Saturday, December 23, 2006

in defence of the long-term unemployed

The government have, once again, promised a crackdown on people who've been on the dole for a long time. Thing is, full employment's never going to happen again, there are more people than jobs now, so we might as well leave those who are happy on the dole alone.

Such an admission raises issues of what the welfare state's there for; it's not just an insurance scheme for when we have misfortune, it's about ensuring the best minimum standard of living for all.

I've done a post about it over at The Sharpener, called In Defence of The Long-Term Unemployed

[NB. No comments here: the place to leave them's over at The Sharpener]

Thursday, December 21, 2006

lies, damned lies, and melanie phillips

It's like having one of those long-term spots that you can't help picking at. It never does any good, you'll only make things worse, but somehow your hand wanders back there of its own accord and by the time you realise what you're doing, you're already squeezing and the germs have been spread.

So it was that I found myself halfway through this week's Melanie Phillips column in the Daily Mail.

Why even open the fucking thing? Well, it was a free copy in the swimming pool wating area, and after the photo of a donkey that's in a stage musical, Phillips' thing was the next thing that caught my eye.

She's like some sort of uber-Mail columnist, reading her stuff is like drinking pure essential oil of uninformed bigot.

I first found out about her in her guise as climate change denier

forests are actually partly responsible for global warming. Rather than ’save the trees’, it seems, it’s ‘blame the trees’!

According to a new study, living green plants may be contributing as much as one third of the methane in the earth’s atmosphere - and methane is second only to carbon dioxide in the rogues’ gallery of greenhouse gases said to be responsible for global warming.

That's not true. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane is 25 times worse than CO2. Nitrous oxide is 298 times worse. Sulphur Hexafluoride is 22,800 times worse.

if the climate is indeed overheating, that does not mean that man-made emissions are necessarily to blame. Indeed, it is extremely unlikely that they would be since carbon dioxide forms a relatively small proportion of the atmosphere, in which the biggest greenhouse gas is water vapour.

It's not just about the proportion of the atmosphere made up of a gas but, as she herself just said, also about how powerful it is at inducing the effect, and crucially - and this is where humans come in - what happens when you change the balance.

Methane levels have done the same ski-jump upcurve as CO2 and other industrial gases since industrial times began. By Melanie's logic there should have been a commensurate rise in the number of trees. Still, it didn't stop her from seeing her belief as the new and wise position

Oh dear. No doubt Galileo had the same problem when all medieval parchments agreed that the sun went round the earth; or Christopher Columbus, when all navigational maps agreed that the earth was flat.

Which is uncannily like a bit in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Hocus Pocus

Wilder gave him his supercilious, vulpine, patronizing silky debater's grin. 'A majority of the scientific community,' he said, 'would say, if I'm not mistaken, that an epitaph would be premature by several thousand years'. That debate took place maybe 6 years before I was fired, which would be back in 1985, and I don't know what scientific community he was talking about. Every kind of scientist, all the way down to chiropractors and podiatrists, was saying were were killing the planet fast.

'You want to hear the epitaph?' said Ed Bergeron.

'If we must,' said Wilder, and the grin went on and on. 'I have to tell you, though, that you are not the first person to say the game was all over for the human race. I'm sure that even in Egypt before the first pyramid was constructed, there were men who attracted a following by saying "it's all over now"'.

'What is different about now as compared with Egypt before the first pyramid was built-' Ed began.

'And before the Chinese invented printing, and before Columbus discovered America,' Jason Wilder interjected.

'Exactly,' said Bergeron. 'The difference is that we have the misfortune of knowing what's really going on,' said Bergeron, 'which is no fun at all. And this has given rise to a whole new class of preening, narcissistic quacks like yourself who say in the service of rich and shameless polluters that the state of the atmosphere and the water and the topsoil on which all life depends is as debatable as how many angels can dance on the fuzz of a tennis ball'.

It's led George Monbiot to lay into her heavily and personally

Writing in the Daily Mail in January, she dismissed the entire canon of climatology as “a global fraud” perpetrated by the “leftwing, anti-American, anti-West ideology which goes hand in hand with anti-globalisation and the belief that everything done by the industrialised world is wicked.” This belief must be shared by the Pentagon, whose recent report pictures climate change as the foremost threat to global security. In an earlier article, she claimed that “most independent climate specialists, far from supporting [global warming], are deeply sceptical.” She managed to name only one, however, and he receives his funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Having blasted the world’s climatologists for “scientific illiteracy”, she then trumpeted her own. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which collates the findings of climatologists), is, she complained, “studded with weasel words” such as “very likely” and “best estimate”. These weasel words are, of course, what make it a scientific report, rather than a column by Melanie Phillips.

He's given her a coveted place in the Bluffers Corner section of, where he takes apart the article I've been quoting. Her article is so full of utter shit that he doesn't pick her up on the points I've quoted.

So then, that's who we're dealing with here.

And there I was, reading her pronouncements on the recent Suffolk murders.

One of the most striking things about the Ipswich prostitutes was that drug addiction — as often as not starting with cannabis — led them straight into the trade that in turn led them to their terrible end.

Most people who use hard drugs have used cannabis first. They are also more likely to have been users of alcohol, tobacco and solvents. They are more likely to have been in trouble with the police. Cannabis can no more be blamed for their heroin addiction than their exposure to police handcuffs.

Conversely, most cannabis users do not ever use hard drugs. Indeed, most people who try cannabis don't even become regular cannabis users. Far from being a gateway drug, it's actually more of a terminus.

This has caused some to conclude that both illegal drugs and the prostitution trade should be legalised

As regular Badgerers will know, I've talked about the drugs thing before, here and elsewhere. Prostitution should be legal and regulated for many of the same reasons. It isn't going to go away, criminalisation only exacerbates the problems and creates a bunch of new ones.

A few years ago I saw an Australian documentary about how the recently legalised brothels were going in New South Wales. The one they featured was out of town, in nobody's way, run by a former policeman. There were good sanitary facilities, the women had banded together to be effectively unionised, health workers came round every week, and there was good security if any client did turn out to be violent.

Straightforward, pleasant and safe; it was really shocking to see the sexual appetite being treated like the other human emotional/physical hungers that we pay for at restaurants, pubs, fairgrounds and sports matches.

Prostitution embodies a view of women which is intrinsically brutalising, dehumanising and predatory.

Work embodies a view of people which is intrinsically brutalising, dehumanising and predatory.

Some people cannot see prostitutes as more than sex objects in the same way that some people cannot see waiters as more than automata. Stigmatisation reinforces that view, acceptance and regulation breaks it down.

Prostitution is just people selling their time, health and skills, same as any other job. A prostitute is selling something that is unarguably theirs. How on earth could we dare to say otherwise?

The crucial fact that such proponents fail to acknowledge is that if illegal activities become legal, many more people will engage in them. That means a huge increase in the damage they do

Neither of these points is true.

The first is factually wrong. Cannabis use did not significantly increase in the Netherlands after decriminalisation. It has stayed below the levels of the prohibitionist countries like the UK and USA. The title of her piece is 'Red light tolerance zones would cause prostitution to rocket', as if there are loads of us gagging to use prostitutes but are put off by the criminalisation.

The second is logically wrong. Even if the incidence of either activity increases, damage does not need to. Safer use of drugs, safer working environments for prostitutes would see a downturn in harm even if use were to increase.

All countries which have liberalised their drug laws have seen a vast increase in their drugs trade.

As have all other comparable but prohibitionist countries. Why do we have higher levels of drug use than our Dutch cousins?

She lambasts a

Home Office which effectively gave the green light to cannabis use, thus putting a rocket booster under drug use in Britain — which in turn is inextricably linked to an equivalent explosion of people-trafficking and prostitution.

Former Home Secretary & Safety Elephant Charles Clarke thought downgrading cannabis would lead to increased use. Unlike Melanie, he's seen the subsequent figures. Which, like anyone who's studied the facts, means he disagrees with her:

The preliminary assessment is that, contrary to my personal expectation, reclassification has not led to an increase in use.

But more to the point, she's still clinging to that 'cannabis to people trafficking by way of heroin and prostitution' thing. As if people who grow and smoke their own are somehow responsible for people trafficking.

Now the drug legalisers are trying a new tack. Medicalise drug use by legalising heroin, they cry, and drug crime will go away...Legal drugs would always be undercut — both by lower prices and higher strengths — by a black market.

If a doctor is giving me pure heroin, for free, how can a black market make it stronger and cheaper?

Switzerland is unencumbered by UN membership or other things that tamper with a country's ability to act unilaterally on drug policy. Facing a huge heroin problem in Zurich, they first tried allowing a park to be a users safe place. Muggings in the vicinity rocketed, so they tried a new approach to treatment. People would be given rehab, including heroin on prescription. People turned up to clinics several times a day for their dose (none of that selling your script on the sly, which Melanie gives as a reason not to prescribe). It was made a medical rather than criminal problem.

