Turkey Day Mystery Science Theater 3000 Offering

Enjoy “Johnny at the Fair” and “The Rebel Set” riffed on by Joel and the bots.

For those who don’t know, the premise of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that Joel Robinson is stranded on a spaceship with a couple of robots he made himself. A mad scientist and his assistant force Joel and the bots to watch really bad movies, and sell the results to cable TV.

Back in the 90s, Turkey Day often featured a 24-hour marathon of MST3K episodes run back to back. For this Turkey Day, I’m offering just a single episode (#419), consisting of a short and a feature.

The short is about a little boy named Johnny who gets lost at a sort of Canadian World’s Fair, and soon strikes out on his own. (“Haight-Ashbury, please!”)

The feature is a crime drama with a beatnik theme, starring Edward Platt (best known as The Chief in the old Get Smart comedy series). Probably the funniest thing is the coffee house populated by faux Beats, including a really bad poet. As robot Tom Servo riffs: “Cigar, cigarettes, Camus, Sartre, angst, alienation, Wittgenstein…”

One of the cute things about the robots is that they’re often like young children, placing Joel in the role of a parent. In the opening host segment, Joel is reading them scary bedtime stories like In Cold Blood and Helter Skelter, but they’re completely jaded and bored, so he has to look further afield to locate a book that will really frighten them. 😉

The series also includes something called the “Invention Exchange.” In this episode, Joel comes up with a paint-by-numbers kit for color field painters like Mark Rothko.

Please enjoy Mystery Science Theater 3000 #419, and don’t eat too much turkey, Tofurkey, or other seasonal delicacy:

MST3K has a homespun quality — sometimes naive, sometimes unexpectedly hip. It was produced in Minnesota, and one of the identifiable modes of riffing is Joel breaking into his Minnesota housewife persona: “Oh, I never go down to the village. They’re too nutty down there…”

The show quickly became an underground hit, based partly on the motto (run during the closing credits) “Keep circulating the tapes.” Nevertheless, for those who prefer DVDs to dodgy VHS copies, DVDs are certainly available. #419 is included in the 4-disc set The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection – Volume 12.

Of Further Interest

Guamanians! Test your civil defense knowledge
(featuring the MST3K skit “Civil Defense Quiz Bowl”)

* * *


A West Wing Thanksgiving

With the election over and Thanksgiving upon us, now may be a good time to reflect on the immigrant experience and religious freedom:

And yes, Virginia! There really is such as thing as tofurky:


Or as Popeye the Sailor would say:


Other Videos

President Obama Pardons Turkey
Turkey Runs For Peace

Sidebar: Sri Chinmoy on India and America

For the last part of this century, the West has been aspiring most sincerely for the highest Truth. For the past three decades Indian spirituality has been coming here in waves. India has aroused America from her spiritual sleep. Americans were sleeping and Indian teachers have come and helped them.

Here in America, we are in the land of freedom, the freedom that nourishes dynamic thoughts and dynamic movements. There in India, we are in a land of freedom, the freedom of a fertile, tolerant spirituality that nourishes all religions. Here we wish to reach God by running speedily, while there we wish to reach God by climbing swiftly.

India’s history is aglow with stories of kings and potentates who enjoyed power and opulence without being in the least attached to them. Rajarshi Janaka was not an isolated example. Prince Siddhartha, afterwards the Buddha, Emperor Asoka and Chhatrapati Shivaji are other such outstanding figures in India’s history.

Of all the nations in the world today, America is the one which, in the modern context, stands forth uniquely as the one most fit for the ideal of Janaka, Siddhartha, Asoka and Shivaji. By the flow of her wealth, America has restored shattered Europe, not once but twice. Impoverished India has been helped towards her goal of achieving minimum conditions of life for her vast millions through large-scale and repeated American aid.

It is not only for political and economic purposes that the divine logic of events has brought India and America close together. What is visible in these external aspects of life will be seen in an incalculable measure on deeper levels in days to come. America is perhaps not conscious that in taking a major part in the economic rehabilitation of India she has been building up the base of a divine new world.

