28 November, 2010

This biting comment from the most amusing Death Star PR is well taken. It still seems you’re more likely to go to jail for messing with powerful people’s money than for something that actually hurts people. Having said that, and acknowledged the Death Star’s point, a reality check:

If you’re not doing and/or facilitating anything illegal, why call yourself the Pirate Bay? It’s a bit of a giveaway. Part of the definition of a pirate is one who acts outside the law. And can we also accept that taking something without paying for it with the intent to permanently deprive is in fact stealing? It doesn’t matter if you feel you have a good reason to, it’s still stealing.

For a decade now, we have heard rationalisation of illegal downloading.

“It’s not stealing, it’s sharing.”
No it isn’t. If I share a bottle of wine with you, every drop that you drink is a drop that I can’t. It’s a zero sum equation. “Sharing” music online is like buying one bottle of wine and stealing a case to “share” with your friends – or any random passer-by for that matter.

“I’m helping the artist by giving them exposure.”
Yeah, right. Exposure doesn’t pay the rent, and most musicians aren’t as rich as you think they are. Fame does not equal fortune and downloading for promotion only increases the gap between recognition and return.

“Hey, record companies have been screwing artists for years anyway. We’re fighting back.”
Oh great! So you’re going to fight back by denying your favourite artists what little reward they would have gotten if you’d paid for it. They must love you for that.

“It’s no different to borrowing books from the library.”
Yes it is. When you borrow a book from the library, you don’t get to keep it. Also, authors are paid royalties for library borrowings. It’s a pittance, but they are paid.

“I download to check it out and if I like it I buy it.”
I pay this one, for those who actually do. But if you think this is how the majority of downloaders operate, then I’ll sell you a bridge to.... well, you get the idea.

“If record companies and film studios made better stuff and charged a reasonable price, then I’d pay for it.”
But as it stands, it’s good enough to steal, just not good enough to pay for. Following this logic, it’s okay to steal from McDonald’s because it’s not very good. If you see a jacket that you’d be prepared to pay $50 for but the store is charging $150, does that give you the right to take it without paying anything?

I’m not suggesting that downloading is bad in and of itself. Many artists make their work available for free, they use BitTorrent for distribution, they put their films on YouTube. That’s fine if it’s at the artist’s discretion. If one store offers free samples, that doesn’t make it okay to take from the store next door.

I’m no angel. I’ve downloaded stuff. For instance, I have no qualms about downloading music that I have already bought on vinyl. According to my personal ethics, I’ve already bought that album, but technically, it’s still illegal and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

Fining and jailing the founders of the Pirate Bay may seem heavy handed, but they knew (or at least should have known) that they were operating in a grey area of the law. Many similar sites closed down, sensing that they game was up. No, they didn’t give anyone cancer or facilitate murder, and that fact that those who do go free is a fair comment. Stealing from musicians, filmmakers and software developers is not going to make the tobacco companies and arms dealers go away though. It would be cool for people who have benefitted from the Pirate Bay’s services to all chip in and help them pay £4.1million fine – but I expect they’ll just keep taking as much as they can take.

27 November, 2010

The Rules: Nailin’ Palin

(get your minds out of the gutter!)

My opinion of Sarah Palin is well documented so you will know I am not defending her antics in general when I say this: everyone is allowed a slip of the tongue, okay?
I am happy to give Sarah Palin the benefit of the doubt that talking about “our North Korean allies,” was nothing more than a slip of the tongue. This does not mean she is not an idiot. Indeed, there is so much evidence that she’s a nong that presenting more just seems like piling on.

Naturally, her defenders have come out to blame it all on a biased media yet again. How lame-stream! Andrew Bolt was oh so clever in reminding us of Barack Obama’s slip-ups in referring to, “fifty seven states” and “my Muslim faith.” Then he linked to a post of Palin’s which listed even more – and if you believe she wrote that herself, then I’ll sell you a bridge to nowhere.

Like Bushisms, Palinisms take on a mythology of their own and her defenders are all too keen to misrepresent legitimate criticism to try and discredit the critics. They are quick to remind us that Palin never said, “I can see Russia from my house.” We know that. We’re not stupid. However, Palin did cite Alaska’s close proximity to Russia as evidence of her foreign policy credentials.

“It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia. As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there, they are right next to our state.”

I have two problems with this statement. Firstly, I would imagine if you were travelling from Siberia to Saskatchewan, you might pass over Alaska – but if you’re travelling from Moscow to Washington DC, it would be much quicker and easier to fly across Europe and then turn left at Greenland, as they say in the classics. So here we have a very real and legitimate question as to her grasp of geography.

