January 31, 2014

Very nice

[D]espite the arbitrary nature of the state and its borders, some still declare loyalty to this accident of history...


January 28, 2014

Call it a hunch

Yeah! Oh…Snowden?

January 27, 2014

This decade's climate change post

"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." - Aldous Huxley


January 26, 2014

As long as we're quoting Lear

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,--often the surfeit
of our own behavior,--we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

Bonus Feature: Johnny and Mose

Seventh Son

Parchman Farm

In Which an Advertising Man Introduces Me to Mose Allison

There are two Duke Ellingon tunes that I've long associated with one another - "Don't Get Around Much Anymore", and "Do Nothing till You Hear From Me".  I'd heard and hummed them for many years before I learned that they were both the work of lyricist Bob Russell.  Russell started out as an advertising man, but made his way to Tin Pan Alley and ultimately to Hollywood, where he collaborated with Quincy Jones and did many other improbable things, more of which later.

The two Ellington songs are early efforts.  They are both remarkably fluent:  spare but telling dramatic monologues in which every words counts, and sometimes counts twice.  I was a bit surprised at the order of composition, with "Don't Get Around Much..." coming in 1942 and "Do Nothing..." in 1943.  Before I knew this it seemed so evident that these were episodes in the life of the same bon vivant, "Do Nothing..." during the party times, and "Don't Get Around Much..." after the fun was over.  Well, chronology aside I still think of them that way.

"Do Nothing till you Hear From Me" is the inventive testimony of a weasel who's been sleeping around, but doesn't want to lose his girlfriend.  He's in so deep there's really no hope of refuting the charges, so he instead engages in a series of ingeniously non-apologetic non-denials.  He gives it such a good try you almost root for him, but Russell won't let you forget that he's also a cad.  Implementations vary - e.g., Ella Fitzgerald's ornate and elegiac cover has an extended prologue (and includes a solo Ellington's by sax man Ben Webster) - but these four stanzas make up the core of the song:

Do nothin' till you hear from me
Pay no attention to what's said
Why people tear the seam of anyone's dream
Is over my head

Do nothin' till you hear from me
At least consider our romance
If you should take the word of others you've heard
I haven't a chance

True, I've been seen with someone new
But does that mean that I'm untrue?
When we're apart, the words in my heart
Reveal how I feel about you

Some kiss may cloud my memory
And other arms may hold a thrill
But please do nothin' till you hear from me
And you never will

There are many covers of "Do Nothing till You Hear From Me", but if you find this one wanting in some way, there is not much I can do for you:

That said, the great Mose Allison has made cool ambivalence his stock in trade, and his fine cover approaches the level of the Armstrong/Ellington version.  It is straight-up heresy, but I think I've come around to the view that Allison gets the song a little righter than Ellington/Armstrong, moving it away from showy performance - which after all was Armstrong's stock in trade - and a bit closer to testimony.
If "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me" is the pleading of a scoundrel still up to his old tricks, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" is a sadder tale, drawn in the briefest strokes imaginable:

I missed the Saturday dance  
I heard they crowded the floor 
It's awfully different without you 
Don't get around much anymore 

I thought I'd visit the club
I got as far as the door 
They'd have asked me about you 
Don't get around much anymore  

Darling, I guess 
That my mind's more at ease 
But nevertheless, 
Why stir up memories  

I've been invited on dates 
I might have gone but what for 
It's awfully different without you 
Don't get around much anymore

In the category of "getting a lot done in four words," I'd nominate "awfully different without you" as pre-eminent, right up there with "are my methods unsound?" and "stand up for bastards!"

Again, we should probably use The Summit version as our point of departure:

Both the arrangement and Armstrong's vocals fit the lyrics better here.  But again, Mose Allison seems genetically connected with this material.  If you'd like to hear some others, Wikipedia lists 24 covers, though most are inferior and should not be employed.  I do recommend that first one by the Ink Spots, however.

They were popular songs back in the day, in a time when the big city could be seen as sophisticated, not just rich and cruel.  After a career that defies synopsis, Russell passed away in 1970.  His last offering - written almost on his deathbed - showed the same delight in paradoxical wordplay, but in other respects it is almost the exact opposite of those first, protean, efforts:

  • Russell also wrote "You Came a Long Way From St. Louis", one of only a few songs sung by both Rosemary Clooney (here) and Marvin Gaye (here), although I most prefer the Della Reese version.  T.S. Eliot, who was originally from St. Louis, reportedly enjoyed the song.  I'll pause while you picture Eliot bopping a little in his chair as he listens to it on his record player.  Word is he especially liked the line "you've still got a long way to go."
  • A fine documentary on Mose Allison, with exegesis by Peter Townshend ("without that song I don't think I'd have written My Generation") is here (starts at 2:00).

Upcoming exhibition should be interesting

According to Football Outsiders, Seattle has the best defense in the league against the easiest schedule in the NFL (i.e.: the worst slate of offenses) and Denver had the best offense in the league against the second-easiest slate of defenses.


Great preview of the game here.

January 25, 2014

Arte Johnson approves

Inspiration here.

January 24, 2014

A Very Special Twitter thread

[Not even the best one]


January 22, 2014


January 20, 2014

Walking the walk

via Doctor Kapital via Twitter

Dear Front,

I don't know much about football - The University of Chicago disbanded its program long ago, of course.  But Neil has a good take here.


January 18, 2014

I don't know what a Macklemore is, but this has The Right Stuff


January 17, 2014

Oh. My. God.

See you in Seattle

January 16, 2014


[T]wo men with earpieces may be providing security services for the tech giant’s corporate shuttle buses. The men were spotted on two consecutive days near a Google bus stop in San Francisco’s Mission District.


January 14, 2014

Outed by Time


January 12, 2014

Seahawks! 49ers! For ArrrRRRRrrrrrRRRRrrrrrrgh!

How big is this game, Johnny?

1. It's so big, it makes Ragnorak look like a warg in the prak.
2. It's so big, it won't return Spielberg's calls.
3. It's so big, it makes Star Wars look like Stars Wars: The Phantom Menace
4. It's so big, Taylor Swift is dating it.
5. It's so big, Micheal Bay failed to add explosions in the background.
6. It's so big, Jerry Rice, long in retirement from both teams, forgot where he put his car keys for an entire weekend.
7. It's so big it occupies the set of all points. 

Too good not to use

January 11, 2014

Saints' Keys to Victory

I am a well-known Saints fan and foot-ball FANatic, so here are my keys to the big game tomorrow.  Now, the Saints will be going into the "Safeco" Dome in Seattle, which is well known for its "homer" crowd.  But, and this is important:  WE CAN DO THIS.  To win the big game the Saints must:

  • GET AN EARLY LEAD.  The Seattle side has plenty of pep and ginger when they they have lead, but how are they when they're down two touchdowns early?  It's time for the Saints to find out.  Drew Brees is just the man to deliver some quick long strikes and shut up that crowd.
  • CONTAIN MARSHAWN LYNCH.  Not that the Saints are likely to have any issue with this.  They have plenty of motivation from the last time they had a playoff game at the Kingdome.  With a crack defense that is back from probation, and a defensive coordinator who can scheme with the best of them, the Saints can and will do what great teams do:  take away the other team's best offensive threat.
Three simple steps to redemption.  See you on the gridiron!

Great article on Mark Twain

Mark Twain turned frontier humor into literature, as detailed in this article.
“Jim Smiley,” subsequently retitled “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” lifted Twain to fame and laid the foundation for his later triumphs, but it isn’t especially funny anymore. What once made bankers in New York and boatmen in Baton Rouge laugh out loud would now at best elicit a halfhearted chuckle from a generous reader. It’s hard to say exactly why. Humor eludes elaborate theorizing, but it usually relies on context: on shared assumptions about the permissible and the taboo, the familiar and the strange. Some humor stays funny because its underlying truths remain in force—the flirty banter in The Taming of the Shrew, for instance, or the dick jokes inTristram Shandy. A large part of the pleasure in laughing at old material is realizing how little has changed. Other humor, by contrast, loses its power as its context fades.

Something wrong, something brilliant


Annual Onion link

My Fellow Americans, Look At Me: Do I Look Like A Corrupt, Vengeful Bully?


January 08, 2014

"Beast Quake" revisited

I have a few brief comments on this long article about Marshawn Lynch's epic run to close out the Saints three years ago:

  1. Nice of ESPN to notice something west of the Appalachians.
    • Three years late, though…news travels slow across this Great Continent.
  2. It's great they're calling Saints players and asking them to re-live the memory.
    • "I cannot let that play die down," said former Saints safety Darren Sharper, who is now an analyst for the NFL Network and still gets teased about the play. "It just keeps coming back -- Beast Mode -- like a thorn in my side. Like a bad rash that keeps coming back…  I got an arm on [Lynch], but it wasn't enough. Then he proceeded to throw everybody in our secondary out of the way."
  3. In retrospect, that play really was the birth of the New Seahawks, the punch-you-in-the-face team no one wants to play.
  4. Marshawn granted an interview for this article.
That GIF is here.

January 06, 2014

I think we all know where the *real* Super Bowl is going to be played...

…don't we?

January 05, 2014

Some quotations from The Head Game

I once mentioned the estimable Roger Kahn as one of the first great "literary" baseball writers.  But I also said that while Kahn had the better story in The Boys of Summer, I thought Roger Angell the better writer.  This was not meant as a dig at Kahn - I put him right up with there with Angell and Updike, and - to steal a line from Bill James - if you can stand next to those guys and not look ridiculous, you're doing very well.

Nevertheless, I feel like I have slighted the man in some way...all the more so since I picked up his fine 2000 effort, The Head Game.  This later work explores the pitcher-batter relationship in two books, one covering the distant past, the other the "modern" (post-WW2) era.  Sort of an Old Testament / New Testament approach, if you will.

I've only read the first half, but in doing so I realize that, to be fair to Kahn, I must point out what a great reporter he is.  He has been on the baseball beat for a while.  If you want to know something about Warren Spahn, Bill James might quote statistics or pick up the Reach Guide.  Kahn will pick up the notes from one of his several interviews with the great pitcher, or he will refer back to conversations with sportswriters who watched him play a few dozen times a year.  Or, failing that, he'll go down to the Baseball Hall of Fame or the Baseball National Library to refresh his memory.  In any case he has the century covered:  he's 86, and he had more than a few beers with the guys who wrote up the games before he came on the scene.

Here, then, are some excerpts from The Head Game:
  • During the mid-1880s, when [Hoss] Radbourn had been pitching a complete nine-inning game every other day for three weeks or so, a reporter from the New York Clipper asked if he were not, perhaps, feeling a bit tired.  "Tire out tossing a little five-ounce ball for two hours?" Radbourn said.  One can imagine the spikes of his mustache twitching with contempt.  "Man, I used to be a butcher.  From four in the morning until eight at night I knocked down steers with a twenty-five-pound sledge.  Tired from playing two hours a day for ten times the money I used to get for sixteen hours a day?"  Radbourn stopped right there.
  • When [Christy Mathewson] published books and articles in later years, he insisted that he wrote his own stuff.  John N. Wheeler, a journalist and businessman who subsequently honed and syndicated articles by Winston Churchill, helped Mathewson polish his work.  But Wheeler told me at his home in Ridgefield, Connecticut, "I was, at most, Matty's editor, or rewrite man.  He knew how to write..."  [So maybe James, Thorn (and I) were wrong about this.]
  • "When I was a kid growing up," the columnist Jimmy Cannon said, "real New Yorkers rooted for McGraw's Giants.  The Yankees?  They played to tourists."
  • John Lardner, Ring Lardner's son, caught the reality of the major leagues with another less familiar verse:  Right or wrong is all the same / When baby needs new shoes / It isn't how you play the game / It's whether you win or lose. 
  • Of course, the lords denied that they had tampered with the game.  Later lords praised plastic grass.  You trust a baseball lord at your own risk.

The Head Game is a splendid little book, and you can pick it up cheap at a used book store (like I did) or on Amazon, like the hipster kids do nowadays.

January 04, 2014

Like you'd tell us if you found one

No time travelers were discovered…  Although these negative results do not disprove time travel, given the great reach of the Internet, this search is perhaps the most comprehensive to date.


January 02, 2014

That is just wonderful

"The Fox", "created to fail", has ironically and accidentally gone viral, becoming Ylvis' "breakout" song and drawing international attention to the group. There are currently no plans to release an album including the song or any sequel to it.