New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Wednesday, October 10

Craig Murray not silenced

... he's back.

Back and Unbowed
It is good to be blogging again.

We are back on We hope that will be back too very soon. I have a plan for dealing with Usmanov and getting this matter into court, but am holding fire for a couple of days until we get the address back,

He then lays into Usmanov. Excellent!

Show Me The Bunny

I was mentioning today about trying to get my head around the aspect of Social Networking called the Social Graph, known as Facebook's 'secret sauce', and reviewing what's in my Reader I came across this neat summary from Dave McClure on TechCrunch

Here are seven major aspects of Facebook you can use to increase the visibility of your startup, business, product or service:
  1. Set Up Your Graph: Profiles & Privacy
  2. Make Connections: Networks, Groups & Events
  3. The Need for Feed: Your [Shared] Social Activity Stream
  4. Share Your Content: Share & People-Tag Your Stories & Media
  5. App to the Future: The Facebook Platform, APIs, & Applications
  6. Pay to Play: Ad Networks, Sponsored Stories, & Paid Distribution
  7. Show Me The Bunny: Gifts, Points, & Virtual Currency
He goes into detail on those aspects. What Dave means when he talks Bunny, though, isn't what you might think — it's something new:

There are 3 major types of virtual goods: decorative, functional, and behavioral. Decorative goods are those primarily geared towards self expression. Functional goods are those that meaningfully alter your user experience. For example, a suit of armor in World of Warcraft that confers a special advantage to you would be a functional virtual good. Behavioral virtual goods are graphical icons that capture some sort of social interaction. This is the type that is most prevalent on Facebook today. Virtual gifts are the best known example of this category of virtual good.

Two of the top 10 Facebook apps, X Me and SuperPoke!, are essentially just interaction tools. In the X Me screenshot above right, each of the icons – whether it be Love, Punch, or Kiss – is an encapsulation of a specific social interaction. Though it may not be purposeful, these types of casual apps are training users to understand how to interact with virtual goods. I can easily see how these apps become platforms that launch broader virtual currency systems. For example, expanding this app to allow users to attach custom graphics to their custom actions would create a new, rare class of virtual objects.

I was just looking at Amnesty's great new web campaign, UnSubscribe (Hat tip: David Wilcox, he has a report of the launch). it's all about attempting to exploit the Social Graph. Really great design and lots of stuff in there. They don't even forget valuable things like email sigs. They have video and sign-up widgets.

Couple of things though:

1. It doesn't actually chart results. What is the impact of web campaigning? What has Amnesty already achieved?

I think the Number Ten web petitions shows some of the limits here, the potential for cynicism, although I'm sure you do have an effect (I know you do from experience) but it would help to show this, to demonstrate the impact somehow.

2. All the widgets are with WidgetBox and they have a very irritating method whereby you can't just get the embed code. You have to select your platform then it does it for you and a post magically appears (which I don't want). YouTube usually gives you the code option.

One very real reason why this is more than annoying is because if you auto-ping that's the post content which will appear in feeds - their headline choice etc. and none of your surrounding context. It reminded me of using MySpace and especially using Bebo, which has loads of walled gardens. This is also more than annoying campaign-wise as well because I then had to look elsewhere for the embed code for this campaign video.

Here's the sign-up widget (not in it's own post!)

Tuesday, October 9

Cruel Intentions

Jon Stewart on form — Pain equivalent to organ failure .. or even ... death? 'Cruel, inhuman, degrading or O-Tay'

John Oliver continues the Tortured Logic

Hacking (at) 'The Burger Code'

The Dutch have just published a new e-citizen charter, amusingly titled 'The Burger Code' in the translation I'm reading.

Hat tip: Peter Cruickshank

It comes with a workbook for Civil Servants, actually done in PDF so it'd print like a 'workbook', on ruled, schoolbook type paper. Not a good sign.

I baulked at it's first principle and gave up on reaching the first 'to do' list. This wins awards?

First principle was:

Choice of Channel
As a citizen I can choose for myself in which way to interact with government. Government ensures multi channel service delivery, i.e. the availability of all communication channels: counter, letter, phone, e-mail, internet.
Which sounds all well and good but only really available for the well-funded web presence and even then you make budget choices. Especially if you add an eleventh principle 'and the citizen must be able to use it' or do any picking and choosing ('convenient' vs personalised').

