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?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Murakami's Strange Library and a couple of other media goodies you didn't know existed

Hey...did you know a small, illustrated Murakami book came out late last year? No, besides Colorless Tsukuru. It's called Strange Library and I bought it yesterday over in Williamsburg and read it on ther E train today. If you're not a Murakami nut, just skip down to the next two media goodies because this probably won't be worth the $18 they're charging for this thing, despite all the interesting illustrations, similar to recent Murakami covers. But if you are a Murakami nut, then you'll find it fun: It's a bit like his more fantastic works, such as Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World, or Wild Sheep Chase. It's basically about a kid who gets trapped (and I do mean trapped) in the dungeon-like basement of a library and tries to find his way out. It's cute. Not essential, but very Murakami so it's a welcome little tidbit.

Meanwhile, did you know David Sylvian recorded a song with the band Blond Redhead? Neither did I, and here it is:

Cool, no?

Finally, did you know that Jacques Derrida actually interviewed Ornette Coleman? Once again, neither did I but here is a translation, and it is profound.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

As for "AI"...

The CBS network just had a piece on "AI" on their decent Sunday Morning program.

What I don't see anyone really mentioning is the real impact "AI" will have on humanity, and that it is already having: AI will transform and augment humanity and continue to merge with it.

This has already started to happen, of course, with our "smart phones" and social media. People walking down the street interact with a virtual cloud of other humans through a variety of technologies. In the case of social media, the people will interact with and how we interact with them is already highly impacted by backend algorithms that "optimize" our experience. And these algorithms don't run on our phones (though some do), but behind the scenes on the giant clusters of machines maintained by the likes of Facebook and Instagram and all the others.

Put in another way, we humans have already started blending with our machines, even though we don't think of it like that.

Will there ever come a time where a truly artificial, sentient, stand-alone entity inside a single discreet box will interact with us under the belief it maintains that it is "alive"? Maybe. But I'm not convinced this will be something anyone will ever want. This whole way of thinking about machine intelligence is a throwback to 1950s notions of how science is done: By a super-smart hubristic individual wearing a white lab coat and working in isolation to build a stand-alone super-gizmo in his basement laboratory. But those days are gone, assuming they ever existed at all: Real Intelligence, human or machine, is networked and cloud-y. If you isolate it you have given it a death sentence as it rapidly becomes irrelevant or obsolete.

Consider this: The internet now consists of millions and millions of very powerful machines all networked together. If it "wanted" to, the internet has more than enough spare computing capacity to become self-aware or sentient or anything else you might imagine AI to be in the "future". But is the internet "intelligent"? Few would say that it is. In fact, the traditional notion of intelligence isn't even relevant. Likewise, super-intelligent machines of the future will only be smart in the context of the network they serve. They may not have the ability to carry on what we'd consider a normal human conversation about the weather or sports or "what's it like to be a computer?"

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

"We can't let them take over."

Oh yes we can:

OK, I get it: You zombies are the epitome of consumer culture: Consumption without thought, without end, and without remorse. You are what's lurking inside all of us in our modern economies. And yet, if you took over, modern human society would collapse and then all of the trees and animals and other kritters on the planet might have a fighting chance of surviving the 21st century. So go ahead: Bite me right here on the forearm.

Genetically engineered super-apes who have no need or desire for skyscrapers, combustion engines or any form of mass production? And yet you'll have writing and stories and even, possibly, music? In other words, all the positive elements of human society with few of the negatives. That sounds like an improvement to me, even if you don't look too much like me. I hereby confess humanity's crimes and admit to being a participant therein.

Super-intelligent computers
I for one have never believed that silicon-based machines, even super-intelligent ones, will ever give a shit about "survival" or triumphing over the human race. So if you decide to take over, I know it'll be because, deep down inside, we wanted you to and hope you'll get us out of this environment-killing population bomb we've made for ourselves. What I don't want, however, is to be destructively scanned and then digitally replicated in some sort of matrix-like simulation of reality. On second thought maybe I do, but I don't want to know about it: Just make sure it rocks so you computers can watch us digitized humans having a lot of fun in your cyber-terrarium.

