"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)

Sunday, 28 February 2010

An Open Letter To BBC DG Mark Thompson

Dear Mr Thompson,

I cannot adequately express how angry I am at the decision to axe 6 Music. Then when I read the reasons behind it, I fly into a rage at an even higher orbit.

If correctly reported your reasons for getting rid of the station are three fold:

1. You need to save money.
Is 6 Music really that expensive? If cuts need to be made why not start with BBC 3, hardly anyone has a good word for it outside of, er, well, the people at BBC 3. Yes, I know what you are going to say - "Gavin & Stacey". But surely if you want to try an untested new comedy programme you have BBC 2, the nursery of many brilliant and popular comedies that then found a home on BBC 1. The crass, lowest common denominator, bottom of the barrel programmes on BBC 3 ("My Life As An Animal" - seriously, what was going on there?) far out way the good, creative worthwhile programmes. How much more expensive is BBC 3 compared to 6 Music? You do the math.

2. Very few people know about the station and even fewer listen to it.
Well, whose fault is that then? While I'm inundated with trails for dancing celebrities and Eastenders, I do not see or hear any promotional trails for 6 Music outside of the station itself. I've seen huge posters in the streets for Chris Moyles, one single DJ on a radio station that everyone already knows about, but again nothing for 6 Music, an entire radio station. If 6 Music isn't getting the audience you wish it did, then I think you need to take responsibility for that one. And this is a situation that can be corrected simply by doing the right promotion.

3. Commercial radio will fill the gap.
This is the biggest mistake of all. No, commercial radio will not fill the gap. You and I both know how the commercial sector works. First they promise all kinds of wonderfully different and alternative listening to anything else that is out there currently. Then after a very short while, when they don't get the numbers of listeners they dreamed of and they never do, they panic and change to a much more mainstream sound. Eventually after a few name changes and take overs, there's no one left at the commercial station who knows anything about why the station was set up in the first place. All commercial radio sounds the same in the end, that is the fact of the commercial sector and should 6 Music be sold off into that sector then it too will go the way of all the other well intentioned radio stations in the market.

Surely, 6 Music is providing a public service by playing new and sometimes challenging music that is ignored by all the other stations, exactly what the BBC is meant to provide and does so well. If there is a BBC radio station that has a chance to survive and maybe thrive in the commercial sector it is Radio 1. Would I be correct in assuming that Radio 1 takes up more of the license payers money than 6 Music?

The plan to axe 6 Music is neither logical under your own criteria, or sensible. Having worked in radio myself, I know full well what happens in these situations. A show or station gets the axe. Loads of people complain. The complaints are ignored (after all, what do we know, we're only listeners?) and when the dust settles we all get on with our lives. But every time this happens we're all left just that little bit poorer for it. Except these days we all have the technology available to us to turn that hurt back to where it originated. Now we don't have to turn on the radio to hear the music we want (indeed, 6 Music aside, I can't hear the music I want on radio now anyway), instead we all have access to our own music libraries on our phones and on i-Pods. As radio increasingly fails to provide listeners with what they want, they will rely on technology to by pass radio altogether.

Perhaps that's your plan, after all you would save the BBC loads of money if you didn't have to bother making radio programmes at all.

In November 2002, the British public voted to find the Greatest Briton of all time. At 44 it was John Logie Baird, the inventor of television. At 43 it was John Peel. Chris Moyles was not in the top 50. Or the top 100. Actually, he didn't feature in it at all. What does that tell you Mr Thompson? There's a message there and I'm sure that even you can grasp it.

Please do not make the same mistake with 6 Music that Dr Beeching did with the railways, a decision we're all having to pay for now. Save 6 Music, otherwise, shame on you, shame on you.

Gary Smith

If you feel that 6 Music should not be axed by the BBC then please sign the peition http://www.petition.fm/petitions/6musicasiannet/1000/ and complain to the BBC https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/

Thank you.

Suggested listening: 6 Music http://www.bbc.co.uk/6music/

Friday, 26 February 2010

Stand And Deliver

I seem to have been signing a lot of online petitions lately.

There was the Simon Singh one about reform of the libel laws (see the blog for more info and links). I did a couple via the National Secular Society about getting the pope to pay for his own visit to the UK later this year (go to the NSS website for more on those). And today I did one about the BBC's plan to axe 6 Music ( see http://www.petition.fm/petitions/6musicasiannet/1000/ and also https://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/forms/ ).

