8
May 2017

Again with the lesser of two evils

Let’s be clear, I’m ecstatic that Le Pen lost. Thank you France — you did a great thing. And if I’d been in France (and eligible to vote) then I too would have cast my ballot for Macron. I would not have abstained; but nor would I have felt entirely happy about it. Certainly he would not have been my choice in the first round (or if Macron had been in the final round with almost anyone else). But compared with Fascist Frexit-loon Le Pen? It really wasn’t a choice.

And again, let’s be clear… I adore the little Climate Change video that Macron made…

There’s a lot to like about him. Certainly when you compare him with many of the other politicians astride our global stage here in darkest 2017. And yes that’s a pretty low bar — but it’s the one we’ve got right now, so whaddyagonnado? He seems, on the surface at least, to be semi-rational. And he’s not entirely unintelligible. These shouldn’t be praiseworthy things for the newly-elected leader of a major nation. But heigh-ho. We are where we are.

Incidentally, the way he pronounces “engineers” in that short video is awesome and doubtless will cause a chuckle or two. But I still maintain that… in his non-native tongue, he managed to deliver an eloquent and coherent message in a way that two minutes of Donald Trump or Theresa May speaking, in their native language, generally fails to do these days.

And yet, he’s still a guy I would only have voted for as (much) the lesser of two evils. Despite his ‘upstart’ image, he remains firmly a centre-right, free-market, capitalist, business-as-usual, establishment politician. Of course that’s better than a bloody fascist and anyone who says otherwise needs to rounded up, starved for several months and then gassed.

See what I did there?

I don’t really think that should happen to anyone of course. And it pains me that I need to explicitly state that. But if we are to have concentration camps, then I do think they should be filled exclusively with people who vote in favour of concentration camps. Everyone else gets a pass.

But all the same, I personally don’t think a centre-right, free-market, capitalist, business-as-usual, establishment politician is what we really need right now. Macron and Le Pen would both be part of the general global tendency towards driving our collective society off the edge of a very tall ecological cliff. Sure, I’d much rather spend the journey in Macron’s bus, but ultimately they both end in a flaming pile of twisted metal and sinew.

As it happens, in my heart-of-hearts, I don’t think we’re going to apply the brakes at this late stage. Hell, we may already be over the edge and just not aware of it yet.

And yet, my hope — do I still have one? — is that the French Left somehow use this to galvanise support. “Let’s not boil it down to a choice between a banker and a fascist next time!” Translate that into French and put it on a million leaflets. And I hope they join with the left-wing and the greens and the anarchists and the pacifists and the quakers and the scientists and the poets and the holy ones… across all Europe. I believe we need to develop a truly pro-European and pan-European alternative to the economic inequalities that face our society. Isolationism, Brexitism, MAGAism, nationalism… these are not the answers. Leastways, they’re not the ones I’m looking for.

But nor (certainly in the long term) is the brand of unsustainable corporate capitalism that ultimately has led to a situation where fascists are polling 34% in France.

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21
Apr 2017

Slayer Fest ’17

Am I the only one who experiences an involuntary shudder when I try to picture the activities of a wealthy hunting-party in modern Iraq?

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but a hunting expedition in a country in the grip of an active armed insurrection — arguably in a state of civil war — seems like precisely the sort of trip you might take if you were looking to stray way beyond the normal bounds of acceptable behaviour.

It won’t be featured in the public-facing marketing bumpf, but I would expect these trips to kick off with a few days of massacring local and imported exotic animals with increasingly powerful ordnance before culminating in a two day hunt where the prey is the most cunning animal of them all…

… man!

Part of you knows it’s true.

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20
Jan 2017

Tubular Bells of Dune. Or “Two extended pieces of live music from the first half of the 1970s”

The first is a 41 minute version of Autobahn performed by an embryonic Kraftwerk in a noisy club in Leverkusen in 1974. I like the club ambience but I can see how others might find it distracting. Whether you do or don’t though; there are sections of this performance that are flat out astounding. In the full-on, no-holds-barred,  “Astounding Tales!!!” sense of the word.

