Jun 2008

George Carlin 1937 – 2008

Sad news.

I found out via Justin who has another great clip. Check it out after watching this one.

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Jun 2008

T. Boone calls the peak

If you’d spent the past 10 years or so reading about the oil industry, you would have heard about a man called ‘T. Boone Pickens’ on a number of occasions and secretly thought to yourself, “what a fantastic name!”

Pickens is one of the most respected men in the Texas oil industry and has been for many years. Like other industry insiders (such as Campbell and Laherrère) and academic petrogeologists (such as Deffeyes), Pickens is the sort of guy whose opinion on this subject should be listened to. He knows more about the global oil industry than damn near anybody else you care to mention. So if his views are found to contradict the models and forecasts of economists, it can only be blind faith in the free-market that allows a person to summarily dismiss the former in favour of the latter.

Anyways, two days ago Pickens was invited to speak before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee where he stated in stark terms that global crude oil production has peaked.

And Pickens is very firmly putting his money where his mouth his. He is currently in the process of financing the world’s largest Wind Farm project.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

Why we're screwed

I have family visiting this week, so blogging will be light-to-nonexistent. All the same, when I checked my email this morning, my friend A had sent me a link to a news item that I thought needed wider dissemination. When reading this report, try not to think about it as limited to a specific environmental problem in a specific geographical area. Instead think about any general lessons that may be learned from this.

Here it is, from the BBC: Australian rivers ‘face disaster’

2 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

Sharp suit. Sharper moves.

David Byrne and the Balanescu Quartet cover Kraftwerk’s The Model

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Media » Audio, Video

Jun 2008

You're welcome Michael

Upon hearing the news of the “No” vote, Michael Greenwell has graciously said “Thank you Ireland“. As I think has become clear, though, I’m rather ambivalent about the whole thing. Rejecting the treaty was emphatically the right thing to do, don’t get me wrong. My ‘X’ went in the correct box. But the question of what happens next is a pretty durn perplexing one.

See, here’s my thing… I’m a European.

I don’t mean that in a mundane geographical sense. It’s something I actually feel, and quite deeply too. I’m aware that this makes me somewhat unusual, but it’s just a direct consequence of my personal experience. During my life I’ve lived throughout Europe and called three other continents home at different times, as well as working for a spell on a fifth. If Europe and Europeans have something that genuinely unites them, then I would humbly suggest that I’m probably one of the people in a position to have spotted it.

And they do.

Obviously when you move around a lot, this is something you get to thinking about. As far as my experience of Europe goes, in my life I’ve lived in Greece, Ireland, Spain, England and Germany (for a 5 month project, but it involved dealing quite closely with German businessmen, local government and workers so I got fairly immersed during my short stay). Now, just for a moment I want you to consider how different those cultures all are. London to Athens. Cork to Berlin. Madrid to Dublin. And from personal experience… they are indeed very different. But despite this, they all share something intangible that you only notice is missing when you live in Cairo or — perhaps most intriguingly — Chicago, or when your local supermarket and dry-cleaners have a Sao Paolo address.

I can’t tell you what that “something” is. It doesn’t have a name. It is whatever property is possessed by a place that prevents the onset of culture shock. It runs far deeper than mere “familiarity”. For me… call it European-ness.

Culture shock, in case you’ve never felt it, is defined as “that sudden sense of vertigo experienced when you think ‘shit! that’s different over here’ more than seven times on each of two consecutive days”. It is quickly followed by a total loss in your own confidence to complete even the most simple and apparently mundane of tasks, and becomes chronic culture shock the moment the terrified rhetorical question “is this my home now?” crosses your mind. Chronic culture shock can involve severe agoraphobia and a worrying urge to watch BBC costume dramas on video.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s completely temporary and is usually overcome when you discover something apparently trivial but nonetheless extremely pleasing about the place that makes you think “that is utterly fantastic… why don’t we do it that way back home?” After which point it lessens and eventually becomes a vague ambient exoticness that lingers in the strange voices on the radio and the way people move their hands when they greet one another.

I mean, without a doubt, some of the very best memories of my life are of the time I spent in Egypt; probably the place I felt most alien when I first arrived, but which I eventually fell in love with. And I am deeply smitten with Brazillian culture… the music, the people, the sound of the language, the landscape, the mango… oh god, the mango… South America is just fantastic. On the other hand, North America didn’t agree with me at all, which I found quite bewildering given how much American culture we’re all exposed to (New York is one of my favourite places in the world for a short visit, but living in Texas and later spending a year in Chicago damn near drove me insane).

