Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Israel seizes aid ship in international waters

Israeli forces have seized a humanitarian aid ship in international waters which was bound for Gaza, detaining 21 human rights workers and confiscating medical and reconstruction aid.

Those on board the Free Gaza Movement's 'Spirit of Humanity' include Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, as well as a number of UK nationals.

The boat, which was searched and received security clearnace before leaving Cyprus, has apparently been turned towards Israel. Free Gaza claim the workers have been 'kidnapped'.

Cynthia McKinney said: "This is an outrageous violation of international law against us. Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip.

"President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that’s exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey."

Palestine Solidarity Campaign have sent out the following message, asking that it be sent to Foreign Secretary David Miliband (msu.correspondence@fco.gov.uk) and a copy to your MP.

(Those outside the UK should do the same but with your respective representatives).

Dear Foreign Secretary,

I was extremely concerned to hear the news today that the Israeli Navy illegally intercepted and boarded the Free Gaza ship 'Spirit of Humanity', whilst it was in international waters. It appears they have kidnapped the 21 human rights workers from 11 countries, including UK citizens Ishmahil Blagrove, Alex Harrison, Denis Healey, Fathi Jaouadi, Theresa McDermott and Adnan Mormesh, and taken the boat to an Israeli port.

The boat holds medicine, toys, and other much needed humanitarian relief for the Palestinians living in Gaza under siege. Its cargo was searched and it received a security clearance by Cypriot Port Authorities before departure.

As the International Committee of the Red Cross said in their report released yesterday, the Palestinians living in Gaza are "trapped in despair." Thousands of Gazans whose homes were destroyed earlier during Israel's December/January massacre are still without shelter despite pledges of almost $4.5 billion in aid, because Israel refuses to allow cement and other building material into the Gaza Strip. The report also notes that hospitals are struggling to meet the needs of their patients due to Israel's disruption of medical supplies.

I urge you to insist that the Israeli Government immediately release the Spirit of Humanity and all its passengers, and take all the necessary steps to ensure it can complete its humanitarian mission in safety. I also urge you to act to ensure that the Israeli government does not commit any further acts of piracy and kidnapping of boats and their crew in international waters.

Please note - you would be better off using this as a template of sorts and rewording any actual message. MPs tend to scoff at copy and paste jobs.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Parliamentary Standards? Click...

When the chamber of a weapon is empty, pulling the trigger will result in an audible click.

Well here's one of our chambers of Parliament, discussing Parliamentary standards, devoid of many MPs. Where's the click, the uproar, the discontent?

Photograph from Rob Fenwick's blog at Northumbrian.org

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Can't Understand, Won't Understand

I returned home to Bridlington this week for the first time since before the European elections to the disappointing sight of an opinion piece in my local newspaper recommending people not vote.

Anonymous columnist, Paper Clip, had written ahead of the elections asking people not to vote because they don't know what it is MEPs do, because MEPs probably have outrageous expense claims, and because MEPs don't know much about Bridlington.

Paper Clip is a regular column sounding off on whatever comes to mind, usually a local issue, and features on the Letters page every week.

Now bear in mind this is in East Yorkshire, as in Yorkshire and the Humber, where Andrew Brons of the BNP was elected as an MEP on June 4th, and you’ll realise how disgraceful such advice is.

In the latest issue is a reader’s letter pointing out as much. On the other side of the page was Paper Clip's response, in which they defended their actions by suggesting MEPs do nothing for the town, and said that it wasn't their fault the BNP got elected.

This is bollocks, basically, and completely irresponsible for a member of the local press to advise people not to vote.

So I’ve waded into the argument myself. Here’s the letter I’ve just sent:

Having recently returned to Bridlington for the first time since before the European elections, I was utterly appalled to see Paper Clip recommend to readers that they needn’t bother voting in the elections, for a raft of flimsy and conjectural reasons.

First of all, Paper Clip reveals their sheer laziness:

"Could you name one of our current MEPs? Nor me. Do you actually know what they stand for or what they do? Nor me."

Here's a suggestion. You go on the internet and find out. Even better, as somebody with the privilege of guaranteed column inches you do something to help inform the rest of us. As a member of the local press, you have a responsibility to resolve this problem.

In the second column, last week, Paper Clip says they are not responsible for the BNP getting voted in:

“I'd suggest that is the fault of the main political parties and the people who did put an X next to the BNP. Simple as that.”

This is true, to an extent. The number of votes for the BNP in our region actually fell; it was apathy towards other parties that let them in, as you touched upon. However, there were also parties aside from the mainstream, the Greens, the Socialists, Independents etc. I know in the interests of impartiality you can't tell people to vote a particular way, but if you feel let down by the mainstream parties then why not consider the alternatives?

Nor does blaming those who did vote BNP wash with me. Why didn’t you try to engage in conversation with these people, find out why they felt compelled to vote BNP, rather than telling other people not to vote at all?

All of this comes down to a veil of ignorance. Ignorance of what the BNP stand for, ignorance of the issues at stake and ignorance on behalf of the main parties to address the electorate’s concerns. But this ignorance is fuelled by the media, who don’t offer enough coverage or tackle issues with the vigour and attention they deserve. You are just as much to blame.

Furthermore, in their riposte, Paper Clip reveals what appears to be the true nature of their ire; the ‘fact’ that MEPs have nothing to do with Bridlington:

"MEPs are not going to get the potholes fixed in your street or save our local hospital and I doubt any of them have even been to Bridlington in the past year."

Maybe not, but in case it escaped your attention, there's a harbour a few hundred yards from the Free Press office. Much of what these fishermen do is regulated by the Common Fisheries Policy, and guess where that comes from?

Similarly, drive a few miles in the opposite direction and you'll find yourself amongst farmland in the countryside. Does the Common Agricultural Policy mean anything to you?

Both come from Brussels. MPs and local councillors have little say over what form these policies take, MEPs however, do.

The EU also negotiate in other international treaties and agreements that have repercussions at home and abroad. To denigrate the work of MEPs and effectively tell people not to care about things beyond Bridlington is staggeringly small minded and symptomatic of the attitude which prevents the global community, which we are a part of need I add, from reaching a fair deal for all.

If you genuinely feel that no candidates support your interests, then spoil your ballot and let it be known publicly how you feel, but to refuse to vote because you simply don't know enough about what they stand for is a complete cop out.

And if it's because you’re a Eurosceptic, and want nothing to do with Europe, then you still have to engage with the system. Confront the problem, don't simply ignore it. Even the BNP recognise that.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Dying on the Streets of Iran and... Today in 1972

The ongoing turmoil and unrest in Iran has thrown up some astonishing images and video, delivered via such sites as Twitter, YouTube, Picasa and Demotix, not to mention a number of live blogs aggregating the copious amount of content flying around the internet at the moment.

What will perhaps come to be regarded as one of the defining pieces of content from the current unrest is this video of Neda, a young Iranian woman shot in the heart by the Basij militia whilst on the streets of Tehran.

WARNING: This is extremely graphic, bloody and distressing. This is in no way suitable for minors.

DO NOT watch this if you are easily disturbed. Viewer discretion is advised.

I've embedded this video on my blog because I believe Neda's death, as gruesome as it is, should be told.

Here's another snapshot of what it's like to have the shadow of death hanging over your head, a blog entry from an "Iranian blooger with more courage than most of us will ever know".

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

This blogger was not only talking about events, but actively doing something about it. Neda too, was out on the streets, protesting for her rights, doing rather than talking and I can't help but wonder how people in this country would react in such circumstances. How many people in England would dare risk limb and even life to stand up for what they believe in?

Today in 1972

And finally, on a slightly different note, today is the anniversary of the publication of one of the defining images of the Vietnam war, Nick Ut's photograph of Kim Phuc:

Which raised a question in my head - what would things have been like had the Vietnamese, and American servicemen, been armed with such things as camera phones or had easy access to blogs and other social media?

Indeed, the war was one of the first to receive 'extensive' media coverage, with on the ground reporters broadcasting images from the 'frontline' direct to America's living room, bringing home the stark reality of war and helping to fuel the anti-war movement.

But with the immediacy of social media, how much sooner would opinion have turned if widespread uncensored footage of the devastation caused by Rolling Thunder, napalm, pesticides and the ground war were made public?

I don't know, there were many other factors at play then, including the bigger picture of a particular Communist enemy in a particular Cold War. Obviously, protests and violence on the streets of Iran are no comparison at all to near total war in Vietnam, but it's certainly something to ponder for the representation of future conflict.

Monday, 22 June 2009

More bonkers police behaviour

The Guardian newspaper has obtained footage of two activists being arrested for trying to document the policing of a climate change demonstration last summer.

Val Swain and Emily Apple, members of Fit Watch, a group campaigning against police surveillance of activists, were arrested after they tried to note officers' numbers and photograph them.

Unfortunately, the video has been edited and without viewing it in its entirety I don't want to jump to any conclusions. Whilst it is apparent that Val Swain was being arrested for taking the photographs, there is a cut which could easily mask some offence from Emily Apple, although from the audio that doesn't seem likely.

However, we do see that one of the officers refuses to give his number, which in itself is pretty shocking whilst Val Swain, we hear, was arrested for 'obstructing officers'. In what way was photographing the officer, who refused to give his number, an obstruction? Surely the officer was the one doing the obstructing?

