Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Strange Days

January 16, 2021

After I came up with the ‘Strange Days’ title, I began writing some paragraphs on COVID and the situation in the US, but found it all so depressing that I scrapped the lot.

Even the ludicrous factoid that a Peruvian court recently charged Bill Gates and George Soros with creating the Coronavirus failed to amuse me, and I realized I’ve been writing about little else for the past months—it’s bumming everyone out, including me, so I’m going to stop doing it.

Having said that, a few things about this mad circus still make me smile.

So, I got out my cordless razor, shaved my head, and settled down to write about music.

Strange Days, huh? The Doors released the album in 1967—on the 25th of September, missing the Summer of Love by five days. On the cover were a circus strong man, a midget, and a juggler.

It must have been an extraordinary time to live through. Where I lived, press censorship was at its zenith, six years after the start of the war in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and one year before the dictator Salazar fell off his beach chair—he never recovered from his injuries.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, the Jefferson Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow, the Grateful Dead released their eponymous album, and the Stones released two original LPs—Between the Buttons and the more sinister Their Satanic Majesties Request. Clapton’s Cream released Disraeli Gears, and Hendrix released his amazing debut album, Are You Experienced.

If no other music had ever been made, this would be enough to keep me happy for a lifetime—I don’t know why 1967 was such a prolific year—psychedelic drugs most certainly helped, marijuana was more popular than lockdowns, but at the core it was just an incredible collection of talent, bands competing to come up with the best music.

Not only that, but these songs were often recorded on four tracks—bear in mind that any decent home studio these days has one hundred and twenty-eight tracks to play with—and the music is nowhere near as good.

The standard recording technique used back in 1967 is called bouncing, where tracks 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, are bounced, or recorded, to track 4. You might have drums on 1, bass on 2, and lead guitar on 3, so 4 would now have all those pre-mixed. That way, you free up more tracks on the recorder, but you’re unable to do an individual track mixdown at production stage, so you’re stuck with the volumes and effects you bounced—for instance, if you wanted a bit more delay or echo only on the lead in a particular segment of the song, you couldn’t do that after the bounce.

This excellent YouTube video (if you scroll to my previous post you’ll see the interview with the yellowstone capitol cretin has been removed—I left the link pour encourager les autres) shows how the multi-track was used in Sgt. Pepper. If you run out of patience, the blue track starts around 2:30 minutes in, and the red track (McCartney’s lead vocals) at around the 5 mark.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a live album recorded in New York, and Dylan released his Greatest Hits Vol. II. It was the first Dylan album I ever owned, though I only bought it some years later.

The cover shows Bob Dylan’s back, clad in a denim jacket—lord knows what happened to mine—sporting his trademark coat hanger harmonica. Uncle Bob’s hair is permed, and he’s clearly in the juices of youth—he turns eighty on May 24th. From the first bars of Watching The River Flow, I was hooked on the blues.

I found all sorts of fun things as I wrote this. One was the quote below from John Lennon about the Sgt. Pepper album.

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets – they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles. As I read the other day, he said in one of his ‘fanzine’ interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public – and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that’s the same thing he did by writing ‘He loves you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ That’s just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works ’cause we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

Another gem was a concert Chuck Berry did in Belgium, of all places. Not in 1967, but two years earlier—if you think his band looks square, watch the audience—they look as if they belong in a Salon de Thé off the Grande Place.

Chuck Berry is a mandatory presence in this article because he influenced all the wonderful artists I’ve mentioned. He once caught Keith Richards in the dressing room picking up his guitar, and promptly punched him in the face—Richards called it one of his greatest hits.

All this procrastination because by now you’re asking, “Out of all this wonderful music, what’s your favorite tune?”

I just can’t go there, sorry. But this is one of the greats, and it is not so widely known.

The lyrics are as LSD as they get, the lead guitar is a classic Hendrix mix of major and minor scales, and this performance is at Regis College in Denver, Colorado—a quick look on the web reveals it to be part of Regis University, a Jesuit school.

Hmm… The Wind Cries Mary must have gone down a storm with the disciples of Ignatius de Loyola. Still, I guess Hendrix was the black pope of electric guitar.

I was going to sign off with an hasta la vista, but instead, quoting a comedian I heard earlier today, I leave you with a slight paraphrase.

Astra la Zeneca.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

We Know This

January 2, 2021

Christmas was hardly merry and New Year’s Eve was no humdinger.

Much was said about bidding adieu to a crap year, and location cameras regularly interviewed people fed up with 2020—as if what happened for most of it was the year’s fault—folks explained how 2021 will make everything better, they just forgot to say how.

Everybody knows nothing so we all know everything: the vaccines are here, but the delivery systems are so far pathetic, and no one can say how long you’ll be immune—just as no one knows how long a veteran of COVID-19 remains immune.

