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SydWalker.Info is a personal website. I live in tropical Australia near Cairns. I oppose war, plutocracy, injustice, sectarian supremacism and apartheid. I support urgent action to achieve genuine sustainability and a fair and prosperous society for all. I rely upon - and support - free speech as defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see below).

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"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers"

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Unless otherwise indicated, material on this website is written by Syd Walker.

Anyone is welcome to re-publish material sourced from this site, as long as the source is acknowledged with a hyperlink.

Material from other sources reproduced here is presented on a 'Fair Use' basis. I try to cite references accurately. Please contact me if you have queries, comments, broken link reports, complaints - or just to say hello.

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November 2008
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Beyond the Fringe: Dialogue with ‘James’
Nov 30th, 2008 by Syd Walker

I have become embroiled in a debate with someone who calls himself ‘James’, on the SomebodyThinkoftheChildren website.

James Who?That excellent site is at the forefront of the No Clean Feed campaign. Run by Brisbane-based IT expert Michael Meloni, it mounts a powerful anti-censorship case on various fronts, focusing on Australia. Right now, the hottest topic is the Rudd Government’s plan to introduce compulsory Internet censorship.

SomebodyThinkoftheChildren, in my opinion, is an essential daily visit for Australians at this time.

James has raised concerns that I should not be ‘exalted’ and he says he’s worried the campaign will be tarnished by the involvment of someone with such “incredibly fringe opinions”.

I’ve responded a couple of times.

Here’s my latest response on the thread over there (corrected for typos and mis-spellings):

OK James. This is positively my last comment on this thread, as I don’t want to impose on Mike’s blog, which is focused on censorship issues and doesn’t need to become cluttered with extraneous debates.

Actually, I agree with you in one sense. If it became easy for the Government to portray members of the anti-clean feed campaign as people who hold non-mainstream views on other topics, that would be a problem.

But is it likely? My minor contributions to the campaign are eclipsed by the long-standing contributions of people like Mike Meloni and Dale Clapperton – and many, many others more technologically knowledgable than I am.

I seek no media attention. If film crews ever turn up at my gate, God forbid, I may unleash my pet pythons (only joking).

The only person who uses the strange term ‘exalt’, James, is you. If linking to my website is ‘exaltation’, even though it contains some material that’s clearly relevant to topics dicussed here, then presumably the same applies to every link. Does this website exalt Rupert Murdoch every time it includes a link to a News Ltd report? I don’t think so.

You accuse me of having a ‘hidden agenda’. Actiually, what you see is what you get. I write what I believe is true and defensible. I’m not playing games.

One might almost infer you have a ‘hidden agenda’, in that you wish to censor contributions you don’t like. But that can’t be true – after all, you’re an opponent of internet censorship!

If you wish to debate this further, I re-iterate my offer to move the discussion elsewhere. I shall not reply again here without the explicit agreement of our host.

James, you may like to continue our discussion here?

End the Israeli siege of Gaza Now!If you do, I’d like to ask what you think about Gaza?

Is it “incredibly fringe” to consider the slow starvation of Gaza a war crime, perpetrated right now? (unlike the events of World War Two – however contentious they may be)

If not, why do you obsess about excluding me from mainstream discussion, James?

Why get on my case, when I’m blogging away about Gaza?

Why not get up Rupert Murdoch or the management of the ABC, who seem comfortable downplaying this ongoing horror?

If the strangulation of Gaza isn’t a war crime in our times James, what is?

Your turn…

Nov 29th, 2008 by Syd Walker

The best thing about our galaxy is that we’re inside it.

This is the most jaw-dropping photo of the Milky Way I’ve ever seen. Kudos to Wally Pacholka. It’s for sale HERE – along with other amazing space photos.

If anyone knows of a more awesome astronomical pic, please share it.

Milky Way.jpg

The Trials of David Ahenakew
Nov 29th, 2008 by Syd Walker

A trial is underway in Canada.

It’s a most curious trial. Or perhaps it’s just ‘normal’, in this phase of human history that just gets “curiouser and curiouser“.

David AhenakewThe defendant is David Ahenakew, a 75 year-old First Nation leader, previously honoured with the Order of Canada for his service over many decades to his people and Canada as a whole. In Australia, the word ‘Aboriginal’ is typically used for our indigenous people. In Australian lingo, David Ahenakew is a respected Aboriginal elder and leader.

He is on trial for “willfully promoting hatred”.

