Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!

Linkblogging For 16/10/1

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on October 17, 2014
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California Dreaming: For What It’s Worth

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on October 15, 2014

“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…”

The story of how Buffalo Springfield formed is one of those too-good-to-be-true rock legends. Stephen Stills had met a musician called Neil Young on a visit to Canada in 1964, and admired him greatly. Young had travelled to New York — apparently to look for Stills in Greenwich Village — in 1965, where he’d met Richie Furay and taught him one of Young’s songs, Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.

Between late 1965 and early 1966, Furay and Stills tried to form various bands, with the usual LA musicians — Stills played with Van Dyke Parks for a while, and was also in a band called The Buffalo Fish with Peter Tork — but they talked occasionally about Young, and the two of them had worked up an arrangement of Clancy. Then one day the two of them noticed a hearse in the street, and Furay said “You know, I bet that’s Neil” — Stills had told him that Young drove a hearse.

It was, in fact, Neil Young — he’d travelled from Canada to California to find Stills and Furay, but had no idea where they lived, and so was driving around aimlessly. And he’d brought a friend — bass player Bruce Palmer, with whom he’d been playing in a band called The Mynah Birds.

The four formed a band with drummer Billy Mundi, who quickly left to join first Maston & Brewer and then the Mothers of Invention, and was replaced by Dewey Martin, who had been drumming for the Modern Folk Quartet up to that point.

Now all they needed was a name — and there are disagreements about how the name came about. Everyone agrees that the name came from seeing a Buffalo Springfield steamroller, but no-one agrees whose idea it was. Young says that he, Stills, and Parks were walking down the street when they saw the steamroller, and that either he or Stills noticed the name. Stills says that Richey Furay noticed the name. And Van Dyke Parks says that he noticed the name and that the band members are either lying or delusional when they say otherwise.

I tend to believe Parks myself, not least because he’s the only one who has any memory of thinking of it himself — in everyone else’s story it was someone else, not the person telling the story. What everyone agrees, though, is that whoever had the idea mentioned it to Dewey Martin, and that it was his enthusiasm that made the rest of the band agree to the name.

After a short tour as the support band for the Byrds, Chris Hillman persuaded the owners of the Whisky A-Go-Go to take the band on for a six-week residency, which in turn led to the new band getting signed to Atlantic Records. Their first single, a version of Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing with Furay on lead, was a local hit, but was nowhere near commercial enough to make a dent in the rest of the country.

Their first album was recorded in a hurry, and with the band’s managers (who had no record production experience) as producers, and no-one was very happy with it. The band wanted to rerecord the whole thing, but the record company wouldn’t let them — they did, however, allow the band to supervise the mono mix, which the band members rightly say is better than the stereo.

On its release, the album had very little success, but then the “riots” on Sunset Strip happened.

Whether these riots really deserved that name is an open question — the police had imposed a 10PM curfew on the area of LA around Sunset Strip, where most of the clubs playing rock and roll music were, including the Whisky, and a mass demonstration took place at Pandora’s Box, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights, to protest this on November 12 1966. As Micky Dolenz put it at the time “a lot of people and journalists don’t know how to spell ‘demonstration’ so they use the word ‘riot’”, and it certainly seems that it was more a case of the police provoking peaceful demonstrators than anything violent.

Whatever the case, though, the “riot on Sunset Strip” quickly became part of the folklore, and turned up in many songs. The Standells released a single with that title, and the riots were also mentioned in Plastic People by the Mothers of Invention, in the line “I hear the sound of marching feet, down Sunset Boulevard to Crescent Heights, and there, at Pandora’s Box, we are confronted with a vast quantity of Plastic People”.

Stephen Stills responded quickly, and within a couple of weeks the band were in the studio recording For What It’s Worth, which has gained a reputation as a protest anthem but is rather more ambiguous than that, talking of people “carrying signs/mostly saying ‘hooray for our side’” and warning against paranoia and gaining a persecution complex.

The single was released in January 1967, six weeks after the riots, and quickly became a top ten hit for the band, and one of the most recognisable hits of the decade. The band’s first album was quickly reissued with the opening track replaced with the new hit single.

