Driving Rio Grande

A lime green and yellow church sits by a sprinkle of houses, all pastel coloured and tinted with dust and sun. Silence of the dunes is broken, great stretches of pasture appear.

A true gaucho – hat, belt, knife in belt, even a checkered shirt – rides along, 4 dogs following in a straight line behind him. They are all different breeds. They follow in order of size.

 

A tartaruga crosses the rode to the other lake, her green storied shell glowing luminous in the bright sun.

 

A boy runs around his lawns, dodging ceramic swans, riding a stick and whipping his rope in a gallop,

A young girl walks out of a stone off-white house, with a yellow metallic roof. A large velvety white flower pats her in the face with a soft slump, bouncing back on its long neck to laugh with its siblings. The small blonde girl steps back, disappearing slightly into the doorway, before returning with a strong punch to the offending blossom. Flying back it dodges while another leaps forward. Batted back and forth the girl fought valiantly against this tamed untamed pot plant, before relenting and running back inside, as we move along our way.

 

We are driving on the 101 from Rio Grande; where our car was popped on a boat to be towed across to São José do Norte. The fields stretch and the houses are eaten by the landscape. We are now creeping along a spit of Rio Grande do Sul, between the sea and dunes on one side, and more dunes, and the massive Lagoa dos Patos, on the other. Horses pick gently, grazing, sharing vast expanse with lumbering, kind eyed vacas. Cowww and vaa-ca. Was it something about their soft noses and huge eyes that made both languages name them onomatopoeically? In Portuguese, onomatopoeia is onomatopéia. It’s a small world after all.

 

The sunset stains the clouds deep reds and mystic purples, while the horizon glows orange. The low lights reflect on flat mirror ponds, sunk into soil, tracing the vermillion and violet linings of clouds. Why do we wish for silver when gold shines so much brighter?

A large, soft, nose, covered in short, brown, hair, nudges through the water, sending the sketches shivering. Slick, its furred brown back rises out of the water, as the capybara wades through the marshland. After the first, whole clans appear, with small children following like baby bears with moomin shaped heads. While they walk slowly, and we crawl along so as not to miss them, the sun falls fast without our attention. The horizon shrunk to a line of embers, as we slipped into dusk.

 

After we passed the boarder last night, a run to Rio Grande, to sleep, we slowed to a crawl on the 471, between Levante and Santos. A long road of dunes, between Mangueira Lagoon and Lago Merin. On the other side of Mangueira Lagoon is the sea. One side the dunes are unspoilt, gleaming almost white in the sun, while the other has scrubs, and even pines, exploding out of the dune. We come so close to large wind farms that I finally see their size, really, they even have little doors. Under the stretched blue sky, the undulating dunes, inhabited by spiky and rounded plants, look like the surface of some other planet. Here the road is uninhabited for a fast-forward of half an hour, maybe 40km of country – my pokey English distances don’t fit with this terrain.

 

Bright light nut wood sticks up in straightened posture, the walls of a house, its window looking over grazing land for a distance I can’t guess. A ladder leans on the structures side. It will have a roof before it’s done, but for now I imagine sitting in there, looking up at the great blue sky.

 

A house alone. The larger the surrounding space, between the house and any other buildings, the smaller it looks; the stronger it looks. Standing in contrast to the vastness around it, the smaller, the brighter, the more unassuming the house the greater its’ implicit strength. As, after all, it is standing, strong, without need for allies, gates, roads or tenements as company. Houses standing strong hold human outposts in the expanse of Sertão space.

.

 

A country so beautiful to make hearts stop and blood spill, still so much space to be in, visibly. So much of it inhabited by cows, however, who knows how much is free in any sense – how much is as it once was? It’s unfair to ask this of Brazil over anywhere else – in the U.K we have converted a larger percentage of our country’s freeborn nature to pastures, towns, and the like. But Brazil holds more, more beauty, more diverse flora and fauna, more land left to take, or to protect; more people continuing ways of life only possible when so close to the land they live on. It is unfair to ask more of Brazil when so many of the countries asking have long ago destroyed most of their natural beauty, and killed almost all (or all) of their indigenous people (Hello, America), but it’s the cruelty always enacted on a beauty and mystery that rises above the rest – everyone wants to claim it, maybe to remove its habitants, to make it ‘usable’ by agricultural standards, maybe just to fence it off to keep it ‘safe’. Kátia Abreu, minister for agriculture calls indigenous people ‘lazy’, and tells the world that they have no right to their land. Because they don’t work it, don’t use it up and turn it into something other. It’s hard to watch the land with this in mind, and think of it disappearing, wiped over – as the mining sludge is still wiping away massive swaths of land in Mina Gerais, maybe the biggest environmental disaster in history.

That is happening countries, by European standards, away from Rio Grande Do Sul. Though there still lies in the land the beauty that people have killed for. We keep driving, what else can you do, everyone wants to see the land, there is nothing like it. I want to walk across each plain and mountain, jump in the sea, and the waves beat in my chest. But we are driving, and yes, that hypocracy is clear to me. Because everyone wants a part of Brazil; of Sao Paulo, of Rio, of the Amazon, of Pantanal, of Rio Grande do Sul, of Florianopolis, of Para, all should be named but there are really too many, and states are still not specific enough. Like too many who have come to see, since the dawn of ‘exploration’, I also want my piece of Brazil, and I don’t want anyone else to touch it…

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#CameronMustGo

Originally Published 25rd Nov 2014 on Lemon People

Trending on twitter is the rolling snowball of the internet, gathering speed and momentum with retweets and use of puns. Right now, #CameronMustGo is trending on Twitter in London, UK, and worldwide. It’s not a massive surprise, maybe because I wholeheartedly agree, that so many people are sick of a man who imposed austerity cuts, is dismantling the public services, clearly benefits from relationships with advisors in big business, including the banking sector, and constantly points his finger at immigrants and the poor. BBC News showed a short clip of Cameron the other day, with the voice over that stated; ‘despite research showing immigration is good for the U.K economy’,’Cameron stands firm on immigration reform’. No analysis, no questions – just a collective sigh as 5 seconds of our news pays attention to something we’re all becoming more and more aware of – logically catering to the publics best interests is not in the interests of those in power. Distorting peoples understanding of the facts, and turning people against each other to gain votes, is in the best interests of those in power. Cameron is currently in power. Therefore, #CameronMustGo

There’s an inevitable follow up to Cameron leaving office however, that we can’t all agree on. Who can be in power and serve peoples best interests? A party that listens to voters, actively engages in issues it cares about, doesn’t represent private interests, and has a plan for the U.K’s recovery (one that goes beyond kicking out people who are proven to be helpful, not harmful, to our country). That discounts UKIP easily, as they are bankrolled by one private interest, with an ex-banker at the helm and a hateful and illogical attitude towards immigration. Lib Dem showed they wouldn’t stand strong for any key issues in the coalition, so they’re out too. Labour..? So much faith lost in the past, and a leader with the charisma of a dead fish found under your fridge, don’t bode well. Their establishment links hold them back further, causing the widely held belief that they are the same as the Conservatives.

There’s a party, that you may not have seen much coverage of *ahemTV Debates*, that haven’t had the chance to disappoint us yet, nor are they a one policy pony *ahemUKIP*. They actually have some sensible plans for the future. They see rebuilding and reinforcing public services as a way to aid economic recovery, proven by European models such as Germany, in conjunction with green policies which are more efficient, cheaper and better for the world, than policies based around vested interests of corporations *ahemMass Privatisation*.
They are also currently having a #Green Surge  . It’s the Green party, obviously. The party with most of its hold on the generations who rarely vote is still growing in polls. If that section of the population did vote, it would be enough to change election results. I’m going to vote Green and pray enough people join me, to at least grow their presence in the Commons, even if they do not win. The others no longer appear to be options, and I am grateful for my right to vote – even in an electoral process I don’t entirely agree with.

Research who you would like to vote for, and then just do it. I’d like to see how many of the #CameronMustGo tweeters are registered, as it’s easy to rail against the powers that be if you never held a stake in putting them there. It’s also easy to become a hypocritical ass if you decide that not voting makes you in some way more politically aware or radical, as (unless you are devoting large amounts of time and research into finding a way to change this system), you are just an enabler. Enabling a shit system while selling your voting friends down the river by denying your own voice in the debate. If you don’t vote because you don’t think it will make a difference, then be aware that your thoughts are the reason it won’t make a difference. If you know how you would vote, but don’t, you are choosing to make it harder for the policies and parties you do agree with to get any influence. If you don’t vote because of no proportional representation, spoil your ballot.

In short; #CameronMustGo tweeters, I agree, now shall we do something about it?

To see what party you most agree with, check out http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ 

‘Truth always rests with the minority, and the minority is always stronger than the majority, because the minority is generally formed by those who really have an opinion, while the strength of the majority is illusory, formed by gangs who have no opinion’. – Kierkegaard

The Space Lady, J.G Ballard, and ‘outsiders’

The Space Lady in sound, on The Space Lady aka Suzy Soundz – Street-level Superstar, and The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits (2-CD), on Night School Records, is akin to one of J.G. Ballard’s kinder creations. His short story collection Vermilllion Sands shows a timeless world, lethargic but beautiful in indulgence and simplicity – of emotion, storyline – many are like fables.[1] The harpsichord synthed-out tones of The Space Lady suit to a growing, singing, statue, as Ballard’s, mysteriously unseen, Lunora Goalan, creates[2]. All curves and hums, but gleaming, in some unknown, strong and alive, metal.

or maybe the Space Lady, in ‘I had too Much To Dream Last Night’[3], is Emerelda[4], who has eyes of jeweled insects, which also surround her, and is trapped in her beauty and an inverted fairytale innocence. Had Too Much to Dream Last Night, was on the Songs In The Key of Z album, which hosted other ‘outsider’ musicians, like Captan Beefheart.

Or, most physically apt but maybe less of a personality match; Hope Cunard in “Cry Hope, Cry Fury!”:

“a tall, narrow-hipped woman with blonde hair so pale she immediately reminded me of the Ancient Mariner’s Nightmare Life-in-Death” (Vermilion Sands, 93)

The Space Lady was making video game musical styles = ‘real’ music, long before Grime. Her eeiry ambient vocals, stretched and autotuned, came along before The Dream, or new wave/no wave, or ambient house, or The Weekend, or who ever now claims to have ‘invented that’[5].

Though the reason I’m drawn to Ballard’s characters, may be what draws me to this dreamy, mainly covers, singer.

