Download festival

Yes, it’s the year of the sex Olympics, with the United Kingdom dripping wet and sweaty and smelling just a tiny bit of yeast. On one side is the Puritanical Corps., awash with purity and virtue and clean knickers fresh from M&S, and on the other is a looser union of people holding up their hairy palms and placards which read “Keep off my  X-Hamster” and such like.

Not for many moons has the UK seemed so unable to accept that S-E-X exists, and certainly for the first time since the 1990s does it appear the massed ranks of the Establishment has finally decided to take on the Internet, with all its swearing and ‘Breaking Bad’ spoilers and nipples all over the place. Every person who wants “Porn blocks” and the like have consistently failed, doubtlessly deliberately, to understand the distinction between the different kinds of pornography available on the Internet and the relative dangers of watching ‘too much’ of each kind.

As I have blogged before the ‘Porn block’ brigade tend not to appreciate how boring a lot of on-line sex actually is, and have conflated too many different complaints and issues into one damp tissue of negativity. It’s neither constructive nor productive to consider the term ‘extreme porn’ to cover everything from XTube’s amateur hour to a multi-million dollar production Californian production company churning out the glossy tits and teeth.

This week’s target for outpouring of outrage is your everyday public wifi, which has been highlighted as potentially opening up the gates of pure hell and evil to everybody’s smartphones.

This is another overblown reaction from folk who don’t seem to quite get it. (The technology, I mean, not “it” as in “whoopie”. Although sometimes I wouldn’t like to say…)

Here’s a task for you. Go into Starbucks (then leave again because THEIR COFFEE IS RUBBISH). Go into a pub instead, one where you’ll see this sign, or something like it. Now get a pint of something light, maybe a packet of Scampi Fries, sit down with the i and load up your phone. With “The Cloud” you may have to sign in with a password, but that’s fine, it’s free, and reliable (and thanks to some wags at a Greggs near me, available through the wall of the next-door pub which doesn’t have wifi otherwise).  Now that you’ve got free wifi through “The Cloud” and it’s not taking anything from your monthly allowance, search for something adult or naughty or just plain rude.

Found anything? Probably not. And that’s normal. Not completely trouble free, but nothing like the SCANDAL AND SHOCK which you’d assume from the Guardian article linked to above and others like it.

The fact is that “Porn blocks”, content controls and other general settings already shut down a lot of search terms, including links to sites which have nothing to do with pornography. “The Cloud” and other wifi favourite BT are infamous for being very tight with their content controls, particularly as their services are used so extensively in cafes, pubs and public venues. That searching for “horny girls xxx” in my local Dog & Duck brings up nothing at all doesn’t shock or surprise me, I actually support the fact that public wifi makes it harder for people to, well, get hard.

There is no way to ensure each and every potential harmful website is restricted in each and every public building. We shouldn’t be run by politicians who think that the aim for them is to do such a thing, even if it sounds like great logic to their frazzled brains. It may be shocking to politicos and Professionally Outraged Daily Mail Writers that knives can be bought on-line whilst supping a mocha, but what do they want to happen? That all shopping sites be restricted or closed down by “The Cloud” and others? For knives on-line to be only sold if used for buttering toast or at most cutting into a brioche? Where exactly is the “end point”?

Wifi in public places is a great and valuable service. It may need fixing here and there, sorting out this and that, only the mood music of 2013 makes me feel that such tinkering is not what people want. If it’s scary that porn is available at your local library because they’ve not sorted out the restrictions, then talk to the library management or local council. Don’t create a national scandal. Don’t presume everything can be fixed by thinking in terms of cotton-wool and  bubblewrap.

(Is there a fetish site dedicated to cotton-wool and bubblewrap? Back in five minutes……)

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Pornhuff

If you visit one of the plentiful Adult Entertainment websites around the Internet, you may find yourself looking at dozens of small screens providing a preview of the delights on the other side of the link beneath them. Now I understand that people don’t visit Adult Entertainment websites all the time, so to provide a clue to their layout, here’s some clips.

Oh sorry, that appears to be the Daily Mail. Whoops. Slap my *innocent face*, how could I make that mistake?

There’s been an ongoing Puritan streak through 2013 in the UK, something I’ve blogged about before in similar circumstances to where we are this week. The Independent newspaper has slumped around the “dark web” to pour yet more ‘evidence’ against the safety of the Internet in general and David Cameron maintains that the battle between Google and the Government can only go in one way.

The oh-so-moral Daily Mail has preached about its “success” in pushing David Cameron to stick an pornography opt-in for each and every ISP in the land. And we all say, “Oh for the love of the 21st Century….”

Right at the core of this argument is misunderstanding, a confusion of what is meant by “porn”. Feminists arguing against Page 3, child protection campaigners and tabloid hacks have all been squeezed and squashed and thrust together to make a single clusterfruitcake of chaos. It’s not a coherent argument to say “ALL PORN IS BAD”, nor “WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN”. Neither is it a moral victory to block porn in the UK at the same time as championing the breasts, legs, buttocks and stomachs of every A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y and Z- list celebrity woman who dares walk out  of home, work or nursery with(out) make-up. The very last breaths of a dying mainstream media stinks of puritanical hysteria, and such a combination of contradictory stances can only come from a source confused about the target of its protests.

I’m not here to demand freedom for everyone to access anything they want. It’s sensible for companies to restrict what can be accessed through free wi-fi such as The Cloud or through public libraries, etc. Parents of young children are completely within their rights to restrict or reduce Internet access on their own terms. Of course material which goes beyond the definition of extreme into criminal harm or abuse or violence must be stopped; but that’s what existing computer misuse laws exist to catch.

Crowing about blocking access to porn is the most backwards of all regressive steps, and Lord above knows how many strides into antiquity this country takes with each passing year. It’s bad enough living in a 19th century state with regards to drug law, attitudes to sexuality/gender politics and electoral administration/democracy, without having to add private use of personal computers to the list. I remember that crass and ignorant maxim – “If we change our way of life, the terrorists have won” – and now wonder whether every Cabinet Minister chose to run with it as a general daily slogan. This isn’t just “Yes Minister” levels of administrative hell, this is “The Day Today” gone feral.

What exactly is the “porn” which scares the Daily Mail so much? Do they appreciate the small percentage of extreme material which exists amongst the thousands of fuzzy, out-of-focus, barely entertaining amateur material uploaded to XTube every day? Have they checked out PornHub to audit an accurate ratio of 30-second wanking clips to subscription site previews? Is this the end of Cam4 as we know it?

As with drink, drug and sexuality policy, this country needs a grown up discussion on pornography. It’s beyond pathetic to live in a 21st Century democracy on the eve of the Prime Minister announcing the curtailing of personal freedom and choice on the back of a blind, quasi-religious freakout. The entire issue has been conflated and confused into a breathless crusade against sex, ignoring genuine problems (female body issues, much ignored male body issues, sex worker health and safety) for the sake of a quick thrill at the dispatch box. It’s bad enough living in a state where the ‘great sins’ are considered fair game in the race to the panic button, I’m not sure exactly how we can show our faces if the right to watch sex on a screen is robbed by here today gone tomorrow politicians.

I don’t care about “Won’t somebody think of the children?” I’m bothered by  “Won’t somebody think of the adults?!”

Gangbanged

Following a Daily Mail witch-hunt/campaign and the Conservative MP Claire Perry’s “Independent Inquiry” into online child protection (see the very good post from Ministry of Truth about defining the words ‘independent’ and ‘inquiry’ in this context), the UK is one step closer to State approved Internet censorship. The proposed law is now available to view, with its innocuous enough title of the “Online Safety Bill”.

I was born in the distant 1980s, making my relationship with adult material follow the usual path of “blissful ignorance”, “Late night Channel 4”, “dog eared copies of Whitehouse”, “copied VHS passed on from a friend of a friend’s friend” and then “Internet access” somewhere around early teenage-dom. If you don’t know ‘Eurotrash’ with the sound turned down and a quilt underneath the door, you don’t know the eagerness with which boys of a certain age wanted to see subtitled naughtiness.

