Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 at 12:35 pm - - UN 1 Comment »

May as well copy here the words I sweated over from my submission before they take it off-line or something. I’ll bet this years winners are even more amazing than last years’.

(more…)

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 at 11:48 am - - UN, Whipping 2 Comments »

I’ve been working pretty hard converting the underlying undemocracy website to using the pylons web framework on a version on my local machine. Then I noticed that the main parser wasn’t working (it was still trying to grab A-62 documents instead of A-63 documents) and fixed it. This brought in about 20 General Assembly transcripts, (linked here) including all the annoying ones at the beginning of the session where all the world leaders get escorted to the rostrum to say their bit and don’t have their nation’s name in brackets after their name in bold. It takes a lot of hand editing to do, because I’m not willing to commit to parsing the standard introduction:

The President: The Assembly will now hear an address by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, was escorted into the General Assembly Hall.
The President: On behalf of the General Assembly, I have the honour to welcome to the United Nations His Excellency Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to invite him to address the Assembly.
President Ahmadinejad:I am grateful to the Almighty for granting me another opportunity to be present at this world Assembly…

Way back in the mists of time when the United Nations was founded, the United States insisted that it be hosted on their soil (to make it all the more easy to bug their offices), but it could only work if they agreed that the site be international diplomatic territory.

In 2007, during the two year presidential election campaign, when the lies are flying thick and fast, the US presidential candidates all weighed in with their condemnation of the United Nations for allowing President Ahmadinejad’s visit to the the General Assembly, as they quite reasonably counted on and contributed to the ignorance of the electorate with regards to international law.

This year (last September) one of the defeated candidates, Hillary Clinton wrote this nasty piece of work in support of the protest at his 2008 visit where he staged “his hateful propaganda against Israel and the United States”. The link is above. He mentions God too many times. Here is some of what he says:

Today, the Zionist regime is on a definite slope to collapse, and there is no way for it to get out of the cesspool it and its supporters have created. The Islamic Republic of Iran, while fully respecting the resistance of the oppressed people of Palestine and expressing its all-out support for it, submits to the Secretary-General of the United Nations its humane solution, based on a free referendum in Palestine to determine and establish the type of State in the entire Palestinian lands.

Hillary Clinton is now the US’s Secretary of State designate, the nation’s chief diplomat. Still stirring things up and participating in hate and propaganda.

What a load of rubbish.

Robert Mugabe also flew in to New York to give his speech. Without Peter Tatchell there to attempt a citizen’s arrest, everyone was okay with it.

No politician got out there to condemn it, etc.

It’s a shame our media is such an empty-headed pack of stenographers just copying down the words of the politicians’ latest wheeze without posing questions about the purpose of their selectivity. I don’t get to ask questions of politicians, only journalists do. And the politicians are evidently quite happy with the desperately low quality we are currently served with.

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 at 7:16 pm - - UN

I was checking out the real UN site to work out what’s the hold up with the General Assembly transcripts. I haven’t had one arrive on my server since A/62/PV.103 in June, and we’re already way into the 63rd session.

The list of Session 62 resolutions is here and it records meetings all the way up to A/62/PV.122 in September, without links to the verbatim transcript documents. (The videos all go on-line right away, because that’s easy to do.) The resolutions passed in those meetings are also on-line, so I perused them and stumbled onto A/RES/62/278 which said:

The General Assembly Recognizes the usefulness of the existing online mandate registry, and… Notes that one of the important findings of the process is the difficulty of identifying resources associated with one particular mandate, which limited the potential of the review process to fulfil its objective of strengthening and updating the programme of work of the Organization and improving the allocation of resources for the effective implementation of mandates;

The Online Mandate Registry?

Search for it: It’s here.

I had a good look and noted this finding down onto the Wikipedia Page for United Nations so other people could find it, as not everyone reads this blog. It’s been going since 2006. The Introduction explains:

Legislative mandates express the will of the Member States and are the means through which the membership grants authority and responsibility to the Secretary-General to implement its requests. The resolutions adopted from year to year by each of the principal organs are the primary source of mandates. Mandates are both conceptual and specific; they can articulate newly developed international norms, provide strategic policy direction on substantive and administrative issues, or request specific conferences, activities, operations and reports.

For this reason, mandates are not easily defined or quantifiable; a concrete legal definition of a mandate does not exist. Resolutions often signify directives for action by employing words such as “requests”, “calls upon”, or “encourages” but an assessment to distinguish the level of legal obligation arising from the use of these different words has yielded no definitive answers. Such ambiguity in resolutions may be deliberate “to make it easier for Member States to reach decisions.” But since the membership has indicated a wish to use its review of mandates to examine opportunities for programmatic shifts, it is both necessary and desirable to identify a working definition of the unit of analysis and delineate the scope of the exercise.

