August 29, 2018

Now we are fifteen

The first post on this blog was made on August 29, 2003, and promoted a book I had serendipitously picked up, Christopher Bing's beautifully illustrated edition of Casey at the Bat.  We still have the book on a shelf in the next room - it has shared five homes with us over the years, and I still pick it up occasionally just to marvel.  Here is an example of the art:

After the book came out, other artists would get in touch with Bing and ask where he got all that great vintage clip art.  He had to explain that there was no clip art - he'd created every paper scrap, every matchbook cover, every detail, himself.  The people in the pictures were mostly his friends, plus the gas reader because he needed one more face for that page.  The umpire is (of course) his father.

I might appreciate this even more now than I did back in 2003.  As attention spans shorten it feels as if books like this are getting harder to find.  Why make something so incredibly rich in detail, if people aren't going to appreciate it?  Well, because some people have to create such things, I suppose, regardless of whether the audience gets it or not.  As Wes Anderson once said, rejecting a colleague's suggestion:  "that’s the sort of thing we would do if we were making a film that we wanted people to go and see."

Bing's book could have been just as popular with about 50% less work, but it wouldn't be perfect, and one gets the sense that if it weren't perfect he wouldn't be able to sleep at night.  Thank goodness it is.

Here are two brief, fairly recent, videos of Bing talking about the project:

In summary, this is a very fine book and we feel vindicated that our 2003 recommendation was sound and has stood the test of time.  You should consider getting a copy for yourself, if you don't have one already.


Song for my father

August 26, 2018

The original with the four authors (Tim Brooke-Taylor on the left, Marty Feldman on the right), from "The 1948 Show"


August 25, 2018

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Republican Party ca. 2018

Dana Rohrabacher, the embattled Orange County congressman known for his close ties to the Kremlin, said Friday that Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions should resign after showing disloyalty to President Trump by refusing to shut down the Russia investigation.


Robin Leach

A few thoughts on the passing of Robin Leach, the Herald of Galactus for the nascent American Plutocracy.

Adam Bernstein writes in the Washington Post that "as a veteran gossip writer and son of a London vacuum company manager, he understood better than most the success-obsessed middle class and, in his exclamatory catchphrase, their "champagne wishes and caviar dreams!" He offered voyeuristic access to the decadent playgrounds of the 1 percent, from Hollywood to the Riviera, and he packaged it as a veneration of free-market, up-by-your-bootstraps capitalism."

When they write the real history of the 80's, I hope and expect that Robin Leach and Denise Austin - cable's twin avatars of Envy and Lust - will get their due. 

Because fitness

I do have one story.

In the late 90s I was in a bar in New York with some Wall Street guys.  Not bankers or portfolio managers, but handlers - the guys who take the investment talent around to see the clients.  Smart but not smart enough to be A list, well-spoken, well-dressed, well-paid, and halfway to schizoid crisis from having to be nice to assholes all the time.  They partied with commitment.

We had gotten a drink or two in, and I was checking my watch and looking for an escape route - because by that time I knew where this sort of thing led - when Robin Leach entered with an attractive young woman on each arm.

To my left, someone at our table immediately and loudly engaged a very good Robin Leach impression:  "It's famous reporter ROBIN LEACH out on the town in Manhattan with TWO FABULOUS HOOKERS."

Leach, who I'm sure had plenty of practice at this, pirouetted like a principal at the New York City Ballet, and went in search of a friendlier venue.

