Sunday, November 30, 2008

Future of the Left & So Cow - Live at Whelan's Upstairs 14/11/08

Future of the Left, two weeks ago, in one of Dublin's newer and smaller venues, added on to the venerable Dublin gig institution of Whelan's. Previously, the only show I had seen upstairs in Whelan's was the almighty Bats, and they rocked it, so I knew it was good for a fast and noisy band. Whelan's as a drinking institution has supposedly been going since 1772, so four years before the US Declaration of Independence, and a further two hundred years before the invention of punk rock. The upstairs part is thus two thick-walled, 18th-century townhouse-type living rooms knocked together, with a bar stuck on around the corner. It has been described as having a "homely, fire-placed atmosphere", and personally I like that you can see out between the drapes over the windows onto what passes for a neon-lit, bustling city street in Dublin.

The 'Heineken Green Synergy' part of the show was the usual corporate sponsorship, entailing a somewhat reduced ticket price and the availability of only one draught lager. The press release claimed that it was FoTL's Irish debut, but they in fact appeared in April for a rather impressive show with Fight Like Apes... sponsored by Budweiser. Essentially, they've come back with some new songs, a gig-only live CD, and a better-tasting type of beer.


Support was the seemingly, initially, somewhat odd pairing of a frantic, abrasive noise-rock group with a frantic, abrasive noise-pop-punk group, So Cow. It was an unexpected pleasure, as I'm Siding With My Captors is one of my highlighted Irish releases of the year so far. Difficult enough to describe: "Mostly I've seen it described as lo-fi indie pop stuff, sort of like Pavement, but what hit me from hearing this song is the sort of early 90s ska-punk/pop from San Francisco; like a mix of Green Day's first two albums and Operation Ivy/Common Rider". Live, they're a treat. The one-man-band part of the band, singer and guitar player Brian Kelly - of Tuam, Galway via Seoul, South Korea - sung and pogoed his heart out, while the excellent rhythm section thrashed their way through desultory, frenetic pop tunes. Here's a live version of 'Casablanca', from So Cow's first album, and a track, 'Greetings', from I'm Siding With My Captors:

"...I'll get a tattoed x on my hand,

adopt the traits of Buddhist monks

get hip! with all your nomenclature

compromise with your drug culture..."

So Cow - 'Casablanca', Live on WFMU (stream the full set (including interview) here or download it here)

So Cow - 'Greetings', from I'm Siding With My Captors


The headliners Future of the Left, a three piece with members of former Welsh punk bands Mclusky and Jarcrew, essentially work on stage as a comic double act between bassist Kelson Mathias and lead singer/guitarist/keyboard player Andy Falkous. They're a very, very sarcastic band. And then there's the music. I ended up quite enjoying their set the last time I saw them, although it seemed to drag on a bit in the middle; and I occasionally put on last year's/this year's (here's the AV Club review [A-] of the album's US release in January) full-length, Curses, for a spin, but I've never gotten into the band the same was either Mclusky or Shooting at Unarmed Men. Nevertheless, their music does have its moments of outstanding creativity and forcefulness which, when combined with the immediacy of a reverb-drenched, sweat-soaked live performance, make for damn good punk rock.

Below are a couple of songs, following the pattern above - one a live recording, the other an album version of a particularly good song. 'Manchasm' is one of Future of the Left's distinctive 'keyboard' songs - the tour journal on the band's Myspace, written by Falco, has at the end of 2007 a best-of list including "Best Guy in a Big Black T-Shirt Storming Out When We Start Playing the Keyboard Songs" (it was in Sheffield) - and the single and video are posted here. Second, 'I Need to Know How To Kill A Cat' was also a B-side to the 'Small Bones Small Bodies' single in the same post, where I described it as "Super-rhythmic, with strong echoes of 80s punk and post-punk - e.g. Minutemen and, of course, Husker Du's 'How To Skin A Cat' (which violates the 3rd Law of Thermodynamics, but it's a metaphor for Capitalism, so that's ok). Er. 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat' - good song." However, it was also pointed out to me that it sounds like a Fugazi song; a tight, circular guitar rhythm and drum beat underlying frantic, anxious vocals (which are rather more Mclusky than MacKaye). And as was also pointed out, if it's good for a Fugazi song, it's a very good song indeed.

Future of the Left - 'Manchasm' from Last Night I Saved Her From Vampires live CD (to be released on 4AD on a future date)

Future of the Left - 'I Need To Know How To Kill A Cat', from Curses

There is a third song I would have liked to post, the ritual encore 'Cloak the Dagger', the "extended multipart freakout... a very un-Mclusky level of psychedelic instrumental abandon" (Tiny Mix Tapes review of FotL supporting Against Me! in the Webster Hall, New York). Unfortunately, the best part about it (I think) is the rumbling, old-school punk bass sound, that reminds me of nothing more than the Ramones' first album and 'Havana Affair', doesn't come across too well on tape. Or at least, nowhere near as good as it does live, which is where, in the total, visceral, full-on physical and disappearing-down-an-internal-stairway-with-(part-of)-the-drum-kit theatrical kind of way that you need to appreciate it. Like, to continue the Fugazi metaphor, which is actually kind of appropriate in this context, listening to Happy Go Licky, the record never doing for me what just seeing them on YouTube did.

(Another Dublin gig-related institution: it's mostly where I go to get tickets, but it's also a gloomy basement (metal) record store. I heard a Trinity College law prof use his experience of accidentally going in there as an analogy for the difficulty of the marginalised in society in accessing legal aid/advice. Yeah)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Sound and Videos - Friday Night Lights and Band of Brothers Themes

Friday Night Lights (movie sequence)

Friday Night Lights (TV show, Season One title sequence)

Band of Brothers (TV show, title sequence)

Explosions in the Sky, 'Your Hand in Mine' (The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, 2003)

Michael Kamen, 'Band of Brothers Theme' (Band of Brothers OST, 2001)

There's nothing like a good TV show, and that's including a good book (by H.G. Bessinger or Stephen E. Ambrose, respectively). Friday Night Lights, the Texan football drama, I've been watching for about a season and a half in total (now watching the latter half of the second season) and although I've neither read the original book nor seen the original movie, they obviously at least laid down a good foundation. Band of Brothers, the account of American 101st Airborne in Europe during the Second World War, I've seen in its entirety several times (even without buying the boxset), and having initially read the book as well; now I'm watching it again - courtesy of the BBC, who apparently felt the need following the 90th anniversary of the First World War armistice to put on a good - the best, really - war series.

What the two shows have in common is probably less than the sum of their obvious differences, but still significant: 1) they are both quintessentially American in focus (even if Band of Brothers had a lot of British actors, such as, of course, Damien Lewis, but also as I just noticed this time around, James McAvoy and Simon Pegg - briefly) and 2) they both have great soundtracks/scores. It is the latter feature which I will discuss here, but there's plenty I could say about the dramatic content of the shows as well. Even more than that, their visual style is great too - the unconventional, fragmented camerawork of Friday Night Lights, or the muted pallete of colours in the Band of Brothers cinematography (although the CGI looks a little dated now).

However, on to the musical themes: fellow Texans, Explosions in the Sky, wrote a lot of the music for the film version of Friday Night Lights, and while the TV show is scored by the well-known composer for television shows W.G. Snuffy Walden (he won an Emmy for his work on The West Wing), a considerable amount of the post-rock sound, to my ear, has been carried over. The title sequence for the TV version of Friday Night Lights has clear echoes of EitS's 'Your Hand in Mine' from the film, but throughout the show there are sections of sweeping, epic, and minor-keyed grandeur (supposedly Explosions in the Sky have been used for some situational music). Given that the show is a strange mix between a serious drama and a soap opera, the inclusion of a style so unconventional in terms of mainstream culture, yet tremendously familiar and expressive to my experience, is curiously effective (and affecting).

Band of Brothers has a similarly epic, but instead quasi-classical, score (composed by Michael Kamen, who died in 2003 and who also collaborated with Pink Floyd on The Wall). It too has contradictions: between stirring patriotism and harsh, even pessimistic realism, between the celebration of solidarity and mourning for individual tragedy, and between the confidence of democracy and the nihilism of war. A lot of these tensions are expressed in the theme, which navigates a sound neither jingoistic nor cynical, but instead somehow powerfully human.

The somewhat predictable strings are present, but do not totally predominate, and are matched by the choral, almost transcendent, element. The underlying melody, varied but insistently memorable, has a certain hymnal quality to it for me (memories of a secular Protestant culture experienced in childhood, in which church was a social and artistic as well as a religious event - and I guess the intent is equally to produce a 1940s, solidarist 'one nation under god' American feel). The soundtrack (pw - has a set of two 'suites', expanded versions of the theme long beyond the two or three minutes of the title sequence - a fascinating exploration of the condensed television piece.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New Beginnings: Part Two - Hoover, 'Side Car Freddie'/'Cable'

Today - November 21 - is No Music Day - which basically encourages people not to listen, make or otherwise involve themselves with music for one day of the year. I say, screw that. Not because I can't go without music, but because I can reserve the personal right to rationally and intelligently choose to listen to it ('it' being good music, of course) as and when I want.

You can read Bill Drummond's explanation for the idea here, which is essentially a rant of disillusionment with modern music. No Music Ireland gives as the first suggested reason "to reconnect with an art form through abstinence". How typical for a Catholic country - Joyce would be rocking slightly in his grave. So here's some music to rebelliously indulge in:

'Side Car Freddie'



This is Hoover's first 7", released in 1992 as Dischord 79.5/Hoover Limited 01. Their second, 'Return', was released shortly afterwards (FLEX says '92; T-DT-B says '93) as Dischord 86.5/Hoover Limited 02, and its three songs ('Return'/'Private'/'Dries') are included in the CD version of Lurid Traversal (1993, Dischord 89). Their split with Lincoln, released on Art Monk Construction, was released in 1993.

This 7" is quality stuff as well as an insight into the early sound of the band. 'Side Car Freddie' starts off with a soft - indeed, barely audible - sort of 'twinkle-emo' a bit like Indian Summer or Current (and as this is obviously a vinyl rip, you've got that little bit of crackle in there too) but when the rhythm section kicks in, you know that it's Hoover. There's an instant groove to it, and then the way 'side car freddie' is sung, just holding on at the end.

There are both typical and atypical elements to the song, at least from the perspective of their later work. The pounding drums and climbing riff accompanying the second chorus of 'it's under pressure' don't sound particularly usual, but they work into the structure or dynamic of a Hoover song.

The b-side is an - also partially atypical - version of 'Cable'. Rhythmically, it's (mostly) the same, but it lacks Erskine's trumpet as applied on the Lurid Traversal track. It gives it a sort of stripped-back, minimalist feel by comparison, emphasising the rather direct, though artfully complex beat to the song. Even without the assistance of the trumpet, there's still that violent, anarchic but completely well-placed moment of catharsis at the end of every crescendo.

'Cable' was the first Hoover song I ever heard - as I suppose might be true of quite a few people around after the fact, since it's featured on the 20 Years of Dischord compilation. It is an excellent track, and probably one of Hoover's most emphatic songs, but I never thought of it - mainly on account of the trumpet's prominence - as being particularly representative of the rest of the album. Hence, this version is quite interesting.

When looking for the cover for 'Side Car Freddie' - I'd be grateful if anyone could provide a larger version - I found an excellent blog by someone else who likes to write about Hoover (and Obama). Here's what he says about 'Side Car Freddie':

"AT the peak of their craft, Hoover created a hardcore punk sound that was engaging and very challenging. Most interestingly, their music conveyed a feeling of dire menace, but somewhat indirectly, so that the feeling was hard to place. The effect was cool, like a Jim Thompson novel set to a distorted punk score. Hoover’s first 7″ release, “Sidecar Freddie / Cable,” displayed this to great effect (particularly on the A-side), showing how quickly they outgrew the superficial Fugazi influence heard in their earliest songs."

(Hoover, Early and Late - Endlessly Rocking)

There's also another great post on Current. Both posts combine some good YouTube footage of live shows by the bands with some very thoughtful discussion of their music as a whole.

The 'new beginnings' part of this post, as well as being a bit of carried-over enthusiasm, is I guess fairly obviously a reference to this being me essentially getting to the 'start' of the Hoover Genealogy Project, in terms of recorded output (the Endlessly Rocking post above also includes the video of Hoover's first show, if you haven't seen it already). Looking back at the first post on the reunion EP, I see that it has been just under a year since I started. It's still unfinished, which I guess should be another reason for 'new beginnings' - June of 44* (a band who, unfortunately, have never come naturally to me) and Regulator Watts as well as some of the further reaches of the family tree, and maybe even some kindred spirits as well (perhaps obliquely - I want to follow Blend77 again and do a post on The Mercury Program). For now though, let's stick to the roots.

* While browsing through Ape Mummy's blogroll, I found a blog called captain's dead with a live show from June of 44 recorded in Louisville in 1995. You can stream and download the individual songs.

And in a furtherance of the 'new beginnings' theme, Matt from Time Isn't On My Side has taken it upon himself to start a June of 44 Genealogy Project, kicking off with the minimal, folksy post-rock of Rex's self-titled album from 1995. Look forward to more explorations of the 'Louisville Sound' on there.

** Regulator Watts is sort of the opposite problem to June of 44 - so much of their essentially guitar-driven sound is immediately accessible to me, searingly complex, atonal, and discordant though it is, but as a whole I find their work - either The Aesthetic of No-Drag or The Mercury CD - difficult to follow. I think perhaps I'll deal with both releases simultaneously, and see if my face melts off in the process.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Posting has been slow, due mostly to academic pressures, but I can still daydream -so here's the five-point plan of the Hardcore for Nerds Winter Schedule, in rough order of priority:

1. New Beginnings: Part Two - Hoover, 'Side Car Freddie'/'Cable' 7"

I've got a semi-contractual commitment with myself that this has to be the next post. That means I'll definitely have to have it up by Inauguration Day.

2. Future of the Left + So Cow - live at Whelan's Upstairs, 14/11/2008

Pretty rockin' gig last Friday in the architecturally misshapen venue, with a slightly odd combination of headliner and support. I've seen the former already, but they still brought it - including, to steal a snippet from a completely different review, the "extended multipart freakout that closed the set with a very un-Mclusky level of psychedelic instrumental abandon" - and the latter impressed me significantly, to the point where I half-imagined I was in Oakland circa 1990-91.

3. Slint - 'Glenn'/'Rhoda' 10" and Mogwai - 'Batcat' 12"

While you're waiting for this, go read josephlovesit's under-construction analysis of cutting edge post-rock (Grails, Envy/Jesu, J Dilla?) over at Geek Down here.

4. Election for Nerds Special Two

The first, pre-election one was here, but since then I've been able to increase the sample size, make adjustments for broadband penetration, and obviously enough, get actual vote results. If you don't know what a regression analysis is, prepare to find out.

5. Year End November

Since I split my year-end list into three parts, beginning in April and continuing in August, I need to fit in the third and final segment in before producing an aggregate judgement next month along with everybody else. Cold War Kids, Gaslight Anthem, Mogwai and Grails will all probably be in this month's list, along with others.

