On-Line Journal - January - February - March 2003
January 9th January 28th February 21st March 6th March 17th March 21st March 25th March 31st
At last I am sure of one thing in this war against Iraq: when our President ends a talk saying, "God bless America," that is wrong. Not that America should not be blessed, but blessings should not be limited to just our country or people. I do not think we should narrow our hearts in any way to limit the extent of the blessings that we wish. May everyone be blessed - every person in every nation. Indeed, may America be blessed - and all our people; and may Iraq be blessed, and Iran, and Israel, and England, and France, and Russia, and both Koreas; may all nations and all people be blessed without exception.
The power of blessing, the power in blessings, arises out of the goodness that is the core or essence of reality - and only good can come out of it. What if blessings fall on Iraqis? Most of them are innocent in any case, so no harm in that. What if blessings fall on Saddam Hussein? Would Goodness itself, Compassion itself, aid him in the cruel and terrible things he does? No. To be blessed by Compassion would be to begin to have compassion - which might in one way prove a disaster for Hussein - but it would not hurt him, and it would only bring benefit to the world.
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Well, it's a very small thing, but all the talk of whether or not this war in Iraq will be a 'cakewalk' has been getting under my skin. I had never heard 'cakewalk' used in that way before - and I assumed that it was a conflation of 'piece of cake' and 'walk in the park' - or something like that. My impression was that 'cakewalk' refers to a sort of dance - and in fact, that is so. Here is a stylized image of what it looks like.
This image is from the Dance History Archive of Sonny Watson's site, streetswing.com an extensive gathering of information about and images of all types of dance. In any case, this is what the word meant to me.
Then I began to research it. Websters Unabridged gives only the familiar (to me) definition: "a stage dance developed from walking steps and figures; typically: a high prance with backward tilt." But a search on Google, quickly turned up instances of the other usage that clearly preceded this war. At SlangSite I found this definition: "Easily done, same as a piece of cake." So the usage is correct after all - as a friend of mine used to say, "Wrong again, Law." Or at least half wrong. What an utterly absurd thing to learn from a war. As I look at the image, it almost hurts to see something so exuberant associated in any way with the tragic goings-on in Iraq.
Salam Pax, whose weblog I mentioned in my previous entry, was back online again yesterday with entries to cover the missing days when he was unable to post them. I was very glad to see him.
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Friday - 8:05 PM.
I watched the beginning of the real air assault on Iraq and on Baghdad which began today around noon (my time.) I'd been hoping that this would not happen - apparently there were some negotiations afoot that might have prevented it, but it is hard to know what to believe at this point. There have been moments of intense action, such as the first hour of the bombardment of Baghdad, followed by hours-long breaks when all the news stations scramble for material to throw in front of their cameras. Right now there seems to be one of these lulls. Of course part of it is simply that a lot of what is going on is not as easily put on the air, and there are not the high quality cameras and transmission facilities to do so - the rapid movement of troops through the deserts, small fire-fights, etc.
I wonder if wars like this - all modern wars - are just as hard to conceive of, at least for people like me, as things like the huge amounts of money in the government's budget. I can't really think of what a billion dollars means, and in the same way, I don't really respond to reports about the armies half a million strong that we have poised at some far-away border, or to the green-tinted night camera images of lights floating in a distant sky - anti-aircraft fire really, but beautiful too. It is too far away, too unknown to me. It is like a story and when I am through reading, I can close the covers of the book and put it away.
Yesterday this changed for me when I came across the web-log - blog in internet terminology - of a young man who lives in Baghdad and who has been writing about every-day goings on there and of his own life as this war drew closer. He could be called an ordinary Iraqi except that the quality of what he writes, and that he writes at all at this time set him apart. He signs his entries Salam Pax - or just Salam - and his perseverance, his entries written between air-raid alerts, are all very moving, especially as he writes so simply. His next-to-last entry, posted today begins,
"The most disturbing news today has come from Al-Jazeera, they said that nine B52 bombers have left the airfield in Britain and flying "presumably" towards Iraq, as if they would be doing a spin around the block. Anyway they have 6 hours to get here."
"Last night was very quiet in Baghdad. Today in the morning I went out to get bread and groceries…."