Here Leach explains to Oprah that, although he has a taste for caviar, in the end a smile in your heart is more important:

August 24, 2018

Internet Hero

When you drop a caucus of Republican Senators

They See Me Rollin', They Hatin'

...and just now the CFO of the Trump org. Scene at the FBI:

August 23, 2018

Davies in Peterborough

Remembering Marchbanks

A long time ago, in a backwater town in the far north, there lived a genuine literary talent, toiling in obscurity for the local newspaper.  No, not me - I said genuine literary talent.  I refer to Robertson Davies, who from 1942 to 1962 was the editor (and eventually the publisher) of the Examiner newspaper of Peterborough, Ontario.  Peterborough is, as every Canadian schoolchild knows, "the gateway to the Kawarthas"

Like many men of letters before him, the isolation of the small town may have driven Davies slightly mad, or perhaps nurtured a previously undiscovered inner unhingedness.  He began to write a Saturday column - almost always 200 words or less - in a format that could today be seen as a kind of proto-blog, or, as they used to say the old days, a "diary".  It is not, however, the diary of Robertson Davies, but of an alter ego named Samuel Marchbanks, who strongly resembles Davies, and lives in the same town, but lacks his civility and restraint.  The results are quite wonderful:

I had meat balls for lunch today.  This is a delicacy of which I am very fond.  But I insist upon the True Meat Ball - prepared in an open pan and tasting of meat - rather than the False Meat Ball - prepared in a pressure cooker and loathsomely studded with raisins.  The pressure cooker is all very well in its way, but there are some dishes with which it cannot cope, and the meat ball is one of them. A meat ball made in a pressure cooker has a mild, acquiescent taste - the sort of taste which I imagine that a particularly forgiving Anglican missionary would have in the mouth of a cannibal.  Your True Meat Ball is made of sterner stuff, and if he tastes of missionary at all he tastes like some stern Jesuit, who died dogmatizing.

John Kenneth Galbraith's (?) positive review of the omnibus Papers of Samuel Marchbanks is here.  The book itself - all 540 pages of it - can be had on Amazon today for $0.79 (paper binding) - here.

Davies published material of this era written under his own byline as The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies (here), which is also great.

Jamie called it

[R]esearchers kept sifting through thousands of bone fragments in the cave, many of them from animals, until they found one that seemed like it could be from some kind of human relative. It turned out to belong to a young female who lived 90,000 years ago, whom they call Denisova 11.

Now they have sequenced her genome, and as they announced in Nature on Wednesday, they found something quite surprising: She had a Neanderthal for a mother and a Denisovan for a father.


August 21, 2018

James Mickens, you magnicent bastard

Q: Why Do Keynote Speakers Keep Suggesting That Improving Security Is Possible?
A: Because Keynote Speakers Make Bad Life Decisions and Are Poor Role Models

Some people enter the technology industry to build newer, more exciting kinds of technology as quickly as possible. My keynote will savage these people and will burn important professional bridges, likely forcing me to join a monastery or another penance-focused organization. In my keynote, I will explain why the proliferation of ubiquitous technology is good in the same sense that ubiquitous Venus weather would be good, i.e., not good at all. Using case studies involving machine learning and other hastily-executed figments of Silicon Valley’s imagination, I will explain why computer security (and larger notions of ethical computing) are difficult to achieve if developers insist on literally not questioning anything that they do since even brief introspection would reduce the frequency of git commits. At some point, my microphone will be cut off, possibly by hotel management, but possibly by myself, because microphones are technology and we need to reclaim the stark purity that emerges from amplifying our voices using rams’ horns and sheets of papyrus rolled into cone shapes. I will explain why papyrus cones are not vulnerable to buffer overflow attacks, and then I will conclude by observing that my new start-up is looking for talented full-stack developers who are comfortable executing computational tasks on an abacus or several nearby sticks.

UPDATE: I fixed the link -VMM

August 20, 2018


"By drawing attention to the analogy between creationism and conspiracism, we hope to highlight one of the major flaws of conspiracy theories and therefore help people detect it, namely that they rely on teleological reasoning by ascribing a final cause and overriding purpose to world events...  We think the message that conspiracism is a type of creationism that deals with the social world can help clarify some of the most baffling features of our so-called 'post-truth era.'"


August 19, 2018

The coming of Sam

When Sam [Darnold] looked off four receivers in the third quarter of a preseason game and found Trenton Cannon at the pylon, a generation found its voice. That voice spoke clearly: I have arrived and I come bearing touchdowns.


