Freesteel Blog » 2007 » April
You will not be surprised to learn that I find the response of 12 April 2007 to my FOI request of 20 March 2007 for the full contract between Bristol City Council and its Local Education Partnership with Skanska unsatisfactory.
I was, however, directed to the proposed standard form for this contract published on the Partnerships for Schools website. Its terms appear to have been drafted by solicitors with a correct understanding of the Freedom of Information Act, for it says in Clause 38.2:
“Duty of Confidentiality shall not apply to any disclosure which is required pursuant to any statutory… obligation placed upon the party making the disclosure… [including] compliance with the FOIA and/or the Environmental Information Regulations.”
You are reminded of the Information Tribunal Decision of 11 December 2006 regarding Derry City Council’s refusal to release the terms of its contract with Ryan Air which established the general principle that confidentiality exemptions don’t cover concluded contracts, and advised of the provisions given in clause 38.10 of the standard contract:
“The LEP acknowledges that… the Authority may, acting in accordance with… the “FOIA Code”, be obliged… to disclose Information concerning the LEP or the Project in certain circumstances without consulting with the LEP”
I can confirm that, had the response to my earlier 3 December 2006 request for all relevant details relating to the confidentiality requirements signed by the Council, contained a copy of Schedule 22 of this standard contract, it would have been helpful. As it happens, I was ultimately informed that five hours had be spent not properly responding to my requests. I cannot be held responsible for time wasted by Bristol City Council in its effort to avoid following straightforward written procedures for the disclosure of relevant information.
Since this is my second and more detailed claim for this information (the full contract between Bristol City Council and its LEP, including all Schedules), please consider this through the complaints procedure so that the matter can be raised elsewhere if appropriate.
Martin has his folding bike; all I could pack were these roller-blades, which took us on a 20km scenic route to the office this morning. Apart from the hills up, where I get a tow, and the steep downs, where I need to lean on the back rack of the bike, and the gravel, I can cruise at about the same speed. But it still takes over an hour to get into the office from central Copenhagen due to the obligatory cake stop.
Getting rather tired of work, especially the pencil overthickness operation, which I wished I had never invented in the first place, and business negotiations that make you want to push the whole thing off into the Baltic Sea and go back to doing cave survey software. At least there’s no money in that. Pencil overthickness is a method of pencil milling that finds a path for an enlarged cutter, and then projects it into the corner where there would not normally be a path. We head back tomorrow, which is good because I’m getting a little homesick.
Monday, April 23rd, 2007 at 9:59 am - Whipping
…Resolved, &c. That this House doth adhere to the former Vote, for the Demolishing of Denbigh Castle, as it went from the House.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth adhere to the former Vote, for the total Demolishing of Holt Castle, as it went from this House.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth agree with the Lords, That the Castle of Ruthen be disgarisoned; and the Works about it sithence these Troubles slighted and dismantled.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth adhere to their former Vote, in Approving of what the Committee of the County of Lancaster hath done, in Demolishing of Latham House.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth adhere to their former Vote, for the Disgarisoning and Demolishing of Harleigh Castle.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth adhere to their former Vote, that Wenny Castle be made indefensible.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth agree with the Lords, That the Execution of these Votes be left to the Care of the Deputy Lieutenants of the several Counties to be forthwith performed accordingly with the Addition of this Clause; viz. After the Word “Lieutenants,” and before the Word “of,” “or Commissioners of Parliament, named in the Ordinance for the raising the Sixty thousand Pounds per mensem, or any Three or more of them.”
Which said Clause is to be inserted: and the Lords Concurrence therein desired.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth declare, That the Castle and great Fort at Bristolle shall be kept garisoned with Two hundred and Fifty Men in them, according to the former Vote.
Resolved, &c. That this House doth declare, That the Castle of Carmarthen shall be kept garisoned with One hundred Men in it, according to their former Vote.
…It is further Ordered, That the same Proportion of Powder, Match, and Bullet, as was formerly allowed for the Service of the Garison in Dartmouth Castle, be still continued and allowed them out of the publick Stores: And that the Government thereof be in the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Burgesses, as formerly.
…Mr. Scawen reports an Estimate of the Pay of such Garisons as are to continue, and of such Horse and Dragoons as are to be kept up, not of the Army, for One Month, at Twenty-eight Days to the Month, according to the Proportion of Pay voted the Thirteenth of April 1647: The which was read.
