New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Friday, March 14

BBC finally embedding video

As I noted a while back the BBC had started embedding video - on the occasional tech page/blog - and has now decided to use Flash Video embedding everywhere around the news site. The details are announced today on their Internet blog.

Which is all good but the blog post doesn't explain why they aren't providing the embed code for others which other big media players are starting to allow. See clip reuse en masse in the US Primaries.

This is also obvious to me in the Madhi Kazemi campaign, I end up with Sky clips but not CNN when the latter has done a much better job, and seeing that would undoubtedly help their credibility/viewership. Just linking doesn't cut it any more when someone else's clip is right there.

This all seems a bit daft when they evidentially aren't policing the reuse of their clips via YouTube/LiveLeak etc. You could also make the argument that if you want to reach - for example - da youth, then allowing them to reuse your stuff, especially news clips, on their blogs and Bebo pages would be one good way of doing that.

There wouldn't be that many copyright issues either, you'd think, since it's BBC News, not some third party.

On the one hand they don't seem to mind their clips being reused/promoted (two sides of the same coin) but on the other they're not going to make it easy. That sounds like their defacto policy.

I assume the beeb behemoths are behind that decision ....

Simon Dickson (hat-tip) makes some good points on the implementation. Have they sacked all the usability experts?

PS: Still seeing that flat, unhelpful, bad communication '502' error message for failed comments, beeb people ...

Thursday, March 13

'I could not make my peace with the power imbalance'

“Ruth Henderson,” a former booking agent for incredibly high-priced Manhattan 'call girls' explains how it all works for Pajamas Media.

Show me a rich and powerful man between the ages of 35 and 60 who has never paid an escort for sex, and I will show you a man who is a very rare exception.

Why would a rich, powerful and handsome man pay for extra-marital sex? Aren’t there tons of women waiting to throw themselves at him for free? Yes, there are. But those women always want something: they want attention, intimacy and romance. They want to enjoy the high of sleeping with a powerful man. Escorts don’t want or care about any of those things.

The simple act of ordering up an anonymously pretty 22 year-old girl to do your bidding in the salubrious confines of a luxury hotel suite is an act of power.
'Difficult clients'
Take, for example, the CEO of an international airline who was a cocaine freak. Once a month, usually over a weekend, he would check into a suite at the Pierre, call the agency and book a dozen or so girls. He would book the girls for four hours each, staggered over the following two days. According to the girls, all he did was sit half-naked on his bed next to a mountain of cocaine, which he snorted constantly while crying about his divorce and the stress he endured at work. As the hours progressed, he would become increasingly paranoid and irrational.

I did not inquire into the fate of the girls who sort of faded away. I did not want to hear about their loneliness and poverty.

So the value of the escorts declined rapidly as they aged. Meanwhile, the value of the clients increased because they accumulated more money and more power. I could not make my peace with the power imbalance.

I had a really hard time dealing with the dawning understanding that the very men I’d been taught to value — my peers, as it were — were pretty atavistic types. They seemed to prefer whores in the bedroom and ladies in the salon.
Elliott Spitzer's wife
The mask of hypocritical social propriety has been ripped off. Her female friends are all looking at their husbands, knowing that they dodged a bullet. And Mrs. Spitzer must figure out how to maintain her dignity in the face of mainstream America’s hypocritical opprobrium.
Does anyone really think 'that doesn't happen in the UK'? Are these rich men the ones that Harriet Harman has in her sights or just kerb-crawlers?

Her crusade, and it is a crusade, will also inadvertently recriminalise some gay men, which won't be lost on some police. Something Ms. Harman doesn't give a shit about — somewhat of a tradition with some feminists.

As a former HIV prevention frontline worker, I know as well that crusades just drives human activity like prostitution further away from services like needle exchange and sexual health. Again, Harman doesn't seem to give a stuff.

Prostitution is never going to disappear. It should be legalised and regulated. The best way to challenge that 'power imbalance'.

Wow, just ... Wow

This is a '360-degree interactive spherical video' or immersive video— just click on it and you can move around as it plays.

More about who made this.

Here's another one. Try pointing at the sky and imagine you're lying on the back of a truck (I did this once through Sydney, was fun).

An immersive video is basically a video recording of a real world scene, where the view in every direction is recorded at the same time. During playback the viewer has control of the viewing direction, up down & sideways. Generally the only area that can't be viewed is the view toward the camera support. The material is recorded as data which when played back through a software player allows the user control of the viewing direction and playback speed. The player control is typically via a mouse or other sensing device and the playback view is typically 4:3 window on a computer display or projection screen or other presentation device such as a head mounted display.

Blind New Yorker making history

Worth recording that with the demise of Elliot Spitzer, 'client #9' of a rich man's brothel, New York State now has the first blind Govenor in the US.

David Paterson is also the first black Governor of New York.

He is the most senior blind politician in the world, after the demise of David Blunkett (Gordon Brown is blind in one eye).

