Friday, April 30, 2010

munt for wells

The Liberal Democrats, like the other parties, produce a standard format poster for their candidates. It's an orange or yellowy square on end, like a Baby On Board car sign, or an Australian road warning.

Dunno about you, but I'd rather see a camel as prime minister with a cabinet of kangaroos and wombats than have the LibDems in power.

Anyway, they usually plump for having the candidate's surname emblazoned across the middle.

But they've made a solitary killjoy exception, opting to use the forename of their candidate for Wells in Somerset, a certain Tessa Munt.

Just imagine. These posters could have been soooo much better. Miserable buggers.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

meet the new cops, same as the old cops

The Metropolitan Police have released papers from their investigation into the death of Blair Peach.

Peach died in April 1979 after being hit on the head by a police officer during a counter-demonstration against the National Front, the forerunner of the BNP.

After a large number of witnesses said they'd seen Peach hit by an officer from a specific Special Patrol Group riot van, all six officers concerned had their lockers searched. Assorted coshes and other illegal weapons were found, along with Nazi regalia.

The police had an internal inquiry, and the officers under investigation lied, then stopped answering questions at all. Don't take my word for it. The newly released Cass report talks of the 'easily recognisable lies', and says of the officers' version of events

It would be impossible for all three to have come by the same story innocently. All must have conspired to pervert the course of justice in this manner.

The report ended with a recommendation to prosecute three officers for conspiring to pervert the course of justice and obstruction of police. No charges were brought against any of them, for that or for the killing itself.

Ask yourself - if it finally came to light that you and a group of five friends had stockpiled weapons and killed someone 30 years ago, what do you think would happen next? Answers on the back of a police pension slip to the usual address.

The Guardian's coverage of the Peach papers tells us about the present head of the Met, Sir Paul Stephenson, and his comparison with the death of Ian Tomlinson.

He said that, 31 years on, the Met was a "completely different" force, citing what he said were rigorous inquiries following the death of Tomlinson at last year's G20 protests.

Stephenson might say it's changed, but the facts say otherwise.

The police said Ian Tomlinson hadn't had any contact with the police before he collapsed. They said their medics had attended to Tomlinson, under a hail of bottles and missiles. Video shows none of this is true, and in fact protesters called an ambulance but officers refused to talk to the ambulance service.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission, working alongside the police, said they'd looked at 'many hours' of CCTV, but sadly there was no CCTV in the area of Tomlinson's assault. When it became apparent to anyone who could look up that there were at least eight cameras covering the area, they said there are cameras after all but they just weren't working. We're supposed to believe that, even though they were at the centre of an area for which the police had spent weeks setting up a control room to monitor the CCTV feeds and put over a hundred officers in to monitor footage.

The post-mortem by a police pathologist - just one, not Forensic Pathology Services, the body of nine independent forensic pathologists which usually deals with suspicious deaths in London - quickly said that Tomlinson had died of a heart attack. This was untrue, as a later post-mortem proved.

There's a similar litany with Jean Charles de Menezes. As with Ian Tomlison, crucial CCTV cameras 'weren't working'. But we now know that, despite what police said, he did not jump the barrier at Stockwell tube and run to the train, the police did not identify themselves as armed police, and de Menezes did not move towards them.

The claims were part of an attempt to evade responsibility for killing someone, just like they did with Ian Tomlinson. Just like a 'completely different' force did with Blair Peach.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

national carbon calculator

When not being a freeroving performance poet or a raging nuisance to carbon-criminals, the estimable Danny Chivers is a proper pencil-chewing carbon footprinter. He wades through impenetrably dull technical reports and unpicks their reliability so we can have an informed guess as to our carbon impact.

That is certainly essential work, but kinnell, I'm glad it's not me having to do it. But anyway, with his wealth of knowledge, he's produced a National Carbon Calculator for the Guardian's site.

