Archive for May, 2011


In light of the fact that I am both on call this week and also trying to move apartments, I won’t be posting here until sometime (probably late) next week. I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Tom Waits:

“Black Market Baby” from the incredible Mule Variations album.

“God Damn Europeans / Take me back to beautiful England”

My trip to England was essentially a 9-day litany of Win. Some highlights of the trip follow.

  • Meeting up with my friend Lauren Leigh in York. Lauren is one of those preternaturally brilliant people that always seems to understand things in a wholly alien, and yet undeniably true way. Her perspective and sagacity are stunning. Add to that the fact that’s she’s one of the funniest and sweetest people I know and suffice it to say that 6 years was far too long to go without seeing her. The four of us (myself, Annie, Lauren, and her husband Kieran) tramped all over the beautiful, ancient streets of York and had coffee in the third floor of a coffee house built into a cramped and narrow old rowhouse. We ate ice cream and Lauren and Kieran pointed us to a few of their favorite pubs. Then, later, after we’d said our goodbyes and gone our separate ways, Annie and I had drinks and dinner before returning to the rail station.

  • Meeting Annie’s friends Grace and Drew. Grace is a medical resident at an A&E ward in central London. She’s sweet and outgoing, with a seeming natural talent for getting people talking. She’s one of those (I hope not rare) people who genuinely cares about others. She was charming and a wonderful hostess, steering us to an amazing Tapas bar near King’s Cross. Shortly there after, her friend Drew joined us. Drew is a warm, talkative young man. He’s a barrister specializing in family law. He seemed particularly interested in American culture and politics and was good at getting me ranting. I tried to reign myself in, but when Grace and Drew saw me doing so, both of them enthusiastically asked me to continue. And who, narcissist that I can sometimes be, was I to refuse such a request?

    So we drank cold pints in the courtyard, enjoying the unseasonably beautiful weather and trading culture in an unusually frank and genuine way. When our table was ready (an hour later than it was supposed to be, not that any of us seemed to mind), we sat near the kitchen and devoured plates of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, and roasted peppers. All of it washed down with wine for most of the table. I, however, have a longstanding love for Estrella Damm, a beer that is hard to find here in the States, but on tap in every self-respecting Tapas joint in Europe. And so I had a few too many points and eventually we said our goodbyes. Annie and I staggered to the nearby tube station and managed to catch the last train back towards our flat.

  • The Cotswalds. Oh hell, the Cotswalds! They’re more beautiful than any place on Earth has a right to be. Especially in May under a broad blue sky and warm, breezy weather. Fluffy heaps of shocking green, undulating off into the distance. The hills, thickly covered in bushy trees, look so idyllic and lush that at times I had a hard time believing they were real. I felt like I’d slipped into a Sergio Leone film, and that the backdrop was painted on canvas.

    Annie and I walked for hours along a snaking river and up a steep hillside, past ancient manor houses, many converted into rows of twee little apartments. On our return trip, walked down into town of Bath and had lunch in a small cafe. Again, as with so many others in exurban England, it was built into a multistory row house. The kitchen was on the main floor, and up narrow flights of stairs were two upper floors full of seating. Annie and I sat on the top floor, gazing out of a small latticed window at the shockingly green hills.

  • Watching/listening to drunk Spaniards hit on the waitstaff in a pub on the Thames. The gentleman we rented the flat from recommended a nearby pub to us. The pub, called The Gun, was just off the wharfs right on the South bank of the Thames. On the opposite bank lies the shiny electric hedgehog that is the Millennium Dome. Annie and I ate greasy, delicious pub food and watched the river slide by. Nearby, a large group of Spaniards had gotten riotously drunk. At first, they mostly talked amongst themselves (though how they could understand a word they said is beyond me; mixing the Castilian lisp with alcohol yields an accent so mushy that every word becomes an inarticulate Novocaine blur.) Later, though, the group began to disperse as the various members tried out their haltering English and began flirting with the wait-staff and with nearby patrons. A young woman with a severe (probably very expensive) haircut leaned in to whisper in the ear of young man in a polo shirt. She trips and flops into his lap, giggling. He smiles self-conciously, helps her to her feet, and turns his attention back to the text message he’s sending. Eventually someone drunkenly announces in Spanish “el auto está aquí!” After a confused gathering of handbags, they all stumble off into the night.

    Annie and I smile at each other, sip our beer, and enjoy a quiet night together on the river.

  • Meeting a lively pensioner having tea in a greasy restaurant in Chinatown. Her name was Leigh, (“Lee” in the British pronunciation), and she’s old enough that she probably remembers the blitz well. Annie and I have just sat down, and we’re still looking over the menu. We both think the crispy duck sounds good, and that the smells wafting from the kitchen are exquisite. I guess Annie must have made contact with Leigh or maybe smiled at her. “How about this weather, then?” Leigh asked, with a movie-perfect London accent. I wasn’t sure she was talking to us at first, but she was looking straight at us, expectantly, and we were the only other people in the restaurant, save the waiters, and I’m not sure they spoke any English that wasn’t on the menu.

