Monthly Archives: August 2009

Fighting fire with fire

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that police acted in self-defence in Genoa but the family of killed protestor Carlo Giuliani have been awarded damages because of the Italian state’s failure to hold a proper inquiry into the planning and management of the police operation at the summit, the BBC reports today.

It is a curious decision, to say the least.  Most of the law of self defence hinges on what can be considered reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances. The BBC repeats the police line that Mr Giuliani was attempting to throw a fire extinguisher at the vehicle when he was shot in the face by armed police.  If you were to shoot a burglar in the face as he attempted to throw something at you, you might find the law less understanding than it was in this case.  Activists present in Genoa published their own record of the incident which they say casts doubt on this interpretation of events (warning: sensitive viewers may not wish to view all of the photographs on this site).  Depending on your perspective, you might argue that he was holding the extinguisher to cover his face rather than to throw it.  Perhaps the police officer had a foam allergy.

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What is clear is that on both sides, the atmosphere was highly charged in Genoa.  Writer Paul Kingsnorth, interviewed about the demonstrations said,

I’ve never before seen the level of police violence I saw in Genoa, and I’ve seen quite a lot

Police agents infiltrated the ranks of demonstrators, other ‘so-called activists’ were seen trashing, burning and looting property.  He also noted,

there was an enormous level of violence on both sides

and what this lead to was an incredibly disproportionate response:

Genoa became a one day police state. The state took draconian actions to protect itself. It suspended the Schengen agreement (on open borders in Europe). It built massive fences around the central ‘red zone’. It had armed anti-terrorist groups everywhere.

Consider what this actually meant. Here are the leaders of the world, the eight supposed leading democracies having to resort to military measures to protect themselves against half a million of their own people. You can see that something is wrong here, and it’s not enough to talk about violent activists. It is clear that there is a great gap between the leaders and the led, and that’s something that radicalised a lot of people – including me.

This same attitude was in evidence at the London G20 protests earlier this year, in which another man was killed.  In the days before, both sides were feeling the tension, with reports circulating of explosives being seized and the police responding with a breezy ‘we’re up for it!’  It was akin to watching gangs of football hooligans, also now back in the news again.  No longer content to allow a fracas to occur naturally, today they prefer to arrange these things on the internet or by text message: ‘CU on Threadneedle ST, there’s gonna b bloodshed.’  And lo and behold, there was.

So there should be little surprise that half of the people interviewed by YouGov for Christian Aid believe that the police are too heavy handed, or that just under a fifth of respondents have been put off protesting by police tactics.  No one should be surprised, but there should be a sense of disquiet.  Lawful protest about issues that matter to us is a cornerstone of the democracy we are trying to export around the world but one that is increasingly being stifled at home.

Climate change, illegal wars, banker bonuses, global poverty and other significant issues tend to be obscured at the ballot box but brought into sharp relief when a huge groups of people get together to shout about it.  Yet from Wat Tyler to Peterloo to more recent times, the powers that be have reacted to us flexing our democratic muscles with violence.

It is perhaps understandable that the forces of law and order reserve their harshest ire for protests by anarchists, missing the original translation from the Greek and focussing on the perceived chaos and disorder instead.  Or perhaps understandable: as one correct translation is ‘without government’, government forces are unlikely to stand by while you try to will them out of existence.

The roots of the word ‘anarchy’ are an archos, no leaders, which is not really about the kind of chaos that most people imagine when anarchy is mentioned.  I think anarchy is about taking personal responsibility for yourself.  I believe that fascism is about abandoning your personal responsibility to the group or to society.

You say, ‘In unity there is strength,’ which inevitably will become, ‘in uniformity there is strength.’  It’s better if all those sticks are the same size and length, because then they’ll make a tidier bundle, which consequently leads to the kind of fascism we had in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

-Alan Moore (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell)

So the police today are nervous because another protest is to take place and they have not been advised of the location.  The protestors are nervous because they are not up for intimidation tactics like having their details taken illegally and kettling.  This writer is hoping that both sides can calm the frayed nerves and take responsibility for their actions so that no other names are added to that litany that includes Carlo Giuliani and Ian Tomlinson.


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Age is no concern

Not to worry about the little wrinkles around the eyes.  I think that’s glamorous.

This is a lovely short film including pictures from Guardian photographer Christian Sinibaldi alongside interviews with people he met at Age Concern in Camden.  Their take on what makes a person glamorous and beautiful should give hope to any late twenty-something worried about the imminent ending of their youth.


