Jesus Is Here

(I’ve not posted much fiction here for a while, as my fiction-writing has mostly been for the second novel, which is slower going as it’s required a lot of research. So I thought I’d take up Chuck Wendig’s latest flash fiction challenge. He said to use a random cocktail generator to get a title, and write something 1000 words or less. I got “Jesus Is Here”. I’m going to write this one draft, in less than an hour, with no idea to start with. Let’s see what happens.)

“Jesus is here.”
“What?”
“I said Jesus is here.”
“Who?”
“Jesus, you know. Jesus. The Son of God. The Son of Man. The Word, embodied in flesh. The second part of the Trinity. JESUS.”
“Oh, Jesus?”
“Yes, Jesus.”
“Tell him to eff off”
“I can’t, he’s ineffable”
“Well, invite him in then.”
“I already did. He said he can’t stop.”
“Well, what does he want?”
“Why don’t you come here and ask him yourself? I’m not your bloody messenger!”
“I’m eating me dinner!”
“All right… hang on, I’ll ask him… he says he wants to know if you’re a sheep or a goat.”
“No, I’m not.”
“(He says he’s not)… No, he meant which one are you. It’s one or the other, you’ve got to choose!”
“But I’m not a sheep *or* a goat! I’m a primate, not an ungulate!”
“What’s an ungulate?”
“Never mind. Just tell him that I’m not a sheep and I’m not a goat. I’m a human being, and I’m trying to eat my dinner!”
“He says you’ve got to choose if you’re a sheep or a goat, and the choice will determine your fate in the afterlife for all eternity.”
“Well which one are you?”
“I haven’t chosen yet. He’s doing it in alphabetical order. Apparently I’ve got another three months to choose.”
“Well, what happens if I choose sheep?”
“Hang on, I’ll ask him… he says you go on his right.”
“And what if I choose goat?”
“You go on his left.”
“There’s not really much of a difference, then, is there?”
“Doesn’t sound like it.”
“So why does he think it’s so urgent I make a choice?”
“(…really?…an inheritance, eh?…) apparently the ones on his right get to inherit a kingdom that’s been prepared for them since the beginning of the world.”
“What, one each?”
“Apparently.”
“That sounds quite good. What do the ones on the left get?”
“(eh?… that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?… well, if you say so…) Apparently they get to burn in eternal fire forever.”
“Forever?”
“Yep. Burning in a fire for all eternity.”
“So I get to choose either inheriting an entire kingdom, or burning forever?”
“That’s right”
“That’s just daft!”
“How come?”
“Well, think about it. Who’s going to choose the fire one? Why not just give me the kingdom.”
“He says it’s down to free will. You have to freely choose it.”
“All right, I freely choose to be a sheep. Now what’s the catch?”
“Catch?”
“There’s got to be some sort of catch. This is one of those trick questions where you get told that the kingdom is the kingdom of twice as much fire, isn’t it?”
“No, apparently not. Apparently your one is Belgium.”
“Belgium?”
“Yeah, apparently you get that because you gave me the rest of your chips last week, when I was hungry. If you’d visited someone in prison, too, you’d have got the Netherlands.”
“But I don’t know anyone in prison!”
“What about Terry?”
“Terry’s a prick. Anyway, he got out a month ago.”
“But you could have visited him then.”
“He was in for nicking my car”
“Still, just think what you could have won.”
“Yeah, well, it’s too late now, isn’t it? I suppose it’ll have to be Belgium.”
“Could be worse, could be the fire.”
“Dunno, fire would be useful right now.”
“How come?”
“My dinner’s gone cold…”

California Dreaming: On The Road Again

By 1968, a lot of people were getting sick of progress and psychedelia. The music they’d grown up with was straightforward blues, R&B, and rock and roll, and there was no need in their mind for all the mellotrons, harpsichords, and songs about incense and flowers, when you could have straight-ahead no-nonsense boogie.

