Wednesday, December 30, 2009

souvenir of copenhagen

I said I'd do a deeper analysis on Copenhagen, but frankly I've had to get up to speed on the talks and deals retrospectively.

Once the new year shenanigans are out the way I'll write up the stuff I did and saw while there, although I know that's not the important stuff. Stories of frontline troops are interesting, but they're not to be mistaken for being a microcosm of the war, let alone an overview.

Thing is, all the stuff that needs to be said about the talks has been said well by others and I've not much really to add. So go check out a few of them.

If you only read one, read Jess Worth's piece for New Internationalist. She was inside the talks the whole time, and tells the story with characteristic clarity, incisiveness and succinctness.

George Marshall writes about how the strong NGO presence gives the talks a legitimacy that they don't deserve.

Picking through the aftermath and debunking the 'blame China' mantra, Martin Khor writes about the stitch-up by the rich nations that ensured the collapse of the talks.

The accord itself is weak mainly because it does not contain any commitments by the developed countries to cut their emissions in the medium term. Perhaps the reason for this most glaring omission is that the national pledges so far announced amount to only a 11-19% overall reduction by the developed countries by 2020 (compared to 1990), a far cry from the over 40% target demanded by the developing countries and recent science.

To deflect from this great failure on their part, the developed countries tried to inject long-term emission-reduction goals of 50% for the world and 80% for themselves, by 2050 compared to 1990. When this failed to get through the 26-country meeting, some countries, especially the UK, began to blame China for the failure of Copenhagen.

It's expanded upon by George Monbiot

The immediate reason for the failure of the talks can be summarised in two words: Barack Obama. The man elected to put aside childish things proved to be as susceptible to immediate self-interest as any other politician. Just as George Bush did in the approach to the Iraq war, Obama went behind the backs of the UN and most of its member states and assembled a coalition of the willing to strike a deal which outraged the rest of the world. This was then presented to poorer nations without negotiation; either they signed it or they lost the adaptation funds required to help them survive the first few decades of climate breakdown.

The British and American governments have blamed the Chinese government for the failure of the talks. It’s true that the Chinese worked hard to mess them up, but Obama also put Beijing in an impossible position. He demanded concessions while offering nothing. He must have known the importance of not losing face in Chinese politics: his unilateral diplomacy amounted to a demand for self-abasement. My guess is that this was a calculated manoeuvre guaranteed to produce instransigence, whereupon China could be blamed for the outcome he wanted.

And if we couldn't bring home a legally binding treaty commensurate with the science, what souvenirs were there to be had? My favourite was a freebie from Air France. They'd covered thousands of parked bikes with seat covers:

Air France bike seat cover

Good, you are cycling! Going further? Then fly green, fly with Air France - the greenest airline five years in a row.

This is a piece of plastic promoting aviation, pretending to be something that's helping us take climate change seriously. I think it'd have been more appropriate to print it with 'My ruling elite went to Copenhagen and all they got me was this lousy seat cover'.

Monday, December 28, 2009

cool yule

In the words of the bard; it's the season of love and understanding, merry Christmas everyone.

But was Joseph perhaps a little too understanding?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

copenhagen aftermath

Back from Copenhagen, two days of proper sleep and yes, I should do a write up of all I saw. I'll try to get round to that in the next few days, but you know what the festive season can do to your timings and workrate.

From where I was we didn't get much of a handle on the wranglings at the talks, we were out on the streets in demos and actions, for which the police were very well prepared.

The new Danish Police Act is extraordinary. It allows them to encircle a large group of people and cart them off to detain them in big cages for 12 hours. No evidence of anything needed, and it's not even a formal arrest so there's no paper trail that even proves you were arrested, which neatly prevents anyone suing the police after.

Doesn't the European Convention on Human Rights protect people from arbitrary detention? And when those detained are forced to sit in a stress position with their hands tied behind their backs on stone pavements in sub-zero temperatures for hours on end, doesn't this qualify as inhumane treatment?

Anyway, this new I Don't Like Your Face (Or That Of 800 People Near You) Act was used with as much aplomb as their pepper sprays. The batoning of delegates trying to leave the talks to come and join our Reclaim Power demo was another notable illustration of how well prepared and ungiving of a fuck they were.

For the big stuff, well, in essence, the talks were the disaster everyone says. But even the best things suggested before they began weren't enough. We need a deal that matches what the science demands, and a deal that is just, and that was never anywhere near the table.

We are being made the victims of something that has nothing to do with us at all. The industrialised countries caused the problem, but we are suffering the consequences. We are on the front line of climate change through no fault of their own, and it is only fair that people in industrialised nations and industries take responsibility for the actions they are causing. It’s the polluter pays principle – you pollute, you pay

Panapase Nelisoni, Secretary to the Government of Tuvalu, in 'High Tide: News from a Warming World', Mark Lynas, Flamingo, 2004, p97

Thursday, December 10, 2009

a reflexive suspicion of america

The sense of betrayal about Barack Obama's presidency mystifies me. The talk is as if he's somehow not fulfilled the promise, when in fact that's precisely what he's done.

His election campaign included explicit commitments to escalate the war in Afghanistan. And there he stood today, in the week he committed a further 30,000 troops to Afghanistan on top of the 20,000 extra he sent earlier in the year, using his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to justify war.

America led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and a United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide

...said the leader of a country that refuses to be a member of the International Criminal Court that prosecutes individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes

The ideals of liberty and self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced

The Pakistani parliament passed a motion condemning the USA's use of drone attacks in their country - extrajudicial killings that may well constitute a war crime - and the Americans have ignored it and carried on with the attacks.

On Hillary Clinton's recent visit to Pakistan parliamentarians brought it up again, pointing out that it is hard to tell people that America isn't acting as an anti-democratic unilateral bully.

Faisal Saleh Hayat and others were of the opinion US on one side lends support to sustaining democratic order and on the other side it does not respect the resolution adopted by symbol of democracy, Pakistani parliament against drone attacks. That is why concerns prevailing among the people against US were proving correct, they added.

Can you imagine American public feeling if there were Pakistani drone attacks on US soil? But it's different in Pakistan, it's just what Obama calls

a reflexive suspicion of America

How could anyone doubt America's nobility, he wondered.

The United States of America has helped underwrite global security

...said the leader of the world's largest arms exporter.

His wars are different, he explained. They are waging 'just war'. Such a war is marked by a number of distinguishing characteristics. For instance,

whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.

Cluster bombs are small 'bomblets' scattered from a single bomb. They have a high non-detonation rate, and can lie around for years until disturbed, frequently by children picking up such a peculiar object. The USA, though, refuses to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

He singled out the need for those with high moral fibre and a commitment to equality to stand up for right in a world where there are

failed states like Somalia

Somalia is the one of the two countries on earth that have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The other is the United States of America.

Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. And even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules, I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight.

...said the leader of a country that - in the minority again - hasn't signed the treaty banning another great killer of post-conflict civilians, anti-personnel landmines.

At the other end of the weapons scale, he spoke of the most terrifying military hardware yet invented.

In the middle of the last century, nations agreed to be bound by a treaty whose bargain is clear: All will have access to peaceful nuclear power; those without nuclear weapons will forsake them; and those with nuclear weapons will work towards disarmament. I am committed to upholding this treaty. It is a centerpiece of my foreign policy. And I'm working with President Medvedev to reduce America and Russia's nuclear stockpiles.

