Tag Archives: cheating

Fair play and censorship. Where do you cross the line?

Fair Play

Two matters have struck a chord with me this week. The first is the cricket. The vice-captain of the Australian cricket team coached a bowler to roughen one side of the ball using sand paper, and the captain condoned it. It’s called ball-tampering and has happened in cricket over the years. This article explains in simple terms what it’s all about. In essence, there’s a line between fair handling of the ball, and ball tampering, which is cheating. The Australians crossed that line.

I expect many of you are sick of the whole thing, especially put in the context of what’s important in life. But I think it has to be considered against what Australians believe about themselves. As a sporting nation we punch above our weight, given our relatively small population, although we haven’t been quite as successful over the past decades. As a result, Australian teams are expected to win. Australians also have a perception that we Aussies are always fair, that we win by playing better. We’re also very quick to point the finger at other teams we suspect of cheating. So the cricket-loving public has been outraged by this overt cheating by an Australian team. Not just one player messing about with the ball, but a leadership plot to cheat.

It’s interesting to compare the two interviews Steve Smith gave about the matter. In the first one, just after the incident became public knowledge, the overall impression was shrug, we got caught. Sorry about that. Won’t happen again. He clearly did not appreciate the storm that was about to hit him.

When Smith appeared on the news last night the full horror of what he and Warner had cooked up had hit him. Sponsors have abandoned the team, all three have been sacked, and Warner and Smith banned for a time, they have lost personal sponsorships, as well as their contracts with the Indian IPL. Smith was chastened, in tears. I actually felt sorry for him. Smith, to me, has always looked like the top car salesman who is given the job of sales manager. The two jobs require very different skills. Smith is a great batsman, but not a leader. I’m not surprised at the news that Darren Lehmann has also resigned. If he didn’t know what was happening, he should have.

Shock jock commentator Alan Jones is not my favourite person for lots of reasons, but his open letter to Cricket Australia boss, James Sutherland, is balanced, sensible, and well worth reading. Apart from anything else, Jones has been coach of an Australian (rugby) team, so he knows a bit about what happens in a dressing room. For what it’s worth, having been initially rather like the Red Queen (off with his head) I now tend to agree with Alan Jones (please don’t tell him).

Australian cricket will always have to carry this stain on its reputation, just like the infamous underarm incident. Come what may, Cricket Australia has its work cut out to recover the trust of Australian cricket fans.

And now for something much more important.

Censorship.

I’ve spoken in the past about backdoor censorship, where book sellers refused to accept books with what they believed to be unacceptable erotic content. Censorship is stupid relates to a 2017 episode which led to Draft 2 Digital (a popular integrator for Indie authors like me, which formats books and sends them on to sales sites like Kobo and Amazon), tightening up its guidelines on ‘unacceptable’ content. And in The Vexed Question of Censorship in 2013 I waxed lyrical about censorship in general – and this:-

“Recently we had a case where Kobo withdrew ALL the indie (ie self-published or small publisher) titles sourced from Draft 2 Digital, a knee-jerk reaction to erotic material being made available for children. It was Dinosaur porn, you see, and everyone knows kids love dinosaurs. (rolls eyes) Plenty of people remarked on the hypocrisy of the table thumpers, pointing out that Fifty Shades of Grey was not withdrawn. It seemed erotica from large publishers was acceptable.”

What’s happening now is almost sinister. It seems Amazon is trawling through its titles, removing reviews and down-grading rankings for books with erotic content. The process is called ‘stripping’. The ostensible reason is the “Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act,” or FOSTA, where internet sites can be prosecuted for allowing material that might promote prostitution (and no doubt other things). Read more about it here. My Facebook newsfeed is full of discussion by affected authors. For them, Amazon downgrading a book’s ranking and removing reviews means reducing that book’s visibility andtherefore  potential sales. It’s not just Amazon. I’ve mentioned the Kobo example, and Apple has always refused to sell what it deems to be unacceptable erotica or porn. It seems Google is in on it, too.

I accept that any book-seller has the right to dictate what they will or will not sell. But Amazon  and the other big sellers use automated programs, not people, to process the millions of titles they have on their sites. The results can be totally unfair and ugly. One author I know said, “My teenage books are stripped. Two teenagers falling in love, no sex, nothing freaky, just paranormal. No rank because it’s romance. It’s bloody bollocks.” Another author who normally writes science fiction romance had her perfectly innocent non-romantic Young Adult novel pulled because it had the word ‘sister’ in the book’s description. Presumably the automated process put that story down as incest. This reminds of an email filter management imposed at a place where I once worked to stop emails containing rude words being delivered. Any email with obvious swear words like ‘fuck’ were held. But it swept up possibly innocent words like ‘tit’ (as in blue tit) and allowed words like ‘dick’ and ‘cock’. Processing language is not a precise science.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. A couple of years ago Kobo had a similar purge, tightening up its rules on acceptable content. It’s interesting that these often-draconian measures are applied to writers of (erotic) romance, but any small author who has written romance novels might well be caught up in the ritualistic cleansing.

