Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Bradley Manning, traitor

I wonder how many people will recognise the name of William Joyce? Otherwise known as Lord Haw Haw, Joyce was a British Fascist who fled to Germany and broadcast throughout the war, mainly with the intention of demoralizing his British listeners. At the end of the war, Joyce was captured near Flensburg and returned to England to stand trial for treason.

It is worth putting his final words here:

In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the power of darkness which they represent. I warn the British people against the crushing imperialism of the Soviet Union. May Britain be great once again and in the hour of the greatest danger in the West may the standard be raised from the dust, crowned with the words – "You have conquered nevertheless". I am proud to die for my ideals and I am sorry for the sons of Britain who have died without knowing why.

Joyce was unrepentant and believed he'd done the right thing but there was nobody around on the day he was hanged to support him in his claim. Regardless of what Joyce believed, he had aided the enemy in a time of war.

And so to Bradley Manning, by all accounts a feckless and unstable character who managed to gain access to the kinds of things that governments prefer to keep secret.

The basic inequality of justice in the civilized Western world is pretty much beyond doubt. The fact that Bush and Blair et al have not been arrested and charged with war crimes is a travesty. Global elites evade their day in court with seeming impunity on the whole and it is only the little people who take the rap. But that is a separate issue and should have no bearing on this case.

We have armies to provide security for each and every one of us and the people who are entrusted with our security pledge to do their duty. The only exception to this is complicity in war crimes.

The damage done by Manning to national security is barely imaginable. It is obvious that every potentially malign security service gained information that will hurt us. The Russians, the Chinese and a whole bunch of others will have spent months analyzing the data. I wonder how many readers think that giving them a significant intelligence advantage is a good thing? The irony of it all is that Edward Snowdon has fled to a country which routinely imprisons and executes detractors.

Bradley Manning is clearly an unstable and needy character. He should never have been recruited and under no circumstances have been given access to anything more sensitive than the mess-room luncheon menu. He is a perfect example of what happens when basic discipline breaks down and it is potentially catastrophic.

You can argue the fine philosophical nuances; you may believe that armies are wrong. You may believe that the apparatus of Western Democracy is wrong.You can argue all you like about the "truth" coming out and who's the baddie in all of this, but anybody who jeopardizes national security and gives advantage to potential enemies, is a traitor.



Friday, 26 July 2013

Motown - Nowhere to Run

You may wonder why I am interested in the City of Detroit, which is currently hoping to file for bankruptcy. You can get the basics of the situation here:

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/hc-op-krauthammer-detroit-bankruptcy-warning-to-co-20130725,0,4353676.column

It's a paradigm of what happens when a left-leaning, liberal hegemony flies in the face of facts. "It speaks to a sad state of affairs for American progressivism." as one Detroit citizen said. For years, Detroit has been racked by corruption. A former Mayor is due to be spending a long time in jail; it's once mighty automotive industry destroyed by mafioso union bosses like Jimmy Hoffa. The movie, Blue Collar (1978) was a gritty vignette of the vile reality in Motown. It was not nice.

On the ground, in reality of today, the dismal statistics include the 60% of children who are living in poverty. Violent crime is the highest in any US City. Retired public employees stand to lose their pensions. This wealth has been plundered by state-sponsored gangsters. The whites have fled.

The extent of Detroit’s white flight is staggering. In 1950, there were 1.6 million whites living in Detroit. By 2000, 1.5 million of them had left. In that same time, the black population more than doubled. Consequently, Detroit’s population has been more than 80 percent African American for decades.  (Sam Butler, Detroit Urban Planner)

The city leaders, I suppose, had hoped that this town would become a kind of totem for Black entrepreneurialism, but it didn't happen. At least not in the good sense.

In a world where mobility is the preserve of the wealthy, those that could followed the money, out of Detroit.

