Saturday, January 31, 2009

Good Art Bad Art - Part II – Dancing in the Nude

So yes, here we were. Invited to welcome one of Iran’s most famous painters, Gizella Varga Sinai – married to the award winning and highly controversial filmmaker Khoshro Sinai – to the United States where she is facilitating a two week intensive on painting at a school in Connecticut. Best behavior. Eyes on the manners and etiquette. Revolutionary or not, she is still Muslim at heart. No insane ambassador shit Fishy. Mind yourself. Don't push it over the edge. Shit man, I flew over that edge twenty years ago. You know that. Yes, yes, I do. No truer words ever spoken. And everybody knows it. But she doesn’t. So at least pretend that you crash landed and survived and climbed back onto the ledge somewhere between here and eternity. That you are still halfway human, or at least semi-in-touch with reality. O.k. roger that. Will do. Will try at least. Good boy. Now go on and get. Let’s go play the game.

More than a mere welcoming committee we were to be, we were to accompany Mrs. Sinai to a live performance we were invited to by acclaimed choreographer Amy Greenfield that featured all-nude dancers performing in front of film and photography being flashed over them by Leonard Nimoy, while original music by Phillip Glass and John Zorn played in the background. Just another night in New York. And I mean that. At any given minute in New York City one has the opportunity to experience hundreds of such events. The city is raging with opportunity for these kinds of things. Every block is celebrity and spectacle. Perhaps we just get so accustomed to it that something really spectacular has to come in the mail to get us excited about attending. Reminds me of Oscar Wilde. Our lives in New York are one big Oscar Wilde dream. Cynicism invisibly walks beside us down our bustling crowded streets and jumps inside of us and possesses us in between sips of Starbucks and Jamba Juice. Not necessarily great, but certainly Gatsbys each and every one of us.

But this was different. I have long admired the work of Gizella Varga. Her painting is glorious. It is truly transcendent. And I looked forward to being in close contact with her, eye to eye, human breath to human breath, waxing philosophic about the arts. Poetry, painting, dance, theatre, literature, politics. I knew by studying her painting that she was a valid force to be reckoned with and this was one opportunity that I should not call in sick for and “work through” as I was accustomed to doing. My own work is more important to me now than it has ever been. So it is easy for me to rationalize not doing much of anything else other than spend as much time as possible to attempt to complete as much of it as I can while I am still alive. Art is, after all, life itself. Without art, there is no life. There is only living. And living is thoroughly boring. Unless of course it is lived artistically. Which brings us right back to the necessity to create as much art as possible while we are lucky enough to still be able to fog a mirror with our own breath.

Italian restaurant. Giant plates of antipasto. Huge. Radicchio, arugula, salami, Romano, mozzarella, duck sausage, olives, chicken stuffed with cheese and spinach. On and on. Bottle after bottle of wine. We spoke of many things. Compared the subtle beauty of the poetry of Hafez – Iran’s greatest claim to fame in that arena – to the complex intricacies of the wordplay of Vinicius De Moraes, perhaps Brasil’s most beloved 20th century poet. Iranian music. United States and Iranian relations was a big topic of discussion. Iranians are radical. They have to be. Death or prison is constantly knocking at their door. When it’s not, they know it will be soon enough.

In America we are a wee bit more secure. But only if we allow that all we hear is bullshit and propaganda and that nothing is real. We are awash in debt, sold out to China, out-sourced to India, and drugged up on prescription medicine too expensive for us to be able to actually afford, and hypnotized by celebrity. Reality television has become the new opiate for the masses. No more need for bread and puppets. And for good reason. Real life is just too damn sickening for most. Sit down. Stand up. Sit the fuck down. Pay your taxes. You don't have health insurance. Tsk tsk, shame on you. Don't worry, we’ll get around to that. One day. Not in your lifetime, but one day. Slap that back. Grease that pocket. Did you pay your taxes? Why don't you get married? Have some kids? Worship Britney. Now hate her. Now worship her again. Now laugh at her. Let’s kill Anna Nicole Smith. She's our bitch. She won't mind. We gave her fame and money and celebrity. She's ours for the taking. Read all about it. Get your very own copy of the New York Times today for only twenty dollars a week. Can’t afford it? Charge that shit man. Fuck it. Go ahead and CHARGE IT! Heath’s dead. Killed himself on prescription drugs. You're next. Don't worry. What’s that? That was Owen Wilson? Not Heath? But Owen only TRIED to kill himself. Heath was accidental. Oh that's right. No worries. He won every fucking award we could give him. It was worth it. Aint that America? You and me? Aint that America? Home of the free baby? Eat your Quarter Pounder. Drink your milk. Or your Budweiser. Or your “highest rated Vodka three years running.” Just do it! And don't forget to just do it in your sweat-shop-sewn Nikes so everyone knows you are one bad mothafucka.

How was the play Catherine? What's that? Ethan Hawke was sitting right behind you? Did you manage to snap a picture of him on your new 3 megapixel camera phone? Aw too bad. Maybe next time. Speaking of pictures, did you hear about all those poor people in Gaza? Yeah I know, what a shame. Too bad we can’t do anything about it. Hands are tied. We’re in up to our arses with Israel. Democracy be damned there's not a damn thing we can do about it. Another one bites the dust. And another one’s gone and another one’s gone. So buy that new CD, or magazine, or tabloid, or pack of gum, or new car, or refinance your over valued house so you can buy more stuff you don't need to relieve you of the burden of having to think about how truly fucking irrelevant and shallow our lives are here. And while you're at it, don't forget to donate to the ONE campaign to help those poor starving people in Africa. You'll get one of those cool rubber bracelets. Larry King wears one. You should too.

So yes. US Iranian relations. And painting and poetry and literature. The table confidently agreed that Italian was the most beautiful of all languages. I begged to differ, inviting everyone to actually listen to Portuguese one day. And despite their overt Frenchiness, French is still pretty freaking mellifluous as well. But German is the language of philosophy. Agreed. But still have no interest in becoming fluent in it. No reason why. Just don't like the way it sounds.

“It’s because you have seen too many propaganda films about Hitler. That's why,” she tells me. No. That's not it. Look, the guy was a murderous fuckhead bastard who killed millions of people. I'll give you that. But the American government killed over three million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and you don't see me refusing to speak English. Nah. I've been around long enough to be utterly immune to murdering fuckhead bastards. Even in my own country. Shit, we’ve killed over one million Iraqis in the last six years and Desperate Housewives is still the hottest show on TV beeyotch. Or 24, or Grey’s Anatomy, or Weeds, or 30 Rock. Truth be told as long as that wine, whiskey and song, and that TV and tabloid trash is still flowing we could give a shit. Hitler is nothing more to us than a good excuse to see Tom Cruise rake up another box office smash.

Good conversation. My head spinning. Too much wine too fast. Head to head with a sure footed and worthy fellow intellectual entirely confident from 60 plus years spent travelling the world as a respected and revered painter. My kind of gal. My kind of night. But what of this Leonard Nimoy in the nude tripping on acid performance art thing? We have to go now. Get your coat on. Let’s ditch this bitch and head out into the bright city lights of Manahatta.

We’re in the theatre. The lights have dimmed. It’s been minutes. Feels like hours. If I wasn't one of the guests of honor I would have bailed by now. I am going to fall asleep. Perhaps no one will notice if I pass out. You can’t bail bro. You know how rude that would be? Just sit here and act like a gentleman. Act like you are enjoying yourself. Act interested. Meditate with your eyes open if you have to. Never mind that I'm so bored I'm going to shoot my fucking head off and splatter my brains all over our guest from Iran. Easy for you to say. I'm the one who has to sit here.

The films are a blur of nakedness and boring light shows. I cannot believe this theatre is filled 213 people. I saw it on the sign when I walked in. Maximum capacity 213 persons. And for what? One of the dancers is running around the theatre dressed up as some sort of reject from the Star Wars franchise. All lit up like an android but naked. I feel like I am at Disney World. Bored. Tired. Slightly awed that people pay for this. That it even exists. I want to go home and write. I’d even take a bathroom stall. Just sit there with a pad and little pen and scribble ideas. Anything but another hour of this.

A naked woman writhes on the stage in front of us while another one reads from the Kabbalah into a microphone. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. It was that bad. Blurred images of more naked women running through the forest flash on the screen behind them while Dr. Spock himself mind-numbingly mumbles something about finding his spirituality through photographing naked women’s bodies. Well if that’s spirituality I must be a fucking saint or a Bishop by now.

This is New York at its worst. I glance over at Gizella and wonder what she is thinking. She has exhibited in every major gallery on earth over the last 40 years. What could she be thinking now. Her head nods. I knew it! She's going to fucking fall asleep. O.k. good. So can I then. But that repetitive music just keeps going and going. My God when will it end?

There is good art and bad art, I think to myself. But there is no way to qualify such ideas. It is truly all completely subjective. For all I know there are people in this theatre who think this is good art. I am no more right than they are. What is “right?” Exactly. Never been such a thing. Just idea-labels slapped onto things by consciousness fooling itself into thinking that it is awareness. No, art is art is art. Some you will like. Some you will not.

