Thursday, February 25, 2010

support fossil industry prisoner pat o'donnell

Shell have been planning to drill gas fields off the Western Irish coast at Rossport, County Mayo. There has been a concerted campaign against them, including comprehensive and relentless local opposition bolstered by campaigners from further afield.

This is about transnational corporations getting governments to give them rights to resources, whilst those same corporations ride roughshod over local communities. It's about the local impacts and dangers of building the gas pipeline. It's about the lunacy of drilling more fossil fuels as climate change takes hold. If you have any ability to understand injustice, you will see it plainly at Rossport.

Two weeks ago Pat O'Donnell, a local fisherman, was jailed for seven months for charges resulting from his resistance to Shell's gas project. Pat has been one of the most active opponents of the project, and his actions over the last few years have made him a major obstacle for Shell.

As well as being an amazing campaigner, he's also respected and admired by locals - who nicknamed him 'The Chief' - as well as visiting campaigners who talk of the lengths he goes to in order to ensure visitors feel welcomed and at home.

Niall Harnett details it further

Pat O'Donnell was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment on a charge of a 'breach of the peace' and 4 months imprisonment for 'obstructing a Garda'. Judge Raymond Groarke ordered that the sentences be run consecutively. As a result Pat will serve 7 months in custody at Castlerea Prison, Castlerea, Co Roscommon. These were two separate incidents involving the GardaĆ­ at a time of high tension surrounding Maura's hunger strike at Glengad in September 2008, that gave rise to the charges against Pat...

Pat has stood up to Shell since the Erris Inshore Fisherman's Association united in 2005 to oppose offshore pipelaying in Broadhaven Bay. Regrettably, Shell paid off the fishermen over the course of the last few years. Pat refused any pay-off by Shell, including an offer of 300,000 Euro in 2009. Yes... Three Hundred Thousand Euro.

Pat and his son Johnathan have been arrested while fishing in their boats and detained in custody, with no charges arising, on different occasions while Shell boats tore their fishing gear from their moorings at sea. Pat has been singled out along with his brothers for assault by GardaĆ­ at Bellanaboy and been punched in the face sustaining facial injuries and broken teeth.

In the early morning of June 11th 2009, as the pipe-laying ship the Solitaire prepared to steam to Broadhaven Bay, Pat's fishing boat was boarded by 4 masked men, 2 of whom held him and his crewman Martin McDonnell at gunpoint in the wheelhouse while the 2 others went down to the engine room to scuttle the boat. The boat sank to ocean floor while Pat and Martin had to be rescued from their lifeboat.

It doesn't take a supersleuth to work out who the gunmen were working for. Of course, while Pat languishes in jail, nobody has been charged with the attack on him and sinking of his boat.

Please take the time to write to Pat in prison:

Pat O’Donnell,
Castlerea Prison,
Co. Roscommon
Republic of Ireland

Prison is boring. It is designed to be so; it is an institution intended to break the human spirit. Getting the mail is, for many prisoners, the highlight of the day. A card or letter is proof that there are people who care. Descriptions and pictures of things outside inspire dreams and hope. Even just a postcard is something that takes you one minute yet will be looked at over and over and make the prisoner know they're supported.

As with writing to any political prisoners, don’t think that just because you don’t personally know Pat you don’t have anything to say. You can write not only about why his cause matters to you, but about whatever it is you do.

Remember that all mail will be read by the authorities, so don’t put anything that’d incriminate anyone.

Be sure to put a sender’s address on the back of the envelope; it gives the screws less excuse to stop your letter getting through.

You don't need a prisoner number or anything; stuff mailed to the address above will reach Pat. You can send zines, books, magazines, new and second hand CDs (so long as they originals, not home burnt); nothing has to be direct from a publisher/amazon-style supplier.

If climate change, the fossil fuel industry or local autonomy bother you at all, write to Pat.

Pat O'Donnell

Monday, February 22, 2010

gaza: writing from beneath the bombs

A year ago, as Israeli forces rained military death upon Gaza, we blogged, we wrote emails, some of us even took to the streets. And all of it felt futile.

Others, however, were out there. The Free Gaza boat activists had sailed laden with supplies for the besieged Gazans, and many were still there when Operation Cast Lead began.

Sharyn Lock was one of them and, as I nudged folk towards at the time, was blogging from the thick of it. Her writing was clear, intelligent, compassionate and fearless. She wrote calmly, straightforwardly and thoughtfully, yet didn't flinch from her freaked out Western reactions, nor from the duty to stay where she was most needed and report what she saw.