Voice your approval, disapproval or indifference below.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

New Beginnings: Part One - continued

I (cont.): (i) Arthur Koestler, (ii) Cold War Kids and (iii)

As I've indicated before, this set of posts is intended to express some of my feelings about the Obama victory and to tease out some of the relations between culture and politics on the blog. It's about reflecting on a moment, an undeniably historic occasion but also one which is tied into ordinary things.

This past week - as in, the period leading up to the election result - I've been reading through The Invisible Writing, the second half, beginning in 1932, of Arthur Koestler's autobiography. The action is entirely coincidental to the election - it's been on my shelf for about six months - but nevertheless, the book contains some deep political history, and is just generally a fascinating thing to read during the last days of a doomed Republican campaign and the emergence of a transformational, left-of-centre Democratic candidate as President-Elect of the USA.

That would ideally be a post for Steady Diet of Books - I will hopefully keep that for one of Koestler's novels - but here I'll pair it with an album that I've been listening to a lot this and previous weeks as well. The Cold War Kids' second album, Loyalty to Loyalty is a bit of a slow burner and a fair improvement on their previous Robbers and Cowards, but what it most represents in this context is a small collection of semi-mainstream and semi-left field albums that are coming at me from quintessentially American culture, or counter-culture as it may be; the jazz-rock blues of Cold War Kids, or the faux-Springsteen post-punk of the Gaslight Anthem's The '59 Sound.

And finally, there's the overtly political internet culture of this 2008 election. I visit Organizing Grievances frequently, as it's the blogging home of fellow Hoover (the band, not the president...) aficianado, Lex Dexter but also a group of Oregonian union-involved lefties (hence the name). The partisanship can't necessarily be described as good-humoured, but it is usually quite funny. For more statistical knowledge I head over to the excellent site - Electoral Predictions Done Right. It's from there that I got a well-founded certainty about the result, more so than from snapshot polling and trickle-down Republican spin. (The image above is a composite of - bottom -their final projection - and top - their 'call' as yesterday of the electoral college [since when, they have called the Omaha district of Nebraska for Obama, and Missouri for McCain].)


"Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest in 1905... For six years (1932-38) he was an active member of the Communist Party, and was captured by Franco's troops in the Spanish Civil War and imprisoned under sentence of death. In 1940 he came to England, adopting the language with his first book, Scum of the Earth. His publications manifest a wide range of political, scientific and literary interests, and include Darkness at Noon, Arrow in the Blue and The Invisible Writing. He died in 1983 by suicide, having frequently expressed a belief in the right to euthanasia."

(from the frontispiece to The Invisible Writing)

Darkness at Noon is one of the best novels I've ever read, and certainly the most affecting in simultaneous political and personal terms. The story of Rubashov is equal to its significance to any individual tale of the Jewish Holocaust, or the actual Russian novels of Solzhenitsyn. It's an indictment of the Soviet state - as of all totalitarianism - and of the theory of Communism. Darkness at Noon forms the middle part of a progressive trio of 'invisible writing' begun while Koestler was still officialy affiliated with the Communist Party, with The Gladiators, a historical novel about the Spartacus rebellion in Ancient Rome (I'll admit that I haven't yet read the final work, Arrival and Departure).

The Invisible Writing is Koestler's memoir of that period, both in his personal life and in the tumultous political events of the 1930s. As the quote from the Observer on the back of the book states, it is "a brilliant and deeply moving record of a whole generation as well as of an individual". It was a generation of change, of charismatic but demagogic leaders, and of three conflicting ideologies: fascism, liberal democracy and socialism/communism. That last, the Left, was itself conflicted before, during and after the brief rise of the Popular Front in 1936, and it was this conflict that Koestler lived and wrote through. His European, twentieth-century and fundamentally critical perspective on 'socialism' provides an interesting bas relief for that last, most farcical part of the McCain campaign:

"Every period has its dominant religion and hope, and 'Socialism' in a vague and undefined sense was the hope of the early twentieth century. So much so that German 'National-Socialists', French 'Radical-Socialists', Italian 'Christian-Socialists' all felt the need to include the fetish-word into their names. In the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics this hope seemed to have found its incarnation; and the magic worked, and still works, with various degrees of intensity, on a considerable portion of mankind. The realisation of the full truth about the regime which now rules one-third of the world : that it is the most inhuman regime in human history and the gravest challenge that mankind has as yet encountered, is psychologically as difficult to face for most of us as an empty heaven was for a Gothic man. The difficulty is almost the same for the illiterate Italian peasant as for a highly literate French novelist like Sartre, or for a highly realistic politician like the late President Roosevelt - who sincerely believed that Stalin's regime was a kind of uncouth, Asiatic New Deal; and that after the war America would 'get on very well with Stalin and the Russian people', and that the only threat to post-war peace would come from Britain's imperialistic designs. That the great American President could believe this, in spite of all the available evidence about Communist theory and Soviet practice, that experienced democratic politicians all over the world could believe this, not to mention scientists, scholars and intellectuals of every variety, is an indication of the deep, myth-producing forces that were and still are at work."

The Invisible Writing, p. 475.


Cold War Kids, 'Against Privacy' from Loyalty to Loyalty (2008)

I haven't found out that much about Cold War Kids, either about their religious influences or which specific generation the name refers to. I was born in '87, so technically I was around for the last years of the Cold War, but I'm guessing it's more aimed at people who spent their whole childhood under the spectre of nuclear annihilation.

Pitchfork give their album from this year a middling 5.1; a marginal increase on the 5.0 for its predecessor, of which the review says: "With superficial storytelling, monolithic melodies, and the heavy-handed symbolism of a school project, Robbers and Cowards insults our intelligence a few times too often." I wouldn't be so inclined to defend the latter; apart from the instantly impressive 'We Used to Vacation', 'Hang Me Up to Dry', and 'Pregnant', the album kind of fell flat on me. However, the first single for Loyalty to Loyalty, 'Something Is Not Right with Me', caught my attention again. Though the album happily has a far more consistent quality to it, the single is not entirely representative of the new subtler, stripped-back sound. The off-key but beautifully expressive voice is still very much there, which might be a problem for some people (e.g. Pitchfork) but not for me.

Cold War Kids "carry a topicality absent in much of modern rock", which for Pitchfork is merely a mitigating circumstance:

"Opener "Against Privacy" somehow turns out to be heavy-handed about its opacity-- you can imagine it's about Republicans from the few lines that take, but it trips up on Willett‘s conspiratorial Yorke-isms ("Forget ex-girlfriends/ We want little governments") and a complete lack of a hook"

You can decide the last part for yourself, but I think it's a great song. As I said, compared to Robbers and Cowards it's much more understated. It opens with jazzy percussion and ethereal, muffled melodies, then leans towards propulsive rockiness and that wonderful clanging, metallic bass sound straight out of The Boom. And that's why I like this album so much - it feeds into a sort of an atypical, Left Americana that I hear in the more obscure - and arguably more authentic - sounds of The Boom, The Sorts, Just A Fire, Regulator Watts, etc. I don't know their exact ages, but I'm assuming that the members of Hoover were in or around their late teens early twenties in 92-94, which would make them (and most of their contemporay listeners) Cold War kids as well.

The other album that I was listening to throught last week was the latest album from The Gaslight Anthem, The '59 Sound. Again, another stunning single - the title track - but it took a recommendation from Worship and Tribute to make me actually listen to the album. The title track, and most of the album, is total but brilliant Bruce worship (they're from New Brunswick, NJ, by the way). There are slow songs that sound, vocally at least, a lot like the Killers, but contrary to expectations it actually works out very well. As Springsteen-esque pop-punk goes, this is better I think than the Hold Steady (who never gained my attention much beyond mentioning Sal Paradise in a, in hindsight, typically pretentious way) but not as good as the Bouncing Souls on either Anchors Aweigh or The Gold Record. It is appropriate, then, that those two albums can be relegated to history as statements of defiance and hope during the Bush era.


And finally to the internets, something which was never McCain's strong point. I should have added Organizing Grievances into the section above, because in addition to Cold War Kids and The Gaslight Anthem I was listening to Lex Dexter's Prisonship Tape: Formats EP mixtape: four songs of modern American rock, all of course left-wing approved; Teenage Fanclub, Prisonshake, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and the fascinating and quasi-Slintish The New Year, featuring guitarists Matt and Bubba Kadane of Bedhead, and Chris Brokaw, one-time member of Codeine, on drums.

And so on to, named after the number of delegates in the electoral college, my go-to place for polling, prediction and general 'poli-sci' - as you say in the States (or Sciences Po as they say in France) - information on the election. Run by Nate Silver, a professional baseball statistician, the site's purpose is: "Most broadly, to accumulate and analyze polling and political data in way that is informed, accurate and attractive. Most narrowly, to give you the best possible objective assessment of the likely outcome of upcoming elections." (from the FAQ and Statement of Methodology). Basically, it collates polling data, but on top of that it runs a whole series of statistical analyses culminating in a simulation, 10,000 times, to create a 'probabilistic assessment' of the elections outcome.

In the final set of predictions, of those 10,000 scenarios Obama won the popular vote in 98.67% of them, and McCain in 1.33% (and the outcome of McCain losing the popular vote but still winning the election, 0.31%). From the maps above, you can see how accurate their predictions were on a state-by-state basis, with only Indiana (and the Omaha district of Nebraska) being mispredicted, as a 'lean GOP' (Omaha was 'likely GOP'). Behind those graphics, of course, was a wealth of statistical information, openly presented and explained.

With those kinds of numbers, I really had no reason to stay up on Tuesday night. Irrationality and curiosity kept me up, while the news media continued to act like McCain had a chance (that is, a chance of more than 2%) of defeating Obama. People told me "well, Kerry was ahead in the polls last time"; BBC Newsnight went on a trip to Pennsylvania to talk to drive-time talk show hosts who said the state's blue-collar democrats resented Obama's gun control stance (guns being necessary for hunting, fishing and camping apparently - I get the first, but the other two?) and his "socialist, even communistic I would say" economic policies. And, in the end, that was all just a waste of time.

Hindsight is 20/20 (it's not actually, as any reading of conflicting history books will tell you) but that doesn't mean foresight is irrational. There's a 'Super Tracker' trend-line graph on 538, part of which - showing McCain last ahead in any of the polls sometime in September, and a steep climb and minor arc for Obama thereafter - reminds me of the 'hockey-stick' graph for man-made climate change; incontrovertible statistical evidence that events have gone one way, and only an impressive amount of spin can convince people otherwise.

Next up - New Beginnings: Part Two - Hoover, 'Side Car Freddie'/'Cable'

Friday, November 7, 2008

Friday Video: Special Liberal Media Edition - Gore Vidal vs. David Dimbleby

DD - "What kind of an eruption are you talking about?"

GV - "Well... may I talk the facts of life to you? The BBC audience I know very well, and they like the facts of life..."

From the BBC election coverage on Tuesday night, I think shortly after the overall result was officially called by the networks - they didn't show a clock on screen, just like a Las Vegas casino. David Dimbleby is a well-known television presenter for the BBC, while Gore Vidal is a somewhat longer-established cultural landmark of US literature. So it's quite funny when Vidal says "well, I don't know anything about you", and also with everything else he says. But there's plenty of serious talk in it too.

This was the best election coverage available to me (the competition being RTE, which was quite good, and Sky News and CNN, which were not so much). Not sure if there's anything good on YouTube of Simon Schama vs. John Bolton, or John Bolton vs. the BBC reporter in Phoenix (you display "a fundamental ignorance of the Republican Party" - Bolton said that, not her).

After they pack it in with Gore Vidal here in this clip there's a minute or so of analysis with one of the pundits - the one with the moustache - who's name I've forgotten, but earlier in the coverage he described a historic bias in exit polls, in favour of Democrats, as due to Republicans "being more suspicious of the news media". Sad - and scary - if true. Because it can really be rather entertaining.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

New Beginnings: Part One


"Politics is the art of the possible"

- O. von Bismarck

Last night I stayed up until about 2.45 AM (GMT, EST+5) by which time the BBC - taking their lead on exit poll projections from ABC - had called Ohio for Obama. I could then go to sleep with the virtual certainty - not that there was much call for doubt before then, a point to which I'll return - that he had won the election. Sure enough, the first thing I heard in the morning on the RTE news was a mention of 'President-Elect Obama'; and from that point on there seemed to be more sunshine in the late autumnal - or as you so quaintly call it, 'fall' - vibrancy of the day.

I'm not an American, of any type, in case you haven't noticed: that is, except for the majority part of my CD and record collection; my bookshelf, not so much, other than the Kerouac/De Lillo/Auster/Palahniuk section; and also the creeping use of idiom by the influence of blogging. 'Hardcore for Nerds' is in its original essence - emo - an American term and invention. While my politics are naturally Irish and European, as well as global, my interest in culture is predominantly American in its source and in its direction of exploration. Yet culture, in either its social or artistic forms, can hardly be separated from politics; so in short, we're back to Obama again.

However, my interest in the Obama phenomenon - the Obama actuality - is not wholly, or even mostly, cultural. I am a student of politics by both scholarship and temperament, just as am one of history and historic events. The quote above I probably haven't used for about five years, the last time being a school essay on the diplomacy of great-power Europe. There are plenty of things that I wouldn't want to compare between Bismarck's Prussian imperialism and the actions of a 21st-century US politician, but no analogy is perfect. In fact, it's not even an analogy: it's a classic statement of realism, which can be deliberately twisted to fit the idealism - the hope - of today (and a riposte to those who see an Obama presidency as inevitably and harmfully not living up to expectations).

This past week I had been toying with various ideas for a pre-election post, something to express my ideological support for this candidacy, while not seeming to interfere in the sovereign democracy of America or generally play up my snooty European-ness. The obvious answer to the first problem is that the election of the so-called 'leader of the free world' is a global issue, and a huge part of the international support for Obama is due to his more reasoned stance on foreign policy issues, and the expectation - critical amongst Americans abroad - that he will rehabilitate the US's image around the world.

Outside that sphere, the differences between social democratic Europe and fiercely individualistic America seem to hinder communication over domestic issues of economy or society. In the eyes of the more critical, and perhaps discerning commentators, the Irish and European almost one-sided attitude towards the Obama/McCain conflict was an illusion based on these differing domestic spheres (in Ireland, for example, abortion is almost completely illegal and the vast majority of primary schools are run directly by the Catholic Church, but we still look at Sarah Palin as if she's a crazed dinosaur).

There was one rather interesting and major argument put forward for why the Irish shouldn't be so supportive of O'Bama - his tendency towards economic protectionism. Compared to John McCain's firm support for free trade, Barack Obama's stated intent to dissuade US companies from availing of tax advantages through setting up in (and therefore taking jobs to) other countries, directly threatens the huge section of the Irish economy that is based on attracting US IT and pharmaceutical corporations with our skilled labour force and low corporate tax rate (12.5%). I'm not too worried - either way - however, because a) I'm opposed to a low-tax economy in the first place, either as the basis for under-funded public services or as essentially an unfair or unearned comparative advantage in global trade (profiting chiefly the owners of the large corporations), while b) a significant part of Europe wants us to get rid of it anyway - pace Lisbon - and finally c), see the quote above. He can't do everything.


I (cont.): Arthur Koestler, The Cold War Kids and

II : Hoover - 'Side Car Freddie/'Cable' 7"

(a new beginning for the Hoover family tree)