the Disillusioned kid: April 2007
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Friday, April 27, 2007

It's all Greek to me

Earlier this week, riots shook the Greek penal system, as prisoners protested against the beating of one of their number.

The unrest began at Malandrinos prison in central Greece after the alleged beating of a bank robbery suspect by prison guards. Although designed for 260 inmates, the facility currently holds 440 in predictably cramped conditions. The protesting prisoners demanded a reduction of prison overcrowding and reform of Greece's parole system.

Police were called to the prison in central Greece after inmates refused to return to their cells and began throwing burning sheets and clothes from the roof. On Wednesday, a spokeswoman from the Justice Ministry stated that some 200 prisoners remained on the roof, following the breakdown of negotiations with ministry officials. "Police have entered the prison," she claimed, "and are trying to get them off the roof without using violence."

One inmate, described by Associated Press as a "spokesman" said police were "welcome" to take on prisoners. "We will kill for our dignity," convicted murderer Yiannis Palis told Antenna TV. "We will take this all the way." Unlike so much activist rhetoric you can't help feeling that his past form, suggests this promise should be taken seriously.

Although disorder had initially spread to ten other prisons, this had largely died out by late Tuesday. Police utilised stun grenades and tear gas to quash an uprising at a high security facility in Athens after a number of inmates tried to use the unrest to escape. The use of tear gas, appears to have been particularly controversial, as this institution is located in a densely populated area of the city. By Wednesday, authorities had regained control everywhere except Malandrios and another institution on Crete.

There have been a number of solidarity demonstrations in Greece, organised by the country's famously militant anarchist movement. On Wednesday, a group of anarchists, numbering anywhere between 30 and 80, marched through the centre of Athens, attacking shops, a bank, ministers' offices and a police station where they torched twelve police vehicles. Amazingly, despite clashes with the police at Kaningos Square, there were no arrests and the group dispersed into Exarcheia district, apparently a traditional anarchist neighborhood. Further arson attacks were carried out the following evening and into the early hours of the morning, with two cars belonging to the Uruguayan ambassador to Greece being among the targets (no, I don't know why either).

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Till Death Do Us Part

Subcomandante Marcos and Paco Ignacio Taibo II (2007) The Uncomfortable Dead: What's Missing is Missing, Carlos Lopez (trans.), Serpent's Tail, London, 280pp

Any discussion about The Uncomfortable Dead really needs to begin with a discussion of its two illustrious authors. Like me, I figure most of you will be unaware of Paco Taibo, but quotations on the back of the book describe him as "Mexico's most famous crime novelist" (Neal Pollack) and even as perhaps "the most important single writer working today" (James Sallis). While these are clearly impressive claims, it is, of course, Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, the spokesperson of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN), who is the real surprise here. Thankfully, the book isn't just a novelty piece and the authors have the chops to back up their famous names.

Rather than develop a single thread, the two authors have settled on pursuing distinct but interlinked narratives, with each taking a turn at the reins in alternating chapters. In Marcos' chapters we are introduced to Elías Contreras a member of the Zapatista Investigation Commission, usually tasked with looking for people who have gone missing from EZLN territory) who finds himself dispatched by "El Sup" (Marcos himself) to "the Monster" (Mexico City).

The synopsis describes Elías' story emerging "amid a hallucinatory blend of different voices," and indeed this is an accurate description of what we are presented with. Largely written in the first person, the plot is passed between various narrators and additionally incorporating transcripts of intercepted communications, alongside extracts from radical texts by the likes of Mumia Abu-Jamal and Angela Davis. Taibo's chapters follow a more conventional structure revolving around Héctor Belascoarán Shayne, a private eye who specialises in unusual cases. When a client comes to him with a answering phone message from a man who should have died forty years ago, Belascoarán finds himself embroiled in a particularly bizarre case.

Of course, as is always the case in such novels, the two stories intersect. In this instance, in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City as both investigators find themselves in pursuit of a man by the name of Morales and are encouraged to join forces. The structure of the book means that at various points you see the same event from two perspectives, but don't expect that this will help you work out what's going on any quicker. If anything it has quite the opposite effect.