That level of smut is a world removed from the Internet age, in which people of all ages are one Google search away from seeing all manner of explicit bits, bops and fiddling about. There is almost no taste or fetish for which a website exists, and the popularity of YouTube-style amateur upload sites makes it all the easier for a couple (or a lone bloke feeling a bit frisky) to show the world how they’re feeling for about…five minutes (three if, you know, it’s been a hard day at work and I’m tired and this bed isn’t very comfortable and…anyway…..).

As we all know, the Internet cannot be censored, making every innocent search for the latest news headlines or an amusing cat picture one click away from Roxxie Thrust-McKenzie having her way with two garage mechanics….

…No, sorry, the Internet can be censored to a degree already, with parental controls and filters. As with most things in life, forbidden fruit is thought to taste better, which is how most teenagers end up smoking, trying weed, drinking cider in a park or trying to view naughty images on line. Forget to change Google’s image search to “safe” is enough to reveal Page 3 models showing their assets, after all. “Opt in” systems for any kind of assumed adult material has all the practicality of attempting to stop office workers from playing Minesweeper. The point being – if grown adults decide to filter/control Internet access under their own roofs, they can do.

Suggesting that the Internet should be censored or blocked in some way often comes from those “in the know” who choose to ignore that ‘temptations’ can also incorporate video footage of hostage beheading, graphic CCTV footage of car crashes or the 9/11 attacks. Graphic footage of Premier League footballers having their legs broken during play can be on YouTube or Daily Motion within fifteen minutes of it happening. These graphic examples are often dismissed or ignored by advocates of Internet policing, an attitude which differentiates between violence and sex, but not between different kinds of erotica. The lie – “It’s about making the Internet safe for children” – is retold enough times to suggest that no middle ground possibly exists between “free for all” and “State approved content”. Are certain lobby groups unable to suggest out loud that parents might be to blame for children searching for XTube? Or are MPs ignorant to how the Internet is navigated beyond blogs and Twitter?

Of all the worrying/facepalm inducing sentences in Perry’s report is the recommendation that – ” The Government should also seek backstop legal powers to intervene should the 
ISPs fail to implement an appropriate solution. ” If private companies won’t deal with Internet access, then the State is going to have to haul them to court! That’ll teach them to know their own customers, control mechanisms and processes! It’s almost as though there’s wilful blindness going on…

There is much to debate about the pornography industry itself – from what viewing explicit material might do to a person over a long-period to safeguarding the wellbeing of those who choose to participate in the industry. Parents have a responsibility to educate their children to whatever extent they feel comfortable doing, a stance which might put me on the opposite side of the room to Harriet Harman. (If there’s any view I hold which puts me with Harman, I might have to consider medication). As user generated content websites prove, there’s only so much of a moral crusade pressure groups can inflict across cyberspace to defeat the great Porn Demon – humans will always feel sexual urges and some will feel comfortable in sharing their acts amongst an audience. The all encompassing “opt in” will do nothing to stop shadier/un-registered parts of the industry from exploiting the vulnerable or abused, it will only make the Morality Police feel better about themselves. That rush of self-congratulation might soon fade if the “opt in” accidentally blocks ordinary material (as some mobile phone blocks incorporate Facebook and Twitter) or accidentally ignores potentially arousing images (such as tabloid newspaper’s favoured roll call of flashed knickers, bikini beach shots and the like).

“Opt in” adult content will not make the Internet cleaner, or teenagers less likely to share dirty photos through text messages or BBM/MSN. Whilst it’s easier to deny freedom of thought than it is to research why sexual content is so popular to view/share/experience, the State is much more comfortable getting its groove on, and for that, we’re all left drowning in a deeply unsatisfactory wet-patch.

porn anyone can edit

With social media merrily building extensions and BBQ pits to its walled gardens, other sites of this world web of ours appear to be struggling to attract enough people to pick their own fruit. Remember Wikipedia? Encyclopaedia anyone can edit, and formerly one of the great phenomenons of the Internet, now sadly diminished.

