The Future of the Filter

Posted in #ausvotes,#openinternet by skepdadblog on August 17, 2010
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Scott Ludlam summed it up at the Greens ICT Forum in Brisbane last night: Coalition opposition to the filter is “a promise made by a politician in an election campaign” and thus we have to wonder if it is a core or non-core promise.

The Coalition sat on their hands for a very long time during the filter debate.  Their mantra was “we will wait until we see the legislation” – politspeak for “we’re not committing until we know how many votes are in it”.  Aside from the odd impassioned address from the likes of Joe Hockey, the Coalition doesn’t give the impression at all of being opposed to mandatory internet censorship on principle.  Quite the opposite, as Ludlam was quick to emphasise last night – the Howard government had centralised internet filtering plans of their own but ditched them on advice that they were pragmatically unimplementable.  Conroy simply chose to ignore that advice and press on regardless.

Coalition opposition to Conroy’s filtering proposal in its current form was to a large extent influenced by the likes of EFA and the #openinternet campaign.  Not directly, as even my expansive ego can’t accommodate Mr Rabbit flipping through SkepDad on his Blackberry; but via journalists, who have been busted on a number of occasions lifting tweets and blog posts almost word for word to fill column inches in the major dailies.  Make no mistake: the fishbowl exists, with bloggers exhaling angry bubbles at each other in almost total isolation from the populace; but the hungry cats of the media crouch outside it watching intently.

It may seem that the filter and the NBN have suddenly become major issues in the public’s eye.  Unfortunately that’s not the case, but the media has realised that these are two of only a small number of issues that represent significant, macro differences between the two major parties.  The rest of the campaign, almost exclusively, is simply micro money-tossing at swinging voters in marginal electorates.  Outside of those electorates, there’s little to distinguish the ALP and the Coalition.

This all now begs the question: what is the future of the filter?  To a large and unsurprising extent, it depends on the results of Saturday’s contest.  EFA have addressed the technicalities of the legislative process, but I’d like to look a little deeper.

A Coalition victory would scuttle the filter in its current form.  This is perhaps not as unlikely as you might think, as there is a real possibility that the Coalition will win a majority of seats (primarily due to anti-Labor brand sentiment in QLD and NSW) despite corralling less than 50% of the popular vote.  Given that the Coalition have actively campaigned against the filter, they would almost certainly have to leave it a term before reactivating mandatory centralised filtering in any recognisable form.

That is not to say, however, that a range of measures disguised as cyber-safety initiatives would not be considered under a Coalition government.  It’s difficult to say what they might be though, and pointless to speculate.  A Lib/Nat win is a win for the anti-filter movement for all practical purposes (though the death of the NBN might make that a hollow victory).

Now the interesting part: an ALP victory on Saturday.  Conroy will view it as a public endorsement of the filter, despite the ALP’s shameless attempt to clear the decks of it as an election issue.  Don’t delude yourself that Conroy won’t be returned to the Senate, despite the admirable efforts of groups like Filter Conroy – Conroy is second on the ALP ballot, and between 80% and 95% of people vote above the line in the Senate.  That means that ALP Senate support would need to fall below 28.6% – including above the line preferences – for Conroy to miss out.  I don’t know what the odds are on that, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

The Greens may or may not hold the balance of power in the Senate, which leaves us with the unpleasant prospect of the ALP needing only to win over the few independents in order to railroad an unmodified filter proposal into law.  As disturbing as this is, it is unlikely purely due to the numbers involved.

The greatest risk from an anti-filter perspective is that a Coalition opposition will realise that they’re not quite as dogmatically opposed to filtering as they were when they saw it as a vote-winner.  What would it take for the opposition to be wedged on the filter in exchange for something?  Maybe some cost-cutting measures in the NBN proposal?  Maybe greater emphasis on child protection?

It’s not hard to imagine the Coalition distancing themselves from their anti-filter position if the proposal was changed just enough to let them state that it was a new ball game.  The Greens might howl in protest, but the ALP would sit quietly and not make a peep about backflipping.

What would those changes need to be?  Certainly a change to opt-in would be compelling, especially combined with some action to address the secrecy concerns.  The Coalition has been focusing however on other issues in their opposition – speed hits, ineffectiveness.   You and I and the rest of the “digital elite” can argue the difference between speed, response time, bandwidth and latency until the return of Firefly, but once the NBN is law the speed argument effectively goes away for most people.  The ALP have their “one of a range of measures” mantra to address the effectiveness issue, however disingenuously.

