The purpose of art is to delight us; certain men and women (no smarter than you or I) whose art can delight us have been given dispensation from going out and fetching water and carrying wood. It's no more elaborate than that. — David Mamet

Mar 17 20 2017



A game, available for Mac/iOS/Android, in which you wander around a (very big) map, collect stuff, and turn that stuff into other stuff that helps you make more stuff. Around the map, you run into all sorts of monstrous automata that try to stomp you; hunting them gives you other kinds of stuff. At times, this aspires to be the Princess Bride of adventure games – just the good stuff, with highly polished mechanics abstracting all the inventory management details. Mindless but moderately compelling in the wee hours of the day.

The game has an interesting backstory:

This game was developed by a team of 3 brothers, Adam, Seth, and Sam Coster, after Sam was diagnosed with stage 4b Lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system) in late 2013. It's been the thing that kept Sam truly living during the cancer treatments, even when he relapsed in late early 2015 and had to go through two stem-cell transplants to kill the damn thing.

by Theda Skocpol

The old main streets of the old suburban city where I live is filled with big, ornate buildings that used to be owned by fraternal organizations. The Masons had a huge building. The Odd Fellows had one even bigger. The Knights of Pythias were a little smaller and built their outpost a few blocks away in Maplewood Square. All the neighboring towns have similar buildings; some are still used by Masons or Elks or Knights of Columbus.

In the 19th century and much of the twentieth, these societies were huge, and were central to American civil life. Crucially, these societies drew their broad membership across social classes, and often their officers were men of modest means. Most only admitted men, and black Americans usually had to create their own parallel organizations like the Prince Hall Masons and the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, not to mention the NAACP. When representatives of in local lodges convened at grand state and national conventions, the delegates might be comparatively poor.

These organizations shrank vastly and suddenly after WW2. Skocpol’s lively account argues that our civic life lost something with their passing.

Mar 17 13 2017


Alexander Hamilton to George Washington, 1792:

When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

Speaking of being “desperate in his fortune,” it’s interesting that Donald Trump has apparently postponed or reneged on his commitment to forego his salary, and to donate payments to his hotels from foreign government to charity.

A Wikipedia discussion of the cost of furniture purchased for the Wikimedia Foundation proceeded this morning to a question that’s increasingly common for Wikipedia:

Kaldari, are you a Jew? Staszek Lem (talk) 03:28, 8 March 2017 (UTC)

Wikipedia has systematically allowed the marginalization of Jews and women by encouraging editors to freely insinuate that any Jew (or suspected Jew) and any woman (or suspected woman) is an irrational agenda-pusher. The anti-Semites behind this, as usual, have suffered no consequences beyond the praise of their Gamergate pals.

Keep in mind the now-daily reports of desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats directed at Jewish community centers and elementary schools.

See also: Wikipedia and the JewsJew-Tagging.

Lots of worry this morning about the WikiLeaks Russian Intelligence document dump about the CIA and its ability to exploit iPhone and Android. Gruber has a sensible explanation of why you don’t need to overreact.

It’s a good thing to have a secure phone, just as it’s a good thing to keep your secrets locked in your desk, your cash in the bank, and your front door locked. But remember: the real threat is seldom a super-high-tech team of high-powered analysts. The real threat is still what the real threat has always been: a sneak with a lock pick, a goon (in or out of uniform) with a gun.

If you’re coming back from vacation and Immigration wants to look at your iPhone, you may intend to say “no.” But if they’re serious, they’ll hold you in a back room for hours, for days. They’ll take you to an undisclosed location, or Guantanamo. Will you still say “no?”

Or they’ll say, “you’re free to go, sir” and you'll get your luggage and walk out to the taxi stand.

…and a car will slow beside you, and a door will open, and someone you know, maybe even trust, will get out of the car. And he will smile, a becoming smile. But he will leave open the door of the car and offer to give you a lift.

Or they’ll threaten your parents, or your kids, or your job. Your iPhone can do a lot, but it can’t do everything.

Last week, I tried and failed to get our little city’s little Democratic City Committee to take a stand, however feeble, against mass deportation.

It’s possible that Trump will be stopped elsewhere, that this struggle it won’t come to our doorstep. Residents of our town cheered pretty much the same notion about slavery in 1830: “liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” It didn’t work then, and (like pretty much every Massachusetts town) we have an elaborate Civil War monument to remind us what that cost.

Like all those other Massachusetts memorials, it recalls the men who loosed the fatal lightning of his terrible swift sword. Few plaques recall the generations of enslaved black people whose lives fell in the gap between our town’s knowledge that we were wrong and its willingness to take a stand for what was right.

