June 15, 2015

Dreaming the dream

Jumping on a plane today, so I may not be able to blog for quite some time depending on Google's policies regarding fictional bloggers in the Netherlands, Germany, Malaysia, and France.  Usually they're cranky about it.  Twitter is less...selective, so maybe see you there.

I'd hoped to post this after Game 6, with the Warriors either triumphant or returning home for The Last Showdown.  But this is better, while their fate hangs in the balance.  It is just as Lasker said of chess, "it is too beautiful to spend your life upon...the conflict between ideas and opinions, attack and defence, life and death."

That Game 7, if it happens, will be beyond epic.  LeBron has been somewhat mediocre in this series (a .399 field goal percentage?  seriously?), but in that Game 7 the Warriors would face, on a home court, for all the marbles:
  • The greatest combination of athleticism and basketball talent since Wilt Chamberlain,
  • With the opportunity to win a third NBA championship for himself,
  • And the first for his city,
  • For the team he abandoned and then rejoined,
  • Against the man who won the MVP ahead of him,
  • and is the only threat to his claim to be the greatest basketball player from Akron, Ohio.
It will make High Noon look like My Cousin Vinnie.  

(Tim Roye's all-Akron team:
  • C - Nate Thurmond
  • PF/SF - LeBron James
  • PF/SF - Gus Johnson
  • G - Steph Curry
  • G - Some other person from Akron, Ohio )

Anyway, as I've mentioned, I don't think it matters all that much how the Finals turn out...the Warriors are a great team, a classic team.  The '76-'77 Sixers - the Playground All-Stars - lost in the finals to Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, and their minions, but the Sixers were a monster team and everyone knows it.  And anyone who knows basketball knows these Warriors are even better.

But how good?  Looking up and down that list of top seasons by Elo rating, I kept turning over in my mind how my beloved '85-'86 Celtics would do against this Warriors team.  It would be an intriguing contest.  The Celtics only had that lineup for one year (in 1987 Walton was DNP/Injury, McHale played on a broken foot, and Bird - playing too many minutes - started to break down).  But in that one magic year, they were something.  Like the 90's Bulls at their peak, no one could give them a game.  According to Dr. Elo, and me, that was the best Celtic team ever, which is saying something (interactive tool is here).

