Wednesday, February 13, 2008


the following reviews are the property of Amazon, but as we all know, property is theft:

Sea of the Dying Dhow, *shels

4.0 out of 5 stars Fruity, 13 Feb 2008

I've seen *shels described as postmetal, metalcore, postrock and a million other things. For mine, they are at the metal end of postrock, with some nice metally vocals tossed in. You'd probably consider them a bit more proggy than the likes of Godspeed, but rather less arty than Isis. There's a lot more lyricism than bludgeoning riffs, but the power's there if that's what you like.

A lot of music in this space strives for the monumental. Bands like Cult of Luna and Callisto want to overwhelm you. But *shels are a lot more, well, fruity. Their palate is a lot broader and they're all the better for it. On a couple of the longer tracks, The conference of the birds and In dead palm fields in particular, they really hit the highs, but the menace is controlled, never losing their grip on the lovely melodies that distinguish them from the crowd (although each has some belting heavy stretches). This would definitely appeal to fans of Isis (particularly those who aren't so keen on the doomy growling) but also to postrockers who are willing to go a few steps heavier, particularly those who enjoy the shifting dynamics of Godspeed.

All Is Violent All Is Bright, God is an Astronaut
2.0 out of 5 stars Mogwai meets Jean Michel Jarre, 13 Feb 2008

In most types of music, you have a leading edge, which does exciting and innovative things, and you have a body of groups that make music in the same vein. Some of those groups tone down the excitement, as it were, by smoothing out the edges of the music. This is one of those groups.

I imagine there is a market for this and possibly you're part of that market. If you find some postrock just a bit too heavy or abstract, this is for you. It's a lot like Mogwai meets Jean Michel Jarre. I'm not kidding. If that sounds like something you'd enjoy, you'll enjoy this. It's not horribly bad (and the two stars are sort of two to three, depending how I am feeling) but it doesn't rock. It plods. It plods nicely, but it doesn't take off. It's quite shoegazey, but it's not My Bloody Valentine. There's no edge. It's more Slowdive. With more Enya. I see this record linked to from a lot of heavier records -- even stuff like Isis and Pelican. But this is a million miles from that. It's a lot less furrowed brow, a lot more nice cup of tea and a biccy. You could probably meditate to it. See, if you are part of the market for this, that will sound very appealing. If not, you'll be suitably put off.

Enjoy Eternal Bliss, Yndi Halda

3.0 out of 5 stars Postrock by the numbers, 13 Feb 2008

You know, if you're into the usual postrock icon bands: Godspeed, Mogwai, Explosions, you'll really want to like this. And maybe you will like it a lot. It's possible. But it's not mindblowing, nothing new, just postrock by the numbers. Don't expect anything else. That's not to say it's not enjoyable, or that it isn't worthwhile. Most genres are stuffed full of bands who just do what everyone else does, and that's okay. It's why you'll want to like this. There's a fair bit of each of the big postrock bands in it: some martial drumming, some lyrical passages, buildups to the big atmospheric payoff, tinkling vibes. But you may just catch yourself yawning towards the end of one of these tracks, because exciting it ain't.

Bleak Epiphanies in Slow Motion, Latitudes

4.0 out of 5 stars Boom!, 13 Feb 2008

Probably the best way to describe little-known bands is to pick the better-known band they are most like and explain how they are different. So I'll do that.

It's like someone listened to Pelican and went, dude, that's not heavy enough, let's ten times the heavy and see what we have. What we have is music that will take the paint off your walls. Not that Latitudes sacrifice melody or nuance.

Well okay. Nuance is a bit in short supply. But the music is not unsatisfying. It's just more something to chew on than to sip like fine wine. Robust. Although it's fairly progressive, you're likely to come away from the first listen a bit weak at the knees. It's not really comparable with Isis, at least not later Isis, because the indie sensibility that has gradually shifted Isis away from metal and towards postrock is missing. Latitudes rock hard and you'll feel rocked by it. If you like that feeling, that you've been worked over by a record (and I do), you'll love this.

This Will Destroy You, This Will Destroy You

5.0 out of 5 stars Explodes, 12 Feb 2008

So you come from Texas, and you make postrock. You're going to be compared with Explosions in the Sky. The question then is, how well do you compare?

On their first effort, Young Mountain, TWDY didn't compare all that well. For all the praise that minialbum received, it was fairly workaday postrock. It didn't have that whoah there go the hairs on my neck thing going on.

This does.

