Baaaaaa

Brilliant.

Of course one could always count them. But I don’t need to. Still soooooo tired. I’ll be asleep in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Meditation in prisons

Doing Time, Doing Vipassana.

A documentary film about the success of Vipassana courses in Indian prisons. In 1993, Kiran Bedi, a reformist Inspector General of India’s prisons, learned of the success of Vipassana in a jail in Jainpur, Rajasthan. A 10 day course involved officials and inmates alike. In India’s largest prison, Tihar Jail, near New Delhi, another attempt was made. This program was said to have dramatically changed the behavior of inmates and jailers alike. It was actually found that inmates who completed the 10 day course were less violent and had a lower recidivism rate than other inmates. This project was documented in the television documentary, Doing Time, Doing Vipassana. So successful was this program that it was adopted by correctional facilities in the United States and other countries as well.

The film, now 10 years old, is on YouTube cut into six nine-minute sections. Here’s the first.

and here are parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Fascinating and compelling viewing. I really recommend watching all of them.

As is the way of things I discover these films the same day that I receive in the post a copy of The Fires that Burn. This is about the Canadian Catholic nun and Zen roshi Sister Elaine MacInnes who has been teaching meditation in prisons for thirty years and is a former director of The Prison Phoenix Trust in the UK.

I do like this

And I wonder how long it will be around…

I was once told that it wasn’t Disney which pulled all the company’s footage which found its way onto YouTube but YouTube itself. Companies like Disney would, apparently, like to have the viral marketing leverage that the site provides but YouTube retains copyright of all work posted to the site.

Some organisations make deals with YouTube under which they consent to allow some of their material to appear. So far Disney has not.

[Update: see Correction in the comments]

Good things

I had a carefully linked list of recent good things which lead one to the next in a pleasing series of elegant segue-ways and I appear to have deleted it by mistake. Never mind.

The first good thing, which occurred after the demise of the list, has to be the result – a draw, but an honourable one. I speak, of course, of the firstborn’s endeavours on the AstroTurf this morning. He scored the equaliser.

w00000t

Almost as good was the long lens which came with the E-400… not bad for a first sporting shot I thought. Shame his mother hadn’t washed his socks though.

Staying with the family, my gorgeous cousin Jules got married. She’s beautiful. She’s funny. Talent oozing out of her fingertips – acting, singing, directing. And so clever they didn’t have a grade high enough for her degree. I love her.

Here she is giving a specially customised rendition of “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” at her wedding reception.

Jules is a singer

Obviously I want to be her, but it’s rather too late now so I take delight in watching her being her.

And on Monday I had the most wonderful time at Mr Beelicious’ birthday party.

jonathan in another brilliant hat

We met on Holy Island last August where already his excellent taste in headgear was well in evidence. He came from New York to celebrate at Les Trois Garcons. The food was fabulous, the decor outrageous-flamboyant-baroque and his friends so delightful and interesting and funny and sympa.

After eating we were taken upstairs to the living quarters of two at least of the trois garcons which had enough quirk and fluff and spangles to keep me happy for several lifetimes. And an African grey parrot with which I (and others) immediately fell in love. It was a night I hope never to forget, thank you so much Mr B!

To the realm of work. The major excitement for us at Global Voices was the launch of the new Reuters Africa site. It has a feed of the relevant Global Voices content on every country page across the entire continent.

The announcement made quite a splash since it’s the first time that blogger content has been incorporated quite so extensively in a mainstream media site. My friends and colleagues Rebecca MacKinnon and Ethan Zuckerman both wrote great analyses of its significance and from openDemocracy came an excellent article by Becky Hogge.

The comments on the announcement article also let me discover the blog of my friend and former BBC colleague the journalist Lara Pawson who is currently in Luanda, Angola, and also writes for openDemocracy.

Hold that openDemocracy thought, we’ll be coming back to oD a bit later. Because this is where the filaments multiply beyond my ability to keep a single thread. We’ll continue with GV and another great thing which is the appointment of Sami Ben Gharbia as our new Advocacy Coordinator. Yes, for those of you with good memories, the same Sami Ben Gharbia of the Tunisian Prison Map about which I waxed lyrical last year.

We stay with the people of GV and move to the lovely Neha Viswanathan, our South Asia Editor (and reader of 3000 blogs). Quite how she finds the time to do anything beyond her work I don’t know but she does. She came over the other day and, despite being a confirmed dog person, fell for the cat big time. She also writes. Beautifully.

Click through to the previous link and you will see a picture of the aforementioned cat. The writing may be a response to or triggered by the picture – in other words ekphrasis. And, delightfully, the theme for this month’s edition of qarrtsiluni is that very thing. You can submit an image for inclusion in the gallery which acts as a seedbed of potential textual inspiration and you can submit “poetry or poetic prose” inspired by any of the gallery images or any other image you choose.

This is where Ariadne’s thread proves inadequate for navigating the maze of contemporary existence. I cannot, for the life of me, knit or even navigate a path from ekphrasis to Bamako, although no doubt it is possible. So I have to invoke the oD reference I asked you to keep in mind, and on your needle, earlier.

Some weeks ago I mentioned going to see the film, Bamako. The next day I interviewed the director, Abderrhamane Sissako, and the executive producer, Maji-da Abdi for openDemocracy. They also happen to be married, Maji-da speaks English and translates for Abderrhamane of whose European languages French is better. The interview is here.

This was one of those interviews where everything “clicked”. I have been privileged to talk to many interesting and inspiring people over the years. Abderrhamane and Maji-da are up there with the best. The more I think about the more convinced I am that everyone should see this film. It’s even had good reviews in the London press – do yourself a favour, go and see it!

This is the downside of infrequent blogging – the complexity of the catchup. However there was another good thing fueling this marathon. Purchased from the recently opened Nigerian wine merchant’s down the road is a delicious Saumur blanc from Saint Vincent in the Loire Valley. Spicy, as promised. Pale amber in colour. Complex. Citrus. A honey nose. And I’ve finished the bottle.

Also, while accentuating the positive, my pictures got some fan mail today. They were pleased, I was delighted. Which reminds me there hasn’t been a picture of ages. Here’s one the boys and I all like called “pollen”.

pollen

Good night!

Helmut Lachenmann

“If this man doesn’t meditate”, I thought, “I’ll eat my hat”.

It was a randomly-caught radio programme – Music Matters on Radio 3 – which sparked thoughts of cerebellarophagy. It contained an item about the modern composer Helmut Lachenmann which I found so intriguing I saved it for posterity (please download and listen if you’re interested – at 11 minutes it’s a bandwidth hog).

The bit that particularly caught my ear was this, said by cellist Gabriella Swallow about the composer with whom she’s been working closely:

Every second counts with Lachenmann, I mean he’s always listening and I think this music is incredibly well heard. He even uses it as a demonstration – he tells you to stop talking… and he says ‘listen’. And you just listen for a minute and there’s a fan or a light or something, a little hum, and he says ‘that’s beautiful to me’. And it’s just this incredible sound world he engages you in.

This reminded me so strongly of the kind of meditation practice where you lose yourself in the universe of sound:

Listening meditation works in a different way from breath or sensation meditation. We do not focus inwardly but outwardly in a wide-open manner. We do not create nor imagine sounds. We wait for them to come to us. Any sounds will do — the roar of a car, the barking of a dog, the twittering of a bird. We listen attentively to any sounds that might occur with a non-grasping attitude. We open up to the music of the world and of life. We do not name, conjecture or identify the sounds. We just listen as widely and openly as we can at the sounds themselves. If there are no sounds we just listen to silence and its special hum. In listening meditation we cultivate an open and spacious attitude which waits quietly for the unknown without fears or expectations.

How could I miss what turned out to be the last concert in a series called Transcendent which was being held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall the very next night? Obviously I couldn’t.

pre-concert talk

That’s Lachenmann on the right having a pre-concert chat with journalist Tom Service, the host of the radio programme clip above. Nothing said in their exchange on stage lessened my sense that hearing this music would be in some way akin to listening meditation, and for me that was indeed the case – the sighs, whispers, hums, rattles, clinks, growls, squeaks, pops and twitters resembled the range of sounds which arise, mingle and fade away across the aural canvas of contemplation.

And of course it was also profoundly unlike a listening meditation because by its nature it was ordered, choreographed, wrought. And I couldn’t entirely lose myself in the sounds because the visual stimuli were so strong. The intense concentration on the faces of the musicians, the extraordinary things they did to their instruments to make the sound required by what must be an extraordinary score. What, to take one example among hundreds, is the notation for playing a clarinet by removing the mouthpiece and banging the top with the palm of your hand?

Thought followed on thought. Does Lachenmann explore the sonic possibilities of each instrument himself or in collaboration with individuals who can play them? Why is it important to make these sounds within (mostly) the constraints of the traditional instruments of the orchestra? I thought how different each experience of each performance or recording would be because of the sonic environment in which it is heard and whether that awareness was part of the intention of the composition.

At the end of the first piece there was a tingling in the air for many seconds of breath-held silence while the conductor remained motionless, semi-bowed, arms flung outwards, before he finally straightened and allowed the audience to applaud, amongst us the clearly delighted composer kissing his fingers to the musicians.

It was now or never.

As people dispersed slowly for the interval I bounded up the steps, planted myself as near to the lionised composer as I could get and asked, politely but firmly.

“Excuse me, do you meditate?”

Continue reading “Helmut Lachenmann”

They don’t make ’em like they used to

I was too young to see The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski when it was first broadcast. But I am definitely old enough to shake my head and tut sadly about the appalling decline in standards of science programming since my youth. Look at this for a profound and thought-provoking example of engaging with the audience without the slightest sign of patronising its collective intellect.

This reminds me of a fascinating conversation I had with my friend the artist Ruth Maclennan about her work We saw it – like a flash which looks at the presentation of science on BBC television between 1954 and 2003. She confirmed, from her experience of watching hundreds of hours of such programmes, that the standard has indeed declined alarmingly over the years.

I came across the link for this powerful piece of programming on Pharyngula, part of the Seed Media Group : Science is Culture, and whilst poking around also found the excellent blog SEED – seeking dialogue between art and science which despite its name is not as far as I can work out connected to the Media Group.

They don't make 'em like they used to

I was too young to see The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski when it was first broadcast. But I am definitely old enough to shake my head and tut sadly about the appalling decline in standards of science programming since my youth. Look at this for a profound and thought-provoking example of engaging with the audience without the slightest sign of patronising its collective intellect.

This reminds me of a fascinating conversation I had with my friend the artist Ruth Maclennan about her work We saw it – like a flash which looks at the presentation of science on BBC television between 1954 and 2003. She confirmed, from her experience of watching hundreds of hours of such programmes, that the standard has indeed declined alarmingly over the years.

I came across the link for this powerful piece of programming on Pharyngula, part of the Seed Media Group : Science is Culture, and whilst poking around also found the excellent blog SEED – seeking dialogue between art and science which despite its name is not as far as I can work out connected to the Media Group.