Happy 87th Birthday, Sri Chinmoy!

Remembering the beloved spiritual teacher, musician and artist with a joyful music mix and slideshow

Sri Chinmoy’s birthday was always a joyful occasion, a perfect opportunity to celebrate. The celebrations continue, although he passed away in 2007. He lit a bright torch, carried it for many years, and taught others to hold it aloft. So many people around the world are celebrating on August 27, 2018, the day when Sri Chinmoy would have turned 87.

My way of celebrating was to make this video as an introduction to Sri Chinmoy’s music world:

I say “music world” because Sri Chinmoy is a world unto himself, and his music is best understood by listening with an open heart, rather than theorizing with a critical mind. Listening brings its own rewards and leads to understanding.

I say “music world” because inside Sri Chinmoy’s music is his art — his painting and drawing. All his creations emanate from a deep spiritual well, and one can approach that well from many directions, like a circular fountain which has a myriad of little footpaths leading up to it.

Music, art, concert posters, and photographs are all ways of making inroads to reach that centre of consciousness from which Sri Chinmoy always acted. But the divine secret is that this centre of consciousness does not belong to any individual, but is our collective consciousness, to be realized. It is the Supreme’s consciousness of Light and Delight.

It is fitting, then, that the music mix begins with “Supreme Chant” — a melody which Sri Chinmoy composed to the word “Supreme” — and that it ends with Sri Chinmoy chanting the word “Supreme.”

In between, we can begin to glean something of the vastness of Sri Chinmoy’s musical oeuvre from the main selection, which is a medley of his songs performed by Gandharva Loka Orchestra, culminating in a magnificent counterpoint. Truly, his music is “vaster than the sky,” and a thunderous pipe organ improvisation from Riverside Church punctuates this point.

There are many facets to Sri Chinmoy’s musical manifestation — so many that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse in the 38 minutes of this video. I hope to create other videos which bring out different aspects. A great wealth of Sri Chinmoy’s music is available online at Radio Sri Chinmoy. Special thanks to them, and to the musicians, photographers and videographers who made this non-commercial production possible.

A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy! Wishing peace and joy to everyone around the world who is celebrating this day!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Scotland The Brave vs. Jamaica The Hot

(Photos to follow.) No, it’s not a World Cup playoff, but there’s still an international flavor to the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. Known as the longest certified footrace in the world, it pits stellar ultrarunners against daunting distance, as well as brutal heat and drenching downpours. It all takes place around a half-mile loop in Jamaica, Queens, but runners travel from as far away as Russia, Israel, Slovakia, and Scotland to compete.

The 2018 winner in the Men’s Division was Vasu Duzhiy of St. Petersburg, Russia, who finished Tuesday night, July 31st. He ran a distance of 3,100 miles in just under 45 days — not the first win for this solid competitor who’s nearly as consistent as Roger Federer.

The only American among this year’s starters was Yolanda Holder — a pedestrienne or race walker who was the surprise sensation of 2017’s race. With her unique style, she’s known as the Walking Diva; but this year, Ms. Holder had to retire after 1,200 miles due to foot problems.

In a field of many talented athletes, one standout is William Sichel, who hails from Sanday — a tiny island with a population of 550 located in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. The busy streets of Queens are a far cry from the quiet, pastoral setting of his home.

With Viking determination, Mr. Sichel is challenging not just heat and thunderstorms, but also the rigors of advancing age. 64 and a cancer survivor, Sichel’s the dark horse hero of 2018, unable to beat the frontrunners, but turning in an inspiring performance, and likely to set numerous records, including one for oldest competitor to run all 52 days.

In 2014, Mr. Sichel successfully completed the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 50 1/2 days at age 60. This year, he’s been averaging 56.5 miles per day — less than the 59.6 needed to finish in the allotted time. He would need to up his average to 70 miles a day for the final 10 days of the race — an almost superhuman task, but not impossible for a competitor who’s shown superhuman toughness and come-from-behind prowess in the past. He ran 70.8 miles on Day 1, so no one counts him out!

Sometimes dubbed the “Scottish pocket rocket” and credited with “a mind of iron” (but a kindly disposition), Sichel is competing against 5 remaining runners who are members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team — likened to the running monks of Japan for their combination of spiritual and athletic discipline.

The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race was conceived by Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007), a spiritual teacher who was active in many fields, including athletics. Since its inception over two decades ago, the race has attracted mostly students of Sri Chinmoy, but other exceptional athletes are invited annually. In addition to Sichel and Holder, this year’s invitees included Kobi Oren, the noted Israeli ultramarathoner who came to a searing second place finish on Thursday, August 2nd with a time of 46:03:24:48.

The competition is friendly, and runners are urged to view the race as a competition with themselves, to transcend their previous capacity and gain spiritual insights, drawing on untapped inner depths to achieve the seemingly impossible. Race co-director Sahishnu Szczesiul says of the 3100:

In multi-day races there are fluctuations in performance, feelings of highs and low, abject despair, and undiscovered elation. These races reflect the struggle to survive another day, to assess effort but not to associate with the pain and sweat, but rather, conserve the energy for the next group of laps, or hours, or even stretches of days. Take a power nap, or stretch the stiff legs, and try again.

Interviewed in 2015 by RunUltra.co.uk, William Sichel emphasized the mental discipline needed to run such a long race:

My body adapted very well and I started running further and further each day as the race progressed. But mentally I found it to be the most enormous struggle especially when things were going against me and it looked like I wouldn’t finish in time. To regain mental control I had to narrow my focus right down to just being aware of my breathing, only thinking of the next lap and never, ever thinking past the current day! Simple as that.

Perhaps this explains why ultramarathoners are more likely to be in their forties or fifties than their twenties. Physical strength is important, but is not the only factor. To run 3,100 miles requires special qualities of mind and heart which must be cultivated over decades.

One-pointed concentration on a goal is also the point of intersection between the athlete’s world and the spiritual world. The total commitment needed to run the equivalent of two marathons a day for 52 days seems to demand coping skills not acquired until middle age.

William Sichel has above average coping skills. In 1997, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Two months after surgery he was back in training, soon setting distance records for Great Britain and Scotland.

