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Federal

May 27, 2010

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You’d be aware by now of Stephen Conroy’s extended attacks on Google and Facebook during Estimates hearings on Monday night (read the full transcript here.)

It’s easy to be cynical about Conroy’s assault on Google. Clearly, he wouldn’t have made it if they had played nice on the net filter rather than make him look silly.  The fact that it was, as Senator Scott Ludlam put it, an exercise in “corporate assassination” was shown by the fact that when, having let Conroy rant for a solid 8-10 minutes about Google’s violation of privacy, Senator Mary Jo Fisher asked him whether, given how exercised he was about its collection of wi-fi data, he’d actually done anything about it. Conroy admitted he hadn’t.

Better yet, he then accused Fisher of making accusations against Google.

I beat up on Stephen Conroy a lot, but he is the most reformist minister in the government.  The NBN, and structural separation of Telstra, are two major reforms that will continue to benefit Australia long after Conroy and this government pass into history.  No other minister can boast even a single reform of that magnitude.  And whatever you may think of Conroy, he does Estimates very, very well.  He treats the entire exercise as a game, and knows the longer he can talk, rant, joke, banter, yell and goad the opposition into responding, the less time they’ll have to ask questions.  He was halfway through his Google rant on Monday night when Senator Ludlam walked in, so Conroy went back and re-ranted some of his favourite bits.  Why?  Well, the Greens oppose the filter, Google oppose the filter, therefore, well … whatever.

He’s now complemented by his new(ish) secretary Peter Harris, a brainiac who can talk a mile a minute and convincingly explain that black is, in fact, under certain circumstances, senator, white.  Together, they guarantee very little of substance will ever be conveyed to the Environment, Communications and the Arts committee from the Broadband portfolio.

It’s not quite clear, though, why Conroy was so hellbent on attacking Google and Facebook.  It’s true that Conroy, by his own ready admission, partly sees his role as propping up the mainstream media in the face of competition from online media .  That’s his rationale for the TV licence fee rebate.  But the people who are aware of privacy breaches by those companies are not likely to be swayed by Conroy, whom most would regard as yet another Alston-style Global Village Idiot (although Conroy has never maintained that broadband was good only for gambling and p-rnography as Richard Alston once did).

But compare  — and, I’d suggest, contrast — it with Wayne Swan’s current stoush with the miners.  Swan is — correctly — getting stuck into the mining industry for its systematic lies in response to the RSPT.  On the face of it, Conroy is beating up on Google for not co-operating with one of his reforms, the net filter.

Swan and the miners are playing under the traditional rules of engagement between government and industry.  Government sets the regulatory framework, including tax, and industry tries to influence it.  The regulator and the regulated.  A dialogue — or, at least, an hysterical shouting match — ensues.

Those rules don’t apply to internet companies.  They don’t see themselves as the regulated.  What governments do is of far less interest to them.  Thus Google’s response to Conroy’s efforts to convince them to let him outsource his filtering to them is that, well, thanks, but we already have our own rules for what we allow on YouTube.

This is partly because the largest online media companies have a less geographically specific existence than most industries, which either through their inputs or their outputs are linked physically to certain markets.  Google or Facebook don’t have such an interest in geography, and therefore which jurisdiction they might be in.  Unlike even large transnational corporations, they may not even have a physical, legal or personal presence in jurisdictions trying to regulate them.  That’s why much of regulatory burden for online media falls on the poor ISPs, who have nothing to do with the content users can access but who are made to enforce regulatory requirements for it, a regulatory absurdity that most of us have accepted.

But it’s also partly because of the social, connective nature of what they do.  Whether it’s Google, or Twitter, or Facebook, or XBox Live, or a gambling site or a forum that allows people considering euthanasia to discuss issues, online media make money (or often don’t make money) by connecting people — with each other, or with services, or with advertisers.  So when you regulate these companies, what you’re ultimately regulating is how people want to connect.

Politicians don’t appear to get this.  They want online media to operate under the usual rules of engagement, the regulator and the regulated.  The mainstream media, too, wants online media to play by those rules, because that’s how they’re regulated, and they hate that online media aren’t regulated the same as they are.  That’s the basis for most internet-is-evil beat-ups in the mainstream media.

