“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968


Sunday, 30 January 2011

29th? It could have been worse.

Those old cynics who thought that the student anti-cuts protest would by now be reduced to the usual boring marches policed by teachers pet stewards might have been wrong after all. Although yesterday's demo had nothing like the air of rebellion about it of last year's outings, there was still a lot of spontaneity with groups going off and doing their own thing and generally trying it on.
I ended up walking from Aldwych to Millbank and then on to the Egyptian Embassy via Pimlico and Hyde Park Corner; all at a cracking pace that kept the police on the hop. Outside the Park Lane Hilton a smallish gathering of Hizb Ut-Tahir were calling for the return of the caliphate. Apparently this Islamist group had turned up earlier at the Egyptian Embassy to join the secular Egyptians demonstrating outside and promptly been told,"thanks but no thanks". Small self imposed kettles are not that unusual but Hizb Ut-Tahir actually had two - one for the blokes and another for girls. On a more optimistic note, when I am handed leaflets I usually shove them in my pocket to read later when I get home and find my reading glasses. When I did that this morningI found that I had been given an interesting read by a group I've never heard of called Freeschool. Up until yesterday I'd never heard of Hizb Ut-Tahir either!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

If I had known it was going to be spontaneous I'd have prepared better.

It is in the nature of rebellion that, for want of a better way of putting it, you never know when it will kick off. That seems to me to be a very satisfactory thing because it is at that moment, when both the state and the self proclaimed "left experts" are caught on the hop and before the movement can be crushed by the one or recuperated by the other, it is then that everything is possible.
How nice to see the loathsome Muslim Brotherhood caught napping in Egypt; and how amusing to watch the various left groups desperately trying to clamber over the tailboard of the student protest wagon in this country. When Paris erupted in '68 not only were the Trotskyist and Maoist groupscules left scratching their heads but so also were the anarchists, and yes the situationist too. That's nothing to be ashamed of. We are not supposed to be some kind of political clairvoyants and neither should we start to panic if people take to the streets without having read the relevant texts. During last years student protests I think that anarchists and other libertarians had exactly the right idea in getting involved, helping where possible and standing shoulder to shoulder with the kids. This was in stark contrast to some left groups who seemed quite oblivious to anything but setting up a trestle table and shifting the odd copy of their paper. Making my way through Trafalgar Square on one demo, I found one dear soul standing behind her table of literature in a full blizzard.
There is a time and a place for selling books and papers but the middle of a running battle is probably not it. On the run up to Christmas last year it was obvious that young people were very capable of standing up for themselves against the state and that being armed with a 101 interesting facts about Krondstadt, or mine or anyone else's ideas on how to proceed, would probably not have helped.
Well, I'm off into town now. Who knows what the day will hold. Good luck all.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Fears about woodland sell off are well justified.

Campaigning groups such as 38 Degrees are right to be concerned about government plans to sell off Forestry Commission land to the private sector. Properly managed woodland is a carbon sink, a sustainable source of timber, wildlife habitat and an invaluable leisure facility. It's not charities such as the Woodland Trust that I'm worried about and we also need not be bothered about the odd individual or groups who want to own and manage their own small piece of woodland as hobby foresters; with or without yurt.
It's all very well for the coalition to offer bland reassurances about the protection of public access but that is not the point. No, what should concern us is the fact that yet another strategic asset will be sold off to the highest bidder; be they hedge funds or Saudi princes.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Posh And Posher.

Unsurprisingly I have never been a big fan of former Thatcher sycophant and leading Murdoch scribe Andrew Neil. None the less I am looking foreward to his BBC 2 documentary Posh And Posher tonight. Neil's central argument is that the elite in government, business and the media are coming from an increasingly narrow strata of society summed up as "public school and Oxbridge" and that these days it would be much more difficult for someone of his own supposedly humble background to rise to editorship of one of Murdoch's flagship titles. That may well be true but the question remains - should I give a fuck? Looking at a youngster today from a working class family, of course I want them to achieve their full potential and recognize that the dice are loaded against them and that this is unfair and wrong. My problem is that nothing in life has led me to believe that proles who make it to the top are one jot better than the bosses who were to the manner (or manor) born. If you are the shit of history but "started out with nothing" , you remain the shit of history in my book.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Some of my best friends are fairyists but ........

