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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Curve October 20, 2018

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I always loved Curve – in particular their first album and the initial batch of singles. But how to categorise them? Shoegaze, well yes, to an extent. There was indeed shaped feedback and guitars in the mix. Techno and dance? To another extent. The foregrounded bass and electronic and dance beats were there. Industrial, at their harder edge, without question – no end of clattering in the percussion when needed. Small wonder their singles and albums arrived with considerable critical and general acclaim from 1991 onwards.

But strangely Curve were also and very unfairly regarded by a small tranche of critics as a contrived group, in no small part because in a slightly different incarnation Toni Halliday and Dean Garcia had been in a pop group together in the mid-1980s and there was a link to the Eurythmics (Garcia had been part of the live band in the early 80s). And yet why were they more contrived than, say, Garbage? Speaking of which, listen to the lyrics and they were certainly mining that seam of self-loathing that Garbage were later adjacent to (along with a fair raft of mid-90s industrial tinged or outright groups).

This was hardly surprising. Listen to ‘Doppelgänger’ and its rippling, pulsating bassline – something of a signature move of theirs that locked them distinctly into the dance as much as indie (always thought a remix album would be interesting) and one can hear a sort of reworking of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ for the early 1990s but painted in charcoal shades. This undertow of dance expands their sound remarkably.

And Curve weren’t afraid to work across genres. Their first EP featured the track Ten Little Girls with the rapper JC-001, an excellent collaboration though one they didn’t follow up later in their career (Alan Moulder, JAMC producer and later(?) husband of Halliday, contributed some guitars on). The first album was fantastic, an extension of the singles and EPs. The later albums were almost equally strong, but darker again and with a more… metallic…edge. Which raises the question why weren’t they enormous. I’d wonder did they arrive just a fraction too early, that another year or so and they’d have been there.

Garcia went on to the excellent SPC-ECO with his daughter (featured here a while back) as well as numerous other collaborations and solo work while Halliday collaborated with a remarkable range of artists (best known in some circles might be her vocals on the first Leftfield album or FSOL’s Lifeforms).

Here’s a range of tracks from the early singles (collected on the album Pubic Fruit) and first album.

Ten Little Girls

I Speak Your Every Word

Frozen

Coast is Clear

Fait Accompli

Doppelgänger

Split into Fractions

Falling free (Aphex Twin remix – later on his cheeky ’26 mixes for cash’ CD)

And for good measure from the second album Missing Link

A sledgehammer, threats, deception, rhetoric? October 19, 2018

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A senior Democratic Unionist has branded Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as ‘vile’ after accusing him of using terrorist victims to scaremonger over Brexit.Sammy Wilson Mr Varadkar’s behaviour was “despicable, low and rotten”, claiming he was scraping the bottom of a “very deep barrel of threats, deception and rhetoric”.East Antrim MP Mr Wilson was responding to Mr Varadkar’s warning during this week’s EU summit that violence could again return if a hard border was imposed in Ireland post-Brexit.

And yet, and yet, who else was warning pretty much the same last month?

Why none other than…

The PSNI Chief Constable has accused some Westminster politicians of failing to understand the dangers of terrorism in Northern Ireland post -Brexit.
In an interview in the Sunday Times, George Hamilton warns that the government is failing to prepare for the impact of the UK leaving the EU on the peace and security in NI.
He said that he is not getting the information and clarity needed.
In the Sunday Times interview, he said that any physical infrastructure or border officials following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union would become targets for dissident republicans and require police protection.
“The purpose for which those checking points and [Irish] border controls would be put in place would become less and less relevant because they would move away from issues of trade or movement of people to old-fashioned security on a national frontier,” he said.
“That was done during the period of the Troubles rather unsuccessfully, and was sadly the subject of attacks and many lives lost.”

Farewell to Bitcoin & Blockchain? Here’s hoping! October 19, 2018

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If any of you, like me, have to use an email that is not fully protected from spam, nestled among unappetising ads for Viagra and anti-ageing creams and the phishing attacks, are daily offers from Bitcoin merchants giving you the inside track on how you can get rich real quick for real.

