Monday, 29 September 2008

Oh and by the way, which one's pink?

Just finished watching a BBC documentary about Pink Floyd. Saw it a couple of years ago, and presuming they're showing it again because of the sad death of Rick Wright.

At their peak (apologies to Barrett fans, but that's 1973 for me), they really were an amazing group. Watching the documentary, it brought back memories of the first time I listened to The Dark Side of the Moon, in 1996. Seems like an age ago now.

Like a lot of albums, I got it from my Uncle Cormac, who had clearly played it to death before lending it to me. It was very scratchy, but the crackles and pops didn't detract from the magic of the music - or discovering it.

It quickly became my favourite album, and remains so. It has it all: brilliant melodies, incredible playing, (controlled) experimentation, big themes, pointed lyrics and a lush Abbey Road production, on my favourite recording medium, tape.

It does that thing to me which much-loved music tends to: it transports me to another time. When I hear it I'm at the end of a student party in Rathmines, a bit worse for wear, drifting off to sleep, knowing I've got a lecture on Greek tragedies in the morning.

The band might have had other ideas of what this record would evoke, but there you go.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Obama v McCain: who won the first debate?

Well I didn't stay up till the wee hours to watch the debate, I caught up with it on CNN this morning. I had a boiled egg to go with it, and a nice cup of tea.

My gut feeling on presidential debates is that they tend to be about the 'presidential' and not about the 'debate'. There seems to be an almost platonic ideal of what a president should look like (or come across as) and the televised debates between candidates give the US public a chance to see how the candidates conform to that ideal.

This is not a good thing: it places personality over policies. When personality politics takes over, affable guys or gals with very bad ideas can end up in power. When you think about the 2004 US election, even with all his visible faults, and having conducted a disastrous war, George Bush looked and came across more like a 'typical' president than John Kerry (the fact that he actually was the president probably helped). Did that sway the election? Well, I think it certainly improved Bush's chances of winning.

This kind of silliness is not restricted to the US: it's fairly obvious that the Tories' good performance in the polls is due in no small part to the fact that David Cameron looks more like a PM, and is a better communicator, than Gordon Brown (although, policy-wise, Gordon hasn't made it easy for himself).

Anyway, back to the US presidential debate itself. Who won? Well, most right-wingers, I expect, will have agreed with what McCain had to say, and most left-liberals will have sympathised with Obama.

As with most elections, it all comes down to the floating voters - and here's where the "presidential ideal" comes in. If 'independent' or 'indecisive' voters cannot differentiate between the policies and content of the candidates (despite there being clear differences in the approaches of McCain and Obama), it probably means that they are going to look for the candidate who appears most presidential. Who was that?

Well, intriguingly, neither of the candidates looked hugely like a conventional president: we saw an old white guy and a young(ish) black guy slugging it out. This is possibly what makes this race so interesting: the parties have plumped for candidates who do not look like, and certainly don't talk like, the presidents of recent times. McCain comes across as a sort of friendly grand-dad, who will sit the voter on his knee and give him a boiled sweet, and Obama sounds like a toned-down version of Martin Luther King.

If neither of them looked quite like a president, the question becomes one of whom came closest. And, on balance, my answer is Obama. He looked slightly more presidential, slightly more authoritative than McCain. It's easier - in my mind at least - to imagine him giving a presidential address to the nation, or greeting foreign dignitaries in the Rose Garden.

Will this be enough, though, to win him the election? Let's see: there are still dirty tricks (Democrats are already going to court to try to stop Republicans from denying the vote to certain social groups) and possibly racism (are Americans prepared to elect a black man yet?) to overcome.

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Friday, 26 September 2008

A message from Bob

Those boffins at Sony BMG have come up with a rather good viral e-marketing campaign to promote the latest incarnation of Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits (must be at least the third Dylan greatest hits album they've put out, but there you go).

The viral is based around the famous Subterranean Homesick Blues promo clip, which features Bob standing behind the Savoy Hotel in London, holding up cue cards for his audience. These cards contain lyrics from the track, which he flips through as the song plays.

