Monthly Archives: September 2006

No Post Today

It was a long and busy day today – kung-fu testing and seminars all day in Chinatown, and a glorious victory by the Michigan Wolverines this evening in Minnesota. So the waka waka waka staff are taking a much-needed break. We’ll be back soon, most likely tomorrow.

Articles of War

Well, I know I said I was going to lighten up on the political stuff, but the fact is, there’s too much of it, and it’s too important. Here is an excellent piece by Fouad Ajami, from the Wall Street Journal, in which he discusses recent intelligence reports, adresses some misconceptions about the situation in Iraq, and argues that we must not “give in to despair.” Do take a look.

Ignoble Savages

I’ve been posting a lot of political items lately; too many, really, as I don’t want political issues to dominate here. I also think I am giving the impression that I am far off on the right, when actually my opinions vary widely on an issue-by-issue basis – I tend to side with the Left on most social issues (gay marriage, church/state, abortion, drug laws, environmental and energy policy), though not all (affirmative action, gun control, border control, and pushing toward socialism generally), and with the Right, specifically the neoconservative right, on one issue only, which is foreign policy, to the extent that US influence is fairly and honestly brought to bear in a struggle against tyranny. I have defended, at length, our our decision to knock Saddam off his perch, but I agree also that the job was catastrophically bungled, and that heads that still issue orders should have rolled. I also share the Left’s low opinion of George Bush generally – his swagger, his smug religiosity, his inarticulateness, his lack of intellectual subtlety, and his inability to admit and correct error – as I have made abundantly clear in any number of posts.

So I’ll try to ease off on the political rants. But not just yet; here’s one more.

No Laughing Matter

In my previous post, I mentioned my alarm at seeing so many people taking antidepressant medication. My friend Jess Kaplan, in an email, points out that I have rather glibly lumped together an entire spectrum of mental disorders. He is quite right, and I should address his criticism.

Depressed Area

I’ve begun to notice that an awful lot of people around here are taking antidepressants. Admittedly, I live in New York City, but still, it seems a little creepy. I haven’t bothered to hunt down any statistics, but even just counting the number of people who are casual enough about it to have mentioned it to me (and I figure it’s safe to say that at least that at least half the folks who take them don’t let on) it’s starting to look pretty rampant.

Something to Think About

From Ornette Coleman:

There is no bad music, only bad performances.

This idea unfolds nicely.

Say Your Prayers

I’ve just come home from the movies. I don’t get out to the pictures as often as most people seem to, and I miss a lot of flicks I know I would have liked. Other activities (reading, writing, playing chess, practicing/teaching kung fu, playing music, introspective brooding, etc.) always seem to win out.

Tonight though, a new documentary by filmmaker Heidi Ewing (an acquaintance of my lovely wife Nina) opened at the Angelika Film Center on Houston Street in Manhattan, and we went to see it. It’s called Jesus Camp.

Turning the Tide

Well, time to lay off politics for a moment – although there is plenty to talk about, in particular that narcissistic moonbat Hugo Chavez’s statesmanlike performance at the UN, and the heartening domestic response in which even familiar left-wing drones such as Nancy Pelosi and Charlie Rangel paused in their bastinadoing of the C. in C. to circle the wagons. “Hey! You can’t slander the President of the United States,” they cried with one voice. “That’s our job.” Clearly, what is needed for world peace is an attack from space.

But there will be ample opportunity to get back to world affairs soon enough. Yes, the clash of civilizations rages on, the polar icecaps deliquesce, insane despots smirk approvingly as atom bombs roll off the assembly line, and the Pope lays his plans for the Rapture, but all that must wait.

I whacked a mouse.

Know Your Enemy

I have mentioned Bernard Lewis in these pages before; he is perhaps the West’s greatest living scholar of Islamic history and culture. This evening, as I was poking around over at the Maverick Philosopher’s place, I ran across, in a comment by Sam Graf to a post about appeasement of our foes, a link to a lecture given by Lewis earlier this year. In it he talks about the meaning of freedom and justice in Islamic societies, and of the historical events and forces that have brought us to our present crisis. The essay is brief, but Lewis is peerless, and you will learn more from these few paragraphs than from a year’s worth of the self-serving partisan din that passes for political debate these days.

Shadow of a Doubt

A recent astrophysical result has cosmologists scratching their heads. Apparently the microwave shadows that galaxy clusters ought to be casting aren’t showing up as predicted by our current understanding of Big Bang theory, and nobody knows why.