    Annie and I agreed that it had been lovely. And with that, we started a wonderful, two-hour conversation that ranged from novels (she’d just finished a banker’s memoir, and wasn’t a bit impressed with the author, who’d she met at a book reading and taken to task) to her travels (she’d been menaced by a spear-wielding man in Papa New Guinea; she commented favorably on his loincloth) to the good plays in the West End at the moment (the new production of “Blithe Spirit” is apparently quite good.)

    Eventually, at Annie’s invitation, she moved to the table next to ours. At the end of the two-hour conversation, we exchanged email address. She invited us out for a drink afterwards, but I was tired and Annie and I both had flights to catch the following day. We said our goodbyes, and headed our separate directions.

  • Drinking a beer called “Tactical Nuclear Penguin”. It’s 32% ABV and tastes like an unusually sweet and malty whiskey. And let me just say, this beer is serious stuff. I tasted colors. I saw glimpses the future and strange lands with impossible geometries. Choruses of angels sang inside my skull.

    We were sitting in the top floor of a cramped pub in York (mentioned earlier), surrounded by hipsters from the local Uni. The pub was cramped, but charming. It had the sort of dark wood and plaster interior that so many buildings in York have. It’s a combination that would normally depress me, but tempered by age and having the charm of real timber rather than cheap wainscoting, makes it feel warm and convivial, rather than drab and depressing. The two bartenders working the upstairs bar were both enthusiastic flirts. Annie and I passed over an hour there, mostly in companionable silence.

  • Walking through Hyde Park in the late afternoon. Annie and I cut through Hyde park on our way to The Swan, one of my favorite pubs in London. We’re walking from the Queen’s Gate at the South edge of the park, up to the Lancaster Gate at the North edge. We joke about the “Physical Energy Statue” and watch dogs play in the fading sunshine. The park is shady and green. My feet hurt and I want a beer. Annie and I speculate about why so many runners in London are wearing backpacks.

    And suddenly, I’m overcome with the feeling that I’m exactly where I want to be, with exactly the person I want to be there with. It’s such a rare feeling. I smile at Annie. My feet still hurt and I still want a beer, but that doesn’t change the fact that life feels perfect.

    A man runs by wearing a backpack. Annie and I exchange a knowing look and press on.

Great Moments in Globalization, Part n of a Series

I’m currently drinking port from Portugal that I purchased at my local grocery store. I’m also composing a blog post on my recent trip to England, a trip for which both the outward and return legs were a mere 9 hours. I’m also waiting on a pizza (an American imitation of Italian food) that I ordered from my favorite local shop, which is owned by a very nice family of Russian immigrants. I then plan to email my girlfriend, who’s currently traveling in France and whom I could call with my smartphone made in China from a Japanese design, if not for the inconvenience of different time zones.

Yesterday, at work, I found myself in the breakroom at lunch time. In the time it took me to make myself tea (green, the extra fancy kind imported from Japan), I heard one coworker take a call in Italian, a pair of coworkers greet each other in their native French, and a large group of fellow developers having lunch at a table near by talk excitedly in a language that I assumed to be Hindi. Hindi is a language spoken by almost one person in twelve in the world and probably closer to one in five in my group.

No one tell any of this to the xenophobes or trade warmongers in government. While they’re busy standing astride history yelling “STOP!” the rest of us can quietly enjoy the fruits of the globalization that they have (thankfully) failed to prevent.

Good News, Everybody!

Four of the coolest human beings alive, who also happen to (Voltron-like) form one of the best Rock bands working today, have just announced their third album! That’s right, The Shondes just announced, via their label Fanatic Records, that they’re new album is slated for release later this year!

From the press release:

“Brooklyn-based foursome The Shondes has been hard at work on its upcoming third album (and second for Fanatic Records) and is now ready to announce that the record has a title.

Searchlights is a sing-along rock record for late nights at Coney Island, blowing off steam and saying goodbye to people who hold you back,’ says vocalist Louisa Solomon about the album. Drummer Temim Fruchter adds, ‘We’ve had Bruce Springsteen and Pat Benatar in our headphones for months now. These songs are in the spirit of that kind of roll-down-the-windows rock.'”

Irony, Thy Name is Spain

I don’y really have anything to add to this.

Swatting Cobwebs Out of the Corners

A few items to tide you over while I, Frankenstein-like, resurrect the blogs from a week of death.

1.) I’m back in the States. My trip to the UK was amazing. We stayed in London, with a few day-trips. There will be a full write-up, with pictures, in the near future. In the meantime, just trust that it was awesome.

