Guide To The Posts

Bookmark this guide for quick access to your favourite posts.

This guide covers all posts from September 2014 through August 2015. For newer posts (of which there are many), please see the monthly archives beginning with September 2015.

While all posts appear in the monthly archives, not all show up on the home page because some are “stickies.” This guide links to every post (during the covered period), groups them sensibly, and makes it easier to understand the evolution of my thinking on some issues.

To make the blog more visually interesting, I used a theme which has a special feature: On the home page, at the top you can see a “carousel” of images which lets you scroll through those posts designated as “stickies.”

Because this blog is rich in multimedia content, the home page can be slow to load. Individual posts load much faster, and so does this guide. If you’re planning on reading more posts when you have time, you can bookmark this guide and use it as a quick-loading “home away from home.”

Tip: Some posts include embedded videos. If a video doesn’t play, hitting Reload on your browser will often fix this. Note: If you have trouble playing embedded videos, try updating your browser, or click on the DailyMotion logo to play a video on the DailyMotion site. Ditto for Vimeo and YouTube.

About Me

If you want to know more about me, please see the About page or More About Me.

First Posts

If you’re curious about the thinking which informed this site at its outset, the graphic design elements or the opening gestures, you can read these two posts:

A Study In Contrasts

The first contrasts the death of Socrates with the death of Sri Sarada Devi (the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna), and includes music by Erik Satie. Also quotes from Plato’s Phaedo and Swami Nikhilananda’s biography of Holy Mother.

The second welcomes readers in lighthearted fashion, with a funny video of different film characters disguising their voices or speaking in code while telephoning. (Alec Guinness is priceless as the Duchess of Blackpool.)

Picasso Series

My series on Pablo Picasso continues to draw daily visitors, thanks in part to an incoming link from Biography Online. I include numerous images, slideshows, and videos which help illuminate aspects of his work not sufficiently appreciated, with an emphasis on forging a spiritual pathway:

Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 1
Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 2
Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 3
Picasso and the Circus, Part 1
Picasso and the Circus, Part 2

This is not your typical “Picasso was born” approach, but a unique journey which may reveal sides of the artist you hadn’t fully grasped. (Don’t miss Françoise Gilot telling the owl story.)

I Am Not Charlie Series

The tragic attack in January 2015 on Charlie Hebdo (the French satirical magazine) raised challenging issues concerning the ideal balance between freedom of speech and respect for other people’s beliefs and customs. I wanted to approach these matters with subtlety, framing the issues in a way that would lead to greater understanding and tolerance. Subtopics include the French law partially banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves, and the Victoria (Australia) law which (by contrast) bans religious vilification. I drive home my points with political cartoons: Maggie Simpson waving a banner saying “I want my hijab!” and Charlie Brown & Snoopy enjoying a peaceful repose after arriving at a position of religious tolerance. Thanks to readers in France for making this series popular:

I Am Not Charlie
I Am Not Charlie: Peanuts Version
I Am Not Charlie: Further Thoughts
Maggie Simpson Says “I Want My Hijab!”

Chyi Yu

I’ve written a couple of posts about Chinese female vocalist Chyi Yu, whose varied career has spanned over three decades. I discuss her role as a leading figure in the Taiwan “campus folk” movement, her work with Li Tai-Hsiang and San Mao, her English song period, and her current penchant for releasing beautiful recordings of Buddhist chants. Also included: English translations of the songs “The Olive Tree” and “Sigh of Chrysanthemum.” Thanks to readers in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia for helping boost the popularity of this series:

Chyi Yu, Voice of Innocence 1
Chyi Yu, Voice of Innocence 2

Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre

While I’m not a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre or a spokesman, if I know anything in life it’s through Sri Chinmoy’s teachings, which are subtle and wise. I don’t feel it’s my place to quote him in every sentence, but to share what I’ve learned in life, my map of how things are. Still, if anyone asks me how I know what I know, I would say it’s through meditation and study. And how did meditation and study come to play a major role in my life? Through Sri Chinmoy’s good influence. Otherwise, I would certainly have remained a fool. (Not that I’ve managed to leave all foolish things behind.)

