March 31, 2015

Why I don't get back there much

The question came up today, in an unusual setting, for the first time in many years - why don't I go back to Alaska much?  Well, I haven't heard that one for a while.

So wrong-footed was I, that none of my well-worn one-liners came to mind.  It took me several seconds to mentally reconstruct my repertoire, and to select from it from a suitable retreat-under-fire:

"Well, when I have the money and time to go to Alaska, I also have the money and time to go to Paris, so I flip a coin and for some reason it always comes up heads, and off to The Continent I go, ha ha ha."

I have various other excuses.  For many years I said I would not go back unless I could be governor.  I have half a mind to try and enforce that one at some point, but the state's gentle shift from a quirky libertarian brand of frontier conservatism to Monster Raving Loony batshittery now diminishes the probability of success for that project.

For many years I could complain about the dearth of espresso machines on The Last Frontier, but that issue appears to have been largely rectified:

Wait...none at the airport?  Forget it.

And, I hasten to assure you, my reticence has nothing to do with some effete aversion to the hard outdoor living that's so integral to the Alaskan lifestyle.  I've been up mountains on three continents, and usually gotten back down again.  I can load and fire a Winchester Model 88 and any non-automatic pistol you could name (fuck those automatics, I hate them).  In a world where ordinary men cower at the sight of a squirrel, I'll slap a bear off my bacon faster than you can say "heyday of the Anthropocene."  Alaska brings that out in me - when I'm back there I feel rough-and-ready, energized, defiant, devil-may-care, and...well, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The effect of place upon behavior and outlook is an evergreen topic, studied by sociologists, psychologists, and men of letters alike.  And yet it seems there is always something more to learn.  Indeed, meditation on this exact topic persuaded one of the most brilliant men of all time to recant his prior work and reframe his thinking along more flexible lines.

Let me again draw your attention P.G. Wodehouse's homage to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, the (1925) Mulliner story "Honeysuckle Cottage."  Departing from his usual New Comedy plotting, the Master instead tells a ghost story, in which a hardbitten writer of mystery novels inherits a cottage from an aunt famous for her sentimental romances.  There is one condition, however - he must stay there at least six months a year.  He duly moves in, but finds the cottage is haunted, and slowly but inevitably corrupts its occupants with visions of syrupy pastoral romance as surely as the One True Ring turns its bearers to Sauron.  Thanks to the intervention of a nutty but loyal dog, he narrowly escapes its power and returns to London to resume his hard-bitten crime writing career.

"Honeysuckle Cottage" was one of Wodehouse's favorites, and was also appreciated by Ludwig Wittgenstein, who can only have read it after the Tractatus but before the Philosophical Investigations.  I am certain that the story, with its mutually exclusive language worlds of detective fiction and romance stories, was a turning point in Wittgenstein's thought, leading him away from the doctrinaire A=A framework of the Tractatus and toward a more flexible and muscular conception of language as a system of mutually intelligible games, a system in which words have context-dependent uses, not exact meanings.  I believe a diligent review of The Blue and Brown Books will confirm this to even the most hardened skeptic.

Like any great thief, Wodehouse returned to the scene of the crime a few years later, using a similar plot device in another (1928) Mulliner story "The Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court".  Perhaps Wodehouse noticed that the haunted house device had been borrowed by John Buchan in his "Fullcircle: Martin Peckwether's Story" which was part of his successful anthology,  The Runagates Club.  Some view "Unpleasantness" as a pastiche of the Buchan story.  I suppose this is true, in the same way that King Lear is a pastiche of Holinshed's Chronicles.

Our hero, Aubrey Trefusis (née Bassinger) has grown up at Bludleigh Court ("Lesser Bludleigh, near Goresby-on-the-Ouse, Bedfordshire"), but now habitually avoids it, living as a poet in London.  He meets a girl named Charlotte, falls in love, and learns that she has been invited to a party at his ancestral home.  The place, he warns her, causes in its inhabitants an inexplicable tendency toward slaughter, an irresistible urge to kill God's creatures.  He joins her in hopes of sheltering her from this peril.

Upon arrival, Charlotte notes that "from every wall there peered down with an air of mild reproach selected portions of the gnus, moose, elks, zebus, antelopes, giraffes, mountain goats and wapiti which had had the misfortune to meet Colonel Sir Francis Pashley-Drake before lumbago spoiled him for the chase. The cemetery also included a few stuffed sparrows, which showed that little Wilfred was doing his bit."