An infection during infancy left him with no sight in his left eye and severely limited vision in his right. He has optic atrophy.

He is the son of Basil Paterson, who was the first African American Deputy Mayor of New York City.

Wednesday, March 12

Skitting all over Ahmadinejad

Really funny Saturday Night Live skit from last October - with Jake Gyllenhaal, Adam Levine from Marron 5 and Andy Samberg!

Save Madhi Kazemi

A web site has been set up for the campaign here -

Please circulate this if you can.

Donations are urgently required to support Madhi's legal case.

Support via money 360 vouchers available online or at any pay point outlet.

Also O2 credit vouchers are required as we are going though loads at the minute as you can imagine.

Convenient right-wing language

Checking some blog reactions to the Mehdi Kazemi case I've seen a few right-wing bloggers making the usual arguments about 'not imposing our culture', 'he claims to be gay', 'the floodgates will open' and asking Jacqui Smith to 'stand firm'.

Here's what I told one of them:

  1. It’s not a ‘claim’ to be gay - that’s your convenient belief.
  2. “Deporting Mehdi Kazemi back to Iran” - you forget to add “to his death”.

    You guys always forget the last bit, knowingly back to his death. I wish you would actually say this instead of this pretend language.

    Say it. Stop talking ‘uphold the law’ bollocks and say it. ‘ We must be prepared to be tough and send people knowingly back to be hanged’.

    Are you a real Tory or what?
It interests me that they usually preface these opinions with a 'sorry but ...' then somehow forget to name what they're actually asking for. How convenient for their conscience.

Trying really, really hard

I wasn't going to blog this because I'm too kind :} but an email from Shadow Chancellor George Osborne's office claiming that the government eGov Minister, Tom Watson, is stealing George's lines landed with me and a lot of others yesterday. It came from a - I'm guessing - young staffer and George (maybe) nodded OK. Ya live, ya learn ...

Into the sharks lair ...

Simon Dickson

Amusingly, it condemns the Watson speech as a ‘mashup’. But hold on. Surely it’s entirely in keeping with the whole ethos of open source, to take good ideas and build on them? Didn’t you say mass collaboration was a good thing? :)
Yep, keep the humour in. It is funny :} We're not laughing at you, young staffer, but with you ...

Dave Briggs
Why not post this on a blog somewhere, point us to it and start a discussion around it?
Yes, told them that. Didn't seem that bovvered.

Mick Fealty in the Torygraph:
.. this is not exactly a secret. The free economy of the Internet means a lot of this stuff is common knowledge.
Funny how NetMums is somewhat of a meme here though, eh?

Nick Booth
To accuse the other party of stealing ideas simply because you are making the same argument is very tired Government 1.0. If you really believe in the power of collaboration then get involved in a conversation online with Tom, recognise your common understanding and ambitions and get on with improving the way we are governed, not disapproving of the fact that you agree.
Ministry of Truth go to town on the detail
Where shall we start?
Dizzy (he bites!)
Do we need more evidence of a Government that is really being led by the Opposition?
So that's one blogger on side with the plagiarism idea.

I am kind, and was in responding to the staffer. So, apart from Simon and others points, from those freebie tips:
  • Don't do this stuff if you're not going to put it on a blog with full links backup etc. — especially if you want follow up.
  • Expect the lot you've sent it to to examine it closely and not receive it as gospel.
  • 'We said it first!' is a bit schoolboyish/Westminster Village.
And my main point
  • This isn't of much interest to the public — meaning, try looking at what's actually not happening/going wrong. Directgov anyone? Or try 'India + sms' maybe to start?
Maybe they could get some ideas by actually reading some of the blogs they mass BCCed? As the staffer wrote back to me:
It is slightly frustrating that we haven't punched past the blogosphere with some of our online policies.
And ..
We are trying really hard.
Be kind, Paul, be kind ...

Bored? Get clicking

Here's another online game which improves your knowledge and helps someone! In this case, you!

How does my answering questions at Answer4Earth help save the Earth?
When you play the game, advertisements appear above the question area. The money generated by these advertisements is then used to plant trees. So by playing, you generate the money that pays for the planting of trees all over the world in a united effort to end Global Warming.
Note: to actually help combat global warming, trees need to be planted in the tropics - Africa, Asia, and Latin America - and that's what the site's partner organisations are doing.

Hat-tip: Tom

"We are the guardians of your information"

Scary TV ad from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry. Soros and McCain in the same room?!

C4's legacy news website

To read the transcript you need Microsoft Word. Do they have a deal or is it just ..... oh geez, don't get me started ...

Tuesday, March 11

Video: interview with Omar Kuddas of gayasylum about Mehdi Kazemi

Interview by frictiontv with Omar Kuddas of the Uk gayasylum group about the Mehdi Kazemi case. This interview was conducted prior to the Dutch court's decision to return Mehdi to the UK.