The subject matter was so vivid, the number of voices coming out so few, and her talent so great, that she was commissioned to make a book of her writings which has just been published as Gaza: Beneath the Bombs.

In order to assemble it into a coherent narrative she worked with Sarah Irving. Irving's not only an incisive non-mainstream journalist but is also an experienced volunteer for the International Solidarity Movement.

She first went to Palestine in March 2002 as part of a group of international citizens whose presence in Israeli-occupied territories would, they hoped, curb the excesses of the Israeli military. Soon after they arrived, the Israelis launched fierce attacks, massacring Palestinians and shooting unarmed peace demonstrators.

This being before blogging had taken off, Sarah maintained frequent email contact with the outside world. Her reports from Bethlehem - contrasting sharply with the biases of the corporate media - were startling, harrowing and compelling. So much so that I couldn't let them disappear and archived them over at U-Know.

Her writing, like Lock's, is trustworthy precisely because it doesn't have any pretence of objectivity. They lay their feelings wide open; we see any bias plainly, we see why it exists, as they refuse to shy away from emotional responses. How could anyone really be there and really be part of it but remain aloof?

If a writer on a political subject manages to preserve a detached attitude, it is nearly always because he doesn't know what he is talking about. To understand a political movement, one has to get involved in it. And as soon as one is involved in it one becomes a propagandist.

- George Orwell (New English Weekly, 22 Sept 1938)

Yet this is not blindly partisan. The book has an unswerving compassion for all the people recorded in it, Palestinian, Israeli or international. As Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestine, says in the book's afterword, it manages to humanise the inhuman.

It is powerful, moving and strikingly modern writing; accessible, warm and humane. It is as much about psychology as physical fact, as much a story of resilience as brutality. Anyone wanting to understand the reality of life in Gaza should get a copy.

The authors are doing readings at bookshops and event around Britain, check here for details. You can also buy it online. If you're going to do that, go to the publisher Pluto Press and enter the code FREEGAZA or ISM GAZA during the payment process, and the relevant organisation gets a cut.

Friday, February 19, 2010

getting out of it with brian eno

All of the encouragement of modern life is to tell you to pay attention to yourself and take control of things. We can invent technologies and we can think of ways of organising the world to our advantage, to our benefit.

However, the other thing we obviously love doing is almost completely the opposite, is putting ourselves in situations where we're not the primary figure, where we are not in control but we are carried along, we're floating on something. And I like that state that I call 'surrender', and other people call 'transcendence', and other people call 'getting out of it'.

- Brian Eno, interviewed for Arena, BBC, 2009

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

bin and gone

I know it'll only lead to trouble, but sometimes I can't help checking out the Daily Express.

The other day they swivelled their eyes and flailed their hands about plans to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

Squads of spies will carry out dawn raids to check that householders are not throwing out any rubbish and recycling it all instead. People failing to comply with the strict rules face hefty fines.

Sadly for them, nowhere does anyone mention going at dawn. And the 'hefty fines'?

A Defra spokesman said: “This project does not involve fines for householders who fail to recycle and it does not involve going through individual bins.

But that's put at the end of the article; most articles are only read as headlines and pictures. Of the articles that people do actually start reading, most aren't read all the way through. So you put the quote from the opponent that completely undoes the basis of your article at the end and it's a technically balanced piece with no grounds for complaint. But your readers have got the message you desire.

The subject of the piece is actually a pilot scheme to see what's in landfill waste so improved facilities and explanations can be given to increase recycling rates. The country is going to run out of landfill sites by 2020. After that, we'll be burning or exporting rubbish.

Recycling gives the council stuff it can sell. Landfill incurs the Landfill Tax, and even without that (and future exporting costs) it still costs more than recycling.

This public project to improve that is, apparently, a

cloak-and-dagger crackdown from the so-called “Talibin”

Hoho. See what they did there? Nicking a pun from The Sun, yet still having delusions of being a real newspaper. Because checking samples of rubbish is exactly what the Taliban would do. What a fair comparison.

The Express' story follows last year's running campaign against wheelie bins in the Daily Mail, which came complete with another obligatory comparison to brutal dictators.

But, again, the detail isn't quite as sensationalist as the headlines and opening paragraphs.

the Mail is calling on town halls to let council tax payers choose between wheelie bins, ordinary dustbins or biodegradeable bags.

The really striking thing is that this outrage and apoplexy (from newspapers who are happy to see people tortured) doesn't even make sense within their own skewed 'grrr, I'm a taxpayer so fuck everyone' values. This campaign seeks to make public services more expensive, as Leo Hickman pointed out

Dust carts are now designed to pick up and empty wheelie bins quickly, so by not utilising this facility you would significantly slow down the speed of the collections – and therefore increase the cost to the taxpayer, something which is presumably anathema to the Daily Mail.

And what about all those litigious bin men suing the councils for causing them bad backs by getting them to lift metal bins once again. This is one of the reasons why wheelie bins were brought in in the first place.

Leave a plastic bin bag out in the open and, within minutes, a crow or fox will have ripped it open and spread the contents on the floor. How's that going to go down on Acacia Avenue?

Those who don't recycle cost the council more money. Or, to put it another way, those who reduce waste and those who do properly recycle are effectively subsidising those who are too lazy/ irresponsible/ thick to sort their rubbish out.

The Mail and Express are the voice of the strand of Tory thinking that gave us the Poll Tax. The Thatcher government decided that household should pay Council Tax according to how many adults lived in a property, instead of the property's value. You tax people for being alive, rather than for being rich.

The Mail, the Express (and my mum) all applauded. Why is it fair that the family of six next door pay the same council tax as me, living alone in a house designed for four? They generate more rubbish to take away and cost the council far more than I do. It's an attack on my individual freedom to make me subsidise them.

But when I want them to subsidise me for not being arsed to do my recycling, or for being inexplicably affronted by the shape of my bin, any objection is also is an assault on my liberty.

Yeah. I know, I know. I'm looking for logical consistency in the politics of the Mail and Express. It's my own fault. We shouldn't worry about it. Just because the Mail has more readers than the Guardian, Independent, Telegraph and Times combined doesn't mean anyone's actually listening to them. Does it?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

the carbon footprint of whisky

If you want a definitive answer or even any numbers on this one, sorry.

Strangely, when I did the post about the carbon footprint of beer, I touched on studies for wine yet it never occurred to me to look for my favourite bevvy, whisky.

Whilst brewers have commissioned proper reports into their carbon impact and there's an authoritative American one for wine, I can't find anything for whisky. In fact, it almost seems like a deliberate ignorance. I can find references to

the whisky industry’s growing concern over its product’s carbon footprint, thought to be one of the highest for any food or drink.

but nobody's volunteering any actual figures.

Bruichladdich on the Scottish island of Islay is a fiercely independent and independently minded distillery, not needing to be asked twice to do something innovative. They're installing anaerobic digesters to turn its yeasty waste into methane to burn and generate electricity.

The project's being touted as part of some green credentials, but Bruichalddich ships its whisky in some of the heaviest bottles I've ever seen, with a bottom of solid glass a centimetre thick. And then they put each of these anvilesque items in its own metal tin.

A cardboard box is enough for comparable whiskies from Ardbeg or Lagavulin. In fact, blended whiskies come without any box at all, and they seem to do fine. It's just extraneous packaging to make you feel like you've bought summat posh. Unless you're needing a cantenna to hack your neighbour's internet, there's no need for the Bruichladdich tin.


Put simply, whisky is made by brewing a sort of barley-only beer, then boiling it. The alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, so they catch the first lot of steam, cool it and it turns back to liquid. This stuff is about 70% alcohol. It gets left in oak barrels for a few years, then diluted to the desired strength, bottled and sold. Most distilleries send casks to bottling plants for dilution, a few - Bruichladdich is one - do the whole thing on-site and use their own source water for dilution.

(So when anyone wants to get snobbish saying that putting a drop of water in your whisky is somehow sacrilegious, point out that it's already watered down and is most likely one-third tap water from some Scottish industrial estate).

It's clear that boiling a liquid will be higher carbon than not boiling it, so whisky will probably be pretty high-carbon. However, there are a few significant mitigating factors.

The largest part of beer's impact is from the manufacture of glass. The second largest is transport. These figures are also true for wine. It's a reasonable guess they're big parts of whisky's impact too.

When I worked out the stuff about the iron content of stout and red wine, it was unfair to compare it ml for ml because you drink stout by the pint but wine in smaller servings. Well, usually anyway.

