Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nightingales, live at the BBC

They're on the iPlayer for a few more days. This is the four-piece shorn of bassoonist and extra guitarist, doing a session on Marc Riley's Rocket Science show on 6music

They have a little list

and I'm no doubt on it, thanks to my speedy typing and slower thinking. This is just the latest slightly sarcastic letter I've dispatched to upper management:


Dear Beryl,

can you pass on to the V-C my thanks for her concern that industrial action may cause 'distress to students and staff'? She's absolutely right - both groups are already distressed and concerned by the speed, management of, and absence of supporting educational research for, the major institutional changes the university is currently undergoing.


Yours etc.,

Somebody stop me

I just wanted to check a title online and ended up ordering 2 biographies of Jane Austen and a children's novel about the Green Man, reading and death (Season of Secrets) because it sounded interesting (and only two things are certain in my life - reading and death).

Stumville welcomes scientific adventurers

I defended Wolverhampton against the jibes of the metropolitan chattering classes yesterday, then went home, dined on pretzels and haggis, and watched a programme about rain. I do happen to be most at home in drizzle, despite not being a water vole, but even I thought that this show had the potential to be as dull as mere ditchwater. How wrong I was. Once past the tedious old 'English people like rain, even though they moan when Wimbledon and the cricket are rained off' waffle, I learned stuff.

Brilliantly, I learned that in 1862, Glaisher and Coxwell ascended to 37,000 feet (7 miles - that's the stratosphere!) in an open balloon for meterological purposes - and they set off from Wolverhampton Gasworks. Eat that, Rutherford Laboratories!

More insulation

… has appeared in the guise of books. Specifically, Adam Roberts's Yellow Blue Tibia which is a Soviet alien invasion memoir! The other is Upton Sinclair's The Brass Check - a novelised attack on the degraded state of American journalism - from 1920! God alone knows he'd make of today's newspapers.

Matt reminds me that Star Trek is out a week tomorrow, so I'm playing Spizzenergi's Where's Captain Kirk to fill in the void between now and then. I have Star Trekkin' on vinyl so will have to wait until I get home. The b-side (a 'dub' version no less, is even better).

Panic! We're all going to die! But money can be made!


Cynical, immoral and unprofessional, anyone? Stockpiling anti-flu drugs then doing online prescriptions for patients they haven't examined? Just think, if you were a panicky, devious hypochondriac, you could google the symptoms, fill in the boxes, stockpile drugs which are in short supply, or take them and therefore reduce the effectiveness of the antivirals (thanks for the correction Ben) when the actual illness reaches the population. I wonder if this disgusting company has thought of this possibility (that's sarcasm, by the way).

Oh yes - and they're charging £50: a mere £43 more than the standard prescription fee on the NHS.


Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Cheeky metropolitan snobs

From today's Guardian before I stagger home, exhausted and pained by tendonitis (left hand, you filthy-minded types):
Saint-Louis-du-Ha! Ha! is the only town in the world whose name has two exclamation marks. It will remain so until Wolverhampton is renamed Wolverhampton!! to highlight its funky new Black Country vibe, which, all things considered, seems unlikely.

The freakin' FCC

Considering their fondness for gunning each other down, polluting the world and invading everywhere, our American cousins are remarkably sensitive when it comes to naughty words onscreen. Unless, of course, you have cable television, upon which the naughtiest of words were repeatedly uttered by Ian McShane in Deadwood and James Gandolfini in The Sopranos. Perhaps poor people are thought to be more sensitive.

So anyway, the Supreme Court heard the case of the Federal Communications Commission and judgement came in today. It's fine to ban all swearing, however weak, in case Hank chokes on his burger or jerks the trigger. Except he won't be watching TV, he'll be listening or watching to Howard Stern (satellite radio isn't covered either).

So in honour of Justice Scalia's judgement and distaste for us big city types, quoted by the Huffington Post:
"We doubt that small town broadcasters run a heightened risk of liability for indecent utterances... their down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big city folks, and small town stations generally cannot afford or cannot attract foul-mouthed glitterati from Hollywood."

I give you Family Guy's homage to the FCC:

Missing me?

I'm two hours into a 3 hour meeting about the new teaching and learning structure. There's an awful lot people haven't thought about and considerable disquiet about management styles which are emerging. One glaring whole is any theoretical/educational justification for many of the decisions made.

Santa's been!

Mr. Standfast is in the building - a classic Richard Hannay adventure shot through with hatred of pacifists, socialists, the proletariat and Germans. I won't enjoy it, but it's a fascinating relic of its time, and clearly influenced other popular authors.

Ode to a Nightingale

OK, last night, seeing as my critical judgement is demanded by faithful readers.

The background to the 'Gales' homecoming gig was disaster - deportation and unseemly inebriation rendered their prestigious gig at London's 100 Club a disaster - although the venue manager thought it was fantastic and invited them to play any time, despite some punters demanding their money back! Then on Monday they played a live session for Marc Riley on 6 Music and a decent gig in Mankychester.

But Wolverhampton's what it's all about. On the bill were Violet Violet and Ted Chippington. The Violets of themselves disprove the existence of any kind of deity. It's simple really. They're hugely talented and aesthetically pleasing. A just deity would make talented people ugly, or ugly people talented out of a sense of fairness. A cruel deity would make talented people ugly, or ugly people talented, to punish them for hubris. Ergo, there's no god. They're all-round ace, and I'm neither. Next philosophical problem?

Actually, Violet Violet were brilliant. Echoes of Elastica and Kenickie but sharper, spikier. The guitar lines were particularly sinuous. I found myself buying both singles - I'm a sucker for coloured vinyl. (A tip: if they ask on the door which band you're there to see, give the name of the support band, or they may not get any of the takings). Their onstage needling of the Nightingales indicated that the end of the tour hadn't been brilliant: 'Looking forward to the Nightingales? After London we are, especially Robert [Lloyd, Gales singer known as the Telford Elvis]'.

Next up was Ted Chippington, who specialises in being deliberately unfunny as a kind of challenge to the crowd (yes, there really was one this time). Despite being slightly distracted by a good student who wanted to talk shop, Ted was ace. He did some of his routine in German and avoided anything approaching conventionally funny. It wasn't very edgy though, because most of the audience knew his schtick, so not enough people were infuriated.

The main event was a revelation. I've seen the Nightingales 20 times, roughly, but tonight was different. Apart from the presence of 80-100 members of the Wolverhampton Bald Patch and Band T-Shirt Appreciation Society, there were several of our overseas students (bit of a change from Oceana for them) and even a few punters who weren't on first-name terms with the band. I met the students early and was shocked to discover that they planned not to consume alcohol over the course of the evening. Now, I've taken the pledge on occasion, and even stuck to it, but the eve of a gig with the most erratic band I've ever seen is not the right time to forswear muscle relaxant. Thankfully, I persuaded them of the error of their ways.

