Archive for August, 2012

The holiday starts here …

OK, so I’m away for two weeks, on my annual family holiday — this year to Italy, and, specifically, to Rome for a week, and then Abruzzo for a second week. It will be good to get away. I’ve been finding Guantánamo weighing heavily on me, and the state of Britain under the Tories has been no easier to bear, so an opportunity to rest and recharge the creative batteries will be most welcome.

I’ll be trying to publish a few articles while I’m away, but I won’t make any rash promises. The most likely scenario is that I’ll manage to publish a few more photo sets from the ongoing project that has been particularly motivating me over the last three months — cycling around London by bike, taking photos of whatever interests me, to add to a body of work chronicling London in 2012, as I try to understand — both physically and mentally — this enormous and enthralling city that has been my home for the last 27 years, and that is permeated by history, illuminated or dulled by the weather, and enlivened by nature.

Cycling around London with a camera also demonstrates a chasm between the rich and the poor that continues to grow, with the glass and steel towers of speculative finance rising up everywhere as though the economy was healthy, and not in a double-dip recession, and, on the other hand, the many other places where  businesses continue to go bust. Some areas of London — where the chattering classes rarely venture, if ever — have begun to resemble ghost towns, with the unemployed — on the anniversary of last summer’s unrest — supposed to stay quiet and not express any kind of dissatisfaction while chasing non-existent jobs. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos of London At Night: From the Olympics at Greenwich to Deptford and Surrey Quays

The Olympic screen at GreenwichBritish BratsThe Olympics at duskA tall ship passes DeptfordA tall ship passes Canary WharfCanary Wharf from old Deptford
Pepys Estate: the Georgian entrance, and Aragon TowerAragon Tower from Deptford WharfDeptford Wharf illuminatedCanary Wharf from Deptford WharfCanary Wharf from Deptford: close-upGreenland Dock at night
Canary Wharf from Greenland Dock at nightThe Shard at night from Greenland DockSurrey Quays station at nightThe towers of Canary Wharf and DeptfordDeptford at nightThe Deptford tunnel at night

London At Night: From the Olympics at Greenwich to Deptford and Surrey Quays, a set on Flickr.

On August 8, 2012, as part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike — and also to fully understand, both physically and mentally, the scale of the city and how its various neighbourhoods join together, I cycled down to Greenwich from my home in Brockley, and then along the River Thames through Deptford to Surrey Quays, and back, inland, to Deptford and home.

I was not alone on this journey, as I also took my son Tyler along as a bit of an adventure  — for both of us — and we began by checking out the Olympic screen in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, and then cycling through Deptford, partly on the Thames Path along the river, which I first recorded here, through the Pepys Estate (formerly part of Deptford’s extensive docks) to the remaining docks of Rotherhithe —  the South Dock and the colossal Greenland Dock — which are the last of the docks that once covered the whole of Rotherhithe. Read the rest of this entry »

Real London: Photos of New Cross, Bermondsey and the Old Kent Road

The Land Rover and the JaguarThe Montague ArmsHouses in Kender Street, New CrossOvergrown development site, New CrossLooking at The Grove building site, New CrossThe ruins of Monson School
A tangle of scaffoldingTunnel on Cold Blow Lane, New CrossCND mural, New CrossDemolition site, New CrossThe old Southern Railway StablesThe lonely doorway
The gas works on the Old Kent RoadThe children's playgroundThe derelict warehouseThe faces of the Old Kent RoadThe towers of the Tustin EstateBreakers yards off the Old Kent Road
Breakers yard on White Post Street

Real London: New Cross, Bermondsey and the Old Kent Road, a set on Flickr.

“Real London” is a short-hand, of course, for a London that is not the shiny one of glass and steel built and sold by property developers, and bought by those in the top few percent of earners — as well as by foreign investors. It is a world of workers, some of whom live in their own houses, having secured mortgages before the boom that began in the late 1990s, and often well before that, when it was still affordable for working people to take out mortgages and be able to repay them. Others live in social housing, built by local councils and run either by the councils or by housing associations, or, less frequently, owned or owned and managed by co-ops, and others have to cope with the increasingly greedy, unregulated private rental market . And amongst them, of course, are the unemployed — part of the current total of two and a half million unemployed people in the UK as a whole. According to the London Skills and Employment Observatory, 1.38 million people are currently either unemployed or “economically inactive” in London, and the unemployment rate is 8.9 percent.

These workers and homeowners were, perhaps, on salaries between the median and the average — currently £14,000 and £26,000, as I discussed in my article, The Housing Crisis and the Gulf Between the Rich and the Poor: Half of UK Workers Earn Less Than £14,000 A Year — but whereas in the past it would have been possible for a household on average or below average wages to buy a house, now it is completely impossible.

