Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whither Goest Thou, YouTube?

Google has apparently gotten a wild hair up their collective corporate ass, and decided to enforce a mandatory real-names-only policy at YouTube, along with a strict G-rated policy which would ban all profanity. Their comment is that they want to "clean up" YouTube comments, and make it more "family friendly".

I'm reminded of a snippet I ran across in one of those wonderful old classic Science-fiction novels by Pournelle and Niven -

And so you would banish the four letter words,
whose meaning is never obscure. 
The Angles, the Saxons, those hardy old birds,
were vulgar, obscene, and impure.
And yet you take pride in the weaseling phrase,
that never quite says what it means.
You'd rather be known for your hypocrite ways,
than as vulgar, impure, and obscene.

For those who don't get the reference, remember that English is a blend of Old Anglo-Saxon and Norman French. Consider the fact that most of the words we consider vulgar, (a word which really just means "common"), are from the Old Anglo-Saxon. For example, take the "polite" words penis, vagina, and copulate. Now consider their "vulgar" or "profane" counterparts, cock, cunt, and fuck. The first three are all from Latin, probably via Norman French. The latter three words we inherited directly from Old Anglo-Saxon. When our English language was coming into being, the Norman nobility spoke one way, and their words were considered to be cultured and polite. The Anglo-Saxon commoners spoke another way, and their speech was considered to be "vulgar" or, well, common.

I have some real problems with this so-called "family friendly" policy, and to parents who endorse it, I would say this. They are your children. Not mine, not Google's, yours. Supervising them is your responsibility, not anyone else's. If you don't want your children getting in over their heads, then keep them in the shallow end of the pool, and pay some attention to what they are doing, rather than attempting to make someone else responsible for what is your job. Do not attempt to turn the entire online world into a kiddie pool.

I would also point out  that my experience with online games over the last eleven years has brought me into contact with a number of very young gamers. And every one of those young gamers, without exception, was astonishingly knowledgeable and sophisticated for his/her age. If it is your intention to keep your kids ignorant of the realities of life, you've been doing a piss-poor job of it.

I would also point out that there is no substitute for a parent that actually pays attention. The three universal laments that I hear from young gamers are these, "my parents don't care about me", and "my parents don't have a clue", and "they just ignore me except when they're yelling at me".

No internet filtering software will slow your kids down for more than 30 minutes. That's the absolute maximum time it will take them to look up and implement the means of circumventing it. Your kids know far more about editing Windows registry than you do, and they're fucking fearless. Remember, "the internet treats censorship as damage to the net, and re-routes around it". Your children understand that on an instinctive level, even if you do not.

In truth, I am more disturbed by this new policy, which Google has announced their intention to implement "soon", than I can really explain in my own words. YouTube, for all the comments section has frequently resembled one of those blue portable toilets on the last day of the county fair, after they've been baking in the summer sun for two weeks, has for years been a bastion of the online world. No, it hasn't been pretty, but freedom of expression never is. When people are free to say what they really think and feel, some of their utterances are going to be offensive to some other people. Know what? Tough shit. That's what freedom of expression means, being able to speak your mind, and if others don't like what you have to say, that's just too damn bad.

Sometimes, profanity is simply the best way to express yourself. Allow me to offer the following rather poignant example. Here is a video of the speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy in London by Julian Assange. One of the first comments posted was this (note that I have reproduced the comment in all its semi-literate glory, complete with misspellings and multiple exclamation points)-


And the second most popular comment, with 37 thumbs-up in one hour, was a response to that -

Oh please, go fuck yourself you dumb, uneducated piece of shit. He and wikileaks exposed U.S. war crimes, you are the fucking terrorist!

Note that the first comment will be acceptable under Google's new rules for YouTube, while the second one will not. And yet the latter obviously encapsulates the visceral response of a majority of those viewers who cared to express an opinion.

Sometimes you need to be able to say fuck. Some people desperately need to be told to go fuck themselves.

EDIT: Following up two hours after I wrote this, I discovered that several of the comments have already been censored by YouTube. The two top-rated comments are gone from the top comments box; both the one I quoted above and the absolute top-rated one, which said "this man is a living legend".  If you look back to the last page, and the next-to-last page, they are still there, and still showing 45 and 53 thumbs up, but they've been voodoo'ed out of the top comments box, replaced by comments with a fraction of the number of votes.

This means that YouTube is now being edited not just for profanity, but also for political opinions. Think about it. The top-rated comment, which said simply that Assange is an international hero, has been censored. It contained no profanity, or anything else offensive, just a political opinion which was apparently judged to be unacceptable. So much for Google's unofficial motto, eh?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Big Trouble in Little South China Sea

Greetings, dear reader, and apologies for the long hiatus. Your faithful marsupial correspondent has been occupied with the tedious business of earning a (marginal) living.

