Sunday, March 28, 2010


Hey y'all - my new rationalist anthem "Off That" is a blatant rip-off of my favorite song on Jay-Z's latest album, but since I'm not selling it or profiting from it in any way, he can't touch me! The song is basically about moving on, out with the old and in with the new, only Hova's version is about fashions and mine is about ideas. Out with superstition, in with science, out with faith, in with reason, etc. If you haven't seen it yet, check it out here:

So the big news is that it just passed 20,000 views on Youtube after just 8 days online! There is also a very lively debate going on with over a hundred comments, most of them positive, but some pretty negative, so obviously something in the song has struck a chord. It's meant to be provocative so as far as I'm concerned mission accomplished, but that doesn't mean I don't stand behind the message of the song. I mean it 100%, but I don't always phrase my views as strongly. It's kind of refreshing.

If you don't have a strong opinion about it either way then I hope you enjoy the top-notch production and visuals, but if you do have a strong opinion, please leave a comment and join the debate!

All the best from Cairo,


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Off That


Two pieces of news, both exciting, but I'll start with the really incendiary one. A few months ago I was approached by a science-themed UK music festival called Geek Pop, who asked if I would create some original pro-science content, so I wrote a rap song, a kind of "rationalist anthem" putting the flames to pseudo-science in its more pernicious modern guises. Once the song was finished (produced by the mighty Mr. Simmonds), Geek Pop put me in touch with an amazingly talented video designer called Tommy Nagle, and he created original animations and graphics, resulting in a stunning music video. It went live just three days ago and already it has over 5,000 views on youtube, and some enthusiastic (and not-so-enthusiastic) comments. Part of this exposure is due to the fact that New Scientist Magazine hosted a link to the video on their home page. Here it is (breathe deep): Click here to watch.

I understand that many of you won't share my views on this subject, and probably some of you will absolutely loathe this video, especially if I've gone after any of your sacred cows, but if that is the case the least I can ask is that you follow up on the links provided in the end credits. Everything in the song is based on something I read and was persuaded by, and based on the principle that rational free inquiry is worth defending against those who would tear it down. This philosophy of science and its insights into the nature of the universe is shared by many who call themselves skeptics, atheists, rationalists, secular humanists, etc. In fact, New Humanist Magazine put the video in their blog with this review: "From now on when someone asks us what we stand for, we might just tell them to start by watching this." So it seems I have become a spokesman for my intellectual kin, and I'm okay with that. At the very least it has given me the chance to connect and work with some inspiring and creative people. If you want to see Tommy's animation in all of its high definition glory, try watching it on facebook.

So now for the less-incendiary bit of news: tomorrow I'm on my way to Egypt for a series of performances! The trip is part of a UK initiative to bring politically-engaged drama to Egypt, which means the hip-hop play I co-wrote with Dizraeli a few years ago, The Rebel Cell, is about to have its Middle Eastern and African debut. Tomorrow morning Mr Simmonds and I will fly to Cairo for our show there on Saturday, and the following week we'll be doing the tourist thing in Israel. If this is the first you've heard of the Rebel Cell then you must be new to my newsletters, since we performed it at the Edinburgh Fringe in both 2008 and 2009, won several awards, and this September we'll be launching an eight-week tour of UK theatres with the show. Here's some more info if you're curious: Click Here.

One of the most interesting twists in the ongoing saga of the Rebel Cell is not that we've got a gig coming up in Egypt, but that Dizraeli has undertaken to do the tour without flying as a form of climate change activism. We've had discussions in the past about performing in North America, Australia, etc, but his refusal to fly has so far restricted our performances to the UK and Ireland (to my occasional frustration, I admit). This time, however, he mapped out an overland course and recruited a documentary film-maker friend to join him, and they are making a film about the consequences of having an environmental conscience if you're a performing artist, taking trains and buses on a ten-day journey each way. Last I heard they were in Istanbul, so they must be nearing Syria by now.

And what about me? Don't I have an environmental conscience? Of course I do, but I choose to fly because I find it necessary for the advancement of my career, and because life is short and the world is large (and before you judge, ask yourself what you are willing to personally sacrifice for your environmental conscience). I also fly because my political philosophy is more towards institutionalized solutions, participatory democracy, cap-and-trade agreements, carbon taxes, etc, and less towards individual activism, especially when it comes to collective-action problems on the scale of global warming. What's interesting is that this precise philosophical debate is the subject of the book The Rebel Sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, which itself was partially the inspiration for the writing of the Rebel Cell, and in the play Dizraeli's character and my character fight the debate out in several rounds of politically-charged rap battling. But in the play we play ourselves five years in the future, with frequent flash-backs to the semi-autobiographical present, which means the play continually absorbs and mirrors the real trajectories of our parallel hip-hop careers, as art imitates life imitating art.

At this point, however, I have flown from Vancouver to Hawaii to Vancouver to London to Vancouver to Sydney to Adelaide to Canberra to Vancouver to London and tomorrow to Cairo, and that's just in 2010! So I wouldn't be surprised if this little episode and its points of contention end up in the next re-write of the play : )

In the meantime, wish us luck in the cradle of civilization. I'm going to see the pyramids!