A cool new surfing video popped up on YouTube this week, highlighting the coolest rides of the year from surfer “Grom” Ryan Huckabee. A very cool watch, that also happens to feature 2 songs from rock band Ed Hale and the Transcendence. The compilation video uses the songs “Solaris” and “Blind Eye”, both from the All Your Heroes Become Villains album.
I received a message this weekend from someone with a few questions regarding the potential of a “conspiracy” around the upcoming US presidential election. I don’t get a chance to respond to all messages I receive. I would say that the process is almost “random” at this point. Some just catch my eye. Many i simply never get a chance to read. But I try. I really do. In any case, here is one that I felt particularly intrigued to respond to for some reason.
“Ed… I trust yr opinion on politics….what do you think of this theory which keeps being tossed around. this was posted on the new Reddit Sub.. “Political Revolution” by a anonymous poster (don’t know if you go on Reddit but it is all anon) interesting times as Harry Palmer would say. hope you see this .. would love yr input….–]YourPoliticalParty [score hidden] 14 minutes ago
“Sigh Here we go again: Donald Trump is false-flagging as a Republican (thanks to the right-wing popularity he got from pushing the Obama “birther” nonsense in 2008) to discredit the Republican Party, to distract from Hillary Clinton’s scandals/investigation, and to force voters to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election as the “lesser-of-two-evils.” Trump and the Clintons have been close-friends for years. Hillary sat front-row at Trump’s 2005 wedding, while Trump endorsed her and donated to her 2000 Senate and 2008 Presidential campaigns. Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are golfing buddies, and have regular phone conversations where they discuss golf, politics, and the Clinton Foundation. Even Chelsea and Ivanka are friends. Now, after locking in the GOP nomination, Trump ramps up his divisive rhetoric and self-sabotage to situate himself as more unfavorable than record-breaking Hillary. That’s why every single thing that comes out of the Clinton campaign ultimately goes back to Donald Trump, because his role-playing as the right-wing menace is supposed to be her guarantee to the White House. They are putting on a show for the American people, where Donald Trump plays the ignorant bigoted businessman trying to run away with the country, and Hillary Clinton pretends to be the upstanding progressive hero who will stop him.””
Re this post, this is pretty typical/classic conspiracy thought. Nothing wrong with that. I first learned about, started studying and hooked up with the patriot movement (which is a term i prefer over “conspiracy theories…) back in ’94 when i was just a youngin’. So i’ve heard it all over the last twenty years.
What i find personally is that posts like this are way too simplified compared to reality. Reality is just a very complex system. And sure there are PLENTY of real live conspiracies at play right in front of our eyes. No denying that. (9/11, the EU, this insane increase in “mass killings” in the States is certainly suspect…since it’s such a new phenom.)
But regarding this particular issue you bring up, let’s just look at the “facts” (as best we can) and not necessarily try to make any conclusions, but rather just check them out…
Trump was a long time Dem, always has been. And then mysteriously switched to the GOP. This might seem suspect… BUT this was for rather obvious reasons. No way he was going to win a primary in the modern Dem party. Just not a chance. And he knew it.
[to me personally that seems an intelligent though crafty slimy move by someone with not much left in life to achieve except “becoming president”. You know, some people desire to serve. Other’s desire to achieve. Becoming president could be viewed as a “great achievement” by some, and if one listens to Trump, it sounds like he sees it as just another great thing to achieve. By all accounts he’ll probably spend most of his time on the golf course and trying to stay a TV star. Being president of the U.S. will grow old and tiresome and too much work for him quickly. And soon it will be just another buck head on the wall. Sooooo, no real surprise there.]
Trump does happen to be good friends with the Clintons and has been for 30 years. So isn’t it weird that he’s attacking Hilary so badly?
[From a small suburban mindset, sure; no one would want their longtime next door neighbor to treat them that way… It would be shocking. BUT…these are the games that modern american politics have turned into. It’s a blood sport now. It’s reality TV at it’s absolute worst and absurd. No love will be lost between these two. They get it. It’s a show. Trump will LOVE becoming president despite his friendship with and (maybe even) love for Bill and Hilary. And he will expect Hilary and Bill to take it gracefully. We are after all talking about “the highest office in the land” — at least to many folks. And as some say, “all’s fair in love and war”. I never liked or felt aligned with that sentiment. But many less evolved believe it’s smart to abide by it.]
Trump swept the Rep nomination in a record landslide manner that we haven’t seen in the 21st or 20th centuries.
[Conspiracy? Nah. Trump just recognized how the game has completely transformed and what it’s transformed into in the last 4-8 years. Does one really believe that Cruz or Rubio or BUSH for God’s sake didn’t REALLY WANT and work hard for that nomination? Seriously? It would be a really silly short-sighted and ignorant (simply meaning not possessing much knowledge about the subject) thing to believe. Trump won it fair and square. Sad? sure. Scary. Hell yeah. Disturbing because of what it implies about at least 50% of our fellow Americans and where their heads are at? My God yes. But a conspiracy? No. He won it. The people wanted it.]
What about the whole thing on a bigger level being one big false flag in terms of “them” KNOWING Trump doesn’t stand a chance of being elected in the General, and thus being able to secure the agreement they made with Hilary back in ’08 (remember that not so secret coming out party that the Bilderberg Group had when they handed the presidency to Obama and gave Hilary Sec of State and most likely promised her POTUS in 2016?)..?
[Okay, yes, from an informed widened back perspective, this seems highly likely and some would say downright obvious. And unfortunately, that just seems to be where Americans are today. It’s all image and soundbites and not many seem to care about research or facts. So… SOMEONE has to be in charge besides “the people”. “The people” are just too damn busy doing other things now to care about how they’re governed. So these wealthy small multi/super-national elitist groups control things and keep the peace from behind closed doors. And as long as everything seems to remain relatively calm peaceful and healthy financially, the people seem to be fine with it.
(Admittedly this proposition does suck. It’s a sad idea to ponder.) BUT I will say this, after more than 25 years of studying these issues and ideas, from the whackiest to the most fact-based and obvious realities, ultimately “the people” (here at least) still get to VOTE. SO even IF the powers that be promised Hilary the presidency, if the people don’t appear to be taking the bait, she will be out. Period. Place crash, sudden illness, a drop out “to be closer to her new grandbaby…” You’ll see. These small elitist cabals that control the goings-on of global finance and politics do NOT care who appears to be in charge. Just as long as they play along with the myths. They no more “like” Hilary than anyone else they could put in her place. WHOEVER is “selected” gets briefed on how things work, who’s in charge and what’s expected of them. It’s not like they just jump in and do whatever they want. By the time one gets to where Hilary is, they’ve known who’s in charge and what the rules are for a long time.
BUT that doesn’t mean in any way that they get a free pass. I mean, just look at how HARD Hilary has had to work over the last year and a half!!!! I despise Hilary’s actions as an alleged so-called civil servant over the last 25 years. (I don’t know her personally, so I have no opinion of her person..) But i have been in awe of how hard she has worked to achieve this goal of her’s. I mean sheesh! She is on turbo. I don’t know how she does it. It just looks like she REALLY WANTS IT.
But don’t be fooled. She’s still going to have to win it. The powers that be are very aware that the American people LOVE and cherish the potus election aspect of their beloved republic and are NOT ready to give up the myths of this process. They know full well that the people need to “feel as though” THEY are electing their president. And in some ways, they still are. Just not “completely”. They’re electing the choices handed to them from a small group of people who are willing to play ball who are selected and offered up to them by others. BUT this is how it’s been in the US for a very long time.
Well isn’t that a conspiracy? Yeah, sure it is. But it’s not a new one. We’ve already known this for decades. At least since they did away with JFK MLK and Bobby for not playing ball. Is it a conspiracy if everyone knows it’s happening? Conspiracy implies secrecy. And these matters are not very secret at this point. We already know and have known that bigger figures — much bigger than any president — “control things from the shadows” (as some people like to say. I prefer “from behind closed doors” because it is more realistic). Our world has ALWAYS worked this way. For centuries. Hell, for millennia.
Until the people can take no more and they revolt. It’s cyclic. At which time, the powers that be then regroup and form a new structure closer in look and feel to what the people think they want at that time. But they still stay in control. Just under slightly different guises. AND YES the people DO get a slightly altered world that perhaps looks and feels and acts a bit more like they want it to…(civil rights legislation, women’s rights, gay rights, labor rights, the abolishment of slavery and even capital punishment in many states now, etc etc…) So as dark and depressing as this system is, it does offer hope, at least a ray of it in my humble opinion.]
Okay, so to just wrap up your original question regarding the possibility of a conspiracy surrounding the upcoming election of POTUS, i guess the best way to view it is “well yeah, sure, in the bigger picture, of course. Just as it’s always been. Nothing’s changed. Bigger powers plan and implement these things decades before we’re even thinking about them. (just look at how long they worked on creating the EU! (Its founding was in 1941 in Berlin, Nazi Germany, then a little more work in ’44…. Slow, steady, constant…. Fucking amazing patience planning and perseverance to achieve that egregious goal. (28 European countries no longer have the right to national sovereignty nor the ability to vote for their own laws as a people in their own country because it’s all being done for them by selected officials in Brussels — for 28 countries!!!! = WOW! AMAZING what people are willing to give up when they don’t care.)
BUT, here in the States the people are getting a voice still. No one’s going to occupy that House that the people don’t like or want. In today’s America, the powers that be are very aware that that mentality still stands. So we’ll end up with exactly who the majority says we will. And for better or worse, it will probably be Hilary. The better of two evils. And haven’t we been playing that game for a long time….I hope we eventually transcend it. But in the meantime, a good way to sum it up is “It’s not a conspiracy if everyone knows about it.” And at this point we do.
One more thing, since we’re on it. And since you might ask or reflect on it… “But Ed, how are we going to eradicate these selfish greedy wicked controlling forces that operate beneath the surface of things?” you might be thinking…. I know i am.
Well, real quick, just look at them. They’re freaking HUGE.
– The Rothschild banking cartel is GIGANTIC and has its hands in everything in every country and has for over a hundred years.
– Vatican City. HUGE. It’s a freaking multi-national corporation AND a COUNTRY, besides being the world’s most feared and admired religion, and yet most people don’t even know that.
– Central Banks. (one could argue that this is just an extension of The Rothschild empire, and to a certain degree, for at least the purpose of simplicity, they could be said to be right). Private Central Banks like the not-even-a-little-bit-Federal Reserve and the BOJ, BOE, PBOC and ECB control the whole bloody civilized world. The World Bank and the IMF control the rest. So…. yeah, good luck doing away with them.
– The no-such-thing-as-Royal Families. They’re everywhere. Ubiquitous leeches with enormous wealth, the largest land holdings on earth STILL and protections in place that ensure their existence for generations to come. England’s royal family lives in their own PRIVATE COUNTRY withIN England in order to protect their money and sovereignty. (in other words so that they can always be able to do what they want when they want to, just in case the rabble get out of hand again…) It’s called “London” but a different London than the UK city that everyone knows. And this is a fact that even most Brits aren’t aware of. And that’s just England.
– The Bilderberg Group. So called. This is more of just a very small arm of these larger groups mentioned above. BUT research into THEM always eventually leads one to what’s really going on.
The point being is that IMHO we aren’t going to ever eradicate these giant institutions. At least not in our lifetimes. They’re just way too big and way too cemented into human society and our cultural paradigms. Religion, government, banking, the control of money, cultural identification…. These are HUGE archetypes for most people to abandon or discreate.
Best bet is that we keep on working from the outside, one person at a time and eventually we fold these larger powers into the mix like ingredients into cake batter — the same way they did to us — and through our positive influence and vibrations they will slowly evolve into more helpful and aligned institutions and individuals.
Of course there is also the possibility that we might also be able to speed up this process through doing work in consciousness from behind the scenes. Avatar Wizards and many others are already consciously doing that. That should give us an exponential increase in velocity and creational yield I believe.
Alas I wish I had “better” news for you. But remember, this is just one idea. Nothing is set in stone. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that. And to bring these high concepts down to earth for a moment, as an example, just look at what the Brits did last week! Sure they temporarily destroyed trillions of dollars in the world’s capital markets, BUT they demanded to take back their right to vote for their own laws and governance. That’s pretty big and impressive.
We’re three episodes into the global premier of the eagerly anticipated remake of Carl Sagan’s scientific documentary masterpiece, Cosmos. Word of it spread quickly through the various worlds of the literati and public alike. Over thirty years have passed. So…. Not only have scientific discoveries evolved, almost exponentially, leaving much new to cover, but so too has the technology used to create such a bold broad and far reaching work.
To aficionados and purists of course the original was perfect, without flaw and incapable of inspiring nothing but praise; certainly no complaints. But still… Curiosity is easily drummed up when contemplating a project of this size, with the big budget FOX would surely allot to it, not to mention having animation funny man Seth McFarland on board (?!?!) and the new narrator and guide for this remake would be celebrity physicist Neil degrass Tyson.
Being only three episodes in one could easily forgive the slightly humdrum pace at which the show is traveling thus far. Perhaps they’re saving the good stuff for later? Breaking out the big guns once the series catches on with a few more million viewers? But it’s not just the slow pace at which the show’s storyline is moving. With a seemingly infinite treasure trove of cash at their disposal the producers of the series have certainly spared no expense on breathtaking visuals and computer generated graphics and animation; but that seems to be, so far at least, the best aspect of the show.
Where Sagan’s Cosmos seemed primitive and quaint in the visual effects department at times — downright cheesy even, especially now, every episode left the viewer feeling inspired enthralled and captivated. More than anything though one walked away feeling educated, over-educated usually — with a ton of new knowledge to digest. So much so that it is common to find that anyone who has seen Cosmos has seen it numerous times. Usually more times than they can count. That was half the fun of the show. Trying to keep up with Sagan’s brain and his insatiable appetite to soak in every fact and ounce of important science data that had ever been discovered or postulated in the history of humanity. His enthusiasm for science and learning inspired us all to feel that same thirst. This is one of the many reasons why the man –a scientist mind you — became such a celebrity in his time, and a legend today.
The new Cosmos is not only slow but it also seems geared towards a less intelligent and curious audience. The science behind the science, the details, the math and equations, even the practical applications for said discoveries are all but gone in this new version. The script wiped clean of anything remotely mentally challenging or even intriguing. It’s as if the purpose is more to wow the audience into believing that science is “cool” without explaining any of the actual science itself. Names are dropped here and there, completely out of order and context — which is maddening for those who are familiar with the timeline of science’s greatest discoveries, and probably frustratingly confusing for those who don’t, but the exuberant raw passion and admiration Sagan seemed to have for these masters of human potential seems lost on Tyson. As if it’s all old hat to him.
There’s nothing particularly offensive or annoying about Tyson, but there’s also nothing particularly appealing either. Whereas Sagan could coax a drunken sailor to get excited about some of the most complicated scientific theories and equations ever invented with nothing but the sparkle in his eye and his soothing voice at once sonorous and excited, Tyson seems relatively tame if not downright bored half the time talking about the same matters. As if he’s either been there done that too many times already or he simply just isn’t as interested in the subject matter as Sagan was when discussing the same things.
So far the viewer finishes each episode feeling not much more than “meh… It was okay…”, but certainly not enraptured or on fire or ready to pop another one in immediately afterwards. The original Cosmos to many is a downright spiritual experience. No matter how times they watch it. Something very special and magical was created there that stands all by itself and alone in the annals of filmmaking. A concise but hefty 13 volume collection of boundless knowledge expressed and presented with excitement and reverence. The new Cosmos so far at least is an adequate passers by explanation of only the very basic ideas science has offered us through the years. Lukewarm tea without much flavor, sweetener or spice.
Whether this was done on purpose or not is more of an industry question. Perhaps the producers and the network felt that for audiences used to The Simpsons and American Idol, this was the best way to serve it. Almost hypnotically slow and filled with animation. We really don’t know. Choosing Seth McFarland — God love him for the hysterics of Ted — as an executive producer may have also played a role in why the show seems relatively bland to connoisseurs of the original series.
The man is after all a jokes writer, not a scientist nor even a science documentary producer.
Another factor that one finds a bit disturbing is the none too subtle atheistic view the show so far seemingly means to promote. It was no secret that Sagan was an agnostic at best. He stated as much quite early towards the end of the original series, though delicately respectfully. In this new age when certain cretinous minds are hellbent on forcing everyone to unnecessarily but unequivocally choose between believing in a God or not, the new Cosmos seems to be upping the ante on trying to prove that science displaces God somehow, when in reality we may just be discovering the intricacies of how the Divine Force has things worked out and coming up with our own names for these very natural systems in His/Her/It’s master plan. Either way, it’s an entirely unnecessary point to be making regardless; the exploration of spiritual, cosmological and theological ideas doesn’t really belong in a show extolling the virtues of scientific achievement. The sharpest minds understand that science and religion are not in competition with one another any more. Together though they are in fact creating some marvelous discoveries. And one day I believe will make THE most marvelous one of them all. In time.
Don’t get me wrong regarding the new Cosmos though. This show is still better than most anything else on TV but for PBS or HBO. It just isn’t the original. Nor an adequate update to it. I’ll still look forward to each new episode for the next few weeks at least. You can’t really get a subject matter closer to my heart than what this one explores. And who knows, it may just be gearing up and get really good once it gets going. I hope so. We need more television like this in America right now.
One very positive aspect of the show, (McFarland be damned for he’s one of the worst offenders in this arena), is that it isn’t filled with rampant gratuitous sex, violence and vulgarity like nearly everything else on modern American television. One cannot get through a half hour of TV during prime time today without more fucks cocks cunts balls bloody corpses axes through the head and naked bimbos riding alleged tough guys than one would normally encounter in an entire lifetime just ten years ago. Our grandparents — thank God they’re dead– wouldn’t recognize this nasty wicked and violent world we live in today. Why on earth today’s writers and producers think that adding the word fuck cock or dick to every sentence somehow makes a show funnier is beyond me. Frankly I believe the opposite is true. The shock and offensiveness of this new trend takes away from the viewers ability to be amused. This is one thing at least viewers of the new Cosmos don’t have to worry about. At least not yet anyway.
[An old draft recently discovered, transcribed and edited.]
Had to share this post from someone i saw on Facebook early this morning. Woke up at 3:45 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So i surfed for a while. I usually avoid religious posts. I don’t Like them or UnLike them. I just don’t pay attention to them. Any kind of public religious zealotry tends to turn me off, whether it’s pro-religious or anti-religious. Atheists are some of the most religiously zealot people you’d ever not want to meet, though they don’t realize it. But many of them are prone to the same kind of proselytizing that radical evangelicals or Muslims are. Personally I find it peculiar, the apparently dire need some people seem to have to profess preach or proselytize their faith to others. Especially in a mixed setting like Facebook or other social media websites where we’re sure to encounter people from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures, faiths and religious traditions. Chances are, we’re most likely in the minority; if not due to our religion per se — Christianity is after all a surprisingly popular religion globally — but in our desire or willingness to talk about it publicly. When religious views are so personal; when we are fully aware that our own personal religious views are not being solicited by others… and are most likely not even welcomed.
It’s akin to running around town buck-naked, this trend to go social with your religious views. We all get naked when we have to. That’s a given. It’s a fact of life we all quietly and humbly accept. But we don’t find many people asking anyone else to show it to them publicly. At least not if they’re sane or rational folk. Public displays of religion have always struck me in a similar fashion. Not only is your own nudity generally unwelcome in public places, it can also more often than not just be downright insulting to some; this assumption that everyone wants to see your wanker flopping around in the wind. So if you live in a world where everyone does their best to be respectful, you simply keep your clothes on in public. The same rule should apply to waving our religious flag all over the place every time you open your mouth or type something publicly. I’m not against religion. Certainly not against being religious. Obviously. I just believe that it’s a very personal thing. It’s hard to pull off publicly pronouncing one’s faith when it wasn’t requested in the first place.
When it comes to religion, especially as it relates to Christianity in the United States, there is an unspoken — unfortunately sometimes spoken — idea that some people have that “their way” is the “one true” or “best way” there is, insinuating that all other religions are somehow inferior to theirs — simply because they aren’t christian. When someone posts something super religious unsolicited in a social media arena for all the world to see, knowing damn well that the majority of the people who will see it don’t share their views, it comes across snobbish, holier than thou, cocky, sometimes downright insulting. But if you go deeper, and attempt to view them in a respectful way, it may not be as cocky or snobbish as it is just ignorant; just not being as aware as most people. I try to view it that way sometimes. To give them the benefit of the doubt.
So yes, I do tend to respectfully ignore those ultra-religious posts by others, regardless of which faith tradition they happen to entertain themselves with. For all the reasons listed above. Every now and then though something will catch me. This morning was one such occurrence. Perhaps it’s because it’s the middle of the night and I’m still half asleep. Or perhaps it’s because it just really resonated with me. We won’t know for years really… till this post becomes a forgotten re-read. But what grabbed me was a prayer. A simple prayer. A public prayer. Hung out to dry in the wind for all the neighbors to see. Just so happened that what this person posted resonated strongly with me; probably because I’ve been praying the same damn prayer nearly word for word for weeks now myself.
I’ve felt a strong compulsion to pray a lot more and connect with the Divine a lot more lately. Not sure why. Something special is happening. Has happened. Something bigger than usual, larger than just me or “us”. And I cannot help but feel that it doesn’t have to be inherently religious for those that choose not to go “there”. But science has now discovered a cosmology that is big enough, expansive enough, (magical enough if you will) to allow for this kind of thought and still permit “rational thinking” for those who normally would never venture into those waters.
It isn’t like the old days — ten yeas ago? Five years ago? Even one year ago? Where one had to choose between being religious or being intelligent, sane, rational or logically minded. We can clearly see that in times past this was a choice that one had to make. All of the great faith traditions or religions that humankind has come up with (excepting Buddhism, which is NOT a religion in the strict sense) have been rather kooky, to put it kindly. They’re filled with contradictions and hypocrisy, legends and myths so glaringly unrealistic and manmade that you’d feel a fool to take them seriously. Once you study them that is. [And let us remember that a lot of religious people never make it to that point — which is why I recommend being as respectful as possible when interacting with someone overtly religious. They’re raised in a religious household and they never reach a point where they study it from a historical or academic perspective. They just take it at face value. Based on what they were taught as children. It’s important to remind ourselves of this; for perspective and respect.]
But for those who have taken the time to study the world’s religions, or even their own, it becomes apparent rather quickly just how insanely irrational and made up they all are. Usually this leads to a slingshot kind of reaction. One minute you’re religious and the next minute you’re super anti-religious. A logical pragmatist. A realist. Some even go so far as calling themselves atheists, though that’s a religion too. The anti-religion religion. The smartest minds will tend toward an open minded agnosticism. Which is where most of the civilized world seems to comfortably rest now in consciousness and in our cultural tendencies. But this Divine Force still pulses out there. In here. It’s still alive. Living. Existing. Creating. Sustaining. How involved It is in OUR day to day lives, one cannot be sure. How available It is to us even, we can’t be sure. But there’s nothing wrong with trying. No harm in it. In fact I’ve always found it to be a beneficial endeavor.
Which is where we started here roughly an hour ago. The sun is rising now. I will drift back to sleep soon. But not without first praying. I almost always fall asleep praying. Whether it’s night time or day. A full sleep or a half hour nap. Just what or who we are praying to… that’s a difficult thing to qualify. For everyone the image is probably different. I once heard a friend casually explain to a small group of us that he almost always prays to Jesus “because he was human” and he finds it easier to pray to “something he can understand”. I found this idea remarkably peculiar. Only because I personally feel the exact opposite of this. I tend to shy away from “praying” to Jesus on a regular basis — precisely because he is/was a human. I see him more as a conduit to the Divine, rather than a divine force himself… Not that I “don’t believe” that “Jesus was God”. I would never claim to know either way. Frankly I don’t know how anyone can make a decision about that one way or the other. I wouldn’t dare. So I remain optimistically open-minded about it. But when I pray I tend to pray to “something very large, expansive, all-knowing, all-loving, compassionate and omnipresent”, something that is big enough to hold the entire universe in its mind and/or beingness and yet small enough to fit inside the smallest sub-atomic particle. But see, that’s MY version of the Divine. Surely very different than the next person’s.
The question is, can God (the Goddess? Not gender based at all? Completely removed, evolved beyond gender-based organisms…?) be flexible, pliable, malleable enough to encompass all that we attribute to it and yet still BE what IT IS in reality? If anything? I’d venture to guess yes, He/She/It can. And does. And it is precisely at this time in OUR evolution that we are beginning to see and understand this. Surely God / the Divine already gets all this. Waiting for us to get it. Slowly but surely it seems as though more and more of us are coming around. As I’ve already recounted numerous times here in the past, I didn’t find God or religion as much as IT found me. The gift of that is not lost on me. I still remain exceedingly grateful for those experiences. For I know very well what it’s like to use one’s head to try to “figure God out”. It’s a maddening process. Your heart may long for one thing but your head always gets in the way. Logic and reason. Without some kind of a super-natural or paranormal experience one is usually left with just human logic and reason. God doesn’t tend to fit too easily into a rational logical view of the world. Especially when approached through the small minded lens of one or any of the world’s major religions. But once God finds you, once you come face to face with It, heart to heart, mind to mind, soul to soul, once you FEEL this divine presence, or hear it… it’s hard to deny it, no matter what logic or reason or rational thinking tell you.
And now we’ve caught up, scientifically speaking, to just how grand this God-construct can be or possibly is. Our science is expanding way beyond what it used to be, how small it used to be. Physicists are finally starting to create cosmological constructs that are expansive enough to make room for this Divine force. And thus prayer can be not only possible, but encouraged. At the very least for experimental purposes. (And that’s out of respect for the still-purely logical pragmatists who find the existence of an external Divine force in the universe unlikely). But for many, ones who have extended beyond that kind of thinking, or who, like me, have experienced something other-worldly that has permanently shifted their views, prayer just may be the fastest way for us to get to the bottom of what this special thing is that we’ve been calling God for so many thousands of years. I am most fascinated imagining what our beliefs will be like in another ten years, or another fifty, or one-hundred, pertaining to this Divine force. Who will strike theistic gold first? The scientists? Or the spiritual? Or will it be a more subtle vectoring of both worlds simultaneously? A sudden realization of the merging of both worlds without a deliberate attempt to do so…? Seems very likely. But we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime it’s certainly an intriguing proposition.
– Posted by The Ambassador using BlogPress on an iPhone
Mainstream media outlets such as The Today Show were abuzz this morning due to a new editorial published in this week’s Annals of Internal Medicine entitled “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements”. The editorial was based on three studies that just concluded looking at the effects of multivitamins on preventing heart attacks and cancer, as well as improving cognitive function in men older than 65. It’s conclusion, yet again, was that vitamins do not help improve human health and in fact “can be dangerous and should be avoided”. This is the message that went out to tens of millions of trusting Americans. The problem is that it’s a flat out lie.
There are so many problems with this story that it’s difficult to know where or how to begin to address it.
[Before we do so, just for the record, let’s be clear where I stand personally with some background and a disclaimer so there is no confusion. Though it isn’t my main occupation, out of pure love for the subjects of health, wellness and anti-aging research, as an entrepreneur I have worked in the health and nutrition industry on and off for over twenty years on the side. It is a passion. I started off as a hobbyist out of a burning desire to improve and optimize my own health — I envisioned a sort of super-hero like optimal ageless health and vitality. Eventually I decided to enter the industry as a business person. I’d always loved business and I loved health and nutrition, so it was a perfect fit. Through the years, I have worked as a researcher and writer of numerous articles on the subject and as a health and nutritional supplement consultant to individuals. I also owned a chain of health food stores that were sold to the GNC Corporation, owned a chain of juice bars, have done consulting to retail store owners in the industry, and eventually transitioned to product development where I worked directly with large manufacturing labs to create a line of anti-aging products — the most notable and successful being the UltraMax-HGH line. Though it may be redundant because it’s well known data, I still feel it’s important to state for the record. I eventually moved to the manufacturing side because that’s where my real passion was — supplement research, as well as where the most money can be made. I founded and was the CEO of a large nutritional supplement manufacturing company called Ageless Foundation Laboratories for six years that I actually started out of one of my health food stores when I was 25 years old. It grew into a multi-million dollar company within a few short years. That company was eventually sold to a much larger publicly traded company called Naturade. The products I developed are still on the shelves of most health food stores in America and in many other countries around the world. With that said, I do not currently own any nutritional supplement companies nor profit in any way from selling any. I have no vested financial interest in the industry. Only a love and passion for the subject.]
With that said, let’s begin. The most important thing to understand about this most recent article and the studies that were released is this: Number one, this is only happening in America. Most other civilized countries around the world do not let large corporations and industries control the health of their population, nor do they auction it off to the highest bidder the way the United States does. Hopefully this won’t last forever. Number two, there is a battle being waged against the natural foods and nutrition industry by the American medical establishment. It’s corporate piracy at its most ruthless. It has nothing to do with health or wellness or anyone wanting you or me to be healthy. Instead is has everything to do with making money. It’s been going on for nearly one-hundred years. Ever since the transition from medicine being an all natural healing modality to a corporatized monopoly worth hundreds of billions of dollars back in the early nineteen-hundreds.
Here’s the skinny: drugs and medicines can be patented. As long as they are “synthetic” or man-made. Natural foods and nutritional supplements cannot be patented. The reason for this is because supplements are normally “food sourced”, whereas drugs are synthetic. Foods cannot be patented. (Though this has not stopped Monsanto from somehow managing to find a way to patent seeds of the earth and suing farmers for using them. Go figure. But that’s a different post.) There are literally billions of dollars that a company can make from a patented drug, because once it’s approved, they are the only company that will be allowed to sell it. Nutritional supplements do not operate like that in the United States. No one can patent an herb or vitamin and be the only company that is allowed to bring it to market. This infuriates the pharmaceutical industry. Anything that has the potential to take money out of their pockets does. And the nutritional supplement industry has turned into a 16 billion dollar a year business. Not too shabby.
Every time a person chooses to go all natural versus the traditional allopathic medicine route, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies lose money. There is nothing the American medical industry despises more than all natural or holistic medicine. They are constantly working behind the scenes — through bogus clinical trials, or propaganda campaigns disguised as PSAs, or in Washington DC through spending hundreds of billions of dollars in lobbying — to discredit anything remotely natural or nature based. They’ve been trying to discredit chiropractic medicine for decades. To no avail of course, because chiropractic really works. And it works great. No one should be allowed to live without visiting one at least twice a year if not once a month. But don’t go telling a traditional doctor that. They have no idea how to fix the body without drugs or surgery. The same goes for nutritional supplements. If you take St. John’s Wort, B vitamins and EFAs along with plenty of exercise to ward off anxiety or depression for example, drug companies don’t make any money. Neither do doctors. The same goes for lowering your cholesterol or preventing heart disease or any number of other maladies. If you stay healthy and never get sick through good eating habits, restful sleep, lots of exercise and the right nutritional supplements, needless to say, no one who works in the traditional medical establishment is going to make any money from your wellness. It’s only from your sickness that they get paid.
Here’s the funny thing about that though. As soon as a new herb is discovered that has healing properties, the medical establishment immediately rushes off to the lab to try to figure out what in it is so helpful so they can synthesize it., i.e. steal it from nature. If they can synthesize it, that is, create it in a lab from scratch in an artificial manner and render it useful in some way as a “medicine”, at least half as useful as the original herb itself, they can then patent it and sell it as a “drug”, even though all it is is just a fake less-effective version of something that came naturally out of the ground. Bayer Aspirin is nothing but a synthesized version of the herb White Willow Bark, an herb that was used for thousands of years as an all natural analgesic. Heroin and Morphine, also invented by Bayer interestingly, are simply synthesized versions of the Poppy Plant and opium. The hair loss drug Propeica may have been a new wonder drug at some point. But there was nothing new about it. In fact it is nothing but a feeble attempt at a synthetic version of the herb Saw Palmetto extract, something which has been used for thousands of years to lower the body’s excess DHT (di-hydro-testosterone) — one of the main causes of hair loss. Ironically simple and cheap Saw Palmetto extract works ten times better at preventing hair loss than the very expensive drug Propecia. Go figure.
I must admit to feeling more than a wee bit annoyed by having to post this information, only because I’ve done it a million times in a million ways. And so have lots of other people. There is nothing that will be written here that is not easily accessible through simple online research or at any local library, AND just due to the fact that I have been discussing it for so damn long. Thousands of people and organizations have. So forgive me if I skip around a bit. My feeling is that the most important thing here at this moment is just to get the information out there yet again to address this particular study asap — especially since this particular article mysteriously garnered so much media attention. In fact, let’s address that for a second with another very important area of day to day life where we are constantly fooled.
Nothing we see or hear or read in mainstream news has not been paid for and “pitched” through a PR firm or a news wiring agency. One of the reasons why the media reports on the White House everyday is because the White House sends them press releases everyday. It’s nearly a mandate. Whether interesting or not. President Obama pardons a turkey on Thanksgiving — a ridiculous event for so many reasons — and yet year after year you’ll see it plastered across your TV screen and splattered on the front page of many local newspapers. Why? Because the White House issued a press released through the right channels and big media covers any and all that does so. So too do large corporations that can afford to. So too do large Hollywood studios and television networks pitching their “next big blockbuster”. If you’ve always found yourself confused as to why the Kardashians and Paris Hilton and Brtiney Spears are all over the news when you have absolutely no interest in them and you have a feeling that most everyone else you know shares your sentiment, the reason is simple: they are paying for very expensive PR firms and issuing daily press releases. These get picked up by news distribution aggregators such as Reuters or Associated Press –wiring services — and then trickle down to smaller news services such as CBS, NBC, CNN, etc. and their local affiliates. That’s how we get our news. Through nothing more than a slightly altered, subtle form of glorified advertising.
This is the main reason why every media outlet in America picked up on the “vitamins don’t do any good” piece today. The Annals of Internal Medicine has access to billions of dollars. They issued a press release. Many news agencies don’t even bother to check on what they publish. They simply re-distribute and reprint everything that is issued through the news wiring services. I know this because I’ve been in the entertainment industry for most of my life and know how it works. If there’s any guilt to be had in the process, and I don’t necessarily believe there is, I’m just as guilty as the next guy. You wouldn’t believe the kind of things you can get away with releasing as “news” simply by paying to release it through the right channels. It’s laughable. And at the same time frightening as all hell. A good PR Firm will cost anywhere between $4,000 to $25.000 per month with a three month minimum. Without one of them, you’re a nobody. Meaning, you’ll have a tough time getting anyone in big media to pay attention to you, no matter important your news might be. If you want to do it yourself, you can form your own corporation and purchase a subscription to PR Newswire — the largest of the wiring services — for $1500 a year and then pay approximately $700 for about a 500 word press release. You won’t necessarily get picked up by The Today Show. That’s where a big name PR firm comes in. But you will get your news in tens of thousands of media outlets all over the country in less than 24 hours. This is how it’s done.
It’s the reason why we only hear about things that have money behind them AND why we almost never hear about things that do not have big money behind them. It’s the difference between major record label artists and indie artists; the difference between big budget Hollywood movies and indie films; the difference between big celebrities — no matter how annoying or worthless to society — and admirable do-gooders who we’ve never heard of: publicity, PR firms and PR wiring services. Or the lack thereof.
This is also why we heard all about this new study claiming that vitamins don’t do you any good but we almost never hear about the millions, yes, literally millions, of studies that have been conducted in labs all over the world that show that nutritional supplements cure disease or extend life. There’s just no money in running a science lab and conducting these studies unless you can patent that nutrient. And nutrients cannot be patented. This doesn’t stop labs and universities from doing studies. Scientists love research and exploring, getting to the bottom of things. They’ve got a sincere innate passion for discovery. They’re almost all conducted by research grants or non-profit companies who care a lot less about business than they do research. So the studies are out there. They just don’t ever make the news because there’s no big payoff in it. If reading about health studies and clinical research is your thing, or if you just want some proof that nutritional supplements work miracles in improving human health, go here: http://www.lef.org/search/?q=Vitamin%20C. You will see hundreds of studies that have been conducted that prove the effectiveness of vitamin C supplementation in preventing disease and improving health. This is just one example. Millions of such studies exist about thousands of different vitamins, herbs and other kinds of supplements. Everyone is at first shocked by how many millions of studies are out there that show how effective nutritional supplements are to human health. It is quite shocking at first. But again, we just never hear about them. THIS is one of the many shams being perpetrated on the American public on a day to day, year to year basis by big government controlled by bigger corporations.
So why would the medical community not want us to know about all these studies? Even more important, why would they spend millions of dollars to conduct different studies to try to disprove the thousands of studies that have already been conducted that show how effective certain supplements are? Hopefully you now know the answer to those questions. No money in nutrients. Plenty of money in disease, doctors, medicine and patented drugs.
I know what you’re thinking and you’re right. I didn’t quite believe any of this when I first heard it either. That was 20 years ago. I was just a kid. It sounded crazy. Like conspiracy theory speak. Doctors are in collusion with pharmaceutical companies to try to steer me clear of natural healing so they can profit from me being sick and using only drugs? It sounded insane. (But hey so did almost everything I learned about the history of the popes and the Catholic Church too….) But I kept reading and studying. I learned about how fluoride first got introduced into the system in America to “fight tooth decay”. Turns out that giant aluminum companies didn’t know what to do with the millions of pounds of aluminum fillings and dust they had leftover after manufacturing. So they got the idea to pay the government to dump it in the lakes and rivers. The government needed the money. As they always do. So they bit. The manufacturing companies were able to pay the U.S. government less than they were paying large union backed disposal companies to dispose of the same junk. Pretty soon they launched campaigns talking about the potential benefits of drinking “fluoride” — a chemical that the stuff breaks down into. They began paying dentists, in the form of scholarships, grants, donations and sponsorships of course, started pseudo-research organizations to promote that drinking fluoride and rubbing it on your teeth could prevent cavities. After all, aluminum is an abrasive. It made sense in theory. Millions of dollars were spent. Tens of millions. But nowhere near as much as they were spending to dispose of their aluminum leftovers the proper way. So it was actually cost effective. Pretty soon every municipality in America wanted those monthly checks from the big manufacturing companies. After all, all they had to do was allow them to dump aluminum fillings into public water systems. Flash forward a few decades. The aluminum manufacturers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars and 99% of Americans believe that rubbing aluminum dust on their teeth is good for them. And yes they even believe that drinking it is good for them.
The same thing happened with antiperspirant. The average American antiperspirant is actually nothing but the refuse of aluminum manufacturing companies. Read the ingredients. You’ll see it right on the label. The process allegedly works by clogging your pores with tiny metal shavings. You still perspire, which is a natural method your body uses to expel toxins; you just don’t perspire under your arms. You’ve clogged your sweat glands up with a toxic heavy metal. It’s brilliant. It also just might be the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, right? Who in their right mind would deliberately shove microscopic toxic metal shavings into their body only for it to leak into their entire system? Turns out that a lot of people do. Because they don’t know any better. They’ve been fooled. Again.
With the advent of twenty years of research into Alzheimer’s Disease, many studies are starting to show conclusively that the one thing that all Alzheimer’s Disease patients have is an excess of aluminum in their brains. Where would all that aluminum in the brain be coming from? You guessed it. Antiperspirants, toothpastes and fluoridated tap water. The irony is that aluminum pots and pans have basically been banned from being used in the kitchen precisely because we are so concerned with the potential harm that is caused from eating food cooked in aluminum. Go figure that one out.
The first question I asked myself when I started learning about all this was “why isn’t the government doing anything to stop all this?” I believe that if you’re smart enough to be here, you probably already know the answer to that question. Why did the Obama administration allow Monsanto to block the labeling of genetically modified food into becoming law when he promised to be the hope and change president? Why has he locked up more black men for drug possession than any other previous president? Why has he deported more illegal immigrants than any other administration? Why does he have the dubious honor of being the first American president in history to authorize the assassination of an American citizen with no arrest or trial? Why doesn’t he do anything about fracking when whole towns around the country are becoming contaminated, desolate, unlivable swamps of pollutants where people can light their tap water on fire with a match and hundreds are getting sick or dying? There are a lot of these questions. In the end, the answer always seems to be about one thing: money.
I don’t believe that Barack Obama is necessarily “evil”. No more evil than George Bush or Dick Cheney or any of the others. Rather, it appears more that they just have a stronger desire for personal achievement than they do a desire to improve the world around them or right the wrongs of the world. In order to reach the level of president of the United States, one has to say yes to a lot of things one would never normally say yes to. Excepting the purely mad or sociopathic that is. Strange bed-fellows begin to appear in your inner chambers. Carrying large amounts of cash. What are you going to do? If you say no, you lose and you’re never heard from again. But if you say yes… The world can be yours. Or at least the presidency. Unfortunately it doesn’t begin and end at the top. In fact it only gets worse the further down the food chain we travel. Less money. Less access. More need. More ambition. As long as we continue to fool ourselves into thinking that attention hungry, ambitious politicians make effective civil servants and leaders, we will continue to face these same dilemmas, dangerous, harmful, even deadly.
