The Whiskey Palace, Dublin.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
T. S. Eliot
'Demand Sausages Everywhere!' 1937 Soviet poster.
I have been asked why do I hate religion so much? I reply you are mistaken. I don't hate religion. I fucking detest it and I treat it with the contempt it truly deserves.
Some books I read
I read some books recently, and for once I took notes. The gist of it is here.
Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove is a wonderful book. Ove just wants to die as there is no-one left that need him, but he finds that there are legion. Told as a light comedy, but some darker tones underneath -- Sonja's infirmity, the childlessness, and so on. Ove is closed and silent, but he has principles. In some other story he might have been a Sweden Democrat-member, but in this one he is a fine and just man, who has a big heart.
Christopher Brookmyre is a reasonably lauded writer, and perhaps seen as the heir to the throne of Tartan Noir. I, however, fail to see this. I read the first book in his series, and the first 30 pages of the second -- and left. The first one plods along, but you give it a chance, what with the stereotypes and such. The second one starts with 30 pages of political soliloquy (what happened to showing, not telling?) Ian Rankin it ain't.
Bill Bryson: The Road to Little Dribbling is a funny and well-written sequel to Notes from a Small Island. Older and grumpier, but really not that different. Fewer personal anecdotes, perhaps, and more general tourist information -- which is not a good swap.
Robert Harris: Fatherland is brilliant -- both as alternative, tongue-in-cheek alternative history, as detective story, and as sort of a romance. Solid research and solid story telling Phillip Kerr's Gunther-series continues in this vein, except perhaps for the alternative part.
Andrew Michael Hurley: The Loney is a contemporary Gothic novel. And he pulls it off. It is very well written, with some resemblance to Patrick McGrath and his often unreliable narrators. Hurley creates a great of uncanniness without ever being explicit. We never learn what happened in the basement under Thessaly, not really.
I thought that Sarah Perry: The Essex Serpent was something like The Loney - Gothic etc. - but it is not. Not really. There is a real or imagined danger lurking. And is it no coincidence that we are by-and-large in the era of Sigmund Freud and a lurking serpent could well mean something else? We do meet, however, Eleanor Marx, and the book has interesting, if not outright strong, female characters. It is a pleasant, but somewhat meandering story, beautifully told. The ending is unfulfilled and unfulfilling, though.
And as a pleasant ending, another Rebus-installment: Rather Be the Devil. Vintage stuff. Rebus is old, frail, and he may have cancer -- but he soldiers on. Less booze and no cigs, but Cafferty makes a come-back. Perhaps this means that we have more to come? Not the best in the series, and perhaps mostly for those who are already hooked and need a fix.
The pleasures of plain text, and Emacs
I once wrote something about the tools I use on the Mac. As time goes by, however, this set of tools has changed, as has my work-flows.
I still use Evernote, but mainly for stuff that I want to save longterm. I use Pocket for the things that I just want to read later. It works nicely across computers and phone, so I often pocket something on one device and read it later on another (like on the phine on the train). Feedly is still in daily use, but I rarely open Flipboard.
The larger shift is in writing and research. Yes, still Markdown. Would never leave home without it - but I am slowly leaving Sublime Text in favor of Emacs.
Now, you could call me a masochist and a Luddite. Going for Emacs, now? Actually, the reason is orgmode, and I now believer that my earlier, botched attempts at making the siwtch was because I did not have any real reason and could not see the benefits. Deciding to use orgmode lead to Emacs, not the other way around.
I know that the whole one big text file-movement is already old hat and such, but it does still make sense. Firstly, plain text (with light markup such as Markdown) is eminently future and platform proof. One big file (or a couple of large files) as opposed to a larger number of small files is probably a matter of personal preference. I have used nvAlt a bit, and nvAlt is firmly in the many-small-files camp. But I got into orgmode and here fewer, larger files make so much more sense.
I would not necessarily recommend that you switch to Emacs. It can be painful and odd and frustrating. It is an experience from before cutesy UIs and from when users were supposed to be sentient beings. It is a window into the past. It is fun.
I will probably never be called upon to describe my setup. That does not mean I cannot describe it and publish it here, right? So, this is what rocks my boat at the moment.
The neo-liberalism we live with
This rant first had the title "Private equity" and began as a diatribe about the evil that is private equity. Naturally enough: my previous company was "taken private", cost was "contained", and it is now being prepped for "going public." I mean, WTF: somebody "buys" a company that is quite healthy and that does make money, fires some 20% of the workforce, and wants to sell it again at a higher price? Because they have now reduced cost? Are they really thinking investors are that dumb? For one thing: this is a software company. Sure: it is probably possible to cut some head counts and make the bottom line look rosy for a while. Unfortunately, as this also means that new development is delayed or cancelled, what will happen in a couple of years when the prospective customers realize that the product is dead or dying?
The late, great Norman Geras had this ongoing feature on his blog where he asked various bloggers to describe themselves, based on a questionnaire. Now, I am not sure if the questions were always the same, and I am sure that I will never be asked to answer them – but that should not stop me from putting my answers to such a questionnaire up here.
We will skip the intro and head straight for the juicy parts:
John Wiliams: Stoner
What can I say about Stoner? The book — and the author — appeared from nowhere a while ago, and suddenly became de rigueur. Color me skeptical: there is a reason authors and books are forgotten and never talked about again. Except not in this case.
W. G. Sebald: The Rings of Saturn
I had of course been aware of Sebald for a while, but only as a name I recognized and I had no idea what he might be like as a writer. So only just now did I pick up this book, started reading, and realized what I had missed – but also what I can still look forward to.
I don't have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions.
I have a pretty good time reading Barbara Ehrenreichs Bright-Sided at the moment. She stands in that great, American tradition of non-fiction writing where the anecdotal is but a starting point and each page expands upon the merely personal and creates something general. Moving from the concrete to the abstract, if you will, even though Ehrenreichs theoretical and ideological underpinnings are perhaps not all that clear and perhaps this is to make the book easier to swallow for the public – or perhaps that is also the limits of her own insights.