Life to the American consciousness is nothing short of completing one task after another with the hope of realising the all-liberating Freedom.

Life to the Indian consciousness is nothing short of completing one endeavour after another with the hope of realising the all-nourishing Peace.

Why does a particular soul take birth in a particular country? There are two basic reasons: either the soul has been commanded by the Supreme or the soul has a specific preference for that country. Why will a soul care for a particular country? It is because the soul has its own inner propensities. It feels that it has some intuitive capacity or other quality which can be easily brought into manifestation if it takes incarnation in a particular country. If a particular soul has dynamism, it will try to take incarnation in America, not India. Again, if it cries for inner harmony and peace, then it will try to take incarnation in India.

Both India and America, East and West, have something to give to the world. India is offering the message of peace and the West is offering the message of science. If the West had not given the East the message of science, India would have remained primitive. And if India had not brought an iota of light to the West, then the West would have remained unillumined. Whatever India and America have, each has to give to the other gladly. They are like two brothers in a family. If one brother is a doctor, he will give medicine. If another is an electrician, he will do electrical work. How can the doctor do the work of the electrician, or vice versa? In exactly the same way, whatever India has to offer to the world, the West must gladly accept; and whatever the West has to give, India has to accept. Then only, East and West can become complete.

Without India, America is incomplete; and without America, India is incomplete. But when they are together, when they are for each other, at that time they please the Absolute Supreme in His own Way. India is God the Vision, America is God the Mission. The union of Vision and Mission can alone bring about God the Satisfaction.

Nothing gives me greater joy than to hear that American brothers and sisters and Indian brothers and sisters have worked together for the fulfilment of one cause, one hope and one heart, in which all-loving, all-illumining and all-fulfilling oneness reigns supreme.

May India’s aspiration-sky and America’s rocket-speed together sing the supreme fulfilment-song of God-prosperity here on earth.

— Sri Chinmoy, from India, My India, Mother India’s Summit-Prides, Agni Press, 1997

* * *


A Shibboleth Is Not A Speech Impediment, Part 2

Definitions can be limiting. A quick survey of the word “shibboleth” yields:

“a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.” (Google)

“a word or custom whose variations in pronunciation or style can be used to differentiate members of ingroups from those of outgroups.” (Wikipedia)

“Shibboleth is among the world’s most widely deployed federated identity solutions, connecting users to applications both within and between organizations.” (Shibboleth.net)

“Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.” (Judges 12:6)

Now let’s talk turkey…

As this Thanksgiving-themed clip from The West Wing (s02e08) shows, a shibboleth can have a richer meaning than cursory definitions would indicate:

A shibboleth can be a core belief or principle which is meaningful to some people but not to others — one worth defending and making sacrifices for. When quizzed by the President on the names of the Apostles, a Chinese refugee tells him that “Faith is the true shibboleth.”

Those refugees risk dying in a cramped, poorly-ventilated container ship, hoping to escape from Mainland China to the (relative) freedom of America. They’re persecuted Christians seeking asylum. In America they’ll probably create their own small community, since mainstream American culture is fairly white and secular. They may face hatred and discrimination — and have to stare down everything from White Aryans to condescending atheists — but they won’t be imprisoned and tortured just for being Christians. That’s what’s good about America.

In both Christian and Masonic texts (as well as Firesign Theatre songs), the word “shibboleth” often occurs in close proximity to the word “sword.” A sword is not only a type of blade used in modern fencing and ancient combat. The metaphorical sword of which Blake wrote (and British Anglicans sing) is a palpable willingness to stick up for a principle:

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land

(Are you humming along?) In this context, a shibboleth is a living, relevant principle of faith, and a sword is not a weapon of destruction, but represents dedication to the spreading of a principle, and the overcoming of obstacles to building an idealized world — one built on compassion, not naked power or self-interest.

Am I being long-winded, obtuse, pedantic? I apologize. It’s really because I’m trying to avoid unpleasant tasks… I’m a city boy, not a gardener; but even I know that before you sculpt a zen garden, you may have to pull up some weeds. And once when I was living away from home, I had a landlady who took a pair of gardening shears to an ugly green tomato hornworm that was fiendishly attacking her modest suburban yield of plump, red fruit (or vegetable).

