My consistent obsession with imposing a decimal format on my annual music buying is, as it turns out, a good opportunity to gauge my commitment to keeping this blog updated. A quick glance at the dashboard shows that, since my Albums of the Year 2011 post I’ve only managed to write seven updates, and none since July.
That obviously has nothing to do with what I’ve been listening to.
I always say this, but 2012 has once again been a great a year for music. It’s also been the year that I’ve moved to almost exclusively digital purchases. I must have bought about 6 or 7 CDs this year and I think my shelves thank me for the restraint.
I seem to have adopted a format for this now so here are my top 10 albums of the year, counting down to number one. It’s exciting isn’t it?
Grizzly Bear – Shields - I liked a Veckatimest a bit when it came out. I think I was always a little bit wary that I’d never be able to say it out loud so I’ve always avoided discussing Grizzly Bear in public. Shields is really easy to say and its been a excellent addition to my ever growing collection slightly glum American Lo-Fi.
Animal Collective – Centipede HZ - I think all Animal Collective albums seem to sound like nothing else but also all the same. This isn’t that different to Merriweather Post Pavilion but I really liked that as well. My nod to electronic music this year.
Band of Horses – Mirage Rock - I’ve always quite liked Band of Horses, I’ve worked my way through all of their albums and thought all of them were “not bad”. Mirage Rock surprised me, it’s rare that a band suddenly produce something very very good after having already made quite a few albums. It’s also odd that it isn’t that different to what they’ve done before, they just seem to have perfected it. It has all the spirit of the 70s Laurel Canyon stuff but doesn’t sound like a dodgy 21st century Eagles.
First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar - As I like to make clear every time I do one of these lists, I hate folk music. Every year it is getting more difficult to make this claim. This is obviously folk, or country folk or even just country, though I didn’t notice what it was the first few time I listened to it. I didn’t even notice it was two women either. I didn’t notice much about this other than it has nothing to do with lions.
Jack White – Blunderbuss - Jack White is consistent in making albums that I really like. I preferred his incarnations in the Ractonteurs and the Dead Weather to the White Stripes and I think his solo album is most like the Dead Weather. It’s one of those things that just grew on me over the year and was an easy addition to this list. He also gave me the second best gig I saw this year, an exceptional tour through pretty well everything he’s ever done. It would have been the best gig of the year but I saw Funkadelic in the park over the road from my house and there isn’t really a great deal of competition to that.
Django Django – Django Django - There was much of the year where I was convinced that this would be my album of the year. You see I did start thinking about this months ago rather than scratching my head in December trying to remember what came out. It’s an album that weirdly has got a lot of publicity from the claim that nobody had heard it. As far as I could work everybody had heard it so I’ve no idea where that came from.
Cody Chesnutt – Landed on a Hundred - I loved Cody Chesnutt’s random The Headphone Masterpiece from 2002. It was an exercise in throwing any old nonsense onto a CD, of 36 tracks only about 20 really worked, but that’s still 20. Ten years later I was really looking forward to the sequel and it is great. Much more polished (clearly not made in his bedroom) and a real throwback to traditional soul (can soul be traditional? Who’s tradition?). A real mainstream contribution and hopefully one that makes him the money that I think he needs if he is going to stick to a once a decade release schedule.
Godspeed You Black Emperor - Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! - This is just an exceptional album. It was always going to be a thing of note to see Godspeed You Black Emperor reform but I didn’t think they would be able to make something that is a substantial step better than their previous albums.
Chromatics – Kill For Love - I was intrigued by this album as Pitchfork seemed really enthusiastic about it (not that unusual) and I couldn’t seem to buy it anywhere. I ended up getting it imported and it took weeks to turn up. I listened to it and then didn’t really like it much. I liked the Neil Young cover at the beginning but the rest of it was quite dull. Though I did stick with it and looking back it has just grown on me to the point that I know this is an album that in ten years time I will be listening to just as much as I do now.
Field Music – Plumb - Progressive rock from Sunderland. I’d like to just leave that there but I’m not sure it does justice to my favourite album of the year. I think this does single my acceptance that all those types of music that I grew up with, and tried to run away from are the things I still love most. I suppose that isn’t a great surprise but it is frank personal admission that I’m in my 40s and my musical highlight of the year is progressive rock. I don’t really need to say much about at as between the Mercury Awards and Six Music they have had more coverage than any band deserves in a year.
So there you go, my favourite albums of 2013. Interestingly no jazz this year. I’ve bought a lot of jazz and liked a lot of jazz but none of it quite as much as the stuff above.
Also looking back on the list I can tell my taste is becoming ever more conservative, there are no particular surprises on there and everything is eminently listenable.
So until next year when I fully expect I will once again be massively surprised at how good music is.July 18th, 2012
It seems that I’ve developed a new hobby, I didn’t expect to, and it’s only after doing it for about a year that I found out it had a name. Apparently I’m heavily involved in competitive film watching. I like it, now lying about, watching old film seems like it has a real purpose rather than…. lying about, watching old films.