2.) There’s nothing quite like meeting up with old friends. I saw my friend Lauren for the first time in 6 years. In the meantime she’s both gotten married and become Dr. Lauren. But we still related just as easily as we did back in our college days. We also met up with one of Annie’s friends from her travels and had a grand time drinking in a tapas bar near King’s Cross. Good times.

3.) This song is so good it hurts. I love John Darnielle so much.

4.) When I got back to work this morning, my email inbox contained over 3800 items. And thats with things heavily filtered to discard a lot of the kruft. So that was pretty much my entire Monday.

More later. For now, I play an epic game of Catch Up.

An Exchange, Paraphrased

(Scene: A small studio flat in London’s Canary Wharf. AMB is talking to the landlord from whom he’ll be renting the flat for the week.)

AMB: So is real estate your full time job?

Landlord, laughing as if AMB’s question is ridiculous: Oh dear me no. I’m a bassoonist.

“We can make a hundred grand, spend it in the South of France”

I love when a remix manages to completely remake a song. This Lupe Fiasco track works far better as a D&B track than I’d ever have expected. Doubly so since the original is a pretty mediocre tune. (“Passpert”? Really, Lupe?) But DJ Clart manages to turn it into an awesome track.

And with that, I’m off for a little international travel myself. I’m flying out to London today, where I’ll be spending a full week.

Be good to the blog while I’m gone. Please abide by the house rules (posted in the right hand sidebar).

Have a great week, folks!

I Seriously Need to Build One of These

Civilization and Barbarism

So the unposted draft that I alluded to a few days ago contained some muddled, half-formed thoughts about civilization vs. barbarism. These turned out to be somewhat topical with the recent death of Osama bin Laden. Osama bin Laden was a barbarian and he met a gruesome end, as many barbarians often do.

Now let me be very clear that Osama bin Laden was not a barbarian because of his race, religion, or culture. He was a barbarian because some fraction of people, through time and across cultures, decide that they will do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means destroying lives, property, or society.

And, in some very rare occasions, the destroying of lives, property, and society becomes the end in itself. So it was with Osama bin Laden.

For those of us on the side of civilization, the manner in which we deal with barbarians is a huge issue. It is, in fact, in existential one, insofar as it shapes our society in deep and lasting ways. Civilizations have to deal with barbarians much the same way that organisms have to deal with viruses and other pathogenic agents. Organisms have immune systems, civilizations have law and culture.

And just as immune systems can often deal poorly with pathogens, causing afflictions worse than the pathogen itself, or can even misconstrue harmless material as a pathogen and attack it, damaging the body in the process, so too civilization can deal well or poorly with barbarism.

I think it’s high time to admit that we, as a civilization, are not dealing well with one strain of pathogenic barbarism. The damage that we have done to our society in the name of fighting terrorism is far worse than the disease of terrorism itself. Our response to terrorism has cost us more American lives than has terrorism. It has cost us more money and productivity than has terrorism. It has damaged our freedom in deep and enduring ways that terrorism never could.

So, in a perverse way, we’re helping the terrorists get their way. The immune systems of our society, its legal and cultural bulwarks against cheats, thugs, and murderers, is doing more damage the Body of the Republic than are the barbarians themselves.

In the case of someone so virulent as Osama bin Laden, Radley Balko is right: he won. We saw to that.

We cannot end terrorism anymore than we can end the larger problem of barbarism. What we can do, however, is to make sure that our responses to it are healthy, effective and appropriate. Because if we don’t, then we’ll be spending our time groping Miss America1 and bombing weddings in the Third World. Which is exactly what the barbarians would be doing, if they had their druthers.

So is the world a better place because Osama bin Laden’s no longer able to murder people and destroy their livelihoods? Yes. I think that it is.

But was he in any way the biggest threat to our security or liberty? No. That would be our overblown, heavy-handed response to his perfidy. The only thing that can do more damage to society than barbarism, is deliberate self-destruction under the guise of protecting ourselves from barbarism.

1 Jesus, but is there any more potent metaphor for what’s wrong in America right now than a slack-jawed TSA goon pawing at Miss America and claiming that it’s a good thing because “shut up, security something something don’t let the terrorists win!”

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Magic Blue Smoke

House Rules:

1.) Carry out your own dead.
2.) No opium smoking in the elevators.
3.) In Competitions, during gunfire or while bombs are falling, players may take cover without penalty for ceasing play.
4.) A player whose stroke is affected by the simultaneous explosion of a bomb may play another ball from the same place.
4a.) Penalty one stroke.
5.) Pilsner should be in Roman type, and begin with a capital.
6.) Keep Calm and Kill It with Fire.
7.) Spammers will be fed to the Crabipede.