Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Supreme Court: Article 50

Caution: contains remoaning.

I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;

And when I'm introduced to one,
I wish I thought "What Jolly Fun!"

 - Sir Walter Raleigh (1861-1922)

I've had it up to here with vast swathes of humanity lately. Still, let's be positive, eh.

I’m queuing to get into the Supreme Court for the Brexit hearing. Can parliament get to vote on triggering Article 50? The true spotters got here before dawn. (Sensible people watch it live on the website.)

A red double-decker bus swings around Parliament Square and parks outside. On top are cheerful people in judge fancy dress, brandishing fencing foils to be like the Master of the Rolls. 'Nigel, where are you?' they cry.

I'm directed to one of two overspill courts, to watch proceedings on a large screen.

'Her Majesty's Attorney General,' says someone, reading from the cast list. 'Is that Liz Truss?'

The hearing kicks off with fire and brimstone from the bench. Lord Neuberger has tough warnings for dealers in abusive threats, and explains that judges judge law, not politics.

He also thanks the staff for responding to the full glare of Brexit. The court is in superb condition, its engine purring softly.

There is something rather touching about the blue velvet upholstered chairs, hired to cope with the extra numbers and matching the carpet. Everyone has leaned over backwards to explain, to inform, to welcome, to get the house-keeping right.

Ambulatory is a key word in James Eadie QC's argument on behalf of the Government. Blurrily reading Joshua Rozenberg’s commentary in the unhinged insomniac hours, I misread 'future' for 'furniture', and agree: the legislation has marched into the furniture or maybe the brick wall of Brexit.

At lunchtime, a woman buys a souvenir teddy

In the afternoon I'm allotted a seat in the packed courtroom - next to a proper court artist, one who can really draw and stuff. I thought I'd better be very small so I just brought A4, whereas he is happily playing around with A3, so I get format envy. Meanwhile, Mr Eadie parries piercing questions from the bench - the fencing foils come to mind.
Protest outside the court - Brexit means cab

And now the fun part. Lovers of found poetry will be excited to learn that the Supreme Court's transcription of this case (ready on the same day!) is not only searchable but INDEXED. Here's a random sample of allusiveness:

PS Do be careful, Daily Mail. Writing about the Supreme Court justices, you say: 'With no written constitution to guide them, this is not a mere question of law, to be solved like a quadratic equation, with a correct or incorrect answer.' Most quadratic equations have two solutions, so your analogy falls down rather.

PPS there are lots of grown-up legal commentaries, including live tweets, but you only come here to know that Lady Hale was wearing a lovely brooch which looked like a double dragonfly, or maybe a damselfly.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Hacking the Silence with Hannah Thompson

We are in Senate House - 'the vast bulk of London University insulting the autumnal sky' (Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags). The glacial brutalist monolith is softened by wood, glass and bronze deco fittings once you get inside.

According to myth, the Chancellor's Hall - now the ceremonial focus of the building - was earmarked to be Hitler's office. Tonight, a long table bears a sprawl of gadgets with a hint of Bakelite, dinky pound shop pseudo-Tupperware boxes housing unfathomable electronics, an arterial system of leads, and gear from the dictatorship of Apple.

'Hacking the Silence' is sound artist Hannah Thompson's final event in her Leverhulme-funded residency at Senate House Library. Hannah doesn't press 'play' and sit back. It's live performance, manipulating captured sounds of the building and people.

Roars, gushes and filigree episodes move around the hall as different speakers are animated.

At one point Hannah darts out to play her amplified violin; she ends with a heartbreaking recorder solo.

In the Second World War, when the Ministry of Information was based in the building, this space would resonate to gunfire:

"The hall bridges the space between Senate House’s northern and southern blocks and has tall windows providing views west towards Gower Street and east towards Russell Square. It is one of the only rooms that faces both approaches. This geography led to it being used as the headquarters of the Ministry’s unit of the Home Guard. Guns were set up overlooking each entrance and practice drills would take place in the hall. This was said to ‘create a great deal of disturbance’ because the room was also used for meetings." - Dr Henry Irving, Leeds Beckett University, from a blog Senate House Revealed.

Hannah Thompson: https://soundcloud.com/gpud 

Hacking the Silence is part of the Being Human Festival. 


Saturday, 19 November 2016

The BDSM of Brexit

Mercandbear Fet tying Anna Noctuelle; photo: Fred Hatt
Brexit is remarkably similar to Japanese rope bondage (despite one glaring difference: bondage, unlike Brexit, is consensual).

Bondage practitioners share knowledge on the internet. This knowledge can easily be made applicable to Brexit - as in this sample by Miss Anna Bones from https://anatomiestudio.com to which I have made only minor alterations:

“What is there to actually learn about Brexit?”

It depends! Some people just want to learn some basics so they can have a bit of safe Brexit, others want to become as proficient as they can. If you’re after Brexit fun, then it’s probably not super important to learn about Brexit in suspension, but it’s a very good idea to learn about anatomy, the different kinds of pins and needles you can get, and how to use safety shears.

Anna Noctuelle; photo: Fred Hatt
Brexit requires a good degree of pain processing ability! It’s especially useful to learn to distinguish ‘good Brexit’ from ‘bad Brexit’, meaning the kinds of Brexit that are not harmful (for example, the Brexit you get after a vigorous workout), and that are harmful (such as any kind of sharp Brexit). This will involve trial and error until your brain is able to recognise when it’s OK to push through a Brexit and when it’s time to tap out.

Which bring us to one super important skill: communication! Perhaps this is the most important part of Brexit: learning how to communicate from inside Brexit. The more specific you can be, the better. This also comes with experience – for example, what kinds of Brexit you are feeling, if there are sensations you are not enjoying, if a Brexit needs to be reviewed, etc.

It’s also a good idea to learn how to negotiate before doing Brexit, such asking the Brexiteer questions as well as knowing what kinds of important information to disclose. These can include: any Brexit issues you may have (for example, you sprained your ankle), any medication you may be on, the kinds of Brexit you feel like/don’t feel like, or body parts you are not OK having Brexit on.

Communicating can be difficult: some people space out and become non-verbal, others find it difficult to express their needs or communicate unpleasant sensations out of not wanting to cause offence or because they don’t want the Brexit to come off just yet. This is totally OK. The important thing is to try to have a conversation about it beforehand.

Anna Noctuelle; photo: Fred Hatt
“What about the Brexiteer?”

There are lots of Brexit styles and different people enjoy different techniques and sensations, so it’s really useful (and also loads of fun) to watch people Brexiting in the community.

Brexit can be intense and very physically demanding – this is especially true of suspension-focused Brexit.
Inexperienced people who do not know their Brexit well are less likely to communicate when something is hurting, but Brexiteers rely on feedback because often they must focus on a particular Brexit technique which they are learning, all the while being mindful of others. This is the perfect storm for small nerve injuries.

“Does this mean I have to be super fit and bendy to do Brexit?”

Nope! Brexit is not one size fits all, it’s a very diverse activity enjoyed by grown-ups of all ages, all physical compositions, backgrounds, genders and sexes.

It’s about finding the kind of Brexit you enjoy doing and finding people who want to do that with you. Different people have different Brexit thresholds, and the beauty is in this diversity.

It is also worth noting that although most of the Brexit imagery online depicts petite young bendy girls Brexited by males, this is not the reality of Brexit – there are lots of male identified persons who enjoy being in Brexit, and lots of female identified persons who enjoy Brexiting, and if you’re not into binaries, there is a lot of gender queerness in the Brexit scene as well.

In sum, the Brexit world is a lot more diverse that you might think by just googling ‘Brexit’ on your browser!

Drawing from boulevardisme.blogspot.com

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Supreme Court: watching the Justices

Supreme doesn't mean secret. You can usually watch Supreme Court hearings from the public seats in the courtrooms. Although the Brexit Article 50 hearing is likely to be, er, busy.

On a normal day, if there are no places left it might be worth waiting, as some observers may just want to sample the atmosphere rather than stay for the full session.

All hearings are filmed. If a hearing is likely to be popular, the court might relay it on a screen in an overspill area with temporary seating.

All hearings are relayed live on two small screens outside the café on the lower ground floor in a space for standing, not sitting.

And you don't have to be in the building. You can watch live or catch up afterwards on https://www.supremecourt.uk

Judgment summaries are available on the Supreme Court's YouTube channel. The comments section has been switched off, presumably to avoid Twitteresque slanging matches and anonymous denunciations.

Here is Lord Mance reading the summary of the judgment in PJS v News Group Newspapers Ltd. On my mobile (but not my laptop), YouTube serves up subtitles by a mad poet. YouTube's voice-recognition software needs further development.

'Solicitors' can come out as 'sisters' or 'a-listers'.

The encounter involved the partner of AB, not of an insect. The double vision is an occasional feature.

You'll never get this one without help. 'Were lured to some descendants' is Software-ese for 'while Lord Toulson dissents'. I repeat, this imposition has everything to do with how YouTube reaches my BlackBerry via a distant planet, and nothing to do with the court. 

PS if you want to see a hearing, please check in advance that there will be one on that day. The court provides free written information for children and adults, some of it translated into other languages.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Supreme Court: human rights, game on

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   Go, go, go like a soldier,
   So-oldier of the Queen!

That’s the last verse of The Young British Soldier, from Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads of 1892.

Nine justices today, mostly obscured from view
Kipling is too readily dismissed as a propagandist of empire but he was a complex, conflicted observer who took the pulse of his times. After the First World War he wrote this epitaph:

If any question why we died, 
Tell them, because our fathers lied.

Today's case, Mohammed and others v Ministry of Defence, concerns Serdar Mohammed who was captured in Afghanistan by the British in 2010, held for four months, handed over to the Afghan authorities and convicted as a Taliban commander making roadside bombs. At issue on this seventh and final day of the appeal is whether Mohammed was detained legally under article 5 (the right to liberty and security) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

James Eadie QC, fresh from presenting the Government’s case about Article 50 in the High Court, refers to the British armed forces’ position in earlier litigation: ‘There you had all the arguments about hierarchical and structural independence. That, we respectfully submit, is not the game here...’

Words carry accidental connotations and I think of what Kipling called ‘the Great Game’ in his novel Kim. He meant the clash between empires (in his day, British and Russian) radiating from Afghanistan, which ended in the early twentieth century or, in Kim, never:

When everyone is dead the Great Game is finished. Not before.

Kim, an outsider like Kipling, passes for an Indian scavenger-orphan but is discovered to be the son of a dead Irish serviceman and educated among the white elite. Will he choose the Great Game, Buddhism, or both? Kipling is not going to condemn any of those choices.

Also today, the British empire’s Lazarus reflex is under scrutiny close by in the House of Commons: the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights is taking evidence on the potential impact of Brexit.

And downstairs in the Supreme Court there is a spot of soft power play. Among the display of official gifts to the court, the National Judges College of the People’s Republic of China exercises panda diplomacy.

Meanwhile, Rodin and Dance is on at the Courtauld Institute of Art. It includes some of his drawings of Cambodian dancers. All about being free. There is a particularly agile barrister with fluid hand movements sitting in front of me today. I try to draw him in the Rodin manner with mixed results.

Same barrister, twice

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Salon Voltaire: a Dadaist evening at Senate House, London

The spirit of Dada is resuscitated for a cabaret in the space which - according to folklore - was earmarked to be Hitler's London office. We are in the Chancellor's Hall in Senate House.

The brutalist Deco architecture has been modified for the evening with fairy lights, but don't get too comfortable: the building inspired Orwell's Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty Four, and my drawing of my eyes has been enlarged and stuck on the wall to give that Big Brother feeling.

Dada is 100 years old this year. Taking part in this evening of music and words are Hannah Thompson (the Leverhulme-funded sound artist in residence at Senate House Library - her final performance in her residency is on 24 November), Joanne Anderson (Warburg Institute), Sarah Churchwell (Institute of English Studies), Catherine Davies (Institute of Modern Languages Research), Sadaf Fahim (Institute of English Studies), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), Dominic Glynn (IMLR), Claire Launchbury (Institute of Historical Research/IMLR), Katia Pizzi (IMLR), Gregory Toth (Senate House Library), Vocal Constructivists, Godela Weiss-Sussex (IMLR).

The evening is devised and presented by Colin Homiski, Research Librarian at Senate House Library.

The Vocal Constructivists (below):