Hello, world. I’m MacDara Conroy, and this is my blog.

Date: September 2003

Friday Five #58

*1. Who is your favorite singer/musician? Why?*
Who? Mike Watt. Why? The answer is impossible to explain adequately. The best I can do is this — read his website, listen to his music, and make up your own mind.
*2. What one singer/musician can you not stand? Why?*
No one in particular. Anything on contemporary pop radio, I guess. Whatever happened to the 80’s?
Also, I am of the opinion that both Bob Dylan and the Beatles (amongt a whole list of canonical artists) are hideously overrated. Listen, they just don’t click with me like they do for you, so stop trying to persuade me that I have to like them, okay?
Good, that’s settled then.
*3. If your favorite singer wasn’t in the music business, do you think you would still like him/her as a person?*
If I knew who he was, I’m sure that I would.
*4. Have you been to any concerts? If yes, who put on the best show?*
Oh, I’ve been to many, many shows, and yet not enough. Of all that I’ve witnessed so far, the following are the standouts, in no particular order: J Mascis + The Fog, Manchester, June 2001; At The Drive-In and The Murder City Devils, December 2000; NoMeansNo in the summer of 2000; Man Or Astro-Man? and Zen Guerrilla, January 2000; Fugazi, October 2002. The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Icarus Line, September 2002; Yo La Tengo, May 2000; And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Toronto, March 2002; The Blood Brothers, March 2003. (My apologies if I’ve left any off.)
*5. What are your thoughts on downloading free music online vs. purchasing albums? Do you feel the RIAA is right in its pursuit to stop people from dowloading free music?*
This, needless to say, is a controversial issue, with no completely straight-forward answer. Personally I much prefer albums over mp3s, mainly because I like to have a tangible article, something that’s been conceived and designed and packaged with care and intention. When I download music, it’s always to see if I like a particular artist or a particular song, and if I do, nine times out of ten the download leads to an album purchase (at the very least it goes on my list of records to get in future). Lately I’ve been buying my music either from independents such as Midheaven or direct from the label — dirt cheap, usually with a personal touch, and you know where your money is going.
It’s just not the same, downloading the tracks without the case, the artwork, the liner notes, etc. But most other people — especially Americans — seem happy to do it, which leads to the problems we have now. The actions taken recently by the RIAA (and the major labels it represents) have been more than a little heavy handed, yet the law is on their side: the major labels own the copyrights on the sound recordings and are perfectly within their rights to use the law against file sharers to recoup their (potential) lost revenue. (Whether the artists themselves want to or not is usually irrelevant.)
This would be fine if that was the end of it, but it’s not even close. I strongly object to the attempts of the major labels to rewrite laws to suit their own wants (by way of congressional lobbying or whatever) rather than working within the realms of the laws as they stand (like everybody else). I also object to the manner in which file sharing networks have been broken just to protect the interests of the Big Five, when on the flipside many independent labels actively encourage the sharing of their artists’ music over the net as an invaluable promotional tool. Case in point: Napster, in its heydey, was a vertiable goldmine of underground, obscure, and long-deleted musical treasures of a scope that no one could ever have imagined just a few years previously — a goldmine that the RIAA had no right to take away from us.
So yes, the RIAA can do whatever they want regarding the music produced by the labels it represents. But as soon as they start to interfere with the activities and economic potential of independent artists and labels — and with the forced closure of Napster, they’ve effectively done that already — then they forfeit whatever moral rights they might have had and deserve to be ripped off, legally or not.


House Porn

Whilst reading the MediaGuardian supplement on Monday afternoon I was shocked to discover that the new head of Channel 4 is planning to cancel one of my favourite shows, Fifteen to One.
For those of you who are unaware, Fifteen to One happens to be, in my humble opinion, the greatest general knowledge quiz show in the history of television. It is a beacon of light amidst an ocean of mediocrity, and yet the new Channel 4 boss Mark Thompson is conspiring to remove it from its rightful place in the weekday afternoon schedules to make room, most likely, for programming representative of that most loathsome of contemporary television genres: I’m talking about _house porn_.
Yes, house porn; where television shows about other people’s homes and gardens seem to have propagated a new religion, one of soulless aesthetics and blatant materialism. House porn.
Day after day, if it isn’t living room makeovers and garden landscaping, it’s hour-long infomercials for architects and estate agents. And the schedules are full of it — this week alone, at least _thirteen_ hours of programming on British terrestrial television is dedicated to barely-differing variations of house porn (and please note, that’s not counting digital satellite or cable channels, or the endless repeats of Cribs on MTV, which would likely triple this figure, at least).
I remember when house porn wasn’t such an endemic nuisance. When I was a lad I enjoyed shows like Through the Keyhole (with Lloyd “Who lives in a house like this?” Grossman) as much as the next person. At least there was some sort of logic to it.
But then Changing Rooms came along, and ruined it for everyone. Suddenly gardening and DIY became prime-time material (much to the delight of hardware superstores, garden centres and builders suppliers everywhere, I would imagine) and competing channels scrambled to outdo each other in the home renovation stakes. Night after night of nameless, faceless mugs staring back at us through the TV screen as so-called interior designers prance about gaily with paint rollers and masking tape.
Andy Warhol would be pleased, I guess. But I’m not.
It’s time for and end to this pornographic portrayal of property on prime-time TV before other, much more worthy programming gets washed away in its wake. At present I still have University Challenge to fulfil my general knowledge quotient; yet at the rate things are going, for how much longer?


American Splendor

I quote from an interview with underground comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the current issue of The Onion AV Club:

I’ve got this weird combination of… I like a lot of esoteric and avant-garde fiction, for example, and music, too. But I write about it in kind of stubby little sentences. It’s like the opposite of pretentious. And some editors would like my stuff to be fancier. I’ve had a problem with that over the years. I’ll be talking about technical stuff, but in a simple, comprehensible way.

That is me. In a nutshell. I really should stop denying my personal style for the sake of others’ expectations. Maybe then I’d actually be motivated to write more, and to boldly, shamelessly solicit work, just like I _should_ be doing with all this time on my hands. It’s not like I have anything to lose. (My dignity hath long ago abandoned me.)
So thank you, Harvey Pekar. Can’t wait to see the movie. Or read the comics. Whichever comes first.


Beginner’s Luck

Right now it’s either very late or very early. It’s that time of night.
I got home less than an hour ago, after spending the evening with friends playing poker. Yes, poker. A real man’s game. And we played for money, too.
Before this evening I hadn’t played poker in years. (By which I mean, I had only played poker once, and it was a number of years ago. And there was no money on the line.) But I guess I had beginner’s luck tonight, as I did pretty well for myself, in fact almost doubling my stake.
_I won four euro! Woo-hoo!_
Okay, not exactly worthy of high-roller status I know, but please allow me this one little indulgence. Just this once.


It’s My Weblog And I’ll Rant If I Want To

I found a protest notice clogging the letterbox on Wednesday afternoon. When I first read it, it made me laugh. Then it made me angry. The following is a recreation of said notice, with most punctuation errors intact:

Now let’s have a closer, point-for-point examination:

  • The presentation, first of all, leaves a lot to be desired. It looks like it was laid out by a two-year-old. It speaks volumes about the message they want to convey, as far as I’m concerned.
  • They get their digs in quickly though, using such hyperbolic words as ‘illegal’ and ‘industrial’ to describe what is actually a perfectly legal recycling depot. And just in case you don’t get the message, they hit the caps key to ream off a list of people supposedly at risk from the depot’s activities (which could result in the contamination of our air supply with the Aspergillus spore). It’s funny, I never knew that St. Anne’s Estate was a treatment centre for cancer and AIDS patients, et al. Maybe because it isn’t. One might presume, from the information presented here, that we’ll all be breathing pure, uncontaminated oxygen if the depot is shut down. Is this the case? Hardly. Even though past studies have shown that the Clontarf-Raheny area has some of the cleanest air in the city, the poor immuno-deficient invalids listed here would still be at risk from general pollutants in the air (exhaust fumes from passing cars, tobacco smoke from passing smokers, the high pollen count during the summer months, the cold virus, influenza) and besides, the Aspergillus spore has shown up in many places other than composting sites (according to this story its presence has been reported in many Irish hospitals in the past). Yet for some reason the great minds responsible for this protest have decided to ignore these threats. But that’s rhetoric for you.
  • I like the next paragraph; you can just imagine the tottering aul’ biddies whinging about their stuffy noses and arthritic joints. Oh no, couldn’t be the pollen in the air, they say, nor a summer cold — it simply has to be the FALLOUT from that ILLEGAL INDUSTRIAL DEPOT! It’s funny how we’ve switched in a matter of seconds from a green-matter recycling centre to a nuclear time-bomb just waiting to explode. Why don’t these clowns pay a visit to the good people of Hiroshima; I’m sure they can tell them all about fallout.
  • The following paragraph is all in caps. It’s also the one with the worst layout mistakes, so they must have been really angry when they wrote this one. Red mist and all. Fighting through the tears of frustration. Please Lord, why will no one hear our cry?!? It almost pains me to take it apart mercilessly, but I’ll do it anyway:
    1. First of all, the value our health and our property is not being ruined by Dublin City Council, at least not in this respect. I would, personally, be much more concerned about the gangs of delinquents roaming around the estate, making most of it a no-go area at night, not to mention the car thefts and joyriding that plagued the area last year.
    2. Second of all, the council has admitted that there are potential health risks involved with the decay of certain vegatable matter — referring to the Aspergillus spore — however, tests have, to my knowledge, yet to be conducted to determine the levels of this or any other contaminant in the air surrounding the green waste depot. In the meantime, most people are probably living in total ignorance of the threat to their health of electromagnetic fields, radon gas, et cerera, within their own homes, not to mention the fact that Aspergillus has shown to be present in a variety of situations independent of green waste recycling centres. (Okay, I’m kinda taking the piss now, but sure I’m just playing them at their own game.)
    3. Thirdly and lastly, they describe the depot as a ‘filthy, barbaric dump’. Well for starters, it’s not a dump: the depot produces fertiliser and mulch for use throughout all of the city parks maintained by the council. Also, it’s far from filthy — and anyway, how would they know? It’s surrounded by fencing and a hedgerow at least 8 feet tall. And barbaric? Do they even know the definition of the term? The concise version of the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘barbaric’ as ‘savagely cruel’; an apt descriptor for a concentration camp, yes, but for a recycling centre? Inappropriate, to say the least.
  • We get to the last paragraph, where they quote the council as telling local TD Richard Bruton that they are aware of the potential for harm due to Aspergillus arising from composting, and that an unnamed environmental agency in the UK has set a limit of 250 metres around composting sites. This is the only part of this notice that seems even slightly lucid. However, the fact that the council has apparently done little if not nothing in light of these details does not constitute ‘abuse’, since they are under no legal obligation. So the UK has a 250 metre perimeter limit around composting sites? Well the UK also has Sellafield, which poses a much bigger potential threat to everyone’s health, don’t you think?

It’s almost amusing that this whole thing got started because the family of _one_ child recuperating from hospital treatment with a deficient immune system discovered this obscure, potential threat to the child’s health (as if there weren’t a multitude of other airborne maladies to contend with — surely common sense would tell you that if you’ve got a weakened immune system, then _anything_ in the air could be harmful?). A couple of days through the rumour mill later, and the scaremongering spread like wildfire.
Now I’m no fan of Dublin City Council — much like the civil service, it seems to be run by managers with inadequate management training, which leads to all sorts of obvious problems — but the green waste depot is one of the few good ideas they’ve implemented successfully. To see them getting lambasted for something that they’re for once doing right — and all without any hard evidence to back it up — is unbelievable.
However I shouldn’t be surprised, this coming presumably from the same people who refuse to pay the so-called ‘Bin Tax’, which they _claim_ is a form of double taxation but in reality is merely payment for a service, one that we have had the luxury of enjoying free of charge for as long as I can remember (unlike the majority of other states within the European Union, I might add). The fact of the matter is that government subsidies to the city council have fallen, so the time has come for them to recoup their expenses. They simply can’t afford to dispose of our household refuse for free anymore.
The problem with this, however, is that the Irish (hanging my head in shame) are a nation of lazy freeloading whingers. For example, we harp on about high taxation, even though we have some of the lowest rates within the EU, and then complain about the lack of efficient public services, as if the money to pay for them grew on trees. And even when we are provided with a useful amenity — just like the green waste depot — we don’t want it in our backyard. We take and take and take, we never give back, and then complain that we’re not getting enough. We want everyone else to solve our problems for us. We pass the buck constantly, then complain when nothing gets done. Oh sure, we’ve got a government full of scoundrels and run by crooks, but let me ask you this: who voted for them? Hmm?
(You can see this selfish, lazy attitude everywhere you go — especially in Dublin, where the street litter problem is out of control. Sometimes you can’t even see the pavement for all the empty crisp bags, sweet wrappers, cigarette butts and wads of gum. Walk through the main shopping streets on most days, particularly when it’s warm and the sun is out — O’Connell Street, Henry Street, Grafton Street — and be sickened by the putrid stench of vomit from the night before. The city council tries its best, but it’s a futile effort when the majority of people just have no concept of civic pride.)
So what do I think about all of this? Well It’s about bloody time that we all woke up and copped on, stopped whinging and took responsibility for ourselves. But let’s be realistic; that’s not gonna happen anytime soon.


The Absentee Landlord Returns

I’m still here. I’ve been home for over a week now. No, I didn’t spend _another_ week abroad. I just didn’t have anything interesting enough to write about. It happens.
Not that I haven’t been busy. As it happens I’ve been run off my feet (well, relatively speaking) as of late. If you don’t believe me, here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to over the last seven days:

  • I uploaded plus-or-minus 140 photos taken during my visit to South Africa from the didge onto the eMac. I edited a handful — a bit of cropping, red-eye correction, et cetera — but sloppily. I decided to come back to them with a fresh eye and lots of time on my hands.
  • I ate a milk chocolate Tempo bar, from Cadbury’s. It was good.
  • I went out for a drink one night with Eoin the Film Student (unbelievable, I know, but it’s true!) and paid my first visit to Rick’s on Dame Street for one of their famously good burgers. Tasty.
  • I thought about Photoshopping my vacation photos, but my eyes were too tired to stare at a computer screen. And besides, it was after midnight and I was still hallucinating from lack of sleep.
  • I went with Dave to see Buffalo Soldiers. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t exactly blow my mind. Also, I would have written a much better ending.
  • I drank some grape flavour Fanta, and kicked myself for not bringing home more.
  • I rang Benitha from that international call centre above where Dave used to work. We talked for a while, and spent most of the rest of the weekend chatting with her online. I miss her.
  • I thought again about editing my vacation photos, then got distracted by a small fly.
  • I eventually stopped hallucinating, which was good as it was really starting to disturb me.
  • I began transcribing a diary that I kept for the duration of my vacation; I’ve still got a long way to go, so don’t expect to see it for at least another week. If you see it at all.
  • I cooked up my first batch of pap, and it actually turned out okay. A bit clumpy, sure, but it tasted right. I’ll do better next time. I wish I had some wors to go with it.
  • I ate a caramel P.S. bar, from Cadbury’s. It was even better than the Tempo.
  • I went out to UCD to do some photocopying (why go elsewhere when I still have 20-plus credits left on my old student copy card?) and felt like a total outsider. Afterwards I spent the day in town with Grover, and made an amazing discovery. You know that newsagents just inside that archway entrance to Temple Bar, the one facing the Ha’penny Bridge? Well they’ve got cans of soda imported from the States, including Pepsi Blue, and root beer. I’ve never tried either. So I bought a can of each. Not bad. (I must say, though, that I didn’t know what to expect from the root beer. It smells like Deep Heat, but tastes like Big Red, only better. I like it.)
  • I thought once more about editing my South Africa photos, but decided to waste my time writing this instead.

So there you have it. Doesn’t it make you just wanna spend a day in my shoes?
I thought not. Oh well.


Flash Mob Incorporated?

From the New Media Diary in Monday’s Guardian:

[The London Evening] Standard gets its four stars for coverage of this silly season’s cause celebre, flash-mobbing. After an earlier event at a sofa emporium, the Standard reported a follow-up incident at the London Eye when 60 people turned up and started peeling bananas. The Standard was one of the few papers to cover the event, organised by ukflashmob.com. According to the excellent dnsstuff.com, that site is registered by one Howard Elston of mediabase.co.uk, the new media offshoot of Associated Newspapers – the outfit that owns, you guessed it, the Evening Standard.

I shouldn’t be surprised at this, but I am. The counter-culture co-option didn’t take very long, did it?