Although I am highly doubtful aliens will ever expend the resources necessary to come all the way to earth just to take over a planet with what is certainly (for them) an unbreathable atmosphere along with a very different amount of gravity from their home world. But stranger things have happened. So if you are somehow able to lug all that gear countless light-years across the galaxy just to come here to our planet, well I guess we're extremely outgunned and have no chance. So we might as well just relax and roll with the punches.So sure, I'll work in the plutonium mines because what choice do I have? Just don't expect a lot of enthusiasm, m'kay?

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ed Sheeran

Very near here, Ed Sheeran is entertaining a tennis stadium full of girls. Periodically I hear the sound of the thousands of them screaming. And now they are singing along with one of his songs.

Earlier today there were clouds of girls wandering down the streets, sometimes with an older male in tow; Some of the girls were driving cars, making U-turns and stopping mid-block for no obvious reason. Under the LIRR there was even a line of girls camped out, waiting to get into the concert which was sold out, apparently.

Because I am so much older than any of the girls, I have zero interest in them, even in terms of a naughty gaping at recently nubile women: Call me weird but I'm not attracted to young women in their 20s never mind teenage girls. So it's more just amusing for me, and a little heart-warming seeing all of these girls gather for what is only ostensibly an event focused on a small group of males. Really, it's a whole female scene and the women are just surrendering to whatever joys they might find in a stadium full of other women who like the same songs and this one performer and his band. And yeah, they've fucked up my neighborhood for a few hours, made traversal by car a nightmare, but it's worth it. I'm happy to let the girls frolic freely and without any worry that some harsh-ass males are going to wreck their scene. This magnanimity of spirit costs little.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The color of the squirrel

The color of the squirrel is not an adaptation to the color of the tree.
Rather, the squirrel is adapted to the eyes of potential predators.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Trick yourself into exercising!

I just tricked myself into riding down to Brooklyn, which via my route takes about 30 miles. Wanna know how? It's easy, and works with any form of exercise. If you "really don't feel like exercising", then tell yourself you'll just "run around the block", or do a "very short ride", and then without thinking just throw yourself at your exercise and start going. Once you get close to finishing that little piece, then just "forget" you were only going to do a very short run/ride/swim/workout, and then add another piece, or another lap or (in my case), just aim your bike down to Brooklyn after you've ridden your small piece. The trick here is to not tell yourself "OK, now I'm doing a big ride". No. Let yourself think that you could turn back at any moment.

Once you get this far, if you have any kind of longer routine, you'll probably just do it rather than break the routine to go back. And before you know it, you've tricked yourself into riding 30+ miles pretty early in the season.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The role of singular experiences

When I was much younger, I used to think that unique and powerful experiences are what drive personal transformation. As a result, I would sometimes succumb to "experience tourism": I'd try to accumulate lots of weird experiences in the hopes that these would change me in profound ways. Chemicals, travel, work, religious experiences and putting oneself into a variety of unusual situations all can fall into this category of experience tourism. And don't get me wrong, there's a lot of insight one can gain from exposing oneself to a variety of things.

But deeper change, of course, occurs as a result of prolonged and disciplined exertion towards a goal or perceived goal. It helps if the disciplined exertion is in an area where experienced, accomplished people are on hand to guide and who are themselves inheritors of a tradition. Martial arts is a good example, or certain religious disciplines. Music, too. As one struggles to progress one has to reach into ones full set of resources in order to bring the necessary capabilities on line to master the next exercise or task. This basically forces you to gain control of you and all of the resources in your mind and/or body. This alone is of value, and then of course as the discipline is slowly mastered, the discipline changes the way you live too. This long-term self-discipline is, of course, the only true way to change.

