Tuesday, 30 March 2010

seeing as how yesterday there was a post about exaggerated (and in some cases downright unjustified, from any sober, humane, non-dogmatic viewpoint anyway) grievances being given an uncritical airing in a right leaning broadsheet, it struck me today is as good a time as any to post about divisive - and indeed, plainly fictitious in many important ways - nonsense peddled in a right leaning tabloid.

it is virtually twenty years ago to the day that a riot started at Strangeways prison on the outskirts of Manchester city centre (no one i know calls it by its newer official name of Manchester, in the same way that HM Prison Birmingham is really just Winson Green).

i should probably explain the issues myself as, to be honest, i was living about seven miles southwest of the jail at the time in the Trafford suburbs so you might think i'd be paying close attention.
alas not, although, to be fair, i was then aged ten and somewhat obsessed with the build-up to Italia '90, so i'll let the internet do the leg-work.

as the thoroughly-sourced and level-headed wiki explains, it was a watershed moment in modern British justice:

The 1990 Strangeways Prison riot was a 25-day prison riot and rooftop protest at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, England. The riot began on 1 April 1990 when prisoners took control of the prison chapel, and the riot quickly spread throughout most of the prison. The riot and rooftop protest ended on 25 April when the final five prisoners were removed from the rooftop, making it the longest prison riot in British penal history. One prisoner was killed during the riot, and 147 prison officers and 47 prisoners were injured. Much of the prison was damaged or destroyed with the cost of repairs coming to £55 million.
The riot sparked a series of disturbances in prisons across England, Scotland and Wales, resulting in the British government announcing a public inquiry into the riots headed by Lord Woolf. The resulting Woolf Report concluded that conditions in the prison had been intolerable, and recommended major reform of the prison system. The Guardian newspaper described the report as a blueprint for the restoration of "decency and justice into jails where conditions had become intolerable".

the entry explains the background to these events:

Manchester's Strangeways Prison, which opened in 1868, was a "local prison" designed to hold prisoners from the surrounding area, mainly those on remand or serving sentences of less than five years. At the time of the riot, the main prison consisted of six wings connected by a central rotunda known as the Centre. Convicted adult prisoners were held in wings A, B, C and D, and convicted young offenders were held in E wing, which was physically separated from the Centre by gates. Convicted prisoners on Rule 43(a) were held on landings C1 and C2 of C wing, and remand prisoners on Rule 43(a) were held on the fourth landing on E wing. F wing contained administrative offices on the lower floor and the chapel on the upper floor. Remand prisoners were held in wings G, H, I and K of a separate prison, linked to the main prison through workshops and a kitchen. The Certified Normal Accommodation Figure for Strangeways, the number of prisoners the prison was designed to hold, was 970. The population of the prison had increased in the months before the riot, from 1,417 in January 1990 to a peak of 1,658 on 27 March. On 1 April, the prison contained 1,647 prisoners – about 925 convicted adult prisoners, 500 remand prisoners and 210 convicted young offenders.
Prisoners felt their complaints about conditions were being ignored. Remand prisoners were only allowed out of their cells for 18 hours per week, and Category A prisoners were locked in their cells for 22 hours a day, and rarely left their cells except for "slopping out", a one-hour exercise period each day or a weekly shower. In March 1990, Dominic Noonan was transferred from Strangeways to HM Prison Hull. Noonan was the organiser of the Prisoners' League Association (PLA), an organisation formed in 1989 which campaigned for prisoners' rights. Its aims included initiating legal proceedings against prison staff for mistreatment of prisoners, and picketing outside prisons in which prisoners were mistreated. The PLA were active at Strangeways Prison, and Noonan's transfer demonstrates prison officers were aware of rising tensions inside the prison. On 26 March, Barry Morton was taken to the "punishment block" and strip-searched after being visited by his mother, as prison officers believed she had brought drugs into the prison for him. During a struggle he sustained a black eye and swollen nose, and the following day he was released back into the main prison along with another prisoner, Tony Bush. Later the same day, Bush and Morton climbed onto the roof of the prison and staged a twenty-hour rooftop protest. On 31 March there was a 30-minute sit-down protest in the chapel after a film was shown, which ended after a prison officer promised to listen to the prisoners' grievances. The same evening it is reported that a black prisoner was assaulted by prison officers in front of other prisoners, and injected with Largactil – a sedative used to control prisoners, known in prisons as the "liquid cosh". Prisoners then decided to stage a further protest in the chapel the following day, 1 April.

Toby McDonald and John Ingham were the writers featured in a archive Express newspaper piece in the Express magazine recently (March 27th, 2010) covering the disturbances (not online).
the archived piece in the magazine is featured under the heading LAWLESS BRITAIN.

it's not clear whether that is an original newspaper headline of the time, or a current magazine insertion.
it's certainly a big theme for the paper in recent years, along with the disingenuous broken Britain stuff that the Tory party and some of their media supporters push quite forcefully.

this Monday 2nd April 1990 piece for the paper describes rumours from prisoners who had been taken out of the prison as the disturbances took hold: speaking of up to 12 inmate deaths, of mutilated bodies as non-sex offender inmates (which obviously covers many crimes, and therefore, many inmates) attacked sex offender inmates, that a fire was started to burn the bodies of dead inmates by the inmate killers, and other terrible details. it seems clear this original report is fingering the prejudice of the majority of inmates against paedophile etc inmates (a notoriously unpopular category of inmate as many in society know, let alone just prisoners, to be sure) as the apparent reason for the riot.

obviously, this speculation turned out to be very, very wrong.

the Express wasn't alone in getting its early thoughts rather jumbled (to say the least), as the 'Media reaction' section of the above wiki makes clear.

and perhaps in a few days there may be a big think piece in the paper assessing the impact and legacy these disturbances had on the British penal system in a thoughtful, balanced and mature way; the riot was essentially a political act, after all.

but because of the highly regressive attitude the Express has toward crime and punishment and justice in the UK, i am not holding my breath.

incidentally, do check out this piece, which demolishes some recent Express cobblers about immigrants and the NHS; just one example of how this - largely - complete excuse for a paper (very slight saving graces are the TV critic, some of the sports writers, and the cartoons page) continues to chat the most malign, generally unfounded garbage, fuelling resentment and fear.

oh, and here's another very recent piece concerning a woeful attempt at another FOREIGNERS 'story' of theirs being comprehensively fisked.


in other news, Yank electrical goods chain store Best Buy is to open in the UK.

Essex will be the first location, apparently, followed by sites in Southampton, Liverpool, the west midlands, and Croydon.

this pleases me.

Monday, 29 March 2010

yesterday's Telegraph had an exquisitely laughable headline.

Britain is persecuting Christians, say bishops

- Religious rights become election issue as ministers are warned of discrimination

- 640 leading figures tell Government sex education is undermining the family

boiled down, the wildly exaggerated (and therefore largely incorrect, so, in practice, useless) claims, documented in a public letter - one signatory is the well-known fruit bat former bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali - are, er, i don't know, one nurse in Exeter (population of UK, about 60 million) who is rightly challenging one instance of silliness from her bosses when they forced her to remove her necklace cross, banning her from working on wards (so she is launching legal proceedings, and good luck to her, as this is an outrageous incident, to be sure). oh, er, what else?

they pipe up about other faiths being treated more respectfully in Britain without giving any examples though i'm sure a quick look through some of the more fictional newspapers would provide the odd barmy instance in some isolated case, and in some cases a true injustice will have been perpetrated, no doubt.

but what of sexism, racism, homophobia, mutually antagonising instances of ageism from both young and old, class-based prejudices and glaring, systemic, structural class-based injustices that persist in the UK? (a land largely run by white Anglo-Saxon, mostly heterosexual males, in the main, and in the main, largely rewarding these sorts of people, along with better off white women, and some men and women of non-white Anglo-Saxon heritage, of course; plus wealthy world citizens who appreciate our libel laws or London property.)

the bishops don't have to have an opinion on these matters, true, when they are discussing their hobby horse.

but these matters make any isolated unfortunate cases of a faithful Christian being hard done by, pale, pale into comparison.

so, a case of a nurse ill-treated who is launching legal proceedings against her employers.

what else?

oh sex education and nasty stuff like civil partnerships. oh, yuck.

gays and sex, er, ewwh.

their complaints are patently naked bollocks, and need to be loudly opposed.

the truth of the matter, of course, is that all organised religions are probably treated with too much deference in the UK by the current government (and that certainly includes our nominally majority Christianity), when you think of their excessive love of faith schools, for one (though Britain has recently abolished blasphemy laws, which is an unqualified good thing).

utter hogwash.

to these bishops, i say, please, please, please, shut up.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Op Art SEVEN SEAS curves and sex

Bridget Riley: Flashback, the touring show, from the Hayward, seen at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Waterhall.

i feel deeply in love with Riley the moment i saw her.

an unstoppable power to convince, microscopic marine life, drawing in pencil smaller subdivisions on pre-printed graph paper, mathematical competency to calculate dimensions, repetition, a summoning and reckoning of everything there is, grids and attempts to harness what ambitious novelists want to portray in total; mature power.

i feel deeply in love with Riley the moment i saw her.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Monday, 15 March 2010

