Saturday, September 11, 2010

Maintaining the Melting Pot

On the eve of the 9th anniversary of the September 11th attacks our news is filled with stories of the American struggle to negotiate through a collision of culture.  The Melting Pot Theory for our country forces many of us to encounter, on a daily basis, the difficulties of diversity.  We have come an extraordinarily long way fifty years removed from the Civil Rights movement, but there are many factors working against us.

The news story which has been unavoidable this week is Terry Jones, Pentecostal preacher from Gainesville, Florida planned to honor Sept 11 with "Burn the Koran Day".  No one, including the majority of the 50 members of his church, believed this was a good idea.  Thankfully, he has canceled the rally.  Over the last few days, it has brought more fuel to the burning fire surrounding the "Mosque" that is planned to be built  two blocks from the World Trade Center.  Both of these issues have caught national attention, and that attention has caused them to be infinitely more dangerous to the world, than if they impacted only their local purview.

In my last entry I mentioned the notion that villains rarely wear black hats and that our global culture requires a patient, nuanced, rounded view that should occasionally be turned inward in order to understand our impact on the world culture.  These recent issues have highlighted many of my frustrations with our media outlets; their focus on sensationalism and a preoccupation with wedge issues that have divided the country into convenient blocks of Red and Blue.  If it were not for our national media outlets, I would not have heard of either of these issues, sitting here forty miles from Ground Zero.  By no means am I endorsing the idea that we should live with our heads in the sand, but the tone with which these issues are addressed is key to how they are received worldwide.  I sincerely hope that the rest of the world, especially the tumultuous Middle East, does not define their opinion of American culture by the actions of this misguided lunatic from Florida.  I imagine the majority of the Muslim world feels similarly when looking at the terrorists responsible for 9/11.  It's not difficult to see that a demonstration like this is extremist behavior and could easily cause a domino effect placing all of us in danger.  While Jones may regard his demonstration as peaceful, it is considered an act of war in the Islamic culture.  The extremists of the Islamic culture rarely demonstrate so peacefully. 

-"Islamic extremist is to Islamic as "_______ is to Christianity." 

No one responds. Josh turns around and writes "KKK" on the dry 
erase board, and circles it.

That's what we're talking about. It's the Klan, gone medieval and global. It 
couldn't have less to do with Islamic men and women of faith of whom there are 
millions upon millions. Muslims defend this country in the Army, Navy, Air Force, 
Marine Corps, National Guard, police and fire departments. So, let's ask the 
question again.

Why are Islamic Extremists trying to kill us?

That's a reasonable question if ever I heard one. Why are we targets of war? 

Because we're Americans.

That's it?

Because of our freedom?

No other reasons? 

Freedom and democracy.

I'll tell you, right or wrong-and I think they're wrong-it's probably a 
good idea to acknowledge that they do have specific complaints. I-I hear them 
every day-the people we support, troops in Saudi Arabia, sanctions against Iraq, 
support for Egypt. It's not just that they don't like Irving Berlin.

Yes, it is.

No, it's not. 

No, not about Irving Berlin, but your ridiculous search for rational 
reasons why somebody straps a bomb to their chest is ridiculous.

You just called me ridiculous twice in one sentence. 

Hardly a record for me.

And you just made my list.

[to the kids] Nothing happens on the list.

It's a serious list. But she does have a point, albeit college girlish.

Watch now, as he's going to put me down and make my point at the exact 
same time.

Hardly a record for me. What's Islamic extremism? It's strict adherence 
to a particular interpretation of 7th century Islamic law as practiced by 
the prophet Mohammed, and when I say "strict adherence," I'm not kidding around. 
Men are forced to pray, wear their beards a certain length. Among my favorites 
is there's only one acceptable cheer at a soccer match: Allah-uh-Akbar-God is 
great. If your guys are getting creamed,then you're on your own. Things are 
a lot less comic for women, who aren't allowed to attend school or have jobs. 
They're not allowed to be unaccompanied, and often times get publicly stoned 
to death for crimes like not wearing a veil. I don't have to tell you they 
don't need to shout at a soccer match because they're never going to go to one. 
So what bothers them about us? Well, the variety of cheers alone coming from 
the cheap seats at Giants stadium when they're playing the Cowboys is enough 
for a jihad, to say nothing of street corners lined church next to synagogue, 
next to mosque, newspapers that can print anything they want, women who can 
do anything they want including taking a rocket ship to outer space, vote, 
and play soccer. This is a plural society. That means we accept more than 
one idea. It offends them. So yes, she does have a point, but that 
certainly doesn't mean you should listen to her."

-Aaron Sorkin, taken from the Isaac and Ishmael episode of The West Wing

I feel that Aaron Sorkin made my point far better than I could.  There is nothing more opposed to Islamic Extremists than pluralism.  A Muslim place of worship in the same neighborhood as a Christian church highlights to me what makes America a great place to be, and why this grand experiment is so challenging. 

This mosque is intended as a multi-cultural center...a pluralist, very American vision.  The very fact that it has been referred to as a mosque in the news is deceptive and symptomatic of how selective presentation of fact can be incendiary.  It seems to me that most people are upset more by the proximity to Ground Zero, than by the existence of the place itself.  To me, there is no stronger statement about our unification than to show that we will not define a religion of 1.5 billion people by the actions of the extremist minority, in the same way that most Americans don't feel represented by the actions of the KKK.

Also, a lot of discussion has pointed toward the point that one of the ways to show ownership in the Islamic faith, is to build a mosque on vanquished ground.  The people that believe this are the same people who view the events of 9/11 as a win for their cause.  These are not balanced, logical people.  If we start buying into their interpretations of reality we give them more fuel. The symbolic meaning of Ground Zero is visceral and personal for all of us.  To me it represents many things.  Above all it represents a great sadness, and a statement about the resiliency of the American spirit.  As awful as the attacks were, we are determined, perhaps more than ever, to continue the American way of life, embracing hundreds of cultures and striving for an unprecedented level of freedom for our citizens.  This is much harder philosophically and practically than I ever imagined when I was first taught the meaning of freedom in elementary school. 

So, how close is too close?  Looking on a map, the distance between the World Trade Center site and West Broadway /Park Place doesn't look like much, until you consider how much is packed on to a single block of NYC real estate.  This could be the equivalent of 10 miles in the suburbs.  If the site of the cultural center is too close to Ground Zero, I ask the question, what is far enough?  The entire Island of Manhattan is just short of 14 miles long, 2 miles wide at its widest point, and houses about 8.5 million people. There is anywhere between 800,000 and 1.2 million Muslim people in New York City, around 14% of the population..  There are about 100 mosques in the city, whereas there are over 1,000 synagogues serving a Jewish population comparable in size.

Currently, there are two mosques within about 5 blocks of Ground Zero and there is no national story about closing them.  Cultural diversity is frequently uncomfortable and requires us to maintain a sometimes superhuman level of empathy for our fellow citizens, native or not.  Pluralism is a challenge to all of us.  Taking in so many different points of view and so many cultures that seem not only strange to us, but threatening, it's understandable why we feel a porousness in our security.  If we ever hope to overcome this challenge we have to dedicate ourselves to a higher level of understanding of all the cultures housed within our borders.  Also, some meaningful interpersonal relationships with people outside of our own culture change dramatically our understanding of the issues at hand. 

Today, I remember the events of nine years ago.  I remember the faint smell of metallic burning that reached the suburbs in the afternoon.  There was a feeling that if we supported each other, it would somehow soften the after-effects.  The events of September 11th 2001 are permanently etched in my memory.  The day is defined not only by the horrible images on television, but by our personal experiences.  I spent the afternoon in a fog, occasionally taking in the shock to cry for a moment or two, then composing myself, calling family and friends.  Mostly, I spent the day trying to take in every detail, aware that it would be a day referenced over and over again for the rest of my life.  For the following weeks, we treated strangers like distant brothers and sisters; ones who had shared in this very traumatic experience. I hope that I can continue that spirit in some way, regardless of the religion or color of the brother and sister Americans around me.  It's harder than I ever expected it could be.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Moral Kombat

Last night I threw on the documentary "Moral Kombat", looking to kill some time while Christina was doing some school preparation.  It is a documentary that explored the impact of violence in video games.  I found the style of the documentary rather irritating.  It is an hour and a half of low attention-span cuts, interspersing interviews and digitally rendering these interviews into the sets of various video idea, and a cool motif...for 5 minutes, but not an hour and a half.

