The stupidity of some school authorities

The BBC reports on a young lad, Rhys Johnson, who shaved his head to raise funds for a charity cancer. He raised several hundred pounds – and got disciplined by Milford Haven School. Why? Because his shaved head contravenes the school’s dress code. Seriously?

For starters do the authorities as Milford Haven School know this is 2013 and not 1813? I can understand some school regulations on appearance but find it hard to believe they are this Victorian-minded on things like a student’s hair. I’m not aware of any serious academic studies proving a link between follicle length of adolescents and cognitive abilities. I’d imagine they think this sort of petty rule enforcement ‘makes better, more disciplined students’. In fact it pretty much tends to make most schoolkids think their teachers are buffoons and idiots who delight in imposing inane rules just to annoy their powerless young charges and makes it more likely they will grow up with a strong distrust of authority figures (mind you, that is not a bad thing!). And then to enforce the letter of this rule even in a case like this? This shows astonishing inflexibility and utter stupidity from those in charge at that school. A young boy does something to help raise money for charity, to do something good, school punishes him for it. Way to teach a valuable lesson there, you utter, moronic, rule-bound idiots.

Some 250 of his fellow students walked out in protest at this injustice – the school authorities say they are “disappointed” at their actions. Again, really? Disappointed that so many of your student body saw what they perceive to be an injustice and stood up publicly with their fellows to make a stand against it? Excuse me, but aren’t those the sort of values we want to teach our children??? Do something to make the world a bit better, see injustice and stand up in opposition to it. Good for Rhys, good for his fellow students, utter shame on the hidebound, inflexible fools who are supposedly educating them.

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

You can be sure of Shell…

At least that was the old tag-line for Shell’s ads many years ago said. On my way to work this morning the petrol station on Dalry Road just a few minutes walk from my flat I saw Greenpeace staging a direct action protest to draw attention to the plans of Shell (and other greedy corporations) to explore and drill for oil in the Arctic. Not content with allowing oil companies to start looking for oil in unspoilt wildernesses like Alaska (and let’s not forget the mess they made of much of the Alaskan coastline, or the more recent mess off Florida) they want to go into one of our last largely untouched regions (similarly greedy mega corporations are jostling to be allowed to do mining exploration at the other end of the world in the Antarctic – there is no place these greedy bastards will not happily despoil to add a few more millions to their bloated profits).

Greenpeace Shell protest Edinburgh 01

Apologies for the low quality of the photos – the bus I was on to work stopped right opposite the petrol station, where no less than six police vehicles had pulled up (amazing how much response a big corporation gets – in my old job if we caught a shoplifter we’d sometimes have to sit and keep them there for half an hour to an hour until a pair of coppers turned up, but an oil company, sure have vanloads of police to drag away a few peaceful protesters…) Pulled camera from bag and got four or five shots off out the bus window before it moved off, most ruined by other vehicles passing in the busy road, only these two came out passably and not framed well since all I could do was shove the lens up against the window to cut down reflections from the glass, but still, better than nothing. I did like the person in the polar bear suit! More on this story on the BBC site here.

Greenpeace Shell protest Edinburgh 02

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.

The International Flag Conspiracy

A number of people, watching ‘outraged’ Muslims burning Danish flags this last week (I use outraged advisedly since they were so outraged by Denmark they attacked EU buildings and American airbases, so a cynical person may think they just felt like having a good old riot about anything that came along) have asked the obvious question of where the hell did all these Danish flags appear from in Beirut, Tehran, Damascus and the fine desert oasis of Camelcrack?

The intrepid Woolamaloo team have been investigating and unearthed some startling conclusions. We think it is a conspiracy by the shadowy conglomerates behind the international flag industry. It runs from the local scale, such as the Beirut Flag, Petroluem and Matches wholesale company to the huge corporations who manufacture the world’s flags. Demand in the Middle East for the Stars and Stripes has exceeded all possible supplies since George W Bush’s re-election. However, the secretive international flag merchants have warehouses full of the national flags of many nations who have rarely, if ever, offended a Muslim (admittedly a list which is getting smaller every day almost, since it now looks almost as if talking about Islam being offended about something is actually offensive too…).

The flag conglomerates, working though political lobbyists, PR agents and media connections, in conjunction with their local Middle Eastern wholesalers, analyse their unsold flag reserve stock and compare it against countries unpopular in Muslim regions, before using their contacts to create a scenario which will soon embroil the country with the largest number of unsold flags to become the new target for the latest two minue hate. Sales of US and British flags have reached saturation point, plus they can’t keep up with demand, so now they can offload vast amounts of unsold Danish flags and grow new markets at the same time. Some major reference publishers and globe-makers who are controlled by the international flag conglomerate are also in on this, as fundamentalists worldwide require access to information on the flags of the world so they can order the correct flag to go with their matches and petrol.

Like all large conspiracies this may seem fantastical at first, but considering the world is in a ferment over a cartoon and George Bush suddenly can reveal about a dangerous terrorist attack thwarted by intelligence several years ago magically a couple of days after he came under attack for the illegal wiretaps on American citizens (which he totally denied previously, stating such taps could only happen with judicial oversight) and suddenly it becomes easier to believe.

Meantime it is a shame that Muslims are boycotting Danish goods and also forbidden from eating pork, as otherwise they could cook some great bacon sarnies over the burning flags and wash it down with some cool, refreshing Danish lager, make it a proper barbie, perhaps relax them a little. How few of these poor fundamentalists know that they are not being manipulated by angry Imans, Bin Liner, Areshole Hamza or the scripture of the Koran but by the secret cabal of international flag manufacturers?