Urgent appeal; Mehdi Kazemi; please help

>> THURSDAY 13th:

Mid afternoon the Home Secretary made the following statement (my highlight):

Following representations made on behalf of Mehdi Kazemi, and in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made, I have decided that Mr Kazemi's case should be reconsidered on his return to the UK from the Netherlands.

The only 'new circumstances' is the campaign. Pressure works. Please keep it up as Madhi is not yet safe.


As you may be aware from the BBC, the 19 year old gay Iranian refugee Mehdi Kazemi has lost his case in the Netherlands and the Dutch are refusing to reconsider.

Mehdi is under real threat of deportation by the Home Office (this was why he fled to Holland) as his legal avenues are near-exhausted. If returned to Tehran it is extremely likely that he will be executed, as his young boyfriend already has been.

The United Kingdom had sent a formal request to Holland asking for Mehdi's return to Britain, in order to proceed with his deportation to Iran.

I understand that he will be returned to the UK within three days and there are no guarantees that he will not then be immediately deported. An appeal to the European Court is being drawn up.

Please help by doing any of the following today:

  • PLEASE contact your MP today. The media coverage is no guarantee that Jacqui Smith will not send him back.
You can also use the following contact points:
This is the message which I sent to my LibDem MP, which you could use as a template:

Dear Mr XXX

I am a constituent of yours but I write on a non-(my city) matter.

As you may be aware from news coverage of the case, the government is threatening to return the gay Iranian refugee Mehdi Kazemi to Iran and probable execution. This situation has become even more critical as he will be returned from the Netherlands in the next few days.

I would greatly appreciate if you would be able to join your colleague, Simon Hughes, in taking whatever action you can to press the issue with the Home Office.

As a gay man I can put myself in Mehdi's shoes and find the attitude and actions of my government just beyond belief.

I hope you are able to help in some small way as there seems to be no other way to get through to Jacqui Smith except perhaps the contempt of her fellow MPs.

Yours sincerely

Paul Canning


New website Save Madhi Kazemi

Saturday March 22nd, 2pm, Downing Street. Nearest tube Westminster/ Charing Cross

On government spin*:

We are extremely cautious about the way in which we treat these cases
They have shown no evidence of caution. For a number of years they have consistently refused asylum to gay and lesbian Iranians, because that is their policy. Some of these people have subsequently committed suicide. There is a mass of evidence, including from the Foreign Office, that Iran is a 'deathzone'.

We give detailed consideration to these cases
They do not consider the stated opinion of their own colleagues in the Foreign Office and never have.

They go through a rigorous appeals and court process
There is a Home Office policy that gays and lesbians can be returned if they are 'discreet'. Further, there is a history of the Home Office accepting bland assurances from the Iranian government. Further, there is a lot of evidence of rank homophobic attitudes within the Appeals Court process.

Obviously we have to follow and respect the integrity of that process
Not if it is biased. Not if the outcome is guaranteed because of their (unstated) policy. There is no integrity to this process for gays and lesbians.

* as restated today in the House of Lords.

More online women entrepreneurs would boost our economy

"Women need to know that even if they have never programmed a line of code in their lives, there is a great variety of user-friendly tech solutions to explore and implement, allowing people from all walks of life to reinvent themselves as entrepreneurs."
Amy Tiemann


I was struck by a line in a Mail On Sunday article about Julia Reynolds, the women responsible for transforming Tesco's clothes operation — she's moving to a dotcom.

The article is about how she couldn't stand the macho dickheads running Tesco any longer and was packing her trunk and leaving.
"I'd just had my fill of chest-beating alpha males. I had some of the most horrendous things said to me and it is only now that I can laugh about them."

She remembers comments such as, 'Who the f*** are you to be driving a [nice] car like that?' and 'Who the f*** do you think you are to have a big job like that?'
What interested me is that she'd choosen a dotcom, online retailer — something she said she wouldn't have entertained only two years ago.

Obviously, this isn't 2001 and the general business viability of dotcoms in the UK is pretty well established now. Or is it? A BBC Money Programme story last week looked at a women dotcom entrepeneur and she related just how difficult it was to get start-up capital. She finally found 'angel' investors but it was very hard and you were left wondering if being a woman was a hindrance with getting investors.

Women's relationship with the web is evolving. In 2007, eMarketer predicted there would be 97.2 million U.S. female Internet users aged 3 and older, or 51.7 per cent of the total online population.

A recent study by the Pew Internet Project in America on teens in social media found that blogging growth among teenagers is almost entirely fuelled by girls — it describes them as a new breed of “super-communicators”.
  • Some 35% of girls, compared with 20% of boys, have blogs
  • 32% of girls have their own websites, against 22% of boys
  • Girls have embraced social networking sites on a massive scale, with 70% of American girls aged 15-17 having built and regularly worked on a profile page on websites such as MySpace, Bebo and Facebook, as opposed to 57% of boys of the same age
  • But boys are twice as likely to post videos online
Hitwise estimate that almost 55% of all British users of social networking websites were women. Similar research by Nielsen Online shows that women aged 18-24 account for 17% of all users of the social sites, while men in the same age group account for 12%.