Last year I completed a Facebook list thing called the Empire 500 greatest films. You know the sort of thing, you tick how many films you’ve seen and it compares it with your friends. This is a list that Empire Magazine put together in 2008 and, funnily enough, includes, what they consider to be the 500 greatest films. For the obvious reason this doesn’t include any films after 2008.
I ticked all the films I’d seen and came to 368 (I think, I wish I’d made a note of this now) out of 500 films. I was quite proud of that but was slightly miffed to see I was a bit behind Steve Coxon who’d got 382. It occurred to me that I’d only have to sit down and watch 132 films and I would have seen all of them, so I did.
Having something like Lovefilm certainly made this easier. I sat down and added as many of the films that I hadn’t seen as possible and then waited for them to turn up. I admit that towards the end I had to resort to a combination of expensive Ebay auctions and some piracy to get to see all of them.
One of the first things I’d learned was that the previous 300 odd films were there because I chose to watch them. Watching films based on an arbitrary list, from an arbitrary snapshot in time can be very hard work. In many cases I spent most of the film trying to workout whether it would have still made it onto the list if it had been collated in 2010.
Overall it is fair to say I saw some appalling films. I’ve learnt to hate 1960′s Italian cinema with a passion. I shudder when I think of anything that Ingmar Bergman was involved with. I took small pleasure in finding out my claim that Woody Allen’s career is a simple facade to cover the acts of a sexual predator was actually correct.
I did discover some things that I wasn’t expecting. I like Charlie Chaplin films. I like quite a few silent films as it turns out. The four hour epics, Greed and Napoleon filled me with dread but turned out, in their own way, to be quite entertaining.
One of the things I’ve been frequently asked as I’ve ploughed through the films I hadn’t seen is “which one has been the best?” I’ve found this really hard to answer, mainly because I’m being asked about my favourite film from a subset of a wider list that includes many of my favourite films. The fact that I’d never previously seen those 132 films was entirely random.
Having said that a few did really stick with me, Before Sunset and The Mother and the Whore being surprises as they are largely about French people talking at great length. There were also things like Requiem for a Dream and Almost Famous which were great films I’d just never heard of. If I have to pick one (which I don’t) then my favourite would be High and Low, one of the best police films I’ve ever seen.
Overall working my way through this list did teach me something about film. I think I’ve got more of a sense of what makes a good story and how my preconceptions are not always right. I’ve learnt to watch films without knowing anything about them and actually relish the prospect of being surprised.
It also taught me that you better have a very good reason if you’re going to make your film longer than two hours.
Once I’d finished I was surprised to realise that I still had an appetite for seeing more. Fortunately James Cook pointed me towards Framerater which helps you to lump similar lists together and keep track of what you’ve seen AND has a leader board. This is the most important thing.
So I had a break, watched films with spaceships and Ninjas (separate films) and now I’m trying to complete the IMDB Top 250 of which I have 33 to go. It’s not quite clear why Empire and IMDB have such different lists.
It took me almost a year to work my way through these but more importantly it gave me something to really bore people with.June 27th, 2012
It seems that once a year I have a bit of a go at working out what LinkedIn is for. I joined it years ago and I think it is fair to say that I’ve not mananged to achieve anything through being a member of it.
I can see a great deal of potential in having a social network that has a professional focus, but I’m not convinced LinkedIn is that platform. I have a lot of things to say that probably aren’t appropriate to my personal blog.
This has got to be down to one of two reasons. It is either because I’m doing it wrong or it is because it doesn’t work. Hopefully it is the first one.
I’d really like other people to tell me how they use LinkedIn and how I can try and get something out of it. I think it is telling that I’m asking this here rather than on LinkedIn itself as I’m not convinced of its reach.
I think I’ve got a fairly good handle on how social networks work. I use Twitter as my primary form of communication and have found that professionally it’s a useful tool for joining people together. I even have an attachment to Facebook, at least as a place for quickly storing links and keeping an eye on people that don’t use Twitter.
The critical success factor for networks, from my point of view, is whether they are carrying sufficient content and interest for me to invest my time in. My typical experience of LinkedIn content is people that have connected their Twitter account to their status or it is truly speculative employment agencies spamming inappropriate jobs.
This has made me wonder what everyone else expects to get out of it as I can’t see too many examples of conversation (obviously this could be peculiar to the way I use it).
Cynically I can see LinkedIn use falls into one of two categories, a naive hope that someone will be knocked over by your profile and have to bring you into their organisation or a voyeuristic interest in whether people you used to work with have still got jobs.
In their own way both of these are valid but they do not perform the function of a network. In reality this prompts people to treat LinkedIn as not much more than a grown up version of Pokemon.
I’ve always had a few self created rules about how I’ve treated different social networks. On Twitter I follow anyone that is interesting, I’m only Facebook friends with people I’ve met, Google Plus I add anyone but only to specific circles and LinkedIn only people who I have worked with.
