Thursday, September 20, 2012

Twitter harassment not only about free speech

Twitter has made some reassuring noises to the DBCDE and the AFP, so The Daily Telegraph is trumpeting a win in its “stop the trolls” campaign. Yippee.

However, this paragraph in the Joe Hildebrand story caught my attention:

Using a carriage service such as Twitter to harass someone is illegal under Australian law but, because Twitter operates under US law, it can be complicated.

I’m going to politely disagree with this remark posted by Geordie Guy:

“It’s not complicated at all.  Being a jerk is a constitutionally protected civil right under the first amendment to the United States constitution.  What’s complicated is when you try to export laws to the United States that conflict with that.”

My question back at Geordie is this: “Would Section 474.17 of the Criminal Code Act support an extradition request made against a US citizen?”

I’m not a lawyer, but America has a similar law to Section 474.17 in its “Communications Decency Act”. So both Australia and America recognize some kind of “use telecoms to harass” laws. Something which might be a crime in both countries might also sustain extradition.

Australian police would need to associate a profile with an individual, which may be difficult, and would need a case that was so notorious they thought it worth pursuing the long process of discovery in the US courts, before even kicking off extradition. So I guess we're unlikely to see mass international arrests as an outcome for Tweets.

If a known individual, wanted for investigation, turned up in Australia, that individual would of course be subject to the Australian law.

PS. I know, Twitter isn’t a “carriage service”. However, the individual sending the message on Twitter can be “using a carriage service” (the underlying Internet connection) to “menace or harass”. Hildebrand’s error is palpable, but not particularly significant.

PPS. I pretty much agree with the rest of Mr Guy's post.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The revolting invasion of American evangelists

Cori Bernardi hasn’t thought hard enough, which is in line with my opinion of him as a thinker. If “sex with a man” or “sex with a woman” is on the same continuum as “sex with a sheep”, then doesn’t heterosexual sex sit on the same line?

But that’s a digression before I even start.

So: Cori Bernardi gets a wrist-slap for expressing loathsome opinions in the Senate. It really is a wrist-slap: none of the positions he resigned from actually cost him money, only prestige.

As the telescope, or microscope, or solipsist-scope (my own coinage, denoting a media that can’t look out beyond its own viewpoint) drills down on Bernardi, nobody thought to ask Our Friend Google the Rememberer.

If they had, they’d have found out that Bernardi’s insane paranoia – homosexuality is a slippery slope to sheep-fucking – isn’t even his own idea.

This doesn’t surprise me: Bernardi has always struck me as too stupid for invention. He is an organizer, a numbers man, an idea-free careerist, all balls, no brains.

Go back just a little distance in America, Land of the Unhinged. The debate was about permitting the military to acknowledge that some of its members are gay. Simple statistics would tell you that, but nobody was allowed to say so, in a delicious paradox for a country that deifies its First Amendment.

And out among America’s theocrats-in-waiting was the same theme. The repeal of laws banning acknowledged* homosexuality in the military was – go on, guess – touted as permitting bestiality. If you need some references, there’s this or this.

Or there’s former hopeful Rick Santorum following the nutter line, then denying he’d done so – and that interview, defended and re-interpreted to remove the stain of creepiness that it deservedly received, dating back nine years.

In other words, the link – the “slippery slope” argument that draws an utterly kooky continuum starting at sex with a human and ending at sex with a different species – goes back at least that far.

It’s just another piece of the detestable invention of American snake-oil evangelism. It’s not even Bernardi’s own idea. He’s just spouting someone else’s drivel at us.

And that drivel is the demon spawn of hardline evangelistic American religion, which has been trying to invade Australia, infest our thought, and pollute our politics. In at least the latter, they have succeeded. And in the latter, Cori Bernardi - who seems to owe his loyalties to someone in the USA more deeply than anyone in Australia - deserves not a slap on the wrist, but the loss of his endorsement.

Like that'll ever happen. 

*"Acknowledged" is a personal preference. "Open" or "out" still implies, in too many places, that there was something to hide. "Acknowledgement" is more like a statement of fact, which suits me better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mark Scott eats the fruit of the idiot tree

I can’t ignore the rank stupidity of the ABC trying to suppress iView downloaders.

Someone from the ABC is trying to put an end to an iView downloader called Python-iView – complete with take-down notices.

That led me to look for the downloader I have used, iViewNapper – to find that the Whirlpool page describing it has also been removed.

This is dumb.

I understand that there are probably contractual obligations to consider – the ABC is probably forbidden from doing something that looks like “redistributing over the Internet”.

It’s still dumb.

I really can’t think that anything redistributed by the ABC hasn’t already been pirated first – unless the ABC gets a Dr Who deal that lets it iView the program in synch with the UK.

For local content, there’s no reason to treat downloaders as verboten: Australians already paid for the content.

On the other hand, I can think of good reasons for downloaders. My wife spends lots of time in hospital, and it’s not always possible to watch when you want, and not always feasible to get a decent connection.

So: I use iViewNapper to get programs she wants, so she can watch them from a hospital bed.

Yes, that violates terms of service – but not, I think, the spirit of the service.

The ABC isn’t a commercial broadcaster, and it needs to hit its lawyers with the four-by-clue until they understand this.

And yes: when my wife is next in hospital, I will work out how to download iView programs for her. And I’ll bet the ABC won’t be able to block me.

Update: Of course, there's any number of mirrors of the software on Github. Google will find it for you. The lawyer's letter is pretty futile, really.

Ecco Homo: Indy media's long, repetitive suicide note

The mark of the great editor is imagining the reader rather than identifying with the journalist.