It wasn’t all good news, however. The band’s higher profile made them targets, and Bruce Palmer was soon arrested for marijuana possession and deported back to Canada. His place was filled briefly by Ken Forssi of Love, before Jim Fielder of the Mothers of Invention took over. Palmer would be back, but this would be the first in a whole series of line-up changes in the band…

For What It’s Worth

Composer: Stephen Stills

Line-up: Richie Furay (guitar, vocals), Dewey Martin (drums, backing vocals), Bruce Palmer (bass), Stephen Stills (guitar, vocals), Neil Young (guitar, vocals)

Original release: For What It’s Worth/Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It, Buffalo Springfield, ATCO 45-6459

Currently available on: Buffalo Springfield, Atlantic CD

The Liberal Approach To Immigration?

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on October 14, 2014

(What follows is me trying an idea out. I am not at all sure it’s not a horrible idea, hence the question mark in the title. PLEASE criticise it — but also be aware when doing so that while discussion of *immigration* in my comments is fine, abuse of *immigrants* will get you banned.)

Like many Liberals, I am antipathetic to Nationalism at a fairly basic level, simply because to me the nation state seems the wrong sort of size to hold my interest or affections in any meaningful way. I love the city where I live, and even more those areas where I have lived or spent a lot of time within that city — Rusholme, Moss Side, Fallowfield, Didsbury, Levenshulme, Longsight, Chorlton, Withington, Whalley Range, and the city centre — that square about four miles on its side is an area I feel at home, know at least some of the people, feel comfortable.

To a lesser extent, I feel some loyalty to an area stretching roughly from Liverpool at the west to Bradford at the east. That chunk of the country is not somewhere you can fit into your head the way you can a small part of a single city, but still I know Mytholmroyd or Warrington, Alderley Edge or Halifax, not well, but well enough that they feel like parts of my extended community, close in the same way a second cousin you meet at family weddings is.

And in the other direction, I can feel a generalised loyalty for “the world” or “humanity”. All men are my brothers, all women my sisters (except my wife, that would just be weird), all people with nonbinary genders my siblings-without-gendered-descriptors.

But England, or even more so Britain, I have no time for. It’s too diffuse a concept, means too many things, is too big an area. I don’t know what it means to love one’s country in that sense — to feel the same affection for the grim concrete hell of Spaghetti Junction and the standing stones at Stonehenge, the battered, tacky, seafront at Blackpool and the Roman ruins at Chester. And while I share many experiences in common with other people in south Manchester, and some with people in Bradford or Liverpool, I honestly think Londoners have more in common with New Yorkers than they do with Mancunians, and I found Cornwall infinitely more foreign to me than I did Milan or New Orleans on my brief trips to those places. Britain, or England, is too diverse, not homogeneous enough to love for what it is, rather than a simplified ideal, and I am at heart a Puritan — I won’t worship idols, and especially not idols of my own making.

So no, I’m not a nationalist, and I don’t understand the nationalist mindset. I never have, and I doubt I ever will. Not that I think it necessarily bad, but it’s alien to me.

And this is a problem for Liberals in general right now, because the two big stories in politics over the last few months — and ones that look likely to continue for the forseeable future, are stories about nationalism: the left-wing nationalism in Scotland, when 45% of the voting population voted for independence from the UK, and the right-wing nationalism of UKIP, who are somehow a bigger story because they managed to get a single incumbent incompetent Tory MP re-elected to the seat he’d represented for years, but with a purple rosette instead of a blue one.

As you might imagine, I have rather more sympathy for the Scottish nationalists than the UKIP ones, if only because the Yes voters I knew were proposing some actual solutions to the problems they see, rather than just whinging, which seems to be the majority of what comes from UKIP. And happily, the Lib Dem policy position is at least one that many of those Scottish nationalists could support — devolution of pretty much all powers to Holyrood, and increased devolution to the English regions as well. That’s the position our party is fighting for in the ongoing weaselling competition in which MPs are trying to get out of their obligations to Scotland by blaming those other bastards, and I think it’s one which the majority of Scottish people I know would support as reasonable, given the result of the referendum.

The right-wing nationalism of UKIP is rather harder for Liberals to work with. In this case, while UKIP have a host of policy positions (some good, most misguided, some which would probably destroy the country), the one that seems to hold the key to their popularity is their position on immigration.

The consensus among all three major party leaders seems to be that this position appeals to people because people are just racist arseholes, and so you should make horrible speeches about how immigrants need their rights taking away — or just, you know, pose with a load of people in blackface.