It took me a long time to believe that the government knew about potentially harmful practices and products and didn’t do anything to stop it. It’s a terribly frightening fact to contend with. You feel naked and alone when first confronting it as a reality. For if you can’t trust the government, then who can you trust? And your doctor? Egads, you’re telling me that he or she is knowingly making decisions that are harming my health?
No. Not necessarily. It turns out that many of the largest medical schools in America were started by and are largely funded by large multi-national corporations, like Carnegie or Kellogg’s. There are agendas. Subtle but strictly adhered to. Scholarships are given out by the thousands by pharmaceutical companies. And it’s common knowledge that your average American medical doctor takes no more than three credit hours on human health and nutrition. This means that after eight or nine years of schooling they may know less than you do about health and nutrition. That’ s an alarming statistic. But it helps shed light on why most American doctors don’t know much about nutritional supplements or even health itself. Instead they are trained in disease. And the way they are trained to treat disease is by medicating it (with drugs) or operating on it. In fact, most doctors are even paid in various ways to prescribe drugs to their patients. This again is just a staggering fact to integrate. Why on earth would a doctor prescribe you an all natural nutritional supplement if they’ve been programmed to not know anything about nutritional supplements and instead are being paid to dispense drugs? They’re not evil. They’re just ignorant. At least at that level. It’s the higher-ups who are truly evil. The doctors are just the dumb middle men. Some of them at least.
If you ever want to test this out, next time you go to your doctor, ask him what he knows about a particular nutritional supplement. Not what he thinks about it, but what he knows. Choose one that you happen to know a lot about. See what he says. You’ll be surprised. It’s not that they don’t know a lot. On the contrary. They know tons. And thank God for that. Just not about health and nutrition. They can break a disease and its symptoms down like nobody’s business. They just have no idea how to prevent cognitive decline naturally or help you shed 20 pounds using exercise and the right nutritional supplements.
Luckily this is changing. When I was actively working in the nutrition industry, I was approached by doctors all the time who wanted to enter into the nutrition industry in any way they could. The stories were always the same. “The health insurance companies have us by the short hairs Fishy. I’m barely making enough to support my family. Certainly nothing compared to how many years I spent in school. You make way more money that I do. Certainly I can get in somehow… You can use me as a spokesman. Put my picture on one of your boxes of magic pills. I have to have a staff of ten girls in the front of office just to collect the money we are owed from these health insurance companies.” It’s sad. Their industry is a bloody mess. And it’s primarily due to the monopolistic control the health insurance and drug companies have over it. The doctors and the patients are the ones being screwed. Which is why it is vital that we learn as much as we can about health and nutrition ourselves; and encourage our doctors to do the same.
Over the years more and more traditional medical doctors are learning about the health benefits that can be had from simple changes in eating or the benefits of nutritional supplementation. It’s not like it was ten to twenty years ago. In fact, some of the products I helped develop were researched with medical doctors who had a keen interest in the subject. This is a hopeful trend. Many are beginning to see the light and are moving more and more towards holistic medical practice rather than a strict drug and surgery based approach.
Another thing to point out about the above mentioned studies is this: they were testing “vitamins”. What they don’t bother to mention is that most of the nutritional supplements that are on the market today are NOT vitamins. What they were testing were things like vitamins A, C, D, B vitamins, etc. They’re right in that most people don’t necessarily need these vitamins if they eat even an adequate diet. But they fail to mention that the most popular supplements in the world today, the ones that are all the rage for optimum health and anti-aging, are not vitamins per se. Instead they are very advanced lab created nutritional supplements and phytonutrients. Things like Essential Fatty Acids or Resveratrol or CoQ10. Alpha Lipoic Acid. AKG-L-Arginine. Various herbs that have been modified to only contain the most active constituents. These were not what they were testing in their so-called studies. Instead they were just testing the old basic vitamins, the kind that were popular back in the seventies. The kind that no one takes anymore.
Turns out they were actually testing “multi-vitamins”. Who in their right mind who knows a lot about health and wellness takes a multi-vitamin these days? It was silly kids stuff, these studies. A bait and switch game in an attempt to try to discredit what is turning into a very profitable industry. One that they desperately want in on. (Nearly every giant pharmaceutical company also happens to own a smaller vitamin manufacturing subsidiary with their own line of nutritional supplements that they try to sell to doctors. Again, it’s funny because it’s so contradictory.) Discredit nutritional supplements but at the same time manufacture them to sell to doctors just in case.
If I hadn’t experienced such miraculous results from using nutritional supplements over the years, I wouldn’t know about or believe in their myriad benefits. But I have. And I do. I boosted my IQ, measurably so, by almost 30 points. This was back in ’96. Just for the pure hell of it. Because I wanted to. I wanted super human intelligence. So I started on a smart-nutrient protocol and scheduled two IQ tests with a psychiatrist. One before I began the protocol and one six months later. I was pissed that I didn’t nail 160. The psychiatrist thought I was insane for not being satisfied with 158. But like I said, I was shooting for the moon. Going for superhero type stuff. Which I believe is entirely possible with the right mix and the right kind of nutritional supplements.
My current doctor (who is a naturopathic doctor, not a traditional allopathic doctor) is still scratching her head trying to figure out how I was able to lower my cholesterol by 250 points in six months using only nutritional supplements. To me there’s no mystery. It’s simple science. Anyone can do it. What really puzzles me is how the hell I allowed my cholesterol to get so high in the first place. Number one I was just being lazy. I had let myself slip a little over the last few years. I must confess I have a real weakness for red meat and certain dairy products like butter and cheese. Combined with the fact that it’s hereditary… I was doomed. It’s a trade off I supposed. Luckily I know how to combat the ill effects of these passions pretty easily. Now my cholesterol is back down to normal. And I didn’t have to change a thing in my diet. I just needed to augment it with the right nutrients.
Speaking of cholesterol, dinner has been served. So I’m off. More later. Check out this article on the studies that led to all this nonsense and you’ll see for yourself how full of holes the studies were. But let me leave you with this. There are plenty of “bad” supplements on the market today. The industry has grown tremendously over the last thirty years. Not many are reputable. Many are in it simply to make money. No different than any other business venture. And they’re more than happy to take your money regardless of whether you benefit or not from their magic pills. You have to know which brands are good and which are not. There is also the fact that one can easily take too much of certain nutrients and that can be harmful. They may be from nature and even all natural. But hey so is poison ivy. Research is imperative if you’re going to begin taking nutritional supplements on a regular basis. And less is usually plenty. Lucky for you, I have lately started to get a hankering to enter that industry again. In a very creative and what I hope to be helpful way. More on that later. In the meantime, be careful. Do your research. See a naturopath. They have a very solid background in nutritional supplementation and wellness. But for God’s sake don’t be fooled by this latest editorial by the medical establishment. Take your supplements. You too could be superhero like in no time.
An unusually strange and powerful experience at church today. I have always maintained that if i had to choose only one thing that I “like the most” out of all the various rituals we participate in during the average church service, it would be “the sermon”. Sure the social aspect offers benefits, as does the variety of service opportunities. But during the actual hour-long weekly service, it is the sermon that draws me in the most and keeps me coming back. I have plenty of friends who find the sermon the most challenging moment of the hour to endure, and instead relish the sacred music and the singing of hymns. I too find myself deeply moved by the music, especially at Christ Church in Manhattan — conducted and arranged by the illustrious and enviously talented Dr. Steve Pilkington, or at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem — which features an extraordinarily large gospel choir and draws crowds so mammoth that on any given Sunday one can see the line to get in wrapped around the block for miles.
It is during these moments –when a particularly haunting piece of music is being performed — that I FEEL the most, as if my soul is being lifted to some ethereal and transcendent alternate universe where only I and the Great Divine Itself exists. One finds that connection and communication with the God-Force is more easily facilitated through the power of the music and voices during these moments. Nonetheless, perhaps only because music making is what I spend the majority of my time doing — unlike others, I am afforded the opportunity more than most to feel magically transported through the power of music in my day to day life, it is the sermon that I look forward to the most; it is the sermon that stirs me mentally and intellectually. It is the sermon that intrigues and engages me as a person, much like a good book or a film.
It’s no secret that I believe that Reverend Stephen Bauman at Christ Church in Manhattan to be the single greatest sermon writer, and deliverer, currently practicing in the world today. His sermons aren’t the usual fare of fire and brimstone, obligatory chapter and verse followed by inductive break-down and explanation. Instead they are usually highly intellectual and passionate calls to a greater good for and by all. Not only is he a brilliant writer — the gist of his typical sermon is at once topical, current, relevant AND moving, but as well a gifted orator. In the truest sense of the word. It is one of the things I miss most when I’m not in New York. That says a lot considering the cornucopia of innumerable pleasures and benefits the great city offers its residents and visitors alike. But for me, that fifteen minutes of rapt attention, sitting there on the very edge of my seat, listening to Reverend Bauman with baited breath, hanging on every word and sentence — so meticulously and brilliantly constructed, has become as much an important and enjoyable part of my life in New York as has Sunday brunch, America’s best pizza and bagels, The Met, MOMA, the Natural History Museum or any of the other many aspects of New York that draw more people to live there than any other city in America.
When I’m not in New York, and not traveling, my family and I reside in a small town in the country an hour outside of Seattle where we have a second home. Here we have found another church to call home in the town Redmond. While it’s true that I find it easy to miss the sermons of Stephen Bauman, and the glorious music of Steven Pilkington and his magnificent choir, this small church in the middle of nowhere offers us a pretty decent home away from home with it’s own batch of special rewards and benefits. It’s small-town America versus big city. West Coast versus East. The church is quaint; and the people are friendly, sincere, honest and long to do their part to make the world a better place. Their commitment to service is impressive and unrivaled considering the size of this tiny little community. (Indeed their homeless shelter tends to serve about twice the number of regular attendees than does ours is Manhattan on the average day. Considering the population in New York is over 8 million and this town less than one-hundred thousand, either there are just a lot more homeless people in the Seattle area, or this church is really doing something right.)
In terms of sermons, it wouldn’t be fair to compare one pastor’s to another. Especially when one of them happens to be the head pastor at a church on Park Avenue in the center of New York City. So I try not to. Instead I just try to accept each church as it is, on its own merit. Of course this isn’t easy. But I do try. I find that if i don’t expect anything, then it’s easier to appreciate those moments when I do on occasion experience something sublime or transcendent. Thus was the case today, at this small church in the middle of nowhere in a town as white-bread American and nondescript as one could find anywhere else in small-town America.
After all the usual rituals and songs and prayers, Pastor Cara as she is known walked up to the front of the church to deliver her sermon and one could immediately recognize that she was unusually disturbed, moved, maybe even angry. It appeared as though she may have even been crying recently. Her eyes were red. But there was also a fire in them. She proceeded to tell the congregation that she was indeed angry AND had been crying, all morning and the night before.
She went on to explain that over the last few weeks several Methodist pastors, and even bishops, from around the country had been brought up on formal charges and “convicted” by a jury of their peers and other various powers that be in the United Methodist Church for “breaking the rules” and betraying their vows because they had officiated at same sex weddings. Some had been suspended, some have been warned and some have been flat out fired. She was speaking specifically about Reverends Frank Schaefer and Melvin Talbert, both cases gaining national attention. [Instead of going into the details about each case, which would be unnecessary due to how many articles have already been written about these events, I encourage anyone interested in this issue to Google the names to learn more about the individual cases.]
Obviously there has been a whirlwind of talk, debate and activity on the national front regarding this issue both in terms of the political ramifications and states’ rights, civil rights AND how it is affecting churches and religions around the country. These cases specifically are inciting hundreds of thousands of words to be typed into the national blogosphere on a daily basis. It’s also leaped into mainstream conversation, transcending regular religious subject matter which almost never sees the spotlight of the very secular world in which we live today. It’s a fiercely divisive and debated subject. Just a few months ago I wrote at length about the subject here in a post entitled “Gays at the Table”, specifically about where I stood on the issue of same sex marriage rights and homosexuality in regards to how it’s affecting the Methodist Church and religion in general.
As I explained in the previous post, just so we are clear, in the bigger picture, like many people, I do not believe that we as Christians should discriminate against our same-sex oriented brethren in any way. Whether it’s the right to become a member of a church, or the right to get married, or the right to receive Holy Communion, or even the right to be a Boy Scout Troop Master or a pastor or a reverend or a bishop. This is the future; our future. The future of a more evolved intelligent and enlightened humanity. We haven’t arrived at this juncture because we are more wicked or sinful, but on the contrary: we’ve arrived at this place because we are more well thought-out, more evolved in our thinking, more in touch with our hearts and with the loving compassionate views that brought us together through the actions and teachings of the big man himself, Jesus of Nazareth.
So that’s where I stand on the issue itself. Obvious I know. There aren’t many in the industry of arts and entertainment who don’t share that viewpoint. We’re just about the most freedom and peace loving, liberal minded bunch in the world today. And that’s a good thing. The world has always depended on artists to shine a light on the more enlightened but perhaps less illuminated path. Just as we stood up for and fought for the “sun is at the center of the solar system” theory ala Galileo, or the abolition of slavery, equal rights for women, civil rights for minorities, laws against human trafficing and slave labor, equal pay for all, labeling of genetically modified food, political campaign finance reform and financial institution reform, we have now found ourselves having to help explain why it’s so obvious to us that people who are same-sex oriented deserve to be discriminated against no more than someone who was born with a different nationality or a different skin color does.
I say “obvious” because artists tend to view life through a very compassionate, peaceful and loving lens. More than live and let live… More like live and help live. Together — if we allow ourselves to truly come together — we can do anything, achieve anything, conquer anything, accomplish anything. To us, all these things were obvious long before they became fashionable in the mainstream. Hell I’ll even go out on a limb and confess that most of us are still waiting and hoping to live in a world where it’s obvious to EVERYONE that war of any kind is just plain wrong and that there is NO excuse worthy enough to justify the killing of another, perhaps besides self-defense — and even that one is a stretch in the bigger scheme of things (let’s face it: killing in the name of self defense, though logical on the surface, is a rather selfish and self-obsessed way to view the world, compared to the example that Jesus, Gandhi or the Dalai Llama offered.) It may be unpopular at the moment, but one day humankind will see the merit of banning war-waging altogether and instead choose peace and harmony. Long gone will be the rationale for invading other countries, drone strikes and targeted assassinations in the name of God and country.
In regards to same-sex marriage and weddings and how it is affecting the Methodist Church, and other Christian denominations around the world, there are many who believe that the various churches will have no choice but to yet again “split”. That even the Methodist Church is on it’s way towards splitting into two separate smaller denominations: the traditional one that believes that homosexuality is a sin, and a new breed that does not. I personally do NOT believe that a split is a foregone conclusion. When asked over the last few weeks how I felt about this most recent slew of convictions and condemnations of pastors and bishops for officiating at same-sex weddings, I surprised many by replying that if these men did indeed “break the law” or “break their vows” then they did in fact deserve to be reprimanded.
After all, what are rules and laws for? Why are they there? The key, the very foundation one could safely say, of any organization is that it is organized. And what makes it organized? Rules and laws. We believe in this. We don’t believe in that. We come together at this time. We leave at this time. Our religion is called this. Their religion is called that. On and on ad infinitum. There are obviously tens to tens of thousands of rules and laws that govern any one organization, which is precisely what makes it an organization. If people were to begin dismissing or ignoring or bypassing or breaking whatever rules and laws they as individuals chose to because they disagreed with them, then there would be no organization. It is the rules and laws that keep the organization organized, that differentiate it from being merely an idea or a concept AND what differentiate it from OTHER organizations. With no organization there would be chaos. And without organization — without being organized — one could hardly claim to be a part of something tangible like a valid organization or organized structure.
Therefore as members of any organization we must adhere to and ask that our fellow members adhere to the rules and laws that organize the group or the structure. Especially at the leadership level. It is the key to the whole system not falling apart. If a pastor from one Methodist church in Alabama decides to ignore the law forbidding pastors from officiating same sex weddings, what is to stop another pastor at a church in Oklahoma from becoming a cocaine addict because he likes cocaine? Or from marrying his neighbor’s 11 year old daughter because “we get along really well and she’s very mature for her age anyway.” In fact why not let pastors do whatever they want to? Why not disregard all the rules and laws that govern the United Methodist body and just let everyone decide for themselves what rules or laws they abide by as they choose in the moment?
Well the answer to that is obvious. Anyone who is a part of any formal organization — and that includes all of us, for we are all a part of many or at least one organization — the country we are a citizen of at the very least — recognizes that the laws and the rules that govern us are what keeps the peace within that organization; they’re what allows us to move freely within our day to day lives without fear and with a sense of relative peace, safety and security. God forbid we get to the point where we become so liberal minded that we decide one day that no one has to abide by any of the rules or laws that we’ve previously created and decided as a group to live by. For that will be the end of what we know as civilization. Then it’s every man woman and child for themselves. Survival of the fittest. Live and let die. Kill or be killed.
Now this isn’t to say that the current laws on the books of every and all organizations — including countries and religions — are right, or just, or fair. Many are not. But within the construct of every institution and organization exists the ability to change those laws. And that’s precisely what we see happening on a state by state level across the United States when it comes to same sex marriage equality. One by one each state is gunning up and deciding for themselves what they deem to be the best law regarding whether or not same sex marriage should be legal or illegal. Each state with slightly different forms of what it looks like, of how legal it is or how illegal it is, and the individual smaller rules and laws that govern the bigger law. That decision is up to the people and the elected leaders of that particular state. And that’s how it should be. That’s organized. That’s organization. That’s a well run and civil civilization. Safety and security that you can trust. The opposite of chaos.
The same thing obviously needs to happen in the United Methodist church. And perhaps in many other christian denominations as well. If enough people eventually decide that they deem it appropriate to allow Methodist pastors and bishops to marry same sex couples, then they will eventually change the law regarding that issue within their organization. And that will be that. Just as individual states are doing within the American union. It WILL happen. It is only a matter of time. But the last thing we need, or want, is for people to decide for themselves what rules or laws they deem valid or relevant to them.
Another aspect of the issue that needs addressing is this tendency that people have today of making the other side feel “bad” or “wrong” because they don’t yet happen to agree with them. As of late the issue of same sex marriage equality has become very fashionable and mainstream. It’s hip. It’s in. It’s the “right thing to do”. To some it seemed to happen overnight. To others, especially those waiting for decades for the right to be considered legally married, it’s taken forever. But we must remember that this is a HUGE change. A mammoth transformation in how we view the world and in how we view our religion and religious ideals. It may SEEM obvious to some of us, like a logical and rationale step towards our continued evolution as a society; but to others it seems like a huge step in the wrong direction, a major aberration and perhaps even an abomination. In fact in the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament it clearly states that homosexuality IS an abomination. It uses that specific word.
So what we must all try to understand is that those who stand against same sex marriage equality because they still maintain that “homosexuality is a sin” are doing nothing new or shocking, they’re doing nothing different than what they’ve done for thousands of years in the religion they’ve practiced for generations upon generation. What WE are asking of them actually is HUGE. It’s a MAJOR fundamental change in theory and in practice. We can’t blame them for wanting to stick with the status quo. After all, aren’t we risking treading down a potentially dangerous and unmanageable slippery slope if we start picking and choosing what we believe “God” has dictated and what we all of a sudden are now saying “God didn’t really mean that. Humankind made that up and we no longer agree with it.” What’s to stop us from doing that to the entire bible? To every holy book for that matter? To the idea of “God” Itself? Where is there TRUTH if we alone can pick and choose what truth is to us depending on how we feel in each moment? In each generation?
As an example, I personally believe that pot, cocaine, LSD and pain killers should be legal for recreational use. And furthermore if someone wants to use them everyday so be it. If they want to be high when they go to church so be it. As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, why not? In the industry I’m in, these substances are as commonplace as water, juice or milk are in the average American home. You see them everywhere. You can get them everywhere. Backstage, front of stage, side-stage, on-stage, in the audience, they’re everywhere. But in mainstream America, these substances are illegal and extremely taboo. One doesn’t dare bring them up in “polite society” for fear of being excommunicated or banished or shunned or jailed.
