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Saturday, July 30th, 2016 03:42 pm

Posted by John Scalzi

Most of you will recall that I have a soft spot for the band Journey, whose album Escape I adored insensibly when I was thirteen, and whose general Album Oriented Rock stylings are my musical equivalent to comfort food. I saw the band on the Raised on Radio tour back in high school, but since that time haven’t felt much of a need to see them in concert, in part because Steve Perry, their singer through their “classic” era, is no longer part of the band.

But this year the band offered up something nearly as good: Steve Smith, who was the drummer for the band during most of its classic era (but who was not on the kit for the Raised on Radio tour), was returning to tour with the band after more than 30 years. I’m a drummer (I have still have the trap set I got as a teenager in the basement) and I love Smith’s sound on the Journey albums. To have a chance to see him do his thing with these songs live was too much of a temptation. I got tickets.

And how was watching Steve Smith hit the skins on this tour? Very different than what I expected! Journey’s drum sound is massive, but Smith, who primarily plays jazz when he’s not thumping out rock hits, is not a hugely demonstrative drummer. His movements are precise and deceptively economical considering the amount of noise he makes. I understand of course that wild arm swinging does not necessarily correlate to big sound with drums, and that good miking and sound mixing can make even small drum hits sound as big as the sound guy wants them to be. But it still really was counter to my expectation. When I play a Journey song on drums, my arms are swinging everywhere. But then, I’m maybe 1/100th the drummer Steve Smith is. He is genuinely phenomenal.

(And, these days, has an unsettling resemblance to Ben Kingsley. Gandhi on the drums, everyone!)

The rest of the concert was perfectly good, and utterly unsurprising, which is in itself utterly unsurprising. The rest of the current iteration of the band (keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Ross Valory, guitarist Neal Schon, and vocalist Arnel Pineda) have pretty much played the same set list, with minor variations, for a decade (and Cain, Valory and Schon, all classic-era members, for an additional decade before that). It’s difficult to imagine they all couldn’t do their standard show in their sleep. The band played the hits — nothing before Infinity, nothing after Raised on Radio — and the only song that could have been called a deep cut was “La Do Da” from Infinity, which mostly served as a scaffold for a Smith drum solo.

And that’s fine! Journey at this point understands its place in the universe as (charitably) the A-list of legacy bands, or (uncharitably) as its own best cover band. It’s here to give the people what they want, which is the track list of Journey’s Greatest Hits, give or take one or two bits. I mean, I would have been fine with more deep cuts, a track or two from Trial By Fire, and even the band’s first single with Arnel Pineda, the perfectly Journey-ish “Never Walk Away.” But if the band did too much of that for too long, they wouldn’t be playing music sheds that seat 20,000 people in their fifth decade of being a band. When you can make 20,000 middle-aged people deliriously happy for 90 minutes, you let me know. I’m not gonna fault them for that, or for knowing what side their bread is buttered on. At this point if you go into a Journey concert expecting anything other than a comforting nostalgia wallow, that’s really on you, not them.

I do have quibbles. One, Neal Schon surely does love his guitar solos, of which there could have been at least three fewer (and the ones that remained, better structured). Two, the sound quality of the concert was meh; Pineda suffered from bad miking at the start (it seemed to improve as it went along) but overall things were a smidge muddy. Three — well, no actually there is no three, just those two. I have no quibbles about Pineda, the sole performer on the stage who was not a member of the band’s classic era. He knows his role — to be the best damn Steve Perry he can be — and after close to a decade, no one holds it against him, if they ever did. I mean, everyone gets it, Perry doesn’t want the gig, so, fine. Here’s Pineda, with a phenomenal set of pipes, delivering the goods and looking like he’s having a ball doing it. Good for him. Good for the fans.

Also on the bill: Dave Mason, who seemed pleasantly happy to be the warm-up act, and the Doobie Brothers — with two founding Doobies! — who I enjoyed as much as I expected to, so that’s good.

In all, a perfectly lovely date night for me and the missus with thousands of other people who also graduated high school in the 80s. A+++, would recommend.

