Writing under the rallying cry "Gender-specific books demean all our children," Katy Guest announces that the Independent on Sunday -- one of the UK's great weekend papers -- will no longer review any books that are marketed to "exclude either sex." It's tied to the Let Toys Be Toys/Let Books Be Books campaign, which petitions companies to stop tying their products to specific gender-identities. Guest characterises the segregation of products by gender as a means of "convincing children that boys and girls can’t play with each other's stuff, is forcing parents to buy twice as much stuff."
I remember being surprised when someone told me that Little Brother was a "boy book." Yes, its protagonist is a boy, but every protagonist has to have some kind of gender identity, and it's a weird world when we're only allowed to read fiction in which the lead character has the same gender identity as us. I once co-wrote a novella whose major characters are galaxy-spanning AI hiveminds -- it would have a rather small audience by that standard.
Good on the Independent on Sunday for this!
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Remember when UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered government officials to go to the offices of the Guardian in London and demand the symbolic destruction of a laptop with the Edward Snowden leaks on it? It was a bizarre kind of high-tech exorcism, a bizarre ritual in which one of many, many copies of the Snowden documents were ritually destroyed, because, in the Prime Minister's words, "We've had enough debate about them."
The Guardian has posted a video of the exorcism, showing how the stern officials oversaw the piece-by-piece systematic destruction of the machine. It's not embeddable, but it's a remarkable piece of footage that you should really go and watch.
Revealed: the day Guardian destroyed Snowden hard drives under watchful eye of GCHQ – video
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The Daily Mail is an awful, racist, hard-right UK newspaper, notorious for scare stories (see, for example, this exhaustive index of things that the Fail claims will give you cancer) and generally terrible reporting.
But even in amidst all that notorious history of deceit and hate, the Mail attained something of a new low recently, with its "reporting" on the supposed wave of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants. According to the Mail, these people were poised to invade the UK on January 1, 2014, when those countries' EU membership would entitle their citizens travel throughout the EU and seek work without visas.
Jon Danzig, an investigative BBC journalist, plucked one of the many such stories out of the paper's pages, a mere 890 words' worth, and, with the help of a colleague in Romania, found 13 lies. He pressed the Mail to substantiate its story, and, failing to receive a satisfactory reply, he filed a formal complaint with the Press Complaints Commission.
The Mail's xenophobic campaign against Bulgarians and Romanians has been instrumental in shifting both Labour and the Tories to adopting inhumane policies, in order to pander to people who've been terrorised into a false belief that somehow migrants are coming to both take away British jobs and collect benefits (that is, to work and not work simultaneously).
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Marvel at this table-of-contents of a recent issue of Oklahoma's "This Land" broadsheet and then get to reading
WINTER’S CHILL: An Anaheim greaser planted Oklahoma’s psychedelic roots, a trip that died when the wind changed after the Summer of Love. By Brian Ted Jones.
SUBTERRANEAN PSYCHONAUT BLUES: A journey into a psychedelic underworld where secret agents, secretive chemists and secret sects collide to create one of Oklahoma’s most controversial crime stories. By Michael Mason, Chris Sandel, and Lee Roy Chapman. (PLUS: Unusual Analogues: Drugs Used by Gordon Todd Skinner)
DR. JOLLY AND THE PSYCHEDELIC PACHYDERM: Hypothesis and results from when an OU researcher injected a bull elephant with what turned out to be a lethal dose LSD. By Steve Sherman.
"Acid, Agents, Prisoners, and a Zoo" (This Land Press) (via Erik Davis)
Cover illustration by David Wagoner.
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UK prime minister David Cameron has threatened to get a court order against the Guardian if it continues to publish the Snowden leaks. He accused the Guardian of having a "lah-di-dah, airy-fairy view" about the dangers of leaks, and said the if the paper didn't voluntarily censor itself out of a sense of "social responsibility" he would seek court injunctions against it.
The majority of the Snowden leaks have revealed crimes -- illegal spying, lying to Congress and Parliament, violation of international law. That these crimes were committed with the knowledge and approval of the highest levels of the US and UK government doesn't make them any less criminal. And what wasn't criminal was absolutely depraved in its indifference to the public good: for example, the UK government's Edgehill programme, which, with the US government's Bullrun program, sabotaged the security of software, hardware and cryptographic standards to the tune of USD250M/year.
There is nothing more cowardly and corrupt than a lawbreaking political leader who threatens the free press when they call him to account. I never liked Cameron, but with this, he's taken the Tories beyond their reputation of being "the nasty party" and turned them into full-blown Stalinists.
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UK Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to punish the Guardian for publishing leaks about the campaigns of lawless, reckless spying by GCHQ and the NSA. He's asked Parliament to find a legal rubric for cracking down on newspapers that publish stories of compelling public-interest such as the Snowden leaks. He made a bizarre accusation that the Guardian's cooperation in the destruction of its computers (made under dire threat) was an admission of guilt.
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Ooops. (The original article has been removed.) Read the rest
David sends us "An obituary for a prolific commenter on the Brisbanetimes.com.au news website. This nonagenarian only took to the internet in the last year or so and was prolific in the comments on the site. A touching tribute to a respected member of a community."
The person who commented under "Bob Menzies" was "a lifelong Queensland public servant" who been a member of the Liberal Party since 1950, and who wore a black suit to work every day of his working life.