However - alcohol wasn't needed on this occasion. Stripped down to a fourpiece, blessed with a decent soundman, a non-paralytic singer and a new album consisting of TUNES for the first time in their long career, the Nightingales were astonishingly tight. As usual, they played continuously, in line with the punk ethos that crowd applause distances a band from their people (or perhaps to drown abuse). The lyrics were acerbic (and certain lines don't bear repeating on a family website) and Alan Apperley's guitar lines skittered between krautrock, post-punk and twisted blues in ways that made me wonder why nobody had thought of it before. Darren's drums, no longer lost in drunkenness and muddy sound, were amazing - complex, funky, decisive and authoritative. I just stood there with a massive grin on my face for the whole event before raiding the merchandise stand.

As I say, I've seen the Nightingales many times, mostly, to be frank, because I share an office with one of them. Now I can say proudly that they're unique, fascinating and brilliant. Why they're not huge, I don't understand (except for the fact that they're fat blokes approaching their collective late middle ages).

PS. I met one of my readers who requested more jokes on Plashing Vole. I'll try, but I'm slightly deficient in funny bones, bar the occasional pun, and they're usually sparked by verbal exchanges.

However, here goes:
Shakespeare walked into the pub. As he approached, the barkeep looks up, scowls and shouts 'Oi. Shakespeare. I've told you before. You're Bard'.

See? Bard/barred? I'll get me coat.

This one's for Mr Radford Sallow

It's Nick Cave and the song's Nature Boy. You know what I'm saying…
(Sorry about the smug, moon-faced talent vampire who introduces it).

Swine flu cause discovered

It's the Democrats. Well, according to Michelle Bachmann, the elected representative for Minnesota. She's the lady who called Obama unAmerican, amongst other crazed ravings. (Via Pharyngula):
I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter, and I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence.
Turns out she's wrong too: Republican Gerald Ford was in the White House!

Author! Author!

Cynical Ben has had a story published on Rainy City Stories - underneath his steely, cynical exterior is the puppyish soul of a creative type. Read it here. It's a masterpiece of compression.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Rats are deserting the sinking Republican ship

Senator Arlen Specter ('is haunting Europe' - sorry, bit of a politics joke there) has joined the Democrats. He's still anti-union and generally rightwing, but if Al Franken finally gets seated, the Dems will have a filibuster proof majority of 60-40 and can really start to dismantle the Bush legacy. Poor people might even get medical care!

In just a few hours

… The Nightingales will be on stage. But before them, Violet Violet will perform - they're very good. Inbetween: Ted Chippington - the anti-comedian. He's not just unfunny, he's deliberately unfunny. Which is funny. He went down very well in Germany apparently.

Very timely!

One of my managerial chain of bosses, ex-bizzy Jim Waddington, has landed some funding for a serious and timely piece of research:
Professor Jim Waddington from SLS has been granted £94,000 by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) for his research project entitled “Evaluating police behaviour- using video-clips to examine evaluations of police conduct.” The research will aim to advance academic understanding of how the public perceive and assess the conduct of police. It will investigate different types of police–public encounters and identify those features of which the public approves or disapproves. The project will try and establish what it is about such experiences that leave people with an unflattering impression and equally, what the good practice is of which they approve.
I'd hope that batoning people to death (G20), telling the press a pack of porkie pies (G20), falsely imprisoning peaceful demonstrators ('this is not a riot', chanted seated demonstrators as cops waded violently in - G20), filming and identifying said legal demonstrators (G20), building a database of innocent civilians (ongoing), harassing journalists (Kingsnorth) while ensuring that friendly TV crews are on scene for dramatic armed arrests of 'terrorists' who are then released without charge, making up spurious injury lists (Kingsnorth) removing identity numbers (forever), suborning Plane Stupid protestors, and telling the press and Facebook that violence is relished ('we're up for it' / 'bash some hippies') might get a mention, though some of this doesn't take place on video unless the activists catch it.

Bankers, the lot of them

The greedy bastards who bankrupted us while raking in billions to stash offshore are threatening to leave the country because taxes have been increased to pay for bailing the banks out - Steve Bell nails these destructive, selfish gits:




This is infuriating - Cameron's announcing 'the age of austerity' as though government waste has ruined us all. It hasn't. Saving the banks (Tories all) has sunk us, but Cameron's desperate not to mention his commitment to finance capitalism. It's such lazy, reactionary politics to blame big government for shortfalls - very Reaganite 1980s. We all like schools, decent hospitals and state pensions - let's be proud of paying for them.

Personally I'd have protected depositors and allowed the institutions to crash, but Brown et al decided this wouldn't be good for the economy. If goverment cutbacks are required: ID cards, nuclear weapons, the armed services in general, Department for Business (fewer businesses - fewer bureaucrats required to kiss their arses), properly nationalise trains rather than pay extortionate subsidies to franchises.

Snow joke

There's an interview with Jon Snow in today's Guardian. It's interesting if you care about television news and the fundamentals of reporting, but it's interesting even if you aren't because he's a cool guy - politically to the left, former student radical, friend of Decca Mitford, terrible taste in matching ties and socks.

Nerds! Queue here

I know that many of you are addicted to computerised games. Now you can listen 'live' to chiptunes, computer game music from all your old favourites and other related computer noise at 8BitFM!

I haven't played a computer game with any enthusiasm since Civilization II, which really was brilliant, even if it was so ideologically loaded that taking a socialist approach led inevitably to defeat thanks to the capitalist running dogs of the California computer industry. After that, Civ III and Alpha Centauri were disappointing. I was also addicted to Minesweeper, so took the decision to buy a Mac, and never looked back. Though I do remember an online game involving calculating the force and best location required to kick a man down the stairs causing maximum damage. That was both educational and fun - I'll need those skills one day.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Never trust a copper, never read The Sun

Do the police lie to us? Of course they do. But most of the time, they merely mislead, dissemble and distort. Why? Because every branch of public service has been encouraged to see itself as a 'player' in the information game. Each agency has an internal PR team - which isn't the same as a communications team - trained to play offence/defence spin rather than to provide accurate, cautious, checkable and honest information. The police have their friendly media contacts and they know which papers (I'm looking at you, The Sun - 'G20 anarchy' indeed, and you Daily Mail) will print whatever they say without bothering to check using boring old journalism - and in the case of Tomlinson, may have added further imaginary details simply to suit their pre-mixed 'story', as Nick Davies points out:

There were six days of substantially false coverage about a man who apparently died of a heart attack as he walked home while a screaming mob of anarchists hurled missiles at the police officers who tried to help him. Any inquiry into this media misinformation will want to find out whether that was simply the hyperbole of ignorant reporters or the product of bad practice at the Metropolitan police, the City of London police or the IPCC.



They got caught this time thanks to citizens ignoring threats to treat filming cops as 'aiding terrorism', but it must make you distrust pretty much every account of any major event prior to this. Nick Davies has a good piece in today's Media Guardian. How's this gem?

when an IPCC investigator came to the Guardian, with a City of London police exhibits officer, he asked for the video to be removed from the website on the grounds that it could prejudice the police inquiry and would upset the family. The deputy editor-in-chief who met him declined and pointed out that the Tomlinson family at that moment were in another part of the building, talking to Paul Lewis, the reporter who had driven the story, and publicly thanking the paper for its help.