None of which — by the way — and I think I’ve been pretty explicit that this is merely personal experience and observation, is meant to be taken as some kind of weird European “We’re Number One!” chant. Or a kind of eurocentric xenophobia. Far from it. Europe is screwed up in more ways than I care to mention. Maybe even more so than other places (and here I think specifically of South America, which has it’s own set of different problems of course, but there’s a certain attitude to the people which suggests that, in the long term, they may do better at dealing with theirs than we’ll do with ours). Certainly while experiencing the immediate effects of culture shock, a person is — in the most literal sense — xenophobic; scared witless by the alien-ness of the place they find themself. But that’s just an emotional / psychological reaction to a moment of extreme stress.

Have you ever left a party… a bit worse for wear… and decided that you can’t be arsed to wait for the night bus because your place is just about within walking distance. You’ve got your buzz on, and a couple of cans of beer to keep you company and you start hiking. At some point, vaguely frazzled by what seems like hours of walking (including that one estate that seemed dodgy and freaked you out a bit) you turn a corner and you see a familiar landmark… the shop you walk to when you run out of bread, and a momentary sensation steals over you. That’s the very same sensation I felt when I returned from Chicago to London… from Egypt to Greece.

Because of all this. Because I experience a very specific sense of dislocation in North Africa et al, but not anywhere in Europe; because of this, I’d go so far as to say that I feel more European than I feel Irish. Certainly I can’t say I feel any more “at home” in Dublin than I did in London (or even in Athens, despite the myriad massive and obvious differences).

What am I trying to say here? I guess I’m just saying that it saddens me that I had to vote against the Lisbon Treaty and I don’t feel any sense of jubilation whatsoever that “we won”. As comically surreal as the referendum was, I’m in no mood to celebrate. See, I wish it had been a document I could have supported. I really do. Elsewhere I’ve read the argument that the major failure of the Lisbon Treaty was it didn’t recognise the vast differences between the nations of Europe and instead proposes a one size fits all solution to the problem of how we organise our collective affairs.

There may well be something to that, and as I pointed out earlier, Europe is indeed a collection of very different cultures. I’m most definitely not suggesting that contrary to clear evidence we possess a single pan-European culture. Not at all; just that all these different cultures share common aspects and attitudes (as well as a geographical proximity) that make close cooperation possible and potentially very fruitful. So when nosemonkey writes:

Europe is not made up of one united people; we are many peoples with much shared history and culture, but with plenty that also divides us in terms of hopes, dreams and aspirations

while I can’t disagree with the strict wording of the statement, I feel compelled to disagree with its spirit. It’s been my experience that 90% of what divides Europeans is history. If anything it’s our “hopes, dreams and aspirations” that unite us.

7 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

Breaking News: Ireland sticks tongue out at Europe. Says "Na Na Na Naa Naaa!"

I’m finding this thing increasingly funny. The more I read, hear and think about it, the more surreal it becomes. 110 thousand random Irish yahoos (of which, let me stress, I was one) made an important decision affecting the future of almost half a billion Europeans, and the ‘No’ campaign are gleefully declaring “This is democracy in action”. I love it.

As I mentioned in the comments elsewhere though, I think we here in Ireland — yes, even us ‘No’ voters and even us Bertie-bashers — should maybe feel a tiny bit rueful that we didn’t wait a few months before hounding the (allegedly) corrupt bugger out of office. When it comes to pressing the Irish case in Brussels, Bertie would have been in his element. I’m not sure we can say the same of Brian Cowen.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

Referendum Day

Well I’m just back from casting my ‘No’ vote. I had a brief chat with one of the people running the polling station who told me that turn-out has been quite low so far (though from what she’s heard, it’s a good deal lower elsewhere). Of course, there’s still another couple of hours to go and traditionally the 7pm to 9pm slot is busiest out here in the commuter-belt.

All of the media reports thus far seem to suggest that it’s going to be very very close indeed, but that a low turn-out could present problems for the ‘Yes’ campaign given that anti-Lisbon sentiment appears to be more deeply-held than the pro-Lisbon line.

It’s the first time I’ve ever voted in a referendum as it happens (it’s the first one we’ve had since my return to Ireland) and although I’m actually quite divided on this issue, the sections of the Treaty which appear to tie Europe to a disastrous energy policy were just enough to nudge me from abstention into voting against it.

I firmly believe in the European project and in a stronger European Union, which is why I’m so dismayed at this treaty. I’d much rather be voting in favour of closer integration, but not if it means giving my tacit support to the building of new nuclear power stations.

Incidentally, I’m 100% convinced that I could have won this referendum for the ‘Yes’ campaign by quite a decent margin (which may yet happen, of course). Having listened to several debates, as well as the impassioned pleas of politicians (almost always in favour of the treaty), there’s one clear trick that’s been missed. A month ago, the ‘Yes’ campaign should have kicked off like this…

John Bowman: Good evening, and welcome to Questions & Answers. This week, amongst other things, sees the beginning of the Lisbon referendum campaign and our panel tonight will be discussing the treaty. Our first question comes from Nancy Peterson.

Audience member (Nancy): Simply put, could the panel explain why we should — or should not — vote for this treaty?

JB: Straightforward enough, one would think, why should we vote for, or against, the Lisbon treaty? First to Trade and Employment Minister, Billy Kelleher. Minister, presumably you support the Fianna Fáil position in favour of the treaty? Why should Nancy, and our other viewers, vote ‘Yes’?

Billy Kelleher: Good evening John, Nancy, ladies and gentlemen. There’s no question that the Lisbon Treaty is a difficult document to digest, but if you persevere with it then you discover that it’s a very very positive step not just for Europe as a whole, but also for us here in Ireland. I’ve heard it said, with no little contempt I might add, that voting for Lisbon is voting with your wallet. Frankly I find that insulting. Voting for this treaty is the right thing to do in principle, and I honestly doubt that many of those who will vote ‘Yes’ on June 12th will be doing so out of purely selfish motives………

And from that moment on; every time the ‘Yes’ campaign put forward its case in the media, it should have been accompanied by the phrase “voting with your wallet” in that same, throwaway, “actually we want to distance ourselves from this idea” kind of manner.

Because it’s a sad truth, but large numbers of people do vote with personal self-interest in mind. This is one of the (many) great flaws in representative democracy. “Personal self-interest” does not necessarily (or even regularly) equate with “what’s best for society as a whole”, so that elections often end up with large numbers of people deliberately voting against what’s best for society, in the belief — for instance — that a slight increase in their own personal wealth somehow offsets unsustainable economic policies.

Of course, there’s absolutely no evidence that the Lisbon treaty, if adopted, will be financially beneficial to the average Irish voter, but because no bugger understands the treaty, it would not be too difficult to present it that way (it’s very “business-friendly” after all). Once you have unconsciously linked a “Yes” vote with “Voting with your wallet” in the mind of the electorate, it becomes extremely difficult for many people to vote “No”.

Of course, both campaigns did attempt to do this, but it was always in pretty abstract language; “the treaty secures Ireland as a centre for foreign investment” says the ‘Yes’ campaign. “The treaty imposes European tax regulations upon us which will reduce our competitiveness when attracting foreign investment” says the ‘No’ campaign. Who do you believe?

In truth, you end up believing whichever one comes closest to your own personal prejudices. However, a sustained campaign which (with a modicum of subtlety) links “voting Yes” with “voting with your wallet”, bypasses personal beliefs altogether and becomes an unconscious drive within the collective psyche of the electorate.

3 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Jun 2008

Prince cancels

Bugger. Prince has cancelled Monday’s gig in Dublin. Bit of an arse really, but what can you do?

The question now becomes; do I go see Iggy and the Stooges on Monday night instead? I’ve got Leonard Cohen on Sunday and Christy Moore the following Thursday, so it’s not like there’s a shortage of good gigs to be getting on with. But at the same time, I was getting a kick out of the whole “three living legends in five days” thing I had going on for next week. I won’t make it to Glastonbury this year, so I kind of had next week set aside as my “take the foot off the pedal ever so slightly and chill out a bit” week for the summer. Which I’ll still be doing of course; Prince or no Prince; but it leaves a bit of a gap in the week and while Iggy’s no Prince, he definitely falls into the Living Legends category.

Hmmm. Let me think about it.

UPDATE: Just got a text message from a friend wondering whether or not I wanted a ticket for Iggy on Monday night. Isn’t that nice?

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Jun 2008

Seven songs

It’s a music meme. Isn’t it always?

Via Phil at Gaping Silence comes this simple set of instructions…

List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your [summer]. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to.

(UPDATE 2: Following Justin’s lead. I’ve added links to each of the songs where possible).