Well, I don't suppose it will happen here. We aren't stupid. Occasionally you get a leader in public life whose methods and tactics are questionable, but on the whole they tend to be political prats rather than greedy prats. Not only that, we live in close proximity to the kind of poverty and despair that the UK must squarely face as a whole nation if it is to remain creditworthy. If there is a warning from Detroit it is this:

We live on a small Island. There is Nowhere to Run.



Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Just another lunatic day

It did not start well. I got lost on the way to a hospital appointment. (It's me skin, doctor)

On the way there I noticed a hitchhiker. I didn't like the look of him and I was late so I didn't stop. On the way back from the hospital (They couldn't have been nicer, but the place smelled of school dinners) I saw another hitchhiker. He was probably in his late fifties or early sixties and I thought, "Why not?" The following is a record of part of the conversation, or rather, rant that I endured during the longest 20 minutes of my life:

Thank you, thank you.

Where are you going? 

Just to Haggisburn. I'm in the Royal Fusiliers and I get out on January 9th

That's good. Have any plans?

I'm in the Royal Fusiliers and I get out on January 9th. I am in the army and I have been in the Navy as well. You are English, aren't you?

Yes I am, but I have lived in Scotland for ten years.

But you are English. We could start a formula one team with a Renault Engine. You are English and you could contact somebody in Formula One. I'm in the Royal Welsh. I get out on January 9th.

Not really. I don't know anybody in Formula One, but I wish I did.

Do you know anything about engines? Are you bright You look as if you can handle yourself?

(The guy is twice my size)

Well, I'm OK.

We get a formula one team. Renault Engines. I used to be in the Police and then Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. Do you like beer? Do you know McEwen's Export?

Yes, I like beer and I drink McEwen's

What's McEwan's?

It's a beer.

So you know Nigel Mansell?

I wish I did, but I don't.

But you are English. You could get Nigel Mansell and start a Formula One team with Renault Engines. So, you are going to put me in touch with Nigel Mansell?

I don't know him. Do you, erm, like Haggisburn?

It's where I live. We are just coming into it now.

Oh good. Oh, good.

Monday, 22 July 2013

I wonder, with the arrival of Baby Windsor, (a boy born yesterday at 4.24 pm) what kind of world he will inhabit as an adult. First, I am pleased that both mother and baby are well. I am not interested in debates about the monarchy, because, let's face it, the monarchy is a quaint anachronism or, perhaps, a great source of national identity and pride at a push. The monarchy today is a symbol of our democratic evolution. Close studies of it throughout the centuries must show that we have matured as a democracy through years of bloody battles and a great deal of national heart-searching. We are what we are as a nation, due in part to our system of kingship. Our culture is predicated on the whims of former Monarchs. And of course today our Queen is Head of State, but in name only. I would not abolish it because it is a reference to our past, and perhaps, still an important one. It is after all a symbol of national unity.

This child will possibly not even enjoy the latter designation. He may be subsumed into the maelstrom of interpersonal babble, mediated by the internet, and in doing so, join the many simulacra and impressionistic memes that underpin our current reality.

On the other hand there may be a renaissance of real life and a rejection of most of the stuff that plays out daily in our overcrowded lives.

I was at a county show at the weekend. These take place all over the country and it is a great opportunity to show off the fat of the land; the cattle and sheep, the alpacas and the John Deere buggies that all real men harbour a desire for. It's a magnet for small entrepreneurs and table top businesses. I counted four sellers of hand-made soap.

Why buy hand made soap when you can get it at the supermarket where is is cheap and in an unbelievable number of options? Because it appeals to our sense of individuality and our need to make real choices.

As we hurtle at light speed into this 21st Century, it seems to me that what young baby Windsor will crave, like the rest of us, is less, not more. I hope that my children, and their children, will abandon the instant consumerism and immature use of web technology and the access to worlds that they cannot alter or join. Yes, they may do their online shopping for bread and butter. They may occasionally consult the oracle for directions, but perhaps, with the coming of age of the www, they will consign it to a shelf or a corner table. Perhaps, the need for human experience will cause them to yearn for their own reality, one that is grounded elementally and spiritually.