August 18, 2018

Dr. Murray Banks "How to Live With Yourself until the Psychiatrist Comes"

I used to listen to this 1965 album of my dad's when I was a kid.

Certainly dated, especially medically, but humanistic, wise and hilarious, Dr. Murray Banks rapid fires outstanding Borscht Belt jokes to illustrate principles of "mental hygiene." A lot of it describes roughly what we would call mindfulness, resilience, and work-life balance and even some recognizable parts of cognitive behavioral therapy, with the focus less on why and more on action.

It's a remarkably entertaining and encouraging talk: "If you work with fear and hatred in your heart you will be exhausted in ten minutes."

August 16, 2018

I can't even

As one writer noted when Updike passed - I guess I hoped we had her for another ten years...dangit.

We cry -

And then we dance -

Vox:  "Aretha Franklin’s long reign as the Queen of Soul, explained in 12 performances"  (link)

August 15, 2018

Surprised to see an old friend

I was in a walkway in Minneapolis this week.  They have tvs in some of them now - walking past I saw a game in that new three-on-three basketball league for old guys.  I recognized some of the players: they looked like older, fatter versions of their former selves not quite as quick and vertical as they used to be, generally about 60-70% of what they once were (which is still better than most people ever get).

As I prepared to turn away, with the dark thought that the first heart attack would end this league, I noticed the grey-bearded point guard bringing the ball up.  The big man - Rashard Lewis I think - posted up.  The other guy went to the high post to set a pick, but the point guard stopped short, crossed over his man, and drilled a 25-footer.  Wha....!?!

As he turned away the name on his jersey told the story:  Abdul-Rauf.

Ah man, you kidding me?  Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf?  The former Chris Jackson?  The only person afflicted with Tourette's Syndrome to achieve stardom in the NBA?  The proto Steph Curry?  The guy they ran out of the League...who ended up playing in his 40s?

Why yes, thank you for noticing.  He is 49 now, and is running amok in this league:

God I love watching him play.  As discussed in my 2010 post, I saw him in person once and a very good Celtics team really didn't know what to do with him.  Like Curry now, he could drive or spot up; he had handles and could shoot.  You couldn't stay with him, and you couldn't leave him alone.

(The link to the fine article I quote in that 2010 post is busted, so here's one that works.)

The comparisons with Curry are fair, but unlike Curry his coaches and teams really didn't know how to use him.  It was, as they say, a different time.  He had a decent career anyway...short but sweet:

Before we get too carried away, no I don't think he'd be a big star in today's NBA.  Like Curry he's thin and short (6-0), and the switch-mad defenses of the modern NBA mean that the little guy has to be MVP-material at the offensive end to compensate for the damage LeBron or Giannis is going to do to him when he's on defense.

That don't matter to us though.  Nothing matters now - not the money, not the stats, not the anthem.  I came here to see you.  Cause I know I'll see the Truth.

I don't believe in role models - but you're mine

See also Sports Illustrated, 11/15/93: "Quest for Perfection" (link)

If by socialism you mean...


August 12, 2018

#1 son draws your attention to...

August 11, 2018



August 10, 2018


via "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me" - man eats beans in mosh pit.


August 09, 2018

Journey to the west

The train rolls out of my little town in Westphalia, and shoots straight and true to the Rhine, then over that fabled bridge at Arnhem, and into the Dutch farm country.

I really enjoy my annual visit to Germany, but there is always a sense of relief, even exhilaration when it comes time to go west.  However Germanic they may be at heart (and they can be plenty Germanic), everything feels different on the Dutch side of the river.  The landscape is more open, the sky seems bigger, and one feels a distinct sense of, what do you call it?  Oh yes, freedom.

It's hard to explain, because modern Germany is one of the most compassionate and egalitarian societies in the history of the world.  Every student at the university I visit has earned their place and attends at minimal cost, regardless of their parents' wealth or social position.  German politics is strictly moderate - displays of extremism are met with strong preemptive measures.

