Archive for December, 2009

In Cold Blood

December 30, 2009

So the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided to reject the possibility of changing UK self defence laws in light of the Munir Hussain case. PC Ellie Bloggs explains why this was probably the right idea:

Mr Hussain had been subjected to an ordeal, but where he went wrong was gathering a posse, chasing the offender outside, and then continuing to beat him until he was almost dead. Worse still, he made up an array of lies but was found out by independent witnesses. He was tried by jury, who if they had felt enough sympathy with his plight could have acquitted him. Following a guilty verdict the judge had little choice but to jail him. As we keep saying on these blogs, GBH with Intent is a serious crime that should attract jail. And what isn’t revealed in the attached article is whether Mr Hussain had previous convictions for violence. I sympathise with his situation, but surely a few kicks would have done the job and they could have then detained the burglar for the police.

There are some criminal acts, like rape and motoring offences, that have the power to change hang-’em-flog-’em conservatives into the weakest kind of bleeding-heart liberal. Any case in which a householder attacks an intruder falls into this pattern.

The classic cold case of ‘self defence’ was Tony Martin. Just after the Norfolk man had shot and killed a burglar, Private Eye collected editorials from most major newspapers, and columns by senior politicians. All began on a variation of: ‘Tony Martin is no hero. But…’

Ten years on, you will still meet people who defend the farmer. Tony Martin’s case fits the classic narrative of white male victimhood. A hard-working taxpayer is plagued by gypsy criminals that rich liberal judges refuse to jail. They vandalise his property, steal his possessions and break into his home. Finally, the householder reaches the end of his patience. And what happens? The courts put him in prison and let the burglars go with a slap on the wrist. Not only does the government refuse to uphold law, order and property rights – it takes action against those who do.

That narrative obscured the reality of the case, which, as Richard Seymour shows, was a little different:

A farmer wieghed down with guns, and with a history of shooting them at people, shoots a 16 year old boy in the back as he runs away from the house, which the boy had been trying to burgle. All evidence indicates that the killing was deliberate, and not self-defense. The man was first jailed for life, having expressed no remorse, and then had his conviction reduced to manslaughter on account of diminished responsibility. The response: overwhelming sympathy, even among liberals, for the murderer.

Only in England could a man become a folk hero for shooting a kid in the back as he screamed for mercy. (As Seymour wrote, Martin had a thing about travellers, having spoken of ‘putting Gypsies in the middle of a field, surrounding it with barbed wire and machine gunning them’ and he has also endorsed the BNP). The Norfolk farmer became a kind of spokesman for a group that we hear a great deal from – the comfortable white man with a chip on his shoulder.

Not all self defence cases are the same. We had what looked like a Manchester Tony Martin in Linda Walker, jailed for shooting at some kids with an airgun. Reading about the case, though, you can feel a degree of sympathy: the shooting followed years of targeted harrassment of her family by local thugs, and it appears that Walker shot at the pavement near the youth’s feet as a warning, rather than directly at the head or body to cause harm. The fact that Walker is out of prison and back at work doesn’t make you feel uneasy. She’s a very different animal to Martin, a homicidal eccentric with a history of gun-related offences.

This reveals more than our fetish for land and home ownership – something the great crash should have cured us of. The whole idea of homeowners’ rights – if there’s an intruder in your home, you should be able to deal with him as you wish – carries a sinister corollary: that people who don’t have the strength to protect their homes deserve to have their possessions stolen and their families threatened. It’s an old and dark voice from a time where there weren’t such luxuries as police, prosecutors, courts and jails. The human swamp we think we’ve left.

‘Here is your revolution!’

December 29, 2009

Now, a blog is not a rolling news service, and Socialist Unity can write about what it likes. And yet, like Gene, I find it curious that a blog dedicated to revolutionary socialism can’t find the space to offer support to what looks increasingly like an actual revolution, unfolding while the whole world watches.

You say you want a revolution, comrades? There it is, in the streets of Tehran and other cities throughout the country. This is, as regime apologist George Galloway might put it (in another context) ‘The real deal.’

I recall in late 2002/early 2003 listening to antiwar activists saying things like: ‘Of course Saddam is a psychotic dictator – but getting rid of him is a job for the Iraqi people, not the Americans.’ And, earlier on: ‘Of course the Taliban are fundamentalist killers and there is a good humanitarian case for their overthrow, but getting rid of them is a job for the Afghan people – not the Americans.’