But it is also incumbent upon all of us to insist that nations like Iran and North Korea do not game the system. Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted. Those who care for their own security cannot ignore the danger of an arms race in the Middle East or East Asia. Those who seek peace cannot stand idly by as nations arm themselves for nuclear war.

One country in the Middle East has already got nuclear weapons: Israel. What sanctions does the Obama administration impose? None, it stands idly by, and indeed rewards them with billions of dollars a year in military aid.

His deafening silence echoes through his response to the UK breaking the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by promising to replace Trident.

Deciding to give him a prize for achievement less than a fortnight into his presidency was a little ahead of itself, but it was simply stupid to dish out a prize for peace to someone who, even then at the outset, was pledged to expand and intensify war, whose office inevitably involves waging war and who, were the standards of the Nuremburg Trials applied, would be hanged.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

coping with copenhagen

The Copenhagen climate talks are underway, and there's going to be a hell of lot going on to keep track of. Not only the twists and turns of the inevitably bad deal discussed among delegates, but what's happening outside too.

I'll be there, but even if I can find interweb access I may well have other priorities than blogging, so here's a few pointers to keep you tuned in.

At the start of this year Danny Chivers wrote a round-up of what's on the table at Copenhagen that covers the basics.

The BBC's Richard Black is already several posts in to his series covering the details of what's going on inside the negotiations.

As if the process weren't already slanted by the disproportionate power of the high-emitter countries and the vast armies of corporate lobbyists, it turns out there's been a behind-closed-doors deal that would leave citizens of wealthy nations with double the 2050 carbon allowance of poor people.

So let's be clear. We owe a carbon debt. Our wealth has largely been accrued by activities that are unjust and/or high carbon. This is not just about cutting emissions. This is about justice.

There's an array of action going off during the talks under the umbrella of Climate Justice Action whose declaration explains:

On the 16th of December, at the start of the high-level ‘ministerial’ phase of the two-week summit, we, the movements for global justice, will take over the conference for one day and transform it into a People’s Summit for Climate Justice.

Using only the force of our bodies to achieve our goal, our Reclaim Power! march will push into the conference area and enter the building, disrupt the sessions and use the space to talk about our agenda, an agenda from below, an agenda of climate justice, of real solutions against their false ones.

Our action is one of civil disobedience: we will overcome any physical barriers that stand in our way – but we will not respond with violence if the police try to escalate the situation.

Our goal is not to shut down the entire summit. But this day will be ours, it will be the day we speak for ourselves and set the agenda: climate justice now! We cannot trust the market with our future, nor put our faith in unsafe, unproven and unsustainable technologies. We know that on a finite planet, it is impossible to have infinite growth – ‘green’ or otherwise.

Instead of trying to fix a destructive system, we are advancing alternatives that provide real and just solutions to the climate crisis: leaving fossil fuels in the ground; reasserting peoples’ and community control over resources; relocalising food production; reducing overconsumption, particularly in the North; recognising the ecological and climate debt owed to the peoples of the South and making reparations; and respecting indigenous and forest peoples’ rights.

The Climate Justice Chronicle is being published every other day during the Copenhagen climate talks. The first issue has an editorial on what's at stake, something from Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, an article on the problems of the population and climate discourse, a piece from one of the Bolivian delegates to the talks and a short summary of recent climate activism in the UK and South Africa. Download it from here.

New Internationalist's editor Jess Worth will be blogging from Copenhagen too. The current issue of NI focuses on Copenhagen, and the article In Our Hands talks of the real promise of the talks; the meeting and binding of those of us outside into a coherent force.

The governments have known what's going on better than us for longer than us, yet still they refuse to bend to the demands of the science, let alone of justice. Copenhagen is where they prove once more their utter ineptitude, their complete inability to act as the situation requires.

As the urgency intensifies, we need a stronger network of grassroots action to create change. Copenhagen will be host to thousands of activists from around the world; it promises to be the birth of the truly global climate movement.

Friday, December 04, 2009

elementary canals


I recently spent time on a narrowboat and, as a relative newcomer, was captivated by every aspect of the experience.


Although artificial waterways have been with us for millennia - there's still a navigable part of the English canal system that was dug by the Romans - it was the industrial revolution that saw the great boom in their construction.

Actually, it was more of a symbiosis. Canals came early in the revolution, mostly in the century starting in 1750, and the ability to move huge amounts of goods reliably allowed many industries to take off. A horse pulling a narrowboat can pull up to fifty times as much as a horse pulling a cart.

Additionally, it allowed stability. How could Staffordshire potteries ship their goods by bumpy cart on rocky roads? They were, unsurprisingly, among the first to invest in the new waterways.

One of the first big canals, the Bridgewater, connected coalfields with a town of 25,000 called Manchester. It halved the price of coal there at a stroke. Where would you have chosen to build your new mill then? Imagine if, say, Southport suddenly had half price gas and electricity today. It is no coincidence that Manchester became the world's first industrial city.

Incidentally, the standard size of today's narrowboats is due to a system built for the Duke of Bridgewater, 70 feet by 6 feet 10 inches, designed for the system in his mines three hundred years ago.

The railways knocked canals out of favour being markedly faster (the five hours it took me to go on the canal from Sowerby Bridge to Brighouse is covered by a train in less than ten minutes). The railways not only work at speed, they don't freeze over either.

The last major stretch of canal was built in the early 1900s, and within a couple of decades numerous canals were falling into disrepair.

In the mid-20th century the end of commercial boats (some, even that late, still drawn by horses after 150 years) overlapped with the abandoning of many stretches, but also the fledgling pleasure boaters as documented in LTC Rolt's 1944 book Narrow Boat. He was a founder of the Inland Waterways Association who, to this day, do an energetic job of preserving and restoring canals.

The network was nationalised by the great socialist postwar government, which made non-commercial concerns get a look-in, but also allowed sweeping detrimental policy to be applied. Today, there's over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways in the UK and more boats using them than at the height of their industrial past.

That's all well and good, but why would you do that? What's the attraction?


From a purely practical perspective, I'm sure the freedom in simplicity and safety are some small part of the allure. The buoyancy of the water that made it so easy for horses also means that minor prangs aren't a big deal as you bounce off. Additionally, that slow speed means it's hard to do any real damage. This adds up to a mode of transport so easy and safe that complete novices are allowed to hire and drive one away.

But the real appeal is in what's outside the boat and what's inside you.

The canal and navigable waterways network doesn't show you a manicured version of the land, but instead shows you what's really there. You get to see all that makes up England as it really is. The towns, cities, farms, hills, suburbs, visible to you up close from an angle that isn't trying to show off.

It's something that LTC Rolt noted in his somewhat harsh depiction of Leicester.

The River Soar is Leicester's back door and, as back doors are apt to do, it reveals 'domestic offices' which usually remain discreetly hidden from the eyes of visitors.

Broad squares and pretentious public buildings proclaim the city's prosperity to the traveller by road, but the water-borne traveller sees a very different picture. This is no less than the ugliness and squalor which underlie the superficial pomp and circumstance of all great cities.

We saw the reeking gas works, mountainous refuse dumps, the power-station with its gigantic steam-capped cooling towers, great mills pulsating with machinery rising sheer from the water's edge and, above all, the countless mean streets where dwelt the servants of these monsters.

Whilst the system certainly does wriggle peculiar routes through some of the mingiest parts of the country - I'm looking at you, Stoke on Trent - it mostly moves through glorious rural places. The Macclesfield canal's soft fecund contours, the epic expanse around the navigable Trent, the imposing Pennine grandeur of great stretches of the Rochdale canal.