The viral microsite allows you to write your own message on each card that Bob is holding, and then he flicks through your message for your friends. So you could write something like 'Hi mate, I'm in Spain, shagging your girlfriend' or something equally inappropriate, send it to your mate, and Bob will do his thing with your message to the tune of Subterranean Homesick Blues.

My description of it doesn't do it justice - you should try it out for yourself at It's a good laugh, even if I can't imagine traditional Bob fans being too enthused by it. But then again, maybe it's not about traditional Bob fans - perhaps the record label are trying to expose Bob's music to a new audience. The only problem with that though, is that Subterranean Homesick Blues is not, in my view at least, one of his best tracks, and if I was coming cold to Dylan, I wouldn't be too turned on by the song. Also, I might not be familiar with the promo clip and wonder why a scruffy looking guy down an alley was telling me my friend was shagging my girlfriend.

I like it though.

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Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Ah come on now Gordon...

Alright Gordon, fairly decent speech today but no cigar.

Here are some ways you can get my vote back (not that it was going to the Tories, I'm probably going to abstain at the next election, in protest at all the parties offering more or less the right-wing fare).

1. Introduce a fair voting system -- PR. That'll stop the Tories winning 60% of the seats when only 40% of the electorate votes for them. Yes, that's right fellas, somewhat unbelievably Britain is, and traditionally has been, a left-leaning's just that the voting system is rigged to reward right-wingers with an incredibly disproportionate number of seats.

2. Bring the railways back into public ownership. I'm tired of paying daft money to travel for 45 minutes on a train. Paid £43 for a return trip from London to Oxford recently - nearly 50p a minute. Seriously. And while you're at it, please do something about the use of the word 'customer' on the railways. I am a P-A-S-S-E-N-G-E-R.

3. Stop privatising the Health Service. In Ireland, that little country to the west of Wales where I originate from, they rely on private operators to a silly degree for healthcare and the natives have to pay 60 Euros every time they see a GP. That is more painful than whatever they went to the doctor with in the first instance.

4. Stop foreigners buying British newspapers and slagging off, er, foreigners on the front page.

5. Ban Carol Vorderman (although admittedly Countdown kinda did that recently).

6. Buy my album.

7. Make Geoff Hoon do a humorous dance.

8. Make love not war.

9. Stop grumpy musicians from making lists (D'oh).

10. See point 6.

Etc., etc...just give us some decent Labour policies. While you still can, because you'll be out on your ear one way or the other soon. Feel faintly sorry for you, but I haven't forgiven you for Metronet and for letting First Great Western run anything. Particularly a train to Oxford.

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Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Blogger's block

I've been feeling a bit uninspired lately. Maybe it's because I'm too busy, maybe it's because I'm too knackered or maybe it's because my girlfriend has yet to buy a laptop, but I feel I've got the equivalent of "writer's block"...let's call it blogger's block. So I thought I'd write a blog about not blogging.

There are plenty of things I want to write about, but seem unable to due to lack of time or energy.

The things I want to wax lyrical about this month are:
  • Determinism: does free will exist?
  • David Cameron: why he is so wrong about the causes (and treatment) of poverty.
  • Musicals and why they are full of fantastic pop songs.
  • The lack of good signage in Ireland (seriously).
If you have any views on any of the above, do let me know as I may refer to your thoughts in the relevant post.

If I ever write it.

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Thursday, 4 September 2008

Sarah Palin...and Ireland?

I read some interesting little posts about Sarah Palin today (the self-styled pit-bull terrier with lipstick, running for Vice President in the US elections) on the Slimming for the Beach and Maman Poulet blogs.

Apparently she's travelled outside of the United States three times. One of her visits abroad was to Ireland.

Now, being Irish myself, I was interested to hear this, and I was wondering where she went to. Giant's Causeway? Trinity College? Ring of Kerry? Glendalough? The Guinness Storehouse? Malahide?


Turns out, it was Shannon Airport.

That's where planes returning to the US do a stopover to refuel. Passengers get out of the plane for a little bit and get back on again.

Made me chuckle that.

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