I guess millions of suckers fell for it, especially the Chinese rising middle class who saw it as a good way of getting around capital export restrictions. Now the value of Bitcoin has fallen by 70% from its peak and that of wannabe-Bitcoins by 95%. The Bitcoin-like email pushers have gone quiet.

Bitcoin was always a scam, but a particularly perfidious one because it presented itself as part of a political change and an weapon against the banking system. Many people fell for this self-portrayal.

That it was nothing of the kind is clear. As Nouriel Roubini notes on Project Syndicate:

… far from ushering in a utopia, blockchain has given rise to a familiar form of economic hell. A few self-serving white men (there are hardly any women or minorities in the blockchain universe) pretending to be messiahs for the world’s impoverished, marginalised and unbanked masses claim to have created billions of dollars of wealth out of nothing. But one need only consider the massive centralisation of power among cryptocurrency “miners,” exchanges, developers and wealth holders to see that blockchain is not about decentralisation and democracy; it is about greed.

Roubini also points out that the Bitcoin libertarian economic sphere is even more unequal than that of capitalist economies mediated through state-controlled currencies.

Roubini doesn’t mention one of the other fundamental problems with Bitcoin and blockchain – it’s an environmental disaster: consuming eye-watering amounts of energy by repeating computationally expensive processes on millions of computers which could have been done by a few.

Bitcoin and blockchain need consigning to libertarian Lala-Land, where I’m sure they will do sterling service facilitating frictionless borders on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

But it would be a shame if the idea of alternative digital currencies to the dominant ones should be tarred with the exploitative brush as Bitcoin. There may well be scope for a democratically controlled centralised digital currency to overcome the brake on investment and public infrastructure development imposed by the Eurozone, or by the German central bank on Federal states. It would have to be called something other than a currency to get around Euro rules, but it’s just this kind of constructive disobedience in political economy that we require.

Varoufakis had an idea for something similar based on future tax remittances but never put it into practice in Greece. To be fair he vastly underestimated the technical and organisation issues, so perhaps that’s a good thing.

But in the meantime good riddance Bitcoin and blockchain! We won’t miss you.

Presidential Campaign: Chutzpah supplemental October 19, 2018

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Apparently Peter Casey is considering whether to continue in the campaign…

“I do not want the people of Ireland to elect me as President of Ireland just based on one statement I made.”

Huh? No fear of that I’d have thought.

Brexit! What could possibly go wrong with that? October 19, 2018

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Another round up of great news from the Brexit front…

The UK’s closest diplomatic allies have “checked the UK into the Priory” recovery clinic, according to a scathing assessment of the declining influence of the UK Foreign Office.In a damning assessment in Prospect magazine, diplomats speaking on and off the record said the Foreign Office had been left disoriented and demoralised by Brexit and the successive establishment of rival departments including the Department for International Development, the trade department and the Brexit department.

But what of this eye-watering analysis…

Prof Chris Gosden, director of the institute of archaeology at Oxford University, is bracing himself for potential disaster after Brexit. Europe funds 38% of archaeological research in the UK and with no plan B, Gosden fears his discipline could dwindle unless an agreement is reached on science.“Losing EU funding would mean that British archaeology would shrink,” Gosden says. “Our discipline has had a great 50 years. It is really sad to think that in 10 years it could be much smaller.”

And:

Simon Marginson, professor of higher education at Oxford, who is researching the impact of Brexit on universities, thinks the outlook for research is gloomy. “In my judgment we are likely to have a hard Brexit, or at best an unresolved research funding picture. In terms of people in research and higher education, the fallout will be massive.”

But surely in the wonderful new world of Brexit there’ll be many opportunities with new partners?

He says that stepping up research partnerships outside the EU is not a solution. “In research funding, other countries naturally give priority to their own citizens or residents. That is why the EU research programmes are so valuable. They make decisions on merit across a large number of countries, dramatically widening the potential pool of talent and ideas, and they encourage collaboration.”

Oh.

And if you think that’s bad wait til you read this crazed approach that Brexit is unleashing:

Behind the scenes, vice-chancellors are racing to find ways to safeguard European research collaborations. Prof Colin Riordan, of Cardiff University, a member of the prestigious Russell Group, says: “We are doing detailed planning for a no-deal Brexit. It is a massive headache and a huge diversion of time and effort.”

