Monday, April 30, 2012

London votes (well, Bob just about manages to)

I spent my lunch break filling in my postal vote for the London elections. There's three ballots, it's quite fiddly and I've been having a terrible time deciding how to vote, so it took up the whole lunch break. Here's what I decided to do in the end.

London Mayor
The mayoral election (the pink ballot paper) is of course the hottest ticket, with the great unpopularity contest between the semi-competent right-wing ideological Tory incumbent Boris Johnson and his  dreadful but competent Labour predecessor Ken Livingstone. I came close to not voting, as I can't really stomach voting for Ken, but know he'd be a much better choice than Boris.

I figured that neither is likely to get 50% of the first round votes, so it's likely to go to second preferences. This means that (a) a first preference for someone else will not be likely to accidentally let in your least favourite candidate, but that (b) a second preference for anyone other Ken or Boris is basically wasted. On that logic, I put a cross in  the first choice column for the Greens' Jenny Jones, even though she is utterly lacking in charisma, leadership, interestingness or any of the other qualities we might look for in a mayor, but does have  better policies on most issues than the other two.

And, with a clothes peg on my nose, I put a cross in the second choice column for Ken. My reasons are basically the reasons put forward by Michael Ezra here. Although Ken has unsavoury views on geopolitcs, he is not standing for foreign minister but for mayor of London; his power over Israel/Palestine, for example, is limited. He made an effective mayor of London. And, besides, Boris is at least as unsavoury: he is pretty racist for example.

London Assembly
The mayoral race has taken so much of the headlines that it is easy to overlook the fact that we are also electing our Assembly Members (AMs). Although the AMs don't have many powers, they have some: a two-thirds majority can amend the mayor's budget, which will be significant if Boris remains mayor but the Tories loose ground in the Assembly votes.

The proportionate vote for the London members (the so-called "orange" ballot paper, although I'd call it "salmon") is symbolically important. Last time, of course, the BNP managed to break through with 5.3% of the vote to get one seat. It is important to vote in this part of the election to keep the BNP share down, and hopefully get them out. At the top of their list is one Steve Squire. According to Hope Not Hate:
He earns a living by running a sex shop in central London. A few years ago, under his other name Steve Mendoza, he was featured in the Sunday Mirror after his sex shop was caught selling date rape drugs. 
It's bad enough that Squire is in the BNP. It's even worse that his sex shop sold date rape drugs.
And he
comes with what Nick Griffin, the BNP leader, believes to be a rock solid pedigree though it is one that is unlikely to appeal to prospective voters. During a recent argument with party members who were criticising Squire, Griffin defended his place-man from criticism by stating proudly that Squire’s grandfather had been a member of Mosley’s jackbooted British Union of Fascists (BUF) while his father had been imprisoned in the 1970s under the Race Relations Act.
So, normally I vote Green in this bit of the election, which puts Jenny Jones and Brockley local hero Darren Johnson in the GLA. However, this year I decided to vote for TUSC, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition, as it would be great to see an actual alternative voice in the Assembly. TUSC's list is topped by Alex Gordon, from the train drivers' union.

Lewisham and Greenwich
The third part of the ballot (described as "yellow" at London Elects, but looking kind of grey to me) is for a Constituency Member, based on a first past the post system as with our MPs. In my area, Greenwich and Lewisham, Labour's Len Duvall, a competent and decent politician, got 36.2% of the vote in 2008, and is unlikely to get much less this time. The Greens (who I voted for last time, then represented by Sue Luxton) are represented here by Roger Sedgely.

Both the BNP and the more explicitly fascist National Front are standing, the former represented by Roberta Woods, the latter by Hitler-supporting Tess Culnane.

People Before Profit are also standing, represented by New Cross character Barbara Raymond. I decided to vote for her, even though she's not likely to get much a vote, just to help show that there is a constituency for radical politics in South East London.

Bonus links: Sunny H: How Boris rewarded cronies at City Hall. James B: Vote Boris or Ken? A plague on both their houses. Judy K: Ken and Socialist Action.

Previously: Here's how I voted in the last elections: in the London list vote, in the Greenwich and Lewisham vote. And why I voted for Ken last time: Reasons to vote for Ken, no.1, no.2, no.2 and a half, no.3, no 4.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Farewell Levon

Levon Helm, one of my favourite musicians, has died. My padrino gave me the wonderful triple album of The Band's Last Waltz when I was in my mid-teens, and it totally transformed the way I listened to and understood music. I don't think there are many albums I listened to more than that one.
I realise I played a track from there here before - "Down South in New Orleans", to mark the passing in 2010 of Bobby Charles, who sings on that along with Dr John. Dr John contributes one of the highlights of the album, "Such A Night", and also plays congas on some of the later tracks. My favourite bits are where it slows right down for Neil Young's "Helpless", Joni Mitchell's "Coyote", Neil Diamond's "Dry Your Eyes" and Emmylou Harris' "Evangaline". (Two of them are Canadians, and one is a Southerner singing a song about the Cajun diaspora.)

