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Thursday, 28 February 2008

I want this in the UK!

You don't even need to know who this lot are; it's the concept. Show the wizard behind the curtain.

This is from Harry Shearer's 'damn channel'. Harry's the voice of numerous Simpsons characters. His channel has loads of this stuff.

Such is progress

New Washington Times (owned by the very, very right wing Moonies) Style Guide:
2) Gay is approved for copy and preferred over homosexual, except in clinical references or references to sexual activity.
3) The quotation marks will come off gay marriage (preferred over homosexual marriage).
David Duke (notorious white supremacist leader):
"I don't see much difference in Barack Obama than Hillary Clinton--or, for that matter, John McCain."
New Republic: Post-racial - how the American far-right is coping

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Update: Iranian gay deportee, Mahdi Kazemi

All Mehdi Kazemi News updates are now at

Most recent headlines should display below:

'Undercover mosque': police hit with lawsuit

Hallelujah seems to be the appropriate response to the news that Channel Four is supporting a libel claim against West Midlands Police.

These are the mob (WM police) which took Channel Four to law over their broadcast of a documentary featuring footage of British preachers calling for homosexuals to be killed, espousing male supremacy, condemning non-Muslims and predicting jihad.

These are also the same police who have received consistent criticism by West Midlands lesbians and gays for homophobia. I blogged last year about how West Midlands Labour councillors (it's a Labour fiefdom) were running anti-gay campaigns using a local gay sex meeting place as an excuse. There's plainly a homophobia problem which lives in the West Midlands.

So hurrah for Channel Four. They have a bloody good case.

Me! Me! Me!

Reading through the comments online as the Daily Mail launches its campaign against plastic bags is an object lesson in:
  1. intergenerational responsibility
  2. blatant selfishness
I recycle bags, this is about taxing ME, this is inconvenient for ME, I am upstanding, I don't litter ... I, I, I ...

What sort of a future do these sorts of people want for their children (or if they don't have them, like me, the generation of humanity who'll support them as they age)?

They want a future which they're not responsible for - that's for someone else (my bloody local council, Gordon Brown, chavs, my neighbors, politicians etc.). Anyone but me.

It's very very, very easy to put the blame elsewhere but we all make decisions, do actions, do non-actions, which have collectively created the polluted, litter-full world we live in. Angels didn't descend from heaven, spaceships didn't land - humans did it and we're all part of it.

Tellingly, the Mail is hanging it's campaign off the impact of rubbish on glamorous sea creatures. Look at this poor turtle, here's a gull wrapped in a plastic bag. I'm sure they know what they're doing and what works best with Middle England.

But howsabout talking about what sort of world our collective kids will inherit?

It's extremely encouraging that the vast majority of commentators have at least some sense of this at last - that concern for the environment is not about fluffy animals but our kids.

I was chatting about this today and there's one person who I'd pin as responsible for the British change-of-heart and that's David Cameron. He has 'normalised' environmental concern on the Right and thus marginalised the sort of selfish loons who appear to dominate American discourse (and used to in Australia).

None of this is to say that changes by individuals is enough - it's not. But we all (can) vote, we all decide, we can make companies and governments change tack. That's why we like being here, in the UK, rather than, say, Saudi Arabia. The public's opinion is what needs to change and it seems to be happening.

The Mail's campaign is very encouraging and - as they did with UK racism over Stephen Lawrence - it will result in a further normalisation of environmental concern. And that's for the good.

Video: Italians protest UK deportation of gay teen to Iran

Google translation from the Italian (Source:
In the coming hours the gay Iranian Seyed Mehdi Kazemi will be transferred from Holland (where he is after having fled from England following the British authorities' refusal to grant him political asylum) to London, before being deported to Iran where he risks execution for the crime of "lavat" (sodomy). The delivery of Mehdi should happen already tomorrow.

None Touch Cain and the Radical Party Nonviolento, transnational and transpartito ask the Foreign Minister D'Alema to intervene immediately to the UK to freeze the unacceptable process of deportation to Iran of Mehdi. That represent a violation of international conventions on human rights and in particular the Convention on Refugees, the jurisprudence of the European Court on Human Rights and the same law (Directive 2005/85).

Yesterday [Monday 25th February] at 17:30 in Rome, in front of the Embassy of Great Britain (Via XX September, 80), there will be a demonstration of No Touch Cain, Nonviolento Transnational Radical Party and Transpartito and Group Everyone, to ask the Government to halt the English 'extradition of Medhi to Iran.
Monday's protest (in Italian)

NB: I will try to get this onto a video sharing site.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Ten online campaigning tips for Ken Livingstone

I may have mentioned my lack of impress with Ken Livingstone's online campaign for the London mayoralty. The first efforts out the gate broke numerous web norms with the biggest hole being leaving supporters without fightback material against the rapidly building anti-Ken campaign and unexplained requests for money from Labour after it's fundraising scandals.

To be a wee bit more positive, here are ten tips culled from the US Primaries experience. They'll be applicable to both Boris and Brian and Siân as well but both of Ken's main challengers are miles ahead already.

I am not including the very, very basics such as not relying on images in email to convey information or testing your site for its usability — if you don't get that sort of thing everything here is waaaay too sophisticated.

