Death and guitars

To quote Twisty Faster “wait, I have a blog?

Two things happened in the last two weeks that I’m going to write about: my grandmother died and I started building a guitar.


My grandmother was a pediatric nurse and spent her entire life looking after children. When she retired from that she worked as a carer for disabled women. She died from Acute Myeloid Leukemia last Friday. It is strange how death affects people. There’s a song she sang to every child in my family, including my mum, aunt, uncle when they were young, my sisters, cousins and recently my nephew. We always called it “onga bonga bonga”. I only remember her singing us the chorus:

“Bongo bongo bongo, I don’t wanna leave the Congo, oh no no no no-no, Bingle bangle bongle I’m so happy in the jungle I refuse to go, don’t want no bright lights, false teeth, doorbells, landlords, I make it clear, that no matter how they coax me, I’ll stay right here”.

Anyway, I Googled it and discovered that the whole song is actually quite racist, in a “noble savages” socially-acceptable-in-the-1940s sort of way.It feels very strange to have such affection for something I would otherwise have felt was unacceptable. My grandmother was not racist, not in any way she ever expressed, but when she was younger phrases like “three educated savages hollered from a bamboo tree” would not have been considered unacceptable. With the nationalism surrounding the Olympics, the Jubilee and the Euro 2012 football thing, it’s been a reminder of just how close we are to a past when Great Britain ruled almost a quarter of the planet, and the glory of the British Empire was something to be proud of.

When I heard someone commenting on the Olympics say “Britain is great once again” after we won another medal, I just thought clearly we’ve forgotten what that actually means.

and Guitars

On to cheerier stuff, I’ve started making a guitar. In what is no doubt going to be, or possibly already is an emerging trend coming soon to the streets of shoreditch, I’ve started building a cigar-box guitar from a piece of maple and, well, an empty cigar box. Here’s some pics.

The cigar box and the maple neck beneath.

The 2×1 maple neck with the lid-notch chiseled out. That took AGES.

Closer side-view of the lid-notch.

Cigar box body with neck-notches cut out. I cut them a bit too deep so I’m going to need to use the cut-outs as spacers.

Neck sitting flush against the lid. Below you can see the spacer. Need to cut the headstock next.

Will update with more pics as it the build progresses. In the mean time, here’s some cool cigar-box slide blues.


Taking on Tarmageddon launch

For the last year or so I’ve been directed a documentary about the tar sands in Canada called Taking on Tarmageddon. Blurb:

Join two groups of young campaigners on an emotional journey exploring the human cost of the biggest industrial project on the planet. Canada’s tar sands cover an area the size of England & Wales combined and produce 3-5 times the emissions of conventional oil.

Living in the heart of this are Canada’s First Nation communities whose lands and rights have been trampled on by the tar sands.

The first is a group of student activists from the environmental campaign group People & Planet. They travel out to Alberta to stay with the indigenous Beaver Lake Cree Nation and see the tar sands and their impact first hand.

The second group is two young members of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation who came to the UK to tell their story and build support for the campaign to end expansion of the tar sands.

We’re launching it tonight at the Amnesty International Human Right Action Centre in London. Come along, it’s free!

That No Pressure Film

Ok so 10:10 put out this film which even by now pretty much everyone must have either seen or heard about. If you haven’t you can watch it at the end of this post. It is gory.

**Spoiler Alert**

Basically the video shows groups of people that have signed to the 10:10 campaign discussing how they are going to achieve the goal of a 10% cut in CO2 emissions with only 3 months left. Those who dissent, who say they aren’t going to take part, are then blown-up by those who are. The message: “take action or we will die”? or perhaps “take action or we’ll kill you”? I am not sure, and neither are most poeple that see the video. The overwhelming majority of comments are negative:

  1. Peter Askew paskq

    Hey @1010 what’s going on? 6 minutes ago via Twitter for iPad

  2. PeopleProfitPlanet greenchampions

    I hope @1010 know that clips of #1010Boom are elsewhere on YouTube, and leading to very very negative reactions 9 minutes ago via web

  3. JammieWearingFool JammieWF

    @1010 Putting the ‘mental’ in environmental wackos 11 minutes ago via web in reply to 1010

  4. Ashley Roden-Bow AshleyRRB

    @1010 have scored an own goal with new campaign video. As events in Nigeria today show, blowing up people you don’t agree with isn’t funny.

But I have to wonder if this is as much of an epic fail as it first appears. On the one hand this looks like a fairly desperate attempt to create a ‘power of enforcement’ that this campaign is significantly lacking. On the other hand is has started a conversation about the urgency of climate change and the urgency of the deadline for 10:10.

There are many things wrong with the 10:10 campaign (emphasis on individuals not industry, no power of enforcement, no accounting for embedded emissions) and the lack of power to enforce the 10% cut is a big one. When the year is up how will they award those who achieve it? How is it audited/judged? So it seems that this is a sudden “oh fuck!” style realisation of this. I know it is not as I remember speaking to one of the 10:10 campaigners about this issue when it launched, but that is how it comes across. The strong message of “join us or die” is very likely to put people’s backs up, it is a very confrontational message. The shocking nature of this video is not the thing that people are annoyed about, but the combination of these two elements. The film Grandma that was entered into the 1 Minute to Save the World competition is just as shocking, I might even suggest more so, but it’s message is clearer and more relevant.

