Footage of the Eben Moglen versus Tim O’Reilly Debate

Tim O’Reilly published the video (in Flash Video and Ogg/Theora!) of his debate with Eben Moglen.

Free Software Foundation and Creative Commons

The FSF will endorse GNU/Linux distributions that includ materials released under the CC-BY and CC-BY-SA licenses!

On Mon, Aug 13, 2007 at 03:47:57AM -0400, Dave via RT wrote:
Hi, A discussion has come up on the Gobuntu mailing list (the ‘fully free’ official variant of Ubuntu) regarding Creative Commons licenses. Obviously the non-commercial licenses are non-free, but the cc-by and cc-by-sa licenses are in the spirit of freedom. Since debian-legal is of the opinion they don’t conform to the DFSG, some in the Gobuntu community believe they are non-free. What is the FSF stance of these licenses in the context of a “fully free” GNU/Linux distribution?


We believe they’re free licenses for non-software, and would have no problem endorsing a distribution that included materials released under their terms.

If you have other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

Best regards,

— Brett Smith Licensing Compliance Engineer, Free Software Foundation Please note that I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice.

The price of oil will rise greatly in 2010-2012

International Energy Agency’s latest report says that the price of oil will rise greatly in 2010-2012, confirming the basic idea of peak oil. If the price temporarily falls in 2008-2009, governments will face the tempation to give people a quick fix of cheap gasoline. What they ought to do is increase taxes to provide impetus for conservation, so that the blow won’t hit as hard. Which do you think the US will do?

Emailing that to some friends who are much more focused in their interest in this than I, Stephen Stretton said:

So the oil price is going to go much higher than expected… so we accelerate the technological development of oil shales, tar sands and at over $100/barrel and we will have lots of coal-to-liquids too, and maybe even biofuels…. :((( Of course if oil/gas prices go high enough they might encourage us to switch to electricity, in theory pushing us towards renewables. If we were 10 years ago I would say the only way to solve the problem is to eliminate some safety systems/shielding on nuclear reactors until they become cheaper than coal (and cope with a melt down every 100,000reactor years. Now we have passively safe systems which are safe without expensive multiple backup. But we’re not yet building them on a large enough scale for them to be really cheap. No-one is doing CCS on a large scale yet either. If you have optimistic assumptions about altruism then this is a a crucial technology too. I’m also very pro-solar. I think cheap solar can invalidate the difficult-to-evaluate argument that ‘you can’t deny nuclear to others if you are doing it’. People who have sun can have solar. People who don’t can have nuclear. But sadly coal (for electricity) stands in the way again. There’s lots of coal. We need a electricity technology that’s cheaper than coal IN CHINA… That’s the only way the world can be saved.

A sobering thought.

Poor Seymour Papert

Poor Seymour Papert - I just read about his accident in Vietnam in December last year - hit by a motorcycle and sustaining brain damage - while searching to see if OLPC was in Vietnam, because my sister is travelling out there at the moment. Papert invented Logo, the first programming language I learned, being taught it at school as part of mathematics, and I have fond memories of charging other kids £2 for doing their Logo homework for them in the 9th year, and my teacher being unable to read the code because it was too abstract but when executed output the required result :-) And until the accident was working on the OLPC project.

Motorcycles, eurgh.

The relation and purpose of Debian to Ubuntu to Gobuntu to gNewSense

This is how I understand the relation and purpose of Debian to Ubuntu to Gobuntu to gNewSense. If I’m misinformed I hope you’ll correct me :-)

The Debian system is a “universal” operating system, which means it focuses on software that runs on a very wide range of computers. This is especially useful for legal persons who deeply understand computers, but means it is an unsuitable choice of recommendation for legal persons who have never used any GNU/Linux before. Every aspect of the Debian project’s development is made public and everything is done with free software, but the project distributes non-free software (although its core is totally free) and so cannot be ethically recommended anyway.

The Ubuntu system focuses the Debian system on software for contemporary PCs that most legal persons typically use. It is the most suitable choice of recommendation for potential users who have never used any GNU/Linux before, and is by far the most popular GNU/Linux distribution with existing users, but the project’s development is done with proprietary “Launchpad” software that gives a lot of power to one company (Canonical, the principle sponsor of Ubuntu) and it is distributing more and more non-free software, so it cannot be recommended ethically.