1. Email.
  • This is still a prime first contact point, resource appropriately
  • Keep them short and punchy (Ken's waffle on)
  • Keep them task orientated for supporters
  • Lob them out immediately when attacks hit
2. Connect Online to Offline
  • Obama supporters can fill in a simple form and get a free bumper sticker
  • MeetUp and other massive event/organising sites are the prime focus for local campaigning - see Edwards campaign. Use them even before your own site
  • Only Obama has done this properly: tying microtargeting to participation such as online phone banks and text
  • Obama is running ads using web 2.0 to show where to vote
3. Your site won't do everything, don't rely on it
  • Most US Voters don't visit candidate websites
  • Extending your web presence is therefore essential to repeat your talking points
  • What Americans say they want from candidate websites are; their voting records; less spin; less reliance on video clips (for people dependent on dial-up); clearer statements on the issues
4. Viral is always about funny
5. Rebuttal is what the web's for
  • All the meme's against Obama have been far more effectively fought in an online than previous offline campaigns — the Karl Rove's are losing power as the wizard's behind the curtain
  • The web's depth allows you to go to town
  • Your supporters will be desperate for rebuttal talking points
6. Multimedia and video rule, obviously most of all with young people
  • I haven't seen clips circulating of Ken knocking back the booze — that's luck not strategy
  • Encourage and feed your supporters to create their own MM like Flash cartoons — see Mark Fiore
  • Mitt Romney ran a very successful 'create your own ad' effort through Jumpcut
  • You could start with a send-up of 'drunk Ken' — attack is the best defence
7. Expose and therefore normalise yourself
  • Not for nothing have US commentators praised 'Web Cameron' for craftily displaying a 'normal, family guy'
  • Unless you're a stand-up comic or Obama, talking straight-to-camera is boring
  • Brave trumps timid
8. Ditch blatant spin, bottom-up not top-down
  • Supporters, especially a blatantly multicultural selection, praising you - this interests who?
  • Better to seed communities of interest who support you to do their own specific, tailoured spin with your talking points
  • Hillary had to learn that playing safe and top-down command-control doesn't work online and looks awful
9. Bloggers rule Search
  • Google results will generally give masses of blog links
  • For both Ken and Brian this is a major problem given the Tory-leaning UK political blogosphere — although Guido is no Drudge
  • So invite Labour bloggers in and get them to piss inside the tent: encourage them
  • US candidates rank well in search (for their name) only Obama & Hillary for campaign issues keywords (e.g. 'Strengthen middle class')
  • Edwards had 43x more web pages indexed than Obama
10. Sometimes TV still beats Web
  • On Super Tuesday when California was declared for Hillary - the key moment - it took at least ten minutes before it showed up online.
  • On Super Tuesday everyone was 'live blogging' the same results everyone else was waiting for - from the news channels
  • Not so much here yet, but in the US TV is migrating online (I was watching MSNBC on Super Tuesday, they had numerous streams) so candidates feed that context with tailoured landing pages 'for more info'
  • Source referral from TV web pages needs gardening
... and 11. Listen to online politicking critics (like me). The Republicans didn't and look where that's got them.

And if you - cynical politician - still need some sort of convincing see Pew Research nailing the numbers on the Web's political influence in the Primaries.

Any other ideas? I'll expand this post as more ideas pop into my head.


12: What is a 'political' website? Don't restrict your web presence
  • Don't play to the crowd who either never will or already are voting for you (except for mobilisation)
  • The Kenyan Crisis is one example when all types (literally) of bloggers and commentators on all types of sites have participated in politics
  • A London example might be the politics on Arsenal's discussion sites surrounding the attempted Usmanov take-over
  • Match and tailor talking points to communities of real or potential interest, e.g. bus safety to women - and gays - and *fill in the blanks*
13: Use Geo-targeting
  • Obama's campaign used this to present Texas specific content to users from Texas
  • It is now possible to target down to the town level in the UK
  • For elections this means you can tailor messages much more precisely for website visitors as well as searchers so you waste less online ad money


On the numbers:
  • Pew's is the first US detailed research but OFCOM, amongst others is tracking the change in media use in the UK
  • You can see it also in the papers ranking up their sites - they see and are anticipating the move for info/news sourcing to online
  • 'Occams razor' (past experience) suggests that we are maybe 1-2 years behind the US
  • See the impact of YouTube already in the UK - e.g one of my local councillors was shown remonstrating in a street through a video shot on mobile and posted online, then the papers picked it up

Google Reader clips catch up

Latest of my Google Reader starred items:

More McCain comedy riffs

Following on from Jon Stewart:
Oscar is 80, "which automatically makes him the front-runner for the Republican nomination"
Late night hosts seem to have settled on McCain's age for comedy value.

"The guy who is always early for the 'Early Bird Special'"
"The guy at the supermarket who is confused by the automatic doors"

Mind you. that clip's from before the New York Times linked him to a glamorous lobbyist ...

This is hysterical.

They keep saying he's too old for the job. Hell, they'd be nothing better for his campaign than if he produced a closet full of Naughty Ladies ... 'I have an erection right now', then knock the podium over with it ...

Wonkette had the best summary of what the heck the New York Times printed:
  • While Grandpa Straight Talk was running for the presidency in 2000, all his aides were going nuts because he was constantly traveling with a good-looking lobbyist gal who was, at the time, in her early thirties.
  • Whether or not McCain and Vicki Iseman were having sexytime on the corporate jets he used to fly around the country, McCain did do the bidding of Iseman’s clients.
  • At this point, he had barely cleared his name from the Keating Five Savings & Loan scandal.
  • In one of his few acknowledgments that the Arizona senator has ever been to Arizona, McCain made a point of not flying direct from National Airport to Phoenix because he had some part in opening up that commercial air route — but because he always flies in luxury private jets provided by the Corporates, it didn’t much inconvenience him.
  • McCain helped launch some campaign-ethics group, but the group ended up doing the exact same corrupt things it was supposedly against, so he quit in shame.
  • Corrupt banker/developer Charles Keating was, obviously, an immediate supporter of McCain’s long congressional career. Keating showered dirty money and fancy vacations on McCain, who loves all that shit.
  • Then McCain tried to get the government off the back of Keating’s failing corrupt Lincoln Savings and Loan, because McCain really wants to get government off the backs of his corrupt millionaire friends.
  • McCain got caught, but somehow clung to his senate seat.
  • But McCain can still pretend to “wince” at the memory of getting caught, so who cares if the bailout cost American taxpayers $3.4 billion?
  • He also got caught having a big lobbyist fund-raising deluxe luxury fancy party in 2000. So he ran and hid like a little girl.
  • Lobbyists control his entire miserable, corrupt life.
  • He loves lobbyists, both in the figurative and literal sense, because he was probably screwing that one lobbyist.
  • And when the lobbyists need a quick letter to the FCC or whatever to help their clients, John Maverick McCain is always quick to help, the end.

