May 24, 2015

Playing the Lebowski card

You can only do it once in your life.  I had been waiting for the right moment.

Let me back up.  I'm okay now, but a few weeks ago I was in rough shape.  Too much going on, too many competing demands, just too much crap degrading my executive function.  Life at work, at home, and in all intermediate spaces, just got - notably unpleasant - not because of any one thing, but just one damn thing after another.  The hour-to-hour experience of it nearly persuaded me that a malevolent alien intelligence was actively working to subvert me (as if malevolent alien intelligences have nothing better to do).

I surveyed the emergency kit, my emotional "In Case of Emergency Break Glass" options.  Alas, the Wodehouse and Cale bins had been stripped bare.  And, I thought, I needed stronger stuff.  Not Shakespeare, Lord knows, it hadn't come to that - I needed a boost, not a hypo of adrenalin jammed into my heart - but half-measures would not do.  The time had come, I decided, to watch The Big Lebowski.

I was not sure what to expect. The film comes with a big reputation, a gigantic cult following, and total domination of the memesphere.  But despite many years of Youtube loitering, I'd only managed to ever see one bit of it, which I liked so much I feared it might be the best part:

I knew it had become popular, which kind of put me off.  And, I had read enough to know that critical opinion is quite mixed.  Siskel disliked it when it came out, comparing it unfavorably to Fargo.  Ebert gave it three stars out of four, but later revised that up to four.  Christopher Orr of The Atlantic recently re-watched every Coen brothers movie, and ranked Lebowski somewhere in the 2nd quartile.  The Coens don't regard it as their best work, but that's just like their opinion, man.

My opinion is:  I laughed my ass off.  I rarely lose my shit watching anything anymore, but there were two straight-up showstoppers for me.  The first is when the Dude is listening to his answering machine.  From the script:

A large, brilliant Persian rug lies beneath the Dude's beat-
up old furniture.
At the table next to the answering machine the Dude is mixing
kalhua, rum and milk. 
Dude, this is Smokey.  Look, I don't
wanna be a hard-on about this, and I
know it wasn't your fault, but I
just thought it was fair to tell you
that Gene and I will be submitting
this to the League and asking them
to set aside the round.  Or maybe
forfeit it to us-- 
--so, like I say, just thought, you
know, fair warning.  Tell Walter. 
A beep.
Mr. Lebowski, this is Brandt at, uh,
well--at Mr. Lebowski's office.
Please call us as soon as is
Mr. Lebowski, this is Fred Dynarski
with the Southern Cal Bowling League.
I just got a, an informal report,
uh, that a uh, a member of your team,
uh, Walter Sobchak, drew a loaded
weapon during league play-- 
We hear the doorbell.

At this point I had to pause the movie to get a paper bag to breathe into.

The second is perhaps a joke only an northern expat in California can truly appreciate.  The Dude confronts Da Fino, the private detective who's been following him.  Da Fino explains that Bunny's family wants her to come home.  They've given him a picture to show to her.  "They think it'll make her homesick."

Whatever you think of The Big Lebowski from a critical or analytical perspective, it would be hard to argue that it is not entertaining.  Like Airplane or Singin' in the Rain, Lebowski is in earnest throughout.  It has the honest striving of vaudeville, it will entertain you or die trying.  David Thomson locates this as the film's primary virtue:  "above all, we like this one because its tattered dignity and straight-faced hilarity served to take the superior smirk off the Coen Brothers’ faces."

Goodman said (at 27:25):  "It's my favorite's one of those things, you're kind of sad, because you know they're not going to come along all that often."  Which is correct.

Bridges' Zen teacher is Bernie Glassman, who wrote the fine Instructions to the Cook.  They, too, find meaning in the film.  I really hadn't bargained on it, but if you're looking for a line to carry you through a bad week, "the Dude abides" is not half bad.

It worked for me, anyway.

May 23, 2015

Shut. Down.

The Warriors were ripe tonight, a very vulnerable team facing its sternest test yet:
  • At Oracle the Rockets had been close at the end in both games, missing the chance for a last-minute victory in the second one by this much.
  • Game 3 was in Houston, away from the wildly supportive Oracle crowd.
  • Kevin McHale seemed to have found a plausible way to challenge the Warriors, emphasizing the Rockets' scary-good paint game to open the floor for their own three point shooters.
  • The Rockets had not lost three in a row all season.  
  • The Warriors' plane was delayed six hours by a mechanical problem, forcing them to cancel practice.
The Warriors, perhaps overconfident, looked like a team ready to make some mistakes, and make them they did:

The Warriors won all four quarters of the game:

For those keeping score at home - and why wouldn't you - the playoff run now looks like this:
  • vs. New Orleans: W W W W 
  • vs. Memphis: W L L W W W 
  • vs. Houston: W W W
They are now 78-17, and their winning percentage in the playoffs is now  higher than in the regular season.  They are one win away from the Final Boss of the NBA playoffs game.  That one will likely be a doozy.

Had lost track of this quote, finally found it

[When Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope]

Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And, see some great looking babes. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And, and ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is, is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around. And, we're not supposed to dance at all anymore.


[Jamie originally posted in '07....]

May 21, 2015


I liked this

May 20, 2015

I lived it: it was hell

[A] ride on Muni, San Francisco's municipal public transportation system, costs only $2.25 but the buses are unreliable, packed to the gills, and employ not a single on-board bus manager to bring you coconut water.


How to close out a basketball game

[This is exactly true because this is how I heard it on the radio.]

Steph Curry was on the line to shoot two at the end of last night's game, W's up two.  Miss 'em both, and the Rockets can come down, shoot a three and win the game.  Miss one, and they shoot a three to tie.

First one:  swish

As Curry lines up the second, the Rockets bench waves towels, shouts, etc. trying to distract him.  With a mild gesture, Curry draws the referees' attention to this unsportsmanlike behavior.  Then he re-addresses himself to the problem at hand.

Second one:  swish


And now they are 76-17...

Get Your Grump On

I met the Grumpiest Old Man in SF on a packed N Muni Train. While trying to de-grump him a bit to keep the peace, he lent me some reflections from a long life:
1. "Tech did nothing but turn everything into a goddamn police state."
2. "Sick of these kids staring into their damn phones. When I was 20 I was running a fishing boat in Kodiak. 105 feet. Lived more in 20 years than they will in 100.
3. "Goddamn (Giants) Stadium named after a goddamn New York Company."
4. "Wait'll these New Yorkers get sick of the rent!"
5. "Higgins, he was the toughest cop in SF. Great guy. Killed a bunch of guys on Iwo Jima in WWII- those guys came back and weren't putting up with any crap.Told me to stop seeing his daughter and I ran away by stealing a motorcycle. Then he got the charges dismissed. Later he started Cops for Christ. "
6. "These idiots don't even know San Francisco used to be a slum!"
7. "We used to drive up to Sacramento in a 66 Cadillac doing 110 with a bottle of Jack on the seat, going to see the girls coming back from dealing in Tahoe. You used to be able to do anything. Cop pulled me over once and told me to take it down a notch."
7. "My grandma was the first woman in California to get a teaching certificate. She told us about camping in Golden gate park after the earthquake.
9. "Had some good times. Michael Douglas, you know? Actor? We were all partying at the first Hookers ball in the 70s. The thing was, there were so many hookers."
10. "I knew all the toughest old cops back then because I was committing the crimes."
I am sure you will agree it is best to listen the wisdom of our elders.

May 18, 2015

How Mr. Marsch Got the Right Pencil to the Dalai Lama

As any schoolchild knows, the Palomino Blackwing 602 is the pinnacle of pencil technology, a beautifully finished and performing instrument for writing and drawing. And this is the story of how Mr. Marsch's rise to meet my challenge of "never mind the watches, try to find the best pencil," has now apparently lead to 602 finding it's way into the balanced and cheerful hands of the Dalai Lama himself.

It was of course Mr. Marsch's diligent, exhaustive and months-long research into quality pencils that lead to the acclaim of the 602 (this story is told elsewhere.) It was not hard for me to become an enthusiast of this spectacular pencil, and I have recommended it to students for sometime, particularly those who are struggling to practice delicacy in their value studies.

As one student said, with all deliberation, "This pencil changed my life."

Over the years I have developed good relations with Seattle art stores, and it was my recommendations on the 602 that convinced Daniel Smith Art Supplies to now carry the full range- this has naturally generated superb sales; a large display is right next to the register, just like Archie comics are at the supermarket checkout line.

But when I walked into the store last Thursday to teach my open figure drawing class, I was astonished to see two very tall, very large men with gray hair and impeccable suits standing at the top of the entryway stairs, just viewable in this photo. I was further amazed to note that the store was packed with Buddhist monks.

Now in Seattle, a clutch of yellow and red clad monks is hardly worth commenting on, you see guys like this in Costco all the time.  But these fellows were buying everything in sight that was small and-as was mentioned to me-of the very highest quality. Sable brushes, moleskine notebooks, linen paper, etc.

And of course, pencils. They asked for the very best, the very finest pencils made. I had trained the staff well: to the monks, the staff recommended The Palomino Blackwing 602. They bought all but the lot.

Oblique inquires were made. The monks lived in Northern India, some from Bhutan, some from Tibet. They were buying everything small of high quality. They rolled up in two huge, late model black Cadillac Escalades. And it became clear, as the monks walked out with art supply treasures, that the guys in suits were high level security, waiting until the precise moment, and following their charges from behind with military precision.  But when do monks need security at an art supply store in Seattle, Washington?

When they are the Tibetan government in Exile.

It became clear where these gifts were going, why the monks would be so insistent on the objects being both modest and of the finest quality, and to whom in fact the lot of Blackwing 602s would be given, a man who has superb advice for not only a moral center, but exactly the best way to draw with the kind of pencil that exhausts all superlatives.

May 17, 2015

Remembering Baghdad Bob

Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf is still alive, to the best of our knowledge, but apparently in ill health.  I find myself thinking a lot of him lately, and not just because, whenever I am attacked in Civilization, I use his line:  "our preliminary assessment is that they will all die."

The Atlantic had a piece a couple of years back about how some of the things he said did come true, one way or another.  

Anyway, now we have our own:
The key Iraqi city of Ramadi fell to ISIS on Sunday after government security forces pulled out of a military base on the west side of the city, the mayor and a high-ranking security official said...  Some U.S. officials have tried recently to downplay the significance of Ramadi, saying they are not focused on the city.  (link)

Where I come from, we call that losing.

Modern problems

Chris Roberts, a security researcher with One World Labs, told the FBI agent during an interview in February that he had hacked the in-flight entertainment system, or IFE, on an airplane and overwrote code on the plane’s Thrust Management Computer while aboard the flight. He was able to issue a climb command and make the plane briefly change course, the document states.


May 16, 2015

What disappointed me about that 62-foot buzzer beater

The reaction of the crowd, the broadcasters, and the Memphis coach:

There should have been a foul called!

Yeah, the refs basically gifted Steph Curry an open shot from the 62 ft away.

One of my biggest problem with modern sports is the over-focus on the officiating -- a sense of entitlement that can literally blind you to the amazing acts of athletics that are supposed to be the reason we watch sports in the first place.

Doing fine

I was down Texas way this week, and glad to hear Reverend Pearson is back in the saddle.
The trailblazing minister, who was mentored by Oral Roberts and became an adviser to presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, lost nearly everything after 2000 when he said he had an epiphany: There is no such thing as eternal damnation. He even told The Dallas Morning News that the devil himself could be saved. 
Pearson was declared a heretic by fellow Pentecostal ministers and membership at his Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa plummeted, as did cash offerings. He lost his homes and other possessions. 
“I was at the top of my game,” Pearson said Sunday during a sermon at the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas. “My logic about God changed. I stopped believing in a God with an anger management problem.” 
Thus his Gospel of Inclusion was developed, and Pearson now preaches about discovering one’s self and making spiritually correct and moral decisions.
And he’s almost as popular as ever.
He was profiled, brilliantly, in This American Life back in 2005.


May 15, 2015

This is against actual NBA players


May 14, 2015

Obscene, or just decadent?

On Monday, New York City’s Fox affiliate ran a segment about the record-breaking sale of Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d'Alger (version O), a modern masterpiece that was auctioned off for $179.35 million (including the commission paid to Christie’s). Like many of Picasso’s paintings, the work featured some female nudity, albeit of the Cubist variety—which the station decided to censor.

Inspired by the station’s expert blurring, we decided to see what other masterpieces of art history would look like if censored by an overzealous local news channel...


To quote a European friend from my business school days:  "In America you cannot show a nipple on television, but you can stick a grenade in someone's mouth and pull out the pin."

Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya...!

The Golden State Warriors looked in crisis just four days ago. After a second straight blowout victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, it's safe to say that the best team of the NBA's regular season is still one of the league's obvious championship contenders. 

... While the Warriors were not perfect offensively, this was the closest approximation of their 67-win campaign that we've seen so far this postseason, with an impressive first half becoming an overwhelming third quarter in which the visitors looked overmatched. 


Farewell to the estimable Johnny Gimble

His name’s Johnny Gimble, and now he’s a symbol for his fabulous fiddling skills, 
He can play ‘Darling Nelly’ like Stéphane Grappelli, and tunes that are old as the hills, 
He can play that ‘Orange Blossom’ so the people would toss ‘em dimes, quarters and some dollar bills, 
He played shows and dances from Texas to Kansas with a fiddler by the name of Bob Wills.
- Garrison Keillor

"Take me back to Tulsa" with George Jones is here.

New York Times obit is here.

May 12, 2015

It's just sad

The most fun version of basketball — of anything, really — is when there’s a villain to fight against. And that’s who I was hoping James Harden would be. I needed him to be Bane, but instead, he’s been more like the Hamburglar.


Jamie Bollenbach: 18 Paintings, with 9 new and never exhibited. at the Paul G. Allen Center at Stanford University, Reception May 21, 4:30 PM
Jamie Bollenbach Main Website
Jamie Bollenbach on Twitter
Jamie Bollenbach's Blog: The Amplitude of Time
Jamie Bollenbach on Facebook

Jamie Bollenbach, Jamie Bollenbach Art, Seattle Art, Bay Area Art, Stanford Art Spaces, San Francisco Art, oil paintings, modern art

May 11, 2015

These Are the Jokes

1. "What do you call a Zen Master from Eastern Europe who's been bugging you all day?" "A BuddhaPest."
2. " What do you need to know before betting on an Internet car service?" "The Uber/under."
3. "What is a key element of homelessness?" "Hobonium."
4. "What do you call a rich, satanic frat boy?" "Douchifer."

May 07, 2015

Every year at commencement time, I think of this

May 04, 2015

Grizzlies may re-think defensive scheme for game #2

May 03, 2015

An inconvenient truth

May 02, 2015

Not sure I like the sound of these here Boncentration Bamps

The very centralized nature of the project is what led Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth to call systemd "hugely invasive." He went on to say "one of the ideas in systemd that we think is really bad is to bring lots of disparate pieces of technology into a single process. So lots of formerly-independent pieces of code, which happen to be under the control of folks driving systemd, have been rolled into that codebase."

Shuttleworth later acknowledged that "it's still possible to build independent packages of the different pieces from that code," which has long been Poettering's response to the monolithic charge. But there's no denying that systemd throws out the Unix philosophy of small things with narrowly defined functionality—that doesn't mean it's bad though.


Hulk-like rage emerging

Emergency workers stuck in the gridlock could not respond to calls. A missing toddler. An elderly woman in cardiac arrest (she later died.)

. . .

Mr. Baroni simply forwarded [the complaints] to Mr. Wildstein, who shared them with Ms. Kelly.  "Is it wrong that I am smiling?” she texted back.  Two more emails to Mr. Baroni; the mayor was calling his office, it was a “life/safety issue.”  He ignored those, too...


April 30, 2015

The angstenjoke: Now for the millenials set.

This is my new favorite twitter feed:

April 26, 2015

This is the best thing that ever happened in Washington

Draymond Green +/- for the Pelican series

Game 1: +23 (1st on team)
Game 2: +24 (1st)
Game 3: +12 (4th)
Game 4: +18 (1st)

April 25, 2015

Still kicking

Mark Arm has such an awesome side job.  You fly him in, he sings "Kick Out the Jams" for you.  This is a useful skill.

I still say the following performance is definitive, but Arm was a big piece of that one, too (stick around for the last minute, which achieves Total Eleven-ness):

Ordering this for some friends in Connecticut


Hard times in Damascus

April 24, 2015

Have I mentioned the shot?

Brian Phillips, Grantland:

On Thursday night, for most of Game 3 against New Orleans, Curry looked flat, almost normal; it was Anthony Davis, the Pelicans’ young power forward, a player so in the mode of the deity-ideal that he might have sprung from the forehead of basketball itself, who dominated, leading New Orleans to a 20-point fourth-quarter lead.  But the Warriors kept inching back. With 11.2 seconds left, Curry pump-faked past a flying Jrue Holiday and drilled a 3 to cut the lead to two. 

With six seconds left and Golden State now trailing by three, Curry missed what he thought was a game-tying shot (in fact his foot was on the line). Marreese Speights got the offensive rebound and kicked the ball out to Curry in the left corner. Four seconds left, tenths vanishing. One of those moments when you can hear your own heartbeat. Two Pelicans, including Davis, converged on him, crashing into him and into each other; a split second before they knocked him to the ground, he got off a shot. 

And you knew. Hindsight can be kind of a bully in sports, and it’s easy to remember certainty when all you really experienced was a kind of limbic panic. But this was Steph Curry in 2015, taking a last-second shot at the end of an astonishing comeback; maybe you didn’t understand what was happening, maybe you couldn’t quite believe it, but while the ball was in the air, you knew. 

The whole piece is really good.


Well no wonder, you can't give him THAT shot.

Oh. My. God.

Turned off the game last night and went to sleep.  The Warriors had fallen into the classic trap - on the road, under playoff pressure against a budding superstar, they'd wilted under a blizzard of bad calls and hostile fans.  Instead of going up 3-0 and cruising home, they were looking at 2-1, and a long slog ahead.  Oh well, sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you.

And sometimes you shoot the bear but it's not quite dead, and while you're posing for pictures it gets up and gives you an intensely negative experience:

Here is the Pelicans' win probability chart for the game:

This is nuts.  That can't happen.

Anyway, Warriors 3-0, my bad.

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