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Saturday 28 March 2009

The media killing machine

Charlie Booker was back on BBC4 with a new series, Newswipe, which did a copyright Booker-esque evisceration of 24 news.

Whilst it made me pine a bit for the ABC Australia primetime show 'Mediawatch', which used forensic journalism rather than Booker's albeit wit and piercing attack mode, he did hit one nail in a Jon Stewart video edit stylee.

Sensationalist and, particularly, highly descriptive media coverage of suicide and 'school shootings' creates even more suicide cases and 'school shootings' .

Ben Goldacre has more to say about mass media actually killing people in his Bad Science column.

Friday 27 March 2009

Iraqi gays claim government executing them

Well this should be the last nail in the 'things have improved in Iraq' coffin.

The Iraqi gay group, Iraqi LGBT, claimed today that many of the 128 prisoners, which have been reported elsewhere, to be executed - in batches of twenty - are being executed for being gay.

You read that right.

The group operates in extreme secrecy as many members have been murdered. They run three safe houses but others have been raided.
We have information and reports on members of our community whom been arrested and waiting for execution for the crimes of homosexuality. Iraqi LGBT has been banned from running our activities on Iraqi soil.

Raids by the Iraqi police and ministry of interior forces cost our group the disappearing and killing of 17 members working for Iraqi LGBT since 2005.
The Iraqi authorities have not disclosed the identities of those facing imminent execution, stoking fears that many of them may have been sentenced to death after trials that failed to satisfy international standards for fair trial.

Most are likely to have been sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), whose proceedings consistently fall short of international standards for fair trial. Some are likely to have. Allegations of torture are not being investigated adequately or at all by the CCCI. Torture of detainees held by Iraqi security forces remains rife.

Iraq’s creaking judicial system is simply unable to guarantee fair trials in ordinary criminal cases, and even less so in capital cases, with the result that numerous people have gone to their death after unfair trials.

Iraq's gays face death, persecution and systematic targeting by the Iraqi Police and Badr and Sadr Militia.

The Iraqi LGBT group raises funds to help provide LGBTs under threat of killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses, food, electricity, medical help) and assist efforts help them seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Iraq is yet another country where the Home Office will return refugees to claiming they just need to 'be discreet'.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon

"Can you endure twenty thousand spoonfuls of terror."

Absolutely fabulous

Another kick at councils on accessibility

E-access Bulletin has another go at council web site accessibility, citing SOCITM's annual Better Connected Review. It claims that this had shown minimal progress and therefore there's a "a gloomy picture".

Several colleagues on twitter have reacted badly, as well they might. Government in general is the only sector which actually has policy to implement the Disability Discrimination Act online and it's not like all disabled people access is government. Who knows, they might just want to buy stuff or play games!

Commercial websites have never been seriously challenged by the accessibility industry, despite it being a much more lucrative sector to potentially target.

What gets me is that they then say the following:
It is not all bad news this year, however. Some encouragement can be drawn from the implementation of a new additional qualitative assessment system, carried out for Socitm by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and designed to give an overall picture of council website accessibility. The system used its own 0-3 rating, with 0 representing a frequent absence of accessibility and 3 representing a site that was functionally fully accessible. Under this system, 136 councils (33%) were rated by the RNIB as satisfactory or excellent; a far more encouraging statistic than the 8% who achieved WCAG Level A.
Now WCAG is the international standard. It was replaced in December 2008 by a revision which takes into account the developments online as well as a much wider interpretation of disability. All measurement against WCAG 1.0 was therefore carried out (last November) against - effectively - a deprecated standard. In WCAG Level A context is irrelevant, it just gives a (literal) machine score on which councils are judged.

What using someone like the RNIB to give 'qualitative' feedback tells me is that the machine does so much but here's some actual disabled people putting things in context.

It's striking in its absence that much of the industry selling 'accessibility' to government is not disabled people. What their actual needs are isn't the key selling point - it's 'meeting a standard'.

To my mind this lets people off the hook. All councils have the ability to engage with actual disabled people about their websites but instead they're encouraged to keep a distance and follow some coding requirements. So no-one actually knows whether this is actually helping actual disabled people.

For example, is this correctly coded content of any use? Or can the key tasks which disabled people have on sites be easily performed?

These are the same sorts of issues sites should consider for others so why when it comes to disabled people do we take another approach?

Surely that is the very definition of discrimination.

Just as with usability, it pays massive dividends if the coders and designers come out their cubicles and engage with the audience (not that councils do usability well either but hey-ho ... ).

Bim Egan, Senior Web Access Consultant at the RNIB, told E-access Bulletin: "we noticed a significant improvement in the real accessibility of most of the websites we assessed. Unfortunately that doesn’t always show in a strict conformance check.”

The key concept here being 'real accessibility'.


NB: reedit following JackP's comment.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Cute animals: Super Chameleon

Obama's gloss peeling off

"It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it."

Why Won't Obama Pursue War Crimes Investigations?

Credit crunch as transmissible disease

Rolling Stone has an absolutely brilliant piece on what they call Wall St's 'coup d'etat', which I can't recommend enough as a primer on the credit crunch.