Saturday, July 30th, 2016 04:05 pm

Posted by Guest slot



Joff Wild on the divides in the main opposition party

Today’s Daily Telegraph ran an intriguing piece about plans being hatched by some Labour MPs if, as expected, Jeremy Corbyn wins the party’s leadership election in September. According to the newspaper’s political correspondent Ben Riley-Smith, rebels are exploring the possibility of setting up a semi-independent party in the Commons that would have its own leader and front bench, and would aim to replace Corbyn’s Labour as the official opposition. There may even be a legal challenge about ownership of the Labour name.

Time will tell if the story has any legs – I have my doubts – but it does speak to a real and profoundly important issue: what happens when the party that holds the second most seats in the Commons – and will almost certainly continue to do so even after catastrophic general election defeat – has no real interest in providing an alternative to the government or in seriously opposing it inside Parliament? For that is the situation we face should Jeremy Corbyn be elected Labour leader once more.

Both Corbyn and John McDonnell have explicitly rejected Parliament as a means through which to secure significant change. In an interview with Vice in April last year, McDonnell – sitting next to Corbyn – stated: “You can’t change the world through the parliamentary system.” He continued: “Getting political representation is important, but change comes through using direct action, campaigning, and trade unions.” Corbyn agreed: “Get involved in campaigns, in a union, with the peace movement, get involved with Occupy & UK Uncut”; before adding as an afterthought: “and also be in a political party.”

For Corbyn and McDonnell, and other members of the hard left, what really makes a difference is demonstration and agitation. Thousands on the street or packed into halls, hundreds of Tweets and reTweets, hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes and myriad groups are a far more potent weapon than a parliamentary majority and the compromises that inevitably come with securing one. Yes, seriously – Martin Robbins in this week’s New Statesman sums it up perfectly.

Their attitude is probably best illustrated by the interactions they have had with a number of shadow ministers – or lack of them. You only have to read accounts from the likes of Lilian Greenwood, Angela Eagle, Sharon Hodgson and Thangam Debbonaire, as well as Angela Smith, Labour’s leader in the House of Lords, to see how seriously Corbyn and McDonnell take Parliament. They just don’t think it matters. (What is it about the hard left and women, by the way?)

Away from Parliament, Corbyn-supporting Momentum has rejected winning elections (except within the Labour party). In a Tweet sent out on 10th July, the organisation’s millionaire founder Jon Lansmann memorably stated: “Democracy gives power to people, “Winning” is the small bit that matters to political elites that want to keep power themselves”. Lansman, of course – like fellow Momentum leader, the ex-Liberal Democrat public schoolboy, James Schneider; Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Winchester-educated director of strategy and communications; and Corbyn himself – has never needed a Labour government or had to worry about the possible consequences of a Tory one.

The same can be said of many Labour members, 75% of whom are ABC1s (full disclosure: that includes me). As Nick Cohen observed in a powerful piece for the Spectator last year, Corbyn’s middle class Labour supporters actually do pretty well under Tory governments and are not directly affected by policies that may have a negative impact on the poorest and the most vulnerable. Most Labour members and the party’s leaders do not need to worry personally about bedroom taxes, cuts to public services, reduced benefits and increased NHS waiting times. Instead, they can afford to put ideological purity before the dirty work of pursuing power.

Then there are the unions. A bulwark against Militant entryism in the 1980s, all too often these days their most vocal members – the small minority that are involved in union activity and vote in union leadership elections – are on the hard left. As we have seen, the likes of Unite leader Len McCluske cannot afford to upset them if he wants to remain in charge. So despite Corbyn taking anti-union positions on issues such as pharmaceutical R&D, Trident and, just this week, the future of Hinkley Point, McCluskey has no choice but to put the weight of Unite behind the Labour leader. If he were to do otherwise, he would very quickly be out of a job.