Anyway, ignoring my feelings about the film technique, it raises a lot of questions that I find myself discussing often.  In the film we hear from both sides of the argument.  The "violence poisons our mind and desensitizes us" side, and the "Free speech" counter-point.  This is an issue that rears its ugly head with each generation scapegoating art as the devil.  In the early 20th century, the devil was jazz, in the 50's it was Elvis, in the 80's it was slasher films, and now it's video game violence (along with cable television).  I have always argued that it was Disney all along...

The point that I hear resurface over and over again from the right wing activist side of this argument is that we live in an increasingly violent society.  Children are exposed to a shocking level of violence through television, film and video games, and that it impacts physiological change on the brain, causing them to desensitize.

First off, any peripheral study of history will show that we, especially Americans, live at a time of unprecedented peace.  At other points in human history, villages were routinely pillaged, we were constantly at war on our own soil, and the process of simply feeding ourselves meant hunting, putting the participants into extreme mortal danger.  Civilian militias were a continual threat,  capital punishments were medieval, and the medical profession routinely enacted amputation and bloodletting with no anesthesia.  The settlement of white people in America was established by the near complete eradication of the indigenous people through traditional warfare and biological warfare in the form of smallpox, and our country was founded in bloody revolution.

We face none of these things on a regular basis.  Aside from a few uncomfortable moments in the NYC subway, my life has been largely devoid of the experience of mortal danger.

Also, I am part of a generation that has grown up with the safety of a professional military.  My parent's generation is one scarred by the Viet Nam experience in particular, and the era of the draft.  I am the first male on my father's side of the family to not serve in the military.  My grandfather drove tanks in World War 2, my uncle was drafted as part of the first wave of troop deployment in Viet Nam, and my father enlisted shortly after and was part of the army band stationed in Germany.  I will, most likely, never have the experience of being commanded by my government to kill strangers.  My terrible eyesight and flat feet all but clinch the deal.  This is a privilege I do not take lightly.

So, while we clearly have problems with gang violence, especially in the inner cities, we have an obsession with guns, and school bullying is becoming increasingly scarier, we are, as a whole, a safer society than just about any other in human history.

It has been substantiated that young children and teenagers process the experience of vicarious violence differently than adults.  They are more likely to form patterns and lasting behavior based on their experiences, even the vicarious ones like video games.  But for the millions of kids raised on video games there are very few instances of video-game-dictated violence being committed in the real world, and none where the video games themselves are the culprit.  I think it is reasonable to say that a violent video game may fuel an already violent tendency, but it will not create one.  Unhealthy people are motivated by many different stimuli to commit violence.  David Berkowitz claimed that a talking dog motivated him to commit the Son of Sam murders.  Any psychological profile of a serial killer informs that sociopathic behavior is almost always rooted in the relationships within the nuclear family, or in scarring experiences in the real world.  For the great majority of us, video games are an outlet, a neutral experience that is as healthy as the person is who engages in it.

I have often wondered if coping with violence, and the fight or flight response is somehow a necessity of the human experience.  I consider myself a peaceful person by nature.  I tend to be a moderator in conflict, I rarely get angry, and I haven't had a piece of meat in 13 years in part because of my feeling that it is unnecessary to kill other animals to survive in modern society.  Yet I have an appetite for horror films and I listen to a lot of aggressive music.  I absolutely enjoy the vicarious experience of peril, when experienced within the safety of art.  I think that violent art is an opportunity to cope with and experience violence in a safe way without hurting anyone. I believe that for some people with tendencies toward violent behavior it can be a safe substitute.  And for the rest of us who are relatively well adjusted, it's a window into a darker side of our psyche that we rarely get to vent in our every day interaction.

My mother who is very calm, collected, spiritually centered, and conscious of her role in the global family routinely watches suspense and horror movies.  I always thought it was sort of odd and incongruous with what she projects to the world.  I asked her about it one time and she said that she found it comforting to watch situations where people's lives are infinitely worse than hers.  Her comment stuck with me. 

In the film The Hurt Locker the idea that "War is a drug" is demonstrated throughout.  There is no doubt a hormonal response we have to violence and certain addictive personalities are drawn to that experience, and some in a habitual manner.  Some of these people, like the main character in The Hurt Locker, go into the military.  Some others enact their violence on their families, on animals, their car horns, on the guy with 13 items in the express checkout lane at Stop and Shop...and others play video games. Of these possible outlets, video games are clearly the least harmful of them. 

Again, I'm reminded as I write this that my reference point for understanding violent people and those who experience violence is film.  I feel that exposure to that kind of psyche through art has informed me about parts of the human condition I rarely experience.  I feel more armed to deal with it and can recognize violent indicators in behavior, and cope with it and protect myself from it.

A point is made in Moral Kombat that video games parallel the kind of programming that are used in the military.  Simulators prepare us for the experience of battle, and they hone our reflexes and our skills at the particular task. There is also some mental conditioning at work to distance soldiers from the realities of their job:  That there are real human beings at the receiving end of their rifles.  While there may be some truth to this, there is a vast chasm of difference between killing an opponent in a video game and the harsh reality of death in real life.  Anyone who can't differentiate the two has a larger problem than playing too many video games.

I believe video games also aid in developing problem-solving abilities and they help to keep the mind active and sharp.  Truthfully, I don't have the patience to play most modern video games.  I'm really impressed with how far the craft has developed but I don't feel particularly motivated to figure them out.  There is a level of immersion that I'm just not willing to allow into my life.  I play a lot of Chess.  The violence implied in Chess isn't nearly as visceral as those in modern video games, and few would have any opposition to their kids playing more Chess, so a logical question to ask is whether or not the problem lies in the level of realism achieved in the gaming world..

I have always felt that the most irresponsible movies are those that are very casual about their violence.  The 80's and early 90's were filled with them.  True Lies jumps to mind, which also had the added benefit of reinforcing terrible racial stereotypes and painfully unfunny comedic scenes starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Pretty much all of the Schwarzenegger output of the 80's falls into this category.  He would mow down 40 enemies with machine-gun fire, there would be little blood, and no consequences.  His characters were blanketly heroes, never plagued by any regret at having claimed larger body counts than most natural disasters.  These were the films few politicians complained about...Politicians hearkening back to a more innocent age in film where the cowboy in the white hat was the good guy and his killing was just.  The evil guy with the black hat fell over unceremoniously at the end of the film and the hero walked off into the sunset, on to kill more evil-doers in the next town.  Former president George W Bush reflected this kind of black and white point of view throughout his presidency.  Our current world is more nuanced than this.  Our heroes have continually been exposed as flawed human beings...that murder is murder.  This is closer to reality. However, when art depicts violence in a more realistic way, politicians get upset.  Or more to the point, the extremist christian lobby gets upset, and the politicians adopt their stance while putting their hands into the coffers.  The violence in The Sopranos is shocking and it should be.  It is still less shocking and horrible than it is for those who experience it first hand.

I believe that the most responsible thing an artist can do when depicting violence is to look at it from all sides. I think it's interesting that the most recent incarnations of the James Bond character were allowed some real humanity.  Bond is tormented by his life of violence.  So, while the modern Bond films are more violent than they used to be I believe they are far more responsible in presenting real consequences.

In Moral Kombat an interviewee suggests that while video games started out as entertainment for younger children, the current target audience is quite a bit older now.  A similar trend has happened in comic books, the mind-killer du jour of 1950's America.  Comics have evolved into an adult trend especially in the last 20 years or so...It has also become a fringe scene in the states, although it enjoys a higher level of popularity in other countries, Japan in particular.  The graphic novel has been a medium that has rendered some of the most imaginative and multi-faceted art of the literary world...but  it is certainly not geared for children.  Video Games are clearly moving toward more adult themes, not only because of their violence, but because the medium has grown to really support larger, more detailed narratives.  In the same way that I don't think that everything that I write in this blog should be watered down; all big words, and all frightening ideas removed so as to not threaten five-year-olds, I don't believe that all games should be written with a child's perspective in mind.  It is a parent's responsibility to monitor what their children are exposed to, and I believe that in the same way they would meet their child's friends, and go to their baseball games, the should share in the experience of playing video games...if violence is encountered in them, it should be discussed openly.  I don't believe that the advancement of art should be hindered because of a parent's laziness or lack of discretion.  To completely block children from the experience is to distance them from their classmates, which generally works out so well for little Xavier in the corner of the lunchroom, being pelted with pickles.  Also, I believe neglecting them from this experience may impact their relative dexterity and certain types of problem-solving abilities.

Back to Disney.  I think there are few more dangerous things than giving the "Suitable for all ages" stamp.  One hour of Disney programming will show you the blatant sexualization of pre-teens, a total casualness toward violence, and blatant messages about the necessity of conformity.  It's all under the housing of being cute and G-rated, and all the more insidious for it.  It also features more product placement than I can stomach...frankly I'd rather watch some intestines spewed than another Apple product placement. 

On the other hand, Disney's affiliate Pixar released the Toy Story movies which my nephews love, and I think represent the best of children's entertainment.  I wish I could bottle the spirit that inspired those movies and plaster it all over the world.  They are parables, they deal with danger and very real conflict that impacts us all, and still manage to be respectful to both children and to adult intelligence.

No matter what you let in your home, your kids are going to experience violent video games.  They are also going to experience bullying, bad teaching, parental mistakes, and sometimes tragedy.  They might even fall down a few times or break an appendage, and quite possibly hurt another child.  These experiences will shape their world.  Being a good parent isn't just about shielding them from these experiences and protecting their innocence, it is about helping them cope with what they've seen and experienced.  The faerie tales from The Brothers Grimm are exceptionally violent, but are housed in a context that allows children to safely experience them and assimilate them into their world.  No one is trying to put out legislation to edit the Brothers Grimm, yet for a young child with an active imagination, this represents as violent an experience as any.  The fact that it is being read by a parent, a trusted figure, and the children are in the safety of their home and beds, softens the experience.

Someone who has manically disinfected every surface in their home, obsessively protecting themselves from disease, has just made it more likely that when they DO get sick, and they will, their system will not be properly equipped to deal with it, because it hasn't had the chance to properly develop antibodies.  Your children will encounter violence, fear and anger.  They need to understand how to deal with it.  It is a parent's job to be part of those conversations and a voice of reason.  Or else this could be your child:

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Some of my favorite documentaries

Over the last two years, Christina has managed to turn me into a docu-phile (no, I don't have an unhealthy relationship with Word documents).  Last year Christina bought me a Roku player for my birthday which allowed us instant access to an incredible library of documentaries.  In the beginning of the Netflix on demand service, there was less of a selection of feature films, but a wealth of documentaries to choose from.  For a while there where we caught 2 of them a night.  This is a list of some that have stuck with me:

Bloodline- This follows the progression of an archaeological study and a series of interviews that attempts to validate the theory that Jesus and Mary Magdelene were married, have children and that Jesus didn't die on the cross. 

Witch Hunt- Details the events surrounding a town where something like 35 people were found guilty of child molestation by an overzealous DA.  The DA coerced children to testify against their parents, and permanently ruined families.  It's a great examination of manipulation and Group Think mentality fueled by political motivation.

The Last Word- A teenager with an IQ under 80 is railroaded by the criminal justice system and found guilty of murdering an elderly nun.  It's set within an interesting political context, since the real murderer was one of the Cuban refugees Castro released into Miami after the missile crisis.  It takes something of a supernatural turn at one point, but the courtroom stuff is just harrowing.  The fact that this is even possible outlines the porousness of our judicial system, and is one of many reasons I think that the death penalty is morally irresponsible.  It asks some great questions.

Music Instinct: Science and Song- Explores the impact of music physiologically on our brain, and explores it's impact on sociology.  Many, many interesting things in this documentary.  Their study found that there is a more developed bridge between right and left hemispheres in developed musicians. It also explores the idea of music as language, and it's healing affects on Alzheimer patients and those who have suffered strokes.

