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April 13, 2009

Economic Stimulus

Towards the end of last year the government chose to attempt to stimulate the economy using fiscal means – that is to say that spend more (creating jobs) and tax less (incentivizing purchases and harder work). This is a traditional remedy in time of economic strife – action that the government can undertake to encourage the economic to grow faster, or shrink less in this case.

The conservatives opposed the measures on the grounds that they would increase government debt. Debt they argue is bad because it its hard to repay, it requires that at some point in time in the future one must either raise taxes or cut spending – either way the economy will be damage by the inverse effects of the stimulus. Some commentators pointed out that the stimulus would only increase the fiscal deficit (ie the amount added to national debt) by 1/15 of the amount that it was going to rise by anyway, and the Conservatives weren’t opposing the ‘stabilizers’, ie the natural reduction in taxation and increase in spending that happens during a recession. It seemed obvious to me that that was merely political expediency, that they didn’t want to be charged with sacking doctors and teachers for example.

There exists only a limited amount of investment capital, the kind that is required to fund businesses and drive forward growth. Since the cause of the economic issues was fundamentally related to the debt markets, and banks in the Uk that have had financial issues have generally been over-exposed to the debt markets there currently exists a climate of irrational negativity with respect to investing in firms, and in general to spending money. The government’s monetary policy, the cutting of interest rates to their lowest rate ever, is an attempt to provide some disincentive to saving, and thus encourage spending and investment.

This all seems to ignore one critical aspect of the financial crisis that has been, in my opinion, heavily overlooked. When a flight to safety occurs, when investors look towards companies that are unlikely to go under during times of economic hardship, the British government’s bonds are always in demand. People already want to invest their money in buying government debt, because its comparatively safe, why encourage this trend? It crowds out the private sector from much needed funds, both in terms of medium term investment and short term spending. Given the size of the deficit during the coming two fiscal years, and the fact that someone has to buy the debt that is issued, there is a lot of money thats going to the public, rather than private sector.

One could argue that since the government are committed to injecting all the debt that they are accruing, via deficit, into the economy it actually isn’t something to worry about at all. Private sector companies are laying people off in ordering to save costs, whilst the public sector can simply plough on, injecting capital where it is needed. If one accepts this duality between debt and spending, however, it means that the net benefit of a government running a deficit is actually the different between its deficit and the amount of bond capital that wouldn’t have been investing in the economy, ie the amount that would normally be stored in some kind of savings account. Since we are currently bailing out banks because they lack these kind of funds … epic sigh.

So having thought about it a little more maybe we should be less gung-ho about using a fiscal stimulus in the current climate. Not that i believe that a fiscal stimulus is useless, but in a situation where there is a such a virulent flight to safety the effecting of crowding out the private sector could do more harm than good. Of course, interest rates have already reached their lowest level ever and can’t really help. I’m still somewhat uncertain as to how exactly demand is going to be stimulated by quantitive easing. To quote the great and wise Bender Bending Rodriguez, “We’re boned!”

March 09, 2009


Writing about web page

Its been a while since I last posted something worthy on my blog, and even though there have been many issues cropping up, especially with the economic crisis I’ve not really felt much like actually blogging. Hopefully this, and the need to avoid planet uwcs getting completely overun by Dan will kick start things off again.

Caveats: minor spoilers & I’ve not read the comic book.


In my opinion the film adaptation of the watchmen was always bound to never be considered as influential within the medium of film, or even within the genre of comic book adaptations, as the comic book is to comic books. When people mention The Watchmen with reverence, they consitently mention its post-modernist content (self concious and self-reflective defiance of convention) and violence. One can see both of these attributes within the adaptation, but this isn’t anything new in the current climate. It was decided before 2009 that all comic book adapations worth their salt had to delve into their characters dark past, and attempt to create interesting characters, either by setting in a wold realistic and situation enough for one to empathize with them (for example Batman fighting terrorism with technology) or by making them charasmatic enough for one to like them (Hellboy’s cigar and willingness to sticky it to Jeffrey Tambor). I can’t really decide whether it is an innate failure as a film on these grounds, or merely minorly disappointing because of its flaws – perhaps I am setting the bar a little too high.

The story itself follows a group of super heroes trying to save the world from nuclear warfare between fictionalized American and Russian super-powers in an alternative Cold War. There is much to like about this scenario, the dangers are to humanity, by humanity, rather than a threat caused by a super-villain. The heroes themselves are second generation, allowing the story to deal with the issue of having to live up to the expectations of ones parents. The scenario itself has Nixon in a 5th term in office, having won the Vietnam war with the help of the super heroes, and American on a moral and social decline. It forgoes the now cliche’d origin-story in favour of an opening montage, possibly the best part of the film, combined with occassional flashbacks. All but one of the heroes is essentially an superior mortal, rather than an übermenschlich.

