Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Standing on the shoulders of giants

This is possibly my last post for 2006. I hope you have had a good year. I hope 2007 is no worse. Enjoy the good bits.

The photograph is of a statue outside Columbia Law School, it's a photograph I've been meaning to take for years. Finally got around to it yesterday.

Go for it.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I had meant to title this post 'Virtuosity'. It had been supposed to be (beat that for convoluted) about Tom Lehrer ("America's most brilliant creative genius in 200 years"). But Odeo would not let me upload a single track of his. So instead here's a bunch of songs - in random order (don't thank me) - that conceivably fall under this head. Once the Lehrer idea started getting thwarted, I thought I'd stick with other instances of cool singing. Later, I decided to bend that rule as well. It's my podcast, anyway. And as you may be able to see, it is still titled Lehrer. Ignore that. Listen to the music - brief descriptions below.

The first three tracks are from the album Hush by Bobby McFerrin and Yo-yo Ma. They start off with a cover of Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, then settle into a decidedly more traditional Vivaldi tune. The third track, the highlight for me, is Bach's Musette -- with an identity crisis for the ages up front. Don't miss this.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth tracks are from the album Joan Baez in Concert vol. 2. This is one I grew up with. Every Bengali male I know has at some point wanted to wrap Joanie up and take her home with them, and that's based purely on her Greatest Hits album. (After all, any babe who writes Diamonds and Rust for her man, Bong Dylan, is just the ultimate fantasy.) Believe me, this concert album far surpasses any other recording of hers that you may have heard. It only came out on CD recently, and I gobbled it up like a madman when I saw it.

The tracks I have chosen here are, in sequence, Ate Amanha, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, and Geordie. Ate Amanha is a Portuguese love song that sings of sorrow with wild abandon. My mother used to sing it, stripped of meaning, leaving just the happy bits. Babe I'm Gonna Leave You is actually the first track on the album. (In fact, i wanted it to be the first track on the podcast, but odeo wouldn't let me.) This was recorded five years before Messers Page and Plant got to it (yes, believe it). I heard this version fifteen years before I heard that one. It blows me away every time I hear it. Geordie follows Babe on the album. For me, the transition is organic. What a beautiful song.

The seventh track is Melancholic Ecstacy from the Indian Ocean album Desert Rain. If you haven't heard (of) Indian Ocean, I'm guessing you didn't go to college in India. This is, quite simply, one of the best fusion bands going. My only beef with them is that they don't improvise enough when playing live. But don't let that take anything away from the beauty and the technical perfection of the music. Track 10 is also from the same album.

Tracks 8 and 9 are by the a-capella group The Persuasions, from the album "Might As Well... The Persuasions Sing the Grateful Dead". Check out Ship of Fools and Black Muddy River, and tell me if you see the world the same way again.


That's the list, happy listening. And when you're done with that, here's what I found on Youtube. Tom Lehrer music videos! Ignore the visuals and get yourself a load of:
The Masochism Tango
New Math
Poisoning Pigeons in the Park
We Will All Go Together When We Go

and finally, someone else doing the classic I Hold Your Hand In Mine.

There's also a little video available on youtube of the man from more recent times. Enjoy!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Naked Santa

Back Bay, Boston, bracing Saturday afternoon. Temperatures near freezing. I am wandering up and down a particular stretch of sidewalk beside a bank; the People Who Matter are inside doing Grown Up Things. A burly security guard stands absently by the door, opening it for the occasional patron. Mostly, he lifts his large black-glove-encased paw to his lips and softly blows Silent Night on the harmonica hidden within. There's a Salvation Army guy on the corner across the street, tinkling a bell with irritating insistence.

I amble past the security guard for the nth time. In the stream of pedestrians coming my way, suddenly I see a couple of women sporting broad smiles. My reflex reaction is to smile back, while thinking, "WTF are they grinning for like that?" And then he zips past from behind me. Him:

I gawk at his wobbly behind and within seconds, he is gone. I can't stop smiling too, and then I realize -- I just missed a Kodak Moment. But before I could really begin to castigate myself, he was back! And that's when I took the above photo. Following which I winked and gave him a thumbs-up as he passed me. He smiled and thumbs-upped back. I got a snap of his behind.

He crossed the street and found himself next to the Salvation Army guy (who you can also see in the above photo, also wearing a Santa hat). He stopped. And proceeded to do jumping jacks -- freehand hopping exercises, swinging his arms up and down by his side, his stuffed willy bouncing happily (willy-nilly).

Three overheard comments captured the spirit of the moment.

