Dershowitz on presidential powers…
The Alan Dershowitz Funnies – Collect them all!
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Radio Free Albemuth is a novel by P.K. Dick written in 1976, published posthumously in 1985. It’s not a final draft, and so has an improvisatory air that’s sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.
Despite its flaws, there’s a lot to like; but I’m not reviewing the book here, or dealing with the totality of its plot and vision of America in the mid-70s, nor with Dick’s unique brand of gnosticism. My narrow purpose today is to compare a Philip K. Dick character — Ferris F. Fremont — with a Republican Party character — Donald J. Trump.
To lay the groundwork, I should nevertheless give a few minimal plot details. Radio Free Albemuth takes place in an alternate history where America has become an authoritarian state under the bootheel of president Ferris F. Fremont — sometimes described as a composite of Joseph R. McCarthy and Richard M. Nixon.
This is a dark period for America, but help has come in the form of VALIS — who in P.K. Dick’s iconography might be God, or might be an AI entity from a distant star. (But that doesn’t concern us here).
Groups supporting Fremont include FAP, or “Friends of the American People,” a right-wing populist group which spies and informs on citizens. Members of this group are called FAPers.
The rest is fairly self-explanatory, and the fun lies in tallying up the ways in which Trump resembles Fremont (and the ways he doesn’t).
Dick’s alternate history is dark, dystopian, paranoid, and conspiratorial. I’m not for a moment suggesting we live in that world, or that Donald Trump = Ferris Fremont. But as with books like Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, asking tough questions about how our present day world compares with those fictional worlds is a great jumping off point for discussions among English and PolySci majors, or anybody else who gives a fig. 😉
So what’s the verdict? How close is Donald Trump to Ferris Fremont? And in what ways does our present world resemble the fictional world of Radio Free Albemuth?
For people who don’t actually listen to the excerpt, I should mention that P.K. Dick has an interesting answer to a perennial question:
Why should such disparate groups as the Soviet Union and the US intelligence community back the same man? I am no political theoretician, but Nicholas one time said, “They both like figureheads who are corrupt. So they can govern from behind. The Soviets and the fuzz, they’re all for shadow governments. They always will be, because basically each of them is the man with the gun. The pistol to the head.”
No one had put a pistol to Ferris Fremont’s head. He was the pistol itself, pointed at our head. Pointed at the people who had elected him. Behind him stood all the cops in the world, the left-wing cops in Russia, the right-wing cops in the United States. Cops are cops. There are only divisions of rank, into greater and lesser. The top cop is probably never seen.
Again, I’m not endorsing this ultra-paranoid (and somewhat simplistic) view, but it does suggest that authoritarianism is authoritarianism, whether left-wing or right-wing.
From another SF writer, Robert Heinlein, I learned the important distinction between bad and worse. The political situation in the US is bad at the moment, but things are far worse elsewhere. We are not yet living in a dictatorship. Still, it remains to be seen whether American democracy can survive the onslaught of billionaires funding covert psyops to shoe in their handpicked candidates, as with Cambridge Analytica.
Note 1: In case this isn’t obvious, much of the novel is written from a pacifist perspective. P.K. Dick is not advocating violence, but does reference the violence used by Ferris Fremont to ascend to power.
Note 2: Regular readers would know that I frequently write about peace studies and the need to create a more peaceful world. To discuss Dick’s dark, dystopian vision is obviously not to endorse it.
Note 3: The excerpt is read by Tom Weiner. I’ve searched for working commercial links to the full audiobook produced by Blackstone Audio, but it appears to be out-of-stock, possibly discontinued.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
“The Constitution? We can dismember it for you wholesale…”
* * *
With all the talk of Donald Trump and immigration, as well as the visit of French president Emmanuel Macron, I thought readers would enjoy seeing The Immigrant, that wonderful Charlie Chaplin short from 1917. A fine restored print with tasteful classical music and beautiful typography!
There’s a lot to admire here, including Chaplin’s incredible dexterity and comic genius (watch him do a full pitcher’s windup throwing dice!), as well as the expressive countenance of Edna Purviance. But amidst the laughs, the moment when the Statue of Liberty comes into view is still solemn and moving over a hundred years later. What a wonderful gift from the French people!