I contemplate Gizella’s paintings. All her different periods over the last fifty years. The fact that she is still so vibrant and alive and intellectually stimulating at her age. We agreed to start emailing in order to continue our dialogues, but only in Farsi. That way I learn faster. So I can better appreciate the poetry of Hafez, Sadi, and Rumi in their native language. I agree to turn her onto to all that is good and glorious about Brasilian and Italian song and culture. There is much to be learned. That was good. If anything came of this... plenty did... I now have a place to stay in Iran. Good respected people high enough on the totem pole that I am guaranteed to get in again. I tell her about my love for Esfahan. She shares it. But tells me that Yazd is actually prettier and quainter. I will go then.

At some point I blacked out. My body was there. My eyes still open. But I was adrift in another world entirely. Trying to justify what I deemed the rubbish being presented to our Iranian friend as art when she had combed the greatest museums in the world as an insider. Surely she must know that we are better than this. It was at this point that I realized the enormity of the contributions of America. Fully asleep in my own ruminations and entirely unaware of what was going on around me. I was reminded of Steven Spielberg. Of Woody Allen. Wes and P. T. Anderson. Of rock and roll. Jazz. Gospel. The automobile, the telephone, electricity, the fax machine, the CD, the personal computer, the first man to walk on the moon. This was America. We had contributed plenty. And perhaps one of our greatest contributions has just appeared over the horizon twinkling golden radiant light halfway around the globe.

Let all of the Bush bashing and fear mongering wash away like blood soaked sand on a deserted beach in the middle of the night. Let our cynicism and heartbreak of the last eight years slowly disappear into the recesses of our collective unconscious and forever be nothing more than a bad dream or a fading memory. Obama is our mama now and all the world watched as we proudly cheered our new leader smiling from ear to ear as he walked down that avenue to the new White House. A White House that will never be the same again. There was art aplenty in that day. His speech, the way he carried himself. His elegant and gracious wife. The centuries of reconciliation that the moment carried with it, the sighs of relief, and the promises fulfilled that may be lurking just around the corner. That was good art.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Good Art Bad Art – Part I - Agoraphobia

“Until recently, agoraphobia was defined as a fear of open spaces. It now also includes several other related fears, such as having a fear of entering shops, a fear of crowds and public places, or of anxiety associated with being unable to reach a place of safety (eg, home), in a quick enough time. In extreme cases, people with agoraphobia may be unable to leave their home.”

I know it well. Although considered and even berated by the elders in my prim and proper family growing up for being what they used to call “a social butterfly” I have long suffered from a severe resistance to leaving the confines of “wherever I happen to be.”

Now I know what you’re thinking. I travel more than most. Traveling is a big part of my living. Whether it be for music or research or activism I tend to be on the road more often than in town. That's true. Traveling is not my problem, though it used to be as the below will illustrate. Nah. It’s more of a reluctance to actually doing anything other than sitting alone and working.

It was 1 AM on Thursday night and all I felt was dread knowing that I had an engagement the evening of the following day. Not that I had anything remotely objectionable to do that evening. It was after all a social gathering that involved the most famous painter in Iran, the most infamous filmmaker in Iran, Leonard Nimoy of “Dr. Spock” fame, the composers Phillip Glass and John Zorn, and Choreographer Amy Greenfield. Along with a bevy of gorgeous dancers and models and the usual assortment of Manhattan socialites one expects to see at such affairs. But for the life of me I could feel nothing but dread with the knowing that I actually had to leave the house that evening. And here it was almost a full 24 hours before the scheduled event and I was lying in bed perspiring and tossing and turning just thinking about it.

Why? I have no idea. Been that way for years. Never even questioned it until recently.

There was the time I was booked to fly to Seattle from Miami and cancelled the day before. No need to name names, but it took almost a year for her to speak to me. Understandable. Just couldn’t bring myself to get the get up and go to actually get up and go. So I laughed in the face of an already booked airline ticket and just didn't bother to show up. Heartless. I know. On another occasion I was scheduled to speak at a friends wedding in Vermont and so dreaded the fact that I was supposed to pack a bag, hop on a plane and fly somewhere that I didn't sleep at all that night. I woke up and told my friend who was also flying out to the wedding that morning and who drove by to pick me up that “I wasn't going. I just don't feel like it.” Never quite got over that one. Took me years to get it into my bloodstream that I actually stood up the whole damn wedding party and respective family so I could “just stay home where it’s safe.” There was no excuse for it.

Perhaps it was laziness. Perhaps it was just the fact that I didn't care enough. Perhaps it was the associated hassle of having to do so much to get ready for the trip. I do find that when someone else is responsible for taking care of everything involved in booking the trip and getting me there, including accompanying me and making sure that I actually leave the house, that I'm usually fine. I am as plenty of my friends will readily assert an extremely social creature. Overtly social. So once I'm out I'm fine. (Except for the fact that all I can think about is leaving unless something truly spectacular is happening.) But the truth is that after one lives a few decades, and especially lives the way I have lived, and has pretty much seen and done it all, left no stone unturned, nor declined the offer to sample just about everything, that there just isn't much “truly spectacular” left to experience. And that's putting it about as honestly as I can. Now I grant you that I I have never actually witnessed a man copulating with a horse in real life, only on the internet. But that isn't going to get me dressed and out of the house. Perhaps aliens landing on the White House lawn would. If and only if I had a press or backstage pass.

There's just something about “having something to do” that bothers me. It gets under my skin and drives me crazy. I'll brood about it the whole day until I am forced to drag my sorry ass out. Late of course. As usual.

Had six appointments this week and canceled four of them. Well, not exactly. Going too easy on myself. Had six appointments this week and didn't even bother to call to cancel four of them. Now granted, I'm having a tough month. A tough year. Going through a rough patch so to speak. So I need to go easy on myself. That's what they say anyway. “They” always know. So I'm giving myself a break. But for how long? How long am I supposed to “give yourself a break” before it becomes enabling? Or just plain old and tired?

In 2007 I gave a party for a friend, invited a bunch of other friends, hosted it at another friend’s loft in Gramercy because at the time she had the most sprawling pad among us, and at the last minute I decided to bail on it. Little Dawn was furious. “Fishy get your lazy ass here now and help me prepare for this goddamn party now!” “Dawn how mad would you be if I didn't show? I'm tired.” “How the hell can you not show up for a party YOU are hosting? Fishy I love you. We’re friends. So I know you'll forgive me for saying this and appreciate my willingness to be radically honest with you. If you don't show up for your own party that you have conveniently decided to throw at my apartment I will never speak to you again! Got it buddy?!” “Yeah. Got it.” So eventually I reluctantly made my way there. And in the end it was fine. In fact, it was a damn good time and an important occasion to celebrate. It was the getting out of the house part that was hard for me.

The band has hated me for it for years. Every band I've ever been in actually. I was infamous for my tendency to be late to everything or cancel at the last minute. I used to cancel concert performances all the time simply because I didn't feel like leaving the house back in the college days when we were in the band Shattered. The drummer would be in his car on the way to the gig and I would call and tell him I wasn't going to show. A truly heinous action I know. The club owners used to hate us back in the college years. Problem was that we were one of the biggest draws in town when we did manage to play so they couldn’t say much except “don't ever do that again.” One club did ban us from ever playing there again. But that was a different story.

The “lateness” thing eventually came to a head on the fateful night of the official CD release party of our Sleep With You album. I was already in the city of Orlando, on an Avatar course. Mere minutes from the venue that we were to play that night. The band was driving up in a rented maxi-van from Miami. An almost five hour haul filled with our equipment. Short version, they got there with plenty of time to set up, eat, and relax before the gig and I was an hour late. And yet I was already in town and staying just a few minutes from the venue. Piano Man bitched me out so hard for that one that he threatened never to play with me again if I ever pulled a stunt like that. He pointed out that I was the only musician that he had ever played with, ever, that showed up to rehearsals late every time – even though the rehearsals were at my own house. True. Funny. Sad. But true. So I was forced to really take a look at it. What WAS happening? How the fuck could I be late to my own CD release party for a new album when I was already in the freaking town the concert was in? And the rest of the band got there in time with a five hour drive ahead of them?

Eventually I realized it had a lot to do with this whole reluctance to leave the safety of the house thing. Granted, I was staying at a hotel. Nothing feels safer to me than a hotel. Not my “house.” But hotels feel safer to me than just about anywhere else. Another mystery. I just like hotels. Everyone does everything for you. Your only job is to have a pulse. That I can do. Most nights anyway. Another mystery: Send me packing off 3000 miles away and I'm fine. Invite me to lunch half a mile away and thank Allah himself if I actually show up. But Piano Man’s insistence that I stop showing up late to everything really got me thinking. I finally came to realize that it just came down to motivating myself to actually get myself out of wherever I was... pure and simple. If I'm “here” wherever “here” is, I would rather stay “here.” Newton’s law of inertia or something.

“In New York we make plans so we can break them” we say. We have more to do in The Big Apple than anywhere else on earth. Our calendars are filled to the rim so escaping a prior engagement feels like a sunny day in January. There’s no explaining the feeling of relief when someone cancels on you at the last minute. It is as if one minute you weigh 300 pounds and in the next you feel as though you only weigh 150. Just because someone cancelled on you. Can’t explain it to someone who doesn’t live here. They wouldn’t do it. They would be shocked by it. We stand each other up for lunch, dinner, meetings, appointments, the ballet, symphonies, the Philharmonic, even weekend getaways. All so we can “just stay home and experience some quiet and get some peace.” New York does that to you.

