Brown is Watching. Apparently

Brown Is Watching You

Saw this stencilled onto the expensive wall of a Georgian building in Edinburgh’s West End (tagging buildings is one thing, but really, street art wallahs could you not do it on listed, historic buildings, please?). I’d have thought Gordon was too busy watching his own Cabinet colleagues for sharpened daggers to watch us right now, but then he doesn’t have to I suppose given the huge increase in surveillance and diminishing of civil liberties he and Blair have overseen during their corrupt regimes (for our protection, naturally).

December 10th, 1948

December 10th, nineteen hundred and forty eight; after the shattering global slaughter of the Second World War a new organisation meets in hope. The horrific truth of the death camps is still emerging – the cold-blooded extermination of Jews, socialists, gays, Slavs, gypsies, Resistance members and even Allied POWs who proved to troublesome to the Nazi regime – the horrific atomic legacy those who survived the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki and Horishima, a new, terrible legacy that lives in the very cells of the survivors, is claiming victims after the fighting finished. Cities lie in ruins, from Glasgow to London to Hamburg to Stalingrad, families are homeless, many are and will remain incomplete with loved ones who will never come home.

And in the face of this, sixty years ago today, the new United Nations announced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human Rights have had a bad reputation in a section of the media but let’s ignore the Daily Mail reading bigots who constantly tell us human rights legislation is just a charter for villains (no, its not perfect, yes some sneak round it an abuse it, but on the whole we need it). Have a look at just a dozen of the articles below and think how many are bent, circumvented or simply ignored and broken every single day somewhere in the world – and even here in the ‘free’ democratic world, think how many of these have been abused by democtatic governments: condoning (or even using) torture, long detention with no trial, illegal intercepts of communication, not to mention outright lies told to justify violence and warfare. And away from governmental abuse think on the inherint injustices – no one shall be a slave and yet how many women are trafficked and sold into sexual service with no more rights than a slave of old? Everyone should be equal before law, yet we all know that the law (as it always has) is more equal to those with plenty of money or powerful friends. Consider… Well, I’m sure you can all think of other examples.

Article 1.

    All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

    Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

    Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

    No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

    No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

    Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

    Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

    Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

    (1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

    (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

    No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Talking King

Via Boing Boing comes a link to an MP3 of an inspiring speech by the great Martin Luther King, long one of my heroes for his wisdom, the fact he knew he was an imperfect human being like the rest of us but kept trying and for still believing in non violent protest in a violent time (which would eventually claim his as a victim). I’m with Avi who pointed it out to BB, this quote from 32 minutes into the MP3 speech is a particular standout piece which hits me:

I say to you, this morning, that if you have never found something so dear and precious to you that you will die for it, then you aren’t fit to live.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid.

You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab or shoot or bomb your house. So you refuse to take a stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are ninety, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at ninety.

And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

You died when you refused to stand up for right.

You died when you refused to stand up for truth.

You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

Amen, brother; in times when goverments keep cutting at civil liberties generations fought for and people often let them because they have been terrified into doing so or worse because they are too apathetic to stand up and say no it becomes even more important. Bad things may happen because of bad people but they are allowed to continue happening because good people keep quiet.

Easter pic

Saint John’s church at the corner of Princes Street in Edinburgh, below the Castle, has appeared on here a number of times over the years because of the always interesting painting which the minister and some artists often put up on a board by the side of the church; often they comment on current events and morality and I always find it heartening to see them so prominently displayed so everyone travelling along Princes Street sees them. I was in town with Mel this afternoon when I noticed this one they had created for Easter; given the news today about the ceremony for the lighting of the Olympic torch it became doubly appropriate.

In case you missed it, as the head of the Beijing Olympic committee rose to make his speech at the traditional lighting of the Olympic torch before it is carried through various nations before going to China some pro-Tibet protestors got through the security. Sadly the television cameras rapidly panned away from the scene until they had been removed, which I consider to be utterly shameful, craven and cowardly. If China doesn’t like it, cobblers to them, but don’t censor such a broadcast to the rest of the world you spineless cretins. Further protests took part along the route as the first runner carried the torch, with local Greeks apparently being somewhat surprised and bemused by cries of Free Tibet, which strikes me as rather odd – considering Greece was under the dictatorial rule of the Ottoman Turks for centuries, fighting for its freedom you’d think the Greeks would have been applauding the pro-Tibetan supporters.

Personally I hope the progress of the torch around the globe continues to attract these kinds of protests – I’m tired of people making excuses about keeping politics out of this and how it detracts from the Games and from the symbol of the international spirit of co-operation and peace the torch symbolises. Let’s be honest, the minute it was decided it was okay to host the Games in a country with an appalling human rights record, a country which keeps down another culture by force, which restricts its own citizens, stifles freedom of speech (often with the help of major web companies, to their shame) and even harvests the organs of executed criminals (and in a state like China do you want to bet all those executed were vicious criminals or just people they wanted rid of?). A country who, when their leader visited London complained to the Prime Minister that people were ‘allowed’ to protest his country’s policies in public on his route in. Bollocks to them. Humiliate and embarrass the totalitarian sods at every single public venue while the world’s media eye is focussed on them. They wanted the Games for international recognition, they have to take the flipside of that which is increased visibility of the shortcomings of their country’s vicious policies too.

And if any Olympians are still whining about it all detracting from the games then to hell with them – human rights are more important than some numpty in shorts running round a track and rather than attacking demonstrators they should perhaps be questioning their own morality in taking part in games held in such a land.

Hypocritical bastard

George Bush asked in a BBC interview if America still held the moral high ground after scandals of violated civil liberties, civilian deaths, tortures and Abu Ghraib: “Absolutely. We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom.” This from a man who is trying to veto a bill from the US Senate (how very democratic of him) which makes the use of water boarding illegal for the purposes of interrogation. In other words he is trying to make the use of torture legal. How this fits in with his previous statement is beyond me. How this retarded monkey can say things like this then apparently believe he is on the side of Good is beyond me. And just how so many fucking idiots can go along with it, vote for it and support it is utterly beyond me.

The fact that the Senate had to even pass a law declaring this process illegal to begin with speaks volumes – most civilised countries would consider such torture utterly illegal to begin with and not need to pass extra laws. This is how the self proclaimed good guys fight the good fight. No wonder the world is such a bloody mess. Neitzche’s cautionary passages on fighting monsters and becoming a monster in the process was obviously not on the reading curriculum for Bush or his supporters. Although since the brain-dead numpty seems to have difficulties with the fairly simple task of putting words together for coherent speech it shouldn’t be a surprise that he isn’t well educated or well read.

British Olympic Association climbs down on censorship claim

There had been worries recently that the contract British athletes being included in the national team for the Bejing Olympics had been reworded to censor what those athletes may say publicly about the dire state of human rights or politics in the host nation China. The BOA has now apparently clarified this position saying that while it is normal Olympic practise to inform competing athletes that they cannot use the Games as a political platform neither is the BOA in the business of trying to censor what its athletes speak about – they can talk to journalists, answer questions and so on, just not decide to use their position at the Games to stage a protest or demonstration, something which comes from the International Olympic rules. The British Athletes Commission seems to accept this adding that it is the sport which is paramount and that they are going to compete, not to demonstrate.

Which is fair enough, as far as it goes, since that is indeed what they are supposed to do. But I can’t help but wonder if the Games weren’t being held in a nation with an appalling record in human rights abuses, lack of civil liberties, environmental pillaging and few freedoms then this wouldn’t be an issue to begin with. Part of the argument for having the Games there though is that somehow it will magically make the Chinese government more accountable, allowing more freedoms and liberties – the same argument is used by giant corporations like Google and Microsoft for working with the Chinese government, then self-censoring to suit that totalitarian regime and even, allegedly, giving access to web records to track down and silence those bloggers who post opinions considered ‘dissident’. Yay for the spread of freedom by example!!!

Its an old refrain of capitalism that it promotes freedom because those are the circumstances it flourishes best in and where political argument fails to persuade those in power money and successful business might. But that’s an experiment we’re still waiting to see a definitive result on – there may be some more freedoms in China today but equally there are a lot of repressive measures, so the jury is well out on how successfully the market and giving them the Games has worked – it may have helped a bit, but it certainly hasn’t transformed the country to a land of freedom. On the Olympians front though, if an athlete does feel very strongly that an international coming together of nations shouldn’t be staged in a country where the regime denies basic freedoms, liberties and human rights then perhaps they should consider if they should take part in the Games being held there?

