Dec 2008

Back (again)

Apologies for the unannounced absence. I upgraded to WordPress 2.7 and although I don’t appear to have lost any data, and the front-end of the site wasn’t affected, I couldn’t log into the admin area. I think the password got corrupted in the database… but that’s really weird as nothing else seems to have been affected. Anyways, I eventually had to resort to some hand-written SQL to rebuild parts of the database. But that had to be embedded in some PHP code. And while I’m pretty good with the ol’ SQL, my PHP skills aren’t up to much (more of a Coldfusion person). So it took a while.

Anyways, all seems to be well now and I must say that the new WordPress admin is really quite shiny.

So it looks like I’m back up and running just in time for my Christmas holiday.

PS: Happy Solstice!

7 comments  |  Posted in: Announcements

Dec 2008

Bleed The World

At Christmas time we should always spare a thought for those less fortunate than us. After 20 years of bleeding the world, the global financial community has fallen on hard times. These people desperately need our thoughts, prayers and lots of our money. If you have any investments or savings left, or any money left over at the end of the month please, please give generously. Merry Christmas.

View the video at: Bleed The World


1 comment  |  Posted in: Media » Video

Dec 2008

Boom… tish

Somebody gave me an Advent Calendar from Woolworth. The windows were boarded-up and there was fuck all inside.

Shamelessly nicked from here.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2008

Further reading

Hopefully I should be back to proper blogging tomorrow. The worst of this lurgey has passed (christ I was feeling shit yesterday, but am a good deal better today). As an aside, how come cold medication is no fun anymore? Yeah, yeah, it’s probably more effective at suppressing the symptoms… but while medicine may well have advanced in that area, there’s been some serious back-tracking in the whole “makes you feel jolly spaced-out” area.

I want my “may cause drowsiness” back!

Anyways, while I’m still a little under the weather, why not check out some stuff on other websites (alternatively you could go read a book I suppose, but who does that, eh?)

First up, head on over to Merrick’s place for some thoughts on the Plane Stupid action at Stansted. Climate Justice Cometh, says Merrick. My thoughts on it? “Yay!”

The Curmudgeon also reflects on the action and considers it Plane Irresponsible!

Justin at Chicken Yoghurt has a couple of good pieces (Fighting over the scraps and Avoiding, evading, dodging the issue) on the tendency of mainstream politics to demonise the poor and disenfranchised. After all, they make far less troublesome scapegoats given the fact that can’t really — by definition — stand up and fight back. Part of me always thinks this is a dangerous strategy in what is, ostensibly, a democracy given that far more of us lurk near the lower end of society than have scaled the heights. But then I remember just how easily people can be indoctrinated, just how unimaginative indoctrinated people can be, and just how often the unimaginative will vote for whoever the media tells them to. And I don’t even consider myself a cynic. How cynical is that!

Gyrus, meanwhile, recently reflected on Hazel Henderson’s notion of economics as brain damage. I was recently asked for “advice and perspective” on the current economic crisis by someone rather high up in one of the world’s foremost financial institutions (that mere fact should goose the hell out of you, as it certainly did me). I’ll post something about the day I spent with him in the near future. By and large the guy seemed to have an open mind to many of my ideas, but when I quoted Henderson’s famous line at him, I think he was a tad affronted.

Oh and check out Michael Greenwell‘s Extraordinary post. Succinct and well worth the read.

Harry Hutton doesn’t post nearly as often as I’d like. As a result I’ve gotten out of the habit of checking his site. So I missed him Liveblogging the American Election. Excellent stuff.

Along with Harry’s blog, one of the most consistently funny sites (even after all these years) is The Onion. The latest video news item is a good’un… New Portable Sewing Machine Lets Sweatshop Employees Work On The Go.

OK, that’s your lot for now. I’m off down the chemist to ask for a bottle of “Do not operate heavy machinery”…

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Dec 2008

Parrots, the Universe and Everything

I’ve promised to write a response to this comment on a recent entry. But I’m really under the weather at the moment, so it’ll have to wait a wee while. It’s just a bad cold (or a mild flu bug) but it’s far from conducive to coherent thought (yes, yes, how could I possibly know the difference?)

Instead I’m going to post yet another YouTube clip. This time though it’s not music, but an hour and half long lecture given by Douglas Adams a few weeks before his death. It focuses pretty much entirely on his book Last Chance To See and I’d like to thank Toby for drawing my attention to it.

Yes, in these days of mouse-click attention spans, an hour and a half is a long time. But you’d be a fool to miss this funny, sad and informative talk.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Media » Video

Dec 2008

Obama's investment strategy

As a short addendum to my previous post, and to indicate exactly why Obama is not going to address the fundamental problems facing America — and the wider world — this article over at the BBC contains a revealing quotation from the man himself.

Now, let me preface this by pointing out that his plan for massive government investment in infrastructure projects is a sound one. The problem comes when you analyse the type of projects he wants to invest in.

We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule — use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.

“New and smarter”. “Roads and bridges”.

Because that’s what America needs in an era of decreasing oil availability. More roads.

6 comments  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2008

Short Obama post

I have plenty to say on the new president(-elect) of the United States. But I want to get this single point out of the way. I supported an Obama vote, because I honestly felt that the presence of a member of the Christian Right on the Republican ticket made them too damn dangerous. But I did so with the clear caveat that Barack Obama was merely the lesser of two evils. There is no evidence whatsoever that he intends to — or is even capable of — implementing the kinds of radical policies necessary to address the serious problems facing us today (resource depletion and Climate Change).

It’s certainly nice to see America have it’s own little Portillo-moment, and I do not begrudge in the slightest the celebrations of those Americans who view Obama as a major force for change. The hangover will be painful, just as it was in Britain in the late 90s, but after 8 years of Dubya Bush who can blame folks for having a bit of a piss-up?

Politically speaking, I agree completely with Merrick when he points out that the new boss is the same as the old boss.

See, there is one decision that a western leader could take which would indicate that a fundamental change for the better has occurred. One decision that would send out a powerful signal that we are finally on the right track. And even though it’s a difficult decision, and even though there would be no guarantee that its implementation would be successful, it would be like an announcement to the future that someone had finally understood the problem. Though, what’s remarkable about the decision is that it goes against the ideas of the capitalist right and the traditional socialist / communist left.

It’s the decision to end our fixation with economic growth. We need to decide to scale things back. Less work, less consumption. A managed powerdown. And I’m not talking about some absurd neo-primitivism. This can only happen through intelligent and efficient use of technology.

Anyone really think that’s on Obama’s agenda?


The story is never that simple though. Obama’s election does not herald a major political change (I’d be surprised if it even heralds a minor one). But a huge social change has occurred. And I’m willing to applaud that and support it with all my heart. I lived in Texas for a short time and in the US midwest for a bit longer. The division of the country along race lines was far more pronounced than it was in other places I’d lived. Even when I lived there, during the Clinton years, there was a palpable racial tension.

Now, obviously I’m not saying that the election of Barack Obama means that US racism is a thing of the past. That would be far too easy. But it is a powerful symbol of positive progress. From slavery to the presidency in less than 150 years isn’t to be underestimated.

I’m thinking mostly of those children — both black and white — who will start going to school over the next few years. They’ll open their history books and see pictures of all their presidents. For the first time there’ll be a non-white face among them. The social and psychological message that one, simple picture will send out should not be dismissed, merely because Obama’s politics are business as usual.

Leave a comment  |  Posted in: Opinion

Dec 2008

Billy Bragg Live in Dublin

I don’t want this place to become just a collection of YouTube clips, but I’ve not got much time right now and wanted to say a little bit about the gig last night… this is better than nothing I guess. We went to see Billy Bragg at Vicar Street and, as ever, he raised the roof. A thousand people singing There is Power in a Union is a wonderful thing to hear. I ended up describing him to someone today as “like an English Christy Moore”. I hope Billy would take that as the powerful compliment I mean it as (even if, strictly speaking, Bragg has his roots in punk while Moore is a folkie).

Anyways, the gig was great. The pissed bloke, not far from where myself and Citizen S were sitting, who insisted on trying to shout over the top of Billy’s between-song-monologues got beyond a joke at one point and I came close to tracking him down and offering to pay him to leave. Not that I had the money, not that he’d have left, and not that he’d have stopped shouting, but maybe — just maybe — when he awoke hungover the next day he might recall my offer and be shamed into resolving to shut the fuck up next time!

But yeah, Billy was a star. Like he always is. And support was provided by US singer-songwriter, Otis Gibbs, who was worth the ticket price alone (not that I judge an artist’s worth by how much you’d pay to see him, but you know what I’m saying).

Like any great artist who has been around a while, Billy didn’t play half the stuff I’d have liked him to play. But, then, he could have played for another couple of hours and still not played half the stuff I wanted to hear. Which is OK. When what you do get is so wonderful, it’s only an arsehole who complains. Also, as is often the case with me, my favourite album by a singer is one that other fans don’t rave about so much. So I suspect even if he had played for another couple of hours, we still wouldn’t have heard much from William Bloke.

He was as strident, as righteous and as inspiring as ever. Although having said that, the lovely Citizen S did point out afterwards that, having grown up in a communist regime, it’s a little strange for her to hear songs that idealise and romanticise unions and workers and socialism to quite that extent.

Don’t get me wrong, she enjoyed the gig and sees the worth in the songs and ideas but I guess those words are bound to have a different resonance for her. That’s one of the (many) things I like about Citizen S… I get to see the world from a different perspective when we’re together. A good thing. We’re neither of us big fans of capitalism, though. So not too different a perspective!

Hopefully next time we go see Billy play he’ll dust off a couple of tracks from William Bloke. Maybe The Space Race Is Over and From Red to Blue? Just thought I’d put that idea out there in case he googles himself one day and reads this page…

But yeah, one song he did play last night (how could he not?) was Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. And, as the song says… if you’ve got a website, I want to be on it…

Billy Bragg | Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

2 comments  |  Posted in: Reviews » Gig reviews

Dec 2008

A couple of videos

I’m still feeling quite blown away by the Damo Suzuki and Makoto Kawabata set the other night, though as I’m seeing Billy Bragg tonight I suspect the radical shift in vibe will put me in a rather different headspace. So while I’m still in that spaced-out groove, I thought I’d put up a couple of videos for you lucky people. First up, something from Can. Trouble is, there’s a real dearth of decent footage of Damo Suzuki and Can out there. It goes without saying that a band this far from the mainstream didn’t make lots of slickly-produced music videos, and the live footage that exists tends to be mostly low quality, both sonically and visually. This might just give you a flavour of what they were about though…

Can | Spoon (live)

Yes, the massive hair wearing a red jump suit is Damo.

And here’s a clip of Acid Mothers Temple playing live. Again, do bear in mind this is just a taster… something to give you an idea of what Makoto Kawabata’s guitar playing (as well as the rest of the band) is all about. If you’ve never been to see anything like this, then I need to emphasise that it’s all about being there. Experiencing it first hand. Anyways, there’s about a minute and a half of silence punctuated by spooky atmospherics. Then, at about 1:40 Makoto kicks in.

