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The Mayor of London… April 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
12 comments

With the day that’s about to be in it I can’t help but reflect briefly on the London Mayoral campaign. First up the curious, to some perhaps, but not those of us from a WP background, peregrinations of Kate Hoey continue. Labour MP? Well yes, but also I was told when I went to live in London in the early 1990s by other party members that those of us keen to engage with Labour party politics should contact hers among other constituency organisations. A convergence of views on the North might well have been the reason for that.

So no surprise then that…

…Labour MP Kate Hoey said she would act as an adviser on sports and the Olympics if the Tory candidate became mayor.

Very good, sport presumably transcends politics (oh, wait, that’s not good at all), but perhaps a word to the wise… check your man has won before letting that cat out of the bag.

Meanwhile a small civil war in the Conservative party where:

Simon Heffer and Sir Peregrine Worsthorne, two veteran Conservative commentators, have sparked a furious online row with bloggers accusing them of trying to sabotage Boris Johnson’s campaign with just a day left before Londoners vote.

Apparently Heffer and Worsthorne wrote:

In a column in today’s Telegraph, Heffer said Johnson was an “act” rather than a politician.

“One of Mr Johnson’s failings is a belief that the public is there to serve him, not vice versa,” he said. “He is pushy, he is thoughtless, he is indiscreet about his private life.”

Worsthorne, quoted in today’s Guardian diary, said Johnson’s attempt to be serious during the campaign had failed.

“The harder he tried, the more insincere, incoherent, evasive and even puerile he looked and sounded, even enabling the liberal candidate to score points. Take away the gags and jokes and nothing much is left.”

I’m astounded it took them this long to air this view. “Beautiful” (look up the candidate profile on the Guardian website) Johnson is… well, words fail me.

Meanwhile it looks like Livingstone might, or might not, win. I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always admired him despite his belonging to a different strain of leftist politics perhaps at odds with that I was involved in, right the way back to the dim and distant early 1980s. Clearly of the left in a broad sense, and clearly a progressive voice, whatever about the amphibians. Also, a master strategist, able to negotiate the Labour party whose hierarchy loathed him yet who also regarded him as near indispensable. London would be the lesser without him, and most certainly will be if Johnson gets in.

Smoke on the water, small fire in hotel in Washington, Taoiseach and RTÉ Chief News Correspondent not hurt, ..This is news? April 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics, Media and Journalism.
7 comments

Got to love the values of our 24 hour news cycle, for today RTÉ brings us the news that:

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has returned to his hotel in Washington after he and his official party were evacuated for a time because of a fire alert.

RTÉ’s Chief News Correspondent Charlie Bird says Mr Ahern was awoken by the US Secret Service at 4.20am (9.20am Irish time) and told they believed there was a fire in a generator a floor above him.

Wooh… Taoiseach. Secret Service. RTÉ’s Chief News Correspondent. 4.20am (9.20am Irish time for all us dolts who don’t realise, like y’know it’s a five hour differential). It’s a bit like 24, but without the excitement, or Jack Bauer, or… er… anything.

Amazingly…

Mr Ahern said that everybody walked down the stairs in an orderly fashion without any panic.

Fancy that! No panic. And…

He said there was a strong smell of smoke in the roof of the Renaissance Mayflower hotel just above him

Well… it was a fire… There’s a lovely photograph of Ahern and the Chief Correspondent in the foyer of the hotel, Ahern clutching a small bottle of water to himself, perhaps to assist in putting out the conflagration.

Finally…

The whole party is understood to be somewhat shaken by the experience.

Never! Let’s hope our beloved Taoiseach has recovered from the upset in time to for the historic address to Congress today…

Reverend Wright redux…Obama goes for the thermonuclear option… April 30, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in United States.
12 comments

With friends like this Obama can hardly wish any new enemies, for as CL notes “Wright thrown under bus: is Obama finished?” and in the Irish Times we read that:

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama denounced his former pastor in his strongest language to date today, saying he was outraged by Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s assertions about the US government and race.

“His comments were not only divisive … but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate,” Mr Obama told reporters.

And lest the good reverend think that there is wriggle room in that for their continued friendship…well, best not to count on it…

“Whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this,” Mr Obama said.

And all this on foot of Wright attempting to get out of the hole he had been inadvertently dug into by the dynamics of the US Presidential nomination campaign, by recourse to… er… further digging.

