Wednesday, April 17, 2019


Speech given at Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay protest on national day of action

Attention, people of St. Petersburg.  We are here, as local residents and members of Extinction Rebellion Tampa Bay to demand emergency action over climate breakdown.  We are here to call on all levels of government to take such action, from the city, to the county, to the state, to the country.  This is part of a national day of action across the US, and as part of a new international movement against extinction.

In October, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a stark report, calling for a 45% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, to avoid a runaway global warming scenario that threatens all life on this planet.  For the United States this translates to an approximately 85% cut within a decade.  The report called for, quote, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." Despite these urgent remarks, the IPCC is a historically restrained scientific body, with many commenting that these conclusions were still not honest about the urgency of our predicament. They must therefore be treated as a bare minimum baseline for action.

When it comes to our local government here in St. Petersburg, the most up-to-date publicly known targets for carbon cuts are as follows.  A 20% reduction by the end of 2020.  A 40% reduction by 2025.  And an 80% reduction by 2050.  Looking at these numbers, we can discern two things.  The first is that there are individuals within city government who genuinely care about climate change.  These targets would not exist if that were not the case.  So that is not in question.  The second is that city hall knows full well that the targets the city is currently committed to are not going to save this community or this planet from extreme weather.  They have read the IPCC report.  They have conducted a vulnerability assessment of our region.  If we do not do what the science actually demands we cannot expect places less vulnerable than here to do the same.

So these are the four demands of Extinction Rebellion, directed not just locally, but at all levels of government and all of those in Tampa Bay.  Governments must tell the full truth about the climate and wider ecological emergency, reverse inconsistent policies and work alongside the media to communicate with citizens.  Governments must enact legally binding policy measures to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels to no more than half a planet's worth per year.  We must have the creation of a citizen's assembly to oversee these changes, as part of creating a democracy fit for purpose.   And we demand a just transition that prioritises the most vulnerable peoples, remediation for environmental injustice and legal rights for ecosystems.

These goals will obviously be a huge undertaking.  There will be many challenges and fierce conversations about what it means to decarbonise our entire society.  But if governments will not commit to these goals when they are so obviously necessary, we need to ask why.  Perhaps the most fundamental obstacle will be a change in the primary objective of government.  That objective is the reason that businesses of increasingly obtuse value keep popping up in our community, why half empty condos seem to be more important to local planners than having affordable housing, and why resource use, centrally the use of fossil fuels, continues to grow worldwide, and that is the pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet.  Multiple major recent studies have shown that you cannot lower your overall consumption of resources while increasing the size of your economy.  GDP growth will wipe out efficiency gains every time.  And most of this growth does not even benefit average people.  Year after year we are told the economy is getting bigger and healthier, and yet millions of us continue to struggle because most of those gains go to the people of the business classes.  The rising tide is not lifting our boats, because we cannot afford boats.  While you may be able to make certain energy switches and move numbers around in such a way as to engineer a cut of 20% or 40%, you cannot make a 100% cut without challenging fundamental assumptions about what and who our economy is for.

Perhaps the St. Pete government already has plans to improve their current targets.  That would be wonderful to learn.  To such forward thinkers we say do not think of us as adversaries.  We are opening up political space for a more honest discussion.  Use that space to do what you know to be necessary.

Other governments in Tampa Bay are doing even less to combat the climate crisis.  In Hillsborough County, energy planners are looking to spend the next decade wasting a billion dollars, to partially convert Big Bend Power Station from coal to fracked gas, a change that will not lower emissions due to the methane releases associated with fracking.  Utilities across the country are switching straight from coal to renewables; this conversion serves nobody other than the executives of Tampa Electric Company.  Profiteers at Tampa International Airport are hoping to spend the next decade increasing the number of passengers in our skies by 73%, with no proposals for how those planes will be less polluting or noisy, exactly when we must cut global oil use by at least half.  These are perfect examples of efforts in the wrong direction.  In a society where we were being told the truth about climate change, their approval would not be considered for a second.  Those of us on this side of the bay must help our neighbours to resist these projects, for it is our collective future that hangs in the balance.

At this late stage in time, it is going to take a mass movement of non-violent disruption to prevent oblivion.  That is what we propose.  We did not willingly pick this reality.  These emergency demands are the result of decades of political dithering over climate breakdown.  Above all we are here calling for increased urgency around this crisis.  It demands that all governments, media outlets, and everyone else in a position of power goes in to work on Monday and begins to draw up a plan of public communication, that explains to everybody in our society why everything must change.  If your instinct is to ignore our message today, or to dismiss it as idealism, consider the following quote from the author Chris Hedges:  "The message of the rebel is disturbing because of the consequences of the truth that he or she speaks."  We are Extinction Rebellion.  We are rebelling against the extinction of this community, and we invite you to join us. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Low Season
Four More Songs EP
Self-released, 2019 

If I had time to review the new Low Season EP, it would go something like this, but with far more unnecessary political sidebars and references to hip hop shoehorned in.

"If the title of this melodic masterclass doesn't exactly impress you, rest assured that St. Pete's Low Season took all the time that others bands would have spent worrying about the packaging and put it into crafting their songs. And presumably, all the time that some other bands would have put into applying layers of Misfits paint to perform numbers with titles like Melting Makeup and Lines Across My Eyes. Each track sounds different to the others and each is bound to be a blinder live. The Four More Songs EP is another testament to brevity in a sub-genre that you should really have the good sense to be sick of by now. And one of the four tracks isn't even a 47 second jingle for Adbusters Magazine masquerading as a proper song (see Devil Inside My TV from their previous offering)."

Monday, February 11, 2019

Worst Party Ever/Dollar Signs/Late Bloomer/Community Couch/Planet Loser
Sunday, January 27th 2019
Lucky You Tattoo, St. Petersburg FL

Published at Apathy & Exhaustion

About a decade.  When asked how long I’ve lived over here, I’ve now reached the point where I can comfortably round up to that answer.  Despite my gradual transformation into a hybrid accepted in full by neither culture, it doesn’t take much prompting for the old country to come screaming back into the focus of my mind.  Take for example tonight’s first orbiters of the Lucky You nebula, Tampa’s Planet Loser.  This dream pop duo is here backed by a full band, but my attention is still drawn to the Branglophile stylings of the permanent members.  Guitarist Ethan is wearing a full-on sandwich board advertisement for Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru, while vocalist Amber is dressed like she just arrived from a chilly council estate, all hooped earrings and baggy tops (much of the rest of the U.S. may have become freezingly unliveable but it’s still winter down here nevertheless).  Amusingly, it fits. Planet Loser’s rhythmic indie pop is music suited to the dark northern climes, the delicate lifting strength of three guitars and a calming female voice. Despite clothing choices, there’s much more that indicates a heartland 80s influence rather than of the decade’s tail end baggy scene; the intro to Feel You Breathe sounds like it's going to be a cover of Close To Me by The Cure.  It’s no less enjoyable to realise that it’s not.

My writing relationship with local favourites
Community Couch has until now been series of near misses: arriving late to a gig they did with Piss Ghost (RIP) and Madison Turner; noting their cancellation of a September show in Richmond to push my anti-hurricane agenda; hearing an acoustic set at the first Planet Retro Punk Rock Flea Market while I sat barely out of sight attempting to flog paper manifestations of stuff like this.  I knew enough to know they’d be fun to finally witness properly though. This earworm queercore outfit channels self-doubt into community catharsis, as promised in their title.  There’s a lot of physicality for an act named after a piece of furniture you sit your arse down on; frontfolks Stove and Glen perform sustained coordinated kicks towards drummer Eli’s face during one tune, and Stove’s vicious hugging towards the end of the set encapsulates some of the emotional mixing on display in the music.  My pal Oliver jumps in at one point with a kazoo purchased from the WORST COMPANY EVER, one perfectly worthy of the Liquid Sunshine lyrics “I can't pay my bills, I don't know how we'll eat / I'd pick up another job, but then when would I sleep?”

Late Bloomer
from Charlotte, North Carolina, begin their set by thanking not just our St. Petersburg, but St. Petersburg of Russia.  Careful now. The way things are going with this ever-widening conspiracy (Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard are now apparently Kremlin assets too), it won’t be long until every resident of this city is stripped of their rights under the charge of trying to build a covert Russian enclave in the middle of Florida.  As their name might suggest, Late Bloomer -- like their 6131 Records labelmates Planet Loser -- are pretty deep in the nostalgia game, but at least it’s of a high quality. As they perform their respectable post-grunge college rock I can see the washed-out MTV2 video playing inside my head.  You can see it too, because it apparently exists for the track Life Is Weird, which itself harkens backwards with clips from 1950s television.  If only we could recycle our physical resources as thoroughly as we recycle our culture.  Strangely, both Scott on drums and Neil on guitar remind me of various underappreciated Culkin siblings.   I would avoid making mention of the recently disbanded McCauley comedy vehicle The Pizza Underground, if not for the fact that the producer/engineer on Late Bloomer’s recent record Waiting was Justin Pizzoferreto (known for his work with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.).