Because I doubt the Games will magically make things better – we’re talking about a regime, after all, who when visiting London criticised their UK government hosts for ‘allowing’ people to protest their visit, that’s the attitude they have – they think democratic countries should muzzle free speech critical of them. So I am left wondering if athletics organisations saying that the staging of the Games in China will somehow help improve that country’s lamentable record is less wishful thinking than a fig leaf to their own conscience to justify going there – honest I am not just going because I want to take part in the Olympics regardless, I really believe being there will help the people of China. Honest. Okay, perhaps that is pretty cynical, but I find it is hard not to be cynical about the whole thing. (source: the BBC)

Protesting is terrorism

Well, well, well, what a bloody surprise – the police, government authorities and the multi-million pound business that is BAA are using every dirty trick in the book (many of those tricks were added in recent years by Blair’s junta ‘to protect us’) to gag the climate protest camp at Heathrow Airport. Anyone who has been following the pre-amble to this will not be surprised – sites like Boing Boing have been following the attempts by BAA ahead of the camp to try and pre-emptively gag them and keep them away so no-one sees their protest about the impact of ever-increasing air travel on the environment (not just the pollution in the air, Heathrow is still physically expanding and devouring more land, creating more noise for local residents and if a new runway goes ahead more than likely there will be compulsory purchases of people’s homes as they are forced out to make way for it).

With the current terrorism threat, keeping Heathrow safe and secure is a very serious business. Any action taken by the protesters that distracts us or the police from this task is irresponsible and unlawfu.” Mark Bullock from BAA Heathrow. Methinks Mr Bullock is talking bollocks.

So in effect we have a big player in a business which is causing massive amounts of continuing and growing damage to the environment using very dodgy laws to try and stop people protesting the impact that industry is having, at the connivance of the police who are happy to employ very shady anti-terror laws to try and intimidate protesters from turning up and to harass them if they do. I’d guess this also means the usual method of police intelligence (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) units filming people protesting so they can identify them and build a file – can’t have people thinking they have the right to freedom of expression and protest in a democracy, can we? This is exactly the sort of heavy-handed action folks like comedian Mark Thomas have been protesting (Mark did a great Radio 4 show which exposed and ridiculed the laws Blair brought in to make legitimate protest in and around Westminster and the seat of government, laws supposedly to protect us but rather obviously there to protect twisted politicians).

Yeah, I know, some of you might be thinking, so what, bunch of eco-hippes, get a job. And maybe for some of them you might be right. But even if you don’t agree with their views on the environment (and there are a lot of people who still insist humans have no influence on global warming, it’s all nature – these folks remind me of the shagwits who all through the 70s said “there’s no scientific evidence smoking harms you”) then think about the continuing implications of the actions of the police, BAA and the government. Think about the fact that very dodgy laws rushed through without proper consultation or analysis in the House to cope with ’emergencies’ sparked by the War On Terror (WOT?) are again being used to stop British citizens exercising their fundamental right to freedom of speech and to protest. Those are absolutely critical to any democratic society; people fought and died to preserve those rights and here we have a corrupt government that has abused serious global events to push through laws which can be employed in any bloody way they want to try and minimise dissent (and oh the irony of this being a government which says it is leading the world in tackling climate change). Regardless of your views on what the protesters are saying that should worry us all.

The man doth protest too much

No, really, he has an official Guinness Book of World Records entry for most political protests in one day! Who am I talking about? One of my comedy heroes, Mark Thomas; Radio 4 has his show available to listen to on the BBC site detailing how he decided to play with the dreadful law that freedom-curbing git Blair passed to try and make it harder for citizens to stage lawful protests in and around Parliament and Whitehall. As Mark points out a friend of his was arrested while enjoying a picnic because some heavy handed plod decided she was making a protest and hadn’t gotten police approval beforehand. No, I am having a picnic, she replies, pointing to the food, blanket on the grass etc. Ah yes, but your cake has ‘peace’ written on icing on it, that makes it a form of protest. Yes, in the French revolution Marie Antoinette was famously (if mistakenly) said to ‘let them eat cake’, while in Blair’s police state you can get nicked for eating cake near the House of Shame.