You might think a film made so long ago would be hopelessly archaic. But I like to pretend the film was made only yesterday by an ambitious film student trying to ape the silent era. Then I notice what a good job he or she did. The dining hall scene is fresh and hilarious, and there’s something about the way that people are herded at Ellis Island, with number tags pinned to their lapels, that comments on the assembly line quality of the newly minted twentieth century.
I’m thinking of another choice film about the immigrant experience: Wayne Wang’s Chan Is Missing (1982). His first critically acclaimed film, it’s a mystery wrapped in a cinéma vérité portrait of San Francisco’s Chinatown and its diverse people and politics. The lead character is a taxi driver named Jo, played by the eminently likable Wood Moy (1918-2017).
Moy was very active in the Asian American Theatre Company, and also had a small part in Class Action. In Chan he doubles as narrator and jokes about the F.O.B’s — fresh off the boat — who in the modern era come off jumbo jets.
Jo is trying to solve the mystery of his friend Chan Hung, who disappeared amidst conflict between pro-Taiwan and pro-PRC factions over a flag-waving incident. Now, whether it’s Jane Marple, Sam Spade, Columbo, or George Smiley doing the digging, the detective genre has always been a perfect means to explore a multitude of characters, each of whom has an angle they’re working. The detective must sift through not just their stories, but their different cultural takes on reality.
The missing Chan Hung turns out to be a many-faceted character who’s described differently by each person Jo interviews; but in the course of the film we see the Chinese immigrant experience in all its richness and complexity, with rollicking humor, and a poignant look at the contrast between elderly Chinese and the “ultra-tasty dish” described in the song “Grant Avenue” (from Flower Drum Song). SPOILER CLIP:
If you live in the NYC area, you can see a film screening of Chan Is Missing at the New York Public Library at Chatham Square on May 5th. Further details here.
Coming back to The Immigrant, one can hardly watch Charlie Chaplin’s performance as a financially strapped diner without recalling Josh White’s performance of “One Meat Ball”:
In our present era, which seems dominated by the rich, powerful, bold and brassy, I take to heart the waiter’s hollered dictum that “You gets no bread with one meat ball!” Probably not a cry heard much at Mar-a-Lago, though there’s a Stormy Daniels joke lurking somewhere in the vicinity. It all seems quite remote from the Statue of Liberty (though Melania Trump is rumoured to own a designer babushka).
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
* * *
I get it. Daniels and Avenatti are going up against Donald Trump, so it’s tempting to welcome them as fellow travelers, or at least “enemies of mine enemy.” But if Republicans have become roundly unprincipled, liberals should stand up squarely for something better than the crass opportunism represented by Stormenatti.
I’m a liberal, but not a knee-jerk liberal. I tend to embrace causes of social compassion and human rights. I also try and see through all forms of propaganda and b.s. I just can’t take any more #Stormenatti on MSNBC, particularly on Lawrence O’Donnell, where Avenatti is given nothing but softballs to hit. It’s like a Bizarro World version of Fox News, but with liberal propaganda. It’s transparently bad journalism, and drives away principled people who might otherwise be allies.
Politics can be a mixed bag; it sometimes brings us insight, but other times asks us to put on blinders. Yea to the former but nay to the latter.
If you’re not just playing politics, but take a principled stand against Donald Trump due to his unbridled hucksterism, then you should also take a stand against Daniels and Avenatti — for the same reason. Not that I want their legal bid to fail; I just don’t want to see them dominate the news or be held up as role models.
Metaphorically speaking, Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels both inhabit the same grindhouse exploitation film — and the person they’re exploiting is you the viewer. They’re both in show business, both insatiable publicity hounds, and perhaps neither has much to offer beyond the brassy, artificially inflated personas they flash for the cameras.
I’m not suggesting a ban on coverage of #Stormenatti, but please don’t make it/them nightly attractions, and please practice basic journalism, like asking tough, skeptical questions about their means and motives.