It names the meltdown's 'patient zero' (think 'typhoid Mary') as one Joseph Cassano of AIG. He operated out of - wait for it - London! And was enabled by weak UK/EU regulation.

Seriously, a must read,

Monday 23 March 2009

Changing paradigms with UI for mobiles

An excellent article by Christian Lindholm, formally of Nokia and now working for Fjord, neatly wraps up where mobile design has come from, where we are and where we might go.

He says that there are three levels to the user experience of mobiles:
  • The highest level I call Bling (this is because, it caters to the visual senses) it contains the visuals, colours, content density and partly motion.
  • The next level below it is Control (This caters to the mind or rationale) This is where the efficiency is created, where one gets stuff done, one navigates into applications, within applications and between applications. It is where services should be integrated. It is much more than functionality, more than an application.
  • The lowest level of a user experience is the Utility level. In this level one experiences such thing as application installation, network control, power management. It is where latency is managed. This level of user experience is almost totally provided by engineering, except when operating at world class level, when UE designers and Engineers co-operate deeply.
He says that most of the current innovation is in the top two layers with only Google doing much with the utility layer - and this makes sense because "they are a utility". What they're doing reminds him of the early days of GMail, which wasn't different to Yahoo or MSN four years ago (except for the space) but has now "becoming a cloud based content platform integrating core elements of your digital life".

He cites the most recent second layer paradigm shifts following on from iPhone's 'bling' touchscreen as pinching, flicking, flipping "into 'back' of application like in iPhone Weather or flipping below, like in the Maps app. In the PalmPre there are the cards and their shuffling, the Chucking, meaning closing the app".

These shifts every phone maker takes up as they operate like 'search, top-right' on websites or other new design 'norms': "they cannot be customised from customer to customer". Fortunately we have yet to see commodification of these new paradigms, through patent enforcement, to the detriment of users.

Where he sees next development is in smarter keys: "Text input on touch screens are simply too bad. People like moving keys and the sensory feeling they provide".

This rings true for me as it's what I went for with my new phone, which is a new one from Hewlett Packard. It has a great slide out keyboard which doesn't just have slightly bigger keys but also gives that slight finger feedback which I found absent on others.

One other area which he doesn't mention is in learning. It occurred to me that my supplier was missing a trick by not offering paid lessons on how to get the most out of your phone. Am I missing something here as I have yet to see a site which does this job (or does everyone not want to admit there's some stuff they just can't work out?)

Sunday 22 March 2009

Australian web censorship exposed

Wikileaks has published a list of the websites on the Australian government's blacklist. Those which would be blocked by national-level filtering as well as made illegal for any Australian website to link to.

According to Slashdot, it is possible to rip a version of the list from Race River's Integard - the filtering software that does it. The Wikileaks list appears to be a few months out of date, and doesn't exactly match the leaked list (which isn't that surprising - sites are being blocked and unblocked on a regular basis), but there's enough crossover to demonstrate that the government's claim that the list is inaccurate is obfuscation. This is a genuine copy of the list, just not a current one.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
While the blacklist published on Wikileaks includes a large number of child pornography sites and other illegal material, most of the websites listed have no obvious connection to child pornography.

It includes various online gambling sites, as well as Christian and other religious sites. A Queensland dentist and a tour operator also appear on the list.

The list also contains satanic websites and gay and straight porn sites, as well as euthanasia sites.
This is exactly what is bound to happen when a machine makes up these lists: so called 'collateral damage'.

Wikileaks said censorship systems, whatever their original intent, were invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behaviour.

It cited the Thailand censorship list, saying that like Labor's proposed filter scheme, it was originally proposed as a mechanism to prevent child pornography.

But Wikileaks said that in January, the Thai system was used to censor reporting about the case of Australian author Harry Nicolaides who was recently released from a Thai prison after pleading guilty to criticising the Thai royal family.

Wikileaks said research showed that such blacklists were dangerous to "above ground" activities such as political discourse and had little effect on the production of child pornography.

Although no one has yet advocated such national-level filtering in the UK it may well be only a matter of time as we seem to have a history of adopting Australian policy examples. This is if Labor in Australia can get the law through - a key right-wing independent Senator has become opposed since learning that fetus images on anti-abortion websites would be blocked.

Unfortunately we do already have an effectively national-level blocking system - the Internet Watch Foundation - which is not subject to democratic intervention and empowered through moral panic. So maybe we're further down the Australian line than many, including liberty campaigners, seem to realise.

One shot two kills

From "the most moral army in the world":
A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
Haaretz has been reporting on the crimes committed by - and witnessed by - soldiers in Gaza. The New York Times reports today on one reason why this is happening: rabbis turning a secular war into a religious one.
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007, which has an image of a child with the slogan "Smaller - harder!"?

"It's a kid, so you've got a little more of a problem, morally, and also the target is smaller."
I have always had the most basic of problems with not just the words "the most moral army in the world" but also the implicit endorsement of them by people like our Foreign Ministers through their silence: because they imply that armies like ours aren't 'moral'.

War may be immoral, full stop, but fact is there has been far more outrage and many more prosecutions regarding the British army's conduct (such as in Iraq) than the Israeli's over years. And for the Israelis to carry on repeating ''... in the world' should be felt like a slap in the face to their foreign supporters, but it's not.

