Monthly Archives: November 2011

Occupy everything

At first, like Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi, some of us could confess to having had mixed feelings about the Occupy movement.  For me, these may have been caused by distance and time difference getting in the way rather than anything more concrete, although other questions have surfaced about what the protesters stand for and what they could likely achieve.  Still, they seem to be annoying the right people, with Mayor Boris Johnson deriding the London wing of the movement as ‘fornicating hippies’ (ironic given the number of notches on his own bedpost).  Add in almost no-one’s favourite Blackshirt-lovers at the Daily Mail winding themselves up into apoplexy at the apparent emptiness of the tents (at 11pm, hardly a point at which your average protester would be tucked up with the cocoa) and it becomes easier to see the Occupiers as A Very Good Thing.

Mail-baiting aside, however, there are more positives to the movement.  Never has a motley collection of tents garnered so much commentary on what it could all mean and what the outcome could be.  Back to Mr Taibbi, who thinks:

This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it.

I think he is right.  This is a generation up to their eyes in debt, not because they bought eighteen-hundred dollar handbags, because often they needed the cash to cover the essentials.  Such fripperies as a roof over your head, a good education – or in America, healthcare – easily become millstones when the economic dice are so loaded.  I see the Occupy movement as an attempt to reimagine life, to try to envisage a world run for the benefit of the many and then bring it about.

Some have decried Occupy for a focus on the economic, when there are other matters of equal importance, however activist Silvia Federici, interviewed on libcom, notes:

…the economic crisis is bringing to light, in a dramatic way, the fact that the capitalist class has nothing to offer to the majority of the population except more misery, more destruction of the environment, and more war.

Occupations, in this context, are sites for the construction of a non-capitalist conception of society…

Sharon Borthwick, writing in The Commune, highlights another important function of the Occupy London site:

There are all manner of signs, some large ones, intricately written with many paragraphs describing their anti-capitalist message. The message is spreading. Londoners are stopping to read these long missives. They are also stopping in the street to talk to each other about how their lives are being run. They are in dire need of these alternative means of information.

The ‘Big Lie’ currently being peddled is that the responsibility for our ongoing economic woes can be laid almost anywhere except where it really should be planted.  The disinformation is spreading that governments or irresponsible borrowers or the welfare system was somehow to blame for banks deciding to follow a financial model more suitable to a casino.  Now overwhelmingly, it is the elderly, the young and the ill who are paying for the failure of that model, as the ones who created it skip off with the proceeds.  Matt Taibbi again:

People want out of this fiendish system, rigged to inexorably circumvent every hope we have for a more balanced world. They want major changes.

So what could victory look like?  It is difficult to say, since few past movements have even got close.  They have all ended up co-opted, watered down and bought off in the end.  Hopefully this one has a greater chance of success because it is attracting such a broad base, however, that is by no means assured. For now, I think it is enough to have our rulers clearly unsettled by the tents, while they are used to engage in a conversation about what comes next – especially with those who claim not to ‘do politics’ – and to be creating a space where people matter more than money.  To that end, perhaps the message should be moving from that of occupying the individual cities to one of ‘Occupy Everything’.  At this stage, there is little left to lose except our chains.

The other likely ending for any spontaneous movement is, of course, brutal repression.  ten minutes hate will be covering the authorities’ responses to the Occupy sites in another post soon.

Illustration by Barney Meeks

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Autumn in Tokyo

Yes, I know.  Another post about autumn leaves in Japan.  But it’s my favourite season and it is gorgeous.  And so sunny for November too!  Perfect weather for a day in Hama-rikyu onshi-teien, beautiful gardens set around two huge duck ponds, dating from the time of the 4th Tokugawa Shogun in 1654.

(click on any picture to start the slideshow)

The water is tidal, consisting of seawater drawn in from the Bay via a sluice gate.  It is very popular with ducks as well as human visitors, so much so that blinds were created so that they could be caught easily in nets.  And while I am very fond of both the roast and crispy varieties, I had to smile at learning of the animal loving owner of the lakes who created a duck grave to console the spirits of all the ducks that were killed here.