1. Old Lady 1: "What was that?" Old Lady 2: "That was Naked Santa, dear. Are you hyperventilating?"

2. Random black guy (also with Santa hat -- maybe it's the new black?) to burly security guard, while walking by without stopping: "If I did that they would take my FOCKEN ASS and throw it in JAIL."

3. Salvation Army guy, in megaphone pointed directly at Naked Santa (after Naked Santa had been hopping by him for at least a minute): "GET SOME CLOTHES ON, DOOOOOD!"

He hopped a while longer. Posed for a couple of photos. Then trotted off westward.


Recommended Reading: "The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior"

Saturday, December 16, 2006

R.I.P., Ahmet Ertegun

The man who gave voice to so many of the people I consider my favorite musicians. From John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Ornette Coleman (not to speak of Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie) to Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, to CSNY, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Dire Straits.

The fascinating story of the young Turkish boy who teamed up with his brother Nesuhi and the Jewish Jerry Wexler to become a central voice for Blacks in America, gradually helping the most influential nation of its century find the music it would come to call its own.

From the NYT obituary:

“I had to decide whether I would go into a scholastic life or go back to Turkey in the diplomatic service, or do something else,” he said. “What I really loved was music, jazz, blues, and hanging out.” And so, he told the students, he did what he loved.

Would that we all could follow our hearts to become such positive influences on the world we lived in.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Miles to go

Date: November 28, 2006
From: Tabula Rasa
To: Unnamed Airlines Frequent Flyer Elite Club Contact Desk

I had reserved award tickets for my friend Mr. XX YY, MUM-HKG-MUM on ZZ Airlines (confirmation code: ABCDEF), departing today (Nov 28). Due to a last-minute emergency, Mr YY cannot travel today. Hence I would like to postpone his departure date to either tomorrow (Nov 29) or Friday (Nov 30). Thanks, Tabula Rasa.


Date: December 14, 2006
From: Unnamed Airlines Frequent Flyer Elite Club Contact Desk

Dear Mr Tabula,

Thank you for writing to us and apologise for the late reply.

Making changes or cancelling of tickets you may have to call out reservation centre for assistant.

Warmest Regards,

Customer Service Officer
Unnamed Airlines, Inc.


From the website where I got the contact address:

Talk To Us
We respond to most booking related questions within 2 hours, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

I'm glad I'd taken the trouble to call as well as email.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Grab bag

A few frenetic days down the drain, and while there's work aplenty piled up just waiting to kill me again, the fact that it's Sunday lends me the excuse to pause and kill some more time instead. Here are a few photos that I felt like uploading. Feedback welcome, constructive comments appreciated.


Real People.
I saw this lady sitting on the sidewalk outside a designer label store in Macau. It struck me as a little sad -- her kind have probably been there for ages, but it's the Johnny-come-latelies who are inside, in the world without strangers. It doesn't help, of course, that her face is so alive, and they are headless mannequins, and the Real People of her ilk are all hazy reflections.

Macau, June 2006

At the florist.
Rich people need things to put their flowers in. Glass can glitter like gold. The cold, sharp feel of the reflections is tempered by the soothing ceiling lights in a happy reversal of contrasts, and the strange shapes of the artifacts on the bottom shelves offer the eye recesses to linger. A trip to the flower market that would have been a nightmare if I hadn't had my camera to distract me. Hong Kong, July 2006.

The Garden Path.
Looking out on a little strip of lawn, and the muddy driveway beyond. A dreamy feel to this picture belies the fact that it's a hot and humid afternoon in a dusty Western corner of India.

Ahmedabad, July 2006.

In Perspective.
A reflective image of young Toto, dachshund, in vacant or pensive mood. I particularly like the visual puns that suggest themselves here.
Delhi, August 2006.

This is in Hong Kong, looking across at Central from the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon side. I like this perspective because it looks along the harbor rather than directly across, as most pictures do. So in a sense one is looking with the amazing skyline, not at it. That doesn't seem to trouble the people in the foreground, busy with their trivial play. Hong Kong, September 2006.

Gone Fishing.
Fresh fish tastes especially interesting if it is caught for you by a man wearing a black suit. This impromptu performance topped out a happening dinner.

Hong Kong, November 2006.

This picture isn't perfect. I would have liked the figures to be more clearly specified -- the runner to be better silhouetted, the age of the two walkers to be more apparent. But there's something about it that makes me feel just very sad.

Hong Kong, November 2006.

With a Buddhist twist. Topical.

Hong Kong, December 2006.

Journey (or, The Ups and Downs of Life).
Some of us can't see our destination so clearly, or so centered. Sometimes it's a risk, and sometimes it's a fraud. But we're committed.
Hong Kong, December 2006.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Discovery of Tea and Oranges

Inspired by this.
Previous separateds: 1, 2, 3, 4.