July 28, 2018

Preliminary notes on my upcoming book "A Finger Pointing at the Basket: Zen and the Art of the Finger Roll"

In volleyball you have the spike, and the dink.  The spike is raw power (except for the 3/4 down the line, but nevermind that), the dink is pure finesse.  The spike sets up the dink, the dink forces the defense to play honest, opening up lanes for the spike.

The dink, and the finger roll, are stylistically second-best.  "Best slam dunk" compilations outnumber "best finger roll compilations" approximately 8,000 to one.

Even D Wade can't make it macho

But both the dunk and the finger roll count the same, and for the true connoisseur, the finger roll may be even more satisfying because of the greater variety of ways in which it comes into play.  It can be  an aggressive finishing move (but watch out, it's easy to screw up) or a bailout option when one's path to the hoop is unexpectedly blocked.  Perhaps Doctor J, confronted by a leaping Kevin McHale, could drive the ball through his opponent's hands and finish the dunk.  But lesser mortals might prefer, a la George Gervin, to lightly flip the ball over fruitlessly outstretched fingertips.  There is honor in both paths.

In the beginning...

Ladies and gentlemen, George Gervin (cue evil laugh):

Steve Jones: "[Gervin] could finger roll from anywhere from fifteen feet in."

 (As my old dance instructor, Frankie Manning used to say...):

"Ah ONE"

"Ah TWO"

"Ah...YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO" (run back on defense)

A fine compilation 
(But perhaps turn off sound and instead play T.S. Eliot reading "Macavity the Mystery Cat")

Order of the Stick reminder

Soap opera mode: on, but also dual-wielding halfling berkserkers and vampire beheadings.  (link)

In a bipartisan spirit, let's hear from the other side of the...oh my

Kirkus Reviews:  "Somebody had to do it."  (link)

July 26, 2018

1:37 - I have no further need for THESE

So everyone in Silicon Valley, basically

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan parasite carried by cats. It can infect people through contact with cat faeces, poorly cooked meat, or contaminated water, and as many as one-third of the world’s population may be infected. The parasite doesn’t make us feel sick, but it forms cysts in the brain where it can remain for the rest of a person’s life. Some studies have linked infection with the parasite to slower reaction times, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidal behaviour, and explosive anger.

Now an assessment of almost 1300 US students has found that those who had been exposed to the parasite were 1.7 times more likely to be majoring in business...  The team behind the study say their data suggests that the parasite may be involved in reducing a person’s fear of failure and high-risk, high-reward ventures. 


July 25, 2018

Immortality, of a kind

I recall once as a child, thinking about immortality.  The spiritual kind is appealing, of course, but I wondered how one could leave one's mark.  Poetry I thought, would be good.  Ozymandius' kingdom passed from the world, but Shelley's poem promises to be around for a good long time.  A good poem I thought, is probably the best shot at having your name handed down through the ages.

So I was interested to hear in the 'In Our Time' podcast about the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi that the author wrote
I suffered in thirty long span; by Persian language I remade Iran ... Since I have sown the seeds of living words, I shall not die but henceforth must remain.

He confesses to mixed motivations - sure I preserved the culture of a people, but I also made sure you know my name.  And we do.

Sweet mausoleum, too

But Shakespeare did him one better:
Not marble nor the gilded monuments
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.

Rap on, brother.

Since you bring it up - diagnostics in preparation for countermeasures

[Most of this was originally written in October 2017, but it seemed a bit melodramatic to me so I shelved it.  In light of recent events...well, here it is.]

The standard bearers have grown weak in the defense of their priceless heritage, and the powers of darkness have been strengthened thereby. Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character; it becomes lack of power to act with courage proportionate to danger. All this must lead to the destruction of our intellectual life unless the danger summons up strong personalities able to fill the lukewarm and discouraged with new strength and resolution.  - Albert Einstein

I'd love to change the world...but I don't know what to do.   - Ten Years After

The Song and Dance
Trump doesn’t scare me.  He’s a song-and-dance man. Pence and Bannon, those guys make me nervous.  We are not talking about Athenian democracy here. - Mel Brooks

I may have mentioned that I disagree with the views of the current executive, but I've tried to ignore the whole situation.  That he is contemptible is a given, but the media's love affair with him particularly disgusts me.  The ugly truth is that no one delivers clicks like this guy.  For a while I unfollowed anyone on social media who mentioned him.  This proved fruitless, so I quit social media altogether.  When his name came up on radio I changed the channel.  While other people watched his inauguration, I re-read Ionesco's Rhinoceros.  