‘I think my fiction has a lot in common with case histories. Case histories… always seemed to have an enormous sense of mystery about them’ –Ballard

I have seen videos of the Space Lady on Youtube, over the past few years. She wears the same headdress/shield winged crown from the cover of her Greatest Hits. Her hair is a little whiter, her voice a little thinner, and her equipment basic as they come (a Casio keyboard, and mike). The reason I am timid to link it is several friends reactions to the videos. Rather than hearing my goddess the Space Lady, they see an old hippy busking with a high pitched voice. ‘weird’, ‘crazy’, ‘what’, were spat out each time, in a seemingly random order. So I’m worried, worried that others don’t appreciate her properly. I don’t mean every one must be a fan like me. I mean that people can be cruel to old people busking in strange hats. I’m not sure pushing her into the category of ‘outsider art’ really helps. It makes it like one of Jeremy Clarkson’s books – you’ll only buy it if you are certain you’ll like it already. If ‘outsider’ has strange connotations for someone (and it does for many), like the words ‘Jeremy Clarkson’ can have strange and detrimental connotations (like it does for many).

Also, confused, as there were others from that crowd who made jumped from ‘outsider’s to ‘genius’, ahem, Captain Beefheart, and the Space Lady was doing the same schtick. Why was she crystalised in time[6]?

Sad, too, that many watching (I won’t repeat youtube comments) didn’t know where she came from, what barriers she’d warped and wandered through. The things she’s done since, which I also didn’t know.

Now i know that The Space Lady has upcoming shows, a website http://www.thespacelady.net/ , and describes herself as an ‘ethereal street musician who plays space music wearing a winged helmet’. She tells some of her story, mainly before recording The Space Lady aka Suzy Soundz – Street-level Superstar, of busking and how her music grew so simply from those roots. I recommend reading it. Then it skips ahead 30 years. The Space Lady is thankful for her career, but released nothing further. Did she prefer to be ‘underground’, as she was used to beforehand? The music industry certainly isn’t for everyone, and maybe she felt comfortable ‘outside’.

I just wonder, what’s the Space Lady’s case history? And why do I want it to be so fantastical? Maybe because of my friends reaction, I want them to be wrong in their assumtion she is not a ‘proper’ musician, due to busking and being an ‘outsider’. Though I have no album to prove them wrong, her 2, and that on which she’s featured, have a limited repertoire of songs. Probably far less than her busking one. Leonard Cohen’s ‘Popular Problems’ showed wisdom in ageing, and that a voice could really get that gravelly. The Space Lady is singing the same songs. Damon Albarn has blurred into cartoon bands, a monkey musical, The Good The Bad and The Queen, and whatever trillion projects I’ve missed out. The Space Lady is singing the same songs. Phillip Roth, Coetzee, Bukowski, Shakespeare, and T.S Eliot all wrote with honesty, sometimes with mirth, or darkness, and Edward Said’s ‘On Late Style’, discusses ‘the power of subjectivity’ gleaned with age, free from the performative self. Using a cipher to tell ‘death…as allegory’[7]. At least, to look at their ‘ego…in the absolute’[8].

Not alone in a demanding generation, I think I want to see a simple narrative and progression. Norman Mailer said ‘The first art work in an artist is the shaping of his[9] own personality’ , and maybe the Space Lady did that so quickly she need not shape further? Picasso may have spent his last years re:doing his old works, but he had a massive amount of old works to re-do. I have a feeling that The Space Lady has such a collection somewhere, and I would like very much to find it. She mentions selling her art on Haight-Ashbury in the late 60’s/early 70’s, I’d like to find more of it.

Till then, I worry about one album wonders[10], some pioneers, and imagine what they’re doing. I hope no one is calling them weird, that they’re somewhere, like The Space Lady, where they have fans who understand and love what they do. The Space Lady is fine, BBC 6 presented her, she has a cult following still, though I do wonder about the years in between.

If someone is calling you weird, they probably don’t have the creative capacity, or maybe desire[11], to understand you. I’m not sure that should make you an ‘outsider’, but maybe signals you’re an ‘insider’ to something else. Put on your winged hat, sing the songs you love, and keep people like me guessing about your mythical life and finding you in books.

Or whatever your thing is.

Thanks J.G. Ballard, The Space Lady, Captain Beefheart and all the inside-out-ers.

[1] It’s more beautifully fantastical than other Ballard books, if you have Crash, or The Atrocity Exhibition in mind.

[2] “The Singing Statues”, Vermillion Sands

[3] The Space Lady’s Greatest Hits, Track 8

[4] Prima Belladonna, ibid

[5] Looking at you Drake. You did not, sorry.

[6] Yes, I’m thinking of Ballard again, ‘The Crystal World’ this time.

[7] Adorno qtd. by Said. p9, Said, Edward. ‘Timeliness and Lateness’, On Late Style (London: Bloomsbury, 2006)

[8] p8, Said, Edward. ‘Timeliness and Lateness’, On Late Style (London: Bloomsbury, 2006)

[9] or her, Norman had not yet heard of ‘women’

[10] Yes, these are sometimes the things I worry about, do judge freely

[11] I’m not saying they’ll necessarily like you

Femmeuary Finale! Art, Prose, Music, Poetry, Crayola Guitars and Sisterly Love

Originally posted 4th March 2015 on Lemon People

Each year Femmeuary provides some of the most intimate work I have read online. This year’s piece by Yoni – the best pseud ever, IMHO – has surpassed this intimacy. There are always many stories to relate to in Femmeuary, for all genders, but this particular non fiction piece stood out by not shouting out, but speaking directly to its readers. ‘The Men In My Life’ will break your heart a little – not in pity, but in empathy – as it address each inner voice, that just wants to stop.stop.stop. – while talking to you with the intelligent logical mind of a strong, driven and hyper aware girl/woman/feminist superhero (without any ‘correct feminist’ superiority). Just read it already. (buying options for zine below;))

