Thursday, May 23, 2019

Ditch the trey

Or at least move the lines back. Steph is great, for sure, but this piece from FiveThirtyEight helps explain why the game has become a little less fun to watch, because the palette of shot selection has become much more limited.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Reading roundup

I guess it's been a while. Von besser zu lesser...

Wolfgang Herrndorf
Le Carré meets Nabokov– with a little Kafka and Elmore Leonard thrown into the mix– in this very well-written, darkly funny, and harrowing literary thriller. It's 1972, and our nameless hero has come-to after a blow to the kopf, and finds himself stricken with amnesia and in the thick of some very nasty business, somewhere in North Africa. Amnesia is a plot device best used sparingly if at all, but Herrndorf pulls it off with bravado. A great entertainment, exquisitely translated by Tim Mohr.

A Long Way from Home
Peter Carey
A typical shaggy-dog tale from Carey, following an oddball threesome on an early cross-country auto race through Australia in the 1950s. Carey's parents ran a GM dealership in the same place and time as the novel's starting line, and he seems to know of what he writes. Funny and splendidly written with vivid, likable characters, the story picks up speed through the first two-thirds or so and then suffers a flat tire or two toward the end as it takes a political turn. Still, a good read.

Elizabeth Costello

J.M. Coetzee
Efficient, chilly and beautifully crafted, it is a novel of ideas and writing. The title character stands in for Coetzee, a person you'd only want to know on the printed page.

Natsume Sōseki
Sōseki's The Gate is one of my favorite novels... a book in which not much really happens. In this wistful coming-of-age story, even less happens, if that is possible. That doesn't mean it's a better book...

Ride the Pink Horse

Dorothy B. Hughes
Hughes wrote noir but never stuck to a formula. This feverish, surrealistic tale– a revenge story featuring a sympathetic but not very bright protagonist in a southwestern town– is not as good as her masterpieces, The Expendable Man and In a Lonely Place, but it holds your attention.


Penelope Fitzgerald
A literary rom-com a la Fitzgerald, set in Italy in the 1950s. Gramsci puts in an appearance. A decent read, but not my favorite of hers.

J.G. Farrell
A grand old hotel in Ireland crumbles as the English dominion over Ireland crumbles, along with a way of life. Well executed, I think, but it did not keep me awake.

Berlin Game
Len Deighton
Le Carré aside, I don't read much spy fiction, and I'd never read Deighton, considered one of the masters. This is a pretty good yarn with a nice twist, but I won't be running out to read his oeuvre, as I have with Mr. Le Carré.

Sue Burke
On an alien planet, the fungi communicate and compete and are pretty smart. Would you trust them?

Linda Nagata
This novel does a pretty good job imagining a version of human existence–if we can still think of them as humans– millions of years in the future. The problem is characterization. And sci fi without good characters is– frankly– bad fi.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

“We are and will always be a values-driven company"

"Sasan Goodarzi, the CEO of Intuit, says the company’s efforts to make its free tax-filing software harder to find on Google were part of the software giant’s commitment to educating taxpayers."
In an 11-minute video sent to Intuit employees, Goodarzi said the company was trying to help consumers by steering them to “educational content” instead of TurboTax’s free filing website. 
The company promised the IRS it would offer a free option to tens of millions of taxpayers earning less than $34,000. 
Responding to our reporting, which shows that Intuit, H&R Block and other for-profit tax software companies were steering low-income customers to their paid products, Goodarzi said the company’s marketing practices “had been misinterpreted to signal that we were trying to hide the product we offer in the IRS program. That is inaccurate.” 
“Our choice around search was intended to be [in] the best interest of taxpayers so they were more fully informed about their options and could choose what they felt was best for them,” Goodarzi said in the video, which was marked “Intuit Confidential” and was sent to staff on May 3.
The story and links to ProPublica's ongoing investigation can be found here. One of my favorite installments dug into the HTML code and showed how the customer steering sausage was made. Perhaps Intuit's good intentions were indeed "misinterpreted," but it is noteworthy that since the story appeared Intuit has changed the code on its Free File page.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 87

