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Friday, January 30

As Zim ditches Z$, millions face starvation

From Freakonomics

This currency has now been completely abandoned by even Zanu-PF.

Here in zimbabwe we are rapidly reversing the march of time and heading right back into the worst history has to offer.

Zimbabwe should revert to the ancient Yap system where gigantic one hundred pound, ten foot chunks of shiny stone were exchanged for goods (Yapese discs were commonly made of quartz, can’t [Central Bank head] Gono just hit the Matopos [hills] for a bit of this instead of the endless printing of waste paper and slashing of zeros?). Rolling stones would be a damn sight better than the wads of useless Z$ that are often seen littering the overgrown verges of our potholed and treacherous roads. Nobody bothers to even pick up discarded Gonillions, unless they need a dash to the nearest fetid public loo to deal with the common bouts of diarrhoea brought on by mucky tap water (pray not cholera).
From Sokwanele.

World Food Programme to cut core maize ration from 10kg to 5kg a month – or just 600 calories a day – for 70% of the population.

What to do? Sign the petition to move the World Cup from South Africa. Here I explain why.

Thursday, January 29

The beginning of the end of newspapers

1981: When it took two hours to 'download' a newspaper ...

"Experts predict that the day will come when we get all our newspapers and magazines by home computer. But that's a few years off."

Postscript: Playing online political catch-up

Fascinating comments thread between Tim Ireland and Tom Watson MP on Watson's blog about Derek Draper's LabourList (in which Watson calls Draper a "chimp").

To it's credit, LabourList now has something against the Third Runway (but not from the campaigners).

Their videos remain crap but they're throwing lots at the wall ... something may stick.

Still looks utterly tedious though and - as I've commented on the thread:

How is this going to help win against the Tories? I don’t get it. I don’t get the proposition.

And was the Huffpost comparison suggested by them? Now a UK version of that would be a good idea …
And, stranger than strange, a Daily Mail commentator gets why Prescott may be good for Labour online:
Oddly enough, Prescott might do quite well as a blogger. The conversational style required comes naturally to him, as does the sense of indignation. These things matter far more than technical geekery.
But also points to why none of them are learning a thing from the online effort to get Obama elected:
The danger is that all the Labour Party sites - gofourth, Labourhome and Labourlist, feel that the best way to deal with unwelcome news is to ignore it.

At the time of writing none of them has covered the main political story of the moment - four Labour peers being caught agreeing to take cash to change legislation. The story is 'unhelpful.' Labour block their ears and hope it will go
Model? Lots. Try DailyKos.

Tuesday, January 27

Playing online political catch-up

Whilst, as predicted, former Obama online strategists can name their price, election losers, the Republicans, are now seeing the web as the foundation from which to rebuild. (So, Repub online strategists can also cash in!)

George Bush's former senior advisor, Karl Rove, (aka 'Bush's brain', caricatured right in 'rap' mode) reckons that:

The political Web 2.0 is about networking and Democrats grabbed the lead. The party that figures out where Web 3.0 goes will grab the decisive high ground in high-tech warfare.

Ya think?

In the UK, despite some well received development of the PM's website, only right now does his party seem to have woken up to how far behind the Tories (and the LibDems) it is online — and how damaging that could be.

(Last year I argued that if Ken Livingstone had got his online act together in the London Mayoral election he could have potentially closed the gap).

Gee, that Obama effect reaches everywhere ...

The best of Labour's online responses thus far has come from the unlikely pairing of John Prescott and Alastair Campbell.

Their effort has even received the blessing of top Tory blogger Iain Dale.

This was the same Dale who welcomed the online competition from the more highly publicised LabourList, created by Derek Draper, the NuLabour insider and star of 'Cash for Access'.

Founder of ConservativeHome, Tim Montgomerie, has also been lending a hand - well advice - to NuLabour's efforts (lunch with Draper). Says Dale, Montgomerie:

did a piece [on the BBC] critiquing Labour's online strategy this lunchtime. Sitting in the studio listening was the old bruiser himself, John Prescott. While using some pretty garbled internet language, it's true to say that John Prescott knows more about campaigning than Derek Draper will ever do. If he can transmit that knowledge into an online environment I suspect his Go Forth website will outdo the disappointing Labour List.

Prescott has started his own BLOG and this afternoon has even taken to commenting on ConservativeHome to thank Tim for his well meant advice. You can view Prescott's response to Tim HERE.

Here's Prescott's first - yes - sweet'n'endearing Vlog:

There seems to be something terribly significant about the attitude and personality of the people behind the two sites: Prescott is humble, Draper is arrogant. The UK political blogosphere's conclusion seems to have already lined up against Draper's enterprise.