As I explained in a recent article, Unaffordable London: The Great Housing Rip-Off Continues, on a multiplier of three times earnings, which was how the housing market functioned before the Blair and Brown boom years, a couple buying a house in London for the average price — £388,000 — need a combined income of nearly £130,000, or something slightly less plus a whopping great deposit. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos of a Journey Across the Thames on the Olympics Cable Car

Approaching the Royal DocksPeninsula Central - and the car parkCanary Wharf - from the Peninsula car parkTake-off on the Emirates Air LineLooking back at the Olympics cable car terminalAlong the river from the Olympics cable car
The Dome and Canary Wharf from the skyThe River Lea from the Emirates Air LineThe River Lea and the Olympic ParkThe Thames - still a working riverThe Dome and Canary Wharf from the eastThe Olympics cable car prepares to land
Looking south from the Olympics cable carLooking north west along the railwayLooking west along the Lower Lea CrossingThe Royal Docks from the skyComing in to land on the Emirates Air LineThe O2 from the Lower Lea Crossing
The East India Dock BasinThe O2 from the East India Dock Basin

A Journey Across the Thames on the Olympics Cable Car, a set on Flickr.

On August 6, as I explained in a previous article, Jamaican Independence and a Giant Tent: Photos of a Visit to the Olympic Site at the O2, featuring photos and commentary, I cycled along the river from Deptford to Greenwich peninsula with my wife and son, to visit the O2 (recorded in that previous set of photos), and also to travel on the Emirates Air Line, the cable cars across the Thames, which run from North Greenwich, near the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome) to the Royal Docks. The visit was for fun, but was also part of my ongoing project to photograph the whole of London by bike, which I have been recording here since June.

Intended to transport Olympics visitors from one venue to another, the Emirates Air Line project — named after the Emirates airline company, the biggest sponsor of the cable cars, who provided £36 million in a ten-year sponsorship deal — also provides a useful way of crossing the river at a point where there are few other options — just the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the west, and the Woolwich Ferry to the east — and it is both remarkable and commendable that bicycles are also allowed. Read the rest of this entry »

Where is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?

What has happened to my country? I grew up in a Christian household — my father was Church of England, my mother Methodist — and both believed in Christian charity; in other words, the need for people of faith to look after those less fortunate than themselves. In the case of my Methodist heritage — as a working class religion, rather than the establishment C of E — this care for those in need was absolutely central to how the world was perceived, providing a social and political perspective as much as one based on religion.

Christians — and, of course, believers of other faiths — have their own share of hypocrites, and certainly do not have a monopoly on caring for the poor and the sick, as can be seen by the number of atheists with a well-developed social conscience, but in the Britain of today, driven by the Tory-led coalition government, concern for the poor and the ill appears to have become deeply unfashionable, leading to a callousness in society as a whole that has been encouraged by governments themselves (not just this shower of heartless Etonians), and by large parts of the media.

The defining characteristics of this cruel new world appear to be a preoccupation with selfishness and materialism, and, as part of a decline in empathy and the dissolving of the kind of political solidarity that was central to those opposing Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, for example, a narrow and horribly misplaced focus for dissent — not on the bigger political picture, and on the corporate and banking elites getting way with financial murder, but on people’s neighbours, or those regarded as different, or inferior, or feral, or workshy scroungers. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: A Reminder of Why We Demand the Prison’s Closure, and a Call for Support for Shaker Aamer

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Ten years and seven months after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it is less clear than it was under George W. Bush that the prison is a moral, legal and ethical abomination, a place where men bought for bounty payments are held, and men picked up on the basis of deeply flawed intelligence, and others labeled as terrorists when they were nothing more than soldiers fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or any other acts of international terrorism.

It is worth remembering that, of the 168 men still held, only around three dozen were allegedly involved in terrorism — and even those claims require scrutiny, as they include Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner obliged to admit that he committed war crimes by engaging in military conflict with US forces, which, to right-minded people, is a permanent mark of shame against Barack Obama. They also include the kind of low-level prisoners already freed after trials — the Australian David Hicks; Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden; and Ibrahim al-Qosi, a cook in an al-Qaeda compound, and also an occasional driver for bin Laden. Only a handful of the men still held are actually regarded as dangerous international terrorists.

Under President Bush, when international criticism began to sting — primarily during his second term in office — 532 prisoners were released. It was clear that the process was political, and the subtext, though never admitted publicly, was also clear — that Guantánamo was a huge, embarrassing mistake. Read the rest of this entry »

Jamaican Independence and a Giant Tent: Photos of a Visit to the Olympic Site at the O2

The Olympics at the O2The Olympics in GreenwichFlags on a house in Ballast Quay, GreenwichCanary Wharf from Blackwall Tunnel ApproachThe Olympics cable car from Greenwich peninsulaRavensbourne College
Close-up of Ravensbourne CollegeThe entrance to the Olympics at the O2Pink balls at the O2Usain Bolt selling the OlympicsSelling Britain's heritageCelebrating 50 years of Jamaican Independence
Jamaican coloursOlympics corporate sponsorAmerican girls at the Olympics

Jamaican Independence and a Giant Tent: A Visit to the Olympic Site at the O2, a set on Flickr.

As Olympics fever continues to grip the UK, I can just about about cope with the competitiveness of the Games on an individual level, and have admiration for athletes’ self-discipline and determination, although I maintain that the greatest achievement of humanity is cooperation and not competition, and I also believe that it is important to bear in mind, as the hyperbole threatens to engulf us, that, as well as not being the highest form of human achievement — something that should be reserved for endeavours that improve all our lives — sport is not generally an undertaking that contributes to the political well-being of a nation and its people, beyond a kind of short-term thrill.

In thinking of the disturbing subtexts of the Games — including their humourless corporate greed, their ballooning costs, unchecked by government, the instigation of various forms of social cleansing, and their use as an excuse for empty nationalistic displays, which always do more for warmongers than for peacemakers, by encouraging a sense of supremacy amongst groups whose athletes do particularly well — I have been reminded of the phrase “bread and circuses” (from the Latin panem et circuses), for which an excellent description exists on Wikipedia: “In the case of politics, the phrase is used to describe the creation of public approval, not through exemplary or excellent public service or public policy, but through diversion, distraction, and/or the mere satisfaction of the immediate, shallow requirements of a populace.” Read the rest of this entry »

Union Jack Summer: Photos of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics

Flags in BrockleyRoad ClosedVictory Fish BarThe Jubilee flotilla in the rainGiving in to the rainThe Jubilee house
There is no future in England's dreamingThe waving QueenA street of flagsAn alley of flagsThe Queen's houseNot governed by European rules
Flowers for the QueenThe patriotic basementRemembering the Royal FamilyJubilee supermarketThe patriotic trashThe Olympic crowd by City Hall
The Olympic screen and the skyTower Bridge and the Olympic screenPotter's PlacePink patriotismThe Lord John RussellJessica Ennis in New Cross

Union Jack Summer: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, a set on Flickr.

I have no great love for either the Royal Family or the Olympics, and, on this latter point, my articles should make clear where I stand — Our Olympic Hell: A Militarised, Corporate, Jingoistic Disgrace, Olympics Disaster: The G4S Security Scandal and Corporate Sponsors’ £600 Million Tax Avoidance and The Dark Side of the Olympics: Kettling Cyclists and Telling Fairytales About Our Heritage. You can also find some more photos here.

As for the Queen, I have long adored “God Save the Queen” by the Sex Pistols — one of the greatest rock songs of all time, along with “Anarchy in the UK” — and I did dream of mounting a black sound system to a black bike with a black flag, pumping out the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen,” and cycling around every street party I could find in London on the Diamond Jubilee weekend.

That never came to pass, and in truth, although I find the existence of the Royal Family objectionable, some of the individuals involved work hard (the Queen and Princess Anne come to mind) and I also don’t trust any politicians to preside over the dissolution of the Royal Family and the disposal of their assets in a way that would benefit the majority of the people. More sensible, then, would be for their role to be scaled down enormously, as in other European countries, but there appears to be no hint of that on the horizon, and so we are stuck with something that looks like the divine right of kings (or queens), but is in fact a very expensive charade. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos”

Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.

Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.

This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. Read the rest of this entry »

The Wealth of Empire: Photos of the City of London in the Rain

Bikini girls in rainy London12-14 New Fetter LaneThe Guildhall and the Roman amphitheatreThe Bank of EnglandAt Moorgate and London WallPigeons in the City
The GherkinThe Gherkin from Leathersellers' HallThe Gherkin: old and newNaked sculptures in the rainThe black tower from The GherkinLloyd's Building - and the Leadenhall Building under construction
Entrance to Lloyd's BuildingDrinking in Leadenhall MarketLeadenhall MarketLeadenhall Market: The Lime Street entranceThe Shard - and 20 Fenchurch Street under constructionThe Shard and City Hall from Tower Bridge
The City viewed from Tower BridgeHMS Belfast viewed from Tower BridgeThe Shard and the Potters Fields building site

The Wealth of Empire: The City of London in the Rain, a set on Flickr.

To describe these photos of the City of London, I used the word “empire” in the title because I believe that, in many fundamental ways, it is apt, although I realise that the British Empire is not, of course, the only source of money and power in the City of London and in its modern offshoot, Canary Wharf. In many ways, the mafia would be a better reference point for what these well-connected crooks have been getting up to as a result of the financial deregulation initiated by Margaret Thatcher (which benefitted David Cameron’s father, who made a fortune through the creation of tax havens) and Ronald Reagan, the subsequent repeal, under Bill Clinton, of the crucial Glass-Steagall Act — which was introduced after the Depression in 1933, separating “domestic” banking from its potentially fatal speculative aspects — and New Labour’s enthusiasm for filthy lucre, and whatever scum happened to have loads of it. The current shower of clowns in Downing Street and the Cabinet are only different from New Labour in the sense that most of them are already rich, millionaires out of touch with the people and thoroughly unconcerned about it.

In particular, the modern money markets are international, and much of the expertise in dodgy financial engineering — of the kind that ought to be illegal, and of the kind that nearly bankrupted the world in the global crash of 2008 — came from Wall Street as much as from the robber barons of the British establishment, although, crucially, it was the long-cherished secrecy of the City that allowed Wall Street bankers to initiate policies in London that were illegal at home. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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