Guided by the 2005 World Summit Outcome and subsequent discussions in the plenary, I have defined a mandate as a request or a direction, for action by the United Nations Secretariat or other implementing entities, that derives from a resolution of the General Assembly or one of the other relevant organs.

To facilitate the review and as a companion piece to this report, the Secretariat has compiled an electronic registry of mandates originating from the resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. The registry of mandates, along with accompanying guidance for users, is accessible at www.un.org/mandatereview.

The executive summary is more forthright:

The single greatest symptom of the lack of a coherent system for evaluating mandates and their effectiveness is the uncoordinated and burdensome mass of reports requested from the Secretariat. The quantity of the reports obscures their quality and impact, overwhelming the Member States and overburdening the Secretariat. Because information is not often provided on the overall picture of the Organization’s work in an area, it is difficult through those reports to judge the effectiveness of mandates in meeting the Organization’s objectives.

Year after year, the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Security Council continue to adopt new mandates on the same issues, sometimes even under more than one agenda item in the same organ, usually without introducing new ideas or approaches. While some overlap of mandates from different organs is inevitable and different perspectives desirable, the existence of many interrelated mandates is generally confusing, redundant and wasteful.

The proliferation of mandates has in some cases led to overlapping, uncoordinated and inconsistent architecture for implementing mandates, in which the whole may be less than the sum of the parts. Little guidance is provided on what to do with older mandates that address the same issues, which therefore linger on over the years.

A fundamental and recurring challenge has been the adoption, year after year, of hundreds of mandates which must be implemented within resource constraints that do not keep pace. Member States confer additional responsibilities with neither corresponding funds nor guidance on how resources should be reallocated. This gap leads to real costs for the Organization and the people it serves.

So, to be clear, the semi-disastrous 2005 World Summit had its outcome adopted as a resolution, in which paragraph 164(b) said: “The General Assembly and other relevant organs will review all mandates older than five years”, and the secretariat quite reasonably decided that the first thing they needed to do was make an online registry of all mandates.

Just in case you aren’t completely clear what a mandate is, Paragraph 164 was indeed itself interpreted as a mandate, number 17171 in the database, to be precise.

I found the meeting where Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon presented this registry to the UN:

That is why the decision to conduct the review, even if it was not the most glamorous that heads of State and Government made last September, was one of the most meaningful and potentially historic. It is also a daunting challenge. While there are real opportunities to achieve results in the short term, to conduct a full review of mandates will take time and sustained commitment. But the outcome could be extremely rewarding, particularly for those we serve around the world.

Members of the Assembly, it is your review; you are the ones who are going to undertake it. I am only giving you the tools to conduct it: an online registry of mandates and, in the report before you, an analytical framework.

The registry, which responds to requests from several Member States, is a searchable electronic inventory of still-active mandates originating from the resolutions of the General Assembly, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. It will enable you to find all the mandates you have adopted and to view them in a convenient way.

See, computerization is important for organization. Pity they chose such a poorly laid out and utterly cludgy java servlet database for it, rather than using on a copy of MediaWiki with all its high level Web2.0 structures. Out here in wikipedialand, we’ve been constructing our own mandate registry. Just think how cool it would be if the UN staff inserted their information in this place rather than burying it behind horrible codes and 1980s style database interfaces.

Oh well, never mind. I’m sure it looks all completely reasonable to the e-Envoy in his experience.

Monday, September 1st, 2008 at 4:47 pm - - UN, Whipping

Webcasts are cheap if you happen already to be filming the procedure and recording the live translations being provided (both of which are rather expensive). They are usually posted onto the un.org website long before the meeting transcripts come through.

Unfortunately they poorly archived and not linked with the written transcripts (which you can’t link to anyway) or to the documents they depend on, and there’s no good way to dip in.

The latest archive pages for the General Assembly are here and the Security Council are here. The latter includes Media Stakeouts where, ideally, the ambassador gets to rendezvous with an open microphone following his theatrical storming out from an important meeting.

Now I wanted to make links directly to these pages from the parsed transcripts on undemocracy.com, but these enormous tables don’t have any anchor tags, so I can’t link directly to the correct place. The feedback form seems to reject messages of longer than 100 characters, so I hope I got something through. Not that I expect anyone in the UN offices to take any notice, like anyone there has taken any notice all ready. I wonder how many hits they get on these webcasts in total anyway.

So in the meantime I’ve skinned these index pages by loading them into the server and writing them out again with id’s on each line corresponding to the dates. Subject to a few annoyances, such as the index pages going: sc2003.html, sc2004.htm, sc2005.html, sc2006.html, sc2007.html, sc.html, and the month names Janurary, Febuary, and Septmeber, I’ve got it working, so you can have the pleasure of dipping into a General Assembly meeting, such as this one from last December.

Click on the Webcast Video link in the top right and it takes you to the corresponding point in the skinned index. When you get bored, skip through to minute 18 of the webcast to see some voting as well as Mrs. Mladineo banging her strange hooked stick.

Security Council meetings are also very scripted and dull (except for the last couple ones on Georgia). However this one on Western Sahara has a rare display of dissent. Costa Rica pipes up. And so does the South African ambassador in minute 12 (you have to skip past all the media stakeouts) complaining about behavior the Group of Friends (the Permanent Members) who script the show in advance too much.

Anyone who is missing Tony Blair and his interminable rants about terrorism, “this ghastly game with our conscience… we must never forget that the events of 11 September 2001″ can get their fix from here (45 minutes into the webcast). That was a man obsessed. His name is now mentioned monthly in the Security Council by those expressing appreciation for his work as The Quartet representative, although he has never showed up to read a personal report. Otherwise we could see him in video as he is now without needing to be praying customers at the Yale Schools of Divinity and Management.

Friday, August 29th, 2008 at 3:04 pm - - UN, Whipping

As some people can tell by my funny accent, I spent some years of my childhood in America where I watched a lot of TV and soaked up plenty of that old 1970s Cold War American propaganda. It was interminable. Even my elementary school had these strange fallout-shelter symbols all around the basement cafeteria, so no eight year old with any curiosity could fail to notice that the Cold War was real and that at any time those evil Russians were going to nuke American children with their 50 Megatonne hydrogen bombs because they hated our freedom.

You had all these serious espionage programs, between the World War II documentaries in which the United States single-handedly fought and won the war, where they showed off those devious Ruskies and their bugging technology smuggled into the ambassador’s office in a carved wooden plaque of the Great Seal of the United States (that ugly bald eagle thingie) presented as a gift from Soviet schoolchildren in 1945.

Here’s the story of the device, known as The Thing, as told for the National Cryptologic Museum. As you will note, it contains lots of photos of a smiling Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr showing it off from his desk in the United Nations Security Council in 1960 like an early day Colin Powell waving around his fake non-existent vial of anthrax. The TV shows I watched probably had movie footage of this.

So that’s something that sank into back of my memory from childhood 30 years ago.

Today I am continuing my scatter-gun approach of trying to drum up some interest in undemocracy.com, and was referencing some old transcripts from Security Council into a wikipedia article about the 1989 US invasion of Panama which involved lots of shooting and killing and liberating the country from its own self-governance.

As used to happen in those days, violations of the UN Charter (eg military invasions) were debated in Security Council, and the American ambassador cited Article 51 of the Charter to explain that the operation in Panama was legal because it was an act of self-defence against an armed attack against his nation.

To quote:

Last Friday Noriega declared his military dictatorship to be in a state of war with the United States and publicly threatened the lives of Americans in Panama. The very next day forces under his command shot and killed an unarmed American serviceman, wounded another, arrested and brutally beat a third American serviceman and then brutally interrogated his wife, threatening her with sexual abuse. That was enough.

That’s it. That is the entire allegation that there was an “armed attack” against the United States. Noriega was right, of course. Panama was in a state of war with the United States, but it wasn’t because there were any Panamanian forces storming the beaches at Coney Island. This kind of nonsense makes you want to laugh. Or cry. I mean, at the very least we ought to require closure on these kinds of things. Whenever a country cites an event under Article 51 (the right of self-defence) there has got to be an account produced of the threat and an official ruling as to what steps a reasonable government would have taken to respond to the alleged armed attack.

But, we don’t. These things get forgotten, even when it’s on the scale of Weapons of Mass Destruction lie. The issue at the core of international law is that the five permanent members of the Security Council are judge, jury and executioner on any question brought to them, and can quite crudely veto any draft resolution that finds against them.

Security Council transcripts are scanned and on-line back to meeting 2601 of 26 July 1986. Earlier numbers return “no document”. This is unfortunate because I have always been interested in what the excuses for the Vietnam War atrocities were going to be. United States citizens don’t understand the implications and purpose of the UN Charter — at least as far as their media is concerned. The Charter says that all military aggression is illegal under international law, except when it is sanctioned by the Security Council or it is an act of self-defence. As mentioned earlier, the system doesn’t work because the same Security Council is called upon to condemn acts of military aggression as illegal when they do not conform to one of these two categories.

