My attempt to protest Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky

Recently I wrote:

An anti-Semite by the name of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky will be addressing an otherwise very respectable Mosque tonight in my local area of Kilburn.

He is the head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the website of which has an article clearly demonstrating the extent to which he views Jews as plotters. An article on that website details a recent seminar given by a deeply dubious character Sheikh Yusuf Ali who talks about the Zionist plot against Muslims; then clearly details Zakzaky noting “the Jewish plot against Islam is manifested in Iraq as they sent Bush to capture Iraq for them”. There is of course the obligatory reference to the “protocols”.

According to his biography on the official website of the IMN:

The goal of the Islamic movement is to enlighten the Muslims as to their duties as individuals and as a community. The movement owns more than three hundred primary/secondary schools located in different places mainly in the northern part of the country. They are known by the name of Fudiyyah Schools. This is in addition to many Islamic centers and other institutions. The movement also owns the Nigeria’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al Mizan, in the Hausa language.

It also details Zakzaky’s arrests, which the site claims were “for his ideas”.

The Jerusalem Post – one of the few publications with details of Zakzaky’s visit – mentions details of the host of the conference, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). They say:

The IHRC is a Hezbollah and Islamic Republic supporting organization. At an anti-Israel rally in Hyde Park during the Second Lebanon War, its chair Massoud Shadjareh wore a Hezbollah flag as did research director Reza Kazim, who was seen chanting phrases like “We are all Hezbollah” and “Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv.” At a pro- Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2008, Kazim was ejected by the police for filming within the roped off area.

According to an article written by the Middle East Strategic Information written in 2009:

  • Zakzaky’s IMN is growing popular among impoverished Nigerian Muslims
  • He believes Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden do not exist, acts of terrorism in the west are organised by western intelligence services, and that Tony Blair was behind the 7/7 bombings
  • He claims Nigeria’s secularist leaders perform ritual sacrifices removing unborn babies from their Mother’s wombs by ripping them out
  • He believes Jews are “”dastardly infidels” and draws inspiration from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the deceased Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin

He has been and gone now, but came almost unnoticed.

I hate to come across all Eustonite or “decent” but if Geert Wilders or Le Pen or someone dreadful like that came to our town, we’d be all over them like a rash, but with figures such as Zakzaky – who is not small beer by the way, he is the head of Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) – we give it a miss.

Some may say that Zakzaky has never committed terror himself, which is why it is not important, but this does not disprove his threat. Some may say, in his words, he does not cause terror. This is questionable, but I’m careful not to make claims I cannot substantiate. During the conference season, the Quilliam Foundation held an event on how non-violent extremism can be just as dangerous as violent extremism. Whether directly or indirectly, Zakzaky has sounded off to the tune of racial discrimination and religious violence, and this should not be sniffed at.

Some will perhaps accuse me, and have done before, of making straw man of whom to knock down. The point here is that I’m not accusing anyone of supporting Zakzaky – though there obviously are some who do – and I’m certainly not saying that in the absence of an anti-fascist picket of him, that I should therefore deduce the anti-fascists in fact support Islamic fascists. It is not true. But I have difficulty understanding why people like Zakzaky don’t wind them up to the point of protest, whereas smaller targets like David Irving, do.

Now let me quickly qualifiy this before I get myself into trouble. Of course Irving is bad news, and has dangerous ideas, but at least he is an army of one; him and maybe some idiots in the National Front or Combat 18. His words are largely ignored by the vast amount of thinking human beings, and are taken on board by a small group of twits that if they express their counterfactual opinions, land themselves in court. Zakzaky, on the other hand, is the head of a church, has many followers and is fiercely anti-Semitic – context, here, is all.

In my quest to get more airplay on Zakzaky, I wrote to three individuals/organisations that I thought could maybe help; Peter Tatchell, Hope not Hate and Unite Against Fascism.

I requested their help in numbers to picket the arrival of Zakzaky and ask questions of the mosque why they felt it responsible to invite someone with a evident history of anti-Semitism and crime.

I saw something on him at the Jerusalem Post and some bits on Harry’s Place blog here and here, as well as a cross-post on the Spittoon website, but when I read next to nothing about him in the mainstream press I wrote to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jewish Chronicle – as well as tweeting Martin Bright and Stephen Pollard – Hampstead and Highgate Express and the Kilburn Times.

The only response I got from any of these places was Peter Tatchell to tell me he was ill and had no campaign funds. Tatchell in his email recommended I contact the Board of Deputies of British Jews and contact local news sources – which I had done. It is a great credit to the man for at least writing back to me and taking my email seriously; there indeed is someone who will not allow sentimentalities affect his principles, and I can’t talk highly of him for doing so.

Tatchell’s first line said it all: “I share your anger about Mosques hosting extremist clerics and preachers. It is no better than having a right wing white racist speaking.”

There is no such thing as a “decent” left. There are leftwingers and rightwingers, with some mixing in the middle, and there are hypocrites and those who allow confused politics affect principles. I do not level this charge at anyone in particular, but in the fight against fascism in all its forms, we can’t just sit on our hands, we should be pulling our fingers out.

In the end I went down to the mosque by myself, and I was ineffective and nervous about getting on the wrong side of anyone. But were I backed up with the same level of energy certain organisations reserve for other far rightwingers, we could have told a number of people what we think about foul ideas infiltrating vulnerable communities.

Who is Marr calling bald?

Ok Mr Marr, you’ve rubbed us bloggers up the wrong way by calling us single, and living with our Mums. Fair’s fair. But bald?

Here’s what he said:

A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed, young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people.

I’m a qualified blogger now, running this site, and having contributed to others such as Though Cowards Flinch, Liberal Conspiracy, The Third Estate, Open Democracy, The Disraeli Room – and I want to demonstrate how un-bald I am:

This, Mr Marr, is not bald – this is hair. Rather, this is bald:

And of course:

Ah, hang on; point taken.

The tea party movement and black conservatism

Recently Paul (Mr Cotterill to you), in the comments thread to a post of mine on conservatism and epistemic closure, said that I’d probably at some stage detail some of my thoughts on the tea party movement. That’s what I am going to do now, albeit exploring another narrative simultaneously; that of black conservatism.

Unsurprisingly, some of the sentiments and placards that stand out from the tea party movement concern Obama’s race, nationality, religious background and myths about socialistic politics – all very low politics.

Some of the intellectual backbone of the movement is provided by such media personalities as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh – who the charge “epistemic closure” had originally been levelled at by Julian Sanchez. It remains almost impossible to separate the politics of conservative epistemic closure from the tea party movement therefore.

Another thing that springs to mind is Pastor Jones and the Koran burning, and the protests over Ground Zero Mosque, which drew support from that most disturbing blogger and tea partier Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs.

There are 61 posts on the above blog which are categorised as Obama’s Birth Certificate Forgery – which should tell you something about the content which appears there. Indeed, the tea party has become inseparable from ad hominem attack of Obama’s nationality, evoking criticisms that at the heart of the movement is racism. Further still, reports have emerged that the English Defence League are forging links with the tea party movement, which will add much fuel to the fire of such criticisms.

But it is of little surprise to me that certain black commentators have come out to deny the movement as ultimately a racist one. The Telegraph had an article on Saturday profiling Tom Scott – who will be the first black Republican congressman from the deep south in more than a century. In it, they quote him as saying, of the tea party movement, “this whole race issue is a diversion away from the real basic platform of the Tea Party”.

The Guardian has started to host a blog by a man called Lloyd Marcus, who is referred to on his homepage as a “Tea Party singer/songwriter, entertainer and speaker” as well as being a “black conservative”.

In a blog entry published last Friday entitled “Why I am a black tea party patriot opposed to Barack Obama” – a really terrible piece – he ends by saying:

…when I hear politicians, such as Barack Obama, pandering to the so-called poor of America, it turns my stomach. I’ve witnessed the deterioration of the human spirit, wasted lives and suffering that happens when government becomes “daddy”.

What is common to both commentators, and common to what Tom Scott called “the real basic platform of the Tea Party” is a dissatisfaction of high taxes and big state. Some of the patent crap about Obamacare having a death panel, uttered in lieu of research by Sarah Palin, was piss in the wind, but the movements’ opposition to universal healthcare was predicated on the idea that universal care is somehow un-American and at odds with the principle of low spending and less government.

In fact listening to some of the members of the movement who are dubious even of the Republican’s spending, views of whom Ed Pilkinton of the Guardian recently had the privilege of interacting with (see video here), one gets the sense that at heart of the movement is a kind of socially conservative, economically fiscal conservative/libertarianism exploiting a low politics platform to reach the hearts and minds of Obama-sceptics.

