29 December, 2010

Thinking of Linking

As much for my own reference as anyone else's, this is the second annual list of links I have bookmarked, shared or had shared with me. Posting these links does not necessarily constitute agreement with or endorsement of the contents. May contain traces of Harry Shearer, John Birmingham and NASA.

If you're looking for some more summer/winter reading, but sure to click those links down on the sidebar to your right there. I wouldn't link to them if they weren't magnificent. Welcome to the 'blogiverse Andy – it's about time!

News and Politics – Australia:
Since when did dumb-arsed nationalism become compulsory?
LNP's teen candidate hits back at critics ("I went overseas and went around Europe, as most people do," No way is Wyatt Roy out of touch!)
Julia Gillard: a political dill
Political logic points to double dissolution
Deveny learns the Anzac art of futile attack
Preferential Voting in Australia
What is a Liberal?
Rudd Faces Revolt: O Rly?
Thank you Kevin
Price, Arndt wrong in irrelevant family feud
The facts and furphies about Australia's most unwanted
Clarke and Dawe on asylum seekers
Rudd hoses down cabinet leak speculation
Fired up Gillard defends Cabinet questions
Internet filter blacklist leaked on web
The Real Benefits For Asylum Seekers In Australia
$37m sex case could set 'remarkable precedent'
Stimulus 'served Australia well' despite waste
Latham full of bile, Oakes says
We Get It, None of You Are Bill Gates
Election Leaflets
There are worse things than losing
For Those Who've Come Across Seas
Fake Green How to Vote Cards in Bennelong
Abbott apologises to Wilkie
Kiss Me Like You Mean It: Negotiating in the New Paradigm
When did Pride Become Pity?
Does Australia Have a Government Yet?
In conversation: Mungo MacCallum and Shane Maloney
The NBN may crush Turnbull
Does Australia Have a Grand Final Winner Yet?
Collection of Grog-gate 'blogs
More on the Ethics of Outing Grog's Gamut
An Open Letter to Bronwyn Pike, Victorian Education Minister
What secrets are worth keeping?
Quality sets The Australian apart
Coalition launch sullied by party boy candidate
A tragic reminder our long, bloody battle with the sea
US slams political games on refugees
To Andrew Bolt. With contempt.
Showboat – Jack Marx
Victorian Liberals Swing Music Funding Axe    
Hinch on dickileaks

News and Politics – US:
Tea partiers attack convention (you could not make this up!)
Obama urges Republican "soul-searching" on healthcare (I think I see the problem with that strategy)
Attention, Dick Cheney: Don't the Germans Know We're At War?
New Orleans: The Joy and the Dread
The Rand Paul Quote Everybody's Ignoring
Memo to Rand Paul: Free Enterprise Isn't Free
Visualising the slick – If it were my home
Gulf Oil Leak Happened Before – here's how they fixed it
Pilots Bristle As American Airline Tells Them To Fly With Less Fuel
It's getting to be embarrassing to be a conservative
Ground Zero "Hallowed Ground"
The Katrina Bookshelf
Infographic: MLK Glenn Beck Flow Chart
Building a Nation of Know-Nothings
A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Microwave
Experts: Terrorism threat to U.S. now more homegrown
Criminals In The Bush Administration
Commentary: They've squandered lives, fortunes and our sacred honour
Harry Shearer vs. the Army Corps of Engineers
Harry Shearer and NPR: The Big Uneasy
Pentagon Destroys Copies of Controversial Memoir Written by Army Officer
Does Sarah Palin desecrate the American flag?
Our election ads are scaring the Martians
Jon Stewart on Larry King
Does fame bring forth madness?
Probably the best sign from the Rally for Sanity
Extremes rule both parties, as centrists lose their seats
Live Tweeting Murder
Were the Bush Tax Cuts Good for Growth?
Tweet of the day
KUHNER: Assassinate Assange?
You let the bully kick your ass and then get your big brother to convince everybody you won?
An Irishman abroad tells it like it is
Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics
Halliburton Offers Nigeria $250 Million in Exchange for Dropping Charges Against Cheney, Company
Accused soldier offered plea bargain if he names WikiLeaks founder

