A blog by an historian, Pagan and fanfiction writer, with left-wing leaning politics. In short, I could be waffling on about anything.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fuel to the Flame by Joolz

Back in the '90s, the heroine of our generation was the punk poet, Joolz Denby. Here she is in action, in 1991:

I have an e-mail, dating from 2006, from her giving me permission to reproduce 'Fuel to the Flame' on a long-dead website. This piece of prose has been keeping me sane and on track, in Amnesty International campaigns, since about 1992. In my humble opinion, the line 'it takes great control to be angry' is possibly the most important one that Joolz ever wrote.

Last night, as the world watched on in shock at the killing of Troy Davis, in Georgia, I tried to find 'Fuel to the Flame'. I wanted to show it to two friends in messenger, in the hope that it could prove as much a help to them, as it has for me.

Fuel to the Flame by Joolz

It takes great control to be angry. You wouldn't think so, would you; angry usually means a burst of temper, the row, the smashed plate, the nice cup of tea after the sobs and sniffs. But that's not angry, not really, that's being a bit cross, annoyed, put out. Angry is waking up every day in the certain knowledge that you can't put right the wrongs you see before you, gross and unforgiveable.

Mind you, what's wrong to one person is fine to someone else, I grant you that, oh yes. I mean, when I see the Abundant Life Evangelical Church looming like a great grey warehouse on the hill, and contemplate the sorry mentality of its good Christian flock, my anger simmer a little, it must be said. Now someone else might say that Christians are decent folk with moral standards and the welfare of the world at heart and it's wrong to condemn them out of hand - even if that's what they do to everyone else; two wrongs don't make a right and all that. You can get into one of those long arguments about the state of the world that go on for hours and a clever speaker could probably beat me easily, as I was never the great debater, being too furious and prone to becoming speechless and tearful.

Because it fill me up, anger, like a balloon full of fire and it does tend to put people off, doesn't it? My gran thought I would grow out of it, 'bolshie', she said I was and when I'd had my share of knocks from life, I'd settle down and mind my own business, but that doesn't seem to have happened at all - in fact it's even worse as time has slowly robbed me of all my heroes. All the little cruelties and betrayals that people hand out in private with self-righteous expressions do make you understand how easily humans can do murder, rape and even genocide or the vast destruction of land and water. It's just a matter of scale. What doesn't alter is the overwhelming ability of humanity to convince itself utterly that it is justified, that it had the right, that it was someone else's fault.

You know, I remember, I remember very well when I was a child, believing with all the power that I could summon, that if you loved someone enough, they would love you back, they'd have to. I was wrong, of course. But I wonder how often, in some form or other, that child's belief howls in the heart of the victims when predator looms over them, how often the tortured scream.

'You must believe me, I don't know anything, you must believe me, it's the truth', as if the truth will save them; how often the woman smashes up against the wall spitting teeth and blood crying, 'but I love you, I love you', as if her love will save her. Oh, it's not like that in real life, is it? In real life, they asked for it, they just happened to be in the wrong place, mix with the wrong people, marry the wrong man, the chain of excuses.

And it takes control to be angry, you must be precise, get hold of the twisting screaming thing each day and leash it tight, because otherwise you burn up inside and nothing gets done, you die... and what does another dead soldier mean in the great scheme of things? It means one less to be angry about the small betrayals and the great, it means one pair less of open eyes that see and cannot shut in the kingdom of the blind and that would never do, because it's a long war we're fighting against ourselves.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Winding Down With the Witches' Mabon

As a practicing Wiccan, my thoughts are inevitably turning towards the next Sabbat in the Wheel of the Year. September 23rd 2011 is a date which even the scientists are able to mark, though perhaps not with the same interpretation as the witches. It is the Autumn Equinox (aka Mabon or Harvest Home). In witchcraft, this means a time of winding down.

The Historical Heritage of Witches in Bringing the Harvest Home

Outside the air is coming more chill and the leaves are changing colour on the trees. This is Britain, so the summer hasn't been particularly hot either, but not quite like this. Even on the most rain-drenched summer's day, it was difficult to imagine that there ever was a winter. It's not anymore. Pause for a moment in the wind and the hints of it are there. Just a few more turns of the wheel will have us in snow and ice.

There's a tendency to rush! If we don't pack that last day-trip in right now, then it wil be too cold! That is the modern equivalent of what used to drive this Sabbat. It is the Harvest Home. The last good crop of the year, before the ground starts to harden and there was nothing more to add to the stores. Only the hunt, in the deep midwinter.

Everyone's so busy at Autumn Equinox, squeezing the marrow out of the bone of life (to misquote 'Dead Poets' Society'). Then the Sabbat itself hits and it's time to take stock.

Witchcraft and Mabon: A Time of Reflection

Taking stock used to literally mean that. There are still a couple of months worth of gathering and hunting, before snow closed down the community. It would live or starve on the produce stored for the winter. These days of 24 hour supermarkets make that less of an issue.

Witches reflect in other ways. Mabon is when we look back across the past few months and see how all of those ideas, planted at Imbolc, came to bloom. Did they grow as we had planned? Where are we now, compared to at Spring Equinox? All of those things, that we promised ourselves that we'd do (or not do), did we honour them?

In all of the business (in both senses of the word) of the summer, it's hard to sit back and muse upon things. As the Autumn Equinox bites, now is our moment. It is 'me' time. It is chilling out time. It is our chance to meditate upon our own, very personal world, while not forgetting the broader picture.

How will you celebrate Mabon? What are your thoughts as you approach the day?

Saturday, 17 September 2011

The Importance of a Picture: Using Creative Commons 3 to Get the Word Out

Publicity is the key to success for any event, be it a garden fete or a mass protest in the streets of New York. But those wishing to achieve it often overlook a tiny detail - the licence designation on their photographs. For those with a controversial cause, it can make the difference between a sympathetic article reaching readers in time or negative responses too late in the day.

This is an insight into an all too common scenario, which played out this morning.

Finding an Image for #OccupyWallStreet

It was September 17th 2011. For weeks the social networking feeds had been buzzing with the Adbuster arranged activism that was taking place this day. Anonymous were on board, as were US Day of Rage and other groups. There were publicity posters, leaflets, photographs and other images all over the internet. Many were produced by hacktivists with the full implication that they could be reused by whomever had such inclination.

As a journalist and a writer for Suite101, I set out to produce an article. I wanted it to published well before noon GMT, the proposed time that the protest was taking place. There was method in my madness. When ordinary New Yorkers stumbled across the event, they would want information. I wanted my article to be ready and waiting, in Google News, for just an occurance.

But there was a problem. Not one of the mass of images on the internet specially carried a Creative Commons 3 licence. This allows for commercial reuse and Suite101, mindful of law suits, demands it. They have advertisements on the site, which counts as commercialisation. Without an image, my article could not be published.

The Devil is in the Detail

There is an old adage, purportedly from the Battle of Bosworth and Richard III's alleged cry, 'My kingdom for a horse.' (Historically inaccurate; Shakespeare made it up.) It goes: 'For want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For want of a horse, the kingdom was lost.' It felt like a very apt saying this morning.

I've been here before. I've had articles in mind, then searched for an image, as I know I'll need one. There aren't any with the status, 'for commercial reuse', so I don't bother with the article. I move on to something that I can illustrate. But I felt that the occupation of Wall Street was important. I wanted to write about this.

For the best part of an hour, I searched websites and blogs for that all important Creative Commons 3 tag. None of them included it. It was seen as implicit that the images could be used. My editor wasn't going to see it that way. All the time, the clock was ticking. The protest would have started before I got this up. In desperation, I Tweeted owners of likely images. They weren't online.

Meanwhile, news articles were starting to spring up. They were from mainstream news outlets, like Fox and CNN, who could afford to have photographers on the scene. Small indpendents, like myself, are so reliant on participants. We don't have the big business funding that they have, to use in our coverage of anti-big business protests.

Educating Anonymous and Sourcing an Image

Fortunately, I did have one more avenue to try. After having now wasted an hour on trying to source an image, I decided to be cheeky. A few days ago, AnonCMD had sent me a link for an Anonymous IRC Channel. It was meant to be used to interview AnonCMD about RefRef, but they didn't show up. I used the same link now, in the hope that other members of Anonymous were around. After all, these hacktivists were responsible for half of the pictures I'd found.

