Ulla’s Amazing Wee Blog

September 22, 2006

Forthcoming political events

Filed under: General — Ulla @ 11:01 am

In October we’ll have the Independent Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh, guests are Vandana Shiva and Michael Albert from Z Magazine, George Monbiot, Ilan Pappe and others. Exactly at the same weekend, Document4, the Human Rights Film Festival, is happening in Glasgow, and we have got the Argentinian film makers coming over to screen ithefilm about Argentina Indymedia the same weekend.
I am looking forward to it in some way, but in another I am a bit pissed off with the scene at the moment. Basically after the G8, I got to realise that hierarchical decision-making has got its advantages, too. Basically, it gets macho men to take responsibility for tidying up their mess. That’s the big advantage. With non-hierarchical decision-making, they leave it just too often for the women to do whilst they move on to more exciting things. If you believe it or not, hierarchical decision-making can even be more feminist and egalitarian than the whole consensus decision-making, when the person who argues the loudest and longest and is the most intimidating, uncompromising or repetative wins. Or the person who has the most academic sliming language skills, who twists and turns whatever you say. At least in the hierachical decision-making you can work your way up, and once you hold a position and you are doing well in it, nobody can take it away from you or claim any success as theirs but leave you alone with any failure. The rights and responsibilities are not infringed, and that is also important. The notion of equality does not automatically exist in consenus and non-hierarchical decision-making, so I am giving up on it a bit. It is still important to strieve to achieve it, though, but it can’t be anymore the only aim.

At the moment, the whole thing which keeps me from dropping out of the scene completely is the wonderful Indymedia, especially the lovely small Indymedia Scotland with mates Bunny and Harry, some of the main co-founders.
I also quite like the Indymedia UK guys and girls, especially since we started the little independent Indymedia Scotland site, we did not really have any main arguments with the Indymedia Uk collective, as far as I can remember.
Due to the experience I gather at the moment in the mainstream media, I appreciate Indymedia even more. Not all mainstream media are bad as such but all have room for improvement! It is quite interesting to see the market forces influencing the reporting, the style, the editorial, the politics, the interaction with reader and audience, the atmosphere in the newsrooms, the architecture, the organisation, the structure, the design, the formality of the publications.
Every time I am on a new work experience I would love to write tons about it and the experience and comparing it with the alternative media, but at the same time I don’t know if it would be wise to do so on the blog, it might not be appreciated by the proprietors and potential employers.

I am also wondering if the work experience changes me and my priorities. After we finished studying some years ago, I noticed that my formerly liberal lefty collegues turned during their search for work rather conservative and came out with odd opinions they never expressed before. Maybe they were trying to acclimatise themselves to the working conditions, but it was rather odd to watch. Does that happen with everyone? That would be rather scary.

September 20, 2006

My garden year reviewed

Filed under: General — Ulla @ 11:26 am

So, it is nearly autumn now, and the rain season has begun in Edinburgh. After my parents tidied up the allotment with me, it is now time to bring in the final harvest and prepare the plot for winter. As a nice finish to my first gardening year, I went to the 54th Annual Flower and Vegetable Show in Edinburgh.
Our Ferry Road Site even won a first price – mainly because we were the only ones entering in that category of cross allotment site vegetables. It was quite a nice, amusing community event and good fun. For the kids, there were categories like vegetable monster, miniture gardens in seed trays, nicest decorated biscuit and statues out of receycled material.
The next day I went to my first organic gardening workshop, about composting, seed saving and green manure.

