Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A revenue stream

Well, there is a revenue stream for musos I overlooked in my last post, the corporate one. Big business pays bands to play at their festivals; pale, sanitised affairs festooned with branding. Of course there are also handsome royalties to be had from advertising. The really annoying thing there is that a tune that may have been one of your faves for years becomes unlistenable with the insane repetitions of the TV ad break. Lately there seems to be a trend to use bland cover versions in place of the original, I'm thinking particularly of that appalling version of Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air". I've no idea what product it's used for. Nothing new, mind you, the Doors had their first big bust-up over the selling-out (to GM?) of "Light My Fire", which would have been late 60s.

It may have been last weekend's glut of corporate festies that saw an outbreak of free festivals for the first time in years.

The music biz drifting into dismal stodginess is not necessarily a bad thing. One of my mates always used to claim the band that was responsible for the mini-revolution of Britpunk wasn't the Sex Pistols but rather the Eagles.

Monday, August 28, 2006


Bob Dylan recently created a minor fuss with his comments on downloading:
"Well, why not? It ain't worth nothing anyway."

No doubt many in the industry would accuse him of hypocrisy considering he's made more than a little dosh out of his recordings. But I think he's probably right in a way other than he intended. Commodities can only maintain a price by scarcity and networked computers make copying anything that can be reduced to a binary representation incredibly easy. Copyright is indefensible, I mean that physically rather than morally (though the latter raises some interesting points in itself).

It itself comes from the early days of the printing press, when a writer would grant a printer the right to make a limited number of copies in return for money. It was easily extended to the music business with the invention of the gramophone; like printing presses, record presses are big lumps of machinery, hard to hide and very expensive to buy. It began to unravel with the invention of the cassette tape, inexpensive and easy to use, and easy to make illegal copies. Immediately the music business took fright, remember the "Home taping is killing music" inner sleeves? Of course, it did no such thing, in fact it may have even boosted sales for them: you mate gave you a tape and if you liked it enough, you'd buy a legit copy.

I don't think anyone would argue against musicians making money out of the product (and I mean musicians as opposed to celebs who take little part in the process other than attempting to sing while the session dudes and production staff make it listenable). The difficult question is on what basis they should be rewarded. The only two systems AFAIK that have been used so far have been through copyright and patronage by the rich. I don't think anyone will want to go back to musos having to get their local member of the aristocracy to put their hand in their pocket.

What about the record companies? What earthly use are they now, other than getting fines imposed on downloaders that bear no relationship to the economic damage caused? It's now incredibly cheap to produce music yourself so they no longer need to provide the capital to get recorded. Developing talent? Tell that one to any bunch of musicians who've been through the mill and there won't be a dry pair of trousers in the house. From punk onwards, the industry has had a remarkable inability to suss out what's going on at ground level. Distribution? From bitter experience I found it was the way they could prevent newcomers getting in on the act, even given the assistance of an insider in one of the big companies. The internet's driven a coach and horses through that (incidentally I remember predicting to a mate back in 1987 or 88 that music would soon be transmitted over the wires rather than through record shops: maybe I should've been a futurologist).

More so, publishers. They've never done anything remotely useful other than collect money off the performing and mechanical rights, a bit of accounting and passing on a portion to the artistes.

I think the only remaining function the industry has is a marketing one. If they can't control supply they can create demand. So over the last few years we've seen them go from exploiting children, e.g. by sending their pretend musicians into primary schools to spamming myspace. And along with this function, they're no longer concerned with the music itself, but rather image. You wanna get recorded? Get some cosmetic surgery and a role in a soap first. The musos have largely gone back to the backroom.

Personally, I won't buy anything off them now. Particularly as their products strike me as a load of pony; modern bands sound like weak versions of what we were doing in the 80s and 90s. I don't want to download illegally, but having lost my entire music collection I would like to rebuild it, so what I've been doing is collecting the free discs that come with newspapers and catching videos off youtube. Incidentally, youtube have embarked on a project to make every music video ever made available.

When there's so much around that's genuinely free, and so much that has to be paid for is utter crud, it takes you all the way back to Dylan's comment.