What did he say? Did he, perhaps, offend the millions of mainly fair-skinned invaders of his land, who over the last few hundred years pushed his people to cultural extinction in many parts of Canada? Did he call for a war of extinguishment against the invaders? Did he incite a First Nation attack on Ottawa?

No. His alleged offense is more specific. He is accused of willfully promoting hatred against ‘the Jews’. He stands accused of breaching Canadian laws that criminalize ‘hate speech’. In effect, this Aboriginal leader is accused of persecuting other people – with his words (not deeds) – even though he’s a survivor of the shattered remnants of the original Canadians who has put in a lifetime’s effort into remedying disadvantages still suffered by his own disposessed community.

It’s difficult not to wince at the irony.

To be precise, the trial currently underway is Ahenakew’s second trial – for the same offense. He was found guilty in 2005. The Chronicle-Herald reports:

“After he was convicted at his first trial, he was removed from the Order of Canada — an extremely rare occurrence. The conviction was overturned on appeal and the Crown elected to retry him rather than take the case to the Supreme Court.”

So… he’s being re-tried for the same alleged crime? I thought that was ‘double jeopardy’, defined by Wikipedia as: “a procedural defense (and, in many countries such as the United States, Canada, Mexico and India, a constitutional right) that forbids that a defendant be tried twice for the same crime on the same set of facts.”? Oh well, yet another reason we can’t rely on Wikipedia, I guess?

You may think that the Canadian Government is pursuing the case again because Ahenakew is unrepentant? Apparently not. According to Canada’s Leader-Post he issued a tearful apology shortly after a reporter’s expose of his comments provoked a national mass media furore. Neverthless, the Leader-Post reports:

Defence lawyer Doug Christie’s attempt to enter the apology as evidence was denied Friday morning by Judge Wilfred Tucker. Tucker cited as the reasons for denying the request the fact that it would go against the hearsay rule of evidence, and also that the apology was written by Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) staff and approved by a lawyer, so it was not a spontaneous apology; Ahenakew had testified to those facts on Friday.

Let’s see if I’ve got this straight?

The Canadian taxpayer is funding a second ‘hate crime’ court case against a 75-year old indigenous leader over remarks for which he’s long ago apologized. The apology he proffered won’t even be allowed as evidence in his second trial. The second trial is proceeding because the Government prefers a re-trial to appealing his previous, successful appeal.

Does any of this sound a tad illiberal to you? Is it just me who thinks this is absurdity writ large?

The Chronicle-Herald further reports:

Ahenakew, animated the beginning of the day, grew weary and often mixed up words and went off topic with his testimony. Christie asked him several times to focus on his questions.

Ahenakew said he hasn’t slept much because his wife is in the hospital and being in court again is a hurtful reminder of the mistake he made.

“I apologized for my mistake,” said Ahenakew. “If that’s not good enough, I can’t do any more than that.”

By now you are probably imagining that this man must be guilty of very serious thought crime indeed. Perhaps he is a (gasp) ‘Holocaust Denier’? After all, everyone has heard of the tribulations of so-called ‘Holocaust Deniers’. The Holocaust is clearly an exceptionally touchy issue, for reasons we are discouraged from querying.

But no, apparently not. Mr Ahenakew doesn’t even seem to doubt the key elements of the contemporary, mainstream Holocaust narrative (although he adds some extra elements of his own). Here’s a direct quote from the previously-cited Chronicle Herald report:

“The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. That’s how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn’t take over Germany or Europe. . . That’s why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the God damned world.”

Newstalk 650 has a fascinating brief account of the trial:

David Ahenakew has finished testifying at his hate crimes trial, and now it’s onto closing arguments.

Friday morning Ahenakew was crossed examined by Crown Prosecutor Sandeep Bains. Bains delved into Ahenakew’s feelings towards Jews. Getting him to admit post war immigrants living near his Reserve in Saskatchewan told him Jews “owned a lot of things.” That he had never heard of the Holocaust when he joined the Army in the 1950’s. Bains then questioned Ahenakew about being in BC after the Korean War. Ahenakew said Second World War veterans told him that if it wasn’t for the Jews, the war never would have started. Under questioning Ahenakew went on saying that while stationed in post war Germany, Germans told him the Jews started Second World War. But when asked by Bains if he started believing that, Ahenakew answered “I never believed that. I don’t hate people, you (Bains) or anybody else.”

But later on Bains asked Ahenakew, “It’s your contention Jews are causing a lot of problems?” To which Ahenakew answered, “In the world, yes.”

Bains then turned to the actual day Ahenakew and then Star Phoenix reporter James Parker spoke. He asked Ahenakew if Parker wanted to talk about the conference, then he would have wanted that in the paper? Ahenakew answered yes. Bains then asked, “So you were prepared for everything to go into the paper? Ahenakew answered “No, no, no.”

Closing arguments are Friday afternoon.

Ken LivingstoneThe case has similarities with the attempted media-mugging of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone by a provocative reporter a few years back. But Livingstone, a wily politician, chose words with precision following his initial incautious remarks, after he was ambushed leaving a party. He fought back successfully, although he also lost the next Mayoral election.

By his own admission, Mr Ahenakew did not choose his words well. His reported remarks are undoubtably contentious. He was unwise talking to a hostile reporter on this minefield of a topic.

Yet had Ahenakew made equally derogatory comments about Palestinians, Arabs or Muslims, it’s hard to imagine he’d be where he is today. Suppose, like fellow-Canadian David Frum, his ‘crime’ was to invent a war-promoting catch-phrase that could be used to start at least one illegal war. In that event, he might well be at home, putting his feet up, enjoying the generous proceeds from his latest pro-Israel ‘op-ed’ in one of Canada’s major newspapers.

That, I imagine, is the intended take-home message for indigenous leaders, historians and anyone else who is who is paying attention.

Be very, very careful what you say about Jewish people and Jewish history.

Incidentally, it‘s reported that the radicalizing experience for Ahenakew was a visit to Gaza in 1964. The Chronicle Herald says:

Ahenakew recalled for the court how he was peacekeeping in the Gaza Strip, the coastal piece of land bordering Egypt and Israel, in 1964 and trying to maintain fences where landmines were killing children.

He told the judge he believed the Israelis kept taking down the fences.

“I thought it was unjust. I thought it was cruel.”

Ahenakew testified that the fences reminded him of his own people living on reservations and brought up a lot of emotion in him.

He said the experience helped him decide to leave the military in 1967. His new purpose was to make a difference for First Nations people in Saskatchewan. He became a leader with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and eventually was named national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

So, Ahenakew was shocked by what he saw in Gaza in 1964. One dreads to think how he’d cope with a visit to Gaza in late 2008. He might blow ten fuses at once! It seems this man has a conscience, like some other elderly notables: Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu to name but three.

According to the Star-Phoenix, whose reporter James Parker first brought Ahenakew’s words to national attention:

David Ahenakew will wait until Feb. 23 to find out if he is guilty of inciting hatred in connection with a 2002 speech and interview in which he said Jews started the Second World War and compared them to a disease.

Will he be guilty or not? We’ll have to wait and see.

Debra CaganHere’s a reasonable bet.

Debra Cagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Coalition Affairs to US Defence Secretary Robert Gates will NOT be arraigned for hate crimes anywhere soon in any jurisdiction, despite this report in the British Daily Mail:

Britsh MPs visiting the Pentagon to discuss America’s stance on Iran and Iraq were shocked to be told by one of President Bush’s senior women officials: ‘I hate all Iranians.’

It seems there’s not enough hate to go round to take warmongers like Cagan to court for their blatantly hateful words.

I’m one of the people who can’t hate enough to do that. I agree. Words don’t kill. Bullets and bombs do kill.

That’s why – for starters – the entire Israeli leadership should face a war crimes tribunal.

The case can commence with war crimes committed at the expense of Gazans (ongoing) and the 2006 assault on The Lebanon. There’s plenty more to get into later.

People should be held accountable for what they do. What they say is a second order issue.

Words are easily fumbled under pressure and can be clarified, retracted and become the subject of apology.

Murder is forever.

Why The Web is NOT Like TV
Nov 27th, 2008 by Syd Walker

Yesterday I published an article called Clive Hamilton & I: Getting Personal about Sex, Lies, Hate & Censorship

My main purpose was to rebut what I call the ‘Clive Hamilton Fallacy’, named in honour of its most prominent exponent. This is the argument “we already censor TV, radio, movies, books, magazines and newspapers. Why should the Internet be exempt?”

My article delved into related topics. I suggested why defending children against porn may be a smokescreen for eventual, much more alarming, political censorship. The end result was a long article.

In this shorter version, I’ll focus only on the ‘Clive Hamilton Fallacy’.

Why do I call it a fallacy? After all, it sounds reasonable on the surface… “We already censor TV, radio, movies… why not the Internet?”

It’s odd that the word ‘Internet’ (as opposed to World Wide Web) is usually the concluding word in this seemingly plausible appeal. After all, the Internet and the Web are not the same thing. The actual proposal that Dr Hamilton and Senator Conroy are promoting is a proposal to censor the Web – not the Internet in entirety (not yet, at any rate…). Even if censorship proponents get muddled. we need to be clear about key distinctions like this.

The World Wide Web, while not easy to define in a few words, is a suite of user-friendly interface technologies that provide easy access to the Internet (some of them may be used without an Internet connection). Along with email, the Web has been a phenomenally successful interface/technology. The invention of the Web led to an explosion of Internet use from the early 1990s onwards. ‘The Internet’, a term that refers to the worldwide interconnected matrix of communicating computers, predates the Web.

Opponents of the proposed mandatory web ‘filter’ often point out that Web filtering is not feasible. The filter is bound to be ‘leaky’. We may also assert that the Web filtering proposal is only partial and futile for that reason also. What about proxy servers? VPNs?  I’ve used that argument myself, but I think it’s risky – because it could embolden would-be censors to extend prohibition to other Internet technologies too.

But why not censor the Web? After all, we already censor TV, radio, films…

Here’s why.

It comes down to the difference between (public) broadcast media and (essentially private) narrowcast media. They are very, very different. The same rules should not apply to both.

Whereas TV, movies, books, magazines etc are mainstream public media, the Web is a medium that enables a different kind of communication. It’s typically not a case of a few ‘one-to-many’ communications. It’s a case of many ‘one-to-one’ communications. That’s more akin to the mail than TV.

Whereas public broadcast media deliver shared experience to vast numbers of people, day after day, the Web does not.

True, some specific websites are very popular. But in total there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of websites. Each user decides which websites to access. Given the vast choice, each individual has essentially a private experience when surfing the Web.

If I turn on my TV, I know what I see will be viewed by many others. It’s the same if I flick on the radio or visit a movie. But if I visit an obscure website, I may well be the ONLY Australian on that day to do so. Or there may be thousands. It’s impossible to predict. When we use the Web, we make use of a narrowcast medium to go where we choose to go. There’s no telling where our neighbour goes. We both use the same basic technology, but our choices may well be worlds apart.

Proponents of the ‘Clive Hamilton Fallacy’ (principally Clive Hamilton himself) skip over the notion that there may be any problems associated with the current, rather tight censorship regime that pertains to mainstream media in Australia. I beg to differ. There ARE problems with this. Powerful political elites can and do use their power to restrict public access – within the ‘public’ media space – to information and analysis that doesn’t suit them. That’s to the detriment of the truth and contrary to the general public interest.

However, since the advent of the World Wide Web, those of us who dislike having our information sources rigorously ‘managed’ have had the alternative of using the Internet. The Web makes using the Internet easy. Now the ‘mandatory filtering’ proposal aims to take this crucial freedom away.

Whereas filtering works rather poorly for most photos and other graphical objects on the web, it works exceedingly well for searchable text. Rather too well, in fact. This has led critics to point out the problem of overkill. An example: any page with the word ‘Socialist’ could get inadvertently banned because it contains ‘Cialis’. That type of overkill is certainly a problem with robotic filters. Of course, in some circumstances (eg. on a home computer accessed by small children) the downside is worth it. But under the mandatory filtering proposal, individuals won’t get to choose. We won’t be able to turn the filter on and off at will. The choice would be made for us by a central censorship system.

Even though the proposed ‘filter’ will be ridiculously infective as an anti-pornography measure, it would work very effectively if the government ever chose to ban specific texts and impede public access to them.

Such bans could be automated, so any website repeating the offensive text could also be blocked – more or less immediately. Indeed, any site LINKING to a site containing the ‘offensive material’ could be easily blocked. In this way, bloggers and other websites could be intimidated into not reporting dissent (or even hyper-linking to other reports) – lest they be added to the banned list.

I repeat, censoring’ the Web is not like censoring the mainstream media. It’s much more like censoring the mail service. The Government’s plans for ISP-level filtering, whether innocent in intent or not, are pre-adapted for eventual political censorship.

In a recent TV interview, Clive Hamilton scoffed at claims that censoring for porn may be the thin end of the wedge. He said that’s just a ‘red herring’.

It will take more than a one-liner to convince your critics on that crucial point, Clive.

Large numbers of the most aware Australians treasure the freedom we now have to explore an uncensored Internet. It helps keep us sane in a world gone crazy. It helps us correct for mass media bias.

Above all, it helps us to make up our own minds. What’s so scary about that?

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