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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… North Sea Radio Orchestra April 25, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It’s not often someone suggests I might like to listen to a group based on the recommendation that they’re a cross between Neu and chamber orchestra and…while… er… some of their stuff is a bit twee that’s okay and I shouldn’t let it put me off. Further investigation uncovers a description of North Sea Radio Orchestra as ‘a small orchestral ensemble led by a married couple’ – not words that would usually be calculated to inspire any great affection on my part. And yet…

That description was taken from a review of the group on BBC which also notes that they ‘have made two previous albums which used poetry by the likes of Chaucer, Hardy and Tennyson instead of pop lyrics. Occasionally sound like the music Oliver Postgate used to backdrop Watch With Mother. They feature a bassoon. North Sea Radio Orchestra really should be smug, boring and irrelevant. So how do they make this stuff so exciting?’

Good question.

The short answer is probably because Craig and Sharron Fortnam, who are at the heart of the ensemble, cleave to a template pretty much their own – one which is classically inflected, contains elements of folk, electronica and so on but combined in a way that allows those influences to swim in and out of focus sparingly. It’s pared back, resolutely not rock, and all the better for it. The range of references in reviews are interesting, from Vaughn Williams, to Zappa, the Incredible String Band, Neu (natch), Tortoise, Kate Bush and more.
And yes, no surprise that prog has embraced them to its tricksy little heart, not least given that Kavus Torabi and MelanieWoods of Knifeworld and Sidi Bou Said are just some of those who have worked with NRSO previously while there are other connections to Ginger Wildheart, the Cardiacs, and a classical outfit – Instrumental – who cover Orbital and so on.

NSRO’s most recent album (and their third album proper) is I a moon – released in 2011, from which the tracks below are taken. Well worth a listen.

Berliner Luft

Morpheus Miracle Maker

Heavy Weather

The Earth Beneath our Feet

Mitte Der Welt

And yet another critique of marriage equality… April 20, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.
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…in the form of a column from Breda O’Brien on the same sex marriage referendum, where she gently takes Mary McAleese – who she calls ‘a much loved iar-uachtaráin’ throughout – for publicly announcing she is voting Yes.

O’Brien considers this to be somehow breaching a tacit agreement that past Presidents should not comment on Irish politics. Is that entirely true? Perhaps it is, and yet, in the very speech that O’Brien references with Mary Robinson addressing the Seanad four years ago and suggesting such an agreement exists, Robinson touches upon a range of policy/political issues of the time in relation to political gender balance, the nature of the Seanad and the Oireachtas and so on.

Indeed she points up the absurdity of such an agreement in the following:

I may disappoint those who asked some very good questions because as an iar-Uachtarán, a former President, I do not intend to go into the specific details of Irish policy. I will speak in general terms, but to make my points I may sometimes come near to the wire, as I have always tried to do. I will try to answer the questions posed, but if they have been too specific, I ask the Members to bear with me because it is an honourable tradition. There are two former Presidents and we will both continue in the tradition of former Presidents. I remember learning so much from President Hillery and how he conducted himself as an iar-Uachtarán and I will try to do the same.

Avoiding coming close to the wire is next to impossible as Robinson discovered in her address – later she directly says ‘To return to the question of what I would do if I was a Member of the Seanad today’ etcetera. I’m unconvinced that an ‘iar-uachtaráin’ is under any obligation to keep schtum on any issue at all. Be all that as it may, there’s more oddities.

O’Brien suggests that:

…if the referendum is passed, there will be children born in this country who will never experience a mother’s love.

This is not unknown. In my own family, as noted last week, there were those who didn’t know ‘a father’s love’. They made do. They got on. Would it have been better to have two parents of the same gender – very possibly.

And here the argument morphs, as it increasingly does, into a critique of donor assisted reproduction and/or surrogacy.

O’Brien continues:

So it is not just scaremongering No voters who have linked marriage and parenting. It is the LGBT community itself.

Yet she ignores the fact that this is true, overwhelmingly more true in fact, of heterosexual couples at this point in time. And whatever one’s views on surrogacy, donor assisted reproduction and IVF itself (which often gets tangential blows in debates like this) these are larger questions which need to be discussed in a broader context. To try to fix this as an issue specific to same-sex marriage is simply incorrect.

Moreover her complaint(?)… ‘If two gay men want to conceive a child genetically related to one of them, they usually use two women: one to provide the egg and the other to carry the child’… can, and does, and has, happened today, yesterday and will continue to happen tomorrow.

