Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Like nails down a blackboard

I just got a piece of spam with this subject: "Today is the first day of the rest of your life!!!" For a brief moment I gave serious consideration to physically tracking down the sender of that email and throttling them with my mouse cable.

And I bet there's not a jury in the land would convict.

(though over in Russia that may soon be put to the test)
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Doomsayer

"Do'nt (sic) you ever get tired of being a doomsayer?" asks one correspondent.

Now normally I'd correct the typo rather than draw attention to it like the cheap shot it is. But the correspondent also called me "a fucking idiot", signed his name as "Proud American Citizen!" (including exclamation mark) and made some remarks which suggests that not only has he read far more of my blog than I ever expected of any one person, but has been building up a whole frustrated grudge thing for quite some time. So he doesn't get any freebee copy-editing from me.

Anyways, Proud American Citizen!, how can I ever get tired of something that clearly makes people like you very angry? "Doom!" I'll say, just when you're least expecting it. And then I'll just run off.

Often if I'm buying something from a shop, the exchange will go something like this... "Hallo there my dear man! Could I have a copy of 'The Guardian', a pint of soya milk, some king-size cigarette papers, 3 magazines of your finest pornography, a cadbury's creme-egg, and 6 litres of tequila please?" To which the shopkeeper will reply; "That'll be fifty seven of your excellent new pounds, my good sir" (we really speak like that over here in Europe... but it's just to piss off Americans... when there's no Americans around we've all got natural Texan accents and eat beefburgers 'til we're sick). Then, just as the shopkeeper is handing me back the change from the three twenties... I look nervously over both my shoulders to make sure nobody is eavesdropping, lean over the counter a little closer to the shopkeeper, and loudly whisper "Doom!" Immediately afterwards I sprint out of the shop at top speed.

So you see, I take my doom-saying seriously. And doubt I'll ever get tired of it.
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Saturday, July 30, 2005

Monday - the exclusion zone protest

I hope to be there. If it's at all possible, then I think you should be too.

Come along to the exclusion zone protest - Monday 1st August 2005
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Friday, July 29, 2005

Back soon

Leastways I hope so. Contrary to L's speculation, I've not been attacked by terrorists (or "terr'ists" as Dubya called them on the news a few nights ago) thankfully. Though I do feel a bit like I have. Not physically, of course, but I'm in a kind of semi-shellshocked fugue that's been ebbing and flowing for a few weeks now, and which is not conducive to writing.

Basically the past month or so has been spectacularly stressful and unpleasant. There's been a major downer of one kind or another in almost every area of my life. The timing would be real interesting from a "paranoid: there's a concerted effort to fuck with my life" standpoint (if that was my bag). But I'm not big on conspiracy theories these days, not now that I understand just how little of anything is in the control of human intent.

Hopefully I'm past this cluster of disasters and will soon rediscover my irreverence.

"Wondering what will come next..."
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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Update on the pledge

Hello,

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to sign the pledge and send messages of support.

We hope you will have heard that a gathering has been called by Ken Livingstone to take place in Trafalgar Square at 6pm this evening (Thursday).
http://www.tuc.org.uk/newsroom/tuc-10190-f0.cfm

For those unable to attend this evening, a free concert is being held in Burgess Park on Saturday (16th) from noon to 8.30pm.
http://www.xfm.co.uk/Article.asp?id=100130

But why not go to both?

Now that London has its gatherings, we will be closing the pledge.

The pledge was not about us and "our" gathering, we merely wanted to provide a focus for the spirit and bravery shown last week. Hopefully we've done that in some small way.

We hope very much that you will honour your pledge and attend at least one of these events to remember those who have died, to hope for the swift recovery of those who are injured and to show solidarity and defiance against those who would bring terror to our streets.

Many thanks again.

The Sharpener Team.
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Ranty Film Review: Constantine

So, these four suicide bombers walk into a bar...

What? Too soon, y'think?

OK then. I'm going to talk about something other than the London bombings. I do have a fairly long piece written about the events of last Thursday, but I've decided to wait a while before publishing my analysis (if indeed I ever do). In truth I'm a little concerned about the reaction it'll receive. I decided to examine some of the philosophical issues involved rather than the overt political ones (after all, according to my academic certification I'm a philosopher by trade*). Unfortunately, though, that kind of dispassionate philosophical analysis doesn't always present us with neat and popular conclusions. Sometimes keeping schtumm on an issue is the best course of action.

So instead of politics and philosophy, how's about a film review? After all, if I stop writing about the films and music I like, well... well then the terrorists will have won.

(That line, incidentally, has been used by at least half of all active UK bloggers during the past week. As a gesture of solidarity I decided to use it too.)


* I take a peculiar delight in the combined look of exasperation and dismay on my father's face when I describe philosophy as "a trade".


Constantine

Oh yes indeed. I'm talking here about the film adaptation of the DC-Vertigo comic book series, Hellblazer. This review will contain massive big fuckoff spoilers by the way. Plot elements from film and books will be revealed, compared and contrasted. But before I give you my opinion of the movie I should point out two things...

Firstly, Hellblazer is the comic book I followed longer than any other. It's the book that got me into comics in the early 90s (I didn't read comic books when I was a kid) and via Hellblazer I discovered writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman and many others (who all did books or stories in the DC-Vertigo range at one point... or were connected to them in some way).

