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Saturday, March 28

The media killing machine

Charlie Booker was back on BBC4 with a new series, Newswipe, which did a copyright Booker-esque evisceration of 24 news.

Whilst it made me pine a bit for the ABC Australia primetime show 'Mediawatch', which used forensic journalism rather than Booker's albeit wit and piercing attack mode, he did hit one nail in a Jon Stewart video edit stylee.

Sensationalist and, particularly, highly descriptive media coverage of suicide and 'school shootings' creates even more suicide cases and 'school shootings' .

Ben Goldacre has more to say about mass media actually killing people in his Bad Science column.

Friday, March 27

Iraqi gays claim government executing them

Well this should be the last nail in the 'things have improved in Iraq' coffin.

The Iraqi gay group, Iraqi LGBT, claimed today that many of the 128 prisoners, which have been reported elsewhere, to be executed - in batches of twenty - are being executed for being gay.

You read that right.

The group operates in extreme secrecy as many members have been murdered. They run three safe houses but others have been raided.

We have information and reports on members of our community whom been arrested and waiting for execution for the crimes of homosexuality. Iraqi LGBT has been banned from running our activities on Iraqi soil.

Raids by the Iraqi police and ministry of interior forces cost our group the disappearing and killing of 17 members working for Iraqi LGBT since 2005.
The Iraqi authorities have not disclosed the identities of those facing imminent execution, stoking fears that many of them may have been sentenced to death after trials that failed to satisfy international standards for fair trial.

Most are likely to have been sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), whose proceedings consistently fall short of international standards for fair trial. Some are likely to have. Allegations of torture are not being investigated adequately or at all by the CCCI. Torture of detainees held by Iraqi security forces remains rife.

Iraq’s creaking judicial system is simply unable to guarantee fair trials in ordinary criminal cases, and even less so in capital cases, with the result that numerous people have gone to their death after unfair trials.

Iraq's gays face death, persecution and systematic targeting by the Iraqi Police and Badr and Sadr Militia.

The Iraqi LGBT group raises funds to help provide LGBTs under threat of killing with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses, food, electricity, medical help) and assist efforts help them seek refuge in neighboring countries.

Iraq is yet another country where the Home Office will return refugees to claiming they just need to 'be discreet'.

Wednesday, March 25

The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon

"Can you endure twenty thousand spoonfuls of terror."

Absolutely fabulous

Another kick at councils on accessibility

E-access Bulletin has another go at council web site accessibility, citing SOCITM's annual Better Connected Review. It claims that this had shown minimal progress and therefore there's a "a gloomy picture".

Several colleagues on twitter have reacted badly, as well they might. Government in general is the only sector which actually has policy to implement the Disability Discrimination Act online and it's not like all disabled people access is government. Who knows, they might just want to buy stuff or play games!

Commercial websites have never been seriously challenged by the accessibility industry, despite it being a much more lucrative sector to potentially target.

What gets me is that they then say the following:

It is not all bad news this year, however. Some encouragement can be drawn from the implementation of a new additional qualitative assessment system, carried out for Socitm by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB), and designed to give an overall picture of council website accessibility. The system used its own 0-3 rating, with 0 representing a frequent absence of accessibility and 3 representing a site that was functionally fully accessible. Under this system, 136 councils (33%) were rated by the RNIB as satisfactory or excellent; a far more encouraging statistic than the 8% who achieved WCAG Level A.
Now WCAG is the international standard. It was replaced in December 2008 by a revision which takes into account the developments online as well as a much wider interpretation of disability. All measurement against WCAG 1.0 was therefore carried out (last November) against - effectively - a deprecated standard. In WCAG Level A context is irrelevant, it just gives a (literal) machine score on which councils are judged.

What using someone like the RNIB to give 'qualitative' feedback tells me is that the machine does so much but here's some actual disabled people putting things in context.

It's striking in its absence that much of the industry selling 'accessibility' to government is not disabled people. What their actual needs are isn't the key selling point - it's 'meeting a standard'.

To my mind this lets people off the hook. All councils have the ability to engage with actual disabled people about their websites but instead they're encouraged to keep a distance and follow some coding requirements. So no-one actually knows whether this is actually helping actual disabled people.

For example, is this correctly coded content of any use? Or can the key tasks which disabled people have on sites be easily performed?

These are the same sorts of issues sites should consider for others so why when it comes to disabled people do we take another approach?

Surely that is the very definition of discrimination.

Just as with usability, it pays massive dividends if the coders and designers come out their cubicles and engage with the audience (not that councils do usability well either but hey-ho ... ).

Bim Egan, Senior Web Access Consultant at the RNIB, told E-access Bulletin: "we noticed a significant improvement in the real accessibility of most of the websites we assessed. Unfortunately that doesn’t always show in a strict conformance check.”

The key concept here being 'real accessibility'.


NB: reedit following JackP's comment.

Tuesday, March 24

Cute animals: Super Chameleon

Obama's gloss peeling off

"It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it."

Why Won't Obama Pursue War Crimes Investigations?

Credit crunch as transmissible disease

Rolling Stone has an absolutely brilliant piece on what they call Wall St's 'coup d'etat', which I can't recommend enough as a primer on the credit crunch.

