February 28, 2019

His greatest crime

A word about Vera

This is Vera Menchik.  She was very good at chess.  There are other pictures of her later in her career, when she looks more matronly, but I like this one.  She was the only woman allowed to play in men's tournaments in the first half of the 20th century.  In her first men's tournament (Ramsgate, 1929) she scored three victories, four draws, and no losses against the leading lights of the British chess world.   Here, via the estimable Edward Winter, is a clipping from Irving Chernev's book Curious Chess Facts (1937):

In 1944 the Nazis blew up her London home with a V-1 rocket, killing her, which is further evidence (as if any were needed) that they were complete assholes.  Vera Menchik was better than all of them put together.

You can get your Vera Menchik t-shirt here.

February 26, 2019



February 25, 2019

Dear Dr. Kapital: Will the Alaska Budget Doom my Moose Dropping Swizzle Stick Business?

Dear Dr. Kapital,

I heard you are in secret talks now in UnderBern, the ultra-ultra secret conference, held in the fancier underground replica of Bern underneath Bern, but I don't know where to turn.

I am known as the "King of Moose Dropping Novelty Products" in Alaska, and while I naturally voted for lower taxes and a $6700 Alaska Permanent Fund check last election, it turns out the new Governor 1) can't get the check, and 2) will cut 1/4 of the whole budget, taking out the Marine Highway and destroying hundreds of communities along the southern coast, firing thousands of teachers/doubling property taxes, eliminate environmental and government oversight, and close entire University campuses!  

Wouldn't any version of spending billions less in a small state so oil companies can take it out of state drive a soft recession into a local depression?  Would tourists really want to see East Topeka in Siberia?   Am worried.. I thought the knowledge economy was important!! Especially the knowledge of how hilarious a moose dropping cocktail stirrer really is, the delight of your friends and the talk of the party!


Also, is there a world market for our most popular item, the Moose Dropping swizzle stick? Have heard India is funnier than it was. Plz advise.

Koncerned King of Moose Novelties

February 24, 2019

Prologue: Gambit pileup at Oracle

We're all actors in a soap opera.  - Steve Kerr

In my brief career as a sportswriter, I learned one thing:  for every story you write, you need a plot line.   People will know the score from radio or tv, or now the Internet.  If you want them to read your story you're going to have to tell them a story.  And a story needs a plot.

A beautiful hit, but so much better if you know the backstory

Some nights, there will be no obvious hook.  Your team lost 124-87, the coach and player quotes were perfunctory, the crowd went home sometime during the third quarter.  But...there's always something.  And in truth - no one likes to admit this - bad teams actually make better copy.  It's not admirable, but given a choice of a profile of clean cut and successful Tim Duncan, or some Bad News Barnes stories, most people will choose the latter.  Here is an example from The Washington Post:
After a particularly wild night in New York, [Barnes] slept in and missed every flight to Norfolk, where the Spirits were playing the Virginia Squires at Scope.
Barnes chartered his own plane and arrived at Scope just before the game, a woman on each arm — his companions from the previous evening — and a bag of McDonald’s burgers in his hand. He opened his full-length mink coat to reveal his Spirits’ uniform.
“Boys,” he said. “Game Time is on time!” 
Benched for the first quarter, Barnes finished with 43 points and 19 rebounds.

Democracy dies in darkness.

Tolstoy - probably a Clippers fan - said “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Shows what he knew.  The Golden State Warriors prove that Tolstoy was a chump.  They are happy and sad, joyful and neurotic, nutty and wildly successful, in ways the dour Russian novelist could never imagine.

How  does this Draymond guy stay on the floor scoring six points a night?

Our dour friend from the Steppes would certainly appreciate the complexity of the Warriors' current plot.  As the Greatest Team of Modern Times faced off against the Sacramento Kings in an unimportant regular season game Thursday night, here were some of the plot lines in play.  Over at TVTropes, they call this a gambit pileup.
  • Kevin Durant's contract is up this year.  The former League MVP and MVP of the last two NBA Finals, may find a new team.  The mindful Warriors, however, are focused only on the present and winning now, except for:
    • Is the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green shouting match a big deal? (link)
    • Knicks will go after Kevin Durant, who says he can play 'anywhere in the world' (link)
    • LeBron James injury will HELP Lakers land Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and others (link)
    • etc. etc. etc.
  • Frustrated by media distractions, Kevin Durant only wants to talk about basketball, calls a press conference to complain to the media about the media.
    • "Who are you? Why do I gotta talk to you?” (link)
  • Kevin Durant brings home MVP trophy from meaningless exhibition game:
    • On Stephen Curry’s special night, Kevin Durant wins All-Star Game MVP (link)
  • The whole Draymond-Durant screaming match is totally over though, everybody's just about winning games now.
  • Oh, this just in, Draymond has fired his agent and hired LeBron's.
    •  Draymond Green to Lakers 'CONFIRMED' - NBA fans go wild after LeBron James agent move (link)
Wait, there's more!
  • Special event Thursday night - We Believe in the house.  Personal appearances by Don Nelson and some of the players.  Everyone at the game gets a J Rich poster and a "We Believe" pin.
    • Don Nelson, Stephen Jackson and J-Rich remember ‘We Believe’ Warriors - Warriors bring back former players, coach for final tour of Oracle Arena (link)
    • Here is something announcer Tim Roye said about that team on the radio recently:  "Flying with that team was as close to being on a real live pirate ship as I have ever been."
  • Maybe the Kings are the new We Believe team?  Nah, but let's discuss...
    • Warriors’ ‘We Believe’ team honored. What that squad and these Kings have in common. (link
  •  DeMarcus Cousins is a Warrior now.  Can he make it back after a terrible Achilles tendon injury?
    • Team is undefeated in the nine games Cousins has started.
    • “I’ll be dead honest with you and you can print this: he was a pain in the a** when we were trying to get him ready and scrimmage,” Steve Kerr said (while laughing) to Tim Kawakami of The Athletic. “He was just so angry, because he wasn’t playing.  “He was just in a bad mood because he’s a passionate, emotional person and you think about what was taken away with the injury, not just the playing time and the joy of being out there, but the contract that he was looking at. His life got turned upside down.” (link)
    • DeMarcus Cousins used to play for the Kings - this is the first time he will play against them as a Warrior.  
      • Warriors’ DeMarcus Cousins to face Kings — and his polarizing past (link)
    • The young Sacramento Kings are outclassed...OR ARE THEY?  They have lost three games with the Warriors this year, but the games were all close.  Can they break through?
      • Call it moral victories. Call it three learning experiences. Call it whatever you want, but the Kings have been in each game all the way down the wire.  (link)
      • The Kings pose problems not only for the Warriors, but also for most of the NBA, because they are the fastest team in the league and have plenty of length on the wings.  They are relentless. They’re on their toes, seemingly at all times, and that sometimes catches the Warriors flat-footed. (link)
      • The Warriors are not themselves, having lost to the 76ers and Trailblazers (badly) right before the All-Star break.  Can the greatest collection of talent ever assembled in the NBA find its collective soul and play well as a team for 48 minutes in a regular season basketball game?

      I personally investigated that question, and I have answers.  More to come.

      Point taken - still like the movie though

      Mystery Men hit theaters at the tail end of a decade when the mainstream traded in its Brooks Brothers suit for second-hand flannel, grew a goatee, developed a trendy heroin habit and tried to convince a generation of famously apathetic grunged-up slackazoids that they were totally into Nirvana back when they were still on Sub Pop. It was a golden age for the co-option of hip subcultures as corporations adopted a series of rebellious poses to facilitate the all-important business of selling sullen young people crap they don't really need.


      Sure, in a test tube. But what about real life?

      Scientists Have Witnessed a Single-Celled Algae Evolve Into a Multicellular Organism


      February 23, 2019

      Nurkic posterizes four Nets

      I was already a fan, but Nurkic amok (broke leg all healed up) is a joy to behold. 


      February 22, 2019

      Democrat Presidential candidates? A quick word over here please.

      "No, I am not for free four-year college for all," [Klobuchar] said. "If I was a magic genie and could give that to everyone, and we could afford it, I would." - (link)

      Please note that this is the richest country in the world, and the richest country that has ever been (see table below).  Most other developed nations have affordable higher education for qualified candidates, and universal healthcare for all.  That we do not has nothing to do with scarce resources, and everything to do with incompetent progressive leadership.

      GDP per Capita*
      USA             59,500 
      Germany             50,400 
      UK             44,100 
      France             43,800 
      Japan             42,800 
      China             16,700 
      India               7,200 

      Every time you say "there's no money" or "I wish we could afford decent healthcare for everyone" you are demonstrating your complete ineptitude.  There is plenty of money.  What we lack is will.

      Stop making excuses.  Screw your courage to the sticking place, win an election, and fix this.

      Thank you.

      * List of countries by GDP per capita at Purchasing Power Parity (CIA)

      I know I should not take joy in the misfortunes of others. On the other hand,

      Is the cosmos jerking my chain? One of Jeffrey Epstein's lawyers was Ken Fcking Starr? The sanctimonious sheet-sniffing yahoo who presented to the Congress a soft-core porn novel in the hopes it would be enough to defenestrate a sitting president, who then went on to a career turning a blind eye to sexual assaults at Baylor University, and who now apparently took up working for [Jeffrey Epstein,] a serial sex-maniac predatory pedophile? Oh, my aching pancreas, this is almost too good. In addition to being one of the least excusable humans of the last half of the 20th century, Starr is now the biggest fish in the barrel of mockery, and nobody deserves to be that more than he does.


      February 18, 2019

      I may be a little late on this one, but I think this is good

      Most amazing thing I've ever seen on a basketball court


      Various crazy things about this:
      • Embiid's outlet pass goes nearly the length of the court, with pace.  He threw it underhanded, off the dribble.
      • Curry's bounce pass went over a leaping 6-11 Kevin Durant.
      • When Giannis (also 6-11) reached to top of his leap, the hoop was at his eye-level.

      Queens Marie Kondos Amazon

      Note to Jeff Bezos: ever hear the phrase "Democracy Dies in Darkness?"

      To Review:

      1. Amazon dangled a new big headquarters like a contest, weaponizing I imagine its own ambiguity about which area near Bezo's house would be a nice commute.  Cities across America fell all over themselves making proposals, many of which involved taxpayer subsidies. (This ludicrousness, angling for a pot of public money, also involved huge amounts of public salary time.)

      2. New York "wins," a nearly foregone conclusion (isn't that Jeff's place over there), after hiding the negotiating process from the local governments and the public and a making a lot of backroom deals specifically to avoid controversy, and indeed, actual democracy.

      3. Locals worried, rightly, that shady is shady, that this prosperity will not reach many or most of  them*, and that they will lose their apartments, friends and neighborhoods. Presented with an "inevitable" deal, unions, neighborhoods and local pols resist, despite the prospect of what is likely to be OTHER PEOPLEs considerable prosperity - a prosperity that will only disrupt their lives.
      4. Amazon- somehow shocked by the booing?- abandons the HQ idea entirely, to Nowheresville in what is best described as a Press Huff. (Which means to me they were angling for a better deal out of NY all along.)

      5. In the same Press Huff Amazon notes, huffily, that they will STILL BE HIRING IN NEW YORK.

      6. Result: New York still has lots of jobs, Amazon is in NYC, NYC is still a democracy, and a lot of people whose lives are in Queens will get to stay in Queens.

      Conclusion for governments: Surprise. Corporations are legally obligated to serve themselves and their shareholders.  Always assume that and negotiate solely with that clarity. And your public is an ally to major projects, not an enemy, in that it will demand honesty and good results. Start with the "they don't know what's good for them, so let's not tell them" and expect egg on your face. 

      Conclusion for Amazon: Do not end run around democracy to meet a short term goal. You got the fear and contempt that you earned by avoiding the ordinary scrutiny of a democratic society, by refusing and attacking unions, by a dishonest lead up. The national scramble was based on giving fake hope to little cities. With a more long term attitude, you'd have an HQ2 and probably some reasonable indirect public subsidy by now. 

      TL: DR
      Well, Queens Marie-Kondo'ed HQ2. Also noting: according to its own Press Huff about uppity locals not understanding when a secret deal is best for them, Amazon is so apoplectic it's going to refuse to take the $3 Billion in taxpayer money and will continue to hire in NYC.

