joe-kracht-and-lavanya-muller-1

Joe Kracht and Lavanya Muller (parody)


“She entered into doubt-parlor

Only to be tattooed by ignorance-ink.

He learned the jiu-jitsu of betrayal
Studying at university of no ethics.”

For further discussion, see “Paint It Black!”

(If the embedded video doesn’t play, watch on DailyMotion here.)

Explaining The Aphorisms

Sometimes aphorisms are like poetry — to get the full meaning we need to examine the words carefully in all their fine shades.

What does it mean to enter into “doubt-parlor”? Suppose you are a spiritual seeker, a person of faith. You have some friends who used to be spiritual seekers, but now their main focus is on doubt and speaking ill. You feel, “Oh, my faith is secure so of course I can mix freely with them and I will not suffer.” But doubt is like poison in the spiritual life. Just because you know it’s poison doesn’t mean you can drink it and not suffer.

You may also think, “Just because I’m not attacking anyone, therefore they won’t attack me.” But imagine you put your hand inside a snake’s cage. You may do so innocently, harmlessly, but still the nature of this snake is to bite.

In the same way, former spiritual seekers who now specialize in doubt instinctively attack the faith of any person who enters their environs. They feel your faith is an impediment to joining their social clique and want to make you faithless like them. So once you agree to go where they congregate, whether it’s a physical location or a place on the Internet, half the battle is already lost.

This battle may not take place openly, but may be more like a clandestine encounter with a pickpocket. The pickpocket embraces you warmly, but a few hours later you discover he has stolen all your money!

Never think that ignorance is not a strong force. Even one person’s ignorance may overpower your faith. How much more easily you can be overpowered when you are the only person of faith in a place where everyone else has become a black doubter. It is like one person fighting against a whole gang. (This is assuming you even bother to put up a fight. Some people go to a bad place because they secretly want to become bad people.)

So “doubt-parlor” is a place where doubters meet and congregate and advance their clever arguments. (“Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”) Now, what is “ignorance-ink”? If you have a cloth that is pure white, then if you get ink on it, it can never be made the same again. Still, there are different types of ink. Sometimes children are given finger paints which are water-soluble and wash off easily.

Ignorance is like ink because it spoils the pure-white tablet of faith so that it is smudged or dirty. Now what does it mean to be tattooed by ignorance-ink? The ink used in tattooing is extremely permanent and is etched into the skin. This comedy skit suggests that people get tattoos when they’re drunk and are then stuck with the results, unless they want to opt for laser surgery:

So to be tattooed by ignorance-ink means that ignorance puts its permanent mark on you and calls you its own, so that you are no longer fit for a spiritual purpose.

To take the meaning of the aphorism as a whole: You are invited to join in the festivities at a place where doubters congregate. You think, “Alright, I will go but I will maintain my faith.” However, once you enter into their parlor, then like others you become drunk with doubt and are tattooed by ignorance so that you cannot get rid of it. The stain is permanent, or you do not possess the means to wash it out. Will a simple spot remover remove a tattoo? No, because the ink is in too deep. That is the favor some so-called friends are doing you.

To come to the second aphorism, what is the connection between “jiu-jitsu” and “betrayal”? Here, jiu-jitsu signifies any type of tricky move or maneuver which must be learned. The heart and soul by their nature want to remain true, but the tricky mind and vital want to find a way to throw off the spiritual commitment and live a life based on ego, desire and ambition.

It is rare for a person of faith who loses their faith to simply admit “I have fallen. I have lost what I had previously attained.” First comes disobedience, then self-justification, then a guilty conscience comes. Finally, in order to escape their own guilty conscience the person will throw all the blame on their former spiritual teacher or path. For some people this develops into a kind of complex, so that even though they left their spiritual teacher 10, 20, even 35 years ago, they are still obsessed with trying to discredit him, in order to assuage their deep-down guilty conscience.

Some people even openly admit to this without truly understanding it. They say, “Oh, I have found a wonderful new way of getting rid of guilt. I joined a support group for former spiritual seekers where we spend most days and nights publicly attacking our old teacher. Hate is a wonderful antidote to guilt.”

The only problem is that this is actually a symptom of the complex. It does not truly get rid of guilt, but only masks it temporarily. Those suffering from this complex tend to need bigger and bigger fixes of hate to mask their guilt, so they end up vilifying their former teacher to a mind-boggling extent, making up the wildest stories in order to keep the hate jag going. There is no true healing in this approach because it’s all based on lies and self-justification, not honest insight.

So “the jiu-jitsu of betrayal” is any tricky method someone learns as a way to throw off their soul’s deep spiritual commitment and betray the teacher who first gave them illumination, out of sheer compassion.

Modern science is ethically neutral. It is often not concerned with net effects on people, but only whether something is do-able. If making a bomb, can they make a bigger bomb? If making a biological weapon, can they produce a more deadly strain? That is how some destructive people think. Doubt is usually “slow poison,” but some people actually become connoisseurs of doubt. They try to refine it and make it more potent, more concentrated. Modern doubters have produced more virulent strains of doubt which are quick-acting.

When people develop an ugly and impure mind or vital, they can conjure up an ugly picture of things — things which are inherently beautiful in themselves. The impure imagination becomes a kind of demonic laboratory from which new, more virulent strains of doubt are culled. One should protect one’s aspiration by not visiting places where such people congregate — whether in real life, or on the Internet.

Some psychologists are dead set against the spiritual life, so they’ve developed powerful techniques or psyops for combating faith — comprehensive, systematized methods of injecting doubt and pressuring seekers to abandon their faith. This is known as deprogramming or exit counseling, but like tattooing or ear-piercing it’s practiced by amateurs as well as professionals. (See “Sock Puppet Theatre – A Tribute to Samuel Bradshaw.”)

Some anti-cult groups morph or change their tactics over time, renaming themselves and eventually coming to use a soft-sell rather than hard-sell approach. See Part 2 and Part 3 of my series on “The ACLU and Religious Freedom,” as well as “Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy.” People don’t know the history of these groups and don’t recognize the techniques being used to rob them of their faith — professional deprogramming techniques like employing apostates to circulate false “testimonials” vilifying the spiritual teacher or path.

If you look carefully, you’ll see that such euphemistically named “support groups” often have hard-core members who’ve undergone formal deprogramming, exit counseling, or anti-cult therapy, e.g. Samuel Bradshaw, Anne Carlton, et al. These people are then encouraged to practice the same techniques on others, sometimes in an informal setting where they conceal or deny their affiliation with anti-cult groups.

How does the soft-sell differ from the hard-sell? The hard-sell is all poison, poison, poison. The soft-sell is: “People are not drinking the poison because it is too bitter. Let us set up a fake spiritual site, something to do with yoga, with spiritual quotes and artwork. Then, once we sucker people in, let us give them just enough poison to kill them. Initially they won’t know that we are all apostates, so they will stupidly drink the poison if we sweeten it a little.”

sri-chinmoy-yoga

Look to the methods, not the labels. Some sites may put up a spiritual veneer, but are actually ex-members groups where the main thrust is to get people to read highly negative material, and respond by abandoning their faith.

Like wife-beaters, some people are deeply troubled in their nature. They may claim they love their former spiritual master, but they torture him regularly. Stop the torture and I will believe that you love him. Otherwise, I will say you are a sick individual.

Each person is different. It may happen that a spiritual master advises a student: “Stay close to the spiritual community. Don’t go for a law degree or it will totally ruin your spiritual life.” The student disobeys, and lo and behold! Now that he’s a lawyer, instead of showing devotion to the spiritual master, he only wants to subject the master (now long-dead) to mock show trials on the Internet! Such displays of vigilantism are worthy of disbarment. Still:

Joe Kracht Lawton Law Firm Parody 1

Joe Kracht Lawton Law Firm Parody 1

Continuing on with my analysis, what is “university of no ethics”? To learn a systematized method of doing something, you go to a school which teaches that very thing. Universities originally emerged from a monastic tradition in which faith and ethics played a most significant role. Gradually over centuries, a “great divorce” occurred between religion, science, and the humanities. Today, it’s possible to receive a university degree without knowing anything about spirituality or ethics. Some former spiritual seekers will even go to the length of getting a degree in psychology which they then use to attack spirituality. (Of course, spirituality and psychology can get along well together. Here I’m only referring to a fringe group of psychologists who actively oppose spiritual practice, just as there’s a fringe group of psychologists who participate in military torture.)

As I discuss in “Paint It Black!” apostates often trash-talk their former friends, colleagues and mentors in a shameful and two-faced manner. They may learn such behavior through participation in institutions which impart secular knowledge divorced from ethics and spirituality. They have been processed by a college or university, or by the military, or by a school which emphasizes physical conditioning and self-defense, but teaches next to nothing about loyalty or ethics. This conspicuous spiritual vacuum makes it easy for people to engage in wanton acts of betrayal. They may be experts in their limited fields, but in the field of life they are nowhere because they’ve sacrificed the core values which imbue life with spiritual meaning. This is what it means to learn “the jiu-jitsu of betrayal/ studying at university of no ethics.”

Such faithless persons of no ethics often end up coaching others in the ways of betrayal, helping them achieve the “full Judas position” — a position of utter treachery. Sadly, such coaches may fail to provide the requisite thirty pieces of silver, or the noose to hang oneself when conscience dawns.

Attorney Joe Kracht drilling a new deprogrammee

Attorney Joe Kracht drilling a new deprogrammee (artist’s conception)

Michael Howard

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

Items which may interest you:

Sarama — The Hound of Intuition
Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics

* * *

sri-chinmoy-paint-it-black-anim

Paint It Black!

The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy… and Mick Jagger? Plus other topics.

My Krishna is not black,
He is pure gold.
He Himself is woven
Into the universal Beauty, Light and Splendour.

He looks dark
Because I have spilled the ink
Of my mind on Him.
Otherwise, my Beloved is All-Light.

He created Light and Darkness,
He is within and without the Cosmos Vast.

With this knowledge,
I will have a new acquaintance
With the world at large.

— Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute, Aum Classics, 1998 (1972)

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors any more, I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by, dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a newborn baby, it just happens every day

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door I must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you
If I look hard enough into the setting sun
My love will laugh with me before the morning comes

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I want to see it painted, painted black
Black as night, black as coal
I want to see the sun blotted out from the sky
I want to see it painted, painted, painted, painted black, yeah

— Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, from Aftermath, Decca Records, 1966

The shared element in these two poems is not seeing things as they are, but according to one’s inner predilection. A thing is bright and golden, but we spill “the ink of our mind” on it, so subjectively it looks all black. Or a thing has bright colours like red and green, but we want to blot out those colours due to our depressed or fallen state.

In the physical universe, some things can be quantified precisely and objectively, but when it is a question of the spiritual meaning of life, this is something we always interpret subjectively. Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are merely reporting on the condition of their own minds. Brilliant thinkers, they nonetheless lack basic spiritual intelligence.

What is spiritual intelligence? This would be the subject for a whole other article. Simply put, spiritual intelligence is intelligence which is aware of the existence of God or of higher spiritual Truth. This higher awareness brings insight and understanding (or gnosis), so that we begin to see the universe as it truly is, not according to our limited mental constructs. Spiritual intelligence is intelligence which has received some illumination from higher light and wisdom, so that it no longer lives alone in a dark room, seeing only its own self-produced shadows. Spiritual intelligence is intelligence from which the “ink of the mind” has been dispelled in whole or in part, so that the universe may be seen in all its true, glowing colours.

There is, of course, the negative approach epitomized in modern times by the song “Nothing,” written by Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, and perhaps representing the path of the ascetic wanderer who finds meaning by denying everything. But this path is difficult to follow, and there is no guarantee that it leads to enlightenment. Indeed, having denied meaning in anything, the nihilist may simply stew in his own negativity, now desiring to paint everything black to match his own philosophy, his own self-produced experience of nothingness: “Monday, nothing / Tuesday, nothing / Wednesday and Thursday nothing / Friday, for a change / a little more nothing / Saturday once more nothing” (The Fugs song is actually based on an old Yiddish song about a steady diet of potatoes!)

There is a kind of nihilism which recognizes the relative meaninglessness of the things the world tries to persuade us to take with utter seriousness. But this nihilism is not a complete philosophy or path. In rejecting that which is (relatively speaking) meaningless, we also need to look to that absolute reality which gave birth to our limited world-reality. Here are two poems by Sri Chinmoy which help illustrate how these two concepts fit together:

1.
O bird of my heart,
Fly on, fly on.
Look not behind.
Whatever the world gives
Is meaningless, useless
And utterly false.

2.
O beautiful One, O blissful One,
Do enter into my heart’s cry,
Do enter into my thought-life,
Do enter into my purity-dawn,
Do enter into my sublimity-eve.
With new form’s light,
Do constantly enter into my heart.

I do not combine these two poems haphazardly. They are songs composed by Sri Chinmoy, often sung by him or performed on the flute, esraj and other instruments. He often performed these two songs together as a medley, or in the form 1-2-1, as if to underscore their connectedness:

Taken together, they point to a complete philosophy in which the meaninglessness of the world is balanced by a burgeoning awareness of the “blissful One” who exists beyond our limited world-reality, yet also within in it (though unseen).

In another poem, Sri Chinmoy contrasts “a dry, sterile, intellectual breeze” with “the weaving visions of the emerald Beyond.” Here’s the poem (which also spawned a Mahavishnu Orchestra album title), plus explication by Dr. Vidagdha Meredith Bennett, who wrote her doctoral thesis on the poetry of Sri Chinmoy:

Visions of the Emerald Beyond

No more am I the foolish customer
Of a dry, sterile, intellectual breeze.
I shall buy only
The weaving visions of the emerald Beyond.
My heart-tapestry
Shall capture the Himalayan Smiles
Of my Pilot Supreme.
In the burial of my sunken mind
Is the revival of my climbing heart.
In the burial of my deceased mind
Is the festival of my all-embracing life.