Game-Vision showed that 30% more women bought computer games in the six months to July 31, 2007, than in the same period in 2006. The survey also found that there were more female owners of Nintendo’s handheld DS console in the UK than men (54% against 46%). The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) says that women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (31 per cent) than boys age 17 or younger (20 per cent).

According to the US National Foundation of Women Business Owners (NFWBO):
  • 26% of the 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the U.S now have homepages (compared to 16% of men business owners).
  • 17% of women business owners now cite business growth as is the most important reason for using new technology, compared to just 10% of men business owners.
There is quite a history of women's involvement in dotcoms. Most famously there's Martha Lane Fox, the co-founder of, Natalie Massenet, who set up the popular shopping site Net-a-Porter, Julie Pankhurst, the co-founder of Friends Reunited, Karen Derby, founder of, Sally Robinson, a farmer's wife from Yorkshire who started an online business selling bras, and Lopa Patel, founder of

But Carol Dukes, ex-managing director of EMAP online and Carlton online, cautions about the focus on so-called 'dotcomdivas'.
If you look at the actual numbers of women doing start-ups, there are very few of us - maybe three out of 100 companies. We are still treated like a freak show: "Check it out! It's a woman running an Internet company!" There are women opening hairdressing salons, shops and PR agencies and nobody turns a hair.
I had a look to see what the government is doing in this area. There appears to be a lot of concern - and funding - to improve the numbers of women scientists and engineers, but not web entrepreneurs. In sharp contrast to the States, there doesn't appear to be much coming from government which is aimed specifically at women. What I did find on the primary service, BusinessLink, specifically about the web and women, was one broken link.

Internet-based businesses are described as perfect for women who need to juggle family commitments and need flexible working.

Research, commissioned by insurance group AXA found that 34% of new and expectant women were planning to set up their own business from home.

The most popular ways of doing this were to use the web and email to carry on offering professional skills like accountancy on a consultancy basis, or to move into retail - buying or selling goods on email or launching a mail order service.

Shriti Vadera MP:
Getting more women into business is a challenge, not just for gender equality but for national economic success. We would have 700,000 more businesses if proportionally as many British women as American women started businesses
Shaa Wasmund, a serial entrepreneur who has worked with inventor and business tycoon James Dyson says.
We need to completely and utterly rethink business support. It needs to be overhauled right the way up from the Learning and Skills Council up to the small business advisory services like Business Link.

These services need to be real and relevant for women, not just run by civil servants.
More use of technology, particularly the internet, is the key to this, she says.

Better government support for women web entrepreneurs isn't about 'PC' — it's about growing the economy and making the most of all the talents.

Google Reader clips catch up

Donate rice + improve your English!

Give free rice to hungry people by playing a fun, simple word game!

It has two goals:

  1. Provide English vocabulary to everyone for free.
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This is made possible by the sponsors who advertise on this site.

FreeRice is a sister site of the world poverty site,

Turning web buzz into votes: how Obama does it

Techpresident ran a good summary of how the Obama campaign in California used various web-based tools to connect offline with online — and get out the vote.

This is crucial stuff for those seeking to convince UK and other parties and politicians to invest more in online but we don't yet have real studies or much data on offline effects, i.e. how many extra votes, new voters, convinced late deciders or new organisers the online campaigns have generated over previous tools, such as direct-mail, or traditional shoe-leather methods. This will undoubtedly happen in the post mortems but the evidence already points to a real effect, particularly in generating momentum.

As I noted earlier, Obama's online edge obviously hasn't pushed him over the top but traditional negative campaigning has been seen to hold him up. Similarly, Ron Paul's massed online supporters couldn't translate that into votes, although they did work alongside a central operation which didn't properly harness that energy.

As web campaigning guru Patrick Ruffini puts it: "Ultimately, it’s all about fundamentals. If a candidate doesn’t have mainstream appeal and isn’t ready for prime-time, Internet activism isn’t going to make a difference." There are a lot of competing, complex factors in actual vote generation which will only be unpicked and properly analysed later.

Online to offline

The two main tools which Obama has used are:

  • a social networking tool that helps self-organisation
  • a tool which translates that into a get-out-the-vote operation

Social networking is centred on using a Blue State Digital toolset which progressive organizations like have used and developed.

Get-out-the-vote for Obama used a - crucially - distributed deployment of the Voter Activation Network (VAN). It can generate what's called 'precinct walk and call sheets' as well as a virtual phonebank and lots more.

Republicans have used the Voter Vault database from the late nineties and very effectively in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential, but in a closed and centralised way (the Tories also have this). This was enhanced by using commercially available data right down to pizza toping choices to profile potential supporters.

VAN was deployed by the Obama campaign using volunteers who went through a Camp Obama training session, which could either cover a weekend or ten minutes training via video and written tutorials. Much of the work in developing the tools was done by volunteers. What it utilised was in-group, including Knitters for Obama, and local contacts contained in VAN.

