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Wednesday, April 15

Our answer to Maher, Colbert and Stewart?

I just love David Mitchell. Not only is he a brilliant comedian who can do slapstick as well as satire but he's a great writer whose columns never fail to hit the spot. He's smart, witty and not shy of being political. He hosts The Unbelievable Truth on Radio Four expertly. His appearance on Question Time saw him displaying all these talents with no script writer.

I'd vote for him.

I've discovered he has a YouTube channel where he delivers some excellent monologues like this one on TV rudeness:

I've never understood the appeal of shows like Dragon's Den either. I guess I like my wit more on the Gore Vidal level than the Ballantyne.

All his skills make him, IMO, just about the only candidate to do a UK version of the Daily Show or, even better, Real Time with Bill Maher. That is, world class political satire.

Maher just had Gore Vidal on his show
and, rare for Vidal, more than held his own with him. Similarly ranty Marcus Brigstock once tried the Daily Show format and failed miserably.

Tuesday, April 14

Let amazonfail be a warning

The casual dropping of LGBT titles from Amazon's rankings, sales charts and hence search (and hence visibility) was explicity done to make it more 'family friendly'.

This is clear from their customer services department's initial response:

"In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude 'adult' material from appearing in some searches and bestseller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature," explained "Ashlyn D" from Amazon's member services department.
The politics of this are a bit mad. Amazon has to appeal across the board or it loses a huge customer base. It's also a global company and 'family friendly' does not mean the same here as it does to certain sections of the USA.

They've obviously realised the mistake but the response is telling:
When contacted by the Guardian, an Amazon spokeswoman said that there was "a glitch in our systems and it's being fixed". However, the company refused to elaborate on why that move was made, or how the filter to choose which books were excluded was applied.
The problem is both the filter and the secrecy behind it.

In the Guardian's story one author reports how his memoir was called 'adult' in February; this attitude isn't a new one for Amazon. In a comment on Zoe Margolis' piece an academic author says that her book was listed by Google with another name attached. Google promised to remove it a year ago and it hasn't happened.

Filters will always have 'glitches' but they are almost universally privatised. There's no law or licensing body or any democratic control over them.

As I've written about, this means that, with filters in place, access to knowledge - most concernedly for children - is often barred thanks to both 'glitches' and privatisation rather than public decided morality.

As a knowledgeable adult, I can still find my way around online barriers (though this might change and could change so we end up with a 'national filter' like the Australian government wants, whose breach means breaking the law), but for the less knowledgeable they won't know and for children it takes some guts to stand up and ask 'why is this blocked?'

We need much more debate about who manges filters and why and how the heck we've ended up with a (largely) American bunch of companies deciding what we and especially our kids can and cannot see.