Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Chinese products can be hazardous to your health!

An article in the Toronto papers concerning China's planned execution of a government official. He was found guilty of accepting bribes from Chinese pharma companies without properly testing the products before their release to the general public, shows how rapidly expanding countries can let many products go to market without proper testing or government controls. How does that make all you Walmart shoppers feel? Aparently several people DIED as a result of his allowing some untested products on the market for a few yuan. Seems like China has their own solution to this problem....execution! You might want to check out where your dog food or toothpaste comes from too. Seems like the Chinese are fond of using a here to fore unknown tooth decay fighting ingredient ANTIFREEZE!

Now if we could only get our politicians to show some of our offending entities or their corporate leaders a fraction of this kind of punishment for unscrupulous corporate behavior we might get more thorough self management. Without it we will all be subject to the morality of the purse!

Here is the link.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at the Fazioli Salon

Steve Kuhn Solo Piano at The Fazioli Salon : May 26, 2007

It was an almost balmy night in New York to start off this Memorial Day weekend as we strolled leisurely past Carnegie Hall and made our way to a small piano salon just down the street from the venerable concert hall. Tucked away at 211 West 58th Street the Fazioli Salon is the brainchild of Jim and Genevieve Luce and it is a treasure of a concept that deserves our attention and support. They simply put together fabulously accomplished pianists with a work of musical and visual art , the Faziloi piano, and showcase both in a limited and intimate setting . The room is inauspiciously in the rear of the Klavierhaus piano showroom, which showcases these Italian made masterpieces of musical sound and aesthetic design. The size of the room limits the attendance to about twenty-five lucky individuals. Being one of the lucky ones for this solo performance by the pianist Steve Kuhn was a treat not to be missed.

Steve Kuhn is a local treasure who seems to have been somewhat overlooked by the jazz media and mainstream jazz fans. Although a contemporary of the more lauded Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, Kuhn is a fabulously accomplished artist in his own right that has created some memorable performances over the years. He has an illustrious career that included stints with Kenny Dorham, Stan Getz, Art Farmer and briefly with John Coltrane. In the trio format where the interplay between piano and base is so extraordinary and which he demonstrably prefers, he has been accompanied by such luminary base players the likes of Scott La Faro, Miroslav Vitous, Steve Swallow, Buster Williams, Eddie Gomez, Gary Peacock, David Finck and Ron Carter. His discography is astounding in its depth and variation. With this infusion of musical influences, Kuhn has forged his own unique percussive style of playing that was wonderfully alive and vibrant at his solo performance at the Fazioli salon.

In his dapper signature black pants and jacket, he was introduced by Jim Luce, the master of ceremonies, as the maestro and he surely proved that to be the case. He started off the first of two sets with a wonderful medley of “Once upon a Time” that slowly transformed itself, ever so subtly; into the Johnny Mandel Johnny Mercer tune “Emily”. He played several of his own songs including “Two by Two” from his recent album “Live at Birdland”, which he recorded with Ron Carter and Al Foster, and a wonderfully textural version of his powerfully rhythmic “Oceans in the Sky “ which he originally recorded back in 1989, with Miroslav Vitous and Aldo Romano, and is now wonderfully rethought on his newest release “Promise Kept”. He seamless melded Claude Debussy’s La Plus Que Lente into Billy Strayhorn’s Passion Flower, a performance so perfectly blended as to make the two songs seem destined to be paired with each other in precisely this way. During the performance the maestro showed a particular affinity to the saxophone greats of the era that have apparently had tremendous influence on his musical sensibilities. His homage to Coltrane, Rollins and Parker was paid separately by brilliantly executed renditions of “Countdown”, “Airegin” and his ending piece of “Confirmation”. His connection to the spirit of these players, especially Rollins, cast a spell on both him and his audience.