— Sri Chinmoy, from The Dance Of Life, Part 1, Agni Press, 1973

Dr. Bennett writes:

This poem mirrors the more traditional experience-into-cognition arrangement in which a fictive, personal situation is transformed into a general concept and we come to see it as an instance of a universal truth. In “Visions of the Emerald Beyond,” the poet begins in a confessional mode. He portrays his dissatisfaction with the life of the mind and asserts his unwillingness to remain any longer a “customer” of its barren harvest. We seem to savour something of T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” in the dryness and flatness of this picture, the “sterile, intellectual breeze” corresponding to their ineffectual voices:

“We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass…”

We recognise the same pervading numbness at the core of a purely mental existence. It is an option the poet no longer chooses:

“I shall buy only
The weaving visions of the emerald Beyond.”

This line explodes with colour, life, movement and depth — all that is in direct opposition to the preceding portrait. In contrast to the shifting and colourless “intellectual breeze,” Sri Chinmoy presents the rich enamelled colour of vision. Emerald. The incandescent green of creation itself, woven into wholeness by the heart, Sri Chinmoy’s preferred nexus of action. And in that fulness of heart, he hopes to win God’s “Smile” of satisfaction.

From this new recourse of action, the poet condenses a set of principles that are appended to the poem in the manner of a coda. In them he sets down the conditions upon which his new life of the heart shall be founded. They revolve around the “burial” of his mind which, he intimates, is already long since lifeless. From this burial shall rise the dancing, abundant life of the heart.

— Vidagdha Meredith Bennett, from Simplicity and Power: The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy 1971-1981

I plan to use this discussion of subjective perceptions of reality as a building block toward understanding other phenomena, such as apostasy. To preview the argument: The apostate can no longer see the spiritual reality, and therefore publicly professes that his/her past spiritual experiences were all false, or that he/she was “fooled” into believing in a spiritual reality which he/she now thoroughly rejects. This rejection of the spiritual may be accompanied by a foolish preoccupation with things extolled in pop culture, like romance and dating, tattoos, and ballroom dancing.😉

dating-tattoos-ballroom-dancingThe struggle between faith and doubt, between spirituality and secular materialism, is one of the enduring struggles of the last two centuries. People stumping for secular materialism often collate the so-called “testimonials” of apostates as if these prove that there is no God, and that spiritual claims are pure bunkum. Yet, such testimonials merely reflect the unillumined or benighted state of those writing them, those who have spilled “the ink of the mind” on what remains a vivid and true spiritual reality. Like Eliot’s hollow men, in the cosmic scheme of things such testimonial writers are thoroughly stuffed.

Nandita Pollisar on the ink of the mind

Just as there exist apostate testimonials attempting to undermine virtually every faith (even faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or “FSM”), some people also write testimonials reaffirming their faith. Nandita Polissar writes:

Safe – free from harm, injury or risk. “Safe” comes from the Latin word “salvus” meaning whole or healthy.

Sri Chinmoy’s path encompasses all of these meanings for women or men. It is an environment free of harm, harassment or risk. It is a whole and healthy environment.

I became a student of Sri Chinmoy over 30 years ago. Having had positive experiences with other spiritual paths (Catholicism, Judaism, Transcendental Meditation and Theravada Buddhism), my first reaction was that Sri Chinmoy did not “need” anything from me. He did not need me to add to his numbers of followers. He did not need my admiration or my flattery. He did not need my money. This impression has remained and has been reinforced in a million ways. Here was not an ego that required feeding in any way. I felt trust and faith — and to add the word used in your query: “safe.” I have never seen that trust, faith and safety compromised in any way by this pure, innocent and loving consciousness that I gratefully call my spiritual teacher. Nor have I ever seen it broken with others. The Sri Chinmoy Centre has been a uniquely safe place for me as a woman, for my husband and for my children.

I have seen others break faith with their own spirituality. I have seen others veer in other directions. I have seen others drift away. I have seen others “take a break” for a while and return. I have seen others find something that worked better for them. But, I have never seen Sri Chinmoy break trust with anyone whether they were his student or not. There is real spirituality in this world, and Sri Chinmoy is one of its representatives. Yes, people throw the “ink of their mind” on it, but that does not diminish it in any way.

As for the many ways that Sri Chinmoy has encouraged and “empowered” women, my sisters have replied much more eloquently. I am grateful for your query.

— Nandita Polissar from “Question For The Women” (discussion thread)

Hateful stereotypes of Indian gurus

When Swami Vivekananda first graced America’s shores in 1893, attending the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he received a warm welcome and was heralded in the press as a great orator and a genuine representative of a noble tradition. Yet, with the establishment of Vedanta societies in America and an increase in Indian immigration, there was soon a nativist backlash. In 1911, the Boston Herald published a particularly blistering attack on Indian yoga as something heathen, superstitious, and profane.

Over a hundred years later, as more and more Americans practice one form of yoga or another, the level of invective has died down. Yet, hateful stereotypes which originated at the turn of the twentieth century may still be recycled in the twenty-first. There are tabloid media which pander to ignorant views of Indian gurus in order to attract a low information audience, drawing them like flies to a road apple. (See this article discussing PIX11 News.)

Apostates are often a fertile source for such ignorant views, since they tend to turn every circle counter-clockwise in an effort to establish that they’re no longer minority religionists, but rather average citizens who now share the same prejudices as the worst of their fellows. By portraying their former faith group hatefully, apostates hope to prove their newfound loyalty to mainstream secular values and thus avoid being targeted themselves — something like victims of bullying who join with the bullies as a craven coping strategy, or in order to become popular.

Since the world has little sympathy for failed spiritual seekers, such folk often pretend to be victims who wandered into the wrong conference room by accident. Suddenly a big brainwashing machine came down on their heads, and they spent the next 20 years praying and meditating. It was all a big misunderstanding!😉

Due to extreme secularization in Western society, spiritual seekers are often said to have acquired a “spoiled identity.” Because they’re doing something different from the mainstream (perhaps less materialistic), they may be subject to shaming and harassment. In order to compensate, the apostate ratifies his/her affiliation with a new secular peer group through exaggerated criticism of the spiritual group left behind. This may take the form of a “confession” to friends, family, or an Internet audience that the speaker was once a “cult victim” who experienced horrible abuses, but has now seen the light of critical thinking and become a true believer in baseball, apple pie, and motherhood. This then symbolically purges the former “cult” member’s reputation in the secular world.

Such public purgative activities involving confessions or anti-cult testimonials are known collectively to scholars as rituals of denunciation. The accounts produced are not viewed as highly credible owing to the underlying pressures.

Among formally or informally constituted anti-cult groups, the approved method for performing a radical guru-ectomy is to go on the Internet and post a “testimonial” recanting one’s faith in the most dramatic of terms. But only a handful of (very foolish) former spiritual seekers engage in such cheap theatrics, which tend to be detrimental to one’s mental balance and personal integrity. As I discuss in “The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 2”:

When someone studies with a spiritual teacher, the teacher becomes an important part of her life. Even if she ends her studies, her former teacher will usually be someone with whom she needs to live on comfortable terms. A healthy narrative truth emerging in therapy is one which doesn’t attempt to demonize the former teacher or alienate the former student. When therapists violate these principles, this may be seen as abusive, just as inducing Parental Alienation Syndrome is considered a form of parental abuse.

One of the universally recognized symptoms of PAS is lack of ambivalence. Quite simply, the parent from whom the child has been alienated is seen as completely bad and evil. Lack of ambivalence is unnatural behaviour in human beings. Rarely can someone of basic intelligence, maturity and emotional stability support the notion that one person is completely bad.

Yet, when people receive anti-cult counseling or participate in ex-cult support groups, they tend to undergo a pathological inversion of views. They are systematically alienated from their former spiritual teacher, to the point where they depict him/her as thoroughly bad and inhumanly evil. This may be described as Guru Alienation Syndrome, or GAS.

The reason such systematic alienation should be considered a form of abuse is that it effectively robs the former student of all the benefits of having a spiritual teacher, including the ability to interact positively with that teacher, and to enjoy loving memories of that teacher. Unambivalent hatred of the spiritual teacher doesn’t just harm the hated teacher, but also the former student.

While not everyone seeks out a spiritual teacher, for those who do — and who have studied for 5, 10 or 20 years with that teacher — there is an existing relationship which typically has many positive aspects and serves an important purpose in the student’s life. The loss of that relationship is a grievous loss. A wise and compassionate therapist, counselor, or friend will therefore not attempt to destroy that relationship by circulating hate material vilifying the teacher.

In simple spiritual terms, if the human in you comes to hate that which your soul loves, then naturally you will feel at war with yourself and everything will seem to go wrong. Deep down you may feel guilty, but in order to mask that guilt you may demonize the person towards whom you feel guilty, leading to a kind of complex. This is the apostate version of “paint it black.”

An unexpected drawback for those who fall into the Judas trap is this: The world may claim that it will love you if only you will recant your faith. But actually, the people most worth knowing (and the people who might want to hire you or enter into a relationship with you) tend to value loyalty, constancy, and consistency. So going on the Internet and trash-talking your former friends and colleagues actually results in your identity being twice spoiled: You were once disliked because you were a spiritual seeker. You are now disliked because you’re a two-faced sh-t. Better to be disliked for a noble reason than a shameful one.

Joe Kracht, the Lawton law firm's "Burning Man"

Attorney Joe Kracht burning his spiritual name to try and prove how “normal” he’s become. Paradoxically, it proves just the opposite. Normal people don’t go on the Internet and burn spiritual icons. Something troubling is happening here…

To summarize: In an acquisitive society obsessed with production, consumption and procreation, spiritual intelligence is not valued, and indeed may be ridiculed or disdained. But spiritual intelligence will sustain us in this life, the next life, and future lives. Spiritual intelligence tells us that to be true is more important than to be popular, and that for a person of refined sensibilities, what is normal is to lead a spiritual life filled with meaning, not a statistically average life followed by a statistically average death.

Spiritual intelligence tells us that life does not end with our earthly sojourn. In the same family, it may happen that the mother is very spiritual but the daughter is less so. As long as the mother stays on earth, the daughter feels that there are some things she simply will not do because it would hurt and disgrace her mother deeply. But once her mother dies, then the daughter feels, “Out of sight, out of mind. Now I can act in any way I want!” But spiritual intelligence tells us that the mother is still looking down from Heaven, trying to inspire and guide her daughter. If the daughter acts badly, the mother will suffer.

Sri Chinmoy’s education

One apostate has erroneously referred to Sri Chinmoy as a “self-educated man from a third-world country.” In truth, Sri Chinmoy was educated at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram School in Pondicherry, where he studied Bengali literature, English literature, philosophy, and was also a champion sprinter. Pondicherry is a cosmopolitan city which was still a French colony for the first eleven years that Sri Chinmoy resided there and retains its international flavour to this day.

Sri Chinmoy was extremely fluent in English, having read, written, spoken, and studied that language since his ashram days (1943-1964). In his mid-twenties, he became secretary to noted savant Nolini Kanta Gupta, and translated many of the latter’s articles from Bengali to English, as well as publishing articles of his own. Sri Chinmoy’s longest play, The Descent of the Blue, recounts important incidents in the life of Sri Aurobindo, and was first published serially in Mother India: A Monthly Review of Culture between 1958 and 1962. According to Anurag Banerjee of the Overman Foundation, “The editor, K.D. Sethna, wrote in a review: ‘Chinmoy succeeds time and again in transmuting his facts into revealing truths with the help of an alert imagination.'”

After coming to America in 1964, Sri Chinmoy soon embarked upon a vigorous schedule of writing, teaching, and lecturing. His 1969 Harvard lecture on “The Vedanta Philosophy” was later published by the Philosophical Society of England in its journal, The Philosopher, Vol. 21.

His poems won awards in American literary journals, and in 1995 he received the University of Washington’s World Peace Literature Award. In 2001 he was invited to participate in “Dialogue Through Poetry,” a consortium of poets, writers, organizers, and UN officials committed to building a culture of peace through poetry, culminating in a reading at UN headquarters which also featured Joyce Carol Oates and James Ragan. The libraries of Harvard Divinity School and Brown University house collections of Sri Chinmoy’s early writings, as does the Graduate Theological Union Library/Media Center of the Pacific School of Religion.

Consistent with the concept of spiritual intelligence, Sri Chinmoy’s works embody not just knowledge, but insight. See, for example, this talk on “Appreciation of Emily Dickinson” which he gave at the United Nations in December 1975, marking the 145th anniversary of Miss Dickinson’s birth.

So where we see a bored, neurotic housewife (flanked by male sycophants) go on the Internet and claim that Sri Chinmoy was a “self-educated man from a third-world country,” we need to both recognize the dog whistle (which appeals to shopworn stereotypes), and realize that the speaker is talking out her backside.

Lavanya Muller, whose present-day ignorance is dwarfed only by that of Joe Kracht

An amusing incident from the 1970s relays the depth of Sri Chinmoy’s knowledge and wit, and the surprise shown by some American disciples at his studied familiarity with Western literature. After reading the following story by Sri Chinmoy published in 1974, one Western disciple remarked: “How does Guru know about Shylock and Portia?”

The telephone blesses the Master

There was once a very great spiritual Master who had many disciples of all ages. Unfortunately, all of the disciples had problems, and the Master used to spend a lot of time talking on the telephone. This Master did not sleep very much. In the small hours of the morning, when his disciples were all home in bed, he used to meditate on them and on the Earth consciousness.

At midnight one night, the Master’s telephone rang. He picked up the phone and heard an elderly lady saying, “Mary, Mary, how many times did I tell you not to marry that guy?” Then she hung up.

The Master knew it was a wrong number, but he felt sorry that this woman’s daughter had made a bad marriage. So the spiritual Master prayed, “O Mother of the Saviour, do take care of Your namesake and protect Your sacred name.”

At three o’clock that morning the Master’s telephone rang again. This time the caller was a middle-aged man. “Why don’t you die at this very moment so that I can have my children back?” he shouted at the Master. “Why don’t you have children of your own and play with them? Why do you have to play with my children?” Then he hung up.

