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Tuesday 23 December 2008


The first BarcampUKGovweb took place in January 2008 for those working in and around, or simply interested in, UK government online. It was an opportunity for people with a wide variety of skills, experiences and perspectives to share their knowledge and get to know each other.

The event was a big success.

Well another one has been organised and here's the blurb and contacts!
Since last January an awful lot has happened - such as great examples of using social media tools and initiatives to make better use of government data. This second government online barcamp will be an opportunity to share some of the learnings of the last year and gain some ideas about what to do next.

This event should be of interest to all who work in the UK government digital media community: permanent civil servants, contractors, consultants, agencies, advisers, supporters, observers, and critics.

If you think you've got something to contribute to improving how government organisations use the web, then this event is for you.

There's a Google Group that was set up for last year's event where you can find out more.

Monday 22 December 2008

UK egov: not the best in the EU

Individuals using the Internet for interacting with public authorities


Zimbabwe: what to do

Thousands have died of malnutrition and starvation. So many have been buried in their remote villages that nobody can be sure what is now the country's actual population.
Christian Science Monitor.

Daily Mail (yes!) has an excellent, underground piece today on the state of Zimbabweans.

And in my inbox is an Avaaz appeal about broadcasting a solidarity message in the new year to Zimbabweans.

Not enough. In fact I can just imagine how useful that will be. Worse than useless. Almost patronising.

What is needed is nothing but endless pressure on South Africa. They are the ones who can turn SADC and force change. They are the ones who Mugabe will listen to and accept exile. It is all about SA applying the screws - or not.

And this argument is sanctioned by endless African voices. Meaning, don't feel any lingering white guilt for doing it. This is about fellow humans saying what is right.

It is not enough to 'offer solidarity' to Zimbabweans!

Although Africa has worse horrors. Although bigger genocides are happening and have happened (Zenawi?), let this be an example to the other bastard dictators. Mugabe first.

What pressure on SA?

1. World cup - Move it. Seriously. Scare them that it could happen.
2. Shunning - No more big-ups from the likes of Bono and Geldof (big-up Botswana's leaders instead), back turning on the SA leadership - literally.
3. Shaming - Say it. Their behaviour is shameful. It is SA that is letting this happen. It is is SA which is responsible. Shame them.

'African solutions'? Pah. Time for world solutions and some real solidarity.

Embassies of South Africa to Other Nations

Boycott South Africa World Cup 2010 in support of Zimbabwe

Sunday 21 December 2008

Jingle bells 2008

How to do egov - US gov webbies have a plan

President in waiting Barack Obama owes his victory in significant part to the internet, and he has spoken often of how he wants to use it to change government for the better.

As part of the transition process the US Federal Web Managers Council has written a white paper 'Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government'.

The council is an interagency group of almost 30 senior web managers from the federal government, that includes web directors from every cabinet-level agency, several independent agencies, and representatives from the judicial and legislative branches. It serves as the steering committee for the Web Content Managers Forum, a group of nearly 1,500 government web managers across the country.

Their paper is an absolutely spot-on summary of how-to-do-it, which hits all my nerves. Many of its key points relate to past posts on this blog as well of those of many of my egov colleagues. Because it's so damn good, I'm reproducing it in full.

That such a document could exist is soley because webbies in US government are organised and have a voice. 'Webbies' meaning professionals with web specific skills, those which have emerged over the past 15-20 years.

It's language could only come from webbies. We have nothing anywhere close to this document in the UK.


Putting Citizens First: Transforming Online Government


This White Paper recommends specific strategies for revolutionizing how the U.S. Government delivers online services to the American people. It was developed by the Federal Web Managers Council, comprised of Cabinet agency Web Directors.

The current state of government online communications

The importance of the Internet has grown exponentially over the last decade, but the government’s ability to provide online services to the American people hasn’t grown at the same pace. Building this capacity will present one of the biggest challenges—and most promising opportunities—for President-elect Obama.

We need to build on the groundswell of citizen participation in the presidential campaign and make people’s everyday interactions with their government easier and more transparent.

It won’t be an easy task.

There are approximately 24,000 U.S. Government websites now online (but no one knows the exact number). Many websites tout organizational achievements instead of effectively delivering basic information and services. Many web managers don’t have access to social media tools because of legal, security, privacy, and internal policy concerns. Many agencies focus more on technology and website infrastructure than improving content and service delivery.

Technology should not drive our business decisions, but rather help us serve the needs of the American people. Here’s the result when communication takes a backseat to technology:
“Often I can find the page on a government site that’s supposed to contain the information I need, but I can’t make heads or tails of it. I recently tried to Google a specific requirement for dependant care flex accounts. Although I got to the correct page, it didn’t answer my question. The links took me to the typical, poorly written tax guidance. Where did I get the answer to my question? On Wikipedia.”
We’re working to address these problems. We’ve built a network of over 1,500 federal, state, and local web professionals across the country to share best practices; we created a large-scale training program for web managers; and we’re working to support the use of social media while also addressing important privacy, security, and legal implications.

While our efforts have been very successful, a high-level mandate from the new Administration is needed to quickly and radically transform government websites.

A bold, new vision for the future

President-elect Obama should be able to promise the American people that when they need government information and services online, they will be able to:
  • Easily find relevant, accurate, and up-to-date information;
  • Understand information the first time they read it;
  • Complete common tasks efficiently;
  • Get the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, live chat, read a brochure, or visit in-person;
  • Provide feedback and ideas and hear what the government will do with them;
  • Access critical information if they have a disability or aren’t proficient in English.
The recommendations below are designed to help the new Administration increase the efficiency, transparency, accountability, and participation between government and the American people. Some of these changes can be implemented quickly and at minimal cost.

Others will require significant changes in how agencies conduct business and may require shifts in how they fund web communications.

Establish Web Communications as a core government business function

One of the biggest problems we face in improving government websites is that many agencies still view their website as an IT project rather than as a core business function.

