March 31, 2018

We saw it. The rumors are true.

Isle of Dogs is fabulous.

  • I have really liked every Wes Anderson movie I have seen (Rushmore and The Life Aquatic).
  • I laughed throughout, not from joy but from bemusement and admiration.
  • I really like movies that are mannered and stylized.
  • I go into Japanese stationery shops, and when no one is looking I lick the notebooks.

The Atlantic unpacks the Japan angle here.

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March 30, 2018

Deleting my account, now

Facebook employees said on Friday that discussions were raging across the company regarding the merits of the post. Some called for executives to aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media, said two Facebook employees, as well as for the company to do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process.


Lost in the liminal spaces

When I last read The Lord of the Rings, I did so aloud, to children.  As a result, I found myself "skipping a bit" when I got to long descriptive passages like this:
The day was drawing to its end, and cold stars were glinting in the sky high above the sunset, when the Company, with all the speed they could, climbed up the slopes and reached the side of the lake. In breadth it looked to be no more than two or three furlongs at the widest point. How far it stretched away southward they could not see in the failing light; but its northern end was no more than half a mile from where they stood, and between the stony ridges that enclosed the valley and the water's edge there was a rim of open ground. They hurried forward, for they had still a mile or two to go before they could reach the point on the far shore that Gandalf was making for; and then he had still to find the doors. 
When they came to the northernmost corner of the lake they found a narrow creek that barred their way. It was green and stagnant, thrust out like a slimy arm towards the enclosing hills. Gimli strode forward undeterred, and found that the water was shallow, no more than ankle-deep at the edge. Behind him they walked in file, threading their way with care, for under the weedy pools were sliding and greasy stones, and footing was treacherous. Frodo shuddered with disgust at the touch of the dark unclean water on his feet. 
As Sam, the last of the Company, led Bill up on to the dry ground on the far side, there came a soft sound: a swish, followed by a plop, as if a fish had disturbed the still surface of the water. Turning quickly they saw ripples, black-edged with shadow in the waning light: great rings were widening outwards from a point far out in the lake. There was a bubbling noise, and then silence. The dusk deepened, and the last gleams of the sunset were veiled in cloud. 
Gandalf now pressed on at a great pace, and the others followed as quickly as they could. They reached the strip of dry land between the lake and the cliffs: it was narrow, often hardly a dozen yards across, and encumbered with fallen rock and stones; but they found a way, hugging the cliff, and keeping as far from the dark water as they might. A mile southwards along the shore they came upon holly trees. Stumps and dead boughs were rotting in the shallows, the remains it seemed of old thickets, or of a hedge that had once lined the road across the drowned valley. But close under the cliff there stood, still strong and living, . two tall trees, larger than any trees of holly that Frodo had ever seen or imagined. Their great roots spread from the wall to the water. Under the looming cliffs they had looked like mere bushes, when seen far off from the top of the Stair; but now they towered overhead, stiff, dark, and silent, throwing deep night-shadows about their feet, standing like sentinel pillars at the end of the road. 

This stuff drove some critics nuts, but if you have time it is worth sitting back and savoring it.  Tolkien's landscape descriptions often use words that are far out fashion, sometimes even extinct or invented, but words well-grounded in the experiences and languages of ancient people.  As noted in this estimable work from the University of Alberta,
Tolkien wrote that the place-names of the Shire are “devised according to the style, origins, and mode of formation of English (especially Midland) place-names” (Letters 360).
Outside the Shire, the area surrounding Bree also has a kind of British character hidden in the etymons of its place-names. Bree itself is the same name as the Welsh word for “hill” while the etyma of Archet and Combe are the Welsh archet “the wood” and cwˆm “valley” (Shippey 64-65). In one passage of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes the river Withywindle, the description of which, as well as its name, was inspired by the Cherwell. Shippey posits that Tolkien derived the name from Old English *cier-welle, the first element of which comes from cierran “to turn” (63). He also notes that Windsor, found a little further down the Thames, may take its name from *windels-ora “the place on the winding stream,” while “withy” is an old word for “willow.” 

It is ironic that as we enter Middle Earth as a place of escape, we are not entering some paradise (except The Shire, which we immediately depart), but a ruined world full of names that encode a lost past.  After some reflection the whole work strikes me as a meditation on the liminal spaces, the in-between areas between great cities, between Kingship and anarchy, between The Shire and Mount Doom.  And I think part of the unique charisma of Tolkien's work is that this liminal space is essentially infinite - ungoverned, lost to civilization.  Full of terrors, shocking beauty, the monuments of lost Kingdoms, and most of all abandoned space - it touches something in our imaginations, something that yearns to walk into the emptiness.

This way to Steller!

I had thought Tolkien had had the last word on wistful landscape meditation, but Robert Macfarlane will have something to say about that.  I have not read enough of Macfarlane to know for sure, but I suspect he might be one of those authors, like Bart Ehrman, who (some say) writes the same book over and over, but is redeemed at least somewhat by the fact that it is a very good book.

Here are some of Macfarlane's works:
  • Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit
  • The Wild Places
  • The Old Ways:  A Journey on Foot
  • Landmarks 
and, this year, Tolkien-like:
  • The Lost Words
(or should it be "Worlds"?)

Macfarlane mentions Tolkien in this interview about Mountain of the Mind:
It's a book not just about mountains, but also about how history works: why is it that people go into the wild, and escape nurturing, and experience things in a primary way? The "wild places" are often in children's literature. They're not just geographical spaces. They're also where kids go where they read. Tolkein. Narnia. Sendak. Wind in the Willows, The Wild Wood. The way you read landscapes and interpret them is a function of what you carry into them with you, and of cultural tradition. I think that happens in every sphere of life. But I think in mountains that that disjunction between the imagined and the real becomes very visible. People die because they mistake the imagined for the real. 
You don't have to go very high or very far to find somewhere you can hurt yourself on a mountain. But this feeling wells up in you; this desire to be somewhere high, somewhere cold, somewhere beautiful, somewhere sunlit, somewhere that isn't a city.
Nevertheless, I could go for a cappuccino right now...

I mention all this because I am trying to get through The Old Ways but making very slow progress.  It's not that Macfarlane writes badly, quite the contrary.  But let's face it, there's only so much objective information to convey about a walk on a dirt path.  Filling in the blanks requires that his style become his subject, and this is more apparent with him than anymore I've read since John Fowles.  At his best/worst he has a pronounced Anglo-Saxon accent and is compulsively spondaic:
It wasn't until last light that I reached Ivinghoe Beacon, whose great chalk summit is crowned by an Iron Age hill-fort.  I scrambled up to one of its grassed-up ramparts, sat facing westwards and let the setting sun soak me with its warmth.  I took off my shoes and socks.  My feet were puffy as rising dough.  Across the land, millions of bindweed flowers completed their final revolutions of the day, buttercups returned their last lustre to the sun, the wallabies of Whipsnade settled to sleep and the day slowed to its close.
Alexander Pope high five!  And then we're back to names...
Sitting there in that buttery sunshine the many different names of the path - Yken, Ychen, Ayken, Iceni, Icening, Ickeneld, Ikeneld, Ikenild, Icleton, Icknield - seemed to melt and combine, such that the Way seemed not like a two-dimensional track but part of a greater manifold, looping and weaving in time even as it appears to run singularly onwards in space.  I could not find a beginning or an end of the Icknield Way...
I take your point

But it is not all this.  As I skip through the book I spot signs of well-told trek tales:
In early winter my friend Jon Miceler called to ask if I wanted to join him on a short expedition to Minya Konka, following the trails that once connected the tea-growing regions of Sichuan with Nepal and Tibet, and then the pilgrimage routes - some of them more than 700 years old - that converged on the peak.  My interest in pilgrimage was growing increasingly strong, and my hunger for high mountains has long been unseemly.  I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do, so I travelled to Chengdu...

That gives me a CORKER of an idea for a song.
...the capital of Sichuan Province in western China and met Jon at his apartment there.   
He'd just returned from an attempted three-week vehicular traverse of the Burma Road.
'Failed,' he said ruefully.  'Gumbo mud.  Permit trouble.  And way too many leeches.'

So this is interesting.  My ambivalence about Macfarlane's style counts for little, he has won the Guardian's First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the coveted Boardman-Tasker Award.  His work has been reviewed and found superb, so I will not quibble.

But...what is all this reminding me of?  [He stares off into the middle distance, his eyes catch the light from a tree stand, the leaves still in the noon sun...] Something about time...time...time...oh yes:
Time present and time past 
Are both perhaps present in time future, 
And time future contained in time past. 
If all time is eternally presentAll time is unredeemable. 
What might have been is an abstraction 
Remaining a perpetual possibilityOnly in a world of speculation. 
What might have been and what has been 
Point to one end, which is always present. 
Footfalls echo in the memory 
Down the passage which we did not take 
Towards the door we never opened 
Into the rose-garden. 
My words echo 
Thus, in your mind.

