Paul Kingsnorth


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post 34

25 May 2006
I was supposed to be in Cambridgeshire today visiting a farmer, but a cow got ill so it was cancelled. Long story. Anyway, having got up at 6 to get there I thought it best not to waste the day, so I went for a wander in Wytham Woods instead. It's not often I'm up early enough to see a family of roe deer pacing cautiously through the undergrowth, but I was today. I still feel great. I should do this every morning.

It was also an excuse for some more wild food fun. I'm having someone to dinner tonight and am copying a recipe Fergus showed me a couple of weeks ago - nettle soup, with a garnish of wild garlic and cream. I found the garlic, eventually, and I also found loads of ash seeds (known as keys) from which you can apparently make a tasy pickle. They're currently drying on my table. This is all fantastic fun, though it's notable that I haven't yet got to the stage of consuming anything I've made. I may go off the whole thing at that stage.

What this kind of thing really does, though, is drove home the importance of place and particularity: the disctinctiveness of locations and the ease with which they are destroyed. This is at least part of the subject of the book I'm working on at the moment. Now, normally I would be both furious and gutted to find that someone had got there before me, but this time, although someone (sort of) has, I am curiously pleased. Sue Clifford and Angela King run a fantastic campaign group called Common Ground. For decades they have been banging on about the specialness of the ordinary, and have achieved some great things (on a small scale of course).

Now they've come out with a book celebrating the small, the local, the peculiar and the overlooked. It's one of the best-looking books I've come across in years, and the contents are endlessly fascinating. So much so that the crossover with my forthcoming magnum opus is entirely forgiven. For now.

post 35

23 May 2006
Damned technology. I have a new version of Dreamweaver, which I use to update my website, and I can't work out how to use it. So I have lots of recently published articles just rotting on my desktop until I can work it out. Sometimes I just despise modern life. Well, most of the time actually.

Still, there are always things worth living for. Take this, for instance:

This, my friends, is the Chicken of the Woods. And I have to say it tastes pretty good. I have been converted, you see, to the joys of eating wild food by a man called Fergus. Fergus is a professional 'forager', to whom I was introduced by one of this site's discerning visitors (thanks Kris!) and with whom I spent a day scavenging for wild food in Kent recently. It was fab. In addition to the chicken, which tasted as it name suggests, we treated ourselves to nettles, chickweed, St George and morel mushrooms, hairy bittercress, Japanese knotweed, sea beet, wild garlic and three types of seaweed. Yum.

I managed to get an article out of this (for the Telegraph; coming soon), but far more importantly, I have been converted. I can't believe how much great food there is sitting about in the woods and fields, which I have been neglecting. So as soon as I got back home I got myself a copy of this book - the wild foodie's bible, I am told - and got down to it. A big pan of nettle beer is currently fermenting in my kitchen, and immediate plans include elderflower champagne and nettle soup. There will, I am sure, be many more, though it may be a while before I graduate to making chipolatas out of the intestines of a roadkill badger, which was apparently one of Fergus's prouder moments.

Still, there is plenty of time. Anyone out there got any wild recipes they'd like to share? If so, post them here and I'll let you know how they come out!

post 36

19 May 2006
OK, I'm sorry. I know that it's been a long time, and that it's bad form to keep your public waiting (unless you're Morrissey, in which case it's pretty much de rigeur). But my excuses are legion, and actually also quite good.

For a start I have been moving house, which takes ages and is chaotic and stressful. Secondly I have only just got my broadband working again (see point 1). Thirdly I have had a stinking virus which has rendered me croaky, tired, ill and grumpy for a week.

So there we are - reasons enough to be out of the picture. But I'm back now, and with a new copy of Dreamweaver to replace the one I lost in the move (which explains why the rest of this site hasn't been updated for weeks; sorry). Things are moving.

Another reason for not blogging for a while was that I was lost for words thinking of things to say about Bono. The little cunt has been editing the Independent this week, on behalf of all the world's Poor People, and my spleen was in danger of bursting every time I so much as thought about it.

Fortunately, the excellent Charlie Brooker, whose bile-to-column inches ratio I both admire and aspire to, has come to my rescue, and written everything I wanted to say about the little Oirish munter in his Guardian column today. Read it and weep.