What is the great civil rights cause championed by Stormy Daniels and her lawyer? That she ought to get paid more than $130,000 for having sex with Donald Trump and keeping quiet about it?
What are the underlying circumstances? Why were she and other porn stars hanging around the golf resort where Trump was staying? Because they were on the lookout for millionaires, hoping that an initial hookup might be bartered into a hefty wad of cash — which Daniels eventually got. Later, she made a self-interested business decision that if she could overturn the contract that netted her $130,000 for one night’s work, she could make millions as a celebrity in her own right. Gandhi, MLK, and Susan B. Anthony move over!
I’m not a lawyer, and don’t pretend to understand the legal distinction between “blackmail” and “hush money.” But if there is a legal distinction (and it may be a fine one), I see very little moral and ethical distinction. So, notwithstanding that I’m a liberal, it makes me want to throw up when I see the shrewd and rapacious Michael Avenatti blathering away on Lawrence O’Donnell as if his client were a cross between Joan of Arc and Harriet Tubman.
One can cover newsmakers from a liberal point of view while still retaining an iota of skepticism. The New York Times covers #Stormenatti, but with a tad of snarkiness that helps restore perspective. This they do by interspersing factual narrative with titles of films in which Daniels actually starred. My favourite (make-believe) ones are Bring Me Some Head for Alfredo Garcia and Three Days of the Condom (links are Roger Ebert reviews).
I’m always trying to refine my understanding, and to avoid saying what’s already been said better. So when researching this post, coming across “Stormy Daniels is a feminist heroine,” I assumed it must be meant sarcastically. I was gobsmacked to find it was a credulous (if rhetorical) claim by none other than Krystal Ball, who often appears on MSNBC.
My mind works in a discursive manner, so I can only say that I’m reminded of a scene from a DVD extra called “Dr. Forever! – The Celestial Toyroom.” It’s about the toys that Doctor Who fans had when they were kids. Some toys came in boxes of Weetabix wholegrain cereal — which was a terrific marketing coup, and had the side benefit of keeping millions of young Britons extremely regular. Sadly, Krystal Ball was not among them.
By all means, let’s treat all people everywhere decently, and let’s not be overly judgmental. The conservative right tends to apply hateful stereotypes to women who make certain less-than-ideal career choices, but the fallacy in Ms. Ball’s thinking is that she applies a syrupy inverted stereotype to the same women. In truth, Ms. Daniels is neither an untouchable sinner, nor a feminist heroine taking back power from the patriarchy one spank at a time. Like her lawyer, Daniels is just another huckster, not easily distinguishable from millions of other hucksters who dot American life, from telemarketers to folk selling quack baldness remedies on late night TV. May they one day find better wisdom.
As human beings, we are all of us more than we appear to be. In characterizing where some people presently are, I don’t mean to restrict, confine, or belittle them. We all have the potential to bring out deeper aspects of our selves — aspects which are in some sense truer. But that acquisitive instinct or spirit of hucksterism tends to be a stumbling block, making it hard for us to be our best selves.
If we recognize this greediness to be a stumbling block in human nature, then we would ideally choose as role models those who epitomize unselfishness and charity.
There’s a sense in which real estate magnates and porn stars go together. They are both found at golf resorts plying their respective trades or proclivities. But the world is so much bigger than that! America is a great and good nation, and the national attention should be focused on better things.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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I hope you enjoy this peaceful morning meditation music:
The styles and instruments may differ, but these thirteen artists are all performing variations on the same song: “Usha Bala Elo” by Sri Chinmoy. Judging by the number of recordings, it’s one of the most popular songs among his students.
Usha bala elo
Dhire aji dhire
Slowly, very slowly,
The virgin dawn appears
In the very depths of my aspiration-heart.
This beautiful song with its simple melody is very enjoyable to sing. Usha means “dawn,” and can also refer to the Goddess Usha, who is celebrated in the ancient Rig Veda, where she is identified with the dawn and described as a bringer of light.
In poetry and song, we need not choose a single meaning. We can enjoy the superimposition of the outer and inner meanings. In the outer world, we can imagine the first rays of the dawn softly illuminating the sky, and in the inner world we can feel a new dawn, new light, new consciousness appearing in the depths of our heart.
April 13th is a special day for those who admire Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). On April 13th, 1964 he arrived in the West and began a remarkable decades-long career as a teacher, composer, musician, poet, artist, athlete, and humanitarian.
Of the versions performed here, two merit special attention because they are medleys. Master sitarist Adesh Widmer begins with “Usha Bala Elo,” but also works in other tunes by Sri Chinmoy. And arranger Paree Atkins creates a rich tapestry for large ensemble, beginning with another of Sri Chinmoy’s dawn songs: “Andhakarer Bakka Chiri”:
Andhakarer bakka chiri
Khulche ushar toran oi
Jaya dhwani kare sabe
Khoka khuki achhish koi
Arun ranga charan phele
Usha rani ese
Khelar chale anlo tene
Ajana ei deshe
Behold, tearing the heart of darkness,
the door of dawn opens.
O children, where are you?
Sing, sing the divine glory.
The queen of dawn descends
with her morning rays.
She has dragged me down
into this world unknown.
Paree incorporates both the original Bengali and the English translation into her choral fantasia, adding a welcome dynamic element to the mix!
These are the artists performing “Usha Bala Elo”:
Many, many thanks to Sri Chinmoy, to the artists performing his music, and to Radio Sri Chinmoy, where much of this music is freely available. (It is truly a treasure trove.)
This year, April 13th happens to fall on a Friday. But after a peaceful morning meditation, we need not surrender to bad luck or Fright Night. The light of the dawn can carry us through to the evening, and at day’s end we can enjoy sweet, peaceful dreams.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
* * *
From emerging investigations, we know that “Drain the Swamp” was a political slogan devised by the Trump campaign which tested well and could be used to manipulate voter sentiment, even though it had nothing to do with Donald Trump’s policies, agenda, or history as a real estate developer, beauty contest impresario, and legendary gropemeister.
The recent slew of corruption scandals involving members of the Trump administration (including Scott Pruitt), suggests a polar opposite slogan: “Pad the Reptile Fund!”
What exactly is a reptile fund? The term has been attributed to Otto von Bismarck in the late nineteenth century, but seems to have fallen into disuse. It was majorly revived by British spy novelist John le Carré in his series of cold war thrillers adapted for film and TV. These include:
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
In that context, a reptile fund is a fund maintained for the explicit purpose of paying off lowlifes like scalphunters, blackmailers, or women hired to take part in “honey traps” like those referenced in the Channel Four undercover exposé of Cambridge Analytica. This was the political consulting firm used by the Trump campaign for their digital operations in 2016 — a firm in which Trump ally Steve Bannon played a major role between 2013 and 2016.
In the undercover video captured by Channel Four, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix (now suspended) is seen telling a man posing as a prospective client that one way they can damage a political opponent is to bring over some Ukrainian girls to Sri Lanka and have them go to the candidate’s house. The fruit of that operation can then be put up on the Internet without anyone knowing where the video came from.
I would venture to guess that while Trump and associates have never had much to do with draining swamps, padding the reptile fund is quite their style! This issue heated up on April 5 when, aboard Air Force One, President Trump was asked a series of probing questions about the Stormy Daniels matter by AP reporter Catherine Lucey. At first, Trump seemed willing to answer; but when Lucey asked if Trump had ever set up a fund of money that his attorney could draw from, Trump suddenly became tongue-tied.
The notion of a slush fund is popular among some people trying to make sense of the scanty facts available in the Daniels matter. Maybe Trump’s attorney Cohen — who is known as a 24/7 “fixer” for Trump — had standing orders to pay off any women who might make trouble just before the 2016 election, with the understanding that Cohen would be reimbursed later — perhaps when Trump was no longer in office, and perhaps through some byzantine series of LLCs covertly funded by billionaires, either in the U.S. or much farther East. (One hopes the Special Counsel is looking into such possibilities.)
The “standing orders” theory would explain how Cohen could be doing what Trump wanted done without Trump knowing the specifics. It’s an arrangement which would give Trump plausible deniability, while also to some extent shielding Cohen from the charge that he was acting without consulting his client. If Cohen’s client Trump had issued standing orders to pay hush money to blackmailers or potential writers of “true confession” stories, this might shield both men from some (but not all) potential charges.