By the same token, it's not the quantity of whisky in a bottle, but how much drinking it represents. Beer is 95% water. Whisky is, roughly speaking, beer concentrate. If you and I were having a large night we'd get through a bottle of whisky. But to consume the same amount of alcohol, we'd drink 16 bottles of beer. That's a lot more glass and transport. As it's 8 times stronger, it'll have one-eighth of the glass and transport impacts (heavy posh bottles notwithstanding).

Scotch whisky also wins points for being pretty local. As with wine, there's no excuse for Europeans to be buying the American stuff (even before we discover that American whisky basically just tastes of corn and wood).

Also, the way most whisky is only diluted and bottled at large, centralised distribution points reduces the impact further.

Whether this cancels out the extra energy use in distillation is another matter, but it's certainly not as clear cut as it first appears. Nonetheless, getting a specific measure of the carbon footprint of whisky wouldn't be much harder than one for beer, wine or any number of other products for which figures already exist.


Whilst the anaerobic digesters are laudable, whisky's impact could be reduced much further by not wasting other by-products of the distillation process, such as heat and barley husks. Just across the bay from Bruichladdich, the Bowmore distillery in the island's main town uses the waste heat from its distillation to heat the municipal swimming pool.

Drinks giant Diageo - owner of many of the best-known names in Scotch whisky - installed a Bruichladdich-style anaerobic digester at the Glen Ord distillery in 2001.  They're now setting up a new distillery that not only has anaerobic digesters to generate methane for electricity and cleaning water, but saves the waste husks of barley for burning as biomass in a combined heat and power (CHP) plant.

This will drastically cut energy consumption, and it's one of those things that government says is always the case, where acting sustainably saves a lot of money (let's just ignore the times when it costs more, eh?).

It shows what can be done. Such drastic changes of technology are usually more expensive to retrofit than to build from scratch. And can these projects deliver the cuts we need, in the region of 90%?

Scottish and Newcastle's brewery in Manchester, home of Foster's, Kronenbourg and Strongbow, installed CHP last year, resulting in an 87% reduction in the site's carbon emissions. They're planning to roll out the change to their other breweries.

This is a hard-nosed profit-driven major corporation, not a co-op of niche-market, fair-trading new agers. If it works for them then it should work for every major brewery and distillery in the land.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

prozac for dogs

Does your dog bark or whine when you're not there? Chew the furniture?

Your pet is not a bad dog. Your pet's behavior is the result of separation anxiety.

Can this be cured? Why yes, and with a product that has a reassuring name, too - Reconcile.

home page for Reconcile dog treatment

Well that's a relief.

What is Reconcile?

a once-daily, chewable, flavored tablet for the treatment of separation anxiety in conjunction with a behavior modification plan.

No really, what actually is Reconcile?

Fluoxetine hydrochloride

You may already know that by its brand name. Prozac.

home page for Prozac

Thursday, February 04, 2010

the government causing climate denial

The resurgence of climate deniers is something of a puzzle. Three years ago, as the solid science piled up and the IPCC's predictions came to pass, it seemed that denial was dead in the (glacial melt) water. But, basing our position on reason and evidence, we reckoned without the depth of desire not to have to act.

Dealing with climate deniers used to feel like talking to any other flat earther, and to treat them as somehow sensible was to give them too much credibility. But the cultural firmament has changed. In the same way that sticking to the 'no platform for the fascist' attitude and ignoring the BNP (themselves climate deniers, by the way) is to let them speak for themselves in their new prominence, so we have to take the time to take climate deniers down.

They claim that climate change is a vast conspiracy taking in the Royal Society and equivalent bodies all round the world, and tens of thousands of scientists working on everything from tropical algaes to arctic ice structures, and every government on earth. If only they could prove themselves right. I'd love it. Not least because then I wouldn't have to deal with those nobbers on message boards.

Trouncing them is easily done in many ways - they're demonstrably wrong - but they don't concede or reconsider their position. You show them, for instance, that volcanoes don't actually out-emit humans and they respond with, 'look! Over there! The Medieval Warm Period!'. You can point them towards any number of simple authoritative, referenced sites dealing with their stock arguments (or more detailed ones if they try to get technical) and they still come back.

It comes down to a very simple couple of questions - does carbon dioxide act as a greenhouse gas? What effect will increasing it have?

But even then you can be caught out. I've had a climate denier say CO2's effect on temperature is unproven, even though it can be demonstrated in Blue Peter style with stuff in your kitchen - here's one we made earlier.

