August 24, 2016

Time to roll up a character...

 I don’t know what possessed Beamdog to make Siege of Dragonspear an expansion to the original [Baldur's Gate], nor do I know what devil’s pact coerced them into making it thirty-odd hours long. It’s insanity.

But hopefully this isn’t Beamdog’s last bit of Baldur’s Gate content, because they’ve done an incredible job. As someone who first received Baldur’s Gate for Christmas way back in 1998 on six—six!—CD-ROMs, Siege of Dragonspear feels like a long-lost (and polished-up) chapter of the original, like it belonged from the start. That’s quite a feat, given the seventeen year spread in between.

(link)

August 22, 2016

Speaking of THE BEAST

No doubt fuelled by a subconscious suggestion from the Laird, I suggested that the family sit down to a pleasant viewing of Kung Fu Hustle last night.

I've noticed in recent years that some of my old favorites - Airplane, for example - have lost a little of their luster.  The kids, having grown up watching dozens of films and shows that steal its tropes, thought it very funny...but it doesn't have the same impact for them as it did for me.  One day perhaps historians will study it and wonder why people ever thought it was funny in the first place.

So I approached Kung Fu Hustle with considerable trepidation.  I need not have.  What a movie.  It's not as good as you remember:  it's better.  In 2010 Bill Murray called it "the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy."

But even the second time through, I am discovering, I did not get all the jokes.  It turns out that one of the best gags in the film is when the identity of The Beast is revealed:



Now, I am sitting there going "that's a weird looking guy."  But everyone over 40 in Hong Kong is going "HOLY SHIT IT'S LEUNG SIU-LUNG!"  It would have been as big a shock to them as an American audience seeing Henry Fonda's first appearance in Once Upon a Time in the West, if Fonda had been out of the movie business for 15 years.

You see, Bruce Leung was once the Third Dragon, as they called him back in the day, after Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan.  And, until The Beast, he was always the good guy.

Here he is showing his moves in The Legendary Fok (1981):



His filmography, up until he quit the business in 1988:
  • The Invincible Eight (1971)
  • The Yellow Killer (1972)
  • Lady Kung Fu (1972)
  • Kung Fu, the Invincible Fist (1972)
  • Deep Thrust (1972)
  • Rage of Wind (1973)
  • Kung Fu Powerhouse (1973)
  • Blade of Fury (1973)
  • Call Me Dragon (1974)
  • Hong Kong Godfather (1974)
  • Bruce Lee, D-Day at Macao (1975)
  • The Fighting Dragon (1975)
  • Hong Kong Superman (1975)
  • The Return of the Condor Heroes (1976)
  • The Legend of the Condor Heroes (1976)
  • Million Dollar Snatch (1976)
  • Bruce Against Iron Hand (1976)
  • The Dragon Lives Again (1977)
  • The Four Shaolin Challengers (1977)
  • Broken Oath (1977)
  • Magnificent Bodyguards (1978)
  • The Tattoo Connection (1978)
  • The Incredible Kung Fu Master (1979)
  • Enter Three Dragons (1979)
  • Ten Tigers of Shaolin (1979)
  • The Fists, the Kicks and the Evil (1979)
  • Black Belt Karate (1979)
  • My Kung-Fu 12 Kicks (1979)
  • The Fighter Dragon vs. Deadly Tiger (1980)
  • Shaolin Kid (1980)
  • Be the First (1980)
  • The Legendary Fok (1981)
  • Return of the Deadly Blade (1981)
  • Gang Master (1982)
  • Legend of a Fighter (1982)
  • Ruthless Revenge (1982)
  • Showdown at the Equator (1984)
  • The Eight Diagram Cudgel Fighter (1985)
  • Rich and Famous 2 (1987)
  • Vampires Live Again (1987)
  • Ghost Hospital (1988)
There are lots of other old school Kung Fu types in the film, too, like the landlord of Pig Sty Alley, Yuen Wah (one of Bruce Lee's stunt doubles) and tailor Chiu Chi-ling, who appeared in (says Wikipedia) "such well-known Kung Fu style movies as Snake in the Eagle's Shadow [and] Duel of the Seven Tigers..."  (Also: "he currently resides in Alameda.")

The film is riddled with stuff like this.  IMDB:  "The Landlord and Landlady announce to the Beast that their names are "Yang Guo" and "The Little Dragon Maiden" in the original Chinese, which is a joke nod to Louis Cha's famous novel Return of the Condor Heroes, adapted many times for television and film."  (One of those starred Bruce Leung.)

Wonderful stuff.  When The Chosen One appears, he comes dressed as Bruce Lee:


And what about the Buddha's Palm, you ask.  Well...




August 20, 2016

The movie that can never be...would be PERFECT

A race of Atomic Super-Men...!

This new supermicrobe will be so different from the natural tree of life that it will be resistant to all known viruses on Earth and will be capable of producing proteins unlike any found in nature, reports New Scientist.

And this new microbe is just the beginning. Eventually the researchers hope to re-engineer the entire human genome in similar fashion, to create superhumans that are also resistant to all known pathogens.

(link)

August 18, 2016

Ice-T explains stuff

Trump is a little too volatile for me. He asked a couple times, “Why can’t we use nukes?” It’s like, “Is that a question, you dumb f—? Really?” That’s can’t be a solution. Once one of them goes off it’s a wrap for everybody. You can’t even talk like that because if you do, the next step is it actually happening and that’s the end of the world.

(link)


Some Ice-T memes:

August 17, 2016

How to dance


[See also... -laird]

Your newsletter, I would like to subscribe to it

There is currently no definitive proof that having your very own utility pole and an ample amount of electricity makes any meaningful difference on sound quality, but die-hard audiophiles insist that they are critical for a pure audio experience. “Electricity is like blood. If it is tainted, the whole body will get sick,” Takeo Morita recently told the Wall Street Journal. “No matter how expensive the audio equipment is, it will be no good if the blood is bad.” He recently paid around $10,000 to have a concrete utility pole installed in his yard. It comes complete with his own personal transformer, which feeds power more directly from the grid.

(link)


Maya moviehouse

"With the huge assortment of Roman, Greek, Spanish, Italian, Persian, Egyptian and other standard [cinema] styles already in use, the Chicagoans had something of a problem to find a novelty," the Chicago Tribune reported when Graven & Mayger secured the [Detroit Fisher Theater] commission in Sept. of 1927. "… the Maya Indians of the Yucatan peninsula generously provided the inspiration and the new showhouse will have for its motif the bizarre adornments of that ancient race."

(link)



August 16, 2016

From Napoleon's Will

31. Item. To Colonel Marbot, one hundred thousand francs. I recommend him to continue to write in defense of the glory of the French armies, and to confound their calumniators and apostates.

(link)

I have mixed feelings about this

August 13, 2016

Meanwhile, at the Olympics...

Down at the park

With my family out of town I go down to a little park in Los Altos most nights to shoot some hoops and generally shake my limbs around.  A couple of vignettes.
  • I went down there one night and the place was deserted.  I took a shot and it went in.  And another, and another.  I must have made, like ten or twelve in a row from all over the court.  Some people wandered up the path from the park, and: clang clang clang, that was that.  But I'm telling you, when no one is around and no one is guarding me, I am deadly.
  • A few nights later a 9 year-old kid challenged me to one-on-one.  I thought it over - I'd seen him practicing and knew he had a deadly jumper in the 6-12 foot range, and was a legit ballhandler.  I sized up him and said ok.  I admit I played somewhat passively on defense, and made a botch of even that, as he called me on it.  "Come on," he said, "guard me for real."  I slapped the ball out of his hands.  He looked at me coldly and said "don't do that again."
  • This morning a man was out with his young son and a friend shooting on the 9 foot basket.  His son - we'll call him Little Johnny - insisted on taking shots from as far away as possible.  His father tried to con him a little - "you know, you should shoot from as close as you can - that's what the pros do."  And you know damn well Johnny was having none of it, because in his mind there is only:

They should talk about this in Davos

[T]he median credit score for a new mortgage remained quite high at 756. That’s well above the average credit score of 695, and means that the typical American, nearly eight years after the credit crunch and financial crisis, would still struggle to secure a mortgage.

(link)

August 12, 2016

Let's go with "Beast"

I wondered which Marshal the people in the know (by which I mean random posters on Napoleonic forums) think was the best.  After a meticulous search of the Internets, here is who Marshal 'mavens' pick as the most excellent...oh Lord...



This is not as close as it looks because posts about Davout usually begin with "obviously", while posts about Ney tend to be more equivocal (e.g., "Ney was best when serving under Napoleon, but worst when he was out on his own").  Yeah, I'm gonna say Davout's the guy here...the Marshal who lost his first battle after Waterloo, during the last ditch defense of Paris against the Allied forces.

One reason Davout faced such overwhelming odds at Auerstedt was that Bernadotte failed to support him.  Davout proposed a simple solution:  a duel to the death.  (The plan did not come to fruition due to the intervention of The Emperor.  Bernadotte was later sent home in disgrace for retreating without orders at Wagram.  He found redemption and fulfillment late in life by becoming King of Sweden.)

What you hear repeatedly about Davout is that he was basically Spock, completely logical in all his combinations, always seeing deeper than his opponent, always anticipating every possible turn of events.  He was not popular, did not try to be.  According to this Masters Thesis prepared for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in 1994, "he spent less time talking about his reputation, and more time earning it."  Also,
[Montgomery] observed that a battle is really a contest between the wills of the two commanders.  If the will of one commander fails then his opponent is bound to win.
And the will of every general who faced Davout during the reign of Bonaparte...failed.  So, yeah, "Beast" would be fine.

Interesting conception, but it is flawed.  You, and all you care for, will be destroyed.



August 10, 2016

We Are Marshals

Of the four generals discussed so far, three reached the highest point in the Napoleonic military cosmos, Marshal of the Empire (Rapp was around Napoleon from the beginning, but never made the top rank).  Only 26 men were made Marshal during Napoleon's reign, and never more than 20 at time.  A pretty exclusive club, although when complimented on his promotion Masséna scoffed and said "there are fourteen of us."

I know what you're going to ask:  was there a hat?

Oh, yes there was, with a white plume.  AND a baton.  AND Napoleon had top artists design the uniforms, and They. Were. Awesome.


Wikipedia's interesting article on Napoleonic Marshals says that three of them - Lannes (whom we have met), Davout, and Suchet, "were virtually never defeated in pitched battle, despite fighting in dozens of engagements."

All right, I'll bite.  Who were Davout and Suchet?

Louis-Nicolas d'Avout, 1st Duke of Auerstaedt, 1st Prince of Eckmühl (Wikipedia)




  • Napoleon said:  At one point in 1800 Bourrienne was surprised at Napoleon's extensive conversation with Davout. "How could you talk so long with a man whom you have always called a stupid fellow?"−−"Ah! but I did not know him well enough before. He is a better man, I assure you, than he is thought; and you will come over to my opinion."
  • Nickname: THE IRON MARSHAL (has to be all caps)
  • Where he came from:  Our only nobleman!  Davout was born at Annoux (Yonne), the son of Jean-François d'Avout...  He was educated at a military academy in Auxerre, before transferring to the École Militaire in Paris on 29 September 1785.... On the outbreak of the French Revolution, he embraced its principles. He was chef de bataillon in a volunteer corps in the campaign of 1792, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Neerwinden the following spring. He had just been promoted to general of brigade when he was removed from the active list because of his noble birth...  Napoleon, who had great confidence in his abilities finally promoted him to general de division and arranged his marriage to his sister Pauline's sister-in-law Aimée Leclerc, thus making him part of Napoleon's extended family, and gave him a command in the consular guard. 
  • That time when:  At Auerstedt (1806) his 28,000 drove the main Prussian army of 63,000 from the field.  (And that Blücher guy was hardly ever heard from again.)
  • Died:  Paris, 1823.



Louis-Gabriel Suchet, Duc d'Albuféra (Wikipedia)




  • Napoleon said:  On St. Helena Napoleon was asked who the best French general was, and he replied "this is difficult to say [because early on Suchet had been a political opponent], but it seems to me that it is Suchet..."
  • Nickname:  Mr. Suchet, apparently
  • Where he came from:  He was the son of a silk manufacturer at Lyon, where he was born, originally intended to follow his father's business; but having in 1792 served as volunteer in the cavalry of the national guard at Lyon, he manifested military abilities which secured his rapid promotion. As chef de bataillon he was present at the Siege of Toulon in 1793, where he took General O'Hara prisoner.
  • That time when:  He subjugated Spain.
  • Memoirs:  Here
  • Fun Fact:  The chicken dish poularde à la d'Albuféra is named after him.
  • Died:  1826, in a castle, natural causes.


August 09, 2016

Some French generals mentioned in Doyle's Brigadier Gerard stories

André Masséna, 1st Duc de Rivoli, 1st Prince d'Essling (Wikipedia)



Massena was a thin, sour little fellow, and after his hunting accident he had only one eye, but when it looked out from under his cocked hat there was not much upon a field of battle which escaped it. He could stand in front of a battalion, and with a single sweep tell you if a buckle or a gaiter button were out of place. Neither the officers nor the men were very fond of him, for he was, as you know, a miser, and soldiers love that their leaders should be free-handed. At the same time, when it came to work they had a very high respect for him, and they would rather fight under him than under anyone except the Emperor himself, and Lannes [see below], when he was alive.  - Gerard








  • Napoleon said:  "The greatest name of my military Empire."
  • Nickname:  l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire ("the Dear Child of Victory")
  • Where he came from:  Many of Napoleon's generals were trained at the finest French and European military academies, but Masséna was among those who achieved greatness without benefit of formal education...  At the age of thirteen, Masséna became a cabin boy aboard a merchant ship; while aboard he sailed in the Mediterranean Sea and on two extended voyages to French Guiana. In 1775, after four years at sea, he returned to Nice and enlisted in the French Army as a private in the Royal Italian regiment. By the time he left in 1789, he had risen to the rank of warrant officer, the top rank achievable by non-noblemen. 
  • That time when:  He fell from his horse at Wagram, injuring his foot, and commanded instead from a phaeton carriage:

"Tell them to shoot more that way."

  • Fun fact:  Maseena, New York and Maseena, Iowa are named after him.
  • Died:  Died in Paris in 1817, natural causes.



Jean Lannes, 1st Duc de Montebello, 1st Prince de Siewierz (Wikipedia)




  • Napoleon said:  "I found him a pygmy and left him a giant."
  • Where he came from:  He had little education, but his great strength and proficiency in all manly sports caused him in 1792 to be elected sergeant-major of the battalion of volunteers of Gers, which he had joined on the breaking out of war between Spain and the French republic. He served through the campaigns in the Pyrenees in 1793 and 1794, and rose by distinguished conduct to the rank of chef de brigade. However, in 1795, on the reform of the army introduced by the Thermidorians, he was dismissed from his rank...  He re-enlisted as a simple volunteer in the French Armée d'Italie, and in its campaign of 1796, he again fought his way up to high rank, being eventually made a general of brigade by orders of Bonaparte. 
  • That time when:  Outnumbered and outgunned, he held off the Austrians at Marengo - "Lannes, at the head of his four demi-brigades, was two hours in retiring three quarters of a league.  When the enemy approached and became too pressing, he halted and charged with the bayonet."
  • No really:  Aide - "Sir, the enemy is becoming too pressing."  Lannes - "BAYONETS!"
  • Representative victory:  His victory over the Prussians at Saalfeld is still studied  at the French Staff College.
  • Died:  1809 at Aspern-Essling, Bonaparte's first military defeat in over a decade, after which the Emperor wrote to Mme. Lannes:  The Marshal died this morning of wounds received on the field of honour.  My sorrow is as deep as yours.  I lose the most distinguished general in my armies, my comrade in arms during sixteen years, he whom I considered my best friend.


Jean-de-Dieu Soult, 1st Duke of Dalmatia  (Wikipedia)   







If Soult were here with thirty thousand men— but he will not come.  - Gerard















  • Napoleon said:  "Just because you have all been beaten by Wellington, you think he's a good general."
  • Nickname: "King Nicolas" for his intrigues in Portugal
  • Where he came from:  Well-educated, Soult originally intended to become a lawyer, but his father's death when he was still a boy made it necessary for him to seek employment, and in 1785 he enlisted as a private in the French infantry.
  • That time when:  He brilliantly evaded Wellington's pursuing army in the Peninsular campaign.  Twenty years later, at Queen Victoria's coronation, Wellington grabbed his arm and said:  "I have you at last."
  • Died:  At his castle in 1834, natural causes.


Jean Rapp  (Wikipedia)   


  • Nickname:  "Piece of Fine Lace" on account of his many wounds (final count:  22).
  • Where he came from:  Rapp was born the son of the janitor of the town-hall of Colmar. He began theological studies to become a clergyman, but with his build and heated character, he was better suited to the military, which he joined in March 1788. From the rank of a regular of the chasseurs de Cévennes, he worked his way up the ranks through his courage and character to the rank of a division general and adjutant of Napoleon Bonaparte. 
  • That time when:  He captured Prince Repnin-Volkonsky at Austerliz and presented him to Napoleon (now THIS is a painting)
  • Died:  In Baden in 1821, natural causes.

More Brigadier Gerard

'One instant!' cried the Marshal, smiling at my impatience. 'The worst remains behind. Only last week the Dowager Countess of La Ronda, the richest woman in Spain, was taken by these ruffians in the passes as she was journeying from King Joseph's Court to visit her grandson. She is now a prisoner in the Abbey, and is only protected by her——'

'Grandmotherhood,' I suggested.

'Her power of paying a ransom,' said Massena.

"Was that too much? Was that over the top?" "What? No! Just fine."

August 07, 2016

Field Guide to Napoleonic Cavalry

This book of Brigadier Gerard stories by Conan Doyle is awesome, but has forced me to review my cavalry subtypes, as it has been some years since my last Napoleonic wargaming:

Gerard is a Hussar - light cavalry on fast horses meant for scouting and
skirmishing.

Also used in actual battles

Then you have your cuirassiers - these guys wore an armored breastplate (the 'cuirasse'), so were meant for heavier fighting.  Must have had heavier horses, too, to carry the extra weight.



And your Lancers - Great for charging, but not great for fighting other cavalry, because swords work better than lances at close quarters:

Polish lancer vs. Austrian cuirassier

Also Chasseurs (Chasseurs à cheval, or hunters on horses) - these were light cavalry, but could dismount and fight if need be, or could be paired with light foot soldiers...mainly employed in combating irregular forces, at least originally, and the envy of every battlefield on account of their great hats:

"These outfits will terrify the Cossacks."

Carabiniers - mounted...originally armed with firearms, but Napoleon changed this and gave them back their swords, put them in heavy breastplates, and gave them the best helmets ever:

Not optimal for winter use, however

Dragoons - the middleweight cavalry between the heavy cuirassiers and lighter hussars and chasseurs, they could also dismount and fight if need be.  Napoleon supposedly liked to use the dragoons as his main striking force, to break the enemy line at the right moment.  The one on the right is sapper (chosen for size and strength), who had a special ax and would break in doors, gates, really anything that needed breaking at that particular moment.

Given their short life expectancy, Napoleon let them wear beards

These were the mobile elements of the feared Grande Armée - the shock troops - and all types were present at Waterloo for the final act, a 5,000-strong charge on the British center with Marshall Ney at their head, a desperate bid to break them before Blücher arrived...



...and when he did, the jig was up.

The Execution of Marshall Ney
Jean-Léon Gérome (1824–1904)


August 06, 2016

Oh snap

Finding that he had been beaten by such an inferior foe, the Spanish second-in-command asked Cochrane for a certificate assuring him that he had done all he could to defend his ship.  Cochrane obliged, with the equivocal wording that he had 'conducted himself like a true Spaniard'.

(link)

Library of Diana, Fontainebleau


August 05, 2016

You broke it, you buy it

I mentioned to former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett that Trump’s candidacy had me yearning for a new beat. “So, wait a second, you get all of us into this, and now you decide it’s beneath you?” he demanded. “No, you stay ‘til it’s fucking over. The whole thing. You stay here with the rest of us until it’s done.”


(link)

August 04, 2016

The Incomparable Max

Out pretty recently, a collection of Beerbohm's essays, edited by Phillip Lopate, entitled The Prince of Minor Writers.

A few excerpts:

  • On Goethe - “[He] has more than once been described as ‘the perfect man.’... But a man whose career was glorious without intermission, decade after decade, does sorely try our patience...  [H]e was never injudicious, never lazy, always in the best form— and always in love with some lady or another just so much as was good for the development of his soul and his art, but never more than that by a tittle.”
  • More on Goethe - “Men of genius are not quick judges of character. Deep thinking and high imagining blunt that trivial instinct by which you and I size people up. Had you and I been at Goethe’s elbow when, in the October of 1786, he entered Rome and was received by the excited Tischbein, no doubt we should have whispered in his ear, ‘Beware of that man! He will one day fail you.’”
  • On the crowd - “A public crowd, because of a lack of broad impersonal humanity in me, rather insulates than absorbs me. Amidst the guffaws of a thousand strangers I become unnaturally grave.”
  • On the 1880s - “To give an accurate and exhaustive account of that period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine.”
  • On setting things on fire - “Nothing is easier than to be an incendiary. All you want is a box of matches and a sense of beauty.”
  • On being a weekend guest - “For fifteen mortal hours or so... I have been making myself agreeable, saying the right thing, asking the apt question, exhibiting the proper shade of mild or acute surprise, smiling the appropriate smile or laughing just so long and just so loud as the occasion seemed to demand.... It is a dog’s life.”
One quibble:  I am more in Updike camp that says Beerbohm, while not prolific, was one of the finest writers.  He deserves as much attention as we can give him.

(link)

August 03, 2016

Enough with the Nordics

Washington Post today with yet another installment of the media's apparently neverending love affair with enlightened, egalitarian, sensible, sustainable, Scandinavia:



Right.  Because America has so much to learn from a monochrome statelet of six million souls.

Think of that:  Six million.  Six.  Million.  Six million!

You know what six million people is?  Dallas...or Houston.  Washington D.C., or Philadelphia, or Miami, or Atlanta.  Seattle plus Portland, roughly.  Half of L.A.  A third of New York.

And now, following the big conservative election win last year, Denmark has enacted the toughest immigration laws in Europe, allowing them to confiscate money from refugees to pay for their upkeep.

But by all means, let's serve Leverpostej in Carmel, I'm sure it will encourage a more egalitarian mindset amongst our people.

Meet Brigadier Gerard

As the injured man still supported upon the barrel by two comrades, was explaining in Spanish all that had befallen him, I was held by several of the villains in front of the table at which the chief was seated, and had an excellent opportunity of observing him. I have seldom seen any man who was less like my idea of a brigand, and especially of a brigand with such a reputation that in a land of cruelty he had earned so dark a nickname. His face was bluff and broad and bland, with ruddy cheeks and comfortable little tufts of side-whiskers, which gave him the appearance of a well-to-do grocer of the Rue St Antoine. He had not any of those flaring sashes or gleaming weapons which distinguished his followers, but on the contrary he wore a good broadcloth coat like a respectable father of a family, and save for his brown leggings there was nothing to indicate a life among the mountains. His surroundings, too, corresponded with himself, and beside his snuff-box upon the table there stood a great brown book, which looked like a commercial ledger. Many other books were ranged along a plank between two powder-casks, and there was a great litter of papers, some of which had verses scribbled upon them. All this I took in while he, leaning indolently back in his chair, was listening to the report of his lieutenant. Having heard everything, he ordered the cripple to be carried out again, and I was left with my three guards, waiting to hear my fate. He took up his pen, and tapping his forehead with the handle of it, he pursed up his lips and looked out of the corner of his eyes at the roof of the grotto.

'I suppose,' said he at last, speaking very excellent French, 'that you are not able to suggest a rhyme for the word Covilha.'

I answered him that my acquaintance with the Spanish language was so limited that I was unable to oblige him.

'It is a rich language,' said he, 'but less prolific in rhymes than either the German or the English. That is why our best work has been done in blank verse, a form of composition which is capable of reaching great heights. But I fear that such subjects are somewhat outside the range of a hussar.'

I was about to answer that if they were good enough for a guerilla, they could not be too much for the light cavalry, but he was already stooping over his half-finished verse... 

(link)

Ha! I KNEW it!

...there's little proof that flossing works.

(link)

August 01, 2016

Surely this will turn the common people against him


(link)

Your tower is tilting, SIR

The Millennium Tower, a leading symbol of San Francisco’s new high-rise and high-end living, is sinking — setting the stage for what could be one of the most contentious and costly real estate legal battles the city has ever seen...   [S]ince its completion in 2008, the 58-story building has sunk 16 inches, according to an independent consultant hired to monitor the problem. It has also tilted 2 inches to the northwest.

(link)

July 31, 2016

Here are some good books to read

Well, Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle has proven to be an interesting and pleasant surprise.  There is rather less Sherlock Holmes than I had expected, because Doyle wrote rather more non-Sherlock material than I had realized - his bibliography alone runs 700 pages.

Amongst the recommended further readings are:


Dirda has read extensively in Doyle's non-Holmes oeuvre - if oeuvre is the word I want - and offers a few highlights, such as this pre-Wodehousian exchange with a butler in one of the Challenger stories:
"I'm expecting the end of the world today, Austin." 
"Yes, sir.  What time sir?" 
"I can't say Austin.  Before evening." 
The taciturn Austin saluted and withdrew.

Professor Challenger, it seems, would have fit right in on The Big Bang Theory:
"You began a paragraph with the words 'Professor G.E. Challenger, who is among our greatest living scientists -'" 
"Well, sir?"  I asked. 
"Why these invidious qualifications and limitations?  Perhaps you can mention who these other predominant scientific men may be to whom you impute equality, or possibly superiority to myself?" 
"It was badly worded...." 
"My dear young friend, do not imagine that I am exacting, but surrounded as I am by pugnacious and unreasonable colleagues, one is force to take one's own part.  Self-assertion is foreign to my nature, but I have to hold my ground against opposition."

What there is on Holmes is first-rate, including the revelation (for me anyway) that Doyle had acknowledged to Robert Louis Stevenson that the model for Holmes was their mutual acquaintance, the estimable Dr. Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh and author of Manual of the Operations of Surgery.  Doyle served as his clerk for a time.

Dirda's book is short and good, highly recommended.


UPDATE:  Wodehouse comments here:
"When I was starting out as a writer—this would be about the time Caxton invented the printing press—Conan Doyle was my hero. Others might revere Hardy and Meredith. I was a Doyle man, and I still am. Usually we tend to discard the idols of our youth as we grow older, but I have not had this experience with A.C.D. I thought him swell then, and I think him swell now. 
We were great friends in those days, our friendship only interrupted when I went to live in America. He was an enthusiastic cricketer—he could have played for any first-class country—and he used to have cricket weeks at his place in the country, to which I was almost always invited. And after a day’s cricket and a big dinner he and I would discuss literature.
The odd thing was that though he could be expansive about his least known short stories–those in Round the Red Lamp, for instance—I could never get him to talk of Sherlock Holmes, and I think the legend that he disliked Sherlock must be true. It is with the feeling that he would not object that I have sometimes amused myself by throwing custard pies at that great man. 

Combat America: B-17 documentary filmed and narrated by Clark Gable



“Gable was assigned to our squadron but not to a particular crew,” said Cowley. “The group controlled his assignments. They wanted him to have an outer-wing aircraft with a clear view of the skies for his air-to-air photography, He stayed with us right up from 1942 to 1945 and I can tell you, they didn’t put him on the milk runs. He took a lot of pictures of flak bursting beside his aircraft.” Records indicate that Gable flew five combat missions but Cowley and other veterans remember that he flew many more.

“They were very real missions in which he could have been wounded or killed,” said Chrystopher J. Spicer, an Australian scholar who has scrutinized Gable’s career. “His film Combat America makes a valuable contribution to our historical knowledge of the war from the flyer’s perspective these days.”

(link)

July 30, 2016

About time for a platform review

For over a decade, writer Dennis Cooper maintained a literary-leaning blog with a cult following where he posted fiction, art, and more. Last month, Google deleted it without notice.

Just like that, 10 years’ worth of content had apparently vanished without warning; if Cooper’s lost posts do still exist somewhere, they’re completely inaccessible to both the public and to Cooper himself. And ever since they disappeared, Cooper has been trying to figure out why.

(link)

Novelty act makes good

I was just e-mailing with a friend and the topic of Muggsy Bogues came up.  The shortest man to ever play in the NBA at 5-3, he was one of the great novelty acts in the history of the Association.

What did he play, five years?
Try fourteen.

Yeah, and...wait, what?  Fourteen?  This raises issues.

The average NBA career is five years.  A mediocre player might last six or eight if they find the right situation.  Fourteen is way out there on the curve.  Furthermore, there's a definite size bias in NBA survival.  The longest NBA career is 21 seasons, a record shared by Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, and Kevin Garnett.  The implication is obvious:  to have a long career be named Kevin tall.  Here are all the players with 19-21 seasons - the median height is 6-10 vs. NBA average height of about 6-6:

  • 21 seasons
    • Parish (c)
    • Willis (c-pf)
    • Garnett (pf-c)
  • 20 seasons
    • Kareem (c)
    • Kobe (sg)
  • 19 seasons
    • M Malone (c)
    • Edwards (c-pf)
    • Stockton (pg)
    • K Malone (pf)
    • Oakley (pf)
    • O'Neal (c)
    • J Howard (pf-c)
    • Kidd (pg)
    • Duncan (pf-c)
So a tiny guy who sticks around 14 seasons is, statistically, big news.


But not of cosmic significance?
Well, it might be.  In the past generation a school of thought has emerged that longevity is - in and of itself - a marker of excellence in competitive games like stock trading (Nassim Taleb a leading exponent of this view).  In the old days we'd say "so he stuck around for a while, but he wasn't a great player."  But a modern risk theorist might say that fact in itself is a quite important component of our assessment of his quality.  And if you think about it - how do you "stick around" in the NBA?  You beat out 2nd round draft choices for your position every year for 14 years.  Not easy to do.


But he was just a bit player, right?
Actually, he was over 20 minutes a game for most of his career.  Another way to think about it:  about 3,000 men have played in the NBA.  Bogues is in the top decile of minutes played (#249) and games played (#231, just ahead of Hot Rod Williams and World B. Free).  I'm not saying he was an upper echelon guy, but you just can't be in the top decile of minutes played and be a bit player.  He was actually a good player.


You're shitting me.  
I am not shitting you.  Most similar players (pattern of career win shares):


Really...I wasn't paying attention at the time, but I had no idea.  He is right there with a bunch of very good players.


Who was Mike Newlin?
Oh for goodness sake, he was an excellent player - not triple platinum elite, but it says here the best shooting guard in Rockets history (sorry Drexler fans: minimum of 250 games).

Nickname: "Mike"

A 1981 Sport Illustrated article gives you the gist of what Mike Newlin was all about:
Newlin, 32, is, in fact, one of the last of the old-fashioned players. Not nearly as good as, say, John Havlicek, but like him...  Though he's finishing off-his 10th year as a pro, when he's in the game, he's forever diving onto the floor. "People praise my hustle, but it's not even worthy of praise," Newlin says. "It's just basketball. Every possession is worth eight-tenths of a point. It's that simple." 
He pushes, shoves, harasses. He's relentless. And he shoots an exquisitely precise jumper with one of the fastest releases in the NBA. "I love it that at one end of the court you have the finesse of a jumper and then you run 94 feet and you have the brutality of football," Newlin says. "And I love the reality of this game. Guess what? If I don't hit my jumper, I'm gone. Clean."  (link)
But let's try to stay focused here.


Since you're so high on Muggsy Bogues all of a sudden, aren't you going to claim he was one of the all-time greats or something?
No...I believe that when assessing career value in the NBA you should put a pretty heavy weight on playoff performance.  Some might argue that you have to be lucky to be on playoff teams, but I'd argue that playoff teams are always looking for great players - if you're not on them, maybe there's a problem with you.  In any case, Bogues is a virtual no-show there.   His best team was probably the '96 Hornets, who went 54-28 in the regular season, but lost quietly to the Knicks in the playoffs.

The reality is that his size really was a serious liability on defense.  Not a big deal in the regular season, but let's say his team goes deep in the playoffs and faces a top-flight player like Magic Johnson (or Dennis Johnson or Michael Jordan) who is big and physical and can take care of the ball and post up...Muggsy just becomes a non-factor.  But that's a pretty stern test:  you could say the same about a lot of NBA players of the era.

He wasn't a Hall of Famer, but Muggsy was real.  He was a genuinely capable, valuable NBA point guard for many years.  Fun to watch, too:




Well, yes

"Hillary Clinton is the luckiest woman alive...compared to Trump she is an avenging angel driving a truck full of hot waffles. Compared to Hillary, Donald is a gigantic totalitarian flavored, mustard-gas clown balloon, bulging and hissing with death."

(link)

July 26, 2016

Awesome sentence

This is the year to watch how things used to be done, as they are done for one last time. One time too many.

(link)

July 23, 2016

BRILLIANT but unsound

(Maybe our first Daily Fail link, but too good to omit.)

Bankrupt fraudster jailed for disguising his £1.2million luxury mansion as a farm shed and filling it with antiques and cannabis

  • Alan Yeomans, 61, concealed half of the six-bedroomed Shedley Manor in Derbshire with green cladding
  • After declaring himself bankrupt, he told officials he was living in a shed in his mother's garden
  • But when police raided the property following they discovered an Aladdin's cave in the luxury home
  • The fraudster admitted failing to disclose property when bankrupt and was jailed for six-and-a-half years
(link)