I think that it was The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy author Douglas Adams who said words to the effect that the garden was beautiful enough without having to believe that there were fairies at the bottom of it. Not that I have anything against believers in fairies even if it is clearly a lot of nonsense. The trouble is that the fairyists never want to just leave it at that. They always try to convince us that certain members of their fraternity have been in direct contact with the fairies and that they have an important message about how we should conduct our lives. The message always seems to involve sexual behaviour, the subjugation of women and the importance of recognizing the need for a social and economic elite. Funny that. Recently the chairman of the Conservative Party has been whining about the bigotry of the chattering classes who apparently have taken to slagging off one particular brand of fairy believers over the port and stilton. A more informed, and less bigoted, look at the relevance of the fairies at the bottom of all our gardens can be found in the current Shift magazine.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Riot? What riot?

Have you ever noticed how if something is repeated often enough it becomes accepted as the truth regardless of it's validity. We could all think of examples of how the media can manipulate reality and keep on churning out their version of particular events until that version is just a given and a peg that all kinds of other stuff can hang from. In other words, part of the historical background that we use to form our view of the world. I have noticed this recently regarding the G20 protest. The media, and the BBC in particular, have taken to referring to "the G20 riot". The only people rioting that day were the police who cynically psyched up by their superiors behaved in an aggressive and spiteful manner from the start. The day ended with the tragic death of Ian Tomlinson at the hands of the police and the totally unwarranted battering of young climate campers. If ever the old media cliche of "rent a mob" was justified it was that day - but the mob was uniformed and funded by the taxpayer.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Save Our Lollipops.

Is nothing sacred? Not content with the virtual privatisation of the NHS, abolition of the EMA and the pauperisation of huge numbers of people, the government cuts may now result in the disappearance of one of our best loved institutions - The Lollipop Lady. It's a step too far I tell you. Up with this we will not put.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Health And Efficiency and the interconnectedness of all things.

Difficult one this. I'm not sure if I want to go and see a film celebrating the rise of Facebook or one about a royal speech impediment. I might just not bother but spend the time meditating on the interconnectedness of all things. Take for example my latest adventure in cyberspace. I recently mentioned on this blog the old naturist magazine Health And Efficiency. This led me to google H&E only to find that it is still going, although I doubt if it still contains sepia photos of ladies posing naked on some windswept campsite in Norfolk. I am unable to confirm if the modern Health And Efficiency contain any jokes about the dangers involved in naturalists frying sausages either. But, and this is where you will have to concentrate a bit, from here it was but a mouse click away from a very interesting and unusual political manifesto that chimed rather nicely with what Wing Commander Bone was drawing our attention to a while back. Makes you wonder dunnit?

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A future far from certain.

Over the next few months the reality of the government spending cuts will become painfully clear. Increasing inequality and the penetration of the market into every corner of what remains of the public sector will become our daily fare. Big changes in the NHS, education and public transport will take place against a background of rising inflation, stagnant wages and increasing unemployment. You don't need to be one of the great minds to see this far. What is a lot less clear is how we will respond to the new economic scenario. We could be in for some very radical action indeed or we could equally well see a huge national outpouring of indifference to everything except the Royal Wedding allied with some very tough policing against a minority of street protesters. Throwing a fire extinguisher of the roof of a building is an incredibly dangerous and stupid thing to do but one thing we do not need is anymore concerned parents convincing their kids to throw themselves on the mercy of the courts. As Noel Coward probably would not have said - "Don't put your daughter in the dock Mrs Worthington".

Thursday, 13 January 2011

RIP Doctor Death.

I was saddened to hear today of the death of a real 60s character. Paul Lincoln was best known as a very successful wrestling promoter and, as the infamous Doctor Death, one of the best known acts in the 60s wrestling world. Paul was also the owner of the famous 2 i's coffee bar, a noted Soho "face", and Tommy Steels first manager. Later he was to open that most swinging of Swinging London venues; The Cromwellian.

Climate change chaos and Scotland Yard.

Queensland, SriLanka and Brazil are all in the grip of devastating floods. Grain prices have gone through the roof as a result of last years drought. Here in poor old Blighty the seasons are all over the place. I have just seen my first postie in shorts of 2011, the Easter Eggs are in the local Tesco and I am expecting the first cuckoo to be reported in The Times any day now. It's no good asking those climate protesters to sort it out - they are all undercover cops!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

In search of Norman Rockwell we discover the Crown And Greyhound.