In his famous interview with Bill Simmons, Larry Bird agreed, saying this was the best Celtics team he ever played on.  Here are matchups for that team against our Golden State Warriors.  We'll go Celtic-by-Celtic, in descending order of minutes played in the regular season.  We of course assume modern training methods and conditioning, normalized rules, and officiating that is fair to both teams, and not letting Cleveland get away with murder on every damn...but I digress.  Here are the matchups:
  • Larry Bird (Small Forward) - The toughest matchup for the Warriors, or any other team.  At this moment Bird is the prototypical modern player, the first of his kind:  a big man (6' 9") who can post up, pass, rebound, and win the NBA 3-point contest.  His basketball IQ is stratospheric.  He is close to his physical peak here - stronger and faster than you probably remember - and you cannot intimidate him.  In 1986 he is winning his third consecutive MVP award and, really, no one - not even "athletic" players - can guard him.  Later in his career he had trouble with extremely quick defenders, notably the Lakers' Michael Cooper, but like LeBron and Michael, no one can actually shut him down.  The Warriors would have to tag-team Bird with Iguodala and Green, as they do with LeBron, and hope for the best.  
    • Big edge to Celtics
  • Dennis Johnson (Point Guard) - Johnson is the Celtics' cooler on the defensive end, but probably isn't quick enough to cover Curry, so in this series he's on Thompson.  On the offensive end Johnson can shoot, and won a championship for the Sonics doing so (he was Finals MVP), but on this team he prefers to execute astonishing pass plays to Bird.  Not really a 3-point threat.  Thompson is a great shooter, with three point range, and also a capable defender.  But at this stage of his career he has nothing like Johnson's playoff experience and court savvy.  
    • Edge to the Celtics
  • Robert Parish (Center) - Parish and the Warriors' Andrew Bogut have similar, lunch bucket roles.  Both men are the fifth option in their team's offense, though Parish had a serviceable post-up game.  Parish's big problem was receiving the entry pass, and quick defenders could get the Celtics into a loose ball situation if they went to the well too often with him.  Bogut is even less of a shooting threat (he passes up dunks), but he is a deadly passer, and well-suited to the Warriors' ball-movement offense.  Both men are strong and mean and willing to knock down a disrespectful person if necessary.  But Parish will draw fouls and make his free throws, which is an issue with Bogut.  
    • Slight edge to the Celtics
  • Danny Ainge (Shooting Guard) - This is the worst matchup for the Celtics, by far.  Ainge was a decent shooting guard - never at the top of the League, but capable.  He had tremendous fire, but his ambition often exceeded his talent, as his career .469 field goal percentage will attest.  Ainge is facing off against Steph Curry, the greatest shooter of all time (Curry shoots .440 just on 3s).  As a defender Curry would completely shut down Ainge's limited repertoire, and/or cheat away to double the Celtics' bigs.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Kevin McHale (Power Forward) - McHale is, at this moment, one of the two or three best post-up men in the League, and a good defender (early in his career they'd have him guard Erving, and he wasn't terrible, usually).  He has unnaturally long arms for his size, and he's 6' 10".  He draws fouls and makes his free throws.  The Warriors would have either Iguodala or Green on McHale, and they're both good, but he'd score a bunch anyway.  On the other hand, he can't run with either of them, and he's not coming out to challenge their three point shots.
    • Slight edge to the Celtics, but McHale vs. Iguodala at Center is not great for the Celtics when the Warriors go small
  • Jerry Sichting (Bench Guard) - This is ugly for the Celtics.  Sichting is a spot-up jump shooter, and makes 55% of his shots in '85-'86, one or two of which were actually contested (his defender would normally be doubling the Celtics' big men).  But he couldn't create his own shot.  With the Warrriors' switching defense, he'd play no role in this series.  Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa can both score and would easily handle him defensively.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Bill Walton (Bench Center) - Well, there's your problem.  Now, this is not the Bill Walton who won the 1977 NBA Championship with Lucas and an otherwise forgettable supporting cast (Johnny Davis, Bob Gross, Dave Twardzik).  At this stage of his career he's been hurt, he's kicked around the League, and he's not as mobile as he once was.  But he is still:  extremely smart, strong, defensively astute, a fine rebounder, and one of the greatest passing centers in the history of the game.  The Celtics bring him in off the bench to spell Parish, and sometimes even play them together.  Walton plays about 20 minutes a game, and it is amok time.  In the halfcourt Walton and Bird whip it around like the Globetrotters.  The Warriors counter with Festus Ezeli and Ognjen Kuzmic, and that's not going to go well for them.
    • Very large edge to the Celtics
  • Scott Wedman (Bench Forward) - Wedman is a little past his prime here, a former All-Star who can come in and score, but is not much of a force on defense.  The Warriors counter with David Lee, who is a little past his prime here, a former All-Star who can come in and score, but is not much of a force on defense.
    • Draw
  • The rest of the bench - Now the Celtics have a big problem: they are out of players.  Rick Carlisle, David Thirdkill, Greg Kite - these guys are not going to have any impact whatsoever (although I have a soft spot in my heart for Sly Williams).  Meanwhile, the Warriors have two very good players left - Harrison Barnes is young but good for 10 points a game (with legit defense and three point range), and Marreese Speights ("Mo' Buckets") comes in for 15 minutes a game and scores another 10 points for you.
    • Big edge to the Warriors
  • Coaching - The Celtics are coached by Larry Bird.  A man named KC Jones stands on the sidelines and claps.  This works for them.  The Warriors are coached from the sidelines, by a rookie coach, but one who has selected a great staff and has brought them to the threshold of an NBA championship.  Steve Kerr is also one of the few people who has a competitive spirit comparable to Bird's, as evidenced by his (insane) willingness to fight Michael Jordan during a scrimmage in his first year with the Bulls.
    • Small edge to the Warriors
  • The Crowd - Boston Garden against Oracle Arena?  Two of the greatest crowds in the history of the game.  The Bostonians are vocal and loyal to a fault, but incredibly savvy, astute, cerebral.  They heckle Don Nelson (a former Celtic) for his disguised zone defenses.  The Oracle crowd is even louder, less interested in nuance, but capable of becoming a primal emotional force more powerful than any other in the history of the game.
    • Draw
The Verdict:  Wow, this is tough.  If it's one game, I'd give an edge to the Celtics, who could use the Cavaliers' strategy of slowing it way down and throwing up random shots while the front line gets rebounds and putbacks, and Larry Bird's not going to shoot some weak-ass .399 against you, either.