So it was that he suggested that:

…the US government as imperialist and stood by his suggestion that the United States invented the HIV virus as a means of genocide against minorities.

“Based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything,” he said.

Now this is impolitic stuff, to be sure and as also reported, it is potentially worse for the Senator, for Wright decided to do a bit of looking into, well, not his own heart but that of Obama and came out with…

“If Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected,” Rev Wright said. “Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls.”

Now, whatever one thinks of the these matters, this is supremely odd as statements go during election campaigns. Odd, to the point of destructive of his supposed friends campaign. Which makes one wonder why these sentences were uttered. Is this the cuing up of a sort of sub-Kinnock Militant moment where Obama can shine as he slays a dragon? The danger is that this sort of talk is uncontainable, that it feeds into a discourse of ‘we always knew that’s what he believed, how he felt, etc’…

Certainly Obama’s response has been sharp and rapid, damage limitation at its best (but perhaps most ineffective):

“What became clear to me is that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for,” Mr Obama said. “And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and I see the commonality in all people.”

Ouch. I think Reverend Wright should forget about Christmas cards this year.

The Left Archive: ‘The Plough’ from the Official Republican movement in South Down/South Armagh, c. 1977 April 29, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, Official Sinn Féin.
38 comments

tposf1977

For a somewhat different view of matters on the ground within the Official Republican movement as distinct from some of the ideological strands that would come to fruition in the 1980s this document entitled ‘The Plough: South Down/South Armagh’s own Republican Paper’ is revealing. Dating from 1977 it approaches topics such as the withdrawal of special category status in a way which was diametrically opposed to that expressed in WP material from just a few years later.

Consider how it suggests that:

We don’t live in a normal society with normal laws and normal courts so the prisoners are not normal criminals and should be recognised as such. Since there are Special Courts there must be Special Category Prisoners.

The Plough greets the Political Prisoners and wishes them Freedom and Justice.

Of course, this was the hard edge of the struggle and one might note that Newry and Armagh always had an independent streak to them.
In some respects it points up the difficult position that Official Republicanism was in following the ceasefires, rhetorically at odds with the state, but more and more having to come to terms with it. This is exemplified by the piece (accompanied by a photograph entitled ‘The Results of British Terrorism’ – not quite the subject matter we see later) which ends…

Report every example of [British] harassment to the Republican Clubs Advice Centre and make a formal complaint to the R.U.C. Not that you can expect help from the R.U.C. but you must do this to make a claim and force the situation into public view.

The visual iconography is not one that many would associate with OSF/WP, with the concentration on prisoners, prison cells etc… (although interesting to see a couple of pages under the heading Industrial Front inside). And then there is the column at the back of ‘gossip’ from ‘what’s the crack’ which excoriates the ‘Provo’s’ and British Army equally.

In a sense here was a legacy issue that Official Republicanism never got to grips with in the way that PSF and PIRA did. Prisoners disrupted certain narratives established by OSF and later the WP, despite the impact of security legislation and frameworks, they pointed up contradictions between the aspirations of OSF and the reality of the environment within which they were embedded. This is not to say they were simply forgotten. I remember one house in Dublin where WP branch meetings took place where a souvenir made by Official prisoners in H-Block was on prominent display. But their story faded from view with remarkable, and arguably undue, speed.

All told a fascinating addition to the Archive.

May Day March and Rally with Dublin Council of Trade Unions April 28, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Trade Unions.
23 comments

From the Dublin Council of Trade Unions:

Colleagues,

Dublin Council of Trade Unions

May Day March and Rally


ORGANISE!!

Defend and Extend Trade Union Rights

Assemble
7.30 p.m. Thursday 1st May 2008
Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, Dublin

March to Liberty Hall

Speeches inside Liberty Hall

Speakers:
Jack O’Connor, General President, SIPTU
Patricia McKeown, President, Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Betty Tyrell-Collard, national executive, CPSU
Sam Nolan, Secretary, Dublin Council of Trade Unions

Followed by music and bar at Liberty Hall

Trade union recognition – trade union conditions

Leaflets from: dctuhealth@gmail.com or 087 6229686

March with your trade union.

All trade unions, community groups, progressive campaigns and
political organisations welcome.
Bring your banner.

The Brains is Back April 27, 2008

Posted by smiffy in Culture, Media and Journalism.
73 comments

Like a political nerd’s version of the World Cup, or FHM’s Sexiest Women, Prospect magazine is once again running an online poll to determine the world’s top public intellectuals, from a longlist of 100.  Readers will recall the hilarity that ensued in 2005, the last time this exercise was carried out, when Noam Chomsky was determined to be the top intellectual in the world, much to the chagrin of swathes of minor internet egotists.

This year’s longlist has changed substantially, although many of big hitters remain in place.  While polls like these shouldn’t be taken too seriously, it will be interesting to see how this years’ results differ from 2005’s, when they are announced in June.  I wonder, in particular, if Chomsky will retain his crown, given that the debate about the merits of the Iraq invasion is less heated today than three years ago.  Perhaps Dawkins may take the title, following the explosion in arguments about atheism following the publication of his The God Delusion, of which the presence of his fellow ‘horseman’ Daniel Dennett on the longlist is testament. 

The poll doesn’t really address, or explain, however, precisely what an intellectual is.  I’m not entirely sure of this myself; I first came across the term reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 25 years ago, and am no clearer on the definition today than I was then.

Noam Chomsky and Edward Said have both written about the role of intellectuals in Western society, most famously in their ‘The Responsiblity of Intellectuals‘ and Representations of the Intellectual respectively.  While they are not as one on all points, both Chomsky and Said share a number of key ideas relating to how they conceive the intellectual in society, specifically the oppositional attitude to state power (which for Chomsky is a duty of the intellectual, while for Said it is a determining factor) as well as the contrast with ‘experts’ in particular fields.  Said writes:

The intellectual’s role generally is to uncover and elucidate the contest, to challenge and defeat both an imposed silence and the normalized quiet of unseen power, wherever and whenever possible.

While it would be nice if this were the case – that intellectuals, by definition, took up the challenge of the underdog and took an oppositional stance to state power – I think this is far too narrow.  It excludes many who might be described as intellectuals but who either work within the apparatus of the state (which doesn’t necessarily prevent an oppositional perspective, but certainly complicates it) or who sincerely hold reactionary political beliefs.   While one might think automatically of figures such as Bertrand Russell, George Orwell or Jean-Paul Sartre when asked to name key twentieth century intellectuals, it’s hard to justify a position which would argue that, say, Allan Bloom, Isaiah Berlin or Karl Popper don’t make the grade, other than from pure political partisanship.  More recently, surely the likes of Samuel Huntington, Alan Dershowitz or Francis Fukuyama have as much claim to the term as do Chomsky or Antonio Negri, even if their political views can range from the questionable to the repugnant.

Perhaps an intellectual is rather like pornography or terrorism: difficult to define in theory, but one tends to know it when one sees it.  However, it may be possible to identify a few key concepts shared by all intellectuals, regardless of political persuasion.  This is not to say that everyone who meets the criteria should be considered an intellectual; rather, it would be hard to define as an intellectual anyone who did not.

I would suggest, in the first instance, that an intellectual is someone who makes a living grappling with ideas; a professional thinker or (in most cases) writer.  This distinguishes the intellectual from the vast majority of people in society, even those with a keen mind and vast range of knowledge.  It makes a distinction between amateurism and professionalism, as well as between full-time intellectuals and others, such as politicians, whose insight and scholarship may be second to none.  Gordon Brown, for example, may well be the closest thing the UK has had to an intellectual Prime Minister since Churchill, but as his primary role is not as an intellectual, I don’t think the category applies in his case.

Secondly, an intellectual should be one who, while they may be expert in one or more particular fields of knowledge, should be reasonably familiar with, and literate in, a broad range of areas.  That is not to say that an intellectual must resemble the rather implausible Matt Damon character in Good Will Hunting, producing Fields Medal quality work one moment and discussing trends in academic history the next.  However, an intellectual should be able to say something reasonably intelligent or interesting on most subjects, distinguishing them from the specialist or expert in individual areas.  Stephen Hawking may be very clever, but I haven’t seen or read anything from him on any subject other than physics.  Not an intellectual, by that standard.

Next, an intellectual must engage with the public, at some level.  This may be either professionally – as a full-time journalist, for example – or informally, through public debates or lectures, or occasional articles in newspapers or other periodicals.  To use a rather loaded metaphor, an intellectual must participate in the broad marketplace of ideas, rather than working in isolation, writing only from themselves or a small coterie of friends and acolytes.

Finally, and not to put too fine a point on it, an intellectual has to be intelligent.  Not only intelligent, but also correct, at least part of the time.  John Waters, for example, is the kind of figure who might tick all three of the boxes above – professional, broad and engaged – but is so flamboyantly, hysterically wrong so often that it would seem a degradation of the term to even suggest that he might be considered an intellectual.

This is an imperfect list, to be sure.  I have no doubt but that a host of examples could be produced negating one or all of the criteria above.  It’s simply an attempt to put a little flesh on the bones of a particularly vague concept.

Back to the Prospect poll, then.  For what it’s worth, I based my own choice not on who I felt were the cleverest, or most distinguished in a particular field or even the most influential writers.  Neither did I seek out those whose views I felt the closest affinity to (although this was a factor in some cases).  Rather, I picked the individuals on the list I find the most interesting, the kind of people whose work I’d seek out and who I would read on any topic.  These were, in no particular order:

Peter Singer
Michael Ignatieff
Christopher Hitchens
Slavov Zizek
Amartya Sen

A rather narrow choice, I’d be the first to concede.  There are no women included, although I gave some thought to adding Samatha Power or Martha Nussbaum.  Similarly, there is only one non-white writer, which is probably a function of my own limited exposure to many of the writers on the list.  It’s also rather indicative of my own range of interests – politics, philosophy literature – and short on areas where my knowledge isn’t what it should be.  No scientist, for example, unless one was to describe economics as a science.

Finally, unless I’m mistaken, there are no Irish intellectuals included on the longlist (with the possible exception of Samantha Power).  Given the relative size of Ireland, this will hardly come as much of a shock.  However, it does raise the question of who the Irish intellectuals actually are, if any.  Off the top of my head, I find it difficult to come up with much of a list, certainly a list of figures that matches the criteria I’ve already suggested.  I think by any standard Conor Cruise O’Brien must stand as one of the towering intellectual figures in the last 50 years, regardless of the political positions he has taken or the fact that he’s produced nothing in recent times of other than novelty interest.  I think Fintan O’Toole fits the bill under any fair definition as does Richard Kearney, although he has rather retreated into academia lately.

Can anyone think of any other notable examples, particular from a left-wing perspective?  Answers, as usual, in the comment box below.

 

Libertas, Veritas and a politics unhinged from class… Why! It has to be Europe… April 27, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in European Politics, European Union, Irish Politics.
9 comments

There’s an interesting discussion on Machine Nation about new political parties, prompted in no small way by anti-Lisbon Treaty group Libertas. This follows on from the news that the most recent RedC poll indicates that the gap between the Yes and No side on the Lisbon Treaty Referendum is narrowing, with 35% voting Yes and 31% voting No. This in the context of 34% undecided. As RTÉ noted:

31% are opposed to Lisbon, an increase of seven points, while one third of voters, 34%, do not know.

When those undecideds are excluded, the “Yes” side leads by 53% to 47%, a very narrow margin with seven weeks to go to polling.

And so, hardly a surprise that:

Anti-Lisbon group Libertas welcomed the findings, and said its concerns over taxation, democracy and accountability are resonating with the electorate.

I’ve mentioned before that for them a narrow loss is as good as an outright win. Their appearance as a rightwing anti-Lisbon Treaty pressure group has caused a fair degree of consternation on the anti-Lisbon left used more to poorly funded and supported far right ginger groups making the running at that side of the spectrum rather than the vastly more professional and media-savvy Libertas which occupies a hitherto unfilled niche of critiquing the EU project from the free market right. Now, it may well be that Libertas is an ‘astroturf’ operation, and posters and comments on the CLR have raised quite a few queries over its tactics and approach, but… that said Ireland has been distinguished for decades by the seeming uniformity of support for the EEC/EC/EU across decades from almost all political backgrounds. The exoticism of Libertas is paradoxically less remarkable in a European context.

But thinking about Libertas, some suggest it may try to position itself as an alternative political vehicle in a future European Union election – a nascent pan-European party as it were. In a way such an approach makes sense. US style economic liberalism is actually rather undeveloped in Europe as a whole. The legacy of Christian Democrat parties across the continent which married cautious social conservatism with centre-right economic policies which tended to eschew outright idolatery of the free-market in favour of more ‘social’, but no less conservative, approaches in some ways echoed pre-war corporatism. Not entirely of course, but sufficient to generate a political context where the harder-edged approaches forged in the US and the UK had remarkably little purchase, for all that the term neo-liberal is bandied about.

Add to that curious experiments in flat-taxes in the former Eastern bloc countries and the space for an opening to the right seems evident.

But I have to be honest, I’m both profoundly sceptical about ‘new’ parties, and the level of expertise and human capital necessary to further them. It’s not that it’s impossible to do so, but it is very very difficult. And here’s another thought for what it’s worth. Europe simply isn’t an issue with sufficient traction for a single political party. Sure, an MEP might be elected, but the history of Irish MEPs from an independent or small party backgrounds is instructive. They have tended to be single issue and last single terms.

For Libertas the task would be fascinating, at least from the perspective of those of us who are spectators. Firstly they would need to lock into a supposedly EU sceptical vote amongst supporters of the larger parties. Does such a vote exist? I’m don’t think so, but, perhaps. But, this being a ‘not only, but also’ sort of dynamic they would have to attract other EU-sceptical voters. From the left? Not likely. Libertas is far too closely entwined with former PD supporters, and that come an election might provide ready ammunition to a vengeful Irish political establishment should the referendum be lost. And after that, how to sustain such a party? The concept of pan-European parties is great fun on paper, and it’s one argued for here on the CLR, but the reality has been that national and local considerations have always trumped Europe, not least because Europe has not had the power it’s defenders or antagonists have suggested and that national parliaments remain sovereign. Then there is the language issue. This is particularly pertinent in Ireland which has historically had an abysmal level of knowledge of second and third languages, but is not without traction more widely. Are any of these factors likely to change, well, We Are Change may think so, but having seen Treaties come and go I remain pretty well unconvinced.

So while I don’t think it’s entirely beyond the bounds of possibility that Libertas might see an MEP elected, although it would be vastly more difficult than they might think, I’m dubious that it would signal any long term structural shift in Irish, or European, politics.

In a way it reminds me of Dublin Central. On numerous occasions high profile candidates from various parties have attempted to contest it as if high profiles are sufficient to distort its voting environment from the local to the national. All have failed. And yet when one thinks about it that is unsurprising. Granted there are two nationally known politicians in the constituency, Ahern and Gregory, but despite that national profile they are – at heart – very traditional local politicians who for differing reasons achieved national prominence.

Europe, in electoral terms, is entirely the opposite. It relishes high profile or quixotic candidacies, but, the corollary of that is that they tend to have much less impact on the national. So, for all the Labour MEPs, or DL, or WP ones before them (and this is true of SF and the Greens as well), this is political capital that is strangely unexchangeable at national level. Who now dares speak of Pat Cox and all his works?

And for further proof of this dynamic consider the fate of Veritas in the United Kingdom, founded, as wiki notes by ‘politician-celebrity’ Robert Kilroy-Silk, a man whose political journey surely is only rivaled by that of a certain E. Harris of these parts. Kilroy-Silk was an MEP for UKIP who found the latter party ultimately uncongenial to his political ambitions (these being considerable for a man who had been through the UK Labour Party in his time). So, with a number of others, including London Assembly members, he founded Veritas… supposedly a genuine right wing alternative to the ‘old’ parties. Dubbed ‘Vanitas’ by his rivals the party was very much regarded as a personal vehicle (and incidentally there is a great documentary that was shown some years back about the various politicking around it and UKIP which is well worth viewing if you can get hold of it).

This is a politics devoid of class content. That is not to say there is not an aspect of class representation, but in the pseudo-technocratic gloss of political formations that seek to ‘improve’ (and this is a discourse which more traditional parties have engaged with in recent times) is one that attempts to avoid engagement on the more difficult and challenging terrain of class. The problem is that even still, despite the opportunity for the EU to allow a thousand flowers to bloom, of varying qualities, even still the majority of those elected are from more traditionally class based parties of left and right. There may well be an opening in Europe, but technocratic free marketeer philosophies isn’t, I suspect, going to garner the sort of vote some seem to think it will. Nor does Europe provide a platform to strike into national politics, or at least not an easy one.

Sadly Veritas is no longer with us in its fullest Kilroy-Silk form, but there are lessons to be found here. The European project provides a fabulous receptacle for hopes and fears. From the starry-eyed boosterism of some to the near-apocalyptic prognostications of others it allows people to map any number of meanings onto it. And all this despite the remarkably dull and process-led reality of it. And that provides a space, a very limited space, but space nonetheless for individuals and groups to attempt to carve out an identity. Is Libertas going this way? Well, we’ll have to wait and see. What I would say is to caution against any idea that even a pan-European Libertas – or other similar group/party – would be in any real sense politically meaningful in the national context. Even in the US system the opportunity for third parties to shine has been extremely limited. In the entirely different context of Europe at both national and supra-national level the barriers to entry are high…

Music has the right to grandchildren… Glassacre, Airiel, A place to bury strangers, Ulrich Schnauss, I love you but I’ve chosen darkness…Serena Maneesh.. Lights Out Asia…The Radio Department April 26, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Music.
15 comments

There’s something afoot in music – well, I guess there always is. Still, there are a raft of contemporary bands which have roots that reach back two decades but which somehow transcend or build upon their influences in a way which is utterly different to previous copyists (a big hi to Oasis and Blur). I’m thinking mostly, but not exclusively, of those lurking in what is disparagingly, or sometimes not, termed newgaze… the offspring of the wave of noisy bands (termed shoegazers, due to their propensity to stand relatively still and look down at the pedals) which piled up in 1990 to 1994, including people like Ride, Swervedriver, Chapterhouse, Moose and of course their precursors the first generation which included the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine… As it happens I never had much time for Ride, but the others…ah, the others.

Five or six bands in this broad musical area have impressed me over the past year or so. These being Serena Maneesh, I love you but I’ve chosen Darkness, Airiel, Lights Out Asia, the Radio Department and Glassacre.

First up Lights Out Asia whose work seems to sit in a strange area between Talk Talk (really one of the most interesting bands of their era), post-punk, shoegaze and something close to soundtrack composition.

It took a while for me to get past the vocals which appeared to have wandered in from an entirely different sort of band – perhaps something a bit more Blue Nile (never a favourite although I appreciate the craft). But the music is a compelling mix of heavily reverbed and layered guitars and keyboards… It’s quite soft with sounds reminiscent of the Cocteau Twins although it eschews their sometime archness in favour of pure soundscapes… There’s only one track up on YouTube which doesn’t quite capture them, but it’s pretty good nonetheless.

Lilies of the subway.

Then there is Airiel… this bunch have been producing high quality guitar based shoe-gaze for some years now. They had a series of remarkable EPs, which were only very slightly let down by some inconsistent vocals. A new album released recently upgraded the sound with some interesting 1970s heavy rock flourishes…

Peoria

What of I love you but I’ve Chosen Darkness.

Well now, here are the Chameleons, Joy Division, indeed an entire roster of post-punk bands. And yet, unlike Interpol there is something convincing about their shtick. Is it the guitars, is it the vocals? I don’t know, and frankly don’t much care. It works for me. Granted, they’re the least shoe-gaze, neo or otherwise of the bands here…

The Owl

According to Pla

Consider Serena Maneesh. Once upon a time some of the members of Serena Maneesh were in a glam-rock band. And so Serena Maneesh sound, every so often, as if they’re still in a glam-rock band. For many this might be a problem, but not for me. I admire the scarf wound around the vocalists head. There are icy blondes. There’s a sort of faux-Velvets cool emanating from them, but the music itself is sweet/sour, and hey, I ask for little more. For a few minutes genius one can do little better than the following…

Drain Cosmetics

For frosty cool (and with treated and reversed guitars a la MBV) this is equally good…

Sapphire Eyes

Then we have the Radio Department. They have real videos with budgets supporting them. Hurrah! Folky, fey, feedbacky, I’m running out of words starting with ‘f’ to describe them.

Pulling our weight

Where Damage isn’t already done

The worst taste in music … some say this sounds like the Pet Shop Boys. I think not.

From New Zealand we have Glassacre, a band whose lead singer steps close to the sound of Church guitarist Peter Koppes. Here you can find some examples of their songs… Now sadly this Antipodean act doesn’t appear on YouTube, so we have little idea of their visual approach, but the music is a curious mix of loping dance rhythms and neo-shoegaze. Fair dues….

Ulrich Schnauss is moving forward in leaps and bounds and generating a significant fanbase through an adept mix of warm electronica and strong guitars. The music does the work. One either likes it or doesn’t…

Clear Day ah… such a bassline… such wobbling keyboards (close to the sound of Boards of Canada who are also excellent and have been namechecked here previously)… take it away Ulrich.

Goodbye

And finally, what of A place to bury strangers… Supposedly the ‘loudest band in New York’, not entirely a difficult proposition when one sounds not entirely dissimilar to the Jesus and Mary Chain (and I recall only too well the second time I saw the latter when they were touring their second album… not good for my hearing).

I know I’ll see you…

It’s New Order from Movement filtered through the Jesus and Mary Chain… genius… strange atonal shrieks of feedback, high pitched guitar sounds (the guitarist/vocalist builds his own pedals and has supplied them to bands like Wilco) echoing riffs, a bassline that really should have been written before this. Filtered percussion and a video…

Some unkind souls have suggested that it’s just In A Hole from JAMCs Psychocandy rewritten. Well, perhaps. But for those who loved the JAMC in 1985 and in our own way still do it’s great to hear someone doing something that builds upon the sound. It’s richer, more melodic, less in thrall to surf rock. The vocals are similar, okay, in parts they’re indistinguishable, as are the lyrics. And yet, to me they seem to catch the essence not of Pschocandy, but of the covers that the JAMC had on the flipside of the Never Understand 12″ EP, one being Ambition by Vic Goddard. Those spoke of a new music that built on post-punk, Joy Division (and really, Never Understand always had a great great Joy Division bassline).

I think a key aspect of these bands is a sense of working with sound itself as their raw material. It’s this sense of crafted sound which is crucial. If one listens to the Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen or New Order in their earliest days (and many others, from Modern Eon onwards), the found sounds were key to their music. Snippets of taped industrial processes that sounded unbelievably cold and detached to 18 year old ears in 1983. This was music given an additional dimension by such sounds. Did it mean anything? Well, as all music does when one is younger, it meant everything and nothing, providing an auditory map of a world yet to be experienced. But with this came a sense that music shouldn’t necessarily be ‘easy’, that melody was important but it wasn’t everything. That sounds could mirror and represent emotions that are difficult or sometimes impossible to articulate. That music can’t just be about escape, but sometimes is the best way to embrace or engage with the broader environment and give it an aesthetic reading.

Maybe that’s why two decades later I still listen avidly to this genre, still find some space, some dimension within it. In part it’s about not growing up, and in part it’s precisely about growing up and matching the thoughts and emotions of one period of life to another

Meanwhile, next week just why is it that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are so rubbish?

The new Spanish Defense Minister and the Zapatero government’s policy… April 25, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
19 comments

The Spanish Socialists have a fascinating job on their hand dealing with issues – particularly on the progressive social side – which are now considered settled elsewhere. Yet in doing so they have, to my mind, pointed up just how inconsistent and in some respects shallow the dispensations are in other countries.

Therefore there was something rather heartening about seeing the new, and visibly pregnant, Defense Minister, Carme Chacon, reviewing the troops in Madrid a week or so ago. Zapatero has been very clear in promoting women into positions of power, and the gender based majority, in his Cabinet. Some of his closest advisors are women and there is, whatever else about the Spanish Socialist programme, a refreshing aspect to this.

And consider the following

Although women’s rights advocates have hailed Chacon’s appointment, some conservatives have raised objections. A group of retired officers criticized her lack of military background while insisting her pregnancy was not a problem.

Well, I guess it’s an argument. But in a democracy I can’t for the life of me see why a military background would per se be a necessity to be Defense Minister. Indeed, quite the opposite in some regards. Chacon herself said as much:

“The fact that a woman is taking over responsibility for the Defense Ministry is proof of integration between Spanish society and its armed forces,”

Not an inconsequential thing in a society run by a corporatist dictatorship well within living memory. That she is pregnant adds a certain element of – to my mind specious – cover to more conservative narratives. Some question as to whether a pregnant woman, entitled to maternity leave of 16 weeks, can act as Minister. Interesting to see how Chacon crosses that particular bridge, but surely a military in a democracy is subject to a collective cabinet authority, so the idea that she will somehow weaken the operation of that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile last week she visited Spanish troops in Afghanistan. She was accompanied by her gynecologist and a medical team according to various news reports. This, a mere six days after her appointment. Now obviously few enough women have that level of expertise accompany them during a pregnancy, but, that in itself is an interesting cause for reflection upon the structures that still are extant in our societies (and of particular food for thought as regards the societal rhetoric as to these matters, as against the reality of the service provision – which might indeed be the method to her actions, and indeed those of Zapatero). After all, why should a woman in the context of a healthy pregnancy be forced to step down from her role – and consider too the situation of many women whose pregnancies are impacted by economic circumstances which allow no choice as to how they can act.

