19 May, 2024

A modest proposal for reforming the US Supreme Court

Judges on the United States Supreme Court have lifetime appointments. The reason for this is logical. It is intended to make them absolutely fearless in their judgements and beholden to no-one, not even those who put them there.

It makes perfect sense in principle that this should make the court incorruptible. However, since the US constitution was written on the ‘reasonable person’ principle, and many of those making the appointments and judgements can no longer objectively be considered reasonable people, things have gone awry. Allegations of conflicts of interests and “gifts” are eroding confidence in the court

If the framers of the US constitution had their time over, they would possibly realise they created a nine-headed king. You might remember they had a bit of a thing against kings.

To restore public faith in the court, I humbly suggest some possible reforms: 

A 9-headed king, yesterday

1: Term limits

The term should be generous – at least 12 years so as to be longer than a 2-term presidency. 25 years would not be out of the question. However, this would create the problem of Justices having an eye on their next gig or retirement plan. This problem could be offset by some of the suggestions below.

 

2: Pay them so much nobody could possibly bribe them

The current salary of a Supreme Court Justice is $298,500. No small amount for sure, but quite modest for the amount of work and responsibility they are expected to take on. It’s certainly not enough to fund they lifestyles we know some of the Justices enjoy. This naturally leads people to wonder how they make up the balance, regardless of whether they do it through wise investments or iffy favours.

In fact, adjusted for 2023 values, Supreme Court salaries have trended downwards over the last 30 years, having peaked in 1969 at an equivalent rate of just under $500,000. It’s entirely likely the judges are making less than the attorneys presenting arguments to them.

I know it’s not a popular view that public servants should be paid more. In 2024, even a million dollars a year might not be enough to prevent them lending an ear to potential benefactors. However, this expense would be offset by savings in the implementation and consequences of judgements which benefit only a monied few.

 

3: Ban all receipt of any benefits from anyone including to family

There are far too many loopholes in gifts to judges. As such, this rule must also apply to a judge’s family and close friends, who will have to be named and declared upon appointment and every year during their appointment.

Any product or service of any kind which is not directly paid for by a judge must be declared and audited annually. This also applies to spouses, children, parents, siblings and close friends. If a judge’s spouse gives them a Christmas present worth over $100, it must be declared. Get an upgrade on a flight? It must be declared. Spend the weekend at a rich friend’s house? Declare the relative value of that stay.

Judges will be audited annually and any breach will result in a mandatory 5-years’ imprisonment and being barred from employment for life. The Supreme Court itself will be barred from hearing appeals on any such breaches and will be judged by Congress.

Yes, it’s harsh. But service comes with sacrifice. At least they’re not being shot at.

 

4: Overturning a previous Supreme Court judgement would require a majority of at least seven

This will avoid perpetual relitigation of cases every time the court changes.

 

5: Mandatory retirement at 75

As a rule, I am not keen on mandatory retirement but a line had to be drawn somewhere. We have decided that 18 is a reasonable age for someone to be able to make adult decisions. Some people are more than capable of making adult decisions at 16. Others are totally incapable even at 30.

Likewise, some people remain fighting fit and sharp at 85, and some are completely gaga by 65. 75 is a reasonable age to maintain experience on the bench with appropriate turnover. Current rules state that a retired judge’s pension can be no less than what they were earning at the time of retirement. They would be barred from taking any other form of employment.

 

These are five reasonably suggestions. Or perhaps you have a better idea. 

 

 

01 April, 2024

Pink Floyd announce 51st Anniversary Edition of The Dark Side of the Moon

Pink Floyd have announced the 51st Anniversary Meta-Edition of their classic album The Dark Side of the Moon. (Apparently, they have made other albums.)

The album has been given yet another remix with representatives of the band stating this is the first to combine modern digital techniques and vintage analogue technology contemporary to the making of the album.

“Some found the recent Dolby Atmos mix to be very ‘modern’ sounding” said mix engineer James Guthrie. “We found that taking the newly re-digitised multitracks and routing them back through the original mixing desk gave as close as we could get to the sound Pink Floyd would have made if they had today’s technology in 1973.”

As close as they can get until next year, anyway.

The original quadraphonic mix was used as the basis for the new mix, enlisting a new hack of Pink Floyd’s legendary azimuth coordinator with additional channels added for modern sound reproduction.

