June 16, 2019

Emperor of ruins

Japan's Emperor Hirohito in Yokohama during his first visit to see living conditions in the country since the end of the war, February 1946.

Wedding as a funeral goes by - Von Stroheim's "Greed" (1924)

Youtube - (link)

Wikipedia - (link)

June 14, 2019

This just in

June 13, 2019

Oracle closes, dynasty ends. It was fun while it lasted, now back our regularly scheduled programming...

June 11, 2019

And back to Oakland

“So set up your attacks that when the fire is out, it isn’t out.”  - Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Kawhi Leonard had just gone on a Jordanesque 10-0 run late in the fourth quarter to give the Raptors the lead.  The Warriors' best player had hurt himself badly and left on crutches, to the delight of the hometown crowd.  The champagne was on ice and Bill Russell waited patiently in the hallway, ready to present the  championship trophy. 

All that remained was to close the thing out.  Raptors coach Nick Nurse, noticing that his squad was tiring, called timeout, and gave them a moment to catch their breath.   He may well have turned to Steve Kerr and said something like "before you die I believe you will be interested in hearing how I defeated you."

All of this, in hindsight, was a mistake.

On the final possession of the game, needing just a basket to win, Leonard brought the ball up but encountered spirited opposition.  Two quick passes later, Kyle Lowry held the ball in the corner, poised to bury the game winner as the clock ticked down.  But as he released the shot a Warrior hand grazed the ball....

And they took the champagne back, and Bill Russell sat down, and they carted the trophy away.

"The only important statistic is the final score." - Bill Russell

June 09, 2019

Set pieces

In some of these old Japanese movies, it's kind of obvious they were in a hurry, or way over budget.  In others, it looks like they had all the time in the world, and made good use of it.  I have no idea what was going on, but in Zatoichi the Fugitive (1963) cinematographer Chishi Makiura earned his pay.  Here are a few shots from the film:

Good guy coming up
Bad guy coming down

Miwa Takada

How can we ever thank you for saving our ranch Yakuza gambling operation?

The Third Mountain

In the Bay Area there are three notable mountains that might be attempted by the discerning alpinist.  Each is prominent, presents unique challenges to the climber, and has its own unique personality.  Mount Tamalpais, nestled as it is among the villas of Russian oligarchs, is a deceptively peaceful place, and on a good day elicits associations with the Asia of the western imagination.  This is carried to its logical extreme in Tom Killion's fine Tamalpais Walking, which venerates the mountain in faux Ukiyo-e style.

And there is Mount San Bruno, looming over Brisbane like Ali over Liston, a brutal wedge of stone on an otherwise bucolic peninsula, its aggressive stance accentuated by its onetime status as a nuclear weapons base.

As documented here, I have met the tests of both peaks - not without misadventure - and lived to tell the tale.  And, I hasten to add, I accomplished this by fair means, without the use of supplemental oxygen, sherpas, porters, yaks, or any of the other accoutrements of the posers trotting around the Himalayas nowadays.

But there is one mountain that continues to defy me, tugs at my imagination, yet also elicits the deepest respect, even fear:  Mount Diablo.  Diablo.  The Devil's mountain.  The very name inspires awe.  Rising 3,849 brutal feet above the Bay Area on one side, and the Central Valley on the other, it was for the indigenous people of the region the center of the world, the point of creation.  The Ohlone called it Tuyshtak, "at the dawn of time."

As with all mountaineering ventures, one must weigh up the risks against the rewards.  The usual risks apply - given its proximity to urban areas, one must expect the same type of overcrowding that has become a hazard for the advanced alpinist everywhere.  Water, of course, will be a necessity, and it will likely be necessary to bring some type of food along, too.  So many variables to consider, so many ways to go wrong.

But the reward - for the hardy few who succeed - is astonishing.  According to the State Park website:
[Y]ou can look to the west, beyond the Golden Gate Bridge, to the Farallon Islands; southeast to the James Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton at 4,213 feet elevation; south to Mount Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains at 3,791 feet elevation, north to Mount Saint Helena in the Coast Range at 4,344 feet elevation, and still farther north to Lassen Peak in the Cascades at 10,466 feet. North and east of Mount Diablo the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers meet to form the twisting waterways of the Delta. To the east beyond California's great central valley, the crest of the Sierra Nevada seems to float in space.  All in all, you can see over 8,539 square miles and parts of 40 of California's 58 counties from the Summit of Mount Diablo.  