And it’s why we have these splendid coalitions of outraged politicians and outraged tabloid media about Facebook whenever something bad happens with any sort of connection to that site.  The cries goes up to “regulate” Facebook or have a Facebook ombudsman, just like you have with traditional industries.

Heard of technology-specific regulation?  That would be worse — that’d be app-specific regulation.  The obvious problem is that next week you’d have to regulate Twitter, or another platform that emerges from the maelstrom of innovation that is the internet, where Facebook could become SOOOO 2009 very quickly.

In fact, what you really need to regulate is people’s willingness to use social media to connect with others, without any awareness of the risks, because that’s the real problem with Facebook, not its cavalier and in fact hostile attitude toward privacy.

It’s a bit like judges and defence lawyers who rail against jurors who go online to search for information, or against sites that reveal information courts have protected.  What they’re really expressing is outrage that people are now empowered to find information that the mainstream media would never give them, because the mainstream media is regulated by traditional means.  There’s a real air of Canute about the legal system continuing to insist that the internet can somehow be treated as just another medium, when the problem is people wanting to obtain information that the legal system, for reasons good or bad, doesn’t want them to have.

All this is, I admit, skirting with that annoying internet libertarian approach.  You know the cliché —  information wants to be free, the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it, blah blah blah, which as Stephen Conroy correctly notes (and I paraphrase and make more eloquent, I hope) is really code for avoiding responsibility for the negative consequences of connectedness.

Even so, the more people in traditional positions of authority try to treat online media as just another industry, the less effective they will be, because they miss the point that they’re in effect trying to regulate connectedness.

You can try to force this into a traditional straitjacket as much as you like, and from whatever angle you like — I still remember media regulators arguing over whether the internet was simply a telephone service and therefore “simple to regulate” LULZ — but to do so misses the point that the object of regulation is what Google and Facebook and any other company or site enables people to do, not what the companies or sites themselves do.  Yelling at these companies about their relationship with users doesn’t make any difference, because they have little interest in the views of governments or anyone else on the subject.

Federal

May 26, 2010

5 comments

Google vs. Stephen Conroy

Stephen Conroy is taking on internet giants Google and Facebook over their recent privacy breaches. But is he just capitalising on the public sentiment against the two companies to take the heat off his widely-panned internet filter plans?

It seems like every time we write the name “Google” in a headline, it is proceeded by “vs.”: Google vs. Apple, Google vs. Microsoft, Google vs. Yahoo, Google vs. China, Google vs. Facebook*… but this week we can add an unlikely new contender to the list: Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

As Bernard Keane reported on The Stump yesterday, Conroy used Monday’s Senate Estimates meeting to launch a ten-minute tirade on the search engine giant for collecting private wi-fi data while constructing its Street View mapping service.

“Google takes the view that they can do anything they want,” Conroy said.

“It is possible that this has been the largest privacy breach in history across Western democracies.”

Needless to say, Conroy’s attack hasn’t gone unnoticed by the geek world and the wider world, with coverage from the likes of CNET, Mashable, FT, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail.

As Crikey‘s tech correspondent Stilgherrian has explained, Conroy’s concerns are valid, and the incident is currently being investigated by the Australian Privacy Commissioner:

In Australia, under the Cybercrime Act 2001 it’s illegal to access computer data without authorisation even if, in effect, the door is wide open…

Google has already apologised for the breach, dismissing it as a simple “mistake”. But Conroy has called BS, claiming “they wrote a piece of code designed to do it”.

But Google has hit back, accusing Conroy of hypocrisy and distraction from the shortcomings of his own proposed internet filter plan:

“We were surprised to hear more discussion about Google and Facebook than about the actual proposed filter.”

Google says Conroy is just bitter over its very public criticism of the filter.

Not content with taking on just one giant of the ‘tubes, Conroy also joined the chorus of voices shouting down Facebook’s privacy policy, saying:

Facebook has also shown a complete disregard for users’ privacy lately.

Facebook, I understand … was developed by Harvard University student Mark Zuckerberg, who after breaking up with his girlfriend developed a website of all the photos from his yearbook so he and his mates could rank the girls according to their looks. An auspicious start for Facebook.

Today, the Australian Federal Police joined in the stacks on, saying it’s only a matter of time before Facebook leads to “loss of life”, and calling for the social networking site to appoint a dedicated law enforcement liason in Australia to police the site.

In capitalising on the current torrent of vitriol raining down on Facebook, Conroy may have found the ultimate strawman to take the heat off his own plans, asking who voters would prefer be in charge of their internet:

A corporate giant who is answerable to no one and motivated solely by profit making the rules on the internet, or a democratically elected government with all the checks and balances in place?

* or this may reflect my lazy over-reliance on cliched, fill-in-the-blanks headlines

Federal

May 25, 2010

5 comments

Federal

May 10, 2010

5 comments

Federal

Feb 15, 2010

5 comments

Updated: see end of story

I confess to being torn about whether to respond further to Stephen Conroy’s further riposte on the internet filtering issue.  On the one hand, it will start to look like those interminable blog arguments that end up being understood by, and of interest to, only the participants, and which serve to edify neither those involved, who maintain their positions with ever greater vigour, nor any spectators unfortunate enough to be watching.

On the other hand, what the Minister had to say was remarkable enough to warrant further discussion, especially in light of recent events.

The Minister goes to great lengths to refute my point that the “independent” filtering trial achieved its much-lauded (by Conroy) 100% accuracy rate by fiddling with the filters and removing some problematic URLs – by explaining in detail that the trial involved fiddling with filters and removing some problematic URLs.

My original point, lost in the mists of time by now, was that filter accuracy was a significant issue and even the Government’s own heavily-controlled trial provided no comfort in that regard.  If the consultants conducting the trial had to wash lists and rewrite filters to get to 100% accuracy for the ACMA list (which as we know will not be the Conroy filter list), then how will accuracy be achieved once filtering extends its clumsy clutches out of the laboratory and into the real-world, outsourced to willing, not-so-willing or downright hostile ISPs?

By the way, as demonstrated by the Prime Minister’s persistent reference to work done by the “independent” Public Service, this Government has a peculiar definition of “independence”, which presumably extends to trials set up and defined by the Government, with participants hand-picked by the Government and conducted by Government-paid consultants. But that’s beside the point. Let’s move on.

It was on the YouTube issue where I thought the Minister really did himself no favours. “Keane’s speculation of whether Google will comply with the laws of the Australian Government is interesting, however it should be noted that Google has operated within the Chinese regime for many years.”

While I’m chuffed that anything of mine could ever be considered “interesting”, I had to re-read that because I couldn’t believe Conroy said it. This is the Minister who complained of “being accused of being the Great Wall of China”, directly comparing what the Government proposed with China’s internet filtering.

When he responded in Crikey, the Minister was happy to talk about his discussions with Google about outsourcing filtering to it.  He told Greens Senator Scott Ludlam last week at Estimates “we are in discussions with companies such as Google over this issue. They are experts at deep packet filtering, to give you one example. They are currently probably the world’s leading deep packet filterer, which is probably unknown to most people who are using their sites. They also have experience at blocking material in a number of other countries at the behest of governments.”

Even Google’s announcement that it would no longer cooperate with China’s censorship regime didn’t faze the Minister, who said:

“Google were very happy to block China’s material right up until they found out they had hacked their source code and suddenly discovered that censorship was a bad idea—after they had hacked their source code… We are in discussions and they are ongoing.”

Conroy might now be wondering whether publicly mocking a major company with whom he was in “ongoing discussions” was such a good idea after Google declared on Thursday it “won’t comply voluntarily with the broad scope of all RC content”.  A Google representative told Fairfax:

“YouTube has clear policies about what content is not allowed, for example hate speech and pornography, and we enforce these, but we can’t give any assurances that we would voluntarily remove all Refused Classification content from YouTube.  The scope of RC is simply too broad and can raise genuine questions about restrictions on access to information. RC includes the grey realms of material instructing in any crime from [painting] graffiti to politically controversial crimes such as euthanasia, and exposing these topics to public debate is vital for democracy.”

Which rather undermines the Minister’s attack in his response to me on Colin Jacobs of “Electronic Frontier Association” (possibly related to Colin Jacobs of Electronic Frontiers Australia) for “misleading” people about RC content.  Apparently Colin isn’t the only one who thinks the RC category isn’t quite the neat little box of pedophilia and terrorism the Minister suggests.

The Minister’s spokesperson told Crikey over the weekend in response to Google that “clearly we cannot insist upon Google taking part in a voluntary process. However, we remain open to working with content owners on alternative arrangements, consistent with our policy, to avoid material on their sites being added to the RC content list. We are continuing to discuss the implementation of this policy with industry.”

How any of that will help with the problem of blocking YouTube remains an intriguing mystery. Continue reading “The filter smackdown continues — now with added Google controversy”

Federal

Feb 3, 2010

5 comments

In Bernard Keane’s response yesterday to my article before Christmas  — “Filtering the facts: Conroy slips up when hitting back” — he again makes several claims that are wrong.

The closest Keane is prepared to go in admitting he was wrong when he claimed that the independent Enex filtering trial saw 3.4% of over-blocking of the ACMA blacklist, is when he says he is conveniently, happy to “leave aside the point”.

But he still wishes to dispute the independent trial report’s finding that all filters were able to achieve 100% accuracy in blocking the ACMA blacklist.

Keane seems to think he has stumbled on some sinister secret in a paper written by one of the trial vendors — Watchdog. The fact that some participants, including Watchdog, had initial difficulties in loading the ACMA blacklist was no secret.

As previously stated, the ISP content filtering pilot showed that a specified list of URLs can be blocked with 100% accuracy. I quote from the Enex TestLab report Internet Service Provider (ISP) Content Filtering Pilot Report:

Initially, several participants experienced difficulty loading and blocking the complete ACMA blacklist. Some of the filters needed adjustments made so that they could recognise URLs that were long and complex and included spaces. Others included colons, question marks and percentages. Some URLs were associated with more than one IP address and some URLs redirected the user to a second URL.

Following consultations with the product vendors, all issues experienced with loading URLs contained on the ACMA blacklist were resolved (page 11).

These issues were resolved by the filter vendor making adjustments to the filtering device so that it would accurately block URLs of the nature described above. Contrary to Keane’s claims, these URLs were not removed from the testing process.

The lists used in the testing, including the ACMA blacklist, were washed before testing to remove any URLs that were no longer live — that is, the URL no longer existed so the filter would not be able to find it. This is a process ACMA currently carries out periodically.

Enex TestLab also checked the lists used for testing:

Prior to performing the testing during the pilot using the three lists, each site on each list was tested by Enex to ensure that is was still live. (page 11)

Keane also points out what he calls the “well-known problem” that blocking a YouTube page could cause problems to the load on the filter. The reason this is a well known issue is because it is in the Enex report (page 19):

Capacity of filters to handle high traffic loads/sites

In a pass-by filtering solution the actual traffic load placed through the filters is very low because only a small percentage of end-users would be attempting to access sites on the blacklist at any one time. However, in situations where there is a potential for very high traffic sites, such as YouTube, to have pages on the filtering list, this could result in significantly higher traffic rates passing through the filter, even though the specific pages being accessed are not those on the blacklist. This could cause additional load on the filtering infrastructure and subsequent performance bottlenecks.

As Keane points out, the issue is also addressed in the FAQs on the department website.

Keane’s speculation of whether Google will comply with the laws of the Australian Government is interesting, however it should be noted that Google has operated within the Chinese regime for many years. It also abides by the laws in Thailand requiring it to filter from its search results any criticism of the Thai king and filters Nazi propaganda content from its German search results.

As Keane points out there are many videos on YouTube “about euthanasia and suicide, some offering instructions or recommending it”. Euthanasia has long been a hotly debated and divisive issue in Australia but the fact remains that instruction in self-harm in Australia is a crime and therefore content containing such instruction is deemed Refused Classification under the National Classification Scheme guidelines.

A time may come where instruction in self harm is no longer a crime under Australian law and such content would therefore not be deemed Refused Classification. People who object to this content being included in the filtering policy should turn their focus to changing the laws regarding euthanasia in Australia.

Keane criticises the Department’s website for pointing out what RC-rated content is, but it is very clear from the opponents of the policy that either they do not know or are wilfully misleading the public. Colin Jacobs, the CEO of the Electronic Frontier Association, wrote in his article in Crikey on 21 December that “subjects such as abortion, anorexia, Aborigines and legislation on the sale of marijuana would all risk being filtered.”

RC-content can’t be found on the library shelves, it is not available in the newsagency, you won’t see it in the cinema and you certainly can’t watch it on DVD or television. That is why the Government will continue to explain to the Australian people what RC content is.

The Government has never claimed that ISP filtering is a silver-bullet solution and that is why our cyber-safety policy includes $49 million in funding for an additional 91 Australian Federal Police officers for the Child Protection Unit, additional funding for prosecution of offenders, $32.8 million for education and outreach programs for teachers, parents and students, research into cyber bullying and online threats, and the establishment of a Youth Advisory Group on cyber safety.

Filtering is one component of the policy but unfortunately the rest of the policy is largely ignored by those who oppose it.

Federal

Feb 1, 2010

5 comments

Day: In defence of Conroy’s filter

Mark Day defends the Minister Stephen Conroy's plan to filter Australia's web content with a challenge to its critics: if you don't like it, make a plausible case for why we need access to "online bestiality or child sex abuse". Them's fightin' words.

Australia

Jan 25, 2010

5 comments

The debate over internet censorship has well and truly moved to the global centre stage, with the US last week drawing a line in the sand and declaring itself the champion of open access. Coming in the wake of Chinese cyber attacks against Google and dozens of other US companies, the new approach was outlined last week in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared the free access to information online as critical a human right as the freedom of assembly or the right to publish.

Although barely mentioning China, the speech has roused considerable ire  in Beijing. It’s not just China that is experimenting with internet censorship, however. This speech couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Rudd government, with its mandatory filtering policy set to come before Parliament early this year. Any government would want to be seen on the side of freedom and democracy, but elevating uncensored internet access to a fundamental right is clearly problematic in the present circumstances.

It was therefore not surprising to see that the government has endorsed the Clinton doctrine, but it has done so in such an ironic and equivocal way as to elicit a wince or two when reading it.

In a media release titled “Rudd Government welcomes Secretary Clinton’s comments on the internet”, Senator Stephen Conroy spent the first half on the non-sequitur of the National Broadband Network, and the second half justifying their mandatory filtering policy. Beginning with “The Rudd government also agrees with Secretary Clinton’s observation that ‘all societies recognise that freedom of expression has its limits’,” Conroy predictably goes on to again raise the alarm about nasty content such as bestiality.

This is a cynical misrepresentation of Clinton’s words. To use a speech that includes the lines “governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other” and “censorship should not be in any way accepted by any company from anywhere” to justify a censorship policy is nothing if not brazen. Clinton herself goes on to say that “these challenges must not become an excuse for governments to systematically violate the rights and privacy of those who use the internet for peaceful political purposes”. In other words, there are challenges, but the benefits of an open internet are too great to risk with government censorship.

For the sake of fulfilling an election promise, the government is now arguably on the wrong side of history. The department’s spin doctors have their work cut out for them.

Online

Jan 20, 2010

5 comments

Chances are you’ve never heard of ACTA. It’s not something that’s likely to come up in polite conversation; it has never been mentioned on Crikey. Indeed, I’d suggest the only chance you’re ACTA-aware is if you have a close personal involvement with  somebody who spends a lot of time playing with their PC late at night. (Yes, that’s a polite way of saying you’d probably need to be shagging a geek.)

I know this to be true because I’m at what’s undoubtedly the geekiest place in the Southern Hemisphere right now: linux.conf.au 2010, the annual gathering of Australian Linux enthusiasts. With commendable broad-mindedness, this year’s event is actually taking place in Wellington. Yes, in New Zealand. You’ve probably heard of it.

You might just have heard of Linux, the open source operating system favoured by people who know Windows is too unstable and Macs are too expensive. If you haven’t, just imagine a random mixture of your work IT department, some super-enthusiastic students and some scarily clever people, and a penguin mascot. There’s about 700 Linux supporters in Wellington this week, and they know more about technology than you (or I) will ever manage.

But back to the main issue. When ACTA got mentioned during a linux.conf.au keynote presentation by NYU anthropology professor Gabriella Coleman, the audience reaction was instantaneous: much booing and hissing. This crowd knew that the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was potentially very bad news. But that bad news hasn’t been passed along much, even though a crucial meeting to decide the future of the proposal will take place next week.

(It’s on Australia Day and in Mexico, so local news coverage is likely to be slim, I’d predict.)

The ACTA proposal has been spearheaded by the US government, which apparently doesn’t think its existing draconian proposals in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (which Australian copyright law largely mirrors, thanks to the 2004 Free Trade Agreement) go far enough. The proposal has been debated at a series of meetings between stakeholders since 2007, and while confirmed information is fairly scant, earlier leaked documents suggest that as well as covering physical piracy, ACTA will try and enforce copyright in the digital realm, meaning the same kind of ISP-level meddling that’s associated with current internet censorship proposals in Australia.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a page about the treaty on its website, which is at pains to emphasise that it’s not designed to facilitate any of those “teenager fined millions for downloading song” headlines, which us geek journalists love.

“The participants in ACTA negotiations do not intend for the ACTA to target individuals, the privacy of individuals or the property of individuals where those individuals are not engaged in commercial scale trade in counterfeit and pirate goods,” it primly notes. At the rate music sales are plummeting, copying a single track might soon count as commercial-scale trading, but I digress.

What DFAT doesn’t discuss at all is the highly secretive nature of the treaty process, something Coleman made much of in her presentation. As she pointed out, a prolonged legal campaign by the Electronic Freedom Foundation in the US did eventually result in 159 pages of documents associated with the treaty being released — but only after 1362 had been deemed as potentially violating “national security” and withheld. Open government seems to be playing second fiddle to the demands of the IP protection crowd, which counts deep-pocketed software makers and movie studios among its most verbal supporters. Third-world countries are conspicuously absent from the discussion.

For what it’s worth, Coleman — who has spent years observing geeks in their natural habitat, arguing with each other via various internet media — isn’t entirely convinced that ACTA spells inevitable doom, assuming its provisions do eventually pass into law.

“We should feel optimistic about the current state of affairs, because never before have there existed such profound and robust alternatives to the global tangle of IP provisions,” she said. The “alternatives” she’s referring to are principally open source software such as  Linux, which is maintained by volunteers and can be altered and adopted by anyone, and the associated “copyleft” movement, which has given rise to phenomena such as Wikipedia

I wish I shared her optimism. I also wish that the geek community could do a better job of conveying the importance of these issues to the rest of the world. It’s all very well sitting booing and hissing, but in a room full of Linux lovers, the message is only being spread to the converted.

So far, the tech community hasn’t done much of a job of persuading mainstream Australia that proposed internet censorship laws are a bad idea, despite their potentially crippling effect on freedom of speech. Given that background, the odds of anyone else ever hissing at the mere mention of ACTA — which could pose just as great a threat — seem very low indeed.

Angus Kidman is a freelance journalist specialising in fairly geeky topics and editor of Lifehacker Australia.

Comments & corrections

Jan 14, 2010

5 comments

The AfPak conundrum:

James Burke writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 9). No-one wants the war in Afghanistan to continue, but governments seem to be more aware than journalists that the war predated Coalition intervention and will continue beyond it. Doubtless many hope that after international withdrawal, a short, nasty bloodletting would be followed by a pax Talibanica, which, however totalitarian and genocidal, would at least be better than the current slow grind of American, Australian and (especially) British troops dying for a questionable cause.

It’s only Afghanistan, after all, and as in previous years we will be able to salve our consciences by housing a few traumatised survivors as refugees, to experience the benevolence of the Australian community by working night shifts in convenience stores and Hungry Jacks outlets. But this overlooks the fact that there is a domino next to Afghanistan that has been rocking back and forth for over a decade, the fall of which could result in a forest of mushroom clouds over South Asia.

Yemen doesn’t matter that much. It’s the same fanatical backwater it always has been, and any terror threat it poses is probably best dealt with by closing our borders to those with Yemeni stamps in their passports. Pakistan, though, has nuclear weapons. The civil war now being fought there is the single most important struggle in recent history. Pulling the rug out from under the regime in Kabul will likely topple that in Islamabad too. This could deliver nukes into the hands of people with a suicide bomber mentality, who may be happy to see Karachi destroyed if it means wiping out Delhi or Jerusalem.

War is never a good thing and it is always a tragedy to lose soldiers to any cause. Even so, and distasteful as it might be to have to point it out, our sacrifice in Afghanistan has been far less than in past expeditions to South Africa, Korea or Vietnam, and the stakes are far higher than in any of those conflicts.

AusAID:

Fiona McLean, Director, Communications Section, AusAID, writes:  Re. “Tips and rumours” (Monday, item 6). Contrary to what your article of 11 January suggests, AusAID’s funding to the Clinton Foundation supports specific global issues, especially HIV/AIDS responses in four countries. This was widely announced in 2006.

Australia’s partnership with the Foundation has been very successful. The number of HIV-positive children with access to life-saving ART drugs in Vietnam has gone from 200 to 1400 in three years.  The number of people tested and counseled for HIV/AIDS in PNG’s Eastern Highlands Province has almost doubled from 7358 in 2007 to 13,662 in 2008.

Your writer would find it instructive to go to our website for more details.

Murdoch’s paywall:

Andrew Dempster writes: Re. “Murdoch’s grand paywall experiment: will Aussies pay?” (yesterday, item 1). Perhaps the reason people who access news several times a day don’t want to pay while those who access it once a day are more likely to pay is related to the media they replace: Once a day news, i.e. newspapers, you pay for; up-to-the minute news, i.e. radio (and TV, sometimes) you don’t.

Golf courses and public land:

Chris Hunter writes: Re. “Golf courses just waiting for residential development” (yesterday, item 10). Christopher Joye’s assessment of public golf courses being reassigned to real estate makes little sense. You swallow up the parklands then what? Does the city stop growing? Adelaide has a 36 hole layout that is used by many, not just golfers.

In the late evenings people walk their dogs, jog etc. I repeat, Adelaide  public golf courses are zoned parkland, that is why they are not fenced off. How claustrophobic would Adelaide be without its famous greenbelt, originally planned by Colonel Light as part of his “vision”.

Treating people like sardines is not the answer. High tech public transport to outer suburbs is.

Conroy’s filter:

Les Heimann writes: Re. “Labor Senator Kate Lundy speaks out against mandatory internet censorship” (yesterday, item 4). Go Kate! Kate Lundy stands for freedom in opposing internet censorship — the rest of the lemmings in the current Labor administration stand naked and condemned as “nanny dictators” when it comes to freedom.

How dare anyone censor anything on the internet — we are not a dictatorship — we were a free country. But we are not free if we do not know and censorship is the act of hiding from us information. A truly free people should have the right to travel down any dark road if that is their want.

Whatever party opposes this legislation will gain votes at this year’s election.

Sarah Palin and Fox News:

Barry Everingham writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Sarah Palin’s comment  that Fox “news” is fair and balanced confirms just how crazy she is; O’Reilly, Hannity; fair, balanced.?..only someone unbalanced would say so … she’s in good company.

Animalia:

David Lodge writes: I don’t think any reasonable person would object to Geoff Russell’s complaints (yesterday, comments) about the transportation of tasty animals in extreme heat. In fact I think any changes to the relevant regulation would receive a decent amount of public support.

However, Geoff, like many of his other extreme counterparts, runs into trouble by refering to the eating of meat or cute little innocent lambs as “slaughter”. Give me a break. Would you also seek to stop the actions of other carnivorous animals Geoff? You’re right that it’s murder though — tasty, tasty murder.

Sharon Hutchings writes: Geoff Russell has probably hit a few raw nerves with his candidly astute comments yesterday. The truth can certainly hurt, but on the issue of meat production, it’s the animals who suffer, even more so in extreme weather conditions.

If we were to truck and slaughter loads of dogs, dolphins or panda bears in the same way most people would be horrified. It’s a curious thing that we humans generally obtain much enjoyment and satisfaction in the nurturing and harvesting process of our fruit and veg, yet the same cannot be said for meat.

Is ignorance really that blissful?

A lump of coal:

Justin Templer writes: Tom Cowen  (yesterday, comments) writes that it was Margaret Thatcher who closed down England’s coal industry. Not correct, Tom. It was Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers who closed down the industry — Thatcher merely withdrew the taxpayer teat.