If you still have the rest of Friday to while away afterwards, I can also recommend this inspired little skit from previously unknown master of humour Al Gore. It's actually quite sad. Still funny, though.

See you next week

post 37

5 May 2006
Well, it seems that I am tremendously important.

Nothing I didn't know already, of course. In this context, then, let me offer my tremendously important thoughts about Bolivia.

Basically I'm impressed with Evo Morales. The country's new, and first, indigenous President chose Mayday to do what he had promised his supporters he would do, but many believed he would backtrack on once the 'realities' of power hit him: he sent in the army to occupy the oilfields, and then he nationalised the country's oil and gas supplies.

There are a number of very interesting things about this development. Here are just three of them:

1. Morales came to power on the back of a mass indigenous and peoples' movement, which itself took its strength from mass protests against the privatisation of basic services in Bolivia (see my book for more) In particular, the 2000 'water war', which saw the unscrupulous multinational Bechtel driven from the country by mass protests, laid the basis for the movement which would bring Morales to power. Evo could thus plausibly be said to be the 'anti-globalisation' movement's first high-level success story. Where will he now take the plot?

2. The neoliberal spin machine has gone into overdrive on this one, as has much of the mainstream media (some would say they amount to the same thing). Morales taking action to reclaim the resources of his nation for the people of his nation - the people who elected him and empoewered him to do so - is treated as some kind of grand larceny by the lickspittles of global capital. It's a great example of the twisted logic of the global economy. Elected president takes control of nation's resources in order to use them for benefit of nation's people = theft. Unelected corporation takes control of nation's resources in order to use them for benefit of its shareholders = economic rationality.

2. Is it all it seems, and what message will it send to the rest of the left-tilting Latin American continent if it works out? We don't yet know, but an excellent place to follow this story as it develops is on the excellent Bolivian blog of my friend Jim Schultz, whose coverage and insight into Bolivia is, I reckon, unrivalled in the English-speaking press. Read Jim's coverage here.

Tell you what though: I'm actually excited about this. Cautiously, it's true, but excited nonetheless. In these jaded times, I didn't think it were really possible anymore. That's what we're always told, isn't it? It can't be done. Except that it can. And I'll bet this isn't the last time it is.

post 38

1 May 2006

It is summer! Seasons have turned and the Earth is reborn. Hurray!

I spent the last two days on my allotment and I feel fab! It's all looking great. If I can get my work done today (curses) I will be planting beans there this afternoon. Then I plan to go along to my orchard with my friends and wassail it, to celebrate Beltane. A little late, I admit, but better than nothing.

In the meantime, I am whoring for another blog - that of the Ecologist, which is new, fresh and young but hopefully the start of something good. We shall see.

Happy holidays.

post 39

27 April 2006
Everyone keeps asking me my opinion about Zac Goldsmith and his recent public conversion to the Tory cause. They keep doing this because I worked for him for a couple of years, as deputy editor of The Ecologist, which you should be reading if you're not already, particularly as it runs my monthly column about allotments in it.

The short answer is that I'm not terribly surprised, and neither am I as shocked or horrified as some people seem to be. Zac is a friend of mine for a start, so I'm afraid I'm not going to say anything horrible about him. This is for the simple reason that I both like and respect him. Having worked with him closely over a long period I can testify that he's principled, honest and clued-up about green issues. Some people continue to get exercised about the very large amount of money he inherited from his father, and certainly it was not - how shall we put it? - well, all obtained from ethical sources. However, since he spends much of it on the Ecologist and on funding radical eco-projects around the world, rather than on yachts and cocaine, I can't see what the complaints are about. It's not as if the green cause couldn't do with both a financial and a publicity leg-up, both of which Zac has proved excellent at providing.

I'm not surprised about the Toryism because Zac has always been a small-c conservative green. People who find this surprising or contradicatory don't know their history. Much of the early green movement, in this country and elsewhere, was a conservative one. It was framed in terms of protecting both the natural environment and the best of human tradition (small villages, slow ways of living, connection to the natural world) from the juggernaut of techno-industrialism. In later years, the green movement has shifted to the left - sometimes too far in my view - and has become associated with all the strengths and weaknesses of the 20th century left-wing agenda.