Amongst the noise generated by Facebook and Google+ (and if you think the Facebook fandago has died down, wait until the Timeline format is launched), a loud and occasionally chaotic controversy has played out, developed and died on the great Wiki policy pages. If the media decide to take a look, it could  blow open another hole in the debate about internet freedom and censorship.

Behind all the Wiki articles on sporting events, capital cities and electoral statistics, an army of editors and administrators busy themselves on the site’s version of message boards. Here the various, numerous, often contradictory and highly muddled ”rules” are bashed out using the infamous “consensus model”, which usually means nobody agreeing on anything and the editing policy carrying on regardless for another six months. Diplomatic discussions around the tables of middle-sized companies have nothing on the Wiki model, especially now so few editors are taking on the roles of admins leaving a small set of middle management (the so-called “marzipan layer”) to fix the rules of their own ends.

Out of nowhere, 13 year old editor admitted he had joined the Wikipedia project on Pornography, a group which exists to co-ordinate the editing of articles related to pornographic material. An editor created a policy discussion asking if, under Florida law where the Wikipedia servers are based, this was something to legislate against. The debate flourished into a bewildering half-page analysis of policy, philosophy and social norms across both sides of the Atlantic.

Much of the votes opposing a ban on underage editors contributing to the Porn project used recognisably libertarian opinions; Wikipedia is not censored, nor should it act in loco parentis. We tend to see the Internet generally, and sites such as Facebook and Wikipedia specifically, as places where inappropriate material  might just be round the corner. If the editor really is 13, and genuinely wants to assist in editing articles related to Pornography, what stops could be installed which would not encourage other site owners to close down undesirable quarters ‘for the sake of the children’ ?

There is the issue of responsibility running through this which comes from stepping back from auto-response reactions relating to allowing users of the ‘net to run free like the 60s really had changed the world. Porn (the imagery) and porn (the concept) are separate issues; discuss the latter with your children and make sure they don’t search Internet History without someone over their shoulder. It would be a PR disaster for Wiki to be associated with adult material, even if the project itself is designed to educate and inform people about everything from the Vietnam War to the vulva (needless to say, perhaps, but one of those links is NWS).

Wiki does not have the mindset, amongst its users, to block material or build high walls around contentious subjects. On the whole Wiki is a centre-left/liberal organisation, and one which considers it a virtue if mature editors wish to contribute to difficult, minority interest content. The policy debate this single 13-year old started chipped at the core of the Wiki body. It’s not as though the project contains sexually arousing content, as such, with articles on anti-pornography movements and sexual objectifications under the umbrella terms of the project. The articles relating to lesbianism lacks any moving images on girl-on-girl action, and if you clicked on auto-fellatio expecting a treat you’ll leave disappointed.

Wiki retains the potential it always had as an ambitious, well-meaning project, even though the fleeting regular editors and increased administrative regime has left it looking exhausted and out-dated. The lack of a social-media companion tool alongside Wiki leaves the site appearing cold and unappealing. Debates on how to exclude and block editors, however responsible the wider debate may be, can do only more damage. Ultimately we are dealing here with something keyboard diplomats cannot legislate for – parental responsibility. Wikipedia could attract trouble it did not expect if an issue like this is mishandled.

Norwich North – analysis pornography

The by-election result in Norwich North, an election won by the Conservative Chloe Smith following the somewhat forced resignation of Ian Gibson, was blogged and tweeted endlessly throughout the day. I have my own analysis at the end of this blog, but to begin with (although some posts on blogs may well be “trolls” but…) here are some of the current blog comments;

The magnitude of this defeat shows that this was more than just a protest vote and it was more than simply a reaction to the expenses crises – that excuse did not wash after June 4 and it will not wash this time.No, a swing of this proportion – not unlike the one to Labour in the Wirral in 1997 – is a sign of embedded culture change. It shows that the country is ready and willing – if not craving – to vote for a Tory government in substantial numbers.”Alex Smith”LabourList

If, with the government having screwed up the economy for a generation, lead us into the Iraq war and not winning in Afghanistan, got unpopular personnel at the top, were worst offenders on expenses etc and we still can’t beat them, we should be very afraid for the GE. (“Simon R” LibDemVoice)

This was an average by-election & doesnt tell us much except to confirm the softness of the Tory vote & the potential for Labours to collapse. Looking at all the evidence I still see no signs of a Conservative landslide(“plumbus”LibDemVoice

It is utterly astonishing that we were not able to show the electorate what a disgusting sham the Conservatives are on expenses – not having sacked the three ‘flipping’ front-benchers – on top of their overall lack of any policies whatsoever. “RobertC”LibDemVoice

As someone who welcomed a Labour victory in 1997 the wheel has turned full circle and most of us are eagerly anticipating a similarly spectacular comeuppance for you in 2010.”Andrew Webber” LabourList

As for Labour and its future, it certainly doesn’t look good, but I do warn my party not to get carried away with this result. It is tremendous yes, but there is still along way to go to reach government again. “Scott Carlton”ConservativeHome

The result will be recorded in history as a Conservative Gain, leaving the acres of analysis and comment to the archives. Something does need to be said about each of the party performances in turn, not least because this was the first opportunity given to voters to comment on the expenses scandal. Clearly voters who felt that Labour’s “star chamber” had pushed Ian Gibson out for the sake of looking reactive to the expenses mess had their say in capital letters.

I would liked to have seen a better result from April Pond, the Liberal Democrat candidate. Our by-election machine has clearly not been working properly for some time now, as seen in Crewe & Nantwich and now Norwich North. The Focus newsletter onslaughts may need to be re-evaluated, not least the infamous bar-charts showing distorted statistics. Electorates may have fallen for this in the past; the results recently suggest limited returns on such “old standbys”.

Labour have tried clutching at straws since the result was announced, it was like watching a badly written character in an otherwise good play. This seat should not have been lost, but once again a complacent and lazy Labour party have been shown more than just a scant disregard from voters. It is not enough to say that Gordon Brown is working terribly hard on the matters of the day – on June 4th, and now again, his actions have been commented upon in shouts of derison. The country is exhausted with Labour’s destruction of everything it touches: we need Gordon Brown out of office, and a general election held immediately.

UKIP and Green supporters are very happy, and so they should be. Both parties recorded their best ever by-election results. UKIP are probably still riding the high-tide from the European Elections, although continued high results like this could suggest that they really are setting themselves in a position as Britain’s “alternative conservative”. Green Party supporters may have hoped for better than fifth after topping Norwich last month, but to get 10% in this part of the country is nevertheless an encouraging sign.

Now for the also-rans. Craig Murray wanted to “put an honest man in parliament”; his blog suggests he had difficulty in asking the BBC to give him air time and problems with the Post Office regarding his election DVD as standard election communication. To go from a standing start in an election like this, with a media like ours, was always going to be difficult, although some of Murray’s blog posts suggest he has a tendency to make overblown conclusions from simple affairs.

The BNP did very badly. Which is a good thing.

The Libertarian Party made their debut, following months of blogosphere hype, getting less than 40 votes. Just thirty-six. An absolute disaster from a bunch who claimed to be the next big thing in politics.

Bill Holden (independent), Peter Baggs (independent), and Anne Fryatt (NOTA), scored very badly too. Traditional protest vote candidate Alan Hope from the Loonies got only 144, a sign perhaps that even this group have run out of voters.

For this election to have any long-term significance, it needs to be the rock that falls squarely on the roof of Labour as it crashes down the mountain. There is always talk of “Brown’s last chance”: for this to be a genuine observation Brown needs to realise the level to which his party has fallen in popularity. His governance is laughable, his party exhausted, his standing snake-belly low. Norwich North will be spun by Labour’s robotic loyalists as “just one of those things”. Had they any idea of the real world they would be preparing their general election literature and brushing off their CVs.