But the Germans are really into rules, and it can be a trial navigating your way through the day without getting the odd look or finger wag.  At no time in Germany do I feel quite myself...I always feel like I am being scrutinized (because I am).  And then there are the ghosts - about thirty generations of Swabian patriarchs looking over my shoulder, modestly interested in how my inevitable errors might blot the family escutcheon.

Usually I ride all the way to Amsterdam Centraal, but this time I hop off at Arena, home of Johann Cruyff's place, and a bunch of finance companies in fine modernist dress:

After dropping my bags at the hotel, I find myself taking a roundabout route toward the city center, generally aiming for Museumplein.  I wasn't really looking forward to the first part of the walk because there's not much...wait, is that a new Rem Koolhaas project?!  Oh hell yes.

Note that Rem is prioritized down below the wellness center and the 200 parking spots.  The Dutch don't like their geniuses getting all above themselves.  Yes, they named Amsterdam Arena for Johan Cruyff...but only after he died.  "Act normal," they like to say, "that's crazy enough."

Walking past the still-imaginary crystal palace Rem has envisioned, I find the entrance to Beatrixpark, a study in good public open space.  It is not monumental, like Central Park, nor elaborately manicured like the big parks in Paris.  Like De Oude Warand in Tilburg, it strikes a balance between the cultivated and the rustic.   It's definitely nice to look at, but if your kid rips a branch off a tree...well, that's probably not too big a deal either.

I'd like to linger, but time's a-wastin' and there's a man I have to meet.

Yep, right where I saw him last year, the self-effacing math professor who took down Alekhine to become the first and last Dutch World Champion of Chess.  I don't exactly know what Max Euwe means to the Dutch, but they don't build monuments to too many people.

(Alekhine should have known better.  His approach was to whip up complications and then use his superior strategic insight and combinatorial capability to emerge with a winning advantage.  Euwe, who played very sound and accurate chess, was not a great person to try this on.

Alekhine at least was smart enough to be a sportsman about it and said "I am proud and happy that the world of chess has a champion 
who is a gentleman. I am proud and happy that this gentleman is honorable. I take this opportunity to officially challenge my opponent [to a rematch - which he won]. And I am happy, without hypocrisy, that if I am not the champion, a Dutchman is the champion.”)

There's a coffee shop here I like, too, but there's no time, Museumplein can't wait.  I genuflect to Max, and move on.

A funny thing about Dutch pronunciation.  You pronounce dijk "dayk", or sometimes "dike".  But the Rijksmuseum is the RICKS Museum, and never ever the REICHS museum.  Not sure where that irregularity in pronunciation originated, but you could make some good guesses.

There's some famous art here, but that's not why I go.  This is why I go:

And if you look over your shoulder...

...Germany is very far away.

The last hurrah

The probability of Shaun Livingston being a Warrior in August 2019: 10%

Shaun Livingston is a name often forgotten in the shuffle of the Warriors roster. But he’s been there from the beginning of this run and played a valuable role backing up both Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala. His veteran presence, basketball IQ, and reliable turnaround jumper have made him an underrated part of this dynasty.

But he’s the most likely casualty of the coming salary cap crunch. Only around $2m of his $8m 2019-20 salary is guaranteed. The Warriors will almost certainly stretch and waive that money to reduce their bills. With young players like new draft pick Jacob Evans, and possibly Patrick McCaw, waiting in the wings this is probably Livingston’s last hurrah with the team.

There is, of course, a chance he sticks around if others go. But even if Durant leaves, waiving Livingston’s final year salary will help the Warriors. That $8m may even be the difference between being in the luxury tax or not, and in that situation, the Warriors would be wise to duck under the line, as it would postpone any repeater tax penalties for at least another couple of years.



August 08, 2018

I prefer to believe in the Frazetta-verse

Can you prove it doesn't exist?

And crawling...on the planet's face...

Earlier this year, a group at the University of Oxford released a paper arguing that our knowledge of the universe and of math should lead us to assume that intelligent life is most probably an extremely rare event, depending on a series of fortuitous circumstances—like the weirdly large size of our moon, perhaps— that are so unlikely as to almost never happen. Humanity shouldn’t be surprised that we haven’t found aliens, because most likely there aren’t any.