And his last entry, three hours later ends, "2 more hours untill the B52's get to Iraq.
And indeed, the planes did arrive just about on schedule. As I watched the bombs hit and the missiles strike, I thought of Salam - and it made my heart ache - for now I know one Iraqi, however remotely, and I really don't want anything to happen to him, or to any other person like him. For me he has made all Iraqis real.
[I'm including a reference to his web-log. And in case you have doubts about whether he is real or not, a lot of people have done substantial checking and most if not all have come to the conclusion that he is real.]
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Went out an hour ago in the late afternoon to walk to the convenience store a few blocks away. Even though last week's snow storm covered everything with a fresh layer of white, this weekend's warm weather has brought the lawns back into view for the first time since last December. I could hear robins everywhere as I walked toward Washington Avenue, most of them singing just their single territory-marking note from the top branches of the trees, but one or two beginning their full spring song. The three old maples on the front lawn of the real estate agent across Lucas Avenue are actually in bloom, though they are the only ones. Nothing shows on the ground yet. No sign of crocuses or any other early plants. There, the only indication of spring is the mud where the newly visible earth has thawed enough to take deep paw prints, tire marks, footprints. Even the mud is welcome to me after this long cold winter.
This evening the President will address the nation at 8:00PM, and we will be closer to war with Iraq when he has finished. I find that the more information I have, the murkier the situation seems. It is hard to find any person or organization whose positions are honest, intelligent, well informed, sophisticated, unbiased, and ethically compelling. Certainly the main players do not combine all these qualities - though each would like us all to think they do. But all those qualities are essential - not one can be left out - except perhaps ethically aware would be sufficient in the place of ethically compelling.
Some internet sites have clear positions - and appear to edit their information accordingly. In contrast, some of the best sites I have found so far seem to be information providers and express no moral judgment at all. I suppose it is appropriate for each person to have to draw his or her own conclusion, but I would like to have some guidance to toss into the mix. Yet no guide I can find appears to be well informed, believable, and without a personal agenda. At the moment I do not feel that our actions are so outrageous that I have to oppose them, but they are not so decent as our government claims.
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Good grief, it's snowing again. The National Weather Service has issued an alert for this area saying it will snow all day and we're likely to get six inches on the ground before it stops. My first clue, even before I turned my PC on was watching the morning news, broadcast from NYC, and seeing through the windows behind the news folks, snow swirling down. For a brief moment I hoped that this storm might pass to the south of us - but within minutes I could see the same thing outside my own windows. And now it's really coming down - those nasty fine flakes that pile up fast. Well, I guess the good thing about this winter is that it didn't happen the first year I lived here - I would have been pretty panicked about how hard it might be to live here. Well, that and the fact that the drought is over. That's a real blessing.
Mother Nature is evidently feeling really ambivalent - even with all the cold and snow and ice, the robins are back - I heard one last week - and the peacocks are singing again over in the park. I heard their loud calls yesterday evening as I took out the garbage. But I am heartily sick of this weather - have not even been driving much as all but the best roads are full of potholes, and the unrelenting white, brown, gray, and black of the roads and hillsides have lost their attraction for me.
These events are trivial, of course, in contrast to our country's apparently unstoppable progress toward war. I'm spending a lot of time reading news and various reports trying to inform myself about what's going on, and I'm better informed than I ever have been in the past. But it does not make this situation clearer. I don't know what to think. And it's hard for me to find ways to integrate my practice of Buddhism and the view that gives me, with the apparently amoral practicalities of world affairs. But if it seems amoral to me, it evidently does not to our president who speaks of his moral duty to deal with Iraq and its leader. I do not doubt the strength of his religious convictions and practice, yet even his own pastor speaks out against war, so I hear.
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A friend heard a robin yesterday. Actually, I thought I heard one a couple of days ago, but it was just that single note that is distinctive but so brief that I'm never certain of it the first time I hear it. It seems so early for them, but checking back in last year's journal and I see that they arrived just about the end of February. Last year, however, the ground was mostly bare of snow. Somehow it seems odd hearing robins when there are still two feet of snow on the ground and more promised for this weekend.