She also brings into the debate the experiences of a woman, Heather Barwick, who when her father walked away from her mother and her mother subsequently raised her with her female partner has been critical of same-sex parenting and the lack of a father. And yet, however much one empathises with her, it is difficult not to feel that same sex parenting was not the central problematic aspect of the relationships which shaped her life, in so far as short of banning divorce or separation one could not prevent the disintegration of her biological parents relationship. Moreover even were same sex marriage forbidden it couldn’t prevent her mother (or any parent) having same sex relationships.

O’Brien concludes:

Heather Barwick will be in Ireland at the end of next week. It will be fascinating to see how many media outlets interview her, and how many ignore her. And to see whether it might cause a dearly loved iar-uachtaráin to see that it is possible both to love gay people and oppose gay marriage.

But will said media outlets, if they do interview her, raise the points made above, for short of prohibitions well beyond what we already experience it is difficult to envisage how the supposed prelapsarian era can be attained. Is that truly what O’Brien wants, is that what any of us want?

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Peter Mulvey April 18, 2015

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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It was 15 or so years ago when I first saw Peter Mulvey, he was supporting Chris Smither in Whelans and staying for a few days on a friends floor. He was I think touring his album “The Trouble With Poets” and also had a live CD “Glencree” for sale at the gig too. They are both decent albums and have received plenty of play in my house over the years.
He had quite a distinctive style of guitar playing and a lovely husky voice…. like many artists he fell off my radar until I read that his latest album had been produced by Chuck Prophet (who had a spell in one of my favourite bands ‘Green on Red’). I had a listen and really liked it.

Mixed messages on library and water charges… April 15, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, Irish Politics.
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How very odd. A couple of weeks ago we noted (as did Paul Murphy) that Alan Kelly, the Minister for the Environment, had made a most curious statement in the Dáil about water charges, likening them to charges in libraries for borrowing books, with the comparison it would appear intended to normalise the idea of the former. He said, seemingly approvingly:

“the state builds libraries, yet people pay to take books out”

As a commentor noted, this is actually the case. As the SBP reports this last weekend:

While library membership is free in counties such as Dublin, Meath, Limerick and Donegal, there are fees for joining the library in 17 other counties. Meanwhile, in Leitrim, library members have to pay 30 cent for each book they borrow.

But wait! Someone apparently thinks the charges in Leitrim are a bad thing – which by the way they are, making a mockery of the idea of a lending library.

Who could this unlikely champion of free library access be?

Why step forward one Alan Kelly, yes, that Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment!

Kelly has now asked officials to examine the business case for removing library membership charges in every county.

A spokesman confirmed that the intention was to provide free access to library services by 2017 in line with the official library strategy.

So logically…

The slippery slope… April 14, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Irish Politics.

Bruce Arnold remains terribly concerned about the marriage equality referendum in the SBP this weekend. As always he is exercised not merely by the spirit of the legislation proposed on the issue but by the letter of it. For every sentence is parsed and parsed again by him in yet further efforts to paint a near apocalyptic picture of society should the referendum deliver a Yes vote.

In some ways much of what he says is a retread of previous articles, but in relation to the supposed centrality of procreation to marriage, indeed for him the defining aspect of marriage that that represents (something that will be news to many of us who either have been married for considerable lengths of time without offspring or remain happily without them), and where that takes him it’s quite a remarkable piece.

We face the spectre of separating sex and children who would frequently be produced independently of any married relationship. Separating procreation from marriage and family and transferring ultimate responsibility for the care of children to the state – all foreseen in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – would dissolve the natural bonds in human society. Children would become victims of this adult self-absorption.

But… but… that only holds true if no children are already born outside of marriage or if one believes that family can only exist within the context of marriage. And neither of those contentions appears credible. But so taken with his own rhetoric that he cannot resist upping the ante yet more… For if in last months piece (and it is reiterated as noted above) where those who are married without children are thrown under the bus in order to make rather specious points about what marriage is or is not in his eyes – then those being lined up to be pushed under the bus this month are those who use IVF (and Arnold is surely racking up a large number of those who will not view his thoughts kindly).

Decouple sex and procreation and you open options, from simple in vitro fertilisation to the frightening enormities envisaged at the extreme end of procreative experimentation.

Is he complaining about IVF being an option, for it already is for people both in and outside of marriage – and rightly so? He implicitly must be – though there’s a smidgen of ambiguity. At least there is until we move on to to the next part of his train of thought, though it does feel as if a bridging paragraph is missing – and wait, is that yet another group about to be thrown under the bus, this time single parents… sure seems like it, for he writes:

If sex has no intrinsic connection with giving life, babies need have no necessary connection to sex. Instead, the clone becomes the ideal emblem, the ultimate “single-parent child”. We would deny in practice, then in thought, the inherent procreative meaning of sexuality itself.

Is what he saying here that a child only valid if it is the product of actual direct intercourse? And the cloning stuff – sheesh. One could say this is all pointless given we cannot predict the medium term or far future or realistically hope to shackle from this point what may or may not occur then.

For him there is – putting aside the reality of the world – but a single way that is right and proper for a marriage to be (and implicitly for all else to be too). That is a heterosexual marriage where procreation is the central feature of same.

But the thing is that it’s not even so much the way in which he brings in frankly fantastical elements. It’s not the far future that is the issue, rather it is that his reductionism as to what is family, what is marriage, what is life is so radically at odds with the lived experience of so many in 2015.

Working overtime – or, what’s your definition of working too much? April 12, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.

Slate.com had this entertaining piece on Star Trek recently asking whether the ST economy is a ‘welfare state’. All moot, surely, given that it’s a post-scarcity, or as near as makes no odds, society. My presumption has always been that money is outdated (as Picard himself suggests in TNG) and where it manifests at all it is at the margins or interface with other societies which use it.

But there’s a serious point buried in the text, albeit obliquely.

I also think that this would make a huge change in the culture of work and success as we think of it today. There would be much less labor required to keep society running, so expectations regarding working time and ethics would be very different. My guess is that an average workweek in the Star Trek universe would be around 10 hours a week. People would actually think that those who worked much more than that were strange and unhealthy and obsessive, similar to how we think of workaholics who work more than 60 hours in today’s world.

I don’t know what others think, and I’m not talking about working from necessity as so many do with two jobs that total 50 or more hours due to financial constraints – though that line can be blurred in any job as many of us know from direct experience, but I tend to think that if one is reasonably well paid and throwing in some overtime, the definition of ‘workaholic’ in a single job would be somewhat less than 60 hours a week, no? But where is the line drawn, or can it be drawn?

Andre Gorz amongst others, and Marx himself, had a very clear view of work as something that in its coercive aspect would be reduced down and down – and not just them, also more mainstream social democratic economic thinking of the mid 20th century.

Rock year books from the 1980s April 11, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture.
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Many years ago I found this second hand, the Rock Album for 1982. Written by Maxim Jakubowski it provided reviews for thousands of albums released that year. A less lavish follow up was printed the following year. But until fairly recently I hadn’t realised that there was a previous version published – entitled the Rock Year Book – in 1981 which was an even more lavish production than the one from 1982.


Except it isn’t a previous version, or not exactly. For it seems that Jakubowski’s Rock Album is a different publication entirely, since the Year Book continued production right up to 1989, at least. I don’t know what the story was, did Jakubowski (who later became something of a fixture as an editor of short story collections etc) want a more review oriented book, or something else?


The review section of the Year Book – perhaps tellingly – is by far the least of the volume, with a much more limited selection of albums. In addition are the top twenty charts, essays on the processes of recording and producing vinyl and tape. A piece on those new-fangled ‘digital’ recording techniques and so on.

I’m not mad keen on the reviews – there would appear to be something of a lack of knowledge of some areas (Example A, AC/DC are said to be trying to emulate Deep Purple, which would be news to both groups). According to one online source these were culled from NME etc. Which is worrying if it indicates the level of their understanding of then contemporary music.

There’s also a fair bit of fluff, pieces on ‘fads’, selections of best artists and so on. But there’s good stuff too including a colour gallery of the best album covers – subjective, granted, but far from wrong.

Reading it it struck me that 1980/81 was a funny time. Post-punk was moving forward into new wave but for me 1981/82/83 were better years as it matured. Still, all that said amazing stuff. It seems to me that although much of the information in this document can be found online it’s not in a single easily accessible place – i.e. charts and reviews, etc. Indeed there’s a project, drawing all that information together in a single site. As always the sense of just how difficult it was to learn anything substantive about acts back then really comes home. The then existing media were so limited – inevitably so.

Oh yeah, in the list of contributors to the 1981 volume is one Julie Burchill. Small world.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to…Lonelady, Hinterland. April 11, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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I first heard Lonelady, aka Julie Campbell, a few years back – she was one of those who contributed to a cover album focusing on Power Corruption and Lies by New Order. She delivered a neatly individual take on Cries and Whispers that frittered away none of the power of the original while somehow sounding more…organic. I include it below because it’s well worth a listen.

In any case, there was something entirely appropriate about that selection. Campbell, who is Mancunian based, produces post-punk and what I’ve seen referenced as post-pop. On a previous album she worked with Jah Wobble and Keith Levene, which again seems appropriate. Tracks like album opener Into the Cave seem to have managed to unearth synth sounds that wouldn’t be amiss on a Japan or Simple Minds track from circa 1981 with percussion and basslines that would be a credit to pretty much any Factory act of the same period. Gang of Four and even Comsat Angels lurk in the wings.

And yet if that suggests that this is a hollow exercise in revivalism that would be very wrong. She is on Warp, and that oddly enough is also appropriate. Because this is a taut and efficient album led by her voice (and guitar) which in parts combines confidence and tremulousness in an oddly individual sort of a way. A track like Bunkerpop is just… well, great. A slab of lost post-punk perfection channelling that specific period while managing to be entirely of the 2010s. Skittering rhythms and sliding keys, soft monotonal synths and that chorus. Groove It Out has great tugging keyboard lines that underpin the end of each chorus hinting and more than hinting at dance… and the way the track begins to almost deconstruct in places merely adds to that impression. And so on, track after track, this is textural, layered, simple but busy. The beats are rapid for the most part, propelling the album through its economic forty seven minutes or so.

There’s so much good music out there that it’s ever increasingly difficult to get a sense of the broad terrain, and that’s even before the listener has to admit to something like defeat in simply keeping up with long held favourites or preferred genres. But it’s albums like this that make it worth the effort.

Into The Cave (Live)


Groove It Out

Cries and Whispers

PC, it’s all our fault April 8, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, The Left.

…by ‘our’ I mean of course the left. The far-left, and so on. I should preface this by saying I’ve always detested the term PC, which has been used as a blunt instrument to push back against what – in many, if not all case – has seemed to me to be simply offering some consideration and courtesy to others. Anyhow, Jonathan Chait has some useful points to make in the link above, and quite a lot of not so useful one’s too, but look at who he blames for the supposed return of ‘P.C.’ – well, the internet of course, but also…

…political correctness is not a rigorous commitment to social equality so much as a system of left-wing ideological repression. Not only is it not a form of liberalism; it is antithetical to liberalism. Indeed, its most frequent victims turn out to be liberals themselves.


..our distinctions are also confused, as is our way of talking about free speech as it overlaps with our politics.
The right wing in the United States is unusually strong compared with other industrialized democracies, and it has spent two generations turning liberal into a feared buzzword with radical connotations. This long propaganda campaign has implanted the misperception — not only among conservatives but even many liberals — that liberals and “the left” stand for the same things.
It is true that liberals and leftists both want to make society more economically and socially egalitarian. But liberals still hold to the classic Enlightenment political tradition that cherishes individuals rights, freedom of expression, and the protection of a kind of free political marketplace. (So, for that matter, do most conservatives.)

And then…

The Marxist left has always dismissed liberalism’s commitment to protecting the rights of its political opponents — you know, the old line often misattributed to Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” — as hopelessly naпve. If you maintain equal political rights for the oppressive capitalists and their proletarian victims, this will simply keep in place society’s unequal power relations. Why respect the rights of the class whose power you’re trying to smash? And so, according to Marxist thinking, your political rights depend entirely on what class you belong to.


The modern far left has borrowed the Marxist critique of liberalism and substituted race and gender identities for economic ones.

Funny thing is that in my experience it is those on the left, the Marxist left, in various guises whether Trotskyist or ‘orthodox’ who mostly seem to have taken a somewhat sceptical view of what might be termed identity politics, and sought to – not surprisingly and entirely understandably – attempt to keep at least some focus on class as a key determinant in socio-economic and cultural processes.

It’s difficult not to think that Chait is misinterpreting or simply doesn’t know all that much about the actual Marxist left, and is hopelessly confused as to the distinctions between Marxist approaches and those of some manifestations of identity politics. Moreover he seems to think that college campuses and relatively low participatory social networks (in proportion to national populations) are where it’s at in terms of cultural hegemony. In that respect the whole argument seems not merely parochial but almost beside the point.

And even his specific complaints seem curiously pointless. There’s no compunction to go online where one doesn’t, and little enough to have to pay attention to that which isn’t of interest. If it’s the comments section under his pieces, well, that’s a different matter – though unlike many of us he is, after all, paid for his troubles, but worrying overmuch about what others say? It is difficult even to see how he himself is impacted to any great (or any) extent at all by the dynamics he describes.

A more measured response, in my opinion, from J. Bryan Lowder of Slate, here.

In some ways all this merely serves to remind one of not merely the peripheral and marginal nature of so much of this sort of discourse (whether one regards it as good, bad, or like most things a mixture of both) but also, and actually more depressingly just how marginal so much of the time all our struggles, progressive struggles are. Consider even such broad brushstroke terms as class, or gender or lgbt or race or… well, there’s many we can include, and how wide a currency they actually have in everyday life.

Anti-vax April 6, 2015

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Economy, The Left.

Revelatory to me to discover recently that in the US the anti-vaccination crew clusters both on the right and parts of the ‘liberal’ end of the political spectrum. And yet, it makes sense. Last year I was talking to someone who was disturbingly monomaniacal about the issue. So much so they were involved in a project to publicise it more broadly. And yet, on digging their knowledge seemed unexpectedly limited and oddly incoherent in how they approached given that their children, including a very young one had all been vaccinated.

There’s a good piece here, by Jamelle Bouie on Slate, which – I think – gets to the heart of the dynamics in some people’s minds on the matter.

Chief among them is fear. Read anti-vaccination websites or listen to anti-vaccination advocates—or just talk to the anti-vaccination believers in your life—and you’ll sense the fear that permeates the movement. One father, writing for the website Modern Mom, acknowledged the risk of disease and the sometimes awful consequences of childhood contagions, but countered with this: “[T]he same image runs through the mind of a parent who has fears about their child’s 12-month [measles, mumps, and rubella] shot. ‘Will my baby have an anaphylactic reaction? Could she be that 1 out of 1,000 that will have febrile convulsions?’ ” Likewise, the New York Times quotes one mother who can’t bear to imagine what would happen if scientists were wrong about the MMR vaccine and autism:
“It’s the worst shot,” she said, with tears in her eyes. “Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or something?”

I understand that dynamic entirely. It’s particularly true with a very young child, and I remember despite being a fully paid up rationalist and sceptic (bar one or two small and unimportant idiosyncrasies) the night before the creature had to get the 3 in 1 having certain thoughts pass through my mind. And yet at no point was it a matter of being even close to not allowing the process to go forward.

In some ways it is a product of too much information around, too much exposure to the bad, too little sense of the mundane truth that atypical reactions are vanishingly rare and even where they occur they are almost invariably entirely amenable to being dealt with. But humans have a poor sense of statistics, even at the best of times.

The article notes in some ways this is ‘a product of success’. I still recall my grandmother who was born in 1912 telling me about how virulent disease was in the 1910s and 1920s. It’s often forgotten that penicillin was not used effectively until 1944. Indeed in 1942 there was only sufficient to treat 10 patients. It’s not difficult to envisage the deaths that could have been avoided in the first four years of the Second World War, is it? Indeed I was reading at the weekend about… who died due to a sore on his lip – a sore he had for at least four or five years. Again, another needless fatality.

So we’re detached from a reality of appallingly high mortality rates particularly amongst babies and the very young, detached by time and detached – paradoxically, by the essentially more safe contemporary world. Throw in a lack of information, albeit massive amounts of rhetoric and the problem is obvious.

Add in other problems, the dynamic here is deeply troubling where some seem comfortable to, as the phrase goes ‘ride herd immunity’ whatever the risk for their own children and others.

Though in fairness, who can blame people for a degree of trepidation in relation to big pharma? No one should regard that particular quarter without some degree of critical thinking. The problem is, though, a lack of willingness to acknowledge where there are acceptable levels of safety – not perfect, but good. And that’s the unfortunate truth. That there’s no absolute protection against anything. It gets us all in the end. A phlegmatic approach is perhaps therefore no harm, albeit one that isn’t simply mired in fatalism.

Bouelle’s conclusion… attempt to persuade, but if that doesn’t work he’s ‘OK with coercion’. It’s brutal, but honest.

And finally there’s a comment under the piece that makes a fair bit of sense to me…

So I’m not supposed to listen to my doctor but I’m supposed to listen to you [anti-vaxxers]? Why would I do that?

Sure, the doctor might be compromised by pharma, but then we’re having to second guess her or his motivations and intentions as well as what they say. And then we have to map that onto almost all doctors and researchers and scientists and… and the alternative is to listen to small but vocal group with little or no medical or research expertise. It’s a no brainer. It really is.


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