His second bid for the Sri Chinmoy 3100 was scheduled for 2017. But on June 12th, the day before he was due to leave for New York, his wife Elizabeth received news that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He withdrew from the race and cared for her until her death 24 days later. Now, in 2018 he’s back facing the ultimate running challenge.

Though Sichel’s temperament is cool, he runs best when the mercury stays below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The long, excruciating heat wave which ushered in July affected his time, and the volley of thunderstorms which closed out the month further dampened his performance. According to race updates, he has now completed 2,830 miles in 50 days, but can’t reach 3,100 miles by the deadline. Still, no bookmaker would give odds that Sichel will quit before Day 52. His many fans in Orkney (and throughout the running world) would be sorely disappointed!

If the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is a hero’s journey, William Sichel is a torchbearer of the life-affirming aspect. He remains a hero whether or not he manages the full distance this second time around.

The race ends on the evening of August 7th.

More about William Sichel on Perfection Journey.

UPDATE 1: William Sichel continued to run, and by Day 52 achieved a total of 2,904 miles.

Sidebar: Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race – Women’s Division

Surasa Mairer of Austria and Kaneenika Janakova of Slovakia are duking it out for first and second place in the Women’s Division, with less than 25 miles separating them.

In 2015, Mairer broke the long-standing women’s record set by Suprabha Beckjord in 1998. Beckjord’s time back then was 49:14:30:54, but 18 years later Mairer topped it with a time of 49:07:52:24 (6 hours and 38 minutes faster).

Surasa Mairer crosses the finish line of the Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, August 2015. Photo courtesy Perfection Journey http://perfectionjourney.org/2015/08/02/august-2-it-is-all-grace/

Mairer’s record was not nearly as long-lived as Beckjord’s. Two years later, Kaneenika Janakova raised the bar for women’s times by acing the Sri Chinmoy 3100 in 48:14:24:10. Now, in 2018 these two record-setters are competing for top spots. Indeed, after Yolanda Holder had to withdraw, they’re the sole remaining women. But due in part to adverse weather conditions, neither are challenging their personal bests. Both are expected to finish on Day 52.

Interviewed in 2017, Kaneenika Janakova echoed William Sichel’s view of the need for mental toughness:

It can be very challenging to control the mind and the thoughts during this race. What I do not want to think about is the distance and the number of days or weeks I have to spend on the course. If I do that it gets very hard because all my mind wants to do is to find the reasons why I should not be doing this race. In order to avoid this I have to trick my mind.

In Janakova’s case, she relies on meditation and going “inside the heart”:

As much as the physical preparation is important, for me it is equally important to devote time to practice meditation. Meditation helps me tremendously to calm and control my mind and also helps me to be more aware of my abilities and believe in my true potential coming from inside. Running and meditation complement each other in my life. I try to quiet the mind and go inside the heart. The heart doesn’t calculate or plan anything. It is just full of joy and eagerness.

What will the 2019 pilgrimage of 3,100 miles bring? Better weather, we hope, and another year of auspicious good fortune for those who dare to challenge impossibility.

UPDATE 2: Both Surasa Mairer and Kaneenika Janakova reached their goal of 3,100 miles on Day 52, at times running through heavy rain and thunderstorms. They were the only female finishers this year, placing 4th and 6th overall in a field of ten starters.

* * *

Queen Elizabeth Plans for Trump Visit

donald-trump-queen-elizabeth-ii-funny

Queen Elizabeth II: Must I luncheon with that horrible man Donald Trump?

Private Secretary: I’m afraid, Your Majesty, that the worst has happened. He has arrived in Windsor and expects to be in your company this very day.

Queen Elizabeth II: Humph!!! Well, I may luncheon with him, but I shan’t serve him tea.

Private Secretary: But Your Majesty, without the ‘T’ you would only be luncheoning with a Rump!

Queen Elizabeth II: Could I use my body double? The one made out of Eton collars and fermented dishrags?

Private Secretary: He might catch on — but then again he might not…

Queen Elizabeth II: So be it! And don’t forget to switch on the antiquated Google voice, the one that sounds like Wilfrid Hyde-White.

Private Secretary: I always thought it sounded like Piglet getting a tonsillectomy.

Queen Elizabeth II: Make him a quick in-and-out job, and remember to count the spoons afterward.

Private Secretary: Yes, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: And don’t let him lean on the furniture, or shed any of that awful hair.

Private Secretary: No, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Do you suppose he’ll want to use the — er, facilities?

Private Secretary: I imagine that’s always a possibility.

Queen Elizabeth II: Well if he does use the facilities, I want everything scrubbed clean.

Private Secretary: Yes, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Just can’t bear the thought of a man like that using the facilities.

Private Secretary: No, Your Majesty.

Queen Elizabeth II: Do you suppose we could put an out-of-order sign on the facilities?

Private Secretary: I’m afraid, Your Majesty, that it would not be seemly.

Queen Elizabeth II: What about putting fly paper on the urinals? Would that be seemly?

Private Secretary: Definitely not, Your Majesty!

Queen Elizabeth II: Pity. Just checking.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

Scott Pruitt Epitaph

Like bad meat, the freshness date on Scott Pruitt’s tenure as EPA chief has finally expired. This epitaph rings true in more ways than one:

Though Pruitt had something of a reputation as a chicken-plucker, ironically it’s Rudy Giuliani who’s now running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Apparently, Mueller has to prove he’s not a Blue Fairy from Fairyland before Trump will deign to sit down with him for an interview. Would love to see Mueller let fly with a subpoena!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

More Kim Jong Un Funnies – Three for the Price of Un!

1. Traveling to Singapore by boat

2. Arriving at the Rube Goldberg Motel

3. Love at first sight

Bonus Joke

When is the Chairman not the Chairman?
Answer: When he’s abed.

The Kim Jong-un Funnies – Collect them all!

* * *

Scott Pruitt: Of Mattresses and Moisturizer

Could Pruitt’s strange purchases be a tell regarding the administration’s contingency plans? An imagined presser with Sarah Huckabee Sanders illuminates the matter…

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of mattresses and moisturizer,
Cabbages and kings–
And why the Mueller probe is hot–
And whether Cohen sings.”

