Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Still little to say

Well you can't say you weren't warned. The days pass and still I'm bereft of inspiration. Adrift on an ocean of something-or-other.

The world keeps turning. Hurtling towards all manner of very scary and inconveniently scheduled disasters. But the seething rage that best inspires polemical wittering (sometimes known, quaintly, as "political blogging") is currently absent without leave as I suffer a bout of post-Catholic Understanding.

The rage did flare briefly with the Brian Eno thing, which frankly I still find appalling... there's just no need for it. But that was merely a spark as the capitalist breeze blew across some banked-down coals. Lately I've found myself watching Question Time, and where I should be filling with the fire of righteous retribution and storming the Houses of Parliament baying for "the head of Tony Blair" or demanding that "the streets run red with the blood of our leaders" (the normal, rational and perfectly justifiable response to modern politics) I instead succumb to an involuntary attack of empathy.

Is it not possible, I wonder, that our leaders may actually be fools and fuck-ups instead of evil scum? We're all just a bunch of cursed monkeys after all... maybe there's just no other way for it to go down. The fuck-ups at the top are just as trapped in a system programmed to self-destruct as those right at the bottom. And in return for their material comforts they'll be forced to watch in horror as they're blamed for the whole mess.

Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.
- Albert Einstein
The world is going to hell in a handbasket. War, famine, pestilence and death are riding their monstrous steeds roughshod over the face of our battered planet. Earthquakes that "wipe out a generation", hurricanes that rip the beating heart from the most powerful nation on earth and tsunamis that obliterate the coastline of half a continent. Tsunamis for crying out loud! Tell you what... if I was living next to a volcano, I'd be feeling pretty damn twitchy right about now.

Most of this stuff is avoidable though... those four horsemen are only metaphors for human failing and not the literal and physical embodiment of the apocalypse as a certain US president would have you believe. No, I don't mean the tsunamis and hurricanes are crafted by human hand (though, with a greater danger of climate-change-related sea-level rises, it probably makes sense for us to begin the methodical evacuation of particularly vulnerable areas). But the famine and the war and the pestilence are - theoretically at least - within the power of humanity to control and eliminate. The fact that we are not, and are not likely to do so, can be primarily attributed to a crisis of leadership.

But this crisis of leadership is itself a product of modern political culture. Our combination of neo-liberal consumerism and representative democracy has created a society that is pathologically short-termist. It is to Tony Blair's credit (and it's not often you'll find me opening a sentence with those words) that he recognises and publicly acknowledges this fact. Earlier this year, in a speech to the World Economic Forum on the subject of climate change, Blair stated:
if we put forward, as a solution to climate change, something which involves drastic cuts in growth or standards of living, it matters not how justified it is, it simply won't be agreed to.
- Tony Blair (27/01/2005)
And he recently reiterated this in a speech to a conference in New York (organised by Bill Clinton) on the subject of "global challenges" when he pointed out:
The truth is, no country is going to cut its growth or consumption substantially in the light of a long-term environmental problem.
- Tony Blair (25/09/2005)
Blair accepts that climate change is one of the most important (if not the most important) of the global challenges facing us today. This is a view echoed by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists and informed commentators. Mind you, the author of Jurassic Park and Congo thinks otherwise, as do numerous pro-fossil fuel, oil-company-financed lobbying groups... so it would be wrong to imply a complete consensus of opinion.

But, ignoring the silly paranoia of writers of bad fiction and those with a vested financial interest in selling as much fossil fuel as possible; everyone agrees that we need to address the issue of anthropogenic climate change in some fashion. There are - broadly speaking - two approaches to addressing the issue.

Approach #1: Efforts are begun right now to massively reduce our carbon emissions. This would not be done in cases where such reduction would actively endanger human life. However, while we would clearly seek to minimise economic disruption where possible; the fate of the planet will be considered a higher priority than present economic growth. Therefore, until a practical alternative to this course of action is demonstrated, economic growth will be sacrificed in order to minimise the danger that anthropogenic climate change poses to future generations.

Approach #2: We continue roughly as we have done. Obviously the gratuitous addition of carbon to the atmosphere will be discouraged (using market forces, not political intervention) but individuals and companies will remain free to burn fossil fuels if they can afford to do so. However, economic incentives will be introduced to encourage cleaner technologies and alternative methods of dealing with waste carbon.