While Amazon prides itself on customer service, that doesn’t extend to authors. It never enters into discussion about decisions it makes. However, the online sales giant has stated that it is targeting romance titles, especially erotic stories. At least this time, it’s not just small Indies in the cross-hairs. Even EL James’s new books – Fifty Shades of Grey written from Christian Grey’s point of view – have been hit.

I don’t write erotica, let alone porn. (I wouldn’t know how.) I doubt any of my books would be affected, but nobody’s books should be censored in this way.

While we’re on the subject, it seems Microsoft has been forced to appoint itself arbiter of acceptability, as well. Its position is also based on the FOSTA legislation. You will probably have received an email from Microsoft explaining the new terms and conditions, which you very likely did not read. The new terms of service include this clause under Code of Conduct.

  1. Don’t publicly display or use the Services to share inappropriate content or material (involving, for example, nudity, bestiality, pornography, offensive language, graphic violence, or criminal activity).

From there we proceed to what happens if you’re naughty.

  1. Enforcement. If you violate these Terms, we may stop providing Services to you or we may close your Microsoft account. We may also block delivery of a communication (like email, file sharing or instant message) to or from the Services in an effort to enforce these Terms or we may remove or refuse to publish Your Content for any reason. When investigating alleged violations of these Terms, Microsoft reserves the right to review Your Content in order to resolve the issue. However, we cannot monitor the entire Services and make no attempt to do so.

Microsoft to ban offensive language from skype xbox office and other services talks in more detail about what may or not may be affected by the changes, which come into force in May. But what it means for most of us is that if you write ‘fuck’ in an email, or use the word in a Skype call, Microsoft has the right to deny service. And if you write erotica and store the document on their One Drive system, they can delete it. However, as Microsoft makes clear, it does not intened to vet everything everbody writes. It can’t – the task would be beyond even that giant company’s resources. You’ll be safe – unless you’re ‘investigated’.

I THINK any requirements coming from the FOSTA bill are only appropriate in the US, since it is American law. But the global nature of the internet (in Western countries, anyway) means some of this stuff will rub off on us. I’ve heard that though the US Senate has approved the bill, it may be unconstitutional, in which case it’s likely to be bogged down in the courts. But even so, the damage will have been done. I don’t see the corporations removing their new requirements.

So much of this stuff is subjective. What one person calls a good sex scene is somebody else’s porn. That word “offensive” is so politically correct these days. I find gratuitous, graphic violence offensive, but that never seems to be targeted in these purges. Is ‘bugger’ a swear word? Will my books be banned because some character said ‘fuck’?

And to what end? How is any of this going to help prevent sexual trafficking or paedophiles?

I don’t know. I really don’t. Giant corporations, at the behest of the Government, set up as the arbiter of morals, telling people what they can and can’t write, what they can and can’t read, what they can and can’t say. That’s another line the US Government has crossed, and I don’t like it one bit.

Since we entered the twenty-first century, we seem to be going backwards in so many ways.

Makes me glad I’m 67, not 17.

It’s Easter. For some, it’s a particularly important Christian festival, for others, it’s a four-day long weekend, or a celebration of Spring. Whatever it means to you, enjoy the holiday.

That’s it for the Winter Olympics – bring on the Comm Games

Olympic torch Sydney 2000

The Winter Olympics is over for another four years. In 2022 it will be Beijing’s turn and I’m sure that will be lovely for them. In 2020 the Summer games will be held in Tokyo, and the Football World Cup (the round ball game) will be held in Qatar in 2022. But we’ve also got the Commonwealth Games, happening a few hours south of us at the Gold Coast in just a few months. Hurrah! (No, we won’t be going)

I remember watching the 1962 Commonwealth Games on our (very new) TV in Perth.  We were given time off from school because of the Games. They were on in November-December, and as I recall it was stinking bloody hot; hotter than usual for the time of year. The Queen came to visit and we got to go to the new stadium in our school uniforms and wave at her and Prince Philip. The City Fathers built Perry Lakes stadium, the swimming centre, an athlete’s village – and most important of all, the Narrows Bridge. If one considers what Perth paid, and what Perth gained from the games, the ledger isn’t bad. Several stadiums and sporting facilities were built and used over many decades. The bridge was a wonderful thing, joining the two communities north and south of the river much more easily. That infrastructure has stood the test of time.