Rather like the BBC's Climate Challenge game that lets you run the country while trying to have climate-responsive policies (staying in power and hitting the targets isn't at all easy), only with the workings laid bare, the calculator lets you alter national behaviour and infrastructure and see if things will work out. This lets you test ideas, whether they're your own or those advocated by others.

Danny talks about some of the trickiness in making it, and gives the breakdown of figures in full, so if you're that way inclined you can you can test the rigorousness.

The thing that becomes swiftly, screamingly obvious is that we cannot meet ever-increasing demand. We have to cut consumption.

As boosting economic growth is the top priority of the main political parties, it's not surprising that none of them manage to hit the target of a minimum 80% cut. You know, the one the government is legally bound by.

Having already got the main parties environment people to have a face to face debate, the Guardian got them to directly address the issue of carbon cuts in light of the calculator.

LibDem Simon Hughes tells us that his party want 'a 90% cut by 2050'. Yet using the calculator they only deliver 50%. He pins the difference - almost half the cuts we need to make - on burning fossil fuels with Carbon Capture and Storage technology (which doesn't exist and, the government says, might never), and then manages to do what scientists in the field can't do and pin a precise figure on carbon savings for changes in land use. Wriggle wriggle squirm squirm, look over there everyone, shiny things!

For Labour, Ed Miliband proclaims the glory of electric cars and the wonders of nuclear power, even though these don't make a massive amount of difference. As I've said before, to replace all our outgoing nukes and have a huge (read: hugely expensive) building programme that doubles our nuclear capacity would only give an 8% carbon cut by 2034. A pound spent on nuclear is a pound not spent on technology that delivers swifter, greater cuts.

But these two spinweasels are nothing compared to the Conservatives' Greg Clark, who says how important it is not to have regulation and obligation on this - or any other - issue, and how we mustn't do anything to obstruct what the profit-driven growth-maximising private sector wants to do. He then goes on about watermelons.

The simple fact - so obvious that it is a form of self-deceit to ignore it, as all the main parties do - is that we cannot have infinite economic growth from the finite resource base of a single planet. Even if carbon emissions didn't force our hand, other limits will be hit soon enough, as the looming threat of peak oil makes clear.

Sustainability is pretty much the opposite of economic growth. Certainly, for our industrial culture, it's an either/or choice. This pretence by government and media (why is economic growth always 'good news'?) that there can be some compatibility is like running toward the cliff telling ourselves that the meadow stretches on forever, but if it really is a cliff then carbon capture will grow us some wings. Time to stop running and turn the fuck around.

The thing the Carbon Calculator doesn't have is the cost of any of the actions, either financial or political. As the BBC Climate Challenge game shows, taking action that will seriously reduce emissions will be costly on both fronts.

The politicians surely know about the clash of values, and they choose power over long-term responsibility. And in a way it's understandable - getting yourself kicked out of power renders you as unable to effect change as doing nothing in the first place. However, it leaves us paddleless, and actually denying the need for proper paddles, as we accelerate up shit creek.

Rather than pretending there's nothing wrong and avoiding doing what's necessary, the task is surely to make it become politically aceptable. The only chance of really addressing climate change is to shift fundamental values so that we live within our means, that we take responsibility, that we don't externalise the cost of our luxury on to those yet to come.

That starts with wresting power from the tiny enclosed space of the ballot box, as Danny himself says.

Try out the National Carbon Calculator, see how effective your ideas would be.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

clause 28 (slight return)

The election is putting microphones in front of all kinds of Conservatives who would otherwise remain unquestioned. The ones who haven't been to Cuddly Dave's School of Touchy-Feely.

So three weeks ago we had shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling on his hind legs declaring that proprietors of bed and breakfasts should - in defiance of the law - be allowed to turn away customers for being gay.

I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences.

Presumably someone who dislikes serving black or Jewish people should be allowed their own conscience too.

Grayling's comment echoes David Cameron's extraordinary stammering performance to Gay Times, defending Tory MEPs backing homophobic votes and saying Tory lords shouldn't have a whipped vote on 'these kinds of issues'.

