldin's work, found legal after being seized from Baltic Modern Art gallery, Gateshead.

It is not good enough to have 'police trained' staff essentially randomly blocking images following the 'just-in-case' line of the the first commentator from The Register.

The IWF's original statement on the Wikipedia block makes crystal clear that they will over-block (my emphasis):
The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.
Another comment on The Register shows the pointlessness of their URL blocking staff and the actual need for real police, funded properly, to track down actual child abuse images and those who distribute them:
I have had dealings with the IWF before. A couple of years ago I came across a fellow trading child porno on a torrent site. I wrote to the IWF and the Met in London and included IP addresses and all info I could muster. RESULT: TOTAL DISINTEREST! The met wrote back saying inform the IWF and the IWF wrote back saying tell the police. I got the feeling that unless the target was easy nobody bothers.
IWF cannot pass on a URL in a torrent case to ISPs to add to their list (because there is no URL), therefore they are useless against actual child abuse. The police, apparently, cannot take action because they are underfunded/don't have the staff.

Blocking URLs as IWF seem to be spending at least four salaries on doing is mere sticking plaster and just not doing anything about actual child abuse. Hopefully this episode will see much closer societal examination of what they actually do.

Wikipedia don't come out of this well either.

They have discussed the image themselves before and it was interesting to note on their editor's thread one lonely editor trying to get internal work done on a policy about such images. He faced nothing but rants from libertarians and comparisons about hosting such images with those of Muhammed and adult 'erotic images'.

Postscript: in email discussion the following points have come up:

I wrote recently - and actually clumsily - about how Jacqui Smith's anti-prostitution drive would side-swipe gay men. Actually it will side-swipe fellow women (I'm drafting a follow up).

One of the things I pointed out was how they'd just defunded an anti-trafficking unit.

Another prostitution law is really about ideologically "removing the demand" (Smith's said as much) and as equally ineffective in stopping real trafficking as the IWF's actions are in stopping real child abuse. With the IWF, it's also about being seen to do something rather than actually doing it. Remember, this is an ISP-funded body set up to stop criticism and regulation.

In one fell swoop the major source for the world's spam (and a child porn host) was recently taken down. This is the sort of action which actually combats online child abuse - how well-funded is that work?

How is the IWF's true effectiveness being judged? How much has been wasted on IWF? This should be part of the accountability, which is clearly missing and no-one has the guts to ask.