Sunday, August 31, 2014

Humanity without religion

This article was in the Times Op Ed section Sunday August 31 and it perfectly explains the struggle of non God believers in our heavily religious modern society. I am posting the whole article and some of the articulate and well thought out discussion following it. It's a relief to me that there are others like me out there seeking a post-religious existence. 


"ALMOST midway through Sam Harris’s new book, “Waking Up,” he paints a scene that will shock many of his fans, who know him as one of the country’s most prominent and articulate atheists.
He describes a walk in Jesus’ footsteps, and the way he was touched by it. 
This happened on “an afternoon on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, atop the mount where Jesus is believed to have preached his most famous sermon,” Harris writes. “As I gazed at the surrounding hills, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished.”
Had Harris at last found God? And is “Waking Up” a stop-the-presses admission — an epiphany — that he slumbered and lumbered through the darkness for too long?
Hardly. Harris is actually up to something more complicated and interesting than that. He’s asking a chicken-or-egg question too seldom broached publicly in America, where religion is such sacred and protected turf, where God is on our currency and at our inaugurals and in our pledge and sometimes written into legislation as a way to exempt the worshipful from dictates that apply to everyone else.
The question is this: Which comes first, the faith or the feeling of transcendence? Is 

Mightn’t religion be piggybacking on the pre-existing condition of spirituality, a lexicon grafted onto it, a narrative constructed to explain states of consciousness that have nothing to do with any covenant or creed?
Reflecting on the high that he felt by the Sea of Galilee, Harris writes: “If I were a Christian, I would undoubtedly have interpreted this experience in Christian terms. I might believe that I had glimpsed the oneness of God or been touched by the Holy Spirit.”
But that conclusion, in his view, would have been a prejudiced, willed one, because he had felt similar exaltation and rapture “at my desk, or while having my teeth cleaned,” or in other circumstances where he had slowed down, tuned out distractions and focused on the moment at hand. In other words, there are many engines of flight from quotidian worries, many routes of escape from gravity and the flesh. They include prayer, but they also include meditation, exercise, communion with music, immersion in nature.
Harris’s book, which will be published by Simon and Schuster in early September, caught my eye because it’s so entirely of this moment, so keenly in touch with the growing number of Americans who are willing to say that they do not find the succor they crave, or a truth that makes sense to them, in organized religion.
According to a 2012 Pew poll that drew considerable attention, nearly 20 percent of adults in this country fell into that category. Less than a third of those people labeled themselves atheists or agnostics. Seemingly more of them had a belief in some kind of higher power, but that conviction was unmoored, unclassifiable and maybe tenuous. These nomads aren’t looking for a church, but may want some of the virtues — emotional grounding, psychic grace — that are associated and sometimes conflated with one. The subtitle of “Waking Up” can be read as a summons to them: “A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.”
Harris made his name with his acclaimed 2004 best seller, “The End of Faith,” which took a buzz saw to Christianity, Islam and the rest of it. He was strenuously edgy and perhaps gratuitously insulting: While he’s right that it’s dangerous to play down all the cruelty done in the name of religion, it’s also a mistake to give short shrift to the goodness.
But the man has guts. Just read a blog post that he wrote in late July about the fighting in Israel and Gaza. By traveling down byways of the debate about Israel’s actions that most politicians and pundits avoid, it rightly caused a stir, along with a surge in traffic to his website that temporarily crashed it. 
IN books and lectures since “The End of Faith,” Harris has increasingly redirected his energies from indicting organized religion — “I’ve ridden that hobbyhorse,” he told me — to examining the reasons that people are drawn to it and arguing that much of what they seek from it they can get without it. There is the church of Burning Man, he noted. There is the repetition of mantras. There are the catharsis and clarity of unsullied concentration.
“You can have spiritual experience and understand the most thrilling changes in human consciousness in a context that’s secular and universal and not freighted with dogma,” he said when we spoke on the telephone last week. It was a kind of discussion that I wish I heard more of, and that people should be able to have with less fear of being looked upon as heathens.
I’m not casting a vote for godlessness at large or in my own spiritual life, which is muddled with unanswered and unanswerable questions. I’m advocating unfettered discussion, ample room for doubt and a respect for science commensurate with the fealty to any supposedly divine word. We hear the highest-ranking politicians mention God at every turn and with little or no fear of negative repercussion. When’s the last time you heard one of them wrestle publicly with agnosticism?
During my conversation with Harris, he observed that President Obama had recently ended his public remarks about the beheading of James Foley by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which wraps itself in religion, with a religious invocation: “May God bless and keep Jim’s memory, and may God bless the United States of America.” That struck Harris as odd and yet predictable, because in America, he said, God is the default vocabulary.
“There’s truly no secular or rational alternative for talking about questions of meaning and existential hopes and fears,” he said.
There should be. There’s a hunger for it, suggested by the fact that after Harris recently published the first chapter of “Waking Up” online as a way of announcing the entire volume’s imminent release, readers placed enough preorders for the book that it shot up briefly to No. 22 on Amazon’s list of best sellers.
Some of those buyers, as well as many other Americans, are looking for a different kind of scripture, for prophets purged of doctrine, for guides across the vast landscape between faithlessness and piety, for recognition of this fecund terrain. In a country with freedom of worship, they deserve it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Kids this week