I had an amazing day yesterday. I fell asleep the night before with the awe inspiring realization that if I reneged on a few promises to call some people back to “get together” that I didn't have one engagement that was absolutely necessary that day. It would take flying off the radar but I could pull it off if I really wanted to. I wouldn’t even have to change out of my bathrobe. Woke up early. 7:30 AM is early for me. By noon I needed some more coffee and to drop off some mail. Ever increasing clarity of thought coming at me from all angles over the last two months, I started getting the notion that I really didn't need to change out of my bathrobe if I didn't want to. We were in New York after all. Which roughly translates to “no one gives a shit what you do. Just keep moving or step aside.” Which is why so many of us live here I think. How else do you explain eight million people crammed onto an island 12 miles long by 2 miles wide? Living in our little shoeboxes that sell for roughly $1300 a square foot if “you got a good deal.” Yes. There is true peace and tranquility in a city that never sleeps and where the only thing that is demanded of you is that you mind your own business and stay anonymous no matter how well known you happen to be.

So downstairs and out into the loud raucous world of midday Manhattan I trekked in nothing but a woolly blue bathrobe, a pair of well-worn furry Hammacher Schlemmer slippers, and a pair of sunglasses to retrieve said coffee and drop off the mail. As suspected no one even blinked. “I could take this Gonzo effect seriously if I allowed myself to” I thought. How far could I take it? That was the question. We will see over the next few decades. One thing I have learned is that once you cultivate a certain proclivity for eccentricity there is no limit to what people are willing to accept from you. You could be stark raving mad, as I often suspect I am, and people will get used to it.

When I ordered my coffee the lady behind the counter, who happens to have a soft spot for me because unlike most of the rushed and hurried English speaking “just give me my fucking coffee and bagel” Manhattanites that she is used to dealing with, I speak Spanish with her and take the time to at least say hello, makes a comment about the fact that I am still dressed in a bathrobe and slippers and I'm in a coffee shop on Broadway at 12 o'clock in the afternoon. “I've got nothing going on today. So what the hell?” I replied and smiled. “It’s still a free world, sort of, right?” And she just laughed. That was that. Nothing. Chalk that up to one of the multitude of greatest things about Gotham City.

So what about the aforementioned grand affair that I was expected to show up promptly for this evening you ask? Well, truth be told, and I hate to admit it, it did indeed cause an influx of panic and dread so palpable in my entire being that by 3 PM I had to lay down and just breathe, knowing that I was expected to actually show up somewhere by 6 PM, and worse, show up “on time.” Why? I have no freaking clue. But at least I'm onto it. at least I know that this malady exists now. Rather than enabling it by not bothering to even acknowledge it or recognize it and rather just rationalizing it all the time using wit and charm, I am now fully cognizant of it and more importantly ready to tackle it.

I am reminded that most people I know do not seem to suffer from anything remotely similar. In fact, they normally feel honored when invited to such things. A friend says to me a few months back, “Fishy we know you aren't going to come and we feel guilty for inviting you to things knowing how uncomfortable it makes you to have to decline everyone so we just don't bother to invite you out anymore.” Well for fucks sake, don't do that I yell. At least allow me the courtesy to politely decline your invitations.

Catherine Darlington works her ass off all day, often times 12 hour days and still manages to see a Broadway play, a ballet, or have drinks or dinner with a friend almost every night of the week. Princess Little Tree will do just about anything if you just ask her. She's up for it. Weather Girl too. Has one of the busiest social calendars I've ever heard of. And perhaps that's all there is to it. Social events just don't do it for me anymore. Is Zeus himself going to appear in the sky and pull a laser light show out of his ass? Probably not. So why bother? Reminded of the late Hunter Thompson in the latter few decades of his life. Everyone knew he wouldn’t leave the comfort of his beloved Owl Farm. There was always a party happening at Hunter’s place. It’s just that you had to come to him. He never left. And for most people that was just fine with them. Hugh Hefner had and still has a similar ethic. Not only did he never leave his home, he made his home his office, running the entire empire out of his living room, demanded that everyone work out of HIS house, and hasn't changed out of his bathrobe in decades. Smart men. Good ideas. Life as art.

Remember. Try to remember. It's only wrong if you make it wrong. Choose to make it right. Love it and live it. One life. Live it as art. Every moment. You are an artist. Be an artist. Make love to the entire world from the comfort of your own private world if you have to, but whatever you do just don't forget to make love. There is art in it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

iPhone, Blackberry, or Palm? - or Why We Love the iPhone but Don't Use One

A lot of talk lately about the new Palm Pre PDA/Handheld. Stuff Magazine claims it might be THE phone to kill the iPhone. Not that one cares or should care about such things... except that Apple dominates right now in so many areas and still manages to suck ass in a lot of the areas they dominate in. Case in point: our dead iPods that DO NOT come with replaceable batteries. (I have a 60 gig iPod that will not even turn on anymore that is only 2 years old.... sad little thing.) Once an ipod hits the 2 or 3 year mark they just stop working and won't recharge. Buy a new battery you say? Yeah, great idea. Except that Apple doesn’t offer that. So you either throw it away or call Apple to see what you CAN do. They tell you that for $168 they will “fix it” or send you a “refurbished and reformatted” ipod. They DO NOT guarantee that they will send you YOUR ipod back. So that's that. Your ipod is history.

ipod pricing has come down so much that you can now buy the same ipod that you paid $500 for two or three years ago for $200. That's not a bad thing. But it does make their $168 fee to fix your dead battery or give you a refurbished replacement a negligible solution. Now you might as well buy a new one. And get used to it. Because you'll be doing that every 2 or 3 years. Great idea guys. Now that's innovation.

A buddy says to me the other day, “dude can I use your charger for my ipod again?” I'm like “what? you just used it last night...” He’s like “yeah I know but it only holds a charge for an hour or less now... do they have a new battery I can get for this?” “Nah man. You send it in for $168 for them to send you some used one...” “But I only paid $150 for this new,” he says. “yeah, welcome to the world of the ipod.”

And that's just the grand finale rape scene that leaves you weeping when you exit the theatre. Forget about all the kicking biting scratching punching and beating you take before that trying to use the damn thing.

A friend says to me a few weeks ago while looking for a song, “God I hate scrolling like this! It drives me crazy. Isn't there any other way to find a song or an artist?” “Nope. Nice huh?” Looks cool, but they cost three times as much as they should and will drive you absolutely crazy if you try to use it. Hey wait a minute! That sounds like something else... what is it??? oh that's it. Apple computers themselves. But let’s not even go there yet.

So I call Apple one day. “Hey there. I probably loaded about ten new albums into iTunes this weekend and I want to be able to see those new albums on my ipod after I synch. How do I do that? “I'm sorry sir. You can’t.” “What?!!! You're telling me that there is no way to sort according to most recently added so I can see the newest music that I have on my ipod???!” “No sir. Good idea though. We haven't come up with it yet.” “O.k. well then take it. It’s yours. Consider it a freebie.” Crazy fucks. Have they never used an ipod themselves? Do they keep a list of the newest music they loaded in on their iPhone or something? Or perhaps scrawled on a piece of paper in their pocket?

[truth be told we did create a solution, a lame one, but this will do till they let you sort your music on the ipod in a variety of ways AND even let you create customized sorting configs as they SHOULD. Here’s the fix: You will have to create ENDLESS playlists in iTunes on your computer called “New Music 1, 2, 3,” etc and then drag your newest music over there. That's the best they got. But even that sucks because the ipod DOESN’T LET YOU SEE WHAT THE NAME OF THE FREAKING ALBUMS OR ARTISTS ARE IN PLAYLISTS!!! All you see is the name of a song!!! So you just have to scroll and scroll and scroll through these freaking playlists clicking on each song every few seconds to see who it’s by or what album its from... it is truly an abomination in functional engineering, despite its technological advances.

So the iPhone... yes oh yes oh yes. just typing the name of it gets me drooling. Sure I want one. Is it not the coolest thing since a convertible BMW with Techtronic transmission and turbo power? Hell yeah it is. But its fraught with problems in functionality for power users. So they end up with Blackberries or Palm devices still. Wannabe hipsters and newbies to the handheld world are flocking to get their hands on iPhones. And for good reason. They’re cool as shit and have tons of nifty features. Now granted, most of them are just tricked out innovations taken from Palm (see forum dialogues below) but still, there is nothing like your first double-fingered view-expand on an iPhone. A truly chill-producing experience.

So what's the problem? Why do the majority of longtime handheld power-users still use Palm devices or their beloved Crackberries? Well mainly because they actually do practical things with their handhelds besides talk on the phone, surf the net, or show their friends how cool their phone is. In fact you almost never see people holding the most powerful Palm out there, the TREO, showing it off. Because they're too freaking BUSY -- USING it. They don't have time to show you photos from their trip to Disney last week or a blurry photo they snapped that day they spotted Al Pacino in the park. Though the Treo holds and records thousands of photos and videos and mp3s too, it just isn't the main use for the device. [mine also currently holds 16 bi-level dictionaries for 8 different languages, a voice recorder to capture new songs I hear in my head, a world atlas and maps, a metronome, amortization calculators, the internet, Facebook, texting, endless storage using portable and swappable SD cards, a GPS, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and 168 file folders about just about everything I need access to when on the go.] [Note: iPhone’s feature plenty of these and more. for the record.]

