Thursday, 24 February 2011

Two Fires Burning in the Human Heart

I once heard socialist grandee Tony Benn describe his never ending desire as being fuelled by 2 fires burning in the human heart; the fire of anger against injustice and the fire of hope you can build a better world. That moment gave me the same shivers that watching the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa have. Ordinary people have once again realised that the status quo in Egypt, East Germany, Ukraine (insert your own particular favourite here) seems deeply unfair and simply not working - Despotism = Poverty. The answer again is pretty obvious – kick out the fuckers who have caused this, run the country ourselves and make sure everyone gets their share.

A heady mixture of grubby day to day material desires matched with a framework of ideals seems to be able to sweep all tyranny before it. The American Revolutionaries wish for no taxation without representation neatly ties these two seams together. Each choosing their own personal mixture of the two to take as inspiration. The same seems to be the same during recent events in the Arab world today and Eastern Europe in 1989. I notice similarities and differences between1989 and 2011, between the Velvet and Jasmine.

The similarities are striking – they were driven by a young hungry and bored generation. They were a largely unexpected, domino effect of falling autocracies followed by a final nasty violent bloody mess of a revolution. It’s too early to tell if Libya or Iran will be an obvious synonymy with Romania – although Gaddafi’s use of African mercenaries where he can no longer trust his soldiers to commit war crimes shows an imagination beyond that of CeauČ™escu.

There were subtleties with each of the social revolutions in 1989 as each country found its own voice and heroes, as a distorted crippled civil society jerked itself free. In Poland it was a Trade Union and the charisma of an electrician, Czechoslovakia: the urbane arts and a Frank Zappa fan.

The Arab revolutionaries’ bible looks to have been From Dictatorship to Democracy. Its amazing lessons of non-violent action reminded me of Vaclav Havel’s Power of the Powerless where he suggested that by Living in Truth ordinary people can simply ignore Tyrants into destruction.

I have yet to hear of an Arab hero and this seems to be the difference with the events in 1989. I hope and trust that it is just too early, just too fresh for us to understand how and who this happened to. I cannot believe that in every city from Tunis to Amman there haven’t been inspired brave individuals risking their futures and their lives in exactly the same way as a samizdat smuggler in the 1980’s. I look forward to hearing their stories and witnessing their Nobel awards. I have to trust that our parochial media don’t assume were not interested people who don’t look like us. I also hope that a girl who spent her day showing my mother and I around the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities but was far more interested in asking my mum half a million questions about the freedom and choices she enjoyed as a western woman is among them.

There is a piece of Pop Art recently “borrowed” by some noisemaking friends of ours, which as a reaction to the war in Vietnam sarcastically suggesting that if we want to win the war in Asia the we should bomb them with Cadillacs. The idea being that you don’t bully people into freedom you inspire them (with shiny consumer-yankee goods if needs be). The link between social and economic freedom is undeniable and demonstrators on the streets in Tiananmen, Wenceslas and Tarir will, I think have something in common with each other and something in common with the authors of the Declaration of Independence and the French revolutionaries they inspired. Yes they will cry we want democracy, but not just for its own sake – but also for the practical application of it to make our lives and the lives of our fellow men simply better.

Aneurin Bevin made the best case for this I have ever read on almost every page of In Place of Fear. I’m working with out a copy handy but remember a line smothered in wry understatement that “it is well and good putting down your guns – but you can’t presently pick them up and start eating them”. The real test of these revolutions will be what they bring to ordinary Arabs. It will be a crying shame if they merely provide an opportunity for an alternative management team for the status quo. What would be worse is if they descend onto some fundamentalist terror ala France or Iran.

It’s hard to imagine that those who have endured the slow drip pain of being treated as dictatorial chattel or the sharp bloody pain of murder would let either of these outcomes to happen. Having risen from their slumber they surely realise that they are many and those that oppose them are few. Their best defence might be to realise their grubby day to day desire and reach for a better life and the silly luxuries that I have stopped considering a luxury. I for one am looking forward to many generations of beautiful Arab women in Levis…

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Prisoner Votes

Great Men have spoken out previously on the topic of voting, so it felt right to do a brief blog about the current debate over whether or not British law should change from prisoners being denied the vote, to prisoners being allowed a vote, as is standard across Europe.