Therefore I should just clarify, that simply because the movement has black members, this in itself does not prove critics wrong about race – I’m not that stupid – but that there is a little more to the tea party than that – and in fact it hasn’t phased me at all that the movement appeals to black people.

In fact, it rather reminds me of an analysis of black conservatism by the US philosopher and academic Cornel West – whose voice rose once again in light of Obama’s presidency, after saying he wanted him to be a “progressive Lincoln” so that West can be the “Frederick Douglass to put pressure on him.”

It was the opinion of West, in his 1994 book Race Matters, that black conservatism gained much traction, among other things, as a response to a crisis in black liberalism. Black conservatives, for West, seemed inclined to support freedom movements abroad – Europe, Latin America, East Asia – but were disinclined to support the freedom movement in America.

Black conservatives according to West were rather scornful of affirmative action measures, but it is his contention that the well-heeled, middle class black American conservatives were actually biting the hand which fed them. 40 years ago, he stated, 50% of black teenagers in the US had agricultural jobs, 70% of those lived in the South, many jobs disappeared due to measures curbing industrialisation, and in 1980 15% of all black men reported no yearly earnings at all to the Census Bureau while the US army at the time was almost a third black.

In the same breath as questioning why black conservatives couldn’t see the obvious racial disparity in equality of opportunity, West also pours scorn on black liberalism limiting itself to in-fighting and petite squabbling, taking its eye off of the real crisis.

West contends that many viewed black liberalism as inadequate and black conservativism unacceptable, that is until black conservatism began to appeal to a classical liberalism in what West defines as a “post-liberal society and post-modern culture”.

Such a move is not alien to us in the UK; indeed listen to any Tory cabinet minister admit at the moment how the Conservatives are more radically liberal and supportive of the poor than Labour were.

The parallels in what West is saying and the sentiments of contemporary black conservatives and members of the tea party are that not only does Obama purposefully play down his white heritage, but that he is setting back the plight of blacks in society because of it; he represents a failure in black liberal leadership (or, in the words of Timothy Johnson, co-founder of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a group that helps promote black Republican candidates, “His mother was white, his father was a person of colour but every time there’s a racial issue he plays the race card just the same as everyone else.”)

I don’t share this sentiment, but all it takes is the perception that Obama is setting black politics back, and thus arises the crisis of black leadership similar to one diagnosed by Cornel West.

In conclusion to this blog entry, which admittedly took many deviations, I will say that the tea party is marred by a pretty low level of epistemically closed politics, but that stripped down it is a PR-savvy version of the Taxpayers’ Alliance. In the process of its becoming in US politics, it will be a haven for many black people who feel, as Timothy Johnson does, that Obama is doing a disservice to black politics; this may well see a resurgence of black conservatism similar to that assessed by Cornel West – and through the same conditions too. It is incumbent upon Obama to take heed of this possibility, and counter the tactics of the tea party, not because it is racist, but precisely because it is opening itself to Obamasceptics of all stripes.

Book review: Anais Nin – A spy in the house of love

As far as the psychology of female sexuality is concerned, Jacques Lacan is often looked upon as someone who is deeply pessimistic about women being emancipated from male authority, and able to explore sex without the shadow of masculine hegemony disturbing the way.

The highest form of enjoyment for women, in Lacan’s terms, is feminine jouissance – which translates as enjoyment, but in French legalese is synonymous with ownership, such as the enjoyment or ownership of property – which designates a sexual act separate from the domain of male dominance.

But it is a tremendous task indeed to reach such enjoyment, since the burden of masculine hegemony is so deeply ingrained. As is demonstrated in Freud, the gendered subject is defined in terms of the penis; the presence or absence of it. Since the ontological becoming of a woman is engendered by a lack – usually discovered with reference to a Father, from whom “penis envy” may begin – so the paternal order remains the dominant one.

This is neither Freud nor Lacan’s wish – a charge levelled at them by such “feminist” critics as Germaine Greer – but a reality that is later proven in real life, where patriarchy is often the dominant mode of society.

This filters into sexuality for women, for whom their sexual being is defined by the patriarchal order. Nowhere is this more aptly exemplified in Anais Nin’s book “A spy in the house of love”, the fourth in her “continuous novel” Cities of the interior.

Sabina, the artistic protagonist of the story, despite her best efforts to rebel against the norms and values of her patriarchal society, by having sex with as many attractive men as she can, while her husband Alan – who she admits is more like a Father figure – thinks she is on tour acting in a production of Cinderella for weeks on end, has a constant urge to admit her guilt to a “lie detector” – a character often referred to throughout the novel as a kind of psychologist who Sabina is able to admit all her deviancies to.

