Charlie Chaplin Illustrates Social Distancing

Charlie Chaplin was the consummate artist of his time. His ability to communicate emotion through pure gesture was timeless, as are the films he made, and indeed the people in them (now long dead). Projected on the screen of post-modernity, they seem more wonderful than ever!

Our attention span and recognition of memes has changed over the past hundred years. Timeless is a re-editing of Chaplin silent footage from 1921 or earlier, with new royalty-free music which complements the comic scenes, but also adds a sense of poignancy to the more tender ones. (Credits/captions are also new.) Plot elements have been obscured, leaving the characters and actions to speak for themselves (which they do admirably). When Chaplin and Edna Purviance meet, something magical happens — something timeless. It requires no explanation. The expressions and gestures of the characters say all that is needed. Continue reading

Fun craft project for kids: Make an origami Gaos

The Mystery Science Theater gang shows kids how!

Origami is the ancient art of paper folding, so popular in Japan. What with the coronavirus pandemic, your kids may be in lockdown mode and can’t go to a playing field for contact sports. But they can enjoy hours of fun around the house once they’ve discovered the joys of paper-folding. Joel and the bots (Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo) will get you started!

First spotted in 1967, Gaos (or Gyaosu in Japanese) is a creature which most resembles the Flatiron Building in New York City. Its triangular head (which emits a deadly yellow death-ray) may spell trouble for the city of Nagoya, but it spells fun, fun, fun for paper-folding aficionados.

After a brief introduction to Gaos (who eats a hapless reporter and scares the sushi out of child co-star Eiichi (a.k.a. “Itchy”), we proceed to the tutorial: Continue reading

Teaching children about death – Brave New World

How is Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future relevant to the present world pandemic?

Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. It’s considered one of the great 20th century dystopian novels, along with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 completes the triad.

The clip above is from a 1980 television production. It’s short enough that we can view it multiple times — take in all the contrasts and unfamiliar elements. A vital link of relevance is the song the children sing:

When there’s no one left,
Sing a song of death;
Four and twenty corpses
Baking in a stew,
Making pretty chemicals
Just for me and you.

The song is sung cheerfully, innocently, vapidly by the children; but the character known as the Savage is horrified and responds by passionately quoting lines from Shakespeare about death. So, we’re immediately confronted by two very different attitudes toward death.

It may be trite to say that Huxley was concerned with the ways in which people might misuse science. Perhaps (more accurately), he saw that people have surprisingly little control over how technical innovations reshape human society and human psychology. Much of what he predicted was eerily prescient, not necessarily in the exact forms things would take, but in the cheapening of human life and human death — the reduction of the human being to its chemical components only. Continue reading

Donald Trump as Mr. Clean

Some men have golden parachutes, others golden earrings. No matter how you parse it, Trump’s coronavirus pressers are an absolute shower.

(Click to enlarge)

This parody pic notwithstanding (and as Stormy Daniels can attest), Donald Trump should not be taken internally. Still, when a problem comes along, you must Reckitt. (Reckitt is the manufacturer of Lysol, which has had to issue warnings to the public not to put their household cleaning products to any exotic, clinically untested uses.)

The Trump PR shop has been slow to quash this corona-disaster du jour, suggesting they might benefit from these words of wisdom from the bards of the 80s generation: Continue reading

A quick introduction to the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Now is the time to discover the driving rhythms and uplifting vocal stylings of this world famous Qawwali artist.

Photo courtesy Real World Records

I was very fortunate to first hear the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan in the early 1990s. This was thanks to Garama Masala, a weekly radio show devoted to the music of South Asia, then hosted by Anastasia Tsioulcas on Columbia University’s WKCR. The show lives on under the new name Raag aur Taal, and Anastasia Tsioulcas is now a reporter for NPR Music. (Quoting Hecky Brown from The Front: “It’s nice when something nice happens to someone nice.”)

If you’re saying to yourself: “Qawwali? That’s all Greek to me…” don’t worry. This will be a quick and painless introduction, as easy as taking a bite out of a paratha to see if you have a taste for South Asian cuisine (or might like to acquire one). Without further ado, here’s one of the best pieces by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan readily available on the Internet:

Like anything new, it helps to open yourself to it, give it a chance, even embrace it. This piece has gotten about 4 million hits on YouTube. There’s definitely something going on, but what is it? To quote a classic line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “Who are these guys?” Continue reading

Easter Music from Bach’s B minor Mass

I’ve been beating the Baroque bushes on behalf of my readers, trying to find not just any recording of Bach’s B minor Mass, but the best recording on YouTube. Of course, the Mass in B minor is such a beautiful work that it’s hard to make it sound bad. Still, I think this 1969 recording with Karl Richter conducting sounds exceptionally good. It’s a warm analogue recording, and when the trumpets come in you can really hear the wonderful ambience of the church where it was recorded.

For Easter, we hear Et incarnatus, Crucifixus, and Et resurrexit:


These selections seem to be from a September 1969 recording released on DVD in 2006, and not easy to find. So in this case, YouTube saves us. Continue reading

Self-Isolation Tips: Pink Panther helps you wake up early (cartoon)

Should you face the pandemic day with cheerfulness, or take a hammer to that alarm clock?

I totally love this early (1969) Pink Panther cartoon for pushing an age-old conflict to the max. After demolishing a bunch of mechanical alarm clocks, the Pink Panther ventures out to procure a genuine cuckoo clock, perhaps hoping it will be more persuasive. I love that it’s a blue bird who helps him: Continue reading

Prayer and Meditation in a Time of Suffering

Can these things be of any help, or are they just pipe dreams?

There are two different ways of looking at prayer and meditation: We can say they are like medicine for what ails us, or we can say that they bring us peace, light, and joy.

When beset with worldly problems, we feel that in spite of believing in the things of this world, we need some relief from worry and anxiety. This is always true, but even more so in a time of world crisis, when there is much sickness and despair. At that time, no matter where we turn our eyes we see problems, problems, problems! But if we look within, if we practice prayer and meditation, then we get some relief from worry and anxiety, and we are better able to cope with the burdens of daily life. This is a practical approach, a good approach, but it does make prayer and meditation seem like medicine which we only take when we are ill.

The other approach is to make friends with the inner world, to feel that the inner world belongs to us, for us to claim as our own, in good times and in bad. We do not ignore or shun the outer world, nor do we blame it for not being perfect; only we say that the inner world has more light and truth than the outer world. Therefore we can get peace, light and joy from the inner world which we cannot get from the outer world, even under the best of circumstances.

These two different approaches are like two different attitudes toward God. In one approach, we are like children playing in a playground. We enjoy the slide, the sprinkler, and different types of games. But then if we fall down and scrape our knee, or if there are terrible thunderstorms, we run to the Playground Manager, who takes care of our injuries and consoles us so that we can go on playing.

But as we grow in maturity and gain insight, we realize that the playground is limited in what it can offer us. At the same time, something higher and deeper calls to us. God dried our tears and helped us to go on living in the worst of times, but should we only see His Face once or twice in this lifetime, during periods of crisis? He who has consoled us faithfully and unerringly is our Eternal Friend.

So, whether we turn to prayer and meditation in a time of need, to help relieve suffering, or whether we do so because we want to grow in wisdom and joy, and to be close to our Eternal Friend — either approach is right, depending on the individual. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. Often, people reach a crisis point in their lives where they desperately need spiritual help. Then, even after the crisis point has passed, they continue on with spiritual practice because they see the benefits. Continue reading

Nature, the Super Moon, the Coronavirus, and Charles Ives

Nature presents us with contraries, opposite poles, also known as antipodes…

On Monday night, as I made my appointed rounds through the streets of the city, suddenly I noticed the remarkably bright full moon, so close, so distinctive. With a faint mist surrounding it, it almost seemed to have its own corona. It took me by surprise, and once aware of it I had to wheel ’round many times to contemplate its pristine beauty, till finally the moon was eclipsed by gathering clouds.

I cannot say for certain, but it may be that our moon and sun are imitations of a moon and sun which are more beautiful to behold in some higher world. That is my hope, belief, and intuition.

As a race or as a species, we indulge in chauvinism, imagining that our moon and our sun must be best. But there is another theory or observation which says that many things found in this world of ours arise in imitation of things found in higher worlds.

There, nature flows in abundance. It is not built up from physical stuff, but flows directly from the mind of God, with no dirt or bugs, and no planes flying overhead. That is how it can be more beautiful — intimate, like a little wood, and yet we sense that its lakes, rivers, and forests could go on forever.

In our present world of opposites, we cannot fully enjoy the sun and moon at the same time in the same sky, for always one will be waxing while the other is waning. But in the spiritual sky, the sun and moon shine together, in a world higher than ours which is more subtle, and not racked by the extremes of opposites which plague our mortal existence. Continue reading

The typo that made me laugh out loud

Can you spot what’s wrong with this Staples.com ad?

Most typos are neither interesting nor funny, but last night I happened on one that set me giggling uncontrollably. Maybe I was just in need of a good giggle (perfectly possible!), but you can judge for yourself:

Staples sells such a bewildering variety of products that I had to read the ad about 3 times, asking myself if I’d accidentally stumbled on a supply house catering to birders or ornithologists. You see, I know that people on country estates buy all sorts of amazing contraptions designed to let birds feed while keeping squirrels out (not always entirely successfully, I might add). Continue reading