Sunday, June 21, 2009

Iran

Sometimes the news just seems to ram a particular story down one's throat.

Perhaps I only see what I want to see...

...or 'they' want me to see what 'they' see...

The situation in Iran provides a contrast to the recent operation of democracy during the European Elections here.

I just thought I'd pose some questions/ ideas/ issues I'd been thinking about...

Over there, they had two major candidates. One had huge popular support, and was the challenger. The incumbent was being openly disagreed with. There were rallies in football stadia. Peaceful protests everywhere. Democracy was working. Something like 85% of the electorate voted. Even Iranian citizens in the US cast their vote. (More than double the percentage in our (so-called) democratic country).

Iran: a beacon for democracy. A shining example of how a country can be liberated from the shackles of Sharia law. Right?

So guess who won?

The people taking to the streets to express their disgust at the result is different from what might happen here. The media present us an image of Iran as a country of violence and fear.

Iran: a beacon for potential terrorists. A shining example of how a country can rally others against the United States. A country ripe for destabilisation by Economic Hitmen.

A country that is becoming so destabilised it requires some kind of intervention from the world.

Right?

Let's see how the media presents Iran in the coming weeks/ months...

Let's also see if someone sets up a Facebook group calling for democracy in Iran...oops Twitter got there first...with a 'Show Support for Iran Election' link.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Voting in a (so-called) Democracy (Part Two)

This post is part two of two (or three depending on how much sleep the author feels like getting) of the author's experiences and opinions of voting during the European Elections of June 2009.

The first part of this post was actually written at the same time as part one - it was just getting a bit too long so I chose to split it into parts. There's just been a bit of time since I updated it...busy with school and stuff...but since part one, the election's results have been published, the BNP got two seats, and Iran has expressed another version of democracy...
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2) When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. (continued from Part One)
When I entered the polling station with my mask on the room went quiet. I heard a few people mumbling. I presented my polling card to the person at the relevant area and they asked who I was going to entertain. By way of response I remained silent. This had the desired effect of unnerving the people behind the desk. I stated my name and took my ballot paper.

As I began to draw on my paper, I noticed someone walking to my left. Clearly one of the unnerved officers was 'checking' on me. Alright - I concede that I was taking my time because I was taking photos of my ballot paper - but by law the voting process is meant to be private. When it happened again to my right, perhaps I was right to hurry up.


I wrote a Rage Against the Machine lyric on my paper across the voting boxes: "No escape/ from the mass mind rape". I also drew the symbol 'V' uses in the graphic novel.

I then proceeded to cast my vote.

After that I started to read the regulations on voting that are posted at every polling station. I took a picture of it, and was then approached by one of the officers. She then asked me what I was doing. I told her I was reading the regulations and that I wanted to take a picture of them. She responded by saying she would have to check if I was allowed to do this.


I waited (of course not mentioning I already had a picture). I heard her on the phone with phrases like "a man wearing a mask" and "he wants to take a picture".

After she finished, she spoke to me in a more formal and serious voice saying that if I wanted a copy of the regulations to call the number on a slip of paper she handed me. It was a number for the local electoral services.

She then said that if I tried to take a picture, she would call the police...

At that point - after the look of surprise showed on my face behind my mask. I calmly put my phone away, thanked her, and walked outside. That was completely unexpected!

I then realised, I didn't have any pictures outside. The two people I'd come to vote with had left me behind long ago (understandably embarrassed at my shenanigans) so I thought I'd wait outside and ask someone to take a picture of me on my phone.

A rather unassuming man appearing to be in his late forties left the building and I stepped forward requesting a picture on my phone. He did a terrible job of hiding his shock/ surprise/ wariness/ fear. (I wondered at the time if he thought I was some kind of terrorist...well I did have brown hands - so I was obviously some kind of foreigner...) I had a slight concern that the photo wouldn't come out clearly if his hands were shaking...but it was fine.


It was only after I saw this picture, that I noticed how strange it is talking with someone who's face doesn't change. I realised it has the unsettling effect of making them faceless. Perhaps that's all we are - just a faceless group of people being governed by a bunch of criminals.

People are scared: of each other, of their government.

After he took the picture he went on his way. People were walking in and out of the polling station. A lady came up to me and asked, "which political party are you from?" I was actually completely thrown by this! I replied, "I'm not from any political party." She then went on to ask who I was supposed to be. I told her I was from a film 'V for Vendetta', which she'd actually seen...although I was skeptical.

More people were entering the polling station, and staring at me, and then looking away trying to pretend I wasn't there. My overwhelming sense was that people were confused. Many of them sought to hide their confusion by laughing or dismissing me as a 'nutter'.

The unknown scares us all.

One lady of a pensionable age said I was going to scare people away. As she entered the polling station I recited the rhyme "Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot".

It was only afterwards I wished I'd said: "People are already scared - so few people actually bother to vote".

3) An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
So, surely then the government should fear us? Surely we should get on with each other? Why can't we all just get along? I always love the two laws from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure:
Be Excellent To Each Other and
Party On Dudes...

What a cool way to live life! (I always knew there was more to Bill and Ted...maybe that's why George Carlin agreed to star as Rufus).

I hadn't actually planned on staying very long at the polling station, but after the old lady went in, one of the officers came outside - ostensibly for a cigarette - but when he started chatting to me, I knew the real reason.

He knew what I was doing, and what I was making a reference to. He asked me why I was doing it. I just explained how I felt the political system only provides us with the illusion of choice. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and those in the middle are hamsters on a wheel. Expenses scandals anyone? No accountability anyone? An uneducated electorate anyone?

He completely agreed with me, but also asked what difference I hoped to make - could one person actually make anything happen? Well surely if we exist in a democracy, then one person can make the difference. I told him it actually came down to walking the talk. If I was going to go on about democracy, politics and spout my opinions to everyone, how could I do that with any authenticity if I wasn't actually honouring what I was talking about?

That's why I took a reduction in pay to change careers and become a teacher. I wanted to do something vaguely useful with my life before I move on to the next world.

To quote George Carlin: "People are fucking dumb". That makes them easier to govern. (Most of) The young people I teach don't care about anything much other than themselves. Or they take on the prejudices they're fed: brown person with beard = terrorist; terrible 'country' full of starving people = Africa; immigrants = bad people; etc. etc. etc.

Turns out a few people around me didn't know about spoiling ballot papers...and would have done if they knew about it...

I think of it like this. Currently, only 35% of the people who could vote actually fucking bothered. Imagine if 95% of the people who could vote, actually did bother.

But then - what if - from that percentage, 60% of them spoiled their ballot papers? It makes a fucking joke of democracy.
(Oops is that repetition, deja vu or a glitch in The Matrix?)

4) The day is dark/ There's only one solution/ I'm a one-man revolution

Well after the response to the pictures on Facebook I'm seriously considering setting up a group to do something at the (impending) General Election. What would ten of us dressed as the character V turning up at the local polling station do? All spoiling ballot papers?

Actually, there's something to be said about Facebook groups. There's a group called '1,000,000 United Against the BNP' that has recently passed over half-a-million members...not that it's going to make that much of a difference...

I pose the question: how many members of that group...bothered to actually vote in the European elections...even registered to vote...have been to a polling station...have ever voted...understand the point of a democratic system...etc.?

The very reason the BNP got seats was because people didn't bother to vote or even register to vote. If only 35% of the electorate actually vote, guess which kinds of political party are going to do their damndest to ensure their ENTIRE membership registers and votes? Guess which kinds of party are going to have no trouble actually achieving this?

It's not hard to work out...

But seriously...the BNP getting seats from the European Elections...that's just child's play. Who's REALLY in power? Who REALLY controls things? I don't think 'they' consider the BNP a serious threat to their hegemony. In fact, there are some political/ media analytic theories (Chomsky anyone?) that would say the whole BNP episode is just 'flak'. Just distraction. Misdirection. A media furore designed to keep our eye one thing, whilst something else is happening.

I don't know if that's true or not, but perhaps the question to ask would be: who would benefit?

So what effect is joining a Facebook group going to have if you can't be bothered to register your right to vote in the media-controlled, flak-driven democracy we live in? How does Facebook contribute to the political process?

Perhaps it will make something happen if people actually take action.

Action produces results, not thinking about it, not talking about it, not joining a Facebook group to show all your Facebook friends that you are 'enlightened'. (All that last one shows is that you're pretending to care).*

Facebook might be quite good at mobilising people, getting awareness up...but it's much harder to translate that to grass-roots action at a particular time.

So maybe my idea of setting up a 'V for Vendetta' Facebook group would fail. But should I talk myself out of it before I've even done anything?

One person has said to me they would join the group - but not dress up.

But they will go and spoil their ballot paper...

That's something...but in this media-driven, news-as-it-happens, internet-linked-up world we live in, something with some drama behind is more likely to capture people's imaginations.

And even if I'm the only one, I know I'm walking the talk.

Films like Inside Man (and of course V for Vendetta) make interesting watching about what one man could do to an establishment (especially as that's a Spike Lee film!)

Tom Morello - as a Political Science graduate from Harvard; as nephew to Jomo Kenyatta; as a son of a member of the Mau-Mau; as guitarist in Rage Against the Machine; as someone with a well-thought out political philosophy - uses music to communicate his viewpoint.

He's a one-man revolution.

So now what? Anyone got ideas?

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*Of course there are some people who join the '1,000,000 Against the BNP' Facebook group who actually did register to vote, and actually did vote, and do give a shit. I don't want to offend everyone in one go.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Voting in a (so-called) Democracy (Part One)

This post is part one of two (or three depending on how much sleep the author feels like getting) explaining opinions on democracy and experiences of voting during the European Elections of June 2009.

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1) Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

- Sir Winston Churchill

2) When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
- Thomas Jefferson

3) An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern.
- Tony Benn, in the film SiCKO

4) The day is dark/ There's only one solution/ I'm a one-man revolution
- One-Man Revolution, The Nightwatchman (Tom Morello)

1) Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
I couldn't let the chance to vote in the European Elections last week pass without comment. It was also an opportunity to articulate some of my feelings on the state of the world address. I wrote something about material coming my way on my Searching for Meaning post back in April and how I feel about stuff hasn't really changed (although it seems more people are reading my blog...I mean the notes that automatically update on FaceSpace or is that MyBook?).

So I registered my disillusionment with the current political system by going down to my polling station, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and black hat (in direct tribute to and emulation of 'V for Vendetta') and spoiling my ballot paper.

I've been expressing these ideas and opinions for quite a while...I guess something like an election focuses people's thoughts.

There are a few things that have informed my changing opinion with the current political system. They are a disparate group of ideas, but I'm someone who will attempt to join the dots...it's just that politics, economics, philosophy, theology, ontology etc. are like a big messy ball of wool...they can be hard to disentangle because they're so interdependent.

What could start off as a question about a political opinion could quite easily end up being a discussion about science. It ALL relates as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway what the fuck is spoiling a ballot paper going to do?


Well, according to an old politics teacher, spoiled ballot papers get counted...

Now last time I checked, we do apparently live in a democracy and we are free to express ourselves.

As I understand it, in a democracy (on a basic level) we vote for people who represent our views and they form our system of government.

What happens when I feel that the people put forward to represent me do not represent my views at all?

What happens when I witness apathy, disillusionment and cynicism for the political system (and life in general) all around me?

What happens when I experience the mass media feeding me a diet of: celebrity to keep me stupid; terrorism and recession to keep me scared and advertising and consumer credit to keep me in debt? Now go back and read that quotation from Tony Benn at the top of this post.

What happens is that I want to rip up my fucking ballot paper - never mind spoiling it. Voting seems utterly pointless. All that rhetoric about the principles of democracy seems like bullshit.

Add into the mix that to be a politician you must be adept at lying, cheating and stealing (who disagrees with me on that?) Said another way you need a healthy disinterest in the concept of integrity.

So the political system I'm expected to participate in is founded on...well...bullshit?

Well that's pretty fucked-up...

But, as I found out - spoiling a ballot paper shows my willingness to participate in the democratic system. I'm willing to register to vote. I'm willing to exercise my democratic right. I'm in the system. I'd just like to find someone who reflects how I feel BECAUSE NOBODY FUCKING DOES. Spoiling my ballot paper is a legitimate form of taking part in a democratic system. It just registers my discontent too.

And I know I'm not the only one who feels this way...

2) When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.
When I experience the mass media feeding me a diet of: celebrity to keep me stupid; terrorism and recession to keep me scared and advertising and consumer credit to keep me in debt, it does annoy me. Now go back and read that quotation from Tony Benn at the top of this post. (Oops is that repetition, deja vu or a glitch in The Matrix?)

There are people who are talking about how fucked-up the world really is. How the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and everyone else is a slave on a hamster wheel. It's just that their viewpoints are harder to find in a mass-media controlled world. (Check out BBC5...not heard of it? Not surprising really...)

More and more people are thinking outside the fucking box...and waking up.

V for Vendetta is a graphic novel examining the world around us in an interesting way. It was turned into a film by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix anyone?) The exploration of anarchism (anarchism is NOT chaos - contrary to conventional wisdom) provides interesting food for thought.

So I chose to do something interesting when going to vote.


Now the idea of putting on a Guy Fawkes mask and black hat to emulate a comic book hero is not the normal way of behaving.

Neither is spoiling your ballot paper.

Turns out a few people around me didn't know about spoiling ballot papers...and would have done if they knew about it...

I think of it like this. Currently, only 35% of the people who could vote actually fucking bothered. Imagine if 95% of the people who could vote, actually did bother.

But then - what if - from that percentage, 60% of them spoiled their ballot papers? It makes a fucking joke of democracy.

The character V in the graphic novel and film provides a symbol for the people to rally around. He provides an idea.

The mask and my photos just add an air of defiance and eccentricity (or is that stupidity?) to make it memorable and provide a conversation point. I thought I'd spice things up a little...

Part Two is here...

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Reasons for (my lessons) Losing Focus

So apart from the obvious (well actually rather convoluted) reasoning of my Past, Present, Future post there are some other thoughts about why my lessons lose focus.

As I'm writing this post, I'm wondering if my lessons in school are actually a metaphor for my life?

1) Being told what to do
This can annoy everyone to their core.

The government dictates educational policy. The National Curriculum was designed to ensure standards are maintained in the UK. I don't know the stats about how this country fares against others, but the general feeling is that it's not as good as it could be.

Whatever it is, I read an interview with a headteacher in the TES a couple of weeks ago. She said if she were Education Secretary for one day, she would allow teachers to teach children, and make the teaching profession less prescriptive.

It's this prescriptive nature that perhaps makes my lessons lose focus - I don't want to teach just the syllabus; my pupils come to me with a whole range of issues - not just with the subject I teach them, but across all areas of life...am I a subject teacher or a teacher?

2) It’s a timing thing.
I know there's only a certain amount of time I am able and willing to listen to someone.

Or perhaps it depends on how the material is put across to me, or how interested I am in it?

Maybe there is an optimum length for a lesson. It can be too short, it can be too long: half-an-hour might be too short; an hour and ten minutes might be too long. That's the opinion of one of my colleagues (you can guess how long our lessons are!)

This colleague felt that could be why my lessons lose focus...it's a timing thing. I can't expect pupils to listen or engage with a particular subject for too short or too long an amount of time...

That puts the emphasis on me, and my lessons - if I put it across in an interesting way, the pupils will pay attention - regardless of how long a particular lesson is...

3) The system is failing
Of course the other big reason why my lessons lose focus is that I’m teaching within a system that’s fundamentally flawed. Ok so the government creates a policy and implements it. But some have said it’s the way our entire system is structured that’s the problem. The National Curriculum is just a symptom.

Is it just my job being a teacher? Or is it a calling? A vocation? An opportunity to make a difference? To influence the future leaders of our world?

What is a teacher? A subject specialist? Someone who is excellent at crowd control? Or a ‘those-who-can’t-do-teach’ type person?

Perhaps my lessons lose focus because I feel I’m more than just a particular subject teacher. Maybe I’m responding to something deeper and more profound?

Other educational systems like Waldorf Education, Montessori Schools, or just home-schooling offer alternatives.

Other books and theories suggest emphasising the skills not the subjects (e.g. effective communication or conflict resolution) would better prepare them for the world we live in.

Who knows? I could be barking up the wrong tree.

All I know is that I like my job and I enjoy interacting with young people.

The vaguest notion that I’m contributing to society keeps me going, and I guess that's what matters.