Friday, May 26, 2006

the whole nine miles

Last December, as I told you, I was proof-reading my friend Jim's manuscript about his time on the tree protests of the mid-90s.

It's finished, done, dusted and darned available to the whole wide world as a proper book now.

Entitled Nine Miles, it's a beautifully written personal story not just of the protests, but of how the will to protest changes the protester, how it connects with something older, stronger and deeper. That deeper spirit, that rightness infused itself in all of us who fought those campaigns.

It's an extraordinary story told with candid humanity, a warm clarity that captures the brilliance, the lunacy, the nobility and the haphazardness of the campaigns. He can be in front of the cameras on national TV one minute and the next he's taking a three day walk where he's unknown to anyone, barely ever even in a village.

It's perhaps at its best and most evocative when he's doing nature writing. He can spend several paragraphs just telling you he woke up and it was morning.

I don't know how long I'd been asleep for, but when I woke up, I was fifty foot up in an oak. A clear, bright sun had come up through the tree line, covering everything with a fine golden light. It was already late autumn and the leaves were pretty much all down. From here, the effect of the leaves on the ground was stunning, like a vast cloth of copper running all over.

Dawn had come in under a heavy blanket of mist, which had already burned off. But steam was still rising up from the wet earth, the ground erupting with the sound of water writhing in the new warmth. I was in an oak on the edge of an area of older trees, which overlooked a small valley full of coppice; hazel and blackthorn and elder interspersed. This lower storey was visible now as a network of fine hemispheres, all lit brilliantly with the early morning sun. And because of the mild weather, the hazel had recently flowered into tubular catkins. They hung in their thousands, like a cascade of green fire. My breath poured out in white clouds.

It had been my first night in a tree and I'd slept in a hammock. Between one thing and another, I'd had the distinct feeling of being on a boat. Drifting off, I could feel the movement of the tree in the wind, a circular roll around the main mast of the trunk.

The only books I know of that came out of it all were mine and Kate Evans' magnificent and definitive Copse. Jim's written his now because otherwise that movement's history will be left to journalists and academics who weren't there and didn't understand it. As Jim says in the introuction, 'too many people are forgetting. Too many never knew in the first place'.

Writing history is not just so people can have knowledge of the past. That in itself serves no decent purpose. It is so we can learn and take inspiration from what has come before. It has to be relevant to us otherwise it's boring and useless. The big challenges that face our society require a reconnection with the motives and spirit that shone so brightly on those campaigns.

You can read extracts and order copies of Nine Miles from the book's site.

Short notice I know, but he's doing two readings from the book in Newbury tomorrow (Saturday May 27th), to coincide with the Newbury Mayor's Fringe Festival (why there should be a festival just cos a local dignitary is getting a haircut I don't know, but anyway).

The first is at 2pm, at Newbury museum, and is free, but it's tiny (20 people) so get there early.

The second is 8pm-10pm at the upstairs bar at Northcroft Leisure centre, Northcroft Lane. This has a £2 entry fee as the venue has a hire charge. There will also be showings of Hearts And Minds, the film made by the campaign in summer 1996, and Wild Horses At Newbury, the incredible footage of horses steaming in to disrupt tree felling and psyching-out the police horses.

He'll be doing readings at the Big Green Gathering, and is up for doing them elsewhere if anyone wants him to.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

yellow isn't green, it's blue

Here in Leeds, our City Council is hung. Sadly not from traditional stout British gallows (we're too busy exporting those to Zimbabwe); I mean it has no overall control by a single party.

Labour have the most seats, but a coalition of Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Greens act as the dominant group.

Even though the British National Party received more than half the number of votes the LibDems got, the BNP only got two seats compared to the LibDems’ 26. This allocation gives the LibDems a real political punch in Leeds. How do you think this party, so used to opposition, uses its power?

I live in the Hyde Park area of Leeds. It's a lot of terraces, many of them back-to-backs. Green space is at a real premium here.