Online marketing and UK eGov Frontierspeople

In January my fabulous egov webbie colleague Jeremy Gould organised the first UK Barcamp for government, held at Google HQ. BarCamp is a newish way of organising gatherings that's a breath of fresh air over the usual stale conferences.

It was an enormously successful event, for the first time drawing in a significant non-government input from the, often isolated, other people in NGOs, SMEs etc as well as bloggers with an interest. I was very sorry I missed it, not the least because it's exactly the sort of event I've wanted to see for - actually - years.

However ... and not having been there I recognise the limb I'm climbing onto (I used to review concerts and this is a classic, don't review if you weren't there) ...

One subject which I noticed was absent from discussion and follow-up and also didn't appear in the stated interests of the attendees was online marketing although I'm sure Search was discussed - it was @Google UK HQ after all.

Of course this is a first, so everything wouldn't make it in, although the 'agenda' at a BarCamp is all about what interests attendees, but it wouldn't surprise me if marketing was completely absent as my experience is that the area just doesn't register in the UK GovWeb scene. It wouldn't have been a focus for attendees because Social Media (in particular), online democracy and similar 'frontier' areas are 'subjects du jour' and there hasn't been the prior resonance, the history, with marketing as a topic for the people in this scene to put it on the agenda.

Elsewhere, it's never been a subject of interest within eGov. What there has been has been either irrelevant or dated (see DirectGov marketing and paulcanning posts passim) but - largely - notable by its absence. There is still no basic advice for government webbies on basic webbie things like Search Marketing / Search Optimisation (though government will advise SMEs on it!).

I hate to reuse the same word but here we go ... this is another disconnect. Marketing and especially Search Optimisation is an absolute essential for any web project.

Simply put, the 'findability' of any site is dependent on it and if something can't be found it won't be used. It precedes Usability.

I can't put it any simpler: if you don't market, how are you going to get used?

The eGov prism through which this topic is missed can be seen in something like discussions about whether councils or specific services (like Youth) should have a Facebook or Bebo page. The eGov discussion would revolve around what you would do with it, how you would use it to 'engage', policy etc. Wonky stuff.

But look at how Presidential candidates (and now some UK candidates) use these huge sites — it's mainly about extending their web presence. Making themselves more 'findable' because they are there in as many places as the potential voters might find them. That first, then maybe they might actually do more with that presence. That's how candidates have behaved online.

Never mind what you might do with a Bebo page, for example, if you simply stick one up that links to somewhere else that helps someone - especially the Youth - find you, boosts your overall presence and promotes your landing page(s). Just doing that is credible to audiences, anything more is pre-empting and assuming attitudes - you don't need to do more.

This is just the beginning, the very basics of online marketing - extending your presence.

Any web site manager looking through their logs will see a host of traffic sources. Looking at my blog; it's bits of traffic which adds up. Different posts finding different audiences through me pinging, links I've asked for and links which self-generate, referral, even one Wikipedia link which has brought lotsa traffic. And Email isn't insignificant as a traffic source. This is exactly how any other site builds traffic.

I've written a lot about how massive efforts like DirectGov really don't help punters through thinking themselves 'special' and not behaving like the rest of the web. How people use lots of different search terms and most won't find them what they want from government via Google, (which is how most people find anything online). Search is not easy (the mighty BBC is screwing it up right now) but it's not like others don't know how to do it and it's not like government doesn't have inbuilt advantages (trust).

The simple fact is that marketing is largely absent from the projects not just devised by big bad bureaucratic government but also those of the Frontierspeople: hence the gap at BarCamp. (Relative) successes tend to come from unsought viral promotion or exclusivity. They don't come from any thought through online marketing strategies because - put bluntly - there are none in eGov.

Any comparison with other sectors just shows this gap in its sharp relief. Who else would keep building sites with no strategy to drive traffic, let alone target an audience?

What actually is depressing is that, without wanting to sound martyrish, I'm scratching around to think of who else is raising the topic. There just seems to be very little resonance for marketing within eGov.

Am I wrong?

I'm scratching around for reasons and the only one I can think of which makes sense is look at the personnel. Who is coming from online marketing backgrounds into eGov? How does this knowledge make its way in? By contrast geeks. tekkies and wonks (of which I'm at least one meself) we have a-plenty.

Solutions? Again, I'm scratching but I think the quickest is to connect with the Frontierspeople equivalent in online marketing and not wait on the bureaucracy. I would also guess that this sector - being citizens and tax-payers themselves - wouldn't all be disinterested in contributing. It's just a shame that we'd (eGov) be coming from such a low base in that potential engagement.

But first we, eGov, just need to recognise online marketing as a vital, core part of creating websites. That hasn't happened yet.

La Dolce Vita

I somehow managed to not find the opening scene of La Dolce Vita clipped on YouTube (slap!) and instead used the Perroni Advert, which is a glossy tribute, as I was matching available clips to my fave films.

