July 31, 2017

James Harden goes to the Drew League for a little pickup game...

...and meets the Warriors' #1 draft pick.


July 30, 2017

State of the Empire, Summer 2017

A little early, I suppose, to call them the Greatest basketball team that ever played.  It's been a good run, but Bill Russell still would laugh.

On the other hand, there is a case to be made.  Here is the Warriors' ELO rating as computed by Five Thirty Eight after the Finals (and an explanatory article written before):

It is very, very good.  This is, in fact, the highest ELO rating achieved by any team, ever.

But, as summer began it all seemed very much at risk.  Four of the Warriors' six best players were free agents, two of them former MVPs.  The early betting was that they would keep Curry and Durant, but probably would not be able keep both Iguodala and Livingston.

Yet they did (thanks Kevin).  With the contracts all tied up, the Warriors will bring back exactly the same top seven as they had last year, and that group differed from the prior two teams only in the  Upgrade to Durant / Downgrade to Pachulia.  So we'll be seeing more of this in the years to come.

While the xBarnes +Durant maneuver deservedly got most of the credit for the team's resurgence after the disaster of 2016, they made another change that I believe was almost equally important.  For all their charm and skill, Championship Warriors 1.0 lacked muscle and grit, and as the 2016 playoffs progressed this became more and more evident.  To correct that they added David West and JaVale McGee, two large men who are hard to push around. West, in particular, takes shit from no man, as the Cleveland Cavaliers learned in the Finals.  West came here to chew bubblegum and win championships, and is all out of bubblegum, so he re-signed immediately.  True to character JaVale dithered, but after a summer of flirting with the likes of the Clippers, he too has returned to the fold.

Sadly, Ian Clark will probably not be rejoining the team in 2017-18.  The Warriors elected instead to sign free agent Nick Young, who is literally one of my motivational posters for this act of infamy.  He's a legendary airhead - the nickname Swaggy P does not connote a high degree of professionalism in any case.  Back in the day he and JaVale used to run together in Washington, when that team was winning about a third of its games.

They say he's changed.  Durant, Curry and Green all recruited him, and he took less money than he could have made with the Lakers.  Well, we'll see.  I'm not giving that cell a green highlight just yet - give me Clark, the consummate professional, any day.

So, of the top ten players from the 2017 championship team, nine are returning, and the 10th is (arguably) an upgrade the core players like.

I thought the response of the Warriors front office to the collapse of 2016 was interesting.  They signed Durant, brought in a couple of big men, and then cleared almost everyone else off the roster:  Bogut, Barbosa, Speights, and Rush all went out the door.  People said this was to clear cap space for Durant, but I think it was also to wash 2016 right out of their hair.  Someone had to pay the price for that collapse, and it wasn't going to be the all-stars.

But, ironically, the Warriors appear to have gotten better at the bottom of the roster this off season.  In the first championship year there weren't many real players there, although Ezeli was effective before he got hurt.  But last year they bought into the draft and took McCaw, who, it turns out, plays like an NBA player.  This year they bought in again and drafted Jordan Bell, who looked very Draymond-y in Summer League.  And then this Israeli guy Casspi they just got is 6-9 and can really shoot.

So, while they stood pat (against all odds) at the top of the roster, the Warriors did a lot at the bottom.  I wondered how much of this was just churn and how much was reasoned analysis.  I think mostly the latter.  Here is +/- per 100 possessions for each Warriors player in the 2017 playoffs, plotted against minutes played:

Except for Damian Jones, who has been injured, everyone with a negative +/- is gone.  Everyone else stays.

It says a lot:  While other teams tried bold trades or just imploded, the Warriors spent the summer methodically trying to get better, and probably succeeded.  They are acting like a team that understands that no matter how the gods have favored you, nothing is written, everything is contingent, only the paranoid survive.  Isn't that wonderful?

I look forward to seeing the (slightly improved) Greatest Team That Ever Played take the court next season.

"Know ye not that the end and object of conquest is to avoid doing the same thing as the conquered?" - Alexander the Great


July 29, 2017

Speaking of educating the youngsters...

These kids today don't know what a real failed presidency looks like.  They'll get one now, kicking off nicely with the veto-proof vote (House 419-3, Senate 98-2) to toughen sanctions on Russia and strip the President of his ability to weaken them.  He's going to sign the paper, because getting a veto overridden would only draw further attention to what a weak man he is.

But, say you're 35 or something...this is all new.

  • Obama, eight years of effective executive leadership.
  • Bush W, eight years of effective executive leadership I did not agree with, by Cheney.
  • Clinton, eight years of wildly entertaining but generally effective leadership.
  • Bush Sr., four years of effective leadership, got caught between Clinton and the recession.
  • Reagan, eight years of LEGENDARY, though revisionist views deserve attention.  Still, whatever you thought of Iran-Contra and all the rest of it, it's hard to argue the Reagan and his team were incompetent.  To paraphrase Marco Rubio, they knew exactly what they were doing.
So, that's five reasonably successful presidencies in a row, from an executive leadership standpoint.  But before that, man, it was rough, four failed presidencies in a row, on my reckoning:
  • Carter, four years, lost Congress - the best comparison with the current executive, I think
People of Monrovia!  The man to my left will be dead in two years!
  • Ford, couldn't get re-elected, noted for Mayaguez Incident, WIN program.
  • Nixon was a competent executive, but of course resigned for various reasons.
  • Johnson, attempting to micromanage his way to victory in Vietnam, was knocked out of the '68 campaign by Eugene McCarthy.
Never forget:  1968-1980, one bad wipeout after another.  As fucked up as Trump has been, us old guys have seen stuff like this before.  The best thing would be for us to come to our collective senses and nip this shit in the bud.  Let's hope that Russia vote starts a trend.

I'm with Lawrence Summers:  we do not want to learn what we can get used to.

2:20 - whoa

A New Yorker who moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s, Mr. Nathanson was writing for magazines, often about the military, when a neighbor in Hollywood Hills told him a story that would evolve into his first novel. The neighbor was Russ Meyer, the filmmaker who later became known as King Leer for directing soft-core films featuring big-breasted women. Meyer, who died in 2004, had been a combat photographer and cameraman during World War II, and he recounted an episode at an Army stockade in England in which he shot a company of prisoners who were training, he was told, for a top secret mission behind enemy lines just before D-Day.

Mr. Nathanson was intrigued, and he set about doing the research for what he imagined would be a nonfiction book about the company. Unable to confirm that such a company existed, he nonetheless found a trove of information in court-martial transcripts and other documents about the men in Army stockades during the war. From these, he created the characters for a novel that he called “The Dirty Dozen,” the title referring to a collective refusal to bathe or shave during training.

The company in the novel did bear a resemblance to a group known as the Filthy 13, a band of rambunctious, authority-defying paratroopers who were far better known for drinking than for washing up, who were in and out of the stockade, and who landed behind German lines just before the invasion of Normandy. They were not, however, the murderers, rapists and borderline madmen depicted by Mr. Nathanson, who always contended that his book was based on Meyer’s initial tale and his own imagination.

“Powerfully prosaic,” as Kirkus Reviews called it, “The Dirty Dozen” reportedly sold more than two million copies.


July 28, 2017

"That's called directing."

(I love these Trailers From Hell.)

July 27, 2017

I have one word for you: Charles Bronson

July 22, 2017


Cool story, bro.


July 21, 2017

The Great Landau

You know of course about Ed Wood:

But Landau was even prouder of his role in the forgotten (but unbelievably well-cast) Mistress.  I watched some of it while I was in Europe and concluded that 1) the movie deserved to be forgotten, despite some very interesting moments (Ebert liked it, though); and 2) Landau's performance as a scraping-by agent was awesome.  Here is the movie:

May I suggest sirs review the scenes at at 7:00-11:20 and 17:30-19:47.

Note that Landau (as he explains here) never showed his teeth as Lugosi, but for Mistress wore the "smile mask" throughout the first half of the film.

More from Postwar

A few excerpts from the first 20% of this great book, with some pictures supplied by me:

This book tells the story of Europe since the Second World War and so it begins in 1945: Stunde nul, as the Germans called it—Zero hour.

On the eve of the continent’s final descent into the abyss the prospect for Europe appeared hopeless. Whatever it was that had been lost in the course of the implosion of European civilization—a loss whose implications had long since been intuited by Karl Kraus and Franz Kafka in Zweig’s own Vienna—would never be recaptured. In Jean Renoir’s eponymous film classic of 1937, the Grand Illusion of the age was the resort to war and its accompanying myths of honour, caste and class. But by 1940, to observant Europeans, the grandest of all Europe’s illusions—now discredited beyond recovery—was ‘European civilisation’ itself.

In the circumstances of 1945, in a continent covered with rubble, there was much to be gained by behaving as though the past was indeed dead and buried and a new age about to begin. The price paid was a certain amount of selective, collective forgetting, notably in Germany. But then, in Germany above all, there was much to forget.

Cologne, 1945

Whatever their party ‘label’, the elder statesmen of Europe were all, by 1945, skeptical, pragmatic practitioners of the art of the possible.

Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) as Prime Minister in 1953

US GNP had doubled in the course of the war, and by the spring of 1945 America accounted for half the world’s manufacturing capacity, most of its food surpluses and virtually all international financial reserves. The United States had put 12 million men under arms to fight Germany and its allies, and by the time Japan surrendered the American fleet was larger than all other fleets in the world combined.

But there was more to American policy than innocence. The United States in 1945 and for some time to come seriously expected to extricate itself from Europe as soon as possible, and was thus understandably keen to put in place a workable settlement that would not require American presence or supervision. This aspect of American post-war thinking is not well remembered or understood today, but it was uppermost in American calculations at the time—as Roosevelt had explained at Yalta, the US did not expect to remain in occupation of Germany (and thus in Europe) more than two years at most.

The American defense budget was reduced by five-sixths between 1945 and 1947.

France’s initial position on the German problem was very clear, and drew directly upon the lessons of 1918–24: so much so, indeed, that to outsiders it appeared an attempt to re-run the script of the post-World War One years, only this time with someone else’s army.

The solution, as it emerged in French thinking in the course of the ensuing months, lay in ‘Europeanising’ the German Problem: as Bidault, once again, expressed it in January 1948: ‘On the economic plane, but also on the political plane one must . . . propose as an objective to the Allies and to the Germans themselves, the integration of Germany into Europe .

If the idea had not occurred to French leaders before 1948 this was not through a shortage of imagination, but because it was clearly perceived as a pis aller, a second-best outcome. A ‘European’ solution to France’s German problem could only be adopted once a properly ‘French’ solution had been abandoned, and it took French leaders three years to accept this. In those three years France had, in effect, to come to terms with the abrupt negation of three hundred years of history. In the circumstances this was no small achievement.

It had become clear—first to the British, then to the Americans, belatedly to the French and finally to the Soviets—that the only way to keep Germany from being the problem was to change the terms of the debate and declare it the solution. This was uncomfortable, but it worked.

Adenauer and Degaulle at signing of Élysée Treaty, 1964

Stalin knew better than most that World War Two had been a close run thing: if the Germans had invaded a month earlier in 1941 (as Hitler’s original schedule required) the Soviet Union might very well have folded. Like the USA after Pearl Harbor, but with rather better cause, the Soviet leadership was obsessed to the point of paranoia with ‘surprise attacks’ and challenges to its new-won standing.

Soviet prisoners of war, 1941

Molotov is surely telling the truth when he suggests in his memoirs that the Soviet Union preferred to take advantage of propitious situations but was not going to take risks in order to bring them about: ‘Our ideology stands for offensive operations when possible, and if not, we wait.’
In the West the prospect of radical change was smoothed away, not least thanks to American aid (and pressure). The appeal of the popular-front agenda—and of Communism—faded: both were prescriptions for hard times and in the West, at least after 1952, the times were no longer so hard.

Post-national, welfare-state, cooperative, pacific Europe was not born of the optimistic, ambitious, forward-looking project imagined in fond retrospect by today’s Euro-idealists. It was the insecure child of anxiety. Shadowed by history, its leaders implemented social reforms and built new institutions as a prophylactic, to keep the past at bay.

[B]asic food rationing in Britain only ended in 1954—long after the rest of western Europe...[but] as Sam Watson, the veteran leader of the Durham miners union, reminded the Labour Party’s annual conference in 1950: ‘Poverty has been abolished. Hunger is unknown. The sick are tended. The old folks are cherished, our children are growing up in a land of opportunity.’

(Get this fine book here.)

Tony explains everything

While in Europe I came across Postwar by the late Tony Judt.  All other activities stopped as I plunged in and read as much as I could...but man there's a lot of it.  After two days I was about a quarter of the way through the book.  "Tour de force" is a bit of understatement - the man seems to have known everything, and talked with everyone about the things he didn't know.  Here is his quick rundown on the Marshall Plan:
Between the end of the war and the announcement of the Marshall Plan, the United States had already spent many billions of dollars in grants and loans to Europe. The chief beneficiaries by far had been the UK and France, which had received $4.4 billion and $1.9 billion in loans respectively, but no country had been excluded—loans to Italy exceeded $513 million by mid-1947 and Poland ($251 million), Denmark ($272 million), Greece ($161 million) and many other countries were indebted to the US as well. 
But these loans had served to plug holes and meet emergencies. American aid hitherto was not used for reconstruction or long-term investment but for essential supplies, services and repairs. Furthermore, the loans—especially those to the major western European states—came with strings attached. Immediately following the Japanese surrender President Truman had imprudently cancelled the wartime Lend-Lease agreements, causing Maynard Keynes to advise the British Cabinet, in a memorandum on August 14th 1945, that the country faced an ‘economic Dunkirk’. Over the course of the following months Keynes successfully negotiated a substantial American loan agreement to supply the dollars that Britain would need to buy goods no longer available under Lend-Lease, but the American terms were unrealistically restrictive—notably in their requirement that Britain give up imperial preferences for its overseas dominions, abandon exchange controls and make sterling fully convertible. The result, as Keynes and others predicted, was the first of many post-war runs on the British pound, the rapid disappearance of Britain’s dollar reserves and an even more serious crisis the following year. 
The terms of the loan negotiated in Washington in May 1946 between the US and France were only slightly less restrictive. In addition to a write-off of $2.25 billion of wartime loans, the French got hundreds of millions of dollars in credits and the promise of low-interest loans to come. In return, Paris pledged to abandon protectionist import quotas, allowing freer entry to American and other foreign products. Like the British loan, this agreement was designed in part to advance the US agenda of freer international trade, open and stable currency exchanges and closer international cooperation. In practice, however, the money was gone within a year and the only medium-term legacy was increased popular resentment (much played upon by the Left) at America’s exploitation of its economic muscle.
By the spring of 1947, then, Washington’s bilateral approaches to Europe’s economic troubles had manifestly failed. The trading deficit between Europe and the US in 1947 would reach $4,742 million, more than double the figure for 1946. If this was a ‘hiccup of growth’, as later commentators have suggested, then Europe was close to choking. That is why Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Minister, responded to Marshall’s Commencement Address by describing it as ‘one of the greatest speeches in world history’, and he was not wrong.
Marshall’s proposals were a clean break with past practice. To begin with, beyond certain framing conditions it was to be left to the Europeans to decide whether to take American aid and how to use it, though American advisers and specialists would play a prominent role in the administration of the funds. Secondly, the assistance was to be spread across a period of years and was thus from the start a strategic programme of recovery and growth rather than a disaster fund. 
Thirdly, the sums in question were very substantial indeed. By the time Marshall Aid came to an end, in 1952, the United States had spent some $13 billion, more than all previous US overseas aid combined. Of this the UK and France got by far the largest sums in absolute amounts, but the relative impact on Italy and the smaller recipients was probably greater still: in Austria, 14 percent of the country’s income in the first full year of the European Recovery Program (ERP), from July 1948 to June 1949, came from Marshall Aid. These figures were enormous for the time: in cash terms the ERP was worth about $100 billion in today’s (2004) dollars, but as an equivalent share of America’s Gross Domestic Product (it consumed about 0.5 percent of the latter in the years 1948–1951) a Marshall Plan at the beginning of the twenty-first century would cost about $201 billion.
Great book.