The filter isn’t dead.  Not by a long shot.  A Labor government will not need to convince you, me and the Greens that it is a good idea.  It would only need to help a Coalition opposition to find a credible way to lean back to its pre-2010 filtering preference, away from its anti-filter election platform; which may only require tiny semantic changes or a backroom stitch-up.

So on a purely filter-based platform, a Green vote is essential in the Senate.  Without the Senate balance of power, an unmodified filter has a good chance of going through.  Senate preferences should flow Liberal if you’re anti-filter, but that means voting below the line.  Senate votes shouldn’t affect the NBN, as only an unlikely Coalition Senate majority could prevent that if the ALP is returned and if they are not, well the NBN is dead anyway.

In the Lower House, a Green vote is both anti-filter and pro-NBN, but unless you live in a Green-dominated seat it is your Reps Coalition/ALP preference that will decide the future of the filter.  A returned Labor will run a significant risk of a filtering proposal being made law with only minor, if any, changes.  Optimistic pundits may say that a high Green primary vote may send a message to Conroy that his filter is unwelcome, but my impression of him is not one of a man open to messages and inferred dissent.  You need to assess for yourself if the clear and present risk of a modified filter is worth losing fibre to your door, and adjust your Reps Coalition/ALP vote – either primary, or first preference – accordingly.

This post has been syndicated on Election Blackout.


Censorship of Mobile Apps and Games

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on August 16, 2010
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The ALP has decided to tighten the noose on mobile content.  The current state of play is that mobile games and apps are effectively exempt from content rating, which applies to movies, commercial games, physically distributed print media and music; and the ALP just can’t let that stand.

Insisting that every game or app provider wishing to make content available to Australians must submit their app to ACMA (incurring a hefty fee in the process) is pretty shortsighted, given the huge numbers, the budgets involved and the inconsistency of applying these rules to mobile downloads only.

Perhaps the architects of this policy have never heard of the internet.  Because anyone who has used the internet for more than five minutes knows that there are huge numbers of things, free and otherwise, that can be downloaded for local consumption – whether that be for mobile or more traditional PC/Mac/*nix platforms – and just as much consumable directly in a browser.  Look at Facebook apps/games as just one example.  How can the ALP decide to regulate the iPhone Lightsaber app, but not Farmville?  Android games, but not Flash games?  What about podcasts?  What about playing Truth or Fail on YouTube?

The policymakers need to understand that media is shifting away from high-budget boxed product (cinema movies, DVDs, CDs, boxed games) to more agile models where budgets are often tiny and prices are often zero.  Content is often provided for no commercial gain, but purely for the thrill of producing something that others might enjoy.  The Internet is essentially unregulatable (despite the ALP’s best efforts) and any attempt to regulate or censor it is always going to be full of fail.  If it’s not sold in a box in a store, or distributed in a physical Australian venue, or broadcast on a regulated tv spectrum, content rating cannot be pragmatically enforced by Australian beaurocrats no matter how many Family First preferences depend on it.

Don’t get me wrong – I agree with parental advisories and content rating.  They are a useful guideline for those parents who actually bother to take an interest in what their kids are consuming.  They are a different thing however to censorship, which I have covered in detail on this blog and elsewhere; and they are subject to the laws of reality and the tyrannies of scale.

Whether you are a strident pro-censorship protectionist buffoon, a passionate anti-regulation liberal anarchist, or anywhere along the line between, you simply can’t deny that the pure volume of content and the cost models involved preclude individual centralised proactive classification.

The only model that can work is one where content vendors have incentive to adhere to voluntary content advisories, and this is backed up by a complaints-based mechanism of review.  By engaging with industry (a foreign concept to the autocrats in the ALP, I know) the Government can negotiate in the interests of children and consumers without wasting time and money on blinkered, piecemeal and unrealistic white elephants.

ACMA has a future as a watchdog, to be let off the chain where breaches of classification guidelines are reported.  It does not have one as a bouncer, separating consumers and content until a protectionist burden of proof is satisfied.