A rough translation of Nietzsche’s aphoristic rant about “moralists”: “And what does he [the moralist] do? He paints a picture of himself upon the wall and exclaims ‘Ecco Homo’ (‘Behold the Man!’)”.

The point was that when mad old Nietzsche’s “moralist” wanted a template of perfect human, the moralist described himself. “If you wish to be happy, imitate me!”

With the exception of (a) niches that talk to themselves, and (b) The Conversation (more later), when people say “indy media” they mean “independent political media”. There have been plenty of the latter launched and failed in Australia over the years. And they fail with monotonous regularity.


Because nobody gives two tenths of a shit. At bottom, people at large just don’t care about what journalists and enthusiasts think are the Big Political Stories.


If you decide that you’re going to filter every fucking story through a prism of trying to predict the next election, you will fail. Go broke. Lose readers. Big time.

As is happening right now to Fairfax and News.

Because only a tiny handful of the readership – the ones that happen to fit your template – actually care. They’re busy with life, and – sorry to say this – “news” really is entertainment.

I cannot pretend that I am the Exemplar of Successful Editorship. But I know this: if the editor can’t imagine the reader beyond a tiny prism, that editor’s publication will fail.


Take another look at the declining readership of “mainstream” news outlets, and then look at their content. The more the MSM aligns itself with politics – “we’re the newspaper of the conservative / progressive” – in Australia, at least, the fewer the readers.

The more that mainstream news decides that non-political stories – science, technology, censorship, national security, Internet trolling – can only be viewed through a political prism, the less people actually care about the story. There’s another post there, but not now.

My point is this: too many journalists have too little imagination. They can easily imagine the meaning of the words “hit magnet”, but they can’t imagine a reader that doesn’t look like them.

Back to indy media. Whether trivial or Big and Worthy, attempts at independent media are always politics-heavy. Why? Because politics is the interest of the players – not of the readers.

Why do they fail? Because politics is the obsession of the players – not of the readers.

There’s no reason I can think of why an indy media source couldn’t throw in crime, sport (most sports could benefit from journalists that aren’t PR captives – just watch, for example, how relentlessly soccer specialists in the mainstream pursue the crusade of eliminating the word “soccer” from the world), technology, science … even bloody fashion. Or movies, entertainment, arts, music…

But “indy media” is filtered through the journalists’ Ecco Homo prism that it’s all about politics. And it will keep failing until someone’s imaginative enough to imagine the wild world outside – or it runs out of suckers to blow their money.

Oh, about The Conversation. It’s falling prey, in my opinion, to the misapprehension that everybody wants to get Another Authoritative Opinion about politics or economics.

That’s readership poison, in the long term. In my opinion. And there’s no guarantee that I’m free of Ecco Homo – your mileage may vary.

Postscript:  It's fashionable among publishers, journalists and commentators to detest the Huffington Post as a re-linker and re-purposer of content without original input. I won't enter that debate, but will offer this thought: HuffPo gets breadth, for all of its sins. That breadth is successful. If you want politics, it's there. Sport? Got it. Celebrity wardrobe malfunctions? Check. Even science, in case someone discovers the Higgs boson and it gets a pile of hits.

It's kind of the Reader's Digest for a more cynical, no-syndication-fee era.

Maybe the next challenge is to do HuffPo's breadth - with real journalism behind it. Just my two cents' worth.

Postscript to the postscript: Maybe Malcolm Fraser had the best advice to editors. "Get politics off the front page." Certainly leading every issue, Web or print, isn't doing the job. There are plenty of red-hot crime stories out there: perhaps someone should try that as a lead - without the obligatory sound-bit of a political bromide about "making the streets safe" for someone.  

Postscript to the postscript to the postscript: My wife just reminded me of one of her first lessons in journalism. Forgive the stereotype, but she calls it the "Turkish grocer test": if that reader can't read it or isn't interested, you lose lots of readers fast. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Friendly fire: CanDo's war against solar-owning conservative electorates

It occurred to me, over the weekend, to take a look at the electoral dynamics of Queensland’s plan to appropriate the output of household solar at a fixed (low) wholesale price, and force households to buy all their electricity at the retail rate.

It seems to be a very bad idea, electorally.

For my analysis, I decided to use the state of the Queensland parliament before this year’s electoral rout that saw the ALP decimated – because that would skew the results. After all, right now the ALP is a mere rump in the Queensland parliament.

As it now stands, nearly all of the PV installations are in conservative seats; the analysis wouldn’t tell us anything. So I reverted to the previous parliament, in which the ALP held 51 seats.

Here’s the numbers:

Total kWh installed
Average per Electorate
Average by affiliation
Difference from average

The data for solar installations was sourced from Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator, which reports PV installations by postcode.

In Grass-GIS, the open source GIS package, I associated the postcodes with electorates as a simple overlay. This yields a map in which the areas within each electorate can be matched to the postcode-based reporting of solar PV installations.

Note also that “conservative” electorates aren’t just the LNP electorates: they include seats that were held by conservative-leaning independents.

The key points are easy to see. The seats the LNP already held before the 2012 election:

  • Had the largest solar output by electorate – more than triple the Labor seats; and
  • On average, have more than triple the solar power per electorate.

The situation now – in which the ALP only retains seven seats in the state parliament – would be worse. 

The image below provides a visualisation of the analysis. Pink-red shows formerly ALP electorates according to the amount of solar installed in the area; blues illustrate the same in Conservative electorates.

The three electorates I picked out - Cook, Barron River and Whitsunday - were among the mass that changed hands in the 2012 state election, and are now held by the LNP. They're also the "most solar" electorates that the ALP used to hold.