News and Politics – World:
Cleric issues anti-terror fatwa (Didn't see that reported in the fair-and-balanced networks, did you?)
What Isn't News: NATO's Coverup of Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan
Ninth worker death at Taiwan iPhone firm Foxconn
Echoes of Raid on 'Exodus' Ship in 1947
Replace Ryanair boss with flight attendant: pilot
Nobel Peace Prize winner's wife has 'disappeared,' lawyer says
Ninety years on, First World War is finally over for Germany
UN Space expert denies being alien ambassador (They had to ask that question?)
Britons want William, not Charles as next king - Poll (methinks they might be misunderstanding one of the fundamental aspects of a monarchy)
Fifa's demand to be exempt of UK money-laundering legislation
Sodomy charges were a set-up (Just in from the obvious desk. The hotel where the offences were alleged to have taken place wasn't even built at the time they said they happened)
David Cameron asked about liking The Smiths (Prime Minister's Questions, 8.12.10) (Best. Question. Ever!)
The rights and wrongs of hacktivism
Six days of war, 40 years of secrecy

Media Bias Files:
The 119 Words You Can't Say On The Radio
You wouldn't read about it: climate scientists right
Journalism Warning Labels
Fox sends out ambush squad to talk to NYC mosque investors -- but doesn't mention key Fox investor
How Google Unwittingly Helped Propagate the Misleading "Ground Zero Mosque" Label
The Billionaires Bankrolling the Tea Party
Agendas and bias on the media trail
Gruen's gift to the advertisers
Editor said policeman's death would boost sales
Nudge nudge, don't mention Denton
Lindsay Lohan: Mental Illness as Entertainment
Newspapers Retract 'Climategate' Claims, but Damage Still Done
A Twitter idea for Q&A (The Aus moans about unattributed comment. The comment is unattributed!)
If Olbermann's Donations Are Bad, What About GE's?
The $200million myth
Jewish outrage grows, but Beck digs deeper by approvingly citing flaming anti-Semite Mahatir
The Beatles 'are from Manchester', claims Fox News
The 'torture' of writing about climate change at The Oz
Both ends of it benefit the ultimate News Corp agenda
Look you can have a headline a day or a bucket of shit every day. What's it to be?
Nice work, Drudge!
Fox's news editor who tells reporters all global temperature trends are "notions," never facts.

Science and Technology:
Claims of wind farm illness
Neil deGrasse Tyson at UB: What NASA Means to America's Future
Dry as a dingo: no water for three weeks
Google to stop capturing wi-fi data (How do you "mistakenly" collect data?)
Go For Launch!
Apple issues advice to avoid iPhone flaw (That's right! Apple products don't have design flaws. It's your fault for holding it wrong.)
First optical photograph of a planet outside our solar system
Massive fish kill reported in Louisiana
Love Makes You Increasingly Ignorant of Your Partner
Making things hard to read 'can boost learning'
Ig Nobel for 'whale breathalyser'
Ultrafast laser pulse makes desktop black hole glow
Benoît B. Mandelbrot (1924-2010), Father of Fractal Geometry
The McDonald's burger won't destruct. Here's why
Russian Software Firm Breaks Canon's Authenticity Verification, Big Time
NASA-Funded Research Discovers Life Built With Toxic Chemical (*Since called into question, but still fascinating)
Message from Buzz re: NASA CCDev-2 Program
NASA's LRO Creating Unprecedented Topographic Map of Moon 
Lunar Eclipse Photos

Music and the Arts:
J.D. Salinger: The Man in the Glass House
Ken Loach streams entire back catalogue on YouTube
Ozzy Osbourne wanted to be a Beatle
Paul McCartney's Inner Rhymes (A Tale of Love Unrequited)
Mini Beatles reunion caught on a thousand shakycams
John Irving's personal thoughts on Simon Birch
Lost tapes of classic British television found in the US
David Bowie: Fantastic Voyages From Beyond The Hits
This made Prince go up about 10 notches in my estimation
Triple J Hottest 100 Mashup - Vol 1-15
The Smiths: Johnny Marr looks back
Lay off Linda, the ultimate rock chick
Paper Training
Fighting a poet's corner – An Appointment with Mr Yeats
Slam Rally
John Lennon - Not only ... but also
Superhero minimalism - 70s-inspired, minimalist book covers
Neil Finn & Johnny Marr - There is a light that never goes out - Jazz Cafe
100 Best Australian Albums Revealed (The Vines but no Whitlams? Kylie but no Bridie? I call bullshit!)
When the man comes around: a case of cash for rock
Jane Austen's famous prose may not be hers after all
Capt Beefheart's 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing
10 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Albums

Bull and burgers: mincing their words
Live sheep export: It's bad for our economy too
Catalonia bans bullfighting
Oscar's Law – abolish puppy factories
Politicians, Industry and Welfare Groups Unite In Call For End To Live Animal Export
Goodies Reissue Funky Gibbon

