Holidays and Secret Identities

Do you think Superman ever took a holiday by just pretending to be Clark Kent all the time?

I’m on holiday for a fortnight, and I’m not going anywhere. (That is not strictly true. I may ride my new bike around, and I have to go to the tannery. But I’m not off to the Azores to sun myself senseless.)

Instead, I’m spending a fortnight pretending to be a bookbinder. Necessity is the mother of this particular intention, because I need to have eight books bound for Worldcon and I only got the sheets on Friday.

I need the break. Work is great – I love my job and the people I work with, but I’ve been getting stressed too easily. I’m fresh out of patience, optimism and gentle tolerance, and have been running on waspish comments and sarcasm.

Time for some solitude, some creativity, and some peace. Time to be the mild-mannered reporter and leave the battles with Lex Luthor for someone else.

We hold fast…

…to what is important. The more they hit us, the more they try to frighten us, the tighter we hold on to it.

What do we hold so tight?

bombs don’t care who you are, but your neighbours do
even if revenge would feel better
though it expose us to future danger
Britain has been here before
even in the face of hate

Peace, dear people.

I Grow Old, I Grow Old…

…I’ve joined the Establishment.

Yesterday (July 4th) was the day we were all worried about in Edinburgh, the day the anarchists planned (?) to rally in advance of the G8. Being anarchists, of course, they didn’t exactly file for a parade permit.

The Carnival for Full Enjoyment was intended to protest against the capitalist system, wage slavery, and pretty much everything the G8 has ever done. The attendees (can’t use the word organisers; they’re anarchists) suggested some fun things – clowns, acrobatics, and drumming. The gist of the protest – as described – was to demonstrate that there is another way to run the world than the current capitalist doctrine. I’m in full agreement there.

Unfortunately, their proposals for “not this world” didn’t include a lot of group self-control (yeah, yeah, anarchists, said that already), and not all of them were that keen on just enjoying the drumming. Some of them wanted to do the whole smashing and fighting thing. It didn’t come across as a good advertisement for the alternatives to the current system.

The current system was represented, in this little drama, by the police.

Now, the policing strategy in Edinburgh for the G8 has focused on letting people have their say, where they want to say it, if they can do so safely and without collateral damage. They let almost a quarter of a million people dressed in white encircle the city centre1 on Saturday for the Make Poverty History march. Saturday went off peacefully2.

On Monday, the police were using the same approach. I saw the carnival as I went home that afternoon. The police were letting people have their fun, if they could do it safely. Sadly, things turned violent3. The protestors blamed the police for provocation4; the police blamed the protestors for throwing paving stones, benches and staves.

And I believe the police side of the story.

I saw the operation as I passed by, saw the cops using horses and walls of riot shields to control and slow crowd movements, to keep the groups from massing too greatly. I also saw them letting uninvolved civilians get across the public spaces and through the guarded gates, so our lives weren’t too disrupted. I saw them letting the party go on but keeping the mob small. I saw that only a third to a half of the police had riot gear on; the remainder were wearing stab vests and flourescent yellow over their ordinary uniforms. And, of course, they were not carrying guns. I didn’t see the fight begin, but that was what it was like before the trouble started.

And in the aftermath, even pro-protestor sites like Indymedia are struggling to find a lot of photos of police violence, or accounts of serious injury. That’s because there wasn’t much, for all the breathless press reportage about “baton charges” and “pitched battles”. About 40 people were treated at hospital, with broken bones as the worst injuries. This in a confrontation where people were throwing park benches5.

So given the choice between anarchy, with drumming and clowning and no one asking the violent types to cool it down, and the current system, with police who let the peaceful speak and dance, but control the violent, I’m afraid I pick the current system. And that makes me Establishment.

I even stopped to thank a couple of police officers I saw on the street today. They did well.

  1. This is an interesting contrast to the American government’s idea of a “free speech zone” surrounded by barbed wire, miles from anything. Remind me who has a First Amendment?
  2. Peaceful means two arrests, not from the main body of marchers. No injuries beyond blisters and overheating. No violence. That’s an insanely good Saturday in the city, even in ordinary time.
  3. Punches were thrown. Truncheons were swung. Things were thrown at the police. In the shooting people, water cannon, tear gas, and pepper spray league, this was a Sunday school picnic. No one died, was maimed, or was permanently injured. I’ve seen more violent Old Firm games on the telly, and been in more violent riots in Berkeley.
  4. The use of the word provocation is interesting. Most of the protestors would not say that a woman can “provoke” a man to rape her by wearing a short skirt, but they allowed themselves to be “provoked” into violence by a line of men standing around looking like giant bugs.
  5. As one of my colleagues pointed out, the benches in question are donated by private individuals to the city, for the enjoyment of all. They’re often given in memory of loved ones, or in thanksgiving for years of happiness in Edinburgh, or to mark centenaries of civic organisations. Using them as missiles was not the way to win Edinburgh hearts and minds.

Heisenberg in Love

I’ve had the same conversation with three people lately. These things happen, either because it’s a coincidence or because we all go through these same things at the same times in our lives.

The conversation is about identity. As they get older, my friends have begun to feel fragmented, as though they are more than one person at a time. I know the feeling. And matters of identity have always fascinated me. This is not the first time I’ve thought about this issue.

I wrote this in 1989, but was motivated to dig it out again by the synchronicity of these recent conversations.

When I sat below you on the floor, in that shirt which gives my eyes the colors of a forest and my hair the hints of a fire, unbraiding that hair and playing with the tendrils, watching you with my arboreal eyes, and asked, “Who are you?”, you answered with fifteen minutes of words beginning with “In”. I do not deny that the man you described is yourself.

But what if I had been standing, or sitting on the chair with my feet on the table, or curled up beside you, or stretched out on the bed? What if my shirt had been blue, or black, or a color that turns my eyes to mahogany and my hair to oak? What if I had left my hair in its braid and turned my piece of jade in my hands as I listened, and gazed at it, or at the rain on the window? How would you have begun, and what would you have said? I believe the person you would have shown me would bear little resemblance to the one I heard about.

The problem, of course, is that I actually sat above you on the hammock, swinging slightly, in my white shirt. My brass-tinted hair lay tangled about my shoulders, for I had left it loose all day, and I folded my hands in my lap as I listened. I did, however, look at you with my hazel eyes, and because of that, the man whom you described in twenty-five minutes of discourse beginning with the word “I” is somehow familiar to me.

(Pretentious, yes, but I was nineteen.)