They vastly exaggerate the meaning of the leaked UEA emails, even though the precise nature of the dodgy info is public knowledge.

The discovery that one or two bits of data were wrong, even falsified, is nothing new in any area of science. It does not discredit the whole field, any more than a fiddled black box recorder means aviation is an impossibility. So why is this stuff so persuasive about climate science, and especially why now?

George Monbiot suggests that it's a hardwired psychological response to the advancing inevitability, the death of hope that it mightn't be true. Paradoxically, the more we know a catastrophe will happen the more we deny it. It could also just be, as I said, that recently - especially in the run-up to Copenhagen - the deniers have been a lot more active.

But perhaps, in the UK at least, there is another factor right now. Much as we see politics as a broad arena in which Westminster is only a small part, and much as we like to ignore grey politics and think the power of our argument and the urgency of the climate predicament should hold sway, I think it's got a lot to do with the government.

The anti-roads movement in the 1990s was remarkably successful and really caught the public imagination. There were many reasons for that, but one that's rarely acknowledged is the influence of the prevailing atmosphere dictated by grey politics. It was the last days of the John Major administration, that lunatic headless chicken (Sebastian Coe and Gyles Brandreth as MPs in the party of government!), a runaway gravy train of greed and sleaze.

It created a strong generalised feeling that the established professional political order was out of touch and untrustworthy. This meant that campaigns based on integrity that challenged the ruling elite were warmly welcomed by the population.

Today's Labour government is, like Major's Conservatives, a despised lurching zombie, waiting until the last possible moment to call the election in the vain hope that something, anything, will turn up and save their doomed asses. The more they do this, the worse they make it for themselves.

The feeling is compounded and stretched to cover all parties by the MPs expenses scandal, and beyond that into distrust of the establishment in general fuelled by the widespread hatred of the banks and outrageous police violence at the G20 last April.

So when the government tells us we need to take action on climate change, it's easy to tap into a feeling that they're all just lying scamming scumpigs. This leads to anything contrarian being given more credence. As Ben Goldacre points out, there becomes a confusion between 'establishment views' and 'established views'.

The fact that nobody's going to go all Blair-Obama about Cameron; the deepening discomfort of the recession making people want someone in power to blame whilst feeling more penny-pinching and less altruistic; the increasing dexterity of the climate deniers as communicators while scientists still presume science can speak for itself; none of these point to the decline of climate denial any time soon.

Monday, February 01, 2010

polyamory is wrong

Twelve years ago I compiled a pamphlet of writings about non-monogamous ideas and practice. This was suppemented two years ago by my expanding someone else's fabulous little pamphlet on the same issue that came from a more practical standpoint, With Open Hands.

When an idea is new to cultural prominence, it's understandable that we have no word to describe it so define it by what's different, like non-linear mathematics or the cordless phone. But the term 'non-monogamy', commonly used in the 90s, was unsatisfactory as it defined it solely by what it isn't. It's rather like calling yourself a non-Christian.

There's a whole brace of ideas and relations that need their own words. My lovers is easy enough, but my lovers lovers, their lovers lovers, these are things we frequently have to refer to yet there's no simple short word. It's like expecting someone to say 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' all the time - it may be impeccably correct but it's hopelessly unwieldy for frequent conversational use.

There's 'metamor' for lover's lover but, like 'polyamory' for non-monogamy and all other neologisms, it excludes anyone who hasn't had it explained to them. As this is almost everyone you talk to, it kind of defeats the purpose of language.

Lovers' lovers and their lovers are like in-laws - you're connected in an ongoing way by somone you're close to, and your personal relationship with an in-law can be pretty much anything. But the term 'lover in law' sounds really weird, and of course the whole deal with non-monogamous life is that it is moving away from contractualised relations like marriage ('I love you so much that I want to make a contract about it with the state that'll make it very expensive for you to leave me').

So we're still stuck. I know someone who needs a snappy word for 'my girlfriend's wife'. It may be a while before we see one included in the Concise Oxford.

But as concept gains cultural currency so its jargon becomes commonplace. The term 'polyamory' ('many lovers') came into popular usage about ten years ago. It trips easily off the tongue and it can already be found in good detailed articles in the mainstream media.

However, that doesn't hide the fact that it, too, has its drawbacks.

T shirt: Polyamory is wrong - it's either multiamory or polyphilia, but mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!

(via A Laptop for Every Donkey)