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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘utah saints

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Why I look forward to the 2010s

The future isn’t something that people like contemplating these days, quite probably for the same reasons of disappointment and foreboding that Andrew Barton described earlier this month.

For decades, the twenty-first century was implicitly the great beyond, the city on the hill, and there was no alternative to it being a good and decent place where technology would work miracles and all our petty twentieth-century problems would be solved. It was the gateway to the Grand and Shining Future. After all, the crew of the Enterprise didn’t have to worry about nuclear war or STDs or poverty in Africa. This was supposed to be the time where we made the first steps toward solving the problems that have bedeviled humanity since the beginning.

Ten years, and we’ve hardly started. What these ten years have taught us is not only that things are worse than we thought, and getting worse faster than we thought they could get, but that people don’t even believe things are getting bad – as if the slow death of the Arctic ice cap or the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or the ticking timebomb that is the tens of billions of tons of greenhouse gases in melting northern permafrost is on the same plane as the question of whether or not the Shroud of Turin is genuine. Then again, it’s hard to care about the environment when you’ve been fired or laid off or made redundant or what have you and you don’t know where you’re going to find money for food or rent.

My first reaction to think post was to recall “The Future,” the first track on Prince’s 1989 Batman soundtrack, where Prince sings against a foreboding funk guitar that he plans to “drink six razor blades, razor blades in a paper cup” because he has “seen the future, and boy, it’s rough.” My second reaction was to recall the Times‘ correspondents’ various predictions, including the speculation that Conrad Black might have some of his convictions reversed and Avatar might sweep the Oscars.

My third reaction? The pessimism is overblown.

A lot of this is spillover from my own personal situation, sure. the improvement in my quality of life over the past decade has been spectacular. I’m happy, living in an exciting community where I feel comfortable in my own skin and where I can easily connect with all manner of and any number of people, happily belonging to human communities and maintaining human relationships. I would have taken this as a low-probability outcome a decade ago. I certainly can’t dismiss the past decade as so negative as all that. Things can and will improve, but they’ll do so without any low-probability revolutionary transformations.

More of this comes down to my belief that we really are making things much better. When I read Charlie Stross’ afterword in his excellent 2004 Atrocity Archives, I was struck by his defense of that book’s melange of horror and spy fiction on the grounds that it fit with the realities of the Cold War, that one moment you could walking around in a thriving metropolis and the next you’d be standing with your skin burned off your city’s poisoned ruins, one of many cities so blasted on a poisoned world. That future didn’t happen, not for want of the necessary technology, but because the people responsible for the use of these technologies didn’t want that kind of world.

Things, Steven Pinker demonstrated earlier this year, have been generally improving for some time, as people and societies have tended (over the longue durée) to become civilized, to respond to problems not with anger and amusement but with a real sense of concern that’s manifested in action. Effective action, too; Doug Saunders recently wrote about this in the Globe and Mail. Contrary to the apocalyptic predictions made at the end of the milennium, entire continents haven’t collapsed into chaos; poor people and countries have become substantially better off; human suffering is being alleviated. Civilization, it turns out, is winning. There will be problems, yes.

This will not be an easy time ahead: Wealthy countries are facing a 3 per cent cut in their economy for as long as a decade while they pay off their bailout debts. Aging populations will force them to pay steeper bills for pensions and medicine. And they will probably have to pay for carbon-emission reductions, just as they are attempting to extricate themselves from the financial crisis.

The war in Afghanistan, and its repercussions in Pakistan, are not going to be easy to resolve. And the cultural tensions caused by immigration are not going to go away: Most Western countries, to cover all those costs, will be forced to take in hundreds of thousands of people from the developing world each year.

In the past decade, we avoided many worse fates through a series of developments that most of us missed. In the future, we’ll have to pay closer attention. The southern and eastern three-quarters of the globe are pivotal to the areas that have the greatest effect on us – energy and emissions, exports and equities, technology and terrorism.

We have adapted in certain ways – by shifting our military expenditures from Europe to Central Asia; by pursuing the Millennium Development Goals, the UN’s plan to reduce the most extreme forms of poverty by 2015; and by replacing the worn-out G8 with former Prime Minister Paul Martin’s idea of a G20. In the decade ahead we will have to work even harder just to keep pace.

All we know for sure is that it will not be a repeat of the past 10 years. In 2007, the statistician-philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined what may be the decade’s most descriptive axiom: “History does not crawl, it jumps.” History has exploded from the least likely corners; spurious events unsettled our surest expectations. The 2010s will be volatile, unpredictable, dangerous – but not what we hope, and not what we fear.

I expect the world to have problems, Canada to have problems, Toronto to have problems, certainly me to have problems, I don’t think that we live in the best of all possible worlds, but I don’t think that we live in the worst one, either. I know that “something good is going to happen” to us all without any low-probability revolutions or miracles. (Unless something completely unexpected comes, but I can’t be fairly blamed for that.)

(“Oh, I, Oh, I.”)

Happy New Year!

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2009 at 7:36 pm

[MUSIC] Utah Saints, “Something Good” (2008 Remix)

I’m rather fond of the Utah Saints’ 1992 song “Something Good”, a catchy pop song built around a short sample of Kate Bush’s voice from her 1985 song “Cloudbusting” (“”I just know that something good is going to happen/0h I/Oh I”). Back in the day, I suppose that was all that you could fit on a 3 1/2-inch disk.

There’s been a 2008 remix of that song, I’ve been told, a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom. Its very funny video is below.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 20, 2008 at 7:13 pm

[MUSIC] Utah Saints, “Something Good”

Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”, first released as a single in 1985, is another one of her brilliantly dense songs from the Hounds Of Love era in the mid-1990s. At one level it’s an exploration of the theories of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, his belief that all life possessed orgone energy which could be manipulated to save lives and change the weather, and his eventual suppression by the American state. At another level it’s an exploration of the relationship between child and parent as seen from the child’s perspective. At still another level, it’s a brilliant video featuring Donald Sutherland. “Cloudbusting” is a bit too stately for my tastes and isn’t one of my favourite songs by Kate Bush, but it’s still a good song.

But every time it rains,
You’re here in my head,
Like the sun coming out–
Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen.
And I don’t know when,
But just saying it could even make it happen.

The Utah Saints‘ 1992 British hit single “Something Good” is built around a sample of Kate’s voice, the line “Ooh, I just know that something good is going to happen.” Part of the efflorescence of house music in the late Thatcher and early Major eras, the first big hit singles of the Utah Saints did feature vocal samples taken from the previous decade of British hit singers. I can’t speak as to what has been done with these other songs, but Kate Bush’s vocals the Utah Saints make just another sample, the “Ooh, I” portion reduced to a level almost as abstract as any synthesized melody. They’ve been likened to the KLF, and when I listened to the KLF and their album The White Room I noticed them playing with the same sort of abstraction at the level of their total performance.

I’m not sure about the artistic merits of “Something Good,” if only because of the great yawning gap between that song and “Cloudbusting.” The beats are quicker, the song’s opened by guitar, crowd noise is spliced in, the song seems to get faster and faster as it speeds towards its end 3m29s after it began. I do know that I like it. There’s something sublime about its simplicity, I’m sure.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2006 at 9:00 am

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