You have to acknowledge that you can't 'do it all' because 'all' is a moving target. As an aim, 'ensures' is worse than pie in the sky. It guarantees B*S. Fab rhetoric though but it's the rhetoric and the claims which get you into trouble. Something falls through the cracks.

Onto how you might reach this aim and a good example in a 'checklist'
Does the website explain how to get in contact and can that be done by visit, phone, letter and mail?
Why is a website having to 'explain'? This one choice of word gives away the linear approach of the author, the limited perspective framing the entire exercise. Try 'show' instead.

I know what they're saying and it sounds like splitting hairs but why are you doing this in the first place? Why are you providing a contact point on a website and making sure you don't miss routes.

Call me a tired old cynic, but wouldn't that be because that's what websites do — that is, it's absolutely sod all to do with government, transformed or otherwise, it's to do with websites.

Any business, and community group, anyone running a website will provide multiple contact points and fallback help for users because otherwise you're not making the most of the user interaction opportunities. (Unless you're big or over-scaled like some web properties and don't fund customer service/can't hire fast enough/can't cope with customer contact).

A whole expensive process plus an awards ceremony to arrive at what the web already does (read the document, it's all the way through). But lots of big words, grandiose claims and extra-polished civil-servant speak. All sounds very familiar ....

Disconnected? Parallel universe.

  • e-Citizen Charter: Winner of the European e-Democracy Award 2007 (Global e-Democracy Forum, Paris, October 2007) and Finalist of the European e-Government Awards 2007 (Ministerial e-Government Conference, Lisbon, September 2007).
Here's their ten principles - nb: a translation - which other than when they talk 'web', are mostly good, common sense (although you'd have to think as well, surely restatements of existing principles?):
# Choice of Channel
As a citizen I can choose myself in which way to deal with government. Government ensures multi channel service delivery, i.e. the availability of all communication channels: visit, letter, phone, e-mail, and internet.
# Transparent Public Sector
As a citizen I know where to apply for official information and public services. Government guaranties one-stop-shop service delivery and acts as one seamless entity with no wrong doors.
# Overview of Rights and Duties
As a citizen I know which services I am entitled to under which conditions. Government ensures that my rights and duties are at all times transparent.
# Personalised Information
As a citizen I am entitled to information that is complete, up to date and consistent. Government supplies appropriate information tailored to my needs.
# Convenient Services
As a citizen I can choose to provide personal data once and to be served in a proactive way. Government makes clear what records it keeps about me and does not use data without my consent.
# Comprehensive Procedures
As a citizen I can easily get to know how government works and monitor progress. Government keeps me informed of procedures I am involved in by way of tracking and tracing.
# Trust and Reliability
As a citizen I presume government to be electronically competent. Government guarantees secure identity management and reliable storage of electronic documents.
# Considerate Administration
As a citizen I can file ideas for improvement and lodge complaints. Government compensates mistakes and uses feedback information to improve its products and procedures.
# Accountability and Benchmarking
As a citizen I am able to compare, check and measure government outcome. Government actively supplies benchmark information about its performance.
# Engagement and Empowerment
As a citizen I am invited to participate in decision making and to promote my interests. Government supports empowerment and ensures that the necessary information and instruments are available.

Monday, October 8

Remembering Sachsenhausen

gay prisoners at sachsenhausen

My fellow blogger Jack P — expressing interest in my posting on gay subjects which aren't to the fore — has promoted me to post this. It's a speech I gave at our local Holocaust Memorial Day in January this year.

It's seems appropriate to post it on a day when the UK Government announces legislation making incitement to hatred of gay people an offence.

I first became aware of the specific experience of gay victims in the Second World War through the efforts of the very few remaining survivors in the late 70s, especially the play Bent, which was based on the first testimony to be published, in the book the Men with the Pink Triangle.

Bent was made into a very good film ten years ago with Clive Owen and Lothaire Bluteau - Trailer:

kitty fisherI also had the honor of knowing the Auschwitz survivor Kitty Fisher in Sydney. Kitty always had a special connection with the gay community because it was a gay man who saved her and her sister's lives in the camp when they were small.

Kitty was in the documentary Paragraph 175, directed by Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman (who also did The Times of Harvey Milk and The Celluloid Closet).

Here's a trailer:

The Memorial Day speech was very hard, emotionally emptying work as I could completely identify with the characters I was reading about. I could then place myself in their shoes, in the Camps, in the Brick Pit. I had much the same experience watching Bent, I felt it viscerally. Same feeling now actually. I can completely understand why people, many survivors especially, never spoke about the Holocaust (although gay victims had different reasons for silence),

People from the local Jewish community could not have been more supportive in giving the speech, offering very useful advice, and it had a fantastic reception, apparently touching people and making them aware in a way they weren't previously. This pleased me greatly as telling this history means talking about how gay survivors were treated by other survivors. There was also another very real link with genocide with a Bosnian survivor, an immensely dignified young man, who I was very pleased to hear and to meet.


Holocaust Memorial Day, 2007

With Germany's military defeat came liberation of Nazi concentration camps, and the discovery of an unprecedented horror.

For our kind - gays - the nightmare began in 1934, one year after the Nazis came to power, with the creation of the Reich Office for Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion.

767 police-identified or suspected homosexuals were arrested by the Gestapo (State Secret Police), awaiting transfer to concentration camps for "reeducation" at the hands of Hitler's fanatical SS paramilitary units.

Treatment was brutal; begun without trial, jury, or mercy. The Gestapo tortured gays for information, confessions, names

- and sadistic pleasure.

In June 1935 a desperate youth wrote to the only person in authority he trusted: Bishop Ludwig Mueller.

prisoners with pink trianglesThis Berliner - alone, panic stricken - tells the bishop the treatment awaiting gays:

The letter reads:

"[Homosexuals] are tortured for weeks and months on end. Hardly anyone can describe what they do to homosexuals and suspects.

"Not only do they use the foulest language they maltreat them in the most brutal way. Each man has to fall in, stand still and watch 50 to 100 blows rained on a poor creature. The cries and the sight of the flowing blood are terrible."

The letter closes naively, "People have said that our glorious Fuhrer would punish such acts most severely if they came to his ears. I am of the same view."

Whether Bishop Mueller had Christian compassion for the plight of gays is not known. There is no record of response from him or of any personal action taken.

German gays - "Varmer bruders" - were worked to death until the war's end.

The death toll for all inmates was 8 million. It is impossible to estimate how many of them were homosexuals. But estimates range from 430,000 (which is probably too high) to 10,000 (which is probably too low).

arbeit macht frei - work will make you free - sign at sachsenhausenDetailed statistical analysis of surviving records indicates that homosexual prisoners were systematically placed in the hardest work commandos (notably the gravel pits at Dachau and the brick works where all of the homosexual inmates of Sachsenhausen worked);

  • that the death rate for homosexuals was 50 percent higher than for political prisoners;

  • that they received more brutal and more frequent extra punishments than the other prisoners;

  • and that they formed the highest percentage of prisoners who were "transported" (the Nazi euphemism for transfer to the gas chambers).

One survivor of Dachau reported: "The inmates with the pink triangles never lived long, they were exterminated by the SS with systematic swiftness."

By all accounts, hardly any of the homosexual inmates of the concentration camps survived.

The pink triangles were spurned by all other groups in the concentration camps, and many survivors even today refuse to acknowledge the existence of their fellow gay prisoners.

After the war, homosexuals were denied the reparations given by the German government to other groups, because they were still classified as criminals under German law.

They were even denied state pensions to compensate for the amount of time spent in the concentration camps.

They could be re-imprisoned for "repeat offences," and were kept on the modern lists of "sex offenders."

The humane institutions of every country have condemned the treatment of all of the victims — except for homosexuals.

On annual days of mourning for the victims, few countries officially mourn for homosexuals.

To the survivor's comment that "one day they were simply gone" we might add "and today are all but forgotten."


The memorial plaque at Sachsenhausen

gay memorial at sachsenhausen

  • Germany is building a monument to the gay victims in Berlin
    Holocaust victims honoured, Pink Paper, 5th. February, 1999
    "Thousands of gays and lesbians who were murdered by the Nazis during the Second World War were formally honoured by the German government for the first time this week. Representatives of the country's gay community joined officials at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp north of Berlin to take part in the annual remembrance ceremony for prison camp victims. Sachsenhausen held large numbers of gay inmates because of its close proximity to Berlin, which had developed a thriving gay community in the 1920s and 1930s."

  • US National Holocaust Museum: Nazi persecution of homosexuals