The sad thing is this incident isn't an anomaly. At the G20 protests in London, one of my own friends was recording the numbers of police officers. When a cop noticed this he was hauled through the cordon and bundled into the back of a police van and searched, for no other reason that my friend can surmise, than to intimidate him. I was told to remove a scarf from around my face or be arrested, yet many of the riot police were unidentifiable. Press photographers trying to record the protests were asked to leave the area and threatened with arrest if they didn't comply.

I could go on.

The demonstrations against the G20 summit in London in April revealed the ugly face of the police to an unimpressed public but for many protesters such behaviour is already common knowledge and often experienced.

The above video from 2007 shows a police offer arrest (or, at least, about to arrest) a protester because he was filming an dispute with the police. From what I can gather it is not illegal to film a police officer unless it causes harassment or distress, as the officer implies, but in no way could the above protester be considered to be causing harassment or distress. He was simply recording the event and at all times remained calm and reasonable with the officers. Any distress caused would surely have been brought on by the officers' own draconian [and routine?] handling of the situation rather than any actions or words of the protester.

It's this kind of behaviour that Fit Watch is fighting and campaigning against by turning the tables, recording their behaviour, making sure that transparency prevails and the police are held to account. As much as the police don't like it, that's what happens in a democracy and they, and the government, have to like it or lump it.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Keeping Up with Iran

Apart from a brief, Friday night, 200 mile wild goose chase around the Midlands, looking for a train that would take me to Sheffield and onwards to East Yorkshire, that ultimately ended in tequila fueled sorrow in Leicester, I've spent most of the weekend glued to the unfolding events in Iran.

Just as big a story as the actual mass protests and revolutionary fervour on the streets of Tehran is the extent of the role that social media has played in informing not just the outside world, but those in Iran too.

I really do want to write something about this. But, to throw a complete cop out, every hour there's a new development and I simply don't have time to sit down and digest the torrent of information (and, likely, disinformation) that is pouring out of twitter, blogs and the mainstream media right now, so I'll send you in the direction of a couple of people who can do that. And ably so.

Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post has been liveblogging on the fallout of the elections, pulling together from Twitter and readers' emails the best of what can be 'confirmed' as well as snippets of analysis and opinon.

Andrew Sullivan's 'Daily Dish' blog has been doing a similar job but with more analysis and background information to boot.

On top of this, for images, the Boston Globe have done a couple of 'Big Picture' photo collections of some of the most amazing images from the past few days, here and here, whilst for video, YouTube user Ahriman46 has a very good collection.

Also, here's a few stories of particular interest, regarding the protests and the media:

Twitter backlash against CNN's lack of coverage.

BBC reveal their satellites have been jammed.

Citizen militarism in full effect as internet users outside Iran bring down government websites.

There's plenty to talk about here, but where to begin? In particular, I'm interested in the conflict between the MSM (mainstream media) and social media, as well as the moral debate surrounding the attack of Iranian government websites, not to mention of course, the incredible sights and sounds of the men AND WOMEN of Iran taking to the streets in protest and the surrounding politics, all of which are minefields. These I will certainly come back to in the next few days.

World Air Traffic over 24 Hours

Here's an interesting video I came across this week. Commercial air traffic across the world over a period of 24 hours.

World Air Traffic Over 24 Hours

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Who really has egg on their face?

A quick point, further to what I said previously about not resorting to prejudicial language against Nick Griffin and the BNP.

What does throwing eggs at Nick Griffin achieve for the anti-fascist campaign? I'd love to throw an egg at the bastard, I'd love to throw more than that at him, but when we resort to such brownshirt tactics in the face of fascism, where does it get us?

When Nick Griffin took to the stage on Sunday night to say a few words about his victory in the North-west, he spoke of a "liberal elite which has built a dam, a wall of lies which has grown ever taller and ever thicker over the years to stop ordinary people protesting about the removal of their freedom."

Throwing eggs at Nick Griffin only plays into his hands by inadvertently supporting the above image, as well as losing us any moral authority to fight fascists.

By all means protest against him, be present, wave placards etc, that's our democratic right, but throwing stuff will just do more harm than good. Today's actions won't convince those who voted for the BNP to turn away, likely it'll have the opposite effect. Rather, confront the BNP in debate and discussion, let them have a voice and yank away their soap box metaphorically rather than literally, by unraveling their arguments for all to see whilst positing better alternatives. We need positive action as much as negative action.

Settlement in Saro-Wiwa action against Shell

Nearly two weeks after the human rights case brought against Shell by the family of Ken Saro-Wiwa was postponed at the eleventh hour, the oil giant have agreed to pay $15.5 million in an out-of-court settlement.