The one other hero, Dr. Manhattan, has had the mandatory radiation exposure and consequent super-powers that seem to prove remarkably statistically likely to happen in comic book stories. His character plays an important role in the film, a God with existential angst, loosing his humanity and unable to decide on what his true position in life is. I felt his story was well portrayed with the exception of a hard to swallow turn towards the end of the film. I was also highly appreciative of the use of some of Philip Glass’ score for Koyaniqatsi, since Dr. Manhattan genuinely is life-out-of-balance. Unfortunately this is really the only attempt to meaningfully reference popular culture in a level above the superficial.

Rorschach is another character worth mentioning – apart from his masked face he is essentially a prototypical hard boiled detective, complete with the kind of narration one would expect from Raymond Chandler. Unfortunately he doesn’t get all the trappings of the film noir genre, and the cynical and amoral world that exists around The Watchmen is used to neither counter point their fundamental belief in justice, nor as a reflection of their frailties in comparison with traditional superheroes.

An interesting comparison could be made between, The Incredibles and The Watchmen. On a stylistic level these have nothing in common – the watchmen is moody and dark, whilst The Incredibles is as jazzy and exciting a film as I’ve ever seen. In the incredibles, humour is naturely part of the setup, while Watchmen artificially injects bad jokes into the fabric of a serious film, fundamentally undermining the emotional payoff of several scenes. In both films, however, self-reflection on super heroes is put to the fore-front, but while The Incredibles explores Nietzsche (“When everyone is special, no one is”), watchmen looks more broadly at what super heroes would be like if they were more human, perhaps less morally absolute, afraid of living up to their parents, or unsure what to make of themselves. For me, this is where Watchmen falls down – its an interesting ‘what if’, brilliantly visualised and intelligently conceived, but I don’t want to go and see a film to gain insight into the lives of super heroes, I want to gain insight into the real world around me: people, politics, philosphy and I can’t say I leant anything meaningful about them from this visit to the Cinema.

January 01, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions – but I thought this year would be a good time to start. It’s also about time for another blog post. (Side note: this blog will very soon be three years old, so happy birthday.) I think in order to check what you’ve actually achieved you really do need to write down your resolutions. By doing it in public – it gives you more incentive to succeed.

1. Finish PhD

Very few people actually finish their PhD within the three years that they, presumably, set out to. Gordon Brown, for example, took 10 years. At the beginning of October 2009 the first three years of my PhD will be up. I’m going to aim to finish writing up by then. This will require the level of productivity that I achieved in my 4th undergraduate year, but frankly, haven’t gotten back up to since.

2. Get a Job

This obviously depends on (1) – but more importantly it depends on me figuring out precisely what I want to do with myself. Its quite tempting to try and continue an academic career, but it’ll be hard to obtain an interesting position given the poor student numbers. I’d also like a job with more hard deadlines again for a bit. Industrial research seems vaguely interesting – usually good application and plenty of good people doing work there, but in the current economic climate I’m sure research will be cut back on. Certainly this will suck up much of my musing time in 2009.

3. Complete Uncompleted projects

I currently have a whole load of partially finished personal coding projects lying around between my desktop and my laptop. I need to pick two or three of these and actually sit down and finish them off.

Good luck in 2009 readers.

December 14, 2008

Banks and Regulation

One of things that has stood out to me recently, is the propensity of members of the public to trust government regulation as a universal panacea for the ills of the banking system. The argument, as I understand it, goes as follows:

1. Industrial Leaders cannot be trusted to make sound judgement because they have a perverse economic self interest for short term gain.
2. Regulators don’t have that self interest and can thus make sound judgements in the public interest.
3. Consequently we should trust regulators and government over Industrial Leaders to do, ‘the right thing’.

I am inclined to believe in (1). There is an excellent case made in The Roaring Nineties that observes the combining of accounting and consulting firms as generating an economic incentive to not audit firms properly. This was a lesson that was perhaps more in the front of people’s minds at the time, soon after the Enron and Worldcom accounting scandal – but it is a problem that continues to face us now. Hopefully the IFRS clears up some of the issues involved.

Banks have a peculiar financial incentive to make risky investments. The government is obliged to bail them out in times of financial hardship. This is very obvious in terms of the so called nationalisation of the banking industry that has recently happened, but it is important to not ignore the Savings and Loans Crisis . Here the problem couldn’t be blame on complicated financial instruments (the bane of any regulatory authority is that they don’t control them) – but was mainly organisations being unable to appreciate that if they don’t have sufficient assets to back the loans that they are giving out and some of them go bad they are in trouble. Again, recent market deregulation, in this case the Depository Institutions Deregulation and Monetary Control Act acted as an enabler to systemically poor judgement on the behalf of those lending out money.

Its not hugely surprising that some of these companies are instinctively risk loving when you look at their history. Bank of America famously expanded in aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake by loaning money to people on trust and without proper knowledge of their financial histories. The bank’s founder, Amadeo Giannini, was the only serious bank in town at the time, since he had taken the personal risk of death in order to get the bank’s gold deposits out of San Francisco during the earthquake.

I have more of an issue with statement (2) however. It is frequently the case that supposedly independant regulators are either controlled by former industrial leaders – people who they have been regulating, or their independence is undermined by lobbyists. In 2004 The US Securities and Exchange commission increased the debt to capital ratio for banks from 12:1 to 30:1. Its chair at the time was William H. Donaldson – a former chair of the New York Stock Exchange.

Henry Paulson, current US Treasury Secretary, at first requested congress allow him to personally distribute the $700 billion, with the guarantee that there was no way he could be criminally charged in relation to its distribution. In other words he was requesting to be able to give tax payers money to his friends and not be held responsible to any standards of oversight. As the former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs he is another industrial leader who is unable to recommend policy with an objective eye.

The US Congress should, in theory, be an independent oversight on the actions of such people, but it is estimated that the banking industry spent $30 million on lobbying in order to pass the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999. Some of this legislation increased competition in the banking market, however, the spate of mergers that resulted certainly decreased competition, and increased the recent contagion within the financial markets.

I am thus left asking myself several questions. Why should we trust a regulator if they are intimately linked with organisations that they are meant to be regulating? How can government be made truely accountable in the presence of well funded lobbyists and pervasive public ignorance? Is it possible to institute legislation that prevents systemic bad judgement?

September 14, 2008

Stop getting history wrong!

Earlier in the week I attended a dinner at Warwick Castle. Whilst there we were entertained by people dressed up in historical costume. This is fine, though I felt a certain sense of deja vu . For completeness sake, have a photo:

The only issue with this is that they served potatoes with the meal, which wasn’t imported until Sir Francis Drake brought the potato in from Peru in 1586. It is commonly cited as being Sir Walter Raleigh, but apparently thats incorrect. They also asked people to stop smoking ‘the vile weed tobacco’, which has a similar historical issue. Also many of the songs played on the lute weren’t composed until many years later.

This didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the evening, but one is inclined to question the accuracy of historical material provided by institutions such as castles that are offering entertainment simultaneously.

September 06, 2008

Straw Men burn easily

Tony Morris posted an article to his blog giving an example program. The blog title predicates a comparison between languages on one example. This is sensible if one does it infinitely often, and aggregates the results, unfortunately in order to effectively compare languages one must be fair with the examples from each language. I dislike the style in which the haskell/scala/functionaljava examples were written – trying to be far too clever. Anyone who uses “uncurry (flip (,))” is thinking backwards about a problem: Pun intended!

I asked in the wuglug IRC channel if anyone had any more interesting solutions to the problem. I haven’t seen any other algorithm that isn’t either based on the stack, or repeatedly deleting matching pairs of brackets. Faux came up with:

private static boolean parse(String test)
    int prev;
        prev = test.length();
        test = test.replaceAll("\\(\\)", "").replaceAll("\\[\\]", "");
    } while (test.length() != prev);

    return test.length() == 0;

Its incredibly easy to see intent in this code, and it can be easily generalised according to Mr. Morris’ comparison by abstracting ”\\(\\)” etc. into an array and wrapping a for loop around it:

private static String[] pairs = {"\\(\\)", "\\[\\]"};
private static boolean parse(String test)
    int prev;
        prev = test.length();
        for(String pair:pairs)
            test = test.replaceAll(pair, "");
    } while (test.length() != prev);

    return test.length() == 0;

Lamby provided the awesome regex: /(? (\((?>(?&r))\))|([(?>(?&r))\]))*/ . This is completely unreadable, however, it is very neat, and could be reasonably commented. In my opinion it is no harder to read than Mr. Morris’ Haskell.

As someone who does rather like the Haskell programming language, I felt it would be interesting to come up with an example in that. The stack based algorithm is more efficient being O(n), rather than O(n^2) – so I decided to play around with that. Its very prology, and might be better written in that language.

parse x = stack x []
stack [] [] = True
stack ('(':x) y = stack x ('(':y)
stack ('[':x) y = stack x ('[':y)
stack (')':x) ('(':y) = stack x y 
stack (']':x) ('[':y) = stack x y 
stack _ _ = False

In comparison with the original Haskell example, this imports nothing outside of prelude, is
(in my opinion) easier to understand, is probably faster – since it uses very simple recursion – and is 8 characters shorter. If anyone has a better solution that doesn’t use a parser generator, and preferably makes minimal use of libraries.

September 04, 2008

Apparently Clarke is right about something

Charles Clarke’s prediction of disaster at the next election is based on very firm ground. The latest polls by Populus and Yougov have Labour behind by 16% and 19% respectively. Historical precedent for this kind of margin between the leading two parties is hard to come by. Thatcher’s famed 1983 win was taken by a popular vote margin over Labour of 14.8% and granted her 397 of the possible 633 seats (63%). For reference, New Labour’s 1997 victory had a 12.5% popular vote margin, achieveing 418 of the 639 seats (65%). In order to find an election where the popular vote margin between the two primary parties is over 16% one has to go back to 1931, where Stanley Baldwin’s conservatives took a 24.2% lead over Labour, resulting in 473 of the 556 of parliamentary seats (85%). The background to that election was in fighting within the Labour that resulted in their leader, Ramsey Macdonald being expelled from the party.

Clarke’s suggested solution, changing party leader, might not be a particularly strong idea. None of the viable alternatives (Harmen, Milliband, Straw) are particular popular or well known, though this didn’t seem to hamper Michael Howard in 2005. The public dislike party leadership changes without electoral mandate (still ranks as one of the highest criticisms of Brown) and party infighting. If they were hold a general election immediately after the leadership change, they would also get slammed on the party unity vote, as happened to the Conservatives in 1997. Another important consideration is that while the public dislike Gordon Brown, and would be inclined to protest vote him, they appear to have similar feelings to the whole New Labour Brand.

Finally the question comes up as to what substantive changes would one actually make to Labour? Judging from public statements party members seem to think the problem is primarily presentation – Milliband argues for rallying round, Clarke for replacing Brown etc. This seems to ignore the public who have genuine economic grievances and a strong belief that the country is on the wrong track. Something I’ve definitely noted amongst successful politicians is that you have to genuinely stand either against an idea, or for an idea.

The constant list of policy tweaks that Brown has announced whilst in office don’t say much to the public. Since they seem to be on the same track with the new economic policies being announced at the moment – its hard to see them coming back from this. Frankly Labour leadership could do a lot worse than this simple exercise: in one sentence why would we vote for you over the Conservatives? The answer to this shouldn’t be a rehash of existing policy or ideas, but a simple, bold, new concept.

August 21, 2008


I’m not interested in the Olympics at all – never gotten into it. I do like tables of numbers however! It struck me that everyone was going on about Britain doing well – which I neither deny, or want to detract from. What I was vaguely interested was in, was who was doing well in comparison to their population.

The following table scores countries performance by 3 points for Gold, 2 points for Silver and 1 for Bronze – which is entirely arbitrary, but I felt a better approach than the listings for official tables (Ordered by number of Gold Medals). if there is a scoring system somewhere, I’d love to know about it. These numbers are probably already out of date, since they use the figures from mid afternoon today, before I fell asleep. The population figures are taken from Wikipedia, and are all the most recent normative figures/estimates – rather than relying on aged, albeit positive, figures (eg a census).

i haven’t bothered formatting it particularly well, since as I say its already out of date. But I thought it might be interesting to someone else anyway. I’ll most likely try to write a complete version, once the olympics are actually finished, with more sanitized presentation. Ideally I’d like to be able to get better population figures, but that sounds like actual effort. A comparison with past events would also make excellent future work.

Score/Pop Country Gold Silver Brz Total Population Score
1.04166666666667E-05 Malaysia 0 1 0 1 192000 2
6.63227708179808E-06 Jamaica 4 3 0 7 2714000 18
4.43568260226713E-06 Slovenia 1 2 2 5 2029000 9
3.94649603771798E-06 Bahrain 1 0 0 1 760168 3
3.74286516328249E-06 New Zealand 3 1 5 9 4274800 16
3.72967328062062E-06 Estonia 1 1 0 2 1340600 5
3.2718981482412E-06 Australia 11 12 13 36 21394309 70
2.0639834881321E-06 Belarus 2 3 8 13 9690000 20
2.03617995610366E-06 Slovakia 3 1 0 4 5402273 11
2.003999983968E-06 Denmark 2 1 3 6 5489022 11
1.90186382655002E-06 Mongolia 1 1 0 2 2629000 5
1.88343622475672E-06 Norway 1 2 2 5 4778500 9
1.86368477103301E-06 Cuba 1 6 6 13 11268000 21
1.82025028441411E-06 Georgia 2 0 2 4 4395000 8
1.6655562958028E-06 Armenia 0 0 5 5 3002000 5
1.58102766798419E-06 Netherlands 4 5 4 13 16445000 26
1.50037509377344E-06 Trinidad & Tob 0 1 0 1 1333000 2
1.30390362336661E-06 Great Britain 16 10 11 37 60587300 79
1.19008657879861E-06 Lithuania 0 1 2 3 3361100 4
1.17842693098346E-06 Switzerland 2 0 3 5 7637300 9
1.15349832973442E-06 Czech Republic 2 3 0 5 10403136 12
1.12822142473682E-06 Finland 1 1 1 3 5318105 6
1.06295027754813E-06 Azerbaijan 1 2 2 5 8467000 9
1.04708780014445E-06 Bulgaria 1 1 3 5 7640238 8
1.03682813536828E-06 South Korea 8 10 6 24 48224000 50
8.97397547113371E-07 Panama 1 0 0 1 3343000 3
8.96146569750075E-07 Hungary 0 4 1 5 10043000 9
8.42951627545065E-07 Kazakhstan 1 3 4 8 15422000 13
7.9298442018845E-07 Romania 4 1 3 8 21438000 17
7.75516750076078E-07 France 4 12 14 30 64473140 50
7.16467590718801E-07 Ukraine 5 5 8 18 46059306 33
7.05673370563687E-07 Germany 11 8 9 28 82191000 58
6.89636561532073E-07 Canada 2 6 5 13 33350900 23
6.74207805828152E-07 Zimbabwe 1 3 0 4 13349000 9
6.58616904500549E-07 Croatia 0 1 1 2 4555000 3
6.54150695186072E-07 Italy 6 7 7 20 59619290 39
6.5111083306267E-07 Sweden 0 3 0 3 9215021 6
5.99060250660904E-07 Russia 13 14 18 45 141888900 85
5.64227948091029E-07 Kyrgyzstan 0 1 1 2 5317000 3
5.24746727712203E-07 USA 26 27 28 81 304909000 160
4.79563175494705E-07 Austria 0 1 2 3 8340924 4
4.7224303662557E-07 Poland 3 4 1 8 38115967 18
4.62379150903741E-07 DPR Korea 2 1 3 6 23790000 11
4.55897357966264E-07 Spain 3 5 2 10 46063000 21
4.40917107583774E-07 Latvia 0 0 1 1 2268000 1
4.35862790393584E-07 Singapore 0 1 0 1 4588600 2
4.26234748787895E-07 Kenya 2 4 2 8 37538000 16
3.58840943751682E-07 Greece 0 1 2 3 11147000 4
3.52416007518208E-07 Japan 8 6 9 23 127690000 45
3.04321363359708E-07 Serbia 0 1 1 2 9858000 3
2.9050062941803E-07 Tunisia 1 0 0 1 10327000 3
2.55735788396902E-07 Uzbekistan 0 2 3 5 27372000 7
2.04918032786885E-07 Dominican Rep 0 1 0 1 9760000 2
1.88270733314506E-07 Portugal 0 1 0 1 10623000 2
1.61733786187935E-07 Cameroon 1 0 0 1 18549000 3
1.51860288534548E-07 Togo 0 0 1 1 6585000 1
1.4991379956525E-07 Ecuador 0 1 0 1 13341000 2
1.48456057007126E-07 Tajikistan 0 0 1 1 6736000 1
1.38048715354864E-07 China 45 14 20 79 1325619000 183
1.36930028755306E-07 Israel 0 0 1 1 7303000 1
1.30434782608696E-07 Chinese Taipei 0 0 3 3 23000000 3
1.21617512921861E-07 Netherlands Antilles 0 1 0 1 16445000 2
1.19307040845362E-07 Chile 0 1 0 1 16763470 2
1.1333651128911E-07 Turkey 1 2 1 4 70586256 8
1.00983325128438E-07 Ethiopia 2 1 0 3 79221000 8
9.92508373110794E-08 Argentina 1 0 1 2 40301927 4
8.86053517632465E-08 Algeria 0 1 1 2 33858000 3
7.93169264367393E-08 Thailand 1 1 0 2 63038247 5
6.73959053393058E-08 Colombia 0 1 1 2 44513090 3
4.266621156041E-08 Brazil 1 0 5 6 187502000 8
4.17966717310301E-08 South Africa 0 1 0 1 47850700 2
3.74944344198908E-08 Mexico 1 0 1 2 106682500 4
3.68391969055075E-08 Afghanistan 0 0 1 1 27145000 1
3.5773438372257E-08 Venezuela 0 0 1 1 27953701 1
3.45382878507255E-08 Indonesia 1 1 3 5 231627000 8
3.20266461696131E-08 Morocco 0 0 1 1 31224000 1
2.28898426323319E-08 Vietnam 0 1 0 1 87375000 2
1.41852458633624E-08 Iran 0 0 1 1 70495782 1
1.3295043607743E-08 Egypt 0 0 1 1 75216000 1
3.5182811648466E-09 India 1 0 1 2 1136918800 4

