Saturday, July 05, 2014

Gazpacho: "The Wizard of Altai Mountains" (from Demon)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I'll start this post the same way I started my last (and before this one, only) post about about this incredible band:

One question I get a lot is, "What's your favorite band from Norway?" I always reply, "Gazpacho, of course. They're amazing. Not just my favourite Norwegian band but one of my favorite bands period. If you've never heard them, you're really missing out."

Okay, I've never gotten that question. But the rest is true.

I love Gazpacho more than ever.

They've released eight studio albums. The first three are good, if somewhat derivative (as they were still finding their voice), but the five since -- Night (2007), Tick Tock (2009), Missa Atropos (2010), March of Ghosts (2012), and Demon (2014) -- are simply astounding, each one a masterpiece, each one a brilliant conceptual work, all together marking this band, straddling themes and genres, as one of the leading voices in progressive, or more specifically post-progressive, music. This is the sort of run of excellence that puts them up there with Porcupine Tree and Anathema. Yes, they're that good.

Demon was released on March 17. Here's what it's about:

Demon is inspired by a conversation Thomas [Andersen] had with his father a few years ago where he spoke of a dark force moving through history. During the conversation his father recalled a business visit to Prague in the seventies where he visited the family of some of his hosts.

The family lived in an old apartment, recently renovated after a fire. In the debris, an old manuscript was found. The manuscript was written by a previous resident, for which no records existed other than that his rent had been pre-paid for many years...

The manuscript contained various ramblings and diagrams which formed the basis of a diary, of sorts, of the man. He claimed to have discovered the source of what he called an evil presence in the world. This presence, 'The Demon', was an actual intelligent will, with no mercy and a desire for bad things to happen. The author wrote as if he had lived for thousands of years stalking this presence and the manuscript contains references to outdated branches of mathematics, pagan religions unknown to the present world and an eyewitness account of the bubonic plague. So crazed were the writings that the document was donated to the Strahov Library in Prague, where it was thought it would be of interest to students of psychiatry...

The story is told in four parts, ending with 'Death Room' which are the last words of the unfinished manuscript written just before the disappearance of the unknown writer.

Yes, it's bizarre and strange and disturbing and... brilliant. Here is "The Wizard of Altai Mountains," which musically is much less dark than the rest of the album, along with an album trailer from Kscope. Enjoy!


Bookmark and Share

Friday, July 04, 2014

The day we celebrate

By Capt. Fogg

Of course the paper this morning contained the usual happy crap about celebrating FREEDOM as though we had either more of it or a better kind than Canada or most of Europe who have embraced the principles of democracy and the rights of man we seem to reject every Sunday as we yearn for the Divine Right of Government. What the day is about is political independence and independence from a government that denied us the right to parliamentary representation it was legally obligated to provide while requiring us to identify the king's right to be king with a state church. It was about our right to fair representation as citizens, as equal participants in government regardless of wealth and importance and heredity, and not about a tea tax.

As you watch the sound and fury of the fireworks, remember that the people selling themselves as patriots, the people talking about freedom in saccharine tones, really mean control by a powerful aristocracy allied with a narrow, sectarian interpretation of a certain religion.

"Blessed is the nation whose god is the Lord"  begins the full page full color newspaper insert payed for by the Hobby Lobby. It leaves off the next stanza: "the people he chose for his inheritance," which of course in that context means the Jews. It also mistranslates אשר־יהוה,  asher-Yaveh, as the lord, so those who think "Jesus is Lord" will think it means them. The arrogance and the dishonesty would be amusing if the intent were not so insidious, because our friends at Hobby Lobby, glowing like the face of Moses in their victory over secular law, have asserted their commitment to and aspiration toward a government Dei Gratia. They assert their version of the Bible as the best source of normative morality.

The flag-bedecked page is packed with references to Supreme Court decisions from the 1830s supporting the public schools as the place to pray and teach Christianity and out-of-context quotes from the very anti-religious founding fathers like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson about the Christian Bible being the basis of all true morality. (No mention, of course, of the Bible-backed, God-tolerated institutions of wife beating and slavery and rape and genocide and banishment of non-Jewish people from the Holy Land.)

No religion is about freedom, they are all about orthodoxy and uniformity of belief to the exclusion of other ideas and practices. Freedom of worship is not freedom to enforce religious orthodoxy or religious law on others. No religion is about free choice, democracy, or the inherent rights of man. No one in America has claimed the right to dictate your thoughts about divinity but religious organizations. Your prayers, your right to congregate and worship, are guaranteed against the influence of Hobby Lobby and our Constitution forbids our government to do what they insist is the right thing to do: establish and enforce some form of Christian doctrine as the law of the land.

If this be freedom, then freedom is slavery and the American Revolution against a divinely-inspired Christian king we pretend to celebrate today was not only fought in vain, but was blasphemy and an unholy act.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices.)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Canada Day 2014

By Michael J.W. Stickings 

Happy Birthday, Canada!!!

We're 147 years old today.

Born in 1867...

To all my Canadian friends and family, have a safe and happy day. And to everyone else, to all of you from around the world, take a bit of time today to think of us. This is a pretty wonderful country. 

(And to my American friends, enjoy the soccer game against Belgium later. I'm actually not sure whom I'm rooting for. I rarely root for the U.S. in international sports, but soccer is occasionally the exception. But Belgium is also a lovely country, not least with the beer, chocolate, waffles, moules, and frites, and it's hard not to like its team, however trendy a pick. Regardless, however much we love American football, it's fun being part of a truly international competition, with a real world champion, isn't it?)

To help celebrate, here's the great Roger Doucet singing our anthem before a game of the 1978 World Junior Ice Hockey Championship, held from December 22, 1977 to January 3, 1978 in Montreal and Quebec City. This particular game was played at the old Montreal Forum, as you can tell from the Canadiens logo at center ice. (The Soviet Union won the tournament, but the leading scorer was a young kid by the name of Wayne Gretzky.) 

As a hockey-crazed kid in Montreal in the '70s, I grew up with Doucet, as I did with Lafleur, Dryden, Robinson, and the other players on those incredible Canadiens teams. Going to games at the Forum with my dad (including the Stanley Cup clincher against the Rangers on May 21, 1979, when I saw the Habs carry the Cup around the ice, their fourth-straight championship) or watching Hockey Night in Canada with my family on CBC on Saturdays, it was always Doucet's magnificent voice that set the tone. To all of us who are from Montreal, to all of us who love the Habs, there was no one like Doucet, no one who could sing an anthem quite like he could.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 30, 2014

SCOTUS says not all religions are equal

By Frank Moraes

Last week, with the unanimous decisions, I thought, "Oh God! That was probably done to make the coming highly controversial 5-4 decisions more acceptable." That looks like it is the case. I assume that it is John Roberts who decides when decisions are released. And it should dispel any idea that you may have that the Supreme Court is anything but an extremely political organization. The most upsetting decisions today was Burwell v Hobby Lobby.

In it, by a 5-4 majority, the Court found that "closely held" companies that are owned by religious people have a right to not provide birth control as part of their employee healthcare coverage.

If you look at the logic of the case, this really should be applied to everything. The Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in blood transfusions. By the logic of this decision, a Jehovah's Witnesses employer ought to be able to withhold blood transfusions from the insurance coverage offered to their employees. But that's not what this decision (pdf) finds. Alito's decision even says, "This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, eg, for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs." In Kennedy's concurrence, he begins, "At the outset it should be said that the Court's opinion does not have the breadth and sweep ascribed to it by the respectful and powerful dissent."

The question is, "Why?" There really is no reason. What seems to have been done is that the Supreme Court wanted to allow Christian conservatives to make their stand against birth control and so they worked back from that. It reminds me above all of Bush v Gore. In that case, the Court found that George W Bush's due process rights were being violated, but it was only George W Bush's rights who were being violated and if a similar case ever came up, Bush v Gore could not be used as a precedent. Just like in that case, in Burwell v Hobby Lobby, the Court majority is doing what can only be call judicial legislation. It just created a law that more or less says, "Closely held religious companies have the right to discriminate against their female employees with regard to the existing law that says that all insurance policies must include contraceptive coverage." This is not "judging"; this is not calling balls and strikes; this is legislating, pure and simple.

The conservatives on the bench are not idiots. They know that they can't just say, "If an employer is religious, he doesn't have to follow any law that goes against his conscience." That would allow religions they don't like to gain more power. Rastafarian employers might claim that all of their employees ingest cannabis. But even those Jehovah's Witnesses: they can't be allowed to sully the important legislative work being done by the conservative Christians on the Court: creating a special theocracy for their religion and their religion alone.

Ginsburg's dissent is kind of amazing. Alito spent most of his decision arguing that the finding was minor. He said it wasn't a broad decision. Kennedy backed him up. They were using a scalpel, for God's sake! She brooks no such fantasy. Ginsburg goes right at the blood transfusion issue. She notes that this case doesn't apply to blood transfusions and other silly religious complaints against modernity, but that it also doesn't rule them out. The courts, apparently, are just supposed to deal with them as they come up. The majority decision certainly makes a Jehovah's Witnesses employer's contention that he shouldn't have to provide coverage for blood transfusions reasonable, even if it doesn't state that such exceptions should be made.

Read more »

Labels: , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A century ago, the shot that changed the world

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of some European dude named Franz Ferdinand.

Thankfully it was a minor and largely forgettable event in the annals of world history -- and nothing really came of it.

Phew, huh? Dodged a bullet there. Unlike, you know, the archduke.


In any event, the story did make its way over to this side of the Atlantic, and on what must have been a slow news day, a day after the killing, 100 years ago today, it got some prominent coverage in major newspapers like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Here are their page ones. Who knew?

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share