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Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Nail, meet head.

Following the recent election, Vaclav Klaus will be succeeded as Czech president by Milos Zeman, a former prime minister and head of the Citizens' Rights Party. I had a bit of soft spot for old Vaclav, as he seemed to be one of those rare politicians who understood -and could readily articulate- concerns about the yawning chasm that has opened up between those who are elected to govern and those who do the electing.

Klaus, who had direct and bitter experience of an earlier European form of totalitarianism, had very firm views on recent developments within the EU. He summed it up thus:

"The manifestations of transnational progressivism—global governance and the European Union—are supplanting liberal democracy and nation-states and driving us into the stage of post-democracy. The EU wants to replace the project that is malfunctioning today by even bigger doses of the same. That is entirely absurd. In contrast to Marx, supporters of global governance do not believe that salvation will arise via the proletariat: they humbly suggest that it will come from themselves."

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Song of the Week: 'Citizen Dumb'

The youtube comments section appears to be dominated by creatures from a universe of anti-manners, a realm in which people can’t reed, wryte or spel. And; have avery poor grasp. Of: the rules of punctuation and grammer? - LOL!!!! 
On the surface, Twitter might have the appearance of something more witty and civilized, but it does have an ugly side and I knew that, sooner or later, I’d have to write a lyric that would make some reference to that.  Much as it can be a fun place to hang out for a while, it’s also likely to make you feel a bit unclean. 
This song reflects on one of the negative aspects of the medium, namely, the tendency to indulge in witch hunts. There are certain celebrities (for the sake of decency, I won’t name and shame them here), who like to use their followers to help them ‘win’ arguments. When I say 'help them win arguments', I mean help them close down all discussion and debate, having terrorised their opponents by letting loose the dogs of war. Or, to be more accurate: terrorising their opponents by letting loose the gibbering monkeys who think it’s a crime to have an alternative point of view. 
In that sense, the key lines in the song are:‘Don’t need to see it to believe it, because I’ll believe it when I read it ... and when I read it, I’ll re-tweet it’. 
I actually started work on the backing track for this one several years ago, when I was collating material for the ‘Film your own Atrocities’ album.  I was never that happy with the original lyric and melody, so it stayed on the shelf gathering dust until the tail end of last year, when I added new bass and keyboard parts and re-wrote the words.   

Citizen Dumb

Monday, 14 January 2013

Song of the Week: 'Nightfall'

A few years ago I had this fanciful notion that I would write an album of songs for kd lang.  She was -and still is- one of my favourite singers. The album would have been called ‘Songs for Katherine’ and would have featured various vocalists, male and female, singing songs that –in my head at least- would fit comfortably within kd’s oeuvre.  Let’s be clear about this: I had absolutely no showbiz connection with her and realistically, next to no chance of getting a song into the hands of her representatives.  And, even if I did, she probably wouldn’t have liked the stuff anyway. Whatever. That didn’t stop me putting pen to paper at various points, with a view to writing that big country ‘crossover’ hit. This is one of the songs from that chimerical project, featuring Kelsey Hunter on vocals. It’s a simple arrangement, featuring just piano and acoustic guitar, with some tasteful strings on the chorus.  The song is written from the point of view of someone who is involved in an illicit relationship that, for obvious reasons, involves a lot of deception, sneaking around and -of course- hiding from daylight.   


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Nanny knows best

It has been reported that Labour would like the government to introduce legal limits on the sugar, salt and fat content in food. Judging by their reaction, it would appear that the government is not exactly hostile to this idea.
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham claimed that current voluntary agreements with the food industry were “not working” and that the obesity problem was “worsening”, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that: "This is not a problem we can just wish away. If we don't meet our targets and continue to make the progress that we have to make, then we would consider legislation.”
The comments made by these two politicians contain several telling phrases. Mr Burnham said that the "time has come for new thinking" particularly when it comes to foods aimed at children. He said: "I think parents need more help to make healthier choices for their children.” I’m not sure how Mr Burnham defines ‘help’, but I know now that he spells it l-e-g-i-s-l-a-t-i-o-n. Imposing further limits on food manufacturers does not ‘help’ parents; it merely imposes more conditions on food manufacturers. Legislation, in this case, can only be defined as ‘helpful’ if you think that it is your responsibility is to remove choices from people who are unable to act rationally and who might otherwise damage themselves. Legislation only counts as help if you believe that people are not capable of helping themselves, not capable of making informed decisions in their own interests.

Most of us would concede that it would be appropriate for a parent to remove the ‘choice’ of a 10-year old child to have unlimited internet access, unlimited fast food or unlimited late-night leisure time during school term, because the parent is best-placed to decide what is and what isn’t good for the child. But that is not the kind of relationship that should prevail between the state and the citizen. The very notion of legislating to ‘help’ people make more ‘responsible’ choices –that is, the choices you want them to make- is a perfect illustration of how the political class view those they are elected to represent.

It simply does not occur to our politicians that most parents are capable of saying: “No Johnny, you can't have another triple-decker bacon cheeseburger with extra chunky fries." They’d much rather introduce a law that ‘helps’ those hapless parents avoid the awkwardness of having to make an actual decision, like perhaps having to say ‘no’ to their child.

Health secretary Hunt said that the government was "making very good progress" in tackling childhood obesity, but added that “the reality is that supermarkets and the food manufacturers need to understand that we do reserve the right to legislate. This is not a problem we can just wish away ... if we don't get agreement, let's be absolutely clear, we will look at legislation.”

In case you didn’t pick up the subtlety of that message, I’ll translate. "If we don’t get agreement" means: "If you do not do as you’re told".

It is quite clear that for the professional political class, the answer to every perceived issue, problem or situation is always: more government action. Left unchecked and unchallenged, there is simply no area of private life into which they will not attempt to intrude. The more we acquiesce in this process, the greater our loss of personal freedoms.

Sadly, it seems that a lot of folk have come to accept that government legislation can somehow take the place of common sense. They argue that legislation is required because the food industry can’t be trusted to act responsibly. The darker and less palatable truth is that this legislation is being proposed because the politicians don’t trust us, the people, to act responsibly.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Song of the Week: 'Alchemy, Adam and Eve'

To set the tone for the New Year, here is a new track that has not yet been aired in public.  The song has been on my ‘to do’ list for a few years; I’ve had the tune and the title for a while, but only recently settled on a final draft of the lyric. 

The pseudo-scientific practice of alchemy sought to transmute base metal into gold.  The base metal, in this case, is represented by two hungry, desperate and essentially talentless kids seeking their big break into the world of showbiz, or, to be more precise, the glitzy and ephemeral world of d-list celebrity.   

The lyric focuses on how each of them is exploited by the user /consumer. The girl in the first verse is using her sexuality for career purposes, attempting to hook up with the most profitable connections.  The second verse features an emotionally-crippled boy who is winding an ever-more grim and grubby path from reality TV to porn to something resembling a snuff movie, such is his desire to be recognized, admired, loved and celebrated. The chorus reminds us that people like this wouldn’t be prominent unless people like us were willing to make them prominent by watching them, laughing at them and looking down our noses at them. Which is, I suppose, kind of what this song does.  Maybe, as the middle eight suggests, we’ve all developed a taste for “a little bit of savage.’’

The track was mostly recorded at home with me playing everything except drums, before heading to Stealth Studios where Ed MacArthur whipped the vocals and the rest of it into shape.  It may, or may not, be re-recorded with some ‘proper’ musicians once I get around to assembling the next album. 

Alchemy, Adam and Eve

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Shehan Karunatilaka - 'Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew'

W. G. Karunasena is a drunken old sports journalist who has been informed by his doctor that, if he doesn’t change his drinking habits, he won’t have much time left on the planet. Mindful of this deadline, he has an idea for a documentary and a book that will tell the story of the man he considers to have been the greatest-ever Sri Lankan cricketer: the brilliantly wayward and eccentric (but now largely forgotten) left-arm spinner Pradeep Mathew. One of W.G.’s problems is that he can’t quite give up the sauce, so it becomes a race against time to complete the work before his liver finally gives out. Another problem is that Pradeep Mathew’s details have been erased from the records and virtually no one in Sri Lanka will publicly acknowledge that he ever played for the national team. Having witnessed the spinner’s finest hour in a mysteriously-abandoned test match in which he took 10 for 51 against New Zealand, W.G. is determined to see this project through.

As he tries to complete the research before his own physical collapse, W.G. starts to unravel an unlikely tale of sporting genius, political corruption, match-fixing and organised crime. Strange as it may seem, but the ramblings of some drunk old men really do provide an insight into the four C’s at the heart of this book: cricket, corruption, conflict and colonialism.
The story features actual characters from Sri Lankan cricket and politics, along with composite characters like ‘Graham Snow’, the tough old English pro turned media pundit. Most of the cricket matches mentioned in the book are real, as are their protagonists, but the lines are skilfully blurred between fact, fiction and something that lurks somewhere between the two. If you google ‘Pradeep Mathew’, you’ll find that Karunatilaka has cleverly created an online presence for the character, including a cricinfo profile and crikipedia entry.

You don’t have to be a lover of cricket to be enchanted by this novel. Along with its many observations on Sri Lankan life, ‘Chinaman’ somehow manages to be a history book, a detective novel, a sports biography and, latterly, a moving treatise on the relationship between fathers and sons.

W.G. believes that most of our lives won’t amount to a hill of beans, but, as he puts it: "in a hundred years, Bulgarians will still talk of Letchkov and how he expelled the mighty Germans from the 1994 World Cup with a simple header”. Like most folk who read newspapers from the back page to the front, he thinks that “Sport can unite worlds, tear down walls and transcend race, the past, and all probability. Unlike life, sport matters.”