We live in “Powdertown” #police #corruption – Cyril Smith coverup etc

The second verse goes like this;

Frankie looks like a nice young cop but he’s got an old cop’s face
He believed in truth and justice till they took him off the case
Now he’s walkin’ the beat on the wrong side of town, bustin’ drunks and shakin’ them down
Don’t ask him who he’s working for, all he says now is “the law’s the law
And it’ll be like this for evermore here in Powdertown, in Powdertown.”

It’s from an album track of the Australian band ‘the Skyhooks‘. In the course of a few verses we learn of enforced prostitution, police coverups, drug dealers. The motif of ‘powder’ – a white fluffy blanket that makes everything look clean and pure – runs throughout.

The Hillsborough stuff -96 dead because of police incompetence, followed by decades of smear, intimidation and cover-up, of course angers me, since I am a functioning human being. [For excellent coverage of Hillsborough, the undercover cops in the labour and environment movement and much else, see “Bristling Badger“.]

The Jimmy Savile stuff;  I have nothing to add.

cyrilSmith_2398434bBut this latest – that some brave (naive?) cops – thought that they could build a case against an MP, a secret service clown and some top cops,  and then  were swiftly disabused of the fantasy that they lived in a state with something within in spitting distance of the rule of law – just, well… I am scared, of what members of my species are capable of.

Powdertown ends with an advice lyric;

So if you’re driving through one day and you see that exit sign
You might slow down and take a look, maybe risk a parking fine
But if you’re smart you’ll pass on by, get where you’re goin’, kiss this place goodbye

Good advice. Anyone know if it’s too late to sign up for the Mars colonisation thing?


Human emissions level off – so, no need to worry about #climate change?

Marc Hudson tries to put the “global human-caused carbon emissions not going up” news into context.

I don’t know if there are people out there who, on hearing from the International Energy Agency that for the first time outside of a recession, the amount of carbon dioxide we’ve tipped into the atmosphere (from burning fossil fuels for transport, electricity, heating) has ‘stalled’ and thought “our climate worries are over!”

Probably there are. Humans have limited cognitive capacity, and are always looking for rationalisations to allow them to keep doing what they’ve been doing. And climate change leads itself both to rationalisations and misunderstanding of scales and speeds.

Great+Acceleration+2015+igbp+src+low+resLet’s take human emissions.  They’ve been growing dramatically over the last few decades, especially since the Great Acceleration of the 1950s, when everything started to grow dramatically.  In 1988 the scientific warnings of the previous 15 years or so burst onto the public stage. Since then our emissions have gone up and up pretty relentlessly, in a global perspective.  We built new infrastructure, we didn’t create and/or export the low carbon technologies for energy production, and that’s basically all that matters. Every year we pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than the previous year, unless there was a global recession (which means less economic activity, less energy use, less coal/oil/gas being burned).

But human emissions – a relatively small part of overall emissions from ‘natural’ causeskeelingcurvelions breathe out c02, trees die and decompose etc –  are only of interest, I would argue, because they increase the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide That is currently at the 400 parts per million (ppm) mark, up from 280 in 1780.  The possible ‘safe’ level is 350 ppm, thus the name for the organisation 350.org.

If you want to stop worrying about climate change, you can’t just look at human emissions, you have to look at concentrations.  And a ‘flat’ level of human emissions – especially at 2013-4 levels doesn’t lead to a stable amount of atmospheric C02. It leads to increases, because the amount we produce is higher than what the planet absorbs from the atmosphere into a) vegetation (plants draw C02 out of the atmosphere and use it as building blocks for their growth, which is a pretty neat trick) and b) the oceans (but the oceans can only absorb so much, and the act of absorbing C02 is making the water more acidic (actually, “less alkaline”), with devastating consequences for anything that makes shells out of calcium, and anything that eats anything that makes shells out of calcium, and anything that…. well, it’s a web. You get the picture, I hope. Btw, those “carbon sinks” are weakening.

Higher atmospheric concentrations of C02 leads to more energy being trapped in the atmosphere (if you’re in bed under two thick duvets, you are going to get warmer than under 1 thick duvet. The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’ll do for now.)  And higher temperatures mean more extreme weather events, higher global temperatures (especially and sooner at the poles), and very probably more crop failures “etc”.

Look, if people want to grasp at straws, they will.  Death row inmates always hope for the last minute phone call from the governor granting clemency.  It usually doesn’t come.  People turn away from climate change not because those silly environmentalists have got their “messaging wrong” (If one more person says ‘MLK said “I have a dream” not “I have a nightmare’ I am going to explode).  People turn away because climate change is a terrifying and imminent nemesis about which we can no longer do very much. If we’d started properly in 1988 we’d have had some chance, perhaps even a quite good one.  Now?  Um….   If you need to believe that one year’s flat emissions is a harbinger of salvation, you go right ahead.

