New blog

All new content on my restarted blog is here

Saturday, August 22

Texting + driving = death

This video, produced by Brynmawr filmmaker Peter Watkins-Hughes in conjunction with Gwent Police and Tredegar Comprehensive School, has quickly become an international viral hit. Featuring young women from the school it has very little dialogue so has featured on blogs all over the world because the visual message is extremely impactful (literally).

'Cow' tells the tale of Cassie Cowen, ‘Cow’ to her friends, whose life is changed forever after an horrific crash.

Since the film had its premiere in June, it has attracted attention from the BBC and it is hope the film will become part of the core schools programme across Wales and the UK.

This is the viral hit but it's only one part of a 30' short film which covers the crash itself and its emotional aftermath.

Texting while driving makes you more than five times as likely to end up in an accident.

I understand that some car manufacturers are developing vehicles which will automatically disable mobile phones.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Council blogging policy and self-censorship

chilledImage by zachstern via Flickr

Jack Pickard has a great post about policy on council staff blogging, which is sparked by Cambridgeshire making their Social Network and Blogging Policy (below) publicly available.

He notes that it is mercifully brief and written in plain English but points out that the bit which relates back to the council's general policy on how staff behaviour: it is full of hazy statements about 'bring us into disrepute' and 'being libelous'.

There’s a slight difference in implication here. Some [definitions] seem to suggest that any negative statement may be defamation, but it would only become slander or libel under other circumstances (for example, it not being true). I would assume that the Council would be using the term ‘defamation’ meaning ‘untrue and negative remarks’, but this isn’t entirely clear.

After all, if they were simply using it in the ‘negative’ sense only, this would mean that if I was a resident and an employee of a local authority, then I would have less rights to complain about something the Council was doing badly than some other resident would have. And surely that can’t be right.

I agree, it's not right. Council staff do appear to have less rights to voice their opinion of the council than other residents.

As a former journo I well understand that libel can indeed be read many ways and in practice it is the decisions of courts which set precedents.

There was a famous case in Australia where a fat rugby player successfully sued because being called fat would affect his income. I don't know if this precedent was overturned by another Australian court decision (and Australian law has its basis in English law) but we've all seen the rich use 'libel tourism' in English courts to slap the bothersome down.

I also know from my own experience that the vagueness and lack of clear examples of where exactly the council draws the line has a chilling effect - as libel law can - and in practice can mean that council staff become expected to be a-political in their own time, much like civil servants, despite this not being part of the contract they sign up for.

I first became aware of this problem at my previous council job when a manager spoke negatively about my posting comments on a local bulletin board. I was told this had been ‘noticed’ and I ‘had to be careful’. Then I was referred to the ‘code of conduct’ – after I asked what ‘careful’ meant.

This appeared to relate entirely to whether you could complain about the council in a letter to the local newspaper - like most councils I expect they had a neurotic co-dependent relationship with the local newspaper - and could easily be read as saying you couldn’t complain about the state of the flowerbeds.

This had a chilling effect on me because I could see how a manager could use it to threaten anyone who lived in the town as I did and took an interest in local affairs which they didn’t approve of.

In practice a couple of staff I knew were in fact involved in ‘political’ areas locally where clashes with the council happened and their manager’s were OK with it.

I’m certain - I know - that others weren’t either because the policy was so vague, or because it was assumed they shouldn’t get involved. And as almost any civic activity relates to the council in some way I’m sure it would put people off.

I'm sure staff thought of themselves as being policed and regarded in the same way that civil servants are when in fact that's not what the contract is between a council and its workers. I know I did. I simply stopped posting comments on local issues on the bulletin board.

I did point out the problem with managers, the union and even a councilor but none of them understood it as a problem (It probably didn’t help that most staff didn’t actually live in the city) so as far as I know this vague ‘code of conduct’ still exists.

Council staff can potentially have all sorts of comments they make online used against them due to the vagueness not of blogging policy but the age-old and undoubtedly identical contractual 'conduct' policies which they refer to.

As Jack says, yes, having a blogging policy is a great step forward but unless a lot more work is done most council staff simply won't feel free to express themselves online let alone talk freely about their work lives.

Cambridge Shire County Council social media policy

Postscript: In comments on Jack's post two useful additional points.

Richard Taylor notes that the blogging policy applies to staff and councilors and says "I would be very worried if councils tried to stop elected members from criticising their councils."

Karl Limpert comments on my cross-post (my highlight) to the Wardman Wire that:

Unfortunately for employees, disciplinary procedures are & always will be deliberately vague - it’s absolutely impossible to even imagine some of the incidents that do arise as a disciplinary matter.

The ACAS Code of Practice (employers are expected to take this into account when forming & going through a disciplinary process) makes clear that policies should give an idea of the types of conduct that may be minor, serious, or gross misconduct. The final assessment will always rest with managers, but if the employee could not reasonably recognise that their conduct was inappropriate, a warning & necessary training should follow.

“…unless a lot more work is done most council staff simply won’t feel free to express themselves online let alone talk freely about their work lives.” Unfortunately, this work will be in the form of disciplinary action - the policy will evolve as it is called upon, but until the first few cases arise & set precedent on what the treatment is (employers need to act consistently in these processes) the employees will have to venture into blogging unclear about the rules.

Matt Wardman suggests that the Civil Service Code of Practice, which he has written by Tom Watson but I'd tag Jeremy Gould more as author, be used as a model.

On GovLoop its editor says:
I think it can be scary for many to have employees participate online but there is an even bigger risk of us not being part of the conversation. And as the military analogy goes if they train and trust us with rockets and jets, can't they trust us to blog.
Michael Walsh reckons that:
The key here is that the individual cannot represent the organization or disclose legally protected information.
I agree and added that:
What I perhaps am not making clear here is the policy has a problem with what's written. It veers off into legalese to cover this area. The policy should provide here some encouragement and it should be possible to give some examples which 'set the stage'. One could be 'yes, you can link back to our website' or another 'yes, you can comment about services as a resident but don't discuss your job'.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Tuesday, August 18

Cute animals: Hey Alan, Alan, Alan, Alan, Alan, Alan...

Another BBC animals viral video. Not surprising since it's from the utterly hysterical new Walk on the Wild Side series. Watch the show for the appearance of 'natural treasure' Stephen Fry, as a panda.

Iraqi LGBT welcome Human Rights Watch report on pogrom, urges practical aid

The Iraqi LGBT group today welcomed the release by Human Rights Watch of its report 'They want us exterminated' which documents the killing of LGBT people in Iraq, in particular the extensive media coverage it has generated. Much of the information in the report is sourced from Iraqi LGBT members.

"This report underlines what we have been saying since our group's formation in 2006," said Iraqi LGBT spokesperson, Ali Hili. "We have information on over 700 killings including honour killings."

However Hili says that the group, which has 100 members inside Iraq (as well as refugees in neighboring countries) and supports LGBT people through safe houses, offers practical support (food etc.), psychological and educational support, is chronically underfunded.

"We are the only people offering support to our fellow Iraqi LGBT inside Iraq but because we do not have the funds we have had to turn people away," he said.

The group recently published its annual report, available on its website, which showed how the money it receives is spent.

The report explains how it has developed methods of operating clandestinely which are essential for such an operation in the Middle East. Hili is the only visible member of the group and as a result has attracted death threats in his exile in London. He is under police protection.

Recently it received a second substantial donation from a Dutch group. However due to low funding it has had to close safe houses and slow its development plans.

At the same time it has seen very large amounts of money raised in the United States go to a Lebanese group which is supposed to be supporting Iraqi LGBT refugees. Ali says that the refugees, delivered to Lebanon by Human Rights Watch, have in fact been abandoned and some have returned to Iraq because they had no practical support.

"We have been trying to support one refugee who returned to Iraq from Lebanon because his medical needs were not being supported and who is now in danger. Through the United Nations, he has actually been accepted as a refugee by Sweden however it costs $2000 just for him to get back to Lebanon and then there are his travel costs to Sweden on top of that plus organising support in Sweden."

"This is an example of a case where we have great difficulty helping. It also shows something of the real costs involved in actually supporting people. Another example of that would be the bribes we have had to pay to save peoples lives."

"Our group represents Iraqi LGBT - they are our members - and, despite immense difficulties, our group has gained a lot of experience since we were established. Please support us if you want to help save LGBT people in Iraq."

Donations to Iraqi LGBT can be made to the PayPal Account .

Or make cheques payable to (IRAQI LGBT) and send them to:

Iraqi LGBT
22 Notting Hill Gate
Unit 111London,
W11 3JE
United Kingdom

For further information please call ++44 (0) 79-819 59453 or email or see

Ali said that the group also welcomed those who could donate their skills.

The Safe Houses Project

IRAQ: Emergency Shelter, Human Services and Protection for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People:

IRAQI LGBT started to establish a network of safe houses inside Iraq in March 2006.

As of today, we have only two safe houses open and running funded by HIVOS a Dutch based human rights organization.

The members of our group inside Iraq urgently need funds to open at least four safe houses. These funds will allow us to keep the four safe houses open and running, and provide safety, shelter, food and many other needs for our LGBT friends inside Iraq. Any funds we receive that go beyond what we need for these four safe houses could be used to open more safe houses in the near future. We desperately need to add more because we have so many urgent cases in other cities. We receive requests for shelter every day, but we are not able to help yet.

Every safe house has around 200 square meters of living space, but harbors 10 to 12 people, so is very overcrowded. The residents are struggling badly because of the shortages of almost all the basic necessities in Iraq.

Rent: We have paid three months rent in advance. The most recent payments were in August. The average rent per safe house per month is $ 600 US Dollar.

Security: We paid the salaries of two guards per house, at $ 200 US Dollar per guard per month.

Other expenses of each house: We have paid $ 600 a month for each house approximately for natural gas and kerosene for cooking, and for food, fuel for generators which provide the electricity supply.

Urgent priority needs: Our priorities at this stage are: natural gas or kerosene for cooking and heating; fuel for generating electricity; food; mobile phones and calling cards; money for transportation to allow residents some freedom of movement; beds, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows; cameras; printers; two computers; house supplies, such as cooking pans, dishes, and flatware; some furniture; clean water for drinking and bathing; soap for washing and bathing, tooth paste, razors and of course housing, guards etc.

Amount needed and how it would be spent (per month):

  • Natural gas or kerosene for cooking and heating - 50 GBP
  • Fuel for generating electricity – $ 300
  • Food - $ 600
  • Mobile phones, calling cards, and internet café charges - $ 450 etc.
  • Transportation – $ 250
  • Beds, mattresses, blankets, sheets and pillows – $ 1,300 – onetime payment
  • Cameras – $ 100 – onetime payment
  • Printers – $ 100 - onetime payment
  • Two computers – $ 1,200 - onetime payment
  • Kitchen supplies, such as cooking pans, dishes, and flatware – $ 400 – onetime payment
  • Some furniture – $ 500– onetime payment
  • Clean water for drinking and bathing; $ 250
  • Toiletries (soap for washing and bathing, tooth paste, razors etc.) – $ 150
We also need to pay for medicines for the members of our group, doctors will come and have a home visit monthly for all members their cost is $ 400 US Dollar each month.

Sunday, August 16

Music: Woodstock 1969

40 years on from the seminal festival and here's two of my faves.

Santana - Soul Sacrifice

Sly & the Family Stone - I want to take you higher

The Guardian has a fantastic interview with Woodstock organiser Michael Lang. Santana has had a career comeback. Unfortunately Sly Stone is now living on social security.