The results were stunning. The number of user deaths dwindled, the number of users funding their habit by crime dropped from over 70% to less than 10%, the number on benefits halved and accordingly the number in work doubled, their health improved. A bunch of Christians forced a referendum to try to end the policy, but the public had seen what was working and overwhelmingly said to carry on.

Ah, but it's not about the users, it's about the way it sends a message of tolerance so that more people become users. Right?

A report published this year in The Lancet shows an 82% decline in new heroin users in Zurich since the new policy began 15 years ago.

As George Monbiot marvelled

Where does she get it from? How do you acquire such confidence in your own rectitude that neither the evidence itself, nor the Royal Society, nor the combined weight of the major scientific journals can alter by a whisker the line you have taken? Are you born knowing you have prophetic powers: that everything you believe is and will forever be true? Or does it come with experience? If so, what might that experience be?

So if the evidence disproves her assertions on the way legalising drugs affects the health and numbers of users, what is really driving her? Straightforward puritanism.

Contrary to their argument that the ‘war on drugs’ has been a failure, the problem is rather that we have never given an unambiguous signal that all drug-taking is wrong.

We have never grasped that a coherent policy against vice means criminalising not merely those who supply the prostitution and drugs trades, but the male punters and drug-takers who make use of them.

'All drug taking is wrong'. In and of itself.

Is she like this for other vice too? For, say, gambling and alcohol?

Over and over again — with abortion, pornography, under-age sex, drinking, drug-taking or prostitution — we have lifted the constraints of both law and the informal sanctions of shame and stigma in pursuit of an ‘enlightened’ doctrine of tolerance

So, it does appear that we should be banning alcohol. And apparently we were better off in the days of illegal abortion too. She is actively campaigning for an increase in shame and stigma - her choice of words! - for reasons that have no factual basis, only her dislike of the idea of anyone enjoying the activities to be proscribed.

I don't mind the Daily Mail employing narrow-minded bigot columnists. What am I saying, of course I mind.

What I mean is that's not the thing that surprises me. The thing I can't comprehend is how she can, over and over and over again, put forward such factually incorrect writing, deliberate lies to back up her position that are so demonstrably untrue, and still be allowed to do more.

God, if I were the Mail's editor (and I'd have to become some kind of puppy-boiling Nazi to find myself in Hell with that job) I couldn't even employ her on grounds of 'provoking a response'; publishing such made-up bollocks makes a total fucking mockery of any publication that prints her stuff.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

go straight to hell, boys

As Commandante Joe said, it's Christmas out in Ho Chi Minh City, and indeed everywhere else.

Tis the season to be jolly, and what better way than remembering ancient state sponsored mass infanticide?

Nearly as good as giving each other chocolate eggs to commemorate the death of a certain young man.

Which young man? A young man with no need to feel down, I said young man pick yourself off the ground...

see you in hell

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

the blog digest 2007

The venerable Jim Bliss rightly observes

it's certainly true that the vast majority of bloggers are bad 14-year-old poets, schoolgirls in Singapore telling the world how dreamy Ashton Kutcher is, and Christian American newlyweds posting baby pictures and reports of last night's church meeting.

Yet still, the small proportion who write well about interesting stuff are actually a large number.

Once a year, some British politically and culturally aware blogger compiles a book of fine examples. Last year's was called 2005 Blogged: Dispatches from the Blogosphere.

This year's is called The Blog Digest 2007, which is a tad baffling for a book digesting blogs from January-September 2006.

Whatever, it is a corker, no doubt about it. By cherry-picking they get to more blogs than you and your mates could get round to reading.

I got sent a freebie cos they've used a post of mine, Carbon Offsets Are A Fraud.

There's all you want from decent blogging; unbridled personal opinions expressed with eloquence and verve, ignored angles on big stories, entirely ignored but important stories, poignancy, stridently defended partisanship and scalp-tinglingly good swearing.

John Band's questioning of banning guns, It’s morally right that people should die for my amusement
If something provides sufficient net quantities of fun, it is easy to see that we do rate it as worth the death of one or several innocent people. How’s that? Easy. Such beneficial-only-because-fun activities that kill the innocent and non-consenting as funfairs, fast cars, aviation, skateboarding, allowing men out at night, swimming pools and serving margarine to kids are both legal and socially acceptable.

Hence, society (here meaning “everyone who is capable of even the most basic level of moral debate”) agrees that if enough fun is provided, the deaths for fun trade-off is acceptable. The only moral question left is over the necessary fun-to-killing ratio.

Harry Hutton, the funniest blogger I know of, rightly crops up more than once. His IN DEFENCE OF JOHN PRESCOTT is hilarious just from the title.

If I were his lawyer, I would point out that using a government office for having sex with his secretary was far less ruinous for Britain than how he might otherwise have been using it. While Prescott was harmlessly fucking his secretary, the rest of the cabinet were probably hatching schemes to make us all line up and be fingerprinted...

"I’m the one who acted stupidly," he said. What was stupid about it? It was normal and human, and one of the few things he has done recently of which sane people might approve. You vote to abolish Habeas Corpus and the Magna Carta, then you apologise for screwing your secretary? Seriously, what’s wrong with everyone on that island? Besides which, to describe it as "stupid" is insulting to the woman, you great oaf.

A Big Stick And A Small Carrot's piece on the War on Terror's pre-emptive action says all you need to say

He'd got to within five paces when he started reaching for an inside pocket. I was absolutely convinced that he had a knife. So I shot him. In the head, as it happens. He became an ex-knife murderer in a very short space of time. Surprisingly fragile thing, a human head.

We searched him, of course, and it turns out he didn't have a knife after all (not much in his wallet either which just added to the sense of anti-climax). But, he did have in his possession a fishing magazine and in this fishing magazine were several advertisements for knives. It is clear to me that this man had been saving up for a knife. It was only my timely intervention which prevented him from aquiring enough money to buy a knife, ordering that knife, waiting twenty eight days for delivery of the knife, getting a little card through the door from the postman saying "I called today to deliver your knife but you weren't in", getting up early on a Sarturday morning to collect the knifel from the Post Office, unwrapping the knife, taking the knife out with him, walking down a back lane with the knife in an inside pocket, and using that same knife to stab an innocent bystander. Viciously.

As you can see, it's just as well I intervened the way I did. I take full responsibility and am absolutely confident that I made the right decision. I really was sure he had a knife. And he definitely was a nasty piece of work.

I laughed out loud at the great insight of Daniel Davies

In the world of football, I suppose, Zinedine Zidane's legacy will always be controversial, forever tainted by his moment of madness in the world cup final. In the world of headbutting, however, he has secured a place in the gallery of immortals.

Half an hour browsing the book and the lifelessness of much of the mainstream media is painfully obvious to the point where I find it difficult to be arsed with it. You can almost see the corporate-logoed shackles on the newsreaders, the columnists adding clauses to sentences to hit their word limit.

It once more makes me see how blogs have taken the ball of zinery and run with it. When I was writing zines with the Godhaven Coolective, we explained our methods

We did it collectively under pseudonyms so there could be no ego glory; we put them out at 7p, 8p and 9p so there was no money to be made; we had no advertisers or paid employees so there was no commercial tempering; no deadlines so that we didn't rush anything or put in filler if there wasn't enough. We wanted it to be absolutely clear that the only reason the zines existed was because we thought they should.

Blogs tick these boxes, but also manage to respond immediately so they become part of thinking on current issues rather than photocopied treatises months later; they can be linked to so a great or important piece really takes off.

One example in the Blog Digest is Rachel North's. She's been blogging since she survived the 7/7 attacks, pushing for lessons to be learned and a full proper inquiry. The survivors were badgering the Home Secretary about it, who by weird coincidence is Rachel's dad's MP who, by weirder coincidence, addressed a small meeting her dad was at.

Rachel's post about what happened at the meeting got Clarke running back tail between his legs.

But foof, there's several long quotes already, so I'll just leave you to follow the link to Rachel's post, and also to Tim Worstall's fabulously fiery demonstration of what's great about blog writing in his attack on cutting compensation to victims of miscarriages of justice; Tokyo Times' reporting of the combned toilet/MP3 player; and Do You Come Here Often's great overapplication of intelligence to the claims of Surf washing powder

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

the answer to golf is blowing in the wind

So, Hugo Chavez is re-elected with about two thirds of the vote.

It'd be interesting to make a chart putting all the world leaders in order of what percentage of the electorate voted for them. See how the bringers of democracy (by force if necessary ya camel-jockey bastards) have such a piddling madate. Yet when someone like Chavez or Hamas get a two-thirds landslide, they're ostracised and undermined.

As the barking Bard of Barking said, you can fight for democracy at home and not in some foreign land. Chavez knows it only too well.

Three years into Venezuela's rural land redistribution programme, we learn that they've begun turning to urban concerns.

The mayor of Venezuela's capital Caracas says he plans to expropriate two exclusive golf courses and use the land for homes for the city's poor.

Mayor Juan Barreto has said playing golf on lavish courses within sight of the city's slums is "shameful".

Flying Rodent, via whom I spotted this splendid plan, says

Now, don't get me wrong here - I couldn't give a damn about the suffering poor of Venezuelan slums, but I am deeply enthusiastic about anything that annoys golfers.