The Observer gave copies away on Sunday and as a teaser they found a lot more clips than me, including the stunning opening.

I've never seen a Fellini film I didn't like and could happily watch Marcello Mastroianni open an envelope but La Dolce Vita is a definitive classic:
  • It gave birth to the term Paparazzi
  • First appearance of Nico
  • Huge influence on Lost in Translation and Pulp Fiction. Woody Allen's Celebrity copies the structure
  • The opening scene of a Christ statue over Rome has been copied many times (see L.A. Story)
  • It's in The Simpsons and Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders did an exquisite parody

This is Web power · Pervs meet their match

This is the last of a few posts I've done on 'web power' — ways in which the Web is helping to change the world around us for the better. This last one is a little bit more complicated in its implications than either Italians fighting Mafia or Kenyans developing democracy online.

MANHATTAN — Dan Hoyt is a 'raw food guru' and subway masturbator in New York who met his match in a Camera-phone wielded by a woman fighting back.

The Daily News cover expose

Thao Nguyen, a Web designer, uploaded the photo of Dan and his dick to the girl-power site, hoping someone would identify her flasher. After many women responded she brought the image in August 2006 to the Daily News after the NYPD dismissed her complaint.

It ran on the paper’s front page, Hoyt was caught and she inspired the grassroots group Holla Back NYC, which later launched a Web site encouraging women to post photos of men who make uninvited or inappropriate comments and gestures. There are now sites for other US and Canadian cities.

Holla Back's motto is "If you can't slap 'em, snap 'em!"

There are quite a few reports from London too. Including a few pics - like this young dickhead 'reading' porn on the 17.45 from Manchester Piccadilly all the way to London Euston.

There's another pic of a man openly masturbating on the London Underground.

The idea doesn't seem to have caught on outside North America, perhaps because of libel laws. It had a rave reception from British feminists when launched but there's nothing like it in the UK and I can only assume the law or fear of the law has stopped women from copying it.

It's also potentially open to abuse in more ways than one. The site, for example, has gone out of its way to ensure that the photos are not a parade of 'scary black men'.

As well, it fits an evolving American niche where sites exist to do allegedly useful social tasks like 'expose' nannies having a fag break. Sites which hit first and answer questions later, all in the name of 'free speech'.

The bottom line though is that HollaBack lives up to its name - women hollering back to men that they won't take this crap. Only through the web can this sort of daily dose served up to women in public space be literally shown for what it is.

This is Web Power and, on balance, it's brilliant. Far better to be aggressive like this than passively accepting with 'women-only' carriages on the Tube (Brian Paddick's solution, neither Ken or Boris have one).

PC hearts lastfm is the British-born online music social network which was bought by CBS (of all people) last year. They have just 'upped the offering' by making a lot of music playable in its entirety on the website. And this has apparently helped its usage balloon in the States.

The reasons I love it are two sides of their core offering: new-to-me music. I love that the method introduces me to 'similar' music via various routes — one would be, after feeding the system lots of info, who else in the world shares my eclectic taste and another via 'tags'. But it also has an enormous archive so I can find music I've lost touch with, a lot from when I was a deejay (I've read that this makes me an example of their desired audience, middle aging blokes revisiting their youth!).

It's more than that though. It still has a 'community' feel, which is most evident on the forums where staff actually contribute. There's also local communities and lots of people with groups and events and more I've barely touched. But most of all it's enabled me to build up an archive so wherever I might be I don't need an ipod to hear 'my sort of music'.

I've had interesting experiences explaining it. 'Radio stations' really is a concept in need of a new name. Ain't easy to explain how it works but when showing it to a young friend of mine I jumped with glee when they 'got it' immediately. There are lots of ways to play around with it but the bottom line is you do have to give back to get out, it's not a passive medium.

The best thing by far though is the opportunity to be exposed to music you'll probably like but wouldn't otherwise know, and maybe a lil' bit further.

'tis the future with music I think. Apple be damned!

Oscars riffs on Iraq

"The films that were made about the Iraq war, did not do so well. But I'm telling you, if we stay the course and keep these movies in the theaters we can turn this around. I don't care if it takes 100 years. Withdrawing the Iraq movies would only embolden the audience. We cannot let the audience win."

Monday, 25 February 2008

Jacqui Smith is complicit in murder

A post of mine from last year on Iranian executions of gays has been consistently getting hits from people looking for information on that subject.

The link at the end is to the Iraqi LGBT exiles organisation — where you can donate to efforts to save people's lives.

I've now come across a similar group for Iran. They're supporting 'safe houses' and campaigning against asylum seekers being sent back to their deaths.

[Iran is not alone. Athough gays suffer murderous persecution ( a 'deathzone') in Iraq and many other nations, these are the ones with the death penalty in the statutes: Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Yemen and Nigeria. NB: The UAE includes Dubai, home to numerous supposed 'friends of the gays', such as the Beckhams, as well as the massed slave labour building those skyscrapers.]

Last year, some British MPs, to their credit, told the Iranians what they thought of them to their face during an official visit.
The Iranian Minister Mohsen Yahyavi (who is the highest- ranked politician to admit that Iran believes in the death penalty for homosexuality) told British MP’s at the Inter-Parliamentary Union in May this year, that homosexuals should be executed [he initially said tortured but changed it to executed].
However the UK is still deporting gays and lesbians back to Iran.

One was Pegah Emambakhsh, who was saved last year by the intervention, amongst others, of the Prime Minister of Italy.

Nineteen year old Seyed Mehdi Kazemi is yet another that Jacqui Smith wants to send to his death. I have just discovered his case. He is arriving at Heathrow tomorrow and it is not clear whether he will be held or put straight on a Tehran flight.

