May 29, 2005
It feels like I've been away from Los Angeles forever. It's so bright here... sun, sun, sun. No wonder
I have a sunny disposition. It seeps into every crack in your skin, it's so yellow and blue, a saturated blue, not
the calm, poignant, airy, milky bluishness of New York sunlight refracted over and over, reflected off of skyscrapers and filtered
through cool glass; Los Angeles
sun rains down on you directly through the ozone haze, blasting you with light, making it seem as though
nothing could possibly go that wrong, no matter what happens to you. After all, it will always
be sunny --- on the radio, the weather report: "in the high 60's and low 70's today, and much the same through
the weekend." I had to laugh. That's the weather report every day. Why even bother with a weather
report? People never talk about the weather in Los Angeles.
But it's the driving that really sets Los Angeles apart, particularly driving in the off hours, which is
when I drive, most of the time, here --- I avoid rush hour by working flex time and at home, so I miss most
of the traffic. I just drove to listen to my brother play in the Santa Monica Symphony, the high end of
the traffic flowing at 75-80 mph, and it only takes a minute or two between the garage and the freeway, so
you're suddenly on the other side of the city, in the same time it takes me to creep down into
Manhattan on the express train I can traverse huge distances in my car, zipping back and forth in silent
speed, super fast yet unhurried. It's impossible to feel trapped when you're travelling at
80 mph, even if you're only going from one point to another within the same metropolis, you feel as though
you're escaping, getting somewhere outside even if you never leave the county or even the city.
It's exhilirating and perhaps one of the reasons it's hard to take anything too seriously here. You always
feel you can just press a little harder on the pedal and leave the city, the state, the country, or the planet,
depending on how far you want to go.
May 27, 2005
Taking care of my grandmother while my parents are away (they bear the brunt of taking care of her ordinarily, I am merely pinch-hitting on this visit to L.A., and even
at that, with help from some professional caretakers)... My grandmother has suffered a long, gradual mental decline due to strokes. I went in there tonight and, as usual, she was
talking about how her head was "empty" and (speaking in Japanese) how she didn't understand anything, and
she didn't know anything. That's one of the things she often repeats, with great urgency: "what should I do?"
"I don't understand anything," and "please teach me," (sometimes in English, sometimes in Japanese).
She usually says it so repeatedly it becomes a sort of mantra, even something that she doesn't seem to
really be saying under her own control. Sometimes she'll be shouting or even screaming and you go in there
and ask "What's the matter, Bachan (grandmother)?" and she'll say "Oh, nothing, there's nothing wrong.
I'm sorry to be making so much noise (yakamashi), I apologize (gomennasai, sumimasen)."
Tonight while she was repeating, again, how she doesn't know anything, her head is "empty," etc.,
I decided to do the thing I sometimes do at such times, which is to bring up her memories of the past,
which sometimes gets her on a different, less repetitive, track. I mentioned the fact that she used
to run a tropical fish store in the old days. Unlike in the past when she would then start reminiscing
a little, this time she was more philosophical; in fits and starts, still repeating herself, she turned to
me and said (over a period of many repetitions): "Now that I'm old, I don't worry about anything. I
don't know anything, but I also don't care that I don't know anything. When I was young, it was different;
I worried about the store, I worried about money. Now, I don't need money, and I have no idea what happened
to the store, but I don't care. Isn't that funny? Young men, they have stores, do you have a store?
And they worry about them. But I am just here, in the bed. I am here. I don't have anything to
worry about." It was nice to hear her express a more complex set of thoughts. She used to be a formidable
woman, totally on top of everything and very intelligent; but it's interesting that even now, in her
severely diminished state, something of her old perceptiveness survives. She is still very thoughtful even
now, with only a tiny part of her once-great mind still functioning.
May 24, 2005
This deal is historic, a huge relief, and a tremendous victory for the principle of comity in the Senate.
