Thursday, September 26, 2013

A flask of Actionium, Igor and quickly! Presenting the Activist Table of Elements

Mandy put this together for a display at Conference several years ago - I found it during my tidy-up and found it too good not to put up on the wall at work. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A rather marvellous drone

I came across this graceful, slowly evolving drone melody on music blog Invisible Oranges by Indicothere (solo project of a metal guy called Colin Marston) You can download the album now on a pay-what-you-can-afford deal.

Looking forward to hearing more.

Because climate change WILL affect the global supply of COOKIES

Yep, I just Omnomnomified our homepage.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Campaign Organisers: here's the letter we sent out to local groups

Here's the letter we sent out to local groups about the Campaign Organisers Programme earlier this month. 

I'm reproducing it here partly for my own sense of personal chronology, partly because I'm rather happy with some of the phrasing, especially the first few paragraphs. All that thinking about nutshell explanations clearly paid off.

And you never know, someone might see it here and decide to apply. :-)

Credit to Jenny and Neil as well, who both helped to write it too.

Dear co-ordinator,

Around the country, local groups have built a Friends of the Earth movement to be proud of. You and your members win campaigns, change minds, learn together. Your group makes a difference.

And that means we want to help your group grow stronger. Achieve more of what you want to do. Increase your active membership.

How? One way is by inviting you and your group to help find participants for our new Campaign Organiser Programme.

We’re looking for people with some campaigning experience - it doesn’t have to be too much. People who want to hone their own skills and help us to bring our local campaigners together to achieve more real world change. These people might be current local group members, they might be from outside the group. 

Our aims are to train more people up in the skills of organising around campaigns and to help generate more collaboration and campaigning between our local groups around the country.

Over two years, we’ll provide face-to-face and distance training, 1:1 support and insights into how campaigning really works. But this will be learning by doing - we’ll be asking these organisers to put what they’ve learned back into the local group network by:

- Reaching out and helping more people to get campaigning with a Friends of the Earth local group: a £100 grant is available for this.
- Helping your group to come together with neighbouring groups and other allies to campaign and share skills together.
- Being catalysts, helping others to become better campaigners.

Our first induction and training weekend will be at Hackney City Farm, London on 30 November/1 December, with participants in this first round sought by 8 October. We can offer a contribution towards your transport and accommodation costs.

There will also be a second weekend in the North of England in early 2014 (date and location to be confirmed), with participants sought by 8 December

Where do I come in?

We’ll be advertising this programme inside and outside the local groups network, but we know you can’t beat local knowledge and the personal touch when you’ve an offer to make. And that’s where we need your help.

If you have time to do a couple of simple things: With this letter comes an Organiser role description (attached) and a Programme flyer (will be included in letter). Please take these to your local group meeting and discuss whether anyone in your group would like to apply. 

Please also send a link to our home-page around your mailing list inviting applications: 

If you or someone else in your group has time for the personal touch: If you think someone (inside your core group or out) would be really right for this Programme, we’d love you to be our talent scout in your area. Please talk to them, share the information and encourage them to apply or contact us for a chat.

Further information and applications

Details of how to apply
- An electronic flyer to help you promote the Programme locally (to be added shortly)
- A Programme Guide (to be added shortly) 

You can also contact Programme co-ordinators Tim Gee and Tim Atkinson on or via the Activism Hotline 020 7490 0210. They are happy to talk with potential Organisers or discuss our ideas with you in more detail. 

Finally, you can also join in discussions with local group members helping to shape the Programme on Campaign Hubs at To shape and champion the project, this is where to go. Thank you for your support. 

We look forward to welcoming participants from your area onto the Campaign Organiser Programme and helping you to keep making a difference.

Yours sincerely

Tim Atkinson and Tim Gee
Campaign Organiser Programme coordinators

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Now that's how you write a letter: English translation of Emile Zola's classic J'accuse

I have but one passion, the search for light, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul.
Shelley Temchin and Jean-Max Guieu of Georgetown University have kindly made available to the Internet their translation of Emile Zola's "J'accuse' - his classic open letter to the French President from 1898 on the Dreyfus Affair.

It's an example (rare, it seems these days) of a first rate writer putting their reputation and career on the line for a point of political principle without compromising his artistic talents. Zola was removed from the Legion of Honour and had to flee to England to avoid prison for criminal libel, while history is still divided on the question as to whether his death in 1902 was an accident or not.

And the issues resonate as much as ever - we haven't stopped locking people up without sufficient evidence for reasons of state in the last 100 years [cough Guantanamo cough].

It'd be great to do something with J'accuse, whether that's a straight reading or a Burroughs-style cut-up as one of my occcasional left-brain digressions. Let's see what time and inspiration brings.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Back to Campaign Organisers: promotional flyer unveilled

Now I've returned from holiday and dealt with the rush jobs, I've persuaded my addled brain to focus on our fantastic new Campaign Organisers project again. 

Big thanks to @Timcampaigns and Jonathan Madden, who pulled this flyer together to help promote the programme. You can download it in a much better resolution here: 

PS - We've already had a shade over 15 applications while I was away, which is an most encouraging start. :-)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's not just Burton, mon ami, it's Burton of London

British high-street chain makes comedy bid for upmarket status in France.

Friday, September 13, 2013

You only live twice, bub: The Wolverine mini-review

It was either this or The Lone Ranger on the boat back from France. Sorry, Johnny...

The Wolverine exceeded my low expectations by not being as terrible as expected. 

Jackman is - if not the best of all possible Logans - still a pretty good one, the direction is solid in a post-Bourne style, and the film stays for most of the time where it works best - at street level. Flashbacks to Nagasaki even manage a little skillful pathos.

But oh my sweet Kung Fu Fighting does it stereotype Japan to all heck and back. All the men are either samurai, ninja, yakuza or plucky peasants (in the only scene in which it homages Karate Kid 2 rather than You Only Live Twice). All the women
are either righteous mangafied ninja or outwardly demure kimono-wearing secret ninja.

There are bullet trains, there are love hotels, there's a high-tech mountain fortress. And at one point someone actually tells Jackman, "You wouldn't understand - you're not Japanese."

Perhaps that explains the otherwise incomprehensible plot? 

Or maybe, just maybe, perhaps it's just a bad film.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Wednesday in a pink dress

This was our favourite piece of art in the whole museum - a fantastic feeling of poise, intelligence and control radiating from it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Steampunk-zombie-urban-western, anyone? Cherie Priest's Boneshaker reviewed

It's a measure of how postmodern speculative fiction has become that Cherie Priest's Boneshaker can be tagged steampunk-zombie-urban-western without anyone batting an eyelid.

 And as a general rule, that's progress. All other things being equal, I'd rather read an exercise in genre-clash throwing up new juxtapositions than yet another piece of fantasy purism. 

Or any other kind of purism, for that matter.

I mean it as a compliment of high order when I describe Boneshaker as a page-turner. It creates a believable microcosm of a toxic, undead-infested late nineteenth century Seattle, through which the protagonists - one woman and her YA son - claustrophobically wander. The story does a very Chandleresque job of having a new threat come through the door every time it threatens to slow down.

Priest's various influences play nicely together, and the the book rollicks, crawls and clanks in all the right places. What's more - Boneshaker resists cliche - a strong woman protagonist without a romantic interest who refuses to be defined by either her widowhood or her motherhood is (sadly) remarkable enough that it's worth mentioning.

While importing dirgibles and infernal machines into the Old West certainly doesn't evade the "steampunk is fascism for nice people"  challenge set by Lavie Tidhar, it does duck some of the class and authority issues the genre tends to struggle with.  

I intend to track down the sequel, and if it ventures beyond Seattle it'll be interesting to see how it deals with issues of race and empire outside a zombie-infested microcosm.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Meta interlude: why do reviews?

A fair whack of what I've written on this blog consists of reviews. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Reviews sharpen opinions - it's a way of working out how I think or feel about something. Or how I feel about something now, in the case of some very early posts about fantasy novels I used to treasure by Donaldson, Eddings and May.

  • Communicating my enthusiasms to others. I accept that I'm not anyone's primary source of information on, say, Iron Man 3, but the best recommendations come from friends, right? And I just might be someone's first encounter with Ulver or Spider Robinson, or provoke an equally enthusiastic response.

  • Making a broader point - sometimes a review spills over its boundaries and allows me to board a wider train of thought, like the wierd as an antidote to post-Tolkien cliche in fantasy, or the rugged modernism of metal music.
One final point: I very rarely write a wholly negative or take-down review. Life's too short to waste on reviewing bad product, unless its so mindbogglingly terrible it feels like a public duty or an act of personal cleansing (hello, Your Highness on both counts)

Edited to add: I read a lot more than I actually review, so I've just signed up to Good Reads to share my reviews there, rate books I read but don't review, and see if I can pick up some more recommendations for my fairly eclectic tastes.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Campaign groups: try being more Troi

Last time I blogged about the Friends of the Earth Campaign Organisers programme (which FYI is now live and seeking applicants) I was mulling over how to explain a potentially complex proposition simply.

All I needed to do, it seems, is remember that Star Trek The Next Generation is an excellent way of making sense of the world and group dynamics. 

Naturally, what follows below is my own decidely unofficial thinking, and if you want 'hat-on' explanation and discussion you should go to the link above or the Campaign Hub. But writing this here allows me to be a little more playful, more experimental and try this out with you.

So, let me know what you think. :-)

The Campaign Organisers Programme is a way of helping our local campaign groups be bigger, better and more successful by helping them be more like Deanna Troi.

Confused? Allow me to explain.

We have great Picards, ship's captains in a non-hierarchical sense, coordinators of local groups, leaders, people with their eye on the overall plan and direction.

We also have lots of brilliant first officers (Rikers bearded or otherwise) - campaigners, issues experts, field commanders. As a campaigning movement, how could we not have these people?

We could always, use more Picards, more Rikers. They're awesome,

But what we also really need - and what the Campaign Organisers Programme is designed to give us - is more Troi's.

People with both eyes on the involvement, nurturing and empowerment of others. People who bring other people into a group, who understand their wants and needs and help them get involved, creating spaces for support and shared learning. 

Campaigners, yes, but catalysts too.

Because the only way this movement of ours is going to grow long-term, the only way we're going to change things as much as we want, is if groups look after their people, old hands and new crew alike, and help them grow.

There are local groups out there already doing much of this, and I'm not saying a Picard or a Riker can't also be something of a Troi at the same time. Equally, I know from my own experience in groups how difficult it is to keep your eye on two bottom lines simultaneously, however compatible they might be.

So, the role matters and needs dedicated attention. We know what our own best practice is and we can run a kick-ass training programme to share it. We know we can learn from other movements like Transition too. 

Let's make it happen then. Consider signing up yourself, or recommending it to others inside or outside local groups.

Campaign Organisers: a new tradition of empathic campaigning. Build the movement. Nurture others. Win the game. Be more Troi.

Are you in?

Postscript: here's the Facebook debate my Trek metaphor originally provoked. Many thanks to Dave, Matt and Stu for their contributions.