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Nora news

Nora wrote a poem. She just sat down and wrote it, without talking to anyone about what she was going to write, then shoved it in our faces to have a look.

They did some work about refugees at school, given the high number they have there. There's a lass in her class from Cameroon, who only came over about 10 months ago. Lovely kid. Anyway:

Run away
Unigate fire
Go now
Eeeek! I need help

...check out the first letters. Note, the word "Unigate" refers to one of two local places, the 'Unigate playground' (a playground next to the dairy, now owned by Dairy Crest) or more likely, 'Unigate Wood', which is a brilliant small space of semi-managed woodland that is built on part of the land that the original dairy back in the time of yore used to graze its cows! Fantastic.

Nora's just discovered poetry in a more focused way. We were reading Spike Milligan's Silly Verse the other day and we re-found a book of poems which had been age banded, which of course, she saw as a challenge. Only to be read by 12 year olds? Pah!

(Brilliant that the school steadfastly used the word 'Refugee', and not the debased "Asylum seeker" which is so redolent of the scum sucking filth that is The Daily Mail.

"Everyone is becoming like a Stasi agent"

Ralf Hütter from the Gods of modern music, Kraftwerk is interviewed in The Guardian today, being interviewed by John Harris. 2 good people.

A quote that the subeditors pulled out for special attention was ""Everybody is becoming like ... a Stasi agent, constantly observing himself or his friends."

It struck a chord, and made me think about the whole privacy debate. As well as the clear points of discussion: the searching of peoples' Facebook/Myspace profiles for tidbits by future employers (or indeed, them asking for your username and passwords! Insane!), other peoples' photos of you being trawled for teenage photos of puking at parties (or indeed, you being hounded in your teenage years by a newspaper, purely because you were involved in an horrific incident in your youth)  there is the more subtle point of unwitting public coercion in the removal pf one's own privacy, as well as everyone else's.

One friend of mine was very careful until a short while ago not to have her picture on the internet, or using her short nickname instead of her full name. She's now given that up, bowing to the inevitable. Her privacy has been lost because she has many well meaning and lovely friends, who have named her, over and over again in photos, particularly on Flickr. Including me, over the years (Sorry, by the way!).

I eventually managed to push McK in to the position where he restricted the pictures of the children to 'F&F only' on the aforementioned photo application, because they are not in a position to give their permission for everyone else to see them yet (in fact, when offered the opportunity to have a charming video of her doing some Olympic sports put on a big screen for everyone to see, Nora balked at the idea completely - which I hope illustrates that privacy is important to kids, and that their decision in the use of their image is extremely important).

Those two examples aside, we are surround by a generation of people who are Facebook statusing / Twittering and photographing the minutia of life. not just their own life, but their friends, associates, co-workers, people they see on the bus... nameless strangers are commented upon for being obese, having red hair, BO, being ugly... or, to take the Stasi line slightly more seriously, anything out of the norm is ripe for being filmed, photo'd and commented upon. Each little cluster of social activity surrounding a slightly unusual event is somewhat akin to far too many people dialling 999 around the scene of an accident.

As we've seen with Twitter recently, the fringes around the central events in Iran are generating enormous amount of useful, semi-useful, genuinely pointless and outright wrong tweets around the hashtag #iranelection. The natural human reaction to want to join in turns an event outside the norm in to a mass spectator event, where the spectators, now used to interacting, want to join in as much as possible. Sometimes, inadvertently, getting in the way. Note, please, I'm not condemning it, naturally. I'm thinking out loud that the useful immediacy of the medium brings with it the inevitability of a collection of flotsam sticking itself to an event, which may or may not slow it down... the jury's out on that one.

So we are willing participants in the disclosure not only of our own previously private events, but potentially, everyone else's - in the flawed and confusing half-picture that that inevitably brings. the interweb's ability to open up communication seems by its nature liberal, but that could be because we are all self selecting. In at atmosphere of reduced employment, and increased people-traffic, where tensions arise, those half pictures, and personal intrusion in to other peoples' privacy is potentially incendiary.