Assuming you like this kind of thing in the first place.

By about six minutes in I have a smile on my face and it remains there. For all the talk of Kraftwerk being the preserve of po-faced music critics and ironic chin-strokers….

And look, there’s no doubt, Kraftwerk would tend to attract more of that demographic than — let’s say —  Maroon 5 featuring Kendrick Lamar.

Psychedelic industrial space jazz from the future draws those dudes like a moth to a flame.

But along with the chin-strokers come the people who just find themselves smiling, and filled with good humour and mirth when they hear psychedelic industrial space jazz from the future.

And even if you don’t like the music. I get that, I really do. But even if you don’t like the music, you have to be a willful contrarian to deny the sheer Greatness of musicians who can literally tear a rift in the fabric of reality and allow a small audience in Leverkusen in 1974 to listen to the future for 41 minutes. I’m not saying “this was the sound of the music of the future”. I’m saying “this was what the future itself sounded like as it echoed back through literal wormholes in the fabric of spacetime”. Literal. Wormholes.

Literally.


The next one is from the previous year.

Ahh… 1973, a golden age… a time when a hippy and his mates could go on telly and perform a mellow 25 minute multi-instrumental prog groove that was so well-received and so beloved he didn’t really have to do anything else after that. There was a very short window of time in which that could happen. I love that Mike Oldfield found it.

Let’s face it, the purple bit in the middle is basically every episode of Doctor Who up to that point. Only a lot better and much easier to watch in one sitting. And if you don’t give a little audible yelp of joy when the man says “two slightly… distorted guitars” and then follows up with “man-DO-LIN!!” or at least grin and think “yes!” when the choir joins in right at the very end then… well you’re probably Donald Trump or L. Ron Hubbard or Dracula or someone.


While those two performances are very different, personally I love them both. And while I suspect I’m in a small minority on that, I think we can all agree that the tapestry of human existence, the very stuff of human culture is objectively improved by having these two things mixed into it.

I mean… … Literal. Wormholes.

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21
Dec 2016

Santa Claus: Climate Refugee

As I was reading the latest news on the terrifying acceleration of Arctic Climate Change, it struck me that — assuming both humanity and the Santa Claus myth survive the next couple of centuries — at some point we are going to be forced to relocate old Saint Nick to the Antarctic. Unless we add some kind of undersea base into the myth, the North Pole is rapidly becoming an untenable location for Santa’s workshop. And over the next hundred years, even Lapland is likely to look distinctly “unChristmassy” for most of the year.

Some parents will weave Santa’s relocation into the myth… it may well become a “traditional” way of introducing young children to Climate Change? Others will simply insist against the consensus of informed opinion that Santa has always lived in the South Pole and it’s a goddamn Chinese hoax to suggest otherwise.

 


 

UPDATE: Within 20 seconds of posting this, I read Philip Challinor’s far better take on the story…

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18
Dec 2016

Most powerful man in the world? Hope not.

As I watched President-Elect Donald Trump become embroiled in a twitter flame-war with China, it struck me that we are indeed entering a period of genuine uncertainty.

I am vaguely hopeful that my general cynicism about US politics and democracy is validated; that the president actually has little or no real power; that Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex will simply keep trundling towards catastrophic climate and resource wars in much the same way its been doing for the past 50 years; and President Trump will essentially become the world’s most embarrassing reality TV show for the next 4 years. The Pentagon’s Court Jester.

donald-trumpBecause the alternative… that the guy will actually be responsible for substantial shifts in US policy, that he will set directions and the US behemoth will follow them… that’s honestly quite terrifying. His position on Climate Change alone — if translated into active policy changes — will make him the most damaging president in recent US history. I’m not saying current US policy is anything short of disastrous on this issue… but Trump’s anti-science stance has culminated in threats not just to ignore existing climate research but to veto any further research being carried out by US government organisations. This is very worrying (hint: remove NASA, the EPA and the USGCRP from climate research and you deal a very serious blow to the entire field that will cause lasting damage).