The Olympic stadium at Sydney, soon to be demolished

But when it comes to hosting such major sporting events, things have changed on several fronts. Sydney hosted the Olympics in 2000. It was extremely well run and I, for one, had a great time. Yet not even twenty years on, the Olympic stadium at Homebush is going to be demolished and replaced. South Africa built a new stadium for the football world cup because there was no suitable venue. Since the World Cup it isn’t used. When the infrastructure was built for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, the poor people around the area were cleared away. Same thing happened in Brazil in 2014 – a poor country spent billions – at the expense of its poorest citizens – to host an extravaganza. Is it worth it? This report from 2003 reflects on what Sydney gained from the exercise. Here’s a report on the 2010 FIFA World Cup and what it did for South Africa. In brief, these sporting events are run at a substantial loss for the host city.

As time has gone by the Olympic movement, started with such high ideals, has become another case of snouts in the trough in the bidding process.  It’s no secret Qatar bought the right to stage the 2022 FIFA World Cup. But that wasn’t an isolated case. This article applies a blow torch to the Olympic bidding process. These days few countries can afford to spend the billions needed to secure a bid. That is especially true of poor nations, who have to build infrastructure they can ill-afford for a few weeks of sports.

And for what?

A bit of jingoism at the kayak races

Sure, it’s a great spectacle and the world gets to see exceptional athletes, but after the doping scandals with the Chinese, the Russians, Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Maria Sharapova – to name just a handful – I’m pretty cynical. And that’s sad for the REAL athletes. It’s not new. We all know the East German swimmers (just one example) were doped to the gills. The Tour de France seems to be more about hiding the doping these days. Russia hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 – and their whole national team was barred from the 2018 competition for cheating. Athletes can excuse using drugs because ‘everybody does it’ and there’s no other way of competing. Performance enhancing drugs are rife in any high-level sport. And if it’s not performance enhancing, it’s sports fixing, such as in cricket – I remember Hansie Cronje, South Africa’s captain, convicted of match-fixing, as well as a few Pakistani cricketers.

Look, I don’t have a problem with the Olympics or all the other world sporting events per se. It’s a great way for the world to get together. But let’s get rid of the bidding process, which only lines the pockets of the organising committees. Here’s just one report on the FIFA scandal, where executives took bribes.  If cities don’t have the infrastructure for such events without spending billions of tax payer dollars, they shouldn’t be bidding. It’s just a way for the rich and famous in those places to big-note themselves. Cities like Los Angeles, which famously actually made a profit from the Olympics, already had the stadiums, and put the athletes up in university accommodation. Heck, I reckon Sydney and Melbourne could host the Olympics with little extra expenditure, as could a number of American, Canadian, and European cities. The biggest outlay would be for security.

It has been suggested the Olympics should be run every four years in the same place, perhaps in Greece, where the whole thing started. But maybe that’s a bit over-ambitious. Maybe several large cities could take it in turns to host the tournament. Or something.

It doesn’t HAVE to be just one host. There’s a World Cup for cricket. Granted, there are far fewer countries involved, but those events are held differently. When the cricket World Cup is in Australia, matches are held all around the country. Same thing can happen in the sub-continent, where games are held in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Pakistan. And so on. Teams use the existing cricket grounds, warts and all. Lots of cities benefit from the matches and from the increase in visitor numbers. I don’t recall anybody having to build a new stadium, or housing. Many more nations play the round-ball game than cricket, but the load could be shared between a number of countries – especially in Europe. After all, international club matches are played over there all the time.

What needs to go is the selection of the host country through a bidding process. That leads to the corruption we’ve seen in the International Olympic Committee and FIFA. What about a rota?  Eg for cricket, we could have Australia/New Zealand, sub-continent, United Kingdom, and Africa, each hosting the games, which take place every four years, so it’s your turn every 16 years. The Rugby World Cup and the FIFA World Cup could be run in the same way, by grouping countries.

And actually, while I’m up here on this hobby horse, I would also suggest it’s time to shut down the United Nations, which is loooong past its use-by date. It was a nice idea in 1945, but greed and self-interest make it a toothless tiger. The world is paying a hefty price to keep politicians in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed in New York. And the world isn’t getting much in return.

I read with sadness that Barnaby Joyce has succumbed to the media pressure and resigned as leader of the National Party. I wish we could go back to the good old days when personal lives were just that, and parliament wasn’t a reality TV show.

Oh well. I guess it just means I’m old.

And in other news, I’m nearing 40k words in my new book, now tentatively titled “Mystery of the Ice Warriors”. But that might change. It sounds a bit Famous Five, doesn’t it? Read a snippet here.