It seems unavoidable, then, that to stick up for a principle sometimes means dispelling wrong views and correcting the record where it has been fudged. This might seem easy in the abstract, but can be rather difficult in the concrete (no Mafia jokes please!). I suppose I have some rather large (cement) shoes to fill.

Real as hell…

In recent posts I’ve talked about the problem of hate on the Net and how it affects minority spiritual groups. I’ve quoted cyber civil rights advocates and other scholars who analyze the problem of hate propaganda in a very cerebral way, which is helpful for understanding how it operates. I too am trying to connect the dots and shed some mental light. But it’s always possible that the analysis will fall short of illuminating the reality of the harm done to real people.

Just the other day I was watching Chris Matthews on MSNBC. He’s a bit of a populist, but a good communicator. He described the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson as “real as hell.” That’s the way I feel about the problem of hate on the Net which targets Eastern spiritual teachers and their students. It’s real as hell for those people subjected to hatred and harassment. This passage from Danielle Citron’s “Cyber Civil Rights” bears repeating:

Cyber attacks marginalize individuals belonging to traditionally subordinated groups, causing them deep psychological harm. Victims feel helpless to avoid future attacks because they are unable to change the characteristic that made them victims. They experience feelings of inferiority, shame, and a profound sense of isolation. … Such attacks also harm the community that shares the victim’s race, gender, religion, or ethnicity — community members experience attacks as if the attacks happened to them. Moreover, society suffers when victims and community members isolate themselves to avoid future attacks and when cyber mobs violate our shared values of equality and pluralism.

We live in times when every hare-brained idea has a plethora of hare-brained folk defending it, and false information is spread by those who gain some petty advantage from doing so. Yet, the stakes are not petty. We seem poised on the brink of creating a more peaceful, compassionate, and enlightened world; but a side effect of this would be a change in the balance of power. In such a world, we would come to value peacemakers more than warmongers, and value those who can enlighten us more than those who merely entertain or titillate us. We would find that our appetite for lies has been more than sated, while our hunger for truth springs forth as a noble instinct long starved.

Those who are inured to mere cleverness, sharklike ambition, social control, and world domination will be losers in such a world. While great intellects will still abound in science, what we will come to treasure most is the spiritual heart, whose ability to satisfy us has long been underestimated.

What we often see in history is that wherever a point of light springs up, there’s an effort to extinguish it, usually by foul means. The Crucifixion was not just an event, but a metaphor for what the crooked does to the straight and true. It is repeated a thousand times a day all around the world. This was well-known to admirers of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and was well-known to labor Catholics of the mid-twentieth century. It is epitomized in this scene from Elia Kazan’s 1954 film On The Waterfront:

Actor Karl Malden plays activist priest Father Barry in On The Waterfront

The famous “This is my church” scene shows Father Barry (based on real life waterfront Catholic priest Father John M. Corridan) taking a stand against corruption in the longshoreman’s union. 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. Nor is this a uniquely Christian view; all the world’s great religions connect the ethical with the spiritual. For example, in Entering The Tao, Chinese Taoist Hua-Ching Ni writes:

Before one is able to receive spiritual enlightenment, one must be absolutely virtuous, practice the principle of appropriateness, and display one’s innate moral qualities of selflessness and responsibleness. If one does not have the foundation of true and pure ethics, any spiritual teaching will be without influence on the reality of one’s life. Spiritual knowledge and techniques alone may create mental stimulation, but are merely another form of LSD or mental opiate, and have nothing to do with the truth of spirit and the reality of life.

This seems like a good place to stop for now. If it’s not yet clear where I’m going, let me add that one of the issues I plan to tackle is 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. Look for a post called “Self-Interest, Self-Giving, Low Ethics, and High Ethics” coming soon!

In the meantime, I offer you this esoteric blessing via the Firesign Theatre: May your cornflakes rise.