But this isn't simply a problem for the rozzers. It's a fundamental journalistic failure brought about by financial concerns (investigative journalism is expensive: transcribing 'sources' and press releases can be done by the office monkey) and by the collapse of a public sphere independent of hegemonic forces: papers have grown dependent on 'authority' and close to power - they'll automatically cite established, discrete power blocs such as police forces and governments rather than test their claims (except for climate stories, in which case they'll print the ravings of any mad liar (Johnny Ball, Bellamy, Lawson, Monckton) rather than the 99% of actual climate scientists who know we're screwed).

Info - and a pun

Decent Doonesbury take on Twitter yesterday.
Earthquake in Mexico City just now - swine flew...
A Camera Obscura CD - My Maudlin Career - just turned up in the post. Sweet.

Swine flu update

All showings of Babe in the City are henceforth banned.
Kermit has quarantined Miss Piggy.
Porky has been put to the sword.
Squealer, Napoleon and Snowball have been purged - they will never have existed once the records can be altered.
Piglet ran away in a cowardly fashion.
The third little piglet and the wolf have succumbed to the fever, as has Charlotte, thanks to Wilbur's cross-species overfamiliarity.

This flu clearly originated with The Black Pig - the northern Irish symbol of evil and death.

They come over here, playing our songs…

My friends the Nightingales returned from their European tour last night, playing what was meant to be a triumphant gig at the 100 Club before finishing in Manchester tonight and Wolverhampton (Little Civic) tomorrow. However, they didn't all make it back: rather than turning away all sorts of dubious individuals, UK Immigration decided to deport two women found in possession of a guitar and a bassoon. Despite the fact that they were playing 3 gigs for NO MONEY before going back to the US, the rozzers decided that they were planning to work illegally. Now, if you've ever heard the 'Gales, or know anything about 30-year old bands, you'll know that they only ever play for the love of the music.

Even worse, the band was forced to perform without these essential members in front of Trev and Simon, and Stuart Lee. The shame! Come to support them tomorrow.

Swine, women and song

xkcd has a beautiful take on swine flu and Twitter (which is also spreading like a disease).

Like twee?

Then you'll love Clare and the Reasons! Thanks to Steve for the tip. I love it. Camera Obscura would stamp on their glasses and steal their dinner money!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Reading matters (the activity, not the town)

I almost forgot - I finished Mark Steel's What's Going On? It's rather wonderful, thanks to his personal and political breakdown. Just as he was falling out of love with the SWP (ugh, splitters), his relationship fails utterly and miserably - the book is his account of this surreal but educational period - such as soaking up applause at the BAFTAs then returning home to sleep on the sofa. It's a fascinating and genuinely emotional read, as he picks apart the ways we fall quickly and easily into, then slowly and horribly out of, love.

I only ordered a couple of books this week - Buchan's Mr Standfast (rightwing interwar pulp designed to shut up Johnny Prole) and another Adam Roberts novel. Result!

Academic integrity

While my institution cavorts with brand consultants and rewards the godfather of nuclear weapons in non-treaty compliant India, Edinburgh is making a stand for the poor by refusing to licence its pharmaceutical discoveries to companies unless they make them available at cost-price to poor countries - thanks to student pressure. Can we follow suit?

Wig Out to the In Sound from the 18th Century

Today's an all-Mozart, all-CD affair. The latter because S-Z in rock and all my classical vinyl are inaccessible due to the 1m x 1m x 1m cube of unread books currently testing the floor joists at the end of the bed. The former because I decided that I should acquaint myself a little better with old Wolfgang and invested in a 170-CD complete works. I'm heavily into medieval and Renaissance music, utterly devoted to Bach (the cello suites will be this planet's greatest contribution to galactic civilisation long after our extinction), and hugely into 20th-century classical music, but there's a yawning void where my knowledge of Mozart, the Classical composers and the Romantics should be.

I'm no snob - I'll happily make comparisons between the Field Mice, the Boo Radleys and Johann S. and distrust those devoted solely to classical music (the last one I met recommended Bruckner because 'the Fuhrer listened to his music after dinner every evening'), and there's an awful lot of conservative dross (on heavy rotation over at Classic FM), but at the same time, classical music doesn't have to pander to playlists, short-term profit or people half-listening. Dylan eviscerated mainstream America in the 60s and 70s - many of the major classical composers did the same. You can't listen to Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, or certain Stockausen without understanding that music, even wordless music, can pose just as great a challenge to the status quo as any other protest song. It's only when rich people, subsidies and 'the great and the good' hijack this stuff that all the life's sucked out of it.

So I guess that all I can do is encourage you to storm the concert halls and take them back. Start by going to the Music Maze for Adults run at the CBSO Centre by the Birmingham Contemporary Music group. Turn up with any old instrument from your loft (they'll give you one if you don't have anything), and spend the evening making thrilling, visceral music - skill levels unimportant. 15th May, CBSO centre, 6.o0-9.30, £10. Listen to Late Junction on Radio 3, the show that plays anything from anywhere in the world (including rock, dance and probably even donk) as long as it's interesting.

First video up is an extract from the Penderecki - it's horrible because, well, nuclear war is horrible. Could pop music do this? Possibly, but the industry and our expectations aren't really set for 'searing' as a positive term. The second on is Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach rather beautifully.



I've given up - the people across the road are playing dancehall so loud that my windows are shaking. I'm unmoved.

Coming in from the cold

Iceland held a general election yesterday. The previous goverment collapsed because its policy of encouraging reckless financial greed and speculation despite having a population the size of Wolverhampton and West Bromwich combined and a fish-based 'real' economy bankrupted them. So now, the population has elected a Social Democratic/Left-Green coalition.

How did the US react to economic meltdown? It booted out the party which encouraged, enriched and was enriched by Enron, Goldman Sachs etc. etc.

What's Britain going to do? It seems that the British population is going to elect the Conservatives, who invented all these dodges and wheezes, who openly proclaim that government is an evil imposition on the free market and on individual ambition, and who see the solution as 'cutting back' on 'wasteful government'. Now, I'm well up for scrapping ID cards and nuclear weapons, but what the Tories mean is sacking nurses, teachers, tax inspectors and all the other low-paid, unappreciated public sector workers. It won't save much at all, and will contribute to making a brutish and inefficient public sphere.

I'm not excusing Labour - they've been rightwing for 15 years now, the party hierarchy entranced by Thatcherism, never meeting a tycoon they didn't like, never meeting a lefty they did like. But still: while everybody else votes Left against the obvious depredations of capitalism, we're going to vote Right for the party which sowed the seeds of our destruction. Well done!

