The unfathomable mystery of American gender politics…

One of the blogs I read fairly regularly is that of Hugo Schwyzer – an american gender studies lecturer, in a college in Southern California. His blog is interesting, and his manner genial. The weird thing about it is the amount of vitriol that gets heaped on him from a group known as ‘the men’s movement’ – now, being a man, you’d have thought someone would have told me about this movement, about the need for ‘men’s rights’, but apparently I missed the memo informing men that we are somehow hard done by and feminists are out to get us… no, wait, I remember something about that, on sitcoms in the 70s. Surely the idea that feminism is about man-hating monstrous women trying to take over the world was dispensed with before the beginning of the 80s? Do people really think like that? Apparently they do.

The latest shit-storm that Hugo has blogged about doesn’t actually feature him. This time it’s Jill from Feministe – another friendly blog about feminist issues – who has taken a load of flak. Initially, it started out as some horribly insulting stuff posted about her photos on a message board for a college in New York (I think – I’ve not really been following the details that closely), but spilled over into a whole slew of personal attacks, and some really really stupid anti-feminist ranting from the goons over on the college forum.

All of which points to there still being a very definite gender-war ongoing in the states. My guess is that it’s still going on here too, I just haven’t come across it, but it reminds how fortunate I am to hang round with such a wonderfully mellow and enlightened bunch of people, but also how sheltered I am from the lunacy that is prevalent in parts of the world. A lunacy that I wouldn’t encounter at all if it wasn’t for the wonders of the global interweb highway thingie.

I’m genuinely stunned that men still see feminism as a threat, that men who don’t conform to really crass gender stereotypes are labeled as effeminate and ‘not real men’. Just bizarre. Maybe it comes from the same place as all the homophobia that seems to permeate large sections of the web. Maybe such neanderthal thinking is way more prevalent that I’d ever have given it credit for, and this is just the place where my world and its collide. It’s like when UKIP got a whole load of votes in the European elections – I realised that the general populus is considerably more stupid that I often give it credit for…

Anyway, have a read of Hugo’s blog, and Feministe – they all seem like lovely people, and not at all the people you’d think to attack in anyway… And avoid the ‘MRAs’ (I think that’s what they are called – Men’s Rights Advocates? something like that…)

I can’t imagine writing a blog that stirred up such ire – I guess I might wind up the occasional bass-fundementalist, though I haven’t even had any of those ‘you can’t do that on a bass’ emails for quite a few years… lucky me.

2005 – a year in review

Good year? Bad year? not sure…

Musically, not a bad year – didn’t release any albums, but I guess that means that the last one is still doing OK, so didn’t feel any major pressure to get something new happening. Now I’m glad I waited due to all the new musical ideas offered up by the Looperlative.

Some great gigs – bassday, bassfest thing in Italy in July, Edinburgh festival (where staying with Jane and Gareth was also a year highlight – much fun). Gig with Ned Evett in Petersfield was much fun, as was recording with Ned. Finished an albums worth of material with Calamateur, AKA Andrew Howie, and there’s a lot of great stuff on there – I’m excited about what we might be able to do with that. Recycle Collective started – was v. small, but musically one of the best gigs I’ve been involved with.

Teaching’s been great – lots of very fine students, lots of beginners making progress, and meeting lots of lovely new people. also started a new column for Bass Guitar Magazine – good to be back writing again (which reminds me, I’ve got one to finish ASAP!)

Personally, it’s been a fairly good year – one big scare with the ginger fairly aged feline, who was given roughly two weeks to live, but with chemo got rid of a satsuma sized tumor IN A WEEK!!!! – we’re still amazed by that, and he’s going great. Life with both the fairly aged felines has been lots of fun (I really feel sorry for all those of you with cat allergies who have to lavish your attention on human offspring as a replacement…) seeing them both take over the house and garden and settle in.

another year of doing no work on the house… hmmm, maybe I should start by just TIDYING MY OFFICE!!! lazy bastard…

World events – both the best and worst things that happened this year were the same – the Make Poverty History campaign was such a monumental success at getting poverty reduction and the plight of people living in extreme poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America into the minds of every day people, it felt like there were really a chance to make a proper change. millions of people signing petitions, emailing MPs and congressmen, documentaries being made, and of course Live8 and the march in Edinburgh.