Once we were willing to bear any burden and pay any price. I expect we shall be willing once more. For the moment, it appears that people need to be more thoroughly frightened. I don’t doubt that the Republican Party will, in a short space of time, do exactly that.

by Thomas Perry

When Libyan assassins come to a small Vermont town, seeking revenge for a covert US Intelligence operation some thirty years ago, they find that this old man has a good deal left in the tank. To a considerable degree, this is the companion of James Grady’s Six Days of The Condor – the song of Experience to the older book’s paean to innocence, not least because Perry finds a way to redeem the older thriller’s creepy but indispensable sequence of kidnapping and seduction. Plenty of loose ends remain at the end, but perhaps that’s part of the point: stuff goes wrong – often very wrong – and you try to continue with whatever you’ve got.

Mar 17 1 2017

Kitchen Magic

Kitchen Magic

Over the weekend, I figured I’d whip up a quick little potato galette. I had a brand-new mandolin, too, because the old one had become dull.

Unfortunately, I got sloppy, and slightly bad things happened to my thumb. Trying to work without a thumb makes one all thumbs.

Naturally, it’s launch week for Tinderbox 7, which is no time to be all thumbs. (Here’s some of what’s new.)

by Lesley M. M. Blume

The Sun Also Rises, it turns out, really happened. Hemingway took a bunch of jaded Parisian emigres fishing, and then took a bigger bunch to see the bullfights in Pamplona. They really did get into fist fights. They really did get into each others’ beds, and each other’s wallets. The stuff with the wineskins really happened. We don’t actually know that Hemingway had three martinis before lunch and then drank three bottles of wine himself, but there’s not a hell of a good reason to doubt it.

Lesley Blume has tracked down enormous detail about the months before and after this trip, months during which Hemingway’s first marriage broke up and Hemingway moved from promising but scarcely-published struggling artist to literary lion.

Feb 17 24 2017

The Magicians

Streaming on Netflix, a fairly loose adaptation of Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy for television.

It’s interesting to see the changes that the screenwriters inserted. The central problems with the story remain: the hero is a goop, and the fantasy world with which he is obsessed is not very well drawn.

The screenplay doesn’t try to remedy these problems; it makes the hero even more clearly aware of his shortcomings, and of the shortcomings of his childish fantasy. (The Magicians is chiefly a response to Harry Potter but it’s also a response to Narnia, though Pullman’s His Dark Materials is a better and more complete rebuttal.) That knowledge deepens the story.

Grossman doesn’t love Fillory, which is Narnia with the serial numbers rubbed off; his protagonist does love it and despises himself for loving it. Grossman builds a world but his heart isn’t in it. That doesn't matter terribly because this is a story of our world in which some characters step out for a time elsewhere.

What makes the series work (and what eventually redeems the books) is Julia’s story, a thread that only gets started in in the second volume. Julia doesn’t pass the entrance exam for the magical school, but she’s not going quietly into that muggle night: she will pay any price for magic. Everyone pays, but Julia pays up front: it turns out there’s an underground magic scene, a grim network of drug dens and safe houses, and she pays her dues with interest. The screenwriters get Julia’s story going right away and they water it well.

Feb 17 22 2017

Tinderbox 7

Tinderbox 7

Tinderbox 7 is ready.

Tinderbox helps you visualize, analyze, and share your ideas. I’ve been working on this release, pretty much literally nonstop, for months on end. There’s a ton of new stuff. Some is research. Some is just engineering and polish – better performance, more effective multi-tasking.

Tinderbox will help you work your work.

by Ernest Hemingway

This is Hemingway’s masterpiece, and an important hole filled. It’s a nifty little book, though its spareness (which must have been striking in 1926) no longer comes as the shock it must have seemed then. I’m less clear how surprising Brett, the woman in the case, really seemed when this book was new; she exercises sexual autonomy and regrets the narrator’s incapacity, and since this was two years before Lady Chatterly that incapacity was fresher then. Was Waugh thinking of this when he wrote Vile Bodies (1930)?

Malden’s mayor recently decided that Malden has no need to consider becoming a sanctuary city, because Malden is so inclusive and welcoming.

I respond, in the Malden Observer.

All of us should — and some of us will — defend our friends and neighbors if their government comes to deport them. Where will Malden's officials stand?

We should resolve now that Malden will neither cooperate nor collaborate. Malden police should neither assist mass deportations nor pursue those who shelter fugitives. Public services should plan to provide necessary resources and protection; Marty Walsh has vowed to use Boston City Hall itself to shelter threatened and vulnerable residents. Malden's representatives should work to extend these resolutions throughout Massachusetts. The clarity of our resolve today might forestall a dark future.