Says Tim Ireland, 'Derek Draper is an arrogant sod'.

For one, Draper's LabourList employs the services of the legal firm Schillings:

Without the first clue about what this might mean to other bloggers. I seriously suspect that he chose them on the basis that his wife has hired them in the past.
Schillings are libel lawyers well known for harassing bloggers who question the big and powerful.

Ireland details the whole sorry back-and-forth as he, politely and helpfully, tried to point this out in an email exchange with Draper.

But then newly minted 'cyber-warrior' Draper has written "I am building a site for 60 million people, not 60 bloggers", has raised the middle finger to Iain Dale's very generous and correct advice, thinks three days a week's work commitment is enough and is enhanced by stupid PR claims that his site will be like the UK's version of the Drudge-beating HuffingtonPost —he obviously already knows everything about blogs and websites because he's a work of staggering genius. Not.

Pissing off key people when he's in 'beta' launch like he - stupidly - is just says it all. It's precisely the opposite of how HuffPost built itself. Snide comments isn't how Arianna Huffington has conducted herself. She put the hard work in to learn her trade, Draper seems to have nothing but contempt for the way this stuff actually works.

And it's partisan contempt - which is the entire problem with his approach thus far and why Prescott is far more likely to suceed. Despite all the rhetoric and colum inches just look at the content, the product. Where, for example, is the anti-third runway article?

"60 million people" aren't going to visit a clearly partisan (and dull) website. If Draper thinks otherwise he has everything left to learn. Which he appears to have no interest in. Because he already knows it all ...

Over the pond, the key difference is that it's not like the Republicans (GOP) are starting from nothing. (Which is my sad characterisation of Labour's position).

As with conservatives here, they have some very smart webbies, like Patrick Ruffini, who have been helping them for some years now. But they've been way outgunned by the Democrats for a while now on all online fronts, most importantly in the lack of enthusiasm and lack of smarts expressed in online by the party itself.

This is changing. On websites like, directly inspired by Obama's efforts, more than 1,300 people have submitted ideas for using online social networks to modernize how the party raises money and mobilizes supporters. Five of six candidates in the 30 January election for Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman have endorsed the coalition's plan to make "winning the technology war with the Democrats ... the RNC's number one priority in the next four years."

The conservative wing of the American blogosphere in pretty large - and influential, they perpetuated a lot of vote winning memes in the election - and they are supporting the politicians about-turn vis online campaigning.

The problem left to be dealt with is that - like Labour - the GOP has always had a top-down approach to the Internet, using it primarily to deliver campaign messages rather than mobilize supporters.

At a conference last month at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Mike Connell, a longtime GOP web consultant and leading member of McCain's Web team, listened to Obama's Internet gurus tout their use of online organizing. He was skeptical. "Conservatives are more likely to look for information online than look for a group they can join," he said.

The other half of McCain's Web team, Rebecca Donatelli, agreed. "Our users are not using the Internet in the same way," she said. "You're reaching different audiences." She admitted, "there are a lot of opportunities for us to grow," but defended the campaign's approach, insisting that it was simply "out-resourced."

But it may not just be a question of the right vendors (or consultants) it seems to be about a more basic understanding of the interactive - and somewhat anarchic - nature of the Web. A joint examination by the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Reporting and the Berkman Center during the 2008 presidential campaign revealed a fundamental difference in the candidates' approach to blogging.

The study found that while the Obama campaign reached out to activist bloggers in order to communicate with campaign volunteers and feed them into its online social networking site,, the McCain campaign took a top-down approach to the horizontal network of blogs and used it as an echo chamber for its ideas.

This approach is partly explained by the fact that McCain's blogger outreach coordinator, Patrick Hynes, heads a firm that advises corporations on how to use the blogosphere as part of their public relations strategies.

In 2006, he was accused of masquerading as a 20-year old blogger to promote the telecom corporation Verizon's position on cable regulation. That same year, he blogged in support of McCain without disclosing that he was on the payroll as a political consultant for McCain's political action committee, Straight Talk America. Not long afterward, Hyynes was outed by the National Review's Jim Geraghty.

As president of New Media Strategics, Hynes touts his understanding of "how bloggers receive and process information... what energizes them and, just as important, what turns them off." One of the company's services is "alliance building," which makes use of its existing relationship with bloggers to "create powerful alliances to deliver your brand message and reputation through the New Media."

When McCain became the GOP's lead candidate, Hynes reached out to "top-tier, right-of-center bloggers" such as Red State's Erick Erickson, Hot Air's Ed Morrissey, Jim Geraghty at National Review Online and Glenn Reynolds - aka InstaPundit - at Pajamas Media.

