Remember When Ecologists Used to Give a Damn about Birds and Trees and Stuff?

I do. When I was growing up, nature was something you appreciated for what it was. Something whose beauties you marvelled at and whose wonders you were taught to admire at school. You knew how to tell the difference between a smooth and a great crested newt; between a red admiral and a peacock; you studied the habitats of gall wasps; you counted worms; on nature walks you listened to the moan of doves in immemorial elms; you watched botany pwogwammes pwesented by a weally enthusiastic man who couldn’t pronounce his “rs” called David Bellamy.

This all came back to me when I read about Bellamy’s latest plan – under the auspices of the Conservation Foundation – to restore the English elm by planting 10,000 saplings. Grown from the  cuttings of some of the few hundred apparently disease-resistant elms that remain in Britain, they will replace the victims of one of the greatest British ecological disasters of our lifetime: the Dutch elm disease which killed around 25 million trees and changed our landscape forever.

What a hero! And I don’t just mean regarding the elm. David Bellamy is the British equivalent to one of those dissident scientists they used to persecute in the Soviet Union for refusing to follow the acceptable political orthodoxy. In British science’s case, of course, that orthodoxy is Anthropogenic Global Warming. Cast doubt on AGW, as Bellamy has done, and you are considered anathema by the “scientific community”. This is why he lost his 15-year long presidency of the charity Plantlife and also why he was booted out of his job as president of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts. You’ll notice he doesn’t get used an awful lot by the BBC these days either. Gee, I wonder why that could be.

Yet when it comes to loving the planet, Bellamy is the real deal. He cares so passionately about nature that he got himself arrested in 1983 for blockading the Franklin River in Australia to try to stop a proposed dam. In the Eighties, he did more than anyone on British television to communicate the joys of botany. This man genuinely believes what all naturalists should believe  that nature is something to be cherished, preserved, and perhaps above all enjoyed. No doubt this is why is he is such a fierce opponent of wind farms on sites of natural beauty.

But how many scientists involved in the field of nature and conservation actually do think this way any more? Passing few. Look in the papers: almost every story involving nature you will ever read has been skewed to accommodate the prevailing meme that it’s all dying off due to climate change and it’s mostly our fault. Look at how the subject is now taught in schools: not “hello trees, hello sky” but “Eeek! We’re all doomed!”. Zoos are no longer jolly places for kids to gawp at unusual beasts while Johnny Morris does the amusing voiceover, but thinly disguised animal concentration camps; butterflies are no longer to be differentiated for all that really matters is that you know that species are in catastrophic decline thanks to ‘climate change (quite untrue incidentally: habitat loss plays a far more important role in this); nature is no longer a pleasure but a stick with which to beat ourselves because of our carbon emitting sins.

So three cheers for David Bellamy – unlike so many of the green movement’s hair-shirt miserabilists – a true lover of nature.

Three cheers too for the Conservation Foundation. If you’ve a second, go and visit its website and see some of the things it does. (Alright so there’s a bit of guff about ‘diversity’ but then, how else can a charity get on these days?). It has helped turn an old sewage treatment plant into a wildflower meadow; it has restored the roach to the Hampshire Avon; it tries to protect Britain’s ancient yews; it wants to preserve the large blue butterfly; now it’s bringing back the elm.

One of the more poisonous myths put about by the International Climate-Fear-Promotion Movement (prop: Al Gore) is that if you’re not with them, you must perforce be some kind of crazy, Gaia-raping, nature-hating scumbag in the pay of Big Oil. Bellamy is living proof that this just is not so. More power to his elbow!

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How ‘Tech-Savvy’ Barack Obama Lost the Health Care Debate Thanks to Sinister Right-Wing Blogs Like This One

If theres one thing President Obamas good at, you would have thought, it would be harnessing the powers of new technology. Hes got the Blackberry addiction. Hes got the Twitter feeds. Hes the most tech-savvy POTUS in US history, who quite possibly wouldnt even be doing the job hes doing now if it werent for his supreme, almost Neo-like mastery of that thing we call the Interweb.

So how come he has just gone and managed to lose the most important debate of his political career so far over health care largely as a result of being beaten hollow by his opponents in the conservative blogosphere?

This is the question being asked by the new media monitoring organization Market Sentinel, in its latest report, pithily entitled How Obama lost the healthcare debate online.

It reports:

Our research suggests that Obama – the candidate who wrote the rules for achieving political success on the Internet – has lost the argument online.

