New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, February 23

Climate Change nowhere in US Elections and the world should worry

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

The environment is nowhere as an issue in the election, rating around 1%, although 'energy policy' (a specifically American prism through which climate change is usually glimpsed) rates much higher. Here's a typical Hillary contexualisation:

When I speak, as I have now for the last eleven months, to tens of thousands of people and I say that we will do everything necessary to end our dependence on foreign oil, people!
Interestingly, Climate Change is, in this election, being loudly raised from the Right - some prominent evangelicals have made it a front-and-centre issue and this has caused schisms with those who prefer going after the gays. It was a big issue in the Republican primary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, February 22

Utter cuteness

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

Here's another one of Kibongo.

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

More? Check out Cute Overload.

BBC Blogs: A response

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

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

And I'm also told that ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art imitates life imitates art

This is pretty amaaazing.

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

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

But there's a twist.

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

The parallels are spooky.

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

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

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

Labour's 50 achievements?

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

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

Which is great - hurrah! - but far, far more significant is that they finally banned discrimination at work.

On December 1, 2003, the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (the EER) came into force in the UK and made it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on sexual orientation, or harass or victimize them because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

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

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

Diana 'not biggest conspiracy'

click table to enlarge

Thursday, February 21


Can Barack do this?

Feeeeeel da rydim ..

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

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

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

Hat-tip: Wonkette

A familial plug

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

Check it out here.

And some random examples follow - great stuff!

Wednesday, February 20

The Australian apology and the BBC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC blogs: why bother?

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19

Australia: the apology

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

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

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

Here's what this means in practice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Tabloids kill kids?

A seventeenth teenage suicide was announced today in Bridgend. And one of the parents faced a press conference to denounce media coverage.

Sharon Pritchard and husband Vincent appealed to the media to stop high profile coverage.

They said: "We have lost a son, and media coverage made a difficult time unbearable. We did not wish to speak to the media. Not just for ourselves but for other families.

"We feel the media coverage could trigger other people who are already feeling low - to take their own lives.

"We feel that Nathaniel might have thought it was a way of getting attention without fully thinking through the consequences."

They said they never believed there was any 'internet pact'.
Much of the media has been speculating about the guilt of Bebo/MySpace, with zero evidence, though encouraged by the web-naive local MP, Madeleine Moon, who is now complaining about the coverage she generated. Teens in the area are actually using social networks to work against suicide. In the entire history of the web there are only a very few isolated examples of online 'suicide cults'. Yet the tabloids haven't stopped speculating in their ignorance (or worse).

People who know the subject well are angry too.

Suicide Prevention Charity Calls for End to Media Coverage of Bridgend Suicide

5 February 2008

With reports today of another young death in the Bridgend area being attributed as a possible suicide, Papyrus, the national charity for prevention of young suicide, is calling on media to resist further coverage surrounding the recent tragic suicides in Bridgend. Although this latest death is not yet confirmed as suicide, the charity reiterates its concern regarding copycat instances. It is well known that insensitive media reporting of suicide can prompt copycat cases, says the charity.

“Media coverage must stop,” said Anne Parry, chair, PAPYRUS. “We believe there is nothing further to be gained. We are seriously concerned that any more coverage would be counter-productive and exacerbate the current state of affairs, with disastrous results. At worst it could lead to further suicide attempts. We are asking media please do not draw further attention to this situation. We are also calling on other charities to support our initiative.”

I just looked up 'suicide town' in the UK Press:

Mail: 'Two cousins in 'suicide town' hang themselves within hours'
Metro: 'Police probe death in Bebo suicide town'
Sun: '17th victim in 'suicide town''
Telegraph: 'Suicide websites blamed for deaths'
Times: 'Is an e-suicide cult sweeping the UK?'

The tabloid wing of the BBC: 'Web worries after suicide spate'; 'Call to ban 'suicide chatrooms''

Guardian: 'There's no such place as 'Suicide Town''
Here's the rules, updated by the Press Complaints Commission [PCC] in 2006, my emphases:
Until now, reporting of suicide has been covered by the Code’s general provisions on Intrusion into Grief and Shock, which require the press to carry out inquiries with sympathy and discretion and to handle publication sensitively.

However, as part of its annual Code review, the Committee considered international evidence highlighting the dangers of imitative deaths following reports of suicide.

In the light of that, the Committee, which writes and revises the voluntary Code to which the British press subscribes, felt that the risk of copycat suicides should be addressed specifically.

Code Committee chairman Les Hinton, Executive Chairman of News International [fox? henhouse], said: “During our annual review, we received convincing evidence, from the Samaritans and others, that media reporting of suicide often prompted copycat cases. It is an international phenomenon.

“We have attempted to minimise that risk - while maintaining the public’s right to know - by emphasising the need for care to avoid excessive detail, unless it is in the wider public interest to give the information.

[Here's the agreed clause: *5ii: When reporting suicide, care should be taken to avoid excessive detail about the method used. - The asterisk indicates that under the new sub-clause exceptions could be made if editors could demonstrate that it was in the public interest.]

“For example, while it might be perfectly proper to report that the suicide was caused by an overdose of Paracetamol, it would probably be excessive to state the number of tablets used.

“We have consulted with the industry on this and it has been accepted. The new rule, in effect, codifies a practice already currently followed by many editors.”

The existing code was that reporting of suicide was covered by the Code’s general provisions on Intrusion into Grief and Shock, which require the press to carry out inquiries with sympathy and discretion and to handle publication sensitively.

So if the PCC already has rules and if the press isn't reporting details then 'suicide town', according to the self-regulated press doesn't constitute 'Intrusion into Grief and Shock'?

Apparently not, as the tabloid press seem to think they've done nothing wrong.

The Director of the Society of Editors, Bob Satchwell, told the BBC:
"There are a lot of things that can be done to help prevent suicide but one of those is not blaming the press or saying that they should stop reporting.

"I have read in the media a lot of harrowing and really frightening stories from some young people who were interviewed and they need listening to."
Speaking of the specific use of 'suicide town', this dick said:
"I think there are bigger issues here.

"There seems to be an unusual number of suicides in Wales and particularly this area and indeed Madeleine Moon has said so herself in the House of Commons.

"There are an unusual number of suicides occurring and there is a role which the media can play in trying to help in this situation."
I would love to see the parents take on the PCC with this:
Sharon, said: "Media coverage put the idea into Nathaniel's head."

Sitting beside Nathaniel's father, Vincent, Mrs Pritchard said: "We have lost our son and media reporting of this has made it an incredibly difficult time and more unbearable by intensive media coverage."
Which 'public'? Which 'interest'?


The Daily Mail really has no shame. Covering the press conference the next day there is no mention at all of Sharon Pritchard's comments about the media, nor the Police's.

Monday, February 18

Best flashmob ever

Frozen Grand Central — The guerilla comedy troupe "Improv Everywhere" strikes again! Charlie Todd, the twisted mastermind behind the group, choreographed hundreds of participants to freeze exactly at the same time in one of NYC's most famous landmarks, Grand Central Station. We get to sit back and watch the confused public question their sanity until the statuesque madness is over.

This has had 1.5m views already, but you may have missed it ;]