Archive for the ‘In The News’ Category

Why I probably won’t bother watching the royal wedding

April 28, 2011

I’ve been trying to remain ambivalent to The Royal Wedding, rather than allowing myself to descend into seething rage about it. After all isn’t it maybe a little juvenile to object to the royal family? It’d be like getting angry because politicians lie. Or feeling genuinely sad that children starve to death in african countries from which we import out-of-season fruit. You know, a bit passé…

But then I can’t help but think about the privilege bestowed on a man whose ancestors murdered their way to power hundreds of years ago – at a time when things are bad, and only going to get worse, for the poorest and most vulnerable in society.

This man will one day technically rule over me and you (by pricking holes in bits of goats skin once a year), because our country is too wuffle-nut-mouthed with tradition and deference to actually draft a proper constitution which makes us citizens rather than subjects. His whose sole qualification to hold this position is that half of his genetic material originated in the testicles of our current ruler’s eldest son.

His father, in turn, being a man whose greatest achievements in his 60-odd years on this earth are:
1) establishing a biscuit company
2) promoting batshit medicines
3) using his name to influence architectural contracts

Let’s get this cleared up. The Royal Family do not ‘work hard’ by any reasonable definition of the term. Are they masters of their own destiny? No – but then neither is a child born in the UK’s poorest council estates, into a community where there aren’t any jobs and haven’t been for generations. Can they stay in bed for a lie-in on Sunday and have a three-album wankathon instead of putting on their nice hat to open the latest proletarian wibblemart? No. Is Prince William probably a perfectly nice human being when you get to know him? Yes, I imagine he probably is.

The point is the Royal Family infantilise the whole country, they teach us that power flows from an arbitray source, and that some people are just born better than others. No one who supports them can come up with anything more pragmatic than ‘they’re good for tourism’ – so is a Sea Life Centre. Anything else boils down to ‘it’s tradition’ which is no kind of argument for anything.

The only reason I’d stop short of calling for them to be demolished (or whatever the word is) is that I know how complex it would be to basically have to re-write our country’s laws from scratch. That would barely be worth the effort, and there are worse problems to fix. Plus on some level I enjoy the absurdity of one old lady having 100% of the say in everything that happens, but having to exercise that will by doing ludicrous things to bits of dead goat.

The timing of the wedding is, at the very least, inconsiderate. The country has still not quite sunk to its lowest ebb economically – thanks to callous cuts imposed by a blinkered government whose members mostly come from the same tradition of hereditary power as the House of Windsor. Two weeks before a much needed opportunity to reform our parliament and at least ensure that right governments are likely to always be tempered by a more moderate, compassionate partner, we suddenly have the distraction of this nonsense.

The coverage has overshadowed any chance of actually ensuring people understand what’s happening on May 5th. Thus allowing the only arguments which get coverage, between CGI mockups of Kate’s dress, to be the attention grabbing ones – i.e. the stupid, simplistic ones. ‘AV will mean the BNP get more votes’, ‘AV will mean everyone has to pay £50 to vote’, ‘AV will mean anyone who votes Liberal Democrat will be allowed to vote as many times as they want’ etc etc. I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy (I’m really not), but it does kind of suck.

You have to stoop pretty low to make a system as straightforward as AV seem complex, shady, and inaccessible. But that’s what its opponents have done with staggering intellectual dishonesty – apart from Baroness Warsi, of course, who’s so thick she probably believes everything she says. Yet once again the media has chosen glitter and trivia over providing information which might actually empower people. They have filled this week with blather about an event which I today saw laughably referred to as ‘a private wedding’, rather than make sure people are able to make an informed decision about something which will affect their lives in the long term.

Ah well, there goes my ambivalence.

In fairness this not really WillNKate’s fault. I’m sure they’re in larve and I hope they have a very nice time tomorrow. The dress will doubtless be very pretty. If you’re comfortable knowing that their first child will one day rule over your children and your children’s children, regardless of whether he/she is a lovely human being, or a witless, corrupt despot, then by all means tune in.

Music Writer Discovers ‘New Band’ in London

August 3, 2010

“They were just playing live at a venue I happened to be in,” explains journo.

Noted music critic and self-proclaimed ‘urbanista’ Ralph (pronounced ‘Raif’) Pilkington-Jones of music website SoundyTown has reportedly discovered a new band, previously unknown to music fans.

The discovery was made at London’s trendy ‘Venn-New’ in London. The hip new bar combines live music with Venn diagrams, and is described on its website as ‘Where bands play sets’.

RP-J (as he insists on being known) describes the moment he realised he was listening to a band previously unknown to musical science:

“Tamara (Blogworth – noted blogger) and I were enjoying vimto mojitos and discussing the latest [wibble], when I noticed that the four immaculately coiffed young men I’d seen setting up their instruments had begun playing a composition which was unfamiliar to me. I immediately shazammed the song on my BlackBerry and… nada!”

“That’s French for nothing, by the way…” he adds.

The first picture of the 'new' band

Jones promptly made a recording on his phone and took it into the lab run by Professor Horace Sandwich of iTunes University.

“I ran every test, cross checked it against the archives, and hacked into the mainframe,” explains the Prof “There was no trace of this song.”

Details are being kept under wraps, but we understand that the composition in question has a 4/4 beat, is in the ‘alternative rock’ genre and uses at least two guitars and a microkorg synthesiser. The lyrics reportedly describe feelings of sadness at a lack of female attention, and use the sea as a metaphor.

Plans are underway to find the band again and take proper scientific measurements. Pilkington-Jones has applied to the Peter Gabriel Foundation for Untainted Genius for funding for an expedition to a venue in Kilburn where he believes the band may be found.

Kilburn

“This is an exciting discovery but we’ve got to do it right,” explains Sandwich.

“It’s important that this band is allowed to thrive in their natural habitat. We may be about to experience music which is as yet untouched by conventional influences such as the Libertines, Green Day, and Oasis.”

False positives of ‘new’ bands are not uncommon. People regularly mistake one off collaborations, jazz fusion side projects, steel drum ensembles, live mashups, and line dancing for entirely new bands.

“However, by far the most common error,” says Prof. Sandwich “is that people send in sightings of what they think is a new band and it turns out to just be the Fall.”

The days of unenlightened outsiders destroying a ‘new’ band in their enthusiasm – known as the ‘Terris Effect’ – are also over, he explains:

“We don’t just tranq [use tranquilisers on] them, drag them off to the lab and chop them up for tests these days. First we must confirm that this is actually a new band, and not just a band playing particularly inept cover versions of existing material…

Then we chop them up.”

Pilkington-Jones, however, is optimistic and has already come up with a name for the band.

“I want to call them Homo Sapiens Musicolo Pilkingtonus. After myself.”

He also plans to write about them on his website, and may even ‘review’ the band’s music – attempting to provide a written assessment of its artistic worth. SoundyTown’s outspoken messageboard community is festering with excitement for the as yet unheard songs.

“It’s been so long since there was a new band,” says user ‘person_peach’ “I neeeeeeed something new to listen to. Not new as in ‘old but I haven’t heard it’ new as in ‘recently composed, irrespective of merit’.”

The BNP

June 9, 2009

So the BNP won. 120,000 misguided souls took crayon in hand and doodled something which looked sufficiently like an X to elect a pair of intellectually and morally bereft, knuckle dragging, borderline nazi scumbags into political office. Their ‘we’re not racist but…’ mantra has proven effective. Maybe because of it a few too many people who feel they have legitimate grievances about immigration voted BNP as a ‘protest vote’ against the government’s perceived ‘soft’ line on migrants. This would be the same ‘soft’ line which sees families snatched from their homes at 5am and driven in dark vans to borderline prison facilities whilst their children physically piss their pants with fear, presumably?

There’s been much wringing of liberal hands over this victory, there’s also been some idiots throwing eggs at Nick Griffin MEP. This helps nothing. I can understand the desire to throw various things at the horrible little shit but it just makes his opponents look bad, whilst he continues to attempt to portray himself as a legitimate politician.

The point I’d make about the BNP is that there are too many people who subscribe to this ‘give them enough rope’ idea. They kid themselves that most people in Britain are thoughtful souls who will recognise the true motives of the BNP and, when it comes down to it, will do the right thing and take their vote elsewhere.

Sadly not.

People like simplistic arguments. Every single political party recognises this. It’s why Gordon Brown is currently flailing like a trout in a wind tunnel trying to get people to like him. I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable about the economy to make an informed decision about his policies. Nor are most people who vote. Neither are you, unless I have fans in places I hadn’t anticipated. Lots of economists say what he’s trying to do will work, is working already – there are even suggestions that the economy may already be growing this quarter.

Point is if Brown tries to explain any of this, even if he’s given fair hearing, even if he’s not drowned out by the hang-jowelled bellering of the tories, or whinged into submission by the knee-jerk distrust of the hard left (the kind of people who would rather eat their own shit than entertain for a second the idea that their government might be getting something right), even if he overcomes these things people won’t understand what he’s talking about. And even those who do don’t know for sure if he’s right.

In the face of this a simple argument wins. And there’s no simpler argument than a bogeyman. This is why the BNP are popular. It’s a well recognised fact of evolutionary science that animals are biased towards their in-group, and wired up to be cautious, distrustful, and even fearful of something different and novel. Thus are our primitive brains pre-programmed to note that X group of people have one skin colour (same as me) and Y group have another (not the same as me). Group Y are distrusted without rational analysis. The moment people see someone from group Y behaving in a certain way they can instantly attribute one individual’s behaviour to that of the whole group. This is why people love news programs with black criminals on them. It reinforces the simple paradigm that black = criminal. Or black = sponger. Or black = threatening the racial purity (more on this in a minute) of the United Kingdom.

Of course most people can overcome these fears, at least to the point where any self-described liberal who might be willing to admit to an occasional bout of nerves when passing a group of young black men on a dark night can accept that such reactions are wrong and not base their entire world view on them. Some people can’t move on. The same way some people will refuse help overcoming a fear of spiders, others would rather cling to their animal fears than attempt to grapple with nuances. After all, if not all black people are dangerous criminals then how can you feel safe by simply getting rid of all the black people?

There is not sufficient rope for the BNP to hang themselves with. Some people are just racist. Not necessarily very racist, but racist enough to be grateful for an opportunity to express that view at the ballot box. Racist enough to happily accept the idea that all the money the government should be spending on them is somehow going into the pockets of immigrants. As opposed to shoddy Private Finance Initiatives, corporate tax breaks/loopholes, bailing out doomed industries for purely vote-saving reasons, civil service bureaucracy, an NHS overburdened by people’s unhealthy lifestyles, police forces wasting time arresting drunken friday night revellers when they could be investigating drug gangs, burglaries, and tax fraud, and etc etc.

The BNP’s arguments are appealing because people want to believe them. This is the ugly truth. This is what the left can’t accept, the media can’t admit, and the politicians hypocritically try and feed on when they need to appear more right wing. The idea of some idyllic past when everyone who lives in England was English and we all went into each other’s houses to eat scones and sing Vera Lynn songs, and everyone had a job and the only black faces were those of cheerful mining folk emerging from the pit is as appealing to some as it is transparently fictitious to anyone with a passing knowledge of… well, anything.

The outrage expressed at a recent TV documentary describing humankind’s shared ancestry on the plains of the african savannah says it all. I read one quote referring to the skull of an early human ancestor which said something like ‘european man could never have come from something like THAT’. This fingers-in-ears style of delusion characterises both the BNP’s policies and the level of engagement of their followers.

The claim ‘I’m not racist I just want racial purity in my country’ is paper thin, but goes effectively unchallenged in the media. People are comfortable saying the BNP is a racist party, but when faced with their claims that they aren’t they rarely fully engage. Often on the well-intentioned basis that to debate with them is to give them a platform. People rely on affirmations that the BNP is racist, or ad hominems (fairly robust ones I admit) about individual BNP members’ pasts, rather than tackling the substance (such as it is) of what they say.