In my view, greens should be above and beyond right and left, just as environmentalism as a philosophy should be above and beyond industrialism (read this book if you want a better explanation). But either way Zac, like his uncle Teddy, who founded The Ecologist thirty years ago, has always come from that conservative green tradition. I don't always agree with him- we had some very productive rows when we worked together- but I know he believes what he says.

Which is ironically why I don't think Zac will make a very good politician; he's too honest. I also think he's naive in imagining that the neoliberal Tory party could ever be a friend of small shopkeepers, family farmers and widlife. Having said that, I also think that that green movement as a whole is naive to imagine that the Green Party or a few campaign groups are going to force society into the sort of shift that's needed. By the time the Greens manage to get themselves even one MP in Britain climate change will have melted both ice caps. I doubt very much whether David Cameron is any more than hot air - but why not push him and see. If nothing else it gets the key issues onto the front pages.

My friend Mark Lynas has been scrapping with our local Green Party about this very issue recently, and he makes some good points on his blog. I don't like the Tories any more than I like Neo Labour - but anyone who's serious about tackling the global ecological crisis before it's too late surely can't be too choosy about their allies at this point. As Billy Bragg so memorably put it: 'wearing badges is not enough in days like these.'

post 40

20 April 2006
We have a problem.

The problem is this: less than three weeks ago, on 30th March, the Identity Cards Act 2006 became law. For some reason, there was no rioting in the streets, though it would have been appropriate, for this is the biggest and most draconian step yet in Britain's long march away from liberty and towards autocracy.

Exaggeration? Pah. This law will create the biggest state database of information on private individuals anywhere in the world. Once on the National Identity Register (NIR), you will be required to tell the government where you live, what you do and what your movements are. Your irises and fingerprints will scanned onto a national database. Every time you move house or change job, you will be required to inform the government. They will know where you are, and what you are doing, anytime they want to. And if that isn't the beginning of the end of liberty, what is?

Now that the Act is law, this is coming our way very soon. There is one way that you can at least delay your numbering, however, and that's to renew your passport. The new law lets the Home Office turn your passport into a 'designated document' for its ID card scheme, which means that it will refuse to renew your passport unless you attend an official interview and agree to be fingerprinted, scanned and relieved of your personal details.

Well, fuck them. Their law is not yet in force, and this gives us a loopphole - renew your passport now, and you won't have to put yourself on the database for ten years. With any luck by that time either we will have seen sense and abolished the whole thing, or the world will have ended, thus making it all seem rather trivial anyway.

I've just this minute renewed my passport online, which you can do here. You should also visit this site for more on this scheme, why it matters and what the implications of passport renewal are. Do it now, or get numbered for life.

post 41

13 April 2006
I do have a sore throat this week, and I feel tired. I'm racking my brains to try and remember if a bird has coughed on me in the last week or so.

If it has, this may be my last blog. So I shall spend it recommending some artistic and cultural highlights which I really think you should experience:

1. Jerry Springer: The Opera
I went to see this in Oxford last week (it's on tour) and it was great. Better than I expected in fact, and with the added bonus of a dozen loony Christians gathered outside, waving banners saying things like 'Blasphemy!', which made it seem much more of an event.

2. Ringleader of the Tormentors
This is Morrissey's new album, and it really is excellent. Don't be put off by the fact that David Cameron is currently pretending to like it.

3. The Decemberists
I am furious about this. My favourite band of the moment is doing a small, and rare, UK tour in May and I am going to be OUT OF THE COUNTRY. Sob. Don't deny yourself the opportunity that has been denied me: see them, and die content.

That should keep you going until He Is Risen. Happy Easter!

post 42

7 April 2006
Aaaaargggh! Run for the hills! WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is, after all, just a DEAD SODDING BIRD. Perhaps we could calm down enough so that when I switch the news on I am not confronted with 40 minutes of coverage of the fact that the swan is dead, the swan remains dead and that NOTHING ELSE HAS HAPPENED.

And perhaps when we do calm down we can start asking ourselves why every TV journalist in Britain had to fly up to Scotland last night to do live pieces to camera in front of the slipway on which the dead fucking swan got washed up eight bastard days ago. And perhaps the editor of the Today programme on Radio 4 could explain to me why his journalists were coming on like half-crazed souls in the cellars of Dresden this morning.

Here are the facts of the matter: a bird got a cough. A bird died. Other birds may or may not get coughs and die. If we're very unlucky, a bird may cough on a human and he or she may subsequently die. This has happened 100 times so far, in the ENTIRE WORLD, in TEN YEARS.

But these are facts and thus not interesting to us. For we are The Media and we like SCARY STORIES. We like them almost as much as we like stories about Tony fighting with Gordon, and we like them only slightly more than we like stories about small children being brutally murdered by psychopathic paedophiles. Come on; give us a break! Here we are, sitting in some dingy studio drinking stewed tea out of foam cups or staring into computer screens clawing about for 500 words to write about putting folic acid into bread. Of course we want some excitement! We're only human! We want to keep it going! We're BORED!

Christ! Another one! Surely this calls for a Newsnight Special?

And what's THIS woman up to?

Should she be BANNED? Is she setting a BAD EXAMPLE FOR OUR KIDS? Should she be SHOT for her OWN GOOD? Lines are open now, so give us a call! We want to hear YOUR STUPID, PIG-IGNORANT, ILL-INFORMED VIEWS because we've exhausted our own already!

Excuse me; I'm going to leave the country for a while, and not because I'm worried about coughing birds.

post 43

6 April 2006
This is what you'll want to be doing tomorrow night, if you don't want to be, like, right out of the loop:

We've been organising this for months, and it's going to be great. A whole night of live music and performance in aid of the Free West Papua Campaign. Admittedly I've never actually heard of any of the acts, but then I'm too old and deeply unhip. And anyway, I didn't organise that bit! What matters is that it will be fab, as well as useful, and that you should be there, if you don't want to miss out on the event of the year.

If you have to babysit the kids, or you live somewhere silly like Leeds (sorry Alice), there is some small consolation: you can listen to the whole thing online here. See how painfully contemporary we are? You know you would be a fool to miss out.

post 44

5 April 2006
Which weirdo wanted a rear view? Own up.

I was late getting out of bed yesterday and I found myself, through a semi-sleepy haze, listening to Radio 4's Book of the Week. This week, with a ruthless ability to cash in which I had assumed was beyond the staid managers of Radio 4, the book is The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln. You'll recognise the name, as these are the guys currently suing Dan Brown in the High Court for stealing their idea and using it for the Da Vinci Code. Good luck chaps; you'll need it.

Anyway, the bookhighlights, and claims to 'investigate' a familiar Christian conspiracy theory: Jesus wasn't crucified at all. He survived, married Mary Magdalene and had kids. Said kids emigrated to southern France, for some reason, where they established the Merovingian royal Dynasty, which ruled France from the fifth to the eighth centuries. The Catholic church knows this and will do anything to keep it secret. Also in the loop is a mysterious secret society known as the Priory of Sion. The Priory - which does actually exist - is supposedly dedicated to the reinstatement of the Dynasty to the throne of France, and preferably Europe too. Oh, and Jerusalem. Finally, and best of all, the Priory of Sion is so influential that it counts major politicians, Royals and statespeople as members. Basically, it runs the world, and we don't know it.

This is, of course, nonsense. The Priory of Sion does not rule the world. Everybody knows that the world is ruled by shape-shifting lizards. Like this one:

Or if not lizards, then Freemasons. Or Illuminati. Or the Trilateral Commission. Or the Bilderberg Group. Or possibly Jews.

All of which is, of course, nonsense too. You and I are rational, intellectual types and so we reject all of this sort of thing. We are clever and realistic, and we all apply the principle of Occam's Razor: the simplest explanation is usally the right one. We don't need conspiracy theories to explain why everything is such a disaster. There are no lizards or freemasons in charge of it all, because no-one is in charge of it all. The planet is run, badly and chaotically, by carbon-based bipedal life forms descended from apes, who have evolved far enough to invent cluster bombs, aeroplanes and global retail chains, but not far enough to know how to control them. This explains why everything is so fucked up, all the time.

Or does it? Half-asleep, listening to the radio, I did actually begin to wonder. What if the conspiracy theorists are right? What if you and I are helpless, sheepy dupes, smug in our intellectual soundness but actually completely wrong? It would explain a lot. It would explain, for example, why every government ever elected promising change ends up just like the one before it. It would explain why every revolution ends up making things worse, or just as bad. it would explain why capitalism and war just won't go away, whoever's in charge.

Perhaps it's really like this: you're elected to power, promising radical change. You sweep into your office or presidential palace, determined to end hunger, poverty and injustice forever. And the first thing that happens is that you are led into a small dark room, in which are sitting the ten people - or lizards - who actually rule the world. They give you your orders and explain what will happen if you don't carry them out. You walk out of that room a changed man. Six years later, you invade Iraq.

It's a tempting thought, isn't it? I think I'm going to keep listening.

post 45

29 March 2006
Today, we're looking at Great Art. Viz:

What do you think this is, then? What does it say to you? In case you were wondering, it's a sculpture of - wait for it - Britney Spears. Giving birth. On a bearskin rug.

As if that wasn't unpleasant enough, it turns out that this is the first known piece of public 'pro-life' art. It is, apparently, intended to fill us with such joy as we contemplate the miracle of childbirth that we become rabidly anti-abortion. At least that what 'artist' Daniel Edwards apparently intends. Is it working for you? Because it actually makes me want to kill more people - Daniel Edwards being first among them. Am I alone in this reaction, and if so, should I surrender myself voluntarily to the authorities?

Anyway, I for one will not be going to the opening of Daniel's exhibition. I will, however, be going to the much more intriguing, curious and downright odd week of art, stories and music known as the Pestival. This fabulously bizarre event is organised by the people who run the equally fabulous, and bizarre Strange Attractor Journal; which if you haven't yet come across you should order a copy of right now.

The Pestival, it seems, celebrates 'insects in art and the art of being an insect.' Talks, art, music, films, and John Hegley, all of them focusing on small things with six legs and their role in our culture. Could there be a better way to spend a weekend? Creeping things that creepeth ... or Britney Spears. No contest, really, is it?

post 46

22 March 2006
I just don't like slippers, OK? I associate them with encroaching age and refuse to wear them. I have the same issue with pyjamas. Indulge me.

Talking of indulging people, I'm twitching with anticipation to see what Gordy's going to pull out of his Big Red Box today. No, really I am. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the faces of those silly people who still think that Big Broon is going to be some kind of radical alternative to Blair when he finally takes over. If the Guardian is right with its front page story this morning, Broon will today be announcing a massive increase in the kind of Private Finance Initiative projects which are currently mortgaging our public services to the highest bidders for much of the coming century. That's what I call radicalism. New Labour! Renewed! Fit for purpose in the 21st century! New Britain! New Gordon! New New New!

If you don't know why PFI is bad, you need to read this book. Whilst reflecting on Gordon's curious decision to proceed despite all the available evidence, you may also want to reflect on the news that many of the world's biggest water companies are currently pulling quietly out of the 'developing' countries they have been ransacking for the last decade, precisely because they do not after all provide 'value for money', but instead rip off the poor and make the infrastructure worse. Some of them are involved in PFI here too. Hmmm. Could there be a connection?

Global capitalism at its finest, then. It's enough to make you reach for the slippers. And the revolver.

post 47

21 March 2006
Newspaper sales have been in decline for years, and one reason may be that every year, the same stories resurface at the same time. Only the words are different, and even that can't be guaranteed.

Every year, for example, there is a story about people who have injured themselves in absurd ways - falling over their dogs, slipping on banana skins, etc. This comes from a survey of household accidents that the government releases on the same date every year; last year it informed us that 1 in 350,000 people every year die by falling out of bed, for example. Then there's the one about the untrue Euro scare-stories that appear in the tabloids all the time - outlawing bent bananas, instituting the death sentence for any stout-hearted English yeoman who sells food by the pound, that sort of thing. This one comes from the EU, obviously, and is picked up on the same date every year by every broadsheet in the country.

This shows, if it shows nothing else, how lazy journalists are. I don't exempt myself from this, of course: when I worked in Fleet Street I wrote versions of both the above stories. Anyway, I mention this because today there is another one of these regulars in the papers: the one about the updating of the inflation index. This allows hacks to go on about the 'changing face of Britain', by comparing which items are used to calculate inflation now with what has gone before. It's easy money.