Under the standing orders theory, Cohen’s agreed-upon role would be to be the fixer and take the hit for anything that might be deemed unlawful. For example, if the money paid to Stormy Daniels is eventually construed to be an illegal campaign contribution, then Cohen would be the one to take the rap (if any). But Cohen would expect that Trump would eventually see him right. After all, Cohen supposedly knows where “all the bodies are buried” in the metaphorical Trump haunted house. Trump may stiff people right and left, but Cohen probably assumes that Trump wouldn’t permanently stiff him.
The “standing orders” plus “plausible deniability” theory manages to explain something which other theories don’t: Namely, how could Donald Trump possibly not know about the Stormy Daniels payoff? Under this theory, it’s Michael Cohen’s job to handle it himself and make sure Trump has no specific knowledge of it, keep it away from him, shield him from it.
Cohen might have access to an official, unofficial, or even improvised reptile fund to pay off women like Daniels. He might even use funds from his own home equity line to make the $130,000 payment (if that claim made to CNN is true), fully expecting to be made whole by Trump in the distant future.
A New York Times article describes Cohen as Trump’s “aggressive spokesman and lieutenant who would take on the real estate mogul’s antagonists,” likening Cohen’s role to that played by Roy Cohn for Trump decades earlier.
Cohen’s role as fixer and cutout man is not a traditional lawyer-client relationship to be sure; but it is a relationship that might be worked out between two longtime business partners who are veterans of many shady deals or operations where things need fixing, and who both understand the role which each man needs to play, and the type of public denials which each man needs to issue. Imagine a brief, hypothetical conversation between Cohen and Trump which goes something like this:
Cohen: Someone came to the candy store.
Trump: Really? Did you give them candy?
Cohen: I had to. It was a Stormy night.
Trump: Thanks, I owe you one.
Slush funds and cutout men are hardly unknown in the world of Washington politics. During the Nixon administration, Nixon’s personal lawyer Herbert W. Kalmbach recruited private detective Tony Ulasewicz to be the “bagman” who delivered cash to Watergate burglars in order to buy their silence.
In our topsy-turvy world, those who have studied the law or worked in law enforcement are sometimes used to find creative ways to skirt the law. Bagman Ulasewicz was a retired NYC police detective. According to the above-linked Times article, “The [Watergate] hearings turned more sober when Mr. Ulasewicz acknowledged that his bagman role was part of a criminal enterprise.”
Claims that Trump “threw Cohen under the bus” in his Air Force One comments to Catherine Lucey are not consistent with the theory propounded here. Rather, it would be Cohen’s role in this kabuki drama to accept the blame for paying off Daniels, thus shielding Trump — willingly participating in Trump’s implied defense that Cohen had gone rogue.
MSNBC’s Katy Tur reports that Cohen told her he would “take a bullet” for Donald Trump, while The New York Times claims Cohen has been known to carry a licensed pistol in an ankle holster. Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker describes Cohen as Trump’s “consigliere” and “enforcer” — someone who “makes stuff go away.”
These characterizations suggest that what investigators armed with a boatload of evidence are finding is not just isolated acts of wrongdoing, but a pattern of organized corruption — corruption which would be undesirable in the world of real estate, casinos, and beauty pageants; but is wholly unacceptable in and around the White House.
In the larger context of current events, Smiley’s People turns out to be especially relevant. In 1982 it was made into a six-part miniseries by the BBC. An early plot point involves an ex-Soviet general who defected to the West being shot dead in Hampstead Heath by Russian agents. Now, over 35 years later, we immediately think of the Sergei Skripal poisoning incident in Salisbury.
