Saturday, January 01, 2011


As with 2009, so 2010. Goodbye!

"Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him." -- Job 13, v. 15.

Cleveland, Show Us Your Cleveage!

Cleveland's Terminally Towering Terminal Tower 
(Apparently it's "lit up" but I've seen people more "lit up" after Holy Communion)

Five minutes to 1 a.m. on New Year's Day, and my quick stroll down Euclid Avenue in Cleveland to Playhouse Square revealed that Cleveland has already gone to bed, apart from the die hard couple sipping pink cocktails in the window of a restaurant.

Cleveland, did you even bother to wake up after Christmas?
Cleveland, come Monday morning... don't be writing '2010' on your forms!
Cleveland, the ball dropped in New York City!
Cleveland, bombs went off in Egypt and Iraq!
Cleveland... was it some city father's cruel joke, to call your tallest graceful building, "Terminal Tower"?

If I had a big bottle of Champagne, the three cops on Euclid Avenue would hear me singing, with the ghost of Allan Ginsberg:

"O skinny legions run outside
O starry spangled shock of mercy the eternal war is here
O victory forget your underwear WE'RE FREE!"
(Posted also on Facebook).

Friday, December 31, 2010

Kravica Waterfalls

Kravica Waterfalls on the Trebižat river in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Zen They Came For the Buddhists...

Captain Thomas Dyer, U.S. Army Buddhist Chaplain

ecumenism (noun): the doctrine, or quality, of universality (esp. of the Christian church).

Until a few days ago I would never have looked for evidence of ecumenism in the United States Army. Yet there it was, or rather, there he was, staring me in the face, courtesy of a BBC Radio program, Heart and Soul.

This is Thomas Dyer, the newest Chaplain appointed by the U.S. Army, and he is a Buddhist chaplain. As the BBC interviewer immediately delved into, this seems like a contradiction in terms. I know scant information about Buddhism except perhaps what little I have gained from being a fan of the late Beat poet and Buddhist, Allan Ginsberg, but I do know that non-violence is central to Buddhist teachings, and in particular, in the U.S., Buddhism underpinned much of the beliefs of the anti-war activists of the 1960s and 1970s, and Ginsberg was a central figure of the anti-war movement.

Now, I am still skeptical. But as I listened, Dyer won me over, though he still has plenty of winning to do amongst fellow Buddhists and soldiers and citizens of other faiths.

Ecumenism is the belief that faiths, especially the various branches of Christianity, can find their way through meeting, discussing and mingling, towards greater understanding and ultimately, unity. You can see immediately how problematic this is: what might be mildly uncomfortable contradictions in belief between some Episcopalians and Roman Catholics (woman priesthood, for example) might be violent poison for other Christians. Ecumenists have been accused of everything over the years, from being the Pope’s stealthy fifth columnists to deluded wishy-washy liberals.

Indeed, when I was growing up, Dr Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland’s Cardinal Richelieu and John Calvin rolled into one, was forever banging an anti-ecumenist drum, alongside all the other drums he banged.

Instead of banging drums, Chaplain Thomas Dyer would rather we sound bells. And it was at the exact moment when he spoke of the bell that Buddhists ring at strategic points in the act of meditating, that I began to see just how far out on his tree limb Dyer has gone – and how, with all the contradictions and special circumstances that service in the Military requires of soldiers, and of the religious faiths they hold – how that other faiths in the fighting forces might actually reach accommodation with the Buddhists in their midst.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” Dyer told his interviewer, as he sounded a bell used in meditation, “if this M16, if the metal in this M16 would one day be a bell that sounds like this, and the plastic pieces on this weapon, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they would transform into a cup that would hold medicine?”

Dyer has asked his Buddhist-inclined soldiers to bring their weapons into meditation ceremonies, rather than stack them on racks at the door, as is the practice during Christian and other faith ceremonies, precisely to present this thought, which hardly differs from the swords-into-plowshares tenet of Christianity. I can’t believe that from the most battle-hungry raw recruit through to veterans who have seen multiple tours – I can’t believe that any of them or their commanding officers desire perpetual warfare, but rather see the role of a Military as necessary defense in an imperfect world, and a world where increasingly peace keeping occupies the world’s defense forces, as well as – something of a cliché – winning hearts and minds.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Information is Hilarious

Alumin(i)um! It's Alumin(i)um! Dammit, you're WRONG. Alumin(i)um! Alumin(i)um!