Fast forward to this week. Another day, another senior member of the Conservative shadow cabinet coming out with homophobic ideas for laws.

Julian Lewis says that the age of consent for gay men should be 18, two years above the straight age of 16. He says this is because men who have unprotected sex are 'at risk, and potentially at risk of their lives' due to HIV.

And this one's no Grayling said-in-secret thing. Lewis is happy to repeat this in public.

In Lewisland, unprotected straight sex would be allowed even if the man knowingly had HIV, but two young men who've tested HIV negative and are using condoms would be criminal.

In limiting this to under 18s, he's resurrecting an idea used to justify the 30 years of unequal age of consent after legalisation of homosexuality. They said that younger men would be subjected to predatory older men. They said that young men might not have made their minds up that they were gay and get tempted into a life of it, whereas if they were left alone for a couple of years they'd get over this experimental phase and be happy lifelong straights.

It implies a belief in the stereotype of gay men as paedophiles. It presumes that heterosexuality is the natural state and homosexuality is some aberration that may mutate from it. It presumes being gay is worse than being straight.

Lewis is also clinging to another anachronism, the idea of HIV as a gay disease that is a death sentence. For many years now people have been able to live full, long lives with HIV thanks to modern drugs. There is even PEP, a month-long 'morning after pill' for people who've had risky contact.

But we know that Julian Lewis' real concern is not about HIV and public health. Lewis also voted against gay adoption.

Then again, so did some very senior Conservatives indeed. Johann Hari talked to David Cameron about his homophobic record and, once again, he crumpled as soon as he was off the script.

Cameron denied voting to ban gay people from having the chance to provide an adoptive home for children in care. When I showed him the vote in Hansard, he mumbled, 'That's not my recollection'.

Even now, he can't get over it all, saying that straight couples make better parents, and gay people should be an also-ran backup in case there aren't enough straight couples around.

the ideal adoption is finding a mum and a dad, but there will be occasions when gay couples make very good adoptive parents.

They just can't help themselves, can they? Just like the party he leads, Cuddly Dave struggles to appear tolerant and inclusive but the truth keeps on bursting out.

David Cameron is Margaret Thatcher

Sunday, April 18, 2010

sizing up the seismic advice

The problem with conveying scientific predictions through the media is, as Richard Black noted this week, the lack of caveats and small print. We look to the news for facts rather than best guesses. Especially in the only bit we all read, the headlines.

Some journos don't even notice this is a problem and actually rail against the scientific world about it. George Monbiot spotted Melanie Phillips doing it.

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.

So it is that last autumn a Guardian headline told us

Forecasters Predict Mild Winter

Yet in the article the Met Office forecaster gave it a couple of qualifiers before mentioning the likelihood of an uncommonly cold winter

Early indications are that it's looking like temperatures will be near or above average, but there's still a one in seven chance of a cold winter – with temperatures below average.

This sort of 'Met Office predicted a warm winter' thing, in turn, led to a chorus of climate deniers saying in various places that we can't trust the Met Office's climate modelling, and from there we can extrapolate that the concept of anthropogenic climate change is just made up by them because they're Marxist killjoys who want bigger research grants.

This evening, the government continued to ground planes across the UK after Met Office forecasts said it won't be safe to fly due to an invisible cloud of dust from a thousand miles away.

So, go on all you aviation loving carbon-whore climate deniers who think the Met Office's advice is so worthless. Put your money, and your entire anatomy, where your mouth is. Hire a plane and fly yourselves straight into it. Please.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

david cameron scripted by monty python

It is true that there are no really significant differences between the big three parties fighting the general election. They all base thier vision on the literally insane belief that we can have perpetual economic growth on a finite planet. They ignore the problems of attempting this even as limits are being reached and alarm bells are shrieking.

They all have a deep and abiding faith in freemarket capitalism, in defiance of the avalanche of contrary evidence plain to all. They all want to retain nuclear weapons. They all defend the foreign wars of occupation.They all cheer on the PFI timebomb, getting overpriced services today paid for by a massive giveaway of public money in future.