10 Questions for the Dalai Lama- One of the things i love about the Dalai Lama is his willingness to delve into specific spiritual problems we face and give great insight into how his philosophy manifests.  Many of these questions deal with the problem of evil in our society and how to proceed.  His answers on the Chinese occupation in Tibet are incredibly challenging. He is asked at one point if he believes in boycotting Chinese goods and services, and he refuses on the basis that it punishes the people of China who are not responsible for the decisions of the government.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism- Details the many ways that Rupert Murdoch's empire willingly distorts reality to protect his political ties.  The interviews with former workers and their details of memos sent from Murdoch himself are all pretty damning evidence that journalistic integrity is not a high motivation here.  But probably the most powerful moment is watching just basic footage of Bill O'Reilly railing against the son of a victim of 9/11 for opposing the war.  It is really gut-wrenching.  Scary that a huge segment of our population considers Fox programming a moral compass. 

Dear Zachary- This was one of the most wrenching documentaries I've seen.  Best to not know much about it, other than it starts as a man's documentary for his growing son, and details a bitter custody battle.  If this were the plot of a movie I wouldn't have believed it.

Some others:
No End in Sight
The Human Face
This Film is Not Yet Rated
My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story
Facing Ali
The King of Kong
Jesus Camp
Les Paul: Chasing Sound
The Power of Forgiveness

Monday, September 6, 2010


There are few things as satisfying as a profoundly bad movie.  This weekend was filled with them:  The Last Exorcism, Jaws 2, and Jaws 3.  We are saving the motherload, Jaws: The Revenge, possibly for this evening. 
Also, we watched Bloodline for a second time.  A very interesting documentary delving into the possibility that Jesus and Mary Magdelene were married and had children...sort of a real exposition of the ideas seeded in The Da Vinci Code.  If the events in this documentary are true, it's a big deal.

Feeling relaxed for the first time in a few months.  This was a wonderful weekend.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We're going to need a bigger boat.

Hurricane Earl flamed out...barely even rained on the North Shore.  Christina and I had a very stressful day which involved mandatory massages in the morning, napping, going to the beach, barbecuing, and working our way through a self-imposed Jaws marathon.  We're just beginning Jaws 2 right now.  I'm not sure I'll have the energy for the shit-fest that is Jaws: The Revenge, but one can only hope.  I'm not sure that days get much better.

Here's a link to my favorite movie review of all time:
Roger Ebert's review of Jaws: The Revenge 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Throwing down the gauntlet (or an oversized glass of iced tea)

My brother, Eric just posted that he and his girlfriend Elizabeth are starting a bold experiment:  To blog once a day for a full year.  Considering how much time I spend in front of the computer I should be able to complete this task, although I think my perfectionism and indecision may interfere.  It sometimes takes me hours to compose a casual, three-sentence email.  In fact, I was almost immediately derailed in the signup process, trying to settle on a name for this blog for fear of not being able to come up with an amusing title that isn't too self-conscious or funny enough, I took a mocking tone that manages to say nothing, but still creates the impression that I am smart and that you, the imaginary audience, should care at all about what I have to say.

...But I suppose that might illustrate one of the key challenges of being a professional artist.  I survive because people care about what I have to say, but if I appear to care about THAT too much, than I become socially irrelevant...does that sound too angsty or like I'm trying too hard to be clever?  One could easily analyze and edit oneself out of existence and still manage to say nothing. Some random thoughts today:

1.  I discovered a few months ago that I like premium cable more than I am comfortable with.

2. I regularly end sentences with prepositions and I wonder about what that says about me as a person, and as a writer.  Do my English teacher friends mutter to themselves in between puffs on their oversized pipes while playing with the fabric of their hunting jackets?

3. My wrist inexplicably smells like an armpit right now.

It's been an interesting year.  Christina and I got engaged in February and we are going to be married in November.  Being with her has been a wonderful experience and one that has resulted in an incredible amount of growth for me.  I've really been blessed by her presence and with the expansion of our family to include our Maltese Poodle Siddhartha, and our wonderful kitty Thelonious.  We never call our pets by their given names. Sid is most often referred to as "Boy" (spoken in the voice of the Tall Man from Phantasm) or "Mommy's Pea".  Thelonious is referred to as "Chat" or "Mommy's Little Owl", due to his having ridiculous owl ears.  They are wonderfully silly.

Seeing the two of them interact I'm consistently reminded that their social network is one that we will never truly understand.  Just as Sid doesn't understand why I complain when I reach over to hook his leash to his collar and he rolls on his back, I don't always understand, for instance, why Thelonious insists on smelling the wood under the back door all day.  I'm sure there is sound reasoning for smelling the floor all day.  I tried it once.  It didn't do it for me.  A couple of hours in I relented. 

Anyway, I'm thoroughly enjoying a relaxing day after an exceptionally busy few weeks.  I might be the most relaxed person on Long Island (aside from Christina who is passed out on the couch in front of  Judge Judy on the tv), since we are all bracing for the impact of Hurricane Earl.  Every time I hear the word Earl, I think that it's someone with some mutated Southern accent trying to say "Oil".  Perhaps I've just been conditioned by the events of the last few months to associate disaster with the word "oil".  It has made for some funny sentences in my head. 

Having lived on the North Shore of Long Island for nearly all of my life I'm getting adjusted to the sequence of events that generally accompanies the news of a big storm.  It's like the 4 stages of revolution.  First comes the 5-day forecast, which treats the storm like an encroaching army hell-bent on destroying everyone's way of life and eating your kittens.  Stage 2: Every news program dedicates approximately 50% of its programming to useless prediction, restating about 2 sentences worth of real information over a combined 85 hours of air time. Stage 3: Everyone shops like mad, stocking up on bottled water, duct tape, canned goods, board games, candles and butt-plugs.  Always be prepared? 

As I'm writing this I just heard the phrase barreling out of the idiot box "All eyes on Earl!!!!!"  Cue the tension music and a Satanic priest sacrificing a ferret...Followed by a meteorologist reporting that the hurricane has weakened substantially.  Talk about the image being more powerful than the content.  Don't worry about the storm, but just keep perilous destruction nestled in the back of your psyche...and buy more water.

I am just awed by the degree to which we are sold fear.  I wouldn't be surprised if Doppler Radar was funded by Stop and Shop, or 3M, Poland Spring (as I write this some jackelope on television just implored us all to stockpile bottled water in anticipation of the storm, like all business will cease to be and I will never drink again) or Chocolate Starfruit, the manufactures of the imaginary butt-plugs I picture terrified soccer moms purchasing at the checkout counter at the supermarket.  Finally, Stage 4: Life returns to normal.

Wow, a news anchor just scolded me for underestimating a storm,  saying essentially that I've shamed the entire lineage of anyone ever injured in a hurricane.  Just as a disclaimer, hurricanes suck.  People are injured in them.  I don't believe that buying stuff is going to make a difference.  It's just another round of us wrestling with randomness and comforting ourselves against the constant threat of death and injury.  We don't know how we will be affected by a storm, so why not move some product in the process?

None of us are immune to this process.  I've just accepted that every event in the human experience can be used to sell something.  War is consistently a giant cash cow for a certain part of the population.  Natural disaster moves product.  Personal tragedy funds the pharmaceutical companies.  If you don't buy that overpriced greeting card to convey your most personal and sincere feelings than you are not only a giant asshole, you are a useless consumer.

Yesterday, anticipating the unusually high surf, Christina and I drove to Robert Moses beach on the South Shore of Long Island after I finished mixing and charting some tunes for a friend.  I had a few hours before I had to teach my last lesson of the day...So we drove 20 minutes to the beach, and looked out at the vast expanse of the ocean.  We took pictures.  Christina took her sandals off and let the tips of the crashing waves reach out and touch her feet.  We breathed deeply, not sure if the air smelled delicious, or like someone nearby broke wind.  I lamented that it was September 2nd, I live on an island, and this is the first time I set foot on a beach all year.  After the park police drove 30 MPH up the beach where little children played in the sand 3 or 4 feet from their tires, blaring their whistles protecting Christina from the threat of a rogue wave that may suck her out into the ocean, we left. We got back into the car and overlooked the bay from the bridge that brings us back to the mainland...vigorously passed on the road by soccer moms in SUV tanks while I'm doing 60 MPH on a bridge in a construction zone.  We were protected from nature, but who protects us from ourselves?