If 10:10 can manage this properly (early indications are that they can’t, but lets wait and see) then they can turn this into a very clever stunt that essentially is high-risk and low-risk at the same time.

By making it shocking it will create a stir and the reaction can go either of two ways:

  • Positive and they have the end result they are hoping for – people get the message and pull their socks up.
  • Negative and it creates an even bigger stir but it starts two conversations, one about what NGOs should/shouldn’t be doing and one about how little time we have to sort out climate change and how little time people signed up have to achieve their 10% cut.

Both of these conversations will continue regardless of the life of the video. Arguably there is a third conversation; a slight dig at celebrity involvement in NGOs but I think that will get largely over looked.

What 10:10 need to do now is to lead the conversation and make it about urgency not about the shockingness of the video. I also think there is a responsibility on those in the online climate change community to steer this conversation. As seen with the domination of the #climatecamp trend on Twitter, the right and climate deniers have a big presence on social networks. This could be a god-send for the deniers that, if they keep trolling it, will blow up into an even bigger mess for the wider climate movement. If the online climate movement can swallow their indignation and help to steer the conversation onto urgency, rather than slamming their collective doors in the face of 10:10 we might be able to not only salvage something from this but actually make the point that we don’t have time to mess about with climate change.

Update July 2010

So I have not posted for a while as I have been busy working on a number of projects. I have two articles coming up that I am currently working on, these are a little more in-depth and planned than most of my previous work so they are taking a little longer to put together. Look out for them in the next few days.
A quick breakdown of everything I have been up to since my last post in April:

So keep watching this space for two articles, one on the shambles that is the UK’s legal aid system and why cuts to its budget will be disastrous and some philosophical ramblings on relating the role of social media and the ideas of Guy Debord.

UN REDD: Savior of the Rainforest or Stealth Free Market Exploitation?

The ancient forests are the lungs of the earth; without the forests life as we know it cannot exist on this planet. Deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, destructive logging etc are destroying vast areas of forest at an alarming rate.

In Canada, tar sands extraction projects are destroying huge areas of Boreal forest, some of the largest areas of ancient forest left. The trees are clear-cut to allow the oil companies to access the tar sands underneath and are exported to the US to be turned into toilet paper. In Ecuador the Yasuni region has vast reserves of oil which oil companies have been exploiting for years, destroying the local environment and evicting the indigenous people in the process.

In total deforestation and forest degradation accounts for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector. It is now clear that in order to constrain the impacts of climate change within limits that society will reasonably be able to tolerate, the global average temperatures must be stabilized within two degrees Celsius. This will be practically impossible to achieve without reducing emissions from the forest sector, in addition to other mitigation actions.

The United Nations launched the Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation(REDD) as a key means of reducing CO2 emissions suggested during the COP15 in Copenhagen. The aim is to create a financial incentive to protect these areas of forest by attributing a value to the carbon they store.

It is predicted that financial flows for greenhouse gas emission reductions from REDD could reach up to US$30 billion a year. This significant North-South flow of funds could reward a meaningful reduction of carbon emissions and could also support new, pro-poor development, help conserve biodiversity and secure vital ecosystem services.

There are some serious concerns around the REDD initiative however, particularly around the rights of the indiginous people. In a statement in September 2009 the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (IIPFCC) said:

“If there is no full recognition and full protection for indigenous peoples’ rights, including the rights to resources, lands and territories, and there is no recognition and respect of our rights of free, prior and informed consent, we will oppose REDD,”

Amazon Watch have published a list of concerns with the treaty, stating that the provisions that protect the indiginous peoples’ rights to the land and recognisiton of rights to free, prior and informed consent are either missing, or worded in such a way that would mean they were likely to be cut from a final draft. They also express significant concern over the economic model underpinning REDD being based on the free-market style carbon market. This would lead to “drastically restricted traditional customs and lifestyles, leading to displacement and impoverishment of indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities” as well as “exacerbating conflict over land rights with local landowners and governments”. A spokesperson from Amazon Watch said:

“By turning forests into a highly-prized commodity, REDD could give way to forced evictions and essentially turn control over a given area of forest to private interests”

The Yasuni Green Gold campaign is an example of how this sort of project could work. Launched to try to protect the Yasuni National Park from destruction, the campaign called on the international community to pay $350m per year for 10 years for the government to keep the area free from development. The Yasuni Green Gold campaign is aimed at ensuring that the rights of the indiginous people in the area are respected and are enshrined in any deal or treaty governing the use of the area.

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No Shock Doctrine for Haiti

A friend’s post on Left Foot Forward, definitely worth a read:

News stories about Haiti are full of tales of looters. There’s less talk of a bigger scale plunder to come. In Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine‘ she maps the rise of “disaster capitalism”. She describes how, over 40 years, The International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pentagon, and various mega-corporations have increasingly used (or created) disasters as an excuse to push through unpopular right wing economic policies, and asset strip vulnerable economies.

Read the full article

Join the No Shock Doctrine for Haiti Facebook group

Sea Shepherd Trashes the Bat-Boat

Ok, I am not exactly a huge supporter of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) (I am in fact a member of their mortal enemy, the Judean People’s Front, sorry, Greenpeace), I agree with their aims but I’m not sure I entirely agree with way they carry out their tactics. I am not opposed to direct action, I have been arrested more than once for protesting myself, but I do take issue with the way they take action.

I don’t particularly agree with their interpretation of the non-violent part of non-violent direct action, this is, however, something that activists will argue about until the end of the earth (doom-laden irony intended). I don’t disagree that property destruction, in and of itself, is a valid tactic for non-violent direct action; Greenpeace cut through chains and locks to access sites and Swoopers at Ratcliffe pulled down sections of fencing in an attempt to shut down the power station. My issue with Sea Shepherd is that they consistently come across as reckless, childish and often incompetent, and these are very dangerous characteristics for people in their position and characteristics that will be attributed to other activists and protesters.

Let’s have a look at this recent incident. Fully 16 days after arriving in the Antarctic on its first mission they, by all accounts willingly, put their 26 ton, $1.5m fibre-glass powerboat the Ady Gil in the path of the 491 ton, steel Japanese security ship the Shonan Maru 2, and failed to act to move out of the way. Now whether the Shonan Maru 2 actually deliberately steered into them or not becomes somewhat a moot point, theirs being the smaller, faster, more maneuverable boat, they should have been able to move out of the way preventing the Ady Gil’s total destruction. This seems the equivalent of a fly playing chicken with a rhino, of course they were not going to come out of it well. The fact that they did this really has to make you wonder about how much is planned and how much is them acting on reckless impulses. And of course there is no place for reckless impulses at sea, especially not the in Antarctic. Advocates of SSCS will always argue that yes they use drastic tactics and yes it is dangerous but they get results. Well yes, they do get results, despite nearly killing several crew members in this recent incident, despite the numerous accidents shown during their TV show Whale Wars where someone almost died every episode due to incompetence and despite the fact that Cpt Paul Watson seems to value human life less than those of whales (evidenced by the incident during Whale Wars where when his first mate failed to lower a RHIB properly he nearly drowned 4 crew members Cpt Watson took no action against the First Mate but alienated those who complained about this). And as if to add insult to injury, each of those people whose lives Cpt Watson is so ready and willing to risk, has had to pay $100 for the privilege (to ‘volunteer’ on the boats one must be a member of SSCS, minimum donation to be considered for the crew: $100/year).

The issue about Japanese whaling in the Antarctic is a complex one. SSCS say that methods of Greenpeace – applying pressure for socio-political change in Japan – is not stopping the death of hundreds of whales every year. They are right, but by only attacking whaling fleets and saving a few whales every year they are not addressing the problem in any comprehensive way. Both tactics are needed, but only legislation from Japan itself will actually solve this problem once and for all, and maybe put an end to this ridiculous bickering between GP and SSCS.

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Ban Ki-Moon makes a mistake about how much CO2 is emitted in a year

No wonder the negotiations are stalling in Copenhagen when the UN Secratary General Ban Ki-Moon doesn’t even know how much CO2 is emitted in a year.

In this video he states “This cube represents 1 ton of carbon dioxide, 80 million tons are emitted every year…”. The UK emits 560 million tons on it’s own every year!

If you watch the second video, the Millennium Art CO2 CUBE the video was recorded for, the mistake is conveniently edited out!

Clearly this is just a verbal typo, in that he meant to say “…each day…” but you have to think that maybe, if they put a little more effort into getting things right, rather than seeming to get things right, the negotiations might be going a bit better.

Banned from Parliament!

I work for a non-profit organisation called 1 Minute to Save the World that runs a competition short film of the same name. On the 8th of December we were screening a selection of the films, the winners and some of the best runners-up, at the Palace of Westminster. As Campaigns Manager I was required to attend but was stopped from doing so by the Serjeant-at-Arms.

Back in October I was arrested near the Palace of Westminster under section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 for tresspass in a designated area. I was granted bail with the condition that I not go within 100m of the Palace of Westminster. Now this might sound like a fairly serious obstacle in the way of attending the screening this evening, however I there was a potential route around this. I applied, through my solicitor, for a bail variation, basically permission to go to Westminster for 4 hours that evening on the invitation of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group.

I was told this morning that my application had been refused on the grounds that I might re-offend. After making a few enquiries it turned out that, regardless of whether I was granted a variation or not, the Serjeant-at-Arms would not allow me to enter the building. It was even offered that I would be escorted and at all times accompanied by a security guard or police officer but this was also refused.

I was then told that during the screening three “..large and burly…” police men turned up with spotter cards and scanned the audience looking for me in case I had snuck in. So much for the police changing their tactics and approach to peaceful demonstrators!