Is Donald Trump a cabbage or a king? How will he react when Mueller tries to boil him in a pot? (A pot of Trump’s own making, I might add.)

At this stage in the Mueller investigation, any unusual mattress purchases by administration officials should be looked on with alarm. For, the conventional wisdom is emerging that this is not a president who’ll meekly resign in the face of even the most all-encompassing scandal. Rather, it’s easy to picture a physical standoff in which Sarah Huckabee Sanders pulls a Baghdad Bob: Milk Duds firmly planted in her jaw, she might go out to face reporters and opine: “This is not a war. I know a number of individuals in the organized crime community, and none of them believe this is a war.”

“But what about all the mattresses piled up in the Oval Office,” CNN’s Jim Acosta might ask accusingly. “What about the unusual number of packages delivered to the White House from Wayne LaPierre?”

“We don’t comment on security matters,” Sanders might reply. “And anyway, all the experts from Rudy Giuliani to Jeanine Pirro agree that the President has an absolute right to pardon himself. Granting pardons is not unusual for this President. His recent pardons of Muhammad Ali, Edith Piaf, Daffy Duck, and Gorilla Monsoon show that he’s a conscientious and compassionate individual. He’s presently holed up in the Oval Office discussing other potential pardons with his new Chief of Staff, Sheriff Sean Hannity, and his new Homeland Security Director, Sheriff Joe Arpaio.”

“When did Hannity become a sheriff?” an unnamed reporter calls from the gallery. “According to Executive Order number 14722,” Sanders replies (reading from her notes), “all members of the President’s cabinet and senior staff shall henceforth have the title of Sheriff honorarily bestowed upon them, and shall be addressed as such in official communications, and by the White House press secretary.”

“What happened to Kirstjen Nielson?” Andrea Mitchell blurts out, barging her way to the front of the queue. “Why hasn’t she been seen in 29 days?”

“The President respects Ms. Nielsen and appreciates the huge contribution she made to the security of all Americans during her tenure at the White House,” Sanders drawls. “Unfortunately, she became a BAD Homeland Security Director, and the President was obliged to eat her.”

April Ryan of National Urban Radio pointedly remarks: “House Speaker Paul Ryan is on record saying he’s not quite sure the President’s powers extend to cannibalism, but at any rate, eating other people sends the wrong signal for the midterms.”

“The President has been in close consultation with Speaker Ryan,” Sanders replies, “and both of them agree that the sa-fe-ty of the public is always the uppermost thing in their mind.”

“But don’t you think there’s some danger to our republic in normalizing practices like cannibalism?” Kasie Hunt of Kasie DC (cue music) asks. “Ritual cannibalism is a time-honored tradition in many cultures,” Sanders replies. “It’s Fake News when biased reporters claim that the President is normalizing something which is already normal.”

“Sarah, is there any history of insanity in the President’s family?” fires Jim Acosta, getting himself back in the game. “Dammit Jim, I’m a press secretary not a geneticist!” Sanders fires back. “But as far as I know, there’s not an above-average amount of insanity in the Trump clan, which can trace its illustrious history back to…” (checking notes) “Sawney Bean in East Lothian, Scotland, back in the 1500s.”

“But wasn’t Sawney Bean a cannibal?” pipes Kelly O’Donnell. “That hasn’t been proven,” says Sanders. “The matter is still under investigation, so I would simply refer you to outside counsel. And the fact that human bones were found on Mr. Bean’s property could have some totally innocent explanation. They might have fallen from a meteor. You guys in the liberal press always jump to the wrong conclusions!”

“Sarah, I want to pursue this mattress question,” Andrea Mitchell chimes in. “It’s not just the mattresses. Why is there now a contingent of a hundred armed Secret Service agents deployed in a ring around the Oval Office 24 hours a day? Who ordered that and why?

“Again, we don’t comment on security matters” answers Sanders. “I can only say that for reasons of national security, we’re rounding up a number of individuals who currently pose a threat to peace and freedom. We want them to be as comfortable as possible during their detention, which is only temporary. In order to insure their comfort, the President and his staff are testing out mattresses from different U.S. manufacturers, with the goal of finding out which is the most comfortable, which is the most durable, and which represents the best value for the American people. And though tests are ongoing, I can say with confidence that tomorrow’s gonna be a great day.” (Grins toothily from ear to ear.)

“But following up, why the ring of Secret Service agents?” Mitchell persists. “I haven’t talked specifically with the President on that subject,” says Sanders, “but in terms of the question you’re asking regarding that matter, I would refer you to the Secret Service, which is very loyal to the President, and whose duty it is to protect the President under any and all circumstances.”

“But Sarah, you know the Secret Service won’t comment on protection procedures,” says Mitchell. “I’m sorry Andrea, I’ve already given you plenty of time. I’m moving on. Jonathan?”

Jonathan Swan of Axios: “Sarah, I want to turn to the subject of Scott Pruitt. There’s a rumor going around that he’s been sent by the President on a kind of scavenger hunt, to track down all the supplies that the White House would need to function more or less autonomously for an indefinite period of time.”

“Sheriff Pruitt is doing a great job at the EPA,” Sanders pivots, “and the President is very pleased with his efforts to drain the the swamp and rescind the tangle of Obama-era regulations foisted on the American people, causing the economy to tank, and threatening to shift our currency from the greenback to the Mexican jumping bean. These jumping beans have now been rounded up and quarantined, and are receiving humane treatment at ICE facilities in high school gymnasiums across America.”

Swan replies (politely but icily): “In case my question wasn’t clear, I’m referring to leaked security footage of Pruitt’s personal bodyguard showing up at a Chick-fil-A and trying to order 3,000 chicken sandwiches to go.”

“I believe Sheriff Pruitt has already stated his love for Chick-fil-A as a company and as a way of life. It’s not just a Godly sandwich, but also a middle of the day pick-me-up, as well as a marital aid. A large take-out order, if it actually occurred, would not be unusual given that the President currently has to spend so much time locked up with his aides, strategizing on how to make America great for the American people, who overwhelmingly support his efforts.”