But, much as my gut wants me to say it, I can't pretend there's no difference between the parties. There is a tiny gap, but millions of people live there. Johann Hari has found someone who's put numbers on it.

The Institute of Fiscal Studies just published a long-term study of how Labour's tax changes have affected different classes, compared to the last Tory government. It found that the richest 10 per cent have seen their incomes cut by 9 per cent, to pay for an increase in the incomes of the poorest 10 per cent. A rich man has lost on average £25,000 a year; a poor woman has gained on average £1,700 a year.

I have seen these changes among my own family and friends: gaining £1,700 is the difference between struggling to pay the bills, or being able to give your kids a summer holiday. Yes, there should have been much more – but the cigarette paper between the parties is big enough to make a pretty fat roll-up.

Those of us who remember the last Conservative government know how different it was. I've recently written a couple of things pointing out they're the same old serve-the-rich bigoted Tories that they ever were. I flippantly compared David Cameron to Michael Rimmer.

For those who've not seen it, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer is a 1970 film whose writers include John Cleese (himself the star of one or two party political broadcasts) and Graham Chapman from Monty Python along with the film's star, Peter Cook. Like How To Get Ahead In Advertising and Cecil B Demented, it's two-star movie decried for being a heavy handed political rant dressed up as a fictional plot. Which is exactly the reason I'd give all those films four stars.

The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer's a satire about a slick young PR exec who manipulates the media, then moves into the Conservative party. He rapidly becomes Prime Minister on the promise of giving power back to the people. Sound familiar?

He overwhelms the population with referenda on every tiny issue of state until they can't be bothered any more. Then he gives them one last referendum, transferring power to him.

David Cameron says

We want every adult to be a member of an active neighbourhood group...

This is the big society made real - devolving power to the people

Every adult. Be honest, what proportion of adults would become an ongoing member of an active neighbourhood group? As a clue, consider how you know who do anything like that now.

Doing this at the same time as cutting the number of MPs by 10% - smart move. Once the 'everyone running the country' thing flops (or, more accurately, doesn't even begin) there'll be less pesky backbenchers in the way and the power will stream directly to the top.

Life imitating art is one thing. Politicians imitating the comedians who are satirising them is a whole step further.

Friday, April 09, 2010

guess what verdict the cop got

The day after Ian Tomlinson died at the G20 demonstrations, a vigil was held for him. That, too, was the scene of police assaulting protesters.

One piece of footage seemed so stark and unambiguous that it went viral; the peaceful protest that suddenly changed due to cops throwing their weight around, with the big cop smacking the woman in the face and then batoning her to the ground.

The cop, Sergeant Delroy Smellie, had his case come to court last week. No prizes for guessing the verdict.

Sergeant Smellie cast himself as the vulnerable party.

Not one photograph or piece of footage comes close to reflecting the fear as I turned around to see this crowd

Perhaps that's because the footage clearly depicts the event and shows nothing for anyone to be scared of, let alone someone who is armed and armoured, and who additionally has special privileges to use violence.

What the footage does show is a prolonged, boring scene of people standing around and a dense stationary line of police. One of them has a member of the public talking, and when they don't go away they are shoved by several officers. This causes the crowd to remonstrate, at which point Smellie hits Nicola Fisher in the face then, as she stands in front of him, he calmly takes out his baton and hits her twice on the legs, making her fall to the ground.

He said her carton of orange juice and camera looked like weapons. At close range in broad daylight.

Still, he says he was in control and thought

Does it really need a broken jaw, which could easily have happened if I struck her with my left elbow in her face. I thought that the most reasonable level of force would be a flick with the hand as a distraction clearance.

So, because the level of violence wasn't as great as it could have been, it's therefore reasonable.

At the time I thought, this is it: she is deliberately coming from a blind spot. The reason she is coming from a blind spot is to hide her intention so she can approach and attack her target – me.