Since the Fazioli salon is such an intimate setting, I was able to intently watch his technique and fully appreciate the sound that he created from the depths of this truly magical piano. I was told that each piano is made by hand in Italy and that perhaps only one hundred a year are fashioned. The piano’s wonderfully full resonance was especially adaptive to Kuhn’s particularly percussive but lyrical approach His fluttering left hand created a wave of sound that builds tremendous tension in his playing while never losing its sensitivity. His masterful use of the entire keyboard with both hands being amazingly free to cross traditional boundaries of base chords left and melody right showed a technique not often exhibited with such confidence and ease. His subtle use of singular notes at appropriate times done with a distinctive stab of his right thumb or the precise pounding by his left fist verified his mallet like approach that was reminiscent of a drummer’s punctuation on this marvelously percussive instrument. The result was surprisingly never brash or discordant, but to the contrary created a wonderful counterpoint to his amazingly beautiful and lyrical interpretations rendered by his incredibly swift and sensitive hands..

The night proved to be awe inspiring on several counts. The maestro Steve Kuhn is a treasure that should not be missed. The Fazioli piano is an instrument to behold both sonically and visually and the Fazioli Salon piano series is a true New York music lovers treasure. You can check out the salon’s remaining concert venue at

Copyright Ralph A. Miriello 2007

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Loss of Bees Revisited: The LUC principle

A follow up article from der Spiegel magazine, which was thoughtfully sent to me by my cousin in Toronto, gives a German perspective on the bees issue for those who are interested. The problem may very well be the result of a concept that my friend Al from Detroit likes o call " The law of Unintended Consequences" or as I like to shorten to LUC.
I am unaware where this concept originated and would appreciate any learned feedback on its origins or authorship.

With LUC in play, whatever we attempt, however good intentioned, often times creates other more serious problems than the ones we are trying to solve. This is especially true when it has to do with modifying naturally developed processes. In our quest to do it faster or better we change those naturally occurring processes through some scientifically inspired manipulation and upset the balance of nature. This balance of nature is an evolutionary development that has taken thousands of years to be refined and we in our scientific hubris believe we can unlock the secrets of this delicately balanced ecosystem and somehow make it better. This is not to say that important strides cannot be made with careful and patient study of the various problems at hand. It is however a symptom of today's need to achieve at any cost, and at record speed, that we find ourselves prematurely introducing new means and methods that have not had the careful and thoughtful scrutiny or qualified peer review that is necessary . This is a beautiful example of the LUC principle in action. It is a symptom of what Thomas Friedman calls the "flattening of the world". In our rush to compete in this flattened and highly competitive world, we accelerate the rate at which we introduce new and inadequately tested technologies. The recent rash of pharmaceutical recalls for their unintended side effects bespeaks loudly to this trend. Who knows the lasting effects of the genetically modified meat and poultry and dairy we now ingest. Most of the time we are uninformed about the nature of the products we are sold. Truth in packaging is far from truthful. We must tread cautiously in these areas.

In this case the jury in out on the cause for the actual, some would say catastrophic, reduction in the bee population. Reductions of 25% to in some cases 75% of bee colonies used for crop pollination in both the United States and Europe are now being studied. The suspected causes range from genetically engineered crops, to cell phone tower transmissions, to parasites that are enabled by immune deficiencies caused by the ingestion of DNA altered crop pollen. One thing is for sure LUC is in full swing.

Here is a link to the der Spiegel article :,1518,473166,00.html

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Governor Bill Ricardson Announces!

Governor Bill Richardson Announces!

Yesterday after much speculation and to no one's surprise, the Democratic Party had one more hat tossed into the ring for its coveted presidential nomination. This one I believe is different. Governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson, formally announced his candidacy for the Presidency in his birth state California. I discovered that his presidential eligibility came by chance when his Mexican born mother was sent from her home in Mexico City to California by his American father while she was pregnant and thus he was born here making him legally eligible to run for office, unlike his counterpart, the Austrian born and rising star Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bill actually returned to his home in Mexico City where he apparently lived through early childhood until he was sent to schooling in Massachusetts.

This multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-geographical upbringing is the kind of life experience that is sorely missing in most candidates and should be a source of strength in Richardson. He also has a broad base of experiences that are truly unique amongst the extremely crowded field of both Democrats and Republicans. He has first hand experience with dealing with the immigration problem that vexes much of American society, since he is Governor of a border state with all the travails that this implies. He has been a peace broker cast into some of the very lairs of our most difficult adversaries for the purposes of negotiating the release of hostages, and he has done so successfully on numerous occasions and with great aplomb. For his diplomatic skills he has been nominated four times for the Noble peace prize an achievement unparalleled by any other candidate. Diplomacy seems to be a lost art in Washington these days and his appearance on the scene would clearly signal our allies and adversaries that we have not abandoned this useful tool. He has been fiscally responsible as Governor of New Mexico and has made great strides in improving public education by placing greater value on teacher’s compensation. He has been on the forefront of energy conservation and the use of tax incentives to encourage alternative energy development in New Mexico. Education and energy: two key issues facing our country.

He would be the first President with a Latino heritage and as such can utilize this common ground to forge a more strategic alliance favorable to our interests with our presently estranged Latino neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere. This by itself can be an important strategic step to strengthening our security against potential terrorist threats from our southern borders.

In these very tenuous times it is refreshing to see an accomplished candidate that seems to have no apparent allegiance to special interests groups. He may not be the leading Democratic candidate in the opinion polls, Hillary Clinton has that distinction presently, although he has risen from nowhere to a respectable 10%. ;nor may he have the financial resources available to an Obama, a Clinton or an Edwards, but his candidacy gives hope that a eminently qualified candidate can still be taken seriously without the backing of machine politics and special interest lobbying.

I will be doing more intensive research into the man and his positions, but in the meantime to paraphrase what Chris Mathews said to him on his show, Hardball last night. It's good to have you aboard Governor; you would make a fine President.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Brave New War" Winning is no longer an Option

In a recent editorial by David Brooks of the NY Times this past Friday, he referenced a book by a former special ops counter terrorism officer, John Robb. The book entitled "Brave New War" (which, I confess, is now on my short list of must reading) stimulated the columnist into making some serious assertions about the how we should be approaching the new global war of terrorism. I found a passage particularly enlightening in its simplicity and perhaps oft overlooked reality.

In referring to terrorist organizations as they are presently configured Brooks writes " They merely seek to weaken states, so that they can prosper in the lawless space created by collapse of law and order." If this is really true then many of us are certainly not dealing with the insurgents in Iraq or any place else in light of their true goals. I was listening to Newt Gingrich debate Christopher Dodd this weekend on Meet the Press. Despite his admitted distrust of the execution of the Iraq war by the inept Bush Administration, he as do many Republicans candidates, still clings to the idea of "winning the war".

How can we go about "winning a war" if it really isn't a war at all. If as Brooks intimates from his reading of Robb, that the terrorist intent is simply to proliferate social disorder and eliminate the rule of law, then how can we possibly treat this like a war which can be won. Like a traditional conflict with an aggressor who wishes to take over a geographical area. With tactics that try to defend boundaries. With the notion that somehow some entity is organized in such a way that it can be routed like the central command of the Nazi Germany in WWII.

This is like being in denial about the very nature of the way technology has changed the world. From the notion of centralized power bases to the reality of a new de-centralized, constantly morphing enemy. Their power lies in their skill at what Robb calls, "systems disruption".

They have learned that...."its better to weaken target governments, but not actually destroy them." In this way they can foment continued disruption, with no intent of full occupation as would be the intent of a traditional war opponent. Since they are not looking to actually win anything! They are simply interested in maintaining a disruptive state of confusion that allows their existence to "be". They never have to deal with any of the economic and social obligations or leadership that would be required to actually manage the myriad of responsibilities to the people who they are supposedly liberating. We cannot "win" this type of conflict.

One thing is for sure, traditional war type planning and perhaps even weapons systems are at best ineffectual against this type of foe. Lets stop the rhetoric that winning or losing implies. The best that we can hope for is to educate ourselves about how to best deal with this new type of threat and stop hiding behind these outdated concepts of machismo and bravado.

It is clear that our presence in Iraq is not being viewed by the Iraqis with the same type of overall enthusiasm that a liberator should expect. It is in fact impossible for us to stop the type of violence that has become an every day occurrence without the people's help. If the population at large does not participate in the identification and apprehension of the terrorists that continue the violence, than no amount of troop surges will be able to improve their daily life and we will be sending more troops into needless danger.

