December 27, 2007

By Request

Dr. X posts this from the office of an uncooperative bureaucrat in Cairo:

"One of our correspondents has requested that we post here excerpts from Monty's memorandum to senior staff upon assuming command of the 8th Army in 1942. I think you will agree that the sentiments are universal, and that making short work of Rommel is a worthy goal for almost all organizations:

I want first of all to introduce myself to you. You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together. Therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team. And together we will gain the confidence of this great Army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

I believe that one of the first duties of a commander is to create what I call 'atmosphere', and in that atmosphere his staff, subordinate commanders, and troops will live and work and fight.

I do not like the general atmosphere I find here. It is an atmosphere of doubt, of looking back to select the next place to withdraw, of loss of confidence in our ability to defeat Rommel, of desperate defense measures by reserves in preparing positions in Cairo and the Delta.

All that must cease. Let us have a new atmosphere.

... Here we will stand and fight; there will be no further withdrawal. I have ordered that all plans and instructions dealing with further withdrawal are to be burned, and at once. We will stand and fight here. If we can't stay here alive, then let us stay here dead.

... Our mandate from the Prime Minister is to destroy the Axis forces in North Africa. I have seen it, written on half a sheet of note paper. And it will be done. If anyone here thinks it can't be done, let him go at once. I don't want any doubters in this party. It can be done, and it will be done, beyond any possibility of doubt.

Now I understand that Rommel is expected to attack at any moment. Excellent. Let him attack.

I would sooner it didn't come for a week, just to give me time to sort things out. If we have two weeks to prepare we will be sitting pretty. Rommel can attack as soon as he likes after that and I hope he does.

Meanwhile, we ourselves will start to plan a great offensive. It will be the beginning of a campaign which will hit Rommel and his Army right out of Africa.

... I have no intention of launching our great attack until weare completely ready. There will be pressure from many quarters to attack soon. I will not attack until we are ready and you can rest assured on that point.

... I understand there has been a great deal of 'belly-aching' out here. By 'belly-aching' I mean inventing poor reasons for not doing what one has been told to do. All this will stop at once.

If anyone objects to doing what he is told then he can get out and at once. I want that made very clear right down through the Eighth Army.

What I have done is to get over to you the atmosphere in which we will now work and fight. You must see that that atmosphere permeates right down through the Eighth Army to the most junior private soldier. All the soldiers must know what is wanted. When they see it coming to pass there will be a surge of confidence throughout the Army. I ask you to give me your confidence and to have faith that what I have said will come to pass

... The great point to remember is that we are going to finish with this chap Rommel once and for all. It will be quite easy. There is no doubt about it.


December 24, 2007

A Bit of Verse to Hold You Over

Dr. X posts this from Chesterton's place:

"As I have not yet sat down for my annual review of A Christmas Garland (newly re-issued in June!), here is a bit of Xmas verse from Hilaire Belloc:

'May all good fellows that here agree
Drink Audit Ale in heaven with me,
And may all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel! Noel! Noel!
May all my enemies go to hell!
Noel! Noel!'


Wishes of the Season

Dr. X posts this from Tula:

"Yes, it is that special time of the year, that moment when we think of that special something that enriches and enlightens us. You can't buy it in a store. It costs nothing, yet is a kind of miracle. It rose from the dead and gave us new hope...I refer, of course, to Panzer General 2.

"As the Wikipedia article notes, in 2000 PCGamer rated 1997's Panzer General 2 as the 44th-best computer game of all time. And, like so many other great titles of the 90s (Pirates!, Colonization, X-Com...), the developer, SSI, had no idea how to follow up on its breakthrough success. In 2001 SSI sold out to Ubisoft, and that was really the end.

"From a commercial standpoint, anyway. Yet, Panzer General 2 lives. Back in 2005 I revisited the game briefly, and found a small underground of enthusiasts who were keeping it alive with fresh maps and scenarios. The original game shipped with just five campaigns, limiting replayability - so people wrote new ones. There was even a shadowy programmer ("007") who was keeping the code alive.

"And surely that was it - people move on to other things, right? Well,, not yet. It is its own world and it is thriving. The first step on the royal road to the NEW Panzer General 2 is here. The post-commercial game is defined by its equipment files. The original game had a good but not perfect equipment file - limited mainly to German, U.S., British, and Russian units - and several madmen have taken it upon themselves to rewrite and update it. In the early days of the resurrection, Waffenkammer was the e-file of choice, but Adlerkorps seems to be the new standard. You want to pit Slovak bicycle troops against Romanian tanks? Adlerkorps can make it happen.