That said some of the coppers in this come across as equally pissed off at having to enforce a clearly bonkers law as Mark increasingly makes a fool of it – one senior officer who has to pass the requests for demos in the area comes in to see him when his constable passes to him Mark’s latest demo – calling for said senior officer to be sacked because of his role in enforcing this law. In he comes, looks at Mark, laughs and says “that’s bloody brilliant.” I do like Mark Thomas, he does that great thing of mixing comedy and politics effectively, exposing ludicrous laws and corrupt politicians and dodgy dealings with humour. Caught him at the Edinburgh Festival before and he is even better live. One of the few things better than seeing someone ‘sticking it to the man’ is someone using humour to humiliate the man while he does it. God bless satire, our last and best hope for freedom and a good, sharp pole for sticking it to the man.

Npower and the freedom of the press

Following up from me on my high horse blogging last week about energy company Npower bulldozing its way through both the environment, local opinion and the freedoms of speech and the press, here’s a proper link to the Channel 4 item I mentioned, with a link to the report and a blog entry by Alex Thomson on Npower’s (ab)use of the law and their sinister, masked security goons to overturn basic democratic freedoms at Radley Lakes.

Who was that masked man?

Channel 4 News tonight carried the frankly scary story of masked private security guards garbed in black, black masks raised over their faces to create an anonymous and threatening-looking appearance, going up to British citizens on a public road in a public space along with a pinstripe suited lawyer and violating their freedom of speech, freedom of expression and clearly, to my mind, violating the freedom of the press. Locals in the area of Radley Lakes have objected to shameless energy company Npower chopping down trees and planning to use the nearby lake for a spot to dump waste ash from their power station in. Many locals have objected and been ignored, a study into the impact is under way but Npower are just carrying right on with their task while it goes on so the study will be academic. Worst of all these creep security guards who look like a cross between something from a totalitarian regime and a masked Old West bandits and the corporate lawyer have persuaded a judge to grant an injunction, based largely on some anonymous witness statements with no actual cross examination which has banned even accredited journalists from taking photographs in public spaces to cover issues which are clearly in the public interest based on little to no proper evidence.

Masked, black suited, menacing looking guards who spent most of the C4 report denying citizens and reporters their basic rights while happily filming everyone present themselves; the injunction the foolish judge gave the company on their flimsy ‘evidence’ (supposedly to protect staff, although so far no-one has proved there was any real threat) is so vague that apparently just watching the report means the viewer is also injuncted! How ridiculous is that? I’m glad C4 News reported on this because I hadn’t heard of this until tonight and from what the usually highly dependable C4 team said other large corporations are using similar dirty tricks with corporate lawyers who would be at home working for Monty Burns and their own private rent-a-cops around the UK. I find myself getting irate quite often at some reports on the news, but this made me bloody furious, that some large company would not only ignore their local residents but then use a mixture of lawyer’s tricks and sinister, masked security to violate one of our most precious freedoms. Npower, you are utterly despicable and shameless. Editorial Photographers UK has some more on this story.

Conflicted by denial

David Irving (I refuse to give him the honorific of ‘historian’) has been jailed by an Austrian court for Holocaust denial, a crime in both Austria and Germany. I’m more than a little conflicted, I have to confess – I loathe this odious little apologist for Nazis and genocide (the shame being that apparently once upon a time he was a pretty good and knowledgeable historian) but although I despise people who persist in this fantasy of Holocaust denial it also troubles me that it is a crime punishable by jail (although obviously this is an offence with more troubling resonance for citizens in Austria and Germany than for most other nations, excepting Isreal).

It is pretty hard, if not impossible, to believe solidly in the freedom of expression if that freedom is not afforded to those who we not only disagree with but actively despise. And those of us in the bookselling trade have special reason to dislike this man, over and above his despicable lies on the Holocaust: when booksellers (including some of my colleagues in my former employer years back) refused to stock his books he launched court actions against them. Not the shops, the individual booksellers in those shops. Fortunately the company put up lawyers and he was laughed out of court. He continued to shuffle sadly around the country preaching to right wing fantasists and attempting to sell copies of his books from the back of his car and being abusive to bookstaff who said they had little interest in stocking it. Perhaps that is in itself a mild form of censorship, but booksellers should be able to decide that there are certain books they do not want to sell without fear of litigation from bullies.