Crusade against the pope: an Inquisition-in-Reverse
Atheist zealots a heavy cross to bear
Monday Morning Hate-mail and the Brilliant Dr Pamela Gay

Humour and Satire:
Bunch Of Phonies Mourn J.D. Salinger
If real life were more like the internet
Libertarian Paradise
BP Spills Coffee
The Spill in lolcats
Steve Martin Concert Contract Rider
Don't use a blue background next time, Tony
Fiona Katauskas: Game on
Lego Election
Best e-reader on the market
They denied reality
Lyric sheets for nerds
Palin 2012
The tea and crumpets party
Best accidental ad placement
The tree that knows stuff
I see what you did there
Clarke and Dawe - A Very Firm Grasp of Matters
New Twitter feature
Nobel Prize
But I Twitter
SNL's Julian Assange To The U.S.: You Got Me, Where's Osama?
Most Damning Wikileaks cable
Dogbert on message boards (Admit it – you've done this)
Swedish Chef does Popcorn
How Follow Friday is supposed to work

Eray Photography
Hi-Fi Weddings
Classic Fender Pick
Real UFO caught on video causing terror in Melbourne
UFO = Unidentified Floating Object
Dogs on Boxes...The Weeks Best from Australia's Twittocracy #102
@PeterJBlack's top five #ausvotes (and #QandA) tweets of Monday 2nd
The Notion Factory
Legitimate Questions for Sarah Palin - Small Government News
Legitimate Questions for Sarah Palin | The Fifth Column
Tuesday Night Buzz - Ground Zero Mosque - Part 2
Blog-This profile

Other interesting stuff:
How Tweet It Is!: Library Acquires Entire Twitter Archive
Bart's Blackboard
Google Pacman
Hello Kitty Engine Oil (Well, if it means emo girls will take an interest in engine protection....)
Spicks and Specks: Barry Morgan Medley - Ep 24, 2010
The Beer Reviews: Great Aussie pubs
On My Shelves — On the art of arranging bookshelves
Captured: America in Colour from 1939-1943 (58 is just perfect)
Give Our Streets the Green Light
Russia in colour, a century ago
The best sentence ever
Dead Plagiarists Society
Bad light mars play as Aussies make silly point
Instant statistics
National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
Sister Cyril

23 December, 2010

An unAustralian Confession

I have a confession – one that is probably enough to have me branded un-Australian.

I do not like the song Throw Your Arms Around Me.

I quite like Mark Seymour as a songwriter and I have nothing against Hunters and Collectors these days. I say “these days” because I used to not like them. My reason for not liking them was the same reason I didn’t like Midnight Oil – it was more to do with their meathead fans than the band. And Mark Seymour’s vocal style made it very easy and tempting for those meatheads to get in your face at the Blue Light Disco (or even in the schoolyard, apropos of nothing) and bellow
Yeew don’t make me feeeel, like I’m a womananymooooooore!

That, and bogans at gigs yelling out for HUNNAAAHS, regardless of whether it was a local cover band or well-established original artists like Nick Barker or Frente, was enough to put me off them. I have since learnt to enjoy them, but I still don’t like Throw Your Arms Around Me.

Obviously I’m in the minority. The song has been covered by everyone from Kate Cebrano to Pearl Jam. Crowded House have always made it a regular item in their live sets and there can be few greater compliments to a song than having a songwriter the calibre of Neil Finn wanting to sing it. But I still don’t like it.

It’s not just that I don’t like it, I am disturbed by it. Let’s look at the lyrics,
I will come for you at night time
I will raise you from your sleep
I will kiss you in four places
I'll go running along your street
Okay, that’s pretty standard stuff for some confused, late-teen romance, but it’s the next stanza where things get creepy:
I will squeeze the life out of you
You will make me laugh and make me cry
We will never forget it
You will make me call your name and
I'll shout it to the blue summer sky
“I will squeeze the life out of you?” Is this describing a rape? Also the chorus of “You will throw your arms around me,” implies that either the object of the narrator’s affection doesn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter, or he is being rather presumptuous. This was somewhat confirmed after Paul McDermott’s cover of the song. Either by accident or design, he changed the lyric to “You may throw your arms around me,” and he was mocked for it, which suggests that “will” is important.

A friend has suggested that I am reading far too much into the song, and he takes it more as describing a summer shag. If that’s the case, it’s probably a depressingly accurate representation of Australian romance. “We may never meet again so shed your skin and let’s get started.” What girl wouldn’t melt for that? It’s really just one step above, “Darlin’ it’s yer lucky night.”