The Master used his occult power to find out who the man was, and the next day he told the man’s children to go back to their father.

The children said to the Master, “Master, we shall go back to our parents, although we have done nothing wrong to you. It is our parents who have insulted you. But since you have asked us to go back to them, we shall go. And we shall forgive your injustice. But we shall not forget the love and compassion which you have shown us on so many occasions.”

That night, the Master got a phone call at four o’clock. A young girl said to him, “Did God tell you that you have realised Him, or is it your own imagination that says so?”

The Master said to the girl, “God didn’t tell me of His own accord, but I forced Him to say that I have realised Him and that it is not my imagination. It is my declaration through God’s lips that I have realised God.”

At five o’clock in the morning the telephone rang again. A young man’s voice said, “Why do you think of yourself as God? What is wrong with you?”

The Master used his occult power and saw that the youth was a hippie and a drug addict. Then he answered, “Nothing is wrong with me. I don’t consider myself God; I consider myself God’s lion and God’s dog. When I stand before a person like you, I feel that I am God’s roaring lion. When I stand in front of my devoted disciples, I feel that I am God’s faithful dog.”

At six o’clock the Master got another call. This time it was from a young, arrogant disciple of his, who said to the Master, “What right have you to talk about marriage? My wife and I got married long before we came to your path. You have no right to break up a happy marriage.”

The Master replied, “True, I have no right to break up a happy marriage, but I have every right to break up your loveless, heartless, baleful and baneful marriage. For that is what your souls want, and that is what God wants.” Then he hung up on the disciple.

The telephone disturbed him again at seven o’clock. A young girl disciple said to him, “Master, please do me a favour. I really want to marry Roger. I desperately need him. Please tell him to marry me.”

The Master said, “Have you asked Roger whether he needs you desperately, as well?”

“I asked him,” the young girl replied, “but he said that the one he needs desperately is you, and not me. What am I going to do?”

“My child, please be just,” the Master said. “Since he needs me desperately, and I also need him, please allow me to have him. Since we want each other, we deserve to get each other. And if you want to please him, then try to please me. For that will please him most.”

At eight o’clock the telephone rang again. An elderly lady said to the Master, “How dare you ask my daughter to marry a Jew! We are all staunch Catholics. You are simply throwing my daughter to the dogs! It is like asking me to give a pound of flesh right from my chest! You are the Shylock of the twentieth century!”

The Master replied, “True, I am the Shylock of the twentieth century, but where is the Portia of the twentieth century to save you?”

At nine o’clock the Master got another call. An elderly man said, “You unthinkable, incredible impostor! How dare you ask my son to marry a Christian girl? I tell you, even your Jesus Christ would not approve of this match. For my sake, for Christ’s sake, stop this marriage! If you don’t, you will definitely go to hell!”

The Master said, “I am so happy to hear that you are ready to send me to hell. I wish to go there immediately, for the place I am living in now is infinitely worse than hell!”

At ten o’clock the telephone rang again. This time the Master did not answer it. When it stopped ringing, he immediately called the telephone company and asked them to remove the telephone from his house.

— Sri Chinmoy, from The Ascent and the Descent of the Disciples, Agni Press, 1974

Like the characters in Sri Chinmoy’s story, people who post apostate testimonials on the Internet may strike us as ignorant, petty, and self-obsessed — unable to see beyond their own narrow interests. Those who abandoned their spiritual practice 15 or 20 years ago can easily descend into a condition of knownothingness, while those like Vidagdha Meredith Bennett who devote their lives to spiritual study continue to cultivate spiritual intelligence and are able to explicate spiritual texts.

As I discuss in “Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy,” it’s important to ride the ups and downs of life and not allow your nature to turn hostile toward the spiritual teacher and spiritual path. Otherwise, you can quickly lose or negate all the good karma you had built up through spiritual effort. Your life can easily degenerate into something mean and small.

In your fallen state, you may want to see everything painted “black as night, black as coal,” and “want to see the sun blotted out from the sky.” But these things will never happen. Only, like the blind man you will not be able to enjoy the light and colours which are all around you, which others are enjoying due to their soulful acceptance of the spiritual reality.

sri-chinmoy-world-harmony-6In the inevitable movement of society toward higher consciousness, apostate testimonials which deny the spiritual reality are like mere footnotes to God’s voluminous autobiography, which He writes on the tablet of human history. See also You by Sri Chinmoy, a series of guided meditations which uncover the hidden relationship between the individual soul and the Universal Soul.

The truth of life is not black, but golden. With this knowledge, we can have a new acquaintance with the world at large. By appreciating the spiritual reality, we join in the festival of an all-embracing life. We enjoy the rich enamelled colour of vision, the dancing abundant life of the heart.

sri-chinmoy-yogaMichael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization. Texts/media are quoted for purposes of education and criticism in keeping with principles of fair use.


Book Covers

Here are the book covers for this post, mostly from SriChinmoyLibrary.com:

sri-chinmoy-my-flute-1

sri-chinmoy-supreme-teach-me-how-to-cry

sri-chinmoy-supreme-teach-me-how-to-surrender

sri-chinmoy-the-dance-of-life-1

visions-of-the-emerald-beyond-4b

sri-chinmoy-the-descent-of-the-blue-2

sri-chinmoy-eastern-heart-western-mind-2

sri-chinmoy-the-ascent-and-descent-of-the-disciples

sri-chinmoy-you

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sarama-minoli-3

Sarama – The Hound of Intuition

Tribute to Sarama Minoli

Sarama was one of Sri Chinmoy’s earliest disciples. She joined Sri Chinmoy Centre (then called AUM Centre) in 1967, and chronicled the early years of Sri Chinmoy’s mission with her peerless photographic skills. Here’s one of her photos which was later used for the book Brother Jesus, published in 1975:

sr-chinmoy-meditation-16-by-sarama-3cSarama describes coming to Sri Chinmoy’s path in her own words this way:

Considering that I entered this world as a fourth generation atheist, who would have predicted a future in the spiritual life for me? I certainly wasn’t given any training in spirituality as a child. But the concept of infinity always fascinated me as it eluded me. I spent summers at my grandmother’s house in the New Jersey countryside, where I slept on a porch that was all windows on three sides. I would lie there looking up at the night sky, where the Milky Way and millions of stars were visible (you could see all of that clearly when I was a kid!), and I would imagine more space behind the stars and the Milky Way, and more space behind that space, and more space behind that space, and more space – and more space – until, my head spinning, I fell asleep.

As a young adult, I came across the writings of Edgar Casey, Yogi Ramacharaka, and that wonderful classic, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. My fascination with yoga, vegetarianism and spirituality was growing. After a two-week vacation at a yoga camp, my fate was sealed. On my return home, Yoga of Westchester, my yoga studio, was born.

One day during the following summer, I had a visit from an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in a number of years: a violinist named Sol Montlack. We were having a chat when I recalled that he had been with a spiritual group. Nearly a year of involvement with yoga had intensified my new interest in spirituality. I asked him about the group, and his answer was that he was no longer with that group or any of the many others he had tried.

He said, “I have found a Guru who is everything I have been looking for.” I asked the Guru’s name, and Sol said, “Chinmoy.” For clarity, he pronounced it as if it were two words. “Chin Moy?” I said. “That sounds Chinese,” while the thought ran through my mind quickly that I would meet his Guru and that he would be my Guru as well.

Read more of Sarama’s story on the Sri Chinmoy Centre site here.

Sarama went on to become one of Sri Chinmoy’s closest disciples — with him for forty years during his lifetime, and continuing her journey with Sri Chinmoy Centre until 2013, when she finally departed this world. July 2016 marks the three-year anniversary of her passing.

She was known for her deep spirituality and her adamantine belief in the life of the soul. In the book His Compassion Is Everything To Us, Sri Chinmoy recounts one particularly striking incident concerning Sarama:

This time I meditated only on compassion, bringing down compassion. Here quite a few disciples — about twenty — have received abundant compassion. Somebody has received the most, although she is not here physically, and that is Sarama.

At one point I was looking just at the front of the room, where the disciples are not supposed to sit, and Sarama’s soul was there. I said to Sarama, “What are you doing? Why are you sitting in the ‘forbidden area’?” In a joking manner I said it.

She said, “I am not the body; I am the soul.”

I said to her, “Where is the difference, good girl, between the body and the soul? For me there is no difference between the body and the soul, the substance and the essence.”

Sometimes when I see the body, inside the body I immediately see the soul’s entire divinity; and sometimes when I see the soul, I see inside the soul the qualities and capacities of the body. There is no difference between the body and the soul.

This was Sarama’s message: “I have come here to swim in the heart-sea of your compassion.”

I said, “Swim as long as you want to; swim to your heart’s content. I will let you swim inside the heart-sea of my compassion.”

This was Sarama’s soul.

Nineteen other disciples have received compassion in profuse measure, but her soul has definitely received more than anybody else. When we meditate, the soul of somebody who is not physically present can come and receive. It happens; it has happened many, many times. I am very grateful and very proud of Sarama’s achievement.

Read more about this incident on Sri Chinmoy Library here.

To worldly people, the life of the soul is sheer imagination if not hallucination. For them, life is measured only in earthly years and the physical body. Then it is “out of sight, out of mind.” But Sarama was known for her intuition, which came from a higher plane. Intuition is deeply connected with spiritual intelligence, but that is the subject for another article!

Still, to those who have cultivated spiritual intelligence it’s not surprising that the essence of all a person was and is continues after death. If the person was a spiritual soul, then they look down from Heaven to see what their loved ones are doing, and try to inspire them to lead a higher life. We may no longer see them with our human eyes, but we may experience them powerfully in dreams, where they come to us to give us the inner message on how we can make progress.

Trivia

A little-known fact you won’t find elsewhere on the Internet is that for a time Sarama ran a thrift shop called I Need This Store. (This was in addition to her yoga studio.)

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Alice in the Snow I

A Christmas in July video gift to my readers

There’s beauty all around us, but we sometimes need to be in the right place at the right time to see it!

Then, as aspiring artists, we try and find a way to share what we’ve seen so that the edited view communicates strongly.

It took me a surprisingly long time to get this short video of the Alice in Wonderland Statue in a snowstorm just the way I wanted. I hope you find as I do that it communicates peace, beauty, and an unseen world that seems to have its own life when no one’s looking.

The best haiku writers are said to gently eavesdrop on their subjects, so that the impression you’re left with is of the thing itself. When filming, I longed to merge with the winter scene so that there was no me anymore, and what was left was simply nature unfolding of itself, for itself.

An ambitious (and pretentious) longing — one that can only be hinted at in this short video. I actually have a lot of footage of sculptures in the snow, so much so that the thought of editing it all is daunting. I once did a roughish edit (to VHS tape) that expressed some of what I would like. I remember a particular day when I spent from morning till evening filming in the snow, and Nature made such a strong impression on me that later that evening I felt as though the snow were still falling in my mind.

Time seems to expand in a really good snowstorm, and it’s wonderful to surrender to that sense of monumentality — the feeling that it has always been snowing and will always be snowing; that the amount of snow which could fall is infinite; that it might easily bury the Empire State Building or even all of civilization, leaving only whiteness.

melting snow
an old woman in black
feeds red-tailed squirrels

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Greenspan Bobblehead Shocks Nervous Britons – UPDATE

Why’d the Beeb do it?

alan-greenspan-BBCFriday was a day of well-rounded insanity for the United Kingdom, with reverberations felt ’round the Western world and some parts East. The pent-up demand for faux freedom led to renewed cries of Texit! (Texas seceding from the United States) and Sexit! (Slovenia seceding from the European Union). Probably when the dust settles, it will be found that the appetite for such changes is less real than imagined. But the present period is one for calming of waters and not further exciting residents of Blighty. So it was exceeding strange when a BBC interview with former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan which should have had a palliative effect instead took on an air of the shocking and surreal.

The interview had been scheduled in advance, but Mr. Greeenspan came down with a head cold. Yet, it is well known that the mere manner in which he snaps his briefcase can soothe troubled markets, and when the Nagus himself appears, the effect is all but narcotic.

Rather than cancel the interview or conduct it purely by telephone, the Beeb elected to put up a bobblehead of Mr. Greenspan, just as one might prop up a stuffed animal to comfort a young child waking from a nightmare.

The bobblehead is, of course, a uniquely American institution, born of fan giveaways at baseball stadiums, but occasionally extended to non-sport VIPs like Pope Francis. There are relatively few bobbleheads of economists, and after careful consideration I conclude that this is for good not ill. Economists are best left to work behind the scenes rather than gracing car dashboards and curio shops. Just one look at the Alan Greenspan bobblehead should persuade doubting readers of the verity of my thesis:

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

The Alan Greenspan bobblehead

Suffice it to say, the calming effect yearned for was not in evidence among BBC viewers, who flooded the switchboard with complaints that much as they love their Doctor Who, now was not the time to be showcasing the latest monster dreamt up by children writing in to Blue Peter — a possible successor to the Abzorbaloff.

When queried about the cock-up, the characteristically brusque Jeremy Paxman — called out of retirement to conduct the interview — replied, “No comment.” To restore public order, the Beeb enlisted Basil Brush to help explain what Brexit would mean to the average Briton:

basil-brush-youre-screwed-animEnhanced security was put in place at retirement homes over concerns that young people might blame seniors for sabotaging their future plans for free travel and a united Europe:

old-people-walking-animFears of atonal music and riots in the streets prompted the Beeb to temporarily revert to a schedule of old-time programming with more reassuring presenters offering lessons in post-Brexit economics:

(I wonder: Is Oswald The Ostrich an appropriate meme for those voting “Leave”?)

Once calm was restored, plans for a Nouriel Roubini bobblehead were quickly scrapped — as was the Greenspan bobblehead. There are rumours of a Richard Dawkins bobblehead, but as yet no one believes in its existence.