I think I’m going to change my approach on Linkedin to include people who seem interesting to see if a similar approach, as I use with Twitter, makes it anymore functional.
There you go, I’m really interested in your tips or experience. I suspect that many responses are just going to be a mutual confusion but hope this isn’t the case.June 20th, 2012
If you’re as old as me then you probably remember when all the music died. Not Don McLean’s rambling nonsense about…. I have no idea what American Pie is actually about. I mean the 80s when home taping killed music. Do you remember when there used to be music, but then it all stopped because everyone just nicked it and it wasn’t worth it any more so people didn’t play guitars, they just worked in shops?
Music didn’t die. Someone invented CDs and we were all forced to buy all the music that we previously owned on a different format thus massively increasing the income of both artists and record labels. It was a close run thing though. I understand at one point it looked like Sting might not be able to afford his tea.
As I do remember this it is with some amusement that I greet the protestations that the music industry is about to suffer a similar fate to that it suffered in the 80s, simply because, once again, all the music is being stolen.
I should probably clarify that I see a fundamental distinction between the music industry and musicians. I hate the way this entire debate is framed from a capitalist point of view, that defines success and quality of music to be entirely correlated against its ability to generate a return in cash.
I do have some sympathy that the free exchange of digital music is undermining some musicians earning potential. Equally the freedom of digital distribution and production has given many more artists the potential to earn an income where they otherwise wouldn’t.
My personal perspective from the 80s and 90s is that the free exchange of music massively increased the range of music I like and consequently increased the range of musicians that now get money off me. I now spend much money on music than at any point in my life. This is because it is so easy to access. If I hear something on the radio I can download it to my phone (and pay for it in seconds).
I have to say that of the 45,ooo (give or take) songs that sit on our home server I didn’t buy all of them. I have bought the vast majority and the shelves of CDs that never leave their case is a testament to that.
So that is a convoluted way of trying to justify my interest in writing this.
This morning I got to read David Lowery’s open letter to Emily White. This letter was in response to a post that Emily posted on the NPR Music Blog. Emily’s post is a quite reasonable explanation of how she believes her generation (which I assume is younger than me) is moving away from traditional, tangible music media such as CDs. David decided to wilfully misunderstand this and launched into a long old letter about how Emily owes musicians about $2000 for all the stuff she nicked.
This seems to me to be completely symbolic of how the music industry wilfully misunderstands the changing environment they now live in. David might have a point about streaming platforms, such as Spotify, undermine artists. To my mind that is a failure of collective bargaining rather than yet another stick to beat the youth of today with.
For a different perspective on being a musician in todays world it is well worth following Steve Lawson on Twitter. I thought it would be useful to add a link to his blog as well as it is often interesting, though just searching for the link I noticed he has already written about this today. As I’ve already got this far I didn’t really have the motivation to delete it all.
I just don’t believe there will ever be a point where young people stop picking up guitars and stop trying and make music. That’s because the rewards that people expect from music are not purely economic. Music is also about confidence, wellbeing and credibility. BitTorrent will never take these from people.
We might live in a time where musicians are no longer able to buy islands but is that so bad? Do we want to continue to perpetuate a world where Bono has influence because his set over ran at Live Aid in 1985?
People aren’t advocating that we live in a world where all culture is free (even Emily, if you read what she actually said), we are living in a world where we are redefining how people will benefit from artistic production and hopefully stop the horrendous commodification of music.
April 23rd, 2012
I think this is a fairly unusual thing for me to write about, not only is it the second time I’ve updated this site in a week but it’s not a rant on a subject I know little about.
It’s also a surprise as I wasn’t expecting to write this. The news that the Sinclair ZX Spectrum has turned 30 shocked me a bit, not because I doubt they’ve figured it out correctly but because it made me think about the massive impact it had on my life and everything that came after it, essentially it defined most of the last thirty years for me.
Unlike many people I’ve noticed on Twitter this morning, I didn’t get hold of a Spectrum and become inspired to programme, it tweaked my interest a little but I was much more interested in consuming anything that other people created. The Spectrum was my first initiation into video games and I think it’s fair to say it stuck.
Actually that might not be quite true, in the 70s I did have a Binatone Pong console thing, it was rubbish.
My launch into the world of home computing came as a complete surprise. I remember one rainy Saturday in 1982 that the postman brought my Dad a curious brown box. I had no comprehension of what a computer really was, why we would need one or that one was on the way. I remember watching as it got set up on the portable TV upstairs (yes, we had a second TV in 1982) and some vague reassurance that it would help me with homework or something. With hindsight I now realise my Dad didn’t have a clue what a Spectrum was either.
The only software that came with the Spectrum was there Horizons tape. This gave you everything you needed for an insight into the powerful world of computing, once you’d figured out how to connect a tape player to the back and found that ridiculous, unique, combination of volume, tone and balance that allowed you to load software, life became easier once dedicated tape players were available but that first day was mostly guess work.