At times, the stylistic idiosyncracies of the novel, especially Marcos' chapters can be jarring. At one point, a character instructs Elías, "If you run into El Sup, tell him to quit screwing around with his stories and his novel and just plain tell us outright how it all ends." This is either a witty instance of postmodern irony or pretentious, self-referential tripe, I'm not entirely sure which. Elsewhere, one character cuts of his narrative part way through to claim that he's just been told he's not actually in the novel, before offering the reader a cigarette. Initially, this sort of thing seems very strange, but if you stick with it there's an interesting, and at times surprisingly emotional, story being told.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Down and Out in London

George Orwell is perhaps most famous for writing 1984, which depicts a dystopian Britain in which the population are continuously monitored by The Party. It is darkly ironic that today, the area where he lived, like so much of the UK, is saturated with CCTV cameras, the modern day equivalent of Airstrip One's "telescreens":
On the wall outside his former residence - flat number 27B - where Orwell lived until his death in 1950, an historical plaque commemorates the anti-authoritarian author. And within 200 yards of the flat, there are 32 CCTV cameras, scanning every move.

Orwell's view of the tree-filled gardens outside the flat is under 24-hour surveillance from two cameras perched on traffic lights.

The flat's rear windows are constantly viewed from two more security cameras outside a conference centre in Canonbury Place.

In a lane, just off the square, close to Orwell's favourite pub, the Compton Arms, a camera at the rear of a car dealership records every person entering or leaving the pub.

Within a 200-yard radius of the flat, there are another 28 CCTV cameras, together with hundreds of private, remote-controlled security cameras used to scrutinise visitors to homes, shops and offices.
The Evening Standard (via)


Friday, April 13, 2007

Yesterday, if you were out and about in the "real world" you might have bumped into me here. Fortunately for you, you probably didn't.

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300 in 300 (characters)

Possibly the single most racist film I have ever seen, pitting white heroes against evil, exotic, subhuman enemies of various shades. That this can be made in 2007 is instructive. It's also a rubbish film: clichéd, badly acted and, despite its visual pretensions, an unsatisfying cinematic spectacle.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where did it all go wrong?

"To understand the significance of this, it’s worth reminding oneself of who Sadr and his supporters are. While generally portrayed as violent anti-Sunni and anti-American extremists (the first charge is certainly true of many of them and the second is silly – being anti-American in Iraq is not extreme), Sadr and his supporters were also among the biggest victims of Saddam Hussein. Sadr’s great-uncle, great-aunt, father, and two elder brothers were murdered by Saddam’s regime. His followers, largely the poor, uneducated and downtrodden among Iraq’s Shi’a majority, were, along with the Kurds, Saddam’s biggest victims – especially in 1991, when Saddam put down their uprising with the aid of our current president’s sainted - or perhaps merely beatified - father.

"Nobody, except possibly the Kurds, should have felt happier about the removal of Saddam. Nobody should have been easier to win over to the Americans’ side if the slightest attention had ever been paid to ordinary Iraqis and their desires. Instead, nobody but the constantly brutalized residents of al-Anbar province in Western Iraq is a more implacable enemy of the United States."

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Take Back the Power

Earlier today (April 10), activists from Nottingham entered Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station and chained themselves to equipment, preventing it from operating, while supporters maintained a presence outside. The power station is coal-fired and generates huge amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global warming. The action is part of Spring into Action, "a week of workshops, events, music and action on climate change happening at different venues across Nottingham."

One of those involved in the action explained in a press release, "The threat of climate change is so huge and the government so complacent that the people themselves are now acting in proportionate response to this and targeting the root causes of climate change. It's not enough to reduce emissions individually – we need to act together to challenge fossil fuel consumption."

Ratcliffe was targeted because coal-fired power stations (of which it is one of the largest) are the biggest producers of CO2 per unit of electricity generated. It is also symbolically significant because the power station is visible from much of Nottingham and familiar to anybody who knows the city. The story certainly seems to have piqued the interest of local media receiving coverage on the The Evening Post and BBC Nottingham sites and was the top story on BBC local radio during their midday bulletin.

The police inevitably turned up and reports suggest that eleven people were arrested. Inspector Glenn Harper, of Notts Police, told The Evening Post, "The site is potentially dangerous to anyone who is unfamiliar with its layout and there are busy roads close by." Protesters shouldn't be misled into believing that the police were there to ensure business carried on as usual with minimal disruption, rather, "Our main priority is to maintain the health and safety of all those involved; the protesters, staff at the power station and the police officers who attend."

In case there's any confusion and to preempt any questions in the comments, I haven't been involved in any of this, having been out of town for a few days. The foregoing is derived from media reports, primarily coverage on Notts Indymedia. For the timebeing that's all I know.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Robert Mugabe's anti-imperialist credentials speak for themselves...

I've been wondering what to say about Zimbabwe for a while. Usually if I'm stuck for words I don't bother saying anything. You might think that doesn't happen very often, but there are a huge range of issues I have only touched on here to say nothing about those I never write about. In this case, however, I feel compelled to write. Partly because it is an important issue itself, but also because it's something I think receives little attention from radical groups in the UK. On a more personal note, one of my housemates is from Zimbabwe. He isn't particularly political and is here to study rather than out of fear or persecution, but it does give the story a more human dimension, taking it away from the simply abstract.

Like any issue, one has to be careful to separate truth from propaganda here. There is at least one poster on Indymedia UK at the moment who insists that everything you hear about how nasty Mugabe has been is British propaganda invented to drive the neoliberal agenda in Zimbabwe, using the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as its vehicle. Of course, there may be an element of truth here. The MDC, which has its roots in the labour movement, has come to advocate privatisation and related economic "reforms," but this is a familiar path trodden by political parties across the world. The very real flaws with the MDC should not distract, however, from the situation faced by ordinary Zimbabweans which is increasingly coming to make neoliberalism look like a picnic.

There are other fronts for resistance in the country, notably the labour movement. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), for instance, called a two-day general strike on April 3-4. Unfortunately, this appears to have been less than succesful. Joseph Sithole argues that this stemmed from the strike's unclear aims and a failure to clearly explain to people what they should do, coupled with government hostility fuelled by the Congress' close relationship with the MDC. Despite the stay away's limited impact, the Zimbabwean state has clearly been riled, how else to explain threats made against two unionists involved in co-ordinating the action?

You get the distinct impression from much of the media coverage (and my housemate's own analysis) of the situation in Zimbabwe that Mugabe's days are numbered. We can only hope. What interests me is who is going to take his place. Will the MDC take power and begin the thoroughgoing implementation of neoliberalism or will we see a coup by a dissident faction within ZANU-PF? More importantly, would either of these do anything to improve the day to day lives of average Zimbabweans? Obviously, as an anarchist, I'd like to see ordinary Zimbabweans organising autonomously, but I'm realistic enough to be aware that this is pretty unlikely in the immediate future, particularly given the increasing hardships they face. It's hard enough to be a revolutionary at the best of times, let alone when survival from one day to the next becomes a struggle.

A cheery conclusion, eh? I said I was stuck for words.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

I realise it may be beginning to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet, but some of the guys at Notts Indymedia have produced an awesome radio piece about the Nottingham blockade.

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Look who's got themselves a new blog.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Outlaws outwit the Sheriffs

A group made up of students, pensioners, Christians, anarchists and Young Greens would normally be a recipe for disagreement, dispute and disunity, if not disaster. The contingent which travelled from Nottingham to Scotland last weekend as part of Faslane 365 incorporated all these demographics and more. Not only did the group manage to operate coherently, but it was able to block the North Gate of HM Base Clyde for more than four hours.

Faslane 365 is an attempt to organise a continuous blockade of the nuclear submarine base at Faslane in protest against government plans to replace the Trident nuclear missile system. Groups from around the world are encouraged to travel to the base and attempt to organise their own autonomous blockades. At the time of writing, the Faslane 365 website claims 102 days of presence by 75 different groups. Totals which have entailed 696 arrests, but only 26 prosecutions.

The group from Nottingham (which included a number of people from nearby Derby) travelled to the base on Saturday (March 31) and Sunday (April 1), blockading the base on the latter. The contingent's theme was Robin Hood, which allowed us to contrast his robbing from the rich to give to the poor, with the government's theft from the poor to fund Trident, and many members were dressed as members of Hood's Merry Band. The police seemed to find it very amusing to asking people why everybody was dressed as Peter Pan.

Saturday was spent milling near the North Gate (the main entrance to the base), marching around the base and relaxing on the beach, all without much of a plan. It is possible that the police took us for a bunch of disorganised fluffies, incapable of sorting out a serious blockade. Whether this was part of some grand plan or simply a reflection of the fact we actually were hopelessly disorganised is debatable. Once we started planning for the next day, however, the commitment of everybody involved became clear and things began falling into place.

The plan involved coordinating the arrival of three minibuses at the North Gate shortly after 6.30 in order to catch the morning shift change. Things looked bad when one of the minibuses suffered a puncture barely a mile from the base, but some quick thinking and everybody's understanding of the requirements of the plan meant that even this didn't stop us, although a fourth minibus did arrive later than planned.

Against everybody's expectations, the police seem to have been caught napping, having had only a handful of officers defending the gate. As a result, by the time the third minibus to arrive had deposited its passengers, there were fifteen people blocking access to the gate. Blockaders were secured by a combinattion of concrete lock-ons, chains, D-locks and a number had even volunteered to be plastered together. The police had little option but to close the gate and redirect traffic to the South Gate, which isn't normally used on Sundays.

Within about ten minutes the police began constructing a blue screen around the blockaders in order to "sanitise" them. This friendly-sounding euphemism is their way of justifying isolating those engaged in a blockade from their supporters while they proceed to cut them out. Fortunately those outside didn't relent in their nopisemaking, bashing barriers with sticks, stones and anything else which came to hand. The police were less than keen on this and, perhaps still smarting from their failure to anticipate our plan, took to threatening people with dubious charges of criminal damage.

People's spirits were lifted by the appearance of the Rebel Clowns who announced that as it was April Fool's Day they had declared themselves all King and Queen for the day and decided to put Faslane, along with the submarines it supports, up for sale. In their usual manner the clowns kept protesters entertained and confused the hell out of the police, although one was arrested, apparently (I wasn't there) after climbing into a passing car.

The clowns managed to make the police look particularly stupid when one of their number put a bike lock on the prisoner handling area, located just down the hill from the North Gate, apparently trapping the police inside. It emerged, once a cutting team, reinforcements and the Inspector in charge appeared, that the key to the aforementioned lock was sitting right next to it, leaving those inside looking distinctly red-faced. The Inspector gave those of us in the vicinity a lecture about the distinction between "lefitimate" and "anti-police" actions, which amounted, in my reading, to, "Nobody's ever thought of doing this before. We'd really rather you didn't do it properly in the future."

The police don't seem to have been in a massive hurry to cut-out the blockaders, but it's clear that one of the concrete lock-ons caused them some real difficulty and it was the blockaders attached to this who were the last to be arrested. Once they'd been cut-out, blockaders were taken to a prisoner handling area, for processing, before being sent off to various police stations across Strathclyde.

Later in the day there were two further arrests. I wasn't there, but these followed a Palm Sunday march up to the gate. According to the accounts I've heard, one of the marchers refused to move, carrying on singing hyms while the police insisted she returned behind the barrier. At this point she was joined by a man who was also arrested. By the end of the day there had been eighteen arrests, including the clown. All were released by 5pm the next day with nothing more serious than a warning letter, which says, essentially, "We have sufficient evidence to prosecute you, but we're not going to this time."

Everyone involved, as far as I can tell, regards the action as a huge success. We managed to function as a unit inspite of our difference and achieved a far more successful blockade than any of us had anticipated. Hopefully these newly formed alliances will not simply evaporate and we can work together in the future. I for one am already chomping at the bit to go after a new target and there's also talk of some people participating in the forthcoming student blockade.

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Robin Hood and the Sheriffs of Strathclyde

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