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Posted By Sandra Alland

Oh. My. Gawd.

So I forgot I had received this magazine at the leftist bookshop where I work that the publishers thought we might consider -- Soldier: Magazine of the British Army!! And I just found it under a pile of stories and... well, here are some choice moments of absurdity, and also some racism and sexism to entertain the troops.

1. An ad for "Printed or Embroidered Leisurewear." Exhibit A: A stupid-looking Iraqui cartoon character with his hands thrown up, with the phrase "It's either Sunni or Shi'ite!" Exhibit B: The British flag laid on top of the Iraqi flag, next to a stupid-looking Iraqi with a camel and a big question mark coming out of his head. Exhibit C: A blonde woman with a big gun, giant breasts and a British flag for pants smoking between the two flags, also looking stupid. The slogan: "Time to Clean Up!"

2. Okay, forget the serious talk of army bullying in my previous blog -- the true reason for brutality and general unhappiness amongst British soldiers has to do with... tea, naturally! I quote: "Like many other soldiers I bought myself a 350ml thermal mug. After making a coffee on a recent exercise, I tried to dunk a biscuit fruit from my ration pack and was shocked to find it did not fit into my mug. I snapped the biscuit in two and dunked it sideways. Because it did not have as much length, I could only dunk a little before scolding (sic) my fingers. If biscuits were made 6mm smaller, they would fit, which would increase morale."

3. All the lovely ads for soldiers, who, once they've had their limbs blown off for wanting to go to college or get out of their shite no-job town, have to find a SOLICITOR to get a settlement. And also INSURANCE ads for your kit and your life, cuz why should the government pay for any of that when you're risking your life for 12 000 British pounds a year? Not to mention they don't even supply an adequate kit in the first place, as there are ads for that too...

4. The ad to quit drinkng that features a guy with a huge machine gun that is drooping at the end. "In need of a stiff one?" it says...

5. And who knew? Afghanistan is now a barrel of laughs thanks to the Brits: "On the subject of the monkey puppet (April), I have been in Afghanistan...I learnt that the Afghan people have a strong sense of humour. They like jokes and funny things. I think the monkey is perfect to start a conversation. Soldiers should be disciplined but if a bit of humour helps to get the mission completed, I think it is appropriate. Do not forget that during the times of the Taliban having fun was forbidden."

So you get the picture, kindof. It's actually endelessly fascinating and depressing. Like Britain. Get yourself a copy if you can, or you can borrow mine.



Posted By Sandra Alland

Wow. Saw this documentary on BBC where journalist Russell Sharp went undercover in training for the British infantry for 6 months. Wow. Creepy creepy stuff. He brought hidden cameras and filmed some very incriminating footage. If the army fighting illegal wars wasn't bad enough, here's some other tidbits to make you cringe:

-5 out of 8 corporals in two platoons were bullying and sometimes beating the shit out of recruits. One recruit was pushed to the ground with a loaded rifle.

-when asked why he had joined up, one recruit said, "To kill Pakis of course."

-during a simulation in bayonet training, one recruit yelled "Die Paki die!" as he was stabbing the dummy.

-a lot of recruits are only 17 years old, away from home for the first time.

Five training instructors have been suspended. Read about it here.




Posted By Sandra Alland

"It got to the point where it became logical: If a woman was fiercely intelligent, outspoken and passionate, I'd look towards her arms for the scars. They were almost always there."

- Sabrina Chapadjiev, editor of Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction (Seven Stories Press)

Wow. Live Through This is an intense and wonderful new collection of personal essays, graphic stories and photos by some of the most amazing women artists in the United States. About how they survive pain and trauma, and if self-destruction is tied to their creativity.

It's star-studded. Patricia Smith writes about her father's murder and its connection to her poetry, bell hooks writes about the effects of trauma, and photographer Nan Goldin contributes some stunning and disturbing self-portraits.On the slightly lighter side of things, Eileen Myles writes about the importance of flossing, and Diane DiMassa draws the birth of her career as creator of the comic heroine Hothead Paisan:Homocidal Lesbian Terrorist (her psychiatrist annoyed her into it).