Posted in wonkery by skepdadblog on July 27, 2010

I’m adding a new category of posts today, to link to the various forums and blogs that I have commented on recently.  Generally a search for “skepdad” on those posts will find my contributions.

Ideally, if I post anything at all elsewhere under my SkepDad moniker on a topic relevant to this blog, I’ll link it under a wonkery post.  No doubt this will be patchy at best though.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Posted in #ausvotes by skepdadblog on July 26, 2010
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I was watching the debate last night when my five-year-old son walked in, resplendent in jammies and carrying his bedtime book.  He jumped up on the couch with me (standing on my genitals in the process, as is his wont) and wriggled into the warm part under my arm, handing me the aforementioned book with a meaningful look in his eye.

We read a little before he asked me what I was watching.  I explained in a very non-partisan way about Prime Ministers and elections, and how the lady on the left was explaining why she should stay PM and the man on the right was explaining why he should become PM.  We watched for a little while, before he pronounced Tony Abbott as his preferred Prime Minister.

I asked him why, briefly wondering if he had in fact been reading The Punch online while I wasn’t watching instead of playing Lego Star Wars.  His reply?

“Well, the lady keeps telling lies.”

Touché, wee man.  Touché.

Dear Tony: Do you love your country or not?

Posted in #ausvotes by skepdadblog on July 23, 2010
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Dear Mr Abbott,

Australia deserves better than the ALP.  You and I both know that the LNP has what it takes to effectively run the country.  But here’s the problem – there are a lot of people who want to vote Lib, but won’t vote Abbott.  You know it, and it’s about time you stopped ignoring it.  You can’t spin your way out of it by airbrushing yourself out of leaflets and gurning on Hey Hey.  You need to do something big.

You can’t win.  Say it with me.  I. Can’t. Win.

But the Coalition can.

Stand up in front of a wall of Coalition MPs – as many as can be mustered, and anyone not there had better have a cast-iron excuse – and state something like the following:

My fellow Australians,

The Liberal National Coalition has the best blend of experience and sensible, well-considered policy to lead this great nation.  Unfortunately, it is increasingly clear that the Australian people are concerned about my ability to perform the duties of the Prime Minister to the standard they expect and deserve.

Ms Gillard is a formidable opponent, and to be frank, if she were leading the Liberal Party I would follow her willingly.  Unfortunately she leads the Labor party, which has no meaningful policies and has spent the last three years taking Australia backwards.  As Prime Minister, she would do what she does best – talk, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing – while the Labor backroom pulls the strings.

Australia deserves a responsible, open and progressive government, and that means the Coalition.  However, Australia also deserves a strong leader with popular support.  I regret that I am not that leader, but I cannot deny it.

It is thus with a little embarrassment, but firm resolve, that I announce my decision to stand down as leader of the Liberal Party.  We took an unpopular candidate to the election in 2007 and it hurt the nation greatly.  I could not in all conscience allow a repeat of that mistake.

My personal regrets are cancelled by my intense pride at announcing [Malcolm Turnbull|Joe Hockey] as the new, unanimously supported leader.  You all know him, and you know that there is no person on any side of politics more capable of leading this nation.  [name] will see this country right and represent Australia on the international stage as an exemplary Prime Minister.   I ask that you join me in giving him your full support – not at the next election, but at this one.

So now, as the Labor Party sharpens their spin pencils and starts drafting their next fear campaign, I give you our new leader to talk about reality and grown-up policy.  Ladies and gentlemen, [name].

Gracious, displaying immense strength of character and demonstrating to the public that what matters is the nation, not feathering your nest.  Do it in exchange for a choice portfolio, or a nice ambassador’s post, or whatever.  Just do it.  You’ve only got few weeks left as the leader of the opposition anyway, why not go out honourably instead of in disgrace?

The ALP will go after the Libs for changing leaders again; that’s why you need all the MPs there to say that it was open, voluntary, unanimously supported and in the interests of the nation.  No backstabbing.  No faceless union heavies.  Mea culpa.  What matters is the nation, and you’re prepared to make that sacrifice.

It hurts to say, but Tony: you’re our only hope.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.