It goes from
Life is Weird to Life Is Ruff with tonight’s other Charlotte touring band, Dollar Signs.  Life Is Ruff is a dog-friendly EP I would pick up (not to be confused with new one I Need Some Space) both because I was excited to finally see this lot and because at the time of the gig I thought I had a job on the hook and was prematurely seeing my own dollar signs.  Turns out I didn’t exactly, but other funding has thankfully since come my way.  This is a party that sucks you in.  Dollar Signs live are like The Front Bottoms plus Against Me! plus the trumpet bounce of Less Than Jake, fronted by Erik Button’s jovial inviting vocal style.  Bassist Dylan Wachman tells of a strange incident that took place 30 minutes earlier at a nearby sports bar involving a man in a peacoat and his pee, only for the stranger in question to show up and defend himself by proclaiming that “I washed my dick before I left the house.”  Inconsiderate bastard almost crashed the vocal of The Devil Wears Flannel, a great song (from last year’s This Will Haunt Me) that namechecks Orson Welles and Mozart, among others.  It’s in the same vein of lambasting popular music as I’m Better Than You by Kanye West, an old track that brought Dollar Signs to my attention years before West started donning his MAGA hat and talking a lot of foolishness.

Being that it’s an all-ages, booze-free, essjaydubbleyoo sort of hang out, youthful vigour is often present here at Lucky You Tattoo.  But in the case of Sarasota’s emo-ists
Worst Party Ever a significant subset of the crowd are constantly pogoing around the singer with an otherworldly level of enthusiasm.  I was waiting for him and his mic stand to hit the floor amidst all the excited attention and the music to come to an abrupt pause.  Worst Party Ever may or may not be styled after the dialect of Comic Book Guy, a nerd so insignificant that Matt Groening didn’t even give him a name, but their apparent popularity and riled-up base would probably net them more votes than some of the other 3rd parties out there.  The music inspiring such a reaction is much more energetic than their Dashboardy bandcamp offerings might prepare you for. Cries of “four more years!” are met with the response “what the fuck is that?,” suggesting maybe that the political wing of the Worst Party Ever empire hasn’t yet been discussed.  A word of advice: make a few well placed calls to the Russian embassy and Ye and you’ll apparently be unstoppable.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Current Big Green proposals for a Green New Deal are coalescing around inadequate targets

Published at A Beautiful Resistance (aka Gods & Radicals)

The Green New Deal is everywhere, perhaps in part because it has remained nebulous.  Years, cuts and specifics are all over the place depending on who you ask. The U.S. Green Party, for example, has detailed plans for what it might mean because they were the first to champion the concept here over the past decade, rather than just the past few months.  Those plans include decarbonisation of the whole economy by 2030.

Events this week supported by a large number of green NGOs (such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Food & Water Watch) seem to be an attempt to clarify the current clamour.  Amongst a number of admirable details they have settled on calling for 100% renewable energy by 2035 (note that this is not the same as total decarbonisation, as it refers only to power generation), and the phase out of fossil powered land transport by 2040.  No specifics are given for other emissions sources (such as the fastest growing sector, aviation).

The phrasing for the electricity demand used in all documentation is some variant of “by 2035 or earlier.”  It is my hope that the use of “or earlier” indicates a willingness to admit that 2035 is too late for any serious target, and has been included to allow for improvement at some nearby point.  Because the people who drafted this particular sentence must know that when you give government a range of goals rather than a firm demand they will rise only to meet the easiest interpretation: it will be read as “by 2035, and not a minute sooner.”  So the wording must be for the benefit of future activism.

What doesn’t make any sense in this scenario is why we would build this huge push for legislation that we know to be inadequate.  We have taken this approach before and gotten nowhere. There’s no point going from half-honest to mostly honest about the climate crisis at this stage.  These same NGOs are currently complaining that the Green New Deal bill unveiled this past Thursday by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t explicitly ban fossil fuels.  But the tone set by these demands hardly gives them steady ground for dissent (Ocasio-Cortez’s bill at least calls for net-zero emissions within ten years).  As the media representative for Extinction Rebellion NYC, Rory Varrato, recently explained on Redacted Tonight:

“Let’s pretend like [the deadline is] tomorrow, because functionally it is.  We know the inertia of this system, we know the obstacles we have to overcome, and 12 years might as well be a blink of an eye.   Indeed we have something like negative 30 or negative 40 or negative 200 years, depending on where you want to peg the problem . . . we have less than no time.”

With this framing, you could make a legitimate argument that decarbonisation by 2025 -- one of the central demands of Extinction Rebellion -- is also too late, on the simple grounds that it may already be too late to avoid a runaway scenario that makes life impossible.  But the date must unfortunately be in the future rather than the past. The only sensible deadline is not four numbers but four letters: ASAP. You will struggle to find a climate activist who disagrees with that by now.  The sooner we can get to net zero, the better chance at avoiding decimation we will have. So why would we rally for a later date when we could rally for an earlier one?

To the argument that demanding decarbonisation by 2025 is unnecessarily steep and will turn people off the issue, let’s consider the recent IPCC report that got all this action supercharged.  That report called for a 45% reduction in global emissions by 2030 (much higher cuts in high polluting nations) and the end of fossil fuel burning by 2050, so within that framework, these demands seem reasonable.  But there are compelling arguments that the IPCC significantly underplayed the urgency of the situation as it has done in the past.  For example, the panel used 1850 as its baseline year rather than the pre-industrial period of a century earlier, ignoring 0.3 degrees of temperature rise.  They also ignored natural feedback loops, assuming that only greenhouse gases emitted by humans contribute to warming. The idea that there is any carbon budget that we can safely burn is a falsehood.  This is what Rory Varrato meant by “we have less than no time.”

You begin to understand why the Green Party plans aim for decarbonisation by 2030; some have been stating that this deadline is necessary for a number of years.  You begin to understand why Extinction Rebellion activists stepped up their messaging from “Oh Shit” to “We’re Fucked” in the weeks after the report.  You may not know how seriously to take these criticisms, not being a climate scientist, but there's no controversy to the idea that every IPCC report in the past has been unreasonably restrained to the point of negligence.  To ignore the possibility that it may have been so again this time is nothing but a coping mechanism.  Holding back the worst news has not stoked action up to this point. It is time we were treated like adults and told the truth.

Another way to comprehend why the 2025 goal is the most sensible one being suggested is to look at targets that were being suggested by respected actors over a decade ago.  The Guardian columnist and Extinction Rebellion supporter George Monbiot wrote extensively and compellingly in the mid-2000s about the need to cut emissions in the rich nations by an average of 90% by 2030, with a greater emphasis on the earlier part of the period.  It goes without saying that we have utterly failed to do anything of the sort. In light of this, and without the need to understand complicated scientific calculations, it follows that we must now meet an even higher cut in an even shorter amount of time.  We have also learned in the intervening years that the situation is far graver than previously thought, for example lowering (at the behest of the Global South) the recognised upper threshold from 2 degrees down to 1.5. Thinking that we should have similar or perhaps even lesser targets today as those proposed in 2006 is, to put it politely, illogical.

I suspect 2035 has been picked based on what is deemed to be physically possible, politically realistic or socially bearable.  2035 is far enough away to be thought of as “the future”; there's a semblance of breathing room in it. Well, if we want to keep breathing, we don't have time to breathe.  This Green New Deal coalition by definition acknowledges that the concept of “realism” is elastic, based almost entirely on political momentum and will, so let’s get behind some serious stretch goals.  Speaking of politics, we might also consider how the difference between a 6 year timeline and one of 16 years frames our view of election cycles.

The former allows no room to worry about the next presidential pissing contest, as doing so would burn almost almost a third of the available time.  The 16 year timeline allows us to continue engaging with that game and its soap opera entertainment. While it may be reasonable to assume that little will be done via the White House before 2021, the question is where do we wish to put our efforts?  We can, as we are already being encouraged, spend our precious time debating the differences among the many candidates, whose theoretical eight year terms will still not bring us up to the main target date, giving them plenty of incentive to blather and stall and kick the can down the road as we have seen many times before.  Or we can make an impact on the election passively, by building the boldest social movements possible and making those candidates chase us for votes.

There’s no doubt that the excitement for a Green New Deal has reignited the conversation around climate breakdown, and for that we should be pleased.  This is not about being more radical-than-thou, nitpicking or trying to poach fellow activists. But the proposals sent to government offices this week risk channeling our efforts into a deadly end, and drawing attention away from those voices that are telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  The time for fiddling over percentage points with confusingly different base years and sector parameters is gone. We must get rid of it all and fast.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Last summer I was provided with some free calling cards courtesy of the lovely Cards For Humanity art project.  To get feedback for the project I recently answered the following questions.  The full results of these surveys will eventually take the form of a book and website.  You can read the promo that I wrote for them in September at this link.
1. Briefly describe your business or gig in ±250 words.

Radical Beat is a writing/journalism project focused on the intersection of underground music and radical politics.  I've been writing about music for about fifteen years, with the idea for Radical Beat coming about in the last few.  Basically, these are the subject areas that interest me, and as my knowledge and writing abilities developed I came to realise there was no reason not to bring the topics together, as there can be a lot of crossover.  I believe that cultural criticism is important for brewing new ideas and promoting creative economies, and equally important is political action, without which all the words in the world have little importance.

2. What impact do you think you have on the community?

I like to think that my writing encourages musicians to work on their craft, to reflect on what might be working for them and to know that some people are paying close attention to their efforts and what they bring to the community.  As for the political and environmental writing, hopefully they help to spread new ideas and connect the dots between various issues.

3. What do you hope to achieve? What are your goals?

I want to contribute meaningfully to scenes that have given a lot to me, and build community to change the cruel systems that we live under.  On a more down to Earth practical level, a paid job writing about music and/or environmentalism would be great!

4. Do you do this for profit? If so, is it your main source of income? If not, how do you finance it?

Radical Beat has been done entirely during so-called free time.  While the occasional bit of money comes in from selling zines, etc, there's so far no way I can see to pay my bills doing this.  Even as a pastime/interest with very little in the way of physical supply needs, it's hard to do around the need to pay the rent.  Projects like Cards For Humanity certainly help.

5. How have the cards benefitted your business/gig or reputation? Have you noticed any financial difference, such as the number of clients, sales, hits, or gigs? 
There hasn't been any noticeable surge in interest since I began using the cards, but more people have continued to follow what I do.  They've been helpful mainly in that I haven't had to worry about making low-quality cards of my own and don't expect to for some time!

6. Do you think well-made cards can inspire other craftsman to improve the quality and originality of the art and design scene in St. Petersburg? Do you feel a similar obligation to uphold quality standards in the St. Pete arts community through your work?

Yeah, absolutely.  A card might seem like a marginal thing, which it is in a sense, but I can see someone looking at a nice one and thinking "they put the thought and effort into this. I should put the effort into my thing, no matter what sort of thing it is."  I do absolutely feel the need to hold my work to a high standard of quality, hard and subjective as that might be in a lot of ways.

7. What differences do you notice between the social interactions you have with people physically versus through online networking sites? Do you think physical calling cards can help facilitate in-person interaction? Do you find in-person interactions to be more effective than online networking methods? How so?

A physical interaction, even a short one, features some of the stuff that I am always wishing for online.  Questions, feedback, compliments, all of which we are generally too distracted to have time to type out, in my experience.  As much as I bash materialism, the tiny dopamine hit of getting a pleasant physical object (with an extremely small environmental impact, to be fair) could help someone stay invested in conversation, assuming they were somewhat interested to begin with.  In my case I am not sure if in-person interactions have led to many actual page views, etc, compared to when someone has the real content to look at, although that may be a fallacy based on the fact that most of the work is online and that which isn't online I cannot track.

8. Has Cards for Humanity affected your outlook on voluntary arts barter? For instance, instead of treating peers as clients, would you now be more open to trading creative services with other local artists/craftsmen in an effort to develop more meaningful, altruistic communities?

I think faith in the concept of any kind of alternative economics like barter needs to be constantly renewed, in light of the fact that traditional economics is shoved in our faces and presented as "normal" every minute of every day!  So academically, no, I was completely on board with this sort of thinking before.  But it's a welcome reminder to question ones own motives in all interactions and up our "don't be a selfish atomised bastard" game.

9. Do you think this project could be replicated and adapted by other artists and designers to increase the camaraderie in the St. Petersburg community? For instance, how do you (or might you) give back? Do you think future unsolicited support for emerging artists should be encouraged? Why does a quality arts community matter to you?

Since much of the criticism I write is generally positive it's already promotional of other artists in a way (and occasionally, they are just full-on promo pieces).  I think one of the challenges here is that there seems to be a general feeling among artists that art is not sufficiently valued and they are underpaid already (which it's difficult to argue with).  On the other hand, if art is about being creative, then being creative in your economic approach should certainly be a topic for discussion, and indeed many artists do work for free or at a loss.  If artists of different persuasions are being underpaid then at least they can help each other.  So yes, this should absolutely be encouraged.  Without a quality arts community we have nothing but gourmet dessert fooderies and horrific retail mazes, at which point we may as well all just wait at home for the impending ecological meltdown.