“I want the names and numbers…”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson’s speech to the Conservative party conference recently contained her wrapping herself in the Union flag to attack the pro-independence camp in Scotland. Since the Tories were the only major party to even oppose Scotland having a devolved parliament I tend to pay little attention to what Scottish Conservatives said – they are mostly a fringe party in Scots politics, really, both in terms of Holyrood and Westminster, disliked and distrusted by the majority of the electorate, as their voting habits have shown numerous times in recent decades. Ironically the voting system for the Scots Parliament has been their best hope for clinging on to at least a small amount of politicians in Holyrood…

However my friend Alex pointed out that during her speech to the conference she said:

But 98% of Conservatives said they wanted to keep our Kingdom United.

And friends, do you know what I want? I want the names and numbers of the other 2%

Er, is that right? She wants the names and numbers of anyone who doesn’t agree with her completely? Great British Gods! How dare someone hold or express a different opinion in our democratic society! Fear being tracked down by Davidson’s secret police and dragged away in dead of night for dissenting, you disloyal scum!

Seriously though, that is quite a disturbing thing for a politician to say and more to the point why the hell are the lazy-arse Scottish media not grilling this politician over this remark? That’s their job, to hold politicians to account. And when they utter chilling phrases like that they should be held to account and questioned very closely and publicly on what they meant. Or perhaps like other right-wing politicians recently she will simply say “taken out of context” (the standard excuse) or the “it was a joke” (an excuse for uttering disturbing lines that seems to be making a come back in British politics at the moment). Either way she should have been questioned by the Scots media on this and she should also be a damned sight more careful of the wording of her speeches. As my friend remarked as we discussed this, had a Yes camp politician said something similar there would have been uproar, and rightly so.

And before anyone says I’m just doing some pro-independence biased ranting here, A) I am still waiting on a proper debate (as opposed to simple posturing and either scare stories or misty-eyed rhetoric from each side we’ve had so far) and information on which to base my decision for my vote (and lines like that above don’t help persuade me to the No camp) and B) even if I had decided completely to be in the Yes camp already it doesn’t invalidate the criticism of her quite disturbing wording.

Discordia

Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens

Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple

Vintage Digital

This digital only book from Vintage is billed as “the first feminist-art-gonzo-journalism ebook ever published, and the best you’ll ever read”. Well I can’t say I’ve double-checked the claim to be first, but it is certainly a fascinating read – and one that is likely to make the reader progressively angry. This may be a little outside our normal sphere of reading coverage, but a chum at Vintage was kind enough to zap over a copy because they knew we’d covered some of Molly Crabapple’s work, and I’m very glad they did as the combination of well known journalist Laurie Penny’s text and Molly’s quite excellent illustration work combine to create an engrossing insight into current events in Greece.

Anyone who has followed either Laurie or Molly’s work will know that both have been actively involved in the raft of protests which most Western countries have seen in recent years, most notably the Occupy movement, and both have documented a number of events in those protests in their own style. Discordia grew out of those experiences and with Greece suffering even more than many other economies and contemplating yet more severe austerity measures to add to the miseries already being endured they decided that this was where they should head to try and dig behind the frankly rather uninformative (at best) or downright misleading (at worst) reports we’ve seen on the situation in our own media through the revolutionary approach of talking to some of the people involved and listening to their first hand accounts. Yes, I know, that’s one of the basic 101 rules for investigative journalism, but it seems far to often to me to be a rule that too many hacks and their editors ignore in favour of a simple write-up that questions little and offers nothing of substance. Hurrah then for those like Laurie and Molly who still follow that time-honoured, venerable yet still indispensable rule.

“In Athens, the writing is so thick on the walls that it blots out the street signs. As you lug your suitcase downtown from Syntagma Square, graffiti covers every hoarding, every pillar, every shopfront. Angry words in red and black and Greek and Spanish and English plaster the streets, ghostly faces in hoods and skulls and stick figures contort over the brickwork and spill onto the pavement.

The words ooze over the street furniture and lamp posts. They crawl up the monuments and statues that attempt to remind travellers that this is still a classical city. ‘Fuck heroes – fight now’ is sprayed in spiky black letters over the base of a statue of Theodoros Kolokotronis, a general in the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire.

One of the designs that crops up again and again is a stencil of a girl with a suitcase. She is in her early twenties, and she’s a real person, which is to say that for a cartoon woman her waist and hips are of a biologically plausible ratio, and she wears plain old jeans and a T-shirt, her hair scraped back. Sometimes she is dragging her bags behind her and sometimes she leans against them and into the distance, always leaving or just about to leave.

