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Screenshot from Stilgherrian Live episode 52

Episode 52 of Stilgherrian Live, the Extended Tentacle Edition, is now online for your viewing pleasure.

We had some great nominations for “Cnut of the Week”, as always. From the selected shortlist, Graeme Hoy came in fourth place (0 votes) for being at the centre of one of Australia’s biggest Ponzi schemes, the $50 million Chartwell Enterprises collapse.

Footballer Greg Inglis, who for some reason I was calling Glen Inglis, was 3rd (14%) for the alleged assault on his girlfriend — though there’s news today that he may have been trying to help.

Who cares? He’s just a goddam footballer!

In second place (41%), all the idiots criticising US plans to actually have a health system. I particularly like, but did not mention on the program, the editorial from Investor’s Business Daily:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the UK, where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Except that Hawking was born in and has always lived in the UK. Hat-tip to Daring Fireball, though Investor’s Business Daily has amended their editorial.

Senator Steve Fielding as Cnut of the Week

The winner of “Cnut of the Week” was Senator Steve Fielding (45%) for his continued arsehattery and climate change denialism. Congratulations, Senator.

“Arsehattery” is such an excellent word.

Congratulations also to deanlk, who won another t-shirt from our friends at King Cnut Ethical Clothing he’s won before, you see — via his nomination for me! apparently he didn’t like my recent piece in Crikey about the potential risk of geotagging photos.

Stilgherrian Live will return next Thursday 20 August at 9.30pm Sydney time.

Screenshot from Stilgherrian Live episode 40

Episode 40 of Stilgherrian Live is now online for your viewing pleasure, including the very first interview with Fake Stephen Conroy aka Leslie Nassar.

Nassar, a Telstra employee, outed himself as FSC on Tuesday. Given that Senator Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, oversees telcos like Telstra, this created some complications. He now appears to be over the worst of what sounded like anger Tuesday night.

The phone conversation with Leslie Nassar is just over 12 minutes into the program.

Of course we also had “Cnut of the Week”…

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Photograph of Anthony Albanese MP

Here’s my letter to my federal MP Anthony Albanese (pictured), which this very moment is rolling off his fax machine.

I’m hoping that Mr Albanese will be able to have some impact on this because he is both Minister for Infrastructure — the Internet is key infrastructure, right? — and Leader of the House of Representatives.

I know that he understands human rights issues because … well, us Marrickville folks just do understand these things, right Anthony? And you certainly knew how to stick it into John Howard when he demonstrated cluelessness.

Like Mark Newton, I also release this letter into the public domain.

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Senator Conroy needs to think a little harder about Internet filtering if he wants Australia to be less like China, I’ve just written in Crikey today.

I reckon Conroy knows the filters are a dud. When that report on the Internet filter trials dropped, he “welcomed” it and was “encouraged” by it, but only The Australian used the word “success”. Not Conroy — a fact his office confirmed to Crikey this morning.

Photograph of Senator Stephen Conroy labelled Cnut of the Week

Last night‘s Stilgherrian Live viewers voted Senator Stephen Conroy (pictured) “Cnut of the Week” by the clearest margin ever. But the actions of his office reported this morning really take the biscuit.

As Australia’s Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy has been spokesman for the ALP’s policy of ISP-level filtering of the Internet. I’ve written about this before, but it’s back in the news this week because it was discussed in Senate Estimates, as Michael Meloni reports.

Conroy, as in December, was accusing critics of the policy like Greens Senator Scott Ludlam of supporting child pornography — a cheap rhetorical trick at the best of times.

This morning, though, news broke that Conroy’s office had tried bullying other critics.

Internode’s Mark Newton was highly critical of the filtering plan and Conroy’s evidence, but he was speaking as a private citizen. It was totally inappropriate for Conroy’s policy advisor Belinda Dennett to attempt to pressure him via Internet Industry Association board members and his employer.

Last year, Senator Conroy agreed with his Coalition predecessor, Senator Helen Coonan, when she said you get into trouble when politicians start picking technologies. Problem is, the ALP’s “cyber-safety” policy specifies “ISP filters that block prohibited content”. Conroy’s stuck with it. But the filters clearly don’t work. And he can’t be seen to back away from Internet filtering — in a trial program which, ironically, was scheduled by his predecessor — because the ALP needs the votes of Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Senator Nick Xenophon for other things.

Poor bloke. What is he to do?

Crikey logo

[This article was first published in Crikey yesterday. I’ve added some follow-up comments at the end.]