To show this Market Sentinel took just one strand of that debate (comparisons between Obama’s proposals and the UK’s NHS service) and used citation analysis to identify who has influence in relation to the topic.  For the technically minded, this means that we crawl the internet looking for pages which are about the topic, then we track mutual references between people, institutions, entities mentioned in the context.  The resulting structure gives us a mathematically verifiable measurement of “authority” in the context.  This analysis began on August 28th and was completed on September 3rd.  We have sorted the results according to a sentiment metric where the negative quadrants represent hostility to state run healthcare (as exemplified by the NHS) and the positive quadrants show support for it.

graph

Note the dismal performance in terms of influence by the dead tree press. Note too the mighty power ascribed to Telegraph blogs (led, of course, in this instance by the great Dan Hannan). OK, so were not exactly Fox News yet. But if Market Sentinel is to be believed, than two key points emerge:

1. The Blogosphere is now more powerful in shaping the worlds political agenda than the Dead Tree media.

2. Right wing blogs (Fox News; DT blogs, etc) trump Libtard blogs (Huffington Post, Matthew Yglesias, etc) every time.

Look carefully at the chart and you will also noticed an appearance on the right by Michael Moore. Almost certainly the first time in the mans life he has ever been thus categorised.

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How the BBC reported Al Qaeda’s Plot to Blow Seven US and British Airliners out of the Sky

Go on, have a guess. Did the reporting on the BBC’s website focus mainly on:

a) the warped, grisly, evil fanaticism with which a group of young Muslim men callously plotted the deaths of up to 10,000 innocent people.

b) the dispiriting fact that these would-be killers were not oppressed victims of some terrible tyranny but free citizens of a tolerant multiracial country whose state apparatus bends over backwards to accommodate the needs of its minorities.

c) what we really need to accept is: we deserved it and we had it coming to us.

Yup. You guessed it. c) is the right answer.

Here according to the BBC’s analysis is WHY they did it:

“The reason can be found in their own words, writings and martyrdom videos; a simple and seething anger over British and American foreign policy, and an overwhelming belief that Muslims were its helpless victims.”

(So: no reason for them to do what everyone else does and register their strong feelings through the ballot box, then?)

And here is how it reports the reaction of the “Muslim community”:

“Prominent UK Muslims have welcomed the conviction of three men for plotting to blow up planes flying to north America – but have warned that government anti-terrorist powers should be used wisely.”

Note how the reporter can’t even wait to finish his opening paragraph before weighing in with the inevitable clause implying that the REAL victims of this episode aren’t the travellers who must now spend their every plane journey fearing the worst, and hampered by the infuriating nuisance of being unable to carry liquids on their flights. They are, rather, all those unfortunate Muslims out there who now risk being inconvenienced by government measures to crack down on, er, Muslim terrorism.

The reporter goes on to quote the Islamist pressure group the Muslim Council of Great Britain as if it were the voice of moderation.

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Inayat Bunglawala said it showed the terror threat to the UK was “very real”.

“No sensible person can now doubt that there is a real problem out there that needs to be tackled,” he said.

But then – you guessed it again – comes in that all-important exculpatory “But”:

But the UK’s role in military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq had helped radicalize the plotters, he added.

The report goes on in much the same vein:

“British Muslims are just as horrified and appalled by stories like this as ordinary Britons – perhaps more so because it reflects unfairly on themselves and their faith.”

This view was backed up by a couple speaking to BBC Asian Network on the streets of Walthamstow, north-east London, where plot leader Ahmed Ali had lived.

“I think the word ‘Muslim’ shouldn’t be attached to such an activity,” said the woman. “I think the word ‘Muslim’, ‘mosque’ and the religion he belongs to shouldn’t be attached to this activity.”

Her husband said: “There are one billion Muslims in the world, so everybody’s reputation is damaged saying a Muslim has done this.”

Phew. And there was I thinking for a nasty moment that fundamentalist Islam might have had a hand in this devious and terrible plot. But apparently not. Thank you, BBC, for revealing the truth:

It was all the fault of British foreign policy and we were jolly lucky to get off as lightly as we did.

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Van Jones Was Just the Start: Now We Need a Yekaterinburg of ALL the Czars

Hmm. I wonder which of the many glorious aspects of Mother Gaia it was that first attracted President Obama’s “Green Jobs Czar” Van Jones to the environmental movement.

Was it, perhaps, his love of fluffy bunnies – especially those ones with the long floppy ears and the sweet pink noses?

Was it the sight of the mighty redwoods in Northern California or the sea otters frolicking amid the kelp off Big Sur or the manatees basking so cutely amid the  shimmering propellors of the Everglades?

Was it the long weekend trips he regularly takes with his pit bulls Fidel, Josef, Chairman, Lavrenty and Malcolm to experience the heart-stopping majesty of America’s National Parks? (Those that haven’t been closed, that is, due to budgetary restrictions).

Naah. Like so many in the modern green movement, Van Jones (or rather Anthony Jones as he was christened: he adopted the name Van at school because he thought it would make him look more “rad”) has about as much genuine interest in nature as socialists do in the plight of the poor. Which is to say, it’s a nice thing to mention once in a while to make yourself sound at once high-minded and caring, but it’s most definitely not the real issue. For hard-core greens, the real issue is the same as it is for their socialist kindred spirits: control.

Van Jones’s only mistake – and this is what has just cost him his job as “Green Czar” – was to be so slapdash in disguising his real agenda. A self professed communist with links to radical Maoist group STORM and hard-leftist ACORN, he made quite clear in his bestselling book The Green Collar Economy that his real aim was the socialization of America.

As Phil Kerpen summarizes it at Fox News:

“He urged adoption of a carbon cap-and-trade program, renewable electricity mandates– including Al Gore’s outlandish and impossible goal of eliminating fossil fuel use by 2018, large taxpayer-funded green jobs programs, a so-called smart grid for electricity, more mass-transit subsidies, higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, federal funding for organic farms, a ban on new coal plants, expanded ethanol mandates, and even a spirited, multiple page pitch for a cash-for-clunkers program–he called it “Hoopties for Hybrids.”

The problem is, as Kerpen reminds us:

“Green jobs are not economic jobs but political jobs, designed to funnel vast sums of taxpayer money to left-wing labor unions, environmental groups, and social justice community organizers.”

Van Jones, in other words, was and is a watermelon: green on the outside, red on the inside.

So how come this hard-left activist – barmy enough to believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy organised by George W Bush – managed to get a senior appointment in the Obama administration, with responsibility for the allocation of millions of dollars worth of taxpayers’ cash?

Simple. Because this is what socialist regimes do, as I tried to explain earlier this year in my book Welcome To Obamaland: I’ve Seen Your Future And It Doesn’t Work.

In it, I warned the US of the “smorgasbord of scuzzballs, incompetents, time servers, Communists, class warriors, eco-loons, single-issue rabble-rousers, malcontents and losers who always rise to the surface during a left-liberal administration.”

“You’ve seen some of these types in action before. The John Murthas and the Chuck Schumers. The James Carvilles and the Al Sharptons. The Barney Franks and the Henry Waxmans. And it’s bearable when there’s not too many of them. Almost amusing even because they can act as bogeymen: the whacko villains you just love to hate.”

“Where it becomes a problem – as you’re about to discover, if you haven’t already – is when your ruling administration consists of nothing but these people. No longer do they qualify as light relief. They become your daily nightmare.”

It’s OK, you don’t have to hail me as the new Nostradamus. Making these predictions was a no-brainer because it’s exactly the same process as we’ve witnessed in Britain these last twelve years under New Labour. Rather than having all his cronies go through the tedious and unedifying process of having to stand for parliamentary election, Tony Blair simply handed them their political jobs on a plate by appointing them Health Czar, or Race Czar, or Climate Change Czar or whatever. In this way, he could stuff his new governing class with politically-sympathetic placemen – with the added advantage that they were completely unaccountable to the democratic process.

Similar rules apply, of course, to the 1,160 Quangos which have flourished under New Labour, such as the Charity Commission currently headed by a woman calling herself “Dame” “Suzi” “Leather”, formerly a freelance consumer consultant, but relentlessly promoted under Tony Blair and later Gordon Brown because of her suitably left-liberal political views. She is currently acting as Britain’s Shrill Bitterness And Class War Czar, responsible for fomenting ever deeper social resentment, grinding her stiletto heels in the faces of the middle classes, and smashing the private school system. And a very splendid job she is making of it too.

President Obama has learned the Blair lesson well, having appointed mostly leftist chums to no fewer than 32 Czardoms (31, now that Van Jones has thankfully gone). Glenn Beck, the US talk show host who was instrumental in forcing Van Jones’s resignation, lists them in full on his website. They include a Domestic Violence Czar,  an Energy and Climate Czar (the terrifying Socialist Carol Browner) and even a Guantanamo Closure Czar.