Funny that.

Saturday 21 March 2009

How to grow your own fresh air

Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

I have been saying for ages that unions should make all offices have plants in them. I'm amazed that people tolerate the shit air around much office machinery. Not just this but, as Meattle, explains there's a proven business case too.

Gay Morrocco and Koranic anti-gay interpretations

News about 'Outrage sweeping across Morocco' following a gay association's announcement of a planned seminar on sexual problems led me to the video below.

The video tells the story of a gay couple's 'marriage', celebrated traditionally by their families and echoing centuries of actual Muslim tolerance of homosexuality.

It dramatically contradicts the news story which plies the same mythical line that certain churches and politicians in African states like Uganda have that "homosexuals have been attempting to infiltrate Moroccan culture".

It claims that "Moroccan authorities are in a very awkward situation since they are torn between European pressure and Morocco's conservative community".

Well good. The more pressure the better. As the video makes clear, you either support basic human rights or you don't. 'Culture' is no defence.

What's more, as with women's rights, it is not a case of 'change cannot happen because the Koran is clear'. The video explains how it's simply how it's interpreted - much like the bible - and some aspects highlighted and others ignored. Again, 'culture' is no defence' - and culture is not immutable.

This argument reflects those of the small but profoundly significant 'renaissance' movement amongst Muslims opposed to the likes of Saudi's Wahabbi's and Iran's rulers, saying there is another way. A movement which we're hear far too little about, instead we hear about zealots like Anjem Choudary.


Music: I believe in miracles

From 1973, 'I believe in miracles' by the Jackson Sisters. As wow as 'I want you back'.

Friday 20 March 2009

Music: Seventh Heaven

This is a classic late, late gay scene track. which I have played before. So sue me!

The superb Gwen 'Ain't Nothin' Goin' on But the Rent' Guthrie. Sigh, Sly & Robbie remixed by Larry Levan.

Plus here's a rather scratchy video from the Paradise Garage closing party.

More Gwen.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Cute animals: Extreme sheep

"Black people, of all people, should not oppose equality"

I found this incredibly moving.

This is is the chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Julian Bond, speaking to the Human Rights Campaign, the lead US gay civil rights organisation yesterday:

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Ending the DINK myth

Forthcoming article for

For around twenty years the perception of lesbian and gay people has been biased. And it's the fault of our own.

There is a overwhelming myth about gays and lesbians which is tied to their public profile, particularly of well-known people, that gay=better-off. But this idea of gay=better-off has been deliberately fanned by gay commercial business — because it's in their interests. DINK (double income no kids) = Will & Grace = yuppie = market!

When I worked for a gay newspaper in Australia we used some of the earliest marketing data about the so-called 'Pink Dollar' to attract then reluctant advertisers. Of course we did, and, shamefully, we also bought into the myth.

We did it because I'd read some early marketing studies which sampled gay magazine readers - and showed what they thought advertisers would want to hear: there was a well-off market which you're ignoring.

I've learnt since that gays and lesbians come in the most rainbow of varieties and most are not very visible. They are the ones affected by factors like poor educational outcomes due to harassment at school, and vulnerability to employee discrimination. They are the ones represented disproportionately in the ranks of the homeless.

I'd also suggest that a certain 'ghettoisation' into accepting jobs - such as lower paid social work or working in service industries - would play a role.

Of course it's even worse for transgender people who just cannot get jobs in the first place (except in sex work).

Unfortunately this DINK information has been used by our enemies to suggest that LGBT are not a group that needs protection, precisely because we're supposedly already well-off. Handed to them on a plate by gays-after-a-buck have been powerful political arguments to use against their fellow gays.

I'm not blaming them, I'm just pointing this out.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law survey about LGBT poverty, which will be presented to the US Congress on Friday, has been described as the first of its kind.

It's getting PR but it's not a first. There have been similar studies, though very few, going back years, which have shown the same issues which this one apparently does.
"This first [sic] analysis of the poor and low-income lesbian, gay and bisexual population reveals that LGB adults and families are as likely - and, in the case of some subgroups, more likely - to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts, contrary to the popular myth of gay and lesbian affluence."

The review will include a discussion of the social and political factors that may lead to higher rates of LGB poverty, including vulnerability to employee discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of those who are uninsured.
This is talking about Americans but has reported previously that around 20% of Brighton and Hove's homeless people are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The research suggests the LGBT community is over-represented in the homeless population and has negative experiences of local authority homelessness applications.
There is little UK research however American figures show up to 40% of homeless young people are gay or lesbian.

A study by Brenda Roche for the homeless charity Crisis said:
Sexuality issues are often over looked for homeless people. Yet we know that issues related to sexuality and sexual identity can play a key role in the onset of homelessness.

Questions emerge quickly for individuals who are GLBT about disclosure issues within services. Sexual identity can be viewed as a marker of difference in some settings, opening up the individual to greater scrutiny and harassment. The open identification or disclosure of sexual identity may be interpreted as forcing the individuals to categorise themselves or to feel that they are a minority under a greater surveillance.