George Smiley, who was a senior official in “The Circus” (Carré’s thinly disguised version of MI6) is called out of retirement to pick up the pieces — or sweep them under the rug. The general’s assassination is viewed by most bureaucrats as a scandal to be hushed up, except by Smiley (played by the late Sir Alec Guinness), who’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
Smiley placates the bureaucrats, aping the role of cutout man and fixer assigned to him, but secretly persevering — looking up his old hunting buddies from The Circus, many of whom (like Smiley) are now somewhat disaffected. “Welcome to Siberia!” exclaims Connie Sachs, the deposed former head of research, who now runs an animal boarding establishment, and is nearly defunct through old age and alcoholism. Sachs is played by Beryl Reid, a veteran of The Belles of St. Trinian’s (1954) and No Sex Please, We’re British (1973). For her role in Smiley’s People, she won a BAFTA TV Award for Best Actress.
SPOILERS In the course of his investigation, Smiley learns that General Vladimir was using his “lieutenant” Otto Leipzig to blackmail Russian agent Oleg Kirov, whom he had caught in a honey trap. The trail leads back to Karla, a cover name for a man who (as KGB head) “controls the whole of Russia.” Karla is Smiley’s old nemesis from past deep-frozen battles, his “black Grail.”
Like General Vladimir, Otto Leipzig is killed by Russian agents, but never divulges the location where the kompromat material is stashed. Smiley finds that it includes a video of Kirov cavorting with prostitutes. Smiley eventually puts together all the puzzle pieces, and is able to wage a successful counter-campaign against Karla.
It turns out the tough-as-nails Karla has a daughter named Tatiana whom he loves, but who suffers from schizophrenia. Karla has embezzled public monies to covertly install her in a private clinic in Switzerland. He’s also gone to great lengths to provide a “legend” (or cover story) for her, falsely claiming that she is Alexandra Ostrakova, the daughter of a Russian emigre now living in Paris, not the daughter of the KGB’s Übermensch.
This was the trail General Vladimir and Otto Leipzig were barking down when they were killed. Once Smiley firms up the details, he’s able to effectively checkmate Karla and force him to defect to the West, in order to safeguard his daughter’s future and his own.
As in the Stormy Daniels saga, aliases abound in Smiley’s People. George Smiley himself is also known as Max, the Vicar, Mr. Sampson, Mr. Standfast, Mr. Barraclough, and Alan Angel (but never David Dennison).
Among fans of Carré’s so-called Karla Trilogy, Smiley is a beloved anti-hero: no dashing James Bond figure, but gray, elderly, deliberate, and having the sort of persistent intelligence which can see through a brick wall in time. (And with that observation, I’m through trying to tie Smiley’s People to the Mueller probe.)
The direct televisual predecessor of Smiley’s People is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, in which Karla has succeeded in planting a Russian mole inside The Circus, very near the top. And while no one has suggested that Donald Trump is a Russian mole, people have suggested that he’s been compromised by Russian influence, Russian money, and possible kompromat material, so that by and large he’s not an honest broker on Russia-related issues, and can’t always be relied upon to stand up to Russia where Russia is clearly in the wrong or a bad actor.
Trump’s own autocratic tendencies and seeming love of dictators do little to soften this impression.
Much is being made of the duty of Michael D. Cohen to keep his client Donald Trump apprised of developments, and get his informed consent for any legal settlements reached. As a non-attorney, my understanding is that these things must be done to the satisfaction of the client. In the real world, the State Bar is not likely to go after Michael Cohen unless his client Donald Trump complains that he’s unhappy with Cohen’s performance. But under the “standing orders” plus “plausible deniability” theory, Trump would be perfectly happy with Cohen’s performance, and would have no reason to complain to the Bar.
Under this theory, Donald Trump basically says to Michael Cohen: “I give you standing authorization to handle any bimbo eruptions, make payments, and reach settlements on my behalf without further instructions, and without troubling me about the details.” If that’s what Cohen indeed did, and was acting in keeping with Trump’s broad instructions, it’s unclear that Cohen would be in any danger of disbarment.
Of course, if the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels is later ruled an illegal campaign contribution, that could be more problematic for Cohen, but would not necessarily result in criminal charges leading to disbarment. According to one Huffington Post article, when contributions exceeding legal limits are unearthed, this sometimes results in refunds rather than indictments.