The complete Meta-Edition will be released in an 8-disc box containing 5 CDs, each featuring 20% of the full mix and intended to be played simultaneously for full effect, the new Meta-mix on a single CD, The Dark Side of the Moon Live at Wembley again because up yours, and a Blu-ray disc containing the new Meta-mix in 5.1 and Dolby Atmos, the original unreleased Alan Parsons quad mix, a stereo fold down of the Meta-mix in 192kHz, 32-bit, and as yet unannounced video content, but probably the same concert films as the last three versions.

The Blu-ray also contains the individual multitracks in WAV format, which will allow fans to mix the 52nd anniversary edition.

The full-on Meta-Edition comes housed in a 1/2048 sized pyramid which, as of the time of writing, also includes a hardcover book of photographs, a crystal prism, a silk handkerchief, a velvet pouch containing 3 grams of tobacco salvaged from Abbey Road ashtrays at the time of recording, a replica of Richard Wright’s shopping list from November 13th 1972, and a 7-inch vinyl disc of the unremastered mono radio edit of Money because you’re made of it aren’t you.

This release will be followed in six months’ time by an individual release of the Blu-ray disc negating the need to buy all the other trash to get the good stuff, and the in early 2025 by a quarter-speed mastered, 220 gram, 45rpm double LP on holographic mirrored vinyl.

In a press release, David Gilmour described the 51st Anniversary Edition as, “Probably the only version of The Dark Side of the Moon you need to own. This year.”

When contacted for comment, Roger Waters said, “Get the fuck off my lawn!”

 

The 51st Anniversary Meta Edition of The Dark Side of the Moon is released on April 1st, 2024.

21 March, 2024

Thoughts I’d rather not have about things I’d rather not know...

Despite being the prettiest public face of a living anachronism, and taking far more than she gives back, I do not believe Kate Middleton owes the British public a lap dance (or the aristocracy’s equivalent) once a week.

I’m as anti-royalist as they come. I believe they should be treated like anyone else, and that includes leaving them the fuck alone when they need time to themselves. First and foremost, she’s a human being, and THAT should have been the angle the Firm took from the beginning.

The monarch may run the country but in modern times, another runs the family. That used to be Prince Phillip. When Phil the Greek died, that job went to Anne, who seems pretty level-headed for a princess and I thought she would have run things better.

As a PR firm – which is what they are – the British royal family’s principle of ‘never complain, never explain,’ is a smart one which other celebrities and their handlers could learn from. Imagine the power Trump and his puppet masters could wield if he didn’t screw it up on an hourly basis by being such an inveterate, narcissistic whineypants.

The Firm screwed this up royally by issuing a happy snap in response to the gossip. I DGAF that it was touched up. Of course it was! They all are. So is my profile picture. Send me to the tower! And as a happily childless person, even I know kids do weird shit with their fingers, especially when they’re nervous, like when someone is pointing a camera at them and telling them to look naturally happy. I still do and you probably do too.

But to then throw Kate under the double-decker by claiming she was the one who edited it? Prince, please! They literally have people to pick things up off the floor for them and we’re expected to believe the presumptive next queen consort does her own photoshopping?

Anyone who claims to support royalty should leave her alone. Anyone like me, who doesn’t support royalty, should also leave her alone, tempting though it is to use this as an example of how pointless and irrelevant royalty is. I’m aware of the irony of what I’ve just said. I would rather not know any of this but there are things you just can’t help learning and thinking people just can’t help forming an opinion on them.

If this were the biggest scandal in the world, they’d be doing a fine job!

 

 

12 March, 2024

Karl Wallinger 1957 - 2024

Image source
Many years ago…

Karl Wallinger was born in Wales, near Mars, in 1957.

Like many of a similar age, his first instrument was the oboe, which he trained classically in. He later picked up piano and guitar as a sideline. The family encyclopedias were a great help in his musical training. He would stack several on his chest as he lay on the floor practising his breathing. Try doing that with Wikipedia!  

Although known for playing guitar left-handed, Karl was naturally right-handed and played upside down to get a different feel. It was a microcosm of his musical approach.

One of his first professional gigs was as musical director for The Rocky Horror Show, which he got by offering to do it for 10 quid less than the competition. He and the band would sometimes increase the tempo of the songs if they wanted to get home early to see the football.