Many government websites lack a dedicated budget. Only a minority of agencies have developed strong web policies and management controls. Some have hundreds of “legacy” websites with outdated or irrelevant content.

With limited resources, many find it difficult to solicit regular customer input and take quick action to improve their sites. While there are many effective government websites, most web teams are struggling to manage the amount of online content the government produces every day.
  • Agencies should be required to fund their “virtual” office space as part of their critical infrastructure, in the same way they fund their “bricks and mortar” office space.
  • Agencies should be required to appoint an editor-in-chief for every website they maintain, as do the top commercial websites. This person should be given appropriate funding and authority to develop and enforce web policies and publishing standards, including ensuring that prime real estate on government websites is dedicated to helping people find the information they need.
  • The Office for Public Management (OPM) should develop standard job descriptions and core training requirements so agencies can hire and retain highly qualified experts in web content and new media — not just IT specialists.
Help the public complete common government tasks efficiently

The U.S. economy loses millions of hours of “citizen productivity” every year when people can’t efficiently accomplish basic government tasks online, such as filling out a form, applying for a loan, or checking eligibility for a government program. This adds to people’s dissatisfaction with their government.
  • Agencies should be required and funded to identify their core online customer tasks, and to develop service standards and performance benchmarks for completing those tasks. If the core customer tasks are not yet online, agencies should determine whether or not those tasks can be made available online, and if so, develop a plan for making them available online within one year.
  • The Government should use social media, not just to create transparency, but also to help people accomplish their core tasks. For example, agencies could post instructional videos on YouTube to explain how to apply for a small business loan or learn about Medicare benefits. To do this, the government must ensure that federal employees who need access to social media tools have them, and that these new ways of delivering content are available to all, including people with disabilities.
  • The new Administration should develop government-wide guidelines for disseminating content in universally accessible formats (data formats, news feeds, mobile, video, podcasts, etc.), and on non-government sites such as YouTube, Wikipedia, and SecondLife. To remain relevant, government needs to take our content to where people already are on the Web, rather than just expecting people will come to government websites. Having guidelines will ensure that we’re part of the larger “online information ecosystem,” without compromising the integrity of government information.
Clean up the clutter so people can find what they need online

President-elect Obama will inherit thousands of U.S. government websites. We have too much content to categorize, search, and manage effectively, and there is no comprehensive system for removing or archiving old or underused content.

Some agencies have posted competing websites on similar topics, creating duplication of effort and causing confusion for the public. Much government web content is written in “governmentese” instead of plain language.
  • The Government should set stricter standards for approving new, or renewing existing, government websites. All federally owned, managed, and/or directly funded websites must be hosted on .gov, .mil or domains. Where agency missions are related, a lead agency should be appointed to coordinate the online “information lane,” and all other agencies should defer to the lead agency for posting comprehensive government information on that topic. This will reduce duplication, save money, and help consumers find accurate information.
  • Agencies should be required and funded to conduct regular content reviews, to ensure their online content is accurate, relevant, mission-related, and written in plain language. They should have a process for archiving content that is no longer in frequent use and no longer required on the website.
  • Agencies should be funded and required to follow the latest best practices in web search. This will improve the quality and findability of online government information, and help agencies deliver the services most requested by their customers.
Engage the public in a dialogue to improve our customer service

Agencies often don’t have resources to effectively manage customer input. For those that do, they must go through a clearance process before they can survey the public (requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act, which was enacted before many agencies even had websites).

Many web pages are developed without regular feedback or testing with customers. When people do provide feedback or ideas, they often never hear what the government will do with their suggestions.
  • Agencies should be required and funded to regularly solicit public opinion and analyze customers’ online preferences – just as Amazon, eBay, and other top commercial websites do. This can be done on an “opt-in” basis and without tracking personally identifiable information by using blogs, online surveys, a “Citizens Insight Panel” (such as that used by the Canadian government), or similar tools. Agencies should be required and funded to do user testing before undertaking major improvements to any current website, or launching a new website.
  • Agencies should use their website to publish a summary of common customer comments and explain the actions they are taking in response to the feedback. Doing so will create better transparency and accountability.
Ensure the public gets the same answer whether they use the web, phone, email, print, or visit in-person

Agencies communicate with citizens via many different “delivery channels,” including web, email, publications, live chats, blogs, podcasts, videos, wikis, virtual online worlds, and more. But it’s difficult to ensure timeliness and consistency when various delivery channels are managed by different divisions within an agency.
  • Agencies should provide multiple ways for people to contact them and ensure that information is consistent across all channels. They should be funded to coordinate all types of content targeted to the general public (web, publications, call center, email, common questions, web chat, etc). Agencies should be rewarded for delivering consistent information, both within agencies and across government.
Ensure underserved populations can access critical information online

Agencies are required to provide online information that’s readily accessible by people with disabilities, as well as to people with limited English proficiency. However, few agencies have the funding, training or resources to meet these obligations.
  • The government should establish standards and guidelines for multilingual websites, and agencies should be funded and staffed with qualified bilingual web content professionals who can create and maintain them. This will help newcomers learn about the rights and responsibilities of living in the U.S.
  • Agencies should receive adequate resources to make their websites fully accessible to people with disabilities and meet requirements of the Rehabilitation Act. The new Administration should invest in government-wide solutions, such as captioning software to make videos and webcasts accessible to people with disabilities.

By harnessing the collaborative nature of the web, the new Administration has the potential to engage the public like never before. The web can foster better communication and allow people to participate in improving the operations of their government.

By listening to our customers we can provide better services, focus on their most pressing needs, and spend their tax dollars efficiently.

We’re confident that President-elect Obama will appoint leaders who will invest in the web as a strategic asset and make these goals a reality. The millions of Americans who interact with their government online expect and deserve no less.