Bizarrely, I find myself sincerely hoping that American democracy is fundamentally broken. That the president is an ineffectual figurehead who will be deftly handled and manipulated by the Illuminati, or the Rockefeller Foundation, or the Gnomes of Zurich, or the Zionist conspiracy, or the the Liberal Elite, or The Greys, or the Milk Marketing Board… to essentially keep everything exactly the way it is.

Normally when a politician gets elected I hope they shake things up; that they challenge the system and turn against the establishment. Not so with Trump. The man is a menace.

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29
Nov 2016

The European position on Brexit

Just a quick one — but too long for twitter.

I’ve been reading a bunch of UK news stories about that “having cake and eating it” note. The note is irrelevant, but all of the news stories about it — in fact almost all of the UK news stories about Brexit — appear to be framing the impending negotiations in completely the wrong light.

boris-johnsonBrexit came as a shock to me. I suspect it came as a shock to most people reading this. But I believe there is a general consensus (even among Brexiteers) that the UK decision to leave was at least as much a political / cultural decision as it was an economic one. Certainly, many in the “Leave” camp would argue that the UK stands to be better-off, economically speaking, as a result of Brexit. I personally doubt that very much. But whether or not that might be true; it’s reasonable to say that political and cultural concerns played a part in the vote to leave.

However, the negotiations are being framed — by most UK media — in purely economic terms. At least from the European side. The media is well aware that British politics is going to shape the British position (whether or not free movement of people can be sold to the British people in the current political climate, should it be the only way to salvage access to the free market) but they seem to cast the European position as either being purely about balance sheets, or at best in terms of the internal politics of a particular nation (how will the current French election campaign affect Europe’s position, etc.)

What is being overlooked is that the negotiating team from the European side will not bring with them the politics of any specific nation. They will be tasked with getting the best deal for Europe. Yes, economics will take primacy as it often does. But the institutions of Europe will also bring their own very definite political agenda to the table. And that agenda will be to make the British option — leaving the EU — as unpalatable as possible to others.

The UK vote has created a huge amount of instability within Europe, at an already unstable time. The EU’s negotiators* will not be tasked with “getting the best deal for both sides”, though that will be the public stance of course. They will be quietly tasked with getting the best deal for Europe in a way that makes the entire thing look like a gigantic mistake for Britain. And ultimately I don’t think that’s going to end well for anyone.

* perhaps with the exception of any negotiator with an Irish accent, who will be desperate to make the process as smooth as possible thanks to the chaos a hard-border might cause us over here

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1
Sep 2016

On the tram

luasThe tram stops at Fettercairn. A man steps on, wreathed in smoke from a just-discarded cigarette. He smells faintly of last night’s beer. And he smells of cigarettes — though not faintly. His face looks like it’s seen more than its fair share of fights. His fists are clenched in what I feel certain is a near-perpetual anger. Anger with the world. With himself. With anyone or anything that catches his eye. He takes a seat and stares furiously out of the window.

The tram stops at the next stop. Belgard. A man steps on, wreathed in smoke from a still-lit cigarette, smouldering on the platform behind him. The breeze comes from a different angle here at Belgard, but I feel certain that he too smells of last night’s beer. And cigarettes. His face has also taken plenty of punches. His fists have also doled them out.

He spies the first man, sitting with his back to him. Tap tap on his shoulder. The first man turns… his eyes wary.

“Where are you off to?” asks the second man.

“Court.” replies the first in a voice shredded by smoke.

The second man grins as he takes a seat opposite the first. “Me too.” he says.

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18
Jul 2016

Haters gonna hate (allegedly)

I know nothing about Taylor Swift. I’m familiar with the song “Shake it Off” because — let’s face it — it’s difficult not to be. It isn’t quite up there with that Bryan Adams song from the early 90s, but it was still pretty damn impossible to escape. Having said that, I have nothing against the woman. She is a tremendously successful pop singer and although I am partial to a good pop song at times, I am clearly not her target demographic. Which is fine.

I was intrigued, though, to read today that Swift feels that she does not get the artistic credit she deserves for her songwriting because of the sexism of the music industry. She is quoted as saying…

If someone has studied my catalog and still doesn’t think I’m behind it, there’s nothing I can do for that person. They may have to deal with their own sexist issues, because if I were a guy and you were to look at my catalog and my lyrics, you would not wonder if I was the person behind it.

At the risk of being accused of mansplaining again, can I just point out that — while I acknowledge there are people out there who will question the abilities of a woman to write a song purely because she is a woman; those people exist, they are called “asshats” (amongst other things) — I myself was mildly surprised to learn that Swift writes her own songs. But not because she is a woman… no, it’s because she’s a photogenic young pop-star.

That doesn’t preclude a person from also being a songwriter of course. And my surprise was only “mild”… I’m not refusing to believe it or anything. Thing is, I would be just as surprised to discover that One Direction write their own stuff (do they?) It’s not sexism; it’s just cynicism about the modern music industry. If you’re young, good-looking, polished and highly-successful then my initial assumption — male or female — is that you’re essentially the product of a marketing algorithm. As I say; cynicism not sexism.

Milli Vanilli

photo by Alan Light

And it’s not just the “young and good-looking” bit (though that is fairly prevalent). It’s more the “polish”, the genuine difficulty I have discerning a modern pop video from an advert for a trendy clothes store… I never for a moment doubted that Patti Smith wrote every syllable of every song (well, except the cover versions obviously!) Laurie Anderson, Suzanne Vega, Stina Nordenstam, Siouxsie Sioux, Joni Mitchell… women can write incredible songs. And the flip-side is also true… Jason Donovan sold millions of records singing songs written by Stock, Aiken & Waterman. Milli Vanilli didn’t even do their own singing!

So yes; there are probably some asshats out there who think “Taylor Swift didn’t write that — she’s a girl!” But most of us, I suspect, were thinking “Taylor Swift probably didn’t write that — it’s 2016 and she’s a pop star”. That assumption — it turns out — is plain wrong. But it’s not sexist. No more than the growing scepticism surrounding Milli Vanilli in 1989 was racist.

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6
Oct 2015

Launching airstrikes from a glass house

Vladimir Putin is a dangerous, authoritarian despot. This fact is illustrated both by current Russian domestic policy (towards minorities, opposition groups and free-thinkers) and foreign policy (in Ukraine and now Syria).

It seems likely to me that Russian intervention in Syria will have a fairly disastrous outcome. Putin’s military will almost certainly kill and maim many thousands of Syrian civilians in an attempt to prop up the vicious local dictator, Assad, who also routinely kills and maims Syrian civilians. It is a hideous state of affairs.

I don’t claim to know exactly what’s best for Syria and its people; but I am 100% convinced that turning it into Guernica writ large is not the solution. So I – and I hope all right-thinking people and governments – unequivocally condemn Russian policy in this case.

Get the hell out of there, Russia!

That said; the faux-outrage emerging from the United States government and media is nauseating. Any global condemnation of Putin is effectively undermined when the American government joins the chorus. So long as the US military is bombing hospitals in Afghanistan and providing active support to the murderous Saudi Arabian campaign in Yemen, their government should shut the hell up.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own?

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion


31
Aug 2015

Huun Huur Tu – Chiraa-Khoor

Much Tuvan music tries to evoke the joy of galloping across the open steppe on horseback.

With this song, Huun Huur Tu succeed in doing just that. Magical.

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