Around this time he became a staff songwriter for a publishing company. He quickly realised it wasn’t where he wanted to be, and went to the manager to sing, “Pleeease release me, let me go.” Since he wasn’t coming up with the Euro-hits the publisher wanted, they came to a mutually satisfactory arrangement.

He did release a solo single in Italy under the name Karl in c1982, backed by an even younger Chris Whitten, who seems to have one of the only copies.

But it was after Karl answered an ad looking for a keyboardist that Colin Bollinger became known to music fans. The ad was placed by Mike Scott and the band was The Waterboys.

Accounts vary depending on who is talking and when, but the relationship between Karl and Mike was fraught. Sometimes their eccentricities and passions complemented each other, sometimes they clashed. Karl once claimed in an interview that they had to trick Mike into recording. Mike paid tribute to Karl today on Twitter saying, “You are one of the finest musicians I've ever known.” Karl once quipped the reason he left The Waterboys was because he didn’t want to do five years for GBH after smashing a guitar over someone’s head.

No-one would deny that Karl’s input represented the first quantum leap in The Waterboys’ music. Even 30 years later, the phrase “ex-Waterboy” usually shows up in the first paragraph of anything about Karl, even though he was only in the band for about three years. He also discovered Steve Wickham, who would become the second longest serving Waterboy.

There just wasn’t enough room in one band for that much creativity though. Karl signed his own deal with Waterboys label Ensign, and became World Party. 


Do what you want but you’re gonna have to do it now…

Karl used the signing advance to build his own studio – a smart move which served him extremely well. One of its first uses was to record demos for another Ensign signing, a firebrand post-punk singer songwriter. Those demos would go on to become The Lion and the Cobra and Sinéad O’Connor would sing on Karl’s first two albums as well as appearing in the video for Private Revolution.

The cover of World Party’s first album, Private Revolution features Karl’s own radiogram – his “holy altar” as he called it. He said that his approach to making albums was to have the effect of setting up a dozen singles on the record selector in such a way as to make the rest of the room say, “Yeah, man! Great selection!”

It certainly was! Completely self-produced and recorded, with occasional guest spots from Waterboy Anthony Thistlethwaite on saxophone, soon-to-be Waterboy Steve Wickham on fiddle, and Sinéad O’Connor providing harmonies, it was an artist doing exactly what he wanted but with enough of a pop sense to be radio friendly too. 


Show me to the top…

It was 1990’s Goodbye Jumbo which proved Private Revolution was no one-off side project. Karl relocated his studio to London, added real drums, and dared to sound exactly like his heroes while still bringing new sounds to songs relevant to the modern world.

The album was again completely self-produced with guest spots from Jeff Trott, Steve Wickham, and Sinéad O’Connor, but the most significant collaboration was with Guy Chambers, who would become quite significant later on. Goodbye Jumbo won the Q Magazine award for album of the year, starting a long tradition of World Party receiving virtually unanimous critical acclaim, well beyond commercial recognition.

1993’s Bang! was the only World Party album to be recorded with a core band, comprising of Karl, Dave Catlin-Birch, best known as Paul in The Bootleg Beatles on guitar and bass, and ex-La and current High Flying Bird Chris Sharrock on drums. The two were a perfect fit for both Wallinger’s musical aesthetic and mad humour.

Bang! also featured a co-producer and mixer on a handful or tracks, Steve Lillywhite. Stylistically, it was Karl’s most eclectic album, from the country-tinged opener Kingdom Come, to the Prince-influenced funk of What Is Love All About? and Hollywood, plus Karl’s most defining song, Is It Like Today? The latter was Karl’s attempt to summarise Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy in four verses. Ambitious, much? And he pulled it off, filling an entire reel of tape with vocal harmony overdubs.

Bang! was World Party’s highest charting album, they toured it, and then went quiet again. 


It is time…

Between World Party’s third and fourth albums, Britpop exploded. There’s a reasonable case to be made that Karl Wallinger invented it. He was wearing his Beatles and Stones influences on his sleeve way back in 1990. By the time the rest of the world caught up, he was back in his studio crafting what would be his most cohesive album. He did express exasperation that John Lennon glasses were the coolest thing in the world on Liam Gallagher but were “Karl folkie specs” on him. 


Is it too late?

Environmental concerns were high on Karl’s agenda throughout his career. Every album contained at least one love song to the World as well as several about how arrogant humans are fucking it up. The tone of the topics evolved through. While Goodbye Jumbo was warning, and Bang! was getting desperate, Egyptology was despairing. “Yes, I see it now the pageantry that comes to Vanity Fair / But I’m sad to say it came too late, and now I just don’t care.”

The album contained some of the darkest themes Wallinger had ever explored, including the death of his mother, but is also uplifting in the beginning and end. If the next World Party album had come out in 1995, it might have been overlooked in the Blur vs Oasis hype, but perhaps not as badly as it was two years later. It was a commercial flop, perhaps due in part to a falling out with Chrysalis over the direction of the album. And yet ironically, it contained what would become his biggest hit.

World Party’s single release of She’s the One didn’t make it past the promo disc stage. And yet, when Robbie Williams covered the song with a soundalike version, produced by Guy Chambers (who was now Nobbie’s co-writer and producer), featuring Dave Catlin-Birch and Chris Sharrock, and released on Chrysalis, it went to number 1 all over Europe. The only difference between the two records was the face on the cover.

Makes you wonder, eh?

But it was a blessing in disguise. 


What does it mean now?

Karl parted ways with Chrysalis and the fifth World Party album was released on Karl’s own label, Seaview. Released in 2000, Dumbing Up continued Karl’s concern for the planet and humanity, but with a generally positive outlook for the turn of the millennium. He also announced that World Party was not going to disappear for another three years. He was true to his word. It would be over six.


Bang!

In early 2001, Karl got a massive headache. He was taken to hospital where it was found he had suffered a major brain aneurysm which required serious surgery. At first, it was unclear whether he would be able to walk again, let alone play. He lost his peripheral vision (which was already poor) and had to relearn how to play piano and guitar. It would be 2006 before he gingerly stepped back into music again. 


Rescue me

Although Karl was justifiably bitter that his bandmates and label turned She’s the One into a hit without him, it ultimately helped him survive his time as an invalid following the aneurysm. He later said, “I was so lucky that Robbie recorded "She's the One" because it allowed me to keep going. He nicked my pig and killed it but gave me enough bacon to live on for four years. He kept my kids in school and me in Seaview (his recording studio) and for that I thank him.”

 

Been a long long long time since I heard something that I really loved

Despite returning to music, it’s probably fair to say Karl never fully recovered from the aneurysm.

There were a few low-key tours of the US, performing mostly as an acoustic trio, and a full band tour of Australia with Steely Dan.

In 2012, World Party released a 5-disc collection of odds and ends featuring new songs, out-takes, B-sides and live tracks. This was followed by a triumphant show at the Albert Hall. Karl teased the idea of a new album as recently as last year but to be brutally honest, we’d heard that many times before.

It’s unlikely we will hear any more music from him now. Karl did everything in the studio and it’s hard to imagine anyone else being able to complete his vision for unfinished recordings. Addressing the idea that he might be a control freak, Karl said that it was more to do with the fact he knew exactly what he wanted and didn’t want to upset anyone by saying, “No, no, [famous person], not like that, like this!” So yeah, probably a control freak. And why not?

 

Can you hear the music…?

Karl’s genius as a songwriter and musician was matched by his genius as a producer. This is shown best in some cover versions he did of Happiness is a Warm Gun, Penny Lane, #9 Dream and All You Need is Love.

Some people (although perhaps not Wobbly Billions) would think the idea of doing soundalike covers is pointless. In principle, I would agree. But these versions sound SO much like the originals it’s scary! He had an ability to reproduce any sound or style which is itself an incredible talent. He could have been an in-demand producer for others if he’d wanted to.

He was an early adopter of multimedia and, pre-aneurysm, was looking at setting up his own online TV channel five years before YouTube became a thing.


 

It can be beautiful (sometimes)

I tried to keep this tribute in the spirit of Karl’s irreverent wit. Sadness got in the way of that. But it has to be said that Karl Wallinger had the wickedest sense of humour this side of John Lennon. So, in addition to the music, please enjoy this piss funny opening to the Dumbing Up show from 2000.

 


Ah, thank you Karl!