Avast, ye scurvy bilge rats. Just in case you didn’t know, today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

Tanks for the Memories

By now you may know that there has been a coup in Thailand, the 17th since World War II. General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin made his move while Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was out of town, visiting Gotham for one of those occasional UN hootenannies that so effectively maintain idyllic peace and stability in the world (and do an even better job of reducing every thoroughfare east of Seventh Avenue to a state of total vehicular thrombosis for days on end).

Papal Bull

As you’ve no doubt heard, the Muslim world has its knickers in a twist once again, this time over some remarks made by the Pope during the recent “Apostolic Journey of His Holiness Benedict XVI to München, Altötting, and Regensburg”. It’s been making the rounds that the Pontiff suggested that Mohammed, in the later verses of the Qur’an, had wrongly advocated the use of violence in the defense and propagation of Islam. To imply that peace-loving Muslims are prone to violence is, of course, so preposterous that Muslims the world over, in protest of this baseless and blasphemous insult, and in defense of their faith, are erupting in violence once again.

Strung Out

String theory, which has been touted for decades as the best hope for unifying quantum mechanics and general relativity, is taking some heat these days. Critics complain that the model has yet to generate any testable predictions, meaning that experimental confirmation remains out of reach, and that progress has been slower than we might have expected if string theory is really the right description of the world.

Recently Lee Smolin, an enormously gifted physicist and cosmologist (and the author of the fascinating book The Life of the Cosmos, to which I ought to devote a separate post), and Brian Greene, who is actively engaged in string-theory research (and who has written the clearest popularization yet of the subject, The Elegant Universe), appeared on NPR to talk about this issue. If you are interested in these matters you might like to listen to the program; you can do so here.

Too Pooped To Post

Just a few odds and ends for tonight; I’m whipped. Nocturnal recluse that I am, I’m still not used to this up-first-thing-in-the-morning business, and I’ve been averaging about four or five hours of sleep. By the time Friday rolls around all I can see is a great Eye, rimmed with fire.

Mouse Pad

As happens every year around this time, my charming hundred-year-old Victorian bowfront limestone has been invaded by mice. I think they spend the warmer months outside, either in our small back yards or up in Prospect Park, which is just at the end of my block, but right after Labor Day each year they set up shop indoors. I’m up late most nights, and they’ve been pretty bold this time around – skittering across the floor, squeaking behind the cupboards, even jumping out of my sink when I went to put a dish in there the other night.

Usually it’s not a big deal. I get some old-fashioned mousetraps, bait them with something attractive, set them in strategic places, and typically take out three or four of the little varmints each night. It’s the big ones at first, then the smaller ones, and after a few days it’s all over. This year, though, something has gone horribly wrong. I haven’t nailed a single one.

Furious George

It’s video week at waka waka waka. My friend Jess sent me this clip, which is a prickly discussion between Matt Lauer and George Bush on the subject of torture. Here are two men who obviously loathe one another; they are trying as hard as they can not to attack each other physically, and just barely managing. They are standing almost toe to toe, and while Lauer is trying awfully hard to be deferential (you’re always “one down” when you’re with POTUS), W is right up in his grill, jabbing away with his index finger in a way that would certainly get my Irish up. It’s hard to believe this is the President of the United States being interviewed by one of the nation’s foremost news anchors; the whole thing seems more like two ill-tempered dads getting into it at a little league game.

Play Dead!

I’m still adjusting to rejoining the labor force; I got home awfully late this evening, and will be up at cockcrow to do it all again. As a result, all I have to offer for tonight is what seems to be a truly creepy video clip, sent along by my friend Eugene Jen, who remains an inexhaustible source of Internet arcana. This macabre flick, a bit of postwar Soviet mad-scientist mayhem, is called “Experiments in the Revival of Organisms”, and is introduced, quite astonishingly, by the great biologist J.B.S. Haldane (who, if you will forgive me for being catty – it’s Fashion Week, after all – could have spent just a bit more time in wardrobe). The organism in question, it appears, is a dog.

I haven’t even got past the intro yet myself; let’s enjoy it together. I’ll make some popcorn.

September 11, 2006

New York City has a rapid metabolism; a lot happens here, and even when it’s something unpleasant, the wound closes quickly, and rarely leaves much of a scar. September 11th was different, though; it hurt us very badly indeed, and though we don’t have much of a limp these days, we are still shaken, and today here in Gotham the old pain was back again, throbbing and aching, and the gaping hole where the towers were still feels like a missing front tooth.

Everyone, as far as I can tell, knows someone who died that day. Our family was lucky – we’re all still here. My wife and I were still at home in Brooklyn when the planes went in, and our son, then thirteen, was safe at school nearby. But my daughter, who had just begun her junior year, was at Stuyvesant High School, about five hundred yards from Ground Zero. She and her classmates gazed in horror from an eighth-floor classroom directly facing the doomed towers, and saw the first one fall before they were evacuated onto West Street and left to find their own way northward amid the panicking throng. My wife and I, watching from our rooftop across the harbor as the ghastly pall of smoke blew directly over us, had no idea what had become of her, and grew more and more anxious as the day wore on. It was not until five or six that evening that she was finally able to get through to us on the telephone – tearful, but safe.

As I say, New York is a resilient place – vibrantly alive if any place on Earth is – and we’re fine, mostly. But there are some wounds here that will never fully heal, and today you couldn’t be in the city without being aware of the presence of a great, almost unbearable sorrow, the collective grief of the millions who mourn the thousands who died.

As I look out my back door I see, rising from the site about three miles away, the brilliant columns of light that pierce the sky every year on this day, towering to the very zenith. I hope our neighbor, firefighter David Fontana of Rescue Company One, who gave his life, on his wedding anniversary, to save the lives of so many others, can see them too.

Just Can’t Help It

I’ve gone and done it again; I’ve jumped into an argument about free will over at Bill Vallicella’s. There are two threads at the moment; they are here and here.

Brain Teaser

An item in the news yesterday raises once again the stubborn puzzle of consciousness. A 23-year-old British woman who has been in a “vegetative state” for five months has been shown by a sophisticated scanning technique to exhibit patterns of brain activity, in response to verbal stimuli, that are indistinguishable from those occuring in normal, conscious volunteers.

You Can’t Win

An item in yesterday’s New York Times reported a somewhat dispiriting result on the anti-aging front (a subject that seems to attract my attention more as time goes by, for some reason – and particularly so this week, when I feel as though I am aging about 48 hours each day, with about 90% of it happening at seven a.m. when the alarm goes off). A troika of researchers at The University of North Carolina, the University of Michigan (go blue!), and Harvard have found that a gene called p16-Ink4a, in acting to prevent cancer, might be contributing to our senescence.

Dry Spell

This working-for-a-living thing has me all worn out, so for tonight, rather than offer the eloquent and persuasive post I had planned, in which I shall reassure those readers whom I seem to have upset with recent political posts that I am not Bull Connor or Curtis LeMay, I offer an engaging, if somewhat macabre, link dedicated to the grotesquely fascinating world of mummies. Enjoy.

Culture Shock

Well, it had to end sometime. The delightful two-month break occasioned by the infinitely avoidable death (wilful murder, more like) of PubSub has come to an end, and I find myself back in harness, this time for a large software company in midtown. I like my new coworkers – they are bright and friendly – and the work seems interesting, but I do have to say it is a bit of a jolt to be back in shoes and long pants, and to exchange the slow rhythm of the tides for the screeching chaos of Manhattan. This new outfit is also by far the most corporate environment in which I have ever found myself, after decades in the recording studio followed by five years of small startups, and I feel like Tarzan in a dinner jacket. But with two kids in college, there are bills to pay, so we adapt.

My biggest worry is having no time for reading, writing, quiet contemplation, and unhurried, healthful exercise; I think spending the summer as a “gentleman of leisure” spoiled me no end. But I’m not complaining, appearances to the contrary – I am well aware how very lucky I was to have that much-needed break, and as my dear mum used to say, the only real peace in this world is on the other side of the churchyard gate. So for now, with freedom out of reach, it’s farewell to the beach, and back into the breach.

Oh… Here Is Thy Sting

It’s been a long day, and having just got in from a long drive back to Brooklyn from Cape Cod, I’m rather too worn out to say much tonight.

But I do want to note with shock and sorrow the bizarre and untimely death of Steve Irwin. He was a delightful character, and an iconic figure in his native Australia. His fearless and hyperkinetic enthusiasm, his genuine love of animals (and his immense skill in handling them), and his goofy smile, khaki shorts and broad Aussie accent won him millions of fans the world over (I was one too, in case you can’t tell), and I join them all in mourning his loss.

Surf’s Up

It was a damp and blustery day in Wellfleet yesterday, as the low-pressure system dubbed Ernesto passed to our west. With high pressure to the east, the resulting gradient made for strong winds blowing in from the Atlantic onto the Cape Cod backshore. I dropped by the beach at Newcomb Hollow with my trusty Sony Cybershot, and snapped the image below:

click for hi-res version
the elements rage

But a still picture really doesn’t do it justice. As it happens my little camera will take movies as well, so if you’d like to, you can download brief clip – complete with poorly recorded audio – here. (Best to right-click the link and choose “Save Target As”, then save and run the file on your machine.)

Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Jess Kaplan calls my attention to some new writing about our presence in Iraq by Christopher Hitchens – with whom I usually find myself agreeing – over at Foreign Affairs.