For many GLBT youth, migration to urban centres typically occurs shortly after leaving (or being forced out of) home. Moving to larger city centres may be prompted by the idea that within this new context there will be greater exposure to a more visible gay community or at least a community more appreciative of diverse identities. At the same time, this transition also exposes the individual to new situations of risk and potential exploitation.

Difficulties due to intolerance and homophobia can contribute to the loss of stable housing or exacerbate periods of homelessness, particularly amongst those who are most vulnerable, such as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT) youth. Beyond the experiences of GLBT youth though, we have a limited understanding of how the issues of homelessness and sexuality intersect. Only recently has interest emerged about the needs of adults and older people who are GLBT and homeless.

The failure to recognise issues of sexuality means that within systems of care the assumption is one of heterosexuality. For GLBT homeless people this creates one more area in which they feel marked or different in a negative way. This may contribute to or exacerbate the degree of isolation and distress for an already highly marginalised and vulnerable group.

The loss of home for GLBT youth, as a runaway or as a result of being thrown out of their home is an all too common experience. Whether rough sleeping or part of the hidden homeless population (sleeping in temporary accommodation, squats, or relying upon friends, family or acquaintances) there is a continued sense of intolerance and isolation.
What does this amount to?
Estimates on the prevalence of GLBT persons amongst the wider homeless youth population have shown considerable variation. In the United States, national studies suggest that as many as 50% of all homeless youth may be gay or lesbian with estimates in the UK running as high as 30% in urban centres, whereas current broader estimates of population-wide figures of homosexuality in the UK are roughly between 5-7%.

The data on sexual identity and homelessness likely underestimates the situation, reflecting underreporting by individuals and a lack of monitoring by researchers and service providers.
This is to a background of educational underachievement because of systemic discrimination in schools:
Research carried out in 2003 found that 51% of gay men and 30% of lesbians reported being bullied physically at school, compared with 47% of heterosexual men and 20% of heterosexual women. (Mental health and social wellbeing of gay men, lesbians and bisexuals in England and Wales , Royal Free College and University College Medical School, 2003)

Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools (Stonewall, School Report 2007).

Seventy five per cent of young gay people in faith schools experience homophobic bullying and are less likely than pupils in other schools to report it (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).

Of those who have been bullied, 92 per cent have experienced verbal homophobic bullying, 41 per cent physical bullying and 17 per cent death threats (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).

Half of those who have experienced homophobic bullying have skipped school because of it and one in five has skipped school more than six times. A third of gay pupils who have been bullied are likely to miss school in the future (Stonewall, The School Report 2007).
Why would all the well-documented barriers which other minorities have experienced (e.g glass ceiling barriers for, majority, women) not also result in greater poverty for LGBT? This is the logic but where is the proof?

The earliest study I am aware of about LGBT poverty was Irish. Conducted by the Combat Poverty Agency in Dublin in 1995 it found:
21 per cent of respondents were living in poverty and over half (57 per cent) of respondents said they found it difficult to make ends meet. The findings also outlined clearly the range of effects of harassment and discrimination, and the extent of social exclusion experienced by lesbians and gay men.

A large number of respondents suffered from social exclusion. Participants reported problems with harassment, discrimination or prejudice at many stages of their lives - for example, in revealing their sexuality to family and friends; in school, college or while on training courses; in employment. Problems of isolation and loneliness at school or in continuing their education were not uncommon, and exclusion was evident in the area of service provision, for example housing and insurance.

Many had not revealed their sexual orientation to others, particularly in the work place, for fear of rejection or recrimination. 21% of respondents avoided work for which they were qualified through fear of discrimination and a further 39% avoided categories of work for the same reason. 7% reported being dismissed from a job because they are lesbian or gay and a further 14% had resigned from a job because they found it too difficult to reconcile their job with their sexuality.

A third of respondents said they had left home at one time or another with no certainty as to where they were going to live next. 41 percent of respondents said they had been threatened with violence because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay, and 25 per cent said they had been punched, beaten, hit or kicked because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay. The vast majority (84 per cent) of respondents knew somebody who had been verbally harassed, threatened with violence or physically attacked because they were assumed to be lesbian or gay.
Everything about this should ring true with the lived experience of LGBT - most LGBT are far from well-0ff. But it says something for the power of the DINK myth that:
In the UK it is truly time for a study to bust this myth. Stonewall?

Online action to oppose domestic violence

This is great, and seemingly successful: I got a very swift response from my MP and a pointer to the action they'd taken - strongly due to the response this online campaign generated.

Less swift response (still waiting) from the CEO of my local council ...

Go sign up.

Postscript: Jon Stewart is god

The Indie has a piece today asking Where’s our Jon Stewart?

This is in response to the, apparently, international fallout of Stewart's ball-shattering interview with business cable channel host Jim Cramer.

The article (rightly) largely laments the demise of British TV satire. But in the wake of the Cramer interview I think some of the other comment I've read is right: we don't need another 'hard-hitting' interviewer. Stewart delivered better than Paxman or Humphrys has ever done (more wit, less arrogance) but we still have far better interviewing than the US MSM has had for years.

