Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Talking Space

On Tuesday, my sister-in-law invited my wife (and her twin sister) to speak to her class of fifth graders about space exploration. Engaging and mesmerizing, Stephanie handled the lecture and the kid’s enraptured questions with all the finesse of a well-trained and well-practiced pro. I sat in a small desk in the back of the classroom, Billy Madison-like, proud and inspired as can be. Who knows? Perhaps some future astronaut will be able to look back to that day and say, "That is when I knew I wanted to work in outer space."

There's No Place Like Home

I spent the holiday weekend in Colorado. We were there for a wedding and my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday. And despite all the fun of the ceremony and seeing loved ones, a weird thing happened.

Monday morning I accompanied my wife and a dear friend of ours to Red Rocks Canyon where the two of them went climbing. (I’ve joined them on previous outings and find that when it comes to rock-climbing, I am, how to put this…a sissy).

As I sat in the full splendor of Colorado, beneath the shadow of Pikes Peak and the towering sandstone monoliths, amidst the majesty of the azure blue sky, the scent of pine, and the rapping of woodpeckers, I was struck by one repeating, consistent thought--I wish I was back in New York City.

I told you it was weird. Unless you're a New Yorker that is...

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Times Like These

Yesterday, my wife and I attended “Sunday with the Magazine,” a New York Times event that hosted a dozen conversations centered around the theme “The Way We Live Now.” These conversations with actors, politicians and leaders of industry provided an intimate look into the lives of those who shape our world.

We attended three of the events: “What Makes Us Laugh” with The Daily Show’s John Hodgman and The Office / Extras creator and star, Ricky Gervais; “How We Campaign” with Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards; and “How We Make Movies” with the Wilson brothers. Click to enlarge any of the images.

Gervais is unique in showbiz in that he is a performer who took on acting after years of the sort of office work you and I drudge through daily (and thank God for it—without those years of keen observations, The Office would never have seen the light of day!). With PC Hodgeman moderating, Gervais discussed his newfound celebrity status, how that celebrity differed on opposing sides of the pond, and the current U.S. trend toward BBC inspired humor. The secret of his comedy is simple, he claimed: “Failure is funnier than success. I don’t find jokes funny, I find situations funny. I draw my inspiration from the minutia of human behavior and I can’t imagine any situation from which I couldn’t make comedy.”

John Edwards knows how to look good in front of an audience and answer a question with poise and intelligence. But he is at no time better than when discussing American poverty. Like RFK (and, in truth, Obama running against him), Edwards makes you truly believe that he is in politics to look out for the little guy, the underrepresented, the marginalized, the dispossessed. “We can’t live in a nation with a couple of rich guys and everyone else.”

Oddly enough, in a New York City crowd, arguably more devastated by terrorism than any other segment of the American population, it wasn’t until the final question that homeland security issues were raised. Aside from the Iraqi elephant in the room, people were distinctly interested in the domestic and economic factors of this race. Edwards presented an inspiring and encompassing look at foreign policy, claiming that we craft security out of improving life not just in America, but abroad. “We have a moral responsibility to spread opportunity around the world. I am committed to the world being a better place, not just America. Our power has to be wedded to moral authority and our actions will demonstrate whether or not we are worthy to lead.” Right now, he offered, America’s moral authority hangs in tatters.

The highlight, however, came when my wife rose to offer a question, commenting on her position within the United States’ space industry and inquiring as to the Senator’s stance on cosmic exploration. He was, she said, right on message, expressing a keen interest in NASA’s ongoing exploration and discovery, and was particularly adamant that, if America is to continue to be a great nation, it must redouble its efforts to cultivate an environment in which math and science are seen as exciting opportunities for young people.

“Am I my brother’s keeper,” Luke Wilson asked as he and his brother Andrew walked onto the stage, no Owen in sight. Sadly, Owen was “under the weather,” leaving a gaping hole where the most delightfully funny member of the Wilson comedy trinity should have been.

Luke and Andrew cast back over their careers. Luke, the youngest of the three, certainly got picked on the most, not the least of which for his decade long rooming situation with Owen after they graduated from college. “Waaaay past what was appropriate,” Andrew joked.

