I just came across this short film (made at the end of last year) discussing the impact of Climate Change on the Arctic permafrost and the methane hydrates on the floor of the Arctic Ocean. The four contributors are right at the top of their fields and probably know as much about the Arctic environment and climate as any four people on the planet.
I should warn you, however, that what they have to say is bleak. Very bleak. It’s not for the faint-hearted. They seem to feel that unless we do something really quite dramatic to combat the rising Arctic temperatures, we are looking at a global catastrophe. The film has forced me to significantly revise my ideas about Climate Change “worst case scenarios”.
Part 2 of the film is currently in production and is to be dedicated to possible “solutions”. I’d like to think there’ll be something in it to prompt a corresponding revision of my faith in humanity to actually do anything about this. I’m firmly of the opinion that we’ll burn down the last tree before we even consider abandoning the quest for “more, more, more”.
Hey folks. Just a quick post to let you know that I’ve not become fed up with blogging so soon into the new year. It’s just the fact that almost as soon as I pledged to post more frequently, I suddenly secured a work contract that has me snowed under. Which is a good thing from my perspective, even if it does mean I’m neglecting you, dear reader. Not to worry though, it’s a relatively short-term contract, so I’ll be back before too long. In the meantime I’ll try to add some short posts. Mostly links to interesting stuff elsewhere, I suspect.
Today, for example, my article on WB Yeats has come round again over at On This Deity (the relentless march of time keeps the calendar spinning). If you’ve not read it before, you can check it out now.
Meanwhile, both here in Ireland and across the sea in Britain, the hyping of shale gas continues apace. “Shale gas could be worth billions!” says a man with a vested interest in over-estimating the worth of shale gas. Let’s not mince words, the exploitation of shale gas could end up being one of the most environmentally damaging processes seen on these islands since the clear-cutting of the old forests between 2500 and 500BC. And the notion that it’s a case of “shale gas or coal” is just a nonsense. Yes, renewable energy systems may be slightly more expensive from a financial standpoint, but measuring environmental degradation in terms of an arbitrary monetary system is literally psychotic. As Kurt Vonnegut pointed out, “we could have saved it, but we were too damned cheap.”
A quick “congratulations” to Novak Djokovic, world number one tennis player and the first man to win three Australian Open championships in a row in the professional era. Sorry British / Scottish pals, but Djokovic thoroughly deserved his victory and there’s no shame in coming second to such an incredible player. Now, let’s look forward to the French Open.
Finally I’ll leave you with a video. It’s been uploaded by SWP Ireland (but don’t let that put you off). Feel free to watch the whole thing on YouTube, but it’s the short speech by Vincent Browne (Ireland’s sanest political commentator) which starts about 18 and a half minutes in that I’m linking to. Most of it will be familiar to those of you who have read Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent, but it’s a worthwhile listen all the same.
Have a good day y’all.
This week, quite rightly, the media has been buzzing with news of the return of David Bowie. His first new material in a decade was released, quite unexpectedly, on Tuesday; his 66th birthday. The song – Where Are We Now? – is a lovely, melancholy meditation on lost youth. Filled with references to Berlin, where Bowie himself spent several years in the 1970s, it was produced by Tony Visconti who – along with Bowie and Brian Eno – formed the Holy Trinity responsible for the three late-70s albums that (in my personal opinion) represent the pinnacle of Bowie’s creative output. I know that sounds like I’m saying he “peaked” with “Heroes”, Low and Lodger and then went into decline. But that’s not how I see it. Yes, there was something of a trough in the 1980s, but 1.Outside in the mid-90s saw him once again climb creative heights rarely visited by others and of the four 90s / early noughties albums that followed, only Hours was less than brilliant (both Earthling and Heathen are grossly underrated and Reality has some stonking songs on it though you might argue there’s some filler there too).
The new single is to be followed by an album in March (called The Next Day) which I am eagerly anticipating. And while well-publicised health problems suggest he may not tour the new songs, we can still hope against hope. Right? As well as the inevitable cooing from die-hard fans (of which I am one and for which I make no apology) there have been other responses. Thanks to the internet, you can read the views of the cynics and the compulsive denigrators just as easily as the views of the die-hard fans. Which is fine. If people genuinely don’t like Bowie, or genuinely find the new song lacking in some way then they are just as entitled to express that opinion as people like myself who are excited about it. Mind you, a lot of the criticism I’ve encountered smacks somewhat of deliberate contrarianism. It comes from the same sort of people who tell you The Beatles never wrote a good tune, Citizen Kane is overrated and insist they don’t understand the phrase “best thing since sliced bread” because frankly sliced bread is shit.
And you know what, those folk are also just as entitled to express their opinion. I find it a little sad that people actively seek the sensation of jadedness – something I seem to spend a whole lot of time battling – but I don’t have to live their lives so let them at it… I’m not looking for repressive legislation on the matter.
Anyway, here’s the new single (along with the odd video). If you’ve not already heard it, I hope you like it as much as I do. I found myself humming it after just one listen and yet I’d still describe it as “a grower” because I’m enjoying it more and more with each new hearing.
The other David B
In my personal musical universe there’s probably only one other person who rivals David Bowie for the top spot (luckily my musical universe is polytheistic in nature, so they don’t need to fight it out). And that’s David Byrne. Like Bowie, David Byrne’s finest hour was quite a while ago – and perhaps not at all coincidentally – also involved Brian Eno. I’m speaking of course about Remain In Light, the greatest album ever recorded.
Also like Bowie, however, that didn’t represent a “peak” from which there was only a long decline ahead. No, like Bowie’s Low, Remain In Light was simply the tallest tree in a forest of redwoods. His career since Talking Heads has been generally overlooked by the mainstream (with the occasional exception… his Oscar for The Last Emperor soundtrack being one such exception) but is no less because of it. So when I read a review of last year’s Love This Giant (a collaboration with St. Vincent) that described the album as “a return to form” I was genuinely mystified. You can’t return to something you never left, and Byrne has been “on form” pretty much since 1977. Whether it was his work with Talking Heads, his solo stuff, his collaborations (with Eno, Fat Boy Slim, St. Vincent and others) or his many books, films and installations; Byrne has consistently brought joy, light, wonder and a great rhythm section to my life.
Love This Giant is another wonderful record. The heavy use of “heavy brass” gives it quite a distinctive sound, setting it apart from most of his other work (excluding, of course, his album of brass band compositions – Music For The Knee Plays). In fact it contains a song (I Should Watch TV) that rocketed straight into my top 10 Byrne tracks and which I listen to regularly. How pleasing, therefore, that it appears on the short live concert by Byrne and St. Vincent that’s just been released by NPR. I recommend the entire gig as it showcases a genuinely wonderful album while throwing in a couple of older tracks. But if you’ve only got a few minutes, then skip ahead to 24:40 and listen to the glorious I Should Watch TV.
As I’m sure you’re aware by now, Whitney Houston has just died at the age of 48. I personally wouldn’t have been the biggest fan of her music, but her ubiquity for several years means that she did weave herself into the soundtrack of my life, whether I liked it or not. And I admit, there were times when it was very much “not”. Back in the winter of 1992 it was just impossible to escape her massive hit, I Will Always Love You. You’d walk into shops and where you’d expect to hear Christmas music over the speaker system, there’d be that bloody song again. The radio-waves were saturated with the damn thing and music television was in cahoots.
All the same though, that was a pretty good period in my life. I was a young undergraduate and thoroughly enjoying my party years in North London. So despite the fact that I really hated that song by the springtime of 1993, and despite the fact that I would never in a million years voluntarily listen to it, I found myself smiling with a wistful nostalgia when I heard it being played yesterday as a tribute. That overplayed – and overwrought – tune brought back a bunch of good memories with it.
As well as that, Whitney Houston was also – indirectly – responsible for a particularly lovely moment a few years back. I generally do my best to see David Byrne whenever he tours. His music is genuinely important to me and he’s one of the very few people I’ll travel distances to see live these days. Anyway, a few years back he played London and I naturally went along. The gig was – as ever – wonderful and it was a fantastic evening. By the time the encore came around I’d pretty much worked out that we’d be hearing Psycho Killer as it hadn’t appeared earlier in the set. And we weren’t disappointed; that dark and brooding bassline conjuring up all the right kinds of sinister. It’s still such a thrill to hear that song loud and live in a darkened venue.
Then, however, after Byrne had finished urging us to run, run away… the lights brightened and the strings kicked in with an oddly familiar tune. I couldn’t place it at first. Up-tempo and the complete opposite of Psycho Killer. “Maybe something from Uh Oh“, I thought, “I’ve not listened to that album in a while”. But almost immediately I’d thought that, I suddenly realised what the song was…
It was infectious, bouncy and genuinely joyous. Byrne was more than capable of putting a dark spin on the track; subtly subverting it and turning it into something strange and unsettling. But he didn’t. Instead he played it completely straight. No hint of irony. And it worked so well. Everyone danced. Everyone looked at the person next to them with a broad grin on their face. And everyone left the gig feeling slightly euphoric.
So I’d like to thank Whitney Houston (via Mr. Byrne) for that small gift. Rest in peace.
Just a short one this, the representatives from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB) – collectively known as “the troika” – completed their latest quarterly review of the Irish austerity programme today. As I mentioned in a recent post, they were in Dublin to check up on the Irish government… making sure our elected representatives are doing as they’re told.And it turns out the review was a positive one. We’re being good little girls and boys here in Ireland. We’re pouring the wealth of the nation into the European banking system as per instruction. We’re doing this because a small number of private investors and banks made stupid decisions a few years ago. It makes absolutely no sense unless you view it as grand larceny. Inevitably there’ll be someone (as we’ll see in the video) who will defend this process by babbling about “stability” and the costs of not acting outweighing the benefits.
But this response is ultimately self-defeating – well, it is when it comes from a top official at the ECB. Because inherent in that response is an admission that the international financial system is required to engage in grand larceny in order to maintain stability. Which makes the system completely unfit for purpose.
Anyway, having carried out the latest review, spokesmen for each member of the troika held a press conference in Dublin today. Istvan Szekely of the EC, Klaus Masuch of the ECB and Craig Beaumont of the IMF sat down and faced the Irish media. It’s the kind of event that generally gets forgotten as soon as it’s over because it tends to be little more than a prepared statement followed by a handful of safe questions, lobbed softly at the participants and deftly dismissed with bland sound-bites. Today’s press conference was slightly different though, thanks to the presence of Vincent Browne; perhaps the only voice of righteous outrage we have left in Irish public life. He’s truly a national treasure; though not in the safe, comfortable manner that phrase is often used. The years have not diminished his passion and he remains a genuine firebrand.
Anyway, he didn’t get a satisfactory response to his question; merely the aforementioned vague babbling about stability and costs versus benefits. But he nonetheless made his point, and I’m bloody glad that he did.
The video I’ve included here only offers an edited version of the press conference (the entire thing can be viewed on the RTÉ website – in which case, the Vincent Browne question begins at 18mins) so I should add a little context… the previous question asked the troika representatives how they perceived the Irish attitude towards them and the “bail-out” process. Klaus Masuch of the ECB jokingly commented on how well-informed his taxi-driver seemed to be on complex economic matters (we were left to guess at the kind of ear-bashing he received during his trip from the airport to the Merrion Hotel). Browne, as you will see if you jump to 6:25 in the embedded video, followed up on this:
Almost the entire exchange between Browne and Masuch can be viewed in that edit, though a few seconds of exasperation from Vincent does get cut from the end of the segment.
As a quick glimpse at my Last.fm artist chart demonstrates, I’m a bit of a Bowie fan. So, on the occasion of his 65th birthday (just imagine Bowie’s bus pass! I bet it’s a specially designed one made out of that crazy folding metal stuff that they got off the UFO that crashed at Roswell), I was going to write something about how important his music has been to me down through the years. How he sound-tracked some of the defining moments of my teens and twenties and lit up the darkness right when I needed it most. I was maybe going to throw some brief reviews of some of my favourite Bowie albums (in no particular order… Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Diamond Dogs, Heathen, Ziggy Stardust, Station to Station, Scary Monsters, 1.Outside, Earthling, The Man Who Sold The World, Hours, The Buddha of Suburbia… er, pretty much all of them really with the possible exception of the 80s stuff, but even then the singles were great; Loving The Alien, anyone? Let’s Dance? China Girl?) I might have related the tale of the epic cross-country hitch with my mate Justin, to see Bowie play in Exeter during the 1.Outside tour… easily one of the weirdest weekends of my life (and that’s saying something… I had a lot of weird weekends during my twenties). Perhaps I’d even describe the recurring nightmare I had for much of the 90s and into the early noughties in which I wandered through an eerily deserted London city until I reached the Tate Gallery within which I discovered a deranged David Bowie slashing his own wrists while whispering the lyrics to some of his songs; after which diseased and disfigured angels began to fall dead from the sky. Yeah… bit of a screwed-up dream that, but pretty appropriate for where my head was, at the time.
But in the end, all of that would just be a roundabout way of saying that David Bowie has had a far greater impact on my life than is strictly sensible for someone I’ve never met personally. And though he’ll never read this, I’d like to thank him for his wonderful contribution to my world, and wish him a very happy birthday, and many many happy returns.
Ultimately it makes more sense to share some Bowie, than just share some thoughts about him…
or look, just go to YouTube and type in David Bowie. You’re guaranteed a great time.
Head on over to On This Deity for my latest piece.
To those of us who got him, Hicks was far more than just a stand-up comedian. He was an inspirational figure; a voice of truth and sanity in an increasingly false and insane world. He spoke truth to power like almost nobody else of our generation. Militant yet deeply compassionate, when Bill Hicks took to the stage he transcended the safe and empty art form that comedy had descended to by the late 80s and early 90s.
In honour of the most important election in recent Irish history…
Found out this morning
There’s a circus coming to town
They drive in Cadillacs
Using walkie-talkies, and the Secret Service
Their big top: Imitation of life
And all the flags and microphones
They have to cover our eyes
We play the sideshows
And we like the tunnel of love
And when we ride the ferris wheel
We’re little children again
And when they’re asking for volunteers
We’ll be the first ones aboard
And when the ringmaster calls our names
We’ll be the first ones to go… to sleep
Stealing all our dreams
Dreams for sale
They sell ’em back to you
On with the show
Start the parade
We sang along
Sweep us away
It’s political party time
Going down, going down
And the celebrities all come out
Coming down, coming down, coming…
The sun is going down
And the dogs are starting to howl
We stay out after dark
Eating cotton candy
And the music’s playing…
How we all laughed!
We split our sides
The cameras flashed
We almost died!
The rain’s gonna pour on down, falling out of the sky
Coming down, coming down
And the celebrities all run out, and the rain’s
Coming down, coming down
Gonna rain, gonna rain
Gonna rain, gonna rain,
And now I wonder who’s boss
And who he’s leavin’ behind?Talking Heads: The Democratic Circus