This can’t work. By confining the BNP to the back rooms of the nation’s pubs, you allow them to project their simplistic drivel unchallenged to a receptive audience on their own terms. ‘We’re people like you, we’re not racist, we’re just worried about our country’. We need to hold their arguments to genuine scrutiny, just as we would any other party. Being dismissive feeds their conspiracy-theorist side and their underdog status. So let’s give this next bit its own line…

A policy of so-called ‘voluntary’ deportation of people born in one country to another based on their racial background alone IS A RACIST POLICY.

It has no basis in recorded history, biological science, or economic reality. It has no basis in ethics. It has no basis in pragmatism in one’s attitude to the modern world. It has no basis in the ebb and flow of the free market. It has no basis in anything other than mouth-breathing, nose picking, shit-for-fucking-brains racism.

You don’t have to be stupid to be a racist, but that doesn’t mean all racism isn’t stupid. You don’t have to consider yourself a racist to entertain racist thoughts. The fact that you don’t vomit uncontrollably when you buy a bottle of milk off an indian shopkeeper doesn’t mean you aren’t racist for wanting to send him back to what you, not he, consider his home.

All eight of my great grandparents were Irish. I am therefore 100% genetically irish. Shall I ‘go home’ to Ireland? I’ve never been there in my life. It’s preposterous. But I’m safe cos I’m not marked as different by virtue of my lighter hue.

We’ve been soft on the BNP. They need to be shown for the incompetent, embittered bigots they are. And their ‘policies’ exposed as shallow, ignorant dogma. It has to start now. There’s a real danger a general election could be called at any time, let’s not see more of these idiots voted into power.

Vitamin D found in sunshine

January 23, 2009

Any news article which starts “Vitamin D, found in sunshine and fish…” is just begging to be laughed at. That it then continues “But older people’s skin is less able to absorb vitamin D from sunlight” makes it even more priceless.

This article is on the BBC News website. You expect this kind of stupid shit from the red tops and people who believe in ‘fairy healing’ and such crap but the BBC? Frankly I’m disappointed.

Read the whole stupid thing here.

————-
EDIT: The BBC have now corrected the start of the article. But believe me that’s what it said at around 11.30 today. However it still contains the line about older people’s skin not ‘absorbing’ vitamin D from sunlight.

The real question is who the fuck wrote it in the first place? Who checked it and how the hell neither of them spotted it? Don’t the BBC have any science correspondents?

Songsmith will Change Your Life

January 19, 2009

There’s a good article on NewMusicStrategies this week:

“the idea of a resurgence in parlour music really appeals to me. The idea that kids will find it a normal part of play and not necessarily a career decision to play music seems like a good thing”

http://newmusicstrategies.com/2009/01/11/amateur-nonsense/

Basically Microsoft have released some new music-making software called Songsmith where you just sing into a microphone and it automatically creates a backing track. It sounds kind of fun but I can’t try it (because I use Macs), and I haven’t seen the apparently excruciating advert for it.

[edit: I just watched it after I found the link. I can’t believe I turned Stereolab off for that.]

It’s the discussion in the article and comments that interest me.

Rich & Famous

From the moment you express an interest in owning a guitar people start saying things like ‘so you want to be a rock star, eh?’ – i.e. rich and famous. There’s a deeply entrenched narrative of; ‘buy guitar’ -> ‘form band’ -> ‘attempt to become famous’. Part two goes like this; ‘spend years working shit jobs’ -> ‘become laughing stock’ -> ‘die alone covered in own piss’.

I’ve seen articles saying the thing most people wish they could do is play an instrument. Perhaps it’s fear of part two that stops so many people trying to learn?

People like simple binaries like success and failure. But you can’t ‘fail’ at playing music. Sure you can fail at having a music career, but the best way to become rich and famous is to fuck a footballer and write a book about it. If that’s all you’re interested in don’t bother forming a band.

