10 February, 2019

It’s the 24-hour news cycle and social media

Saying, “I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media,” has become an acceptable answer to absolutely any topic on a news discussion panel show. It has already been blamed for everything from road rage to teenage body image problems, despite both being around a lot longer.

Try it for yourself...

Why does political discourse seem so juvenile these days?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are more children being driven to school by their parents rather than taking the bus or walking?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are we seeing an increase in childhood obesity?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

How do we explain the increase in religious extremism?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are people deserting mainstream religions?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

What’s with the rise of neo Nazis?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media. (yeah, because that’s how it happened last time)

Why are we seeing such extreme weather?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media. (nah, really. Back in my day we just said, “funny old weather” and got on with it)

It climate change real? (YES!)
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Why are we seeing so many severe food allergies?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

What’s the go with the au pairs?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

Where’d all the good people go?
I think it’s the 24-hour news cycle; I think it’s social media.

03 February, 2019

LET IT BE - The Beatles (1970)

It was supposed to be a rebirth. It turned out to be the death throes.

With the news that Peter Jackson will be ploughing through the 96 hours of film shot for an album and documentary originally to be titled Get Back, I thought I’d take another look at the original. The film has never had an officially sanctioned DVD release but there is a version of the original cut issued by United Artists available if you look hard enough.

It is both fascinating and depressing. Paul’s idea was for the band to get back to the ways they used to make music – recording live, no overdubs – and film the whole process. What becomes evident even without the history we know, is that John and George have accepted that the group has all but broken up; Paul is in denial, desperately trying to hold things together; and Ringo is just dutifully coming to work.

The film is basically split into three acts: the Twickenham sessions, the Apple sessions, and the rooftop performance.

It’s immediately evident that attempting to make a record in a film studio was a mistake. The most notable section is the argument between Paul and George. The music is terrible. The environment of the film studio was so cold (both figuratively and literally) that the sessions were abandoned. Recording shifted to the Apple offices in Savile Row resulting in a noticeable improvement in mood. The presence of Billy Preston at these sessions seems to help them keep on track, and it’s here that they actually complete some takes.

Naturally, it’s the rooftop session that is the highlight – arguably the first ever guerrilla gig. Even though they had several weeks of rehearsals under their belts by then, we get the impression that having an audience – even of passers-by – forces them to behave themselves and put in a decent performance. It’s a rightly legendary show, but will give nightmares to anyone brought up with a 21st century understanding of health and safety.

Even though it’s obvious the four of them have completely drifted apart, when they’re playing they still give their all. It also reveals how underrated John Lennon is as a musician. He plays sensitive bass on The Long and Winding Road and Let It Be (despite his distaste for the latter), some blistering slide blues on For You Blue, and one of the most recognisable guitar solos in history on Get Back. It’s worth remembering that none of these were his songs.

Both the film and album were shelved, and only released to satisfy contractual obligations. The film does deserve credit for its honesty. None of the Beatles come out looking particularly good but it’s Paul who comes out worst. In fairness, his domineering is clearly an attempt to give the band direction and delay the inevitable breakup, but it’s not hard to see why none of the Beatles were keen on having the film reissued in any way. One hopes the new edit will not be a whitewash.

The transfer on this version is abysmal so Peter Jackson’s cut will probably be worth the wait if only for picture quality, providing he doesn’t CGI it all into a flaming island castle.

Highlight: The rooftop session
Feature: * * ½
Extras: None
Audio: Dolby mono

31 January, 2019

Let sneaking presidents lie

Many have observed that when it comes to defending his policies, President Donald Trump likes to just make shit up. Shit like this:
Many have also observed that normally this would be a big deal, and lamented the fact that in 2019, it’s not as big a deal as it perhaps should be. It’s true that in normal times, such shameless falsehoods would be a big deal. But these are not normal times.

The one true skill Donald Trump has is his ability to change the story. His willingness to say things that are so obviously stupid with such regularity means there’s always something new to be shocked at. The previous shocks are forgotten.

In the essay On Bullshit, Harry Frankfurt argues that the liar needs to recognise and accept the truth on order to say the opposite. The bullshitter just doesn’t care either way. He could have been writing about Donald Trump.

It doesn’t matter whether Trump bullshits because it’s in his interest or because it’s in his nature. The fact is, his blatant disregard for the truth makes a convenient distraction from his blatant disregard for the rule of law.

At a time when thousands of federal employees were having to choose between rent and food due to a completely unnecessary government shutdown, Trump successfully launched a thousand hot takes about the White House serving cold hamberders. However delicious an allegory the story may have been on Trump’s character or 21st century America in general, it wasn’t the most important thing going on. It was just easier to write about. That’s Trump’s talent.

Pay no attention to the 800,000 furloughed workers behind the curtain
It’s enough to make you believe that Trump really could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Here’s how he would do it: First, he’d shoot someone. Then, as the police and ambulance were on their way, he would tweet something like,
“Mexicans faked the moon landing becos it’s really made of mozzarella cheese!!” 
And suddenly everyone would be saying, “That’s not true! OMG, you’re so stupid!” while the victim bleeds out.

The level of Donald Trump’s malfeasance is so deep that we need to prioritise. Yes, it’s shocking and sickening that the president of the United States can lie with such ease and abandon. What’s even more shocking and sickening is that this isn’t the worst thing about him. At a time when there is reasonable suspicion that the US head of state may be acting on behalf of a hostile foreign government, either wittingly or unwittingly, who cares if he pulls figures on illegal immigration out of his ass? You know it’s bullshit. I know it’s bullshit. Even he knows it’s bullshit, or would if he cared. But there’s still only so much people can think about in one moment, and as long as people are talking about whether he really knows anything about Mexican immigration (spoiler: No. Duh!), they’re not talking about whether he’s a criminal or a traitor.

If America had a president truly deserving of the title, the steady stream of untruths would indeed be scandalous. We so far beyond that now as to render the bullshit trivial. Stay focussed.

01 January, 2019

I read Mein Kampf

(and maybe you should too)

A few explanations first…

I read Hitler’s memoir/manifesto so as to have an informed opinion. There are plenty of quotes attributed to this book and I wanted to know which were accurate. And I wanted to know how Nazis defined themselves at the time, as opposed to how historians define them (not that I question the accuracy of those definitions) or how present day pseudo-fascists perceive the doctrine. I wanted to know to what extent it is a ravings of a madman, to what extent true intentions were covered up, and how a nation could have been taken in by such a doctrine.

Put more simply: Know your enemy.

I took great care in sourcing a copy. There was no way I was going to purchase a copy in any way, shape or form. Since coming into public domain, the book has been made available to buy and I am given to understand that proceeds from sales are donated to charity, although some charities have refused to take such donations. I’ll have more to say about whether the book should be available at all later. In any case, I was not going to have my name, payment details or any digital profile associated with such a purchase.

I used a TOR browser and private search engine to find a free electronic copy. In doing so, I discovered that there is some controversy among neo-Nazi circles about the accuracy of translations and certain edits of the book. Apparently there are certain “unedited” manuscripts which are alleged to contain Hitler’s “true” feelings because certain official versions were cleaned up. I sense bullshit there, and who cares anyway? I settled on a version which had been sanctioned by the Nazi party in the 1940s with the intention of distribution in an occupied Britain. This electronic copy was clearly scanned from a print copy, which explains the errors in the screenshot. I will not covert quotes to text.

There has been chatter in recent months about whether Hitler was left wing or right wing. It is an irrelevant question. George Orwell described himself as both a patriot and as a socialist but would recognise neither term as they are commonly used today. Yes, Hitler called the party “National Socialists” and he certainly held economic theories which might be described as socialist, but on the whole, the Nazi party was socialist in the same way that North Korea is a “Democratic Republic.” Hitler saved his most vehement (although non-specific) criticism for Marxism, which he considered to be a part of the great Jewish conspiracy.

The fact is there are passages of Mein Kampf that could plausibly be attributed to any post-war political thinker from Margaret Thatcher to Michael Moore. Trying to describe Nazism in modern terms of left and right is a fool’s errand which helps no-one.

Having grown up in a household where war documentaries were a common thing, it was regularly pointed out that when film of Hitler’s speeches are shown, there are never any translations and sometimes his voice is distorted too. Having read his book, I can now see why. He is seductive. There were moments in the first volume where I actually found myself nodding in agreement with certain passages only to be taken aback when I turned the page and was reminded that I was reading the words of one of history’s most evil men when he blamed it all on “the Jew.”

In last year’s rage read, Atlas Shrugged, it’s obvious in every paragraph that it was written by a sociopath. Mein Kampf has moments that are surprisingly, disturbingly reasonable in amongst the bizarre asides on Aryan supremacy.

This is the biggest problem with selective quotes from this book. While Hitler is rightly seen as the embodiment of all evil, it does not mean that all his views or policies are equally evil. This opens the door for people with modern political motives to make the spurious assertion that (for example) nationalisation of industry will lead to mass genocide.

General themes:
  • Parliamentary representatives are cowards because their collective responsibility also gives them the option to deny responsibility. Better to have a single leader who Providence shall identify and who will be responsible to the angry masses if they fail.
  • Oratory is greater than writing.
  • Marxism is evil.
  • So is social democracy.
  • The masses are mostly stupid.
  • Economic dominance is no substitute for military power and expansionism.
  • It is right to forcibly expand territories to feed a growing population.
  • Germany only lost World War I because of traitors and a defeatist press.
  • Propaganda needs to consist of short, simple slogans repeated endlessly. (sound familiar?)
  • The press want to undermine the state and therefore must be controlled by the state.
  • All the press is controlled by the Jews.
  • Marriage is for procreation and the strengthening of the race and the state.
  • Modern art is rubbish.
  • So is modern architecture.
  • Aryans invented everything.
  • Subjugation of ‘inferior’ races is mutually beneficial.
  • Racial impurity is the cause of all downfall.
  • Might makes right.

There is no pandering to any point of view. There is absolutely no doubt Hitler believes everything he says here. He actually makes a partially reasonable case for dictatorship, reminding us of that great conservative saying that representative democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. His unashamed belief in racial supremacy and outright dictatorship are both shocking and, in a way, almost refreshing in an age where we are used to certain sectors making sly hints towards these views. If nothing else, Hitler was honest about it.

The words “master race” are never used but Hitler’s obsession with racial purity and paranoid belief that Jews control all aspects of finance, the media and (somehow) Marxism dominate every topic. In fact, his assertions on eugenics border on the comical but it’s important to think before you laugh. As patently absurd as much of this doctrine is, we must remember it eventually seduced a nation which went on to conquer most of a continent, murder 6 million people, and it took a world war to stop them.

This brings me back to why I wanted to read this book and whether it should be available. Mein Kampf is undoubtedly an extremely dangerous book. I do not believe it should be banned. I believe that to guard against racist nationalist dictatorship ever rising again, we need to know and recognise the doctrine in their own words as well the interpretation of historians. The subtitle of this essay is in no way a recommendation or an endorsement. I don’t think people should read this book out of idle curiosity. As tedious as the writing is, it has the power to seduce the weak minded or those who don’t read it in the context of what it led to. It should however be considered by anyone who wants to recognise Nazism in its own words and identify anything similar.

PS: I am open to suggestions for a rage-read in 2019 but please make it something shorter.  

08 December, 2018

The problem with Rudolph

Never mind Baby It’s Cold Outside or Fairytale of New York. If you want to talk about bad messages in Christmas songs, try Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

You see, Rudolph was born different. To wit: he had a very shiny nose. For this, all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. Furthermore, they excluded him from their reindeer games.

However, Santa sees the value in Rudolph's uniqueness and gives him a special job to which he is especially suited. And then how the reindeer loved him!

Now you might think Santa is being pretty cool promoting Rudolph to the most popular reindeer and making the other reindeer accept him, but that’s not really what happens. He could have stopped the rest of the team teasing him any time he wanted, but he didn’t until he had a use for Rudolph.

And did the reindeer really love him? I doubt it. They were never shown the error of their ways. They only accepted Rudolph because Santa made him special, so they were really just sucking up to the boss.

The moral of the story? Reindeer are dicks and Santa will stick up for you if he has a use for you. If I were Rudolph, I’d have led them all up a ditch.


17 November, 2018

Top Ten Awesome Babble Songs

I’m currently reading Hang the DJ, an Alternative Book of Music Lists. It goes beyond the typical Top Ten Guitar Solos and sticks to very specific criteria. The first chapter, written by Owen King, tells you everything you need to know about the type of lists in the book: Ten Essential Stutter songs (for example, Muh-muh-muh-My Sharona and Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes.)

In selecting Talking Heads’ Psycho Killer, Owen King admits it only works if the final syllable is actually ‘far’ and not merely another ‘fah’ which would make it “better suited for the Top 10 Awesome Babble Songs.” Which gives me an idea…

This does not include scat singing or anything similar, but only songs where the babble is an integral part of the song, and often even the title.

10: Doo Wah Diddy - Manfred Mann

It’s really just your typical boy-meets-girl and they fall in love song. Only in this one, they’re singing ‘Doo wah diddy, diddy dum, diddy do.’ As you do.

9: Tutti Frutti - Little Richard
Apart from Mr Penniman listing some of the gals he’s got, the song is almost all babble. Although the title may also be an ice cream flavour an ‘aw rooty’ is allegedly a slang term for ‘all right,’ it hardly enhances the meaning of the song, whatever it may be. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom’s meaning has only come since the song.

8: Be-Bop-a-Lula - Gene Vincent
Any song that commits the lyrical sin of rhyming ‘baby’ and ‘maybe’ ensures that even if all the other words are utter drivel, they still won’t be the worst thing about the song. Like Yabba-Dabba-Doo, Be-Bop-a-Lula has no particular meaning but you still know it means something good.

7: Da Do Ron Ron - The Crystals

Another piece of babble that you just know means… something! All the great innocent pop has a sexuality bubbling underneath and you have to figure out what it means for yourself. Bruce Springsteen made it obvious that when they kissed, fire! But in Phil Spector’s teen symphony, when he walked her home, Da do ron ron! If you know what I mean.

6: Hey Jude - The Beatles
Perhaps a controversial choice, but any song where over half of the single’s 7-minute length is: ‘Nah, nah, nah, nananah nah, nananah nah, Hey Jude!’ surely has to count.

If that doesn’t work for you try…

5:  Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da - The Beatles
Far from being a twee nursery rhyme that some people consider it to be, it’s far more political than that. It’s easy to forget this was the time of Enoch Powel and his ‘blood in the streets’ speech. Paul McCartney’s simple story of a multicultural family being just as ordinary as can be, set to a calypso beat, was a sly put-down to all that. While John Lennon might have been more likely to just say, “Don’t be racist, you pigs!” Paul was a bit more subtle than that. Almost too subtle.

4: The Boxer - Simon and Garfunkel
No-one said babble songs had light or fluffy. Paul Simon has admitted the ‘Li-la-li’ chorus was a simply a placeholder for lyrics that never came, and his embarrassment about it. He shouldn’t be so hard on himself. It works. What I never understood was why in the middle of the chorus of this most gentle and sensitive song, there’s a massive drum hit drenched in reverb that comes at you like a punch in the face. Like a punch in the… oh, right. The Boxer. Now I get it.

3: #9 Dream - John Lennon
John Lennon was a master of nonsense. This is quite a talent. A silly, off-the-cuff lyric from Paul McCartney sounds like a silly, off-the-cuff lyric but John could write about semolina pilchards climbing up the Eiffel Tower like it was the most profound thing you ever heard. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.

In its wider context, the chorus of ‘Ah! Bowakawa, pousse pousse’ sounds to the monolingual ear like it could be a message to Yoko in Japanese. In fact, they’re just the words John heard in the aforementioned dream. Yet his delivery assures you that there must be more to it than just that.

2: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da - The Police
Even as a classically trained post-punk in the late 70s, Sting took himself rather seriously. It’s tempting to think the title and hook of this song might be yet another pretention. It was on an album called Zenyatta Mondatta, after all. Mercifully, there was no deeper meaning. It’s simply a song about being tongue-tied before the object of one’s affections, and who can’t relate to that? It’s meaningless and all that's true.

1: Sussudio - Phil Collins
It’s still a boy-meets-girl song with a babble title and chorus. This time, the narrator invites the listener to say the word because it makes him feel so good. Try it for yourself. Go on, say, “Su-Sussudio.” Does it make you feel so good? Of course it doesn’t!

Phil Collins is problematic on a few levels but there’s no denying he completely nailed it here. Every single line and lick is a hook, and if the first keyboard riff bears a striking resemblance to Prince’s 1999, it’s probably no accident. This is probably the most-mid 80s song ever. You couldn’t design one better if you tried. You want to hate it but you can’t. Admit it.