It's been a year since I last wrote about the situation in the South China Sea. That gap was due not to a lack of events, but rather to my perception of utter disinterest in the subject on the part of my fellow Americans. We do have a serious blind spot when it comes to events outside our own borders. None the less, with events continuing apace, the issue of territorial disputes in the South China Sea has even started to appear in the mainstream corporate media. And what a report that is. Do you like the header? "BATTLELAND - Where military intelligence is not a contradiction in terms". News Flash, sweethearts; military intelligence is always a contradiction in terms.

But my objection is not to the silly trappings of the thing, but rather to the slipshod manner in which the facts are presented. It's disturbing to note that this video, which is essentially a Taiwanese propaganda cartoon, actually contains more useful information, (after the first 35 seconds of silliness), than the print report in Time linked above.

  I'm going to include here a graphic that I used in my first post on the South China Sea, about two years ago. The map is a beast, but it's needed to show the relationships.

Map courtesy of Wikimedia

Look in the center, near the top. See that blob of land with the pipeline running north-east up to Hong Kong and Macao? That's Hainan Island, and part of the People's Republic of China, (henceforth the PRC, to distinguish it from Taiwan, which is also has claims in the Spratly Islands).

Now look down and to the right from Hainan. See the Paracel Islands? Those are (mostly) within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the PRC, as measured from Hainan Island. Note, however, that the Paracel Islands are also (mostly) within the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of Vietnam. The PRC seized the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in a brief campaign during the mid-1970's, and has held them since then. It was here, in the Paracel Islands, that the new Chinese garrison was recently emplaced, as described in the MSM story linked above.

Now look further to the right and down a bit, see Scarborough Reef, just west of the Philippines? That was the location of the confrontation between the PRC and the Philippines in May of this year (2012). See this article in the Asia Times Online for a discussion of that altercation, (and notice how this is treated as a very serious issue by Asians, in sharp contrast to the casually dismissive attitude of US media). Here, however, the situation regarding boundaries is very different, and really quite unambiguous. Scarborough Reef is within, (again just barely), the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone of the Phillipines, but roughly 600 miles from Hainan Island, the nearest point of land claimed by the PRC. So what is the PRC claim based upon? History. The People's Republic of China asserts that Scarborough was historically Chinese, and therefore modern China is entitled to claim it.

OK, for the last hotspot, look down and to the left from Scarborough Reef to the legend "South China Sea". Directly below that is a mass of colored dots, and legends stating "occupied by" followed by the names of the five main disputants, and a legend marking Mischief Reef. That whole area is the Spratly Islands, although it bears repeating that the word "islands" is a highly optimistic label. The Spratlys consist mostly of partly-submerged islets, rocks, and reefs. What few actual islands exist are low coral mounds, never more than 5 or 6 meters, (call it 15-20 feet), above sea level. Most are partly submerged at high tide. Although the Spratly Islands are spread over 170,000 square kilometers of sea, they total less than 10 square kilometers of land.

So, you ask, if they're just a collection of wet rocks and bottom-ripping reefs in the middle of god-forsaken nowhere, why all the fuss? There are three reasons.

First, right of passage. The South China Sea is the second busiest shipping lane on the surface of planet Earth. More than half of the oil which transits the oceans of the world in the hulls of the so-called supertankers, passes through the South China Sea at some point during its journey.

Second, fish. The world's fisheries are being depleted at a frightening rate, with multiple staple food species, such as the blue fin tuna, staggering on the edge of utter collapse. Some of the Asian nations which are party to the disputes in the South China Sea depend heavily upon fishing to feed their growing populations. Any government which cannot feed its people cannot maintain itself in power for long.

Third, oil and gas, the single biggest cause of war and misery in the world today.  In July of 2011, retired US diplomat David Brown penned an interesting article in the Asia Times Online, in which he asserted -

Chinese petroleum geologists are thinking big, however. Luo Donghong, a senior manager of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), predicts that China will confirm reserves of 22 billion barrels of oil in South China Sea deepwater fields by 2020, according to Bloomberg. That's half again the size of Daqing, China's largest onshore oilfield - which is now nearly depleted. CNOOC's Zhang Gongcheng says upwards of 200 trillion cubic meters of natural gas are in the South China Sea seabed as well, the Economist reports.

So, 22 billion barrels of oil, and 200 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. But there's more. There are also enormous deposits of Methane Hydrates, what some have called, "the ice that burns". What the US Department of Energy calls "the gas resource of the future". (And also, potentially, the environmental disaster of the future, but I suppose we can burn that bridge when we come to it. After all, we've never planned ahead for such problems before, why start now?)

While technologies for the extraction of usable energy from methane hydrate deposits have yet to be developed, a PRC report in 2007 estimated that the methane hydrate deposits found in the South China Sea so far could hold as much energy as 10 billion tons of oil. At roughly 6 barrels per ton, (a conservative estimate), that's the equivalent of 60 billion barrels of oil.