It is a fine English sport, going outdoors and ruminating on the unity of time and infinity of distance.  But I say when you have gone out, you have to try to come back - or get back - to the garden.

Who knows where the path will end?  Bilbo and Frodo made their way back to The Shire, but there are no guarantees.  Boardman and Tasker - the men that literary prize is named after - remain on Everest, probably forever, among the pinnacles they sought to conquer.

I think I will keep trying with Macfarlane.  He has his quirks, but he seems to know how to play the game.  I wonder if he can go a little further.  Can he see, as Eliot did, hope for our souls as we transit?  
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

I love that move

Frederick tolerated no rivals. Unlike his grandfather, Frederick Barbarossa, who was humbled by the Pope at the Battle of Legnano in 1176, this Frederick reveled in his endless battles with the papacy. His intransigence brought him not just one excommunication, but two. On the second occasion, Pope Gregory IX called for Frederick to be deposed, characterizing him as a heretic, rake, and anti-Christ. Frederick responded with a savage attack on papal territory; meanwhile his fleet captured a large delegation of prelates on their way to Rome to join the synod that had been called to remove him from power.

Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

A prior example has already been discussed.

I have one word for you: 36-YEAR OLD ACCOUNTANT SCOTT FOSTER

After a short warm-up, the game resumed and Foster got a big cheer from the crowd of 21,839 when he denied Tyler Myers for his first save about a minute after he came in...

Backed by chants of “Foster! Foster!” and more loud ovations, he made another stop on Myers and turned away Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien in the final minutes. When it was over, the Blackhawks poured onto the ice and mobbed Foster in the net.


Egan with with the elbow drop

“These 17-year-olds should go back to civics class,” said Pete Hegseth, scowling at the March for Our Lives demonstrators.

Actually, civics class has come to them, in the form of a hail of bullets from a weapon of war that is legal because of a broken political system. They’ve been forced, by triage, to learn how to use the tools of democracy that were largely denied them by passive educators...

“There’s a big difference between being ignorant and being stupid,” said Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the Supreme Court. She’s been touring the country — 38 states so far — promoting civic competence among the young, a virtue that used to be a bedrock part of American education. “No one is born a citizen,” she said during a stopover in Seattle. “You have to be taught what that means.”



Teller writes a letter

My dear bastard son,

It is about time you wrote, my boy.

Now, calm down...


March 24, 2018

Honorable Mention

The Chicago Board of Trade Building inspires in all who view it a sense of disquiet and fear

Winner: Best Looming

This bucolic street in New York is enhanced by the presence of an impassive, dark-visaged monolith.

It is even better in bad weather.  Here is a snap I took from in front of Grand Central one morning, as clouds gathered for a major storm.

“We want to create the purely organic building, boldly emanating its inner laws, free of untruths or ornamentation.” -Walter Gropius

Death at the Excelsior

 "It is a theory of mine, Mr. Snyder, which I have found valuable that, in nine cases out of ten, remarkable things don't happen."

. . .

"I have always tried to use common sense."

"Then why are you trying now to make yourself believe that something happened which could not possibly have happened just because it fits in with something which isn't easy to explain?"


March 23, 2018

Amazon patents flying robot to finish off the wounded

Sleep well everyone!


March 21, 2018

More 80s nostalgia

(Sorry about the poor VHS transfer.)

I'm calling it

This is the greatest tweet ever:

Also relevant -

Also relevant -


Data point

Kurtis Blow is 58.

March 20, 2018

I don't think Google's working right

Noir problems

[T]he detective story, even in its most conventional form, is difficult to write well. Good specimens of the art are much rarer than good serious novels. Second-rate items outlast most of the high-velocity fiction, and a great many that should never have been born simply refuse to die at all. They are as durable as the statues in public parks and just about as dull.

This fact is annoying to people of what is called discernment. They do not like it that penetrating and important works of fiction of a few years back stand on their special shelf in the library marked “Best-sellers of Yesteryear” or something, and nobody goes near them but an occasional shortsighted customer who bends down, peers briefly and hurries away; while at the same time old ladies jostle each other at the mystery shelf to grab off some item of the same vintage with such a title as The Triple Petunia Murder Case or Inspector Pinchbottle to the Rescue. They do not like it at all that “really important books” (and some of them are too, in a way) get the frosty mitt at the reprint counter while Death Wears Yellow Garters is put out in editions of fifty or one hundred thousand copies on the newsstands of the country, and is obviously not there just to say goodbye.

To tell the truth, I do not like it very much myself. In my less stilted moments I too write detective stories, and all this immortality makes just a little too much competition. Even Einstein couldn’t get very far if three hundred treatises of the higher physics were published every year, and several thousand others in some form or other were hanging around in excellent condition, and being read too.

- Raymond Chandler


We're so good at secret stuff everybody's talking about it!

“We do incognito very well indeed, in fact we have many clients who never wish to have our relationship with them made public,” [Cambridge Analytica's] Nix said on the undercover film. “We’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”


March 19, 2018

Current mood

Si je marche à pied
Vous me regardez
Je n'ai pas une voiture de 3 millions
Et vous me prenez pour un vagabond

Si mes souliers sont usés
C'est qu'ils ont beaucoup marché
Et dans votre palace vous me critiquez
En me traitant de va-nu-pieds

Si vous claquez l'argent
C'est celui de vos parents
Moi, les miens étaient des ouvriers
Ils n'ont pas pu me faire étudier

Mais vous me tendez la main
Vous me proposez vos biens
De vos biens je ne saurais que faire
Je ne suis qu'un prolétaire
« Prolétaire »
« Prolétaire »


If I walk
You look at me
I do not have a car of 3 million
And you take me for a vagabond

If my shoes are worn
That's because they have walked a lot
And in your palace you criticize me
By treating me of going barefoot

If you slap money
It's your parents'
Me, mine were workers
They could not make me study

But you reach out to me
You offer me your property
Of your goods I would not know what to do
I am only a proletarian

More here.

Modern times

March 17, 2018

Live tweeting Rocky

Virginia’s 74-54 defeat at the hands of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was a long time coming.

It was the first time a No. 16 seed had beaten a No. 1 seed since the Division I men’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 — that is 33 years and 136 matchups of 16 versus 1. 


Almost as important as the historic victory was the pickup of tens of thousands of Twitter followers, thanks to the sassy tweets of online voice of UMBC, Zach Seidel:

Not sure why I care because the NCAA has always been a sham and these 'March Madness' tournaments are basically gladiatorial mismatches...wait a minute, that's it!  That's the real joy of it.

COMMODUS: My history's a little hazy Cassius, but aren't the Barbarians supposed to lose the battle of Carthage!!
CASSIUS: Yes, Sire. Forgive me, Sire.

March 15, 2018

It's hard to keep up

Here is Robert Pinsky in 2009 with a great piece on Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno.  We're a little late here, but this is worth a look.
Sincerity by itself and audacity by itself are not necessarily impressive qualities in art. It's possible to recognize that a work is heartfelt without admiring it, and it's possible to recognize the bold churning of imagination without feeling much emotion because of it. 
Together, though, sincerity and audacity can be immensely powerful, as in the best-known passage of Christopher Smart's "Jubilate Agno," the lines in which Smart (1722-71) considers his cat, Jeoffry...
Smart conveys that the sacred must be attained not by means of decorous or ecclesiastical portals but by embracing—even revering—what may look profane or trivial.


March 12, 2018

Blood in the streets

Dr. Kapital text message:  "All your bases are belong to us."


March 11, 2018

You said a mouthful

According to Jerry Falwell Jr., evangelicals have “found their dream president,” which says something about the current quality of evangelical dreams.


March 09, 2018

The NY song

A brief confession.  When I walk around New York lately, there is a tune that runs through my head, and I cannot get rid of it.  I first heard it in 1970, and it imprinted on me as surely as Underdog's Super Energy Pill, or Mary Tyler Moore's wardrobe:

It spoke to me.  It still speaks to me.

Neal Hefti wrote the theme for the movie, but of course the TV version is the one I heard first and sticks in my head now.  They did a couple of different ones for the show, both wonderful.

When I first came to New York in the the 1970s I frankly didn't see the place depicted in the show, the dreamy Wodehousian paradise inhabited by Felix and Oscar.

If there had been Maypole dancing I think I would have remembered it

When I returned in the early 1980s, driving a dodgy Chrysler with an Alaska drivers license in one hand and a can of Foster's in the other, the city seemed to have metastasized into a collective dystopian death wish (Exhibit A, Exhibit B).  When GTA brought out a game based on the New York of this era I had no interest because who wants to do that shit again. The ratings badge for the game is all you need to know about that moment in time:

Eventually the Blood and Gore opened a hedge fund in London, and the Intense Violence was moved to New Jersey.  The other activities continued, mainly for benefit of the tourists. 

But the magic promised in that tune from 50 years ago continued to elude me.

Yesterday, after a Nor'easter had blown through overnight, New York woke up to a cool morning with clear skies.  Fortified with cappuccino I walked out of my little hotel and strolled in the general direction of my appointment uptown.  A beautiful girl rushed by carrying her cello, and a couple of little kids ran by, their mother pursuing, on their way to school I imagine.  The wind pricked my face a little.  And that dumb Hefti tune started in my head, and for the first time in my life I was...happy in New York.  Not drunk, not partying, not chasing some girl or mad about having to meet some jerk.  Just happy, happy to be here.
  • Here is the main theme from the 1968 movie (link)
  • Billy May did a really nice spare version with harpsichord (link)
  • Bob Merrill did a clean cover in 2002, with a couple of good solos from his sidemen (link)

    March 07, 2018

    D&D matters

    No time to play, but it was nice to see a Fark thread today on this totally uncontroversial article on how to choose a character class.

    Two potentially useful sites mentioned:

    • is really interesting.  The first couple I tried were pointless, but then things got interesting:
      • PEACEFUL HUMAN WARLOCK FROM THE DUSTY MOUNTAINS WHO IS A COMPULSIVE LIAR...PG Wodehouse's Uncle Fred with magical powers?  Yeah, that could work.
      • But perhaps most compelling - MOODY HUMAN PALADIN FROM THE DUSTY MOUNTAINS WHO IS HAUNTED BY THE GHOSTS OF THOSE THEY KILL...whoa, when do we start?

    Also, I was not aware of The Henderson Scale of Plot Derailment.

    March 05, 2018

    Just came here to say...

    ...this is the most Don T thing ever:
    [His] personal lawyer...has been complaining to friends that he hadn’t been reimbursed for his [hush money] payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.


    March 03, 2018

    Your new desktop

    More Mumbai Gothic


    An objective review of Settlers of Catan

    In Settlers of Catan, the granddaddy of hipster board games, several players acquire resources required to construct roads and other stuff, while I get stuck with THE FUCKING SHEEP. EVERY TIME WITH THE FUCKING SHEEP. While everyone else is doing exciting stuff, I’m up to my neck in sheep. Sometimes you can trade in one resource for another, but not sheep, which have NO PURPOSE IN THIS GAME. Sometimes I’ll roll the dice in such a manner that ought to earn me wheat or bricks but NOT THIS TURN, MIKE, BECAUSE THE ROBBER IS ON YOUR SPACE NOW. WHAT THE MEDIEVAL FUCK IS THE ROBBER? I’m sure I’d learn what the robber was if I could HEAR YOU TALKING OVER THE SOUND OF ALL THESE SHEEP.

    Fuck the robber. Fuck these sheep. Fuck this cold-brew drinking, clear-glasses-frame-wearing, wretched bullshit mess of a game and everyone who plays it.


    Yes, of course

    Well, another claim on my attention and wallet:
    A cash-strapped Roy Moore urged supporters Thursday to pour more donations into a legal defense fund formed to fight a defamation lawsuit by a woman who said he molested her when she was 14.

    Well sure, I guess I can add that to the list.

    First, however, it is apparent that recent Republican initiatives will lead to many premature deaths due to healthcare deficiencies in the United States, so I'm going to have to budget something for those requests.

    Hey, speaking of 14 year-olds, did you know that many young people in America do not have decent access to education?  It may come as a surprise, but many bright talented people in our country are not able to achieve their full potential because of institutional barriers based on race or economic status.  Shocking, I know, but this charity works hard to help advance kids in this situation and is mostly reliant on private donations, so I feel compelled to provide some support to them.

    In any case, it's also apparent that you are not the only person in the U.S. struggling with the costs of legal representation.  Many people in the United States, particularly lower income people and people of color find this to be a terrible, sometimes debilitating burden.  There are good charities to help them that that I would likely prioritize ahead of your situation in the near term.

    After those problems are resolved I will re-consider your request, in the meantime good luck in your legal case.


    I did not know that

    From James Fenton's piece on Lockwood Kipling (Rudyard's father) in this week's New York Review of Books:
    In India, when the Kiplings arrived in 1865, the buildings that had once struck Macauley as being so ill-kept had been mostly Palladian in design.  But after the revolt of 1857 the new style for public buildings in Bombay was Gothic, and the Bard catalogue tells us that "still, today, Mumbai can boast the world's finest assembly of Victorian Gothic architecture.

    Library, University of Mumbai (1872)

    BIS "Bombay Gothic": (link)