Monday, August 21, 2006

International Times

Giving my age away a bit, but I kinda grew up on this mag, well from round about 1971 onwards. The wikipedia entry is about the most comprehensible explanation I could find. Somone's put a website but this has to be some of the most awful design / markup I've seen in the last 10 years. You can get a flavour of the idealistic, psychedelic, vaguely political, cross-cultural scattergun content from this archive page.
Sadly, it's summat I doubt could ever work in this day and age. It's the same sense of loss I feel for what Glastonbury once was and what it's become now. However, if the content owners ever want a half-decent site for their huge amount of content that I suppose is mouldering away in a warehouse somewhere, they know where to come. Providing it's on a strictly non-commercial basis, of course.

A bit more on Iran

By coincidence it was our Buddhist group's monthly discussion meeting this evening, and afterwards, an Iranian guy who's started practising recently, was telling us about how different Iran is from how it's depicted in the West.
Firstly, the vast majority of Iranians are wholly irreligious. Islam's something that's mainly been forced on the Iranian people, from the Arab invasion of persia through to Khomeini's takeover of the revolution against the Shah. While women have to wear a headscarf and cover their legs in public to avoid the wrath of the basiji, they do whatever they can to get round the dress rules, scarves pushed ever higher up their heads and a whole fashion industry devoted to making the allowable clothing as shapely as possible. At house parties, he reckons Iranian women show far more flesh than westerners!
Moreover, the Iranian people long to be rid of their highly corrupt fundie leaders, and but for the attempts of the west at destabilisation, would have succeeded in gradually chipping away at their power. The west's attitudes have had the effect rather of forcing them into a corner; could ther have been a less sensible approach than Bush's 'Axis of Evil'?
And, as for confrontation, while it's well known that the US and allies propped up Saddam during the Iraq-Iran war, they were also funneling arms to Iran (through Israel at that). Still, they also supported bin-Laden's boys against the USSR, so that shows a sort of even-handedness - supporting radical Sunnis, radical Shia and a vicious, secular dictatorship.


Seems like the freeper blogs are still frothing about the guy, especially in relation to him being a member of an apocalyptic sect and Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons. Don't they know who's running the USA? George W. Bush is into a Christian thing called the Rapture, whose believers welcome war between Israel and its neighbours as heralding the "End of Days". Whereas Iran's nukes are some years away, perhaps even decades, Bush already has his finger on the trigger.

There's no great problem with people believing in the apocalypse, unless, when it fails to occur, they're in a position to make it happen. And then being a non-believer doesn't earn you an exemption from extermination.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


I've not been able to post as often as I've wanted over the last couple of days as I've been screwed around by public transport. On Thursday it took nearly 4 hours to get home from Leamington to the suburban wasteland outskirts of Coventry. Last night was a big improvement, a mere 2.75. The storms have played a large part in that. On Thursday afternoon, lightning took out the signalling on the railway lines between the two towns (I regard that as a valid excuse), yet the buses were f**ked up as well. The storms have been unusually ferocious for the UK, yet nothing special when I think of the rainy season in Krabi. There the song-taews seem to keep running OK, they merely pull down the clear plastic curtains at the back to stop the passengers getting wet.

Perhaps Travel West Midlands or whatever they now call themselves are afriad their buses will shrink?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

War is over?

It certainly seems that way, not because the shooting's stopped, but because nearly everyone's claiming victory - Hizbullah, Israel, George Bush and Syria. The only ones who aren't are the Lebanese government, the civilians maimed, killed or made homeless, and Tony Blair. Is the latter because he's on holiday or because Mr. Bush hasn't given him permission yet?

Sunday, August 13, 2006


Or Spam Over Internet Telephony

Looks like we can expect an increase in cold-callers as, globally, a glut in telephony bandwidth is making it pretty cheap to call all over the world. Story. Or is it? When I lived in Krabi, a small town in South-west Thailand, it used to cost me next to nothing to phone my parents. Here in the UK, a national mobile call's expensive enough; I don't dare call my friends back there on it! Similarly, if you're involved in setting up websites you'll know it's bandwidth that's the expensive part, the well-maintained, regularly backed-up storage space is (ahem) cheap as chips. Seems like the whole pricing structure's far from simple, and, as with everything, Brits get ripped off.
While most people I know have experienced a marked increase in e-mail spam over the last month or so, there's little doubt spammers and scammers will latch onto any niche they can.

I've recently been plagued by a power-dialer, who's on 0870 8503492. You can see some of the misery they've created on this site. The phone rings, and more than 50% of the time there's no one on the other end. When there is, they ask for a Mr. John Segundo, and when told there's no person of that name living here, claim to be Halifax Bank and try to weasel information out of you. The phone in question is on a line I use only for my ADSL connection, the number's unlisted and it's registered with TPS. I did register with silentCall-gard, which actually stopped the calls for a while, then they came back. My tactic now is to ask them to hold for a little while then leave the phone off the hook for 48 hours to run them up a nice little bill. Effective if they're in the UK, but in reality they could be calling from a country where calls are cheap. They haven't called for a month or so, but it seems I might need new tactics.

Today I closed down my myspace account, a real feat as it must ask you more times if you really want to ditch them than an AOL salesman. Why? They don't get the nickname 'myspam' for nothing. The irony here is that our supposedly tech-savvy streetwise younger generation is a far easier mark for the marketers than cynical old ba****ds like myself. You have only to look at the new darling of the nethead generation, Lily Allen. Supposedly she achieved her success purely through a fan-based buzz on myspace. Since then the truth has come out that it was due in no small part to her marketing company sending out a couple of a million 'marketing e-mails' (think of an alternative name for that, not unlike the brand-name of some mashed up-meat).

Is it just cynicism? I lived my late teens during the end of the hippie era and my early adulthood during the days of punk. My generation (or at least some of it) seems a world apart from our now absurdly consumerist world. There really is no alternative now.

A last note, recently I was listening to a Bill Hicks rant, in which he asked if there were any people in marketing in the audience, and suggested if there were, they should do the world a favour and kill themselves. Slightly harsh I thought, but my mailboxes crammed with viagra and dodgy Rolex ads sometimes makes me think otherwise.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

They just don't get it

The government that is.
Howells criticises Muslim leaders' letter
No connection between Middle Eastern policies and terrorism? Just how stupid do they think we are? This government is remarkable for its contempt for the electorate, even dismissing the majority of its own voters as 'Old Labour'.

Policies that include bombing Iraq into democracy, and by that the sort of democracy they're seeking is the one to be found in the UK and the US. You're allowed to vote for two almost indistinguishable centre-right parties. I came across a marvellous example of this on a news programme a while back where a Labour minister was boasting of getting the UK an opt-out from an EU directive limiting working hours (unlike those poor, impoverished German and Scandinavian workers) and a Conservative spokesman argued against this with exactly the same position. Their argument became quite heated while both were in substance in agreement. Even drunks, when arguing, take a contrary position.

Policies that include tacit support for Israel's war against Lebanon. This statement may run against the grain of prevailing attitudes, but this was an attack that had been carefully planned and was just waiting for an excuse to be launched.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that “More than a year ago, a senior Israeli army officer began giving PowerPoint presentations, on an off-the-record basis, to US and other diplomats, journalists and think tanks, setting out the plan for the current operation in revealing detail.”...
By 2004, the military campaign scheduled to last about three weeks that we’re seeing now had already been blocked out and, in the last year or two, it’s been simulated and rehearsed across the board.”
Full story

All we get from Western politicians is that 'Israel must be allowed to defend itself'. Ever heard them claiming 'the Lebanon must be allowed to defend itself'? Quite the contrary, they're demanding that Lebanon must disarm Hizbullah. Moreover, this a war that will engender tremendous hatred.

And while Hizbullah's supposed targeting of Israeli civilians has yielded relatively few victims, Israel's repeated "mistakes" in Lebanon have maintained a civilian death rate of about 100 Lebanese to every three Israelis. The opposite side of this coin is that while Israel's hi-tech "surgical strikes" have killed hundreds more civilians than Hizbullah fighters, the Lebanese resistance's low-tech weapons have killed about three times as many Israeli soldiers as civilians.