Backsliding

OK, I didn't plan to touch Plashing Vole until Monday (even God rested on the 7th day), but the computer's on and constructive alignment theory doesn't appeal one little bit. Maybe later. Instead, I've read three books this weekend (a biography of Melita Norwood badly written but highly informative), Adam Roberts's Swiftly (riproaring but also thoughtful steampunk SF with a side-order of weird sex), and Mary McCarthy's The Groves of Academe, a slow novel about a seedy academic trying to disguise his inadequacies as political and personal honour. I am a fan of campus novels, though real life as an academic is much less interesting than the fiction. Perhaps a book that went 'lectured, marked, marked, slept, drank too much, went home alone as usual, marked, marked, marked, lectured, died' wouldn't fly off the shelves.

Stoke lost to Fulham yesterday, as I suspected would happen. We still need a few more points to guarantee safety, but it should be OK (congratulations, FINALLY, to Ewarwoowar for predicting a Stoke result correctly). Meanwhile, Tony Pulis is replicating our middle-table form at the London Marathon. Triffic!

Friday, 24 April 2009

So, farewell - until Monday

No Map Twatting for me this weekend either. Nothing but PGCE essays and marking. I have just had a good seminar just now though. At least, I enjoyed it, and just under half the class stayed after the compulsory test, as though they actually believed that reading and talking about what you've read with other people might be interesting and educational!

Speakers turned up to 11

While the office is empty, I can listen to whatever I want. Yesterday it was grimy, lovely Straight Edge. Today it's Dvorak's Requiem Mass while I prepare for my 19th-century literature class. It's an astonishing, powerful, heart-rending piece. No cheesy major-minor slide is missed in his quest for raw emotion. Even better, Dvorak was an atheist and wrote the Mass after he slagged off church music to a bishop - who challenged him to write something better.

For the nerds amongst you (for such there be), the music accompanying the death of Gandalf in one of the Lord of the Rings episodes (when his comrades burst out of the mines of Moria) is 'highly influenced' by sections of the Dvorak.

Are élite Americans actually this stupid or just pretending?

Some choice quotes from the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment, c/o Grist.org

John Shimkus, Republican-Illinois: “If we decrease the use of carbon dioxide, are we not taking away plant food from the atmosphere? ... So all our good intentions could be for vain. In fact, we could be doing the opposite of what the people who want to save the world are saying.”

Joe Barton, Republican-Texas, claiming that wind power will CAUSE global warming: "Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about".

E. Calvin Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation: “fear of catastrophic, man-made global warming is a mistake,” and argued that because the “biblical worldview sees the world and ecosystems as the work of a wise God,” humankind couldn’t possibly be affecting the climate.

Lord Christopher Monckton, aka the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a British hereditary peer (adviser to Thatcher, journalist, not a scientist) who’s become a minor star in the climate-skeptic world. “The right response to the non-problem of global warming is to have the courage to do nothing,” he told the panel. He readily agreed with Rep. Shimkus: “We are a carbon-starved planet.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Radford Sallow

…has joined the blogosphere. He may be a distant and aged relative of a Map Twat.

How Can I Miss You If You Won't Go Away?

Anyone watch Newsnight last night? I was infuriated by the vox pops with a pair of bankers. One of them had the classic combination of long, greased-back hair, loud suit, louder shirt and yet louder tie. He looked, in fact, like a paedophile otter, and I say that as a relative rodent. With a straight face, he attacked the new 50% tax rate (which only applies to earnings above £150,000, not the whole pay-packet) as a class-driven way to pay for government mistakes, and threatened the emigration of the banking sector.

Er… isn't the country in massive amounts of debt because we've had to bail out pretty much all the banks? Yes, this and the previous government volunteered their services like desperate rent boys, but there's no getting round the fact that these bankers made millions personally while bankrupting the entire nation - and now they're squealing because we want a little more of their stratospheric pay in order to keep the country afloat. If they want to emigrate, brilliant. I can't think that many countries will be queuing up to avail themselves of bankers' services, but at least they'll be off our patch.

Perhaps we should start a letter writing campaign. Let's each adopt a merchant bank and send postcards every day encouraging these bastards to leave (or kill themselves).

(the title of this post is a country song: terrible music, great lyrics)

Mae Hen Gwlad fy Nhadau

Paul Flynn points out very succinctly that despite London's New Labour sucking corporate organs of generation enthusiastically, it's very different in Wales, presumably because there isn't a social gulf between electorate and elected. He also relates this 'clear red water' to Welsh traditions of participatory democracy and radicalism (though there's also been a strong undercurrent of cultural and religious conservatism at times, which as a Catholic of Irish descent he presumably knows about, and some areas of Wales are as politically corrupt and lazy as a one-party state can be).

No university fees, no prescription fees, free school meals for all pupils etc. etc. etc. Truly, Wales is a socialist (he calls it 'Classic Labour') wonderland as well as being a beautiful and cultured nation. Except for Tredegar.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Ron Atkinson changes code

Last one for the day, for all you sports fans. This is from the Irish Times yesterday and demonstrates that the spirit of a certain football commentator is alive and well in other sports too.

Dick Best, former England coach, was asked on Sky Sports News why Delon Armitage was chosen. His response: "You've always got to have a coloured boy in the team".

Never mind the 1950s paternalist racism of 'coloured' and 'boy' (and the ludicrous idea that there's some kind of sporting conspiracy to exclude white players from rugby) , it's Sky's apology that annoyed me.

Co-presenter Millie Clode later apologised, saying "[Best] made remarks he thought were off-camera. We would like to apologise for any offence this may have caused".

A masterpiece of non-apology. The remarks shouldn't have been made on-camera, but are implicitly fine off-camera. Nothing wrong with them. We apologise if you're upset - again implying that the words and sentiment are perfectly acceptable, but that offending people isn't so great. I especially like the 'may' - surely a lot of people are definitely offended? What's wrong with 'Dick Best is a racist. We didn't know, we apologise for his repulsive ravings, and we won't invite him on again'?

(24 days since I wrote to the director for marketing and communications - no reply yet. Perhaps he's tied up with an orange in his mouth like Stephen Milligan).

Happy St. George's Day

to those of you from Georgia, Newfoundland, Germany, India, Catalunya, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Macedonia, many Palestinians, the Lebanon, and of course England (though the date varies in Orthodox countries because their calendar is different). The less religious celebrants in the West Midlands nominate it simply as BNP day, despite George being born in Turkey and dying in Palestine (if he existed).

Given the choice, I'd rather celebrate St. George in Catalunya, because the tradition is to give a woman a rose in return for a book: 'a rose for love and a book for ever' - slightly gloomy outlook but probably not wrong. Any takers? This is the reason why, as Henriette points out, today is UNESCO's International Day of the Book (and because Shakespeare and Cervantes allegedly died on April 23rd too).

I get readers: odd ones (2)

Even better than the American who searched for 'nude Geordie lasses' is this Google search, from Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada:

do i need licence in b.c to keep a monkey

Maybe you do, or maybe you don't, but you definitely need your head examined if you think that keeping a monkey as a pet is a civilised thing to do. Leave it in the jungle (or the lab).

Defeat with honour

I went fencing last night, and tried my new method. I was feeling quite pleased with it, and caused serious problems for my far superior opponents. Then I asked for a lesson and got two, from Steve and Ismay Cowen - both world-class coaches who've trained more international fencers than most. By the end, I felt ashamed that I'd ever picked up a blade and thought I could fence - and I'm aching all over (and Steve's closing remark of 'you surely can't be slower than a man who's recently had a quadruple heart bypass' is ringing in my ears even now). Still, if I remember half of what we did, I'll be better next week, and the week after that etc. etc. etc.

New Labour's moral void

I always disliked and distrusted Tony Blair and all the New Labour gang. Mark Steel records a conversation which encapsulates everything that was (and is) wrong about them, in his book What's Going On?. It's from Robin Cook's The Point of Departure, which I haven't read.

Roy Hattersley: 'Why are you sending your son to a selective school? After all, with all the advantages of being the son of a prime minister he'd do well wherever he went'.
Blair (paraphrased): I don't want my children to end up like the kids of Harold Wilson'.
Hattersley (paraphrased): 'One of Wilson's sons is a headmaster and the other is an Open University professor'.
Blair: 'Well, I would hope my sons do better than THAT'.

So there you have it. Not a thought, apparently for his daughter, but most of all, total contempt for the concept of public service, fulfilling endeavour in education or any occupation which doesn't involve massive amounts of money and selfish ambition. Wealth and status, as Steel points out, are the only acceptable ambitions for New Labour and their friends - which makes them indistinguishable from the Tories.


Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Frustration

Right - off fencing now, having got nothing substantial done today other than go to my meeting and work out that the budget will make me £99 better off over the course of a year. I'm planning to radically alter my fencing from tonight - towards the Hungarian style. Hand back, don't give them anything to engage, whip in the point from an acute angle. It looks so easy when good fencers do it…

Moneybox Live

I just had a quick trawl through the budget details: more tax for those on £150,000 is good, though I'm not sure how much it will raise. Pensions up, state redundancy allowances up, ISA allowances up - all good. Support for 'scrappage' and CCS - nonsense designed to keep the car manufacturers and power generators happy. Darling's figures depend on a sharp and fast recovery though, and it's not clear where he finds the justification for that. I guess if the £ stays weak and other countries recover quickly, exports will help - but that's a big 'if'.

The tax rise for the very rich is a decade overdue - but these people can afford tax lawyers to help them evade it as usual. The obvious dodge is to arrange their pay as capital gains - taxed at 15% I think. This is what the hedge fund traders did when the rate was 10% - thus paying far less tax proportionately than their cleaners, while not benefiting the country at all.

Lonely? Call a MEETING!

I've just spent 90 minutes sitting on the Negotiating Committee of my union. Not literally, of course, they're quite well-behaved. They seemed unnaturally pleased to see me, mostly because I'm twenty years younger than all of them. I just felt inexperienced (and depressed about the state of play).

However, I returned to find in my pigeon-hole not pigeons but my new biography of Tom Wintringham, a book on political dirty tricks by a man with a great name: Kerwin C. Swint, and Pride and Prejudice with Zombies ('transforms a masterpiece of world literature into something you'd actually want to read'). What a great haul! Now on with marking until I go fencing in Shrewsbury tonight for the first time in ages.

Clenched fist for Jack Jones

Jack Jones died last night, aged 96. He's one of the last militant leftists who never deviated, and never became a careerist, became divorced from his people, or drifted to the right. He fought for the working classes and the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, getting seriously wounded, then devoted his life to the TGWU union, at one point being perceived by the public as the most powerful man in Britain! He supported the Social Contract, and refused a place in the House of Lords.

He didn't really retire, just moved on to a new phase of the campaign, leading the National Pensioners' Convention (if you think that's unimportant, you're an idiot: our pensions are being chipped away even as we live longer). I intended to meet him at one of these meetings, in Stoke, but the bloody bus sailed past me without stopping and the next one wasn't for four hours.

Hoy más que nunca, VICTORIA!

I'm so lonely

I wrote to our Marketing Director on April 9th, asking how he could justify paying some very expensive consultants for internal 'rebranding' ('' because it's not a real word) while the university struggles to make massive cutbacks.

Have I had the courtesy of a reply? Of course not. So I institute the Communications Countdown. I make it 23 days so far. If it gets to 50 days, I'll start using his actual name.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Torture made easy

Maybe it's an indictment of the state of American journalism, but it's taken Playboy to demonstrate waterboarding. Playboy's journalist bet that he could manage 15 seconds of this simulated drowning: he lasted 5-6 seconds before panicking and ending the experiment - even without the guns, shouting and intimidation that one assumes came with the 'real' experience. One Guantanamo inmate had the treatment nearly 200 times in a month. Do you think he provided detailed, accurate and honest testimony? Or might he have said anything that would end the torture for a few minutes?

Here's war-supporting 'liberal' journalist Christopher Hitchens trying it:

Ocean's Thirteen? Twice??

I wrote to my MP, Rob Marris, a couple of weeks ago. It's a harmless hobby, and makes me feel temporarily good about our democratic process. I specifically asked him to discuss MPs expenses and housing with the government and party hierarchy. I didn't say that they were all corrupt, or should sleep in cardboard boxes, but I did point out that the system was flawed and that ministers taking advantage of loopholes encourages everyone to believe that all politicians are on the take. I also warned against the dangers of developing a class of professional politicians who've never held any other kind of job. Rob Marris, who is too rightwing for me as a loyal New Labour member, but is honest, thoughtful and hard-working (for which he deserves re-election), sent me this reply. It's not exciting, but it's sensible.

Dear Aidan,
Thank you for your e-mail dated 6 April 2009.
Some of the expenses claims made by MP's from all parties seem pretty strange.

It will not surprise you to hear that I support the general proposition that MP's from outside London should not be out of pocket because, on average, we have to spend 2 or 3 nights a week, for about 35 weeks a year, sleeping in London. For the last 25 years, I have lived in the same house in Penn Fields. I do not live in London. I do not wish to live in London. However, I do have to sleep there, because of my work. That is why I claim (about half of) the London accommodation allowance.

I have spent most of my working life in the private sector, where my away-from-home expenses were reimbursed by the partnership for whom I worked.

However, the whole system of MP's additional accommodation expenses needs to be radically overhauled. It seems to me that there are two possibilities;
1. Set an appropriate amount, and include it in MP's basic, taxable pay;
or
2. Set an appropriate flat, daily rate, not taxed, for each overnight in Westminster, away from home.

In either case, the 'appropriate amount' should be set by an independent, outside body, reviewed annually.

If an MP wishes to live higher off the hog than either of those amounts would permit, then it is up to the MP to do so, paying for the excess living from his or her salary. Conversely, if the MP wants to sleep under a bridge, then they can do so!

There are about 650 MP's. Some of them may well be 'on the make'. However, a number of the rest of us are certainly not, given that we took a pay cut to become an MP!

I am surprised at reports of some individuals claiming a London living allowance, whilst being provided with a grace and favour residence. As you say, Ministerial careers can be short lived. It seems to me there is a simple way forward: get rid of the grace and favour residencies (except for the Prime Minister).

We bought our house to live in, not as a piggy bank. Those who did otherwise are now paying the price. So are the rest of us, with the toxic debt of defaulting mortgages. I confess we did extend the mortgage once, but that was to invest in bricks and mortar, and we quickly paid it off.

There is a political class. Whether, as is suggested, it is separated from the interests and lives of the citizens is perhaps not for me, as an MP, to judge. However, the upper echelons of the 3 main political parties are increasing [ly?] filled with individuals who have not had for any real length of time, what I think most of my constituents would regard as a proper job, before entering Parliament at a relatively young age. In any individual case, it may well be explicable. However, as the body politic, particularly Parliament, becomes increasingly filled with people in that position, and the upper echelons disproportionately so, one does have to question the balance.

You asked me to relay your thoughts to party leadership. I have certainly done so, as regards MP's London expenses, and as regards the backgrounds of those who are increasingly dominating our politics.

Yours sincerely,
Rob.

I think that's pretty fair. MPs need somewhere to live in their consituencies and a base in London (except for the London MPs who seem to think that two or even three London homes is acceptable). A flat rate would be easy to administer and fair. So well done Rob! It's a bit cheeky to point out that he's taken a pay cut to become an MP: for the vast majority of us, an MPs salary would be a massive increase, and if it's true that most MPs suffer financially from being elected, it justifies my point that there is a professional political class which is divorced from society - made up of rich people.

Update: Gordon Brown has proposed a similar scheme.

World peace and that

The Unlucky Dip has posted a fascinating clip from the Miss USA competition - in which the contestants answer political questions, often more clearly than in the recent presidential campaign! Only Miss Arizona waffles her way around the healthcare question trying not to give her opinion.

Update: according to the Guardian, Miss California's opposition to gay marriage has caused a stir: Fox News is blaming this for her defeat. I hope they're right - it would mean that the audience doesn't take its moral lessons from Fox, which is the most popular news channel in the US at the moment (unfortunately).

'ello 'ello 'ello part 2

I've seen the police behave appallingly on various marches and protests, and even ticked of a WPC for over-reacting to some loud skate-kids once, so it's no surprise to me that the rozzers were up for a riot at the G20 protests.

When they were founded, they required leather collars to protect them from garrotting down dark alleys, such was the antipathy towards them from the rest of the working classes, who viewed them purely and simply as class-traitors, thugs hired by the upper-classes to defend property and privilege, much as the 'volunteer militias' put down any opposition to enclosure, oppression or union activism, such as the Chartists. There will always be an element of the police, armed forces and security forces motivated by the desire to violently deal with anyone not espousing the beliefs of the Daily Mail.

Monbiot expresses these feelings much more eloquently.

Bald men fighting over a comb



That was fun. At a UN conference on racism, the racist president of Iran made a speech calling Israel racist - which seems fine to me, given Israel's treatment of the Palestinians within Gaza, the Occupied Territories and within its own borders. Then the racist countries of Germany (Holocaust, Turks), Britain (Empire, slavery, 'institutionally racist' police, mass ethnic minority unemployment), the United States (slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, 80% of black men with criminal records) walked out.

This is a matter of representation - does being vocally upset about particularly poisonous racism make up for structural, ongoing, silent racism? Are we meant to think that speeches are more important than the discrimination which ensures that our black boys leave school less qualified, less likely to find employment and more likely to go to prison with conviction for which white people don't? (It's the same for women, by the way: they are disproportionately imprisoned for crimes such as non-payment of TV licences and fines, for which men tend to receive non-custodial sentences). Naomi Klein makes the point in No Logo that worrying about representation of race has diverted the left from the clear real racial problems - the Ahmedinejad case demonstrates the effect of this kind of tokenism.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Here goes nothing

I notice from the stat porn that the University of Prince Edward Island must have Google Alerts on, so:
I've taught English literatures, media and cultural studies for ten years. I have a first class degree, an MA in Welsh Writing in English and a PhD in masculinity in 1930s Welsh political novels (in English). I have also read all eight volumes of Anne of Green Gables and I'm a fencing coach, referee and welfare officer with the England team. Are there any jobs going?

Come on everybody - tell the nice people in Canada you're desperate to export me…

Horrible summer weather

The sun's shining - so I'm in a bad mood. I hate hot weather. It makes me sweaty and uncomfortable, tired and irritable. Which was a shame for the students whose presentations I was marking today! (Just my little joke - I'm scrupulously fair. I learned quite a lot from them. Some of it true).

One day I'm going to move to Norway, Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia. Preferably somewhere with socialist governments, high taxation, a national health service and a lot of snow. Is there a University of the Faroe Islands?

A little light blasphemy to start the week

Thanks to Pharyngula!

''…incubators of apathy or delirium"

I went down South this weekend, to see my friend Felix, who is exiled in Suburbia. The sun shone, I only bought two books (biographies of Melita Norwood and of Unity Mitford), ate and drank too much, and generally had a good time. I didn't get to the football because the tickets were lost, though I did notice on Sunday that Manchester United supporters were more common at railway stations the closer I got to London. Stoke City beat Blackburn Rovers, so ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha to Laura, in particular.

However. Felix is living temporarily in Chalfont St. Peter, part of the very rich suburban belt around London. I find it hard to express how creepy, how strange it is. The closest I can get is to say that it's exactly as J. G. Ballard feels. I thought this yesterday, and then heard on Radio 4 that he'd died. His work had tailed off in recent years, but if you absolutely must read about the dysfunctional, savage, irrationality lying close to the surface of the most ordinary communities, he's your man.

Chalfont, Gerrard's Cross and all the areas like them are prime Ballard territory. They genuinely are different to our communities. Most striking of all is a mixed register or individualism and conformity which made me assume that they're all terrified - of each other but also of being different. Every single house had electronically-operated cast-iron gates. Virtually every house had a massive SUV - usually BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Range-Rover, despite the absence of anywhere to go off-road. Every house was a 1930s or fake-tudor modern house (with added Palladian pillars of the wrong size). Each house has a name to distinguish it, yet no name does: Hillcrest, Meadow House, Journey's End - nothing related to the specific place on which the settlement is built. The effect is so disconcerting that it would make John Betjeman, poet of the suburbs, itch.

I guess the point of the architecture, the gates and the SUVs is to show off affluence. The vehicles and the gates also announce separation. Your children aren't important - mine are. The air you breathe isn't important, mine is. My effect on you is irrelevant, your impact on my life must be eradicated. What's important is that I sit 2 feet above you, that I am invincible. It's power but it's also fear. Fear of you, fear of mixing with you, but also fear of being left behind. If the neighbours have an X5, you have to have one - or an Audi, a Porsche Cayenne, anything except a small car. There's no collective responsibility, to each other or to the environment. They're driven by the need to be the same as, yet separate from, their neighbours, whom they don't know other than as figures glimpsed through several layers of laminated windscreen or iron bars.

The gates are part of this system. I walked (subversively) past gate after gate after gate, wondering what they're for. Crime is low. Gates won't help much. Do they keep people out or in? Are these things signifiers of a desire to one day move out to a proper country estate, complete with a mile-long drive? Then I realised: they keep ME out and THEM in. The existence of the gates draws a physical line between them and us. Simply by being there, I was cast as the barbarian at the gates, and began to feel like one - excluded, demeaned, reduced and resentful. There are no barbarians until the gates create them.

Yet, the effect on 'them' is equally profound. Erecting gates separates them from an imaginary horde. It makes the inhabitants an embattled redoubt of civilisation, rather than as part of a community or society. However - what is their civilisation? It's little more than a fascism of conformist acquisition, genteel but competitive consumerism lacking values, morals, beliefs other than the vaguest of sentiments. The gates mark their failure to join a society, not their superiority. Consider this: at the height of the Roman Republic, at the Victorian moral high-water mark of the British Empire, the aristocracy built public baths and libraries, founded charitable institutions and schools, donated land for parks and joined Improvement societies. Many of them were tedious meddlers, or arrogant, or frankly scared of 'the mob', but they all realised that with power comes responsibility. In decadent phases - the Roman Empire, pre-revolutionary France, Enclosure Britain, this social compact broke down. Rich men built estates with high walls, swimming pools for themselves, home cinemas for footballers: private luxuries and a life separated from common humanity. This is the stage we're in. These middle-class gates signify insecurity, hatred and fear without responsibility. They don't want to share their country with us. They resent paying taxes, sharing schools, hospitals and open spaces - and our rotten political system has rewarded them. We make it easy for them to withdraw into private estates, expensive holidays, fee-paying schools and hospitals, then wonder why they hate us so much, why the Daily Mail has so many readers. They take the rewards of our society: cheap goods because we (and our foreign comrades) are paid badly and enjoy few employment rights, a well-educated workforce and a stable government while doing their selfish best to undermine the system which provides these pleasures.

Even worse, all the houses with gates are separated from each other. Despite living in identical houses and driving identical cars, they don't have the benefit of being a community of like-minded people because they lock themselves away from each other. Once the button is pressed, the gates swing shut and they're alone, anxiously gazing through the bars like institutionalised chimpanzees, developing paranoid fantasies and planning the next purchase of a shiny Germany SUV like the family across the lane whose names they don't know.

We should pity them. They fear us, though they don't know us. They'll never meet us. They ferry their children from gated houses in SUVs to private schools, never hearing an accent or opinion they don't like or already know. Strange voices, unfamiliar cooking smells, different skin tones, unpleasant sights never greet them because little of the world can be glimpsed through the bars they've erected for themselves. They're lonely, but they don't know it. They're scared, and they do know it - yet there's nothing of which to be scared.

Ironically, however, these gates, those metal behemoths won't keep them safe from what they're really frightened of: poverty. Each gate demarcates a patch of land, a big car, three holidays a year, a plasma screen and a clutch of school fees which now can't be paid - a parcel of debt which is a direct consequence of their fear. All these things are acquired on credit, on the assumption that moderately sized houses near London will always increase in value, because other people have them. Not having them is a source of the deepest kind of shame, driving this odd class to take on larger and larger mortgages, to put it on the credit card, then acquire another mortgage, another credit card ad infinitum. Now the party's stopped. Cars and houses are repossessed, the holidays stop, the school fees go unpaid, they move to unfashionable areas of London, swap Waitrose for Tesco or even Asda, and they get resentful and angry, as though it's not their fault. Perhaps, who knows, they revolt as Ballard detailed in Kingdom Come and Millennium People.

Should we fear these people? Pity them? Hate them? Perhaps all three? They're lost and lonely, the victims of Thatcherism, yet they hate and fear us. They despise our values, whether these are socialism, environmentalism, Old Toryism, class solidarity or a working-class version of their own ideological position. To them, we are simply a horde outside the gates. Yet if they could only overcome their fear, they'd learn that it's the gates which make us enemies, not enemies requiring gates. Only separation makes divisions between us, and only fear makes them separate. Is it their fault? Partly. They're victims of hegemonic forces (capitalism, largely, with a toxic brew of class- and race-related ideologies), yet they're intelligent enough to know that they're wrong. These SUV drivers use hemp bags instead of plastic, perhaps even offset their flights - they know that they're wrong, but they're too scared and selfish to embrace the collective future, to admit their weaknesses, their faults.

Gates and heavy cars and private schools are ways to avoid the difficult realities of life. Underneath the bluster, the snobbishness, lies terror - of us, of a life which requires responsible behaviour, responsible choices. If you know any of these people, help them out. Smash down their gates, torch their cars, burn their mortgage agreements. (Only joking. Invite them to diverse parties in poor areas. Take them to the pub. Plant a tree).
This house is available now, for £1,795,000.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Namecheck songs

A selective list based on a quick trawl through my hard drive: titles only. Think of some more over the weekend while I go south to see Felix and maybe even go to the FA semi-final between Everton and Manchester United, depending on whether the tickets exist.

I didn't start it. The Guardian did. You all know an awful lot of awful music. I can extend it:
Jacob Marley's Chain - Aimee Mann
Glitter Years - The Bangles
Like Dylan in the Movies - Belle and Sebastian
Seymour Stein - Belle and Sebastian
Gene Autry - Beulah
Ingrid Bergman - Billy Bragg
Walt Whitman's Niece - Billy Bragg
Benny Hill's Wardrobe - The Bitter Springs
Mike Coe Reads the Credits - The Bitter Springs
Andrew Ridgley - Black Box Recorder
Josephine Baker - Blaggers ITA
Warhol's Fifteen - The Blue Aeroplanes
Blues for George Michael - Boo Radleys
Arthur Walker - Cable
Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura
Presley on Oldham Street - Clint Boon Experience
Tiger Woods: Astronaut - Clint Boon
Andy Gill: Astronaut - Clint Boon
Eulogy to Lenny Bruce - Damon and Naomi
Elizabeth Duke - Darren Hayman
Geno - Dexy's Midnight Runners
The Beatles - Edwyn Collins
Fitzcarraldo - The Frames
Black Elvis - Gold Blade
Sally Webster - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Gubba Lookalikes - Half Man Half Biscuit
Fucking Hell It's Fred Titmuss - Half Man Half Biscuit
David Attenborough - Huon
Annie Oakley - Jad Fair and Kramer
Alice Cooper's Roadie's Love Child - Kim Fowley and BMX Bandits
Sharing a Gibson With Martin Luther King Jr. - Lambchop
Popeye - Lambchop
Howard Hughes Blues - Laura Cantrell
Ballad of Bilbo Baggins - Leonard Nimoy
Bonnie and Clyde - Luna
This Nelson Rockerfeller - McCarthy
I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead - Mogwai
Zidane - Mogwai
Kerouac - Morphine
Eulogy to Lenny Bruce - Nico
Elvis the last ten days - The Nightingales
The Ballad of Bjorn Borg - Pernice Brothers
I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well - The Pooh Sticks
What's the Frequency Kenneth? - REM
John Cage Bubblegum - Stereolab
The Very Best of Neil Diamond - Super Furry Animals
I Was a Rolling Stone - Tiger Phil (Ochs) - Tom Paxton
Tribute to Woody Guthrie - Tom Paxton
Tinky Winky - Tom Paxton
There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis - Kirsty MacColl
Cassius Clay - The Wave Pictures
Shatner - The Wedding Present
Dan Dare - The Wedding Present
Kevin Ayers - Gorky's Zygotic Mynci
Bukowski - Rheinallt H Rowlands
Paul McCartney - Laugh Mulder and Scully - Catatonia
The Ballad of Tom Jones - Cerys Matthews and Space
Where's Captain Kirk? - Spizzenergi
John Wayne was a Nazi - MDC
Myrna Loy - The Minus 5
Where on Earth is Kevin Shields - PS I Love You
Talulah Gosh - Talulah Gosh
Norman Bates - Landscape
Robinson Crusoe - Tindersticks
Alan Parsons In a Winter Wonderland - Grandaddy

