March 31, 2019

Wittgenstein's watch, I bet

I had one of these for years.  $10.78 on Amazon and tops even the Fortis for efficient repudiation of temporal ambiguity.

I imagine everyone in Alphaville being required to wear these.


Let's rock

[T]he committee could not have chosen a more polarising chairman than Wu Zhihui, a linguist, anarchist and one of the founding fathers of the Kuomintang (KMT). Wu was a notorious intellectual firebrand, and a harsh critic of Confucian values who famously called for China to ‘flush all classical literature down the toilet’. He did not hide his contempt for the Qing government, either, deriding the Manchus as a ‘dog-fucked race’, and the Empress Dowager as a ‘withered old hag’ and a ‘whore’. His appointment did not exactly bode well for the overall civility of the proceedings.

Narrator:  It did not go well.

Once the standard pronunciation was completed [after years of confusion and acrimony] and ready for dissemination, it became obvious to everyone involved that the task of recruiting and training teachers alone would be insurmountable. The ‘experts’ who had arrived at the system had not fully considered its implementation. The first attempt at a national language standard was stillborn.

Narrator:  Eventually they just went with Beijing dialect instead.

A Billion Voices: China's Search for a Common Language - (link)

March 29, 2019

There you go

Cindy then and then

This song got me twice, once on Wild Planet and again on that killer 1990 tour.  Things I like:
  • Cindy's commitment
  • The song mentions Korvette's
  • Fred's bell lyre solo (1980:  rock out so hard.  1990: still got it!)
There are later examples, and a dance mix, some worthless covers and a lip-synced video, but we can draw the curtain here...these are all you need.  These are all anyone needs.

March 28, 2019

Second thoughts

The historian Peter Lieb states that it was not clear whether the threat of defeat was the only reason [Rommel] wanted to switch sides.  The relationship seemed to go downhill ... after a conversation in July 1943, in which Hitler told Rommel that if they did not win the war, the Germans could rot. Rommel even began to think that it was lucky that his Afrika Korps was now safe as POWs and could escape Hitler's Wagnerian ending.


March 26, 2019

I'm sure she's with law enforcement

The great Jeanne Carmen

Me and politics

March 25, 2019

Waffle Fever: so wrong, so right

March 23, 2019

Taking the long way home

This is the Seal Slough, about half a mile inland from Mariner's Point. I walk here a lot.  There are office buildings, condos, and several major highways nearby, but this stretch is quiet and the birds love it. Coots are the mainstays, but gulls, loons, and egrets frequently drop by as well.  I've even seen stilts, dropping in from their migratory travels.  Currently there are some mallards in the neighborhood, including two that have gone rogue and splash around in a fountain in front of a nearby office building.  This is also one of the few places where you can see the endangered California clapper rail, although it is several miles from the nearest breeding ground in Belmont.

The area is technically a park, but there's rarely anyone here.  A good secret.

March 21, 2019

This machine tells me what time it is - and apologizes for the ambiguity of the rest of the cosmos

March 19, 2019

Sir, I have good news and bad news

I was going to get up quietly when someone knocked at the door. [General] Paulus awoke and sat up. It was the HQ commander. He handed the colonel general a piece of paper and said: 'Congratulations. The rank of field marshal has been conferred upon you. The dispatch came early this morning – it was the last one.'

'One can't help feeling it's an invitation to suicide. However I'm not going to do them such a favour.' said Paulus after reading the dispatch. Schmidt continued: 'At the same time I have to inform you that the Russians are at the door.' with these words he opened the door and a Soviet general and his interpreter entered the room. The general announced that we were his prisoners. I placed my revolver on the table.

'Prepare yourself for departure. We shall be back for you at 9.00. You will go in your personal car.' said the Soviet general through his interpreter. Then they left the room. I had the official seal with me. I prepared for my last official duty. I recorded Paulus's new rank in his military document, stamped it with the seal then threw the seal into the glowing fire. 