If, like me, you are rendered apopleptic by the sight of Pringle jumpers, now is our time. If ever a sub-group of society merited dehumanisation, persecution and the deprivation of their assets, it's golfers.

Whilst I agree with the point that the hardline social exclusion of golfers is long overdue, I also see some genuine benefit besides the glory of vengeance. Golf is not only a good walk spoiled, it's also a good windfarm displaced.

So many wind farms, such as Lewis, Cefn Croes and Romney Marsh, are being sited on ecologically precious land.

Where else do we have lots of coastal land doing no good for anyone? Fucking golf courses. Turbine the fucking lot I say.

Richard Branson might want to see the motorways grassed over, but I say we should go further and see the grass of St Andrews and Royal Bastard Birkdale windmilled over.

Given that the present users have not only a disproportionately large rate of car ownership, but these will likely be big gas guzzlers, it's about time they paid something back. By force if necessary, ya Noddy Holder trouser thieving bastards.

Jack Nicklaus on Top of The Pops

Thursday, November 30, 2006

wine miles

Oooh, there are so many yummy cuddly ways to ethically consume.

In the dentist's waiting room there was one of those monthly glossy thick You're Ugly magazines like Marie Claire or Cosmopolitan which had 20 top tips on how to buy green. The bit about buying ethical diamonds was the camel spine snapper.

But running it a close second comes this ad in the Oberver for Australian wine Banrock Station.

Banrock Station's Eden Project advert

They coo about how they sponsor stuff at the Eden Project, who develop ideas 'to help protect and sustain the environment'.

I've got one such idea. How about not exacerbating climate change by shipping wine from about as far away as it's possible to get?

In last month's Howard Memorial Lecture, Green MEP Caroline Lucas said

Between 1968 and 1998 world food production increased by 84 per cent, yet over the same period international trade in food products almost trebled, with trade flows doubling for almost every food category.

Moreover, closer inspection of the figures reveals that a large part of this growth in international trade in food is accounted for by simultaneous imports and exports of the same products between exactly the same countries!

I wrote a report a few years back, called "The Great Food Swap", which documented the absurdity of this phenomenon. The UK and EU provide telling case studies. In one year, Britain imported 61,400 tonnes of poultry meat from the Netherlands and in precisely the same year, it exported 33,100 tonnes of poultry meat to the Netherlands.

In the same year it imported 240,000 tonnes of pork and 125,000 tonnes of lamb, while it exported 195,000 tonnes of pork and 102,000 tonnes of lamb.

The UK imported 126 million litres of milk and exported 270 million litres of milk.

Ah, but whilst it's mad to ship a foodstuff like milk that is utterly generic, wines of the world have different character. Sure, it's a heavy container containing around 85% water, but all the difference is in that last 15%. Right?

First off, let's just be clear that wine is not a necessary foodstuff, it is only ever consumed as a luxury. So when our transport use has to be curtailed then mass consumption of imported luxuries should be jostling with the swapping of generic products at the top of the list.

But even on its own terms, the argument of different countries making different wines doesn't have even the dimmest persuasive power. Even if you don't want to go for excellent British wines but prefer classic flavours, we are adjacent to France, the country that produces not only a massive variety of wines but among them the finest on earth. Even if you want dirt cheap rough stuff, that means central or eastern European.

So there is simply no excuse - be it on grounds of conscience, value or quality - for Europeans buying non-European wine.

Banrock Station's using eco-PR to sell maximum wine miles is as cynical as (I've linked to them to prove that they really exist) the Reebok Human Rights Awards, the Alcan Prize for Sustainability or Nestlé Award for Social Commitment.

Monday, November 27, 2006

stop asking so nicely

There really is something afoot. The sense of groundswell on climate change is unlike anything I've ever known.

With other issues there's always a lot of explaining to do; what the issue is, what the problem is, how to fix it, why anyone should be bothered. Climate change is just not like that. Everyone knows already, and the pace of change in perception - in the UK deniers only exist on message boards and in the Daily Mail's columnists - is tremendously encouraging.

The scale of change required is titanic, and the timeframe is so short that it necessarily means working alongside allies and systems that aren't entirely comfortable. One of these is government.

But please, can we drop the approach that implies 'oh, if only we explained it to them then their common humanity would make them do the right thing'?

These people do fucking know. They've had the best and most expensive research that exists. They've known longer than us, they know more than us how fucked it all is. It's just that they prefer short term profit.

The advert on excellent anti-aviation spoof site Spurt ends with an exhortation to take action; 'Be heard - email the Department of Transport'.

What, cos they don't know already? Cos they'll even open your fucking email, let alone act on it?

Polite petitioning is a safety valve. It makes concerned people shut up because they're satisfied they've 'been heard' if they do something ineffective like - as in this case - put their name and email address on a website.

It's going to take more than that to qualify as being heard. It's going to take more drastic action, stuff to slam home the urgency of what's being addressed, like Plane Stupid's recent blocade of the runway at East Midlands airport.

Part of the reason why the Camp for Climate Action got such huge and positive press and response was because it wasn't polite or timid but bold, brazen and armed with solutions that actually squared up to the problem.

Even when direct action gets a bad press, it succeeds in shifting the grounds for debate. If there's only Greenpeace and Friends of The Earth talking about climate change then they're the extreme. But along come some direct activists with more radical demands and suddenly the NGOs are cuddly moderates.

More, when the actions get positive response, they give the NGOs license to be more radical too. A few weeks after the Camp for Climate Action tried to occupy and shut down the UK's biggest CO2 emitter, Drax power station, Greenpeace did an action on Didcot, the second biggest.

And being a hierarchical organisation with large wads of cash, they pulled it off properly too.

The more they do of that sort of thing - and the less of their part in Spurt's 'email the government' stuff - the more chance we have of success.

And so hearty hurrah for the subversion of petitioning. The Prime Minister's website now has an e-petition facility. You can add anything that starts with 'We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to...'.

The present front runner is the repeal of the Hunting Act. But coming up close behind - 13th out of 683 - is 'we the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to stand on his head and juggle ice-cream'.

Please, go to the page and sign it.

Derrick Jensen is a provocative ecological thinker. Wearing my U-Know hat, I recently put his Beyond Hope as the monthly Feature article.

(Incidentally, I don't have an actual U-Know hat. Given Cope's present penchant for quasi Nazi officer hats it's perhaps just as well. I think they could come up with something good though, something purple and cyber. Maybe we should start a petition to get me one).

Jensen's discovery of the original Star Wars script, like much of his other stuff, is a bit of a heavy bludgeon but it does contain the essentials of how I feel on the petitioning approach.


I went to see Star Wars when I was in high school, which seems about the right time to see it. I liked it a lot. I wasn’t one of those people who saw it a hundred times or anything. I wasn’t that much of a nerd. Besides, I was too busy playing Dungeons and Dragons.

I saw it again recently. It’s not so good as I remember. In fact it’s pretty bad. The characters are flat, the dialog hokey, the acting nondescript. But I still loved the ending, where Luke remembers to “use the force” to blow up the Death Star.

For those of you who may have forgotten, the Death Star (according to the official Star Wars website) “was the code name of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon developed by the Empire. The immense space station carried a weapon capable of destroying entire planets. The Death Star was to be an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation. While the massive station is evidence of the evil that was the Galactic Empire, it was also proof of the New Order’s greatest weakness—the belief that technology and terror were superior to the will of oppressed beings fighting for freedom.”

That’s all pretty interesting stuff, and of course applicable to the discussion at hand: civilization as Death Star.

The website also says, “The Death Star was a battle station the size of a small moon. It had a formidable array of turbolasers and tractor beam projectors, giving it the firepower of greater than half the Imperial Starfleet. Within its cavernous interior were legions of Imperial troops and fightercraft, as well as all manner of detention blocks and interrogation cells. The Death Star was spherical, and dark gray in color. Located on the Death Star’s northern hemisphere was a concave disk housing the station’s main laser weapon....In a brutal display of the Death Star’s power, Grand Moff Tarkin targeted its prime weapon at the peaceful world of Alderaan. [Rebel princess] Leia Organa, an Imperial captive at the time, was forced to watch as the searing laser blast split apart her beloved world, turning the planet and its populace into orbital ash and debris.”

I’m not sure if you feel a stab of recognition at being a captive of the empire, forced to watch your beloved world and its (human and nonhuman) populace turned into orbital ash and debris. I do.

The website continues, “Using ...stolen technical data, [rebel] Alliance tacticians were able to pinpoint a crucial flaw in the Death Star’s design. A small ray-shielded thermal exhaust port led directly from the surface of the station into the heart of its colossal reactor. If the port could be breached by proton torpedoes, then the resulting chain reaction would destroy the station.”

We all know what happened next: By using the force, and with the help of Han Solo and Chewbacca, as well as the spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker was able to drop a proton torpedo right down the tiny port, and blow up the Death Star.