The park that gives the area its name is especially treasured. As everyone lives tightly packed into houses with little or no private outdoor area, everyone treats the park as one big communal garden. In summer it's like a beach, full of people hanging out, music, games, a real vibe.

One section of it, Monument Moor, is under threat. The City Council is planning to concrete this green space and make it a car park.

The plan has a number of especially galling elements. Top of the list is that the considerable money for the plan - about £170,000 - is from the 'Parks Renaissance' budget.

You couldn't make that shit up could you? What kind of 'renaissance' does a park get being turned into a mass of tarmac?

Coming a close second in the fucks-sake stakes are the reports of the supportive public consultation, when in fact no real consultation took place and the first most residents knew of it was when there was a story in the Yorkshire Evening Post.

Trying to contain the ensuing furore, LibDem councillor Mark Harris wrote a letter to the YEP 'to categorically assure readers that no decision at all has been made for a car park on Monument Moor'.

No final decision, no; but the Council's planning application had gone in two weeks earlier. It was a detailed plan and a statement of intent: it is quite definitely a decision.

LibDem councillor Kabeer Hussain says 'I think the consultation could have been improved.' Doing it at all would have improved it no end for most of us, I'm sure.

He alleges, 'There is also a lot of public support for the car park,' even though his colleague Councillor David Morton has seen the responses and says reports, 'my sample of the survey returns showed a 100% opposition rate'.

Still, Kabeer tells us, 'it will be really nice - with shrubs, and trees surrounding it.' How many 'really nice' car parks have you ever seen?

LibDem councillor Penny Ewens also argues for the tarmac on the grounds that it will have nice neat trees. But, as the YEP's Oliver Cross explained, unmanicured land is far more valuable than car park borders.

I don't think anybody has so far argued the case for spare and useless land being left spare and useless as a matter of policy.

If the bit of scraggy grassland around HR Marsden's statue were to be used sensibly, there would be scarcely anywhere in central Leeds not dedicated entirely to cars, flats, offices, flat-letting agencies or more flats.

Coun Ewens says the car park's surface could be made of something softer than Tarmac, but it will still have to have white lines and pay-and-display machines and will, I'm sure, look so much like a car park that nobody will mistake it for a moor.

The area will also be landscaped. One of the glories of the threatened piece of land (which, for reasons unknown, the council calls Monument Moor) is that no landscaper has laid hands on it.

The reasons are not unknown, incidentally. It's unsurprisingly named after the monument that stands on it. It's that aforementioned statue of Henry Marsden, Leeds industrialist and - oh ripe irony - Liberal Mayor of Leeds in the 1870s.

The LibDems like to imply they can be trusted to be all green and lovely but, as in Leeds, time and again their record in power tells a different story.

On the day the government said GM crops might go ahead, LibDems in Westminster were officially opposing it but in Scotland, where they have power and could do something about it, they weren't blocking it, they were unanimously supporting it and merely saying they'd ask farmers not to plant GM.

The infamous Newbury Bypass, a scheme now conceded by the then Tory Roads Minister as utterly unnecessary, was rabidly cheered on by those with local power - the LibDem council and the LibDem MP.

In the case of Manchester Airport's second runway - an monstrously destructive project taking nearly three times the land of Newbury - in Stockport under the flight path they opposed it but in Manchester, where their power was, they were in favour.

The Kingston Poplars tree protest was for a load of mature trees being felled to improve the view for new luxury flats. The council that gave planning permission? LibDems.

This is a party that openly admits it ‘starts with a bias for market solutions’. That is to say, if there’s ever a conflict between profits and the environment, profits win. As they ascend in the polls and get closer to national power, so they move to become just another Big Business party. The environment's all well and good as long as it doesn't get in the way of the wealthy and their markets.

It's a flipside to the way that as the Tories move away from power they start saying there should be good student grants and in-house hospital cleaning, conveniently forgetting who invented student loans and privatised hospital cleaning in the first place.