March 18, 2019

Ruefully acknowledging its mistake, America wakes up and notices Elaine May

May’s film career—to say nothing of her reputation as a pioneer of modern American comedy—is currently undergoing a widespread reevaluation. In the past year alone, career-spanning retrospectives of her movies have screened at venues like Toronto International Film Festival and New York’s Film Forum (they’re not particularly difficult to program, given that she directed only four movies). Earlier this year, the Criterion Collection released a celebrated restoration of her long-misunderstood and hard-to-find third film Mikey and Nicky, a pitch-black gangster flick starring John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, and when Criterion’s new streaming service premiered in January, it chose May’s film as the inaugural “Movie of the Week.” (Even The Far Side’s Gary Larson felt compelled to issue an eventual mea culpa: “When I drew the [comic], I had not yet seen Ishtar. … Years later, I saw it on an airplane, and I was stunned at what was happening to me: I was actually being entertained.”)


See also:
  • Before The Waverly Gallery, Elaine May Was Calling the Shots on Film - (link)

March 17, 2019

We trust this concludes the matter to everyone's satisfaction

Rooting out the corruption at its source

Stanford has been cooperating with the Department of Justice in its investigation and is deeply concerned by the allegations in this case. The university and its athletics programs have the highest expectations of integrity and ethical conduct. The head coach of the Stanford sailing team has been terminated.


March 16, 2019

it was a different time

A little dedication here to Marty, calling in from Freiburg im Breisgau


Panelist:  There is this idea of seizing yourself and becoming yourself without the comfort of these conventions.  And [Heidegger] says that when it comes to the actual content of what you're going to sort of resolutely commit to once you are authentic, he says well we can't make any determinations about that - each person's situation will determine what it is that you resolutely and authentically take ownership of.  And so in response to that some people have said ok - what if I resolutely and authentically feel that my best or most true self is somebody who likes torturing people, or likes sending people to the gas chamber...?  And so there's this very real problem with whether there's room for any moral constraints anywhere in the Heidiggerian ideal...

Melvin:  What's his solution to that?

Panelist: His solution?

Melvin:  I'm sorry...what's his solution to that?

Panelist:  Well, he doesn't really provide a solution to that.  But that's because he really wasn't interested in that question so much.

You're so smart, you figure it out


This machine also kills fascists

As a counterpoint to the B-17, I'd propose the PPSh-41, the iconic submachine gun of the Red Army in World War II.  Like the B-17, this was a mass-produced (five million units during the war) weapon that, in the hands of a few scared farm boys could really fuck up some Nazi shit.

But unlike the B-17, which dealt its damage from afar, this was - short of a bayonet - the most up-close and personal weapon possible.

Ready for his close-up

The Russians probably got serious about integrating this weapon into their tactics after the disastrous Winter War in Finland, in which (according to the WarisBoring post linked below) "well-camouflaged Finnish ski infantry equipped with excellent Suomi submachine guns decimated Soviet units in ambushes. Afterwards, the Red Army prioritized developing an effective submachine gun that could be cheaply mass produced."

They succeeded, and the PPSh-41 helped change the logic and the course of the war.  With 1.5 million units produced just in 1942, the weapon rapidly became ubiquitous in the Russian infantry.  According to Wikipedia:  "The Soviets would often equip platoons and sometimes entire companies with the weapon, giving them excellent short-range firepower."  This paid huge dividends at Stalingrad, where, for the first time the Russians infantry could obtain a firepower advantage over the Wehrmacht, if they could get close enough:

From the diary of a German soldier*:
September 26. Our regiment is involved in constant heavy fighting. After the elevator was taken the Russians continued to defend themselves just as stubbornly. You don’t see them at all, they have established themselves in houses and cellars and are firing on all sides, including from our rear-barbarians, they use gangster methods. In the blocks captured two days ago Russian soldiers appeared from somewhere or other and fighting has flared up with fresh vigour. Our men are being killed not only in the firing line, but in the rear, in buildings we have already occupied. The Russians have stopped surrendering at all... 
October 4. Our regiment is attacking the Barrikady settlement. A lot of Russian tommy gunners have appeared. Where are they bringing them from? 
October 10. The Russians are so close to us that our planes cannot bomb them. We are preparing for a decisive attack...