The Gobuntu system focuses the Ubuntu system on being 100% free software, but as a part of Ubuntu the project’s development is done with Launchpad and to recommend Gobuntu is to endorse Ubuntu, so it cannot be recommended ethically.

The gNewSense system rebrands Gobuntu so that the Ubuntu system can be recommended to new users, without endorsing the Ubuntu project directly, and thus its recommendation is ethical. It may also add|remove parts [not] included in Gobuntu.

If you are using a GNU/Linux distribution with all proprietary software included by the distribution project removed, there is no urgent ethical need to use gNewSense, but if you don’t want to go through that effort yourself, installing gNewSense is an easy way to ensure your software freedom.

Since the purpose of gNewSense is for promotion, the graphic and communication design aspects of the project are critically important. Even though the system is technically the same as Ubuntu, potential new users will initally compare gNewSense unfavorably to Ubuntu if their impression, determined by the subcommunication of the visual information design, is not equal.

Right now its basically impossible to recommend gNewSense to new users, because the site’s information design and visual look is so careless.

I attempted to engage Brian and Paul about the graphic design of the project, and they said they had a friend who did what is there, and thanks for the inquiry but they weren’t all that interested in developing it further. I wasn’t sure if this was because my simple first attempts sucked or because they didn’t want to offend their friend by replacing their work or because they really don’t care about visual presentation.

I hope that the presentation will improve in the future though!

Memetic Engineering Explained

Here are some emails to friends I thought may be of interest and worth publishing.

————— Forwarded message —————

Anyway, currently been thinking a lot about design - how certain designs express certain “feelings” (prestige, class, fun, cheapness, etc) through various elements (colour, positioning of elements, typography, etc) and realising I have no idea how this stuff works. Visual identity?

Don’t suppose you’ve studied any of this stuff?

That’s precisely what I’ve been studying :-)

Have flicked through a couple of sourcebook type things which are little more than expensively printed books of screenshots… very little discussion on how to reproduce the effects. Guess it’s aimed at those damn visually-oriented arty types ;)

Yeah there’s LOADS of wankery like that that, all being very expensive ecause of needless frills in the print production like embossed plastic cover material and such.

However, pillage a local design college’s library after reading the HOWTO style stuff below, because once you know the HOWTO stuff, these books are useful to ‘grok’ graphics, by firehosing your mind with ‘great’ design styles that (at least for me) aren’t retained consciously, but subtly inform your design decisions afterwards.

I also pick up old ones that are dirt cheap for the RAS thing mentioned below.

Have you come across anything which gives a nice wordy deconstruction of visual identity design?

The #1 best ever graphic design textbook that isn’t wankery is

Don’t be deceived by the ‘Reading level: Ages 4-8’ listing :-)

Then both of ‘The Non Designers [Design|Type] Book’ by Robin Williams are next.

After that you need to know about colour and the grid. Although this is high on my to-read list - on my desk right here in fact - I’ve still not read it (bought it after doing a workshop a couple of weeks ago, results up on :-) but this seems the best colour book:

For the grid, I can’t recommend any one ‘great’ book, but I browsed a lot of mediocre books’ ‘grid’ sections at my Uni library and found that the ‘alignment’ advice in Williams’ book is a much better explanation of why to use one.

Further into typography, ‘The Elements of Typographic Style’ is also good, although typo-centric and very theoretical in comparison to the rest.

And graphic design always sits in a usabilty context, and “Don’t Make Me Think” by Krug and “Elements of User Experience” bu Jesse James Garrett are gems.

Also “Understanding Comics” by Scott McLoud is awesome; it has the best description of the ‘how ‘natural’ designers learn design’ process I’ve seen, and its not ‘just comics’, its widely applicable to all visual design.

Past that, its about knowing how to get results out of the software.

Also note that ‘good borrow, genius steals’; exploit your Reticular Activation System by thinking about visual identity when out and about, and you’ll start to see it all over the place because graphic design is everywhere.

RAS is mentioned in Getting Things Done; basically you know when you get some random gadget, and then you start noticing LOADS of people with that thing - that’s your RAS system finding relevant stuff for you. ————— End of message —————

————— Forwarded message ————— Here’s bit of information overload for you, some book & paper suggestions about understanding propaganda :-)

(These days I tend to use the term ‘propaganda’ as pre-explained umbrella term for “communications strategy” or “psyops” or “information design” or “marketing” or “public relations”, although these are individual areas of practice in themselves, with varying levels of decency, its all about the same thing: modifying public behavior.)

“Please Understand Me II” - A sound theory of personality is a critical concept for clear thinking about audiences quite different to ourselves. Although all models move towards the same result, PUM2 is the best introduction I’ve found; Socionics, Enneagram, MBTI are other common ones. I’m very unsure about the model of personality this paper uses, their methodology is exemplary of how to put personality theory into practice: (introduction) (full paper) . Also, has some really excellent points about gender roles in relation to technology that is in a similar vein and demonstrates how professionals conceive of this issue.

Psyops is something I haven’t delved too deeply into, but has a lot of beef. etc and my recommend introduction to it is from the guy today behind who has some ‘unpublished’ papers I keep a copy of at (introduction) (full paper).

“Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug and “The non-designers design book” by Robin Williams are good introductions to graphic information design, and are punchy and short :-)

“Made to stick” - nicely introduced by excellent blogger Guy Kawasaki at is a very recently published ‘pop science’ style book that distills the above ‘hard’ psyops stuff into ‘softer’ marketing. is a nice intro to PR, and one of the links is long but nice, now only in the archive -’s_Tale - and I also have “The Century of the Self” documentary series, that goes into Edward Bernays and the history of the PR industry, you can find the torrent in the usual places. ————— End of message —————

Software Freedom Business Initiative

Libervis has a great article that proposes a “Free Software Business Initiative” as a counterpart to the Open Source Initiative, since making free software business-facing was the original admirable goal of the OSI.

I would suggest the term “Software Freedom Business Initiative” instead to avoid the “gratis” ambiguity problem that was also stated as an initiating problem by the OSI, and this phrasing has been championed by the Software Freedom Law Center - - although it was coined by Len Tower on the free software business mailing list the day after the term “open source” was published, in 1998.

The Real Story behind the Cathedral and the Bazaar

Ciaran has an interesting summary of the glibc/libc fork that suggests a prequel story to the famous “Cathedral and the Bazaar” essay. The Linux kernel developers bazaar development didn’t mesh with the cathedral development of the GNU project’s glibc, so they forked off their own libc project. But the glibc version improved and eventually all the GNU/Linux distributions switched back. I actually remember that happening, it was just when I started using GNU/Linux for the first time :-)

Stallman says Linux kernel could upgrade to GPLv3!


Our lawyers think that they can relicense Linux [to GPLv3] if they want to. It is important to do this, to protect the users from tivoization.

I’m loving the gnu-system-discuss mailing list archives!

Inkscape to FontForge tip

Today on the FontForge mailing list, someone asked “if there is a way to scale a glyph to fit it in a bounding box” and George Williams replied with this script, in FontForge’s own scripting language:

cur_bbox = GlyphInfo("BBox") Move(-cur_bbox[0],-cur_bbox[1]) Scale(desired_width/(cur_bbox[2]-cur_bbox[1]), desired_height/(cur_bbox[3]-cur_bbox[1])) Move(desired_x,desired_y)

This is really useful for importing arbitrary SVG shapes drawn in Inkscape into FontForge!

Software Freedom creates Human Freedom

Another cracking Eben Moglen speech, this one at the Plone 2006 conference (exellently annotated transcript, youtube page) that has an off-the-chains introduction to the OLPC, breaks down the opportunity that the free software movement has right now, and the importance of following through and making good on that opportunity.

He also mentions the particularly nasty articles that attacked Richard Stallman with ad hominem and total nonsense, which, at the time of their publication Miles remarked, indicate that software proprietors are genuinely scared of the free software movement. Which is great :-)

Google versus Affero

LWN had an interesting article that mentioned Eben Moglen talking about Affero:

Eben had a fairly strong warning for Google. If the company continues to operate in a secretive way and not contribute back the bulk of its changes, there will be growing pressure for a remedy based on licensing terms. It is really up to that one company, he says, to determine where that aspect of the debate goes in the future.