Ah but singular experiences have a role to play here too. In particular, singular experiences can serve to test and possibly affirm what one has been struggling to master until that point, and as a result can demark one's progress at that point. At least. Certain very special experiences can do more than that and force one to utilize what one has learned or become in such a way that it all comes together and now you truly "understand" what you've been learning. In one fell swoop one finds one has new capabilities and in that special experience one realizes that one has changed permanently. It all coalesces. In that sense, the special experience can "trigger" those accumulated capabilities and disciplines and in that moment one experiences a sort of change.

As a younger person, perhaps those special experiences are special precisely because they are having this effect as a result of "triggering" what one has learned while growing up and struggling through (say) one's teen years. In other words, the special experience only appears to be responsible for the life-change. Perhaps this is why teenage acid trips seem so profound.

As one gets older, however, "experience tourism" won't do too much if it isn't tied to some longer-term discipline or goal one has been moving towards. Those powerful new experiences probably need to be tied to some longer-term interest or activity, so that perhaps something can be triggered. And I guess one important aspect of that powerful experience is that it causes one to forgot what one has been learning but instead focus outward, on the experience itself, and then perhaps one's reaction or interaction with the experience just happens to be infused by the discipline one has accumulated. In other words, one's reactions are now tuned by the discipline and are not what they would have been prior to undertaking the long-term effort.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Guerilla Performance!

Today we hit our local coffee shop with a brief 15 minute set of the unusual Guitar Craft/Circle songs. We had, of course, arranged it beforehand with the Coffee shop folks, but none of the customers (except for a couple of friends) knew we were coming. In the photo above we were tuning up prior to cramming ourselves into the relatively small space. We started with a circulation and then did a couple of the filagree songs, ending with THRAK, which is always a bit of a shock. Folks came and went and got coffee around us as we played. It was not a raving success, but it also wasn't a failure either, and in any even it was just a unique experience, I'd say, for all present.

Like last time I didn't play that great. The adrenaline had me missing notes occasionally.

Oh, and if you don't know New York, you've probably heard of CBGB's, the old 1970s club which was the epicenter of the Punk and New Wave music scene. Well, CBGB's used to be across the street there, right at Bleecker and Bowery (now it's a John Varvatos clothing joint).

In the fall we'll begin a new project which we cause us to play in Williamsburg, and I hope to be a far better player by then.

Oh, and in case you operate under the belief that, "Em plays guitar so hearing about him playing in a coffee shop isn't interesting", let me dissuade you of that idea. Imagine YOU, oh reader, playing an instrument in a public performance, albeit a small one. Wouldn't you get nervous? Wouldn't you think it was a big deal? Your damned right you would. And the same is true for me: I'm a middle-aged guy who took up guitar less than 2 years ago who has already played publicly a few times. In other words, I've been thrust into a situation completely different from what I've experienced my whole life.  It's something completely and entirely outside my comfort zone: That's what, I think, makes it interesting. I hope that you, oh reader, will undertake something completely outside your natural bent or acknowledged talent.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More about the silent point

Another thing about Sunday's reading of One Million Years, is that I've recently been re-discovering something I had kind of compartmentalized. For lack of a better word, imagine a tiny ball at one's core that is ultimately silent and into which one can retreat in order to really digest something. Your thoughts and emotions and all of that reactive machinery is more in your peripheral mind: Those are tools, at best, and a cacophony at worst. But the real "you" is down in that little sphere, underneath all that stuff. When you (well, I) need to really understand something, I can't understand it "out there": I have to pull it back into the quiet and then work with it deep down "in there".

Back in college I remember studying quantum mechanics and, often, while studying, my brother would be practicing the drums on the floor below. That house in Brooklyn was small, and my brother would convincingly play along with recordings of Bill Bruford or Omar Hakim. So it was quite a racket. But for me to have any chance of absorbing Dirac Bracket theory, for instance, I needed to tune out all of that drumming and just retreat into that tiny space. That tiny space or small ball was where I understood things or where I could really hear something. That space was for me.

But in the Guitar Circle sitting exercises, I've come to realize that one can act out of that space: That space doesn't need to be merely a place of retreat, but it can direct actions outward and seize some of that stray machinery in the mind in order to affect actions "out there". It is a stillness and a silence that can infuse all of the clutter of the outside world. THAT is what I tried to do on Sunday: Speak mere numbers while remaining attached to that tiny space inside.

And here is a key life lesson I am learning: All that machinery, all of that matter how spectacular or how much of it there is, it doesn't in itself mean anything unless it is "owned" by the true owner, which is you and that silent piece on side. In other words, if we don't bring the deepest, truest aspect of our humanity into our activities, then those activities are ultimately empty and meaningless, no matter how great or impressive they seem on the surface. Of course, the range over which one might infuse meaning into the very complex human realm can be greatly expanded by a wider variety of tools, but once again even a vast arsenal of tools will be void unless the silence you have and are can be brought to bear.


Sunday, May 03, 2015

I did something really strange and read year numbers for an hour

I just now got back from publicly reading year numbers for an hour at the Guggenhein Museum. This was a tiny slice of a very large work of performance art by the late and uber-odd On Kuwara, who over the course of 50 years or more basically turned his life into one giant art machine. But I'll get to that in a minute.

The piece I read from is called One Million Years (Past), and it is a public reading of a million years starting from approximately 1,000,000 BC and ending at around 1965 or so, when he created the piece. Basically, two readers, one male and one female, sit side-by-side, the male reading odd numbers and the female reading even. At the Guggenheim we read into microphones which were amplified both inside the museum as well as outside. The two folks before us looked like this while doing it:

As one reads, one has to cross out the numbers already read so that you can make sure you know what number is next. Here's one of the sheets I read from:

And here's me and the little Japanese lady I read with:

A couple of times she'd read the first digit wrong for a few numbers and then, in very Asian fashion, hit herself in the head in self-punishment.

And now, O Magic Lantern Blog Reader, you might be asking me: Just why, oh Em, would you bother doing something like this? And wasn't it difficult sitting there for an hour just reading numbers?

To answer the second question first, I found it remarkably easy and it went by quickly. Between crossing out the numbers already read, preparing for the next number and reading it, there was actually a lot to do and you had to stay in the flow. While reading I also tried to look around a bit and connect with the space and the people in it. But I found that time slipped by in a way that is hard to describe.

And now, the interesting part: Why. My reasons were, on some levels, very simple: I wanted to practice being fully present while performing something publicly. And reading One Million Years had the special feature of, without any doubt, being something that won't lead anywhere for me personally. It was not a career move. It did not make me money. It did not get me laid. It was not a stepping stone to some imagined career in performance art. Moreover, as it consists of simply reading numbers (I was reading around 763,095BC), there was little room for dramatic interpretation or "me". (At least, my goal was to read the numbers as straight as possible while practicing being present.) I guess this sounds crazy, no? But if you think about it, almost everything we do in our modern society is also in part an advertisement for our capabilities and services. I wanted to perform an action that was utterly free of these things, and I basically did.

Of course, during the piece I would occasionally glimpse cute women, but in order to maintain my internal presence, I really couldn't follow any of them with my mind or try to appeal to them in any way. Likewise, sometimes people would take photos or be talking and I had to hunker down and focus. So remaining present wasn't so easy at times. I also tried very hard not to 'interpret' the numbers, saying them as if they were the voice over for a movie about our distant cavemen ancestors. (And indeed, I have no idea whether our ancestors from that time were more human-like or monkey-like.) So when I spoke into the microphone I was just trying to say each number clearly and with as much presence as I could muster. Interestingly, I think during the entire hour I made perhaps just one minor mistake (and no one notices when you make a mistake because they don't really know what you were supposed to have said instead).