Winning is no longer an option.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

George Will's Environmental "Fuzzy Math" is Missing the Point

In the interest of fairness, I am listing a link to a recent column in the Washington Post by columnist George Will. I respect Will's commentary while, often times disagreeing with his conclusions

In this case he makes the point that in the rush to find answers to everything that is presently wrong with the direction we are taking environmentally, we often times over react by implementing ideas that on the surface seem to address the problems, but upon further inspection may actually be detrimental to our designated purpose. In one very clever example he likens the usable life and its environmental impact of a Prius hybrid to the usable life and impact of a Hummer and calculates by some very convenient "fuzzy math" of his own that the Hummer is actually less damaging over its lifespan than the Prius. This is done by taking into account the full environmental impact of some key elements of each vehicle from their extraction from the ground to their processing into parts, to their shipment to various portals for assembly. Every step of the way there are environmental consequences to these processes and often times they merely transfer deleterious environmental impacts from one area an another. Or so the theory goes.

For this approach to be conclusive it requires a diligent documentation of each step of each process for each vehicle, from the raw material stages to the actual finished product stage. The exercise of using one key element like the zinc in the battery portion of the Prius's hybrid engine, and following its pollution laden processing from mines in Canada through processing in Wales to its eventual installation into a finished product in Japan, as a indictment against the use of hybrid technology over conventional internal combustion technology is patently unfair and blatantly misses the point. It is not apparent that in his argument the same rigor was used to identify all the various components of the Hummer's creation to make a fair and unbiased comparison, but let us for a moment assume this to be the case.

We are all well aware of the environmental impact that a gas guzzling 10 mile per gallon vehicle does to the quality of our air and the subsequent costs to our health care system. We are all well aware of the dear price we pay and continue to pay for our unflappable dependence on foreign oil. The costs in lives and resources of at least two wars can be safely ledgered on this side of the argument. And so are we not better off making attempts to minimize the use of hydrocarbons even if our initial attempts may be awkward or have some unintended side effects. We can't allow ourselves to become immobilized by fears that we will make some mistakes! As with any technology the initial steps are often crude and even at times counterproductive, but nonetheless necessary steps in the development of new technologies that ultimately take us in the direction we all want need to move. In this case away from hydrocarbon emissions.

This is also no less true of the assertion that the Kyoto protocol is a misguided attempt by some "Chicken Little's" to force the nations of the world to actually implement some costly changes that will in balance amount to very little. Again,the point is to start this type of dialogue and not be quagmired by the immediate efficacy of the results. The fact that so many countries, with so many disparate needs, can agree on anything provides a promising platform that can be used to establish better controls and future gains that may not be immediately apparent. To arrogantly withhold support for this ground breaking global agreement on the argument that the money needed to implement these reforms can be better spent elsewhere is to create a diversion from the problem at hand and still not address those other pressing needs. Let us not be fooled by the man behind the curtain as he feverishly manipulates our priorities and directions, like the Wizard of Oz, leaving us doubting our direction by presenting us with a virtual high hurdle field of reasons why we shouldn't proceed on our quest to a better environment, no matter how bumbling the journey. It can't be better to simply sit back and serve more of the same.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Where are the bees?