Bottle Rocket, they confessed, did horribly on its initial release and in the initial screenings so many people got up and left that they figured their showbiz careers were over before they’d even begun. But persistence paid off.

That and a little bit of subterfuge.

While trying to get money for their new film, The Wendell Baker Story which Luke wrote and the two co-directed, they were told, “You deliver Owen, we’ll deliver the money.” During a series of business meetings at Cannes last year, one of their producers kept referring to Luke as Owen in front of interested foreign businessmen. During a break, Luke whispered to the producer that he’d accidentally been calling him Owen the whole time. “It’s no accident,” the producer replied, “Owen they know, but you they don’t. Do you want the money or not?” If that sounds below board, consider the fact that Luke fired his own mother from working on the film. “Yeah, she’s told me she doesn’t ever want to work with me professionally again.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Beliefnet Blog

I was recently asked to write a blog column at Beliefnet, the internet's largest multi-religious, spiritual website about one of my favorite new shows, Mr. Deity which I blogged about here just a few weeks ago. To check out my article, click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Can a Good Christian be a Good American?

A few days ago, I received an e-mail forward titled “Can a Good Muslim be a Good American? No!” It reminded me of another ludicrous forward I recently received claiming Barack Obama was a Trojan Muslim who endorsed “the radical teaching (of) Muslim terrorists who are now waging Jihad against the western world” and insisted that “the Muslims have a plan on destroying the US from the inside out; what better way to start than at the highest level!”

Incredulous, I was in the middle of typing a snarky response when my brother, who had also received the same forward, sent me a reply that was almost word for word what I was in the middle of typing. You'd almost think we were related. I decided to blend our two answers and post them here. What follows is the original e-mail and my brother’s and my answer.


This is something I've wondered about for some time now: How & why do the Muslims hate us & everyone else so much? Doesn't their God teach them to love? Of course this applies to Canada and for that matter the whole of Western Europe as well.

Can a good Muslim be a good American?

I sent that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years.

The following is his reply:

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon god of Arabia 

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran).

Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca , to which he turns in prayer five times a day. 

Socially - no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews.

Politically - no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan. 

Domestically - no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34). 

Intellectually - no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christian's God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran's 99 other names.

So, after much study and deliberation....perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans.

Call it what you's still the truth. And if that equates to "profiling" which is tantamount to murder by the liberals, then so be it. If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. Pass it on, Fellow Americans. This war is larger than we know or understand. It will take much longer than any one of us anticipates, and the timetables for exiting Iraq are senseless given the mind set of all fanatic Muslims. With the exception of 9-11, London and Madrid, the fight has been there. Should we not continue to keep them occupied and away from our shores?


This is something I've wondered about for some time now: How & why do Christians hate everyone else so much? Doesn't their God teach them to love?

Can a good Christian be a good American?

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Jehovah, the Lord God of Israel and never to any mere man.

Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by Jehovah except Christianity.

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the Holy Bible and the Ten Commandments.

Geographically – no. Because his God does not recognize borders on maps drawn by men and his followers look for his return in Jerusalem.

Socially - no. Because he interprets his allegiance to Christianity as forbidding him to make friends with homosexuals, women who have abortions, Muslims and all unrepentant sinners bound to burn in a lake of eternal fire.

Politically - No, because they submit themselves only to their God who has been known, on occasion, to call for the total decimation of any country—men, women, children, livestock, etc—who dare to stand against the chosen people.

Domestically - no. Because the Bible commands a wife (or wives) to utterly obey her husband in all things, decrees that children must be put to death for disobeying their parents, that slavery is permissible and that the village is to execute any member who dares to eat shrimp, wear mixed fiber clothing, or sit too close to a menstrating woman.

Intellectually - No, because he cannot accept that the U.S. Constitution is an infallible document (only the Bible, with its thousands of translations and transliterations is completely error free).

Philosophically - No, because the Christian adheres to a Theocracy, not a Democracy, willingly laying aside his State-granted freedoms and rights for the will and commands of God.

Spiritually - No, because the Christian's “loving and kind” God apparently teaches them that there is no better way to spread that love to the unrepentant than with a carrier strike group armed with laser and GPS guided cruise missiles, 2,000 pound bunker busters, and nuclear warheads.

So, after much study and deliberation....perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL CHRISTIANS in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Christians and “good” Americans.