Secondly, John Constantine - the central character in Hellblazer - is easily my favourite comic book character. In fact, he's one of my favourite characters in all of literature.

To me, Hellblazer and John Constantine are one and the same. The comic book is the character. That he's a powerful sorcerer in a world where angels and demons are fighting a bloody battle for the destiny of humankind is merely the headtrip backdrop against which is played the real drama... what's happening inside Constantine. He's a finely nuanced character... part film noir private eye, part faithless preacher, part brutal murderer, part messiah and part shaman. One part of each of those to five parts fucked-up nihilist punk.

More importantly, John Constantine was clearly the creation of writers who hung out with the same kind of people I did. So although he's a larger than life character in a fantastical world, he's also more true-to-life from my perspective than anyone in a TV soap opera, or even on (spit!) Big Brother. He uses language in the same way I do. His internal monologue takes the same kinds of tangents as mine. His attitude towards the world was - at the time I was reading Hellblazer - very similar to mine. He laughed at the same sick shit.

One thing about John Constantine though... he's a far bigger bastid than even the wankiest of the bastids that I've ever encountered. We love John as a character; but we'd emigrate to avoid the fucker in real life.

So how does the film approach this complex character? Well. It doesn't. John Constantine, the scouse punk living in London is now John Constantine, the keanu reeves living in Los Angeles. And despite being a fan of both Bill and Ted films as well as the first two Matrix movies, when you turn John Constantine from a scouse punk into a keanu reeves it's just not going to work. Seriously.

Here's my thing... what Warner Brothers have done is put Keanu Reeves into an occult action blockbuster and used Hellblazer as a "brand" for marketing purposes. They haven't actually filmed the books. At least, not if you believe the books are about the character rather than the specifics of the various plot devices (which are wonderful and horrifying and enthralling, but not actually what Hellblazer is about). They've merely exploited it as a commercial opportunity.

And when an artist does that; allows something of genuine artistic merit to be transformed into yet another random piece of pop-cultural flotsam on an even footing with car adverts and boy bands; then it's unavoidable that the original work gets damaged.

And that irks me.

If Da Vinci were alive today, what would we think if he painted a ruddy great Coca-Cola logo across the top of the Mona Lisa and insisted that every official reproduction included it, as part of his multi-media merchandising deal? And before you act all pretend-outraged that I would compare the Mona Lisa to the comic book character John Constantine, let me say that I've seen that painting and was singularly unimpressed. I mean it's nice, but the reason it's so revered is because of what a far-out bloke Da Vinci was and the Mona Lisa has become his icon and - by extension - the icon of the entire Rennaissance and of European rationalism.

So yeah, it's a good painting and all, but the true importance of the Mona Lisa lies in what we've invested in it. Which is not to say that intrinsic artistic value doesn't exist. I believe very firmly that it does as it happens, but it's rare and it tends to be drowned out by the hype and garbage masquerading as it, and outnumbering it ten thousand to one.

On which note, back to Constantine. Warner Brothers could have improved the film immensely had they bought the rights, used the world and the plot devices, but had the original John Constantine appear in a cameo role played by either David Bowie or Rhys Ifans (depending on which side of Constantine they wanted to show in the scene)... Johnny Depp or James Marsters if they insisted on using an American actor... he arrives briefly, helps out Keanu Reeves (playing some American Constantine-wannabe) in a crucial scene, and disappears into the night.

Those of us who knew the comics, therefore, could enjoy the film on the same level as the 90% of the audience who never read the books (i.e. as a big-budget action blockbuster). And we'd get the extra thrill of seeing the various plot devices that we knew and loved being reworked cinematically. That stuff would all be in-jokes to existing fans. But by presenting the film as a version of the John Constantine story, the fans of the books are the butt of the joke rather than being in on it. We're being laughed at by a few cynical Hollywood bastids with obscene bank-accounts and desperately sad inner lives. Because the mainstream audience doesn't get the joke either.

My flat-mate defended the film by suggesting that it was conscious iconoclasm. That the film was about change, that it tells a story of John Constantine's transformation, and that criticism of such changes are therefore missing the point.

And y'know, I agree that's a perfectly valid way to approach a comic book character with a cult following. Confound the bastids! That's what Alan Moore would do!

But that's not what the film does. There's a couple of cute, knowing lines in the script about how "it's not like the books". But the character portrayed by Keanu Reeves (and this, I guess, is the real problem) actually isn't John Constantine. He's got the same name, he lives in the same world, he faces some of the same situations and shares some of the same acquaintances... he's clearly meant to be John Constantine.

But he isn't.

So the whole premise of "change" is flawed. He doesn't start out as John Constantine and end up as Keanu Reeves. He starts out as Keanu Reeves and ends up exactly the same. They even changed the entire motivating back-story to Constantine's character, turning him from a bastid into a victim.

When we first meet John (in the film and relevant book), he discovers that he has lung cancer. But he can't die because the devil will claim his soul and torture him for all eternity. Why does the devil get his soul? Well, in the film he was driven to suicide in his teens because of his visions and lack of understanding parents. But he was rescucitated after 2 minutes. Suicide is a mortal sin, however, so the devil gets his soul once he eventually snuffs it. Constantine spends his time trying to atone for his suicide and earn his soul back from Satan.