And no doubt some — many — of UKIP’s voters are racist. They’ve certainly taken most of the BNP’s vote away (and for that, if nothing else, we should be grateful — I have no time for Douglas Carswell, but in many ways I’d rather a Parliament with 650 of him than one Nick Griffin). But there are a lot of people who are concerned about immigration but who talk about other complaints — overcrowding, strain on services, teachers having to deal with huge gaps in culture without proper training or support — and in at least some cases those *are* their genuine concerns.

And this comes down again to the question of Britain not being homogeneous. There are areas of the country — London is the obvious example — that are hugely overcrowded, and where the basic infrastructure to support human life at a tolerable level is frankly at breaking point. I can see why people in London would not want any more people coming there (though I also don’t see why anyone would *want* to move there — paying the GDP of a medium-sized South American country to rent a flat the size of my fridge that you have to share with two strangers doesn’t sound like fun to me, but vive la difference and all that…). On the other hand, large areas of Scotland are apparently desperate for immigration — and frankly no-one in my own area seems at all bothered by it. I suspect that a lot of the reason it’s seen as a problem, in fact, is the London-centric nature of the media.

Note that I’m not saying that the people in London who blame immigration for problems are right to do so — I think they’re not — just that there are people who identify actual problems, and believe they have identified a cause. That’s something that has to be dealt with somewhat differently than people who just hate people with different coloured skin.

Now, the Lib Dem policy at the last election (our policy was changed in March, much for the worse, and I believe this aspect was dropped) had a fairly sensible approach — issue visas that allow people to live and work only in specific areas of the country, those areas which are seen to need more people.

This is an idea that might well be effective, but is not, to my mind, particularly Liberal. It’s still, fundamentally, about the central state telling people what they can and can’t do. I don’t like that centralising of power, and as long as power is centralised it can and will be abused.

So what I suggest is that, since we want radical devolution anyway, we should push for devolution of immigration policy (except EU immigration, which is something of a special case) to regional assemblies. Set a simple national policy — say, anyone who has been legally resident anywhere in the UK can apply for citizenship after a period of time long enough to prevent blatant abuse, but short enough to allow for reasonable changes in circumstances, say two or three years, and would then obviously have the same rights as any other citizen. But then every regional assembly could have their own rules about coming to live and work in their area. London might want to say “no more, we’re full”, while maybe West Yorkshire might say “frankly, we need more of you. We’ll actually pay for your plane ticket over. Hebden’s lovely, you should move there”. You could still travel to London, of course, but you’d have to live and work in West Yorkshire (unless, say, West Yorkshire negotiated a deal with Greater Manchester allowing visas for one to be valid in the other).

Or the other way round — the point is that those decisions would be made by and for those affected, not a one-size-fits-all policy which pretends that the needs of London are the same as those of Kendal, or that Penzance and Newcastle have anything at all in common. And I think doing this would allow any actual problems caused by immigration to be addressed (and again, I doubt there are nearly as many as people say, but I don’t deny the possibility that I am wrong), would allow Britain to get the benefit of immigrants and immigrants to get the benefit of living in places where they felt welcome, and would stop the actual racists from being able to use seemingly-reasonable concerns as a smokescreen.

Once that was brought in, I would, of course, advocate for the Liberal solution within Manchester (or the North West, or wherever the boundaries were drawn) — let everyone in. For me, immigration has only improved my life, and many of the things I like about those parts of Manchester I named before come from immigrants, whether the Irish community where I live now, with things like the Levenshulme Irish festival, the Asian immigrants who run the takeaways that ensured that no matter how poor I got in the past I could always get a decent meal for almost no money, or the immigrant who lives in my house and tolerates me waking her up after staying up til the early hours writing overlong blog posts. I want to push for more of that.

But that’s an argument that can and should be made at a local level, not a national one. If we have to have borders, let them at least be borders around real places, not the fiction that is “the United Kingdom”.

Linkblogging For 12/10/14

Posted in Uncategorized by Andrew Hickey on October 12, 2014
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Grant Morrison Stand-Alone Stories

Posted in comics by Andrew Hickey on October 12, 2014

A few days ago Mike Taylor emailed me, asking what, if any, Grant Morrison stories could be read without knowing more about a fictional universe — he’d been reading Seven Soldiers, and found it difficult going, as he doesn’t have the decades of experience with a fictional universe that most modern superhero comics require (and I might have to write something about *that* soon, possibly a Mindless post tomorrow…).

It’s a good question — Morrison is a favourite writer of mine, but the vast majority of his best or most interesting work (Seven Soldiers, Doom Patrol, Animal Man, New X-Men) requires a great deal of familiarity with the major superhero shared universes. You can definitely read and enjoy Animal Man, for example, without having read any other DC comics — some bits, like the Invasion crossover, would be confusing, but you could get quite a lot out of it — but you’re definitely missing a lot if you don’t realise it’s at least in part a commentary on Crisis On Infinite Earths, and that it’s also riffing on things like the Pog issue of Swamp Thing.

But he *has* done some good work outside those shared universes, so here’s a brief list of the more newbie-friendly stories (so not something like The Invisibles, but also not trifles like Big Dave) he’s done — the ones you can get in one volume (or a small number of volumes):

We3 (with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant) — this is pitched as “the Incredible Journey meets Terminator”. Three animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) who have been turned into cyborg weapons, escape from the lab in which they were created and try to get home. Much of the comic is silent, and a lot of the dialogue is between the animals (who can talk, but only use a handful of words each). It’s touching, beautiful, and extremely violent, and has some of the best work Quitely’s ever done.

Zenith, with Steve Yeowell, is a story that ran in 2000AD in the late 80s and early 90s. It’s a superhero story that starts as a satire of Thatcherism and celebrity culture, and the death of 60s idealism, before becoming a Lovecraftian horror in its final pages. Finally getting reissued in an affordable edition soon.

The Filth, with Chris Weston, is a book about being depressed when your cat dies (pretty much every good Grant Morrison comic, in fact, seems to be inspired by his cats dying). Greg Feely, the protagonist, is either a sad, lonely, bald, suicidal compulsive masturbator whose only friend is his dying cat and who’s suffering from a serious dissociative delusional disorder, or he’s a “para-personality” for an agent for a secret Bondesque sci-fi spy organisation, or both. It’s a vicious, dark, but cathartic work, something like Stewart Lee’s “vomiting into the gaping anus of Christ” routine — something that achieves a kind of beauty through its sheer desperation and ugliness.

Seaguy with Cameron Stewart is an absurdist superhero story, something like what you’d get if you made a five-year-old watch every episode of The Prisoner, interspersed with the 1966 Batman TV series, and then got them to write a story about what they’d seen. It’s utterly brilliant, but very difficult to sum up neatly. You can point at things it has a flavour of — Philip K Dick, The Prisoner, Spike Milligan, James Joyce, Douglas Adams — but it’s very much sui generis.

Flex Mentallo, with Frank Quitely, is technically a spin-off from Doom Patrol, but really its own thing, a meditation on superhero comics and redemption, as seen through the mind of someone talking on the phone after taking an overdose. Difficult, but worth the effort.

Vimanarama is a gloriously silly, fun, story about Jack Kirby-esque ancient astronauts set among Bradford’s Asian community. Unfortunately, it’s more than a little culturally insensitive, mixing and matching between Hindu and Muslim imagery in a way that can come off as a little uncomfortable. If you can overlook that fairly glaring fault, though, it’s fun.

and All-Star Superman, with Frank Quitely and Jamie Grant, is a Superman story, but one that’s deliberately out of continuity, with the intention of being readable by anyone with the most basic pop-culture knowledge of Superman. It’s one of a very, very small number of Superman stories one can point to and say “this is what the character is about, this has everything about why Superman and his supporting characters work”. Frank Quitely’s “acting” for the characters, in particular, is just stunning.

And that’s about it, as far as standalone Morrison stuff. There were a handful of standalone stories for Vertigo in the early 90s (Kid Eternity, Sebastian O, The Mystery Play, and Kill Your Boyfriend), none of which I suspect have aged especially well, though I’ve not read them recently, some bits for 2000AD, oddities like The New Adventures Of Hitler that are out of print, and a couple of weak recent things that read more like film pitches than proper comics themselves. Everything else has either been in long-running superhero universes or his own massive, long-running story The Invisibles.

The ones listed above, though, are the things he’s done that, to my mind at least, have a lot of artistic value, are *relatively* new-reader friendly (in as much as any Morrison comic is) and can be obtained relatively easily (or, in the case of Zenith, soon will be). It’s a short list, but a good one…

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