Category Archives: Politics

Tucson, Arizona

Here in the UK, the dreadful shooting in Tucson, though powerfully tragic, is a distant atrocity, far away in cultural as well as geographical terms. We look on horrified through that odd hue all American TV footage shares and in particular, however sad we feel, I think sometimes the distance wrongly allows us to accept our lack of understanding. Even the accents on local reporters accentuates that gap. It has similar resonance to the murder of Salmaan Taseer in Pakistan – although rendered bigger news by the dramatic dominance of the USA over our culture (and by how awfully commonplace ideological murder is in Pakistan).

Reeling today, like everyone, I’m convinced it is far too easy for us to sigh and dismiss Tucson, Arizona as some near-alien place of hate-fuelled violence, to fall once again into the heartbreaking pajorative British trap of believing this is ‘normalcy’, that “Americans are stupid and/or dangerous”. You can smell hints of it in even the most sympathetic or liberal of UK newscasting today. Especially when even America itself, hurt and trying to gather perspective, is describing Arizona in such generalised, very negative terms.

This is so damn wrong. Today I need to write this: I’m a middle-class lefty Brit and (at least until the Coalition this year was catalyst for a protest rennaissance) I have long found far more opportunity to talk politics, ideology and social issues in measured terms in the USA than here in the UK, especially with younger people. Whatever their background (though I accept I come into contact with more white, privileged people than other kinds), in my experience it is a complete fallacy to write off yanks – including those away from the two coasts – as dumb or disinterested or isolationist. It is a sceptical (and stupid) mis-reading of sincerity, ambition and indeed cultural language.

And I need to write this: Tucson, Arizona is one of the most beautiful, welcoming cities I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been a lot, just passed through all-too-briefly, in the usual way as touring musician type. Yet for me it is the city of the Airplane Graveyard; beautiful little underground collective-run party shows; of Calexico; being driven up into incredible local desert by publisher Dan; of servers in Mexican cafés who hug spirit into you like a big sister when you leave their diner (in an Amma sort of way, not a Milf sort of way). In San Francisco I gigged with lush, clever prog-folk band Seashell Radio from Tucson – who immediately, unhesitatingly offered strangers a place to stay the second they found out we were coming to town. Albeit in a remote Internet-nurtured way, these are people and places I love and miss.

But I won’t also forget one aftershow conversation in Tucson with three young punk guys, last year – especially vivid and uncomfortable reflected in the light of this tragedy. They were atheist, anti-war, anti-racist and at their core socially progressive. Not trots/commies as we’d understand it – not so tax friendly, much closer to a Libertarian viewpoint – but they had no time for (no interest in) the GOP, religious extremism, FoxNews, big business or any of the reactionary mush. Yet at the same time, a key issue of liberty for them was the Second Amendment: the entire crew each owned guns, could use them comfortably and passionately believed in their right to carry one for self defence. This wasn’t boasting to the Limey – just one part of a broader conversation – what did make them boast excitedly was the bands they’d seen and roadtrips they’d done. The gun stuff was matter-of-fact, an attempt to explain. It was the single clearest social difference I saw between these Tucson guys and, say, southern Californian stoner kids of similar attitude and taste, who’ve (dickheads aside) never seen a gun in real life except on the belt of a cop or school guard.

I don’t claim any generalised presumptions about this, it was just one conversation at one gathering. And I remember being shocked and even, to a certain extent at the time, persuaded – if not of the rightness of it then at least of their sincerity and belief in the ‘right’ without ill intent.

But, no.

Tucson is not ‘to blame’. Deep down I know Palin, Beck, Limbaugh and O’Reilly aren’t ‘to blame’ either, although the cumulative effect of FoxNews’ relentless rabble-rousing rhetoric and persistent repetition of violent metaphor while encouraging direct action needs urgently addressing. No, it is the availability of, love for and culturally endemic pervasiveness of guns that is ‘to blame’, in as much as it is the major fulcrum that turns anger and murderous intent in disturbed and alienated people into actual murder.

not so bad

Last night, half-listening to – without watching – one of those TV programmes where bratty errant Brit kids are sent off to unusual camps run by caring Christian Americans…

What would happen if you tried to make today’s young generations fight the First World War? The thought is hilarious, beyond impossible; you’d get laughed at and resisted and ignored completely, with no amount of state or legal persuasion having any effect. And that’s good. When people suggest national service or say “we need a good war” (or even offer less militarised ideas such as civic duty or national community service) as solutions to the ‘problem’ of youngsters today, it has the opposite to the desired effect with me: reminds me that I’d rather see generations of venal, selfish (or at least self-aware/self-absorbed), materialist hoodie kids loping around the place, than the sort of generation who picked up guns, abandoned their families en masse and got on boats and planes without question, to go kill foreigners ‘for their country’.

Yes they’re admired for heroism and our kids miss out on that. But overwhelmingly, the vast masses on all sides were valueless cattle fodder who put themselves through the worst hell imaginable for unexplained ideologies and feuds, to prop up monumental injustices and inequalities of old, massively exploitative systems that they didn’t understand. The little shit with an iPod up too loud on the train doesn’t seem so bad.

True, there are serious, real problems at the extremes that need sorting out and rolling back; drink and drugs and knives, willful ignorance and burgeoning nihilism.

But I don’t think we ought to wish away fiery independence, or strong sense of self-worth, or noisy exuberance, as buffers to our ridiculous modern world.

And true, it’s worth looking back to those times for lost skills and humility as life gets harder.

But I don’t think we ought to over-worship the humble, thrifty, quiet, devoted, loyal, faithful, monstrously stupid motherfuckers who, when the aristocracy demanded, blindly shouldered the burden of killing that was World War One.

Brighton Council uses public money to bully councillor

I was about to blog about something fun when this came up.

A few weeks ago a local councillor down here in Brighton was suspended from Brighton & Hove Council. What he’d ‘done wrong’ was this: the council runs a live video feed of council meetings online, so you can watch what’s going on; see who is throwing the biscuits. Green Party councillor Jason Kitcat had gone back through the previously aired footage and put up on YouTube a couple of short bits that were relevent to something he was writing about.

Tory councillor Ted Kemble made a complaint about this and Clr. Kitcat was suspended. I didn’t even know that was possible – since he’s an elected councillor – but it is.

Anyway I knew Clr. Kitcat had got suspended but I’d assumed that because it was a while ago, he’d gone back by now, maybe resumed his seat with a slap on the wrist or something. But it turns out the opposite is true: Conservative councillors are taking legal action against him. And they are using public money to fund a private legal counsel INSTEAD of using the freely available Council Solicitor.  Quite apart from how trivial the supposed offence was, as well as how it stinks of at the least politicking and at worst bullying of Clr. Kitcat, this is OUR MONEY. And there ISN’T MUCH TO GO AROUND right now.

Here’s the email I just wrote them. If you’re in Brighton or Hove, maybe write one of your own, or phone them or go see them? The details you need are:

Ted Kemble (Con) ted.kemble@brighton-hove.gov.uk
phone: 01273 291166
surgery: Fourth Saturday of each month 9.30am
Hove and Portslade Conservative Association, 66A Boundary Road, Hove

Mary Mears (Con, leader of the council) mary.mears@brighton-hove.gov.uk
phone: 01273 294370
surgery: Third Tuesday of each month 6pm
Round Room, Whiteway Centre, Whiteway Lane, Rottingdean

Clr. Kemble, I hope you are well.

Why are you using public money to fund your legal pursuit of Clr. Kitcat?
Is it true that you are spending our money on a private counsel when you could use a Council solicitor?
If so, why?
This is a despicable waste of our money at a time when we can ill afford it. Regardless of whether your pursuit of Mr Kitcat has any basis or not, it is an utterly trivial issue that should have been sorted out with one polite conversation. It is both childish and irresponsible to be behaving this way – you do not deserve to represent us.
Mr Kemble and Ms Mears, are you politicking bullies, or honourable stewards? Because right now our city – like everywhere in the UK – needs the latter and the former should GET OUT of public office. You are here to serve us, not spend our money on schoolboy vendettas.
Learn to disagree responsibly.
I look forward to your response and possibly meeting in the future to discuss this matter further.

Unexpectedly, I’ve written to the PM. Ah well.

Mr Cameron,

Where do you get off lecturing people about feelings of sympathy, towards a murderer or not? Poorly expressed or not? Where on earth did you dig up the moral right as Prime Minister to condemn instinctive human kindness towards anyone? Worse, what gives you the right to use a human tragedy, such as these brutal shootings and then the suicide of Raoul Moat, to further your own political leanings by attacking a social networking site while ignoring the far greater sins of the mainstream press reporting of the same incident? You perpetuate a moral myth that is in fact itself deeply immoral?

Party politics aside, this outburst is one of the most offensive things I have ever heard from someone in a position of responsibility in our country. Now you are ‘contacting Facebook’ because you’re ‘concerned’ about online groups people have set up. Yet you have made absolutely no parallel comment on the way the mainstream media handled the coverage of Moat, when those few corporations were in a position of hugely greater privilege and power when commenting on events. Those few corporations whose owners you consort with, giving preferential treatment and access that no normal people could ever hope for.

The media both aggrandised and mythologised Moat to the public, while at the same time aggravating him personally behind the scenes and contributing to his state of mind at the point where he decided to kill himself. The same British press gave almost no comparable space or human dimension in their coverage to the victims.

No, none of that – especially none of the appalling voyeuristic, bullying, community invading coverage from Sky or The Sun, for example, owned by a man you’re still desperate to keep on-side – was worthy of a word of criticism. If any body encouraged normal British people to feel empathy for Moat and disdain for the Police, or the victims, or the local community who bore the brunt of this tragedy, it was that very media.

Nor was it worth your opprobrium when one paper decided to use an image of Moat in drag after his death, to make him seem more ‘alien’ or ‘twisted’. The homophobic undertones were clear; despite many thuggish or bullish looking photos of him available, the one chosen for the front cover involved eye-shadow.

While I don’t condone for a second those who’ve overlooked the tragedy of the victims in their expressions of sympathy for Moat, you know full well that in fact they were a tiny minority compared to millions of good people who expressed sympathy and empathy for everyone involved. You also know full well that people joining those groups were only responding to the story as it had been presented to them.

Of course the victims deserve attention and sympathy first and foremost. But I repeat, it was your chums in the mainstream media who locked them out of the public’s mind, who created the sense of empathy with Moat himself. Facebook did not do this. And even those online groups you’re pretending to be so offended by would never have gone beyond the social networking site without the intervention of the mainstream media: by its very nature a Facebook group only spreads by word-of-mouth organically and will only be joined by people who want to – nobody is paying for advertising.

Mr Cameron, your comments in the House of Commons (our House of Commons) this week were reprehensible for two reasons:

First, you used this tragedy to perpetuate an agenda, with a pretense of outrage.

Secondly, you made an argument against human sympathy that nobody should ever make. And this is the most important point of all. Because yes Mr Cameron, Raoul Moat DOES deserve sympathy, from all with spare to give. Sympathy is not only for the innocent, you fool. Sympathy is for all. You claim him to be entirely callous, yet he took his own life at the end. Nobody commits suicide from a position of cold callousness. Further, audio recordings from when he was in prison make it clear that Moat himself was concerned while in prison about how he might behave when released and requested professional counselling.

To make such an appalling, regressive statement in the House of Commons was utterly shameful. It was an shoddy way to treat all the people involved.

Regards,

Chris T-T, Brighton

missing Morning Star piece: my Hitchens hell

I can’t find last week’s Morning Star column online, so maybe they didn’t run it, or maybe it was in the paper but not uploaded. Anyway, I liked it, so here it is:

I do wish someone would give the Hitchens brothers blunt weapons – Phillips screwdrivers perhaps – and lock them in a small room together until they’re both dead, Battle Royale-style. I don’t want to actually watch them stab each-other up, that would be disturbing. I just want it to happen quietly in the dark, so we can get on with our lives.