Georgia Flowers has provided beautiful illustrations for many pieces included in Femmeuary, and each has fitted its subject perfectly, while retaining Georgia’s inimitable style. She read out Brodi’s incredible piece ‘Let Her Cry’ – a touching, oft hilarious look into the damsel in distress disorder our society creates. With such a large crowd – people were listening in from the corridoor like polite church mice – there was always the possibility the acts would be drowned out. Instead, it was quiet as a pin drop through Brodi’s, Yoni’s
Maia Thomas showed her animation ‘Don’t Diet, Riot!’, which was similar to Yoni’s piece in its direct dialogue with the audience. Don’t Diet, Riot relates personal feelings of inadequacy to the wider political, cultural and social landscape, showing the conflict between believes, like not wanting to conform to elistism, and day-to-day challenges to that, such as still wanting to go to a ‘good’ university so you will be considered intelligent.

Cate Ferris blew the audience along on her carousel, with a mis of tape recorders, loops, synths, vocabulary tricks and something that make you want to be her best friend. Contortula is a new favourite word, with a Latin base in a thing that has broken from, and is beautiful. In Cate’s words ‘all of us’. She proved this, as we all swooned under the power of her crayola guitar and Joni through Kate vocals.

A friend of mine left, believing that after Cate, there could be no more enjoyment. He turned out to be wrong. Next were the Pink Lizards – a 00’s Janis Joplin flying on a Jefferson Airplane and screaming us into a moshing mass of hysteria (and yes there were men there, so screw gendered hysteria).

Femmeuary will be back with more. So watch these spaces:

Alice Ash

Brodi Snook 

Chloe Hardwood

Sarah Dearing

Georgia Flowers 

and Lemon People as Steph Wilson contributed widely and I (Alice, hi) was kindly asked to be a contributing editor this year

TTIP-ing the Balance

Originally poster on 11/11/14 on Lemon People here

It was only a month or so that I spoke to a –generally politically aware and active friend – about TTIP. I was surprised that she hadn’t heard of it. Only to be further surprised that many in the group I was with were also unaware of exactly what it means. Then, I felt I wasn’t confident enough with the details to explain fully.  Partly due to the details of TTIP being mainly off limits to press and public

A month or so has passed now, and the secret is coming out. This shadily manufactured bill, even while the exact transcript is restricted from the pubic and media, has finally come to light. Now, many of those who were unaware have come our fervently against this enabling bill for further corporate power. Corporate ethics are not universally popular, surprisingly. On the 11th October over 1000 people gathered in Parliament Square, from Occupy, Friends of the Earth, Unite the Youth and more of the generally concerned, showing the secret is out. Over 400 actions in 22 cities held took place that day. The winds have changed away from ‘TTIP wtf?’ to ‘That means companies can sue the government, and essentially govern the county unelected, increasing privitisation? WTF?’

One of the main arguments raised against the bill is it opening up governments to being sued by trans national corporations. John Hilary, the executive director for War on Want – a campaigning organization with inequality causing poverty leveled in their crosshairs – said that ‘this elevates trans national corporations to the same status as the nation state itself’. Already our politicians regularly move into jobs in trans national corporations after their time in power, its known how close the two sectors already are. The government spends around 10billion a year conducting research and development for private companies; Vodaphone, Starbucks, Arms dealers, Oil firms all benefit from paying little tax with no benefit fraud complications; around 50% of public sector spending on goods and services (around 187billion) now lands in private pockets; Boris Johnson saw far more city bankers in his first term in office than public servants (and see’s anti-TTIP individuals as ‘numbskulls’…un-bialy). The TTIP may be the final tip towards countries, as well as their economies, falling under the complete control of Trans-nationals competing for profit. Capitalism is ruthless, and profit has been consistently ranked over people in Capitalist economics.

The main aim of TTIP is to open up EU businesses to American companies.

Creating new trade agreements that try to get around pesky regulation standards to get better profits for business.

If you are still out of the loop of the TTIP agenda, which to a large part the media and public are, here are a few salacious selections:

–       TTIP gives corporations the ability to sue the national governments through new powers to bypass domestic courts.

–       TTIP see unemployment as jobs switch to the USA.

–       TTIP could also see the relaxing of private data laws

–       TTIP’s lifting of environmental regulations:

  • Lead to increase in CO 2 emissions
  • Flood networks with GM foods
  • Give corporations further power to commandeer protected land for farming

–       Privatisation is highly likely to increase with TTIP

–       TTIP promotes declining employer safety laws, employee labour standards, food safety and hygiene standards and fair wages

–       TTIP allows frakking

Phillip Morris are suing Australia for billions, as the government wants all tobacco products to be marketed in plain packaging. Monsanto are trying to sue Vermont for wanting to put warnings on their labels for GM products. With these examples thus far, there appear to be no positive effects from TTIP, unless you’re already in the rich clique of corporate controllers.

TTIP is a slap in the face to the majority of the EU. The UK has already been dragged through austerity cuts, university fees, 0 hour contracts and the many, many failings of private businesses. Including those contracted to provide worse services and worse working conditions, in hospitals and universities, and the banking bailouts. There is a form of socialism in the U.K right now, but it’s for the rich. Those at Parliament Square on The 11th October were angry. At being kept in the dark, as well as over the effect of TTIP. Simultaneously, there was a sense of futility. If they can do this, secretively, then not listen to the criticism roaring around it; not listen to the protests; not listen to the people who can’t afford to heat, or live in, a home due to 0 hour contracts, little support and poor working conditions; not listen to the – gagged by law – overworked NHS workers.

What will it take to change a government more concerned with corporations than people? Nigel Farage – ex-city banker running a party funded by one rich man – is scratched off the list of possibilities of course, as are the major parties who have all in heir own ways contributed to this commingling of business and politics. We can’t sit back and allow the continued breaking up of the U.K, and EU, into bite size of corporate chunks without putting up a fight.

If you want to help action against TTIP, or find out more, read below:

Green Party: ‘TTIP trade deal is a corporate grab that must be stopped’

http://greenparty.org.uk/news/2014/07/11/green-party-ttip-trade-deal-is-a-corporate-power-grab,-that-must-be-stopped/

War on Want: ‘Say No to TTIP’: http://waronwant.org/campaigns/trade-justice/more/action/18180-sign-up-to-say-no-to-ttip

Occupy London http://occupylondon.org.uk/stop-ttip-articles/

For information on dangerous thinking in private corporations watch ‘The Corporation’ by Joel Bakan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6zQO7JytzQ

Incestuous Politics and Westminster Scandals: Who’s to Judge?

You may have been hearing a bit about the government’s child sex abuse inquiry. Theresa May announced that it could grow from an inquiry into a ‘full statutory inquiry’ (because an inquiry alone means nothing, apparently). This may lead to arrest and accusations, it equally may not.

The first judge chosen for this illuminati-sounding mystery was Baroness Butler-Sloss. Until it turned out (no one had realized this previously somehow) that her brother had sat in the cabinet in the 1980’s, while all this alleged abuse was going on. Oops. So they looked really hard for someone utterly unconnected to political figures – as the inquiry covers a wide breadth of Westminster – and they found Fiona Woolf. It may have been convenient to find her, as she lives just down the road from David and Samantha, of Tory fame. This convenience became a bit of a downer when it turned out that this too might affect her impartiality as it’s been discovered through corrospondance that she has a fairly cosy relationship with Lord Brittan, home secretary at the time of the alleged abuse. Lord Brittan is central to the enquiry over the alleged ‘loss’ of 114 key documents relating to child abuse in Westminster, having admitted receiving a ‘substansial bundle of papers’ from, now deceased, Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickens, who compiled the dossier on roughly 40 known abusers in parliament. He ‘did not recall’ any further action on these matters. As forgetful as his friend Fiona, who failed to recall their long and close relationship.

Fiona Woolf has since stepped down under public pressure. In her farewell statement she jibed that her replacement must be ‘a hermit’ if they are to avoid what befell her and the Baroness. Now, Fiona, there are many people who aren’t friends with anyone in Westminster, who still manage to have rather active social and professional lives. Woolf’s comment shows how inhibiting this position of social privilege can be – only ahermit could be both a respected judge and not intimately connected with influential Westminster figures who may or may not have been involved in covering up child abuse.

Rather than merely showing HR incompetence, doesn’t this issue highlight how interconnected the influential, rich and powerful are in the U.K? So much so that it is practically impossible to appoint an impartial judge for a parliamentary inquiry. It scratches my innards that this is only getting attention because of the controversial ‘paedophile ring’ nature of the case. Aside from the  inquiry’s content, from my soapbox this appears to show that in most cases – when they, rarely, appear – that legally question the actions of the parliamentarily privileged, the judge is likely to be connected to a web encompassing, at least, the associates of the accused. Perhaps this is why it’s so unlikely for them to end up in the courtroom, and such a surprise when any punishment is metered out.

Rebecca Brooke’s crimes deeply infringed individual’s rights to privacy, yet her sentence was less than that of a run-of-the-mill stalker (who doesn’t hang with SamCam et al). Certain tax dodgers crimes are known by what appears to be the whole internet, with crimes detailed on blogs, in books, and over the radio, yet these criminals remain unchallenged. Under 35’s – the group most affected by austerity cuts and most vocal about corruption – have reached peaks of apathy that prevent us from even seeing the polling office. It just seems like a big club we’re outside of. So, only 55% of under 35’s vote. That’s also the most liberal part of the population, so I guess now we know how we ended up with that human shaped semolina pudding in office.

Now isn’t the time for the voting talk (though if you’re reading this and you don’t vote I do recommend a spoiled ballot for cathartic release reasons), but it is an issue which helps sustain the close-knit socialism for the rich in English politics. If the powers that be know that they have more to gain answering to corporations than to the people – as such a large section of us don’t vote, and such a large section of them have so many lucrative contracts to offer – then Westminster, the media and private companies can grow ever closer. Trying to rise in the ranks of politics when you don’t have, or don’t want to have, such connections, is difficult. This is perhaps why such a disproportionate number of politicians are from public schools, are landlords and are independently wealthy with connections to other wealthy, powerful people. This is the rocky road that someone like Fiona Woolf will have had to traverse, picking up friends en route.

It’s unfair to assume this will alter her judgement – she is a professional with a good case record – but the problem remains that the only people eligible for her post in this trial are inevitably connected to someone who is involved, or even implicated, in such a trial. …There are no other judges eligible? This appears to imply something many frustrated people have felt in their bones for some time: that to be able to rise to that level within the corridors of power, you will aquire links that will make your respectability as an upholder of justice, particularly when on a collision course with such power, questionable.