The Home Secretary is said to be working closely with the BBC’s head boffin to carve out a new policy on bobbleheads — one that doesn’t ban their use outright, but does flash a brief disclaimer so that epileptics and those easily succumbing to fits of hysterical laughter are properly forewarned.

Jeremy Paxman on Alan Greenspan

“Tomorrow’s Greenspan: more of the same! I don’t know why they make such a fuss about it.”

extra-credit-projectThough public viewing of Alan Greenspan bobbleheads may cause mass insanity, individual viewing in the home may have a beneficial effect, not unlike a mild emetic. You can spend a pleasant rainy afternoon assembling your own Alan Greenspan craft project out of pipe cleaners, Silly Putty, head cheese, and India ink. Here’s how:

First, make a flower out of different coloured pipe cleaners. Next, cut and trim the head cheese to fit inside the flower. Then shape a slab of Silly Putty to form a smaller concentric circle inside the head cheese. Finally, use India ink to draw Alan Greenspan’s head on the Silly Putty. (Be careful not to spill the ink!)

When you’re done, you’ll have a valuable curio which you can treasure in years to come. It also makes a great gift for an economist, parole officer, or that special someone in your life.

blue-peter-badgealan-greenspan-craft-project-by-michael-howard

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Sri Chinmoy – In Search of a Perfect Disciple

In this fascinating story from the bhakti yoga tradition, Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007) sheds light on the master/disciple relationship.

Source: Sri Chinmoy Library

He has nobody but me

A very great spiritual Master had hundreds of sincere disciples, as well as admirers, followers, and well-wishers. Some of his disciples cherished a peculiar idea. They thought, “We will not accept anything from the Master; we shall only give everything to him.” The Master told them many times that this idea was wrong. He said that he would give them what he had, and they would give him what they had.

But his disciples didn’t listen to him. They thought that the Master would be pleased with them only if they gave him everything they had, without expecting or even accepting anything from him. To take money or any material help from him was impossible for them. In every way they wanted to feel that they would only give to the Master. They thought that they could not take even a smile from him.

Some of the Master’s disciples lived very far away from him. They had all kinds of problems with the people they depended on, especially with members of their own families. The Master used to ask them, “Why are you suffering so much? Why do you have to depend on your friends and the members of your family for help? You want to depend on others’ appreciation and admiration. You want to depend on others’ help, financial and otherwise. But you don’t want to depend on me for anything. You came into the spiritual life to be dependent on what, on whom?”

Their immediate answer would be, “To depend on the Master — on God.” But in their day-to-day activities they always wanted the Master to depend on them in every way, and they did not want to be dependent on him at all. For everything the Master needed, they expected him to call on them for help, but they did not give their Master the joy of having them depend on him. This way it went on for many years.

One day the Master had to scold his disciples. He said, “If you feel that it is impossible for you to accept help from your Master in the physical world, then how do you expect spiritual help from him?”

The disciples said, “Well, peace, light, and power — these things we can expect from you, Master. But other help, material help, help in the physical world, we cannot expect.”

“Then why should I take help from you?” the Master asked. “Why should I be indebted to you? You give me money, you bring me fruits, you offer me a few earthly objects. Do you not feel that in this way you are consciously or unconsciously, directly or indirectly, binding me? If you feel that by giving you my earthly assistance and concern I am binding you, then I can also say that you people are binding me with your material help. But this is totally wrong. What I have to give, I will give. What you have to give, you will give.”

Still they didn’t listen to him. One day the Master invited thirteen of his most dedicated, devoted disciples, and said to them, “I will now tell you something most private and important.”

The disciples were delighted that their Master had something to tell them. Then he started pointing them out, one by one, and appreciating all their good qualities. “You are so nice, so kind, so divine. That is why you have so many friends, so many admirers. The whole world will one day appreciate you because you are so divine. The whole world wants you and needs you.” In this way he appreciated twelve of the disciples, saying that they were very great in every way. He told them that they had wonderful magnanimous hearts, and that their souls were extremely developed. All kinds of appreciation he offered to twelve of his disciples. The disciples were bloated with pride.

But the Master did not at all appreciate the thirteenth one. This disciple said inwardly, “I am sure that there is a reason why the Master is not saying anything about me. I know that if he ignores me deliberately, it is all for my good. My Master would never consciously try to hurt me.”

Finally the Master said to the twelve disciples, “There are hundreds of people on earth to appreciate you, and whose appreciation you will be happy to hear. Now I wish to say that this thirteenth disciple of mine has nobody but me. He knows this truth; he feels this truth; he lives this truth.

“You people have the world; you have lots of things. Today if I leave you, you will continue your life, because you have many helpers, many admirers, and many flatterers. With their help, appreciation, and admiration you will be able to live on earth. But this disciple has nobody but me. If I die, then he is dead all at once. Now, according to me, the one who is entirely dependent on the Master is by far the best. He also has many good qualities, but one good quality surpasses all his other good qualities. He feels that I am his own, his only, and that for everything he has to be dependent on me alone. You have many, and many have you. But he cares for and needs nobody but me. That is why he is my very own. Without me he is helpless and hopeless in every way. You people are not helpless without me. You can go on with your lives without me, but he can’t. His whole consciousness is focused only on me. Without me he does not exist.

“If a disciple depends entirely on the Master for everything on earth and in heaven, then the Master claims that disciple as his very own. Others may get peace, light, and bliss through their own meditation, their own spiritual life. They may be admired, appreciated, and even adored by many people. But they won’t be able to have the deepest intimacy with the Master. This kind of disciple who has nothing and nobody, on earth or in heaven, but his Master, is really the peerless jewel in the Master’s heart. He constantly aspires — aspires in every way — only to depend on the Master’s smile, the Master’s grace, the Master’s concern, the Master’s compassion. He can never be useless and lazy. Far from it. When one aspires constantly with a burning inner flame, one will grow into ceaseless love, dedication, devotion, and surrender. Then he will feel that he is getting everything from the Master: physical help, vital help, mental help, and spiritual help. If a disciple is blessed with that kind of awareness, then the Master can be truly pleased with him. The Master feels, ‘He needs me at every step. He is doing his best, aspiring. What more can I expect from him? In his constant aspiration he knows that I am the Source; it is from me that he receives and will receive everything. He most devotedly claims me as his very own. And I proudly claim him as my very own.'”

— Sri Chinmoy, from In Search of a Perfect Disciple, Agni Press, 1972

sri-chinmoy-in-search-of-a-perfect-disciple

nbc-universal-birdie-sanders

NBCUniversal orders YouTube takedown of Birdie Sanders clips

NBCUniversal: “All your birdie are belong to us!”

If you’ve read my post “Put a Bird on It!” you know that it’s a work of art criticism which explores bird paintings and drawings, bird symbolism, and gives props to the original put-a-bird-on-it guy, Sri Chinmoy, who did it and meant it and lived it long before Bernie Sanders or Portlandia.

It was a post I enjoyed writing, but it was also hard work lining up all the resources which ultimately went into it: quotes from George Gamow’s book One, Two, Three…Infinity, from The Upanishads, from art collector Robert Scull, artist Paul Jenkins, and memoir writer Sumangali Morhall; also videos carefully selected to illustrate the points I was making and connect the cultural dots, so that the reader is not only entertained, but informed and educated.

The conceptual glue holding it all together is the idea that birds (especially doves) symbolize peace and freedom. This is even brought home with a video of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy playing the dove ocarina — a blue ceramic instrument in the shape of a dove.

The smooth progression of ideas flows through the famous “Birdie Sanders” incident where a little bird kibitzed on a speech given by the presidential candidate, and through Porlandia’s comedy sketch about putting birds on things.

I did not escape unscathed from the experience. NBCUniversal tried to clip my wings, but didn’t really succeed in doing anything other than shooting themselves in the tail.

“We are not here to sing, we’re here to kill the dove.” — NBCUniversal (actually Jacques Brel)

It’s apparently my fault for being a Rachel Maddow fan. On the day of March 25th, the “Birdie Sanders”/Portlandia meme went viral, and when Rachel came on at 9 PM she reported on it, as countless others had done. There are plenty of videos of both “Birdie Sanders” and the Portlandia sketch on YouTube and elsewhere, and combining them as Rachel did wasn’t exactly the soul of originality, but it was certainly the essence of convenience. Since I like Rachel, a couple months later I thought, Why not elevate two birds with one stone by embedding a YouTube of the Maddow clip? O my sad brother, will you never learn?

I thought I made “fair use” of the clip by including it in a broad presentation on the subject of bird paintings and drawings, bird symbolism, etc. After all, it’s only 4:23 from a 60-minute show, and of that 4:23, 3 minutes is a clip of the Bernie Sanders speech (which ran 1 hour 8 minutes), and 1 minute is a clip from a 2011 Portlandia episode (which ran 22 minutes). Rachel Maddow is visible on screen for all of 30 seconds and is heard commenting in places. It was old news in late May when I uploaded it.

The Bernie Sanders footage used by MSNBC was apparently taken from station KGW Portland, which is owned by Tegna Media  (Gannett spinoff). The identical footage (with its unique framing and panning) appears here on KGW.com. The Portlandia sketch is owned by IFC/AMC Networks.

But I get it that because Rachel Maddow commented on the speech and the sketch, NBCUniversal can claim copyright on the resulting segment. Still, the use I made of it was fair use because it was transformative — it included new ideas not present in the Sanders speech, the Portlandia sketch, or Rachel’s brief comments. It connected the existing meme with a 40-year history of bird paintings and drawings by Sri Chinmoy. It juxtaposed the short news segment with artwork and videos from gallery exhibitions, so that the resulting work of art criticism is something fresh and new.

My WordPress account and YouTube account are both non-commercial. Now, I realize that when you sneeze on the Internet, somebody in Mandalay gets 1/1000th of a cent. Everything is being monetized by somebody or other, but that somebody is not me. Nevertheless, I got a DMCA takedown notice courtesy NBCUniversal and a strike on my YouTube account. I’ll be filing a counter-notice establishing fair use, but it’s a nutty system where you only have 200 characters (about the length of a tweet) to ‘splain yourself. So I may point interested parties to this blog post for complete details.

I wasn’t the only victim of NBCUniversal’s draconian takedown policies. It turns out one other fellow posted the same “Birdie Sanders” clip I did. In fact he had posted several clips, so his YouTube account was terminated outright. Sad really.

NBCUniversal’s idea of putting a bird on it

The good news is that it was easy to replace the Rachel Maddow clip with two higher quality clips. This footage of “Birdie Sanders” posted by The Oregonian has gotten nearly 2 million hits, and this upload of the full Portlandia sketch has gotten 80,000. The uploaders are reaping the benefits of connecting with memes that people adore.

birdie-sanders-bye-bye-birdieNBCUniversal could have gotten some of that good karma, but due to their selfish attitude they get bupkis (other than a good dressing down on my blog). Kinda makes you wonder what the NBCUniversal legal dept. is drinking:

See also this interview with attorney Wendy Seltzer discussing how NBC “seems to be shutting down its own best advertising.” (The Seltzer may help cut the taste of the Thunderbird.)

On my blog, I’d rather promote The Rachel Maddow Show than The Oregonian, and include comments from Rachel in my piece about bird art. But if NBCUniversal punishes fans and denies legitimate fair use, this has the effect of freezing Rachel Maddow out of the conversation.

rachel-maddow-duct-tapeIsn’t it ironic?

There are a number of ironies to NBCUniversal’s off-putting, counterproductive behaviour here. Let’s take a gander at Kathleen O’Donnell’s note in the Duke University Law & Technology Review explaining the purpose of fair use:

Fair use has long been considered a critical component of the monopoly protection provided by copyright. In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., the Supreme Court stated that, “from the infancy of copyright protection, some opportunity for fair use of copyrighted materials has been thought necessary to fulfill copyright’s very purpose, ‘to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.’” The fair use doctrine recognizes that most expression is not strictly original, but rather borrows from the wealth of literature and art that came before it. Therefore, the monopoly granted by copyright is restricted to allow for “a limited privilege in those other than the owner of a copyright to use the copyrighted material in a reasonable manner without the owner’s consent.” Through this limited right to use copyrighted material, fair use “encourages and allows the development of new ideas that build on earlier ones, thus providing a necessary counterbalance to the copyright law’s goal of protecting creators’ work product.” In this way, fair use preserves and fosters the same creativity that copyright law was created to encourage. [Footnotes omitted.]

According to The Center For Democracy and Technology, short news segments containing excerpts from political speeches are highly privileged under the fair use doctrine. So one irony here is that NBCUniversal appears to be benefiting from fair use by “borrowing” the Bernie Sanders clip shot by station KGW/Tegna Media, and the Portlandia clip owned by IFC/AMC Networks. Add a few words from Rachel Maddow and it’s magically transformed into NBC content! But when a blogger adds far more that’s new and original, suddenly NBC no longer recognizes fair use. The appropriately named Andrew Lack — Chairman of NBC News and MSNBC — seems to lack understanding of fair use, at least as it extends to people outside the Comcast/NBCUniversal monopoly.

For those old enough to remember the NBC peacock, another irony is that NBC’s concept of putting a bird on it is sort of the opposite of Portlandia’s: NBC puts their peacock on things to make them non-free, and therefore ugly. It’s easy to picture a satire on the Portlandia sketch which goes something like this:

Hi, I’m Steve Burke. Hi, I’m Matt Bond. And we put peacocks on things! What a sad little Bernie Sanders speech. I know! I’ll put a peacock on it. Now it’s pretty. Now it’s ours!

A decent site for MSNBC? Not if Comcast can help it…

The Rachel Maddow Show is part of MSNBC’s programming lineup. MSNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, which is owned by Comcast. The acquisition of NBCUniversal by Comcast is an example of vertical integration, since Comcast is also a major ISP and cable provider in many markets, with major complaints about its quality of service.

According to Nate Anderson writing in Ars Technica, four months after the controversial Comcast-NBC merger was approved by Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, she left the FCC for a top lobbying job with the newly combined entity.