TWDY do not simply plough the quiet-loud furrow. Several of the songs here are meditative, tranquil and deep. Rather than always aim at the soaring crescendos beloved of postrockers, they build moods. And where on Young Mountain, they sometimes missed, and ended up in a mire of postrock cliche, here they hit the heights. They've been compared with Sigur Ros and I think moodwise, they're getting close. Nothing here has quite the impact of Von from Heim, but there's some deeply moving stuff on here. If you love Mono, EITS, the more ambient Mogwai, this is your new favourite record.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


so anyway, tomorrow we say sorry to the indigenous people of Australia. it is the first step in a process of reconciliation, in which we will try to put right some of the wrong we have done the first Australians.

there is a great deal of quibbling about it. the right claims we have nothing to be sorry for: we weren't here then, we never did nuffink, we were doing them a favour. the centre doesn't want to pay reparations. i think we should. the Stolen Generation were shattered by what was done to them.

it doesn't matter who exactly was responsible. we take collective responsibility because that is what a nation does. we should apologise, and i'm delighted that finally we are doing so. we should pay the indigenous people the billion dollars they believe they are due. it's a small price to pay for their accepting that we too may live here, in amity with them. it's not enough for forgiveness. that cannot be bought. they will forgive us if they can find it in their hearts.

i am not an Australian, but i am part of Australia. i unreservedly join Kevin Rudd in apologising to the indigenous people for what they have suffered, and still suffer, and i believe we should remain sorry until every indigenous child has the same life chances my children do.

i will be a little prouder of Australia at 9am tomorrow. if Kevin Rudd achieves nothing else in his tenure as PM, he will at least be the leader who had the common human decency to begin the healing this nation needs.


so anyway, a short note on freedom, which is a precious commodity. it's been talked down and debased somewhat by rightists who use it as a flag for measures that basically infringe on it, but despite that, it is a treasure for us, which should be nurtured and defended.

i am a statist, and i do not see any conflict between that and a basic libertarianism, simply because i think a big state is the best means to protect my freedom from others. however, i do think there are limits, and those are my subject here.

because i think the bottom line in freedom is that you should be free to do what i do not approve of. i may or may not have the means to punish you for it, but i should not be in a position to prevent you from making the bad choice, particularly because which choices are bad is rarely something that can be decided objectively.

i hold this belief simply because restricting choices to those the state, or i, or you, think good is not freedom, and the more you, i, or the state restricts your choices, the more it infringes on your freedom. in discussing this, of course one should not lose sight of the state's responsibility to protect others from your choices. however, it is wrong, in my view, to suggest that the state's duty to protect us simply outweighs its duty to protect our freedom, or not to infringe on it.

in my view, the state can overstep the mark in two areas. one is that it can seek to protect you from your own choices. the other is that it can make it impossible to choose.

the first area is expressed in laws that seek to "uphold morality". morality is, almost without exception, the enemy of freedom. freedom is, if it is anything at all, the freedom to be wrong. when we say that you have the right to free speech, we mean that you have the right to say what i don't like to hear. when we say that you have the right to free assembly, we mean that you have the right to assemble for ends that i don't approve of.

because i believe freedom is a treasure, i oppose any legislation of morality. where immoral choices bring harm, i have no problem with punishing the harm. so i would not punish prostitution, even though i strongly disapprove of it, but i would severely punish trafficking. i would not punish the possession or use of drugs, but i would severely punish selling them to minors (because i believe that even though we have drawn our boundaries arbitrarily, we are correct to consider that minors may not have the freedoms we do--few parents would disagree! i might redefine "minor" in this context though.).

i do not believe the state has any right to protect you from any abuse you do to yourself. whether it has the right to restrict its services to you is another question. should a state be allowed to withhold healthcare from people who pursue practices that it does not approve of? possibly. but here i think that it is very difficult to ensure equity. is it worse to be a smoker than to eat a lot of fat? is it worse to eat a lot of fat than a lot of meat? this quickly becomes a grey area, with the government, claiming to have the right to withhold generally available services from you, which you are taxed to pay for, because you do not pursue behaviour it thinks you should.

i think that here the government starts to infringe on your freedom in the second way, by attempting to limit your choices to ones that it believes proper. it does this in other ways. one that is striking is the use of cctv.

the UK has millions of cameras, and the number is increasing. it's not impossible that within my lifetime, every street in the UK will be covered. why should i worry? i'm not doing anything wrong, am i?

well, true, but what is cctv for? is it to help catch people doing bad? i don't think so. i think it exists quite obviously to prevent people from doing bad. i cannot consider that a good thing, particularly because its presence serves to stop us from doing other things that are quite neutral.

i do not assent to measures that prevent bad as readily as i do to measures that punish it. without wishing to set up a slippery slope, one can ask, if we accept cameras to dissuade us from bad behaviour, why should we not have informers? knowing that your neighbour might be a spy, ready to tell the government when you do something ill, or eat a burger, or smoke a reefer, should have a dissuading effect. (one might note that the state has already gone down this path, with Crimestoppers numbers and the like. you could readily argue that Crimestoppers does not exist to punish crime but to prevent it, because its effect should be to add a complication to a wrongdoer's calculus. again, if you do no wrong, you have "nothing to fear" from Crimestoppers, unless your neighbour grasses you up for something you haven't done.)

importantly, cctv removes your right to privacy. you are open to scrutiny whatever you do. the watcher can see you doing good, bad and indifferent. the right to privacy is the right to do what i do not approve of without my interference. i believe it to be fundamental because other rights are built on it. the right to free speech, for instance, depends on the right to freedom of thought, which in turn depends on your thoughts being private.

think about this though. what is a food standard? it is a means the government uses to prevent a food producer from making a choice that could harm you. food standards prevent the food producer from producing food freely. and you will read rightists who criticise standards for this reason. however, and i think this is crucial, food standards only prevent bad outcomes. there is no good outcome to eating dirty food. true, the bad outcome may not eventuate, but you won't gain anything from it, except that the food might be cheaper.

but you could say the same about seatbelts, i suppose. the difference is that you are harming no one else if you do not wear a belt. (i am strongly opposed to seatbelt laws for the individual, but strongly in favour of them for minors.) i think a law that requires you to have seatbelts in your car is fair, but one that requires you to ensure that all your passengers are wearing them is not.

can food standards be conceived as punishments, not restrictions? if food is tested and you are fined for its being dirty, does this work? i think it probably does, and conceptually, i think this is how standards in food, in the environment and so on should be framed. i do not think that the rightists are wrong, necessarily, when they suggest that restrictions are a bad thing, and that the government is out of line where it tries to prevent you from choosing wrongly. there is another side to the coin though, and here they and i part company. if i want to poison you by selling you bad food, i should be permitted to. but if i do, i should not think that i can escape by suggesting that i bear no personal responsibility. more freedom needs stronger retribution in my view. if a company poisons you by evading food standards, those of its executives and employees who knowingly allowed it should be punished just as any other poisoner, any other killer, any other wrongdoer would be.

Monday, February 11, 2008


so anyway, if you want to gamble, there's one thing you have to know. no matter what you put your money into, you can't change your luck. (boots will be seething, but really, you can't.) what you can do is put more money in when the odds favour you, and less when they don't. if they never will, as they never do in games like craps or roulette, you can never win, and should not gamble. leave that to the suckers.

what does it mean, to take the best of it? one of two things. sometimes you have an edge but the amount you can bet is limited for some reason. in this case, you want to repeat the bet as often as you can. (a good example is a sitngo poker tourney. say you have an edge in a $10 sng. obv. you can only wager $10 at a time. so to get more money on, you play more than one table at the same time.)

the other case usually occurs in games in which either there are many opportunities to bet, but only some favour you (horseracing is a good example of this: you should not bet every race, because not every race will offer a good bet), or games in which you must bet at every opportunity to stay in, but only some of the time will you have an edge (a good example is blackjack, where most of the time the house has an edge, but sometimes you do, and if you count cards, you can know when that is).

what makes a successful gambler is information. in the first type of good betting, you have to recognise where you have an edge; in other words, you have to know where your skill is sufficient to beat others out of their money. it's no good playing ten tables of $20 sngs if you cannot beat one table of it; nor is it any good doing that if your edge degrades so much over ten tables that you no longer win. of course -- and this is central to all gambling -- it is not always simple to figure out your edge; sometimes, you cannot be sure that you even have one. i probably worry too much about this.

in the second type of good betting, you need to know when you have an edge and when you don't. in blackjack, as i noted, you figure this out by cardcounting. the margins are pretty slim in bj. if you learn basic strategy -- and i'm almost there with it -- you can cut the house's edge over you to .5%, which is very close to even. That's losing $5 in $1000. But the game changes over time, sometimes against you more than that, sometimes in your favour. you have to make up the bad times by whacking the money on when you're favoured.

of course, you do not win all time you're favoured. this is gambling, after all. but you win in the long term.

the long term is like a magic realm for gamblers. it's when everything works itself out. you cannot fix your luck. some days it goes your ways; some days it doesn't. it's tough to learn that, and tougher still to trust that you will win out if you stick with doing the right thing.

