Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Labyrinthine thinking

The labyrinth is a potent little piece of metaphor. 

I first came across it in childhood, reading stories of Greek myth, playing computer games, taking some strange comfort in the clean encircling lines of spirals. Later, as an adult attending Unitarian services, I heard interfaith minister Danielle Wilson discuss labyrinths as a meditative technique and spiritual practice, and my interest in the topic renewed.

For me, the labyrinth is how you take the measure of an idea, whether in your head or on the page. You trace its pathways, explore it from all sides and angles, find data, take new turnings, adopt new perspectives, always in the illusory hope that you'll reach the centre of the maze, understand the idea in its totality.

Of course, you can't reach the centre. You can't have a perfect understanding of any idea, and you certainly can't make it a prerequisite of action. As a recovering policy analyst and risk fiend, who still shows occasional 'mad planner' tendencies, I know the dangers of going too far down the rabbit hole.

Enjoyable as it can be, the secret to labyrinthine thinking is knowing how far to take it, and to accept it's OK to not have all the answers. To not reach the heart of things, but to know that where you have got to suffices.

And then when to abandon it and strike out with your imperfect knowledge in an imperfect world. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Free film screening this Wednesday - let's get buzzing to save the bee!

Press Release for immediate use: 23 June 2013                                                           

Walsall Friends of the Earth

Contact Tim Atkinson on 07810 558 250

Free screening of bee film in Walsall

Environmental group Walsall Friends of the Earth are hosting a free public screening of bee docufilm Queen of the Sun on the evening of Wednesday 26 June at the Royal Hotel, Ablewell Street, Walsall town centre. Doors open at 7pm, screening at 7.30pm.

Queen of the Sun investigates the recent American epidemic of bee colony collapse disorder. It takes you on a journey through the mysterious world of the beehive, weaving a dramatic story from the heartfelt struggles of beekeepers, scientists and philosophers from around the world.

Honey-bees, bumble-bees and other bees play a key role in pollinating plants, including many food crops. But for many reasons some bee species are experiencing a steep decline in numbers both in Britain and globally.

Friends of the Earth have launched The Bee Cause campaign to call for Government action on this issue and to spread awareness of what we can all do.

Tim Atkinson from Walsall Friends of the Earth said

 “We rely on bees and other insects to pollinate most of our fruit and vegetables. Without them, it would cost UK farmers £1.8 billion a year to pollinate crops. But bees are under threat, and with their decline, so too is our food supply and our economy. So let’s get buzzing to protect the bee”.


Notes to editor

1.   For more information on Friends of the Earth please see, and

2.   See also:

Why we need a national bee action plan

Honeybee colony losses double – Friends of the Earth reaction. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On Man of Steel and unowned apocalypses

Warning: mild spoilers about Man of Steel ahead.

In Greek myth, the Gods sent disasters, monsters, plagues to those guilty of crimes, offence or overweening arrogance. These days at the movies, we have to settle for 'because blowing sh*t up looks way cool in 3D.'

Time was, it was man's meddling with the atom that unleashed Godzilla. Our imperial hubris which triggered the 'oh yeah? response from aliens in The War Of The Worlds and a hundred bug-eyed descendents. Our blind faith in science and progress over-turned by eco-disaster, intelligent apes, viral zombies or road warriors in spandex.

Whether we were right, wrong, or some confused mess in between, homo sapiens owned this apocalypse even if we hadn't earned it. This was our metaphor, dang it.

But now, thanks to CGI and the seemingly endless ability of 3D to make debris fly out of the screen at the audience, the end of the world seems to be getting longer, more superficially spectacular, more unprovoked and, dare I say, more pointless than ever before.

Yes, I'm looking at you, Man of Steel. Although previous offences such as Transformers, Star  Trek II and to a lesser extent Avengers, should also be taken into consideration.

MOS climaxes with an extensive set piece with Superman fighting renegade Kryptonians above, around and through the skyscrapers of not-Manhattan. Buildings fall, planes explode, the earth shakes. 

Woah, right?

Yet what sounds epic swiftly hits Magpiemoth's law of diminishing returns from CGI: once you've seen someone body slammed through a skyscraper once, you really don't need to see it again, let alone ten times more. 

Technical bravado - and Zac Snyder is a great technical director - creates an interminable scene which unbalances rather than caps the entire film.  

What's more, these films can destroy New York and its surrogates like Metropolis as many times as you want, but by making them the backdrop to clashes of god-like robots or robot-like gods, with humanity relegated to screaming and running only, you rob them of any psychodrama. 

This not our apocalypse any more, we're only living in it.

And when you've got a Superman film - rescue cape boy par excellence -  and you make the crisis not only indirectly his fault in the first place, but then then give the impression of not really caring about the people caught up and presumably dying in the final battle because you're too busy focussing on techniques of destruction, you know you've got problems. 

Ethical problems, arguably. Dramatic problems, very probably. 

The end of the world blues, certainly.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Brian Eno is a one-man think tank part 1

Have you ever wondered what it's like to have access to the mind of a man who thinks differently for a living?

Musical polymath Brian Eno kept a diary throughout 1995, published the following year with additional essays, letters and fragments - hence A Year With Swollen Appendices. It veers from the mundanely magical details of his life with his young family, to his involvement with War Child, U2, David Bowie, James and more.

And then there are the ideas, the ideas. As a blogger and journal-keeper I know the value of keeping a record of those lightning strikes and recurring ideas, but this man puts me to shame.

Just have a read of these extracts and you'll get a sense of just how good this book is in places.

On cultural villages like New York

"Good sides: osmotic learning / cooperation / informality / support / intense hybridisation / shared assumptions"

"Bad sides: malicious gossip / exclusivity / taking people for granted / lack of focus / small-mindedness / overscrutiny / forgetting this is not the whole world / back-scratching / shared assumptions unquestioned."

I've been musing over such islands of cultural life (neartopias) like Brighton, Bishop's Castle and Stokes Croft in Bristol, and this analysis crystallizes my sense of ambivalence about them.

On the social ecology of bands  

"Interesting watching the dynamics here. Saul, whose sonic contributions are erratic, is essential to the social ecology of the band [James]. He's the person ... most likely to say what's on his mind, but without any rancour (so it doesn't stir up any bad feeling). This opens up the door for other people to talk. The most naturally undemocratic and un-polite are the log-jam breakers"

"Now if a group only existed to make music you'd value everyone's contributions in musical terms. But bands, like other entities, exist to perpetuate their own existence as a little subculture - and the qualities and talents for that are quite different."

Bands, local groups, as self-perpetuating memes anyone? 

Attention is what creates value

"Artworks are made as well by how people interact with them - and therefore what quality of interaction they inspire. So how do we assess an artist we suspect is dreadful but who manages to inspire the right storm of attention, and whose audience seems to swoon in the appropriate way? We say 'Well done'"

The question is "Is the act of getting attention a sufficient act for an artist? Or is that the job description?"

You can replace artist with politician (or political organisation) and it's still a very interesting question

On computer programming ... or does he mean campaign design?

"When people program - i.e.decide on which possible options [for the user] they should make available - they express a philosophy about what operations are important in the world. We are victims of their limitations."

A few pages later Eno talks about synthesizers "designed by musicians (who know what kind of things might be relevant) for musicians (who are extremely impatient with manuals)"

And let no parasitic worm live lodge in your dome

"Those parasitic worms that cause their hosts to expose themselves to predators (so that the worm can species-jump to another host): are there ideas like that - ideas that make you stick your neck out and set yourself up for demolition?"

Like supporting Newcastle United, perhaps? On a week in which Joe Kinnear returns in triumph farce it certainly feels like it.

A second selection from the mind of Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno next week.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Kneel before Zod, er Cod!

Yes, General Cod is back, escaped from his polygonal prison among the stars (also known as a space net) and has returned to raise a glass to Krypton in the drinking bars of Innsmouth. Or strike fear into the hearts of all. He hasn't decided quite yet.

Oh, and the whole kneeling thing? He's just impressed that you can do it, seeing as it's the one thing fish can't.

If this has amused you, please share, retweet and sign this petition against over-fishing. Can we get it to 500 signatures in the coming week?

With thanks to Dave McAlister for creating our fishy fiend.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Video of the week: Candlemass - Bewitched

Much thanks to the wonderful Map of Metal for introducing me to this marvelous track from the late 80's by Swedish doom metal act Candlemass.

Three reasons Bewitched demands listening.

1. Singer Messiah Marcolin's demonic choirboy voice has to heard to be believed.

2.  That riff.

3. It actually starts with Handel's Dead March done in the metal style.

3. This video by Jonas Akerlund (of Smack My B**tch Up notoriety) which walks the line between complete hokum and even more utter hokum.

Let me break it down for you:

0:00 - It's the metal re-enactment of the Monty Python Undertaker's sketch.

0:30 - Riff!

1:25 - Wait. Who left the dry ice in that coffin!

1:30 - Woah! Mad monk's just leapt out of a coffin!

2:00 - First appearance of the Messiah Marcolin front-crawl-head-bang dance! Yeah!

2.45 - MM starts hypnotizing metal fans with his sweet, sweet singing. And his luxurious mane of hair. #envy

3.00 -  You are beee-weeeeeeee-ttched!

3.10 - Oh. MM appears to have met a woman. She's dressed very sensibly for the snow in a green parka with her hood up.

3.50 - MM turns the full force of his vocal power on her. She sensibly flees before the onslaught and the wild, wild overacting that accompanies it...

4.10 - ... but she is eventually, yep, you guessed it - beee-weeeeeeee-ttched!

4.25 - MM has a whole army of beee-weeeeeeee-ttched metalhead zombies

4.45 - Guitarist takes a solo while MM alternatively strokes and shoves his denim clad minions.

5.15 - Still soloing, still shoving

5.30 - Uh-huh - still soloing

5.45 - Riff!

5.50 - Everyone does the Messiah Marcolin front-crawl-head-bang dance! Yeah! 

6.00 - Close up on stomping Swedish feet #vintageconverseenvy

6.45 - Headbanging around the coffin is the new All Around My Hat.

7.10 - You are beee-weeeeeeee-ttched!

7.15 - Back in your coffin, Marcolin!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Flashback - student music reviews: The Fun Lovin' Criminals, The Posies, Melissa Etheridge

In my wasted youth at University of Hull, I penned the odd review for Hullfire, the student newspaper. For the sake of both completeness and comedy value, I'm adding them to this blog and then listening to the original if I can track it down to see if I agree with 20 year-old me.

This week, some bite-size singles reviews

Fun Lovin' Criminals - The Grave and the Constant (their first EP)
Dour cack-handed rap-funk with an Italian mobster fixation and a talent bypass, which manages to wrap all the unappealing aspects of the genre in a drab macho package. Yummy!
Yep, I was such a naif that I took the Fun Lovin' Criminals seriously. Despite the video where they're fighting a man in a bear suit. And sorry, Huey et al, You did improve with age.

The Posies - Please Return It
A delicate, relatively whinge-free grunge (can we still call things grunge?) number that aspires to be a Foo Fighters B-side, a lofty mission in which it just about succeeds, carried across the line by chugging guitars and plaintive guitars
This is even more embarassing, as about ten years later I discovered Frosting On The Beater, which I absolutely love. Please Return It doesn't quite hit those heights, but I still sing it to myself as I walk down the street, so it's got to have quite a lot going for it.

Also, I love the fact that I'm asking the readers if I can still call things grunge. Awwww.....

The recorded version seems not to be available on You Tube, so here's a link to a live version.

Melissa Etheridge - I Want To Come Over
Rolling of the dadrock assembly line this week is another inoffensive, if soulless ballad for your parents to wave lighters to.
Oooh, trust no-one over 30 eh, young Magpiemoth!
However, a more energetic B-side and adequate live tracks provide something approaching entertainment, and at least allow Melissa's throaty vocals free reign. Better than Bryan Adams, if that's any sort of recommendation.
Perhaps I'm slipping into my dotage, but from my vantage point today I ... I quite like this. There's a wounded passion in Melissa's voice that comes through despite the overcooked production I objected to at the time. 

And the video appears to have a young Gwyneth Paltrow in it.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Queen of the Sun comes to Walsall 26 June

Walsall Friends of the Earth are organising a screening of the fantastic documentary film Queen Of The Sun as part of our current campaign The Bee Cause.

The film investigates multiple angles of the recent bee epidemic colony collapse disorder. It also explores the historical and contemporary relationship between bees and humans.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Local bikini competition makes me facepalm

Yes, the Sports Bar in Cannock held a bikini competition over the Bank Holiday weekend as part of a Caribbean party event. And yes, my spider senses are telling me this was seven shades of wrong, but why? 

How can I be sure that it's not my inner puritan talking? How can I avoid the trap of telling women what they should or shouldn't wear?

Let's boil down the ethics of the situation to one question: who has the power in this game of display?

Answer: this whole bikini competition / beauty pageant set-up is as male-gazy as all heck.. This is women presenting themselves for men, at the behest of men. 

Events like this reinforce the Big Lie that men 'do' and women 'adorn', that their worth is measured by how good they look in as little as possible, not by how high-achieving, intelligent or generally awesome they are.

I concede it might not be disempowering for the individuals taking part, but if culturally the event is sending the wrong message, then this is beside the point. On a continuum of discrimination, you could argue it's more dumb than damaging, but it's still a slippery slope to be making your stand on.

And it's particularly interesting that it took place in a sports bar, given that sports is in no way a field where women struggle to be taken as seriously as men, no sirree.

In short: men, don't be complicit in reinforcing images of women which are partial, limiting and injuring to both genders. End of.

Some broader context from UK Feminista

...and from No More Page Three

Lest we overlook the beam in the eye of geek culture - the Hawkeye Initiative 
(How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.)