A Song of Stone by Iain Banks (Books 2017, 2)

Started towards the end of last year, interrupted for Christmas and post-Christmas reading, and taken up again later. But yes, you read that right: I interrupted reading a Banksie. Now even though it’s a reread, that’s not something that happens normally.

But then this is not a normal Banksie. My memory of it was that although I hadn’t loved it, it was good enough. But all I remembered from it was two scenes, and the overall background.

I’ve got to say now, I’m afraid, that it’s down there with Canal Dreams as my least favourite. In fact when I reread Canal Dreams at some point in the past, I found it was better than I had remembered. This, though: this was worse than I remembered.

I mean, it’s not terrible. If it were written by someone else, it would probably be fine. But no more than that, I’d imagine: no more than fine.

What’s wrong with it? Well, it’s just not compelling in the way I expect Banks’s books to be. There are no characters to speak of, except for the narrator, who is not especially endearing. That shouldn’t matter, but he’s not particularly anything else, either. His attitude to the war-torn environment in which he finds himself is essentially that it is inconveniencing him (and, to be fair, depriving him of his ancestral home).

But the guy owns a castle. I mean, how sympathetic is he going to be?

I don’t know, I think the main problem is just that it’s so bloody bleak. I was convinced that it must have been written while he was getting divorced, or otherwise going through a dark period in his life, but the Wikipedia article doesn’t suggest anything of the sort.

Anyway, there we go. Another reread. But not one that I can imagine coming back to again. And there are plenty others still to come.

Probably a Good Time to Download Your Twitter Archive

This Bloomberg article may not be entirely serious, but it is, you know, Bloomberg:

There’s a strange idea circulating among Mexican currency traders. Well, more of a joke really. But there’s a certain logic to it.

It goes like this: Instead of spending its precious reserves to defend the peso, Mexico should just buy Twitter Inc. — at a cost of about $12 billion — and immediately shut it down.

The idea being that it would be the easiest way to stop the Trumpet tweeting negative things about Mexico.

I don’t know, he’d just find another forum, no doubt. Shit, in a week’s time he’ll be able to put whatever he wants on Whitehouse.gov.

[T]hat the idea was even raised in jest shows how just how frustrated Mexicans are that their economy and the value of their savings are at the mercy of the seemingly random musings coming in 140-character bursts from Trump’s Twitter account. It’s a sentiment that presumably would be shared by U.S. investors in companies like, say, General Motors Co. or Lockheed Martin Corp., but in Mexico, the pain, and the accompanying despair, appear to be on a much greater scale.

A lot more than Mexico is at the mercy of those “seemingly random musings.”

Just to Make the Numbers

Does it count if you write a blog post just so that you’ve written one today? Well, yes, of course it does. After all, you wouldn’t want to spoil an unbroken run of twelve days. 

The purpose of doing this is to make myself write and publish something each day. The act of writing is the thing, even if I don’t have a specific subject to discuss.

I could, for example, mention that while I was reading the Twin Peaks book recently, I ordered the boxed set on DVD. So I’ve started rewatching that. Only two episodes in (or the pilot and one episode, if you want to describe it that way).

I find there’s a lot I don’t remember, not surprisingly, as I haven’t seen it since the 90s. Each episode comes with an optional introduction by The Log Lady. They are suitably obscure and ambiguous. 

I hear today that the new series is going to be out in May. How we watch it in the UK is another matter, and I’ll have words to say about that in the future.

Getting Rid of Offensive Publications in Apple News Widget

This is not a “How To” article, it’s a “How Do I?” one. I’ve been googling (or duckducking) to try to find the answer, but to no avail yet.

Take a look at this screenshot:

Screenshot of Apple News widget on an iPad.
Note that those “Top Stories” include headlines from the Sun and Sky News. Two publications whose names and words I do not want to see polluting my iPad or iPhone.

But I can’t find any way to get rid of them. The widget details are linked to the Apple News app, and in the app itself you can specify preferences, but it doesn’t seem to affect what appears in the widget.

So if anyone has any idea of how to influence what appears there, please drop me a comment, or tweet me a link or something.

And yes I know I could disable the widget and/or delete the app, but I quite like the idea of it, in principal at least. And yes, I also know that avoiding the views of publications I dislike is only going to increase my own bubble effect. But you’ve got to have standards. I could cope with the Telegraph or even the Times (though I’d prefer not to). But the Sun? Come on.

Pamela Constable on her parents’ WASP values

Great piece in the Washington Post by one of their correspondents whose Republican parents would have hated what the party has become:

it occurred to me that our cerebral and courtly African American president, struggling against the tide of an angry, visceral age, had more in common with this elderly WASP gentleman than did many white Republican leaders of the moment.

Source: I rejected my parents’ WASP values. Now I see we need them more than ever. - The Washington Post

Sixty-Three Percent


Yesterday was the strangest day.

Anger, of course. Sadness. And confusion: how could this happen? Why did it happen?

What the hell is wrong with people?

But above all an overwhelming sense of change. Of everything having changed, and not in a good way.

I went out for a walk at lunchtime, and it all felt so strange. What it felt like was that the future had changed.

I know that sounds odd: how can the future change when it hasn’t happened yet? But that’s exactly how it felt. Like some time-meddler had taken the future and given it a twist, so that it was off by forty-five degrees or so.

It’s not like I’m constantly thinking about the future normally, but I guess we just have a kind of background-hum sense of where things are going, and that hum stopped in the early hours of Friday, or changed frequency.


Enough of the metaphors and similes. I did some basic arithmetic. On a turnout of 72%, 52% voted to have the UK leave the EU. That means 37% of the electorate voted to leave the EU.

Which means 63% of the electorate did not choose to leave.

It’s true that you can’t really assume the desires of the non-voters. But my thinking is that the decision to leave the EU is tantamount to a constitutional change. I don’t know what rules countries with written constitutions have regarding amendments, but my guess is that they will have a higher bar than a simple majority of the turnout. A two-thirds majority, or a majority of the electorate at least, I would expect and hope.

I had this conversation on The Guardian site yesterday, wherein the people I was discussing with were saying in effect, “You knew the rules when you went in.” Which is true enough, but unhelpful. My real point is that the rules should have been different. Now we, the voting public, obviously were not paying close enough attention back in 2015 when the legislation for the referendum was passed. But we have representative democracy, and our representatives — our MPs — should have been on top of this. The referendum should never have been brought with such a low threshold allowed for leave.

I’m surprised that Cameron himself didn’t ensure that it was hard to leave. Maybe he was a secret Brexiteer.

Or maybe he just didn’t believe that the public would ever actually vote to leave. I think with hindsight that that’s where I was: in my heart of hearts I couldn’t believe that this would happen. And that is probably the root of the cognitive dissonance I felt yesterday.

It’s too late now, of course. There’s not much we can do (though there is this petition, which has enough signatures already for parliament to consider it). I wonder if someone could mount some sort of legal challenge, maybe get a judicial review.

Because from where I’m sitting 63% of the UK electorate are about to be dragged out of the European Union without asking for it (or having actively stated their opposition). And that’s not even to mention the people who aren’t in the electorate, who will be most affected of all. My fifteen-year old daughter came home fuming yesterday; her whole school was in turmoil over this.

We’re failing a whole generation if they see possibilities being closed off before they’re even old enough to to vote.

The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross (Books 2016, 8)

The latest of Charlie’s Laundry Files series, and Bob Howard is being considered for promotion. To management. He has to _go on a course_.

As you can imagine, he doesn’t stay on it for long. And soon things are looking pretty bleak.

It’s the usual Laundry fare: magic manipulated by technology, horrors from beyond the stars, intrigue, form-filling.

It’s great stuff, as always.