Thoughts for the Day

30 04 2007

Sam Harris

“Tell a devout Christian that his wife is cheating on him, or that frozen yogurt can make a man invisible, and he is likely to require as much evidence as anyone else, and to be persuaded only to the extent that you give it. Tell him that the book he keeps by his bed was written by an invisible deity who will punish him with fire for eternity if he fails to accept its every incredible claim about the universe, and he seems to require no evidence whatsoever.” – Sam Harris, The End of Faith

“The great fact which puzzles the mind is the vast amount of evil. It may be answered that evil is an illusion, because God is benevolent; or it may be answered that evil is deserved, because God is just. In one case the doubt is removed by denying the existence of the difficulty, in the other it is made tolerable by satisfying our consciences.” – Leslie Stephen, “An Agnostic’s Apology”

“Man has deceived himself. Nature is a mirror in which man sees his own image, and all supernatural religions rest on the presence that the image, which appears to be behind this mirror, has been caught…Suppose that an infinite God exists, what can we do for him? Being infinite, he is conditionless; being conditionless, he cannot be benefited or injured. He cannot want. He has. Think of the egotism of a man who believes that an infinite being wants his praise!” – Robert G. Ingersoll, “What is Religion?”


Panopticon This is Not

29 04 2007

 Pay for Prison

by Derek Beres

One of the more disturbing pieces of news to come across my screen this morning was a report on California prisons in which low-level offenders can, for a price, rent high society prison rooms that serve more like hostels than penitentiaries. This quote served among my favorite from the NY Times piece: “Our sales pitch at the time was, ‘Bad things happen to good people,’ ” said Janet Givens, a spokeswoman for the Pasadena Police Department.

Should people who haven’t paid parking fines be thrown in next to murderers? Probably not. But this article, and mindset, did not stir up the expected response to me, which is along the economic disparity that plagues the rest of the country infecting it’s highest to it’s lowest sphere. This is not surprising. I’d expect nothing less from our governing officials. We have to step back from this a bit, and question the nature of punishment, and how we go about it, to begin with.

As mentioned in the piece:

“It seems to be to be a little unfair,” said Mike Jackson, the training manager of the National Sheriff’s Association. “Two people come in, have the same offense, and the guy who has money gets to pay to stay and the other doesn’t. The system is supposed to be equitable.

Like most else, it’s about money. It is common knowledge that prisons are, for the most part, underfunded. However they can get it in, so be it. Yet this only plays into the psychology of the other prisoners, as well as us on the outside. Worst of all, it continues to promote the idea that if you have enough money, you’ll get away with what you want.

Granted, again, this is about low-level offenders, but that leads back to the former idea: how are we treating offense in the first place? As my publishing partner, Dax-Devlon Ross, wrote in a piece from our upcoming book, A Staircase of Words, Vol. One: Essays. It’s from this essay “The Promise,” in which he visits one of his best friends who is locked up in solitary:

I’ve been to the prison enough times to recognize the chip on the shoulder of most C.O.s. They’re only used to seeing black men my age in jumpsuits and handcuffs. They’re used to ordering them around. Asking questions and expecting answers. There certainly aren’t any of us in Inez or Aurora or any of the other hayseed towns in the surrounding area. That’s problem number one. Some congressman lobbies to have a prison built in his district so he can bring a few jobs and look like he’s in Washington getting shit done. He never even thinks about the distance families will have to drive to see loved ones. He never thinks that the prisoners will be all black and the staff will be all white and that maybe there could be a problem. A moral problem. All the congressman sees is the next election. An overwhelming number of the prisoners in Big Sandy are from Washington, D.C., a hefty 350 miles away. 350 divided by 65 miles per hour is what? Five or six hours on a good day. Twelve hours round trip. How many people are making that trip more than once or twice a year? You’re practically insuring that fathers never sees their kids, that mothers can’t see their sons. Don’t do the crime and you don’t have to do the time, you say. Well, congressman, it’s a little more complicated than that, don’t you think

It is a bit more complicated, and offering Hollywood-ettes IKEA beds and the right to use laptops in a prison cell isn’t helping the problem one bit.

Planting the Seeds of Green Music

28 04 2007

by Derek Beres

Walking through the dense passages of Chicago’s McCormick Center on April 21-22, tens of thousands of eager spectators were bombarded with a surround-sense experience of some of the most progressive ideas in nutrition, solar power, sustainable furnishings and clothing, and a host of fair-trade and organic philosophies inspiring what is being proudly touted as the Green Revolution. The reality is, this could very well be the first truly conscious global revolution to occur, and the Green Festival, in its first year in Chi-town, was indicative of the progressive mindset millions are adhering to.

During the two-day stretch visitors were afforded the opportunity to sample the most exquisite raw cacao, slide down tasty shakes of hemp, acai and yerba mate, walk on bamboo floors (and even wear tree-shirts), practice fire-dancing yoga and eat scrumptious vegan soul food. The fusion of forms occurring on a worldwide level is truly astounding, and for the last few years the Green Festival has been at the forefront of presenting, and preserving, organic and sustainable lifestyles. And then I walked by the music stage.

Read the full story on Conscious Choice here.

InnerContinental @ Green Festival, Chicago

26 04 2007

Had a great time this past weekend in Chi-town for their first ever Green Festival. Fete attendance levels were broken, relationships formed and former ones further bonded, and a lot of love, happiness and cacao passed around. Just a few snapshots of our crew during the last moments….

Jill & Autumn

 Jill Ettinger & Autumn Bree

Dave, Derek & Andrew

David Bronner, Derek Beres & Andrew McPherson

Love & David

Love & David Wolfe

Andrew Sky

Eccodek aims upward

Subtraction, not Addition

25 04 2007

By Derek Beres

Sodas fortified with vitamins. Oil companies that are replenishing the lands and waters they have destroyed. Yoga on Military Island, the triangular “park” in the middle of Times Square. And this wonderful ad on the inside flap of this week’s New Yorker, about how Dow Chemicals is promoting the “Human Element.” What has become clear is not about what you are producing, but what you are layering onto the top to make it seem pretty.

This is the thought as I read TrendCentral’s recent newsletter about “Healthy Food.” The snippets on the anti-corn syrup movement and – especially pleasing to my palate – the hemp milk trend were enjoyable. It’s the middle entry, on “Healing Foods,” that made me chuckle. In the piece the newsletter states, “we’re beginning to see food and drink emerge as alternatives to taking medicine.” Thanks for the breakthrough news.

What they should have written would have been more along the lines of: we are seeing major corporations realize that people are understanding the products that they pass off as “food products” are not selling so hotly. What is selling is what will always attract attention, and hence you have beverage companies adding echinacea and acai into their mix. Only problem is, they are not removing what was harmful in the first place, be it corn syrup, oil drills or mass ammunitions.

There’s a stretch of the NJ Turnpike I always laugh at while passing. I understand why people view New Jersey as a wasteland, if their exposure is the region between Newark and Perth Amboy, roughly exits 14C to 11. There’s one particularly disastrous facility that’s pumping flames and black smoke into the skyline 24/7 – has been since I’ve driven the route since ’93, and probably a lot longer prior. The billboard facing the Turnpike states “Environmentally Advanced. Energy Efficient.”

What we need is to subtract, not add. Putting a band-aid over cancer is not going to help the disease. Yet advertisers are doing that with their claims of Greening the environment. This is not a critique to the companies that have been founded on sustainable, progressive ideals, whether they were started four decades ago or four minutes past. It is irresponsible of large-scale corporations that were the root of our current dismay to now try to good guy by throwing in an additive or two. Their additives are what sent us on this spiraling path, and their continual marketing ploys, now in the realm of the sustainable and organic, is completely and utterly embarrassing.

Sliding Across the Desert

24 04 2007

Desert Slide (Sense World Music)

Sometimes spontaneity breeds the greatest success. Such was the case on the evening Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, a mohan veena player – scratch that; he invented this fusion of a classical Indian sitar and sarod with the Hawaiian slide guitar – sat down with Ry Cooder. When the Rajasthan native picked up his unique instrument and started performing with the Los Angeles-born globetrotting guitarist, a bit of magic ensued. The result was called A Meeting by the River, which won a Grammy in 1994. Since then Bhatt continued doing what he had been since studying under Ravi Shankar: creating local recordings that are stupendously innovative. Desert Slide is a case in point. Since his instrument crosses the sarod with a slide, there is really nothing that sounds like it. Underneath the excellent vocal performance Anwar Khan and rapid-fire tablas of Ram Kumar Mishra, this ensemble, created especially for this recording, Bhatt’s schizophrenic veena dances between a literal assault of notes, rhythms and melodies. Part of the genius of the Indian musical system is the ability to make one musician sound like an orchestra; imagine what eleven can do. And yet, even in all that movement, there is stillness. These are mostly when Bhatt breaks, however: the intricate meanderings of his fingers sets fire to the fourteen-minute “Avalu Thari Aave, Badilo Ghar Aave.” The song expresses the longing of a woman begging her love to come home, and this poetic immediacy is captured in every note, every minute. A not-so-chaotic, though equally penetrative, sense of urgency arises in the spacious “Jhilmil Barse Meh,” a rag dedicated to monsoon season. Just as the raga system is based on different times of day, so it goes with seasons. If you can imagine the heroic strides of a culture dependent upon torrential downpours for a few months of the year to cycle their agriculture, you’ve found the spirit of this song. And without question, this is a spirit these musicians capture. Derek Beres

The Upbeat Side of Saudade

20 04 2007


M’bem di fora
(Times Square Records)

Thanks to the widespread appreciation given to Cesaria Evora, the string of ten islands known collectively as Cape Verde is defined by the slow, melancholic musings of the morna. Now, Cesaria certainly knows how to celebrate, but it is the sad and damp saudade of Portugal and, subsequently, these islands, that most ears are accustomed to. Perhaps, then, we only need change our definition of what this heart-rending word implies. Cape Verde native Lura exhibits plenty of it on her second recording, though M’bem di fora is full of upbeat, danceable tunes with textures of harmonica, percussion and lush background singing. It’s no surprise that Lura herself began in that role. Originally attending higher education to become a gym teacher, her career was suddenly remixed thanks to a dance teacher that invited her to sing (an occupation she had never even attempted). Maybe that’s why every moment of this album sound so natural. There’s a luminous, effeminate glow in “Bida Maridau,” a beautiful sentiment of a story in which a mother prepares her son to follow his destiny. Island life is accentuated on the homeland tribute, “No Bem Falá,” including the gentle tones of the cavinquinho riding under the rhythm. And just because the record swings on high most of the time, Lura’s reflective moments are equally puncturing. “As-Agua,” a reminiscence of childhood and rain, is the album’s most heartbreaking number – a true expression of longing. She entered school to study the body and ended up mastering gymnastics of another sort: those of lyrics working on the soulful, deep heart of our ears. – Derek Beres