January 29th, 2016

In another life, I used to travel between Austin and Rhode Island regularly (once a year or so).

The first time I went, I stayed downtown, at the Biltmore. This was 1995, I think, and it seemed that downtown was dead.

But I kept going back (this was the business I had chosen) and downtown Providence got better. They built a big new mall within walking distance of the Biltmore. They started Waterfire. The last time I was in Providence, it was a fun, exciting place to be. I miss it.

Buddy Cianci was responsible for a lot of this.


He wasn’t a hero of mine, and I never really “met” him. I did encounter him a couple of times.

It was a running joke among my coworkers (and the folks we worked with in Rhode Island) that you should eat at Joe Marzilli’s Old Canteen at least once; not only was the food good, but if you got lucky, you might see Buddy.

Well, one night I was in there with some of my coworkers and some of our Rhode Island contacts. So was Buddy. He actually came over to our table and commented on how cute and well-behaved the young child who was with us was. (As I recall, he was accompanied by a stunning, and very young, woman.)

Later on that trip, I shared an elevator ride with him. I didn’t say anything to him; didn’t seem like the time or place. I kind of wish I had said something nice to him now.


The Prince of Providence is a swell book about Buddy and Providence politics, though I don’t know if it has been updated since 2003.


Buddy reminds me some of Robert Moses. Both were examples of The Man Who Got Things Done. And it seems that both were also examples of the “rude to the waiter” rule. (I watched him get kind of snippy once with a desk clerk at the Biltmore who didn’t recognize him. To be fair, though, he was actually living in the Biltmore at the time…)

I was always conflicted by him. As a Libertarian, he represented a lot of what I hate about big government. As a connoisseur of politicians, especially crooked ones, he was one of the last examples of a type we probably won’t see again.

And I always thought his second conviction was questionable. He was charged on 27 counts, and was acquitted on 26. The one thing he was found guilty of was “racketeering conspiracy”. What the hell does that even mean? What “racket” was he “conspiring” in, if he wasn’t guilty of the other 26 charges?

Then again, I Am Not A Lawyer, and maybe I’m inclined to make excuses for someone I kind of liked.


He may have been a crook. But he was my crook, damn it.

Obit watch: January 29, 2016.

January 29th, 2016

Paul Kantner, guitarist and founding member of Jefferson Airplane. SFGate. NYT. A/V Club.

In the ‘70s, Kantner and Jefferson Airplane singer Grace Slick recorded Blows Against The Empire, a sci-fi concept album that was even nominated for a Hugo Award.

Perhaps someone more familiar with Hugo history can answer this: was Kantner the only guitarist ever nominated for a Hugo (either individually or as part of a group)?

This was by way of Lawrence, who asks, “Has there been a huge number of important deaths this month, or is my view just distorted?” If his view is distorted, mine is, too.

I think there have been studies that show a peak in deaths in January: people who are on the edge try to hold out through Christmas and the new year, but after January 1st there’s nothing to hold out for and they’ve used up a lot of their strength. Even taking that into account, this January has been one of the worst months I can remember.

At some point, I may run a comparison of how many obit watches I’ve posted in January since I began this effort. If I do, I’ll post it here. (And I know that will be kind of skewed, too, but it is at least a start.)

NYT obit for Buddy Cianci. That’s something else I’ll try to get posted today.

TMQ Watch: January 26, 2016.

January 28th, 2016

Our apologies for the delay. We intended to work on this last night, but the standard Austin issue cold/allergies/creeping crud knocked us flat, and we ended up sleeping for roughly 12 hours instead. We’re somewhat better now, thanks to Claritin-D, naproxen sodium, and lots of water.

In other news, we have now reached the point in the season at which we don’t care any longer. All of our teams are out, and we’re already tired of hearing about Peyton Manning.

But formalities must be observed. Also, we only have (maybe) two more columns left after this one. So, after the jump, this week’s TMQ

Read the rest of this entry »

Obit watch: January 28, 2016.

January 28th, 2016

In great haste, because my lunch is about to end and I’m busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest: former Providence, Rhode Island mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr.

ProJo coverage. I expect I’ll have more to say later.

More Marvin.

January 27th, 2016

I really like this remembrance of Marvin Minsky by Stephen Wolfram.

Edited to add: By way of Lawrence, Kevin D. Williamson in National Review on Minsky and economics.

Not Minsky, but worth linking to: Hal Linden on Abe Vigoda.

Crime and punishment.

January 27th, 2016

The first three paragraphs of this article push one of my hot buttons, so you might take that into account when considering my recommendation.

However, I really like Kathryn Schulz’s “Dead Certainty”, about “Making a Murderer” specifically, and the general trend of reporters conducting their own “extrajudicial investigations”.

Nearly seventy years have passed since Erle Stanley Gardner first tried a criminal case before the jury of the general public. Yet we still have not thought seriously about what it means when a private investigative project—bound by no rules of procedure, answerable to nothing but ratings, shaped only by the ethics and aptitude of its makers—comes to serve as our court of last resort.

Schulz puts her finger on something that’s bugged me for a while. I’m not proud of this, but I used to watch “America’s Most Wanted”. Sometimes, it reminded me of a scene from “Fahrenheit 451″, where Montag is being pursued and the pursuit is broadcast live on television, complete with a host who sounds a lot like John Walsh.

I don’t have a dog in this fight: I didn’t watch “Making a Murderer” and I didn’t listen to “Serial”. But I think what Schulz says is worth thinking about:

It is largely because of these systemic weaknesses in our judicial system that we find ourselves with a court of last resort. While that court cannot directly operate the levers of the law, it has drawn attention to cases that need review, and innocent people have been freed as a result. Yet in the decades since Erle Stanley Gardner launched his column, none of the forces that put those people in prison in the first place have changed for the better. Nor have we evolved a set of standards around extrajudicial investigations of criminal cases. However broken the rules that govern our real courts, the court of last resort is bound by no rules at all.

Obit watch: January 27, 2016.

January 27th, 2016

For the historical record, Abe Vigoda: NYT. A/V Club. abevigoda.com.

I loved “Barney Miller” (and really need to pick up the complete box set when it gets cheap), and I don’t remember being a fan of “Fish”. And I actually saw the Broadway revival of “Arsenic and Old Lace” with Vigoda and Jean Stapleton the last time I was in NYC. That was a lot of fun.

But the one thing that stands out for me when I think about Vigoda is this:

It might be because I saw it again recently, but I think this is an amazing scene. Watch Vigoda’s face, and the range of emotions he goes through: shock, disappointment, resignation, and that heartbreaking last line: “Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old times’ sake?” Who else could have played that scene?

Marvin Minsky.

January 26th, 2016

NYT obit. 1981 profile from the New Yorker by Jeremy Bernstein.

Dr. Minsky was another of my personal heroes that I never got to meet. I first read about him in the pages of Hackers, which was a Christmas gift from my mother one year (and about which I’ve written before).

Later on, I got interested in AI, which led me again to Minsky by way of The Society of Mind. (Which, oddly enough, I have also touched on before.)

I wish that I had more to say, but I’m struggling to find words right now. (I blame this mostly on allergies.)

Obit watch: January 25, 2016.

January 25th, 2016

I didn’t get a chance to note this over the weekend, but Bill Johnson, downhill skier and Olympic gold medal winner, has died.

I’m not a huge follower of the skiing sports (though I find them fun to watch) but Johnson’s obit is one of the saddest ones I’ve read recently in the NYT.

Henry Worsley has also died. Mr. Worsley was a British explorer who was trying to recreate Ernest Shackleton’s attempt to cross the Antarctic: he was within 30 miles of finishing when he was forced to call for a medical evacuation, and passed away in a hospital a day later.

Obit watch: January 21, 2016.

January 21st, 2016

David Hartwell, noted science fiction editor and personality, has died.

SF Signal. Scott Edelman. Lawrence. Kathryn Cramer.

I’ll leave it to others to discuss and dissect his impact on the field. I did not know him well. I was at a few conventions with him, and I think maybe he could have picked me out of a police lineup. But in the limited interactions I had with him, and what I saw of his interactions with others, he came across as one of the nicest people in the world. I think it is fair to say that he was a gentle man, and a gentleman.

He was also a snappy dresser.

The world is a lesser place today.

TMQ Watch: January 19, 2016.

January 20th, 2016

How does Gregg Easterbrook deal with the fact that Chip Kelly won’t be returning to college football, but instead will be coaching the Santa Clara San Francisco 49ers?

The answer after the jump in this week’s TMQ

Read the rest of this entry »

Obit watch: January 19, 2016.

January 19th, 2016

This was a long long time ago, when I was a professional small child.

My family’s primary car was a Chevy Suburban. I don’t remember what year it was (though I know it was purchased used), but I do remember that it had an 8-track tape player. At the time, my sister and I thought that was pretty cool.

One year, for Father’s Day (I think) my sister and I decided to pool our funds and get another 8-track tape for my dad to play in the car. We went down to Foley’s…

(To give you some idea of how long ago this was:

  • 8-track tape players and tapes were still a thing.
  • Foley’s was still a thing.
  • Foley’s still sold recorded music, including 8-track tapes.


Anyway, we bought Hotel California on 8-track tape. Really, I am not making this up. I’m pretty sure this was my idea, and that I’d heard the title track on the AM radio.

I’m not sure if my dad actually enjoyed the Eagles, or just tolerated them for the sake of his children. (Speaking of which, this is a swell essay by Ken White, if you haven’t read it.) I do know that we played the crap out of that tape, as it was one of the handful we had. (The only others I remember were a tape of trucking songs – probably from Radio Shack – that included “Wolf Creek Pass”, with the track break right in the middle of the song, and “The Muppet Show” album. To this day, a vital part of my brain is occupied with part of the lyrics to “Lydia the Tattooed Lady”, and “Good grief! The comedian’s a bear!”)

All this is by way of saying: rest in peace, Glenn Frey. A/V Club.