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Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK)
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Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History
Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, The Great Recession, and the Uses-and Misuses-of History
by Barry J. Eichengreen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars We need to learn more from Economic History; this is a good place to start, 21 April 2015
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Another day, another book about the Great Recession. I’ve already reviewed Martin Wolf’s The Shifts And The Shocks, and reading that and Barry Eichengreen’s Hall Of Mirrors back-to-back feels like the economics version of self-flagellation. Not because they’re no good. Quite the opposite. They both give a detailed breakdown of what went wrong, and what went wrong after the initial success in launching a recovery operation (upon which they largely agree), and do so in an accessible, economically literate way.

The difference between the two is largely that where Wolf spends a lot of time discussing possible ways of avoiding a repeat, Eichengreen looks at the similarities (hence the title) between the Great Recession and the Great Depression in far more detail than does Wolf. His rationale is his contention that economic history is an overlooked discipline, and although my own bookshelves may be an exception to that, it is an avenue worth exploring.

In simple terms, in the early part of the 21st century as in the early part of the 20th, the banks and other financial institutions of the world had been allowed too much of a free rein, growing in size, complexity and power to the point where outsiders had lost supervisory control, partly because they lacked teeth, partly because they did not fully understand the financial instruments in which the institutions were dealing, and partly because the system was so opaque. Once it was clear there was a problem the authorities were fairly quick in intervening, rescuing (or not, in the case of Lehman) the “too-big-to-fail” institutions, reassuring retail customers and pouring billions of taxpayers’ dollars, euros, pounds and so on into the effort. Eichengreen singles out the much-reviled Gordon Brown for his efforts with the G20 in 2009 as at least trying to inject some leadership into the situation, and like Wolf singles out 2010 as the turning point in the subsequent recovery. In the UK, by 2009 growth had been reinstated into the economy, but then in 2010 the then new Tory chancellor George Osborne raised VAT and slashed numerous government departments (claiming the private sector would step in – we’re still waiting) whereupon growth stalled again. (The Tories will tell you that the economy has now recovered, but the jobs that have been created are largely low-paid, productivity is lower due to the use of cheap labour rather than investment in more productive equipment, and the prospects for youth are dire, with increasing numbers of millennials being obliged to continue to live with their parents, with little or no prospect of a home of their own in the near future.)

Meanwhile Greece continues to struggle with its historic problems. Readers of Reinhart and Rogoff’s This Time It’s Different will know quite how historic those problems are. Yet despite the record, Greece was allowed to join the eurozone, and was lent billions of euros. Finding itself once more in trouble, it struggles to find help, but those who not long ago were only too willing to fuel its habit are now closing the door. As Eichengreen says, for every reckless borrower there is a reckless lender. But Germany, the biggest offender in that respect, now blames only Greece for the profligacy, a little like a john upbraiding a hooker for her immorality. He draws parallels in this with the role France played in the twenties and thirties in refusing to cut Germany any slack over war reparations. Now the boot is on the other foot, with Germany refusing to cut Greece any slack. The potential consequences will be disastrous: Greece falling out of the euro, thereby setting a precedent for others to follow and a collapse of the experiment; civil unrest, with possibly a polarisation akin to that in Spain in the thirties, with the neo-fascist Golden Dawn biding its time, waiting for its opportunity to pounce, and the added element of ISIS just across the Mediterranean to exploit the political vacuum; and maybe even the collapse of the EU itself, destroying over half a century of European harmony. (This latter of course is not helped by the prospect of the UK leaving.)

In its own review of the book, written by Ferdinando Giugliano, the Financial Times chose to highlight the sentence, “Eichengreen dismisses the view advanced by many latter-day Keynesians that FDR saved the US thanks to his commitment to large-scale financial stimulus.” Leaving aside the fact that many other “latter-day Keynesians” make no such claim, what Eichengreen actually does (page 297), as Giugliano, in the smaller print that the hard-of-thinking may not read, acknowledges, is dismiss the role of spending under the New Deal as too small to make inroads into double-digit unemployment, despite the ambitions and scale of projects such as the Grand Coulee Dam and the Triborough Bridge. Nevertheless, the New Deal did relieve a lot of hardship, and left a grand legacy.

In a similar way, the Obama administration had grand ambitions for recession-busting schemes, but was constrained - indirectly by lobbyists from the Tea Party, who scared the Republican party into an abandonment of bipartisan action - being able ultimately to spend only $800bn where their original estimate was for a minimum of $1.2trn. There is, therefore less of a legacy to be seen of the Obama “New Deal”. However, the IMF has estimated that the $400bn spent in 2010 raised GDP by $520bn. As Eichengreen wryly observes, since the Great Depression, 80 years of scholarship indicate that fiscal policy works where it is tried, and doesn’t where it isn’t. In other words, what some “latter-day Keynesians” are saying is that small-government fundamentalism deforms Keynesian attempts at a solution. In another example of the meddling of this bunch of grotesques, many of the problems of Obamacare have been created because of the compromises forced upon the Democrats by their Republican opponents, again under pressure from the Tea Party, despite which it is widely acknowledged (by the Economist, amongst others) that the Affordable Care Act, to give it its proper name, is already benefitting millions of previously uninsured Americans and, wait for it, saving money, in part by eliminating the perverse incentives previously involved in doctors’ ordering millions of expensive, unnecessary medical tests.

Ultimately, however, Eichengreen’s most sinister conclusion is to do with an unintended consequence of the success the authorities had in preventing the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. That is, that in dodging the bullet this time, they have sat back, exhausted, admired their work, and possibly due to that exhaustion and the knowledge that further work would be even more arduous, possibly due to complacency or misplaced hope, or possibly due to the pack of Tea Partiers and their ilk baying at the gate, stopped short of a more fundamental reform of the system. It is therefore possible that the real crisis was not prevented, just delayed.

The book is thus an indictment of half-baked solutions, of doctrinaire politicking and of those with more influence than sense. The way in which economics is taught has come under close scrutiny since the events of 2007-8. Its privileging of market economics, of efficient markets, rational actors and self-correction have been criticised, as have its lack of cross-fertilisation between macroeconomics and financial economics, and a failure to learn from the past. Eichengreen, one of those who levels this final criticism, is a good place to start.

Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Monk, Katherine Published by Greystone Books (2012)
Joni: The Creative Odyssey of Joni Mitchell by Monk, Katherine Published by Greystone Books (2012)
by Katherine Monk
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Reasons for criticism, but plenty to enjoy, 14 April 2015
Something rather disturbing happens in the early stages of this book. It's not the soft-boiled analysis of Joni Mitchell's cross-dressing as a black pimp on the cover of Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. There are many ways to rationalise that into a daring piece of solidarity in order to dismiss charges of being patronising (or something like that, anyway). It's not the depiction of Mitchell's tomboyishness as tantamount to androgyny. There are several women I can think of who more than subvert traditional male/female role differentiation who are, nonetheless, nowhere near (so far as I know) applying for gender reassignment. It is, rather, the use of a quotation from no less than Lord Bob Dylan to the effect that women who perform are "whoring" themselves, but that he excludes from that judgement only Joni Mitchell. The misogyny implied in that pronouncement may well, I keep telling myself, be the result of context. But the fact that it is used to, well, maybe "excuse", Mitchell's behaviour has all sorts of implications, like, Why just her? So, we were off to a bad start.

Joni Mitchell biographies have come a long way since I read Mark Bego's execrable offering. That book offended in many ways, not least for its tittle-tattle about love affairs and its linear treatment of Mitchell's life and works with little cross- or back-reference. Technically, though, Katherine Monk's work here is not biography in the usual sense. It is more literary criticism, a series of essays bundled in themed chapters which examine Mitchell's preoccupations, her likes and dislikes, and her inspirations. Like Michelle Mercer in Will You Take Me As I Am (or maybe because of it), the Nietzsche connection is explored, but in far more detail, and in a way that had me returning to the primary texts for the first time in many years. But whilst influenced by Nietzsche, Mitchell transcends his misogynistic portrayal of women as shallow in Beyond Good And Evil, and I suspect that a fulfilment of her stated wish to have met him would have ended in disappointment for someone who once shunned a "fan" who proclaimed her as his "favourite female singer".

Reading other reviews of the book I find much to agree with in their comments, although I seem to have enjoyed the book more than any of their authors (at least those who actually read it). It is true that Monk's lack of interviews with Mitchell or any of her collaborators seems a big problem, which may allow some level of detachment but ultimately renders it less valuable than Mercer's, making it look a little like desk research. Like other commentators I found myself less than convinced that Monk fully understood some of her reference points, notably Nietzsche but Heidegger too, giving a feeling less of PhD, more of undergrad, not helped by some of the frequent attempts at pimping stuff up (to use her phrase) with hip catch-phrases and colloquialisms, complete with exclamation marks so you know what's going on. As Bego's book demonstrates, however, including a few pictures doesn't add very much, so I didn't much mind this particular omission by Monk. Bego also demonstrated the vacuity of covering everything, that is, commenting on every album, without saying much about any of them. (It is not true, however, as I've seen suggested, that Monk totally ignores Night Ride Home, as she references Slouching Towards Bethlehem, in the context of The Fiddle and the Drum, saying it was adapted from Yeats, a "huge fan [ugh!] of Nietzsche".)

In addition, I always find it annoying being told how I, as a man, should respond to Mitchell. For me, her appeal was never down to her physical attractiveness - my teenage infatuation was Melanie Safka, not Joan Anderson - and always about the quality of the songs and music. It is quite likely true that men who came into her orbit in the sixties found themselves dribbling uncontrollably, and it may even be worth mentioning, but whilst Mingus, for example, was doubtless not above that kind of thing even in his twilight years, he was an aggressive, uncompromising musical perfectionist and recognised that in Mitchell too, hence the collaboration that produced one of Mitchell's finest albums. So let's not get too hung up on the singer-as-siren, eh?

And one final point before I turn to the positive sides - and there are enough. How can she on the one hand say Mitchell's music "has yet to stump product", that is, sell out to corporate interests, then later reveal that the final album, Shine, was commissioned by Starbucks, and that Mitchell presents to $175-plate dinners. I make the point not to criticise Mitchell, but as a comment on Ms Monk's own consistency and almost hagiographic treatment of the singer.

To the point, then. I enjoyed this book. Not as much as Mercer's - too derivative - nor as much as Lloyd Whitesell's The Music Of Joni Mitchell - a book in a class of its own. But enough to be able to recommend it.

For me it acted as a reminder of some things I'd forgotten about Mitchell's music and life. It gave me some extra insights into the songs and their inspiration, going well beyond the "Love" angle, though this clearly needs a mention. In doing so it helped me revisit and reappraise the opus, as with Dog Eat Dog, where she points up the Nietzschean influence in Fiction.

I was, incidentally, quite shocked at the revelation that Dog Eat Dog received poor reviews in the eighties (I must have either ignored or not seen them at the time, and I've always loved it, from my first exposure listening to Ethiopia on Annie Nightingale's programme on my car radio). It is, as Monk says, an intensely political album, and possibly Mitchell's angriest. Rod Steiger appears as the holy roller on Tax Free apparently because the studio wouldn't let Jack Nicholson in, but it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job in illustrating the kind of person who drives Mitchell to sing "Tonight I'm going dancing/ With the drag queens and the punks/ Big beat deliver me/ from this sanctimonious skunk," this last word, which I originally thought was "scum", spat out with contempt.

Amongst other things, I also think Monk makes a reasonable fist of addressing creativity and myth in general, the myth of Woodstock in particular (though she didn't know, on starting writing the book, that Mitchell wasn't there) and the way Mitchell turned her childhood brush with polio to her advantage.

Ultimately then I've only given the book four stars because there are very legitimate reasons to criticise it, but not enough to completely dismiss it or excoriate it, and plenty of reasons to enjoy it.

Gypsies and Flamenco: Emergence of the Art of Flamenco in Andalusia (Interface Collection)
Gypsies and Flamenco: Emergence of the Art of Flamenco in Andalusia (Interface Collection)
by Bernard Leblon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Where flamenco came from, 23 Mar. 2015
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At last I've found a couple of books about flamenco that I can feel comfortable recommending. The first, Emma Martinez's Flamenco - All You Wanted To Know, I have already reviewed. Bernard Leblon's Gypsies And Flamenco is its companion, and rather than duplicating knowledge they overlap each other at the edges with Martinez excelling mostly on the musical side, with strong descriptions of the various palos and the origins of the musical instruments, whilst Leblon is much stronger on history.

The Gypsies first arrived in Spain around the beginning of the 15th century, so far as we know, and we are able now to trace their origins back across the Pyrenees, through eastern Europe and the Levant, a sojourn in Persia where they appear to have picked up some borrowed words for their language, Caló, and on back to north western India. Following the so-called Reconquista Gypsies joined Muslims and Jews as targets of institutionalised persecution and periodic expulsion. Leblon examines some of the ordinances promulgated against the Gypsies, shows how harmful they were not only to the Gypsies themselves but also to their "Christian" neighbours, and describes the ways in which both those neighbours and local authorities circumvented ordinances to safeguard the continuing availability of their smithies, bakers and millers.

Flamenco makes its first appearance in the 18th century, and is a fusion between the music the Gypsies carried with them from India and developed along the way and the indigenous music of Andalucía. Its trail may be discerned along the way in Greek, Romanian and Hungarian folk music, often with Gypsy associations, but is highly distinct from them as well. Having firmly established the Gypsy lineage of flamenco, the book also debunks the fact-free assertions that flamenco has nothing to do with Gypsies. You don't have to be a Gypsy to be a flamenco, but there would be no flamenco without the Gypsies.

The vary fact Leblon describes flamenco as a "fusion" flies in the face of authors such as Claus Schreiner who use the word only as an expletive when talking of flamenco. Like Martinez, Leblon acknowledges flamenco not as a static form but as dynamic, with many of the exponents named along the way also innovators in developing it in different ways, throughout its history. Like distinguished flamencos including Enrique Morente and Camarón de la Isla, both have a pragmatic view of the progression of flamenco, with the implication that its past must be valued and preserved and that the way to guarantee its death is through the ossification resulting from freezing it as it is, or at least as some believe it should be.

Leblon completes the study with brief profiles of 200 flamenco artists - singers, dancers and guitarists - from the first-recorded name in the genre through to the latest up-and-comers at the time of writing (1994). There are also a brief bibliography and even briefer discography, which respectively predate Martinez's book and my favourite "flamenco" record, Morente's Omega.

Well-written and engaging, even taking into account that the spelling of Granada throughout is for some reason given as "Grenada", and that Leblon's explanation of the origin of the name is far more prosaic than Martinez's, this is a book that I will keep returning to when I need reminding where flamenco came from.

Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer
Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer
Price: £3.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth checking out, 18 Mar. 2015
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Joe Strummer was, in many ways, just your average rock'n'roll hero, doing drugs, sleeping with myriad girls, lurching between gigs. His pronouncements and actions are a litany of contradiction and often nonsense but sprinkled with the occasional profundity that hinted that a greater intellect dwelled within. He was a creative and prolific songwriter and, the bit that elevated him from the average to the extraordinary, half of one of rock'n'roll's greatest songwriting duos, Strummer-Jones. Both blessed and cursed, the ultimate blessing for the rest of us came in the six or seven years the Clash proper existed, the curse with his hand in the destruction of the Clash, although there is an element also of blessing within that act: it saved them from becoming a parody of themselves in later life.

Chris Salewicz has captured the life of Strummer, warts and all, in this intensely detailed but somewhat, therefore, overlong biography. We see the transformation of John Mellor into Woody and finally into Joe. We see him at his private school, in his squats, at art school, rioting in Notting Hill, defending his home from rioters in Notting Hill, hunkering down in his spliff bunkers in recording studios, and sharing his love between, amongst others, Paloma, Gaby and Lucinda. There's Joe the schoolboy, Joe the claimant, Joe the father, Joe the leader of campfire soirees at Glastonbury, and Joe the friend of Damien Hurst, Keith Allen, John Cusack and Jakob Dylan, Bob's lad. The Joe we see is sometimes charming, sometimes idealistic, sometimes cruel and sometimes duplicitous. He occasionally surprises, as when he adopts a take-no-prisoners stance over al-Qaeda and 9/11. He is constantly haunted by his brother's suicide.

There are plenty of musical tales. Salewicz retells the story of an incident involving Vivien Westwood at a so-so Pistols gig which livelied it up and created the legend of punk violence, and there are accounts of concerts from various phases of Strummer's career, although as with Pat Gilbert's Passion Is A Fashion it feels like there is more detail from and interest in the US gigs than those played in the UK. Some seemingly important events, such as the 1980 gigs at the Electric Ballroom, are skated over with a mere assertion that they were momentous, with no indication of what made them so, with one notable exception being a July 1982 show at Brixton Fair Deal which I attended myself, and therefore already know why it was momentous.

Other items are of lesser import and are at the level of reporting what was in his laundry (actually not quite, although there is a hint that at one time Joe wasn't aware of the existence of such an institution). Towards the end in particular Salewicz indulges in disclosing paragraph-long inconsequential trivia which appear to be there only because he's heard them or he lived them, not because they have any special relevance or add particularly to the story in hand.

Nevertheless, Salewicz's presence at some of the events he recounts (it's he who has Strummer's back when he is evicting the Notting Hill rioters) lends authenticity to a tale which, while it was unfolding, was mired in a Clash/Strummer mythology partly incidental, partly of their own or Bernie Rhodes's contrivance. He debunks several myths, including the one that the Clash's 1981 stint at Bond's in New York was part of the Bernie master plan. In fact, Epic wouldn't finance the sixty-date tour Rhodes wanted, so the Bond's residency was the expedient substitute.

This isn't a flawless account, nor for that matter a complete one (you'll find more information in other sources, if you feel the need), but it's worth checking out if you want a better understanding of what made Strummer who he was, and the Clash what they were.

Starting At Zero: His Own Story
Starting At Zero: His Own Story
by Jimi Hendrix
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A voice that deserves to be heard, 16 Mar. 2015
This couldn't have come at a better time for me, really, as I've recently been reevaluating my neglect of the music of Jimi Hendrix and trying to rectify the situation. Shortly after Hendrix's death I purchased the special commemorative EP released by Trax containing Voodoo Chile, Hey Joe and All Along The Watchtower. I was, I guess, less than 16 at the time and it was a purchase that marked me out from many of my contemporaries and in a minor way established a rebellious identity. Looking back, however, it seems strange that, as this book reminds us, one of his early TV appearances was in a family slot on a Saturday evening on the Lulu show. Happily for my image of him he mildly rebelled by veering from his agreed song, to the annoyance of the producers. It's an interesting vignette that encapsulates the tussle at the time between artists' being a little different and the establishment's attempts to appear open to new things whilst simultaneously trying to appropriate and tame them.

Beginning, as the title indicates, at year zero, 1942, the narrative, almost entirely in Hendrix's own words, moves us through his early life, his brief stint in the military and his early career as a frustrated backing guitarist, railing against the musical rules, the dress code and the hairstyle to which he was obliged to adhere.

Amazingly for such an influential artist his rise as a musical force in his own right lasted a mere four years, and in recounting that period the narrative displays a palpable creeping exhaustion as Hendrix is pulled back and forth between the exigencies of touring and the need and desire to spend time in the studio creating new music. But although clearly stressed by conflicting priorities, and aware of the way in which his life is barely his own, there is little rancour, more a deep disappointment at the way things are going. Reading about it now, however, it is difficult not to feel angry at the way he was apparently being exploited and milked for every dollar as quickly as possible and to conclude that had his needs been treated more sensitively he would most likely have lived much longer.

There is along the way some discussion of his feelings towards his collaborators, especially Mitch Mitchell, whose drumming he clearly loved, Noel Redding, Buddy Miles and Billy Cox. He references other musicians, clearly having a particular admiration for Clapton and Alvin Lee of Ten Years After, but also Sly Stone, Richie Havens and Paul Butterfield, among many others, and muses on the subject of possible collaborations, notably with Miles Davis at his own funeral. Perhaps surprisingly there is little mention of the women in his life, although we do learn something of his grandmother, a Cherokee and possibly part of the inspiration for I Don't Live Today, and his mother, commemorated in Gypsy Eyes.

Research for the book was carried out by Michael Fairchild, who also contributes a thoughtful essay on the Hendrix legacy, discussing the way in which live material, largely but not entirely from Monterey, Woodstock and the 1969/1970 New Year's Eve Band Of Gypsys concert, have overshadowed the studio recordings (I have to admit that my Hendrix collection is more live than studio recordings), also reflecting Hendrix's own annoyance that many "fans" only ever turned up to see him reprise his Monterey guitar burning. It is a source of particular sadness that Hendrix died just as his Electric Lady recording studio was completed.

The book is not intended, clearly, as a substitute for a biography, more a supplement to existing biographies, and the closest, as the Observer comment on the cover says, we'll get to an autobiography. As his brother Leon Hendrix is quoted as saying, reading the words here it is easy to hear them spoken by Jimi in your head. It's a voice that deserves to be heard.

The Shifts and the Shocks: What we've learned - and have still to learn - from the financial crisis
The Shifts and the Shocks: What we've learned - and have still to learn - from the financial crisis
by Martin Wolf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves a wide audience, 2 Mar. 2015
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Martin Wolf’s The Shifts And The Shocks, like its predecessor, Why Globalisation Works, deserves a wide audience. Not just policymakers and the chattering classes, but everyone with an ounce of literacy and a stake in the global economy, that is, you and me.

Wolf comprehensively rubbishes the neoliberal orthodoxies of rational expectations and efficient, self-correcting markets. He carefully explains why, contrary to these orthodoxies, it is necessary for governments to regulate and intervene in markets. And, in line with a growing number of commentators, he maintains that monetarist solutions on their own are not working.

Whilst I would speculate that Wolf and the Syriza government in Greece would have many points of disagreement, on the principle of the damage austerity is doing they would agree. Wolf concurs that the policies implemented in the first years of the current crisis prevented the Great Recession from becoming a second Great Depression. But in 2010, with the implementation of wholesale austerity a nascent recovery was choked off, with the result that growth in most advanced economies has been pitifully slow or even negative. He concentrates heavily on the contradictions of the eurozone, which he characterises as having a management system which removes sovereignty without providing collective insurance, with members at liberty only to follow orders, and a separation between policymaking responsibility and political accountability for the consequences, almost certainly guaranteeing a political crisis at some time in the future. Wolf himself does not say it, but the ongoing logic of the crisis in Greece, with a right-left polarisation, unpaid public servants and, consequently, uncontained massive civil unrest and a virtual failed state, opens the door to a nightmare scenario where Islamic State exploits the political vacuum, taking that short boat ride over the Mediterranean.

Wolf is not, however, anti-European Union. Clearly the EU has, so far, been a vehicle for harmony in the continent, with nations hitherto clamouring to enter, not leave (those of us of a certain age will remember that number once including the UK). However, the dominant powers, especially Germany, have failed in recent years to fully live up to their contract. It is an irony that a nation which was bailed out in the middle of the last century from a devastation visited upon it as a result of a previous catastrophe is unable to see the logic of intransigence over repayments (or wartime reparations, as Germany was obliged to pay between the two world wars). Furthermore, as he says, at one time Germany was only too keen to lend money to Greece, as well as loosening the rules in order to allow it to enter the eurozone in the first place. It’s time to take some responsibility (but at the same time, Greece must be highly visible and effective in its efforts to resolve its corruption and tax evasion problems, amongst other things). Germany is widely revered for its thriftiness, its mittelstand and its goods, though I would hesitate to characterise it, as Wolf does, as a hegemon, and Angela Merkel is in many ways a shining light amongst European leaders, but she also has a tendency to dither, and at the moment that is compounded by her own electoral problems.

In the third part of the book Wolf examines some solutions, combining macroeconomic and financial approaches for progress and macroprudential measures aimed at preventing a repeat. In a way this multipartisan formula could act against implementation, but it would be nice to see somebody try. Using the fable of the blind men and the elephant, he reminds us of the importance of a holistic view. Unfortunately I have the same feeling about all this good sense as I had about Vince Cable’s formulations in The Storm: it’s easy to say, but once you’re in government you find things getting in your way, and Wolf, so far as I know, anyway, isn’t even standing for election.
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Cajun Music a Reflection of the People: 1 (Cajum Music, 1)
Cajun Music a Reflection of the People: 1 (Cajum Music, 1)
by Ann A. Savoy
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A cultural tour de force, 23 Feb. 2015
Ann Savoy’s Cajun Music is widely acknowledged as one of the prime sources of knowledge for those with more than a passing interest in the folk musics of South Louisiana. It is invaluable as a record of conversations with some of the key figures in the movement to preserve that music, such as Dewey Balfa, DL Menard and Belton Richard, as well as with earlier musicians whose prime aim was to entertain but in so doing bridged the gap between the origins and the music as we now know it, such as Iry Lejeune, Dennis McGee and Lawrence Walker.

Equally importantly, Savoy acknowledges the inextricable link between (mostly white) Cajun and (mostly black) zydeco and creole music, with features on musicians including Canray Fontenot, Bois Sec Ardoin and Clifton Chenier. The styles we hear today around the Louisiana dance halls owe much to each other; cross-fertilisation has been an intrinsic feature of their development, and Savoy makes that plain. Back in 1920s Louisiana, when segregation was as real as a kick in the head, black and white nevertheless collaborated and formed deep friendships, with white musicians such as McGee negotiating for black accordionist Amedee Ardoin to play at white dances, the ones where, in the harsh reality of the South, the money was. Ardoin’s bandmates would, nevertheless, have to be on constant guard to protect him, often at risk to themselves, but were, unfortunately, not around the night he was finally murdered by a group of whites who took umbrage at his borrowing a white woman’s handkerchief to mop his brow.

Along with the biographies and interviews, Savoy gives some insight into what it is that makes Cajun music distinctive, the role played by the various instruments, and how the music developed during the 20th Century, from the earliest known pioneers, through the first recordings by Joe and Cleoma Falcon (women play an important role in Cajun music), and on to the 1980s, when Savoy was writing. There are transcriptions of the music of some of the standards of the genre, along with lyrics and translations from Cajun French to English.

In writing of Cajun music, Savoy does so as a significant mover herself, a musician in various groups including the Savoy-Doucet Band, the Magnolia Sisters and, with husband Marc and two sons, the Savoy Family Band. This book is a cultural tour de force, complementing John Broven’s South To Louisiana, and one not to be missed by aficionados of Cajun, zydeco or creole music. Given that it is designated “Volume 1”, it would be nice to think that Volume 2 was on its way. Thirty years on, it’s about time.

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City.
Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City.
by Bradley L. Garrett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary and fascinating, 18 Feb. 2015
In Exploring Everything, Bradley Garrett takes us into a world normally concealed from the majority of people behind fences, heavy doors or plates and security guards. Garrett and his fellow place hackers pursue the primordial urge to explore armed with cameras, imagination and no small quantities of courage and chutzpah, scaling the heights and plumbing the depths of the urban built environment. The resulting photographs on their own are a stunning document of the sights available to us in cities around the world. In London he and his crew explore both the lofty, including the then in-progress Shard, and the low, finding their way into not only abandoned tube tunnels and stations but also the deep level chambers beneath telephone exchanges, and taking an unscheduled ride on the subterranean Mail Rail.

As a work of ethnography, Garrett's writings compare well with those of Sudhir Venkatesh, whose own explorations have taken him into the world of drug dealers (in Gang Leader For A Day, and his work also features in Freakonomics) and prostitution (Floating City). Both authors, in different ways, put themselves well beyond the edge of comfort, often finding their personal safety compromised in different ways. Both also demonstrate the reflexivity necessary of any field researcher, frequently questioning their role in their chosen field, their own effects upon it, and their motivations.

Garrett, however, takes participant observation to a whole new level, not only tagging along with his subjects but also taking a leading role in organisation, planning and implementation of the place hacks. It is almost as if Venkatesh, on the day which gives his first book its title, rather than fluffing his day as a gang leader had instead ordered a hit on a rival gang and had an errant member of his own gang kneecapped. Garrett is, to use one of his own words, a provocateur. As one of his collaborators says to him, "Brad, you didn't integrate yourself into the culture; you created the culture so that you would have something to study." In years to come, if it's not happening already, academic and practical study of ethnography should be using the works of Garrett and Venkatesh as case studies to examine the various dilemmas faced by researchers in the field. At what point does the researcher become the principal subject of the research?

A key element in Garrett's motivation is overtly political. He clearly resents the strictures of neoliberal late capitalism. One of his objectives is to break down barriers, to open new vistas on the world, to see it from an angle most of us would love but lack the conviction to access. There is no shortage of people telling him that what he is doing is extraordinary and fascinating, from security guards who catch him in the act to a British Transport Police officer who confides in him as he changes the tape recording his interrogation. This latter is a part of the overkill demonstrated by the state apparatus once it has caught up with him. Garrett's crew, by his account at least, were meticulous in abiding by certain unwritten rules, which included avoiding actually "breaking" into any of their target locations. On one occasion, in Las Vegas, they are confronted by a locked door denying them access to the roof they were aiming for so turn back, only to be confronted by the security team. The security leader turns out to be friendly to a surprising extent (I'm trying not to spoil this for you), and also thanks Garrett's crew for exposing a weakness in his system. In short, they tried to avoid actually breaking the law and were in some respects performing a public service: he compares himself to a "white hat" computer hacker. What they weren't was terrorists, but the authorities, though seemingly well aware of the fact, waste time and resource on them as if they were.

It cannot be denied, however, that some arguably artificial boundaries were challenged, and that is what ultimately gets them in trouble: The Man feels threatened.

Not that their complete non-assailability is a foregone conclusion. Hence the value of the work as one for study. It raises some interesting issues, and possibly not all of the actions are "white hat". If there wasn't a little controversy and ambiguity built in it wouldn't be nearly so good a read.

Just as a footnote, I couldn't help noticing the number of typos and instances of bad editing throughout the book, important when many reading it will be unfamiliar with some of the more technical aspects of sociological discourse, which are admittedly minimal but nevertheless present. The vocabulary of sociology enables precision and conciseness of expression, and the words around it deserve care. I'm not going to go into detail, but I have to admit to a moment of despair on finding the expression "legal council". Just for once my spellchecker is completely right in querying this.

Down Fell The Doves
Down Fell The Doves
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £10.35

5.0 out of 5 stars Beguiling, 12 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: Down Fell The Doves (Audio CD)
I’ve been a little besotted by this record since I bought it a couple of months ago. Originally buying it because of the Jason Isbell connection (husband and guitarist), I pretty soon forgot about him specifically apart from his signature ominous guitar lick at the beginning of Devastate, a sound always portending something bad is about to happen. The real clue that I was going to enjoy it though was hearing Shires’s fiddle on Isbell’s Southeastern, and subsequently on their joint cover version of Born In The USA, which is totally captivating. (Just to note, however, that Isbell’s guitar does for this album what Shires’s fiddle does for Southeastern.)

On this album she’d already won me over within a few opening lines, which manage to squeeze in references to yellowhammer and grackle, not something you hear every day. It’s true that there is a little studio trickery employed on this track, and some of the others, as one reviewer has noted, which made me think more of Lykke Li than Emmylou, but it’s not a case of gilding the lily so much as putting it in an interesting vase, and for me it works.

There’s an element of graveyard humour in Bulletproof which is not, as I’ve seen suggested, about her fantasising about having that quality but more about satirising the superstition, held by some, that having a tiger’s claw in your pocket can give you that quality. It’s why some fighters in the Middle East seem unafraid of standing out in the open whilst under fire. So it’s by turns funny and chilling as Shires extends the logic of the superstition from preposterous to hyperpreposterous, wondering out loud if the claw would also render her immune to knives and hand grenades too.

Further along, Wasted And Rollin’ is one of those post-drunken night reminiscences, but with some quite startling imagery and a very catchy tune. Stay is a soulful love song with a brass backdrop with a similar pedigree to Heart On A String, the Candy Staton song covered by Isbell on Here We Rest. And A Song For Leonard Cohen places Shires in a bar with the Canadian, sharing stories and laughing that they were both told (him not altogether surprisingly, she, quite amazingly) their voices would never get them anywhere.

On the strength of this, I shall be dipping into the back catalogue quite soon!

A Guide to Econometrics
A Guide to Econometrics
by Peter Kennedy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £22.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Philosophy of Econometrics, 26 Jan. 2015
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Were I beginning my study or use of econometrics today, this is not the book I would want to start with. I would leave that task up to Wooldridge’s Introductory Econometrics, which provides a far more basic view of the subject for bears of little brain such as me.

However, armed with a little knowledge, which as we know can be a dangerous thing, Kennedy’s Guide helps cut through the necessary simplifications and assumptions provided to beginners to enable a more nuanced, perhaps realistic, view. The author systematically examines the basics, identifies potential complications and pitfalls, and offers solutions.

Each chapter is divided into three, beginning with the essential understanding, progressing to a discussion of the finer points and where further information may be obtained in the academic literature, and on to an exposition of the finer technical details.

The style is unavoidably technical at times, but the author manages to avoid disappearing up his own syntax, meaning that there are no points at which it is necessary to wrangle with the intricacies of a sentence. There is also a lightness of touch to the style, combined with some occasional light-hearted, self-deprecating discussion of the perils of statistical analysis if the principles are applied unthinkingly.

In many ways what it amounts to is a Philosophy of Econometrics, examining how econometrics applies to the real world but also highlighting the possibility of its misuse in the wrong hands. Amongst other things he is quite scathing of theory-free data mining, in which a large number of regressions are run in the search for significant t stats, in which there is a high risk of type I errors (false positives).

So, while not my ideal starting point, definitely a book to be read second or, if you’re in a hurry, in parallel with a more basic text.

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