The article also laments that chat shows like Graham Norton's don't have the political content that someone like Letterman has, but, again, they're not filling some MSM void. Plus Norton pushes the envelope on a different sort of 'politics'.

What we do lack for sure is decent TV satire. On radio we have it in spades.

Bush/Cheney torture worse than Gestapo's

Via Andy Sullivan:

From the Red Cross's summary of Bush-Cheney torture techniques:

1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime...

The Gestapo's list of torture techniques that fit into their "enhanced interrogation program" - a torture regime designed to avoid too-obvious or incriminating physical scars:

For shame that the UK went along with this. Churchill must be turning in his grave.

Sunday 15 March 2009

New Tory slogans

Now this is more like it. A online Labour idea that's workin' ... snap.

Hardly a new idea - here's one where you can add your own slogan to that classic Obama poster, now in the Smithsonian - but a good one nevertheless.

It's the Tory logo generator. Go make your own. Here's some that others have dreamt up.

Incredible tilt-shift film of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

This is astonishing. Manages to make it look like claymation!

Mardi Gras from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

HT: Towleroad

Study: Homophobia lowers earning power - well doh!

An analysis of poverty among lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans is to be presented to Congress next Friday.

Produced by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, the survey has been described as the first of its kind.

It's not. There have been similar studies, though very few, going back years which have shown the same issues this one apparently does.
Its authors have said it undermines myth of gay affluence and demonstrates that lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens are as likely, or more likely, to be poor than heterosexuals.

They added: "Because the U.S. Census Bureau does not explicitly ask questions about sexual orientation, LGB families have been invisible in poverty statistics.

"This first analysis of the poor and low-income lesbian, gay and bisexual population reveals that LGB adults and families are as likely - and, in the case of some subgroups, more likely - to be poor than their heterosexual counterparts, contrary to the popular myth of gay and lesbian affluence."

The review will include a discussion of the social and political factors that may lead to higher rates of LGB poverty, including vulnerability to employee discrimination, inability to marry and higher numbers of those who are uninsured.
There is a overwhelming myth about gays and lesbians which is tied to their public profile, particularly of well-known people, that gay=better-off. This has been deliberately fanned by gay commercial business because it's in their interests.

When I worked for a gay newspaper in Australia we used some of the earliest marketing data about the so-called 'Pink Dollar' to attract then reluctant advertisers. Of course we did, and, shamefully, we also bought into the myth.

I've learnt since that gays and lesbians come in the most rainbow of varieties and most are not very visible. They are the ones affected by factors like poor educational outcomes due to harassment at school, and vulnerability to employee discrimination. They are the ones represented disproportionately in the ranks of the homeless. I'd also suggest that a certain 'ghettoisation' into accepting jobs - such as lower paid social work or working in service industries - would play a role.

Someone like Stonewall needs to fund a similar study here. This myth needs busting.

The age of stupid

Something in Alistair Campbell's blog caught my eye. He, like many others, was lamenting the changes to Facebook's interface.

Last night, I was trying to put a message on Alina's wall to thank her for sending me a Canadian review of my novel, and for doing the New Statesman piece. It went up as a status update. So then I put up something lamenting my failure to differentiate between a message and an update, and added as an afterthought ... 'and where did this new [Facebook] design come from?'

So this morning I tried to work out whether I was already, after just a few weeks, becoming a bit small c conservative about life online, (like those right-wing bloggers who can't get used to Labour people being here now, and pick us up on our twitter etiquette, whatever the hell that is) or whether in fact, the design changes made are just bad changes made for the sake of change.
I will mull all this as I go out on my road bike in this beautiful sunshine, and prepare to watch the new film on the environment, The Age of Stupid, later today. Now that is going to be a changemaker. I just know it.

I would have explained myself better if I had been able to track back through comments on a few earlier Facebook postings. Or if I could find a way, quickly, of scanning through all the comments that came in to various updates in the last 48 hours when I have been away from my desk. But I couldn't for the life of me work out how to do it. I could do it the day before yesterday.

Now the title of this post is deliberate - Campbell's obviously not stupid, some might think the opposite ('evil genius'). But if I've learned anything from reading Jakob Nielsen for a decade it's this, most people using the interwebs are not that good at it. And most interfaces don't work for vast numbers of people most of the time.

Nielsen keeps reporting this impirical truth.

When you have online properties which have in their remit the need to be able to be used by practically everyone surely the need, the techniques, the simple methods, to do this should be front-and-centre?

I don't feel they are in egov though. Oh they're there but they're not front-and-centre, and as Campbell says, in the rush for change you end up sounding like a small c conservative if you say 'hang on a minute'...

But having my contrarian streak, as well as being long in the tooth, web-wise, I will :]

So, with all the buzz about social networking and engagement where is usability? Does this 'stuff' pass the mom test?

Saturday 14 March 2009

Jon Stewart is god

Paxman? Pweergh ...

A war between basic cable personalities has broken out between financial channel CNBC's Jim Cramer and Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.

The skirmish started on 4 March when the Daily Show's Jon Stewart rallied against CNBC for its poor advice to viewers. Part of Stewart's segment included a clip of Mad Money host Jim Cramer making a rosy prediction about Bear Stearns just before the investment bank failed.