  1. Well, I’ve been listening to a lot of Michael Franti & Spearhead recently (and still haven’t given up hope that they’ll play a Dublin gig this year). Franti is one of the great protest singers of our time. His attacks on the establishment (whether government or corporate) can be quite savage, but there’s always a powerfully positive aspect to his songs. That said, the Spearhead song that’s been on heavy rotation on my mp3 player lately isn’t a protest song at all. It’s that classic chilled-out summer groove, Ganja Babe, from Songs From The Front Porch. Harking back to early Bob Marley, this hymn to the herb is a perfect sunny day track. How can you not like a song that rhymes “heavy medicine” with “Thomas funky Edison”?
  2. Spiritualized played Dublin the week before last. It was a great gig (and Sian Alice Group rate as the best support act I’ve seen since Daau supported The The about six years ago). In the lead-up to — and in the wake of — the gig, I’ve been listening to a lot of early Spiritualized (the new album hasn’t really grabbed me the way past ones have, though I suspect it could be a bit of a grower). Anyways, the debut album; Lazer Guided Melodies; still ranks amongst the best records released by anyone during the 1990s and Shine A Light, a beautiful version of which was performed at the gig, is really doing it for me just now. (Note: for some reason, the only version I can find on Youtube is used to soundtrack a sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Go figure)
  3. This summer is a fantastic one for live music. I’m getting to see some of the great singer-songwriters of the past few decades; the top tier probably consists of four artists… Leonard Cohen, Prince, Tom Waits and Ireland’s own Christy Moore. All quite different, but all wonderful in their own way. Curiously it’s not one of Christy’s original compositions that makes this list, however. Over the past few weeks I’ve been entranced by his cover of Shane McGowan‘s Aisling from the fairly recent retrospective box-set. Just voice and acoustic guitar, it’s a heart-breaking love song and a lament for times past, never to return. Gorgeous. (Note: can’t seem to find this song online anywhere, so instead I chose this classic song of Christy’s for your appreciation; Viva la Quinte Brigada, his ode to the Irish volunteers who sailed to Spain to fight against Franco during the Spanish Civil War.)
  4. A significant shift in pace here. Leaping backwards about 20 years to the power-pop of late 80s girl-band Voice of The Beehive. One of the better pop bands of the era in my opinion, they seem to be curiously overlooked and I’m constantly suprised by how few people even know their singles. Back when it was released, I recall buying the 7” of I Say Nothing and almost wearing out the stylus on my record-player as I played it over and over. The vocal harmonies and jangly guitar blend together and form as perfect a slice of summery pop music as has ever been recorded.
  5. From roughly the same era, though perhaps from a parallel dimension, my next track comes from Isn’t Anything? — the first of the two Great albums released by My Bloody Valentine; the rest of their output being merely Very Very Good indeed. The fact that they’re playing gigs again is really exciting, though currently the only Irish performance scheduled is a festival. Sort it out! Anyways, it’s difficult to imagine a track that so perfectly captures the MBV sound than Lose My Breath, the second track on that flawless album and currently the first track on the “Summer Walks” playlist on my mp3 player. (Note: the only version I can find online is a badly recorded live bootleg. Not going to link to it as it really fails to do the track justice.)
  6. Most people don’t know who Stina Nordenstam is. Most people wouldn’t like her music even if they did know. Most people have poor taste. Her last album, 2004’s The World Is Saved is one of the best records of recent years (and she’s releasing a new one soon… very exciting news). On it, Stina appears to have finally perfected the fragile, claustrophobic, filtered-through-a-magical-industrial-haze sound that typified, though occasionally overpowered, her past output. There’s nothing on this album that quite compares with 2001’s heart-breaking Everyone Else in The World (the opening track from her previous album), but the beautifully weird 125 comes very close and has been delighting me over the past few weeks… “They shut down the experiment / It had long gone out of hand / But the nation’s funds were well spent / To the pride of modern man…” (Note: Can’t find ‘125’ online, but this video for Everyone Else In The World somehow succeeds in being almost as heart-breaking as the song.)
  7. This last one is a bit of a cheat. It’s not a song at all. It’s a singer. Specifically it’s Cibelle, the London-based Brazillian singer. Her solo records, as well as her collaborations with producer, Suba, have a splendid dreamlike quality to them that fits well with sunny days and balmy nights. Most of her vocals are in Brazillian Portugese (which I love the sound of, but don’t speak) so it’s not really possible to pick out a specific track. I just love the way the trance beats, odd instrumentation, psychedelic soundscapes and Cibelle’s caramel voice all blend to create a tiny slice of Brazil right there in your room. I’d recommend either Suba’s Sao Paolo Confessions or Cibelle’s The Shine of Dried Electric Leaves if you’re interested in checking out this sound for yourself. (Note: I sooo want to see Cibelle live. Check out this amazing performance)

If you fancy taking this meme out for a spin, then go for it. I’m not going to tag seven other people, but I’ll just say; if you can be arsed, I’d be interested in reading your response: Merrick, Gyrus, Justin, Rachel, David, and Larry.