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Teenage kicks

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There has been a further outcry about teenage strumpets this week. Someone close to Miley Cyrus decided it would be a good idea for her to make her debut as a pole-dancer at the Teen Choice Awards, of all places, Taylor Momsett was photographed on the Gossip Girl set looking like a streetwalking storyline was being introduced for her character Jenny Humphrey, while just to add to the bewilderment an abstinence charity in the US attempted to promote a t-shirt reading ‘I’m sexy enough to keep you waiting’. Only in America, as they say…

There is a certain amount of silly season hysteria to all of these stories and there is also not much that is new about middle-aged journalists getting all hot under the collar over jail bait celebrities. Witness how the OUTRAGE over these young girls and their behaviour allows certain family-orientated tabloids to splash the offending pictures all over their pages. So let ten minutes hate attempt to redress the balance, by attempting to explain why you should feel misused, misled and slightly cheapened by all this, as should the disgraceful young floozies in the pictures.

Madonna casts a long shadow here. Her career has provided a twenty-year master class in using your sexuality and people’s implied fear of the strong woman to shift tons of records so it should come as no surprise that the pretenders to her throne would attempt to borrow some of the magic. That said, her age at her first single release being 25, it is safe to assume that she had actually had some experience of the fantasies she was acting out. The song ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ also offered her young fans some clues as to what life might turn out like if they followed her lead before they were ready.

As most parents of a teenage girl can testify, your average 16 year old’s idea of sexiness lacks any attempt at subtlety – it’s the shortest skirt Primark can supply, the reddest lips, the blackest mascara and the highest heels – the Pamela Anderson, pneumatic blonde version of a man’s fantasy of a sexy woman. With age and experience comes the knowledge that putting it all out there is rarely that sexy and that a bare shoulder, neck or back can contain more allure than acres of leg or cleavage. What is really shocking is that these stars’ handlers, often members of their own families, aren’t helping to guide them towards this, instead happy to let them gyrate on T.V. in clothes that would bring an agonised ‘you’re not going out in that!’ from any sensible parent.

Where the abstainers and their supposed opponents Britney, Christina and the other Disney poppets have erred is in seeking to have the sexiness without the sex. They want to have their chaps and their chastity rings too. Cyrus is a particularly cynical example, while she probably acts no better or worse than any other girl her age, including this writer way back when, to do so while attempting to flog a billion lunchboxes on the back of your wholesome image is distasteful to say the least. As Madonna knew, true sexiness comes from knowing and understanding your own pleasure and taking control of it, rather than claiming that you ‘couldn’t say no’ to Vanity Fair and Annie Leibovitz as soon as the moral majority show up.

Another point the teen stars seem to miss is that pole-dancing, stripping and otherwise turning yourself into a sex object rarely allow a woman in the real world any chance at the ‘empowerment’ that they claim for themselves. Watch the girls at the Griffin pub, wandering around in plastic pants collecting pound coins from the beered up City boys and attempt to cast them as strong female role models. I wonder if you can?

I appreciate that this is a lot to expect a teenager to take in. But maybe those responsible for them should and should also take a look to see where it ends:liloforelleLindsay Lohan’s whacked out eyes in this month’s Elle magazine shoot are far from ‘fierce’, instead conjuring up the glazed expression of Jennifer Connolly’s crack-addicted prostitute from Requiem for a Dream. It’s a look. But not one that any strong woman should feel she needs to copy, whatever her age.

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Share the hate

ten minutes hate has made some great leaps forward, with the addition of  RSS feeds.

Now you can get a dose of hate delivered to you via Bloglines, Live Bookmarks or Technorati and there is even a cool gizmo on the right and at the bottom of the post to assist with sharing the hate via FaceBook, Delicious, MySpace and a host of other social networking phenomena.  Enjoy, but not too much, obviously.

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Politics will make you mad

you don't have to be... but it helps

you don't have to be... but it helps

A couple of different commentators in the same paper today (read it while you can – it is still free!) musing on the possibility of politics not being for the sane.  Over here, there is Rachel Sylvester pondering if politicians are born mad or driven that way by the need to pander to the demands of the electorate and over here, David Aaronovitch considering if Obama’s opponents are off with the pixies, reduced to heckling at open forum meetings and concocting ever-more bizarre conspiracy theories:

Why did — and does — a section of the American Right insist that its opponents are not just wrong, but actually illegitimate; not just mistaken, but anti-American?