Current and former members of the Federal Web Managers Council who contributed to this paper: Bev Godwin, General Services Administration/ (Executive Sponsor); Sheila Campbell, General Services Administration/ (co-chair); Rachel Flagg, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (co-chair); Melissa Allen, Dept. of Interior; Andy Bailey, Dept. of Labor; Les Benito, Dept. of Defense; Joyce Bounds, Dept. of Veterans Affairs; Nicole Burton, General Services Administration/; Bruce Carter,
Social Security Administration (retired); Natalie Davidson, General Services Administration/; Kate Donohue, Dept. of Treasury; Brian Dunbar, NASA; Tim Evans, Social Security Administration; Kellie Feeney, Dept. of Transportation; Sam Gallagher, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Colleen Hope,
Dept. of State; Ron Jones, Dept. of Commerce/NOAA; Tina Kelley; Dept. of Justice; Gwynne Kostin, Dept. of Homeland Security; Jeffrey Levy, EPA; Beth Martin, Dept. of Health and Human Services; Leilani Martinez, GSA/; Suzanne Nawrot, Dept. of Energy; Russell O’Neill, General Services Administration/; Tom Parisi, Dept. of Treasury/IRS; Vic Powell, USDA; Rezaur Rahman, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation; Eric Ramoth, Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Rand Ruggieri, Dept. of Commerce; Richard Stapleton, Dept. of Health and Human Services; Kim Taylor, USDA; Kirk Winters, Dept. of Education.
We welcome your questions and comments. Please contact the Federal Web Managers Council co-chairs, Sheila Campbell (Sheila.campbell at gsa dot gov) and Rachel Flagg (Rachel.flagg at hud dot gov).

The Sexual Cleansing of Iraq

Part One. Queer Fear 2 - the sequel to 2007's Queer Fear: Gay Life, Gay Death in Iraq. In Iraq the killings continue. LGBT people are being murdered by Shia death squads, now increasingly integrated into the forces of the Iraqi state. Amd encouraged by leading Shia clerics. Meanwhile the democratically-elected government denies there is a problem.

Part Two. What is being done to protect LGBT people in Iraq from the death squads. How you can help provide safe houses and save lives.

Please support Iraqi-LGBT

The immediate urgent priority is to Support and Donate Money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to communicate information about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world.

Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of honour killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses and food), and assist efforts help them seek asylum abroad. Donations to Iraqi LGBT are not tax-deductible for income tax purposes.

Thursday 18 December 2008

OMG - shoe tossing goes viral

"This shoe is for you"

"There's no business like shoe business"

Ghandi would like this. Violence without the violence. Just Dada enough.

Can someone do Blair? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese?


Serafinowicz goin' viral.

It's a cult I tells ya, a cult ....

Tearing Dallas a new party hole

Ah, Will Ferrell. What will he do next?

'E-democracy' and, er, democracy

Jakob Nielsen has produced for Pew a very interesting usability study of voter information websites from all 50 united states and the District of Columbia.

Some points of interest. He identifies these neglected usability aspects:
  • Homepage usability
  • Search
  • Accessibility
  • Web presence (that is, how users get to content from outside the site, or "usability-in-the-large")
And makes this spot-on comment on his results:
there's a negative correlation of r=-.1 between homepage usability and accessibility ... the negative correlation indicates that designers aren't treating accessibility as a component of user experience quality. Most likely, government agencies are focused on complying with legalistic accessibility regulations instead of trying to make the sites easy for people with disabilities to use.
As an observer of 'e-democracy', where's usability in the mix? Well it's nowhere - because it's simultaneously nowhere in egov. That's true of the UK and - Nielsen suggests - the US also.

Not very democratic, I'd venture to suggest.

According to E-Access blog, Robin Christensen now of AbilityNet and formally of the RNIB reviewed the FAB! NEW! WEB 2.0! Number 10 Downing Street website and found it wanting:
While relatively accessible in many ways, still has various untagged links which read simply ‘click here’ [sic], offering the audio browser no clue as to what lies behind. The website also features auto-start videos, with unlabelled control buttons, so that blind users are confronted with video noise drowning out their own audio controls and cannot work out how to turn it off.
A very polite way to put it. Picture the scene ....

Again with the not-very-democratic.

Sez Jakob:
There's a reason that we have a "total user experience" concept to encompass everything that users encounter. It's not enough to have a great design for part of the user interface. Good navigation, say, is certainly a necessity for a great user experience, but it's not sufficient. Offer a bad homepage, and users might turn away before they even start navigating.

We can liken a website's user experience to the metaphorical chain that's no stronger than its weakest link. If any one usability attribute fails, the overall user experience is compromised and many users will fail.
It's all very obvious, really - auto-start videos FCS!! Unless one is sitting inside a walled garden ....

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Artifical leaves in 20 years

Yeah, but. We need MAJOR carbon reductions very quickly (if it's not already too late) and we hit peak oil in a few years (if we haven't already).

This guy's Obama's new energy secretary.

Think 'glass half full' ... think 'glass half full' ...

HT: Andy Sullivan

The collective yawn

Excellent Keith Olbermann piece with law professor Jonathan Turley.

This follows Cheny's out and out admission - possibly begging for a presidential pardon - that he signed off on torture. Whether he will face consequences entirely depends on the 'politics' - meaning public pressure.

Turley said:

“It most certainly is a crime to participate, to create, to in many ways monitor a torture program. What [Cheney] is describing is most certainly and unambiguously a war crime.”

“It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? … If someone commits a crime and everyone’s around to see it and does nothing, is it still a crime?”
Ron Susskind told Rachel Maddow that the record is clear, Cheney was always clear he wanted to invade Iraq no matter what - "it was a matter of simply selling it like a bar of soap".

That goes for Blair too - another war criminal?

Postscript: Andy Sullivan reminds me of the mentality of these pigs.

From a piece of dialogue, recorded at Notre Dame University. In it, John Yoo, Dick Cheney's favorite legal protege, explains the Bush administration's view of the legal limits of the president's power:

"Cassel: If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty

Cassel: Also no law by Congress -- that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo...

Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that..."

Music: T Plays It Cool

It’s captivating how this Marvin Gaye track could be put out nowadays by some so called R’n B genius, T Plays it Cool knocks the pretenders for six and turns out to be timeless though it was written in ‘72 (Motown Records).