Indeed, David Cameron has twigged that the environment is an ideal issue for those who are firmly in opposition. Everyone wants it to be cared for but those in power are beholden to the markets’ hunger for growth, so environmental concerns can only be acted upon if they happen to coincide with profitability.

As the markets tend to regard the environment as raw materials or a cesspool, that coincidence is rare. Eco credentials must be ditched in direct proportion to the ability to act upon them.

The market is built upon the absolute requirement for perpetual economic growth. As I keep saying, it doesn’t take an especially brilliant mind to understand why you can’t have eternal accelerated consumption of finite resources.

As power drains from the cadaverising Labour regime, some of them now find they’re free to talk about this openly. One Labour MP is now readily comparing the intrinsic injustice and obvious ephemerality of economic growth to the Third Reich.

The lesson is clear; whoever's hands it's put in, power itself is the problem.

Now I see the LibDems literally just across the road from me, wanting to take away some of the tiny green space in a densely-populated, low car ownership, overpolluted inner city for the convenience of commuting drivers. In other words, favouring the rich over the poor, favouring industrialisation over the environment.

This season, yellow is the new blue.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

UPDATE: Following overwhelming public opposition, the Council has withdrawn the Monument Moor plan. The South Headingley Community Association's Sue Buckle was one of the main organisers of the campaign. After the announcement of the victory, she said, 'It shows what can be achieved if people are prepared to protest and make their views clear... It's the sort of outcome that gives people heart for bigger struggles.'

Amen to that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

freshly sharpened

A long-time member of my sidebar's blogroll, The Sharpener is a group blog that pools the talents of about 30 political writers.

They cover a broad range of perspectives, yet aims to have a consistently intelligent, informed approach. It means you get to read stuff by people who you don't necessarily agree with and really test your (and their) thinking.

I've been flattered by being invited aboard the good ship Sharpener.

I just published my inaugral post there, Seeing Red, about Bono's consume-to-give Red campaign. Bono edited a promotional issue of The Independent last Tuesday, whose message can be summed up in a line from the Zane Lowe interview Bono included; 'The only thing people who are trying to make a difference can do is work alongside corporations.'

In order to keep the discussion in one place, posts on The Sharpener are not cross-posted on the author's own blog. However, I will always put a notice here whenever I post there.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

if you've got the oil, we've got the bombs

Some instructive oil politics from elsewhere on the web.

Baghdad Burning remains truly gripping reading, an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances in modern Iraq. With all the Iran war rumblings going on, there's a point made that I've not seen elsewhere:

It was around 9 pm on the 11th of April when we finally saw the footage of Saddam’s statue being pulled down by American troops- the American flag plastered on his face. We watched, stunned, as Baghdad was looted and burned by hordes of men, being watched and saluted by American soldiers in tanks. Looking back at it now, it is properly ironic that our first glimpses of the ‘fall of Baghdad’ and the occupation of Iraq came to us via Iran- through that Iranian channel.

We immediately began hearing about the Iranian revolutionary guard, and how they had formed a militia of Iraqis who had defected to Iran during the Iran-Iraq war. We heard how they were already inside of the country and were helping to loot and burn everything from governmental facilities to museums. The Hakims and Badr made their debut, followed by several other clerics with their personal guard and militias, all seeping in from Iran.

Today they rule the country. Over the duration of three years, and through the use of vicious militias, assassinations and abductions, they’ve managed to install themselves firmly in the Green Zone. We constantly hear our new puppets rant and rave against Syria, against Saudi Arabia, against Turkey, even against the country they have to thank for their rise to power- America...

The big question is- what will the US do about Iran? There are the hints of the possibility of bombings, etc. While I hate the Iranian government, the people don’t deserve the chaos and damage of air strikes and war. I don’t really worry about that though, because if you live in Iraq- you know America’s hands are tied. Just as soon as Washington makes a move against Tehran, American troops inside Iraq will come under attack. It’s that simple- Washington has big guns and planes... But Iran has 150,000 American hostages.