The novel itself subordinates the stereotype that men are the ones able to talk freely of their sexual ventures, while for a woman to do so is something quite unwomanly (it is also rather telling that the character of Sabina, though originally set out to be based on Nin’s friend, turned out to be a self-exploration of the author herself, who confessed to indulging in many affairs at the time).

Although the reader is able to sympathise with the main character throughout the novel – no sympathy is given to Alan, who appears wearisome and dry – on her many exploits, the tragedy is revealed at the end when, on meeting the “lie detector” expecting to be arrested – much to the confusion of others, for whom it is obvious Sabina has done nothing wrong to be arrested for (no doubt a reference to her guilt, and values held by the rebellious artistic crowd she congregates with) – confesses to ignorance that her sexual exploits, rather than being love, are instead a naivety based upon seeking love.

Sabina weeps upon realising that love is not found in sexual promiscuity, but safety. And that safety, sadly, is with Alan – the paternal law. The unceasing guilt that Sabina experiences through the explanation of the “lie detector” only serves to prove that Alan as the Father figure is what Lacan refers to as in the “name of the Father” – or more succinctly, the paternal law being present even in the Father’s absence (Alan is seldom present in the text).

Furthermore, that feeling of someone watching Sabina, which she experiences throughout, realising that it is the “lie detector”, is a device showing that masculine hegemony is a constant presence; judging her on the basis of standard male prejudices of female sexuality.

Given the context, the conclusion of the novel by Nin, who is considered a renegade writer of female sexuality, undercutting those standard practices of masculine hegemony, shows that she is defeated by a false dichotomy between love and enjoyment. In fact, what ultimately defeats her is the guilt – a by-product of masculine hegemony.

It is not love she succumbs to at the end of the text, it is paternal law.

The end of the novel, which sees Sabina weeping to one of Beethoven’s quartets, is far more conservative than the conclusion of Lacan – aforementioned, seen by many as an anti-feminist. Though he admitted it was a difficult task, feminine jouissance, or sexuality which subordinates paternal law, was not impossible, and when achieved, put women at a dignified position often not enjoyed in everyday life, where gender inequality is still a reality.

Lacan, even in his pessimism, is far more feminist than Nin, considered to be a radical with her female-led erotic fiction.

Inspired by Kate Belgrave’s piece My average life as an average whore

In defence of Wagner’s Israeli enthusiasts

Imagine a history rewritten: would it be a victory for the Nazis if they were forced to live side by side with the Jews they most vehemently disliked? Of course it wouldn’t be, and though it upsets and astounds me that today I have to share oxygen with people who hold views so unpalatable it makes me wince, part of my support for multiculturalism is heightened in the knowledge that we live in a society where to be law abiding means respecting people of cultures and sharing experiences together; and there is not a thing racists of any colour can do about it.

I think about this today, as I see news of outrage that an Israeli orchestra should be able to play a festival in Bayreuth, Southern Germany, dedicated to the music of Wagner.

The great granddaughter of Wagner, Katharina, who was to visit Israel to formally invite the orchestra, will now have to cancel her visit – which she said was an opportunity to “heal wounds”.

According to a report in The Guardian, Holocaust survivor groups are saying “it was inexplicable that the orchestra would break a decades’ old unofficial boycott to perform music by Hitler’s favourite composer, who also held antisemitic views”.

Furthermore, Israeli historian and Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger, on the topic of the boycott, told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: “It’s a sentimental ban. As long as some of us are still alive, people should refrain from imposing Wagner on us.”

Far be it for me to disagree with holocaust survivors; so I’ll quote from two of our most loved media figures: Stephen Fry and Slavoj Zizek.

Fry recently gave a question and answer session at the Wagner Society following the showing of his film Wagner and Me where he said: “You can’t allow the perverted views of pseudo-intellectual Nazis to define how the world should look at Wagner. He’s bigger than that, and we’re not going to give them the credit, the joy of stealing him from us.”

My point about the Nazis living side by side with the Jews relates very closely to Fry’s point; that Hitler appreciated Wagner should not stop Jews from appreciating Wagner too – and certainly not at the order of certain Israelis – as this only serves to divide those able to enjoy good art. But further still, as Wagner was an anti-Semite himself, nothing should please us more that orchestral representatives of the Jewish state make steps to end the taboo which allows Nazis to define how the world looks at Wagner.

