Friday, March 28, 2003

I just wanted to add some sites to the list after the piece I wrote in the previous entry. This war is likely to lead to the same leap forward for the more serious side of the Internet that the last Gulf War had for television news.

The Agonist.
Venik's Aviation... superb conflict analysis.

(thanks to Scaryduck amongst others.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

The first media war was the Boer War, which saw the British Empire embarking on a vicious campaign in South Africa. Stories arrived back in Britain via correspondents publishing their stories in newspapers such as the Daily Mail and the Times (for whom a young Winston Churchill reported). The comparisons between that war and the war we live through now are very interesting indeed. It was justified to the British public on moral grounds and with it a surge of patriotism was fostered. In hindsight history shows the war to have been chiefly concerned with the precious diamond resources of the region and the gaining of an important strategic base of influence. It was because there was no real or differing media freedom that extremely few contemporaries questioned the rights or wrongs of the British policy. The British committed many foul deeds during that campaign. The term 'concentration camp' was first invented as a reference to the camps set up by the British for the Boer women and children who lived in the region. But such a campaign could never achieve such widespread public support with today's information mass media such as the Internet. However in many respects the old print media has changed little and broadcast media is only a halfway house between that of the newspapers with their individual preset positions and the truth that is there to be hunted out on the Internet

On Saturday I attended the anti-war demonstration that weaved its way through the streets of London and ended in front of a large stage in Hyde Park. I'm not going to bang on about the rights and wrongs of this war, but the mainstream reporting of the demo, or rather the lack of it was more than a little disturbing. This was by far the largest anti-war rally ever held in Britain during a British military campaign and the significance of this, added to the strength of feeling expressed, was significant. At the march wasn't just the usual suspects of militants and those with vested interests but a genuine mixture of British people from all the meats of our cultural stew - from the white middle aged staple of roast beef to the naturalised bounty of chicken tikka and the European pleasure of a delicately served snail (apologies; my use of metaphor has always been a bit odd). Yet hardly any coverage was given to this important and relevant event.

What was given some limited coverage was the blocking of Oxford Street. I stumbled across this on my way home. About a hundred or so demonstrators - roughly 0.05 per cent of the total at the march (based on a figure half way between the police and the organiser's estimates of the attendees) - were sat in Oxford Street blocking traffic with about three times the number of police. This sideshow, vanishingly insignificant in comparison with the rally itself, received by far the majority of media coverage, and in some cases was the only reference given to the protests. Because traffic was already avoiding the area, the sum total of traffic stretched back as a result of this action was, and I make use of no hyperbole here, one Route Master double-decker bus; the action represented a single barrel out of an entire oil field of protestation.

But the broadcast and print media in this war has shown itself to be poor fair indeed. I have been lucky to see media reporting from a wide variety of the world's newsgathering organisations. And there are three basic positions as I see it: the American media's, the Arab media's, and the truth. And just to clarify the British position, if the American media was red and the truth was white, our mass media would represent itself as a kind of medium pink (although vitriolic jingoistic newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Murdoch manipulated Sun might be individually regarded as a kind of deep violet). I believe firmly that it is important to get as many points of view as possible. Watching or reading from one source only is not the way to get an honest view of this conflict. An individual news source can strongly influence the way a thing is seen not just with an exaggeration or a one-sided opinion but also just by simply selecting what it does and does not report.

A cursory look at just the visual representations of this war in the various medias says much. In America you will see almost exclusively images of the instruments of war - planes, helicopters, tanks and vehicles, along with interviews with Allied soldiers and their families. In the Arab media the main images are of the destroyed buildings and of civilians - often as victims. Each of course are catering for their audience's interests. The US media is, it has to be said, often self-serving, and rarely dares to risk appearing unpatriotic. Which is apparently a particularly significant crime as if questioning the motives of their representatives' actions is somehow the wrong thing to do. It does appear the President could rape children on live television and there would be at least a small proportion of Americans steadfastly unwilling to criticise. Which I hope isn't too unfair as there are many who do dare to stand up and speak their objections despite often being in the minority.

Al-Jazeera - the Arab equivalent of CNN - is the news channel of choice for most Arabs now instead of the traditional CNN or BBC, and that change may be more influential this time around than people believe. It will not be so easy for Western politicians to sway Arab opinion without the help of news organisations sympathetic to their cause. In America and Britain, broadcasters appear to present information distributed by the Allied forces as fact and label that distributed by the enemy with the classic "according to" introduction. Al Jazeera is a little more selective about what it presents as fact, although it seems willing to distribute dubious propaganda without question. In the Arab world popularity can be cheaply gained by your basic anti-American and anti-Israeli sentimentality. This is understandable to a point, but the importance of catering for your audience is not lost in Al Jazeera Towers. They know that too much pro-Western commentary does not get digested too easily. It is of interest to note that in America and Britain the invading force is referred to as "Coalition Forces" or "Allies". In the Middle East they are frequently "Americans".