Hearing this is heartbreaking - literally - because, as one anonymous commentator put it:
It could be any of us who are LGBT, who is in that position, if not for the roll of the dice that allowed us to be born in the West.
Here is his story:
Seyed Medhi Kazemi was born in Tehran and is not yet 20. On September 15th, 2005 he set off for the United Kingdom after applying for a student visa. At first he lived with his uncle in London and attended an English course. In November 2005 he moved to Brighton where he enrolled at the Embassy CES College of Hove. He renewed his student visa to November 2006, with the intention of returning to his family in Iran once the course was over.

Medhi loved a boy back in Iran called Parham, with whom he had shared a secret relationship since the age of 15. Medhi and Parham regularly wrote to each other via e-mail until December 2005, when Parham suddenly stopped writing. In late March 2006, Medhi’s uncle informed him that his father had found out about his homosexuality and his relationship with Parham: the boy had been arrested by the Iranian authorities after being caught with a peer and accused of “lavat” (sodomy).

During the interrogation he was forced to give the names of all the boys he had had relations with, including Medhi himself. Medhi’s father had then received a visit from the Tehran Police, with an arrest warrant for his son as they wanted to put him on trial. In late April, Medhi’s uncle told him Parham had been put to death.

At this point, Medhi decided to apply to the British Home Office for refugee status, as a similar fate awaited him back in Iran: a death sentence for lavat, and maybe even mohareb, followed by hanging in an Iranian prison (seeing executions are no longer being carried out in public places after the decree signed by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hasemi on January 30th, 2008). His application for asylum, however, was turned down by the Home Secretary.

Medhi, terrified at the idea of being deported back to Iran - where a death sentence awaits him – attempted to flee to Canada, but he was stopped by the German border police. After telling them his story, he was sent to Holland (a country known for granting refugee status to Iranian homosexuals) and handed over to police custody. However, the United Kingdom then sent an official request to Holland, according to the Treaty of Dublin, asking for Medhi’s return, in order to proceed with his deportation to Iran.

On February 13th, 2008, Medhi informed his uncle of his whereabouts, he was being held in Venlo police station in Holland and had been told he was soon to be transferred to Rotterdam. Medhi’s uncle says he last heard from his nephew on February 15th. Medhi was in the detention centre at Rotterdam Airport, and according to the boy, no one had told him what his fate would be, nor when he was to be returned to Britain.

Omar Kuddus, from the Gay Asylum UK association, tells EveryOne Group that he received a phone call from Medhi, on February 18th, informing him that the flight that is to take him back to Britain has been arranged for Tuesday February 26th: it will leave at 8 a.m. (Dutch time) from the Amsterdam Airport of Schiphol, and arrive at Heathrow, London at about 8.30 a.m. (British time).

Medhi is at present in a precarious state of heath and suffering from deep depression. Several days ago he started a hunger strike.
Hearing yet another story like this makes me ASHAMED to be British and ASHAMED of the Labour Party I voted for. UK gays should note as well yet another Italian protest against Britain, at the Rome Embassy on Monday.

Jacqui Smith heads the Home Office, whose policy appears to be to send people back and hope for the best. They, contradicting the Foreign Office, continue to deny murderous persecution of gays and lesbians in Iran. Smith, and her predecessors, have consistently failed to take leadership in this area, which campaigners have been raising for years.

Jacqui Smith is the responsible party and needs to be called to account as complicit in murder.

This is the same as when her predecessors in the 1930s knowingly sent Jewish children fleeing Germany back to their deaths.

The Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP
House of Commons, Westminster,
London, SW1A 0AA
By Telephone and Fax :
01527 523355
By E mail

Please contact her and/or tell others about Seyed Mehdi Kazemi.


Sarkozy on camera: "piss off!"

Entering a exhibition, a bloke refuses to shake the President's proferred hand and says 'Touche moi pas, tu me salis' - 'Don't touch me, you'll make me dirty'.

Sarkozy's quick comeback: 'Casse-toi, casse-toi pauvre con' - meaning 'Piss off, you jerk'.

Cameras rolling and said with a smile. Such class.

Hillary mocks Obama

... but it's all a bit late ...

'The Sky Will Open, The Light Will Come Down'

Sunday, 24 February 2008

Monty misses the High Line

I've been enjoying Monty Don's tour of World Gardens on the Beeb, despite far too many presenter shots (unfortunately a TV norm). But he really missed something special in New York.

In Manhattan he visited one of the first Community Gardens, one tiny strip besides a Lower East Side block. But running nearby like a green river through West Manhattan is one of the most exciting urban park/garden projects in the world: the High Line.

This is the abandoned elevated railway which runs 22 blocks to the Hudson River.
The structure was designed to go through the center of blocks, rather than over the avenue, to avoid creating the negative conditions associated with elevated subways. It connected directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to roll right inside the buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could come and go without causing any street-level traffic.
Of course it was all set for demolition and redevelopment but New Yorkers fought (notably against Guiliani) and won it back for public space.

Now the whole length is being converted into a series of elevated gardens, meadows and parkland, with swimming pools, an amphitheater, even a beach, as well, in an immensely innovative way. 'The biggest opportunity for green space in Manhattan in 100 years'.

London actually has an elevated linear park in Mile End Park, which continues over a 'Green Bridge', designed by Piers Gough, to cross the main road.

Leeds wants to do something similar with an old viaduct. Paris already has the Promenade plantée connecting the Bastille with the eastern suburbs. Valencia' s Jardín del Turia is a similar 'linear park' through the heart of the city, there in a diverted river bed. Other cities like Chicago are looking at similar abandoned elevated railway conversions.