Nearer than the surrounding landscape, the constant close proximity to wildlife places you amidst the outside world instead of looking at it from a removed position as one does in other modes of transport or places to stay.

You can go for weeks at a time away from much that blights modern life. I don't just mean the obvious assault of billboards, sirens and smoothflow beers. There's something subtler. There are only two types of people you see. Firstly, there are the other boaters, with whom - as with hillwalkers seeing each other upon the fells - there's considerable cameraderie.

The second group are on land, using the towpath as a linear park. These are all dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, meaning it's quite possible for weeks to go by and you forget obesity exists. The towpath folks greet you as readily as any fellow boater.

You are actively acknowledged by the vast majority of people you see, breaking down the armoured alienation that mass society imposes.

Being acknowledged by your fellow humans isn't the only return to a life that your primal self recognises. Pootling at 4mph under stone arch bridges dappled with water reflection like the video for True, you realise that it's not just what you see, it's the way that you see it.

You develop a sense of wonder at the detail of life. You begin to realise just how important detail is... 4mph is walking pace, and that walking pace is the speed at which the human brain can absorb and analyse the myriad of minute details around it. On a canal boat, wandering somewhat aimlessly around the countryside, you soon begin to realise that it's the sum of these details that compose the nature of the place you are in.

- Steve Haywood, Narrowboat Dreams

LTC Rolt notes this element connecting with a place so deep that his description reads in a romantic swoon.

No-one who has not experienced it can fully appreciate the unfading fascination of this tranquil voyaging. The movement of the narrow-boat is like nothing else in the world; as Temple Thurston wrote, 'it is no motion, or it is motion asleep'.

Small wonder that everyone who spends even half a day aboard a narrowboat feels, as I've become, eternally smitten.

Narrowboat moored

Monday, November 30, 2009

burying heads in the sandbag

The other week I was at Shared Planet, the annual chinwag for People And Planet people.

It's always a really effervescent occasion, with radical student politics there's very little of the overload factor that tarnishes gatherings of old 'uns. Greying anarchists have already read too much political literature, so somewhere in them is a mechanism trying to discount anything new to think about. With students like People and Planet, their political foundations are still setting, so there's a genuine curiosity, an enthusiasm for really getting to grips with ideas and thinking through them from all possible angles.

Anyway, there was one workshop that's really stuck with me. It was someone from environmental organisation Sandbag talking about how we can use carbon trading to make the necessary carbon cuts we need. The thrust of her argument was, essentially, that because carbon trading exists and is favoured by high-carbon industries, it's too powerful to defeat so we need to try to make them make it a bit more effective. Effective at all would be a start.

I came out with such a strong set of responses that the written splurge has become and article for U-Know. I'm starting to see a pattern; twice before a similar thing has happened. Seeing LibDem environment weasel Chris Huhne speaking led to a piece whose working title was 'Chris Huhne Fuck Off', followed at the beginning of this year by one with the working title 'Hilary Benn Fuck Off'.

This one, though, was never 'Sandbag Fuck Off'. Unlike Huhne and Benn, Sandbag are not devious liars. They are clearly nobly motivated people of integrity. Just like the advocates of carbon offsets and agrofuels were several years ago before we'd all joined the thinking up.

Sandbag's acceptance of emissions trading - a system designed to avoid serious cuts, in large part because it's designed by the industries who don't want to cut emissions - is a commitment to failure and injustice.

The article's just been published on U-Know, and it's called Burying Heads in the Sandbag: Helping the Market Bring Climate Catastrophe.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

increasing intensity

Three weeks ago I pointed out that accepting China's cuts in 'carbon intensity' rather than carbon emissions was useless.

It doesn't matter if you reduce the amount of carbon emitted per unit of activity if you then go and do a shitload more activity. It will still mean your total emissions will go up, and total emissions are all the climate's counting.

But a society predicated on infinite economic growth dare not cut its industrial activity. It would rather have - and with the move to 'carbon intensity' is actively choosing - a commitment to climate change, with all the long term death and destruction that will bring.

Having not called China out for this sleight of hand, we've made it an acceptable option. Today it's been reported that India is coming to the table talking of 'carbon intensity' cuts.

The growth economy will always choose the most profitable route, not the responsible one. Unless it happens to be the same, which, for fairly obvious reasons, it very rarely is. By allowing this shift to 'carbon intensity' we hand victory to the short-term profits of carbon emitters. It follows another rule of the profit-primary world, that the rich shall always take precedence over the poor.

it's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit
Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chairman

Thursday, November 26, 2009

carbon numbers and mind games

Big whoop over Obama promising carbon cuts of 17%. After all, it sounds quite close to the EU's 20% and Japan's 25%, right?

Except the question is, 17% of what?

The EU, Japan, and pretty much everyone else uses 1990 level of emissions, the benchmark set by the Kyoto treaty. Obama's using 2005 as his starting point.

That figure of 17 percent crops up elsewhere. US emissions rose by around 17 percent from 1990 to 2005. In other words, by the standard of the cuts everyone else is talking about, the US is offering no cuts at all. And certainly, it is far, far short of what the science demands of us if we're to avoid runaway climate change.

Everyone's so desperate to have the Americans on board that we'll allow all kinds of twists and exceptions, just as at Kyoto we allowed them to introduce the Clean Development Mechanism, a massive carbon offsetting scheme that castrated the treaty.

Weirdly, as the evidence overwhelms and the situation becomes more urgent, the number of Americans who accept the fact of climate change is decreasing. (It could well be true elsewhere too, and if anyone's got links to any polls I'd love to see them).

This is possibly because, as George Monbiot suggests, there is a deep flaw in the human psyche in response to what are perceived as extreme and unalterable bad events. The first part of grief is denial.

could it be that the rapid growth of climate change denial over the past two years is actually a response to the hardening of scientific evidence? If so, how the hell do we confront it?

It could also be that, as American legislation has loomed larger, the deniers have upped their game. The survey Monbiot cites shows a sharp decrease in American belief in climate change in the last 18 months.

In that time, the number of people who say that there is no evidence that the earth is warming rose from 21 to 33 percent. A new Washington Post poll puts the rise from 18 percent to 26.

Note, this isn't about carbon or any causes of the warming, merely that warming has happened. A simple, established, verified fact. Yet at least a quarter of Americans flatly deny it, and that number is on the rise.

Mind you, 27% of Americans believe in an actual, living Satan.
[35% of American Christians believe in Satan, 78.5% of Americans are Christians]

I say again, this isn't some kind of 'aren't Americans stupid and bad' thing (Obama's non-cut is still ahead of China and Australia's increases), it's just that that's the country we've got figures for, and if anyone's got the equivalents for elsewhere please put a link in the Comments below.


The University of East Anglia's leaked emails have been a great trapdoor for deniers. The same people who were happy for the Great Global Warming Swindle to make up graphs, use discredited and disproven ideas, and have deniers claim academic credentials that don't exist are up in arms about three or four scientists apparently suppressing data.

Not that such action is excusable, quite the opposite. If anybody doing anything important for the public is betraying the trust in their position then they should be exposed. In that respect, for what wrongdoing they did uncover, the hackers did a public service. The whole point of objective science is to find what's actually happening, to move closer to the real truth.

But on the scale of things, it's nothing to what the deniers do. Indeed, the way deniers have exaggerated the meaning and significance of this stuff, pretending that small things debunk the whole field and applying a false understanding of the science, uses a far greater level of crooked thinking than anything in the emails.