Now, in 2009, people in Iran are doing their best to get rid of the theocratic oppressors, and with no real concrete help from cowardly Western governments. From a significant part of the antiwar left: just silence.

The regime cracks down. Image via the Guardian, which is also carrying out a project to identify the people – over 1,000 – who have been arrested or murdered by the Islamic Republic since the election of June 12.

Succour 11 – Call for Submissions

December 28, 2009

As I’ve said before, the guidelines for Succour 11 are a bit different from what has come before.

For Succour 11, our Spring/Summer 2010 issue, we would like to invite submissions which pertain not to a theme, as has hitherto been the case, but which adhere to a pair of conditions.

Condition 1: All submissions should be written on Saturday February 6th, 2010.

Condition 2: What you write should not be an attempt to execute an idea – for a story, for a poem, etc – that has previously occurred to you. Rather, we would prefer you to write whatever happens to come into your head at that particular time.

The idea for this issue was inspired by 20 Lines a Day by Harry Mathews, in which the author sets out to follow a rule Stendhal once set himself, to write ‘Twenty lines a day, genius or not’. Mathews undertakes this project in an attempt to overcome ‘the anxiety of the blank page’; it becomes part of his writing practice, his way of starting off, getting in the zone, before going on to whatever his main writing project may be. We would like submissions to February 6th, 2010 to be written in the same spirit.

We will be accepting submissions to February 6th, 2010 from Saturday February 6th 2010 until Monday February 8th 2010 – thereby allowing a couple of days for typing up etc.

Maximum word count: 400

Send all work to:

Contact Details
Anthony Banks

Max Dunbar
Regional Editor Manchester

Luke Kennard
Regional Editor Birmingham

Christodoulos Makris
Regional Editor Dublin

Shaun Morrison/
Website Design

Chloe Briggs
Art Editor

There may be also be a Succour Manchester night coming up at the end of the month – you will know the details when I do.

Salon Bar Wisdom

December 26, 2009

My review of Protest!, a new fiction anthology from Beat the Dust, is now available at 3:AM.

A post about snow

December 23, 2009

JLB Credit has a shift rota system where you can be working weekends and have days off during the week. I was glad of it yesterday as I was home in the pounding snow. At work everyone’s talking about how scared they are of driving back. This week I’ve seen snowmen, a kid rolling a white boulder, people digging out their cars.

Went for a walk up the Fallowfield Loop (where we’ve been before) to get supplies from the StuporStore at the end. This was about fifteen minutes’ walk – an unsettling fifteen minutes. Covered in snow as it was, sparkling at the eye and crunching under your tread, the cycle path looked foreign and eldritch, like something C S Lewis might have seen in his dreams. (I’d have uploaded a photo, but I no longer have a camera phone.) In the silence it was easy to miss the reference points – prints from shoes as well as the tracks of dogs, cats and birds – that made this a human place. The cycle path on that December midday looked like it might look in a thousand years.

I doubt I’ll post here before the big day – so Merry Christmas, one and all.

The dung beneath the rosebush

December 22, 2009

My review of Marcus Scriven‘s Splendour and Squalor is now available at 3:AM.

The Curse of Ka’Zar

December 22, 2009

Papers at the moment full of snow and lists and it’s easy to miss something important. According to Oliver Marre, UK publishing is set to hit a new low in 2010. 

Vernon Kay – a television presenter so peace-destroyingly annoying that he makes me not only want to turn off the box but throw things at it – is writing a book. It’s not a memoir, though: that would be too easy to ignore. Instead, he is writing a state of the nation investigative tome. And more terrible still, it’s exploring territory already trod by John Prescott, as Vern is taking for his subject the north-south divide.

A sneak preview of some of the contents from his publisher says he will explore the ‘quirks and customs’ of the British, including attempting to ascertain whether a Scot will deep-fry his shoe, and commuters on a London bus will join in his singalong as enthusiastically as those on an equivalent Bolton bus.

This exciting project is being brought to us by the Michael Joseph imprint of Penguin. Thanks, guys.

‘People in different parts of the country can vary slightly in speech, customs and outlook’

The illusion of ease

December 19, 2009

The Guardian books blog is not always an essential read. (‘Novels you can eat.’ ”When can we get Tolstoy on ITunes?’ ‘Name your top ten books with punctuation in the title.’)

But every week it features A L Kennedy. This time she touches on something I’ve written about before: the shallow preconception that the process of writing should be laboured and joyless if its results are to be appreciated. But Kennedy goes further, drilling down to the sediment that makes great writing. It’s a while since I’ve read anything in an arts and books feature that does this.

No one can teach you how to write, or how you write or how you could write better – they can assist you in various areas, but the way that you learn how you write, the way you really improve, is by diving in and reworking, taking apart, breaking down, questioning, exploring, forgetting and losing and finding and remembering and generally testing your prose until it shows you what it needs to be, until you can see its nature and then help it to express itself as best you can under your current circumstances. This gives you – slowly – an understanding of how you use words on the page to say what you need to. And by making a mental commitment to believe that you are not as good as you could be, you allow yourself to move forward, to mature as writer. This can seem disheartening and frustrating – why wouldn’t it? It involves performing surgery on something intimately your own: the way you express your self. But why wouldn’t you want to express your voice, your story, your nature more deeply, more beautifully, more effectively? Fretting and worrying at something you made up, an intimate product of your hopes, enthusiasms, passions – it’s bound to feel odd, unnatural, but it’s also deeply rewarding. In time, you will willingly, if not always happily, put invisible hours, days and weeks of effort into offering someone you don’t know and who will probably never thank you something that will appear to be ‘effortless’.

And don’t remind me of the conversation I once had with a prominent academic, who intended the phrase ‘But it’s so effortless …’ as an adverse comment on a novel. I simply couldn’t rant convincingly enough to ensure that particular book could win a small but useful prize. The narrative’s illusion of ease – and just you try creating an illusion of ease, matey – was too convincing. A parallel idiocy might involve refusing to applaud Derek Jacobi at the end of a performance, because he looked as if he wasn’t acting.

So Farewell Then MEN?

December 19, 2009

Can this be true? There is a rumour that the Guardian Media Group is going to sell off the Manchester Evening News to Trinity Mirror in a bid to protect its flagship title in London.  

Confidential has a powerful editorial:

In 1821 the Manchester Guardian was created.

In time Manchester and the Guardian became almost indistinguishable, their identities and qualities merging, both a byword for radicalism. In the 1860s the Manchester Guardian bought the Manchester Evening News. 

In 1959 the Guardian dropped Manchester from its name, and fled to London. The Mancunian heritage of the paper was left in the seemingly safe hands of the Evening News which proved popular and popularist.

Now it seems that the Guardian is to drop Manchester altogether.

Shame on the Guardian Media Group if this is the truth. It is their mismanagement which has driven what was a very good regional paper to the ground. To now turn tail and run from it seems a rare species of cowardice. Ill-thought through decisions such as creating the unwatched monster that is Channel M, producing a stagnant web entertainment mag such as City Life, and moving to Hardman Street on a premium lease, have hit the journalists and other staff hard, costing them their jobs. In fact on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday you have to go out of your way to even find an Evening News.

Of course regional papers have been the principal victims of the shift to the internet in advertising and news coverage: an industry shift largely out of the control of the Guardian Media Group. But the desperate measures to diversify have exacerbated the problem. They have done nothing to help the Manchester Evening News. Yet if How-Do’s rumour is correct then Trinity Mirror appears to think there is still value in the brand.

Manchester needs a regular news provider.

The Manchester Evening News should still perform that duty, whether it changes form to become a weekly magazine with daily news online is open to debate. But surely it could make the changes within the framework of the Guardian Media Group.

Certainly those responsible for bringing the MEN to this crossroads should be considering their positions whatever happens. Because if the result of their actions is that Manchester loses its connection – apart from a token presence – with the Guardian after 190 years then that’s a hell of an inheritance to have squandered.

It would indeed be a betrayal for the Guardian to sever its historical links with this city. I have mixed feelings about the consequences. The loss of the MEN would be no loss at all. Something better may come in its place. But it would be bad to see more reporters on the unemployment rolls.

It also seems that Confidential are a little too harsh on GMG. If there’s a choice between saving the MEN and saving the Guardian, it’s no contest. And shouldn’t the regional management take some of the blame for the risible state of its newspaper?

There’s an interesting comment by ex-MEN staffer Ray King that seems to support this.

That the MEN is a victim of major structural change – migration of recruitment advertising to the web and access to news via a multitude of new media – is beyond doubt. But is it also indisputable that the paper – on which I was a journalist for more than 30 years – suffered grievously from appalling management decisions. The first was to waste more than £20m on a press in Deansgate when the opportunity to share much better plant with the Telegraph in Trafford Park was there many years before the MEN made the inevitable move. Then the decision to go ’24 hours’ (upon which I left the staff) has proved risible. By setting an ‘evening’ newspaper deadline earlier than that of the morning papers, the MEN sacrificed its ability to compete with the nationals – which was what we strove to do during all the years I was there – on any worthwhile story ever again. They even got the giveaway policy wrong. If the paper is free for some people some of the time, you will in evitably alienate those who have to pay for it all the time. In editorial terms, the MEN has been too timid for years. I had to battle hard, when writing the editorial comment columns, to maintain an anti-Iraq war stance, which is what the MEN did and for which I’m proud. But the editor was too often too willing to accept rubbish if espoused by ‘leading figures’. Hence the paper took a neutral stance on John Prescott’s lunatic scheme for an elected north west assemby, came out broadly in favour of the congestion charge (thank goodness my column lasted long enough to say told you so before they sacked me) and accepted the blather from Charles Allen that Granada would continue to be a programme making force in Manchester while ITV was busy airbrushing the most famous commercial TV brand from history. Frankly I don’t see much of a future for the MEN. The print media cannot compete with its electronic rivals in bringing the news; it’s duty is comment and analysis. Unfortunately virtually everyone at the MEN who might have been experienced enough to delivering that has gone. Don’t even get me started on Mark Dodson’s egomaniac folly, Channel M. Shame.

‘Goodbyeeee, goodbyeee; wipe a tear, baby dear, from your eyeeee’

Taking The Red Pill

December 17, 2009

Today I finished Matt Taibbi‘s The Great Derangement, his book on American politics during the Bush years. His theory is that mainstream politics is so stupid and corrupt that it’s sent the public into the embrace of bizarre and extreme ideas. As an antiwar journalist Taibbi was initially nervous about writing articles on the 9/11 denial movement – he didn’t want to let the side down – but the Rolling Stone reporter came across so many Truthers in antiwar campaigns that he could no longer ignore them.

Citing polls that show worrying percentages of Americans who believe that 9/11 was an inside job and that God created life six thousand years ago, Taibbi spends time with the 9/11 Truth movement and a Christian fundamentalist group. His thesis would have been even stronger had he written this book in 2009 and chronicled the American rightwingers who won’t accept Obama’s mandate to govern until they get to examine his placenta.

In the following extract, reporting on a Truther meeting in Austin, Taibbi touches on what other writers have covered – the replacement of real politics with consumer politics. In effect, he says, we are all ‘reality consumers’ now:

The 9/11 Truth Movement, no matter what its leaders claim, isn’t a grassroots phenomenon. It didn’t grow out of a local dispute at a factory or in the fields of an avacado plantation. It wasn’t a reaction to an injustice suffered by a specific person in some specific place. Instead it was something that a group of people constructed by assembling bits and pieces plucked surgically from the mass media landscape – TV news reports, newspaper articles, Internet sites. The conspiracy is not something anyone in the movement even claims to have seen with his own eyes. It is something deduced from the very sources the movement is telling its followers to reject.

This has always been one of the key features of the 9/11 Truth Movement. When the left finally found something to revolt over, it turned out to be something entirely fictional, something that not a single person had seen with his own eyes, or felt directly in his bank account, in his workplace, in his home. No one here was revolting over the corrupt medical insurance system, the disappearance of the manufacturing economy, the exploding prison population, the predatory credit industry, the takeover of electoral politics by financial interests. None of the people in this room were bound together by a common problem. What they had in common was a similar response to a national media phenomenon. At some level, this wasn’t even a movement – it was a demographic.  

Also, see Taibbi take on 9/11 denial guru David Ray Griffin.