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Saturday, March 14

Jon Stewart is god

Paxman? Pweergh ...


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 13

Music: Dwarfed Punk

Genius. Daft Punk meets Snow White.

Cute animals: Amy, the swimming lioness

Issues with Better Connected's webstats use

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

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

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

Better Connected does contextualise their comments, saying that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Email if you want the spreadsheet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 10

Juvenile humour

Don't laugh, I dare you.

Monday, March 9

Commonwealth Day = Dispossession Day

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 8

Best marketing ever?

If you hadn't heard, one of the islands on Queensland, Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been running a search for a job online. Only they've made it sooper-viral, by making it youtube and the job itself is, well, brilliant:

An Australian state has launched a global search for candidates for "the best job in the world" -- earning a top salary for lazing around a beautiful tropical island for six months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cute animals: Chester The Incredible Peeing Dog

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

Gordon Brown on his return from Washington:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashamed to know these people are my fellow Brits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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