August 2014:

We tried to get Vivienne to stop saying Jesus, teaching her to say "Jeez Louise" instead, but she started saying "Jesus Louise!"
Groovy buttom = groovy button
No budgies = no veggies
Viv - "I'm so owie!" and "
Something's ouching me!" = I have a booboo.
Shobbel = shovel
I'm peeping = I'm going peepee
Bandy = bandaid



June / July 2014:

Grammatical switch - "My's" means mine
Counting to 5
Jules saying "we want"
Saying "help me"
Grammatical switch - "Daddy want drive car.  Daddy want go outside" (Means I want Daddy to drive.)
Vivienne discovers colors (purple and blue)
Vivienne knows the letter A
Jules understands the number zero (confuses it with letter O)
Jules extremely willful and destructive
Jules : Fuck, shit, Jesus

Playing with Legos, I say "I have an idea!" The kids pick up on this and say,"I have an idea too, it's right here!" As they pick up a piece. Then they look in the box for more and say, "I'm looking for an idea, I'm gonna put it on the car!" They find a piece and say"I got an idea right here!"






Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Language!!

Both kids are learning many many more words at an alarming rate. They seem to have mastered the English language and are working on French. They also have started playing with a made up language that is somewhere between their own twin language and a parody of French. They have very sophisticated comic timing and seem to always be making fun of us while also showering us with innocent love and adoration. We are getting the slightest inklings of what it will be like when they are only adversarial towards us. We are terrified of this but hopefully it won't be as bad as it seems. They are very sweet kids. But aren't they all?
They are saying things like"No Vivienne, you don't like Marmite, it's too salty. It's yucky for you!"
And Vivienne replies, "No Jules, it's not picky for me." Then Jules hits her in the head and says"I need a time out!"
Constant madcap drama. Tears and laughter and forgiveness and happiness at a break-neck speed. People without kids see the constant drama and always ask"what just happened? What's wrong??" with aloof of alarm and concern. And the answer is always "nothing, it will be OK in teen seconds." These kids are mercurial. Their moods change very rapidly. They are mostly happy. Or over-tired and weepy.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

What the twins are saying

"There's three dollars on my poop."

Dad to Vivienne as she's trying to use the potty: "Do you need privacy?"
Jules hears this, goes and sits on his potty and says: "I need a private seat."


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts on popular music

I was a cameraman at the Governor's Ball, a three day music festival on Randall's Island in New York. My job was to shoot the long lens camera at the main stage for the large screens. With a crew of four cameras, we provided the live experience for most of the audience of 80,000 people sprawling back for miles from the stage. It was a great time and it gave me a chance to see some fantastic bands, and also to ponder the state of popular music in our current era.


It was a blast to take part in the performance of some of my favorite live acts like Outkast, Janelle Monae, Broken Bells, The Strokes, The Kills, Spoon, and Jack White.
The Strokes don't suck
I had never seen The Strokes live before and I was amazed. They've come a long way since I first heard about them sometime in the early 2000's. At that time, my band Melomane was recording an album in a studio in the East Village called Transporter Raum, run by our eccentric friend Gordon Raphael. We were all set to record the last week of overdubs, when we were told that we had to postpone the session. Gordon had gotten involved with some young kids who he said were going places, and they had to come in for a week to finish some demos. The band was the Strokes, and we were pissed off that they usurped our session. I went into the studio to pick up some mixes one day, and I met two or three of them, nice young kids sitting quietly listening to their tracks. I didn't think much of it. My bass player Daria was familiar with the Strokes, they were the bratty young punks who came into the Mars Bar where she worked, and acted like priviledged poser assholes. Their session dragged on, one week became two and then a month, and when it was finally time for us to get back into the studio, Gordon called us with bad news; the studio was shut down. The Strokes had descended into booze-soaked stupidity one night and fished some fluorescent light tubes out of the dumpster outside the studio. They had smashed all the tubes and trashed the studio. The landlord wasn't amused and shut the studio down, so our session was cancelled. Needless to say, I had no love for the Strokes and didn't share in everyone's enthusiasm for "the demo" which became their first album. However, when I finally got around to listening to it a few years later, after the band seemed to be on everyone's list of God's gift to mankind, I realized that it was… really really good. It was great. I loved it and still do. Those overpriviledged posers wrote gorgeous songs and crafted some truly inspired guitar rock.
Seeing them live, and being a part of their show, was a revelation. They are artisans of guitar rock, using two guitars and a bass much like a piano's left and right hands. Truly original and astounding. And now that they are older, less pretty, and less destructive, they are really focusing on the business of making great music on stage, and it was a total joy to watch. The crowd went absolutely batshit. It was a blast.