To ultraconservatives who see this as a "defeat," I can only say: how shortsighted of you to put your narrow
political ambitions ahead of the principle of the protection of the rights of the minority in
the Senate. Had the roles been reversed and the Democrats had been threatening to overturn the filibuster by
a straight majority vote --- I would have been vehemently opposed to it. One thing that some people fail to
understand is that some rules shouldn't be changed easily --- allowing a Senate rule that ordinarily takes a
2/3rds vote to be changed on a straight majority vote would have set a terrible precedent for the future.
A Senate rule that can be changed on a majority vote is not a rule at all --- some rules are meant to be
hard to change, that's why the Founding Fathers put in supermajority requirements for changing the Constitution
and why the Senate ordinarily requires a 2/3rds vote to change a rule. This is a victory for the Senate and
the United States --- it narrowly averts a potentially disastrous erosion of one of the most important traditions
of the governance of this country. It is shocking how cavalierly conservatives are willing to overthrow
hundreds of years of well-founded governing principles in the name of a raw desire to enact a narrow agenda. Rest assured that Democrats would not have attempted
this sort of bogus maneuver (based on a strained misinterpretation of the Constitution that essentially says
the Senate cannot follow or make its own rules when voting on judges, but rather must adhere to a different
set of rules). The devolution of the United States has taken a pause. This is one of those important moments
in history that we might look back on as a turning point --- can the good guys actually win? Can we Americans
forestall the rapid decline of our nation? We dodged a bullet, a bombshell, yesterday --- one which would
have had far-reaching, disastrous consequences for the future viability of our position as the preeminent country
in the world.
May 22, 2005
Please sign MoveOn's petition opposing
the use of the "nuclear option" in the Senate.
May 21, 2005
Seen outside on the next building:
Time to mine the old referrer logs again. Via abuddhas memes: Sex,
Drugs, and Poststructuralism:
I remember... when we used to wake up at midnight... Mozart's requiem of voices would greet us on the laser gyrating platinum... lines of coke on Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason", (should have been the "Critique of Pure Judgement" what fools...) vodka and ecstasy would peak us above the horizon... like vampires we would awake from our coffins, pupils dilating into orbs of dead moons, seeking not blood, but the life pulse of the city's techno beats...
Meanwhile, Paul has begun writing again, after a long
absence (actually, a while ago --- I hadn't gotten around to reactivating him in my
favorites list until today).
Other interesting weblogs from my logs:
Non, c'est réalité
May 20, 2005
I was thinking a bit today about my friend Katharine Tillman's old fogey
professors who were teaching a class in which they wanted the students to all
write a MANIFESTO (always written in all caps) and to sit in a "magic circle," etc.
The whole thing sounded like something straight out of the 70's, really cheesy and
really out of date, despite the fact that there were some really astute and
interesting authors on the reading list, and the subject matter was worthwhile.
This kind of approach might have been fresh back then, but we've come a long way since
the 70's... What makes people
get stuck in the past like that? Never updating their ideas to take into account
what has happened in the interim?
In this specific case it's partly that the professors in question were sort of
mediocre, but more generally I think it is that when times change, it's easy to see what
is being lost when something new comes forward --- focusing on the loss, you miss
the value in what is new. I think as I grow older I really need to keep this in mind: how to retain not only
the ability to value what I already value, but also be willing to let go of what I value. As Kuhn pointed out, when a paradigm shift happens it
isn't just an advance --- it's also often a loss, because some things that you can say in the
old paradigm may be unsayable in the new --- but that isn't always a bad thing.
In other news: I rode my road bike to the office and back today. Normally, it takes
up to 35-40 minutes to get there by subway; about 30-35 if I take my folding bike on the
subway and bike crosstown. Riding my road bike from the Bronx,
through Central Park and to the office in the Garment District --- 32 minutes to get there,
and 25 minutes to get home (!) My return ride was faster than any trip I've ever taken
to or from the office via any means except a car, at night, when there is no traffic at all.
