Friday, February 27, 2009

Afghanistan, Slam, Money, U2, and Waves

It feels like a random Friday, so this post is just what it says in the title - a random collection of Friday thoughts.

Firstly, on the subject of the previous post, there’s fairly hairy account on Counterpunch of how things are breaking down in Afghanistan. Check it out here. It’s not very promising.

I’d like to thank Mr Steven Scanlan for his very nice comment on the post regarding Slam @ The Arches. I spent a long time waiting to see those amazing nights captured in words, and after convinced myself that nobody else had done it, I did it myself. It sat on my computer for 2 years unfinished because I couldn’t get it right, and only late last year did I finally find the inspiration to finish it off and get it posted. It’s great to know that someone I don’t know remembers it just like I do. I’m not tripping, my memory is not playing tricks on me, I’m not glorifying it unnecessarily – it really was that good.

Economics. Mike Whitney (again on CP) has a very interesting article on the problems Eastern Europe may cause the world financial system. Equating the fall of the current economic system to a potential resurgence in fascism seems a little bit far-fetched, but stranger things have happened, and as one of my great musical and political heroes Mad Mike pointed out in his legendary Jockey Slut interview back in 1994, “Every time it gets tight over in Europe the nationalists want to come out and blame all the foreigners for all their problems”, so go figure. The BBC this morning has the news that there’s a €24.5 Billion rescue package for the banks in Eastern Europe. How far that will go in very tight credit markets when Whitney quotes sources as saying they’ll have to repay or roll over €400 Billion in debts this year, is another question.

U2 – now there’s a current issue. Firstly, because they have a new album about to drop. Secondly, because they moved all of their tax affairs as a band to The Netherlands in 2006, depriving Ireland of quite a lot of tax, and that’s a decision that’s coming under quite a bit of pressure as the financial downturn starts to bite. So anyway, the new album can be previewed in 60-second chunks on the Irish Times, and there’s a brief interview with them here. I can’t wait for the album – the sounds and production are always fascinating, and no one has a voice (or lyrics) like Bono. I mean, if you look back over their albums, back to The Joshua Tree and before – every one of them has probably 3 or 4 tracks that any other band would kill to have written just one of. And this continues album after album – just amazing. I’ll have to come back to this another time.

As for the tax thing, they are on a bit of a sticky one here. Having moved their tax affairs to The Netherlands around the time that Ireland announced that it was (quite rightly) putting a cap on the tax-free allowance for artists, they’ve come in for all sorts of ungodly stick for robbing their native country of the tax which their global enterprise could bring to Ireland. As Bono would explain it in the above interview, Ireland has been the net beneficiary of tax incentives in the last 10-20 years, as so many companies have based themselves here as a tax haven, and so his point is that there is a lot of hypocrisy in targeting U2 for moving to a more advantageous tax situation. I think that’s a bit weak personally. While the Irish may not criticise other companies for coming in to the country to set up in a favourable tax environment, people in the countries that these companies originate do criticise the movements of these companies, and in the US Obama is now specifically financially targeting companies that ‘offshore’ operations and jobs to reduce costs and save taxes. So if it’s right for the US to criticise companies offshoring jobs and facilities to Ireland, then it’s certainly right for Irish citizens to criticize Bono and the lads for their avoidance of Irish tax.

I’m also extremely disappointed to hear that the debate that Bono promised Dave Marsh on the value of celebrity activism is now not going to happen. Apparently, Bono pulled out with no explanation, which is gutting, as I was expecting a stout defence of celebrity activism, which would have been extremely interesting to hear. I’ve always been interested as to why Bono insists on hanging out with world leaders – he does have a constituency of sorts, but he seems to always offer the carrot end of his fame instead of the stick, which doesn’t make very good negotiating sense to me.

Anyway, if you want more Bono, I’d highly recommend the book “Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas” – you can find it on Amazon here, although obviously I’d recommend supporting your small local non-chain bookshop. It’s full of fascinating thoughts on music, politics, authenticity and artistry, and is a brilliant and thought-provoking read. It also pretty much explains exactly why Bono does all the activist stuff that he does, if you read closely enough.

To finish off the day, here are some waves. Surfers search and search for the perfect 'peeling' wave. South Africa has probably the most famous one, in Jeffreys Bay, and while it may not go for quite as long, Thurso East on the North coast of Scotland is pretty damn close to perfect.

Here’s a video of it looking both perfect, and frighteningly big. Happy Friday!

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