Music

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The Monkees Play ‘Randy Scouse Git’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 13/08/2020 - 3:30am in

Here’s something to cheer you all a bit after the news that Boris Johnson and his cronies have created Britain’s biggest recession ever, that they still don’t have any proper advice for parents on whether it’s safe to send their children back to school – but want them there anyway, so they can get their parents back to work no matter that there’s a second wave of Coronavirus coming. And that they’re trying to whip up hatred against a handful of desperate asylum seekers to distract us all from the real poverty, starvation and despair they’ve created.

This is a bit of fun I found on YouTube. It’s of the Monkees, the manufactured American rivals to the Beatles, playing a song I’ve only heard about in rumours: ‘Randy Scouse Git’. Going from the comments to the video, it’s actually about meeting his wife, Samantha, during a visit to the UK in the 1970s. He gave the song its title because he didn’t know it was an insult. Hence, apparently, it also has an inoffensive alternative name. It’s from Nickstranger999’s channel on YouTube.

In his piece about the song, Nickstranger writes

My next favorite Monkees song. The only other copy of this I could find here was sped up, so probably from a UK print. Excellent, and brilliantly written song written by Micky Dolenz. Some additional info cobbled together from various sources: In his book Micky explains the lyrics as a kind of free-association song about his experience of visiting England for the first time. The Beatles are “The Four Kings of E.M.I.” who threw a welcoming party for The Monkees. “Wonderful lady” is his first wife, Samantha Juste. The “girl in yellow dress” is a reference to ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot who was also there. After that heavy night of fun Mickey woke the next day to someone shouting “Randy, Scouse, Git” on the television and thought it would be a cool name. Randy Scouse Git was the term used by Alf Garnet about his Liverpudlian son-in-law in the sitcom “To Death Do Us Part”. Prior to it’s U.K. release the record company informed Mickey of the meaning behind the title and suggested he give them an ‘alternate title’ – hence the U.K. release name of the title.

I’d only heard about this in rumour, where I was told that it the title little Donny Osmond wanted to give one of his songs after hearing the phrase used by Alf Garnet. After he was told that it was an insult, the song instead became ‘Long-Haired Love from Liverpool’. Or perhaps it’s also true of him as well. Who knows?

Anyway, enjoy the song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Australia’s job recovery stalling and soon to head south again

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 12:56pm in

Tags 

Music

I am back into my Wednesday pattern after experimenting or the last 10 weeks with the MMTed Q&A series. Soon there will more video content coming as skills are refined. So today I just report my notes as I analyse the latest Australian Tax Office payroll data – Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages in Australia, Week ending 25 July 2020 – released yesterday (August 11, 2020) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Regular readers will know that I have routinely analysed this dataset ever since it first became available in March this year. It uniqueness is that it provides the most recent data upon which an assessment of where the labour market is heading. The monthly labour force data is about two weeks old by the time this data comes out. And the most recent release gives some insights into what the impact of the renewed and severe lockdowns in Victoria (the second largest State economy) has been. The data shows that the jobs recovery has stalled and emphasises the need for more federal fiscal support – but that support does not appear to be forthcoming.

Relevant blog posts as I trace this data trail over time are:

1. “We need the state to bail out the entire nation” (March 26, 2020).

2. The government should pay the workers 100 per cent, not rely on wage subsidies (March 30, 2020).

3. A Job Guarantee would require $A26.5 billion net to reduce the unemployment rate by 6 percentage points (April 30, 2020).

4. Latest employment data for Australia exposes Federal government’s wilful neglect (May 5, 2020).

5. The job losses continue in Australia but at a slower pace (May 19, 2020).

6. Worst is over for Australian workers but a long tail of woe is likely due to policy failure (June 16, 2020).

7. Latest Australian payroll data suggests employment damage from shutdown is worse than thought (July 20, 2020).

In terms of the coverage of the ATO Single Touch Payroll data, the ABS report that:

Approximately 99% of substantial employers (those with 20 or more employees) and 71% of small employers (19 or less employees) are currently reporting through Single Touch Payroll.

Broad assessment

1. Last week, the monthly Labour Force data showed that while employment grew in June, full-time employment went backwards – see my review – Australia labour market – one step forward up a gigantic mountain (July 16, 2020).

2. The Labour Force data was based on a survey that ended around the second-week of June, so by the time the data is published it is a month out of date. The next Labour Force survey data will be published tomorrow.

3. The latest payroll data from the ATO takes us up to July 25, 2020, which means it is more representative of where we are at now (although still two weeks out of date).

4. In the period after the last Labour Force survey, the second-wave of the virus has hit Victoria and after a 3-week Stage 3 lockdown, the Victorian government responded to the escalating infection numbers by introducing even tougher restrictions (Stage 4) for 6 weeks. This data will only tell us what the impact of the Stage 3 lockdowns have been.

5. The assumption by the Federal government that the economy would be rebound quickly is ill-founded. There is mounting evidence that many businesses will not ‘make it across’ the lockdowns, especially given that Victoria is back in tight lockdown and NSW is looking like it will have to follow.

It is obvious that it will have to continue to offer massive fiscal support for an indefinite period – probably a decade or so. So the question then arises – what is best form of that support and at what level should it be provided.

That is the background to analysing the latest payroll data.

Jobs recovery appears to have stalled

Here is what has happened to total employment in Australia since January 4, 2020 (the ATO data starts at the beginning of the year). The index is based at 100 on March 14, 2020 which appears to be around the peak employment, although it was slowing since February 29, 2020.

Overall, there has been a 5.5 per cent contraction between March 21, 2020 and July 25, 2020. The trough came in the week ending April 18, 2020 and the total employment loss was 8.9 per cent.

As the lockdowns were eased, employment started to return until July 4, 2020, after which there was a 0.3 point contraction in the following week, as the new Victorian lockdown came into effect.

I expect the job attrition will rise when the data is next available, given the severity of the Stage 4 lockdown in Victoria.

Here is the same series decomposed by gender.

While the pattern was almost identical for males and females up to March 22, 2020, the data for the earlier parts of April showed that the crisis was impacting disproportionately on females.

This bias was driven by the occupational segregation that has women dominating the sectors that were most impacted by the lockdown (accommodation, hospitality, cafes, etc)

As the lockdowns ease and businesses reopen, women are gaining jobs at a faster rate than men.

As the recovery has stalled both sexes are impacted more or less evenly.

The accompanying ABS press release – notes that:

The number of payroll jobs nationwide remained steady through July (-0.1 per cent) while Victoria saw a fall … Payroll jobs remained 4.5 per cent below mid-March, when Australia recorded its 100th confirmed COVID-19 case … Payroll jobs fell by 1.5 per cent in Victoria through July ahead of the introduction of Stage 4 COVID-19 restrictions in the state, with total job losses of 6.7 per cent from mid-March …

Around 40 per cent of jobs lost in Victoria by mid-April had been regained by 25 June, but by the end of July this had reduced to 24 per cent …

The question is now how quickly the jobs will recover and how many businesses have been lost altogether. The latter statistic will determine the residual unemployment that will remain.

A guide to the answer to that question can be formed from last week’s Labour Force data.

Why?

Answer: because we know that the composition of total employment is already changing away from full-time work.

The following butterfly graphs are constructed from ABS Labour Force data.

They show for full-time and part-time employment indexes set at 100 for the peak in total employment in the downturns for 1982, 1991, GFC and now the COVID-19 cycles.

For the first three events, they show the trajectory for 90 months after the peak, capturing the dynamics of the cycle.

The pattern in a usual downturn are demonstrated in the first three episodes – even as full-time employment declines as the recession bites, part-time employment continues to grow for a while, until it becomes obvious that the recession is deepening.

At the peak before the 1982 recession, the ratio of part-time to total employment was 16.2 per cent. By the time, full-time employment had reached the peak level again (after 41 months following the peak), the ratio was 17.6 per cent (and rising).

The 1991 recession was particularly bad and there was a major shift away from full-time work. At the peak before the 1991 recession, the ratio of part-time to total employment was 21 per cent. By the time, full-time employment had reached the peak level again (after 65 months following the peak), the ratio was 22.3 per cent (and continuing to rise).

The GFC event was reduced in intensity by the substantial fiscal stimulus that the Federal government introduced. But the part-time ratio still rose and full-time employment took 23 months to return to its pre-GFC peak. The part-time to total ratio in February 2008 (peak before the downturn) was 28.3 JobKeeper cent. After 23 months, the ratio had risen to 30.1 per cent.

While the ratio is rising on a trend basis as the labour market is increasingly casualised and job protections are wound back under the aegis of government policy designed to tilt the playing field towards the employers, there is an acceleration in the ratio during recessions when employers scrap full-time work and replace it in the recovery with part-time, fractionalised and insecure work.

The COVID episode is different given the nature of the job loss – lockdowns – which have directly impacted on the sectors where part-time work dominate.

But it is clear from the observations we have (lower-right panel) from the peak in February 2020 until June 2020, that as the lockdowns were eased, part-time employment rebounded but full-time employment continues to decline.

Experience tells me that that suggests that there have been major business failures which will leave a legacy of elevated unemployment.

What does this imply?

We can do some ‘back-of-the-envelope’ calculations with some assumptions to see what this might imply.

  • The Labour Force survey is usually completed by the 11th day of each month.
  • The most recent Labour Force release showed that in the four weeks to June 11 (about) total employment rose by 4.6 per cent or 210.8 thousand, unemployment rose by 69.3 thousand and the participation rate rose by 1.3 points. That meant that the labour force rose by 280.1 thousand. Of course, since March 2020, the labour force has fallen by 384.6 thousand.
  • If added those workers who have left the labour force due to a lack of employment opportunities back into the official unemployed, the unemployment rate would have been 10.04 per cent rather than the reported 7.45 per cent – see Australia labour market – one step forward up a gigantic mountain (July 16, 2020).
  • What the latest ATO data shows, is that total employment has fallen by 0.1 points in the three weeks since the last Labour Force survey was completed – which based on the current labour force data would amount to a further 13 odd thousand jobs being lost.
  • If we assumed the participation rate over those three weeks was unchanged, then the official unemployment rate would have risen only marginally from 7.5 per cent (which excludes from the calculation the decline in the labour force).
  • However, just as the labour force is still lower by 384.6 thousand workers, when compared to March 20.
  • If we assumed no change in participation, but added the hidden unemployed who left the labour force in April back into this revised estimate of the official rate, then the adjusted unemployment rate would be around 10.1 per cent.

So this information (which is 2 weeks later than the last Labour Force data) suggests that recovery has stalled and there is considerable downside risk for the labour market.

Wages paid decline over July 2020

The ABS report that between March 14, 2020 and July 25, 2020:

Total wages paid decreased by 4.8%.

Which suggests the worst is far from over.

Age breakdown of Job Loss

The age breakdowns for Australia as a whole are shown in the next graph.

I have now decomposed the data into the job loss period (peak-to-trough) and the recovery period.

It is clear that our youth bore the brunt of the crisis, largely due to the industrial composition of the job losses – services, accommodation etc.

They are also recovering more quickly.

The other insight from this graph is in noting that the prime-age workers lost about 4 per cent of their employment during the peak-to-trough period but in the period since the lockdowns have been eased, their recovery is very muted.

This links with the full-time, part-time analysis above and is suggestive of a conclusion that businesses have disappeared and the recession will be worse than the government has allowed for in their policy support.

The following sequence of graphs gives the age profiles of the job loss for each State/Territory – be careful to appreciate the difference in the vertical scales.

But for most states and territories, the teenage job loss in the descent was in excess of 20 per cent and many were not being supported by the JobKeeper wage subsidy because of their casual status.

The recovery is very muted for teenagers but much worse for the prime-age workers (as above).

Job Loss and Recovery by Age, March 21-July 25, per cent

Industry job loss breakdown

The following graph shows the percentage decline in employment between March 21, 2020 and April 18, 2020 for the Australian industry sectors (peak-to-trough) and the gains since the recovery to July 25, 2020.

The turning point is taken from the time the Accommodation and foods services stopped shedding jobs (week ending April 18, 2020).

The idea of a discrete ‘recovery’ period will give way next release, given the second wave effects in Victoria.

As expected the worst hit sectors were Accommodation & food services (decline of 35.1 per cent) and Arts & recreation services (decline of 28.2 per cent).

The first stages of lockdown easing have allowed some cafes etc to open, which is why employment in the Accommodation and food services has rebounded by 17.2 per cent since April 18, 2020. The Arts and recreation services sector has recovered by 13.1 per cent.

But the pace of recovery has slowed dramatically in those sectors and will turn negative in the coming week (Stage 4 lockdowns).

As above, what the residual damage will be once the final stages of easing are in place in the coming months depends on how many business and employers go broke in the meantime.

It is clear that in the last week, several sectors have shed employment.

Taken together, these sectors are probably reflecting factors that have arisen from the wider impacts of the lockdowns as the damage permeates the supply chain across the industrial structure.

The deeper this cross-industry penetration the worse the longer lasting effects will be.

State job loss breakdown

The following graph shows the employment losses from March 14, 2020 to July 25, 2020 for the States and Territories (blue bars), while the orange bars shows what has happened over the last 2 weeks.

Clearly the renewed lockdowns are impacting on Victoria. But it is worrying to see the recovery stall in several other jurisdictions.

Call for MMTed Support

We are working towards beginning course delivery in September.

But we still need significant sponsors for this venture to ensure that we can run the educational program with negligible fees and to ensure it is sustainable over time.

If you are able to help on an ongoing basis that would be great. But we will also appreciate of once-off and small donations as your circumstances permit.

You can contribute in one of two ways:

1. Via PayPal – which is our preferred vehicle for receiving donations.

The PayPal donation button is available via the MMTed Home Page or via the – Donation button – on the right-hand menu of this page (below the calendar).

2. Direct to MMTed’s Bank Account.

Please write to me to request account details.

Please help if you can.

Music – Chapter One: Latin America

This is what I have been listening to while working this morning.

This track is from the late Argentinean tenor player – Gato Baribieri – and is taken from his 1973 album – Chapter One: Latin America – released by Impulse! Records.

After a decade of playing free jazz, Gato Barbieri – started his series of albums devoted to Latin American fusion.

I had purchased his earlier free jazz albums in the early 1970s (bugging the import shop guy to get them in from the US).

But this one was my favourite (apart from the album that immediately preceded it – Bolivia) – of his Latin jazz era.

This track – To be continued – was recorded at Odeon Studios in Rio de Janeiro.

The album has been called “one of the all but forgotten masterpieces in 1970s jazz”. I play this record regularly.

What a collection of great players this is!

I just love the way the instruments slowly build the tension as they are introduced – from the bombo drums through to various percussion instruments, to bass, guitar and then the tenor finale. A wonderful development of sounds.

Here is a Rolling Stone obituary (April 3, 2016) – Gato Barbieri, Latin Jazz Great and ‘Last Tango in Paris’ Composer, Dead at 83.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Shire Dad Annoyed That “The Oils” Have Gone All Political

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 8:14am in

Tags 

Arts, Music, Protest

Midnight Oil

A Shire dad is totally dismayed that his favourite band from the 1980s Midnight Oil have gone all woke with their new release “Gadigal Land”.

“Mate what happened to the Oils, they used to do really cool rockers like “US Forces”, “Power And The Passion” and “Beds Are Burning” and suddenly they’ve gone all PC on us,” said Kirrawee plasterer Jason Kingsway. “It’s sad that the band who produced headbanging classics like “Blue Sky Mine” and “Short Memory” feel they have be oh so politically aware to appeal to the kids.”

Mr Kingsway is considering burning the Oils t-shirt with the bar code on it that he bought at a gig at the Cronulla Workers Club in 1983 as a protest.

“They just played three in a row on Triple M; “Read About It”, “Armistace Day” and “Dead Heart”. Those were the days,” lamented the 56 year old father of three. “And to think I was just about to pull out all my old vinyl and play it for my daughter. I’m going to have to get her into Redgum instead. No fear of them ever getting political.”

Peter Green

@Greeny_peter

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The Overlord on Rumours that Mark Hamill Has Sold Image for Hollywood CGI Clone of Luke Skywalker

‘The Overlord’ is another YouTube channel devoted to news and views about genre cinema and television. It’s hosted by Dictor von Doomcock, a masked alien supervillain supposedly living at the centre of the Earth. And who is definitely not impressed at all at the state of contemporary popular culture, and particularly the way beloved film classics like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who and so on are now being trashed by producers who have no respect for these series and their fans. And in this video he talks about the bizarre next step in this process: the recreation of favourite film characters like Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker through CGI, completely removing the need for human actors.

A website, WDW Pro, has claimed that Disney are looking for ways they can break the pause in filming imposed by the Coronavirus lockdown. They are therefore looking at ways to do without human actors. They have therefore been looking at a technological solution to this problem, using the same computer techniques used to create the films The Lion King of 2019 and the 2016 film version of The Jungle Book, as well as the facial recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Rogue 1. Frustrated at the hold-up filming the third Guardians of the Galaxy flick, Disney will use the technology, Cosmic Rewind, to create a completely computer generated movie, but one that would be presented as using human characters. This is going to be an experiment to test the possibility of creating films without human actors and the need for their salaries. According to a rumour, which WDW Pro has not been able to confirm, the projected film is about Young Indy, and its effectiveness will be tested when a rollercoaster based on the film comes on as part of Disneyworld.

Lucasfilm has also apparently made a deal with Mark Hamill within the last 18 months in which he has signed over his image to them so that they can use it to create a CGI Luke Skywalker. This Virtual Skywalker may also be used in the projected Galaxy’s Edge Star Wars theme park. However, due to the project’s severe financial problems, this may not happen anytime soon. Disney are slowly moving towards using this technology to dispense with human actors so that they won’t have to suffer a similar pause in filming ever again, although they won’t move away from human actors altogether immediately.

Doomcock himself laments this development, and feels that it is inevitable in a world where Deep Fake technology has advanced so far that we don’t know if the people we see or the news we watch are real, or that the characters we see on the screen are brought to life by real actors using the skills and craft they have learned. He wonders what will happen to our civilisation – what we will lose – if everything we see on the screen is synthetic, and we are removed another step again from reality and anything that has ‘heart’. It might all be all right, but it seems to him that the more we remove the human element from art and culture and make it the creation of AIs, the more removed we are from our culture.

He also vents his spleen about the choice of subject for this putative movie, pointing out that there was a TV series about Young Indiana Jones years ago, and nobody wanted it. He recommends instead that if this grave-robbing technology is to be used, it should be used to recreate the mature Indy of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom. He also criticises Hamill for what he sees as his poor judgement in making the deal with Disney. Hamill should know personally how a poor director can ruin a beloved legacy character, the actor’s own contribution and a favourite film franchise through his experience playing Skywalker in The Last Jedi. He famously wept on set during that movie and bitterly criticised the director’s decisions. He’s sarcastic about the respect Disney shows such legacy characters. It’s rumoured that George Lucas is returning to helm the Star Wars films, in which everything will be fine and we can look forward to a bright, new golden age. But considering the potential for abuse, Doomcock states that he is dismayed, flabbergasted and disgusted by Hamill’s decision and fearful for humanity’s future. As human culture becomes made by machines, hasn’t Skynet won? Who needs to launch nukes, when we have a CGI Skywalker dancing like a monkey in a bikini?

Here’s the video, but as Doomcock himself warns you, it isn’t for children. It has adult humour. Blatantly adult humour.

As you can see, there’s more than a little hyperbole in Doomcock’s argument, and some people will take issue at what he views as the humiliation of Luke Skywalker to push a feminist or anti-racist message, like Black Lives Matter. But his fears of the abuse of such technology aren’t unfounded, and have been around for quite some time. The possibility that actors would sell their images to film companies to recreate them Virtually, while making the flesh and blood person redundant, was explored a few years ago in the SF film The Congress by Ari Folman. This was loosely based on the Stanislaw Lem novel, The Futurological Congress, but is very different, and, in my opinion, inferior. For one thing, the Lem novel is hilariously funny, while the movie is grim and depressing. The movie is about a Hollywood actress, Robin Wright, playing herself, who makes precisely the deal Hamill is rumoured to have made. She then stars in a series of action movies, including one sequence that is definitely a tip to Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove. But this is all computer animation. The Wright herself isn’t remotely involved in their filming. Indeed, it is a condition of her contract that she not act at all, and live the rest of her life in a very comfortable retirement. These developments are followed by the discovery of a drug that allows people to enter a vast, consensual Virtual Reality, in which they can be and do anyone and anything they want. The world’s masses abandon reality, so that civilisation decays into a very grim, dystopia of ruin, poverty and misery. At one point Wright takes the drug, which will return her to reality, only to find herself in a food queue in a burned out, abandoned building. Unable to come with this, she returns to the Virtual world to search for the son she lost while in a coma as a result of a terrorist attack on the Las Vegas congress she was attending at which the hallucinogenic drug was launched. As I said, it’s a depressing film in which such illusions really are bringing about the destruction of humanity. And there is no escape, except into the Virtual world that has caused it.

The film follows a number of other SF works that have also predicted similar dystopias brought about by the hyperreality of mass entertainment. This includes John D. MacDonald’s short story, Spectator Sport, in which a time traveller appears in a future in which all human achievement has ceased as the public live out their lives as characters in VR plays. Another, similar tale is Good Night, Sophie, by the Italian writer Lino Aldani, about an actress in a similar world in which people live harsh, austere lives in order to escape into a far brighter, more vivid fantasy world of entertainment. Rather less pessimistic was the appearance of the SF film, Final Fantasy, all those years ago. This was supposed to be the first film in which all the characters were CGI, and who were supposedly indistinguishable from flesh-and-blood reality. The fact that further films like it haven’t been made suggests that, reassuringly, people want real humans in their movies, not computer simulations.

We’ve also seen the appearance of a number of computer generated celebrities. The first of these was the vid jockey, Max Headroom on Channel 4 in the 1980s. He was supposed to  be entirely computer-generated, but in reality was played by Canadian actor Matt Frewer under a lot of makeup. Then in the 1990s William Gibson, one of the creators of Cyberpunk SF, published Idoru. This was a novel about a man, who begins an affair with a Virtual celebrity. Soon after it came out, a Japanese company announced that it had created its own Virtual celeb, a female pop star. Gibson’s books are intelligent, near-future SF which contain more than an element of the ‘literature as warning’. The worlds of his Cyberspace books are dystopias, warnings of the kind of society that may emerge if the technology gets out of hand or corporations are given too much power. The creation of the Virtual pop star looked instead as though the corporation had uncritically read Gibson, and thought what he was describing was a good idea.

But going further back, I seem to recall that there was a programme on late at night, presented by Robert Powell, on the impact the new information technology would have on society. It was on well after my bedtime, and children didn’t have their own TVs in those days. Or at least, not so much. I therefore didn’t see it, only read about it in the Radio Times. But one of its predictions was that there would be widespread unemployment caused by automation. This would include actors, who would instead by replaced by computer simulations.

Computer technology has also been used to create fresh performances by deceased stars, sometimes duetting with contemporary performers. This worried one of my aunts when it appeared in the 1980s/90s. Dead performers have also been recreated as holograms, to make the stage or television appearances they never made in life. The late, great comedian Les Dawson was revived as one such image, giving post-mortem Audience With… on ITV. It was convincing, and based very much on Dawson’s own live performances and work. It was good to see him again, even if only as Virtual ghost, and a reminder of how good he was when alive.

I don’t know how reliable the rumours Doomcock reports and on which he comments are. This could all be baseless, and come to nothing. But I share his fears about the damage to our culture, if we allow our films and television to be generated by technicians and algorithms rather than flesh and blood thesps. Especially as the rising cost of movies mean that the film companies are unwilling to take risks and seem determined to rake over and exploit past classics rather than experiment with creating fresh material.

CGI’s a great tool. It’s used to create vividly real worlds and creatures. But I don’t want it replacing humans. Even if that means waiting a few years for new flicks to come out.

 

‘Mr H Reviews’ on the Casting of Robot Lead in SF Film

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/08/2020 - 12:26am in

‘Mr H Reviews’ is a YouTube channel specialising in news and opinions on genre films – SF, Fantasy and Horror. In the video below he comments on a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about the production of a new SF movie, which will for the first time star a genuine AI. The movie is simply titled b. Financed by Bondit Capital, which also funded the film Loving Vincent, with the Belgium-based Happy Moon Productions and New York’s Top Ten Media, the film is based on a story by the special effects director Eric Pham with Tarek Zohdy and Sam Khoze. It is about a scientist, who becomes unhappy with a programme to perfect human DNA and helps the AI woman he has created to escape. 

The robot star, Erica, was created by the Japanese scientists/ engineers Hiroshi Ishigura and Hohei Ogawa for another film. The two, according to the Reporter, taught her to act. That film, which was to be directed by Tony Kaye, who made American History X, fell through. Some scenes for the present movie were already shot in Japan in 2019, and the rest will be shot in Europe next year, 2021.

The decision to make a movie starring a robot looks like an attempt to get round the problems of filming caused by the Coronavirus. However, it also raises a number of other issues. One of these, which evidently puzzle the eponymous Mr H, is how a robot can possibly act. Are they going to use takes and give it direction, as they would a human, or will it instead simply be done perfectly first time, thanks to someone on a keyboard somewhere programming it? He is quite enthusiastic about the project with some reservations. He supports the idea of a real robot playing a robot, but like most of us rejects the idea that robots should replace human actors. He also agrees with the project being written by a special effects supervisor, because such a director would obviously be aware of how such a project should be shot.

But it also ties in with an earlier video he has made about the possible replacement of humans by their Virtual simulacra. According to another rumour going round, Mark Hamill has signed away his image to Lucas Film, so that Luke Skywalker can be digitally recreated using CGI on future Star Wars films. Mr H ponders if this is the future of film now, and that humans are now going to be replaced by their computer generated doubles.

In some ways, this is just the culmination of processes that have been going on in SF films for some time. Animatronics – robot puppets – have been used in Science Fiction films since the 1990s, though admittedly the technology has been incorporated into costumes worn by actors. But not all the time. Several of the creatures in the American/Australian SF series Farscape were such animatronic robots, such as the character Rygel. Some of the robots features in a number of SF movies were entirely mechanical. The ABC Warrior which appears in the 1990s Judge Dredd film with Sylvester Stallone was deliberately entirely mechanical. The producers wished to show that it definitely wasn’t a man in a suit. C-3PO very definitely was played by a man in a metal costume, Anthony Daniels, but I noticed in the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, that a real robot version of the character appears in several scenes. Again, this is probably to add realism to the character. I also think that in the original movie, Episode 4: A New Hope, there were two versions of R2D2 used. One was the metal suit operated by Kenny Baker, and I think the other was entirely mechanical, operated by radio. Dr. Who during Peter Davison’s era as the Doctor also briefly had a robot companion. This was Kameleon, a shape-changing android, who made his first appearance in The King’s Demons. He was another radio-operated robot, though voiced by a human actor. However the character was never used, and his next appearance was when he died in the story Planet of Fire.

And then going further back, there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mad plan to create a robotic Salvador Dali for his aborted 1970s version of Dune. Dali was hired as one of the concept artists, along with H.R. Giger and the legendary Chris Foss. Jodorowsky also wanted him to play the Galactic Emperor. Dali agreed, in return for a payment of $1 million. But he stipulated that he was only going to act for half an hour. So in order to make sure they got enough footage of the great Surrealist and egomaniac, Jodorowsky was going to build a robot double. The film would also have starred Orson Welles as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and Mick Jagger as Feyd Rautha, as well as Jodorowsky’s own son, Brontes, as Paul Atreides. The film was never made, as the producers pulled the plug at the last minute wondering what was happening to it. I think part of the problem may have been that it was going well over budget. Jodorowsky has said that all the effort that went into it wasn’t wasted, however, as he and the artist Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud used the ideas developed for the film for their comic series, The Incal. I think that Jodorowsky’s version of Dune would have been awesome, but would have been far different to the book on which it was based.

I also like the idea of robots performing as robots in an SF movie. A few years ago an alternative theatre company specialising in exploring issues of technology and robotics staged a performance in Prague of the classic Karel Capek play, Rossum’s Universal Robots, using toy robots. I can see the Italian Futurists, rabid Italian avant-garde artists who praised youth, speed, violence and the new machine world around the time of the First World War, being wildly enthusiastic about this. Especially as, in the words of their leader and founder, Tommasso Marinetti, they looked ‘for the union of man and machine’. But I really don’t want to see robots nor CGI recreations replace human actors.

Many films have been put on hold because of the Coronavirus, and it looks like the movie industry is trying to explore all its options for getting back into production. However, the other roles for this movie haven’t been filled and so I do wonder if it will actually be made.

It could be one worth watching, as much for the issues it raises as its story and acting.

‘Spitting Image’ Returning on BritBox

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/08/2020 - 12:44am in

I found this promising little snippet in today’s I for 5th August 2020. It seems that satirical puppet show, Spitting Image, will be returning to TV after nearly a quarter of a century. The article runs

Johnson’s ‘Spitting Image’ revealed

Boris Johnson, his chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the Duke of York feature among the latest Spitting Image puppets unveiled ahead of the show’s return;. The satirical series will air later this year on BritBox after running on ITV for 18 series between 1984 and 1996. Donald Trump, Beyonce, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Vladimir Putin will also feature prominently.

There were plans to bring it back a few years ago following a retrospective on the programme as long ago as 2004, I believe. Channel 4 looked into it, but turned it down because it would be too expensive. Health and Safety legislation also meant that the conditions in which the puppets were made back in the ’80s and ’90s, which did use dangerous chemicals, would be illegal and need to be improved. In the meantime, we briefly had Newzoids on ITV, which also mixed puppets and CGI to satirise politicos and celebs, but was obviously cheaper.

I thought, however, that Britbox was a streaming service for oldshows broadcast by the Beeb and ITV. This suggests that they aren’t just showing re-runs, but have commissioned new material. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

And to see if the new, revived Spitting Image is as vicious, incisive and hilarious at its previous incarnation.

‘I’ Article on ‘Bardcore’ – Postmodern Fusion of Medieval Music and Modern Pop

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 8:20pm in

I’m a fan of early music, which is the name that’s been given to music from the ancient period through medieval to baroque. It partly comes from having studied medieval history at ‘A’ level, and then being in a medieval re-enactment group for several years. Bardcore is, as this article explains, a strange fusion of modern pop and rock with medieval music, played on medieval instruments and with a medieval vocal arrangement. I’ve been finding a good deal of it on my YouTube page at the moment, which means that there are a good many people out there listening to it. On Monday the I’s Gillian Fisher published a piece about this strange new genre of pop music, ‘Tonight we’re going to party like it’s 1199’, with the subtitle ‘Bardcare reimagines modern pop with a medieval slant. Hark, says Gillian Fisher’. The article ran

“Hadst thou need to stoop so low? To send a wagon for thy minstrel and refuse my letters, I need no longer write them though. Now thou art somebody whom I used to know.”

If you can’t quite place this verse, let me help – it’s the chorus from the 2011 number one Somebody That I Used to Know, by Gotye. It might seem different to how you remember it, which is no surprise – this is the 2020 Bardcore version. Sometimes known as Tavernwave, Bardcore gives modern hits a medieval makeover with crumhorns a plenty and lashings of lute. Sometimes lyrics are also rejigged as per Hildegard von Blingin’s offering above.

Algal (41-year-old Alvaro Galan) has been creating medieval covers since 2016, a notable example being his 2017 version of System of a Down’s Toxicity. Largely overlooked at the time, the video now boasts over 4.4 million views. Full-time musician Alvaro explains that “making the right song at the right moment” is key, and believes that Bardcore offers absolute escapism.

Alvaro says: “What I enjoy most about Bardcore is that I can close my eyes and imagine being in a medieval tavern playing for a drunk public waiting to dance! But from a more realistic perspective , I love to investigate the sounds of the past.”

In these precarious times, switching off Zoom calls and apocalyptic headlines to kick back with a flagon of mead offers a break from the shambles of 2020. Looking back on simpler times during periods of unrest is a common coping mechanism, as Krystine Batcho, professor of psychology at New York’ Le Moyne College explained in her paper on nostalgia: “Nostalgic yearning for the past is especially likely to occur during periods of transition, like maturing into adulthood or aging into retirement. Dislocation or alienation can also elicit nostalgia.”

The fact that Bardcore is also pretty funny also offers light relief. The juxtaposition of ancient sound with 21st-century sentiment is epitomised in Stantough’s medieval oeuvre, such as his cover of Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie. Originally from Singapore, Stantough (Stanley Yong), 35 says: “I really like the fact we don’t really take it very seriously. We’re all aware what we’re making isn’t really medieval but the idea of modern songs being “medievalised” is just too funny.”

One of Bardcore’s greatest hits, is Astronomia by Cornelius Link, which features trilling flutes and archaic vocal by Hildegard. It’s a tune that has been enjoyed by 5.3 million listeners. Silver-tongued Hildegard presides over the Bardcore realm, with her cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance clocking up 5 million views. Canadian illustrator Hildegard, 28, fits Bardcore around work and describes herself as “an absolute beginner” with the Celtic harp and “enthusiastically mediocre” with the recorder. Her lyric adaptations have produced some humdingers such as “All ye bully-rooks with your buskin boots which she sings in rich, resonant tones.

HIldegard, who wishes to remain anonymous, believes the Bardcore boom can be “chalked up to luck, boredom and a collective desire to connect and laugh.”

In three months, the Bardcore trend has evolved with some minstrels covering Disney anthems, while others croon Nirvana hits in classical Latin. While slightly absurd, this fusion genre has ostensibly provided a sense of unity and catharsis.

The humming harps and rhythmic tabor beats evoke a sense of connection with our feudal ancestors and their own grim experience of battening down the hatches against the latest outbreak. Alongside appealing to the global sense of pandemic ennui, connecting to our forbears through music is predicated upon the fact that they survived their darkest hours. And so shall we.

While Bardcore’s a recent phenomenon, I think it’s been drawing on trends in pop music that have happening for quite long time. For example, I noticed in the 1990s when I went to a performance of the early music vocal group, the Hilliard Ensemble, when they performed at Brandon Hill in Bristol that the audience also included a number of Goths. And long-haired hippy types also formed part of the audience for Benjamin Bagley when he gave his performance of what the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf probably sounded like on Anglo-Saxon lyre at the Barbican centre in the same decade.

Bardcore also seems connected to other forms of postmodern music. There’s the group the Postmodern Jukebox, whose tunes can also be found on YouTube, who specialise in different 20th century arrangements of modern pop songs. Like doing a rock anthem as a piece of New Orleans Jazz, for example. And then there’s Orkestra Obsolete, who’ve arranged New Order’s Blue Monday using the instruments of the early 20th century, including musical saws and Theremin. There’s definitely a sense of fun with all these musical experiments, and behind the postmodern laughter it is good music. An as this article points out, we need this in these grim times.

Here’s an example of the type of music we’re talking about: It’s Samuel Kim’s medieval arrangement of Star Wars’ Imperial March from his channel on YouTube.

And here’s Orkestra Obsolete’s Blue Monday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MMTed Q&A – Episode 10

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 5:42pm in

Tags 

Music

Here is Episode 10 in our weekly MMTed Q&A series. This is the last episode in Season 1. We are experimenting with new formats and will be back later in 2020 with some live shows (if the virus abates). In this episode, I continue my talks with special guest is Warren Mosler. We talked about the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to trade, which confounds a lot of people but is really quite straightforward. And, as usual on a Wednesday, we have some great music.

MMTed Q&A – Episode 10

This is Episode 10 and the final in the first season of our MMTed Q&A series. Season 2 will return later in the year.

This week, my special guest is Warren Mosler, one of the founders of MMT.

We talked about the MMT approach to trade – distinguishing between real and nominal conceptions.

The video goes for 7:25 minutes.

Note the discussion is mostly via Zoom, which means at time the audio and video quality is less than first-class. But we are learning to live with that constraint.

Call for MMTed Support

We are working towards beginning course delivery in September.

But we still need significant sponsors for this venture to ensure that we can run the educational program with negligible fees and to ensure it is sustainable over time.

If you are able to help on an ongoing basis that would be great. But we will also appreciate of once-off and small donations as your circumstances permit.

You can contribute in one of two ways:

1. Via PayPal – which is our preferred vehicle for receiving donations.

The PayPal donation button is available via the MMTed Home Page or via the – Donation button – on the right-hand menu of this page (below the calendar).

2. Direct to MMTed’s Bank Account.

Please write to me to request account details.

Please help if you can.

Today … Jigsaw Puzzle Blues

In 1933, violinist – Joe Venuti – recorded a track with guitarist – Eddie Lang and his band Blue Five.

The track was – Jigsaw Puzzle Blues.

Eddie Lang was probably the first guitarist to play in jazz bands and dance orchestras in tat period (1920). Sadly, his great playing ended when he died at the age of 30 after complications from surgery (tonsillectomy). A minor operation now but fraught then.

His playing is greatly missed and worth studying – I learned a lot copying his lines.

Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang were childhood friends and created really exciting guitar/violin interactions through the 1920s and into the 1930s. When Eddie Lang died in 1933, Joe Venuti’s career stalled until he was ‘rediscovered’ in the 1960s playing in a Las Vegas hotel.

After that some magnificent recordings followed with swing pianist – Earl Hines – which still occupy a highly-ranked space in my collection. It is crowded up there!

Anyway, sidetracked!

Later on, in January 1969, Fleetwood Mac (before they became a pop band) released an album – English Rose – and track 2 was ‘Jigsaw Puzzle Blues’ – different song but same name and the inspiration from the earlier version is fairly clear. This was a US only release.

Soon after, the song was re-released worldwide on the – The Pious Bird of Good Omen (1969) – which is where I heard it. I still have that original

It was written by guitarist – Danny Kirwan.

The connection with Joe Venuti’s version is no surprise, Danny Kirwan’s mother was a jazz singer and apparently listened all the time to Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti and guitarist – Django Reinhardt.

While – Peter Green – was the big guitar star in Fleetwood Mac and the other guitarist – Jeremy Spencer – played the slide guitar lines, Danny Kirwan offered beautiful chord melodies and some very subtle vibrato and tremelo.

This is one of the classic pieces of guitar playing. Only 1:36 minutes long and deceptively simple. But really beautifully structured and quite hard to play while keeping tempo.

Danny Kirwan, like the other great guitar player in the band – Peter Green – who died recently, endured a life tormented by mental illness.

He died in June 2018 (aged 68) and was afflicted with alcolism and drug abuse.

He spent years homeless in London. Mick Fleetwood continually would track him down to help him. He lived on the royalties from the Fleetwood Mac days.

The last interview he did was in July 1997 for Guitar Magazine – but I cannot find my old copy of it to scan unfortunately.

Very sad – died of pneumonia.

A great guitar player in the shadow though of the greatest player of his time (Peter Green).

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2020 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

Dylan, Unencumbered

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/08/2020 - 2:40am in


Before the Covid-19 lockdown began, I had spent the year doing research in the Library of Congress, where, in their large collection of feminist ephemera, there are a series of pamphlets that take their name from Bob Dylan songs. In the first issue of Just Like A Woman: A Publication of Atlanta Woman’s Liberation in […]

Old ‘Financial Times’ Review by Caryl Phillips of Books on Afrocentrism and Black Identity

This is another very old clipping from my scrapbooks. Titled ‘Burdened by white men’s perceptions’, its a review by the Black British writer Caryl Phillips of the books Afrocentrism: Mythical Pasts and Imagined Homes by Stephen Howe, and Masks: Blackness, Race and the Imagination by Adam Lively. Its from the Financial Times’ edition for August 15th/16th 1998, and so nearly a quarter of a century old. Nevertheless, these are issues that are still present and which are still strongly influencing contemporary racial politics and motivating activist movements like Black Lives Matter.