As I suggested in my headline there can only be one sensible solution to this embarrassment of Czars, and its one that Bolsheviks on both sides of the Atlantic will be cheerily familiar. Think Czar Nicholas II. Think Yekatarinburg. Think July 1918. Its the only language these people understand.

Note: The original Telegraph page is not available even via the Wayback Machine.

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Speaker John Bercow: The Best Reason in the World for Voting UKIP

Here’s a video of Tory MP John Bercow being characteristically charming.

Watch it, squirm at the man’s grotesque mix of prickliness, cockiness, chippiness, pent-up aggression – and eerie resemblance to that Seventies-style novelty glass bird filled with red liquid that dips back and forth violently when you put water underneath – and then rejoice at the fact that this Brownite stooge in Tory clothing may yet be booted out of parliament at the next General Election by UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

I know what exercises some people most about Bercow is his dismal showing in the recent MPs swine trough scandal. As the Telegraph reported, he:

“Flipped his second home from a house in his constituency to a £540,000 flat in London, which he claimed maximum second home allowances on for four years running.

“He failed to pay capital gains tax after buying and selling properties in both his constituency and in the Capital, and later agreed to hand over £6,500 to HM Revenue and Customs.”

But what bothers me personally far more is that though he sits in the truest of blue Tory constituencies, he seems to have not the remotest idea what it means to be a Conservative. Here is a man so loathed by his party – even the Blairite Cameroon fringe – that the only reason he got the Speakers job was through tactical voting. Few if any Tories voted for him. Almost everyone in Labour did because they knew how maddening it would be for Conservatives to have to put up with a Speaker they found even more noisome than the appalling Michael Martin.

(Helpful guide for any American readers: John Bercow is our Arlen Specter. Now do you see why we so loathe the man?)

To the voters in Bercow’s Buckinghamshire seat, I say: “Don’t vote on party lines. Vote for your principles.” I can’t imagine there’s a single Tory voter in Bucks, for example, who applauded his Blair-style “Britain is a young country” decision to ditch the speaker’s traditional tights and replace them with one of his dreary grey business suits. The office and its centuries-old traditions are much bigger than the man and it speaks volumes for Bercow’s elephant-skinned arrogance that he couldn’t recognise this.

I realise that a Tory majority of 13,325 will prove quite a job for the UKIP leader to overthrow. But face it Bucks Tories, on Europe, on immigration, on tax, on pretty much every key issue, UKIP are so much more your kind of party than the Conservatives. Go on now. Watch that video again. Do really want to see this man representing your seat? Well, do you?

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WWF ‘Appalled’ at Massive Publicity Generated by Poster Campaign with Which of Course It Had Absolutely Nothing to Do

It’s sick, it’s disgraceful, it’s offensive, it’s crudely manipulative.

WWF: Tsunami kills!

Award-winning poster produced by a Brazilian ad agency. The caption reads: “The tsunami killed 100 times more people than 9/11. The planet is brutally powerful. Respect it. Preserve it.”

But it’s also a devilishly effective piece of eco-fascist propaganda to rival those “stranded” polar bears on the melting ice floe or Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Presumably that’s why it won a merit award from The One Club – a non-profit organisation that promotes excellence in advertising. And why so many Twitterers have been tweeting about it.

However the World Wildlife Fund – whose name appears on the poster – is frantically distancing itself from the project. According to a report in the New York Daily News, it was all a terrible mistake:

“We are just utterly appalled,” said WWF spokeswoman Leslie Aun.

“This ad is not something that anyone in our organization would ever have signed off on.”

The image was presented by admen from the agency DDB Brasil to WWF officers in Brazil and quickly rejected, Aun said.

“You hear a lot of concepts in meetings. We assumed it was dead and gone. But it appears now that someone submitted it to a competition,” she said.

Officials at The One Club, the Manhattan-based group that gave the ad an award for public service, pulled it from their website Wednesday.

DDB Brasil apologized for the ad they said dates to last December.

“The team in question is no longer with the agency,” said spokeswoman Lana Pinheiro. The ad, she said, “should never have been made.”

Phew, so that’s all right then. Or is it?

Of course, I have no reason whatsoever to doubt what the WWF says.