Much of what I write (about religious tolerance, for instance) is more meaningful if presented in universal terms, so that’s how I present it. Scientific rationalism is in one place, and the path of the heart is in a whole other place, so I see some value in filling in the gaps, showing that “freedom of mind” and “freedom of heart” can go together.

While Sri Chinmoy’s teachings form an undercurrent in many of my blog posts, here are a few which deal directly with Sri Chinmoy and Sri Chinmoy Centre, or which make mention:

Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics
Picasso and the Circus, Part 2
Sri Chinmoy – I want only one student: heart
Super Sarah Smashes Sri Chinmoy 3100
The Sound of Music in Bengali! (videos and commentary)
Can You Remember The Words To “My Favorite Things”?
Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy
Sri Chinmoy’s Opening Meditation at the 1993 Parliament
Kids learn to help others at Sri Chinmoy Centre
Temple-Song-Hearts: Just Another Girl Group NOT!

While most of these are self-explanatory, a couple are not:

Picasso and the Circus, Part 2

This is one of my flights of fancy where I connect many things with many other things, beginning with a film about Picasso and the Circus, the Green Bird character in Cirque du Soleil, and questions about how to remain childlike in spirit. This branches out in numerous directions: Sri Chinmoy’s song “O green bird of the blue sky,” his drawing of a green bird, pictures of the Madal Circus, a link to “Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music,” and much more.

The Sound of Music in Bengali! (videos and commentary)

At its core, this post is about the girl group Mountain-Silence and a video of them performing a medley of songs at a church in Zermatt, nestled at the foot of the Swiss Alps. Everything is very monastic and nunlike, but then you realize the “nuns” are singing in Bengali! I make the point that religious freedom is ultimately the freedom of the soul to express itself with subtlety and grace. For variety and contrast, this post includes the original film trailer for The Sound of Music, and a clip of John Coltrane performing “My Favorite Things” from Coltrane Live At Newport.

Can You Remember The Words To “My Favorite Things”?

Sheer silliness based on parodies of the famous song, but does contain some in-jokes related to Sri Chinmoy Centre. One parody is borrowed from the most excellent Sumangali Morhall, whose version describes life at the Run and Become specialist running shop in Edinburgh. There are also jokes about anti-cult attorney Joe Kracht and his obsession with publishing kinky stories, and an hilarious clip from The X-Files dramatizing the problem of publicity-seekers who circulate false accounts.

Serious Posts Concerning Media Smear Campaigns

I’m putting a couple of posts in a separate category, so people can decide whether or not they would make appropriate reading. These posts deal — often in specific detail — with media smear campaigns. Some people might find the topics distressing, or might feel that they’re not good to read because they deal too much with hostility or negativity created by others. This is a valid viewpoint, so please don’t read them if you feel that doing so would violate your principles or your faith.

By way of my own rationale, I would say it’s often best to ignore foolish things published in the media or on websites. But when certain types of harassment go on for too long, this makes bullies think they can get away with anything. I feel a personal need to respond, but for others this might be absolutely the wrong thing to do.

Again, some bullies persist because they think their targets are deaf, dumb and blind or have both hands tied behind their backs. So at some point it becomes necessary to demonstrate the art of self-defense. 😉

Anyway, the main posts rebutting media smear campaigns are these:

Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1

This is an extended 13,500-word article which examines a false story published in Rolling Stone, and shows how a false story published in Salon suffers from the same journalistic deficiencies. This is my big, definitive piece debunking the Salon hatchet job. Maybe someday I’ll add a long list of bullet points to this description; then again, maybe not. Some of it goes like this:

There are whole segments of the media (both left and right) obsessed with “advocacy journalism,” where the purpose is to float allegations for political ends, with little concern for truth or accuracy. Such journalism tends to reflect what people want to believe rather than reality, as with stories in WorldNetDaily that President Obama is both gay and Muslim. It’s easy to play “spot the deficiency” in such stories, where a tainted source or crucial questions never asked by the reporter lead to implausible results.

Events in the real world often have political ramifications, but journalists, media critics, and the general public should beware of the tail wagging the dog. When a too-perfect story pandering to populist stereotypes emerges in tandem with political ax-grinding and journalistic grandstanding, this should raise concerns about truthfulness.

The need for truth is not liberal or conservative, female or male, religious or secular, but something universal. We all need truth. Truth matters.

Filing false police reports is a crime according to both federal and state laws. But nursing false claims of abuse in the tabloids or on the Internet may carry a civil penalty at most, and would require that the injured party file a lawsuit, which is often expensive, inconvenient, and subject to the Streisand effect (as well as other legal loopholes). Thus, haunting the tabloids and Internet has become an easy way for opportunists to score political brownie points or wreak personal vengeance at minimal risk to themselves, particularly if they’re judgement proof.

(This brief abstract deals in generalities, but the post itself gets into the nitty-gritty of who said what and why it’s not true.)

How far would you go to get a book deal?

Described by one reader as a “classic takedown,” this is a shorter follow-up to the long “Can Salon Learn” article. Here I concentrate on corruption in the publishing industry, being particularly critical of blogger Edwin Lyngar (a specialist in “posterior osculation”), literary agent Elizabeth Kracht (the object of his affections), and literary agency Kimberley Cameron & Associates (Ms. Kracht’s employer). The latter I liken to Genco Pura Olive Oil Company in The Godfather. Funny graphics help drive home the serious points that Elizabeth Kracht uses “her” author Edwin Lyngar like a literary leg-breaker (a la Luca Brasi), and that Kimberley Cameron is profiteering from the demise of fact-based journalism and the politics of personal destruction. The graphic which says “Kimberley Cameron Parody Site” does indeed link to such a site, where one may hear appropriate theme music. 😉

Understanding Media: The Smear Campaign

This post includes a 9-minute documentary video I produced on the subject of media smear campaigns, drawing on sources as diverse as The Manchurian Candidate, I Love Lucy, and Family Guy. I make the point that entertainment and news have become the same thing now. I illustrate the mechanics and ethics of smear campaigns. I ask questions like “Why should we care whether news stories are true or false?” and stress the connection between media literacy and good decision-making.

From the general I move to the particular, with sections on “Smear Campaigns Targeting Spiritual Teachers and Groups” and “Motivations For Smearing Spiritual Teachers.”

Some of those who participate in smear campaigns were once spiritual seekers themselves, but unfortunately their desire and ambition won out over their spiritual aspiration. So it is like in politics: When a politician switches from Democrat to Republican, what’s the first thing that happens? The Republicans say, “How do we know you’re really with us? You have to hold a press conference denouncing the Democrats, saying how bad they are, and how all those years you were a Democrat you were completely deluded.”

Sadly, in American public life religion is conducted much like politics. So when some people lose their spiritual faith, they’re quickly caught up in the rip tide of apostasy. They don’t just cease their spiritual activities, they become bitter partisans in the senseless war against benign spiritual groups. This type of public “testimonial” condemning one’s former faith is considered unreliable by scholars of religion due to the social, political and economic factors at work, and the desire of the apostate to curry favour with a new secular peer group on which her future livelihood depends.

The ACLU and Religious Freedom

This five-part series might have a boring title, but actually contains a wealth of information on topics related to religious freedom, minority spiritual groups, the anti-cult movement, cyberhate, and deprogramming/exit counseling. Topics include:

  • The history of religious freedom vs. conformism, populism, and authoritarianism.
  • John E. LeMoult’s 1978 article on “Deprogramming Members of Religious Sects,” published in the Fordham Law Review.
  • An article in The Guardian on religious conversion which references William James and Carl Jung.
  • The legal help rendered by the ACLU to Donna Seidenberg Bavis, a 24-years-old Hare Krishna devotee who was subjected to a kidnapping type deprogramming.
  • The challenge faced by those spiritual seekers who stand alone against a perceived monolithic empire of deprogrammers, psychiatric social workers, judges and family members who all oppose their religious choice.
  • The changing climate, in which there is less physical coercion and more psychological coercion of minority adherents.
  • Recent trends in legal and sociological thinking which emphasize cyber civil rights and the right of minorities to live their lives free from vilification and harassment.
  • The impact that psychologically coercive faith-breaking techniques have on religious freedom.
  • A look at so-called “cult recovery” groups and the practice of generating atrocity stories as a means of legitimating claims of victimhood.
  • Exploring Guru Alienation Syndrome, a psychological condition similar to Parental Alienation Syndrome.
  • An examination of tactics like cloaked hate and use of fictional narratives by hate groups.
  • Discussion of sites which put up a spiritual veneer in order to “pull in” people with positive spiritual interest who would not knowingly visit an anti-cult site.
  • Criticism of attorney Joseph C. Kracht for McCarthyite tactics like conducting Internet show trials, calling unsworn witnesses (some lacking surnames), and suppressing or ignoring exculpatory evidence — all in an effort to demonize spiritual teachers and groups.
  • Particular tactics employed by anti-cultists which may rise to the level of “information terrorism” (referencing definitions used by Massimo Introvigne).
  • Unethical use of the Internet by attorneys to unfairly influence the outcome of legal cases.
  • An exploration of faith versus reason.
  • A discussion of how civil rights may be abridged through rule-swallowing exceptions.
  • The ethics of making spiritual choices, and the significance of mystical experiences.
  • The tactic of imposing a host of conditions on faith, including the requirement that faith be arrived at through a rigidly prescribed course of critical reasoning.
  • Discussion of a Scientific American article which shows that analytical thinking and intuition are quite different modes of exploring any question, with intuition increasing faith in God, and analytical thinking having the opposite effect.
  • Recalling what Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas wrote about freedom of thought.

The series culminates in a discussion of “freedom of heart” vs. “freedom of mind,” and concludes:

The visionary aspect of religious freedom is that it’s meant to apply equally to the innovators, not just to churches and temples which have stood for three hundred years or more. Living religions demand living freedoms.

There will inevitably be areas of life where the differing methodologies of faith and reason lead to different conclusions. Each individual has a right to choose faith over reason if that is what he or she feels is the right decision based on conscience. Nothing in the law (or the way it is practised or put into effect) should penalize a person for faith-based decision making.

Ultimately, a compassionate and tolerant society is one which respects not only people’s right to choose different faiths, but also their right to arrive at those choices by different means, including intuition and listening to the truths that the heart speaks in silence.

When minority adherents are subjected to harassment, vilification, and psychological coercion simply because they choose to follow their heart in spiritual matters, the ACLU still has a great deal of work to do to help safeguard their civil rights.

This series has garnered interest from fellow travelers who see spiritual diversity as something beneficial to building our future world. Read all five parts at the links below:

The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 1
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 2
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 3
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 4
The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 5

While the latter series was largely analytical, I continued on in a more philosophical vein with a reprint of a story by Sri Chinmoy, and further reflections of my own about the nature of karma and the questionable ethics shown by some apostates:

Sri Chinmoy – I want only one student: heart

There’s nothing like reading Sri Chinmoy’s own words, which carry a special power and significance because he was not a dry philosopher or intellectual, but someone who realised the ultimate Truth — living and vibrant — for himself. This story about the power of silence and the significance of the spiritual heart is told in his own inimitable style, and makes a refreshing change of pace from the prior series. Yet, it is also the culmination of that series because it takes us beyond speculation about mind/heart dualism, and welcomes us into the heart-reality of an illumined Master.

Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy

I consider this post to be one of my best because it manages to tie together a number of themes where I hoped to achieve clarity.

When people pray, meditate, and engage in selfless work, they add to their pile of good things. But when people become doubting and hostile, and consciously try to take away the faith of others, this negates the good things and adds to their pile of bad things, their negative karma.

Life is cyclic; people sometimes go through phases which are more spiritual or less so. A wise person gradually adds to their pile of goods things, and even during a less spiritual phase they don’t subtract from it by committing acts which are spiritually destructive. In this way, they make gradual progress.

Bad counsel may come in the form of apostates who urge people to burn their spiritual bridges behind them, to loudly and public denounce their faith. This is sheer stupidity when we understand that we are eternal travelers, that life is cyclic, and that we need to accomplish as much as we can in a spiritual phase, then hold onto it — do nothing to destroy it.

When people make a definite decision to abandon their spiritual practice and to snatch away the faith of others, we may need to revoke their credentials so that they’re no longer part of our web of trust. Otherwise, they can drag us through all kinds of suffering.

Of course, I’m not saying we should hate anyone or treat them unkindly. But in important spiritual matters, our web of trust should consist of those we know to be spiritually trustworthy today, not those who use yesterday’s faded credentials to gain entrée and wreak havoc.

Human nature is mixed and often changes over time. We sometimes need to track the changes and respond accordingly. A student may have great spiritual potential, but then he takes a fall and becomes an unreliable source of spiritual wisdom, and an unreliable friend.

For people who still need to work out their desires in the world, there is such a thing as reasonable desire, ethical desire. This means working out one’s desires in an ethical manner. You have desires, but you don’t tell hateful lies; you have desires, but you don’t rob or kill. For those not quite ready for the spiritual life, to pursue their desires in an ethical manner can be a gradual preparation for the spiritual life.

However, apostates often find themselves ethically challenged. Much of their ethical sense is connected to their faith, so when their faith goes, their ethical sense also goes. Otherwise, they would not be able to tell lies with such impunity; they would not be able to harass those who were their former friends, colleagues, and spiritual mentors or treat them with such cruelty.

People come and go from the spiritual life. Most come and go in joy. Even if they return to worldly life, they try to remember and cherish their spiritual experiences and all that the spiritual life once meant to them. These are the good and wise souls who remain rooted in ethics, and who continue to add to their pile of good things.

Early Series on Religious Freedom

Prior to “The ACLU and Religious Freedom,” I had done an earlier sequence of posts where I explored issues related to religious freedom, harassment of spiritual minorities, hate on the Net, self-interest, self-giving, the life (and death) of Socrates, and the problem of finding reliable spiritual sources. The freewheeling style of these earlier posts reflects my background in music, art, and poetry. I’m sometimes content to put together an eclectic mix of different sources without imposing a prosaic meaning on the collective whole. Still, as this series progresses the writing does become more focused, and some of the insights I gained through this process became building blocks for later articles. It was here that I first began quoting cyber civil rights activists Mary Anne Franks and Danielle Keats Citron:

A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 1
Hate Propaganda and Anti-Cult Ideology — What’s Wrong Here?
A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 2
Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics
The Truman Show and Finding Reliable Spiritual Sources

The one about self-interest and self-giving is a personal favourite because in the course of writing it I was able to get a fresh take on issues which can be vexing or troublesome to explain: the problem of people whose ethics are quite low, but who spend much of their time attacking spiritual teachers, hoping to extinguish their light, or at least to discourage the public from accepting and benefiting from that light. Sources used include a Time interview with Mother Teresa, a video of the Dalai Lama, and an animation by R.O. Blechman. Also a video of Mother Teresa receiving the U Thant Peace Award from Sri Chinmoy.

If you’ve ever wondered how people who used to be so self-giving can become so selfish and mean, perhaps it’s because there’s something brittle in their nature which has snapped. One simple suggestion I offer which applies equally to people of all faiths is to always try and be a good-hearted person, not mean-spirited or vindictive. If you have given, do not regret giving.

Just because someone has experienced a rebellion in their nature doesn’t mean their spiritual progress has to end. Some people have these extremes within them, so they progress by lurching from side to side. It is not ideal, but it is workable. After a period in which you have become doubting, selfish, and hostile, you can gradually bring yourself back to the starting point and once again begin to practice self-giving, which includes both inner charity and outer charity.

In “The Truman Show and Finding Reliable Spiritual Sources,” I share my map of reality by discussing a number of interrelated topics. Have you ever felt a spiritual longing, but felt like you didn’t know how to proceed and everyone you asked seemed to be misdirecting you? This post tackles the problem of how to locate reliable spiritual sources, and how to get beyond sources which are unreliable. Peter Weir’s film The Truman Show is used as a metaphor, and art critic Rosalind Krauss (seen on video) helps us delve into the postmodern dilemma in which we seem to be confronted by a wall of illusory images. To find reliable spiritual sources may entail questioning the nature of reality itself! Not everything which is popular is true, and some types of information can be discounted because they’re the product of excessive populism, vested interests, or incompetent operators.

Are you a spiritual seeker? Then you can rely on populist media for the weather report, but you cannot rely on them for what we call “spiritual report.” In this they are unreliable. It’s simply not their area of expertise; plus, their emphasis on commercialism and populism acts as a heavy-handed filter of information concerning spiritual groups. Many people in the mainstream media are good and well-meaning, but spiritual topics elude them. They lack the time and interest to make sense of the spiritual landscape, so they tend to present a stereotyped view.

Then again, even people that you love and trust, and who love you, may not be good sources of spiritual information. This can be heartbreaking, but it’s true. You may ask parents, friends, and teachers at your school, but you may find that they only repeat what they have heard and do not offer any true insight. Looking in their eyes, you don’t see the light of genuine wisdom or experience. They are not seeking, so of course they have not found. Just as you might navigate your way through an imaginary music store to find something rare and precious which others have overlooked, you need to cultivate spiritual resources in order to unearth spiritual treasures.

Britcoms and Doctor Who

I really enjoy Britcoms and Doctor Who. They relieve the pressure of too much thinking about deep matters. Some of the posts where I’ve managed to work in video clips include:

Miranda Hart and Agnosticism

Has the scenes from Hyperdrive where she sings agnostic hymns. CAUTION: May require change of underwear.

Doctor Who’s Tom Baker: Funny Story 1 (video)

Tom Baker recounts how fellow actor Michael Wisher (a.k.a. Davros) managed to be terribly funny by having no sense of humour at all. The rakish Baker at his sardonic best!

The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 3

Notwithstanding its serious topic, this post closes with a video of the famous Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch. (“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”)

Putting The Wind Up Richard Dawkins (videos and commentary)

The British media occasionally have a go at Dawkins, and this post includes short clips from Doctor Who and Rev. poking fun at the Dawkster. It does make some serious points about faith versus reason. In the “Amelia Paints Stars” clip, a very special little girl named Amelia Pond is growing up in an alternate time track — an Earth where there are no stars in the sky. But unlike most people, she remembers the original time track well enough to insist on painting the sky with stars, so of course a child psychologist has to be brought in to persuade her logically that “there’s no such thing as stars” — it’s “just a story.” This segues into discussion of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie. Maybe it takes a combination of innocence and imagination (both being positive qualities) to have faith in God, in spite of being told that God is just a made-up story.

Can You Remember The Words To “My Favorite Things”?

Includes a short clip from The Vicar of Dibley — the episode where Alice Tinker sings “My Favorite Things” to ward off her terror of thunderstorms. Naturally, she remembers all the words with computerlike precision. 😉

Doubt, Faith, and the Ethics of Apostasy

Includes a short clip from “Vincent and the Doctor,” the episode of Doctor Who where the Doctor gives his (now famous) speech about life being “a pile of good things and bad things.” I use this to help illustrate the concept of karma.

Vincent Van Gogh: O Happy Day!

The featured image is a “doctored” frame from “Vincent and the Doctor,” and the post embeds that full Doctor Who episode (for as long as it survives on DailyMotion). UPDATE: It didn’t survive,  so instead you’ll see a review by MrTARDISreviews with choice clips from the episode. Plus discussion of Vincent van Gogh, the Whovian universe, and the nature of compassion. Is it a divine quality or a human one?

Posts About Music, Musicians, or Containing Music Clips

A Study In Contrasts

Includes a music clip from Erik Satie’s “Mort de Socrate.”

Chyi Yu, Voice of Innocence 1

Includes Chyi Yu singing “The Olive Tree” and “Dream Field” (duet with Pan Yue Yun). We also hear a rare example of Li Tai-Hsiang’s own singing style.

Chyi Yu, Voice of Innocence 2

Has music clips of Chyi Yu singing “Sigh of Chrysanthemum,” “Vincent,” and 7-syllable Buddhist sutras. Also, the original music video of “Meng Tian” (“Dream Field”), plus a rare video of Nana Mouskouri singing Bob Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina” in French!

Charles Ives — “The Cage” and “Walking”

Includes Ives’s song “The Cage,” for piano and voice.

Joyce Hatto and Ethics

My take on the Joyce Hatto affair, in which a body of classical piano recordings by a much-lauded British pianist were found to be plagiarized from other artists. Includes film clips (with music) from Loving Miss Hatto, Victoria Wood’s sympathetic treatment for the BBC. Armed with this and The Great Piano Scam, you can make up your own mind about an enigmatic figure in the classical music world.

Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 2

Has slideshows of Picasso’s work where the musical selections are:

Nana Mouskouri singing “Aspri Mera.”
The Jacques Loussier (Jazz) Trio performing Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédie no. 1.”

A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 1

Includes a music clip of Joan Baez singing “The Cherry Tree Carol.”

Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics

Includes a clip from R.O. Blechman’s animated short No Room at the Inn, with music by Arnold Black.

The Truman Show and Finding Reliable Spiritual Sources

Includes a clip from The Truman Show which has been given the “old film” look, with subtitles. The processed clip is rendered more avant-garde by an eclectic selection of music:

Django Reinhardt: “Minor Swing”
Igor Stravinsky: “The Owl and the Pussycat”

Picasso and the Circus, Part 2

Sports a music clip of Chyi Yu and Pan Yue Yun singing “Gue Wai” (“Off the Beaten Path”).

Christmas Music: The Rare and the Beautiful

Features Christmas carols from three different periods:

“Puer natus in Bethlehem in hoc anno” from In Natali Domini — Medieval Christmas Songs, the Niederaltaicher Scholaren, Konrad Ruhland, dir.

“Puer natus in Bethlehem” (J.S. Bach) from Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book), Chorus of the Gedächtniskirche, Stuttgart, Helmuth Rilling.

“Ain’t That A-Rockin” sung by Odetta, from Christmas Spirituals (1960 Vanguard LP).

I Am Not Charlie

Includes a clip from Rob Reiner’s “rockumentary” This Is Spinal Tap: the scene where lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel brags that his Marshall amp is better because all the knobs go to 11.

The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 3

Closes with a music clip of the Mahavishnu Orchestra performing “Gita” from the album Inner Worlds.

The ACLU and Religious Freedom, Part 5

Includes a video of Chyi Yu singing the “Heart Sutra,” a work of Buddhist mysticism here sung in Mandarin. Also a music clip of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin performing “Follow Your Heart” from the album My Goal’s Beyond.

Bach’s St. John Passion: Crucifixion (video)

A three-minute video highlighting the crowd scenes from Bach’s St. John Passion. The music is quite striking and moving, with some of Bach’s most distinctive counterpoint in a chromatic style. John Eliot Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir.

Temple-Song-Hearts: Just Another Girl Group NOT

Features a music clip of the girl group Temple-Song-Hearts singing and performing on a variety of acoustic instruments. Full arrangements in a new age/meditative vein.

Vincent Van Gogh: O Happy Day!

Includes a slideshow of Van Gogh’s paintings set to Don McLean’s song “Vincent” (a.k.a. “Starry Starry Night”) sung by Chyi Yu.

Understanding Media: The Smear Campaign

Ends with Tom Paxton singing “Daily News” from his 1964 album Ramblin’ Boy.

A More Detailed Look At The Picasso Posts

Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 1

The first in a major three-part series, Part 1 begins with a poem fragment about Picasso which uses some painterly techniques. Works discussed include The Old Guitarist and The Beach at La Garoupe — the latter by way of a film clip where Picasso paints two different versions which we compare and contrast. Should we view The Old Guitarist primarily as an icon for clinical depression, or as pure art? Includes a significant quote from Picasso’s 1923 “Statement To Marius De Zayas,” with discussion of Picasso’s ideas about creating art in the present moment and recognizing that all past ages are with us.

Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 2

Part 2 may be considered the heart of this series, with the most pictures, slideshows, video clips, and broad contrasts between different periods in Picasso’s work. The case is made that his ceramics — profound in their simplicity — are not sufficiently appreciated by the general public. There are slideshows showcasing his ceramics as well as his traditional portraits of women, plus many examples of his less representational works where he interpolates his subjects through cubism, abstract sculptural forms, and psychological profiles. Like most male artists of the twentieth century, Picasso used the female body as raw material for his visions of what art could be. The feminist implications are discussed via a video commentary by art historian Griselda Pollock. Ideas about artists and models which were current in the 1950s are explored in clips from the 1958 film The Horse’s Mouth.

Was Picasso Spiritual? Part 3

The third and final post in this series draws conclusions, suggesting that “Artists are explorers, and it makes sense to look for what’s valuable in their explorations, what reflects lasting truth.” There are excerpts from a photo series where Picasso paints with light, and we discuss Picasso’s sometimes disputed place in modernism. Must one shun all recognizable subject matter and embrace pure abstraction in order to be considered a modernist? Must one “burn the Louvre,” or is it possible to live on comfortable terms with the past even as one goes beyond it? A video clip includes Françoise Gilot telling the story of how Picasso rescued a baby owl and nursed it back to health. Modern artists often create works which don’t explicitly affirm or commend faith, but do point to some higher beauty which exists, and which might be said to come from the mind (or soul) of God. The series ends as it began, with a fragment of poetry.

Picasso and the Circus, Part 1

This post introduces the short film Picasso and the Circus, produced in 1981 by the National Gallery of Art. A little girl named Elena discovers Picasso’s paintings and drawings of circus performers while wandering ’round the museum. To make the film more interesting and exciting for children, the museum scenes are intercut with lively footage of a modern day Parisian troupe (the Cirque Gruss).

Picasso and the Circus, Part 2

Here I use the film Picasso and the Circus as a springboard for connecting all kinds of people and ideas. Elena Day (the little girl in the film) grew up to become The Green Bird character in Cirque du Soleil. So we have a circus motif, bird imagery, and questions about how to remain childlike in spirit. This branches out in many directions: a quote from Picasso, a poem by Sri Chinmoy, pictures of the Madal Circus, a link to “Bird Imagery in Secular and Sacred Music,” and a song from Chyi Yu & Pan Yue Yun. Also: the circus theme as found in both literary and televisual science fiction. Discussion of Genevieve Valentine’s book Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti. Circus performers as Bohemians, and a picture of the young Picasso with his Bohemian friends. A campy clip from an old Outer Limits episode where a birdlike alien takes charge of a space ride and sends the ticketholders on a longer journey than they’d planned. I had fun designing the featured image, which shows Picasso in one of his crazy getups looking like a circus ringmaster, silhouetted against a background of orange circus peanuts. A must see!

Video Odds and Ends

A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 1

Includes a video of Count Floyd of Monster Chiller Horror Theatre fame. The relevance is that for decades, much of the modus operandi of the anti-cult movement has been to “scare the daylights” out of the general public regarding non-conventional religious choices. The inability of Count Floyd to actually deliver on his promise of scary blood-sucking monkeys who burrow deep inside people’s bellies and lead to the demise of Pittsburgh is comical in the skit, but less so as applied to the real world machinations of anti-cult groups.

A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 2

Includes video highlights from The West Wing episode “Shibboleth,” which concerns Chinese Christians fleeing persecution in China, and explores the nature of faith. Also, a clip from Elia Kazan’s 1954 film On The Waterfront — the famous “This is my church” scene where Father Barry takes a stand against union corruption. With dramatic oratory, he drives home the point that Christ is not just a spiritual figure, but also an ethical figure, and ethics forms a connecting link between the high principles one hears in church sermons and the tribulations of daily life.

Chronological List of Posts

This area under construction. For now, should you want to read every post in chronological order (presumably as a sleep aid), please start from the monthly Archives which appear in the sidebar on the right-hand side of each post. Start with September 2014, scroll down to the bottom, and work your way up, post by post. Then do the same for October 2014, etc. Thank you for your patience.

Old Computer or Slow Internet Connection? Read Posts as Text-Only

If you have an old computer or slow Internet connection, you can read posts in text-only mode (without pictures and videos) using this simple method:

Find a post you want to read. Right-click on the link, and in Firefox choose Copy Link Location, or in Chrome choose Copy Link Address. (All browsers have some variation on this feature.) Then paste the link into Google Search. The first search result should exactly match the the post title and URL. Click on the small arrow to the right of the search result, click on cached, then click on Text-only version. Google will show you a text-only snapshot of the post. This should load quickly because there are no pictures or videos.

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Thanks for reading, and I hope this guide helps you find what you’re looking for!

Michael Howard

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