Horizons isn’t something I have much recollection of, mainly because most of it was rubbish. Much of it was tutorials that taught you how the Spectrum worked and some software. The obvious stand out was Thro’ the Wall, this was the thing that really opened my eyes to video games and made me realise why we needed a computer.
At the time there were very few other games about and those that were available didn’t tend to be in shops in Eastbourne where I grew up. The only two games that WH Smiths had in their embryonic games section were 3D Monster Maze and Meteor Storm. Looking at the Internet it seems like my recollection of 3d Monster Maze is wrong, all I can find is a ZX81 maze game, whereas the one I’m thinking of was a top down 3d maze with monsters in, maybe that’s why I’ve created my own unique memory of it. Meteor Storm was the most exciting prospect as it combined Asteroids and speech, yes it could talk. Every now and then it would shout “meteor alert”, or at least something like that. The Spectrum sound chip was so bad that you would only know there was speech if you’d already read the tape case.
There other problem I had was that games cost about £3.99 in 80s and that was a ridiculous amount of money to get together.
Consequently the only initial route to getting games was to type code into the Spectrum from a magazine. Sometimes pages and pages of code, generally pages and pages of faulty code. I remember my Dad really wanted a flight simulator, and the only one about was the most daunting thing that Your Computer had committed to page. I’m pretty sure it never worked, I think they were printing corrections to the code for months.
Many people will tell you that this experience of coding taught them how to become programmers. This experience of coding taught me I needed to find a more efficient way to pirate games off other people.
The next few years were devoted to perfecting the technique of tape to tape piracy and accumulating as many games as possible. As we fondly remember the Spectrum most people will not mention that 90% of the games released on it were truly appalling. I’d be surprised if there were many games that got much more than one or two hours play out of them. This was mainly because there were so many of them and nobody really had any concept of quality control. The 10% that were good were inspired and stunning example of what can be fitted into less memory than your average Word Document.
The birth of this new industry also caused an explosion in magazines devoted to games. The most influential for me being Crash Magazine. This was notable for me because the people who made it related to their customers in a way I’d never seen before or since. If there was part of a game that you couldn’t figure out you could just ring the magazine office and ask if anyone there had any ideas. It seemed odd to just have the people that wrote stuff I read, on the other end of the phone and happy to talk.
This was an attitude that seemed to be shared by many of the games companies themselves. Three or four years after the Spectrum was released I upgraded to the Commodore 64 with its colour palette and dynamic sound. Over the years I’d accumulated many games on the Spectrum that were now on the Commodore 64. After ringing round the companies that made the games I had most of them replaced in the other format for free. At the time I’d assumed this is what companies would do, now I realise that it was a strange but great response.
The Spectrum started my 30 year obsession with video games and my most consistent interest. It’s been a strange evolution in terms of technology and quality but has been universally good.
And to finish, my all time favourite Spectrum game was Combat Lynx, I’m not sure why but it had exact combination of freedom and helicopters that was all I wanted from a game.
It’s worth following Kebablog via Twitter today, he’s spending the day playing (or attempting to load) as many games as he can. He seems to have a lot of them.April 19th, 2012
My home city, Birmingham, has recently embarked on a voyage of reflection to see how it can promote greater social inclusion. I don’t really want to comment on the process, I get a bit lost about how these things are supposed to translate into practical action. You can read about it on the Fair Brum site and come to your own conclusions.
One aspect of this that has caught my interest is a debate on what qualities (I can’t think of a better word than qualities and it isn’t quite right) are needed by employers. This is linked to a previous blog post that was on the Podnosh site about skills in Birmingham. I read this when it went up in January and was tempted to comment but the moment went and I just forgot about it. The latest post on the Fair Brum site has reminded me that I had something to say. I think it is worth mentioning that this isn’t really related to Birmingham as such, many of the issues are replicated in other cities.
I’m in danger of over simplifying the claim set out in both posts but it seems to be that economic improvement, and specifically the needs of employers, are addressed not through qualifications and skills but through communication and networks.
I would not discount the vital role of people having communication skills nor the ability to facilitate movement of labour via networks but in the overall scheme of things these are useful but not essential.
Over the last 20 years the thing that has become abundantly clear, in economic terms, is that investment in skills is the only factor that has a tangible effect on growth. The Chinese economy being the prime example of a revolutionary change from a low wage, low skill economy to a highly technical, highly skilled economy. Albeit one with relatively low wages. We can see from the German economy that investment in skills has allowed a seemingly unique area of economic prosperity that is contrary to the rest of Europe.
Simplistically this is because both countries have a lot of people that know how to do things that we don’t.
The original posts are fairly dismissive of qualifications, I think based on a misunderstanding of what a qualification is supposed to represent. Qualifications are a good method of conveying an aptitude to learn, in many cases the individual subject matter is a secondary benefit to knowing that someone can learn. The ability to learn and the tools that support learning are really the skills that employers should treasuring above all. Education is the process of learning to learn not acquiring knowledge.