One small proton torpedo destroyed the Death Star. This would be a prime example of leveraging your power by using a properly placed fulcrum. In our case, to switch metaphors, where do we place the charges? Where is the correct thermal exhaust port? How do we start a chain reaction that will cause the “Death Star” before us to self-destruct?

You know, don’t you, that this wasn’t the movie’s original ending. I have in my hands an extremely rare early draft of the Star Wars film script, never before published. It may surprise you to learn that the early drafts were written by environmentalists. In this version, the rebels do not of course blow up the Death Star, but instead prefer to use other tactics to slow the intergalactic march of Empire.

For example, they set up programs for people on planets about to be destroyed to produce luxury items like hemp hacky sacks and gourmet coffee for sale to inhabitants of the Death Star. Audience members will also discover that there are plans afoot to encourage loads of troopers and other citizens of the Empire to take ecotours of doomed planets. The purpose will be to show to one and all that these planets are economically important to the Empire and so should not be destroyed.

In a surprise move that will rivet viewers to the edges of their seats, other groups of rebels file lawsuits against the Empire, attempting to show that the Environmental Impact Statement Darth Vader was required to file failed to adequately support its decision that blowing up this planet would cause “no significant impact.”

Viewers will thrill to learn of plans to boycott items produced by corporations that have Darth Vader on the board of directors, and will leap to their feet in theaters worldwide when they see bags full of letters written directly to Mr. Vader himself asking that he please not blow up anymore planets.

(Scribbled in the margin is a note from one of the screenwriters: “For accuracy’s sake, when we show examples of these letters, it is imperative that all letters to Mr. Vader be respectful and courteous, and that they stress the need to find cooperative solutions to the differences between the rebels and the Empire. Under no circumstances should the letters be such that they would alienate or anger Mr. Vader. If the letters upset Mr. Vader, the rebels’ letter campaign to the Grand Moff Tarkin would certainly fail as well.”)

Other plans include sending petitions and filing lawsuits.

Now, you and I both know that all of this should be sufficient not only to bring the Empire to its knees but to make a damn fine and exciting movie. The thing is: there’s more. Thousands of renegade rebels, unhappy with what they perceive as toadying on the part of the mainstream rebels, decide, in a scene guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of even the most cold-hearted theatergoers, to stand on the planets to be destroyed, link arms (or, in some cases, tentacles), and sing “Give Peace a Chance.” They send DVDs of this to both Darth Vader and his boss the Grand Moff Tarkin, to whom they also send wave after wave of lovingkindness™.

Some few rebels sneak aboard the Death Star and lock themselves down to various pieces of equipment. (Early in this draft of the film, the screenwriters included a long scene showing the extensive training in nonviolent communication that is a prerequisite to joining the rebels.

Most writers had originally, by the way, called it a rebel army, but several objected to the violence inherent in that word. Next came “rebel force,” but nearly as many objected to that word as well. In any case, the nuanced scene of nonviolence training was dropped in later drafts and the infamous [and horribly violent] Cantina scene was, incomprehensibly to some, put in its place.) Stirring debates are held onscreen among these rebels as to whether they should voluntarily surrender on approach of the troopers, or whether they should remain locked down to the end. In a brilliant and brave touch of authenticity, the rebels are never able to come to consensus.

The writers themselves entered into a debate as to whether the troopers should decapitate the locked-down rebels on or off screen, with one writer pleading that instead rebels must be explicitly shown being taken alive to interrogation cells: “Showing,” he wrote in the margin, “or even implying that the troopers would ever commit these acts of violence, even in response to such obvious challenges to their authority as rebels invading their space and doing violence to their machinery by interfering with that machinery’s lawful use would send absolutely the wrong message to theatergoers, and would give the wrong impression of Mr. Vader’s ultimately peaceful intentions.”

Once inside the Death Star, a splinter group breaks off from those about to lock themselves down. They rush down long hallways, somehow avoiding the myriad troopers. They burn a couple of transport ships, and use chemicals to etch “Galaxy Liberation Front” on the walls of the Death Star. This group miraculously escapes back to the planet about to be destroyed, where they’re held by the peaceful protesters so they can be immediately and rightly turned over to troopers.

That same writer comments in the margin, “Not only is it vital, once again, that the right message be sent to audience members by showing these rebels being put in a position to take responsibility for their actions, but it would also be terribly unrealistic to expect these peaceful rebels to put up with these actions that would simply give Darth Vader the excuse he needs to blow up the planet. The disrespectful hooligans must be turned over to the Empire promptly and without question.”

Near the end of the movie another debate is held among the rebels. (One problem I had with this environmentalist screenplay was that there was a bit too much debate and not quite enough action.) As the Death Star looms directly overhead, a few of the rebels advocate picking up weapons to fight back. These rebels are generally shouted down by pacifist rebels, who argue that attacking those who run the Death Star is “just another example of the Empire’s harmful philosophy coming in by the back door.” They state that the rebels who want to fight back are simply being co-opted by the need to control things. If we want to change Darth Vader, they say, we must all first become the change. To change Darth Vader’s heart, we must first change our own. We must above all else have compassion for Darth Vader, and remember that he, too, was once a child.

One writer put in the margins: “Excellent! This will be sure to moisten the cheeks of sensitive people everywhere!” He did not mention whether or not these tears would be of frustration.

Finally Leia, Luke, Han, Chewbacca, and a couple of robots show up and tell these others they’ve found a way to blow up the whole Death Star. The rest of the rebels—even those who’d previously been in favor of surgical strikes aimed at “removing” Darth Vader—are horrified. They point out that blowing up the Death Star will do nothing to change the hearts and minds of those who create Death Stars, and so will accomplish nothing. Han Solo replies, “It will stop this Death Star from destroying this planet.”

The pacifist rebels are unmoved. They remind the unruly four that the Death Star has a crew of 265,675, plus 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 25,984 stormtroopers, 42,782 ship support staff, and 167,216 pilots and support crew. Each of these people on the Death Star has a family. Do you want to make their children orphans? The pacifists themselves begin to cry. (That same screenwriter comments: “If that doesn’t yank the tears out of audience members’ tiny ducts, I don’t know what will!”) They say, voices firm behind the sobs, “You cannot blow up the Death Star. What about the custodial engineers? What about the cooks? What about the people who work the shopping malls? What about those who joined the empire’s armed services just so they could go to college? You—Leia, Han, Luke, and Chewbacca—are heartless and cruel.”

In the exciting final scene of the environmentalist version, a scuffle breaks out between Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewbacca on one side, and the pacifists on the other. At last the pacifists chase those four from the room and from the film. They’re never seen again, which isn’t really important since in this version they’re minor characters anyway.

The Death Star looms closer and closer. Audience members chew their fingernails as they wait to see whether the letters and petitions and lawsuits will work their magic. Viewers see lasers inside the Death Star warming up to destroy the planet. The lasers glow a hellish red. The camera switches to cover the endangered planet.

Suddenly a cheer will rise up from the audience as they see a small bright speck emerge from the planet’s surface and speed into space. “Yes!” they will roar, as they learn that all of the intrepid environmentalist protesters were able to get off the planet moments before it got blown up!

Coda: The final shot of the movie, revealing what a complete triumph this was for the rebels, will be a still showing an article on the lower-left of page forty-three of the New Empire Times devoting a full three sentences to the destruction of the planet. Yes! The protesters got some press!

Friday, November 17, 2006

upwards at 210 degrees

Media reporting on the use of illegal drugs is always prone to comedy.

However, I dislike the intentional comedy, low-grade punning headlines about cannabis policy 'going to pot' or 'up in smoke' and the like. The criminalisation of cannabis sees thousands of people incarcerated and tens of thousands convicted (thus unable to take many government jobs, work with kids, etc) when they've usually done no harm to anyone, not even themselves.

But even in the netherworld of shoddy journalism characteristic of drugs stories, this BBC report of a police crackdown on cannabis growers stands out both for unintentional comedy and the how-did-any-journailst-get-paid-for-this factor.

With a tinge of hypocrisy I revel in the unintentional comedy, most especially the low-grade punning.

The sidebar has links to related stories, including one headlined 'Cannabis policing relaxed'; yep, it even relaxes coppers.

It goes on

Allan Gibson, of the Association of Chief Police Officers', said it was an "increasing problem which must be nipped in the bud".

Let's see, it's about a police crackdown on drugs, so what should the BBC's subeditor have as the pull-quote in big letters? Information about the raids maybe?

'A lot of people who grow the cannabis are illegal immigrants'
- Det Insp Neil Hutchison

'A lot'? How many is that exactly? They don't say. And in fact don't have that quote anywhere. In the actual quote in the article 'a lot' is only 'sometimes';

The proceeds are used to invest in other crimes, Det Insp Hutchison said, and illegal immigrants are sometimes trafficked illegally to the UK in order to grow the cannabis.

'illegal immigrants are sometimes trafficked illegally' - there's some other way to do it?

But more to the point, why the fuck would anyone risk importing an illegal immigrant to do an easy job that doesn't take much time? Even if it happens a bit, do we really think it's so common that it should be seen as a noteworthy part of drug-growers' strategy?

It's just more of that thread of racism that gets quietly woven into news stories, like when Radio 4 covered the conviction of a driver who'd killed a pedestrian by saying, 'An asylum seeker who killed a woman when he drove...'. Associate one lot of bad people with another, whether there's any truth in it or not.

Police are already using thermal imaging cameras to spot the factories, which can be up to 10 times hotter than a normal house because of the heat from the lights.

Let's say the average house is 21 degrees. Does this mean houses growing cannabis are at around 210 degrees? Are they sure about that?

Not so much need for thermal imaging, just look for the front doors with the fulminating paint blisters.

In the UK, the type of drug which is mainly grown is known as skunk, a strong variant of the drug which is potentially harmful.

Gotta love that, 'potentially harmful'. Can we expect crackdowns on other potentially harmful items? Forks, shampoo, wine glasses, cotton-rich socks?

There are many risks associated with illegal drugs. And a serious proportion of them are entirely caused by prohibition. Drugs being cut with harmful substances (or the flipside, being usually cut so when a pure batch comes through people overdose). People being uninformed or misinformed about the effects. People having to buy from profiteering gangsters who don't give a fuck about them, as opposed to getting quality stuff at a price commensurate with production. But one I'd never thought of was the house fires.

The gangs who run these farms often steal electricity using wiring set-ups which can carry a risk of causing fires.

Then they have a table of 'tell tale signs' so you can shop your local grower.

gardening equipment left outside or a pungent smell coming from the building.

That's my dad - a keen gardener and wonderful cook - fucked then.

Politicians and prohibitionists always weasel out of anything that corners their absurd approach to drugs by saying 'we can't say anything good about drugs because it would send out a confusing message'. Leaving aside the volumes it speaks about their incredibly patronising view of us (you morons only understand THIS IS GOOD or THIS IS BAD), how fucking mixed is this next bit?

In January, the government decided to keep cannabis as a Class C drug...

But on Monday Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said: "Those who use and sell cannabis will face tough penalties - up to 14 years for cultivation and dealing.

The same law that declassified cannabis increased penalites for supplying it! 'We don't think it's so bad for you to have it after all, so it's important that we're harsher on people who give it to you'.

There is no reason for cannabis to be illegal. None. Really, absolutely none. Get everyone who thinks there is and put them versus me, on my own, on live global TV, stoned off me nuts and I'll still win the debate. Prohibition delivers none of the things it is supposed to do, there is no evidence that it will or can do so, and in the mean time it demonstrably causes a great deal of harm.

This isn't just about smoking dope, or even the right to do what you like to your own body. Just like my high school's banning of boys wearing white socks, it's about normalising the persecution of random activities. So, like new army recruits being made to march round and round for no reason, no matter how much we dislike it, we learn to obey authority.

I could go on all day, but I've written about this elsewhere before, and there's been recent excellent eloquent posts at The Quiet Road and Rhythmic Ginger which between them say all that needs to be said.

The so-called War On Drugs is not a war on pills, powder, plants and potions, it is a war on mental states - a war on consciousness itself - how much, what sort we are permitted to experience, who gets to control it.

- Casey Hardison speaking in Hove Crown Court court, 2005. He was convicted of manufacturing LSD and sentenced to 20 years.

Friday, November 10, 2006

divide and rule

It's quite extraordinary how swiftly climate change has become one of the major topics of our time. Even two years ago there'd be dismissal of it as a lentils and sandals issue, and when it did get discussed oil-funded climate deniers got given airtime.

Even those branches of the media that don't want to admit it much are latching on as they see the groundswell of concern. Murdoch's minions at The Times dismissed the Camp For Climate Action (only to come round the day after the big action with their tails between their legs asking for a story).

On Tuesday their front page main story was headlined ‘THE GREEN DIVIDE: Times poll shows the gulf between words and action on the environment’.

Yet, as I say at The Sharpener,

It shows nothing of the sort. The table that, ahem, proves it uses reasoning that could be easily unravelled by a brain damaged gerbil reading the newspaper in the dark.

The post is me being that brain damaged gerbil. It's called Divide And Rule.

[no Comments here on this post; the place to do it is over at the Sharpener]

Monday, November 06, 2006


Every new year at midnight I join hands with friends in that traditional cross-armed way and sing Ace of Spades.

Tonight, I finally went to see Motorhead live. I just heard Ace of Spades as loud as I'll ever hear it. The sense of glory and satisfaction is hard to articulate. My ears are still ringing. Fuckin A.

I'd use this as a prompt to put some Motorhead rarity up on Dust on The Stylus - like I did when Pixies blew me away last year - but I don't have any. Don't own an album even, and feel I'm unlikely ever to do so. Yet they are something perfect and the concert was little short of sacramental.

It's been tough trying to find someone who'll go with me to Motorhead. People seem to think that cos they don't know many tracks it won't be any good. That's such a load of arse. When you go to see a bebop sax player or an Indian sitarist you don't know the tunes; you immerse yourself in this ocean of sound that they improvise, you bob about on the emotional waves they generate. Same with Motorhead. It's all got that fantastic rumble and frenetic pace and Lemmy doing that unintelligible straining growl. A couple of lines up the nose and a bottle of something strong down the neck and you're away. As pure and brilliant a musical experience as you'll get.

And I love what Lemmy stands for. The way he's still at it, not mellowed or sold out at all. The people who see that sort of wilting as inevitable are just trying to make excuses for their cop-outs and failings. Lemmy is a clear reminder of this and an inspiration to keep fuckin hammering away.

"We are Motorhead and we play rock n roll," he said before the first song.

Before the last song he told us, "we are Motorhead and we play rock n fuckin roll".

I am deeply spiritually grateful that both points are true.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

sustainable irresponsibility

Corporate Watch's recent What's Wrong With Corporate Social Responsibility? report is a total must-read.

Even those of us well aware of the viciousness with which corporate power is wielded still get taken in by PR stuff. We really want to believe that people want to do good, so somewhere inside we think corporations would like to mitigate the damage they do.

So we try to ethically consume - and let's be clear that Fair Trade is a fucksight better than its alternative, slave trade. But so much of the ethical choices are a gloss to shine the surface of something foul, a smokescreen to haze our clear view of what these fuckers really are.

Corporate Social Responsibility was conceived by the most anti-social corporations like Shell, whose core business does not change in the light of their CSR programmes. CSR is, therefore, just window dressing.

Moreover, one of the main points that Corporate Watch's report is built upon is the inability and illegality of a corporation acting in a genuinely responsible way. They are legally obliged to maximise the returns for shareholders, so responsible actions can only be done if they are also profitable. Which they usually aren't.

Slimy oraganisations have been set up to help the destructive corporations and co-opt to castrate the campaigners, NGOs and activists that would undermine them. They give themselves cuddly names likes like AccountAbility, the Environment Council and the ReAssurance Network.

In their 'What We Believe' page, the ReAssurance Network inform us

Despite the production of over 100 annual social reports in the UK each year, big business is still largely mistrusted. Readers often perceive these reports as clever public relations exercises that fail to give a true insight into how an organisation thinks and behaves

They continue with an explanation that corporate responsibility is a good idea as it

supports business strategy, for it is these very qualities that determine how successful an organisation is at managing risk, strengthening relationships, building trust, enhancing reputation and developing new business opportunities.

In other words, as their earlier paragraph disimplied, it is good PR.

They know there's no defending sweatshops. They know there's no defending unsustainability. So they have to pretend they're not really doing it.

The oldest and simplest method is to lie outright, but that can backfire. When activists showed that Nike's denials about its sweatshop factories were false, Nike were reduced to defending it by saying they could lie if they wanted to as the American Constitution guarantees freedom of speech.

Imagine trying that defence for, say, an Enron accounting scandal, and you see how much they regard money as important and environmental and human rights as piffling.

So as a second option they can do a few nice things that make us feel they're not so bad really, and we leave them to carry on. This false legitimacy is quite cheaply bought. The cost of BP sponsoring a few art galleries is nothing compared to the profits they make from massively exacerbating climate change.

And the gall of some of it - Shell sponsoring the Wildlife Photographer of The Year! Makes me glad that language isn't inter-species. I'd hate to tell that one to the thousands of types of plants and animals being decimated and obliterated by oil-induced climate change.

There's a third tactic too, which is to adopt the language of your detractors as claim it as your own. The most important environmental word is 'sustainability', so it should come as no surprise that it is the most abused.

According to the UN Division for Sustainable Development, the definition is 'to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'.

Don't take so much that those who come later won't have enough.

Seems clear and obvious enough, doesn't it?

But that's not what it means in a post-CSR world. It means sustaining profits and economic growth. In other words - to return one more time to the clearest reason why our entire society is suicidally insane - it means finding a way to eternally consume finite resources.

And any talk of not impinging on future generations ability to use resources is right out.

When the European Bank For Reconstruction and Development said it'd finance the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, many people took exception. Here was an undemocratic organisation funded by our taxes putting an oil pipeline through half a dozen war zones to deliver exacerbation of climate change.

Activists paid a visit to EBRD's headquarters. The EBRD's finance man disputed the activists' assertion that the pipeline is unsustainable.

As oil, once burned, ceases to exist, and once a well is drilled dry it doesn't replenish, and the oil fields the pipeline exploits will run dry within 50 years, his response looks completely mad at first.

But when you realise that he's talking about BP's short to medium term ability to sustain current profit levels, you realise where he's coming from.

Unsustainable companies such as Lafarge Cement have to concur with the EBRD's stance. Lafarge's Sustainability policy opens with the line

For Lafarge in the UK, sustainability means fulfilling our commitments to our customers, our employees, our communities and our shareholders.


In what way does that have anything whatsoever to do with anything you could ever call sustainability?


It doesn't. It's that sustainability is now a synonym for profitability.

So they can cluck about, offering nice cuddly adverts saying things about 'sustainability' in soft reassuring voices; they even employ ReAssurance Network to do their reassuring for them.

Just as you can easily see the truth in their propaganda by changing 'War On Drugs' to 'War on Some Drugs', and 'War on Terror' to 'War on Peace', so you can get clarity from CSR and eco-ads by changing 'sustainable' for 'profitable'.

Monday, October 30, 2006

climate of change

Well yes, it's been ages.

Essentially, as I said, it's been the aftermath of doing the Camp for Climate Action.

Effective grassroots activism always seems to be this tricky balance of sustaining and yet having frequent big pushes that leave you knackered for a while.

One activist I spoke to likened it to firework displays; we put all this preparation and effort into something that turns heads and makes people come and see what the noise and fuss is. And by the time they arrive, we're the human equivalent of a load of blown-up damp cardboard lying on the ground.

I prefer a more positive metaphor. I see it as being more like hammer blows. If you try pushing a nail into a wall with constant pressure, it won't go. But a series of quick hard twattings and it goes in.

Not that I've spent the last monthish guilt tripping meself about not writing or owt. It's actually really nice to log off the intravenous internet and do actual three dimensional stuff, and there's no need to write for the hell of it. If you've nothing to say then shut up. But now it's time get back on the horse, as opposed to living more like 'doing the Horse'.

I went to see George Monbiot talking about his new book Heat: How to Stop The Planet Burning the other week. He was, as ever, a superb speaker. No notes or script, talked for 40 minutes, getting you to really see and believe in the issues and angles he presents. So good was he, in fact, that I managed not to be overly starstruck at sitting in the same row as Thom Yorke.

I only have two real criticisms. One's his slightly rosy view of hydrogen as a heating fuel (derived from gas is not a long term winner as we'll hit Peak Gas in a couple of decades, derived from water is way too energy intensive to be viable). The other problem is with his choice of title. Enthusiastically telling people you've been reading Heat is open to misinterpretation and may lead to subsequent ostracisation.

The motivation for the book is fairly straightforward. The science on climate change is pretty clear. Once global temperatures increase past a certain point, there's nothing humans can do any more. When we hit about 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, nature takes over.

For example, warm up the western Siberian peat bog - a vast amount of dead but undecayed plant matter - and it will start to decompose and release its carbon. It's the equivalent of about 70 times the amount emitted by all humanity in a year. The Amazon will dry out, meaning trees will die. As they die, so they stop playing any part in creating more rain, encouraging further drying. Then all those dead trees burn, releasing staggering amounts of carbon.

So, once we hit a two degree rise, three becomes inevitable. At that point, four becomes inevitable, and so on. If we hit six degrees - quite possible within the lifetimes of babies being born today, the planet may become uninhabitable for anything like humans. It's happened before.

We're already 0.7 degrees in. So, what do we need to do to stop it hitting the two degree tipping point? A global 60% cut in emission in about 20 years. For the high emitters like us, that's a 90% cut.

How do we do that without freezing, starving and having utter social collapse? Monbiot's book shows, referenced to the hilt, how it might be done. He rubbishes many of the 'solutions', from biofuels to microgeneration, and makes it all seem really possible.

If we pull our finger out, now.

After his talk he said that it's become his single issue. He'd been talking to Mark Lynas who said yeah, it's like that; you are some kind of generally concerned social and environmental justice person, but then the urgency, severity and - most importantly - the still-present chance of being effective on climate change hits you and everything else is trivial by comparison.

I laughed knowingly, recognising not only my own focus but also happening to be stood next to Kate Evans, whose brilliant Funny Weather comic has been massively expanded and updated into a full size book that everyone should have a copy of.

Between Evans' and Monbiot's books, you've enough to make yourself into the climate change bore that the world needs you to be.

So, what of the Camp For Climate Action? It made a hell of a splash media-wise, and that was a bit of a funny thing. Ecological direct action understandably disconnected with mass media around the time of the Swampy nonsense, and the rise of things like Indymedia has enabled stories to be told directly, as opposed to working really hard on some journalist and going home to see the report is utterly unregonisable from what you actually said.

But on climate change, it has to engage with the mass media. The changes needed are too large and too swift to allow only smaller and slower methods. Despite the direct action from the camp aiming to shut down an enormous power station, there was a shocking lack of any tough questions. It's almost as if every journalist is going 'yeah, about fuckin time someone did something that actually squared up to the problem'.

It's like Rob Newman said

Many career environmentalists fear that an anti-capitalist position is what's alienating the mainstream from their irresistible arguments. But is it not more likely that people are stunned into inaction by the bizarre discrepancy between how extreme the crisis described and how insipid the solutions proposed?

There was no climate change denial from the media at all. It seems that it's just not an issue anymore (except in America; but over there they still have abortion, capital punishment and evolution as real issues). There's agreement that we need to curb emissions, the issue now is how.

Do we cap it and then trade our rationed allowances (so the rich buy the right to carry on doing as they please)?

Do we pull it out of the air and bury it in the ground (hoping that the theory actually works, and that there will never ever be a leak)?

The Camp For Climate Action threw the other option, the simplest and most secure - just don't burn the shit in the first place - on to the front pages.

Unfortunately, a lot of the more radical bits tended to be edited out, and reports of the camp were printed adjacent to reports of David Cameron's cuddly green tax plans.

If and when the growing climate direct action movement actually becomes effective and forces the media to report the radical perspective, we can be sure they'll do so in very disparaging terms. So much is trumpeted about the way the deniers are funded by the oil companies, yet little is said about the way the media are similarly bought off. The most radically environmental newspaper in the UK, The Independent, devotes about 5% of its space to car adverts. There's a thing you don't do to the hand that feeds.

So we'll be presented with tinkering as solutions - why not use BP's website to pay £20 to offset your driving emisisons? - as decoys that permit the emissions to continue.

We know what we really need to do. Offsets are a way of sticking your fingers in your ears and going lalala. Just changing your light bulbs won't do it, either.

As Monbiot said

If the biosphere is wrecked, it will not be done by those who couldn’t give a damn about it, as they now belong to a diminishing minority. It will be destroyed by nice, well-meaning, cosmopolitan people who accept the case for cutting emissions, but who won’t change by one iota the way they live.

What's needed can appear huge and daunting. But it's also so close; all we need to do is to get on with what is obviously and undeniably the way forward. The radical changes start in your own life, but that's not enough. Either we all get out of this or nobody does.

We have twenty, maybe thirty years tops to turn this around. We're the last people who can do anything about it.

Imagine yourself addressing an audience in a century's time and explaining yourself. Imagine being that audience and what you'd say.

It's time to confront those who know but act as if they don't. Coal power stations are being genocidal. Your friends and family using aircraft are committing an act of attempted genocide. It's time we stopped being polite about it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

normal service will be resumed

After an intensive summer and the superb Camp for Climate Action I've been on what cultured types call a sabbatical. Seems like rather a flouncy word for a crash and burn that involves watching the entire first series of Angel in 3 days and rarely straying far from bed, but so be it.

Just as I start to push my head out, blinking hard in the daylight, a couple of other things push me back in. Another of my Newbury comrades died. Expect a rant about the funeral here soon.

Then the most insane theatrical thunderstorm - genuinely horizontal rain, purple lightning at the same instant as the thunder - killed my modem. Oh how loud the gods do speak unto me.

So, sorry if I've been away a bit long. Still, there's been other stuff to keep you going. Time-served environmental activist and writer George Marshall's got his blog, Climate Denial, which I've just linked to in the sidebar. Rhythmic Ginger has resumed blogging in fine style. Now all we need is Goldfish Nation to resume and we'll have collected the set.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

hypocrites of the world unite

Great concise piece in today's Guardian about the Camp For Climate Action by Claire Fauset. It takes several of the great punchy points made in the assorted propaganda and recent writings about the camp and issue and sets them in her fantastic straightforward, intelligent and vibrant way.

There's something of a groaner in the way they changed her original title ('Hypocrites of The World Unite') to 'Good intent can prevent climate change catastrophe'.

Er, the central point of the article and the whole point of the Camp for Climate Action is that good intent and even personal lifestyle changes can't prevent climate change catastrophe, that it requires swift radical collective action and if we're to have any chance of seeing that happen, we've got work to do, and now.

Nonetheless, the piece is a corker. No more blogging from me till next week cos, well, you know where I'll be. See you down the front.

Do you think you're doing enough about climate change? No, seriously, who genuinely believes they've managed to craft themselves a lifestyle which is sustainable? Even the most "eco" people I have ever met - people who grow their own food, generate their own energy and don't fly - harbour guilty secrets about eating out-of-season avocados or have wet dreams about SUVs. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, if you don't break your principles every now and again then you're not setting them

But what is unquestionable is that on climate change there is always more we can do - whoever we are and wherever we live. And the longer we wait, the more our options - along with the species on which our life-support systems depend - will disappear.

We all know the problems and we know the changes that are necessary, so what exactly are we waiting for? Are we waiting for the government to force us to change? For the oil companies to stop drilling? For the airlines to stop flying? For the power stations to stop burning coal? Or are we going to make changes that we know are needed? What will it take to make us work together to live within the environmental limits of the Earth while meeting everyone's needs?

Of course, personal changes are essential, but more than that we need to act collectively to stop the climate criminals who are causing the worst emissions. That is why a group of people have come together to put on the Camp for Climate Action, which is being held in "Megawatt Valley", near Leeds, from August 26 to September 4.

Alongside workshops on every aspect of climate change and what we need to do - personally and politically - to tackle it, there will be a day of mass action to shut down Drax power station, the single largest emitter of CO2 in the UK. For one day, we want to demonstrate the kind of radical change that is needed to maintain this planet as a place where we all can live.

The operator of Drax wants to paint itself as environmentally conscious, but it is currently attempting to sue the EU over a reduction in its emissions quotas. The bottom line is that coal has no part to play in a sustainable future. That some people are willing to describe the 20m tonnes of CO2 a year emitted by Drax as clean energy production goes to show how insane PR has become.

The future embodied by the likes of Drax is one where dwindling resources will go to ever higher bidders, while everyone else fights like cats in a sack for what's left over. We can instead choose the positive low-energy future that the Camp for Climate Action is trying to create.

The science is clear: we can avoid catastrophic climate change with massive emission cuts now. The world has changed so much since I was born, but it will be transformed out of recognition before I die - climate change guarantees that. Whether that is for the better or for the worse is down to all of us, and the Camp for Climate Action is a place to start building a better world. What better than to have been one of the people who helped to turn this situation around?

It's time to accept your inner hypocrite and take action all the same. So put down your copy of the Guardian and come to the camp.

· Claire Fauset is a researcher for
Corporate Watch.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

brain bombs

I always love it when someone can take a radical fringe belief that happens to be the truth and make it sound as sensible and obviously right as it is. Those little brain-bombs that crystallise the point perfectly and in a few short words ensure you are never fooled on the particular issue again.

A favourite was the stickers that said, 'When Barclays closed all their rural branches, where were the Countryside Alliance? They don't care about rural life, they just want to hunt foxes'.

On large and seemingly unweildy topics, Jim Bliss is a master of the brain-bomb.

Asked to explain in simple and concise terms why modern capitalism is so bad, he replied that it is dependant on perpetual economic growth. 'Economic growth' is a synonym for 'accelerated consumption of mostly finite resources'. It doesn't take a particularly great mind to work out why you can't indefinitely consume finite resources at an ever increasing rate.

Isn't that just brilliant?

I certainly think so, which is why I've made myself look ever so clever by taking that line and using it again and again and again.

Jim's latest blog post is the most brilliant and clear explanation of the intrinsic injustice of freemarkets. Go, read it, and never be fooled again.

I'd nominate Jim for the post of Benevolent Dictator of The Galaxy, except he'd probably make us all listen to his Chris De Burgh albums. Even the live one with Lady In Red on.

Monday, August 14, 2006

field studies

Blog posts are going to be a bit thin on the ground here for a coupla weeks, if something as insubstantial as a website can be said to have ground.

It's the height of sit around in a field with your mates season, and August presents those of us of a greeny persuasion with a plethora of options. There's the Northern Green Gathering, the Earth First! Summer Gathering, and the previously mentioned Camp For Climate Action.

Those latter two are more action orientated, whereas the Northern Green Gathering has a larger festival bent. Larger still is festivalaciousness of the Big Green Gathering, where I pint-pulled, DJed and otherwise munted away a weekend.

I've written before about how satire is outdone by reality. At the Big Green Gathering I was repeatedly amused by things with names that sounded like Schnews had made them up to be a bit pointed about the festival.

There was a stall called the Dreamcatcher Chai Tipi. There was one called the Yurt of Empowerment. But the winner was surely the 9am workshops of Techno Yoga.

It did exactly what it said on the tin. Early 90s techno, with a guy leading a group in yoga. And an uninvited though surely predictable backdrop of assorted up-all-night munters bouncing from side to side, beer can in hand, shouting for it all to be
turned up a bit.

As the man said, this is the strangest life i have ever known.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

...and justice for all

Last September DSEi, Europe's biggest arms fair, took place in London.

A friend of mine got sentenced arrested there for trying to obstruct a train carrying delegates to it. What with the glacial pace of the legal system, the case only recently came to court. The sentence was £50 costs, a whopping 80 hours Community Service, and a lifetime ASBO banning obstruction of trains on that line or interfering with anything going on at the venue.

On the same day as my friend's arrest, I got nicked for blocking the roads leading to DSEi. My friend obstructed the train for about ten seconds; those of us in the road lasted several hours. Yet me and my co-conspirators were just given a Caution, a temporary criminal record that expires after five years.

When I was on the tree protest against Manchester Airport's second runway I was nicked under Section 10 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (obstructing an officer of the court in execution of a warrant). I got a conditional discharge, no fine, no costs. A friend at a neighbouring camp got nicked for the same thing and sent down for three months.

If we're meant to believe it really is a justice system, how can people doing almost identical things get such wildly different sentences?

Oh, and it's not called Community Service any more, it's now Unpaid Work. They've dropped any pretence that it's to do with rehabilitation, they now basically admit it's all about punishment in a way that keeps you away from the expensive overcrowded jails.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


It's like a variation on Stuck Track Syndrome. My mind is automatically and constantly taking events I see and words I hear, sifting my memory for lyrics that fit, and the tune goes round my head for the next however long.

A couple of weeks ago I was passing a waterfall in Garbh Allt on the isle of Arran and it set off Paul McCartney's Waterfalls. Never owned the thing, just know it from the radio when it was a single twenty something years ago.

Now, everyone likes the Beatles and it's not difficult to garner people's acceptance of the early McCartney solo stuff. Another Day is brilliant, Band on The Run a bloody good album, but if you try to defend anything after Live And Let Die people look at you as if you've said Frog Chorus is the equal of Helter Skelter.

And as my mind forced me to listen to Waterfalls, I did indeed find some of the lyrics were sappy disposable tosh. But there was a bit that really hit me.

And I need love, yeah I need love
Like a second needs an hour
Like a raindrop needs a shower

This is pure poetry. It's not that Twelfth of Never stance of needing love like roses need rain.

A raindrop is part of the shower, the second is part of the hour, but they are only part of it if surrounded by so much more than themselves.

It says that love cannot work in isolation, that it is a force that bends us, and that we're part of a network or cloud of it.

Both the shower and the hour are ephemeral, and yet they are also eternal; there will always be more rain and another hour. So love passes and love renews, an endless shifting cycle.

If this were by Philip Jeays it'd rank alongside his great romantic poetic best, such as When The Sun Goes In, or the superb lines from The Eyes of The Thief:

but love is a dream that frays at the edge
And the harder you pull the more it unwinds
And the more it unwinds the harder you pull
Just to try to make up for lost time

If McCartney had put his beautful lines from Waterfalls in Here There & Everywhere or Blackbird they'd be widely quoted. But consigned to the 'it's not the Beatles' stuff they're unfairly overlooked, and it took two decades and a morning's walk on a mountain for me to really see them for what they are.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

democratic mathematic

President Bush tells us

There's a lot of suffering in the Palestinian Territory because militant Hamas is trying to stop the advance of democracy.

Is that the same Hamas who stood in elections this year and won a clear majority of the vote?

Far larger than Bush's majority in 2004, or his minority-but-I'll-just-be-president-anyway-thankyou in 2000?

Just checking.

Monday, July 31, 2006

workers beer company

Flavourless beers have to work harder to get themselves sold. They do this by getting associated with something that actually is worth paying money for, hence Budweiser's sponsorship of Glastonbury, or Carling's sponsorship of the Leeds and Reading Festivals.

If you've been to any of these, you'll have seen the bars run by the Workers Beer Company. WBC was set up by trade unionists, and the premise is simple and brilliant. They get good causes to send volunteers to staff the bars; the staff's wages are paid to the organisation that sent them. At the end of the year, WBC gives away all its profits to good causes.

It's one of those obvious positive Big Issue style ideas that, if it didn't exist, would sound great but surely impossible.

However, there's a dark underside and deep hypocrisy to the Workers Beer Company. Even without getting into debating whether supporting the Labour Party counts as a good cause. They only consider who's right in front of them.