It belongs to the blaxploitation Trouble Man soundtrack, so often compared to the Shaft one but they are truly poles apart, both for the movie genre and for the atmosphere they create.

P Diddy loves it. Check him out shaking his buttarooney in this pre-November 5 vodcast: Meet Ciroc Obama.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Our two-tier rights regime

Watched a funny episode of the Welsh sitcom High Hopes, 'A Passage to India', which had this synopsis:
The Immigration Department, in the guise of Adam Mosley, plan to deport Muktar Rahman, the elderly patriarch of the local Indian restaurant, back to the Punjab. The community rallies around to save him, led by Mam.
Moseley indeed. In a big, black leather Matrix coat and a copy of Mein Kampf on the desk. All very funny and perhaps only in Wales as I'm sure some English newspaper/Minister would object were it on BBC1 (England).

Thing is, it was drawing on a big grain of truth. The 'Immigration Department' (the Home Office) may not actually be Nazis but they are out of control, with asylum seekers being deliberately made destitute, beaten in detention centres and the whole system riddled with racism and homophobia where other parts of government are being systematically un-riddled.

The treatment of refugee Zimbabweans (many of whom are professionals) has, perhaps, shone some light on just how disgusting the regime is in its treatment of people fleeing persecution. But I could quote you case after maltreated case, particularly of gay people.

Just where we are is best shown by the case of Labour populist Minister Phil Woolas who recently got out the big tar brush to attack NGOs who support such people as causing "more harm than they do good." Did anyone complain about what he said?

The Queen's Speech featured another attempt by the government to remove higher court appeal and review rights on refugee decisions by civil servants (which consistently find more than a third of initial decisions to be wrong under existing rules).

Other proposals included new powers for immigration officers to stop people in the street and demand to see proof of entitlement to be here, no statutory limitation on the length of immigration detention, no limitation of the power to detain children, anyone assaulting, obstructing or resisting anyone exercising functions 'under the Act' commits a criminal offence and - most relevant to the sitcom - the exemption from deportation of certain long-resident Commonwealth citizens has gone.

Were you aware? Read of this anywhere other than vague references to a 'crack-down' and Ministers being 'hard'? Thought not.

As Nick Clegg said on the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we are "fast developing a two-tier rights regime."

And what are we becoming in the process? Not the country which welcomed tens of thousands of Jewish refugees, or the Ugandan Asians, or exiled Poles or numerous others but some other country and, particularly, some other Labour party I barely recognise.

Smith, Woolas and their ilk come across as having not a shred of humanity. We are better than this.

Monday 15 December 2008

Bush's Boot Camp

Iraqis so well-off they've shoes to spare

Best ... Xmas present ... ever.

"This is a goodbye kiss, you dog."

"This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

Sunday 14 December 2008

What does spam look like?

Image generated by a computer program that accepts as input, junk email. Various patterns, keywords and rhythms found in the text are translated into three-dimensional modeling gestures.

From a series by Romanian artist Alex Dragulescu.

Another from his series malware.

Justin Webb is not "formidable"

According to Radio 4's controller, Mark Damazer, the replacement for Ed Stourton on the Today show, North America Editor Justin Webb, is "one of the joys of the network".

Today editor Ceri Thomas said:
"Justin has always excelled on radio and has become a truly formidable North America editor for the BBC. "

"The chance to bring his foreign affairs expertise home to the programme was too good to miss."
This is the same Webb who oversaw the truly, embarassingly awful election night coverage for the BBC?!

I would love to know on what criteria they are judging him. Mateship? I've cataloged Webb's consistently Washington/MSM-centred, misleading and plain wrong (sometimes amazingly wrong) coverage over the past year. He was just another MSM journo spinning out the 'conflict' in the primaries and the general when by any reasonably criteria the result was known.

And his coverage of race in the election was cringeworthy.

I would also love to know how someone who consistently and rather snootingly ignored the enormous role of blogs in that election is going to fit-in with the now web 2.0-focus of the new Beeb?

My only conclusion is because Webb failed to hide his McCain-leaning sympathies that he'll fit in better with the Daily Mail leaning sympathies of Today.

Plus that I'll be avoiding the show come next September.

Functionalism in web analytics

Excellent primer from the leading edge on how to frame analysing web stats.

There are dozens of insights here from Gary Angel, CEO of Semphonic, and all very much common-sensical (well, I thought so).

Here's a whitepaper backing up Gary's points: Functionalism: A New Approach to Web Analytics

Wednesday 10 December 2008

"It better get funny fast or it's just gonna be something that haunts you"

One of my all-time favourites, Carrie Fisher.

Fab-u-lous interview (well, the first bit).

Check out her fabulous books.

Once more - fab-u-lous!

Bush's actual legacy

One minor error (and he doesn't mention the Iraqi body count) but this is Olbermann at his best.
Mr. Bush lifted the economy with his tax cuts and, quote, "responded with bold measures to prevent an economic meltdown."

In 2005, Mr. Bush told a 57-year-old single mother of three, one of them mentally challenged, that it was "fantastic", "uniquely American" that she had to work three jobs unlike half a million people who have no job as of November... in the first presidency for decades during which family earning power fell, and income disparity continued to rise.

The "meltdown" he "prevented" now having claimed several Wall Street institutions which had weathered 1929, and 9/11... but not 43.

And, of course, the old standby, quote, he "kept the American people safe"...

Not counting twenty percent of his first term, January 20th, 2001, until September 11th, 2001. On 9/11, he sat reading "My Pet Goat" for seven minutes after learning America was under attack. Then covered up environmental dangers at Ground Zero, and failed to provide for the health of rescue workers. Helped bin Laden's family flee the country. Opposed the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Homeland Security.

Tried to outsource America's port security to Dubai. Did not keep us safe from the shoe-bomber... alert passengers and crew did that...

Did not keep five Americans safe from anthrax... and never caught their killer.
Still hasn't caught the killer of 17 sailors aboard the USS Cole.