May 17, 2005
People tend to think of philosophy as a sort of ivory tower activity; but I think if you
look back at the history of humanity, particularly the more destructive movements,
they have been driven by subtle philosophical mistakes couched in Utopian or idealistic
language, pushed through to their logical, and bad, conclusion. It seems the key thing that
unifies these mistakes is a sense of certainty --- being too certain that your intellectual
framework is correct leaves not enough room for reality to seep in between the cracks.
In fact, it seems to me that nearly every major human-caused disaster can be traced back to a
subtle philosophical error of one sort or another, usually in the name of virtue
and good and advancing humanity --- one that couched itself in idealistic
terms. The Crusades, corporate abuses, fascism, Stalinism,
religious intolerance, racism, oppressive working
environments, environmental destruction, genocide, and on and on can be traced back to
some impulse couched in idealistic terms ("protect racial purity!"), carried forward with revolutionary
zeal. The key thing that turned what might have
been just an intellectual mistake into a human tragedy was precisely this desire to go
too far, based on an impossible certainty. Of course, some disasters are caused by explicit ill intent;
criminals, robber barons, etc., selfishly do things they know are "wrong." But
the worst disasters are usually carried out by people who think they're fighting for a good cause.
May 15, 2005
Recently, I've discovered that my
daily Brompton folding bike commute
(partly on the subway, partly across town) has strengthened me to the point that I can now ride my
Specialized Allez at very high speeds for much longer distances than I was ever able to muster in the past ---
so I have a renewed interest in riding my road bike (which also means I need to find a way to lock it if I'm
going to use my bike for anything other than commuting to places where I can bring the bike inside).
Nearly everyone in New York who carries a bike lock around with them seems to use the
Kryptonite New York Chain, a 6.1 lb. behemoth that certainly looks frighteningly impenetrable.
However, I was always a bit suspicious of this, and, as it turns out, Kryptonite has now
released an even heavier New York Fahgettaboudit Chain, weighing a massive 8.4 pounds, and this seems to be the chain of choice if you
really want to thwart thieves. But 8.4 pounds!? Kryptonite itself rates its redesigned New York 3000 U-lock as highly as the Fahgettaboudit Chain, however, and it is a far more reasonable 3.9 lbs.
Thankfully I did a little research and discovered (scroll down)
the Kryptonite New York 3000 fared better in tests by Cycling Plus magazine than even the Fahgettaboudit Chain.
Whew! Saved from what could have been punishing extra weight... this seems to be the best lock for my purposes, and
a lot lighter --- not as versatile as the chain (can't lock it to a light post), but that's something I'm willing to sacrifice to save 4 and a half pounds.
May 14, 2005
Meditating this weekend with Max, Jamal, and Sue. Afterwards, biking! I have to say I love my
bike, and I highly recommend it: the Specialized Allez A1 (similar to
I got it for a mere $650 a couple of years ago and it is a fantastic ride. Alas, Specialized has
discontinued the bottom-of-the-line model which I purchased; you now have to pony up around $900
to get a new Allez --- however many dealers still carry the lower-end Allez bikes and I highly recommend them.
These bikes have race-tuned geometry which makes a surprising amount of difference --- they
feel like sports cars. My Allez leaps forward at the slightest touch of the pedal, climb hills as though
it had a power pack --- it's truly amazing. It's just fun, fun, fun to ride, fast, handles
beautifully, all for a price that's a lot more reasonable than the thousands that most
racing bikes command. If you're even thinking of getting a new bike, consider this one for city
May 12, 2005
Sometimes you realize that you just need to live a life you were meant to live, not a life
that seems most logical. If you don't live a life you
were meant to live, it is like grinding yourself against the edge of the lathe of heaven; slowly,
inexorably, you lose your life long before you are dead.
May 11, 2005
The thing is, you replace the tall kitchen garbage bag, and you think, here it is, it's empty.
Ah. This is going to last me forever. I can just fill and fill and fill, and it's going to
slowly fill up to the top, and it's going to be so easy, just throw something in it, and it'll fall into
the deep hole to rest comfortably at the bottom. However, what actually happens is the bag fills right up to
the top really quickly, and for quite some time you seem to be just sort of perching the next item on the
top, precariously, and at first you're able to sort of smush it down but then it seems to really be
completely full and you don't seem to be able to really smush it down any further but you're too lazy
to replace the bag right away, and, after all, you can still perch one more item on top and close the lid
and it seems to be fine. It stays like this for quite some time; for quite a while all you seem to be
doing is perching the next item on the top of the pile, not really even smushing it down much, yet it
still keeps accepting more garbage, until one day it just doesn't seem to be right to keep trying to
perch the next item on there, and you replace the tall kitchen garbage bag, and you think, here it is,
May 10, 2005
I am going to hold my next loft event on Wednesday, July 6, and Saturday,
July 9, and it will include an incredible singing-in-the-shower performance by McCloud Zicmuse. If you have art, film, video, music, or
performance you'd like to submit, please email me or mail it in.
May 9, 2005
After a week and a half to two weeks of being unable to get restful sleep and feeling
generally exhausted, including when I met Alyse Emdur for
lunch and some walking around atriums and hotel lobbies and covered garden/alleyways between buildings
(despite enjoying the walk and conversation we were also both feeling quite out of sorts then, she because of weeks of concerns about many changes to her life, including her attempt to photograph a
noisy nightclub scene for a job, which ended up leaving her feeling quite ill, and me having spent
a couple of weeks barely able to sleep --- though we still had a very nice time), I went to see my neighbor Susan Jenkins take her refuge
vows at the Shambala Center in New York. Sitting in the room
on the zafus, meditating a little while the speaker gave a talk and they chanted and took their vows,
I suddenly felt lighter. It was as though someone from Susan's lineage had seen my distress and
reached down and said, "hmm, this one has gotten himself in a bit of trouble, here you go." Or
something. In any event I felt better and sure enough, that night I had my first good night's
sleep in weeks.
May 8, 2005
I have been feeling very out of sorts lately. Don't know exactly what it is --- have not been
able to really rest when I am asleep. It's quite unlike me.
May 7, 2005
Can we really affect one another? It's really an interesting question. On the one hand, we're
sheer, like a cliff (as a Zen saying goes), we're each living in impenetrable worlds that we
create for ourselves, and one cannot become someone else --- we're all in our absolutely unique
situations, and from that perspective we cannot be reached, at least not in a direct way. On the other hand, one could say
that we're all fundamentally interdependent; where does your breath end and mine begin?
So how could one say that we're actually separate?
So on the one hand, it's certainly true that you cannot save me and I cannot save you; for two reasons --- one, I don't need saving
(no one does), and two, I can only save myself (I can only see for myself that I don't need saving,
which is the only kind of "saving" that can ever really meaningfully happen). However, it's also true
that without a little help, the prospect of me saving myself seems to me a lot less probable; in fact,
at certain crucial moments, a little nudge or inspiration or the perfect response to a question could be just the
thing to help me to see something that I had forgotten or might have otherwise overlooked. Other people
can help me in other ways --- by providing a context, an atmosphere, so to speak, a certain confidence,
or just an example. It seems to me there are many ways we can help, in this sense, each other;
even as it is also true that we can't really help other people. Any effective help has to have the
other side involved in some way, and ultimately a recognition, at some point, that there is no
need for help, that both parties don't really exist as separate beings, and that the help has already
arrived before anything has happened.
May 6, 2005
Saw a beautiful piece by Ryuji Yamaguchi tonight
at PS122. He and three other dancers performed an amazing, low-key, evocative work called
mundane; a combination of ordinary movement, dance movement, and sudden transitions (the
transitions were the best part of it --- perfectly timed and executed by these very talented
dancers). Delicate, vivid, striking, and beautiful. He's clearly very talented and I hope
he goes far with his group. Unfortunately, the second piece on the program, C.A.R.O.U.S.E.L.,
by the Vangeline Theater was as bad as Yamaguchi's piece
was good. Although a few performers did a decent job, the overall effect of having many poorly-
or simply non-trained dancers wasn't, as one might hope, interesting --- it just made the piece seem sloppy
and amateurish. If the choreography were more specifically tailored to untrained dancers, that
might have been fine; but that wasn't the case, and the uneven talents of the performers really
stood out. The troupe advertises itself as "postmodern butoh" but real Butoh dancers are very highly
trained, and these dancers were mostly quite sloppy, unable to execute the movements with the
precision or ease needed to pull them off. It's hard to know if the choreography would have
worked even if it had been performed well, however; it was mostly uninteresting and in many cases silly.
The contrast with Yamaguchi's piece couldn't have been more stark.
My housemate Teresa, who didn't see the show, but who is involved in the dance world, when I told her about this,
suggested that appreciating dance is always subjective. I would have to say that although of course
I agree there is always an element of the subjective in anything (to the point that one can never create any
sort of absolute scale of quality), nevertheless I have to say that quality in art goes beyond mere
taste. The fact that it is not possible to
completely explain why, in language, something is better than something else, does not mean quality
(while not a universal absolute) is mere opinion. Is James Joyce
or Picasso or Emily Dickinson or Stravinsky merely good as a matter of personal taste? Certainly
I can imagine someone thinking that Yamaguchi's piece wasn't good for a variety of reasons. However,
it was clearly in a different class from the Vangeline piece --- you can't even compare them.
They were playing in different leagues.
Of course, I do think snobbery should be relative. For example, when I go to see a puff Hollywood blockbuster I don't
try to compare it with Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky. I judge the blockbuster relative to the
criteria of the blockbuster, was it a good blockbuster, not was it the best film I could ever imagine
anyone making. If the Vangeline piece weren't trying to be high art, "postmodern butoh", etc., and
if it had been more obviously done in an amateur way, then maybe it could have worked with the same
dancers, but for what it was trying to be, it didn't work. But my point is I think there is a difference between
someone who dislikes, say, Tarkovsky, for reasons of taste, and someone who dislikes him because they are
incapable of even perceiving and/or understanding his work. This is where I suppose I am a snob:
I don't think differences of perception are always entirely relative --- I believe it is possible to say,
this person isn't capable of perceiving certain things, and therefore their inability to appreciate
Tarkovsky amounts to a kind of deficit in their ability to appreciate a certain kind of quality.
Perhaps, of course, they would be able to perceive quality elsewhere that I would overlook; but I
don't think this is quite the same thing as saying quality is primarily a matter of personal taste.
May 5, 2005
On a road trip several years ago, Sue and I were driving through California
and I was asleep in the passenger seat, but I kept waking up just as Sue was
about to drive off the road --- she was spacing out or something, and I would
wake up just in time to yell "Sue!" I sometimes think that she and I died
back then and this life I am living now is just a fleeting dream, a tendril of
a life lived in a ghost future that isn't really here. Alternately, I imagine
that in most alternate universes we are dead; this is only the improbable one in
which I kept waking up just before we ran off the road. Sue and I are both alive
for ourselves, but for our relatives and friends, in most universes, we are dead,
died in a tragic car accident years ago.
May 2, 2005
There is only one infinite game.
May 1, 2005
Some people want to be unique, the only person to have
ever thought of something, etc. I, on the other hand, am oppressed by that idea.
I feel comforted when I find out that someone else has thought of something similar to what I've
thought of. Sure, I like to be on the cutting edge, but I feel validated when
I find out at least the overall context of what I'm saying is not original. It's like coming home. Isn't it a stronger
position to realize others have had similar thoughts, and one might be able to
learn from that, participate in a community, and contribute something new to
Of course, even if someone else has thought of something before, they haven't
thought of it in precisely the same way I have. And they are in a different
situation from me. So --- it's not pointless for me to repeat them, because there
is no such thing as pure repetition. Pure repetition is impossible; it would
be undetectable (to repeat something precisely is the same as it only happening
once). And if it is a spontaneous response, it's not really a repetition.