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Saturday 31 May 2008

Democracy in Zimbabwe : Missing Presumed Dead

Video from the Solidarity Peace Trust.

Inflation in Zimbabwe has now hit 1,700,000%, and it is forecast to hit between 1,800,000% and 2,000,000% by next week.

The government is now printing money on ordinary office paper.

Great moments from the campaign trail

Micah Sifry looks at Obama's problems with the jewish vote and found this video from Boca Raton, Florida.

He says:
I learned two things from watching this. One, that Obama seems to have won over his audience pretty effectively, judging from the loud applause and standing ovation he gets at the end. Two, he has a very funny way of disarming people who have been getting those viral emails claiming that he is a Muslim. At about the 6:00 mark in the video, he asks them "If you get an email from a Nigerian who says you can make a lot of money is you send him a $1000, don't send your money." The crowd starts to laugh knowingly. They roar as he continues, "We don't believe stuff when there are advertisements that say we can enhance your ... then why would you believe an email that says stuff about me?

On this other video, which was taped by someone who recorded part of the live TV coverage of Obama's appearance, it's interesting to see that the audience actually applauds appreciatively when he explains that his name, Barack, actually comes from the same root and has the same meaning of the Hebrew name, "Baruch," which means blessed. Corny, but effective, perhaps.

This is pretty neat too, Obama dancing in the streets in Peurto Rico

But the highlight thus far was watching the Democratic National Committee (DNC) meeting today in Washington DC to determine the fate of the contested Florida and Michigan delegates. Sounds terribly boring but it was actually all about the highest drama.

I could watch it live as it was streamed and the stream was offered to anyone as embeddable by the DNC. Great stuff and very practical politics as on the DNC site the stream was only getting 1700 viewers but this was magnified by also being available on many other very popular blogs and websites - real edemocracy in action.

Poor us, fuel costs and the next generations

I had an interesting experience this week. A work colleague of mine was bemoaning the rapid rise in fuel costs as her taxi business is tipping over into unprofitability. It was hard to be unsympathetic because she works very hard and doesn't make much money (her job isn't well paid) - there are thousands of people in her sort of situation - so I expressed sympathy and nothing more.

The problem I had being just sympathetic was that things aren't going to get any easier and everyone actually knows this. Basically, her industry has no future unless it changes and the best thing to say would be to move out of it and do something else because the government isn't subsidising change and doesn't seem likely to. But I didn't say that.

There's a weird disconnect where everyone realises oil is running out, carbon is accumulating and most know the future climate will change with very bad impacts for coming generations.

How we're reacting to this as individuals is pretty badly, I was also thinking this whilst reading Can the ecohackers save us? in The Guardian
Many scientists now believe the Earth can be altered to tackle global warming. But are these geoengineers being overly optimistic?
People want to put iron in the oceans, reflectors between us and the sun, and shoot sulfur into the atmosphere. You have to think that somewhere, something like this will actually happen and have some sort of disastrous unforeseen global impact.

At the end of the article one scientist says "[actually] the simplest thing is to stop putting in the gases that cause the warming."

The problem being, of course, that this means some selfless behaviour for the benefit of future generations, change, especially of lifestyles we're used to, and 'little' things like whole industries - such as taxis - changing radically if they're not to go to the wall. None of which we yet seem to be very good at or forcing politicians to enable or, in my case, consistently arguing for, even when it's very difficult.

Friday 30 May 2008

Oh jeez! Not the sheep!

Dutch ad for free chocolate condom giveaway in equivalent of Radio Times. Very popular with Gene Robinson, apparently.

Thursday 29 May 2008

BBC Web Review; curate's egg

I must admit that I wasn't expecting much from the BBC Trust review of their website — and the big headlines are all about money issues. Yawn. But it makes a few points which are totally correct. More additions when I read the whole thing.
"We believe that effective external linking is a key way in which the BBC can manage the risk of becoming a 'dominant gateway service' identified in the [Philip] Graf review [of in 2004]."
Doh! BBC linking isn't very useful for users - this isn't the language used but should be. Look at a story, any story, and see who they link to, and where, compared to who, and where, an average blogger would pick. BBC picks are too corporate rather than user-friendly.

They also nailed BBC search: "is not effective and its usage is declining". Because it's not useful. Again with the language. It really is crap compared to searching the site via Google. But the Internet team knows this, it's obviously just the higher-ups who haven't let them prioritise fixing it. Or just buy Google Enterprise.

One thing they couldn't get more wrong is that they think the Beeb shouldn't get embedding happening, as is planned.
"We are [also] not convinced that BBC management's ambition to be 'part of' the web rather than 'on it' by embedding BBC content on other sites, such as YouTube, plays any role in acting as a 'trusted guide' to the wider web. Rather, this is mainly a way of marketing BBC content to those who might not otherwise access it."
And this is a bad thing?

Well they are called the BBC 'Trust' aren't they?

I also found the general tone about helping 'the competition' a bit slack as, in the area of national and international news, where are the competition? What about the bigger context of the decline of newspapers? Is the BBC supposed to play some sort of King Canute role for them when, mostly, it's their own fault? The BBC has dominance in news generally - are they attacking that? And the website merely reflects that dominance.

What could possibly be critiqued is where they're getting away from straight news reporting and into features and columnists. And maybe in the local area. Much local news is pretty pick'n'mix - it's odd how different providers locally pick vastly different 'news'. I can see how boosting local 'news' coverage on would rightly piss off local papers.

To quote review chairwoman, Patricia Hodgson, the site must be "distinctive - setting itself aside from what you can find elsewhere." I think it's actually healthy that commercial providers have BBC competition when the BBC is more user friendly (that's when). And actually the UK is not in many areas a big enough market to allow much other competition - what Hodgson may be enabling is simply an alternative monopoly. This idea of 'competitors' shouldn't be about the needs of business but users. Much of the so-called competition just isn't very good - and that's why it doesn't beat the BBC, not because they're "overwhelmed by the scale of the BBC".

Simply put, this isn't a webbies perspective on the web - it's a bureaucrat's reacting to business pressures. Not necessarily good for users (or 'consumers' if you must).

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Les Patterson lives!

Despite the best efforts, largely on the backs of aboriginal culture, the success of 'Australian culture' has always been going - shall we say? - against the grain?

This week came a rather traditional backlash, confirmation of the dominant grain, as an art gallery in Sydney was raided (a major one, the RoslynOxley9 Gallery) for 'child pornography' images by the world renowned photographer Bill Henson.

Of course they weren't 'pornographic' except in the eyes of the prudish. But there was a 'beat-up'.
Australian slang - meaning: an exaggeration, big talk about nothing, often found in the media
The PM, Kevin Rudd, weighed in:
"Absolutely revolting. Whatever the artistic view of the merits of that sort of stuff - frankly, I don't think there are any - just allow kids to be kids."
Henson has had numerous shows involving nudes before - no reaction.

What links Rudd and New South Wales Premier Morris ("offensive and disgusting") Iemma? Catholicism, well known for its hypocrisy in such matters. Australian politics is steeped in this stuff.

Now you know why the Les Patterson stereotype is based on more than a kernel of truth.

Update: a group of prominent Aussies, including Cate Blanchett, released a letter today about the raid.

"We should remember that an important index of social freedom, in earlier times or in repressive regimes elsewhere in the world, is how artists and art are treated by the state."

"The intention of the art is not to titillate or to gratify perverse sexual desires, but rather to make the viewer consider the fragility, beauty, mystery and inviolability of the human body.

"The work itself is not pornographic, even though it includes depictions of naked human beings. It is more justly seen in a tradition of the nude in art that stretches back to the ancient Greeks, and which includes painters such as Caravaggio and Michelangelo."

"If an example is made of Bill Henson . . . it is hard to believe that those who have sought to bring these charges will stop with him."

"Rather, this action will encourage a repressive climate of hysterical condemnation."

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Stuff you may have missed in the news

Er, why isn't this news?
Press Association: Millions attend gay pride pageant

Millions of people waving rainbow flags and wearing lavish Carnival costumes paraded in South America's biggest city on Sunday to celebrate gay pride and demand an end to homophobia and sexism.

Organisers estimated that about five million people attended the 12th annual Sao Paulo Gay Pride Parade, traditionally one (sic) of the world's biggest. Local authorities did not give a crowd estimate, but said millions were likely present.

I have a hard time even vaguely imaging that number. The biggest anti-war march, biggest ever in the UK, was, upper estimate, 1 million, and Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras upper estimate is 500k. Five million?!

ITN (only UK mention) sardonically noted:

On a visit last year to Brazil, the world's most populous Catholic country, Pope Benedict attracted less than 1 million when he spoke out against homosexuality and called for traditional family values to be reinforced.

“They have got to have some skin in the game”

A sickening member of the US Congress, Rahm Emanuel, said today about Iraqi reconstruction “they have got to have some skin in the game” — meaning that they should pay for all destroyed bridges, hospitals, schools as well as cities, towns and villages.

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi was born to a Jewish mother and an Iraqi father. She put her medical career on hold to visit with family members in Iraq, and recently returned from a three-month stay in Basrah and Baghdad. Dr. Wasfi described her experience in Iraq and discussed the life of Iraqis under occupation on April 27, 2006 to a Democrat congressional caucus.

Well worth ten minutes to hear and be reminded of, she sums up the ongoing horror and underlines the sheer chutzpah of characters like Emanuel. Blair and Brown: you will never be forgiven.

I will note as well that life for gays is far worse now than under Saddam.

HT: Crooks & Liars

This is some footage of testimony by an American soldier at a 'vets against the war' conference which has just been published. (n.b. contains disturbing thoughts and images).


Monday 26 May 2008

Web power: Avaaz beats the Burmese colonels

This is a pretty amazing demonstration of how the Web is able to respond and deliver in ways unimaginable a decade ago.
In the days since a catastrophic cyclone struck Burma and killed over 100,000 people, Avaaz members have donated $2 million (almost 1.3 million Euros) to the aid effort. Our community has given more than many governments, and our aid hasn't been stopped at the border like theirs -- we've supported Burmese monks and other aid groups who have worked without their brutal government's permission. is an international civic organization that promotes issues such as climate change and human rights. Its stated mission is to "ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making." The organization operates in thirteen languages, and claims more than three million members from every country in the world.
It's been a challenge to get such a lot of money in. Most Burmese groups can safely move only a limited amount of money each day through informal networks. So far, we know that $550,000 has arrived in Burma and been spent, and an additional $1,000,000 is en route and may have arrived. We are currently working with the International Burmese Monk Organization and 7 other Burmese organizations, including monk groups, educational groups, and medical clinics, who have asked not to be named for their own security.

The way the money moves is through informal transfers between bank accounts and by hand. Sometimes it is as simple as a deposit in one country that is then withdrawn inside Burma by the account holder and then carried to a monastery or aid group. Because many merchants do this, the Burmese government cannot tell the difference between commercial funds and aid money.

This work carries some dangers; Burmese junta has harassed and, in one case, attacked the groups we are working with. But in the vast majority of cases, soldiers simply arrive, warn our partners that their work must be authorized by the government, and leave. Once they are out of sight, the aid work continues.

It is a challenge in such circumstances to exercise complete oversight over how the money is used -- most of the work is in secret. But we have chosen to work only with the most universally respected institutions, and we have asked them to provide detailed lists of monasteries and groups who receive it. These details allow us to verify receipt of the funds.
And this is where that money's ended up.

View Larger Map

Here's their donation page.

Cabinet Office still got no, nada, zip clue on web best practice

Public Sector Forums has been chasing the Cabinet Office over accessibility. It says that their "prestigious new 'Customer Service Excellence Standard' website":
It's actually blindingly obvious, there in front of your eyes, why this website just doesn't get it with how government websites need to improve their 'service' to get customers using them.

Have a look at the navigation -

That's grey text on dark grey background. Very hard to read. There's 'standards' on that, y'know. And above it a breadcrumb trail featuring the faintest grey text.

You couldn't get a clearer example of being - literally - out of touch on what this page calls "Customer Insight. Segmentation. Leadership" when it comes to the web. Find me one successful commercial website using grey text on grey background and I'll snog GB.

If they can't even recognise what's right there in front of their eyes, well. Where do you start?

It, of course, gets worse. Type 'analytics' or 'usability' in the search - nothing.

And the page title is 'Hub' ...

'Leadership'? 'Excellence'? You have got to be jossin' me ...

Sunday 25 May 2008

Corden's sock puppet

The only thing I like about Gavin + Stacey is Rob Brydon, but James Corden - probably inadvertently - strikes an iconic pose for the average (ok, a tad above average .. ) Brit male in Heat (and the chubby chasers) ...

Most of the male bodies seen in 'Men's Fitness' et al are truly unattainable. The models work out many hours a day and go on strict diets. Once the photoshoots are over they can return to something like normal, which isn't 'ripped'. Never mind the steriod shortcuts ... I seriously doubt that their regimes are terribly healthy. Beckham is naturally skinny and a professional athlete! Plus there's lighting, good photography and photoshop. Try competing with that!

But that has to be a sock ...

One nation?

Somehow, I can't imagine this happening in large swathes of the UK.

The Metropolitan Police Service has this morning 21 May 2008 carried out raids across London to tackle domestic, homophobic and race hate crime.

Operation Athena is running to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and is designed to put the focus on the offenders, and bring them to justice.

A/Detective Superintendent Gerry Campbell, heading Operation Athena, said:

"Athena is now in its eighth year, and we remain committed to improving our service to victims of domestic violence, homophobic and race hate crime, and identifying, taking on, arresting and prosecuting perpetrators of this violence.

"We have community safety units in every London borough who are dedicated to the investigation of these crimes, and 213 LGBT liaison officers.

"Today's operation sends out a clear message that violence in any form is unacceptable. We do not require a statement from a victim in order to arrest and charge a perpetrator.

"Through engaging and understanding the needs of all London's many diverse communities, we remain committed to being an employer of choice and an organisation for everyone."

And it's not their first ...

Police promise more raids against gay hate

By Marc Shoffman • December 7, 2006

The dawn raids, named Operation Athena, last Thursday, were part of a two-week initiative to put the fear back onto the offenders, and encourage victims to report crimes

The dawn raids, named Operation Athena, last Thursday, were part of a two-week initiative to put the fear back onto the offenders, and encourage victims to report crimes

Last week's police raids in London targeting suspected perpetrators of domestic, race hate and homophobic violence will not be the last, a member of the Metropolitan Police's Violent Crime Directorate has warned.

DCI Gerry Campbell said last week's operation signals the Metropolitan Police Service's commitment to taking on hate crime offenders, but added that it is not a one off job.

Ollie Stone lampoons Bush

As you may have read, noted comedy director Oliver Stone is making a film about George Bush - W - which is scheduled for release before November. Josh Brolin is playing Bush and amongst the rest of the cast are Ioan Gruffudd playing Tony Blair and Thandie Newton as Condi.

Stone is one of my least favorite directors having made one of the very few movies I've ever walked out of, Natural Born Killers. But this one sounds, on paper, like great fun.

The NY Daily News managed to get their hands on a highly embargoed script and found these highlights:

Here's Karl Rove making W. memorize answers, telling him, "Before you speak, come to me first. I'll tell you what to say." W. chiding late-arriving "Balloonfoot" Powell, saying military men should know about being on time. Rumsfeld, who's hard of hearing. W. happy when Cheney laughs at his cowboy-delivered twang. Cheney stepping in cow poop at Crawford. W. eating his favorite White House bologna sandwich lunch.

In all presidential erudition, telling Gen. Tommy Franks to be sure what he's doing: "I don't want to fire no $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the a - -." Then: "Americans don't like to see dead boys on their television sets." Telling education reformers: "Rarely is the question asked, 'Is our children learning?' "

Page 10 on Bill Clinton: "My mother waddles faster than that larda - -." Page 11: "We'll move these terr'ists to Guantanemera." Cheney: "Guantanamo." Bush: "Right." Then Bush to Cheney: "Vice, when we're in meetings I want you to keep a lid on it. Keep your ego in check. Remember, I'm the president."

Flashbacks have college-boy W. boozing, slacking off from work, in jail, calling his then-congressman father "Poppy." Sr. praising Jeb, castigating Jr., asking if he's "knocked up" a girl named Susie, complaining, "You never kept your word once . . . you're only good for partying, chasing tail, driving drunk . . . You deeply disappoint me." Repeat father and son arguments. Father: "I've had enough of your crap." Son: "I've had enough of you for a lifetime." Mama Barbara breaking up the near fisticuffs with announcing Jr. just made Harvard and Sr. responding, "But who do you think pulled the strings?"

Then, W.: "Saddam's been d - - - ing us around for 11 years. I told my father to get rid of the sucker" long back. War-thumping Cheney: "Saddam's smoking gun might become a mushroom cloud." W.: "We need the WMDs. We still need that 52nd card." Someone says: "You mean the 53rd card, sir."

Bushisms such as "A kick-ass war . . . Hittin' it off like grease to a skillet" . . . nu-cu-lar" . . . calling people "a-holes . . . son-of-a-b - - - - es . . . " saying it's "bulls - - -" . . . saying about one, "I'm going to kick his motherf - - - ing ass." About another, his "ba - - s have been put through the wringer." About himself, "One of the biggest talkers." It shows him wanting broader powers. It shows him saying about the press: "Like I owe them an explanation!?"

Page 42. Checking a map, being told it passed "Humint," whereupon the President of the United States asks, "What's 'Humint' again?" and being told "It's Human Intelligence." A scene in which, auditing an Iraqi intercept, W. asks, "Wolfowitz, got any Maalox on you? . . . and while you're at it, trim your ear hairs." And Cheney checking his heart pills.

There's Rove saying, "The polls have shot up to 80 percent behind the president. The American people want blood. They demand it." And Colin Powell: "This about politics or policy? I'm really confused. What're you doing in this room?"

In line with what Stone personally says about W.: "Limited ability except to promote himself," in one cocky flashback he guarantees he can fly a plane and then has trouble landing it. Page 50, asked if he loves his parents, he answers: "Most of the time. My father and I have a tough go . . . My mother says I'm as good as her at holding a grudge." After his father becomes president: "I'll never get out of Poppy's shadow. I wish he'd lost." After W. becomes president, his father saying, "I'm worried about him. Really worried. But you can't talk to him." And Barbara replying, "Well, he's not going to listen to me. He takes criticism worse than I do." And after Jr. knocks his father and shouts, "This is my war, not his," Condoleezza says: "We'll let him know that from here on out, he's persona non grata. No briefings, no nothings."

Friday 23 May 2008

I can't get no satisfaction

Rather than wait for his local council to start listening to 'customers', blogger Jon Bounds used the new website to set up a channel for 'customer feedback' about a Council.

So he did one for his - Birmingham City Council, the biggest in the country - and it's already got some damned reasonable questions on it like:

The trouble with both this and also with fixmystreet (what was neighbourhoodfixit) is the connections between ignoring such sites and their complaints/ideas and the consequences — especially the political consequences. And councils are ignoring them, I added something recently to fixmystreet and noticed that there were many others in my local area which hadn't been addressed one year on. And by 'not addressed' I mean ignored, because the email generated went somewhere.

All those people come away with a negative impression of the council as their consequence, and perhaps most importantly the people in charge of the council.

I don't think councillors, almost all of them anyway, have yet seen what's happening on such websites and thought - ahah! if I don't address these community issues I might lose my seat. Whereas if these issues made it into the local paper even in one letter to the editor, they would.

There's a tipping point of recognition which none of the political parties and only a few councillors have made.

It will happen but there's a political recognition here as much as anything else which they need to make and perhaps those advocating this type of engagement need to bang on about.

HT: Dave Briggs

Thursday 22 May 2008

Google Reader clips catch up

er, way behind here what with other work to do and all that. So quite a lot, some may become posts, starting a new Firefox Scapbook thread sounds like a good idea ...

  • The Food Vision project
    via IDeA Knowledge. Website "promoting good practice and projects that deliver safe, sustainable and nutritious food and improve local community health and wellbeing. The case studies and toolkits within the site are designed to help and inspire those intending to set up similar initiatives." Phew! Hardly 'plain english' and government creating another website? Shurely shome misshtake?

  • Voter File 2.0: Catalist, Democratic Tool
    via techPresident
    Catalist is building on the lessons of 2004 (where Democrats had a database meltdown) and working to build a 50 state national database with the names of 180 million registered voters, plus 75 million unregistered people (for use by voter registration groups), enhanced with commercial data, specialty data (like who owns hunting licenses), integrated it with the Democrat's VAN application, and with a tool for subscribers to mine the data. Catalist's goal is to be a permanent piece of progressive infrastructure.
  • BBC's embedded player boosts traffic by 50%
    via PDA by Jemima Kiss
  • Change 101
    via BuzzMachine - Jeff Jarvis
    I’ve been teaching the faculty itself in all the tools of online: blogs, wikis, RSS, video, SEO, and on and on. The best part of this has not been my colleagues’ receptivity to, curiosity about, and eagerness to adapt the tools themselves in their classes but the discussion we have shared about the impact of these tools on journalism and education. We’ve had rich back and forth on the new architecture of media and news that the impact of this change on journalism education.
    Here’s the Keynote we’ve been using as notes for this discussion.

Here are the relevant slides about the interactive program

Feature Daily Express Daily Mail Daily Mirror Daily Star Financial Times The Guardian The Independent The Scotsman The Sun The Telegraph The Times
Apology Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes No
Standard navigation Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes No No
Site map or directory Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No No
Search box Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No
Contact link No No Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes
Retains URL No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes