April 28, 2011


A few things:
- This is pretty loose
- He almost doesn't get to the microphone in time
- The cameraman seems to be having trouble with the focus
- I think he has some trouble getting his guitar turned on
- Plays a fine solo anyway

That's a good tune. Starting to figure out why my Dad never missed this show.

History of the Amen Break

April 27, 2011

Chart of the day

Says here the Laird's a big old Republican and doesn't know it. And what's with Trump? And why are there no shows for indolent Republicans?

Let's do it the old-fashioned way

Phase out Medicare? Let's vote on it.

Amis pre-eulogizes Hitchens

This piece by Martin Amis in the UK Guardian had some nice Hitchen-nuggets in it, the best of which was this:
The year was 1981. We were in a tiny Italian restaurant in west London, where we would soon be joined by our future first wives. Two elegant young men in waisted suits were unignorably and interminably fussing with the staff about rearranging the tables, to accommodate the large party they expected. It was an intensely class-conscious era (because the class system was dying); Christopher and I were candidly lower-middle bohemian, and the two young men were raffishly minor-gentry (they had the air of those who await, with epic stoicism, the deaths of elderly relatives). At length, one of them approached our table, and sank smoothly to his haunches, seeming to pout out through the fine strands of his fringe. The crouch, the fringe, the pout: these had clearly enjoyed many successes in the matter of bending others to his will. After a flirtatious pause he said, "You're going to hate us for this."

And Christopher said, "We hate you already."

April 25, 2011

Sharks advance

To celebrate, here's Larry Robinson going coast-to-coast...

Ebert FTW

Ebert wins New Yorker caption contest.

Apply Liberally

April 23, 2011

Ethics, Art, and Politics: Three Vectors

First of all, I apologize to First Sea Lord for not commenting on this post right away. I try to avoid politics since my side always loses...even when we win.

In any case, involvement in politics is not really voluntary, even for artists who are pointedly apolitical. To get involved in politics, all you really have to do is piss off someone powerful, as Chen Guang did. I think it's important to note that the actual cause is immaterial - what makes it political is that someone powerful got angry. Google was not run out of China because of their courageous defense of democratic principles, they were thrown out because they made someone angry. That's how modern power works - be as right as you want, but don't embarrass anyone. In the bad old days they'd kill you for writing a critical economics paper. Today they realize that no one reads economics papers...so as long as you don't go on tv and make them look bad, knock yourself out.

I wanted to mention two other things in this connection.

The most concentrated meditation on this I've encountered is the Manuel Puig novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, also a decent motion picture (WARNING: contains acting by William Hurt).

Although society views Molina's (social) and Arregui's (political) offenses as different in character, the book underscores the commonality of their experience. Molina's final hours raise the question of whether he did it for love or patria. But is there really a difference?

Studies of the military suggest that soldiers are not motivated primarily by patriotism or bloodlust. They're motivated by a desire to get the war over with, and by a strong sense of dedication...to one another. In the end I think that amounts to patriotism, but it's not the kind we're sold at the political conventions.
What we're fighting for...in the end, we're fighting for each other. (link)
The other thing I wanted to mention was the minority view of the late Zen teacher Robert Aitken, who felt strongly that Buddhism without values was "a hobby", and that political engagement was absolutely necessary. Here are some remarks he made in 2006, when he had just turned 89:
There is only one thing that works in the face of the iron faces, and that is decency. By being decent, I don’t mean being nice. I mean Mahayana responsibility. It isn’t nice to block the doorway. Decent Mahayana conduct means behaving appropriately. It is surely appropriate in these days of justifying torture and white phosphorous as weapons, to hold up an inexorable mirror to the fiends who are raising hell in our name—and then following through with an essential agenda that is not necessarily legal, like smuggling medicine to Iraqi people—the program of Voices in the Wilderness until the situation became too dangerous—or setting up a half-way house for recently released prisoners, like the Olympia Zen Center, or feeding the poor, five days a week, week in and week out for years and years, like Catholic Worker houses across the country. The essential agenda is not a hobby, after all.
And "the essential agenda" is what art is all about. Art is about saying things that need to be said. The better it is, the more dangerous it is, for both the practitioner and the powerful.