One option is to move academics abroad. Cardiff is considering offering key researchers joint contracts with universities across the Channel, with as much as 80% of their time spent outside the UK, allowing access to European cash. Imperial College London last week announced “double contracts” with the Technical University of Munich, and other Russell Group universities say they may follow suit.

And there’s more:

Archaeology is not the only discipline feeling exposed. Analysis by the Royal Society [pdf] shows that arts, humanities and social science subjects are especially dependent on European funding. Europe also provides nearly a third of UK research funding in IT and just less than a quarter in chemistry.

And:

Lee Cronin, regius professor of chemistry and one of the research stars at Glasgow University is frustrated that discussions about the potential impact of Brexit on science are being “drowned out” by other concerns. “The simple fact is that without alignment, UK science crashes out of the biggest collaborative network ever built in the history of humanity,” he says.

And not entirely unlinked to the above:

AstraZeneca will keep its freeze on manufacturing investments in Britain if the country’s exit from the European Union fails to give enough clarity on future trading relations, the drugmaker’s chairman was quoted as saying on Monday.

And:

“If a transition deal does not make clear what will happen in the future, we will maintain our decision not to invest,” Leif Johansson told France’s Le Monde newspaper.
“A Brexit agreement will need to ensure that Britain does not become an isolated island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,” he added.

Presidential Campaign News: Just another political party? October 19, 2018

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The thought struck me catching up on the Pat Kenny Presidential debate that in some ways SF is now much much more mainstream than it was even seven years ago. No surprise there, of course, but I wonder are we reaching a point where attacks on them for the past will have any weight whatsoever soon? Pat Kenny was remarkably testy with Liadh Ní Riada but I don’t know how effective his points were – not in relation to the election which is in a sense irrelevant – but in terms of damaging SF. With no Adams in sight somehow they seem almost beside the point – it’s hard to hang the weight of the conflict on her shoulders.

Just on the debate I thought it actually quite interesting. Casey looks like he’s gunning for some sort of shock-jock status in the future and I can’t help but wonder has he hopes of carving out a small constituency of his own with his noxious rhetoric (his dig at Michael D. Higgins sounded absurd on the night and no less so now that facts are being dug up), Duffy was pretty coherent and visibly relaxed as the debate went on, Freeman likewise though perhaps less polished than might be expected. Ni Riada was likewise competent and benefitted from being the only politician apart from the incumbent on the panel. Speaking of which he was fluent and effective if a little testy too. Poor old Gallagher seemed almost utterly adrift. Duffy had a good line about him living in 2011 or something along those lines and the problem was it was just about spot on.

But part of the problem is that none of the new candidates is stellar, though thinking back to 1997 and 1990 much the same could have been said about those stepping forward then. Fiach Kelly on the IT podcast this week made the point that a genuinely substantial figure could have swung it. I wonder who that would be – I can’t even begin to think of names, but I think it’s plausible that Higgins is not quite as strong as he might have thought and there are a number of hostages to fortune that could in different hands have come back to haunt him. A further point was made that some might have been thinking Higgins given his original intention to just have one term decided to sit out the election once it became clear he was standing again.

And for my money there’s no harm in this election process – I think it might have been different had the incumbent originally stated he’d do two terms, but getting a legitimation electorally is no bad thing and I think there’s no serious reason to be anxious about cost or waste of time. Democracy is messy but so what?

Signs of Hope – A continuing series October 18, 2018

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We’ve been doing this a while and it struck me perhaps it might make sense to sharpen up the question above, at least once a month, so…

Depressing conversation on climate change and the recent IPCC report on the Slate.com political gabfest podcast. In it David Plotz suggested that he was now deeply pessimistic about a political solution that would reorient the world along the lines the report suggested in order to merely ameliorate the negative impacts of climate change. Granted he then quoted Bjorn Lomborg which is never a good look, but I have to think Plotz may be correct in the broader brushstrokes. When one sees the sheer inertia in regard to relatively rapid logistical, communication and infrastructure projects in cities or states globally and the resistance to any inconvenience the idea that societies, or humans, are prepared to make the scale of sacrifice necessitated by the crisis seems unfeasible. Or how about the super local? Having seen the sheer lack of comprehension at a local level in respect of the seafront at Clontarf and the inability to understand that sea walls are a necessity the idea that broader deeper longer taking responses are politically or otherwise feasible strikes me as unlikely.
Plotz argues that R&D should be vastly expanded in order to arrive at cleaner solutions, but the point was made by John Dickerson that this requires political input in terms of choosing what was supported and what wasn’t, and as this Presidency shows that’s a problem in itself (though he also made the point there was a gap between Trumps views on climate change and those of his administration).