July 30, 2008


Writing about web page

Background Information

This is my 6th year going to WOMAD which happened over the weekend just gone. It originally started off just my Uncle, then I started going with him, and for the last 3 years, inclusively, Dad has come along as well. I’ve always meant to write notes on the festival, both because every year people ask me what its like and I go “oh quite good – I enjoyed whatshisface’s set”, well no longer! This year I actually wrote some notes whilst I was there and on the way home in the car, so I thought I’d publish them on my blog.

General Comments

The lineup this year wasn’t as good as the past festivals I’ve been to – I appreciate that last year was a 25th anniversary, so had a very strong lineup, but this didn’t even really compete with previous years before that. I still enjoyed it, and will probably go again, but it give me pause for thought.

The weather was very hot – despite the Met Office predicting a small amount of rain. Last year the weather had a really negative impact on the festival – there was huge amounts of mud all over the place, and since the soil in the local area is clay it began so stick to boots like glue. Just walking between tents had become a difficulty. This year – the heat was quite draining, energy wise, but much preferred to the rain.

WOMAD has a vaguely interesting history, since essentially it began as a way of Peter Gabriel marketing so called ‘world music’ to a UK audience. Fortunately that audience managed to attract a boatload of hippies who succeeded in bringing a rather nice atmosphere to the festival. This leaves it in an interesting position of both being one of the most commercial festivals around (everyone who plays has some relationship with Real World Studios) and simultaneously one of the most leftwing.

There follows a listing of most of the sets I heard during the festival (though some I left early to ensure good positioning for preferred sets). The rating is a rough guide (out of 100) as to how much I enjoyed the event. Please note its hard not to enjoy a gig so < 60 is basically epic failure. The description is my notes from the day and may be incredibly inaccurate/complete rubbish.


Tashi Lhumpo Monks
Tedious + Repetitive religious ceremony, establishes some atmosphere, but fails to provide any real drive or interest.

Rumberos de Cuba
Traditionalist rumba outfit parading african influence bequeathed to Cuba. Basic evidence of griot techniques include narrative driven lyrics and expositional dancing.

Kenge Kenge Orutu Systems
Upbeat Kenyan group mix traditional instrucments with a more modern structure. Probably more interesting for dancier folks. Excellent audience involvement.

Billy Cobham + Asere
Veteran percussionist Cobham teams with a cuban outfit to produce a jazz and Son Cubana influenced fusion. Cobham provides surprising subtlety to his performance (at past gigs I’ve noted a tendance to dominate the proceedings). Strong soloing added a touch of class to the performance.

Toumani Diabate
Great set.
Diabate started this performance with two quite intimate Kora solos, showcasing his ability to communicate emotion through his instrument. The remainder of the set he was backed by his talented band, including his Kora playing son. Strong solos all round.

Bedouin Jerry Can Band
Several instruments consist of reused equipment from the 6 day war. Song structure involves more traditional arabic folky work. Simple rhythms, fat men dancing, plenty of facial. Good fun, but not the most sophisticated outfit.

Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee
Combined flutist/beatbox is as shit as it sounds, but the kind of collab that womad organisers seem to have a hankering for. I am perenially unimpressed by beatboxers. It seems like an incredibly easy to learn skill, something I really need to sit down for a week and learn purely to point out how shit they are. My main problem is their replication of very simple dance tunes and distortion. When someone has a beatboxer who can perform Mahler’s 5th symphony please come and talk to me.

Flute playing had merit but showmanship overode musical talent – The guy spent as much time shouting ‘give it up for x’ where x is an accompanying musician as he did playing his instrument.

Rachid Taha
Excellent mandolute + sax soloing raised this set from mediocrity to quite an enjoyable event. strong ambience to music and good showmanship from Mr. Taha carried through. Basic rhythms and simplistic song structure.

Speed Caravan
Electric Oud playing offered something a little different. DJ backing gave atmosphere (think Leafcutter John in Polar Bear) whilst shredding on an oud sounded really good. Strong rock sensibilities to composition gave a different setting to the oud and darabouka (which was also accompanying) which I haven’t heard through a more traditional setting.

Even band has an achilles heal – here it is their friendship with MC Spex, ex asian dub foundation, who came in one song and basically destroyed my enjoyment of this set. In my opinion promoting your latest outfit’s absence of talent by invading someone else’s gig is incredibly rude, no matter whether they asked you to perform or not. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have given an enjoyment rating of 8.

Malam Mamane Barka
Only living Biram master brought an african blues sound to the evening. Harplike sound of his unique instrument offers the soul of a nomadic existence to the audience. This is the cure to that tit Spex.

Admittedly I was tired by this stage of the evening, but this was an incredibly boring set. The whole Etran Finatawa & Tinariwen sound seems really staid to me at the moment. No real cockups, but really repetitive.


La Cor de La Plana
Occitan singing + drumming, quite simple – but really rhythmic performance.

Lively + Upbeat samba collective failed to impress me. Uninteresting instrumentals and several Covers. Filler

Wasis Diop
Last minute booking, for a slot TBC’d on the programme. Uninventive trio, but solid set. Main focus of the songs seemed to be lyrics, which might have been more appreciated by someone with a better understanding of the French language.

Dengue Fever
Interesting 6 piece, strong sax + guitar soloing, clearly charasmatic cambodian lead singer. Awesome beard on lead guitarist.

Eddy Grant & the frontline Orchestra
I really enjoyed this, when on paper it should be something I’d hate. Pop twist on classic calypso and saco song structure. Not the kind of thing I’d normally listen to. Superb showmanship and crowd interaction.

Sufi Evening (Sheik Taha/Monajat Yulchieva)
Asif Ali Khan (highlight of this mini-lineup) was cancelled. Focus on Qawwali, a kind of sufi religious song driven music. Bit disappointed that with all the ouds and daraboukas around there was little in the way of instrumental interest.


Little Feat
Eclectic country outfit offer interesting fusion with strong jazz and funk influences. Interesting solos, cool set. Its a shame their original band leader has been dead 30 years.

Ernest Ranglin
Siam tent was packed, so didn’t really see him properly. This sounded like a really good set, but the heat reduced my enjoyment and sapped my energy. A lot of instrumentals and soloing livened up the reggae.

Bassekou Kouyote + Ngoni Ba
Good set, griot storytelling, but subtler and more focus on the ngoni rather than the raucus riot of dance driven effort that seems to be used by many other groups.

Orchestra Baobob
Good set, very old school senegalese music group. Nice horns section.

Seun Kuti & Egypt 80
I really enjoyed this set – certainly a lot more than I had originally expected. Having heard recordings of his father’s gigs with this group, I was interested in hearing Seun Kuti’s work. Certainly a good performer, though a lot of compositions seem to be from his father’s day – so its hard to give credit for them. Even though the band lead has passed from generation to generation, the commentary on african politics seems as relevant as ever. I recall Femi-Kuti’s enjoyable gig from a couple of years ago and this has a very similar, afrobeat sound.


A food stand calling itself ‘Pie Minister’
Little Feat, when trying to encourage audience participation stated, “Just try to sing like Bob Dylan. Hold your nose and talk.”
The moto of the Workers Beer Co, “Thirst Amoung Equals”

July 12, 2008

Election Update 2

Follow-up to Election Update from True Contradictions


The elections here are somewhat complicated by the resignation of former senate, Trent Lott, which results in two elections happening simultaneously.

The normal election will be fought between Republican incumbent Thad Cochran and Erik Fleming. Both of these men have made mild position switches. Fleming used to support Lyndon LaRouche, but has since rejected such notions. Cochran originally states of McCain, “The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me.” He now supports McCain. Fleming is currently a Mississippi House of representatives member, and has previously unsuccessfully run for the Senate seat of Trent Lott. Polls have Cochran ahead 60:35.

The other election is being fought as a result of the resignation of Senator Trent Lott last year. The republican governor, Haley Barbour, appointed former house of representatives member Roger Wicker as his temporary replacement. His Democratic opponent, Ronnie Musgrove, was the former lieutenant Governor and Governor of Mississippi, during whose time in office he banned Gay and Lesbian adoption, the pay of Mississippi teachers fell to 49th lowest level of all the states and claimed that there was, “no freedom from religion”. The polls have these two politicians in a tie.

North Carolina

Elizabeth Dole has been sitting senator since a 2002 special election. A former member of the Johnson, Nixon, Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, challenger for the Republican nomination in 2000 and wife of former Senator and republican candidate Bob Dole, she has excellent connections, name recognition and fundraising potential. Her opponent – Kay Hagan is a Lawyer and member of the State Senate. Dole is currently enjoying a 10 point lead in the polls.


Centrist Republican incumbent and opponent of the Iraq war, Chuck Hagel, has decided not to seek reelection. In a fascinating piece of trivia, courtesy of wikipedia, “Hagel has a tradition of wearing costumes to work on Halloween, usually masquerading as colleagues or other notable political figures. He has arrived at work dressed as Joe Biden, John McCain, Colin Powell, and Pat Roberts in past years.” This leaves the field open between the two candidates both running for the position.

Mike Johanns is the republican candidate – a former governor who stepped down to act as US secretary of agriculture. He is highly popular in the state, having won the gubernatorial election in a landslide. Scott Kleeb (tagline: “Nebraska’s brand of change”) is a rancher and ironically professor of history and provides the democratic contender. Johanns, as one might expect, is polling 15-20 points ahead.

New Hampshire

Currently New Hampshire is represented by the father-sun duo of John H. Sununu and John E. Sununu. It is the father, a former 3 term governor and White House chief of Staff, who is up for re-election. His opponent is Jeanne Shaheen, also a former governor. This is a re-run of the 2002 election, in which Sununu narrowly won, however, the political momentum has swung away from the republicans and towards the democrats in subsequent years. Consequently Shaheen leads in the polling by 10-15%.

New Jersey

Dick Zimmer is a former US House of Representatives member, and former member of the New Jersey legislature. He had unsuccessfully run for the Senate in 1996, and was drafted for the current race after Anne Estabrook withdrew, having suffered a mini-stroke. Frank Lautenberg currently holds the seat up for election, and has held 4 non-consecutive terms of office. He is one of the most liberal members of the Senate. Age is an important issue in this election, with Lautenberg having passed his 84th birthday, but its a double edged blade for the republicans, due to their presidential candidate and the relatively high proportion of electorate who are over 65 in New Jersey.

New Mexico

Another republican incumbent retiring leaves the door open for more democratic gains in New Mexico. With the support of popular Governor Bill Richardson and a rising democratic tide the party is confident of making gains here. Their candidate is Tom Udall, a former member of the House of Representatives for the state and cousin of Mark Udall mentioned earlier. The taking of this seat is another test of the Western strategy pushed by Howard Dean. His opponent, Steve Pearce, has a similar background in the House, but is sitting 15-20% behind in polling.


Incumbent Jim Inhofe is skeptical on global warming, cites the Bible as backing for his position on everything and has claimed that 9/11 was devine retribution for the US failing to defend Israel. He is also one of only 12 senators who opposed cutting interest rates on student loans. His opponent Andrew Rice is a member of the state Senate and largely behind in the polls, albeit with a large percentage yet to make up their minds.


Republican Senator Gordon Smith is up for re-election, his moderate view may continue to hold their appeal in these hard times for the republican party. The democratic challenge comes in the form of Jeff Merkley, the second cousin of the Udall cousins. Gordon Smith is currently the only elected Republican official in the state, and is currently holding onto a narrow lead in the race – which is considered highly competitive.

South Dakota

Tim Johnson is the Democratically aligned sitting senator from South Dakota, who holds quite a conservative voting record, such as repealing the ban on semiautomatic weapons and welfare reform. The 2002 election saw him claim a very narrow victory in a republican leaning year, and is a pretty strong candidate for re-election. His opponent, Joel Dykstra, is currently sitting in SD House of Representatives, and not a big name candidate. Trivia: Johnson was the only member of the senate to have a son in the military at the time of the Iraq invasion.


Single term republican incumbent John Cornyn has been ranked as the 4th most conservative US Senator. His democratic challenger is Veteran Rick Noriega, a member of the Texan House of Representatives. The low approval ratings of Cornyn make this a potentially interesting election, despite him being ahead of Noriega, that has potentially a large number of undecided voters. Obama is also looking at campaigning with the Texas senate and house challengers who are competitive.


Incumbent republican John Warner is retiring, leaving an open race between two former Governors: Jim Gilmore and Mark Warner (no relation). This is generally considered the Senate seat most likely to change hands from Republican to Democrat. Polling puts Warner 25% ahead of Gilmore, and with a widening gap as polls become more recent. As well as national momentum – the state is slowly swinging democrat, they have won the last two gubernatorial elections in 2001 and 2005, and Jim Webb took George Allen’s senate seat in 2006.

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