USA

Comedy: its not for children

Back in March some of the more sensitive sections of the Hindu community decided - on the basis of a trailer - to take offence at Mike Myers latest film, The Love Guru.

Now more than 5,000 people have signed a petition protesting against the film - which, of course, they havent seen yet.

Some Hindu groups are considering a boycott of Paramount Pictures which produced the film and Hindu activists in the US are calling on the MPAA to change the rating of the film to NC-17, making it impossible for anyone under 17 to see it. Theyve also written protest letters to the Indian Film Censor Board.

In the UK, Paramount Pictures says it will arrange a pre-screening for Hindus before the film opens in August.

Mike Myers has pointed out that the religion lampooned in the film is a mythical creation - its like the Force in Star Wars.

The power of stupid

The US Dunkin Donuts chain has pulled an online advertisement (via) featuring celebrity chef Rachael Ray. Right wing commentators, such as Michelle Malkin, decided that the scarf looked like a Palestinian keffiyeh and must, therefore, be some sort of pro-Islamic, anti-American statement.

The black and white scarf in question is paisley.

Dunkin Donuts pulled the ad last weekend because of what it calls a misperception about the scarf that detracted from its original intent to promote its iced coffee.

John Scalzi has a helpful translation:

Because Michelle Malkin is so appallingly stupid and/or ignorant that it appears that she can’t tell the difference between a paisley scarf and a kiffiyeh, we’re pulling our ad of Rachel Ray enjoying our iced coffee. We do hope that once Ms. Malkin extracts her head from between her own ass cheeks, she stops by one of our many establishments and samples one of our fine iced coffees, any one of which undoubtedly tastes much better than the crap that typically fills her mouth, via her brain, at any given time

Whistleblower fired

TJX Companies, the US retail conglomerate whose substandard security led to the worlds biggest credit card breach, has fired an employee after he left posts in an online forum revealing shoddy security practices at the store where he worked.

Security was so lax at the TJ Maxx outlet located in Lawrence, Kansas, that employees were able to log onto company servers using blank passwords, the fired employee, Nick Benson, told The Register. This policy was in effect as recently as May 8, more than 18 months after company officials learned a massive network breach had leaked the details of more than 94 million customer credit cards. Benson said he was fired on Wednesday after managers said he disclosed confidential company information online.

Other security issues included a store server that was running in administrator mode, making it far more susceptible to attackers. He said he brought the security issues to the attention of a district loss prevention manager name Allen in late 2006, and repeatedly discussed them with store managers. Except for a stretch when IT managers temporarily tightened password policies, the problems went unfixed.

Frustrated at the unwillingness of management to properly protect their customers data, Benson made a series of posts on the sla.ckers.org website, which is devoted to web application security.

Bensons disclosures werent specific enough to give attackers information needed to successfully breach TJXs networks. And when you consider the right of TJXs customers and employees to know that their data may be at risk, its not unreasonable to call him a whistleblower.

For Bensons part, he has no regrets. Theyre telling the public theyre PCI compliant, he said, referring to so-called payment card industry security rules governing businesses that accept credit and debit cards. That I think is unethical.

The Register is asking if other TJX employees have tales similar to Bensons. If so, you can contact the reporter using this link. (Anonymity assured.)

Anti-games crusader loses touch with reality

American anti-games campaigner, Jack Thompson appears to have taken a turn for rhe bizarre. Strauss Zelnick is the Chairman of Take-Two, the company that produces the GTA series of video games, so Thompson has written to his mother (via).

The email is provocative, to say the least. Not only does it say Mr. Zelnick is like the Hitler Youth, it also attributes the deaths of three Alabama policemen and a recent plethora of cop killings to prior entries in the GTA series.

Thompson claims that the email - which is addressed to Mrs. Zelnick and carries a subject of Your Son, Strauss Zelnick - was not sent to Zelnicks mother, but to his lawwyer, in keeping with a prior settlement that prevents Mr. Thompson from contacting Take-Two, unless he does so through legal counsel.

Double standards at YouTube over Scientology

Two weeks ago YouTube deleted a 10,000-subscriber channel run by well-known Scientology critic Mark Bunker. The reason they gave for pulling Xenutv1 was that they had already axed Bunkers earlier account, Xenutv, for infringing a few copyrights. The Register points out:

YouTubes terms of service clearly say A user whose account has been terminated is prohibited from accessing, possessing or creating any other YouTube accounts.

But the worlds largest video sharer hasnt applied this rule to the brand new channel launched by Scientology itself - and trumpeted with an official Scientology press release. Like Bunker, Scientology had an earlier account erased after it violated site policy.

In March, the New York Post reported that Scientology launched a YouTube channel in an attempt to discredit members of Anonymous, the internet group intent on making life difficult for the cult. Dubbed the Scientology Official Report on Anonymous Hate Crimes, the channel identified individual members of the group, describing them as terrorists.

YouTube doesnt allow videos that broadcast personal information. And the account was suspended.

In a conversation with The Post, a Church spokesperson confirmed the organization was behind the channel. We absolutely made the videos, they said. We have researchers that have found these men. When you get death threats and bomb threats directly going after the church, we dont take it lightly.

A similar statement was made by a church minister speaking to The Battle Creek Enquirer after an alleged Anonymous bomb threat.

And now, in contravention of YouTubes terms of service, Scientology is back on the video sharing site. And not only are they back, they are also paying for ads on the site, looking to drive some traffic onto its new channel.

Not surprisingly, Mark Bunker is annoyed. I hope YouTube does the right thing, he said. It certainly looks like theres a double standard at work.

Oregon booksellers unite to fight censorship law

Portland bookseller Michael Powell and owners of a dozen independent bookstores and community organizations are suing (via) the Oregon state attorney general and all 36 county district attorneys to block enforcement of a law forbidding the sale of “sexually explicit material” to people younger than 18.

The plaintiffs - which include Powell’s Books, Dark Horse Comics, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and the Association of American Publishers – are arguing that the four-month-old law violates their constitutional right to free speech and criminalizes material that would otherwise not be considered sexually explicit, like textbooks, comics or magazines.

In an affidavit, Michael Powell said his six stores sold books of all types that could be considered sexually explicit under the new law. Those include the sale of books in stores and online on photography, graphic novels and health and wellness titles.

Ken Lizzi, Dark Horse Comics’ general counsel and assistant secretary, said in an affidavit that his company store, Things From Another World Inc., often sells graphic novels and comics that could put it in legal jeopardy. The company publishes about three dozen comics or other books each month that might include sexually explicit content, Lizzi said in the affidavit.

“I believe the only way for Dark Horse to ensure compliance under the statute would be to refrain from publishing this material entirely,” He said. “Attempting to determine, book by book, what may fall under the purview of the satute, including whether there are any ‘sexually explicit’ portions and if so whether such portions ‘serve some purpose other than titillation’ (even if I knew what that meant) is totally impractical, unduly burdensome and surely would result in our over-inclusive self-censorship.”

MADD about GTA

US campaign group, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is demanding (via) a stricter rating on Grand Theft Auto IV because the game – which currently has a Mature rating - includes the ability to drive while intoxicated.

The group is also calling on publisher Take-Two Interactive and developer Rockstar Games to consider stopping distribution of the game out of respect for the millions of victims/survivors of drunk driving.

We have a great deal of respect for MADDs mission, but we believe the mature audience for Grand Theft Auto IV is more than sophisticated enough to understand the games content, Rockstar Games said in a statement to The Associated Press on Wednesday. For the same reason that you cant judge an entire film or television program by a single scene, you cant judge Grand Theft Auto IV by a small aspect of the game.

Discredited American lawyer Jack Thompson has also waded in to make the bizarre assertion that “Grand Theft Auto IV is the gravest assault upon children in this country since polio.”

Scared of skin

Publishers Weekly (via) have picked up on the news that the state of Indiana has passed a new law that will require any businesses that sell sexually explicit material to register with the state government.

The new law, H.B. 1042, was signed by Governor Mitch Daniels on March 13, and calls for any bookseller that sells sexually explicit materials to register with the Secretary of State and provide a statement detailing the types of books to be sold. The Secretary of State must then identify those stores to local government officials and zoning boards. “Sexually explicit material” is defined as any product that is “harmful to minors” under existing law. There is a $250 registration fee. Failure to register is a misdemeanor.

The Indiana Library Federations Intellectual Freedom Manual provides an explanation of what “harmful to minors” means:

For the purposes of the law, matter is harmful to minors if it describes or represents, in any form, nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sado-masochistic abuse; considered as a whole, it appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors; it is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community as a whole with respect to what is suitable matter for minors; and considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors

Now heres the problem: “and considered as a whole, it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value for minors,” is an entirely subjective statement. I may think that something has serious literary or artistic value, you might disagree. Is Anaïs Nin an artist or a pornographer? What about Bunny Yeager? Or Irving Klaw?

And nudity? On its own. Is National Geographic really harmful to minors?

Not surprisingly the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression has condemned the law, calling it “un-American to force booksellers to register with the government based on the kinds of books they carry.” The organisation is planning to challenge the law as a violation of the First Amendment rights of Indiana booksellers and their customers.

The War on Blogs

The US Air Force is tightening restrictions (via) on which blogs can and cant be read by its troops. Pretty much every independent site including the word blog in its title is now blocked as part of a wider struggle within the US military over the value and risks of the sites.

At least one senior Air Force official calls the squeeze so utterly stupid, it makes me want to scream.

Julius Baer starts spinning

Julius Baer, the bank that tried to force Wikileaks off the web has finally issued a press-release to try and justify their actions. Tynan on Techology (via) has the full statement, along with some commentary.

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