December 10, 2017

The Best Player in Football

It's 2017, and one more sad reality we've faced this year is that the Seahawks are no longer the best team in football.

But when the going gets tough, Russell Wilson kicks ass.

December 09, 2017

I can't quite visualize it, I'll have to see it on film first

The film will most certainly go where no Star Trek has gone before: Tarantino has required it to be R rated, and Paramount and Abrams agreed to that condition.


December 08, 2017

Let's get tough with 'em, take it to 'em, challenge 'em inside...

December 05, 2017

Whatta circus

The Warriors are on their annual epic east coast road trip, and the wheels are falling off left and right. Curry has a bad hand and a sprained ankle, Draymond has a bad back, Pachulia and Iguodala are banged up; Shaun Livingston got thrown out of a basketball game, Durant has gotten thrown out of two basketball games, and also is injured.  Annnnd...they're 4-0 on the trip.

The PR staff is having to work overtime to keep up:

Last night's hero was...oh no...

Well done, Mister Phelps

Saakashvili, who has reinvented himself as a leading opposition figure here, gave [security forces] the slip and escaped to his building’s roof. There, he addressed hundreds of his followers who had in the meantime rushed to the scene at the news of his detention.

“[President Petro] Poroshenko is a thief and traitor to the Ukrainian people,” he said, and called on Ukrainians to take to the streets to resist the government...

Officers eventually reached Saakashvili and carefully dragged him from the roof — steep and slippery from an early December snowfall — and into a waiting police van. 

But the dramatics had just begun. Saakashvili’s supporters surrounded the vehicle and prevented it from leaving. Protesters clashed with police, who used pepper spray at times to hold the throng at bay.

After an extended and chaotic standoff, the demonstrators broke a window and extracted Saakashvili from the van. 

The Georgian emerged triumphantly, handcuffs still attached to one wrist, and was swept to the top of the steps of a nearby Catholic church.

“They are lying little animals,” Saakashvili said about those who leveled the charges against him. “We must throw this organized criminal group, led by Poroshenko, out of power.”


Other (link) and (link)

December 03, 2017

One day in New York

I may have mentioned this before, but Edward Lasker got himself into some very unusual chess games.

This position (white to move) is a draw.


December 02, 2017

Bay Area fans are different


November 28, 2017

"Never knowingly relevant"

Bragg explains himself.


November 25, 2017

Well, bye

The mayor of Osaka, Japan, is making good on his threat to sever the sister-city relationship with San Francisco because of a Chinatown memorial honoring women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military before and during World War II.


Listen sonny, when I say I'm from the Old School...


November 23, 2017

Mat-Su's Chillest Vibe

No kidding.

Flynn looking flippy

Lawyers for Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, notified the president’s legal team in recent days that they could no longer discuss the special counsel’s investigation, according to four people involved in the case, an indication that Mr. Flynn is cooperating with prosecutors or negotiating a deal.


November 22, 2017

One Thanksgiving in Stockbridge

The Berkshire Eagle today has reprinted its initial report on this matter:


"Chapaev", 1934

Notes on "Chapaev"

  • Based on the exploits of doomed civil war hero Vasily Chapaev as described by Dmitri Furmanov in the eponymous novel (summarized here).
  • One interesting note from the summary of the novel, connects with something from Mao's Long March:  "Peasant women come to complain that the Red Army soldiers are looting. Some of the looting was senseless--taking diapers and a baby carriage. Chapaev gives the men one chance to turn in all the stolen loot. After that, anyone caught with stolen property will be arrested. He says the stolen property will be returned to the rightful owners, unless of course they're bourgeois, in which case the property will go into the regimental fund."
    • Boris Babochkin just owns the role, and as a result of this performance was designated a People's Artist of the Republic in 1935, one of the few to achieve the honor before the age of 40.
    • The baddies march under the skull and crossbones, always a bad move
    • Chapaev also figures prominently in the computer game "Red Comrades Save the Galaxy".

    November 21, 2017

    Tony Allen discusses his endorsement contract with Memphis Airport

    It was a good feeling, man. I’d never been an actual spokesperson before. So when the airport reached out to the Grizzlies and asked for me — I’m talking, they asked for me, specifically? Like, picture the head of the airport, you know, and he’s telling his assistant, “Yo, assistant — we need to do this thing right. We need this thing to be Memphis. Get me Tony Allen for this one.”

    And it wasn’t just an ad, and that’s it, you know what I’m saying? It was more like — man, it’s a real honor to be the face of a city like that. It was these giant posters of me, just hanging all over the place. You had Tony Allen — smiling at you, vibing with you, pointing at you, like, “Hey, man, you picked a good airport.” 

    As soon as any opposing team stepped off the plane, they had probably saw me standing there, looking ’em up and down. Welcome to this town called Mem. Tony Allen controls the skies around these parts. So just like that, man, with those ads, I’m in their head. I’m getting over on ’em from the jump — playing that world-class defense before the game had even started.

    Excerpted from 'Memphis' in The Player's Tribune (link)

    I cannot describe how much happiness this brought me

    Explain One Play: S Dot terrifies the Magic

    Shaun Livingston frightened the Orlando Magic with an array of cuts and reads to help the Warriors win the Nov 13th, 2017 game.



    November 20, 2017

    Notes on arguably the finest British-American folk-rock album about moving to Los Angeles

    "Life is made up of meetings and partings; that is the way of it."   
    - Jerry Juhl, The Muppets Christmas Carol

    Homecoming, America's finest album, refines and focuses the folk-pop approach found on their debut release. The songs here are tighter and more forthright, with fewer extended solo instrumental sections than before. The sound quality is clear and bright; the colorful arrangements, while still acoustic guitar-based, feature more electric guitar and keyboards. The performance quality is more assured, among the most urgently committed the group would ever put on vinyl. 
    - David Cleary, Allmusic

    • Their mothers were British, their fathers American servicemen.  Their childhoods were spent on a series of military bases in the U.S. and UK. 
    • The album is from 1972.  It is about about California, which had always been in their heads.  In 1971 they moved to LA to work and live.
    • It is is the band's best album.  Three songs made the "History" compilation, but it could have / should have been five or six.
    • Homecoming comes right after their first album (#1 hit "Horse with No Name") but before George Martin and Geoff Emerick took over production duties and turned them into a singles hit machine ("Sister Golden Hair", "Tin Man", "Daisy Jane"). 
    • As near as we can tell from a distance, Beckley did most of the hard production work on Homecoming, spending months in the studio, paying attention to every detail.  When George Martin came in he was having none of that, and they began to make their albums much more briskly.  But this one is handmade.
    • Like Kind of Blue or Amanset's The Golden Band, the album expresses a specific and consistent musical language throughout, carefully wrought yet conveying a sense of spaciousness and possibility.  Very few albums have this.

    Contemporary criticism of America tended to compare them unfavorably to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.  Some critics heard a similarity between Peek's voice and Neil Young's, which is understandable IF YOU'RE DEAF.  But America, at least at this point, was a very different thing given that they were kids: Beckley is 20 here.
        The real influences on the band, by their own account, were the Beatles and the Beach Boys.  For  Homecoming I would also guess the LA folk scene, which was on fire in 1971, must have been a factor.  Here are the entries for 1970-71 from the Los Angeles Times' 2009 history of the LA music scene:
        • Graham Nash [OBE] writes "Our House," about the Laurel Canyon home where Joni Mitchell and he live on Lookout Mountain [Joni wrote "California" at about this time].
        • Neil Young records After the Gold Rush in the basement of his Topanga Canyon home on Skyline Trail.
        • Janis Joplin dies from a heroin overdose in room 105 at the Landmark Hotel (now the Highland Gardens Hotel) at 7047 Franklin Avenue. She is only 27.
        • Don Henley and Glenn Frey meet at the Troubadour. They become part of Linda Ronstadt's backing band and later form the Eagles. 
        This is good as far it goes, but omits Carole King and James Taylor's legendary stand at the Troubadour, which is a bit like leaving Everest off your informal survey of Tibetan peaks.  King and Taylor, working with very minimal instrumentation, set a daunting standard for aspiring folk rockers.  One song in particular must have touched a chord with Peek, who quotes it in "Saturn Nights", the final song on Homecoming.

        One more song about movin' along the highway
        Can't say much of anything that's new...

        Ventura Highway (Bunnell)
        So of course Homecoming begins with a song about a highway.  Bunnell has said "it was 1963 when I was in seventh grade, we got a flat tire and we're standing on the side of the road and I was staring at this highway sign. It said 'Ventura' on it and it just stuck with me. It was a sunny day and the ocean there, all of it."

        Later he would comment that "it was about leaving. It reminds me of the time I lived in Omaha as a kid and how we'd walk through cornfields and chew on pieces of grass. There were cold winters, and I had images of going to California. So I think in the song I'm talking to myself, frankly: 'How long you gonna stay here, Joe?'"

        Similar thoughts occurred to me as I walked around Anchorage Alaska in those years, and later on as I started driving.

        We know from lonesome highways.

        To Each His Own (Beckley)
        Another song about moving on.
        Will I make it through the summer
        Breaking ties with the old and new
        Losing one just gains another
        There is nothing I can do
        Beckley:  "I wrote it when we first moved to California, and obviously there were a lot of emotions flying around, because not only was it a big step for us professionally, but it was the first time I had really moved away from home."

        Don't Cross the River (Peek)
        A song about being ready for transitions that come up. Henry Diltz, who was right in the middle of that LA folk scene, plays banjo.

        Peek:  "Where the country influence came from, I don't know, other than that, growing up on air bases over the years, there was a lot of country music played on the base radio stations. Dewey and Gerry used to make fun of me and mock the song and compare it to 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town.'"

        Moon Song (Bunnell)
        After all the goodbyes, a beautiful love song.

        Orange funnels and snowy tunnels
           Summer troubles and books in bundles
        Orange funnels and snowy tunnels
           And you, and you, and you, and you, and you...

        The song starts slowly but the vocal harmonies really get into gear about a minute in, and now we're hearing some Beach Boys (or Zombies?) influence.  The combination of vocal harmonies and flawless guitar work also does have a passing resemblance to CSNY, but those guys, for all their virtues, couldn't do teen white gospel like this.

        Only in Your Heart (Beckley)
        A deceptively simple arrangement, but Beckley reverses the tape at around the 2:10 mark, giving the closing instrumental a unique, Beatle-ish sound.

        Till the Sun Comes Up Again (Beckley)
        Singin' it over again, I can't recall just how it used to be
        Voices across the sea...

        The mental distance, loss of memory between, say 14 and 20 is probably greater than 20-60.  So much is happening.  I've always thought that voices across the seas line was about long distance phone calls back to the UK.

        Cornwall Blank (Bunnell)
        Bunnell:  "We were basically venturing away from our families for the very first time, and just piling into a car and driving to Cornwall was a huge undertaking for us. That's when I thought, Boy, it's nice to be out here and blank out--turn it all off. It was bitter cold, so it wasn't like the tropics, but it was the feeling of getting away."

        Head and Heart (John Martyn)
        The only song not written by the band, it's nevertheless a great song for them, and it hits the album's themes perfectly.  It is the most honest song on the album about the anxious energy that was propelling them at that moment, and the strain they were feeling in their personal relationships.
        Laying down the ways to say I need you
        Scared of lookin' tall and feeling small
        Running through the days I have beside you
        Scared of being wrong, and that's it all  

        Here is how it sounded on Martyn's 1971 solo effort:

        California Revisited (Peek)
        Peek:  "I had never even been to California, but when I would meet people, regardless of where I was, it seemed like virtually every person I ever met was from there. I thought, This is impossible. It was the place to be from, and I got a little fed up with it. Then, to add to my chagrin, Catherine and I broke up after college, and she moved to California. So it was like salt in my wounds."

        Saturn Nights (Peek)
        One more song about movin' along the highway
        Feel the fantasy in the air 

        Where Carole King feels only loss, Peek finds hope and possibility.  But Carole gets the last laugh, as he, at the end of his journey, now is the one begging a loved one to stay. 
        I've been waiting every morning
        Just to help you find your way
        I've been standing on your corner
        (Don't go away) Don't go away...

        As I was forming as person I listened to this album quite a bit, strongly feeling its sense of possibility, its awareness of the human cost of travel and separation, imagining those incredible spaces yet to be discovered but also taking on board the hard lesson that - wherever you go - your heart will yearn for love.  If you're lucky, sometimes you get it. 

        (Lyrics to the songs and and some boxed set notes here.)

        Two songs, six parts, two minutes - flawless victory

        Is this a great country, or what?

        "Planet of Storms (Russian Planeta Bur) is a 1962 Soviet film directed by Pavel Klushantsev, based on a novel by Alexander Kazantsev about humanity's first mission to the planet Venus.

        "It was later picked up by Roger Corman's American International Pictures and Re-Cut for U.S. television as Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet in 1965. Two years later the re-cut was re-cut into Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women...

        "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women, helmed by Peter Bogdanovich of all people, took more liberties by cutting Masha/Marsha completely and shoehorning footage of Mamie Van Doren leading a tribe of scantily clad women who are supposedly orchestrating the crew's difficulties in an attempt to get rid of them. This version also incorporated footage from another Soviet sci-fi movie that AIP had acquired, Nebo Zovyot, which had been heavily reworked into Battle Beyond the Sun for U.S. release."


        Ragnarok is fun!

        We saw Thor Ragnarok over the weekend.  Really fun.

        First of all, there's fight scenes to "Immigrant Song"...

        ...good pacing, enjoyable repartee and action...

        ...I also appreciated the improv scenery-chewing:

        Spoiler:  They do get back to Assberg.

        [T]his is a multiplex movie done absolutely right.

        November 18, 2017

        There's an old Polish proverb...

        More here.


        I only follow Order of the Stick casually and occasionally, but as an experienced D&D player I was concerned about this latest adventure because even a very high level party risks annihilation going into a dungeon full of vampires without clerical support.  Unfortunately, because their cleric was turned into a vampire, they didn't have one.  I was concerned Burlew had overlooked this nuance, and that there were no other high level clerics in-universe that would have an interest in the proceedings.

        He hadn't, and there


        Unencrypted? Amateurs.

        One of the kids’ smartwatch brands was even found by the BEUC to be transmitting children’s locations—unencrypted—to servers in China.


        I wonder how Livingston's +/- compares to Young's...oh Lawd


        November 16, 2017

        Was it something we said?

        Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Republican governors are now trying to answer those questions after Gillespie, whom he called "an exceptionally good candidate," was so soundly defeated.

        "What is driving the turnout? Is it a specific issue? Is it a specific region? Is it a specific type of voter? What impact of Washington?" Walker said, without offering an answer.


        November 14, 2017

        Just another night at the office

        With Curry out Livingston started tonight, went 6-12 from the field, 4-for-4 from the line. Six assists, +/- tied for second at +16.


        November 13, 2017

        Ah, my Second Life is over before it begins

        November 12, 2017

        Scribin' ain't easy, but it's worth it

        A bit more from Ostler's Empires of the Word:

        The Egyptian scribe...represented from the earliest documented times the acme of ambition. This is amply confirmed by the kinds of texts that were copied in the scribal schools:
        Behold there is no profession which is not governed; 
        It is only the learned man who rules himself.

        Set to work and become a scribe, for then thou shalt be a leader of men. 

        The profession of scribe is a princely profession; his writing materials and his rolls of books bring pleasantness and riches.
        In the Satire on Trades, the scribe boasts: 
        I have never seen a sculptor sent on an embassy, nor a bronze-founder leading a mission.

        November 11, 2017

        The last gangster movie

        On the plane back I glimpsed on a screen in front of me a peculiar Japanese movie.  Full of intense meetings with cranky old men, it looked like some kind of corporate drama.

        Only, upon further inspection (some furtive Googling) it turns that this is Outrage: Coda, the final installment in a trilogy of Yakuza films by the Japanese director Takeshi Kitano.  Some say his films are just blood-spattered exercises in exploitation, while others compare him favorably to the French auteur Jean-Pierre Melville (e.g., Le Samourai).  Kurosawa interviewed him once and said he liked his stuff.

        Normally I don't go in for this kind of thing.  On the other hand, this is a 12 hour flight, and the alternatives are Barney and The Big Bang Theory.  In I go.

        It is superb.  The cinematography and acting are outstanding.  In the photo above we are looking at some power players in the Hanabishi family.  They are pondering how to apologize to the Korean Chang family for the errors of the man on the left, Hanada, who mistreated some girls at a Chang-controlled resort on Jeju Island in South Korea.  When the local Chang representative - a man named Otomo - stopped by to demand compensation, Hanada instead had his men kill the flunky they were supposed to pay.

        In hindsight, this was a mistake.

        One big problem is that the initial apology, attempted with Deputy Underboss Nakata (next to Hanada in the photo above) went poorly.  The bundle on the table is a large sum of money that was pushed back in their faces.  Underboss Nishino is digesting all this as the head of the family, Nomura, looks on from behind.

        The Chang are not amused.

        There is a second problem, which intensifies their pondering.  Otomo, the local Chang representative in question, is a semi-retired Tokyo gangster who also featured prominently in the prior two movies.  Otomo (played by director Kitano) is an old-fashioned gangster who prefers direct action.  In his prime he was somewhere between Omar and Harmonica in terms of his ability to screw up large organizations through violent countermeasures.  He has a grudge against the Hanabishi - it was their purge of his old gang that prompted him to seek a peaceful life abroad with the Changs.  As one review has it, "having slashed and burned all other bridges, then gone back to riddle them with bullets, Otomo is now off-grid ..."

        Although fiercely loyal to the Changs, he is fish-shooting pissed about the Hanabishi killing his guy.

        There is a third issue simmering beneath the surface:  Nishino and Nomura hate each other.  Nomura isn't a real Yakuza - he married into the family, took no oaths, and has never been in prison.  In the meeting shown above Nishino takes charge and says he will take Hanada back to the Changs, and help him apologize properly ("I'll show you the finesse that Nakata lacks").  Nomura reads this as a way for Nishino to get with the Chang to plot against him, and begins to, you know, take steps.

        The second apology does not go particularly well either, as Chang ignores the apologizers while reviewing plans for a new resort and instructing his people to not accept bids below "eight billion."  English is heard in the hallway.  Nishino abandons the finesse strategy, ignores the ignoring, and starts yelling at Chang across the room.


        After they leave, things escalate quickly.  Nomura decides to whack both Nishino and Chang.  Chang (after a failed attempt on his life) decides to whack Nomura.  Chang also deploys Otomo back to Tokyo to even things up a bit more, which he does, just possibly overshooting the mark in the process.

        The trailer gives you the general look of the film and the flavor of the action scenes, but doesn't capture the brilliant pacing, acting, and dialogue:

        If you tuned in for the gun porn, the joke is on you - the slaughters take up perhaps five minutes of the movie.  The real story is about conflicts between personal honor and organizational obligations, the trials of advancing age and decrepitude, and the utter emptiness of gangster violence.

        A dry sense of humor also emerges sometimes, this is apparently a Kitano trademark:
        - You're just a retired office worker without your henchmen.
        - You're betraying me?
        - Betray is too strong a word.  It gives the impression that I was on your side.

        Outrage: Coda doesn't just end the trilogy, it probably also ends the gangster movie.  After the final scene, which is stone cold perfect, there's nothing much left to say except see it.

        Oh, you too

        I dropped by Australia briefly this week, and looked forward to getting away from the toxic nationalism that...what, what?

        The news there was full of the 'citizenship crisis' in government, in which long-serving parliamentarians were found to have potentially divided loyalties due to birth or family ties to menacing foreign powers like Canada or England.
        • BBC:  How a dual citizenship crisis befell an immigrant nation (link)

        Also big in the rotation this week was an incident in which Australian senator Sam Dastyari - who has no citizenship issues - was harassed by racist punks in a university pub:
        The senator is trying to get a beer. 
        A far-right group — who call themselves patriots, as if patriotism somehow means harassing fellow citizens — start following him around, getting in his face, calling him a little monkey, a terrorist, a puppet of China. 
        “Why don’t you go back to Iran, you terrorist?” 
        “Is that halal?” they say, of the drinks he’s ordering. 
        He tries to brush them. They say: “What race is Islam, mate? What race is Islam?”  
        • The Weekend Australian:  Dastyari abuse: true blue? No. They’re yellow (link)

        Australia, of course, didn't get completely away from race-based immigration policies until the 1970s.  

        It's a nice country in other respects.

        What happens if I try to steal it from the old guy?


        Then it got...even weirder


        November 08, 2017

        Check out "Living with the Gods"

        Read about this BBC Radio series in the Economist, and heard a promo for it on the In Our Time podcast. Highly recommended!

        November 04, 2017

        Evacuate? In our moment of triumph?

        Computers can be fooled into thinking a picture of a taxi is a dog just by changing one pixel, suggests research.

        The limitations emerged from Japanese work on ways to fool widely used AI-based image recognition systems.

        Many other scientists are now creating "adversarial" example images to expose the fragility of certain types of recognition software.

        There is no quick and easy way to fix image recognition systems to stop them being fooled in this way, warn experts.


        November 03, 2017

        Three chuckles gets a post (or maybe I'm just delirious) - here's an Onion link

        Itinerary For Trump’s Trip To Asia