Secondly, if we assume that Putin did choose to take the scenic route when it comes time to do a bit of head-rearing, how does that qualify Sarah Palin to speak on foreign policy? If simply living under a flight-path gives you special insight, then the people who live around Heathrow airport in London must all be veritable Ban Ki-moons.

That inane statement came from the same profile with Katie Couric where, in answer to a question about what newspapers and magazines she reads, she answered, “All of ’em.” Let’s be clear, this was not a “gotcha!” question. Charlie Gibson asking her if she agrees with the Bush doctrine was a gotcha question. Katie Couric asking what newspapers you read? The only possible way you can flub that is if you’re trying to cover up for something. And how dim do you have to be if Katie Couric can make a fool out of you without even trying?

Later, Palin revealed that she doesn’t learn from her mistakes. In an interview with Glenn Beck – surely one of the most sympathetic interviewers she could possibly face – upon being asked who her favourite founding father was, she again answered, “All of them.” Okay, it was a stupid question whichever way you look at it, and she recovered to eventually say (rather predictably) George Washington, but only after Glenn Beck (yes, Glenn Beck, of all people!) called “bullcrap” to her face.

That wasn’t the first time Palin had messed up on her history regarding the founding fathers either. In answer to a question that came from a generic candidate questionnaire, “Are you offended by the phrase “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?” her answer was,
“If it was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me and I'll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”
That answer could only make sense if the founders were still around in 1892 when the pledge was written, and if they also there 62 years later when the words, “under God,” were added. Now I’ll admit that I didn’t know the full history of the pledge of allegiance until people fact-checked Palin on it, but I was aware that, “under God,” was added later and if a shitkicker from Australia knew that, then I think it’s fair to expect Patriot Barbie to know it as well.

I submit these just off the top of my head, as examples that cannot be dismissed as simple slips of the tongue. It’s Palin’s history of misunderstanding history, and geography, that leads people to think that a slip of the tongue may be more than just that. Sure, Obama has made his gaffes and they deserve to be mocked, but regardless of what you may think of him, he also has shown evidence of knowing what he’s talking about which is why people tend to let the slips slide. Palin’s tendency to simply assemble clichés make the gaffes the only interesting part of what she says.

Another thing that cannot be dismissed as a slip of the tongue is “refudiate.” She didn’t mis-speak because she wasn’t speaking at all, she was typing on twitter. Obviously she couldn’t decide whether she was going to say ‘refute,’ or ‘repudiate,’ and mixed the two.

Once again, let’s be fair to Sarah. In the preface to The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll writes,

‘For instance, take the two words “fuming” and “furious.” Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards “fuming,” you will say “fuming-furious;” if they turn, by even a hair's breadth, towards "furious," you will say “furious-fuming;” but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say “frumious”.’

So, does this mean that by Lewis Carroll’s standards, Sarah Palin has a perfectly balanced mind? I think not, because Carroll was referring to speech and, as mentioned, Palin was typing. Now, I like using big words. I am a wordy person, despite the floccinaucinihilipilification that has been directed at me because of it. Even so, when I’m not sure about a word or its use, I look it up. Sarah, so sure of herself, just barged on in. That’s one thing, but not correcting it when the mistake was pointed out, is another. That’s another difference between Palin and Obama. Obama did not rationalise his gaffes by comparing himself to Shakespeare.

So, righties, I’m really happy for you that you’ve found a few Obama slip-ups to compare to Palin slip-ups. Pat yourselves on the back. You could perhaps compare Palin’s policies to Obama’s if she had any. Why even compare Palin and Obama at all? Like him or not, Obama is the president and Palin is.... what, exactly? A half-term governor turned television personality? And we’re supposed to compare the two as equals?

It’s worth pointing out here that Obama has been president for almost as long as Palin was governor. Palin took a lot of criticism – some of it valid, some of it not – and responded by quitting and blaming it all on the mean old media. As for Obama, whether you love him or hate him (or even if you have found some middle ground between the extremes), any reasonable person would admit that some of the (ahem) criticism of Obama goes WAY beyond what anyone would consider civil discourse or reasonable objection – all of it egged on by a mainstream media empire. But you know what? That’s politics in America. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the stovey, cooky roomy thing. That’s what Palin chose to do. If Obama were Palin, he would have taken one look at the teabaggers and fucked off back to Chicago, or Hawaii, or Indonesia, or Kenya, or Mars, or where-ever it is he’s supposed to be from this week.

