October 31, 2009

50 Years and Going Strong

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the goalie mask. One would think it would be much older since variations of the game have been around for 3000 years or so. Apparently having teeth knocked out of one’s mouth to dance about on the ground like Chiclets was all in good fun. I am old enough to remember a time when NHL goalies chose whether or not to wear masks. Goalies were thereby thrust into 2 camps; smart goalies and dumb (toothless) goalies.

One of the last holdouts in the NHL that I can remember was a goalie named Gump Worsley who once was knocked unconscious by a Bobby Hull slap shot. Awakening in his hospital room he was reported to have said “Good thing the puck hit me flat”. Yeah good thing. I remember watching ole’ Gump on the tele back in the day. What a great nickname! He played goalie without a mask up until his retirement in 1974. The reason Gump was glad the puck hit him flat is because pucks that come into contact while spinning flat, behave like axe blades, cutting with blunt force. Not a pretty picture (See Terry Sawchuck's mug in a few paragraphs). In the 60's the "mask/no mask" debate raged. Wearing a mask was seen as unmanly and those who chose to wear one were criticized for putting their own health before the good of the team. It was argued that a mask restricts the goalie's range of vision and turns him into a padded titty-baby.

We owe the first goalie mask to Jaques Plante, who designed it out of fiberglass. It is pictured at the top of this entry. Jacques was hesitant to test it out in a real game and in fact, his coach refused to allow him to use it until one day when he too was hit in the face and took a bunch of stitches. At that point Jacques refused to go back into the game without his mask and Toe Blake the coach acquiesced. This was a courageous act. Plante took allot of heat for what was considered a less than manly act of self-preservation.

My first goalie mask was nothing but a catcher’s mask with a couple of extra bars welded on near the eyes. This was apparently before the invention of lawyers. While I used a cage mask as a kid I dreamed of the day I could become a man and wear a real fiber glass mask like my hero Gerry Cheevers. I loved how Cheevers would stand down at the end of the ice, nonchalantly leaning on his goalie stick, a stance I instantly adopted as my own.

Cheever's painted a new stitch on his mask each time he was hit to remind himself of what his face would look like were he not to wear a mask.

In 1974 Bernie Parent was leading the Philadelphia Flyers to the first of their 2 Stanley Cups and that was it. I had to have the same mask as Bernie Parent. I remember finding a knockoff in a catalog and sending away for it. It cost 45 dollars. The season was almost over before it came, but there in the box was the shiny, molded, hard-as-rock mask. “Hard as rock” was right. The thing had no give and playing (as we did) in temperatures in excess of 10 below didn’t help. Every time I took a puck to the face it was like being slapped with a frozen wiffle ball bat. Still, the team started to call me "Bernie" and I would have worn the mask to bed if my mom had let me. In High School, the Laired painted it green with an excellent gold star-burst between the eyes. I was known as “that goalie with the green and gold Bernie Parent mask”. Such recognition I had never known before.

When the newer half fiberglass/half cage masks came out in the 90s, I tried one for a while but I could never get used to the bars going across the front of my face. My brain literally had a tough time deciding whether to look over the cross bar or under and it made for a terrible experiment. Those masks are commonplace now. Instead I found using a Dominik Hasek-style cage mask much better. At least the bars were parallel and this helped. This is the kind of mask I used in college.

Finally toward the end of my career, I just didn’t give a rip anymore and I went with a plain Defenseman's full-face shield. This was in a a "no-slapshot" league and I figured that the lawyers certainly wouldn’t let a defenseman wear a shield that could be permeated by a slapshot. Still I am the only goalie that I know of who ever wore one of these behind the pipes. It was probably reckless, but hey, we're talking goalies here.

In all of the years I played I can only remember being hit really hard maybe 5 times. This seems strange since it seemed like Terry Sawchuck got laid out every other game. Terry finally wore a mask but ironically died at a young age when he got in a fight and fell into a barbecue pit, suffering internal injuries. A much more common risk were sticks and sometimes skates. I am sure if I did not wear a mask I would have been blinded long ago with the tip of sombody’s errant (or not so errant) stick.

Modern masks have taken off as an art form. I won’t go into all the amazing variations but here is a site, and a book that shows some of the more interesting ones.

I still have this crazy dream. It is the first game of the Stanley Cup finals and the Flyers are playing the Red Wings. Suddenly the goalie for the Flyers is cut down by a wicked slapshot. He is unable to continue and mysteriously, the backup goalie is nowhere to be seen. The coach is beside himself and appeals to the crowed-"Is there a goalie in the house?". A spotlight shines down upon me in the nose-bleed seats. "I'm a goalie" I shout. I grab my knockoff Bernie Parant mask and head down the stairs. I stop 75 shots that night on the way to a shutout. The Flyers go on to win the cup with me signed to a 7 game contract. Then I wake up and it's time for work.

So here’s to the hockey mask with all of it's imagery, mystery and creativity. Without it, we’d have much poorer Halloween movies and much richer dentists.

October 29, 2009

Austrian Ruminations

Dr. Kapital posts this from The Infinity Suite at The Langham:

"All of Europe is abuzz with the question: what is wrong with America? Leaving aside that they should probably be worried about something else, it certainly is a question Americans should be asking themselves.

"In Dr. Kapital's view, the problem is not so much what is wrong with America. Rather, it is what has been going wrong for a long time.

"Well, where does economic growth come from? A good central banker will conservatively estimate future population growth and productivity per worker, and add the two to arrive at an estimate of his nation's long-term growth potential. For the U.S., the population growth trend is about 1%, and productivity has been about 2% in recent years. You could have expected 3% GDP growth, and that is about what you got.

"Is that the best you can do? The estimable Alice Rivlin once explained: 'How fast the economy can grow is determined by how rapidly the employed labor force is increasing and how fast the productivity of that workforce is growing. There are only two ways to get more output: either more people work or working people produce more (or both).'

