October 30, 2017

Also, for no reason at all

Small observation

On Grace Slick's 78th birthday, just a small observation on the incendiary force that she could bring to a performance.  I was watching her performance at Woodstock, which was first thing in the morning, and they are standing there in front of 400,000 people, and the band are staring at their instruments like "how do I work this?" Slick seems pensive, then you see her just kind of center in, like - "you know what?  I am going to crush this."

Nothing will stand before me

The band follows out of sheer shame and terror, and eventually figures it out, mostly.  The whole thing hits ELEVEN around 3:07.  It's a Woodstock performance, so YMMV, but it's my kind of thing.

When the truth is found / to be lies...! 

Not asking for my money back.  Thanks, Grace.

October 28, 2017

This is more entertaining than when they were good

Here is Eisengeiste's complete coverage of the Draymond / Bradley Beal fight grapple mini-circus:

"It’s two competitors going at it."  - Kevin Durant

October 27, 2017

Nice try, though

The National Park Service is denying a permit to a group wanting to place a 45-foot statue of a naked woman on the Mall near the Washington Monument.

Group members had said they were optimistic about receiving the necessary permits for the unusual, 16,000-pound display and raised upward of $100,000 to transport the statue from San Francisco and assemble it on the Mall, where it would stand for four months.


October 22, 2017

The Swaggy P Experience

Let's check in on Nick Young's progression from Biggest Airhead in Basketball to NBA Champion.  The Warriors' decision to sign this fool can be framed in various ways:  overconfidence, arrogance,  poor risk assessment, death wish, etc.  The man's Box Plus/Minus has been negative every year since he came into the Association in 2007.

But then there's this:  Nick Young can shoot.  The top catch-and-shoot three point shooters in the Association last year were...

Here is a little study from last January (before Curry rediscovered himself) that has Young as one of the top ten shooters in the NBA (Curry Honorable Mention).

So let's open the box of chocolates - what are we getting so far?  Here is a quick rundown on the season to-date:
  • Game #1, first on Warriors in scoring (23), last in Plus/Minus (-10).
  • Game #2, played 11 minutes, three points, again last on team in Plus/Minues (-1).
  • Game #3, played five minutes, non-factor.  Curry and Durant got thrown out, so there's that.
Also he is 9 for 14 on field goal attempts so far this season, and 7 for 11 on threes.  His effective field goal percentage is .893.

Grade so far:

Get used to it, Steve.

Say what you want, the Warriors bring so much joy to the world

After-action report

Well, we have finished a dozen or so Mission: Impossible episodes now.  What a show.  I just wasn't prepared for how good these would be.  At its best Mission: Impossible looked like a million and ran like a Swiss watch.

Here are the ten we liked best, with a few notes:

We decided to pause after Season 3 because after that  the focus shifted away from the Cold War to fighting organized crime in the U.S.  Landau and Bain left the show, and there's general agreement that (with some exceptions, e.g., "The Submarine") the writing went downhill as well.

A few concluding observations:

  • I doubted that Season 1 with Steven Hill playing team leader Dan Briggs could match the "classic" Graves episodes.  But Hill does a great job, his episodes are absolutely up to snuff.  
    • One of our viewers notes that the team members seem more human in Season 1. Later on they became cooler and more professional, apparently on Geller's orders.
    • If you want one more from Season 1, try "Odds on Evil", in which Rollin cheats at cards to prevent an arms deal.
  • It's very hard to distinguish quality among these ten episodes. However, I'm going to try.
    • If I had to pick one episode to represent the first three seasons, I'd choose "The Mind of Stefan Miklos".  It has everything. 
    • I would give "The Execution" a special rating of OMG.
    • Also extra-superb are: "Memory", "The Seal", and "The Cardinal".
  • Special awards:
    • Most attractive person in a towel -  Barbara Bain in "Pilot"
    • Most satisfying Team Lead moment - Briggs punching Rogosh in "Operation Rogosh"
    • Most menacing enemy - The suffocating nun in "The Cardinal"
    • Most memorable guest star performance - Steve Ihnat - a.k.a. Garth of Izar - in "The Mind of Stefan Miklos".  It is just as Mr. Phelps says:  no weaknesses, no flaws.  
      • Honorable Mention:  Albert Paulsen in "Memory", one of the few guests who really carried an episode.  Paulsen even smuggles in a little character development.
      • Honorable Mention:  Darren McGavin's fluent but overconfident tycoon in "The Seal"
      • Honorable Mention:  Ed Asner delivers big time in "The Mind of Stefan Miklos"
    • Best getaway - "The Heir Apparent"
      • Honorable Mention:  "The Seal"
    • Best Rollin Hand disguise - "The Cardinal"
    • Now THAT's acting award -
      • Gold:  Landau in "The Execution"
      • Silver:  Bain in "The Exchange"
      • Bronze:  Landau playing two enemy agents in "The Mind of Stefan Miklos"

And finally, kudos to the estimable Bruce Geller, who created the show. The man knew exactly what he wanted, and he got it.  You can watch it 50 years later, and it's still damn near perfect.  Respect.

October 18, 2017

Mission: Impossible - clips from "The Execution"

The Execution
Season 3, Ep. 5

Oh, man.

This one is unusual for two reasons.  First, unlike most early episodes, this is not in Ruritania - the action is in the U.S.  Second, this is an episode where the visual narrative power is not there just to impress you, but to confront you with a modern day horror, in explicit detail.

"The man you're looking at is Lewis Parma who by extortion, kidnapping and murder is coming close to taking control of the food distribution industry for the entire United States.  Using his control of food prices as leverage, Parma is now moving towards positions of power in other important areas of business, labour and government."

The authorities can't touch Parma, because no one will turn on him - every attempt to prosecute his people has been defeated.  The IM Force will have to find someone who can incriminate Parma, and persuade him to do so.

Step #1 is to make Parma so mad that he makes a mistake.  Jim Phelps, a simple fruit salesman who refuses to join Parma's Co-Op, manages to do this quite easily.  After a little protection racket shakedown, Phelps storms into Parma's office, slaps him around, and empties his wallet:

"You owe me $1800 for damages and destroyed stock.  I'm here to collect it."

After Phelps leaves, Parma's lieutenants arrive to find their boss nonplussed. "I want him dead and I mean now!" he explains.

Step #2 is to not die when the hit man arrives.  Parma waves in his best guy, who assembles a rocket grenade from spare parts (the IM Force, noting the bill of sale from the store, had correctly inferred that this was his plan)...

...then launches it into the home of Jim Phelps and his lovely wife Cinnamon, not knowing he is shooting at a projected image:

Good night, Gracie

After the enormous kaboom he is startled to see a police car pull into the alley cutting off his escape.  Officers Rollin and Barney pursue him, he dives into a doorway where he meets Willy, who chokes him out.  When he comes to, he's in jail.  Not just any jail - the IMF is doing their local production of "Death Row Meets The Big Store".

Just to fuck with him, all the faces are familiar - the guy in the next cell looks like a cop, the guard looks like a cop, the other guard looks like the guy who choked him, the Warden looks like the guy he was supposed to kill, his lawyer - who says no one is buying his amnesia story - looks like the victim's wife.  His lawyer also mentions that the two year appeals process is exhausted, and no clemency will be forthcoming from the governor unless he gives up Parma.

Then they come in to prep Rollin for his gassing.
- Wait a minute, what are you doing?  
- Leave it, Joey.  It's okay. 
- Why? 
- It's necessary, Joey. 
- What What for? 

That's so... That's so they'll know when my heart stops, huh? So they'll know when I'm dead.

Now Landau just takes over the episode.  He starts screaming at the hit man:
Why don't they kill you first? Why don't they kill you first, huh? I killed by accident, but you did it for money. You did it for money. Kill him first, not me!
Lawyer Cinnamon drops by to apologize, and tells the hit man that his last appeal has failed.  When he says he can't remember the trial she says - if that's true - she feels truly sorry for him, but adds that she never knows if she can believe him or not.

Meanwhile, over in the other cell, Warden Phelps has dropped by with an update for Joey:

Joseph Francis Truitt, I hold here an order for you to be put to death in the lethal gas chamber of this state on this date and at this time for the murder of one, Mary Truitt, a human being. 
It is now my duty to carry out that order.

- Let's go.
 - No! No! Help me! Help. Please, no! No! Help me! Help me! Help me! Help me!

At this point our eyes are the size of silver dollars.  Landau is not "acting", he is crushing this.  This is as close to Death Row as I ever want to get, and it's too fucking close.

The hit man can see, reflected on the clock on the wall, as they strap Rollin/Joey down.

When they're done they hose out the execution chamber.

Now it's our hit man's turn.

From his cell he can see the preparations underway.  Preparing the cyanide capsules that will be dissolved in sulphuric acid after the chamber is sealed:

And here is EXACTLY what that looks like, still enjoying the show?

Pouring the acid...

Now Warden Jim is in his cell:

Victor Pietro Duchell, I hold here an order for you to be put to death in the lethal gas chamber of this state on this date and at this time for the murders of Lucien and Ellen Morgan, two human beings.

I also hold here an order of executive clemency signed by the governor, ordering a stay of execution on the condition that you offer proof of your willingness to provide evidence that can be used in the prosecution for numerous capital offences of one Lewis George Parma.

Are you willing to do this at this time? 

- No.  Parma won't let me die. You'll see.

Parma has been frantically trying to find his man, but it's tough to find hit men who have been kidnapped by extrajudicial mischief squads.  Meanwhile, the execution is going well.  They attach the heart thingy to his chest, take him to the chamber, strap him in, attach the heart thingy to the doctor's stethoscope...

...and seal the door

You are right there:

The sulphuric acid trickles into the container in the floor, and they start to lower the cyanide...

And lower the shades please, because - you know - respect the prisoner's dignity.

Since his execution, Rollin Hand has been on the phone to Parma, imitating the hit man's voice, telling him to meet him at a warehouse uptown.  When he breaks in Parma hears the hitman giving him up over the loudspeakers:

All right! All right! I did seven jobs for Parma. 
Twenty-five hundred a job. 
The arrangements were always handled by Al Ross. 
The first was a wholesale Wholesale poultry guy. 
And then there was Frank Dayton. 
He was the president of American Produce Association. 
Parma was in the room when Ross gave me that contract. 
Parma said, "I don't want him to die easy." 

And then there was Morris Lovell, Interstate Produce.
And then a guy named David Carlyle of Northwestern Packers.
And I killed them all for Parma. 
- Shut up, Vic! 
I killed them all for Parma.  A guy in San Francisco. A guy named Phillips in Denver...

Parma decides to settle this with gunplay, but when he turns around it looks like the IMF has the same idea.


Well, that's the end.  Justice triumphs, and everything's ok.


October 16, 2017

Mission: Impossible - clips from "The Mind of Stefan Mikos"

The Mind of Stefan Miklos
Season 3, Ep. 13

Walter Townsend, an enemy agent working in the U.S., has been allowed to obtain false information that, if believed by his home country, will cause its leaders grave embarrassment (and discredit Townsend). But another spy from Townsend's home country also working in the U.S., George Simpson, tells his superiors that the information supplied to Townsend is false. Because Simpson and Townsend are known to be rivals, their home country sends its most brilliant agent, Stefan Miklos, to determine the truth or falsity of the information Townsend supplied. The IMF's job is to "assist" Miklos in reaching the "correct" conclusion -- while letting him believe that he has determined for himself that the information is true. - IMDB

We are having a little trouble with "The Mind of Stefan Miklos".  It has all the hallmarks of a Batman gambit:  Mr. Phelps' plan depends critically on predicting how Miklos - the brilliant enemy agent with Holmesian deductive powers and a photographic memory  - will react to the train of clues the IMF leaves behind.

"Stefan Miklos is cold, calculating, and ruthless.  He has no weaknesses and no flaws."

At the planning stage, Willy and Barney express concern that some of the clues are so subtle that Miklos will miss them.  Turns out there's no need to worry about that.

Wiilly and Barnie pretend to be from the gas company to get into the back of a shop where a statue is used for dead drops.  They cut through from inside the cabinet, remove the dead drop and pull out the critical document...

"Your contact will be Lou Grant George Simpson." 

...replacing it with a slightly modified version.

"Your contact will be Commander John Koenig George Simpson."

Commie Sherlock takes the bait.:

Rollin heads for the intercept point, an innocent-looking art shop, which in those days were, apparently, mostly secret operating posts for hostile intelligence agencies.

He scams the operative into thinking his cover has been blown and gets him out of there.  When Miklos arrives, the operative is just as he appeared in the dead drop, and Rollin remembers to be left-handed, too:

Bit by bit the scam comes together.  The airport locker keys, the tickets to Rio for him and her "proving" Townsend has been disloyal.  A bug in Townsend's shirt collar dart keeps them up to date on Miklos' deductions.  Phelps marvels at how efficiently Miklos figures it all out.

"He's running the maze perfectly."

But Miklos isn't quite getting it all.  If he misses a single clue, he will conclude that the information Townsend has conveyed is false (which, of course, it is).  He has most of the puzzle, but he falters.  Phelps, increasingly frustrated, blurts out that "He's letting his emotion affect his reason.
He's never done that before."

But then the eidetic memory kicks in...

Wait...the matches in her purse had been used from the left side...

The girl was not Townsend's lover, but left-handed Simpson's accomplice, which means that Simpson was trying to falsely discredit Townsend...

Miklos thinks

...which means the information Townsend passed along must be true.  Now he sees through the attempt to make him believe otherwise.

"You could have been set up.  Very cleverly."

- "Somebody did alter your information."
- "It's Simpson. I know it is."
- "No, not Simpson. He's not a brilliant man. It took a brilliant mind to plan this entire operation. Someone else is behind it."
- "Who?"
- "The Americans."

After further investigation...

- "What happened?"
- "I allowed them to think they had fooled me.  His proof authenticated the document concerning the nuclear-arms treaty as being false.  Therefore, it must be true.  Our immediate concern now is to get word back that the document is valid."

(So, not a Batman Gambit after all, more of a Kansas City Shuffle, we decided.)

As Miklos and his right-hand man head for the airport they become reflective.

- "I wish I could meet the man who masterminded their operation."
- "He was brilliant."
- "I feel sorry for him.  He played the game well.  But he lost.  It will destroy him."

Think on that, Mister Phelps.

"The best part," says one of our viewers, "is that everybody went away happy.  [Pause]  Except they were probably executed later."

The estimable Christopher Bennett reviews the episode in detail here.

October 15, 2017

Mission: Impossible - clips from "The Cardinal"

The Cardinal
Season 3, Ep. 6

Good morning, Mr. Phelps. The man you're looking at is General Casimir Zepke, who is plotting to make himself a dictator. Only one man stands between Zepke and absolute power - Stanislaus Cardinal Souchek, whose influence with the people has kept his country free. We have learned that Zepke imprisoned the Cardinal six weeks ago when he entered Zolnar Monastery for his annual retreat. Zepke intends to replace him with an exact double who will politically endorse Zepke, guaranteeing his final seizure of power. Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to save Cardinal Souchek and stop Zepke. As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck, Jim.

I want to dispel this rumor that you are all pawns in my little game

It's a good plan.  They use mosquitoes loaded with an unnamed pathogen to infect Fake Cardinal Souchek on the day of the big speech he's supposed to give in support of Zepke.

Say hello to my little friends

It's then a simple matter to intercept the call to the hospital and report to Zepke that an epidemic of bubonic plague has broken out and that no doctors are available to send out to the monastery where the sick Fake Cardinal Souchek lies (and the Real Cardinal Souchek is imprisoned in an adjacent room).

Soon Doctor Phelps and Nurse Cinnamon roll up to the facility with a flat tire and request use of the phone so they can get to the hospital to help all the non-existent plague-infected children in the city.  They are drafted into service, and ordered to get Fake Cardinal Souchek back on his feet in time for the big speech.  This will be difficult, because Fake Cardinal Souchek is tripping hard, as the distorted lens shots will attest:

"Looks like a bad case of Don't-Fuck-With-the-IMF-itis."

Zepke has replaced all the religious staff at the monastery with his people, which is illustrated with numerous shots of fake friars and nuns sneaking a smoke:

That's no nun, that's Major Felder 

Nice show piece you got there, Major

Meanwhile, after a successful infiltration of Real Cardinal Souchek's cell, the IMF succeeds in creating a second Fake Cardinal Souchek.

Let me introduce myself myself

Rollin Hand as Fake Cardinal Souchek #2 sits in the chair that can be observed through the one-way mirror so it looks like nothing is amiss.  Meanwhile Dr. Phelps and Nurse Cinnamon have set up the oxygen tent over Fake Cardinal Souchek #1's sick bed, which mists up, and Barnie and Willy silently pull a couple of blocks out of the wall so that Fake Cardinal Souchek #1 can be replaced with Real Cardinal Souchek.  All clear?  This is all happening right in front of the mark.

Don't try any funny stuff...

The crisis appears to have passed.  The oxygen tent is removed, Dr. Phelps pronounces the patient ready to perform.  Real Cardinal Souchek, now pretending to be Fake Cardinal Souchek #1 attests that he is feeling much better now.  Now for a quick review of our content before the big press conference:

"I know exactly what to say."

So, out to the balcony, where the press are waiting.  Barney and Willy pose as reporters, but the Real Cardinal Souchek doesn't need a lot of prompting to express his opinion of Casimir Zepke:

"Monstrous liar...traitor...murderer..."

He then steps into a limo and is whisked away.  Meanwhile Major Nun has found Fake Cardinal Souchek#1 tied to a chair and rushes out to advise Zepke that the man he thinks is Fake Cardinal Souchek is really Real Cardinal Souchek:

Man, LA's beautiful, isn't it? 

Too late, Real Cardinal Souchek is rolling, the reporters are filing their reports, and as Major Felder watches the limo disappear, Casimir Zepke (played by the estimable Theodore Bikel) stares into a future that can only hold shame, dishonor, ignominy, disgrace.

And the Emmy for Best Mission: Impossible reaction shot goes to...

Thanks to the Impossible Missions Force, the freedom-loving people of this nameless country have narrowly averted the yoke of dictatorship, and the independence and integrity of their religious leadership has been restored.

October 14, 2017

I believe Mark is a leading practitioner of this art

A moderate Republican fearing a Tea Party primary told me he'd learned that the best communications strategy was simply to listen, "Because they don't want to hear me talk, they just want to watch me listening to them scream."


I have one word for you...


October 13, 2017

From Freiburg to Tilsit

Nice map of Das Deutsche Reich (1871-1918) linked below, about a thousand miles end-to-end.  Could've been a great country, if they'd valued what they had, understood their limitations, not elected insane people...


Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line
If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we, could we

Mem'ries may be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember 
We simply choose to forget

So it's the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember the way we were

The Quonset Huts of Marin County


Somewhere east of Napa, 10/10/17

October 12, 2017

Pencil porn

Behold the e+m Workman Long, which I had never heard of, but now need three.



October 11, 2017

The lost station