A Mosh Pit for Carnegie Hall

Something was lost in the music of the 19th Century, and that something was laughter. Haydn and Beethoven composed with wit and self-conscious parody. Their audiences–royalty and proletarians–frequently laughed out loud. Some time in the mid-19th Century, the Wagners and Listzs of the world made this into a travesty. Classical music became a solemn affair, and people in concert halls had to pretend they were in church.

Then, in the 20th Century, the witty surprises of the Classical era that made listeners smile were stretched past the point where they were funny. Humor dissolved into intellectual irony, tragicomedy, and then theater of the absurd in musical guise. Audiences stopped laughing and began to wince. I would trace neoclassicism to Mahler, and by the time of the Great War, Stravinsky was no longer breaking the expected classical forms for comic relief, but was slashing and burning. If these composers hadn’t been such superb musicians, they never could have done so much damage to their genre. La vie est une tragédie pour celui qui sent, et une comédie pour celui qui pense. And in the 20th Century, pensé was exactly that on which music was overdosing.

Actually, my thoughts above began with a birthday tribute to Alfred Brendel, 88 years old today. Brendel is a public intellectual, a poet (in English, his third language, or perhaps his fourth), a painter, and one of the great pianists of the 20th Century. Listen to his Cambridge lecture on humor in music.

Brendel plays long excerpts from Beethoven’s Sonata #16, which I had always dismissed as pedantic, overblown writing. He opened my eyes to the obvious–that Beethoven is not so incompetent after all, and the whole sonata is a joke.

Buddhas and Santas, by Alfred Brendel

In front of tourists 
they contrive to keep still 
practising thirty-three varieties of ecstasy 
a thousand aspiring Buddhas 
At night though 
when no one’s looking 
they stretch their limbs 
become restless 
and pant 
a latent powder-keg 
to burn to ashes 
the wooden shrine 

Perhaps they only bicker 
because they all covet the front row 
to be scrutinized in close-up 
But in all likelihood 
they are just fed up 
with standing there like ornamental plants 
lined-up lookalikes 
rivals in the hothouse of holiness 
how they spy on each other 
clandestinely counting up the golden arms 
as befits a true Buddha 
sprout from their bodies 


In the recent football match 
between the Buddhas and the Texan Santas 
the Buddhas 
truly excelled themselves 
With undreamt-of sprightliness 
they laid siege to their opponents’ half 
and scored 
their corpulence notwithstanding 
several magnificent goals 
After their defeat 
the red-capped benefactors of children 
can be heard singing Jingle Bells 
and observed 
out of remorse 
to be scaling the giant Christmas trees 
with which the island 
its pedestrians 
at every turn 
in late autumn 


have of late occupied the temples 
Singing heartily 
they swarm over the balustrades 
wade through the waterlilies 
suddenly silent 
play hide-and-seek 
in the rockery 
Astonished monks 
watch them vanish 
behind the boulders 
There they huddle 
hiding their heads 
little realizing 
that the tails of their red and white cloaks 
shoot into the air like arrows 


As I stepped on stage 
the orchestra played a fanfare 
Then the loudspeakers announced me to be 
the one millionth Father Christmas 
Roared on by the crowd 
I was presented with a clone 
we embraced 
the clone and I 
and sang Silent Night in unison 
At home 
he lives in the attic 
When I travel 
he deputizes for me 
in the marital bed 
Sometimes we talk to each other 
in monologue 
Just once 
when a mouse ran up his leg 
he turned nasty 
Since then we compete in swearing 
he in Hungarian 
I in Croatian 
of course 
not in front of the children 

More poems of Alfred Brendel

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Transition blessing

May all our fears dissolve into wonder.

May we embrace present reality in full celebration.

May we greet surprise with curiosity, and act from a flexible resilience, a confident generosity.


Paradise engineering?

Innoncence personified

“The perception of other people and the intersubjective world is problematic only for adults. The child lives in a world which he believes accessible to all around him. He speaks to you without hesitation because he has no doubt you see what he sees. He has no awareness of himself or of others as sovereigns of their own private, subjective experience, nor does he suspect that all of us, himself included, are limited to one certain point of vantage on the world. That is why he believes his thoughts as they present themselves, and does not subject them to criticism. He knows other persons about him as centers of a consciousness like unto his own, but he assumes their faces are turned to one single, self-evident world where everything takes place, even dreams, which are, he thinks, in his room; and even thoughts, which, for him, are not distinct from words.” 

― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

“Science manipulates things and gives up living in them. It makes its own limited models of things; operating upon these indices or variables to effect whatever transformations are permitted by their definition, it comes face to face with the real world only at rare intervals. Science is and always will be that admirably active, ingenious, and bold way of thinking whose fundamental bias is to treat everything as though it were an object-in-general — as though it meant nothing to us and yet was predestined for our own use.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’Œil et l’Esprit

“Being established in my life, buttressed by my thinking nature, fastened down in this transcendental field which was opened for me by my first perception, and in which all absence is merely the obverse of a presence, all silence a modality of the being of sound, I enjoy a sort of ubiquity and theoretical eternity, I feel destined to move in a flow of endless life, neither the beginning nor the end of which I can experience in thought, since it is my living self who think of them, and since thus my life always precedes and survives itself.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception

“The world and I are within one another.” 
― Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Caitlin’s Thanksgiving Message

When it comes to the big questions, what life is all about and what’s really going on here, everyone else is exactly as clueless as you are. The only difference is that some people are better at feigning confidence than others. Anyone who thinks they’ve got life all figured out is suffering from a psychedelic drug deficiency.