I know these things, yet try to keep up the appearance of detachment and disinterest.  And yet my mind wanders.  I find myself inspecting maps of the area, and eyeing the Osprey Mutant 22 with its integrated hydration system and La Sportiva's TX3 with its "climbing zone" toe.  Perhaps, with the right equipment, I could make up for some of loss of strength and stamina that comes with advancing years.  Perhaps, with the Garmin inReach Explorer I can maintain contact with base camp and send texts to my accountant over the Iridium satellite network, even under the most difficult conditions.  Perhaps...

But in the face of these unknowns, there is one certainty.  El Diablo will be utterly unforgiving of error.

June 08, 2019

Noted with interest

The estimable Meiko Kaji, from the Tumblr blog fuckyeahmeikokaji, which might go a little too far in its veneration of Meiko Kaji, were it not impossible to do so.

fuckyeahmeikokaji - (link)

One afternoon in the early 90s

Ranking just behind the heroic team ascent by the Laird and me of Tamalpais - conducted, let me remind you, without the use of artificial oxygen and entirely by fair means - and my terrifying solo and near-bivouac on Mount San Bruno, is my solo effort on The Rigi a few years before, which has unaccountably been overlooked in the literature of alpinism no doubt due to the petty jealousy of lesser men.

In a nation crowded with peaks, The Rigi stands alone near Luzern, its forbidding massif surrounded on three sides by water:

Rigi, the Queen of Mountains

Mountaineering snobs tend to downplay the significance of an ascent, however, because the peak is 1,800 meters, not the 8,000 preferred by the Himalayan crowd, and possibly also because the primary route to the summit is paved.

I'd like to tell you I went up that ridge, I really would

Doesn't matter at the top though.  You have as good a view as any in Switzerland, and that's saying something.  And, doesn't a mountain deserve consideration on its own terms, without all this quantification?  We all know K-2 is the tougher climb, so why all the bragging about Everest?

Anyway, The Rigi was a fine place to be on a nice day, and I climbed it.  By fair means, without artificial oxygen, and without a commercial guide or the assistance of sherpas.

Of course if you'd like a commercial guide those are available, but the cognoscenti will likely look down on your achievement.


June 06, 2019

Ramen westerns

The Japanese and Italian filmmakers of the 60's were watching each other closely.  Here are two scenes for your perusal:

Zatoichi on the Road (1963)

Once Upon a Time in the West (1968)

The most extreme evolution of this that I have seen so far is Bloody Shuriken (1965), which I think might as well be rescored with the theme from Bonanza.  It makes no sense in any Japanese historical context, but all the sense of the world if you imagine that everyone in Dodge City decided to dress funny and speak Japanese:

Showdown at the Oke Corral

The movie is not a good use of time.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

One additional note - that one girl is the estimable Masumi Harukawa, who looks great, breaks every rule, and seems to have had a bit of a cult following.  YMMV, but I like her approach.

Unholy Desire aka Intentions of Murder (1964)

A small sort of satisfaction

June 05, 2019

Only everyone expects it

(via Krugman)

Back to the beach

Jerry Deitch thinks he'll be able to keep his nerves in check but isn't sure. The survivor of Utah Beach, one of the five D-Day beaches, had always refused to go back to Normandy.

"I said, 'No,' I said, 'I don't think I can handle it. I'll get too emotional,'" he says.

Now 93 years old, Deitch decided he must see where good friends died and revisit the spot by a seawall where he was hit by a piece of shrapnel that left a fist-sized dent in his helmet.

Deitch, who is from Nevada, was 18 years old when he landed and says "after the first day I felt like I was 30. I went in a little boy and came out a man. You grow up fast."

Serving in a U.S. combat demolition unit, his job was to clear obstacles and blow up strong points that could slow the Allied advance inland. The shrapnel that dented Deitch's helmet gave him a concussion; he was evacuated back to England.

"I know exactly where I was when I was hit. Exactly the spot. I see it in my mind all the time," he said.

Long unable to speak to his family about his experiences, he recently started writing down his recollections so they'll know, when he's gone, what he went through. "I did a few chapters just before I came here," Deitch says.

"It changed my life, yeah," he said of D-Day. "It taught me to be very tolerant. God gives us free will; you've got to use it."

Having long kept his war to himself, Deitch thanks people for listening to his recollections now.
"I feel better when I speak about it," he said. "If you have demons, face them."


June 04, 2019


Highly recommended: What We Do in the Shadows tv comedy, directed by Germaine from Flight of the Conchords, with Matt Berry from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and based on the movie of the same name with the immortal line:

"We are werewolves, not 'swearwolves'"

Most amusing, TV MA for moments of gore and awkward vampire orgy sex.


June 03, 2019

The 'stream in the sky'

The Telford aqueduct



June 02, 2019

Livingston bails out Curry, wins game 2 with key assist

Video - (link)


You know, it happens time and again but they never learn

(Wait for it...)

Zatoichi's Cane Sword - 1967 (link)

June 01, 2019

A better hill to die on

Mt. Siple

Anyone who goes on a Himalayan mountain expedition is dicing with death.  The death rate on these expeditions over time has been perhaps 1-2%.  Going by the historical record your worst odds are on Annapurna, where 50 have died against 130 summits.  The odds are much better on Everest.  They've had a bad season this year, but most climbers make it back.  Everest has claimed only 300 lives against 6,000 or so successful ascents.

It got me thinking, though - could you spend your life better?  Is there a mountain worth taking some risk for?  Let's say you have one shot to bag a major peak.  You don't want a suicide mission, but you can tolerate plenty of risk.  Is there anything left out there that's pure?  A genuine achievement where you could go all-in and walk away with the laurels, or die like a Spartan instead of standing in line watching your oxygen run out?

For the discerning high-risk alpinist I propose Mt. Siple, a beautiful mountain that - just look at it - doesn't seem all that hard.  No craggy ridges, nice smooth sides.  Lots of snow, so you'll have to plot the route to minimize avalanche risk.  And you'll have to do a lot of the prep on your own, because unlike Everest where even the dead bodies are landmarks, hardly anyone has ever looked at Mt. Siple, much less gone up it.  There's no official maps, just this rough drawing from USGS:

I think you could set up on Lauff Island, motor in to Cape Dart, and go right up that ridge to the summit.  It's only about 3,000 meters, but it stands alone and is very prominent, so the views from the summit should be awesome.

The only really tricky bit is getting to it:

Still, it's right there - a first ascent opportunity!  Did I mention it's a potentially active volcano?  Well yes, it is.  But all life is risk.  Get out there and live a little!


Mayhem, with nice graphics

Before taking off from Chicago Thursday I decided to see if I could find something new to do on the iPad.  Maybe a nice light game, not too involving, pleasant to look at.  Hence Miyamoto, a rogue-like deck building mythical Japanese tactical combat game.

It looks great, and is only about as habit-forming as Fentanyl.  Each battle takes about five minutes.  Eight battles makes a campaign, although things get much more difficult as you progress.  I've only gotten to level eight a few times, and have never beaten it.  You don't know what's in your deck initially, so you have learn from experience - sometimes you've got a lot of lightning bolts, sometimes a lot of meat shields.  But the game lets you add a new card for each level you beat, so that - if you can survive long enough - you can gradually balance things out.

Actual gameplay is elegant and quick, and the game shows evidence of really heavy playtesting as the elements are in almost perfect balance.  Each encounter plays out as a confused and random tactical melee with constant reinforcement - imagine two small armies blundering into one another - and advantage swings wildly.  There are no "safe" strategies, only degrees of risk.  The general who delays attack is just as doomed at the one that leaves cover too soon.  In terms of the feel of the game, I'd say it's about like the attack on Carentan in Band of Brothers, but prettier.

Available at an App Store near you, and highly recommended.  A good review is here.

The places you'll go, from the estimable Jake Paker

Every once [in] a while I like to do master studies to sharpen my skills. My favorite way to learn from them is to create a brand new piece in their style. It requires looking at a range of pieces, pulling out parts, combining shapes, and doing some design algorithms in your head to pull it off. For this piece I combined Dr. Seuss with French comic artist Moebius. Really happy with how it turned out. 


May 23, 2019

After a quick traverse...

St. James' Square, London, this morning.

Palo Alto this evening

May 19, 2019

Ooh, I had something for this - "The Alaskan Admin"?...no, no..."The Alaskan Salary Cap Maven"?...no...

Banned in Switzerland, I bet

[T]he Konstantin Chaykin Joker is exceptionally well-made for its original price point of €6,990 — a fact its doubled resale value indicates, pricing it comfortably in the mid- to high-$10k range. It’s proportionate, comfortable, legible (I can say that after months of wearing it) and, again, beautifully made. These qualities, all on their own, would make it one of the must-haves for its original price point — but it is its inspired design and unique presentation that turn it, for me at least, into one of the greatest watches produced in the modern era of watchmaking. It really is that good.


The nice man across the street

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Taylor spent the night before playing poker and dancing at the officers' club at Wheeler with fellow pilot George Welch, and did not go to sleep until 6:30 a.m. local time. Taylor and Welch awoke less than an hour and a half later at 7:55 a.m. to the sounds of low-flying planes, machine-gun fire, and explosions. Lt. Taylor quickly put on his tuxedo pants from the night before and called Haleiwa Auxiliary Air Field, where eighteen P-40B fighters were located. Without orders, he told the ground crews to get two P-40s armed and ready for takeoff. The new Buick he drove was strafed by Japanese aircraft as the two pilots sped the 10 miles (16 km) to Haleiwa; Taylor at times reached speeds of 100 mph (160 km/h). At the airstrip, they climbed into their Curtiss P-40B Warhawk fighters...

(He lived across from our house when I was a kid.)

May 18, 2019

Draymond Green in Portland tonight

The Portland Trail Blazers felt the full effect of Green’s breakneck style in Game 3 on Saturday, watching a 13-point halftime lead evaporate into a 110-99 loss that puts the Warriors one win away from their fifth consecutive NBA Finals.

Green finished with 20-points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists -- a gaudy triple-double that still doesn’t quite capture his game-changing impact. The Warriors outscored the Blazers by 16 points with Green on the court, while Portland outscored Golden State by five points in the 10 minutes Green spent on the bench.


In response to a flood of e-mails and tweets requesting information on this, Shaun Livingston was 2-3 on field goals, 2-2 from the line. So six points on three shots, +4 for the game.  So that was good, too.

May 17, 2019

Oh, now it's on

The lost master

Annunciate Madonna

There are several reasons why Antonello is not as well known today as artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, or Caravaggio, though he is undoubtedly their equal. First of all, a frustratingly small sample of his work still exists, for his beautiful city, founded by Greeks in Homer's times (circa 730 BCE), sits on one of the Mediterranean's major fault lines and has paid the price for the precarious location many times over... Second, that paramount maker of early modern artistic reputations, Giorgio Vasari, never traveled to Sicily...[and] as a result Vasari's biography of the Sicilian is almost entirely made up...


May 16, 2019

Hey Dad, what is 'old man strength'?



Participants on the Kentucky Derby


May 12, 2019

I haven't been watching, but this really is compelling

May 11, 2019

Corn. The answer is corn.

  • Vox: "A mysterious gut doctor is begging Americans to throw out 'this vegetable' now. But, like, which?" (link)

You're welcome, America

News outlets once again bury the lede as Shaun Livingston goes 4-6 and leads the team in plus/minus.


One in a lifetime

They got all the Bruegels together...

  • NYRB:  "In Love with Multiplicity" - (link)
  • Exhibition permanent website - (link)

Ender's Game

Golden State entered Game 6, and a possible Game 7, with Curry staring at his moment of truth: Either he was going to live up to the hype that began building in 2015, or he was going to embark on a new chapter of his career with critics wondering whether Harden, and other stars, had surpassed him and whether Durant was about to leave in free agency.

The after-halftime turnaround started slowly, with a missed three-pointer followed by a simple layup to get on the board. His confidence swelling, Curry hit a floater, and a corner three, and a lefty scoop. As a close game went deeper into the fourth quarter, he sensed the Rockets were staggering and kept ratcheting up his attacks. Another floater. A right angle three. A nifty run through an open paint for a banking layup. During a dead ball late in the fourth, he shook his injured left hand and winced in pain, doubling over at the waist.

Clinging to a two-point lead with 90 seconds left, Curry wielded the dagger. Blanketed by PJ Tucker — an experienced, physical and brilliant defender — he went behind-the-back twice in search of a rhythm. Feeling it, he crossed over from right-to-left, and then left-to-right, to generate some breathing room.

A quick stutter, a hop to his right and he was free, launching a three-pointer over Tucker’s right hand from the right angle. The ball swished through, and soon thousands of Rockets fans were headed to the exits, not waiting to see Curry seal the win from the free throw line.