Monthly Archives: July 2006

Blood Money

The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto, in his Best of the Web newsletter of July 25th (I’m just getting around to reading it now), calls our attention to something rather odd in an NBC Nightly News video clip from the evening of the 24th. The report, by NBC’s Beirut bureau chief Richard Engel, is a tour of the havoc wrought in Lebanon by Israeli air strikes, and at one point the camera crew visits the flattened financial district of Sidon. On screen briefly are what appear to be uncut sheets of U.S. $100 bills. This is more than a little odd, Taranto points out:

Now, it’s possible to buy uncut sheets from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, at premiums ranging from 12.5% to 275% over face value–but apparently only in denominations of up to $50. Anyhow, somehow we doubt these were collectibles.

Hezbollah is known to be involved in counterfeiting of US currency, and this may well be an example of their work. Read the item here.

Cross Country

Many on the secular left have for quite a while been complaining, with not inconsiderable justification, of the deepening partnership here in America between fundamentalist Christians and the political right. While I would stop (far) short of characterizing the U.S.A. under the current administration as a “theocracy” as many of my blue-state neighbors might, there is no question that church and state have got awfully cozy lately, a trend that I imagine will be good, in the long run, for neither. From my old friend Jess Kaplan comes an AOL news item about the pastor of an evangelical megachurch who feels the same way, if perhaps for different reasons, and who has quite publicly staked out a contrary position.

Seasonal Adjustment

I’m allowing myself a little slack here in the dog days of July and August; excessive heat tends to randomize the syntactic patterns of my little grey cells, and I have learned to be wary of attempting ambitious cogitative efforts under such conditions, as they often go badly awry, with unpredictable results. Readers, therefore, will most likely notice a temporary dropoff in both quantity and quality as I withdraw, at least partially, into estivation here in Wellfleet (which for me is going to consist of lolling on beaches, swimming in ponds, imbibing libations cooling and potent, and thinking shallow and largely non-sequential thoughts).

He Is Not Amused

Ah, P.J. O’Rourke. If you are old enough you might remember him as a contributor to (in fact the managing editor of) The National Lampoon , way back in the seventies. I hadn’t read anything of his since I read Parliament of Whores some years ago, but while I was absorbing a post of Bill Vallicella’s on the topic of “gender-neutral language” earlier this evening I found, in a comment, a link to a review by O’Rourke of an academic volume called Guidelines for Bias-Free Writing, by Marilyn Schwartz and the Task Force on Bias-Free Language of the Association of American University Presses.


The great Ukiyo-e master Katsushika Hokusai is perhaps best known for a series of prints called 36 Views of Mt. Fuji. These images vary greatly in their depiction of the mountain; in some of them, Fuji-san is the focus of the picture, while in many others it is a barely noticeable feature off in the distance. The images show people working, playing, on the street, in town, in the country, on boats, and so forth. But the great volcano is there, somewhere, in every frame, and the set gives, in its distributed way, a sense of what a powerful presence the mountain is. Its snowclad, tapering summit often seems to float in a sea of purple mist, as though it belonged more to the heavens than the world below; at the same time, though, it is a looming token of subterranean power and mystery, and an insistent reminder of the ungraspably enormous scale at which the life of the Earth proceeds, and of Nature’s majestic indifference to the fleeting life of Man.

The Things a Person Can Do in a Day

Tonight finds your correspondent once again in Seattle, Washington, at the end of a long day.

Map Quest

From my daughter Chloë, an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, comes a link to an interesting item at the UM website. The story is about physics professor Mark Newman, who left the Sante Fe Institute to join the UM faculty, and his work with maps and networks.

The Best Defense

I suppose I’ll weigh in on the situation on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, although I tend to shy away from politics in these pages. In short, my view is that Israel is doing exactly what it ought to be doing, and ought to keep doing it for a little while longer. I offer a few thoughts, none of them particularly original.

Lapsus Manus

I have quite a few old chess books on my shelves – I have a hard time passing them up whenever I see a street vendor selling them, and they tend to accumulate. The other day, in the wee hours of the morning, weary but not yet ready to retire, I pulled a couple of volumes at random and settled in with a board and an adult beverage, looking forward to browsing a bit and perhaps playing over a master game or two. The two books I had happened to choose were The Book of the Nottingham International Chess Tournament, 10th to 28th August, 1936, With Annotations and Analysis by A. Alekhine (probably the best tournament book ever, given the quality of the annotation, and that the field included Alekhine, Capablanca, Lasker, Fine, Tartakower, Vidmar, Bogoljuboff, Flohr, Reshevsky, Euwe, and Botvinnik, among others), and a wonderful collection called The Treasury of Chess Lore, by that most beloved of all chess writers, Fred Reinfeld.

Alison Remembered

This weekend we held our little farewell gathering in Oceanside, CA for my mother Alison. I’ll give a brief account for the many of you who either knew her or who, having followed the sad story of her final weeks in these pages, have written with kind words of support and sympathy.

Just Flew In From the Coast, And…

Well, we’re back from my mother‘s memorial service out in Oceanside, CA. It was everything we could have hoped for, and I will be writing about it shortly.

We flew back from San Diego to JFK on American Airlines earlier today, and we had a female captain (which is still quite unusual), by the name of Linda Parks. She did an excellent job, of course; in particular, she made an outstandingly smooth landing. She even got us home a little faster than her male counterparts usually do, because she didn’t mind stopping someone to ask directions.

Moment of Silence

Once again, waka waka waka may lie fallow for a couple of days, as Nina and I are flying out to California tomorrow for a memorial service for my mother. This is going to be a difficult weekend all around, especially for my father, and there might not be many opportunities to write, though if I can I will.

We’ll be back in New York on Monday.

Plenty Steamed

I hate to keep harping on this topic, but the weather here in New York today has been particularly unpleasant. The air seems oddly compressed, and even more saturated and viscous than usual – as though it contained not just the usual summertime admixture of water vapor and filth, but also maybe some mule sweat or hog saliva. There was not the slightest breeze, most of the day, to stir the fetid broth, and the sun, visible at times through its nubilous veil, brought the whole dolorous mess to a slow and sultry simmer as the dreary day wore on. The psychological effect – to drain one of all joy, hope, or sense of purpose – is also deepened, for those who have spent a summer in New York before, and haven’t managed to repress the memory, by the certain knowledge that worse is yet to come.


My lovely wife Nina and I spent the evening in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where the New York Philharmonic Orchestra kicked off their summer concert series with a program of Tchaikovsky and Dvořák.

Taking the Opposition

In today’s New York Times, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, who has forsaken competitive chess for pro-democratic political activism, challenges the Western democracies to take “a tougher stand” against the increasing trend toward authoritarianism in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Garik writes:

Opposition activists and journalists are routinely arrested and interrogated. The Kremlin, in complete control of the judiciary, loots private businesses and then uses state-controlled companies to launder the money abroad.

Mr. Bush and Europe’s leaders apparently believe it is best to disregard such unpleasantness for the sake of receiving Russia’s cooperation on security and energy. This cynical and morally repugnant stance has also proven ineffective. Just as in the old days, Moscow has become an ally for troublemakers and anti-democratic rulers around the world. Nuclear aid to Iran, missile technology to North Korea, military aircraft to Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela, and a budding friendship with Hamas: these are the West’s rewards for keeping its mouth shut about human rights in Russia.

Read the entire essay here.

Dig We Must

I’ve finished reading George Beke’s book Digging Up the Dog: The Greek Roots of Gurdjieff’s Esoteric Ideas, and must recommend it again, not only for those who are curious about Gurdjieff’s teaching, but also for those who wish a deeper understanding of Christian symbolism. Many familiar Christian ideas – the Trinity, the Twelve Stations of the Cross, even the word Alleluia – represent much older knowledge and traditions that found their way to us by way of the Greeks. Gurdjieff, who sometimes described his teachings as “esoteric Christianity”, once said, when asked about the connection between ancient Greece and the modern Church:

Everything Christian came from old Greek, then they spoil. All, all, comes from Greek.

Take a Number

As I’ve mentioned before, I am fond of books, and have a hard time passing an outdoor bookseller’s table (and here in Gotham they are everywhere) without picking something up. As a result they are all over my house; I simply don’t have enough bookshelves to contain them all, so they tend to accumulate in piles in less-trafficked areas. Every so often I make some attempt at reorganizing them, and the process takes much, much longer than it ought, because exhuming them from their dusty desuetude is like meeting old friends, and I wind up just sitting on the floor reading.

Today, while looking for something in the computer room upstairs, I noticed a forgotten pile of books, and second from the top was an old favorite: the Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting Numbers, by David Wells (no, not the former Yankee hurler).

Greek to Me

My friend George Beke, a tireless and erudite scholar of esoteric teachings, has just sent me a copy of his new book Digging Up the Dog: The Greek Roots of Gurdjieff’s Esoteric Ideas. In this slim volume George shares with us the fruits of his decades of research into the occult legacy of the Pythagoreans and Plato – which are often considered by modern Western thinkers to be merely mathematical and philosophical teachings – and their relation to the complex system for inner development brought forth a century ago by Gurdjieff. I look forward to reading it and commenting on it here. You can order a copy of your own – I can promise you that if you are curious about such things you will not be disappointed – here.

From Post to Post

Things should be getting back to normal around here tomorrow, but having just got home to Brooklyn after a long day of driving in the rain, I think that tonight we’ll just have a few links from the mailbag. First, from Jess Kaplan comes a patriotic little Java applet with an appealing Big Apple theme. Next we have, courtesy of Mike Zaharee (formerly of PubSub‘s Granite State Research Kitchen), further evidence, as if any were necessary, of what mischievous little imps the North Koreans are, and finally, thanks to Jon Mandell, we have a glimpse of the amusing discomfiture at Wikipedia as the fractious online organism tries to equilibrate in the wake of Enron blackguard Ken Lay‘s unlamented demise.

A Whale of a 4th

Happy Independence Day to all from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, where, in a remarkable cessation of hostilities, even the local cetaceans made an appearance in today’s town parade.

Wellfleet, 4th of July, 2006

The Weakest Link?

One advantage of my having toiled for a couple of years at PubSub is that everyone who worked there keeps one eye on the Internet at all times, looking out for odd or interesting items, and when they find them they pass them right along to yours truly. From Jon Mandell comes a link to a vituperative article about Wikipedia, the online resource that seems to be emerging as America’s second-most-polarizing cultural entity, right behind George W. Bush himself (Righteous Swordsman of Freedom, or Chimpy W. Hitler, depending on which side of the aisle you’re on).

Courting Trouble

My friend Eugene Jen, whose restlessly curious mind makes him a rich source of interesting material, has sent along a link to a story about the great logician Kurt Gödel. Apparently Gödel, in preparing for his U.S. citizenship examination, made a characteristically analytical reading of the document, and realized that despite the Framers’ aversion to tyranny, they had left in place a weakness that might lead, under the worst of circumstances, to the establishment of a dictatorship. It was Gödel’s intention to mention this at his examination, but his good friend Einstein, who had accompanied him to the proceedings, talked him out of it.

pausa di breve

Apologies to all, but I am enjoying a much-needed respite from glowing screens today. As Groucho said, “I love my cigar, but I take it out once in a while.”

I wish you all a restful, safe and happy Independence Day weekend, and waka waka waka will be back within the next couple of days.