Saturday, 25 August 2012

Hadda Be Streamed Over Spotify

My European soverign-debt crisis reimagining of Alan Ginsberg's epic and visceral poem Hadda Be Playin' On The Jukebox. Enjoy!

Hadda Be Streamed Over Spotify

It had to be promulgated by the Daily Mail
It had to be recorded on Sky+
It had to be derided on Top Gear
It had to be played on your smartphone
Goldman Sachs & the IMF are in Cahoots

It had to be written in text speak
It had to be rerecorded for a US audience
Obama stretched & smiled & got double-crossed by House and Senate Republicans
Rich bankers with zero accountability
Money launderers in ECB working with money launderers from UK working with Wall Street syndicates Downtown New York

It had to be searchable on Google
It had to be endorsed by the record company
It had to be written in one hundred and forty characters or less
It had to be formatted for mobile
It had to be kettled in the park where students were protesting
It had to be read by politicians to TV cameras in working class areas
It had to be available as an app
It had to work as an emoticon
It had to raise the fees for a University education
It had to be written in blog posts, unattributed
It had to be on the frontpage of the Huffington Post
It had to be watched on Fox News
It had to be shouted out loud on in-store radio
It had to be uploaded to YouTube
It had to be iPhone ringing, Reality stars stop dead in the middle of a scene in New Jersey
It had to be novelist philosopher Ayn Rand & Alan Greenspan Chairman of the Federal Reserve meeting in East 36th Street N.Y. together Saturdays since the 50’s reported posthumously VICE magazine

It had to be the IMF & Goldman Sachs together
Started War on Greek insolvency & Spanish housing debt crisis headlines
It had to be Credit Ratings Agencies & the IMF
Sold all that austerity in Europe
It had to be ECB & Conservative Politicians working together in Cahoots "against the Socialists"
Kept Silvio Berlusconi out of Jail economising Sicily Mediterranean drug trade
It had to be Goldman goons and Lucas Papademos’ concealing spiralling national debt credit default swap index
It had to be ringing on Cayman Island Cash registers
World-wide laundry for off-shore Corporate money
It had to be IMF & Goldman Sachs & ECB together
Bigger than Europe, bigger than Law.
It had to be a stamped boot full of profit
It had to be secrets and lies a solid mass of greed
It had to be a cold black heart, a glint in the corner of an eye
It had to be in Draghi’s brain
It had to be in Monti's mouth
It had to be sanctioned by America
Wall Street "conservatism" the IMF Goldman Sachs off-shore money ECB Credit Ratings Agencies & Multinational Corporations
One big set of Corporate gangs working together in Cahoots
Hedge Fund banksters everywhere unmoderated, on the make
Greed drunk
Filthy Rich

On top of a Slag heap of countries, Economic Cancer, financial smog, garbage cities, grandas' pensions, Fathers' resentments
It had to be the One Percent wanted money and power and they got everything
Wanted redefined status quo, wanted Ireland, wanted austerity
Wanted Spanish unemployment
Wanted technocracies in Greece and Italy

It had to be IMF & Goldman Sachs & the ECB
Multinational Capitalists' privatised public services, "Private security Agencies for the One Percent"
And their Funds, Debts and Futures Commodities Trading.
It had to be Capitalism the Vortex of this debt, provoke competition man to man, libraries closed in poor areas, London burns & rumbles, Hedge Funds, austerity cuts across oceans, impoverishing Mediterraneans, bail out the debt then Wall Street Traders pillage all over again
Greece's ancient democracy bumped off with IMF promises & praises, a warning to European governments

Politicians embraced for decades
The Federal Reserve & ECB keep each other’s secrets
Goldman Sachs & Standard and Poor’s never hit their own
Wall Street & IMF one mind-brute force
World-wide, and full of money

It had to be greed, It had to be unaccountable, It had to be endorsed at the highest levels
It had to impoverish in Greece 9,000,000
It had to impoverish in Spain 47,000,000
It had to impoverish in Portugal
It had to impoverish in Italy
It had to impoverish in Ireland

And It had to impoverish in the United Kingdom

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Looking Forward Uncertainly

So, I thought it was about time I explained why I called my blog Looking Forward Uncertainly.

Before I can do that, you probably need to know (if you don't already) that I'm a musician and have been in a band called Capulets for, well, quite some time. We've been a bit off and on over the last couple of years as after our last drummer moved to Scotland, my main collaborator in the band, Pete, rather unreasonably decided to both do an MA and get married. Despite these testing circumstances, Pete and I have managed to keep things ticking over in the background on days when he wasn't reading, psychoanalysing or deciding what kind of flowers went with bridesmaid's dresses. Hopefully we're now starting to get things back on track, so watch this space, so to speak.

So, why Looking Forward Uncertainly? Well, it's the title of a song of mine, written back in 2007, on a melancholic train journey heading Northward out of London and a late night a week or so later.

The title itself actually came from an article I read in some free literary magazine I picked up in Soho (remember those?), in which it was printed in massive blue letters across a whole page for no apparent reason. I liked it so much I pinned it to my fridge and kept trying to find a use for it in things I was writing. In the end, it just seemed to fit perfectly with this song, so I stole it wholesale for the title.

As an expression though, "looking forward uncertainly" seems to encapsulate something of what I perceive as the current mood and of the both the hope and the doubt that we feel when trying imagine or understand how the future might pan out. When I started this blog, those are the ideas I wanted to explore, so it seemed like a good opportunity to steal the expression all over again.

The song Looking Forward Uncertainly, however, addresses a topic a little closer to my heart and while I don't want to give too much away (the meaning is in the eye of the beholder, after all), I will say that it's a bit of rare one for me, in that I don't often write about myself and, well, like I said, I was a bit melancholic at the time...

I've added the lyrics in down below and you can listen to the original version of the song via the soundcloud link at the bottom (recorded in one take at about 3am on the night I wrote it). Enjoy!

Looking Forward Uncertainly

Tonight I dream of the radio telescopes
Giving me hope
I imagine a Universe
A coil, spiralling upwards

I could dream of the future, but I can't find something useful
Leonard Cohen sang Hallelujah, but it don't mean anything to you

You're drifting away
You're drifing through space

Telescopes from this moment on
And if I look in the same direction
Then I can see what they can see
The future mapped out in front of me

I could dream of the future, but I can't find something useful
Leonard Cohen sang Hallelujah, but it don't mean anything to you

You're drifting away
You're drifing through space

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


This is a blues riff in "B", watch me for the changes, and try and keep up, okay?


Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away,
I’d never heard the word austerity,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Suddenly, I'm not half to man I used to be,
Recession’s shadow hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Why we have to grow, I don't know, economically,
We did something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Yesterday, debt was just a banker’s game to play,
Europe’s leaders declared fait accompli,
Oh, I believe in yesterday.

Why we have to grow, I don't know, economically,
We did something wrong, now I long for yesterday.

Uh, I guess you guys aren't ready for that yet. But your kids are gonna love it.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A Trip To The Future (To Reflect On The Present)

The other day I chanced upon a website that once I’d started reading, I found almost impossible to stop and lost several hours of my Saturday morning in the process. is exactly that, a timeline of the future, kicking off in the year 2000, taking a year by year trip through the 21st Century and then onwards into the far distant future. Rather than being a completely imagined journey, the site bases each prediction on at least one source and, with a little creative interpretation, extrapolates from there (although unfortunately in at least one instance, the source is the Daily Mail – but you have to take the rough with the smooth!).

FutureTimeline’s view of the future is in equal parts incredible, hopeful and terrifying. Being based on loose science fact, rather than entirely science fiction, theirs is not a future in which humanity is exonerated from its own responsibility, but for all the doom and gloom about the environmental impacts of our current way of life, there are equally as many optimistic predictions about our ability to manage these changes and, at least for some of us, to overcome them.

I won’t go into too much detail about the world that they predict (or the predictions that go way beyond our world) but the overall synopsis goes a little something like this: The early part of the 21st Century combines the technological advances made possible by the digital revolution, driving progress in all the major sciences, with the fading of what we could refer to as industrial times. Climate change and resource scarcity provoke conflicts across the globe, particularly in the Middle East and the ever warming Arctic. Throughout the 2030’s and 2040’s we start to break the back of renewable energy with fusion power finally becoming a reality and advances in computer sciences such as quantum computing bring about the dawn of artificial intelligences. This doesn’t help the ever worsening environmental situations in Africa and Asia, which cause food shortages, climate refugees and ever deepening political instability.

Somewhere in the 2050’s we not only land a man on Mars but start to plan our first settlements there, which many of the developed world’s citizens experience through neuroscience-enhanced virtual reality, which is rapidly changing people’s day to day lives. The 2060’s and 2070’s are ravaged by the effects of climate change but with a stable worldwide population and environmentally focused industry and energy generation, extinction rates start to peak. Advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and medical techniques lead to an increasingly blurred distinction between humans and machines and as the century draws to a close the average human will bear little resemblance to those of the end of the previous century (many of whom would still be alive).

The 22nd Century begins much like the last one ends, with environmental disaster and technological advancement completely transforming the planet. Whilst virtually all industry and energy is sustainable, the positive feedback loops triggered in the previous century feed ever greater ecological change. By this time, scientific advancement happens so rapidly that it would exceed the comprehension of 20th century minds and what we would call AI takes over as the predominant decision making force on the planet. Towards the end of the century, humanity has established itself across the local solar system and the environmental catastrophes on Earth finally start to abate. After this somewhat staggering journey, FutureTimeline understandably opts to let the predictions drift off into our science fiction future and provides only a loose narrative for what happens next.

The thing I loved about FutureTimeline, and the reason I’m recommending it, is that it seems to provide something that is missing from our early 21st Century consciousness. For most of us, our current view of the future tends to be relatively short term thinking, without too much concern given to that happening outside of the next few years. Even with the ever darkening cloud of environmental issues, which I think it would be fair to say that the majority of us feel extremely concerned about (and if you aren’t, then you’re in for a bit of a surprise), our thinking tends to be focused on the immediate or forthcoming effect, rather than that on the world of future generations. FutureTimeline, whilst being fun to read (although in a somewhat alarming way), is also a welcome and accessible change to that way of thinking, creating a story of things yet to come that leads us back to thinking about how today’s world might turn out.

When I say that that FutureTimeline provides something that’s missing, what most makes me think this is a rather fond memory of a book I owned as a child. The Usborne Book of The Future was perhaps my favourite book growing up and, much like FutureTimeline, provided a compelling narrative as to how the world might yet develop. As is almost always the case with any sort of predictions, while some of the UBoTF’s estimates weren’t too bad, I think it’s unlikely that the 2020 Olympics will be held on the Moon, space mirrors aren’t providing us night-time lighting and the prevalence of fully electric cars is about 30 years behind schedule - I’m sure many of FutureTimeline’s predictions will end up the same way. Also, amusingly with hindsight, UBoTF missed many of the things we would now take for granted (an obvious contender being no mention of the Internet) and many of its other ideas come across with almost twee Buck Rogers nostalgia, like the apparent desire for everyone to wear unitards!

To complain about the accuracy of the predictions would be to miss the whole point though. Obviously no-one really knows what the future will be like and any serious attempt at guessing can only be made with a hefty pinch of salt. The point of predicting the future is not to be correct but to inspire people to think about what could be done. Growing up, I dreamed of a future with robots and spaceships, solar energy and moonbases. Some of these things are now becoming a reality because others like myself imagined these kinds of futures and tried to think of ways to make them happen. To me, FutureTimeline drew me back into this almost nostalgic view of the future, of a world to come of both terrible and incredible events, and gave me just that little bit of inspiration to do something about it. FutureTimeline is a fun ride, a scary ride, and at the same time, a rather worthy one.

After a little digging, it seems you can download your own PDF copy of the Usborne Book of The Future here, which I heartily encourage you to do. It’s virtually impossible to find in print these days (well, for less than about £20) so should you ever chance upon a “real” copy, then snap it up (or at least let me know and I will).

Monday, 30 January 2012

"It's not who you're sharing with, it's who you're sharing as"

A few days ago, Ben Goldacre, science writer/doctor and Bad Science columnist for the Guardian, posted an article on his blog expressing his concerns about Spotify's relatively recent integration with Facebook, sharing the music you're listening to, as you listen to it, via your Facebook profile (and since I started writing this, it seems that fellow Guardian contributor Charlie Brooker has taken similar umbrage).

Goldacre's main point is that, rather than Spotify asking you what you'd like to share, it assumes a default position of sharing everything, all the time. Whilst you can turn these features off, he argues, to do so is unnecessarily complicated and once done, resets itself back to sharing again next time you log in. As he points out in his examples, there are certainly circumstances in which you may not want be sharing music, as your choices would tend to reflect your general mood (e.g. publicising the fact you just listened to Michael Bolton's "When I'm Back On My Feet Again" fourteen times because you just got unceremoniously dumped). His examples are useful, but it seems to me there are wider implications to be considered.

Without reading through Spotify's End User Licensing Agrement in detail, I'm making an assumption, but I would have thought that the terms and conditions of the agreement allow you to consume music for personal use, which would therefore entitle you to broadcast Spotify's music (i.e. not through headphones) throughout your home. This would mean that people who were not you, such as your family or housemates, were essentially getting to listen to the music for free, much like they would if you were playing a CD (as you've done the purchasing). One would also assume that your family or housemates would be entitled to control the Spotify application (it would certainly be extremely hard to enforce the opposite) and so they are in effect accessing the music of their choice for free, again much the same as if they changed your CD to a different one.

Now, considering the above, Spotify, unless told specifically otherwise, would now be posting someone else's musical preferences via your Facebook profile, arguably without either yours or their (direct) consent. There are possibly terms within Spotify's EULA covering this but from a practical position, this seems to be the case.

This is clearly a problem, as, depending on who those users are - your children, for example - you probably wouldn't want this information being made publicly available to your Facebook friends (it's probably worth pointing out at this stage that your Facebook "friends" should be more accurately classified as "people you sort of know, including your friends and maybe colleagues"). Fundamentally, this is also breaking the underlying principles of the Spotify/Facebook integration, as you now have a "many to one" (users to profiles) relationship between the two systems.

From Spotify's point of view, this isn't such a bad thing as, while it no doubt does sell on it's user analytics to third parties, having a greater and more diverse range of music posted to (advertised on) Facebook will only increase the chances it will draw in new paying users. For Facebook however, who are only interested in the statistical data to sell onwards, this is a big negative, as this impacts the accuracy of the data it holds on you and hence its commercial value. A useful way of thinking about Facebook's position was summarised rather eloquently (and now somewhat famously) by the MetaFilter user blue_beetle: "if you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold".

To me, this kind of "enforced sharing" is inherently a bad thing for social networks, and for privacy in general, and yet is becoming continuously more prevalent as social networks become more dominant in our online lives (not to say this exclusively a problem of social networks, Google has already been doing this for years, but with your IP address rather than profile; social networks just further exposes the issue).

As an example, when recently browsing Facebook, I saw that a friend had read an vaguely interesting article in the Independent, however when I tried to click through to the piece, Facebook demanded I allow the "Independent App" access to my profile first, presumably so it could repost the article under my name. This presented me with a problem - it's not that I thought the article contained anything I wouldn't want others to know I'd read - but why should I post an article to my profile that I only had a passing interest in, in such a manner as to direct others to its attention? Also, why would I want to give the Independent access to the entirety of my profile on the basis of a single article? To me this doesn't feel like sharing, this feels like monitoring.

Consider the difference if, rather than sharing your browsing or purchasing habits of media lke music or news, if yuo were sharing your recent purchases at Amazon, Tesco or Boots. No doubt all of these companies would love for you to be able to advertise for them by posting your transactions automatically online but it's eeasy to see for each why you may not want to: Amazon, perhaps, as you'd be pulicising gifts for others before you got the chance to give them; Tesco because you live off a shameful diet of ready meals and gin; and with Boots I'm sure we can all imagine a number of purchases best left unmentioned. As enforced sharing encroaches further into social networks, perhaps we would all need to be careful as to what we purchase where and how, to prevent unnecessary publication of our activities?

This, however, all comes down to a fundamental problem ingrained in the major social networks; that they all take a single view of you as a user, that all your social interactions are equally weighted and are intended for the same audience, i.e. everyone. This, of course, is not true and 4chan founder (here's a SFW wikipedia link for the un-initiated) Chris Poole sums it up as follows:

"Google and Facebook would have you believe that you're a mirror, but in fact, we're more like diamonds. The portrait of identity online is often painted in black and white, (that) who you are online is who you are offline. But human identity doesn't work like that online or offline. We present ourselves differently in different contexts, and that's key to our creativity and self-expression. It's not 'who you share with,' it's 'who you share as,'. Identity is prismatic."

This multi-faceted approach to online identity can only presently be expressed via the use of different social networks for different purposes. I personally have a Facebook account, a Twitter account and this blog and I tend to use them all for different purposes. This blog is a tool to express longer ideas that tend to be fairly serious and non-personal in nature; my Facebook account is the opposite, a personal feed of random thoughts (banal or otherwise), interactions with friends, invites to parties and so forth, largely not a place I'd feel the need to post up every interesting news article I read and the like; my Twitter account, which I link to this blog, tends to fit somewhere in the middle, intended to semi-serious but with a real-person approach, full of links to content I'd like others to see and fit for worldwide consumption. Of course, there tends to be a little bit of crossover now and then (I'll be posting this blog post everywhere for example) and I've no doubt that it's different for other people, this is just how it seemed to fit in best with me. I'm not picking my audience, I'm choosing how to express myself.

Think about your other online interactions and how they vary - would you want pictures of yourself drunk with friends posted to your professional LinkedIn profile? Probably not. Some fiends of mine are long-time members of a local car forum - would they want everything they post there posted on their Facebook profile as well? Again, unlikely (and would you want to read it if it was?). Of course, the internet is also popular for another, FAR more private purpose - you almost certainly wouldn't want to auto-share your more late-night browsing history or your participation in more adult-themed forums. Our online selves, just like our real selves, have many faces and, increasingly, Facebook, Google+ and the other major social networks don't see it like this.

Without the ability to share what you wish to share in the manner you'd prefer to share it, we are being increasingly forced into the network's view of a person - as a single piece of statisical data around which to sell analytics. In a way, this surprises me as one might think that understanding the way people actually want to share, rather than the way they are forced to would be far more valueable. This, however, likely comes at a cost they're not yet willing to invest in (and why would they? Business is booming!).

For at least the forseeable future, this flattened view of enforced sharing seems to be with us and I for one, where still possible, will be opting out.