Posted in #ausvotes by skepdadblog on July 22, 2010
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So here’s what’s wrong with the Greens.  A major part of their support base – enviroactivists – can’t argue dispassionately or get their message across without being confrontational and sanctimonious.  That makes the Greens look like far-left wing hippies when in fact they have some quite reasonable and well-thought-out policies.

Here’s an example of a short twitter exchange I just had.  I was responding to a GreensMPs post on Formspring, where a Green representative made the following comment:

“…nuclear is still ultimately a non-renewable fossil fuel.”

Er, no.  Ignoring the semantic error, nuclear (read uranium) is not a fossil fuel.  Would have thought the Greens would understand that.  Hence my tweet:

“@greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels? Back to the science books for you. #ausvotes”

Well, Moron_Moments decided they’d jump to defend the Greens’ obvious error.

“Moron_Moments Lots of coal electricity used to enrich natural uraniuml @skepdadblog: @greensmps nuclear energy depends on non-renewable “fossil” fuels?”

Yes, lots of coal and oil energy is indeed currently used to extract and enrich uranium.  Similarly, coal and oil energy is used to extract the minerals used in all energy technologies, including wind and solar devices.  Does that make them fossil fuels too?  I felt the need to snark.

“@Moron_Moments no, lots of *energy*, which could be coal or anything else.  It doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel.”
” @Moron_Moments Lots of fossil fuels burned to mine the minerals for solar panels too.  Or did you think they were made out of rainbows?”

Oh, well didn’t that put the cat amongst the pigeons.

“@skepdadblog: @greensmps 1 GW nuclear requires 140k SWU/yr= 336M kwh all from coal”

If I read this right, that’s 336 million kilowatt hours (or 336 gigawatt hours) of coal energy to enrich enough uranium for 1 gigawatt of nuclear power?  Interesting.  Might fact check that one.  doesn’t make uranium a fossil fuel though.  And sure that energy currently comes from coal, because coal is all we currently have widespread.  It’s just energy, it could come from anywhere.

“@Moron_Moments *currently* all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

Now the rest of the rhetoric torrent, none of which explains how uranium is a fossil fuel.

“@skepdadblog: Theres a reason why US enrichment  plant at Oak Ridge TN- TVA coal.”
“@skepdadblog: That’s  part of the reason why nuclear is a net negative energy source”
“@skepdadblog Solar comes from silica with no refining. .003 percent of ore is .07% U308-lots of dirt to move; lots of energy to enrich”

Sure, Moron_Moments – silica magically appears from the sky, you put it in a box and bingo, solar power.  Finally, the clincher:

“Moron_Moments Thus nuclear makes no economic or energy sense @skepdadblog: @Moron_Moments all from coal.  Which is far less efficient than nuclear.”

A non-sequitur and a misquote in one tweet.  Sorry – I don’t debate people who misquote me.  More tweets followed, dipping into ad hominem, but I’ve written this particular tweeter off as unable to have an objective debate and won’t re-engage.

Moron_Moments clearly has some knowledge of what they’re talking about.  But they waded in to my perfectly reasonable and scientific assertion that uranium is not a fossil fuel, brandishing all sorts of “facts” and ignoring the very small and logically consistent point that I was making in their eagerness to spread their rhetoric.  Bob would be wise to put a leash on these people.

Oh, and Moron_Moments – I was going to vote Green.  Nice job, hippie.

Decision Wellington

Posted in #atheism,#ausvotes,#openinternet by skepdadblog on July 19, 2010

I cooked Beef Wellington for the family last night.  As my son dislikes anything that isn’t Vegemite sandwiches, my daughter is in a contrarian phase and my wife was a little harried at the aforementioned children, I had the lion’s share of it.  Which, given my occasional culinary success, wasn’t a bad thing.

This election is a bit like that Wellington.  At the heart of it is a big slab of beef – my beef against conjob Conroy and his patriarchal and dangerous moral panic filter.  Said beef is coated in tangy mustard – the condiment that tastes amazing in moderation and burns the tongue if used irresponsibly.  Such is the delicious yet occasionally painful debate around the censorwall.

The seasoned beef is rolled in the messy mushroom, onion and celery duxelle of focus-group-driven policy on the run to appeal to swing voters in marginal electorates.  This serves to cloud the debate and hide the all-important beef from view.   Finally, the lot is rolled up in the puff pastry of spin and sniping that we must carve through to get to the issues.

I think that’s +1 internets for pushing that analogy as far as it could go, and minus several dozen internets for a dodgy analogy in the first place?

Here’s my problem.  I think Joolia would make a better prime minister than Tony.  Sorry Tony, it has to be said.  However, the Labor party makes me want to eat my own face.  The Liberals, despite their faults, are a party that I can get behind in the House of Reps because I feel, however misguided this may be, that they are at the heart a slightly more honourable, slightly less grubby party.  That matters to me.

the Liberals have a policy of opposing Conroy’s filter in the form that has been debated over the past six months.  That matters to me as well.  The Greens are even more steadfastly opposed.  This, direct from a Green Senate candidate:

… we are vehemently opposed to the internet filter and think it should be ditched rather than just shelved. … Our commitment to this issue is firm and we do not engage in policy-for-preferences.”

I believe Joolia’s atheism would be better for the nation than Tony’s catholicism.  This matters to me a lot.  So…

Do I vote for a party I can’t stand, implicitly supporting a filtering proposal that I also vehemently oppose, to get the PM that I’d prefer?

Do I vote for a bible basher PM who would in all likelihood be as diplomatically and culturally savvy as the Duke of York (though, given Gillard’s treatment of East Timor, it might be a close race on the diplomacy) to get the party I’d prefer and oppose the filter?

Do I… vote… Green?   Hmmm.  Never done that before.

Green in the Senate seems a no-brainer.  The preferences deal with Labor gives them a boost for the balance of power in the Upper House.  One part of me wonders if, given that the filter was a play for Fielding’s Senate vote in the first place, Labor would stick to it once they no longer need Family First?  In any case, with the balance of power, the Green’s stated firm opposition to the filter would be enough to prevent it ever getting into law.

So it seems to me that it will be Greens first and Labor last in the Senate, and maybe even Green in the Reps, with preferences to Gillard (not – hear me well here ALP – to Labor).  I get the right PM, stop the filter and sleep well on Saturday night.  Might even cook a celebratory Wellington.  The Libs ditch Tony as unelectable (sorry Tony, I genuinely feel a bit of fraternal sympathy for you) so Hockey can toss Labor out on their ear in 2013.  Result.

Then, on Monday 23 August, it’s on with Education Revolution II to get the fucking bibles out of state primary schools.

we are vehemently opposed to the internet filter and think it should be ditched rather than just shelved. Clause 81 of our media and communications policy states that we want to “ensure that regulation of the internet is transparent, accountable and protects freedom of speech, expression and access to information”. Senator Ludlam has done a lot of work on this issue since that policy was finalised, so the most up to date summary of our position and all our recent statements on it is available here
Our commitment to this issue is firm and we do not engage in policy-for-preferences.

A Poll on Religion and Morality

Posted in #atheism by skepdadblog on July 13, 2010
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PZ Myers at Pharyngula is spruiking a poll on religion and morality.  The data will be interesting to see.

Some of the questions are quite poorly worded, but try and get through it and add your opinion to the pile.

Just how dense do you think we are, Julia?

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 9, 2010
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The flame-haired wonder has backflipped on the filter.  Celebrations, vuvuzelas and unbridled downloading of snuff movies all around.

Oh, wait – or was it just a cynical ploy to try and take a deeply unpopular policy off the table as an election issue?  Nah, couldn’t be.  That would be… well, manipulative and disingenuous.

Of course, if you look up disingenuous in the dictionary, there’s a photo of Stephen Conroy, thumbs up and grinning.

So here’s “backflip day” in a few heavily commented media stories:

I’m sure there are many more, and I’d appreciate links to any crackers in the comments.

My fellow geeks, skeptics, dads and Australians of all denominations: if anything this should be a call to arms.  The Government clearly knows this is a vote loser, and is simply trying to sweep it under the rug.  They will yank it out from under the rug, dust it off and plug it in the minute they are re-elected, all the time claiming an implied mandate from the people who returned them.  They are subverting democracy in the most cynical and clumsy way possible.

Don’t fall for it.

Social Media Experiment

Posted in #openinternet by skepdadblog on July 9, 2010
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So, I created a Facebook Group entitled

I will vote against Labor because of Conroy’s filter

If you feel this way, join it and help me send a message to Labor that they might understand.

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