In a piece called Why is Wagner worth saving? Zizek vents his criticism on what he calls the “historicist commonplace” that says “in order to understand a work of art, one needs to know its historical context”. To this end, Zizek notes “too much of a historical context can blur the proper contact with a work of art”.

Zizek claims that there is the temptation when listening to Wagner to imagine that every sub-text is anti-Semitic, but, using the examples of Parsifal and the Ring, tries to prove this isn’t always correct. In the Ring according to Zizek, it is not Alberich’s renunciation of love for power that is the source of all evil, but rather Wotan’s disruption of the natural balance, “succumbing to the lure of power, giving preference to power over love”, which spells doom, meaning also that evil does not come from the outside, but is complicit with Wotan’s own guilt. With Parsifal, the elitist circle of the pure-blooded is not jeopardised by external contaminators such as copulation by the Jewess Kundry, but rather from inside; “it is Titurel’s excessive fixation of enjoying the Grail which is at the origins of the misfortune”.

The point being is Wagner “undermines the anti-Semitic perspective according to which the disturbance always ultimately comes from outside, in the guise of a foreign body which throws out of joint the balance of the social organism”.

The overarching thesis of Zizek is that the anti-Semitic sub-text is not always appropriate when engaging with Wagner, and if this art is separate from the evil of the early twentieth century, then there is reason to save Wagner.

The Wagner boycott is one example of denying the world a great artist, and allowing the Nazis a small victory. The point is Wagner can, and must, be enjoyed by anyone who wishes to, regardless of race, if not for the reason that he would’ve disliked this himself.

Anti-Semite Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky in the UK

An anti-Semite by the name of Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky will be addressing an otherwise very respectable Mosque tonight in my local area of Kilburn.

He is the head of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), the website of which has an article clearly demonstrating the extent to which he views Jews as plotters. An article on that website details a recent seminar given by a deeply dubious character Sheikh Yusuf Ali who talks about the Zionist plot against Muslims; then clearly details Zakzaky noting “the Jewish plot against Islam is manifested in Iraq as they sent Bush to capture Iraq for them”. There is of course the obligatory reference to the “protocols”.

According to his biography on the official website of the IMN:

The goal of the Islamic movement is to enlighten the Muslims as to their duties as individuals and as a community. The movement owns more than three hundred primary/secondary schools located in different places mainly in the northern part of the country. They are known by the name of Fudiyyah Schools. This is in addition to many Islamic centers and other institutions. The movement also owns the Nigeria’s most widely circulated newspaper, Al Mizan, in the Hausa language.

It also details Zakzaky’s arrests, which the site claims were “for his ideas”.

The Jerusalem Post – one of the few publications with details of Zakzaky’s visit – mentions details of the host of the conference, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). They say:

The IHRC is a Hezbollah and Islamic Republic supporting organization. At an anti-Israel rally in Hyde Park during the Second Lebanon War, its chair Massoud Shadjareh wore a Hezbollah flag as did research director Reza Kazim, who was seen chanting phrases like “We are all Hezbollah” and “Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv.” At a pro- Israel rally in London’s Trafalgar Square in 2008, Kazim was ejected by the police for filming within the roped off area.

According to an article written by the Middle East Strategic Information written in 2009:

  • Zakzaky’s IMN is growing popular among impoverished Nigerian Muslims
  • He believes Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden do not exist, acts of terrorism in the west are organised by western intelligence services, and that Tony Blair was behind the 7/7 bombings
  • He claims Nigeria’s secularist leaders perform ritual sacrifices removing unborn babies from their Mother’s wombs by ripping them out
  • He believes Jews are “”dastardly infidels” and draws inspiration from Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the deceased Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin

A brief history of Pitsea and the ideology of urban regeneration

It is not only true, but also necessary, that all that is solid melts into air and change disturbs the inner functioning of people and places over periods of time. This notion is as true as for towns, villages and cities as it is for us as humans.

But there is something significantly more influential about the disruption that is caused by a geographical location unto its human subject, something deeply and incalculably disruptive that cannot be said to be returned in kind. The task of qualifying to what extent the geographical landscape is said to affect the normal functioning of the psychical realm is little more than a footnote in the Situationists’ repertoire, yet it is their work and influence that has gone the furthest into such a collation of results. The word which has come to define the task of qualifying how far a geographical landscape is said to be a determinant on the human subject is psychogeography, and as can be expected it is usually anthropocentric in that it concerns itself with measuring the extent to which passive places alter active minds, but less is said within psychogeography of how minds alter places since this is delegated to the realm of town and country planning.

Equally, urban geography at its elementary stages tended to concern itself with the extent to which towns could influence its surrounding area. Sir Dudley Stamp in his crucial book Applied Geography drew up two points that summarised the raison d’être of urban geography, namely the ‘study of the actual town itself’ and ‘the influence of the town on its surroundings’. Now maintaining allegiance to these two points I would like to supplement them with my own, scilicet the influence with which the surrounding area has on the town itself.

Highlighting the influence furnished upon a town by its neighbouring area sutures the gap present in Stamp’s urban analysis, or what I am prepared to call topographical revealing. It is surely necessary when focusing ones attention to the location and history of a town to look at what makes it distinct, what makes it unique, whilst also observing the part it has played in developing its borders. But if one is to really reveal the power relations at play, one must go further. With this as my backdrop I can begin to reveal the relationship between Pitsea – a small town in South Essex – and London.

Observing Stamp’s agenda for urban geography and applying that to the history of Pitsea will assure some interesting revelations, including the apposite land it once had available to provide an arms factory and accommodate pillboxes during the Second World War, and how being situated on the Thames Estuary made it ideal for exporting produce. But with the inclusion of my third point, I can reveal how Pitsea has always been something of a plaything for London, an extension for its own purpose, an experiment and dumping ground, a place that jumps when London tells it to jump.

With its mention in the Domesday Book, it is acknowledged that Pitsea existed as far back as the Norman Conquest, but according to the Rochford Hundred Field Archaeological Group managed to go unnoticed by local historians. As T.C. Chisenhale Marsh’s translation of the Domesday Book relating to Essex explains ‘Pitsey is rather inland for land,’ one possible reason as to why there is little to no pre-Norman history on Pitsea, other than blind speculation.

It’s the legitimacy of this view that lends itself to the common perception that Pitsea is a kind of product of Basildon new town, a residential remainder. Its geographical location, however, does form its name, emanating from pic (point) on sea. The proximity of the point to the estuary rendered it quite ideal to install a public a railway line, especially given the uselessness of all the surrounding boggy marsh, made even more useless by its agricultural ineptitude, of which more in a moment. The Fenchurch Street line was initiated in 1852, eventually reaching Pitsea in 1854 and commenced proper commercial use by 1st July 1855, joining all other sites linked by marsh and creek, Benfleet, Leigh-on-Sea and Standford-le-Hope.

Most of the designated area for Basildon new town (all the areas once under the jurisdiction of Billericay, with its then Member of Parliament Bernard Braine) – and the south east of England – is covered with London clay, a marine deposit, well known for the fossils it creates and the immense thickness (150 meters) – able to support the deep foundations and tunnels found in and around Essex – of the Ypresian age (which span from 48.6 to 55.8 years ago), which on the geological timescale (time that is used by geologists, palaeontologists and other earth scientists to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the history of the Earth) is the earliest stage of the Eocene sub-epoch (which span from 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago). Owing to this, much of the said area is agriculturally unsuitable. And since 40% of the area swallowed up by Basildon new town was originally planned to be agricultural heaven, a re-think was made necessary.

Pitsea and Vange were not part of the 40% of designated land for Basildon new town composing of London clay, instead they were composed of alluvium, the product of a heavy amount of dropped solid rock particles due to fast river flow, but still this meant agricultural incompetence. Production through farming and foods ceased to exist as a consequence, so another method of capital squeezing was needed (this couldn’t be any more apparent, and simultaneously a slap in the face, by the presence of a budget priced, chain supermarket called Farmfoods in Pitsea today).

The commercialisation of Pitsea was not a problem for anyone with political punch near town. Dennis Hardy and Colin Ward in their book Arcadia For All note that the landowners near the railway routes were usually shareholders or board members of railway firms; they profited from diminishing farmlands and the volume of traffic that the development of the railway would bring.

They, too, were probably happy to see the methods used by The Land Company, possibly the brainchild of Protheroe & Morris, who operated from the same address in London and the South East, and their estate agents who used techniques of wooing potential plotland development buyers with free railway tickets or cheap fares refunded to purchasers, not to mention the utterly frivolous champagne auctions they used to hold. It is noted that East London families would go out to the country for a cheap outing and come back property owners. Pitsea was soon turned into a place for Londoner weekend homes – hard to believe now. It wasn’t until 1925 that local entrepreneur Harold George Howard decided that Pitsea was going to be “something really special”. It was he who designed the Tudor style buildings around Pitsea in the thirties, the Railway hotel public house (now a place of brick throwing target practice for local bored youths, sheet metal instead of windows, grand ideas of a neolithic historical museum by idealistic councillors), the cinema (which has since been a successful bingo hall, now closed down, posters advertising local carnivals, shelter for rained-in early morning bus users), Tudor Mansions and Tudor Chambers with its cab firm, kebab shop, and betting office, and finally, Anne Boleyn Mansions used by Lloyds bank.

His legacy lives on in the row of houses bordering the park that bears his name (Howards Park), and one cannot criticise him for his earnest effort. But even he could not have helped what was to happen to the area next, despite the efforts of many men. The German forces’ bombing of East London meant that many families were forced out of their obliterated homes, seeking a safe haven in nearby towns with land to accommodate them (and incidentally, if there is one good thing to be said about the digging up and destruction of East end history for the purposes of the 2012 Olympic games, it is that excavators uncovered an unexploded bomb near to Bromley-by-Bow Tube station). It is precisely here that a parallel with settler hegemony, like that of the state of Israel, can be drawn: the Second World War brought about ghastly deaths and forced evacuations of many innocent people, but how to deal with populating another area of land was mishandled, with Israel it meant making second class citizens out of the existing Arab population, forced into suppression by the Nakba of 1948, with Pitsea, the re-accommodation of innocent people affected by the war gave legitimacy to the compulsory purchasing of over 10,000 homes, some weekend homes, some freehold owners, all for the good of Basildon new town.

After the Second World War the Tory government only had the iconography of Churchill as muscle for their election campaign, needless to say it was Clem Attlee’s Labour government that won in 1945, bringing in many of the institutions we take for granted now such as the NHS. Owing to the housing problem after the war the Labour government introduced two new acts taking control of the issue; namely the Town and Country Planning Act and the New Towns Act of 1946/7. It was the idea to create new homes where possible, but the destruction of existing homes seemed a little counter-productive. It was here that the Residents Protection Association (RPA) took force, which campaigned against the creation of a Basildon new town on the basis that it would destroy existing homes.

The Labour initiated acts generated much enthusiasm at first since it set out to clean up the district, finish unmade roads, fix unconnected sewers and deal with the cramped conditions many people lived under. However in the 1951 elections, due to the first-past-the-post system, and in spite of the fact the Labour party fielded a record number of votes (even to this day), Churchill’s Tories made it back into government. The first thing that Mr. S.A. Perry did, an owner of a London printing firm and a staunch ally of the RPA, was to write to Churchill on the 24th of September 1951 asking him to shelve the New Town plans. He received a reply from Churchill’s secretary on the 27th saying the Tories were not opposed to the act or the forming of a new town, but “the socialist Town and Country Act of 1947 imposed a most unjust basis for compensation”. After much campaigning, and even fielding George Ross, member of the RPA committee and author of The Brink of Despair: A History of Basildon 1915 – 1986, as candidate for the council, with modest success, it was realised that the slogan “Down with the New Town” had become obsolete when in the early fifties buildings were beginning to fall down.

The Rt. Hon. Hugh Dalton MP, Minister of Housing, approved the first Master Plan for the new town, August 1951.

The corporate logic over the introduction and overspill of Londoners had spelt the destruction of many people’s homes and had turned Pitsea into a consumer plot. There is something distressingly logical that Pitsea is the site of the biggest Tesco in Europe straddling over 125,000 square feet of floorspace. The new Masterplan for the area, approved in April 2007, and entitled the Regeneration, will provide Pitsea with 20,000 more square metres of retail space, which among many other things includes an opening up of Station Lane, the path that reaches the train station, which will include a French Market (and if there is one thing Pitsea is not crying out for, it is a French market). It will also fill space with 500 new homes, many of which are flats on the cusp of Station Lane itself, for the sole purpose of designing trendy flats appealing to 20/30-somethings, in order for easy access to the city; an act of blatant London subservience.

No wonder there is an ink daubing of “EC2” on the fence that blocks the site where these flats will occupy; far from being a sign that East end gangs are rearing their ugly heads in Essex, it is a signalling gesture that the re-colonisation of Pitsea through corporate regeneration is imminent.

The sum components of the Pitsea regeneration seemed designed entirely in order to make access out of it easier for part-time lodgers in trendy flats. Why else would Station Lane be such a focal point, why a French Market, why when housing prices in London are so, that millions of pounds are spent creating another bubble just waiting for 15 years of equilibrium elsewhere, before a burst threatens to cause ruin. House prices soar in London, (and so what is the thinking? Thus) let’s just move the problem to the towns, then when house prices soar there maybe the city and suburbs will be affordable again. I smell a rat – the rat of London, telling Pitsea to jump, and jump it does.

Guy Debord’s great work Thesis on Traffic opined that planning and architecture, rather than being designed to accept the automobile as its central theme, should instead phase it out in the aim of reintroducing civil society as the foreground of urban life, social relationships included. Now, in urban planning, the problem isn’t just the automobile, it is area designed only to point to the most efficient way out. As such the opening out of Station Lane spells the antiquatedness of civil society in Pitsea (like it needed any more of a reason). The problem today of urban regeneration is that it is held hostage by the infectious capital centeredness of the city; more precisely it is the influence with which the surrounding area has on the town itself. Practical geographers, under the jurisdiction of Sir Dudley Stamp, take heed.

Evo keeps his eye on the balls

Evo Morales, the Bolivian President, may be famous for his leftwing views or the fame he received by being Bolivia’s first indigenous premier, but what might be less known is his natural football talents.

In 2008 he listed as a reserve player with Litoral, a minor league football team in La Paz – the capital of Bolivia.

It may be less known still, that he is an outspoken critic of the ban by Fifa on international matches at high altitudes – prompting him to host a charity match with former Argentinian player Diego Maradona in La Paz, at 3,597 metres (11,800ft) above sea level.

It is also demonstrably true that Morales is a critic of high tackles – as can be witnessed during a match he played in last Sunday to inaugurate a renovated stadium in the capital.

A video put on YouTube (seen below) shows Morales, a 50-year old former coca farmer, putting the knee into opposition player Daniel Gustavo Cartagena, after the latter performed a late tackle on the President.

The video is magic. Viva Evo!

Is coup the appropriate term for what is happening in Ecuador?

The very nice Naadir Jeewa, in a comment he left on my blog, notified me of a recent debate between two bloggers on whether the current events in Ecuador can be rightly called a coup or not. The debate has been taking place by Greg Weeks who has defined coup d’etat and has come to the conclusion that instead of a coup, the ongoing events are more an example of dissent which has gone awry, but owing to the absence of military support, should be differentiated from a coup. Miguel Centellas, on the other hand, disagrees saying that the assault which Correa has experienced, are “illegitimate means of expressing discontent” akin to a coup attempt.

I feel now I want to offer my own take. Their argument, as stated by Centellas, is on the semantics of coup (or indeed the “golpe”). There is an obvious difference between a coup d’etat and a military coup d’etat, but according to Weeks’ definition the former, in order to be a coup at all, must have the backing of the military, or at least hope the military joins side. Practically speaking, it would be difficult to organise a coup without the backing of the military because it is their role to protect the national government, but it seems the question becomes more trivial when we consider that former President Gutiérrez provided co-ordination to the dissenting police.

In my opinion, we cannot refrain from calling this a coup attempt on the grounds that the army did not join the other side – the police, the former President – bur rather we should refer to this as a failed coup. The violence which Correa endured, and his being trapped inside a hospital by dissenters trying to intimidate him is one thing, but as there were figures present leading the rioters, such as Gutiérrez, who is not affected by the measure to extend the promotion time period for police, the definition needs to go one level further. I suggest that term is coup.

In defence of Rafael Correa (Update)

The Guardian are now reporting what Correa, and the foreign minister Ricardo Patino, have been telling the media in Ecuador; that a coup is being organised from within the dissenting police protesters by former president Lucio Gutiérrez, of the centre right nationalist Patriotic Society Party.

The main police chief in Ecuador has stepped down from his position over the disarray.

TVE, the Spanish news agency, are reporting that neighbouring Peru and Columbia – both on the right politically – have closed their borders out of sympathy with Ecuador and Correa, so as to stop coup perpetrators from leaving the country.

Furthermore, the US and the UN have both condemned the coup attempt, while Brazil is the only country in South America which has not taken an official position against agitators.

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