It is Lebanon, not Israel, that faces a threat to its existence in this war

The whole of Middle Eastern policy is driven by one thing: oil. A shrinking resource becoming ever more keenly sought as countries such as China and India are looking to resource their industries and to let their growing middle classes drive SUV's too. A great pity that when it runs out, we're still going to be left with a global war from the bitterness ensuing from the current conflicts.
Unless we get a remarkable new generation of political leaders, which I doubt is on the cards, or we ditch our current system and embrace soft power.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mick Jones

In a film on TV last night, Code 46, there was a scene in a karaoke club where some bloke was doing the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go". What a shock when I realised who it was - none other than the guy who sang it on the record. Not a great film, but what a marvellous little cameo.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Iraqi insurgents targetting gays


This is sick, even more so as some of their victims aren't even gay, but forced into prostitution by gangs or poverty. And not even illegal:
Homosexuality is seen as so immoral that it qualifies as an 'honour killing' to murder someone who is gay - and the perpetrator can escape punishment. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam.
Of course, murdering gays in the name of religion's not confined to the middle east, Jamaican murderers and reggae stars who extol it in songs, for example, often use the bible as 'justification'.
Much as I find a distaste for the middle-eastern monotheisms on this score, it doesn't end there, there's enough persecution in Mugabe's Zimbabwe or Castro's Cuba.

Far be it from me to knock other religions, but if you're gay and religious, c'mon over to Buddhism - we haven't got a problem.

Hawking's quandary

He recently posed the question 'How can the human race survive the next hundred years?'. Here's his response.

Curiously, in places it resembles Koestler's ideas.

Before the 1940s, the main threat to our survival came from collisions with asteroids. ...

A much more immediate danger, is nuclear war.

and also at the very end:
Perhaps, we must hope that genetic engineering will make us wise and less aggressive.
A modern equivalent of the "brain fix pill". Koestler has been derided in some quarters for that idea, but I doubt critics will have a pop at Hawking, because he's widely regarded as the cleverest bloke alive.

What has changed in the intervening years is that the threats have increased, a whole load more countries have nukes, there's climate change and the danger that genetic engineering could release something very nasty indeed are the ones Hawking mentions. You don't have to think too long to add to that list.

His hope:
The long-term survival of the human race will be safe only if we spread out into space, and then to other stars. This won't happen for at least 100 years so we have to be very careful.
The problem here is that, as others have pointed out, unless we change our attitudes, all we'll do is export our mess to other planets. In one of the most popular works of science fiction ever, Star Trek, the humans and their chums were trying to explore the universe for completely altruistic motives and, for some people, therein lies the appeal. But you have to note, they'd sorted themselves out first (though I seem to remember they hinted at a devastating war humanity had survived).

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Arthur Koestler (1)

It was through a copy of his book Janus: A Summing Up this disillusioned former Trotskyite cadre :) set along the path to Buddhism. Though now I think he was quite wrong on some areas such as neo-Lamarckianism and parapsychology, he opened my eyes to quite a few new ways of thinking. I no longer have a copy of Janus (I lost nearly all my worldly posessions in Thailand) which means I'm going to have to write most of this from memory.

A bold statement: the human race reached a turning point on August 6th, 1945 (61 years ago tomorrow) with the first working test of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. At that point, humanity had reached the capability of exterminating itself. Therein lies a paradox, a species so advanced and technically sophisticated that it can build a nuclear weapon, and yet so stupid and barbaric that it would want to.
Koestler related this to the evolution of the human brain resulting in a structure that can be compared to a man riding a horse riding a bicycle. At the lowest level we have the brain stem and various bits and pieces that haven't really changed much since the crocodile. Surmounting this we have the older cortex, with commonality with the cleverer mammals. Thirdly, there's huge, new cortex, that in humans is vastly superior to any other animal (supporters of whales and dolphins might wanna challenge this). The latter is a puzzle; how on earth did this arise? Obviously there's an evolutionary advantage, but how come it didn't stop at the chimp level, say?
The problem lies in that the 3 areas are, to a degree, separate. Worse still, our emotions stem from areas better connected to the ancient areas, so inherently emotions will almost always cloud our rationality. Think of all the people who would willingly die for their country or class, or some other human construct. Worse still, they would usually willingly make other people die for their side. A recent example of our the dominance of our emotions here.
One story he liked to quote was that of Abraham in the Old Testament offering to sacrifice his son, but God telling him it wasn't necessary. Whatever theologians make of this, Koestler's conclusion was we're all stark raving bonkers. :)
Moreover, because of this fundamental flaw, politics is not going to save you. You could try making nuclear war illegal... The Police wrote a pop song about this, Spirits in the Material World, which puts it quite succinctly:
There is no political solution
To our troubled evolution
Have no faith in constitution
There is no bloody revolution

Our so-called leaders speak
With words they try to jail you
They subjugate the meek
But it's the rhetoric of failure

Koestler's hope in this grim scenario was that one day someone would invent a pill that would heal the split between the brain areas. Those that took it would gain such marvellous lives in which rationality and emotion functioned smoothly together, that it would become an instant 'must have'. The alternative is one of inhumanity and constant outbreaks of warfare, not one to be savoured in which the military has some very dangerous new toys.

The Buddhist view of this forms a remarkable parallel with the nine consciousnesses. The first five are the senses, the sixth, their integration and the seventh, the layer in which we make judgments and decide on actions. The eighth consciousness dominates them all, the alaya consciousness, the storehouse of all the causes we made in this and previous lifetimes, our karma. Because our karma clouds our senses and judgments, we're prone to making the same mistakes again and again. If you react with violence, for example, you will bring violence into you your life and probably react with more violence. We're like the hamster running in it's wheel.
The solution lies in the ninth consciousness, our Buddha nature, with its infinite reserves of wisdom, courage and compassion. When you put it in charge, it trumps the alaya consciousness and leads to sane, rational behaviour. Of course doing this is somewhat more difficult than typing a line in a blog; it's what Buddhist practice is for.

A software solution rather than a hardware one.

Front line civilians

Recently reading a whinge from a right-winger on a forum, about how in Vietnam there effectively were no civilians as the VietCong not only merged in with them, they actively aided the VC; I think he was trying to justify the killing of civilians in Lebanon by relating it similar American actions in that war. It struck me as a pattern we're seeing increasingly, of conventional forces while unable to gain a normal confrontation with a guerilla army instead attacking the civilian population. Examples that readily come to mind include British army's invention of the concentration camp in the Boer War, the German army's atrocities against Belgians in the 1st World War, the depopulation of some areas of South Vietnam in the aforementioned war and just about every civil war in South America.

No surprise then that among the first targets the Israeli airforce hit incuded power stations both in Gaza and Lebanon.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

From Eagle Peak to an RSS feed in 2500 years

Added the Daily Gosho Quote in the sidebar; it's taken from SGI-USA's RSS feed interpreted by some quick and dirty PHP on Still slows the blog's loading down a bit, but to my mind that's a good trade-off for acquiring the sort of wisdom that you might never come across in thousands of lifetimes.

So what are the gosho? They're the writings of Buddhist priest Nichiren Daishonin (1222-1282), which, while they include a handful of treatises, are mainly his letters to his followers. Nichiren wrote in Japanese, unusual in his time, priests would usually use the more formal Chinese, but this was always intended to be Buddhism for common people rather than the reserve of priests, monks or nobility. If you want to find out more about him, the SGI-USA's most excellent site (link in sidebar) contains a wealth of info.

The evolution of all this is quite amazing, starting with Shakyamuni's teaching, the Lotus Sutra, given on Eagle Peak, North India, sometime round about 500BC. An epic stretching across multiple worlds and vast aeons, transmitted orally for centuries until it eventually got written down, and from there, carried to China. In China, a great scholar called T'ien T'ai (538-597) fitted it in with his classification of the many sutras, and managed to elucidate some of the principles it contained. From there, Nichiren, who studied in a Japanese monastery based on T'ien T'ai's works, pronounced the deep meanings within it and made it accessible to ordinary people. After WWII, the gosho got translated into many other languages, enabling these teachings to spread throughout the world. And now it comes down the internet direct to a computer near you...

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


worms game screen grab
A little game I wrote 2001-2, and just got round to republishing on my current site:
It's in Java, so you'll need a runtime of version 1.4 or up, though iirc it doesn't use anything that wasn't available in 1.1.

Warning: despite being so simple, it can get quite addictive, especially when you get to multiple spiders, they're just so damned annoying. I've just spent the entire morning (ahem) testing it.

I wrote a similar game round about 1978 in Macro-11, the assembler language for PDP-11's. While that game was somewhat simpler, round about 140 lines, there was one guy where I worked that it managed to consistently beat.

Have fun.