Didn't help much.  It's impossible to avoid mention of the latest atrocity, whether it's Five Thirty Eight's "Trump Beat", Vox's endless hand-wringing, or the latest revelations on TPM, Deadspin, The New York Post, etc.  And no, I'm not linking to that crap.  Go find your own porn.

Oh, what terrible thing did he say

A long time ago Penn and Teller did a show ("The Refrigerator Tour") that was full of misdirection cons.  They repeatedly got the audience looking one way, then did the necessary business to make the trick work on the other side of the stage, unobserved, but in plain sight.  They showed the audience how these tricks worked, and toward the end Penn Gillette said something like "don't ask how we do this, ask why we do it."

It did have an effect on me.  It's actually not hard to fool people, you just need a big distraction.  So I think Brooks is on point here: the orange man is the silly business to keep you occupied while the real shit is going down.

The Real Enemy

The enemy is the convergence of three malignant dynamics:
  • Ideology before science, knowledge, rationality:  Only power matters.  Knowledge / education / learning is arbitrary, negotiable, and to be disregarded when not convenient.  Climate change, sensible monetary policy, managing the population's exposure to toxic chemicals - these are things chumps do, because the science behind them is lies because all science is lies.  
It goes without saying that this is un-American.  America brought the world the Boeing jetliner, the laminar flow wing, Herceptin and Rituxan, the Internet, the iPhone, the iPad, the Tesla electric car.  America has, since the time of Ben Franklin, been a nation of pragmatic, inventive, scientifically-inclined people who respected facts and reason.  Sure we've been religious, but as a nation we haven't been STUPID about it.  We didn't wait for God to give us the Atom Bomb, we invented it before Hitler did, and a good thing, too.  
  • Disregard of basic human rights and dignity:  The United States was founded on egalitarian principles, e.g., "all Men are created equal."  Chamberlain in The Killer Angels (and the movie Gettysburg) explains that "it's the idea that we all have value -- you and me.  What we're fighting for, in the end, we're fighting for each other."  Modern conservatism scorns this weakness.  It is diametrically opposed to Rawlsian conceptions of ethical conduct.  The weak and poor are inferior, and deserve their lot.  Attempts to aid them, such as Obamacare, are corrosive to society and sap the vitality of the nation.  See also:  "Separating Families at the Border is Really, Really Unpopular" - link
  • Plutocratic disregard of the rule of law.  The few times I've seen this president or his minions confronted by a rational person, it went something like this:

      The president is a nasty symptom, but these three dynamics are the real disease, and they have strong institutional sponsorship.

      So, time for chemo.

      Taking Aim
      "What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy." - Sun Tzu

      The enemy strategy is simple bullying.  My rough critique of the Democratic Party is that they need to stop backing up, because there's nowhere left to back up to.  Try hitting the fucker in the face for a change.  This shit is unacceptable, and it would be really nice to see a Democrat or two (other than the last President) say so, firmly, out loud.

      "Oh, the President will say something mean in a Tweet," I hear some say, "we'll just give him ammunition."

      Then go.  If you can't fight for knowledge, human decency, and the rule of law, you have no right to be in government.  We need people who will call this bullshit what it is and run off these fucking yahoos.

      Here are some inspirational images and quotes to consider:

      "Calling people animals is not a good thing."

      "[He] turned away from not one but two bipartisan compromises."

      Sorry, got my wires crossed there - the quotes are from Pelosi and Schumer.

      When World War II broke out, they called in admiral Ernest King, whose career had been in arrears, and gave him some real responsibility, prompting him to say (it was reported), that "when they get in trouble, they send for the sons-of-bitches."  

      Guys, the Marquis of Queensbury is dead.  Quit talking to your college classmates and friends at the club and start talking to the American people.  And tell them this is wrong and has to stop.

      This article has other useful ideas.

      And if President Orange tweets mean words at you, well, Mr. Truman said something about hot kitchens that applies.  If we don't fight for what we believe in - now - we won't have it.

      July 22, 2018

      How to remove irrelevant articles using Feedly Pro

      Also: "Trump tweets," "Trump claims."

      This weekend, a thought occurred to me: "Can you imagine how bad things would get if they discovered a way to monetize people paying attention to stupid bullshit?"

      July 21, 2018

      The Beast clears its throat

      Under the strict ordinances of sports journalism, you are not allowed to root for an athlete or a team. But you are allowed to root for a story, and Tiger Woods winning his 15th major championship more than a decade after he won his 14th is the best available story on The Open board.

      So I silently rooted for Woods while he shot his 5-under 66 on Saturday, and will do so again Sunday without reservation or any concern for the professional principles violated when sportswriters root, root, root for the home team. Tiger Woods is not the home team. He is a 42-year-old golfer who was broken physically, mentally, even spiritually (by his own admission) between the time of his last major victory and now. A completed comeback with the Claret Jug back in his hands might represent the greatest golf story ever told...

      A veteran of tours in South Africa and Japan, Norris had never met or played with Woods before this...  "It's like playing with a mythical creature," Norris said. "It doesn't feel real."


      The old "As it Happens" (CBC) theme has been running through my head

      Ah, much better. Pretty sure Ron Burgundy had that in his repertoire.

      A few scenes from the early days

      While vacationing I catch up a bit on the early career of Stephen Chow.  For those of us weaned on Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle - the only films he made that won major awards - it's important to understand that he was a huge star in Hong Kong long before western audiences laid eyes on him.  In 1991, before he had directed anything, he starred in all five of the top-grossing movies in Hong Kong. 

      We did not get to fully explore his early work while we were on the continent, but the films we saw were generally...not good...but nevertheless full of funny moments.  Some examples:

      Here, in his raunchy and wildly uneven 007 sendup "From Beijing with Love", a would-be assassin is baffled by his odd behavior, as well as his insane "Nicked Gun":

      In "Love on Delivery" we get (2:10-5:00) THE GREATEST FIGHT SCENE IN MOVIE HISTORY:

      The best overall movie we saw, by far, was "Fight Back to School", in which "21 Jump Street" gets the "Airplane" treatment in Cantonese. Here the undercover cops are called in and have a little trouble selling their cover story:

      There's still work to do on this front.  "All for the Winner" looks promising, as do "Tricky Brains" and "God of Cookery".  What I have learned so far is that there will always be funny bits in these moves - whether they're any good as movies or not, that's a trick-or-treat proposition.

      But my goodness what a talent.

      What role is there still for me to play: Stephen Chow on why he has stopped acting - link

      Good work

      July 19, 2018

      The remnants

      I was looking recently at a map of the places where Buddhism is practiced.  Notice anything amiss?

      Apart from the omission of California?

      It look a moment for my out-of-warranty eyes to pick up, but, off to the left, about 3,000 miles from Tibet, is a pocket of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia, just north of Georgia, in a place called Kalmykia.

      Pagoda of Seven Days in Lenin Plaza

      There has to be a story to this.  This is like finding an ancient Confucian enclave in New Jersey - it cries out for explanation.

      Here's what little we know:
      • First, you got your Oirats, western Mongols, basically.  
      • According to The Wiki "they were dubbed Kalmyk or Kalmak, which means 'remnant' or 'to remain', by their western Turkic neighbours... This name may...reflect the Kalmyks' remaining Buddhist [after converting around 1615] rather than converting to Islam; or the Kalmyks' remaining in the Altay region when the Turkic tribes migrated further west."
      • By the fall of the Yuan dynasty (mid 1300s), the Oirats view themselves as separate from the eastern Mongols.
      • We know they had their moments.  Per Wikipedia:
      The greatest ruler of the Four Oirat [tribes] was Esen Tayisi who led the Four Oirats from 1438 to 1454, during which time he unified Mongolia under his puppet khan Toghtoa Bukha. In 1449 Esen Tayisi and Toghtoa Bukh mobilized their cavalry along the Chinese border and invaded Ming China, defeating and destroying the Ming defenses at the Great Wall and the reinforcements sent to intercept the cavalry. In the process, the Zhengtong Emperor was captured at Tumu [know as "The Tumu Crisis"].   The following year, Esen returned the emperor after an unsuccessful ransom attempt. 

      But like the 1983 Sixers, the Oirats had nowhere to go but down.  Esen was killed the next year, and they return to their normal routines.

      In 1615, they convert to Buddhism.  Three years later they decide to move a few thousand miles west, to the banks of the Caspian Sea.
      [T]hey moved west through southern Siberia and the southern Ural Mountains, avoiding the more direct route that would have taken them through the heart of the territory of their enemy, the Kazakhs. En route, they raided Russian settlements and Kazakh and Bashkir encampments.

      Many theories have been advanced to explain the reasons for the migration. One generally accepted theory is that there may have been discontent among the Oirat tribes, which arose from the attempt by Kharkhul, taishi of the Dzungars, to centralize political and military control over the tribes under his leadership. Some scholars, however, believe that the Torghuts sought uncontested pastures as their territory was being encroached upon by the Russians from the north, the Kazakhs from the south and the Dzungars from the east. The encroachments resulted in overcrowding of people and livestock, thereby diminishing the food supply. Lastly, a third theory suggests that the Torghuts grew weary of the militant struggle between the Oirats and the Altan Khanate.

      But once they got there, it was love.
      The region was lightly populated, from south of Saratov to the Russian garrison at Astrakhan and on both the east and the west banks of the Volga River. The Russian Empire was not ready to colonize the area and was in no position to prevent the Oirats from encamping in the region. But it had a direct political interest in ensuring that the Oirats would not become allied with its Turkic-speaking neighbors. The Kalmyks became Russian allies and a treaty to protect the southern Russian border was signed between the Kalmyk Khanate and Russia.

      No dangerous trees to run into (source)

      So maybe a little like the Serbs in the Krajina, before the adjustments of the 1990s, these tough, warlike (Buddhist) nomads were pretty good people to put on a frontier.  They were happy to have the land, and any invader would have to get to them (hard) and deal with them (harder) before they could enter Russia proper.

      The Russians noticed this with regard to Mongols in general in the 1930s, and Mongolia in particular.  As every schoolchild knows, this open-minded approach helped halt Japanese inroads into central Asia at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol in 1939.  (For the militarily minded, I believe Zhukov was the only commander to achieve a double envelopment victory against both the Japanese and the Germans.)

      Zhukov doctrine: immobilize, surround, annihilate

      The arrangement fell apart when the Germans showed up in Kalmykia in 1942.  The Russians had been persecuting Buddhist monks and nuns, as one does, so the Germans found plenty of volunteers for the Kalmykian Cavalry Corps.  Stalin, not appreciating this, had the entire population declared collaborators and sent to Siberia.  This despite the fact that Lenin's father had been 1/2 Kalmyk.    Well, there's gratitude for you.  Kruschev let the survivors return home in 1957.

      They are called Kalmyks.  There are about 200,000 of them...including about 3,000 in New Jersey.

      Yes, still here, thanks, doing fine

      The stuff you miss when you're away

      One year deal, veteran's minimum of course

      / Looking forward to playing with the Slim Reaper
      // Tired of playing .500 ball
      /// Got nothin'

      Run that by me again?

      Taking off from Frankfurt yesterday, the pilot mentioned our takeoff weight was 220 tons.

      Wait, what?  How much?  Just to put that in context, here are some other things that weigh 220 tons:

      1) Eight fully-loaded B-17 bombers

      2) A Freemantle class patrol boat

      3)  A WW2 German type XXIII U-boat, but you know, like - flying