Incompetent ignoramuses

The Guardian's Film and Music section has a weekly feature: Songs about… . This week, it's actors. I didn't contribute because I assumed that good liberal readers of a certain age would definitely pick the right one. But no. The Go-Betweens' 'Lee Remick' isn't there. It's a wonderful, eyes-wide-open ingenue piece of Australian pop-rock, featuring my favourite line of bathos ever:

'She comes from Ireland, she's very beautiful.
I come from Brisbane, and I'm quite plain'.

It just works - the scansion and the meanings work together to encapsulate that feeling of not quite making it. When Robert Forster married a German heiress from a brewing family, he quipped 'I'm living every Australian's dream. I'm marrying into beer'.

Madness also wrote about an actor: 'My Name is Michael Caine'. It's not their best, but I like it.

Facebook? You're having a laugh

I posted a link to some research about Facebook and poor grades correlating. Now I notice from my Academia.edu page that someone googled my name and 'facebook'.

I had a facebook page for about two weeks over a year ago because I teach new media and thought I should know how it worked. I hated it. I would rather chop down trees with my molars like my beaver cousins than engage with such tedious, pointless nonsense again. Where's the creativity? The privacy? I can see the point if you have family and friends on different continents, but even then, you could use e-mail and Flickr for photos. Knowing whether someone is having beans or eggs for breakfast, or receiving animated pints of beer just makes me angry.

Read a book. I don't, frankly, know your motivations for reading this blog, but at least I've written something, pointed you in (hopefully) interesting directions, and am open to commentary and discussion. Facebook seems so much less creative and open: a wave rather than a handshake.

My poor abused corpse

I went swimming this morning, for the first time in over a week, a week in which I've overindulged in chocolate, alcohol and rare breeds. So as you can imagine, the session was purest torture. My stomach appeared to be trailing several yards behind the rest of me. Plus, it was all in vain, as Neal and I had to eat a cake to take away the taste of the atrocious 'vegetable' 'lasagne' served in the canteen today. Quality is hit-and-miss here; some things are delicious, others inedible. Today erred on the side of the lower order of existence.

Still, at least some fun stuff turned up in the post: The Thick of It Specials, the new Super Furry Animals album, and Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.

Forget offshore - let's off-planet!

Yes: solar power collected in space then beamed down to earth as radio waves then converted to electricity is GO! The company needs less than $5bn to do it - £3bn or so, which is less than a decent express rail line.

Big in Switzerland: It's The Nightingales

My chums The Nightingales are touring Europe this week (media students may recognise one of them). No reviews posted anywhere yet, but I gather they missed their plane. It's no coincidence that amongst their albums are Pissed and Potless, and Amateur Wankers (under their former monicker of The Prefects, Myspace). They have taken a new musical direction recently: Insult to Injury has tunes (Myspace).

Update: they're rehearsing in Switzerland this week - the tour starts tomorrow.

Julian Cope - we salute you

Julian Cope is a full on rock god, druid and genius. Also he's one of the most entertaining performers around, even for non-hippies. His account of being nicked at the G20 protests while wearing a burka and stab vest with a wig is hilarious and depressing.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Back in Stumville

I'm now back in Wolverhampton. How the very sentence thrills me. What is good is finding more presents from Santa Amazon in my office. In particular, Vince Cable's The Storm, his centrist analysis of the current financial disaster. (keep paying those fees, kids. Vole needs books). It's too rightwing for me, but then most things are.

I also got Stile Antico's anthology of Middle Ages/Renaissance settings of the Song of Songs (the erotic stuff that somehow got into the Bible - hear some on that link). I know this will bore or befuddle many of you, but I love all sorts of music, and Lassus, Palestrina et al. are up there with the Field Mice and Elastica in terms of genius. (I'm joking: you can't compare them). They're all good, but Stile Antico sing works of genius staggeringly well. Only The Sixteen (what a stunningly arrogant and, dammit, justified name) and the Tallis Scholars compete on that particular and rarefied playing field.

Rosetta Hampshire: now that's quality blogging

Over at Rosetta Hampshire, the lady in question is showing us how to do it in style. By 'it', I mean summarising history and settling personal scores with named colleagues from the 1950s. We younger types could learn much from her, even if she does use the name of a vole's relative in a pejorative sense. A couple of excerpts:

...I'm not dead. Not yet anyway. That is a problem though isn't it? That if I don't write anything for a week or so people will think I have died.
I remember in particular a six month residence in and around Jasper, Alabama resulting from a disagreement about contour lines in residential areas. I think the politest thing I can say about Jasper, Alabama in nineteen fifty-five is that it was undergoing a period of social change.
I never trusted Joseph Angel at all. He was a stoat of a man: active by day and night, characteristic bounding gait, often stands bolt upright, solitary except in breeding season. Petty lies were far from being beneath him
And she eats at Go!Sushi. I'm not cool enough. Nor do I like raw fish. I'm not a water vole.

'Work' - Ford Madox Brown

In response to a question - there's one version of it in Birmingham art gallery, and one in Manchester's. I haven't seen the Brum one, but the Manchester one is at eye-level, so you can spot all the little details.

Log off RIGHT NOW, students

Now, I'm no social scientist so can't speak for the validity or otherwise of this research, and you should probably distrust any newspaper coverage of scientific research, but how's this for a directly relevant headline for my colleagues, students and friends?

STUDY FINDS LINK BETWEEN FACEBOOK USE, LOWER GRADES IN COLLEGE

Unfortunately, it all unravels quite quickly:

“We can’t say that use of Facebook leads to lower grades and less studying – but we did find a relationship there,” said Aryn Karpinski, co-author of the study…
though the students who used Facebook heavily studied less and were getting lower grades than they thought. OK, it's a small and flawed piece of research, and may only suggest that people disinclined to work have a new hobby, but it's interesting anyway. Perhaps I'd be a better lecturer if I didn't blog so much. I wonder what P Z Myers thinks of that idea.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The McBride Affair and British Political Blogging

For a concise explanation of British political blogs, have a look at Tim Ireland's explanation. You need sound on, and it probably isn't safe for work unless you work at the university where pretty much anything goes. He provides more coverage of this unsavoury affair here.