March 2001 Notebook
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Saturday, March 31, 2001

Movie: Until Night Falls. Another exercise in the futility of boiling a life down to a biopic: Reinaldo Arenas, novelist, homosexual, fellow traveler and eventual exile of the Cuban revolution. Reminds me a bit of the Joe Orton movie, but Prick Up Your Ears was simpler, cleaner, more coherent, and perhaps most importantly free from the political cloudcover that comes with Americans grappling with Cuba. B+

Friday, March 30, 2001

Cooked a nice dinner for Kathy and guest:

The ham was a bit of a fluke: I was planning on cooking trout, but when I saw a very small (2.5 lb.) "fresh ham" in a Vietnamese grocery, I had to try it. I'd made this recipe once before, but with a pre-cooked ham, and the results were somewhat mixed. But since it's a long slow process (whereas most Chinese is lots-of-preparation followed by a short-but-intense cooking phase), this added little to my workload. I'm not sure that the cut that I purchased really was ham (the texture was more like pork loin), but the technique came out very well.

Monday, March 19, 2001

Been busy. Mostly working on Robert Christgau's future web site. Made some decent progress learning PHP and setting up a MySQL database for the Consumer Guide data. Spent the weekend hacking out web pages to maintain the database. Need content.

Got my domain name (tomhull.com) registered. Put a token web page over there. I figure these web pages will (mostly) drift that direction, but no big rush.

Still catching up with last year's records, adding the following to the 2000 Year End List:

  1. Chicks on Speed: Will Save Us All. At last, a proper heir to Silver Convention and LiliPUT. Aufhebung, even.
  2. Fatboy Slim: Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars.
  3. Mystikal: Let's Get Ready. The Mahlathini of Hip-Hop.
  4. Guy Davis: Butt Naked Free.
  5. Modest Mouse: The Moon in Antarctica. Perhaps the most scientific record of the year: more than one might expect from alt-new wavers.
  6. Roni Size / Reprazent: In the Mode. Confirm's Hip-Hop's dominance by subsuming it.
  7. Sue Foley: Love Comin' Down. Not as confident in her newfound maturity as Twelve Days in December, which we just mean she's wiser. At least, "Same Thing" dives deeper into muddy waters than even McKinley Morganfield.
Still got a backlog of real good rap records: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek: Reflection Eternal, Mos Def: Black on Both Sides, Wu-Tang Clan: The W, Lyricist Lounge Vol. 2, Dead Prez: Let's Get Free. Any or all of these could crack the list.

Wednesday, March 14, 2001

The death of Morton Downey Jr. reminds me of another chain smoking, talk show asshole, who likewise succumbed to lung cancer: Joe Pyne. As a teenager, I followed Pyne both on TV and radio. Don't remember much about it, but Pyne liked to bash guests of all persuasions. The ones I most remember were Nathaniel Branden, Anton Szandor Lavay, and Paul Krassner -- people willing to take a little abuse for their causes. Branden was insufferable, Lavay a stupid joke, but unindicted coconspirator Krassner was my guy. The other thing I remember about Pyne was an offhand comment that he made, that had a huge effect on me: he relayed the story of talking to a famous scientist, where he asked the scientist whether he used the scientific method. Scientist replies, "sometimes, when it works." Philosophy at the time was dominated by logical positivists in slavish pursuit of scientific method. This one comment crystalized my preference for pragmatism. Thenceforth, the more interesting question was, "what works?"

Never watched Downey. One's interest and amusement with assholes wanes over time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

Newspaper articles about high tech companies slipping and sliding: NASDAQ falls again, Cisco layoffs, Intel layoffs, ... I can see an essay developing, "Wasn't Capitalism Fun?" I've always maintained that the stock market boom was a case of too much investible money chasing too few really useful businesses. This is the first thing that happens when you let rich people have all the money. The second thing is that their apparent wealth hinges on the greater fool theory: since stocks (not just dot-com phantasmes) aren't reasonably worth what they're selling for, their prices are based on no more than the expectation that some other fool will sooner or later pay even more. This leads to hair trigger sell-offs, the drunken meandering that comes from trying to stay one step ahead of the rest of the world. The third thing that happens, when this sort of bubble sustains over any appreciable amount of time, is that people become preoccupied with speculation as opposed to real, useful work.

It's become a commonplace that the only way to get ahead nowadays is to invest and own property. With wages stagnant (or worse), the imperative to make it by investing and owning things hasn't been so pervasive since the days of Jane Austen's novels -- perhaps a clue to their newfound Hollywood popularity.