Call it what you's still the truth. And if that equates to "profiling" which is so beloved by this Administration, then so be it. If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends, so the Justice Department, which tracks you and your friends’ virtual movements, can keep tabs on you. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. Pass it on, Fellow Americans. This war is more idiotic and based on lies than we know or understand. With the exception of a handful of bombed out abortion clinics, the fight has mostly been over there, in Europe—the Crusades, the Inquisition and such. We must eradicate the Christian parasites before they infiltrate our country and even the highest office of our land!

Falwell Dead at 73

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, has died. I grieve for the loss of a brother in Christ, but let's hope that a little bit of his perverted idea of Christianity dies with him.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Play It Again Haim

My cousin Haim Avitsur is a sublime trombonist who has performed solo and as part of symphonies around the world. A faculty member of the University of Virginia and the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, NY, Haim has also served as the Principal Trombonist of the Charlottesville Symphony Orchestra. In 2005 he co-founded Trio Hidas, the Ensemble in Residence of the Summer Trombone Workshop, of which Haim is the founder and Artistic Director, instructing up-and-coming students in Philadelphia and Taiwan. Twice named Emerging Artist by Symphony Magazine, Haim has released a CD of his work and is the author of the book, “The Avitsur Method."

He lives only four blocks away from me here in NYC, so I enjoy his playing often, but for the rest of you, there's YouTube.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Gold Standard

This weekend my wife and I attended the 82nd running of the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race in Virginia. A fixture on the greater Washington metropolitan area social calendar, the Gold Cup draws more 45,000 spectators for races that begin with Jack Russell Terriers and end with seven hurdle and timber horses races. Invited to attend with some dear friends from D.C., we positioned ourselves right along the fence where we were able to watch the steeds thunder past.

Despite nearly constant rainfall and an egregious degree of old-world pretension (a friend described it as “NASCAR for snobs”), it was a load of fun. There was a strict dress code--ladies had to wear spring dresses and hats while the men had to don their best spring formals or seersucker suits. We dined on a menu that included mimosas, quiche, deviled eggs, a trifle, a cheese plate, Bloody Marys, chicken salad, pecan pie, chocolate tarts, Mint Juleps, and more. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday, if I do say so myself.

In fact, it’s a good week overall for Stephanie and me. Today, she was at the White House for the arrival of the Queen of England. And Thursday she’ll be back in New York where we’ll take in a Yankees' game. Come to think of it, that's not a bad way to spend a week!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

64 of 100

Our friend, Neil deGrasse Tyson (and frequent subject guest on this blog) was today named one of TIME magazine's 100 Greatest Scientists and Thinkers!

"You can think of Neil deGrasse Tyson as the Carl Sagan of the 21st century—as long as you envision a Sagan who's muscular, African American and as cool as his predecessor was geeky. While Sagan used to appear on the Tonight Show to chat professorially with Johnny Carson, Tyson trades quips with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. And you can hardly imagine Sagan's being named Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive by PEOPLE magazine (Tyson got the nod in 2000) or declaring, as Tyson once did, that in high school 'I was a nerd who could kick your butt.'"

To read the rest of TIME's comments, click here.

Spring Forward

I've always been a huge fan of fall. It's hard not to love a season that turns trees the colors of fire and crisps the air. It is, easily, my favorite time of year.

That said, spring is gaining. The older I get, the better spring gets. The very spiritual significance that underlies the world's resurrection is a beautiful expression of the practical transformation I see going on all around me.

The change is all the more dramatic in an uber-urban environment like Manhattan. There are no fields or hills or horizons here with which to judge the passage of the seasons. One day the canyons of glass and steel are marked with gnarled, organic skeletons and the next their branches are bursting with color and life, birds belt out arias, and human flesh, hidden beneath layers of protective clothing for so many winter months, is suddenly revealed. All of New York seems to awaken, as if from a hibernation, at the exact same moment. We are all drawn from our cold, dark apartments and simultaneously spill into the city's parks as if drawn by powerful, invisible magnets.

As the world is reborn, so am I.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Triple Offender

Our friend Neil was back on The Colbert Report the other night. It was his third appearance, more than any other guest on the show. To see his spot, click here.
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus