Friday, June 29, 2018

Heavy Metal: Yob @ Poisson Rouge New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am a connoisseur of heavy metal. I really enjoy atmospheric rock music with very heavy riffs. Fortunately my wife shares this taste. Yesterday we went to Poisson Rouge on Manhattan´s Bleecker Street to enjoy a performance of  Yob (yobislove). I liked the intimate place better than similar rock venues in Brooklyn: Saint Vitus for instance, hosts most of the metal bands, but feels like a trap, and Warsaw & Brooklyn Steel which are big and industrial.

We knew Yob already. We had enjoyed their performance @ last year`s Psycho Las Vegas festival (driveby ). Frontman Mike Scheidt and his band (Aaron Rieseberg – bass guitar & Travis Foster – drums ) perform pure magic. Mike is a virtuoso on the guitar and he puts his audience under the spell  of massive and violent riffs blended with melodic and almost symphonic elements - amplified by his excellent colleagues. Yesterday Yob delivered again virtuous & almost unbelievable heavy sound waves, but what the band makes outstanding is Mike´s voice. He performs the genre usual aggressive growls & roars but sometimes his voice changes into a melodic mode.  Like a singer in a bizarre opera he mesmerizes with a hypnotic voice. Yesterday`s gig was a very intense experience, beautiful and wild -  pure bliss.

I also liked the opener: Heavy Temple, three women who demonstrated that girls can perform doom metal at least as well as their male colleagues. The trio shook the hall with massive riffs and growled and roared furiously. After them Bell Witch followed: Dylan Desmond, singer and bassist, who was accompanied by a percussionist. The duo seemed to perform just one piece in about 60 minutes, a series of very slow deep & stretched chords, which invited meditation. I believe this kind of music is called drone metal (wikipedia). I enjoyed their concert for a while but I got tired after about 30 minutes. I would enjoy this kind of metal more in a dark room sitting on a bench, I don´t believe it does function so well in a concert. Maybe this performance was meant to give the audience a catch of breath between the Heavy Temple & the Yob shows.

But anyway. We had much fun last evening. Thank you so much Yob, Heavy Temple & Bell Witch.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Books: The Taste of Conquest By Michael Krondl

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like spicy food and I am interested in history. Therefore I read "The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice" by Michael Krondl (amazon). The culinary historian describes lively how the spice trade had shaped the global economy and caused the rise &  fall of empires over centuries.

The author explains why spices, which are imported from India & Southeast Asia, became luxury goods in medieval times and later centuries and how merchants and nations accumulated massive fortunes by trading them. Krondl describes how Venice, then an Italian city state ruled by entrepreneurs (merchants), became a global power and a hub in the international spice trade.

In the 15th century Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, overtook the global spice market. The change was based on a different business model. There an ambitious king intended to catch two birds with one stone: He wanted to baptize people in Asia, extending the crusades, and occupy the lucrative spice trade as well. Around 1490 King John II (João II) ordered to send ships around the horn of Africa in order to exploit the spicy riches of Asia - a very successful decision.

In the17th century Amsterdam, the Dutch harbor city, ruled by merchants like Venice, used the changing global tides and overtook Portugal`s global spice monopoly. This was the comeback of the entrepreneurs. who pooled their businesses into the Dutch East India Company to avoid competition. For a while this stock market listed company, which resembled modern multinational corporations, became a global power and controlled the world market in 17th and early 18th century.

"The Taste..." touches many topics like the crusade,  the wars between Europeans & Arabian Muslims, the fall of Byzantium, the Renaissance, Christoph Columbus` misfortunes and a lot more. Krondl describes how changes of fashion, geopolitics, religion & economy influenced the tastes of the elites and the masses and so caused the rise and fall of empires. But he also reports how the spice empires caused colonialism & genocide.

I was impressed how many miles Krondl had traveled in order to spice his book with anecdotes & episodes. "The Taste.." expanded my knowledge about history and fanned my appetite for spices and exotic dishes. 

In the moment of writing the Kindl version costs just $1,99 - a real treat!

Monday, June 25, 2018

Science Fiction: At The Helm, 2017 Sci-Fi Bridge Anthology Vol. 3

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like science fiction. Unfortunately most science fiction novels disappoint. Often a writer has an interesting idea which carries a story about maybe 100 pages or less, but when she stretches the plot the story gets thinner and thinner and the text has too many fillers.  Just a minority of authors is capable to keep the tension over hundreds of pages. Therefore I usually skim collections of science fiction short stories in order to find some gems.

I just finished reading "At The Helm," 2017 Sci-Fi Bridge Anthology Vol. 3 (amazon). The collection belongs to a series that focuses on new authors and contains 18 stories. Each one of the writers is introduced at the end of the story and has a link to her website. The Kindle versions costs just 99 cents - an invitation to browse through an eclectic mixture of ideas & styles and to try new authors in the genre.

I have 5 favorites:

"Geospermia" by Patty Jansen. The author - trained as agricultural scientist - tells a solid story about terraforming Mars and its complications. A nice story with a lot insights about biology, chemistry & agriculture - hard science fiction in the tradition of Robert Heinlein.

"Storming  Tbe Norse Wind" by M.D. Cooper is military sci-fi focusing on the crew of a control space ship crew who encounters a suspicious space ship, spiced with fast action.

"The Far Side of Psyche" by Rhett C. Bruno. The plot is set in an alternate universe where the space race between Americans and Sovjets continues. 2 American space pilots are flying to asteroid Psyche and experience some surprises.

"The Tribe" by Andreas Christensen follows a group of people from different centuries who found themselves suddenly in an alternate universe and who are struggling to survive.

"The Last Ship" by Christ Pourteau. The crew of a military space ship prepares for a battle and is confronted with strange effects.

The other stories may cater different tastes.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

New York City: Enjoying Rockn` Roll In Tompkins Square Park

(Drivebycuriosity) - Yesterday my wife and I broke with a tradition. Usually we attend Punk Island, an annual punk fest on one of New York`s islands. But this year - conflict of interest - we watched the breathtaking World Championship group game Germany versus Sweden. The late magical goal by Toni Kroos rewarded us for the sacrifice, the alternative cost of watching the game.

Later we got another comfort as went to the nearby Tompkins Square Park. The park is a bohemian mecca attracting a motley crowd and a magnet for punks and other alternative lifeforms. Yesterday there was one of the frequent summer concerts (here my report from an earlier gig  driveby).

Again we watched the gig of a strong rock group. Being an ambitious amateur photographer I used the occasion to take a lot photos.

I really enjoyed their rough & blurred guitars, a mixture of heavy metal, punk and grunge. The audience seemed to have a lot of fun as well. Some got inspired to dance. What a day.

To be continued.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Culture: Italy´s Cuisine - Collateral Damage From The Permanent Economic Crisis?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Recently I traveled to Italy and stayed 4 weeks in Rome & Naples. I had high expectations regarding the food because I am a huge fan of Italian cuisine. I grew up in Germany where are ubiquitous pizzerias and other Italian restaurants, some are on a really high level. Beginning in the 1960s, during the German economic miracle, many Italians immigrated to Germany and established restaurants or worked there as cooks.  Many more followed in the decades after. Today you can experience a variety of Italian cuisines in Germany, even though the recipes might have been adapted to German tastes.

I expected to find similar ore even better cuisine in Rome & Naples. Especially Rome, the capital, who proudly calls herself "Roma Capitale", should represent the culinary treasures of Italy. But I got  disappointed. It was challenging to discover restaurants which met the standard I learned to love - even though we hiked a lot miles every day and explored many neighborhoods. Yes, there are plenty of restaurants around the Spanish Steps and other tourist centers. But I tried to avoid these tourist traps. Outside of the tourist centers there are not many solid restaurants. We stayed in hotels in neighborhoods like Roma Re, Piazza Bologna & EUR, all outside the tourist center. We noticed many fast food places, including McDonald`s, but there were few restaurants, trattorias & osterias which serve fine Italian food.  Most restaurants had just very simple menus and did offer a small selection.

I missed many of the Italian culinary pleasures I had enjoyed in Germany - or even in New York where I live now. I like fish, but the majority of the restaurants I found don`t offer fresh fish! Usually they have just octopus & shellfish, some offer only salted cod. The popularity of salted fish seems to have historical reasons. Before the introduction of refrigeration chains fish & meat had to be salted to be edible for months, only the very rich could afford to eat daily fresh fish. Salted cod became so the fish for the poor.

I also enjoy fried calf liver but I didn`t find any in Rome. Maybe this dish is the specialty of a different region but Rome, the capital of the Nation, should offer the cuisines of the province as well. I know better neighborhood restaurants even in New York. Below the menu of one of my favorite Italian places in Bonn followed by the menu of La Vita in Cologne and the dinner menu of Barbaresco, another favorite of mine on Manhattan`s Lexington Avenue.

And the quality of Rome`s restaurants was often mediocre. I couldn`t find any place which was comparable with the above mentioned places. The menus usually offer Spaghetti a la
Carbonara - a very rich pasta dish made with eggs and cheese - and similar pastas. In Rome my wife got the worst Pizza I have ever seen.

                                                            Exodus Of Cooks

Why is Rome`s cuisine so frugal? I think the disappointing level of Rome´s restaurants is a result of Italy`s permanent economic crisis.  Italy`s per capita income is below the European average and it dropped in the recent years (chart above). Many Romans can not afford going out. They cannot afford a meal which may cost 30€ or more. Therefore they go to fast food places, ice cream saloons & pasticcerias (serving pastries), which are ubiquitous. Ambitious chefs and restaurant owners are forced to emigrate to other countries. The exodus of cooks which started in the 1960s seems to have accelerated in the recent years. Fortunately I still find great Italian food in Germany and even in New York City.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Stock Market: Will The Bull Survive?

(Drivebycuriosity) - We are experiencing one of the largest bull markets in history. Since spring 2009 the US stock market gained about 300%. But there are three headwinds: Rising interest rates, climbing oil prices and Trump`s trade war. In the past interest rates, oil prices and trade wars each had started recessions and bear markets. Will the bull market survive this time?


I am still optimistic. The rising interest rates are a response to a growing global economy & climbing company earnings. After the recession 2008 interest rates have been cut to zero and below (negative interest rates). Now they are coming back to a normal level. History shows that stock prices & interest rates can happily rise together: The Bank of America Merrill Lynch (finance) notices that “the 1950s was a period of higher stock prices and higher US interest rates. The US 10-year yield bottomed near 1.5% in late 1945 and the S&P 500 remained firmly within its secular bull market until yields moved to 5-6% in the mid 1960s. The S&P 500 rallied 460% over this period.”

The climbing oil prices are causing headaches indeed. Nine out of ten of the U.S. recessions since World War II were preceded by a spike up in oil prices, writes Prof. James D. Hamilton, University of California, San Diego ( pdf econweb). Another study by Prof.  Hamilton shows that the oil price shock from 2008 - from summer 2007 through July 2008 the oil price spiraled from about $50 to $147 -  turned the economic slowdown into a severe recession (econbrowser).: "The oil price increase over 2007:H2-2008:H1 should be regarded as a key development that turned the slowdown in growth into a recession" (archives).

But the recent economic upswing and the current bull market survived oil prices around $120 in the years 2012 through 2014 and today we are still far below this level. I doubt that we will reach prices beyond $120 any time soon. The US oil production is rising thanks to fracking and the global oil demand is getting curbed by the technological progress which raises the energy efficiency of cars and other machines.

I think that Trump´s trade war against China is the greatest challenge for the economy and the stock market. But I also believe that - if this trade war escalates - it might cause a correction (stocks falling at least 10% from the peak) but won`t start a recession and a bear market (stocks falling at least 20%). A trade war is already partly priced into stock valuations. Even though the US economic growth is accelerating and company earnings grew in the first quarter 25% from the same period last year the US stock market is stagnating (nasdaq).

I think there are enough tailwinds which should overcompensate the negative impulse of a trade war on the US economy and stock market. The strong earnings growth, the engine of the bull market, will continue trade war or not. A part of the earnings growth is the result of the recent tax cuts of the Trump administration, about 7 percentage points estimates LPL research, which reduces the (basic) earnings growth rate to about 18%. I think that company earnings will continue to grow with double-digit rates because fast rising company earnings are a long term trend. Corporations are getting more efficient & more productive over time - thanks to learning processes and the technological progress.  During the recession 2008 companies had restructured and reduced costs significantly in order to survive. Now they are more fit & more efficient than before.