Soon, she finds she is not quite herself, writing this poem for the Christmas issue of Animal Lovers Gazette:

Good Gnus
 (A Vignette in Verse)

 When cares attack and life seems black,
 How sweet it is to pot a yak,
       Or puncture hares and grizzly bears,
          And others I could mention;
 But in my Animals "Who's Who"
 No name stands higher than the Gnu;
       And each new gnu that comes in view
          Receives my prompt attention.

 When Afric's sun is sinking low,
 And shadows wander to and fro,
       And everywhere there's in the air
          A hush that's deep and solemn;
 Then is the time good men and true
 With View Halloo pursue the gnu;
       (The safest spot to put your shot
          is through the spinal column).

 To take the creature by surprise
 We must adopt some rude disguise,
       Although deceit is never sweet,
          And falsehoods don't attract us;
 So, as with gun in hand you wait,
 Remember to impersonate
       A tuft of grass, a mountain-pass,
          A kopje or a cactus.

 A brief suspense, and then at last
 The waiting's o'er, the vigil past;
       A careful aim. A spurt of flame.
         It's done. You've pulled the trigger,
 And one more gnu, so fair and frail,
 Has handed in its dinner-pail;
       (The females all are rather small,
          The males are somewhat bigger).

Before the story is over she, intoxicated with bloodlust, chases Pashley-Drake (who is clad only in a loincloth for sun-bathing) about the grounds, peppering him with an airgun.

And that is why I don't get back to Alaska much.

March 30, 2015


Drezner you magnificent bastard

Take the “deal or war” perspective.  The prospect of the U.S. having to use air power against Iran does sound pretty bad. Well, it did sound bad, back before the U.S. was using air power in Iraq. And Syria. And providing support for others to use air power in Yemen. And lengthening the stay of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

When you think about it that way, does adding another country to the bombing list really matter all that much?


At the same time, however, the “no deal or nuclear Iran” counterfactual is also ringing a bit hollow nowadays. This two-step argument says that a deal will not stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state, and once Iran acts like a nuclear state, it will act in a bellicose manner. That sounds pretty bad. Well, it did sound bad, back before Iran had bolstered its influence over the Iraqi government. And before it did the same in Syria. And Hamas. And the rebels in Yemen.

When you think about it that way, will Iranian foreign policy change all that much if it does become a nuclear-capable state?


Reich on two new groups

The rise of these two groups — the working poor and non-working rich – is relatively new. Both are challenging the core American assumptions that people are paid what they’re worth, and work is justly rewarded. 


March 28, 2015

Bullshit on this state of affairs

Bucks trying to pinpoint ... CLANG CLANG CLANG



Sorry about that link

Who thought warez.rus/zombie/payload would screw up your browser?  Looked legit.

Here, anyway, is a slightly less-dodgy link to Safire's 2002 renewal of his attacks on Lee.
In preparing today's profoundly respectful column, I acted with the due-est of care by calling the senior minister in Singapore, an island I cannot visit because I like to chew gum and don't want to risk a caning for it. 
Lee sent back word through an ambassador that he saw ''no point'' in talking to me again (as he did a few years ago in Davos, reported in this space with exquisite fairness) because he had had ''nothing to do'' with the Ho appointment. (Besides, not long ago he sent me an autographed copy of his autobiography and I failed to plug it. His pique is understandable.)


Chrome is not bullet-proof

My wife and I have been unable to read Eisengeiste for almost a week because our browsers (Chrome 41.0) crashed every time we tried to load the page. I isolated the cause to this (very fascinating!) post about the late Lee Kuan Yew. I spent about an hour debugging it, first thinking (incorrectly) that the huge TIFF image of all the coffee shops was the cause.

Turns out it was this href in an anchor tag was the culprit:


So be careful cut-n-pasting those URLs, yo!

March 27, 2015

Grizzlies trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong


One of the great ones

Our appreciation of him is here.

March 26, 2015

Hey, hey, DBA, how many bums did you beat today?

John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, apologized Thursday for the incident, saying the ambassador accused of throwing punches has been fired and the other has been suspended, pending an investigation.




Seattle Center, Towards Queen Anne, March 2015

March 25, 2015

The awkwardness of Empire

Schooling The Man

I had always assumed that a big part of Chairman Lee's success was spelled "C-I-A" and it turns out that this is true, but in an interesting way, at least according to this Person on the Internet:
Apparently, a CIA agent had been caught [in 1961] trying to purchase information from Singapore intelligence officials. He then offered Lee $3.3 million for personal and political use if the failed affair was kept under wraps.  
Thinking more about the future of his country, Lee refused, and asked instead for $33 million in formal economic-development aid for Singapore. 
Lee brought this up publicly in 1965, and the U.S. denied all.
Angered by the denials, Lee escorted reporters into his office and whipped out files stamped with "top secret" and produced a letter of apology written by Secretary of State Dean Rusk — dated Apr 15, 1961, during the Kennedy Administration — where he apologized for the espionage attempt [which occurred under Eisenhower] and indicated plans to discipline the offending intelligence agents.  
You do not fuck with Chairman Lee.


March 24, 2015

Moose Milking

Because moose milking is real.

Several Things About Arnie

Arnie is a student in one of my classes.

1. He is a small, youthful looking man for his late 80s or early 90s.
2. He is genuinely kind fellow, who tells me that a lot of my teaching is just what the instructors at Seattle's old Burnley school of Art taught in the 1950s, after he got out of the marines, and how grateful he was to them. I am fairly astonished by this, by how close the language is- almost all my teaching style came out of an unwritten art school tradition.
3. He was a marine, in WWII , and at Chosin in the Korean War. He says: "war is murder and starvation and that's pretty well it."
4. He lost his wife of 63 years this year, and so he is very careful, every day, to find great pleasure in the beauty of life, and in the power of art. 
5. He believes in the power of a kind of secular remote healing, and gave me a nice book on self-actualization, mentioning "this is a gift- you don't really get a book back when you lend it."

Hard not to like Arnie.

Blazers trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong


March 23, 2015

"No." Presumable Quote from Lecture on the Art of Oil Painting.

Wizards trying to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong


Annnnnd....we're off and running

Singapore bans protests at free-speech park after Lee's death



March 22, 2015

Well, that's a start. Other ideas?

Another key aspect of Republican ideology

Safire/Lee, 1999

Q [Safire]: But you're not critical of [the Chinese] for cracking down on this.

A [Lee]: It's China. A completely different set of rules. I don't know. We had a ... he is now paralyzed. He was our Ambassador to Brussels, and he was educated in Singapore, and he went to China. His father sent him to Nanking to study during the war. And he wrote up these experiences in his biography. I mean, it's a history of ... oh, just brutish force. How can you change that overnight?

Q: How can you say it's just China, or Asians are different?

A: I'm not saying that Asians are not human beings. I'm just saying that, if they don't punish people that way, people are not afraid.

Q: Right.

A: I mean, you take the way they shoot their criminals. It's a public demonstration. They bring them in, bent, pushed, humiliated. You kneel down, I shoot you in the back; one bullet. And they make the family pay for that one bullet. And it's a public demonstration.

Q: That's rule by fear.

A: Ah, no. It's to terrorize others into not doing the same thing.

Q: That's rule by fear.

A: No. Because they haven't gotten a police system that can maintain a different kind of regime.

Q: But isn't that wrong?

A: Who are we to decide whether it's right or wrong? That's the way they are, and that's the way we have to deal with them.

Q: Okay.

A: Can we change them?

Q: Why not?

A: [Laughter] You try.


Ambivalent memories

Well, good-bye Mr. Lee.

South China Post has some quotations, which illustrate his maddeningly schizoid outlook.  On the one hand:  we will do whatever it takes to survive.  On the other hand:  freedom, after a fashion.

He built a nation up from nothing.  He was a great servant of Empire, but also of his people, striking bargains of great mutual benefit and making the swampy south end of the Malay Peninsula the most important financial center in the region (Hong Kong, Singapore's only important rival is 1,600 miles away, and struggling to avoid outright takeover by China).

He was also nobody's fool.  This Tweet from John Kerry seems to go beyond normal memorial rhetoric:

But his accomplishments were not just diplomatic.  He ran Singapore as well as any large city has been run, so long as you set aside considerations of civil liberties.  Singapore has ranked as the world's Most Livable City for 16 years.  This is not bullshit, it's nice - hell, I might retire there.