Shannon Pettypiece takes up the theme: “I think what we’re getting at is that when you look at the mattresses, the armaments, the large take-out order (and we haven’t even gotten to the moisturizer), it certainly looks as though the President and his close allies are turning the White House into a kind of Fort Apache.”

Sanders: “Well Shannon, I think you might have us confused with the other party, the one that has Pocahontas for a spokesman. As for moisturizer: An army travels on its stomach, but an administration needs to save face. And what does a face run on? Moisturizer! According to OMB figures, large purchases of moisturizer have been made by every administration since McKinley. There’s really nothing remarkable about Sheriff Pruitt scouting out the different brands, seeing what’s on sale. Peter?”

Peter Baker: “Then the moisturizer isn’t for Pruitt’s personal use?” “None of the items Sheriff Pruitt has recently procured — the Bozo The Clown imitation throw rug, the 8mm projector, the two tons of Silly Putty, and the autographed picture of Charo — are for his personal use,” replies Sanders. “These are all items which any President would use in the natural course of fulfilling his duties as leader of the free world.”

And so it might go, with the Huckabee droning on until all brain cells in a 300-foot radius spontaneously die, or run away with their tails between their legs. (I realize brain cells don’t have legs. Relax, it’s only a metaphor.)

“Reporters,” said the Huckabee,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
She’d stonewalled every one.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

DailyMotion’s New API – Bad For Bloggers!

Screencast shows how WordPress.com blogs are affected by new DailyMotion API and policies

June, 2018. If you’re a blogger, embedding videos in your posts can be a great way to communicate. But in testing, DailyMotion’s new API (sprung on end users without warning) is a disaster. Their new policy is to push clickbait videos onto blogs retroactively. This means blog posts which were once family-friendly are suddenly weaponized! As this screencast (uploaded to Vimeo) shows, a G-rated post about a children’s film was clickbaited by DailyMotion to push videos including “A shock in the nuts!!” (which shows two pigs copulating) and “NYC’s Nude Awakening – Get An Eyeful Of The Naked Tempest.” A post about self-giving, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama of Tibet now pushes “The History of Body Hair,” “Real Housewives of Potomac,” and other spammy nonsense.

Unlike with YouTube, where bloggers can use rel=0 in the shortcode to suppress so-called “related videos,” we found no way to stop the clickbait videos when using DailyMotion on our WordPress.com blog. Prior to June 2018, embedded DailyMotion videos were well-behaved. If you had a blog and a DailyMotion account, you could ensure that only the videos you chose would be displayed. Now you’re at their mercy.

Because this new policy is retroactive, videos you embedded years ago may now push offensive content. Check your old posts! If your readers are being served clickbait by DailyMotion, you may want to consider moving video content to a host which respects users’ choices and doesn’t violate their trust.

WordPress.com might help with a solution by tweaking their implementation of the DailyMotion API so bloggers can use something like rel=0 in the shortcode. As this screenshot shows, WordPress.com’s own support pages aren’t immune from DailyMotion’s new, spammy policy:

DailyMotion now spams blogs (including WordPress.com support pages) with clickbait videos

Please spread the word and complain to Vivendi (which owns 90% of DailyMotion) about this “shocking” new policy. We hear a lot about normalization these days. But when companies do bad things that affect us as bloggers, we should make our voices heard. Vivendi’s contact page is here:

https://www.vivendi.com/en/contacts-en/

My non-commercial blog is about ethics, spirituality and the arts. It’s also evolved to include politics, humour, and film studies. I often include short video clips which are carefully chosen to be meaningful and relevant:

https://ethicsandspirituality.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/picasso-and-the-circus-part-1/

I can only apologize to readers for the tasteless and irrelevant content now being pushed by DailyMotion. A solution will be found, but it may take time. It would be wonderful if WordPress.com could help out those affected by implementing a shortcode that would allow suppression of these spam videos. Would also be great if Automattic could contact DailyMotion or Vivendi at the corporate level to complain about the new policy.

According to promotional material found on DailyMotion’s Wikipedia page:

In 2017, Dailymotion revamped its user-facing platform as part of the platform’s most expansive update since its inception. The new interface includes an evolved user interface that prioritises premium content from verified publishers, shifting the focus from user-generated content to top-tier video content from trusted publishers.

This PR speak apparently camouflages a crass move to hit end users with massive amounts of clickbait! Or maybe the video of pigs humping constitutes “premium content from verified porkers.” What up, DailyMotion?

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

* * *

Only the King of Fools can pardon himself…

…for being a buffoon!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization. No cathedrals were harmed during the making of this post. No soup of any kind was thrown at any person.

* * *

Manchester: Hive of Industry

The Internet is all abuzz with this lighthearted tribute to Manchester, Mancunians, science fiction, and bees. But is the author simply winging it?

Last Tuesday was the one year anniversary of the tragic terrorist attack at a Manchester concert venue which killed twenty-two people and injured hundreds more. The day was marked by prayers, speeches, tears, floral tributes, and capped by a mass sing-along in Albert Square estimated at over ten thousand people:

I always think singing says more than sermons, but I did watch part of the services at Manchester Cathedral live via YouTube.

I had written something serious at the time of the event last year. But as laughter is also good medicine, I thought I’d post something funny about Manchester’s renewed identification with the bee as a symbol of– what, exactly?

An article in The Guardian suggests: ‘Peaceful but not to be messed with’ – how the bee came to symbolise Manchester. Apparently, Manchester’s cotton mills were once colloquially known as beehives.

The beehive in pop culture: a hairdo.

But neither industriousness nor spikiness seem the qualities which formed the iconography of bees after the 2017 terrorist attack. Rather, it’s as if the Mancunian hive mind suddenly hit on cheerfulness as a quality of bees. They don’t give in to despair or melancholia, don’t isolate themselves and pine. They stay together, fly right, and keep to their schedules. They carry on producing sweet honey.

A cute, cheerful bee courtesy the People’s History Museum in Manchester

Like Mancunians post May 2017, bees are also an endangered species:

And in a diverse city which can’t always agree on words, the bee may be a shared icon which transcends language, a visual code signifying oneness and positivity. In a city where people practice many religions (or none at all), the bee may have become a universal symbol for feelings that would otherwise get lost in translation.

But how does science fiction treat the bee, particularly bad or camp sci-fi? This pressing question, pondered by sages, is precisely what we’ll tackle in the clips below:

Before viewing our next sci-fi clip, let’s take a short musical break. After all, the lilting melodies of Rimsky-Korsakov might have a soothing effect on bees:

Bees! Are you soothed and sleepy yet? If not, perhaps the style was too vigorous. What we need is a more innocent, childlike approach:

Still not sleepy? Well, tonight’s Late Late Late Show happens to feature:

In response to such an eccentric artefact from the 70s, one can only wax philosophical and say: It be what it be…

Conclusion

Clearly, cheerfulness and industry are not the only qualities we can ascribe to bees. Their hive minds may strike some as a threat to human individuality, and their female superior culture can easily be twisted into a femme fatale meme.

Their industriousness might be given a murderous bent by the perennial mad beekeeper. And even the casual stray bee has proven a nuisance to Wimbledon competitors. But I think Mancunians have the right idea in staying busy and cheerful.

The Manchester Evening News reports that the Tree of Hope established after the Manchester bombing is now home to a colony of bees.

Bonus Clip
Potent Quote

“But I still don’t understand what motivated them.” –Captain Peters (Cliff Osmond) at the end of Invasion of the Bee Girls

MSTie Trivia

When riffing on The Deadly Bees, Crow T. Robot suggests these book titles:

  • How To Raise Bees To Kill People
  • Beekeeping for Lunatics
  • Apiaries for the Criminally Insane

Mike Nelson: Just for today I thought I’d communicate as the bees do.
Tom Servo: Bees communicate through movement and odour.
Mike Nelson: I’ll just be using movement.

MST3K’s Michael J. Nelson dressed as a bee, flanked by robots Crow and Tom Servo.

Souvenir Shop

This lovely bee girl ring as worn by Anitra Ford is available from manchestersouvenirs.co.uk. JK

Barnburner Encore
Riddle

What does this post have in common with the New Testament?
Answer: They’re both concerned with bee attitudes!

* * *

No More Targets!

What makes people hunt other people like animals, or hunt animals for that matter? Let’s explore a clip from the movie Targets, a UK demo against fox hunting, a great song from The Pentangle, and a rare reference to the Hunt Saboteurs in Doctor Who. But first this bunny hugger rabbits on a bit…

I feel like I’m in a grim version of Groundhog Day where every day I wake up to another school shooting, the latest in Santa Fe, Texas.

A talking head stressed that people in the community often feel like they’re to blame in some way, but said they’re absolutely not to blame — the only ones to blame are those who continue to oppose sensible gun laws. Though largely true, this is an oversimplification. We desperately need sensible gun laws, but the kind of society we have collectively created is also a factor in random acts of violence.

Our society is increasingly impersonal, based on material goods, mass entertainment, and high technology. Because we’ve not been able to agree on certain core values, we fail to teach them to the children in our schools. We need to help children foster peace, insight, compassion, and a sense that each human being has worth because he or she is created in the image of God. Or, if the latter idea about God has become too controversial, then let us at least teach them that there is something at the core of the human spirit which is noble, and that in spite of quarreling, in spite of suffering at each other’s hands, we must not harm human life or wantonly take the life of another.

I had to arrive at these ideas through some effort — certainly my parents and schoolteachers never explained them to me, though there were one or two teachers who created a caring space in which positive human values emerged naturally. And later on in life, as I began to consciously explore spirituality, I had a wonderful teacher in the person of Sri Chinmoy, who was a fount of all those good qualities with which we would hope to imbue our children.

But like many from my generation, I had already suffered greatly in adulthood before discovering these truths. It is much better if children receive good grounding in spiritual or (as a fail-safe) humanistic values before they have to confront the challenges of the adult world, which may include brutal competition to survive economically, as well as temptations to merely anesthetize oneself. There are many factors underlying the present opioid crisis, but certainly two factors are the sense of hopelessness which some people feel, and the view (reinforced by endless TV commercials for wonder drugs) that chemicals are the way to solve our problems, regardless of dreadful side effects (masked by pictures of puppies romping, children playing, kites flying, and lovers holding hands).

I suppose a third factor is the ultra-rationalist belief that we are merely collections of chemicals, that consciousness is a phenomenon which arises from chemical reactions, and that when our bodies die, our consciousness, our entire existence, dies with it. Some other time, I’ll discuss at length the “God delusion” and simulation theory as further hindrances to spirituality. The point is that these various views of human life as essentially meaningless estrange us from those truths which we need in order to value each other, to recognize the sacredness of human life, and to come to feel deeply that we would never want to kill a fellow human being.

I’m sometimes critical of our political leaders — the present batch in the White House being particularly corrupt and unenlightened. But I can also see things from their point of view. These are people who subscribe to materialism (perhaps having inherited it as their default view), and who feel driven to strive for money and fame — much more than any of us actually need. Lacking grounding in higher values, they are obsessed with money, sex, and power, and are eager to destroy each other in order to scramble to the top of the scrap heap.

Without making this another rant against Donald Trump, one thing I hear repeatedly from talking heads is that he’s never had to pay a price for doing dirt to people. His (possibly ill-gotten) riches have allowed him to pay off those he’s wronged (when forced to), like enrollees at Trump University. His campaign of hatred against the noble Barack Obama has not hurt Trump appreciably, nor has his womanizing. To the extent that the president is a role model for the nation, this particular role model confirms the worst materialist suspicions: that you get ahead in life by being a creep and throwing your weight around. Do it to the other guy before he does it to you! Truth is whatever the guy with the biggest megaphone, biggest bank account, and biggest army says it is! In this sense, it may be argued that materialism leads to authoritarianism.

But again, a critical issue is that there are seemingly no consequences for wrong action. The reason human justice is often harsh — amounting to years of torture in subhuman conditions — is that we do not collectively understand or believe in the law of karma. We view things from a narrow human time frame, and mistakenly assume that because someone like Donald Trump can act like the worst sort of blaggard and yet become president, therefore we should adopt a crude, materialist view of life. This is the lesson our children learn by osmosis from Trump’s ascent to power.