That’s what a significant tranche of Greek youth are doing right now: abandoning a country which has told those of its young people it hasn’t tear-gassed to go fuck themselves if they thought they’d get work. The slogan on her suitcase changes with every image. Sometimes it says, in Greek – ‘In Spring We Rise Up’. Sometimes it says, in Greek – ‘In Autumn They Fall.

And Molly and Laurie do talk to people, all sorts of people – left wing activists, former party members who have given up on the established parties because they realised the mainstream simply wasn’t capable of representing ordinary citizens properly anymore, journalists (many of whom continue to try and report on unfolding events despite not being paid in months), immigrants, older folk, younger folk, and it’s hard reading. Times aren’t exactly rosy for most Western economies, goodness knows, but the tales these Athenians tells to our intrepid travellers are frequently upsetting and many of them will leave you angry – and you should be angry at the suffering and injustice, and the increasing feeling that money is more important than people’s lives. The feeling of despair is palpable, and Laurie and Molly talk and listen to many locals, those native born and those who emigrated to Greece. Most media reports here seem to me to present the protests in Greece, such as the recent general strike, as a general discontent at troubles brought on because many dodged paying their taxes and their politicians cooked the books to join the Eurozone (while EC officials largely turned a blind eye for political expediency). This gives a much more informed, nuanced view of what’s going on and the causes of it, far too much of which hasn’t been reported very widely in the English language press.

And for those of us who read our history there are far too many disturbing similarities to the 1920s and 30s, the Great Depression – not just in terms of terrible economic hardship, poverty and the dashing of hopes, but in the seemingly relentless growth of ‘hunger politics’. The black shirts are marching again and people who are suffering are sadly only to eager to have someone to blame, even if those they pick on have nothing to do with the nation’s woes, and the far right groups, then as now, exploit that fear during the lean, hungry times, stoking prejudice and bigotry in the guise of doing something positive and constructive, while their party leaders attempt to portray them as genuine democratic political parties, while their members are actually often out on the street attacking unionists, immigrants, homosexuals and anyone else who they deem different. Sadly Greece isn’t alone in this – many countries have variations on these quasi-fascist organisations who pretend to be acting out of ‘patriotism’ but who are really small-minded hate-mongers happy to exploit the situation to gain any power they can.

The difference in Greece is that the main far right party, the Golden Dawn (now infamous for one of its politicians physically attacking an opponent during a televised debate, which gives you an idea of the thuggish roots of this group) operates openly in the streets, intimidating, attacking, like something from the rise of Nazism in Weimar era Germany, while some in authority, especially in the police (who despite the massive cutbacks in the rest of government spending can still spend millions to buy stocks of CS gas to use on their own citizens), where it is estimated about 50% of officers supported the Golden Dawn at the last election, and have frequently been seen to turn a blind eye to their violence, arresting victims and doing nothing about the fascist bully boys who attacked them. And while some may think that can’t happen here both Laurie and Penny compare this to some of the Occupy protesters in the US who have found themselves manhandled roughly, arrested, pepper sprayed in the face (often right under the lens of the media, with little or no come back to the officers involved) – and they’re not talking left wing agitators, they’re talking the sort of college educated, middle class people who would normally trust and support the police and suddenly finding those same people they trusted are willing to turn on them when they try to use their right to protest. It’s a terribly bleak prospect and it’s no wonder Molly depicts the Greek police in such a monstrous manner, like some warped form of human and animal that came through a lens of  Steadman and Gilliam.

For those of us who have always valued Classical culture there is something especially poignant about these dreadful events occurring in the birthplace of democracy, from the ancient city-state that has influenced the development of the whole of Western civilisation – politics,philosophy, the rhetoric of reason, the arts, architecture – and seeing it not only buckle under the economic hardships but the society turning on itself, the splintering of the left, the rise of, let’s be honest, neo Nazi right wing hunger politics (right down to a logo that is quite obviously a variation on the swastika and black-shirted hoodlums marching in the street) and the oh-so easy targeting of anyone different (immigrants, homosexuals). What Molly and Laurie present here is a view of that old beast History knocking on the door to repeat some of itself, seen through the eyewitness accounts of the people trying to live through it and trying to deny it entry to the world once more. Sad, but why be concerned with it when we have our own problems? Again as History shows that was an attitude many had to the rise of the Nazis as Weimar Germany crumbled and eventually faded into dictatorship. Which isn’t to say Greece would go that way, but it has too many alarming parallels to be comfortable for anyone reading this, and besides, the way all of our world economies are interlinked in the modern world huge upsets in one nation have knock on effects on others; we all have similar worries and problems and being informed is always preferable to ignorance.