And then there’s one about our very own Ministry of Vice and Virtue in House of Commons Journal Volume 5, 1 February 1647:
An Ordinance for publishing the Resolutions and Order of both Houses for the setting apart Wednesday the Tenth Day of March next for a Day of publick Humiliation, to be humbled thereon, for the Spreading and Growth of Errors and Heresies; and to seek God’s Assistance for the Suppressing of the great Growth of Errors and Heresies; was this Day read the First and Second time.
And the Question being put, For the Commitment of it;
It passed with the Negative.
And then the Question being put, For passing the Ordinance;
The Ordinance passed, upon the Question: And it is ordered to be sent unto the Lords for their Concurrence.
Mr. Tate is appointed to carry it to the Lords.
Tuesday, April 17th, 2007 at 6:10 pm - Machining
Have been winding down for the past week for the business trip to Copenhagen, by train, then ferry, then train again, and finally rollerblades. It takes about 30 hours, and then we’re there for about 10 days, probably programming CAM software too much.
I live in the future. These stinky short-haul plane flights everywhere over Europe are not sustainable, which is to say that at some point in the future they will no longer be happening. Either the fossil oil runs out, or we poison ourselves with its use, whichever comes first.
It would be sad if the oil runs out before we come to our senses. I don’t like these engine powered boats. In the future, as in the era of European global empires, we’ll use sailing ships. Only this time they will be computer controlled with GPS navigation and weather satellites, and their hydrodynamic design will be optimized properly, not just as a bendy wooden spline. All of it will be lovely, including the on-board food, which was horrible back in the old-days, so long as there is still some oil left to make the nylon sails! And we will have instantaneous communication, so we never need be out of contact, no matter what part of the journey we are on.
Following the request made last month for information about how Bristol Council had managed to contract out all its IT services with no oversight at all, I’ve got this message back:
Dear Mr Todd,
I now write further to my email of 11 April and apologise for the delay in the response.
I will now respond to each of your queries in turn.
1. A copy of the full contract as it stands between “Bristol City Council” and the “Local Education Partnership”, which Tim Sheppard’s told me was available to FOI users in his email to me on 6 March 2006.
I can confirm that the contract is a standard document populated by our contractual details which are commercially sensitive. As a result both sections 41 and 43 are engaged. (Commercial interests and Information provided in confidence) Disclosure of this particular information would prejudice the commercial interests of the parties and would be a breach of confidence. The public interest has been considered and although the City Council has a presumption of disclosure, it is considered that the prejudice that would occur outweighs the duty to disclose in this particular circumstance. A copy of the standard document and further information can be found at http://www.partnershipsforschools.org.uk/StandardDocuments.htm and http://www.bsf.gov.uk
2. The list of people on its governing body, evidence of legal independence of the Council if there is any, and any available accounts so far, and an explanation of what it means for it to have a “commercial interest”.
The LEP is a registered company and therefore has legal independence. The Council has a minority shareholding in this organisation and is not in the definition of an influenced company under the Local Government Housing act 1989 as amended. I can also confirm that there is not a Governing Body, but instead a board of directors. I would suggest you contact the LEP at the address contained in the following answer for details of accounts. I can confirm however that Bristol City Council put forward £30,000 for the working Capital of LEP. This is the Council’s 10% share in the LEP. This information is available in the Cabinet report of 9 March 06, which can be found at www.bristol.gov.uk I can also confirm that the LEP has only been trading since July 2006 so there will not be any accounts yet available for inspection.
3. All relevant details of the statutory duties of the “Local Education Partnership” in relation to the Freedom of Information Act.
I would suggest that you direct this question to the LEP at Bristol LEP Limited, Maple Cross House, Denham Way, Maple Cross, Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, WD3 9SW
1. According to press releases I have read, the Local Education Partnership is made up of Skanska, BCC, and Partnership for Schools. Is it your view that, although it is two in three parts publically controlled, and its entire budget derives from the BCC, it is not a public authority subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act? If it is subject to the Act, what is its address for sending requests?
Please see answer above
2. In the words of my copy of the Freedom of Information Act Awareness Guidance No. 5, Annexe: “A Public Authority cannot attempt to contract out of its responsibilities under the Act and unless information is covered by an exemption it must be released if requested.” You have assured me that the major reason this information cannot be released is because BCC signed a contract saying that the information is confidential (while being unable to locate any materials that could explain why such a clause had been signed). Am I correct in thinking that this exemption cuts right through the guideline?