I just found Information Is Beautiful, a site dedicated to, well, beautifully-displayed information. With tongue firmly in cheek, the site owner presents several examples which I share with you now, including Wikipedia's Lamest Edit Wars:

I marked my favorites with red asterisks on this screen shot above. You can see the real thing here. There was a fight amongst Wikipedia editors over the diameter of the Death Star in Star Wars!? A debate as to whether the entry on cow-tipping should have a photo of a cow, with the words: "An unsuspecting potential victim of cow-tipping"??!

Don't miss another equally engaging map: Because Every Country Is The Best At Something. Hmmm... Ireland has the best quality of life, but the Central African Republic has the most expensive Internet! And Belarus has the most unemployed women...

Blending serious with silly, as I often do, please also note that the Oxford English Dictionary online recently re-wrote the dictionary definition for the word "information," extending it out to, as one commentator suggested, a 9,400-word novella (screen shot of the start of the entry below).
Notice what is the very first, top, though now partly obscure, definition? "The imparting of incriminating knowledge."

Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland is a major railway hub for the Midwest...
The city center, seen from ... uh... near the river!

Jonathan Raban wrote about the American freight train's horn sounding sadly across distant plains. I've seen freight trains every day I have been outside, and heard them every night when falling asleep.

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

New Zealand

In pondering some aspects of my ancestors' lives, I started looking for information online pertaining to immigration from Ireland to New Zealand in the 1900s. On the New Zealand government's archive web site I found this map, above, of a tiny island, Hauturu, or Little Barrier Island, somewhere down there.

Specifically, I am trying to find out if my two great uncles and their several sisters, who emigrated to New Zealand in the 1910s, became New Zealand citizens, and when. Both great uncles, George and Robert McKinley, joined the New Zealand Rifle Brigade and fought in France in the First World War. I am wondering if they had time to become New Zealand citizens first, or if citizenship of New Zealand was required for serving in the army? (Non-citizens with green cards can join the U.S. Military, which fast-tracks naturalization considerably). I'm going to guess that in those days, loyal stalwarts of the Empire seeking to enlist were welcome regardless of the far-flung recruiting office they lined up at.

From tiny little tropical islands to that other small island, though small only in physical dimensions -- Bruce McCall, an illustrator whose work I love, imagines Manhattan in which pedestrians and cyclists take precedence over the automobile on the streets.
Speaking once again of the southern hemisphere, I read today that Americans are seeking better jobs and life opportunities in Australia.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Beardland, Ohio

Santa brought me a beard for Christmas.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

From The Millionairess by G. B. Shaw

"You see, Mr Sagamore, it's like this. There are two sorts of people in the world: the people anyone can live with and the people that no one can live with. The people that no one can live with may be very goodlooking and vital and splendid and temperamental and romantic and all that; and they can make a man or woman happy for half an hour when they are pleased with themselves and disposed to be agreeable; but if you try to live with them they just eat up your whole life running after them or quarrelling or attending to them one way or another: you cant call your soul your own.
As Sunday husbands and wives, just to have a good tearing bit of love-making with, or a blazing row, or mostly one on top of the other, once a month or so, theyre all right. But as everyday partners theyre just impossible."
Having just forced my long-suffering friend here in Cleveland to watch the start of George Bernard Shaw's hilarious The Millionairess (starring Maggie Smith and an all-star cast in this brilliant 1972 production), I will now ruin the impact of Shaw's deliciously sharp observation above by drawing attention to Shaw's interest in punctuation. Note that words like "they're" are spelt without the apostrophe. Shaw, obsessed for much of his life with creating a better, clearer, more logical alphabet and (English) language, left money in his will for the creation of just that: the Shavian Alphabet.