Phillips begins his review with the book on Afrocentrism. This is a Black historical view that sees ancient Egypt as a Black African civilisation and the true source of the western cultural and intellectual tradition, which was appropriated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. He then moves on to the second book, which is about the issue of Black identity in majority White culture and the effects of White perceptions. Phillips writes

Stephen Howe’s candid book goes right to the heart of one of the most vexing of contemporary America’s problems: the question of “Afrocentrism”, and its legitimacy as an alternative system of thought to the “white racism” which has dominated American intellectual, social and political life. Howe (who is white) quotes the African-American professor, Manning Marable, who defines Afrocentrism as a system of thought which “looks to a romantic, mythical reconstruction of yesterday to find some understanding of the cultural basis of today’s racial and class challenges.” Howe agrees with Marable that Afrocentrism is not only romantic and mythical, but he sees it as ultimately dangerous.

His book is divided into three parts. In the first section Howe looks at the “roots” of Afrocentrism, rightly identifying the writings o the 19th-century writer Edward Wilmot Blyden as being perhaps at the head of this tradition. In 1866 Blyden travelled to Egypt, determined to see evidence of great Black achievements. He was overwhelmed by a sense of racial pride on first seeing the Pyramids: “This, thought I, was the work of my African progenitors … Feelings came over me far different from those I have ever felt when looking at the mighty works of European genius. I felt that I had a peculiar heritage in the Great Pyramid built … by the enterprising sons of Ham, from which I am descended …”

In the second part of his book, Howe focuses largely upon the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-86), identifying him as the originator of many of the ideas that form the basis of modern Afrocentrism. Diop believed that the biological origin of humanity took place in Africa, and that Egypt was the cradle of a Black civilisation that was appropriated by the Ancient Greeks. His writings and scholarship all speak to a need for those of Africa to see beyond the obfuscation created by European racism and colonialism,  and reclaim their glorious past.

The final part of Howe’s book looks at the current manifestations of Afrocentric thought, particularly in American academic life. He rightly castigates the anti-Semitism of Afrocentric “scholars”  such as Leonard Jeffries and Tony Martin, and is tough but even-handed in his case against Molefi Asante (whom Howe calls the “Godfather of Afrocentrism”). The pseudo-scientific racism, the homophobia, and the lack of any serious scholarship which underpins the work of modern-day Afrocentrism is laid bare in a devastating, and at times humorous manner.

This book performs a great service for all who are interested in the intellectual study of race and racism in the US. Howe builds his case upon facts, which most Afrocentric “scholars” seem incapable of doing. However, what Howe does not do is to ask the pressing question which arises out of his book: why is it that so many African Americans both leaders and followers, are prepared to invest in such an ahistorical sense of their world and their history?

The first half of Adam Lively’s book provides some kind of an answer, castigating as it does the European attempts to place Africa and people of African origin at the bottom of the evolutionary chain. Lively traces what he terms “the invention of race” in the modern world, and looks at racial theories in 18th and 19th-century Britain, examined how they clashed with Christianity, and Darwinism.

The second half of the book turns to the US. Lively announces his shift of locale and time, by stating that in the earlier period “If the African answered back, the European didn’t hear. In America by contrast … the American Negro could and did answer back to the White man.” This is not strictly true. Olaudah Equiano’s autobiographical narrative published in 1789 went into eight British editions, and was also published in German, Dutch and Russian. Equiano was but one of a host of contemporary Black writers who were undoubtedly heard by Europeans.

The American half of Lively’s book is largely composed of readings in 20th century American literature which support his central thesis that the contemporary imagination has great difficulty coping with a blackness that has been so deeply demonised by theories which originated in earlier centuries. However, whereas the first half of his book is underpinned by solid research, the second half becomes more speculative.

The book concludes with a short epilogue entitled “Beyond Race?” Unfortunately, here the text collapses into the infuriating academic doublespeak that the author has so eloquently avoided. “The idea of postethnicity accords with the modern tendency to see ethnicity as performative than essentialist. Blackness becomes a cultural style, a signifier that has floated free of its moorings in pigmentation. Stripped of any deterministic associations, its gift is the freedom (or, negatively, the alienation) of the mask.”

Blackness is not, and never will be, simply “a cultural style”. Being Black in the western world still means that one is burdened by White people’s perceptions of  one as either an object of taboo or one of sentiment. To scamper off into an imagined past of Afrocentric “achievement” is as foolish as the attempt to construct an imagined present of redemptive cultural equality based around baggy jeans and rap music. Lively ends his book with the following sentence: “The racial past cannot be erased, but it can be rendered impotent.” Neither Lively’s faith in postmodernism nor the Afrocentric’s “fake” history, will produce any viable solution to a problem that will dog us far into the next millennium.

I hope this prediction is far too pessimistic, and that this millennium won’t be as burdened with issues of race and racism as the previous. Regarding Afrocentrism, there is a serious point behind the romanticism. Egypt is geographically part of Africa, and the ancient Egyptians certainly portrayed themselves as darker skinned than the European peoples to the north. They traded extensively in the Mediterranean, including as far west as Spain, and did influence Greek and Roman culture. The White Afrocentrist historian, Basil Davidson, states that he believes that the Romans took their intellectual culture from Egypt because the Romans themselves said they did. On the other hand, it appears that the ancient Greeks took their mathematical knowledge from the ancient Near East, particularly Phrygia, rather than Egypt.

My problem with Afrocentrism is that, at its extreme, it just becomes a form of anti-White racism, the mirror image of White racist views of Black and African history. In the view of Afrocentric writers like Garakai Chengu, ancient Egypt was a superior Black civilisation that bestowed culture and learning on the backward White tribes of Europe. The Moors of Islamic Spain were ‘obviously Black’, and through their conquest brought backward, superstitious White Europeans enlightened philosophy and science. This isn’t history so much as a Black racist fantasy of imperialism and benign colonialism projected into the past. Chengu has apparently taught at Harvard, but when Counterpunch saw fit to publish a piece by him on their website the standard of scholarship was so poor that I really wondered how he got the job.

Ancient Egypt and the other great civilisations of Africa are awesome, inspiring and worth studying along with all the world’s great cultures. But this needs to be done without the grotesque distortions of racism, whether by Whites or Blacks.

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