Should CDs come with age limits?

After any high-profile murder case there are the predictable calls for the banning of something or other, and the murder of Jodi Jones is no exception: The Sunday Times reports that politicians are calling for a ban on sales of some CDs to under-18s. After all, most other media such as games, DVDs, movies and so on have age restrictions, and that more or less solves the conflict between protecting people from offensive/disturbing content and allowing artists freedom of speech.

I’ll cheerfully admit to loving the idea of shops being prosecuted for selling singles such as Eamon’s “fuck it”, but while such a classification system is ideal in theory it’s almost entirely unenforceable. If kids can’t buy Marilyn Manson, Eminem or whoever, they’ll download it or get a CD-R of it instead.

That said, it might still be worth pursuing: it would still hit the record industry in the pocket because if the kids are copying music rather than buying it, there won’t be much money in some of the more unpleasant aspects of rap, rock and R&B. If under-18s were unable to buy Eamon’s single, it almost certainly would have languished in the lower reaches of the chart rather than annoying me every time I turn on the TV. Presumably any restrictions would also apply to music TV and radio, too, so we’d be spared the sight of gurning chimps clearly enunciating expletives on The Box.

The problem, of course, is deciding what should and shouldn’t be classified. The obvious targets – Eminem, Manson, explicit and/or thuggish rap – would no doubt end up in the “not for kids” category, but what about less clear-cut issues? For example, if it’s wrong for kids to hear the word “fuck” in music, what about songs celebrating the joys of sex, drugs and rock and roll? Plenty of music is misogynist, or homophobic, or racist, or seditious, or irresponsible. Should they be classified too? Should songs about drinking have the same age limits as the drinks they celebrate?

A few random selections from the current Top 75 demonstrate the problem. Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast – on the face of it, a clear candidate for adults-only listening, but in reality the sort of pantomime “woo! the devil!” nonsense that nobody over the age of 12 would take seriously. Kasabian’s Cutt Off has LSD and gun references. It also has monkeys, although I don’t think monkey references are really a big problem for society. Elsewhere in the chart Scissor Sisters are tripping on acid, Client are singing about pornography, Snoop’s wibbling on about guns and weed (as ever), Gwen Stefani calls herself a “stupid ho”, Kings of Leon sings about switchblades, House of Pain will be “slappin’ the ho” if the “bitch steps up” and so on. In fact, pretty much the entire chart could be deemed offensive to somebody – and offending grown-ups is pretty much the raison d’etre of most pop and rock music.

So, it’s a dumb idea – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. Thanks to teenagers’ and tweenagers’ listening habits we’ve had to endure some bloody awful pop music over the years, so this is a big opportunity for revenge. And just think of the power you could wield if you were on the classification committee:

“Right, Mr Marshall. Next up we’ve got the new single from Ronan Keating.”
“Over 18. Definitely.”
“Er, why?”
“Well, he definitely mutters ‘fuck’ at the end of the first verse, and halfway through the middle eight.”
“Really?”
“Yes. Really. And I’m pretty sure the backing vocals sing ‘Satan Is Lord’ in the coda.”
“My god, that’s terrible.”
“I know. Next!”

Mauled by the Mail

There’s a fascinating article in today’s Media Guardian (free registration required) about Indymedia journalist Mark Covell and the Daily Mail newspaper.

Covell, a journalist, was so savagely beaten by the Italian police that he lost consciousness, suffering serious injuries which included multiple broken ribs, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. He was taken to hospital where he was given a blood transfusion and a chest drain was inserted to remove fluid from a lung. He was heavily sedated and his room was placed under armed guard.

…The day after the assault he awoke to find a man and a woman in his room. In his drugged state, he assumed the personable woman to be from the British embassy and therefore answered her questions, including the name, address and phone number of his mother.

The woman was Lucie Morris, a Daily Mail journalist, and her companion was a photographer.

The next day’s Daily Mail front page was headlined “Armed guard on Briton who led rioters”… The story, under Morris’s byline, accused Covell of “helping to mastermind” the Genoa riots by running “computer systems used to co-ordinate attacks … by anarchist groups”.

As Roy Greenslade points out:

The central thrust of the story, that Covell had led a riot or even had anything to do with its organisation, was wildly inaccurate. He was operating computers for Indymedia, a journalistic collective of environmentalists which despises “the corporate media” but which took no part in the violent confrontations with police. Covell, who did not even attend the street protests, was one of many innocents attacked by the Italian police that night.

The article’s worth reading, not least because it provides some insights into the difficulty of fighting back against a newspaper character assassination.

Sony: we dropped the ball

It seems that in the last few years, the only people who didn’t realise that Sony’s MP3 strategy was D-U-M dumb were the bosses of Sony. Now, it seems, they’ve seen the light. Ken Kutaragi, president of Sony Computer Entertainment, told reporters that Sony blew it with their refusal to support MP3 and obsession with their own, proprietary, music format.

Sony’s problem was political: the hardware bods wanted to make MP3 players, because they’re all smart people; unfortunately, Sony’s entertainment divisions didn’t, because they’re paranoid. The entertainment divisions won, and everyone and their dog bought an iPod instead of a Sony device. Pre-iPod, Sony dominated the world of portable music; post-iPod, it’s drinking whisky in sleazy bars, boring the other barflys with tales of how it coulda been a contender.

So what’s Sony doing to strike back? Two acronyms: DRM and PSP. Entertainment firms won’t sell content if it doesn’t have the dreaded Digital Rights Management technology, and Sony has joined other consumer electronics firms to agree on a DRM standard that works on everything – a big improvement from the mess of incompatible DRM systems we have now, although if Microsoft and/or Apple aren’t involved then it’s questionable whether the new standard will ever get off the ground.

The second plank is the PSP, or PlayStation Portable. Sony sees the PSP as a platform not just for games, but for music and movies. The PSP has already sold the best part of 1 million units since going on sale in Japan last month, and is likely to do serious numbers in the US and Europe when it launches this spring – not least because it’ll cost the same as an iPod Mini. It’s worth noting that while Apple has shifted around 10 million iPods, sales of the PlayStation family are currently sitting at 175 million. If Sony’s plan works, the PSP is likely to be a serious player not just in games, but in music and movies too.

I see dead people, at £30 a pop

Downmarket tabloid newspapers can be pretty depressing things at the best of times, but it’s when you turn to the advertising that things get really appalling. Easy loans with interest rates loan sharks would be ashamed of, cheap and nasty tat, and worst of all, psychic telephone lines.

There’s a special circle of Hell reserved for the worst people in the world, and when they pop their clogs the operators of psychic phone lines will end up there. Their expensive ads promise closure or advice and offer to solve problems, but the only problem they solve is “how do we line our pockets by preying on the despairing, the depressed and the deeply troubled?”

Here’s the pitch. You call one of four numbers depending on your particular needs, so if you want to speak to a departed relative it’s the first line, if you want psychic advice on love and relationships it’s the second, and so on. All of the print is nice and large except for the price, where if you peer at the ad through the Hubble Telescope or an electron scanning microscope you’ll eventually be able to find out that calls cost £1.50 per minute, and a typical call could exceed 20 minutes. That’s £30 from people who can ill afford to spend such sums, and who almost certainly won’t realise how expensive their call will be.

Maybe I should call one of these lines with a pressing enquiry and report back on the quality of psychic insight – I’ve got a call recorder on the phone, after all, so it’ll be pretty easy to do. What do you think? Of course, it does mean that I’d have to go and purchase a downmarket Sunday tabloid next weekend, but that’s a price I’m willing to pay. Although I may solicit paypal donations to cover the cost of the phone call, heh ;-)

American Airlines wants to know everything about you

Another BoingBoing post, but much more serious than conceptual art: if Cory Doctorow’s experience is typical, then it seems American Airlines now expects passengers to provide the names and addresses of everybody they intend to stay with in the USA.

They claimed that this was due to a TSA [Transport Security Administration] regulation, but refused to state which regulation required them to gather this information, nor what they would do with it once they’d gathered it.

… I asked for the name or number of the regulation, its text, and the details of the data-retention and privacy practices in place at AA UK. The security officer wasn’t able to answer my questions, and she went to get her supervisor.

After several minutes, her supervisor appeared and said, after introducing himself, “Sir, this is for your own protection.”

Site spit and polish

I’ve made a few tweaks to the weblog design – nothing too serious, but I’ve gone for slightly different fonts to make the text more readable. I’ve tested it in Safari and Firefox and everything seems okay, but if users of other browsers spot any problems could you let me know please? Thanks.