Recent events could lead to the drawing of an inevitable conclusion that every person involved in politics anywhere in the world is up to no good, things have ever been thus and that nothing can ever change.  Yet, that’s not the attitude that got ordinary people the vote in the first place and isn’t the thinking that sees the people of Iran risking all for a greater stake in their country’s future.  Instead the question needs to be: what next?

Now that my own idea of heads on pikes on London Bridge and armed uprisings seems to have been dismissed out of hand (you lightweights!), it is both interesting and heartening to see some proper proposals coming forward.  I am sure that to most sensible people, the thought of constitutional reform fills them with a kind of dread and horror, but I hope it is clear that if we don’t want to continue being lied to, killed and ripped off, there is little else for it.

As I concur with the thought that wanting to achieve higher office should automatically disqualify you from it, I was interested to read proposals to use lots to select representatives in the House of Lords from two writers, Anthony Barnett and Peter Carty in their book ‘The Athenian Option’.  Mr Barnett considers the expenses scandal and its implications in this article on Open Democracy:

You could smell their fear of losing their claim to leadership as the populace howled with derision. Yet they also played for time: we are on your side they said, like all good therapists. Now go back to your “real lives”…

The most difficult problem, the one that demands organisation and invention, is how to bring people together so that each can see that they are not alone, their anger is healthy and justified and not in need of therapy.

It is clear that we are all going to have to get off our collective arses if we are not to find ourselves in the same situation in a year’s time, after a general election in which we have merely swapped one bunch of misfits for another.  Unfortunately, no easy answer presents itself, we are going to have to take control.

Real Change is one group attempting to explore ways in which reform could happen.  They don’t want to set out some conclusions and have you say yes or no to them, they would prefer you to tell them what you think.  So what do you think?  Do any of us know?  Is it even possible to have that kind of conversation when the political weathervane points ever more firmly towards the ridiculous?

In my cynical moments I think I know the answer, but I want to be proved wrong.  I want politics to be for all of us, not just the ones who didn’t inhale, the ones who never had a real job and the ones who are in it to live up to their fathers.  A final word, as ever, goes to Joe Strummer:

You gotta be able to go out there and do it for yourself.
No one’s gonna give it to you.

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It’ll all come out in the wash

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be

-Kurt Vonnegut

Having trounced the troughing politicians so well, and given the ‘dead tree press’ a run for their (lack of) money, the next battle has been declared against the spinmeisters.  This is one endeavour that everyone, regardless of the direction of their leanings, should aid and abet.

Spin and influence is a distortion of the political process.  It puts the image of democracy above the practice of the doctrine and leaves the common-or-garden voters like you and I looking comparatively less attractive than Ann Widdecombe in a line up of Miss World contestants.  Put simply, we haven’t the yachts or the kudos to compete with the oligarchs for influence with people who can only be persuaded to care about us once every five years on pain of losing their gold-plated lifestyles.

However, it is difficult to see this campaign seizing the popular imagination to the same degree as the moat-clearing, home-flipping, child-employing one.  Let’s not forget that only mere months since the Telegraph revelations that ‘rocked Westminster to its foundations’ (™ = every single newspaper), it is still business as usual in SW1.

I consider it laughable that my fellow citizens will be dismayed by the lengths that politicians go to curry favour with privileged persons or to buff and gloss their dismal actions.  Given half a chance, we would also suck off Alan Sugar for a tilt at the big time and we are all amateur spinmeisters now, obsessed with painting ourselves in the best possible light.  We promote just how damn cool we are, utilising every tool from FaceBook status updates and profile pictures to Twitter meanderings.  We are celebrities!  We have FOLLOWERS!!!  We star in the production which is our own lives every day.

Blame Big Brother if you like, or those faked fly-on-the-wall documentaries so beloved of proper famous people, like Kylie and Madonna (twice) and even Geri, but the knowing wink is everywhere.  People are so aware of being watched and rated that no occasion is too mundane not to be catalogued instead of enjoyed.  Photographs used to serve as a reminder of events, now they are proof: you were there, having a good time, looking amazing.  They present the correct image of You Inc to the global audience who, if you could but notice, are all so tediously worried about their own image they barely have time to consider anyone else’s.

So it would be hypocritical to deny our politicians the right to behave as badly as we do ourselves, to hold them to a higher standard of behaviour than we achieve.  In this shallow, vapid age it seems we have the politicians we deserve.  Be honest, how many of us would turn down an opportunity to put a 40” plasma screen telly on expenses if we thought the boss was looking the other way?  While wishing good luck to those seeking to boil wash UK politics, I think the final result will show our blackened, torn laundry is beyond repair.

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