The metaphor:

The car has been accelerating towards the cliff for some time now. No matter what the pleas of the passengers, the driver has had his foot clamped down on the accelerator. Really the car should be slowing, giving itself time to turn. Faster and faster the car goes. But wait, “good news”!! For whatever reason (the fuel mix, the hand that a passenger has put out the window in order to change the car’s aerodynamics, something else), now the car isn’t going faster. It’s merely heading towards the cliff at the same fearsome speed it was going at a minute ago. So that’s much better…

E equals NC squared – of Global Change Science and the Responsibility of Intellectuals

Who knows what about how the world works (on a geophysical level?) How do they find it out and what should “we” do with that knowledge? These were some of the questions that Professor Noel Castree grappled with (successfully!) yesterday afternoon at a seminar entitled “Changing while standing still? Global change scientists and the politics of planetary stewardship.”

Here are the videos I took – first the lecture itself

Then the Q and A (the reason it blacks out when questioners are asking questions is that I wanted the best sound quality but I didn’t have permission to film folks – ergo lens cover as a kludge.)

He explained where terms like the “Anthropocene” (humans as accidental/deliberate planet-shapers [Which began in 1610, apparently]) have come from, and the rhetoric/reality of “tipping points.”  He name-checked the big academic collaborations (IGBP IHDP etc) that have been beavering away for 30 years)

He questioned the nature of the academic cultures and conventions that we labour within/under, and pointed to experiments with different ways of knowing and expressing (in genuine collaboration with peoples usually on the receiving and sharp end of the Western Gaze…)

Of course, by no means all academics are intellectuals (or vice versa) but another “NC” – Noam Chomsky -has an injunction that seems relevant; it is the responsibility of intellectuals to expose lies and tell the truth.

The lies exposed here would presumably (I am projecting/importing my own beliefs) be that
a) it is impossible to have infinite growth on a finite planet
b) it is impossible (forget ‘immoral’) to make other people/species/generations continue to pay the price for our own actions

The thorny question is surely of the audience to which the academics wish to speak truth. Speaking truth to “power” doesn’t seem to have done much good. The politicians ‘know’ that we are at or ‘beyond the limits’ (after all, the very first climate conference in the series that will have its 21st meeting in Paris was chaired by… Angela Merkel COP 1, (Berlin, 1995)

So who should academics be giving the benefit of their analysis? Business? Well, okay…. Social movements? They haven’t got a great track record so far. They are not, I opine here, the historical actor, at least in the UK. Maybe it’s not possible to be a public intellectual in a country where the “public” has retreated, where civil society is so brittle and thin.

Maybe all that is left to us is keep our eyes open as the debris piles skyward?

What was particularly good
a) A highly organised and fluently delivered presentation with the right amount of supporting evidence
b) He said he was going to speak for 50 minutes and he spoke for… 46! Nobody needed to drag him off the stage with a comedy hook. This, for a high status male academic, should not be notable or praise-worthy, but is.

What could have been better
The gender balance of the questions (and for the record, the male writer of this blog post asked a question that was later described as ‘academic’). There’s a really simple way to create a higher likelihood of questions from women and ‘other minorities’ (cough cough) that is not,imho, patronising or tokenistic. This (from the end of here)

“This tendency – of the sharp-elbowed/(over)-confident men (such as the author of this post, who asked the first question) needs to be dealt with the level of structure and habit, rather than individual self-abnegation. I dream of a world where chairs routinely say “before we go straight into a q and a, which will be dominated by the usual suspects, please turn to the person next to you/behind you and spend two minutes swapping names and impressions of the event. If you have a question, seek affirmation of it, and help in honing it. We’ll then have a show of hands, and I am going to prioritise gender and racial equity.” It’s a little thing, but it might be part of making a difference. #justsaying”


Oh, and since Australian Prime Minister Tony “remote communities is a subsidised lifestyle choice”  Abbott was mentioned, this cartoon from the wonderful David Pope has to get a run –

Fairy tale endings or “best PhD distraction yet!!!”

What a brilliant afternoon/evening!! Cheap wine (monopolised), super-smart people who forgave (?) my failure to have read the Sleeping Beauty version and the Bettelheim exegesis. All lubricated with people’s digressions on consent and cups of tea, Jack Halberstam and much more.