The City of Edinburgh initiates the workshop together with an organic gardening consultant from Jedburgh. I never really thought that people could have problems with composting – it always seemed to me to be the easiest thing in the world. Maybe I have learned more than I realised at my parents about sustainability and environmental issues, though they never really made a big thing out of it. We always saved rainwater in about 3 big barrels for the garden, we always composted and we have a well insulated house, we even have a solar panel on the roof and we always grew veggies and fruits and my mum worked the whole summer incorporating them into the daily diet, freezing or making jam or juice out of these.
The wine-making never took off, though we witnessed some unsuccessfull attempts.
Oh, and we always receycled and cycled around the city, we always use glas bottles to buy our locally produced mineral water and beer in. And my parents are – or were – delighted skippers. Not that they skipped in the usual anarcho way, nonono, they skipped more in a conservative way, if that’s possible. In the past there were specific dates, about 2-3 times a year, when furniture, electrics and other bigger utilities were collected by the councils as rubbish, it was free collection for every citizen and my parents and other people just used to go out and look what people throw away… a kind of mixture between curiousity and gossip creation in our little part of town – and usually they would come back packed with stuff they just thought was “a crime to throw away”. However, in the 90ies, they were rivalled by people from Poland and the Czech Republic coming over to refurbish themselves, and so my parents graciously left it to them, as they pretty much know that they don’t have any space for it. However, we got two bicycles from the last one which was ever organised, they just had flat tyres and the lights didn’t work. They got repaired pretty quickly and when I am back in Germany I still cycle on one of them, whilst the other one was providing spare parts for years.
It was always funny in the way that somebody might have wanted a chair or something and then found one, so tried to take it home, but on the way would see another one and then leave it to take the better one. So it was a big furniture exchange, and the stuff put out in the evening could be totally different the next morning for the collection.
So, the council stopped it and now gives out vouchers, people have to book individually to get their bigger furniture collected now. Probably because too much furniture was thrown away and they could not collect it all in one day anymore, maybe because they always had a problem with the electrical items such as fridges and washing machines with moving them.
Actually back to the garden; the final harvest is due. I have already finished the courgettes, but will leave the pumpkins till end of October for Halloween, they are quite small though. I wonder if I should try with some fertiliser, but am not sure if its worth it. The cucumbers are still in production, but the tomatoes are getting more and more mouldy, so I took them down and will try to let them ripen on the windowsill. I’ll have to throw the plants away or burn them, as they are infested with a virus I don’t want to compost them. The potatoes are also getting brown, I should also harvest them, but am waiting for myself to have started on eating them. The kohlrabi are still little, hopefully every kohlrabi manages to grow big enough to be eaten till the winter arrives. I have planted them quite late, as had trouble with getting the seed beds prepared, as it was quite a chaos when I started off in spring. I started with seed saving some of the cucumber seeds, and will try if the way I go about it works. I should have collected some courgette seeds as they were quite big, but I gave the last ones away to neighbours, I like it very much when I can give good home-grown veggies and fruits to neighbours and friends and collegues.

Anyways, the green manure seeds are only available from the organic gardening catalogue. Green manure is good to cover the earth over winter and to leave it exposed to kill off pests, it also inhibits weeds growing and some of them bind nitrogen from the air and can be used as natural fertiliser the next year. I am quite curious as have never tried it before.

I am considering becoming a member of the Heritage Seed Library, an initiative which tries to preserve older, unknown, historical vegetables from extinction. It is £15 a year though.

So, this year, it seemed that the courgettes worked really well, as did the spinach,

One of the gooseberry died, and the red currant bush was cropping well, but I wonder how well it will cropp next year and the years after, now that it has been seperated into about 6 different bushes. The black currant has also been seperated, it did not crop well this year, but my father freed its roots from all the weeds which were interwoven with it.

Maybe this will help for next year. The potatoes seemed to do well according to their green plant growth, not sure what’ll happen when harvested, if it is a good storing variety and how it will taste. The onions were a bit disappointing, I hoped they would grow bigger, the carrots were disappointing, too. But maybe because I wasn’t properly caring for them over the summer, most of them were still edible.

The radishes have grown extraordinarily big, but there were just too many at once, most of the salad plants died because when it was so hot I should have watered these plants every day. The potatoes were quite uncomplicated, and the cucumbers were astonishing in that the first plants died, the second batch did very well and produced quite a lot of big vegetables. The corn totally died except for one, and the tomatoes all got mould on it, because when it was rainy the plants weren’t covered. The raspberries have grown tremendously quickly and no problem apart from rigorous growth with the rhubarb either.

I haven’t really been able to pick all the fruits this summer, and there was too much rhubarb. Next year I will get rid of at least one rhubarb, and will try to plant some little apple and cherry trees. Most of the vegetables need to be in the earth much earlier than this year, by april/may, otherwise it might be too late. And next year I will plant the seed in rows and mark them so I can weed accordingly.

I also might make a try with the herb spiral and so on, and properly label the plants, so I don’t get confused like this year in what is a seedling and what is a weedling. Anyways, I hope it can only get better with the allotment. I just wonder if I can keep up with the time demands.

September 19, 2006

My country, my country

Filed under: General,Reviews — Ulla @ 11:59 am

“My country, my country” is a documentary film about the election process in Iraq. It was shown at the Edinburgh International Film Festival middle of August. It is a very good film. Partly because the canditate for the election, Dr.Riyadh, doesn’t get elected himself as his party withdraws from the election process. Also, the film maker Laura Poitras cuts the narrative down to let the people in the film and the events speak for itself.

She spend 8 months alone in Iraq and documents the events and proceedings around the Election Day in Iraq in January 2005.

The film starts in July 2004, 6 months before elections, with stunning pictures out of a low flying helicopter to dramatic music by Kadlum Al Sahir. The dramatic music includes the song “My country”, and has the lyrics partly translated and subtitled.
The film maker has remarkable access to many main players in the game of the Iraqi occuption. The language is very colourful and meaningful, too, with the doctor’s language being nearly poetic.

The film initiates many questions in the viewer, such as about the legitimacy of the election under the circumstances and the connection between identidy, Islam and religion. It also shows the lack of understanding in this culture clash, for example when the US army talks of “Jo Iraqui” in its briefings to newly arrived soldiers, it comes over as just absurd.
Towards the end of the film, the US army briefs Iraqi policemen before the election day on security issues.
He tries to get the policemen enthusiastic and tells them that “they would be running the show at this historic day”, that they would be on TV all over the world and in the history books. But the Iraqi policemen just sit there stunned and look like they think “what the hell is he talking about?” and “doesn’t he know at all what’s at stake here and why we are doing this?”
Their reasons and motivations are just so completely different from what the US trainer assumes, that the scene nearly has a comic quality.
One of the most touching scenes and a metapher for the doctor’s motivation and story in itself is the visit of the Baghdad City Council to the tent camp around Abu Ghraib Prison. The Iraqi delegation are not allowed in, they can just shout to the prisoners through the fence. Dr.Riyadh wants to help, he asks for any prisoners with chronic illnesses, probably because as a medic, he hopes with his field of exprtise to be able to either gain access or argue for release. But thought the present soldiers try to give the impresion that they value any collaboration and input of the intelligent Iraqi civilians, they object to the City Council’s obvious demands and objections to the imprisonment of a 9 year old.

“These juveniles are dangerous.”

For me, this scene is the key to Dr.Riyadh’s motivation to stand for election and to get involved in politics. As a medic, he has sworn to “do no harm”, and to help where possible. He is well respected, intelligent, moderate and religous, he his accepted and respected by his community and his family. He speaks English and understands the Western thoughts and attitudes, too, also he has a Western film maker following him.

“We are an occupied country with a puppet government.”

he says. But the ways he sees to improve the situation of his country and his community is an attempt of cooperation, he is keen to get to any power to improve the situation. In the end he doesn’t get any decision-making authority no matter how hard he tries, and he gives up. The election process is symptomatic for the individual’s situation, and for the whole country. And in his quest to help, Dr.Riyadh brings himself, his community and friends in great danger, too.
Dr.Riyadh trusts his reputation as a doctor to protect him though:
“I’d bring the whole district to vote for you. But we would not vote for an outsider.” says a patient, who he asks for their opinion.

He seems to have made the right decision, until the Fallujah offensive happens three months later.
“Our doctors were shot on the first day.” report the patients, friends, religious visitors.
The doctor is helpless, and so is everybody else in the community, and that’s hurting. But whilst the doctor sees standing in the election even more as a matter of urgency and the only way to help and fight injustice, deep down he knows that any possibility to improve the situation is dependend on the US forces and as they are the prepetrators of most of the injustices he sees himself fighting against, the even the US led election might not authorise the elected candidate to abolish these.

“Before we talk about elections – what are the voters rights?” asks Dr.Riyadh. “If there would be an ounce of freedom, what has happened in Fallujah would not have happened.”
“How can you make elections in this situation?”

The film also accompanies the private security firm and its employees, Therrien Security, an Australian private security forces under boss and interviewee Peter Toundrow, around the country to document the security measures around the elections and watching a dubious subcontraction process. He arms the Kurdish subcontractors and other forces, but the question of accountability is not raised. We see him buying weapons and haggling over the price of AK47, the Russian/Chinese are £200 each and the Bulgarian £350.

Dr. Riyadh has problems though of a different kind: a relative has been kidnapped and the hostage takers demand huge sums of money.
The doctor delivers a motivating and moderate speech at the party conference to support the election in order to gain power to improve the situation.
His Islamic party however decides at the conference to withdraw from the elections. The US forces leave the individual candidates still on ballot paper, tempting them to accept it or not. The party asks for a boycott of the elections, and Dr.Riyadh feels the pressure.
“Politics are not good for you. You do more good as a doctor.” says his family. All of them vote, them being the only ones in the neighbourhood, and as they are fingerprinted for the process they discuss if their blue finger will mean that they could be targetted, such as other Iraqis who are seen as collaborators. The translators working with the US forces at the checkpoints wear scarves, sunglasses and masks.

So what is the moral of the story? Dr.Riyadh summarises his attitude and motivation, his future and his past brilliantly in this sentence:
“I love my country, my city, my real life neighbourhood and I will work for them every second of my life till I die.”

September 5, 2006

Edinburgh Festival for free

Filed under: General,Writing — Ulla @ 5:27 pm

More and more alternative festival options are surrounding the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival: The People’s Festival, the Free Fringe, the Islam Festival, the Festival for Peace and Spirituality, The Internet Festival, The Politics Festival, the Annuale.
But these festivals have different reasons for their existence: some were born out of criticism of the existing Fringe and the Festival, like the People’s Festival - by the people for the people or the Free Fringe, describing the Fringe as an open arts festival that anyone can take part in ‘as long as they can afford’, and The entire Fringe is financed by the personal losses made by artists.
The first Edinburgh International Internet festival was launched in 1999 by disabled artist and community worker P.L. Steele, with the aim to create a digital hub for the creative web based community and a platform for the visual arts during the Edinburgh festival. It involved online contributions from over 40 countries.
Other festivals have been born as additions, such as the Edinburgh Art Festival, or focus on a main aspect such as the Politics Festival or The Festival of Peace and Spirituality, which is in its 6th year now, and was started as a response to 9/11.

Sohaib Saeed, festival manager of the Islam Festival, states:
The Festival was founded this year, although the exhibition has been organised for four and five years.
We want visitors to find out more about Islam, which is mentioned all the time in the news, but not often with the right connotations. Much of the Festival is free, because we want to appeal to the widest possible audience, to the local community, to people from all over the UK and to international visitors. We have had many international visitors in the past, especially from Poland. The festival is run entirely by volunteers.

These alternative festivals are often accompanied with an open, inclusive and accessible community feel. But they have also challenged and successfully changed the public face of the exclusive Industry Festivals.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival is offering now for the second year a community festival experience with free tickets for community groups to encourage their members to the film festival screenings who would not otherwise go. The Media Guardian International Television Festival is offering free public open air screenings in Conference Square over the weekend from August 25 -27, showing the newest episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives. And the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival is offering free screenings and discussions with the creators of the latest computer games on 22nd of August in the Odeon on Lothian Road.

Deby Coster, PR manager for the Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival, said:
The screenings are a chance for the public to get to know the creators. It is not about evaluating the games, but it is a chance to meet the creators and talk about the games, it is an opportunity to ask questions and get to know each other. The screenings are free, because we want to have as many people to come along as can, and we did not want any barriers.

The Festival of Peace and Spirituality, including the Islam Festival
6 – 27th of August

[Ref: critisism of the Free Fringe: http://www.laughinghorse.co.uk/freefringe.htm
More criticism of the Fringe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edinburgh_Fringe#Criticism ]

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