Cramer complained Stewart's use of the clip was unfair and and taken out of context. Stewart responded by revealing previous footage of Cramer pumping up Bear Stearns.

The next day, Cramer blasted Stewart on NBC's Today Show and scoffed at Stewart saying the comedian hosts "a variety show". Later, Cramer appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe where host Joe Scarborough called Stewart out for cherry picking clips to amuse the Daily Show's audience at the expense of Cramer and others. Stewart said Scarborough was not quite correct in his assessment of the Daily Show saying he is more in the business of "turd binding".

The next round of the fight continues tonight at 11pm ET when the Mad Money host will appear with Stewart on the Daily Show Will the basic cable hosts play nice or will they lock horns in an epic duel?
Oh, he 'played nice'! This interview is being hailed stateside as worthy of Edward R. Murrow. WhiteHouse press secretary Robert Gibbs even praised it. So it has exposed the US MSM (which, I would add, the BBC relies on as a journalistic source for the US 'news' they bring you license-fee payers) to justified, scaring criticism.

Friday 13 March 2009

Music: Dwarfed Punk

Genius. Daft Punk meets Snow White.

Cute animals: Amy, the swimming lioness

Issues with Better Connected's webstats use

The annual survey of local government websites, Better Connected, has a section about website usage (aka 'take-up').

This is based on information from three sources Hitwise, GovMetric and the Website take-up service from Socitm Insight.

The former and the latter measure website usage but the results on unique visitor numbers to websites is based on Hitwise's 'local government market percentage share' numbers. Subscribers get access to the raw numbers.

Better Connected does contextualise their comments, saying that:
Each local authority will seek to understand the patterns of traffic to its website; this is no easy task, because it is fraught with technical difficulties about the definition of usage. This is not a task that we can analyse in great detail, because local website statistics are not available in a consistent format that would enable us to make a comparison across all the councils in the way that we can for useful content and usability.

However this is exactly what the section does, drawing comparisons based on site usage compared with local authority population to come up with 'take-up' numbers for regions, and singling out particular councils as well as a top twenty as having high 'take-up'.

This is not a good use of - effectively - one set of stats from Hitwise. And I can prove it.

For some time now my council has been sharing access to Google Analytics stats with ten other councils. Here's the comparison of those numbers with those from Hitwise.

* September 2008 - to website - internal use excluded (where possible)
** rounded to give some attempt at anonymity

There are a number of caveats. The n/a is actually Hitwise showing 0.00%. Some of these sites have services sitting on other websites with different URLs, not sub-domains. One of them has extremely high internal usage. Obviously, what stats they choose to share may not include some website areas, hence the district with the high population but low website use.

But there are some logical patterns. I cross-referenced with the deprivation index and unemployment rates and then the per capita usage does show simple patterns. There's also some common sense here. A very rural area might have low broadband and be poorer. Our city, for example, is fairly affluent and has very high broadband penetration.

What looking at Google Analytics shows which is most striking as a discrepancy is a much lower per capita website use than Hitwise. Does this mean something or am I seeing things? If it's true then it's a serious finding in terms of how we are perceiving our sucess.

Email if you want the spreadsheet.

Needless to say, what sparked my interest was the great difference between what Hitwise said and what Google Analytics said about our city. It didn't tally with what GA was telling or what logically made sense.

Both stats packages their issues and both should not be used in isolation or to draw very specific comparisons as Better Connected has done.

Webstats people, such as those working for big commercial transactional sites, say that there are two things to remember:
  1. use more than one methodology
  2. remember that what you really want is trends, not hard numbers to present out-of-context
I would suggest a couple of things:
  1. Better Connected should get some very specific expert guidance on extrapolating from the data they have available on website usage. This is not a easy skill, to draw out real analysis from webstats data although it is relatively easy to match trends to goals. Better Connected simply doesn't provide the contextualisation that I believe such a professional would provide.
  2. Better Connected should seek access to those councils using Google Analytics - I'm sure the number is far more than eleven. My experience is that such access is freely given but you could easily draw up a usage agreement, using one of the free licenses regarding how Better Connected could use it. Obviously, the more data the merrier.
Also, give consideration to promoting the use of Google Analytics, especially for those using other stats services, for the reason I've given, as well as supporting skills training on getting the most from the rich usage data you get from GA and other packages.

Better Connected says that:
In April 2008, the Public Accounts Committee report about central government websites highlighted weaknesses in the knowledge of website costs and usage, leading to the point that:

“The Government does not know how much it is saving through internet services, nor whether any savings are being re-deployed to improve services for those who do not or cannot use the internet”.

In response the Central Office of Information (COI) has embarked on a programme of guidance about website statistics to be published by the end of March 2009 in order to mandate central government websites to collect new information in the financial year 2009/10. The guidance comprises a set of three documents:
  • Measuring website costs
  • Measuring website usage
  • Measuring website quality [stats are very useful when attached to user testing, especially around new designs]
The criticisms have not been levelled at local government, but many local authorities might be equally vulnerable. The guidance will not, initially at least, mandate councils to collect this information.

Nevertheless, the guidance is likely to be helpful for local authorities and others to follow as representing good practice and reminding decision-makers at all levels that investments in websites should be supported.