Company earnings are also boosted by automation. Since the early 18th century (the first industrial revolution) the technological process has been enabling companies to produce more goods & services with the same amount of employees. More and better machines are doing the work of people which translates into lower costs, higher profit margins and climbing earnings. We are experiencing a rapid advance of information technology, meaning combinations of computers, smartphones, Internet and other digital systems. Software - which is increasingly Internet connected and uses more and more the cloud (access to huge external data centers) - organizes the whole business: Creating new products, inducing machines to run more efficient, finding cheap suppliers, manage customer relations and so on.

The US economy is very robust, driven by a strong job market and rising retail sales. The economy is also boosted by the recent tax cuts and the ongoing deregulation of the American banking sector. I assume that the current bull market will continue for years to come fueled by the technological progress and climbing company earnings.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Netflix: Binge Watching Tabula Rasa

(Drivebycuriosity) - In the recent days I have been binge watching "Tabula Rasa" on Netflix. This is a psycho drama, sometimes a psycho thriller, produced in the Netherlands and streamed in Dutch, with English subtitles (imdb).

I enjoyed the subtle and slowly developing plot about a woman, who has lost her memory after an accident and is staying in a mental hospital. She is questioned by an obsessive cop on the brink of his retirement about a missing man. "Tabula Rasa" is a mystery and maybe also a crime story  (I don`t tell you more about the plot. This is a spoiler free blog). The story evolves in flash backs and dream sequences and the audience is learning the truth step by step.

Veerle Baetens & Malin-Sarah Gozin, the creators of the series, spun a sophisticated plot and focused on the psychological aspects, the mental issues of the leading character, her dreams & hallucinations.  The wonderful series reminded me of some very different movies: "One Flew over the Cuckoo`s Nest";  Hitchcock´s "Spellbound",  Kubricks`s "The Shining"; Japanese horror movies and even Chan-wook Park`s "Oldboy", but everything fits together and the creators found their own and interesting way. I enjoyed also the optical presentation, spiced with fascinating pictures, and the opening sequence is a surrealist masterpiece. The strong cast is part of the fun, especially co-creator Veerle Baetens in the leading role and Peter Van den Begin as pyromaniac hospital patient.


Sunday, June 17, 2018

Contemporary Art: Mannequins & More @ Gallery Artifact New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like contemporary art.  Therefore I often visit art galleries in my neighborhood, New York`s Lower East Side. Gallery Artifact  (84 Orchard Street artifact) belongs to my favorite places, because the art trader has frequently changing art shows which are usually amazing.

On my recent visit I spotted work by 3 interesting artists. Above you can see some pictures of mannequins by Stefan Jellheden which look disturbing (ellhedenphoto). But the images are interesting anyway.

The erotic photos by Alice Alamanou are comforting and they are nicely composed.

I also like the collages by Manuella Muerner Marioni. As you can see in the detail shot above the artist integrated some circuits and other electronics.

Above more by Marioni.

To be continued

Friday, June 15, 2018

Street Art New York: Best Of 2018 So Far

(Drivebycuriosity) - I like street art. Being an ambitious amateur photographer I took a lot pictures from the murals, graffitis and stencils I spotted in my neighborhoods, the streets of Lower East, Soho & East Village. I show here my  favorites from this year so far, a very subjective selection as usual.

I spotted the Greek scene in Soho on Elizabeth & Prince Street and discovered the beauty above this paragraph while walking on East Houston and looking into Eldridge Street in the Lower East Side.

Above a shop wall on Broome Street.

Above a mural seen on the wall of rag & bone at the corner of Elizabeth & Houston. This fashion shop impresses with frequently changing art work of high quality.

The infamous Epstein`s on Allen Street (a dive for the raucous bridge & tunnel crowd) has been closed, but there are still amazing murals to see.

Above a Banksy mural on the famous Bowery Wall (corner of East Houston).

Another mural on East Houston, across Whole Foods.

Above some murals found on Ludlow corner Rivington.

Seen across the street.

Allen Street became a mecca of street art. Above some examples.

A surrealist image found somewhere on the Lower East Side.

Chinatown last winter.

A fascinating wall on Rivington & Bowery.

Some sexy stickers.

Above more stickers

What a nice doorman.

And a pretty face

This graffiti cooperates well with the surrounding colors.

To be continued.