In the books, however, Constantine was an angry punk who got into black magick. He wasn't in control of what was going on, but nonetheless found himself involved in a satanic ritual in Newcastle where a young girl was sacrificed to a demon, damning her soul to an eternity of (gruesomely portrayed) suffering... Constantine is left in shock, holding the girl's severed arm and realising that he's going to pay for what's he's just done.

As you can see... right from the get-go we're not dealing with the same character. John Constantine is supposed to be haunted by metaphorical demons as well as real ones! It's not iconoclasm to simply leave out pretty much all of the essential facets of a character... it's just bad film-making.

It's a Big Dog's Cock of a film. Which is so near to, yet so far from, the dog's bollocks. It assaults the senses in exactly the way a blockbuster occult action thingie is supposed to. It chugs along at a great breakneck pace. And then, every minute or two, you remember that Keanu Reeves is supposed to be playing John Constantine from Hellblazer and everything screeches to a halt. You don't see iconoclasm on the screen, you see laziness. Turning subtle and inventive writing into a 90 minute rock video is actually piss easy if you're a rock-video director and someone bungs you a shedload of cash.

Attacking the shallowness and ineptitude of Hollywood may be like shooting fishing in a barrel, but whenever Hollywood consumes and shits out something of worth... well, frankly I feel it's appropriate to break out the gatling gun and let rip. Water, dead fish and bits of broken barrel flying in all directions. Fuck it.

And just in the cause of gratuitous fun-making, I want to close with a comparison of how another plot element is handled in the books and in the film.

As the movie draws to it's sorry conclusion, Constantine realises that hell is just about to break out on earth and humanity will be consumed by demons and it'll all be very grim indeed. This was engineered by an unholy alliance of angels and demons. Constantine decides that to prevent this he must kill himself and persuade Satan to intervene ('cos Satan will be collecting his soul after all). This he does... and his sacrifice not only saves the world, the love interest, and the eternal soul of her twin sister; but it absolves him of the suicide thingie and Satan doesn't get his soul. However rather than allow him entry to heaven, Satan cures his lung cancer, keeping Constantine on earth in the hope of claiming his soul in the sequel.

"Fair enough", you say, "that's pretty much what I'd expect from an occult action movie".

Contrast that with how the book handles similar material. Constantine realises that his various wheelings and dealings (already resulting in several deaths) haven't cured his cancer and he now faces imminent death. So he decides to sell his soul to three extremely powerful demons (Lucifer is AWOL at this point and hell is ruled by a trinity of nasties). Should he die, therefore, all three would be duty bound to collect and it would spark a civil war in hell. Constantine is aware that this would result in an upset in the cosmic balance and be catastrophic for humanity. At which point he slashes his wrists.

All three demons arrive to collect his soul, realise that he's screwed them, and are forced to cure his cancer to give them time to work out how to deal with the situation. So the story ends with him placing all of humanity in jeopardy of eternal horrors in order to save his own skin. Then he sparks up a cigarette.
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Friday, July 08, 2005

People have the power

Sign the pledge.

"I will at the earliest opportunity, assemble in London in a public demonstration of respect to the victims of the July 7 atrocity, defiance of the murderers who carried it out and solidarity with the people of London."

The streets belong to us not terrorists. Sign the pledge.

And spread the word.
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Thursday, July 07, 2005

A Letter to the Terrorists

This is excellent.
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Full text of Mayor Livingstone's speech

This was a cowardly attack, which has resulted in injury and loss of life. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been injured, or lost loved ones. I want to thank the emergency services for the way they have responded.

Following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11 in America we conducted a series of exercises in London in order to be prepared for just such an attack. One of the exercises undertaken by the government, my office and the emergency and security services was based on the possibility of multiple explosions on the transport system during the Friday rush hour. The plan that came out of that exercise is being executed today, with remarkable efficiency and courage, and I praise those staff who are involved.

I'd like to thank Londoners for the calm way in which they have responded to this cowardly attack and echo the advice of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair - do everything possible to assist the police and take the advice of the police about getting home today.

I have no doubt whatsoever that this is a terrorist attack. We did hope in the first few minutes after hearing about the events on the Underground that it might simply be a maintenance tragedy. That was not the case. I have been able to stay in touch through the very excellent communications that were established for the eventuality that I might be out of the city at the time of a terrorist attack and they have worked with remarkable effectiveness. I will be in continual contact until I am back in London.

I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.

Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life.

I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail.

In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
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Thoughts about the bombs and their aftermath

The past nine hours or so have been pretty hectic. Not for me personally, you understand, but for London in general. I'm a long way from the bombs, sat in front of a computer screen reading about them and writing my thoughts. Strange days indeed.

Based on media reports, the picture (as of the time of writing) is this:

- There were 4 explosions in London this morning during rush hour.
- 3 of those were on tube trains or in tube stations. One was on a bus.
- Between 33 and 45 people have been killed. Between 250 and 1,000 have been injured.

Having said that; right now I'm far more interested in the reactions of people than in any specifics about the bombs. Simply because we all know that the media reports in the immediate aftermath of these things are sketchy at best. It'll be at least a day before we can start to feel confident that any given piece of information won't be revised wildly almost as soon as it's broadcast.