When a media behemoth owns both the content and the “wire,” this can be a nightmare for consumers, resulting in rate hikes and paywalls. Indeed, while consumers could once watch complete video podcasts of The Rachel Maddow Show and other MSNBC fare on MSNBC.com, such complete podcasts are now only available to cable subscribers or via a paywall.

As for the MSNBC website itself, it’s notoriously non-user-friendly and tortuous to navigate. See this link for a cavalcade of bad reviews in which “horrible” and “awful” are the predominating adjectives.

The MSNBC website seems to reflect twisted priorities or an underlying conflict of interest. If you’re YouTube, your primary mission is to make sure that everyone who visits the site can play the videos, even with a slow Internet connection. That’s why YouTube offers a low bandwidth version of every video, tries to adjust to the end user’s connection speed, and lets users choose between 144p, 240p, 360p, and higher resolutions. YouTube also makes it easy for WordPress.com users to embed YouTube videos in blog posts, because YouTube implements the popular oEmbed standard also used by Vimeo, DailyMotion, and other popular video sites.

But on MSNBC’s site, videos often don’t play, or choke the end user’s Internet connection, or take over the entire screen. Comcast’s self-serving message appears to be: Your connection isn’t fast enough to use our site. Better upgrade to a more expensive plan! MSNBC.com does not implement the oEmbed standard for embedding.

So people don’t want to go to MSNBC.com to watch a video or comment, because it’s just too user-unfriendly an experience. They want to go to a site like YouTube that’s easy to use, and is supported by blogging platforms like WordPress.com. They want to go to a site where the video is streamed to end users at a bitrate they can handle.

Punishing people for YouTubing short segments won’t solve this problem; it will only ensure that bloggers turn to alternative sources (e.g. The Oregonian) for clips of the same news events. Instead of feasting on sour grapes, MSNBC should create a site that people actually want to visit and that implements the oEmbed standard, so WordPress.com can easily support it. Make your site better and people will actually want to visit it or link to it as a source of embedded videos on blogs. Declaring war on fair use (in addition to being illegal) is a poor excuse for figuring out why people hate your site and finding ways to make it more user-friendly.

How fair use applies in today’s media marketplace

Today, vertically integrated conglomerates like Comcast/Xfinity/NBCUniversal (which also owns Hulu) may attempt to monetize the same content in a bewildering variety of ways, in effect dominating the marketplace.

nbc-universalThough the same content may be sold from a number of different media “stalls,” this must not be allowed to undermine fair use.

Even if a short news segment containing a portion of a political speech is being deployed commercially in multiple venues, this should not preclude a blogger from uploading a clip to YouTube for purposes of comment, criticism, or “the development of new ideas that build on earlier ones.” The public good from such fair use greatly outweighs the very minor market disruption.

Where a short news segment is embedded in a blog post along with commentary reflecting obvious transformative value, NBCUniversal needs to respect such fair use. It must not be permitted to abuse the DMCA takedown process until only restricted versions of a short news segment exist. This would have the effect of creating a monopoly on ideas contrary to the intent of the fair use provisions of copyright law.

In deciding Lenz v. Universal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear that media companies need to carefully consider whether something qualifies as fair use before issuing a DMCA takedown notice. Where a media company shows willful blindness to fair use, they may be liable for damages under section 512(f).

Final thoughts

The nature of a meme is that it propagates through multiple iterations and there’s a snowball effect. So aside from legal considerations, NBC violated social media etiquette by capitalizing on a meme, but then saying “The meme stops here — I call copyright.”

If you can get the site to work, you may still be able to view the short Rachel Maddow clip on MSNBC.com here. The whole segment is her cooing over footage of the Bernie Sanders speech and the Portlandia sketch, which is fine. (I like the sound of cooing.) What’s not fine is NBCUniversal smacking down bloggers who continue the meme by uploading a portion to YouTube and blogging about it.

Michael Howard

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

 

sri-chinmoy-swan-on-glass

Put a Bird on It!

Artist and spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy drew countless birds — not just on paper or canvas, but on clocks, seashells, glass, fabric, and children’s toys.

Countless are the birds of the air, and countless are the fish in the sea. We call something countless because — even though it has a finite number — it defies our human capacity to quantify. We could start a project to count all the birds in the air, but it would take generations and by that time there would be new birds in the air not counted previously. There would be innumerable technical challenges, and who would fund such a study?

Of those things which are countless, the most countless of all is infinity. When I was growing up, math teachers liked to recommend George Gamow’s book One, Two, Three…Infinity as a way of grappling with deep concepts. It was entertaining and profound at the same time, explaining how there could be differently sized infinities. But even Gamow (half-jokingly) admitted that when you expand your thinking beyond a certain point, you’re no longer dealing with Math or Science but Divinity:

There was a young fellow from Trinity,
Who took the square root of infinity.
But the number of digits, Gave him the fidgets;
He dropped Math and took up Divinity.

— George Gamow

The Upanishads say:

Infinity is that.
Infinity is this.
From Infinity, Infinity has come into existence.
From Infinity, when Infinity is taken away, Infinity remains.

After reciting this passage in a 1971 Yale lecture, Sri Chinmoy continued:

Creation is the supreme sacrifice of the Brahman. Creation is by no means a mechanical construction. Creation is a spiritual act, supremely revealing, manifesting, and fulfilling the divine splendour of the Brahman. The divine Architect is beyond creation, and at the same time manifests Himself in and through creation.

— Sri Chinmoy, The Upanishads: the Crown of India’s Soul, Agni Press, 1974

On earth, we are limited by the finite. We cannot create anything which is literally infinite. But by knowing the infinite, we can speak of the infinite in our creations. We can point to the infinite, approximate the infinite, give a taste of the infinite even within the finite.

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony runs about 26 minutes in human time. But within that time, worlds within worlds open up for the listener, and the experience of infinity becomes immanent, palpable.

Gustav Holst, in the closing strains of his orchestral suite The Planets, was likewise able to convey a sense of countless years in the life of the planet Neptune.

In his poems, Sri Chinmoy often speaks of infinity, and of endless days with “no dole, no sombre pang, no death in my sight.” He writes:

At last I know my age.
My age is Infinity’s page.1

and

Above the toil of life my soul
Is a Bird of Fire winging the Infinite.2

He also writes:

Birds have a very special significance; they embody freedom. We see a bird flying in the sky, and it reminds us of our own inner freedom. Inside each of us there is an inner existence we call the soul. The soul, like a bird, flies in the sky of Infinity. The birds we see flying in the sky remind us of our own soul-bird flying in the sky of Infinity. While looking at the birds, feel that you yourself are a bird; you are your soul-bird flying in the sky of infinite Light, infinite Peace and infinite Bliss.3

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

A bird painting by Sri Chinmoy from 1975

This connection between birds, flight, and infinity is a pervasive feature of Sri Chinmoy’s artistic oeuvre. It’s also present in his music — particularly his piano and organ improvisations which are filled with a maelstrom of notes that would be nearly impossible to transcribe, and which call forth a sonic impression of infinity.

Yet, we may fail to notice infinity in his bird paintings and drawings due to the inherent limitations of the formats in which they are presented. On the Internet, we may see a few of his works, or perhaps a short video showcasing more still. And while such presentations may communicate both spiritual and decorative elements, they stop short of communicating the conceptual nature of his art.

It’s one thing to draw a few birds; it’s quite another to draw literally millions of them, so that they remain (for all intent and purposes) countless. Only when one sees those rare gallery exhibits where there are thousands of his soul-birds on display on multiple levels does one begin to get a sense of how vast his vision was, and how deeply he believed in the essential message which underlies all such paintings and drawings: Life is beautiful! If it isn’t, put a bird on it!

 

 

Sri Chinmoy traveled widely and often used native materials in his art. His Oslo exhibit displays a riot of iridescent colour, while the one in Kagoshima reflects a more sparse, calligraphic style, well-suited to zen meditation:

 

In Bali, he amassed an amazing collection of objects on which to draw, including a cheap knockoff Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock:

Sri Chinmoy draws on Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Sri Chinmoy draws on a Charlie Brown & Snoopy clock. Photo by Kedar Misani.

Here are a few more videos which hint at the countlessness, vastness, and infinitude of Sri Chinmoy’s art:

 

 

It’s clear from these videos that though Sri Chinmoy created countless paintings and drawings, he did not do so mechanically but from a state of rapt creative attention, investing himself fully in each brushstroke.

sri-chinmoy-animated-brushstrokes

Collector Robert Scull (1916-1986), interviewed in 1975 at the Jharna-Kala Gallery on Mercer Street, said: “It’s an incredible output, and I think that that amount of paintings done in two months must be coming from a deep autobiographical well of images and feelings.”

sri-chinmoy-jharna-kala-painting-1_v2Artist Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), interviewed on the same occasion, said: “The abundance! Yes, there are many watercolors, but what’s here is an abundance of color, abundance of images, abundance of things that come through your mind when you meditate. And I don’t look at them with a tough eye, say like an artist art critic. I look at them for what they are: for his joy.”

sri-chinmoy-blue-crayon_v2

In presenting Sri Chinmoy with an award from Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts in June 1976, the late Brian F. Gormley described his work as “art cleansed of all the ambitions and desires that we too often see in the art world.”

sri-chinmoy-soul-birds-20-1-2006-2Sri Chinmoy died in October 2007, and a few years later the comedy series Portlandia created a stir with its “Put a Bird on It!” sketch, gently satirizing the artistic spirit informing some good Portlanders. That concept re-echoed through the blogosphere in March 2016 when a Portland rally for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was unexpectedly visited by a “sparrow to believe in”:

 

But Sri Chinmoy was the original put-a-bird-on-it guy:

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-1He really did it and meant it and lived it, and one of his talks is rumoured to have received a similar (benign) avian visitation.

During a peace ceremony in Malta in 1991, he released doves into the air as a symbol of the commitment to world peace made by the leaders assembled on that day:

In his concerts, he performed on an ever-changing variety of instruments, including the dove ocarina. Sumangali Morhall describes a concert she attended in September 2005:

The maestro arrives, and the hush finds new depths. The opening meditation is a silent overture, creating most seemly and serene environs for new sounds to take flight.

The blue ceramic dove is first as always, like a sweet ethereal invitation to another realm, then the esraj with its seamless husky call; one note yearning for the next. A western flute somehow echoes in a bass octave, doubling its mellow melting warmth, yet still mirroring the surrounding silence. A dance of strings: the curled smiling sunny tones of the sitar follow those of smaller things responding brightly to Sri Chinmoy’s touch.

Delight is not just in the sounds themselves, but also in the physical beauty of each instrument, and in the grace with which they are handled to draw forth their truest, sweetest, and most powerful voices. Sri Chinmoy’s image on the screen portrays the depth of meditation holding the source of every note. How haunting the harmonium; the notes hanging as backdrops in the air, and then Sri Chinmoy sings… I feel only heart then; one vast affirmative in that striking yet mellifluous flow of sound and expression.

— Sumangali Morhall, “Sri Chinmoy’s World Harmony Concert, Hamburg”

Although it’s possible to count the numerous concerts Sri Chinmoy gave over a lifetime of service, these concerts were made up of countless spiritual moments in the lives of seekers — experiences which are recorded on the tablet of their hearts. As striking as were Sri Chinmoy’s outer achievements, they are nothing compared to his inner achievements, which can never be quantified.

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

Sri Chinmoy holding a white dove (from SriChinmoyPhoto.com)

When we think of infinity, we tend to be overwhelmed and not to think of beauty in the same breath. But in Sri Chinmoy’s song “O Beauty-Infinity” (here performed by Blue Flower), these two qualities go together:

Sri Chinmoy taught that God is infinite; but perhaps more important to the many persons of artistic temperament who gathered around him, he taught that God is “beautiful, more beautiful, most beautiful. Beauty unparalleled in the garden of Eden.”4

In the inner world, beauty and infinity make two most charming companions.

Michael Howard


Special thanks to Kedar Misani of Switzerland, who has posted many excellent photos and videos of Sri Chinmoy online. Visit his YouTube page here.

References:

1Sri Chinmoy, “My Name, My Age, My Home” from My Flute, Aum Classics, 1998 (1972)
2Sri Chinmoy, “Revelation” from My Flute, as above
3Sri Chinmoy, from Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 36, Agni Press, 2004
4Sri Chinmoy, “O My Lord of Beauty” from My Flute, as above

Other items you may enjoy:

“A Magnificent Obsession” by Dr. Vidagdha Bennett
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/magnificent-obsession

“The Strange Birds of Ottawa” by Chidananda Burke
http://www.srichinmoy-reflections.com/birds-of-ottawa

“Spiritual leader draws seven million Peace Birds” by Julie Gunther
(updated link to follow)

“United Nations Displays Sri Chinmoy’s Paintings” – Newsweek
http://www.newsweek.com/united-nations-displays-sri-chinmoys-paintings-88321

1975 Documentary on Sri Chinmoy’s Painting and Philosophy of Art
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KqmG8eOraw&rel=0

“Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music” (group discussion)
http://www.srichinmoyinspiration.com/forums/10652

sri-chinmoy-soul-bird-objects-2

* * *

PIX11’s Turkey Dude

Edwin Lyngar in a role that will surprise you…

Meet PIX11’s Turkey Dude:

He bears a striking resemblance to a shady character who’s previously graced these pages: blogger Edwin Lyngar, known to cavort about as faux poultry in connection with his sideline as an atheist wedding officiant. Indeed, Lyngar is atheism’s “man of a thousand faces,” many of them thoroughly sh-tfaced:

edwin-lyngar-green-behind-the-ears_v03c

Blowhard blogger Edwin Lyngar

You would recall that when Lyngar’s not planting false stories on Salon.com at the behest of his well-seasoned (or salty) literary agent Elizabeth Kracht, he’s doling out instructions on boating safety for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. (And believe me, the saf-e-ty of the public is always the uppermost thing in their minds.)