For Cinco de Mayo I put on Vicente Fernández... quite a crooner, but I must admit I like my Mex seasoned with a little more Tex... Freddy Fender... While we're at it, stir in a little rockabilly, Cajun, and LA punk... mmm... perfect... Los Lobos.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


Rave reviews and the precedent of Get Out– which was truly something new under the sun and a great entertainment as well– gave me high hopes for Us. It's worth a watch, but kind of a letdown. Neither as scary nor as funny as expected, it's a pretty conventional horror movie dressed up with some undercooked "meta" themes. The acting is ho-hum, except for Lupita Nyong'o of course, who seems to be enjoying herself and eclipses everything and everyone else anytime she is in the frame.

I'd forgotten about Hands Across America. Good times. Jordan could have made more of that. I also learned that if I ever get a smart speaker ("Ophelia" in the movie, hee hee), it's important to enunciate. The consequence of failing to do so in the movie becomes a kind of a stupid joke, although also an opportunity to beef up the soundtrack and to remind us how good Ice Cube was back in the day.

The greatest mystery in the film is where you can find a waterfront house like that place within driving distance of Santa Cruz. Maybe Seattle? Long day trip.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Free college for all?

Kevin Drum brings a few facts to Elizabeth Warren's proposal to eliminate (public) tuition and most student debt. I think his sympathetic skepticism gets it just about right.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 86

My favorite Go-Betweens song. It reminisces experiences I had no part of, but I am nostalgic for them nonetheless.

Table Mountain viewed from the west

Google Maps' 3-D satellite image shows the inverted valley winding its way across the landscape...

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Table Mountain

There are a few different "Table Mountains" in California, but the one I visited for the first time yesterday is near Jamestown in Tuolumne County. It is a plateau formed by volcanic rock. The top features vernal pools that– at least after a nice wet winter like this one– generate a riot of wildflowers. The Wikipedia entry explains the fascinating geology:
Table Mountain is an inverted valley, an elevated landform which follows the former contours of a river valley above level of the surrounding topography, rather than below it. It was created by lava flows which filled an ancient river bed. The resulting igneous rock resisted erosion better than the materials around it, leaving behind a sinuous rock formation elevated above the surrounding landscape.
I was there for the flowers, but the views are spectacular too– to the west, New Melones reservoir, and to the east, in the distance Yosemite's still snowy peaks and directly below, somewhat less appealingly, the Chicken Ranch casino, the surrounding oaks and grassland glowing green.

The dominant flowers on top are lupines, butter-and-eggs, goldfield, and clover. A very special place this time of year.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Interview with Preston McAfee

Interesting throughout. He has served as chief economist at Yahoo and Microsoft. His views on antitrust as it relates to the big tech companies bear special attention as we consider calls by Elizabeth Warren and others to bust up FB, Google, etc. And this...
EF: What was the most surprising part of your transition from being an academic economist to being an economist in a high-tech corporate setting?
McAfee: There's a school of thought that government is inefficient because it can be, while firms, subject to markets, are forced to be efficient. The thing that shocked me the most was how inefficient large firms can be. Sure, there is government waste, but it is commensurate with size and clarity of mission. In one sense, I already knew that large firms could be inefficient — the failure of Kodak and Blockbuster are examples — but it is another thing to live through it.
Hat tip to Tim Taylor.

Sunday, April 7, 2019


I attended and gave a couple presentations at the American Association of Geographers meetings in DC the past few days. It's a huge conference with tremendous breadth of topics and methods. I was most inspired by the poster sessions, where you can wander around and engage a (usually) young scholar in conversation about their work. The undergrad researchers are particularly inspiring.

The cherry blossoms were at their peak, but I didn't find time to join the hoards at the Tidal Basin to gawk at them. Instead, I spent my free afternoon inside, at the National Gallery, with Jacopo Tintoretto. I have been to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice, which is justifiably considered Tintoretto's Sistine Chapel. That was probably the greatest artistic experience of my life. The National Gallery exhibition is not the San Rocco, but it provides a broader view of Tintoretto's genius, including his sketches, his impressionistic brushwork, his radical evocation of depth, motion, and narrative, his empathy, and, in particular, his stunning portraits. Some snapshots...