As far as I can remember it, career advice at my school consisted of assuming in the first place that the majority of school leavers would go into a factory with the clean and polite lads from the "A" stream perhaps getting an office job. The rest would be hoovered up by what I now know to be the retail sector but used to call "shops". Good at sports? Right, got just the job for you down the local sports shop. Forget all those dreams of turning out for the Orient, you're going to spend the rest of your life flogging jock straps and tennis racquets. Although relegated to the "D" stream I was an avid reader so it was only natural that the appropriate career path for me was behind the counter of the W H Smiths stall on Liverpool Street Station. As it happens the year that I spent there was not an unhappy one. A mainline station was a pretty exciting place for a fifteen year old and there was a huge selection of papers and magazines that I could browse during my breaks. There was a publication for every interest ranging from Fur And Feather (official organ of the fancy mouse breeding fraternity as you ask) to my favourite, Health And Efficiency. Apart from all the British mags we also stocked a wide range of foreign publications and it must have been here that I first came across Saturday Evening Post and the wonderful Norman Rockwell covers. Looking back on it now I'm sure that my impressions of America were largely formed as a result of those paintings and this was the America that I was searching for years later when I visited the country. I know that art critics and the effete arts establishment tend to look down their noses at Rockwell but who cares. To my mind those Saturday Evening Post covers are humorous and warm hearted depictions of ordinary folk for ordinary folk.
The Dulwich Picture Gallery are running an exhibition of Rockwell's work and we treated ourselves to a visit today. Was the man a great artist or a mere popularist illustrator? Search me mate. One thing I do know is that in the middle of posh Dulwich Village is a gem of a pub. The Crown And Greyhound is a Victorian classic with many original features as they say, a good selection of beer and the best value pub lunch that I've had for some time. Check it out if you are over that way.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Financial transparency for all.

We are unlikely to learn details of the huge bonus payments made to top bankers and now we are told that the Royal Family are to become totally exempt from the Freedom Of Information Act. The ruling elite tend to be very touchy about details of their wealth and privilege being revealed. They walk a fine line between wanting to flaunt there wealth on the one hand and being only too aware that if the wool was ever finally removed from the eyes of the great unwashed the doors would burst open and the treasure passed out to the outstretched hands below.
Personally I'm in favour of complete financial transparency for everyone. Just imagine if every single financial reward, every wage, salary, bonus, property deal or trading profit, was out in the open for all to see. Surely only those of us who are ashamed of having an unfairly large slice of the collective cake could possibly object. But wouldn't this be a gross violation of our privacy? I don't think so. Provided we do no harm to others, we have a right to keep private our sex lives, to associate with whoever we choose and to walk freely without let or hindrance from the state; we don't necessarily have a right to keep secret how much of the common wealth we are apportioned Financial transparency is nothing to be afraid of - unless you are afraid of inequality.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Salute our Ashes heroes-but don't forget the rest.

In a world of increasing specialisation where anyone who understands all of the functions on their mobile phone and can tie their own shoelaces is considered to me some kind of Renaissance All Round Man, genuinely multi-talented people are a cause for celebration. Ashes hero Alastair Cook must be the sort of boy that every mum would be proud of. Educated at posh Bedford School as a result of winning a music scholarship, Cook was a gifted musician, did well academically and of course soon showed himself to be an exceptionally talented cricketer. It has been wonderful to watch Cook in the Ashes Series and it would be churlish to take anything away from him, but I can't help thinking of all those thousands of other kids whose potential will never be realised. Kids who, educated at schools where the kind of facilities available at Bedford are almost unimaginable, and without any of Alistair's advantages, will just never shine at anything. This is a loss to the kids themselves of course but also to the rest of society and it's a loss that can only be made worse as the real impact of spending cuts starts to be felt. I fail to understand how the likes of Cameron and Osborne can sleep at night.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Last call for the Orwell Prize.

The closing date for this years Orwell Prize is 19th January. As I have said before, it's hardly the eruption of the marvelous but is an opportunity to get your blogs more widely read and you can take it from me that getting longlisted (let alone shortlisted) really impresses your other half. Come on, give it a punt.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Gut feelings and full bellies.

As much as we might like to think that our opinions are the result of rational enquiry and a measured use of the power of our formidable logic, the truth is that we arrive at our opinions on politics, society and life in general via a far less scientific mish-mash of rationality combined with prejudice and old fashioned "gut feeling". Sometimes things just feel right; or wrong as the case may be. Growing up in the 50s and the last gasp of a colonial empire I was horrified by racism. I didn't know anything about racial theory or black history, truth be told I didn't know much about anything at all, but I just felt that beating down a group of people because they had a different skin colour was just plain wrong. At the same time I was developing an interest in socialism as a result of feeling that something like "fair shares for all" was, well, right I suppose. But gut feelings are no excuse for being misinformed and nowhere is this more apparent than when we talk about food production.
Few of us have any real understanding of where the food on our plate came from or how it was produced, we none the less may have quite strongly held views about how we think it ought to have been produced. This feeling of how we would like our food to be produced is bound up with nostalgia for the traditional English mixed farm and the landscape that went with it. Anyone who doubts this has only to look at the images used by the food industry to promote their products. These images are a million miles away from the high-tech, intensive agriculture that actually provides us with the cheap food that we demand. There is a genuine conflict between the value attached to cheap food and the valued ideas about "nature", landscape and animal welfare that lead to a rejection of the practices that produce that cheap food.
The assumption that only industrialised farming can feed us is being challenged at the Real Farming Conference being held in Oxford at the moment.

The Psychology Of Leadership.

I expect that by nine o clock in the evening most of the people who read this blog will be ordering a last round in the pub before setting out for a hard nights clubbing. However those of you more likely to be making a cup of cocoa and bolting the back door might want to listen to a Radio 4 investigation into the psychology of leadership. Hopefully the program will go beyond looking at the mental plumbing of everyone from Hitler to Ricky Ponting and take a look at the psychological need for leadership as well.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Gaza Youth Manifesto

A New Years message of hope from a part of the world that has not experienced much hope recently.
Nothing I can write could possibly add to the following.

By Gaza Youth Break Out (GYBO)
December 30, 2010
Fuck Hamas. Fuck Israel. Fuck Fatah. Fuck UN. Fuck UNWRA. Fuck USA! We, the youth in Gaza, are so fed up with Israel, Hamas, the occupation, the violations of human rights and the indifference of the international community! We want to scream and break this wall of silence, injustice and indifference like the Israeli F16’s breaking the wall of sound; scream with all the power in our souls in order to release this immense frustration that consumes us because of this fucking situation we live in; we are like lice between two nails living a nightmare inside a nightmare, no room for hope, no space for freedom. We are sick of being caught in this political struggle; sick of coal dark nights with airplanes circling above our homes; sick of innocent farmers getting shot in the buffer zone because they are taking care of their lands; sick of bearded guys walking around with their guns abusing their power, beating up or incarcerating young people demonstrating for what they believe in; sick of the wall of shame that separates us from the rest of our country and keeps us imprisoned in a stamp-sized piece of land; sick of being portrayed as terrorists, homemade fanatics with explosives in our pockets and evil in our eyes; sick of the indifference we meet from the international community, the so-called experts in expressing concerns and drafting resolutions but cowards in enforcing anything they agree on; we are sick and tired of living a shitty life, being kept in jail by Israel, beaten up by Hamas and completely ignored by the rest of the world.
There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30th November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.
We are youth with heavy hearts. We carry in ourselves a heaviness so immense that it makes it difficult to us to enjoy the sunset. How to enjoy it when dark clouds paint the horizon and bleak memories run past our eyes every time we close them? We smile in order to hide the pain. We laugh in order to forget the war. We hope in order not to commit suicide here and now. During the war we got the unmistakable feeling that Israel wanted to erase us from the face of the earth. During the last years Hamas has been doing all they can to control our thoughts, behaviour and aspirations. We are a generation of young people used to face missiles, carrying what seems to be a impossible mission of living a normal and healthy life, and only barely tolerated by a massive organization that has spread in our society as a malicious cancer disease, causing mayhem and effectively killing all living cells, thoughts and dreams on its way as well as paralyzing people with its terror regime. Not to mention the prison we live in, a prison sustained by a so-called democratic country.
History is repeating itself in its most cruel way and nobody seems to care. We are scared. Here in Gaza we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed. We are afraid of living, because every single step we take has to be considered and well-thought, there are limitations everywhere, we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want, sometimes we even cant think what we want because the occupation has occupied our brains and hearts so terrible that it hurts and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!
We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!
We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.
This is the Gazan youth’s manifesto for change!
We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.
We only hope that you – yes, you reading this statement right now! – can support us. In order to find out how, please write on our wall or contact us directly: freegazayouth@hotmail.com
We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace.
FREE GAZA YOUTH!

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Boris Johnson And The Gnomes of Zurich.

Forget about Dave Cam and the Archbish Of Cant, if it's a New Years pronouncement you're looking for Boris Johnson is the boy. Having spent a lot of time warning against the possible mass exodus of bankers to Zurich if so much as a finger is laid on their rightful bonuses, Boris has now had to admit that this threatened migration has not happened. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is due to the financial sector still rolling in it but Boris reckons it should, "come as no surprise to anyone who has had to spend a night in Zurich". Oh! Boris. You are a wag. Such laughs.
Actually I spent a night in Zurich last year and it was not that bad. I stayed at the unusual Hotel Du Theatre in the old town and just yards from the cable car that climbs up to a mountain suburb. There seemed to be a lively gay scene and a noticeable alternative/punk presence. I also seem to remember that a litre of beer and the Swiss equivalent of sausage and bubble almost cost a bankers bonus-or a FIFA backhander eh Boris?.
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