      February 15, 2019

      Performance review

      For all of my direct reports, please plot your performance on this chart in past, current, and future states, and annotate aspirational opportunities and areas of need.  


      February 14, 2019

      Turbans: What You Need to Know


      February 13, 2019

      Why are you all looking at me like that? I'm telling you THE ZULUS HAD IT COMING!

      February 12, 2019

      Hey kid, box out Wilt

      (via beloved Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett who is 6-4, and at 74 sometimes shoots corner threes before games)

      February 09, 2019

      Research project: did anyone ever play this song well?

      Here are some notes on "Bang a Gong (Get it On)", Marc Bolan's glam-rock anthem, now a global standard.  The great John Peel didn't like it, they barely spoke again.  For the record, Peel was wrong.

      Like its spiritual cousin, "We're an American Band" (discussed here) the song is essentially a pose.  But where "We're an American Band" is about raw power, "Bang a Gong (Get it On)" is a menacing tease, starting with a compelling riff lifted from Chuck Berry, elevating to a strong chorus, then retreating back to the original riff without a climactic resolution.

      It has been covered many times, and screwed up in every way imaginable.  While the song seems simple, this is deceptive.  You have drums, bass, and vocal, there is nowhere to hide.  It is like tasting wine after eating an apple - every flaw is instantly apparent.  The best performances (e.g., Black Lips' or Rougarou's) are best because they get everything right without adding much extra.  Some bands are tempted to "stretch out" and jam.  This is an error.

      You can try to dress up the arrangement and decorate it, but this is usually unfruitful (maybe Power Station is the exception).  But note the special awards section at the end.

      Let us begin:

      Special Awards

      Best solo performance - Danny Barnes and his drum machine (2012):

      Best use in a training montage:

      Best bluegrass version:

      Wish I'd been there award:

      This just in:  The Replacements did this song.  There's a bootleg from 1984.  It's low-fi but...wow, they get so many things right.  The bass is played with power and feeling, rhythmic but not robotic.  This is literally the only performance where the guitar varies from the original chart without fucking things up.  It's sung with commitment.  I'm a Replacements partisan on all occasions and am very tempted to call game over herebut that would be going too far.  It's still not the definitive performance - that remains to be discovered, out there, somewhere.  But this is the one I wish I could have heard in person.

      Hokusai with the hot hand

      From my visit to the Art Institute in December, this poster is something Hokusai dashed off at a social gathering one afternoon.

      This whole exhibition was quite interesting.  We tend to focus on the ukiyo-e prints of this era because of their great success in transmitting their creators' experiments and aesthetics far and wide.  It's relatively easy to put together an exhibition of them because there are so many out there.

      But Hokusai and his contemporaries could paint, too.  Although this body of work is less-seen it is no less ambitious and innovative.


      At 6:00, a visual hymn to the long-range bomber

      The wings of the B-36 were large even when compared with present-day aircraft, exceeding, for example, those of the C-5 Galaxy, and enabled the B-36 to carry enough fuel to fly the intended long missions [10,000 mile range] without refueling. The maximum thickness of the wing, measured perpendicular to the chord, was 7.5 feet (2.3 m) thick, containing a crawlspace that allowed access to the engines.[19] The wing area permitted cruising altitudes well above the operating ceiling of any 1940s-era operational piston and jet-turbine fighters. Most versions of the B-36 could cruise at over 40,000 feet (12,000 m).  B-36 mission logs commonly recorded mock attacks against U.S. cities while flying at 49,000 feet (15,000 m).


      February 03, 2019

      On National Advertising Day, here is one I enjoyed

      For the naysayers:

      February 02, 2019

      Kyle Kuzma participates in the DeMarcus Cousins experience

      Cousins caught a pass from Durant, took one giant stride into the key, extended his right arm and threw down a dunk over Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma, who went careening backward... So vicious was that third-quarter slam that many took to social media to eulogize Kuzma and his trade value (he had been mentioned this week as a piece in a possible deal with New Orleans). In that instance, Cousins had single-handedly changed the tenor of the game, helping propel Golden State to a 115-101 win over Los Angeles.


      February 01, 2019

      A million pieces of Tiffany glass

      Mosaic ceiling of Marshall Field department store building, Chicago