On top of that I felt I had to send Ed Balls an e-mail about him caving in to the religious lobby on the teaching of sex education.

I've signed a number of petitions over the years, and made a stand on various issues big and small, although they all seemed big at the time. Sometimes I may have had a minor effect, I don't know but I suspect I've achieved very little by my actions. Increasingly there seems more to make a stand on, maybe that's just about getting old but with that increasing age comes the feeling that it has less and less effect and to be honest the fight is going out of me on a lot of issues.

I do feel slightly better for having made a principled stand on the things I believe in but at the end of the day am I any better off? I may have the respect of a few people I know for some of the things I've done but I've got no job, no money, and a house full of CDs that now even the BBC wouldn't bother playing.

Ultimately of course nothing any of us do is of any consequence whether it be signing a petition or invading a country. A hundred years from now will there be anyone who ever knew I was alive or know anything about what I did with my life? Certainly a thousand years from now there wont be. And ten thousand years from now will anything that has happened during our lifetimes have much bearing on the people of the world going about their daily lives? Blimey that's all a bit grim isn't it?

And really isn't that the point, it's what we do while we're alive, the stands and the choices we make that are important to us not about how posterity will judge it, because very few of us will leave a lasting memorial or any kind. Beethoven will almost certainly be remembered and his music live on as long a people like music; Jane Austin's books will probably always be read, as long as people have relationships with one another. But how many Prime Ministers can you name and of those you can, what do you actually know about them? American Presidents? Roman Emperors? Bronze age chieftains? Bronze age anyone?

No, most of us will not leave a lasting legacy, I shan't even leave anything for the gene pool as I have no children (my choice and I'm happy with it). No, it's about making the most of your life as best you can, signing that petition and making that stand and doing what you believe to be right and trying to make as comfortable a life as you can for your self and your loved ones. Probably.

Suggested listening: "Merz" by Merz

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #6

I quite like minimal colour combinations. It started when I thought about doing a painting in black and white, which lead on to the blue and white one, and then the red, black and white one. I think I'll do more like these. This first one is simply called "Blanquinegro #1" which I think means "black and white coloured" but really it's lots of shades of grey. Yeah, whatever.

This one is called "Está Vivo" which means "It's Alive". It's a reference to Frankenstein of course but I like the way the skull came out looking a bit like a map of Africa, the place where we all come from. Yeah, all very deep and meaningful I'm sure.

And this is probably my favourite of the works I've done so far. It came about because I wanted to use black and white cheques in a pitcure, hence the current working title "Cheques #1". I've included the phrase "How beautiful is the world, it is a pity that I must die" again, it's a theme I'll keep returning to.

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #5

These are 4 small pictures, again acrylic on canvas, and kind of go together although the sun kept going in and out when I was taking these photos so it doesn't look like they have the same background colour, but they do. They don't have titles as yet.

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #4

In keeping with the Mexican theme of the Day of the Dead I try and incorporate some words of Spanish in some of the works. This one even has a Spanish title "La última Paja" which I'm hoping translates as "The Last Straw". Acrylic on canvas.

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #3

Here’s a piece called “It Is A Pity That I Must Die”, and is acrylic on canvas. The title comes from something I read in a book about the Day of the Dead “How beautiful is the world, it is a pity that I must die” a rather sad but true sentiment.

And back to painting on wood, this time it's acrylic, a cut up dollar bill and foil. It's called "Win 410" and named for the number on the shell casing you'll find in the middle of the striped star. There are 50 stars altogether, one for each of the 50 States which make up the United States of America. It's not really making a statement, I just liked it visually. I'm think I've heard somewhere that cutting up dollar bills is a federal offence. I'm hoping I'm wrong about that.

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #2

This piece "Red Star Robot" is acrylic on wood, incorporating a reclaimed bathroom fitting for the "emoto-switch". In this picture it's set to "evil" but you can change the setting on the actual painting to "good". Like "El Bandito" there is text to go with the painting.

Carson’s Robotics: The Cactus County Robot Factory

The people of Cactus County are enthusiastic about new technologies and passionate about NASA and space exploration. Why is this?