Here’s the glitch: For most power-users of handhelds, they need real-world, business-related, practical tools to surf through their baddass entrepreneurial life. Not a fancy looking gadget. Though blackberries now look as cool as anyone could possibly want. (I wish the Treo looked as cool as Blackberries do now... sigh). But alas there is a reason why the Treo still remains the most expensive Palm-based handheld on the market these days, coming in at a steal for $500. Twice the cost of an iPhone. But worth every penny.

And that's because one can basically do anything they’ll ever need with the Treo. Of course it looks like the new Pre discussed below is going to shoot it out of the water. But it appears that Sprint has a lock on it for now, which means that those of us with other services are SOL for the time being.

Speaking of SOL, that reminds me of when a good friend went out and bought his new iPhone and got all excited only to learn that he was then stuck with ATT phone service forever and got transferred to Europe for his job and now cannot actually use his iPhone... That's Apple in a nutshell. Nothing wrong with ANY company dominating a market if they're awesome and deliver the goods. But deliver the freaking goods already.

A caveat for diehard Apple lovers: this is not a diss on Apple. I used to LOVE Apple. My very first three computers were Apples. And I will be the first to admit that Gates and crew stole Windows from Apple. Windows is just a cheaper less stable version of Job’s and Wozniak’s brilliant software ideas. Gates and company were shrewd and some might even say very intelligent businessmen. Jobs and Wozniak were brilliant visionaries who didn't see these shysters coming and got a royal screwing out of many of their brilliant ideas. Duly noted. I also freely admit that for music and graphics and design and video and most other professional applications I would never and don't ever go PC. They also just offer a more stable environment without all the crashes and hiccups that Windows is so famous for. Granted. [Windows WAS getting better until the disaster they currently call “Vista.”]

BUT I will say this and then back to the Handheld issue: I often find myself in the position of being hired to help people choose and purchase new computer systems for their home or office. And besides the triple the cost price point of Apple computers, the machine has two other major drawbacks: one, all the software is proprietary and expensive and by the time aforesaid client has pimped out their computer with everything they’ll need to actually use it, they're looking at dropping at least 4 G’s. Which is about 3 times the cost of a Windows based machine.

The other major drawback is this little issue: what happens if there is something wrong with your Apple computer? Will a tech come out to your home or office and fix it? Nope. Not a chance. YOU will have to go to them. Can you imagine? In 2009? Taking your computer in to get looked at and waiting for a few hours or days to get it back? I'd rather have hot lava poured down my throat and swallow than lose a whole day of work. Or five as the case might be. Imagine all these poor innocent people trekking their computers to a store to get it fixed and leaving it there and not being able to work... when with a Dell PC for example you can actually just give them a ring and a guy shows up in a van the next day and completely fixes your computer for you no matter what's wrong with it. That's what life in the 21st century SHOLD look like. I will trade all the bells and whistles and cool looking interfaces in the world ala Apple for the ability to KEEP WORKING on my computer and not have to drag my ass off to some store because Apple hasn’t managed to master the art of customer support.

A good friend of mine has a “power” problem with her Apple notebook right now. The Apple geeks can’t fix it without her spending hundreds of dollars. And now they are telling her she will need a whole new motherboard or something crazy. So she's resigned to dealing with it or buying a whole new laptop. So the machine keeps crashing all the time or just shutting down right in the middle of her work and she loses it all... I feel bad for her – what can one even say to console someone in this predicament?... I had a similar issue last year and a Dell technician came out to my apartment and had the entire power section of the motherboard replaced before I was even out of my bathrobe. For free. I offered him a bagel and a cup of Joe to go. The least I could do.

We live in a hard-working multi-tasking gone-mobile world and we need our computers 24/7. Not just when Apple can get around to fixing them. A room full of so-called “Apple Geniuses” is absolutely no use if one cannot get access to them without wasting their whole day. That means COME TO US. Period. Or go back to watching your Star Trek reruns and shut the fuck up about offering good customer service.

Poor little Boo Boo Kitty, another friend of mine, made the switch to an Apple and the first day she was so excited by “how cool” it looked. But in order to actually use the machine, she was at the Apple Store on Fifth avenue in NYC everyday for months... she finally gave up and went back to a turbo-charged Dual Processer Quad-Screen PC that covers half her wall and has been happy ever since. Primarily for two reasons: one, because there was just too much that the Apple couldn’t do that she was already used to. Like run Outlook effectively as a power-user. And two, the “Geniuses” at the Apple Store couldn’t figure out how to help her. So they regretfully but gladly refunded her just so they could get rid of her.

Some of us, in fact most highly effective ambitious ass-kickers, work live and breathe out of a little something called Microsoft Outlook. Not that we think it’s the shit. (Because it’s not. There are plenty of fixes they need to make in Outlook! And often times we the users seem to know more about running the app than the technicians in India you get on the phone...) It’s just that Outlook happens to be the best out there right now. And Apple has so many known glitches with being able to run Outlook properly that it’s only a matter of time before someone either goes postal in some Apple store or they simply switch back if they are accustomed to using Outlook to manage their busy schedules.

I would be lost without my Palm. I'm out of town more than in town and even when in town I would have no clue what the day expected me to do without Outlook running on my Treo. Nor would I be able to have access to an ever growing database of thousands of contacts and respective files associated with those contacts. One day I will retire to a big ranch out west... my heart longs for the day when I will no longer live out of a little metal electric device in my hand all the time.... but that day has not yet arrived. So I live in and out of something called Outlook run on a Palm handheld.

(Apple will try to get you to switch to Entourage to replace Outlook, but google that nightmare app and you’ll see that people hate it so much that it’s a wonder that they still bother to make it.)

Which brings us back to the iPhone and handhelds in general. Google the phrase “Apple iPhone does not sync with Outlook” and you'll get the picture fast enough. The iPhone is just not quite setup well enough yet to truly sync with Outlook seamlessly. And without being able to sync your handheld with your computer you're screwed. You CAN JUST use your handheld as your main scheduling and database tool... as many do... but what if you have a major database task that requires a few hours of work? Are you going to do all of that on your iPhone? No. You're going to do that on your computer and then want to sync your phone to it. And what about scheduling? What if you have ten twenty thirty forty scheduled events, to dos, appointments, repeated events, etc each week? Are you going to do all that scheduling on your little iPhone? Nope. You're going to want to do it on your computer OR your handheld -- and do it interchangeably -- and then sync it to your handheld and have it all seamlessly appear there. With NO duplication (that takes a smart program – Palm has it mastered. Apple doesn’t.)

What if you want to take a look at someone's file you’ve been working on for a week while you're on the phone with them up on some mountain top? Did you do all that on your handheld? Hell no you didn't. You did it on your computer. A lot of typing, a lot of copying and pasting, and note-taking while on the phone perhaps etc... and you did all of this on your computer. And THEN you sync it to your handheld device and voila their entire file is right there next to their name on your phone while you're standing on some beautiful mountain. Go ahead, email it to them wirelessly from that same handheld from 4000 miles away so they can review it and get back to you while you climb another peak. It’s possible. But without Outlook none of that is possible. Not seamlessly at least. Not yet...

And lets not forget the most important issue. BACK THAT SHIT UP. In other words, if you're doing all your scheduling, event planning, database management, etc on your phone only and you lose it on said mountaintop, then what? You didn't sync to Outlook on your computer because you own an iPhone. So you lose it all... “oh well” seems to be the answer I hear from most people after they’ve gone bald from puling all their hair out.

Personally I hope it is sooner than later that the iPhone either becomes as functional for business users or Palm gets as kick ass and cool as the iphone. I love the look of the iPhone. Though I can’t tell you how many people abhor that weak excuse of a touchscreen thing they call a qwerty keyboard. That's going to have to change too. Touchscreen qwerty keyboards just don't do the trick if you text and type all day on your handheld. Unless you are a dwarf and have really small fingers. I hear dwarfs love typing on the iPhone. They're the only ones though, so far.

Bottom line, if you sit behind a desk all day and primarily work from a computer, you can probably do just fine with an iPhone when you're occasionally out on the town. It looks cool. It’s a fine phone, plays mp3s like an iPod, even offers you maps, the internet, email, texting, photos, and video. But if you're running all over the world and need to be reminded what your next appointment is and don't want a giant laptop hanging on your back, then Palm or Crackberry is still the way to go. For better or worse. Functionality my friends is still the key. One day Apple will get that.

Perhaps all of this is for naught and the iPhone will one day come together and be the baddass kick-butt device that newbies, techies, business people, and power-users all collectively dream of... I hope so.

Or perhaps the new Palm Pre will take a bite out of the iPhone so they aren't so nauseatingly ubiquitous. See some forum posts below from YouTube regarding the iPhone versus the Palm Pre. Interesting stuff....

otterboxiphone (10 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Hmm, I love my iphone and itouch but they are not simple to use. It's good for tons of stuffs except for business-related activities (calendar, to do,...). Palm is better from this standpoint, I have to admit.

TOTALLY agree! iPhone is cool. that's for sure. But for business apps --real life stuff -- PALM is still the way to go. Too bad because i would love to have all the practical application of PALM with the cool features of iPhone in ONE PHONE!!!! Why can't ONE company comprehend this?

wyguy1209 (15 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
i have an iphone and i LOVE it. but im happy for plam. FINALLY i phone to keep up!!! or even beat the iphone. the reason im happy because now apple will have to create the next iphone to be better than the pre. so...the next iphone will be a great upgrade and then palm will create something better. Consumers win!
p3t3b2 (16 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
Look at it this way, if Apples patent is certified Palm can simply change the name pinch/zoom to squeeze, Although I am not sure what Palm calls theirs. That is how narrow Apples claim is, that is one example. Basically Apple was not given a patent on multi-touch, they were give a very narrow patent on a certain swipe not swiping and zooming in general.
zsmorr92 (17 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
I did see that, Palm could literally do tiny little tweaks to the Pre and avoid most of Apple's arguments. Apple however cannot escape palm's. I'm gunna buy some palm stock in hopes that Palm does win this.
p3t3b2 (17 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
Go over to engadgetDOTCOM and read their in-depth analysis, Apple has been overstating what their patent(s) actually cover. Upon further review of the engadget article it is clear that Apples multi-touch claim is very narrow and that Apple infringed on many of Palms patents with the iphone. IF Apple decides (no indication yet only speculation) to press forward with a lawsuit they have much more to lose.
zsmorr92 (18 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
Its not over yet my friend, iphone infringes on many of palm's patents as well, this will be a war of epic proportions lol. Only one problem being that palm is so close to extinction that apple MIGHT be able to drive them to the grave... I wish palm luck, I too will be buying this phone.
igor86SRB (21 hours ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
omg i must buy this phone ! xD
Wankerlito (1 day ago) Show Hide
Marked as spam
Reply | Spam
it's official folks the patent has been awarded as of January 26 2009 and wow I'm really amaze how palm dared to copy most of the features the iphone has. Hahahaha. So what will happen now?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Origin of BED PEACE 2008

The problem was how to celebrate New Years Eve respectfully with all of the recent violence, turmoil, and humanitarian crises happening around the world, especially the brutal battle going on in Gaza and Palestine. To do the usual party to party scene all night just didn't seem appropriate at the time... considering... the idea just grew from there... from that original thought... Then it just came down to if we had the energy and the commitment to really do something. That's what it always comes down to isn't it? The idea was how much can we do if we focus 110% on peace in the world for four solid days and nights? That was the question.

Luckily I was with someone who, though she thought I was slightly mad, was willing to go along for the ride. That night of the day when we first talked about it I didn't sleep a wink. I tossed and turned all night long. I kept getting up and leaning over onto this night table and scribbling notes onto scraps of paper all night because I was dreaming of this thing the whole time I was lying there trying to sleep, sort of half awake half asleep. It was rolling through my mind like a movie. All I could think about was ‘what if we do nothing? I mean, what if we just sit here and talk and do nothing and all these people are getting killed every minute of every hour?’

The next morning I was exhausted from not sleeping but also energized. Princess Little Tree made a comment over coffee “Boy when you do stuff you really do stuff, huh?”

“Well, uh, yeah, I mean, that's how stuff gets done.”

“But this was just an idea you had and now it’s turned into this giant thing... and you're really going to go for it?”

“Yeah I know. Sorry about that. But look, it’s either this, or we’re jumping on a plane and heading to Israel today to see what we can do. Cause I don't think we can just sit here. I think I'll go freaking mad if we do.”

Miraculously she agreed. She was actually the one who had made the comment “I just don't think it’s appropriate to go to parties and celebrate on a night just because that's what we’re supposed to do and try to pretend that this isn't happening in Gaza. It feels wrong.” That comment shook me to my core. It was like someone was calling me to walk my talk.

Next thing we’re guzzling coffee and heading out into the city to go shopping and I'm carrying this giant shopping list I made that night in my sleep of all these things we would need. Posters, markers, balloons, flowers, candles, pajamas, flags of all the countries where there was conflict, food to keep us alive for four days... wine, tea, chocolate, extra batteries, film, it went on forever.

As with all things that seem providential or fated, it is hard to even remember the original impetus for the project, that singular moment of discovery... Looking at it now, seeing the footage, and remembering that we spent four solid days and nights doing nothing but working on this project to create peace in the world in whatever little way we could, that seems like an odd thing to say. But it’s true. It was certainly not planned.

There was the moment when we both had this realization that a night spent party hopping just didn't seem right. And then another moment when we both discovered that recently we had seen something about the 40th anniversary of John and Yoko’s infamous first Bed-In for Peace. We were in a car or something. “WE could do a Bed-In you know,” I casually mumbled without looking over. Just staring straight ahead watching the hills and giant fir trees pass us by. “I mean, not invite the press or anything, it’s your home and all, but just make a shit load of calls, voice our concern, film it, learn as much as we can, share it with the world...” My mind began ticking from there... “We could pray a lot. We could meditate on peace a lot. We could take every action that we take for peace for a few days. Even celebrate peace... It’s better than not doing anything...”

What we did know was that the world was already starting to go a bit mad from these sudden attacks on the people of Gaza and we could see both sides. Smack dab in the middle. Plenty of Jewish friends who lived in Israel and plenty of Muslim friends who live in what will one day be called Palestine. There was no SIDES except the human side... and there was a lot of bloodletting happening on the human side. And people were going to get pissed. That was a given.

This was going to manifest as hundreds of angry tirades on YouTube and GoogleVideo and Facebook and MySpace and the news. Angry tirades never got anyone anywhere. It usually just leads to more death and violence. As angry as I was there was going to be no angry monologue into that YouTube camera. Not this year. We needed to rise above the whole thing. Attempt to transcend it without losing sight of the fact that it was really happening. That was the key. Oftentimes when we feel helpless around something, we do nothing. That's too bad.

But the times they are ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changing.... more and more of us are doing things now. Taking action. Whatever it is. Young and old. The world has changed. People have changed. Humanity has changed. Busy or free, rich or poor, people are taking action. Barack and Michelle worked their asses off. But the people got them into the White House. I think that was a pivotal moment for much of the planet. I've got a whole roll of film I took of the freaking TV screen the night he won the election. I was in the recording studio. I didn't know what else to do but just snap pictures of the TV as if aliens had just come down to earth from Mars or something. So I just took a ton of pictures of the television. Yes. That was a moment.

Things had been bubbling up for years from the underground. Activism had become hip again. Volunteering had become cool. Giving had become cool. It’s funny. This was the nature of a blog post I had written back in 2002. In fact it was the very first blog post I ever wrote here. It was about precisely that.

The theme of it, the reason I wrote it in the first place, was to say that we must find a way to make giving and volunteering and activism cool and to make people in the public eye feel foolish or ashamed if they didn't partake. It isn't enough just to live here anymore. We need to attempt at least to make it hip to do good things and to encourage -- especially people of note and celebrity -- everyone to do it. Regardless of what they have going on in their personal lives. I was tired of people coming on TV pitching their newest product. The magazines and tabloids all about what so and so was wearing to some gala or event. For what?

Well I obviously wasn't the only one. Bono turned pitching products into an actual way of giving back with his RED campaign. One elegant bastard with that move. Bill Gates tells the story of witnessing Bono receive this epiphany over ten too many pints in a bar one night. And he then turns around and donates 20 billion dollars to various charities with his Gates Foundation. A few years later, in fact quite recently, Warren Buffet promised the Gates Foundation an additional thirty billion dollars of his own personal stock pile. Being rich and successful is no longer enough. In fact its downright dishonorable if practiced solely for fame and fortune. Giving has now become the in thing. The impetus for that original blog post back in early 2002 was my reading about Ted Turner giving away ONE BILLION dollars to the UN for humanitarian aid. One billion dollars. That seemed like a lot back then. Ted is a crazy old coot. But he's a good hearted one. That was seven years ago. I'm still blogging in the same place. Same URL. And Ted Turner has now given away literally billions more dollars to charitable causes.

And yes things have changed. Immensely. As I was about to close, for whatever reason, the Bush-Cheney administration came to mind. “So where exactly do these buggers come into the picture if things have changed so much?” was the thought. I mean they don't exactly fit with the picture we’re talking about do they? They seem almost shadows of an old world that most hope to forget about for a long, long time. But it reminded me of this theory that floats around in consciousness... it is something about the need for the opposite extreme to play itself out before we can boomerang back to a more balanced enlightened middle. Sort of that old adage “You’ve got to make a slight mess if you're really going to clean things up.” This is just about the only thought that kept me sane the last eight years.

The idea that there were still a few people who actually needed to see some people really foul things up before they got on the bandwagon and we set about to really making the world a better place. So that takes care of that. It can’t get much worse than it is now. They certainly did their job. We’re left with one foul mess. But we have hope. Real hope. And we have a world, however tattered and torn and frayed and battered, that for once appears to be ready to unite to create real positive change for everyone from every nation. BED PEACE 2008 was nothing in a larger scope. We know that. But it was an action. Perhaps at this point that is all we can ask of ourselves... just to do something.... anything. Little by little we’ll get there.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The God Delusion Illusion

IN the last few years there has been a small uproar in the religious and scientific communities, and the suburbs, throughout America over the publication of many books about whether or not a “God” exists. It is a very old, though newly dusted off and refreshed for the modern masses version 2.0 argument brought about by books such as “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and “The Language of God” by Francis S. Collins. Consider these the umpteenth remakes of old Hollywood Classic arguments. Some of these authors attempt to disprove the existence of a God. And some of them try to prove it. Neither successfully.

I find the whole trend as fascinating as I do annoying. I can’t get my head around why anyone in their right mind would dedicate the necessary time required to read a few hundred pages written by a man they don't know about why he doesn’t believe in “the God concept.” If a girl down the block wrote a book about why she doesn’t believe in big foot, would we care? We have been talking and writing about why we do or don't believe in the God concept for thousands of years. We have also invented thousands of names for this God, whether real or imagined. And through the millennia we have invented hundreds of religions and religious and ceremonial practices around these various Gods. None of which have ever helped us in our pursuit to prove or disprove these Gods’ existence.

We can no more debate with any degree of success the existence or non-existence of a “God” than we can the equally evasive concepts of “the ego” or “the id” or “the sub-conscious” or “the afterlife” or “the soul.” They are all intriguing concepts but neither provable nor disprovable. Ideas such as reincarnation, human beings having “souls,” astral projection, near death experiences, a spirit world, the list goes on and on. The minds of human beings are filled with ideas and concepts that remain no more than that: ideas. Ideas are not necessarily bad things. But they certainly are not real except in the fact that we may or may not be able to one day measure their existence with brain scans or more advanced technology. Even when we are able to prove the existence of ideas themselves, which we inevitably will at some point in the future, that does not imply that we will be able to do much more with them other than to know that so and so has one. It certainly will not mean that we or he or she will be able to prove their idea has any merit or truth to it.

It always annoys me a tad when someone tells me that they are feeling a little unbalanced and are thinking that they “might need to get their chakras aligned.” A good friend told me a few months ago that a psychic told her that if she worked really hard and mediated everyday she could have her “fifth chakra” balanced and empowered within five years. I was aghast. She made the comment so casually, with such certainty and conviction, as if chakras were as well-researched and proven a commodity as bread or milk or cheese.

Of course there are also vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and angels too. Brilliant ideas. Interesting ideas. But hard to prove or disprove. So most simply don't go there. Though some do. Vampires have been all the rage for hundreds of years. And angels for thousands of years. Though no one has yet to capture one with their cell phone and post it to YouTube. That will certainly be the day for us all. Talk about “millions of views.” Think of the instant celebrity for that lucky bastard.

The idea of a Loch Ness Monster captivated my attention for at least a day or two when I was a youngster, but I certainly wouldn’t read a book by someone now trying to prove or disprove the existence of a Loch Ness Monster. Now if someone manages to yank one up out of the deep one day, I'll be the first to forward that news link to friends and family the world over, but until that fateful day, I just have no interest in listening to someone pontificate about it.

By the end of my sophomore year in college as a budding young philosophy major I resolutely decided I was done being a philosopher. Or better put, I would be a philosopher for life, but I was done majoring in the art of debating the improvable. Much to my professors’ disappointment. They thought I would make a fine philosopher. But I switched majors to World Literature which I felt offered me a little more in the “real” department ironically enough. In those first two years we were introduced to many fine concepts. “Freewill versus determinism, the understanding of fallacies, the proper use of a killer syllogism. It was valuable learning. But I still did not think the study of things improvable was a worthy pursuit for a life well lived. At least not my own.

One of the assignments I remember that really nailed the coffin shut for me was when we were studying the philosophical dilemma of trying to prove whether or not WE existed or not. This is in academic circles a very real and seriously taken philosophical dilemma and one that hundreds of thousands of books and papers have been written about; both trying to prove and disprove the theory. Descartes attempted to prove this ancient dilemma by proclaiming “Cogito, ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.” One of the most famous philosophical utterances of all time. And one that many a man has used to prove to himself that he does indeed exist. (Which is of course inherently a joke in and of itself. If you are trying to prove anything to yourself, chances are YOU probably fucking exist. So leave it alone already.)

If I had stayed a philosophy major I would have proven my own existence to my professor by simply walking up to him and slapping him in the face a few times and asking him in the process if I existed or not. We can safely assume that eventually he would have had to give in, proclaim my existence to get me to stop slapping him, and given me an A in the process.

When people ask me, both religious and non-religious alike, how I can feel this way and still claim to be “spiritual,” have faith in a God, and regularly practice a religious faith tradition – currently a Christian-Buddhist fusion – I respond by saying “How can you practice being an honest, moral, good decent person without knowing or being able to prove with certainty that it’s necessary to be this way? You ARE an honest, decent, good, moral person aren't you?” Many attempt to live this way. One would wish that more did... But still, many do, and for what reasons specifically other than that it simply feels like the right thing to do? What more can they say? We have no proof that there is any real need to be honest or moral or kind or decent or ethical. Nor can anyone for that matter give a real proof regarding why they might be spiritual, religious, or attempt in their daily lives to connect with a higher power in the universe.

Of course I also tell them that I love, cherish, and have a very close and special connection and relationship with a God. Or at least I BELIEVE I do. And therefore I believe in the “God concept.” But that connection and the inherent belief in it that follows is very hard to even fully fathom, let alone put into words. And it is certainly not something I can prove to anyone other than to relay certain stories or anecdotes from throughout my life that have seemed to be slightly peculiar or coincidental, serendipitous, transcendent, synchronistic, providential or Divine in some way.

One day a few years ago a pastor that I admire and look up to very much commented that “One does not find God. God finds us.” He asked us to stop and think of the ramifications of this idea in our own lives for a moment. Besides the fact that I nearly idolize this man, for his insight, his brilliant mind, his passion for the Divine in all things, his tender open heart, and his example as a human being, I still found his statement and question very apropos to my own personal experience of “God finding me.” It was, in essence, exactly what happened to me. Something I have already spoken about in the past. It wasn't that I was not seeking, it was just rather unexpected and sublimely more impactful and transcendent an experience than I expected it to be when “God found me.” Something I will never forget. And quite probably something that will keep me a believer in the God concept for the rest of my life. And also keep me attempting to connect more deeply with He/She/It as much as I can as well.

When friends in my business ask me how I can possibly believe in a God – for there is no more secular nor liberal place in the world today than in the arts and entertainment business – I always respond that I completely understand and relate to the atheist and agnostic identity. I wore it for years. I dig it. It’s a very cool, practical, logical, and intelligent place to live. But for better or worse it is not a luxury I am able to afford now. God simply wouldn’t allow it. He found me alright. Yanked me up by my hair and dragged my ass into being “a believer.” The Divine showed itself to me in a way that I simply could no longer deny. There wasn’t really a lot of choice in the matter at first for me. Eventually I came around and deliberately decided it wasn't such a bad idea to take it on. (Still doesn’t mean I can prove this “Divinity’s” existence though.)

Some have asked me over the years if I don't feel a moral imperative to share my belief in a God with others – much like Mr. Dawkins or Mr. Collins have done -- so that others might be “saved” or live better lives. But I tend to shy away from such actions unless specifically requested by someone to tell a story or two or to relate to them why I have found a relationship with a God beneficial to me. I don't necessarily believe that all humans need to be “saved,” and even if some do, I certainly don't believe that there is only one way to save them.

I must admit I get a little hot and bothered under the collar by some of my peers’ insistence that we need to “save” the “souls” of people for the sake of their existence in the “afterlife.” Since we haven't as of yet been able to prove the concept of this “saving,” nor the “soul” idea, and neither the “afterlife” concept, why go there at all? I prefer to save people here now who need actual saving here now. If someone loses a home and all of their belongings I do feel some unexplainable need to help save them the hardship by lending a hand to rebuild their home for them. Or in times of good money I like sponsoring kids in dire need when a mere $30 a month feeds them that entire month and that amount is far less than I spend on Frapucinos anyway. If we can afford Starbucks, Jamba Juice, or Netflix, or even cable or satellite TV, then certainly we can afford to keep at least one other human being eating enough food to stay alive month to month. That’s “saving” to me. We’ll leave the “afterlife” to those IN the afterlife. They’ll let us know if they need saving. So far they haven't spoken up.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind sharing. In fact I enjoy doing it; in those situations when asked to do so. It is after all an amazing experience to live life with a sort of conscious and unconscious understanding, knowing, and feeling that we have a direct line with something awe-inspiring and powerful that is forgiving, all-good, and deeply understanding of our fate in life. I find the belief to be a healthy one. But just because that applies to me, I would never presume to believe that would apply to everyone else who shares the planet or solar system with us. I know plenty of people who have no such belief system in their conscious mind or thought processes and who lead admirably moral and exemplary lives. More so than myself, some of them. So...

That is another aspect to this ongoing debate that is irksome. Humankind’s relationship with a Divine power is a very personal thing. Something only each and every individual themselves can relate to or understand. And that includes those who choose to NOT have a relationship with any Divine power as well. For surely that is as much of a relationship as one who prays everyday to something. An atheist is still a theist. Not intelligent enough to be agnostic. Not wise enough to shut the hell up; very similar to evangelicals or extremists who give more thought-out Christians or Muslims a bad name by their blind ambition to convert those who do not agree with them.

We could go on and on of course, which is the nature of philosophy, and theology. A never ending dialogue about things guessed and conjectured but essentially, by their very essence, and inherently man-made and improvable. Fun and intellectually enticing and titillating, but rather wasteful of precious human energy if indulged in too much – especially if we are going to eventually get down to the real tasks at hand like using the best of what we have to make the world a better place in the short time we are here together.

It is not that “The God Delusion” is an illusion per se. It is simply an idea that has been around for tens of thousands of years. Nor is the pursuit of “The Language of God.” Both concepts and pursuits are as real as the inventors of the ideas, the authors of the books, and their respective readers care to make them in their personal lives. Sort of like “life after death.” Not a bad idea at all. In fact, I would submit that it is quite the comforting thought. But certainly not something one can prove or disprove, and certainly not something to spend a lot of time writing or reading about as if from some secret knowledge or impassioned faith. Better to get on with the living of the “life before death” and leave life after death in its proper place – AFTER death.

If it ever is to occur that one of the millions of us who die each year should ever find a way to communicate with those of us still “living” certainly they will be so kind as to let us know that “life after death” does indeed exist. While they're at it, they can also confirm or deny for us the idea of the soul, reincarnation, chakras, free-will versus determinism, the astral plane, the spirit world, and even vampires, angels, and big foots.

In the meantime, current statistics tell us that every 3.9 seconds of every single day someone who is living among us dies from either starvation or thirst on our small planet. For those who have a God, by all means PRAY. But let us also not forget to roll up our sleeves and take action. Mother Theresa, a celibate, dedicated, penniless, female-priest of the Catholic faith tradition taught us that valuable lesson. For all the prayers to a God in the world that we can muster, we still need real-world action if we are to make real progress as the fledgling Gods that we are ourselves in THIS world. But a little prayer here and there certainly won't hurt either.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hank Moody

Still mildly obsessed with this slight though acute Californication addiction. Catching up on all the episodes I missed of season 2 on On Demand. We all have our demons. And Hank Moody is one my many. His character hits a little too close to home sometimes. Not necessarily the thing a man needs when he's on the straight and narrow. That influence. But we’ve all had our fair share of being the bad influence on others. So it’s a bittersweet love affair we have. We used to live mirrored lives of one another. But the new me now is scared shitless that one day I will unwittingly glance in the mirror and see the reflection of our once shared lifestyles staring back at me once more. But one day at a time. And I've never been one to run and hide from anything regardless of the potential danger. Life isn't worth living without it.

There is of course the matter of 16 year old Mia stealing the manuscript for the first book he's managed to write in almost five years and publishing it as if it were her own and it taking off and becoming a best seller. Only he can’t actually come out and tell the world that it is actually his new book, not hers, because he's formerly had sexual relations with the hot little pubescent and if he does out her she's threatened to tell the world about their secret. When the reviews start pouring in and the book appears that it is going to be a smash, I couldn’t help but wonder if the writers of the show hadn't somehow managed to find a way to spy on the life of yours truly and the odd and cataclysmic series of events that have befallen me over the last few years.

At one point when Hank reads the New York Times review of his new novel that the rest of the world thinks is actually the work of this crafty young wench without scruples Mia, he exclaims “Holy fuck. Well I'll be dipped in dogshit.” "Oh yes. I can relate to that," I thought. Proud that he finally got a new book out. Proud that it is actually getting good reviews. And probably twisted up torn up and tattered on the inside about the wicked irony of his fate. He still broke. Her giddily receiving all the money and glory for his five years worth of hard labor. And he unable to do a damn thing about it.

I had to hit pause on the Tivo. “What the fuck? Are they following me?” I couldn’t help but see the resemblance. But as much as it stung it also somehow made me smile. “You aint the only cowboy beaten up by the young and the restless beeyotches of the world Fishy,” it seemed to say to me.

It reminded me of a recent event that brought the pain and tragedy all back to haunt my ass one more time. About a week ago I went to the local vitamin shop innocently enough to purchase a few bottles of Resveratrol – my newest anti-aging supplement obsession – when I noticed sitting on a shelf staring right in front of me a beautiful box of UltraMax Gold, one of the most cutting edge anti-aging supplements on the market today. I can safely say this because I developed, formulated, and designed this very product eight years ago. Three years ago the company I founded to sell millions of aforementioned boxes of the pure holy ghost of youth in a bottle called UltraMax Gold was sold out from under me by none other than Cleopatra Ecstasy, the once young beautiful and innocent girl of mythic grace but wicked potential lurking within that I once called “fiancĂ©.” The same girl glorified in countless songs on many of my finest albums over the past ten years before I discovered just how deadly that poison of blind love can be.

One day I had more money collected than I knew what to do with. Real estate worth millions, and five smooth sailing companies. One, a solid multi-national that when sold would guarantee that I would never have to work another day in my life. My family would be taken care of. My future children would be taken care of. Life was good. Moving to New York and leaving the business in the hands of the ex was a gamble I knew. But six inches of signed contracts and agreements later, I felt that we were both protected enough that we could go our separate ways and still manage to run our vast little empire from two different locales.

Two years into moving to the big apple I was about to get an ass full of sour grapes when I learned that every bank account that I had had been changed, my name taken off, my American Express gold card maxed out and unpaid, and worst of all our company sold to a larger publicly traded company in the same industry, Naturade. I didn't even learn of the sale of my own company till three months after it happened truth be told. Infinito told me over an MSN chat congratulating me on the great news. “DUDE! Congratulations man! You sold Ageless Foundation Laboratories! You are truly a rich man now! How does it feel?”

“Uh, well, it feels like shit bro because I have no idea what you are talking about.” He shot me over the link to the SEC filing and sure enough the tight-hearted little wench had somehow managed to physically sell the company behind my back, without my signature, authority, or even knowledge. All the while we spoke everyday and she continued to assure me that everything was going fine at HQ and that it would only be weeks, maybe even days, before we closed on the biggest deal of our shared business collaboration. This went on for nine months. Three months after she had sold the damn thing already. Why she kept up the front for so long after the dastardly deed had been done I have no idea. When I finally learned of her folly I immediately called her. “I knew you'd be mad,” is all she could say. She blamed it on her husband Flyboy and her attorney. Ahe said that they coerced her into doing it. She was speechless for a while and then eventually just became defensive and tried to defend her action, promising to make good on her “mistake” and pay me. Naturade as it would turn out later didn't even know I existed anymore. They were under the assumption that I had sold out years before. I was speechless. Dumbfounded. In shock.

The term for it is "white collar crime." Fraud. Grand larceny. Embezzlement of corporate funds and assets. And there's not a damn thing the police can do when someone steals that much money from you unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire a law firm. That's an ironic twist to American capitalism. Steal a TV and you go to jail. Steal a few million dollars and you have a good chance of walking away free as a bird.

It was a blow to my clueless head so hard and shocking that I fell into a downward spiral of denial, disbelief, and utter stupification. There was simply no way that anyone would do that to someone they were so close to for so long. Or so I thought. But I began to understand another meaning of the old adage “different strokes for different folks.” What might seem unthinkable to one person may seem perfectly acceptable for another if the situation presents itself and they think they can get away with it.

So the once wealthy Ambassador known as Fishy who sped around South Beach in his turbo fueled BMW 330 icc convertible smoking ten dollar cigars found himself dead flat broke overnight and locked out of all possible means of getting access to any of his hard earned cash because the bitch had changed all his bank accounts, maxed out his cards, sold their business, and was holding his real estate hostage. Crisis? Hell yeah. Someone call 911. I've fallen and I can't get up.

I learned a lot from the experience, I'll confess. I learned how dishonest I was myself. By having to deal with someone giving me an ass fucking so heinous and cruel and heartless I was forced to face my own transgressions and indiscretions and moments of dishonesty towards others. It was my only way out of the pain I was in. I needed to cleanse myself, my own inner demons, first to better deal with the battle I was now facing against a group of ethically challenged foes that I was never prepared in life prior to ever do battle with. And the only way I could do it was to clean myself out first.

I also learned the value and meaning of true friendship. Friends came to my aid like I had just spontaneously combusted and burst into flames, came running from all four corners of the globe. Some gave me money to keep going. Some gave me daily moral support. My brother, mother, college friends and roommates, and numerous former-girlfriends of the past called on a daily basis just to check up on me and see how I was doing. This was something that I will never forget. Eighty years old in a rocking chair on my front porch I will still look back on that year and the friends and family that came to my rescue in awe and with gratitude. I was born with a lucky star over my head man.

One day while walking in the rain down a wet Manhattan street I was cursing God, “Why have you done this to me? What am I meant to learn from this?” A voice whispered in my ear. “God didn't do this to you Fishy. People hurt other people. That's life. God has graced you with more friends than you know what to do with to get you through this. That's God. you have it reversed.” I got it. I understood. God was grace.

More lessons than I could ever write about in one blog post at 3:30 in the morning. But more than anything I learned that one day life can seem utterly perfect and stable and in a matter of weeks it can turn to utter shit turmoil and chaos and downright desperation sometimes. People are not always what they seem. And no matter what someone is telling you to your face it doesn’t necessarily mean that that is what is actually happening. I can honestly say that if you would have told me that three years ago I would have told you that you had it all wrong. That if we are good, then only good things would happen to us. Because that is all I had ever experienced before in my life. I walked around in a blind hippy ynew age daydream of a life. Felt like an angel skipping through the world spreading love and light and peace and joy and inspiration and receiving nothing but the same in return. I never imagined that something bad could happen to me, especially not by another person. And especially not by someone I had been so close to for so many years.

But life is long. Goddamn is life long. And we live it if we’re lucky enough. And we learn. One of the most important things I learned was to come back down to earth and realize that I was just another raindrop in a sea of humanity. I had been rich for too long. I was lost in sea of materialism and felt separate from most of the people around me. Everyone was either poorer than I was or wealthier. I had lost perspective. In the last three years I often joke with my friends that I again feel “at one with the people.” I can feel them. Smell them. Feel like one of them. I can smile with them. Joke with them. Talk with them. Laugh with them. It feels good. I am happy. I am starting over again financially at a time when I thought I would be living in a townhouse of my own in Soho half the year and a villa in Tuscany the other half the year. But I am still happy. I may have lost the empire. But I didn't lose the brain and guts and heart that built it to begin with. Which means i can do it again.

That was until a week ago when aforesaid box of UltraMax Gold stared me right in the eye at this particular health food store. I asked the sales clerk how the product was selling. He said “pretty good.” I told him who I was. He couldn’t believe it. He had never met any of the owners of a vitamin manufacturing company before. He only sold our products. He wanted to learn as much as possible about the industry as I could tell him. It was fun revisiting the old school so to speak. I picked up the box. Right there on the side of the box was our 800 number. The same toll-free 800 number I had ordered from AT&T back in my bedroom of my small rented little apartment way back when I first started the company. And here it was still on the box being sold by another company and I wasn't receiving a dime for the sales. The bitter pill made me choke a little but I attempted to keep my cool and kept examining the box, revisiting the memories of what created such an amazing fortune and life for me and so many others.

I turned the box over and looked at the back. There on the back was our mission statement. My mission statement. The one that took me three weeks to write, perfect, and finally release to our marketing department. “At Ageless Foundation Laboratories we believe that anti-aging is more than just extending the final years of our lives...” I read the whole thing. “God that is fucking good,” I thought. And here it is. Still on the box. My logo. My formula. My box design. It was all too much.

I rushed out of the store to get some fresh air. I called G2 who has worked for me for over ten years now. He started working at our company when it was just a fledgling little sapling of a tree. Back when there were only three or four of us. By the time we peaked we were doing 4 million a year and had 35 employees. He still works for Naturade and still works on the UltraMax product line that I created way back when. He could relate.

“G2 I'm looking at the box and the damn thing even has my original promotional ad copy still on it!” He responded: “Dog, not just that. They’ve got your formula, your logo, your name, its all you on that box man. They got it all.” “Dude I'm so sad... how am I supposed to feel bro? I'm torn up inside. This is fucked up.” “Yes it is my brother. Yes it is. Just try to be patient and diplomatic. Perhaps one day it will work out man. But keep taking the high road. It will work out.”

Wise words. And in a few hours I was back into the new life of The Ambassador. Doing my thing. Actually I was smack dab in the middle of filming a Bed-In for Peace 2008 style to learn more about and support peace all over the world and especially in the suffering Middle East. This is my new life. And it felt good. I soon forgot about my pain and resentment and realized that somehow over the last three years though I lost it all at the drop of a hat simply by trusting too much and not looking ahead enough I had somehow managed to create an entirely new life that was bigger and better and more exciting than I ever imagined it was going to be. Africa, Iran, meetings at the UN, TV shows, new albums, new loves and old loves, good friends and supportive family, and a deeper connection with The Divine than I ever thought possible.

So I'm watching Californication. Hank Moody is getting his heart ripped out by reading a stellar review of his first new novel in five years but its authorship is credited to a heartless young nymphet who takes a devilish pleasure and pride in the fact that she ripped him off and got away with it. Sounds familiar. He's left with a bottle of vodka, a cigarette, and countless romps in the hay with strange nameless women to drown his sorrows and bitterness. And in that moment I realized that I wasn't Hank Moody anymore. My days of bottle drinking, cigarette smoking, and romps with nameless women to numb my pain are behind me. Somehow I have managed to free myself from most, but not all, of the ache and resentment. “Keep moving forward” I tell myself. “Even when you feel like you can’t move a muscle, move one anyway. Just take another step. It’s only getting better from here. Truth is we never know what’s right around the corner.”

Goodbye Hank Moody. At least until next season. Let us hope for both of us that Season three offers us both a better script. And if it doesn’t, we’ll rewrite the fucker ourselves. Amen.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What the F is wrong with CNN?

CNN was at one time a news station. I remember this. I am not that senile; nor that brain damaged from a life of a debauched and reckless rock and roll lifestyle. It cannot all be in my imagination that CNN at one time in the distant past fashioned itself “a news station.”

But times have changed. I am not sure WHAT exactly CNN is now, but it certainly does not deliver much news. And even worse for wear we all are when we begin to wonder where exactly should we go to get the latest news of the world?

I have kept CNN on for the last six hours while working in my office. Currently a hot little minx they call Campbell Brown is on the screen offering a something she calls “No Bull. No Bias.” Her top headlines?
“Burris Blocked From the Senate.”
“Gaza Humanitarian Crisis.”
“Al Franken announces victory but not sworn in.” and
“CNN’s own Sanjay Gupta possible Surgeon General?”
“Obama’s Stimulus Package.”

Problem? At 7PM the ever increasingly blustering Lou Dobbs, whose show preceded Ms. Brown’s, reported the same five stories. Two hours before that at 5PM Pussy Cat Blitzer reported those same five stories in his “Vomitorium Room” not once but TWICE each. Before that Don Lemon also came on a few dozen times telling the world about those same five stories. Later tonight at 9PM Larry King will tell us how “Oprah” is planning on losing weight yet again. Now that’s some important world news for sure. Tivo that shit. After that Anderson Pooper promises to do what? Tell us all about “the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Burris getting blocked by the Senate, Al Franken declaring victory but not getting sworn in, and the potential pitfalls of President Elect Obama’s new 800 billion stimulus package.”

The pure guts of that man’s journalistic integrity. Such boldness. Stepping out on a limb like that to report on such rarely reported stories. NOT! He just repeats what we’ve already heard all day long from other CNN reporters. And he's not going to do it once. He's going to do it twice. Once in his first hour and once in his second. I cannot honestly understand how he can do it. And I mean that. For all the money in the world I wouldn’t myself personally do it. Unless I was drunk as hell, didn't give a fuck, and pretended that I was someone else 24 hours a day. The man has got to be brain-dead. No offense to brain dead people. I know he’s “just doing his job.” Ever heard of Edward R Murrow? So was he. Everyone at CNN can “just do their job” and still report the freaking news if they would simply stand up to the suits who run CNN who are telling them to run the same damn narrowly focused five stories ad nauseum all day long.

Speaking of nausea by the way, if bulimia is your thing, then CNN has got you covered because at midnight just in case you haven't barfed up EVERYTHNG you ate today they will replay the SAME Larry King show from earlier AND the SAME Anderson Pooper Scooper show. Doing what? Yep. Reporting the same damn five news stories they’ve shoved down our throats all day long.

So what’s up with “the most rusted name in news?” What caused CNN to jump the shark and run with celebrity wannabe puppet heads dressed up in different costumes repeating the same five stories all day instead of reporting news stories from all over the world? There certainly isn't a lack of news worthy events happening on planet earth. Life in today’s times is anything but boring or uneventful.

So what gives? Fuck if I know. And fuck if I care at this point. None should. We’ve given CNN enough time and attention and like the Bush-Cheney regime that illegally invaded Iraq and the White House it is simply time to pull the plug. CNN is a giant overstuffed corporate behemoth that talks too much, carries way too much weight, tries to pass its news anchors off as celebrities, and doesn’t deliver much except loud mouths, and questionable opinions rather than objective news reporting.

But let it be said that the people of the world would love to be able to have one place to go to gain access to comprehensive and objective news reporting from all over the world across a broad spectrum of subject matter. We have 193 countries on planet earth today if we count Palestine, which we should. So chances are there are more news worthy events happening each day in our world than one station could possibly deliver to the people even if they didn't repeat one news item more than once in a 24 hour period. That's a lot of news. And there are plenty of people who would love to hear it.

So that's the vision: One TV news station serving the people of planet earth 24 hours a day with the latest, greatest, and most up to date news items from around the world leaving no stone unturned, and preferably offering nary an opinion, but simply objective news reporting. Hey, you may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one.

Ambassador over and out.