Monday 9 March 2009

Commonwealth Day = Dispossession Day

Only four members of the UN voted against the Declaration on Indigenous Rights in 2007: Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Three are members of the Commonwealth.
Of the 53 countries which now make up the Commonwealth, only two of the smallest (Dominica and Fiji) have ratified the 1989 international law recognising indigenous and tribal peoples' rights.

The Commonwealth - and Britain's wealth - was partly built on the dispossession of indigenous peoples but the UK refuses to sign, in part explaining that this is because there are no indigenous peoples in the UK. That has not stopped countries such as the Netherlands from signing. The UK also does not recognise 'collective human rights' despite recognising that countries such as Canada and Australia are right to recognise them!

One hundred and fifty-eight members of the UK parliament have rejected the government's argument and asked it to sign the law.

The point of the declaration, says the UN, is that it does "represent the dynamic development of international legal norms and it reflects the commitment of the UN's member states to move in certain directions ... an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet's 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalisation."

This is obviously not what the UK, representing commercial interests and not human rights, wants.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Best marketing ever?

If you hadn't heard, one of the islands on Queensland, Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been running a search for a job online. Only they've made it sooper-viral, by making it youtube and the job itself is, well, brilliant:
An Australian state has launched a global search for candidates for "the best job in the world" -- earning a top salary for lazing around a beautiful tropical island for six months.

The job pays 150,000 Australian dollars (105,000 US dollars) and includes free airfares from the successful applicant's home country to Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland's state government announced on Tuesday.

In return, the "island caretaker" will be expected to stroll the white sands, soak up the sun, snorkel the reef, "maybe clean the pool" -- and report to a global audience via weekly blogs, photo diaries and video updates.
To my mind, this is the best job applicant of the bunch:

Why is this the best marketing ever?
The campaign was part of a drive to protect the state's 18 billion Australian dollar a year tourism industry during the tough economic climate caused by the global financial meltdown.

While the campaign has elements of some reality television shows, a candidate's looks will not be a prime requirement, Tourism Queensland chief executive Anthony Hayes told AFP.

"No, I don't think beautiful is what we want, I think charismatic is what we want," he said. "The reality is we are looking for a fantastic communicator.

"What we want this person to do is travel throughout the Great Barrier Reef and just try every experience, every adventure they can find and report back via blogs and video to tell the world why Queensland is a great place to come for a holiday."
Potential Great Barrier Reef tourists are definitely online. Smart. Plus, here I am doing their marketing for them :#

Cute animals: Chester The Incredible Peeing Dog

Brown opposes Prop. 8, refuses to act on homophobic Home Office

Gordon Brown on his return from Washington:
"I was in America yesterday and I know you will be sorry I didn't bring Barack Obama back. He is coming soon. But what I saw in America told me what we have to do. This Proposition 8 [which banned gay marriage in California], this attempt to undo the good that has been done. This attempt to create divorces among 18,000 people who were perfectly legally brought together in partnerships, this is unacceptable and shows me why we always have to be vigilant, why we have always got to fight homophobic behaviour and any form of discrimination."
Speech by Peter Tatchell at Amnesty International headquarters on Friday 16 May 2008:

“Since 1999, the Labour government has repealed most of Britain’s anti-gay laws and introduced new legislation to recognise same-sex partnerships and protect gay people against discrimination.

“These positive gay rights measures are being undermined by Labour’s failure to tackle the homophobic and transphobic bias of the asylum system.

“We need urgent government action to implement five key policy changes to ensure a fair hearing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) asylum applicants:

“First, all asylum staff and adjudicators should receive sexual orientation and transgender awareness training. They currently receive race and gender training but no training at all on sexual orientation and gender identity issues. As a result, they often make stereotyped assumptions: that a feminine woman can’t be a lesbian or that a masculine man cannot be gay. They sometimes rule that someone who has been married must be faking their homosexuality.

”Second, the government should issue explicit instructions to all immigration and asylum staff, and to all asylum judges, that homophobic and transphobic persecution are legitimate grounds for granting asylum. The government has never done this, which signals to asylum staff and judges that claims by LGBT people are not as worthy as those based on persecution because of a person’s ethnicity, gender, politics or faith.

”Third, the official Home Office country information reports - on which judges often rely when ruling on asylum applications - must be upgraded and expanded to reflect the true scale of anti-LGBT persecution. At the moment, the government’s documentation of anti-gay and anti-transgender persecution in individual countries is often partial, inaccurate and misleading. It consistently downplays the severity of victimisation suffered by LGBT people in violently homophobic countries like Pakistan, Uganda, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, Cameroon, Iraq, Zimbabwe, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.

”Fourth, legal aid funding for asylum claims needs to be substantially increased. Existing funding levels are woefully inadequate. This means that most asylum applicants - gay and straight - are unable to prepare an adequate submission at their asylum hearing. Their solicitors don’t get paid enough to procure the necessary witness statements, medical reports and other vital corroborative evidence.

“Fifth, the Home Office needs to issue official instructions to asylum detention centre staff that they have a duty to stamp out anti-gay and anti-trans abuse, threats and violence. Many LGBT detainees report suffering homophobic victimisation, and say they fail to receive adequate protection and support from detention centre staff. These shortcomings need to be remedied by LGBT awareness training to ensure that detention centre staff take action against homophobic and transphobic perpetrators, and that they are committed to protect LGBT detainees who are being victimised.

“Labour’s claim to be a LGBT-friendly government rings hollow when it continues to fail genuine LGBT refugees. We must insist on an asylum system that is fair, just and compassionate – for LGBT refugees and for all refugees,” said Mr Tatchell.

Sample case histories of how the asylum system fails genuine LGBT refugees:

* Two years ago, Thando Dube embarked on a 33-day hunger strike in protest at being held in detention for six months. She was not a political dissident held by a brutal regime. She was a regular civilian who was incarcerated in a British asylum detention centre. Her crime? Thando is a lesbian who fled to the UK to escape the well-known persecution of LGBT people in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

* At least two gay Iranian asylum seekers have committed suicide in UK in the last five years, after being ordered by the Home Office to return to Iran. Israfil Shiri, aged 29, burned himself alive. Hussein Nasseri shot himself in the head. Both chose suicide rather than suffer deportation and probable execution by Iran’s ayatollahs.

* The Home Office insists that Jamaica is a “safe” country. Many LGBT Jamaican asylum applications are rejected, despite evidence from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that anti-gay attacks are widespread. In the Home Office’s view, gay Jamaicans can seek police protection. But the reality is, according to Amnesty, that “protection is often denied by the police, who in many cases appear to tacitly or actively support such violence.”

* Isaac K, aged 17, fled to Britain from Uganda after he was caught with his boyfriend. A mob, which included local officials, tried to kill him. According to the Home Office, what happened to Isaac does not constitute persecution and therefore he does not qualify for asylum.

* The Home Office likewise denies the abuse of gay men in Algeria. RK was jailed for homosexuality. In prison, he was raped and beaten by inmates and guards. His teeth were knocked out and he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. The Home Office insists that it is safe for RK to return to Algeria.

* Many LGBT victims are forcibly - even violently - deported back to their homophobic home countries. This happened to gay Jamaican, EB. He alleges violent beatings by Home Office-contracted security guards who forced him onto the plane. When he arrived in Kingston, his family say that he could barely walk.

These abuses are happening under a Labour government - a government that claims to support LGBT human rights.

I will add to Peter's proposals that LGBT asylum and immigration groups should be used, as the Canadian immigration minister has proposed, to help filter out false claims.

Ashamed to know these people are my fellow Brits

Binyam Muhammed, the returned Guantanamo Bay detainee, has given his story to the Daily Mail. Although the Mail has taken, like the Conservatives in general, a line against torture 'in our name', their readers feel differently.

I have rarely felt so depressed reading comments on the Daily Mail's website than this.

Do these people not know what Churchill thought of torture? How our forebears refused to use it when fighting for this country's survival against the Nazis? Because they knew it DID NOT WORK! Here's the tireless campaigner against torture, the conservative Andrew Sullivan:

He opposed it in all circumstances. He was no liberal. In World War II, the Japanese added "amendments" to the Geneva Conventions for the specific war with America. Sound familiar? Money quote from my friend Niall Ferguson:

[E]ven if you don't see any resemblance between Bush's "administrative regulations" and Imperial Japan's "necessary amendments" of the Geneva Convention, consider this purely practical argument: As Winston Churchill insisted throughout the war, treating POWs well is wise, if only to increase the chances that your own men will be well treated if they too are captured. Even in World War II, there was in fact a high degree of reciprocity. The British treated Germans POWs well and were well treated by the Germans in return; the Germans treated Russian POWs abysmally and got their bloody deserts when the tables were turned.

Few, if any, American soldiers currently find themselves in enemy hands. But in the long war on which Bush has embarked, that may not always be the case. The bottom line about mistreating captive foes is simple: It is that what goes around comes around. And you don't have to be a closet liberal to understand that.

"The great principle of habeas corpus and trial by jury, which are the supreme protection invented by the British people for ordinary individuals against the state. The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgement by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and is the foundation of all totalitarian governments... It is only when extreme danger to the state can be pleaded that this power may be temporarily assumed by the executive, and even so its working must be interpreted with the utmost vigilance by a free parliament... Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy. This is really the test of civilisation."
Rarely would you find me lining up and willing on the David Davis' of this world - against part of their own base it would seem. The Mail today makes me truly ashamed to share space with some Brits. People who would have us behave as the Khmer Rouge and - yes - the Nazis behaved.

They are being enabled by those in our government who permitted this to happen in our name and are still covering up our role. We all know it happened and until that is dealt with we will all have to live with the stain on our democracy.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Sydney Mardi Gras

These two vids give you some idea of what Sydney LGBTI Mardi Gras is like. This one is from a float:

This one's filming the same group from the pavement:

I wrote about my experience of Mardi Gras on its 30th anniversary last year. It's really hard to convey much by video of the real all-inclusive energy - and scale, 10,000 participants - of it.

This vid gives some idea

More video (and possibly better, there's not a lot about the anticipatory warm-up, which was always my favourite bit, uploaded yet) here.