Sri Chinmoy Birthday Music Mix, August 2019

Exploring the subtleties of Sri Chinmoy’s music with a delightful mix including flute, esraj, singing, and piano, plus detailed notes

UPDATE 5. A very happy birthday to Sri Chinmoy, who would have been 88 today, August 27th, 2019! In the music world, when we hear the number 88 immediately we think of the piano, which has 88 keys. And indeed, the piano is an instrument for which Sri Chinmoy showed tremendous fondness. He played many instruments, and imparted to each a particular quality or manner of expression. Taken together, these begin to comprise his musical oeuvre.

Sri Chinmoy was a man of action, not a dry theoretician, or a composer removed from the performance of his works. He wrote countless spiritual songs, and was very active in singing, playing, and teaching them. But though his songs represent a significant corpus, he was also known for his striking improvisations on piano and pipe organ. Often times, at the close of a concert of one or two hours in which he played his songs on a variety of instruments, he would end with an avant-garde piano improvisation.

Sri Chinmoy as many remember him: in the spiritual and musical spotlight. Photo courtesy https://au.srichinmoycentre.org/articles/piano

His flute melodies are extremely pleasing to the ear — the essence of zenlike simplicity. When he played the Indian esraj (a bowed instrument similar to the better-known sarangi), this imparted a haunting, ancient quality. His singing was all heart and soul, seeming to embody the seeker’s plaintive cry to know the Divine, and to be freed from the shackles of ignorance. He himself was ever-free, but identified with the pangs of seekers.

When he sang in concert, it was as if he were bundling up the collective longing for God of his audience, and directing it as a single prayer upward to the Divine. Something more: As a spiritual Master, he was able to fulfill that prayer, to bring it to fruition. So inwardly, in the course of a concert he would play the role of both a seeker and a Liberator, carrying the collective longings of his audience Heavenward, and showering them with inner blessings from the Highest Height of meditation — throwing them into the Universal Consciousness (as he would put it). The closing moments of his meditations and concerts were indeed special for this reason. They are coloured deep blue in my memory.

He approached each of the instruments he played with a sense of discovery, spontaneity, and childlike enthusiasm, bringing out the unique qualities of each. He was fearless in the manner of David Amram, always ready to grab a new instrument and start jamming. (A photo from Amram’s first autobiography Vibrations shows him wigging out at the Fillmore East with violin and kazoo.) Like this, if someone gave Sri Chinmoy a Hawaiian slide guitar, he would not hesitate!

He was also like a quick-change artist or showman. There was always something more about him than met the eye (or ear). He was a perfect example of the artist as shaman, creating art not simply for art’s sake, but also as a means of inner awakening for both the individual and the assembled collective, the gathering tribes.

As listeners, it is always our challenge to remain attentive. There is a regrettable human tendency to replace the actual experience of art with our mental attitudes toward it. The liner notes (or our knowledge of the musical devices employed) become a substitute for hearing the music itself.

Listening to Sri Chinmoy’s flute music, we could easily be lulled into thinking that his entire message is one of peace. But he knew how to guard against complacency on the part of listeners. Just when you thought you had him pegged as a purveyor of serene flute melodies, he would rotate the circular table on which a host of exotic instruments were assembled, and choose one with a striking and unusual sound, like the African wind spinner. Or he might rise and walk over to a different part of the stage where his cello was waiting for him, and proceed to sing and play in unison, perhaps “Ore Mor Kheya”:

Ore Mor Kheya (English translation)

O my Boat, O my Boatman,
O message of Transcendental Delight,
Carry me. My heart is thirsty and hungry,
And it is fast asleep at the same time.
Carry my heart to the other shore.
The dance of death I see all around.
The thunder of destruction indomitable I hear.
O my Inner Pilot, You are mine,
You are the Ocean of Compassion infinite.
In You I lose myself,
My all in You I lose.

– Sri Chinmoy, from The Garden of Love-Light, Part 1 , 1974

 

Here then is a specially selected mix of Sri Chinmoy’s music as performed by the Maestro himself, and by his students. Not every track has piano, but that instrument is well-represented, including one of Sri Chinmoy’s immortal piano improvisations. Taken together with his other music, we can see how in the course of an evening he could easily span the distance from ancient to modern. He expressed not only deep peace, but also dynamism, vastness, and infinitude:

For now, you can also access this m4a audio file containing all the referenced music. Plays in most players. If you use iTunes, VLC, SMPlayer, or another chapter aware player, you can use the chapter markers to go to any track. Also see track list at bottom of this post.

Because the individual and the collective go together, I find it especially meaningful to hear the same song performed by Sri Chinmoy and by his students. There’s completion of a circle in that. The whole of his music consists not only of what he sent out, but of what was received, embraced, and understood by others. The same is true of his teachings.

Sri Chinmoy’s voice is not prettified in the manner of an opera singer or pop star, but is the true voice of a shaman — one who through spiritual knowledge is qualified to conduct the sacred ceremonies. His performance is always the most austere, but the most true. And where there is abundant truth, is that not also beauty? The spiritual truth is most beautiful in itself, without any artificial sweeteners.

Sri Chinmoy blended the boundaries between purely sacred or ceremonial music, and music which could be enjoyed simply for its aesthetic beauty. His flute music is pleasing to all, and his Bengali songs are arranged most beautifully by his students. But as with much music with sacred origins, the more you know, the richer your experience. His music is an invitation or portal to the consciousness which inspired it. When he sang a bhajan which called upon the Divine to bless and illumine each soul present, the Divine answered! No matter if Sri Chinmoy missed a note or two.

How do you listen to music? I know I always ask myself “What is the musician getting at? What is he or she trying to say?” In the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth we hear a tremendous striving to communicate something which is beyond words, employing every possible device, but always going beyond, beyond, beyond. Like this, in his meditation, music, and poetry, Sri Chinmoy is constantly going beyond. The lyrics to his English song “There Was A Time” say:

There was a time when I stumbled and stumbled,
But now I only climb and climb beyond
And far beyond my Goal’s endless Beyond,
And yet my Captain commands: “Go on, go on!”

– Sri Chinmoy, from My Flute, Agni Press, 1972

In his philosophy, Sri Chinmoy suggests that there is a subtle distinction between the words “God” and “Supreme.” When we think of God, we may think of Him as a great but finite being; but when we think of the Supreme, we become more conscious of His (or Her) “infinite beyond” aspect.

These are ideas about the beyond, but in his piano improvisations Sri Chinmoy often seems to be dealing with the infinite in a manner far beyond words and ideas, as infinite energy, or as an endless sea with no shores. His piano improvisations can be highly gestural, with no discernible melody or harmony, but a maelstrom of notes that strives to communicate something about the vast and eternal.

Sri Chinmoy traveled widely, holding free concerts and meditations in major cities around the world. He would often write a song honouring the city or landmark he was visiting (which for some reason is making me cry remembering it). We hear a medley of five such songs: “Monticello,” “Philadelphia,” “Moskva” (Moscow), “Eternal Peace Flame” (Oslo, Norway), and “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (Borobudur Buddhist Temple in Java).

The contrast between “Monticello” (arranged by the group Ganga) and “Philadelphia” (arranged by Archee Moffitt) is striking because the first uses all acoustic instruments like harmonium, recorder, and tabla, while the second makes extensive use of synthesizers. (Gotta love that classic DX7 tubular bell patch!) “Philadelphia” sounds Philip Glasslike in spots, and the revered minimalist spoke highly of the Master:

The passing of Sri Chinmoy represents the loss of one of the last of the great spiritual teachers who brought the tradition of Indian spirituality to the West.

He had a very special connection to music. In his performances, with clarity, simplicity and directness, he was able to move his listeners in a very immediate and deeply emotional way.

In his lifetime he brought tremendous joy to the people who were with him. For me, his life was a special and personal inspiration.

Though at this moment we may feel great sadness, he will always be in our hearts.

— Philip Glass

Source: https://www.srichinmoy.org/kind_words/leaders/tributes

After his passing, his music has continued to live on in many, many forms, including the Songs of the Soul concerts presented worldwide by his students, where Philip Glass has been a beloved guest artist.

Returning to our mix: “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” (here performed by the groups Mountain Silence and Akasha) has a somewhat different character than the other city or landmark songs: first, because its subject is an ancient holy site extremely significant in Buddhism; second, because it is in Bengali, which language is (obviously) far closer to ancient Pali and Sanskrit than is English. The compact nature of Bengali lends itself especially well to spiritual poetry, as Vidagdha Meredith Bennett hints at in her doctoral thesis Simplicity and Power: The Poetry of Sri Chinmoy, 1971-1981 (footnotes omitted):

It is possible that Sri Chinmoy’s use of the compound noun has its origin in an attempt to find in English the natural analogue of the Sanskrit and Bengali forms of comparison. Gerow notes that translations from Sanskrit into English “tend to be flabby and prolix precisely where the original displays a tense compactness and is most striking in its beauty.”

In the case of Sri Chinmoy’s own mother tongue, Bengali, this compactness is inherent in the language. The formation of compounds is frequent and, in fact, the grammar of compounds cannot be distinguished from that of phrases. The words “swapan sathi,” to take an example, may be translated in an interpretive way as “companion of my dream.” Literally, however, the words read as “dream-companion,” with the two words closely intersecting. In so far as a direct English equivalent may be found for the Bengali words, Sri Chinmoy most commonly elects to keep the true form of his source language. As a result, he is able to use the compound noun to establish a greater cohesion within the English language itself. The life-principle of poetry, he would seem to affirm, does not lie in any of the norms of grammar and logic but in the interactions of words within the language.

See the song “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (discussed further down), which includes the compound nouns “mind-jungle,” “Forgiveness-Eye,” and “World-Lord.”

Because Sri Chinmoy is a gifted poet in both Bengali and English, his best translations of his most significant poems are absolutely outstanding! Why? Because he does not merely translate. Rather, he re-imagines the Bengali poem in English, so that it becomes a significant poem in its own right. (See “Ore Mor Kheya” above.) His groundbreaking 1972 volume My Flute includes many such translations.

Another example of things coming full circle manifested in 2016, when a bilingual edition of The Garden of Love-Light was published, including (for the first time) the Bengali script. (See this article in The Indian Panorama.)

Without diving too deep into the ethnomusicology weeds, we can note that like fellow Bengali Rabindranath Tagore (whose songs the Master greatly admired), Sri Chinmoy employs lines of different metric lengths. So while much of “Philadelphia” is in 4/4 time, the words “Liberty Bell” bring in two bars of 5/4. “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” (here arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts) is a striking example of this phenomenon. The piano introduction alone tells us we’re in for a bumpy ride, mapping out as:

4/4 + 4/4 + 5/8 + 7/4 + 7/4 + 7/8 + 3/4 + 7/8 + 3/4

Others might count it differently, but still: Not even the Mahavishnu Orchestra in its heyday adopted a metric cycle this ambitious! (In songbooks, Sri Chinmoy’s songs are usually notated without barlines, but when groups arrange them, barlines become more of a practical necessity.)

“Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” (performed by Aspiration-Flight) and “Jago Paran Jago” (the Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers) are further examples of the polyrhythmic quality which Sri Chinmoy’s style of plainsong can take on in group arrangements. At the opposite end of the spectrum, “Borobudure” and “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” bring out the more monastic quality. See also In Vastness-Peace, a CD recorded in the churches of Iceland.

Directly preceding “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” is Sri Chinmoy singing “Peace In My Flying Soul.” It’s a song in that it has words and a melody — indeed, the melody is quite exquisite in the way that it modulates further afield and then returns perfectly to its starting point in circular fashion. Sri Chinmoy did not painstakingly construct a melody; the melody often came to him all at once in a flash of intuition. When we hear him sing “Peace, peace, peace… Peace in Heaven, peace on earth, peace in every human life,” this is a chant for peace or invocation of peace.

Peace is not just a concept or the absence of war, but an actual quality of God which we can experience directly. When he invoked peace, peace descended upon the hall in boundless measure. At public events, you might see some people who were not used to receiving peace with their heads bobbing. But those more experienced in meditation would relax their body and mind, but maintain a slender thread of alertness so that they could drink in this delicious peace. In this way, they were able to enjoy the Peace Meal that the Master Chef was preparing for them.

So, Sri Chinmoy’s music has this dual nature that it is the outer expression of a powerful inner force, a blessingful force. When he would go off to the United Nations to give a “concert” — arriving with his collection of instruments both familiar and exotic — we should understand that he was really conducting a blessing ceremony in which music and sound played an essential role.

Perhaps it is science which makes us think that if there were a God, He would be formless to the point of being antiseptic. Yet, the inner world is filled with beings who have their distinctive forms and qualities. The Goddess Saraswati plays the vina. Why does she not play the saxophone or harpsichord? Because it is her nature to play the vina. She has always played it.

Sri Chinmoy’s nature as a spiritual teacher, visionary, or shaman, is that he imparts his teachings not just through talks on philosophy (of which he gave many), but also through art, music, and poetry. Why? Because that is his nature. We should not so much question it as marvel at it!

At the United Nations, 1998: Sri Chinmoy meditates, then plays the blue dove ocarina. Screenshots from a video by Mridanga Spencer.

Sri Chinmoy’s music is like a garden which we can enjoy for its simplicity and beauty, or if we are so inclined we can learn the names of all the different flowers and analyze how they are arranged. Retaining our simplicity, we can yet begin to recognize certain key Bengali words which recur: karuna is compassion, shanti is peace, ananda delight. (The Bengali language has different classes of words, some of which are Tatsami, meaning “same as in Sanskrit.” See also this brief comment from Sri Chinmoy himself.)

The music of India is rich in scales (or more properly ragas) which can sound exotic to Western ears. Statistically, Sri Chinmoy does not make much use of the more exotic flavours, but since he wrote thousands of songs, we can discover notable exceptions. One such is “Chinta Amar Amai Kare,” again arranged and performed by Temple-Song-Hearts. In Western music theory, the melody might be described as alternating between the Double Harmonic and Major scales.

sri-chinmoy-songs-chinta-amar-amai-kare

Another class of songs worthy of mention is the bilingual songs. Sri Chinmoy’s bilingual fluency dates back to his ashram days, when he became close personal assistant to noted Indian savant Nolini Kanta Gupta, translating many of the latter’s articles from Bengali to English for publication in the English-language journal Mother India.

Sri Chinmoy (top left) with Nolini-da (bottom left), August 27, 1962

Years later, Sri Chinmoy would provide beautiful English translations of his own works. But there is a special class of songs (usually short) where he weaves Bengali and English together in the same song. These possess a unique charm all their own, as we can see from “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” (sung delightfully in rounds), the cheery “Gan Likhi Ami,” “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” (offered in two contrasting versions), and the soaring “Everest-Aspiration,” whose melody literally peaks!

Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara

Pit pit mit mit sanjher tara sanjher tara
Atmahara heri tomar sudha dhara

Twinkling, twinkling evening star, evening star!
Watching the flow of your nectar-delight,
Myself I completely lose.

* * *

Gan Likhi Ami

Gan likhi ami gan geye jai
Nidra dekha nai
Ganer majhare parama shanti
Charama tripti pai

Songs I write
I keep singing
Sleep remains unseen.
From my songs, I receive peace sublime
And satisfaction deep.

* * *

Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal

Dhire ati dhire man jangal
Bishwa prabhu khamar nayane hase

Slowly, very slowly in my mind-jungle,
The Forgiveness-Eye of the World-Lord
Is smiling.

* * *

Everest-Aspiration

Everest-Aspiration!
Gauri shankara dan
Open my heart’s silver door
Dao more aji amarar bhor.
O highest mountain peak!
Janame marane karo nirvik.

* * *

In some cases, the Bengali and English may not have been composed in the same instant, but appear close together in the same songbook, and are combined by the performers. For example, “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” and “Twinkling, Twinkling Evening Star” appear nearby in the collection Your Face Is My Dream. But in “Everest-Aspiration,” we see the two languages tightly interwoven. After each English line, Sri Chinmoy pens a rhyming Bengali line.

A solo sitar medley by master of the instrument Adesh Widmer rounds out this section of the mix, underscoring the melodic interest inherent in the songs.

Sri Chinmoy’s music-world is rich in beauty, and there is always more to discover. I hope these notes, initially written in haste, will help you in your journey of discovery.

sri-chinmoy-mega-music-mix-artists

I began this article feeling tired and thinking that I could find no good words to say. I am grateful that some words did come, and that listening to Sri Chinmoy’s music inspired and uplifted me. May it do the same for you, dear Reader!

sri-chinmoy--vaasa-statue-finland-1

Michael Howard

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


TRACK LIST

Start Time – Track No. – Artist – Title – Source

00:00:00 – 01 – Sri Chinmoy – “I Came To Your Lotus Feet” – from The Life-River (CD)

00:01:15 – 02 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ore Mor Kheya” – from Silence Speaks (CD)

00:05:51 – 03 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “I Give” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XIII (CD)

00:09:02 – 04 – Srinvantu – “Swarupananda” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

00:11:25 – 05 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Swarupananda” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

00:14:28 – 06 – Sri Chinmoy – “Swarupananda” – from Music Meditation (CD)

00:15:24 – 07 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Bhoy Kena Bhoy” – from Temple-Song-Hearts XII (CD)

00:18:44 – 08 – Sri Chinmoy – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)

00:20:15 – 09 – Gandharva Loka Orchestra – “Jaya Jaya Jaya He Niranjana” – from concert recording

00:23:55 – 10 – Arthada & Friends – “Jharna-Kala” (short version) – from Om Shanti (CD)

00:27:47 – 11 – Blue Flower – “My Sunlit Path/Ecstasy-Flood” – from Blossoming (CD)

00:31:35 – 12 – The Blue-Gold Shore of the Beyond – “Om Taranaya Namaha” – from Taranaya Namaha (CD)

00:34:08 – 13 – The Four Universals Singers – “Farewell” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

00:40:04 – 14 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Karuna Mayer Jyotir Dulal” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

00:43:09 – 15 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ami Jabo” – from Silence Speaks (CD)

00:50:15 – 16 – Tanima’s Group – “There Was A Time” – from Songs of the Soul (CD reissue of 1975 cassette)

00:52:08 – 17 – Sri Chinmoy – “Chinese Gong Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

00:53:41 – 18 – Shindhu – “Hasir Prabhat Sanga Habe” – from Eternity’s Dream (CD)

00:57:39 – 19 – Sri Chinmoy – “Finnish Harp Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

00:58:18 – 20 – Aspiration-Flight – “Sabai Amai Pagol Dake” – from Ascending Cry (CD)

01:01:32 – 21 – Sri Chinmoy – “Hiya Pakhi” – from Flute Music For Meditation (CD)

01:03:30 – 22 – Sri Chinmoy – “African Wind Spinner Improvisation” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part III (CD)

01:04:05 – 23 – Sri Chinmoy – “Piano Improvisation” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

01:10:32 – 24 – Ganga – “Monticello” – from Sacred River (CD)

01:14:00 – 25 – Archee & Friends – “Philadelphia” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:17:26 – 26 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Moskva” – from Temple-Song-Hearts Collection 1 (CD)

01:20:45 – 27 – Shindhu – “The Eternal Peace Flame” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:24:48 – 28 – Mountain Silence – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from Be Thou My All (CD)

01:25:44 – 29 – Akasha – “Borobudurer Bhiti Stapan” – from unidentified cassette

01:30:47 – 30 – Ganga – “Pit Pit Mit Mit Sanjher Tara” – from Sacred River (CD)

01:33:51 – 31 – Japaka Orchestra – “Gan Likhi Ami/Songs I Write” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)

01:39:04 – 32 – Agnikana’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from In My Heart-Sky (CD)

01:41:48 – 33 – Bartika’s Group – “Dhire Ati Dhire Man Jangal” – from RadioSriChinmoy.org

01:43:54 – 34 – Sri Chinmoy – “Everest-Aspiration” – from The Peace Concert/Concert De Paix (CD)

01:46:13 – 35 – Adesh Widmer – “Everest-Aspiration/Rama Raghava” – from Joy of Sitar (CD)

01:48:09 – 36 – Temple-Song-Hearts – “Chinta Amar Amai Kare” – from Temple-Song-Hearts (1st cassette)

01:51:07 – 37 – The Sri Chinmoy Bhajan Singers – “Jago Paran Jago” – from Songs of the Soul Compilation 1 (CD)

01:53:45 – 38 – Sri Chinmoy – “Peace In My Flying Soul” – from My Prayerful Salutations To The United Nations – Part I (CD)

01:56:37 – 39 – Shindhu – “Peace: Humanity’s Flower-Heart” – from Sacred Dawn (CD)

02:02:18 – 40 – Sri Chinmoy – “Rainstick Improvisation” – from India: World-Cynosure – Part 2 (CD)

02:03:45 – 41 – Ananda – “Sundara Hate” – from Ananda (CD)

02:07:02 – 42 – Sri Chinmoy – “Medley with He Gopal” (bowed/plucked psaltery)” – from My Japanese Heart-Garden (CD)

02:10:43 – 43 – Sri Chinmoy – “He Gopal” (singing with electronic keyboard) – from Bhajan Balika (CD)

02:12:11 – 44 – Sri Chinmoy – “Ocarina” – from 107 Blue Heart-Boats (CD)

All compositions by Sri Chinmoy, except “Rama Raghava” (traditional text), “Jago Paran Jago” (words by Ahana Chinmoy). “Moskva” originally in English, translated into Russian by a student of Sri Chinmoy.

* * *

UK Politics Update #1

Latest skinny on the Boris Johnson administration, Change UK, Lib Dems, Labour, and a Rube Goldberg-like plan to stop a no-deal Brexit. Plus, we force-feed Jeremy Corbyn a nice kosher meal, that he shouldn’t be so skinny!

I don’t write much about American politics these days. It’s too depressing, with the mass shooting du jour egged on in part by racist comments from our president. He’s desperate to get re-elected by appealing solely to his base, which obviously includes white supremacists. That desperation is driven not just by political ambition and narcissism, but by the desire to stay out of the slammer. If Trump is not re-elected, there’s a fair chance he’ll be indicted for obstruction of justice. I feel as though I’ve done my part with numerous anti-Trump posts in the past. At this point, it’s like carrying coals to Newcastle.

I’m more interested in UK politics these days, maybe because it’s less predictable and can still make me laugh. There’s also the slow-motion train wreck aspect, which I’ve alluded to elsewhere. And if course, I love the Brits.

A lot has been happening in UK politics, much of it bad. Since being selected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has appointed a diversity cabinet — but diversity is in the eye of the beholder. Some would say he’s appointed a cabinet consisting primarily of well-heeled Thatcherite toffs, some of whom happen to be non-white. This is faux diversity at best, with no true diversity of politics or culture, but rather the shared culture of money in politics. Johnson’s unity cabinet reflects a bunker mentality, with potential appointees required to sign a no-deal Brexit loyalty oath, and expected to be part of an aggressive general election strategy.

That strategy includes extensive deception about Brexit (surprise, surprise!), as well as a policy which Johnson announced in his first speech as PM, to provide “extra lubrication” to the UK economy by stiffing the EU for the 39 billion pounds owed it. At some point, the UK may want to negotiate a trade deal with the EU. That’s when the unpaid bill for 39 billion is likely to come due. The billions Johnson is currently dispensing like a fruit machine gone bonkers definitely won’t be lubricating future trade talks, and the British public are unlikely to see much of it once elections are over and done. But for that brief moment which is the election season, the party of austerity shall become the party of casting its bread upon the waters, the party of borrow and spend. I wonder how much interest the EU will charge on the 39 billion.

Johnson’s rhetoric often waxes Orwellian in its internal contradictions: The EU are our “friends and partners,” but those who try to maintain a relatively close and civil relationship with them are “collaborators.” No-deal is only a one-in-a-million chance and will not damage the economy, but the government are planning huge bailouts (known as “Operation Kingfisher”) to prop up businesses which fail.

I’m reminded of a line from a Raymond Chandler detective yarn: “I knew one thing: as soon as anyone said you didn’t need a gun, you’d better take one along that worked.” Likewise, as soon as anyone says that such-and-such won’t wreck the UK economy, you’d better start a mammoth contingency fund. Convert all your sterling to a more stable currency, like nacho chips. 😉

More On No-Deal Brexit Machinations

The consenus among political mavens is that the UK is headed toward a no-deal Brexit or crash-out from the EU, while at the same time the Johnson administration is engaged in a coordinated strategy of blaming the EU — and now British collaborators as well. It makes a kind of perverse sense that just as Brexit has philosophical underpinnings rooted in archaic World War II thinking, now that things are approaching a crisis point it becomes necessary to firm up perceptions about who’s the evil enemy (the EU), and who’s helping them work their evil (those accused of being collaborators, like Philip Hammond).

Hammond is, of course, a Tory ex-chancellor, Theresa May loyalist, and true believer in leaving the EU with a deal — a good deal as was promised by the Leave campaign. Hammond has made it clear that to him, leaving without a deal would be as much a “betrayal” of Brexit as not leaving at all. Because he strongly opposes no-deal, he’s been branded a “collaborator” by Boris Johnson. This occurred in remarks Johnson made in his premiere “People’s PMQs” Facebook video discussed here, though he did not identify Hammond by name.

Johnson’s public diplomacy on Brexit might be dubbed the Br’er Rabbit strategy: Oh please, European Union, don’t throw us in the no-deal patch. Anything but that! This meme, perhaps better-known in the US, consists of vehemently protesting an outcome which one actually desires.

In order to fend off encroachment by the Brexit Party, which threatens to steal votes from the Tories, Johnson has to be seen to deliver the hardest, most macho Brexit possible, i.e. a no-deal Brexit. But as the dire consequences of leaving the EU without a deal become more apparent over time, Johnson also needs to be able to shift blame to the EU and to purported British “collaborators.”

Indeed, even before the recent Bojo “collaborator” comment, ministers appear to have been sent out armed with written talking points instructing them to blame the EU for a no-deal Brexit, and to accuse the EU of failing to negotiate. Hammond pricked Johnson’s ire by pointing out (quite truthfully) that it’s Johnson who torpedoed negotiations by setting the bar impossibly high, with preconditions he knew full well the EU couldn’t meet. Welcome to the latest developments in the endless Tory psychodrama!

The problems associated with adopting no-deal, even as a limited negotiating strategy, I have discussed before. The position of some hardliners is that no-deal must be kept on the table as a tactic. But this is very dangerous due to the strong possibility of sleepwalking to a no-deal Brexit. To understand this danger, we need to recognize a fundamental problem with political bureaucracies. Far from being adroit and able to stop on a dime, they tend to be clumsy and subject to inertia. They’re like huge ships whose course is quite difficult and time-consuming to correct, even where the will exists to do so. You can switch off the engine, but the vessel may continue in the same direction for several miles.

If we look to both the Johnson government and the House of Commons, do we really have faith that they can come together at the eleventh hour and avoid a no-deal Brexit? This seems doubtful, especially since some hardliners are clamouring for no-deal — not as a negotiating tactic or empty threat, but as a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.

A no-deal Brexit is like a gun which some people claim the PM only needs for protection. Meanwhile, others are saying, “Yes! Yes! Give us the gun! We want to shoot it off. If we run out of feet, we can always shoot our arms and legs!” This naturally puts non-certifiable MPs in mind of gun control.

So the risk is high, but what is the reward? What crumb might Brussels throw at the last moment to justify the risk of a no-deal Brexit? Caving on the Irish backstop? Is that likely, and would it even be beneficial in the long run?

A cost-benefit analysis suggests that the risks greatly outweigh the rewards, and that the right course for Parliament is to take no-deal off the table through some series of legal maneuvers. No-deal is a weapon too dangerous to be left in the hands of a political faction whose members (many of them) have expressed an ardent desire to use it, and a callous disregard for the consequences, which could include the dissolution of the United Kingdom, with the Scots being the first to jump ship.

Change UK, the Liberal Democrats, and a Labour Plot

The sun shone brightly on The Independent Group, a.k.a. Change UK, when it first coalesced in February, 2019.

It began with tremendous enthusiasm and cohesion among former Labour and Conservative MPs who felt that their respective parties had grown too extreme, and were wracked with internal problems not being addressed by leadership.

Despite what I see as a genuinely promising start, Change UK has thus far not found a solid footing in the short period of its existence. Some members were discouraged by the fledgling party’s poor showing in the European Parliament elections of May 2019, where they failed to win a single seat.

Since then, there’s been an exodus from Change UK, particularly by some high profile members. Heidi Allen resigned to found a looser-knit group called simply The Independents. Chuka Umunna and Sarah Wollaston defected to the Liberal Democrats.

Change UK was right to believe that there’s currently a need for a centrist, Remainer party. Unfortunately, they were out-jockeyed by the Liberal Democrats, who aggressively claimed that territory for themselves. Change UK’s philosophical bent and admirable openness to different ideas coming from members may have (paradoxically) hurt them in an age of strictly-defined boundaries and no-nonsense branding. They may nevertheless continue to play a valuable role

– As a halfway house for MPs who’ve been made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in their prior parties, and need time to sort things out.

– As a platform for dissenting views and straight talk about the ways in which UK politics has broken down.

– As a forum to discuss hybrid solutions which don’t fit neatly into the manifestos of the other parties — a crucible in which to forge good ideas which might then be taken up in due course by those wielding more power.

– As a venue to voice conscientious objections, to shout loudly that the Emperor is stark naked — a soapbox from which to be delightfully curmudgeonlike, defying the mandate to be upbeat, optimistic, and can-do at a time when things seem to have gone to hell in a handbasket.

Much attention has now shifted to the Liberal Democrats and their newly elected leader Jo Swinson because, by and large, the Lib Dems succeeded in branding themselves as the centrist, Remainer party. Some of their methods lacked subtlety, as when newly elected Lib Dem MEPs all showed up wearing bright yellow “BOLLOCKS TO BREXIT” t-shirts.

Whether you give them an ‘A’ for realpolitik or an ‘F’ (for occasional crassness), the Lib Dems have taken center stage as the most viable general (non-regional) alternative to the Tories and Labour. They now figure prominently in potential plans to form a unity government as an interim measure to prevent a no-deal Brexit. As I write, things are in a particular state of flux regarding which parties would cooperate in such a plan, and who might be “PM For A Day” in such a unity government.

Under the UK parliamentary system, only the official opposition party (presently Labour) can force a vote of no confidence which could lead to the formation of a unity government. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s price for calling such a vote appears to be that he be selected as interim PM.

Corbyn is considered a toxic figure by some, and Jo Swinson has suggested that for the plan to achieve maximum inter-party cooperation, the caretaker PM should be someone who enjoys a great deal of respect among MPs across the House, and not someone with ambitions to become Prime Minister in the longer term. She’s floated the names of Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman (known respectively as the Father and Mother of the House), while other names surfacing include Oliver Letwin, Yvette Cooper, and Margaret Beckett — none of whom rankle in the manner of Corbyn.

If you’ve grown accustomed to thinking of Labour as the party of acerbic Sturm und Drang, you’d be astonished to discover it’s also the party of the eminently calm, reasonable (and likeable) Margaret Beckett.

Harman, Cooper, and Beckett are all Labour MPs, and it would be uncharacteristically humble and self-effacing of Corbyn to compromise on any one of these three prospective candidates. Were such a plan successfully implemented, it would also mean that one of them would be the first female Labour Prime Minister, even if in a brief caretaker role.

To be clear, it was Corbyn who put forward this plan in concrete terms. But will he back his own plan with a different “PM For A Day”? The change is needed for these reasons:

1. The Tories plus the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland) have an ultra-slim majority of only 1 in the House of Commons. Several rebel Tories who passionately oppose a no-deal Brexit are said to be close to supporting this type of plan entailing a vote of no confidence followed by a time-limited unity government. Their votes are crucial, but also hard to secure.

2. Those same Tories may see installing Jeremy Corbyn as PM, even for a day, as a bridge too far. Fairly or unfairly, he has come to symbolise everything the Tories hate about Labour, and their hatred of him is both white-hot and totemic.

3. Rebel Tories who dare to support a vote of no confidence take their political lives in their hands. In the present toxic environment, they’re sure to be branded traitors, and linked to Corbyn forever. The propaganda posters more or less print themselves, right down to the Photoshop flourishes making Corbyn look more like a Soviet-style dictator.

4. Again, fairly or unfairly, some people view Corbyn as untrustworthy and megalomaniacal. Already, a government spokesman (Transport Secretary Grant Shapps) has responded officially to the plan by raising public fears: implying that Corbyn might not leave on time, and warning that “he’ll wreck the economy; he’ll destroy people’s jobs, their livelihoods, their savings.” Ironic, considering that Brexit may do the same. Just try going on foreign holiday when the British pound reaches parity with the Mexican peso! (not to speak of the Mexican jumping bean).

5. The same plan — but with a more likeable, less divisive figure than Corbyn as caretaker — would be easier for rebel Tories to swallow. And let’s face it: Though the biggest Corbyn-haters are found among Conservatives, he has his share of detractors among other parties, even Labour. A number of independent MPs are refusing to support him.

6. In opposing the plan with Corbyn as PM, but supporting it with Clarke or Harman, Lib Dem leader Swinson claims she’s certain Tory rebels won’t tolerate Corbyn. This view is reasonable. Moreover, Swinson is not proposing that she herself, nor any Liberal Democrat, be interim PM. She’s shown herself more willing to compromise than Labour, which stubbornly continues to push Corbyn.

7. Tory rebels won’t easily stand up and be counted in support of a plan which would mean their political suicide. If you understand this, you don’t try and sell them Corbyn as PM. That is (as Swinson says) a waste of time and energy. (She’s persuaded me!) The numbers are simply not there.

If Jeremy Corbyn wants to show true leadership in a time of national crisis, he should back the plan he put forward, but with a different interim PM. Besides the reasons already stated, such compromise is necessary due to the rampant factionalism of UK political parties, both large and small — reminiscent of the Monty Python scene from Life of Brian where the Judean People’s Front is portrayed as endlessly squabbling with the People’s Front of Judea:

So, the plan cannot succeed without a universally liked reconciliation figure. Even then, there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. The plan (which is still somewhat barebones) could face both legal and practical challenges.

Some might consider the Corbyn proposal an elaborate Rube Goldberg machine, and prefer to focus on a more arrowlike solution, such as a single piece of targeted legislation which, if enacted, would prevent no-deal from happening on October 31st — perhaps by mandating an extension to Article 50, followed by a second referendum. This is Jo Swinson’s first choice. On the other hand, as long as the present government remains in power, there’s the potential for a no-deal Brexit to keep “respawning.”

The ultimate Rube Goldberg machine:

Getting Tory MPs to go along with installing Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister (even for a day) would be only slightly more difficult! Pick your simile… Like getting cats to march in a parade.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on Jeremy, who does look sickly with no flesh on his bones. The man has no flesh! Such a skinny, he should essen ein bissel, not that it should make him fat like a beached whale or anything… Corbyn has been accused of coddling anti-Semites in the Labour party (which was the main reason Luciana Berger left), so I soulfully dedicate this tune to Corbyn:

Jeremy, dahlink, boobala… Eat something! That when you go to visit the queen, they shouldn’t slip you in through the mail slot. And for those still tripping on the Rube Goldberg meme, here’s a parting funny:

Kim Jong-un visits Singapore’s famous Rube Goldberg Hotel

So there it is, the latest skinny!

Michael Howard

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

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The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race 2019

News flash! 8 men and women brave NYC elements in world’s longest certified foot race

(Pics/videos to follow.)

For 48 days now, ultra runners from around the world have been competing in a race which lasts for 52 days and 3,100 miles. Why? For the love of running, and to experience the joy of self-transcendence. It all takes place around one extended city block in Jamaica, Queens, where runners must average 60 miles per day for 52 days in order to complete 3,100 miles, running lap after lap.

Mind-boggling, right? But of this year’s 8 competitors, 7 have run the race before. Speedy Finnish postman Ashprihanal Aalto is a 14-time finisher. For Harita Davies, who hails from Christchurch, New Zealand and is the only woman competing this year, it will be her second try; and third time out for Nirbhasa Magee, an Irishman who makes his home in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Other contenders come from as far away as Austria, Russia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria to brave the summer heat and indulge their passion for running really long distances.

This ultra event (now in its 23rd year) is the brainchild of Sri Chinmoy, an Indian-American spiritual teacher who believed that perfection of the body can aid in perfection of the soul. He himself was an avid athlete, and encouraged his students to integrate running into their spiritual practice, while using the benefits of meditation to stay calm and focused during long runs.

The race was featured in Sanjay Rawal’s 2018 film 3100: Run and Become, which connects the spiritual running practices of Navajo runner Shaun Martin, the Bushmen of Botswana, the Buddhist monks of Mount Hiei, and students of Sri Chinmoy. View the trailer here: https://vimeo.com/266754781. According to Rawal (himself a Sri Chinmoy student), “running is a prayer and a teacher and a celebration of life.”

Day 48 has been a banner day for those concerned, because this morning Ashprihanal Aalto reached his 3,100-mile goal with a time of 47 days, 1 hour, 39 minutes, 34 seconds. That makes him a 15-time finisher and 9-time winner. After a month-and-a-half of ultra running, featherweight Aalto looks as though a good wind might easily carry him aloft. But joy will do that for you also.

There is no cash award, but friends, admirers, and well-wishers line up to greet each finisher, and the sense of joy is palpable. Bells are rung and songs of victory sung. This year, one woman offered Aalto a small stuffed puppy dog as a prize — this in addition to the traditional garland of flowers, certificate of appreciation, and custom-baked cake with a message of congratulations.

No golden earring — as worn by sailors who’ve managed to circumnavigate Cape Horn — but finishers of the Self-Transcendence 3100 know they’re members of an exclusive club. Only 43 people have done it in its first 22 years.

This year, Aalto got a little extra (well-deserved!) appreciation in the form of congratulations from the Finnish Consul General, and reporters turned up in unusual numbers. The Bergen Record of North Jersey did a wonderful 3-minute video profile which also included an outstanding interview with veteran Race Director Rupantar LaRusso.

There are 4 days left before the race ends on the evening of Tuesday, August 6th. Of the 8 starters, 1 (Aalto) has already finished, 5 more are on track to complete the entire distance by day 52, and 2 more will probably keep on running till the cutoff, but may fall short of 3,100 miles.


Sidebar: Weather proves tough for tough competitors

The Sri Chinmoy Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile race has an illustrious history, with numerous records being broken for time, distance, age, and gender. Ashprihanal Aalto nailed World Best Time with his 2015 finish, done in an astounding 40 days, 9 hours, 6 minutes, 21 seconds. He averaged 76.776 miles per day (123.56 km), under favourable running conditions.

But though Aalto has just chalked up another victory in 2019, this was far from his best time. 2019 will see relatively few records set, largely due to the weather, which has been abysmal!

The race began on Sunday, June 16th, with rain, rain, and more rain. Day after day of rain. Then for a change, a little more rain! (as the old song goes). You might think all that rain would cool the runners off, but it also makes them soggy and heavy, and increases the likelihood of blisters. The lack of sunshine can be a mood-dampener as well.

Finally, the rain went away for a bit, but returned on the heels of Hurricane Barry. A couple of beautiful, springlike days followed — perfect weather for running. But as it turned out, that was the Weather Gods’ version of rope-a-dope. They were just lulling the runners into a false sense of comfort — if you can call running 60+ miles a day anything resembling comfortable.

Then came the great heat wave of July 2019, with maps that seemed to invent new shades of vermilion just to warn folks how sizzled, fried, clam-baked, and London-broiled they would be. No exemptions for vegetarians.

The NYC Triathlon (with entrants in the thousands) was cancelled due to extreme heat and humidity. But the brave 3100 runners soldiered on, with their health closely monitored, taking breaks as needed.

The early leader in June had been Vasu Duzhiy of St. Petersburg, himself a three-time winner. But by the time the July heat wave hit, blisters and a sore Achilles had forced Vasu The Invincible to drop back to third place. Ashprihanal Aalto was in the lead, with Nirbhasa Magee nipping at his heels.

Then the heat wave struck, and this is where Aalto’s years of experience finishing this seemingly impossible race paid off: Unbeknownst to observers (and apparently invisible), a finely-honed gear change mechanism lurks within his pencil-thin frame. He magically switched gears and found a pace that he could sustain in the sweltering heat, suffering far less than other runners.

Nirbhasa Magee hoped to stay close and continue to challenge Aalto; but alas, the heat affected him. He couldn’t seem to adjust as well as the more seasoned Finn. He took a short break in the oversized receptacle for runner immersion (dubbed “Big Bertha”), which helps cool down fatigued runners.

Magee is still on track to finish second, with a current ETA of Saturday, August 3rd at 3 p.m. That would be a new PB for him. He finished third in the 2017 edition of the race, with a time of 48 days, 16 hours, 47 minutes, 1 second. He stands to shave off about 8 hours.

Harita Davies is the only woman competing this year. (I tried to place bets with the London betting shops that she’ll come in first in her division — but sadly, no takers.) She had hoped to finish with a new PB, but like Magee was slowed by the heat. A new PB is still within her reach, but is less certain post-clambake.

Her previous time on first attempt in 2017 was 51 days, 12 hours, 48 minutes, 14 seconds. Davies looks to come in sixth overall, beating two of the men who — despite noble efforts and some outstanding days — have nevertheless struggled to keep pace. But no one doubts they’re gaining valuable experience, both athletic and spiritual. Interviewed in mid-July 2017, Davies had this to say:

What will the 2020 Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race bring? Probably #1 on most people’s wish list is a hint of a smile from the Weather Gods.

Michael Howard

LINKS

Official Race Site (daily updates and live webcam)
https://3100.srichinmoyraces.org/

The 3,100-mile race around a New York block (BBC article)
https://www.bbc.com/sport/48702452

A Diva Who Is Not Above Walking 3,100 Miles (New York Times article)
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/20/nyregion/yolanda-holder-walking-diva-3100-mile-race.html

At 3,100 miles, the longest footrace in the world tests the mind (Bergen Record article)
https://www.northjersey.com/story/news/2019/08/02/3-100-miles-longest-footrace-world-tests-mind/1899125001/

Perfection Journey – 3100-Mile Race (Utpal Marshall’s blog)
https://perfectionjourney.org/category/3100-mile-race-2019/

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