And then the worst thing – the gargantuan fuck-up that the G8 leaders made of the opportunity to do something for the world’s poor. Never before in the history of the world had there been such a wellspring of popular support for governments making decisions in favour of the poor, diverting cash and resources to help those in need, changing trade laws to balance things out. Millions upon millions of people around the world were calling for it, huge numbers of politicians were calling for it. Even mad right wing american jihadists like Pat Robertson were on-side (!!), but still those sad twisted old men of the G8 sat round the table in Gleneagles, in their opulence and grandeur and bollocksed the whole thing up. Their pledges fell woefully short, and then they even undid a lot of that. It was disgusting, sickening and saddening that such an opportunity had been wasted. Bono and Bob Geldof had done an amazing job of getting the campaign off the ground, from their involvement in the commission for Africa, and DATA, through to organising Live8, but they bottled it when the announcement was made, took the encouraging words one step too far and declared the Gleneagles bullshit to be a triumph. I’m guessing they aren’t too happy with where it’s gone. The follow up at the World Trade Talks in November was equally shit. A tragedy on a scale that all the terrorists in the world couldn’t hope to achieve.

The week of Live8 and the G8 was a busy one, given that it was also the week of two other disasters – firstly London getting the Olympics (another monumental waste of money which will leave the PPP funding bodies rubbing their grubby hands in glee), and then the London bombing. The bombing had begun to feel like an inevitability for a while – there was no way that the huge disquiet amongst the world’s muslim population about the Iraqi occupation and the continued support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land was going to go unmarked in the UK. And finally it did, four huge bombs, three on the underground, one on a bus, quite a few people dead (though not as many as lost their lives in Iraq that weekend… that didn’t make the world news). A tragedy, but one that the government still refuse to admit was linked to the situation in the middle east. Stupid stupid fools.

But at the end of the year, some great news, perhaps the first great news in british life for a long time – registered civil partnerships for Gay couples. Finally gay people can get married (no, I really don’t care if you don’t want to call it a marriage or a wedding – it is, and that’s great.)

And the media spectacle of the year was certainly George Galloway in front of the US senate committee, absolutely ripping them apart. The most damning indictment of the Bush administrations lies and coverup in Iraq, and right there in the heart of the beast. Genius! Galloway can be a bit of a bellend, and his campaign in the General Election (ah yes, we had one of those – what a non-event that was) was horrible and divisive, but on that one day in the Senate, he ruled the world.

oh, media event of the year joint first was Harold Pinter’s nobel prize acceptance speech – another damning destruction of the history of US foreign military intervention.

What else? A few noteable partings – we lost the great Ronnie Barker, one of the finest comic actors and writers Britain has ever produced; Mo Mowlam, one of the few politicians of conviction we still had; Rosa Parks, the unwitting god-mother of the civil rights movement in the US; Andrea Dworkin feminist writer and thinker.

And on a personal level, the death of Eric Roche was a terribly sad loss – a huge talent and dear friend who has featured in this blog more than almost anyone else. Playing at the tribute gig to him on what would have been his birthday was a huge honour.

Blogwise, it’s been my most bloggingest year ever – over 510 posts this year, over 450 visitors a day (??? I’m sure there’s a mistake there somewhere…) and the demise of being able to tell people what I’ve been up to – ‘so, steve, what have you been up to?’ ‘well, I had a gig th….’ ‘yeah I read about that’ ‘oh, well I went out to see a…’ ‘ah yes, that film, read your review of that’ ‘THEN WHY DID YOU ASK???’

Thanks for reading, for emailing for commenting on the blog, and particularly thanks if you’ve been buying CDs and t-shirts, coming to gigs, spreading the word, and generally helping me pay the bills this year. Love you lots! x

Soundtrack – The The, ’45 RPM – the singles’.

"Vague News' from the Labour party conference

From the BBC news site, once again –

Charles Clarke has vowed to “eliminate” anti-social behaviour and disrespect in society by the time of the next general election “whenever it comes”.

Huh? How can anyone say something like that? What’s he going to do, make being drunk a capital offence? Enact a cull of people deemed to be unfit to live in the country by the government? And what constitutes disrespect?

Apparently the context was to do with eliminating disrespect so bigotry can’t be used by extremists as a weapon in elections – so he tags on some nonsense about extremists to try and add gravitas to his vague and ridiculous pronouncements.