Yesterday I seized the opportunity offered by a sunny and warm day to drive over to Karma Triyana Dharmachakra, the Tibetan Monastery. They have an excellent gift store and I hoped to buy a thangka of Longchenpa which had just arrived. The roads were clear and it was too warm for there to be ice, but with bad weather predicted for the weekend, I didn't know when my next chance would come.
There was more traffic than I like on the main roads, and all whizzing along at a rather fast pace. But it was fine, and I logged my thousandth mile on this trip. I took the 'front' road up Overlook mountain to the monastery just to see what it would be like to drive it. I've been on it several times as a passenger, but I've never driven it before. It was a nightmare, albeit a beautiful and sunny one. I had not realized how many very sharp curves there are, and all on very steep inclines. If I had dared to take even one hand off the wheel, I would have shifted into a lower gear, as my car manual suggests.
There was no one behind me at all for the entire distance, a mercy since it allowed me to go as slow as I wanted - about 25 mph - without feeling pressured. Whoever maintains this road, Mead's Mountain Road, puts down a lot of fine gravel and it works very well, but it's messy when there is a lot of snow melting and covering the road with runoff. But I finally got there, and even found a parking space right next to a still snowed-in Saab.
When I went into the gift store the manager, Peter, was there and he showed me the thangkas I had come to see. In the same room where the thangkas were hung was a little Tibetan boy practicing with cymbals, a type used in Buddhist rituals. He was playing them very well. I took a long time examining the thangkas, then looking at the books, and other items. By then the youngster had brought the woman caring for him into the store area, and was showing her all the things that he "really, really, really wanted." After a bit she went off into the kitchen area, and the little boy took up with me - first taking me by the hand to show me those items that he wanted so badly.
He told me that he was five, or four years old (he told me both, so I don't know which was true, but he was a bright and articulate child for either age.) By then we had gone back into the room with the thangkas. He said that we could both play the cymbals, as there were several sets (he wanted one of those too!) When I said I didn't know how, that stopped him only for a moment. Seating himself, he looked up at me and said, "Well, I can give you a lesson." So he did. These cymbals are not simply struck against each other but are moved in a circular pattern, sliding the rims against each other several times, and then are struck more sharply. This produces complex and subtle sounds. So the little boy, (Chogye he said his name was,) played through the cycle once. Then I tried to do it, and did rather badly - just sort of banging them. Chogye kept his face completely still, disappointment flickering just briefly before he controlled himself. So I said, "Not too good, huh?" And he admitted it, "No." So I tried again, concentrating hard. Much better - and Chogye looked much happier. "Now we could do Mahakala together!" (Mahakala is a very wrathful Deity whose ceremonies have lots of horns, cymbals, drums, and bells.)
I ended up buying two thangkas, and several other items, real treasures for me. Meeting with Chogye was another sort of treasure and a gift.
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It has been so cold here - and the heating system does not keep up once the outside temperature goes below 10 degrees. When I get up in the morning I can get a good idea of the outside temperature by what it is in my bedroom - the 66 degrees this morning told me that it was around 5 outside. They try to provide enough heat, but the old radiators in my apartment seem not to be able to turn on fully. At least it does not bother me too much - I have warm blankets for the night, and warm clothes for the day, and can move around to get the blood flowing.
When I was growing up the winters were colder. Every year there were days in a row with the temperatures below 0, and sometimes several weeks like that. By the time I moved to New York City, the winters seemed to have warmed up a bit - we no longer had the extended periods of single digit temperatures, and snow was not often a major problem. I learned ways of roughly judging the temperature: at about 12 degrees and below, the engines of jets flying overhead sounded clear and distinct, quite different from their normal rather muddy roar. Below 4 degrees, breathing in sharply through my nose would freeze the insides - a very distinct sensation. Those rough measures pretty well took care of the weather I experienced during my years in the city.
Even in those milder winters, there were several spectacular storms. One occurred in February in the late '80's. We were having a ceremony at our Buddhist center that started very early in the afternoon. Snow flurries were all that had been predicted, so I had not even worn boots. Shortly after we began, the snow started to fall. Our center was located in a very large Soho loft with 20' ceilings and great windows. All afternoon I could watch the snow becoming heavier and heavier, and I lost myself in worries and distractions about when we would finish (the ceremonies had no set length, and depended on our teacher to end them,) whether the subways would still be running, and how I would manage with no boots. As dusk came on, a thunder storm came with it, and flashes of lightning illuminated the heavy swirling snow.