Two people who took that attitude were Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson and Bob “the Bear” Hite, two record collectors and scholars of the blues. Both were record collectors, who had spent years trading obscure 78s of people like Son House, Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson, all of whom were almost completely unknown at the time — their current fame comes largely from the efforts of people like Wilson and Hite to bring their music to the attention of a wider public.

Wilson was, more than anything else, a student of this music. It’s been widely speculated since his death that he was on the autism spectrum, and certainly he had the obsessiveness that’s often characteristic of that. He became such an expert on blues music, particularly 1930s blues, that in 1964, when Son House came out of retirement, Wilson was chosen to teach House his old songs, which the blues legend had forgotten, and to accompany him on a new album.

Wilson and Hite were introduced by a mutual friend, Henry Vestine, an accomplished blues guitarist. Wilson and Hite formed a band, named Canned Heat after a Tommy Johnson song, with Hite on lead vocals and Wilson on guitar, in 1965. After a few line-up changes, including a brief period with Kenny Edwards, later of the Stone Poneys, on guitar, and some abortive sessions with R&B legend Johnny Otis producing, the band settled on a line-up of Wilson, Hite, Vestine (who had not been a member of the band to start with, but had left the Mothers of Invention and joined Wilson and Hite’s band as he wanted to play the blues), Larry Taylor (formerly of the Gamblers and the Candy Store Prophets) on bass, and Frank Cook on drums.

The band’s first album, a collection of blues covers, was moderately well received, and got them a spot at Monterey, where their performance of Muddy Waters’ Rollin’ and Tumblin’ went down well enough to propel them to the top rank of LA live acts. After another lineup change, with Cook being replaced by Adolfo de la Parra, they went into the studio to record their second album.

This time, the tracks would mostly be originals, but “original” here was a relative term. On The Road Again, the band’s first big hit single, is instructive here.

The song has its roots in a 1930s Tommy Johnson blues, Big Road Blues, which the band had covered on their first album. That song had inspired Howlin’ Wolf to record a song Crying At Daybreak, which took the first line of Johnson’s song and stuck it over a one-chord pounding riff (Wolf would later rewrite that song as Smokestack Lightning).

Floyd Jones, a protege of Wolf, took Wolf’s song, and some of Johnson’s lyrics, added some verses of his own, and turned it into Dark Road, then a few years later rerecorded Dark Road as On The Road Again, with a substantially different set of lyrics.

Alan Wilson took the two Jones songs, Dark Road and On The Road Again, and pulled together bits of both sets of lyrics along with another verse of his own. He then replaced Howlin’ Wolf’s one-chord riff with a different one — the riff from Boogie Chillen by John Lee Hooker, staying on an E chord throughout, with just the notes E, G, and A in the riff.

Seeing that this is similar to the Indian drones that were popular in the psychedelic music of the time (and Indian music, like the blues, is roughly based on a pentatonic scale, though both use bends and microtones that are outside standard Western notation), Wilson added a tambura drone to the track. The result was something that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of 1968 — something that sounded fresh, new, and strange, but that was also going back to the roots of rock and blues music (and unlike many musicians at the time, Wilson was honest about his borrowings, giving Floyd Jones equal songwriting credit).

But what captured the ear more than anything was Alan Wilson’s vocal. Normally Canned Heat’s vocals were performed by Bob Hite in a gravelly voice, but here Wilson took the lead in a haunting falsetto, which matched the tone of his harmonica perfectly. It was strange, otherworldly, and quite unlike anything in pop music, though it had clear antecedents in the sound of Skip James or Charley Patton, and propelled an edited version of the track, with the extended solos cut down a little, to the top of the charts.

The track itself was wonderful, but what it said about pop music was less so. The musicians, and the audience, might have been on the road, but they were now going backwards, not forwards.

On The Road Again
Composer:
Floyd Jones and Alan Wilson

Line-up:
Bob Hite (vocals), Alan Wilson (slide guitar, vocals, harmonica, tambura), Henry Vestine (lead guitar), Larry Taylor (bass), Adolfo de la Parra (drums), Mac Rebennack (piano)

Original release:
Boogie With Canned Heat, Canned Heat, Liberty LST-7541

Currently available on:
Canned Heat/Boogie With Canned Heat BGO CD

California Dreaming: Hickory Wind

The Byrds were in a tight spot. In a matter of months, the band had gone from being a quartet to being a duo. They’d lost David Crosby, who had been arguably their best harmony singer and who had written much of the original material on the band’s recent albums, and Michael Clarke had also left. The remaining members, Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman, had to get a band together quickly — they were booked to play a US tour of colleges and universities, something they’d never been able to do while Crosby was in the band, as Crosby claimed a philosophical objection to “intellectualising” rock music. Meanwhile, McGuinn and Hillman had signed a fresh contract with Columbia records, listing them as sole members of the Byrds — everyone else to join the band, from then on, would be a salaried sideman.

Finding a replacement for Clarke was the easier of the two problems — Hillman’s cousin, Kevin Kelley, had been the drummer for the Rising Sons, but had had to take a job working in a clothing store when the band split up. Figuring that it was better to have a drummer they knew than to have to audition strangers, McGuinn and Hillman took him on, and the college tour went ahead with the band as a trio.

It was clear, though, that this was not a permanent solution. McGuinn wanted to push the band in a jazz-influenced, keyboard-led, avant-garde electronic direction, and they also needed someone to cover the harmony parts that had been sung by Crosby and Gene Clark when playing their old hits on stage.

Enter Gram Parsons.

Gram Parsons auditioned for the Byrds as a jazz keyboard player, but his real love was what he described as “cosmic American music”, a mixture of country and soul, but leaning firmly towards the former. As soon as he was made a member of the band, he instantly started pushing for the band to perform his own material, Buck Owens covers, and other country music.

Chris Hillman, who had been a bluegrass musician before joining the band, was keen, as he’d never liked McGuinn’s electronic jazz ideas. At first McGuinn tried to compromise, and indeed came up with a plan on which he was keen — the new album would indeed be “cosmic American music” in the broadest sense, a double album history of American music, covering bluegrass, country, 50s rock, and “space music” Moog-based electronica.

However, Hillman, Parsons, and producer Gary Usher all eventually persuaded McGuinn to drop the space music idea, and suddenly the Byrds were a country band. They even played the Grand Ole Opry, getting the gig after promising to play Merle Haggard covers, and performing to a hostile audience who were as far from the Byrds’ regular crowd as it was possible to get.

The Opry performance was even more of a disaster, though, because Parsons, who had quickly become the band’s new lead vocalist, decided on the spur of the moment to change the setlist, dropping one of the Haggard songs and replacing it with his own song, Hickory Wind.

Hickory Wind should by rights have gone down well with the Opry audience. A beautiful, elegaic, country waltz, co-written by Parsons and his former bandmate Bob Buchanan [FOOTNOTE There have been accusations that Parsons stole the song from an obscure folk singer. There’s no actual evidence for these accusations, and the song sounds of a piece with Parsons’ other work.], it’s a song of longing for home, and of being rich and successful but wishing for a time in the past when the singer was more spiritually fulfilled. Parsons’ beautiful, keening, vocals were utterly unlike anything on any previous Byrds record, but were heartfelt and moving. As Chris Hillman has often said since, if Parsons had never written another song, Hickory Wind by itself would have confirmed him as a great songwriter, and the song has been covered many times over the years.

But Hickory Wind nearly didn’t make it on to the new album, eventually titled Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Parsons had become the de facto leader of the band, much to McGuinn’s displeasure, and the recordings they made in Nashville were a mixture of old folk tunes, country songs by people like Merle Haggard or the Louvin Brothers, and songs by Parsons, as well as the obligatory Dylan covers and a countrified cover of the soul song You Don’t Miss Your Water. The album was becoming a gospel-tinged country record, with many of the songs being about Christianity and redemption, and McGuinn was reduced to playing acoustic rhythm guitar and singing backing vocals in what had been his own band. Parsons was also pushing for another musician to join the band — he wanted steel guitar player “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow to become a member, so that Parsons’ material could have a more authentic country feel.

Then a problem arose. Parsons’ old band, the International Submarine Band, had been signed to a contract with Lee Hazelwood, and Columbia records decided that the contract had not been broken thoroughly enough to allow them to have Parsons’ lead vocals on an album. Most of Parsons’ vocals were replaced by Roger McGuinn, doing a near-perfect impersonation of Parsons, and while eventually three Parsons leads (including Hickory Wind) made it to the album, Parsons had been put in his place. This was still Roger McGuinn’s band.

Parsons was bitterly disappointed by the decision to drop his lead vocals, and while on tour with the band in the UK, before the album was even released, he announced that he wouldn’t accompany the band when they left the UK on the next leg of their tour. They were playing South Africa, and Parsons had been persuaded by his friends in the Rolling Stones that it would be unethical to play there given the country’s appaling apartheid regime. The rest of the band persuaded their roadie, Carlos Bernal, to impersonate Parsons on the tour, and rehearsed on the plane to Johannesburg.

By the time the album came out, in August 1968, Parsons had been replaced by Clarence White, who’d played as a session musician on many of the band’s recent albums. But like Parsons, White preferred playing with musicians he knew, and pushed for Kelley to leave. Kelley was replaced by Gene Parsons (no relation to Gram), but on the night Gene Parsons first played with the band, Chris Hillman decided he’d had enough. The new arrangement, with him and McGuinn paying a salary to the other members, meant that with the drop in record sales they were losing money. After the first show with Gene Parsons, Hillman grabbed the band’s manager, who he blamed for what he considered a poor deal, and pinned him up against the wall. He then smashed his bass on the floor, and walked out.

Roger McGuinn was now The Byrd.

Hickory Wind
Composer:
Gram Parsons and Bob Buchanan
Line-up: Gram Parsons (vocal, guitar, piano), Roger McGuinn (vocal, guitar, banjo), Chris Hillman (bass), Kevin Kelley (drums), John Hartford (fiddle), Lloyd Green (pedal steel guitar),
Original release: Sweetheart of the Rodeo, The Byrds, Columbia CS9670
Currently available on: Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Columbia Legacy CD

California Dreaming: You Know I’ve Found A Way

After the minor success of My World Fell Down, Gary Usher wanted to repeat the formula, and recorded a song titled Hotel Indiscreet which had much the same feel. Hotel Indiscreet featured another musique concrete section, much like that of My World Fell Down, performed by Usher’s discoveries the Firesign Theatre, and again featured a repurposed song from Usher’s Astrology Album as a B-side. The song was a flop, but it featured backing vocals by Curt Boettcher.

Boettcher was a friend of Usher, and had already helped out by covering vocal parts for the Byrds after David Crosby’s departure, but as well as being a strong singer and producer he had recently started something of a creative spurt as a songwriter, collaborating with Lee Mallory, Michael Fennelly, Joey Stec, and others. Usher was in a dryish spell as a songwriter, concentrating at the time mostly on his production duties, and so collaborating with a prolific, talented, writer like Boettcher seemed ideal.

Usher wanted to put Boettcher’s song Another Time out as the third Sagittarius single, but he hit a problem. Boettcher had written the song originally for The Ballroom, a Mamas & Papas-style band consisting of Boettcher, Sandy Salisbury, Jim Bell, and Michelle O’Malley, and The Ballroom were under contract. Usher solved the problem by getting Boettcher under a solo contract with Columbia, which involved buying out the rights to the masters of all the Ballroom’s material. Never one to miss a chance to recycle a track, Usher put several Ballroom tracks aside as possible tracks for a Sagittarius album. Another Time (reworked so the singer is singing to a woman, rather than the man to whom the gay Boettcher was originally singing) came out with Boettcher on lead vocals, and again with an Astrology Album track as the B-side — Usher said that at the time he would get so excited by tracks he wouldn’t want to wait around to record a second track before putting it out.

Another Time had some minor radio success in San Francisco, and while none of the records Sagittarius had put out had been hits, they were doing well enough that Columbia Records wanted to know some basic things like who this band they’d been releasing were, and so Usher and Boettcher became the official Sagittarius at last, having publicity photos taken, bios written, and all the rest of the things that have to be done by a commercial band.

The first fruit of this more formalised partnership was another Sagittarius single, the first to have new tracks on both sides. The B-side was an Usher song, The Truth is Not Real, on which Usher claimed to have done everything except the drums (the session documentation apparently tells a different story, but Usher was never particularly good at accurate paperwork), while the A-side was You Know I’ve Found A Way, a collaboration between Boettcher and Lee Mallory.

You Know I’ve Found A Way is a perfect example of Boettcher’s songwriting and arranging talents. A miniature, like most of Boettcher’s work, it clocks in at only two minutes and two seconds, but it’s perfectly structured, and the harpsichord-and-cello-driven arrangement means that this little love song is possibly the perfect archetype of the baroque pop sound. Certainly Boettcher thought enough of the song to bring it to the band Eternity’s Children a few months later, when he was producing their first album.

However, even this early, Boettcher was in two minds about the working relationship with Gary Usher. Boettcher claimed later that the way their relationship would work was that Usher would ask Boettcher to record a demo, and that Usher would later sweeten the demo with additional strings and horns, and double Boettcher’s voice with his own. According to Boettcher, this would make the finished record sound like Usher’s voice, but singing much better than Usher, never the most accomplished vocalist, could manage.

It seems that relatively quickly, both men decided that they were the important one, and that while the other was doing something, and should probably be grudgingly given credit, Sagittarius was a one-man show. And both had a point — Sagittarius was Usher’s band, under Usher’s contract, named after Usher’s star sign and Usher had produced the closest thing they had to a hit, My World Fell Down, without any help from Boettcher. Yet the album that came out under the Sagittarius name, Present Tense, had seven Boettcher songs, including several which had been recorded for the Ballroom and featured no Usher input, three songs from outsiders, and only one Usher original.

Present Tense was an astonishingly good album, by far the best thing ever released by one of Usher’s studio conglomerations, but even while it was being put together, Curt Boettcher had another band on his mind. He was going to make another album, one that would use up some more of those Ballroom tracks, and that would feature some of the other singer-songwriters with whom he had been collaborating. Sagittarius may have been Present Tense, but the future was The Millennium…

You Know I’ve Found A Way
Composer:
Lee Mallory & Curt Boettcher

Line-up: Gary Usher, Curt Boettcher, and Lee Mallory (vocals), Stephens LaFever (guitar), Dennis Faust (drums, percussion), Catherine Gotthoffer (harp), Jacqueline Lustgarten and Armand Kaproff (cello), Gabriel Mekler (keyboards), Harry Hyams (viola), Robert Ostrowsky (viola), Buddy Clark (bass), Gene Estes (percussion), Gerald Vinci, Nathan Kaproff, Wilbert Nuttycombe, and Alexander Murray (violin) [FOOTNOTE: This information is taken from Stephen McParland’s biography of Usher. This lists Gabriel Mekler with no instrument credited, but Mekler was a keyboard player, so I have assumed that was his credit here. There’s also a “Murray Alexander” listed, with no instrument credited. I’ve been unable to discover anything about this person, but there was a session violinist called Alexander Murray, so I’ve assumed that they are one and the same person. McParland also credits Gene Estes on guitar, but Estes was a session percussionist, so I’ve altered that credit.]

Original release: You Know I’ve Found A Way/The Truth Is Not Real, Sagittarius, Columbia 4-44503

Currently available on: Present Tense, RevOla/Cherry Red CD

Linkblogging For 13/4/15

Italian scientists have recreated the DNA of the fascist warrior-poet D’Annunzio from a 99-year-old semen stain they found.


Eliezer Yudkowsky’s blog posts from 2006-2009 have been collected as a pay-what-you-want ebook
. I think a lot of Yudkowsky’s stuff is wrong, and some of it dangerously so, and LessWrong seemed, last I looked, to have turned into a weird sewer of “Red Pill” men’s rights types (and it’s apparently getting ever more culty). But at the same time, a good proportion of Yudkowsky’s writing is genuinely clever — he’s maybe almost 10% as clever as he thinks — and if nothing else his writing makes you think. Certainly worth sticking a few quid in if you’re the kind of person, like me, who gets as stimulated by reading interestingly wrong people as by reading people getting things right.

A long interview with Stewart Lee. I will be disappointed forever that the planned TV show with Alan Moore never happened.

Jo Walton on Terry Pratchett

A good post on neoreaction, platonism, and transphobia.

The RPG version of Charles Stross’ Laundry is currently in a cheap bundle offer as DRM-free PDFs, with 10% going to the EFF

Stross has also written a piece about Pratchett

Pterry

I grew up with Terry Pratchett.
Not in the personal sense — I only ever met the man twice, both times briefly at signings in my teens — but I started reading his books when I was in primary school. When I read Sourcery for the first time, I don’t think I’d ever laughed at anything that much in my life. I assumed, actually, that Pratchett must be a pseudonym for Douglas Adams, my favourite author as a ten year old, because I didn’t know of anyone else alive who could be *that funny* (I knew about Wodehouse and Beachcomber, both of whom were clearly big influences on both men, but they were dead, so it couldn’t be *them*…)
But while Adams gave up writing novels shortly after that, Pratchett put out two books a year, every year, until last year — the first year in more than thirty that he didn’t release a new novel. And those novels matured at about the rate I did. I was just the right age for the genre parodies and puns of his early novels as a bright ten year old. As a teenager, books like Soul Music (the first Pratchett I bought in hardcover, as I’ve bought all of them for about twenty years now, because I couldn’t cope with waiting for the paperbacks) allowed me to feel clever for spotting all the references — and even correcting them in my head (the “felonious monk” pun is still one of my favourite ever, but Pterry didn’t know enough about jazz to know that Monk was a pianist, not a horn player).
And then as I entered my twenties came books like Thief of Time and Night Watch — more thoughtful, deeper, books, mature in the truest sense.
Not every book he wrote was great, of course, but at least ten of his novels really were *great* books, not just good ones, and even the books that did least for me, the ones I read once or twice and let gather dust, like Monstrous Regiment or Carpe Jugulum, were extremely readable.
Pratchett’s books also brought me at least some of my current friends — I know I met Debi, one of my favourite people, through the Discworld community on LiveJournal, and through her I got to know many of my other friends.
In short, I’d be a different person if it were not for the books of Terry Pratchett. And, I think, a much worse one.
Terry Pratchett died today, aged 66. It’s not a shock by any means — he announced seven years ago that he had Alzheimer’s, and it was clear last year that his condition was deteriorating. He didn’t release a solo novel last year, for the first time in decades, and had to miss a convention for the first time ever.
But it’s still surprising, because his mind seemed, if not quite as sharp as ever, remarkably well considering his illness. His last few books were not up to his normal standard, but they were still pretty good by anyone else’s, and the downturn in quality seemed to be more because he was dictating rather than typing them, and so the writing had a more conversational tone. I’d hoped he had at least a few more good years in him before the embuggerance took him away.
As well as writing, he spent the last few years of his life campaigning for the right to end it with dignity at a time of his choosing. I have no idea what the actual circumstances of his death were, but I fervently *hope* that they were something like his often-expressed wish to be in a chair on his lawn, at a time of his own choosing, still in command of his own faculties, and with a glass of brandy in his hand and Thomas Tallis on the iPod. And if he did manage to go out that way, I hope to hell that the officialdom and petty bureaucrats he railed against most of his life manage to show a little fucking compassion for once and not make this any worse for his loved ones.
RIP Pterry. Thanks for everything.

Why I Just Cancelled My Direct Debit To The Electoral Reform Society

I’ve been a member of the Electoral Reform Society for a few years, because (as I pointed out the other day) I believe democracy is hugely important, and we need, desperately, to move to a preferential (and, ideally, proportional) voting system. The ERS exists — or existed — primarily as a single-issue organisation, to promote the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, which is to my mind the best voting system ever devised, and given that Arrow’s theorem says that a perfect voting system can’t be found, may well be the best system it’s *possible* to devise.

It also has a commercial arm, Electoral Reform Services, which as the name suggests performs services such as vote-counting for organisations that want an impartial third party to help in, for example, ensuring that the election of officers is fair and above board. The money from that ERS apparently goes toward funding the campaigns.

After the utterly disastrous, inept, stupid handling of the AV referendum campaign in 2011, which for a while seemed like it might lead to the end of hopes for electoral reform in the UK for a generation, some people in the ERS started trying to reposition the organisation as a general “democratic renewal” campaign group — still with a special emphasis on STV, but widening its remit. I thought, and still think, that this was a bad idea — not because I’m against democratic renewal, but because there were already other organisations working toward those ends, people like Unlock Democracy, and moving from being the only campaign group working for a defined aim to being one of several working towards a more nebulous one seemed like a bad move. But I remained in the organisation, as it was still the only group (other than the Lib Dems) that saw STV as a major priority. I even set up a monthly direct debit to them, putting (a small amount of) my money where my mouth is.

I cancelled that direct debit today.

Last week, the ERS Twitter account linked to an unutterably stupid “report” (actually a PR puff piece) on online voting. After I tweeted words to the effect of “what the fuck do you think you’re doing linking this rubbish?”, my Twitter feed became progressively more entertaining as my various electoral-system-expert friends spent a pleasant afternoon arguing about whether the report was merely cretinous or actually the worst thing ever, and whether its recommendations would spell the end of democracy or something worse. There was no response from the ERS Twitter account as to why they were promoting a “report” from a group whose backers aren’t named, and whose motives are unclear.

In case you don’t understand why online voting is an idea that would destroy any last vestiges of democracy this country has, see this by Dave Page and these posts by Nick Barlow.

I wasn’t going to quit the ERS over that tweet, although I came close, but then something caught my attention — the most recent of Nick’s posts pointed me in the direction of this from Electoral Reform Services. It’s a puff piece promoting online voting, and especially the versions that ERS Ltd will sell you. The author of that has also been posting links to the same cretinous report, and that piece says that ERS Ltd have been “digital champions” during the recent government consultation — a consultation which came to the conclusion that our democracy should be destroyed (sorry “online voting should be in place”) by 2020.

The ERS itself, meanwhile, gave a vapid non-reply to the consultation, merely saying “e-voting is not a panacea”, although “Measures to make voting easier, more convenient and more in tune with modern life are welcome”, and not presenting a single argument against it other than that it might not increase turnout much. The first response of any serious electoral reform organisation when presented with plans for online voting should be “AAAAAGH! NONONONONO! Kill it with fire!”, and should escalate from there.

So we have a “democratic renewal” organisation largely funded by a company that sells online voting services; that organisation is tweeting in favour of online voting, and not arguing against it when consulted, while the company it part owns is loudly promoting online voting despite it being inimical to democracy, in order to make money.

If the ERS is going to take the wrong side in the single biggest threat to democracy today, it’s not getting any more of my money. I’ll be giving it to Liberal Democrats for Electoral Reform instead. I’m sure they’ll make better use of it.

ETA It’s been pointed out to me that one useful thing people who are concerned about the current democratic deficit could do — a positive thing rather than the purely negative one of withdrawing from the ERS — is to have their say here about what a future UK constitution might look like.