Monthly Archives: May 2006

worka worka worka

Once again, waka waka waka has been experiencing service outages. The reason this time was a six-hour drive home to New York on Monday evening, and a 14-hour day in the recording studio today (just got home at one a.m).

I spent the day at Right Track Recording on West 48th Street – one of my favorite places to make records – to do basic tracks for an album by a very talented young woman from Australia, a bassist by the name of Tal Wilkenfeld. Joining us in Studio A were tenor player Seamus Blake, pianist Geoff Keezer, and the astonishing drummer Keith Carlock. Tomorrow we will be joined by an old friend, guitarist Wayne Krantz.

So I hope you understand; I’m just too worn out to write a post today. Back soon.

That Time Again

It’s been pleasantly cool, for the most part, this spring, but June is just around the corner, and temperatures well into the eighties are predicted for the coming week back home in New York. Most people seem to be perfectly happy about this – the TV and radio meteorologists always act as if it’s glad tidings for all when the summer weather moves in – but I, for one, dread its arrival every spring, and always murmur silent thanks on those cool grey late-spring days that many people seem to take as a personal affront.

It’s just the way I’m built, I suppose – I’m a stocky fellow, weighing about 100 kilograms, and have a robust internal furnace. I’m also of Scottish blood, and since Scotland lies rather far north, and consists almost entirely of cold-water coastline and craggy mountains, it keeps pretty cool up there. I rarely feel cold even on the frostiest winter days, but when the temperature creeps above 80, I start having difficulty managing my heat economy, and when it gets into the 90’s with high humidity, as it does with depressing regularity in New York City, I begin to suffer in earnest. When it gets really bad – those hellish days in the upper 90’s when the sky is nothing but white glare, the tops of the skyscrapers are lost in the haze, the asphalt is melting, and the air at street level is a sickening, superheated misama – I begin to wish I’d never been born. I’d gladly trade six weeks in the single digits, with a howling boreal gale straight off Baffin Bay, for a single one of those awful summer days.

All right -ok -I’ll try to get hold of myself here. I’m sorry to burden you with all of this, but each year Memorial Day is when the Fear begins to take hold of me. Things aren’t too bad yet, and I’m grateful for that, but I know very well what’s coming.

Silent Night

It is extraordinarily quiet here in Wellfleet tonight. It’s been cool and grey all day, and just at dusk a thick fog crept in. The air is heavy and still, and a gentle rain is falling. It is the first day of the new Moon, and the sky is utterly back.

We live on a small hilltop on a little dirt road in the woods, about half a mile from the harbor, and although it is Friday night on a major holiday weekend, nary a soul is stirring anywhere within earshot. Even the coyotes, who often gather at night for no apparent reason other than to see how much noise they can make, are keeping mum.

When you are used to living in New York City, which is always ablaze with lights and throbbing and humming with purposeful clamor, such darkness and silence has quite an effect. Tonight seems almost actively black and quiet, and stepping outside one feels oneself in the presence of a great enveloping blotter, drawing out all that hustle and bustle so that something else, perhaps, may enter.

Beyond Words

As sometimes happens, it’s late, and I may have to shirk my bloggardly duties for today. After a late night Wednesday, an early morning today, hours in the office reviewing mind-numbingly opaque Internet-protocol documents, and then a long drive from New York City to Wellfleet, MA, I am simply too zonked to opine about anything.

Well, almost. As I write I am listening to a 1965 recording, by the incomparable Arthur Rubinstein, of Chopin’s Nocturnes, in particular Opus 9, No. 3, in B major. The ‘A’ section of the piece is a simple melodic figure, played with infinite tenderness by the great master. The structure repeats several times, and each time the second half of the figure is reinterpreted with increasingly intricate variation. It is sublimely, heartbreakingly beautiful.

Listening to this music, sometimes I feel that even if this were all the human race ever accomplished, it would be enough.

I Think I See Your Problem

I susbcribe to a daily newsletter that sends along little quotations and aphorisms from various religious traditions – each day I get a Hindu one, a Muslim one, and a Buddhist one (the Christian and Jewish ones leaned too much on Old Testament begetting and begatting; they were boring, frankly). This was the Muslim one from yesterday:

When we allow God’s power to pervade all our actions, and submit to his decrees, we shed all anxiety about the effects of our actions on others; we cease even to consider the effects of our actions. When we cease to consider the effects of our actions, we are adopting the attributes of God himself.

-Qushayri, “Risalah”
From “366 Readings From Islam,” translated by Robert Van der Weyer. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.

Nature Boys

Before you go see Al Gore’s new movie, take this fun quiz.


Just sent my way by Eugene Jen: a remarkable 3-D view of an underground city constructed by a colony of Florida harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex badius. Take a look here.

No Argument Here

In today’s Wall Street Journal newsletter was a link to a recent commencement speech by John McCain, in which he tries to frame the context of political debate, and reminds us that more unites us than divides us. It’s well worth reading, and you can find it here.

Only Human

We should never underestimate the pervasiveness of human nature. Among the many drives that motivate us is the desire for status, which in primate groups like ours is obviously correlated with one’s reproductive prospects. This yearning to increase our standing in the group affects our behavior even in the most rarefied spheres of endeavor, for example the practice of philosophy.

More Good News

Want strong, healthy bones? I have the answer. Learn more here.

Oh, and you can take that part about “moderation” cum grano salis. I certainly do.


From time to time I mention amusing or imaginative Web sites in these pages. I’ve just stumbled across a good one; it’s an artificial-intelligence engine that plays (and usually wins) the game of Twenty Questions. It has just managed to correctly guess that I was thinking of a snail, a pair of sunglasses, a pencil, and a grapefruit.

Click here to give it a try.

There Goes the Neighborhood

It having been a long day – it’s eleven p.m., and I’ve just got back from the kung fu school – I’ll just leave you tonight with an interesting tidbit from today’s paper.

Apparently, recent study of the human genome has turned up an interesting kink in our lineage. It seems that the human-chimp divergence wasn’t quite as neat and tidy as was once believed; it now appears that after the human and chimp lines had parted ways, they rejoined, thereby producing chimp-human hybrids for a while (not sure what you’d call them, maybe “humps”). In other words, proto-humans, and then female hybrids, crossbred for a while with the proto-chimps.

This is bound to give some humans fits. I haven’t checked to see how the chimps feel about it. Read more here.

On Our Minds

Well, as it happens, the featured article on the front page of Wikipedia today is Philosophy of Mind. In the article we find the question:

“How can the subjective qualities and the intentionality (aboutness) of mental states and properties be explained in naturalistic terms?”

Small world.

Intentional Grounding

One of the knottier topics in philosophy of mind is intentionality. The term refers to the way our thoughts are about their objects, and intentionality is often considered to be an exclusive hallmark of the mental. A thought can be “about” Paris, but a stone, or a lampshade, cannot be.

Skunk Works

We had a little Steely Dan playing on the PubSub office jukebox today, and I had occasion to reflect, as we listened to Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s outstanding guitar playing on “Reelin’ In The Years“, on what an extraordinary fellow he is. Not only is he one of the most capable rock musicians of the last several decades, always in demand as a producer and sideman (and one of my favorite soloists), but he is also a self-taught defense-technology expert, who has become a widely respected D.O.D. consultant on such matters as counterterrorism tactics and missile defense.

If you’d like to find out more about this remarkable autodidact, Baxter’s Wikipedia entry is worth a peek.

Mixed Message

Sorry not to have posted anything yesterday; I spent the whole day in the ‘B’ room at Avatar Studios, doing some mixing with my old pal, guitarist Steve Khan. We were mixing two takes that didn’t make it onto last year’s album The Green Field (which featured Jack deJohnette, John Patitucci, and Manola Badrena). At the tracking dates back in May of 2005 we wound up recording more material than would fit on CD, so the two songs we mixed yesterday – Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” and McCoy Tyner’s “Blues for Ball” – will just have to wait till next time around.

Studio B is a nice little room, with a cozy live area that’s just right for a small rhythm section – among others, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards recorded a string of hits there, back in the 80’s – and an expansive Solid State Logic 9000 series console.

I was a staff engineer there from 1979 until 1987, back when the place was called Power Station, so I always feel right at home.

UN-biased Reporting

I’ve been getting a little back-channel heat about my tendency, lately, to make unkind remarks about the UN. So, for the record, I’d like to say that I have always felt that the only hope for the world, in the long run, was some sort of universal government, and that I think the historical tendency of “non-zero-sum” cooperative arrangements to emerge at larger and larger scales makes such an arrangement practically ineveitable, sooner or later. I used to be a big defender of th UN, back when US foreign policy seemed to consist mainly of prppoing up whatever foul despot would take our side against the Reds (although we are still cozying up to a few who will take our side against the jihadists).

Luna Blu

Most of what happens in our lives conforms fairly closely to what we’ve come to expect. Most Tuesdays are, generally, rather a lot like most other Tuesdays, and the news most days is not significantly more or less notable than most other days. The weather is, generally, about what you’d expect for the time of year, and most lunches are not significantly more or less enjoyable than most other lunches. Memorable events are rare, and, almost tautologically, the truly salient events in one’s life – the things that come along “once in a blue moon” – are extremely rare. When they do happen, they are generally either thrilling, wonderful, electrifying moments that will glow happily in our memory for the rest of our lives, or they are the great tragedies and calamities that take the measure of us all.

We are blessed, I think, that the natural order of things – perhaps it is Zipf’s Law at work – spares most of us from too many of these extremes. Roller coasters are popular, but nobody wants to live on one.

When the big, bad things happen, we can be thankful that they are rare. And when the good ones do – and how sweet they can be – we should simply be thankful to be here at all.

Seedy Neighborhood

There are several American Elm trees on my block in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and as they do every spring, they are squandering their resources in profligate and futile excess.

UN-Acceptable Behavior

A story in yesterday’s New York Times brings to our attention once again the fine job that the United Nations is doing to make the world a better place:

Liberian girls as young as 8 are being sexually exploited by United Nations peacekeepers, aid workers and teachers in return for food, small favors and even rides in trucks, according to a new report from Save the Children U.K.

Of course, the entire civilized world, its patience already stretched to the limit by US abuses at Guantanamo, immediately rose up in outrage, and anti-UN rioting paralyzed the world’s capitals.

Oh wait – well, actually, nobody seems to be bothered, particularly, except for Save the Children, who recommends a swift and severe response:

Save the Children said Liberia and the United Nations should set up an office to investigate cases of the sexual exploitation and to work to ensure that the behavior stops, prosecuting the offenders, among other steps.

It also said United Nations workers accused of sexual exploitation should “go through judicial proceedings,” and if found guilty, should not be sent elsewhere as peacekeepers.

That ought to do it.

Sunni Disposition

In an April 16th raid near Yusufiyah, Iraq, (in the so-called “Triangle of Death” ) US-led forces found a trove of al-Qaeda documents. One of them was a memorandum assessing the state of their efforts in Baghdad in less-than-rosy terms:

At the same time, the Americans and the Government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after the other. That is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahidin’s control and influence over Baghdad.

Read the full translation here.

Ajami on Lewis II

Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami was on the Wall Street Journal’s television program, the “Journal Editorial Report”, over the weekend, to discuss the recent conference in Philadelphia honoring the 90th birthday of the great Mideast scholar Bernard Lewis.


My friend Jon Mandell has sent along a link to a story about the rapid rise of blogging in China. It is estimated that by the end of the year exotic Cathay will be home to sixty million online scribes.

Read more here.

What is remarkable to me about the technological revolution of the last few years is the way that it enables us to ignore traditional barriers of scale. Just as we can, with Google Earth, take in the whole world from space, but in seconds swoop all the way down to our own rooftop, with tools like PubSub and Google we can survey the entire Earth-girdling ocean of human expression, and zoom in on any given drop.

It is easy to imagine that some emergent event, some critical mass, must be approaching as the worldwide interconnectedness of everyone with everyone else increases. In chemistry, solvents are used to enable molecules to react; as the reagent concentration increases, the number of reactions per second does too. What we are doing here is putting an ever-increasing number of highly reactive molecules – people – into solution. And the Internet is the solvent.

The Wright Stuff

Sorry, I’m just too tired tonight to write anything worth reading. But I don’t want anyone who has taken the trouble to pay us a visit to go away empty-handed, so here’s an interesting link: a website where author Robert Wright (whose insightful book Nonzero I have just begun reading) has posted video clips of his interviews with an impressive assortment of prominent thinkers.

There He Makes Men

My friend Mike Zaharee who works in PubSub‘s Granite State Research Kitchen up in Nashua, NH, reminded me the other day that New Hampshire is the only state in which the Right of Revolution is written right into the Constitution. Here it is, Article 10:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance ag ainst arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

This is the same state about which Daniel Webster once said, referring to the iconic (and recently departed) Old Man of the Mountain:

Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.

Platonic Relationship

Well, I seem to have got myself into quite a scrap over at Bill Vallicella’s place, to the extent that I’ve spent all of my spare time and brainpower today writing comments over there, rather than confecting something interesting or amusing for waka waka waka.

The argument is about whether abstract, Platonic objects, such as the number 7, really have an autonomous, mind-independent existence. Most philosophers, I think, would say, perhaps grudgingly, that they do, but the matter is not settled, and I am playing Devil’s advocate, to the best of my dilettantish ability, to see if the non-platonist view – that such things exist only insofar as there are minds to instantiate them – holds water.

Please feel free to let me know what you think about this.

Condemned to Live

I see that Zacarias Moussaoui has been sentenced to life in prison, which I think is the correct decision. I am generally opposed to the death penalty anyway, and in the case of a fundamentalist Muslim fanatic eager for his chance at martyrdom, a death sentence is effectively the same as throwing Br’er Rabbit into the briar patch. Under this arrangement he will have to wait a very long time for his 72 virgins.

Old News

My friend George Beke, in an online discussion of the Gospel of Judas, quotes G.I. Gurdjieff’s book Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. The book takes place on the spaceship Karnak where the horned Beelzebub, returning much older and wiser to his home planet after millennia of exile in our solar system for his youthful transgressions, is telling his grandson Hassein about the strange beings who dwell on the planet Earth.

The Swamps of Turtle Bay

From the notes for the United Nations’ Disarmament Commission 2006 Substantive Session 269th & 270th Meetings (AM & PM):

In other business, the following delegations were elected as Vice-chairpersons, by acclamation: Chile, Uruguay and Iran.

So now Iran, whose rabid president has declared that his country “doesn’t give a damn” about UN efforts (including possible resolutions) to ensure that it does not arm itself with nuclear weapons, is to be a “Vice-chairperson” of the Disarmament Commission.
(Thanks to James Taranto for pointing this out.)

It is increasingly hard to defend the idea that there is any conceivable value in our continued participation in this feckless and corrupt organization.

Ajami on Lewis

In today’s Wall Street Journal is an appreciation, by Fouad Ajami, of the great historian and scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis. Read it here, and then, by reading Lewis himself, gain a better understanding of the cultural and historical underpinnings of the current “clash of civilizations”, which is, of course, but the latest convulsion in a grim struggle that has lasted over 1400 years.

Lewis on the prospects for Western civilization:

It may be that Western culture will indeed go: The lack of conviction of many of those who should be its defenders and the passionate intensity of its accusers may well join to complete its destruction. But if it does go, the men and women of all the continents will thereby be impoverished and endangered.

-from “Cultures in Conflict: Christians, Muslims, and Jews in the Age of Discovery”