This is quite distinct from the Eben Moglen Google Tech Talk message, although that deserves rewatching since there appears to be a lot to read between the lines.

Some interesting quotes from the LWN article:

The wish of some (e.g., in the “Affero” license) to extend that definition to include situations not covered by copyright law are likely to end up unenforceable, at best.
The new notion of “propagation” in the most recent draft of the GPL v3 allows the extension of copyleft protection into areas not normally considered by copyright law, by selectively withholding permission to do things which *are* the provenance of copyright. This applies, in particular, to the GPLv3’s patent and anti-DRM provisions, and to the no-more-MS-Novell-deals clause. It might apply equally effectively if “propagation” were defined also to include providing a service to the public based on the covered work. The current GPL v3 draft does not do this; a later version of the Affero licence probably will. If copyright gives holders the right to demand payment per copy or for a licence to prepare derivative works, it certainly gives them the right to impose conditions on the way in which those actions are permitted. Nevertheless I don’t think applying those terms to the GNU body of code would be sufficient to force a company the size of Google to publish its in-house code. I am certain they are very well aware of what code they own and what they have licensed from elsewhere, and of the terms of each and every license. Such a move might be so counterproductive as to move Google from the “free software is a good thing and I’m pleased to contribute even if not all my products are free software” camp into the “FSF are communists who want me to give away my golden goose” camp.

And here’s the meat of the old Affero license:

You are not required to accept this License, since you have not signed it. However, nothing else grants you permission to modify or distribute the Program or its derivative works. These actions are prohibited by law if you do not accept this License. Therefore, by modifying or distributing the Program (or any work based on the Program), you indicate your acceptance of this License to do so, and all its terms and conditions for copying, distributing or modifying the Program or works based on it.

British PsyOps Uncovered In This Weeks Newspapers

This week’s MediaLens report was excellent.

The pan-media comment about Blair’s tight trousers seems to me like a piece of military psyops propaganda, and this MediaLens piece artfully juxtaposes it with the total media silence over Oxfam’s report on how utterly awful life has become for those people thanks to Britain, Inc.

One of the final comments, that “[journalists] are indifferent to the question of whether they act for good or ill” is a key insight in my opinion, and totally underlines why I’ve tried to drop the post-modernist philosophy I was brought up with.

It is so natural for me to think that it doesn’t really matter if I use proprietary software or not, such as if I take on some small job that uses proprietary software, since someone else will just do that job anyway, and my little act of protest is totally insignificant and doesn’t matter, especially as I am helping to advance the free software movement overall.

But that kind of indifference to morality is akin to that of journalists, and as part of being an authentic and happy person, I’m growing to be personally accountable to my own ideas of right and wrong.

Here’s the full MediaLens report:

The Obvious Interpretation In our July 23 alert, ‘From Blair to Brown - The Killing Will Continue,’ we described how the media were working hard to defend the status quo by attempting to distance new prime minister Gordon Brown from Tony Blair and his war crimes. A good example was provided by media coverage of this week’s Bush-Brown summit in Washington. The delicate task was to suggest a subtle but meaningful change in the US-UK “special relationship“, when in fact Brown has shown he is every bit as willing to toe the line of militant US foreign policy as his predecessor. A Guardian leader observed boldly: “A very different British prime minister arrived at Camp David for his first summit with George Bush last night. Unlike Tony Blair, Mr Brown will not swagger around in tight jeans; nor will he be interested in discovering his host’s favourite brand of toothpaste.” (Leader, ‘Brown’s US visit: Sending the right signals,’ The Guardian, July 30, 2007) The Guardian’s editors are suddenly happy to mock Blair now that the goal is to sell Brown as an enlightened liberal progressive. The paper eagerly reeled off allegedly watershed developments from recent weeks: “While still international development secretary, Hilary Benn said in New York that the concept of a war on terror had given strength to terrorists. The phrase was studiously avoided by Mr Brown after the attempted bombings in London and Glasgow airport. Then Mark Malloch Brown declared that Britain and the US would no longer be joined at the hip. Another Foreign Office minister and Brown associate, Douglas Alexander, argued in Washington that multilateral action and soft power would be more important this century than unilateral military action. “The obvious interpretation put on each ministerial speech has been vigorously denied by Downing Street… But the cumulative effect of these signals cannot have been accidental, even if not all of the speeches were pre-approved.” However, the Guardian commented: “Ironically, Mr Brown is instinctively more pro-American than Mr Blair. He has a Washington contacts book that a British ambassador would envy.” The alleged presence of “irony” often indicates the actual presence of fraud. It has often been declared “ironic” that the invasion of Iraq has wrought such suffering when the US intention was to install “democracy”. It is “ironic” that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has defied the best efforts of the US “peacemaker“. In fact it is not at all ironic that the pro-American Brown is distancing himself from American power - the ‘distance’ is a deception. The need for mendacious spin, however - the Guardian’s “obvious interpretation” - is very real. A YouGov poll published in the Daily Telegraph last week (July 27), found that 71 per cent want Brown to “ensure that Britain’s Prime Minister and the US President are no longer ‘joined at the hip’.” (Matthew d’Ancona, ‘You’ll see: Gordon and George will get along just fine,’ Sunday Telegraph, July 29, 2007) As noted above, the phrase was used by Lord Malloch Brown, the Minister for Africa, Asia and the UN, in an interview last month. Gordon Brown’s reaction was significant, as Matthew d’Ancona reported in the Sunday Telegraph: “Lord Malloch Brown seems to have been firmly confined to his grace-and-favour box in the past fortnight. And the PM and David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, have missed no opportunity to make clear that, rogue double-barrelled interviews aside, it is business as usual in the ‘special relationship‘.” (Matthew d’Ancona, ibid) D’Ancona came to close to releasing the propaganda cat from the bag in describing the “PM’s quandary”: “Electoral dynamics require that he appear to distance himself somewhat from the US in general and President Bush in particular, at least to ensure that the words ‘Yo Brown!’ are never uttered. Mr Blair was perceived by British voters as a ‘poodle’. Mr Brown cannot afford to be seen as the Scottish equivalent… The White House is well aware of this, and is quite relaxed about whatever shifts in rhetoric or tone Mr Brown believes are necessary. It is much more important to the Bush administration that the new PM takes tough security measures against jihadi networks in the UK (as he is) than that he continues to use the phrase ‘war on terror‘.” In other words, Brown can say and do what he likes in the cause of deceiving the British people - Washington understands and rests assured that this is for public consumption only. While earnestly analysing the necessary “shifts in rhetoric or tone”, the Guardian editors omitted to mention some obvious facts challenging their “obvious interpretation”. Just days before the Washington summit, Brown announced a proposal to extend pre-charge detention times for terrorism suspects from 28 days to 56 days. In the same week, defence secretary Des Browne announced that Menwith Hill, the listening station on the North York Moors, will be used by the United States for its missile defence system. Brown had earlier committed himself, even before Blair, to renewing Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system, which will deepen co-operation with the US. Brown also last week gave the green light to the construction of two giant aircraft carriers. The carriers will be packed with American Chinook helicopters and American Joint Strike Fighters, establishing yet more ties with the US war machine. Are we to believe that these super-carriers will remain securely anchored in Portsmouth harbour while future US task forces continue to wage their terroristic “war on terror” around the globe? Virtually a lone voice of dissent in the Guardian, George Monbiot declared the obvious: “Like everyone on the left in Britain, I wanted to believe that Gordon Brown’s politics would be more progressive than Tony Blair’s. But as he grovels before the seat of empire, I realise that those of us who demand even a vaguely sane foreign policy will find ourselves in permanent opposition.” (Monbiot, ‘Brown’s contempt for democracy has dragged Britain into a new cold war,’ The Guardian, July 31, 2007) No matter, in the very same edition of the paper, the Guardian editors continued their attempt to distance Brown from Blair‘s legacy: “As presidential compliments rained down on Mr Brown’s head, it began to emerge that the prime minister had got what he wanted. His ministerial frontrunners had established a useful sense of ambiguity, the possibility that a relationship that had been joined at the hip might eventually be severed. Mr Brown then arrives and secures a working relationship, free of sycophancy… the overall effect of this carefully calibrated operation has been to pull the clothes over to Britain’s side of the bed.” (Leader, ‘Camp David: Leaders bond, Iraq splits,’ The Guardian, July 31, 2007) The notion that this might be an illusion carefully orchestrated by London and Washington is conceivable to a journalist in the right-wing Sunday Telegraph (d‘Ancona), but not to the editors of the ‘liberal’ Guardian. A day later, with breathless optimism, the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland boosted the same propaganda. Brown’s words in Washington indicated “a shift not only in the so-called special relationship, but a deeper, strategic rethink in what Brown pointedly does not call ‘the war on terror‘”. (Freedland, ‘More bulldog than poodle, Brown has signalled a new special relationship,’ The Guardian, August 1, 2007) The differences “were even clearer on Iraq“, Freedland alleged, ticking that key box for voters. All in all this amounted to nothing less than “a new philosophy in the conflict against jihadism. Instead of simply installing new regimes in the Muslim world, it seeks to prove itself the moral superior of violent Islamism. That would have enormous implications, invalidating almost every aspect of the ‘war on terror’ as it has so far been conducted, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to the invasion of Iraq itself”. No doubt mainstream journalists could endlessly debate the difference between Blair’s “ethical foreign policy” and Brown’s foreign “philosophy” based on “moral superiority“. Mercifully, Freedland instead provided a moment of light relief when he observed: “A headline in yesterday’s Washington Post declared of Brown: ‘More bulldog than poodle.’ The Brown team would love to see that verdict repeated on every British front page.” And the title of Freedland’s Guardian piece?: “More bulldog than poodle, Brown has signalled a new special relationship.” (Freedland, ibid) Similar messages were broadcast unfailingly across the media spectrum. A Telegraph report was titled, ‘A special relationship redefined - Brown plots own course in Iraq.’ (Graeme Wilson and Toby Harnden, ’A special relationship redefined Brown plots own course in Iraq,’ Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2007) Another Telegraph headline read: ‘Lots of warm words about liberty but no hiding from the cool air Andrew Gimson watches the start of a new “special” relationship.’ (Gimson, Daily Telegraph, July 31, 2007) The prime minister is new, the “special relationship” is new. British citizens forced to choose between a pro-war ’centre-left’ party and a pro-war ’centre-right’ party - with all challenges to this lethal charade subject to bitter and relentless attack by a united media establishment - can therefore rest easy. Unwilling to focus on readily available evidence indicating that policy will remain the same, journalists are forced to obsess over absurd symbols of change. The Financial Times wrote: “But Mr Brown has ensured there are obvious contrasts with his predecessor on this, the first substantive overseas trip of his premiership. Gone is Mr Blair’s casual Camp David attire - the ‘ball-crushingly tight’ trousers described by Sir Christopher Meyer, the former British ambassador to the US.” (Jean Eaglesham, ‘A subtle revision of the special relationship,’ Financial Times, July 31, 2007) The Mirror commented: “One addressed ‘Gordon‘, the other ‘Mr President‘, the nauseating Tony & George act that served Britain so badly went out of the window. This was ballsy politics in a business suit, Brown wisely avoiding the embarrassing ball-crushingly tight corduroys favoured by Tony Blair.” (Kevin Maguire, ‘Gordon’s not a Yankee poodle,’ Mirror, August 1, 2007) The Guardian: “Brown wanted his Washington debut to look nothing like the Bush-Blair love-ins of the past, and he succeeded. Out went the groin-squeezingly tight jeans, in came the suits.” (Freedland, op. cit) The Sunday Telegraph: “The new Prime Minister has asked for a more ‘focused’ and ‘business-like’ atmosphere. You can be sure there will be no ‘ball-crushingly tight dark-blue corduroys’ so memorably described by Christopher Meyer.” (Matthew d’Ancona, op.cit) This may already seem rather weird. But consider that near-identical comments were made right across the press - we counted 14 references to Blair’s “ball-crushingly tight trousers”. Oxfam