Owen Matthews and Anna Nemtsova have a piece in a recent Newsweek, 'Moscow’s Phony Liberal', concerning their thesis that "The bottom line is that Medvedev remains a loyal member of the Putin team, and his role in it is clearly defined".

one of many money quotes to give you a flavour would be "rather than undermining the system created by Putin, Medvedev's reforms are actually strengthening it. Current Western analyses follow a longstanding tendency to misread the Kremlin by seeking to find within it a familiar contest of liberals versus conservatives. The reality is that "liberals" led by Medvedev are not challenging the siloviki; they are at their service".

i don't know about all this for sure, but it reads persuasively enough, and it's certainly a nagging worry that's been growing. (that said, it's clearly been obvious from the start Putin remains the man; i just mean, in terms of how much latitude Medvedev has genuinely flexed to achieve something, even under the gaze of his master.)

their analysis is surely given added heft by the fact the pair wrote a piece about five months ago for the same mag, discussing Nikita Belykh, the governor in Kirov oblast, one-time liberal dissident, now liberal politician (it would be more accurate to say one-time liberal dissenter, now liberal establishment man), playing hardscrabble, to try to do things the right way: he was appointed by Medvedev, natch.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Friday, 12 March 2010

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Troubles were at or near the bottom of the list of significant global conflicts, a low-intensity war that occasionally exploded into spectacular bursts of violence but more often was characterized by a killing or two a week, deaths that by the end had become so routine that they scarcely merited a headline outside of Ireland. But the violence devastated a whole society, scarring two generations of Irish people, the baby boomers who came of age when the Troubles began in the late 1960s and their children, who grew up knowing only instability and bloodshed.

More than 3,700 people were killed in the violence, an average of just over two a week for the thirty years that the conflict lasted...Nearly 1 in every 50 of Northern Ireland's 1.5 million people, some 30,000, were injured...Very few people in Northern Ireland did not personally know someone who had been killed in the Troubles, and many knew several.

- Ed Moloney

Monday, 8 March 2010

absolutely appalled to read Matthew Elliott - chief executive of blatantly rightwing British pressure group the Taxpayers Alliance (essentially a mob of dishonest, small state ideologue halfwits who have plenty of links to the Conservative Party) - write an article in the Daily Express last week going on about the Tea Party mania in the USA at present.

Elliott presented a laughable whitewashing of the Tea Party, making out they are more or less some cautious group of fiscal conservatives who have beef with senatorial pork, when in fact they are clearly a group of (in part) openly racist, deranged, mentalist libertarians whose wilder shores we would be calling millenarian if they happened to be Persian Shias.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Diane Abbott has an EDM defending the Chagossian people and imploring the UK govt to do the right thing, which is the best, most sound motion i think i've ever read


Thursday, 4 March 2010

using the French panic over burqas as a starting point, Patrice de Beer dissects the shattered state of the "survivalist economy", before flagging journalist Florence Aubenas * and her undercover delve into the low-wage and welfare world: a Gallic Nickel and Dimed, i thought (which is alluded to, alongside earlier, similar, texts). Florence herself read Günter Wallraff, apparently.

This netherworld is one where Florence Aubenas never earned as much as €700 ($945) a month as a cleaning-lady, even when working early morning or late evening on short-term contracts (Contract Duration Determinée / CDD) with near-zero rights and no trade unions in sight. This is an ever more polarised world where the proportion of short-term contracts has risen to 85% of the whole (and 63% last less than one month). In this world, to get €200 ($270) in severance-pay is considered a “golden parachute”, and a permanent contract (Contrat à Durée Indéterminée / CDI) enabling work from 5.30am to 8am a "door to paradise”.

Aubenas cleaned vomit and toilets in ferries from England to Ouistreham, was bullied by foremen, had to queue for hours at the Pôle Emploi (unemployment agency) where she was told she was “rather in the bottom of the pan” (too old), had a five-minute medical-check in a caravan without even being properly examined, and was “managed" by overworked employees who have to supervise hundreds of cases. She found herself doing painful, back-breaking jobs where paid “hours” often last more than sixty minutes; but which women have to take because there is nothing else available - except on occasion being sent to bogus training-courses so they can be omitted from the unemployment statistics.

* Florence has written for the Nouvel Obs, just like Agnès does.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

as it seems fair to say that BBC brass have internalised the lessons of the market (k-punk's Capitalist Realism should be required reading for Mark Thompson), it also seems fair to say Danish broadsheet Politiken has allowed itself to become intellectually subjugated, and, sadly, compromised

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

truly shameful

"As long as Jim Bunning delays a deal in Congress to extend unemployment benefits, states around the country will see unemployed Americans start to lose those benefits.