Texas Obama Precinct Captains homepage

In California this led to:

  • An initial 105,000 contacts statewide through the social networking tool
  • Of those, more than 10,000 signed up to be precinct (local) captains
  • 7,000 or so VAN login accounts were deployed
  • Of those, four to five thousand became active

Those people then managed more than 60% of the average 100,000 contact attempts per day, 40% came from more traditional phonebanks. In the whole state more than 10% of eventual Obama voters had been contacted by a neighbour — which is unprecedented.

Campaign geek volunteers also developed a predictive analytic model using live feedback from those calls to refocus pro-actively on more specific demographic pockets.

The Clinton campaign in California focused on absentee, early voters using the Catalist toolbox.

Other impacts

What the better use of volunteer energy in California meant for the Obama campaign was more central resource spend available for the other Primaries on Super Tuesday and the following eleven straight wins. Plus the bottom-up drive led to Obama's one million donors — by some counts already as many individual donors than the entire Bush campaign of 2000, and almost as much as Kerry 2004.

Some of the issues which remain unresolved or in early development are:

  • scaling up and strengthening capacity
  • can these volunteer networks be used to repel smears?
  • earlier use to target mail-in voters (as Clinton has done)
  • retaining and using volunteer energy post-campaign
  • what will the diversification of fundraising away from big money interests mean?
  • what will happen when all campaigns are using the same toolboxes and tactics?
Marketing misses

What's been missing thus far is much use of online marketing energy and tools, in particular geo-targeting. This is the method of determining the physical location of a website visitor and delivering different content to that visitor based on location, such as country, region/state, city, postcode, organisation, ISP or other criteria.

Email marketing still dominates expenditures (62%) with display, search and video ads just 11% of online budgets (the balance is for web development, with many more local candidate sites). Only $78m is expected for total online spend by all candidates in the primary campaign. Which could be less than the Clinton campaign spends on doughnuts and pizza runs.

One reason why online ad spends are so low is that consultants cannot make as much money from it.

What web advertising there has been has actually been dominated by McCain and Romney with the Obama campaign spending very little, although they did run "Have you tried the convenience of early voting? Find your early-vote location" ads in Texas. These drove users to landing pages featuring a video message from Obama but apparently didn't work so well on the day for potential volunteers. The Clinton campaign has run virtually no web ads.

All these tools and techniques can also be employed elsewhere.

In the UK internet use is already by a majority, is growing over other media use and is only going one way - up. I would imagine that the Tories are ahead of the game on this (my impression, though I'm advised it may well be the Libdems - it's definitely not Labour) but once the real facts have been unpacked it would be a huge mistake for the other parties to just think 'fundraising' and not recognise that - as well as having a compelling candidate - running from the bottom-up, empowering supporters and making use of the Web's power is really what's behind Obama's success.

Monday, March 10

Civil Serf was a mistake and a priviliged moan, that's all

It starts with the name. Here's what a 'serf' actually is:

Serfdom is the socio-economic status of peasants under feudalism, and specifically relates to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery seen primarily during the Middle Ages in Europe. Serfdom was the enforced labour of serfs on the fields of landowners, in return for protection and the right to work on their leased fields.
She wasn't a serf but a highly privileged Westerner who has numerous protections. To call yourself a 'serf' in that way to me says it all about the lack of self-awareness at the heart of it. It may have been fun to read but so is a good column. Hardly earth-shattering or ground-breaking or world-changing, just 'fun'. Yes Minister said the same thirty years ago.

She also wasn't a 'whistleblower' because the inefficiency of Whitehall under any government is hardly news. Stood alongside the likes of Elizabeth Wilmshurst or even 'Posh Bird', she's not worthy of the title although if you read the right-wing press you'd think she was a campaigning undercover journalist.

What Civil Serf fitted into was the category of work moan blogs of which they are a number of examples proliferating all over social media. Yes, it provided right-wingers with thrills and those of us in eGov with recognition but what did she achieve? What was she trying to achieve?

Answer: Moaning. It did her good but who else? Not an alternative, another way to do things. How was it a constructive contribution?

I can't link to any examples of her writing because none exist, it's left no trace because that wasn't why she did it.

I 100% agree with Jeremy Gould who writes:
The facts are simple, Civil Serf crossed the line.
I have never written about my workplace and here's a few reasons why not:
  1. I actually have some real power which self-publishing gives me because they couldn't respond, except by sacking me, which could be turned into martyrdom (I'm sure, once named, Civil Serf will perform that role for the government's opponents). It's a one way 'dialogue' in which they would be muffled. Unfair and not helpful.
  2. The nature of blogging means that if I started I'd be very likely to say something I'd later regret
  3. I don't want someone to have the ability to censor me and that's the most obvious way in which I'd start censoring myself.
  4. Much of what I'd want to talk about are issues, which I don't need my workplace for to source examples to illustrate.
What people don't seem to realise is which civil servants are going to if - as some slaveringly want - they blog to 'open up the workings of government'. It'll be the self-appointed and those with the resources and knowledge and an agenda. It's just their view but would be accepted as gospel: blogging is powerful stuff, as the newspaper coverage illustrates. That's exactly what's happened with her posts.

But Civil Serf was really just gossip and having been a gossip columnist I know full well the power that gives you: I could have put people out of business and the only times I used that power was when INXS ripped off a benefit concert and when a party promoter kept ignoring Health & Safety. Actually, that's journalism.

As I remarked when David Cameron launched another online consultation, how is my offline Mum supposed to be heard? No. The only people who will be doing the 'exposing' are not representatives of a movement, or real whistleblowers (who are heroic) or the underpaid cleaners for that matter. It will be middle-class people like Civil Serf who have to suffer, poor dears, through boring meetings and hear a lot of ridiculous language. And if they carry on doing it they will be the ones setting the agenda. And that is definitely not a good thing.


Postscript: My egov colleague Simon Dickson has found that the abandoned civil serf web address became available and has stuck up a page. Genius! He says: "A blogging free-for-all is clearly not the right way forward. But equally, this affair proves that the total lockdown can't reasonably work either... We need to find a better way ... Let's see if we can't turn the Civil Serf affair into something positive for public engagement."

State violence in the Kenyan crisis

A photograph flashed around the world showing a screaming child left terrorised by the murder of his young mother in the outbreak of tribal violence in Kenya. Tracy McVeigh found the boy after travelling to a village near Nairobi and, in this compelling dispatch, pieces together the tragic story behind the callous killing that ripped his family apart.

  • Newsnight also carried a report on state violence in the Kenyan crisis this week, which covers the state's introduction of the feared Mungiki gang into the crisis - VIDEO.
  • The government's spokesperson — the appalling Alfred Mutua — responds: 'it is preposterous' - VIDEO.
Much of the violence and deaths in the recent crisis were not 'tribal' but carried out by the state, at last some proof is emerging.

Joseph Karoki has been amongst those trying to help this family.


Since the Launch of the Operation Save Baby Brian, Jeremiah has been able to conduct a postmortem and bury his wife Grace. Baby Brian still needs your help. Please donate below.

to Donate using Paypal go to VUMA KENYA and click on the PAYPAL BUTTON under Baby Brian’s picture.
For direct Bank Deposits in the US:

Bank Name: Citizens Bank
Account name: Vuma Kenya Initiative
Account number: 1311-791-911
Routing number: 211-070-175

For Bank Deposits in Kenya:
Bank Name: EQUITY Bank
Account Name: Jeremiah Mungai
Account No: 0200190674408
ID No. 7156255.

BNP vs Obama: stats lesson

I posted about how Hitwise blogger Robin Gould was noting the large number of searches for Obama information (I actually said Heather Hopkins, sorry Robin) from the UK.

This clanged for me because a think tank, the Centre for Policy Studies, publicised numbers last month, sourced from Hitwise, that the BNP had the most popular UK political party website.

So I asked them wassup? and they responded:

Last year we did issue a statement about BNP and CPS are quoting correct information that BNP were the most visited party website at the time of the release. Please do bear in mind our data is referring to percentage of site visits and not unique visitor numbers.
Here's the difference:
Unique Visitors: Represents the number of unduplicated (counted only once) visitors to your website over the course of a specified time period. A Unique Visitor is determined using cookies.

Visits: How many new and returning visitors came to your site
Visits counts every single 'hit', whereas 'unique visitors' counts everyone who can be individually identified with the rider that they have cookies 'enabled'. So 'unique visitors' is the closest to actual visitor numbers.

The 'discount' for those who turn off cookies is a guess but would be fairly small - maybe 2%? - in the general population. Reviewing my blog stats, which come from three sources, this explains the differences I see there (my blog is more likely to have visitors who deliberately turn off cookies, which could be tekkies or, from another angle, gay Egyptians).

Banksy on the Essex Road

Time lapse film of people coming to see his latest for one hour on March 6. It's now covered up to protect it from vandals - I think it's actually opposite a Tesco Local. NB: you may want to turn the volume down due to hideous music choice.

Sunday, March 9

Labour's ongoing gay refugee shame

In September 2003, Israfil Shiri, a gay Iranian asylum seeker, died after pouring petrol over himself and setting himself on fire in the offices of Refugee Action in Manchester, after his asylum claim was refused (in the lower and appeal court) and his deportation to Iran, where he would have been hanged, had been arranged. Iranian authorities had obtained documented evidence of his sexuality.

In April 2005 Hussein Nasseri shot himself two weeks after his asylum claim was turned down by the Home Office, refusing in this way to let himself be killed by Iranian executioners.