You raise money for, say, your trade union by selling beer. That beer's manufacturer uses the profits on that beer to attack trade unions (as well as supporting Christian fundamentalists, anti-abortionists, homophobes and other bigots).

Whilst you sell the beer, you are made to wear a T-shirt promoting that vicious manufacturer. The T-shirt is made in a Bangladeshi sweatshop.

So, at the end of the day, have you made a positive or negative difference to workers rights and human dignity?

WBC made a big song and dance about the Left Field, their Fair Trade bar at Glastonbury. But it only highlighted the fact that they can buy Fair Trade, yet at all the other bars and all other festivals were flogging unfairly traded stuff.

They endorse the products of some of the most boycotted corporations on the planet. What they give with one hand, they take away with the other.

I've written an article about it all.

It's freshly published over at U-Know under the title Workers Beer Company: Pint Sized Ethics

Friday, July 28, 2006

do the right thing

Climate change is such a vast and scary issue. Many other issues that we care passionately about - wildlife, famine, forests - are involved to a huge degree.

If we don't avert the looming effects, the damage and destruction will be as big as any humanity has ever seen. It is our generation, the next couple of decades, that takes the decision on this.

Do we keep going with frivolous use of resources and damn all future generations, or do we take responsibility?

It's such a big task that we are daunted, we can't see where to begin. So, outside of changes in our personal lifestyle, we do very little. That has to change.

Everyone knows what we need to do, they're just waiting for someone to say 'let's do it then!'.

Let's be that someone. Let's kickstart an urgent, radical push for what needs to be done.

There are many ways in which we're closer to a solution than with other issues; we don't have to raise the issue, explain it, or say what needs to be done. The facts are well-known, the arguments largely won.

The grounds for debate have already moved away from 'is it really happening?'. Let's push them on beyond 'how do we maintain our current energy use?' to 'how do we move swiftly and safely away from overconsumption?'.

Let's get together, network, plan, strategise, inspire and act.

As I've already mentioned here and elsewhere, The Camp for Climate Action takes place between 26th August and 4th September. That's now less than a month away. Time to start working out your time off.

It's in Yorkshire, near Drax power station, the largest emitter of CO2 in the country. Even if you can't come for all of it, come for some. Get connected, use what you've got to try to make the changes so urgently needed.

We don't know how possible we are; we do know that the only way to be sure to fail is not to try.

See you there.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

graduation singles

It's nearly a year now since I found an old photo of me and my friend Adam, down the front at Glastonbury for Simple Fucking Minds with a banner saying 'WHY DON'T YOU JUST FUCK OFF?'.

It tickled me so I blogged it. A couple of weeks ago that post started getting anonymous comments from an irate Simple Fucking Minds fan. I deleted the ones that were just insults and responded to the ones that weren't. My favourite bit was where they suggested I hate Simple Fucking Minds because I don't like the 80s.

Because what else could explain a dislike of Simple Fucking Minds, clearly the acme of human activity in that decade?

Saying 'you don't like the 80s' to the webmaster of! Is there a more 80s band?

A quick shufty at my MP3 blog Dust On The Stylus shows that a clear majority of tracks featured are from the 80s (though admittedly the Paul Sodding Young and Deacon Fucking Blue ones were just for curiosity value).

Anyway, the good and bad of 80s pop has surfaced over at The Quiet Road, where Jim has given laudable and detailed reasons for his refusal to participate in the Graduation Singles blog meme.

I however, shall dive in with aplomb.

You get the top 50 for the year you graduated from high school. This website can help you with that. Highlight the list as follows: Italicise those you like, bold those you own, strike out those you hate, mark in red those you liked then but cringe at now.

I left the education system as soon as criminal law would allow me to, summer 1985. The UK Top 50 of that year was:

I KNOW HIM SO WELL Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson
19 Paul Hardcastle
FRANKIE Sister Sledge
DANCING IN THE STREET David Bowie & Mick Jagger
MOVE CLOSER Phyllis Nelson
A GOOD HEART Feargal Sharkey
EASY LOVER Philip Bailey & Phil Collins
AXEL F Harold Faltermeyer
I GOT YOU BABE UB40 with Chrissie Hynde
SOLID Ashford & Simpson
TRAPPED Colonel Abrams
CHERISH Kool & the Gang
IF I WAS Midge Ure
NIKITA Elton John
DANCING IN THE DARK Bruce Springsteen
KAYLEIGH Marillion
A VIEW TO A KILL Duran Duran
NIGHTSHIFT The Commodores
TARZAN BOY Baltimora
KISS ME Stephen 'Tintin' Duffy
I FEEL LOVE (MEDLEY) Bronski Beat & Marc Almond
SUDDENLY Billy Ocean
SHOUT Tears For Fears

Kinnell, how many bits of forgettable mediocrity by people who've made great records - Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, The Commodores. Even Billy Ocean made a couple of corkers in his day (Love Really Hurts Without You and Red Light Spells Danger, two worthy late 70s throwbacks to Northern Soul)

I fuckin hated Wham at the time. Me and Melanie Griffiths used to have these furtive meetings at the back of the art classrooms, like some spy-swap at a remote bridge on the border between East and West Germany or summat. She'd give me Paul Weller clippings from the girls mags she got, I'd slip her the Wham ones from the proper music mags I was reading.

But anyway, as I got out of teenage angst and into unabashed pop fervour, I really got to like a lot of Wham stuff. That Fantastic era, Bad Boys, Young Guns and especially the hilarious pro-dole Wham Rap are great, young exuberant records taking the Chic blueprint and giving it a vibrant tight white English approach. What a shame George Michael started taking himself so fucking seriously. Who'd have said, 'yeah, Wham are alright now but it'll all go wrong when Andrew Ridgeley leaves'?

There's a clause in the constitution of bands that says once you have over a certain level of pop in you, you have to do a Motown pastiche. Be it Billy Joel's Tell Her About It, The Jam's Town Called Malice or Spice Girls' Stop, they all have to do it. And they're almost always a load of cobblers. Wham's Freedom is one of those rare beasts that genuinely stands alongside the Motown catalogue with its head held high. But the two Wham singles listed here, I'm Your Man and Last Christmas, really aren't up to much, so a misleading lack of Wham-positive from me in the list.

Conversely, the UB40 ownership thing does not denote any leanings to a general liking of their saccharine glossy shite. Their first album, Signing Off, is proper late 70s British reggae but then it all went Pete Tong, especially after Labour of Love showed a huge market for lightweight offensively inoffensive syrupy cover versions. Don't Break My Heart though, along with Please Don't Make Me Cry, have some real haunting, humid understatement.

Shakin Stevens. Utterly inexplicable to anyone who wasn't there. And even to those who were.

Elton John, still in his getting married and not gay honest guv period. Nikita is a love song across the Iron Curtain, with a video showing a striking Soviet female as the object of the song. Except that Nikita is a bloke's name.

In other gay observations, on paper I Feel Love by Bronski Beat & Marc Almond has got to be the gayest record ever made. In actuality, it doesn't come anywhere near Male Stripper by Man2Man Meets Man Parrish.

A line in Cherish perplexes me to this day: 'I often pray before I lay down by your side, if you receive your calling before I awake could I make it through the night?'

Is that a fear of waking up next to a corpse? And he often prays about it? Kind of morbid don't you think? Would you want to get into bed with someone who was consciously contemplating your imminent death right there beside them?

Maybe it's not death, maybe it's 'calling' in the sense of a religious or other vocation. Or maybe it's a need to use the toilet. But whatever, by the time he awakes, surely he has made it through the night.

If I Was also has a confusing line. The lyric is a hoary old trick of saying 'if I was in some way different then I'd do be able to do some impressive demonstration of affection for the person I love', in the style of I Can't Give You Anything But My Love by the Stylistics or Elton John's Your Song, the latter of which has the most ridiculous line in any song I've ever heard; 'if I were a sculptor, heh, but then again, no'.

Anyway, the opening line of Midge's chorus declares 'if I was a soldier, captured arms I'd lay before her'. Am I alone in feeling that a bloke dumping half a dozen scuffed Kalashnikovs at my feet wouldn't make me want to shag him? Then again, maybe that's why Midge has never tried it on with me. We're just incompatible.

The Crowd's You'll Never Walk Alone was yet another fucking charity record. In the wake of the seismic impact of Band Aid, every time any disaster happened there was an atrocious charity record, like Let It Be for the Zeebrugge ferry. You'll Never Walk Alone was for the Bradford football fire. If memory serves, it featured Rolf Harris, some Nolans and Lemmy. Really.

Whilst these days we talk of the obscene waste of oil in driving 4x4s or flying apples in from New Zealand, we somehow ignore the huge quantities of oil wasted in making vinyl upon which was pressed millions of copies of Tarzan Boy.

Future generations will have pictures of Baltimora in his loin cloth painted up the sides of high buildings in public places. He will be the emblem of all that was wrong with our culture and why - let alone as part of a wider wastage, arguably on his own - it justified their bloody cultural revolution that massacred us all.