Societies are still divided on whether masks are useful or not, how to manage households and businesses to reduce or prevent transmission, and what limits to impose on travel.

And because there’s so much we don’t know, together with a moving reference frame—the virus is mutating all the time—2021 doesn’t look so hot from where I’m sitting.

Temporary immunity, whether vaccine-induced or from contracting the disease, is not much comfort either to those who get the shot or those who mingle with them. And governments seem unable to deal with the logistics—as things stand, the UK, whose cabinet waxed lyrical about being the first in the world to deliver the shot, is now well behind in its delivery plan, to the extent that ministers tried to cheat the system by delaying the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, administering instead a first shot to more people—the pharma company states that there are no data to support the plan, but since when did that stop a populist government?

The six million dollar question is simple:

When can I get back to a normal life?

Put another way, When will the virus go away?

Only populist pols like the (do-close-the-door-on-your-way-out) orang-u-tan, Britain’s Brexit Bojo, or Brazil’s Bolsonaro (what a lot of Bs) can give you a simple answer to such a complex question—and it will be wrong.

I’ll try to help by steering clear of BS.

When will the virus go away? Never. Even if it did, another form would pop up—that’s what viruses do, they mutate fast, fine-tuning what works best.

But it will not be a significant danger after a certain point, and that’s when normality returns. We are the host, the virus is the guest—mostly uninvited, but if you’re doing the Brittany rave, you’re saying “be my guest.”

Some viruses spread through water, through plumbing or rivers, but ‘rona does not. You can swim, just as you can touch or kiss someone who has cancer or AIDS.

The guest needs a host—and it then needs proximity to other susceptible hosts. The ‘certain point’ above will be when there are insufficient hosts to take in the guest. There are three ways that will happen.

The first is separation. You’re in an empty room. You have COVID. No one else will get it. If you die, bye-bye virus. If you get better, bye-bye virus. The second is immunity. There are ten people in the room, but seven are immune. You pass the ‘rona on to two people, one dies, two recover, bye-bye virus. The last is death. Ten die. If there are no hosts, there’s no oxygen to fan the flames. Bye-bye virus.

We’re not sure how long immunity lasts. But if it lasts long enough for the virus load to decrease in the general population, your probability of catching it will be lower that seeing a smiling truck driver at Dover—game over.

Folks help that happen by not attending raves and throwing bottles at the police, by mass vaccination, and unfortunately, by dying.

The more anti-vax fools out there—and they walk among us—the more time it will take before we return to normal (they never will).

One guideline we have is history—it tries to teach us, but we’re fucking awful students.

Haskell County, Kansas. How bleak can you get?

The ‘Spanish’ flu was first detected in Haskell County, SW Kansas, in January 1918, exactly one hundred and three years ago.

By March, cases were observed in barracks in Kansas, and over the next few months the flu spread in the US and was taken overseas by American soldiers fighting in the First World War.

In September-November, the second wave went crazy—now, that’s got to sound familiar!

The Spanish flu killed a younger demographic than COVID-19, but remember that statistics are like a bikini—what they show is suggestive, what they hide is vital—in 1915-1920, Americans had a life expectancy of 50-55 years (men versus women).

In winter and spring 1919, the third wave arrived with a vengeance, and lasted until the summer. President Woodrow Wilson, who like Trump insisted the pandemic was of no concern, collapsed in Paris on April 3rd, 1919—in October he suffered a massive stroke, possibly related to side effects of the virus.

The Spanish flu lasted well into the summer of 1919.

What lessons have we learned? Precious few. We’re all masters of the world now, immortal instagram deities.

When will this end?

My two cents? We’ll be lucky if by next fall we can safely go about our business—by that time, no one will remember what normal means anymore.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Keep Your Comrades Warm

December 26, 2020

To most Westerners, Russia means vodka, snow, communism, and a vast wilderness, not necessarily in that order. The political system has changed, but although the country calls itself a democracy, its actions are clearly totalitarian—from the assassination of political enemies and uncooperative journalists, the message is clear: be with us or beware.

The vast nation has vast wealth, but the frozen wastelands under which natural resources lie make exploration a challenge—in particular, the huge potential for crop production is blocked by a layer of permafrost. Putin recognizes that the climate is warming, and views this as a good thing—a few years ago, he quipped that it meant more bread and less fur coats.

Russia and Canada are two of the nations that will reap major benefits from climate change—both have access to the Arctic Ocean, and a whole new polar navigation route has already opened up due to ice melt.

For Russia, this means a strategic position in the maritime routes between China and Europe—transit times will be reduced by up to forty percent, significantly lowering freight costs. In addition, very few major cities are on the coast, so large population centers are far less vulnerable to sea level rise that those in Western Europe or the United States. Think London, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Dublin, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Marseille…  and New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle…

Other global competitors appear singularly unprepared—while Russia has twenty-four icebreakers, China has four and the US has… two.

Russia is warming up two and a half times faster than the global average, and huge areas in the east are opening up to farming. To exploit this opportunity, a climate migration is taking place, not just Russians going east to try their luck, but Chinese, heading north to grow wheat and other cereals.

Climate migrants will be the new refugees in the mid to late XXth century, as countries with a Goldilocks temperature range warm up. Most of these nations, the US among them, are singularly unprepared. The orang-u-tan nonsense on climate change asphyxiated any effective preparations for four years—to prepare would be to acknowledge, and that would be as shocking as admitting an electoral defeat.

But perhaps the most critical factor is the unwillingness of Western nations in the north to accept migrants, even in situations where the current population is both ageing and dwindling—to seize new opportunities in farming you need people, but the sons and daughters of those countries don’t want to till, they want to tweet.

Not that Putin accepts the human influence on climate change, or is a fan of renewables—he has expressed concerns that vibration from wind turbines causes worms to flee from the soil—in a country where the annual budget is indexed to oil prices, one can understand the deep anxiety about annelids.

But he does understand that food security is critical, and is on record that Russia now exports more agricultural products than arms—I suspect this is not due to a reduction in weapons sales.

One of the areas where the permafrost has given way to a thriving agricultural area is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or region, in the Russian far east. This particular Oblast is to the north of the River Amur, and was created by Stalin in 1928—I was unaware of such a place—I thought Israel was the only autonomous Jewish region.

On the other side of the Amur is the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, and the enterprising celestials have been crossing over to the JAO to make hay while the frost melts.

The US presently trades one third of the world’s soy and forty percent of the corn, but climate models suggest that by mid-century yields from Texas to Nebraska may fall by ninety percent—meanwhile the winter wheat crop in southern Siberia doubled when compared to the previous year.

Sooner or later ‘rona will go away.

Climate change won’t.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Whose Birthday?

December 19, 2020

After every few words I type on here, an ad comes up in Russian—ads annoy me at the best of times, but Rooshian ads I can’t understand,  while everyone but the tangerine dream freaks out about FireEye and SolarWinds, are unsettling to say the least.

Okay, I’ve banished Putin’s lot to the nether lands of my computer—let’s get on with the job.

I traditionally write something festive around this time of year—a period when Jews celebrate Hanukkah (love that random double k) and Christians celebrate Xmas—or rather, Western-influenced culture celebrates Christmas.

Hanukkah has bellicose roots, quite different from the birth of a child—it commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire—I lay claim to some historical knowledge, but I’d never heard of these Greek fellows.

But since a newborn is always a celebration, and Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, we should rejoice. I, for one, am pretty happy—said goodbye to COVID and am at the top of my game, have some nice tinto squirreled away and can smell and taste it—I’m one of the lucky ones.

So what happy, festive stuff comes to mind? I’ll have to dig deep. As Larry Fortensky, Liz Taylor’s seventh husband, famously quipped in his wedding speech, “I know what to do, I know how to do it, the trick is to make it interesting for you.”

For sensible folks, it’s going to be a quiet Christmas, because the beast is on the loose—and as a holiday special, a new strain has been announced today in the UK.

Quiet is definitely my plan, and even if it wasn’t, travel bans would make it so—luckily, I have plenty of alcohol, and part of my plan is assiduous internal disinfection—although I draw the line at bleach.

One thing that’ll get us festive is a bit of music blended with comedy—here’s a clip from the very first Spitting Image show, a spoof Dylan protest about cheese.

Other highlights of this particular episode include the removal of Reagan’s brain and a hilarious piss-take of the Soviet politburo—definitely worth a look—I don’t think it’ll be up for long.

Yup, it’s going to be a quiet few days in Western Europe, although in the US anything can happen, and most probably will.

But the fact you’re reading this means you’re alive, and hopefully well—a very good start. It’s been a real tough period for the economy, and the next few months will be no different, but there is one thing to really celebrate.

Yes, it may be only one, but it’s huge. Throughout history, from the medieval plagues to the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic, society has demonstrated very little solidarity—the same goes for Ebola or Zika—but this year was different.

We all know the risk of serious complications or death from Coronavirus increases sharply with age—this example, from a Covid calculator site, says it all:

A white man aged 45, BMI 36 with severe asthma, has a Covid-age of (45+13+11) = 69 years.

A healthy, fit thirty-five year-old has a probability of 0.03% of dying from the disease, whereas an eighty-five year old has a 6% chance, 200 times more.