(link - tldr)

August 05, 2018

Last stop before Teutoburg

There is a town in Westphalia called Haltern am See.  It's in a quiet corner of the country, about an hour's drive east of the Dutch border, along the River Lippe which (as ESK) runs through that pretty farm country, roughly parallel to the industrial Ruhr a few miles south.

The Lippe near Haltern  (source:

It was the Lippe that brought the Roman legion here in the year 11 BC.  Having secured their frontier on the Rhine, they began to plan for the conquest of the German lands on the east bank of the river.  To do so, they followed the Usual Procedure, starting with the establishment of readily defensible and supply-able military camps a few days' march into the hostile territories.  Over the next two decades this and several other sites would be the primary bases in the Roman campaign to pacify Westphalia, Saxony, and the other German territories west of the Elbe.

We know quite a lot about the camp at Haltern, partly because the site has been carefully excavated, and partly because all Roman camps (or castra) followed a common blueprint.

At Haltern they did place one gate (upper left) in a nonstandard place because the was the highest (and therefore most defensible) spot on that side of the camp.  The Romans dug a double-ditch around the area and then put up strong oak walls behind that.  German archaeologists have reconstructed a portion of the fortifications based on their findings and historical records:

Hello!  Let us introduce you to our system of government...

We know the men at Haltern were well-equipped, and ate and drank well.  Boats came up the river with wine and fish paste from Italy and France.  

Things were going so well that in 9 AD Augustus' man in the region, Publius Quinctilius Varus, took three legions east - XVII (probably based in Haltern), XVIII, and XIX - to project power into the interior.  In the greater scheme of things it wasn't a tough march - perhaps five or seven days with heavy equipment, auxiliaries, and camp followers.  

Gives me an idea for an ultramarathon...

Unfortunately for the Roman project in Magna Germania, there was a spot of trouble, by which I mean Varus' legions were ambushed by a confederation of tribes led by the traitor Arminius - in a forested swamp during a rainstorm - and utterly destroyed.  

In the following years the Romans came back to the region with a vengeance, and also an army estimated at 55,000-70,000 men.  Raids to the east recovered two of the lost eagles and made the reputation of Germanicus.  But, as we have come to learn in our own time, military victories do not assure political success.  In 17 AD Augustus' successor Tiberius decided it wasn't worth it.  He declared victory and recalled Germanicus, culminating in a triumphal procession that included Arminius' wife Thusnelda. 

You're not fooling anybody, you know

Wikipedia:  "Tacitus and Strabo cite her capture as evidence of both the firmness and restraint of Roman arms...  [However] contemporary historians evince discomfort with her display as evidence of Roman victory in Germania, as Arminius had resisted capture."

The fact of the matter was that everything east of the Rhine was a ruin, but it was a German ruin.  Planned Romanization projects in the region stopped.  Going forward Rome would manage the border states through political and financial influence, and keep the Legions on the safe side of the river.

This marked the end of Roman expansion in Northern Europe.  I suspect that one reason for this was that the Romans' primary political tool was fear.  In every conflict up until this point they had emerged victorious.  But the Germans now knew - and so did everyone else in Northern Europe - that you could fight the Romans.  They were tough, but they were not gods.  The Empire's future gains would be in regions where this was not so well understood.

August 04, 2018

Beardie and Stephen discuss economics

Key points:
- "Money good. Print lots more of it."

Best thing I read today

Not many of us get to fly a Spitfire.  Not many of us get to fly a Spitfire at the age of 100, with an “escort of honour”.  She did.


August 03, 2018

After all they've done to help others "be unable to exist"

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has said it’s suffering from substantial financial issues that could cause the organisation to "be unable to exist".


Van Gogh and The Floating World, and did we mention calculators?

Some discussion of the influence of Ukiyo-e on Van Gogh here (around 11:55).

I really enjoy Begin Japanology, and not just because Peter Barakan is obviously an international spymaster, jewel thief, or assassin or something.  I often actually learn something new while watching it, although in some episodes what I learn is that the Japanese can be, with regard to certain things, utterly and completely batshit crazy, even crazier than you thought they could be, knowing as you do that they can be really crazy.  Exhibit A - Calculators.

Too good for him, really

In Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition it's possible to inscribe Noober's name on the Scroll of Retribution during Dorn's Throne of Bhaal questline. Doing so will cause a random encounter to occur at some point in the future where both a planetar and Noober appear and the planetar declares Noober's crimes and then executes him. 


August 01, 2018

What You Tried To Say to Me

I had resolved to leave the Alaska of my birth, walking into a mist of all the possibilities to be expressed in painting and through the mind's lens of painting and the hands and mind of the painter and the terrible infinity of the canvas. I was not good, until I was better; I had to become better. And I saw this possibility in a painting from life of a woman whose gentle power was so compelling that I wiped out and repainted her image 60 or 70 times before the futility of it pushed me to toss it in the dumpster.

Long gone, left in anguish on that pile of garbage was the three by four foot illustration of her luminous skin, her violet top, a wry smile, her maddeningly perfect nose, all of this sunk among hundreds of distracting bad guesses of proportion, color and light; that is the painting where I learned to paint. I remember her sitting on that ugly beige sofa- a couple of hours here and there. I remember my awe of her growing as I worked - my real introduction to painting's ever-heightening of your awareness of the whole perceivable world. I remember the futility of infusing the bright colored mud with life, some echo of her being, resonant in living power before me, and in memory; but was compelled to do so, to not just passively see but to feel all of the resonances of that moment. I was trying to illustrate, to empathize, to celebrate and impress at all once. The painting was doomed.

One drive for making art is hardly mysterious. She was beautiful inside and out. Her eyes flicked with limitless curiosity, and her internal life unspoken flashed across her countenance like a puff on the ripples of a ocean cove. And when she spoke it was with quick wit, music and almost inexcusable wisdom.

Years earlier I might have tried a wheelie on a green Schwinn- I assure you I would have crashed into the nearest ditch. But the motive force is one thing; it's cheap, small-faced and unspeakably dull to reduce human life to motive force. I fell for her of course. But bread is a lot more than grain, water, salt and hunger.

It is interesting that I cannot remember exactly where I painted it. 25 years have passed. Maybe the studio downtown. I went through 4 studios in Anchorage that year as landlords pushed me out when bigger money came calling.

A few days out from the road away, I found this song; passing by late one evening, I was out, she left me a cassette with this song.

It is, by all rights, as sappy as as an old white spruce in late spring. But it hits. Even Tupac loved this song, so much that his girlfriend played it as he lay dying so that it would be the last sound he ever heard.

The Art World doesn't seem to talk about Van Gogh much, as famous as he is. I think we need to talk about him a lot more. Not the pop culture version, not the over-elevation and branding of his personal story, not the ludicrous string of half-scientific "explanations" for his artwork.
I am convinced that Van Gogh's best work is a kinetic product of him at his most perceptive, most open to the truth, most magnificently and terrifyingly sane.

I think of Cypress Trees. Simple trees, but each mark is infused with a wholly unguarded connectivity, to the earth, the light, the living air, his hand and eyes, the paint, all that is. Van Gogh was religious. The painting and the act of making it is indistinguishable from the most active and unguarded faith; I am irreligious, but at my best moments, I glance something like it; any artist could.

While painting, I've touched tenuously this connectivity between a person and the whole of the perceivable world that comes through and is expressed by the act of painting. That happened in little flashes in my garbage painting and I saw, I think, more than I could manage- certainly more than I had the skill to put in the work then.

We need to talk about what is to be a human being, and how we build and recognize that, and grow it, and why this is ever denied to anyone. And why this simple song is so close to a truth of art.
Long since, I am grateful for the gift of that cassette.