While central Tokyo’s skyscrapers and the landmark Tokyo Tower are never far away, the view of trees reflected in the water from the Nakajima-no-ochaya teahouse is so peaceful that you could be worlds away from the usual rush and grind of the city.  I still have a lot of the world to see, but I am willing to bet there are few things as heartwarming as red autumn leaves against the clear blue winter skies of Tokyo.

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Thanksgiving

Long-time readers of ten minutes hate may remember this post, about Emily Richmond and how she was going off for the horizon to sail around the world single-handedly.  She funded the trip via creative projects funding site Kickstarter and her excellent website recording it is here.  It is well worth a read if you are sitting at a desk and feeling the need for inspiration to get going on making your own dreams come true.

Ms Richmond has also written a great Thanksgiving email for Kickstarter, in which she gives thanks for:

-friends and family and every single person who’s been a part of making this little dream come true (nearly 500 of you now!)
-i’m thankful for being alive in 2011 where technology/magic make it possible for me, even from the furthest corner of the globe, to stay connected with you lovely people
-i’m thankful for the shortwave radio that tells me of this great American Awakening: the lifting of that malaise that had made it so hard to see that bigger is not and has not been better, that each and every one of us has the ability to change our world into the one we want to see (and that it starts in our lives).

To which I can only really add ‘me too’.  I am thankful for all my friends and family around the globe and the technology that makes the distances between us feel so small.  And I am full of thanks for everyone who dreams of something better to come as well as hope that we can all find the strength to start steering a course towards sunnier horizons.

Thanks to everyone for reading.  Domo!

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What a difference a day off makes…

Yesterday:

Today:

And may I recommend Load Your Eyes from the excellent I Break Horses:

Time to kick back, recharge the batteries and get ready for the fray.  Rage levels will no doubt be back to normal very soon.

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Gizza job?

New figures just released show that if you were born in the UK in the last 25 years, you had better hope that you have incredible talents.

The jobless total for 16 to 24-year-olds hit a record of 1.02 million in the quarter and female unemployment was at its highest for 23 years.

To make anything of yourself in these challenging times the ability to sing or kick a football well should stand you in good stead.  Failing that, try to ensure you were born rich.  Britain has never really, despite some chatter about a meritocracy and a classless society, been very comfortable with allowing all and sundry to have access to the upper echelons.  Far too American a concept, although even there that now seems to be falling by the wayside.

The real tragedy behind the numbers is, of course, the wasted potential of so many lives and the detrimental effect on Britain’s economy for years to come.  This poverty of ambition, coupled with the more tangible effects of financial poverty, is going to be the Conservatives’ real legacy for the country unless their austerity programme is derailed – and soon.

Again, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

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If ye break faith with us

So Remembrance Sunday has passed, when the UK spends two minutes quietly remembering its war dead, before returning to the usual business of adding more names to memorials.  The event was originally conceived to honour the now long dead young men of that most futile ‘war to end all wars‘, but its motives seem to have been lost recently in a fog created by a bitter war of words over the poppy.

It is as if pinning one to your jacket and thereby supporting the work of the Royal British Legion has become akin to joining a kind of ‘all war is good’ chorus, instead of the charity appeal for a soldier’s welfare and campaigning movement which is what it really should be.  This is especially sad, as all this chatter about paper flowers drowns out the essential conversation we ought to be having about the lives our wars are damaging today.

These include, but are not limited to, the soldiers who are taking their own lives after returning from combat or others suffering the effects of mental illness alone.  The UK’s Mental Health Foundation reports that:

What is known is that only half of those experiencing mental health problems sought help from the NHS, and those that did were rarely referred to specialist mental health services.

Wearing the poppy should always be a matter of individual choice, after all, there are as many reasons to wear one or not to as there are people.  For some it might be a memory of those they have known personally, for others a matter of respect or gratitude.  For those who do not, it could be for based on their pacifism, or a reluctance to be seen to support the motives of recent wars.  On this, I agree with the Independent’s leader of last week:

The moment that someone feels obliged to wear the symbol for fear of looking out of place or disrespectful is the moment we forget what our servicemen and women actually fought for.

I would also love to see a moratorium on starting the next one (Iran) until all the damage caused from the last few (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya) has been cleared up.  I would like to see an end to politicians wielding huge wreaths at the Cenotaph while slashing the support available to serving and former services personnel.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I hope I’m not the only one…

Here are two war poems, perhaps the most famous of all and a more recent addition, Adam Ford’s prize-winning entry to the ‘Dulce et Decorum… Next!’ competition.

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We should play Tokyo more often

It’s rare for us all to be in good moods at the same time.  We should play Tokyo more often…

Our songs don’t mean much in English either, so don’t worry.

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‘The waters are rising’ – The National in Tokyo, 09/11/11

This shouldn’t necessarily be an earthquake story.  It should be a music review, of a band and how they played, the songs they sang in whichever order, and how happy they made everyone that heard them.

But it is set in Japan in 2011, so of course there’s an earthquake.

The National were meant to play in Tokyo for the first time on 17 March this year.  I wasn’t even supposed to be going, having been unable to get the night off work (here we finish late and gigs start early).  I was trying to be stoic about the disappointment of missing something that I had been keen to see since spying the advert in December.  There would be other chances, I reasoned, they weren’t really my favourite band, there was only one of their songs that I adored.

Then the plates conspired, the waters rushed in and everything changed, for some of us more than others.  People left Japan, perhaps never to return, handing over tickets to those who stayed for a gig we weren’t sure would ever take place.  Biding my time, I bought a couple of albums worth of songs and discovered much more to love.  So much so that I chafed like a kid forced to wait for Christmas when the new date was finally announced.  November?  But that’s miiiiiiiiiiiles away!

Until suddenly it isn’t.  You are packed into a venue so intimate the band could be playing just for you, so close to your neighbours it is like a Yamanote line train.  The band walk onstage to Dylan’s ‘The Man in Me’ and it as well as the Big Lebowski – your second favourite Coen brothers film – give you a big grin.  So much anticipation.  So long to wait.  Could anything live up to the hype?

Well, of course.

Listening to them on record does display traces of humour, but you might be unprepared for how funny The National are.  They are tough on themselves – Matt Berninger accuses himself of messing up two songs, Aaron Dessner promises that the next time they play in Tokyo they will have better jokes – but they are playful, at ease with each other and yes, funny guys.  Still, they are not here for the stand-up, unlike the angels of ‘England’ never needing to be desperate to entertain.

There is a gentle start from the gorgeous ‘Runaway’, before the ‘kind of like a pop song’ ‘Anyone’s Ghost’ and then it is back to third album Alligator for ‘Secret Meeting’.  Perhaps it is the louder moments from latest ‘High Violet’ that get the crowd jumping, either ‘Ghost’ or ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’, but there is beauty in the quieter moments too.  And almost a tear during ‘Abel’, for the friends that should have been here to see this but are now so far away.

The band mention it too, speaking simply of the horrible events that kept them away and their feelings about them.  Also mentioning that now they have been – and almost managed to get to grips with the Metro – they will be back.  It gets loud cheers from the crowd, as of course it would, but they are genuine ones.  Remembering how Japan felt as people left or postponed visits and how happy we are to see visitors…

Especially ones who bring songs like ‘Terrible Love’ for us to leap around to, hands in the air and yelling the words, the atmosphere perhaps so infectious that Berninger heads into the crowd to sing it from the back, mike lead borne aloft courtesy of some heroics from the roadies as he goes, surrounded by an array of smartphones and dazed expressions.  Did he really do that?

All too soon we reach the end, an acoustic ‘Vanderlyle Cry Baby Geeks’, which everyone joins in with, as instructed – ‘if you know the words or even if you don’t’.

It is a lovely moment, still I can’t be the only one getting chills from all these voices from Japan and elsewhere singing the line ‘the waters are rising’.  Those dark waters and their after-effects brought so much pain still to be healed that an eight-month delay to hearing a band doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  Even so, I am glad they finally made it and hope it won’t be that long until the next time.

Photos by Kate Borland

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On repeat

Perhaps this should come as little surprise.  A new study has discovered that the popularity of far-right groups is on the rise across Europe, even in the parts previously considered too enlightened to go in for that sort of thing, such as Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

Of particular concern is that the responses were gathered in July and August, so before Europe’s financial position performed an even more graceless nose-dive.  As the situation worsens, these parties are likely to increase in attractiveness and should – according to the study – experience little difficulty in translating their online support into ballots.

In evaluating possible responses to this news, perhaps we are in a way lucky.  We have a wealth of historical information and experience to call on and can have no doubts over the results of appeasing fascists.  Jamie Bartlett of the Demos think-tank who carried out the study, is right to say:

Politicians across the continent need to sit up, listen and respond.

But the response of non-politicians will be of greater importance.  Sitting back and letting fascism rise unchecked while we assume someone else will take care of it ends in a place no-one should be keen to revisit.  So the question must be, what can be done?

Knowing the enemy is essential.  While a lot about them remains the same as the 1930s, today’s fascists have shifted their attention from International Jewry to Islam, as well as tweaking their message for the new era.  Expert Matthew Goodwin from Nottingham University, quoted in The Guardian’s story, notes that:

What some parties are trying to do is frame opposition to immigration in a way that is acceptable to large numbers of people. Voters now are turned off by crude, blatant racism – we know that from a series of surveys and polls.

[They are] saying to voters: it’s not racist to oppose these groups if you’re doing it from the point of view of defending your domestic traditions.

Yet underneath this seemingly ‘acceptable’ message lies a well-established truth.  Fascism has never been solely a racist agenda.  For fascists, racism, xenophobia and nationalism are tools, they are not of themselves the final aim.  In an essential essay on the ‘Property is Theft’ website, Phil Dickens quotes militant anti-fascists Antifa:

The reason fascist groups tend to attack ethnic minorities and immigrants in this way are because they want to divide the working class. By sowing the seeds of division, fragmentation and suspicion in working class communities they undermine notions of solidarity and cooperation thus strengthening the status quo and perpetuating existing inequalities in society.

And so it naturally follows that the English Defence League in Liverpool have recently made:

…an open declaration of war against organised workers willing to stand up for their interests

by attacking workers protesting against job cuts.  When fascists lay claim to addressing the concerns of a working class they accuse other political parties of abandoning, this real agenda must always be thrown back at them.  They pay lip-service to worries over issues like housing, welfare and jobs, but their economic and social policies show that they remain a party of the bosses, not the workers.

It is down to all of us who love freedom and hate bigotry to tackle fascism in all its forms.  Whether it is that friend you haven’t seen for years posting a Facebook status about ‘them’ stealing ‘our’ jobs, or the EDL planning a march through your town, this is the time to stand up for what you know to be right.  Their propaganda must be countered and their shows of strength combatted, until they get the message:

They shall not pass.

Picture borrowed from here.

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Road to nowhere

For all of those readers who aren’t students of the 1930s – and why wouldn’t you be, given that we seem to be hell-bent on recreating it? – all I can say is, well.

Be warned, the last time foreign creditors tried to circumvent the democratic institutions of a sovereign nation in order to impose ever-increasing deprivation on its working and middle-class population, via a series of coalition governments lacking clear mandates to do so, it did not end well.

And that’s putting it mildly.

Picture borrowed from here, also well worth a read.

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