Thing is, Iran is sitting on a lot of oil and gas that we want; it also stands between an oil-thirsty China and the major middle eastern oilfields.

With those commodities about to become so expensive, we not only want cheap supplies for us, we want the huge profits from anyone who buys it, and the power to deny it to those who incur our displeasure.

The troops/hostages may not be enough to dissuade us. We've already shown one Iraqi government what we can do if we don't like them.

The imminency of it all was flagged up in this post by Jim Kunstler

America commuted back into the unknown country of $3-plus gasoline and $75-plus oil (per barrel) last week, and President Bush revisted the Tomorrowland of hydrogen cars in the absence of any reality-based response to the global energy crunch that will change all the terms of America's "non-negotiable way of life."

Actually, we are negotiating, or bargaining, as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once put it in describing the sequence of emotional reactions of humans facing certain death:

denial > bargaining > depression > acceptance

Events seem to have dragged us kicking and screaming beyond the sheer denial stage, since this is now the second time in six months that oil and gasoline prices have ratcheted wildly up. Something is happening, Mr. Jones, and now we want to talk our way out of it.

The main thread in this bargaining stage is the desperate wish to keep our motoring fiesta going by other means than oil. This fantasy exerts its power across the whole political spectrum, and evinces a fascinating poverty of imagination in the public and its leaders in every field: politics, business, science and the media.

The right wing still pretends we can still drill our way out of this, if only the nature freaks would allow them to. The "green" folks thinks that we can devote crops to the production of gasoline substitutes, even though a scarcity of fossil fuel-based fertilizers will sharply cut crop yields for human food. Nobody, it seems, can imagine an American life not centered on cars...

The mainstream media, representing the nation's collective consciousness, remains in a coma. This morning's electronic edition of The New York Times displays not one home page headline about oil or gasoline prices, despite the trauma of the week just passed.

Jim explained social blindness to the issue

I try to avoid the term "peak oil" because it has cultish overtones, and this is a serious socioeconomic issue, not a belief system. But it seems to me that what we are seeing now in financial and commodity markets, and in the greater economic system itself, is exactly what we ought to expect of peak oil conditions: peak activity.

After all, peak is the point where the world is producing the most oil it will ever produce, even while it is also the inflection point where big trouble is apt to begin. And this massive quantity of oil induces a massive amount of work, land development, industrial activity, commercial production, and motor transport.

So we shouldn't be surprised that there is a lot happening, that houses and highways are still being built, that TVs are pouring out of the Chinese factories, commuters are still whizzing around the DC Beltway, that obese children still have plenty of microwavable melted cheese pockets to zap for their exhausting sessions with Grand Theft Auto.

But in the peak oil situation the world is like a banquet just before the tablecloth is pulled out from under it... it is hard to say how the platters, bowls, and ewers will tumble and fall, but we can bet that few if any of them will land right-side up, unspilled. One also has to wonder how the other people at the table are going to behave when things come tumbling down.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

economic growth is genocide

As climate change bears down on the near future eclipsing all other issues, the mainstay of our suicidal system - the myth of perpetual economic growth - is clung to by government and media. The mass denial goes on.

I mean, can you really imagine a national newspaper publishing something by an MP from the party of government saying anything about it? Not just shilly-shallying, but comparing our wilful consumption to the genocide of the Third Reich?

His name is Colin Challen and he's saying things like this:

Climate change means that business as usual is dead. It means that economic growth as usual is dead. But the politics of economic growth and business as usual live on.

What needs to change to bring about a political tipping point? What is stopping us from taking the radical path we need to follow today if we are to avoid dangerous climate change tomorrow?

We are imprisoned by our political Hippocratic oath: we will deliver unto the electorate more goodies than anybody else. Such an oath was only ever achievable by increasing our despoliation of the world's resources. Our economic model is not so different in the cold light of day to that of the Third Reich - which knew it could only expand by grabbing what it needed from its neighbours.