The way the Stormy Daniels matter is currently shaking out, the NDA may be invalidated, Daniels may refund the $130,000 she took to remain silent, and sell her story to the tabloids for lots more money. One pictures a heavily ghosted book on the horizon, a lifetime invite to The View — maybe even her impression in concrete at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, next to Uggie the terrier, who also has a book deal. (“Standing on stage at the Golden Globes, I knew I was a star. Never had I imagined there was anything better than a piece of sausage, but the applause! The acclaim!”)
If Daniels returns the money to Cohen, and Cohen claims he only paid her out of personal loyalty to Trump, or to spare Trump’s family (but not for political reasons), then Cohen might get off scot-free, at least with respect to the Daniels matter. But he could potentially face other charges stemming from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Cohen and Trump’s business dealings in Georgia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Russia. There are persistent rumors (unverified by this lowly blogger) that there’s a whole “rat’s nest” of financial wrongdoing in that neck of the woods. BREAKING NEWS: The Washington Post is now reporting that “Trump attorney Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud…”
Woodward called the GAO investigator every day to learn how the audit was progressing.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars in unaccounted cash,” the GAO man said one day. “A slush fund of cash,” he said the next. “A rat’s nest behind the surface efficiency of computerized financial reporting,” the third. With each day that Woodward did not write a story, the investigator felt freer to talk to him. Fitting these remarks together with another investigator’s, Woodward was becoming convinced that the cash “slush fund” was the same “convention security money” Bernstein had heard about early in July. The fund, which totaled at least $100,000, included the money from Barker’s bank account obtained from cashing Dahlberg’s check, according to the investigator.
Bernstein made one of his regular calls to the former administration official and was told: “There was a large fund over which Gordon Liddy had supervision. . . . Yeah, it’s the same one. The present plan is for Liddy to take the fall for everyone. The story that the re-election committee will put out has nothing to do with the truth. They’ll say they were deeply concerned for the security of their convention and that they had a big fund to be sure they were secure from interference. That’s the word that will trickle out. Mitchell said to get the story out. Too many guys knew about the fund.”
The reporters waited. Several days later, on August 16, Clark MacGregor met with a select group of White House reporters and made the first public attempt to shift the responsibility to Liddy. While serving as CRP’s finance counsel, MacGregor said, Liddy had spent campaign funds on his own initiative “for the purpose of determining what to do if the crazies made an attack on the President” at the Republican convention.
Later that afternoon on the telephone, MacGregor was angered by Woodward’s attempt to get a fuller explanation. “I have no idea why the departed Gordon Liddy wanted cash,” MacGregor shouted. “It’s impossible for me to tell. . . . I never met Liddy. . . . I don’t know what’s going on.” Woodward suggested that MacGregor was implying that he was out of touch with the campaign he was supposed to be running.
“If you print that, our relationship is terminated,” MacGregor said, and added: “I’m not threatening you. I’m just telling you what will happen.” MacGregor was one of the few Nixon administration officials who had a reputation for being friendly with the press.
• • •
On August 22, the second day of the Republican convention in Miami, the Post’s front page reported the preliminary findings of the GAO’s audit. Based primarily on Woodward’s conversations with the investigators, the story said the GAO had determined that CRP had mishandled more than $500,000 in campaign funds—including at least $100,000 maintained in an apparently illegal “security fund.”
Paul E. Barrick, Hugh Sloan’s successor as treasurer, responded on behalf of CRP: “Washington Post stories of allegations to the effect that the . . . committee has incorrectly reported or failed to report contributions and expenditures in accordance with law are entirely wrong.”
The rawest nerve touched by the GAO’s preliminary findings, however, was not that at least half a million dollars had been mishandled but the revelation of a “security fund” at the committee. For more than five weeks, Van Shumway, a former wire-service reporter who had come to the committee from the White House staff, had been insisting that no such fund existed. He had told Bernstein in July, “One thing I will never do is knowingly tell you something that is untrue.” Now Shumway said he had since learned that there was such a fund. “I’m afraid some people here aren’t telling me the truth,” he added.
— excerpt from All The President’s Men, Chapter 3, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, Simon & Schuster, 1974
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
BREAKING: “F.B.I. Raids Office of Trump’s Longtime Lawyer Michael Cohen” (The New York Times)
* * *
I’ve already ribbed the EPA chief in “Scott Pruitt Fires His Food-Taster” (part of Political Potpourri here). But the target is just too rich…
Amidst scandals like approving a pesticide that causes brain damage and taking perks from lobbyists, Pruitt is defended by the Dept. of Euphemism Dept. (an EPA sub-agency). According to them, one of Pruitt’s achievements has been “regulatory certainty.” Yes friends, if you’re an industrial polluter you can rest easy knowing for certain that Scott Pruitt doesn’t give two sh-ts.
Under Trump, our government works in euphemism as a potter works in clay. What other gems might they come up with? Well, “proactive” is a good word. “Scott Pruitt has been proactive in doing sod all to help the environment.”
“High standards” is also a winner. “During his tenure, Pruitt has meticulously maintained high standards when it comes to rolling back Obama-era regulations designed to curb pollution.”
Why does Pruitt need a 20-man security detail? Is he starting a men’s glee club? Actually, it’s because among environmentalists it’s commonly known that Pruitt doesn’t give a flying fig about the environment. He’d stick pins in it if he could. There shouldn’t be an environment. Bah! Humbug!
Recently there was an incident where his security detail couldn’t rouse him, so fearing the worst (that he’d disappeared up his own backside), they broke down the door to his lobbyist-supplied-at-a-discount condo. No such luck!
Let me clue you in, guys. Sitting there doing nothing, being totally unresponsive, is Scott Pruitt’s default position as EPA head. No need to trouble him during one of his long snoozes. He’s doing exactly what Donald Trump appointed him to do.
A tribute in song to the Trump-Pruitt relationship:
MY MOTIVATION THIS WEEK:
Keep the Trumpster happy. Bring at least 10 lbs. strawberry Starbursts in tribute. No stripper this time. Melania watching.
MUST DO TODAY:
Monday: DO NOTHING
Tuesday: DO NOTHING
Wednesday: DO NOTHING
DO NOTHING MEET WITH LOBBYISTS
Friday: Organize baseball game with security detail. N.B.: Choose only BEST 18 men. Others may be dispatched to fetch my lunch, shine my shoes, or repair the Cone of Silence.
HOPING TO ACCOMPLISH:
As discussed in meeting of Mar 06, do nothing about environmental issues. Roll back wherever possible. Deny climate change. Lower emissions standards.
SOMETIME THIS WEEK:
– Attend Easter Egg roll. Explain to kiddies that industrial pollutants are our friends.
– Get Sarah H. to clean my condo. Tell her not to spit Milk Duds on carpet this time.
NOTE TO SELF:
Hire another chef. List as food-taster on expense report. Louie almost worked out, but used too little cream in my Quenelles de Brochet. SAD!
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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I hope everyone’s having a wonderful Easter. I wanted to post something more profound for Easter, but am feeling a bit run down. Too much posting about politics, I expect. 😉
Anyway, here’s a fun clip from the Vicar of Dibley Easter special made in 1996:
It was the last episode with Letitia Cropley, played by a wonderful old British character actress named Liz Smith, who I also noticed in Britannia Hospital (alongside Leonard Rossiter a.k.a. Reggie Perrin). Both alas gone now. Liz Smith passed away on Christmas Eve of 2016 at the age of 95.
Still, the sight of Dawn French in a bunny costume has got to be worth a laugh. Happy Easter!
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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.)
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.”
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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:
“Cambridge Analytica and the Secret Agenda of a Facebook Quiz” (2016)
“The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked” (2017)
“Cambridge Analytica execs boast of role in getting Donald Trump elected” (2018)
“A Cambridge Analytica Whistle-blower Claims That ‘Cheating’ Swung the Brexit Vote” (2018)
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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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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.
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).
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.
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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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:
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. 😉
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.
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.
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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:
– 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.
– 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…
– 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.”
At the moment, some episodes of Vicar of Dibley seem to be up on Dailymotion in decent quality:
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:
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:
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)
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?
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.
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:
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).
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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.)
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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“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.
The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.
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