Most of this money will go to the families of Saro-Wiwa and the other eight activists executed by the Nigerian government in 1995, but $5 million will also go into a fund to support initiatives to help people in the oil rich Niger Delta.

Whilst I can't help but feel some dismay that Shell weren't hauled over hot coals in a court of law, and that a $5 million fund is scant compensation for the people of the Niger Delta who suffer whilst Shell rake in billions, the oil giant's settlement out of court can very much be taken as an admission of guilt and a starting point for further campaign work against Shell and other multinational oil companies who continue to trample on human rights across the world.

>> See also, legal action against Chevron Texaco.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Some thoughts on the BNP

Enough of the Yorkshire/North-west bashing already. Twitter was awash with comments along the lines of the region being full of racists. Wrong. Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the number of votes for the BNP actually fell compared to the last European election in 2004. They gained seats because other parties, mainly Labour, haemorraghed even more, thus increasing the BNP's share of the vote and in the proportional representation system this handed them those seats. So don't tar us all with the same brush. It's not so much racism that triumphed at these elections, but apathy and disenchantment.

However, that's not to say there isn't a racism problem.

Nearly a million people across the country voted for a bunch of fascists, which is hard to stomach, but as a poll conducted for Channel Four shows, 'only' 44% of them agreed to subscribing to racist views. (Although, how many people are brave enough to admit they are racist?). According to the poll, many of the BNP votes were taken from previous Labour supporters who felt they had been neglected by the party. Fighting the BNP isn't simply a question of showing the BNP for the racist thugs they are - the racism and apathy problems are closely linked. The BNP's policies, for want of a better word, feed on ignorance, and it's ignorance from both the electorate and parties that contribute in part towards a climate of apathy and neglect. Ignorance of what it is parties really stand for, ignorance of the real details of complex issues, ignorance of there even being an election, and ignorance from the parties about what it is the electorate are concerned about.

The same goes for people bemoaning the PR system for giving them a foothold. It's not the system that put the BNP in Europe but apathy, ignorance and weak campaigns by the other parties. Had Labour got their own house in order and fought against the BNP on those policies that attracted their voters, we probably wouldn't be in this mess. You can't slate a system that gives minorities a voice simply because you don't like what they have to say. Rather, you engage with those who feel disaffected and address their concerns.

I also can't help but wonder what effect the media had on these elections, in terms of covering the campaigns and informing the public of platforms and policies. Understandably, most of the coverage in recent weeks has been dominated by the expenses scandal, but has this taken away from the elections? The Telegraph drip feeding us new revelations day-by-day just prolongs the story and focuses on the wrong part of the problem - the rotten swines and their ridiculous misdeeds rather than the woeful system. Did this detract from the need for genuine debate on reform and push aside the upcoming elections? I'm in no way blaming the Telegraph for the BNP getting in. The expenses scandals needed to be covered certainly, but dragging the whole sorry saga out has certainly skewed the media agenda in the past month.

Finally, I'm also dismayed to see so many people on twitter stooping to the level of the BNP to denounce Nick Griffin by calling him 'fat', 'ugly' or 'bonk-eyed'. You can't combat racism by resorting to other forms of prejudice. It may be less disgusting than 'nigger', 'wog' and 'Paki' but it's prejudice nonetheless. Most of these comments seem to have been made in jest - flippant remarks rather than strongly held beliefs - but no matter how disgusting Nick Griffin and his cohorts are you only weaken our own arguments against them by using such language. The whole Susan Boyle affair made many people realise they can be pretty ugly themselves at times. Have we forgotten how guilty we felt then, now that a 'worse' form of prejudice has blustered into the limelight?

Tuesday, 2 June 2009


I was hoping to update you all with news from the Saro-Wiwa vs Shell trial, but we still have to wait until 3rd June for further developments, when a pre-trial conference will be held. So to make up for the lack of news, I've put together some of the interesting 'stuff' I came across in the past few days that is worth sharing.

First up, funny man Marcus Brigstocke lampooning MTV's 'Cribs' to present a video guide to his 'ecopad', ie: an environmentally friendly home. OK, it's not that environmentally friendly a home (he admits as much at the end) and it doesn't ask important questions such as "Where does this energy come from?" but if it gets yoofs to think about their behaviour then it's a start.

For better ecopads, check out the Passivhaus.

Secondly, documentarian Nick Broomfield has just put his latest piece of work up on the Greenpeace website - a mini-documentary about some truly brave Greenpeace activists who broke into Kingsnorth power station in 2007 and scaled the gargantuan chimney there.

In at number three is the work of a campaign group trying to highlight the irresponsible behaviour of Chevron Texaco by subverting their latest advertising campaign.

And finally, an awesome life size image of a blue whale, along with a poignant message.