I know that showing you a weird chart is hardly festive, but I couldn’t resist, perhaps because I made it myself. It shows that after the age of fifty, COVID is about 30% of the total chance of dying—at eighty-five that doubles to 60%, and below the age of thirty, it’s under 10%.

Percent ratio of probability of COVID-derived death to probability of death from any cause.

This explains why younger people are far less concerned than older folks, and why the economic, recreational, and other consequences of tiers and lockdowns are poorly accepted.

And yet, in Western Europe and elsewhere—but not in the United States, partly because its leadership was entrusted to a half-rotten citrus fruit—society has imposed those exact measures, at huge cost, primarily to save the elderly.

If nothing else offers hope this Christmas, Hanukkah, or just this year-end, this does—a society that is capable of such a selfless act, instead of just letting old folks die off in the traditional fashion, is worthy of great praise.

Moreover, this radical pattern of age-related death was not observed in either the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu—in the XIVth century, not many people lived past forty-five anyhow—if it had been, society would have been even more callous.

Older people—in particular those who have the means to do so—owe a debt of solidarity to the younger members of society, those who are often hardest hit by the economic tsunami.

And to artists, musicians, the people who provide all the pleasure we take for granted—if you can’t eat, you can’t play. That’s the gift I’ll be giving this Christmas!

So turn this favorite of mine right up, ’cause it ain’t Christmas without rock ‘n roll.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

November 14, 2020

Last Saturday, when I was literally smitten with election fever, my blog was viewed one hundred and fifty-six times. A hundred and six of those views targeted one thing only—the Trump ‘You’re Fired!’ cartoon.

Since then, everything has returned to normal and everyone knows there is no more titty (Two-Term Trump).

Last night, in the one-minute window I gave him as he meandered through the usual bollocks, even his orangeness had left him.

For me, Mr. Covid has come and gone, but when I see the stats and predictions for North America and Europe, my heart is heavy.

I was very lucky—a news report yesterday of a young woman in Utah that lost her mother and grandfather to covid is one of the most poignant stories I’ve read in a while.

We called my grandpa and I put him on speaker phone so he could talk to my mom. He said, ‘kiddo, I’m not doing good,’ and she said, ‘dad, I’m not either.’ And he said ‘(Tracy), I’m dying. And she said, ‘dad, I am too.’
Her grandfather’s last words to her mom were, “I’ll look for you in heaven.”

It is on behalf and in memory of such people that we must rejoice in the trouncing of this twat. As Obama quipped in a pre-election speech, the president is responsible for protecting America from all enemies, foreign, domestic, and microscopic.

My father learned to swim on a beach in Nazaré, or Nazareth—very biblical. We’re going back to the mid-1930s for this tale, and the vast majority of families in Portugal didn’t ever go to the beach, let alone know how to swim.

Before Baywatch made lifeguards trendy, beach safety in southern Europe was an extra earner for fishermen, often older and paunchy, who also made a few bucks teaching children to swim.

Until recently—more specifically until Garett McNamara put it on the map—no one had ever heard of Nazaré. It isn’t the safest place to teach a kid to swim.

The fisherman told my father, ‘O mar quer lá os medrosos, porque os valentes tem-os lá de certeza.’ The sea wants the cowards—the brave ones it already owns.

This is a good metaphor for covid, my friends. I speak with folks who tell me this is just another flu, and that the societal reaction is completely overblown—they’re the brave (or foolhardy) ones in my metaphor; let me tell you, although technically a coronavirus is a form of flu, this one is a bastard.

It comes at you like a blizzard, and uses all the sneaky tricks in the book to make you cough and splutter, and to help generate lesions it can use to fuck you over. Your body is so consumed fighting it that any trivial activity exhausts you in a minute or two.

It was very easy for me to understand how things can get out of control, which is why respect is the operative word.

Above all, when I see the models for the forthcoming months, even considering the progress with vaccination, it’s obvious we have a very dark winter ahead. When you add to that the financial hardship so many are already going through, the immediate future of humanity is bleak indeed.

The conclusion is clear and urgent—it is science that changed the face of the earth in the last hundred years—all the cellphones in the world would be worthless against a single antibiotic, the mapping of a viral genome, an arsenal of cancer therapies, or key advances in food production and safety.

It’s time to wise up, if we want society to flourish for a further hundred years—we’ve had our fun, now it’s time to put the orange man back into whatever box he came from, understand that conspiracies are the product of mean-spirited folks with very little between their ears, and that those who seek the truth represent the future of mankind.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

November 7, 2020

I woke up this morning and checked the vote count. No change.

In an election, it is a basic premise that the following steps will occur: lies aplenty will be told during the campaign. Voters will be wooed—I did a quick check on that word on Urban Dictionary, and was stunned to find this example of usage:

Johnny wooed Jane with his erotic dancing and giant cock.

Come on people, wooed is a romantic term—whoever concocted this sentence has, if you excuse the pun, grabbed the wrong end of the stick.

Further down the page, the Nov. 3rd word of the day is you’re fired. When I did my review count just now for the last week, I saw a massive spike in views starting on Tuesday. Same pattern Wednesday and Thursday, double that on Friday.

What were folks after? A cartoon from an article I wrote on April 29th, 2017, called ‘You’re Fired‘—if I just posted pictures, my column would be far more successful!

Back to my steps.

When voting starts, you ensure it is both free and fair—to a European, even the notion of folks with guns hanging around polling stations is anathema—images of the Congo start to form in my mind.

After it’s all over, you wait for the count, and when that count is unquestionable, we’re done.

As in chess, it’s usual for the loser to tip the king when there’s nowhere left to run. The alternative is to keep on fighting until there’s only a black hole in the ground.

Elections are sacrosanct for a man like me who grew up in a country deprived of democratic rights. If I though for a moment the US elections were fraudulent, I would be the first to cry foul—nothing so far indicates that this is the case.

What I will not do is make any claims of victory or defeat until the officials responsible for collecting, counting, certifying, and publishing the results have done their duty—from all I’ve heard, from both Republican and Democrat officials, this duty has been scrupulously discharged so far.

By all accounts, this will be done soon. For those who have hoped for four years to see their candidate win, and I specifically address both sides, a few days is not a big ask. The really big ask is to reunite Americans—I know the US well, and I wish it well, and I believe that the fracture that exists has been manufactured—not by ordinary people but by leaders and pseudo-leaders, preachers and pseudo-preachers, media and pseudo-media, and malicious agents who certainly do not wish the US well.

Americans, love each other. You know how, you’ve just forgotten.

In the middle of the election fever, I developed a fever of my own—since Monday I’ve been laid up with covid. Like the vote counting, it’s slow and painful, but we’re getting through it—happy endings cost more.

If the orange man loses, I stand to win a rather yummy bottle of tinto—but right now I can’t taste it.

The good news? I caught the bug playing rock n’ roll, not in the supermarket queue. How cool is that!

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Lost Summer

October 10, 2020

Before I start these articles, I always do two things: read the previous blog—and often make small corrections—and look at the site stats, which are broken down into daily views, but can be scaled to a period of two and a half years.

I haven’t figured out how to view a larger period, but one glaring difference between this year and the previous two is the summer viewing—normally it decreases quite significantly, and for good reasons—vacations, travel, beaches, picnics, family, rock festivals, bars and restaurants…

Ah yes, he says wistfully, the usual suspects.

This summer, the readership was up like never before, but I don’t see that as progress in my writing quality—my texts have become monotonic—much like our lives. Fact is, we have more time to dispense on these pursuits, for the lack of all the good reasons above.

We’re currently going through one of the greatest tests human society has ever encountered, in part because of its global nature—and we’re wholly unprepared for the fractures a mere six months have caused.

If you read newspaper articles from a century ago, much of what happened in different parts of the world was slow to propagate—there was no TV, no efficient communications, and no rapid form of transport in everyday use, so newspapers were it—the BBC World Service was only founded in 1932.

Whenever politicians discuss the current crisis, the word war is bandied about. We are ‘at war against the virus’, there’s an ‘invisible enemy’, this is a ‘battle we can win’.

War is something we’re very familiar with—many people through personal experience: Yemenis, Georgians, Rwandans, Vietnamese, Afghans—from the stats, these are not the folks who read these pieces—in digital, there’s a chasm between haves and have-nots.

My familiarity with war comes from my youth and the Portuguese wars in Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s—I narrowly missed first-hand experience, but I know many who fought in Angola, Mozambique, and elsewhere—any trip to those countries shows the evidence to this day, from unexploded mines to unattached limbs.

In the US and UK, France and Germany, everyone had a family member who was involved in World War II in some capacity. For Jews, there’s the indelible trauma of the holocaust.

But above all, there is a historical memory since time immemorial (sorry), that human existence and war are indissociable—only the League of Nations and the League for Spiritual Discovery believe otherwise.

War has a couple of common features—the first is unity, the whole us-against-them thing. No matter what happens, god is on our side.

The second feature is the comprehension—if we don’t know what the fight is about, the body count quickly takes precedence over the moral high ground, as Country Joe McDonald (no relation to Ronald) explained to the good folks at Woodstock, a good number of whom were enthusiastic supporters of the League for Spiritual Discovery.

The third aspect is that we know war will end, our side will win, and we will rest our moral superiority on the bones of our dead enemies—this is a Cartesian fairy tale that has won the day time and time again in the web weaved by rulers to ensnare the ruled.

The consequences of this minute little fucker, responsible for COVID-19 going on for 21, are unpredictable. We can confidently state it has really screwed up our lives, but we can’t make any confident statements about the degree to which we are collectively fucked, and how long this will last.

We can also lay blame—and China is clearly to blame for the initial spread of the virus. But invading China will not solve the problem, and in any case lack of transparency is one of the defining traits of a dictatorship, along with political prisoners and self-perpetuation of power. So why the surprise?

When Western countries first reacted to the news of the new pandemic—some well before its classification as such by the WHO on March 19th, 2020—there were way too many economic interests at stake to take drastic action, and, as is always the case with humans, we underestimated the danger—think climate change.

The ultimate victory—coronavirus takes the White House.

The usual human remedy in crisis, i.e. killing each other until the problem goes away, isn’t a direct choice in this case—but indirectly, this is where we are moving towards. There are vocal advocates of taking a similar approach to what happened during the medieval plagues.

To the extent that economic returns are not compromised, protect the vulnerable. Those who don’t die will thrive, the plague will fade away, and hey presto, we’re back to business as usual.

This is a narrative many people subscribe to, even if means saying goodbye to granny a few years early.

In the West, politicians—or at least some of them—are attempting to do the right thing. Control the spread, save lives, and sustain the economy.

The UK prime minister explained the policy in a nutshell to the British people during the Brexit campaign.

We want to have our cake and eat it too.

It’s not going to happen with Brexit, and it won’t happen with the virus either.

In the United Kingdom, that synergy is a perfect storm—it may well result in a country with no cake and an empty stomach.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Day The Music Died

October 3, 2020

I was playing in the band last night.

It’s always fun, loud, and late. We tried some acoustic stuff, a little more mellow.

There was a guy there, sitting in—not jamming, just listening—a bass player with a metal band. He stayed the course—about four hours’ worth—so I guess he was having fun, and even though it was an audience of one, it put an edge on the music.

In the breaks, we talked about this and that. Foremost, about music and musicians. Killer versions of particular songs, old guys still smoking dope who had trouble remembering lyrics, a Brazilian dude who could do more with a snare and a couple of other drums that most guys with a full kit, and of course, gear. Snare drums at two grand? Are you kidding me?

Time to put up my favorite Goodfellas meme (again).

We had a go at singing a very beautiful love song—Baby I Love Your Way, by Peter Frampton. It’s sung in a very high register, so our audience’s suggestion was to detune the guitars—that way, you keep the chord structure, which is also beautiful.

Of course, that means detuning a couple of electric guitars and the bass—hardship duty, really, for just one tune. Not a problem for our friend, “you just need three other instruments tuned to the right key.”

But it was audiences and musicians that we turned to most often. The former have disappeared, and the latter are on their way out.

This disaster is true across the performing arts, but to different degrees—movies now have a sitting room audience, with much viewing going on in sub-zero temperatures, as in Netflix ‘n chill. Soaps are ten-a-penny, with new series—mostly crap—popping out of the woodwork daily.

So I guess actors are still doing okay—all the way from adverts to Oscars.

But where it all breaks down is with live music, and that’s across the board. From rock in bars to elevator music in hotel dining rooms, performers are going through a terrible year.

But let’s face it, rock is particularly bad. Badly paid anyhow, it’s all about crowds, drink, drugs, and excitement—talk about COVID-friendly.

The famous 1970s hit American Pie sings about ‘the day the music died’, widely considered to be a reference to the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper.

Van Morrison, seventy-five years old—and now Sir Van, which sounds like a resurrection of British Leyland—is releasing three anti-lockdown songs in protest of scientists “making up crooked facts” to justify measures that “enslave” the population.

He goes on to sing “The new normal, is not normal, We were born to be free.”

I’ve always been a big fan of his, and I think artists need strong support this year that the music died, but this isn’t the way to go, as another chap in his age group recently discovered.

Oops, wrong turn…

The US opposition leaders who’ve come out to wish the orange man a speedy recovery—although I expect they’d suggest that as a precaution he remain in hospital for thirty-one days—have shown America a high road which has been sadly lacking, as seen in the presidential debate.

I too wish him and his family well, and a quick return in full health to whatever the future may bring after leaving the office he currently holds.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Homo Puppy

July 25, 2020

I sat in the dentist’s chair, surrounded by all sorts of anti-COVID devices—it felt like the high-security Ebola ward in some dystopian movie.

Dentists are at high risk of contracting coronavirus, or any contagious respiratory disease, for that matter; any operation involves multiple water droplets, just the kind of environment these little viral fuckers enjoy—the invisible enemy, as the orang-u-tan calls them—obviously never heard of the electron microscope.

