Last week finally saw the UK release of Thumpers‘ debut album Galore. Lovely fresh summery sounds, richly textured, full of shifting accents and syncopation, with a touch of Friendly Fires. I’ve been listening to Thumpers for months, so most of the tracks were familiar already, but it’s still a delight to have them all together in a single package.
Over in Scotland this week, I watched The Devil Wears Prada on the plane over on Monday evening, end enjoyed it. (Stanley Tucci is masterful in everything he does.) Did a little drinking with coworkers at the Dagda on Tuesday, and did a little book shopping at Blackwell’s on Wednesday evening. I snagged the second in Holly Smale’s Geek Girl series for Fiona, and the Ian Rankin’s Saints of the Shadow Bible for myself. Wednesday was a beautiful day in Edinburgh. I got some chinese take-away from a place just opposite the Commonwealth Pool, and had a dinner picnic part-way up Arthur’s seat, watching Edinburgh bathe in the evening sunlight.
Last Sunday I also had a very lovely dinner with Paul at La Strada in Amsterdam. Very flavourful rucola salad to start with, followed by a rich lasagne for my main course. Would definitely go back.
I tried to recreate the salad myself this weekend, but I didn’t get the right kind of balsamic dressing. My past self would be amused at me actually enjoying salads.
I came across Jenn Wasner’s side project Dungeonesse when it was featured on eMusic last year, and loved it. I didn’t dive into Wye Oak’s back catalogue because the “indie folk rock” label seemed so oout of sync with the shimmering beats and synths of Dungeonesse. When Shriek popped up with reviews that talked about a more electronics and bass-led direction for the band, I downloaded it straight away. It’s darker than Dungeonesse, and not as immediately accessible, but it’s in exactly the right spiky/dreamy crossover electronic corner that kept me captivated by St. Vincent a couple of weeks ago. Stand-out tracks for me: “Schools of Eyes”, “Glory”, and “Logic of Color.” Unfortunately it looks like I’ll just miss them when they play King Tut’s in Glasgow next month.
We have caught up with the episodes of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D that have been broadcast on this side of the Atlantic so far, which puts us at ep 19, “The Only Light in the Darkness.” Since “The End of The Beginning” the show is operating on a completely different level. After seeing Captain America: The Winter Soldier in the cinema, this is the TV show I wanted.
I’m taking a break from Ken MacLeod’s Descent to read Flash Boys by Michael Lewis, and to dip my toe back into Debt. Flash Boys shines a light on the secretive world of high-frequency trading, must most of what you see is a bunch of cockroaches scuttling out of the way. It’s a fairly shallow exposé that never seems to cut to the heart of the beast. It does a good job of explaining the principles of HFT, though, and it’s impossible to come to understand it and not feel incredibly angry at the companies and institutions that perpetrate and encourage it. The book has a hero in the form of a trader who felt that same anger and decided to set up his own stock exchange that couldn’t be gamed by HFT traders, but is ultimatelty let down by the fact that the story doesn’t have an ending yet. It takes us up to the end of 2013, but leaves us with a cliffhanger: will the banks and regulators tackle HFT, or will it take another crisis?
The new structure of the U.S. stock market had removed the big Wall Street banks from their historic, lucrative role as intermediary. At the same time it created, for any big bank, some unpleasant risks: that the customer would somehow figure out what was happening to his stock market orders. And that the technology might somehow go wrong. If the markets collapsed, or if another flash crash occurred, the high-frequency traders would not take 85 percent of the blame, or bear 85 percent of the costs of the inevitable lawsuits. The banks would bear the lion’s share of the blame and the costs. The relationship of the big Wall Street banks to the high-frequency traders, when you thought about it, was a bit like the relationship of the entire society to the big Wall Street banks. When things went well, the HFT guys took most of the gains; when things went badly, the HFT guys vanished and the banks took the losses.
As for Debt, it’s still doing my head in. I keep having to go back and re-read pages and whole chapters. I think I’ve read chapter 2 about four times now.
I went through a bad patch with alcohol in 2012. Not in the sense that I was drinking too much, or even a lot — just in the sense that even seemingly moderate amounts (a few glasses of beer, or half a bottle of wine with an evening meal) were giving me crushing hangovers, and occasionally causing me to be violently ill the next day. (“Open Both Ends” colloquially, “DNV” perhaps less viscerally.) The first time the DNV hit me, I wrote it off as food poisoning. The second time as just a coincidence. By the third time I started looking for a common factor, and the combination of red wine and a large meal the previous evening seemed to be it.
Maybe it was just a function of getting older. Maybe I had developed an alcohol intolerance, or a new food allergy. I had lost a lot of weight over the course of 2012 — deliberately, mind — so maybe my body had just got used to a lower metabolic load, and could no longer handle feast-sized portions. I saw my doctor anyway, who checked me out for liver disease just in case (no), and who gave me the classic sound advice in the face of doctor-doctor-it-hurts-when-I-do-this: “Well, stop doing that.”
So I spent the first half of 2013 almost entirely alcohol-free, with no recurrences of the DNV. In the second half of the year I gradually re-introduced myself to beer, whisky, and small amounts of white wine, champagne, a dribble of Tokaji, and the odd G&T. Small amounts, at first, but I’ve built myself up to the point where I’m fairly confident that a pint and a half of IPA won’t fell me the next morning. (Four SMWS-strength whiskies was pushing it, but only to the point of feeling rough afterwards; nothing worse.)
Reading Drinking Wine With Friends has been such a pleasant experience that it has made me nostalgic for wine, and the experience of seeking it out and enjoying it. I’m no connoisseur, but you don’t have to be one just to like like the stuff, or to be entertained and inspired by someone who does know what they’re talking about.
On Friday we took a trip to Rotterdam, and as we passed the wine shop Jan van Breda on the Westerkade, I thought I spotted the characteristic shape of a Tokaji bottle. Turns out it wasn’t, but I asked the store manager if they had any in stock anyway. He thought they still had a bottle somewhere…and after rummaging around in his books, he located one last bottle of 2001 Hétszőlő 6 Puttonyos. I have no idea if it’s a decent vintage, but so far I haven’t found a Tokaji I didn’t love. We’ll save it for a special occasion with some elaborate dessert.
The final frontier for me has been red wine. Red wine was was the distinctive common factor in the worst DNV incidents, and I’ve been plain scared of it ever since. But I figured that it was time for me to face my fear this weekend: for science! On Saturday evening with dinner I had two tiny glasses of a tasty Bordeaux. No noticeable effects on Sunday. Because we didn’t finish the bottle on Saturday, I had another glass yesterday evening. Today: no nausea, but conspicuously upset bowels. Coincidence? Possibly.
Our local buses have accessible seats at the front. They have different upholstery than the other seats. Their pattern features pictograms of a man with a walking stick, a pregrant woman, and a woman with two heads. It’s the last one that always baffles me.
In the modern world, the state is a kind of souped up business. That’s why we’re all "taxpayers" instead of "citizens." "Taxpayer" reframes policy outcomes as a kind of customer-loyalty perk. If your taxes are the locus of your relationship with the state, then people who don’t pay taxes — people too young, old, disabled, or unlucky to be working — are not entitled to policy outcomes that reflect their needs.
Picked it up at the American Book Centre in Amsterdam this afternoon. I don’t think vol 3 matches the first two in emotional depth, but it’s still extraordinarily original and beautiful, funny and poignant.