This fun was at the second “Reading Folk” group meeting. Will I be at the third? Unless the pending ecological debacle intervenes, yes. And, dates willing, I’ll take the wife…. And will be better prepped (apols again…)

Things I have to read
Marina Warner “Once Upon a Time”

Things I should relook at
Tom Lehrer’s Ancient Oirish Ballad (written a few years ago)
Ariadne as a “womjep” archetype
An essay about pictures/objects of desire (Barthes inspired? More details needed!)
Van Gennep and liminal states
Charles Lyell and the age of t’planet
Neil Gaiman “Snow Glass Apples” (described as the creepiest thing ever written)
Angela Carter “The Bloody Chamber
2011 film “Hanna” that I loathed but was almost certainly reading incorrectly.
Elisabeth Harrower “The Watchtower”
More on Bettelheim
More on Primo Levi (natch)
More on Jorge Semprun (also natch)

How I will try to justify/shoe-horn in to my PhD

Fairy Tales are, in part, about the dangers of our desires, and how you should be really careful what you wish for/look the gift horse in the mouth with the help of a veterinarian dentist.

Climate Change – the way ahead?

Marc Hudson on the current state of play in the United Kingdom. From the march last Saturday, to a historical digression, to Industry and Government to Paris.

There was a climate march in London on the weekend, that the organisers said they were hoping would be the biggest ever in the UK. (For the record, it would therefore have to be bigger than the 50 to 60 thousand march in December 2009, before the Copenhagen climate talks. To get that number took all the big NGOs all year to the exclusion of pretty much everything else).

Their hopes were, predictably enough, dashed.

My rule of thumb is to double the police estimate and halve the organisers’ estimate.  This tends to leave a narrow (and accurate?) band.

So, for this march we have the Daily Mail (a proxy for the police) using Press Association info, as saying 5000 and “Socialist Resistance” (insert Voltaire-about-the-Holy-Roman-Empire gag here) saying 25,000. So, somewhere from 10,000 to 12,500, probably.


This tallies more or less with the “More than 15,000 protesters gathered in London on Saturday for a climate change march, which is to end with a rally outside Parliament.” (note the mixed tenses, which suggests the estimate is a very early – and perhaps exuberant – one)

Whoever wrote the headline “Tens of Thousands Take to the Streets of London Demanding Action on Climate Change” (Devlin, K. (2015) needs some remedial maths, basically.

Misplaced concreteness aside, the crucial thing is this – marches don’t build social movements. If they did, we would not be in this mess. We would have continued after December 2009 with a bigger and bigger social movement on climate change, wouldn’t we? We would have vibrant and threatening-to-the-powers-that-be social movements, bending the emissions curve down (and not just because we exported our factories).  We don’t.

Why? Because Marches. Don’t. Build. Social. Movements. But they do keep organisers busy and motivated, and the newspaper sellers happy. So that’s alright then.

Historical digression: Unstoppable green movements every 20 years

The first, mid-late 60s, upsurge, came thanks to raised awareness from books like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” local environmental concerns, (rivers catching fire, the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill), and perhaps some folks getting sick of being lied to about Vietnam and beaten up by cops, and finding something less ‘hot’ to protest. Once legislation was passed (Clean Air Act), and institutions (like the Environmental Protection Agency) founded, the heat went out of the issue

The late 80s surge came on the back of Amazon deforestation and ozone hole discovery, and the novelty for most people (climate change had been a very specialist concern, but not completely unknown) of the climate threat as announced in period June – November 1988. Once the legislation (UNFCCC, 1992) was past, the heat went out of the issue

The latest surge came almost 20 years later. In the period 2006/7 there was a flurry of activity –the launch of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, The Stern Review, the Climate Camps started, the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, the first climate change election (Australia 2007) the “Bali Roadmap” for a global deal in Copenhagen in 2009.” It all disappeared like a fist when you open your palm in 2010.

So, we have three fairly distinct surges, roughly twenty years apart (enough time for a new generation to come up, not cynical about the possibilities of change in situations of ‘agentic deadlock‘). Each ends with legislation/failed efforts that fix the problem. And is followed by a lull when only the (fool?)hardy continue to agitate.

My suspicion, hopefully totally wrong, is that we are in the early stages of another lull. Of course history doesn’t repeat (though she rhymes), and perhaps the next few years will see a huge upsurge in concern and activity. But disasters and rapid warming (as predicted by Michael Mann, who has had a look at the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and doesn’t like what he sees) don’t automatically lead to political upsurges.

And remember, so far social movements on environment have only “succeeded” in creating legislation and formal institutions. They have not caused the same cultural shifts that we have seen around black civil rights, women’s liberation, gay rights (of course, those movements are partial as well, with many adherents justifiably depressed about the speed and direction of change).

(On community energy and the barriers it faces, see recent blog “Distributing power: Can the UK transition to a 50% distributed, low carbon electricity system?” by my colleague, Dr Victoria Johnson.)

Social movements are probably not the historical actor…


I am not a close observer, but seems to me only the off shore wind industry is gaining much traction in the much vaunted ‘green economy’. For other sectors the low carbon agenda seems to have just been tossed in the ‘too hard/not currently relevant to our customers’ basket. I hope I am wrong and that someone points out vibrant R and D etc.

There doesn’t seem to be the sort of public (either social movement/reputational risk/regulatory) pressure on them to bring new products to market and to disrupt their existing supply chains. And in the absence of pressure, you get (very) incremental changes, not radical ones…

They are not the historical actor.


Not much to say here that isn’t obvious. Despite the (long forgotten and slightly embarrassing) promises of ‘greenest government ever’, it lacks motivation, momentum, credibility and capacity. This last one is crucial. Say we have Prime Minister Miliband in two months, governing with the support of three bolshy Green MPs. So what? The state – both national and even more obviously local – has been progressively hollowed out, its capacity to act strangled.

There is no trust in its constancy (Solar Feed-in-Tariffs), its ability to deliver without debacle (Green Deal and now Smart Meters.)

They are not the historical actor.

What is to be done?

At this point I’m supposed to mouth some pieties about Gramsci’s “optimism of the will”, or point to positive noises from Beijing ahead of Paris. Failing that, I’m supposed to say “batten down the hatches”. But that is a metaphor that works for storms which pass, not ones that grow and grow, propelling us irresistibly into the future to which our eyes are turned, while the pile of debris before us grows skyward.

Marc Hudson

See also

Of marches, emotathons and social movements

Screw Paris. No, seriously, screw Paris. A rant on #climate and the endtimes

I am squeamish about “feminism”

Or rather, about men calling themselves feminists (yo, sorry for the click-baiting).

Help me out here. Why am I (a bloke) hesitant about men applying the “f” word to themselves? Am I wrong/irrational? If so, why? If I am right, why?

[UPDATE 9th March – please read the comments if you have time – there are some very very interesting and useful points made.]

First, a working definition of feminism , from the awesome bell hooks

Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy. By naming sexism as the problem it went directly to the heart of the matter. Practically, it is a definition which implies that all sexist thinking and action is the problem, whether those who perpetuate it are female or male, child or adult. It is also broad enough to include an understanding of systemic institutionalized sexism. As a definition it is open-ended. To understand feminism it implies one has to necessarily understand sexism.”

Bell Hooks, Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics

Pro-feminist man” is fine, I think, because it implies that you are on a journey/in a process rather than having ‘arrived.’

Men adopting the actual “feminist” label makes me nervous perhaps because
a) it claims they’ve arrived

b) claims that they know – on a more than intellectual level – what it is like to be on the receiving end of misogyny and patriarchy (of course, lots of men with less privilege than me – who are queer, people of color, etc – have a good inkling of what systemic and pervasive prejudice and discrimination are like!)
c) it’s surely an act of appropriation? (and presumption!)

This debate, btw, came up in the pub last night, and most folks disagreed with me (i.e. thought that men could legitimately use the label to describe themselves/other progressive men.) I insisted that my wife support my position, but in an unforgiveable lapse, she did not…

Congratulations feminist 2(this handy graphic below from the O’Toole piece)

Some stuff by women that I found after writing the above piece;

“So when men claim feminism as their own either to gain legitimacy in feminist spaces and conversations or as a way to excuse their misogynist behaviour, it makes me wonder whether men might be better off staying away from the title completely.

“I’m a feminist,” when coming from a man, always feels to me like demanding a pat on the head. “I love my mother,” they say, puffing out their chests, as though it excuses their visit to the strip club the previous night.” (from here)

Lately, there’s been a spate of “male feminists” posting at the BBs where I lurk. At first I saw them and I thought, great! I mean, I like feminists, and I like men, so you’d think I’d love this purported hybrid of the two. And yet, no, not so much, not so much at all.

As a matter of fact, it’s caused me to realize that most of the men I’ve personally known who have made a huge hairy point of identifying as feminists have been either date rapists, mom fetishists, porn addicts, or bear daddies inflicting their frustrated pseudopaternal tendencies on women. They are some of the most passive-aggressive, patronizing, out-dishing without it-taking twerps on the planet, and they are poisoning the women’s movement from the inside by sapping the hell out of everyone’s goddamn energy.

[Janice Erlbaum (girlbomb): “Feminist Men”: Oxymorons, or Simply Morons?.]

From here

And Men- if you’re not a feminist, it’s fine, just move on by Emer O’Toole

PhD: It’s not so much a whodunnit or a whydunnit but a HOWdunnit

How did we NOT act on climate change when warned about it in the late 1980s? How did we manage to ignore the science and increase our emissions by as much as they needed to be decreased? (Setting aside that this is what we always have done, that we are not the Enlightenment beings we want to see ourselves as). My PhD is not so much a whodunnitt or a whydunnit as a howdunnit.

(But the first two questions DO matter. It’s easy to say “it was Mr Coal, in the boardroom with the money”. But it’s more complicated than that.)

Obviously the big fossil companies. Actual social (political, economic) action on climate change in the 1980s would have meant doom for their highly profitable industries. They were never going to go down without a fight, and so it came to pass. They fought very hard, very dirty, and they have won very very big. Pity about the planet, but hey, whaddayagonnado?

And if you want you can paint each and every one of their ‘hired mouths’ as just a Don Pearlman or Richard Berman, willing to work for anyone on anything (as perfectly satirised by Christopher Buckley in his novel “Thank You for Smoking”.)

And you can paint the politicians as craven and venal, one eye on the ballot box, the other on the post-career corporate box.

And if you push the boat out you can talk about old white “anti-reflexive” men whose safe secure mental world was threatened – first the blacks, then the women, then the gays and then even ‘mother nature’ was fighting back from the position of control/acquiescence that they’d been in from time immemorial right up to the mid 1960s. They vote UKIP, they vote Tea Party, they vote Abbott. They are scared and angry.

You can do all of this, and you may feel right and proper. And you won’t be wrong… but you will be incomplete.

Because there’s a deeper “who” (that bleeds into the ‘why’ question). It’s the question of who actually wanted or wants the massive disruption and rearrangement in the here and now for the sake of abstract future generations. How many of “us” (the rich people in the rich world) were willing to forego the new-found luxuries which quickly pass to the level of invisible necessity? Who would forego the flights, the lights, the foods if nobody else was? Who wants to riot for austerity?

Who was willing to see climate change as just the latest symptom of a world view that stretched back at least to Francis Bacon, of the human desire and latterly ability to extract what was “needed” and move on. It’s probably right, but if you’re trying to fit in in the West, it’s a bit of a buzzkill. And if the anthropologist Marvin Harris is to be believed (see Cannibals and Kings) this is not something unique to those awful whiteys of Europe…

Again, it’s not just about money. Money is a big part of it, for sure. And it’s what paid for the exceptionally effective “counter-rhetorical strategies”, the thick web of disinformation and information outlets that is the Japanese knotweed of the information-sphere.

But “we” are motivated for status, for short-term comfort. And we are cognitively lazy. We often want the world to be tomorrow as it was yesterday, if only because it saves us having to think.

The implications of climate change, and what it meant, and what it would mean to actually do something effective about it were quickly seen as overwhelming (see, for example, the Adelaide “Greenhouse 88” conference proceedings).
Sometimes it’s money. But sometimes it’s because we have a world view, (or, if it’s someone you don’t like, an ‘ideology’) that demands free markets or the Final Victory of Technology and control.

Climate change was always going to upset that house of cards. It was a wrecking ball through a doll’s house. We resist, deny the implications (even those of us who can read a Keeling Curve) because the implications are simply unbearable.

Is the interesting but banal question, that at least has the virtue of being open to empirical investigation
There are common tactics, which include

  • Having the foxes take over the henhouse (capture the regulatory functions of the state, done to great effect in both Australia and the United States)
  • Push for ‘voluntary’ agreements.
  • Create uncertainty/doubt in the public mind (easily enough done, when you are pushing at an open door)
  • Silence/turn down the volume of the scientists, especially via self-censorship. The “Serengeti Strategy” that Michael Mann speaks of does the trick nicely, in hard-to-measure ways.
  • Demand things of climate science (levels of ‘certainty’) that go far beyond what is required of any other science.
  • Use the media’s need to be seen as ‘balanced’ as a way of creating and then perpetuating non-existent ‘controversies’
  • Enforce business closed fronts for as long as possible.
  • Fight in every ditch, force your opponents to expend as much of their capital as possible, so that when the opportunity presents itself, you can regroup and counter-attack against a weakened and demoralised enemy.

To read:
Stanley Cohen States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering

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