September 30, 2017

We call that a "rookie mistake", Josh

Two-time MVP and reigning NBA champion Stephen Curry is "small and unathletic," according to Phoenix Suns rookie Josh Jackson.


Confucius would like a word

‘A wise man, in regard to what he does not understand, maintains an attitude of reserve. If names are not correct then statements do not accord with facts. And when statements and facts do not accord, then business cannot be properly executed. When business is not properly executed, order and harmony do not flourish. When order and harmony do not flourish, then justice becomes arbitrary. And when justice becomes arbitrary, people do not know how to move hand or foot. Hence whatever a wise man states he can always define, and what he so defines he can always carry into practice; for the wise man will on no account have anything remiss in his definitions.’

- as quoted in Empires of the Word


I'm not worried about artificial intelligence, I'm worried about artificial pathological stupidity

It’s been said that software is “eating the world.” More and more, critical systems that were once controlled mechanically, or by people, are coming to depend on code...

“When we had electromechanical systems, we used to be able to test them exhaustively,” says Nancy Leveson, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been studying software safety for 35 years. She became known for her report on the Therac-25, a radiation-therapy machine that killed six patients because of a software error. “We used to be able to think through all the things it could do, all the states it could get into.” The electromechanical interlockings that controlled train movements at railroad crossings, for instance, only had so many configurations; a few sheets of paper could describe the whole system, and you could run physical trains against each configuration to see how it would behave. Once you’d built and tested it, you knew exactly what you were dealing with.

Software is different. Just by editing the text in a file somewhere, the same hunk of silicon can become an autopilot or an inventory-control system. This flexibility is software’s miracle, and its curse.


September 29, 2017

Big shoes

There's hype, and then there's "'Blade Runner 2049' is better than the original"-hype.  That's a lot of hype.


September 27, 2017

Why it's hard for me to read books

So, tonight I open Empires of the Word, and there we learn that
By 260 BC the Indo-Greeks in Bactria, first led by Diodotus, had declared themselves independent.

Wait, wait, where the hell is Bactria...and who was Diodotus?  Oh crap...

Ok, it looks bad, but after some quick checks I think we can go with Diodotus I here.
At just about the same time (and possibly caused by this rebellion) the Iranian-speaking Parthians thrust south from the eastern shores of the Caspian into the plateau of Iran. A century later, in 146 BC, Mithradata I of Parthia completed the job, and drove the Seleucids out of the rest of Iran, taking Mesopotamia for good measure. 

Yeah, the Parthians were tough - underrated players in those days.  The Seleucids, of course, were the Greek kings of Central Asia of that time.  Ok, I think I got it.
Ten years later, as it happened, the Indo-Greek kings of Bactria were overwhelmed by a Scythian (Saka) invasion from the north, shortly followed by the Kushāna (also known as Tocharians or Yuezhi) from the north-east. Extinction of Greek over this vast area was not immediate. In the east, there is the fact that Bactrian, the official language of the Kushāna empire,

The wait what now?  I thought Kush was in Northern Sudan?  Oh...

Wait, is that Kanishka the guy who detained Xuanzang? No, but Xuanzang did encounter him indirectly.  Kanishka was a regional sponsor of Buddhism and put on a council that Xuanzang wrote about (this is the one where they decide to go from Prakrit to Sanskrit.  The "experts" at Wikipedia say "this change was probably effected without significant loss of integrity to the canon," but of course they would say that because Wikipedia is totally in the bag for Sanskrit).
...which lasted from the middle of the first to the end of the second century AD, came to be written in Greek script. This is unique among Iranian languages, and it shows that the Kushāna had a longish period of cultural interaction with the Greeks. In AD 44, 190 years after the fall of the Indo-Greek kings, the sage Apollonius of Tyana...

Wait, who?  Wikipedia:  "With the exception of the Adana Inscription, little can be derived [about Apollonius of Tyana] from sources other than Philostratus."


Not that I care but...who was Philostratus?

There is a footnote:  "The source is an Athenian sophist, Philostratus, whose Life of Apollonius of Tyana was commissioned at the end of the second century AD by the wife of the Roman emperor Septimius Severus. This is a work of devotional literature, and so its accuracy has been questioned; but Woodcock (1966: 130) argues that archaeology shows the author was in fact well informed about details of this land so remote from contemporary Rome and the Mediterranean." said to have had no difficulty communicating in Greek on a tour that took him all the way across the Hindu Kush to Taxila, where he was entertained (in Greek) by a Parthian king, who expatiated on his own Greek-style education.

