September 20, 2018

"Eating Menacingly": The nominees

Liberty Valance


Angel Eyes

September 18, 2018

Sunny Side

Doc explains

The Old Hotness

Neil Armstrong with X-15 number 1

Here is the cockpit of an aircraft that could go 4,520 mph

September 15, 2018

Yes, you'll probably get a pardon

No, you don't get your stuff back.  And thank you for your donation!


Addendum:  No pardon either?

Will this clickbait never end...!?

CNN homepage has an item on "The world's fastest plane."  The SR-71 Blackbird, which first took flight in 1964, when I was two.  This is news!?

Granted that is one sweet plane...


September 13, 2018

Current mood, VMM edition

Authentic, heart-felt music from beloved local performers, Thee Oh Sees:

Keeper of the flame

[Norm MacDonald] is resolutely nonpolitical in an industry bent on producing new versions of “The Daily Show,” an ironist working on the same platform as “Nanette.” At a moment when comedians work for applause as much as laughter, by being vulnerable, honest, outspoken, socially relevant, Macdonald is still pursuing the laugh — and nothing more. This anachronistic approach might be limiting his audience, but it could also explain his enduring appeal, because it lends him a kind of moral authority. He is something like a comedy ascetic, demanding a purity that temporal jokes cannot achieve. He seems vital and transgressive again, but pushing 60, he also seems tragic. One thing that makes him a captivating figure onstage is the tension between his refusal to do material about himself and the sympathy you feel for a craftsman who has not been rewarded in proportion to his talent.


Here's a strategy - stop pretending to believe bullshit

In a recent interview with Tim Boyum of Spectrum News, [North Carolina's Senator] Tillis said, “I think we have to come up with several strategies to recognize reality. That climate changes. Sometimes it changes just because it has over millennia, and other times it changes because of human factors.” Tillis said he was influenced by the U.S. military’s concerns that climate change could lead to global instability and is a threat to national security.


Here's a fact you can practice on -

I think that's "WE must own..." but otherwise I'm in full agreement

"You must own what you've done."

Stephen Miller, an architect of President Trump's immigration plans, is being criticized by his childhood rabbi, Neil Comess-Daniels, for the policy of child separations at the border."


September 12, 2018

Current mood

Yes, that's Ginger Baker. Yes, that's Jack Bruce. Yes, that's (pre Mahavishnu) John McClaughlin.

"Other musical contributors were – and remained – obscure." - Wikipedia

Which is a bit unfair to the sax player, who is raging here.  Words now fail me, but it is from this movie, which I am going to force my family to watch this weekend.


Steady as the rhythm of a clock

There is a brilliant brief ballet entitled "The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude". This is the rock and roll version, 2:02 of succinct musical expression.

From the California shore to New York City
The beat don't never stop
You can hear it on the radio anywhere you go
It's steady as the rhythm of a clock
It cuts through the noise of the city life
It won't seem to go away
It's the devil in disguise I tell you no lies 

My fingers do the walking everyday

Yonder comes a young girl she wants to take a whirl
She thinks it's all a dream
She got rock and roll way down in her soul
She wants to know where's the limousine
Get up honey let your mama sit down
You're too young anyway
The devil in disguise give her the prize
Then you can carry her away
When the road I travel starts to unravel
Every which way it goes
The beat starts to press on my bullet proof vest
And my high turns out to be low
Give me my guitar I'm going to go far
Let me see it let me hold it in my hand
I'm the devil in disguise I tell you no lies
I'm playing in a rock 'n roll band

Here it live in a Dutch studio in 1994 with the estimable Christine Lakeland clowning Cale as they play:

September 10, 2018

Cultural recommendation from the younger people

Hmmm...not bad....

September 07, 2018

Let me show you my new D&D character

Bad Trixie is a Dragon Disciple sorcerer in Baldur's Gate 2.  People criticize this kit because you get fewer spells in exchange for an allegedly nerf-ish breath weapon (currently 6D8 fire damage to everything in the affected zone), some extra magic and fire resistances, and some hit points.  To which I say:  First of all, survivability is a good thing.  Second of all, Bad Trixie can breathe fire so shut up.

I said SHUT UP

But Bad Trixie recently got better - came into her own really, and became my favorite D&D character of all time...when she learned the "Disintegrate" spell.

It goes like this:

Look out for that Umber Hulk!

Never mind

This works best if you have the Robe of Vecna, so you can cast the spell really fast, and also if the Umber Hulk fails to make its saving throw.

When rested Bad Trixie has four of these ready, which I customarily burn in the first two minutes of game play.

By the way, Bad Trixie's alignment is "I don't give a fuck."  Mine too, lately.

September 06, 2018

Bitcoin bodice rippers

“It’s a highly popular genre,” she said. “The trope of the rich person sweeping the poor person off her feet; usually the woman is the poor person. You see it from Cinderella to Pretty Woman.”

Forbes, who is Irish, started Bitcoin Billionaires after completing a four-part series, brilliantly and punnishly titled Endowed, about young members of the British peerage in a contemporary setting. Inheritance took care of where to find their seductive piles of money at such a young age. With Bitcoin Billionaires, she was looking for another source of wealth.

“I wanted it to be realistic, and I wanted the heroes to be attractive,” she explained. How could her heroes be under 40 and fantastically wealthy without having inherited the cash or—an idea she considered but rejected for character reasons—being perhaps a ruthless, workaholic startup founder?

“How would they be that rich, and still be that young and still have their ideals intact?” she said. “That meant reading up on bitcoin.”


September 05, 2018

Bronstein's regrets

I am not going to apologize for bullfighting. It is a survival of the days of the Roman Colosseum. But it does need some explanation. Bullfighting is not a sport. It was never supposed to be. It is a tragedy. A very great tragedy. The tragedy is the death of the bull.  - Hemingway

On that day fifteen years ago when I made my third post to this blog, my mind turned, as it often does, to David Bronstein, the creative man of Soviet chess who in 1951 climbed to the pinnacle, played Stalin's man Botvinnik even, and went home. He was the "loser" of a drawn match for the World Championship.

You have failed succeeded achieved eternal neurosis.

Much has been written about this episode over the years, with Bronstein himself saying different things at different times, before his passing in 2006.  That's not too surprising, says Garry Kasparov..."mid-twentieth century Soviet reality was so complicated that nobody is truly capable of depicting it accurately."

Bronstein has for many years been an idol of mine, for both his creativity and his courage.  But in 2014 a clearer but darker picture of Bronstein began to emerge.  Grandmaster Genna Sosonko, who knew Bronstein well, wrote a book called The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein.  Sosonko portrayed a man who never recovered from the Draw/Loss, and gradually become saddened and embittered about it all:
I don’t understand what is happening. I don’t know what’s right or wrong. I don’t understand anything at all. We’ve all been dragged into this hole. They said that chess is the same as Shakespeare, Velázquez, and Raphael. An art. That’s what they said, right? But what is it in reality? Nobody needs it, nobody. It’s neither good, nor fair – it’s cruel. 

In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, a quasi-autobiography written in 1995 with Tom Furstenberg, Bronstein presented himself as having made his peace with the lost championship.  From then on, he confided, he thought of himself as a chess artist who would generously, in a kindly and fraternal way, crush you in your favorite variation of your favorite opening, to honor you.

You think I'm bullshitting you?  I am not bullshitting you.  Here American grandmaster Yasser Seirawan describes (starting at 2:00) a 65 year-old Bronstein doing exactly that to six-time U.S. Champion Walter Browne.

It sounds as if, later on, Bronstein started to realize that he was kidding himself a little bit.  In reality,  his beautiful triumphs were never creative dances with his opponents.  They were brutal affairs.  Chess fans most admire the sudden shock, the wave of destruction, the flash of lightning that destroys the opponent where he stands in as spectacular a way as possible.  It was never Velázquez - it is Manolete, all the way.

R x c5!

When Bronstein scored his amazing victory over Ljubojevic in 1973, the result was a work of art for the ages, but nothing but pain for Ljubojevic.  And maybe it sucked just as much for Ljubojevic - then #3 in the world, and never that high again - as it had for Bronstein that fateful week in Russia, 22 years before.
I didn’t live my life right, not at all. I got it all wrong, everything. I believed in chess, that somebody needed it. It sounds like I’m reciting my own obituary, doesn’t it?

Well, that's just silly.  You were what you were, every day, the whole way.  You can't just go be someone else, David.  You played chess with wounded men in hospitals in World War II, and with politicians and master spies.  It got you a nice apartment and a lot of fans, and works of chess art that will be remembered for as long as the lights are on.  You even got into a movie:

On the board:  Bronstein-Spassky, 1960 ...Bronstein lost

But even a modern career counselor would say - you couldn't have been something else.  You were a chess genius.  You weren't "talented" like Edward Lasker, who decided to focus more on engineering and invented the breast pump.  You weren't a self-made grandmaster like Korchnoi, who in another place and time might have successfully applied his incandescent rage to appliance sales, talk radio, or hedge funds.  Korchnoi knew this.  Sosonko asked him about Bronstein:
He answered with a tirade: "Was Bronstein an outstanding player? He was a genius, what a genius! A genius is somebody ahead of his time, and Bronstein was far ahead of his time. If Botvinnik said that Bronstein was very strong when the opening was making a transition into the middlegame then that was a very weak statement. In reality, at that point in the game, Bronstein demonstrated many ideas that were complete revelations. That's the sign of a genius."

No, David, for you and a few other natural chess geniuses, there never was a Plan B.

I shoulda got into the stock market.

Sosonko had a few regrets as well.  Late in the book he starts to think he has made a mistake:
[A] powerful thought pierced my mind: 'Why did I write all that stuff about this great chess player who suffered so much at the end of his life? Why? What was the point of all that philosophizing and those attempted explanations Who was all that for?' You see, I knew deep down that I shouldn't have tried to recall anything. I should have left the departed alone in their graves and should have allowed the living to keep their illusions.

But what illusion is there?  There is no illusion.  Chess is the coldest, most deterministic game imaginable.  The rules are clear and rigid, there is no element of chance except that which derives from the imperfections - or inspirations - of the players themselves.  When a game is done the moves are there in writing for all time, open to inspection and computer analysis, from now until the end of our species.

The hand that moved the pieces may be dead, but, as Shakespeare understood, the mind - or at least its pattern and particular rhythm in a given moment - endures.  And David Bronstein had a beautiful mind.

  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice was revised after Bronstein's death and named The Guardian's "Chess Book of the Year" - available here
  • See also Bill Price's "An Encounter with David Bronstein" here
  • Leonard Barden's obituary of Bronstein for The Guardian is here
  • September 02, 2018

    Tick tick tick

    SFGate: Forgotten websites you can't believe are still around 

    Blogger -

    Google made this the first mass-market blogging platform in 1999, giving tech newbies an easy way to post hot takes, write essays, or promote their businesses before Wordpress or social media came along.Blogger’s cookie-cutter technology is hopelessly outdated by modern standards, giving the publisher little control over the look of their site. And platforms like Medium have drastically reduced the barrier to entry for more complex blogs. At last check Blogger ranked No. 389 on Alexa among largest US websites. Abandoned Blogger pages abound, but you can still start one for free.


    August 29, 2018

    Now we are fifteen

    The first post on this blog was made on August 29, 2003, and promoted a book I had serendipitously picked up, Christopher Bing's beautifully illustrated edition of Casey at the Bat.  We still have the book on a shelf in the next room - it has shared five homes with us over the years, and I still pick it up occasionally just to marvel.  Here is an example of the art:

    After the book came out, other artists would get in touch with Bing and ask where he got all that great vintage clip art.  He had to explain that there was no clip art - he'd created every paper scrap, every matchbook cover, every detail, himself.  The people in the pictures were mostly his friends, plus the gas reader because he needed one more face for that page.  The umpire is (of course) his father.

    I might appreciate this even more now than I did back in 2003.  As attention spans shorten it feels as if books like this are getting harder to find.  Why make something so incredibly rich in detail, if people aren't going to appreciate it?  Well, because some people have to create such things, I suppose, regardless of whether the audience gets it or not.  As Wes Anderson once said, rejecting a colleague's suggestion:  "that’s the sort of thing we would do if we were making a film that we wanted people to go and see."

    Bing's book could have been just as popular with about 50% less work, but it wouldn't be perfect, and one gets the sense that if it weren't perfect he wouldn't be able to sleep at night.  Thank goodness it is.

    Here are two brief, fairly recent, videos of Bing talking about the project:

    In summary, this is a very fine book and we feel vindicated that our 2003 recommendation was sound and has stood the test of time.  You should consider getting a copy for yourself, if you don't have one already.


    Song for my father

    August 26, 2018

    The original with the four authors (Tim Brooke-Taylor on the left, Marty Feldman on the right), from "The 1948 Show"


    August 25, 2018

    Ladies and Gentlemen, the Republican Party ca. 2018

    Dana Rohrabacher, the embattled Orange County congressman known for his close ties to the Kremlin, said Friday that Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions should resign after showing disloyalty to President Trump by refusing to shut down the Russia investigation.


    Robin Leach

    A few thoughts on the passing of Robin Leach, the Herald of Galactus for the nascent American Plutocracy.

    Adam Bernstein writes in the Washington Post that "as a veteran gossip writer and son of a London vacuum company manager, he understood better than most the success-obsessed middle class and, in his exclamatory catchphrase, their "champagne wishes and caviar dreams!" He offered voyeuristic access to the decadent playgrounds of the 1 percent, from Hollywood to the Riviera, and he packaged it as a veneration of free-market, up-by-your-bootstraps capitalism."

    When they write the real history of the 80's, I hope and expect that Robin Leach and Denise Austin - cable's twin avatars of Envy and Lust - will get their due. 

    Because fitness

    I do have one story.

    In the late 90s I was in a bar in New York with some Wall Street guys.  Not bankers or portfolio managers, but handlers - the guys who take the investment talent around to see the clients.  Smart but not smart enough to be A list, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-paid, and halfway to schizoid crisis from having to be nice to assholes all the time.  They partied with commitment.

    We had gotten a drink or two in, and I was checking my watch and looking for an escape route - because by that time I knew where this sort of thing led - when Robin Leach entered with an attractive young woman on each arm.

    To my left, someone at our table immediately and loudly engaged a very good Robin Leach impression:  "It's famous reporter ROBIN LEACH out on the town in Manhattan with TWO FABULOUS HOOKERS."

    Leach, who I'm sure had plenty of practice at this, pirouetted like a principal at the New York City Ballet, and went in search of a friendlier venue.

    Here Leach explains to Oprah that, although he has a taste for caviar, in the end a smile in your heart is more important:

    August 24, 2018

    Internet Hero

    When you drop a caucus of Republican Senators

    They See Me Rollin', They Hatin'

    ...and just now the CFO of the Trump org. Scene at the FBI:

    August 23, 2018

    Davies in Peterborough

    Remembering Marchbanks

    A long time ago, in a backwater town in the far north, there lived a genuine literary talent, toiling in obscurity for the local newspaper.  No, not me - I said genuine literary talent.  I refer to Robertson Davies, who from 1942 to 1962 was the editor (and eventually the publisher) of the Examiner newspaper of Peterborough, Ontario.  Peterborough is, as every Canadian schoolchild knows, "the gateway to the Kawarthas"

    Like many men of letters before him, the isolation of the small town may have driven Davies slightly mad, or perhaps nurtured a previously undiscovered inner unhingedness.  He began to write a Saturday column - almost always 200 words or less - in a format that could today be seen as a kind of proto-blog, or, as they used to say the old days, a "diary".  It is not, however, the diary of Robertson Davies, but of an alter ego named Samuel Marchbanks, who strongly resembles Davies, and lives in the same town, but lacks his civility and restraint.  The results are quite wonderful:

    I had meat balls for lunch today.  This is a delicacy of which I am very fond.  But I insist upon the True Meat Ball - prepared in an open pan and tasting of meat - rather than the False Meat Ball - prepared in a pressure cooker and loathsomely studded with raisins.  The pressure cooker is all very well in its way, but there are some dishes with which it cannot cope, and the meat ball is one of them. A meat ball made in a pressure cooker has a mild, acquiescent taste - the sort of taste which I imagine that a particularly forgiving Anglican missionary would have in the mouth of a cannibal.  Your True Meat Ball is made of sterner stuff, and if he tastes of missionary at all he tastes like some stern Jesuit, who died dogmatizing.

    John Kenneth Galbraith's (?) positive review of the omnibus Papers of Samuel Marchbanks is here.  The book itself - all 540 pages of it - can be had on Amazon today for $0.79 (paper binding) - here.

    Davies published material of this era written under his own byline as The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (here), which is also great.

    Jamie called it

    [R]esearchers kept sifting through thousands of bone fragments in the cave, many of them from animals, until they found one that seemed like it could be from some kind of human relative. It turned out to belong to a young female who lived 90,000 years ago, whom they call Denisova 11.

    Now they have sequenced her genome, and as they announced in Nature on Wednesday, they found something quite surprising: She had a Neanderthal for a mother and a Denisovan for a father.


    August 21, 2018

    James Mickens, you magnicent bastard

    Q: Why Do Keynote Speakers Keep Suggesting That Improving Security Is Possible?
    A: Because Keynote Speakers Make Bad Life Decisions and Are Poor Role Models

    Some people enter the technology industry to build newer, more exciting kinds of technology as quickly as possible. My keynote will savage these people and will burn important professional bridges, likely forcing me to join a monastery or another penance-focused organization. In my keynote, I will explain why the proliferation of ubiquitous technology is good in the same sense that ubiquitous Venus weather would be good, i.e., not good at all. Using case studies involving machine learning and other hastily-executed figments of Silicon Valley’s imagination, I will explain why computer security (and larger notions of ethical computing) are difficult to achieve if developers insist on literally not questioning anything that they do since even brief introspection would reduce the frequency of git commits. At some point, my microphone will be cut off, possibly by hotel management, but possibly by myself, because microphones are technology and we need to reclaim the stark purity that emerges from amplifying our voices using rams’ horns and sheets of papyrus rolled into cone shapes. I will explain why papyrus cones are not vulnerable to buffer overflow attacks, and then I will conclude by observing that my new start-up is looking for talented full-stack developers who are comfortable executing computational tasks on an abacus or several nearby sticks.

    UPDATE: I fixed the link -VMM

    August 20, 2018


    "By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events...  We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called 'post-truth era.'"


    August 19, 2018

    The coming of Sam

    When Sam [Darnold] looked off four receivers in the third quarter of a preseason game and found Trenton Cannon at the pylon, a generation found its voice. That voice spoke clearly: I have arrived and I come bearing touchdowns.


    August 18, 2018

    Dr. Murray Banks "How to Live With Yourself until the Psychiatrist Comes"

    I used to listen to this 1965 album of my dad's when I was a kid.

    Certainly dated, especially medically, but humanistic, wise and hilarious, Dr. Murray Banks rapid fires outstanding Borscht Belt jokes to illustrate principles of "mental hygiene." A lot of it describes roughly what we would call mindfulness, resilience, and work-life balance and even some recognizable parts of cognitive behavioral therapy, with the focus less on why and more on action.

    It's a remarkably entertaining and encouraging talk: "If you work with fear and hatred in your heart you will be exhausted in ten minutes."

    August 16, 2018

    I can't even

    As one writer noted when Updike passed - I guess I hoped we had her for another ten years...dangit.

    We cry -

    And then we dance -

    Vox:  "Aretha Franklin’s long reign as the Queen of Soul, explained in 12 performances"  (link)

    August 15, 2018

    Surprised to see an old friend

    I was in a walkway in Minneapolis this week.  They have tvs in some of them now - walking past I saw a game in that new three-on-three basketball league for old guys.  I recognized some of the players: they looked like older, fatter versions of their former selves not quite as quick and vertical as they used to be, generally about 60-70% of what they once were (which is still better than most people ever get).

    As I prepared to turn away, with the dark thought that the first heart attack would end this league, I noticed the grey-bearded point guard bringing the ball up.  The big man - Rashard Lewis I think - posted up.  The other guy went to the high post to set a pick, but the point guard stopped short, crossed over his man, and drilled a 25-footer.  Wha....!?!

    As he turned away the name on his jersey told the story:  Abdul-Rauf.

    Ah man, you kidding me?  Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf?  The former Chris Jackson?  The only person afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome to achieve stardom in the NBA?  The proto Steph Curry?  The guy they ran out of the League...who ended up playing in his 40s?

    Why yes, thank you for noticing.  He is 49 now, and is running amok in this league:

    God I love watching him play.  As discussed in my 2010 post, I saw him in person once and a very good Celtics team really didn't know what to do with him.  Like Curry now, he could drive or spot up; he had handles and could shoot.  You couldn't stay with him, and you couldn't leave him alone.

    (The link to the fine article I quote in that 2010 post is busted, so here's one that works.)

    The comparisons with Curry are fair, but unlike Curry his coaches and teams really didn't know how to use him.  It was, as they say, a different time.  He had a decent career anyway...short but sweet:

    Before we get too carried away, no I don't think he'd be a big star in today's NBA.  Like Curry he's thin and short (6-0), and the switch-mad defenses of the modern NBA mean that the little guy has to be MVP-material at the offensive end to compensate for the damage LeBron or Giannis is going to do to him when he's on defense.

    That don't matter to us though.  Nothing matters now - not the money, not the stats, not the anthem.  I came here to see you.  Cause I know I'll see the Truth.

    I don't believe in role models - but you're mine

    See also Sports Illustrated, 11/15/93: "Quest for Perfection" (link)

    If by socialism you mean...