Though I lack proof positive, I’m personally convinced that Turkey Dude is in fact Edwin Lyngar. The build and IQ are both about right. Then too, boating safety doesn’t pay a packet, and neither does his monthly rant for Salon. As for his manuscript “Guy Parts” (tentatively renamed “Chicken Parts”), it’s been looking for a home longer than Little Orphan Annie.

Even though Lyngar did the dirty deed and planted a false story in Salon to please his agent, she so far hasn’t upheld her part of the bakshish by bringing those lonely chicken parts in from the cold and fobbing them off on some misguided publisher looking for a tax write-off. So I’m guessing Lyngar’s appetites have reduced him to dressing in a turkey suit and debasing himself on behalf of the Power Presssure Cooker XL, which can reduce solid cholesterol to liquid cholesterol in under ten minutes. But can it core a apple?

This whole debacle ties in with my series on WPIX-TV and native advertising. According to PIX11 News, Turkey Dude just happened to drop by and offer to demonstrate this amazing discovery. Maybe Turkey Dude was accompanied by Stuffing Dude (the enforcer of the operation). Maybe Stuffing Dude threatened to treat PIX11 newscaster Scott Stanford like a sock puppet, and that’s why Stanford was willing to play the fool.

I’m a great believer in serendipity, coincidence, synchronicity, and Auspicious Good Fortune always. But I must confess the thought crossed my mind that maybe this human interest story about a down-and-out writer who dresses in a turkey suit and does embarrassing things with cream cheese is not exactly what it seems. Have I been scammed again? Is this another of PIX11 News’s fiendish plots to get me to buy crap merchandise? Your opinion counts!

POLL QUESTION: What do you think of the Power Pressure Cooker XL?

1. Power Pressure Cooker XL — gimme gimme gimme!
2. Power Pressure Cooker XL — it sucks donkey farts.
3. Edwin Lyngar should be euthanized. (Maybe someone should just put a bird on him?)

Putting a bird on Edwin Lyngar. There, now he’s pretty. (Pic to follow.)

Typical of PIX11 News, they don’t disclose that this is a paid ad and not a story about the mentally deranged or nutritionally challenged — or about Foghorn Leghorn cosplay. Maybe viewers are supposed to just know it’s the usual plugola. Still, that’s not what the FTC says. You have to disclose.

I’ve mentioned before that PIX11 News starts hitting viewers with liquor ads (disguised as news) around 7 a.m., and we must assume that some viewers take those ads to heart and make morning drinking a part of their regular routine. So in pondering whether viewers automatically know that Turkey Dude’s serendipitous visit to PIX11 studios is a crock of sh-t, we must consider their blood alcohol level.

Little Johnny may be high as a kite on a diabolical mixture of Riunite Lambrusco and black cherry soda poured down his gullet by lifestyle expert and Sipteaze.com founder Nicole Young as part of another PIX11 “news” segment — this one themed on the Fourth of July:

Regarding the Coconut Vanilla Cooler made with 2 cups Punzoné Vodka, news anchor Kori Chambers exclaims: “This stuff’ll knock you down!” — so we must assume that little Johnny is already in a supine position. When he wanly raises his head toward the TV and sees an orange bejumpsuited man forced to pretend he’s a turkey, he may think he’s watching a prisoner interrogation conducted by legendary C.I.A. psychologist James Mitchell.

(A little known rider to the Defense Authorization Bill passed by Congress permits the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay to U.S. soil provided they’re willing to appear in infomercials for miracle cookware.)

Anyway, if the FTC or FCC are considering whether to fine WPIX-TV for failing to disclose sponsored content, I think they should assume maximal ignorance on the part of viewers. This is hardly a leap, given the viewership which PIX11 seems to cultivate:

pix11-viewersAnother consideration is that PIX11 News sometimes runs hoax stories like this one produced by Mary Murphy which was the subject of considerable blowback. Between hoax stories and paid ads disguised as news, viewers don’t know whether they’re coming or going. They need all the help they can get, and this would ideally include clear labeling and disclosure of all sponsored segments.

So FTC and FCC, please have pity on poor, befuddled (possibly inebriated) PIX viewers, and start enforcing the laws which mandate clear disclosure of sponsored content, and hefty fines for repeat violators of rules against payola.

As for Edwin Lyngar, if that truly is him in the turkey suit, then like WPIX President and General Manager Richard Graziano, he has risen to his level of incompetence.😉

Michael Howard

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


Sidebar: Foghorn Leghorn in “Weasel While You Work”

In case the Foghorn Leghorn reference threw you, here’s that very personage in a 1958 Warner Brothers cartoon:

* * *

Is PIX11 News Making Your Kids Dumber?

How “chill” can a newscast get before it’s just stone cold stupid?

pix11-news-wpix-tvAs reported previously, under President and General Manager Richard Graziano and News Director Amy Waldman, WPIX-TV is placing increasing emphasis on enhancing its revenue stream by partnering with advertisers to produce so-called “native advertising” or “sponsored content.” This includes early morning “news” segments promoting liquor brands like Cavoda Vodka, Diplomático Rum, Four Roses Bourbon, Bombay Sapphire Gin, and Casa Noble Tequila.

Such segments treat viewers as if they were stupid, but can viewing them actually lower your kids’ media IQ? And will there be a backlash against these brands when consumers realize they’re being scammed? Is there really a “National Bourbon Month,” and does anybody care other than the people trying to sell you bourbon? Aren’t commercials between news segments enough, or do we really need commercials disguised as news?

Here I provide an essential guide to native advertising and solutions for weary consumers — everything you need to know including a satire on PIX11 Morning News, and how to complain to the FTC or FCC about payola.

PIX11 News: It’s 7 a.m. Do you know where your bourbon is?

PIX11 News: It’s 7 a.m. Do you know where your bourbon is?

Native advertising is controversial because according to John Carroll, a former advertising and television news executive who’s now a professor of mass communication at Boston University, “What they’re doing is blurring the lines between news, entertainment, and advertising. The whole idea is to keep it up in the air: What exactly is this?” (So says a Boston Globe article.) For a clever and funny look at native advertising, see writer-comedian John Oliver below:

Even adults might not notice they’re watching an ad when the sponsored content is camouflaged — worked seamlessly into the news broadcast, introduced as if it were real news, and uses the same on-air personalities. But children are especially vulnerable to such native advertising because they tend to be uncritical viewers. So peppering them with fake news segments in the early a.m. — segments where trusted news presenters are shown oohing and ahhing over cocktails made with hard liquor — is seen by critics as an underhanded way of promoting underage drinking — an analogue to the old Flintstones commercials pushing Winston cigarettes.

For a brief retrospective on the Flintstones and marketing, see “Yabba Dabba Cough!” in Advertising Age. Then compare this Winston ad with the following PIX11 News segments promoting numerous liquor brands:

PIX11 News Four Roses Bourbon segment:

PIX11 News Bombay Sapphire Gin segment:

PIX11 News Spooky Spirits segment:

If the drinks drunk by adults are too bitter for kids, why not ply them with extra sweet drinks for Halloween? The “Spooky Spirits” segment is particularly shameful — chock full of gimmicks meant to appeal to kid tastes: Ice cream, Dutch chocolate, Karo corn syrup (which kids are used to seeing Mom pour on waffles), blue food coloring, green ice cubes which light up, and a Cavoda Vodka bottle that blinks on and off. (“It’s a premium vodka for under $40. That’s a great gift to give somebody, by the way.”) They mercifully passed on the performing clown who juggles shotglasses, and the Power Rangers swizzle sticks. Disclosure? They passed on that too.

Children in low-income families receive much of their education and acculturation through unsupervised television viewing. The TV becomes a surrogate parent, so it’s troubling when PIX11 News treats every familiar holiday (and a few novel ones) as an occasion to drink hard liquor — much like a bad daddy in need of a good 12-step program. Their early morning segments covertly sponsored by liquor manufacturers aren’t merely about mixing cocktails, but about establishing a strong connection between holiday-making and alcohol consumption, turning “finding the right drink” into a mandatory ritual for Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Earth Day, July Fourth, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve, and (of course) National Margarita Day. (Did you remember to send a card?)

Other excuses for running sponsored content promoting booze include the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the World Cup, the Belmont Stakes, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and a new season of Game of Thrones. (Ralph Kramden’s Birthday was debated but tabled.)

The messages such native advertising sends to kids are that drinking is hip, drinking is cool, drinking is fun, drinking is popular, drinking is newsworthy, drinking is patriotic, and drinking is indispensable to social bonding. The latter message could hardly be more explicit than when perennial guest Nicole Young of Sipteaze.com pours the Punzoné Vodka (“Organic! Delicious!”), while anchor Sukanya “Suki” Krishnan explains:

You know what’s so great when you have people come over your house, the first thing you want is to have a little beautiful drink when somebody’s entertaining in their house. And that’s the first thing my mother always taught me: Offer a drink!

“‘Shocktails’ perfect for toasting on Halloween,” PIX11 News, October 30, 2014.

Neither grammarian nor teetotaler, Krishnan has been voted the news anchor most likely to introduce your kids to a bomb-biggity cocktail that’s really chill. These native ads (often featuring Krishnan) are like mini tutorials teaching your kids how to drink and why to drink, powered by the caffeinated enthusiasm of well-paid media personalities who act as role models for dipsomania. “I love my Martinis!” Krishnan exclaims in one early morning segment, and “Who really has just one glass of wine, right? You know we all sometimes go above the recommended serving because we need to.” Such alcoholic reasoning is endemic among PIX11 News anchors, as on “National Drink Wine Day,” another obscure marketing holiday also known as ”Suck Up To The Liquor Industry Day”:

Nevertheless, it’s a long-standing broadcast industry policy that on-air personalities don’t actually consume the alcoholic beverages they’re shown deeply inhaling and pronouncing delightful. But PIX11 News gets around that prohibition by having a camera person or even the director of the broadcast sample such beverages:

From PIX11 Morning News, “Shocktails For Halloween” (10/30/2014): Sukanya Krishnan hands broadcast director “Bob” a cocktail made with Punzoné Vodka to drink on cam, and jokes about him getting tipsy/passing out. It’s not yet 9 a.m.

PIX11 News and Sukanya Krishnan are no strangers to payola. The NY Daily News reports that in 2009 they were caught promoting restaurants in segments titled “Dining PIX.” Viewers weren’t told that in order be featured, each restaurant had to pay $10,000 or more in gift certificates under the table. This violates FCC payola rules.

Payola isn’t always paid directly or in cash, but may be funnelled through agencies and use in-kind payment such as gift certificates. Imagine you’re a company with 100 employees who each expect a Christmas bonus. If you give them a $100 gift certificate in lieu of cash, that saves you $10,000. The company providing the gift certificates in exchange for on-air promotion would probably not record the details in their books, so uncovering the crime would require careful sleuthing.

Such shenanigans have been going on forever, and even formed the basis for a 1978 Columbo episode where a restaurateur is murdered because he threatens to blow the whistle on a payola scheme in which the “Restaurant Developers Association” pays a prominent TV personality for good restaurant reviews. He in turn deposits the checks in a dummy account registered to “Irene de Milo” (not to be confused with Intravenus de Milo).

See this excellent Washington Post article by Paul Farhi detailing common industry practices, or hear him interviewed on WNYC radio. What’s changed since Farhi wrote in 2011 is that under the new rubric of “native advertising,” broadcasters are demanding a bigger slice of the pie in exchange for playing a bigger role in the deception.

When PIX11 News introduces someone as a “lifestyle expert” or “trend forecaster,” that’s typically code for an actor hired by a marketing firm to promote a selection of products which the manufacturers paid to have promoted. Where the industry policy toward such paid shills was once “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” it’s now more like “Come on in and let’s cook the news together. You brought your checkbook, right?”

Where you see a news anchor launch into Suki Krishnan mode, exclaiming “Oh my God, I LUVVV it!” about a drink made from Thunderbird and lime Jell-O (garnished with McDonald’s garlic fries), you can confidently assume that someone’s palm is shiny with grease. It’s not always clear whose.

PIX11’s “Spooky Spirits” segment should really be dubbed “Hocus Pocus, Lose Our Focus” (on news). There’s no discussion of problems like alcoholism or drunk driving — but then there wouldn’t be in an ad designed to ensure that the next generation is culturally acclimated to booze. Children of alcoholics might be able to add a jigger of insight to the mix:

A big thank you to Katherine for posting that brave video, which I can definitely relate to. She’s not against drinking, but she is against alcoholic parenting, just as I’m against deceptive marketing of alcohol, especially to children.

Children and marketing

We’ve known since the 1960s that television advertising is an intense and highly targeted form of propaganda. Its effectiveness may increase exponentially when we don’t know that what we’re watching is an ad. Sponsored content inserted covertly into news broadcasts is a form of “ambush marketing” which may fail to trigger our marketing defenses. We may know in theory that advertisers lie, yet we may trust news presenters and TV personalities not to harm us. Longtime Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek now hawks insurance for Colonial Penn. Such “guaranteed life insurance” (which actually provides close to zero benefits for a $9.95 monthly payment) is viewed by some as preying on the elderly.

Children have relatively few defenses against marketing. I can remember as a child wanting the toys I saw on TV without any insight as to why I wanted them, or how I came to associate owning a particular piece of plastic with entering a world of unending fun. It didn’t cross my five-year-old mind that the reason the kids in the toy commercial looked so happy was that the commercial was designed to manipulate me psychologically. This little ditty from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory makes the serious point that excessive consumerism leads to personal selfishness:

Children want grownup things, and PIX11 News segments aired during cartoon time often begin by mixing some alcoholic cocktails for adults, finishing up with a non-alcoholic or “mocktail” version for kids. Contrary to what’s claimed, this is not at all “kid friendly.” The mocktails are stigmatized with the “kid” label and explicitly described as “less fun.” They’re nevertheless meant to introduce kids to drinking — just as candy cigarettes are meant to get them used to holding cigarettes and regarding them as items to be purchased and consumed. See “Study Links Candy Cigarettes to Smoking,” where Robin Lloyd writes:

Candy cigarettes predispose children who play with them to smoke the real things later, new research concludes.