In fact, the rubbish response of the UEA can be explained by their scientific outlook as opposed to the deniers tabloid approach, as George Marshall noted

in typical scientist fashion, it seeks to argue the data rationally. The UEA website states that “the selective publication of some stolen emails and other papers taken out of context is mischievous and cannot be considered a genuine attempt to engage with this issue in a responsible way”. Mischievous? Irresponsible? What naughty pixies.

Then the CRU director, Professor Phil Jones focuses on one of quotes: “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years amd from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline”

For the smear campaign it is only those key words trick and hide that count- the rest can be made into anything it wants. Jones ignores this and responds with a detailed technical explanation of the passage with reference to the original graphs. It’s like responding to someone calling you a bastard by showing them your birth certificate.

Marshall shows the notable similarities between the deniers email hack response and the American right's smear campaign against John Kerry when he was George Bush's presidential opponent in 2004, the whole Swift Boat Veterans For Truth thing.

Indeed, it's not that great a stretch to imagine the same people being behind the anti-Kerry and the anti-climate action smear campaigns. Here's Kerry absolutely dismembering a climate denier in a Senate hearing the other week.

It could well be that George Marshall's right, and the hack is part of an effort to emasculate the pending climate legislation. But with Obama's stated targets, they've not that much carbon reduction to worry about.

Friday, November 20, 2009

number ones

Danny Chivers' recent post on A Daisy Through Concrete says

It's getting so you can't type "ranting performance poetry video climate change bespectacled freak" into a search engine without my leering face popping up in front of your startled eyes.

The delicious irony is that, like a serpent eating its own tail or the first chicken coming from its own egg, he's self-fulfilled. If you type "ranting performance poetry video climate change bespectacled freak" into Google it comes up with one result - Danny's post.

A while ago commenters on a post over at Five Chinese Crackers mentioned being number one in Google for "pubs in leeds belgian beer", "Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks grapple fake hookers" and 5CC's own "Paul Dacre's robot arm".

It's something I've brought up in conversation with a couple of bloggers since, and I think it's time to start a meme.

Give me five great things that your blog or websites rank number one in Google searches, then tag five other blogs. Bonus points if you manage to have any sexual content in the phrase, as it's fairly easy to be top of the heap for 'post-marxist dialectics in contemporary radical discourse' than it is for summat like 'fisting shaven catholic teens'.

Bristling Badger's number one for:

"An old man wanking into a sock"
"Caviar enemas"
"Fuck you liberal democrats"
"Baboon in a bucket"

and - a matter of considerable personal pride - I also get number one for Strawberry Switchblade.

What about you;

A Daisy Through Concrete
Chicken Yoghurt
The Quiet Road
Alice In Blogland

Monday, November 16, 2009

bullshit detectors

You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you *reckon* something. So why not tell us what you reckon? Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uniformed, ad-hoc reckon.

Having open-access comments on websites is technically very democratic, except that it allows the quickiest to be heard loudest, and discourages people who don't like being insulted.

George Monbiot lamented the way this fouls discussion, saying that the Guardian environment site is especially bad. I beg to differ. On reading that I went to a random Guardian news article - it was about Michael Jackson's funeral - and found the same level of brazen ignorance and vitriolic venom there. I think perhaps we think comments are worst at the place we read them most.

But the prevalence of climate deniers at the Guardian site made me realise why, conversely, the Daily Mail site often has surprisingly good comments. People go to where they can beat their chests. It is far easier and more pleasing to talk at length about things you dislike than things you like. So, pick the newspaper or columnist most opposed to your perspective and you'll likely be welcomed into the warm bosom of sympathetic commenters there.

Nicholson Baker's fascinating article about Wikipedia talks about vandalism on the site, which is surprisingly low compared to other high-volume open-access sites. Partly it's due to the fact that lots of people are patrolling Wikipedia, but there's something else at work.

Wikipedia's a reference tool, the Guardian is a news site. If you manage to skew the first wave of comments on a news article, you've effectively neutered the ability to debate. Who goes back to a four month old news article to start a discussion? Thus, it's worth the climate deniers while setting up Google news alerts and then rushing to blather loud and long and unintelligibly when something in their sphere of interest is published.

There's no such rush to read a Wikipedia article. Your stupid comment will probably be wiped before many people have seen it, and certainly it won't stand there attracting responses and making you feel important. So, even though Wikipedia is such a popular site, the news services are the main focus for the hard of thinking.

As seekers of knowledge we have a relatively new task. Before the 20th century - arguably up until the internet age - the problem with getting good information was finding where it was. These days, it's right there in front of you, but getting it is about filtering it out from the bullshit.

So, whilst it may appear a bit of an obvious fish/barrel/firearms jamboree to have a blog devoted to stupid things said on the BBC's Have Your Say pages, there's a very profound point being made. It keeps your mind sharp, it reminds you that just because lots of people say something online doesn't mean many people actually think it at all. The blog - newly added to my sidebar - is called Speak You're Branes, named after the segment in the priceless Day Today where a member of the public gives an idiotic vox-pop.

I'm finding that blogs like Speak You're Branes, and the ones like Enemies of Reason and Five Chinese Crackers that take apart newspaper bias and made-upness, are forming a key component of my reading these days. It's almost as if I've got to get some of that attitude on as armour before wading into the news media.

Being able to discern between the various calibres of information presented is the only way we'll make sense of the world. A finely-tuned bullshit detector is the most essential tool of the 21st century.

Friday, November 13, 2009

mootopia is nigh

Bovine terrorism continues. As I mentioned at the time, in June David Blunkett was nearly killed by a cow. The cow chose to do it on his birthday for extra symbolic and media value.

This week, Question Time chairperson David Dimbleby missed the programme for the first time ever after being attacked by a bullock, possibly in retribution for having Nick Griffin on his show.

According to the Health and Safety Executive figures cited in a report about the Blunkett attack, cattle kill about four people a year and injure a further 75. This is far more than any other terrorist group in the UK. Furthermore, they've proven they are better at targeted attacks on prominent political figures than any other terrorists.

I reckon this is just the warm-up, there'll be a mass stampede on parliament just before the Christmas recess, ushering in a great cow revolution and new year mootopia.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

fluidity of language, dilution of meaning

For any global climate deal to be meaningful, China has to be on board. This straining, gagging desire makes people praise anything that looks like them signing up. Even when it's meaningless.

The world inched closer to an elusive deal to combat climate change yesterday, when China, the world's biggest polluter, made its most substantial commitment yet to curb its carbon emissions and invest in clean energy.

It was not a commitment in the sense of having any measurable element. More importantly, nor was it about reducing carbon emissions.

It was actually

the promise of a "notable" decrease in the carbon intensity of China's economy

Not even any ballpark numbers there, just 'notable'. As slip-through-the-fingers as Gordon Brown's assurance that the EU will - sting me with your numbers, Captain Prudence - pay its 'fair share' of funds to poorer countries suffering on the climate front line.

But the real bad boy is not the lack of solid figures, it's the phrase 'carbon intensity'. Just as industry uses 'emissions reduction' to mean not 'reduction' but 'a smaller increase than we might otherwise have had', so China and India are shifting our language from 'carbon emissions' to 'carbon intensity'.

'Carbon emissions' is the amount of carbon emitted. 'Carbon intensity' is the amount emitted per item manufactured or unit of economic activity.

Producing 10% less CO2 per thneed manufactured is fine until you ramp up production. Make twice as many thneeds and, even though emissions per thneed might have come down, total emissions go up.

The climate isn't looking at emissions per unit of GDP, it only looks at total emissions, so that's the only number that counts.

But we so desperately want China to be on side that we're accepting this bollocksy redefinition. In the same way, we're accept the American shift of language, talking of an agreement that will be 'politically binding' instead of 'legally binding' (as if there had been any agreement on what 'legally binding' was going to mean anyway).

It's rather like the way George Monbiot unpicked India's announcement that it will rapidly build 20GW of solar power cpapcity, equivalent to about a quarter of the UK's electricity production. It got praised as India taking climate change seriously, but, Monbiot noted,

India is also in the middle of a programme to increase coal capacity by 79GW – equivalent to the entire UK power sector – by 2012. The new solar plant will supplement, not substitute, its other forms of power generation.

An economy based on growth will increase total consumption and so rapidly eat up any carbon savings from reducing 'carbon intensity'. Basing any agreements on carbon intensity is a guarantee that we will not reduce carbon emissions.

It means we're more likely to get a deal everyone can sign up to, but when it's effectively designed to fail, what's the point? Making our deals palatable to the people who wish to exacerbate the problem we're trying to rein in is utterly insane.

Friday, November 06, 2009

simon mann: the toff gets off

Simon Mann - a person who'd fit any decent working definition of 'international terrorist' - has been pardoned and released from jail in Equatorial Guinea, 16 months into a 34 year sentence for his attempted coup in the oil-rich nation.

To recap,

Neo-colonialist mercenary leader Mann was caught with a planeload of weapons and ex-apartheid South African special forces on their way to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea...

Mann certainly wasn't going there on any humanitarian mission. As with his previous campaigns, it was about clearing out one group so a grateful government - irrespective of its attitude to human rights - would bestow lucrative mineral rights upon him.

For a more detailed account of the activities of Mann and his friends around the world, check out my article Simon Mann: A Very English Killer.

During his trial in Equatorial Guinea, Mann sang like the proverbial canary and implicated 'Sir' Mark Thatcher (who pleaded guilty to involvement in a South African court) and plot-chief Ely Calil.

On his release, Mann said

I am very anxious that Calil, Thatcher and one or two of the others, should face justice.

I'm relishing the thought of it happening - oh please let plot-funder Jeffrey Archer have another spell in jail - but I cannot muster any faith that it'll come to pass. The establishment insulates its members well.

Indeed, this was shown in Mann's favour by Guernsey courts' refusal to allow the Equatorial Guinea government access to Mann's account records and safe deposit boxes, despite strong evidence that these contain hard and damning evidence of the plot.

Meanwhile, a vicious mercenary is now free to enjoy his millionaire's lifestyle and work on his book deal and film options.

= = = = = = = = =

UPDATE 11 NOV 09: Over at The Quiet Road, Jim's post on Simon Mann (and the comments) include specific discussion of my post here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


The phenomenon of the one-hit wonder is often talked of in terms that imply they had only a single moment of talent, as if commercial success is somehow a measure of creative worth. Sometimes that's true but often it's not.

Poor old Jeff Beck. He spends years being one of the foremost guitarists of his generation, fusing white backbeat pop-rock with real searing blues, yet what's the only track of his that everyone knows? Hi Ho Silver Lining.

Other one-hit wonders leave you amazed that anyone wanted to listen to anything they ever did in the first place. In the 1980s there was a swathe of blokey guys with guitars, the sort of sub-Bryan Adamsers who were clearly surrounded by an entourage of coked-up yesmen telling them they were some kind of Springsteen.

One of these was Rick Springfield. If you're 40ish in the UK, you may vaguely remember his only half-hit here, Jessie's Girl.

For those of you who don't, and indeed those of you who do but could do with a reminder about why you have no clear memory, here's the video. It's a great piece of unintentional comedy, just look at how this negligible tosser takes himself soooo seriously.

And if that was where we could leave him, well, what's the harm? I'll tell you the fucking harm. To explain the damage and my personal grudge, let's go on another one almost-hit wonder detour.

The Church are one of my favourite bands ever. For thirty years they've been making music of great beauty, mystery and intelligence, generating luscious opiate warmth yet with a tremendously potent sense of undefined unease and longing. Rich, soulful, beautiful.

In the late 1980s they had their fifteen minutes with a single called Under The Milky Way. Mercifully for them, their albatross-song isn't a Silver Liningesque anomalous novelty, it's actually pretty representative of their work.

If you're American you probably know it, but in Europe nobody has really heard of it unless they were into what we then called Alternative Music. I get genuinely surprised when I mention The Church to anyone and there's any kind of recognition at all. In the last couple of years there's been some sharper folks that at least know the song thanks to its use in Donnie Darko.

But anyway, Rick fucking Springfield. He just won't let it lie, he still makes albums, and guess what he's applied his one dimensional croak to?

And that's not actually the bad news. The song's had a sort of pincer movement performed on it.

We live in an age where any decent song is rapidly reduced to being just a corporate shill. Advertising, the most evil concept ever, debases anything you love in order to make you buy things you don't need from people you don't like.

The Cure's Pictures of You sells computer printers ('these pictures of you, I almost believe that they're real' - geddit? See what they did there?).

Stuart Maconie said of Frank Wilson's supreme northern soul belter Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)

If you want to know what the magic of Northern Soul is, get yourself a copy... and allow yourself to be swept away by its life-affirming, luminous, lump-in-the-throat beauty and effervescence.

As far as I'm concerned, there is no ailment or depression so profound and weighty that two and a half minutes in the company of this fabulous tune won't lift and banish.

These days it's the soundtrack for fried chicken adverts.

And of course, everything you ever cared about, from The Jam's harsh description of urban deprivation Town Called Malice, to Nick Drake's magical gossamer Pink Moon to Led Zeppelin's frenzied Rock n Roll, sells fucking cars.

Here's the new ad for the Lincoln MKT.

I'm off to put my head in the oven.

Monday, October 26, 2009

anti-coal on a roll

I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants

- Al Gore

Good point, but why wait for the new-build? As Richard Bernard said a week ago outside Ratcliffe on Soar power station as a thousand people attacked the fences

With Kingsnorth now shelved the time is for us to look at existing coal-fired power stations and say that coal has no future, fossil fuels have no future, it's time to close them down.

And as Kingsnorth settles in the sidelines, it's also time for other prospective builders to step into the firing line and see that every attempt to build new stations will come with a bumper pack of activists.

At 4.30am today protesters occupied Npower's flagship coal station in the UK, Didcot in Oxfordshire. Splitting into two groups - one shutting down the coal conveyor belts, another scaling the chimneys and abseiling inside so they can't be used - they say they have supplies to last them 'weeks, not days'.

One of them explained

N-Power, the company that runs this power station, is now the foremost advocate for new coal in the country. They want to build 30 new coal power stations in Britain and Europe. They expect to get planning permission for Hunterston in the next few weeks. We’re saying to them that we won’t leave until they cancel all their plans for new coal.

Hunterston - like Kingsnorth, at a site where an old station's being decommissioned - lost its major investor only a week after Eon announced the Kingsnorth climbdown. The owners, the Peel Group, say they'll press ahead anyway, possibly with money from Royal Bank of Scotland.

Meanwhile, the fact that RBS is now in public ownership means that, as Mark Thomas pointed out, they should be compliant with the government's stated carbon objectives, and ditch their £16bn of carbon-extractive investments. Indeed, a bunch of NGOs are in the High Court right now trying to force that to happen.

But today's action isn't just at Didcot. It's been a very active day for the coal-focused domestic extremists elsewhere too.

As Npower's station forcibly powered down this morning, up at Shipley in Derbyshire protesters occupied an opencast coal mine producing coal for - it's them again - Ratcliffe on Soar power station.

Meanwhile at Mainshill in Scotland, where there's an ongoing protest camp defending woodland under threat from a proposed opencast coal mine, access roads were barricaded and people locked on, ensuring no logging work can be done.

The changes we need are only going to happen if we force them to. The burgeoning climate justice movement glows with bright potential, but time is short. Those activists Npower are going to get sick of? That's you, that is.

And this coming weekend there's a weekend of info, action and whatnot at Mainshill.

Friday, October 16, 2009

everyone move to leeds

David Cameron may bang on about Broken Britain, but there's clearly an oasis of Dock Greenesque peace and social harmony in West Yorkshire.

There is a complete absence of domestic violence, street robbery, rape, large scale tax evasion and drunk driving in Leeds. There is scarcely a dropped fag butt and no standing around looking shifty or visible flouting of building regulations. We can be certain of this.

Why else would their local CID take the time to call at houses this afternoon just to let the residents know that the police think some people at the address were planning on going on the Great Climate Swoop protest tomorrow?

When detectives are telling you that some of your friends might be going to go somewhere in another constabulary where some people might be engaging in peaceful direct action, surely they've already solved all the reported crime, polished all the Chief Constable's silver buttons, sharpened all the pencils, done the lotto syndicate and all that day's crosswords and are now just gormlessly drumming their fingers on their impeccably tidy desks dreaming up stuff up to do.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

kingsnorth is cancelled

Despite the government's enthusiasm for a third runway at Heathrow, it's reported that Heathrow's owners have decided not to build it.

When the government said it would give the go ahead to the runway, I thought it might make it harder for them to say yes to the new coal power station at Kingsnorth. It didn't occur to me that, like BAA with Heathrow, E.On might lead the way themselves.

Tonight, Kingsnorth was effectively cancelled by E.On.

The decision by E.ON marks an end to one of the most bitterly fought environmental campaigns in British history. The admission, which emerged after an unplanned and off-the-cuff remark from one of the company’s German officials, will be greeted with delight by environmentalists

Too right it will.

"This development is extremely good news for the climate and in a stroke significantly reduces the chances of an unabated Kingsnorth plant ever being built," said Greenpeace executive director John Sauven.

"The case for new coal is crumbling, with even E.ON now accepting it's not currently economic to build new plants. The huge diverse coalition of people who have campaigned against Kingsnorth because of the threat it posed to the climate should take heart that emissions from new coal are now even less likely in Britain."

He added: "Ed Miliband [the environment secretary] now has a golden opportunity to rule out all emissions from new coal as a sign of Britain's leadership before the key Copenhagen climate meeting. With E.ON's announcement he's now got an open goal."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

george orwell titled

Not, of course that Orwell was titled in the ennobled sense of the word. He made clear that he had no time for that sort of thing, and as the establishment of the day was decades away from trying to garner any Cool Britannia relevance by giving honours to edgy people, they were unlikely to have offered him it in any case. Governments of the 1930s didn't suffer anything like the Benjamin Zephaniah OBE debacle.

I have a deep love of George Orwell's writing. His shining clarity of mind, his articulate bluntness, his fearless radical perspective, the way that most sentences of his journalism seem like they start with a silent, 'oh for fuck's sake, any idiot can see that...'.

The early novels are interesting, and there is much of his social analysis and commentary in ones like Coming Up for Air and Keep The Aspidistra Flying, but it's his non-fiction that really dings my bell, especially the essays and journalism.

It wasn't written for posterity but to make a clear topical point and it's that freshness and fire - so familiar to us in an age of broadcast media and blogging - that makes it really shine.

Additionally, he was a highly educated person who turned his attention not only to the highbrow topics but also to then-ignored areas, pioneering what we'd now call cultural criticism. His essays on boys comics and The Art of Donald McGill (about the norms and implications of scenes depicted in saucy seaside postcards) get the same incisive thought and illuminating opinion as his writing on Gissing.

So on the occasions when I've been asked where someone should start with Orwell, I recommend an anthology of his essays. But it recently occurred to me that there is a side of his writing that's pretty rubbish. His titles.

Early books have, at best, drab and uninspiring ones like A Clergyman's Daughter, Down and Out In Paris and London or Burmese Days. The title of his reportage of the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, is pretty odd when you think about it. Indeed, there's a letter from Orwell to his publishers conceding that he couldn't think of a title and at least that choice lets them put something on the cover.

The only ones that seem smart, intriguing and clever are Keep The Aspidistra Flying and The Road to Wigan Pier.

Even late on, Animal Farm is another dull and functional one, whilst 1984 is such a potent book that any number of evocative superior titles readily suggest themselves in place of the peculiarly vague one he actually chose.

At least he did better picking a name for himself. He was born Eric Arthur Blair, and seemingly chose a pseudonym so he wouldn't be too closely associated with what he felt was his awful first book, the superb Down and Out In Paris and London. (I know someone who worked in a bookshop who was once asked for George Orwell's 'Dining Out in Paris and London', a very different image).

After rejecting publishing it under the name X, he had a shortlist of H. Lewis Allways (surely ludicrously stuffy even in the early 1930s), Kenneth Miles, PS Burton and George Orwell. Imagine if we were having to refer to Allwaysian ideas.

Worse still, imagine if he'd been proud of Down and Out in Paris and London and kept his legal name.

Britain has a quarter of the world's CCTV cameras. We have a government trying to get us used to ID culture by encouraging the absurd Challenge 25 policy for buying alcohol. It amounts to us blithely sleepwalking into, er, a Blairite nightmare.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

god hates amputees

For Christians, prayer is an important part of communicating with God and asking for help. Some of them are quite happy to have Pray At The Pump meetings in American filling stations, and they take credit for the lowering of gasoline prices.

Lots of Christian churches, not just the far-out ones, have healing services. Even more commonly, Christians pray to God to heal sicknesses in people they care about.

Leaving aside the arrogance of presuming that God doesn't know what he's doing and shouldn't have let anyone be ill, I'm more interested in another issue it raises.

Many Christians really believe in God's power to heal the sick, and a sizeable proportion of them believe they've seen it work. So why doesn't he ever heal any amputees? I've been searching the interweb for answers.

amputees don't need to be healed. removing the limb is often what saves a persons life. People are born missing limbs and live content successful lives. Why should we be " healed" when prosthetics and other devices allow us to live successfully.

I know a lot of amputees and none of them have prayed for their limbs to grow back. If anything when I lost my leg my family prayed that it would come off taking the cancer with it.

Yes, amputation can save their life, as it did with the cancer sufferer who wrote that reply. Which brings us not only on to why God would let them get cancer, but why he can't get the cancer cured without the need for amputation.

Yep, we now have prosthetics. But that only applies to a minority of amputees even today. What about the ones not rich enough to buy those, or all those who lived before the advent of prosthetic limbs, why didn't God help them a bit more?

Even if there were universal access to prosthetics, it's rather like the Alf Garnett line about God being benevolent by blessing the poor-sighted with two ears and a nose so they could wear glasses.

The idea that all amputees are having lives just as good as if they had all their limbs - well, excuse me while I rush off to get my legs taken off then. Praise the lord and pass the landmines.

There's a Christian who guesses

perhaps God doesn’t restore lost limbs (or other body parts) for the very reason He doesn’t raise people from the dead – it’s not time (yet)... The raising of the dead and the restoring of limbs (whether for those who lost them due to injury or birth defect) is for the resurrection.

I don't think we're looking for the exact same leg to be stuck back on, surely growing a new one would do. Certainly the resurrection of the long-dead is a hell of a thing to achieve, but as living people can readily and automatically regenerate blood, skin, hair, fingernails, bone and many other bodily tissues, there's no reason why it couldn't come from the living body of an amputee.

Another Christian suggests

Perhaps God chooses not to convince the world of his existence through acts of power

Not only does God bang on in both testaments with exhortations to prayer and his power to answer them, but, for fucks sake; sending the messiah! Having that messiah go round publicly healing the sick, then raising that messiah from the dead! If that's not a show of power - and specifically medical miracles - what is?

Our man also suggests that perhaps

he reveals miracles to those who already believe, and to those who disbelieve he never reveals more than they are able to explain away

Are we saying no true believer amputee has asked for a limb back? Or are we saying that it's happened but they've kept quiet about it?

In which case, why have so many other miraculously cured people been very vocal about their good fortune and used it as leverage to try to make suffering humans turn to the lord? He only ever cures blabbermouthed blind people and secretive amputees?

Then I found As well as having a page patiently, clearly and convincingly covering all the arguments about amputees and why it leads us to the conclusion that god is imaginary, it's part of, perhaps the best anti-monotheistic place I've ever come across. It doesn't just lob bricks from outside, it takes the stated beliefs, the bits of bible we get quoted, and then walks us through all the reasons why they don't make any sense at all.

There's something wonderful about setting out to uncover an idea only to find that somebody's done it with greater clarity than you could ever have managed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

climate camp vs newbury

I'm sat here on Blackheath, site of Wat Tyler's rabble-rousing for the Peasants Revolt, among the roused rabble of the Camp For Climate Action, ready for the pedants revolt.

This afternoon I bumped into an old comrade from the Newbury Bypass and we inevitably compared the two events.

The Climate Camp, like Newbury, is composed of a disproportionate number of young adults, especially students. Indeed, yesterday I had a journalist trying to get the old gimmers like me to grumble about it.

Personally, I've no prejudice against being educated, and given the fact that students are the most likely to have the summer free and least likely to be shackled by mortgage and family commitments, it's not surprising they are here in force. The protests against the Vietnam War and in Tianenmen Square were led by students. I don't think that invalidated them in the least.

But anyway, this young demographic have no memory of the older struggles, and many talk of Newbury in the way we old 'uns speak of Paris 68. It's easy to get all rose tinted along with them, but me and Tot Hill veteran Martin just thought about it properly. There is nothing we can remember about Newbury that Climate Camp doesn't blow out of the frigging water.

There are complaints that Climate Camp's politics are diluted, that it's become a liberal lobbying group awash in NGOs and reformist ideas. Yet Newbury was actively supplied by Greenpeace, supported by many Friends of The Earth groups, and both NGOs often felt like they were entitled to speak on behalf of the campaign. There were nimbyists, conservative conservationists, those who just talked of other ways to move the absurd quantity of traffic instead of having any thought-through systemic critique. Climate Camp draws the demarcation much more clearly and speaks for itself a lot louder.

All radical movements we venerate had their woolly end. This doesn't mean we should ignore it, but it does mean that their presence isn't indicative of an all-encompassing woolliness. Check your suffragette, civil rights or anti-nuclear history, they all had it. The Climate Camp remains overtly radical. The first thing you see coming up the hill or going past on the 380 bus is the entrance banner saying Capitalism IS Crisis.

The programme of workshops and discussions shows the position as against the growth economy. The influx of newbies - half the people at the opening plenary hadn't been to a previous Climate Camp - means many have to be walked through the ideas to join it up, but the enthusiasm for that perspective is startling.

Last night I was in a mass meeting of over 500 people talking about economics beyond capitalism, who understand that not only is there no way the climate crisis can be tackled while capitalism is intact but that as well as immediate action we need to be thinking about the broader abstract cultural issues. And not in a stuffy drywank way that thinks economics is something for economists any more than we believe politics is just for politicians.

The Camp has involved itself with those irritant backbench Labour rebel MPs and the LibDems keen on civil rights, but that hasn't necessitated any move to their parliamentary freemarket politics. At Newbury we fought alongside titled tories, fox hunters, all manner of fuckheads who we'd give stick to on any other day of the week.

At Newbury the police totally decided their own agenda. Here, we have them on the back foot, kept off site despite their threats and desires. Newbury had a huge contingent of those who felt that if we only talked to the police as human beings they'd somehow not defend the forces of destruction. Those at Climate Camp who haven't had experience of the police often feel that way too, but it's easy to disabuse them of the notion and, as a site and group, there is no way the Climate Camp would behave like that.

Climate Camp out-media the police, indeed they are as savvy as people can be with the mainstream media, way more sussed and successful than Newbury, normalising radical perspectives in a far more effective way.

There is a total absence of the dippy new-age bullshit that saturated Newbury. People chanting at trees to ensure they couldn't be cut down and that sort of gubbins. Climate Camp may be idealists, but they're realistic and practical ones. My favourite kind.

And they're not just practical in the application of ideology but in the most obvious sense. The ability to equip everyone with the kit needed to allow the real work of talking, thinking, networking and planning to happen is amazing. They tipped a fully working eco-village illegally and secretly into a field in a few hours.

At Newbury we tolerated all manner of brew-crew lairy fuckers. We had no idea how to include them and get them to be a co-operative element of the campaign, nor any idea how to exclude the tiny number of irredeemably disruptive people. Climate Camp stops most of that bother before it even starts, and the Tranquility team sort out much of what does happen, and even then the process is so collectively and democratically understood that often people don't call in the experts but sort it out themselves.

And part of the reason we put up with those munters was the fact that they would dependably be there, and we needed the numbers. The idea of thousands of people coming together, of a movement pulling in hundreds of new people every time a big event happens, was simply unthinkable.

To put them in the middle of the Met's home turf, retain control and get on with the real business of educating, agitating and motivating one another for action - not as a single focus but an ongoing culture of action - would have been an insane joke. The sheer weight of numbers is gobsmacking.

It's never in the bag, all movements make mistakes and all movements need continual vigilance and tweaking if they're not to be co-opted or diluted or burned out. But on those fronts and all the others listed above, Climate Camp is the real deal.

It's not that they're some sort of great guru overachievers pulling it out of a hat. It's the culmination of a lot of lessons learned from sites and campaigns over the last 20 years, and indeed Newbury was part of that experimentation and refinement process. It is clearly on the current front end of all that and its awareness and creativity are immense. It has, as Newbury did, that feeling that this isn't something these people are doing but something they are, that this is a rolling network rather than an event.

Newbury was an amazing campaign, an inspiration to others around the world and a radicalising force for a huge number of people. At the time it felt fractious but righteous, chaotic and dicey but cool as fuck to be in the middle of. Climate Camp is all that and more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

climate camp's cross-dressing cops

The police are very much on the backfoot now they're widely believed to be over-reactive, intimidating and violent.

Half of UK adults think that policing of environmental protests is too heavy handed or involves too many officers, according to a YouGov poll of over 2,000 people conducted on behalf of Christian Aid.

Of those surveyed, 18% said they were put off joining protests in future because of their fears about how demonstrations are handled and 33% said that filming protesters is an invasion of privacy.

In response, the police are engaging in - to use a Mandelsonism - an attempt at political cross-dressing. Police say they'll be using 'community style' policing at this week's Climate Camp in London.

Chris Allinson, head of central operations at the Metropolitan Police, said around 500 officers will be needed everyday to police the camp.

Which community gets one officer for every two or three civilians? The only one I can think of is prison.

“Every cop on an event is a cop who is not one the streets policing London,” he added.

Couldn't have put it better myself. Aren't there any incidences of mugging, domestic violence or child abuse in London that might be worthy of their attention?

And even as he talks his cuddly community policing guff, Assistant Commissioner Allison refuses to rule out kettling.

All this comes as the Climate Camp activists suing the police for the G20 reveal that police notebooks admit punching protesters in the face and smacking them with the edges of shields, and in the week where the Home Office said the police could be issued with a new higher-powered taser, the weapon used to threaten sleeping climate camp protesters in April. They're going to have to work harder if they be convincing in their new teddy bear persona.

Why are the Camp having to sue? When there is such clear evidence of assault why are the officers who beat people not disciplined, sacked and publicly prosecuted? Why is the officer who planned and ordered the attacks at the G20 not named and imprisoned?

This closing of ranks is proof that the new touchy-feely stuff is just crass window dressing. If they turn on the charm to the media then people will think it's all OK now, and they can avoid any real reform and get back to intimidation and breaking heads.

So, unconvinced that the police's Twitter account marks any change in principles, Climate Camp responded with an open letter to the police, and for good measure made it into a wry pisstakey infomercial.

Monday, August 24, 2009

mosh or be elsewhere

I just bought tickets for Motorhead at Leeds Academy. The person at the box office said there were 66 left for standing and just over 100 left in the seats.

This means over two hundred people have chosen to buy seats even though there's room in the stalls.

Who the fuck are these people? Excepting those with a relevant disability, anyone who would prefer seated tickets for Motorhead shouldn't be allowed any tickets for Motorhead.

Top of the list for my first decree when I'm president of the world.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

the great climate swoop

As the Copenhagen talks to create a successor to the Kyoto Protocol loom closer, the imperative for action grows.

On the 17th and 18th October there will be a mass action to shut down a coal-fired power station in England. Which one? That's not decided. It'll be Drax or Ratcliffe and, with the kind of brazen cheek you normally only get from Class War or Plane Stupid, there's an election going on to see which one people want to hit. At a festival recently I saw a stall with voting cards and a proper ballot box.

There are very good reasons to go for Drax in Yorkshire. It's the largest source of CO2 in the UK. Most countries don't emit as much as Drax.

Ratcliffe is far filthier per unit of energy produced, though. It's owned by Eon, a global giant in carbon terms, the company pushing to build Kingsnorth, the UK's first new coal station in a generation. And frankly their bullshit about how their solar panels make them an 'integrated' power station (contributing a fraction of a millionth of their output) is the biggest load of horseshit I've ever heard and they deserve a big slap for that alone, even before anyone starts saying 'clean coal'.

Either way, whilst the small bands of people doing audacious actions are good it's about time there was a mass publicly announced one. There is no more important element in reducing carbon emissions than stopping coal. If you know that there's no way we'll stop coal by hoping for the goodwill of governments and the energy industry, then you know you've got to do something.

So, sign up to the Great Climate Swoop. 17th October. See you there.

Monday, August 17, 2009

news from nowhere

William Morris' 1890 novel News From Nowhere is that thing I have a deep love for - a blunt and blatant rant against a social evil given barely enough fictionalisation to make it something other than straightforward polemic.

In John Waters' Cecil B Demented he has a gang of outlaw film-makers kidnap a Hollywood star to rail against the Hollywood studio system. In Bruce Robinson's follow-up to Withnail & I, How To Get Ahead In Advertising, although the plot concerns a crisis in an advertising exec's life it's really about a broader evil, it's about consumerism.

Morris' conceit in News From Nowhere is to have a nineteenth century man awake in the post-revolutionary twenty-second century.

He doesn't pick on a social evil in the narrow context, but the whole profit-driven, acquisitional, possessive consumer culture. Written a year before Oscar Wilde's magnificent The Soul of Man Under Socialism, it seems very much a companion piece. Big dreaming, deeply compassionate, wildly revolutionary yet profoundly humane.

That it seems so pertinent now could be either depressing (five generations and much of it has gotten worse) or inspiring (a masterpiece dismissed as sentimental claptrap then but is clearly utterly fucking visionary from where we stand now).

This bit hit me right between they eyes. A twenty-second century man explains to his nineteenth century visitor what the problems were back then.


"The labour-saving machines? Yes, they were made to 'save labour' (or, to speak more plainly, the lives of men) on one piece of work in order that it might be expended - I will say wasted - on another, probably useless, piece of work. Friend, all their devices for cheapening labour simply resulted in increasing the burden of labour.

"The appetite of the World-Market grew with what it fed on: the countries within the ring of 'civilisation' (that is, organised misery) were glutted with the abortions of the market, and force and fraud were used unsparingly to 'open up' countries outside that pale.

"This process of 'opening up' is a strange one to those who have read the professions of the men of that period and do not understand their practice; and perhaps shows us at its worst the great vice of the nineteenth century, the use of hypocrisy and cant to evade the responsibility of vicarious ferocity.

"When the civilised World-Market coveted a country not yet in its clutches, some transparent pretext was found - the suppression of a slavery different from and not so cruel as that of commerce; the pushing of a religion no longer believed in by its promoters; the 'rescue' of some desperado or homicidal madman whose misdeeds had got him into trouble amongst the natives of the 'barbarous' country - any stick, in short, which would beat the dog at all.

"Then some bold, unprincipled, ignorant adventurer was found (no difficult task in the days of competition), and he was bribed to 'create a market' by breaking up whatever traditional society there might be in the doomed country, and by destroying whatever leisure or pleasure he found there. He forced wares on the natives which they did not want, and took their natural products in 'exchange,' as this form of robbery was called, and thereby he 'created new wants,' to supply which (that is, to be allowed to live by their new masters) the hapless, helpless people had to sell themselves into the slavery of hopeless toil so that they might have something wherewith to purchase the nullities of 'civilisation'.

"Ah," said the old man, pointing the dealings of to the Museum, "I have read books and papers in there, telling strange stories indeed of civilisation (or organised misery) with 'non-civilisation'; from the time when the British Government deliberately sent blankets infected with small-pox as choice gifts to inconvenient tribes of Red-skins, to the time when Africa was infested by a man named Stanley, who-"

"Excuse me," said I, "but as you know, time presses; and I want to keep our question on the straightest line possible; and I want at once to ask this about these wares made for the World-Market—how about their quality; these people who were so clever about making goods, I suppose they made them well?"

"Quality!" said the old man crustily, for he was rather peevish at being cut short in his story; "how could they possibly attend to such trifles as the quality of the wares they sold? The best of them were of a lowish average, the worst were transparent make-shifts for the things asked for, which nobody would have put up with if they could have got anything else. It was a current jest of the time that the wares were made to sell and not to use; a jest which you, as coming from another planet, may understand, but which our folk could not."

Said I: "What! did they make nothing well?"

"Why, yes," said he, "there was one class of goods which they did make thoroughly well, and that was the class of machines which were used for making things. These were usually quite perfect pieces of workmanship, admirably adapted to the end in view. So that it may be fairly said that the great achievement of the nineteenth century was the making of machines which were wonders of invention, skill, and patience, and which were used for the production of measureless quantities of worthless make-shifts.

In truth, the owners of the machines did not consider anything which they made as wares, but simply as means for the enrichment of themselves. Of course the only admitted test of utility in wares was the finding of buyers for them - wise men or fools, as it might chance."