Like a veruca on each foot, Hitchens Mjr (social conservative god botherer) and Mnr (contrary ex-left pro-war piss artist) both popped up in unwelcome fashion last week and left me grinding my gears when they really didn’t warrant the attention.

First, Peter was inexplicably booked to appear on the BBC’s new Review Show. He’s long been a reserve team right-wing stalwart for Any Questions, wheeled out if Norman Tebbitt misses the bus. In fact I can even quite enjoy him in that context, since his every bluff horror about woman’s place or immigration is counter-balanced by an epic rageful put-down of Cameron’s new Tory softness.

But what on earth qualifies him to discuss the arts of any kind? Hitchens is so socially regressive he loathes it all, creativity itself is probably anathema and he has the artistic vibrancy of a dead cat on an ant’s nest. This was made abundantly clear in his lack of any coherent engagement with the work he was asked to review. At least, if you’re challenged by secular – pagan – art when you’re a Christian, have the stones to take it on its merits, like the sweetly stalwart Rev. Richard Coles does, without ever compromising his quietly determined faith-based perspective.

Once Peter is out in the open, yappy deep-fried brother Christopher has to emerge blinking from the hole too. Not to be outdone, suddenly Crispy was shouting to anyone who’d listen about how he and his mate Richard Dawkins were going to arrest the pope.

Well fucking done fella, great idea. Honestly, I know he hates God and his own clunky version of Dawkins’ book about how terrible religion is has made a decent splash. But if there’s one person we don’t need as a national humanist flagbearer of righteous anger towards Christian bigotry, it’s Inconsistent Hitchens.

I foresee a heavily PR’d deathbed conversion undermining all the good work, just to be annoying and catch some last hours’ attention. In fact, for the first time ever, I actually feel a modicum of sympathy for Ratzinger, as Hitchens puffs and preens, prior to embarking on his great pontiff-bait.

At least when Peter Tatchell tries to arrest people, he does it with class. Like with Mugabe, it’s the real deal, he gives it a proper go: rolls up his sleeves, a stealthy wriggle under the barriers, dives in head-first shouting about homophobia and then gets beaten shitless for his efforts. That’s commitment. Even Jack Straw managed a decent pop when he put the wind up Augusto Pinochet and made that old mass murderer’s final days satisfyingly itchier.

Feisty as Dawkins is, can you honestly imagine him taking on the bulletproof Vatican security mob? They’re Paul Bettany in the Da Vinci Code movie for god’s sake, all sharp angles, hidden weapons and self-harm. And I know Crispy has a masochist’s love for getting punched out by fascists (or at least, telling everyone he was) but the dude can barely walk up stairs, let alone jump in front of the popemobile.

Basically, Tatchell’s political citizens’ arrests were rock’n’roll, Dawkins and Hitchens will be Laurel and Hardy.

What they’re really into is phoning up some lawyer friends and then instigating yet another media discussion. At least it is – credit where it’s due – a chance to flag up the topic’s overlooked ambivalent legal issues.

But, well, yawn.

Give us Sinead O’Connor in 1992, tearing up a photo of the previous pope on American TV, then getting booed offstage at Madison Square Garden at a tribute gig for – if you can believe it – Bob Dylan. She hushed her band, then took the crowd on face-to-face with an a cappella version of Bob Marley’s ‘War’ that remains to this day one of history’s most singularly powerful moments of protest art.

Give us real action, not an ageing contrarian publicity stunt. No, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to take this line: Not defending Rome for a second. The gradual mainstream realisation of what most right-thinking people have known for several hundred years – that the Catholic priesthood is on a moral par with the black hole of Calcutta – has been a phenomenally positive development and may even change things permanently. However, in self-absorption, Hitchens distracts from any real use: to properly challenge the fetid old Nazi and child abuse cover upper masquerading as the leader of the car crash that is that Church.

If any tag team should arrest the pope, it should be Robin Ince and Professor Brian Cox, at least then it will be amusing and a bit cute. Alternatively, let the Vatican’s London office hire brother of faith Peter Hitchens as a bodyguard and then mayhap we’ll get to see the bloodshed I wanted in the first place.

Will Self on Question Time

I know I should be shouting about the album (omfg CDs arrived today, look sweeet) but I had to digress because I can’t get this moment of moral clarity out of my head, from last night’s Question Time: it needs transcribing. They were debating one of the killers of Jamie Bulger. Amid a hawkish, invasive majority view (particularly depraved from Carol Vordermort, who has revealed herself to be an angry, ill-informed sponge for sub-Melanie Phillips Daily Mail fear-isms)…

…amid all that, Will Self said this:

“But there’s something weird, isn’t there, in the kind of British collective imagination about child killers, because there’s a presumption that these boys, who were 10 years old at the time of the crime, must be more evil than an adult killer. Is that what people are thinking? Are they all thinking: “Wow, they must be super evil?” You know, let’s turn it round the other way and just float the weird, strange idea that they maybe didn’t really know what they were doing. People who read the transcriptions of the case at the time and heard these boys’ testimonies heard very, very confused 10-year-old children talking about something.

So people talk in terms of the killers of Jamie Bulger as if they were some kind of Mengele figures, some kind of incredibly evil people: what a frightening thought that they might not have been evil at all.

And even to talk about as you do and as people here – and even I caught Shirley [Williams] saying it in terms of ‘murder’; ‘murder’ is ‘malice of forethought’, I read the transcriptions of the Bulger trial and there was no real evidence of malice of forethought in their crime.”

2010

Happy new year, I hope it’s a good one for you.

I wonder if in 2010 we’ll collectively react against digital media (or at least the social networking bits of it) and reclaim face-to-face friendships and physical media, especially with the playing field duly levelled. One of the first obvious things one noticed going online yesterday was the number of people who used Jan 1st as an opportunity to take a break from Tweeting or reduce their Facebook presence. The first widget I saw being touted was the new app that assists your complete virtual suicide, carefully removing you from Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and the rest. The link is here (lovely noose logo). Facebook have taken it seriously enough that they’re trying to lock out the link. Tempting, right?

Beyond that, watching last year’s resurgence of vinyl releases, maybe the closer we get to an entirely digitised culture, the more people will react against it and produce works in the older ways? Maybe tupperware didn’t kill pottery after all? – though let’s see what happens to the book industry (bringing up the rear), before jumping to conclusions. It is hugely important that we don’t run straight back into the arms of the same old physical/analogue media moguls.

The best thing that could happen in UK politics in 2010 would be a hung parliament. Maybe we’ll even get two elections this year, as they wriggle and stumble their way towards their new paradigm. I think a hung parliament would be the best outcome for everyone, all of us, regardless of party politics, because we need a period of non-majority, to allow the whole infrastructure of government to shake off the moronity.

First, a hung parliament kick-starts the process of re-empowering parliament itself. MPs will be held to account like never before – but beyond that they need their responsibility and actual job back – giving individual MPs greater authority on scrutiny of government and the opportunity to vote on their conscience. Secondly a hung parliament will make politics itself more exciting, just when we need it to be. Every issue would be closely fought and, with MPs empowered, that in turn re-engages us as constituents to push our own MP’s vote in a certain direction. Thirdly a hung parliament will be especially ace if the Greens get a couple of MPs. Don’t scoff, it’s genuinely possible – the bookies have Caroline Lucas as the favourite in Brighton now and that chap up in Norwich is also doing great work. Over the past few weeks the Tory-led council down here badly damaged their chances of competing still by totally fucking up their reaction to the snowfall. Finally I think a hung parliament will also disempower the evil bastards running the corporate media in the UK. Or maybe it won’t but in my head the wider spread the democatised power, the harder it is for them to own it.

Power shifts away from the centre and back towards us, while social media shifts from away from leisure and entertainment geekery, towards properly useful mainstream toolage. Over-optimistic as usual.