Although at best details are sketchy, Carson’s Robotics [formerly Carson’s Blacksmith & Stables] is known to have some pivotal involvement in space exploration, supplying equipment, knowhow and people to NASA. Ask someone from Carson’s exactly what they do and they’ll tell you they “make robots” but you won’t get much else out of them. Much of the work undertaken by the Carson’s workforce is top secret, and though a warm and friendly people in Cactus County, they do not like talking about what happens inside Carson’s Robot Factory.

Carson’s most controversial robot to date was the “Red Star” robot range. “Red Star” robots were fitted with a front mounted “emoto-switch”, a device intended to replicate human emotions. However, developmental problems resulted in only two workable settings, “good” and “evil”.

Whilst in the “good” setting a “Red Star” robot was a boon in the home and workplace. However, it was found to be troublesome when set to “evil”. After an attempt by several robots to take over control of the earth and enslave all humankind, it was decided to withdraw “Red Star” robots from service until further R & D in automated emotional responses could be undertaken by the Carson’s team. All robots already in general circulation were recalled.

However, there are rumours that one “Red Star” robot escaped the recall and crossed the border into Mexico. No-one at Carson’s will comment on this.

More of The Folk Art Of Cactus County later.

The Folk Art Of Cactus County part #1

I freely admit that I am not what you might call a natural artist, so anything I do in my rather naive fashion would have to be placed under the “outsider art” category. I don’t have a problem with that. I’m making it up as I go along and it works for me.

Inspired by Cactus County’s tradition of rationalist outsider art, I’ve created some pieces around El Dia De Los Muertos, or The Day Of The Dead, a popular event in Cactus County celebrated by the inhabitants without all the religious overtones experienced in most other places.

This first piece is called "Folk Art Of Cactus County" and is acrylic on wood.

This second piece is called "El Bandito" and represents the infamous 19th Century Cactus County bandit of the same name. Again acrylic on wood, this piece also contains a bullet shell casing, a feature of a number of the pieces I’ve been working on. This was the first picture I did that also incorporated a written work to go with it. Here’s the text and the picture:

One of Cactus County’s most notorious and colorful characters was El Bandito. Riding with a band of outlaws known as “The Bad Men” during the late 1800’s, El Bandito was wanted for cattle rustling, holding up trains and stage coaches, robbing banks, and flouting local bylaws on riders being responsible for clearing up horse droppings along the town’s main street.

Not once during his scandalous profession did he kill anyone. While he himself said this was because he respected other people’s right to life, some members of The Bad Men reported later that it was just because he was a terrible shot. “He was one of the quickest draws I ever saw,” said Tuco Ramirez, one of The Bad Men, “But he was easily the worst shot in the Old West. He couldn’t hit a cow at ten paces. A nice guy though, good to his horse and a damn good cook. His chilli was better than my own mother used to make. Most of us stayed in the gang just for his cooking. He liked to think he was a rough tough outlaw, but really he was a much better cook than a bandit.”

El Bandito didn’t remain an outlaw, though what happened to him is uncertain. Some say he was bit by a snake and died. But after the gang split up, Tuco remembers visiting a saloon in Cactus County called “The Red Hand”, a low down dirty joint with a reputation for violence and good but simple food. “I ate a bowl of chilli there one time and it was better than my mothers. I only know one man who could cook like that.”

That’s it for now, I’ll be posting more of my outsider art shortly.

On The Origins Of Cactus County

Situated somewhere in the State of New Mexico is the fictional community of Cactus County. It’s the smallest county in New Mexico, smaller even than Los Alamos, made up of just three towns, Cactus, Darwin and Evolution.

Cactus County was established in 1900 by a community of rationalists, free thinkers, atheists and scientists who, a decade earlier, had settled in the small town of Cactus, a rest stop on a stage coach route set in what was to become New Mexico. They came from all over America and other parts of the world, looking for a place to reside where they could live and work free from the constraints of a society bound by religious dogma and entrenched thinking. Cactus seemed to be the ideal location for the settlement; out of the way, sparsely populated and with an ideal climate.

The existing residents were more than happy to have their little town bolstered by new inhabitants whose idea of a good time wasn’t to shoot the place up and steal everything in sight, as had been the chosen activities of many visitors to the area before now. Shortly after their arrival, the newcomers arranged a town meeting with the existing populous to explain who they were, what they believed in and what they hoped to achieve by moving there. Though unsure of many of their new ideas and uncertain about so many “religious free” people taking over, the locals were desperate for their own little community to survive, so they put aside any misgivings they may have had and warmly welcomed the newcomers.

In 1890 Cactus was comprised of little more than a small saloon, a small general store, a small blacksmiths & stable and a dozen or so small homes. A small silver mine a little ways outside the town had promised much but delivered very little in the way of silver. Some of the settlers located here rather than the town itself after finding evidence that the mine, though short on silver, was rich in other minerals. Finally, and a short while after the first two settlements had been established, a third settlement was built a short distance from both Cactus and the mine (later to be the town of Evolution following the discovery of ancient fossils in the mine), far enough away from the disturbance of general town life, where a large telescope could be built and operated. This became the town of Darwin, now the home of the county’s university.

By the end of the decade, Cactus became the administrative centre for the three towns and it was decided to declare the area a county in its own right. Thus Cactus County was born as a new century dawned. In honour of Charles Darwin, a great hero of the community for his discovery of the fact of evolution, the people decided to celebrate the area’s new county status by commissioning it’s first piece of public art, a statue of the great man himself. The county now boasts more statues of Darwin than anywhere else in the world.

Over the years the good reputation of Cactus County spread, drawing in new inhabitants who sympathised with the county’s philosophy and way of life. An unexpected benefit of the more relaxed atmosphere and open minded attitude of the populous was the attraction to the area of the artistic and creative as well as the more scientifically minded. The county began to gain a reputation for its art as well as it’s science, making for a more well rounded and generally more fulfilled existence for everyone.

There were some outside the locality who believed it their duty to bring religion to the “godless heathens” of Cactus County and filled with missionary zeal they preached and built places of worship. However, many of those missionaries became exposed to rationalism for the first time and found themselves convinced it was they who were mistaken in believing in the supernatural. Many became atheists. Those that didn’t found they made no headway at all and soon packed up and left, leaving a small number of empty churches, mosques, temples and synagogues, all of which in time found a more rational function, becoming libraries, museums, art galleries and even music venues.

Today the majority of people in Cactus County continue to live lives of rational, free thinking, atheists, keen on science, education and the arts, who see themselves as very patriotic Americans. Its citizens have a diverse ethnic and cultural background but most everyone shares similar rational philosophies. Many people work at Darwin’s university with its telescope and small but effective particle accelerator, or the mine or Carson’s Robotics Factory at Evolution, or in Cactus itself, where people go for entertainment and to purchase supplies. The county also boasts many fine artists, and with everyone encouraged to be creative, the area boasts a strong tradition of folk art.

I myself have been inspired to create some "outsider art" and I will display some of it here on this blog shortly.

Charlie Brown

So with the Constellation programme gone for a Burton, I’m taking my consolation in the enduring appeal of Apollo and its predecessors Mercury and Gemini. My childhood fascination with all things space never left me but it is only in the last couple of years that I’ve taken a fresh look at it and started doing the research to find out as much as I can. So far so good, I’ve read a number of astronaut biographies and autobiographies, plus a few other books around and about the subject of Apollo; watched countless programmes about it all on TV (and then bought the DVDs); celebrated what I called “Moon Day” last year on the anniversary of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon by eating an astronauts breakfast (steak and eggs) and watching more moon related TV programmes, all day (it was brilliant, I’m making this an annual event); and filled scrapbooks and note books with much spaceyness. I also plan to make a few space related pieces of art, the first of which is now in the early design stage.

Obviously I would love to visit the Kennedy Space Centre someday but till then we have a real piece of space history in the form of Apollo hardware right here in the UK. The Command Module, named Charlie Brown, from Apollo 10’s mission to the moon is on display at the Science Museum in London. I haven’t been to see it yet, I’m hoping to go later this year. I’m reading Gene Cernan’s autobiography at the moment, he was the Lunar Module Pilot on Apollo 10 and later the Commander on Apollo 17, the last of the Apollo moon missions. Cernan was the last person to walk on the moon. At this rate he’ll remain so for some time to come, and it maybe that the Chinese will be the next people to set foot there, so he’ll be the last American on the moon. Time will tell how that pans out.

While Cernan’s Apollo 17 trip saw him spend 3 days living and working on the moon with fellow astronaut Harrison Schmitt, his Apollo 10 mission was the final test mission before the actual landing of Apollo 11 a couple of months later. With Commander Thomas Stafford, he took the Lunar Module, named Snoopy, to just under 10 miles from the lunar surface in a dry run of the Apollo 11 flight. So near and yet so far.

I can’t get enough of all this. You’d think that reading similar astronaut stories would get all a bit samey, but each book, each man’s story, reveals more about the times, their lives, and what it was like to make those desperately dangerous, first steps. And each time I’m reminded of an optimistic child of Apollo who saw the moon and space as his due destination, a legacy from those men who took those pioneering journeys from the earth to the moon, and back. Although ultimately this was a dream unfulfilled, it was a nice dream and one that still excites, inspires and brings wonder to that child now grown.

Suggested reading: “The Last Man On The Moon” by Gene Cernan and Don Davis

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Petition For Libel Law Reform

I thought you might like to see this message from Simon Singh and hopefully you’ll add your name to the petition below:

“As you know, England’s chilling libel laws need to be reformed. One way to help achieve this is for 100,000 people to sign the petition for libel reform before the political parties write their manifestos for the election. We have 17,000 signatures, but we really need 100,000, and we need your help to get there.

My idea is simple: if everyone who has already signed up persuades just one more person each week to sign the petition then we will reach our goal within a month!

One person per week is all we need, but please spread the word as much as you can. In fact, if you persuade 10 people to sign up then email me (simon@simonsingh.net) and I promise to thank you by printing your name in my next book … which I will start writing as soon as I have put my own libel case behind me. I cannot say when this will be, but it is a very real promise. My only caveat is that I will limit this to the first thousand people who recruit ten supporters.

When persuading your friends remember to tell them:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (and public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (In fact, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Three separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and two medical researchers raising concerns about three medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns? If these health matters are not reported, then the public is put at risk.

My experience has been sobering. I’ve had to spend £100,000 to defend my writing and have put my life on hold for almost two years. However, the prospect of reforming our libel laws keeps me cheerful.

Thanks so much for your support. We’ve only got one shot at this – so I hope you can persuade 1 (or maybe 10) friends, family and colleagues to sign.”

There Is No God

Two blogs in one day, I’m on a roll. My friend Tessa gave me some of these stickers last week (above). They’re in response to those watered down bus adverts that say there “probably” isn’t a god. As I understand it, they had to have that wording, as the advertising standards people wouldn’t allow it to say “there is no god”. There’s no such constraint with these stickers though. So, armed with this message of the good news, I’ll stick them in appropriate places as I come across them.

I’ve been an atheist for ages now but in the last few years I’ve become more militant about it. And Yvette Fielding is partly to blame.

Since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by science and the so called paranormal. I even went through a slight christian phase as a teenager. Over the years I believed less and less in those things which didn’t stand up to scrutiny but it all came to a head when I started watching Most Haunted with Yvette Fielding. It was a great show to start with, very entertaining and at the time, with an open mind, I willingly suspended my disbelief. After watching about 3 series of the team visit the most haunted homes in the UK and not once, NOT ONCE actually filming a ghost, the last vestiges of belief in the supernatural were swept from my mind. Suddenly everything was much clearer without all that supernatural baggage; a revelation equal to a religious conversion? Maybe, but it certainly confirmed and strengthened my atheism.

Now, of course, every time I hear someone like the bishop of here there and everywhere giving his opinion on everything from condoms to the banking crisis, it just makes me angry. Why is his opinion given such credence in the media? It’s because ethics is equated with religion but the two do not go hand in hand. For instance, is it wrong to take a person’s life because god says it is, because you believe you will go to hell or just because it’s plain wrong and pretty much every society on the planet has outlawed it whatever the religion or lack of it in the country? Tests have shown that some animals display moral decision making but a test has yet to show that any animal has a religious belief system. Ethics and morals do not come from religion, it’s the reverse. You simply do not need religion to have morals or ethics. And more and more the religious are shown to be less and less moral after all; suicide bombers, homophobia, the churches covering up of widespread child abuse, etc.

Anyway, I don’t mind what they say in church but why are they on TV and the radio all the time? Belief in the supernatural, in miracles, in virgins giving birth should be disbarment from such public speaking every bit as much as giving air time to someone who persisted in believing the tooth fairy was a reality but had something important to say about sexual education being taught in schools.

I joined the National Secular Society a few years back, they’re great at countering religious nonsense in the media. They also fight religious privilege wherever it rears its ugly, interfering head, which is in a lot more places than you might think. It’s quite disturbing how much unelected “people of faith” have sway over our society and directly in government; for example, unelected bishops sit in the House of Lords and get a vote! Anyway, it really bugs me. I encourage all free thinking people to join the NSS, their website is

So, apart from Yvette Fielding being an unwitting conduit out of believing in the supernatural, other things that might point one in the direction of rationalism might include...

Shelley – have a read of this from Shelley’s “The Necessity of Atheism” about god – “If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him? If he is just, why fear that he will punish the creatures that he has filled with weaknesses? If grace does everything for them, what reason would he have for recompensing them? If he is all-powerful, how offend him, how resist him? If he is reasonable, how can he be angry at the blind, to whom he has given the liberty of being unreasonable? If he is immovable, by what right do we pretend to make him change his decrees? If he is inconceivable, why occupy ourselves with him? If he has spoken, why is the universe not convinced? If the knowledge of a god is the most necessary, why is it not the most evident and the clearest?” That’s pretty conclusive don’t you think?

Evolution – It just speaks volumes that creationists do everything they can do discredit both evolution and Darwin short of providing any actual counter evidence that stands up to scrutiny. They really are ignorant about how evolution works too. No we are not descended from chimps, but we do both share a common ancestor. Get it right.

Miracles - there may be piles of crutches at Lourdes but you’ll find no piles of prosthetic limbs or bowls of glass eyes. And why do people “thank god” for curing them but they don’t blame him for making them ill in the first place?

UFOs (OK, not strictly speaking the supernatural but it has some relevance I think) - there are many forms of natural atmospheric optical phenomena that describe exactly what people experience when they “see” ufos. Also, once you know more about the size of the universe and the massive distances between worlds, you’d understand that if an alien did come all that way, they’re not going to abduct some redneck just to stick a probe up his rear end. Surely, they’d want more out of the trip than that, wouldn’t you? Anyway, if naturally occurring phenomena can answer the ufo question, then maybe it can also answer questions about other so called supernatural phenomena? I think it can.

There’s loads more but I’ve got a roast dinner to prepare, so that will have to do for now. I’m certain this is a subject I will return to. I’ll leave you with this thought: Atheism, it clears the brain of religious clutter and helps you see the world more clearly. There’s certainly no god, so stop worrying and enjoy your life!

Suggested reading: “50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God” by Guy P. Harrison

Music For Pleasure

It’s very strange, now that I have this blog I feel the need to keep writing for it. There was nothing stopping me writing before I had a blog, or if I wanted to expose my meandering thoughts to a potential world wide audience I could have started a blog sooner. I don’t understand this need entirely but as I have it, here’s today’s thought.

It’s a given that music is a wonderful thing that enriches our lives. That ability of a performer or performers to move both the body and affect the emotions of another at the same time; to be able to express emotions, feelings, moods, tell of events both momentous and mundane, to describe the extraordinary and the everyday, to communicate idle thoughts and lofty ideas, all to a melody that can that effect you so deeply at a personal level that you can carry that song with you in your head for the rest of your life. Well, what’s not to like? Of course, music can also be so incredibly dull and devoid of any real emotion and lacking in true talent that it has no effect on you at all. However, for me, music like that does bring strong emotions out in me, mostly frustration and anger that such mindless, soulless drivel get’s repeated exposure on the radio.

Here I have to declare an interest as until last year I worked on radio. I say worked, over a ten year period I was never actually paid anything but very modest expenses (not in an MP way, I wish!) to do my show, but that’s a blog for another time maybe. My broadcasting buddy Richard and I produced and presented a new “alternative music” show. I got to hear a lot of new music, some of it wasn’t all that good, but a majority of it was astounding and it was a pleasure and a privilege to hear it and in some cases give it an airing on radio. Many of my most favourite bands and tracks now are things I discovered during my time on radio (I was going to list some here but it would take ages and I’d feel guilty if I left some out in favour of others, so no list). But all this great music just gets overlooked during “daytime” radio in favour of tracks we’ve all heard ten thousand times before as well as the latest reality TV zombie who no one will remember a year from now.

All this music is chosen for the airwaves by clueless individuals who care nothing for music and know nothing about radio, or at least the potential of what radio could be. With the exception of the occasional show like the one I used to do, pretty much all daytime radio spews out the exact same music over and over again, often with no regard for the music itself and certainly underestimating their audience as a matter of course. And don’t be so naive as to believe it’s the DJs who pick the music, that doesn’t happen on daytime, they’re not allowed. Oh, the stories I could tell you, but I’ll just give you this one example.

While I was at a station called Star in Bristol, the 19 year old music programmer (yes, 19, don’t ask how he got the job) gave me a pile of CDs he couldn’t use for daytime including the latest Jimi Hendrix compilation. “Brilliant, thanks” I said, “Hendrix, fantastic.” “Who’s that then?” says the person in charge of selecting music for the radio station. “Who’s Hendrix?” I say incredulously, “You don’t know who Jimi Hendrix is?” OK, he was 19, but I knew who Jimi Hendrix was when I was 19 and remember, this person is in charge of choosing all the music for a radio station. We never got to play any Hendrix on Star during the day but Baltimora’s “Tarzan Boy” came up regularly. Clueless. It didn’t get much better at the BBC.

Anyway, that’s all sour grapes under the bridge. The legacy of my years on radio is a house full of CDs. At the time of doing the show I didn’t often get to hear much music just for pleasure, as I always had a huge pile of new stuff to go through. If I did find something I really liked I might get to hear it a couple of times before I played it on the show, and maybe again afterwards when I did some live DJing, but other than that, that was usually it, as I had to move on to the next thing. It was relentless but that was the job. I held on to a lot of CDs just in case I needed them for the show again in the future. Now of course, I have plenty of time and no new stuff coming in but I still don’t hear much just for the pleasure of it at the moment as I’m going right through the collection deciding what to keep and what to discard. It is a mammoth job but worth doing as I’m reclaiming a lot of space in the house again, and when it’s done I’ll have loads of great music to listen to. And maybe one day I’ll get a chance to do another radio show playing all the great tracks that should have got more air time when they first came out but didn’t. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get paid for doing it.

Suggested listening: “Whenever You’re Ready” by Swell

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Virtually There

Let's light this candle!

I'm entering the blogosphere at long last. I've never been able to keep a diary for more than two days so I don't expect to be writing something here every day, however, the occasional missive, musing and rant will appear when I get round to it.

So why am I here doing this? Partly inspired by my partner, who blogs quite often and writes in her journal every day. Partly inspired by my brother, who since the end of last year (2009) has been blogging almost every day. And partly because while other social networking sites come and go, the blog goes on regardless. I shall try and do the same.

Todays thought. The cancellation of the Constellation Programme by President Obama is still hitting me rather hard. It looks like I shan't see people walking on the surface of the moon again in my lifetime. I suppose the Chinese might do it and maybe future US Presidents may want to boldly go to the moon once more but for now, things are looking bleak. Congress may not agree and change the plans back again and NASA is continuing to work on Constellation till the end of this financial year, so there is a small glimmer of hope, but I'm not holding my breath.

For me, there is far more to manned space flight, and in particular a manned moon landing, than just the doing of it, terrestrial technological offshoots and national pride for the Americans; it's bigger than that, it's for all of us and it's about human progression and advancement as a species; it's about reaching out to the unknown and making it knowable; it's something positive and wonderful that enriches those of us that will never have the oportunity to make that journey ourselves; and it's about what we can find out about ourselves and our home planet as much as it is about discovering what's out there.

Yes, there are problems here on earth that need solving and that costs money but that is always going to be the case and let's be honest, it's subjective as to how that money can be better spent. We could make it possible that no one on this earth will ever be hungry again, or go without medical care, and that everyone gets a decent education but how many of us are willing to make that happen in reality? We could demand of our politicians that these things happen but in the US a large portion of the population aren't even willing to pay a little extra for health care for their own people! OK, before I go off too far into rant country I'll return to the point.

I was really looking forward to Constellation ushering in a new era of excitement about space and generating a renewed sense of interest in science. Some hope, I know, but it might have happened. NASA will still be there and there will be exciting and thrilling space adventures taking place, just not with people on the moon. I'll get over it and I will, we all will, still have Apollo to look up to and inspire us.

Suggested reading: "Carrying The Fire" the autobiography of Michael Collins, Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot.