Thursday, November 19, 2015


Here he is: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the 27-year-old "mastermind" behind the Paris attacks.
Try as I might I cannot hate him, don't ask me why. (Then again, hatred requires a lot of energy that I rarely have to spare.) But why would a young man choose to kill lots of people?

My first thought was that groups like ISIS found a way to appeal to sociopaths and give them a sense of purpose: The alienation you feel isn't your fault: There's nothing wrong with you, it's all those infidels and their culture that's wrong. Here in the US our sociopaths often become CEOs or bankers. Perhaps ISIS gave Islamic-leaning sociopaths a sense of purpose and meaning?

But looking at the pictures of Abaaoud, I don't get that sense. Look at him beaming and smiling in the photo above, with a father-like Militant cleric at his side. I don't get the feeling that Abaaoud is a sociopath. Rather, he seems like a boy. If he's been devout for a while he may actually be a virgin. Did he go to college?

Part of it may have to do with the notion of building a "caliphate", as ISIS claims to be: God's ordained "really, truly" Islamic nation-state headed by a descendant of the Prophet himself. I guess feeling like you are a badass, dangerous agent in service to a real-world nation state has got to be a bit of a rush. I guess you'd feel a bit like James Bond.

Ah but why would you want to kill people? To kill not just civilians, but women and children too? I just don't understand, but I wish I did. Perhaps as a starry-eyed overgrown boy-man, you really don't have any conception of loss and mortality, certainly not as it affects others. Meanwhile, the only people you feel a sense of connection to happen to be encouraging you to go out and kill people.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Analysis of the Paris attack (for what it's worth)

Probably, none of those still reading this aged, well-past-its-prime blog will make it through this post. But I feel the need to put down these thoughts in written form, because perhaps some things become fairly clear when it's laid out like this.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris yesterday that claimed over 125 lives. The claim is that these are in retribution for France's involvement in anti-ISIS activities in the middle east.

The first thing that should be pointed out is there there is, of course, a small chance that ISIS had nothing directly to do with the attacks, but wanted to grab responsibility. Unlikely, of course, but it's important to recognize that some organizations might try to take credit for stuff they didn't do.

Assuming ISIS was responsible for the attacks, the question is: How can this possibly be justified? Remember of course that many ISIS members claim that they are devout Muslims, or at least followers of Islam. They will likely believe that, to some extent, their actions align with some form of moral argument or superiority.

In this case the thinking is almost certainly: France has declared war on us, so we have counterattacked them. It's only fair.

The response from the vast majority of humanity (including the vast majority of Muslims) is: Perhaps you had some kind of valid argument to make, but it doesn't matter now because you attacked civilians--noncombatants. You have murdered the innocent.

ISIS and terrorist thinking probably goes something like: Don't forget that your country is a democracy. You elected leaders that caused your country to attack us. We are holding you responsible for that, with the practical benefit that next time, maybe, you'll elect people that won't get attack others. In addition, you have overwhelming firepower in the form of attack jets that we simply cannot touch. This was why we attacked civilians.

After this discussion probably breaks down, fragmenting into issues relating to universal human rights versus (what ISIS claims are) Islamic values.

For me, however, the response to the above is: I have heard the terrorist response and I understand the logic. It seems on one level reasonable. But the first thing to remember is that you likely killed a number of people who highly disagree with western meddling overseas. You also almost certainly killed Muslims too. In other words, even if you could justify this attack, you have in the process killed many innocent people. What this means then, is that you believe that your nation as a political entity is somehow sacrosanct, protection of which gives you carte blanche to kill anyone you choose. This means you have in effect created a political idol, and your murder of innocent noncombatants proves this. If Allah is real and if He loves justice, would he not have granted you valid combatant targets?

Of course, the belief of ISIS to utilize "any means necessary" to repel aggression is almost certainly rooted in the notion of a Suni Islamic Caliphate. Such a Caliphate is not merely a region operated according to ISIS's strict Quranic interpretation, but in the notion that their Caliphate is somehow a political representation of Allah on earth. That is also why they've been destroying Shia Mosques within their region.

Friday, November 13, 2015

7th performance this year!

Tonight we'll have a mini-performance down in Brooklyn at a party for one of the NYCG-ers (who plays the trombone in real life). This'll be my 7th performance this year, if you count my reciting numbers at the Guggenheim as a performance. Not bad for someone who started playing guitar just a little over 2 years ago.
And I repeat: I do not ever wish to become a professional or in any way shape or form rely upon music to pay my bills. I NEVER want music to be a money-making scheme for me. Rather, I'm doing this as a sort of half-blind feel through the darkness, trying to make myself evolve towards something I currently am not. And you don't accomplish that through one-hit experiences, no matter how powerful (well, sometimes you do but these are rare). Rather, you begin to grow new brain cells by repeatedly putting yourself into situations for which you are not equipped (and, hopefully, that contain some promise of benefit). So maybe what I'm doing is learning how to dive into a new world and then begin, one hopes, to navigate.
Let's see how I feel by tonight.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Terminator: Genesys

Saw it yesterday on pay-per-view: Terminator Genesys. Wow what a hunk of incoherent shit: an agglomeration of ideas and scenes from the other Terminator movies all scrunched together in a slushy gray snowball (containing suspicious-looking brown streaks) and then thrown at your face. Not only does the basic plot not make any sense, they even hint that it's not even supposed to make any sense. Ah-nold (who is actually in it and not just in CGI form) tries to explain various plot events through incomprehensible gibberish, which the other characters treat as gibberish. So the producers and writers didn't even try to create a consistent plot for this mess.

Aside from that, there are various confusing nonsequiturs that will disorient one. Like, right at the beginning the humans storm the time machine just a little too late, and see a KillBot leaving for 1984. The humans then stand around talking about how they have to send someone back or else John Conner the Resistance Leader (remember him?) will never be born. But of course, current-day John Conner is still standing right there, so apparently the past wasn't changed at all. But no one notices that simple fact. And this is only one of the problems. In other parts of the film, Terminators are there waiting for the time travellers (as is a "good" terminator to fight the bad Terminators), but Sarah Conner explains that "everything's changed now: You changed the time line!", but they never explain how. They just distract you from any questions by exploding into more action and chase scenes. By then you not only don't remember that they never explained one more major inconsistency, you don't care. It looks and sounds like a made-for-TV movie.

Another hateful thing in the film is the Ah-nold Humanator: The good Terminator (which was previously destroyed but somehow still exists) is growing human, acting father-like and protective of Sarah Conner (and in fact he's been guarding her like a father for decades in this time line). It quickly gets annoying.

Of course, they kill the now-delayed SkyNet, but in 2017, one more time. But you wonder when the Robots of the Future will just send back like 100,000 Terminators to finally finish the job of killing the pesky humans, because the repeated stamping out and subsequent nonexistence of a future SkyNet doesn't seem to have any impact on the FutureBot's ability to send countless Killbots back from the future.

No, the only thing this new Terminator has terminated is the Terminator franchise. It'll be a long time before they make another of these films.

Monday, November 09, 2015

So what's a "performance", anyway, and does it matter?

In our preparation meetings over the last few months (and in the previous incarnations, over the last few years), we've focused on personal "presence", particularly as a gateway to group activity. A group becomes most effective when the members are unified in terms of purpose, and then each actively listen to each other and to the music the group as a whole is making. "Circulating" notes is a very strong example, as each note you play is in response to what others have just played in real time. You can't fall asleep and go into robotic mode. Well, you can, but it'll almost immediately become obvious. And as your group is listening to you, you are motivated to not fall asleep. It's a subtle but powerful process that I can't help but think must have a strong impact on all participants.

What I am thinking about now, though, is whether what one learns (or, rather, becomes) in this context is useful anywhere else. I assume and believe that it must, but I also must say that it is rare for group contexts similar to Guitar Circle to exist anywhere else. So: Is what I'm learning (or again, becoming) going to be applicable to some other work I become involved with in the future? Of course, none of the other members of non-Guitar Circle groups will have experienced Guitar Circle and participated in such a deep group encounter. So will I just be flapping in the wind? If so, is this just a big waste of time? Or maybe there are impacts that will occur outside the context of an obvious group. I don't know.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Here we were...

This was us last night after our performance in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It went, for the most part, quite well. As previously, we surrounded the audience with a variety of circulations, and also played some of the Guitar Craft/Circle repertoire (we played 4 songs, each from one of the four sides of the church). We also successfully pulled off a couple of quite difficult circulations, such as our "offbeat" and "triplets" circulation (imagine triangles of notes rotating).

We made some mistakes, too, and had to re-start our "weaving" circulation, which is particularly difficult. But I think the audience could see that this was unique and difficult music and so they didn't seem to have any issue with us restarting.

This morning going to get some bagels up in Forest Hills, I felt that my world had changed ever-so-slightly.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"It Follows"

Saw It Follows on cable, which so many critics have hailed as uniquely creepy. If you're unaware of this film, the basic plot is that this supernatural...It...follows someone until It kills them, and then proceeds to go after the person that "gave" It to them. It is passed on through sex. So basically, if It is following someone, they can pass It on to someone else by having sex with them. It can look like a variety of people, some the victim knows but some they don't know. And It moves slowly: Walking methodically and ineluctably towards the latest victim.

Critics, of course, have hailed the unique creepiness of the premise and how it unfolds. And I guess there is a sort of dramatic tension that builds as you await It's next encounter. Perhaps the best part of the film are all the shots of random, mundane street scenes in which your eyes search for It, though It may not appear.

Me I wasn't scared at all, however. As a former physicist, I kept thinking about how It must have some sort of exploitable physical properties that would allow one to either kill or neutralize It. And indeed, throughout the film, It kept manifesting physical properties akin to normal matter, though It invisible to all but those in its sexual victim-chain. Indeed, late in the film the kids even through a sheet over the thing and so can see It's outline. What does that tell you? Slow-moving It can be spray-painted and pointed out to the authorities who can then capture It and send It on to some super-secret gubmint agency that'll run tests on It forever.

And although perhaps It is immortal and can't be killed, as I've said many times before, if It is made of matter (even exotic matter), then it will certainly be possible to separate said matter in such a way as to render It effectively harmless. And since It is walking, I kept thinking: OK, just hop on a goddam plane to China, and a few years later (after it has walked under the Pacific Ocean), when it finally shows up, just take another plane back home. Sure, It MIGHT be able to navigate undersea mountain ranges, but It'll probably take years. And since, in the movie, It was clearly impeded by physical matter (ie, It can't just teleport or walk through walls), then it should be simple enough to trick It into a box which can then be dumped off in the middle of the South Pacific. Hell, a box isn't even necessary: just push it off a boat as It will need years to slog its way back underwater to the US. Or drop It off in some remote region of the Himalayas or the Antarctic, where it isn't even possible to simply walk out.

(Later) Wait: There's a far easier approach to neutralizing It: Just lure It into a big pit and then dump a load of concrete onto It. Sure, It may still be alive in there, but It'll never get out.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Just performed in the subway!

Hey...just a few hours ago about 9 of us New York Guitar Circle folks performed in the G & L station in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We actually played upstairs in the transfer tunnel. And you know what? It was great. People came and went, some stayed for several plays of our 2-song set, but I think everyone who saw or heard us were surprised. They were surprised first of all because we stood in a circle, facing each other and concentrating on what our group was playing. Second, we were playing the very intricate and complex little pieces that come out of the Guitar Craft world (Eye of the Needle, by Fripp, and Asturias, by Bert Lams). Very clearly, no one had heard anything like it. People gave us money, too: Maybe $30 or $40 in total. Not sure. But we focused and played both of our tunes 10 times, taking maybe an hour and a half.

Prior to that, we rehearsed for a number of hours in the church that will be our venue on November 7th. And in that case, the 13 of us were scattered around the church circulating notes in a variety of complex patterns and scales. At times it sounded really cool, and when we meet the audience they will regard it as unusual and special. Let me say too that this was special for me as well: That will remain as one more special memory of something really unique and cool that I participated in. Meanwhile, I pray that you too, oh reader, will treat yourself to a series of unique and special experiences that hopefully have sufficient weight to sink down and become part of your soul. And what else is life? It's a long series of explorations and wonderful experiences each of which change you into something new. Or at least, this is what life is supposed to be.

I didn't take many photos, though, and the few I took aren't too good. If someone else posts something cool, I'll grab it and post it here. Wait: I just added one above, taken by Tim. That's the church in which we'll be playing, and for many of the pieces we'll surround the audience who will be sitting in those seats.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hey...FAILE dog black light print, signed!

Hey...looks like the Faile dudes still have some signed black light prints left of their Faile dog, which was visible during that great Faile exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum recently. It's $125, which is real cheap. So get yourself some hip points and grab one now-ish, 'cause soon it'll be gone, like all their stuff.

And in case you're not familiar with black light posters, if you shine a "black light" on one it'll glow pretty brightly, even though you don't see much or any of the light coming out of the black light. It's a cool effect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


Been reading a lot about Islam of late. And to say, "there's a lot of stuff there" would almost sound idiotic. But the point is to move myself past any remaining prejudices I may have and towards a view that is far more fact-based than what one might be tempted to "figure out" based on TV images and word-of-mouth. And this is definitely happening.

These two books, however, are probably as powerful as any in terms of annihilating any residual traces of cartoonery my brain might retain. The first one, amazingly, is written by an American and it comes on like a ton of bricks:

I don't know if Raymond William Baker is a Muslim or not, but in this book he goes to great pains to try to focus on (what he calls) contemporary Islam's "middle stream" (called in Arabic the wasatiyyah), or how fairly moderate Islamic groups have addressed their social conditions and realities, particularly in light of the middle east's recent 150 or so years of Imperialism and the fairly corrupt puppet governments propped up by the US and the like. You don't hear about such groups in western media too often, and certainly you don't hear about the role that interventionism has played in engendering certain modern forms of errant and extremist Islam. This guy comes loaded for bear with facts and direct living experience in Egypt and elsewhere, and he does not fuck around in trying to clarify things or kill "facts" that "everybody knows" but that don't happen to be true.

Meanwhile, I've been reading through excerpts of the Sufi ibn Arabi's Meccan Revelations, and hoo boy. The Meccan Revelations were written in the 1100s by Arabi while he was on pilgrimage in Mecca. Originally, the entire work comprises approximately 60 volumes, and this book translates key passages from some of the more important volumes. Arabi starts off with some phenomenally abstract passages about the nature of reality and man's modes of perception and experience of "truth" and knowing. And true to the Sufi interpretation of Islam and the Qu'ran, Arabi shows how everything is really just an emanation of God/Allah. "I am the one who sees" is a common statement by Allah in the Qu'ran, and the Sufis take this literally: Any true seeing that a human (or anything else) does is actually God. Sufi "nirvana" basically amounts to living and acting out of this reality. And Arabi indeed links what he is discussing to experiences he himself has had.

But to see such a work take on pretty much everything in the universe and tie it all up to the Sufi interpretation of the Qu'ran is mind-boggling, particularly when one considers the state of philosophical and scientific thought in Europe at that time. Moreover, Arabi was referred to as "the greatest sheik" for many centuries, which means that greater Islam (and not just the Sufis) venerated this man and his writings, and viewed his contributions is essential to Islamic thought and the religion as a whole.

In the end, it boils down to this: 1.6 billion people can't all be crazy or hypnotized. Like all religions in the world, Islam has been pounded, adapted and interpreted in such a way as to meet the needs of a wide variety of cultures and economic circumstances, of which the Arab world is a minority.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The quest for Westvleteren...ends at home!

Hey...remember when I missed getting the once-in-a-lifetime Westvleteren box a year or two ago? No? Well, in case you didn't know, the Westvleteren 12 is the rarest, most-sought-after beer in the world, produced by Belgian monks that have taken a vow of poverty, and that don't produce their wondrous beer in quantities that could enrich themselves. They basically make enough beer for them and then a little extra to sell in order to pay for various expenses in their monastery. If you want to buy a case or two, you must appear at their monastery at specific times of the week and even sign a contract agreeing never to resell the beer. As a result, the beer is pretty much impossible to obtain.

When I was in Bruges a few years back, however, I did try the Westvleteren 8, however, and it was pretty damned good. But that was the last bottle they had, and nowhere else in Bruges did I find a place that would sell it. Back in London and here in NYC I've been to dozens of Belgian beer bars and I often will ask if they have the Westvleteren. Of course, this is mostly to sort of shoot-the-breeze and show off a bit (ie, letting them know I know about Belgian beer and want whatever truly rare stuff they may have). I never expect them to have it, and of course they don't.

Tonight, however, we ate at a so-so Asian fusion place that is a mere 3 blocks from my home. We rarely eat there because service is often slow, the prices on the high side, and the food tolerable, but not exceptional. I've looked at their beer list before and Stella Artois was often the most exotic beer they had (and is one of the few Belgian beers I don't like). But tonight I noticed a whole list of "trappist" ales, and was excited: They had Achel, Rochefort, and a few others you don't see too often. But there at the bottom, a mere 3 blocks from my house: There was the name "Westvleteren".

"Is this real?" I asked; "You really have this?" The waiter confirmed that, indeed they did. Yeah, it was way damned expensive but I ordered it and, as you can see the evidence for in the photo above, it actually arrived and I drank it. Wow! And yeah it was great. Was it an unbelievable, totally unprecedented Belgian beer completely unlike any other? Nope. It was very close to the Achel. But it was great.

But how nuts is that? I've been searching for this beer for years, even at the "source", in Belgium, and I've never found the Westvleteren 12. But here, at the restaurant closest to my house, here they have it. Seems a bit like a wink-wink-nudge-nudge from the heavens or something. Kind of like that famous Buddhist allegory of the monk out searching for his water-buffalo while riding the very same water-buffalo. 

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Futura 2000 at the Houston Wall

Futura 2000 is kind of hit-or-miss with me, but I'd rather see his stuff up than not, so here's his new installation on the Houston wall:

 Here's some of my previous photos of the Wall:

Kenny Scharf
How and Nosm
Ron English
Maya Hayuk

Thursday, October 01, 2015

FOX news coverage of the mass-shooting in Oregon

Ken: Well, seems there was another mass-shooting on a college campus today, at Umpqua Community in Oregon. So far 13 people are dead, with 20 injured. Kelly, what's your read on this?

Kelly: Well, very clearly this was a messy shooting, Ken. With 20 injured this guy couldn't have spent too much time at the shooting range.

Ken: Well, do we know that Kelly? What kind of equipment did the guy have? Maybe there was a jammed gun?

Kelly: So far current accounts indicate he was more than sufficiently armed in order to rack up some world-class kills: He had an American-made assault rifle and two handguns, which reports indicate may have been glocks. So it's not like he can blame his weapons.

Ken: Well, maybe he simply ran out of bullets and had to reload.

Kelly: That's no excuse, Ken, because like I said he could have practiced reloading, and he didn't even need a gun range for that. In addition, Oregon doesn't have any limits on gun magazine capacity, so he really had no excuse. This could have been a world-class body count and he blew it.

Ken: But what about the community college angle, Kelly?

Kelly: Well, I wasn't going to say it, but what do you expect? If he was attending a community college then it's not like he was going to be practicing or studying very hard.

Ken: Good point, Kelly. On the other hand, do we know that he was actually a student here?

Kelly: Well, he certainly didn't go to Harvard! Given the opportunity and the equipment, it's clear he could have hit at least a 2-dozen body count, so I think the conclusion is inescapable: He was simply unprepared.

Ken: Well, Kelly, although you may be right I think you may be jumping the gun (he he) just a bit.

Ken: As details emerge on the latest campus shooting we'll keep you informed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What on EARTH is going on with The Islamic State?

Of course, here in the US (and probably almost everywhere else around the world), The Islamic State is portrayed as basically just a minor step up from Zombies: Yeah, they can walk and talk and eat, but they're just one gigantic group of religious crazies, completely hypnotized and robotic.

But my own personal axiom is, if enough people are all exhibiting the same behaviors, you need to start thinking about causes. In the case of ISIL, you have tens of thousands of Jihadis in Iraq alone, and in parts of North Africa and even in patches of Sub-Saharan Africa, you're seeing outbreaks of a wildly fundamentalist and vicious errant form of Islam. Are they ALL just hypnotized in the same way? If we heard the same words and read the same literature, would we also rise zombie-like from our computers and then fly over to one of those remarkably uncomfortable and violent areas? I submit to you that the answer is no, and that the men living in those regions are experiencing economic and social pressures that the ISIL strain of Islam is an almost logical reaction to.