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The awesomeness of American pop music

Three degrees of hook separation... I feel it in my bones...

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Friday, March 15, 2019

"Higher returns on education can’t explain growing wage inequality"

The college wage premium remains very high in the United States, but its role in explaining recent inequality trends is negligible. A very insightful post from EPI's Elise Gould.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Well I'll be darned

I'm not fond of the language of "sin." And David Brooks sees absolutely nothing new here that was not always sitting squarely in front of his face. But it's still quite something to read a defense of reparations coming from his pen.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 85

The album Glitter Wolf by Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom got a rave review on Fresh Air the other day, and I hope it helps her sell some albums and concert tickets. The music is stunningly good, and really fun. Miller's playing and composition bring out the best in Myra Melford, who is clearly having a ball. Her solo on this track, commencing around 3:30, exhibits many of the traits that make her my favorite pianist: elaborate modal runs, thundering Tyner-like chords, Taylor-esque motifs, and her own special sauce. Actually, Miller seems to bring out the best in everyone, including Jenny Scheinman and Ben Goldberg, two musicians I admire but don't always enjoy. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lichens at Coyote Hills

Coyote Hills Regional Park is a special place tucked against the east shore of San Francisco Bay in Fremont. It is rich in habitat– from marshland to rolling hills featuring interesting Franciscan complex outcroppings– and has a long human history, indicated by an old Ohlone village site and shellmound. The lichens growing on the reddish radiolarian chert are the most lovely I know of in the Bay Area...

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Oscars wrap-up

I did see "The Favourite," and though I wasn't all that fond of it, Olivia Colman was awesome. I didn't see "Bohemian Rhapsody," and though in fact you'd have to pay me to see it, I do like Rami Malek in "Mr. Robot," so... good for him! I liked "BlacKkKlansman" and would like to see Spike Lee win more Oscars. That's all!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness

Pied Beauty for the atheist... the poet... or both...

Conserving the Magnitude of Uselessness
A.R. Ammons

Spits of glitter in lowgrade ore,
precious stones too poorly surrounded for harvest,
to all things not worth the work
of having,

brush oak on a sharp slope, for example,
the balk tonnage of woods-lodged boulders,
the irreparable desert,
drowned river mouths, lost shores where

the winged and light-footed go,
take creosote bush that possesses
ground nothing else will have,
to all things and for all things

crusty or billowy with indifference,
for example, incalculable, irremovable water
or fluvio-glacial deposits
larch or dwarf aspen in the least breeze sometimes shiver in---

suddenly the salvation of waste betides,
the peerlessly unsettled seas that shape the continents,
take the gales wasting and in waste over
Antarctica and the sundry high shoals of ice,

for the inexcusable (the worthless abundant) the
merely tiresome, the obviously unimprovable,
to these and for these and for their undiminishment
the poets will yelp and hoot forever

rank as weeds themselves and just as abandoned:
nothing useful is of lasting value:
dry wind only is still talking among the oldest stones.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

S/he cardinal

Who knew it was possible? A cardinal under any circumstances is already some kind of little miracle.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Go West

As AOC and Bernie try to restore socialism's good name, we'll hear plenty of red-baiting. Why not get it all out in the open with some high-concept homoerotic Soviet-style socialist realism? And who better to do it than the Pet Shop Boys?


I watched most of it. Happy to see the women being recognized. Great: Brandi Carlile. Good: Janelle Monáe, Cardi B. Bad: Kacey Musgraves (love you Kacey, but ouch...), Lady Gaga. Indifferent: the rest, including Alicia Keys.

I know it's all about pop and commerce and "youth." But really... no jazz? no classical? You want youth, how about Felix M, who wrote this crazy wonderful thing when he was 16. Sweet 16!

Friday, February 8, 2019

Lichen is fungal, mostly

It sops up the rain like a sponge... or a moss. I can't vouch for my phone getting the colors exactly right, but pretty close.

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 84

Isn't it cool when you cut your hand and the blood is red instead of sellout green?

Sunday, January 27, 2019


On my own last night while Laura was out of town, I thought I'd give the movie version of Annihilation a try. I loved the book, but the movie was unloved by critics. Perhaps the perceived flaws with the movie reflected the inability of critics to deal with the fundamental vagueness at the narrative core of the novel? Alas, no. The movie took a strange, impressionistic novel and (surprise) rendered it Hollywood. Natalie Portman was a great choice for our protagonist– "the biologist"– but she was wasted, toting a machine gun and oo-ing unconvincingly at weird exo-biologies that resembled nothing as much as plastic flowers and deer lichen purchased at a Michael's craft store. Perhaps they were. I turned it off after 30 minutes and decided to re-read the book. Just as good the second time around. Note to Guillermo del Toro: I bet the rights to the excellent sequel are available for cheap. You'd have fun.


At Pajaro Dunes.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Can Music Be Perfect? Vol. 83

Can't get enough of this one.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Lobaria pulmonaria...

... is the symbiotic relationship of organisms belonging to three different kingdoms of life! Fungi, algae, and cyanobacteria. I suppose the same will be said of humans once we fully understand our microbiome.

Three lodges

Woodrat lodges, that is, in Foothills Park. The first is there just so you can adjust your vision. The next two are typically obscured in their respective thickets of poison oak. Relax your focus.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Joseph Jarman, RIP

Three of the five members of the classic Art Ensemble of Chicago lineup are now gone. Here's Jarman making a joyful noise with Myra Melford and Leroy Jenkins.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reading roundup

From best to worst...

The Goshawk
T.H. White
Filled with humor, pathos, and damn good writing, White's account of his attempt to train a hunting hawk is justly lauded as a classic. Audaciously and naively, White convinced himself that he could train this most difficult of raptors through book learning and a kind of boy-scout can-do-ism. You will have to read the book to find out whether he was correct. His realism about nature's savagery is unflinching, but it is tempered by a touching sentimentalism. He offers up live pigeons as bait for the hawks he hopes to capture, but grows oddly attached to one of them and is unable to tether it in the trap– nonetheless, a hapless substitute takes its place. He eulogizes a female badger killed by fox hunters. His description of the maggots roiling in a sheep's carcass– easily the stomach-churning equal of Günter Grass's eels in The Tin Drum– displays an admiration for their work that is only partly ironic. His depictions of the English countryside– its vegetation, miserable climate, and folkways– are vivid. He cites specific passages to prove that Shakespeare really knew his falconry. I reckon I should have read The Goshawk before Helen Macdonald's very fine H is for Hawk. Both books leave you wondering whether the connection between austringer* and goshawk is true love or pure delusion. If you have read neither book before, by all means read them both, and start with White's.

A Fairly Good Time
Mavis Gallant
I have nothing against novels in which nothing really happens, but this one left me bemused. Shirley, a young Canadian woman in Paris, is trying to figure out whether her French second husband has really left her. Will you care about the answer? I can't say I did, exactly, but then, I found myself reading it to the end. There's something about this Shirley that makes you want to get to know her better.

Amnesia Moon
Jonathan Lethem
It's California sometime in the not-too-distant future, and something has happened to make everything pretty weird. It may have something to do with aliens, or maybe not– we never meet them. Everything gets more confusing, and you start skimming ahead to see if it all might make sense or have a point. Nope.

Selected Poems
A.R. Ammons
This little hardback from the American Poets Project fits comfortably in your hands and promises a selection of pieces by this most musical and thoughtful of modern poets. What's not to like? Alas, the book's compact format is its undoing. For Ammons, like many moderns, line breaks are unconventional and very important to the sound and meaning of the verse. When the page is so narrow that many lines must be wrapped, it becomes unclear which line breaks are intentional vs. arbitrary. What were they thinking?

* A falconer who uses accipiters (such as the goshawk).