Because of this should I just start breaking the law all the time because I don’t agree with those laws? Should I show up to church high? Should I offer a tab of acid to my pastor? What about to some of the kids at church? See, the key to my survival, and to the safety and security and survival of the society that I and everyone else lives in is that I recognize that my viewpoint is my viewpoint. It’s no better or worse than any one else’s viewpoint. But it is the prescribed and agreed upon viewpoint of the majority of people in our society at this time. Hopefully that will one day change. But until then we abide by this viewpoint and the laws that stem from it. More than that, we also recognize that one does and doesn’t do and say certain things in society based on a shared desire to get along and keep the peace. If change is going to transpire, it happens slowly over time, with caution and respect.
One day I’d love to speed down Fifth Avenue going a hundred miles an hour in the back of a limo high on a variety of substances with my pastor, our naked bodies sticking half way out of the tee top chugging Moët out of the bottle and screaming our heads off… “Whew!!!! We’re flying!!!! I’m high for Jeeeeeesssssuus!” But alas, that little reverie may never happen. Or at least be years away at best. And that’s okay. That’s the deal we make to live in this well organized society. And frankly I don’t mind. In fact I don’t even mind that my pastor if he or she ever read this might both have serious concerns about my sanity. I get it. I respect that that’s a pretty wild request in terms of change.
Just because same sex marriage is all the rage now in our present society doesn’t make it right. I’m not saying it’s wrong. The only people who can decide that is each individual for themselves and the then together as a collective, as a society of individuals, we can decide if it’s something we want to deem appropriate or not for ourselves. Call it playing God. Truth is we’ve been playing God ever since we invented the poor bastard. If anyone should be confused it’s God. Talk about a confused sense of self. He must really suffer from an extreme identity crisis. For more has been done in His/Her/It’s name than can be imagined. Both good and bad. It seems the only beings in the universe who really know what God is or believes or wants, or likes or dislikes, is us, human beings. And for thousands of years we’ve taught ourselves that God doesn’t like homosexuality. We’ve agreed on it.
Now we’re trying to change that. We’re changing what this God believes; yet again. And that’s okay. That’s what human beings do with their Gods. But we should be respectful of the fact that many among us actually believed what we previously already agreed on. Now that we’re asking them to change, now that we’re asking them to believe that God has changed his mind, we need to recognize what a big stretch that is. So we need to be respectful of their inevitable shock and resistance to this change.
If anything, it is we who are the most vocal proponents of suddenly changing what God believes who need the most to be tolerant and compassionate. Not just toward our fellow gay and same sex oriented brothers and sisters, but also to our more conservatively minded traditional brothers and sisters who want to keep things as they are and have been for thousands of years. We must resist the urge to make them feel wrong or bad for how they feel just because we’ve changed our minds and changed God’s mind about homosexuality and same sex marriage. While at the SAME TIME slowly working toward changing the laws and the rules about it to be more inclusive and loving and compassionate.
Once these rules and laws are changed, legally, formally, on the books, then and only then can and should we allow pastors and bishops to officiate at same sex weddings. Because then they won’t be breaking the law. And thus no reprimanding or punishment or suspension will be necessary. And then and only then might we encourage our fellow members to start “getting with the program”. Because then it will be they who will be bucking the system and going against the grain. As of now, they have every right to feel the way they feel. They’re in the right after all. They’re abiding by the laws that we’ve all priorly agreed to follow.
This doesn’t mean that we cannot do our best right here right now to change their minds. We can. And we should. There is nothing more anti-Jesus or anti-Christian than to consciously and blatantly deny basic civil and human rights to those among us just because they are different than we are. So on with the marches and petitions and sit ins and be ins and protests and demonstrations and letter writing campaigns. This is a mission that I have full faith we will one day soon accomplish. But until we do, let us remember that is is WE who are the rebels here. It is we who are bucking the system and going against the grain. It is we who are advocating breaking the law. And it is we who are advocating picking and choosing what God believes or doesn’t. Implying that we know better than God; in fact implying that it is we who decide and dictate what God is and isn’t. That is quite a big request. So it’s no wonder that some among us are a bit resistant to follow our lead. The least we can give them is the same respect and tolerance that we are asking of them in return.
We may be here. Not sure. The last five days have been a maddening whirlwind. Having spent them living in various airports around the world, we haven’t showered, slept or changed clothes since Friday. Today is most likely Tuesday. The primary reason being that Delta Airlines had booked us on a straight non-stop flight from New York to Tel Aviv, the flight got cancelled and from that point on they just simply could not find a way to get us to our destination. I was in constant communication with Delta Customer Service via Twitter no matter where I was in the world and though they continued to inform me that they “were working on it”, they weren’t any more successful at accomplishing the task as the customer service reps standing right in front of us at the different airports we were in around the world over these last few days. After days spent in the airport in New York (they advised us that “if we left, we would be risking losing our place in line on the standby flights they kept booking us on””. Unfortunately that never seemed to work out anyway.
Eventually they got some of us off to Amsterdam. Others off to London. Others to Berlin. And some of us off to Prague in the Czech Republic. It was a bloody mess. Don’t get me wrong. A free day in Prague to see the city was a fine surprise. We just weren’t planning on visiting Prague. Of all places. Talk about a surreal mind-fuck moment. Besides the fact that we were exhausted and hadn’t washed in days. From there we managed to make it to Germany. Either Berlin or Dusseldorf, or perhaps Munich. I don’t remember. We were only there for half a day. In Germany we had a few hours to kill. I spent that time continuing to study Israeli-Palestinian relation history and Hebrew. We had plenty of time to grab an old fashioned German breakfast. Which I must say are quite scrumptious and plentiful. I had some sort of wiener-schnitzel and some pretty awesome pastry. Beer is also freely served there 24/7 as can be evidenced by the below photo of The Javelin sipping his beer –mind you it’s about 7am…
Eventually the time of our departure arrived. Mind you, each time we flew into yet another country we had to go through customs and immigration for that country, the whole time claiming — as was true — that we weren’t there to visit that country per se, but just “passing through”. So the experience was filled with a lot of waiting in lines to explain to folks that our primary purpose there in that moment was to just leave and get to Israel.
Having already gone through the main Israeli security in New York, we then passed through another one at the airport in Germany in order to get to our gate; and then we were asked to go through yet another one right at the gate before boarding the plane. The Javelin nearly missed the flight entirely because he hadn’t assumed that we would be asked to go through yet another security checkpoint after having already gone through the main one at the gate. There we are, on the plane, two of the last three of us, after four days of flying around the world…so close, and one of the main people on the trip is in the Men’s Room totally unaware that there’s this whole other security checkpoint where everything must come off yet again and all of your belongings searched yet again.
But eventually we all made it onto the plane. By this point there were only four of us left together out of the 18 that were in our group. Having traveled all over the world extensively over the last 20 years I can say with certainty that I have never seen such intense security to enter into any other country in the world. Not even as Americans entering Iran was the security as intense and thorough as it was for we as Americans in trying to get into Israel. (Which is ironic considering that not only is “tourism” the main source of income for the country of Israel, the amount of free money in the form of “donation and aid” they receive from us, the United States (from our taxes) is staggering. But this well-known fact seemed not to phase the Israelis at all as they haggled and harassed to no end in their “security checks”. (Not that it isn’t understandable, considering their circumstances in a post-9/11 world. It is. But there’s a lot they can do about that if they wanted to. Instead they live in near prison-like conditions, surrounding the Palestinians who live in total prison-like conditions. So yes, terrorist threats abound. We’ll get to that.
Eventually we arrive. In Tel Aviv. Which means “old new land” in Hebrew. This old new land is hot. That may be the first thing you notice. Either that or the men in uniform all over the place packing giant machine guns or rifles. There is a stronger military presence in Israel per square foot than anywhere else in the world. More than Washington DC. It’s awe-inspiring. And frightening. And strange. If you’ve traveled the world, you know what it looks like –there are the natives and there are the tourists. Everyone does their best to mind their business and do their thing. In Israel, one has to add this giant coalition of military personnel everywhere mixed amongst both the natives and the tourists. They guard every doorway. They roam around aimlessly in the streets. They’re stationed on bridges, at stoplights, in towers that are all over the city. They’re standing on every street corner. They man every entrance to every “site”. And seemingly every building. They’re literally everywhere.
Getting our bags and getting through customs wasn’t that bad. It’s mid-day now. Most of our ragtag group is ahead of us already, long ahead. They’re already up to Galilee, the area of Nazareth, where Jesus supposedly grew up. We on the other hand are a three hour drive from there. We flag a minibus-like taxi and begin our journey. The driver is exactly as you’d expect if you’ve already come into contact with Israeli Jews in the States or anywhere else in the world. He is friendly, jovial, likes to talk a lot. Promising us the moon and more. Offering to be our guide for the whole trip, never mind that we’ve been booked on this event-packed trip for months already; offering for us to come meet his wife and children, and telling us his whole life story and then some.
Israel –especially near Tel Aviv — is every bit as industrialized as anywhere else on earth. This is not your bible’s Israel. This is a thoroughly concreted thriving pulsing industrial city. The buildings all seemingly deliberately colored similarly to the surroundings, a desert sand sort of off-white or tan. Subtle. Utilitarian is the word that comes to mind. We drive through Palestinian territories on and off. Check points. But because we are with an Israeli driver, it is easy for us. No problem. One cannot help but notice the very long lines right next to us filled with cars carrying Palestinians. For them, nothing is easy. Not even passing through a checkpoint on a non-descript area of a highway.
We arrive at our hotel in “The Galilee. Near Nazareth. It is third world up here. A much lazier, slower, casual attitude is in the air. I make my way to my room. Hopefully to meet my roomate. The others are taking a boat ride on the The Sea of Gallilee, which turns out not to be a “sea” at all, but rather just a big lake. Again, not your bible’s Israel. Our room is about six feet by six feet if that. Small but adequate. I find out that my roommate is an elderly gentleman — I believe he is in his 80s! — who worked as the Music Director for a prestigious church in Manhattan for his entire career. He also served in the military, fighting the good fight for the allies in World War II. He is more than polite. Quiet. Well mannered, soft spoken. Delicate due to his age. But strong. He walks with one of those walking sticks. We will be rooming together for more than two weeks. I have never roomed with anyone so much older than I. I must confess I am a little concerned that I would simply be too much for him, as eccentric as I am, the strange hours that I keep, etc. Hell, I’m too much for my own wife, let alone someone in their 80s who’s never even met me before.
We can smell this sea that isn’t really a sea all over the little town. It’s a pleasant old world scent. The town is decorated with tourist shops and signs EVERYWHERE. It’s like the Disney World of Jesus. You can buy “Jesus” anything. Towels, plaques, welcome mats, cups, plates, trays, even Jesus beach balls if you want. Jesus has clearly created an industry in this small otherwise unimportant part of the country. Dinner. At a seafood restaurant on the shore. Hanging lanterns light up the night. Reminds me of The Florida Keys. So far, everyone we come into contact with speaks english. As each plate is served, each person is surprised to see an entire fish on their plate, head, eyes bulging out, and tail. One is supposedly meant to cut into the fish and eat around the bones. I ordered a hamburger and fries.
Much of the contents of the diary entries that follow are random thoughts that occur to me during our hectic days. Many more thoughts were videotaped. Eventually those will get turned into a documentary series for Transcendent Television. In the meantime, try to follow as best you can. It may be a little bumpy here and there. But I’ll do my best to fill in the holes when and where I can.
The Jews — meaning the Jewish population that lives in this country as opposed to the Palestinian people — seem completely unaware of, and unconcerned with, the plight of the Palestinians all around them. In a casual manner befitting having a pet perhaps, they dismiss the question of how this land was taken 60 years ago and how the Palestinian people are treated as if it is a non-issue. It is only discussed when and if they are directly questioned about it. Other than that it is not discussed.
So far, I am still keeping to myself, doing nothing but studying Hebrew and the history of Israel/Palestine. One cannot help but be bombarded by a ton of religious data in this study. Religion is so tightly tied to this land, and to these people that there is no separating them from one another. Names dates towns stories legends and myriad factoids. Looking at all the paintings — allegedly of Jesus of Nazareth, and his mother Mary, and his disciples, one is struck by how unrealistically clean ornate and fancy humankind has created them to be through the centuries… in the hundreds of thousands of images painted or sculpted, one is immediately struck by how completely different the real Jesus and Mary and disciples must have looked in real life — just from being here now in this land and with these people. The Romans and Greeks added their own ideas of how THEY wanted these historic figures to appear. They transformed them from Middle Eastern nomadic peoples into pale-skinned Gentiles. They projected their pagan ideals and their highest ideals into the visual representation of these poor simple working people. I wonder if modern day Christians would still be “worshiping” them if they saw more realistic images of what they really looked and dressed like, if they hadn’t been gentrified through the centuries. Do modern Christians have any clue as to what a real Israeli or Judean looks like? Certainly nothing like the images that are most famous of these people. All of the Jewishness has been bleached out. It is a stark contrast, between the people we see all around us here in The Galilee and the famous images we’ve grown up seeing in America or Rome or France or Germany or anywhere else on earth. Surely Jesus and his disciples looked nothing like Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
It’s Monday I think. Or Tuesday. Honestly I have no idea. Last time I was able to post here, we were stuck inside of the JFK airport in New York. Since then, Delta Airlines has flown our small group all over the planet in it’s quest to get about 18 of us to Israel. Evidently one flight got cancelled. The one we were on. And ever since then, they just haven’t been able to get us all there. I’ve been on Twitter DM’ing with various different Delta Courtesy staff who are there for just these kinds of situations, but they can’t believe what we’ve gone through. They just keep responding “Can’t customer service at the gate help you all?” How in the world do screw-ups like this happen? An entire group of 20 people just abandoned in strange cities all over Europe? Crazy indeed.
So guess where we are? Nope, I can’t tell you what day it is, for I have no idea. All I’ve seen is airports and more airports for days and days now. But I do know where we are. Prague! As in the Czech Republic! Indeed. I know. Some of us that is. Others are in Dusledorph. Or Berlin. Or Amsterdam. We arrived a few hours ago. Good thing is that Delta had the foresight to fly us First Class due to the fact that we paid top dollar for non-stop tickets to Israel and non-stop is definitely NOT what we’ve experienced. I’ll tell you one thing: flying First Class makes all the difference in the world. Words don’t do it justice. They treat you so well you’d never want to fly any other way. The problem is that they just don’t have enough First Class seats on most airlines. I try to upgrade every flight I’m on, but there’s just never any availability. And no wonder. Between the all you can eat and drink gourmet selections and the hot washcloths every hour and the more than roomy cozy seats and the top notch service, it makes flying more than bearable, it’s almost downright enjoyable.
Long flight. But we made it. How the hell we ended up in Prague I’ll never know. This is one city that was never on my radar. I’ll tell you that. I’ve never even thought about the Czech Republic truth be told. This is a first for me. I usually don’t travel anywhere without having a valid reason to go and studying the hell out of it’s language and culture. But not on this trip. We’ve just been picked up and dropped here. Absolutely NO plan as to how they are going to get us to Israel. And there are already three or four from our group who have been there for days.
Was able to sleep a little bit on the plane. Due to the weird unexpected circumstances of the whole situation it was hard to relax and get some sleep. Due to the time changes, I have no idea what time it really is or how long I’ve been awake or even what day it is. Probably Monday. Or Tuesday. Not sure. Most of us have never been here before. So we are headed into the city proper to just check it out. Delta has no idea when we’ll be leaving. Before we headed out, I went up to the customer service counter and politely asked if we could be supplied with a club to relax in. She said that one could only use the club if one had a first class ticket booked and informed me that we had no tickets booked at all. “Well who’s fault is that?” I exclaimed. So instead I said, “You know what, forget a club. We’re exhausted. Give us a few hotel rooms while we were there.” The lady, who was Czech — they’re all pale-white and blue eyed by the way, very beautiful in the classic European style — was shocked by my request. But I simply stated the truth: there are 18 of us in total. We’ve been split up and we’re all over the map right now. Those of us here in your lovely city left our respective homes three or four days ago for a non-stop flight to Israel and here we are in Prague of all places! And still in the same clothes we were wearing four days ago. No showers. No bed… I mean, come on… Do the right thing here and give us a few hotel rooms. Lo and behold, she did. Thank God. I am nearing total exhaustion.
But first it’s off to see Prague. Two of our fellow travelers had just been here on vacation a year ago. So they actually know the city pretty well. In order to get into the city from the airport you have to take a tram for about a half hour, then get off and onto a subway, then get off and onto a bus and then get off and onto a trolley. Yes a trolley. God only knows what time our bodies think it is, but in local time it’s Monday morning. Or Tuesday… Not sure. The city is grey. It’s winter. We’ve driven through some very industrial areas. You definitely feel the old world here. The looks on the faces of some of our fellow travelers on the subway and bus were very weary. There is a sense of being left behind here. I have not studied Prague or the Czech Republic much, so I don’t know anything about it. I can’t speak about it. I was just floating basically. All I really wanted was to sleep. But I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. How often do we get a free day in Prague with nothing to do but sight-see? SO off we strode.
Getting to know the group better. Good little group. Young and old. The youngest person is about 27 years old and the oldest person is 93 or something crazy like that. Everyone else is sort of in between, mostly older people. In their fifties and sixties from what I can tell. All of them dedicated peace makers and vitally tapped into making the world a better place. This little jaunt into Prague is a much needed and welcomed distraction from what so far has been a hellish experience.
No complaint about the people here. They’re all certainly nice enough. As in many European towns, there are many tourists here. From all over the world. Prague evidently has plenty of history. We saw a gazillion castles and cathedrals, as you do in all major European cities. But there’s a certain smallness to everything here. Small streets. Small little villages. And everything is very very old. Why? Because it is old. As Americans it is something we are just totally NOT used to. two thousand year old castles and houses… It’s exhilarating, fresh, thought provoking. I saw the word Kafka somewhere, and then again. And was then reminded that THIS is where Kafka, the Kafka of my youth, was from. Went to see the little house and print shop where he lived for a while. That was awesome. Totally unexpected. You have to love these kinds of fortuitous chance encounters that life throws your way now and then. It could have been much worse. This was very special.
The Sprite in The Czech Republic is the strongest most sparkling I’ve ever tasted. Just as Sprite in Brasil is much sweeter than in The States, after some years of traveling one begins to realize that all is not always as we assume it is from the narrow confines of where we call home. Even universal absolutes — such as the flavor and character of your favorite soft drink or food shifts and differs depending on where one is in the world. I will never admit that it’s all in my imagination. I am a Sprite connoisseur, and I’m telling you that it’s just the strongest and most sparkling here in Prague that I’ve ever tasted. You can’t ask anyone because they’ve never tasted anything different.
Another thing you notice is that there are little beer shops everywhere, bars is what I guess you’d call them. Beer seems to be quite popular here. And there are also a ton of little coffee bars everywhere. You can stop on a walk to grab an espresso just about every few blocks. That’s nice. Price? About .75 cents converted to American dollars. Starbucks would never make it here.
The Czech people are staggering in their reserved politeness; at least in the presence of Americans. This is not France, Italy or Germany where they’d just as well prefer to have you never visit, let alone inconvenience themselves by conversing with you in English. In Prague at least nearly everyone we encountered spoke English. Or tried. This is no longer a rare occurrence. Most people of civilized nations speak English as a second language from the moment they enter elementary school. It is usually the Americans who are the least multi-lingual amongst their human brethren. All the Czech people we met at least attempted English. And they were all very nice.
The architecture was insanely ornate. Elaborate. Fancy. Big. This was once obviously a very wealthy city in Europe. As I said, not planning to come here, I just don’t know anything about it or it’s history. Would like to return with a little more planning. It’s quaint as all hell. Plenty of history. Nice enough people. Still can’t get over this dark eerie “land that time forgot” feeling that seems cast upon the place… But perhaps that has to do with the whole Cold War and the old USSR… That’s what it seems like.
We ended up at a very old restaurant, about twelve of us, everyone just wiped out tired. Many tried goulash for the first time. I had wiener-snitzel and sour kraut. And an ice cold beer. It was better than delicious. Perfect. On the way back we were walking along this promenade, a very long bridge that most will probably know the name of, for it’s evidently very famous. It was just like New York. There were tons of artists and vendors along the way both to your right and left, just sitting there ready to sell you some trinket or paint your portrait for a few bucks. Next to them every few yards was a musician of some kind. A clarinet player here. A guitarist there. An opera singer a few yards down from him. I was in the middle of a semi-deep conversation with The Javelin and I hear this familiar music. Sounded like Dixie Land jazz. But with a European feel to it. My eyes go wide and The Javelin asks “What is it? What do you hear?” “It can’t be” I say, rushing toward the music.
We fast-walk a few hundred feet and there on the bridge with the river behind them is this band featuring a very old and weathered looking washboard player that the guys and I were just watching on YouTube a few days before in the studio in Seattle. Couldn’t believe it. How on earth??? Well, let me explain. I wanted to add washboard to one of our songs on the new album. But we had no idea how to play the washboard. So we googled “best washboard player”. We ended up on YouTube watching all these videos that people had posted from all over the world of this one band. Evidently this one guy, a very old man with a long white scraggly beard, is world renowned for being one of the world’s coolest washboard players. Now truth be told, while we were watching the videos we didn’t even pay attention to where this band was. We were just analyzing his playing style and trying to learn how it’s done. But he was fantastic. He plays with all these thimbles on his fingers and thumbs. IN almost every song he takes a solo for a few seconds. It’s a very catchy rhythmic sounding instrument. If you would have asked me ten minutes later “where is that band with the washboard player from?” I wouldn’t have been able to answer you. We knew it was in some strange not very common European town. And here I am a week later taking an unexpected leisurely stroll on a bridge in Prague and bump into the exact same band. Tried speaking with the guys when their song was over but they didn’t speak a word of English. So we managed to snap a few pictures with them just to show the guys. Wouldn’t believe it unless there were a picture attached to that story.
It’s about midnight now. Another four of us from the group managed to jump onto some flights into Germany to one day hopefully arrive in Tel Aviv. The rest of us are still at the airport. Some are asleep on their suitcases on the floor. We were told to go clean up at the hotel the airline provided and come right back here. Which we did. In case they could fly us out. Most of us will not be flying out anywhere tonight. So it’s back to the hotel. God only knows when we’ll ever get to Israel. This has been one hell of a ride. But hey, today wasn’t half bad. What a trip indeed.
It’s either Sunday or Monday… Not sure. I’ve been in airports for days now. In the same clothes since Friday morning. Time tends to bend in on itself and convolute. Sunday morning –seems like days ago — I awoke to find myself still in Manhattan even though I had flown to New York on Friday night just as a layover on my way to Israel. But instead I spent all day Saturday in the airport only to get in a car and head back to the City late that night. Woke up a bit late Sunday morning remembering where I was and ran to church. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the City. So I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Boo Boo Kitty didn’t want to go because we hadn’t “gotten ready”, but I’ve been going there so long I don’t even care what I look like anymore. Just wanted to be in the space once again.
It’s funny. Some places you can live in for years and never feel that sense of home. That’s how South Florida was for me. I lived there for years but it just never felt like home. Seattle has been the same. Absolutely nothing against it, but I just don’t get it. New York was the first place in the United States where I felt that inexplicable sense of “this is home”. Right down to the church. I must confess to feeling near giddy by the opportunity to be able to attend a service at Christ Church unplanned like that. Everyone assumed I was already in Israel. Turns out it was Communion Sunday (first Sunday of every month) totally by chance. When I walked up to the front to receive Communion I noticed Catherine Darlington sitting in her spot in the pews to the left as always. Tapped her shoulder. Hadn’t seen her in months. Nor even spoken. Last time we spoke she was very upset with me about allowing a certain song to be released which will go unmentioned here. Reverend Bauman had a surprised look on his face when he saw me, as if seeing a ghost. It’s true, I hadn’t been in New York for a while. And here I just show up out of the blue. It was a marvelous experience though. The music as always was transcendent. The sounds that emanate from that choir are just ridiculous. Movie quality. Record quality. You can’t believe that it’s something that is provided free of charge. Sure as members we donate a small percentage of our annual salaries to keep the church alive, but in reality anyone can walk in off the street and just plop themselves down to experience these awe-inspiring services. That’s one of the many aspects of American churches, Christian churches…(?) that impresses me most. The sermon was deep, moving and thought provoking. As they always are. Reminded me why some places just feel like home.
We’re actually quite lucky if we happen to find a place to call home in the world. I never realized that until it happened to me. Most of the places we go, whether we live there or not, don’t necessarily vibe with us. It’s not a given. But New York has always been that way for me. Because my mind was so preoccupied with why I was really in the city and there were so many people to catch up with, I decided not to stay afterwards, but rather just sneak out quietly. My mind wasn’t there. Too concerned with how the hell we were going to get to Israel, if ever.
While at church I received yet another text regarding the trip to Israel, “Head to JFK ASAP. May have a flight.” So I ran back to Boo Boo Kitty’s place, packed up my stuff once again and got back in a car to head to the airport for the third time in 48 hours. Once there we were told that at this point Delta was just throwing us on whatever flights they could in order to get us there. It was total chaos. We’re on our third day now of trying to get there. Some people were headed to Amsterdam. Some to Israel direct. Some to Berlin. Some to the U.K. A few of us were stuck at JFK for what’s seemed like days. And here we sit. It’s been one hell of a trip and we haven’t even arrived in Tel Aviv yet. From what I hear each of us may be on a different flight but somehow meet up in Israel at some point this week. This is not how a group peace mission or diplomacy or work trip is supposed to go. But it isn’t anyone’s fault except for the airline’s. I’m a big Delta fan. Starting to rethink that. I’ll keep you posted.
Well… This has certainly been one hell of a rollercoaster ride the last 24 hours. Finally pulled into NYC last night at about 1am. Talk about tired. But that was nothing compared to what was to come. I know this now because it’s nearly 1am Saturday night/Sunday morning. Took a car to Boo Boo Kitty’s apt in Midtown last night. Was great to see her. Was great to be back in the City. Words just don’t do it justice. Can’t. If you’re a lover of New York. As I’ve said countless times here before, there’s just a very special magical feeling that overtakes you when your plane first descends below the clouds and you see all those lights of Greater New York and it’s Five Boroughs glistening below. It’s an indescribable feeling of giddiness. And last night was no different.
The first thing I noticed when I got off the plane — I Tweeted this, much to the confusion of many — is how many different kinds of people you see in New York, compared to Seattle, WA. We’ve been living in both cities simultaneously for about four years now. People call it bicoastal, though we’re nowhere near a coast in Seattle really. There’s water… but they’re lakes and sounds. Not the ocean. But it’s as far away from New York as you’d ever want to get. The point really, the aspect of it that stands out the most, is how homogenous and white Seattle and it’s suburbs are. One would not be exaggerating if they said that all you ever see in Seattle is WASPy white people with an occasional Asian thrown in. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it before. This includes a sincere lack of Jewish people as well. It’s like nowhere else in the US of A. If you stay in Seattle long enough, you might forget about other kinds of people entirely. Until you land in New York City that is. I got off the plane and my senses were immediately bombarded by the sounds and sights of black people and Latinos, the likes of which I hadn’t heard since, well, the last time I had been in New York. It had been a while I guess (a few months…?) and you just forget about other cultures when you spend a lot of time in a place where everyone is the same. Chances are most people in Seattle aren’t even aware of this strange phenomenon. That’s my guess, because it’s not like anyone ever speaks of it.
I shot out a Facebook/Twitter update that read something like “Just landed in NYC. Holy cow I just saw a black person! And look there! A group of people speaking Spanish!” People had no idea what I was referring to. But it really is like that. They say that New York has the largest collection of people from different countries and nationalities per square block than any other city on earth. I’d say this is a good thing. I’ve always personally loved it. Who doesn’t like arguing with someone at the post office or a restaurant who doesn’t speak a word of English in your own neighborhood? It’s good times. Just one of the many aspects of life in New York City that make it indomitably unique and spectacular.
Though I was exhausted from all the driving and the long flight (it’s 12 hours door to door from our house in Seattle to our apartment in New York), I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated in the car on the way into the City. Felt like a little kid, peering out the window with a smile on my face at all the bright lights and colorful sights. Got to Boo Boo’s apartment and exited the car. Doorman was exceptionally helpful. We forget what midtown living is like until we return. Like no place on earth. Thoughts: Great to see Boo Boo again. Funny that I had to fly all the way to Seattle in order to hang out with her, when we lived no more than a mile away from each other for a year. But that’s another New York thing. Was very surprised to see how small her apartment was. Again, another thing we forget. But in Manhattan we PAY for space. As in square feet. As in $500,000 for a 450 square foot apartment. And that’s not half bad a deal. So there she is in a 450 square foot apartment. But she OWNS it. And there’s no better feeling than owning a little piece of your own in the greatest city on earth.
People from anywhere else on earth would be shocked to see the size of the tiny dwelling places we call home in New York City. But they’d also be impressed with what we do with them. The creative design entailed in turning a tiny one room apartment into a decent feeling living space is impressive. The bed is in the living room. As is a small couch. As is a small office desk. As is a small dining room table. Everything all in one room. To the side a small kitchen that you can just barely do a 360 in IF you’re small; and in another room off to the side is a small bathroom and a closet just big enough for a mouse to store a few clothes in. But somehow it works.
Why would anyone endure such grueling living conditions when the same amount of money would buy you a small mansion in another part of the country? Well the answer is simple. As soon as I unloaded my bags, we stepped out into the night. A Friday night. Past 1am in the morning. But the streets were packed with people. And so were all the stores and bars and restaurants. A city that truly never sleeps. Because there are just so many people living there. 14 million at last count. And for those that like that kind of thing, there’s no better place for it than New York. We had a blast catching up. Hanging out in the City. Just goofing around. Going into stores. Grabbing some food here. A drink there. The City was pulsing as it always is. A million different things all happening at once all around you. It’s utterly fantastically thrilling. Completely the opposite of Seattle or just about any other city or small sleepy town in America. I tried really hard to find that in Miami. There are little pockets of it here and there. But not really. Even South Beach, the infamous Lincoln Road or Ocean Drive… by 1am it’s a ghost town for the most part. Moving to New York was the best move I ever made.
[For those that don’t know, though I am sure we’ve already covered it here, the reason we’re in Seattle is because Princess Little Tree has/had kids when we got married. They grew up in Seattle. It’s home to them. Yes we had every right to move to New York when we got married. That’s where I lived after all. And Princess Little Tree LOVES New York. But her kids are small-town people. They’d never even been to New York before. It was completely overwhelming to them when they came to visit the first time. I had the luxury of growing up in a small town when I was a kid. And I wanted them to have the same benefit. To stay in the same school. Keep the same friends. It was a major sacrifice, but I figured it was the least that I could do. I know how strange and disturbing divorce is. And how much weirder still a new marriage is with someone new moving into your home can be. So keeping them in their same hometown till they graduate just felt like the right thing to do. It’s been four or five years now that we’ve been going back and forth between the two cities. It’s been expensive and physically taxing. We own two of EVERYTHING. It’s a crazy life. But we’re almost through it. We’ve got less than one more year to go and then we’re back in NYC full-time.]
Boo Boo Kitty has started trading again. That was interesting to hear since I too had jumped back into the trading game as well. We shared war stories and successes like two old soldiers, but with a spark in our eyes as if we were little kids talking about Christmas. It’s amazing how once the trading bug gets you, it just takes you over. She actually turned me on to a lot of interesting new data. Things I didn’t know. I taught Boo Boo how to invest and play the markets originally. Then she turned it into a full time gig. Ended up really getting into it and learning more than I had. It’s interesting how that happens in life.
Flash forward to the next day. In such a small apartment, you may be wondering just where does a person sleep when they come to stay with you in New York. Valid question. Well, we use air mattresses. Lots of them. Everyone in New York owns at least one to three air mattresses. In our case Boo Boo had a small twin one, we blew it up and placed it smack dab in the middle of the living room. Meaning that we now could not walk anywhere in the whole apartment without leaping over the air mattress. Slept like a baby. Didn’t have to be at the airport until 10PM. So we had all day to hang out. Do the usual. Brunch. Walk around the City. But as soon as I wake up i receive this frantic text from one of the leaders on our team, “Fishy, go to their airport NOW! Problems with the flight!” So I throw everything in my bags and run out to grab a cab. That didn’t work out the way we had planned. But oh well, “See ya next time Boo! Thanks for the place to crash!”
I get to the airport and receive another text, “Don’t go to Terminal 2! Go to Terminal 3 instead!” Great. I’m already in Terminal 2. Schlep my bags a mile to the other terminal. One by one people from our small group start to arrive, each one as confused as the other. Evidently our Delta flight had been cancelled. As in completely cancelled and no flight. They were trying to book us on other flights. Talking about splitting the group up. If there’s one thing you KNOW about peace mission trips, it’s do NOT split the group up. But evidently they’d already sent three people to Newark Airport on their own to grab totally different flights. Another 15 of us were stranded at JFK. No flight. A few of the people in the group I already knew thank God. Been on several other trips with them. Norma Jean was there. Felt a huge relief knowing she was going on this trip. Been to Africa, New Orleans, Biloxi, MS and South America with her already. Same with Zubes and The Javelin. He’s a pastor, of the Methodist variety. Same age as I am. On trips like this, you need a few religious leaders. They’re essential parts of the whole that make for smooth missions. There’s a certain nobility to being a pastor or reverend or rabbi even when you’re on any kind of peace or diplomacy mission trip. They’re almost always treated with a respect that you don’t really see bestowed upon anyone else except for heads of state and rock stars. That’s where I come in I suppose. For some reason we’re able to get away with just about anything. For no real reason from what I can tell. But like religious leaders, people just tend to throw you a lot of rope when you’re a recording artist.
I introduced myself to everyone else on the trip one by one as we all just sat around in the terminal for hours waiting to learn of our fate. Would we ever actually get to Israel? At that point, we had no idea. The leader on this particular trip is a semi-retired business consultant turned peace activist lady by the name of Joy Gladry. She’s very typical of what you might meet in New York in certain circles. White, well bred, upper class, grew up somewhere else but relocated to New York because of work. Did well in her career and now still has plenty of time to enjoy her life. Spends a lot of time giving back to her community. Sits on the board of a variety of well meaning charities for human rights, feeding the hungry, the arts. Very active. She was one of the few people who put this whole trip together. She went for the first time about three or four years ago. She came back a changed person. I’ll never forget the first time we sat down to talk about it. I assumed she would just fill my ear with the usual oooos and aaaahhhhs about “how wonderful it was to walk where Jesus walked….” which is what you tend to hear from many people when they first get back from Israel. Or at least that’s what you used to hear.
Over the last five to ten years things have really changed. Now the main thing you hear instead is how horrific and shocking it is to see how the Palestinian people live. Joy had the same experience. She ended up going back two more times. This past summer she went there and lived with Palestinian families for about six months. She’s completely without prejudice, even with everything she’s seen. Because of the tight bond the Christian community feels with and for the Jewish community in Israel — it’s a biblical thing, and quite frankly not only do I not believe that the feeling is not necessarily reciprocated, I’m not even sure that Jews even realize just how much the average Christian knows about Jewish history and their religion. But needless to say, we read The Torah as often as they do and study their history an equal amount if not more, for no other reason than that the central figure of the faith, Jesus of Nazareth — as well as all the other primary and secondary characters of Christianity — was (and were) Jewish. Every time I see or talk to Joy she always says something to me like “We’ve got to help our Jewish brothers and sisters. They know not what they’re doing over there to the Palestinian people. We’ve got to do our part Fishy.” Granted though, we can never understand how they feel; no matter how much of their history we know or how much of their religion we practice on a regular basis. Christians for better or worse in the modern age have been kept relatively safe from persecution. I do not pretend to have a clue as to how it FEELS to be Jewish.
This is what first captured my interest in actually going on a peace mission trip to Israel in the first place. A large group I knew had gone back in 2010. And instead of gushing over all the sacred sites, they all came back shocked by the horrors they saw and completely committed to helping the Palestinian cause. This was very unexpected for me. I had no interest in going to see supposed sacred sites truth be told. I figured that’s the kind of thing you can busy your time with when you’re older. Much older. But send me there on a peace mission, as a means to try to help bring more peace to the world through resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and I’m in. So that was how the invitation was first presented to me. Like I said, lately I’ve been turning most of these trips down. Just so busy with trying to finish these new albums and with other things. But this was an opportunity that I couldn’t say no to. Joy Gladry had convinced me that this wasn’t going to be just any normal trip to the Holy Land, but rather we were going deep inside both Israel and Palestine. We were to meet with many high ups in various fields of peace activism and government and really try to get to the heart of the matter.
Well… that’s if we get there at all. It’s now well past midnight on Saturday. Needless to say I’m back at Boo Boo’s apartment in midtown Manhattan. We waited at the airport for about six hours. Then everyone was told to leave except for me. Delta believed that they secured me a flight on Al El Airlines. Only problem was that it wasn’t guaranteed and it was just for me alone. I begged and pleaded that I didn’t want to go alone. I’m going to just get on a place and wind up at the airport in Israel 24 hours later in the middle of the day alone? But they insisted that if one person was capable of pulling it off, it would be the one person who bothered to learn Hebrew. “What was the sense in going to all that trouble if not for an adventure like this Fishy?” Joy heckled me. I figured “fine it’ll certainly be an adventure at the very least.
She warned me how intense the security and scrutiny was going to be here in New York and once I got into Israel. I had already left a large supply of various different questionable items from my spy-bag with Boo Boo Kitty back at her apartment. A few syringes and vials of various different chemicals. Some fireworks, smoke bombs, some utility knives. Things I would never normally travel without. And yes, truth be told I have traveled all over the world — and America — with every single one of these items in my bag. Including mace, pepper spray, tasers, stun guns, fire starters, sterno fire cans, the works. Security never catches them, or when they do they just let me go through with them anyway. This is true. Don’t ever think for a minute that you’re safe on an airplane in the States just because of the TSA. I can promise you just based on what I bring through that none of us are any safer than we were twelve yeas ago. So as Joy and The Javelin were heading out to return to Manhattan I was headed to the gate to head to Israel on my own. I kneeled down on the floor and unzipped my spy-bag and began taking things out one by one. I pulled out a giant handful of stuff. I barely know these people and here I’m handing them a big handful of knives and stun guns and fire starters. “Perhaps it’s best if I don’t try to get through security with these items… Can you take them back to Manhattan and I’ll get them from you after our trip please?” I ask. The looks on their faces… Wide eyed shock.
Not knowing what to expect I went right to the gate. Hours early. Just to be safe. I had heard the stories. I already knew that I’d be suspect because of my appearance. Not only am I not Jewish, but security people at airports just have this negative bias towards long haired types with earrings. And I was not to be disappointed on this little jaunt. They hand-searched my bag for about an hour. I had already given up almost everything I thought was suspect to Boo Boo or Joy. But they found plenty of items still to question. Why was I carrying a short wave radio? Hand cuffs? A lock picking kit? a multi-bit screwdriver? And that was just the beginning. Surprisingly they didn’t take one thing away from me. They did NOT catch my pen collection, which besides being a stellar set of some of the finest writing instruments in the world today, also contain a pen-disguised pepper spray, a pen-disguised audio/video recorder, a pen-disguised laser and a pen-disguised utility knife.
Once I got through security I thought I was in the clear. But that was far from the truth. The Israeli women who work security at the gate are absolute ninja warrior types. They look you right in the eye and start asking you a hundred questions. Trying to trick you with each one. They’ll ask you the same question three times even though you’ve answered it. The lady who was interrogating me was razor sharp, focused like a laser beam with one intention: to not let me on that plane. I wasn’t Israeli. I wasn’t Jewish. I had no business going there as far as she was concerned. Never mind that tourism from Christians from all over the world is the number one revenue generator to the nation of Israel. Without that, their economy would be greatly challenged. Similar to Paris or Rome or Disney World for that matter. But impressively this woman did not let that fact sway her one bit. When told that I was going on a peace and fact-finding mission with a large reputable organization, she was intrigued by the fact that there was no one else in my group traveling with me. Telling her that everyone had to go back to Manhattan and would be flying there tomorrow did nothing to assuage her fears. If anything it only made her more suspicious.
I was told by many others that you will never feel more like a criminal than when flying to Israel. They were right. I actually started feeling guilty for no reason other than the fact that this woman and then her manager were giving me the third degree. As if I were really a criminal but just didn’t know it or something. They took my passport for about an hour. Did God only knows what with it. Inspected all my paperwork. And continued their onslaught of questions. Where do I live? Who have I talked to since getting to the airport? What items am I carrying that I didn’t pack myself? (really?) How can I be sure that no one else has touched my suitcases? Most suspicious of all, my trips to Iran. We knew going in that that would or could pose a serious problem. But it also isn’t that difficult to Google my name and see exactly who I am and what I do for a living. I am certainly no terrorist. In the end, it worked out. I simply explained that I was going to Israel, if they let me, for the same reason that I went to Iran: to listen, learn and negotiate and promote peace. Between all peoples.