We finished at around 8PM - nearly two feet of snow had fallen by then. I prepared to leave by lacing my shoes tightly and tucking my jeans hopefully into my socks. A friend and I left the loft and walked toward the Seventh Avenue subway line. The city had been caught napping, and not a plough had been through these streets yet. The only place to walk was in the middle of the street where the occasionally passing cars had forced a single lane. By then there was little traffic to avoid. We had gone a few blocks when we heard sirens behind us and leaped for the safety of the deep snowdrifts to the side of the one open lane. A fire truck passed us, rather too closely. We looked up to watch it, trying to see through the thickly falling snow. And there two blocks ahead of us was its destination: a Checker cab, pulled a bit to the side, partially into a drift, and engulfed in flames.
The rest of the trip was less exciting. The subways were still running, and it was not far from the exit to my apartment. By the next morning the ploughs had done their work, the roads were navigable, though most sidewalks were yet to be cleared. House owners, responsible for the sidewalks, contented themselves with digging passageways through the high mounds left by the ploughs so that pedestrians could at least get to the streets and walk there. The snow had stopped during the night but the sky was still overcast. A man came along Prospect Park West on skis, pulled by two great danes on long leashes. A number of people were out strolling through the pearly gray morning light - and there was a sense of shared adventure.
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I took a long drive today, taking advantage of the warm temperatures. Because of all the snow, I have not been able to get out as much - I knew this would happen if we had a normal winter and that is why I tried so hard to drive as much as I could before this weather set in. It has worked pretty well - I'm comfortable going out now and do not feel nervous any more, for the most part. A couple of weeks ago, driving on one of the long stretches of Lucas Turnpike, no other cars behind me or coming in the opposite direction, I really wanted to go faster - I felt like I was barely moving even though I was doing 50mph. Perhaps I can get out on an interstate pretty soon….
The roads here are full of curves, and I haven't learned to read them well yet. A great many have posted speeds, some of which make sense while others do not. There are curves marked 20mph that can easily be taken at double that speed, and others, entirely unmarked, are challenges even at 20. And they look the same to me - well, within reason. I think it will take a lot more driving before I can see a curve and understand how fast I can drive it.
At one point today I was on route 209 where it passes to the west of the Mohonk Preserve - 209 is a major road for this area: only two lanes, but well maintained - and as I approached a curve, I saw it was posted 55mph! I'm not at all clear what they were trying to tell me. I had not seen any speed posted for this stretch of road, but most of these roads are marked only 45 or 50 - they could hardly want me to speed up for this curve! Or did the road engineers think that I would be going much faster and should slow down to 55? Or perhaps they wanted to tell me that this curve was gentle and well graded enough that I could take it without changing my speed at all. I hope with more practice, I will be able to judge this more accurately myself.
As I worked on this entry, I went looking for images related to the Mohonk Preserve and found some beautiful ones on a site belonging to photographer G. Steve Jordon. Here is one sample:
“Winter Sun, Dickie Barre" photograph copyright G. Steve JordanFor more such photographs, go to Mr. Jordan's site - it is well worth a visit.
The day I moved from Brooklyn to Kingston, back in April of 2000, as we took the exit from I-87, I said over and over to myself, "I will be living here - it is so beautiful... I can't believe it."
When I drive, I can not look at the scenery the way I used to as a passenger. So now I try to make mental notes of places that I want to revisit. And on later trips to the same areas I try to find good turnouts, or side roads where I can stop to explore, and take photos. Today, going up 213 along the Rondout Creek, between Lucas Turnpike and Route 32, I saw three great arches cut into the rock face across the road. I chanced a longer look, and could see doors closing these arches, but there was nothing else to give me any clue to what they are. I know there was once a canal here, the Delaware & Hudson, that was used to transport coal from mines in Pennsylvania east to the Hudson River, and then down to New York City. Are these arches connected to that industry - storage areas for coal? Another entry in my list of things to revisit and investigate.
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