Spiritual insight tells us, however, that just because we do not see the punishment with our human eyes does not mean there is no punishment for wrong action. In this life we may act like the worst kind of corrupt king, but in the next life we may be born a blind beggar who has to fight with dogs for scraps of food.

When we throw out many spiritual insights acquired over the ages — including the insight that “As you sow, so shall you reap,” this has destructive ripple effects throughout society, including an increase in a particular type of mass shooter psychosis. Here, a person is seized by the notion that he will kill dozens of people and then kill himself, and that will be the end of it. He does not realize that for causing unimaginable suffering to dozens of people, he himself will have to undergo terrible suffering — if not in this world, then in the next.

So, to come back to my original point, there will always be a small percentage of insane shooters; and sensible gun laws can limit the amount of damage they inflict. But to the extent that we collectively subscribe to the view that human life is meaningless and valueless, and that there are no lasting consequences for wrong action; and where we construct a technocratic society devoid of human empathy; and where we fail to teach our children ideals of peace, love, and compassion, and fail to instill in them a proper understanding of the laws of the universe (which exist independently of our human codes and statutes), then we do bear some limited responsibility for mass shootings.

Of course, I don’t mean this in a fundamentalist “fire and brimstone” sense. I mean simply that we share in the societal environment we create. If we pollute that environment instead of tending to it with care, we may end up with freak weather conditions or mass shootings. We need to be more conscious of what we do, and not inflict harm through carelessness.

As a child, I had Grimm’s Fairy Tales, some of which were truly horrifying. I still remember the mean girl who “trod on a loaf.” She pulled the wings off flies, and then in hell the flies settled on her and could not fly away because she had pulled off all their wings.

There’s a lesson in environmentalism here. As human beings, we are collectively stewards of this beautiful planet which God created, or which arose spontaneously from His Soul. As president Kennedy remarked in a famous commencement address at American University in 1963:

Let us not be blind to our differences — but let us also direct attention to our common interests and to the means by which those differences can be resolved. And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.

Much of the speech in question dealt with peace. This brings me back to a theme I’ve oft sounded in response to mass shootings: Peace studies. It will help us to recognize (one might even say “admit”) that in an increasingly technocratic age, what we lack is compassion, insight, empathy, and inner peace. To recognize this is a kind of breakthrough; for only when we recognize the lack of something do we consciously seek it out, find methods to cultivate and attain it. To realize that we are presently lacking in certain core qualities which make us truly human is not to take a negative or defeatist approach. Rather, it is to take a positive, proactive approach to diagnosing our present malaise — of which opioid addiction, random shootings, and political corruption are only symptoms.

The qualities which we presently lack cannot be forced on society or on any individual; but as individuals we can become more conscious, and so help to foster a more conscious society in which hatred is less, injustice is less, and children grow up feeling loved and protected rather than like walking targets.

Segueing into the promised media clips: Targets was the name of a 1968 Peter Bogdanovich film dealing with the inexplicable (and impersonal) quality of mass shootings:

2018 is (ironically) the fifty year anniversary of Targets, but we are still dealing with the modern “flattening effect” or loss of empathy. The film is more complex than a one-dimensional study of a social phenomenon, however. It features multiple perspectives, and includes Boris Karloff as Byron Orlock, a retiring horror actor who is nonetheless a principled, old-school gentleman repulsed by violence in real life — but who tells a chilling story in this scene:

Learn more about Targets (which is partly based on real life mass shootings) from these two insightful YouTube reviews:


From hunting human beings we transition to hunting animals. The royal hunt plays a grand role in the history of England; and of the various political factions which exist in the UK, monarchists and Tories are perhaps most inclined to support a continuation of that tradition, while British Labour tends to champion animal rights.

Arguably the best British folk group from the late 60s/early 70s was The Pentangle, and their 1969 album Basket of Light included a remarkable flight of fancy called “Hunting Song”:

Much as I love it, the lyrics contain an element of cruelty:

As I did travel all on a journey
Over the wayside and under a dark moon
Hanging above a mountain

I spied a young man riding a fine horse
Chasing a white hart and all through the woodland
Head of a hunting party

And there followed after ten kings and queens
Laughing and joking, the white hart they’d seen
Bloodied running into the bushes…

Perhaps this cavalier, privileged attitude on the part of the hunting gentry is what spawned a counter-movement known as the Hunt Saboteurs (or “Sabs”), who first emerged in the winter of ’63 and continue on to this day, interfering in hunts by various physical means.

A rare (if fleeting) tribute to the Hunt Saboteurs occurs in the 1989 Doctor Who story “Survival” — the last story broadcast during the “classic” period. There, Ace (played by Sophie Aldred), visits her old stomping ground of Perivale in West London. Most of her friends have mysteriously disappeared, but one friend (Ange, played by Kate Eaton) is still around, looking waiflike with her collecting tin for the Sabs:

The story is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that it serves up an inversionist view of hunting, with catlike creatures on horseback hunting humans! (More here.)

doctor-who-survival-cheetah-person-cat-person-karra

Fast forward to 2017, when Prime Minister Theresa May threatened to end the UK’s ban on fox hunting, thereby spawning some lovely, creative, colourful, and humourous demos by animal rights activists:

While it’s always risky to characterize or stereotype entire movements, I think many animal rights activists are motivated by a sense of compassion and caring, and an insight that we are all fellow creatures on this planet. We should treat each other well and not hunt each other. In short: No more targets!

I don’t mean to be simplistic. With slogans like “Save a fox, hunt a Tory,” protesters are obviously embracing an element of class warfare. And as with all movements, animal rights can devolve into fanaticism or the assumption that “We are absolute good, you are absolute evil.” At one time, culling the fox population through hunts perhaps made more sense than it does today.

Earlier I mentioned TV commercials we have in the US made by drug manufacturers, where a long list of scary side effects is recited while viewers are shown pictures of puppies, children, kites flying, and lovers holding hands — certainly no pictures of the actual health catastrophes being enumerated! In other words, propaganda.

Likewise, the notoriously anti-liberal Daily Mail ran a pro fox-hunting spread with seemingly dozens of high definition colour photos. Lots of puppy dogs licking children’s faces, pretty ladies and handsome gentlemen in full riding regalia (including UKIP’s Nigel Farage), but not a single dead fox. Just sayin’…

Apart from all the politics, I must say I find it easier to identify with the beautiful people who turned out for the anti fox-hunting demo — though I suspect that somewhere among them might have been Edina Monsoon wearing one of her more eccentric outfits.

An alternative to harming living creatures is the mock fox hunt pictured here:

This first person account titled “Adventures in Mock Fox Hunting!” is less visual, but more informative.

Not to digress, but our curious commercial culture is such that generic nouns are frequently appropriated by companies for their own ends. In searching Google for “mock fox,” I had to wade through a number of commercial listings before getting to “the real animal.” FOR FOX SAKE!!!

And to really not digress, we could move from mock foxes to mock turtles, like the one Alice encountered in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This in turn inspired a song by the Bruford band called “Fainting in Coils:

As a youthful maniac in search of ultimate guitar chops, I was led not only to Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, but also to the slightly-less-well-known Alan Holdsworth, who did some of his best work with Bill Bruford’s group. (Their styles are somewhat opposite: McLaughlin tends to pick every note (like Django Reinhardt), while Holdsworth (who also plays violin) makes extensive use of legato technique.) But there’s no way I’m going to get from there back to my original topic, so no point even trying. Heavens to Murgatroyd! (Exit, stage left.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Potent Quote

“Not a very efficient way to hunt, is it? All that noise and pantomime just to slaughter one little animal.” — Doctor Who (Sylvester McCoy) from “Survival”

Bonus Clips



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Top 10 Ways to Avoid Watching the Royal Wedding

Warning: Contains herring

I know you don’t want to watch the Royal Wedding. But you might be tempted, cajoled or bullied into it. You need excuses. I be providing…

1. Spend the day in quiet contemplation of your navel (unless your navel comes equipped with a 24-hour news channel).

2. Move to Windsor, and hope that (as with other sporting events) the Royal Wedding is subject to local blackout.

3. Arrange a different type of blackout by hanging out with your local wino, making a detailed examination of his Thunderbird collection.

4. Hijack a plane to Lithuania, and spend the day touring local facilities:

(Lithuania! White, smiling, and composed in 7/4 time. No speed limits on bicycles, and 25 litas buys you a loft the size of Pittsburgh. Pizza with assorted prewar car parts is the local delicacy.)

5. Smother yourself in cream sauce and pretend to be a herring!

(Hiding in the jar ensures that no one can find you and spritz you with Royal Wedding pics.)

Ways 5 to 10

To be filled in by reader. Be creative, but non-violent! Anything excessively kinky will be forwarded to the proper authorities.

This post brought to you by Invest Lithuania, coming soon to a pup tent near you. Mr. Hiatus Lemon-Elderflower, fund advisor.

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Kim Jong-un Funny #1

Prepping hard for summit

According to reports emerging from the hermit kingdom, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is hard at work preparing for his June summit with President Trump. Just as we in the West find it difficult to comprehend the politics and culture of a land so foreign, our Eastern counterparts evidently have a reciprocal problem. It’s hard for even Americans to make sense of our present government; but with the aid of a jerry-built gizmo, the North Korean leader hopes to become inured to its subtleties.

The Kim Jong-un Funnies – Collect them all!

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Will The Real Mr. Magoo Please Stand Up?

Mr. Magoo, the animation world’s tribute to blind capitalism

The president’s spinners are (metaphorically) exercising their diaphragms. As a counterpoint, let’s take a mystery tour through film, TV and literature, sampling everything from Rocky and Bullwinkle to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”

According to Washington scuttlebutt, Donald Trump has a pet name for Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Mr. Magoo. But implicit in Rudy Giuliani’s recent statements to the press is the claim that Trump paid attorney Michael D. Cohen approximately $460,000 blindly, without knowing the reason. This rather absurd claim is being made by Trump loyalists in an effort to thread the needle. Trump supposedly knew enough about the things Cohen was “fixing” to pay him $460,000, yet had no specific knowledge of the Stormy Daniels payment.

If Sarah Sanders has lost all credibility as press secretary, perhaps she could be retrained to function as a seeing eye dog — that is, if Trump is really blind and not just faking. No slush fund would be needed to meet with her expenses. An occasional crumb of truth should square things with The Sarah, if not too much of a shock to her system.

On the other hand, when it comes to spinning tales about Trump’s dalliances, Kellyanne Conway may deserve the nod as top service dog. Capping a week of not-to-be-believed moments, Conway appeared on State of the Union last Sunday, claiming that when Trump stated point blank aboard Air Force One on April 5 that he had no knowledge of the payment to Stormy Daniels, he was referring to his knowledge back in 2016, not his present day knowledge. Jake Tapper soldiered on with grim determination:

Conway’s phrase “democratization of information” (referring specifically to the president’s tweets) is a novel way of saying “oppression of the masses through short, targeted nuggets of propaganda aimed at a fifth grade reading level.”

Her implication that the end justifies the means, and that a 3.9% unemployment rate excuses Trump for being a walking embarrassment in most respects, is infuriating to people who know that the present downward trend in unemployment began during the Obama era, and that in addition to (ideally) forming sound policies, a president must also be truthful and well-spoken.

It pains me to think that if you manage to (temporarily) stuff an extra $10 a week in the pocket of the average worker, he or she might not care about the stench of corruption wafting from this White House. Is that what America has come to? Maybe it’s time sell off the Statue of Liberty, or turn it into a Trump-style combination casino and knocking shop.

At one point in the interview, Conway mistakenly cites T. S. Eliot, giving me an excuse to chime in:

As we measure out our lives with coffee spoons,
Do we dare to say impeach?

She also references “the sheer volume and velocity” of what Trump puts out in “just one breakneck week.” I shudder to think, volume and velocity of what? I’ll wager he ensures full employment for that little mustachioed man who cleans up after the parade:

Yes friends, a parade of corruption the volume and velocity of Trump’s will require a huge (or bigly) cleanup effort — and not everything left sitting in piles on the street will be rose petals.

I’ve remarked in the past that this administration has bad energy and attracts sharklike folk who lie shamefacedly. What more can one say? I’m reminded of an offhand comment by Chris Matthews that Nixon had a sense of shame which Trump lacks. While Nixon agreed to resign in the end, Trump may have to be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House, surrounded by flunkies claiming that he hasn’t really been indicted or impeached. It’s all Fake News. “Ride a painted pony, let the spinning wheel spin!”

Our march of memes to describe a clumsily corrupt administration rolls on. We know things will end badly, but how many light bulbs will get broken at the end of the day? In this regard, it’s well to remember that in the annals of the unsighted, before Mr. Magoo there was Mr. Muckle:

And lesser-known than either is the “help me” guy from Rocket Attack U.S.A.:

Now if that isn’t an apt meme for the Trump administration, I don’t know what is! Except possibly “Hodge Podge Lodge,” a locale found in the original Mr. Magoo cartoon from 1949:

One imagines the main dish served at Hodge Podge Lodge is word salad — a concoction Trump’s PR flacks routinely fling chimplike at reporters, as does Trump himself. In “100 Days of Gibberish,” Guardian contributor Lindy West quotes this passage from an April 2017 AP interview with The Donald:

Well he said, you’ll be the greatest president in the history of, but you know what, I’ll take that also, but that you could be. But he said, will be the greatest president but I would also accept the other. In other words, if you do your job, but I accept that. Then I watched him interviewed and it was like he never even was here. It’s incredible. I watched him interviewed a week later and it’s like he was never in my office. And you can even say that.

— Donald Trump (full transcript here)

West describes Trump’s rhetorical style as “untethered from both meaning and reality.” Imagine trying to translate him into French or Japanese! Quoted in the Japan Times, Chikako Tsuruta says: “He is so overconfident and yet so logically unconvincing that my interpreter friends and I often joke that if we translated his words as they are, we would end up making ourselves sound stupid.”

The Japanese prefer polite speech, so translating Trump’s off-color remarks laced with epithets attacking his enemies points to “a long-standing dilemma dogging the profession — whether to sanitize the words of a controversial speaker.” Still, if you eliminated everything that’s crude, illogical, or untethered from reality, you’d be left performing John Cage’s famous 4’33” of silence:

Between Trump and the chattering class responding to him, silence is needed now more than ever — that and peaceful morning meditation music.

Other than flinging word salad, distracting attention is another technique favoured by Trump flacks: Don’t look at Russian collusion, look over here at this banjo-playing bear!

Getting the public gradually accustomed to shocking news also seems to be a thing. It’s no secret that the endless scandals plaguing this administration can lead to outrage fatigue. Some suggest that this is being cynically milked. Take Rudy Giuliani’s series of inane TV appearances, such as his recent interview with George Stephanopoulos:

Like Conway, little by little Giuliani is trying to normalize the phenomenon of Trump having a slush fund to pay off porn stars. Of course that’s what all celebrities and “people of worth” do. And taking the Fifth? Well natch the president wouldn’t want to answer questions from a special counsel engaged in a WITCH HUNT!!! Trump taking the Fifth is as American as motherhood and apple pie.

Watching the interview and harkening back to the Japanese issue of genteel speech, I wonder: At what point does “the president’s top attorney” become “a slippery bastard who can’t be nailed down on even the simplest of facts”? (Gomenasai.)

As Stephen Colbert points out, a recent Trump tweet included the phrase “There is no O…”

For those familiar with James Thurber’s brilliant book The Wonderful O, this sounds an ominous gong of totalitarianism. For as Thurber noted, if the letter “O” were outlawed, we should have to throw out everything from cellos and mandolins to calico and clocks — even the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act so prized by pork-lovers in Congress — which itself would have to be outlawed, except that we should need a different word, since even the word “outlawed” would be outlawed, along with Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump.

Come to think of it, I could probably give up calico and clocks in exchange for losing Stormy and Donald. But playing the mandolin… Ah, now that would be a true sacrifice.

The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau (1897)

Sidebar: Break it to me gently

The 90s TV show Northern Exposure was a treasure trove of practical philosophical wisdom, including tips on breaking bad news gently. It was set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska, where events took on an air of magical realism, such as a man fusing with a satellite which re-enters earth’s atmosphere piping hot.

The unfortunate victim is Rick (Maggie O’Connell’s boyfiend), and it falls to Dr. Joel Fleischman to break the news. Feeling awkward and tongue-tied, he resorts to telling a joke:

Joel (uncomfortable): Hi Maggie, how are things?

Maggie: Rick didn’t come home last night, okay? If he wants to behave like a child, then let him! I mean, if I have to be the bad guy, okay! But I am not going to have another death on my hands! I mean, alright, I admit it, I do — I’m sensitive. I’ve lost four boyfriends. Four! Do you know how that feels? And of course I ask myself, is that me? Is it something I do? What is it, Fleischman? You want to tell me something, I can tell by your face.

Joel (uneasy): Yes. Yes… I do. I want to tell you something. A joke!

Maggie: A joke?

Joel: Yeah! You see, this guy goes on a trip and he leaves his cat with his friend. Well, he calls his friend and asks how the cat is. His friend says, “The cat is dead.” The guy says, “Geez! God! Couldn’t you break the news to me a little more gently? You know, lead into it: Your cat crawled up on the roof, there was a loose tile and it took a little fall… like that?” Next month, the guy goes on another trip, calls his friend, and asks how his mom is. The guy says, “Well, she crawled up on the roof and there was a loose tile…”

Maggie (laughs): Not bad!

Joel (leans forward earnestly): Rick crawled up on the roof…

Taking their cue from this vignette, spinners for the president shouldn’t immediately let fly the news that Trump and Cohen conspired to establish a secret slush fund for paying off porn stars. Let them begin with a more genteel admission. Not “The cat crawled up on the roof,” but rather “Stormy Daniels went down on…” Oh, never mind!

(You see, you made it to the end, and there really was a Stormy Daniels joke.)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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