Firewalls versus free speech

Hello there, Indexers. This is my last blog till September. Yes, you read that right. Although I seem all unconventional and bohemian, I am taking August off, like teachers, school-children, and parents of school-children. I’m not going away, though, so don’t worry. If you suddenly need a small rant about something freedom-of-speechy, you can just mail me and I’ll be vexed for a sentence or two, to keep you going. And I don’t like the summer, so I’ll be counting the days till I come back to you. I won’t be off having fun without you, seeing other blogs, wondering if we could just be friends. No way.

Do you read this in an office? I realised the other week than I haven’t worked in an office since computer screens were black with green writing on. So I don’t know how spreadsheets work, or what PowerPoint is. Or why you would wish to merge mail, or what that entails. I don’t like not knowing things, so I feel kinda bad about this. Perhaps I could use my summer productively, finding out.

One of the downsides of not having worked in an office since the internet began is that I find the conventions of office netiquette hard to guess. For example, I cannot swear if I write to my brother, who works in, you guessed it, an office. If I do swear, in an email to him, his company blocks the mail and sends me a shitty note telling me they have (see, I’m swearing already. Fluent in three languages and I still can’t help myself). They also send him a shitty note, telling him to stop getting mail from his sweary, awful sister.

I used to complain to him about this: it seems to me such a massive, stupid waste of time, money and life. Who really has the energy to employ someone whose whole job involves telling people off for their language, like Ronnie Corbett’s dad in the lame 80s sitcom, Sorry! Who applies for that job? How to you prove you have the necessary skills? Do you have references for being an irritating killjoy who sucks freedom of expression from a room?

My brother pointed out that it was simply something that fell foul of the firewall his company has in place. I didn’t really see why they would need a firewall at all — it’s not like they’re the Pentagon. Hackers have better things to do. But he asked how I would feel if I worked in an office and looked over at my colleague’s desk and saw they were looking at porn. Like I say, I haven’t worked in an office for a while, but things have obviously changed a great deal since I did. Was it only lack of availability that was holding office-workers back from at-desk porn-consumption before? This seems to me the most depressing way of treating your staff: you must prevent them from seeing porn at work, or they will all promptly start looking at porn at work. As though that is how people behaved before the internet, when presumably there was nothing preventing anyone from taking porn mags into the office. Nothing apart from the basic realisation that that would be freaky and weird. Let’s be honest, public shame is a great regulator.

But the no-swearing rule deprives office-workers of a valuable stress-busting resource: namely, emailing a pal to complain about a crappy day, and calling the people they work with/for cunts, in the certain knowledge that their friend will agree, and they can then adjourn to the pub and compare notes on whose boss is cuntiest. Plus, they don’t get to coin superlatives like that, which is a crying shame.

And it affects the way the rest of us behave. Today, for example, I went to email someone in a state of considerable ire. Not with my intended recipient, of course. But with someone we both knew who had behaved in a manner which really required the description, “fucker”. I was cross with the third party. I knew my friend would be on my side. She might even have been cheered by my experience, convincing her, as it would, that she is not merely being intolerant of the offending party but that he is, objectively, a fucker. And I stopped, as I was writing, and wondered if the mail would get through if I used the word, or if I should asterisk it. And I know, I know, that she’s at work, and it’s her work address, and blah blah blah, but really. She’s met me, she knows I swear. Knows it, and perhaps even likes it. I’ve even been to her office and sworn in it in life, so it’s not like it would come as a surprise.

I sent the mail anyway, and it did get through in the end, although it was mysteriously delayed (while, I presume, some fella in the IT department checked it for treasonous thoughts). But if her company can cope, can’t they all? Can we do away with the no-swearing rule, and be allowed to be the foul-mouthed adults we already are?

What not to wear Spanish style

Hello there, Indexers. Are you thinking it’s a bit of a while since I was writing about tits on a seemingly respectable forum? You are? Well, put that mildly peeved look to one side, because I’m about to do it again. Only this time, they’re real human tits, and not evil doll ones. So that’s a relief.

Are you regular visitors to Spain? I am not. I have skin so fair it’s almost blue and a mild allergy to sunblock, I’m vegetarian and I think bull-running is a Very Bad Thing indeed. So I’ve always given Spain a miss, even though I fancy the art and the patatas bravas. Can’t have everything.

But now, I’m thinking I might go to Salou, on the Costa Daurada. It has, according to today’s Telegraph, become the first place in Spain to ban shirtless and bikini-wearing persons from milling around away from the beach. Wearing bikinis on the beach: fine. Wearing bikinis away from the beach, as though they were an acceptable outfit for shopping, dining and wandering about: fined. And fined €300 at that.