Nor is Chacon an isolated aspect of the government’s policy on these matters:

Chacon is now one of the most visible members of a government that has enacted sweeping social legislation designed to rid traditionally male-dominated Spain of gender discrimination.

It legalized gay marriage, streamlined divorce procedures, forced political parties to field more female candidates and passed a law designed to promote women in the workplace and pressure companies to put more of them in their boardrooms.

Not bad going, all things considered. A lot to think about there for progressives.

Hillary and Obama, metrics… and when will it end? April 24, 2008

Posted by WorldbyStorm in US Politics.
20 comments

…actually quite soon. In a way Clinton maintaining a 10 point lead in Pennsylvania is not quite as impressive as the fact that Obama, despite everything, Wright, bitterness and whatever else you’re having, managed to bring it to a 10 point difference. After all, not so long ago Clinton’s margin was vastly superior.

Chris Bream on Slate does a good small piece about this issue and how, suddenly it’s no longer about states won (which of course was the dynamic up to Super Tuesday) but is shifting towards the popular vote…

As we and everyone who can read knows, Clinton has no shot of closing Obama’s pledged-delegate lead. Her candidacy therefore depends on convincing superdelegates to vote for her despite that lead. But vague claims of “electability” aren’t enough. She needs numbers on her side, and the popular vote is her last shot at beating Obama by a legitimate metric. With Pennsylvania under her belt—the primary netted her a little more than 200,000 votes—Clinton now trails Obama by about 500,000, according to RealClearPolitics. And that’s before the spin. If you count Florida’s and Michigan’s votes, which she no doubt will, Obama’s popular-vote lead shrinks to about 100,000. Whether or not she closes that gap, she’s close enough to argue that they’re tied.

Sweet, isn’t it? There’s just enough political space there for her to mount a last stand despite the fact that Obama remains ahead. And then she can go to the super-delegates arguing that she, and she alone, has what it takes, guts, determination, tenacity, experience, to be handed the crown.

That this is perhaps typical of a campaign that has been… well, oddly difficult to pin down (or not so oddly considering that the need to win seems to have pushed all else aside as a governing approach) is noted in another Slate piece by Timothy Noah (which has the beautifully composed line ‘As Clinton’s prospects dim, her preferred metrics grow more rococo.’ – indeed):

Anyway, it isn’t completely true that the Clinton campaign no longer believes in arithmetic benchmarks. It would be more accurate to say that it no longer believes in the ones that matter. Clinton is still more than happy to sling irrelevant metrics. And the damned things keep changing! When Hillary started falling behind in primary delegates, her campaign emphasized her lead in superdelegates, the cigar-chomping party pros of yore who know a thing or two about electability. They gave that up when superdelegates started drifting Obama’s way. (At the moment, Hillary has only 25 more superdelegates than Obama.) Then the Clinton campaign started arguing that you can’t nominate for president someone who lacks a popular-vote majority in the primaries.

It’s a nice plausible little narrative, or bundle of narratives with one key message (at least if you want Clinton to win), which only breaks apart if one considers just how it might impact on the Democratic party. Because while I always thought the idea that the two contenders tearing chunks out of each other was overblown (there is definitely something in the idea that foreshadowing troubling issues may well defang them), by contrast the idea that a Clinton coup d’etat, or installing by machination rather than clear unequivocal victory is rather less so. What happens if she is installed to the Obama base? The point isn’t that the supporters of one side or another are more or less virtuous, simply that the optics would be gruesome and this would be more likely (as far as I can see) to impact on the Obama voters than the Clinton voters.

The Obama non-electability argument is far from fully persuasive. Indeed I’d very much like to see it articulated in a definitively convincing fashion (although Eagle has touched on it in a way which may go some way towards that).

Indiana is now primed to be the showdown. Bream suggests that while the polls aren’t telling a clear story: Clinton has reason to fear Obama in the Hoosier State, where basketball chops are as important as stimulus packages.

But in a way I can’t help feeling that she has more to fear about herself and the way her campaign has been played. She has been right to push forward, but wrong to keep pinning her hopes on shifting metrics. It is, as someone noted, ‘fairweather’ and self-serving. A bit of consistency goes a long way, even in politics.

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