In 2005 then Home Secretary Charles Clarke was asked by Stonewall to intervene when an Appeal court judge used the following language in turning down a refugee's claim:

'He [the asylum seeker] says he fled when he realised a member of his coterie had been arrested by them, apparently leaving an incriminating video in their hands, showing unseemly activity on the part of this appellant and others.'
The 'independent' judge also went on about "buggery". Nothing happened. Clarke let it go on unchallenged. All of the previous appeals to previous Home Secretaries for previous cases of Iranians and other gay refugees have failed.

Last year a campaign was fought to save Iranian lesbian Pegah Emambakhsh. She was eventually released but her last appeal has now been turned down and she remains under real threat. Thankfully, she was also featured in this week's Independent coverage but that is no guarantees she will not face stoning on deportation because the policy lying behind all this has not changed.

The policy of the British government in the case of foreign gays and lesbians is that their sexuality is a choice, they can simply hide or move and nothing bad will happen to them. As noted before, this directly contradicts the Foreign Office. I'd add that this is in sharp contradiction to the face presented to British gays.

Jacqui Smith is just the latest in years of Labour Home Secretaries who have trumpeted their claims on gay rights to British gay voters whilst being responsible for the most vile homophobia within their own department - when it comes to foreigners. This is two-faced one law for 'us', another for 'them'. Their ongoing appeasement of this homophobia, to my mind, indicates to me where their true feelings lie: that they are no real 'friend of the gay community' anywhere. They cannot claim that they don't know about it - as they've done before - least of all this week when it's front page news.

This week, in responding to the Mehdi Kazemi case, the government has responded that each case is "carefully considered" and that everyone has the "right to appeal". But none of this matters one iota because of the policy which lies behind it which is — we don't accept that gay people are persecuted anywhere and therefore they have no right to refugee status.

This is all made even worse by the tiny numbers involved, giving the lie to statements by the like of the Tory East Midlands MEP who stopped just short in an email from a supporter of Mehdi Kazemi of saying 'we'll be swamped by gays fleeing Islamic countries'. Neither Holland or Sweden, who have different policies to the UK, have been 'swamped'.

A few questions:
  • When is the British Press going to cover the shameful policy which lies behind these refusals of asylum and start asking real questions?
  • When is the vile homophobia within the Home Office going to be challenged by the various anti-discrimination bodies and characters like Trevor Phillips?
  • When are gay and lesbian Labour supporters and MPs going to stand up for gay refugees?

Rewriting history over Rwanda

Asked in Iowa what decisions his wife had disagreed with Bill Clinton said that:

She had wanted the United States to intervene in Rwanda in 1994 ... Had he listened to his wife, Clinton said, things might have been different.

"I believe if I had moved we might have saved at least a third of those lives," he said. "I think she clearly would have done that."

He went on to explain how America, which did intervene in the former Yugoslavia, could only take on so much at once. But not acting in Rwanda, he suggested, was a mistake his wife wouldn't make.
Asked about that claim Hillary said:
It is. It is true. And, you know, I believe that our government failed. We obviously didn't have a lot of good options. It moved very quickly. It was a difficult, terrible genocide to try to get our arms around and to do something to try to stem or prevent. It didn't happen, and that is something that the president has apologized for, and I think that for me, it was one of the most poignant and difficult experiences, when I met with Rwandan refugees in Kampala, Uganda, shortly after the genocide ended, and I personally apologized to women whose arms had been hacked off, who had seen their husbands and their children murdered before their very eyes and were at the bottom of piles of bodies. And then when I was able to go to Rwanda and be part of expressing our deep regrets, because we didn't speak out adequately enough, and we certainly didn't take action.
This is rewriting history. Nowhere in all of the extensive literature on the subject is Hillary mentioned once. Not only that but it is not true that "we obviously didn't have a lot of good options."

The giveaway is the claim that she pressed for military intervention because that was never an option, coming right after 'Black Hawk Down' in Mogadishu. But it's worse than that because the US actively opposed peacekeeping and failed to take any action whatsoever.

Samantha Power, the just-resigned Obama foreign policy adviser, wrote extensively about this and detailed what they didn't do and what they did do:
  • The US led a successful effort to remove most of the UN peacekeepers who were already in Rwanda.
  • It aggressively worked to block the subsequent authorization of UN reinforcements.
  • It refused to use its technology to jam radio broadcasts that were a crucial instrument in the coordination and perpetuation of the genocide.
  • And even as, on average, 8,000 Rwandans were being butchered each day, U.S. officials shunned the term "genocide," for fear of being obliged to act.
  • The United States in fact did virtually nothing "to try to limit what occurred." Indeed, staying out of Rwanda was an explicit U.S. policy objective."
The Americans weren't alone. The British, the French, the Belgians and much of the rest of Africa all either didn't do anything or actively stopped aid. They all looked for their own interests and none had any interest in stopping genocide.

It was Britain's ambassador to the UN, Sir David Hannay, who proposed that the UN reduce its force. A year after the slaughter, the Foreign Office sent a letter to an international inquiry saying that it still did not accept the term genocide, seeing discussion on whether the massacres constituted genocide as "sterile". Then Ministers John Major, Douglas Hurd, Malcolm Rifkind and Lynda Chalker have never even been asked about their role.

Virtually no-one emerges heroically (Canadian peacekeeper Roméo Dallaire is one and his view on Clinton's claims would be interesting to hear). In fact I would urge anyone to make themselves read the harrowing background as an object lesson in international power politics and its victims - a million of them in Rwanda. There's a blog which covers the 100 days before and during the slaughter in detail. 'A People Betrayed' by Linda Melvern is very good.

For Hillary to now try to adopt that heroic mantle is, as commentators have noted, worse than 'monstrous'.

OnePolitics: concept proved

is a self-described 'proof of concept' site which pulls together all the the web 2.0 offerings like blogs from the MSM's political coverage.

It was made by Simon Dickson and he calls it 'an RSS aggregator for people who don’t get RSS' (which would be most people).

Lots of political journalists now blog and onepolitics really helps anyone who wants to keep up with what's on the mind of that group. I'm one of them and the concept has been proved for me by my actually using it.

So instead of clicking through various bookmarks I get a quick 'top-down shot' of what's going on as well as an easy way to see what's being said about 'hot topics'. I should say I do use RSS but it sits neatly with clicking through the MSM front pages, which you can't do in Google Reader, you have to open the websites.

The downside is probably it's automatic nature. My favorite site which performs a similar role is Memeorandum and it's sister site Techmeme which combine automation with some background editorial involvement (mainly in the choice of sources but probably more than that) and has additional layers so you can see reactions and counter-reactions. During the campaign it's the automation which has let it down.

Memeorandum has quickly developed into masses of stories disappearing into similar threads and thus not really helping you find the good stuff or follow the reactions easily because there's just too much. This is a result of an explosion in US political blogging and maybe they'll tweak things to refine it better but it does show the still needed role of humans and especially editors if, as I'd expect, this also happens here.

America's pompous journalists

One of the big stories in the US election campaign this week was the resignation of Obama aide Samantha Power after she called Hillary Clinton a "monster" in an interview with The Scotsman. She was expressing what's been reported in the US as 'background', that this sort of frustration in the Obama camp exists, only here it was being named in print.

What's interesting is the near-universal reaction in America that, somehow, The Scotsman's inclusion of that quote was a typical example of British journalism's 'low ethical standards'. This was exemplified in an interview which MSNBC's Tucker Carlson did with the Scotsman journalist, Gerri Peev.

But what the episode actually highlights is American journalisms willingness to cow-tow to politicians. MSNBC's reporter seems to think it's 'low' to refuse a request from a political aide to take-back something she just said.

American newspapers have a readership far lower than the UK's. The best selling newspaper, USA Today, sells about as much as The Mirror. I find most of them dry and uninteresting with a one-style fits-all approach like they all learned one way to write 'as a professional' and continue to employ it.

There's a 'worthiness' which is boring and maybe this is why their readerships are so low. They don't call the New York Times 'the gray lady' for nothing. It wasn't always so and papers like The New York Post - a Murdoch paper which has regularly had British staff - are good counter-examples.

You can take this too far the other way - most Brits now seem to think all politicians are corrupt, which is rubbish, for example. But US journalism has consistently failed precisely because it cow-tows. In the current campaign they are only now lobbing hard questions at Obama and MSNBC itself has often chauvinistically covered Hillary. The hysteria/uniform approach of the News Channels like MSNBC is a great source of material for the comedic likes of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Iain Martin in The Telegraph:

British newspaper journalism, generally, would not be described as a profession: it is a trade, and there is a crucial difference. It means that the Brits as a breed have tended to be more rumbustious, cheekier, a little more inquisitive and wary of the powerful. There are excesses, but overall the sense is of British journalism being noisier and more vibrant. Competition is fierce, which until the age of the internet it was not in the US. And that might be the problem.

As British media groups, such as the Telegraph and the Guardian, expand on-line into North America and develop large audiences there, tensions have surfaced. US print journalists see the limeys muscling in and think their tactics vulgar. Perhaps they fear competition: after all, it took a British journalist to get behind the PR and spin that Samantha Power has been pushing.
British newspapers were setting American agendas before Peev. Lots of links from Drudge are to British papers and most British papers have an online American readership which exceeds their UK print readership by large margins.

It was noted back in the lead up to the War in Iraq that Americans were turning to British news sources, especially the BBC, because American papers were slavishly following the White House line.

As former BBC Head Greg Dyke said at the Emmy Awards:
For any news organization to act as a cheerleader for government is to undermine your credibility. They should be balancing their coverage, not banging the drum for one side or the other. It may not be comfortable to challenge governments or even popular opinion, but it is what we are here to do.
The Guardian acknowledged the ongoing phenomenon when they set up Guardian America last year. What's driving this is Americans seeking a range of opinions and reacting against their own media. What's clear is that many Americans don't like this phenomenon one bit.

It's truly a clash of values, as Tucker Carlson has amply demonstrated.