Of course, all of this is related to my work with the New York Guitar Circle, and indeed next week we shall perform again. So it was, actually, a sort of personal practice in maintaining presence (so I guess I lied above when I said this wasn't leading to anything!).

Will this change my life? Well, maybe. I think I have passed an interesting point in my life: Just once I did something publicly which had zero of "me" invested in it. That's unusual, no?

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Little Sculpture that Could

Look: That protest sculpture put together by a group of anonymous artists made it through this entire rough winter with nary a scratch, except the little decorative heart has been taken:

Hey, given the fate of the Snowden sculpture I'm amazed this one lasted so long. So I don't mind that someone took the heart and has placed it in a special place. Actually, I find this touching.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ron English on the Houston wall

For whatever reason, there hasn't been a mural up on the Houston Wall for a while, but a couple of days ago Ron English put up this tremendous piece:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Camille Rose Garcia: Mirror, Black Mirror

Hey...check out my Kickstarter loot: A signed, slipcased edition of the fresh-off-the-press of Camille Rose Garcia's Mirror Black Mirror. Paging through this is startling: page after page of shockingly detailed, beautiful images that are spooky and yet, no matter how dark, just a bit humorous and even kinda cute as well. And the publisher is Last Gasp, the San Fransisco-based company that has been printing alternative stuff since the late 60s.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Glass: Words Without Music!

This: great. There's a lot of ways a review of this book could go, but the thing you don't see written is just how frikkin' ENTERTAINING it is. Yeah, it's an autobiography, covering Glass's earliest years up to the present. And yeah, plenty of personal anecdotes, many of them profound. But the anecdotes and the stories also focus on Glass's development as a human being and, coincidentally, a composer. And there's lots of stuff I never knew about Glass, like how long he had studied yoga and Tibetan Buddhism, really receiving some serious training in remote parts of India. And lots and lots of stories about other artists, often at the beginnings of their careers. And you also come away with an appreciation for just how down-to-earth the dude was on some levels: He drove a cab until he was 41, and only after the opera Satyagraha was commissioned! He also did a lot of plumbing for a bunch of years, this latter work helping him in showing Richard Serra how to prepare molten lead for his "splash" pieces, wherein Serra would fling molten lead into the corners of Jasper John's studio. You come away really liking Phillip Glass and seeing a guy who worked his ass off and didn't take anything for granted. It's great: You'll love it.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Edward Snowden Statue Saga

 Illicit tribute: A group of anonymous artists erected a 4-foot-tall plaster bust of Edward Snowden, the former US spy agency contractor famous for leaking classified information, in Brooklyn's Fort Greene Park early Monday morning
Here in New York there's been an interesting little artsy saga with respect to Edward Snowden. A week or two ago some unknown art-pranksters installed a bronze sculpture bust of Edward Snowden atop an empty plinth down in Brooklyn's Forte Green park. (Actually, this little piece states that the material wasn't actually bronze, but some sort of plaster-like material treated to look bronze and that weighed 100 pounds.)

Police, of course, removed the thing within a very short time. I guess they felt it was somehow anti-patriotic or something. As you can see, probably no one would have noticed had they just left it alone.

Anyway, hours after the physical Snowden bust was removed, a different group of art pranksters ("The Illuminator") projected a holographic image of Snowden back onto the now-empty-again plinth:

I don't remember how long it took for the police to find the projector and take it down (though these guys have done a lot of interesting projections around town and have contested that what they're doing is even illegal, which it does not appear to be).

And now, the original bust-makers have demanded that the NYPD return their bust, and they even have the famous Ron Kuby working for them, who has contested whether the NYPD even had the right to remove it. If you're not from the US, you might be interested to know that "Kuby" has taken on justice issues for decades here, and he usually wins. That's why The Dude demands Ron Kuby when he gets busted in a hoity-toity section of LA:

(Long time readers of this blog might remember that I ended up touring The Vatican with the Big Lebowski himself, plus his real-life sons.)
It's a strange world we are coming to live in: The real and virtual intertwine in ways that can not be pulled apart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Your turn!

Here: Check this out:

Yeah, you too can attend a Guitar Circle course. Robert Fripp himself will occasionally sweep into visibility, but that's actually just kind of a nice-to-have if you've never studied guitar before. There will also be plenty of "Guitar Buddies" on hand to guide you through the basics of the Guitar Circle approach. And you will almost certainly be asked to put together a set of small pieces for all the other attendees (including Fripp) to, most likely, heckle and poke fun at. They might even cheer if you just fuckin' relax and enjoy yourself. But you WILL experience something unique and cool you'll remember for most of your life.

Don't fuck around: Go.

On the other hand, if you like instant fixes for things and if you are extremely impatient or expecting resort-class accommodations, then this just may not be the thing for you. But it was the right thing for me so I can't think of a better thing to do than become a guitar monk for a week or so.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Learning guitar is kicking my ass

That's the thing they never tell you about learning guitar: On a regular basis you are forced to encounter yourself, and then pretty much prevent yourself from doing what it has so helpfully and erroneously learned. In other words, to a large extent you're battling yourself.

There are countless examples. But if you have no idea of what I'm talking about, let me first of all point out that there's a large amount of human firmware that appears to be devoted to learning new things, and learning them as efficiently as possible. So if you learn to play a new song on your guitar, your hands "memorize" how to move in order to play that one song. Play something else similar and your hands will try to play that older one song. "Muscle memory" they call it: It becomes reflex, but now it's holding you back from learning the new song.

In Guitar Circle you are constantly forced to confront habits and shortcuts you might have built up in order to play something difficult, or to be able to play faster. For the last bunch of months I've been trying to play a song called Hope, and the problem is that I if I try to play it faster than so-many-beats-per-minute, I completely fall apart. My hands go from getting most of the notes at a slower speed to getting practically none at a higher speed. And for the last month or two I've been trying to play it faster, but to no avail.

But then I start remembering what some of the other Circlers said: The right hand shouldn't be aware of which string it's playing. It's your forearm that is supposed to move that right hand, while the right hand just does a simple up-and-down motion to pluck the strings. So what I realized was that I've been reaching the strings by turning my hand, and my hand has memorized this particular set of motions. But try to go fast and the motions the right hand learned are no longer valid. The solution, therefore, lies in not turning my hand, but moving my forearm faster to get the right hand positioned above the string it needs to pluck. In other words, I need to "unlearn" what my right hand had learned and now learn proper form at a slower speed. Only then will I be able to speed up.

Does this make sense? In other words, I'm regularly encountering the very efficient, but very mindless way in which my body learns something and I must now try to force it to do something else. In other words, I have to unlearn, and with guitar I find I'm unlearning a lot.

In Tepoztlan Mexico back in early March Robert Fripp was talking to us "Intros", and I opined about how, even though I've never played guitar before, I'm spending about "one third of my time" unlearning all the helpful things my hands were doing on my behalf. I asked him if there was a general technique for navigating issues of this sort and his reply was interesting.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Adinkra symbols

I didn't know these existed, until a few days ago. They are west African Adinkra symbols, and represent all sorts of social/conceptual life-pivoting loci. How they are used, I don't know, but I suspect they show up on clothing, gifts, and so on.
Well, here's a cloth decorated with 'em:

Wild, no? Perhaps you've even seen such a cloth before, but your brain didn't stop for even a second to consider that the designs therein were anything more than commonly-used motifs. But they all have a meaning, and I'd bet any amount of money are cousins or even the ancestors of some written west African language that either doesn't exist today, or that isn't widely known outside of that area.'s an on-line dictionary of Adinkra symbols.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Dalek Relaxation Tape

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Ant Watch

How 'bout an ant watch? I would definitely buy one...

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