I suppose a better blogger would be concerning herself with the impact on freedom of expression. But I am not. I am all for freedom of expression in the form of words. I am not remotely in favour of freedom of expression in the form of dress. Clothes I would not hesitate to ban include: vests on men who don’t look like Bruce Willis; those weird harem pants which make everyone look like they have parsnip-shaped legs; and especially cloven shoes (usually trainers), which have a stomach-turning gap between the big toes and the other toes, as though the wearer were part-goat. I have heard tell of shoes with ten individual toes, but I assume they are just an urban myth.

The councillor for tourism in Salou, Alberto del Hierro, has summarised things admirably. “It is not normal,” he points out, “to go to the market with your packet on show or round tourist sites in a thong. One shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets or enter public buildings in unseemly apparel. It gives the city a low-class look”. I would suggest it is not normal to do anything in a thong, let alone go and look at some ruins. Yet that’s what tourists have apparently been doing. Poor people of Salou – no wonder they’ve had to legislate.

So, if you are going off on your holidays soon — and I believe you non-blue-skinned types do, this time of year — remember the basics. Women: try to recall that bikinis are, in essence, bras and pants. Often smaller pants than one would hope. Wearing them in public anywhere is weird. Wearing them in public, not near sand, is weirder still. Men: you do not look like Brad Pitt when you take off your shirt. You look like you, but more so. That is not a bargain. It is a trauma.

I think the Spanish are trying to save us from skin cancer, from humiliation, from ourselves. Thank you, Spain. Now could you come and ban shirtless running in Regent’s Park, before I burst into tears? Summer isn’t accompanied by collective blindness (except in Day of the Triffids), so could we please stop dressing like it is?

Facebook's nipple patrol strikes again

Now, I know what I’m thinking about on a Monday morning. Is there anything creepier than a doll? And I say no, nothing is creepier than a doll. Dark alleyways, a creak on the stairs, men with moustaches but not beards, and even clowns pale in the creepiness stakes next to a doll. You find me a doll that doesn’t look like it’s plotting to kill me and I’ll buy you a drink. A long way from the freaking doll, so at least I have a chance of hearing it coming after me.

And even though dolls are the objective measure of all that is evil in the world (remember Robert Shaw in Jaws, explaining that the shark has “a doll’s eyes”?), most of us co-exist with them peacefully. Sure, I’d like them to be outlawed, in that ideal world where I finally fulfil my natural ambition to be a kindly despot, but I’ve learned to live with my limitations in this less-than-ideal world.

But Facebook, luckily for those of us who like to write about this kind of thing, shows no such compunction. Over the weekend, they sent a series of warnings to Victoria Buckley, a jeweller in Sydney. She, for reasons best known to herself, displays her jewellery on highly collectable, extremely expensive, absolutely vile porcelain dolls. They have articulated metal joints, polished nails and realistic nipples (there, right there, is the epitome of why dolls are foul. Realistic tits but metal-jointed arms and legs. Jesus).

The warnings apparently state that Facebook will remove the ‘inappropriate content’, and that Buckley will be banned from the site if she reposts them. Banned, let’s all remind ourselves, for showing pictures of a doll’s knockers, over which literally no-one would ever masturbate, apart from the character Julian Sands plays in Boxing Helena. This is in keeping with Facebook’s stern anti-tits message, which has even led to a heroic ban on images of a mastectomy. Ah, Facebook. Is it time you went to a dictionary – even an online one – and worked out that pretty much the defining feature of a mastectomy is its comparative lack of tits? I think perhaps it is.

But then, if you fear the breasts of a doll – more than you fear its killing eyes – you’re impossible to reason with anyway. Are they scared of the plush fur of a soft toy lion at Facebook HQ in case it’s hiding some cat-nipples? Do they check the trouser bulge of Action Men, just to check nothing smutty is going on? Or is it just boobs that give them the heebs? Enquiring minds need to know their detailed policy on artificial tits. Surely stag nights and rugby victory celebrations are full of men wearing big plastic knockers – are those banned too?

Victoria Buckley has sensibly gone public with the story, which should generate enough free publicity to counter the fact that she can’t use her doll pics to publicise her work on Facebook anymore.  But far more than it focuses our attention on her jewellery, this once again shows Facebook on the back foot (unless those are also banned) when it comes to moral issues. What is deeply shocking in America (breasts anywhere where anyone can see them – eg the Superbowl) is commonplace elsewhere (our tabloids, Australia in general). Facebook needs to decide if it is really comfortable with — or capable of — being our moral guardians.