Both ladies offer up a very accessible view into the Greek situation, along the way taking in the austerity and Occupy and other related movements and protests in the US, UK and elsewhere, exploring economics, corruption, incompetent authorities, racism, sexism and the damned mess these negative qualities lead us into and showing how those problems in one nation relate to those in another. Laurie’s prose is, even when describing terrible scenes, enjoyable to read, while Molly’s artwork adds another dimension to the whole book. Molly herself notes that in an age where journalists and citizen reporters armed with digital cameras, web enabled phones and the like can beam photographs and video of events as they happen she wondered about the role of the artist; determined to be out of her studio and recording it in the field, she felt in a digital photo-rich world there was still a role for an artist in recording events and the thoughts of those involved, and I agree (in much the same way  - much as I admire photography there is still much to be said for illustration in reportage, in filtering through the human mind via the brushes, and Molly delivers a mix of rougher sketches carried out on the spot and more polished, finished works, more than a few of which I thought showed a Steadman influence, which I mean as a compliment. Well written prose or well executed art can be powerful, but combine the two successfully and you create a work that becomes more than the sum of its parts. Much recommended, thought provoking reading.

This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Milk piracy

Government, supermarkets and other buyers and representatives of dairy farmers are still negotiating over the scandal of large companies like supermarkets paying such a low price to farmers for milk supplies that they make a loss on every pint. The large supermarkets, who are often the target of ire for using their bulk buying and selling power to bully suppliers like farmers into ridiculously low prices have retaliated however and explained the very low price of milk is not because of supermarkets rigging prices through buying power but caused directly by online milk piracy. In this they have been backed up by figures from the music and film industry who say that alongside music and movie piracy the illegal downloading of copied milk via web pirates was costing farmers dearly and destroying the industry. It’s thought when they attempt to lobby yet again for draconian new internet piracy laws the dairy farmers will also be leaning on politicians to bring in penalties such as the ‘three strikes’ rule for anyone suspected of illegally downloading milk or any other dairy products.

(a dairy cow yesterday, she answered no comment to the Woolamaloo Gazette’s reporter when asked about milk piracy)

Live long and prosper…

Love this photo of the first lady of Star Trek, Nichelle Nichols, with President Obama; nice to see he can do the Vulcan salute too, I suspect his predecessor Dubyah was still struggling with the notion of opposable thumbs too much to be able to do that. I wonder if he asked her about her encounter with Dr Martin Luther King Jr and how he told her to stay on the original show in the 60s even though she felt her character didn’t get many lines because just having a black face – and a woman too – on prime time TV in the US during that turbulent era, let alone one who was a senior bridge officer, was an important, viisble role model for young coloured Americans. And you didn’t say no to King. (via FP blog via Live for Films)

Budget news

In budget news George Posh Boy Osborne, taking advice from his American cousin Norman Osborn, has announced the government want to help stimulate the currently moribund supervillain economy. To this end in his budget today the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined how supervillains would now be granted tax relief and financial incentives for major infrastructure projects, such as the hollowing out of volcanoes for supervillain lairs. When challenged on this by representatives of the superhero community who claimed the Tories were in effect using taxpayer’s money to subsidise international crime, Mr Osbourne refuted this charge, claiming that supervillains and their major world domination projects and secret bases were important powerhouses of international commerce, driving both local and global economies and offering huge employment opportunities to a range of industries, from henchmen to the craftsmen such as carpenters and electricians who construct their lairs to the hi-tech companies who supply the lasers and missile tech for their plans, and the UK had to encourage these ‘innovators’ or be left behind in a competitive international marketplace.

Hope?

This reworking of Obama’s iconic election campaign poster to show his utter hypocrisy in being a Democratic leader presiding over a country where young teenage student girls get pepper sprayed in the face on their own campus simply for peacefully exercising their right to free assembly and speech, or signing legislation (and very sneakily doing it over New Year when he hoped most wouldn’t notice) that will make it possible for the authorities to arrest and detain not only those pesky foreign radicals and terrorists without proper judicial oversight or charges, but also US citizens. The Land of the Free my fecking arse in parsley sauce…I thought back at election time that the euphoria over Obama’s election was foolish – sure it was better than having Bush there but I thought the hopes people piled on his administration were unrealistic, not to mention foolish and sure enough he has disappointed endlessly since then. Sad to think at the next US election I wouldn’t prefer to see him re-elected because he deserves to be but simply because he is a lesser evil (just) of the rampantly right-wing, Tea Party numpties in the Republican Reptile Party… Sigh…

Occupy Edinburgh

Occupy Edinburgh at night 04

The Occupy Edinburgh campaign continues, despite recent nasty weather like the high storms, the winter cold and now Christmas approaching, respect to them for keeping it going. Few nocturnal shots coming home from work the other evening, no tripod with me as I had been at work so improvised, sitting camera on conveniently flat topped railings around the square and using the timer to try and get a steady enough platform for a night shot in a pretty dark space. Does limit the angles you can have to shoot though, but still, beggars can’t be choosers and it did work. I like the ‘ghost’ effect on the left hand side as someone walks along the path while the shutter is open for a couple of minutes trying to drink in as much of the scant light as it can:

Occupy Edinburgh at night 02

Occupy Edinburgh at night 03

The banner is a little blurred here as the wind was making it billow while I had to keep the shutter open for a couple of minutes to let enough of the light in, so parts of it aren’t too sharp; still that gives it a certain kinetic quality of movement, I suppose:
Occupy Edinburgh at night 01

Veiled threats

As expected it looks like the French government will ban the wearing of full face veils in public spaces. Also to be banned, Lone Ranger masks, Batman type cowls and wearing bags with eyeholes cut out over your head (except if very ugly and in Paris).

Actually I’m not that keen on governments being able to tell people what they can and cannot wear, although I despise the veil and all it implies – isolation, lack of equality and freedom – but I’d rather it was voluntary. It is a dreadfully dehumanising garment – concealing someone’s face in public at all times is effectively erasing their individual identity and isolating that woman. The vast bulk of human communication is non verbal and by concealing the features they are removing the bulk of their interaction abilities with other people – hardly a positive move. And as someone who has had to serve a couple of women in my old job who were wearing the full rig with only eyes peeking out I have to say I found it quite disconcerting to talk to someone who was hiding themselves from me. I’m sure they wouldn’t appreciate it if I had pulled my bandana over my face Western bandit style to talk to them. In addition to the cultural problems the veil causes I have to say that I think it is also quite simply rude – expecting other people to interact with you while you conceal your face simply comes across as very rude to me.

But again I don’t care for governments dictating these kinds of rules – we have, after all, historic precedent for government banning certain clothing in Scotland, such as tartan after the ’45. But surely it would be better to try and persuade women that they are in a free, liberal society and don’t have to hide themselves just because some stupid old men with huge beards and a continual fear of the strength of women have fooled them into thinking they need to…

Fog in Channel

Quite a while back I was asked by Tom and Simon Sykes if I’d like to contribute to a book they were putting together on British attitudes to Europe; its taken some time to get to print but its now finally been released (I just received my complimentary copy). It was quite nice to be asked (they had come across the Woolamaloo after the infamous ‘Bastardstone’s’ incident and liked my writing style) and it was unusual for me to be asked to write on something other than my regular subjects of books, comics or films (much as I do enjoy writing and talking about those). I’m also rather chuffed to think I’m in there with company such as Bill Deedes, Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell and Tony Benn (my late uncle, a solid socialist to the day he died, would have been delighted to see his nephew in a book alongside Benn). The guys wanted to have a spread of people and so a variety of thoughts and opinion and not just the ‘usual suspects’, hence why I was also approached; I drew on my own experience of an earlier Union to describe my feeling towards European Union, looking at the notion of being Scottish and British against the idea of being British but also European. Fog in Channel (the title inspired by the old weather report on the radio) is published now by Shoehorn Publishing.

Guy Fawkes night

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,
Expense claims, moats and cooked books,
I see no reason, why such high spenders,
Should ever be let off their hooks.

Remember, remember the fifth of November

New research by leading academics at the University of Woolamaloo’s Department of Historical Thinggies & Digging Old Stuff Up has revealed that Guido Fawkes, who lends his name to the traditions carried out in these islands on this day, was not as previously thought primarily motivated by religion as a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist terrorist, but was in fact driven chiefly by outrage caused by the seamy, selfish, profligate indulgences of the MPs of his era exploiting their overly generous expenses system. Thank goodness that in our civilised, modern era our politicians are too mature and noble and the system too accountable for them to behave in such a primitive manner.

Bare faced lies with a you betcha smile

The Daily Dish has an interesting compilation of the many bare-faced lies told by Sarah Palin during her political career. It never ceases to amaze me how brazenly some politicians will simply lie even over pretty easily checkable claims, from relatively small ones about meetings right up to fabricated justifications for wars. And I’m always depressed how many supporters continue to believe in these duplicitous toads even when they have been caught out time after time lying to the public, a sad indicator of the fact that many voters are indeed just as stupid as these lying politicians obviously think they are. (via Boing Boing)

Palin lied when she claimed that Alaska has spent “millions of dollars” on litigation related to her ethics complaints; in fact, that figure is much, much lower, and she had initiated the most expensive inquiry.

Palin lied when she denied that the Alaska Independence Party supports secession and denied that her husband had been a member; in fact, even the McCain campaign noted that the party’s very existence is based on secession and that Todd was a member for seven years.”