Here’s the NYT’s take on the IPCC report.

And likely implications of climate change as the report details them. Note sea level rises.

When one considers one aspect alone, the fact that in some of the second best case instance we lose coral reefs and what that implies…

And here’s a quote that also makes me doubt techno-fixes will save the day either…

At 3.6 degrees of warming, the report predicts a “disproportionately rapid evacuation” of people from the tropics. “In some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant,” said Aromar Revi, director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements and an author of the report. “You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but not 10 million.”

So on this topic, any positive thoughts as to how matters might proceed?

A cynical career in US politics… October 18, 2018

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Been reading up on Mitch McConnell who, without question, is one of the most astute, albeit cynical, politicians in the US. Thing is when he started out he was quite the moderate. Pro-union, pro-abortion rights, pro-civil rights, etc, etc. And then in 1984 according to NPR:

“There was no question what had happened — that McConnell had won basically on the coattails of Ronald Reagan,” MacGillis says. “And McConnell looked at that very, very close result and basically thought to himself, ‘You know what? I don’t want it to ever be this close again. I see where the Republican Party is heading; I see where my state is heading; I see where the South is heading politically — and I need to get on that train.’ “

Interesting point made in the document:

McConnell, to me, embodies two things in politics today: One is the transformation of the Republican Party from a party that used to have quite a few moderate and liberal members and Northern liberal Republicans — Midwestern moderate Republicans — into a party that is now much more monolithically conservative and really Southern-dominated.

And:

McConnell really embodies that shift because he himself has evolved with that transformation just to a tee. But at the same time … he embodies for me the mindset that has become more and more dominant in Washington today … which is the permanent campaign mindset.
It’s the mindset that all that really matters is the next election, the next cycle. It’s not so much what you do when you’re in power in Washington; it’s what you do to position yourself for the next time around, your next re-election, your party’s next election cycle.

Reading a Vox profile it is apparent that ideological conviction was not something that overly troubled McConnell over the years – even if he started out in a not entirely bad place. For him it appears that political positioning was indeed its own justification.

In a way, you could say it even goes back to his high school campaigning years. He was one of those kids always running for office — high school, college — just always running for student government. Doing whatever he had to do to win those races and just taking it all way too seriously.

But check this out from NPR:

McConnell, who has been the Senate minority leader since 2007, will become the majority leader when the new term starts in January.
And according to MacGillis, “This is what he’s dreamed about since he was a very, very young man … and now he’s about to achieve that dream.”

What a dream.

One small detail…

In his first election back in 1977 in Louisville, he got the endorsement of the AFL-CIO because he backed collective bargaining for public employees, which is something even a lot of Democrats today don’t support.

Watching the spycops October 18, 2018

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Reading this good piece in the Guardian on the issue of police political spies a thought struck me, at what point did anyone seriously believe any of the formations on the list linked to earlier this week were going to present a serious threat to the British (or any other) state – or at least one that the police should be brought in to conduct surveillance and infiltration?

And that echoes the point raised by Jenny Jones in writing the article:

What becomes clear, from reading through the long list of national campaigns and local groups that undercover police spied upon, is that certain sections of the police see environmentalists, leftwingers and social justice campaigners as such a potential threat that scarce taxpayer resources and precious police time should be spent spying on them.

But why? None of these groups, with the significant exception of a small number linked to the conflict on this island, had any real revolutionary heft individually or even were it possible collectively. This isn’t to say that some couldn’t in their own way be disruptive – some of those on the fascist and Neo-nazi side (and perhaps from a different angle entirely some on the environmental side) clearly could. But frankly one would wonder were police best placed to deal with that.

And let’s not ignore how serious these efforts at infiltration were. Individual police made long term careers of same, lived essentially fake lives across extended periods of time. Money and other resources were poured into these. Some may not take them entirely seriously but the police themselves did.

There’s a couple of political oddities – Militant had actual MPs elected, yet it evinced far less interest, at least as measured by agents infiltrating it, than the SWP which whatever the sincere intentions of those involved had rather less direct political influence and fewer levers to achieve it. Was it that Militant was swaddled within a broader Labour movement that was thought to constrain it? Or was it a case of that Labour movement being under watch by the state? Given that Harold Wilson was the focus for absurd and unreasonable surveillance and suspicions himself that doesn’t seem at all unlikely.

And Jones makes an excellent point:

I have no problem when an officer acts against someone breaking the law, even when I disagree with that law – it’s their job. However, I do have a problem when a section of the police, over a period of several decades, choose to target and invade the lives of innocent women who have never been convicted of any crime. Or when undercover officers choose to hand over the names of trade unionists to blacklisting firms. Or when senior officers choose to take several million pounds-worth of officer time away from fighting mainstream crime in Lancashire, so that they can defend the corporate interests of a fracking firm. Or when senior police choose to target anti-fracking campaigners with the resources given to them to defend us from terrorists.

And she makes one further point:

A series of parliamentary answers have confirmed what I’ve known for some time – that it is the police, rather than the Home Office or parliament, who decide how to categorise campaigners as “domestic extremists”.

And how do they arrive at that category?

I then asked what definition of domestic extremism the police used and got this: the government’s definition of extremism is set out in the 2015 counter-extremism strategy. The strategy defines extremism as: “the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.

“There is no legal definition of extremism. It is an operational matter for the police what definitions they choose to use.”

That’s about as broad as can be found, isn’t it? And by the way who determines similar categories in this state and on this island?

Presidential Campaign News: Better to have said nothing…and phoning it in redux October 18, 2018

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First up who saw the debate last night? I couldn’t due to a prior event, but by all accounts… well sheesh. Peter Casey doubled down on his earlier comments. What he thinks he is doing escapes me.

Meanwhile interesting to see how the non participation of the incumbent is becoming a story in itself. That’s hardly a good look. Kathy Sheridan wrote yesterday in the IT.

Presidential campaigns have a habit of turning to farce and personal destruction but this one is damaging the dignity of the office.
Although such circumstances are rare, a repeat should be avoided. The Constitution states that the president’s term of office expires at midnight on the night before the incomer’s inauguration (which means an 11-hour interregnum). It should be possible to amend this, to allow, say, for the president to resign at the outset of the campaign.

Sheridan asks the obvious questions:

It’s not a particularly long or demanding campaign; [the incumbent] is not doing a door-to-door canvass. So by declining to appear on an RTÉ flagship debate, what was the message? That he was placing himself visibly above all others? Limiting his exposure to vexatious questions?

Pat Leahy doesn’t mince his words either:

Whatever its other merits, Higgins’s strategy of campaigning on his own terms has so far a canny political judgment. He has shipped criticism from many political commentators, desperate for a competition, and has been accused of treating his opponents, and the process, with contempt.

They are understandable charges, and Higgins’s answer – that he is unselfishly protecting the office of the presidency to his own cost as a candidate – takes some neck. He has brushed aside questions about spending in the Áras, promising more information once the election is over. He has glided through respectful interrogations ever watchful for lese-majeste.

Interesting to read a slight note of criticism in the IT editorial too…

Taking on an incumbent, especially one as popular as Higgins, was always going to be a struggle. A sitting president clearly has an in-built advantage and Higgins has exploited that. Yet his campaign has been far from spectacular. He declined to take part in a televised debate on Monday, but instead of simply saying he wished to sit it out – as is his right – he produced an unconvincing claim that by skipping the encounter he was putting the presidency ahead of his candidacy, in line with the wishes of the Irish people (the official Áras an Uachtaráin diary was empty on Monday).

It pulls back later in the piece and offers a rather specious line in the following:

In focusing on trivia such as dog-grooming and the line-up in televised debates, the challengers not only sound unpresidential but waste time they could be spending making a positive case for themselves.

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