"Unless you are planning a merger with China (an intriguing notion), your population growth is probably not going to move the needle. So, you should be focusing on Plan B, increasing productivity. There are three strategies for accomplishing this. You can invest money in productive things (e.g., automated factories), you can improve the skills of your labor force, or you can invent things that make people more productive.

"Let's take those in turn:

"Investing: If you wish to invest money you must get it first, either by saving or borrowing. Until recently Americans hardly saved at all, foreclosing that source of funds. Americans have discovered, however, that global capital markets are remarkably indulgent, allowing unprecedented levels of national borrowing. Alas, rather than investing this money, you used most of it for consumption of various kinds. The current Krugmanite excuse is that one must borrow to stimulate cyclical demand. It pains me to say he is right, for another quarter or three, but it also reminds one of St. Augustine's prayer: 'grant me chastity and continence, only not yet.'

"Educating: American higher education is very good, and you have a big population. So you should have enough geniuses. But the next levels down do not look good. Today, about 25% of Americans have a four-year degree - barely more than in 1978. If you are not careful you will find your good technology jobs taken by industrious Chinese, Russians, and Poles.

"Invention: It has saved you. That little strip of land, from San Francisco to San Jose, has created more innovation than most of the rest of the world over the past thirty years. But what will become of it? Can you count on a repeat of that little miracle?

"Dr. Kapital's policy prescription:
  • Save more, spend less. America may borrow like a drunken sailor, but you need not. Individuals should diversify their savings very widely.
  • Put education at the top of every list. Although Dr. Kapital prefers private education, the rest of you might look into the Finnish model. (And what, exactly, is vibrant testing, Ms. Whitman?)
  • Keep Silicon Valley alive, no matter what it takes. Provide Federal stimulus money for Failcon, if need be.
"Dr. Kapital suspects the short term will be better than you believe. But, over the longer term, America is acting like a championship athlete that is losing his focus. It might turn out all right, but it usually doesn't."

Dr. Kapital Tweets Back

Dr. Kapital tweets thrice from the BHP Meeting in London:
  1. The greatest rewards accrue to thieves who steal in plain sight, with the consent of their victims. Favorable change is likely.
  2. Technology creates wealth. American technology (the microchip, Herceptin, the iPhone) mostly happens between Brisbane and San Jose.
  3. You can.

Once again, The Hodge-Man tells it like it is

As always, we should heed the words of The Resident Expert.

...it would be wise for us to embrace the book-smart as much as our culture has traditionally embraced the street-smart, the jock-smart. I'm not saying nerds must have their revenge; I'm just saying the time for wedgies is at an end.

That is all.

Today's Urgent Headlines Today for October 29, 2009

Hollywood: Studio In-Fighting Reported Over Pixar's Remake of Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal  

Man and Superman Get Together for Coffee    

Vampire Sasquatch Photographed At Washington State Olive Garden  

Adorable Kittens Join Church of the Refrigerator Door  

Zombie Robot Goes: "...ram...RAM..." 

Afghani Ice Cream Vendor Tries To Remember Where He Put the Ammunition  

Sex With Calculus Instructor Going Well As She Approaches Her Limit   

Getting into Giant Helium Balloon and Floating Away Alert: Now It's Joe Lieberman  

A Today's Urgent Headlines Today Urgent Correction: Our Previous Report of Vampire Sasquatch At Washington State Olive Garden Was Incorrect. The Photograph was of a Mr. Kevin Patterson, Forks High School Theater Teacher. We Regret the Error.   

Dear Dr. Kapital

Dr. Kapital knows his stuff, and does something about it. Do you have a question for Dr. Kapital about the Economy? Let's ask and hope he answers.

Dear Dr. Kapital, 

I keep hearing about the terrible risk of Wall Street "losing talent," if we don't pay them 1000 or 10,000 times what an equally intelligent doctor, teacher or plumber makes.  Of course, with a Master's degree and all, I feel perfectly capable of losing several billion dollars myself. Are these people really unusually skilled?  If talent was really it, why not fire them all these idiots that failed, and hire a bunch of grad students who I'm sure would figure it out in a while?

- Unemployed in Greenland

 Dear Dr. Kapital, 

Is our vision of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship now a myth?  The modern American success story now always seems like "I was working on this great idea in the garage and then I called up my venture capitalist pals I met at boarding school."

--Edison in Tacoma

Dear Dr. Kapital, 

Credit Unions basically rock. And they don't fail. Why can't we organize the whole fucking financial system around this model?

-Looking for an ATM

October 28, 2009


Jones to injured reserve.

October 27, 2009

Memo to CIA

Could we please to try keep this stuff out of the papers?

You are what we thought you were

Lieberman to filibuster public option?

Abuse Widely


October 24, 2009

Bows are for wimps

Instead, built your own high-speed spear launcher.

Today's Urgent Headlines Today for October 24, 2009

Defying President Obama, GOP Demands Bureaucratic Government Paperwork Requirements Be Massively Increased

Strangely Dressed Australian Man Corrects Knife Assessment With Example

Gang of Lesbian Hispanic Toughs Push Around Rupert Murdoch at Oakland Shopping Mall

Dismissed Marketing Study Suggested Consumer Interest in a 24-hour News and Information Channel

Boise Subway's Manager Shoos Away White Supremicist "Sandwich Night"

Sheepish NASA Scientists: Moon "Cracked"

View of Stunning Brazilian Girl on Sidewalk Blocked by Arby's Dumpster

Adorable Kittens Announce Mutual Pounce Reduction Agreement

In Today's Urgent Headlines Today's Urgent Opinions, By A Furious Captain Kangaroo: "Glenn Beck, I will Beat Your Sorry Nazi Ass with your own F****** leg."