Still hasn't caught the killer of 3,000 on 9/11... outsourcing that to Afghans... turning that country into a narco-state, giving bin Laden a safe haven in the region of Waziristan by literally endorsing a truce that Pakistan signed with the Taliban there.

And most of all, not keeping safe 4,200 Americans dead in his war, a war that made us less safe, invading a country that posed no grave or gathering threat, provided a check on Iran... then igniting insurrection by disbanding the Baathist Party, creating a Muslim theocracy purged of its moderate intelligentsia. One in which freedom has marched backward for women.

Protect the human

Join a global demonstration in support of human rights and Amnesty International on 10 December: Celebrate Human Rights Day and the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Stand up with people all over the world who want to make human rights a reality for everyone.

Every human has rights. That is the essence of our humanity. It places on each of us the duty to stand up, not just for our own rights but also for those of others - and to help turn the vision of the UDHR into a reality. That is the spirit of international solidarity. That is the true meaning of universal, indivisible human rights.

On this significant anniversary, people will be gathering together in hundreds of places all over the globe, to light a candle, fire or flame as part of a mass demonstration. On Human Rights Day, stand up for human rights and show your solidarity with people all over the world who are committed to making human rights a reality for everyone.

Postscript: IWF give up

IWF statement regarding Wikipedia webpage
Following representations from Wikipedia, IWF invoked its Appeals Procedure and has given careful consideration to the issues involved in this case. The procedure is now complete and has confirmed that the image in question is potentially in breach of the Protection of Children Act 1978. However, the IWF Board has today (9 December 2008) considered these findings and the contextual issues involved in this specific case and, in light of the length of time the image has existed and its wide availability, the decision has been taken to remove this webpage from our list.

Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted abroad, will not be added to the list. Any further reported instances of this image which are hosted in the UK will be assessed in line with IWF procedures.

IWF’s overriding objective is to minimise the availability of indecent images of children on the internet, however, on this occasion our efforts have had the opposite effect. We regret the unintended consequences for Wikipedia and its users. Wikipedia have been informed of the outcome of this procedure and IWF Board’s subsequent decision.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Postscript: IWF row back

Is this 'extreme pornography'?

There was some sense of a rowback yesterday and today it's happened:
The Internet Watch Foundation [IWF] says it is still reconsidering whether its ban should remain on the image of a young girl used on the Scorpions' album Virgin Killer, after that ban prevented a number of British users accessing Wikipedia.

A spokeswoman for the IWF said that to her knowledge it was the first time in its decade-long history that any image or page banned by the IWF had been reassessed, and the first time that any page or image on Wikipedia had been banned. The IWF normally bans more than 10,000 images and associated web pages every year.
Here's Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales saying "C'mon! Do your wurst!" (And sounding a mite ignorant of their exact legal position).

And the IWF leader paddling furiously:

And I feel sorry for this poor mite! He's in over his head but trying, trying to do the right thing.

And a good comment from out-law underlining my critique of Wikipedia's libertarianistic bent:
Web hosts must not wait for an image to be declared unlawful by a court when they receive a complaint, albeit only a court can declare an image unlawful. If they wait, there is every chance that the declaration will come at their own trial.
Wales told Channel Four:
How do we draw up a boundary line that allows both routine internet expression and not pedophilia? The Internet Watch Foundation's system has been in operation for a number of years. Is it out of date?
Gonna help, Jimmy?

So what next?

This is really, purely a technocognisenti furore, despite its brief reign as top read story on Although I can imagine the Mail et al bent out of shape trying to take it all in. Grey is the colour rather than back'n'white. The Rebekkah Wade's of this world are now a wee bit lost.

But it's truly much simpler. Simply put: what does the IWF actually do to combat online child abuse? If that scourge has moved on from their simplistic techniques, what use are they?

I still doubt that much will be made of this point but the answer is simple: resource those who can excise these bastards from the net. Amateurism is a waste of time.

Is Britain capable? From January IWF, the charity, will be assessing 'extreme images' on behalf of the government (they already assess 'race hate', bet you didn't know that). Having read of a woman who asked of her local plod whether a 'borderline' image (now's there's a truly British tradition) was 'illegal' - she was referred on to the IWF then the Ministry, no one could give her a 'straight' answer - I have not much hope. The borderline' image is at the top of the post.

Call a spade a spade

Some very interesting comments by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (South Africa) about Zimbabwe.
There is either a solution or there is not! There is, in my book, no such thing as a “made in Africa” solution. Zimbabwe either holds ‘free and fair elections’ like those recently held in America, or it does not.

Zimbabwe either adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which it is a signatory) or it does not. It happens to do neither and no amount of pontificating about “African solutions” can disguise that fact. Her people are starving, the hyperinflation is running sky high, there is a humanitarian disaster of biblical proportions emerging with the cholera outbreak and the country is, for all intents and purposes, not being governed.

It is time to call a spade a spade.

Why, for instance, when Yugoslavia disintegrated in the early 1990s, did we not hear any voices calling for “Balkan solutions for Balkan problems”? No one said “ah let the people of Kosovo sort it out” or it is “an internal matter for the people of Bosnia”. Yes, it sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? In the end, Bill Clinton reluctantly intervened with his European NATO allies.

I believe we have fallen prey to the notion of relative standards: we are expected to hold ‘free and fair elections’ like everyone else, but there is an unspoken bargain that we will be given a bit of leeway. A “bit” of voter fraud or a “few” acts of intimidation – even murder – will be overlooked as long as the election is held and the result expresses the will of the majority.

As an African, who shares the joy of millions of people across the globe at the election of an African American as the leader of the free world, I believe it is time to say that we – as Africans – should be expected to adhere to the same standards as everyone else.

Monday 8 December 2008

Advice to btselem

Footage filmed by Jamal Abu-Sa'ifan, a Palestinian resident of Hebron, documenting a settler shooting two members of his family. The event occures following the eviction of the new settlment in Hebron. Settlers attacked the nearby house of the Abu-Se'ifan family, and during ensuing clashes, a settler fired his handgun at Hosni Abu-Se'ifan (40), who was hit in the chest and is in stable condition, and his father, 'Abd al-Hai Abu-Sa'ifan (65) who was moderately wounded in his arm. the two were taken to a Hebron hospital. The video shows other members of the family manage to overcome the shooter, then a security guard from the nearby settlement Kiryat Arba arrives and the scene, and fires his weapon in the air.
The Israeli organisation Btselem has done a good thing in distributing 100 small video cameras, bringing the reality of the occupation's effects on Palestinians to Israeli TV screens amongst other things.

But if you visit their site, the video page uses a terribly old hat and clumsy method (though you can download them) and - most importantly - doesn't connect with the sort of viral tools that have become de rigueur with other campaigners such as Amnesty as well as, obviously, clued-up politicians.

Btselem have a YouTube channel but they don't promote it. Once I saw this video, I had to hunt for it to bring it to you (and thereby increasing the viewership for Btselem) because - of course - papers like The Guardian and others insist on turning it into 'their own' copy and it's unebeddable.

They should just embed the YouTube copies on their website as well as adding download links to them and also include the YouTube logo linking to the channel, promoting subscriptions.

Privatised censorship and actually protecting children

NB: in about fifteen hours since this screenshot another 370,000 have viewed the page.

Today's furore over the Wikipedia block by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) has already done its job: the IWF has rowed back and will (hopefully) face much scrutiny of its operation.

Mere moralistic calls when faced with the 'collateral damage' to Wikipedia (UK users blocked from editing it due to an inept process) and the availability of the image in numerous other places clearly haven't and won't work. In fact they've created 'the Streisand effect' yet again - thousands more viewing something 'they' don't want you to see.

No doubt someone will try this line but faced with a Wikipedia editor on Radio 4's Today this morning, the IWF spokesperson could only sound flustered and annoyed - and more than a little technically lost.

For me, this episode highlights the issue with privatising censorship which I've written about before (tagged posts). The IWF may be a charity but their decisions, like those of the companies which manufacture filtering software, take place away from any process which can be effectively challenged by you or I. They're unaccountable.

They have four staff 'trained by police' who have five URLs an hour (and probably hundreds more after this episode) to review. Much like YouTube etc. this will result in many 'false positives' and my second point about 'censorware' regimes such as this.

'Over-blocking' is what happens with software filters and it happens with badly thought through systems like IWF's. 'Over-blocking' causes collateral damage, often to those who won't know what's going on or have the resources to do something. The classic example is blocking of vital sex education information to teens and educational materials to teens and the rest of us. Art censorship is another by-product.

Two comments, one from The Register and another from the Wikipedia editors thread show how this happens:
I'm a member of the EFF, FSF, Liberty and Amnesty International, and a founding member of the Open Rights Group as well. (I mention this not by way of boasting, but to demonstrate that I'm not one of the knee-jerk, Daily Mail-reading, "hang teh peedos!!1" brigade; and incidentally that's also why I'm posting anon on this occasion.[1]) ... the reason for filtering images like this; the notion that (a) paedophiles will use them for sexual gratification, and that (b) men (or more likely adolescents) in the early stages of sexual development may get imprinted with a sexual response to the image, such that they become in effect paedophiliac themselves.


Hey guys. I work for a company in the UK which contracts to the police to forensically process computers in child protection cases ... I can tell you now that this image is *not* classified as CP (the IWF are mislead somewhere along the line). The image would be classed (on the UK Copine scale) as "Relevant" - which means alone would not allow for a conviction on CP charges but it indicative of intent. Viewing images like this in a non-sexual context (such as this article) or as *part of the arts* (music cover) is not classed as an offence.

Further more: the original image is NOT CP because it is covered by "for artistic purposes" (whereby the image makes a statement as part of a work of artistic merit) - it is extremely possible that the photograph of the cover is similarly classed. Plus I also believe there is a little used classification of "for informational merit" where the image can be justified as educational or informational (for example a text book on human development etc.).

Summary: this image is legally not a problem.

Pro-smoking early C20th poster

If you want to see truly 'problematic' images which most definitely are art and definitely meant to be 'problematic' check out Balthus (on Wikipedia). Collected by Picasso, Balthus had societal approval in spades but wouldn't pass an IWF harassed staffer:
Prime Ministers and rock stars alike attended the funeral of Balthus. Bono, lead-singer of U2, sang for the hundreds of mourners at the funeral, including the President of France, the Prince Sadruddhin Aga Khan, supermodel Elle McPherson, and Cartier-Bresson.
Or Nan Goldin's work, found legal after being seized from Baltic Modern Art gallery, Gateshead.

It is not good enough to have 'police trained' staff essentially randomly blocking images following the 'just-in-case' line of the the first commentator from The Register.

The IWF's original statement on the Wikipedia block makes crystal clear that they will over-block (my emphasis):
The specific URL (individual webpage) was then added to the list provided to ISPs and other companies in the online sector to protect their customers from inadvertent exposure to a potentially illegal indecent image of a child.
Another comment on The Register shows the pointlessness of their URL blocking staff and the actual need for real police, funded properly, to track down actual child abuse images and those who distribute them:
I have had dealings with the IWF before. A couple of years ago I came across a fellow trading child porno on a torrent site. I wrote to the IWF and the Met in London and included IP addresses and all info I could muster. RESULT: TOTAL DISINTEREST! The met wrote back saying inform the IWF and the IWF wrote back saying tell the police. I got the feeling that unless the target was easy nobody bothers.
IWF cannot pass on a URL in a torrent case to ISPs to add to their list (because there is no URL), therefore they are useless against actual child abuse. The police, apparently, cannot take action because they are underfunded/don't have the staff.

Blocking URLs as IWF seem to be spending at least four salaries on doing is mere sticking plaster and just not doing anything about actual child abuse. Hopefully this episode will see much closer societal examination of what they actually do.

Wikipedia don't come out of this well either.

They have discussed the image themselves before and it was interesting to note on their editor's thread one lonely editor trying to get internal work done on a policy about such images. He faced nothing but rants from libertarians and comparisons about hosting such images with those of Muhammed and adult 'erotic images'.

Postscript: in email discussion the following points have come up:

I wrote recently - and actually clumsily - about how Jacqui Smith's anti-prostitution drive would side-swipe gay men. Actually it will side-swipe fellow women (I'm drafting a follow up).

One of the things I pointed out was how they'd just defunded an anti-trafficking unit.

Another prostitution law is really about ideologically "removing the demand" (Smith's said as much) and as equally ineffective in stopping real trafficking as the IWF's actions are in stopping real child abuse. With the IWF, it's also about being seen to do something rather than actually doing it. Remember, this is an ISP-funded body set up to stop criticism and regulation.

In one fell swoop the major source for the world's spam (and a child porn host) was recently taken down. This is the sort of action which actually combats online child abuse - how well-funded is that work?

How is the IWF's true effectiveness being judged? How much has been wasted on IWF? This should be part of the accountability, which is clearly missing and no-one has the guts to ask.

Saturday 6 December 2008

Zanu-PF = Khmer Rouge

"We would be better off with only six million people, with our own people who support the liberation struggle. We don't want all these extra people."

Didymus Mutasa – Zimbabwe’s Minister of State for National Security, Lands, Lands Reform, and Resettlement – August 2002 (source)

Another week in Zimbabwe and more cracks emerge and the regime becomes even more isolated in its own country - though its neighbours largely stand by and watch.

Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phando Skelemani, told the BBC last week that regional leaders will only criticise Mugabe behind his back.

Low ranking soldiers riot after having their salaries stolen from them by senior officers, the ones being payed first to ensure their loyalty, the ones who got farms when Mugabe 'liberated' the land in 2000. The economic (beyond) crisis means there's lietrally not enough money to keep the lower ranks happy.

So now they are resorting to this (report from Robb Ellis, 'The bearded man'):
Obviously, I cannot vouch for this story personally, but having served in the Zimbabwe Republic Police during the time of the Gukurahundi [the early 80s mass killings in Matabeleland] - a time which I was obliged, by virtue of being a policeman in uniform, to clean up the mess of the Fifth Brigade - I can easily believe it.

Such cruelty, such hatred, such venom... belongs behind bars...

"The embattled Zimbabwean strongman, Robert Mugabe ordered the chilling execution of 16 rioting soldiers in a cold blood murder carried out by members of the Presidential Guard death squads at its PG HQ Base in Dzivarasekwa, North West of the Capital. Three others died during torture, our confirmed source can reveal.

The callous act has been communicated to all members of the armed forces as a chilling warning by the paranoid regime.

Last night, a fast track military court Marshal at Army Head Quarters’ KG6 Barracks was presided over by the retired High court judge Major General George Chiweshe, sitting with three other assessors, two Majors and a Captain. They passed death sentences to the 16 soldiers and it was signed by Robert Mugabe just before midnight and executions were carried out around 4 am in the presents of a military Doctor and the victim's bodies were taken to unknown destination."

I have run this page since the end of February 2005 and it may become my life's work - together with my book "Without Honour" - and it may not be anything I am ever remembered for - but I have stood on the side of what is good and right.,and I have taken some serious shots by detractors who accuse me of racism and call me all manner of names.

All of which I have been called before by instructors on the grounds of Morris Deport in Harare many years ago.

But when I read that Mugabe has ordered - callously - the cold blooded murder of serving soldiers, then I believe that everything I have written over the last three years is the truth - all the words I have typed whilst I have looked at Mugabe's disastrous rule and the damaged he has wrought - I find the strength to carry on.

I now believe that the MDC activists 'arrested' (together with a 2-year-old) have been executed as well.

How sick a man is Mugabe?

"The 16 soldiers executed on Tuesday morning are believed to have been arrested during the skirmish with police in the last few days.

It is also reported that three other soldiers died during torture.

The line of the Zimbabwe regime’s propaganda says the soldiers beat up and arrested illegal foreign currency traders in the streets of Harare on Monday, accusing them of causing severe cash shortages, but our source can revealed that this is all part on the power struggles within ZANU PF.

"They are all fighting for resources to take control, and how would they (soldiers) feel when they see commanders driving Q7s, yet they can’t access their salaries in the banks," said one source. Foreign currency dealers at Road Port are believed to be ZANU PF militia working for the country’s Central Bank to finance party activities against internal ZANU PF factions.

At the Reserve Bank, former police Commissioner Henry Mukurazhizha is in charge of the clandestine foreign currency operations with the assistance of CIO officers stationed at Atlas House, along Samora Machel House and some members of the police force."

And to think that I gave four years of my life to work as a loyal Zimbabwe Republic Policeman. I am sick to the stomach. Without reward, without any ideas of grandeur - I just did what any person would do if they wanted to be a good and successful policeman.

I don't care who says what about me, and I no longer care about the threats of reprisals here in the UK.
Whilst the so-called 'unity' government talks stall due to Mugabe's intransigence (or plan all along), the abductions and murders of the opposition which reach a peak before and after the July elections still continue. Sokwanele is calling for help with the series of cases, one of which involves a two-year old boy.

And Mbeki has dropped all pretence of being impartial, in responding to Tsvangirai's criticism of the latest SADC concession to Mugabe.

He said that Tsvangari did not have to wait for approval from its “external supporters” (i.e. the 'west') before signing away all real power in a so-called 'unity' government, using words which could have come directly from the regime's mouthpiece the Herald newspaper and repeating Mugabe's line on the MDC.
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai's prominent media headlines do neither help the country, nor will these help himself.

As you secure applause because of the insult against us that we are 'cowards', you will have to consider the reality that our people have accepted into their countries very large numbers of Zimbabwean brothers and sisters in a spirit of human solidarity, prepared to sustain the resultant obligations.

None of our countries displayed characteristics of cowardice when they did this.

All of us will find it strange and insulting that because we do not agree with you on a small matter, you choose to describe us in a manner that is most offensive in terms of African culture, and therefore offend our sense of dignity as Africans, across our borders.

You know this, too, that the rest of southern Africa, your neighboring countries, has also had the unavoidable obligation to carry much of the weight of the burden of the Zimbabwe crisis, in many ways."

I say this humbly to advise that it does not help Zimbabwe, nor will it help you as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, that the MDC-T contemptuously repudiates very serious decisions of our region, and therefore our continent, describing them as 'a nullity'.
Ironically, the report is that Mbeki was riled up after MDC secretary general Tendai Biti questioned his impartiality. Ironic because Biti is still facing 'treason' charges from the regime.

And the South African government appears to be following Mbeki's line, saying:
[We] would be extremely surprised if the outbreak of cholera, the death of innocent Zimbabweans as a result of a failure of politicians to reach an agreement, does not spur them to more urgent action.
Huh? Cholera has nothing to do with the 'agreement'. It has to do with the deliberate neglect of Zimbabwe's water, health and sewerage - all of which have completely collapsed - and the starvation of the people, in geat part because of the farm seizures (echoes of the Ukraine in the 1930s).

Didymus Mutasa, who I quote at the top, was also the man who led Operation Murambatsvina [Operation Drive Out the Filth], in 2005. Soldiers, police and government militias used extreme violence to destroy the homes of hundreds of thousands of poor people on the outer edges of the country's towns and cities.

Mutasa presented Murambatsvina as a regeneration and renewal scheme to "clean up" urban areas. But most of the 700,000 to a million people who watched their houses being bulldozed, sledgehammered and set ablaze were opposition supporters.

Like Pol Pot's Kmer Rouge, the Zimbabwean leadership simply doesn't care how many of its people die.

All they care about is power.


Here and here are some actions you can take to support Zimbabweans.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Industrial strength douchebags

Priceless. And spot on.

Gordon Brown on Leaks

Quite, quite odd to see a UK viral getting picked up. I'm used to Romanians and Italians and Malaysians etc. against the Britneys and Obamas.

Of course this is because this viral stuff explodes the hypocrisy on the Tory's arrest - just as Jon Stewart has been doing all year - hence the virality. But, jeez, where is the UK with online politics if a scandal of this scale barely raises a blip compared with two Romanian MPs shouting at each other?

Hah, hah!

"I can't afford any of your products but can I buy some fake white earbuds so people will think I have a mypod?"

"Sure. That'll be $40."

"A god who knows what we want."

"They cost $8 to make and I pee on every one."

"I never thought a company could be my soulmate ~ Owh, it's my first mybill!"

"I know our posters say 'think differently' but our real slogan is 'no refund'."

From a Apple followers blog:
Of all the snarky Apple references in pop culture, my all time favorite is [a] brief clip from The Simpsons. During a school assembly, Kearney tells his buddy, "...take a memo on your Newton: Beat up Martin." He scribbles away only to see the Newton's handwriting recognition interpret his memo as "Eat up Martha."

A few years ago, a number of plastic Simpsons characters were issued, and the Kearney character actually shipped with a tiny Newton with "Eat up Martha" on the screen. I have one in my office.

Postscript: Removed! Well it was virtually the whole show ... one more replacement embed but see lotsa persistent clips here once that's removed.

Superhero fashion emergency

N'kay, "gay" can be an insult. But, c'mon these guys are dressed a 'lil ... gay


Oh, I think it's undermining the paradigm. Or some such.

Especially when a recent UK survey found of 16-14 year-olds:
23% have had sexual contact with someone of the same sex.
Sheesh. And what were they wearing ...

p.s. excuse the 'preload'. Myspace video? Fergit it ...

Monday 1 December 2008

Soldiers vs. cops in Zim

Phando Skeleman

I had the pleasure of hearing an interview with Botswana's Foreign Minister, Phando Skelemani, recently. He is one a very few fellow Southern Africans (alongside his President) who have called spades spades regarding Mugabe and Zanu-PF.
The rest of us should own up and say 'Yes, we have failed'. Call upon the international community and tell Mugabe to his face, 'Look, now you are on your own, we are switching off, we are closing your borders', and I don't think he would last.
There are, finally, some positive signs coming out of SADC. They just condemned the 'land reform' progam (of seizing farms and giving them to Mugabe's cronies) as "racist".

Meanwhile, darkness continues to descend.

From Sokwanele
At approx 3pm this afternoon an eye-witness spotted a soldier changing money with a vendor between Eastgate shopping center (next to Meikles) and Dulys in Harare.

A fight broke out between the two, so the police intervened. They apparently tried to beat up the soldier (note the ‘rule of law’ in Zimbabwe!).

With that, soldiers appeared from all over, and they apparently turned on the cop and started to beat him up.

More cops arrived and it ended up in a big punch-up between police and soldiers.

Stories about disgruntled soldiers taking money-matters into their own hands are coming up frequently. Some people are delighted, seeing it as a clear sign of anger towards the Zanu PF regime and an indicator that future loyalty might be diminished.

However, others are worried. Will the soldiers focus their attention on the real cause of the problem, keep in mind that we are all victims of this regime, or will they turn on businesses and private individuals for quick personal gain? Will they stand with the victims, or will they think the regime ‘owes’ them so they can money where ever they like?
From the BBC:
Dozens of troops have run amok in the Zimbabwean capital Harare after losing their temper while queuing up to withdraw cash at a bank.

Riot police used tear gas to disperse about 40 soldiers and a number of civilians who joined the protest.
The economy is wrecked. Even government monopolies (utilities) refuse the Zim dollar.

The term used in the real economy is 'units' (US dollars) as trading is illegal but to survive everyone had to be paid in and pay with 'units'. This anarchy is why different arms of the state are fighting each other.

Since it is them propping up Mugabe, and since not even they can avoid the rapidly growing (but denied) cholera epidemic, which has now led to Harare's water being cut, you have to hope that the end is nearing.