December 31, 2016

Dr. Kapital recommends

Johnny Bo Jakobsen knows a thing or two.  A good follow:


(I'm not, though)

KPIG recommends

December 28, 2016

Hello! My name is Aaron Rodgers...!

I don't know what happened to Aaron Rodgers after week 10.  Well, I do know this:  he hasn't thrown an interception in six weeks.  Basically he woke up one day and started playing like the Space Jam version of himself:

As with the personal life of any athlete, it's too much to ask that the whole truth ever come out.  But I do hope that some day parts of his personal story can be told.  I'm guessing he had some distractions this season, and hope things are better now.  He's sure playing like they are.

The Morgan 4/4

The subject of a typical minor masterpiece by Peter Egan, the Morgan 4/4 is a graceful automotive legend, lightly burnished by Egan's closing paragraphs:
Barb stared out the cafe window and shook her head. "I really wanted that car when we first saw it," she said. "How could such a neglected, worn-out old car look so good, sitting there on the front lawn?"

"It's a Morgan," I said. "And no one ever throws a Morgan away."
Beard not included

With used copies still vaguely affordable, the Morgan apparently retains its appeal.  The Top Gear site, which should know, says:
Pros - Inexplicably charming, holds its value well
Cons - 'Handmade,' which is code for 'absolutely will break'

And also:
The car that it’s always been about, really. Up there in the top ten of reassuring old English clichés, it’s a gloriously impractical, modestly performing jalopy. Lovely.

And furthermore:
As fine a British institution as cold showers and a caning, and about as comfortable, the Morgan Plus 4 is an antiquated indulgence that you shouldn’t want but absolutely will the second you step aboard.

December 27, 2016

Matthew Inman with an all-too-accurate metaphor


December 26, 2016

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Project Naming: Identifying the unidentified


A word from Peter Sprague


December 25, 2016

Product Review: Tivoli Audio M1BTCLA Bluetooth AM/FM Radio

This thing is great.


23 science discoveries of 2016


Real Jesus ain't playing

He went home, picked up his Bible and read from Matthew 25:40: "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" The next day, he taught the lesson to all six of his classes — that which you do to the least fortunate, to someone who is hungry or who is hurting, you do to God himself.

That weekend, Bales went to his second job, taking tickets at a parking garage. He was married with four kids and was struggling to make ends meet. He was sitting in the glass booth watching the NFL on a small television, on a frigid winter's night, and he heard a knock on the window. He looked up to find a man with a long, filthy beard, missing teeth, staring at Bales' sandwich. The man asked for it.

"No, sir, I need my sandwich," Bales replied. The man's face fell, and he disappeared into the cold.

"And I realized, 'Andy, you missed your chance,'" Bales says. "You had a chance to practice what you preached on Friday, and you missed it.

"So I prayed and I hoped for another chance, and I found him on the street, and I fed him dinner"...

"Since that day, from the meal I failed to feed, I've fed millions of meals to hungry people," Bales says. "Now I'm to the point of, I can't bear to leave a precious human being on the streets."


December 24, 2016

Crown Vic guy is Brendan McAleer

Looks like this kid's going to be good.


Hardest animation project ever

The animators embarked on nearly two years of intense research, taking field trips to a pool in North Hollywood and studying footage shot during a research trip to Tahiti. 


The steely gaze of Max Beerbohm meets the steely gaze of Joseph Conrad

Within the hut the form of the white man, corpulent and pale, was covered with a mosquito-net that was itself illusory like everything else, only more so. Flying squadrons of mosquitoes inside its meshes flickered and darted over him, working hard, but keeping silence so as not to excite him from sleep. Cohorts of yellow ants disputed him against cohorts of purple ants, the two kinds slaying one another in thousands. The battle was undecided when suddenly, with no such warning as it gives in some parts of the world, the sun blazed up over the horizon, turning night into day, and the insects vanished back into their camps.

The white man ground his knuckles into the corners of his eyes, emitting that snore final and querulous of a middle-aged man awakened rudely. With a gesture brusque but flaccid he plucked aside the net and peered around. The bales of cotton cloth, the beads, the brass wire, the bottles of rum, had not been spirited away in the night. So far so good. The faithful servant of his employers was now at liberty to care for his own interests. He regarded himself, passing his hands over his skin.

"Hi! Mahamo!" he shouted. "I've been eaten up."

The islander, with one sinuous motion, sprang from the ground, through the mouth of the hut. Then, after a glance, he threw high his hands in thanks to such good and evil spirits as had charge of his concerns. In a tone half of reproach, half of apology, he murmured—

"You white men sometimes say strange things that deceive the heart."

"Reach me that ammonia bottle, d'you hear?" answered the white man. "This is a pretty place you've brought me to!" He took a draught. "Christmas Day, too! Of all the —— But I suppose it seems all right to you, you funny blackamoor, to be here on Christmas Day?"

"We are here on the day appointed, Mr. Williams. It is a feast-day of your people?"

Mr. Williams had lain back, with closed eyes, on his mat. Nostalgia was doing duty to him for imagination. He was wafted to a bedroom in Marylebone, where in honour of the Day he lay late dozing, with great contentment; outside, a slush of snow in the street, the sound of church-bells; from below a savour of especial cookery. "Yes," he said, "it's a feast-day of my people."

"Of mine also," said the islander humbly.

"Is it though? But they'll do business first?"

"They must first do that."

"And they'll bring their ivory with them?"

"Every man will bring ivory," answered the islander, with a smile gleaming and wide.


Intro here.

December 23, 2016

Canada: Twilight of the Crown Vic

Police buy cars essentially the same way the average person does. Still, there’s something pretty cool about a decommissioned Crown Victoria Interceptor, let go from the force but still with a few years yet to run on the odometer. What say we head on down to the docks, and stake out that mysterious tramp steamer? Contraband maple syrup? Counterfeit hockey pucks? The Crown Vic’s on the case.


December 22, 2016

Just passing this along

“Do you want to help test out the latest game from Beamdog?,” asks the post. “We’re currently looking for adventurers, warriors, rogues, wizards, druids, clerics, rangers, monks and shamans who are interested in testing of our next game.”


December 19, 2016

Same as the DNC, apparently

Guess they'll be violating city zoning policies in the Stateville Prison from now on

Academy of Art settled SF lawsuit for $60 mm.


December 17, 2016

Madden explains

Getting a quarterback, as you know, is hard. And when you get one, you have to be a little lucky. Like in Dallas, someone has to slip down there. Like (Derek) Carr has to slip to (the Raiders). Then you get that guy and, doggone it, you can keep him for 10 years. But if you don’t get that guy, it could take you 10 years to find him.


December 16, 2016

Meanwhile, in Kenya


I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken

I’ve been thinking a lot about bias – this thing we are supposed to overcome, the root of so much suffering and destruction in our country and world.  And I’ve been thinking about it in terms of the classical Yogacara teachings of Vasubandhu and the great Chinese monk Xuanzang, whose “Treatise on the Establishment of Mind Only” (Chengweishilun) is the basis of the Japanese Hosso Sect.  I think that these teachings have something really interesting and important to offer to the conversation about bias, and it’s something that resonates across Buddhist schools and teaching lineages.  I’d say it gets at the essence of Zen, too.

In a nutshell:  No one is unbiased.  No one sees clearly.

Or, at least, pretty much only a Buddha is unbiased.  Only a Buddha sees clearly.

And by “Buddha” I don’t mean the Zenny “you and all beings are Buddha” kind of Buddha, much less the ultra-Zenny “rocks and tiles are Buddha” kind of Buddha.  I mean the Ten Stages Buddha, the Three Great Kalpas to attain Buddha, the Mahayana Buddha, the Buddha that if you are reading this you most certainly, I guarantee, are not.

When I purify myself of every single hindrance, every single slight tangle of emotion or worldview – then, just maybe then, I’ll see things clearly.  In the meantime, forget it.  Really forget it.  I am NOT seeing clearly.  Not even close.  Never.

No!  Not even that one time… when the world suddenly crystalized crisp and perfect and clear as a still lake.  Even that time, and the ones like it, I was not seeing clearly.

And I most certainly am not seeing clearly right now.

It’d be good to admit this.  It’d be good, if nothing else, to see just this one point clearly.


December 15, 2016

The Field Book, 1833 - now on Project Gutenberg

Race, Doncaster, for the Great St. Leger Stakes, 1832, of which our Frontispiece, drawn by Pollard, expressly for this work, is a correct representation.

The following is the account given in the Sporting Magazine for that year:— And now the hour arrived to set all fancies and opinions at nought, and disclose what so many had so long and anxiously looked forward to ascertain. On clearing the ground, the following seventeen showed themselves, parading before the stand, to exhibit their varied beauties and accomplishments before the bouquet of female elegance and beauty which shone studded in brilliancy amidst an animated multitude:—
Lord Sligo’s ch. c. Daxon, by Langar— Cora / A. Pavis.
Sir R. Bulkeley’s b. c. Birdcatcher, by St. Patrick / Calloway.
Mr. Houldsworth’s b. c. David, by Catton / S. Darling.
Mr. Edmundson’s ch. c. Richmond, by Jack Spigot / R. Johnson.
Mr. Powlett’s gr. f. by Figaro / J. Holmes.
Lord Cleveland’s ch. c. Trustee, by Catton / J. Day.
Mr. Ridsdale’s b. c. Brother to Maria, by Whisker / Scott.
Lord Kelburne’s b. c. Retainer, by Jerry / G. Nelson.
Mr. F. Richardson’s b. c. Fang, by Langar / Connolly.
Mr. S. Fox’s br. c. Julius, by Jerry / S. Templeman.
Lord Exeter’s b. c. Byzantium, by Sultan / Arnull.
Mr. Skipsey’s b. c. Physician, by Brutandorf / H. Edwards.
Mr. W. Scott’s b. c. Carlton, by Catton / Garbutt.
Mr. Watt’s b. f. Nitocris, by Whisker / T. Nicholson.
Lord Langford’s b. c. Roué, by Starch / T. Lye.
Mr. Beardsworth’s br. c. Ludlow, by Filho da Puta / Wright.
Mr. Gully’s ch. c. Margrave, by Muley / J. Robinson. 
After the usual parading, the whole drew up together, and made a false start— Ludlow, Physician, and Carlton staying behind, and all the others going some distance before they could be pulled up. On re-assembling, a most excellent and beautiful start was effected, the lot going away in a cluster, with Mr. Powlett’s filly leading for about two hundred yards, when Roué took it from her— Carlton, the filly, Physician, Nitocris, Birdcatcher, Richmond, Trustee, Maria, Retainer, Julius, and Fang following alongside in front, and the others well up, at one of the worst Leger paces ever witnessed, and all keeping their ground over the hill to the T. Y. C. post, when Mr. Pavis began to handle the whipcord to Daxon, who was the first that exhibited defeat. The example, however, was soon found to have plenty of imitators; for, before reaching the Red House, Fang, Nitocris, Trustee, Carlton, Roué, and Brother to Maria, fell away from the contest— Mr. Powlett’s mare coming round the corner down to the rails with a very promising and flattering appearance, followed closely by Birdcatcher, Physician, Retainer, and Richmond; Margrave lying two or three lengths in the rear. On reaching the rails Calloway came out with Birdcatcher, went up to the Figaro filly, at the distance defeated her, and looked very much like a winner; but Robinson, who had patiently waited, now crept up on the outside, making his ground by a gradual steady advance. At the stand he caught the Birdcatcher, and left him at the post in the rear by three-quarters of a length, amid the deafening shouts of the lads “wot had put the siller on the back of Muley’s son.” The Figaro filly ran in third, Physician (only beat by the filly a head) fourth, Richmond fifth, Retainer sixth, and David seventh— Ludlow, Fang, Byzantium, and Carlton landing the four last horses of the race.


December 14, 2016

Stein encounters Twifflewinks

Thurber goes to a Gertrude Stein book signing:
At an autographing, you are supposed to write down on a card your name, or Aunt Lisbeth’s name, or the name of whomever you are buying the book for, and hand the book and the card to the autographer. This speeds things up, because people standing in front of an author and meeting the author’s eyes are likely to get timid and dry-throated and say “Zassfrank Dooselinch” or what sounds like “Zassfrank Dooselinch” to the author. Miss Stein doesn’t like people to be incoherent about names.  
She signed two hundred and seventy-five books in all, and her signing time was a little under an hour and a half. She wrote with a big pen, vigorously. We bought one of her books and got in line behind a man named Twifflefinks, Moited Twifflefinks (he hadn’t written his name on a card). That was straightened out after a while—Miss Stein is always gracious and patient. We just handed our book to her, and she glanced at us with her keen, humorous eyes and, seeing that we didn’t have a name, simply put her own name on the flyleaf, and the date.


"What you do affirms the supremacy of all beings," I told Julius as we sat in the offices of the Erving Group, a holding company designed to spread around the wads of capital Julius has accumulated during his career as Dr. J. Large gold-leaf plaques calling Julius things like TASTEE CAKE PLAYER OF THE YEAR dot the walls. "Seeing you play basketball has enriched my life," I finished.

"Thanks, thanks a lot," Julius said politely. Then again, Julius is always polite. It was obvious, my Ultimate Compliment clearly did not knock his socks off. It was as if he were saying, "Funny thing, you're the third guy who's told me that today."


December 12, 2016

Kawakami's lead

SANTA CLARA - Trent Baalke's hollow 49ers played another hollow game in Jed York's hollow stadium, took a hollow lead and then once again - for the 12th consecutive time - this team shattered into a thousand hollow pieces.

December 11, 2016

Good work everybody

When all the smoke has cleared away and the outrage dissipated, the bottom line will be that Russia set out to influence the U.S. election, and Republicans in Congress decided not to speak out against them, and both their calculations were rewarded. 


December 10, 2016

IAYPA update, regular season about over edition

Super Epic
  • Matt Ryan, ATL, 8.4 - As predicted in October, he has regressed to the mean somewhat.  But his mean is apparently the best in the NFL (also #1 in passer rating).  He's always been competent (career passer rating of 92.7) but cut his interception rate (1.7% ytd vs. 2.3% career) and increased his yards per attempt and...voila.
  • Dak Prescott, DAL, 8.0 - Dak.  Is.  Real.
  • Tom Brady, NE, 8.0 - Always in this group.  Always.
  • Brian Hoyer, CHI, 7.2 -  Chicago absolutely does not deserve this.
  • Kirk Cousins, WSH, 7.2
  • Russell Wilson, SEA, 7.2 - Still right there, tends to get better as season goes on.
  • Andy Dalton, CIN, 7.0 
  • Marcus Mariota, TEN, 6.9 - Good last year too, improving.  New guy is legit.
  • Matthew Stafford, DET, 6.9  
  • Drew Brees, NO, 6.7 
  • Andrew Luck, IND, 6.7  
  • Cody Kessler, CLE, 6.6 
  • Alex Smith, KC, 6.5 - Oakland just got a quarterback this good and they are consumed with joy.  Kansas City was 2-14 the year before Smith joined the team (along with Andy Reid).  Records since then (49ers record):  
    • 2013:  11-5 (12-4)
    • 2014:  9-7 (8-8)
    • 2015:  11-5 (5-11)
    • 2016 ytd:  10-3 (1-12)
There are two lessons here (three if you count "Jim Harbaugh is never a long-term solution"):

1)  YOUNG DOES NOT EQUAL PROMISING.  A proven quarterback in the NFL can, absent catastrophic injury, usually play until their late 30s.  A young player who does not have command of the position must either develop that command or wash out.  So if you want to get a few good years of quarterback play, you're much better off going with a 28 year-old with proven pocket skills vs. an early 20s guy with 'promise'.  

2)  AVERAGE IS UNDERRATED.  There simply are not enough competent people to play quarterback in the NFL.  Even though Alex Smith is only a bit above-average, the Kansas City Chiefs are a good football team, a winner in a tough League, a quarterback's League.  The Smith deal gave them a good, consistent, professional quarterback who has done well every year, without prima donna behavior or off-the-field distractions.

You can win with Alex Smith.  But with Colin Karpernick, Blake Bortles, Carson Wentz...not so much.  Every team below this paragraph, if offered Alex Smith today for a 1st round draft pick, would take him in a heartbeat (ok, maybe not San Diego or Carolina...but everyone else).

  • Derek Carr, OA, 6.5 - Good player, but fell down badly in KC last week.
  • Ben Roethlisberger, PIT, 6.4 
  • Sam Bradford, MIN, 6.4 - Bradford is 29...a very valuable kind of average player.
  • Trevor Siemian, DEN, 6.3 - The median NFL quarterback.
  • Philip Rivers, SD, 6.2 - Aging gracefully is the best revenge.  Well, very good in any case.
  • Aaron Rodgers, GB, 6.1 - Aaron Rodgers is comparable to Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick on this metric.  Mull that one over.
  • Ryan Tannehill, MIA, 6.1
  • Colin Kaepernick, SF, 6.1 - Suck it, haters.  THESE LITTLE TOWN BLUES... (link)
  • Cam Newton, CAR, 6.0 - Cam Newton is comparable to Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick on this metric.  Mull that one over.
  • Jameis Winston, TB, 5.9 
  • Tyrod Taylor, BUF, 5.9
  • Carson Palmer, ARI, 5.8 - Carson Palmer is worse than Ryan Tannehill and Colin Kaepernick on this metric...
  • Eli Manning, NJG, 5.5
  • Joe Flacco, BAL, 5.4 - Been a long time since that playoff run now.
  • Carson Wentz, PHI, 5.2
  • Case Keenum, LA, 5.2
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick, NYJ, 4.8 - The Great Imposter.  Career IAYPA:  5.0.  Career passer rating:  79.9.  He is 34 years old.
  • Blake Bortles, JAX, 4.5
  • Brock Osweiler, HOU, 4.3 - 'Betting Against Brock', The Ringer (link)

Best HS jersey retirement ever

I for one welcome etc.

New research published in the journal Science shows that urban-dwelling killifish who swim in four severely polluted estuaries along the US East Coast have evolved strong resistance to lethal, human-altered environments. Owing to their unique genetic make-up, these fish are now thousands of times more resilient to high levels of pollution than other fish.


December 09, 2016


During World War II, soldiers received care packages containing comics. The soldiers stationed in Papua New Guinea shared these comics, and the Phantom became extremely popular among the tribes. The Papuan people who could read English would read the stories and share the images with others (by the 1970s they were available in Pidgin, Tok Pisin). The character's image is often painted on ceremonial shields or alongside other tribal art. This is sometimes referred to as "tribal pop art."


No way

Oh, by all means proceed

"While ancient pathogen research is kind of a booming field right now, most of what's been done is actually bacterial. There's very little viral work," says Ana Duggan, a researcher at McMaster University in Canada, who explains that the original goal of this study was to eradicate the human race by turning them into mutant zombies just to see what kind of viruses might be detectable in this centuries-old sample.


December 08, 2016

For sure the best left-handed hesitation move by a seven footer in this game

Inside the Box, and Doc's Stocks

There is an interesting basketball statistic that has been developed called Box Plus/Minus.  According to its creator, the estimable Daniel Myers,
BPM relies on a player's box score information and the team's overall performance to estimate a player's performance relative to league average. BPM is a per-100-possession stat, the same scale as Adjusted Plus/Minus: 0.0 is league average, +5 means the player is 5 points better than an average player over 100 possessions (which is about All-NBA level), -2 is replacement level, and -5 is really bad.

BPM was created to intentionally only use information that is available historically, going back to 1973-74. More recently there has been more information gathered, both in box scores and via play-by-play, but in order to create a stat with historical usefulness, those stats have been ignored for BPM. In other words – it is possible to create a better stat than BPM for measuring players, but difficult to make a better one that can also be used historically.

Basketball Reference helpfully provides a list of the best 250 Box Plus/Minus player seasons since 1973-74.  So there you go - a quick and easy way to compare players.  One way is to look at who has the most of those 250 seasons:

  • 12
    • Charles Barkley
    • Karl Malone 
    • LeBron James
  • 10
    • Michael Jordan
  • 9
    • Chris Paul
    • Clyde Drexler
    • David Robinson
    • Kevin Garnett
  • 8
    • Julius Erving
    • Larry Bird
    • Magic Johnson
    • Shaquille O'Neal
  • 7
    • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
    • Scottie Pippen
    • Tim Duncan
  • 6
    • Dwayne Wade
    • Tracy McGrady
  • 5
    • Hakeem Olajuwon
    • Manu Ginobli
  • 4
    • Bob Lanier
    • Dirk Nowitzki
    • Fat Lever

It's unclear to me why power forwards dominate the top of the list, but otherwise this seems pretty intuitive.  I took those seasons and sorted them by player, and then in descending order of Box Plus/Minus score.  Some interesting patterns emerge.  For example, who was better, Bird or Magic?  Eh, they were about the same.  So was Doctor J.  And Kareem?  About the same, but a bit better at his peak:

The statistic seems good for comparing players within an era, but less so across eras.  For example, eight of the top ten seasons on the list were compiled after 2007 (the other two were Jordan).  Also, as modern training methods and arthroscopic surgery came in, players were able to sustain their careers longer, e.g.,

Moreover, a couple of guys were able to combine longevity with a hitherto unheard-of ability to fill up a boxscore:

But perhaps the most interesting thing about Box Plus/Minus is who it leaves out - mostly outstanding players who are nevertheless somewhat one-dimensional:

  • Kobe Bryant only has three of the top 250 seasons (highest:  6.4 in '03...comparable to Scottie Pippen's 1990-91 campaign).
  • Allen Iverson does not appear.
  • Isaiah Thomas does not appear.
  • Kevin McHale does not appear.
  • Moses Malone does not appear (except on the ABA list).
Tim Duncan (7 seasons) and Hakeem Olajuwon (5) show up on the list, but with disappointingly low scores.  The statistic's author explains that Box Plus/Minus probably understates the value of a great defender:
There are limitations on all box score stats...on defense the box score is quite limited. Blocks, steals, and rebounds, along with minutes and what little information offensive numbers yield about defensive performance are all that is available. Such critical components of defense as positioning, communication, and the other factors that make Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan elite on defense can't be captured, unfortunately. 
What does this mean? Box Plus/Minus is good at measuring offense and solid overall, but the defensive numbers in particular should not be considered definitive. Look at the defensive values as a guide, but don't hesitate to discount them when a player is well known as a good or bad defender.

Hmmm.  So, for example, in his magisterial Big Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons calls Doctor J a "surprisingly subpar defender."  Which I hadn't heard before, and, as near as I can tell is completely false.  Simmons provides us with a helpful tool tools elsewhere in the book, as he tries to explain the awesomeness that was Hakeem Olajuwon:
If we created a stat called “stocks” (just steals plus blocks), Hakeem topped 300-plus stocks with at least 100 blocks/ steals in twelve different seasons (nearly double anyone else), notched 550 in 1990 (the only time anyone’s ever topped 500) and finished with 1,045 combined in ’89 and ’90 (the only time anyone ever topped 1,000 combined in two years). During his peak, Dream caused five turnovers per game along with countless other layups and runners he probably affected from game to game. (Note: I like “stocks” because it gives you an accurate reflection of his athletic ability and the havoc he wreaked on both ends. No modern center was better offensively and defensively than Dream. I should have come up with “stocks” four hundred pages ago. Crap.) 
There also a footnote.  It says:
The complete list since ’74 (2x minimum): Hakeem (12x), Robinson (7x), Ben Wallace (4x), Julius Erving (7x), Kareem (3x), Ewing (3x), Bobby Jones (3x), Jordan (2x), Josh Smith (2x), Andrei Kirilenko (2x), Elvin Hayes (2x), Terry Tyler (2x). MJ is the only guard on the list.
Emphasis added.

Perhaps this table will further clarify matters:

It says here that Julius Erving was as valuable in his career as Bird or Magic, a better defensive player than either of them, and the best defensive small forward of his era.  All other arguments are invalid.

Get that weak shit out of here

Knowing when to stop

Kafka remarked that beyond a certain point a writer might decide to finish his or her novel at any moment, with any sentence; it really was an arbitrary question, like where to cut a piece of string, and in fact both The Castle and America are left unfinished, while The Trial is tidied away with the indecent haste of someone who has decided enough is enough. The Italian novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda was the same; both his major works, That Awful Mess on Via Merulana and Acquainted with Grief, are unfinished and both are considered classics despite the fact that they have complex plots that would seem to require endings which are not there.

Other writers deploy what I would call a catharsis of exhaustion: their books present themselves as rich and extremely taxing experiences that simply come to an end at some point where writer, reader and indeed characters, all feel they’ve had enough. The earliest example that comes to mind is D H Lawrence, but one thinks of Elfriede Jelinek, Thomas Bernhard, Samuel Beckett, and the wonderful Christina Stead. Beckett’s prose fiction gets shorter and shorter, denser and denser as he brings the point of exhaustion further and further forward.

All these writers it seems to me, by suggesting that beyond a certain point a book might end anywhere, legitimize the notion that the reader may choose for him or herself, without detracting anything from the experience, where to bow out (of Proust’s Recherche for example, or The Magic Mountain). One of the strangest responses I ever had to a novel of my own—my longest not surprisingly—came from a fellow author who wrote out of the blue to express his appreciation. Such letters of course are a massive pep to one’s vanity and I was just about to stick this very welcome feather in my cap, when I reached the last lines of the message: he hadn’t read the last fifty pages, he said, because he’d reached a point where the novel seemed satisfactorily over, for him.

- Tim Parks, New York Review of Books, March 13, 2012.


December 06, 2016

Ain't forgettin'


December 05, 2016

Not that I care, but this is adequate

Klay Thompson with 57 late in the third quarter...

He scored three more as I typed this...




Kirby documentary starts here.

December 04, 2016

Tell me more

Guest Blogger #1's descriptive and detailed opinion on the 49ers this season.

The 49ers are shit.

Thank you.

The 49ers proved to be a joke, so before you think the Bears accomplished something, remember this: They leave the game with just two wins more than that joke.


The Legend of Dak

December 02, 2016

Invading Russia: a beginner's guide

As every schoolchild knows, the big turning point in the Great Northern War was the defeat of the Swedes at Poltava in 1709.

Mistake #1:  Attacking a heavily-fortified, numerically superior enemy on their home ground.  See also:  Kursk, Gettysburg

Now, I know what you're thinking:  what the were the Swedes doing in Poltava, 400 miles south of Moscow?  Well, and this is important, they didn't mean to go to Poltava, exactly.  What happened was, the Swedes were a world power, and, after numerous disputes with Peter the Great, decided to invade Russia.  Things went well at first...

Mistake #2:  Thinking you are winning because your eastward river crossings are unopposed 

So anyway, the Swedes are heading to Poltava because they need to reinforce themselves by linking up with Hetman Mazepa, who has repudiated the Tsar; but also because they need supplies, and they figure they can get some if they can seize Poltava.  Why do they need supplies?  Did they not plan to have supplies while attacking Russia?

Mistake #3:  Assuming capturing a city will solve your logistical problems

It's like this:  the Swedes were doing fine until that idiot Lewenhaupt lost the supply train at the Battle of Lesnaya.  Well, ok, anyone can lose a supply train.  And, since all Russian defensive campaigns feature a scorched earth policy, no, you cannot just live off the land the way Napoleon's armies would later do in Europe.  So, you're going to have to capture some place that has supplies.  Now you ask the obvious question:  why not just seize Baturyn?  It's closer than Poltava, and it's an important trading hub, and there is a potentially sympathetic Cossack population and a good fort.  The answer is: because Menshikov has gotten there first, and destroyed all the supplies and killed everyone in the city.

Mistake #4:  Attacking a place of no great strategic significance

The Swedes might also have headed back to Minsk.  They had spent the prior winter in Minsk.  That was actually clever, you see.  The Swedes know from winter, so when it started to get cold they identified a warm place for their army and went there until it stopped being cold again.

Mistake #5:  Forgetting to be ready for winter

Actually, the Swedes get full marks for getting to Minsk in reasonably good order in the first place.  de Ségur tells us Davout lost 10,000 men just marching to Minsk.  But the Swedes are not able to maintain their good order, and after the failure at Poltava, head west, because west is away from the horde of pissed off Russians pursuing them.  This seems to be a pattern with invasions of Russia:  the invaders try to strike the knockout blow, but don't put much thought into what they will do if they come up short:

  • Charles' Swedes get as far as the Dneiper, and discover, while standing on the riverbank, beneath some cliffs, that there's no obvious way to get an army across.  Meanwhile, up on the heights, the entire Russian Army shows up, leading to the Surrender at Perevolochna.
  • Napoleon's retreat from Moscow was already going poorly when his force reached the Berezina River, where there were no boats or bridges.  The good news was that (according to Wikipedia) "General Jean Baptiste Eblé had disobeyed Napoleon's earlier order to abandon equipment, instead retaining crucial forges, charcoal and sapper tools and thus only needed protection from Chichagov's force on the far west bank to span the river."  The bad news is that the entire Russian Army has shown up, so Napoleon has to burn some of his best remaining forces to buy time to get the bridge built and the army across it.  He loses half his army at Berezina.
  • During Operation Bagration Hitler ordered 4th Army to stand fast in Minsk, allowing the Russians to surround it, leading to the immediate loss of over 100,000 troops.  Hitler did this a lot in 1944, driving competent people like Manstein to distraction.  There are times to stand and fight stubbornly:  being outnumbered and low on supplies in the middle of Russia is not one of them.

Mistake #6:  Not having an exit strategy

Successful operations against Russia tend to have one common characteristic:  they focus on the destruction of the opposing Army, not some arbitrary geographical objective.  One of the greatest German feats of arms in World War I was the 1914 destruction of two Russian armies at Tannenburg, an operation that greatly reduced Russia's relevance in the war and bolstered the reputations of the German generals involved.  By contrast, Napoleon's campaign foundered precisely because he could not bring the Russian main army to battle on favorable terms, settling finally for an attritional bloodbath at Borodino, one from which the Russians could easily recover, while he could not.

Mistake #7:  Focusing on geographical objectives, rather than the enemy force.

It's worth noting that the Russians didn't exactly mean to lose Moscow.  Borodino was a sincere attempt to block the road, and many Russians were furious with von Phull for persuading the Tsar to adopt a scorched earth policy - so much so that he had to flee Russia to avoid retaliation.  Apparently all was eventually forgiven, as he later served as the Russian ambassador to Belgium.

Hopefully knowledge of these mistakes will help you do better than Charles, Napoleon, and Hitler did when they invaded Russia.  Or perhaps, maybe, avoid the thing entirely.  As Field Marshal Montgomery once explained to the House of Lords:
Rule 1, on page 1 of the book of war, is: "Do not march on Moscow". Various people have tried it, Napoleon and Hitler, and it is no good. 

Russian rocket retrogradation

By my calculations this marks the fifteenth failure of a Russian rocket in 6 years...  The current version of the Proton has been around since 2001, and it's often associated with the word "workhorse." Soyuz dates back to the dawn of the space age, when an ancestor of the stalwart launcher sent Sputnik into space in 1957. Both rockets have evolved, but in terms of recent history, Russia's core launch fleet has remained relatively unchanged.  So what's the matter with Russia's rockets?