To stab, or not to stab

If you were thinking that things were awfully gory on TV and in the movies these days, well, you may be assured that this is Not News in any sense of the word: William Shakespeare was wont to include a bit of the old ultra-violence now and then, and he’s been gone for 400 years. And he had all sorts of ways of killing people off:

Distribution of deaths in the plays of William Shakespeare

At the link, an interactive version of this chart, with numbers of iterations for each death. And there’s this:

As accustomed as we are to thinking of contemporary entertainments like Game of Thrones as especially gratuitous, the whole of Shakespeare’s corpus, writes Alice Vincent at The Telegraph, is “more gory” than even HBO’s squirm-worthy fantasy epic, featuring a total of 74 deaths in 37 plays to Game of Thrones’ 61 in 50 episodes.

Not that George R. R. Martin is keeping count. (At least, I don’t think he is.)

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Insufficient sting

West-centric sports pages persist in wondering how it is that, for instance, the Thunder, which has dominated its conference rivals, can barely break even against the East. Charlotte, tenth place in the East, was supposed to be a patsy, especially with Al Jefferson and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist sidelined for the duration, and Nicolas Batum a late scratch. But the Hornets were 17-15 coming in, half a game out of a playoff slot; this is not the stuff of which patsies are made. So I wasn’t at all surprised when the Bees, down twelve at halftime, rattled off ten points in a row to start the third quarter. But the Thunder deployed some serious defense, including 15 blocks — three from Enes Kanter, no less — and eventually walked away from the Hornets, 109-90.

Lineup adjustments by the Hornets were a mixed bag. Kemba Walker, not unexpectedly, led all scorers with 32, and Jeremy Lin, pressed into starting at the two, added 15; but the rest of the starters were held to 21, and the depleted bench managed only 22. Charlotte shot a woeful 34.5 percent. Oklahoma City, in the meantime, hit 45 percent, and Kevin Durant showed flashes of Durantitude with 29 points and 11 rebounds; five other Thundermen hit double figures. And if you like free throws, this was the game for you: 54 fouls were committed, 27 by each side (not counting two technicals), and the Hornets made 26 out of 34, the Thunder 30 of 37. I was wondering how well Charlotte native Anthony Morrow would do against a hometown crowd. (He did fine: 4-9 for 12 points, all of them on treys.) And the only question, toward the end, was this: would Russell Westbrook get a steal, extending his league-leading streak to 37 games? He would.

The Thunder are back home Monday against the Kings, and Wednesday against the Grizzlies; there follows a three-game road trip, visiting Portland, the Lakers (again!) and Minnesota.

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Still unforgettable

Congestive heart failure has a way of lurking in the background for God knows how long and then suddenly lowering the boom. So it was with Natalie Cole, taken from us on New Year’s Eve at sixty-five. If it was unexpected, and it was, well, she didn’t look sick recently:

Natalie Cole sitting on the porch

Natalie Cole sitting on the patio

And could she still sing, you ask? You needn’t have asked. In 2013 she cut her last studio album, a collection of Latin standards (Natalie Cole en español) which topped the Latin chart, just missed the top of the Jazz chart, and even crept into the top half of the Billboard 200. The niftiest track, I think, was the five-minute medley enclosed by Tito Puente’s “Oye como va,” which was energetic as anything she’d ever done. But this is the track people clamored for: a version of “Acércate más” (“Come Closer to Me”) in which she’s accompanied by her father.

And if her intonation is better than his — neither of them spoke Spanish — no one’s going to say a word.

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It’s an annual darn event

Too late for 2015, but it’ll be back:

One day a year, visitors to the Saishōji Temple in Ashikaga are invited to shed their stoicism and politeness for a night of cathartic cursing. At the akutare matsuri (“rowdiness festival”), also called akutai matsuri (“festival of abusive language”), held annually on New Year’s Eve, hundreds of worshippers make the forty-minute trek up the mountain to the temple, shouting insults and epithets along the way.

Then again, shedding that politeness doesn’t come easy to the Japanese:

Although all potential targets of these insults are fair game, the curses themselves are typically mild, especially by Strong Language standards. The insult of choice is usually “bakayarō!” — loosely translated to “you idiot!”

I’m just imagining how this sort of festival would play in, oh, New Jersey.

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Golden Gate status: open

Maybe you don’t spend any time wondering what would happen if, say, the Steve Miller Band were actually Dutch, but that’s where I came in:

Recorded in 1980, this song got a Stateside release the following year, along with the album Watts in a Tank, and it climbed to #25. (In Canada, always hipper albeit 90 degrees out of phase, it was a solid Number One.) A version of the band still exists, though “Diesel” has been respelled as “Deazol.”

