July 31, 2016

Here are some good books to read

Well, Michael Dirda's On Conan Doyle has proven to be an interesting and pleasant surprise.  There is rather less Sherlock Holmes than I had expected, because Doyle wrote rather more non-Sherlock material than I had realized - his bibliography alone runs 700 pages.

Amongst the recommended further readings are:

Dirda has read extensively in Doyle's non-Holmes oeuvre - if oeuvre is the word I want - and offers a few highlights, such as this pre-Wodehousian exchange with a butler in one of the Challenger stories:
"I'm expecting the end of the world today, Austin." 
"Yes, sir.  What time sir?" 
"I can't say Austin.  Before evening." 
The taciturn Austin saluted and withdrew.

Professor Challenger, it seems, would have fit right in on The Big Bang Theory:
"You began a paragraph with the words 'Professor G.E. Challenger, who is among our greatest living scientists -'" 
"Well, sir?"  I asked. 
"Why these invidious qualifications and limitations?  Perhaps you can mention who these other predominant scientific men may be to whom you impute equality, or possibly superiority to myself?" 
"It was badly worded...." 
"My dear young friend, do not imagine that I am exacting, but surrounded as I am by pugnacious and unreasonable colleagues, one is force to take one's own part.  Self-assertion is foreign to my nature, but I have to hold my ground against opposition."

What there is on Holmes is first-rate, including the revelation (for me anyway) that Doyle had acknowledged to Robert Louis Stevenson that the model for Holmes was their mutual acquaintance, the estimable Dr. Joseph Bell, a lecturer at the medical school of the University of Edinburgh and author of Manual of the Operations of Surgery.  Doyle served as his clerk for a time.

Dirda's book is short and good, highly recommended.

UPDATE:  Wodehouse comments here:
"When I was starting out as a writer—this would be about the time Caxton invented the printing press—Conan Doyle was my hero. Others might revere Hardy and Meredith. I was a Doyle man, and I still am. Usually we tend to discard the idols of our youth as we grow older, but I have not had this experience with A.C.D. I thought him swell then, and I think him swell now. 
We were great friends in those days, our friendship only interrupted when I went to live in America. He was an enthusiastic cricketer—he could have played for any first-class country—and he used to have cricket weeks at his place in the country, to which I was almost always invited. And after a day’s cricket and a big dinner he and I would discuss literature.
The odd thing was that though he could be expansive about his least known short stories–those in Round the Red Lamp, for instance—I could never get him to talk of Sherlock Holmes, and I think the legend that he disliked Sherlock must be true. It is with the feeling that he would not object that I have sometimes amused myself by throwing custard pies at that great man. 

Combat America: B-17 documentary filmed and narrated by Clark Gable

“Gable was assigned to our squadron but not to a particular crew,” said Cowley. “The group controlled his assignments. They wanted him to have an outer-wing aircraft with a clear view of the skies for his air-to-air photography, He stayed with us right up from 1942 to 1945 and I can tell you, they didn’t put him on the milk runs. He took a lot of pictures of flak bursting beside his aircraft.” Records indicate that Gable flew five combat missions but Cowley and other veterans remember that he flew many more.

“They were very real missions in which he could have been wounded or killed,” said Chrystopher J. Spicer, an Australian scholar who has scrutinized Gable’s career. “His film Combat America makes a valuable contribution to our historical knowledge of the war from the flyer’s perspective these days.”


July 30, 2016

About time for a platform review

For over a decade, writer Dennis Cooper maintained a literary-leaning blog with a cult following where he posted fiction, art, and more. Last month, Google deleted it without notice.

Just like that, 10 years’ worth of content had apparently vanished without warning; if Cooper’s lost posts do still exist somewhere, they’re completely inaccessible to both the public and to Cooper himself. And ever since they disappeared, Cooper has been trying to figure out why.


Novelty act makes good

I was just e-mailing with a friend and the topic of Muggsy Bogues came up.  The shortest man to ever play in the NBA at 5-3, he was one of the great novelty acts in the history of the Association.

What did he play, five years?
Try fourteen.

Yeah, and...wait, what?  Fourteen?  This raises issues.

The average NBA career is five years.  A mediocre player might last six or eight if they find the right situation.  Fourteen is way out there on the curve.  Furthermore, there's a definite size bias in NBA survival.  The longest NBA career is 21 seasons, a record shared by Kevin Willis, Robert Parish, and Kevin Garnett.  The implication is obvious:  to have a long career be named Kevin tall.  Here are all the players with 19-21 seasons - the median height is 6-10 vs. NBA average height of about 6-6:

  • 21 seasons
    • Parish (c)
    • Willis (c-pf)
    • Garnett (pf-c)
  • 20 seasons
    • Kareem (c)
    • Kobe (sg)
  • 19 seasons
    • M Malone (c)
    • Edwards (c-pf)
    • Stockton (pg)
    • K Malone (pf)
    • Oakley (pf)
    • O'Neal (c)
    • J Howard (pf-c)
    • Kidd (pg)
    • Duncan (pf-c)
So a tiny guy who sticks around 14 seasons is, statistically, big news.

But not of cosmic significance?
Well, it might be.  In the past generation a school of thought has emerged that longevity is - in and of itself - a marker of excellence in competitive games like stock trading (Nassim Taleb a leading exponent of this view).  In the old days we'd say "so he stuck around for a while, but he wasn't a great player."  But a modern risk theorist might say that fact in itself is a quite important component of our assessment of his quality.  And if you think about it - how do you "stick around" in the NBA?  You beat out 2nd round draft choices for your position every year for 14 years.  Not easy to do.

But he was just a bit player, right?
Actually, he was over 20 minutes a game for most of his career.  Another way to think about it:  about 3,000 men have played in the NBA.  Bogues is in the top decile of minutes played (#249) and games played (#231, just ahead of Hot Rod Williams and World B. Free).  I'm not saying he was an upper echelon guy, but you just can't be in the top decile of minutes played and be a bit player.  He was actually a good player.

You're shitting me.  
I am not shitting you.  Most similar players (pattern of career win shares):

Really...I wasn't paying attention at the time, but I had no idea.  He is right there with a bunch of very good players.

Who was Mike Newlin?
Oh for goodness sake, he was an excellent player - not triple platinum elite, but it says here the best shooting guard in Rockets history (sorry Drexler fans: minimum of 250 games).

Nickname: "Mike"

A 1981 Sport Illustrated article gives you the gist of what Mike Newlin was all about:
Newlin, 32, is, in fact, one of the last of the old-fashioned players. Not nearly as good as, say, John Havlicek, but like him...  Though he's finishing off-his 10th year as a pro, when he's in the game, he's forever diving onto the floor. "People praise my hustle, but it's not even worthy of praise," Newlin says. "It's just basketball. Every possession is worth eight-tenths of a point. It's that simple." 
He pushes, shoves, harasses. He's relentless. And he shoots an exquisitely precise jumper with one of the fastest releases in the NBA. "I love it that at one end of the court you have the finesse of a jumper and then you run 94 feet and you have the brutality of football," Newlin says. "And I love the reality of this game. Guess what? If I don't hit my jumper, I'm gone. Clean."  (link)
But let's try to stay focused here.

Since you're so high on Muggsy Bogues all of a sudden, aren't you going to claim he was one of the all-time greats or something?
No...I believe that when assessing career value in the NBA you should put a pretty heavy weight on playoff performance.  Some might argue that you have to be lucky to be on playoff teams, but I'd argue that playoff teams are always looking for great players - if you're not on them, maybe there's a problem with you.  In any case, Bogues is a virtual no-show there.   His best team was probably the '96 Hornets, who went 54-28 in the regular season, but lost quietly to the Knicks in the playoffs.

The reality is that his size really was a serious liability on defense.  Not a big deal in the regular season, but let's say his team goes deep in the playoffs and faces a top-flight player like Magic Johnson (or Dennis Johnson or Michael Jordan) who is big and physical and can take care of the ball and post up...Muggsy just becomes a non-factor.  But that's a pretty stern test:  you could say the same about a lot of NBA players of the era.

He wasn't a Hall of Famer, but Muggsy was real.  He was a genuinely capable, valuable NBA point guard for many years.  Fun to watch, too:

Well, yes

"Hillary Clinton is the luckiest woman alive...compared to Trump she is an avenging angel driving a truck full of hot waffles. Compared to Hillary, Donald is a gigantic totalitarian flavored, mustard-gas clown balloon, bulging and hissing with death."


July 26, 2016

Awesome sentence

This is the year to watch how things used to be done, as they are done for one last time. One time too many.


July 23, 2016

BRILLIANT but unsound

(Maybe our first Daily Fail link, but too good to omit.)

Bankrupt fraudster jailed for disguising his £1.2million luxury mansion as a farm shed and filling it with antiques and cannabis

  • Alan Yeomans, 61, concealed half of the six-bedroomed Shedley Manor in Derbshire with green cladding
  • After declaring himself bankrupt, he told officials he was living in a shed in his mother's garden
  • But when police raided the property following they discovered an Aladdin's cave in the luxury home
  • The fraudster admitted failing to disclose property when bankrupt and was jailed for six-and-a-half years

July 21, 2016

Nothing much, just Teri Garr in my apartment

All true

In London I reluctantly agreed, to avert civil unrest, to attend Matilda - The Musical.  At the interval I was trying to work out whether to take poison or jab my neck with scissors when a fellow came out and sang this song to the matinee audience, which was composed primarily of rowdy school kids.  They jeered him mercilessly.  It. Was. Awesome.

July 20, 2016

Touching the James Caird, or, When Englishmen were men

It's still there at Dulwich College, Shackleton's alma mater.  We made the pilgrimage a couple of weeks ago, and they have it in a beautiful new space.

This PBS show on Shackleton is slightly marred by reality show theatrics, but completely delivers on the wet, smelly, sickening experience of going to see in that improvised, heroic little boat:

July 19, 2016

Bear cam is back


July 17, 2016

via a colleague in London