Now unlike any other blog post I've written, ever, this is a total shot in the dark; A completely wild guess. (Yeah, that was a joke.) But I would guess that, in those regions, that's where you have the national "losers" in global economics. In other words, look at unemployment rates, access to education and general prospects (economic, matrimonial, etc...) in ISIL-like areas, and you're going to see a pretty bleak picture.

As a result, these men (and we are talking about men), have sought to build a completely alternate system in which they can rise and perhaps have a mildly positive future for themselves. In other words, they view the current system that distributes rewards (in the form of incomes and brides and other goods) as fundamentally shut to them, and their hope is to see a completely separate system get built, where success can be obtained through a form of piety, memorizing the Quran, and remaining "pure" (in a very narrow sense of the word). Moreover, they view the current western-originated system as being hostile to the system they are trying to build, so they believe that by destroying (eg) shopping malls, or gunning down folks in museums and movie theaters, they can further this new alternative system that they hope will grant them a future.

In this sense, current "Jihadists" are on some levels reacting logically to how they perceive the current world to work. This view of course will be "proven" by the support the US and other countries have given to fairly corrupt regimes that offer nothing in the way of hope or access to education, jobs and brides.

In my mind this echoes the shift in post-war reconstruction from being punative (eg, Germany after World War I), to "reconstructuve" (eg, Germany after World War II): it reflects the wisdom that if the losers in war lose too badly, you're probably just setting up dominos for another war a few years later. Likewise, in Globalized economics: We can "win" in the short run by propping up dictators who will ensure that all of our oil they live on top of keeps flowing to us, but this will probably just incubate bizarre strains of Islam (or whatever) further on down the road. We really need to stop doing that.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kung Fu Tyan

Over the last couple of days I have witnessed several Asian males walking around with long, lenticular boxes. I also saw another man with a backpack with two nunchuck-like sticks poking out the top.
So I realized: There's a secret Chinese Kung Fu holiday I'm not allowed to know about due to my Anglo heritage. I figure it's called either Wu Shu Tyan or Kung Fu Tyan.
On Kung Fu Tyan an extended family will get together for the Chinese equivalent of a barbecue, and then demonstrate the Kung Fu moves that have been passed down within that family. Kids reaching some sort of age of ceremonial adulthood (say, 13) and who have been preparing and practicing for Kung Fu Tyan will give an official demonstration of their capabilities and then be somehow officially sworn-in to the familial Kung Fu family. Older folks will show off far more advanced moves that they effectively dangle like candies to the younger family members as a way to inspire them to keep learning more Kung Fu. The aging Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the family are often coaxed into displaying some super-advanced Kung Fu, such as levitation or perhaps even causing a partial eclipse of the sun.

Sometimes, different families that may either share a long history together or that perhaps bifurcated from the same root ages ago may share one larger Kung Fu Tyan celebration later in the day, where the rising Kung Fu stars of the family are prodded into doing a little showing off. After that, sparring or mock swordfights occur, and a young person that gets creamed by a significantly younger family member will be in the doghouse until the next Kung Fu Tyan, where they are expected to show significant progress.

Kung Fu Tyan, of course, has its own special Chinese dishes not served during any other time of the year, such as a special ginseng-marinated Qi Lin (Chinese two-horned unicorn) steak, guaranteed to enhance powers, or the moonberry tea, picked by trained monkeys from the top of Mount WuShan after the plant has been exposed to extremely rare amounts of moonlight.

I've even trotted out a few "traditional" Kung Fu Tyan greetings, which I've tried on the spouse, but to no response. But here's one: "Wo syiwang ni de gong fu yue lai yue hau!", which means, "I hope your kung fu powers grow and grow!"

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Guitar Circle!

Today began a new season (so to speak) of the New York Guitar Circle, and in early November we'll be performing at the Music for Contemplation series that takes place in Williamsburg Brooklyn. Now's your chance, oh Supermodel stalker, to show up and flash some legs at this poor old middle aged man.

I for one am stoked: The audience won't have seen anything like this before. Although we may do some repertoire pieces, we'll mostly be doing a variety of circulations which are designed to generate and support a sonic space wherein the miraculous may occur, if we let it. To the extent possible, we'll largely surround the audience and will be circulating notes and scales in a variety of ways that are only possible if a big group is actually listening to each other. Today we worked through some change-ringing (see below) circulations, and a few others as well.

What's a circulation? This is:

Friday, September 11, 2015

A few things I remember...

Elsewhere I've posted about how, on this day in 2001, I was working in Red Bank NJ and, because all the bridges and tunnels were closed, had to sleep over at a friend's house.

One thing I may not have mentioned was how, in the weeks that followed, as I commuted from Queens to NJ every morning across Staten Island, I'd find myself behind these weird flatbed trucks that were carrying twisted metal beams. It seemed a weird thing to be toting around, until I realized that these were pieces from the World Trade Center that were being deposited in the recently closed Fresh Kills garbage dump in Staten Island.

Another factoid is that, for many weeks, from my kitchen window I could see the smoke rising from the rubble of "ground zero". Of course, I couldn't see the actual rubble itself, just the smoke rising.

In October I entered Manhattan for the 1st time since 9/11/01, and from downtown you could very clearly smell the disaster. I remember watching some of the demolition from lower Broadway, just a block or two away, and seeing a big chunk of WTC 4 getting knocked down (Buildings 3 and 4 were those smaller shoebox-shaped buildings attached to the two far more famous towers.) When the wind shifted, you smelled what was pretty clearly some serious organic smells, in addition to more conventional rubble smells.

Soon after, in fact only months, I'd end up working for a company that lost 13 people on that day, and by 2004 or so my cube overlooked the former world trade center site (video of which can be found in this blog).

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

As for Trump...

Monday, September 07, 2015

A very special Magic Lantern!

OK, I don't know how many people regularly read this blog anymore. Yeah, I can see stats, but I don't know whether most of the hits in my stats come from actual humans or bots. But if you are a human reading this, well you are in for a pretty unique "treat" here.

Just a few minutes ago we saw these photos for the first time. They were greeted with awe and wonder by all concerned. This is a photo of The Count's grandfather, who was a provincial education bigshot in Shandong province  in the late 19th century:

In other words, this is my son's grandfather's grandfather. This is a photo taken by photographic equipment imported into China in the Qing dynasty, during a time when China didn't make its own equipment. So from this time there are probably only hundreds (at most a few thousands) of Chinese people who were photographed. And yet this dude looks out at us from over 100 years ago. He's got that don't-give-a-shit look to him that indicates he's seen and experienced enough in life that having a photo taken of himself was no big deal.

Friday, September 04, 2015

"This is the least of my problems"

Walking around in Williamsburg yesterday, around mid-day, it was New York hot and humid, what we call around here the dog days of August (well, it was technically September but you get the idea). Walking down Bedford I passed a Satmar Hasidic dude, dressed in a heavy black cloak with a vest and suit.

Aren't you hot? I say.

I have a lot of problems in my life right now, he says, and this is the least of them.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Global stock rout!

Although the market is tumbling today, crashing, just remember that there's nowhere for all that cash to go. That's the real problem: Rich people don't have enough places to invest their money, so they're all pushing P/Es (that's Price-to-Earnings ratio) higher and higher.

What does a P/E really represent? That represents how much of that company's earnings you in effect buy by buying their stock. In big, old companies those earnings are distributed in the form of a tiny little chunk of cash for each share owned or, in newer companies that are growing quickly, the earnings might be reinvested in the company resulting (hopefully) in more earnings down the line. But the point is, if we knew for sure a company was never going to grow, and if there were lots of other opportunities out there, the P/E of a company should basically go to 1.

But in reality there's too much money out there, and no place for all of it to go. Of course, a lot of it goes to non-stock investments, such as real estate, paintings and other stuff that the wealthy hope will appreciate in value some day. But after the money flows into all of those other investments, there's still far too much of it flooding the market, searching for opportunities. As a result, stock prices no longer truly reflect what investors believe will ultimately be the earnings of the companies whose stock they buy. Rather, investors now try to predict what level of P/E other investors will push the stock to, and now that's where the price goes. P/Es of 20 for even large companies are quite common.

Now that so much money has been parked on stocks that are priced in ways that have very little relationship to their actual earnings, it's almost like an abundance of heat and moisture in a summer atmosphere: It's just waiting for some sort of trigger to make it all rain. In other words, what's happening now is that everyone is trying to yank their money off of all those stocks so that some other sucker is left holding the empty bag. But the real problem now is that there really isn't any place to put all of that cash now: There aren't enough emerging markets and stocks to act as a good place to put that money. So the money that has been pulled off today must inevitably find it's way back into the market sooner or later, and probably sooner.

2008, of course, was different: The banks were broken, often to the point of beginning to fall apart just like the World Trade Center after the jets slammed into its towers. But this time things are different: The banks aren't under any significant fiscal stress yet, so they're a safe place to put cash for now and, so, the money must come sliding back into the market.

What's the point of this? Why am I mentioning this? Am I trying to predict the market? No. The reason this dynamic is important because it certainly appears that the markets will remain volatile unless there become alternative places for all that money to go. In other words, the world will continue to be a very unstable place unless and and until a lot more humans start opening businesses and create, not just job opportunities, but investment opportunities as well. I find it both strange and ironic that the vast concentration of wealth in the hands of the few is the greatest danger to that wealth itself. In other words, we need to get more of that capital into the hands of the world's 99% and they also need to learn how to work with it and build it into businesses.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Dreams of the explorers

I love it when something in a dream has some sort of impact on or implications for the real world. A couple of nights ago I had two very brief and related dreams that opened up interesting questions:

1. The terrestrial explorer
In the first dream a professional explorer was attempting to walk a distance on earth equal to the circumference of the moon, in order to experience and demonstrate the size of the moon as compared to the earth. In the dream he was examining whether there was the equator ran over a continuous stretch of land equal to the 6,700 mile circumference of the moon, possibly in Africa. After waking up and doing some research, it would appear that there is not. In the dream he was also considering finding a circular path (say in North America or in Russia) that represented the circumference of the moon, and as of right now I suspect this should be possible somewhere on earth.

2. The lunar explorer
In the second dream an astronaut/lunar explorer was attempting to fire a handgun on the moon, in order to see if a) it would work and b) whether a bullet fired from a handgun would achieve escape velocity and therefore leave the moon.
Well, after some research it would appear that a handgun or rifle fired on the moon would indeed fire the bullet fairly normally. Of course, the gunpowder-caused explosion that propels at bullet needs oxygen, but it turns out that modern bullets have their own on-board oxidizers, so that guns can indeed fire in space.
What isn't apparently true is that a handgun generates enough force to propel a bullet off the surface of the moon. HOWEVER, powerful handguns aren't too far off, so it would certainly appear that there are rifles and large guns that can indeed propel a bullet fast enough to leave the moon forever. This means, interestingly enough, that an astronaut could probably fire a rifle at the earth, and the bullet could reach the earth and fall to the ground (assuming it didn't get burned up in the atmosphere). Heck, maybe that bullet could fall into the middle of the moon-circle being hiked by the terrestrial explorer.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Change ringing and Group theory!

Wild. Take two subjects you may be completely uninterested in, slam 'em together, and sometimes out will pop something so completely mindboggling that you almost can't believe it's real.

OK, so check out the video below. This Brown University mathematician goes through how the type of church bell ringing style known as change ringing, apparently maps onto the mathematical theory of groups perfectly. What's a group? You can think of a group as a complete miniature (or sometimes not-so-miniature) mathematical system with number-like entities and 2 operations that have certain properties. In general, the two operations can be thought of as "addition-like" and "multiplication-like", because they have the following properties:

  1. For both operations, any "plus" or "times" performed between two of the entities will never result in a third entity that isn't part of the group. In other words, the operations never cause you to leave the group. 
  2. For the "plus"-like operation, any entity has an "opposite" entity such that, when you "plus" them together, you get "zero" (the "zero" times any entity yields the zero entity again). 
  3. For the "times"-like operation (as far as I remember), for any entity there has to be an "inverse" such that the entity times its inverse yields the "one" entity (which when multiplied by any other entity yields that entity).

Now you might say, "Boy this group theory junk sounds like some stale intellectual exercise", but it's not: In nature (eg, geology, particle physics and so on), there are groups all over the place, and when experts in a field spot a group they start searching for the other members. Countless elementary particles have been discovered this way. It's also possible to create little artificial groups by taking small batches of (eg) integers and defining the operations above for every combination. Likewise, rotations and other geometric manipulations of objects usually are groups as well. So, in a certain way, group theory (and ring theory, where a ring only has a single operation) are the real underlying geometry of the universe.

So when I hear that "change ringing" actually maps onto group theory very precisely, well that just seems incredible, for reasons I'll describe below. Anyway, here's the video:

So you see, in England and wherever else change-ringing has been practiced, the group of bell-ringers have been expressing the rules of a simple rotation group through their collective efforts. Imagine knowing and feeling certain mathematical groups at a very direct, tactile level, even if you don't necessarily know what a group is. Might that not transform your mind and your perception of the world? And moreover, you will have explored this group with a group of people acting together.

Wild. Makes me want to go out and find some place to do it right now!

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Grab some Faile stuff!

Hey! There's still some limited-edition stuff related to the Brooklyn Museum Faile exhibit available on their website. Funny enough there're folks selling this stuff (or attempting to sell this stuff) on eBay for more than the price on Faile's own website for those very same items. In other words, collectors are nuts for almost anything Faile, and given how much Faile's art positively radiates an odd sort of urban cool, it's easy to see why. The image up above is a good example, and also happens to be a black light poster. So don't mess around: Proceed post-haste and get yourself some.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Faile at the Brooklyn Museum!

Wow. Probably the funnest, most mind-boggling exhibit I've been to. And fun for kids, too. Pictures don't really do the Faile videogame room justice, nor the black light room nor the Temple, but here goes anyway:
Here's the Faile Temple, originally installed in Spain a few years back:
 One of the friezes on the outside of the Faile temple:
 Inside was plenty of porcelain Faile art, in addition to 8 or so of the famous Faile prayer wheels (Faile periodically installs prayer wheels on the streets which are usually removed by collectors within hours):
 And a closeup of one of the prayer wheels:

One of the big Faile canvasses:

And now onto the game room...
Kids were goin' bananas with all of the free videogames.
 Here's one of the pinball machines...
 And a bonus video panaroma!
And now, onto the Black light room...
 The photos don't do this room justice as at, as the floors and the walls and even the Foosball tables were all covered in black light paint.
 And, of course, there were tons of classic Faile images...

 Oh, and what no one seemed to notice was that there was a small videogame token dispenser in the games room. But since the games were all free no one bothered to get a token but I knew there'd be something amusing that popped out and, of course, there was:

Come to think of it, this Faile exhibit really summed up a lot of their work, which can be seen as bursting with ideas and images. In a way, it was a small triumph. You should go.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Do something EPIC

That's perhaps my one piece of advice: Do something epic.

Epic doesn't have to mean something someone else will be amazed it if they see it on television. In fact, it may not seem epic at all to someone else. It only needs to be epic to you.

And by "epic", I mean something you need to prepare for, a singular activity you need to work up to. Maybe this means getting into better shape prior to your epic. Maybe it means practicing. Maybe it means doing much easier versions of that thing.

But your epic also has to have a few qualities:

1. It's not a slam-dunk. It should be difficult for you. In other words, if you set out upon your epic, there shouldn't be a guarantee that you will be able to finish it.

2. It should be POSSIBLE, though, for you: Don't make your epic doing, say, a 50-mile ultra marathon when you've never run a race in your life. (This can be a long-term goal in your life, if you want.)

3. It should be something that, right now, seems like it would be amazing for you to have done. Something where you can look back and say, "Wow! I really did that!"

4. Your epic should be do-able in the relatively near term. In other words, you should plan to REALLY DO your epic by such-and-such a date. If the epic you have chosen seems to scary or requires more energy, training, or preparation than you have time for, that's not your epic. That can be a long-term goal, if you like, but it's not your epic.

5. Once again, it should be "epic" to YOU, even if no one else in the world would consider that an epic thing to do. Maybe it's a game of D&D all night. Maybe it's walking to another town or biking to another city. Heck, maybe it's reading Moby Dick or walking around the block if you haven't left the house for the last 6 months. Just anything where you get pushed reasonably far outside your comfort zone and stretched slightly beyond what you thing you'd be capable of.

6. Go and do your epic. Don't worry about completing it or "failing". You can try again later. If you can't complete your epic, did you chose a realistic one? Was there circumstances beyond your control (eg, weather) that made it impossible to complete? Those are all part of the epic experience. Remember the goal is just to "wow" yourself and do something YOU feel is amazing.

If you've completed your epic, now go do another one. If your new epic uses the same skills as the old one, then perhaps chose a new epic that's a little harder than the old one.

Go. This will make you feel alive like nothing else, and remind you of why you are here, alive and on planet earth.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Bushwick is...interesting. Already lots of hipster places and young folks (mostly but not exclusively white) wandering around looking like something fresh from Sense8 (which is a great show, by the way). From this part of Queens much closer than Williamsburg, too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Racoons vs Aliens

Very quickly, the Aliens recognized that homo sapiens were a mere facade-species, puppets operated by Earth's true overlords, the Racoons, who allowed humans to propagate and generate garbage, which the racoons arranged for them to make available in garbage cans. (Garbage cans were perfect for racoons, of course, because other species such as cats and dogs and squirrels lacked the racoons' thumbs and hence couldn't open the cans.)

Although the Aliens tried to open diplomatic channels to discuss the terms and conditions under which the Earth would serve them, the Racoons were having none of it. In fact, the Racoons never even bothered answering any of the Aliens' attempts at communication.

So there was war.

Early in the morning, Joggers in places such as Queens or Pasadena reported seeing small black flying saucers getting into skirmishes with whatever neighborhood raccoons were still left scavenging at that hour. Home owners, accustomed to hearing the nighttime ruckus of racoons duking it out with local feral housecats, now heard the sound of small energy weapons mixed in with the high-pitched, scratchy chittering of the racoons.

The racoons, of course, won.

During the latter part of the war, clueless homeowners would wake to find wreckage scattered across their lawns and sidewalks, which they promptly swept up and bagged, thereby avoiding tickets from their local sanitation departments. Meanwhile, the racoons went about their business largely unaffected by the interstellar war they had just waged, though sometimes it was reported that they had even more of an I-don't-give-a-shit-'cause-I'm-a-racoon attitude.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Peeling away the skein of White Privilege

Yesterday in the shower I "saw" for an instant, the skein of white privilege that on some level I juxtapose over my world.
Now let me say that it's possible I haven't actually been a particularly significant beneficiary of white privilege. Growing up in Washington Heights I admired the poor kids that somehow had sneakers that weren't all full of holes like me and brothers' were. And those poor kids seem to have gloves in the winter. We usually didn't. And we never ate out, except once for my birthday. There was a time in high school where I wore the same pair of pants for a couple of months, because they were my only pair. As we didn't have a washing machine in our house those pants got pretty dirty. Of course, by this time my lack-of-a-second-pair-of-pants wasn't caused by lack of cash, but by basic neglect. So "white privilege"? I have to think very carefully to detect examples of it in my life.

But that doesn't mean my world, or parts of my world, haven't been colored under the general blanket of a sense that, somehow, opportunities will be out there for me if I choose to pursue them, and that the world is ultimately "fair", because it will give me what I want if I'm willing to work for it.

It's more than this, though. I realized that, even though I intellectually know that, for instance, Palestinians aren't less civilized than me and therefore not deserving of full rights and democracy, on some inner level I caught myself thinking that there was something in their culture they needed to fix before they could have the opportunities that I have. In other words, I am an AMERICAN, and because I have the correct beliefs about how the world and civil rights are supposed to work, that's why I've had the opportunities I've had: If only they were more like me then they could have what I have.

In the shower, for a moment, I could see that I've had something like this view buried deep down inside me. Again, it doesn't necessarily mean that I've actually benefited (though I probably have). That's not the point. The point is that White Privilege causes one to live in an unreal world, where the world is expected to reward us for what we believe are our honest efforts, and if others don't have what we have, well that's because they didn't deserve it. Nothing fundamentally unfair will happen to me because the world is fair and would never do that to me.

Now seeing this in oneself, if only for an instant, might cause one to despair. But not me: It feels like a small liberation and another step away from being a giant, overgrown baby, and towards becoming an adult that lives in the same world as people who are not nearly so well off. That can only be good, no? And I'd bet it's not too common, either.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

You ever heard of "Featherbowling"?

Neither did I. But here it is. Who knew, besides the Belgians?
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