And Iraq - Absolute Poverty By contrast, we found six mentions in the national UK press of a July 30 Oxfam report on Iraq. This described how 8 million Iraqis - almost a third of the population - are in need of emergency aid. Forty-three per cent are living in “absolute poverty”. Children are suffering the most: malnutrition rates have risen from 19 per cent before the 2003 invasion - a time when Iraq was being crushed by a UN sanctions regime described as “genocidal” by one senior UN diplomat - to 28 per cent now. Some 92 per cent of children show learning difficulties related to psychological trauma. The number of Iraqis without access to adequate water supplies has risen from 50 per cent in 2003 to 70 per cent now. Eighty per cent of Iraqis lack effective sanitation. Most homes in Baghdad and other cities have two hours of electricity a day. (Oxfam, ‘Rising to the humanitarian challenge in Iraq,’ Briefing Paper, July 2007) Health services are “generally in a catastrophic situation in the capital, in the main towns, and across the governorates”. Millions of refugees are often not able to receive treatment at all outside their home area, where they are registered. Of the 180 hospitals countrywide, 90 per cent lack key resources including basic medical and surgical supplies. Médecins Sans Frontières reports that former general hospitals, previously used to referring all but simple emergency cases, “are now performing complex emergency surgery with only the most basic equipment and drugs“. Doctors have had to ask the relatives of injured patients “to search local pharmacies for blood bags, sutures, and infusions before they can start surgery“. One is barely able even to begin to conceive of the level of suffering indicated by this report. Of the six press mentions, the Financial Times devoted 59 words. The Daily Mail devoted 136 words in two pieces. The Guardian devoted 50 words in an editorial, 16 words in a comment piece and 609 words in an article by Jonathan Steele. That makes a total of 870 words across all national UK newspapers. In the entire printed press, Steele’s was the only article specifically focusing on the report. As so often in the past, we find ourselves asking: If this reaction is possible in response to a crime and a catastrophe on this scale, what are the potential limits for our liberal democracy? We have to assume that there are in fact no limits, that our governments are free to kill on any conceivable scale - our media would simply continue turning away from, obfuscating, marginalising and burying the truth. Noam Chomsky recently responded to the argument that the guilt of Western governments is lessened by the fact that they do not intentionally set out to kill civilians in their attacks on Third World countries. Chomsky proposed a case that was “far more depraved than massacring civilians intentionally”: “Namely, knowing that you are massacring them but not doing so intentionally because you don’t regard them as worthy of concern. That is, you don’t even care enough about them to intend to kill them. Thus when I walk down the street, if I stop to think about it I know I’ll probably kill lots of ants, but I don’t intend to kill them, because in my mind they do not even rise to the level where it matters. There are many such examples. To take one of the very minor ones, when Clinton bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical facility in Sudan, he and the other perpetrators surely knew that the bombing would kill civilians (tens of thousands, apparently). But Clinton and associates did not intend to kill them, because by the standards of Western liberal humanitarian racism, they are no more significant than ants. Same in the case of tens of millions of others. “I’ve written about this repeatedly, for example, in [the book] 9/11. And I’ve been intrigued to see how reviewers and commentators… simply cannot even see the comments, let alone comprehend them. Since it’s all pretty obvious, it reveals, again, the remarkable successes of indoctrination under freedom, and the moral depravity and corruption of the dominant intellectual culture.” (Chomsky ZNet blog, ‘Samantha Power, Bush & Terrorism,’ July 31, 2007) It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, for our politicians and journalists, Iraqis really are viewed on a par with insects. Of course almost no one will accept, or believe, that they feel this way. But what else can we conclude from the depth of the silence, from the unwavering indifference year after year? Perhaps the final truth of our media elite is that they are indifferent to the question of whether they act for good or ill, whether they are responsible for mass death. And perhaps this is the ultimately damning indictment of corporate journalism - that the logic of profit and the logic of humanity are completely divorced from one another. There is no space for compassion on the corporate bottom line - it literally has no place, no meaning, no relevance, in a system structured around the twin obsessions of profit and loss. SUGGESTED ACTION The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you decide to write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to Jonathan Freedland Email: Write to Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor Email: Write to Simon Kelner, Independent editor Email: Please send a copy of your emails to us Email: Please do NOT reply to the email address from which this media alert originated. Please instead email us at Email: