Friday, September 17, 2010

This poem... well, I can only say that you don't appreciate the day until you have been through the night. Conversely, it is not the daytime that is all-revealing. We can be just as blind during broad daylight as we think we are during the darkest hours.

If you do not know the story from the Bible, it is, in brief, told in chapter three of John's Gospel. Nicodemus, a wealthy and educated man, came to see Jesus at night, for fear of being seen visiting Him during the day.

By Henry Vaughan

THROUGH that pure virgin shrine,
That sacred veil drawn o'er Thy glorious noon,
That men might look and live, as glow-worms shine,
And face the moon :
Wise Nicodemus saw such light
As made him know his God by night.

Most blest believer he !
Who in that land of darkness and blind eyes
Thy long-expected healing wings could see
When Thou didst rise !
And, what can never more be done,
Did at midnight speak with the Sun !

O who will tell me, where
He found Thee at that dead and silent hour ?
What hallow'd solitary ground did bear
So rare a flower ;
Within whose sacred leaves did lie
The fulness of the Deity ?

No mercy-seat of gold,
No dead and dusty cherub, nor carv'd stone,
But His own living works did my Lord hold
And lodge alone ;
Where trees and herbs did watch and peep
And wonder, while the Jews did sleep.

Dear Night ! this world's defeat ;
The stop to busy fools ; cares check and curb ;
The day of spirits ; my soul's calm retreat
Which none disturb !
Christ's* progress, and His prayer-time ;
The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

God's silent, searching flight ;
When my Lord's head is fill'd with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night ;
His still, soft call ;
His knocking-time ; the soul's dumb watch,
When spirits their fair kindred catch.

Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark tent,
Whose peace but by some angel's wing or voice
Is seldom rent ;
Then I in Heaven all the long year
Would keep, and never wander here.

But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
To ev'ry mire ;
And by this world's ill-guiding light,
Err more than I can do by night.

There is in God—some say—
A deep, but dazzling darkness ; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that Night ! where I in Him
Might live invisible and dim !

Floyd Bennett Field

This is a shot of Floyd Bennett Field, an abandoned aerodrome way down in Brooklyn by the ocean. The sky is often beautiful over New York City, but sometimes some of Manhattan's tall buildings prevent one from an expansive view.

It's not an original idea but there's plenty of scope for a book or web site showing off the strange parts of this city that are utterly unfamiliar and un-redolent of more typical New York City scenes... 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Taking Off Under a Cloud

Stranded is a single issue magazine by and about people who were stranded by the ash cloud from that unpronounceable Icelandic volcano last April. Eyjafjallajökull! Of course, how could I forget?

A Scottish Footnote

Tony Blair's autobiography, My Journey, is out now; see my post below. But see also Blair, Donald Dewar and the Scottish Colourist Paintings Confusion, a blog posting on the Wall Street Journal's site which outlines some very odd mistakes which have found their way into the book. Mistakes, nay, errrors, tae do wi' Scotland! For example, Blair, who was born in Edinburgh and went to school there, repeatedly and inexplicably refers to an area of that city as "New Town," whereas everybody knows it is only and ever known as "the New Town." Hoots, as they say in Edinburgh, the noo!

I might have added, to Blair's list of real achievements, the creation of a parliament in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But the more I think back on his time in office, the less I like him. In fact he's sort of an archetype for the era that has just ended. He's now rather rich, thanks to public service. He's untouchable too, and though he says he's sorry, we feel he really isn't — and he lives 'elsewhere,' just in case he has to face up to anyone or anything.

With nothing to connect it to Blair or Scotland, I nevertheless feel moved to add this news from New York: it seems that an unusually large number of crimes great and small in NYC are committed by people wearing Yankees caps:
A curious phenomenon has emerged at the intersection of fashion, sports and crime: dozens of men and women who have robbed, beaten, stabbed and shot at their fellow New Yorkers have done so while wearing Yankees caps or clothing

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anthony Charles Lynton Bliar

Above, photo of Tony Blair in Dublin on his book tour...
no, wait a minute: that's a photo of the angry, egg- and shoe-throwing mob
who showed up to greet the former British Prime Minister.

Remember the Right Honorable Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, Member of Parliament for Sedgefield? We all knew him better as Tony Blair. Many Brits prefer to call him "Bliar."

There were moments in the early years of Blair's time as British Prime Minister, when there seemed an intersection of man-and-moment, as if chance and time and luck had placed Blair right there at the heart and center of potentially vast, historic changes: in the wake of Princess Diana's death, with public opinion turning against the Royal Family, some say Blair could even have abolished the monarchy.

But in the end, it seems that New Labour Tony was a conservative, both small and large 'C'. There is next to nothing of the principles of equality and fairness that drew him into politics and the Labour Party a lifetime ago. He's now worth over $30 million and growing, and he does not need the profits from his newly-published biography, My Journey, so he's donated them and the $7 million publisher's advance to a charity for soldiers injured in Iraq.

None of this has altered Blair's status as "a pariah" in the U.K., according to Maureen Dowd in the NYT. Blair's legacy is forever tied to the ill-fated invasion of Iraq, which even he admits in his biography, was executed less out of any real fears of Saddam Hussein than to do with the humiliating psychological effects of the Sept. 11th attacks on the U.S. leadership. Blair hitched himself to George W. Bush and for the rest of time will stand accused of being Dubya's lapdog, and of lying to the British public to convince the country of the necessity of taking out Saddam.

That is why the above scene took place hours ahead of Blair's arrival on book tour. After soul-searching, Blair has cancelled the rest of his tour and, well, we wish him a retirement of happy hand-wringing.

In sections of the book dealing with Iraq Blair writes that the 9/11 attacks so humiliated the U.S. that Iraq was conjured up as a policy in order to send "a message of total clarity to the world" — don't dare mess with Uncle Sam.

So there are uncanny parallels with Nixon, his foreign policy and U.S. actions in Vietnam and Cambodia, as described in a book called The Time of Illusion by Jonathan Schell. Schell argued in that book that Vietnam became more about America's domestic disputes as the Sixties wore on, than about anything to do with events on the thoroughly bombed-to-dust ground of South-East Asia. Nixon escalated the war each time he perceived himself humiliated domestically: in essence, don't mess with me or I'll go crazy on Hanoi!

In fairness to Blair: he presided over the dawning of an imperfect peace which seems to be surviving in my home, Northern Ireland. And about Iraq he writes:
I still keep in my desk a letter from an Iraqi woman who came to see me before the war began. She told me of the appalling torture and death her family had experienced having fallen foul of Saddam’s son. She begged me to act. After the fall of Saddam she returned to Iraq. She was murdered by sectarians a few months later. What would she say to me now?
Who knows what she'd say? This anecdote hardly supports the sentiment it seems calculated to convey to the reader, that some of his decisions were extremely tough. If he is to be believed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sensitive Souls

Mimosa pudica, or the sensitivity plant

Friday afternoon, I was walking along West 28th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where a handful of grubby florists are all that remains of the Flower District.At one little store I stopped to look at what seemed to be a fern, but the store lady said it was a 'sensitivity plant,' then she reached down and touched one of the frond-like leaves. The 'fingers' of the leaf folded upwards and shrank inwards at the light touch, as quickly as it takes one to, say, look down at the keyboard and hit a key. I stared in complete surprise -- I'd never seen or heard of Mimosa pudica before, though I knew the plant sitting next to it immediately, Dionaea muscipula, the Venus Flytrap.

Speaking of sensitivity, there's unusual new research that shows that so-called Pollyannas, people who are naively optimistic, are in fact better at detecting liars than people who exhibit a more routinely skeptical, negative attitude: "trusting people are better able to detect duplicity than untrusting folks."

Researchers at the University of Toronto created an expiriment in which
participants watched videos of eight simulated job interviews: Half of the interviewees were completely truthful; half told a variety of lies to make themselves more attractive job candidates. Contrary to lay wisdom, high trusters were significantly better than low trusters were at detecting lies. This finding extends a growing body of theoretical and empirical work suggesting that high trusters are far from foolish Pollyannas and that low trusters’ defensiveness incurs significant costs.
In other words, the mistrustful people were undermined by their generally dim view of other people, because they assumed that people are generally not to be distrusted.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Finnish elevator maker KONE has been celebrating 100 years of giving people a lift. These are images from the Flash time line on the KONE web site, which I found cute. In 1996 KONE introduced the Monospace, an elevator which is so compact that it does not require a separate machine room! Are you impressed yet, dear reader? The symbol or logo for the Monospace is seen in the two last images as a green and yellow disc sort of thing...