In a recent post from David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, I came across a quote purportedly from Einstein that to paraphrase -gave mankind as we know it, four years from the time there were no more bees to before the human race would vanish! It seems with no cross pollination the entire ecological system would fall apart and with it our existence. This quote was made in conjunction with his observation that many beekeepers around the world are apparently finding it difficult to keep enough bees in their hives to keep honey production going. Reduction rates of 50% to 60% were touted as being currently witnessed. If this is indeed true we are facing a crisis that has a window of opportunity to solve that could be much smaller than anything else we have had to deal with to date. This is alarming to anyone with eyes enough to see and a brain big enough to think that we as a species have changed things on our planet so much so with no consideration for the consequences that we may have indeed started a spiral into our very own non-existence! As a parent with the hope of someday attaining the merriment of grand parenting (i.e. the joy of enjoying children with none of the responsibility) this is obviously a big kink in the armor of my modest future plans. In speaking with several contemporaries about the many continuing developments that seem to be plummeting us into the abyss, I am disheartened by the universal attitude of helplessness that seems to be so prevalent amongst most of my generation ( the baby boomers) . What ever happened to the generation that wanted to change the world for the best. What happened to the mantras of peace, love and communal spirit. Well friends it seems to have been lost by way of the getting married, having children, obtaining that car loan and getting our condo or house with its related mortgage payments. In an effort to grow up and become part of the "real" world with all its inherent responsibilities, we capitulated our dreams and soul to others who we have let destroy the very world we want to raise our children in! Oh sure, we all lament, its those big businesses with their unscrupulous win at all costs practices that have made our environment into the precipitously dangerous place it has become. Or perhaps it is a result of political crony ism that we all believe is impossible to restrain. But is it really? And is it just this "they did it" attitude that has us all in the very predicament we find ourselves in right now?

My belief is that we ourselves are essentially to blame. And while I can see you all shaking your heads in tacit agreement you really don't believe it any more than I did. I still drive my Nissan Pathfinder with a tremendous 17 mpg on the highway. Even now when it is costing me $60 to fill the tank with regular I do it week after week (or actually every three or four days) with little or no action on my part to change this and I suspect you do similarly. What will it take for us to see that the bees are going and may not return! Do we need to see a world without color, fragrance, arboreal beauty before we realize we have gone too far ?

I have done some things in my business practice to try to build with a more earth friendly conscience. This is a start but it is not nearly enough. I expect to start to look into a more ecologically friendly vehicle. Perhaps a hybrid ( Whatever happened to those propane gas conversions for normal cars?). So what if I can't carry everything I might need to carry when I might need to carry it. I will cope and so must you! We all must make the effort and not tomorrow but right now. Today in whatever way we can. And we must all stop bitchin' and moanin' about all of them.....because my friends we are the enemy within. We grant the power to those whom we elect to be stewards of our resources and when we do so with such complacency we have no one to blame but ourselves. So we must be diligent in our careful evaluation of those of us to whom we grant such authority and when we see them going astray from the goals and ideals that we hold true and sacred we have a moral obligation to not let it linger and fester and spoil. We can n longer afford to stand by idly while the earth is ravaged by our ill-chosen delegates of profiteering and greed. We must use the power of the purse, sometimes even at our own personal detriment, to speak to those purveyors about what it is we value and what it is we eschew.

It is also our obligation to see to it that enough money and effort is spent on our an our children's behalf to fund research that defines the most effective path to solving our energy and environmental problems (which seem to be inescapably joined like Siamese twins) and to establish a Manhattan project type impetus to solving these problems now. It is unfathomable to me that we can spend such inordinate amounts of our national wealth on such low priority matters ( fill in the blanks with your favorite pork barrel project) and yet have such pressing issues be scantily provided for by meager apportionment's that only pay lip service to actually trying to solve them in this century. We must all join forces and become the activists we once aspired to be as in the days of the Weathermen, The Black Panthers, The Chicago Seven and even the Woodstock Generation, a fledgling Greenpeace and an good intentioned Peace Corps. . While I did not aspire to some of these radical notions at the time, they all represented a firebrand zeal that seems to be missing in our present souls. I for one, miss the passion of being so thoroughly inspired by the principal and righteousness of the cause that the inconvenience to everyday life is not even an afterthought. We have the power to change for the better and change now! We are a bright and able generation that did not have the burden of a major world war to carry on our shoulders as our parents before us so brilliantly geared up for and overcame. As a recent article I read mentioned, when we started WWII we had virtually no air force to speak of and by the time the war was over we were cranking out bombers by the dozens on a daily basis. Our capacity is enormous and should be duly employed for such good. We brainstormed atomic energy in a few short years and we now have the computing power hereto for not even imagined; and with Moore's Law in play we are growing our technological achievements exponentially! So why not direct these resources to save our planet now before it is too late!

And so when sometime in the near future one of our grandchildren ask us what is that yellow insect buzzing around that beautiful flowers, we can reply with pride ...That is a bee, honey, we almost lost them all.