We pitch stories to folks online in much the same way a campaign pitches to talk radio journalists. We give them our information, and try to give them our angle [aka 'talking points']. Usually when I'm talking to them its not a big stretch to write something that would agree with our world view.

Doesn't this sound just like how NuLabour might approach 'new media'? Like something Draper might say?

Hynes touts this service on the New Media Strategics website as a "blog release" - conceptualizing, drafting and delivering "blog-friendly content (including podcasts and vodcasts) for placement on friendly or relevant blog venues."

Hynes' techniques frustrated longtime Republican Brad Marston.

It was all about getting information down from the top of the campaign to individuals. That's why we started the and and... social networking sites so that supporters could build a network.

Marston said his groups received no financial support or direction from the McCain campaign, but were so involved among online activists that Meghan McCain (John McCain's daughter) misidentified Marston as the "McCain e-campaign coordinator" on her blog.

Now he is working to register Let' as an educational foundation and political action committee. "Adversity is a terrible thing to waste," said Marston.

Says Karl Rove's IT guru, Mike Connell:

The blogosphere is not just another communications channel. It is an activism channel, a fundraising channel. We're getting caught up on that point of view.

Many conservative activists have looked to groups such as for inspiration. MoveOn was formed in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, it has been cited in some accounts as a factor which helped propel the Democratic Party to power in the 2006 midterm US Congressional elections.

"I believe we should be looking at the left as the model," said David All, founder of and Slatecard - a website modeled on, which provided important fundraising infrastructure for Democrats.

All acknowledges that was organic in its growth, but says the left structure is actually "very top down, even Barack Obama. They just do a good job at making an illusion that people are connected through others. You get an email from someone who lives in your zip code and you think that's bottom up, and its really just a very smart directive from within the top campaign structure."

Some of this is true - staying 'on message' had a certain resonance during the campaign because the fear of an electoral loss remained so great amongst Democrats. This may not remain true if Obama pisses off the netroots. There's already been signs of this over the choice of Rick Warren for the inaugural and through some dodgy manipulation of contributed priorities on the handover website,

But all the new technology won't help Republicans unless they have a message that appeals to the grassroots - a very key point in understanding why and how Obama's online tactics worked as well as they did (compared to - say - Hilliary's).

"I get frustrated with all this talk of what technology we need to build," said Jon Henke, formerly New Media Director for the Republican Communications Office, and co-founder of
Unless you have an idea of what you want to do with it, it doesn't matter.
Ultimately, Henke argues the grassroots:
Needs to develop its gravitational pull with a compelling story.
Cue John Prescott.

Says All:
Republicans have to find a message, then we need a messenger, or vice versa. And from there we'll start building the tools. Amazing tools will never build a house. You have to have a carpenter who can use the tools to build a house.

For NuLabour, this ain't Derek Draper. Shock - it might well be John Prescott.

Credit: Renee Feltz

Change you can believe in

Obama promises 'transparency'. Obama delivers 'transparency'.

At least as far as Google Maps is concerned.

Cheney (aka 'Dr Strangelove') has spent the past few years under a blur. His official residence, the Naval Observatory, hidden from close, satellite inspection.

No longer.

Google announced yesterday:

Our most recent update, which went live last week, included updated imagery of the Washington D.C. area from several providers. The imagery of the Naval Observatory comes from Digital Globe.
And they're unblurred.

Remember, this is the guy who - secretively (he thought) - invented his own logo.

The internet is 52 years old!*&!?*

Who knew? And "inter-net" was invented by the French!

History of the Internet from PICOL on Vimeo.

The threat to the Auschwitz World Heritage site

The BBC has a great piece with an audio slideshow for today, Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Auschwitz site is under real threat due to a vast shortfall in funds.

Some of the site and some of the artifacts will go due to inevitable decay after 65 years. But other parts will go because the money isn't available to preserve them.

Apparently, most of the funding comes from Poland. There is a debate about whether or not to preserve the site as much as it can be preserved, but the testimony of those who have visited it strongly suggests that it should. And as one survivor says, we preserve the relics of past civilisations but ones who are lost we don't remember.

This, from a SkyNews comment:

As a grandchild of 2 Holocaust survivors, I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last October with my sister. We both grew up with stories from our grandparents about the horrors they had been subjected to and also those of other family members. One story that particularly stuck in my mind was that my great aunt had her womb ripped out of her whilst awake and with no numbing drugs by "Dr" Mengele; the "doctor who liked to experiment". I always wondered why she didnt have children, it was only years later after her passing that I was told. Thousands of stories by thousands of survivors most of whom have since passed away. Auschwitz is a very creepy place, its true that birds dont fly over it. This place must be preserved for future generations from all over the world to see and understand what happened back then.