I also got to see some new bands that I didn't know about that ran the gamut from brilliant to unbearably shitty. One of my favorites was Frank Turner, a punk troubadour from England who sounds like the most brash and raucous parts of Billy Bragg, with less political edge but all the humor and a totally rocking band.
Another surprise was The Head and the Heart. My old friend Dave Burton, who was tour manager for my band Morning Glories back in the 90's, contacted me and said he'd be at the festival with this folk band from Portland. They had a beautiful, laid back, 70's era folk rock vibe, like the Eagles with better voices and cooler songs. Great stuff.
Jack White killing it

Silent disco is a very good start to the DJ problem

Then there were some bands that confused, depressed, and irritated me. I would lump these bands into the category of "horrible 80's retro." The worst offender was a band called Bleachers. They dressed like backup singers for Wham and sounded like Phil Collins singing over karaoke tracks of Gloria Estefan. Horrible fake string synths, whiny and overwrought vocals, and contrived arrangements filled with Broadway style bravado. I soon realized that there is a conscious effort among a bunch of twenty-somethings to channel precisely the worst elements of 80's mainstream. High pitched guitars, effete, asymmetrical outfits, terrible synth sounds, drum machines, jangly guitars, and inane, inoffensive lyrics. Any of those elements alone could be interesting, fun, or ironic, but when a whole subset of very popular bands is ripping off the entire oeuvre of A-HA or Cindy Lauper, something is horribly wrong. In all fairness, I was a big fan of some big mainstream bands in the 80's, like Duran Duran or Wham, but they all disappeared or evolved as music grew in depth and studios decided to re-embrace the mid and low end. The 80's happened and they were pretty crappy and they ended. The signature sound of the 80's was cavernously reverby drums, high pitched, whiny guitars, brooding, english-y, fey vocals, and fake horns and strings. But even during this period, other bands were holding on to powerful, imaginative, guitar-driven rock. The Minutemen, Fugazi, the Pixies, REM, the B-52s, and many many others were all alive and well in the 80s and so much better than the dreck that is being copied now. My question is WHY? Some of the worst offenders at the festival were Lucius, Haerts, Papa, Hunter Hunted, and Meg Myers.
And then the other category is what I call "mama's boys product placement rock." At the top of this list is Vampire Weekend. They are a living commercial for ______. I left this blank because they are so squeaky clean and irritatingly pleasant, they are just waiting to be used for the dullest, most sanitized marketing campaign imaginable. Rock and roll is a pulpit to question, think, ask, and agitate. These guys look like they would much rather be stock traders but unfortunately they are making too much money as rock musicians to quit and follow their passion, which is kissing ass.
Foster the People gets special mention for doing the mathematically impossible by fitting 100% into both categories and being by far the most irritating band to ever exist.
The last category is what I would call "DJ / karaoke / performance art." To me this is not really music and doesn't deserve much mention. These groups are usually comprised of a singer or two with one or two rudimentary instruments singing and yelling over laptop beats. Some people call this EDM. It is apparently very popular but it is not for me. Examples of this are Washed Out, Sleigh Bells, and others. Can't remember, don't care. When I go see a great movie, I don't immediately rush to the projection booth to congratulate the projectionist on the quality of projection and ask where he is "playing" again. That is the equivalent to me of paying to see a DJ "play" music. DJs are technicians who facilitate the reproduction of music that has been composed, performed, and recorded somewhere else. 
I will continue to seek out new artists making honest, thoughtful music with real songs. Lately I've been loving Courtney Barnett, Ages and Ages, Hooray for the Riffraff, Drenge, and Elbow to name a few.  Rock lives!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What the kids are saying now

Pony no!
baby panda eats leaves

Vivienne is really concerned with what Jules is doing. She wants to make sure he is taken care of. Whatever she has, she shares with him. It's so sweet it breaks mu heart.

Jules is extremely verbal. he has learned how to speak English the past two weeks and he makes complete sentences using complex verb noun agreements. "I wanna jump on the bed." "daddy, I want some water please." Daddy, can I have some more please. Where did mommy go? baby panda wanna eat flowers.

Some interesting linguistic observations: the word "my" substituted for "me" so they say "thats my's" instead of that's mine.

A lot of singing. Vivienne wants to hear the alphabet song "en franciais." And she can sing along with it.
They love some french songs like "La maman des poissons." and Fait dodo.
They know lots of words in french:
 Pantalon, chemise, poisson, c'est froid, chaussures. chausettes, doudou, dodo, tete, nez, pieds, bouche, ├ęcole, de l'eau, oiseau, le chat.

I should be teaching them more French and I feel bad about it. I guess it's making me realize that I'm losing touch with my french side and it's also so hard to talk to them in french all the time. I love French and it's so important to keep it up. But, they need some kind of context in which to speak it. Chelsea and I don't speak french at home so it doesn't make much sense to speak to the kids. But hey will be much better off if they learn it. I was SO lucky to have the upbringing I did.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Robert Gates on Ukraine

I am sitting twenty feet away from Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense under Bush and Obama. He is speaking at the Plaza Hotel at a conference hosted by Blackstone, describing Putin as a product of the Soviet Union. He says Putin wants influence on all the former Soviet states but doesn't want a return to the USSR. Gates says that Putin has a deal with the oligarchs. "You got everything you have by stealing it. You can keep what you have as long as you don't cross me politically. " For the reason, sanctions on the oligarchs is pointless in terms of reaching Putin.