26 July, 2012

Dixie Chick-fil-A

There’s a big stink in the US at the moment about a fast food chain. The president of the Chick-fil-A chain, Dan Cathy (a man I had never heard of a week ago, and I suspect relatively few of his customers had either) has expressed opposition to same-sex marriage. This has resulted, rather predictably, in calls for a boycott of Chick-fil-A from supporters of same-sex marriage. This in turn had led, even more predictably, to cries from the right that the left are trying to crush free speech and ban all forms of thought that don’t comply with their own.

So here we go again. Yet another example of people mistaking the right to free speech for the right to protection from the consequences of expressing that right.

In fairness, and to his credit, Mr Cathy has said that his own views are not the views of the Chick-fil-A chain, which has no position. That’s fair enough and he is right to say that there is no such thing as a Christian business. Equally, when you hear a point of view expressed by Bill Gates, do you take it as a comment from Bill Gates, private citizen whose view is no more or less important than anyone else’s, or do you take it as a comment from Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and global philanthropist? Right. So while I am perfectly happy to accept that Dan Cathy was speaking only for himself and not his company, it’s his position as head of that company that gives him a greater platform from which to express his personal, not-representative-of-the-company, opinion. It is an opinion he has every right to hold and express by all means available to him. It’s also an opinion that others are free to disagree with and express that disagreement by all means available to them.

Some have asked why, so long as the food is good (we’ll assume, for the sake of argument, that it is), anyone should care what the president of the company thinks about anything. And why punish the people behind the counters for the utterances of the owner of the chain? From that, it’s been claimed that any Chick-fil-A boycott is really about the big, bad lefties trying to suppress any point of view that doesn't conform to theirs because they really hate freedom. This is to completely miss the point of freedom.

If you believe in freedom, then it follows that people have the right to withhold their patronage from any business for whatever reason they see fit. If you disagree with their reasons, then you are free to disagree but they are under no more obligation to care about your disagreement than Dan Cathy should be to change his opinion. No-one's freedom of expression trumps anyone else's freedom of choice.

It all reminds me of a situation nearly ten years ago now when a popular country vocal group expressed their embarrassment at coming from the same state as the then president. These comments caused something of a ruckus. Indeed, I seem to remember people calling for boycotts of their records and concerts and the group being banned from radio playlists. What I don’t remember is any cries from the right wing about what a terrible attack on free speech this was. I also don’t remember anyone pointing out that the group were only expressing a personal point of view and that they were not claiming to speak for their record company, management or road crew who, I think we would all agree, deserve to make an honest living without being blamed for the personal opinions of their bosses, right? Or is that different? If so, how? I mean, so long as they still sing nice tunes, who cares what they said about other stuff?

The fact is that while the singers had the right to express their views in whatever way they saw fit, others had the right to react in any way they saw fit. We all have our freedoms.

My only question for Chick-fil-A is this: How does it feel to be The Dixie Chicks?

21 July, 2012


This documentary may not be under Eagle Rock’s Classic Albums banner, but every bit as good as any release in that excellent series.  In parts, The Story of Wish You Were Here is just as much a tribute to Syd Barrett as the album itself it, but it focuses on how the rest of Pink Floyd related to Syd.  

The film features new interviews with Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason as well as excerpts from an interview with Richard Wright in 2001.  Of as much interest as the band interviews are the additional people involved in the making of the album, including backing vocalist Vanetta Fields and recording engineer Brian Humphries, who reminds of how under-appreciated Richard Wright’s conclusion to Shine On You Crazy Diamond is.  There is also an interview with music journalist Nick Kent, whose stinging review of the Pink Floyd gig at which they premiered Shine On You Crazy Diamond eventually spurred them to reassess their approach to following up The Dark Side of the Moon.

Roy Harper tells the story of he came to sing on Have a Cigar and mentions how it rankles not only that he sang on a hit single and everyone thought it was Roger, but also that wags keep calling out for it at his gigs.  

Pink Floyd albums were all about the entire package though, so the film doesn’t just focus on the writing and recording of the music, but also features interviews with sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson, photographer Aubrey Powell and stuntman Ronnie Rondell, who is the burning man on the cover.  The Wish You Were Here live shows marked the beginning of Pink Floyd’s collaborations with artist Gerald Scarfe, who talks about the animated films he created for the show. 

Syd’s surprise visit to Abbey Road late in the recording of the album is discussed, but what it less well documented is the fact that Syd was persuaded to try making some new recordings at around the same time as Floyd were starting work on Wish You Were Here.  A short snippet from these abandoned sessions is included in the film. 

It’s unclear who commissioned this retrospective but by rights, this really should have been included with the Wish You Were Here box set, although that did have marbles and a scarf. 

Extras are in the form of extended interviews and performances.  Gilmour and Waters each play Wish You Were, with Gilmour layering both 12-string and lead.  The interviews veer into more philosophical subjects than just the making of the album.  Nick Mason makes a very interesting point that should have been in the main film, given the other theme of the album is the cynicism of the record industry, that if an album fails, then it’s the record company’s fault but if it succeeds, then it’s because of the artist. 

Highlight:  Isolating tracks on the master tapes
Feature:  * * * * *
Extras:  * * 
Audio: Dolby 5.1, Dolby stereo, DTS

Brain Humphries
Roy Harper

05 July, 2012

Scientific Whaling

It’s common knowledge that the international moratorium on whaling, in place since 1986, has a loophole that allows whale hunts for scientific research.  It’s a loophole that Japan has exploited ever since and now and by a complete coincidence, whale meat happens to be available in Japan.
Now, South Korea has announced plans to resume scientific whaling.

I have a question for all those involved in hunting whales for the purposes of scientific research:
What have you learnt?
It’s been over 25 years now; I think it’s time some papers were published.  What theories were being tested?  What experiments were run?  Where is the peer review?  How many times do you have to repeat the results before declaring the theory proven or disproven?  If Japan wanted people to stop laughing at their claims that the whale hunts are scientific, all they need do is publish their research.

Now, South Korea has announced it is looking at a resumption of scientific whaling.  As justification for the resumption, they have stated that numbers of minke whales have recovered significantly.  So presumably, the scientific research they intend to carry out is to discover whether killing them will reduce the numbers.  I wonder how many times they will be wanting to repeat that test before declaring some results.  It’s also been suggested that increased numbers of whales have led to decreased fish populations.  Well okay then, if they kill more whales and that leads to an increase in fish stocks, will they declare the theory proven and then stop?  If they kill more whales and find that it has no effect on fish stocks, will they declare the theory disproven and cease research?  In order to keep it a controlled experiment, will they ensure that fishing in the area is exactly the same before and after whaling?  Or will they think of that in a couple of seasons’ time in order to do more whaling for research?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical.  Perhaps humanity is learning vitally important things from these scientific whale hunts.  If so, publish the research or I call bullshit.