By the way, if you want to take the Montreal Cognitive Test and see if you’re as smart as the US president (you may even qualify as a stable genius, otherwise known as a clever horse), go ahead—the test was developed to flag early dementia, and is abbreviated to MOCA.

In Portuguese, moca is a slang word for penis—actually for a rather large protuberance, which in English would probably qualify as a whanger—as opposed to a wiener, which does suggest a baby sausage. You can take a dick test in Portuguese also—and, to my delight, they also call it MOCA on the sheet—but it may not mean the same in Brazilian Portuguese.

But I digress—I was telling you I never thought cleaning your teeth could be hazardous to your health. When you sit with your mouth open in jaw-numbing pain while an army of steel and plastic rampages inside it, you’re an easy target for one-way chitchat (so should that just be chit?)—it must be like having a Finnish husband—not a lot of conversation.

A Finn picks up an English colleague at Helsinki airport, loads the bags into the Volvo, and drives three hours in pitch black to a remote log cabin—all in total silence, not a word exchanged. On the table is a bottle of vodka, which the Finn uncorks, and two tall glasses, which he fills to the brim. The cork goes into the roaring fire in the corner—the Englishman sighs—it’s going to be a long night.

With true British forbearance, he takes a deep breath and raises his glass. “Cheers!”

The Finn raises an eyebrow. “Are we here to talk or are we here to drink?”

Despite this, Finns are apparently the happiest people in the world—maybe they just don’t tell you they’re miserable, because they never talk—apparently you can now rent a Finn to cheer you up—you’ll find this particularly enjoyable if you like a bit of peace and quiet.

My dentist recommended a book on solidarity, and since kindness is a word we seldom hear these days, I uttered a choking sound of agreement. The general argument is that humans are successful because of their social skills, interactions, and friendliness, rather than the usual narrative of aggression and competitive advantage.

The truth is, it’s both. There are anectodal accounts of soldiers refusing to fire their weapons, ranging from the American Civil War to World War II, and many other examples of social actions, including the Danish push to save their Jews from the Nazis.

There’s also a lot of cruelty—we see this everyday, from the Syrian deserts to the reported ethnic massacres in China.

The huge wealth disparity in society has prompted many studies on poverty, its causes, its consequences, and its remedies.

The author of Humankind presents an interesting take on the subject, at a time of ever increasing gaps.

To put this into historical perspective, consider the following: prior to the renaissance, Western Europe was divided into rich (nobles and high clergy) and poor (laborers and low clergy)—it’s true that there were three estates, but in financial terms they reduced to two.

Political pressure gave an emerging middle class a seat at the table, and through the centuries the seats multiplied, until that class (the commons) played an increasingly important role in governing nations—’professional’ classes such as lawyers, accountants, and doctors garnered increasing respect, and that translated into power.

Now we’re going back to medieval times—through a combination of financial asymmetry, artificial intelligence, and globalization, that middle class is rapidly disappearing—the hourglass effect.

But instead of re-balancing society, we’re providing compensation at the extremes. That makes an analysis of human kindness and friendliness, as a weapon to improve society, a very pleasant prospect.

One of the neatest experiments on the selection of a social gene deals with domestication—in the 1950s, Soviet scientists performed trials to turn the silver fox into a household pet.

The animals are bred for pelts in Siberia, and must be approached with extreme care—like other species of fox, they are cunning and aggressive.

Selecting for social traits—in essence friendliness—was all it took to turn a highly aggressive species into a gentle, tail-wagging creature.

The transition from Neandarthal to Homo puppy follows a similar path—our social nature has brought us to all the good places we know today.

Humans have never been healthier, wealthier, or safer, despite all the challenges discussed—yet every time we turn on the news or flick through Twitter, the emphasis is on all the awful things—as a consequence, most of us are brainwashed to believe we are going through the worst times yet.

The solution? Easy. Provided by populists everywhere. Instant happiness!

The Chinese have a proverb for that one too.

Be careful what you wish for, it may come true.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Miss American Pie

July 19, 2020

The great mysteries of human existence are two—life and death.

Of the two, life is by far the greater one for me, for a couple of reasons: the first is the biological basis for life, and there’s no greater wonder than biology. The second is because I am agnostic, which means I don’t know (a gnosis).

You can use that word in several contexts—like the terms ecosystem and DNA, which I see used in business and marketing—I still cringe when these two terms are used out of their core context, but I’ve come to comprehend that the general use of words such as virus means science becomes more mainstream, which is a good thing.

But agnostic, used by itself, denotes a religious context—many people think it means you don’t believe in God—in Islamic terms you’re a kuffar. This is incorrect—if you’re agnostic, you’re not sure, so I view death as the end of the mystery.