October 23, 2009

The Third Man

Exhausted after a long week of talking about reserve currencies, the Fed pushing on a string, and Fibonacci retracements, I settled into bed tonight. Savoring the cool pillow case against my cheek, I took a breath and began my nightly ritual of imagining in detail each of the fifty-three stations of the Tōkaidō...when my eyes snapped open.

What about Erving?

Was it all a dream then? He wasn't...really...he wasn't one of the greats, was he? He wasn't really a shooter...or a passer...so what was he? Yes, before Bird vs. Magic there was Bird vs. Erving. But after Bird and Magic, what is there to remember about Erving, except for some dunks and The Baseline Move? Oh yeah - The Baseline Move...!

Still...did Erving ever lead the NBA in anything?* Wasn't he really just a stylist, or...even more damning...a PR man for the emerging and more marketable urban style of basketball?

Well, how would you decide? I settled on a simple procedure: Basketball Reference has a list of the 250 greatest seasons ever played in the ABA and NBA (left column). Players are ranked by Win Shares - a metric (originally devised by baseball analyst Bill James) that estimates a player's contribution to a team's overall success. I sorted the list by player, then deleted all the players with fewer than six seasons on the list, and all the non-forwards. That narrowed things down to this group (height, average Win Shares per season):
  • Kevin Garnett (6-11, 15.1)
  • Karl Malone (6-9, 15.1)
  • Larry Bird (6-9, 14.9)
  • Julius Erving (6-6, 15.4)
It was not a dream. Your eyes did not deceive you. Julius Erving was one of the best forwards - and probably the best small forward - to ever play the game. It can be determined by methods rational and otherwise.


* Yes, Player Efficiency Rating, 1979-80.


[Addendum: David Friedman at 20 Second Timeout writes extensively about NBA history, and offers this assessment of Erving's greatest ABA performance:

Erving [had] these numbers in the 1976 ABA Finals versus the Denver Nuggets: 37.7 ppg (including 45 points and the game winning shot on the road in game one), 14.2 rpg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 spg and 2.2 bpg. The Doctor led both teams in all of these categories during the series—and he was putting up these unbelievable numbers against high quality opposition. Guided by Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, the Nuggets finished 65-19 that season, featuring two Hall of Famers (Dan Issel and David Thompson) and one of the best defensive forwards of all time (Bobby Jones). After trying in vain to stop the Doctor, Bobby Jones offered this appraisal of Erving’s heroics: "He destroys the adage that I’ve always been taught—that one man can’t do it alone." ]

Good evening

Wrapping up "urban week" on Eisengeiste...

If I were Ron Reagan...

By now, you've probably heard of or seen the incident where necon gasbag Frank Gaffney tells Ron Reagan "Your dad would be ashamed of you." (link)

If I were Ron Reagan, I don't think I'd be able to resist the temptation to channel Chevy Chase in Caddyshack:
"Frank, my dad -- never liked you."

Today's Urgent Headlines Today for October 23, 2009

Senator Olympia Snowe Floats Away in An Enormous Balloon

U.S. Doohickey Production Falls Sharply; Many Doohickers Forced into Widgeteering to Make Ends Meet

Society for Protection of Large Hadrons Harshly Criticizes Large Hadron Collider

Adorable Kittens Defeat Warm Towel

Cheaper Chinese Doughy Fascist Gasbag to Replace Glenn Beck

Senior Rockers Recall When Rock Music Was In Some Way Anti-Authoritarian

Giant Floating Brain from Nebular-7 Can't Find Keys in Pituitary Pocket

Hilarious Dumb War Criminal Leaves Neighboring Country Full of Witnesses Uncrushed

Starbucks Nano-Cafe To Be Injected Directly Into Tongue

Small Boy Who Started Global Climate Catastrophe Caught Hiding in Nearby Refrigerator

In Today's Urgent Headlines Today's Urgent Opinions, by "Who's the Boss?" star Tony Danza: "Allow Me to Explain Why I have Overthrown the Government of Namibia."

Today's Urgent Headlines Today's Weather: Comparatively Speaking, F4 Tornadoes Are Not Your Biggest Problem

October 22, 2009

The King of New York

It's not hard to understand why Bernard King isn't celebrated in the endless cavalcade of NBA retrospectives. He wasn't lovable. He was smart and articulate, but he was also a scowler. He couldn't match Magic's charisma, Dr. J's cool, or Larry Bird's pigmentation. And while he was respected, he wasn't exactly feared - his teams were never good enough for that. Still, New York loved him, and not without reason:

One way to think about it is whether you'd improve a team by swapping Bernard King in for their current small forward. In my opinion, he would improve almost any team you put him on - then or today. In his own era, I can only think of two teams where that would not be true: the Celtics and 76ers. The Celtics had Bird, who, before Jordan, was justifiably the most feared player who ever lived.

The comparison with Erving is instructive. If you compare King with Doctor J - admittedly a player five years older and nearing the end of his career - King looks very good. King certainly had the better perimeter game, with dazzling spin moves and a legendary turnaround jumper that he could hit from almost anywhere. He wasn't an aerialist, but he could post up effectively and get to the line.

Some stats illustrate both King's and Erving's claims to fame:
  • Height: King 6-7, Erving 6-6 -
  • Field goal % ('83-'84) : King 57%, Erving 51% - Erving was great, but was never a great shooter. King could shoot the lights out.
  • Points per 36 minutes ('83-'84): King 27, Erving 23 - King shot about as much as Erving that season (19 FGA/36 vs. 18), but scored more four more points per 36.
  • Free throw attempts: King 5.9, Erving 6.5 - Both men got to the line and converted.
  • Rebounds " " : King 5.3, Erving 7.1 - Erving was inside more, and a better leaper.
  • Assists " " : King 2.2, Erving 3.9 - Erving looked to pass, and had more people to pass the ball to.
  • Blocks " " : King 0.2, Erving 1.9 - I watched Erving almost every night that year, and he always seemed to get a block or two helping out inside. In my book he was one of the best defenders of all time. King wasn't bad especially under Hubie Brown in '83-'84, but was not in Erving's class.
  • Turnovers " " : King 2.7, Erving 3.1
In short, King was certainly Erving's equal as an athlete, and was, at this moment in time, the greater offensive force. By contrast, Erving had adjusted his game - he put more emphasis on defense, rebounding, and passing the ball. One way to say it - a little unfairly - is that King did the things a great player on an average team has to do, while Erving did the things a great player on a great team has to do.

Here's an endorsement of Bernard's game from an eminent authority:

The Man may disrespect you Bernard, but we remember.


Al Franken brings the toolslap.

October 20, 2009

Tweets from Doctor Kapital

Doctor Kapital is tweeting from the monthly meeting of EU Finance Ministers:

Sage Advice!

October 18, 2009

Revision against selective mythmaking

The incredible rivalry between Magic and Larry will never die. In fact, you couldn't kill it with a stick. As they quietly supplement their incomes with another retrospective, I feel compelled to draw attention to the 76ers of that era, and in particular to Andrew "The Boston Strangler" Toney, whom neither of these legends (nor anyone else) could guard:

As an offensive force, Toney was as skilled as, say, George Gervin. He could score from anywhere, drive or pull up, and take a foul and score from the line if need be. He loved pressure, and his contributions seemed to get bigger as the game wore on. He could pass and play defense, too. He was a genuine team player, subordinating his ego to Moses and Dr. J. - many of his points (and he often led the team in scoring) came when he was the third option.

Why did they call him "The Boston Strangler"? Because his 34 points points against the Celtics in game 7 of the Conference Finals in 1982 sent the Celtics home, and the 76ers to the Finals against the Lakers. The Lakers won that championship, but the Sixers were back with reinforcements the next year and would not be denied.

Scoring on that legendary 1983 team: #1 - Malone, #2 - Toney, #3 - Erving... The 76ers, with two Hall-of-Famers on the court (Erving and Malone), swept the Lakers, who had four (Johnson, McAdoo, Adbul-Jabbar, and Worthy). Toney scored 88 points in those four games, the most of any non-center on either team. He had 23 assists, the most of any non-point guard on either team.

Injuries cut his career short - he was only an all-star in 1982 and 1983, and he was out of the League by 1989 - but if we are going to remember that era, let's remember who was playing and who was going home. In 1983 Andrew Toney was one of the best players on one of the best teams to ever set foot on a basketball court, and neither Larry Bird nor Magic Johnson - in their prime of their careers - wanted any part of him.

October 17, 2009

Why do they call you...?

Evening tunes

The lighter, more melodic Piedmont blues, as practiced by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

October 16, 2009

One word for you: 'Black Dynamite'

For reasons no doubt owing to THE MAN, this movie is not opening in the SF Bay Area this weekend. I call BULLSHIT on that!

Roger Ebert's review here.

October 15, 2009

Hey kids

Your music sucks.

That's the only live performance (from Dutch tv) I can find.

Addenda and Errata:
Dr. X has offered some annotations in italics.
  • Here's the man who wrote the song, with a more laid-back version (flowery shirt at no extra charge)... How did the 80s happen? Now you know.
  • Chris Isaak had a slightly more successful attempt on this material... But keep him away from Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
  • The crowd liked Rush's version. I'm confused - it's musically tight and sophisticated, but also sounds like Tenacious D...
  • The Norwegian band The Breed has a take... And doesn't suck - MORE COWBELL!
  • I don't think that's really Springsteen... Plausible deniability.
  • The Raveups play it well, but it's their job, isn't it... Gents, you're too happy to play this song.
  • Perhaps the Johnny Mann Singers' version (here) deserves attention...? Please stop.
  • The Well Blouds have a decent run at it. Full marks. Johnny Mann and his minions could learn from this. Only 75 views? C'mon lads, let's show them the Power of Eisengeiste!
  • The Rockinghams have studied hard and learned well. Perhaps all young men in reform schools around the country should be required to master this material before their release. Still, note the drummer's "Ringo" grip and compare with the drummer in the original performance above. Although pleasing to modern ears, and a legitimate artistic choice, it is possible for the drum part to be a little too heavy on this song. In all other respects this performance is superb.
  • The White Stripes cheated... The octaval jump is a very a slight miscalculation, omitting...or more likely admitting the impossibility of imitating...the seething barely-contained passion so perfectly expressed in the original. The presence of Jeff Beck, however, places this beyond the criticism of mortals.
  • The Yardbirds still play with two members of the original lineup (Dreja/bass, McCarty/drums), and sounds like this... That kid can sing.
  • Roxanne Fontana - whoa. Well, I'm in love.
  • Here is the original recording, on a Stanton needle. If you're going to send music into space, this really is the sort of thing that should be sent.

Not Bad Kid

Pretty nice goal for a nine-year-old. However, I must comment that the little goalie needs to be out about a foot and a half further when the shooter reaches the top of the circle. He is way too far back in his crease.

Oh yes, and if some punk ever tried that on me (goal or no) he'd be picking teeth out of his ear hole. This being said, nice goal.

October 14, 2009

Mark Twain and "The Unreliable"

Rereading "Roughing It" now, one of Twain's earliest,  a relatively trifling and complete pleasure and still the best  description of the Old West I've read, by leaps and bounds. I am beginning to think Twain is among the most balanced of all prose writers, weaving storytelling, satire, journalism and humanist philosophy together in a distinctly American kind of lazy, easy but wry voice that only results from complete and keen perception and mind-bendingly hard work.  Between Melville, Twain, and Walt Whitman, the American voice as literature was invented; everything after sometimes seems like temporal color.

I was looking up Virginia City, locale of much of Roughing It - and where Twain managed to avoid most of the Civil War in the middle of the silver boom - and found some of his early writings for the newspaper at the time. A description of a party here and his encounter with his friend "The Unreliable" is hilarious and sharp- it prefigures the great SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. 

About nine o'clock the Unreliable came and asked Gov. Johnson to let him stand on the porch. That creature has got more impudence than any person I ever saw in my life. Well, he stood and flattened his nose against the parlor window, and looked hungry and vicious--he always looks that way--until Col. Musser arrived with some ladies, when he actually fell in their wake and came swaggering in, looking as if he though he had been anxiously expected. He had on my fine kid boots, and my plug hat and my white kid gloves (with slices of his prodigious hands grinning through the bursted seams), and my heavy gold repeater, which I had been offered thousands and thousands of dollars for, many and many a time. He took these articles out of my trunk, at Washoe City, about a month ago, when we went out there to report the proceedings of the (Constitutional) Convention. The Unreliable intruded himself upon me in his cordial way and said, "How are you, Mark, old boy? when d'you come down? It's brilliant, ain't it? Appear to enjoy themselves, don't they? Lend a fellow two bits, can't you?" He always winds up his remarks that way. He appears to have an insatiable craving for two bits.

The music struck up just then, and saved me. The next moment I was far, far at sea in a plain quadrille. We carried it through with distinguished success; that is, we got as far as "balance around," and "halt-a-man-left," when I smelled hot whisky punch, or something of that nature. I tracked the scent through several rooms, and finally discovered the large bowl from whence it emanated. I found the omnipresent Unreliable there, also. He set down an empty goblet, and remarked that he was diligently seeking the gentlemen's dressing room. I would have shown him where it was, but it occurred to him that the supper table and the punch-bowl ought not to be left unprotected; wherefore, we staid there and watched them until the punch entirely evaporated. A servant came in then to replenish the bowl, and we left the refreshments in his charge. We probably did wrong, but we were anxious to join the hazy dance. The dance was hazier than usual, after that. Sixteen couples on the floor at once, with a few dozen spectators scattered around, is calculated to have that effect in a brilliantly lighted parlor, I believe. Everything seemed to buzz, at any rate. After all the modern dances had been danced several times, the people adjourned to the supper-room. I found my wardrobe out there, as usual, with the Unreliable in it. His old distemper was upon him: he was desperately hungry. I never saw a man eat as much as he did in my life. I have the various items of his supper here in my note-book. First, he ate a plate of sandwiches; then he ate a handsomely iced poundcake; then he gobbled a dish of chicken salad; after which he ate a roast pig; after that, a quantity of blancmange; then he threw in several glasses of punch to fortify his appetite, and finished his monstrous repast with a roast turkey. Dishes of brandy-grapes, and jellies, and such things, and pyramids of fruits, melted away before him as shadows fly at the sun's approach. I am of the opinion that none of his ancestors were present when the five thousand were miraculously fed in the old Scriptural times. I base my opinion upon the twelve baskets of scraps and the little fishes that remained over after that feast. If the Unreliable himself had been there, the provisions would just about have held out, I think.

"pyramids of fruits.. melted away as shadows fly at the sun's approach?"  Off-hand prose-poetry - what should be a American birthright.

October 13, 2009


  • Rodgers (8.3)
  • E. Manning (8.2)
  • P. Manning (8.0)
  • Delhomme (3.3)
  • JaWhatsis (3.4)
  • Brady Quinn (3.4)
  • Orton (7.2) (re-checks numbers)...yes, Orton (7.2)
  • Kurt Warner (6.0) and Tom Brady (6.0) = Median QB
  • Shaun Hill (5.5) > Jay Cutler (5.0)

A Message to Our Fans

Dear Revenge on Ice Season Ticket Holder:

It is safe to say that, after the first turn, our results have been, perhaps, a little disappointing. No one shares your disappointment more than us, the ownership of Revenge on Ice.

We're winners, you see. We live to win. Winning is so underrated in our society. It is fun, and reminds of our rightful place atop the great human pyramid. But winning is more than that. Winning is liberating. Winning gives us the freedom to be who we are.

Which is why we are so disappointed in the performance of your team, Revenge on Ice.

Starting today we are taking bold action to stay the course:
  • We have changed the color and design on our helmets.
  • We have waived Brett Favre.
  • We have to decided to start Michael Turner the next time it seems likely he will score 27.7 fantasy points on the road against one of the League's stronger defenses.
  • Next Sunday will be "Free Icepick Day." Under this exciting promotion, the first 10,000 fans at Strauss Memorial Stadium will receive a free icepick bearing the Revenge on Ice team logo.
  • Our market research department is looking into changing the name of the team, and possibly entering the ownership group in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
Yours in accountability,

The Ownership

With the utmost respect, you suck

"A Russian newspaper defended itself in a Moscow court on Tuesday against charges that it had libelled Josef Stalin by reporting that the Soviet dictator had sent thousands to their deaths."

What's next, Beria Day???

I was going to put in some ironically incriminating Putin quotes, but he usually sounds quite reasonable.

Amnesty International has a different take, however.

October 12, 2009

Proposed Book Titles

As The Front considers what kind of book The Front will write, The Front is mulling over titles:
  • Notes From the Front
  • Front, Right, and Center
  • Full Frontal Front
  • Front with Dick and Jane
  • I Was a Teenage Front
  • Fronts of a Lesser God
  • The Deer Fronter
  • Fronttage
  • The Fronted
  • Of Human Bondage
Other ideas welcome...

October 11, 2009


After reading somewhere that it was the best bathroom book ever written (how can you ignore an endorsement like that?), I capitulated and bought David Thomson's 1,008-page The New Biographical Dictionary of Film: Expanded and Updated [2004]. It's $24.95 list, $18.95 at Amazon, $13.18 for the Kindle edition. Having had it for a few weeks, I can tell you it is also good airplane, taxi, and waiting-for-the-kids-to-get-out-of-school reading.

I'll discuss the (many) good points in a minute, but first a complaint.

Thomson's book made me more aware of a property of film that really has no parallel in other media. Movies provide a bridge across borders, cultures, and generations, and make it possible to really see how people talked, moved, and looked (or wished they could look) in 1941 San Francisco, 1929 London, 1964 Malaysia, or 2006 Singapore.

In theory, at least, film lets us see clearly across barriers of time and place. So film criticism should be among the most objective of the critical arts. We're all looking at the same thing - Fred Astaire's right there, there's not much ambiguity, right?

The experience of reading Thomson (b 1941) has set me straight on this. On topics think I know something about (e.g., Astaire, the Marx Brothers), he has a wildly different take. Some of this is cultural (he started out English though he lives in San Francisco now), but I think most is generational. He is a pre-Boomer, and then adjusted his critical response as the Boomers turned the cultural world upside-down. He can tell you a lot about Pauline Kael ("she watched the films, but she watched the audiences, too, and she loved what happens in the dark") or what it was like to teach westerns to the college kids of 1971 ("Red River never had a chance because they would not stomach John Wayne").

To ask him to make another turn - to understand post-Boomer existential absurdity - is just too much. This is most apparent when he grapples with the comedians who emerged in the 70s and 80s. A few illustrations:
  • "The greatness of Cleese is not in Wanda, or even in Monthy Python; it is Fawlty Towers..."
  • "[Steve Martin] - it seems to me - is fundamentally averse to acting."
  • Austin Powers is marred by "the plodding dirty-mindedness, the deterioration of invention, the belittling of women..."
  • Most damning, there is no mention of the movie Airplane! in the book.
It is not just the latest generation of comedians. He seems impatient with any kind of comedy based on cultural reference. Groucho is the only Marx Brother worth a damn (I beg to differ), Mel Brooks is "a brash superficial personality dependent on the role of stage schmuck" (so what's your point?).

Thomson has another interesting quirk. He mentions Pauline 16 times, sometimes respectfully, sometimes not. He evidently has tremendous respect for Sarris, not just mentioning him, but frequently (12 times) quoting or referencing his views almost as scripture. But Ebert does not, apparently, exist. For a man who makes his living pointing out the blind spots of others, it is a telling omission. Ebert has no problems quoting him, so I don't know what the problem is there.

That's it for the complaints. The book is gold. How many ways can we praise him?
  • Man, can he write. His small books (really long essays or collections of essays) are excellent, but he really comes into his own in the 200-1000 word format. A random sentence (about Joseph L. Mankiewicz): "Above all, he created the atmosphere of a proscenium arch, a little Shavian in the way he arranged action for an audience."
  • He writes great leads. On the big essays you are pulled in almost by force: "[Peter Lorre] was the squat, wild-eyed spirit of ruined Europe, shyly prowling in and out of Warner Brothers shadows, muttering fiercely to himself..."
  • Did I mentioned he could write a lead? "Sometimes a movie ad reveals the secret being of a star. In the American promotion of Coming Home (78, Hal Ashby), a rapturous embrace between Jane Fonda and Jon Voight was being watched by a wistful, suspicious Bruce Dern, his eyes lime pits of paranoia and resentment."
  • He knows how to get in, he knows how to get out. Not every time, or even most times...but often enough he finishes with a crusher. [Of Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner]: "The shot of [Margaret] Sullavan's gloved hand, and then her ruined face, searching an empty mailbox for a letter is one of the most fragile moments in film. For an instant, the ravishing Sullavan looks old and ill, touched by loss." Then, on to George Lucas.
  • The bigger they come, the harder they fall. "The Shining, for me, is Kubrick's one great film...", or "I must confess to being daunted by the booze mythology of complacency and sentimentality in Ford's films." Agree or disagree, he's going to tell you where he is and why. Of Henry Fonda in the late 70s: "He had not made a good film in ten years. One hoped that someone might give him a chance as, say, a bogus-priest, rapist-confidence-trickster who picks his nose. That wicked prospect never dawned."
  • I am picking favorites and, really, he only occasionally descends into bitchiness. But when he does... "[Kael] seemed to make a perverse case out of attacking Orson Welles and Citizen Kane (for the sake of being provocative) when both were so much her kind of thing (shallow masterpieces)." Whoa! Orson, watch out for the backswing!
Thomson seems to me to be a good throwback, the kind of critic we don't see anymore because so many have failed, typically by underestimating the intellectual and emotional demands of his approach. He is strictly fundamental - he is who he is, and before he sets pen to paper he critically examines his own response to the work. (If I may misquote Misalliance: "Read Walter Pater!") Modern conceptions of the work's "significance", "context", or "importance" are not given much weight. For Thomson it's a straight-up investigation, inquisitorial in method, although I don't mean that in a bad way. It this real, he asks, or is it sham?

Of course, David, it's all sham, but you know that, don't you? Even Shakespeare threw himself upon the mercy of the court:
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

It's a very fine book, and everyone should have a copy. Where you read it is your business.

Uniqlo Online

Uniqlo is a Japanese retailer that is going global (and doing very well, thank you). Their online calendar, which changes from time to time, is a surreal stop-action treat.

October 10, 2009

Props for Penang

From The Toronto Star.

Feeling old? Trouble waking up?

October 09, 2009

One tough hombre

Matt Hasselbeck is probable for Seattle's game with Jacksonville, this weekend, broken ribs and all.

If I wouldn't be exposing myself to criminal prosecution, I'd FedEx him my unused Vicodin.

Labels: ,

Goalie of the Day

Viceroy - wrong sport, I know, but...whoa.

Let Me Explain Something to You...Idiots

The U.S. press is having a field day, and the idiots are out in force.
  • The RNC says Obama doesn't deserve the Prize - once again siding with the Taliban against our President. What's next - Limbaugh moving the Rams to Kabul?
  • The RNC is also right in step with their friends in Venezuela: "Ramírez told TV show Despertó Venezuela (Venezuela awoke), broadcast by state-run TV network Venezolana de Televisión, that the US president should apologize to the countries where it has perpetrated genocides, before being awarded a Nobel Prize, state-owned news agency ABN reported."
  • "So can anyone tell me how this man won the Nobel Peace Prize?" iRepoter Katy Brown wondered, asking whether it had more to do with him becoming the first black U.S. president. "The people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize in the past ­-- I'm sorry but the legitimacy of this award [previously awarded to Yasser Araft and Henry Kissinger -tf] has gone down the drain."
Yeah, Katy, glad to. For starters, you can read the announcement. American attention spans being what they are, here is my one sentence summary:

In nine months of careful and serious dialogue with world leaders he has won back credibility for America around the world that appeared lost, perhaps forever, because of the stupid, unilateral, and ideologically backward foreign policies of the previous administration.

Here are a few other opinions worth noting:
  • Both Israelis and Palestinians are praising the decision, although Islamic Jihad took the Republican view.
  • Mohamed Elbaradei, the director-general of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency, who received the prize in 2005, said in a statement that he was “absolutely delighted. I cannot think of anyone today more deserving of this honor,” he said. “In less than a year in office, he has transformed the way we look at ourselves and the world we live in and rekindled hope for a world at peace with itself.”
  • The Irish Times: "...Mr Obama’s achievements are substantive, and very real. American foreign policy has been set on a new course, multilateral diplomacy on issues like armaments has been given a new lease of life and the nature and language of international dialogue has been transformed."
Ignatius explains it all here:
That’s what he’s being honored for, really: reconnecting America to the world and making us popular again. If you want to understand the sentiments behind the prize, look at the numbers in the Transatlantic Trends report released last month by the German Marshall Fund. Obama’s approval rating in Germany: 92 percent compared to 12 percent for George Bush. His approval in the Netherlands: 90 percent compared to 18 percent for Bush. His favorability rating in Europe overall (77 percent) was much higher than in America (57 percent).
That's why, Katy. I've got a seven year-old kid: this is the first time in his life America has had the respect and support of the rest of the civilized world. Which, apparently, does not include the Republican National Committee.

You'd better recognize

Emergency Helicopter Crash!!

Recently, there was a debut of a new NBC show set in San Francisco that featured a number of helicopter crashes. It seemed that every few minutes during the show, something crashed again, usually a helicopter, particularly during a moment of weak dialogue.   What this show clearly needed was EVEN MORE HELICOPTER CRASHES. For example...



The handsome yet arrogant and vaguely foreign-looking action medic looks around at burning, smoking wreckage of helicopter that he has just pinned on top of the Transamerica Building, and glances at the new Bank of America logo on the building, which he notices as he is hanging by his fingers from the landing gear, inching along to reach a small, adorable boy who happened to be hanging from an open window -which is why the helicopter was called in the first place - before a passing blimp suddenly came down and bumped the rescue helicopter down onto the pyramid tip of the Transamerica building, because they were whooping it up with champagne and girls like they always do in those blimps.

Hang on Kid!  (Softly, with tenderness). Come on, kid, grab my hand! Just..a ...few..more...inches..

Kid reaches out his little hand, in which he holds a rosary.


Drop the rosary kid, it's alright, we can go get it later! Just you and me, we'll go find your mom and get some ice cream and look for the rosary.




C'mon, Kid! Do it for Doc!

The helicopter creaks and shifts and pieces fall off.

C'mon Kid, grab my hand and we'll swing over to that open window over there!

The boy's mother and her actuary look on from the window, the worry written on their faces like a teenager tags wet concrete with his DJ name. 


 I'm scared!


No time!!

Just as the boy reaches out to DOC's hand, dropping the rosary, the boy looks up in terror, and a huge burning helicopter is reflected in his eye, the image getting bigger.  Then a news helicopter crashes into the boy and explodes, showering wreckage everywhere, while DOC manages to grab the ledge of the open window, and the cab of the second helicopter spins up and crashes into the first, knocking them both fuselages off the building, where they roll majestically down the sloping wall of the Transamerica building right past the Bank of America logo until the boiling, tumbling wreckage crashes into the waiting fire truck below, and the fire truck explodes. There is screaming. And more screaming.  The rosary the boy dropped falls as the camera tracks it, until it suddenly lodges in the eye of a bystander who was looking up while holding a sign that says "Bank of America has a low, fixed rate on Balance transfers!" He writhes on the ground, screaming. Also, the crowd screams more and runs away, where one of them runs in a panic into Market Street and is run over by a school bus, which crashes into the burning fire truck and explodes.  


One of the bimbos in the blimp looks up from her debauchery as she hears a thump and shushes the philandering pilots.


Oh my god! What was that?

Doc has dropped onto the irresponsibly flying blimp, and he grabs a rope and swings down the side with one hand until he is dangling outside of the cabin, but the door is locked and he can't get in, so as the stunned blimp-partiers watch, he swings back, nearly losing his grip twice, and comes in hard, crashing through the door.


Points at Pilot.


Doc punches the pilot in the face.

It was a kid! He was just a kid!

But the pilot is knocked out, slumping over the controls, and the blimp nosedives, heading directly for the helicopter landing pad on top of the roof of San Francisco General. Everyone falls over, spilling there champagne and sliding around in the cabin. "Doc" looks up to see one of the girls about to light a cigarette in front of an oxygen tank.


An ER doctor looks around at dozens of screaming patients and furious activity.

ER Doc

Christ, one more mishap and we're going to have more stiffs than McDonald's has nuggets!

October 08, 2009

Some Video of My Lecture at Evergreen

At the Cooper Point Journal.

There is not a trailer park big enough...


Let's Hear it for Obsession

Adam Savage talks about his quest for the Maltese Falcon and the Dodo-fascinating.

October 06, 2009

Science news

We're screwed.

October 05, 2009

The Problem is Them

Sometimes it's not clear what the problem is. Sometimes it is.

Krugman's latest column is quite correct, but does nothing to solve the problem.

The problem is that a party elected on the promise of change, which controls the government, has so far not changed very much. I really don't care what some Republican did when he got the news from Copenhagen. I'm lot more interested in seeing laws passed that make peoples' lives better. Not much the Republicans can do on that front.

Krugman's doing what the right-wing pundits did in the twilight of the Bush administration - blaming the (impotent) haters on the other side.

Sorry, Beardie, they don't have the votes, the Democrats do. The problem is the Democrats aren't doing much with them.

Veronica: you got retcon'd

Sorry, FSL, but I think Betty's gonna win out in the end.

October 03, 2009

Big Stars

For what it's worth, The American Film Institute has a list (updated in '07) of their 100 best American films of all time. Bogart played the lead in four - Casablanca (#3), The Maltese Falcon (#31), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (#38), and The African Queen (#65). (The African Queen saw the biggest decline of any film remaining on the list from 1997, falling all the way from #17.)

Are those the four Thomson was thinking of? Can you really leave The Big Sleep off a list like that? They did, anyway.

So who has more than four? One guy, maybe two.

Jimmy Stewart has five - Vertigo, It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Philadelphia Story, and Rear Window.

DeNiro has four, plus The Godfather, Part II.

The AFI also has a list of big stars - Bogart is #1 on that one, which kind of surprises me. I'd have thought they'd have taken someone a little less quirky - Cary Grant or John Wayne, maybe.

Bogart was a good chessplayer - good enough to draw with Reshevsky in a simultaneous exhibition. That's very good.

And he could act a little:

Of that performance Bogart said (according to Thomson): "I don't know whether [Queeg] was a schizophrenic, a manic-depressive, or a paranoiac - ask a psychiatrist - but I do know that a person who has any one of these things works overtime at being normal. In fact he's super normal until pressured. And then he blows up. I personally know a Queeg in every studio..."

So, we've got that going for us

Simon Kuper in today's FT:

Even Navratilova could not win in singles after 40. If she lost her oomph, then the rest of us have no chance. Yet there is one thing in sport that probably does improve after 40: fandom.

It works something like this. Life is confusing and full of loss. You leave places, people die, and your own body changes so much that eventually it might as well belong to a different person. A rare constant in life, something that can stay with you from pre-school to grave, is often the sport that you follow. Rogan Taylor, scholar of football at Liverpool University, says that just as pre-industrial villagers marked the passing of time through agricultural seasons, urbanites use sports seasons. Every late summer the football season starts, as regular as the harvest. Or, as Nick Hornby wrote in his fan's memoir, Fever Pitch : "I have measured out my life in football matches."

The stuff that dreams are made of

I watched The Maltese Falcon again tonight, which certainly (checks Ebert) is one of the greatest films ever made. Odd, I watch it about once a decade and each time it seems to some degree unfamiliar, almost like watching a new movie.

In my 20s I certainly didn't catch the subtlety of the interplay between Bogart and Mary Astor - the way they are constantly looking at one another, checking one another. I certainly never got, until tonight, the rich irony of Spade's infatuation and disappointment in Brigid. The initial interest and delight in the discovery of a kindred spirit - someone who could work a scam as well as he - and the gradual, crushing realization that she is really evil. And my goodness, Mary Astor could act, couldn't she?

"I've been bad, worse than you could know..."

(Nor did I quite register Cairo fellating his cane during the consultation in Spade's office...well, there were a lot of things I didn't notice in my 20s.)

Back then I took greater note of Spade's sadism - the evident pleasure he takes in beating up Cairo and showing up Wilmer, acting like a lunatic when bluffing the Fat Man then laughing about it in the hallway, fingering Astor's "pretty little neck" as he talks about her going to the gallows. None of that seems so shocking to me now. Spade is in character. To have the justice his code demands, he has to go in with thieves and become one.

Without losing his mind. Throughout the film (and the book, as Huston took most dialogue verbatim) Spade is scolding others to keep their heads. In the intimacy of mortal confrontation, it is Gutman who calls him on it:

That's an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides. 'Cause as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.

Spade knows he cannot afford the slightest concession to human feeling. And while this sacrifice gives him victory, what does he really win? He will not get the falcon, the money, or the woman. He has to risk everything to fulfill the demands of honor, and all he really gets is an exemption (temporary?) from the gallows. A dark message from the dark world of 1941.

While abroad I paid good money for David Thomson's book on Bogart, which I discover is not yet available in the States. Well, when it comes out be sure to have a look, at 120 pages it is an expensive but rewarding confection. Thomson is a tough grader:
After Dark Passage, Bogart would make another nineteen pictures. Of those, four or five are keepers that anyone can still see with profit and pleasure. And one is as good as anything he ever did. The others are humdrum or worse. We are talking about a man who made four great pictures in his life.

As many as that?

Smartass. Who made more? Here is someone's list of the ten most influential films of the 40s - Bogart has three of them. And he wasn't just in them, he made them. People can talk about John Wayne or Gary Cooper as the model of American manhood. Today it's Brad Pitt, I suppose ("prettier and dumber", one of those snooty Europeans observed).

But Bogart was the more potent model. In his best roles he was at pains to represent a flawed human being, not an idealized hero figure. In The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, at least, he was the hero in spite of himself - a tough guy in a bad world with a strong inner need to do right by someone. Bogart worked nervously on his lines alone for hours, until they came naturally, always trying to take stuff out, trying to keep the hard edge on the delivery. But, as Thomson observes,
It all works as speech until you look at the imploring eyes, longing to be believed, trying to believe.

October 01, 2009

Truly, a league of champions

The Eisengeist fantasy football league is on its way to the best season yet. Lot's of action, and genuine drama that you only see in statistics-derived sporting competition.