The speculative boom has had a lot of effects, especially in distorting how businesses are planned and run, especially in the high-tech sectors which have largely driven the boom. (More because of the Internet bonanza than anything else.) One thing that few people seem to appreciate is how corrupting money is to a business -- especially money that hasn't been earned. One effect of the boom is that businesses are now full of people who are hopelessly corrupt -- people think that the riches accrued in riding the boom were the fruits of their own genius. Similarly, investors are now hopelessly hooked on unrealistic speculative returns, to the point where they won't even consider doing something that is merely useful.

This corruption will become ever more obvious as the market deflates. Saw another article the about how Japan has been trapped in deflation since 1990. I find this disturbing not so much because I view deflation itself as a problem. Actually, it's the converse: my favorite approach to the economy is to drive the production and consumption of junk down (both to free up worktime and to reduce environmental strain), and to broaden the consumption of useful goods and services by driving their prices down (by various means, including more competition, easier financing, reducing property rents, subsidizing infrastructure, and restricting advertising), and this approach is strongly deflationary.

However, the problem here is that capitalism has no good instincts for dealing with deflation. To paint a relatively pretty picture on it, capitalism's great strength is that it promotes the freedom to produce. It is also extremely amoral about what is produced -- this doesn't bother me much about specific products, but does get rather obscene when you start talking about aggregates like GDP (Gross Domestic Product). This is a system that only works one way -- toward growth, which is basically toward total consumption. However, when capitalism's growth engine falters (which happens periodically, partly on suspicion that there may be a shortage of greater fools, and partly deliberate sabotage by the money mongers), the result is a massive wastage of potential work and value.

Wrote a little doggerel in an HTML job form, perhap worth saving here:

If I may digress a bit, one interesting thing about awk is that it was not so much a new language as an informalization of languages and conventions that were already well known (c, sh). Also, where most languages are intended to build mountains (think Java, or anything OO), awk is geared much more toward one-liners, the goal being to reduce a solution to its bare essentials. Also, a major use of awk has been the creation of "little languages" (graf and pic were early examples), again showing awk's reductionist approach to language design, and emphasizing that awk is much more a tool for thought than a language in/of itself.

Ftwalk started as a little language -- a way of expressing complex find(1) expressions in awk-speak. It grew as the utility of providing an awk-like reduction of more and more of the C/Unix API became evident. In my mind, it's always been an experiment at reducing one's understanding of Unix systems to their simplest expression.

Sunday, March 11, 2001

Started to sort out a diffs page for The Penguin Guide to Jazz, Fifth Edition. Looks like this will take a long time to sift out, and produce a ridiculously large page.

Friday, March 09, 2001

Movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Can't recall when I last saw a martial arts movie, so no idea how this compares. Nor do I know quite what to make of it. I found it surreal, which renders the violence distant and poetic. One thing I will note is that Zhang Ziyi's cage is class as much as or more than sex. A-

Wednesday, March 07, 2001

The Baseball HOF Veterans Committee inducted Bill Mazeroski and Hilton Smith.

Smith is one of many prominent Negro League pitchers who were skipped over when the Negro Leagues Committee stopped at one pitcher and eight position players. Smith worked in Satchel Paige's shadow, but also basked in the light Paige reflected. I don't know enough to properly evaluate Smith, but his 1940 line is hard to argue with: 10 wins, 0 losses, 89 innings, 34 hits, 5 walks. That's 3.9 baserunners per 9IP; Sandy Koufax's best year (albeit with many more IP) was 7.8.

Excepting a shortstop of two (Rabbit Maranville, Joe Tinker), Mazeroski is the weakest hitting HOF position player ever. Among second basemen, Johnny Evers was better even without compensating for era affects, and adjustment for Tony Lazzeri's era-inflated stats lowers him at most to third weakest. An average hitting HOF 2B is someone like Frankie Frisch or Billy Herman; the best 2B hitters were Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, and Joe Morgan. (Mazeroski's freak HR in 1960 hardly puts him in a class with any of the above. Indeed, the best hitting 2B in the 1960 series was Series MVP Bobby Richardson, an equally freaky performance.)

Mazeroski's only claim to HOF-level fame is his glove, specifically his DP prowess. Anecdotally, he was the fastest, slickest 2B ever at turning the DP. The statistics bear this out. Long time ago, I munged fielding statistics for all players, all positions, and all years, into a sort of retrospective gold glove awards. Mazeroski dominated his position as completely as Luis Aparicio and Brooks Robinson, but was only the #2 all-time defensive second baseman: the long-forgotten winner was a bare hands wizard from the 1880's named Bid McPhee.

This year the Veterans Committee skipped over naming a 19th century player. As such, they missed a wonderful opportunity to pair Mazeroski with McPhee. Almost all of the major holes in the HOF roster, aside from controversies like Pete Rose and Joe Jackson, are 19th century players, especially those who (like McPhee) played in the American Association. (My choices would be McPhee, Deacon White, Pete Browning, Harry Stovey, and Paul Hines.)

To illustrate my hitting assertions, I dug these stats out from the runs created percentile data that I published in Big Bad Baseball Annual, for HOF 2B + Bid McPhee:
#NameTotalAnnual Percentile Rankings
1Rogers Hornsby844799 99 99 98 98 97 97 95 95 92 92 90 83 75 69
2Eddie Collins836898 97 97 96 96 95 95 95 95 94 93 93 89 80 72 72 66 61 34 14
3Nap Lajoie748899 99 98 98 95 92 92 89 88 87 86 82 79 76 60 48 46 27 20 17
4Joe Morgan659599 99 98 97 96 93 84 84 78 76 76 73 62 59 54 49 48 47 27
5Charlie Gehringer640796 95 95 93 92 91 89 89 87 85 82 76 72 36 35 18
9Jackie Robinson469396 96 96 92 88 86 84 69 40 24
11Frankie Frisch449094 93 92 89 80 78 76 76 71 69 66 66 59 35 34 12
14Bobby Doerr427390 87 86 86 85 85 85 84 70 65 60 55 53
17Billy Herman390094 92 90 85 82 80 70 62 60 59 58 56 40
24Nellie Fox332289 82 82 82 79 76 76 73 71 66 50 44 29 27 12
25Bid McPhee328987 85 85 81 79 73 69 66 66 63 63 57 54 46 45 36 29 26
28Red Schoendienst304993 88 85 81 69 69 62 62 59 54 50 48 22 19
29Tony Lazzeri292187 87 83 79 79 69 68 65 55 52 50 39
34Miller Huggins248889 82 81 76 73 64 63 60 55 43 20
38Johnny Evers213585 85 73 71 68 62 61 54 53 53 25 13
83Bill Mazeroski111672 68 64 60 59 56 55 49 46 40 32 29 03

Huggins is in the HOF as a manager, but was a scrappy player who walked a lot. Schoendienst was probably helped by his managerial career, as well. Evers was a fluke choice (of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, he was actually the best player). Rod Carew was considered a 1B, but would've ranked #4 at 2B. (Pete Rose would've ranked #1.) The top non-HOF 2B were: Ryne Sandberg, Hardy Richardson, Ross Barnes, Craig Biggio, Roberto Alomar, Larry Doyle, Julio Franco, Lou Whitaker, Joe Gordon, Fred Dunlap, and Bobby Grich (#20): mostly a mix of too old and too new.

The players ranked closest to Mazeroski are: Tony Taylor, Frank LaPorte, Robby Thompson, Tito Fuentes, Harold Reynolds, and Lou Bierbauer. The most notable player that Mazeroski beat was Frank White at #96; Bobby Richardson came in #108.

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

Cooked dinner for Liz Fink and Kathy Hull. Original thought was to do the usual Jambalaya recipe, but rumaging through the Louisiana section of Betty Fussell's I Hear America Cooking, I came up with:

Saturday, March 03, 2001

Elizabeth Fink arrives, passing through Wichita on cross-country drive. I fix dinner, dipping into Barbara Tropp's quasi-Chinese cookbook:

Friday, March 02, 2001

Lost FreeCell game today, #13304. First time since Sept. 6, almost six months. Last loss came the day before I was laid off; wondering what this is a portent of. It's my major use of Microsoft software -- I keep an obsolete laptop off to the side, use it only for FreeCell and Taipei these days. Art Protin claims that's all Microsoft is good for. I prefer puzzles to games, and like FreeCell because it has a little dazzle, and is something I can almost always win. (Well, I cheat a little; no point getting stressed out over a game. I count a loss if I can't solve the game in two tries, which lets me be faster and sloppier the first time around.) Streak ended at 3501 games. That's a lot of brain massage.

Thursday, March 01, 2001

Checked Fthelp changes into CVS. I get an ssh error message, which is probably a Sourceforge problem, but getting help is hard, possibly impossible.

Read Jon Katz' Second Thoughts: Microsoft on Trial on Slashdot. The article is full of errors, misinformation, and general confusion. I can't tell how much this reflects the appeals court, Katz, or Microsoft's PR flacks.


Feb 2001 Apr 2001