Let’s sing along with Senator Conroy! You’ve got to accentuate the positive / Eliminate the negative / Latch on to the affirmative…

[On Monday] our Minister for Broadband was “encouraged” that lab tests of ISP-level Internet filters showed “significant progress” since 2005, and The Australian had him declaring the trial a success. But if you actually dig into the full report [2.8MB PDF] things aren’t so rosy.

Yes, on average filters might be more accurate than three years ago and have less impact on Internet speeds — well, at least for the six filters actually tested of the 26 put forward. But it’s about them being not quite as crap as before.

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The Victorian government is going to ban ATMs from gaming venues.

So, just because some people get suckered into shoving all their money into addictive machines, the rest of us are denied the convenience of withdrawing cash at the pub when we’re running short. Instead we have to go down the street — where we can be mugged more easily.

Here’s a thought. If gaming machines are the problem, why not get rid of the gaming machines?

Oh, that’s right. 8% of Victoria’s revenue comes from gaming machine taxes [PDF file], a total of 13% from gambling of all kinds.

Chairman Rudd has already said he supports Nick Xenophon’s push to remove ATMs from gaming areas. Xenophon doesn’t even become a Senator until 1 July, but already he’s an object of sincere and deep affection.

We’d already started to see the rise of a new wowserism. Imagine what it’s going to like when the balance of power in the Senate is held by Xenophon and Family First’s Senator Steve Fielding! If you thought we’d seen dull conformity before…

Senator Stephen Conroy had the perfect opportunity to explain his Internet censorship plans last night: his first major address as minister to the IT industry at a gala dinner. But according to iTnews Australia‘s report, he added nothing new.

“Labor has never argued that ISP filtering is a silver bullet solution, but it is an important step in the overall strategy to make the internet a safer place for children,” Conroy said.

Although he acknowledged ISP level filtering could potentially affect Internet speeds, Conroy added little else to quell concerns surrounding the issue, other than to say there would be a trial process to iron out any technical anomalies.

“I can assure you that we will go forward through an informed, consultative and considered process to ensure that a workable solution is found,” Conroy said. “This evening, I ask the industry to continue engaging with the Government and with my Department to ensure that we achieve an outcome for ISP filtering that meets the needs of industry and the wider community.”

Senator Conroy, apart from actually addressing everyone’s concerns, technical and social, eventually you do need answer the basic question: What will and will not be censored?

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[This is what I wrote for Crikey, finally published today.]

Child Wise’s Bernadette McMenamin found out the hard way: geeks get angry when you suggest filtering their Internet. OK, she only wants to block child porn and other illegal nasties, that’s clear now. But the geeks are still angry.

Why?

  1. Two completely different problems are conflated. One, preventing distribution of already-illegal child pornography to anyone. Two, preventing children from viewing undefined “inappropriate” material, but allowing access to others in the same home. Different problems need different solutions, but they’re jumbled together for political purposes. Naughty naughty, Senators Conroy and Fielding.
  2. Taxpayer-funded technical “solutions” are proposed for social problems. As John Birmingham reminds us, the government is not your babysitter.
  3. Technical illiterates are demanding specific answers: filters. Those in the know are already several pages ahead in this story, and know filters won’t work. Geeks get angry when their knowledge isn’t respected — even when it isn’t understood (or understandable).

Real-world experience in everything from spam filters to the record industry’s futile attempts to stop copyright violations always shows that filters only block casual users. Professionals, the desperate or the persistent will always get through.

However if a politician demands a filter, pretty soon a shiny-suited salesman will appear, ready to sell him a box with “filter” written on the front. It’ll work — well enough for the demo, anyway.

“Look, Minister! Nice Minister. Watch the screen. See? Filter off, bad website is visible. Filter on, bad website gone. Filter off. Child in danger. Filter on. Child happy and safe. Filter off. Voter afraid and angry. Filter on. Voter relaxed and comfortable. Cheque now please.”

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The Rudd government’s plan to force ISP’s to provide a “clean feed” of the Internet free of pornography and “inappropriate material” (whatever that might be) has already generated plenty of informed criticism. However what worries me more is Senator Stephen Conroy’s disgustingly disingenuous framing of the debate.

Labor makes no apologies to those who argue that any regulation of the Internet is like going down the Chinese road. If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd Labor Government is going to disagree.

As usual, Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett hits the nail on the head, and makes my point for me.

No free speech advocate that I know of advocates such absolute freedom as to defend the provision of child pornography… But the fact it is already illegal shows just how dishonest Conroy’s statement is.

The government’s proposal is not about child pornography at all, which is already seriously illegal online and offline. It is about legal pornography and other ‘inappropriate’ material.

The arguments against this clean-feed idea are simple: it won’t work, and it opens up an unacceptable risk of further government intrusion into our freedom to communicate.

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