True to their nature, the resulting conversation was placed in Pastebin by Anonymous. After hearing me out, one of them then took my favoured image and stuck a notice on it: 'for commercial reuse'. I had my illustration!

However, it had taken so long to find, that I was now just an hour away from the start of the protest. I wrote and researched fast. It wasn't quite as well crafted as it might have been, if I had twice the time in which to pen it.

Publicising the Protest with a Picture and an Article

My article went live at ten minutes past noon. Anonymous Amongst Protestors in Occupy Wall Street Demonstration carried with it the image kindly created for me by a member of Anonymous.

The timing (and the fact that Anonymous subsequently Tweeted it through dozens of their channels) was critical. For a start, it pushed my article to the top of those listed in Google News, above heavyweights like CNN and the Huffington Post:

In short, it was the first option available for ordinary people searching for news about the protest in Wall Street; and it was sympathetic to the demonstration.

Moreover, within minutes, it had been collected by the New York Daily News, a Paper.li, edition. It was featured, because it had an image.

So mine was the version of events that New Yorkers were reading on Paper.li. Just an hour and half after the article was published, it has been already been read by 551 people.

What Can People do to Facilitate These Kind of News Stories

Bear in mind that journalists like myself are bound by the rules of our publishers. We can't put articles out without images; and we need somewhere to prove to our editors that the images are 'for commercial reuse'.

When putting out pictures, all that is required is a simple line beneath them, or somewhere in the blog entry: 'This content/image/photo/poster is licenced under Creative Commons [add which one]'. For commercial reuse, the following are applicable:

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-ND 3.0)

Just find the one you prefer, then link it somewhere in the vicinity of the images that can be used. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the picture itself, as we can link back to the source for the licence attribution.

Finally, thank you very much to the good people of Anonymous, who took the time to create an image for me this morning. Good luck with the #OccupyWallStreet demonstration.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11: Tenth Anniversary Memories

It's one of the truisms of our generation that we can all remember where we were on September 11th, 2001. More specifically, we can all picture very clearly how we learned that two passenger 'planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, in the USA. The last one, the hijacking of Flight 93 seemed to creep up a little more slowly. Maybe because there were no great landmarks to seize in the imagination. It was a confusing day; one which left those who experienced it (even from afar) breathless with the possibilities and stunned by the actualities.

I was at work, in the Graduate School of the University of Wolverhampton. The room was in an Edwardian building, all high ceilings and lots of light. Campus the elderly cat was curled up in my inbox, as she was wont to do. Best inbox I ever had! It was quite warm, but not stiflingly so. Just an average autumn day on Castle View, in Dudley.

Being in the heart of the Black Country, it didn't mean that I was unconcerned with American affairs. In fact, this was towards the end of my dinner hour and I was in furious e-mail conversation with a friend from Wyoming. We were always going to be opposed. She tended towards the right wing and I was a Red Flag waving Socialist. She was more worried about what to cook for tea; while I was incensed about the situation in Palestine and Israel.

I was obsessed and she was only engaging me in debate, because I kept criticising America's foreign policy. She didn't even know about said foreign policy, until I brought things to her attention. However, she did hear someone not loving her country, so she went on the attack. It got quite nasty in the finish. But that day, we were at least communicating.

She'd said something along the lines of America being the policemen of the world, and always promoting democracy and freedom. I replied unkindly, then rushed off to Google News to find an article that would back up my position. That's when I read about the first 'plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I told my Wyoming friend and she freaked. All arguments were off.

The boss was out and my work was up-to-date. My colleague was supposed to be giving me work for the afternoon, but she was struggling to find any for me. As we discussed what I could do, the news up-dated to say that a second 'plane had hit the South Tower. Until then, we'd believed that it was all a terrible accident. The second one changed things considerably. That made it deliberate, especially when other reports were coming in.

Meanwhile, my Wyoming friend was in bits. She was convinced that the next 'plane would be landing on her house. I e-mailed back that this was highly unlikely. She wasn't consoled. My colleague suggested that I went into the boss's office and spoke with my friend in real time in chat. My work, that afternoon, was to keep everyone else informed on developments.

I did that for the next two hours, flitting between internet news pages, while trying to keep the woman in Wyoming from having a nervous breakdown. She barely mentioned New York, Washington nor any of the other places. Bear in mind that, at the time, information was very confused. There were a lot of 'planes in the air and every second brought a new scare. My friend kept on about Wyoming definitely being a target. I couldn't think of any good reason why it should be, so told her so about every other minute. For the first time ever, she trusted my world affairs savviness over her own. She eventually calmed down enough to drive, then left to get her kids out of school.

Meanwhile, it was knocking on half 3. Another friend, who lived locally, would be leaving her place of work and collecting her own kids. I called her and she invited me round. I had lots of flexi-time built up, so I spoke with my colleagues. They were happy to kick me out for the day. So off I drove to Bradley, in Bilston, listening to the radio en route. Me, Kate Morgan and her two young children sat and watched the constant coverage, on the television, until late at night.

In the zest for information (and being calm for the Wyoming woman), the events hadn't really hit me emotionally until then. I wasn't completely dispassionate, but I was analysing it all with an historian's mind, against a context of all of those news stories that I'd been arguing with for weeks.

But sitting on that settee, we saw close-ups of the people trapped above the crash-line. They were waving white sheets, perhaps a handkerchief or a shirt. I'd just assumed that people had been evacuated or were dead. Seeing them up there really brought home the scale of this crisis. Also we were watching something which barely turned up on the news footage after that day - the jumpers. Cameras followed some of them down, so we were well aware of what was happening. As a pyrophobe, it really shook me, when I thought of the conditions they must be escaping from. Something so bad that leaping to certain death was preferable.

My friend's daughter was only little. She viewed it all like a movie. After all, she'd seen New York destroyed in so many films before - Ghostbusters, King Kong, the list goes on. Since then, it's still gone on - Day After Tomorrow, Cloverfield. She was getting bored. "When will there be another 'plane crash?!" Her Mum had to sit her down and explain that this was real.

One thing that is throwing me, in memory, is the timing. I distinctly remember seeing the Twin Towers collapse, while in Bilston. But according to the accounts, I couldn't have. The South Tower went down just before 3pm, while I was still in Dudley. I'm wondering if I left work at half 2, not half 3, but that wouldn't explain why Kate and the kids were home. She didn't get out until 3pm, unless she was on holiday that day.

For all my previous raging at my friend in Wyoming, I was utterly naive on my prediction for what this catastrophe would mean for America. I was convinced that it would lead to world peace. That it would alert the American people to the fact that their country's foreign policies were leading to terrible atrocities in the Middle East. That it would make the American government think twice about their assumed safety. Just about everywhere in the world, there was sympathy for the USA right now. I thought they'd use that to create treaties and resolve all of the ills that had contributed to the events of 9/11.

In short, I was believing more of my Wyoming friend's bullshit than I realised I was.

The first sounding of a wrong note was when it was announced that Al-Qaeda had done this before that organisation had claimed it. I remember exchanging puzzled glances with Kate, because that was way too soon. We're British and we grew up with the IRA bombing England for decades. We both knew how this was supposed to play out. It didn't even sound like speculation. It was Al-Qaeda and that was that. I let it go, figuring that the truth would come out in the wash. Al-Qaeda did subsequently claim it, so that early call was proved correct. However, it's always left a small grain of suspicion in the back of my mind. I have nothing but that too early call to fuel it and I don't genuinely believe that anyone but Al-Qaeda flew those 'planes. It's just a niggling deep inside.

In the months and years that followed, a great wave of anti-Americanism swept over Europe. Someone got knifed to death in Hyde Park, just for being American. All of the old, racist Irish jokes got brought back out with the nationality changed. New ones were added to it, all of which perpetuated the stereotype that all Americans are unintelligent, as well as being vicious thugs. The jokes became so commonplace that even I, usually so vigiliant in cracking down on racism, stopped noticing them. It took a wake up call from an American friend, shocked that I hadn't spoken up, to knock me back on track.

The reason for it all was disappointment. We'd seen an opportunity for world peace, which instead became an excuse for endless war, the removal of civil liberties and a concentration camp built in Guantanamo Bay. Ten years on, I still feel so sorry for all and everyone who was lost that day; and all killed since in the name of 9/11.