Let’s just see how this transpires. Who the least connected person turns out to be. If they aren’t related to someone being investigated, or living on the same street as people close to the case, then is that all ok? If they are just good friends with those being investigated, will that fly? I’m afraid there may not be ample choice in this regard, and that Woolf’s successor will still be influenced – through less obvious geographical or genealogical paths – by those being investigated. Mostly, I’m terrified that this will be seen as another inevitability by apathetic and disaffected youth voters; another reason to not get involved in politics, as the door ‘in’ appears to be right out of Kafka’s ‘The Trial’. Only those that know they can go through the door (maybe relatives have wandered through it before) can access both politics and the law. If this door is to remain as unreachable as in the past – and to become more so with education and benefit cuts – then the only people qualified to investigate the rich and powerful will be members of their ranks. If this is the case, is there any point having a trial at all?

Originally posted on 11/11/14 at Lemon People here

So down to explore writing magical realism with Marcus Sedgwick, but…

Tuesday 5th May Marcus Sedgwick will be running a course on writing magical realism (from Bloomsbury Publishing house, 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP). I want to attend, and I intend to attend, but the £35 ticket cost does sadden me a little. I know that writers like Marcus are often hand to mouth depending on the market, and writing is a difficult job, particularly financially. However, I don’t think that he will be receiving that money. As the event is held at Bloomsbury Publishing house, and he is an author, it’s possibly a part of his promotional contract already.

Book publishing isn’t doing great, and I will support it with my £35 as well as my book buying obsession (sometimes I have to force myself to avoid a bookshop due to funds, and, man, it hurts). However it’s talks like these which get more people involved in the literary community, and in an economic sense as well as a cultural sense also boost that community. One of my favourite books of recent years is ‘Girl is a Half Formed Thing’ by Eimer McBride. It took her 7 years to publish. Publishers believed that, due to its experimental nature, people wouldn’t want to buy it. Now, it has sold in huge amounts, and adverts were even run along buses at some point last year, announcing its success.

The music industry has found many ways to adjust to the online marketplace, but their product is easier to digitalise, and recently records have seen a boom as a clear distinction is made. E-books alone, however, won’t satiate an active readership who want to attend speeches, read a physical book, and remain able to eat and pay rent.

There are so many exciting writers, creating complex novels online for free, as funding is rare. So many people self published, and so many ‘experimental’ authors kept at arms length for profits. The McBride test (as it will now be known) proved that the public enjoy and can handle experimental fiction – all fiction. Instead of paying Katie Price for her brand, and a ghost writer, as with many celebrity memoirs (which publishing houses are consistently churning out), you can get a fascinating new author who may revive someone, somewheres, love of reading. You may also be able to lower ticket prices, or link them to E-book sales, for events. As with records, it’s the physical thing that makes the difference, and as they often come with exclusive samples, tracks, reading materials, photos, maybe free tickets and a photo of whoever’s it is. The publishing industry could learn a lot from that example, making the expense of a book, or a reading, include more access into a reading community, or perhaps a deal on their next similar publication.

I will feed the Bloom my money, as I want what I can get from these tidings, and what am I but a lowly consumer, but I hope it sticks a little in their throat, like a question. A question about readership, trusting and investing in them, and which way they are going to go. Maybe the Bloom will bloom, with some kind of magical realism, and use its resources, while watching independents styles, to grow into a body that can give and receive within our reading cosmos.

Why Avoid the No.1 Cause of Climate Change?

Iceland is rising – causing volcanoes. Recently Geophysical Research Letters published the findings of scientists from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland that showed the earth’s crust rising at a much faster rate amid the greater warming of the last 30 years. Debates over fracking, due to its affect on the environment and propensity to encourage earthquakes, have become party political fodder for upcoming UK elections. Recycling has become standard for many households, we all know to turn the tap off when brushing our teeth and turn the lights out when we leave a room. People are even cycling more, and Boris Johnson has promised to provide more lanes to encourage Londoners further. The inconvenient truth is out, and most people want to make a difference.

The climate march last year had 40,000 marchers turning out in London, 400,000 in New York and many thousands more around the world, asking their governments and fellow citizens to embrace Green policies. The march usually has a mix of people, from anti-fracking fans, No to Monsanto supporters, and middle class mums, to animal rights activists, permaculture nerds and, yes, a few hippies. While all these people support action against climate change, they hold different aims and enemies, making an organised movement difficult. It also makes the issues easier to ignore or manipulate, as if the government focuses on fracking and cycles lanes, it can look good enough to ignore GMO’s, crimes in the food industry and the actions of irresponsible companies. Not all companies are irresponsible; we have more than ever making changes to become greener. The IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) is a resource that helps companies turn green, with learning resources and a focus on sustainable, while profitable, markets. The resources are there, but some areas of industry are slower to pick up. It’s a huge range of changes that need making, however, and if the individual focuses on anti-fracking, or wants to recycle and compost more (both noble things), eating a McDonalds burger after the march may not seem like a big deal. Unfortunately, it is. Arguably more so than all those I’ve mentioned above. Here’s why:

Animal Agriculture is the number one cause of climate change, deforestation and world hunger. This has been stated by the most recent UN report, cows account for 18% of greenhouse gases, more than the entire transport sector (13%). Livestock in the U.S emit 34 trillion gallons methane emissions, while fracking and its uses emit 100bn gallons.[1] Then there’s all the other animal agriculture, beyond food even, cosmetics, clothes, medicines, furniture – most elements of most everyday lives. In 2009, admittedly we should have improved a little since; the World Bank found that animal agriculture made up of 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s responsible for deforestation, including depleting the Amazon considerably, for grazing; it uses 45% of all land and uses a third of the earth’s water. Back to cows for a second. Their particular emissions, away from large amounts of water consumption, are methane. Methane degrades in the atmosphere far faster than CO2, as in Methane takes decades, but CO2 takes over a century to degrade its levels.[2] Given that Dr Richard Oppenlader, author of “Food Choice and Sustainability’, believes that we will easily exceed max emissions by 2030 (only based on livestock, not electricity etc), maybe the fastest way should be focused on, as well as recycling, cutting electricity and making sustainable buildings and businesses.

On March 7th the Climate March happened again. If each person there who ate meat halved his or her intake in the next year, there would need to be a change to animal agriculture. Methane in our atmosphere could be directly lowered in the 10 years before we exceed max emissions. Cutting down on animal agriculture products is as possible as just halving your weekly meat and fish intake. Everyone seems ready for a change. That is direct action.

Note: this was written after the influence of personal research as well as documentaries like Food Inc. and Cowspiracy, and books like Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s, and David Simon’s ‘Meatonomics’.

[1] Cowspiracy (2014)

[2] Kirk R. Smith (Professor of Environmental Health, Berkley) qtd. in Cowspiracy

Apathy in the UK

The U.K is feeling down. According to research by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, there’s been a 7% increase in the number of people prescribed antidepressants by 2013. That means this number has now increased. The number ‘7%’ can’t accurately portray what this means for those millions of people beginning prescription. Most will be starting a life long commitment, a commitment that could alter their brain chemistry, long term mood and levels of anxiety – but often not in a positive way. We now rely on chemical cures for depression. We may not be more depressed than before (though compulsions like ‘social media anxiety’ don’t allude to many positives) but we are medicating it far more than ever before. In the way of the American healthcare system, prescription has become procedure.

Medication is necessary in certain cases, and many people are relieved when they find the combination that suits them and helps them control a condition that affects every aspect of life. This article isn’t referring to those with extreme conditions, where a life without a well-placed seroquel, or other anti-psychotics, here and there is unimaginable and unlivable. There are over prescription problems that should breed concern in that area too – but let’s start with the people brought in on the first rung of the ladder.

This article is for the huge numbers of those with minor/short-term depression or anxiety who have been told that a pill is the answer. Large amounts of young and vulnerable people are being medicated for a condition they may not have, or one that may be better treated with alternative methods. These are the majority of antidepressant users – those with a minor depression or anxiety condition, usually reactive rather than endogenous – who begin with ‘short term’ treatment. The typical anti-depressant is a SSRI or SNRI; these drugs halt the reuptake of specific neurotransmitters related to mood, specifically serotonin and noradrenalin. This is a biological treatment for what is often a situational or societal problem – a side effect laden treatment for what is often a ‘reactive’ depression. Is it normal to react to sad news by being sad…? to be sad when someone dies? or does it call for medication?

The proliferation of psychoactive treatments, over therapy, for children, adolescents and young adults seems strange when you consider that studies report that ‘significantly higher’[1] suicide rates for adolescents on antidepressants. One study found an increased suicide risk of 58% when antidepressants were compared with a placebo. In a group with average risk this would equate to an increase from 25 in 1,000 to 45 in 1,000[2]. Adult users also record increased desire for suicide in early treatment. That explains those scary ‘may increase thoughts of suicide’ notes on the side of the box that have incited irony laced laughs from generations of depressives starting treatment.

In one study involving 188 participants, rates of suicidal ideation were significantly higher in the antidepressant medication group (18.6%) compared with the psychological therapy group (5.4%)[3]. If NHS practice were in line with this biological data, it would have to reverse its current policy. At the moment, drug therapy is considered cheaper, even if it is more dangerous. The ease with which people are prescribed happy pills is laughable, with many people suffering from short-term depression, or just feeling low, being prescribed treatment after a short conversation with their GP. Even if you don’t feel like you are a depressive, a promising pill is a tempting offer to anyone feeling in a dark place, and saying no to a medical professional is against most peoples conditioning.

Depression is a mental disease, and so being told yours is bad enough to warrant treatment can be enough to push a person further into its depths. It’s stigmatized, so they will also feel more alone. The powerlessness felt would lead many people, who would otherwise have overcome their depression in the usual way, turning to SSRI’s. Unfortunately, this comfort blanket not only increases suicide risk, it also effects ambition, sex drive, social function and can, for many, begin a cycle of reliance on legal and illegal drugs.

An infamous side effect of SSRIs is “amotivational syndrome”. The patient shows apathy, disinhibited behavior, demotivation and a personality change. Its symptoms are similar to those that develop when the frontal lobes of the brain are damaged[4]. Essentially, we’ve created a chemical version of our archaic technique of mashing the brains’ frontal lobes in a lobotomy, a la One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. This effect is particularly prevalent on those medicated from a young age, and many researchers have linked the use of antidepressants during pregnancy, or in young children, to emotional disorders later in life[5].

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University found that high-dose, short-term exposure to SSRIs in rats was sufficient to produce distortion in the serotonin nerve fibers[6]. So, antidepressants may also arrest neuron development. Would we rather harm our brains irreparably and function adequately, or allow our emotions free reign at the possible detriment of our daily activities? Medication becomes a matter of economics; a person on antidepressants is less likely to take a long leave of absence due to personal tragedy as their chemical apathy allows them to function adequately despite emotional strain. Like a lobotomy, antidepressants can make the patient a perfect citizen: obedient, predictable and controlled. Is this state preferable to the natural, emotional, human condition?

How early can you tell if someone has a predisposition to depression? 18? 13? 8…? Fluoxetine, the first on the antidepressant tree to be prescribed to a new patient, is licensed for use in children 8 years and over in the U.K. This means an 8 year old could continue to be medicated indefinitely, with a drug proven to damage their brain and cause dependence, until they choose to stop.  This is despite the evidence of studies showing ‘no statistically significant’ differences between young people with depression being given placebo’s or antidepressants. The very act of medicating a child gives the placebo effect – it validates a belief that they have something that must be medicated.

Depression and addiction have been related to human connection in more recent studies. Rats who lived alone had a choice of a heroin bottle, and a water one. They all kept at it till death. Rats who lived community, presented with the same options, lived normal, long, lives. When we have human connection, we don’t need drugs to deal with a short term depression, we have people. Having been on anti-depressants I can tell you that I, for one, felt like I was in a bubble that kept people, and their emotions, at arms length. I was more callous, practical, and less like me. Switching pills for connection – in my case, creating projects with creative people, and writing a lot – could stop a young persons depression from becoming a life long struggle finding the ‘right’ drugs.

I recently started the blog Just Gushing for people with all perspectives to share their stories and creations, as a way of connecting and trying to brush off the stigma of mental illness.

Originally published by The New British. Get first free edition on iPad

[1] http://www.sussexpartnership.nhs.uk/component/jdownloads/finish/2050/7883?Itemid=0

[2] Hetrick SE, McKenzie JE, Cox GR, et al; Newer generation antidepressants for depressive disorders in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14;11:CD004851. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004851.pub3.

[3] Cox GR, Callahan P, Churchill R, et al; Psychological therapies versus antidepressant medication, alone and in combination for depression in children and adolescents. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Nov 14;11:CD008324. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008324.pub2.

[4] Marangell et al. 2001, p.1059

[5] Ansorge et al. 2004

[6] Kalia 2000

An interview with Therapy

‘If a track is ready to go now, we go now. ‘

‘The release is a part of the therapy as is the creation. The creation isn’t enough. We have to expose something of ourselves.‘

I’m talking to Sean CG, the head of new label ‘Therapy’. Therapy is not just one of a huge growth in independent labels. Therapy’s philosophy particularly interests me, as a story lover and a nerd, as it’s based in the dialogue of their output. They present this dialogue as it occurs. It’s personal, the artist’s relations are intimate, and it bares all through the immediacy of the Internet.

‘It’s not a new idea but it’s very liberating, away from the context of the traditional industry’

Working with Soundcloud, almost exclusively at the moment, they bring to mind a technological serial, akin to the metered out publication of books since Victorian times, such as ‘Middlemarch’. Our obsession with narrative hasn’t waned – This American Life’s ‘Serial’ has been extremely popular, and famous instagrams, pintrests, tumblr’s and blogs work around their own continuous narratives. These grow with their creators, as Therapy has begun to do  – releasing this narrative while it continues to develop.

‘ A large part of the ethos behind this label is narrative dialogue. The relationship between the artist and the audience and the artist and the label.’

This was the case in previous years, when a record could be pressed and released in less than a month due to a mass of independent producers. As giant labels have grown, and middlemen have multiplied, this direct conversation between artist and audience has lessened as the gap between has widened. Therapy are one of a handful of labels addressing this – either through their own vinyl production, or, for Therapy, and many independent artists, Soundcloud allows work to be released immediately.

‘There’s a kind of disparity between the work being produced and created and it’s release, or delivery to the public, to the extent of tracks held for years…It can damage the dialogue.‘

The dialogue itself? Therapy currently represents Participant, Ezra, S O F T L Y, and Dunlop, but as it grows more artists are sure to join the ranks. Their work grows in collaboration and reveals a new undercurrent for each artist as they experiment freely under the wing of ‘Therapy’. It’s fitting that their first – euphoric, a tad uncanny – release was NOT ENOUGH Feat. Tyson – collaboration between EZRA and Dunlop.

‘We talk, and we release work over time. No one ever releases something just once with the label’

It’s well known that creative output is therapeutic. For Sean ‘the music making process extends into the internet, and into sharing…a part of the therapy that we associate with the internal, being at home…the internet is the geographical artists space’

With artists playing in London, Amsterdam and New York, Therapy’s tight knit community crosses geographic boundaries. Having a cup of tea with some of Therapy’s artists is always an exploratory experience, and an educational one. I’ve been played ghetto house, soothing pop, psychadelia, soundtracks and German choral music – with a focus the perfectly crafted, whether obscure or hugely popular. Respect for a good beat, clean production, pioneering sound experiments and creamy vocals run through their work so far. This amounts to three releases – Therapy are in no rush to grow too quickly. There’s an element of suspense. Their intimacy comes through the output, and Sean’s word ‘exposed’ suits the feeling.

Will Therapy move past our screens into live events?
‘We’re very interested in having events – public spaces – where we get to premier the work, and the artists have a good time. Honestly, these things are more likely to take place unofficially organized by people peripheral to the label. Friends in France, Berlin, London, talking about hosting events…It’s got to take place from within.’

Labels like Therapy are taking control of their input, beyond mainstream avenues. This is partly thanks to new groups like Creative Commons. Creative Commons creates licenses for creative projects, such as SoundCloud, bandcamp and the Free Music Archive, which allow for a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law. These labels engage directly with their audience, and while millions aren’t made when so many releases are free, the narrative between listener and creator is stronger.

Follow Therapy’s story here: https://soundcloud.com/thelabeltherapy