After about an hour of this, I was finally let through to the gate. Seriously. At least an hour. Talk about trying to talk you out of visiting their country. I know plenty of hardcore libertarian-minded Americans who would have walked away after five minutes of that kind of treatment. We were still in the U.S. after all. But I was determined to get there. I figured it was worth it. Once I got the gate I was told that I was NOT guaranteed a seat on this plane actually and that they didn’t care at all what Delta said. Told that I was actually on standby and to go sit in the corner and wait. How long? A few hours. We’ll let you know. I had never flown standby before. There’s a reason for it. Some people value money more than anything. To others it’s time. I fit into the latter group.
Turns out that they were overbooked by about thirty passengers. I waited there till 11pm. No one ever came to talk to me or inform me what the status of my seat was. I had never seen anything like it. If you’ve ever worked with Israeli movers, multiply that by ten. The rudeness and callousness with which we were all treated was so intense, so overt, that it was funny because it was so beyond disbelief. I was absolutely exhausted, after rushing to the airport as soon as I had woken up, having not eaten anything all day and then all night (they told us that if we left and they called our name that they would immediately give our seat to someone else… So we didn’t dare leave our spot on the cold hard airport floor.) After every single person boarded the plane I finally lumbered over to the counter and asked if there was any update on my ticket, to which the agent just casually replied “Oh the flight is full sir.” As if I wasn’t even sitting there and they hadn’t already spoken to me. No sorry. No apologies. No offer to help book me another flight. Just looked past me off into the distance.
The airline is called El Al. In all my years of extensive traveling, I thought I had seen it all (Africa will blow your mind when first flying there… many aspects of it) but I have never seen an airline so rude, uncaring and unprofessional. But I kept reminding myself what they had been through as a people. That there was more to this story than just the here-now. This was a people who had by their own account been “abused, mistreated, taken advantage of, used, lied to, enslaved, ostracized, tortured and even murdered for thousands of years no matter where we have tried to live”. The foundational impetus for the Zionist Movement. So perhaps this is something that runs deep… a self protectionism that to the average person who grew up with a silver spoon in their mouth could never understand. A kind of “every man for himself” defensive offensiveness. An existential anger. I really got the point how after a few generations of that kind of abuse, it can sit inside of a person’s DNA and form who the person is and how they act. I get that. But when will they begin to let it go…? That’s the question. [Then again, it’s only been 60 years since one of the most brutal genocides the world has ever witnessed. Perhaps it’s not yet time to let it go. And in fact, maybe letting it go may actually work against their very survival. I get that.]
So back in a car to return to Manhattan. I’ve made this trip to and from the airport three times now in the last 24 hours. Evidently we will all head back to the airport tomorrow to see if Delta can find us a replacement flight. As of now we don’t have one. Three of us are already in the air and on their way. That has to be an odd predicament to be in. But tomorrow’s another day. More then. Ambassador over and out.
On the plane now. Have to fly from Seattle, WA to Newark, NJ, then take a car into the City. Will be staying with Boo Boo Kitty, at her apartment in Midtown, for the night and then meeting the group tomorrow at the JFK. From what I understand we are flying directly to Tel Aviv. A non-stop flight, which is always nice, though it’s something like ten to fourteen hours, which isn’t so nice. But certainly worth it. I’ve never been to Israel before. I know for many people, specifically Christians and Jews, a trip to “the Holy Land” is a dream come true. I’ve heard the way people talk about it over the years. You would think they died and went to heaven, met God himself, and returned to earth to talk about it. For the devout, this is the ultimate pilgrimage. Similar to the Hajj for people of the Muslim faith — the mandatory trip to Mecca that all Muslims are supposed to make at least once in their life. But of course this isn’t really a holy pilgrimage we are taking. More of a fact finding mission to one of the most volatile hotbeds of political unrest in the world today. One cannot escape the religious aspects of the trip, and I personally wouldn’t want to, being Christian.
But as a Civilian Diplomat, what interests me most is the attempt to gather as much data firsthand as I can about the land and the people, and to connect with as many people as I can in an attempt to create more peace in the world. I am invited to many countries every year, in various capacities, as a singer and recording artist or in a more diplomatic capacity. Because of my schedule I am forced to turn most of them down unfortunately. Israel is different. As more and more people are starting to understand, Israel is the center, the focus, of much of the political turmoil that we as Americans are forced to endure whether we like it or not. It is a deep, and heavily nuanced subject. Very few people are objective about it. Instead they feel immediately captured emotionally and feel a dire need to “choose sides”. Civilian Diplomats don’t have that privilege. In fact we make a commitment to not do that as part of the requirements to hold that title. Creating peace means choosing the side of peace and no other. Sometimes it is more difficult than others, easier to say than do. One of the first things that struck me about Israel/Palestine as a child is how vehement American politicians are in asserting their allegiance to Israel. To not do so usually means instant death to an American politician’s career. But why?
This got me to studying. From a very young age I was fascinated by the subject. What was the hold on American politicians? And why? Studied the subject for years. Read hundreds of books about it. First and foremost what you learn is that the Israeli lobby in Washington DC is the single largest lobby in the United States. It’s bigger than Big Oil, bigger than Big Pharma, bigger than weapons manufacturers and defense contractors. Meaning, they have more money at their disposal and more pull and influence with politicians than any other single industry in America. This was a shocking realization. It explained a lot. To publicly speak up about Israel in a negative fashion in any way, no matter how true or justified you might be, could literally destroy your career. We’ve watched it happen live and in real time to more than one well-meaning public servant in our own lifetimes. So it’s a given that if you’re going to enter American politics you have to at least pretend that “Israel is our greatest ally in the Middle East and I will do anything to preserve their right to exist in peace”. But at what cost? That’s the question that occurs to many when they first start learning about the strong grip that Israeli lobby money has on American politicians and some of the questionable actions they’ve taken through the years to the native peoples of that land.
In the nineteen-eighties, an American congressman released a book that is still in print today called They Dare To Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. I’ve provided a link to it on Amazon.com. It is one of the most popular and controversial books on the subject that’s ever been written and is continually updated by the author and publishers. It includes interviews with heads of state from countries all over the world and with many of America’s finest senators and congress persons. I first read it when I was in my early teens. I just read the latest version this year as a refresher. I was interested in what some of the newer politicians had to say. Since this book and many like it already exist, I do not feel the need to go into the details contained in the book here; I’ll just say that if global politics or peace interest you, this book will answer a lot of questions. There are very simple steps we can take as a nation that would do wonders in creating a more peaceful world, many of them having to do with the preferential treatment paid to Israel, especially in how that affects other countries such as the other Middle Eastern nations and Islamic ones. It’s an unfortunate fact that the United States got itself entangled in such a tricky messy web with Israel as it has. It’s part money, and it’s part religion.
Since I have received so many emails and letters from people asking me to explain just what the hell is going on in regards to Israel and the United States, let me try to address it here, before we head over there, in as briefly a manner as I can. We’ve already addressed the financial aspect of it. There is HUGE money to be gained by backing Israel, which means there is also huge influence and power in it. On the opposite side of the coin, NOT appearing to back Israel can literally mean the difference between having a job in Washington politics or not. This is the money aspect. But it goes deeper than that. Yes this big money aspect is big. And important. Similar in scope to banking or fracking or pharmaceutical companies or oil companies or defense contractors. There are some things in the world, industries, so mammoth and so influential, that you simply cannot go against them. To do so would be ruinous for your career. You realize very soon in your political career that regardless of how you feel personally, you are going to have to play ball with them and take their money. If you don’t, your opponents will. And they will win.
This helps explain why president Obama promised an administration of hope and change but backed Monsanto’s blocking any laws that allowed for the labeling of genetically modified foods (GMOs). His actions don’t speak about what he personally feels about the subject (I am sure he and the First Lady do everything in their power to assure that they and their children do not eat GMO foods) as much as just how big and powerful these forces are in the American political system. (Does this mean that we let him off the hook and label him a helpless victim? Certainly not. He took the easy way out and betrayed every single health conscious American citizen in that single cowardice act. He could have at least attempted to step up and speak truth to the American people about the issue. But instead he quietly signed away Americans’ rights to even knowing if their food has been genetically modified. It’s a frightening fact of just how far off the political system is in regards to being “of the people, by the people, for the people”. That seems a dead dream.) The same can be said for all the fracking that’s going on all over American and destroying small towns one by one faster than we can keep up with. But again, this doesn’t inform his personal or professional views on these subjects half as much as it simply illustrates to us all how powerful and unstoppable these particular industries are. Now take into account that AIPAC, the American political lobby for Israel is LARGER — as in has more money and power — than any other industry in America, including big oil and pharmaceutical companies, and you begin to see how powerful the money aspect of this issue is. HUGE.
But it isn’t just money. It’s also religion. And that’s even more disturbing than the money and power aspect, because it speaks to how insanely irrational some people are when it comes to religious beliefs, which doesn’t bode well for our ability to accomplish anything close to rational peace work in the world in the near term. In a nutshell, many Christians believe in “end of the world” prophecy. Much of it depends on which denomination a person is, but almost all Christians believe that Jesus is going to one day return to earth and save all the Christians. This is called “The Second Coming” or “The Rapture”. What he’s going to be saving them from is a giant mess of war, disasters, famine, disease, pestilence, and general destruction that is supposed to wipe out at least one-third of all of humanity and render the earth a dastardly messed up, destroyed and unlivable war zone. This is called “Armageddon”. After the rest of the “non-Christians” on earth endure all these hardships for a few years, then Jesus will return to earth again and create an everlasting peace on earth that will last for one-thousand years. True story. Not making this up.
None of the different Christian denominations can agree on all the details exactly, because they’re basically making it all up, taking little bits and pieces of different phrases and verses here and there from various different translations of the Old and New Testaments. So it’s hard to piece it all together even if you’re a avid lifetime scholar of the subject, which I have been for years. But suffice it to say that the main aspect of it that appeals to Christians is this idea of “Jesus returning” and “saving them”, which will show everyone else that they were right all along and serve as a kind of vindication for all the craziness, horrors and terrible mistakes of the last two-thousand years of Christendom.
In order for these things to transpire, certain other things need to happen. They’re “prophesied”. In the Bible. These are called prophecies. There are many of them, depending on whom you listen to. One of the things prophesied was that the Jewish people would be allowed to return to the promised land (Israel) after years of exile after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. This happened in 1948 when a very few wealthy and powerful people created the new country of Israel. This is called “a fulfilled prophecy”. Every time one of these prophecies is fulfilled it further serves to encourage people who believe in these things to believe they are right. The Jews returning to Israel was a big one. For thousands of years it seemed like a ridiculous impossible pipe dream. So the fact that it happened really amped a lot of people up. Sort of reinvigorated many believers into rethinking their doubts that these bible prophecies might not be true.
Now it just so happened that this new country of Israel was smack dab where the country of Palestine was. But that’s disputed because some people claim that “Palestine was never really a country, but just an area of “Arabia in general in the Middle East in general”. (Interestingly I happen to have a stamp collection book that was given to me by my father which was given to him by his father and if you open the page to the Ps, there are three pages dedicated to the country of “Palestine” where one can stick all the Palestinian stamps they’ve collected. I also have an atlas of my grandparents that has two pages dedicated to the country of Palestine, and sure enough it’s located right where it’s always been on the map, where Israel is now. Of course any reading of any history book written in the last two-thousand years will also mention Palestine and Palestinians as well.) But again, this fact is still disputed — that the country of Palestine ever existed. Hardcore Israel defenders will swear that Palestine never existed and that for two-thousand years that was just a sort of “no-man’s land”. In regards to the millions of Palestinian people who lived there, they will claim that they never did. That there is “no such thing as a Palestinian and that they all just roamed there recently from either Jordon or Lebanon after the Israeli people rebuilt the land up.” Unfortunately I’m not making this up. People really do think and speak this way.
I am sure we will learn plenty more about this once we land in Israel/Palestine. But back to the end of the world. So the Jews have now been allowed to return to the promised land (also known as Zion; hence the term Zionism, which roughly translates to the movement started in the late 1800s to lobby for a permanent home for the Jewish people where they could be free to live in peace and not be constantly afraid for their lives or abused or enslaved. Post World War II, the Zionist movement became a reality, and though the Zionists had three countries in mind — Palestine, Chile, or Argentina — the powers that be at the time, Great Britain and the United States, eventually gave them the area known as Palestine as their permanent home. (Furthermore, this helps explain why certain world leaders, like the president of Iran for example, speak angrily about “Zionist” but not Jews or Jewish people. They aren’t anti-Jew. They like Jews and embrace Jews. What they’re against is the Zionist movement because it displaced an entire country full of other people. Hopefully this helps shed light on this rather confusing subject.)) So the Jews have returned to Israel and created a country there. That was one big prophecy, fulfilled.
Some of the other prophecies that need to be fulfilled before Armageddon can begin and the big man can return to earth are as follows: The great city of Damascus will be destroyed pillar by pillar till it is unrecognizable (that one is happening right now in front of our eyes through the ongoing Syrian civil war); Israel and Palestine will sign a peace treaty promising to share the city of Jerusalem; this will allow Israel to rebuild the Temple; an anti-Christ will appear on earth as a very revered and holy figure (many so-called prophecy scholars claim it will be a pope from the Catholic church — remember that protestant Christians are not big fans of Catholicism. They’ve been fighting for centuries.)
Before we head to the big finish, for context, and to be fair, let us remember that most of the world religions have this same end of the world/rapture theory tied up in their religion. Even the Native Americans have a prophecy that The Great Bear Spirit will return to create peace on earth forever. The Jews are still looking forward to their prophecy that The Messiah will come to earth to vindicate God’s Chosen People and create peace on earth. This will be his “first coming” because they do not recognize Jesus the Jew as the Messiah, but rather consider him a criminal who was justly punished for his crimes(?); the Muslims/Islam has the same prophecy except that it will be The Twelfth Imam who will return along with Mohammad on his right side and Jesus on his left side. All three godly men will be wearing flowing white robes and appear out of the blue flying in the air and descending out of the clouds to descend to earth. Not making this up. Everyone is pretty much waiting on the same thing, just with slightly different versions of the same story.
So… over the last fifty years Christian churches all over the Americas, both North and South, have collected tens of billions of American dollars to give to Israel. Israelis and Jews don’t believe in Armageddon or Jesus of course; nor do they believe in the prophecy that he is going to return to earth in The Rapture or Second Coming and save people from anything. But as my Jewish psychiatrist said to me the other day “that doesn’t stop them from taking all that money”. No, it doesn’t. Not only has the government of Israel received more tax-payer funded “aid money” from the government of the United States than any other country in the world over the last fifty years, Israel has also received tens billions of dollars in additional money from all these American Christian churches who collect it “to defend the State of Israel so that they may rebuild the Temple so that Jesus can return once more and save us all”. No matter how you feel about the subject, just as an experiment, turn on one of the Christian TV networks for a few hours and just watch it. You will see countless advertisements and solicitations begging you to send in money to be sent to Israel to defend it so that Jesus can return.
Now I know what you’re thinking. This is madness. It’s crazy talk. Sounds like I’m making it up in one of my sarcastic satires. But I’m not. Any dedicated born again Christian worth their weight in Dead Sea salt believes this stuff and thus, regardless of how silly the Israelis think all this is, it has afforded them a ton of free money to build up a massive weapons system and a just as massive propaganda machine to defend themselves against any naysayers regarding their sometimes brutal human rights abuses against the native peoples of this disputed land. As you can see, it’s not just money and influence that controls the reigns of American politicians in regards to Israel; it’s also a deeply seated religious belief that Israel must be defended in order for the prophecies of Jesus’ second coming to be fulfilled. Religious beliefs can be powerful motivators, sometimes much stronger than money and political influence even.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it isn’t JUST money and power and religion that are running the show here. There is, to be fair, also the fact that Israel IS a democracy and an American ally in that region. The fact that the Jewish people of Israel are relatively secular and non-religious helps make them a pretty tame and non-radical people to deal with compared to some of the other more radical religious countries of the Middle East. Thus the United States being able to have that country there, smack dab in the middle of a hotbed of historical madness and chaos, with the concurrent ability to have U.S. military bases and airstrips there, helps the U.S. a lot strategically. Between their bases in Israel and in Saudi Arabia, they can guarantee a military strike on any country in the region within minutes. And that’s clearly the most important thing to the United States in its ongoing quest to master and control the 21st century in the same way it did the 20th century.
Besides this rather jaded and cynical view of the scene (anyone with a scant knowledge of recent history would agree that this, though perhaps a scathing view of U.S. foreign policy, is a fair assessment of the way things just happen to be presently), we must also acknowledge that the kind of freedom and liberty that we enjoy in the United States is definitely preferable to the more inhumane and fascist systems that are practiced in many of the Muslim nations in that region of the world. We do have it better than great in the United States. And part of the reason for it is because no other nation on earth dare attack us or our way of life. Which is what gives us the freedom to live such free and easy lives. No matter how cynical or jaded or angry we get with the dishonest, unjust, arrogant and brutal foreign policy that the United States government and military practices all over the world in our names, we must still recognize that it does afford us a ridiculously enjoyable lifestyle as citizens of this very free society. We are eternally lucky to have been born here, in the United States of America, at this time in human history.
Okay, so that’s the set up. That’s what’s going on. I hope this helps answer many of your questions. Yes it’s completely corrupt (in regards to the money and influence aspect of the Israeli lobby and its control over American politics), and it’s completely crazy and irrational (in regards to these whacky religious prophetic beliefs that keep us forever defending a country no matter what they do). But it’s reality. It’s a reality that has bred tens of millions (if not hundreds of millions) of enemies for the United States around the world. When we see flag burning on TV, there are valid reasons for it. I am sure we will learn a lot more of it while we are over there.
For my part, as you already know, I spent this entire year doing homework to prepare for the journey. I spent a year relearning Hebrew. And I spent an additional two to three hours a day reading as many books as I could on the history of Israel, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and the Jewish-Arab conflict.
Note: that last phrase is a misnomer. Palestinians are NOT Arabs. Just as Iranians are not Arabs. Iranians originally came to the Middle East from the North, the Caucuses Mountain region just south of Russia (hence the term Aryan: the word Iran comes from Aryan. Persian comes from the word Parse, the name the Greeks gave the people and land when Alexander the Great invaded their country. They renamed themselves Iranians to reclaim their heritage.) Palestinians are not Arabs either. They’re Palestinians. They were born in and grew up over the last five thousand years in the same area, the area we have been calling Palestine for the last two-thousand years; the area we now call Israel/Palestine. Yes, they are for the most part either Christian or Muslim. But that’s as close as it gets to Arab. The reason why the conflict is sometimes referred to as “the Jewish-Arab conflict” is simply because the entire region — what used to just be called Arabia and is now majority Muslim — is largely against the formation of the State of Israel because it displaced all the people who already lived there, the Palestinian people, who are mostly Muslims (or Christian) and so they are looked at as their brothers and sisters. To call people of that region of the world Middle Eastern makes sense. To call them Muslim makes sense. But to call them Arabs doesn’t make sense.
Other interesting notes to consider before we get there: if we are to believe that the Old Testament (what the Jews call The Torah, the Books of Kings, the Books of The Prophets, etc — yes they read and consider sacred many of the same books as Christians do as odd as that seems) is a historical document (to a certain degree… I mean most of it actually reads more like myth and legend obviously) then we must remember that the Jews and the Palestinians are actually the same people, descended from the same people, just cousins of each other. We all know that these two people lived in this region of the world for thousands of years together, sometimes at peace, oftentimes at war with one another. The bible is full of stories of their fighting and wars. But originally they were all part of the same family. The family of Abraham. The Jews revere Abraham. He is their Godfather so to speak. So too do the Islamic people. (Muslims revere him as a prophet. Many people don’t realize this. But Adam, Abraham, King David, Noah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus are all highly respected and holy prophets of the Muslim faith). For good reason do they revere Abraham. For he literally is the grandfather of both people.
If you look up the family tree of the Jewish people OR the Islamic people, you will see that Abraham had children with two different women: his wife Sarah, and his wife’s handmaiden, Hagar (that was due to trick on his wife’s part by the way supposedly. He didn’t know he was sleeping with her. He thought it was his wife. She supposedly tricked him, or so the story goes.) But his wife bore him a son named Isaac, which is from where all the Jewish people on earth come from. And from Hagar he had a son named Ishmael, which is from where all the Palestinian people/eventually Muslim people come from.
Another interesting fact is this: Many people are familiar with the Biblical story of this strange “god” who wanted to “test Abraham’s dedication to him” so he ordered him to go out to the desert and sacrifice his only son to prove his love for god and then in the last minute just as Abraham was about to plunge a knife down into his son’s chest, this god ordered him to stop and said “relax old man; it was only a test. Here look, there’s a goat/ram/lamb for you to sacrifice instead”. But get this. It doesn’t actually mention in the Bible which son it was. So the Jews consider this a very very important and sacred story and have chosen Abraham as their great and noble godfather figure and believe that the son in question was Isaac. The Muslims also believe this to be a very very sacred and important story, proving how noble and dedicated Abraham was as their holiest of holy godfather figure, but they believe that the son in question was Ishmael. Both religions tell and retell this story all the time but do so with the son character being different. One is the father of the Jewish people and one if the father of the Muslim people.
It’s a fascinating and revealing fact that human beings are still at the point where they can be so devoutly committed to something as a religion and yet be well aware that they aren’t even 100% sure of the details of one of their most important historical facts. This will prove very telling in our upcoming mission I am sure.
So this is all background. I know it’s been a lot. And I don’t blame you if you’ve not made it through all of it. God knows it’s taken me decades to gather all of this information. I wouldn’t expect anyone to absorb it all in an hour. But I’m stuck on a place for seven hours. More importantly, all of it, every single idea herein, will most likely be very telling and important on this journey that we are headed towards. Israel and Palestine may be mere countries full of people. But I find it hard to consider or visit them outside of their respective religious and historical backdrops.
Every time I visit a country to study its culture and learn a foreign language, I start a new leather journal to make notes about the language in. It’s become quite the tradition and I take a lot of pride in the collection of leather books I’ve amassed, one for each language. I have seven now, because I have formally studied seven foreign languages. Nine really. But I’m not counting Twi and German because even though I visited Ghana, I didn’t formally study the language, and I haven’t yet done any immersion courses in German. So I don’t count those two. (even though I put in a ridiculous amount of time into learning German for a year. Talk about a difficult language!) The picture attached is the book I purchased for Hebrew. I have filled it about halfway with notes from my studies thus far — things like “hello, how are you? I’m fine, my name is, where is the bathroom, thank you” etc. The other half I will fill while there just from being bold enough to be willing to constantly ask people “how do you say _____?”
In terms of my ideas and feelings about the different languages, which is something I am constantly asked about, yes language is certainly a passion. Since we’re on a place with nothing to do but read more history, let me offer this: my favorite would be Italian and Portuguese tied for first place — in terms of how beautiful they sound. I know some people who don’t prefer the sound of Portuguese oddly, but I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Besides that, it does something to my heart, an emotional tug, in a way that only Italian does. This pull from Italian makes sense. I am half Italian and raised in a home where Italian was the primary language spoken. So it’s both close in heart to my childhood nurturing and genetically. But Portuguese there’s no explanation for. Perhaps a past life… When I hear it, I just get a very special inexplicable feeling, as if I spoke it all my life and it holds a special familial meaning for me.
A close second place is French. It too is extremely sonorous to listen to. Something very sensual about it. To the ear that is. But not to the mouth. It’s rather strange on the tongue, French. As if the people who created it had some slight deformity in the lip region of their faces and were constantly puckered up in the lips. It’s quite unfathomable really to think about how and why they created a language where the mouth needs to be puckered up the whole time. Similarly to how in Farsi they created their language where one is constantly having to use the back of one’s throat and tonsils to make this very uncomfortable guttural sound, a “gla” sound, as if they were choking on something and trying to pull it up… or how in Hebrew they created their language to have all these very heavy sandpaper-scraping growl-like sounds as if they were always clearing their throats when first developing language. Hebrew is a very rough and bumpy language. Not smooth or suave. In fact the opposite of smooth and suave. Downright nails against the chalkboard. Heavy. Rough. Spanish can be that way too, depending on what dialect you’re speaking. But in a very different way. I cannot hear English objectively because I’ve been speaking it my whole life. I do know that when in a foreign country and you hear a group of people speaking English when you haven’t heard it in a while, it has a tendency to be very intrusive. Noisy. Loud. Not elegant. American English specifically. It’s certainly no French or Italian. But again, I can’t really hear it objectively. I’m always curious how non-native speakers hear English.
In terms of learnability, Spanish is by far the easiest second language to learn. It’s completely phonetic. Nothing tricky. Follows rules and doesn’t veer too far off from them. Though the whole masculine/feminine thing will definitely throw you at first. The idea that every day to day word is either masculine or feminine and that’s what dictates it’s suffixes and articles. That’s rather annoying. French, Italian, Portuguese, Farsi and even Hebrew do the same, but Hebrew takes it to a whole other level. EVERYTHING is gender based. Even adjectives and adverbs. Like nothing I’ve ever encountered. And there’s no rhyme or reason to it. You just have to memorize every single word. It’s crazy hard to learn. Besides being difficult to understand and speak. Takes a lot of practice. And patience.
If being The Ambassador is anything more than just attempting to be a nice open-minded person who sees all people the same way, then it’s the fact that he sacrifices and dedicates a ridiculous amount of his free time to learning the language of the people he wishes to plug into and get to know. If there were any money to be made in being The Ambassador I’d be a very wealthy man. But alas this is all just to titillate the brain, nurture the heart and try to make the world a slightly better place.
Having done this in several other countries already, I know what to expect to a certain degree. More than many. On the other hand I do not pretend that one experience will be like any other nor that one trip will help inform any future ones. For each country on earth, each people and culture, is entirely different. We are united in our shared humanity. But most of the time that seems to be where the similarities begin and end. If you’ve ever smashed a live monkey’s head in with a small hammer in order to eat its brains (considered a delicacy in China and Indonesia) then you already know this. I’ve seen much in my travels. I have no idea if I’ve done anything remotely close to help increase the amount of peace in the world. But I pray I have. Or why bother? I always look back on the first time I went to Brasil and especially in the lesser known areas when the people would discover you were from America and were attempting to speak their language, they would act so thrilled and honored. Super happy just from your being there and speaking their language. The same experience in Iran. They treated us as if we were aliens from another planet. They were absolutely in awe to see Americans up close and in the flesh. And when they discovered the reason for our visit, “to help foster more peace”, they were even more trilled and happy. These experiences give me hope. For what we are about to do. I know it will take much more than any of us have the energy or time for in this life. But I do hold out hope that we can one day see peace in the Middle East. Not for any religious ideal, but simply out of a sincere love for humanity. Shouldn’t that be enough?
Someone recently brought up in conversation a request for some suggestions on what “classics” she should read this summer, referring to her high school and college years and alluding to not necessarily having read every book that was required of her as perhaps some other students might have. That’s one area of college that I actually excelled in and enjoyed, literature, especially the classics, but really just about anything that had to do with the written word regardless of the subject matter or the time period.
Reading learning studying writing, these are all endeavors that appealed to me since I can remember; nearly equal to my love of art or music or all things creative. There’s a reason why these Diaries exist, and why, much to the horror of my ever faithful programming and design team, the number of entries and posts is so damn copious. Truth be told, though most people outside of the day to day project don’t realize it — managing the Transcendence Diaries is a full time project in and of itself with several people in its employ for almost thirteen years now, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of translating them into digital form, editing them and getting them up online. It’s one of the biggest and longest running projects I’ve ever been involved in.
When I heard Anne’s question about catching up on the classics, it reminded me that I recently found the booklet that accompanied “the 100 greatest books of all time” series I bought years ago. Hardcover leather-bound with gold leaf, each of them, at exorbitant prices that conveniently ignore the fact that one could easily buy them on eBay for one-tenth the price, they are beautiful and make a valuable contribution to the library. With the advent of digital everything now, especially images and the written word, I occasionally question the practical nature of owning such a mammoth book collection at this time. But after a few minutes in their presence, perusing the books themselves, their covers, jackets, sleeves bindings, copyright pages and numerous other aspects of books only available to us in non-digital form, I am always left feeling more than content and relieved that I never abandoned collecting. They may not be as portable as a kindle or iPad — not that I’m not a huge fan of those as well, I am — there is just something inexplicably and palpably enjoyable about a real live book in the flesh; especially an old one.
After perusing this list of “the 100 greatest books of all time” though — some great books in there for sure — I was left with a feeling that we will be soon rethinking and updating it, collectively, as a society. We must remember that these kinds of lists are purely from a Western Viewpoint. Those whose lives are born and bred in other parts of the world, who’s education is not from a traditionally Western background, would not necessarily agree with what we consider “the classics”. But from a purely Western Civ perspective something really bothered me about looking at this list. I was familiar with every book on there, having had to or wanting to read all of them in either high school or college, but it just seemed stale to me. Seeing Canterbury Tales yet again but nothing by Kurt Vonnegut for example. A decade or two ago one would never dare utter such a sentence, at least not in the vicinity of certain company. But today the idea seems almost downright quaint.
I know it may seem hard to fathom, but I feel we’re in for a big shift w/ certain long thought of “classics” being taken off the list and some newer ones being added. Either that or we need to create another list entirely. That may be a more feasible approach. Regardless of which list one references, The Harvard Classics is a fine example, the top 100 always looks very much the same. Perhaps it is time we create a new list, call it something like “The NEW 100 Greatest Books of All Time”. That way we don’t begin dismissing heretofore classics and deny the pleasure of their acquaintance to younger up and coming intellectuals.
I have always maintained, to the chagrin of my peers, that there is a difference between literature and great fiction. Where that proverbial line in the sand is I would assert is impossible to determine. Many books now long considered classics were once nothing but best selling works of fiction; for those that are fictional that is. Some classics are not fiction at all lest we forget. Take the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche or Marcus Aurilieus(sp?) for example. But for those that are, not all of them started out as “literature”.
For all its flowery pomp, brilliant wit and poetic wordplay, Shakespeare — (whatever we eventually decide about his true name and personhood) — wrote plays for both the royal court AND the throngs of unwashed masses of his day. Not exactly the most learned of the world of academia. Soap operas really some have said. Moby Dick most will remember is a book that was thoroughly panned upon its release. Now its taken for granted as literature in some circles. Baccacio’s Decameron was and still is soft porn, poetic or not. It may be a classic but is it literature?
Much of what has been released over the last fifty years has not entered the realm of “the 100 greatest books of all time”. But many are great works of art, some have sold in the millions, and some have huge cult followings. No one is going to argue with Catcher in the Rye being called a classic now. But what about Stranger in a Strange Land or 2001 A Space Odyssey? I honestly am not half as familiar with the best selling works of fiction from the past fifty years than I am with the traditional classic. That’s just where my heart happened to land when I began my love affair with reading. But that’s just one of the reasons why it may be a good idea to start a new list of classics. For people like myself who aren’t as aware of the newer classics as most contemporary readers are.
I still feel like a rethinking, a retooling, of the top 100 is bound to transpire imminently. It’s a hunch and my intuition almost never fails. But in the end I’d prefer a newer secondary list, whereby we could keep the old standards in place as they are, stale or not, just to make sure that nothing of great import falls out of place and out of reach to newcomers to the glorious joy of getting caught up and enthralled with a truly life-changing great read.
Scroll down below this post just to have a look at the email that was forwarded to me so you have a rough idea of what I am referring to in this post. What you’ll see is a very typical “2000s”-type ad that promises the moon and stars to prospective entrepreneurs looking for leads. What they’re selling is not important. In this case it is “new customers and leads”, primarily information and hype, in the form of a plugin for WordPress. It was forwarded to me by Infinito, who tends to keep up with these things. I rely on him and G2 and The Ex Norwegian along with a few other friends to keep me up to date with the latest and greatest in tech.
This is NOT the Diary entry I intended to post today. But it does act as an excellent illustration of yet another Signature of the Personal Expression Age, i.e. “You have to be ready (and willing) to change course on a dime, at a moment’s notice, in the Age of Personal Expression. So in that light, let us do just that. I can always post today’s originally intended Diary entry later this evening.
Infinito wanted to simply show me an example of what the new face of information marketing ads looks like. He wasn’t endorsing this style of adverts per se. I took a look at the ad below and did my best to attempt to get through it. About two-thirds of the way through I had had enough. A strange creeping yucky feeling came upon me as I tried to read it. And thus I replied to Infinito.
Wow. Yes I see these all the time. Used to anyway. I’m actually surprised that people are still trying to use them. I guess there is always that very last group of “Laggards” who we can always count on to bring in that last barrel full of revenue, despite how small it may be. [The term Laggards is based on that infamous “Roger’s Bell Curve” that shows a visual representation of a population divided by how quickly they tend to adopt new ideas and technologies or purchase and begin to use new things. At the front of the curve are the Innovators. It’s a very small percentage of the overall population. Next in line are the Early Adopters. Slightly bigger than the Innovators but still relatively small. Behind them are the average folk who jump on board once things have been proven and the prices go down. These percentage of people are called the Early Majority and is a much larger group. There is one more group after them who would represent the Mainstream or the Masses, The Late Majority. They only jump in once everyone around them believes it or owns it and they can pick it up for half price at Walmart. And then there are the Laggards. These are the people who wait, and wait, and then wait some more, for whatever reason, to accept new ideas to be true, or to make a purchase or begin using anything that is considered “new”. You can Google it. It’s a fascinating study if you’re into sociology science.]
Frankly I don’t like this type of advertising Infinito. It reeks of internet marketing circa-2001. I didn’t like it then and I still don’t. It may manage to eek out a few bucks from the pajama set, those home-bound individuals in boxer shorts sitting behind their computers trying to figure out how to get rich quick from not actually doing anything. But for our purposes I don’t see this type of ad as being effective in the least bit. In fact I would say it’s a downright turnoff. .
For one thing, these types of adverts are too hypey, damn near anxiety-inducing. I’m sure there are probably some people who like this kind of thing… Or else why would they still be creating and pitching them? Except only to each other perhaps? They litter the internet, like empty potato chip bags tossed out of a car on the highway. Wordy, bulky, clunky, chock full of meaningless tech jargon, giant blue hyperlinks and exclamation points everywhere, with big promises impossible to qualify. My Personal Expression Age (PEA) prediction is that we will be seeing less and less of these kinds of ads and that they’re going to continue to sink FAST in the coming year. I foresee a new way of gaining new customers, leads and additional sales is being heralded. Not quite a return to old-school, but close to it.
So far nearly every prediction we’ve made about the Personal Expression Age has come true over the last nine years. (It’s a source of both infinite pride and great sadness for me actually. We’ve yet to publish the actual book in full due to how busy we remain, hence the sadness; but pride in that so far we’ve been dead-on in predicting the path society as a whole would venture down in almost every industry). It’s downright uncanny how accurate we’ve been so far. Right down to the iReporters and hacktivists –as a means of Personal Expression — or the overthrow of nations right before our eyes — through and due to the increased need and acceptance for more Personal Expression.
In 2007 when we first started actively working on the book eight to ten hours a day, my partners and assistants in the project thought I was CRAZY when I said that we would start seeing peoples’ revolutions of entire countries in the next few years. After Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, now they think I’m some kind of prophet. When I said it would extend even to the United States and more stable European nations they looked at me as if I were some kind of mad anarchist speaking treason; warned me against writing it. Weather Girl flat out REFUSED to type what I was dictating to her, half out of fear and half out of patriotism I believe. The whole idea seems rather quaint now. But of course that’s because it’s a common rallying cry for both the far left and right. Though it still seems highly unlikely to most, I stick to my guns on this one. We’ve already seen it happen in Iceland. Nearly in Greece. In the coming few years it will only continue to grow to include larger more seemingly strong and stable countries like the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, and eventually yes, even China, Iran and Russia.
But that’s not what we are discussing here. Back to the point. Hear me now, believe me later: These kinds of ads as we see below are dead. Hype is dead. People just don’t have the time nor the temperament anymore to endure them. Hype is becoming nauseating. We can call this a new Signature of the Age. But I believe it is more of a sub-Signature of several of them. It’s an Outcome if anything, comprised of several different converging Signatures. There is The Backlash Against Hype Signature at play here. A longing and return to more authenticity. The It’s ALL Bullshit Signature. There is also the No Time to Read Signature playing a role as well.
The real point at the very bottom of the well is that hype in general is quickly dying. Society’s willingness to endure it. Across the board. I know what you’re thinking. “What? How can you say that? What about George Zimmerman and the so called royal baby? Or America’s Got Talent for God’s sake? You can’t get much more hype than all that.” Well this is true. But these are actually three very different subjects. One of them quite substantive. But closer to the point, how many people do we actually know who give a rat’s ass about America’s Got Talent or the so called royal baby? Sure it’s plastered all over the mainstream news, but WHO actually cares about it in our reality? Remember, mainstream news is PAID FOR. It’s not based on what’s important, nor newsworthy. Why is mainstream news dying? Well it’s not JUST because internet news is free as some people suggest. Nor is it simply because people can access ONLY the news they want to read about online, though that IS one of the major contributors to the slow crawling death of mainstream news.
More than anything though, it’s because people no longer trust that what they see and hear in the mainstream news is newsworthy. There have been too many revelations in the last five years, hell, in the last fifty years, that mainstream news is way too beholden to the governments and corporations of the world in what they report on and NOT to the people, nor the newsworthy. People long for REAL news. Not what the respective government in office at the time claims is news, nor what the corporation that owns the news outlet nor its subsidiaries WANT people to hear, but actual real news. Hype be damned. Regardless of how much fuss the mainstream news outlets make about this so called royal baby, how many people do WE know who actually care about it?
Hell, most people I know stopped falling for the whole claim of royalty over a century ago. And for good reason. There is NO such thing as royalty in the first place. They made it up. Called themselves “royal” one day and (yeah it’s sad fact that) a large majority of the common people around town fell for the scheme in the first place, but that was thousands of years ago. Not many thinking people in today’s age even believe in the myth of royalty or take it seriously. At least none that I know of. (just lucky?) So as far as this random British chick having a baby… Sure it’s hype, but it’s a non-issue to most. A novelty. And it’s quickly become ingratiating to many.
Don’t get me wrong. Hype may still be good for an entertainment click by the Masses, (Huff Post anyone?) that middle group in Rogers’ bell curve, but a click is all you’ll get. There’s not enough time for much more than that, unless something has true substance and/or is truly moving. Even those ideals are being greatly challenged in the Personal Expression Age; for a variety of reasons — which are expounded upon in much more detail in the book. That’s an unfortunate Signature of the age. But we’re working on it. Many around us are producing content that is just as if not more substantive and moving than ever before.
There is also the Return to Authenticity factor. All of us, but especially the younger generations, are accustomed to wearing strong bullshit and hype repelling armor now. No one believes YOU. No one believes ME. We no longer believe each other. We want to. We long to. But there is just way too much hype surrounding us. We’re drowning in it. Irony and cynicism are normal day to day outerwear. They have to be. In an age of America’s Got no Talent, we’ve trained ourselves to be this way. Everyone and their brother claims to be the next Michael Jackson or Madonna, or to have a son, sister, or cousin that is. Same with TV, film, books, music, literature, technology, apps… It’s a sea of endless hype. How we tread in it and sift through it all to find content of substance and import, products with true quality and functionality… that’s the Holy Grail.
So no. Ads like the below will not work. What we will see rise up in the place of these kinds of ads is more personalized one on one and localized service — even if you’re three-thousand miles away from your prospective customer — IF you want to gain new customers for a product or generate additional revenue from existing customers. What it will look like exactly… I’m not sure yet… I am just beginning to download and formulate the theory. But I can tell you one thing, ads like the below are history. Only the Laggards will click. And only the desperate among them will continue past that first click and pull out their virtual wallet.
As always more later.
On Mon, Jul 22, 2013 at 8:17 AM, Infinito <email@example.com> wrote:
Hi Ambassador, See the below ad as an example of the latest in information marketing advertising…
Begin forwarded message:
From: “awdevine” <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: [Online/Offline: Just Launched] Here’s The ONE Thing EVERY Marketer Wants AND NEEDS… Must-See NOW (fast-action bonus)
Date: July 22, 2013 11:05:16 AM EDT
To: “Fellow Marketer” <email@example.com>
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I just listened to the last but unreleased Broken Spectacles album, the one called Aftermath. The one that took us two years to make, a year and half of which was building the recording studio. Recording the album probably only took us a few months at the most. I hadn’t heard it in 15 years. The Grey Wolf just sent it to me. All I could do was cry cry cry… I had totally forgotten how quirky weird and special we were. Broken Spectacles is the real name of the band that I have been referring to as Shattered for the last fifteen years in these Transcendence Diaries and other places.
What a sad beautiful trip that just was. Grey Wolf aka Donnie J Groovemaster Jam, has just recently unearthed a treasure trove of master tapes from those six years and had them digitally remastered. He sent me one CD of the “old stuff” and one CD of the never released last album we recorded called Aftermath. We may need to change that title since it’s a Stones album already. I don’t believe we knew that at the time. Grey Wolf burned the CDs all wrong so it’s just ONE big hour long song per CD, which is classic Groover. He’s going to do it over again he tells me. That I assume will take another fifteen years. I have a lot of the old songs already mastered and ready to go, but only the ones that I wrote, for the Spectacularly Broken compilation album… But now I am rethinking the idea and wanting to do a WHOLE Spectacles compilation instead of just Ed Hale songs… Would take all four guys agreeing to that… That’s the problem. Bands are tricky.
Today I only listened to Aftermath… The first song that came on was called “LOVE”. Fans won’t even know the song because Aftermath was never released and unlike most of the songs on the album, we never played the song “Love” live, not even once. That one was a Toad song. We all contributed to each others songs, adding various instruments as we saw fit and vocal harmonies along with background vox. By the time we got to Aftermath we had been together for five years. So Toad and I were still working together very closely, but not writing together as much as did in the beginning. More like coming in with completed songs and then just assisting each other with suggestions and musical additions. There are some horn and string parts I added to this one along with my usual backgrounds and harmonies, but for the most part it was all Toad. And it was utterly transcendent. I couldn’t believe it. What i was hearing. Now. Fifteen years later. It felt like a different life. A lifetime ago. Truly.
In that moment it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. Reminded me of George Harrison. I didn’t remember it at first. Couldn’t place it. I didn’t understand why it was there. It wasn’t part of the album was it? Wouldn’t I remember that? Turns out that it was. I had just suppressed the memory I assume. And for good reason. There was always a tense and bitter but beneficial competitiveness between Toad and I by the time we got to the recording of this album. Who was the better writer? Who was the better singer? Who got more girls? Who got more press? Who got more positive reviews? Who knew more? Who played their instrument the best? Who played the most instruments? Who wrote more songs? Who was deeper? Who sang more like John Lennon? Who was as multi-talented as Paul? On and on. (Funny right? I know… But bands are like that when they first start out… It’s cute when you think about it…)
I cannot help but think that one of the reasons why Broken Spectacles was so good was due to this very intense but loving competitiveness between the two of us. Always pushing ourselves more, to be the best we could be in order to outdo the other. But we were also best friends, beyond brothers. With an infinite love between us, one that I have still not to this day experienced with any other man, perhaps not even any other human being. A lot of water has passed under that bridge.
Listening to it this time, anew, I was flabbergasted by its beauty. Astounded. Couldn’t stop crying. And then in comes Coon’s “KALEIDOSCOPE” with the most amazing triple lead guitar harmonies “Freebird” style ending. And on and on it went… “AINT IT HARD”!!! Another masterpiece. “Nature Boy”, “Wrong Again”, “I Want Blood”, “Going Nowhere”, “Aftermath”, “Your Face Ain’t That Pretty”… Every guy was doing such a good job at what they were trying to do. I was so impressed with the musicality of it all. Couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps I had somehow sold my soul over the last fifteen years since those days… Just to get more success and make more money. We now don’t make anything like this kind of music I was hearing from this strange glorious mess of an album.
Princess Little Tree couldn’t believe that it was us she was hearing. She had never heard the band before. Only knew the Transcendence and the Ed Hale solo stuff. Had only heard me talk about Broken Spectacles. All the stories… She was impressed by the variety of vocals. Had never heard Toad or Coon sing. Never heard all three of us sing together before, one of the things that really stood out about that band, three lead singers, oftentimes singing at the same time in all the songs. It was special. But here’s the coup de grace… the last song Grey Wolf put on the album for some reason was “AND I GO”. A mega monstrous masterpiece, an epic anthemic musical gift from God the likes of which I’d never heard before or since. Like a thunder bolt straight out of heaven into your ears and your soul. I could not believe what I was hearing. What a freaking masterpiece. Of course it’s a Toad song too. I always hated being in a band with him. As much as I loved it. (to be fair he claims the same thing and for the same reasons… just goes to show…) I was such a shite singer back then compared to now (which isn’t saying much I know). But holy crap what a monstrously gorgeous song that is. Toad could die tomorrow and his legacy will forever remain top tier due to the four songs he contributed to this album. Same with Coon. His are equally epic and brilliant.
I could not stop crying. First just sobs like with the other songs… Little baby tears. And then by the time we get to the “I want you to go deep…” breakdown of this song, I was full on sobbing like a baby, like a mental patient, face all scrunched up. Tears shooting out of my eyes. I seriously don’t think I can ever listen to that song again. It’s just too good. It’s frightening how good it is. I have no idea what happened to me, but it was one of the most cathartic events of my life. Cathartic in how emotional I felt, how completely moved in so many ways… Up, down, sad, happy, amazed, traumatized, relieved, proud, regretful… over the top emotion anguish and expression. I couldn’t help but feel this deep sadness and fear that over the last few years I had just completely sold out as an artist. Compared to what I was hearing on this album, recorded when we were just kids, but so unique and special.
I so wish I could post this song for everyone to hear… the whole album. But it’s all up to Grey Wolf at this point. And getting an agreement from all the members of the band. I don’t actually have a real copy of this album. Haven’t had one in over 15 years. If ANY of YOU have a copy of THAT album in any form let me know. Perhaps we can speed this process up. Also — if ANY of YOU have high quality PHOTOS to use as artwork for the release, let someone know. Once we schedule this, we can commission someone to do the artwork. We will need REAL PHOTOS to scan. I have no idea if I have any pro-grade or high quality ones really. Just scanned in low quality ones. But that’s what we need here to take it to the next phase.
I believe that more than anything what affected me most about hearing this album from start to finish like this for the first time in so many years was that number one, what I was listening to was old. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, so like seeing someone you love, like a family member, for the first time in over a decade, that’s just going to get to you regardless. Number two though, as a work of art it’s absolutely BRILLIANT. It’s big brash experimental avant garde. Epic and all over the place stylistically… And yet it has a very distinct sound all its own due to the fact that the same four guys recorded it in the same six month period using all the same gear and in the same two rooms. It has a mythic quality to it. We were peaking artistically as individuals and as a group when we recorded it (but then again when are we NOT peaking. I have yet to experience “writer’s block” or any “down time” as an artist… I guess that’s lucky. Or maybe that’s just how it is for all artists…) What it’s not is commercial. It’s entirely NOT commercial.
Moving as all hell. But just not commercial in any way. And see that’s the thing… We used to not give a shit about being commercial. That was never our aim. Never the goal. I mean, I honestly don’t think we even thought about it. And the music shows that. It’s extraordinarily amateurish in many ways. But you can’t help but be blown away by how mammoth and ambitious it sounds as well. Walls of noise really in some parts… On the one hand Broken Spectacles had some of the most exciting and advanced musicianship you could hear anywhere. On the other hand it had a very weak sort of chock full of mistakes sound to it as well… go figure. But that was us.
A few years after The Specs broke up I reverted to my real name, Ed Hale, laid Eddie Darling down for good and formed the band Transcendence with Infinito; first time I played with anyone besides the other three guys in the Specs in seven or eight years. We’ve recorded and released nine albums since then. Right out of the gate we experienced a ton more press, airplay, sales and critical acclaim than we ever did back in The Specs. For many reasons. Older, wiser, more experience, more money. But more than anything else I think it was because I understood that making music for me at least couldn’t just be about doing whatever the hell I wanted anymore. It had to include a measure of financial return to it or I was going to be forced to stop doing it full time. Besides, I wanted to make money with it. I wanted to experience what we call success, in the traditional sense. And we did. Thank God. I haven’t sat down and counted, but off the top of my head we’ve charted about ten songs on one chart or another over the last ten years. Sold a hell of lot of albums. That number would be triple that if I weren’t always trying to reach so much artistically… I know that. But still, we do make music that is commercially viable for the most part, at least compared to what we were doing in Broken Spectacles.
What I notice from a lot of my peers from that original music scene down in Miami when we all started out as teenagers and others I connect with all over the world still is that they’re all still making the same kind of music that they made way back when. They do what they do and they don’t change. And that’s a big problem. They expect that the industry is going to come to them. That the listeners are going to come to them. But it doesn’t work that way. Not even a little. Sure you can innovate here and there. But it has to be within the confines of what is happening within the music business and what is happening in pop culture now. There is a flow to it all. A flow of what’s hip cool popular modern happening. That’s popular culture.
Every now and then we get lucky and we may happen to be at the front end of that curve when the music is about to take a hard right or left… The way Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and Smashing Pumpkins were when hair metal was at it’s peak and everyone was desperate for it to die. Or the way that Radiohead and Muse and Travis and Ours and Mercury Rev were when we were all looking for grunge to die off. But hell, who can really say that Nirvana innovated that sound when we all know they really didn’t? They became the poster child for it for a while. (which sucked for some of the better bands, no need to name names…) But it wasn’t just ONE band or artist that did it. It was a wave of them.
And what I find today amongst many of my peers in rock is that they aren’t on the cusp of any wave at all. They aren’t even riding a wave. They’re just making the same old music that they’ve always made. Expecting people to like it. That’s music making as a hobby. Not music making to be a professional. You try to explain to them that they need to focus on using sounds that are modern or current or contemporary, their drum sounds, their guitar sounds, the way their voice is recorded… even the arrangement of the song itself… and they either argue the merits of what they’re doing or they just go blank and don’t understand. And yet we can’t argue with reality. With results. If you’re not experiencing the kind of success and popularity that you desire, then SOMETHING is wrong, or at least “not right” about what you’re currently doing.
I can’t sit here and say that I completely changed spots and switched to totally making commercial music all of a sudden once we formed Transcendence. I didn’t. Especially considering that the original idea for the group was to create a world music meets modern rock sound that no one had ever heard before and have me sing in four or five different languages sometimes within the same song. That first album, Rise and Shine, was phenomenally eccentric. I know that. And hell, most of the guys in Transcendence are still pissed at me for how much I’ve switched genres over the years with the release of every new album, and how much I’ve focused on “creating art” or making artistic statements over the years. In fact, The ex Norwegian sent me a Fb post TODAY admonishing me to “PLEASE not worry about creating art” and just this once try to make all these songs commercially viable so we can make some money. He’s referring to real money. Big money. Not $1 or 200,000 a year money. But $1 to 10,000,000 a year money. I want the same thing. We all do.
We came damn close on the last solo album. But then I flipped it all around with the next two releases that we did with the group, All Your Heroes Become Villains and The Great Mistake. Both evidently were on the extreme and eccentric side compared to the solo album. At least that’s what we were told. But to everyone’s defense, I have to admit if backed into a corner that I did have major concepts and agendas when making the All Your Heroes album. Super focused. Hyper-focused. I mean, it was meant to be a giant concept… high art… an amalgam of statements all tied together to create one bigger statement. Something final and permanent. A mark. A sculpture. Solid and lasting like a castle or a mansion. ONE big piece. NOT merely a collection of songs. There’s a difference.
Contrast that with what constitutes hit songs in today’s market, or in any age’s market… What happens in those cases? The hit songs end up eventually losing their original home, whatever album they happened to be released on, people forget, and that album goes out of print. The song may last forever, eventually gaining the moniker of “classic”. But the album that it came from is lost forever to most people. THAT is exactly the opposite of what we’ve set out to do in Transcendence. Every album (except perhaps for The Great Mistake, which really is just a collection of songs…) was created as one cohesive work of art, to stay together and last forever. Pink Floyd is a great example of this. Animals, Dark Side of the Moon, The Wall… albums. Permanent cohesive entities in their own right over and above the hit singles they may or may not have had. Zeppelin, same thing. People say the album is dead ALL the time. They’re wrong. (To a certain degree anyway. Save for another post…)
I can’t complain that All Your Heroes wasn’t accepted as a huge commercial success compared to our previous one. It is dark and moody and insanely complex, wildy emotive and overly noisy in some areas, and more than anything it’s entirely dependent on being an ALBUM. It’s not really singles based at all. Hell, all the songs ram into each other and then flow into another song. I don’t think there’s ANY empty space on the whole album. I know. I think we all know. It wasn’t created to be a commercial thing… But the important thing is that I can die happy with it as an artist. Over the last two years since the release of that album I have felt very very good about it. I will die with a smile on my face when remembering it, when contemplating what we intended versus the final result.
And therein lies the eternal struggle. There’s a balance there that we constantly have to be considering when creating. Do we sell out with a song or two? And still try to preserve a great album in the process? Do we sell out entirely, just create the whole album as one sixty minute collection of unrelated mainstream pleasing current sounding tasty pieces of ear candy? How far can we swim out into the popular music sea once we jump overboard before we get lost and are unable to ever return to the comfort and safety of the artists’ artist boat?
And vice versa, how far off into left field can we ride that beast of innovation and experimentation and doing whatever the hell we want to before we are lost forever to the popular music loving masses? Some say it’s ALL selling out as soon as you begin to contemplate such matters. I say bullshit. If you don’t ever think about your art, about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, the possibilities, the various different styles and arrangements and directions you’ve got before you, then you’re just winging it. I’ve been there before, when you’re young you think you’re just going to wing it. I know that terrain well. Did it for years in the Specs. Refused to think about what we were doing. It ALL had to come spontaneously, like magic. No thought about the expression. It had to flow out naturally. It’s an artistic mindset. But it’s only ONE mindset. In a world where there are infinite mindsets one can occupy. One day I just decided to deliberately occupy a different mindset and see what would come of it.
Ballad On Third Avenue was not the most successful album we ever released contrary to what most people believe. Sleep With You was a much bigger seller (so too in fact was Nothing Is Cohesive — which also still to date is by far the most critically acclaimed album any of us have ever been associated with) and had several big hits at Alternative Rock radio. But Ballad did have one thing that none of the other albums had up to that point: a verifiable Billboard Top30 hit song. Two of them. All the other hits were on different charts or specialty charts or college radio charts or made it to the Top 100 but just never got into Billboard’s Top40, let alone the Top25 like “Scene in San Francisco” and “New Orleans Dreams” did. That was something different. And it made a HUGE difference. Worlds of difference. In many different areas of our lives. For one thing we made a lot of money. And that was a very good thing. The songs still bring in a lot of money.
But it also had its challenges. The cons. Creating those songs was not just “hey let’s just create whatever we want to and see how people like it” as in times past. The songs were run by a seemingly endless string of consultants and then remixed and remixed again until every last one of them at every level of the industry was satisfied with how each song sounded. See, this is something that I NEVER would have done fifteen years ago when we were in Broken Spectacles. We were offered it sooooo many times. And every time we fought it and instead just created total chaos and confusion. I’ll never forget Toad telling the head of A&R at Island Records to “fuck off! We don’t need your advice about OUR music!” That’s how we did things…. We thought we held the whole world in our hands. And to a certain degree we did. Creatively we were an amazing unit. But we were young and green and stupid. We’d make sure we were always tripping on something whenever we had a meeting or a showcase with any major record label executives. Just to show them how little we cared. We weren’t going to change anything for anyone regardless how “big” or wealthy they were.
We had the opportunity to work with two of the biggest producers in the business. No need to name them here because it’s common knowledge. But in both cases, looking back, these were men who absolutely dwarfed us in terms of their experience and achievements in the music business. And in their abilities as musicians. And in both cases we played the fool every day we showed up. We KNEW what we wanted to do, knew what we wanted to sound like; we knew what was best. Or so we thought. So… why bother to have producers then? Well that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? We’d get excited to be working with a big name… And then when push came to shove and we got in the studio we always thought we knew best and fought with them. We were real shits.
Those were big mistakes. Looking back I can see WHY we did what we did. Why we acted the way we did. Our biggest fear –though at the time it was probably unconscious to any of us — was to ever consider that we were sell outs or selling out in any way. Pandering to the mainstream masses for money or fame or popularity. It just wasn’t who we were> in fact it was the exact opposite of who we were. We knew that. Being in that band, at that time in music history, at that point in our lives, at that age, the mentality and the sentiment and the statement was as important as the music.
The reason you made music and the kind of music you created or DIDN”T create was as important as the music… It was an elitist purist idealist state of mindfulness. Beyond arrogant. With pride in that arrogance. Very similar to what Vancouver is expressing now. Poor bastard. His “I’ll only play with acoustic drums and never drum loops or samples or synth beats” when everyone in the industry does it for very specific reasons — they sound badass — is precisely what makes his music sound so dated and local. And he SO wants to be liked and wonders why he isn’t. It’s curious, intriguing, perplexing really.
But I can relate. Because I suffered the same mental illness back in the days of The Specs. Granted, in our defense, we were 18 years old at the time. Vancouver is like thirty-something so he really has no excuse. But still, I can relate. The key for me, what changed, was that eventually I realized that I really did want to make popular music. And money. And if it was “I” who was making it, in the end, I would still probably like it in the end. Or so I hoped. On top of that, when you make popular music, you can generate enough money that you can then afford to make more avant garde or eccentric music in addition to the more popular music that you’re also making.
If I was to be honest with myself I think that underneath it all, at least for me personally, was just a fear that perhaps I really couldn’t create popular music… I was so focused on innovating all the time… But innovating is easy. you’re not going up against anyone when you’re always innovating. You’re only competing with yourself. Against whatever YOU consider your last great work of art. And that’s a really groovy place to be. Honestly that’s the world I’d like to live in as an artist ALL the time… But I also recognize the benefits of competing for commercial viability too. They both have their merits. It’s fun to popular and famous and successful and have money. And the competitive nature of it compels us to higher levels of greatness.
In any case, after all I’ve been through as an artist over the last ten years, all the hard work to create great works of art that were also somehow commercial and popular, listening back to this simple yet profoundly complex and beautiful Broken Spectacles album Aftermath really got me. I haven’t cried like that in years. Decades. That was a different world back then. We hadn’t a care. We were happy to be one of the “most popular local bands in our town”. That seemed like a big deal at the time. Our eyes and our dreams were bigger than our potential perhaps, or bigger than our willingness to stretch and grow…. I was happy to hear what we had created back then. To hear how incredibly good and ambitious it was. Nope, it would never yield the kind of commercial success we’ve experienced over the last ten years as Ed Hale and the Transcendence. It would never be played on commercial radio stations. But we were very very proud. We walked around like roosters on ‘roids, heads cocked high. And for good reason. We were fucking great and we knew it. Just not commercially successful great. But there’s something to be said about that kind of attitude.
Unlike a lot of artists in popular music, I personally have no big dream to dominate in the realm of most chart toppers or most #1 records or hit albums, nor that nagging fear that I am losing my grip as a key player in the pop world who is always on the Hot 100 with a Top 40 song. I see that kind of success and the money from it as a tool that can be used to allow me to do both: create popular hit music AND more eccentric and innovative works of art. THAT is where my dreams and fantasies of domination lay. How deep, how relevant, how innovative, how prolific, how intelligent, how thought provoking, how moving, how much new ground can I break… That’s what keeps me up at night and gets me up in the morning. Not the stats or the numbers. But the hearts and souls and minds that are deeply moved, called to act. Like that. So it’s a balancing act. These next six to twelve months, recording these new albums… It’s going to be fun. Tricky, but in a fun way.
Alright, I’m out. 4800 words with no break. My fingers are killing me. More on this topic later for sure.
Holy shit. we got some new exercises today. explained a little more. turns out this is not about building you up like some of the other courses… but breaking the ego completely down – getting control of it, getting it in check. For me, forget about it. I have worked my ass off to build my ego up for the last few years thinking I had to in the business I am in and today I was in total resistance from just thinking about my ego. Struggling. Squirming in my chair like a little kid. the ego going fucking nuts. attacking other students on the course I was working with all day. lots of tears and screaming. Very defensive. Had to call a trainer a few times to help me integrate before I went crazy. lots of Anger. Shame. Pain. nauseous. Wanting to give up a few times. I cannot imagine ever being able to get control of my ego. Feels too big for me. much bigger than I am. Discovered that almost everything I do is to feed or boost my ego.