Monday, January 14, 2008

Attack of the Straw Person

This is an extended response to a Deborah whose identity (and blog) you can determine if you read the rest of the blog. I quote from her recent response to an item on my blog. She found this posting via a comment of mine on her blog, a comment which she subsequently deleted for reasons she attempts to justify below.

Firstly, there is nothing revolutionary about your blog. You want to maintain the status quo on the web--what is revolutionary about that?

Touche. I think most readers would have realised that "Broadbanned Revolution" was a pun that referred to the Government's promised "Broadband Revolution". Thank you for giving me the opportunity to explain it to others who don't understand that rather simple play on words.

Secondly, you obviously haven't grasped the concept of CP80 and I recommend you do your research before making such wild accusations. I suggest a thorough reading of the CP80 website.

I haven't grasped the concept of CP80, eh? I haven't read the CP80 website thoroughly, huh? What, pray, is the evidence you present for that absurd claim? I think if you actually read my post, you will find that I acknowledge that it is, in part, a consumer opt-in solution and that this is, indeed, an improvement over the current opt-out proposal of the Australian Government. You will also note that I read it with sufficient thoroughness to highlight an apparent inconsistency - a claim that the proposal will reduce the bandwidth consumed by porn-viewers. Yet, nothing in the technical description suggests that this is, in fact, so. I then suggest that this inconsistency reveals a hidden agenda on the part of the proponents. If you think this analysis is faulty, I encourage you to put forth a reasoned argument why this is so. I leave it for others to judge why you have not chosen to do so.

The CP80 initiative will create Community Ports. All porn and violence will remain on Port80 (the open port), so those of you who want your porn won't have to do anything different to what you are doing now. Because the system will be 'opt-in' you will not have to identify yourselves to any government authority.

In the quote above, you make the patently false claim that port 80 would remain an "Open" port. Read the technology section and look at the screen capture in Figure 8 and you will see that Port 80 is designated as a Community Port. I ask: which of us has read the proposal more thoroughly?

For the record, my exposure to and consumption of online porn is relatively minor. In fact, given the concern that others have demonstrated about the extent of the problem, I'd hazard a guess that it is even less than the proponents of a censorship regime. As a friend said: "What pleasure would a starving man take in a photo of the banquet? And, if one has a seat at the banquet, who needs the photo?". To state this again: my opposition is inspired not by the content that is being blocked but by the mechanism being built to do it and, at least in part, by the obnoxious self-righteousness of those who would block it.

I claim that CP80 is still a censorship proposal. Its proponents propose real legal sanctions for violating the proposed content restrictions on Community Ports. If you don't believe me, I invite you to read the proposal. Just because the domain of censorship is more restricted than all 65535 ports doesn't mean that it isn't censorship.

As I've already explained on my blog and if you did your research on the CP80 website, you would know that this proposal is just like having different channels, like you get on cable TV. No censorship, Jon, just giving internet users a real choice for the first time. Afterall, you wouldn't expect an XXX rated program on a kid's TV channel would you?

Comparing the Internet with a broadcast medium like cable TV simply demonstrates the poverty of your imagination. You insist, no doubt, that this is the only possible analogy that can be drawn. I would counter that this is, in fact, not the case. I would argue that it actually makes far more sense to draw a limited analogy with the physical world.

In the physical world, there are a variety of domains. Some of which are safe for all comers, some of which are not. Individuals can choose to visit unsafe domains or choose not to. Only infrequently in the real world do societies choose to build concrete walls around the "unsafe" domains. The Soviet Union blockaded West Berlin this way, Israel does the same with the West Bank.

CP80 is, I claim, an attempt to corral objectionable content into a porn ghetto whereupon it can be later gassed with traffic shaping. If this was not the case, why would a simple blacklist not be sufficient? Why is there a need to make unsavoury use of port 80 strictly illegal?

Perhaps you object to the extreme analogy? If so, I ask you to respond to the analysis of the quote I mentioned which suggests that the proponents of the CP80 proposal do, indeed, intend that the traffic of porn-viewers be shaped so as to reduce its impact on so-called "normal" consumers.

Consumers of the Internet today currently have the maximum possible choice. You misleadingly claim that CP80 increases choice. It either doesn't change the choice available to consumers (c.f. your statement: "those of you who want your porn won't have to do anything different to what you are doing now") or it reduces it. It certainly doesn't increase it. You and I already have the choice not to consume pornography. It is a mystery to me why you and your kind claim to be completely incapable of exercising it. Is this an unrecognised feature of the censorious personality that needs to be subjected to further scientific analysis?

In regards to your final point, the CP80 is a grassroots initiative started by a group of private citizens. So there is no hidden agenda, Jon. I am not affiliated with any religious or political groups. I am campaigning as a private citizen for the government to investigate the CP80 initiative option. There is nothing more to it than that.

I accept that you have your own reasons for supporting the proposal and that there are no doubt other grassroots supporters of it. I find it interesting that the CP80 website doesn't mention the office holders. From what I can tell, CP80 was initiated by a citizen, Ralph Yorro III, who has close links to the conservative Republican party (Orin Hatch, Mitt Romney) and its office has the same address as a corporation that has a financial interest in net filtering software. Obviously such a corporation stands to gain financially from any legislatively-imposed cleaning of port 80 by ISPs. I ask you to demonstrate that, at its core, CP80 is a grassroots initiative. Where is your evidence of this? Or are you happy to make this assertion in face of evidence that this initiative is sponsored by a corporation that has a vested interest in its adoption?

I notice that you have completely ignored my claim that initiatives such as CP80 are completely irrelevant to the Australian context. This is a serious point, which perhaps explains why you chose to ignore it. Corralling adult content off port 80 in Australia is pointless - Australia already has far stronger laws in place that require sites that host adult content must establish the age of their consumers by shielding such content with a logon prompt - whatever port it it hosted on. Therefore, casual users of the Internet cannot be exposed to pornographic material on Australian-hosted sites. In the US, similar laws to the Australian laws were struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. And, again, unless the whole world adopts the same laws, quarantining port 80 for clean content is pointless. The only viable solution for Australia is a simple opt-in solution whereby consumers delegate blacklist responsibilities to their ISP. I agree with that half of CP80. The part of CP80 I disagree with is the insistence that the Government (or anyone else) is required to censor the content of traffic flowing on port 80.

BTW, this will be my only response, I have no wish to debate this issue with you yet again. No point trying to link to my website either. I no longer approve comments from those who oppose any changes to the Internet, so this group are no longer visiting my blog and you will no longer find support there.

I'll leave others to judge how childish that statement looks. Especially in light of this comment on your blog:

I learned the hard way you can’t have a rational debate in the public domain with these people. The most effective way to deal with this small but vocal group is to deny them a forum where they can confuse others with their scare mongering about censorship.

The main reason you can't have a rational debate with these people is that you refuse to engage in one. In both my attempts to debate you on this issue you have not seriously attempted to rebut my arguments even once. You seem more interested in throwing about wild allegations of poor research than in doing research yourself. And when all that fails, you have that old chestnut to fall back on - censorship.

Your argument is based on your personal opinion. It is your right to voice your opinion, but it doesn't mean the rest of us have to read it.

You are free to maintain a community of yes-people on your blog if that strokes your ego in a particularly pleasurable way. I'd just point out that doing so somewhat undermines your pretence of being an opinion leader with something useful to say. If your arguments can't stand up next to criticisms of those arguments, how good are those arguments?

It amuses me that a proponent of censorship so willingly deploys censorship to defend her own arguments in favour of censorship from scrutiny.

We are blessed indeed that you hold no political power.

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