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After less than four months, the San Francisco Chronicle has torn down its paywall, saying little about what led to the decision. I presume that the signup numbers were very very low, and that the drop in ad-views was sufficiently alarming that it made management reconsider.
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Adam Curtis's latest piece for the BBC starts out as a strange history of the role that the Daily Mail had in the formation of the British MI5 spy-agency, but then veers into an amazing history of MI5 brutal, awful, terrible record of incompetence, foolishness, self-sabotage, and waste. It turns out that the MI5 owes its origins to a German spy-scare the Mail whipped up 1910 by publishing a serialized novel about a fictional German invasion of England (the route of the invasion was tailored to pass through towns with large populations of Mail subscribers). This led to thousands of impressionable Mail readers writing in, saying they'd seen German spies out and about, and they demanded that Parliament Do Something. And so, MI5 was born.
But as I said, this is just the start of the story. Following on from its weird origin, MI5 spent generations cocking up, framing people, missing double-agents in their ranks, and generally wasting tons of money on paranoid losers who never caught a spy. Curtis is brutal in documenting the depth of MI5's failures, from its storied roundup of a "German spy ring" in 1914 (decades later, it emerged that none of the 21 "spies" were actually spies) to its failure to spot the incipient demise of the Soviet Union, to its hilariously evil false espionage accusations against 33 Iraqi students in 1991, none of whom were spies.
Curtis builds up a picture of spooks as neither evil masterminds nor brave sleuths, but as banal incompetents. Read the rest
Local People, Arms Crossed: exactly what it sounds like. A Tumblr full of hometown heroes, posed by unimaginative newsies with their arms crossed for extra competence. (via Waxy)
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The Koch Brothers -- billionaire ultra-conservative puppet-masters and Tea Party funders -- are rumored to be in talks to buy eight newspapers, including the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant from the Tribune company, which is emerging from bankruptcy protection. Half of the LA Times's newsroom has threatened to quit if the Kochs take over.
One thing sure to happen if the Koch brothers take over the paper is a conservative agenda on the editorial page. As other newspapers have cut back on editorials and endorsements, the Times is now often the only LA news outlet that issues endorsements on political candidates and on ballot measures and initiatives. This is particularly crucial in California, where even the most educated voter is left clueless and confused -- or worse, tricked -- after reading the state propositions put on the ballot by Californians who simply gathered enough signatures to push a private agenda.
If the Times' editorial page is filled with the Koch brothers' libertarian opinions, other journalists in LA will need to step up and voice opposing views.
If Koch Brothers Buy LA Times, Half of Staff May Quit (VIDEO) [Kathleen Miles/HuffPo]
(Image: LA Times, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from 24293932@N00's photostream)
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Someone wrote a fake letter of apology from the New York Post's editor and inserted it into a bunch of papers around NYC.
I've written here before that the impending UK press-regulation rules coming in as a result of the Leveson report will inadvertently end up treating bloggers and other everyday Internet users as though they were newspapers, exposing them to the threat of arbitration proceedings where they will have to pay the legal costs of people who want to silence them, and be subject to "exemplary damages" -- enormous statutory fines that grossly exceed any actual harm caused.
Now the Open Rights Group has started a campaign to warn party leaders about this in the three days we have left before Leveson becomes law. We need your help now, or bloggers and the open Internet will become collateral damage in the campaign to control Britain's awful tabloids.
Jim from ORG writes, "The Leveson regulations are being applied to UK websites -- in ways that could catch more or less anyone who publishes a blog. Ordinary bloggers could be threatened with exemplary damages and costs. If this happens, small website publishers will face terrible risks, or burdensome regulation -- and many may simply stop publishing."
Cameron, stop the Dangerous Blogs Bill
(Disclosure: I co-founded the Open Rights Group and am proud to volunteer on its advisory board)
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UK regulations may soon regulate all tweeters, bloggers, and other people who post on the Internet as part of a new system of press regulation.
Today in London, Parliament is the in throes of a closed-door horse-trading exercise over "Leveson" -- that is, the Leveson Inquiry in to the bad behavior of the British press, whose tabloids got caught illegally spying on people (from MPs and Lords down to grieving parents of murdered children), bribing cops high and low, and otherwise engaging in shenanigans that were pretty awful. Strangely, although all of these things were already illegal (but were not vigorously investigated by cops and politicos who were beholden to the press for lucrative "columns," gifts, and favourable coverage), the English political establishment has decided that the real problem is that the press isn't regulated enough.
The Tories want the press regulated without a specific law -- they favour an obscure instrument called a Royal Charter. Labour and the LibDems want a press-regulating law. All of the coverage of this issue today is about the difference between these two options. What neither of them are talking about is Schedule 4, which establishes that the new rules will cover "a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)" where publication "takes place in the United Kingdom" and relates to "news or information about public affairs" or "opinion about matters relating to the news or current affairs."
In a nutshell, then: if you press a button labelled "publish" or "submit" or "tweet" while in the UK, these rules as written will treat you as a newspaper proprietor, and make you vulnerable to an arbitration procedure where the complainer pays nothing, but you have to pay to defend yourself, and that will potentially have the power to fine you, force you to censor your posts, and force you to print "corrections" and "apologies" in a manner that the regulator will get to specify. Read the rest
Canada's National Post
is trying to convince a court that article titles should be copyrightable
, overturning centuries of law and practice. Well, that's dumb.
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