14 July 2010

...then four come along at once

Hot on the heels of Village's recent musings on the need or lack of need for a new political party (or two) comes news in this morning's Irish Times of the imminent formation of not one, but four new groups that will seek official Party status in the coming months. The two most fully realised thus far are Direct Democracy Ireland, and Fís Nua.

Direct Democracy Ireland have coalesced around the idea of bypassing the curent stagnant and autocratic parliamentary representative system and instilling an element of true democracy into the system by allowing for citizen-initiated referenda that could repeal legislation or counter-act governmental decisions, a process very similar to the Proposition votes that most US States have that enact or repeal legislation and alter state constitutions and statutes. They are also seeking to introduce a Recall mechanism that would allow the citizenry to "fire" elected representatives, again similar to many US States and a process used most famously to propel Arnold Schwarzenegger to power after California Governor Gray Davis was Recalled in 2003.

I have written before on my belief in the need for a reborn Republic, the cornerstone of which would be a new Constitution that included a provision for the citizenry themselves to call for referenda on alterations to the Constitution, and I fully support the measures Direct Democracy Ireland are proposing, but I question the viability of a party formed around such a single issue platform. Obviously the only way Recall or Citizen-Initiatives can be introduced into the current political sustem is through the mechanisms of the current political system, so it will necessitate legislation to be introduced into the Dail and to be passed by the Dail. Given that no new party can possibly hope to win an overall majority (indeed no party new or established can hope any more for an overall majority), the party must be hoping to score a future place in a Rainbow coalition with 3-4 TDs, with their Democracy measures being the price for their support. The flaw with this plan is that achieving those 3-4 seats will prove almost certainly impossible given the single-issue platform they are promoting, and the rogues gallery of other more established minor parties and Independents in the queue ahead of them to pick up the disgruntled protest vote. A more effective route would have been to form a non-political pressure group and try to win cross-party or multi-party support for their initiatives, rather than to be seen to be in competition with potential fellow travelers at the ballot box.

Of greater interest to me is the second of the two existant groups, Fis Nua, a Green party splinter group that includes former MEP Patricia McKenna and town councilor Pat Kavanagh. My own experiences within the Green Party left me with no doubt as to the centre-right position that party had come to rest on, pushed there both by the accommodations made by the leadership to their Fianna Fail colleagues, the subsequent abandonment of the party by anyone with strong Left views, and the overwhelmingly comfortable middle-class nature of the remaining membership. The recent legislative campaigns heralded by the Greens on hunting and dog-breeding are causes hardly in the same historic mold as their pre-Government battlegrounds such as Shell-to-Sea, the Tara bypass, US rendition flights as well as less radical party platforms such as promoting Education and combating poverty, all of which have taken a back seat in the real-politik world of partnership with the devil (or a corrupt neo-liberal dynastic facsimile thereof).

Fis Nua take social equality and social justice as the cornerstone of their new (albeit somewhat vague in places) draft manifesto, and the party is definitely positioning itself in the Nordic Left Green tradition. High on their agenda are issues like those above abandonded by the Greens, along with newer more radical concepts like the decriminalization of drug use and treatment of addicts as a medical rather than criminal issue, the reduction in the size of the Dail by 20% and the allocation of Free Bus and rail passes to all TDs coupled with the removal of any travel expenses to force them to rely on the same services as those citizens they represent, and most radically, the introduction of a guaranteed basic minimum income that would surely please any fan of Andre Gorz (like me).

Of course even with big names like McKenna behind them (who, let's not forget, alienates at least as many people as she inspires) this will be a party even further on the fringe than the Greens, and very unlikely to pick up any transfers from either of the two main parties' traditional supporters, though it will undoubtedly be a serious nail in the coffin of the rump Greens come next election. Its success will rely on the already fractured radical left, who should seriously start to think about working together in areas where specific individuals like Richard Boyd Barrett and McKenna herself have a reasonable chance of success in the next Dail election. However given Boyd Barrett's dismissal of the need for any new political parties in his Village opinion piece (a dismissal that seems a bit disingenuous given the fact that he already has two of his own) this seems somewhat unlikely.

Beyond the actual formation of the parties themselves, the positive note to take from today's news is the physical evidence that substantial portions of society have finally moved beyond the moaning and bellyaching and ineffectual verbal posturings in pubs and taxis, and are actually starting to act and attempt to change society around them for the better. I'm not convinced that effective change can come from within the current political system and structures, but I applaud anyone who attempts to do so.

Thus while I greet today's announcements with guarded joy and wish both parties the best, agree with much of their early platforms, and no doubt will be sending a vote or two their way should either group make it as far as the next election, I remain unfortunately skeptical about either's ability to make any serious and lasting impact on our political stage.

I do, however, really and truly hope to be proven wrong.

Update - Patricia McKenna writes in today's (16/07/10) Irish Times that while she has attended meetings of Fis Nua, she has no intention at the moment to 'play a “prominent” role in any future political party'. Thanks to Vincent Salfia for drawing my attention to this. Please also see the comments section of this post for Vincent's own letter to the Irish Times expanding on Direct Democracy Ireland's future plans. DDI's next public meeting is in the Aisling Hotel, Dublin on July 20th at 8pm, and I think anyone with any interest in the reform of our parliamentary system, radical or otherwise, should pop along and find out more.

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06 July 2010

Rhythm is a dncr

Thursday saw the opening of the new season of events at the Science Gallery, Biorhythm, focusing on the relationship and interaction between music and the body, and thus I wandered down dutifully, camera in tow, to brave the thronging hordes which surprisingly were rather larger and more free-drink-focused than those at the opening night of Hyperbolic Crochet, and also slightly more male, young, and tragically hip with the haircuts and the fashion and the whatnot.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too much of a demographic, like when you open up the Guardian on a Saturday to see a musician (who's album you just bought) commenting on a book (you just read) while sitting in a cafe (you just ate in yesterday) and condemning a public figure (you just accepted a commission from) for betraying their working-class roots (by doing the thing you've just been commissioned to do on their behalf), with a shiny new gadget sitting beside them on the glossy table in the accompanying photograph (that you just bought yourself to assuage your guilt over your imminent betrayal of the proletariat), that sort of thing. The Science Gallery is like that writ large for me, most explicitly with this current exhibition.

I am, as you may know, a collector of musical things. I cannot read music, I cannot play the piano or guitar, and thus I have a fascination/obsession with musical instruments for non-musicians. From old-school programmable all-in-one synths like the Roland 505 and a Korg Electribe or two I have steadily progressed by way of 80's keytar-esque gold like the Suzuki Omnichord and oddities like the Vestax Faderboard through to the rather more enjoyable and altogether Tron-like Lemur, Tenori-On and cantina-band experience of the Eigenharp Pico. Most recently I have been enjoying Korg's latest shiny thing, the Kaossilator Pro, full to the brim with touchy-feely goodness. It was thus with no small amount of child-like giddiness that I approached Biorhythm on Thursday last.

As you enter the exhibition you are immediately greeted by a Reactable, Bjork's favourite multi-touch collaborative tool, voted "Instrument most likely to help you plan an assault on the Death Star" following her successful 2007 Volta tour, and the source of much envy and lust when I saw it used live in Glastonbury and Belfast. While my more talented friends have made a rather good go of making their own multi-touch interfaces using little more than a cardboard box and a web-cam, it was still very nice indeed to get some hands-on time with what comes close to the Platonic ideal of a shiny-happy-touchy noise maker.

The real joy of the exhibit though is the non-commercial and more esoteric experiments, installations and circuit-bending offerings on display, ranging from a Lego sequencer through to immaculately turned wooden instruments armed with colour-detecting cameras that play different notes depending on the colour they are exposed to, with theremins and sonic-beds and body-circuits (oh my!) along the way. Sounds from one part of the exhibit are filtered through to headphones in another, turning the visitors themselves into a composition, and apparently the stairs between gallery floors have been converted into a giant midi-interface.

I say 'apparently' because the only flaw of the evening was that it was, in fact, too successful, and the sheer volume of attendees meant that it was almost impossible to hear many of the installations to any degree of satisfaction. This is an exhibition to be enjoyed with as few people around as possible, and that will be a challenge if the numbers on opening night are any indication of its popularity, though as it is running until the start of October I'm sure you'll manage to find the odd quiet(er) moment. If quieter moments aren't your thing it will also be on tour at Electric Picnic in September.

If you do go down make sure you participate in "Emotion in Motion" one of the two experiments being run throughout the exhibition's run, which seeks to compare and contrast the mind's reaction to music with the body's; you may tell everyone you hate the Venga Boys, but when the Venga Bus starts coming does your body betray you and start bopping away like an embarrassing Aunt at your cousin's wedding after one too many G&Ts? The experiment forms part of the doctoral research of our good friend and frequent commentator here on Booming Back, 2Bit, and builds upon his work into emotional responses triggered by music that we posted on back in 2008. With the results of this in his sweaty little hands he will finally progress from Master of the Sonic Arts to full Doctor, earning the ultimate accolade of becoming an unlockable character in Battle Arena Toshinden and generating a nice little side-line in licensing obscure-slogan t-shirts and vinyl-moulded spiky-haired collectable dolls.

There's a fun little book, 'Toy Instruments', that details Eric Schneider's personal collection of music-producing children's toys from the 50's through to today (think Teddy Ruxpin on a stylophone and you wont be far wrong), and at times I worry that my own collection veers dangerously towards the novelty end of the instrument pool, and given the dust collecting on some of the gear it most definitely sits altogether too-comfortably in the museum-exhibit-hasn't-been-played-for-years category. However coming back from Biorhythm I was inspired/cajoled/prodded into taking stuff down off the shelf, blowing off the cobwebs and firing up the tubes, and remembering why I got into obscure musical instruments in the first place.

To pretend I'm a musician without having to do any of the hard work, like learning how to read and/or play any actual music.

Links
Biorhythm at the Science Gallery
Photos from opening night

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