In a longer series, however, the Warriors' running game, greater depth and durability will start to tell.  This was the deepest of the Celtic teams of that era, but even those guys can't put five fresh new faces on the floor like the Warriors can, and they will struggle when the Warriors go small.  Just as the Celtics had trouble against the fast-breaking Laker teams, they would surely struggle against the team that invented the fast break to the three-point line.

Maybe/probably if you adjust for everything, the Celtics are little better (the Rockets or Cavaliers with three or four all-stars instead of just one).  But if you can stand next to Larry Bird and not look completely outclassed, you are pretty damn good.

Maybe that's another reason I enjoy this team so much - they invite comparison with teams that brought me a lot of good memories, even as they create new ones.

June 14, 2015

Rare air


Stepping back, and stepping up

Cue the music

I don't think that means what you think it means

June 13, 2015

Pepys' pick-me-up

He ain't wrong.


Weirdly great

I'm not sure we've blogged enough about the Warriors, so before this thing wraps up, for better or for worse, I'd like to make a couple of points about why I find this team so fascinating.

In my simple mind, the recipe for success in the NBA was straightforward for a couple of decades: you got two legitimate superstars, surrounded them with outstanding role players, then had Phil Jackson coach them (or before that, Pat Riley).  This simple formula would have gotten you 9 of the last 25 championships (six with the Jordan-Pippin Bulls, and three with the Kobe/Shaq Lakers).  But after Kobe/Shaq, the logic started to break down.

It was a different time

Here is a list of NBA champions in the post Kobe/Shaq era, with my (Win Shares-influenced) assessment of how many superstars there were on the roster:
  • 2003 - Spurs:  Duncan (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2004 - Pistons:  None (best players were Billups and Wallace)
  • 2005 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli (Parker talented sidekick)
  • 2006 - Heat:  Dwayne and (a diminished) Shaq
  • 2007 - Spurs:  Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker
  • 2008 - Celtics:  Pierce and Garnett
  • 2009 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2010 - Lakers:  Kobe (Gasol talented sidekick)
  • 2011 - Mavericks:  Dirk (Chandler talented sidekick)
  • 2012 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2013 - Heat:  Dwayne and LeBron
  • 2014 - Spurs:  Duncan  (Leonard talented sidekick)
A couple observations:  it still doesn't hurt to have a couple of superstars - at least five of these teams did.  But between egos and economics, it's become exceptionally difficult to get two MVP-caliber players (a la Magic-Kareem) and keep them together.  The only instance so far this decade was when LeBron took his talents to Miami.  

So a new model is emerging:  an MVP-capable superstar with a talented sidekick and a lot of quality role players.  Superficially, the Warriors fit this new model.  By skill and good fortune they have an MVP-talent in Curry.  You've got your superstar, you've got your talented sidekick (call it Klay Thompson for the Warriors).  But if Curry is your best player, you have problems:
  • All of the teams above had a star big man, but Curry is small, his durability is questionable, and given those two facts you have to be careful how many minutes you play him.  
  • Most of the teams above played great defense - Curry is a capable defender, but not a shutdown guy (although he does have his moments).  
  • Curry is primarily an outside shooter, which may seem like a quibble, but every single team on the list above had a star who could score meaningful points in the paint.  It helps that Curry is probably the best shooter that ever lived, but still.
After you have your star and sidekick, most teams then spread the money around and try to get defense, rebounding, point guard, whatever.  The Warriors actually did this, spending significant money on David Lee, Andre Iguodala, and Andrew Bogut.  These are big people who can play inside, and they are the three highest-paid players on the team.

And...Lee and Iguodala do not start, and Bogut played three minutes in Game 4.  Wait...what?

What seems to have happened is that Draymond Green (24 at the start of the season) and Harrison Barnes (22) got really good faster than anyone expected.  Top five Warriors by Win Shares in the regular season:
  • Curry - 15.7 (adequate - comparable to Jordan '97-'98 or Bird '84-'85)
  • Thompson - 8.8
  • Green - 8.5
  • Barnes - 6.7
  • Bogut - 5.2
Everyone here is 30 (Bogut) or younger.  They listen to their coach and they can all pass and defend.  And then you bring Lee and Iguodala off the bench - both former all-stars and both still able to play at that level.  Holy crap.

I watched that '85-'86 Celtics season in full, and, much as I admired them, the Warriors would give that team all they wanted (it would look a lot like the Rockets series).  As for the Bulls - well, Steve Kerr has commented on that:
What I remember that year is there were about 10 games where Michael just decided, 'We're going to win.'  And every other team on Earth would have lost those 10 games. And Michael Jordan was ... there'll never be another one. Nobody has ever come close, and I don't think anybody ever will. He wanted to break that Lakers record of 69 wins, so he decided we would do it, so we did it. There's only one Michael.

The Warriors settled for 65.  They won't be able to continue to win in exactly this way - of the seven people listed above you could make a case for giving max contracts to five of them, which they can't/won't do.  But right now all of these players are on the roster, reasonably healthy, and awaiting deployment.

They still might not win, of course, because LeBron is the greatest player of his generation, and probably the generation or two before that.  Moreover, Draymond Green, who was the Warriors' best defender and glue guy in the regular season has limited experience in the playoffs and in guarding LeBron.

But the Warriors have one last card up their sleeve, and they played it in Game 4.  If you have an Andre Iguodala trading card you might want to get it out and write this down at the bottom:
Every season he has been in the NBA, whichever team he was playing for, Andre Iguodala has been assigned to guard LeBron James. 

He is good at it.

But not subtle.

In this series, according to this article, "the Golden State Warriors have been at their best when [Iguodala] is on the court – plus-32 — and struggling — minus-10 — when he’s riding the pine."

So, in addition to guns, lasers, and bombs, they also have Kryptonite.

They have a little bit more left to prove, but regardless of how the next three games go, this is one of the most unusual - and one of the best - teams in NBA history.

June 11, 2015

Best of three now

June 09, 2015

Just keeping it interesting

June 07, 2015

I knew she wrote it, I didn't know she sang it - '66 demo

June 05, 2015


Never really got the whole Patsy Cline thing. 'Till now.

Solution: Abolish bankruptcy

June 04, 2015

Cavs trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong

June 01, 2015

I know this much about Game of Thrones


Moore on Fleming on Bond

Moore:  When I first took on the part, I read Fleming’s books. There was little offered in them about the character. However, I remember reading one line that said Bond had just completed a mission - meaning a kill. He didn’t particularly enjoy killing but took pride in doing his job well. That was the key to the role as far as I was concerned.

Fleming:  It was part of his profession to kill people. He had never liked doing it and when he had to kill he did it as well as he knew how and forgot about it. As a secret agent who held the rare double-O prefix – the license to kill in the Secret Service – it was his duty to be as cool about death as a surgeon. If it happened, it happened. Regret was unprofessional — worse, it was a death-watch beetle in the soul.

Moore again:  The positive aspects of Bond? A bigger paycheck. The negative aspects? A coward having to pretend he is brave, and trying not to blink when explosions go off.



The assignment: Explore the notion that Warriors guard Stephen Curry is the greatest shooter in NBA history. 

Initial reaction: This will be easy. Make a claim about someone being the greatest ever—it doesn't really matter what the topic is—and you can warm yourself by the outrage that follows.  Accomplished NBA marksmen in particular, past and present, would bury the idea faster than a wide-open jumper...   Whether driven by ego or insight, surely someone would insist they played with or against someone better than Curry. 



May 31, 2015

Where do you think you're going?

Oh hell, he was also the victim in one of the most disturbing scenes ever:


May 30, 2015

Kind words for Wilmer

He could be a loudmouth bullying the air around him, like Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon (41, John Huston), and he could be a quiet, gutsy squirt, like Henry Jones in The Big Sleep (46, Howard Hawks). It wasn't a big adjustment, going from one to the other; and maybe it wasn't a huge range. But Elisha Cook was guaranteed. Put him in a bad picture, and he made it watchable for ten minutes. Put him in something good and he was a metaphor for glue, or the medium itself. He could make you trust a film.  

David Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2004 ed.

(link to updated edition)

Bitcoin Explained in Mumble

From Clickhole.

Which reminds me, right, the guy who did Silk Road was sentenced to life today.

Say what you want about the tenets of positive psychology...

Seligman, whom I first had the pleasure of encountering at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, and who was once elected President of the American Psychological Association by the largest vote in the organization’s history, remains one of the most influential psychologists in the study of happiness... 


I know there is some controversy around the theory, but I'm with Rabbi Nachtner - "couldn't hurt."

That said, I worry that denying one's true nature is also a risk.  I could tell you I find this clip disgusting and horrible, and I wish it were true, but my little monkey brain is deeply amused by it.  I would like to tell you I wish no man ill, but in truth Mel Brooks' law applies:  "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die."

Maybe this gets at the Christian idea of loving your enemies.  When I first heard it as a child, I reeled at what a weird concept that was.  But if we are kind only to those who have been kind to us, if we are compassionate only toward those to whom we owe a debt of gratitude, then everyone else becomes an object of indifference, or, when a sewer looms, entertainment.  Still, it's a start.

By the way, I'd also propose that the Slap Shot clip is a perfect metaphor for the dilemma of the American capitalist, who wants to do the right thing - in an abstract sense - but finds that doing the wrong thing sometimes works way better.

May 28, 2015

Stephen Hill on 'New Age' music

I pay $5 a month for the Hearts of Space (www.hos.com) streaming service. Noise-cancelling headphones and HOS preserve my sanity at the office.

I have trouble explaining to people what kind of music they play. I like to call it what they call it, "Space Music." People of our generation, when I describe it, will say, "Oh, you mean New Age music?"

This morning, the randomly-selected episode I listened to had this intro:

PGM 834 "Season of Hope"
FIRST BROADCAST : 28-Mar-2008 
INTRO : Way back in 1986, the Recording Academy in its wisdom decided to give an official name and a Grammy award to a popular new sound in instrumental music. Unfortunately, they chose the name "New Age" music. 22 years later it sounds...insane. What were they thinking? What kind of music could possibly live up to an expectation like that?  
 As a marketing category, things got off to a bad start. Musical categories are never 100 percent precise, but this was anarchy. Every kind of instrumental music that wasn't obviously jazz, folk or classical was dumped into the New Age bins. The home studio revolution was in full swing, so just about any artist that released an instrumental album wound up there.  
When cross-cultural saxophonist YUSEF LATEEF won the first New Age Grammy in 1987, he had to call his producer and ask "What is this 'new age' and why are they calling my album that?".  
With no filters and no standards, the genre soon had a reputation for inconsistent quality and boring music. After a few years the trend peaked, and both artists and listeners moved on. Some of the electronic music formerly known as New Age came to be called Ambient; the New Age handle had become a marketing taboo.  
In 25 years of Hearts of Space, we've rarely mentioned the term, while trying to bring you the best examples of electronic space, ambient and contemplative music — all of which were once called New Age. See, that's the thing: you could hate the name and still find excellent music there. Well, if Barack Obama can talk about political taboos like race and hope in his presidential campaign, we can certainly take a moment to reflect on what's good about new age music, while not denying any of its faults.  
The core quality of the new age genre is music that's gentle, peaceful and harmonious. While most music is designed to stimulate, the word "relaxing" is joined to it at the hip. The best of it is "psycho-acoustic" : psychologically and emotionally stimulating, even when it's physically relaxing. Most of us can use a little of that. As we say....slow music for fast times.  
As a form of sonic landscape, new age music aims to create images of heaven on earth — just as gardens did for centuries in the Middle East and Asia. The best new age artists are skilled sound designers and producers, who create very sophisticated sonic environments. On this edition of Hearts of Space, a new age taste of spring.

May 27, 2015

NBA Finals Preview

May 26, 2015

Like a Boss


May 25, 2015

Meade and the Central Position

On Memorial Day, we're to remember our military dead, and it is virtually impossible to do so without remembering the Gettysburg Address.  It is a remarkable speech, not just because it is short and stylistically excellent, but also because it challenges us to think about what we are going to do after the ceremony:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Like every other big Civil War battle, Gettysburg was monstrous slaughter, unlike anything seen in the western world since the Napoleonic Wars.  About 1/3 of the men engaged became casualties.

It fell to Lincoln to try to find some meaning in it.  It was natural for people to imagine that Union soldiers had "died in vain," in part because the people commanding them had often been fools.  The character Buckland in the movie Gettysburg expresses this perfectly:
These damn idiots use us like we were cows or dogs or worse. We ain't gonna win this war. We can't win no-how with these lame-brained bastards from West Point. These damn Gentlemen! These officers! 

I wonder if Buckland and his men could have been brought back into the fold so easily if they'd known that the man in charge of the Army of the Potomac, George Meade, had been on the job for just three days before the battle.

Meade is not remembered much today, but his conduct of the battle appears unimpeachable, in fact, it looks a little Napoleonic.  I know as much as man can know about Napoleon from playing war-games as a teenager, and his two defining characteristics as a strategist were:
  • Rapid movement: Napoleon moved fast, and even Arthur Wellesley, who had studied the him, was caught by surprise during the Waterloo campaign.  Learning of Napoleon's advance at a fancy dress ball, he said "Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours' march on me."  Yeah, welcome to the big leagues, pal.
  • Occupation of a central position:   You can set up almost any Napoleonic battle, and you'll find the French seizing a central point - a crossroads or a town - and using it as a wedge to divide and dis-coordinate the opposing forces.
Here are Napoleon's dispositions at Leipzig on October 16:

Outnumbered 3-1 he ultimate lost this battle - a conflagration about twice the size of Gettysburg, by the way.  But note the virtues of the position.  Napoleon has great interior lines of support, and unless attacks on him are well coordinated, he can simply shuttle reserves from one side to another.

He (and Ney) employed this technique very effectively during the big reunion tour, at Quatre Bras:

By interposing their main force between Wellington and Blucher, the French were able to set up the opportunity - later squandered due to Grouchy's bungling - to defeat the enemy forces in detail.

My in-depth study of the Gettysburg campaign, which consisted of watching this War College video,  and this other one (both superb, btw) persuades me that Meade shared these same virtues.  While J.E.B. Stuart was browsing the shoe stores of Carlisle, PA, Mead was putting the Army of the Potomac between him and his commander-in-chief.  Ewell, stuck somewhere in the middle, marched down from the north, and after some preliminary slaughter, the following position was arrived at on Day 3:

In fairness, getting to this point was as much the work of Hancock as Meade, although it was Meade who picked him ahead of more senior officers, and sent him ahead with discretion to hold the position or pull back.

Once the position above was reached, however, Meade called Lee's bluff.  With numbers about equal, he occupied the central high ground and said, "well, here you are.  You came all this way.  Your job is to attack my army and destroy it.  Good luck with that."  (He could have made it even a little more Napoleonic by deliberately weakening a flank - a.k.a. The Austerlitz Maneuver - but full marks for getting the basics right.)

The Confederates took the bait.  Their uncoordinated attacks were turned away at brutal cost, at Culp's Hill, at Little Roundtop, and, finally and climactically, on Cemetery Ridge (map here).

You see what happens, Larry?  You see what happens when you don't coordinate your attacks!?

And so the Union was saved.  Pretty good work, for a new guy.

Casualties at Gettysburg were supposedly about even (who really knows), but the Confederates lost a greater percentage of their force and were not as able to make good their losses.  After the long walk back to Virginia they never conducted meaningful offensive operations again.

As every schoolchild knows, Meade failed to fully follow up on his great victory, and was subordinated to Grant when Lincoln promoted the latter to General-in-Chief of the Union Army.  His conduct during this transition made Grant think even more highly of him.  From Grant's Personal Memoirs:
I visited General Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, at his headquarters at Brandy Station, north of the Rapidan. I had known General Meade slightly in the Mexican war, but had not met him since until this visit. I was a stranger to most of the Army of the Potomac, I might say to all except the officers of the regular army who had served in the Mexican war. There had been some changes ordered in the organization of that army before my promotion. One was the consolidation of five corps into three, thus throwing some officers of rank out of important commands. Meade evidently thought that I might want to make still one more change not yet ordered. He said to me that I might want an officer who had served with me in the West, mentioning Sherman specially, to take his place. If so, he begged me not to hesitate about making the change. He urged that the work before us was of such vast importance to the whole nation that the feeling or wishes of no one person should stand in the way of selecting the right men for all positions. For himself, he would serve to the best of his ability wherever placed. I assured him that I had no thought of substituting any one for him. As to Sherman, he could not be spared from the West. 
This incident gave me even a more favorable opinion of Meade than did his great victory at Gettysburg the July before. It is men who wait to be selected, and not those who seek, from whom we may always expect the most efficient service.

Especially when they're channeling Napoleon.

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 movie...it'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.

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