It names the meltdown's 'patient zero' (think 'typhoid Mary') as one Joseph Cassano of AIG. He operated out of - wait for it - London! And was enabled by weak UK/EU regulation.

Seriously, a must read,

Monday, March 23

Changing paradigms with UI for mobiles

An excellent article by Christian Lindholm, formally of Nokia and now working for Fjord, neatly wraps up where mobile design has come from, where we are and where we might go.

He says that there are three levels to the user experience of mobiles:

  • The highest level I call Bling (this is because, it caters to the visual senses) it contains the visuals, colours, content density and partly motion.
  • The next level below it is Control (This caters to the mind or rationale) This is where the efficiency is created, where one gets stuff done, one navigates into applications, within applications and between applications. It is where services should be integrated. It is much more than functionality, more than an application.
  • The lowest level of a user experience is the Utility level. In this level one experiences such thing as application installation, network control, power management. It is where latency is managed. This level of user experience is almost totally provided by engineering, except when operating at world class level, when UE designers and Engineers co-operate deeply.
He says that most of the current innovation is in the top two layers with only Google doing much with the utility layer - and this makes sense because "they are a utility". What they're doing reminds him of the early days of GMail, which wasn't different to Yahoo or MSN four years ago (except for the space) but has now "becoming a cloud based content platform integrating core elements of your digital life".

He cites the most recent second layer paradigm shifts following on from iPhone's 'bling' touchscreen as pinching, flicking, flipping "into 'back' of application like in iPhone Weather or flipping below, like in the Maps app. In the PalmPre there are the cards and their shuffling, the Chucking, meaning closing the app".

These shifts every phone maker takes up as they operate like 'search, top-right' on websites or other new design 'norms': "they cannot be customised from customer to customer". Fortunately we have yet to see commodification of these new paradigms, through patent enforcement, to the detriment of users.

Where he sees next development is in smarter keys: "Text input on touch screens are simply too bad. People like moving keys and the sensory feeling they provide".

This rings true for me as it's what I went for with my new phone, which is a new one from Hewlett Packard. It has a great slide out keyboard which doesn't just have slightly bigger keys but also gives that slight finger feedback which I found absent on others.

One other area which he doesn't mention is in learning. It occurred to me that my supplier was missing a trick by not offering paid lessons on how to get the most out of your phone. Am I missing something here as I have yet to see a site which does this job (or does everyone not want to admit there's some stuff they just can't work out?)

Sunday, March 22

Australian web censorship exposed

Wikileaks has published a list of the websites on the Australian government's blacklist. Those which would be blocked by national-level filtering as well as made illegal for any Australian website to link to.

According to Slashdot, it is possible to rip a version of the list from Race River's Integard - the filtering software that does it. The Wikileaks list appears to be a few months out of date, and doesn't exactly match the leaked list (which isn't that surprising - sites are being blocked and unblocked on a regular basis), but there's enough crossover to demonstrate that the government's claim that the list is inaccurate is obfuscation. This is a genuine copy of the list, just not a current one.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports:

While the blacklist published on Wikileaks includes a large number of child pornography sites and other illegal material, most of the websites listed have no obvious connection to child pornography.

It includes various online gambling sites, as well as Christian and other religious sites. A Queensland dentist and a tour operator also appear on the list.

The list also contains satanic websites and gay and straight porn sites, as well as euthanasia sites.
This is exactly what is bound to happen when a machine makes up these lists: so called 'collateral damage'.

Wikileaks said censorship systems, whatever their original intent, were invariably corrupted into anti-democratic behaviour.

It cited the Thailand censorship list, saying that like Labor's proposed filter scheme, it was originally proposed as a mechanism to prevent child pornography.

But Wikileaks said that in January, the Thai system was used to censor reporting about the case of Australian author Harry Nicolaides who was recently released from a Thai prison after pleading guilty to criticising the Thai royal family.

Wikileaks said research showed that such blacklists were dangerous to "above ground" activities such as political discourse and had little effect on the production of child pornography.

Although no one has yet advocated such national-level filtering in the UK it may well be only a matter of time as we seem to have a history of adopting Australian policy examples. This is if Labor in Australia can get the law through - a key right-wing independent Senator has become opposed since learning that fetus images on anti-abortion websites would be blocked.

Unfortunately we do already have an effectively national-level blocking system - the Internet Watch Foundation - which is not subject to democratic intervention and empowered through moral panic. So maybe we're further down the Australian line than many, including liberty campaigners, seem to realise.

One shot two kills

From "the most moral army in the world":

A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
Haaretz has been reporting on the crimes committed by - and witnessed by - soldiers in Gaza. The New York Times reports today on one reason why this is happening: rabbis turning a secular war into a religious one.
What is the idea behind the shirt from July 2007, which has an image of a child with the slogan "Smaller - harder!"?

"It's a kid, so you've got a little more of a problem, morally, and also the target is smaller."
I have always had the most basic of problems with not just the words "the most moral army in the world" but also the implicit endorsement of them by people like our Foreign Ministers through their silence: because they imply that armies like ours aren't 'moral'.

War may be immoral, full stop, but fact is there has been far more outrage and many more prosecutions regarding the British army's conduct (such as in Iraq) than the Israeli's over years. And for the Israelis to carry on repeating ''... in the world' should be felt like a slap in the face to their foreign supporters, but it's not.

Funny that.