Donald Trump, Stormy Daniels, Kellyanne Conway & Bad Energy

With a sidebar discussing revelations concerning Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ

Did you hear the latest joke about Stormy Daniels? She’s starting a new site called sex-with-a-porn-star-dot-com. Terms are flexible. You can pay now, or you can — ahem… pay later.

The good and wise know that most things in life come with a price tag. Sex with a porn star isn’t free. If you don’t pay now, you’ll end up having to pay later. (Perhaps that’s a reason to avoid such liaisons.)

In his sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein suggested that an honest politician is one who “stays bought.” Stormy Daniels is one of The Donald’s cronies from his bad boy days, his days as a chronic philanderer. And though she got paid $130,000 (which is a lot), she didn’t stay bought.

These people are sharks, the lot of them. I don’t mean to be unkind or judgmental, I’m just saying… This within the larger context that Donald Trump needs to be removed from office by constitutional means, because he’s a massive embarrassment to this great and good nation.

Yes, our democratic institutions are strong(ish), but we shouldn’t whistle past the graveyard and assume that they can withstand anything we might throw at them. Four (or more) years of Donald Trump may be one shock too many.

Yes, we are a rich nation, but that doesn’t mean we have the luxury of keeping an incompetent buffoon in office just because he provides daily excitement and good entertainment value. Government needs to work. When it doesn’t, people die — from needless wars, or because in this nation of plenty, no one could be bothered getting them the health care they needed to survive for one more day; no one could be bothered fixing the roads and bridges they needed to drive over in order to make it to work, and home again safely.

One way of looking at the problem of Donald Trump as president is that it’s a problem of bad energy. I want to be careful how I frame this. I believe in science in scientific matters, and in mathematics in matters mathematical. Based on my study and experience, I also believe there are deeper spiritual causes for many phenomena we encounter in life. For more about how scientific rationalism and spiritual idealism can coexist happily together, see this discussion of freedom of mind and freedom of heart.

The concept of “bad energy” is somewhat amorphous, but not entirely unfathomable. On a personal level, when you meet some people you get a certain feeling about them, that they are not quite right. This feeling is then borne out by experience: they lie, they cheat, they’re always getting into trouble; and while they may have a certain charm, personal magnetism, or vital energy which propels them forward, they are not good people. They appeal to the lowest drives in human nature, to greed, lust, and hatred. Their success (if any) has a cheap and gaudy quality. Measured against the long arc of history, their works are short-lived and shoddy. They do not do good works or build upon a solid foundation; rather, they do works which bring temporary notoriety but are apt to crumble and fall. That is Donald Trump to a T.

The concept of bad energy also applies to particular ventures. You don’t plan a picnic for a day when it’s supposed to rain buckets. The universe has subtle inner forces which are roughly akin to weather. In some cultures, an important undertaking is planned with the help of astrologers and priests, and a blessing is sought to invoke the higher forces of light, compassion, and wisdom.

The truly wise human being knows that he or she cannot do great and good things merely by dint of personal ambition. The wise try to act in concert with the higher forces and to receive their blessing before beginning any important undertaking.

The first day of a new venture — how it is launched — can tell you much about the energy behind it and how it will fare in the future. Donald Trump’s campaign for president began with a hateful attack on Mexican-Americans. (He called them rapists.) The PR event was launched with an “audience” consisting of paid actors meant to look like political supporters. As the venture began, so it continues. This is the type of president we now have — one whose presidency consists largely of stagecraft, and poor stagecraft at that.

When you get involved with people with bad energy who launch inauspicious ventures based solely on personal ambition, you find that things are constantly going wrong and you’re being forced to lower your standard just to accommodate them. A leader with bad energy attracts hirelings with bad energy: wife-beaters, compulsive gamblers, foreign agents committing treason and socking millions away in secret bank accounts; technophiles who steal people’s personal data and create psychographic profiles used to tailor propaganda to manipulate election results; crackpot militarists who want to bomb first and ask questions later; or PR people with legal training who lie as casually as a kitten scratches.

As I write, Kellyanne Conway is being considered for the position of Trump’s new Communications Director. Comparing one show business personality with another: In 2009, Stormy Daniels launched a mock campaign for U.S. Senate with the slogan “Screwing people honestly.” Kellyanne Conway’s slogan should be “Screwing people dishonestly” (with alternative facts). Both women are apparently for hire if the price is right, and the functions they perform are not substantially different. Both are gold diggers; they simply employ different digging apparatus. (Daniels ended her Senate bid around the same time she was booked by Tampa police on a domestic violence charge. She was held overnight, then released on $1,000 bail. The charge was later dropped.)

Kellyanne Conway appears on CNN in 2016, touting then candidate Donald Trump.

Like Trump himself, these Trump hangers-on are sharks. I say this not to demean them, but because when you have this type of sharklike behaviour connected with high office, you have to recognize it and root it out. Otherwise, the fish rots from the head, and our nation rots with it. The distasteful Madison Avenue concept of being “noseblind” finds its proper application here. With the daily stench coming from the White House, Americans are gradually becoming noseblind, but our allies not inured to this level of corruption are reeling from the stench. The solution is not to spray PR Febreze over the mess, but to do some genuine housecleaning.

To the extent that I’m at all political, I’m a liberal but not a knee-jerk liberal. I don’t automatically assume that anyone who goes up against Trump is an ally. This is a mistake some liberals are making about lawyer Michael Avenatti and his client Stormy Daniels. The latter are further specimens of carcharodon carcharias — opportunists nosing their way onto the media stage in order to grub for money and fame. Both Avenatti and Daniels already enjoy considerable money and fame, but what they share with Donald Trump is that they are insatiable and lack basic ethics. It’s all about the almighty dollar.

The fact that Trump and Daniels/Avenatti are of the same species doesn’t mean they won’t cannibalize each other. An unappetitlich fact about sharks is that even in the womb, the stronger embryos eat the weaker ones. Our nation is presently being dragged underwater, pulled down by the bad energy and sharklike behaviour of Trump and his cohort.

A short (transmogrified) clip from the Beatles film Yellow Submarine. Perhaps a metaphor for Washington politics, where strange creatures sometimes reach accommodations — or else gobble each other up.

Despite these harsh criticisms, I mean no ill-will to anyone. But our nation is presently in danger from an administration which is incompetent and corrupt, was brought into power by corrupt means, and is sustained by corrupt means, including the Fox News propaganda machine. We face the danger of totalitarianism. People with this type of bad energy often turn to totalitarianism as the most efficient means of ensuring their perpetual power, notoriety, and riches. In this respect, craziness for wealth and fame is turning us into a Bananas republic:

I come from an arts and spirituality background, and am not happy about devoting so much of my time to writing about politics. But as in the Vietnam era, people may need to speak up in order to encourage positive change. The present level of corruption in government is unacceptable, and leads to the general breakdown of society. We need to recognize that America is, at its core, a good nation and can do much good for its own people and for the world at large. But to be good and do good, America must resist the bad energy which has descended wholesale upon our capital, and is fed in secret by billions in dark money.

In his testimony before a British House of Commons committee, whistleblower Chris Wylie explained that the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (of which he is former research director) doesn’t have to turn a profit like a normal company because it’s subsidized by New York billionaire Robert Mercer. It can therefore act as a covert means of funneling huge contributions to political causes handpicked by Mercer, regardless of supposed limits set by law. This is a concrete example of dark money being used to rig elections, employing hi-tech means as well as the latest psychological theories about how to manipulate voters by getting inside their heads and playing to their fears, using personal data scraped from Facebook.

This is the brave new world in which we presently live, where thinking people are held hostage to a populist majority which reacts slavishly to psychological stimuli supplied by political operatives obsessed with kingmaking. It is an ugly world, and just as we have a duty to leave our children a clean environment, we also have a duty to apply an emissions test to our politicians, rejecting and removing those who cast an odiferous pall over our nation, or pollute the seas of discourse with the toxic sludge of “alternative facts.”

Stormy Daniels is not an opponent of Donald Trump in any meaningful sense; just another distasteful aspect of the Trump reality TV show. While the general public is crying out for photos, videos, and detailed descriptions of genitalia, the nation’s public institutions are being methodically ransacked, gutted, and primed for privatization. That is the main spectacle to which Stormy Daniels is only a sideshow.

I apologize for being so hard on those in power, but their energy is not good, and there is every indication that they will continue to stumble “from frustration-window to destruction-door.”

Michael Howard

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


Sidebar: The Turing Test, the Voight-Kampff Test, and Brexit

Just this morning I got another phone call from a bot programmed to address me by my first name and try and strike up an initial conversation for telemarketing purposes. These bots are incredibly annoying, and my initial (un-Christian) impulse was that I’d like to kill it. But there’s probably a law against killing telemarketing bots, passed by lawmakers paid off by the telecom industry. 😉 It sounds like the plot for a story Asimov would have written. (Asimov’s Fifth Law of Robotics: No robot shall pretend to be from Microsoft Tech Support in order to scam innocent old people living on cat food.)

Another sci-fi writer, Philip K. Dick, dealt extensively with the question of what constitutes genuine emotion. See his novel Do Andoids Dream of Electric Sheep?, later made into the film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott.

What does all this have to do with Brexit and the main topic of this post? The connecting link is Cambridge Analytica, the firm apparently used to unfairly target voters with psychological manipulation during both the 2016 Brexit campaign in Britain, and the 2016 presidential campaign in the U.S. The investigations are ongoing and some of the facts remain murky, including the role of a Canadian company called AggregateIQ with supposed ties to Cambridge Analytica:

The larger question is: Suppose voters hadn’t been subjected to psychological manipulation, but had simply been given neutral facts. Would they still have voted to leave the European Union, or to make Donald Trump their president? Perhaps not.

At what point does political science become the science of psychologically manipulating the masses using lies, propaganda, fear, hatred, high technology, and stolen data?

When people have been subjected to extensive psychological manipulation, including a large quantity of false and hateful depictions (such as graphics which Cambridge Analytica takes credit for, showing Hillary Clinton in handcuffs), how genuine are the resulting emotions?

These are difficult questions since at the populist level, people are taught to treat their emotions as sacrosanct. If the motto of the intellectual was once “I think, therefore I am” the motto of the Facebook consumer may be “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Yet, emotions can be manipulated. How can we judge their genuineness?

Democracy works best in an environment of openness and honesty. Too much money (especially dark money) is one universal surd in the political mathematic. The use of covert psychological manipulation employing hi-tech means is another significant threat. It remains to be seen whether democracy can survive the dual onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates.

It may be that the 2016 presidential election was the most corrupt in U.S. history. Payoffs and ballot-box stuffing are bad enough and perhaps common enough; but what seems most troubling here in retrospect is the hi-tech precision with which people’s emotions were targeted for psychological manipulation, using fake news spread via Facebook, Twitter bots, and the like.