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Quote of the week

Jack Baruth’s last post for 2015 was nominally about hookers, but a section on avoiding the appearance of hooking had more, shall we say, universal applicability:

I’m in a pretty decent team at my current contract but I’ve worked places where I thought everybody in the department would be primarily useful as a kidney or liver donor. I had a boss a few years ago, a director of the company, who was this sort of grinning nonentity. He lifted weights as his sole hobby, so he had a head that looked like Ron Howard’s on this really wide neck, and he always had this stupid look on his face like he’d just been given an extra ride on a children’s Ferris wheel or something. Every single thing he ever said was either a deliberate lie or a gross misrepresentation of events.

The day finally came when I went into a meeting with him, lost my temper, and said, “You’re an idiot and a wannabe tough guy and I have complete and total contempt for you. Everybody who works for you thinks you’re too stupid to be allowed to take a bath by yourself. When you’re in a weight room by yourself, you’re not the smartest object there.” Let me tell you, that was immensely satisfying and I’ll never forget the look on his face as I proceeded from there to call him out in the most forthright terms possible for ninety full seconds. The reader will not be surprised to hear that I didn’t work there the following day, although it sure as hell wasn’t the last day I collected a check from the firm.

That little diatribe probably cost me a quarter-million bucks in salary and deferred compensation. I know it cost me my “Cadillac” health insurance. But it was worth it. By the time I was done with him I’d wiped the smile off his face. That’s a moment that I’d have been proud to have my son witness. But most of my days are pretty ordinary. I go to work. I go home. They pay me. It’s a living.

A lot of us swear by those last four brief sentences, even if occasionally we swear at their implications.

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Fore and aft

It is de rigueur to sum up the previous year, and speculate on the new one, on this first day of January. I trust you won’t mind if I fail to comply with this cultural imperative except in the most superficial sense.

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She was there, man

I have — I admit it — a tendency toward fanboy squee. However, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to this point:

At this point I have to imagine her staring in disbelief, and then carefully crafting the only response that makes sense:

I hasten to point out that this Crash was the 2004 film by Paul Haggis, not the 1996 film by David Cronenberg; had I been in that latter movie, I surely would have suppressed the memory by now.

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So basically, just another year

“The most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay,” I once said, and the year just completed gave me no reason to change my mind:

I don’t actually think in millibars, so I did the conversion to mercury: 31.05 inches. Now that’s some serious pressure.

And about that dew point in Webbers Falls:

Those accustomed to continental climates often begin to feel uncomfortable when the dew point reaches between 15 and 20 °C (59 and 68 °F). Most inhabitants of these areas will consider dew points above 21 °C (70 °F) oppressive.

So I imagine 83 °F was probably excruciating. (I can’t remember personally experiencing anything much over 79.)

If there’s any comfort to be found on this map, it’s that none of those extremes came within fifty miles of me. Then again, through Christmas Day, we were on pace in Oklahoma City for the second-warmest December on record, behind only the fluky 48.7 degrees of 1965. (For warmenists: nine of the top ten are before 1965.) Then the snow and the rain and several days of cloud cover, and the best we could do was a tie for fifth at 45.3. I did manage to be present for three of the coldest Decembers, including the heinous 1983, a feeble 25.3 degrees for the month. (The coldest days around here, statistically, are in early January, at an average of 38.7 or thereabouts, though the coldest day EVAH was 12 February 1899, at a Dakota-esque 17 below.)

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What really matters

To this character, apparently it’s the ability to buy junk:

Yahoo Answers screenshot: Will there be less sellers on ebay now due to all the flooding in north england?

No, really, he’s serious:

it just occurred to me, will there be less sellers to buy from now on ebay? … because of all the floods in north england? because no doubt there would of been a lot of sellers on ebay that are in the north of england? … so with their homes being flooded out and them losing all of their possessions … will we have less sellers on ebay to buy from now?

I’d say something to the effect that “it’s ‘fewer,’ not ‘less’ sellers,” but the presence of “would of” tells me that the trajectory of that statement would clear his scalp by several meters.

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Short of hop

Anyone of a certain age who grew up in the South — and I mean to include myself, even though I was born in northern Illinois, simply because I got most of my formal education in South Carolina — is familiar with Hoppin’ John. Then again, that familiarity is somewhat dulled by the fact that it almost certainly doesn’t taste the way it used to:

The original ingredients of Hoppin’ John are simple: one pound of bacon, one pint of peas, and one pint of rice. The earliest appearance in print seems to be in Sarah Rutledge’s The Carolina Housewife (1847), and it’s important to note that everything was cooked together in the same pot:

“First put on the peas, and when half boiled, add the bacon. When the peas are well boiled, throw in the rice, which must first be washed and gravelled. When the rice has been boiling half an hour, take the pot off the fire and put it on coals to steam, as in boiling rice alone.”

Which nobody does anymore, and it wouldn’t help if they did:

If you try to cook Sarah Rutledge’s recipe for Hoppin’ John using bacon, rice, and black-eyed peas from the supermarket, you’re probably going to be pretty disappointed. Today’s ingredients have been transformed by a century of hybridization, mechanization, and standardization to meet the demands of an industrialized, cost-minimizing food system.

So variations have erupted, even in places that aren’t all that Southern; the Pioneer Woman hath wrought one herself. But if you’re within a reasonable drive of old Charleston, you can find reasonable approximations of the original ingredients, just in case you want a taste of 1847 in 2017. (It’s probably too late to do it for this New Year’s.)

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Worst titles of 2015

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Need more SPF

The ostensibly lousy Phoenix Suns, minus Ronnie Price and Eric Bledsoe, swamped by the Spurs last night, showed up in Oklahoma City and played way above their presumed weight: they led rather a lot, and with 3:35 left they tied it up at 100. It was more than a minute and a half later that Russell Westbrook banked in a jumper to give the Thunder the lead; Tyson Chandler missed an and-one to tie it back up; and Kevin Durant, who’d been having a crummy night up to that point, knocked down two buckets in succession to make it 106-102. Brandon Knight took a Chandler feed to bring the Suns back to within two, then fouled Russell Westbrook on the way to the rim. Westbrook, who hadn’t missed a free throw all night, didn’t miss either of these; Knight delivered another dunk, Westbrook two more free throws, and that was the end of that: 110-106.

Still, we’re talking terribly, terribly close. The Thunder shot 52.5 percent, the Suns 52.4. Rebounds were tied at 37. But the boxes look wholly different. Jeff Hornacek played only eight men, six of them finished in double figures, and the other two didn’t score at all. T. J. Warren had a career-high 29 points; P. J. Tucker added 22, and Chandler did the double-double thing, with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Meanwhile, the Thunder had only two players in double figures — yeah, those two, with Westbrook bagging 36 points and 12 assists while gathering only a single rebound. (Durant had 23, though he took 21 shots.) But the bench guys kept busy, especially Kyle Singler in that scary fourth quarter, with a 7-4-2 line. For Singler, who’d had about nine DNP-CDs in a row, this must be vindication of a sort.

Saturday night, it’s a trip to Charlotte, where the Hornets are smack-dab in the middle of that Eastern Conference logjam; then back home for the Kings and the Grizzlies, and off to the West Coast for another shot at the Lakers. Life is, um, not bad.

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And you thought it was cold outside

Volkswagen’s little Evade the Emissions stunt has now been hacked and examined, and at least one of the findings is startling:

[Felix] Domke said he graphed the European emissions testing cycle and overlaid those results with the upper and lower limits of the ECU’s “normal mode” and discovered that the mode aligned perfectly with the limits.

He didn’t test differences in engine performance, nor could he say whether the cheat applied to cars in other countries. But Domke pointed to a parameter in the engine’s code that seemingly always initiated its “alternative” exhaust program: the outside temperature would only need to be suitable for life to exist — above -6,357.9 degrees Fahrenheit (-3,550 degrees Celsius).

This condition is available pretty much anywhere in the universe at any imaginable time. Well feigned, Vee Dub.

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Fun’ll getcha

First, we must say this:

Throughout much of 2015, tornado activity has been near record low mostly due to a continuous pattern of a trough in the east, which has brought colder than average temperatures there, and a ridge in the west, which has brought warmer than average temperatures in the west. The pattern changed, slightly, in late March and early April to allow for some severe weather.

And then reversed itself late in the year, with unpleasant results. Then again, I’m sitting here in the middle of the damnable stuff, so nothing here surprises me:

Okay, but one thing surprises me. What the hell happened in Nevada, that they should get a tornado warning? Well, duh:

A Nevada Tornado 2015 Warning tonight is striking Lander. The National Weather Service in Elko has issued a Nevada Tornado 2015 Warning moments ago.

NWS tell news that tonight May 7, 2015 a Nevada Tornado 2015 Warning is in place for southwestern Eureka County in north central Nevada, and east central Lander County in north central Nevada.

Lander, since the 1920s, has had a fairly steady population of zero. And this particular news site seems to deal in word salad with ranch dressing ‚ though NWS talks like that sometimes, as fans of their VHF radio service know.

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Uncalm, uncool and uncollected

The problem with being the Problem Solver is that you can’t always solve your own problems:

Lately, I find myself stressed more. My well-constructed compartmental walls have sprung leaks; worries from work pop into my head at night and personal issues intrude on work. My former single-minded focus made me very good at dealing with multiple issues while keeping my stress levels low. People have always marveled at my ability to solve problems and “get things fixed”. I still can solve problems and smooth troubled waters, but my stress over the complex is a new thing for me.

I used to have an Alfred E. Newman “What, me worry?” attitude. I solve problem A then move on to problem B in its time. Now I worry about issues A through Z, then worry that I’m worrying too much.

I had, at one time, a well-undeserved reputation for working well under pressure. Some horrid combination of indifference and frailty, two characteristics growing at unequal but nonetheless prodigious rates, has further complicated it.

Then again, I never really was a multitasker, though I worked hard at preserving the illusion of being one. My approach is more that of the computer: assign little slices of time for each task, and run them close enough together to look like they’re all being done at once.

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