The look-alikes made of candy or gum are marketing and advertising tools that desensitize kids and open them more so to the idea of smoking later on, says study leader Jonathan Klein of the University of Rochester. Candy cigarettes cannot be considered simply as candy, Klein said.

“The continued existence of these products helps promote smoking as a culturally or socially acceptable activity,” Klein said in a prepared statement.

An article appearing on nbc.com notes that “a 2000 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that the tobacco industry worked with the candy industry to design candy products ‘that would effectively promote smoking to children.’ … ‘Candy cigarettes are like training wheels for smoking. Teaching this behavior to kids is ridiculous,’ said Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.” The NBC article includes this graphic of 4-year old Destiny pretending to take a drag on a cigarette for the hit reality show Toddlers and Tiaras:

Opponents of underage drinking have long complained that wine coolers (which are sweet and fruity) marketed to youngsters are a gateway to hard liquor. In that vein, it’s remarkable how many of the cocktails mixed on PIX11 News during cartoon time include sugar syrup, fruit juice, or artificial coloring to make them more appealing to kid tastes.

PIX11 Morning News (6/29/2015): The ingredients for this July Fourth cocktail include a whole bottle of Riunite Lambrusco, and 2 cups black cherry soda, which liquor industry presenter Nicole Young calls her “secret weapon” (for getting kids to drink?). Note the apropos news ticker.

Ingredients for this Fourth of July pitcher include a whole bottle of Riunite Lambrusco, and 2 cups black cherry soda, which liquor industry presenter Nicole Young calls her “secret weapon” (for getting kids to drink?). Note the apropos news ticker.

Perhaps these two lines of fictional dialogue would help illustrate the problem:

Husband: What’s wrong with our boy? Why he ain’t been to school in three weeks?

Wife: That poor boy’s f-cked up again on Riunite Lambrusco and black cherry soda. Been drinkin’ it faster than he can piss it out.

Deeper implications of native advertising

There’s a big difference between seeking after truth, and pandering to the lowest common denominator of commercial interests. At the more responsible media outlets, people take news-gathering seriously as a sacred obligation, not something to be watered down. In that serious view of journalism, neither government nor industry should be allowed to dictate the content of stories. Yet, looking back on history, we can question whether the supposed “facts” we were fed about wars in Vietnam and Iraq were mostly truthful, or mostly lies. A sad fact of human nature (and the institutions created by us humans) is that we often honour high principles in the breach. Want to have an unjust war? You might need to pay some people off. Some journalists might be persuaded to substitute lies for truth.

British poet Adrian Mitchell first read his antiwar poem “To Whom It May Concern” (a.k.a. “Tell Me Lies About Vietnam”) in Trafalgar Square in 1964, but has continued to update it as events warranted. The December 2008 version published by the Guardian includes these snippets:

I smell something burning, hope it’s just my brains
They’re only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out
You take the human being, and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about –
Iraq
Burma
Afghanistan
BAE Systems
Israel
Iran

Tell me lies Mr Bush
Tell me lies Mr Blairbrowncameron

Tell me lies about Vietnam

Mitchell captures the sense of incredulity which many people feel in the face of genocide: surely they can’t really be napalming villages with women and children inside; they must only be dropping peppermints and daisy-chains. He likewise captures the sense that a great many people must be paid off in material goods so as not to hear the screaming when a genocide occurs, and not to protest. Chain my tongue with whiskey and fill my ears with silver, indeed!

In this broader context, is a news report that the war of the day is going well and was thoroughly justified based on truth, or is it an advertisement promoting the interests of politicians, generals and arms manufacturers? You decide.

Blurring the lines between news and advertising is dangerous for any number of reasons, not least because it ultimately blurs our own sense of ethics. A prostitute is someone who will perform any sexual act as long as he or she is paid. When some so-called journalists will promote any product or cause as long as they are paid, how are they distinguishable? When everything is up for sale, what happens to truth, and how will we locate truth when we really need it? If we listen to lies all day long, we will gradually become inured to them, and to the view that truth doesn’t matter. It’s all about marketing, of a drink or a drug or a war.

Increasingly, the purpose of mainstream media is not to help us locate truth, but to persuade us to consume the products produced by advertisers. This is true not only in the narrow sense that we are shown particular short, targeted advertisements, but also in the broader sense that mainstream media tend to push a particular platform for living: a platform based primarily on production and consumption, but not based on insight. Indeed, insight is the enemy, because insight would cause us to wonder whether endless production and consumption is really the key to human happiness, or whether something more is needed. Insight would have us temper the happy talk of PIX11 News anchors as they tout the social benefits of drinking with remembrance of the faces on skid row — faces of people whose lives were destroyed by drinking.

skid-row-2

As for that platform of consumerism, it might be described as a “Design For Dreaming” — the name of a short film produced by General Motors in 1956. The characters seem thoroughly drunk or tripped-out on consumerism. They’re not buying a car or oven so much as a fantasy of future happiness. But as the MST3k crew deftly observes: “Future not available in Africa, India, or Central/South America.”

Sacrificing balance for commercial interests

Good reporting is supposed to be balanced, but “sponsored content” is anything but. When the same PIX11 News personalities who euphorically push booze to kids start telling us what to think about politics or religion, the obvious question is “Who’s paying them to sell this particular point of view?” There’s an inherent conflict when folks who are in the tank for narrow business interests also push a world view which is politically reactionary and contemptuous of spiritual alternatives. Would you really trust Forbes for advice on meditation and choosing a spiritual teacher? As I joked in a previous article, maybe the reason PIX11 News runs hoax stories about spiritual groups is that those groups aren’t buying enough bourbon. In a society which has become both consumerist and conformist, those offering spiritual alternatives may be depicted as the enemy.

PIX11 News ties its on-air promotion of liquor brands to Facebook promotions that further blur the lines. This just in: Drinking, baseball, and pretty girls are good. Watch PIX11 News for more of all three. What isn’t good? Nonconformists and party-poopers. BOO! HISS! (And you wonder why your kids seem stupid, and can’t seem to separate their desires of the moment from facts, ethics, and abstract concepts? Maybe it’s because TV news has turned to Silly Putty far beyond the wildest dreams of Paddy Cheyefsky in Network.)

PIX11 News runs hoax stories like this one produced by Mary Murphy, which was the subject of considerable blowback. To media critics, this combination of sponsored content coaxing kids to drink and hoax stories trolling convenient minorities is a deadly cocktail — deadly in the sense that it deals a fatal blow to the credibility of the Tribune brand, associated with both WPIX-TV, the Hartford Courant, and numerous other media properties. Under Rich Graziano’s past stewardship, the Courant likewise developed a reputation for sacrificing integrity to please advertisers. According to this New York Times story, columnist George Gombossy was allegedly fired for airing consumer complaints about Courant advertisers.

WPIX-TV has had a troubled history, including a series of name changes as the poisoned chalice was passed from one media conglomerate to another: Channel 11, 11Alive, the WB11, the CW11, currently PIX11, but in the future, who knows? Viewing their veritable infomercial for Four Roses Bourbon, I wonder why not FourRoses11? After announcing the name change, Rich Graziano could give his assurances that this won’t mean major changes at the station. “We’ll continue to be focused on sports and entertainment,” Graziano could say. “One minor change is that the FourRoses11 News will open with bourbon news before going to local, national, and world news.”

The Bourbon News for May 21st, 2016

Kaity Tong: Have your kids been diagnosed with ADHD because they get up and wander around the classroom when they’re supposed to be watching a slideshow about Mesopotamian burial rituals? Kori Chambers just might have the answer.

Kori Chambers: That’s right, Kaity. May is National Attention Deficit Disorder Awareness Month, so we’ve invited bartender Franky Marshall back. She’s going to explain how mixed drinks just might calm your kids down. Plus, she’s got some great recipes using (what else?) Four Roses Bourbon. Franky, what can you tell us?

Franky Marshall: Well, it’s awfully hard to calm kids down these days, and filling those prescriptions for Ritalin can cost an arm and a leg. That’s why many parents are opting for an old-fashioned solution. Add a jigger of Four Roses Yellow Label to Hawaiian Punch and you’ve got a Hawaiian Haymaker. It’s a refreshing taste treat kids can’t resist, and will also mellow them out considerably. Or add two jiggers of Four Roses Small Batch to strawberry Yoo-Hoo for a drink we call a Shot In The Head. Now that film about dental hygiene shown in assembly will seem a lot more interesting. Try a sip, Kori!

Kori Chambers: Oh no, not while I’m on duty. I can’t. But the aroma, mmmmmmhhh…

Franky Marshall: Then pour some on your head, Kori. It also makes a great baldness remedy.

Kori Chambers [pours mixture on head]: That is refreshing! I can feel the follicles waking up and starting to grow. And yet they’re not too agitated. I get the feeling they could listen to a boring lecture and not walk out…

Franky Marshall: Right now we have a special promotion going with Facebook and FourRoses11. Kids, sign on and tell us in 50 words or less how Four Roses Bourbon helped you make it through the school day, and you could win this handsome prize. See? It looks like a history book, but when you open it, it actually contains a jigger of Four Roses for emergencies — like when your 6th grade teacher starts covering the Peloponnesian War.

Kori Chambers: Oooh, I remember that — or at least I remember forgetting it. I could have used some Four Roses back then.

Franky Marshall: One last drink for you, Kori. This one’s called a Woodside Wannamaker. Take half a jigger of Four Roses Single Barrel, combine with three jiggers grave water and the grated erasers from three Eberhard Faber pencils. Add a dash of bitters, a note from the principal, then shake with ice and pour into a diorama depicting the extinction of the mastodon. Garnish with a discarded rosary bead, and drink it through a straw.

Kori Chambers: It looks delicious! Sure wish I could try some. But wait a minute boys and girls, who’s that? Why it’s Bob, the director of our FourRoses11 News broadcast. Whaddya say, Bob? Have you worked up a thirst today?

Bob: Sure have, Kori. Ya know kids, directing the news is hard work, man’s work, and it works up a powerful thirst too. One of the fringe benefits of working here at FourRoses11 is all the great stories involving food products — whether it’s Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, McDonald’s Big Macs, or Starbucks Lattes. But my personal favorites are the stories about cocktails you can make at home and even bring to school. [Quaffs down the Woodside Wannamaker in one big gulp.] Ahhh, now that’s what I call refreshing!

Kori Chambers: We’re putting that recipe up on FourRoses11, in case you didn’t get it all. Just go to FourRoses11-dot-com-slash-mastodon. Or send for our free video “Teach Your Kids To Drink Religiously.” Franky, always good to have you here. I won’t question the pink hair. Back to you, Kaity!

KaityTong: Just say no to Ritalin, just say yes to Four Roses. I love it! Now for some local news…

[Just then, Officer Joe Bolton capers onto the set swinging his billy club, and closes down the station for holding an open bar without a liquor license. “Show’s over, nothing to see here folks!” Bolton exclaims in a thick Irish brogue, as the producer cuts to a cart claiming “technical difficulties.”]

* * *

How to complain to the Federal Trade Commission or Federal Communications Commission

This article is primarily about the ethics and mechanics of native advertising. A separate topic is the legality of native advertising. The Federal Trade Commission is understandably concerned with native advertising, and provides a Guide For Businesses which underscores the requirement that any native advertising must include clear and prominent disclosure of the ad’s commercial nature. PIX11’s native advertising for Four Roses Bourbon, Bombay Sapphire Gin, and a wide variety of other products appears to flout this requirement, and may therefore violate the law.

PIX11’s native advertising isn’t confined to just a few minutes of broadcast or cable TV time. The videos are subsequently posted online, not just on PIX11’s site, but also on Amazon.com, AOL.com, and HuffingtonPost.com. None of these other entities regurgitating PIX11 native ads properly label them either. For example, Amazon.com labels them “free video shorts,” notwithstanding that they’re obviously product ads which often include pricing info and where-to-buy. Though not detailed in this article, other major purchasers of native advertising on PIX11 News appear to be McDonald’s, Starbucks, and children’s clothing retailers.

If you’re concerned about native advertising in general, and its use to promote hard liquor to children in particular, then complain to the FTC here:

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1

Complaining to the FTC is crucial because the explosion in native advertising virtually guarantees that the FTC won’t know about every violation unless informed by irate consumers. It’s basically a game of whack-a-mole. As in a John le Carré spy novel, the FTC needs your help finding the moles.

The FTC’s website uses a wizard-driven menu for filing complaints, but it’s easy to navigate. Since the problem with WPIX-TV doesn’t fit a prefab category, use the “Other” category and fill in:

Native advertising, failure to disclose sponsored content, marketing hard liquor to children.

Then describe the problem briefly, and give links to the PIX11 videos cited in this blog post, or to the blog post itself. When asked for company details, fill in:

WPIX-TV
Richard Graziano, President and General Manager
220 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10017-5806
(212) 210-2411

You may also want to mention that WPIX-TV is owned by Tribune Media.

If you have any trouble using the online wizard, there’s a box you can click (during weekday business hours) to chat live with an FTC representative, or you can call this toll-free number: 1-877-FTC-HELP

Native advertising is legal when fully disclosed, but TV broadcasters may get away with a tiny, illegible notice that quickly scrolls by. When there’s no disclosure, that’s payola plain and simple, and violates FCC rules against payola. To complain to the FCC:

File a complaint online
– By phone: 1-888-CALL-FCC (1-888-225-5322); TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC (1-888-835-5322); ASL: 1-844-432-2275
– By mail (please include your name, address, contact information and as much detail about your complaint as possible):

Federal Communications Commission
Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
445 12th Street, S.W.
Washington, DC 20554

That the FCC takes such violations seriously is indicated by the following: “TV Station Agrees to $115,000 FCC Fine for Not Identifying Sponsor of Program Promoting a Sale at Auto Dealership.”