Qualification are also a proxy indicator of ability. Whilst I appreciate that there is merit in to know individuals and valuing their enthusiasm this is not something that can be replicated at scale. For our economy to begin to thrive we need a sea change in our economic activity but also the scale we are doing it at. With the best will in the world the model of networks outlined is not going to be capable achieving large scale recruitment and ensuring there is consistency.
A system of qualifications that employers have faith in is the very least we need to support a minimum standard of recruitment.
The original posts are also fairly dismissive of skills, I think this is the part that I most take issue with. The original posts assume a level of skill transference which doesn’t seem credible. Whilst it is possible that in some jobs it is fairly easy for an employer to confer skills onto a new employee this is surely a minority.
The Fair Brum post makes the rather surreal claim:-
“There are of course career paths that require the “rubber stamp” of education and training; lawyers, doctors etc. But what about the rest of the workforce? Is further education really THAT relevant?”
The notion that doctors achieve skill through the “rubber stamp” of education is bizarre. Doctors achieve skill through ridiculous amounts of structured training, not the least of which is years of monitored employment.
Would we also say that engineers are merely rubber stamped as well? If you are starting to build a plane do you start your recruitment based on someone who seems quite cheerful and assume they will pick it up as they go along? Well, you can do, but I’m not getting on your plane.
That might seem like a glib example but the reality is that skills are what add value to a product and are the barrier to anyone just replicating what you do because they just fancy it.
This is also not an efficient way for industry to act. We are not going to achieve economic development if it is always beholden on employers to equip their staff with the skills they need to do their jobs.
I can see that in some sections of industry the focus on soft skills are relevant but these are a minority. Focussing on communication and networks does a gross disservice to the young people that are currently suffering from decades of disinvestment in skills and short termism.
This concerns me for two reasons. Firstly networks, as they exist in Birmingham can be exclusive, whilst they might circulate jobs amongst a connected elite they can exclude those sections of society that are the more vulnerable to poverty and worklessness. This is a compelling argument to improve networks but first we must harness the potential we have in our population. An example, that might be peculiar to Birmingham, is the vast array of skills and life experience (practical and qualifications) that exist in our immigrant community. For example many refugees are the most qualified people of the countries that they are trying to escape, they are not plugged into our social networks and do not have the same access to employment.
Secondly I believe the notion that skills are easily transferred from one person to another, seemingly by osmosis, buys into the something for nothing society so loved by New Labour in the 90s. We need to produce things with worth and the transient nature of an ephemeral service sector does not do this. These are the ideals that created the financial apocalypse and the X Factor.
Sorry, I had to come back and edit this so it ended on a bombastic and ridiculous note.March 5th, 2012
I’ve got to admit that the debate about whether we should have an elected mayor in Birmingham has left me completely cold. I can’t really motivate myself to have an opinion one way or the other. I’d say that this isn’t a symptom of apathy, I’ve worked in the very bowels of our local government and have an unhealthy interest in governance.
With the referendum in only a few short weeks I’ve decided this is something that I probably need to have an opinion on. You never know, it might ignite public interest and it would be handy to be able to argue one way or the other convincingly.
There seems to be a fairly vociferous campaigns on both sides and I’ve been trying to see if they have any compelling arguments either way. The Yes to a Birmingham Mayor campaign looks fairly slick and purports to have at least some grass roots support. I’m not completely sure how widespread this really is, I don’t meet many people who are that bothered by the efficacy of the Leader/Cabinet model of government.
We do need to remember that when the Birmingham Mail tried get a petition together to trigger a referendum they met a steely disinterest.
Looking at the Yes campaign they make some interesting points which I will go through laboriously :-
1 ) You can directly elect your leader and if they fail, you can get rid of them at the next election.
That seems fair enough, the current system means the council leader is selected by the ruling party. It’s not the most accountable system.
2 ) You will know who your mayor is and the rest of the world will too.
There is nothing to stop the leader of the council being visible. Having the title of mayor does not excuse poor communications. I’m not sure why the rest of the world is relevant, if people in Birmingham understood slightly more about who was in charge then that would be a start.
3 ) Birmingham is struggling and a leader with a genuine mandate can drive positive change.
I don’t buy this. I think change is achieved through consensus and I’d say that the current system, where Councillors select their leader means that they have more of an interest in achieving change. If you consider Birmingham to be struggling then this is a symptom of the policy environment rather than the system that brings it to us.
4 ) You’ll be able to see how decisions are made and who makes them.
The current system is pretty transparent and I can’t see there being much of a change if we have a mayor. In fact all the systems will remain the same.
5) A mayor can make sure decisions are made closer to you and your community.
I would completely dispute this. At the moment local Councillors take local issues and feed them up to their leadership, if you have a Councillor who is in the ruling party then they might have some influence. With a mayor the intelligence from communities will be disconnected from the policy process. If decisions by a mayor reflect local views then this would happen despite the system rather than because of it.
6 ) A whole layer of unaccountable government bureaucracy can be removed by combining the Leader of the council and the Chief Executive.
There is nothing to stop us combining the role of leader of the council and chief executive now. It would be a spectacularly stupid thing to do but we could do it. The local authority can influence the spending of around £3 billion, the day to day management of this should not be left with someone who wins a popularity contest.
7 ) The mayor can celebrate our successes and bring people together to solve problems by being a recognisable leader.
Again there is nothing implicit in the mayoral system that means we can’t already do this with better communication.
8 ) A directly elected mayor can help Birmingham fulfil it’s potential. Nearly every major city in the world has a directly elected mayor. Birmingham deserves one too.
Is this even true? I mean the bit about every other City in the world having one? It seems quite a claim. As for Birmingham deserving one, well they do say that people deserve the Government they vote for.
Comparing this with the No campaign becomes a bit more problematic. First off the web site looks like it was made twenty years ago. The aesthetic shouldn’t undermine the central point but the reality is it doesn’t present an image you can engage with. This is emphasised by the No campaigns ability to get into an argument with itself on the front page.
After offering to supply speakers for events it has a little debate with itself on what the optimum number of speakers should be. Glancing at the bottom of the page you will notice that this has been put together by MP John Hemming, the written word is not his natural medium (or seemingly web design).
There is a handy list of reasons for a no vote so let’s go through those as well (I haven’t linked to the individual points as they use frames, yes frames in the 21st Century) :-
1 ) One person cannot listen to a million
This is a fair point and is a good rebuttal made to the yes claim that decisions will be closer to communities. This point does drift off into nonsensical rubbish about how a mayor would hold an advice surgery, as nobody with any sense expects them to do this we’ll just ignore it.
2 ) It will cost more in hard times
Any way you look at it, it will cost more money. If it delivers better governance then it could be a price worth paying.
3 ) It is not within the British tradition
Er, what the hell has that got to do with anything? If the current system doesn’t work then change it.
4 ) It leads to corruption
This is a bold claim. There have been corrupt mayors but I don’t think Birmingham can really claim any sort of anti-corruption moral high ground with the existing system.
5 ) It takes attention off important issues and concentrates on personalities
I suppose the mayor possibly being a more visible presence could be considered to be a focus on personality but I can’t see that this could be represented as a bad thing. You only have to look at the City Council sponsored Forward magazine, and their fascination with current leader Mike Whitby, to realise that we have this already.
6 ) Birmingham’s villages will be ignored with concentration on the City Centre
I haven’t seen a more succint summary of what has been wrong with Birmingham’s governance for the last 20 years. The Bullring and the new Library are shiny testaments to how much Birmingham’s “villages” are currently considered. So no change there then.
7 ) The mayor is likely to spend a lot of time travelling outside Birmingham and less time in Birmingham
This is probably the most amusing claim. So where is Mike Whitby this week? The Carribean? India? Dubai? China? The man’s not short of frequent flyer points.
8 ) The pro campaign cannot explain how it will improve things
I have some sympathy with this. The yes campaign doesn’t make a very compelling argument but simply stating this doesn’t take the debate any further. It actually comes across as a bit childish.
9 ) People normally vote against it and Stoke got rid of one
This is just strange. The argument for not having one is that a number of other referendums have said no in other cities. The whole point of this process is we get a referendum so we can decide. If we don’t want one we don’t have to have one.
10 ) Birmingham’s successes in the past came without a directly elected Mayor
Well this is true. Equally Birmingham’s failures have come without one as well. Reading the text associated with this claim is just confusing. It seems to be alluding to an article that it claims was written in 1890 yet alludes to the 1940s. A remarkably prescient bit of writing.
The no campaign does have some good points, it just makes them in a really ham fisted way.
I was referred to this article written by Cllr James Hutchings that makes a much more coherent case for not having a mayor. It covers many of the same points but is better written and less patronising. I’ve always been a fan of Cllr Hutchings.
The problem with all of this is, although the no campaign hasn’t made a good argument, they don’t have to. We know how it works now, we need to be persuaded that the system in the future will work better. I can’t see that the yes campaign has come anywhere near doing that.
There are a few things that aren’t addressed by either group. In reality will the new system be any different? Ostensibly, no.
To campaign successfully across a city the size of Birmingham you need infrastructure, you need people putting leaflets through doors, you need money to make leaflets. An independant would need to buy this in or generate a lot of good will really quickly. I don’t believe that examples such as Hartlepool and Middlesborough are relevant to us, both are much smaller in area and both had candidates that had their profile raised through other media. (there is an excellent assessment of why I’m wrong here)
Would a mayor aligned from one party be that different to the current situation? I don’t think so.
After all this I’m not sure I’m any closer to having an opinion. Hopefully the campaign will galvanise some sort of proper arguments one way or the other, though they better hurry up.February 8th, 2012
My first blog post of 2012 and it is an exciting free stuff give away.
If you’ve been here before you might well know that I’m an enthusiastic supporter of OnLive. Since I wrote that post I’ve found myself using it more and more. I’ve also now got two of the Micro Consoles, one for downstairs and one for upstairs. It means I can continue games where ever I am in the house.
Recently Pro Evolution Soccer was released on OnLive and I thought I’d give it a go. It works really well but that isn’t the point in writing this. OnLive have a habit of giving things away at silly prices and for pre-ordering Pro Evolution Soccer they threw in a free console. I’ve got more than enough consoles so it left me trying to think of something to do with it. I could flog it on Ebay or I could give it to someone that would appreciate it.
I decided to do that latter.
If you want it there are a few things you should consider first. Sorry, but I am aiming to give it to someone I know, either in real life or through Twitter, so random people asking for it won’t get far. I suppose that raises the question of who and how we know people but we can work through that.
There are some things you need to consider as well. This console will not work for everyone. You need a fairly quick internet connection and ideally one that isn’t capped. This thing can transfer about 5gb of data in an hour, if your connection is limited you will reach that limit quickly. You also need to have a TV with an HDMI connection and be able to plug an ethernet cable into the back of the console. These are all easy enough to sort out but I would advise you to know if you can do it before you ask for it.
The best way to test whether you can run the thing is to set up an account on the OnLive website, down load the app to your PC or Mac and try a demo of a game. If it runs alright on your computer the console will work.
Ideally I want to give it to someone that isn’t going to own a PS3 or XBox 360 and wants to get back into games again, or wants to get their kids into games. I know I’m being quite picky about this but it’s free so humour me. Also it would be good if you are in Birmingham to save me postage, though that isn’t absolute. The most important thing is that it goes somewhere where it is played. Also this might seem strange, but if it doesn’t work with your connection I would like whoever gets it to give it back so I can give it to someone else. I have had a previous experience where I gave someone something and they then sold it on Ebay.
If your internet connection can support this you won’t be disappointed, it’s a great way to play new(ish) games cheap and they have a constant stream of stupid cheap/free offers.
If you would like it let me know, it’s currently sitting on our sideboard looking for a home.December 19th, 2011
It’s the time of year where I habitually start making a list of my favourite albums of the year. Closely followed by other random lists, because everything is better when it is in a list.
I started thinking about this list a few months ago and had come to the conclusion that I probably wouldn’t be able to get together a list of 10 albums that I would really recommend to other people. I’m not quite sure why I’d come to that conclusion as looking back this year has been yet another really good one for music.
I think I end up saying this every year but I think we are living through a bit of a golden age for music. Social networks allow us much greater opportunities to have things recommended to us and bands can get much more direct access to an audience. I know this year places like Bandcamp have had a big impact on the way I buy music. Actually this is the year where I reckon about 80% of my music has been purchased electronically so that says something. Mainly that I don’t have to increase shelves at the same rate.
One thing that has popped out at me is that I’ve been listening to much more folk music. This might be an unavoidable consequence of aging or it might be an improvement in folk music. I have a feeling it is likely to the former.
So here we go. My top 10 albums of the year.  I should have mentioned that they are in some sort of order and count down from 10 to 1. I could have just edited this and added numbers but….[/edit]
John Grant – Queen of Denmark
The best way to find out about an album is someone texting you out of the blue and telling you about it. Though this only works if the album is good. If it isn’t we just all agree to not talk about it. This one is very good. The best way to sum it up is it sounds a bit like Midlake. I really like Midlake because they sound a bit like Fleetwood Mac. Weirdly I don’t really like Fleetwood Mac, I have no idea how this works.
Dissolved – Snowy Psychoplasmics
Through a deal I don’t want to talk about I’ve had access to all of the Daddy Tank Records releases over the last year or so. When I was given this I was explicitly told I wouldn’t like it. I haven’t added this to my list just to be awkward though I have a feeling that not many people would be surprised if I did. I’ve added this because I stopped listening to electronic music years ago and this changed my mind.
tUne-yArDs – Who Kills
What I still don’t quite understand how someone could sit down and think that any element of this album would work. In my mind “world music” has a really bad reputation. When people say world music it conjours up images of earnest yet insincere harmonies and irritating drumming. This album has nothing to do with world music but I always have niggling feeling that it could veer in that directions at any moment, it doesn’t. This the most inventive thing I have heard in many many years.
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
I do make a habit of going through the Pitchfork reviews as more often than not they make me buy something that I’m really grateful for. This is an excellent example. I know nothing about them other than the fact that they’re not scared to throw in a guitar solo every now and then.
The King Blues – Punk & Poetry
Do you remember when the country was on fire and everyone wanted to listen to anarcho punk poetry with a hint of ukulele? Well I do. That sounds like the most atrocious combination of music that has ever been conceived but it isn’t. As far as I’m concerned no other band summed up the sentiment of the summer like The King Blues did. They are also really really angry, this is best demonstrated in their song We Are Fucking Angry.
St Vincent – Strange Mercy
Another Pitchfork recommendation. I initially bought it gave it a listen and thought I wouldn’t bother again. Then on a train journey I noticed it and decided to give it another go. This album is great. This would be what Goldfrapp were like if they were good. I don’t have anything in particular against Goldfrapp but their peculiar brand of bland means nobody has much more than a passing interest in them.
Many of the songs on this album sound very much of the Goldfrapp mould but then go offf in a crazy direction, I love them just for that.
Iron and Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean
I’ve been reliably told that Iron and Wine are proper folk music. They don’t sound like it to me. They sound about as far from folk music as it is safe to be. This is a great album and I have no idea who to compare it to.
Battles – Gloss Drop
I love Battles. I loved Battles before I even knew who they were. They did the music to one of the levels on Little Big Planet and I’d always wondered who they were. It was @shymmetry mentioning them in Twitter that made me speculatively buy their fist album and discover it was a band I had been looking for. This new album isn’t that much of a departure from the first but is a departure from everything else you’ve ever heard before. Unless you listened to King Crimson in the 80s. They do sound quite a bit like King Crimson but that’s not a bad thing is it?
This is also the band I most regret not getting to see this year.
Eddie Vedder – Ukulele Songs
I’ve been properly playing the ukulele now for nearly two years with Moselele. It’s strange that something that started off as an attempt to do ironic covers on an unusual(ish) instrument has now become and interest. Having said that it is the ukulele that made me aware of this album but it’s the quality of the songs that have made me listen to it as much as I have. I don’t really know Pearl Jam and wouldn’t say I’m great fan of them but this does give some insight into how some of their songs are written. Strangely I’m too lazy to bother to find out whether the songs on here are actual Pearl Jam songs or are just for the this album. At a guess, I reckon it’s a mixture.
This album does sound folky, well it would, it’s a man strumming a long on a tiny guitar.
White Denim – D
White Denim seem to have been round for a while and unusually I bought this based on hearing them on 6 Music. I haven’t really listened to 6 Music a lot recently so tend to get less stuff recommended to me through them. White Denim have definitely got a modern Lynyrd Skynyrd about them, yes I do realise that will put pretty well everyone off listening to them.
They differ from Lynyrd Skynyrd in that:-
1) They’re not dead
2) They are very musically diverse
3) They sound nothing like Lynyrd Skynyrd
So there you go. Not a hell of a lot between any of them.
If you want a taste from most of them then here is YouTube playlist with one song from all except Dissolved.
November 28th, 2011
As we move towards industrial action, on the 30th November I have a feeling that there will be a sudden increase in rather distorted media coverage.One of the key things that irritates me is some of the language that is used around the principle reason for the dispute. The dispute is fundamentally about pensions and the desire of the Government to see people in the public sector work longer, pay more and receive less.
Interestingly the reasons cited for this need to change is the fact that changing demographics mean that pensions are/will shortly be unaffordable. This is odd as the received wisdom on pension reform comes from John Hutton’s pension report. His report is fairly clear that the burden of pensions is falling rather than increasing.
There is a certain logic to this. We are at the point where the post war generation are picking up their pensions, this will be followed by generations where birth rates were on the decline. This is coupled with a massive reduction in public sector employment. Taking the NHS as an example there has been a 50,000 reduction in staff over two years meaning nearly 5% of the work force has gone off the books. Add to that local authorities and the police you see a substantial reduction in the burden.
What is hidden in the Government story of pensions is the principle that it is unfair that public sector employees get pension terms that are not comparable with private sector employees. Note that it is apparently fair to change the terms and conditions of a previously agreed contract but not fair to have favourable terms to group of people you have no control over.
This is where the language begins to annoy me. You often hear terms such as “gold plated pension” and “generous pension schemes”. These terms imply that a pension is somehow a gift that is granted through the largess of the state.
This isn’t true. A pension is nothing more than an element of your pay. Some pay you receive up front as taxable income, whilst some pay comes in the form of employers pension contributions that is deferred until retirement.
We need to get away from the thinking that pensions are some sort of magic gift from the tax payer.
The fairness argument is essentially saying that public sector workers need to have their wages reduced. It doesn’t matter if you mean just the taxable element or the pension contribution, both are essentially wages.
The extrapolation of this is that nurses, teachers, social workers and care assistants are paid too much. If you are arguing for public sector contribution to pensions to be reduced this is what you are advocating. That is an entirely reasonable position to take if you believe it, but do not couch it in terms of pension reform.
This is basically the politics of envy.
We should also remember that reducing pensions has a consequence.
Pension funds are a massive source of investment for the private sector. Leaving aside the point that many funds were unduly affected by the lack of banking regulation, we need what they have left to invest in growth. Reducing the capacity for funds to do this seems naive at best.
We also have the issues we are storing up for the future. Giving pensioners enough money to live on reduces the chance that they will become a burden to health and social care in their old age. This is why improving private sector pensions is a much more pressing concern than reducing public sector pensions.
If we support people in the private sector to have investment in their future, then when it comes to means tested social care benefits more people will be supporting themselves. This is basic maths.