The three most overlooked and under-appreciated things in human experience are (1) consciousness itself, (2) the extent to which compulsive thinking habits dominate our lives, and (3) the extent to which mass media propaganda influences the way we think.

There is a deep, abiding peace just beneath the shifting sensory input and flailing, babbling mental chatter. It isn’t something lofty or distant that you need to strive for to obtain; it is here presently, and you can recognize it right now. Inner turmoil is the result of our falling all over ourselves trying to obtain something we already have.

Most of our experience is dictated by habits of thought and perception, most of which we formed in early childhood. You can bring consciousness to all of these habits and un-do them, thus allowing you to live a life that isn’t dictated by ingrained unconscious patterns.  We make vastly better and wiser choices when we can find a way of circumventing our habitual thought patterns and letting the decision arise from the emptiness.

If you search for truth you won’t find any. If you search for lies you’ll find more than you can shake a stick at, just within your own operating system. Those lies can be excavated and discarded. All it’s really about is letting life be as it is, without all the lies you’ve innocently and unconsciously stacked on top of it throughout your lifetime. What remains is life as it is. And it’s really bloody gorgeous.

— excerpted from Life Secrets by Caitlin Johnstone

End of an Ice Age and Noah’s Flood

A new meteor crater has been discovered in NW Greenland, buried under half a mile of glacial ice. It has been dated to 11,000 years ago.

That’s an interesting time because it was the end of the last ice age, when the earth entered its current “interstitial” period of ice-free temperate latitudes.  12,000 years ago, most of North America was under thousands of feet of ice.

When I was a boy, there were many speculations on why the dinosaurs died out suddenly, 65 million years ago.  Now it is widely accepted that the culprit was a meteor impact in the Gulf of Mexico that kicked up enough dust to block the sun worldwide for several years and to alter earth’s climate for at least thousands of years afterward.

It is plausible that for every huge impact like the dinosaur meteor, there were many hundreds or thousands of smaller meteorites that had major effects on the biosphere, though falling short of triggering a major extinction. 

The story of Noah’s Ark is just one of many flood stories, oral tradition and folklore from from cultures around the world.  Did millions of cubic miles of ice melt gradually at the end of the ice age, or did this meteor impact trigger a sudden melting?  Sea levels were 120 meters lower during the last ice age.  

Graham  Hancock has speculated further and gathered evidence that there was a human civilization that was lost in the flood and climate disaster.  He thinks the technology was well in advance of the stone age of hunter-gatherers, which is the conventional view of humans 12,000 years ago, but fell short of the current computer age.  Socially and spiritually, the world culture of 12,000 years ago was more advanced than our present age, according to Hancock.  Our entire world was explored and mapped, and telepathic communication was developed far beyond its current neglected state.   Perhaps it was a time when our species felt itself more closely aligned with Mother Gaia, less isolated in our individual bubbles, more at home in our bodies and our communities, less worried and alienated and lacking in purpose.

Huge crater discovered in Greenland from impact that rocked Northern Hemisphere

What does Peace ask of us?

One hundred years ago today, an armistice was signed to end the War to End All Wars.  Unaware, the troops went right on killing, raping, and plundering.  But the Great War led to an up-wising, as people the world over figured out that they had been snookered into a murderous, devastating, tragic and pointless world war.  Numerous bills limiting war profits were introduced and narrowly defeated, and in 1934, Congress passed the Vinson-Trammell Act, which capped some war profits at 10%.  In 1928, the US led the world in outlawing all future war, with the Kellogg-Briand Pact.  This treaty remains in force today, and all acts of war are criminal, by US law and by international law.

After decades of lending money and supplying technology to Hitler, FDR taunted the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor, and had his excuse for drawing the US once again into a World War. Temptation to profit from Nazism had finally created a situation in which war could be put forward as the only option.

The myth of a global communist plot was used to drag the American public into pointless, horrific wars in Korea and Vietnam.  After Vietnam, the American public was once again energized and passionately dedicated to peace, but a decade later Reagan was once again slick-talking the American people into sanctioned murder and plunder, this time invoking the Existential Threat to our Republic that came from the political choices made by people on the 15-mile-long Caribbean isle of Grenada.

The people have never demanded war of their government.  There has never been a popular war.  Every war has been justified with lies and authoritarian coercion.   Hence the rise of war in the 21st Century has been heralded by a suppression of democratic rule.  Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine all warned us that the Constitution was no lasting guarantee that We the People would control our government.  It is demanded of every generation that we rein in our own government.  Electoral politics today offers us no candidates for peace—even Sanders would not call out the American military machines for the criminal enterprise it has become.  (Jill Stein did that, but she was denied a seat at the table and a place in the debates.)

Hence it is our job to cultivate peace within our own hearts, to meditate on peace and visualize a peaceful future, to practice non-violence in our every interaction with humans and with nature, to engage in acts of protest and non-violence as necessary to end the perennial holocaust.

— Josh Mitteldorf


How I Became a Madman

You ask me how I became a madman. It happened thus: One day, long before many gods were born, I woke from a deep sleep and found all my masks were stolen — the seven masks I have fashioned and worn in seven lives, — I ran maskless through the crowded streets shouting, “Thieves, thieves, the curséd thieves.”

Men and women laughed at me and some ran to their houses in fear of me.

And when I reached the market place, a youth standing on a house-top cried, “He is a madman.” I looked up to behold him; the sun kissed my own naked face for the first time. For the first time the sun kissed my own naked face and my soul was inflamed with love for the sun, and I wanted my masks no more. And as if in a trance I cried, “Blessed, blessed are the thieves who stole my masks.”

Thus I became a madman.

And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness; the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us.

But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief.

— Khalil Gibran