Michael Howard

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


For Further Reading:

“Disguising ads as stories”
http://www.cjr.org/behind_the_news/sponsored_content.php

“Native Advertising Examples: 5 of the Best (and Worst)”
http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2014/07/07/native-advertising-examples

“Five Tricky Ad Trends to Watch for in 2015”
https://www.truthinadvertising.org/five-tricky-ad-trends-watch-2015/

“Native advertising and sponsored content: Research on audience, ethics, effectiveness”
http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/news-media/native-advertising-sponsored-content-audience-ethics-effectiveness

* * *

Sock Puppet Theatre – A Tribute to Samuel Bradshaw

Combining the Doctor Who and anti-cult movement themes

Samuel Bradshaw is an IT manager famous for abusing the Internet (and his former friends and colleagues) by using multiple sock puppets to post hate material. Bradshaw was associated with the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association), which tries to maintain a respectable public face, but often links to extreme hate material and uses people like Bradshaw to post it. According to Bradshaw, he met with attorney Herbert Rosedale, then president of AFF/ICSA, on a number of occasions to discuss how to avoid being sued for libel. The strategy they apparently worked out was for Bradshaw to keep changing sock puppets on a regular basis, going from “Steve Stevens” to “SEEKER” to “iamschubert” et al.

But though Bradshaw changed sock puppets, he was less conscientious about changing IP addresses. People eventually caught onto his scams when they noticed that various postings alleging crimes against humanity by spiritual groups all came from the same IP address at Oliver Wyman, where Bradshaw was working at the time. Rumor has it that in some lexicons of Net jargon, the icon for NSFW is a headshot of Bradshaw.😉

Samuel Bradshaw (center) here shown with two other ICSA deprogrammees

Samuel Bradshaw (center) here pictured with two other ICSA deprogrammees

Though Bradshaw has no training in psychology or counseling, he began giving anti-cult advice on the Internet. He would tell people to stop meditating because meditation reinforces destructive mind control. (Everyone who believes this, raise your hand!) He also began promoting exit counseling services, offering to get people discounts. This is consistent with a familiar type of fear marketing used by anti-cultists consisting of the “one-two punch”: a sermon on the evils of cultism followed by a sales pitch for some sort of anti-cult product or service alleged to cure afflicted individuals. Maybe a cream to smear on your temples so you can stop chanting nam-myoho-renge-kyo.

While Bradshaw’s antics may seem funny in retrospect, they call attention to the serious problem of hate on the Net, which I’ve addressed seriously elsewhere. Those familiar with AFF/ICSA would know that it consists primarily of psychologists and lawyers who take the fringe view that spiritual groups pose a danger to scientific rationalism and secular materialism. Few spiritual seekers or scholars of religion would agree. The religious tolerance point of view is based on everyone just getting along.

AFF/ICSA opposes spiritual groups not only by circulating anti-cult propaganda (sometimes using third-party technique), but also by persuading former spiritual seekers to view themselves as “cult victims,” to purchase anti-cult “therapy” sessions, and (once they’ve been told during faux therapy that spiritual practice is abusive) to then sue their former spiritual group.

A bit of a racket IMHO. For example, when Samuel Bradshaw was trying to stir up enthusiasm among apostates for filing a lawsuit, he became dissatisfied with the lackluster quality of atrocity stories or “testimonials” they were submitting. So he gave them a link where they could read stories about a different guru (not the one they followed) which they could then use as models for stories alleging abuse.

I view this as tantamount to subornation of perjury by Bradshaw. It’s also typical of the idiotic notions floated by anti-cultists: All Eastern gurus are alike (they claim), so stories about them are completely fungible. If you’re tasked by an exit counselor with going on the Internet and posting something negative about your former spiritual group (as part of faux therapy), but don’t know what to write, just borrow someone else’s story. To paraphrase the famous New Yorker cartoon: On the Internet, no one knows you’re a plagiarist (or a sock puppet). Indeed, though this may be a slight exaggeration, I’ve often thought that more than half the messages on a particular anti-cult message board were written by Samuel Bradshaw and Anne Carlton under their various sock puppets. (Carlton’s specialty is starting a sexual rumor under one alias, then pretending to “confirm” it under a different alias.)

What does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Well, a comedy act making rare appearances on Doctor Who DVDs is the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, which (like Craig Ferguson) is an oddity that might possibly endear itself to American audiences. (I can just picture them performing during halftime at the Super Bowl, though they might have to wear shorter kilts.) This is them riffing on the fan obsession with cataloguing old Doctor Who episodes:

The above was an Easter egg for “The Dominators,” and if you ask me the serial code, I think it was “D.”😉 Their routine may owe a little something to Abbott & Costello (“Who’s On First”) and to the Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch.

So a hearty hats off to the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre, the American Family Foundation, and the ever-protean Samuel Bradshaw. If someone knocks on your door and offers to attach electrodes to your arm to determine whether you are or are not a cultist, it might just be Bradshaw — whether or not he’s wearing any socks.

*  *  *

About Dailymotion videos: If you have trouble playing a Dailymotion video embedded in a WordPress post, try clicking on the Dailymotion logo and viewing the video on the Dailymotion site. Here’s a direct link to the above video:

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2xz340_044-the-dominators-extra-easter-egg_creation

I usually prefer Firefox, but if you’re still having trouble viewing a Dailymotion video (even on the Dailymotion site), try using a recent version of Google Chrome. Dailymotion should really make their site backward compatible and equally accessible from all browsers and from Flash 11 on up. I’ve even dared to propose this to them, but you know how the French are: between making cheese and surrendering, they’re already severely overtasked.😉 Software designers frequently get caught in the bells & whistles trap. They think that what makes a site popular is bells & whistles, when what most end users want is basic functionality. Just play the damn video!

Michael Howard

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

 

Survival, Friday The 13th, Doctor Who, and Black Cats

My entry on the topic of Survival

doctor-who-animatronic-cat

Surviving Friday The 13th has historically meant avoiding black cats. But the Doctor Who story “Survival” — which was the last story aired during the “classic” period ending in 1989 — was all about cats, cat people, and human beings surviving their excursions into animal nature. The not-so-subtle message telegraphed toward the end was “If we fight like animals, we’ll die like animals!”

Some cast members barely survived location filming at Warmwell Quarry, where temperatures reportedly soared into the hundreds. Lisa Bowerman, who was decked out in Fun Fur as a Cheetah Person named Karra, came down with heat stroke. Sylvester McCoy, who played the Seventh Doctor, was troubled by the heat, but more so by fellow actor Anthony Ainley’s approach to method acting. With an impish half-grin, McCoy recalls how Ainley (who played The Master) beat the crap out of him.

Sophie Aldred, who played Ace (and famously beat up a Dalek), is allergic to cats and barely survived playing a scene with a black cat without giving out a sneeze that would have blanketed Perivale. In addition, the animatronic cat used in some scenes (pictured above) was none too convincing, and had to be augmented by bringing in a sack of live cats, coaxing them to perform on cue — not much harder than getting cats to march in a parade. As finicky as these cats were, they demanded tea breaks and to be paid union scale.

Though none of the actors knew it at the time, Doctor Who itself would not survive. Producer John Nathan-Turner and script editor Andrew Cartmel suspected as much, and Cartmel dropped in some closing lines for “Survival” intended to address the possibility that this would be the last episode:

The Doctor to Ace: There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!

But like the Doctor himself, the series ultimately managed to survive by regenerating. Such regeneration was far from instantaneous, but when the series finally returned after a 16-year hiatus, one time-honoured Who tradition thankfully did not survive: the tendency to produce the show on a shoestring budget.

“The BBC Steadicam — a bit of rope and a lens,” Sophie Aldred famously remarks in an outtake from “Battlefield.” Yet when the series returned in 2005, it was given a budget that allowed for special effects comparable to major film releases. No more cheap rubber monsters (though the monster in “Vincent and the Doctor” is a bit goofy-looking, and does slightly resemble the carpet monster from the 1964 camp horror flick The Creeping Terror).

Perhaps more important to the new Who’s artistic merit, the character of Ace influenced the way that new Companions like Rose Tyler and Amy Pond were written. They had to have a good back story, be emotionally complex, and really drive the series, not just be window dressing or foils for the Doctor. Still, in an analogue to the classic Peter Cook & Dudley Moore routine about a “unidexter” applying for the role of Tarzan, things haven’t reached the stage where unattractive women need apply.

At least, having complex female characters who drive the series is progress for Doctor Who. Things weren’t always that way. Back in the 1970s women wanted challenging roles, and though actresses auditioning for Companion were often promised same, their roles frequently degenerated into screaming and being rescued by the Doctor. This was even true of Sophie Aldred’s immediate predecessor, Bonnie Langford, who played Melanie Bush. Though Andrew Cartmel originally had high hopes for bringing out Mel’s complex side (she was supposed to be a computer programmer), that complexity never emerged and Mel became instead the paradigmatic shrill screamer, able to shatter glass at thirty paces.

The character of Ace marked a genuine turning point for the show, and the final (26th) season was all about seeing Ace develop emotionally. “Survival” was written by Rona Munro, whose interest in feminist theory was not so heavy-handed as to spoil the story as entertainment. The strong female Companion is one good feature of “late period classic” that survived the regeneration.

An encounter between Ace and one of the Cheetah People

An encounter between Ace and one of the Cheetah People

Another surviving feature is the occasional dalliance in Doctor Who with political themes, usually left-leaning. “The Happiness Patrol” (also from season 26) is about a totalitarian world where it’s a crime to be unhappy. The main baddie is a female monarch who’s a scathing sendup of (then Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher.

The new Who has its share of political themes and subtexts. “The Beast Below” (S05E02) is arguably about the exploitation of labour, or exploitation of Third World resources by First World powers. It’s also about repressive tolerance. You are free to protest, but those hitting the “protest” button are quickly whisked to Starship UK’s dank lower extremities. The story is also about survival and the ethical compromises a developed nation will make in order to survive. The implication is that few people can bear to know the truth about the means used, and those who see the truth find it more convenient to forget it.

Survival is a major theme of Doctor Who, and of science fiction in general. The survival theme may be handled crudely or elegantly, with comic-strip characters or complex human ones, but it tends to inform much great drama.

Trivia: In the dry spell between 1989 and 2005, some of the forms in which Doctor Who survived were novels and audio productions. The Seventh Doctor got a new Companion called Bernice Summerfield, who followed in the Ace tradition by being complex, rebellious and anarchic. Eventually, the character became independent of the Doctor and branched out on her own. In the numerous Bernice Summerfield audio plays produced by Big Finish Productions, Lisa Bowerman, the actress who played Karra in “Survival,” plays Bernice.

Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, his arms brimming with cans of cat food

Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, his arms brimming with cans of cat food

* * *

Doctor Who: Ghost Light Picture Gallery

doctor-who-ghost-light-picture-galleryThe real world is so fraught with conflict and suffering it’s no wonder I sometimes take refuge in the Whovian universe. While writing about “That’s The Way To The Zoo” (a song sung in “Ghost Light”), I became obsessed with taking screenshots:

From left to right: the Doctor, Control, Inspector Mackenzie, and Ace

From left to right: the Doctor, Control, Inspector Mackenzie, and Ace

The Seventh Doctor in Full Philosophical Mode

The Seventh Doctor in Full Philosophical Mode

The Doctor and Ace: dramatic tension

The Doctor and Ace: dramatic tension

 Sylvester McCoy reacts with horror when John Nathan-Turner suggests tattooing a question mark on his forehead

Sylvester McCoy reacts with horror when John Nathan-Turner suggests tattooing a question mark on his forehead

Gordon Bennett! Suddenly I have a wicked headache. (Sophie Aldred)

Gordon Bennett! Suddenly I have a wicked headache. (Sophie Aldred)

Need a butler? Just bring your friendly neighbourhood Neanderthal out of stasis.

Need a butler? Just bring your friendly neighbourhood Neanderthal out of stasis.

Exchanging pleasantries with the magnificently muttonchopped Reverend Ernest Matthews

Exchanging pleasantries with the magnificently muttonchopped Reverend Ernest Matthews

Under the gun: Such rude treatment from the Royal Geographical Society!

Under the gun: Such rude treatment from the Royal Geographical Society!

Sophie and Sylvester: a defining moment

Ace and the Doctor: a defining moment

Sylvester McCoy and Katharine Schlesinger each have their scenes with Sylvia Syms

Sylvester McCoy and Katharine Schlesinger each have their scenes with Sylvia Syms

Ace teaches an evolving life form to say "The rain in Spain falls mainly down the drain." (No, really!)

Ace teaches an evolving life form to say “The rain in Spain falls mainly down the drain.” (No, really!)

From an unfinished episode: Just to give the Doctor aggro, the Master turns Ace into a babushka doll. This episode remained unfinished because all the babushka dolls went on strike. Apparently their motto is "One out, the lot out."

From an unfinished episode: Just to give the Doctor aggro, the Master turns Ace into a babushka doll. This episode remained unfinished because all the babushkas went on strike. Apparently their motto is “One out, the lot out.”

Sylvester does his Mr. Bean impression for Sophie

Sylvester does his Mr. Bean impression for Sophie

It's getting very near the end: the last scene filmed for Doctor Who classic

It’s getting very near the end: the last scene filmed for Doctor Who classic

Sophie and Sylvester (who share the same birthday) fooling around between takes. The joke here is that Sylvester is supposed to yell "Cover your eyes!" But because he's blinded by the light he keeps covering inappropriate body parts, causing Sophie to totally crack up.

Sophie & Sylvester (who share the same birthday) fooling around between takes. The joke is that Sylvester is supposed to yell “Cover your eyes!” But because he’s blinded by the light he keeps covering inappropriate body parts, causing Sophie to totally crack up.

sophie-aldred-sylvester-mccoy-2
* * *

This fan page is intended to promote the BBC series Doctor Who. All source videos copyright BBC. Photoshopping and expressive captioning by Michael Howard.

See also “Rehearsing Doctor Who.” [link to follow]