Taxila, as every schoolchild knows, is in modern Pakistan.  This epic journey, which would make him sort of a western Xuanzang, traveling to the subcontinent in the footsteps of Pythagoras (?) in search of authentic knowledge is not, I should emphasize, NOT generally accepted as authentic by the consensus modern scholarly view, which is to fall down laughing and slapping the knee at the gullibility of anyone who thinks Appolonius ever got as far as the Cappadocian border.

But a fair-minded reader must allow some credence of the testimony of Philostratus, and the existence of deceptive 19th century forgeries does not change the possibility that the journey might have occurred, and that the anecdote is therefore accurate, although we can only speculate on the motivations of the forgers.

The larger point is clear enough.  All we really need is to track down some corroborating evidence that Parthian kings were speaking Greek in the first century AD.  How hard can that be?  Let's just take a quick look at a list of Parthian kings...oh no, ha ha...NO.  We'll study the "king-a-week kingdom" another time.  Good-night.

Let's see...640 pages in the book, and I'm getting through about a page a day. Look for the Eisengeiste review of Empires of the Word sometime in 2019.

Now we are all Colin Kaepernick

As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight. It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.

Gen. Michael Hayden is a former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency, and a visiting professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.


[Y]ou know what else is disrespectful to our flag? Racism.  - Steve Kerr


September 26, 2017

Thanks, Obama. No, really, thank you.

This is the problem for Republicans: Under Obamacare, Americans know that health insurers can't deny them coverage or charge them higher premiums based on their medical history. No Republican plan could provide such an ironclad guarantee.

Obamacare's system does come with real trade-offs. Healthier people are asked to pay higher premiums than they would if insurers could give them a discount. Health plans have struggled in some places because the bills for the Obamacare customers were higher than they had expected. That is part of why we saw some significant premium hikes in the law's first few years.

But Republicans are yet to come up with an alternative that provides such certainty — and that they can sell to the American people.

An estimated 27 percent of Americans under 65 have preexisting conditions. The old days, when insurers in the individual market could discriminate against those people at will, are not forgotten. The "Jimmy Kimmel test" that dominated the final days of debate over Graham-Cassidy was founded on preexisting conditions.

People don't want to go back.


September 24, 2017

Good point - why doesn't the NBA DO something?

September 23, 2017

Also, a little love for Ichiro

Ichiro, whose Hall of Fame prospects we declared good in 2009 is now a lead-pipe cinch, which is particularly impressive given that he started nine years late because of a prior commitment in Japan.  He is also threatening, at the age of 44, to set the Major League pinch hit record this year.


So that's where we are

Bill James has not updated his magisterial Historical Baseball Abstract since the big revision back in '01.  At that moment he had the five greatest catchers of all time as:

  1. Yogi Berra
  2. Johnny Bench
  3. Roy Campanella
  4. Mickey Cochrane

This week, however, he felt compelled to say a few words about a player whose career has unfolded in the intervening decade or so, Giants' catcher Buster Posey:
I think that some of the older voters just don’t appreciate how good Buster Posey is. It is not a mismatch in terms of games played. Cochrane played 1,482 games, Posey has played 1,031 so far, and it may be presumed that he will pass Cochrane. Cochrane had an .897 OPS against an average for the position in his era of .718. Posey has an .849 OPS against a position average of .714. Posey has led his team to three World Championships, which is more impressive with 30 teams and several rounds of playoffs than it would be with 16 teams and one post-season series. Posey is a very good defensive catcher. It is NOT unreasonable to suggest that he is a greater player than Cochrane...

The Giants have a policy of not retiring your number unless you make the Hall of Fame.  At the rate Bonds is going, Posey's could be next.  Kind of snuck up on us, but that's where we are.


The Eisengeiste review

Ain't Too Proud: The Temptations Musical
Berkeley Rep - Roda Theater
Opened 9/14, extended through 11/5

You know how these things go - you sit down in your seat for "An Evening With Thomas Edison" and idly wonder whether the play will be ok or terrible.  It's not going to be great, of course - modern shows are usually too competent to be great, too technically accomplished.  The modern theater is cool, professional, risk-averse.  So many gigs, so many line items on the resume, everyone's working hard, but they can't all be King Lear.

I knew we had good players and an fine director, but also that the show was in development and that (this is important) it is really hard to sing and dance like The Temptations.  I wondered how long it would take me to size up the show, take its measure.  About ten seconds, as it turned out.  This thing is great.

No refunds requested

A few random thoughts before retiring:
  • The Merc and Chronicle have it about right (the little man is jumping out of his seat).
  • There is a metric fuck-ton of talent on stage at all times.
  • Everyone involved is taking this seriously.  This is the story of one of the greatest r&b bands that ever graced planet earth, and the players are giving it just a bit more commitment than they would to your local revival of Brigadoon.
  • About 3/4 of the show is singing and dancing and also The Supremes show up and they are awesome because of course they are.
  • Everything looks perfect.  The sets, the costumes, the haircuts, the glasses, the red Cadillac.
  • Best note of the night goes to the estimable Rashidra Scott, who took us into Gimme Shelter for a second there.

As various reviewers point out, there are imperfections...but then again, too few to mention.  Adjustments will be made, but nothing is going to slow this down.  It is going straight to Broadway and will make a lot of money and win a bunch of awards, and that is as it should be.  Passionate imitation of perfection is no vice.

September 21, 2017

Real recognize real

Don't pretend you don't remember

While Cleveland sleeps...

A post shared by Shaun Livingston (@sdot1414) on


Obama Care Repeal Attempts Be Like

September 20, 2017

Ol' Melvyn here's gonna educate you

This is the best 43 minutes I have spent studying American political history.  I had not known about The Wizard of Oz thing, either.
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss what, in C19th America's Gilded Age, was one of the most significant protest movements since the Civil War with repercussions well into C20th. Farmers in the South and Midwest felt ignored by the urban and industrial elites who were thriving as the farmers suffered droughts and low prices. The farmers were politically and physically isolated. As one man wrote on his abandoned farm, 'two hundred and fifty miles to the nearest post office, one hundred miles to wood, twenty miles to water, six inches to Hell'. They formed the Populist or People's Party to fight their cause, put up candidates for President, won several states and influenced policies. In the South, though, their appeal to black farmers stimulated their political rivals to suppress the black vote for decades and set black and poor white farmers against each other, tightening segregation. Aspects of the Populists ideas re-emerged effectively in Roosevelt's New Deal, even if they are mainly remembered now, if at all, thanks to allegorical references in The Wizard of Oz.


September 19, 2017

Wake up sheeple

It was all about the pipe weed, people. IT WAS ALL ALWAYS ABOUT THE PIPE WEED...  The Hobbit is essentially The Usual Suspects and Bilbo is Keyser Soze the whole time. HE MASTERMINDED THE ENTIRE EXPEDITION.


[Update] Chomsky got there first.


The move that was too stupid for pro wrestling

According to Erdman, the "double ax-handle," as the move is known, was prominent in early professional wrestling. It eventually fell out of fashion because it "looks ridiculous, even in the completely fantastical world of professional wrestling," he said.


September 17, 2017

Not confirmed

Dear The Other Front,
I received this note on Snapchat today. Make of it what you will. - Doctor X

My father, JC Latouche, was tragically killed in a museum in Los
Angeles, trying to ignite a painting by Picasso upon fire. This was due
to his impeccable artistic taste. But unfortunately, his cleansing of
the artistic society should not be. In a twisted accident, which may
have had something to do with the fact that he he was untrained in 
the use of improvised explosives, his shirt was soaked in petrol and caught fire.
Fortunately I did not look at this terrible event. I only saw the
explosion that resulted. In his final will and testament, he left me his
$ 26 million, my mother, his sister and my six brothers and sisters, on
the condition that we both had to use 80 percent of what we inherited on
the fine arts as his own. We go back to the San Mateo area in the Bay
area. I will assume the duties of my father as artistic advisor resident
on Eisengeiste.
- Pierre Claude Latouche

Don't do it

September 16, 2017

Jimmie R

Tracking Robert Johnson

I missed Radiolab's short on Robert Johnson the first time around (2012), but caught a rerun today driving with the family, went around the block until it was over.  (link)

They got most of the story, but missed Johnny Shines, a bluesman who traveled with Robert Johnson (probably) from 1935 to 1937.  Here is an interview with him from 1989.  (link)

About 20 years ago I saw a documentary where the interviewer asked Shines if Johnson had ever told him the crossroads story.  I can't find it online, but Shines said:  "No, he never told me that lie."  He paused and then said (approximately):  "You can't sell your soul.  You are a soul."

But now that the marketers have it, the story will be with us forever.  Steve Berkowitz, a producer at Sony, told NPR in 2011 that the mythology was the “heart and soul of the marketing plan”. “We always knew the music was great. But a guy sells his soul to the devil at midnight down at the crossroads, comes back and plays the hell out of the guitar, and then he dies. I mean, it’s a spectacular story.”  (link)

This actually happened

September 13, 2017



It's tough to get good help anymore

“When the Russians submitted this proposal, they were under the impression that Trump would do what he said he would do: make a deal with Putin and normalize relations,” said Stent, who is also director of Eurasian studies at Georgetown University.

“That’s a reflection of the way their own system works,” she said. “If Putin wants something done, the Duma is compliant, the Ministry of Defense is compliant. But in the US, a lot of these things aren’t in the purview of the White House even if you have a president who is inclined.”


The singular genius of Steph Curry

Bruce Fraser, coach of the Golden State Warriors, said some interesting things in an interview last  week (link):
  • Steph Curry ends every practice by shooting 100 threes.  
  • Last season, Curry hit 77 consecutive three pointers in practice.  
  • Curry dropped by a camp at Kezar a couple weeks ago, walked onto the court in street clothes, no warmup...and hit 23 of 25 three pointers.
So much for my bright idea, which was to simply not defend Curry.  What's he going to do, score 120 points?  Well, yes, he could do that, if, as Fraser reports, his unguarded shooting percentage on threes is in the 80-90% range.  That's, like...horrifying.

Curry came to mind again last night as I watched a clip of LeBron, who was asked who he thought were the greatest basketball players of all time.  "Jordan," he said automatically, then hemmed and hawed before adding Bird and Erving.  I'd seen a clip a few weeks ago where Kareem - who is the only person with six MVP awards - dodged the question, although he then mentioned Bird, Oscar Robertson and Russell.  I wondered how close Curry is to those guys.  Remember, four years ago Curry was just a good player, before turning into a demonic combination of Larry Bird and Tiny Archibald.

I think Kareem - who Bill Simmons ranked first in his Big Book of Basketball - overstates the difficulty of identifying at least a group of candidate "greatest" players.  For one thing, I don't think there's much chance that the greatest player ever - whomever it turns out to be - failed to win a single MVP award.  You can make your arguments for Pete Maravich or Bob Lanier or Tracy McGrady, but in the end, if people weren't convinced that you were the greatest player for a single year, how can you be the greatest of all time?

You can make a similar argument through time.  If a player had a fifteen year career and made three all-star teams, I don't think that's a "greatest"-type performance.  You can plot those two things together and some interesting things emerge right away:

It's pretty obvious where Simmons is coming from on Kareem.  Kareem has more MVPs than Jordan or Russell, more All-Star games than Kobe or Erving.  He was one of the best basketball players in the world for two decades, and if you are counting rings he has six, same as MJ and Pippen (tied for best among non-Celtics, except for the remarkable Big Shot Rob, who has seven).  

Curry is a peculiar outlier here.  No other MVP has been to as few All-Star games.  (I am giving him, LeBron, Westbrook and Durant credit for 2017-18, as I suspect all four will make the team.)

Curry is older (29) than most people realize - six months older than Durant.  In Curry's rookie season, where he showed some promise, Durant was already first-team NBA, scoring champion, and had been Rookie of the Year two years before.  Where Durant played one year of college ball before the Sonics drafted him, Curry played three - and remember no major college program offered Curry a scholarship.  As for LeBron:

So Curry's subsequent escalation came as a bit of a shock, not just to fans, but to his peers.  If you plot yearly Box Plus/Minus for LeBron, Durant, and Curry, it's obvious (at least to me) why people had trouble taking him seriously at first.  He came almost out of nowhere, but just kept getting better. That his "off year" last year brought him back in line with LeBron and Durant.  As off years go, that's not bad:

Box Plus/Minus is by no means perfect, but as a general indicator of player quality I think it's usually in the right neighborhood.  Here is a chart of the modern MVP winners that plots Box Plus/Minus vs. All-Star games (note that we don't have BPM for the first four years of Kareem's career, and those would probably pull his average up some):

Curry lacks the longevity of most of the other greats, and will lack it even if he continues like this for a few more years.  Westbrook, who is a comparable individual talent and about the same age as Curry, is better-positioned to move into the middle of the Pantheonic data cloud.  Note that as their careers progress, Curry, Westbrook, Durant, and also LeBron will move south-east, as their current BPMs do not include the decline phase of their career.

Still, if you want to understand the singular genius of Curry, this framework highlights how incredibly unusual he is.

It fashionable now to talk about how the Warriors are overloaded with talent, and how unusual it is to see two epic Bird/Olajuwon/Kareem-type talents on the same team. When else has that happened? Well...almost all the time, actually.  From the chart we have:
  • Magic / Kareem
  • Erving / Moses
  • Kobe / Shaq
  • Don't sleep on Nash / Nowitzki!
  • Westbrook/Durant of course
You could also add:
  • Jerry West / Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russel / Cousy or Sam Jones or...
  • Jordan / Pippen (who never never won an MVP award because Michael but whose career looked a lot like Durant's so far)
  • Karl M / Stockton (who never never won an MVP award because Magic and Michael but whose career looked a lot like Nowitzski's)
So who's the greatest of all time?  One of these guys, probably.  I think I'd draw a horizontal line at Kobe, and say no one below that level is GOAT.  From there...I dunno, but if you take BPM really seriously...
  • It's LeBron #1 and Jordan #2,
  • Bird and Magic were basically the same guy, and tied for #3,
  • Holy crap Erving > Kareem and pretty much everyone else,
  • Curry, Westbrook, and Durant are now officially in the conversation.

Here is a list of all NBA players by number of All-Star appearances:  (link)
Here is a list of all the best ABA and NBA seasons by Box Plus/Minus: (link)

Guest Blogger #1 raps in praise of Louis XIV

(For a school assignment - "totally not Hamilton" he disclaims.  Art stolen from the Internet.)

King Louis is the best; Louis is the greatest.
Some say that he’s crooked but King Louis is the straightest.
The latest

News from Versailles 's that Louis got the nobility
Eating out of his hand with maximum humility

Louis gotta army and a cravin’ for power
If Europe was a castle he’d be at the top of the tower

Louis is the Sun King, as hot as they get
Hand him some wheat, he bakes it to a baguette

Louis oozes style; Louis is great.
Be careful when you cross him; he is the State.

Merchants love him; British hate him
That is simply a synonym

Of patriotism; allegiance, to a power; 
Savin’ his nation from
Dropped taxation
Moved location; Versailles migration
Kept the peasants from damnation
In this narration
There’s reflection
Of this king whose coronation
Built foundations
On location 
Got an ovation 
For s’innovation  
His Resolution 
His concentration
Louis the mighty 
Ruler of this nation!

Not before time

Josh Marshall:

I think the political juice of the Russia story is pushing Facebook toward a bruising encounter with the reality that it’s not God, not a government, not the law. It’s just a website. It can’t happen soon enough.


September 11, 2017

Mission Impossible: clips from "The Mercenaries"

The Mercenaries
Season 3, Ep. 4

Ok, I actually remember this one from when it was originally on, because as I kid I just hated smug Pernell Roberts from Bonanza.

Anyway, this is a simple mission.  Pernell Roberts has some gold and a mercenary army in Africa...

Your mission is to fuck this asshole's shit up

The Force arrives in a truck with Phelps dressed as a man of the cloth and Cinnamon dressed as wow, just wow.  They reveal that they are arms dealers, and show off the merchandise, and also some rifles and submachine guns.  Before doing business, Phelps demands to see the "color of your money" so Pernell Roberts shows him a vault full of gold, which of course is the sacred property of all of the mercenaries.  They would of course go berserk if he were take any extra for himself or spend it irresponsibly.

About five minutes later...

What...?  Whoa!  (I totally remember this from when I was a kid...)

After the melted gold flows out this thing spray paints the vault back to its original color and retracts back into the floor

Barney and Willy re-forge the melted gold into new blocks to hide at a new site.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch Rollin Hand has sold the mercenaries on the idea that he's from a disgraced unit that used to operate in this area and retreated quickly leaving a stash of gold behind.  A key plot point is that Rollin correctly estimates how long he can hold out while they try to torture the information out of him.

While we're all waiting for that...

What's to stop me from kissing the pretty lady?


With Pernell distracted by Cinnamon and the .45 in his back...

Barney and Willy have moved the gold to the hustle site, where Pernell will be tricked into finding it

Mook loads gold into truck.  Pernell:  "See if there's more." Mook: "Ok..."  Gun:  BLAM

Pernell thinks he's won the game.  He's got a new stash of gold, free and clear, and arranges to have it sent out of camp on the IMF truck without telling his men.  He calls the sentries at the gate to make sure there will be no trouble.  Returning to base, his thoughts turn to mwah hah hah hah.

At last I have you

Through some creative telephoning, Rollin has let Pernell's secret slip out to everyone except the sentries at the main gate.

*knock* *knock*
"Who's there?"
"Enraged mercenary army."
"Enraged mercenary army who...?"

Nonsense, the gold is right there in the vault!  I'll prove it to you!

Now would be a good time to escape in the confusion - ah, a truck full of guns and gold is arriving

"Y'all come back now, you hear?"

Well you can rock me to sleep tonight

Hackers could program sex robots to kill


Channing Tatum's greatest performance

Professionalism in Forest Grove

Officers contacted a man acting suspiciously near a convenience store. After he identified himself as the creator of galaxies and destroyer of worlds, he was asked not to return to the location and moved along without incident.


September 10, 2017

Formulaic, predictable, THOROUGHLY enjoyable

September 09, 2017

Clear enough

I have nothing against people sharing their interests, and every martial art has its own theories on how combat works. In aikido, you use your opponent's energy against him. In wing chun, you attack and defend at the same time. In taekwondo, you have a place to leave your kids for an hour. 


It's refreshing, don't change a thing

One adviser told Axios' Mike Allen that after seven months in office, the president finally realized, "people really f---ing hate me."


September 08, 2017

Some other country

If only it happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we'd just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, blue-stockings and artists and people and ordinary men in the street as well-it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you're involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against brutal facts, you can't help feeling directly concerned-the shock is too violent for you to stay detached.


Still from Troubleman Trailer

Highest achievement

"This is a deadly tick.  We are warning the public to avoid these insects at all...wait, where'd it go?"


September 04, 2017

Steely Dan down a man

One of the problems with Steely Dan - now mostly  resolved thanks to the Internet and a little less reticence from the band - is that it's been hard at times to get a straight account of who played what.  I always admired Becker's sweet ripping solo from "Boston Rag" (here, from 3:26), but actually that was Skunk Baxter; or that sweet run on "Your Gold Teeth II"...but that was Denny Dias (here, from 2:20).

Becker could play though.  This one is his:

More gruel from our corporate masters

More shiny things to distract me from the real questions.  In this case it is Empires of the Word, Nicholas Ostler's 2004 "Language History of the World"...two bucks, here (reviewed here in The Guardian).

From the Preface:
Far more than princes, states or economies, it is language-communities who are the real players in world history, persisting through the ages, clearly and consciously perceived by their speakers as symbols of identity, but nonetheless gradually changing, and perhaps splitting or even merging as the communities react to new realities. This interplay of languages is an aspect of history that has too long been neglected.

Here is the freaking Table of Contents -


1 Themistocles’ Carpet
- The language view of human history
- The state of nature
- Literacy and the beginning of language history

2 What It Takes to Be a World Language; or, You Never Can Tell


3 The Desert Blooms: Language Innovation in the Middle East
- Three sisters who span the history of 4500 years
- The story in brief: Language leapfrog
- Sumerian—the first classical language: Life after death

- Akkadian—world-beating technology: A model of literacy
- Phoenician—commerce without culture: Canaan, and points west
- Aramaic—the desert song: Interlingua of western Asia

- Arabic—eloquence and equality: The triumph of ‘submission’

- A Middle Eastern inheritance: The glamour of the desert nomad

4 Triumphs of Fertility: Egyptian and Chinese
- Careers in parallel
- Language along the Nile
- A stately progress
- Immigrants from Libya and Kush
- Competition from Aramaic and Greek
- Changes in writing
- Final paradoxes
- Language from Huang-he to Yangtze
- Origins
- First Unity
- Retreat to the south
- Northern influences
- Beyond the southern sea
- Dealing with foreign devils
- Whys and wherefores
- Holding fast to a system of writing
- Foreign relations
- China’s disciples
- Coping with invasions: Egyptian undercut
- Coping with invasions: Chinese unsettled

5 Charming Like a Creeper: The Cultured Career of Sanskrit
- The story in brief
- The character of Sanskrit
- Intrinsic qualities
- Sanskrit in Indian life
- Outsiders’ views
- The spread of Sanskrit Sanskrit in India
- Sanskrit in South-East Asia
- Sanskrit carried by Buddhism: Central and eastern Asia
- Sanskrit supplanted
- The charm of Sanskrit
- The roots of Sanskrit’s charm
- Limiting weaknesses
- Sanskrit no longer alone

6 Three Thousand Years of Solipsism: The Adventures of Greek
- Greek at its acme
- Who is a Greek?
- What kind of a language?
- Homes from home: Greek spread through settlement
- Kings of Asia: Greek spread through war
- A Roman welcome: Greek spread through culture
- Mid-life crisis: Attempt at a new beginning
- Intimations of decline
- Bactria, Persia, Mesopotamia
- Syria, Palestine, Egypt
- Greece
- Anatolia
- Consolations in age
- Retrospect: The life cycle of a classic

7 Contesting Europe: Celt, Roman, German and Slav
- Reversals of fortune
- The contenders: Greek and Roman views
- The Celts
- The Germans
- The Romans
- The Slavs
- Rún: The impulsive pre-eminence of the Celts
- Traces of Celtic languages
- How to recognise Celtic
- Celtic literacy
- How Gaulish spread
- The Gauls’ advances in the historic record
- Consilium: The rationale of Roman Imperium
- Mōs Māiōrum—the Roman way
- The desertion of Gaulish
- Latin among the Basques and the Britons
- Einfall: Germanic and Slavic advances
- The Germanic invasions—irresistible and ineffectual
- Slavonic dawn in the Balkans
- Against the odds: The advent of English

8 The First Death of Latin


9 The Second Death of Latin

10 Usurpers of Greatness: Spanish in the New World
- Portrait of a conquistador
- An unprecedented empire
- First chinks in the language barrier: Interpreters, bilinguals, grammarians
- Past struggles: How American languages had spread
- The spread of Nahuatl
- The spread of Quechua
- The spreads of Chibcha, Guaraní, Mapudungun
- The Church’s solution: The lenguas generales
- The state’s solution: Hispanización
- Coda: Across the Pacific

11 In the Train of Empire: Europe’s Languages Abroad
- Portuguese pioneers
- An Asian empire
- Portuguese in America
- Dutch interlopers
- La francophonie
- French in Europe
- The first empire
- The second empire
- The Third Rome, and all the Russias
- The origins of Russian
- Russian east then west
- Russian north then south
- The status of Russian
- The Soviet experiment
- Conclusions
- Curiously ineffective—German ambitions
- Imperial epilogue: Kōminka

12 Microcosm or Distorting Mirror? The Career of English
- Endurance test: Seeing off Norman French
- English overlaid
- Spreading the Anglo-Norman package
- The waning of Norman French
- Stabilising the language
- What sort of a language?
- Westward Ho! Pirates and planters
- Someone else’s land
- Manifest destiny
- Winning ways
- Changing perspective—English in India
- A merchant venture
- Protestantism, profit and progress
- Success, despite the best intentions
- The world taken by storm
- An empire completed
- Wonder upon wonder
- English among its peers


13 The Current Top Twenty

14 Looking Ahead What is old
- What is new
- Way to go
- Three threads: Freedom, prestige and learnability
- Freedom
- Prestige
- What makes a language learnable
- Vaster than empires

I wish I'd found this Thursday night, would have put the long weekend to better use....!

September 03, 2017

Pick a side - not to say it's a simple matter

Look, I'm not going to tell you which evil monopoly to affiliate with (Lord knows I have evil monopoly problems of my own) but Bezos controls The Washington Post and gives Amazon Prime members Mission: Impossible episodes for free.  Just sayin'...


Mission Impossible: clips from "The Heir Apparent"

The Heir Apparent
Season 3, Ep. 1

Cinnamon plays a long lost princess to prevent a regent from taking over in 'a small Baltic monarchy.' Of course, IMF's mission is to prevent a dictator from taking over a 'free' monarchy!  (link)

No more phonograph records or cassette players - this little reel-to-reel player is BOSS

And no need to dip it in acid

"The puzzle box is in a safe inside the Royal Vault in the old cathedral..."

I'm not a greedy man, General - shall we say $100,000 and an exit visa?

Puzzle box with fake diary goes back in the vault (and Barney and Willy return to their prison cell)

The mark cracks:  "Don't you see?!  This whole thing has been staged to deceive you!"

Gotta run, sorry, no time for questions!

Mission: Impossible - clips from "The Seal"

The Seal
Season 2, Ep. 9

Taggert, a U.S. industrialist, has acquired a jade figure, which has great religious significance to Kuala Rokat. That nation is a small but strategically located nation which borders China. Taggert's acquisition threatens to undo years of sensitive U.S. diplomacy but there is no legal way to force him to give the figure back. Phelps devises a plan which, among other things, calls for causing havoc with Taggert's mainframe computer, Rollin impersonating an academic from Kuala Rokat and using a highly trained cat in getting the jade away from Taggert.  (link)

Phelps walks into Taggert Corporation HQ (Dagny Taggart no relation?)

The mark is an asshole billionaire (thank God we got rid of those) played by THE ESTIMABLE Darren McGavin
While Cinnamon and Rollin distract the asshole, Rusty the cat gets to work

Phelps wondering how he got talked into this - we're all screaming "come on Rusty!" like idiots

Cinnamon, who's been impersonating a reporter, is last one out
Drops her security badge, officer yells at her but she keeps walking

And out to the fake ambulance getaway car...the defection of Kuala Rokat to the Communist Bloc has been averted

September 01, 2017

Mission Impossible: Pilot

Holy crap.  Impeccably written, perfectly costumed, photographed in lush analog color, this is the shit.  A dictator has two nuclear weapons, and intelligence suggests their use is imminent.  The Impossible Missions Force must intervene.

Briefcase potentially compromises confidentiality - don't care, want three

They're inserted into the country, with leader Daniel Briggs (Phelps does not show up until season two) posing as a Swiss watch salesman.  As their car passes the camera pauses and lingers on an exterminator's truck, then pans up to reveal:

One of my many skills

Then pans down to show that he's on lookout duty:

They get into the hotel where the dictator (and the nuclear weapons) are hanging out.  This guy has night duty at the safe, and a sweet, sweet magazine.

The colors here are pure pornography, and I mean that in a good way

Inside the safe, a safecracker emerges from one of the sample cases.  Hello Wally Cox, who works feverishly to solve the mechanism:

You might have guessed the ending already, but we were on the edge of our seats right up until the Learjet got out of range of the machine guns of the pursuing soldiers.

Whew.  This is not one of those shows where they figured it out in season three.  It was pure awesome from Day One.  More more more more...!


There's work to be done and we're with you Houston - but we're going to need to talk with the governor later

Abbott is so skeptical of federal activities that he deployed the Texas State Guard in 2015 to monitor a U.S. military training exercise in the state. The move was seen as fanning conspiracy theories about the Obama administration, including one that claimed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was creating political prisoner camps in Walmarts.


Person is wrong on the Internet, thinks Alex Smith is bad

Has any player lasted as long in this sport without making any plays? Alex Smith has thrown for over 20 TDs twice in a dozen years. He routinely struggles to throw for over 200 yards in a game. After 10 weeks last year, he had completed a grand total of EIGHT passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air. 
He is, at this point in his career, the ideal quarterback for when you don’t want your quarterback to do anything at all. He’s not a game manager. “Manager” implies someone who does things. Managers file reports and stuff! No no, Alex Smith is more of a vestigial side dish to any football game. He’s the little paper cup of coleslaw that comes with every order. He’s pleasantly worthless. From now until the end of time, you could insult any QB by comparing him to Alex Smith and I’ll know your EXACT issues with that player: weak arm, short passes, eternally TERRIFIED to turn the ball over. No one likes Alex Smith. He and Sam Bradford aspire to be one another.


Listen up, you fool.

This is not Steve DeBerg you're talking about.  Alex Smith does not play "just good enough for you to lose."  Alex Smith plays just good enough for your team to go 12-4 in the NFL.  DO YOU KNOW what 12-4 is motherfucker?  Here is what 12-4 is:  Patriots were better, 13-3.  Cowboys were better, same 13-3.  That's it.

Oh, you didn't win the Super Bowl?  You're right, that is totally Alex Smith's fault.  If you'd had Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady you totally would have won the Super Bowl.  Of course so would have ten other teams.  Shut up.

You know what Kansas City led the the League in last year?  Not points scored (13th).  Not points allowed (3rd).  Your team led the League in Turnover Differential.  KC had 33 takeaways vs. 17 giveaways, giving the Chiefs, on average, one extra possession a game.  That, my friend, is what we call an edge.

How did you get that edge?  Well, your outstanding defense led the NFL in takeaways, and then your quarterback made damn sure he didn't throw the ball back to the other team (8 INTs all year, 7th in the League).  And that is how a team that doesn't have Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers goes 12-4.

Tired of watching of it?  Sick of Alex Smith's body language, perhaps?

Oh definitely put Patrick Mahomes out there to "make some plays."  Let's see what your boy's got.  I'm sure his comical attempts to tackle better athletes returning his interceptions will enliven highlight reels everywhere.

Be grateful for what you've got.  Alex Smith is a professional quarterback.  He deserves better than the likes of you.


[UPDATE - Brock Osweiler is available.]

Sheee-it, Danny, can't neither of them guard a Warrior