Any notion of ‘reinforcing a culture of respect’ in the current climate is doomed to fail – nobody trusts the government, we’re terrified of the anti-terrorism laws, the prime minister is a proven liar and supporter of illegal military action, the PFI schemes on education and health are ruining public services, teachers feel undermined, doctors overworked, GM food is being pushed along despite zero public demand… How on earth are they going to demonstrate anything worthy of respect?

There definitely needs to be a change somewhere along the line, but the current Government are part of the problem not part of the solution. It’s fucking disrespectful to lie to the nation and kill thousands of Iraqis.

Put your own house in order.

Soundtrack – Talk Talk, ‘Spirit Of Eden’.

more exclusive sales deals with non-CD shops

So, following on from Garth Brooks discraceful hook-up with WalMart, we’ve now got Bob Dylan following hot on Alanis and Elvis Costello’s heels by having a CD exclusively available in Starbucks.

OK, let’s get one thing clear, Dylan hasn’t been the counter-cultural icon he’s perceived as since about 1965. His view of the world is actually rather conservative (his comment at the original Live Aid that ‘it’d be nice to see some of this money going to American Farmers’ was pretty much par for the course), and he certainly hasn’t set out to lead any kind of counter-cultural revolution.

However, any musician who signs a deal with a shop that has NO interest whatsoever in nurturing new talent, in providing knowledgeable staff, broad selection, and a place for lesser known artists to be stocked alongside the biggies, is selling out their own roots in the industry.

Everybody needs a break. Starbucks, Walmart, Tescos, Sainsburys and any other shitty shop that only stocks a limited selection of music (top 40 at most, plus a bunch of low-priced compilations of 70s hits) are not going to do that, and those of us that care about the future of music, about seeing new talent emmerge, about seeing the back of low-rent karaoke bollocks getting into the charts should refuse to buy any CDs in any of those places.

It’s not often that I’ll speak up for chainstores, but you’re much better off shopping at HMV or Tower than you are at Starbucks or a supermarket. Better still, little indie shops, specialist shops, or online from the artist’s website, or CD Baby. Tower online even stock all the CD Baby catalogue!

So, boycott the new Dylan, Costello and Morrisette records, and lets see an end to Starbucks as CD-shop.

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Back to political blogging….

So, with all that Edinburgh festival stuff, I seriously curtailed my newsfeed reading, and thus blogged v. little about stuff that’s going on in the world. So to get us back in the swing of things, dear bloglings, here’s one that made me rethink my position on one of the upcoming pressing decisions of British politics – the next Conservative party leader.

George Monbiot points out in this article that most lefties would be hoping that, if the worst were to happen and we were to end up with a Tory leader at the next election, at least it could be someone who seems a bit more moderate, like Ken Clarke.

But he points out that as deputy chairman of British American Tobacco, Ken has presided over all kinds of hideously inethical decisions, pressing for tobacco importing and advertising regulations to be softened in order to make the shareholders of BAT richer, and the people of some of the world’s poorer countries more likely to get addicted to ciggies. All this while he’s in charge of their frankly risible ‘corporate social responsibility group'(here’s a tip, BAT, how about not making cigarettes at all, if you care about social responsibility? oh sorry, you don’t, it’s a whitewash. Well done.)

The tobacco industry is one of the great evils on the planet. The crop itself destroys the ground it grows on, the workers end up with all kinds of illnesses thanks to the pesticides that are put on it, and the end product, according to the World Heath Organisation, is responsible for the deaths of half the people who smoke – currently, that’s 650,000,000 people.

Here’s a quote from the WHO website

“Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today. With 4.9 million tobacco-related deaths per year, no other consumer product is as dangerous, or kills as many people, as tobacco.”

In contrast, have a look at the Social Report page on the BAT website – the most ridiculous load of psuedo-concerned horseshit I’ve read for quite a while. What a great industry to invest in!

Any of you green-lefties who smoke but want to make the world a better place, the single biggest step that you can make to start that process is to give up smoking, and start encouraging your friends to do the same. There’s no such thing as a fair trade cigarette, and as the ban is hopefully going to come into effect soon, it’ll become even more of a social blight to be the smoker in the group. So go on, give up now, tell everyone it’s for ethical reasons, store up some social capital and feel smug about yourself!

In the meanwhile, read the Monbiot article, and rethink your possible good feelings towards Ken Clarke. He’s sadly as much of a scumbag as the rest of his tory counterparts…

'democracy' brings a shift to the right in Iraq.

Well, lots of people said it would happen. Apparently, the new Iraqi constitution “could sharply curb women’s rights, particularly in personal matters like divorce and family inheritance.”

So what happened to this new found freedom that The US promised following blowing up Iraqi cities? We’ve already got a situation where ‘immodestly dressed’ iraqi women are having acid thrown at them.

All it shows is that the invaders have really not thought through the ramifications of attempts to democratise in the middle east. Obviously bombing for democracy is a shitty idea anyway, but what happens if the democratically elected government don’t meet with your approval? Are we going to be heading for a situation in the middle east like we had in Central America in the 70s and 80s where the CIA were training and funding right wing militia groups to try and oust democratically elected left wing governements? Only this time it’ll be islamic governments that get elected, and bringing elements of sharia law. At the moment, there are very few countries that use sharia law, but it may become more popular as ‘open’ elections allow militants to run alongside moderates, and challenge people to vote for a ‘proper’ islamic party.

It will, ironically, probably mirror the insane scare tactics used by Bush in the last election in the US, where the religious vote is galvanised around a couple of issues that are deemed to be the most important for people of faith, thus allowing a hideous government to get elected despite them having the worst interests of most of the people at heart. In the US, it was abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research. I’m not even going to speculate how things would go in the middle east.

Either way, this new Iraqi constitution could lead to yet more suffering and bloodshed in the quest for ‘democracy’.

Soundtrack – Jughead, ‘Jughead’.

The problem with statistics

Inexplicably, the bombings in London – committed by four British guys – have reawakened the frenzied debate about asylum seekers and illegal immigrants.

A lot of the papers today have covered the story about the government’s failure to meet their asylum targets – that is, they wanted to be deporting more people than were coming in.

The problem with this is that it gets people thinking about numbers and net gain to the population and about those who are categorised as illegal or legal, as economic migrants (is that what anyone who moves to live nearer to their work is?) or terrorist wannabes, instead of focusing on lives.

So it’s apt that the guardian news blog today re-high-lighted the story of Verah Kachepa, and her four children – whose case made front page news during the last election because some odious lying tory scumbag (that narrows it down to, er, all of them then) doctored a picture of Anne Widdecombe protesting on behalf of the family so that it then displayed some crap about controlled immigration, like so –

So this week, Ms Widdecombe, George Galloway and other are calling for this family to be allowed to stay, once again.

We know their story, we’ve seen them in the press, we’ve heard her interviews. The trouble is, there are thousands of stories like this, and crass government targets gloss over the personal stories of threat and tragedy and torture and persecution and good ole fashioned wanting a better life for your family, in favour of quotas and soundbites and the fear of driving the country to the right by being soft on immigration.

This weekend, I had a long conversation with a whole load of 60+ essex residents, all of whom typified the muddled racist rhetoric of middle england. Lots of talk about the colour of their neighbours, mixed in with the problem with muslims but still acknowledging when challenged that none of the problems were anything to do with race or religion and that just as many people have trouble with antisocial neighbours who are white and british born as those who have trouble with immigrant neighbours. When given the language to unpack their situation, race became far less of a feature in the complaints, but the governments statistical chat is lost on a middle england populus who only tell stories about troublesome neighbours when they are definable as ‘them’.

I really hope the Kachepa family are allowed to stay – to deport them would be inhuman, as inhuman as many of the other deportations that go on to try and keep the quotas met. Quotas are bad enough when we’re talking about traffic wardens dishing out enough tickets. When it comes to whether or not to send someone back to a situation where they face persecution or even death, let’s drop the stats and hear the story. If it means we miss the targets, so what?

The G8 deal falls apart before it begins…

The oh-so-clued-up Sarda just emailed me a link to a BBC news story saying that The G8 deal on debt relief is already under threat.

Here’s a chunk of the article –

“The Belgians have apparently proposed changing the terms of the deal to give lenders more leverage over poor countries than they would have if they simply wrote off 100% of their debt.

In a document that has been leaked to the activist group Jubilee Debt Campaign, Belgian official Willy Kierkens is quoted as telling the IMF executive board that “rather than giving full, irrevocable and unconditional debt relief… countries would receive grants”.

The IMF would then be able to withdraw the grants if countries failed to meet IMF conditions such as implementing the Poverty Growth Reduction Strategy which is a pre-requisite for receiving debt relief.”

Now, Belgium has a particularly hideous record in Africa, given the actions of King Leopold in The Congo.

Let’s also remember how far short of what was being asked for the debt relief on the table at the G8 fell. It already left the countries concerned mired in a web of trade reform obligations put in place by the IMF. But apparently, even those crippling undemocratic ruinous measures weren’t enough. No, they have to not only put the measures in place, but threaten to cut the debt cancellation if those measures in any way fall behind the IMF timetable.

Is is possible to be born without a heart and live? Is there some sort of selection process for heartless, emotionless amoral bastards who see it as their droid like duty to ruin the lives of the world’s poorest people? I was already depressed about the post-G8 findings. These are acts of great evil people, no ‘great justice’ has been done, it’s no victory for Africa, it’s just a smokescreen to hide the ongoing rape of an entire continent from the eyes of a worldwide audience made aware of the cause then lead to believe the G8 are the good guys by two well-meaning but misguided Irish rock stars.

Latest news on the bombings…

From the BBC new site – that’s a page that acts as a bit of a hub for the latest news on the bombing. The death toll has risen to ‘more than 50’ – they still don’t know how many are going to be pulled out of the Russell Square crash.

One of the odd things that happens with tragedies and disasters is that place names take on a different resonance – Columbine, Lockerbie, Hungerford, Dunblane, Burnley (forever tainted by getting a BNP councillor in a local election a couple of years ago), Aberfan, Faluja, Dresden, Hiroshima…

Kings Cross already has had a huge fire which took a lot of lives.

Now Russell Square and Tavistock Square – two of my favourite places in central London – have a new resonance. Russell Square is where I get off the tube when I go into town. It means that a) I get to walk through the lovely square itself, and round past the British Museum and b)I get some much-needed exercise, walking a mile further than I would otherwise walk.

Tavistock Square is a particularly tragic place for such an event, as it’s a peace garden. There’s a statue of Ghandi in the middle of the square, and I’ve been there for candle-lit peace vigils before now. You can’t get much further from peace than a bus being blown to bits. I can’t imagine what the people who saw it happen must be feeling. That’s going to stick with you a long time. We’re so used to footage of people in the middle east crying hysterically at the sight of buildings and vehicles that have been blown apart. When it happens in London, it all seems like a bad dream. But it’s the same pain, the same trauma, the same confusion. Maybe we’ll see the pain of bomb-footage from round the world with fresh eyes again after this… who knows.

here’s some eye-witness accounts of what actually happened – the reporting on this has been so mixed, with some news agencies being guilty of the most heinous speculation, like they are hoping it’s going to be a bigger and bigger story. The BBC news web-site remains just about the best place for up-to-date info.

SoundtrackKris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Tom Waits, ‘Real Gone’.

…and the tosser of the week award goes to…

Sean O’Kane, a ‘race relations worker’ who lives in Liverpool, who has been in California for the MJ trial, to lend his support to Michael

A couple of choice quotes –

“I came here because I couldn’t believe the injustice of it all.”

er, right… I wonder if he also went to Iraq to be part of the human shield, or has his flight to darfur booked…

“People have been talking about the similarities between Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

I think that’s fair.

Martin Luther King got his message across through his speeches. Michael gets his message across through his music.”

Do I need to comment on that one?

“He’s a martyr – but the thing to remember is he’s still alive.”

So he died for his cause, but is still alive – nice logic there, loser-boy.

I’m still not convinced that all the muppets hanging around outside the courthouse weren’t paid (though it’s not like MJ has got any money left…!) – after seeing the way the Labour Party used fake crowds during the campaign in the run-up to the last election (more complete losers!), I’m willing to believe that anyone could hire themselves some flunkies to hang around and make it look like they have public support.

Is anyone so daft as to turn out to show their support for a singer they don’t know who may well be guilty? That’s really odd behaviour.

And to fly across the world, and then compare MJ to Mandela and MLK? Me thinks Mr O’Kane needs help. Fast.

Soundtrack – Egberto Gismonti, ‘Magico’.

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