The second verse also has its creepy bits.
I dreamed of you at night time
And I watched you in your sleep
Hmmm.... stalking? Mind you, that’s only creepy on the same level that Every Breath You Take is creepy – not nearly as suss as squeezing the life out of someone.

Having said all of this, I must say that the chorus is brilliantly crafted. It has hooks in both the first and last lines, and can easily be sung by anyone, no matter how drunk they are. That’s clever songcraft any way you look at it.

As for the subject of the song though, someone please tell me I’m wrong about this. At best, I think Throw Your Arms Around Me is a song that has been mistaken for a love song in the same way that Every Breath You Take, The One I Love and One have been.

PS: I don’t rate Sounds of Then very highly either.

21 December, 2010

The NBN Will Not Fix Your Computer

Last night the 7:30 Report aired an article on the release of the National Broadband Network business plan.  As part of getting all sides of the story, they spoke to a lady in Tasmania who is connected to the NBN and believes it isn’t providing the service promised, with slow and unreliable connections.

However, take a look at some of the shots of her computer:

The wide shot shows that she has at least three third-party toolbars installed.  The closer shot shows that one of them is the Google toolbar and another contains links to Screensavers, Smiley Central and Cursor Mania.  The report states that she has had technicians out to look at the problem several times.  If I were one of those technicians, I would have taken one look at that toolbar and said, “There’s your problem!”

As a teacher of, and trouble-shooter for computer novices, I regularly have to explain the difference between computer speed and connection speed.  Up until about ten years ago, the internet was a very handy add-on for a computer.  Today, it’s the only reason most people buy a computer at all.  As such, it means that “non-computer people” are even more confused between problems with the internet and problems with the computer.  This is why I often have to tell people that upgrading their internet connection will not make Adobe Reader load any faster and increasing their RAM will not speed up their downloads.

Let me be clear that I am not making any comment on Ms Jenkins’ internet connection.  For all I know, it may be just as bad as she says it is and even if it isn’t, I don’t doubt that she has made those complaints in good faith.  What I am saying is that the problem shown in the report is a classic case of browser lock up that would have happened if she were on dial-up, ADSL, 3G wireless or fibre to the home.  The report states that when they were there, it took six minutes to “connect,” however, picture below clearly shows that the browser has crashed while trying to load the add-on toolbars.

I’m not a computer snob who expects everyone to know the technical details of how software works or thinks everyone should set their computer up the same way I would.  However, toolbars are a menace.  You don’t need them.  Want to search for something?  Go to www.google.com.  Need a shortcut to Gmail or Ebay?  Put them in your favourites/bookmarks.  Toolbars do nothing but take up screen space and system resources, and they collect data on how you use them.  Having one is bad enough, but having three or four all trying to do the same things is utterly pointless.  Furthermore, that smiley central toolbar is well known for turning perfectly decent computers into frustrating pieces of crap.  While it probably isn’t the reporter’s place to point this out – he simply presented Ms Jenkins’ story as it was told to him – what was shown did not present any evidence of the NBN being substandard.  Also, whether it was their job to or not, the technicians should have done her a favour and ditched those toolbars and shown her how to use SpyBot.

Watch the report,
iTunes:  http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/730report/video/podcast/r692331_5227737.m4v
Windows:  http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/730report/video/podcast/r692331_5227734.wmv

15 December, 2010

2010: The Review

The 21st Century franchise has been going for a decade now but may well have jumped the shark with this latest episode. The series started really well with joyous occasions followed by dark twists which set up the drama for the series but it has meandered at times. It was a stroke of genius for the producers to hire Aaron Sorkin to write 2008, but they really should have kept him on because the next episode didn’t follow through on what had been set up. The character of Sarah Palin, introduced in a supporting role in 2008, was kept on to replace George W Bush as the lovable nincompoop. That was fine as comic relief but the expanded role has only highlighted what a one-dimensional character she is. She adds nothing to the plot and needs to be written out. Similarly, the Barack Obama character is barely recognisable from the one that was introduced two years ago. It’s as if the writers haven’t even watched the previous installments.

In a seemingly desperate attempt to maintain interest, they have introduced a woman as Australian prime minister. Although this is supposed to be a surprise twist, the way in which they have her take the top job is utterly clichéd. If they had really wanted to be brave, they would have had her win the election first rather than replacing a flagging party leader like all the previous times. The attempt to introduce new characters after the election ultimately goes nowhere.

All of these shortcomings pale in comparison to the fanciful idea of giving Britain a coalition government between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. In fairness, no-one could accuse them of being predictable, but the reason it’s unpredictable because it’s just so implausible. The producers are going to have to go a long way to regain the credibility lost in that subplot.

This DVD is not a dead loss though. By far the most interesting aspect is the behind-the-scenes documentary made by freelance director Julian Assange. What it presents goes some way to explaining things that happened in previous episodes but sadly does not do anything to make 2010 make any more sense.

2010 rates 2 stars. Wait until they put it in the weekly section.

09 December, 2010

Connecting the Dots

So all the news this week has come from one particular website. Actually, that’s nothing new. What’s slightly new is that the website isn’t Facebook or Twitter, or TMZ, but a site that might possibly have some information of some importance.

So what have we (allegedly) learnt this week?

We learnt that the US State Department (allegedly) thought that Kevin Rudd was a “control freak,” who would make “snap announcements without consulting other countries or within the Australian government,” but without “the experience to do the job properly.”

We learnt that Mark Arbib has (allegedly) been an informant to the US embassy.

We knew that Mark Arbib was one of the faceless men™ who removed Kevin Rudd as prime minister.

US embassy not keen on Rudd, Arbib keen on US embassy, Arbib starts moves against Rudd.
Does this all add up to a very Australian coup?

05 December, 2010

Wikileaks 2 – or Give ’em Enough Rope

As previously mentioned, I am neither for nor against Wikileaks. I think the organisation has the potential to do both good and harm. However, the gratuitously messianic tone of this latest tweet implies that they might be a bit more interested in their own notoriety than the potential good or harm of what they do.

One of the whole points of Wikileaks is to remind us that power corrupts – however, they might be doing so by example as well as in what they publish. There’s no denying Wikileaks has become very powerful this year.

One of the more shocking revelations to come out of the Wikileaks saga has nothing to do with anything the site has published. Instead, it’s come from the reaction and calls for the assassination or execution of Julian Assange by many in the US media. (And I thought Bill O’Reilly was supposed to be against the death penalty.) If that’s the case, why hasn’t anyone arrested Geraldo Rivera and Fox News for revealing troop positions in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq? Whether Assange is a crusader for freedom of information or a very naughty boy is an open question but the idea of killing anyone who embarrasses the government is something we expect from countries that the US usually lobbies (or more) against.

Perhaps the most telling revelations will come not from what Wikileaks publishes, but from the reactions to them.  Perhaps its value lies not in revealing governments’ true colours, but by provoking the the powerful into revealing them themselves.  The most disturbing discovery from Wikileaks so far, is the chorus of “Kill, kill, kill!” from those who would usually claim to defend freedom.

The Bonus Discs - Band on the Run

Bloody hell! How many bloody times do I have to buy the same bloody album to get all the bloody extras they add to it?

That’s a fair question, but since this is a review of the bonus DVD that comes with the special edition (if you need me to tell you what a great album Band on the Run is, then there’s not much I can do for you), let’s look at it a different way. Imagine the near-mythical Wings film One Hand Clapping was finally released after 35 years in the vaults and was available from Amazon or your local for under $30. Most McCartney enthusiasts would definitely be interested in that. Now imagine it came with the free copy of Band on the Run and a bonus CD of selections of the film. Bargain, right? So let’s approach it from that angle before discussing if it’s any good.

The film is mostly fly-on-the-wall footage of Wings rehearsing at Abbey Road studios. It introduces the second 5-piece line-up of Wings – adding Jimmy McCulloch, who looks barely out of puberty here, and Geoff Britton, who lasted less than a year in the band. This may have had something to do with the film being shelved. The context of what’s happening is hard to glean. There are clearly rehearsals but there are also recordings going on as we hear the band discussing which take is best. There also seem to be overdubs happening for the Band on the Run album and an orchestral session for Live and Let Die which is odd because that song was already out when this film was made. They might have spliced footage from the original session in with the rehearsals we see here. Did they really make the orchestra dress up in their dinner jackets and bow ties for a recording session, or was that just because it was being filmed?

We hear interviews with every band member but these are not to camera. Instead, they are mostly played over the documentary footage and often over the music. Grrr!

A bit over half-way through, the film switches gears and we see Paul solo at the piano talking about his fondness for cabaret. He makes mention of the song Suicide (written for Sinatra but rejected) but doesn’t play it. He does play I’ll Give You a Ring which was eventually released on the B-side of Take It Away, and two songs unreleased elsewhere – Let’s Love and All of You. Although Paul feigns some embarrassment and self deprecation during this section, you can tell he’s a total ham and he’s loving it.