But seven states will be hit harder than any others: Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia.

All of them will see an average 10,000 or more workers each week lose their benefits this month if Senator Bunning continues to hold up legislation, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a New York-based advocacy group for employment rights of lower-wage workers.

Take Florida. This month, an average 23,000 of its unemployed residents will lose benefits each week if Congress doesn't act. "


the unemployment rate in Michigan as of December was 14.6%.

the annual mean wage * in Florida (as of May 2008) was $38,470.

a United States senator (as of 2009) has a salary of $174,000 a year.

that is before one takes into account any outside interests and earnings.

Sen Bunning is no fool. in his case, his non-senate salary comes from the Jim Bunning Foundation. (among other things, for all we know.)

between 1996 and December 2008, he drew himself $180,000, for an alleged hour of work a week.

by my reckoning, that's about 676 hours he's put in at the Foundation during that period. (and that number of hours is a kindly upper estimate.)

maths is not my strong point, but i think that translates to about two hundred and sixty six dollars an hour, which isn't a bad sum, all things considered.

* "mean income is skewed upwards by a small number of people with very large incomes, so that the majority have an income lower than the mean"
Jerusalem's mayor today unveiled a sweeping plan for an area of East Jerusalem that would see at least 22 Palestinian homes demolished to make way for a public park and tourist site.


doesn't sound too hot, right?

well, you know, perhaps there's some really good, sensible underlying reason for these disturbing proposals.


oh no.

Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli human rights lawyer, said Barkat was playing into the hands of right-wing Jewish settlers, who are increasing their influence in East Jerusalem. "He is doing the bidding of extreme settlers," Seidemann said. "These are partial demolitions and replacing Palestinian families in order to allow for a construction of a settler-inspired pseudo-Biblical park. He is making genuine public needs subservient to the ideology of the settlers."
with the excellent, long overdue news that Agathe Habyarimana has been arrested in Paris on a Rwandan warrant, the world has already witnessed one truly brilliant piece of dissembling from a Philippe Meilhac, who is - unsurprisingly - Habyarimana's brief.

Meilhac makes the observation that the recent thawing in relations between Paris and Kigali must have something to do with the timing of this warrant being served now: the warrant was produced last November by Kigali, after all, and the genocidal Hutu power loon good lady has been living in France for years (although she has failed to get asylum there to date *)

the only response to this projection of pseudo-profundity and agonised whataboutery is, of course, WHO GIVES A SHIT?

* i suppose even the French have some standards
Anna Husarska works for the refugee NGO, the International Rescue Committee.

'The Ouré Cassoni camp, some 25 kilometers north from Bahai is home to over 10.000 Sudanese refugees who mostly came in 2004, at the height of the Darfur crisis.'

'Women are known to be much better daily workers than men so they are employed to assemble the tanks.'

openDemocracy recently carried her photo-essay on water scarcity and Darfurian refugees in eastern Chad.

Monday, 1 March 2010

drug dealin jus to get by...You know the kids gonna act a fool
When you stop the programs for after school

- Kanye West, We Don't Care
'In its nine miserable years, Yarl’s Wood has experienced suicides and self-harming, riots, hunger strikes, a fire and the quite damning verdict that it was unsafe for the families being held there. Of course, none of this has deterred Labour from incarcerating men, women and children in facilities like this for however long the UK Border Agency sees fit.'


'Senior Home Office officials will be questioned this week over allegations that women inside Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre were assaulted by staff using riot shields...Many detainees also complained they have suffered racist abuse, which the centre denies. Omotosho added: "Black monkeys is what they call us. They don't like us at all. They tell us to go back to our countries."

Cristal Amiss from Black Women's Rape Action Project, which is supporting the detainees, said: "We have spoken to over 50 women and have heard entirely consistent reports of racist abuse, threats and other violence."

Frances Swaine, head of the human rights department at London law firm Leigh Day, said: "The situation at Yarl's Wood has been getting progressively worse over the past few months, and shows no signs of improvement – and the hunger strike has brought to the fore the real issues."

A number of the detainees said they had been traumatised by the incident, with a letter from one stating that three other women detainees had been caught trying to kill themselves.'


'The 69-page report documents how women asylum seekers with complex claims are being routed into a system designed for much simpler claims. The women are held in detention largely for the UK’s administrative convenience, have very little time to prepare a legal case, and have only a few days to appeal if refused. But the claims often involve such sensitive and difficult issues as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and domestic abuse.'
"Belizeans take to the streets to protest against Lord Michael Ashcroft's Belize Bank Ltd. over $20M diverted from the public treasury to pay off a private loan"


"There is no drinking water in the city, which remains essentially cut off from the rest of the country."