So our immediate reaction to these things can sometimes be very telling. We are after all, in no small part, reacting to our own preconceptions. This also means, if we're feeling honest enough, that we can tell a little about ourselves by examining those reactions.

And around the web, on bulletin boards and blogs, those reactions have been there for all to see. I opened my own blog entry with a pretty crap joke. I make no apologies for that as it was an inoffensive bit of humour (although I received two private communications from people questioning my "tact" and one telling me I'm as bad as the bombers... why do people always email me directly rather than use the comments, by the way? Are the comments broken in certain browsers, I wonder); and I have witnessed savage online maulings on two separate bulletin boards for jokes which were only a little less innocent.

Some people react to these things with humour. Yes you can point out that it's misplaced (or at the very least mis-timed) but it's just the way certain people deal with shocking events. And you should note that in life-threatening situations - of which I've been in more than a couple - and immediately after suffering serious injuries I have tended to react with the same dry humour (so it's not "at someone else's expense", merely an involuntary reaction that - in my view - is my unconscious attempt to somehow neutralise violence). Polite reminders to be tactful are in order (and have been noted) but any anger is badly misdirected.

Anyways, if anything I just wish the joke had been funnier... John B over at Shot by both sides had a far better one.

Over at Conservative Commentary Peter reacts by posting a very large (and badly optimised) image of a Union Jack flag. This of course typifies another common reaction to this kind of outrage.

Personally I'm of the opinion that jingoism and knee-jerk nationalism are extremely unconstructive responses and will exacerbate things in the long run. However I don't for a moment blame or denounce anyone for having those reactions. They are just as instinctive for those people as dry humour is for me.

The hope is that after the smoke clears; when people begin to rationally take stock of these events; that we can put aside our gut reactions and work towards a world where they don't happen.

However, there are responses to tragedies like this which do deserve denuciation.
You Brits need to wise up. Of course this is the work of a few "extremist" muslims, and the majority are "peaceful" and will "condemn" the attacks, but that is all smoke and mirrors - DECEPTION.

They all send money and support, they will take over your country and make your dhimmitude formal.

Set an example and hang some Dune Coons from the tower gates!
Mike from New York
This kind of shit pisses me off. Yes, it's probably some 13-year-old boy with emotionally distant parents desperately seeking attention. But it nonetheless illustrates a certain kind of reaction to these events which is profoundly dangerous if it gets any traction.

Thankfully that's not something that seems to happen too much in Britain. I recall living in London during an IRA bombing campaign... my soft and sexy Irish accent only got me into trouble once (with a couple of pissed-up skinheads) and I never felt as though I was viewed with suspicion or hatred because of my nationality.

That said, there's already a degree of tension between the Islamic community and a certain element of White Britain and these bombs will make that worse if we're not careful (all assuming it's been carried out by Islamic terrorists of course... let's not forget that the last bombing campaign in London was carried out by a nutjob nail-bomber who hated gay men and immigrants).

Unlike we Irish who insidiously blend in with the native population, the Islamic community tends to stick out a bit more. I say "tends" as reminder that there are plenty of black and white moslems who don't look in the slightest bit "Arabic" and who blend-in just as insidiously as Irishmen like me. But because there is that ease of recognition (a combination of dress code, accent and skin colour) for perhaps a majority of moslems, suspicion of The Other can often be highlighted, manipulated and amplified as part of an unsavoury agenda.

This needs to be minimised at all costs. Those who already speak of the Islamic community with suspicion or distaste need to rein in their vitriol right now. And those who view international terrorism as merely an extension of US foreign policy need to do the same.

George Galloway's response has, naturally, been to jump the gun...
We argued, as did the security services in this country, that the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq would increase the threat of terrorist attack in Britain. Tragically Londoners have now paid the price of the Government ignoring such warnings.
Now, I'm not a fan of Galloway at the best of times (though I loved his testimony in the US) but this is a new low for the man. It smacks of a nasty kind of opportunism. In the days and weeks to come there will be many words written (some of which will be by me) trying to place these bombs into a wider geopolitical context. But it's just plain crap to start pointing fingers and claiming "I told you so!" before the dust of the explosions has even settled.

Meanwhile someone called Cliff May wonders: Won't it be interesting to see whether those gathered in Scotland to protest the G8 will -- or will not -- protest the terrorist bombings?

How exactly do you protest the terrorist bombings? I happen to know for a fact that a meeting was held at the Stirling RCC (one of the G8 protest camps) earlier today in order to thrash out a statement regarding the bombs. This was done as a response to initial radio reports reaching the camp which speculated about whether the London bombs were the work of Islamic terrorists or part of the G8 protests (seriously! that was the speculation at one point!)

However there's a lot of problems with a statement coming out of the RCC, and many of the activists have a serious problem with any press release claiming to represent the G8 protest. The almost 3,000 people gathered at Stirling are not part of a single organisation with a policy and a common philosophy. In fact, the only thing that unites the G8 protesters is the fact that they want to protest against the G8.

So (a) What would any statement from any of those protesters actually mean, beyond what one from any other random member of the public would mean? Does Cliff May find it interesting, for example, as to whether or not those gathered to watch England play Australia at cricket will protest the bombings? and (b) how could any statement issued possibly be representative of all of the individuals at Stirling? (with the police making it next to impossible for protesters to actually travel and meet-up, organising a thorough collective response beyond the confines of the RCC is physically impossible).