23 November, 2010

The Best of the Best-Ofs – George Harrison

My dearest once put it to me that George Harrison was the most artistic of the Beatles. After thinking it through, I suspect she is right. While John and Paul each had very different approaches, they were still essentially saying, “Look at me!” with everything they did. Ringo was, and remains, the beloved entertainer. George just did what he wanted to do and people either liked it or they didn’t.
There have been three compilations released in George Harrison’s name, and only one of them with his clear approval. Are any of them any good?

The Best Of George Harrison - 1976

It’s something of an insult to George’s solo career that the entire first side of this album is taken up by Beatles songs. George’s songs were often the highlights of Beatles albums, largely as a reflection of how bloody good they had to be if they were to be heard above Lennon and McCartney. While Here Comes the Sun, Something and While My Guitar Gently Weeps all deserve to be counted among George Harrison’s finest work, they are still Beatles songs, not George Harrison solo recordings. George himself had nothing to do with this release. It was a contractual obligation that George suggested a tracklisting for and EMI ignored it.

The one slight attraction of this collection is that it contains the only album release of the studio version of Bangla Desh. Beyond that, it has nothing to recommend it.

For: Cheap
Against: Nasty

Best Of Dark Horse 1976-1989 - 1989

In 1987, George Harrison performed one of the greatest musical comebacks with his Cloud 9 album. A year later, he consolidated his popularity as part of the Travelling Wilburys and by the end of the 80s, the Quiet One was arguably the most recognisable ex-Beatle. It was a perfect time to bring out a compilation and remind people of some underrated classics such as Blow Away, Life Itself and Crackerbox Palace.

The album also contains three previously unreleased tracks - Cheer Down, which was used on the Lethal Weapon 2 soundtrack, and two others which remain unavailable anywhere else. Poor Little Girl sounds like a worthy out-take from Cloud 9. Cockamamie Business, which channels Bob Dylan in the lyrics, could be seen as part three of an autobiographical trilogy that began with When We Was Fab and continued with Handle With Care.

As the album title suggests the collection only includes songs from George’s Dark Horse label, so there’s no My Sweet Lord or What Is Life? but in a way, the album is better for it. By 1976, George had developed a style and sound based around his disciplined and precise slide guitar playing. That’s what Best of Dark Horse presents and it holds together as an excellent album in its own right. It’s just a pity it’s not easily available now.

For: Consistent, two songs unavailable elsewhere.
Against: Out of print, nothing from Apple years.

Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison - 2009

The subtitle of simply Songs by George Harrison suggests that this is neither meant to be a hits or best-of album, but perhaps more of an introduction. It’s the only compilation of the three to span George’s entire solo career but in doing so, it leaves out some fairly significant songs as well. Cheer Down is included but Bangla Desh is not. I Don’t Want to Do It, a Bob Dylan cover previously only available on the soundtrack to Porky’s Revenge(!) is included. The Jools Holland collaboration Horse to Water is not.

Three Beatles songs - While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something and Here Comes the Sun - are included, but these are live versions from the Concert for Bangla Desh. I’m torn, as I’m sure many other fans are, as to whether this is a reasonable compromise or a bit of a cop out. On one level, it’s fair enough since George effectively invented the modern charity concert with that show. In any case, I daresay Olivia has a good idea of what George would have approved of.

On paper, the track sequencing looks a bit weird, jumping from All Things Must Pass, to Brainwashed and back again, but when you listen to the album, it flows perfectly.

For: Remastered, covers George’s whole solo career
Against: Leaves out some hits

If you had to choose one, choose....
Let It Roll, if only because it’s the easiest to obtain. Best of Dark Horse comes an extremely close second, hindered only by its rareness today.

My Sweet Lord from The Best of George Harrison

My Sweet Lord from Let It Roll

Blow Away from Best of Dark Horse

Blow Away from Let It Roll

07 November, 2010

The Rules: The Wizard Doesn’t Live Here

I can’t stand it when people refer to Australia as Oz. It has rankled for ages. I’m not one to stand on protocol, I’ve no time for patriotism just for its own sake and I’m about the least jingoistic person I can think of, but can’t we at least have the self respect to spell our name correctly?

Usually, I brush it off, but I was disturbed to see this weekend, the #HillaryOz tag on Twitter being promoted by both the ABC and the US Embassy, which goes by the handle, USAembassyinOZ. It’s one thing to use it as slang, but when official representatives start using it, that’s just undignified. I’ve felt this way ever since the Australian bit of Live Aid was called “Oz for Africa.”

I understand the need to abbreviate, but couldn’t we at least say Aus? That’s at least accurate, and it’s only one letter longer. Since it’s the internet, you could even abbreviate it to au and people should know what you’re talking about.

It really pains me to sound like such an old fart about this, but this is Australia, not Ozstralia. I’m an Aussie, not an Ozzie. I would expect the USAembassyinOZ would be there to make diplomatic representations to the Wizard, and HillaryOz would either involve some ruby slippers and finding her way back to Kansas, or a special visit by the US Secretary of State to a gritty prison.

03 November, 2010

Dear Republicans,

Congratulations! Finally you don’t have Nancy Pelosi to kick around any more. Good for you!

Now it’s time to put up or shut up. If the budget is not balanced, the war not over and full employment not restored in two years’ time, then we will know who to blame.

Don’t think me harsh in saying that. I’m only applying the same standards you set for the other side. In fact, you barely waited three months into the new guy’s term before talking tea parties and reloading and secession and all kinds of hooey. So I’m actually being pretty generous in giving you two years. Everything that has happened since 2006 has been Pelosi and Reid’s fault. You didn’t even wait for the inauguration to begin blaming the economy on Obama. And whenever anyone pointed out the parts Republican congresses, senates and the Bush administration played in getting to the current situation, you said that was in the past and it’s all the Democrats’ fault now.

Well, now it’s your fault again. I’m a reasonable person and normally I would give an incoming government at least a year before thinking that any situation is entirely of that government’s own making. But the American public has embraced you and your values – and your values are that the slate is wiped clean with the changeover. By your own pronouncements, you own this. Everything that happens next is your fault.

This has been the biggest spending election ever with $3.4 billion (an increase of 50% on the 2006 mid-terms) spent by campaigns talking about fiscal responsibility and restraint.
Good luck!

02 November, 2010

The Best of the Best-Ofs: Paul McCartney

In a 40-year post-Beatle career, Paul McCartney has released three compilations – considerably less than many of his contemporaries. Curiously, they all deal with less than half of his career.

Wings Greatest – 1978
Does exactly what it says on the cover. Wings only made one more album after Wings Greatest, the excellent but hit-free Back to the Egg so it can still be considered the definitive Wings collection. It collection does stretch the definition just a little by including two tracks originally credited to Paul & Linda McCartney, but no-one could possibly begrudge that. It includes five non-album singles but for reasons of space, leaves out Listen to What the Man Said. Wings Greatest remains the only album that contains the full version of Junior’s Farm.

For: Succinct
Against: These days, represents a comparatively short phase of McCartney’s career.

All the Best – 1987
Originally released as a double-LP All the Best contains nine tracks that were also released on Wings Greatest and add the hits from the 80s. It includes the first album releases of C Moon, We All Stand Together and Goodnight Tonight, although the latter was not included on the single CD. Contains one new song, Once Upon a Long Ago.

The US version of All the Best had a slightly different tracklisting, and includes the live version of Coming Up, (which was the A-side of the single in the US) rather than the album version.

For: Great artwork, Only album release of Once Upon a Long Ago
Against: CD version drops three tracks.

Wingspan – 2001
Released alongside the television documentary and book of the same name, Wingspan is sensibly divided into two themed discs, Hits and History. The collection does employ a rather curious definition of Wings’ career. While it’s fair enough to include pre-Wings tracks from McCartney and Ram, it also covers part of Paul’s post-Wings careers, but suddenly stops in 1984.
On the Hits side, it’s all the usual suspects – ten tracks previously included on Wings Greatest and fourteen that had been on All the Best. The History side delves deeper and does a good job of being a true best-of, including underrated tracks like Heart of the Country, Take It Away and Rockestra Theme. It also includes an early demo of Bip Bop/Hey Diddle, which was previously unreleased and should have remained so. Where available, radio edits included which may be interesting for completists but does an injustice to a beautiful song like Waterfalls, and wasn’t Junior’s Farm already short enough? Again, Coming Up is replaced with the live version on the US version. The smarter thing to do would have been to include it on the History disc, since the live version has never been available on CD outside the US.

For: Comprehensive, separate Hits and History discs, remastered.
Against: Edited versions, weird time period.

If you had to choose one, choose....
Wingspan. All these collections sell McCartney’s catalogue short on one level or another, but Wingspan is the most comprehensive.

Band on the Run from Wings Greatest

Band on the Run from All the Best

Band on the Run from Wingspan

See also,

Never Stop Doing What You Love – 2005
This collection was issued as part of a sponsorship deal with and investment company. Although never commercially released, it is available online from certain sellers. It’s mostly a predictable collection of hits, but also includes Put It There, The World Tonight and Calico Skies, making it the only McCartney compilation to include anything after 1984.

The McCartney Years – 2007
As a collection of videos, this is the only McCartney collection to give equal representation to all stages of his career from 1970 to 2005.