He died there.

The gun makes an appearance in this iconic photo from the end of the battle, one of the great propaganda shots of all time, illustrating both the material advantages of participation in the socialist system, and, perhaps a little too well, the consequences of opposing it:

The gun became a tribal marker of the Red Army, with the same identity-shaping power as the six-gun in an Old West story.  In Volokolamsk Highway - a book that in glorifying the rifle also illustrates its many shortcomings - a submachine gun is the last signifier of identity for a man who has failed his unit, but is given the mercy of dying as as solider:
Baurjan is irate. Brudny had abandoned the road without orders and fled! He berates Brudny, calling him a coward and saying, "You think it was only a road you abandoned? No, you've given up Moscow!" He then throws Brudny out of the battalion, telling him to go back across the river where he can either fight the Germans on his own or join them. Thus shamed, Brudny hands his papers over to Boszhanov and slowly trudges away. The only concession Baurjan makes is that he allows Brudny to take a tommy gun with him.

Further west the gun made an appearance at the surrender of Breslau, now (as every schoolchild knows) Wrocław:

And all the way to Berlin - this shot was taken in front of the ruins of the Reichstag in 1945:

The Chinese and North Koreans used them, and they were still turning up in the Iraq War.

Hickock45 demonstrates the PPSh-41 here:

* Maybe - as near as I can tell the source of the quotations is Chuikov, who apparently stated in his memoirs that he had the diary in his "personal files."

WarisBoring:  The PPSh-41 Submachine Gun Makes Me Want to Shout ‘Uraah!’ (link)

Wikipedia - (link)

Sorry, no possible way to fix this


March 14, 2019

But money is short, it would be impossible to improve them in any way


March 13, 2019

Water with a message

Water is the most precious and sought-after element in the park. At Croome, Worcestershire, [Capability] Brown engineered both a mile-long river and a lake, and, as his monument notes, ‘formed this garden scene out of a morass’.

. . .

Such a sheet of water had coded messages: the owner was rich, for it was monumentally expensive to excavate and then to maintain; the owner had taste, for he or she had commissioned it in the latest style by the best designer; the owner was powerful in the area, for the source was obviously in his control. Size mattered, and the bigger the sheet or the wider and longer the ‘river’ the better. As a mirror for reflecting the house, garden buildings and trees, the surface provided an additional, ephemeral dimension to the view.


March 12, 2019

Why we fight


March 10, 2019

The most complicated watch

Fifty-seven complications.  Custom job - no one knows who ordered it.  Note the perpetual Hebrew calendar...


March 09, 2019

A further appreciation of Ben Mendelsohn

We saw Captain Marvel last night, and thought it was very good (Travers loved it!), and kudos to Marvel for a well-executed Ontological Mystery plot that accidentally veered into the region of art at certain points.  But the main thing was that it was entertaining - I walked in with low expectations, and walked out cheered and entertained. Well done, Hollywood.

Breaking down barriers for incredibly hot super heroines

As seems to be the rule with every movie our teenagers take us to, Ben Mendelsohn played the heavy.  Although cartoon villains are not known for their depth, this one had some room for nuance, and he took full advantage.  Here are a few of the things I've seen in Mendelsohn in, with representative comments from the actor:

Talos - Captain Marvel
'That big green scary pig’s head is doing a lot just by being there. It’s sorta like the effect of seeing a snake; the snake doesn’t necessarily have to do a lot to be something that you’re going to watch out for.'

Sheriff of Nottingham - Robin Hood: Origins
"He's styling... He's well turned-out."

Nolan Sorrento - Ready Player One
'Nolan is a dickhead; a jerk-off, a little wounded vanity suck that just wants everyone to tell him how beautiful he is. He’s a corporate arsehole. One of those reprehensible types with Stalinistic leanings.'