Thus, the Parliamentary Labour party is faced with a leadership that does not regard Parliament as a route to real power, an all-pervasive activist organisation that explicitly rejects “winning”, a membership that has no reason to believe in the importance of compromising treasured political principles to gain victory and the leader of the country’s most powerful union having to placate a small, hard-left part of his membership to remain in a job. None of them have a Labour government as a priority. No wonder some Labour MPs may be looking for new ways to hold the government to account.

But this is not only an issue for Labour MPs and the minority of Labour members that seem to share their views about the primacy of Parliament. It is also a problem for the country as a whole. For without a serious Parliamentary opposition, who is there to hold the government to account?

In the absence of a functioning shadow front bench led by someone whose overwhelming desire and priority is to replace the Prime Minister, the government essentially has free rein to do as it wishes. And that lack of scrutiny has the very real potential to lead to sloppy decision making, bad policy and harmful outcomes for the country as a whole. If governments do not believe they can lose elections, they get careless and make mistakes. Can we really be confident that we will get the best Brexit possible, for example, if the only people Theresa May need worry about as she negotiates the deal are right-wing Tory malcontents and Nick Clegg?

A Corbyn victory over Owen Smith will not resolve the impasse between the PLP and the leadership, nor is it likely to change the way that Corbyn views Parliament or does business there. That’s not just disastrous for the Labour party, it’s bad for our entire system of government. At some stage soon, the Speaker will surely be compelled to have quiet words behind the scenes about the effect Labour’s turmoil is having on the functioning of Parliament. Corbyn and McDonnell are likely to ignore these, just as they have ignored the PLP. What happens then is anyone’s guess; but, for the good of the country, something is going to have to give.

Joff Wild (Southam Observer)

Saturday, July 30th, 2016 03:20 pm

O dear yes, this rang a bell: the personality trait they call “the need for drama”, or NFD. I'm not sure those agree/disagree sentences cited are necessarily diagnostic, but I have definitely known people (e.g. former friend 'Q') who had to have a lot of ongoing soap-opera in their lives.

I do think it's not necessarily a binary thing, though what do I know, I've never had a child, even if I'm aware of changing fashions in child-rearing going back for centuries: but reading this, I was very strongly tempted to drive past these people's house with a loudspeaker van broadcasting Donald Winnicott's thoughts on the 'good-enough mother'. Also, I'm a bit beswozzled at a version of attachment parenting which at no point mentions John Bowlby.

It's really exceedingly cheering when there two reviews in a row in the same publication that instead of thinking that rehashing the same old same old is some exciting New Thing, yawn and go, do we really need a new biography of X? In this particular instance, Evelyn Waugh and Liszt.

[M]ost people assume it doesn’t exist, or is the exception that proves the rule. In this instance, women walking the city streets, but not for street-walking purposes. Suspect there was a good deal more of this happening, though they didn't necessarily write about it, also, that there were women about in those C19th streets but with the plausible excuse of some purpose. I am also wondering whether one unmentioned factor in why women might not be walking in the city would be the lack of public conveniences...

And a report that resonates, perhaps, for readers of The Thuggery Affair: Pigeon fancier faces ban over scam that won him top prize.

A letter to the Guardian Weekend Magazine saying that Capability Brown was operating in an 'age of confidence', a view of the C18th that I think could be contested; but I guess for some people. e.g. his patrons, they did indeed have the confidence that they could move entire villages to improve their landscape... Suggests that these days he would be on the check-out till in a garden centre: whereas I suspect he wouldmore likely be promoting projects like the controversial Garden Bridge across the Thames.

Saturday, July 30th, 2016 02:35 pm

One of the hard drives in the server this blog resides on started malfunctioning just after midnight Saturday (UK time; about 4AM EST).

The server is running again for now, but I've put in a support request for a drive swap on Monday morning. As it's part of a mirrored drive array the server will be offline for a few minutes while my hosting provider installs the replacement, and may run slow for a few hours thereafter as the controller brings the new drive up to date.

Of course this happened just as I had a cracking idea for a substantial new blog essay, but I think it's prudent to leave posting it until after the hardware is fixed ...!