The advantage of living in a "free" democratic society is that we can have input on how that society is run, in return for playing ball with the rules that have been decided. When someone breaks these rules, they are excluded from the society - i.e. put in prison. If [insert name of a football player from your rival team here] repeatedly picked up the ball and ran into the goal with it, you'd surely be aggrieved if they were permitted to continue playing.

By opting not to accept the limitations of a society, a prisoner also forfeits their right to the benefits of said society. Again I'm reminded of the "I want it all and I don't want to pay for it" attitude that led to and continues to underpin the economic troubles of recent years. You can't have it both ways, it's unfair on the folk who are toeing the line. Admittedly this does run a risk of creating political prisoners, dissidents arrested on trumped up charges, but I am pretty confident that the UK is developed and corruption-free enough that this could not happen, certainly not on a scale necessary to impact the votes.

So in general I think the government is right to deny prisoners the right to vote. The only grey area on which I am troubled is the case of prisoners who will have finished their term before the next vote comes round. For example if there are 5 years between general elections, a prisoner who is released in 1 year will be re-entering a society for which he has not had an input. Maybe this is fair enough - it's no different to someone who is 17 years old at the time of an election. On the other hand maybe we should allow such prisoners the vote as an incentive towards successful rehabilitation. Or maybe, the mathematician inside me postulates, a prisoners vote could be weighted in someway - those on a life sentence get 0, those not in prison get 1, and prisoners who'll be freed are somewhere in between?

I'm looking for some intelligent discussion and ideas here, what have you got?

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Great Men Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch

A marketing overview of the alleged rock group Great Men:

Vocalist: absent
Lyrical content: absent
Drummer: portable and programmable, 150 bpm, 13/4 subdivided 6 and 7
Guitar: noisy
Bass: noisy
Hometown: Beeston, Nottingham, 125 miles north of Shoreditch
Trouser tightness: no visible panty line
Hair products: one of them is bald and the other one has been rationing a 45p tub of Tesco own brand hair gel since February 2010. Great beards though.

For the above reasons we estimate that the market for the new Great Men Live in London EP is approximately equal to the set of people in Great Men. Nevertheless, it is now available to buy online here.

As a member of the aforementioned demographic I was delighted to get my hands on a fresh, hand-printed copy of the new 3-track EP. Here is my internet exclusive first ever review:

The homespun packaging is elegant, and the CD design looks great and gives all the information pertinent to the recordings within. So if like me you enjoy flicking through the small print while spinning the tunes, you'll have to buy 2 copies: one to read and one to listen to.

Recorded live in London in October 2010, track 1 Spectators at an Execution opens with a guitar melody that you'll be whistling at the photocopier at work tomorrow. Sadly after twice round the melody it all goes wrong as the drums get over-eager and the guitar trades melody for dischord. This then gives way to slap funk as played by white men who work in financial services. The track is almost redeemed by a truly catch pop chorus. Unfortunately nobody bothered to put a vocal on it so it's a big waste of time. Squeezing as much nonsense into 3 minutes as possible, a silly little guitar solo rounds off the ingredients for this slice of pop pie.

Track 2 Messerschmitt doesn't know if it's a dance tune or a King Crimson out-take and neither do I. One thing's for sure and that's that Adrian Belew would never have let the fluffed guitar melody at the back end of the track see the light of day. Still that's live recording for you I guess. Duff notes don't stop this being an infectious bit of fun that puts a smile on my face every time.

Lulled into a false sense of brevity by the first two 3-minute wonders, track 3 Lady Cakes doubles the running length of the CD. R-man once asked me what the title of this song meant, but the answer was so boring he told me never to tell it again. Highlights of this track include some standout bass riffs, including some particularly sleazy slides toward the end that to my mind are the closest a bottom end has come to Frankie Howerd. I'm particularly fond of the guitar solo here (so sue me), possibly my favourite Great Men solo. Trivia fun: the demo version of this solo was the first thing I recorded with my SG. This CD is all on my Black Lodge Telecaster in case you're keeping track.

In conclusion then, Great Men Live in London is the most important release of the 21st century so far. Buy 2 copies each for everyone you've ever met.