Interestingly, the alleged "civilian uprising" in Basra was readily and loudly reported by the US and British media. Newspapers especially have already reported it as fact and have already began analysing and summing up its repercussions. Yet the story originated from British Army sources and has yet to be verified independently. Al Jazeera this morning (Wed 26/3) said there was 'no sign of it'. If it turns out that there was none, how far will the media go in correcting what it said?

There are other more basic differences as well. Arab TV was able to show horrific pictures of a young child with terrible head injuries. The pictures caused (even more) outrage across the Middle East. In the West, strict guidelines and rules prevent broadcasters from being able to show such an image - assuming they would choose to. Gulf War 1 proved to be the making of the 24-hour News Channel. This instalment, the most information-packed war in history, could herald the coming of a new age for the Internet and specifically for the blog. The image of that desperate child was freely available to Westerners surfing the Internet. Without it, that image would have been very unlikely to be distributed at all. Such images can be hugely important. A picture of 9 year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc fleeing a US napalm drop in Vietnam bare of all clothing had a massive influence on the public's perception of that war and many believe it alone was a huge factor in turning that precious US public opinion around.

War blogs are a rapidly growing phenomenon and provide mass-distributed human views of conflict never before seen. CNN last week ordered one of its war correspondents Kevin Sitesto to stop writing his warblog. In his last entry he wrote "This experience has really made me rethink my rather orthodox views of reaching folks via mass media. Blogging is an incredible tool, with amazing potential."

An Iraqi in Baghdad who calls himself Salam Paxis still records his thoughts and his site is a must see: Click here to read Where Is Raed?

There are also two new directories listing war blogs:
War Blogging
War Blogs ....War Blogs also has headlines from the British, American, and Middle Eastern media.

The beauty of blogs is that to build a good picture, one is forced to read a wide variety of different sites. And it is variation which allows a much more complete and faithful representation of reality. This is where the serious blog becomes a seriously useful tool.

An in depth alternative analysis of the news can be found at the most excellent Media Lens.

Anti-war site list.

Pro-war site list.

Please take a look at these and other sites and open yourself up to as full a range of sources as possible. Read a variety of newspapers; watch all the news channels you can; do not stick your needle to the same radio frequency. This goes for everyone, whatever position you hold dear. This morning I listened to a radio phone-in that was generally pro war. I disagreed with much of what was said, but it helped me get to understand why people supported this war. Whilst doing this I was reading the anti-war Daily Mirror, a tabloid newspaper that stands out as a welcome lone voice. The Allies are not anti-Muslim as some would have you believe - many of the same policy makers were responsible for the military action in the former Yugoslavia that took place without UN backing but which freed Muslims from oppression. However on the other side of the coin, this foreign policy seems to be part of a longer trend that caused the problems it proclaims it now wants to solve, and the justifications given for this war appear hypocritical and dubious to a very many people for many different reasons. This issue is an extremely complex and confusing one. Listening to all the different voices may be more difficult and stressful than just listening to one. But it stops us from adopting entrenched and possibly polarised positions. If this world is going to become a more peaceful and understanding one, we must all learn to listen to each other however difficult that may be.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Went to Ireland. Got back. Shortly before stomach decided to evacuate itself of all matter from all available orrifices. Twas rather unpleasant let me tell you.

Unlike Ireland which was rather pleasant. During our stay a whole bunch of us were dancing along drunkenly in a very large pub indeed and on came, amongst other tunes, Barry Manilow's "Copa Cabana". To which I couldn't help be reminded of a rather pleasant - nay genius - alternative Star Wars version sent to me on a mini-disc by my mate Chris two or three years back. Cue enthusiastic attempts to shout/sing aforsaidmentioned alternative lyrics as loudly and as noticeably as possible - as one might do when they believe they possess what they believe to be the greatest most important information in the immediate universe...

Star Wars Cantina

Her name is Leia, she was a princess
With a danish on each ear, and Darth Vader drawing near
So R2D2 found Ben Kenobi
And he had to get the plans into the Rebellions hands
So Luke and Obi-Wan had to get to Alderaan
So they stepped into Mos Eisley to have a drink with Han

At the Star Wars, Star Wars Cantina
The weirdest creatures you've ever seen-a
At the Star Wars, Star Wars Cantina
Music and blasters and old Jedi masters
At the Star Wars Cantina

His name is Solo, he was a pilot
With a blaster at his side, and a smile 12 parsecs wide
He knew Chewbacca, he was a Wookie
And he spoke with Obi-Wan about the Millenium Falcon
Docking bay 94, stormtroopers at the door
With a flash of Ben's lightsaber, there's an arm on the floor!


His name is Yoda, he was a Muppet
Darth Vader was so bad (Oh, by the way, he's Lukes dad)
Luke kissed his sister, his hand got cut off
In that galaxy far, far 'way, Luke has had a lousy day
Boba Fett was so mean, Jabba had bad hygiene
Why couldn't they all just relax back on Tattooine


Obviously, I couldn't remember much of it so the actual effect was to be heard only during various bits of the chorus. Nevermind eh? The Phantom Mencap, God bless his little Lord of the Rings underwear, found this site which revealed this and many other Star Wars
ditties, including the ever-essential Bohemian Rhapsody version. Even more excitingly, PM then went one better and actually found the site hosting the wave file for Star Wars Cantina. It's sheer genius (if you forgive the rather obvious Guinness reference) and definitely worth a download. It's the little samples lifted from the film that really make it.

Download directly from here if you like...

This song has been around for donkeys years, but our little escapade has caused many to start sending round this information to all they know. Will I get a returned email with this info on, from some distant Internet friend showing the Internet to be circular? Or do we have a linear Web?

The Circle Line Party reported by Charging took place as planned and, yay, it went marvelously well. It was even reported in The Guardian by gum!

Be a zombie in a film! "Shaun of the Dead" is the film and they are looking to turn an army of extras into an army of terror zombies. Follow the link then follow the instructions and you can have your head blown to pieces on celluloid. They are looking for zombies of all ages and so one cannot help but feel that, considering the medium they're using to advertise this, there will be an abundance of applications from white male twenty somethings...

Woah excellent! Action Comic No1. The entire first Superman comic scanned and available to peruse for free.

Now please remember that I have been ill and I am a very tenderised boy indeed. I will return soon for a more proper round up of times. I off to big protest now.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Damn. Missed the bidding for the infamous NASA anal probe chair.

One of the attractions of the Internet is that one can bear witness to the work of some of the most bored people in the world: Things I've Pushed Through Toast. And there are sites which occupy the bored for just a few minutes or so: Build the best paper airplane in the World

The best 25 Simsons Episodes Ever?
No 17 in the list, Bart The Daredevil

One of the ways the entity that writes Charging alleviates boredom is via the reading of words in books. And one of its favourite author's is the entity Vernor Vinge who has very limited Internet space devoted him. In fact this Singular Vernor Vinge Page is pretty much the singular Vernor Vinge page on the World Wide Web. Nevertheless it contains a link to Vinge's views on what he calls the Singularity: the postulated point or short period in our future when our self-guided evolutionary development accelerates enormously (powered by nanotechnology, neuroscience, AI, and perhaps uploading) so that nothing beyond that time can reliably be conceived by us meagre humans. Read an article about The Singularity by Vernor here. And here.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

These party people plan to party on a Circle Line train on the 14th March. The intention is to "corrupt peoples future experience of the Circle Line, as the memory of the party will recur each time they use the train." They plan to announce the time and meeting place only on Friday morning. "The plan is simple", they claim, "get a bunch of people and some music onto the train. Have a party whilst the train is in the tunnel, and everyone pretend to be innocent as we pull into the stations." They've already done it once before and got 150 partying dudes and dudesses - being the young hopeful ambitious people that they are, they hope to make this one bigger and better. Well Charging wishes them the best of luck. The entity which represents Charging is off to Dublin for St. Paddy's day on the following morning, but if it feels inclined to party, it may well be there to report on all the action to you, dear reader.

Decent! Home-made retro Nokia. They call it a Pokia. Might have to get me one of these....

pretty damn cool...

Check out fan mail sent to porn stars read out in all the glory that is MP3.

A quite brilliant Tron game.

Weekly guess the movie quiz utilising images minus the human actors (but not the costumes). Previous weeks challenges allow you to check your answers immediately.

Also decent is this list of Google hacks.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

Bloody hell. Finding it difficult to outguess this one. Blatently nicked from the mercurial Arseblog.

Find out how many people share your name in the UK.