"It used to be that you had to cobble the game together - and getting the .EXE file was very difficult. Now, one download gets it all, along with every Adlerkorps campaign ever created, including the French, the Romanians, the Italians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, and even the Ethopians. It's not quite one-stop'll still have to get the gargantuan map file. And you'll want to update the .EXE, which they patched a couple weeks ago, and the latest update to Adlerkorps (you can do all that here).

"And you can go to war, and think about Christmas.

"I'm only half kidding about that. It's hard for me not to think about The War this time of year. There were so many horrible Christmases: Christmas during The Blitz... Christmas at Leningrad (4,000 starved to death that day in 1941)... Christmas at Stalingrad... Christmas at Bastogne...

"But first, a word from our sponsor! Peace on earth and good will to men...except for you, totalitarian militarist aggressors. Santa's got something special for you:

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"By the way, it's not too late to buy some Interwoven socks - the ones that warm the feet that kick Hitler's ass! Get them online here.

"Anyway, Panzer General 2 has taught me a few things about militarism and the nature of things. As a rule, the most arrogant Germans were dead by the end 1943. There was nothing magic about Blitzkrieg warfare. Once the Russians and Americans figured out that even lightly-armed forces could slow down an advancing column with ambushes and harassment tactics, and that infantry could hold ground if supplemented with anti-tank guns, the Blitzkrieg lost a lot of, Blitziness.

"And there's a rock-paper-scissors element to the game I'd not fully appreciated before. There's no such thing as an invincible unit. Even a Tiger tank battalion is chum in the water when they're low on fuel and ammo, and the A-26s are up.

"Which is why I most admire the paras at Bastogne, who fought that Christmas Eve more or less alone. Just a few men freezing their asses off in holes, hanging tough against an experienced, well-equipped, and desperate enemy.

"In a lot of ways, that battle is the best counterexample to the things people say about American troops. They weren't soft, they weren't oversupplied (some made winter uniforms out of bedsheets), they didn't have tactical air support.

"And they held the place.

"Tactically, they might have actually been helped by the fact that there were a lot of fragmented units around. They picked up some anti-tank guns here, a few tank destroyers there, and a couple of bazooka teams...this let them put together little mobile combined arms teams to counter the probing attacks the Germans were throwing at them.

"I'm not an expert on the battle, but some commentators have criticized the Germans for not throwing everything into an all-out attack on the town. In hindsight that would have been their best chance, of course. Failing to capture Bastogne doomed the offensive because it was one of two key regional road hubs (St. Vith in the north was the other - the Americans held it for four crucial days before retiring - more on the overall strategy of holding these two hubs here). Without these hubs Germans couldn't easily resupply forward units, and the survivors of Kampfgruppe Peiper had to walk home.

"But the German commanders on the ground were preoccupied with force preservation. They knew they weren't getting more tanks any time soon. Besides, in blitz warfare you never want to win a battle the hard way - you want to hit and move, find a weak point, get your units into position to win unfair matchups. As they tried to do that at Bastogne, they kept running into experienced troops with just enough anti-tank equipment to make further progress expensive. The only way the Germans could have taken Bastogne was to totally commit - and since they really didn't know what was inside the pocket, only a madman or genius would have done so.

"And that was the end of the last Blitzkrieg. It died around Christmas, 1944, at the hands of an infantry force that looked like this:

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"We bitch about our country, but it's still here, thanks to those guys, and tonight we're home and warm. A Merry Christmas to all."

December 21, 2007


Dr. X posts this from Melonville and the Tri-City area:

"Finally, someone put some SCTV CCCP1 sketches up on Youtube. 'What Fits Into Russia' at 4:00, followed by 'The Weak Link in the Great Chain of Socialism' (Uzbeks)


Another Short Letter to the Clinton Campaign

Dr. X posts this from

"Do you have any campaign workers who are not rogue employees determined to ruin your reputation by smearing your opponents and getting caught?

"I know you will be shocked to know that your people have registered two web addresses for a website attacking Obama. Now, how do we know they're your people?

"Well, there's this thing called WHOIS...

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"I'll still vote for you, because this country is about one Alito short of outright dictatorship, and you're our only hope. But come on, pick up your game."

December 20, 2007

A Little More Iron Man For You

Dr. X post this from the propulsion lab in his garage:

"International trailer has a few different things."

The Final Outrage

Dr. X posts this from the Jumbotron Control Center:

"Then they came for the hot women dancing topless, and I said nothing..."

December 18, 2007

Two Remarks from Ty Cobb

Dr. X posts this from a hunting lodge, having locked the door and armed himself:

"Ty Cobb probably wasn't the best ball player who ever lived, although he might have been the craziest (a cross between Barry Bonds and Hunter S. Thompson). Playing for Detroit in the American League, he had no direct involvement in the 1908 National League pennant race, but the National Leaguers knew him. In 1907, 1908, and 1909, Cobb's Detroit Tigers would be the AL representative in the World Series. Two quotes from Cobb:

" 'Baseball is a red-blooded sport for red-blooded men. It's no pink tea, and mollycoddles had better stay out. It's a struggle for supremacy, a survival of the fittest.'

" 'That Goddamned Dutchman [Honus Wagner] is the only man in the game I can't scare.'


Peter Jackson back for the Hobbit

When I saw The Return of the King, there was a lady and her daughter in line. Noting they were about to see the last movie in the trilogy, and it was the early Bush administration, she asked : "Well, now what do we have to live for?"

New Line and Jackson work out their issues. There will be two movies. Jackson is on as Executive Producer, the Director is uncertain.

Let's just get some stuff out of the way, Mr. Jackson: Don't abandon the sweeter, smaller feeling of the Hobbit, although including complex themes is excellent; still, it is critical not to kid-friendly it up (this facility for balance is why everyone assumed you were necessary). You got a little visual dramatics-happy with the histrionic animals in King Kong, so tone it down. Keep your non-star casting philosophy. Hire Howard Shore for the music again (remember the theme from King Kong? Neither do I.) Ixnay on unnecessary CGI when models and actors are superior. Don't screw around with 3d. And I gently remind you that one ill-placed pop culture joke can wreck the whole thing.

Finally, I don't have to tell you: whatever Disney would do, don't do that.

Other than that, huzzah!

December 16, 2007

It's all in the name

Here's a brilliant strategy for getting conservatives to back environmental issues. Lets start naming important parts of the environment after conservative heroes. Thus the Reagan "Spotted" Owl, the Jesus rainforest, the George W. Bush Memorial Icecap, hell, lets rename the planet: Texas!

Wackenhut's Still Got It

Dr. X posts this from the donut room:

"Wackenhut fired from nuclear plant security gig."

December 14, 2007

The Third Man

Dr. X posts this from an Amtrak train speeding down the Capitol Corridor:

"In 1908 everyone knew about Honus Wagner and John McGraw. They were winners, big stars, masters of the rollerball-like game they played.

"They were also yesterday's news. Wagner's Pirates won the 1902 and 1903 pennants. McGraw's Giants won in 1904 and 1905. But in 1906 a new sheriff came to town. The Chicago Cubs, a talented but underachieving team, woke up and took the National League to the woodshed. They put up 116 wins that year - a record not equaled until your Seattle Mariners accomplished it (with ten more games on their schedule) in 2001. They lost that World Series to the White Sox, but in 1907 they won the pennant again, and went on to beat Detroit for the championship.

"The man who woke them up was Frank Chance. Chance had already been first baseman and field captain, but in mid-'05 had to pick up the manager job too, when Frank Selee went down with tuberculosis.

"How did he turn the Cubs around? Astute psychology? Advanced training methods? Brilliant tactics?

"No. He did it with fear. Fear. If John McGraw was Al Davis, Frank Chance was Joseph Stalin. Like the Red Army, the Cubs went forward because they feared what was behind them more than what was in front of them. If you played for Frank Chance, you did things his way, or it was "see me after the game." To have your ass kicked.

"In a League of thugs, goons, and intimidators, no one fucked with Frank Chance. Like Wagner, he went about 6-0, maybe 190 lbs. And he could fight. Heine Zimmerman, ten years his senior, once challenged one of Chance's decisions. They went to the clubhouse to settle it like men. Heine lost bad.

"(It's a joke today, the way these sports guys fight. Nolan Ryan with his super-noogie, the little slap fights we've seen in the NFL. Imagine a modern athlete in any sport who is recognized as one of the most talented amateur fighters in the country. Early in his career Chance made extra money in the off-season working as a prize fighter. )

"By 1908 they were calling him The Peerless Leader. He was John McGraw's worst nightmare - a big, tough, smart baseball guy who didn't scare. Was Chance afraid of the menacing New York fans? Apparently not - in mid '07 he threw a beer bottle into them, hitting a kid and almost starting a riot (the cops got him out of the park in an armored car). Around that time he assaulted Giants pitcher Iron Man Joe McGinnity right there, on the sacred turf of the Polo Grounds. Word went out around the League: you want to rumble, Frank Chance will be there for you.

"He was also a good player, but his status is a bit controversial. He was a good enough fielder that Tinker-Evers-Chance were enshrined in the Hall of Fame together, and this prompted a backlash. But most modern analysts seem to think he was, indeed, Hall of Fame-worthy, based on his outstanding offensive play.

"To understand this, you have to understand the critical skills of the dead ball era. Runs were hard to come by, so the most valuable players were the ones who could get on base and, by hook or by crook, come around to score. Speed, base-stealing, heads-up baserunning, the ability to work the hit-and-run...these were the skills that made a 1908 offense tick. Frank Chance had them all. He got on base - even led the League in on-base percentage in 1905. And he knew what to do when get got there. In 1906 he led the League in both stolen bases and runs scored.

"He once stole home in the 9th inning, giving his team a 1-0 victory...the only time that's happened in major league history. Another time he stole second base, and on the next pitch stole home. Right... stole home, from second base. After that game, he was awarded a 10% ownership stake in the Chicago Cubs.

"That turned out to be a very good decision on the part of management. From 1906-1910, the Cubs had a .693 winning percentage, the best five-year stretch of any team in the history of major league baseball. They were tough in any game, but toughest in the clutch. They had talent, they were well-coached, and the man in charge was as cool as the other side of the pillow.

"Chicago should be a little kinder to his memory. It's been a hundred years, and they've never seen his like again:

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Leading Contenders for the Isengard.Gov Presidential/ V.P. Endorsement

Based on guesses about popularity alone, I would say these are, in order, the leading contenders for the Isengard.Gov Presidential and Vice Presidential endorsements.


Smarts, hope, agility. Also, fun to say.


If there was any justice in this world.


Uma would bring a little more gravitas to the ticket.


Joe Biden would be a well-spoken, thoroughly competent president, and Flav already has the vice-president hat.


Dodd's tremendous eloquence and deep love of our constitutional democracy is unquestionable, undone only by living in the Senate rather than in America. Sarah Silverman? The skill sets, I believe, are complementary.


For a warmer, fuzzier America. Note: Kitten Veeps are replaced as needed.


Kucinich is right about a lot of things, and he's no Nader. But this intelligent and courageous man has a hard time beating a weak image. Odin balances the ticket with actual God experience in war, death, prophetic poetry, and he will know what to do as we face Ragnarok, the apocalyptic last battle of the gods, which will tear asunder the known world, but may be faced with ...holy shit, look at Kucinich's wife!

Odin is pleased.


Clinton would be an effective President of the United States, and an infinite improvement over anyone from the other side. Ultimately she's more or less on the right side. But attempts to soften her image are pointless and tend to backfire - I say go all the way and let the ticket do the counting, at least from 1 to 10.

A Short Letter to the Clinton Campaign

Knock it off.

Your campaign's series of pretty slimy aides and volunteers supposedly "going off message" and perpetrating evil, bullshit rumors against the Obama campaign is exactly what the Bush-Rove cabal did, and is indicative of why, of the many Democrats I know, not a single one supports you as the first choice for the President.

You are putting your own ends above the party's best interest. This kind of politics tells me that in your heart you have taken in a dangerously cynical view of politics, the Dick Morris view of the world. This tells me you've been in too long. This and your history of corporatism erodes the trust you will need if you gain the nomination.

The polls say that Obama or Edwards has a better chance against the Republican nominee than you, but you hammer away at the notion that you can beat the Republican most effectively - why? I now suspect because it is you truly believe that cynicism and manipulation is the only way to beat them - certainly they have given you ample cause for that belief.

But I tend to believe those polls. And I tend to believe Barack Obama. Hope was your husband's original message, the one that defeated the first George Bush.

Shape up. Our whole damn world depends on it.


First Sea Lord

December 13, 2007

And in this corner....

Dr. X posts this from Midway Stadium, home of the St. Paul Saints:

"Against Honus Wagner's Pirates you had the New York Baseball Giants, a team of contrasts. On the one hand, you had pitching ace Christy Mathewson, also known as "Big Six" or, and I am not making this up, "The Christian Gentleman" (he never pitched on Sunday). Born in Factoryville, PA, Mathewson was President of his class at Bucknell, one of the few college men in the game. Now 28, Mathewson was regarded as a great pitcher, having led the Giants to victory in the 1905 World Series with a pair of shutouts. He had been off-form since then, however, owing to a bout of diphtheria in early 1906, the effects of which lingered.

"Giants manager John McGraw knew from diphtheria. It came to town when he was a boy and killed his mother, along with four brothers and sisters. Details are unclear about what happened next. Some sources say his father became unhinged and beat him, causing him to run away from home. Whatever happened, John McGraw entered adulthood with a lot of neurotic motivation and a chip on his shoulder. This made him well-suited for the game of base ball, with its desperate energy, atmosphere of intimidation, and frequent outright violence.

"In 1891, he signed to play 3rd base for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Association (that was the year before they jumped to the National League). He apparently was a very good player: His working of the hit-and-run with Wee Willie Keeler was legendary, as was his re-definition of 'hit-and-run' - the perpetration of various acts of mayhem on baserunners when the ump wasn't looking. But he wasn't just a thug - he was a thug with skills. Here is a list of career leaders, in the history of baseball, in on-base percentage - minimum 3,000 plate appearances:

"Ted Williams - .482
"Babe Ruth - .474
"John McGraw - .467
"Sliding Billy Hamilton - .455
"Lou Gehrig - .447
"Barry Bonds - .444

"McGraw joins the New York Giants as player-manager in 1902. By 1908 he has played his last game and manages from the sidelines.

"His management techniques would be familiar to Al Davis. 'The main idea,' he once said, 'is to win.' With the singular exception of Mathewson, his team is made up of bad men, thugs, drunks, and ne'er-do-wells. They are mean and violent and they play very smart baseball. The prototype is the aforementioned Turkey Mike Donlin, one of the best hitters in the League, but also a perennial malcontent and team-jumper. McGraw gets players like this to produce for him. The word around the League is that if you have a player with a 'lifestyle problem', you should trade him to McGraw.

"McGraw also was on the lookout for young players, and had an informal network of scouts across the country. A confident judge of talent, he'd push a promising youngster into the lineup - a policy he sometimes had occasion to regret.

"In a time when there were only one or two umpires on the field, and the crowd wasn't shy about roughing them up for a bad call, McGraw builds a reputation as the biggest umpire-baiter of them all. One umpire said 'he ate gunpowder every morning, and washed it down with warm blood.' He remains #2 in lifetime ejections, his record recently broken by the estimable Bobby Cox.

"McGraw was the personification of the game of his era. He was the ultimate old school base ball man, a guy who wanted to see you run like hell and get dirt on your uniform. If you were against him he'd try to trip you, have his pitcher bean you, threaten the umpires if they didn't make the call against you...someone had to lose, and it wasn't going to be him.

"Love of the game? That was for suckers:

" 'In playing or managing, the game of ball is only fun for me when I'm out in front and winning. I don't give a hill of beans for the rest of the game.'

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December 12, 2007

The Case for Censorship

Dr. X posts this from the Bemidji ACLU:

"You know, sometimes censorship is necessary. For example, I think we can all agree that Bernice Liu should not be treated like this on tv. I have watched it several times now, and the more I watch it, the more offended I become!"


Dr. X posts this from the Crown Plaza in Minnetonka:

"Here is the trailer for Singapore Dreaming. Supposedly banned on free tv in Singapore for too much Hokkein (the subversive, working class dialect that is the mother tongue of Mrs. X).

"Has there ever been a better name for a producer than Woffles Wu?"

The V to the I to the OLIN

Surely, the world needs one more fiddle player.

A couple of years ago I found a violin at a local St. Vincent De Paul that was in several pieces but not actually broken, and talked them down from $160 to $20. You never know when you'll need a violin- as a prop, a way to irritate the neighbor, a great case for a Thompson submachine gun, or even as a musical instrument.

Eventually I found Lasley and Russ violins here in Ballard for advice and repair. This shop simply kicks ass- not a descriptor I use lightly, particularly regarding violin shops. The owners are open, knowledgeable and friendly. The low-key shop is all music and cloth, hand tools and wood- the perfect antidote to the superbranded-consume-O-world that is busily strip-mining western culture. One of the owners- a cheerful, ruddy faced young fellow with a Tennessee accent, let me actually hold a working 350 year-old violin while discussing, with great skepticism, efforts to improve this timeless design. We had a long chat about historical varnishes that could be of interest only to oil painters and luthiers. I learned that Stratavarius has his critics - the violins were too loud and not as sweet in tone as older designs. What really shocked me was that on showing them this thrift store wreck of mine and pleading for understanding I was not sniffed at and promptly sent packing- instead, having explained that I'd never even run a scale on the woody squeeker, I was given a loaner while they glued my fiddle back together and requested to pay $50, if that seemed alright to me.

I would be the world's greatest advocate of market economies if it produced this sort of thing ordinarily, rather the earth devouring, soul-gobbling cult of centralized private capital that insists that the purpose of life is to accumulate capital for the whole of your healthy years so that you may - if you are wise and listen to Dennis Hopper- in your vigorous and decrepit future live on the interest, worldly ambling around the world in tasteful upper middle-class luxury, racing classic racing cars in classic racing car clothes, zipping off to Paris to live the Bohemian shopping life at 66, albeit catered, until your flabby carcass expires in the bowels of the Princess Caribbean at Montevideo, clutching $427 in casino winnings, your desicating ears listening to your stylish teal-trimmed IPOD playing a selection of freshly downloaded Led Zeppelin hits.

So as part of my core principle of manageable revolutionary goals, I started violin lessons yesterday with the Shulamit Kleinerman, a wonderful violinist with a specialty in early music. She's just the right teacher for me - walking that line between classic music and fiddle playin', teaching from playing toward reading, both encouraging and challenging. My learning strategy is to abandon my adult ego- which frankly isn't that much of a loss- and sponge it up like a kid, making big, loud mistakes from boldness rather than timidity. My hope is to learn enough to play it at a celtic, traditional folk and mild improv level, plunk out some simply classical tunes, and mostly to understand music in a way I kept avoiding with guitar all those years. (Those of you with bagpipes, be forewarned.)

And it was early music - the threads of ancient music that first began to be written down - that reconnected me with emotion in music. Most of Classical cannon, while beautiful, is a very formal kind of court music. Rock and roll sold out so hard and so often that only the very best, most fearless, skilled and reckless artists can produce anything like genuine emotion. I like traditional American folk and folk-roots, but am not fond of the hyperactive bluegrass. It was the slightly pop, somewhat slutty - in a sort of classy, gothic way - and sublime Mediaeval Baebes that got me interested again. I've stumbled across amazing choral stuff - (thanks for the Tallis Scholars ref, Laird), our local medieval radio show (Mostly Medieval ), and an astonishing modern-ancient music hybrid based on Icelandic sagas from group called Sequentia.

Here I will be for a bit, plucking away on simple major scales, relying on wood and rabbit skin glue and hand to hand craftsmanship, the note always on the verge of breaking, the thread of 1000-year old melodies to chase, trying to uncover what is essentially human.

Painting and archery and violin. These are the skills for the 21st century.

December 10, 2007

The First Titan

Dr. X posts this from the press box at Forbes Field:

"Another book came in from the garage tonight...The Unforgettable Season, by G.H. Fleming. Hardcover edition. Got it for $5 in a Harvard Square bookshop, ca. 1984.

"We learn many things from history. This book teaches us that even greatness is fleeting. Take, for example, the men who played in the greatest pennant race that ever was, the battle for the 1908 National League championship (which this volume chronicles). They fought like heroes and re-wrote the record books, but today, not one schoolchild in five can tell you what a hitter Turkey Mike Donlin was, or remember the name of the The Peerless Leader.

"They were forgotten a long time ago. History rushed them off the stage. With the introduction of the live ball, batting statistics exploded, and the statistically unsophisticated attributed this to an improvement in the general quality of play. As a child I read baseball books that denigrated the Dead Ball Heroes, mocking Home Run Baker for his anemic output (relative to what came after). To the scotch-swilling, cigar-chomping sportswriters of the 50s and 60s, the players of 1908 were Cro-Magnon predecessors to the fully-evolved likes of Ruth, with his 60 homers, and The Rajah, he of the .358 career batting average.

"Today, coming up on the 100th anniversary of that remarkable pennant race, perhaps we can do a little better. Thanks to the advent of modern sabermetrics we can appreciate the quality of their play. We know now that Nap Lajoie was a real ballplayer, not just a popular one. We know Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance was not just a fun bit of doggerel, but an accurate characterization of one of the finest infields that ever played.

"Alas, rehabilitation can only go so far, and with each passing decade the pioneers of the Dead Ball Era face tougher competition on the all-time lists. With each decade comes a new wave of retirees and Hall of Fame candidates, vying for their place on the stage. The Dead Ball Era players are shunted further and further off to the side. Perhaps it is right and natural, then, to let their memory fade.

"Except for one.

"Bill James, the Galileo of modern statistical baseball research, recently published a list of the greatest players in history (according to his methods):

"Player (Last Year Played)
"c - Berra (1965)
"1b - Gehrig (1939)
"2b - Morgan (1984)
"3b - Schmidt (1989)
"ss - Wagner (1917)
"lf - Williams (1960)
"cf - Mays (1973)
"rf - Ruth (1935)

"There is one man left from the Dead Ball Era, a John Peter ("Honus") Wagner. Big German guy: 5'-11", 200 lbs. Bow-legged.

"He hit like a beast. He led the League in total bases from 1906-1909, and won the 1911 batting title (at age 37). Stolen bases? He led the League five times. Then there was that time he got on base, stole second, stole third, and then stole home. Actually, there were three of those times.

"Upon close analysis, however, his stats turn out to be deceptive. He was better than that. Modern baseball analysts compute a statistic they call Offensive Winning % - it represents the expected Won-Loss % of a lineup composed entirely of that player. In the 14 years of his career for which this has been calculated at Baseball Reference, Wagner was #1 in the National League 7 times, #2 twice, and #3 twice. That is to say, for most of his career as a full-time player, Wagner was arguably the best offensive player in the National League.

"Which is pretty good considering he was also, arguably, the best defensive player in baseball. We know he could play every position, because he did. Statistically, we can't bring quite the level of sophistication to fielding that we can to batting, but we can make some broad distinctions. This article offers many lists, including a ranking of shortstops on career FRAR (Fielding Runs Above Replacement) and FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average). On the former, Wagner is #3, one slot above Ozzie Smith. On the latter, he ranks #6, two slots below Mark Belanger. Bill James rated Wagner's defense as A+ using his Defensive Win Shares system, in the top 16 of all time.

"So that's what you get - the best hitter in the National League for most of his career, who fields about as well as the best purely defensive shortstops who ever played.

"None of this was a secret, back in the day. Babe Ruth said Wagner was the best right-handed hitter he ever saw. Bill Klem, who umpired everyone on James's list except Morgan and Schmidt, thought Wagner was the best. In 1915 Ty Cobb - not regarded as a humble or generous man - called Wagner 'the greatest ball player that ever lived.'

"Perhaps someone, someday, will replace him on James' list. A-Rod has his advocates, and I imagine the 54 home runs last season will help his case. But returning to the Sabermetric stats - Wagner led the league in offensive win % seven time in 14 years. A-Rod has played nine seasons and led the league just once. Call me when he has six more.

"The fine new book It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over includes a chapter on the 1908 pennant race. The authors are at pains to educate us on what a different world these men played in. '[T]he players of the early 20th century,' they say, 'prided themselves on their hard-bitten, take-no-prisoners ethos and in their later years would go out of their way to call those who came after them effete...'

"You got a problem with that?
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"Honus Wagner, 100 years on, we salute you."

December 09, 2007

Points or Yards?

Dr. X posts this from the Linear Weights Department at the National Football League:

"One persistent conceptual problem in the statistical analysis of football is whether to use points or yards to measure success. There are problems with both variables, but also some correlation. This article from Football Outsiders does an outstanding job of explaining this complex, nuanced, and yet robust relationship.

"It also makes me feel better about my 50-yard IAYPA intercepton penalty...these guys find the average cost of a turnover is four points, which mean I'm pretty close."

December 08, 2007

Early Music Podcast Avalanche!

Ok, there was no way to make that headline exciting. I've been enjoying early music more and more, and am going to give the violin a go next week.

Undaunted, I press on: Harmonia is a very fine early music public radio show out of somewhere in the Midwest, and here is an extensive list of their podcast shows.

Also, check out

Another Not-Real Movie

This trailer has generated some internet buzz, positive and negative, already. I, for one, think that this may turn out to be the best cheesy movie of the decade.

"Your son seems to be interested in only one thing. All he talks about, all he seems capable of thinking about, is automobile racing."

Another Real Movie

Dr. X posts this from a Porsche in Orchard Road:

"If you get the chance, Singapore Dreaming is a very worthwhile movie. Cinematically speaking, of course, Singapore is to Hong Kong as Gary Coleman is to Shaquille O'Neal. To lengthen the odds, this was basically a first film for the creative team.

"But there is a certain democratic power to movies. It is possible, if you make a film about something you know, in a place you know, it might stand up for a long time. As the critic Anton Ego says in Ratatouille, 'not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.'

"Singapore is peculiar for a lot of reasons, and it is hard to imagine another place that has much in common with it. Maybe New York, a bit... Like New York it is a crowded city on an island, a financial center, with a middle class work ethic verging on the suicidal. But unlike New York, Singapore has no apparent outlet for all that neurotic energy. It's not a party town. If, for some reason, you imagined life to be more than the famous five C's of Singapore - cash, career, car, condo, credit card - you'd be challenged to do much about it. And, as the film notes, there is a 6th C: coffin.

"Another appealing thing: Singapore Dreaming puts out a bit of Chinese slackerism. Hong Kong cinema, like Hollywood, generally presents shiny people in new cars and nice condos. But this film shows you life the way it looks. In a recent interview one of the directors said: 'There is this work hard enough you will achieve middle class existence...and that's not really the truth.'

"I imagine that most of Asia is where the U.S. was in the 50s - entranced like by middle-class pleasures, but dimly aware of the absence of something...something that if you don't get it, eventually you go totally nuts. As evidence, I submit this film as Exhibit #A. It's quite good.

"In October Singapore Dreaming won the Best Asian/Middle-Eastern Film Award at the 20th Tokyo International Film Festival."

"[Addendum: Sorry, forgot this in the initial post. Think of it as The Graduate meets Chan is Missing.]

December 06, 2007

You're Either First, or You're a Loser Anchorage second-'drunkest' city in U.S.

The Anchorage I grew up in would never play second-fiddle to Denver!

What is he, a communist?

Bush announces mortgage rate freeze plan - Yahoo! News

December 05, 2007

"If you listen closely, Mr. President..."

BBC NEWS: Bush urges Tehran to come clean

" can hear the sound of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad laughing his ass off."

(When he stops, you might hear Putin chuckling quietly to himself.)

December 04, 2007

Globalism's Intrinsic Market-Driven Sense of Responsibility

For example, 1 in 5 toys have absolutely no trace of lead, cadmium and other toxic substances.

December 03, 2007

"Is that your final answer?"

Krugman's column today: "And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation — but added, “I don’t think we’d want it the other way around.” Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?"


Listen. I know. I know the whole deal with the Seahawks. Unlike you other fellow jokers, I live in Seattle. I smell the trouble driving by on the decrepit viaduct, the stew of sliced hopes, diced dreams, brewing in the thin broth of historical mediocrity, a stink of Rick Mirer sprouting weakly like a rotting Chia Pet on the kitchen counter, the sharp, undead tang of Brian Bosworth's over-rating and the lasting realization it would have been better to put the $11 million in cash in a bag on the field. And if you put half of Alexander's 60 Ms in another bag and pushed it over forward a yard and a half you would at least get a consistent running, bag. And of course, we were robbed in 2005.

But here we are, 8 and 4. Oh sure, the schedule's sort of easy. And it might have been 6 and 6. But it easily might have been 10-2. And sure, Hasselbeck's quasi-Republicanity earlier this year brought a curse that cost them Mack Strong. But that debt's paid.

Superbowl this year? Eh... doesn't seem like it, if you love math more than the blood in your veins! I dearly hope Tom Brady is kicked hard in the nuts by supermodel sell-monster Gisele Bundchen over a Brazil-Boston cultural misunderstanding. I hope that due to an unpredictable time machine error in the future, the Dallas Cowboys are suddenly relocated in the early Cretaceous era, and have to fight ill-tempered dinosaurs. T.O., meet T. Rex!

But I'll tell you something, Mister. The Seattle Seahawks are winning games now, hard games, road games, with gut-busting last minute goal line stands. They are playing through collapses of the front line, errors, mistakes. They are tough, and tough starts with "T" and "T" stands for "Tatupu." (Last game, Lofa Tatupu was the Seahawks best receiver, the fact that Eagles Q.B. Feely was passing notwithstanding.)

My case is simply this: the Seahawks are earning your loyalty, with pluck, vim, vigor and blood. The Seahawks are the premier non-sucky team of everywhere in the Pacific where you can't usually go tan on the beach, and this means YOU, Bay Area! I say now to you from this superlative, independent, solar-powered coffee house, where the coffee is so good your shirt smells of warm, perfectly roasted coffee the next day: Go Seahawks!

December 01, 2007

Lott Light in Loafers?

Dr. X posts this from Trent Lott's porch, which is still wrecked:

"Um, that was kind of a sudden retirement. I wonder if this had anything to do with it? "

A Boy and His P-40

"I thought back on my 17 months in Assam—a slow, back-country operation, a war of attrition. Winners were those who learned to adapt to long periods of boredom and appreciate the country and its people. Few of us became heroes."

--Charles Evans

My father's wartime memoir, "Travels With A P-40" has just been posted in its enterty complete with (pictures) on Library of Congress Website.

The book details my 22-year-old father's remarkable journey from the deck of the aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Ranger, across North Africa, through the Middle East, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and onto India and China where he flew his P-40, "Devil Chaser II" to maintain supply lines and keep the Japanese expansion in check. He flew first with the 26th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Group, and then with the Burma Banshees of the 90 fighter squadron.

Travels With A P-40 was Edited by Edwards Park a contributing writer and editor for the Smithsonian and a fellow fighter pilot. However the book has not been formally published.

Just the other day, my mother received word that the book was being highlighted in the LOC's special collections on WWII and the China/Burma/India Theater. We are still considering publishing the book formally.

Dad wouldn't have given a hoot about this. He wrote the book for his kids. We all think it was the bestest gift EVER!

My father had a wonderful, adventerous life. For those interested, you can read more about him here.