It makes as much sense as wondering what the collective response of dog-owners would be, and whether they plan to protest the terrorist bombings. The G8 protesters share a single unifying factor, but are otherwise a wildly diverse group of people. There are committed pacifists (a group of whom seek to disrupt the G8 summit by chanting "Omm" at certain times, for instance) and there are extremely angry nihilists (who, if asked, would probably insist that the bombs should not be condemned as they are the understandable response to US/UK policy). And in between there's the 98% who are horrified by what's happened and have spent the day trying to get in touch with loved-ones in London and feeling just as appalled and dislocated and freaked-out as everyone else.

Painting the G8 protesters as some kind of homogenous organisation with a structure, policies and mission-statements is simply a falsification of reality. It's a group of disparate people with disparate aims and a single uniting factor.

So go away hassle the dog-owners Mr. May.

In summary, and at the risk of repeating myself, this vile act must not be allowed to inspire other vile acts (I read two separate calls to burn down the Finsbury Park Mosque online today). Those of us who genuinely seek a peaceful world, free from political and religious violence, on whatever side of the fence we usually stand, must let it be known that we are united in our defiance of the people who use bombs to further their aims.
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London hit by bomb blasts

Thankfully I work from home.

Unfortunately I live in Aldgate Station.

(no, not really)

Well, needless to say - what with me writing this and all - I haven't been blown up by G8 protesters, Al Qaeda, the Paris Olympic Bid Team, the Real IRA, or whoever it was that decided to plant bombs around London today.

It appears that by timing them to explode during rush hour, the bombs were calculated to cause the maximum damage, injury and loss of life to ordinary Londoners and tourists. I have three wishes to make regarding the aftermath of this despicable act.

1. That the scum who planned and carried out these attacks are brought swiftly to justice.

2. That the government does not use this as a pretext for even more draconian legislation.

3. That this horrible event does not further inflame tension between groups of people who had no involvement in these bombings.

Unfortunately I fear that none of those will come to pass.

Eye-witness news:

I've just got off the phone with my flat-mate, G (this morning he arrived back in London after a month in California!) whose tube from the airport was stopped at Euston Station. An announcement was made that power surges were closing the line and everyone was asked to leave the train. G - inconvenienced but thinking nothing of it - wandered out of the station to catch a bus, at which point all hell broke loose when the muffled sound of a massive explosion from underground was heard.

Not long after getting on a bus, G said that a passenger got on-board with a radio. Almost immediately news of the bus-bombing was announced and everyone piled off the bus unsurprisingly.

He made it to safety and is fine, thankfully.

At least one person is liveblogging the events. Check out Europhobia.
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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

G8 Protests - news from The Front

LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... DAVID BECKHAM SAYS THE OLYMPICS WILL BE NICE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... GOOD OLD SEBASTIAN COE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... DAVID BECKHAM SAYS THE OLYMPICS WILL BE NICE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... "... good afternoon, this is Jim Bliss of the Anarcho-Syndicalist News Network broadcasting live from our helicopter above Gleneagles..." ... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... "... can you boost the signal somehow...?" DAVID BECKHAM SAYS THE OLYMPICS WILL BE NICE... "that's it, I think they can hear me now..."

Sorry about that, but you wouldn't believe the trouble protesters are having getting heard just now. Apparently London is to host a big sports event in seven years time, so that's obviously what the media need to focus on today. We're just happy to do our bit and provide an "In other news" story for when they run out of semi-famous sports people saying how nice it's all going to be in seven years.

And so... good afternoon, this is Jim Bliss of ASN broadcasting live from our helicopter above Gleneagles, where it appears one of the most successful direct action protests in recent memory has taken place despite the presence of over 10,000 police officers drafted in from as far afield as West Sussex and South Wales. However it does appear that a lack of video images showing young people in face-masks throwing things at the police has - up until now - kept this series of actions out of the mainstream media. Members of the Black Bloc have promised to address this situation should it become necessary, however.

While the Make Poverty History march and various Live-8 events are rightly lauded for encouraging mass participation and attempting to instill a sense of inclusion in people; a sense of "we're all in this together"; there are those who feel a greater sense of urgency. Individuals who see the very mechanisms of power themselves as The Problem, and who view direct acts of disruption against those mechanisms as the best method of demonstrating their position.

And below me, across the landscape of Scotland, I can see the actions of those individuals play out. Several thousand self-styled, so-called "anarchists" (in the words of the mainstream media) from Scotland and beyond have attempted to disrupt the first day of the G8 conference. There were as many reasons for doing this as there were self-styled, so-called "anarchists". But the one over-riding reason given by protester after protester was "to show those in power that we have power too". To demonstrate that they are not out of our reach.

Given the military and police determination to ensure that the eight power brokers could chat without interruption, only the most optimistic of activists honestly believed that disruption was possible. At best, most hoped to at least get noticed.

Success!

And noticed they were. ASN is pleased to annouce that the first day of the G8 summit was successfully disrupted, with the Canadian delegation remaining firmly blockaded inside their hotel even now at the time of filing this story (4:23pm). The Canadian PM managed to make it to the various photocalls, but his team have been forced to enjoy the hospitality of their swish hotel for the entire day. Truly they have sacrificed much.