Some other coverage from today, the day Auschwitz was liberated.

'Someone had to do it. So the 43 Group did'
VIDEO Meet Jules Konopinski and Harry Kaufman, veterans of an English anti-fascist group set up by Jewish ex-servicemen after the second world war. They waged a five-year war against Oswald Mosley's British fascists in the 1930s.

Here's some amazing newsreel footage of the famous 'Battle of Cable Street' against the fascists, which these guys took part in.

Jonathan Sacks: National Holocaust Memorial Day matters because it is not just about Jewish victims, but all those who are touched by atrocity.

Holocaust recordings put online by British Library
Audio recordings made by Jewish survivors of the Second World War go on the British Library's website from today to mark National Holocaust Memorial Day.
Harsh echoes of history as hard times help Europe's extremists to rise again
There is a fresh impetus within the far Right who will seek to capitalise on the recession through making scapegoats and building support from the unemployed and the disillusioned.
Remembering the Holocaust
In the briefest of moments I imagined a giant steam train labouring towards the main gate of the world’s most notorious concentration camp. It would have been just like this in mid-winter. The powerful engine would have hauled up to 15 or more cattle trucks filled with human beings - the already dead, the dying and the soon to be dead - right across Europe.
Events happened all over the UK. As they should

Monday, January 26

Joining Gordon

Gordon Brown's statement today.

"The theme of this Holocaust Memorial Day is Standing up to Hatred."

"We all like to think that we know what we would do in the face of hatred – that in a moment of decision we would honour our obligations to resist brutality and to stand with its victims.

"In studying the Holocaust, however, one thing becomes painfully clear: that the full barbarity of Hitler’s death camps was the end point of many acts of cruelty and discrimination, each injustice feeding on the last.

"The murder of six million Jews and countless Roma, Poles and other Eastern Europeans, gay men and lesbians, trade unionists, disabled people and political and religious opponents of the Nazis was not a sudden and frenzied explosion of hate, but a horror that had been methodically and carefully planned.

"Hatred may begin with small acts of prejudice or bigotry – but it rarely ends with them. That is why we all have an obligation to stand up to hatred.

"This Holocaust Memorial Day I hope that people all across Britain will join me in renewing a personal commitment to resisting hatred wherever it is found today."

Past post: Remembering Sachsenhausen.

BBC out of touch with Israelis over Gaza appeal

The BBC's decision not to broadcast a charities appeal for Gaza is being, rightly, condemned from left and right.

The Observer today suggests that the BBC might think the Disasters Emergency Committee's appeal "other than a genuine humanitarian appeal". But:

An alternative interpretation, and one that is ultimately much more damaging to the BBC's reputation, is that any humanitarian intervention in Gaza, by definition, expresses a political position in the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In other words, collecting charity for Palestinians is a kind of hostility to Israel.
But if this were the case, why would Israelis themselves be collecting aid?

A student from a college near Sderot, the small town repeatedly hit by Hamas missiles, has over the past week collected 10 truckloads of basic supplies.

Hadas Balas, says she felt she had to take action when she heard the sound of bombs exploding in Gaza and the sound of sirens in Sderot.
"I realized there were people getting killed who had no food and nothing to drink, and that caused me a lot of pain."

"We are working beyond the rules, with the common goal of ensuring the right to live to those who are alive."
She sent off emails which reached human rights organizations, yielding more donations than initially anticipated.
"I thought we might get two truckloads. I wasn't expecting ten."
A few non-profit organizations volunteered to help collect clothes, blankets and basic supplies.

The Jerusalem branch of Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth movement's organization, helped collect the supplies along with the Greek Catholic Church's Beit Hachesed in Haifa.

Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which has seen countless Palestinian missiles slam into its premises, volunteered a warehouse to house all the donated supplies before they get shipped out to the Strip.

People seeking to donate clothes and other supplies continue to arrive to the warehouse in Kfar Aza.

The women's Jerusalem facility has run out of room, and their Tel Aviv storage space is also almost full.

The two women have also opened an Internet site whereby surfers can donate money to purchase food. Their appeal has exploded across the Israeli and Jewish blogosphere.
"We have a lot of money now, which we are going to use to buy food to get into Gaza," Balas said.
This isn't an Israeli propaganda operation, it's come from ordinary Israelis who, as her friend and co-organiser, Lee Ziv, puts it
"Just see an immediate need for blankets for people who have nothing to cover them at night and milk for infants who have nothing to eat.”
I think their efforts puts the BBC's weasel words into an even sharper and more shameful light.