Genocide followed. Now there is a case to answer that genocide is once again an apt description of how we are pursuing business as usual, wilfully ignoring the consequences for the poorest people in the world...

To accept responsibility is not merely to say "sorry". Too often saying sorry seemed to be enough, like saying we're sorry for the slave trade. Rarely do such apologies come with compensation. But the strength of our relationship with climate change is that it gives us the power to change - it is not the past, it is the future.

We can discharge our responsibilities by changing our behaviour. This will only be worthwhile if we can measure the impact of our policies within an overall framework which allocates responsibilities fairly and sustainably...

we should aim to contract our emissions while converging to a per-capita basis of shared emissions rights. If our framework is disciplined by science, and not what is simply the current economic model, we may be able to break the Faustian pact we have entered into before it ends in tears...

These policies are a radical departure from business as usual. But since none of the mechanisms we currently have in place are solving the problem faster than it is being created, we must look to forging a new consensus which can think the unthinkable - and take the electorate along with it.

Friday, May 12, 2006

nazi folk singers fuck off

Awww, aren't they sweet?

Prussian Blue, twelve year old twins who are a folk duo.

They beautifully harmonise their way through folky covers of Skrewdriver songs as well as doing their own white supremacist material.

They explain the significance of their name:

Part of our heritage is Prussian German. Also our eyes are blue, and Prussian Blue is just a really pretty color. There is also the discussion of the lack of "Prussian Blue" coloring (Zyklon B residue) in the so-called gas chambers in the concentration camps. We think it might make people question some of the inaccuracies of the "Holocaust" myth.

The album pictured above features songs sung in German, highly appropriate for girls with a little sister called Dresden.

Their website is helpfully headed 'Prussian Blue web site', just in case you might've mistaken it for a Prussian Blue book, Prussian Blue CD or Prussian Blue aardvark.

And the joy keeps on coming. They're blossoming into adolescence and have a new album out.

Another two items added to the list of reasons headed 'We Have Earned The Extinction of Our Species'.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Last night's Channel 4 documentary on how the occupation of Iraq has affected women was sobering and harrowing. Doctors stood on the rubble of maternity wards bombed by the Americans, but filming cut short in order not to draw American gunfire.

One thing struck me in particular. Since the invasion violent fundamentalist Islam is seriously on the rise, and more women are being forced to wear headscarves and far less girls are going to school. The American - sorry, Allied - forces tell us this is all part of giving Iraqis self-determination.

In Afghanistan, we are told that we can measure the success of the occupation by the decline of Taliban power, the decrease in burka-wearing and the increase in girls attending school.

Two contradictory justifications for adjacent simulataneous wars waged by the same people. So there can be no doubt that we are being lied to about the reasons for occupation. There must unquestionably be some other reason.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

climate change: time for action

Climate change is not coming. It is already here. It presents arguably the largest ever threat to humanity. Yet the response is frighteningly inadequate.

We know that our elected leaders and the corporate interests they represent are not going to lead the way to the change we need; they are in fact our main obstacles. Despite being in full possession of the facts, they want to carry on making it worse.

As UK Environment Minister Margaret Beckett conceded

[at the 2004 climate talks] in Buenos Aires it was only just possible at the very, very last minute to squeak through an agreement to do or say or consider anything that even had the word 'future' in it, or any phrase that could be interpreted as committing the global community to talking about the future.

If we want the change so desperately needed, it won't be handed out from above but demanded from below.

All around the world people like us see what is happening and are concerned, angry, scared and daunted. The scale of the threat is so huge, where do we begin?

We begin by getting those who feel this way together.

There is a growing grassroots movement that realises we need to put climate change in all its terrifying urgency at the heart of social thinking and action.

This summer, in northern England there will be the Camp For Climate Action.