It’s this enthusiasm that shines through, especially when he is directing other musicians. He may be a show-off but we see how Paul will do anything to get a great performance from his players. This is especially noticable when he does a live vocal during the orchestral overdubs for Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five just to get the maximum energy in the performance. And the audio mix pushes the bass. Win!

One the downside, the film has not been restored in any way so visually, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a made-for-television film from 1975. Also, the entire disc is formatted for 16:9 which means that if you still have a 4:3 television, as many still do, you’ll get black bars on every side of the screen. It might just be my player, but I had that happen even when I set it to pan & scan.

Having said all that, it’s possible that One Hand Clapping is intended merely as the bonus feature of the DVD, but I think to any long-term McCartney fan, it’s going to be the main attraction. Other features of the disc include the videos for Band on the Run, Mamunia and Helen Wheel plus a promotional film for the album. Since all of these have already been released on The McCartney Years, it’s reasonable to assume that anyone considering this release already has them. There’s also fifteen minutes of behind-the-scenes footage from the cover shot (half as much would have been plenty) and Wings in Lagos which is some short home movies soundtracked by a longer version of Band on the Run (A Different Perspective) which was originally done for a BBC promo.

While it may be a drag that Paul is still presenting his work according to what the conventional wisdom says is good, rather than rehabilitating some underrated greats, there’s still more than enough on this disc to make it a worthwhile purchase for anyone with more than a passing interest in Paul McCartney and/or Wings. Here’s hoping they put the James Paul McCartney television special on one of the other upcoming reissues.

Feature: * * ½
Extras: * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo
Worth paying extra for? Yes, and worth buying the album again if you’ve always wanted One Hand Clapping.

And for anyone who’s interested, here’s a visual comparison of the three different Band on the Run remasters,

Band on the Run - original CD release

Band on the Run - 25th Anniversary edition remaster

Band on the Run - 2010 remaster

02 December, 2010

The Rules: Consistency

....or Obligatory Wikileaks ’Blog

If you’re concerned about the implications of spreading all kinds of confidential and classified information all over the internet with little thought to the damage it might do to innocent people, then I can totally agree with that.
However, if you also took the “climate-gate” emails as your “Aha!” moment against climate change, then I’m going to call hypocrisy.

The debunked and discredited fake scandal over those leaked emails provides what certain American commentators now call a “teachable moment,” regarding Wikileaks. It’s the difference between data and intelligence. There was a situation where people got hold of some perfectly innocent information and made it into something it wasn’t because a) it was stolen, and b) because they had no idea of how to read the information. The “scandal” there hinged completely on people’s misunderstanding of what “fixing the data,” meant in that particular context.

Wikileaks does basically the same thing, except that they don’t suggest any particular interpretation of the data, they just throw it all out there for any inexpert eyes to make of what they will. I’ve yet to be convinced that this is good for democracy. I’m all for the right to know, but I’m also cognisant of the need to know. I know that sounds like rationalising government secrecy, but sometimes it is necessary. For instance, much as I oppose the war in Iraq, the fact that it goes on regardless of my opposition means that innocent lives are endangered the publication of certain information. For my money, the protection of people’s lives trumps the imperative to reveal that the US government lies – a fact that has been pretty well established anyway. Now I don’t know whether these leaks endanger lives or not – I’m not an intelligence expert. But frankly, I don’t trust a rabble of online crusaders to make that call for me.

Is “cable-gate” any more or less of a meaningless beat-up than “climate-gate”? How would I know? How can anyone know? We have the data, but so what? How do we interpret it?

Regardless of the idiotic blathering of certain right-wing television personalities, it is clear that Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange is playing with his life now. More important people have met with accidents over less, and those who arrange them don’t give a shit about any kind of new media new paradigm.

And this leads us to the other hypocrisy. Julian Assange’s location is being kept a secret. Under the circumstances, this is prudent. But what about the right to know? Shouldn’t all the information be made public and let the people decide how important it is? Whether he is hiding from assassination or hiding from arrest is probably irrelevant now. Given the timing and the subject of the original arrest warrant, it was tempting to think, “Oh, how convenient! He sticks it to The Man and now they’ve trumped up some charges against him.” Naturally, he should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean he’s not guilty. We would need to have all the evidence in order to know that.

If only there were some kind of website that provided information like that.

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