Perhaps, if you could walk into someone's room in fifty years' time you might be astounded at the monastic simplicity of a 2060's lifestyle. I hope so.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Efterklang

Something for the weekend, then.

I have to credit Young Master Weasel for the tip on Efterklang. Efterklang are a Danish band. My immediate reaction was, "Sigur Ros meets Philip Glass after hearing "Modern Drift". However, they have a distinctive sound of their own and I suspect you will be hearing a lot more about them if there is any justice in this world.

They seem to do some gigs with established full concert orchestras. Well sometimes they do. I have always been a bit wary of that sort of thing because it usually shows the band up to be a bit duff. However, in the case of the Klangs, it works!

For those who can make it this weekend, they are appearing at the Latitude Festival, and I will get a full report from YMW, along with some info on Richard Thompson and Kraftwerk.

So here's a video. When it starts, you might think, "hang on, it's Noggin the Nog!:

EFTERKLANG - The Ghost - Official Video from Rumraket on Vimeo.

You can find another goodie at:

http://youtu.be/skFIn0wpIew



Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Independence Day

All continental waiters have a duty, bound with with an oath of the very serious kind, not unlike those of the Knights Templars or the Waffen SS, to chat up any female who enters their restaurant. It is a solemn duty, involving flattery, inquiry and the oblique suggestion of casual sex.

Women expect it and their men feel rather upset if they don't. Women expect, and should expect to be admired and lusted after. It is their duty and their privilege. Since I live in Scotland, there is always a problem with this. If some drunken Glaswegian were to come up to me and slur "Are you looking at my wife?" There is no good answer. If you answer in the affirmative, you get a Glasgow kiss. If you answer in the negative, you get, "Why not? Don't you think she is attractive?"

I recall a few years back that I took my daughter to a very good French Restaurant. I know this restaurant well and the head waiter and I are on good terms. Of course, he was charming to my daughter and a proper gentleman. She was probably 17 years old at this point and very sensitive to her looks and attractiveness. My head waiter friend, as I said, was charming to her, but very, very proper. Too proper. In the end I made up a little bit of business about the waiter and how he had told me how beautiful my daughter was and how he asked questions about her. It seemed to do the trick at a time when young Miss Weasel needed a bit of self-esteem.

So, we jump to today. Today, Mrs Weasel is in Vienna on a mission vital to the security of this country. She dined alone tonight at an Italian restaurant in the Capital. As you would expect, the Italian waiter chatted her up. All Italian waiters chat females guest up. It is not only their duty; they do it because they are Italian and because Silvio Berlusconi says its alright.

So the conversation goes on and the Italian waiter says that Mrs Weasel reminds him of a famous English (sic) singer. Could it be Florence Welch? Could it be Adele? (No, she's slimmer than Adele) Could it be Dido?

(Clearly, he is doing well and it looks as if Mrs Weasel will melt into the Limoncello.)

Then he says, "Yes, you are like that famous English (sic) singer, Susan Boyle." Of course, he has totally ruined it. Not only that, I must now fly to Austria and smash his face in. For the record, Mrs Weasel looks nothing like Susan Boyle and I know for a fact that she bleached her moustache before she left.

As for my daughter, today is a special day. This is the day that she can legally marry the person she loves, who happens to be a woman. The wedding, for that is what we can now call it, is next year.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Trident - It's MAD

One of my all-time favourite movie scenes is the "Greed is Good" speech, by Gordon Gekko, in "Wall Street". It is worth repeating here:

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.

You might wonder what this has to do with the issue of our Nuclear "deterrent", Trident, and a recent letter to the news, signed by former Defense secretaries and chiefs of staff. But please bear with me.