Then he attacked Deborah Lipstadt (he has a history of using the courts to bully people) and found that she and her publisher Penguin were prepared to go the whole nine yards in a British court with him. He lost the libel case and was officially labelled a Holocaust Denier by a British judge, meaning we could all now apply this to him without him suing us. I ordered in a pile of Deborah’s book and we sold a ton of it – Irving was bankrupted and as such unable to run a new book company. His right wing chums stepped in to help by reprinting his tat on his behalf. Sad enough, but they also employed dishonest advertising, including taking pictures of Hitler and his senior staff used on one of the covers and arranging a picture so it looked as if they were standing around a table in a bookstore of my former employer, making it look as if they were behind his book, which they most certainly were not – nor were they happy to have their logo co-opted in this way. Gives you more of an idea of the sort of person you are dealing with, doesn’t it?

But I don’t like the notion of making the expression of a distasteful idea against the law; it is in essence what Tony Blair is trying to ram through Parliament right now with his ‘glorification of terror’ clause, which is vague and could mean almost anything, potentially threatening books, newspaper articles, books, TV, film and stand-up comedians with a possible legal attack. And it is pointless – it is not needed to tackle people such as Hamza who was recently convicted without such legislation or the creeps who marched in London after the Danish cartoons with placards which called for the beheading of those who mocked Islam or for Europe to be punished by terrorist attacks; these are all crimes under existing legislation. Even someone like me who believes in freedom of expression draws the line at people who call for harm to another and this is already dealt with under law – Blair’s new addition would create such a vague potential threat it would restrict free speech on important issues for no gain in security.

Farrah Mendlesohn, a well respected critic and writer in the SF community is so irritated that she is putting her own time and money into a new anthology of stories which would all fall foul of this new law if it goes through. And that’s what we do in a free society – we do not say we are free to speak as long as we don’t offend anyone or say something most people know to be false; no we engage in debate, write articles and books and demonstrate to those people and to society at large how wrong they are and why they are wrong. Details of Farrah’s project can be found here on Notes From Coode Street.

Still, it was hard not to smirk when Irving got sent down today; he reversed his previous claims that the Holocaust was a myth in order to weasel out of his charges. He knew when he travelled to Austria that he had an outstanding warrent for this offence from years previously, so it seems obvious he assumed either he would not be charged or he would be charged but not jailed, thus reaping the publicity and esteem he craves but which his ridiculous books have made impossible from most historical readers or academics. He told Channel 4 News earlier that he had booked a first class ticket home on a plane for this evening, so cocky was the little sod. So it is rewarding to see such a weasely and smug little git falling on his own face – and because of his own arrogance. But again I’m not happy about the restriction by law on anyone’s freedom of expression, even little creeps like him. Freedom of expression, like freedom of all types, is a double-edged sword, but one which must be applied equally to all or it is no freedom at all.

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley…

Okay, a link in some questionable taste since it involves and Asian-Australian who if facing being hung by the shiny little techno-dictatorship of Singapore. There hasn’t been much coverage of this case in the British press – I only found out about it via my mate Adrock’s delightfully outspoken blog. According to Amnesty the Singapore dictatorship has executed more than 400 people since 1991 (wow, it really must be a deterrent, eh?); given they has a tiny population of only 4.2 million this puts them into the shameful position of the highest execution rate per head of population in the world. I’m not making any excuses for Nguyen – he tried to smuggle heroin after all – but execution is wrong and it rarely stops crime (or they wouldn’t need to keep executing so many people, would they?); as long as there are folk in vulnerable or desperate position there will always be folks who attempt stupid acts like being a drugs mule. Meantime the scumbags who run the drugs businesses sit in their mansions, utterly untouched by law enforcement; what do they care? Plenty more desperate folk to act as mules for them, while they stay safely out of harm’s way… Adrock, himself a Singaporean living in Australia, has an interesting post over on Outrageous, Beautiful Misfit (Parental Advisory Warning!).