But my friends in advertising tell me that there is such a thing as a viral campaign where an idea considered too strong meat to be associated avowedly with the client’s name is instead leaked out in “unofficial” form. It then spreads like wildfire through the internet, blogosphere and Twitterverse, generating maximum shock-value publicity, while yet relieving the client of any need to feel embarrassed by association with such dodgy propaganda.

It goes without saying that a lofty, cuddly animal welfare charity like the WWF would never stoop to such methods. But suppose for one silly moment it had done so: wouldn’t this be just the perfect case of having your cake and eating it?

Note: original Telegraph post non-recoverable. 

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Power Cuts Are a Much More Serious Problem Than ‘Climate Change’

Today is the day when, in lieu of their gap-year jackarooing in Australia or eating magic mushroom omelette in Bali, Climate Camp protesters named Xan, Freddie, Minty, Tigger, Pidge, and Twig will run riot through London’s business district in protest at the outrageous, disgusting capitalist system that enabled Daddy to put them so cruelly, harshly and disgracefully through Eton, Westminster and St Mary’s, Calne.

More gag-inducingly still it is the day when dozens of celebrities will gather at The Tate Modern Gallery, London (NB – always remember to use that definite article: it does so annoy Nicholas Serota) to sign up for a wonderfully meaningless new eco campaign backed by the Guardian called 10: 10.

The campaign is the brainchild of Franny Armstrong, whose recent eco-movie The Age Of Stupid  is so unsophisticated it makes An Inconvenient Truth look like Tarkovsky, and is indeed now widely recognised as the second most lame, risibly awful and toe-curlingly emetic movie in British cinematic history after Love Actually.

It calls for everyone to help save the world by reducing their carbon footprint by 10 per cent in 2010. So far the roster of luvvies who have signed up to the scheme includes Radio 1 DJ Sara Cox, chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Delia Smith and Ruth Rogers, screenwriter Richard Curtis, directors Richard Eyre and Mike Figgis, designers Nicole Farhi and Vivienne Westwood, TV presenter Kevin McCloud and actors including Samantha Morton, Jason Isaacs, Pete Postlethwaite, Colin Firth and Tamsin Greig.

What I like about these lists is that they give you an instant aide-memoire of all the celebrity pillocks whose broadcasts/recipes/duff plays and movies/clothes/building programmes you need never bother with again. (Shame about Antony Beevor, who is also mysteriously on the list. I was rather looking forward to reading his take on the Battle of the Bulge).

“But so what if this bunch of ocean-going knobs wish to burnish their egos and salvage their consciences by pledging to cut the odd weekend trip to Bora Bora here and plant the odd carbon-neutralising mango forest there? Who are we to judge?” I hear some of you asking.

And up to a point I’d agree with you. The thought that I shall be 10 per cent less likely to have any of these dorks sitting next to me on an EasyJet flight to Palma any time during 2010 is indeed of considerable comfort in these dark times. The problem is, I can’t get out of my head the much more urgent and terrifying story on the front of today’s Telegraph. The one predicting massive power cuts across Britain within ten years.

To anyone who reads Christopher Booker these dire predictions of 1970s-style black-outs are hardly news. Booker – and others – have been warning for years about the inevitable consequences of the upcoming “energy gap” and successive governments failure to fill it by commissioning more (preferably nuclear) power stations.

The only thing that surprises me about this long-running scandal is why it hasn’t been on the front page pretty much every other day for the past decade. Clearly, the prospect of the world’s fifth largest economic power being imminently reduced to rationing electricity, perhaps even limiting its industrial output – as in the Seventies – to a three-day week represents a major disaster for Britain. A disaster, it should be noted, of far greater effect and magnitude than anything which has so far happened to this country as a result of “climate change”.

So why haven’t we heard more about it? Why hasn’t the population – or at least the influential chattering class section of it – been galvanised into urging the Government to stop equivocating and come up with a half-way decent energy policy?

Why do you think? Because partly thanks to the attention-grabbing antics of idiots like the ones mentioned above, our politicians – not just Labour ones, but pretty much the whole of Cameron’s “progressive conservatives”, more’s the pity – have been encouraged to take their eye off the ball, and bleat piously about “alternative energy sources” and reducing carbon emissions instead.

Power cuts (and the energy gap) represent a clear and present danger to Britain and her economy. ‘Climate change’ does not. Unless we get our priorities right very soon, we’re all going to be in deep, deep trouble. And no amount of impassioned protesting by environmentally conscious ex-public-school-children or bien-pensant celebrities will be able to get us out of the hole that they personally did so much to help dig.

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I Don’t Need My Ice Cream to ‘Educate’ Me about the Glories of Gay Marriage or Wind Farms

Some of my best friends are gay. Suspiciously large numbers, it has sometimes been suggested to me. But that’s OK, I’m cool with that. What my friends get up to in the privacy of their own homes – or, indeed, the scary back room of their local boite – is very much their own affair. And if they want to get married (Hell-ooo! Why sacrifice the single greatest benefit of being gay?), well I’m probably OK with that too. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice so I guess it’s only fair that gay men and women too should enjoy their inalienable right to be shackled to the same person, on pain of massive alimony payments, till the day they die. (Hat tip: William C Fisher; The Corner)

But here’s where I draw the line. I do NOT want my freaking ice cream tub to tell me gay marriage is a great and wonderful thing. Which is more or less what Ben & Jerry’s has done with one of its flavours. Or flavors, if you will. (See pic)

ben-jerries1

As you see, to celebrate the legalization of gay marriage in its achingly worthy, nauseatingly PC home state Vermont, Ben & Jerry’s has temporarily changed the name of its Chubby Hubby brand to Hubby Hubby.

What is my objection to this innocent bit of fun? Simple. I believe confectionary should be politics-free. Just because a pair of hippie ice cream makers happen to think gay marriage is an OK thing doesn’t mean that all their customers should have a message they may well find deeply unpalatable rammed down their throats. I felt much the same way about their President-Obama-endorsing “Yes Pecan” flavour earlier this year. “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP already!” I wanted to scream at them. “Your job is to placate women, distract movie audiences, and bribe children. It is NOT your job to change the world.”

But I can tell you now there’s something worse out there than Ben & Jerry’s. Much, much worse. So bad in fact that I vow never ever again to buy it for my kids even though it tastes quite nice and offers reasonable value. I refer to the horror that is Mackies ice cream, which now uses its website to disseminate propaganda for the wind industry and which decorates its tubs with scenes of nature dotted with wind turbines – as if to suggest that these monstrosities have become an integral, nay even a desirable part of the British landscape.

“You can feel extra good about enjoying Mackies ice cream because it is made with renewable energy” claims their website. “Mackies business is powered by 3 wind turbines. We’d like to contribute towards protection of the environment for future generations of ice cream consumers!”

Oh really? And what about all those future generations of ice cream consumers who might have preferred the beautiful corner of Aberdeenshire where the Mackies have farmed “for four generations” not to have their horizon despoiled by swirling great wind turbines?

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Oasis: Just How Rubbish Were They?

Over in the Daily Mail today I have a go at Oasis, the popular beat combo which has just split up. (Or so Noel Gallagher says, and since he’s the only one in the band who can write songs, that’ll be it till he changes his mind for the lucrative reunion tour).

To be honest, I probably don’t loathe Oasis quite as much as I make out in that article. When you’re writing polemic there isn’t much room for nuance like – “Well if someone put on Champagne Supernova right now I’d probably feel a pleasant nostalgic twinge for my lost youth” – which is more or less what I really think about Oasis: I’d never ever put on one of their records myself, but if someone else did I wouldn’t necessarily feel an intense urge to kill him.

But I very much stand by my main point which is that Oasis were derivative and overrated. Their second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory remains the third bestselling album (after The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper and Queen’s Greatest Hits) in British pop history. Does anyone out there seriously still thinks it deserves a place even in the top 50? Personally, I wouldn’t even put it in my top 100.

It’s not that I don’t like Liam’s son-of-Lennon vocals (and I also like, incidentally, that way he had of placing his mic way too high so that he had to keep craning his neck upwards like a Gerenuk feeding on an acacia tree); and I do agree that a lot of Noel Gallagher’s compositions are very catchy. But there’s a reason for the last bit and it’s very simple: they all sound quite a bit like songs you already know; most of them written by the Beatles.

You might argue that originality is a much overrated virtue in pop, given that from Led Zeppelin borrowing from the blues and every heavy rock band ever borrowing from Led Zeppelin pop has always fed on itself. But to me a truly great band is one that disguises or alters the sound of its influences to the point where you no longer go: “Ohmygod, that is SUCH a rip off.” My true greats would definitely include Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, The Smiths, New Order, Kraftwerk and the Pet Shop Boys. They wouldn’t include Oasis.

So how did Oasis ever get to be quite so massive. Well hype, quotability and attitude clearly had a lot to do with it. But by far the most interesting theory on this is in a new book on the history of recorded sound (which I highly recommend: trainspotterish but lively and compulsively readable) by US journalist Greg Milner, called Perfecting Sound Forever.

Oasis’s career, he argues, coincided with the Nineties trend in studio recording techniques for “loudness” at all costs. By “loudness”, he means music which has been heavily “compressed” in the studio – removing most of the loud/soft dynamic range and instead making it sound like the kind of muddy wall of noise which comes across well in a crowded pub. It’s actually a form of musical brainwashing: stuff recorded like this is designed to lodge in the brain and achieve massive and overwhelming cultural domination. Which Oasis did most effectively.

But the effect this had on pop music generally was disastrous. As one muso purist – a Vermont studio engineer called Chris Johnson – has tried to demonstrate scientifically by comparing the most “culturally significant” albums of all time, the music we really like (as opposed to the stuff that is bombarded at us relentlessly till we succumb) is the stuff which has the greatest dynamic range . The top ones on Johnson’s list – led by the Eagles: Their Greatest Hits 1971-1975 and Led Zeppelin IV – are the ones with the biggest contrast between really loud and really soft. Oasis took us down a wrong alley. On the back of their success, every major label wanted to imitate that big, sludgy sound, in much the same way publishing companies try to replicate Dan Brown novels. Good commerce, maybe; but dreadful art.

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Why Stevenage is the final frontier in space technology | James Delingpole

August 31, 2009

It’s so tantalisingly close, this strange octagonal aluminium box with its shimmery array of circuitry. I see wires coated in silver, connectors of gold, and parts so delicate that even in this temperature-and humidity-controlled, dust-free environment they have to be protected with pink translucent plastic bags.

In two years’ time, this box – the inside of a satellite – will be blasted four times further out into space than any human has ever been.

That’s why I’m so desperate to touch it. Imagine: to have the tiniest trace of your presence on an object a million miles from earth. It’s an urge almost too powerful to resist. It’s the buzz of the rare, the exotic and the strictly forbidden. Which aren’t qualities you’d most immediately associate with an anonymous industrial estate in Stevenage.

The rocket and fuel tanks of the Lisa Pathfinder satellite

The rocket and fuel tanks of the Lisa Pathfinder satellite, which will be launched in 2011 and pave the way for new scientific experiments on gravitational wave detection and black holes

EADS Astrium is the third biggest space company in the world (after Boeing and Lockheed Martin), and space technology is not something Britain is merely good at; there are some areas where we’re the best. We’re at the forefront of robotics, which is why our autonomous rover, due to take off for Mars in 2016, is going to enable us to explore the planet more thoroughly than any mission so far.

And in the field of satellite manufacture, we are peerless. Not only are the models we build more sophisticated than anyone else’s – three are being constructed to measure for the first time the ‘gravitational waves’ predicted by Einstein and we’re even planning to send one to the Sun – but they’re also more reliable, which is why they’re so in demand by the telecommunications industry.

This reliability is something in which Astrium’s highly committed, multinational work force take enormous pride. I discover this after confessing my terrible tactile urge to my guide.

‘I’m really glad you didn’t because they would have torn you to pieces,’ he says. ‘If one tiny bit of grease or dust or hair were to get into some vital part, it could be catastrophic. You can’t repair a satellite up in space. Once it’s broken, that’s it. Millions of pounds down the pan.’

Pathfinder under construction

The pathfinder under construction

There are six main types of satellite, classified according to their mission: scientific research, weather, communications, navigation, Earth observation and military. Many of these are made in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, by EADS Astrium. The construction of these satellites is part of a growing space industry, currently worth at least £7 billion a year and supporting 70,000 jobs worldwide, 1,200 at Astrium itself.

‘We live in a world of instancy, and it’s satellites that provide it,’ says Bob Graham, Astrium’s head of engineering. ‘They’re what large City banks use to transfer money quickly and securely; they’ve improved our weather-gathering data in the past decade by 25 per cent; they supply the information for our sat-navs; they’re the reason soldiers in deep valleys in Afghanistan can call for air supplies and air strikes; they’re what give us instant news gathering; they’re used for disaster monitoring; they give us our satellite TV and mobile-phone communication; they’ll soon be providing broadband from space to all those places like India and Africa where there are insufficient fibre-optic cables.’

(to read more, click here)

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