This must provide a certain amount of embarrassment for those organising the security for the event. Especially as became quickly apparent that the reason for the success of the activists was that they were so much better organised. We at ASN have always viewed such actions as proof that non-hierarchical methods of organisation can ultimately achieve far more than the rigid structures employed by the establishment.

Indeed when the news filtered through yesterday that "The Anarchist Ring-Leaders" had been arrested, it was met with a great deal of mirth at the Stirling Rural Convergence Centre (RCC).

For anyone interested, the "Ring-Leaders" were all released without charge within a couple of hours of their arrests (news which strangely never made it to the mainstream media). It turns out the Ring-Leaders were a van-load of medics (shock! horror! even some doctors and nurses are self-styled, so-called "anarchists") on their way to the protests. They were carrying maps of the area and had made a number of 'X' marks on the maps in the locations that they felt would be the best places for medical stations.

Dangerous maniacs!

In related news, the Stirling RCC found itself cordoned off with nobody being allowed in or out. An estimated 2,500 activists had arrived by that point and - because they're sensible people - had arranged to have an NHS portacabin on site with a doctor, nurse and pharmacist present. This morning police decided to prevent the medical staff from getting on site and also turned away several independent observers with video cameras.

ASN managed to track down Chief Constable Basil Wingnut and questioned him on this issue...

- "Excuse me, Officer Wingnut? Could you tell us why medical staff have been prevented from accessing the protest site?"
- "Well, obviously we don't want a repeat of the ugly scenes of last night. That's why!"
- "I see... and what ugly scenes would those be Officer Wingnut?"
- "Using infra-red surveillance and top-secret satellite imaging technology we were able to assess the situation within the protest camp in this self-styled field last night. We witnessed medical staff savagely treating a couple of campfire burns and aggressively strapping a twisted ankle in a way that we felt posed a serious threat to public order. Paracetamol was also dispensed on at least three occasions, and we simply could not risk a repeat of those scenes today. So we have prevented medical staff from entering this so-called field"

The police have also implemented Section 60 of some act or other (Public Order Act? Emergency Powers Act? Jackboot Up The Jaxie Act? Who knows... but it's definitely Section 60... they make that much clear). This gives them the power to stop and search anyone they choose, as many times as they choose, whenever they choose. They have been using this law in exactly the sort of way that politicians always promise these laws won't be used... to harass individuals who they have already established are not carrying any concealed weapons (by stopping and searching them on multiple occasions).

During these stop and searches, individual officers have also been threatening activists with arrest if they do not provide a name and address. This is illegal of course (Section 60 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act does not give the police powers to demand identification) and officers have been curiously reluctant to repeat the threats when observers challenge them to do so on film.

Up until now, however, activist legal advisors are aware of approximately 100 arrests for various public order offences. A number of protesters have been hospitalised, including several with broken arms (the classic baton-charge injury... you raise your arm to protect your head... and a baton at full whack across the arm tends not to break the baton) but there has been no news of any major clashes with the police aside from a single flare-up at the Stirling RCC last night.

In order to understand how the protest has been so successful, you have to understand the manner in which it has been carried out. As people converged at Stirling and elsewhere, they - using the voluntary affinity principle - organised themselves into groups (anywhere between 3 and 75 people). Each group then worked out how best they could disrupt the summit, spent a while finding out who else was going to do similar stuff, and held meetings to knock together specific plans.

Some groups, for example, decided to set up cooking and meal tents to allow the others to concentrate on their stuff. Nobody told them to do it and nobody - aside from themselves - expects them to do it. But on-site there will be plenty of hot food for anyone who wants it. Important that. Other groups were at the other extreme... trying to work out the best ways to scale the fence around the conference centre or set fire to Tony Blair's pants.

Once each group had worked out their own plans, and ensured that they weren't duplicating anyone else and were as co-ordinated with others as possible, they simply left the RCC and drifted off into the countryside to spend the night in trees or under them. Apparently (bizarrely) the Daily Mail warned of exactly this tactic, but the police seem to have forgotten to read the Mail today as they were caught completely off-guard.

In order to leave the RCC, however, the police cordon required breaching which is where the flare-up occurred. At 3am this morning a large group of the Black Bloc decided to open the cordon. It was like something out of The Lord of The Rings... they just en masse sprinted at a cordon of fluorescing officers five deep and punched a massive hole in the line. The cordon fragmented and it was over half an hour before the site was sealed once more. Plenty of time for anyone who wished to leave, to leave.

That particular group of Black Bloc were the first to shut down the M9 this morning. And as police moved in to tackle them, so other groups of activists emerged from the countryside and shut down sections of the M9 the A9 and any other road that might be used to get people to or from Gleneagles. Rush hour was chaotic and the inability of the police to co-ordinate a response to this tactic left the various delegates hotels vulnerable to blockade.

Which was nice.

At one point, from my vantage point in the ASN chopper, I watched a large group of children and disabled protesters emerge from the Stirling RCC and split police cordons left-right and centre. People have the power.

Leaving the hotels vulnerable was probably the biggest mistake the police made. On the other side, the biggest blunder was probably the 100 or so Black Bloc who attempted to infiltrate the Make Poverty History march.

200,000 people descending on Edinburgh marching for peace... and all dressed in white. I'm not entirely sure how far a sore thumb really sticks out. But it can't have been nearly as far as 100 Black Bloc in a crowd of 200,000 people dressed in white.

And then there was... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... DAVID BECKHAM SAYS THE OLYMPICS WILL BE NICE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... GOOD OLD SEBASTIAN COE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... "aw hell, looks like we're losing the signal again..." LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012... DAVID BECKHAM SAYS THE OLYMPICS WILL BE NICE... LONDON WINS OLYMPIC GAMES IN 2012...




Update: Stuff seems to have kicked off in a couple of places.
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Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I am giddy with the power!

Fear me. For verily I do have the Power of Google at my fingertips.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, is this worth a thousand googlebombs?

What is it? you ask. Well it seems that my habit of linking to a particular image on the BBC news site each time I mention the name Anne Widdecombe has caused that image to show up on google's image search whenever anyone searches for the tory MP's name.

Sadly it only seems to appear when you scroll to the end of the first search and instruct it to "repeat the search with the omitted results included". But even so, I hail it as a success.
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Monday, July 04, 2005

An Introduction to Peak Oil

Another post up on The Sharpener. This one is called An Introduction to Peak Oil. Anyone want to venture a guess as to what it might be about?
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Anniversary

Today is the 11th anniversary of the worst event of my life up until now. And even though this weblog is deliberately far less about me personally than my previous one; I don't want to let this day pass unremarked. Last year; the tenth anniversary; I made a decision not to recognise the day at all. That was a mistake and I felt guilty about it for months.

On the morning of July 4th 1994 my closest friend - my hero - and in many ways my mentor, P, took his own life in an hotel room in New York. He was 26.

Everything changed for me after his death. It signalled the end of the happiest period of my life (so far) and the beginning of a downward trend that I've only in the past couple of years managed to bring to a halt (and which I'm still working on reversing).

P was angry with me when he killed himself. His move to New York wasn't going well and he'd become isolated and depressed. I'd promised him that I'd fly across and hang out for a couple of months... we had done a lot of travelling together and he - apparently - was finding it difficult to adjust to my absence. He never made this clear to me though. It was always "Why don't you come over when you have some time?" and never anything more urgent.

But I was having the happiest time of my life. I was head over heels in love with an incredible girl, having great sex, partying and taking lots of euphoric drugs.

And everything changed.

His letter, which I received a week or so after the phonecall from a mutual friend, was the most disturbing thing I've ever read. It was five pages of pain and paranoia. Amongst many things, he believed that a black-magick coven was persecuting him. He mentioned the world trade center bombing of the previous year as evidence of this. And among the broken words and the craziness was the line "if you were only here I wouldn't be".

The immediate aftermath is all a bit of a blur now. I suspect I went on a bad-drugs bender, but I honestly don't recall. A year later though, my relationship was in tatters and just about to collapse, there was no more sex, partying or euphoric drugs. My academic career had been jettisoned and I was instead spending 15 hours a day working for an engineering company. I was taking a lot of speed to get me through the week and then spending the weekend on heavy-duty psychedelics.

I guess the only surprise is that it took me as long as 5 years to burn out.

When I first arrived in London I shared a flat with P. It was a very special time. I wrote a thinly fictionalised account of that period. It was almost 400 pages long and left out half the best bits.

I remember one cold October morning when - upon emerging from a club in central London at 3am - P decided that we needed to find out how quickly it was possible to run across each of London's bridges.

Together we devised a method of ensuring that we'd be running at full tilt, so there'd be no question that it was actually our best time. The method was to run across the bridges stark bollock naked. We'd walk up to the bridge, disrobe quickly (placing clothes in a plastic bag), note the second-hand on P's watch, peg it across the bridge, note the elapsed time, get dressed and walk to the next bridge. Start at Lambeth Bridge and finish at London Bridge.

It couldn't be simpler really.

Except that about halfway across Lambeth Bridge a police van drew up and began keeping pace with us. Eight or ten burly and tooled-up policemen staring out. One of them was pointing a video camera.

The fact that we were off our heads at the time is probably why; as the policemen bailed out of the van; neither of us had the presence of mind to check the elapsed time. But I can pretty much guarantee that we couldn't possibly have run it any faster.

Anyway, I shan't be asking for comments on this post. I just wanted to mark the day somehow. Come back soon for something more generally relevant.
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Sunday, July 03, 2005

Quote of the day

The happiest days in Africa's history were those in which ultimate authority lay with a few hundred Englishmen, in parliament.
- Peter Cuthbertson (Conservative Party Activist)
What a tosser.

And people think I'm taking the piss when I describe the tories as the Party of Empire.
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Friday, July 01, 2005

Random thought

I'm well aware that a person can get a huge deal from Can's epic twenty minute version of Yoo Doo Right without first having smoked a little pot.

But really.......
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Vote John Kerry!

Damn! Too late!

Well, I was advocating a Kerry vote back in November too and for one over-riding reason. Not because I thought Kerry would be a better guardian of the environment or that he'd do things very differently with regards to using the military to secure resources. No, the reason I wanted a Kerry administration was simply that I didn't want a born-again fundie like Dubya getting to choose a Supreme Court Justice.

And now he will. Which is a disaster in my view.
... a more reliable conservative could give the court a harder edge on social issues, which would affect the nature of American society for decades.
Y'think?
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Live 8

Over the past couple of weeks I've heard a lot of criticism of Bob Geldof and the Live 8 hootenanny. Some of this has been badly misinformed (like the tory politician discussing it on the TV news a few nights ago who complained that the situation in Africa cannot be effectively addressed with Aid money raised by charity concerts).

An important point seemed to have passed the man by... Live 8 is not a fundraising event.

But this has been a common misconception, and it's far from the only straw man gleefully made-to-order and kicked to pieces on the TV and - more particularly - on the web.

But even though it must get the guy down on a personal level... I truly hope that every time Bob Geldof reads the words; "Geldof's an idiot! He's got it all wrong on Africa! What the G8 really need to do is this..." he feels vindicated in what he's doing. Because the point. Indeed, this time round the only point; has been to get people talking about African poverty. Every article telling him he's wrong is, paradoxically, proving the worth of his approach.

I think the man's an absolute hero. He's taken the very modest amount of fame afforded someone from a late-70s punky new wave band with a couple of hits, and done frankly astonishing things with it. Yet every single time over the past couple of weeks that I've seen Live 8 discussed in the media (whether mainstream or alternative) it's been framed in the context of whether or not Geldof is really doing any good.

Even the grooviest of the mainstream journalists, George Monbiot, has had a pop. As has my dear friend and fellow traveller Merrick. And incisive interweblogger Justin has taken more than one swipe at the event. On Question Time last night there was an enormous amount of equivocation on the issue and every web forum in the land seems to be echoing the cynicism and criticism that have decended upon this event like a couple of already bloated vultures determined to gorge themselves sick on whatever good intentions might be left in our culture.

Yeah, yeah, the road to hell is paved with 'em. It's so easy to trot out the clichés. But what exactly is the point of saying that? Are we telling people not to bother acting upon any good intentions they may have? Or not to have those intentions in the first place? Of course not, insist the cynics, don't be so silly! We're just saying that good intentions aren't enough.

Except that's not what's being said. Not really. Every time an article spends two paragraphs acknowledging that "yes, some good may come of this" and then forty paragraphs telling the reader how crap it is, the overall impact is to completely disempower that reader. And of course that's not the intention of Merrick or Monbiot or Justin. But that is the result.

Here's an admission... my first real political act was almost certainly my decision to become a vegetarian in my mid-teens. It was a political act in the sense that it politicised me. My decision forced me to look at the world in a way I hadn't done before and it got me reading books by people I wouldn't have considered up until then. But the actual reason I became a veggie was to impress a girl.

My point is a simple one... young people can sometimes make decisions for silly reasons, but the ramifications of those decisions can be profound and life-changing (this is not only true of young people, but for lots of reasons it's mostly that way). I'd be a completely different person today if I hadn't had a crush on a vegetarian when I was 15. My politics could very well be unrecognisable. Now, I don't know how many 16-year-old poverty activists Geldof has created in the past two weeks and will create tomorrow. Kids who are impressionable enough to have their minds changed by their pop star heroes. Certainly it'll be less than 1% of those who get fired up briefly by the event. But it'll be more than I'll manage to inspire in a lifetime of writing silly little articles.

This is also the reason I completely condone Geldof's decision to fill the limited time available to him with the biggest possible acts, rather than making the event a showcase for African talent. This isn't supposed to be an advertisement for any particular artists (though of course it will undeniably function as one); this is an attempt to get minds thinking about a particular issue. So it is infinitely more important to have the stage filled with the same faces that appear on the posters above teenage beds and on MTV than to have it filled with relatively unknown African artists, whatever their talent.

Live 8 is about generating press and attention for an issue that is being completely neglected by the media now that they have an unending "War on Terror" to cover. And every time I read a piece attacking the principle of popstars getting involved in politics, or attacking Geldof for not having identical views on market liberalisation to the author I just shake my head and chalk up another opportunity missed.

Geldof is doing one thing. And that thing is providing every other commentator with an opening to address the issue of African poverty. It's suddenly on the agenda. No it's not going to solve African poverty. Of course it isn't. And when Geldof says "we can solve African poverty this year" he isn't suggesting that his concerts will be what does it... merely that it is technically within the power of the human race.

When John and Yoko ran their advertising campaign for peace, they didn't honestly expect the billboards to end war. And you're missing the point of Live 8 if you see it as anything other than a bloody massive billboard. One that Geldof should be justly proud of.

What about the other thing though?

Well yes... there's also the whole other issue of Bono and Bob's praise of Dubya Bush and apparent adoration for Brown and Blair. And here, I concede, there may well be plenty to be pissed off about.

But it pisses me off that so many people are giving Live 8 a kicking because of it. And yes, they can - and should - be viewed as separate issues. Bono and Bob have been courting the powerful for many years now. But Live 8 is a one-off event aimed at raising awareness. Every 16-year-old who reads a book about globalisation or the politics of African poverty as a result of Live 8 (and I say this now: "You're a complete fool if you imagine there won't be quite a few") will come away with opinions far more nuanced and subtle than Bono or Bob will ever convey in a 30-second soundbite, or even a speech to the Inner Party. Every single one of them will be a victory for Live 8.

And given that's the primary purpose of Live 8. Well... you draw the conclusion...

And on the whole "Bono and Bob courting the powerful" issue...? I hope to return to that at a later date. This blog entry was about Live 8. Not about that.
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