Talent?

Songsmith is probably not very good. I expect that every song anyone makes on it will sound the same. But all musicians are limited by what they have. I started out with an acoustic guitar and a portable cassette recorder. So I couldn’t have drums, orchestras, bagpipes, or eskimo choirs (I don’t know enough eskimos) but I could record a song. This is just the latest version of that.

The old ‘talent’ question rears its ugly head. A lot of kids will have loads of fun making some really awful music. Some people are offended by this. But lots of kids have fun making bad music with ‘proper’ instruments. Lots of boring old men enjoy themselves playing dull-as-shit blues covers too. At least Songsmith will be quicker.

There is no direct correlation between instrumental virtuosity and what you make being any good. Sometimes it helps but not always.

“Change Your Life”

There is a downside in that some kids will look at Songsmith and think ‘because I am so inherently awesome I will use this to make a song, upload it onto myspace and become famous’. Then they’ll drop out of school and end up knifing an old lady for crack.

I blame Simon Cowell. Those poor doe-eyed fucks who queue up in the rain to prostrate themselves before the celebrity panel on X-factor are clutching at a dream which has very little to do with music. They all want to Change Their Lives.

What’s wrong with people’s lives? Is everyone really so miserable? We’re surrounded by adverts telling us to start anew, get away, breed alpacas, quit your job, throw your kids down a mineshaft… Hang on, we need these jobs to pay for all the other crap you try and sell us! Make your minds up.

How about some TV shows which point out to people how nice their lives are already? Like ‘I love going to the pub for a quiet drink and a chat with friends’, ‘The 50 greatest places to have a nice walk’, or ‘Person who knows interesting facts about the history of your local area Idol’.

The Pop Delusion

I saw the final of X-factor this time (by accident), with Alexandra’s film where she went back to her old school and sang, signed autographs, and got treated like a ‘star’. I detected a look in her eyes that seemed to say “I deserve this”.

Alexandra didn’t enter because she had a ‘beautiful’ voice – personally I think she’s got a voice like cold sick on lino. She didn’t have any music in her waiting to get out. It was because she thought herself a suitably excellent human being for the world to hand her universal adulation on a plate. She probably thought it was her destiny or something.

People think Pop Stars are deities who glow from within like they eat nothing but Ready-Brek. Just plain better than normal people in some magical way. X-factor is a fantasy for people who have Lives they want to Change. Everyone who enters ‘knows’ they’re special and will definitely win – even the awful comedy ones they show early on.

‘Fun’

So rather than focus on music as an enjoyable activity in itself, the whole creative enterprise is degraded to a scrabble for the golden ticket. Any kid who views music as anything other than an attempt to reach the standard of laminated Leona Lewis is doomed to be mocked by their peers.

Instead kids start to play music for the same reasons their parents play the lottery. Until you can no longer call it ‘play’. Music ceases to be a sandbox and becomes a construction yard. Making big shiny buildings full of flatpack furniture and despair.

But on balance we should be optimistic about things like this.

Think of all the kids who’ll fiddle around with Songsmith and get the bug. In a few years you’ll be reading interviews with the hot new act of the day and they’ll be telling you about how they first got into making music using cheap and nasty software.

And somewhere out there is a kid who’ll use Microsoft Songsmith to come up with something genuinely inspired. I guarantee it.

Meanwhile huffy old men who did everything properly and ‘paid their dues’ (yawn) will still be moaning down the pub and on the internet about how it’s not fair that less talented people are getting recognition (and rich & famous) when they ‘failed’ and are now trying to Change Their Lives.

————–
“You met the girl from Sleater-Kinney
You said you couldn’t understand
Why it was that she continued to play
when she was only earning ten grand p.a.”

Brakes – ‘ Heard about your band’
————–

POSTSCRIPT:

Apparently Microsoft have done some clever viral shit by deliberately using a Mac in the video so that everyone all over teh internetz can lol their cats off at their ‘mistake’, thereby also watching the advert. Marketing really is sickeningly clever…


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