The reason I think Aitken's insight is relevant is that art constructed in the service of a preexisting agenda is invariably crap. It might be campy or entertaining crap, but it is crap nonetheless. Real art precedes policy. It takes note of actual conditions, it confronts difficult questions, it blurts out uncomfortable facts like a 5-year old behind a fat lady on the escalator.

Art then, isn't politics, but an unstable precursor or catalyst. For the powerful, that makes it a threat, something to be managed or contained. But that's their problem.

German nicknames for the F-104 Starfighter

  • Fliegender Sarg - "flying coffin"
  • Witwenmacher - "widow maker"
  • Erdnagel - "ground nail" (a common term for tent peg)
The Japanese called it Eiko - "glory".


April 21, 2011

Use wisely

April 20, 2011

Revisiting Wesnoth

I may have recommended it before, but Wesnoth offers as good a gaming experience as you can ask for, including...
  • Simple, intuitive gameplay
  • Great variety in unit types and settings
  • Panzer General-like gameplay, but omitting European genocide
  • 16 well-designed, de-bugged campaigns, each with a good story line and unique challenges
  • Many other campaigns, some very good, available for download
  • Most campaigns offer several different ways to win, lots of replay potential
  • Pretty good soundtrack

And it's free.


Third or fourth time Obama's dropped by Palo Alto, but civilians don't get to see him. Back in the day, when the President came to town, he might stand on the back of a train, or get up at the town hall, and give a speech. Nowadays he just hangs out with a billionaire, shakes hands with some Key Employees.

Why bother with little people.

I agree with your policies Mr. President, but I'd prefer if you emulated someone other than Clinton in this regard.

April 19, 2011

I'll See Your Segovia

Andres Segovia and Joe Pass were in a bar playing cards...

April 18, 2011

I thought you seceded?

Rick Perry asks for Federal help fighting fires.

I'd just like to point out that Alaskan fires are usually a lot bigger than Texas fires, and we put them out ourselves, with our bare hands. Which is what you'd expect, since Alaska is the biggest state.

April 17, 2011

Grohl ages

“You just think, ‘Oh no. I’m that guy, now? What am I, f—ing Gandalf?’” (link)

I see it a little differently

The South got what its leaders deserved.

April 16, 2011

Evening Melodics

April 15, 2011

We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you

No, actually, we're laughing at you.

Obama open-mike gaffe

I think this reveals his true character.

April 14, 2011

Like old times

Germany vs. France...
Israel vs. Syria...
Canadiens vs. Bruins...underway now - what?! Montreal's leading?! Shut your mouth!

April 12, 2011


Some licks to play at the guitar store.

Mmm...La Grange...

What's wrong with Facebook

It occurred to me: you can recover friendships on Facebook, but you can't accumulate friendship on Facebook. You can only spend it.

"Art will cease to be political when reality ceases to be political."

"Art will cease to be political when reality ceases to be political."
 - NYT Reader comment on the Ai Weiwei detention story in China.  Not to say Art MUST be political. But as a social practice by many people, it will be, and a free practice is, we trust, it is vastly better.

Another interesting reader comment:

"(in the West) We don't call it "censorship;" instead we say something like "the market isn't interested/it won't make money....See Jeff Koons, and a long list of other trivial, highly marketable 'artists' who are not only accepted, but heavily promoted - precisely because while they may seem culturally outrageous, they are politically harmless. "

It may surprise you to learn of the huge commerical success of avant-garde art in China - but the arrest of Ai- a big deal- changes much. Art can be commerical, poetic, it can edgy, or political, or all of these. To the Chinese dictatorship, edgy is great: it gains prestige and business. (As it does here.) But political is a crime. This underscores the incredible potential and emptiness of much contemporary work.

The severe suppression of a painter's Chen Guang's work two years ago- his work on Tiannemen Square was not just censored but nearly eradicated from the Internet - while edgy performance and situationist styles flourished in China, suggested to me that painting what's in front of your nose with courage is still one of the most uncontrollable, powerful art forms.

And finally, I am deeply disappointed in the tone of all the commenters in the articles. None of these professors and curators of Asian Art and political affairs, stands up and says: China's arrest of Ai is wrong, it is meant to crush free thinking, it hurts both China's growing culture and international standing, and China must be pressured to release him. Several weakly imply it.

I tire greatly of balanced, reasonable deference to dictators.

April 11, 2011

The German Army Over for Tea

Anton von Werner - Im Etappenquartier vor Paris - Google Art Project

Von Werner's In The Troops Quarters Outside Paris, 1894. Full painting is at the Google Art Project. 'm posting this one because of its virtuosity and because it gives a nice introduction to art interpretation. A brilliant painting, it is also a hyper-patriotic celebration of 19th century German militarism and nationalism, which, as we know, lead to very bad things.

From the cheerful mother, you would think that being invaded was like having the German Army over for tea. The daughter, interestingly, has something of a mask of fear.

It was this sort of emergent hyper-patriotism that got Nietzche into something of a tizzy. And for good reason.

Goya recoiled in horror at his subject, Nedrum dwells.

Here's where we discuss the skilled and interesting and most likely evil painter Odd Nerdrum, in a compelling informal essay that is one of the better riffs on art and morality I've seen recently.  It begins with Odd Nerdrum's awkward hitler-love.

April 10, 2011

It's a good time to remember who won

Selections from an enjoyable article on descendants of Civil War heroes, focusing on the great-great-grandson of Eisengeiste's favorite Union general:

In his great-great-grandson, the top Union Civil War general and the second Republican president has an unlikely if effective champion: a gay Democrat who as a young man jumped for joy when the military draft was abolished (his call-up number was 4) and who as an adult opposed "don't ask, don't tell."


After Dietz threatened to have Grant's body moved to Illinois, the Park Service undertook a $1.8 million restoration project. The tomb fight forced Dietz to read up on Grant. He was so impressed he decided that, having helped restore his ancestor's tomb, he would try to restore his reputation.


"I think the Confederate flag should be banned. To me, it's like the Nazi flag," he says. "The South was wrong, and they got what they deserved. (President) Grant wanted to make sure after the war that blacks had a place. His smacking Southerners around to make that happen doesn't bother me at all."


Dietz says his social and political views were formed before he knew much about Grant, but "learning more about Grant's personal integrity and sense of justice affirmed what I had become as an adult and just made me feel prouder of being his descendant."

Showdown at Thunderdome

How Xinjiang became part of China, from the very fine China's Last Empire: The Great Qing by William T. Rowe (link):

The Zunghar Mongols, a semi-nomadic people of the steppes of central Eurasia, fiercely resisted incorporation into the Qing empire and the divide-and-rule fragmentation that was a staple of Qing frontier policy, as it had been for the Ming.

Instead, under the enterprising khans Batur Hongtaiji (d. 1653) and his son Galdan (d. 1697), the Zunghars busied themselves with a project of alliance formation and state building analogous to that undertaken by that other Hong Taiji who had played such a pivotal role in the formation of the Qing itself.

By around 1660 they had created a formidable inland empire bordered by Muscovy-Russia to their north and west and the Qing to their south and east. But as early as 1689 the Treaty of Nerchinsk between Muscovy-Russia and the Qing stabilized for the time being the eastern (Manchurian) sector of their joint frontier.

Over the next century, this triad of empires would be gradually reduced to a pair, as the two agrarian empires on the Zunghars’ flanks progressively extended and hardened their borders to squeeze out their pastoralist neighbor.

The very year after concluding the Nerchinsk accord, the [Qing] Kangxi emperor declared his own personal campaign to eliminate the khan Galdan. He marched into the steppe and engaged the Zunghars at the great battle of Ulan Butong, where Kangxi’s chief general and uncle, Tong Guogang, met his end. Despite a Qing declaration of victory, the campaign and its successors dragged on for decades. In 1697 Kangxi’s war of attrition on Galdan’s allies and food supplies finally brought about the khan’s death, under uncertain circumstances. His remains were presented to the triumphant Qing emperor, who had them pulverized and scattered to the winds.

But under a succession of khans the Zunghars continued to hold out, and the war slogged on. When Kangxi himself died in 1722, Yongzheng traded in his father’s personal vendetta for various initiatives to pacify the Mongols through negotiated truces and offers of trade. But another round of open revolt in the late 1750s prompted the professedly magnanimous Qianlong emperor to launch a genocidal campaign against the Zunghar survivors, who numbered more than half a million. It was successful, and the depopulated steppes were quickly resettled with millions of Qing subjects.

Piggybacking on his success against the Zunghar Mongols, in 1757- 1759 Qianlong invaded the territories around the Tarim Basin to the south and west of Zungharia, an area populated by Turkic, Uighur, and other Muslim peoples.

The campaigns in the field proved much easier than the task of selling the adventure to high-level Han literati at home, who saw no need to conquer this huge pastureland, whose peoples had not traditionally threatened the Chinese homeland. The trusted grand councilor Liu Tongxun, the long-serving northwest governor Chen Hongmou, and other officials one by one cautioned against the project, and in 1760 a seemingly orchestrated chorus of answers on the metropolitan examination subtly condemned the campaigns as a vain and wasteful display of imperial arrogance.

Qianlong brushed these criticisms aside and in 1768 announced the formal annexation of the region under the name Xinjiang (New Dominion). With this one gesture, he expanded the empire into a vast territory that China still claims today, and bequeathed to his heirs a morass of lingering ethnic-nationalist tensions.

April 09, 2011

Farewell Mr. Lumet

Cultivating a Reputation for Incompetence.

A recipe for defeating Republicans in this amusing picture of the Tories flaying around waving their arms, hooting like a bunch of loons, lying and stumbling and pissing everyone off royally.  Which suggested a political tactic.

A lot of people who are not ordinarily political sociopaths are persuaded of Republicans' competence, regardless of evidence, which is a mental picture we tend to paint on the apparently wealthy and successful. Incidentally, this is why people buy expensive suits.

So to the entirely rhetorical and wholly politically point: don't attack their lack of compassion, or the ideology of greed, habitual prevarication, religious fanaticism, or even the increasingly naked racism. 

Attack their aura of competence. 

The last decade, we tend to assume, would have made that obvious. But it isn't- it has to be a constant refrain: Republicans are incompetent: butterfingered botchers and bird-brained bunglers. The Party of Can't and Wouldn't Know How.  The Heckuva Job party.

If I've learned one thing from the GOP over the years (and it was only one), attack your opponent's perceived strength repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly, until you are long sick of the sound of your own voice, and keep at it when they are down and at their weakest. 

Morality in Pill Form.

Adding to the warehouse of apocalypse-enabling technologies comes a new level of proposed drug manipulation of moral behavior.
"Science has ignored the question of moral improvement so far, but it is now becoming a big debate," he said. "There is already a growing body of research you can describe in these terms. Studies show that certain drugs affect the ways people respond to moral dilemmas by increasing their sense of empathy, group affiliation and by reducing aggression."
I thought that was called estrogen.

Other scientists raise the obvious  point - the opposite effect would also be true. 

April 08, 2011

You have a right to obey the robot #2

Instead of risking any lives, deputies sent the $65,000 robot into the home.

The robot has cameras, which record all of its actions.
The video shows the robot searching each room, its electronic eye roving from side to side while officers watch safely from a command post.

As the robot slowly pushes the man's bedroom door open, the man comes out, stark naked, with an AK-47 in hand. The man then starts shooting at the robot.

You have a right to obey the robot #1

Made by Northrop Grumman Remotec, the BatCat has a reach of more than 40 feet, an extension height of 50 feet, and a lift capacity of 12,000 pounds, according to the company's website....

But during Monday's daylong standoff, police used the BatCat to tear open the gunman's house to locate him inside, while SWAT team members maintained a safe distance.

"It proved to be very useful in securing the safety of our officers," said LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese, the San Fernando Valley's commanding officer. "I'd much rather use a mechanical instrument to keep our officers safe."

April 06, 2011

The Greatest

I am in Montreal just for the day, and the town is all agog over the news that the Habs are going to the playoffs. They did so in style, winning in OT (with a great sideshow from Marty Turco). Still, there was a time when this wouldn't even have been news. From 1971 to 1994 they went to the playoffs every year. The Montreal Canadiens used to define quality hockey.

But even Rome fell. It's been hit-or-miss in recent years. The miss in 1995 ended that great streak, then there was a terrible stretch from '99-'01. The team was much improved in the double-0ughts, but missed the show again in '03 and '07. It's not automatic anymore.

It reminded me of some recent consulting work I did on statistical predictors of success in hockey. So little has been done. We live in the age of quantification, and while baseball has Bill James, and Doctor X has pioneered the field of quantitative musicology, the rink still searches for its Galileo.

Some of this has to do with hockey culture itself. Where baseball has always been statistics-mad, and football coaches have systematically evaluated down-and-distance since the days of Tom Landry, hockey's appeal is more visceral. A friend and colleague who grew up Canadian is as analytically sharp as anyone I know, but if you ask him his assessment of the Sharks he's likely to say something like "they've got try harder to get in there and dig it out of the corners!" Hockey is a continuous and exacting test of skill, endurance, and courage. Putting a number on it sort of misses the point.

But, ironically, hockey has made one enormous statistical contribution to sports analysis - the Plus/Minus score. The concept is simple - if a player's team scores more goals than it gives up while he's on the ice, he gets a plus. If they give up more goals than they score, he gets a minus. Team play is recognized, flashy guys who don't play defense are penalized, and the basic yardstick - goals - is the actual object of the game (unlike, say, yards in football). The idea is so good it has been borrowed and adapted to many other sports.

Of course, the career leader in Plus/Minus is the same man who dominates so many other statistical categories in hockey, Larry Robinson.

Wait...what? Yes, Gretzky's #4 on this list, behind Robinson, Orr, and Bourque. I heard an interview with Doug Wilson on KNBR the other day and the host asked him who he thought the greatest hockey player was, and he offered the view that it was Orr. Gretzky was astonishing of course, and his on-ice awareness and single-minded devotion to the game are legendary. My favorite Gretky stat: if he had never scored a goal he would still be the all-time points leader. But remember, Orr got hurt early - this video gave me fresh respect for him.

But it did not convince me he was the greatest hockey player of all time. Sitting here in Montreal it has never been more apparent to me that the honor must devolve to Larry Robinson. That playoff streak? Robinson was there for almost all of it - including six Stanley Cups. While he was on the ice, the Montreal Canadians outscored their opponents by 730 goals. He and Orr are the only hockey players to ever have a Plus/Minus score of more than 100 in a single season.

Robinson was a defenseman, first and foremost. He was 6-4 and went 225 in the pre-steroid era. He could skate, he played a clean game (here's an example), and made sure the other team did, too. He personally ended the Philadelphia Flyers' "Broad Street Bullies" reign of terror by being bigger, faster, and better than they were.

Since it's hockey you're going to ask me if he could fight. In truth, it's a little hard to say because it's a small sample. No one really wanted to fight him after he gave a "New Sheriff" demonstration to the most notorious goon in the League. In Mister Robinson's neighborhood you had two choices - you could play good, clean, hockey, like God intended, or you could have a really horrible experience you would never forget. Most opponents opted for the former.

And he could put the puck in the net. At one end of the ice he is the burly cop with the cautionary hand on your shoulder. At the other end he's one of the League's top 10 scorers.

As I sit here watching the cold wind waft powdered snow down Rue Sherbrooke, it has never been more obvious to me what it means to be a great hockey player. You can have your flashy guys, they're fine for people who watch highlight films or like ballet. But I have seen the truth, and it is Larry Robinson. If we're picking teams, he is my first rounder.

I thought this video of his jersey retirement was quite moving. Here is a great video recap of his career:

The Wisdom of Crowds

Thanks to The Guardian, we have fresh new thinking from the general public on how to deal with the Fukishima reactors.
Adding on the form, "please be as brief as possible," because the last thing you need in a crisis like this is a complicated solution.

April 05, 2011

Tough to get good help nowadays

Skeptic study confirms warming...

April 02, 2011

Hodgman advises

Desperate times

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place. If you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines—including Google—do retain this information for some time and it's important, for example, that we are all subject in the United States to the Patriot Act and it is possible that all that information could be made available to the authorities." - Eric Schmidt

As the debate over web anonymity escalates, I notice a dynamic that will be familiar to the First Sea Lord - the defense of basic human rights requires defense of some less-than-attractive people - but the alternatives are gruesome.

By basic human rights, I mean the ability to engage in political discourse without (much) fear of retaliation by the rich and powerful. This is always problematic, but modern American politics is now literally run by billionaires (not just the Koch brothers, but also people like Soros and Jobs on the left), so, as Mr. Dylan noted in another context, public officeholders have got to serve somebody.

I was never more wrong about anything than I was in my rejection of Jerry Brown in 1992. He said what was happening and what would happen. Well, that was the last shot. The idea of standing up and saying your piece, and having it matter in any actual sense, is really just nostalgia now.

"I think poor people should be able to get medical care"

You won't see that picture, because rich people hire stooges to do this sort of thing.

The problem with plutocracy is that billionaires are uniquely well-equipped to shut people up. If you say something actually damaging, and they know who you are, they can make a quick assessment of whether to ignore you, buy you off, or have you killed. [UPDATE: Or discredited. I forgot discredited.] In my lifetime the prospects for legitimate dissent from the bottom of the economic spectrum have dwindled down from bad to about zero.

And America's a picnic, of course, compared to China, where political dissent can be a fast track to organ donation.

So I'm not surprised that there are powerful people who figure the whole concept of anonymous comment should be done away with. Zuckerberg leads the charge.

But anonymous comment has been a longstanding and important part of the political process, going back to the Revolutionary War, and of course in England long before that. (Google's systematic indexing of the world's libraries allows me to directly link to a book discussing this phenomenon here.)

There was a time when these things called "blogs", many with anonymous authors, wielded considerable influence, but these have now been largely consolidated and subsumed into corporate power structures. (The Huffington Post writer's boycott list uses Facebook, by the way.)

Eisengeiste itself is, of course, controlled by a shadowy cabal of politically well-connected west coast intellectuals with interests and agendas of their own.

So I think anonymity is important if we wish to preserve this idea of freedom of dissent - I don't see how the concept is viable if Zuckerberg or Schmidt can retaliate against you, either of their own volition or at the direction of the government. Given the importance of the issue, one could wish for a more distinguished champion than Christopher Poole, but I guess that's the point. You either believe in freedom of expression, or you don't. If you have to put up with 2 Live Crew, so be it.

I've noticed over the years that it has become much more difficult to create an online persona - without giving up your real identity. Most online e-mail services want a "real" e-mail address now, and, in the case of Google, your phone number. In the old days you could spoof them pretty easily. But Pookmail is no more, and the grinding wheels of commerce are killing off, one by one, the dodgy portal sites that once offered a place to get a hot shower and a beer. Even Lycos - once the open city of the Internet - is changing its model. At this stage there's hardly anyone quasi-respectable who is desperate enough to offer you an e-mail address if they have no idea who you are. Other than Microsoft, I mean.

These are desperate times. The ranks are thinning, and the safe houses few and far between.

Why don't they just rename it "Thunderdome"?

With a documented history of at least 2,500 years, there have been a succession of different peoples and empires vying for control over the territory.

Prior to the 21st century, the region has been ruled at various times by the
Yuezhi, Xiongnu Empire, Han Dynasty, Sixteen Kingdoms of the Jin Dynasty (Former Liang, Former Qin, Later Liang, and Western Liáng), Tang Dynasty, Uyghur Khaganate, Kara-Khanid Khanate, Mongol Empire (Yuan Dynasty), Dzungar Khanate, and Manchu Qing Dynasty.

Note sure what else to do

We salute the Fukushima 50.

A little cloud trouble

Fire data center worker "wiped out tv show"...