where things get interesting is horseracing. here, it's obvious that information is all important. you know you cannot beat the horses unless you understand them. but it's not so obvious that you must take the best of it, just the same as in bj or poker.

i'll explain, but first i'll digress.

when i was in my early twenties, i lived at home. i was totally unemployed and pretty much unemployable. but i was happy. i spent nearly every day, all day, in the bookies. i knew horses inside and out. i would double my dole money every week by betting the horses. i wasn't betting optimally, but i had a huge information advantage over most bettors. i was watching every race every day. i knew how that 2yo maiden had run at Yarmouth, because i'd seen it run.

but here's a thing. it's not how many winners you pick. look at this. say you check out one hundred races, and pick out 100 horses that are in your view evenmoney shots. for the purposes of this discussion, let's say that your information is good, you bet $1 a race, you are correct about the horses' chances, and also that you pay no tax. let's say your horses go off at 4/5. so you pick 50 winners and make $90. iow, you lose $10.

so you look at another 100 races and pick out horses that you think are 9/1. You put your $1 and each goes off at 10/1 (the astute reader will realise that these can be averages, and most handicappers will have some evenmoney shots go off at 5/4 and some at 4/6 and so on, although in fact we are looking to always beat the line we ourselves set). So 11 win, and you make $110.

see how you win more -- in fact, you win at all -- correctly backing the longer-priced horses than you would by backing more winners but at the wrong prices? this is horse handicapping in a nutshell. when you have sufficient information to handicap horses correctly, you can pick good bets at the bookies. it's not about which horse is most likely to win any given race but whether the set of horses you are betting offer better odds than they ought to. it's the long term. a horse that is 100 to 1 against winning but is offered at 200 to 1 is hugely profitable.

yeah, it sucks that you must risk 99 losers to get that profitable winner, but here's the thing: gamblers do not mind losing so long as their bet had a positive expectation. it's something i have to learn in poker. i can lose a lot but so long as i am betting with the best of it, it doesn't matter. give it time and the money will return with interest.

so i aim to play these three games. i play sngs okay, beating the $10 level, and i could expect to win a bit higher. i don't know how high. i am nearly there with basic strategy, and i am willing to put in the many hours of drilling i will need to count cards. it's going well though, and i think i can do that. and i plan to learn the British horses again.

in the last of those, i know that perfect information is impossible (although some elements of perfect info are very possible, such as knowing that a trainer will pull a horse, or knowing that a greyhound has a virus and will not run to his or her best), and even imperfect information is quite hard to come by, so i'll be looking for wide spreads. but if you correctly analyse 10/1 chances and they pay 20/1, you gain a ton by betting them. the same is true of evenmoney shots at 2/1, which is findable in markets in which information is fairly limited but most people in the market either lack it or can't be bothered learning it. maiden auctions come to mind.

you cannot change your luck. sometimes your horse falls at the first. you double down and hit an ace or deuce and dealer hits 17. you get it in with aces and the other guy flops his set. but everyone has the same chance of luck, if not the same luck. and you can ride the waves of luck, making sure that when you hit a peak, you have as much money as you can in play, and when you hit trough, you have as little as you can in play. learning how is not easy, but the difficulty lies not in knowing you have to surf, but learning how to recognise where you are on the wave.

well, it's no a science. i'm not relying on it, or risking what i don't have. but ir a year from now...

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


so grapes points to this blog.

it made me cry. not that i'm distressed about broken wildlife, but that someone is gentle with the pets we love when we have to make a decision that breaks our hearts.

i remember when my dad had our dog, s, put down. he was very ill. he had a tumour in his jaw. it was possible to operate, but the prognosis would still not be good, and the vet told us that s would likely have a lot of pain, even if he survived. so one day, i left for school (i had to take the train) and that night, my dad came to pick me up from the station. i knew why. i was angry that he had had s killed without speaking to me. s used to sleep every night on my bed. he had been part of our family since we moved back to the UK when i was two. my dad said he had turned downhill very quickly that morning and he had begun to suffer. he had brought s's collar, tag and lead with him; they were on the backseat. i realised that my dad was as broken up about it as i was.

a few years ago, mrs zen and i got a cat, o. it was a beautiful, spirited little thing. it was hit by a car and died in my arms, out on the pavement outside our house. i had to take her to the shelter, so that they could dispose of the body. i think that's the law here. in any case, i wasn't disposed to question whether it was, because i was renting and didn't want to bury her anyway.

i will never forget the drive to the shelter. our neighbour drove me for reasons i forget. we didn't say a word as he drove. when we got there, i handed her over and that was that.