Running from 26th August to 4th September, it will be a mix of workshops, meetings, socialising, information-sharing and, above all, action. It will bring together thousands of people from the UK who want to act to stop climate change before it's too late. It will be a place that encourages discussion on what we are faced with, what the alternatives are, how we can achieve them and the diversity of tactics and action we will need to get there. It will be a base for direct action against some of key sections of the fossil fuel economy.

When the camp is over, it will hopefully not be the end; rather, the beginning. At its best, it will be a kickstart for a movement that's been waiting to happen, a movement long overdue, a network of people, a conspiracy of action, of actively taking responsibility, of facing up to it with determination and hope.

For more info check the article I've just written about it, check the camp website, book your time off 26th Aug-4th Sept, tell others about it and let's get busy!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

jack off

Jack White has written a song especially for a Coca-Cola advert.

He explained, 'to be asked to write something particular along one theme of love in a worldwide form that I'm not really used to appealed to me'.

At Leeds train station last summer, I was struck by seeing an advert for Coke that had two of the distinctive bottles with 'LO' on one and 'VE' on the other. The adjacent poster was Ford cars selling 'Ford's summer of love'.

Everyone likes love, so tell them that buying a product is buying love and they'll cough up. It's so obviously cynically manipulative that I feel like I'm insulting your intelligence pointing it out. But if Jack White, clearly a bright spark, can be taken in then something's gotta be said.

Noel Gallagher's responded

He ceases to be in the club. And he looks like Zorro on doughnuts. I don't believe in adverts. He's meant to be the posterboy for the alternative way of thinking. Coca-Cola man. Fucking hell. And OK, you want to spread your message of peace and love, but do us all a fucking favour. I'm just not having it. It's like doing a fucking gig for McDonald's.

It takes nearly three litres of water to make a litre of Coke, yet increasingly they're doing it in water deprived areas of the world because labour is cheaper and regulation on employer and environmental responsibilities is weaker.

Mark Thomas' exposing of Coke's participation in Nazi Germany, complete with nice Aryan adverts, is illuminating.

They opened up bottling plants in Sudetenland shortly after the Nazis had invaded. They exhibited at Nazi trade fairs. And in 1941 when Coca Cola GmbH could no longer get the syrup to make Coke from America they created a new drink out of the ingredients they had available to them. That drink created for the Nazi soft drink market was Fanta. Fanta is the drink of Nazis.

The excellent book by Mark Pendergrast "
For God Country and Coca Cola" describes the CEO of Coke GmbH standing under Coca Cola banners and swastikas at a Coke rally before leading the audience in the Seig Heils for Hitler. Pendergrast also points to the near certainty that Coke used forced labour in the bottling plants

This is interesting for sure, but it doesn't actually constitute a reason for disliking them today.

Mark Thomas has been clear about what they're doing these days, but more heavyweight is War On Want's recent report.

It shows that Coca Cola has:

- exhausted community water reserves in India by drilling deep into underground reservoirs, drying up local wells and leaving farmers unable to irrigate their crops.

- contaminated local ecosystems in El Salvador and India through waste effluents discharged from its plants.

- been implicated in human rights abuses in Colombia, including the death and disappearances of trade union activists at Coca-Cola bottling plants.

- adopted union-busting tactics in a wide range of other countries such as Pakistan, Turkey, Russia, Peru, Chile, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

One of the Colombian trade unionists, Isidro Seguno Gil, was killed inside the Coca-Cola plant. The paramilitaries got into the plant, found the person they were after, killed him there on the job, left the plant, and got away scot-free.

His wife campaigned for justice. She was murdered.

As well as murdering trade unionists, hundreds of other Colombian Coke workers have been tortured, kidnapped and/or illegally detained by paramilitaries working closely with Coke's plant managements.

In India, thousands of people are left without water. They walk up to seven kilometres to get drinking water, and their crops have no irrigation and fail utterly.

A worldwide song of love, eh Jack?

When you find Noel Gallagher's your spiritual and moral superior, it's time to stop doing anything at all until your soul returns.