That's a lotta coffee shops! (Original caption lost during debugging -- sorry. LoM)

It is not pleasant to be poor anywhere, but Singapore is better than most places for three primary reason:
  1. Acceptable public housing - for 82% of the population.  This is a critical part of the social contract.  
  2. Better education for non-rich people.  It's not perfect by any stretch, but a lower- or middle-class Singaporean will be better educated, and have a better chance in life, than their counterpart in the U.S. 
  3. It's safer.  A young friend who worked there said she felt she could get drunk with friends and walk home and never really worry about her safety (not recommended).  The 2013 riot in Little India made headlines, not because of its severity, but because it was the first (admitted) riot in Singapore in forty years.

Yes, it really is amazing what you can accomplish with a little pluck, some elbow grease, and the largest money-laundering operation in the world.  No, sorry, City-States don't build themselves, and it's not like the world is lining up for Singaporean motorcycles.  But finance, that's a different matter.  Let's say you're an Indonesian tycoon, or a Thai bureaucrat with a large sum that you would prefer that your employers knew nothing about.  Where might you put that money?  Surely not with those weasels in Switzerland, not after they caved in and ratted out their clients to save their own sorry asses.  Not Hong Kong, with the PRC snooping on everyone.  But Singapore... Singapore is reliable.  Singapore is indispensable.  The United States is investigating money laundering around the world, but not in Singapore.  Do the words "Pivot to Asia" mean anything to you?

But every mercantile City-State has an awkward economic engine, and I really, seriously, am not here to judge.  Singapore's historical economic drivers, however murky, are no murkier than most other wealthy places.  (On this topic, if you'd like to know how to get insanely rich honestly without big money laundering - well, Germany and Japan did it, although the necessary current account surpluses entail their own issues.)

Lee had the good sense to outlive his greatest critic, the principled libertarian-leaning conservative, William Safire.  Twenty years ago Safire engaged in a high-profile feud with Lee, one which Lee shrewdly accepted and managed for several years.  Safire grudgingly gave the devil his due in this column [very bad link that crashed my browser just rendering it -LoM], the conclusion to which summarizes my own feelings about the man and the place he made.
The determinedly irreplaceable Lee Kuan Yew is the world's most intelligent, and to some most likable despot. In our one hour's talk, he offered insights about China to be reported in a future column, unless my publisher gets sued, bankrupted, jailed and flayed with a cane in the meantime.

It is a bit sad for American conservatism, and for America, that after the votes were counted Lee's ideology won in a landslide.  His success gave great comfort to less compassionate authoritarians around the world, men with no intention of emulating his meritocracy, his housing and job programs, or his strict secularity.

I will confess that I find him more admirable as I get older.  He was not my man, and I would not vote for him.  But he held up his end of the deal.  The country he leaves behind does not collapse without him.  What other dictator meets this standard?

There is a conceptual flaw in "Eye of the Tiger"

How do we reconcile "will to survive" with the decision to participate in boxing matches?

The McCain Doctrine

Mr. McCain feels the President is behaving childishly, allowing personal feelings about Netanyahu to interfere with the natural progression to global war.

I suggest that the President apologize to Mr. Netanyahu, contingent on Mr. McCain providing a list of countries he thinks we should not bomb.

For easy reference: here, from Mother Jones, is a 2013 map of countries Mr. McCain has proposed putting ordnance on.

March 21, 2015

Giant Burmese pythons have rights, after all

McCleery is careful not to say the results indicate pythons are behind all other small animal declines in the park...


The first football name I ever heard was not Butkus, or was...

Rest in Peace.

What more endorsement do you need?

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein thought it the funniest thing he had ever read and it has been suggested - not entirely seriously - that it strongly influenced Wittgenstein's own thought.


March 20, 2015

I thought I'd seen that picture before

Curry (l) and Thompson (r) both 6-for-10 from 3-point range

March 18, 2015

Brad DeLong is wrong... a very interesting way.

I am happy to say what I have gotten wrong since 2005:
  • Believing that central banks would make stabilizing the path of nominal GDP around its previous long-term trend their first and overwhelming priority, and would not rest until they had done so.
  • Believing that all parties in governments would support them, understanding that a strong economy is the easiest road to reelection, that prosperity is a virtue, and that structural adjustment is much easier to accomplish in a high-pressure than in a low-pressure economy.
  • Believing that governments understood both parts of the Bagehot Rule–that you lend freely at a penalty rate, which means that if you are propping up institutions of doubtful solvency you take their equity. (Yet you weren’t listening were you, Mr. Geithner, Mr. Obama?)
  • Believing that governments understood that it was important to get whatever our new framework of housing finance is operational quickly so that the single-family housing credit channel would no longer be blocked. (Yet you weren’t listening were you, Mr. DeMarco, Mr. Watt, Mr. Geithner, Mr. Lew, Mr. Obama?)
  • Believing that we were very unlikely to find ourselves in a situation in which monetary policy would have little expansionary traction.  
Revising my beliefs about how the world works in the wake of those five major ex post analytical mistakes has been an important part of what I have been and am trying to do. But when I look around at the economists who forecast inflation and the benefits of expansionary fiscal austerity, I find myself rather… lonely…


March 16, 2015

We all need to be a little more open-minded


Quartz boffins agape

The Ottoman Empire laughs at your shenanigans

Bellowing pastor warns that gays, Muslims, and liberals will establish a ’secular humanist caliphate’ 


March 15, 2015

The rare Reverse-Snowden Maneuver!

Warriors score 47 points in 2nd quarter, crush Knicks

Curry (l) and Thompson (r) both 6-for-10 from 3-point range

March 14, 2015

Jamie Bollenbach- A Review Coming May 2 to July 3 at Stanford Art Spaces; SF MOMA Artists's Gallery in July

More to report later. I'll be re-showing most of the work from San Francisco and some new work at Stanford University Art Spaces, and following that at SF Moma's Artists' Gallery.  The Stanford Art Spaces show will involve an artists' talk in Palo Alto.

Russia Putins Putin?

From the journal alternately titled, "I have no idea if this source is reliable, but it sort of seems like it might be, maybe, which I would know only if it turns out this way.  Listen, I don't know from Russia..."

So far, after 20 entire minutes of scrolling through things, my favorite theory about Putin: a slow burn-coup. The rumors surfacing: pregnant girlfriend, running drugs in the 90s, renewed speculation about the polonium murder in London, not to mention the recent public murder of another political dissident, have the feel of an old Soviet discreditation campaign.  If there is anything to this, the speculative outcome is Putin becomes a greatly weakened nominal head of state.

In the old days Radio Moscow was there to play more than the usual amount of ominous classical music.

Magnetic silly putty

Let's mention this once and then move on

Ok, it doesn't matter, at all.

Find me one persuadable voter who agrees with HRC on the issues but will vote against her because she has a non-archival-compliant email system, and I’ll kiss your ass in Macy’s window and say it smells like roses. - Paul Begala

All right then, but what about...

Clinton loyalists who helped launch and run the $2-billion global philanthropy chafed at Mr. Braverman's reforms to tighten governance and budgeting and more rigorously vet donors, highlighting internal tensions as Chelsea Clinton's influence at the foundation grows.

And away we go.

[I]f there's one thing I do not remotely miss - and which I am not remotely looking forward to - it is the drama. The endless DRAMA. - Josh Marshall

To sum up the feelings [at the White House], all the way up to the highest levels: What. The. Hell.  - Guy writing for Politico

March 10, 2015


My Twitter thinks I'm a Jewish stoner

March 07, 2015


Outside, in the peon section, is the usual airport cacophony. Because we have allowed our attention to be monetized, if you want yours back you’re going to have to pay for it.

As the attentional commons is appropriated, one solution, for those who have the means, is to leave it behind for private clubs like the business-class lounge. Considering that it is those in the business lounge who make the decisions that determine the character of the peon section, we may start to see these things in a political light.


March 06, 2015

QHTP #14 - Belmont, CA

March 05, 2015


Lesser Known Artists


March 04, 2015

Actual Luftwaffe nicknames for the F-4 Phantom

  • Eisenschwein ("Iron Pig")
  • Fliegender Ziegelstein ("Flying Brick")
  • Luftverteidigungsdiesel ("Air Defense Diesel")

Source:  Wikipedia

Dang, it's been 15 years already?

Still the King began production when Benson’s son and co-producer Sam Seifert pointed out that over 15 years had passed since Asleep at the Wheel’s last tribute to the music of Bob Wills, enough time for interest to renew and fresh talent to emerge.


March 03, 2015

Immediately check your tendency to not own this book

"Books, Movies, Rhythm, Blues brings together the best of Nick Hornby's non-fiction pieces on film and tv, writers and painters and music..." [shut up and take my money!]

"...and including one exceptional fragment of autobiography."

Hornby read that exceptional fragment at the start of his City Arts and Lectures appearance last week, and it alone is worth the price of admission.


March 01, 2015

With Ebert gone I depend on unreliable, but possibly not wrong, sources