When life goes out of you, everything stops working against a gradient and descends into a state of randomness. What were once organs, tissues, and cells are reduced to molecules—going down that road releases energy—making money requires work, spending it doesn’t.

In that sense, life is a complex word—it stands for all the things that make you a living organism, which, as you know from grade school biology, are seven: growth, respiration, nutrition, excretion, reproduction, movement, senses.

I see these simple concepts from my childhood have graduated into more complicated definitions, such as ‘have complex chemistry’ and ‘are made up of cells’. So do antibiotics and prisons, and I don’t see a need to overthink it—when you teach kids, simple is best—they’ll have plenty of time for complications.

This cartoon from ourworldindata.org shows us how small we really are.

Humans only make up 0.01% of the earth’s biomass—jellyfish are almost double that. So it would be fair to say that practically no one on this planet has any concept of death—no other animals on god’s green earth (there’s that agnostic thing) know they will one day die.

Unless you’re ill, mentally or physically, you don’t typically have a death wish—and as we live longer, and understand better the forces in play between life and death, we start to wonder if it would be possible to know when that fateful day will be.

That raises the metaphysical issue of whether you want to know, or whether you prefer blissful ignorance. If you know you’re going to slip and break your leg tomorrow, how will that change your today?

Even if the other organisms, from bacteria to chimpanzees, were aware that they are finite, most species on earth fit somewhere along the food chain—at some point, these guys are going to get eaten, but neither a Brussels sprout nor a springbok knows when.

I may be destined to die in a plane crash, and if so I can’t predict when—although I’ve stood on the tarmac in Tangier and Tete and wondered if it was smart to get on that particular tin can.

But when it comes to dying ‘naturally’, whatever that means, there are quite a few predictive tools out there.

Governments, life and medical insurance companies, employers, and the military are some of the clients that come to mind.

Whoever manages you, or manages the risk of you, has a vested interest in knowing when you’re expected to kick the bucket. Back in the day, basic actuarial tables did the job—then mortality curves for a population began to be decomposed, if you excuse the pun, into men and women, black and white, rich and poor, fat and thin, tall and short, gay and straight, rural and urban, married and single, even happy and sad.

As soon as that much data are available, statisticians go into orgasm mode—you can calculate the probability of death of a short, gay guy who smiles a lot while feeding the chickens.

Death predictors are of course available on the internet.

Now, I caution you about this for two reasons. First, because I am specifically suggesting you don’t use them—although I did, since in order to write this article I needed a guinea pig—moi. Second, because I’m pretty sure the sites I tried harvest and share my data, including my IP, or internet location, which is unsettling.

If you search for ‘lifespan calculator web’, the first link you come across is, surprisingly enough, called Lifespan Calculator.

Amusingly, it tells you that how long you’ve lived is one of the best predictors for how long you may live. Note the may. If you tell them you’re forty-five, then the predictor knows you’ve lived at least forty-five years, which is pretty informative. I don’t suppose folks who’ve not lived that long go on the site much…

The calculator is run by Northwestern Mutual, an insurance company. I did pretty well on my run, or at least according to what they showed me. No nasty questions on cancers or Alzheimer’s to ruin it all, but a couple of questions on my driving record—I suspect those go straight to the motor insurance dept.

I also played around with a British site called Ubble. Their ‘longevity explorer’ politely enquired as to my cancer record, but didn’t give a damn about my BMI—they too seemed optimistic about my longevity, and estimated my age as anywhere between eleven and six years younger than the true number.

On the whole, my survey results made me suspicious—a pessimist is an optimist with experience.

Ubble has some cool stuff—they use a set of ten categories and their respective indicators. Categories include for instance early life factors and psychosocial factors. Some questions are better (usual walking pace) than others (number of days per week of moderate physical activity) at predicting death within five years. And some variables are better correlated with age (weekly usage of mobile phone in last 3 months) than others (salt added to food).

There is one way to solve the mystery of death, and perhaps of life itself—cryogenics. To explore those possibilities, I found my way to the Life Extension Foundation.

Alcor will freeze your body or your brain for a fee. Their focus is the United States and Canada—if you’re Chinese they charge an extra fifty thousand bucks—maybe they know something we don’t!

It’s not cheap to get frozen, and of course once they defrost you we’re not sure whether you’re destined for the oven or the barbecue.

Two hundred grand for the body, eighty grand for the brain. The inference is that your body will be pretty fucked anyhow when they bring you back, so you will literally need reincarnation—the word comes from the Latin carne (flesh)—buddy, they’re gonna re-meat ya!

So, when all that happens, you’ll find the answer to the second mystery. Do you have a soul, where is heaven, and what is hell.

For now, I’ll stick to the classic definition. Hell is a place where French are mechanics, Americans are lovers, and the English are cooks.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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