I'm not keen on "What if" scenarios, but... if I'm transposing the social conditions surrounding the Wiemar Republic in to 2009 (bear with me ;)... the emergent right wing has the possibility of reporting on, and increasing public hatred of Jews, Gays, etc. The good news obviously is that the opposition would have access to the same tools, but, with public pasts, revealed not just by the individual, but by everyone else in passing, that puts an enormous number of people in much more vulnerable positions than they might have been otherwise. Need to find photographic evidence of a dissenter? No problem. Who are their family and friends? Dead easy. Trace their whereabouts and generalised haunts? Again... not much of a problem if you know where to look.

Those who are watching #iranelection on Twitter are gripped by the very human struggle, and feel a kinship with our friends fighting for their democratic rights that it is probable would not have existed in the past, when this would have been a distant news item. It's happening before our eyes, and we're all desperate for people we can actually see, a hair's breadth away from us, to win the day. The willingness we have to lose our privacy for the greater good can have enormous, and at times global benefits, but we must accept, we are also in uncharted territory, where the actions of the un-secret 'police' are revealing pasts and propelling futures in to being that we're not really sure we wanted, or know how to deal with.

Top ten graphic novels (this week)

I am blessed with slight insomnia, so whilst I'm awake, I'm going to republish a shockingly long coment I left on this blog, requesting everyone's top tens. Mine is an almost cliched 'alt' list, as it turns out, but I care not, for I heart good graphic novels. It kills me that such a wonderful art form is subjected to the kind of total lack of curiosity from the average reader that would usually be confined to books about particle physics.

So anyway, here's the list. No links I'm afraid because it's late and I want to go to bed now, I've used up my allowance of sleeplessness for today at least. I'll put the links in when I can in the next few days:

My pretty much top ten all time list, in no particular order, and desperate to contain minimal spoilers in the hope that you'll pick some of these up and have a read:

  1. From Hell. Mind blowing, psychedelic Victorian serial killer yarn, with added London psychogeography! Who could ask for more?
  2. Berlin, Jason Lutes. My God, I'm so jealous of Jason Lutes. Not only is he a great storyteller, but his art work is brilliant, subtle and humane. Berlin volume 2 is just as wonderful, but Vol 1 is something else.
  3. Goodbye Chunky Rice, Craig Thompson. What I really like about this is that it's a universal story. A reasonably young child could pick it up, and get a lot out of it. It touches something very deep and yes, fairly sentimental, about the human condition, but it's genuinely moving. Really well worth reading.
  4. The Invisibles (all volumes) by Grant Morrison. A swaggeringly brilliant masterpiece of mentalist storytelling. I sorely wish that Morrison would concentrate on alt.comics but I guess he loves his Xmen and superhereoes too much. There's something gloriously over ripe about The Invisibles. It's a crazy trip! The art work is superb too from several brilliant artists.
  5. Safe Area Gorazde. Joe Sacco. Sacco tones down the Woody Allen-ish shambolic 'self' in this, as he interviews people from the town where horrendous events took place during the Bosnian war. It's truly appalling reading, and the reason is because he's such a great artist, and a great listener too.
  6. Space Dog. Now, bear with me. You will never have heard of this. I got it in a second hand bookshop, completely by accident. It's by a guy called Henrik Dorgathen, and you can't get it for love nor money - I know, I've tried, many times so friends can share in it. Luckily, Henrik has a website! here's a link to this truly wonderful story, which could be read to children - I say read, there are no words in it. Well. 1 word. It's brilliant. Take a look:
  7. The Idea. Frans Masereel. Frans Masereel's art and ideas are so strong they make me swoon. No words, only pictures and a brilliant, first half of the 20th century Kafka-like quality to the work. Also, a bawdy and rather lewd sense of humour which is a joy. I love all his stuff, but there's something about this one which just blows you away every time. 
  8. "Hate" comics, by Pete Bagge. Or in other words, the complete story of Buddy Bradley. There's so much painful and embarrassing truth in Bagge's work, and it's carried along by a sharp, wisecracking sense of humour. I really think he's weirdly underrated, despite loads of people knowing of him!
  9. Love and Rockets - the Hernandez brothers. What can I say. A stunning, extraordinary, even feminist (or humanist) body of work primarily about the strongest people, all with loose ties to one another within an Hispanic community over time in Mexico and the US. And those people all happen to be women. It's always a joy, and I'm so glad they're still writing these stories.
  10. Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis. Very much of its time, it is broad satire and it's speedy, adrenalin fuelled science fiction. There's something bizarrely "Hitch Hiker's Guide"ish about it at times in the crazy ideas soup within, and if you've never read it, I challenge you to get up after reading two or three volumes without wanting to listen to extremely loud punk music and pogo round the room shouting. It's that kind of an experience. That Warren, he's a bit crazy. There's a ton of stuff from Warren Ellis worth checking out. Particularly the rambling mess that is Planetary. It's visionary, mystical and at times, truly glorious. Global Frequency and the current Freakangels have within them a core of hopeful humanity which transcend the sometimes apocalyptic plotlines. honourary 11: God only knows how I forgot this. "Ethel and Ernest" by Raymond Briggs. He doesn't draw books for adults very often, but when he does, they tend to be stunning. This beautiful, heart breaking book about the passage though life of these two very ordinary exemplars of people building their lives in the first half of the twentieth century in London is so very, very good, I remember buying about 7 copies to give to people and would gladly give it away to more if I could. this is no disrespect to someone like Chris Ware, whose works are lauded, but it makes me think of the way that 'traditional' storytellers are often underrated by those taking stock of the modern novel. It's close to home, it doesn't seek to explain the wider human condition... it merely describes the lives of Briggs' parents. With loving honesty.

If I were to say to you Ok, you're skint, then just get 1 or 2 from this list, then it would have to be "Ethel and Ernest" and... pffftttt. Blimey. Now you're asking. I think probably "The Idea", because if that failed to get you excited about the storytelling possibilities of graphic novels then I don't think anything would.

Honourable mentions go to: "Blood Song" by Eric Drooker, and "Suckle: The Status of Basil" by Dave Cooper which is *insane*. I don't like Cooper's paintings of women, I really don't but this story has brilliant Freudian and none too subtle imagery thrown in to a science fiction planet somewhere... it's frankly, slightly disturbing. But great!

Why are there no women in my list? That is bloody annoying.

I wonder if I've actually done this before, and how much has changed? I'll have to dig back in the archives.

Cycling in the rain, wearing glasses

After succeeding in running over a small child in a buggy yesterday (no harm done, very, very luckily) I would like to restate that cycling whilst not being able to see properly is a total nightmare.

Not  really sure what I can do about it. Someone I was talking to yesterday suggested contact lenses but I can't put things in my eyes (biiiiig only slightly irrational phobia about that). The other suggestion was made that I should grit my teeth and get the laser operations done.

Eyes, lasers, possibility of accidents... aaargh.

I have rarely, by the way, felt so horrified. I could not apologise enough to the Mother whose baby I nearly injured. It was all I could do to stop myself taking the baby out of the buggy to hug her with relief that she was ok.

It was absolutely, 100% my fault, btw. Excuses about glasses don't wash really do they. Why the hell wasn't I cycling slower then? Er... because I didn't think, your honour. Yes. Well. You'll think from now on, then, won't you.

We're going to a puppet show

James had a wonderful day yesterday. For some reason (I think, mostly related to the point that he's had lots of plasters on, and felt out of sorts) he's been bawling his head off at the slightest provocation, and being excessively grumpy about life post-buggy. A lot of jumping in front of you, clinging to your legs, crying "I'm tired! I want shoulders!"

Yesterday we took the slightly long bus journey to Colliers Wood where there's a lovely little collection of slightly earnest 'earthenware' type shops / stalls of a weekend, and a delightful little children's theatre. They were doing a version of Cinderella with puppets. It had that pleasing mix of slightly rubbish but very goodhearted, and held all the children rapt throughout.

Anyway, that's not quite the point. James is a very solid, comfortable with himself sort of boy, who will often stand in front of people on the way home over the common and say "Hello". He still maintains his very 'thought-out' mode of speaking, making every word seem particularly important to him. He has a seriousness about him, which is more thoughtful than dour.

A couple of weeks ago we went to the common, assuming that the plupatoo, er, the paddling pool, would be open, but it wasn't. James began to run sprints backward and forward in order to stop in front of two old ladies, and introduce himself. He started having a typically James type of conversation, based mostly around what he's doing at that moment, or has just done, how old he is, etc. He did this on the bus going to the theatre. While we were waiting to get off, he was very carefully holding on to a pole next to an elderly lady. He said to her "We are going to the theatre. I'm going to see a puppet show, now". Very deliberately, as if to say, It's very important to me that you understand what's happening here.

It occurred to me that maybe, in the same way that children have a natural aversion to talking to complete strangers who are men (according to McK's knowledge of psychological research, anyway), perhaps small children have an evolutionary learned trust of older women. They do represent something completely safe and harmless. It's curious how often he will seek out elderly ladies to talk to. What makes me smile about it is that he obviously has no socially learned revulsion regarding age or looks. Hopefully he can keep that kernel of friendliness with him, and we can use it to help him overcome those daft prejudices that people often seem to not be able to help having.

...when it had finished, James looked at me thoughtfully and said "Can I see it again?".

I think his twenty-odd minutes on a bouncy castle made up for me saying no, though.

Trolling in the Telegraph

A friend forwarded an article by Milo Yiannopoulos in the daily Telegraph entitled "'Recasting the Net' was another promising debate hijacked by worthies". I never like putting in links to something that I really would prefer didn't gain by those extra click-throughs but it can't be helped.

I wasn't at the conference (I really need to sort that out. I do not go to enough conferences. As in, I do not go to conferences. Anyway, an aside). Two things stood out for me in this article, apart from his ridiculous assertion that the Telegraph's analysis of the expenses scandal was based on investigative journalism (rather than a cheque book). No.1 was that I had no idea that Tom Loosemore was now dying his hair - apparently a "stupid colour" (excellent - is it green?). Second, I had to stop reading the article for a few minutes at this point, because I felt so angry:

"(Helen) Milner seems to think that internet connectivity is some sort of fundamental human right. She even said as much: “70 per cent of people in social housing don’t use the internet… but digital skills are a basic right.”
Err... come again? Is making sure that Tower Block Tracy has access to MySpace really a priority for Britain? How is having a Facebook account going to get an unemployed joiner back to work? Shouldn’t we be more worried about teenage pregnancies and gun crime? Or basic literacy?"

Presumably this was written to inspire indignant  response, to increase his notoriety. All very tiresome, but the point is that this is published in a national newspaper, pandering to the worst prejudices in its audience - in, ironically, a newspaper which is spending enormous sums and has done, invigorating its online proposition.

So. How can one respond to the above.

  1. A large proportion of children in my daughter's class do not have a computer at home, let alone internet access. Without access at school, they would be missing out on a key learning, empowerment and proactivity tool that some children, thankfully, get to take for granted. 
  2. Without internet access at home, parents are disempowered in terms of joining together in support of each other, which may sometimes be necessary in dealing with particular issues, relating to school or other local issues involving their children. Those with internet access can. Schools in affluent areas often maintain solid websites and parent groups via the internet.
  3. Single parents living in council accommodation or otherwise, fighting hard to give their children the best they can (and just as importantly, to break the cycle and give their kids the opportunity *not* to be single parents in council housing), could have their lives made concretely better by regular access to email, online council services, information and again, the empowerment tools that exist not just only on the internet, but best served from the internet ( for example). At present, regular, easy contact with the legislature, local council services and even online support forums is restricted to a digital elite. Certainly, that elite is not necessarily well off anymore, but they certainly are not poor.
  4. I know one such family, for example, where the Mum goes to work, semi-full time, and she and two lovely kids live in one room. She fights hard to remove negative influences from those children's lives, but it is very difficult for her indeed. With access to the internet, not only could the children receive help with their homework, but she could find access to organisations which might be able to help. Everyone in that situation would win.
  5. Teenage pregnancy is a symptom of an under-educated, disempowered underclass. Need I really elaborate on how regular access to the learning power of the internet, giving teachers the opportunity to generate learning environments beyond the classroom, giving children access to creative activities that didn't include... er... creating, might be useful in reducing teen pregnancy whilst increasing opportunities for children to escape what appears inevitable?
  6. Having  regular, uninterrupted access to the internet will give an unemployed joiner a far better chance of getting a job, or researching opportunities for retraining, or discovering new opportunities in a different geographical area... and so on, and so on.

... I could go on. I think I've made my point.

Slight tangent: Again, looking at some points above, I am struck by how much local councils and the legislature should be adapting the information they already have online for a mobile context. I don't think a phone can ever replace a computer (unless you get to the point where you can use it as a hard drive, and plug it in to a keyboard/monitor/mouse. Not inconceivable) but I do think that phones are the way to start to breach the digital divide. Lest anyone start wrinkling their noses, wap enabled phones are now right down in the cheap-phones bit of PAYG, and believe me, networks are making data very, very attractive for consumers now. Those people currently making apps for i-phones instead of spending investment elsewhere are partially doing the right thing. It won't take long before all phones being sold will have access to single subject apps, but the ubiquity of the browser and the relative ease with which a simple structure can be built for access over the phone means that contact with councils etc should be made a lot easier.

David Cameron, bike riding champion of freedom + Act against the BNP


Well, of marginal interest is that I cycled past the future Prime Minister along an unnamed stretch of the way home the other day, and think I have done since but was busy spitting aphids out of my mouth. He had a grim, pinched face on him, but then again many people wear bizarre grimaces whilst cycling.

I only realised it was him (having done that "I'm sure I know that bloke" thing) when I realised that a police car was trailing him, very slowly. Which is, I suppose, reasonable enough.

He did do that slightly blank thing we all do which is check out all the other boy racers and their cycles as they went past. No one overtook him. I did only see him for approx 15 seconds, mind you.

Now that I've seen him close up in the flesh twice, I feel I know him. I'm determined to try to get him to stop and have a conversation with him if I see him again, hoping that my reassurance "Yes, I want to get home to the kids too" will help. So any suggestions for questions, so that I can represent Your point of view, as one sweaty cyclist to another....

I might well ask him if he's confused or ashamed with regard to the behaviour of his colleagues. Did he know this endemic abuse was happening? Why didn't he do anything before? Almost pointless asking the question really.

I might ask him how he feels that he and his other parliamentary colleagues have conspired to engineer a situation where the BNP, and the disguised BNP (UKIP) are going to get a massive hoik in their votes in this EU Election. It makes me so bitterly angry. It's the equivalent of people voting for The National Front.

In the seventies, in Slough, which had a mixed population, many Sikh, Hindu and Muslim residents, you'd occasionally see NF scrawled on to walls. A child came up to me once and said "My Dad says I can't play with you, your Dad's in the IRA".

Surely, the long hard crawl toward civilisation is supposed to go forward, not back?

By the way, I am going to take my laptop home and timeshift my last hour at work tomorrow so I can give out anti-BNP leaflets at Tooting Bec station. If you're in the UK, this week is really important. See if there's a campaigning event near you, and sign up for it today.