Acid Mothers Temple | Unknown track (live)


1 comment  |  Posted in: Media » Audio, Video

Dec 2008

Suzuki & Kawabata Live in Dublin

Last night I was lucky enough to be one of the small number of people crammed into one of Dublin’s smallest venues, Crawdaddy, to witness the first night of the Damo Suzuki and Makoto Kawabata tour. For those of you who aren’t up on their obscure psychedelic rock music, Damo Suzuki was the vocalist with legendary Krautrock band, Can, on what many consider their best albums (recorded between 1970 and 1973). And if you’re phased by the idea of a Japanese vocalist singing improvised lyrics in English with a German band, then the actual music will probably be a wee bit much for you. In my own strange little world, Damo Suzuki is one of the few singers who qualifies as a genuine living legend.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so. My companion at the gig, the lovely Citizen S, was awestruck by Damo. I know I’m with a kindred spirit when they exclaim, “I can’t believe I was close enough to reach out and touch Damo! He was with Can on all their really important records, you know?”

Indeed I do know. And what’s more, he didn’t disappoint. I’ve seen a few others in that select “living legend” category and most of them, sadly, were past their best by the time I got there. I’m glad I saw Dylan, but let’s face it… 90s Dylan isn’t 60s Dylan. Or even 70s Dylan. Tom Waits… well, it was the venue and sound-system that let him down, but overall that evening wasn’t all it could have been. The Velvet Underground? Let’s just say I couldn’t even listen to their records for a couple of years after that shambolic reunion. And “going through the motions” doesn’t even begin to describe Van Morrison when I saw him.

But some of the greats still carry their muse with them long after they’ve created the music that defines their legend. Bowie, Patti Smith, Prince… even Leonard Cohen and Iggy Pop retained enough of their glorious magic to carry you back down the years with them.

And to that list I can now add Damo Suzuki. I didn’t understand a single word he sang. I’m not even sure what language he was singing in, or if it was a language at all. But his presence and his voice transfixed me. The message was clear, even if the words weren’t. “We are all here together. Allow the sound to fill you. Let your mind get blown for a while.” In a way I’m glad I wasn’t under the influence of anything other than the music (though I suspect a wee schmoke beforehand would have intensified things somewhat) as it means I don’t have to spend the next few days wondering just how much of that experience was the music and how much was the pot.

The other name on the ticket was Makoto Kawabata. He’s a guitarist with contemporary Japanese psych-rock outfit, Acid Mothers Temple. I don’t really know their stuff (though I plan to), but if Kawabata’s playing is anything to go by, then they are spiritual heirs to Can (though doubtlessly with their own unique twist). Everything about Kawabata screamed “Rock God!” How he looked, his demeanor, and the intensity of his playing. He managed to redefine “kosmische” (doubtlessly using a Japanese word that I’m unfamilar with) and has shot right up near the top of my list of Guitar Greats. Imagine if Slash from Guns’n’Roses was Japanese. And good looking. And good at playing the guitar.

Together they put on what might have been an intricately rehearsed set, or might have been a jam session. It might have been a bunch of different tracks, or night have been one long piece. It really wasn’t easy to tell what was going on. Except my mind was being blown. And that’s what mattered most. It was hard, psychedelic rock in the most part, but shifted down into darkly ambient weirdness on occasion, and once in a while shifted gears into a kind of jazz-influenced insanity.

Also on stage were some local musicians… bass, drums, loops and clarinet. The drummer — wearing a rather cool Alien Sex Fiend t-shirt — was pretty good I thought. He was no Jaki Liebezeit, and I’m not going to pretend he was. But he didn’t let the side down. The others were… well, they succeeded in not ruining things, let’s put it that way. They allowed Suzuki and Kawabata to do their thing without ever really adding to it. But maybe that was the point.

And frankly, when Damo Suzuki is standing within touching distance, howling ancient magicks into my mind and Makoto Kawabata’s guitar is wailing with unearthly beauty next to him, I’ve got pretty much all I need from a gig right there. Close to the end, Suzuki spoke to the audience to inform us that he’d be playing one more song. “It’s late”, he said, “We will play one more song.” Then he smiled. “We will play one more universe”.

And they did.

The tour continues on to England over the next few days. I’d advise you to get along and see them.

1 comment  |  Posted in: Reviews » Gig reviews