This strikes me as a very realistic, aesthetic, urban use of space and - Monty! - all about gardens.

Lots of creative New Yorkers — like film star Edward Norton — seem to be part of their giant community scheme. So, n'est ce pas, the video is good!

Here's more about The High Line.

A message to Ralph Nader from anonymous

Consumer advocate Nader starts presidential bid - Reuters - Sunday, February 24, 2008; 12:02 PM

First as tragedy, then as farce ...

NB: this is the same style as the anonymous anti-Scientology vid

Cromer avoids death by satellite

Not making this up ...
The British government says a sizeable chunk of the poison satellite of death will hit the earth at 5.30pm GMT today (12.30 Eastern). They expect it to hit somewhere in the South Atlantic, but are a little bit concerned that it might end up crashing into the picturesque seaside village of Cromer in Norfolk - they’re worried enough to have informed the local emergency services…
This is Cromer described as a "lovely hobbiton" in my US source full of "quaint, thatched-roof cottages" and something to do with "wicket goblins" (a Potter reference I believe). Oh those charming Americans!

If only. It's actually a depressed seaside resort town with a drugs problem and seafront bed'n'breakfasts full of displaced asylum seekers. The pier area's been tarted up but the Victorian Gothic hotels behind desperately need a lick of paint.

The 'quaint' (rich) bit of North Norfolk starts further up the coast.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Climate Change nowhere in US Elections and the world should worry

Just been reading about how the last Democrats debate was sponsored by coal interests and full of 'clean coal' promotional ads — and no questions about Climate Change.

The environment is nowhere as an issue in the election, rating around 1%, although 'energy policy' (a specifically American prism through which climate change is usually glimpsed) rates much higher. Here's a typical Hillary contexualisation:
When I speak, as I have now for the last eleven months, to tens of thousands of people and I say that we will do everything necessary to end our dependence on foreign oil, people!
Interestingly, Climate Change is, in this election, being loudly raised from the Right - some prominent evangelicals have made it a front-and-centre issue and this has caused schisms with those who prefer going after the gays. It was a big issue in the Republican primary.

McCain was the only Republican candidate signed up to the need for carbon reduction targets and joining carbon trading schemes (what Bush has consistently undermined alongside attacking the science).
Mitt Romney has really been going after Senator McCain on this. Of course, McCain was the first to propose a cap on carbon emissions, and Romney's really been on the attack, saying this means McCain's not a real conservative. He's putting the economy at risk through increasing energy prices. McCain shoots back that he will trust American entrepreneurs to rise to this challenge and create green energy jobs.
But the Democrat base hasn't prioritised it, as Al Gore has lamented (note the faint praise).
"Some of the candidates have made speeches which are quite good and proposals that are quite responsible, but overall the issue has not achieved the kind of priority that I think it should have."

"I don't blame the candidates for that, some of them have tried to push it higher on the agenda."

"That is just the very reason why I have put so much of my time into trying to change the way people think about this crisis in my country and around the world -- so that candidates will hear from citizens that they want this to be the top priority."
Indeed, if you look at Hillary and Obama's positions, they call for massive energy use reductions and massive carbon output reductions. All of their plans have enormous implications which - patently - the Democrat base don't get.

Although Gore isn't about to blame them, it's clear that the leadership also isn't there to explain the seriousness of the mess they're in. Indeed both Obama and Hillary are linked to coal or nuclear interests and the primary process itself doesn't help: no-one will oppose disastrous biofuels because first-up Iowa voters love them and the subsidies they attract.

Here's Obama (Hillary's almost identical):
Barack Obama will invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, accelerate the commercialization of plug-in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, invest in low emissions coal plants, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid. A principal focus of this fund will be devoted to ensuring that technologies that are developed in the U.S. are rapidly commercialized in the U.S. and deployed around the globe.
The policies are pretty xenophobic, messy and contradictory and way too inadequate ($150 billion isn't anywhere near enough) or just plain wrong. And in the November finale, expect the Right to use even these wishy-washy policies to go after so-called Reagan-Democrats. They'll capitalise on either Obama or Hillary's failure to explain/sugar coat reality for short-term political gain.

Just to take one example of not facing up to reality, think about 'Peak Oil'. This is the fact that oil reserves are spent, that demand will (some say it already has) exceeded supply and this means the entire world economy (based on oil) needs massive retooling if it isn't going to collapse in wars and famine. I couldn't find a single candidate quote about 'peak oil'.

Opening of the excellent documentary 'A Crude Awakening -- The Oil Crash':

".. and yet it's only a few years away."

I've been background reading on this and the permaculture movement seems to be the only way of looking realistically at this looming reality, rather than 'sustainability' which is kindof pretending that we can carry on as before whilst making a few mildly difficult changes. Permaculture says that we have to learn to live with less energy.

Here's a fascinating interview with David Holmgren, one of the founders of the permaculture movement. He details what he regards as the opportunity for humanity which Peak Oil represents.

He's Australian and it's interesting to note that Climate Change was a real big issue in that country's recent elections, primarily because Australia is very much on the edge ecologically.

For ordinary Australians the persistent drought has forced even big-c Conservative Australia to think radically on these issues. They've seen the future and they're very very worried. Americans evidentially haven't woken up and for the rest of the world that's pretty depressing.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Utter cuteness

Paris, France: Kibongo, a crowned verreauxi sifakas, a baby lemur. It was born at the Vincennes zoo on December 24 last year
Photograph: F G Grandin/AFP/Getty Images

Here's another one of Kibongo.

And when they grow up they dance and sing like whales!

More? Check out Cute Overload.

BBC Blogs: A response

Good to see a quick response from the Beeb's Internet team to my comments about their blogs. This also seems to be them following through on stated plans as connecting to the blogosphere's reactions is noted as a gap to be closed.

I'm told that the Radio 4 PM Blog is already fixed - could Eddie Mair's constant carping + newish Saturday webbie PM have helped speed that I wonder?!

And I'm also told that ...
I think you're right about the notifications of errors. We can probably do more there in the 4 weeks or so before the first phase of the upgrade.
I actually didn't mention error messages in my post here directly, but did in my initial (failed then succeeded) comment on the BBC Internet blog.

This is the point that they're responding to:
Don't think of it as a technical issue, think of it as a customer service issue.

You need to be upfront about the system's issues on the blogs themselves.

If someone cannot post, they won't come back and your mission of getting feedback is shot.

Your error message is a classic example of how not to do it. You should be much more usable and user-friendly and then maybe some of the failed commentators might come back (I have some 404 examples on my blog, here's one You don't even have any help information which acknowledges your technical issues ('why your comment may have failed').

I have met some brilliant BBC usability people - maybe you need some of them in on your 'reviews'.

Art imitates life imitates art

This is pretty amaaazing.

Devotees of the West Wing have been talking about it for weeks: the uncanny similarity between the fictional presidential contest that dominated the final seasons of the acclaimed TV show and the real-life drama of this year's election.

Both the real and imagined campaigns have centred on a young, charismatic candidate from an ethnic minority, daring to take on an establishment workhorse with a promise to transcend race and heal America's partisan divide.

But there's a twist.

For what those West Wing fans stunned by the similarity between the fictitious Matthew Santos and the real-life Barack Obama have not known is that the resemblance is no coincidence. When the West Wing scriptwriters first devised their fictitious presidential candidate in the late summer of 2004, they modelled him in part on a young Illinois politician - not yet even a US senator - by the name of Barack Obama.

The parallels are spooky.

"Some of Santos's insistence on not being defined by his race, his pride in it even as he rises above it, came from that," West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie said.

"After [his 2000 Democrat] convention speech, Obama's life changed. He was mobbed wherever he went. He was more than a candidate seeking votes: people were seeking him. Some of Santos's celebrity aura came from that."

And more:
  • Santos was an outsider up against a national figure
  • Began political career as a community organiser
  • Question about his inexperience,
  • Would Latinos identify with him?
  • Campaign theme of change, change change and ending old divisions
  • A maverick, Western, Republican opponent who'd beat a Pastor to the nomination
And then there's 'the soaring power of the Santos rhetoric'.
"It was always an inside joke on the West Wing that the show had a prophetic quality," recalls Attie, now a writer and producer of House, starring Hugh Laurie.
You don't say!

Labour's 50 achievements?

Labour mailing list members are being asked to add their thoughts to the 'Top 50 achievements', though anyone else can too.

At No. 32. is 'Scrapped Section 28 and introduced Civil Partnerships'.

Which is great - hurrah! - but far, far more significant is that they finally banned discrimination at work.
On December 1, 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (the EER) came into force in the UK and made it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation, or harass or victimize them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

I'm sure that the list compliers and a lot of Brits assumed discrimination was already illegal, hence it's not mentioned.

But it wasn't. And although I know they needed prodding (by the European Courts, and hence 2003!) it's Labour's biggest achievement specifically for gay people.

Diana 'not biggest conspiracy'

click table to enlarge

Thursday, 21 February 2008


Can Barack do this?

Feeeeeel da rydim ..

Shake shake just shake shake Just shake shake Just shake chica shake shake Shake shake just shake ... ...

Me, and my shaaadow ... walking down the av - e - nue ...

Somehow I'm reminded of the bird in 'the Good Life' title watching this ...

Hat-tip: Wonkette

A familial plug

My cousin has just launched his new website. Alistair's an excellent photographer with a specialism in travel and nature. He's got a lot of really good pix on the site and will be selling prints soon.

Check it out here.

And some random examples follow - great stuff!

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The Australian apology and the BBC

I just read the BBC Sydney correspondent's take on the Australian government's apology to the Stolen Generations on his blog. Nick Bryant is new-ish to town, so I wanted to make a few points to him. But of course I can't. No feedback as blog comments don't work.

So here's what I said, Nick, and maybe from the link back you might pick this up. Sigh.

Nick - and what about the UK? We have never apologised to Aborigines but we have to the Irish and others.

Who started this? Who's the ultimate responsible party? We are and the UK continues to work against indigenous interests internationally. Here is the UK government's attitude:

"The use of the term 'indigenous peoples'... cannot be construed as having any implications to rights under international law".

Ask your colleagues about the Uk establishment's attitude, Nick, and you may be shocked.

Regarding the Rudd apology, it was carefully couched. Compensation is off-the-table as is any talk of genocide - they won't even discuss it but it clearly was cultural genocide and that needs to be understood.

I think this is a late, partial move in the right direction and Labor has bad form with actually sticking up for aborigines - Rudd himself has bad form and certainly needs to do much more before he's Nobel material [some have suggested this]. He could start by bringing the remote aboriginal communities up to the same standard of basic services which their white neighbours enjoy - I have seen for myself what this means in practice and also seen many Australians preferring ignorance about their fellow citizens situation.

[Note: I had a friend in the Northern Territory who was doing round-trips of several hundred kms several times a week for dialysis. Many Aborigines need this but the service isn't there for them because of the legacy of past, racist service provision. Many, many communities lack services, like dialysis, that other Australians take for granted].

When I lived there the ABC showed Frontier, the first real attempt to document the war of occupation. Despite a star-studded narration it got terrible ratings and I very much noted that even my 'right-on' friends didn't watch it. The massacre sites [estimates range up to 1300 with the last documented from 1928 ] remain largely unmarked and unknown or even denied and to my mind this says everything about Australian attitudes.

Confronting the past is hard and the apology is one baby-step only down the road which Australia must take.

Postscript: Weirdly, my comment has now appeared. Despite when posting being given a 502 (error) message. Kindof proving my point with the not so user friendly nature of the BBC's blogs.

BBC blogs: why bother?

The BBC has been running a blog network for a while now with presenters and producers encouraging feedback. It's a very obvious thing to do - most media organisations now do this sort of thing. The problem is that it simply doesn't work.

The technology which underpins much of the BBC's site is ancient, as commented on here and as the Beeb itself admits here (the problem is nearing two years old!). With the blogs, this means that a very high number of attempted comments fail and the network has crashes and slow periods far too often. The BBC bloggers themselves moan about this. And if they just used the same sort of technology that others use they wouldn't have these problems.

None of the blogs makes note of the problems, you just suffer them when trying to comment. They have no help which explains that sometimes comments fail because of their system. Only the most persistent or fortunate seem to get through.

They ain't usable and they're unfit for the purpose they were devised for — feedback. So, why bother?

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Australia: the apology

Kevin Rudd with Nana Nungala Fejo, the Northern Territory great-grandmother named by the Prime Minister in his historic apology to the stolen generation

The apology by Australia's new Labor Prime Minister to the Stolen Generations [Aborigines removed en masse from their parents] was a well-hyped moment. Coming at the beginning of the new Parliament it was received by large crowds of Aboriginal people who descended on Canberra.

It's way over due. Way past Canada or New Zealand or Brazil in their approach to their indigenous citizens. And it comes with - deliberately - no compensation (although the courts may see more compensated, it's unlikely because the evidence trail is cold), unlike those other countries. Plus there is still large scale opposition and complete denial, in particular to anyone raising the concept of 'genocide'.

Here's what this means in practice:
I do not know if Rikki Davis (Letters to the Editor, NIT Issue 144 ‘In defence of Brough’) is Aboriginal or non Aboriginal but this is exactly what I mean; no such thing as cultural genocide indeed? I know there is, cause I can’t speak MY language or practice MY culture because some whitefulla told my grandfather that he cannot do that “it is the old way” and to ensure he never did he was beaten every time he spoke one of the five or so more languages he could speak.

So he had to do it in secret, never to pass it onto his children for fear he would “hold them back”.

He also had the fear of a foreign god forced into his psyche to aid the cultural genocide policies of the times.
Like many Indigenous Australians, I couldn't get too excited. It's just (carefully calculated) words.

Labor in Australia is not, traditionally, that friendly to Aborigines. Inspiring figures like ex-Labor PM Keating ('we poisoned the waterholes') are rare. PM Rudd, as well, has form from his time as a Queensland civil servant in working against Indigenous interests and in the lead-up to the election Labor backed former PM John Howard's shocking, paternalist and colonialist 'intervention' in remote communities for electoral advantage. The States have been largely in Labor hands for years and they have done b****r all for Indigenous Australians. The Labor States have in particular fought the allied issue of 'stolen wages' - years of failing to pay or underpaying Indigenous workers.

Labor has done part of The Right Thing To Do but until they start serious spending to reverse the gap - which is enormous, many Aborigines live in Sub-Saharan Africa circumstances - and propose real constitutional change I ain't convinced by their sincerity.

The UK should also apologise, being the ultimate responsible party, but we have a historic antipathy to indigenous people within the UK establishment, focused on the Foreign Office, which most Labour supporters wouldn't be aware of.

We apologised to the Irish for the potato famine but apparently Australia's Aborigines living in our 'Terra Nullius' (empty land) don't have enough clout.



Between 1910 and 1970 up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken forcibly or under duress from their families bypolice or welfare officers .

Most were under 5 years old. There was rarely any judicial process. To be Aboriginal was enough. They are known as the ‘Stolen Generations’.

What happened to them?
  • Most were raised in Church or state institutions. Some were fostered or adopted by white parents.
  • Many suffered physical and sexual abuse. Food and living conditions were poor.
  • They received little education, and were expected to go into low grade domestic and farming work.
Why where they taken?

They were taken because it was Federal and State Government policy that Aboriginal children - especially those of mixed Aboriginal and European descent - should be removed from their parents.

Between 10 and 30% of all Aboriginal children were removed, and in some places these policies continued into the 1970s.
  • The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
  • Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
  • They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
  • Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
  • Children were told that they were orphans
  • Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed.
What where the results?
  • The physical and emotional damage to those taken away was profound and lasting:
  • Most grew up in a hostile environment without family ties or cultural identity.
  • As adults, many suffered insecurity, lack of self esteem, feelings of worthlessness, depression, suicide, violence, delinquency, abuse of alcohol and drugs and inability to trust.
  • Lacking a parental model, many had difficulty bringing up their own children.
  • The scale of separation also had profound consequences for the whole Aboriginal community - anger, powerlessness and lack of purpose as well as an abiding distrust of Government, police and officials.
A National Inquiry was set up in 1995. Its 1997 Report ‘Bringing them Home’ contained harrowing evidence.

It found that forcible removal of indigenous children was a gross violation of human rights which continued well after Australia had undertaken international human rights commitments.
  • It was racially discriminatory, because it only applied to Aboriginal children on that scale, and
  • It was an act of genocide contrary to the Convention on Genocide, (which forbids ‘forcibly transferring children of [a] group to another group’ with the intention of destroying the group.)