The essence of the letter is this:

In an uncertain world in which the number of nuclear weapons remains high and some states are increasing their holdings, we should not take risks with our security by downgrading to a part-time deterrent.
We cannot possibly foresee what threats will develop over the next 30 years. Reducing our submarine-based Trident capability would weaken our national security for the sake of a very small fraction of the defence budget. It is our view that if Britain is to remain a leading global power with strong defences, nothing less than a continuous at-sea deterrent will do.

The words "if Britain is to remain a leading global power" jumped out at me and it seems to me that this is the breathtaking anomaly in the argument; we are no longer a global power and we have no coherent foreign policy that will back up such an illusion.

How did we achieve global power in the first place? What sense does it make now?

I refer you to Mr Gekko. The power house of Britain's conquest was, to put it crudely, greed. The colonies were dominated by entrepreneurs and adventurers. They were protected and policed by what became the greatest sea power in the world and I for one don't condemn that. If it hadn't been us, it would have been the French, or the Spanish, or the Dutch.

Would that we could send Her Majesty's Navy to quell and control the excesses of the Brussels bureaucrats. Would that we could send a gun boat to police Gibralter and shoot a few Spaniards while we are at it. Would that we could Invade Rhode Island and take the USA back into British hands.

The point is that business is no longer conducted by gunship. Admiral Nelson was a hero of his time. Today, he would be the head of a multi-national corporation, or the IMF or maybe if we were lucky, Prime Minister. It is a certainty that, had he joined the Royal Navy today, nobody would ever hear about him.

Aggression, for want of a better word, is conducted in two ways - it is either ideological and nihilistic or it is financial, global and nihilistic. And we can control neither. We certainly cannot control them with the use of Nuclear Weapons.

Britain still appears to operate on a 19th Century model of Foreign Policy when it comes to defense. While pretending to maintain the remnant of a viable fighting force, it has ignored internal security and allowed the enemy to penetrate from within. The threats to our security from abroad come from our meddling in the affairs of countries whose culture we do not understand, together with a woeful lack of clearly defined Foreign policy.

The forces of "greed", the global economy, is impervious to nuclear attack. It thrives on being able to sell and exploit, and there is not much point in taking out your customers. As for the others, the tin-pot dictators and the rogue states, they too are impervious to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction because they are either deeply indoctrinated by some ideology or they are mad, or they are evil. There can be no doubt that the wounded leader of a country like North Korea would press the nuclear button if he realised that his own life was over. Hitler would have done it and so would Saddam Hussein if he had had the mythical WMD.

And the last fact is the crux of the argument. We were sent to war with Iraq on the word of a politician who lied and fluffed up the reasons to go to war. Why should we believe them now?


Friday, 12 July 2013

I can believe it's not Rock and Roll

There's a food product in the UK called "I can't believe it's not butter". Apart from a hugely crap name, I sort of wonder why anybody in their right mind would want a butter substitute that pretended to be butter. You can get plenty of good alternative spreads - mainly made up of olive oil. You can also get butter with a bit of oil in it so that you can spread it straight from the fridge.

But no, you have something called "I can't believe it's not butter". Oh, you of little faith. Believe! It isn't butter.It is: Water,Vegetable Oils ,Modified Starch ,Salt (1.5%) ,Buttermilk (1%) ,Emulsifiers: Mono and Di Glycerides of Fatty Acids ,Sunflower Lecithin ,Preservative: Potassium Sorbate ,Citric Acid ,Flavouring ,Vitamin E ,Colour: Beta-Carotene ,Vitamins A & D.

And neither is Mumford and Sons, by any stretch of the imagination, Rock and Roll. And yet, they are doing the rounds of Glastonbury, T-in-the-Park and others. Still, I can go on about them being "Coldplay with Banjos", but I came across this today and dear old Alice says it better than I ever could:

Thursday, 11 July 2013

E Cigs etc

I have to explain; I gave up cigarettes during my first marriage and for pretty much most of my second. (That's about 17 years in the latter case). However, having said that the lure of nicotine has not really left me, so I have of late dabbled with E Cigs.

The first thing you need to know about "Vaping" (Sounds cool but rhymes with "raping") is that it has already spawned a very hard core culture. Just look on You Tube and you will understand what I mean. There are lots of very elaborate videos that will explain how to vape, what to vape and how exactly to get the best "throat hit". I am not kidding.

So anyway, after dabbling with a few throwaway e-cigs, which by the way are terrible, I have taken the plunge and ordered a kit. This kit looks like the kind of thing that Jason Bourne would have. The fact that it delivers nicotine in precise quantities is almost irrelevant because it consists of many parts that resemble a bomb-making kit. Goodness knows what happens if you try and take one of these on board an aircraft.

Well, I will let you know what happens and how I get on.

The other thing that interested me this week is the report that somebody (?) has complained about the movie "The Railway Children", on the basis that it may encourage children to play on railway lines. I find this baffling. If you play on railway lines, you risk getting killed. Even children understand this concept, at a very early age.

But it reminds me of a Jenny Agutter story. Years ago when I was in the Meedja I met a publicity girl. She was nice and we used to chat. I asked her out and her excuse was disappointing but very convincing. It transpired that Jenny Agutter was in London all on her own. She had flown in from the USA. My publicity friend was charged with taking Jenny Agutter out to dinner, since nobody on this planet, well at least in London, wanted to do the gig. I felt a bit sad for JA. There she was, in some posh hotel, probably to discuss a film or something, and all she had for company was a paid lackey. I never had the wherewithall to volunteer. FAIL

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Hedgy the Hedgehog

Of late I have seen a little hedgehog at the bottom of our garden. I have called him Hedgy.

He may be "nocturnal" but he tends to shuffle about most days until about midday, at which time he retires to the dense foliage on the river bank. This is the first time in my life that I have seen a live one. He is not especially worried about me and I have taken a few photos and some film of him.



video
And then there are the inevitable chickens - fugitives from next door whose interest in us has been aroused by our liberal sprinkling of sunflower seeds.




Monday, 8 July 2013

Count Arthur Strong

Count Arthur Strong - BBC TV

Did you see the show? What did you think?

I have just seen the first show and was prepared from the start not to like it, but watched it anyway just to see how bad it was.

Though the show was a little uneven - I don't think Barry Cryer  added anything to it particularly (His contribution somehow jarred with the internal "reality" of the show), but the cafe scenes were remarkable and very, very funny. It's full of some cleverly devised visual and verbal humour and references all sorts (I won't spoil it for you by giving the gags away.)

I think the character of Count Arthur Strong, as seen elsewhere, suffered from being on stage, naked, as it were. His stand-up stage act was a kind of slow motion car crash of ineptitude. He really needed a context; something to ground him in some sort of reality so that the slower viewers among us could get a handle on it.

Thankfully, the context created by Graham Linehan hits the spot. Like his illustrious progeny "Father Ted", CAS works because the characters are likeable and endearing. The comedy business is priceless; the "two teas" bit - just one of many running gags, puts it up there with Father Ted. The "Heineken Manoeuvre" will get played over and over on You Tube. The killer visual gag is priceless.

It kind of makes sense to me now. Some may not agree, but this is going to be up there with the greats.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

IIl considered musical gems

I have been mouthing off about the mainstream music scene, so I thought I would try and be positive and drop in a few gems that appealed to me.

First off is Doyle Bramhall ll, who can name-check more stars than rocket scientist. The name must surely be enough to get you interested, but he's played with Clapton, Elton, Billy Preston and Roger Waters, to name but a few. In addition to playing with the above, his solo work is breathtaking and reminiscent of the late and great Jimi Hendrix. It is raw, immediate rock.

Next up is Yezda Urfa. It sounds like a constellation in the galaxy, but in reality it was a 70's American Prog band. They reference a number of great progressive bands with their Nicey nods to the classical canon, some breathy, Tullian flute, some classic Yessy tube Bass and the keyboard pyrotechnics of Emerson Lake and Palmer. So, ok, the vocals are a bit patchy, but since the majority of their fantastic Debut/Demo, "Boris" is instrumental I wouldn't let that put you off. That this band is largely overlooked in the Prog canon is a scandal.

For something completely different to the above, check out The Shirts. The Shirts were a CBGB band and so it's no coincidence that they sound a bit like Blondie. Try, as a taster, "Laugh and Walk Away". It's just great, three-minute pop. They are still in business apparently.

Then there is Giant Sand. Listen to The Inner Flame. It was a collaboration with the late Rainer Ptacek. It's a very laid back, mesmeric track with a sublime lick.

These all can be found out there. I haven't provided links because, if you cannot be arsed to check them out, then it is not you I am talking to.

Eating Out

The practice of eating out is to be part of a social conspiracy; you connive with the waiter by exchanging recondite tit-bits about the wine or the source of the vanilla, you resist asking for your steak to be well done in order not to be chased out of the restaurant by a cleaver-wielding chef and (if you are a heterosexual man) you calmly and with faux casualness over-contribute to the bill in order to look in control, whilst watching the hen party at another table who are arguing about who had the prawn cocktail.
Of course, by mentioning the prawn cocktail, I have immediately given away the kind of restaurant I frequent. Fail. I'll get me coat. (Which, by the way, has cuff buttons that can be undone.)

Monday, 1 July 2013

Listen to an album like it was vinyl

That's it really:- listen to an album like it was vinyl.

It was Christmas 1971/2 and I got given Surf's Up by The Beach Boys. I think that in 1971 I probably had no more than half a dozen albums that had cost full price, most of my collection consisted of bargain-bin stuff. I can't remember how much it actually cost but it is perhaps more relevant to say that it was probably the equivalent of a day's pay. Indeed, it was more than that for me, still a school student who earned about £1.50 on Saturdays.

Bob Harris, on The Old Grey Whistle Test, had been waxing lyrical about it all summer. I liked the Beach Boys and the album sounded as if it had marked the transition from what was essentially a singles band to an album band. Well almost. Remarkably at that  point I had never heard Pet Sounds. Well, why should I? It never got played on the radio and I wasn't about to buy up the Beach Boys' back catalogue. I also had no idea about the background or the Smile debacle that sort of spawned Surf's Up. All I knew was that the BBs had done Good Vibrations and that was enough for me.



So, over 42 years later I put it on the turntable. (That's a figure of speech, like, "video".)

It's very uneven, for a start. You'll have to read elsewhere about the history of its making but sufficient to say that Brian Wilson was not a major part of the creative process and it more or less happened around him. Much of the work on the title track (the tapes lifted from a 1967 TV recording) was overdubbed. Wilson's contributions were considered to dark, even for a band that was trying to aquire some hip album credentials.

I remember liking it in total. I put that down to having invested heavily in the product, even if it was a gift. Disney Girls I liked. Student Demonstration Time I did not like. The title track blew - me - awaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay.

The only more recent equivalent is perhaps Bohemian Rhapsody. It has that kind of operatic, impressionistic feel and is segmented and segued. It shows the amazing partnership of Wilson/Parks at its creative best.

Surf's Up was well received and generally like upon release but did not sell in huge quantities. I believe that is because the Beach Boys fan base did not understand it and the hipsters were snooty about it being the Beach Boys. Nevertheless, in contemporary production terms it was an excellent audio experience.

In many ways it fell between two stools; the fantastic and daring breadth of the title track and at the other end the derivative and doctrinaire Student Demonstration Time. None of the tracks were three minute hits.

It only lasts for 34 minutes. I was a little impatient with it to start with, but the last three tracks - all Brian Wilson songs - still worked for me after all these years. It does not equal Pet Sounds but it shows that, had the internal politics of the band been healthier, The Beach Boys could have been a lot more respected as an entity, rather than simply a backing band for Brian.

Rating then: 4/5
Now: 3/5

So, over to you. Listen to an album like it was vinyl and get back to me!