I just happened last night to try and scrape meeting number 1000, and discovered it was there. That was about 10pm, and I realized I was going to have a very late night pulling all these transcripts out and looking for the jokes. The set spans from meeting 687 in 1955 to meeting 1021 in 1962, thus missing a large parts of the Vietnam escalation. Bit it does include the 1961 US invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the Commies took wholly unreasonable steps towards arming their territories with nuclear missiles against future invasions. The crisis, it turned out, very nearly caused a nuclear war when a US destroyer began depth charging a Soviet submarine that was armed with nuclear missiles. You have to understand that submarines don’t have communication with the outside world, and Vasiliy Arkhipov saved us from nuclear holocaust by being only one of three commanders of the sub who was against firing the weapons when such an order required unanimous agreement.

So that was fun and games, which no one would ever have known. The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted in a secret deal to de-escalate the Cold War slightly, and sign an agreement of no invasion of Cuba. All the other nations of Latin America were not so lucky during that era and somehow wound up living under US-backed dictators which the US media explained to the US people were not bad chaps at all until the next one needed to be imposed.

Digging back earlier, I stumbled on the Council meeting about the U-2 crisis of 1960 when — pre-spy satellites — the US was flying these high altitude jets all over the place for the purpose of strategic reconnaissance over Soviet territory from basis in Pakistan. I don’t know if the Russians had similar programmes spying on US territory, but their job would have been much more difficult due to the fact that all suitable sites for airstrips within flying range of the US border were either ocean or without of Russian strategic interests.

Anyways, as it turned out, and as happened several times in the Cold War, there was going to be this big summit in Paris in 1960 which everyone was looking forward to to bring an end to this ridiculous, dangerous and expensive Cold War. As part of the confidence building measures, the US tactlessly continued to fly their spy planes all over the place, until one of these planes was captured in Soviet territory with its pilot alive. The Americans didn’t know this, and started rolling out the lies about how it was all a mistake, the plane was a weather research craft whose pilot had passed out at the controls due to problems with the oxygen equipment, and it had continued to fly in a straight line right through Soviet airspace, blah blah blah.

Then the Russians said: Fooled you. We have the guy here and all his spy photographs, etc. etc. And you know that big Paris Summit you were all looking forward to? Well, it’s cancelled, you son of a bitches.

They brought a draft resolution to the Security Council condemning violations of airspace and requesting the US government to stop them. The judge, jury and executioner voted against it, because international law at this level is just a game of votes by immoral actors.

As part of his defence case the US ambassador brought in The Thing as exposed in 1952 and explained:

Well, it so happens that I have here today a concrete example of Soviet espionage so that you can see for yourselves… [The Thing]…

We submit that the Soviet Union, for reasons which remain undisclosed, has deliberately seized on the U-2 incident, magnifying it out of all proportion, and has used it as a pretext to abort the Summit Conference to which so many have looked with hope or serious discussion of international problems.

The whole meeting, and the other ones, are really interesting to read and give lots of different side of the story. Now, from my childhood memories, the US kept showing to its people footage filmed in the serious forum of a Security Council incidents of the dastardly Russians and their dastardly ways, without ever explaining that this, yes this cruddy bit of wood and metal, this basic listening device that would have been an embarrassment had it got past even an airport security screening, was their best answer to the issue of U-2 flights over Russian military installations.

I mean, really.

I submit that one of the greatest problems in countering what appears to me to be absolutely laughable quality propaganda is an objective understanding of equivalences and magnitudes of actions.

This is just from reading the allegations — let alone whether they are true or not. A lucky attempt at getting a listening device into the ambassador’s office is not equivalent to flying uninvited spy planes over enemy territory days before an important peace conference. One American being shot in the streets of Panama after months of international provocation is not equivalent to a full scale invasion of the capitol city and abduction of the head of state.

It seems to be a systematic pattern where an official can equate two incidents that are several orders of magnitude different in scale, and not get laughed at. What is it with these pesky humans and their ridiculous system of nation-states? It shouldn’t be happening to any species which appears to have rational thoughts and a sense of humour.

If only the threshold for propaganda to work was a little higher than the evidence shows it is. Then it would be easier for politicians to do the right thing than get away with this absolute crap. It’s like a child who discovers that they can get anything they want by starting to cry. It’s got to stop. There has to be some standards.

Monday, August 18th, 2008 at 8:04 pm - - UN, Whipping

And I ran out of easy places to contribute to on Wikipedia, such as United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur, United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone, United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, and Timeline of the 2008 South Ossetia war; and so surfed around on the UN News Centre.

Naturally, there wasn’t anything about all the pro bono work I have so far done accessibilizing the official documents in a cumulatively constructive way that makes it possible to find out what the processes are, who’s operating them, and discover what’s been going on over the past decade to get us to the way things are now. After all, I am merely a programmer.

What I did find was a press release about how an… Innovative UN awareness-raising campaign earns prestigious Cannes award:

15 July 2008 – A groundbreaking United Nations campaign that uses the latest technology to give a voice to those who normally go unheard has been recognized by one of the world’s leading international advertising festivals.

“United Nations Voices,” (Internet Explorer only) which was designed pro bono for the UN Information Centre in Canberra by Saatchi & Saatchi, Australia, was awarded a Bronze Lion in the 2008 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, held in France last month.

I’ve added those links myself to improve connectivity.

Although bronze is not as prestigious as gold or silver, if you’re an ad company you know how to place your free advertising into the UN news feed in the hope that people will forgive you for delivering us Margaret Thatcher in 1979, as well as tonnes of other evil.

The material is a large colour poster of a face which you photograph with your mobile phone, email the picture to a particular phone number, and then you get phoned back with a recorded message from the featured “voiceless” person. The functionality could have been implemented by texting a key-word to the particular phone number instead of the digital photograph, or frigging it by using different phone numbers on each poster and ignoring the image (they didn’t do this).
Meanwhile, their March press release when they ran the ad campaign in Sydney, Australia is here, a blog about the campaign with lots of comments is here, and according to this posting the vital stats are:

Brief:
The United Nations wanted to find an engaging way of talking to modern day Australians, particularly the youth, and making them aware of the many and varied issues in today’s multi-cultural society.

Solution:
The problem is the people who really need to be heard are the ones who don’t normally have a voice. So by using revolutionary digital image recognition technology we could make a poster and press ad talk for the very first time and actually give everyone a voice.

Results:
In a small market like Australia, over a 2 week period, more than 35,000 people “listened” – making this the country’s most successful UN brand campaign to date. Due to its overwhelming success next year the UN is going to roll it out globally in all major cities.

And now, the credits:

Advertising Agency: SAATCHI & SAATCHI, Sydney, Australia
Executive Creative Directors: Steve Back, David Nobay
Copywriters / Art Directors: Steve Jackson, Vince Lagana
Photographers: Sean Izzard, Petrina Hicks, Scott Newett
Producer: Kate Whitfield
Art Buyers: Olivia Wilson, Danni Simpson, Skye Houghton
CEO: Simone Bartley
Account Supervisors: Bree Lennon, Stephen Lacy, James Tracey-Inglis
Head Of Digital & Direct: Paul Worboys
Image Technology: Hyperfactory
Image Technology: Mobot
Creative Group Head, Digital: Brian Merrifield
Director: Ralph Van Dijk, Eardrum
Photographers: Tim Gibbs, David Knight, Daniel Smith

According to the technologist’s website:

Mobot has developed a powerful, scalable, and flexible patent-pending solution which relies on image recovery, pattern recognition, and image matching capability ‘in the cloud.’ Cognitive science research has shown that the human brain uses blobs to recognize objects, that is, your brain does not use sharp edges to determine that a table is a table or a face is face. Mobot applies algorithms patterned after these methods to solve the problem of mobile visual search. Mobot has built a best in class solution through a combination of invention, innovation, and tech licensing. Mobot has strong technology partnerships with leading edge companies. For example, Imagen’s technology and Evolution Robotics’ ViPR technology are components of Mobot’s visual search engine and help Mobot deliver state of the art pattern recognition.

Miraculously, the Google Patent search engine digs out what appears to be the correct patent application for the inventor “Zvi Haim Lev” based on the term “mobot”, although this made-up word appears nowhere in the text.

It’s all pretty standard computer vision processing, done with a lot of elbow grease and efforts to handle occlusion and gauss filtering to handle the low quality resulting from the JPEG crappiness of the camera phone images.

As it’s a case of unnecessary technology used unobtrusively, it’s doing no harm. In the future the real advertising applications will be to make the cameras point outwards from the poster at the people so it can speak to you messages depending on who you are on determining your demographic status according to the branded products you choose to clothe your body in, with the eventual result the world described in the 1954 Philip K Dick story Sales Pitch.

Meanwhile, back in the world where things need to get done, not only sold, one can wonder what this campaign was actually trying to sell. “Raising awareness” is such a vague term, if none of those people whose awareness is raised never stand a change in finding out what they can do. The point of these vast PR companies is to (a) move product (make you spend money on profitable crap), (b) get votes (sabotage the democratic process), and (c) manage concern (prevent people from taking effective action).

This particular campaign is attempting to achieve (c). Thanks for all the help and encouragement, folks. Maybe I should just go home and pick the marrows.

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008 at 8:45 pm - - UN, Whipping

As a result of someone adding the offensive {{tone}} and {{unreferenced}} tags to my important United Nations Document Codes page, I reviewed the information carefully and discovered the UN’s official extremely crappy (and I say that without prejudice) 71 page scanned pamphlet printed in 1994, which is their most recent review of the document coding system. I think my wikipedia page is a worthy contribution.

Then I had a stroll over to the Committee on Information website, which oversees the strategy of the entire Organization, and discovered that every single link from it to an official document was broken.

The documents are there, there’s just a session-based page system which is blocking the links, which is something my undemocracy.com scraper has to tunnel through by relaying the randomized cookies back and forwards each time it downloads a document.

I got paranoid to think they’d started blocking my IP address because I’ve been scraping too much of their web-pages. But it hadn’t happened. I discovered the trove of Committee on Information documents are all to be found under the code A/AC.198/YYYY/N, where YYYY=year and N=1-9. I spent the entire day pulling each one down and skimming them for clues.

The only clue I found was a single sentence from 2008 here:

The General Assembly website was revamped for the sixty-second session, making it easier to find documents, resolutions and the work programmes of the respective committees. The new site, available in all six official languages and fully accessible to persons with disabilities, is now more General Assembly-focused. However, access through a session-based page has been retained.

Interestingly, things were different way back in 2001, when it was promised:

Once the above policy decision is implemented and the ODS (Official Document System) infrastructure is proven capable of providing unrestricted access, the United Nations web site could be modified to provide direct hyperlinks to the parliamentary documents on ODS, instead of copying the documents to the United Nations web site, which is the current practice. In this manner, documents seen on the United Nations web site will be available simultaneously in the six official languages.

In addition, administrative instruction ST/AI/2001/5 of 22 August 2001 on United Nations Internet publishing, which promulgates guidelines for the presentation of United Nations materials and documents, conditions of use and disclaimers for reproduction of official documents, would need to be amended to require all content-providing offices to remove any versions that may have been posted and instead provide hyperlinks to the actual document on ODS. This will further ensure the accuracy and consistency of the parliamentary documents on the United Nations web site, in relation to the official version of the documents on ODS.

Now, anyone with any internet nous knows that’s completely the correct thing to do, and that somehow things have gone backwards from a position of enlightenment to a position of ignorance.

I can’t find any direct clues, except that the upgrade from optical discs to hard drives and servers was made to Lotus Notes and Microsoft Internet Information Server while budgets were cut resulting in an unaffordability of upgrading everything to Windows 2000 — but they did have UNICODE, which they seemed particularly excited about. Also, it looked like the search facilities were so bad different parts of the Organization were desperately contacting Google to help sort things out. Google joined the list of registered vendors on 4 December 2002 with the vendor-id 20049. Microsoft has the vendor-id 52.

So there’s evidence of a total internal electronic rot of the Organization by an early penetration by Microsoft, just as there has been of the UK government. The signs are always present: when IT strategies go backwards fast and suddenly all the money gets drained out of the coffers. They must have a very good sales force in there, able to butter up highly skilled diplomats who apparently lack the ability to recognize a facade over a tactical lack of technical competence that results in a predictably desperate vendor lock-in, thus resulting in tens of billions of dollars of personal money going to the owner of the company from all corners of the victimized economy to the detriment of a class of people who can actually program stuff and can’t get work, and an almost insignificant fraction of the pocket cash being recycled into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which then gets lauded in speeches in the General Assembly repeatedly, like it doesn’t matter why the Organisation’s IT strategy is simultaneously going broke. Of course, the guy could have given a discount on his software products (marginal cost: $0.00 — but how would you become a billionaire if you did things like that?), or advised them to go open source. After all, he knows the technical arguments.

In 2007 the Organization recognized the need for a content management system:

The Department has been working closely with the Information Technology Services Division of the Department of Management on the prospect of a web content management system. Such a solution, however, is still long term. In the meantime, a short-term solution, such as the use of open source content management system, is being considered. Such an effort would facilitate institutional branding and easier content management.

Somehow misses the point of open source: that you take it, and its yours forever, not just for the license period. And you can adapt it, and you can bring on board a community of developers who often volunteer their services in return for interesting and worthwhile things to do, of which the United Nations has much to offer.

Do you think the UN will ever find a use for having all their recent parliamentary transcripts in HTML form? Maybe? They could always drop me an email. Or perhaps there’s that pressing engagement with the Microsoft representative in that fancy high-class New York restaurant far away from this boring nitty-gritty of structured HTML code as possible. Who knows? There’s all this talk of supporting this civil society. Maybe it just refers to people who can hold their knife and fork straight.

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008 at 10:08 am - - UN, Whipping

More time wikipedia-ing UN information. I dipped into a recent Security Council transcripts where there is a satisfying whinge from the ambassador of Costa Rica about just what a stitch-up these resolutions are among the “Group of Friends” (their code name for the Permanent Five):

It is especially difficult for Costa Rica to understand the opposition to including a reference to the human rights component in the text of the draft resolution. During the negotiation process, we proposed two options for incorporating such a reference. Today, to our surprise, the representative of the Russian Federation threatened to exercise a technical veto of any reference to human rights, despite the fact that the issue of human rights is the object of mutual accusations made by both parties, that it has been raised in consultations by various delegations, and that several references are made to it in the reports of the Secretary-General. In his most recent report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself refers to the United Nations duty to uphold human rights standards in all its operations, including in Western Sahara, and to the need to coordinate action in that sphere.

Costa Rica cannot understand the reasons that have been put forward for rejecting a specific reference to the framework of international law when we are calling on the parties to assume a realistic position in the negotiations, nor do we understand the fact that the Group of Friends should sideline the members of the Security Council in the preparation of the texts of draft resolutions and in the building of consensus. In this case, just a week ago the Group of Friends provided us with the text on which we are about to vote and in which my delegation continued to insist that some of its amendments be included.

I did far too much digging back and this incident boiled down to one line in the Wikipedia MINURSO page. The problem is that all the resolutions relating to the UN intervention in Western Sahara appear to tilt towards the Moroccan government, and are cleansed of all references to human rights, which means that the UN is blocked from doing anything about it. So to the outside world they look incompetant, when they are merely working in a framework set out by the major five nuclear armed states (the Permanent Five). I’d like the citizens of those countries to know that.

Also, all the code has been moved to be under the GNU Affero General Public License, due to the recognition that the General Public License is practically obsolete in relation to server side software which you can interact with on someone else’s computer through the all-pervasive internet, yet not have any access to the source code of because you never touch the compiled code.

Also, the General Assembly is finally publishing some post-December transcripts. I hadn’t noticed because the parser ran cleanly without an error.

Friday, March 21st, 2008 at 5:32 pm - - Cave, UN, Whipping 2 Comments »

I’m late for a machining blog posting about z-slicing, but have put in so much effort into hacking that code around (to be able to use multiple tools) that I don’t have the interest.

Meanwhile I’m being hauled off for a week of caving in northern Spain on Sunday. And the following week I am helping with “delivering the deliverables” web-related in some place in the Lake District, which will be more interesting to talk about when done. Have showed this idea to a lot of people, and I can defend it as not being completely crap.

I went caving a couple of weeks ago down Cripple Creek in Ireby Fell Cavern. Got very bruised. It was too tight and I did most if it with my oversuit off so I didn’t get trapped. All I came back with was that one photo of helictites on the wikipedia page, because my torch for the camera turned out to be flat.

If you want a claustrophobic listening experience, go to In Living Memory in the next 4 days to hear the broadcast about the Mossdale Caverns disaster. Quite a show.

(more…)

Thursday, March 13th, 2008 at 12:23 pm - - UN, Whipping 6 Comments »

Uh-oh. An article in the Guardian showed up today with my name in it.

[Update: The words I misattributed to myself in the article were by Stefan Megdalinski (note spelling). The UN does in fact televize itself, because this is easy to do, but it's like CCTV footage -- needs editing for highlights. Contributions are needed specifically to redo the website (including its features) which I hacked in a hurry. This would give me time and inclination to get back to the parser.]

I completed the “laborious” work of getting the General Assembly meeting 75 and meeting 76 of Session 62 scraped and parsed this morning. Unlike the Security Council reports, which come on-line within hours, the General Assembly transcripts are always months late; these ones represent the afternoon and morning sessions for 17-18 December 2007.

It’s taken an unusual couple of hours to push it through onto the web-page, because I have a very temperamental parser that is able to pick out the most extra-ordinarily obscure and completely invisible problems in this pair of very complicated days involving 34 recorded votes.

Problems included:

Strange characters

For example, the highlight on page 2 of A-62-PV.76 looks like “A/C.2/62/INF/1″, doesn’t it? But go into the third page of the corresponding PDF file and try to copy-and-paste that symbol, and you’ll find it’s not a “C”. In some word-processors it shows up as a slightly different “C”-shaped object, while in others it just gets a “?” or nothing. A unicode detective could track down this blemish about where it has come from. Maybe it’s a symbol available on the Khmer version of Word which, idiotically, inserted itself into a word-completion, and then the symbol was copy-and-pasted from one email to the next by secretaries in an unbroken chain until it wound up in this document. It is almost certain that I am the only person in the world to find it a problem, because everywhere else this reference is dereferenced it’s done by the human eye.

Now, wouldn’t it be much more convenient if there were hyperlinks within the on-line versions of the documents themselves?

Unexplained misspellings

Right in the middle of this vote, I get “Marwill Islands”. Obviously this is meant to be the “Marshall Islands”. But before you think about how explicable this typo is in relation to the layout on the qwerty keyboard, ask why would these country names be typed in anyway? The whole voting procedure is conducted electronically using buttons and a big board full of lights (see the transcript of a cock-up involving that system from 12 December 1995), so how hard would it be for the system to email an electronic page of the votes all laid out properly in which country names are either never be misspelt, or always misspelt the same way every single time?

Either the procedure in the UN is to retype the entire list of votes for the transcripts — a job which could take days of unnecessary work — or someone has got to explain how mistakes like this can happen?

Indentation problems

It’s important to be strict about where the new paragraph lies because when it says A recorded vote was taken, those are not the final words at the end of the previous person’s speech. It’s a signal to engage the vote parser. In the PDF file you sometimes get an actual line indentation (it starts on pixel 504 rather than 468), or the line starts on pixel 468 and they add 2 spaces to indent it! Looks the same to the eye, but not to the computer.

Voting corrections

Oh, and finally when you have a hard day of voting like this, there are dozens of cock-ups, which manifest as:

[Subsequently, the delegations of Bolivia, Burkina Faso and the Sudan advised the Secretariat that they had intended to vote in favour; the delegation of the United States of America advised the Secretariat that it indented to vote against.]

In spite of dozens of variations of these words, and countries containing several words, (sometimes with an “and” in their name just to ruin the nth version of the software from working), this “advice to the Secretariat” is so common it can’t be done by hand and has needed a special program.

Results

So, what does this mean? Lots of votes means lots of information. What’s happening is that the resolutions discussed in the Special Committees are all coming to the floor of the General Assembly in a stream to receive their general votes.

Session 62 Meeting 75 begins with agreements by consensus on Assistance on mine action, Effects of atomic radiation, and International cooperation in the peaceful uses of outer space — these generally schedule what the United Nations is going to do on these topics (usually conduct more studies and write more reports).

That last one was something about the Registration Convention. Where are all the space law nerds when you need them? I had to start that Wikipedia page myself. Don’t you think it’s cool that every space object will now have its own web page?

The next resolution took a vote to extend the mandate of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. Nauru, an island state in the Pacific with probably the least interest in this issue of anywhere in the world outside of Antarctica, voted against. Sometimes you wonder whether these smallest states haven’t outsourced their Ambassadorial services to some random New York lawyer firm.

And so it goes on for another dozen votes, with Pacific island states taking a suspicious interest in the Palestinian question. You can look through that yourself.

The meeting for 18 December 2007 does more refugees and tonnes more resolutions about women, all adopted by consensus.

But as usual, when it comes to Children’s Rights, that’s just a step too far for the United States, and they are the only country in the world to vote against. After all, young people are there to be ripped off and forced into debt before they grow old and wise enough to spot this unmitigated, miserable, cruel, mindless trap we, the older generations, lay form them embodied within the entire financial system, because we know that they come into this world penniless and with a naive sense of justice and fair-play that can be abused starting with their first bank-loan.

However, when it comes to the “Use of mercenaries”, everyone in Europe is against restricting that. (Note, the actual text of that resolution can be found here.)

The objectors to a “Moratorium on the use of the death penalty” have a non-European flavour.

“Periodic and geniune elections” has 13 abstainers on the “fifth preambular paragraph”. I think they mean this one.

And so on with a lot of other divided votes on issues throughout the day. But I ran out of time for this today long ago.