The first of these (active intervention to reduce carbon emissions) requires sacrifice on the part of the wealthy nations and is primarily a decision based upon ethics. We decide that our immediate wealth and personal gratification are less important, from a moral perspective, than the well-being of generations as yet unborn. This in turn can only be secured by strong political leadership, and given that type of leadership... someone who can demonstrate the value of making this economic sacrifice... then Approach #1 has a high chance of reducing human impact on the climate as well as setting us upon the road to a more sustainable future.

The second of these, however, requires neither sacrifice nor strong political leadership. It assumes that carbon emissions can be reduced while maintaining economic growth. It assumes that someone else will deal with the problem at some point in the future and aims to place market mechanisms in place to increase the likelihood of this occurring. So there is simply no way - barring the invention of a time machine - to assess the chances that Approach #2 has of reducing human impact on the climate. It is a matter of faith.

The two statements made by Blair must therefore be viewed as an acknowledgement that he is incapable of providing the political leadership required to implement Approach #1. That despite his belief that climate change is a very serious issue, he will nonetheless choose Approach #2 - placing the safety of future generations (his own children) - in the hands of an act of faith.

Which should inspire at least enough ire to warrant a lambasting, right? Except it doesn't. At least not right now (though these bouts of serene acceptance rarely last very long). Right now it seems to me that Blair's attitude towards Climate Change, and his statements on the issue, are no more than confirmation of that dark truth spoken by Einstein.
Full post...

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sell out

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Fuck it all.

You think you've grown as cynical and jaded about famous artists as is possible to get. But every now and then, something comes along that reveals a small, shining glimmer of idealism still remains. And then that something stamps it into the ground with a dirty great boot.

Brian Eno was one of the artists I felt had genuine integrity. I've met the man a couple of times and - along with his book (A Year With Swollen Appendices) and various interviews - that was my overwhelming impression of him.... intelligent and honourable. A man of integrity. And I respected him hugely for that. Quite aside from the fact that he made some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard.

Sadly my respect for the man was dealt a potentially fatal blow a few moments ago when I switched on the TV and saw he'd taken on a new job. He's now a corporate salesman for a large telecommunications firm.

One of the most beautiful albums ever recorded is Eno's Music For Airports. The haunting, fragile music has lulled me to sleep more often than I can possibly recall. It may well be the most-listened-to album in my collection for that very reason. It has coloured my dreams for many many years. But no longer, I'm afraid. The subtle colours of Music For Airports have been crudely painted over with a single gaudy shade of orange.

One viewing of that 30 second hard-sell has altered forever the opening piece on Music For Airports and by extension the album as a whole. Television can do that, you know. A visual medium has that power. And I'm damn certain that Eno is aware of that too. His past work clearly means very little to him if he's content to have it remembered as "that music from the Orange ad".

What's next I wonder? Shilling SUVs with Neroli? Or maybe he'll do a sales pitch for McDonalds? Nike and The Gap are always looking for new music to sell the products of their sweatshops... maybe he could give them something off his last album? Or perhaps dig into his back catalogue again... take another piece of music that was once worth something to some of us and reduce it to an advertising jingle for pensions.

Now, I'm certain that there are many people out there working in sales for Orange (or some other mobile phone company) who are decent people with integrity... trapped like the rest of us in this rat-race and making a living as best they can. But they haven't shat all over a piece of art; one that had real value in the eyes of many; in order to earn an extra bonus.

And even if he's donating his fee to charity (he's a patron of War Child after all) it's still a shoddy thing to do. Helping a global corporation sell more environmentally destructive tat to a population already saturated with consumer bullshit in the name of charity just doesn't cut it. Not when he could donate the proceeds of an album, or a year's worth of royalties, or whatever.

I mean, it's not like the man who produces U2 and David Bowie albums is short of a few quid... quite aside from the fact that he's had a successful recording career himself and - in the past - also produced highly successful albums for the likes of Talking Heads, James and many others. How much fucking money does one person need?

Sadly, I suspect I'll no longer drift off to sleep to the gorgeous strains of Music For Airports. The last thing I want, after all, is to have my dreams coloured by advertising jingles.
Full post...

Friday, October 07, 2005

The universe is made of 'Frustration'

Via Mark at Strange Attractor comes this wonderful short video of 91-year-old telescope-maker, John Dobson, and his theory that Frustration is the basis of the continued existence of the universe. You'll need Media Player to view it, but it's well-worth the download. Check it out here.

(there's nothing below the fold)
Full post...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

So what's up then?

I know, I know; I've been incredibly slack (blog-wise) of late. There's two reasons for this... firstly - believe it or not - it looks like by the beginning of next week I'll have finally caught up with the notional schedule of mine that's been eluding my grasp since midsummer. The three projects I've been working on should have all their loose ends tied up by Monday (just in time for the start of another major project... this time for The Government, so I'd like to thank all you taxpayers for my Christmas paycheque). And a couple of other (non-work) things that have been consuming my time are starting to slack off too.

So in theory I'm ready to return to (semi-)regular blogging very soon. Leastways I would be if it wasn't for the second reason for my lack of blogging: a lack of inspiration.

I've got five or six half-written posts and a couple of almost-done articles. But nothing that makes me tingle. Nothing that makes me think "people need to read this". Don't get me wrong; they're as well-written as anything else I write... they all have that trademark mixture of intelligent analysis, inexplicable tangents and irreverence that my reader knows and loves. I don't have "writers block"... I just don't feel like I've got an awful lot to say right now.

When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed

Of course this blog isn't always about having something of great import to impart. But there's so much "serious" stuff happening in the world right now that it seems weird not to have anything to say about it. I mean, I could rattle on about the Tory Party's farcical leadership contest, or about nuLabor's suppression of dissent. I could analyse the many news stories about oil pricing and availability or I could discuss Iraq and the increasingly weird news surrounding that particular debacle.

And yes, of course I have stuff to say about all that... but it all seems so obvious and basically not-worth-listening-to.

So yeah, I'm going to try and get back to regular blogging, but you'll have to forgive me if I get a bit lightweight for a bit until I find my political inspiration again (expect blog memes, music posts, amusing links, tales of pot-induced silliness... that sort of thing). And in that spirit, allow me to unveil that old blogging stalwart...

The last 10 tracks to play on my media-player

Kathy's Song - Simon & Garfunkel
A dizzyingly beautiful song of love and loss. It always calls to mind an old girlfriend from many years ago whose name was not Kathy.

I Just Wasn't Made For These Times - The Beach Boys
This song - of course - is one I identify with personally. But you already knew that, right?

Marching Through The Wilderness (live) - David Byrne
Samba percussion and Byrne's exquisite guitar playing make this version of the Rei Momo classic a real joy to bop along to. "I'm marching through the wilderness / Crying out for tenderness / They call me Mr. Pitiful... but everything is wonderful"

Because (Anthology 3 version) - The Beatles
Ethereal and strange without the instrumentation... very lovely indeed.

Mutherfuker - Beck
Dirty and incoherent and nasty and fantastic. Turn up really loud! And remember... "EVERYONE'S OUT TO GET YOU MUTHERFUKER!"

Shine A Light (live) - Spiritualized
I go all the way back with Spiritualized. I can recall listening to their first single on a lot of acid back in uni and feeling tears well up in my eyes... "This music is too beautiful". "I know", replied Richard, also teary-eyed. I was actually at the gig that this was recorded at (Albert Hall, Oct 97). I was on silly amounts of hash-cake and was again moved to tears. Ain't music marvellous?

Happiness Is A Warm Gun - The Beatles
If I could only take one record to a desert island (what a horrible thought) it would almost certainly be The White Album. It's not necessarily the best album of all time but there's something on it for every single mood and I'm not sure I can think of another album like that.

Hidden Place - Björk
I'm finding Björk a bit difficult to listen to at the moment... there's an eroticism to much of her music that's become a little grating in these days of involuntary celibacy. Which is not to say that this isn't one of the most gorgeous pieces of music you're ever likely to hear.

Beats Around The Bush - norlonto audio department soundsystem
Ummm... this is one of my own. Dubya Bush cut-ups over the top of electronic beats. "America will accept no law of morality and will have no limits to our violent ambitions"

The Diver - Stina Nordenstam
This track has a harder edge, musically speaking, than most of Stina's stuff, though lyrically it's not nearly as dark as many of her songs. "Look up, don't look down / Now's the time / Don't look down / Look up, face the sun / Breathe and climb / Don't look down / Love is hard to get / But don't give in / Not now not yet"
Full post...
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