Orson Krennic - Rogue One
(His favorite) 'I mean but that’s the folly of youth isn’t it? No one imagines that they’re going to end up on the side of the empire. But you get older. You know you come to realize the peace and stability in the galaxy is worth fighting for and that all these airy, fairy ideals of the rebellion are very well and good but what happens when they get into power?'

"It's fantastic to do these films and to be the bad guy is an incredible pleasure and honour. But you want to make sure each role hopefully has its own merits," Mendelsohn says. "I do think it's perfectly valid to start watching and go, 'There he is, the bad guy, la la la,' because if people enjoy the movie it's all good. But for people that want more, the idea that they're going to get it matters to me."

'I was a long shot that wouldn't get up': Ben Mendelsohn on making it in Hollywood

March 08, 2019

"Discernably turgid"?

Opponents of the [bikini espresso] kiosk argued that it is an adult entertainment business, and thus more akin to a strip club than a Starbucks when it comes to zoning rules.

According to the American Canyon city code, if a performer does not completely and opaquely cover certain "specific anatomical areas," which include the butt, breast below the areola, and pubic region, a business may be classified an adult-entertainment business. "Discernibly turgid" male genitalia also fall under the list, regardless of whether it is covered, and how opaquely.


March 07, 2019

Plutocrat Blues

via Bloomberg:

The super rich are being scammed on their private jets

And the guy wants a tip!

March 04, 2019

The hyphenated residents of Stowe House

The propensity to marry heiresses is shown by the family name being changed to Temple-Nugent-Brydges-Chandos-Grenville by the late 18th-century. 


March 03, 2019

Sunset at Oracle

I cannot be held responsible for this decision

As I lay on the gurney awaiting my procedure, snippets of conversation floated over the curtains and into my semi-private alcove.  A nurse was going through her checklist - I could hear the questions but not the answers - "What medication...?" "When did you eat last?" "Do you feel unsafe at home?" "Do you have someone to drive you...?"  Then murmuring and an exclamation of surprise.  "Who's your favorite?"  And the reply, clear as day: "Klay Thompson".

"Not Curry?  Really!?"  "Definitely Klay Thompson."

After the procedure, which involved administration of Fentanyl and some other thing - nitrous or thorazine or amyl nitrate or something...they shook my hand and sent me away.

"Oh..." the nurse warned - "...the drugs will take a while to completely wear off.  You should be fine tomorrow, but in the meantime don't operate heavy machinery, or drive, or do anything too strenuous.  And..." she looked meaningfully at me "...don't sign any legal papers, or make any big decisions for the rest of the day."

I snipped off the wristband, got dressed, and combed my hair.  I walked a little uncertainly out to the lobby, where my wife was waiting, and made a big decision.

"Could you drive me to Oracle?"

The Invocation

I had been hoping to see the Greatest Team of Modern Times up close, but between calendars and the epic cost had thought I wouldn't get the chance.  But sometimes you just have to make the pilgrimage.

This game against the Sacramento Kings looked to be a good choice. The Kings are fun: they are young, and they play at the fastest pace in the Association.  With rising stars like De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III they  fill up the highlight reel.  They'd lost to the Warriors in their three previous meetings, but the games were all close.

I also came to say good-bye.  Good-bye to one of the most storied arenas in basketball, since the Warriors move into a new place next year.  Good-bye to the greatest crowd in the the NBA, which a Houston journalist measured at 120 decibels during last year's Western Conference finals.  Good-bye to the "We Believe" Warriors of 2007, who were making their final appearance at Oracle that evening.

And also, in all probability, good-bye to the Warriors dynasty that I have followed with such interest these past few years.  Durant, MVP of the last two Finals, is considered a lock to leave at year-end.  Most of the five players remaining from the first championship team of 2014/15 - Curry, Thompson, Green, Iguodala, and Livingston - are also at risk, with Livingston and Iguodala nearing retirement, and Thompson and Green preparing for free agency. 

So I was feeling a bit sad, watching Durant warming up, and reflecting wistfully, on the Last Days...


...when the place suddenly went dark.

A spotlight went on at center court and Stephen Jackson - star of both the We Believe team and the Malice at the Palace - appeared, dressed in black and wearing sunglasses.  "LET'S GET THIS PARTY STARTED" he shouted, the crowd roared, and we were off.

Basketball Heaven

Good Lord it was something to behold.  Two skilled teams pushing the ball, playing hard, challenging one another.  A squad of extraordinary veterans challenged by a young group that knows they can compete and pays no heed to the traumas of yesteryear.  Of all the NBA games I've been to, nothing matched the speed, precision, and skill on display in the first quarter of this game.  Here is a representative example:

Notice that the Curry dunk gets all the attention, but  Fox runs a one man fast break the other way and scores before the Warriors defense can set (AND ONE).  Curry misses a three, and Buddy Hield comes roaring back for a quick pull up jumper.  Kings Basketball:  blink and you'll miss it.

The quarter went by with a WHOOSH, and ended with the Warriors ahead 35-30. 

A Young Man's Game?

There was understanding around the table that the lead was provisional.  The Kings' guards, Fox and Buddy Hield, shoot threes fearlessly.  To hold a lead you have to match them.  The Kings also have a man, first round draft pick Marvin Bagley III, who has the size and inside game to exploit the Warriors' suspect interior defense.  Bagley is 19 years old, stands 6-11, and is a fully developed offensive player with a nice array of post moves and an accurate short-range floater.  He checked in late in the first quarter, and decided to give Kevin Durant some basketball lessons, with the following results (source: ESPN game log):
  • 5:09 - Kevin Durant blocks Marvin Bagley III 's 6-foot driving layup
  • 4:22 - Kevin Durant blocks Marvin Bagley III 's 12-foot jumper
  • 1:47 - Marvin Bagley III makes dunk (Yogi Ferrell assists)
  • 0:22 - Kevin Durant blocks Marvin Bagley III's layup

Message received.  But the Kings don't know when to quit.  Durant continued in this vein, but Bagley kept coming.  He would eventually match Durant's 28 points, and out-rebound him, 14-9.

The Warriors, meanwhile, began to fall victim to the Oracle yips.  On the road they have been terminators, but at home this year they have been guilty of over-playing to the crowd, trying to make the fancy play when a simple one will do.  As the Kings doubled down on their intensity, the Warriors started dropping, kicking, and fumbling the ball.  In one memorable sequence Kevin Durant whipped the ball to team owner Joe Lacob, sitting a few rows in front of us.  Lacob gently returned the ball to the referee and play resumed.

By the time the upstarts' lead got to 11, I began to wonder if the title of this post would be "I Saw the Greatest Basketball Team of Modern Times Lose to the Sacramento Kings."

The Galácticos Weigh In

Um, no.  The Warriors evened the game early in the 4th quarter, then opened a five point lead that the Kings couldn't close.  Despite some last minute theatrics from Draymond, the Warriors won the quarter by two buckets, and the game by one. 

And for the fourth time this season the young Kings went home shaking their heads, muttering we almost had them.  We were so close!

Just another historic performance

Oh, by the way.  Steph Curry shot 10 three pointers (on 16 attempts) during the course of the game.  I didn't notice - they came in the normal flow, nothing was forced.  This got a passing mention on local radio, but, in an evening of hype at Oracle, it went more or less un-celebrated.

When I got home I looked it up, though:  there have been 44 occasions in all of NBA history where a player shot 10 or more three pointers in a game.  For the most part, these were one hot night in a career:  Kobe, Joe Dumars, Brian Shaw, etc.  Only three people have shot 10 or more three pointers in an NBA game on more than one occasion:
  • Cleveland's notorious streak shooter, JR Smith has done it three times.
  • Klay Thompson has done it five times.
  • Curry has done it four times in 2019, and 14 times in his career.
"Really're not going to see this again."

Sometimes you see the most incredible things around sunset.

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