It got so bad that after a fake news story claiming Hillary Clinton was behind a child pornography ring operating out of a pizzeria, one guy showed up there ready to shoot the place up. See the New York Times story “In Washington Pizzeria Attack, Fake News Brought Real Guns.” Also the Los Angeles Times: “Son of Trump’s incoming national security advisor pushes conspiracy theory targeting pizza parlor.”

It’s fairly common to find that politicians are shameless demagogues, but most of their demagoguery is usually out in the open, on display. The wise can see through it, and can perhaps guide the more foolish. But in 2016, so much was done covertly to influence voter sentiment, both by the Trump campaign and by Russian agents. It remains to be seen whether these two camps working toward similar ends using similar techniques engaged in a degree of cooperation which rises to the level of conspiracy.

If anyone needs a food-taster these days, it’s Bob Mueller! Bob, please stay away from doorknobs and park benches. Don’t follow leaders, and watch your parking meters!

Note: If you’d like to know more about the Turing Test and the Voight-Kampff test, try “Of Tortoises and Turing: Creating a Test for Humanity.”

I’ll close with this video from the UK’s Channel Four, as it may tie together some loose ends:

Links

“Cambridge Analytica and the Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz” (2016)
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/cambridge-analytica-facebook-quiz.html

“The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” (2017)
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/may/07/the-great-british-brexit-robbery-hijacked-democracy

“Cambridge Analytica execs boast of role in getting Donald Trump elected” (2018)
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/20/cambridge-analytica-execs-boast-of-role-in-getting-trump-elected

“A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That ‘Cheating’ Swung the Brexit Vote” (2018)
https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/a-cambridge-analytica-whistleblower-claims-that-cheating-swung-the-brexit-vote

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Forbes magazine unveils Stock Talk with Stormy Daniels

Stock Talk for March 27, 2018

After flaccid performance in the fourth quarter, Canadian Codpiece spanked investors with yet more losses this week, but promised textbook generic earnings next quarter after taking write-offs related to their discontinued line of orange skin bronzer.

In other news, just did my first interview with high-yield bond manager Jeffrey Kociniwicz and can describe his junk perfectly.

After a huge stock market run-up, some investors may find their portfolios are top-heavy, with too many high beta tech stocks and not enough good little earners. Diversifying into high-yield bonds may be just the shot of Viagra you need to firm up your portfolio and keep your masthead erect while sailing into uncharted waters, with inflation visible on the horizon. Remember, Mr. Fed Chair, we need a slow hand!

I’ll be in Parsippany, New jersey this weekend, continuing my series of seminars on women and investing. The theme of this week’s presentation will be “My cup runneth over…”

Till then, for Steve Forbes and the whole Forbes family, this is Stormy Daniels reminding you to shake that money maker!

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Stormy Daniels Warm-Up Party

UPDATED! Listen to “Stormy” and “Daniel” songs while waiting for the CBS 60 Minutes interview to air (or after). Might be some Devo, Nancy Sinatra, and Threepenny Opera worked in just for laughs. I freely admit “Danny Boy” is a stretch, but I couldn’t resist. All real music (no stupid parodies.) Sunday will never be the same!

I started this YouTube playlist as a lark, but later got seriously into it. So aside from the obligatory nods to pop music you’ll also find some rare blues and folk gems. Includes both Joni Mitchell and Tom Rush versions of “Urge For Going” (heh-heh, Donald Trump joke), as well as Muddy Waters, the Greenbriar Boys, Joan Baez, Big Bill Broonzy, Bessie Smith, Doc Watson, Julie Andrews, John Coltrane, and lots of other great artists.

In short, the music stands on its own, so even after all the Stormy Daniels jokes have died down, and Donald Trump is just another ex-pol wearing an orange jump suit, you can still enjoy this deep dive into the flood waters of music history. A great way to spend a rainy night or ride out the storm!

Just press the play button on the embedded YouTube and all songs should play in sequence. If you prefer to look before you leap, here’s the playlist:

1 Billie Holiday – Stormy Weather (1952)
2 Stormy Monday – B.B. King
3 Stormy Love (Laura Nyro)
4 The Band – Daniel And The Sacred Harp
5 Elton John – Daniel
6 (A capella) John McDermott – Danny Boy (rare)
7 Danny Boy – Sinéad O’Connor
8 Whip it – Devo
9 Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ – 1966
10 Spanky & Our Gang – Sunday Will Never Be The Same
11 Peter Gabriel – Shock The Monkey
12 (1979) The Flying Lizards – Money (That’s What I Want)
13 Mack the Knife by Louis Armstrong
14 Jaws – Theme song
15 What Game Shall We Play Today (Chick Corea/Return to Forever)
16 Enya – Storms in Africa HD
17 Toto – Africa (Video)
18 Storm Clouds Rising – Florida Mass Choir
19 Muddy Waters – Flood
20 Greenbriar Boys – Up To My Neck In High Muddy Water
21 Joan Baez – Before the Deluge
22 Tom Rush – Rainy Day Man ’70
23 Urge For Going (1966) – Joni Mitchell
24 Big Bill Broonzy – Southern Flood Blues
25 Bessie Smith – Back Water Blues COLUMBIA 14195 D
26 Doc Watson – Deep River Blues
27 Brook Benton – Rainy Night in Georgia
28 It’s Raining Men (Weather Girls)
29 Richard Harris – MacArthur Park Original 1968
30 Tom Rush – Urge For Going
31 Ode to the Yellow River by Xian Xinghai
32 The Beatles – Rain
33 My Favorite Things – Julie Andrews
34 John Coltrane – My Favorite Things – Live At Newport
35 Rainy Night House – Joni Mitchell
36 Etta James – Stormy Monday (live)

If you’ve read my post “The Gospel Truth About Congress,” you know that I love the way different media hit off each other. So not all the songs are necessarily great music, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Sometimes I go for similarities, sometimes for extreme contrasts.

As for Stormy Daniels jokes, turns out I’m the biggest one of all. For years I’ve been pouring my heart out on all sorts of profound topics. Then I make one lousy Stormy Daniels joke, and suddenly the Googlebot thinks that’s what I’m famous for. It is to weep. 😉 (Should I don a putty nose to please my new readers?)

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Disclaimer: This is all music I found on YouTube. None of it was uploaded by me, and I don’t claim any copyright.

Why we need gun control – an alternative spiritual view

Introduction

The demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands of people have participated — many of them students — demanding sensible gun laws, is a very positive development. It represents a countervailing force against the sheer money power and bullying power of the gun lobby. It remains to be seen whether these demonstrations will have a lasting political impact, and will ultimately achieve the goal of meaningful reform.

Many of the reasons why we need sensible gun laws are painfully obvious — both to Americans, and to friends of America like Great Britain. The latter is one of several Western nations which have enacted strict gun laws, and as a result have seen gun violence plummet dramatically. No thinking person can question the basic connection between the mass proliferation of firearms and a spiraling murder rate.

It is especially fitting then, that our young people are rising up to question the political and moral corruption which keeps both gun sales and gun murders at astronomical levels — fitting not just because young people are often innocent victims of gun violence, but also because young people bring a fresh perspective unstained and unsullied by the base motives which have led us to the present morass.

Young people are shepherded through active shooter drills at school, and in neighborhoods like South L.A. (as demonstrator Edna Chavez points out) they learn to duck bullets before they learn to read. So they’re angry about this wholesale, bump-stocked destruction of their innocence. They rightly observe that in an atmosphere of fear, even those not directly impacted by gun violence in the form of losing a friend or loved one nevertheless feel the intense psychological pressure. If they are angry, and are speaking up with anger, this is understandable. But is there anything beyond the anger?

On the one hand, political action for a worthy cause is admirable; on the other hand, political movements are less than perfect. There’s always a certain amount of sloganeering, emotionalism, and “rah-rah, hooray for our side.” These things are inevitable, and don’t invalidate the underlying cause. Some people can be forgiven if, with respect to a particular demo, they ask not “What are the organizing principles?” but rather “Which bands are playing?” After all, social bonding is part of the process of amassing political power.

One summer when I was just a tiny tot, my aunt paid my way to go to day camp. On the daily bus ride, the camp counselors would sing endless renditions of “Blowin’ in the Wind”:

A good protest song is definitely worth its weight in gold, and can help both inspire noble idealism, and galvanize opinion on concrete issues. To this day, on the issue of gun control I trot out this old Tom Paxton ditty, often introing it as “Wayne LaPierre Sings”:

Has anything changed? I think so. To understand what, we need to know about the madness of crowds. Over time, the population becomes enamored of — and subsequently disenchanted with — various fads, some of which can be long-lasting. After a decades long experiment with the mass proliferation of firearms, it may be argued that we are, as a nation, beginning to turn the tide. The learning curve is finally bending in the direction of insight that more and more guns do not lead to a safer and safer society, but rather to a society in which our children grow up in a state of perpetual trauma. In this respect, the slogan “Enough is enough” is perfectly apt and signals a definite inflection point (we hope).

A Spiritual Perspective

To some people, the concept of spirituality seems remote or pie-in-the-sky. This is understandable, since spirituality is mostly not taught in our schools; and when it is, it’s sometimes the “believe this or go to hell” variety.

Yet, spirituality is connected with peace and peace studies. Peace is a quality, and peace studies is an organized effort to find ways of bringing peace to our troubled world.

From a spiritual perspective, gun control is not just about reducing the number of guns, but also about changing the mindset which leads us to adopt violent solutions to basic human problems. One of the tools used in peace studies is meditation, and this NBC story on meditation in the schools shows just how effective a tool meditation can be:

What do I mean when I say that peace is a quality? If you go to a certain restaurant, you know they specialize in items like burgers, salads, or shakes. In God’s shop there is peace, light, and joy. You can eat as much as you want according to your appetite.

Peace does not mean simply the absence of war or conflict. Peace is a quality which we can imbibe through our prayer and meditation. When we drink deeply of peace, so many human problems are solved! And also, when we drink deeply of peace, we see more clearly what things need to be done to improve our lives, to improve society. When we drink deeply of peace, we see that this decades long obsession with guns, guns, and more guns is total insanity! It is an unnatural fixation which comes from man’s destructive mind and destructive vital.

Again, when we drink deeply of peace, we are taking in something which is natural, just as some people prefer natural foods rather than heavily processed foods. For gradual, lasting change to occur, we need to drink in peace in abundant measure, and learn from the experience of peace how we can make a world in which our children feel safe and loved, not angry and betrayed.

But this peace is not just for adults, and the solutions will not come only from adults. The more our children feel the psychological pressure of violence all around them, the more they need a safe space where there is quiet time and they can experience peace. And the more they see that this inner peace is indeed an ingredient in solving the problem of outer violence, the better prepared they will be to create tomorrow’s institutions based not on turning schools into prisons and teachers into armed guards, but on patterns of association involving love, trust, and insight.

Now, there are even deeper spiritual reasons why we need gun control. Our world was created by God. He was one, He was silent; but He wanted to become many in order to know the meaning of His silence. So He created the Cosmic Game, in which matter is thrown out from His soul, and takes billions of years to evolve back into conscious Divinity. This is the Cosmic Game, of which we are part.

Our world is a reflection of something which is, at its root, perfect. This is the great secret which peace can teach us, silence can teach us. Presently, our world is an imperfect reflection. But gradually, gradually, over the long arc of time, it is evolving toward perfection. So we get the most joy when we consciously participate in God’s Cosmic Game in the way that He intended; not by collecting more and more guns, but by expressing more and more self-giving.

Meditation can take us very far. In meditation, we can catch a glimpse of the higher worlds. There, the beauty of nature springs directly from the mind of God in infinite abundance. There are no guns there, and no need for guns.

If we know we are evolving toward something higher, then we can have a kind of blueprint for what we want to achieve in society. The golden future is fast approaching, but we are late in making ourselves fit to receive it, live in it. The future beckons us, but in order to fully embrace it we must renounce our foolish attachment to guns and weapons of mass destruction.

Change occurs not just on an individual level, but also on a macro level. The micro and macro influence each other. If, as individuals, we are able to cultivate more peace, then we can also affect institutions in a positive way. Likewise, when institutions charged with fostering the health and well-being of society reach the unmistakable conclusion that gun control is necessary, they can educate and influence individuals.

Let us hope that we have passed a milestone point in history, and are moving away from armaments and toward the firmament!

Anger and slogans are part of politics, but for lasting change something more is needed. We need to cultivate peace, and we should not lose faith in humanity despite setbacks. Spiritual master Sri Chinmoy writes:

India’s greatest spiritual politician, Mahatma Gandhi, said something very striking. He said not to lose faith in humanity. We have to take humanity as an ocean. There are a few drops in the ocean that may be dirty, but the entire ocean is not dirty. According to him, we must not judge humanity by the limited experiences we usually get when we associate ourselves with limited persons around us. We have to be careful, but at the same time we have to have faith in humanity. If we lose faith in humanity, then we are doomed, for humanity is an actual limb of our body.

— Sri Chinmoy, from A Hundred Years From Now, Agni Press, 1974

To bring about a more peaceful world, we need to become students of peace. That is how Sri Chinmoy always described himself. Looked at from a spiritual perspective, gun control is part of a broader effort to create a world based on principles of peace.

A peace benediction from Sri Chinmoy


Sidebar: Save The Country

If you are a student of peace, then you are in the same boat as singer/songwriter Laura Nyro, who sang “In my mind I can’t study war no more”:

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Top 10 British Snow Videos

Coping with snow by channeling your inner Yorkshireman

It’s all too easy to give in to despondency when faced with round after round of inclement weather. Fortunately, these top 10 British snow videos will lift your spirits! Piers Morgan will help you find your “inner Yorkshireman” just in time for that dreaded sequel, Beast from the East 3.

Clearly, taping tennis rackets to your feet and drawing straws for who goes for the milk begins to get at that spirit of invention and unbridled heroism for which the British are famous. But for courage in its most unadulterated form, focus your gaze laserlike on the lone Yorkshireman who braves the harshest of elements, all for love, all for love…

The eccentricities of Dales folk were oft explored in the series All Creatures Great and Small:

But in rural areas of Britain, snow is no joke for the sheep, who must be dug out when they’ve sheltered in deep drifts:

More often, though, the Brits get scanty snow which leaves them wanting more:

Recent snows have known no borders, falling on Britain and Ireland alike. This Irish lass seems well pleased with the snow which blanketed Dublin:

The bare shelves emptied of bread raise the issue of survival in a snowstorm. Would you/could you pick up a gun and shoot something if you were hungry enough? Piers Morgan is a gun control advocate (bless him!), but if driven to starvation, would even he contemplate the rare avian visitor with murder in his heart? Could he take aim, and would you find him shooting for the rafters?

Mainstream media tend to run stories which treat snow as an inconvenience and feature lorry pile-ups. Their great error is in imagining that snow can be fit to their schedule, when the truth is that snow is something to be surrendered to.

Most good footage of Beast from the East/Storm Emma is amateur footage. I love the wildness of the sea in this raw clip from Sunderland. You can almost feel the white spray of the breakers surging up over the railings:

Also this lovely, leisurely sojourn through St. James’s Park, with the honking of geese and cries of seagulls:

This guy has the right idea about snow, which is to get out in it and really commune with it as far from civilisation as possible:

On the other hand, this boy’s world has room for both the beauty of snow and excitement of the video arcade. I love how in his kid world there are no adults (except as targets for pranking), and when he gets in the car, he even acts like he’s the one who’ll be doing the driving!

Coping with snow means recognizing it for the miracle that it is and being amazed by it. We love children because they help us see the world anew, with eyes fresh as new-blown snow. This dad clearly “gets it” that snow is all about being amazed. I’m willing to overlook some flaws in the production because his enthusiasm conquers all. As the great and good Sri Chinmoy said:

Enthusiasm, enthusiasm,
God’s main food;
He begs me to eat
For my good.

I’m reminded of a scene from C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia where a hansom cab driver named Frank is left speechless by the beauty of the new scene he suddenly beholds when transported to Narnia. That’s lush, that’s lush…

If you open your heart to them, these snow videos made by everyday people will bring you more joy than any Hollywood blockbuster.

Are your spirits lifted yet? Say yes, or I’ll be forced to return with more snow videos. 😉

Michael Howard


Sidebar: Doctor Who in Dungeness

Back in 1971, stuntman/actor Derek Ware adopted a “Mummerfordshire” accent when playing the part of Pigbin Josh, a strange character inhabiting the Doctor Who story “Claws of Axos”:

During filming, the Dungeness weather was so unpredictable they had to cobble together footage shot in sun, rain, snow, and fog. Later, script editor Terrance Dicks dropped in a bit of dialogue about “freak weather conditions” to cover the continuity cock-up. Katy Manning (who played companion Jo Grant) adds to the annals of Great British Freezes by describing how frozen actors, like pussycats, draped themselves over car engines just to glean a smitch of warmth.


Of Further Interest

Salvation
Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow
Alice in the Snow I
Blogging Economics

Potent Quote

Piers Morgan on guns:

I speak as someone who loves America and loves Americans. But having been brought up in a country where there are no guns, the one thing that you’re completely struck by when you come to America is the amount of paranoia and fear that infests daily life in almost every sphere of American society because of the presence of guns.

https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-10-08/piers-morgan-gun-control-me-doing-nothing-unconscionable

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The Great Storm

From Charlie Chaplin to The Vicar of Dibley, the Great Storm meme has endured — sometimes in comic form.

I’ve had snow on the brain lately, due to the Beast from the East and Storm Emma, as well as nor’easters hitting here in the U.S. (the latest just in time for spring!). I’m still excited about completing my short film Salvation featuring people, sculptures, and horses in the snow. (My resources are limited, but with what I have I try to make a statement.)

There are many examples of snowstorms providing the dramatic or comedic focal point for memorable scenes from film and TV. A few that spring to mind are:

FILM

– The snow scenes from Fahrenheit 451 (original François Truffaut version), based on the novel by Ray Bradbury.

– The snow scenes from Slaughterhouse-Five, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

– The snow scenes from The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King.

– The snow scenes from A Dream In A Different Key a.k.a. Four Seasons: Utopiano, a film rarely seen in the U.S. made for Japanese TV.

– The snow scenes from Fargo, the Coen brothers’ quirky crime dramedy.

TV

The Honeymooners s01e24 “Please Leave the Premises,” where for refusing to pay a $5 rent increase, Ralph and Alice end up on the street in the snow.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show s01e08 “The Snow Must Go On,” where a massive blizzard leads to wacky election night coverage at TV station WJM.

Taxi s03e07 “Call of the Mild,” where hoping to enjoy a relaxing week in the mountains, the guys get trapped in a remote cabin during a blizzard, with no food except what they may or may not agree to hunt and kill.

Taxi s05e04,e05 “Scenskees From A Marriage,” where snow and freezing weather lead Latka (Andy Kaufman) to make a critical life-or-death choice which he must later explain to his wife Simka (Carol Kane).

Northern Exposure s05e10 “First Snow.” This is a bittersweet episode which deals with death but also finds joy in winter, as residents of the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska wish each other “Bon Hiver” (good winter) with the coming of the first snow.

Doctor Who: “A Christmas Carol” (2010 special). When snow finally arrives on an alien planet, it signifies an end to an era of uncharity. Though obviously a rip of the Dickens classic, this off-world Whovian holiday chestnut has a charm all its own and is something old Charlie never could have dreamt of (with a unique take on debtor’s prison). SPOILER ALERT: The ending with a carriage in the sky drawn by a grateful shark is truly wonderful!

Note that in moving from Northern Exposure to Doctor Who, we’re moving from magical realism to outright sci-fi. Next stop…

ANIMATION

The Snowman, a beloved children’s fantasy also prized by adults, and popularizing the song “Walking in the Air.”

The Great Frost, a lesser-known animated short based on a passage from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando, and presented as part of the PBS suite of animations Simple Gifts.

This list is hardly exhaustive, but does get the (snow)ball rolling. If it’s cold enough where you are, you can sit around a warm fire and play at listing all the snow scenes you can think of from film, TV, animation, and novels.

I don’t propose to do a complete monograph on the subject, but am pleased to share two clips with you, from The Vicar of Dibley and The Gold Rush:

Season 1 of Vicar of Dibley was quite good. This clip is from s01e04 “The Window and the Weather.” After banter about the Great Storm (or Storm with No Name), Dibley residents must try and recall what the stained glass window destroyed by the storm actually depicted. One of the funniest scenes ever! Takeaway quote: “Bloody odd library with five thousand sheep in it.”

Marc Chagall’s “great load of arty-farty froggy nonsense”

At the moment, some episodes of Vicar of Dibley seem to be up on Dailymotion in decent quality:

http://www.dailymotion.com/thevicarofdibley

But there’s a catch: the lip-sync is sometimes off. The workaround is to view certain episodes in VLC or SMPlayer. In VLC, under Tools: Track Synchronization: Audio track synchronization enter a value of 0.450s. Or in SMPlayer, under Audio: Set delay… enter a value of 450. Then you should be good to go. (The Slimjet browser can also be helpful when dealing with Dailymotion.) For the truly geeklike, these two links explain how you can permanently fix a video with poor lip-sync using either Avidemux or MKVToolNix:

Here’s How To Easily Fix Lagging Audio
Fix Audio Delays Permanently Using VLC & MKVToolNix

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (first released in 1925) includes two of the classic snow scenes from early cinema. Chaplin was a genius, and it’s great that some of his films from the silent era are being restored to pristine quality. (I hope to post soon about The Immigrant.) I especially like the cabin teetering on the edge of a precipice, as it seems an apt meme for the Trump administration.

If you’d like to see the complete film, there’s currently an excellent print on YouTube here. It’s hiding among the many links which are either low quality, outright scams, or the dreaded talkie re-release from 1942.

Despite the snow, spring is bound to arrive soon! Until then, keep holding onto those springtime promises:

LINKS

The Snowman (YouTube)
Walking in the Air – Celtic Woman version (YouTube)
Simple Gifts: The Great Frost (YouTube)
A Dream in a Different Key – clip (YouTube)
Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol (Archive.org)

Salvation – a short film exploring NYC snowscapes

Now released on YouTube

Although I made brief mention of it in a post on Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow, I’d like to officially announce the YouTube release of my short film Salvation:

While I’m only an amateur videographer, and the means brought to bear for Salvation are exceedingly modest, I can nevertheless point out a few things about the film.

It first and foremost uses the language of visual images, sound, and music to say what it wants to say.

Though my primary purpose was artistic, it does call attention to the plight of New York City carriage horses, who work in all kinds of harsh conditions (including snowstorms).

The film begins by showing a dense crush of passersby on a midtown Manhattan street during a blizzard. We hear the tinkling of a bell, and as the crowd thins out, we see that the sound is coming from an African-American Salvation Army worker with a collection box to which no one seems to be contributing.

The next sequence is of Pomona, the Goddess of Plenty, who stands atop the Pulitzer Fountain there in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza. Like the Salvation Army worker, she looks cold, forlorn, and forgotten in the snow. We can still hear the bell tinkling faintly in the distance.

The third sequence shows carriage horses; and just as we saw clouds of steam coming from the nostrils of the Salavation Army worker, we likewise see clouds of steam coming from these equine nostrils, and hear the metal clink of their fittings. One horse hollows out the snow around its front hooves to push back the cold.

In the middle of the carriage horse sequence we cut away to Nike, the Goddess of Victory, as she appears high up in a gilded-bronze sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting William Tecumseh Sherman.

The fourth sequence begins with a brief shot of two men fencing indoors during the same blizzard, adjoining tall picture windows from which we can still see the snow falling. We hear the metal clink of blade on blade, but the men are tethered to body cords (as is the custom in sport fencing), just as the horses are tethered to their carriages. We cut briefly to more shots of the Goddess of Victory, and then to the final sequence, which is vintage footage of black stallions running free in an open field in the midst of a snowstorm. (This less than 30 seconds of film is adapted from the BBC documentary The Big Freeze about Britain’s harsh winter of 1963.)

After completing the final edit, for those who might ponder the meaning I offered these words:

What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?

About the music

From 30 seconds into the film until the end, we hear the music of spiritual master Sri Chinmoy arranged and performed by the duet Silence and Sound, consisting of Kushali Tarantsova (violin, vocals) and Rageshri Muzychenko (keyboard, vocals). The song is “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy” from their 2006 CD Playing My Heart-Violin, recorded and mixed in Kiev, Ukraine and released on the JRC label.

I’m so happy with their music, which could not be more perfect if they had produced it specially for the video (they did not).

Sri Chinmoy wrote thousands of songs, mainly in Bengali and English. Ten years after his death, not all of them have been translated or made readily available — though many have, due to the diligent work of his students.

This song is one of 150 from the 2002 songbook Bahir Jagate, Part 1. Most of these have not been translated, but the Bengali reads:

Param pitar charan duti barai madhumoy
Param pitar dibya ankhi asim kripamoy

To aid us, here are some Bengali words and phrases with their English equivalents:

param pitar – Supreme Father or Absolute Lord
charan – feet
barai – great, intense, or deeply
madhumoy – sweet or blissful
dibya – divine
ankhi asim – infinite Eye
kripamoy – compassion

So we can guess that this is a mantra invoking the Father Supreme, taking refuge at His feet of intense bliss, and His divine, infinite Eye of Compassion.

Sri Chinmoy wrote this song on December 26, 2001. Many of his “param pita” songs written during the Christmas period are Christ songs. Indeed, there is a whole book of them from 1990 called Jesus the Seeker, Christ the Saviour with a mix of English and Bengali entries.

If the recording I chose for Salvation is plaintive or even sad as rendered by Kushali and Rageshri, this need not be true of other “param pita” songs. Sri Chinmoy’s students organize Songs of the Soul concerts around the world. While visiting Mongolia in 2017, Pavaka and Nelson recorded this sunny version of “He Param Pita Bishwa Bidhata Ami,” accompanied by a beautiful HD video in which horses also figure prominently:

It’s so good I want you to see it, even though it puts my video to shame. (In fairness, mine is based on analog footage shot in 1995, when Hi-8 was thought a fairly good “prosumer” format.)

Here’s a medley of two more “He Param Pita” songs by Sri Chinmoy:

The titles are “He Param Pita He Param Pita Ami Je” and “He Param Pita He Param Pita Dharar.” (A quick search reveals about three dozen such songs to his credit). These two are performed in monastic style by an unnamed group, though it could be Oneness-Dream, which in 2016 toured churches in Ireland performing Sri Chinmoy’s songs in a manner like to Gregorian chant:

Conclusion

So how does all this relate to the concept of salvation? Well, people use the word in different ways. To truly achieve salvation (from ignorance, bondage, and death) is an extraordinary achievement. I cannot claim any such thing. But in the small, human sense of what salvation means — or perhaps in the sense of what salvation means to a horse tethered to a carriage — I feel that knowing Sri Chinmoy has saved me from a life which would have been as dull and plodding as a workhorse’s. By his Grace I have seen and felt things beyond my imagination, and he has given me hope that I might one day at least grasp the concept of salvation, even if achieving it is presently beyond me. I gratefully dedicate the film Salvation to Sri Chinmoy, who inhabits my dreams (the best ones, anyway).

Michael Howard

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


Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy’s universal teachings

For the sake of clarity, I should explain that Sri Chinmoy’s teachings are universal in nature. He embraces the Neo-Vedanta view that there is truth in each religion. He emerged from the Hindu tradition, but composed songs honouring many spiritual figures, including Sri Krishna, the Buddha, the Christ, Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Mother Teresa, and many others.

Sri Chinmoy is a teacher who epitomizes vastness. This post brings out one small facet, namely his “param pita” songs. Broadly speaking, his philosophy is Eastern philosophy. (See, for example, his Eastern Light for the Western Mind.)

His path includes an emphasis on meditation on the heart.


Of Further Interest

The Sound of Music in Bengali
Jesus is Born – in a world of many faiths
Radio Sri Chinmoy – Songs Devoted to Jesus Christ
Shindhu performs “Param Pitar Charan Duti Barai Madhumoy”

Barber’s Adagio For Strings (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 1) 1908 Orchestra (YouTube)
Hearts and Flowers (version 2) Mahavishnu John McLaughlin (YouTube)
Alice in the Snow I

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Tea For The Tillerson – Poison Variety

Pompeo is here!

“Can’t sleep after my plane ride back from Africa,” Rex Tillerson was overhead to mumble. “Guess I’ll check the Twitter to see what my moron of a boss is up to. Oops…”

Although being dispatched in such an impersonal and cowardly manner is no doubt vexing for the former Exxon CEO, Tillerson will nevertheless depart having left his mark upon the White House. At President Trump’s request, the diplomatic reception room is being redone to reflect Trump’s well-known fondness for rococo kitsch. (And no, Rococo Kitsch is not the name of another porn star.)

On order for display is a Butter Rex Tillerson to replace Real Rex Tillerson, rendered by the Pennsylvania Welders’ Union (Auxilliary Branch), and guaranteed to contain nothing but 100% pure, unadulterated butter. It will, however, contain fewer calories than Real Rex Tillerson, and after the initial outlay of $48,173 will require less upkeep than having Real Rex Tillerson hanging around forever.

Under the new design plan, Butter Rex Tillerson will stand directly opposite Bagel Gary Cohn — a Gary Cohn replica sculpted entirely from swirled bagel parts.

“We have to keep them in separate corners,” explained White House decorator Tham Kannalikham. “If Butter Rex Tillerson and Bagel Gary Cohn were to touch, it could trigger fusion and blow the universe apart.”

The choice of Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State is seen as an unusual move by some Washington insiders, but a natural development by others reading the Trumpian tea leaves. Though the cup may be bitter for Rex Tillerson, it’s sweet for Gina Haspel who takes over at CIA. We guess the promotion to head boy feels like something less than torture to her. On hearing the news, she reportedly broke into an extraordinary rendition of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” But her first chore may be stuffing Rex Tillerson in a coffin for shipment back to Bartonville — a town in Texas named for Barton Fink.

As for Mike Pompeo, when asked if he was fully prepared, the Secretary Designate replied that he had been gently laid over a bed of dill sprigs, covered in lemon slices, and expected to be delicious upon reaching a temperature of 145 degrees.

Michael Howard

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

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Storm Emma and the Meaning of Snow

I know it can be dreadfully inconvenient, but snow can also be unimaginably beautiful — a forced timeout by God which fades all our earthly scenes, earthly dramas to white.

After all, we human beings can make a dreadful hash of things, and a really good snowstorm feels like wiping the slate (or griddle) clean. In the midst of a great blizzard, one gets a feeling of Eternity — like it might never stop snowing and perhaps that would be for the best. Who ever heard of anyone starting a war in the middle of a snowstorm? Better that we should all seek comfort around a warm fire, and recognize our smallness compared to Nature — not to speak of God, of whom Nature is only a small portion.

It is best in a snowstorm — even if you are a citydweller — to locate some region of parkland, however small, where you can look on the falling snow without seeing automobiles or other signs of civilisation.

There is an individual occurrence of snow, and then there is the archetype of snow. What we want to do is move from the individual to the archetype. Everything has its essential nature, and the nature of snow is that it is holy. Believe in this, and contemplate the falling snow as it blankets even one lone tree.

When you are certain you know what snow means, then widen your gaze and take in more of the sights around you:

Wait! That is too fast! What we need is a more leisurely sojourn through the snow:

What is the meaning? You can make your own meaning. But ask yourself these questions: What does salvation mean to a man? To an angel? To a horse? Is snow the great equalizer?

In a December 1993 episode of Northern Exposure (set in the mythical town of Cicely, Alaska), radio DJ Chris in the Morning reads a fragment of an 1869 poem by John Whitaker Watson:

I can only wish all readers everywhere a (belated) Bon Hiver! as I vicariously enjoy Britain’s “inclement” weather.

Michael Howard

First Snow – Grace Ellen Morton

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