As previously confirmed, FOI obligations were considered and addressed when the contract was drafted and commercially sensitive information within the contract was highlighted so that FOI requests could be dealt with more efficiently.
Finally, I would very much like to see the contract between BCC and the LEP which you have referred to. Can you pass it on, or should I file it through the regular email address?
Please see answer to first question above.
This response should answer your request in full, however if you are not satisfied with this response or wish to lodge an appeal against any exemptions that may have been applied, you can do so by writing to the Data Protection Officer at Bristol City Council Legal Services, The Council House, College Green, Bristol, or email@example.com. Details of the complaints procedure can be found at http://www.bristol-city.gov.uk/complaints.
If, after you have exhausted the Council’s complaints procedure, you are still not satisfied with the response you have received you have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner, details of your right to complain can be found at http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints.aspx
There’s a very extensive set of paperwork relating to this bogus construct at for £18 a page. There has got to be some other sources.
The central issue here is whether there is a loophole in the law that enables the business community to carry on looting the public finances out of public view, or whether the we can start to control this robbery of our economic opportunities as well as hard cash, by making sure that it has to happen in broad daylight.
There are two legal mechanisms that look good, but don’t work properly. The first is the EU procurement mechanism, that sets out an open bidding procedure where we get to see how a private company gets awarded a contract by a “Body Governed by Public Law”, with the intention of reducing corruption and opening the process to all businesses. The second is the Freedom of Information Act, which applies to all “Public Authorities”, which gives the public a right to know what’s going on in the state owned institutions which they are compelled without choice to pay for.
There is a legal ass that we don’t have a right to know or influence what’s going on inside an ostensibly private corporation, even if its entire income and services are derived from public funds. Once such a body gets a contract to use our money, the directors are legally in it for themselves; and all stated public benefits must be “aspirational” in nature.
Clearly, if there is a gap between the definitions of EU procurement and FOI Act, of what we could be defined as a “Public Body”, then it’s possible to tunnel money out through this back alley.
For example, a City Council called B — undoubtedly a public body — contracts all the educational services out to a fake shell company called L, which then buys in lots of over-priced and exclusive services from a large company S in whose building it just so happens to have its offices, even though officially and legally it is an independent company.
Now, if B can shovel money to L as though L were a public body, like a division within the council, it doesn’t need to declare anything through EU procurement. If L was not a public body according to Freedom of Information Act, we don’t have a right to know what L does with it.
There’s a few documents (in crappy WORD format) I’m reading through at the bottom of the Standard Document List, such as Counsel’s first summary opinion in relation to procurement, which details parts of how this scam is legally constructed.
Provided the principles which actually guide the management of the LEP are based on the criteria of performance, efficiency and cost effectiveness (as set out in the SHA and SPA provided), I conclude that each LEP may be structured and will be able to operate in such a way that it will not qualify as a “body governed by public law” and thus be covered as a contracting authority for the purposes of the public procurement regime.
In other words, it’s arguing that L is a private body with regards to the EU procurement law in what it buys, even though it appears to have been constructed by B solely for the purposes of turning this contract with S. I’m looking for where is the EU procurement procedure whereby B decided it could buy these services from L without putting it to open tender.
It’s a pain and a struggle. All we want to find out is how much do the computers and the crappy Microsoft software purchased by our state educational system cost, and why aren’t they installing Linux servers everywhere, even though they are the cheapest most effective option and everyone is doing it.
They obviously know they’ve got something to hide, or they would publish it, since there is no recognizable commercial confidentiality matter that could pertain, since these cast-iron long term contracts have now all been signed. There is nothing we can do to stop them ripping the entire system off for every penny and small business opportunity possible. The deal is done. All we are left with now is simply the Right to Know.
Saturday, April 7th, 2007 at 10:55 pm - Machining
It’s taken about a day and a half of experimental programming. Them at the university have been producing porous metal objects using Selective Laser Melting, but the surface is coming out too smooth. That is, they’re making objects with a very fine 3D texture, like compressed steel wool, but the surface feels as though it’s been cut perfectly with a fine saw, so it lacks all those poky out wires necessary to snag the fabric of your tie.
So the idea is to pockmark the model a bit to give it some roughness.
This algorithm works by selecting a whole bunch of pock-mark points that are randomly distributed around the surface (do this by picking triangles at random, weighted by their area, and picking random points in them until you have enough, and offsetting a random distance along the normal).
For each pock-mark point m, define the function fm(p) for any point p in the model (or anywhere in space).
Let v = p - m and d = |v|. For d > 1, let fm(p) = p. Otherwise, let the result be m + s v, where:
s = d^3 – 2d^2 + 2d
This is a cubic spline which satisfies s(0) = 0, s(1) = 1, and s'(1) = 1, so that it merges smoothly to the identity (y = x) line.
This pock-mark function is simply for bunching up space within the fixed distance 1.0 of the point p; kind of like poking your finger into a smooth slab of clay, except in 3D.
Starting with any point in the triangulated model which you want to make lumpy, apply all your pock-mark functions in order at that point, and that’s your new position.
Originally I made the pock-mark functions work additively; the pock-mark functions returned a displacement vector, and then these were summed. This method is favoured because it’s symmetric — it doesn’t matter what order you apply the pock-mark points — but it results in folding if two pock-mark points are close together such that the attractor gets too heavily weighted. Composition of functions just moves the points closer to the attractor, and doesn’t make it go past.
Subject to the small issue of rustling up a means of subdividing triangles that is not completely rubbish, the problem is done. Now it’s possible to easily generate models with thousands of times more triangles so that any downstream operation based on it will almost certainly fail. I think I can tell what the next job is going to be.
I was told to get the following function done quickly because it was needed by someone. I didn’t enjoy coding it, and much less attempting to test it; with the lack of a good interface I had to hack things so that, instead of making const scallop passes from a given boundary, it offset from a rectangle, and fed the results through the trimming function, as shown in the picture.
I don’t want to touch this code again, so I’ve done it properly.
Suppose you have a set of closed boundaries given by a series of points in 2D (the black curves in the diagram), and a second series of points defining a path (the blue curve). You want to trim one by the other.
In this example, it looks like it should be about three short paths corresponding to sections bc, de, and hi. If you were unlucky, you might also get a tiny fragment of the path just going inside at point t, but it’ll probably be too short for any use and need to be filtered away.
The basic functions you need are:
inside(boundaries, point) -> true if point is inside the boundaries.
radapproaches(boundaries, line(p,q), s) ->
sequence of intervals along the line(p,q) whose endpoints are either a, b, or a point exactly the distance s from the boundaries.
The implementation of inside() is easy — consider a horizontal line through the point, mark the positions where the boundaries cross it, and it’s inside if there is an odd number of these to the right of the point. This value is not reliable under a change of line direction (consider a vertical line, for example) when the point is practically on the boundary.
The function radapproaches() looks a little more complicated, but it’s an important building block that I tend to have floating around. The implementation is not simple, but it’s definition does give you something robust.
Now choose a tolerance value s, as something small. Run radapproaches() against every line segment in the (blue) path you want to trim, and collect up all the proper end points (the ones which are exactly the s distance away). In this example there will be 10 values (a,...,j), although you may get one or two extra on that outside corner in red between the i and the t, depending on how unlucky you are with your floating point calculations. This instability is similar to the unreliability of the inside() function, in that it is caused by changes of direction.
Now call the inside() function on each of these 10 points. Since these points are a distance s away from the boundaries, it’s reliable, and we can be sure that when we have two consecutive points that are both inside, then that entire section of the path is on the inside of the boundaries. You need to do some special cases with the ends of the path, but the simple result will be that your sequence of points can be grouped into pairs (b--c), (d--e), and (h--i). The worst that can happen in terms of miscalculation is that you could get a spurious point if one of the corners of the path is on the inside at exactly a distance s from the boundaries.
But wait, we were supposed to trim the path to the boundary, not the boundary minus a small offset. Also, I’ve made a mistake: points c and d are adjacent and on the inside, so you should also get the section (c--d) in the list. Chaining this with the other two inside sections, gives us two sub-paths: (b--e) and (h--i).
Some might say this answer is pretty dreadful. Not only is the path being trimmed at a distance s of the boundaries, but parts of it can cross back over the boundary without being trimmed.
But others, who have been doing this sort of thing quite a few more years than they care to remember, recognize this as a good feature, and furthermore it’s what justifies this ridiculous implementation in the first place. When you trim a path by a set of boundaries, and part of the path coincides with part of the boundary, your path can get very fragmented. Example: Trimming a linearized arc A by linearized circle C, where both have the same centre point and radius. (CADCAM usage is always throwing up annoying cases like this.) So, allowing the path to stray across the boundaries by a small tolerance and not be split up if it comes back inside is a good thing.
To finish up the ends, extend the point b towards a to somewhere where it crosses the boundary. These crossing points can be collected during the same run through and, although it’s an unreliable calculation, it doesn’t matter, because it’s bound by these two values, both of which are sort of acceptable within tolerance.
Come to think of it, after writing it up at such length, I’m not going to do it like this again if I’m forced to. Hopefully that won’t be necessary if I’ve taken enough precautions to avoid being disenfranchised from my code again. It’s not the money that matters, it’s the utter waste of two days of my precious life that rewriting this function has required me to expend.
The President: The Assembly has before it 18 draft resolutions recommended by the First Committee in paragraph 71 of its report and one draft decision recommended by the First Committee in paragraph 72.
I shall put the 18 draft resolutions and the draft decision to the Assembly one by one. After all the decisions have been taken, representatives will again have the opportunity to explain their vote or position.
We shall turn first to draft resolution A, entitled “Nuclear testing”.
We shall now begin the voting process.
Mr. Perfiliev (Director, General Assembly Affairs Division): I wish to make it clear that the Assembly is voting on draft resolution A in document A/50/590 and Corr.1. This draft resolution, entitled “Nuclear testing”, appeared in the First Committee as document A/C.1/50/L.3.
Will all delegations confirm that their votes are accurately reflected on the board?
The President: I call on the representative of Oman on a point of order.
Mr. Al-Hassan (Oman): My delegation mistakenly participated in the voting on this draft resolution. We should like to correct that. Oman wishes not to participate in the voting and asks that this be reflected in the proceedings of this meeting of the General Assembly.
The President: I call on the representative of France on a point of order.
Mr. Dejammet (France): For once, this is indeed a point of order — order in the voting on the draft resolutions. I am afraid there is some confusion, because the document before us contains the texts of the draft resolutions in a certain order, which is not the one announced by the President.
I would therefore like us to be absolutely clear about what text we are voting on. It seems to me that if we are voting on the draft resolution on nuclear testing, that should be stated specifically by the President, and he should make it clear that the draft resolution is contained in document A/C.1/50/L.3. This must be stated very clearly by the President so that we will know what we are voting on. The order set out in the table of draft resolutions does not seem to have been respected, and this has given rise to some confusion.
I would ask you, Mr. President, if at all possible, to put the draft resolution to the vote again, making it clear that it is the draft resolution in document A/C.1/50/L.3. That would make everything much clearer.
The President: May I clarify the situation?
The Assembly is voting on draft resolution A, entitled “Nuclear testing”, in document A/50/590 and Corr.1. This corresponds to the draft resolution contained in document A/C.1/50/L.3, which was discussed and voted on in the First Committee. This, I think, is clear to everybody.
If any delegation wishes to change its vote, it can do so now because the machine is still open. I therefore do not believe that we need to repeat the voting. I repeat: the machine is open and any vote can be changed.
It is clear that we are voting on the draft resolution entitled “Nuclear testing”, contained in document A/C.1/50/L.3 in the First Committee and now called draft resolution A for the purpose of this vote in the plenary Assembly.
I call on the representative of Oman on a point of order.
Mr. Al-Hassan (Oman): My delegation fully shares the opinion expressed by the delegation of France. Due to the order that appears in the document before us, my delegation mistakenly participated in the voting. You said, Mr. President, that delegations can still change their positions because the machine is open. But in our case we did take part in the voting, and we did not wish to take part. If the vote could be taken once again, with a clear and precise statement to delegations about which draft resolution we were voting on, my delegation would not participate.
The President: I call on the representative of Cape Verde on a point of order.
Mr. De Matos (Cape Verde): I wish to speak in support of the statement made by the representative of Oman. Once one has pressed the button, it is impossible to reverse oneself. Cape Verde does not wish to participate in the vote, but the voting buttons give us only three options: in favour, against or abstention. Our choice is: not participating in the vote.
Mr. Mubarak (Libya): I do not want to change my vote. I have voted correctly. However, so that the present situation does not occur in the voting on other draft resolutions, I would ask that the President refer to the draft resolution by the document number used in the First Committee. I was the first to ask to speak to clarify this matter, because the document, as it is before us now, does not reflect in its first part the Rapporteur’s recommendations in the second part in the same order.
Mr. Dlamini (Swaziland): The President has correctly advised the Assembly that, since the voting machine has not been locked, those who feel that they have inadvertently voted incorrectly have enough latitude to change. However, to start from the beginning would be unfair to those who voted as they wished to. I therefore concur with the view expressed by the President.
The President: Since delegations still have the possibility of changing their vote, the only problem we have now relates to delegations that participated in the voting on this draft resolution but did not wish to participate. So far two delegations have indicated that they mistakenly participated in the voting and do not want to do so. This can be reflected in the results of the vote.
Are there any other delegations that mistakenly participated in the voting and wish not to participate in it?
There appear to be none. May I therefore consider that we can take into account the desire expressed by the two delegations that do not want to participate in the voting?
The Assembly is voting on draft resolution A in document A/50/590 and Corr.1.
Will all delegations confirm that their votes are accurately reflected on the board?
The voting has been completed, and the machine is now locked.
I’ve been doing a lot of digging for reports of what the UN thinks it’s doing on the web. This has required pulling down documents whose code I can guess, but which are too painful to obtain through their website via the usual channels. And I am not kidding you about how bad it is. The UK Model United Nations, which had a “hugely successful week” last month, is just as shoddy with its web information. I have been through every link on their site and I still don’t know where it was or what gives with it.
The following links show you what you can do with sensible URLs, which the UN goes out of its way to prevent you from having.
Document 5 each session usually has some kind of Audit report. If you are lucky you might find what special Add.11 (Vol.IV) you need to put in there to get the different sections. I found them out by visiting the document dump in the Liverpool Central Library on the weekend.
I went through the documents by number. Document 1 is the Secretary-General’s report. Document 2 is the Security Council report. Yeah, those guys.
Document 7 of Session 60 happened to be from the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions. Table VII.1 on page 149 of the PDF file outlined the Current staffing of the Web Services Section, News and Media Division. They have to get stuff out in at least 6 different languages with non-ASCII alphabets, which is quite hard, so if you factor out the 18 staff in language units, and three chiefs and their secretary, and just count the Website Coordinator, Website Designer, Database Developer, Website Programmer, Webcast Assistant, and Web Development Assistant, that gives you only six people who have the potential for doing core work (as opposed to managing content or just talking about it).
This explains a lot about the quality of what they are doing — very good, given the lack of resources. Meanwhile, the UK mission to the United Nations lists 36 named staff, including one military adviser, three financial staff, three third secretaries, and nine second secretaries. I have no idea what any of these guys have to do. I do know what web-teams need to do. I also know that our nation’s finest performance at the UN had nothing to do with the web-team, and was described in the annual Report of the Security Council covering the time of March 2003 thus:
Iraq figured prominently in the agenda from the summer and autumn of 2002 until the end of the period covered by the present report. The Security Council found a path of unanimity with the adoption of resolution 1441 (2002) and, in spite of divisions that emerged later over the course of action to be taken on Iraq, it managed to find that path again with the adoption of resolutions 1472 (2003), 1476 (2003) and 1483 (2003) [which legitimized the US and UK squatters rights], and was thus able to work with a unity of purpose for the future of Iraq.
You see, friends, a thousand American cruise missiles bombarding a heavily populated city for no justified reason as part of a wholly unprovoked and aggressive military operation known as “Shock and Awe” Never Happened. It stays off the record. Referred to only as exceptional circumstances.
Anyways, moving swiftly back to the record, such as it is on what is known as the web, we see that there’s this supporting document for the coming meeting, supplied by the Secretary General, which is worth taking a look at. There’s a long discussion of the figures for numbers of page views and visits, which seems to settle on a figure at something like 135,000 visitors on average per day, seeing about ten pages each.
This is interesting, but not great. What they don’t investigate is whether it’s the same 135,000 people visiting the site the next day and in fact that, since the grand total of UN staff total about 50,000 and have had more of their communication services moving on-line, this number could be entirely due to people being there on business because they’re either employees of the organization, or involved in diplomatic missions. How many actual members of the public get through it’s sheer awfulness to an actual document? I’d be kind of interested. I was poking around the FAQs and came across this amazing howler:
Q: How many countries are there in the world?
A: We are not an authority on this topic. We suggest you visit a public library in your area, consult an encyclopedia or a world almanac. The United Nations, however, has 192 Member Countries.
You know, my local library is pretty good… But I’ll bet that the UN has a one where international affairs section is about a thousand times bigger.
Anyway, back to the report, Section VII:
The search facility
In 2005, one aspect of the Department’s annual programme impact review focused on improving the user experience of finding information on the United Nations website. After an analysis of the top 100 search queries over a one-year period, findings revealed that overall search requests are highly generic in nature, such as “United Nations”, “jobs” and news specific, e.g., “tsunami” and “Darfur”. Other popular queries include United Nations agencies, “Charter of the United Nations”, country names and peacekeeping missions. Full analysis of search logs was constrained by limitations in the search appliance, most specifically on queries done in Arabic, Chinese and Russian. Search logs currently do not provide non-roman alphabet characters and these reports now are unable to separate by language. Research is continuing for better search analysis tools…
[T]he full use and further development of the search system to fulfil the demands from other content-providing offices for customized search pages and collections to limit search results to their sites continues. From a management perspective, a much-needed analysis of user search patterns continues to present a challenge. In order to provide this type of follow-up action effectively and efficiently, dedicated resources need to be assigned to it, which means that this task can be achieved only at the cost of limiting progress in other areas.
The Department continues to work with the Information Technology Services Division on an enterprise search solution. The Division has issued a request for proposals for an enterprise search solution and the Department has been closely involved in the process.
It has not been possible to index the United Nations system websites despite at least a six-month effort of fine tuning, owing to limitations of the current search appliance. The Organization had procured the largest appliance available to the commercial market.
The search engine market had matured prior to the creation of the request for proposals and there were other offerings that were server-based and did not have the limitations of the appliance approach and that could operate in a federated fashion giving more flexibility in the mode of operation. The technical evaluation was completed in November 2006 and by mid-February 2007 the Procurement Service was undertaking a financial evaluation.
The Information Technology Services Division has funded the current search appliance and has also requested funds in the current biennium to replace the appliance to address the requirements of the Secretariat. The possible implementation of indexing the United Nations system is under discussion, but the funding mechanism has not been addressed at this early stage.
Discussions with the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) will be necessary to fully explore what the approach will be from a funding perspective for the search solution as well as for the enterprise content management system and the United Nations portal to encompass the United Nations system. The hardware in a highly available architecture, the software licences and the resources to coordinate this effort will need to be found.
You know, there’s a really simple answer to all this: Stop Blocking Google! You get everything for free.
After that, we can talk about why you should stop using PDF files for everything, and especially get rid of those scanned pages.
I mean, really. It’s been 40 years since UN Security Council Resolution 242, which is one of the seminal moments in the Israel Palestine occupation question. It’s only a page long. You’d think someone would have had time to have typed it in by now.
Meanwhile, I’ve found a project for Sym to do once he ever gets anywhere with this website. It’s a five week job to Develop Community Tec. Centre web site with DRUPAL in the Dominican Republic. It’s available from the Online Volunteers portal, part of the UN Volunteers service. If you pass the seven pages of guidelines, you too could do something which is wanted, as opposed to that which is not.
I wonder if what we’re up to counts as “civil society”. I’ve been working straight hours, sometimes till 4 in the morning, hacking my UN parser so that all speakers and debates are categorized. I created a category known as “disasters”, but I think I am going to change it to “Expressions of sympathy”. Some go on for a good length. For example at the start of the meeting on 1996-05-24:
Before turning to the items on our agenda for this morning, may I, on behalf of all the members of the Assembly, extend our deepest sympathy to the Government and the people of Bangladesh for the tragic loss of life and extensive material damage which have resulted from the recent tornado.
I also express the hope that the international community will show its solidarity and respond promptly and generously to any request for help.
I now call on the representative of Bangladesh.
Mr. Ziauddin Bangladesh
On behalf of the people and the Government of Bangladesh, I wish to thank you most profusely, Mr. President, for your kind words of sympathy and condolence expressed at the death and destruction caused by a tornado that struck and wreaked havoc in northern Bangladesh on Monday, 13 May. I take this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to all the Member States of the United Nations that so spontaneously rose to the occasion and offered their support, both moral and material, at this time of national calamity. I also take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the Secretary-General for his prompt response in offering aid and assistance to alleviate the hardship and suffering of the distressed people.
In a span of about half an hour, the tornado took an awesome toll of over 1,000 deaths and shattered the lives of some 80,000 people. Approximately 10,000 people with serious injuries are being treated in hospitals located in, or in close proximity to, the disaster area. It is also estimated that about 19,965 hectares of crop land have been decimated. Despite such devastation, I should humbly like to inform the Assembly that the Government of Bangladesh has been successful in mobilizing adequate manpower and resources to mitigate the sufferings of the affected people. The national agencies concerned are working round the clock, without rest or respite, to provide assistance and succour, and relief and rehabilitation activities are continuing in full swing.
I am pleased to inform the Assembly that the Government of Bangladesh has had the good fortune this time to successfully control, by itself, the overall situation resulting from the devastating tornado. The resilience of the people has added immensely to the Government’s ability to overcome the grave and grim tragedy.
I wish to express once again, on behalf of the people and the Government of Bangladesh, our deepest gratitude to you, Mr. President, to all the Member States of the United Nations, to the Secretary-General and to the related bodies of this esteemed Organization, for rallying round Bangladesh in generously extending all support at this time of our nation’s dire and difficult dilemma.
Obviously the Government, almost certainly composed of the sort of people who entirely escaped the devastation, is deserving of sympathy. Some expressions of sympathy are a little broader in nature, such as on 1995-09-14:
I wish, on behalf of all the members of the Assembly, to extend our sympathy to the Governments and the peoples of Antigua and Barbuda, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Morocco and Pakistan for the tragic loss of human life and extensive material damage that have resulted from the recent floods and hurricanes in those countries.
May I also express the hope that the international community will show its solidarity and respond promptly and generously to any request for assistance.
When it comes to dealing with the main powers, particularly United States power, the United Nations is systematically blind to the issue. Maybe there are good diplomatic reasons for it, but it keeps the public — in what are supposed to be the democratic nations where we could have an influence — in the dark. The United Nations is silent, the news-media is silent, and the bombs keep falling on our fellow human beings with the sound turned off.
Just to prove my point, go see Document 1 for 2003, which is the annual Report of the Secretary-General on the work of the Organization to find the bit where it glosses over the US invasion of Iraq.
Paragraph 15: By early March 2003 there were divisions in the Security Council as to how to proceed. I continued to urge united international action, as well as constant and persistent pressure on the leadership of Iraq, through daily exchanges with Council members, the League of Arab States, UNMOVIC and others both in New York and in capitals. By mid-March it was clear, however, that some Member States had taken the position that it was impossible to resolve the crisis without the use of force. On 17 March I informed the Council that I would suspend United Nations activities in Iraq and withdraw all remaining United Nations system personnel the following day.
Are you ready for the next paragraph?
The very next paragraph?
Are you sure…
Wait for it…
Paragraph 16: Following the end of major hostilities, which had resulted in the occupation of Iraq by a coalition headed by the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and after protracted deliberations, the Security Council adopted, on 22 May 2003, resolution 1483 (2003). In paragraph 8 of the resolution the Council requested me to appoint a Special Representative whose responsibilities would include coordinating United Nations activities in Iraq and, in coordination with the Coalition Provisional Authority, assisting the people of Iraq in such areas as humanitarian assistance, reconstruction and development, human rights, legal and judicial reform and the restoration of an internationally recognized, representative Government of Iraq. I proceeded to appoint a Special Representative for an initial period of four months.
The next section of the report was aptly entitled “Conflict prevention and peacemaking”, but it chose to concern itself with more minor situations entirely.
The following year the report waffled about some trivial (ie it didn’t result in mass death) mismanagement issues of the oil-for-food program, a program for mitigating some of the most lethal effects of the Iraqi sanctions regime which had cut off that country’s medical supplies immediately following a 1991 bombing campaign that had leveled much of its infrastructure.
A year later, Iraq appears under the “Conflict prevention and peacemaking section” of the report with some garbage about organizing elections. This has resulted in the type of sham democracy we are used to whereby an overwhelming public opinion saying that the US army should get out now, gets converted into a government who invites them to stay unconditionally, and furthermore goes ahead and signs away their oil rights for the next 40 years.
By the time we get to last September, the situation isn’t mentioned once, which is quite good for what appears as the most serious human massacre through violence going on in the world today.
But that’s okay, it’s only the Iraqi’s doing it to themselves, if you don’t mention George Bush’s re-election celebration in 2004 where he ordered napalm into the streets of the city of Falluja, and then our government lied about it. That’s okay. The Secretary-General sent a private complaint about it so it could get ignored. That’s why it had to be private. It’s purely to settle his conscience, while not upsetting anyone.
Ultimately, the United Nations can probably do a lot of good in Africa and parts of the Pacific, and perhaps coordinate some important interventions in terms of world health, so long as it doesn’t interfere with corporate profits.
But when it comes to the actions of a rogue superpower, we’re totally on our own. The UN might as well not exist. They cannot even mention the issue, let alone deal with it.