She moves slightly, slowly, then after she is hit she stands still in front of him, remonstrating. Not a lot that you could call 'coming at' him, let alone from a blind spot. Armed, as she was, with orange juice.

It can't have helped that Nicola Fisher sold her arse to Max Clifford last year and was splattered all over the red-tops, yet - fearing character assassination - refused to testify against Smellie.

But you have to ponder what would have happened if the roles were reversed, if footage existed of two members of the public acting like that, or a civilian assaulting a copper.

Sergeant Smellie, incidentally, is one of the countless cops who had removed their identifying numbers at the G20 protests. The Met's chief promised officers who did that in order to get away with inappropriate behaviour would be sacked. More than a year later, even though we know who many of them were, not one has even been disciplined.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

glad to be gay

In these days of civil partnerships, equal ages of consent and whatnot it's easy to get the impression that the struggle for gay liberation's over.

But although the cops no longer randomly raid gay pubs for 'yes I'll plead guilty to anything if it'll keep my name out of the papers' arrests, and although there is in fact a Gay Police Association who've marched at Pride in uniform since 2003, a Home Office report of 2005 says homophobia is still 'all but endemic' in the police.

As a Welsh rugby hero can come out to universal acclaim, we forget that in the 1990s a Premiership footballer, Justin Fashanu, was hounded to death.

Incidentally, there are several hundred players in the Premiership. How peculiar that none of them appear to be gay. Or perhaps not. It isn't hard to imagine the response if any did come out. Yet the successful effort to stamp out racist abuse from football crowds shows what can be done, if only we decide that racism isn't the worst oppression and other attacks on basic human rights of equality are worthy our attention.

Still, things are undoubtedly better than they were. The struggles of the 1970s and 80s are being forgotten by those who were there, and many of those too young to have seen it have never been told what it was like.

Back in the 1970s, Tom Robinson was the first gay rock star who was out and proud right from the start of his career. His second single, the bitterly ironic Glad To Be Gay, wasa top 20 hit yet its content ensured that it went largely unplayed on the radio.

We need to remember not only the different political atmosphere of the time, but the power of pop music then and the fear it could invoke. This was the country who, a few months earlier, had totally banned the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen from the airwaves, even fiddling the official chart figures to make it appear that the song had only got to number 2 when it was outselling anything else twice over.

The Britain that Robinson wrote Glad To Be Gay in was a place where, less than ten years earlier, homosexuality didn't get today's shrugs or approval, it got you several years in jail. His focused venom on a version recorded at an Amnesty benefit in 1979 is due to the fact that, even by then, Amnesty refused to recognise the imprisonment of gay people as a human rights issue.

The song was always about the politics rather than the art, and Robinson has frequently updated the lyrics over the years as new issues come to the fore and old references become obsolete.

The impact of Aids in the 1980s forced a major rewrite. Whilst the virus decimated the gay population, the government stood with its fingers in its ears by until it hit straights. Then the backlash began. The public response was to call it 'the gay plague', with letters pages calling for tattoos on queers' foreheads, and Tory politicians suggesting gassing them as a public health measure.

Robinson's released the various versions of the song on live albums and B-sides over the years. I've just completed a website with all the versions on. The lyrics are transcribed, references explained, MP3s are available for download, and I've done a big interview with Tom about it all too.

It stands not only as a piece of under-appreciated musical history, but hopefully as an important lesson in social and political history too.

It's up at

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

because you're young

The West Yorkshire Police Authority are doing a survey of perception of crime in the region. They want to 'gauge current levels of satisfaction with policing and identify any changes you might want to see'.

It asks about burglary, assault, that sort of thing.

WYPA crime survey

But look at section 5, 'Disorder/ Anti Social Behaviour concerns'. It wants to know how much of a problem West Yorkshire people perceive with:

- drunk and rowdy behaviour
- traffic issues eg speeding, inconsiderate parking
- vandalism, graffiti and other deliberate damage to property or vehicles
- teenagers hanging around the streets
- noisy neighbours or loud parties
- rubbish or litter lying around
- abandoned/burnt out cars

In the words of the venerable Sesame Street, one of these kids is doing their own thing. Six of the listed activities are anti-social. One of them is people being young in public.

We're not talking about young people making mess, damaging stuff, nor shouting at you or each other. All of those are covered by littering, vandalism and rowdy behaviour. We are just talking about the presence of young people being in and of itself disorderly and anti-social.

Yes, they're a demonised group so people fear them, and we're surveying perception and fear of crime. But black men are also commonly perceived as threatening, so why isn't there a question about 'black men being on the streets'?

Being young is not a crime. Not even being young in public when you're not obviously on your way somewhere.

We continually exaggerate the fears of youth and tell ourselves that we weren't like that in our day. Even though there were muggings and mindless vandalism then too. Tabloids talk of the unspecified yet potent threat from 'hoodies', meaning the millions of young people of various dispositions who wear a predominant garment of the day.

In the early 90s there was a wave of legislation, fed by tabloid scare stories, against raves. There was no reason that fits the evidence, other than brewers disliking youngsters having alcohol-free fun and, again, that mindset that believes young people are definitely feral and probably rabid.

Why doesn't the crime survey ask about old people hanging round the streets? They often seem to be dawdling, rather than using the streets for their implied sole legitimate purpose of going briskly from one place to another.

They are commonly seen brandishing sticks and other potential weapons, the like of which would be confiscated from young people. They tool up with 'zimmer frames', practically bullbars of the pavement.

You know that if they attacked you with these implements and you went to court they'd get let off by soft-touch judges giving in to politically correct nonsense, saying old folks are not responsible for their actions because of their dementia or the cocktails of prescribed medicines most of them are on. If they're out of control on drugs that's all the more reason to lock them up.

How much longer must the hard-working young people suffer at the hands of this geriatric menace?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

meme tune

It's a bustling Manhattan street, seen from above. There's a chill in the air, people scurry, yellow cabs honk and lurch as our view slowly pans down the sidewalk. We see steps coming up from a subway station. Ts-t-t-t-ts-t-t-t say the insistent hi-hats, then in with the wah-wah guitar and up he comes, long leather trenchcoat, cool and sassy, black and hip, sharp and purposeful. It's Shaft. John Shaft.

Never was a person so well matched to their theme tune as in the opening scene of Shaft's eponymous classic blaxploitation movie.

When I was with Radio Savage Houndy Beasty we did a reworking of Theme From Shaft, giving it Yorkshire lyrics over a colliery band's rendition of the tune [MP3 here].

Gareth S Brown once said he'd like his theme tune to be one sustained organ dischord. He imagines himself walking down the street with a soundtrack like a church organist has keeled over and died on to the keys.

And so we come to the point. There's a blog meme of theme tunes for your blog. Five Chinese Crackers wants it to be Rock You Like A Hurricane by the Scorpions, but admits it has to be Billy Bragg's It Says Here. Chicken Yoghurt's hysterical Sunshine Lollipops and Rainbows had me literally slappng my desk.

Reluctantly conceding that I'm not really sassy enough to have Theme From Shaft, I'd like mine to be the entirety of Bill Hicks' Rant In E Minor, but I guess spoken word is out of bounds for theme tunes. I'd like it to be Anarchy In The UK, but I know I'm not snarly enough really. Seize The Day's I Swear kicks the requisite ass.

But really I know it's got to be something a bit less righteous, a bit more musical and peculiar amidst all the countercultural politics, like the vibe you get bimbling around festivals in an English summer. It can only be The Ukelele Orchestra of Great Britain doing Theme From Shaft.

Over to you:

A Daisy Through Concrete
Alice In Blogland
Enemies of Reason
One Way Ticket to Cubesville

Is there any need to ask Jim at The Quiet Road? We all know it'll be the 12 inch version of Chris De Burgh's Don't Pay The Ferryman.