So, in come frozen chicken breasts, bottles of champage, nanny fees and surfboards. Out go chocolate biscuits, CD players and, weirdly, flea drops. If this had any validity it would make me even more misanthropic than I already am (a country defined by its purchase of flat panel televisions? Bring on the apocalypse!) but since it doesn't, it remains just a page filler. And besides, there is good news too: slippers and baseball caps have both slipped off the list. So there are at least some reasons to keep living. For now.

post 48

12 March 2006
Hurray! I'm back! At least, I hope that's how you might respond to evidence of my continued existence. Despite several weeks of turmoil, a house move and a computer that still isn't connected to the internet properly (which is why several recent articles of mine have not been uploaded here yet; sorry. I hope to get broadband this week and sort it out) I am still alive, and as functioning a human being as I have ever been. You decide precisely how functioning that is.

And to be honest, apart from a
fantastic article about West Papua by John Pilger in this week's New Statesman, I'm not sure I've missed much. Still, I feel obliged to offer my valuable opinions on the key issues of the day, so here's a summary of what you missed:

Tessa Jowell: Don't care.
David Mills: Don't care.
Slobodan Milosevic: Good riddance.
Menzies Campbell: Who?
Education Bill: Feel guilty about not caring, but still don't, really.
Melting of Antarctica: A Bad Thing. Wonder what it will take for people to get off their arses? Perhaps if Reality TV shows fell victim to climate change.
England vs India. Hurray. We're still not going to win, but we put in a good show. Why do I suddenly like cricket anyway? Age creeps up on you.
Snow: Hurray.

In fact, about the only thing I am exercised about at the moment is the asinine, unelected and fat Lord Falconer and his stupid comments about an English parliament. In a speech last week, this unaccountable, overpaid and frankly creepy Blair drone decided to appoint himself a champion of democracy, by
rejecting (don't ask what right he has to reject it: that's just the way it works, apparently) growing calls for an English parliament.

In a curious echo of virtually exactly the same phraseology that the last Tory government used to reject calls for Socttish and Welsh devolution, Falconer (who, please note, is a Scot), claimed that an English parliament would lead to the 'breakup of the Union.' Though he didn't explain why that would be a bad thing.

'The argument for devolution', he said, ''was that the Scots and the Welsh felt policies could be imposed upon them for which there was little or no support in Scotland or Wales. That's why devolution was popular.' Well, obviously. However, we now find ourselves in the
situation predicted by Tam Dalyell decades ago, where Scottish, and to a lesser extent Welsh, MPs can vote in Westmister to impose upon England things that their own parliaments have rejected at home - tuition fees and foundation hospitals being the most recent examples.

Which is why we need an English parliament. This is not anti-Scottish or Welsh, or somehow xenophobic, as some weirdos have tried to suggest. It's about basic democracy. I'm all in favour of Celtic devolution - and indepedence if it's popular enough. And that includes Cornwall. But the same has to apply here. Personally I fantastise about an island made up of an independent England, Scotland and Wales, going their own ways while working together, and living in genuine, devolved, local democracies which give their people - whetever their origins, colour or religion - what they actually want, and not what their elites want.

Pie in the sky, perhaps. But meanwhile, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the fat unelected peer, which is why I support the
Campaign for an English Parliament.

post 49

23 February 2006
Much to say, but I have been saying little. It's been a bad couple of weeks here so I have been slack. As a holding position, those of you who read French might like to check out my piece in Le Monde about West Papua; my first foray into French journalism. I would love to claim to have written it myself, but alas, it was translated from my English. I was lucky to get a C in my French GCSE, and that was 17 years ago...

More soon.

post 50

15 February 2006
Well, bollocks. I am in a really bad mood today. I am just so depressed at how damned illiberal this country is becoming. It's enough to make me want to emigrate, though where to I couldn't begin to imagine. Some remote island, perhaps, or a forest clearing. Just somewhere where people might bloody well LEAVE ME ALONE.

It's been a bad few days for those of us who think that the State should generally keep its bloody nose out of our business unless it's absolutely necessary. Firstly, there was the vote on ID cards. It seems that within a few years we will, after all, be legally required to carry a card with us everywhere, and have our eyeballs scanned and placed on a government database (the scan, not the eyeballs). Only a few years ago this was the stuff of creepy science fiction. Now it is about to become fact.

Everything about this scheme is bollocks (here's why) From preventing fruad to foiling bombers it won't do any of the things it says on the tin. But it will be one more step down the road to having us all labelled, controlled and government-approved.

Then there's the smoking ban. This makes my blood boil! The fatuousness of the arguments is one reason, and the cowlike placidity of our MPs is another. Whatever happened to people being able to MAKE THEIR OWN MINDS UP about how they live their fucking lives? And whatever happened to that increasingly quaint idea that used to be known as liberalism - you know, the one about individuals being sovereign and the state needing to justify its intervention in their lives? Wherever it lives today, it's certainly not in the 'Liberal' Democrat party, only eight of whose MPs voted against draconian proposals to ban smoking everywhere, for our own good.

It makes me so depressed. That's the end, apparently of the traditional pub as a place of boozy humour, conspiracy and edgy intrigue. This will be good for all of us, according to sanctimonious twats like Ian Wilmore from anti-smoking smuggos ASH, who says that the ban will 'accelerate the trend towards more sit-down, family-oriented, food-oriented pubs.' Oh great. Fucking great. So pubs will become restaurants, in which annoying, overfed kids run about all over the pace and bourgeois turds drink orange juice sensibly before driving home at 9pm. Perhaps we could get Gillian McKeith to do the menus too?

These people just don't get it. So intent are Those Who Know Best on standardising this country to make it safe for timid middle class twots like themselves (and in the words of George Galloway, I'm not the only one who thinks so) that they have lost track of what it's actually all about. Who will defend our freedom to damage ourselves, to misbehave, to live non-offically-approved lifestyles? Who will defend the places that we go to get away from people like them? Who will save us from the tyranny of sensibleness


I'm sorry, but I needed to get that off my chest. Now I'm going to the pub for lunch, where I intend to blow smoke in the face of anyone who even looks like a health fascist. Take your pleasures while you can, because they won't last.

post 51

8 February 2006
Well, I wonder if the wall of media silence is about to fall? It would be about time.

You'll have seen the wonderful pictures of the various new species discovered recently in West Papua all over yesterday's media. And they really are fantastic. I wanted to upload a picture of an owlet nightjar here, but BT Bloody Broadband have buggered up my connection and I'm doing this from an internet cafe. You can see it here though, along with plenty of other remarkable things.

But an equally remarkable thing was missing from all the coverage. West Papua is the scene of an ongoing genocide: one of the worst and least-known cases of current human rights and environmental abuse in the world. And not a word was heard about it. Not one. Plenty of stuff about orchids, nothing at all about the canvas on blood on which these pretty images are painted.

There's nothing new in this - the ongoing media silence about West Papua is one of the reasons a group of us founded the Free West Papua Campaign last year. But news works in funny ways. This time we were determined not to let them off the hook, and perhaps it has started to pay off. Today, the Independent let me publish a comment piece about what's really going on in West Papua, and tomorrow the Daily Express, of all papers, is running another one. With any luck, they may not be the last.

Is this the way it happens? There was a similar 20-year media silence over the bloodshed in East Timor until something mysteriously gave, and suddenly the papers were flooded with it. The same was true of climate change and genetic engineering, and I sorely hope it is true here too - and that maybe it has begun. After a decade in journalism, I'm too world-weary to get excited by seeing my name in print anymore - but I'm excited today. Maybe - just maybe - the veil of silence is starting to lift.

post 52

3 February 2006
Well, here it is:

Talk about a storm in a teacup. In all the fevered debate about whether or not 'offensive cartoons' like this should ever be published, whether editors should be sacked as a result and whether it's a reasonable response to set fire to half of Palestine because you don't like them, one thing does seem to have been overlooked.

Yes, the cartoon is crap. Not funny, not satirical, not even very well drawn. Rubbish, in fact.

This man thinks so, too:

Though he's getting a bit carried away. And without wanting to sound too insensitive, if thousands of Middle Eastern citizens have nothing better to do than march through the streets burning flags, boycotting bacon and invading the offices of the EU demanding that our governments slaughter all the infidel cartoonists forthwith, then ... well, I don't know. Perhaps they should calm down a bit.

It brings up lots of issues, that of free speech being the most obvious and well-rehearsed. Actually, I think this one is very simple. Of course people should publish cartoons like this if they want to, even if they are rubbish. Of course the Danish PM was right to refuse to take action, on the grounds that our governments should not be interfering in what the press do. If someone happens to be offended, tough. He or she will have to get over it, just like Mary Whitehouse had to get over the Life of Brian. Don't expect to be able to restrict the freedom of the press from another continent just because you don't like it. Find something better to do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing highlighted, though, is the mentality and power of lobby groups - religious in this case, but they could equally be political, or even environmental. These wild flag-burning protests across the Muslim world smell fishy to me. I'd bet a lot of money they'd been organised by noisy minority groups with a political agenda (proving that everyone in the West 'hates Muslims' in this case, no doubt) , who have dug out this four-month-old 'offensive cartoon' story to push that agenda on.

There's nothing specifically Islamic about this; everybody's at it. Getting hysterically offended by someone else's actions or opinions has become a good way to usher in repressive laws, whether they be on smoking or religious hatred. And it's nothing new. Over a decade ago I was working on a Fleet Street newspaper, and I wrote something incorrect about Judaism. It was a very small thing, not offensive at all as far as I knew, and certainly not intentional: a tiny, honest mistake about Jewish doctrine which I bet hardly anyone even read.

The next day I was hauled into a firestorm in the editor's' office. I had to put up with hysterical Jews queuing up to call me 'antisemitic' down the phone. Were they representative of most Jews who read the paper? I doubt it. I doubt if there were more than a couple of dozen of them. But they were loud, they were well-organised, and boy were they offended. We printed an apology double-quick, and I've never written anything about Judaism again. I'm not sure anybody came out of that a winner, and I'll bet the same is true this time.

post 53

1 February 2006
Thank God! Or maybe just the chief whip. Either way, the government's double defeat last night over the pernicious 'religious hatred' bill must cheer those of us who are increasingly frightened by the erosion of civil liberties in this country.

Unfortunately, the bill still becomes law. But the thrashing dealt out to the government - made all the more delicious by the fact that the second vote was lost only by one vote, and that Tony Blair himself was absent from the voting - does significantly water down its impact. It will now be a lot harder to prosecute people for 'inciting religious hatred', and it seems less likely that everyday mockery or criticism of religion will be caught up in the crossfire of this squalid attempt by New Labour to win back some Muslim votes it lost because of its own stupid war.

Home Office Minister Paul Goggins probably didn't help the case when he answered detailed questions in the Commons last night about what would or wouldn't be caught under the new act. He was forced to admit that 'insulting' cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, such as those currently causing an absurd furore in Denmark, might well be actionable under the government's preferred law. Presumably this would apply to cartoons of Jesus or Guru Nanak as well, which would have been music to the ears of the Muslim loonies who wanted to kill Salman Rushdie, the Christian loonies who wanted to ban Jerry Springer: The Musical or the Sikh loonies who succeeded in closing down the 'insulting' play Behzti last year.

Eroding the right to free speech to appease bigots and fanatics is the start of a very steep and very slippery slope, and it's one that this government seems happy to go down. Hardly surprising: one of New Labour's many failings is their reckless attitude towards civil liberties. We are becoming, simply, a very much less free country. The Terrorism Act imposes sweeping restrictions on freedom of speech, movement and assembly. The new religious hatred act, even with amendments, makes it harder to openly criticise religion. The proposed ID cards bill will see us all numbered and monitored, with our DNA on a central government database. If in doubt, the Blair attitude seems to run, legislate to restrict their freedom. That way they can't get in our way.

But who will save us? With the Tories either silent or opportunistic and the Lib Dems apparently confused about the meaning of the word 'liberal'; with parts of the left rallying around the right of Muslims not to be offended rather than the right of Muslims, and everyone else, to speak freely; with much of the right so in thrall to the US that they'll swallow anything in the name of anti-terrorism... Where is our Thomas Paine? Where is our John Wilkes? Wherever they are they'd better show themselves quickly, while we still have anything left to defend - and while we're still permitted to defend it.

Designed and built long ago and kept on life support by spanner.