Dry Your Eyes - Neil Diamond

"Dry Your Eyes" is, I think, partly about the death of the 1960s dream, and the whole concert, recorded in the Autumn of 1976, was literally The Band's last concert (until partially re-forming years later), and it has a real elegiac quality, the sense of something passing.

Levon Helm played drums and mandolin, and sings some of the songs. I never realised he had a low opinion of the concert, but more really of the Martin Scorsese film of it, which I've never actually seen.

Levon Helm was born in Arkansas, grew up in a town called Turkey Scratch, and was apparently inspired to music by the mandolin god Bill Monroe who he saw at age six. (Here's Monroe that year: you can hear the connection.)

I think "Jemima Surrender" is the only major Band song he wrote, but he sang the most well-loved ones, including "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Ol' Dixie Down". Here's a couple of his tracks, the second from his brilliant last album Electric Dirt.


Monday, April 09, 2012

Bob's beats

It's a while since I did one of these, partly as YouTube and Spotify and all these other web 2.0 things have displaced the good old fashioned mp3 blogs which flourished in the second half of the noughties. But here goes.

From Magnet Magazine, I am glad to discover the lovely, quirky Leonard Cohenesque singer songwriter Mirel Wagner. Slightly affected and mannered for me, but I like her:
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Espoo, Finland, Mirel Wagner is a young songwriter who creates minimal-yet-enchanting folk blues. Her self-titled debut album (on Friendly Fire) is full of haunting lyrics that express her larger-than-life thoughts. You’ll be taken back by this 23-year-old’s vocals and captivated by her songs. “No Hands” (download) is light-hearted and has some great acoustics. 
Also from Ethiopia by way of elsewhere are Debo Band, again from Magnet Magazine:
This 11-member Boston band, led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and vocalist Bruck Tesfaye, incorporates traditional scales and vocal styles with American soul and funk. You’ll hear violins, accordions, horns and drums... Download “Asha Gedawo,” off the group’s self-titled debut (out July 10 via Sub Pop), below.

“Asha Gedawo” (download).
Hava nagilah
"Hava Nagila" (הבה נגילה) is such a malleable song, almost as much as Miserlou. One of my favourite versions is the mambo version by "Juan Calle and his Latin Landsmen" from 1961 (youtube). This features a couple of the best Latin musicians ever, Ray Barretto and Charlie Palmieri, as well as Willie Rodriguez, Doc Cheatham, Clark Terry, and Wendell Marshall. Apparently, Calle is actually Italian-American jazz banjo player John Cali. This was collected on the Idlesohn Society for Musical Preservation reissue Mazel Tov, Mis Amigos.

More recently, via Dani Deahl, I was thrilled to come across Kick Around Sounds' snare-heavy remix (mp3), a kind of reggaeton/moombahton version with a Dem Bow rhythm, the (slightly slowed down?) horns revealing the missing link between Bukovinian and cumbia rebajada.

Also just recently, I heard (at Star Maker Machine, under the theme of dance music) the Boban Marković Orkestar live version. Marković, who I think I've posted before on this blog, is a Roma flugelhorn player from Serbia, and this instrumental version is superb. (Mp3/stream/purchase.)

I've also long been a fan of the Italodisco version (YouTube) by Azoto (aka Celso Valli) from 1978 (the album was big in Turkey as well as Italy, and featured a version of "Zorba's Dance". New to me, though (via This Blouse), is the remix by Norway's Prins Thomas and Todd Terje, who do it all sultry and futuristic. (Mp3/stream.)

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A smaller miscellany

This post is essentially a continuation of this one, which was itself a continuation of this one, with basically the same topics. Both have good comment threads, which are still live, and some of the links here are via commenters there. The main topics, again, are Ken Livingstone and George Galloway, arguably the tweedledee and tweedledum of Brititsh left politics.

Some views on Ken and the Joos: Reuben at the Big Smoke, Tony Lerman. Plus, from the archive: why trade unionists should never vote for Ken.

Ross McKibben on why Galloway won (or why Labour lost), Kerem  Nisancioglu on the left and right-wing narratives on Bradford West, Lila Caballero and Marley Morris on the dangers of populism, Sunny on why conventional wisdom is wrong. Excellent local analysis from Kate Welham and Sean Dolat. And here's the more amusing (if disturbing) of the news items.

No monopoly on anti-fascism: AWL on the Searchlight/HnH split.

Ed Maltby on left responses in France to the Toulouse killings.