Some of the slightly less-famous artists contribute the strongest pieces in the collection - visual artist Fly writes beautifully about art-journalling and manic-depression, and poet Daphne Gottlieb eloquently describes her fear that treating her debilitating depression and suicidal tendencies will also take away her creativity.

I was also especially taken with the pieces on cutting and self-harm. Kate Bornstein describes cutting and anorexia as survival mechanisms for a gender misfit in a gender-obsessed society, and Inga Muscio tells how she cut herself with broken bottles and burned herself for a year in order to grieve her brother's death. What I love about both these pieces is that the writers refuse to pathologize self-harm. They also remove it from its inferred ties to suicide, and place it more in the context of coping, of being in control of one's own pain, of choosing to live.

"Cutting, starving yourself, drugging, drinking...these are all rituals some of us develop in order to deal with pain.Each of these solutions to pain is in itself painful, so each solution/ritual contains a very personal lesson on how to handle the experience of pain. Pain itself is nothing scary. It's the surprise of pain -- the helplessness in the face of some pain -- that can debilitate people... Am I advocating self-inflicted pain? Yeah. Yeah I am.Yes it can get out of hand...but any ritual can get out of hand."

- Kate Bornstein

"I have read a lot about cutters -- psychological assessments and whatnot -- and none of it ever resonates with my experience. When my brother died I projectile-vomited screams, but it was not acceptable for me to do that every day for a couple years.There was no space to grieve, so I found a quiet way in a very personal space...I don't really like to write about this subject because I am supposed to have the moral responsibility to offer a cautionary tale, and I can't do that.The slash n burn time of my life served me well, though it was costly."

- Inga Muscio

In other news, Edinburgh arts afficionado Michelle Kasprzak has a pretty cool blog, the September 3rd one on prison (especially women in prison) is particularly interesting.

Off to live through another day.



Posted By Sandra Alland

So I applied for my new British passport, and for once something official worked efficiently (ok, worked at all) here, and I got it in two days. I had been reassured by many people that the new freaky-deaky Passports Of The Future weren't being implemented for a few years -- so lucky me didn't have to get fingerprinted or eyescanned.

However. My new passport is in fact freaky-deaky. It's a Biometric Passport officially, although they didn't collect any biometric data... yet. My passport has a chip! A chip, my friends, complete with AN ANTENNA! I'm really not sure what either of these things mean, as my Information Package told me nothing about them except that they exist. I found this on some government site (, records from the House Of Commons on July 7 of this year:

"Passports: Biometrics

Lynn Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the (a) range (b) purpose and (c) cost of the antenna on the new biometric passport. [215690]

Meg Hillier: The purpose of the antenna in the UK biometric passport is to allow the chip to communicate with border control readers in accordance with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. In terms of range, these requirements call for the biometric passport to have a read range of up to 10 centimetres from the reader. It is not possible to separately identify the cost of the antenna as it is part of an integrated component provided by the chip silicon manufacturer."

So okay 10 cm doesn't sound bad. But if I'm with my passport at all times in another country, can I be tracked like a lost puppy? And what can be added to this chip?

Speaking of the End Of The World As We Know It, I'm reading a book by an amazing micropress publisher who hand-makes all his (gorgeous!) books. He's Edinburgh's Hamish MacDonald, and the book is Finitude. It's not really the kind of book I'd normally read... speculative fiction, sci-fi, end-times kind of thing. But the confession is -- I'm really digging it. The world is ending because of humanity's environmental abuses. But our anti-hero -- a gay salesman who just wants to save his own ass -- makes it superfascinating and not preachy. MacDonald knows how to tell a story well, and has an imagination on par with some of the most famous science fiction writers out there. The characters are well-painted and the action is downright filmic. Thumbs up for making me read something out of my normal range... and like it.




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