UPDATE: it just struck me that I put together a compilation CD for a recent car-journey which — excluding Cibelle — includes the above tracks plus a few more. So, in 70 minutes, this is summer 2008 thus far…

  1. Lose My Breath — My Bloody Valentine
  2. You! Me! Dancing! — Los Campesinos!
  3. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! — Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  4. I Say Nothing — Voice of the Beehive
  5. Summertime — The Sundays
  6. Shine A Light — Spiritualized
  7. 125 — Stina Nordenstam
  8. Dance Tonight — Paul McCartney
  9. Do I Love You? (Indeed I Do) — Frank Wilson
  10. Ganja Babe — Michael Franti & Spearhead
  11. Tangled Up In Blue [Bootleg Series version] — Bob Dylan
  12. My Funny Valentine — Slumberwall
  13. Strange Apparition — Beck
  14. Iron Man — The Cardigans
  15. Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes — Paul Simon
  16. Aisling — Christy Moore

3 comments  |  Posted in: Blog meme

Jun 2008

The title

Apologies for neglecting this place, but the past few weeks have been pretty hectic. Right now I’ve got a bit of time to myself, though, so I figured I’d pop in and blow some of the web dust off the page lest it settle too deep and I start slipping into the “taking a break” section of that small handful of blogrolls discerning enough to carry me.

I do have a whole bunch of incomplete blogposts from the past couple of weeks. But I can’t seem to properly finish a thought at the moment. I suspect that’s got something to do with being neck-deep in research. Everything seems to return to the same topic.

So my observations on the Lisbon referendum campaign ended up being an analysis of the unconscious drives at work within the collective psyche of the electorate. My short piece about our New Glorious Leader, Brian (I’m not just ‘an Irish Gordon Brown’) Cowen began by explaining why actually, he’s not just an Irish Gordon Brown, and ended up examining the unconscious drives within the capitalist collective psyche. And my oil prices / peak oil / fuel protests piece? Well, let’s just acknowledge that there’s a pattern emerging and the phrases “unconscious drives” and “collective psyche” made an appearance. I also ended up explaining my belief that if you were to actually sit down and design a system to drive a culture completely psychotic, then you’d have a hard job coming up with something better than a free market in natural resources.

All of which may well be fascinating, but it’s also very dense stuff at the moment. Blog posts that require extensive glossaries are probably to be avoided. It’s all still percolating you see, and hasn’t yet really coalesced into something easy to communicate. All being well, for me the next couple of months will essentially be devoted to that very process.

Reading a lot of Gregory Bateson really changes the way you think about… well, everything. And that’s not hyperbole. It’s just how it is. And it’s worth pointing out that he’s not shy about making it clear that his intention is just that. On top of that, it’s long been recognised that reading a lot of Freud will seriously affect the way you think about… again, pretty much everything.

So there’s probably a certain inevitability in the fact that while researching a paper that hovers somewhere between a Freudian reading of Bateson and a Batesonian reading of Freud, there’s a tendency to view every issue through a psychodynamic prism.* Which is probably a very good thing from the point of view of writing the paper, but is less good when it comes to blog posts. It’s also a bit hit-and-miss when it comes to everyday human interaction… I’m trying to curtail the constant tendency to punctuate conversations with: “hmmmm, that’s a lot like Bion’s idea of the emotional storm created by interpersonal awareness really… I must write that down… … … … sorry, what were you saying?” That, and looking at people as though they’re mad because they don’t know who Isabel Menzies Lyth is**. Really need to cut that out.

What’s that, you say? The title? Well, my thesis supervisor stressed the importance of getting it down to ten words, but in the end I just couldn’t compress / focus it any further than twelve. So without futher ado… “Free Markets as Collective Pleasure Principle: Psychodynamics of an Ecology of Mind”.

What do you think? Sound academic enough? Personally I think it sounds academic as fuck.

It’s certainly a densely packed dozen words. Start unpacking them, and before you know where you are, there’s fourteen thousand of the buggers lying around looking to be put into some kind of meaningful pattern. It’s a dirty job………

Aaanyways, if you’re in the vicinity of the Trinity Postgrad Reading Room over the summer, pop in and say hello. You know where I’ll be.

* Psychodynamic Prism. A forthcoming 8 CD retrospective from ‘Yes’.

** For those mad folk among you, she wrote Containing Anxiety in Institutions (a collection of papers that’s been very influential on my thinking) and is recognised for carrying out the first psychoanalytic studies of large institutions. If I’m honest? No, I hadn’t heard of her prior to this year. Turns out there’s lots of people who’ve done remarkable; really remarkable; work who I’ve never even heard of. Always worth bearing that in mind.

4 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements