Monday, February 28, 2005

A Tale of Two Clocks

OK, so I have two alarm clocks. One is a digital clock more than 20 years old and works like a top. I have it set at the correct time. The other is a clock with hands, no feet, cheap from China, cost a buck at Dollarama and works like topsy-turvy. That clock I have set ten minutes ahead. Both the alarms are always set for 6am, except when I don't want them to go off at 6am, in which case I set them for whatever time I want them to go off. But the Chinese alarm is unpredictable. To make it ring at 6am I have to set the little alarm hand (no foot) for just before 6. And then it goes off whenever it feels like, any time between 5:45 and 6:05. There's no marker for the half-hour. If I set it for 6:30, I could be setting it for 6:40 for all I know. Sometimes the cheap Chinese goes off after the ancient digital, which really upsets my sense of snooze. And Penny don't like it neither, 'cause she still thinks I only have one alarm clock. But I couldn't survive on just one. Anyway, now I'm just starting to ramble.....

Sorry I'm late.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Courier's Complaint

I was sent to Mister and Mississauga today to a certain high tech data company to pick up some stuff and deliver it to some other high tech company in Gwulph. This place, just off the 401, was an immense warehouse with conveyors twisting like serpents through its pristine innards. A warehouse full of computers and peripherals.

To get in, I had to pass through a security gate, give the name of my company, my name, the address of my license plate...and assure the invisible security guard inside the intercom that I did indeed have a "pickup number".

And then once in the warehouse, I was obliged to display my driver's licence, from which the nice shipping lady extracted my driver's licence number. (After which she chastised me for coming to the Shipping door instead of the Customer Pickup door....)

All this for two pieces of computerish device.


Yeah, yeah, big warehouse. Expensive equipment.

Still, nothing but stuff.

I can only say I am continually amazed at people's inflated opinions of their business. Including myself sometimes.

But we're in a world where we accept egregious invasions of our privacy and dignity without question.

Addendum to Courier's Complaint:
This being scolded for going to the wrong door reminds me of another incident from a couple of weeks ago. A delivery to an auto body shop, of all things. I walked in the front door and the girl told me no deliveries there, I had to go back outside, around to the next door, which was the delivery door.

OK, I went. Who appears at the delivery counter? The same girl. (And, by the way, this was another place where I had to fill out a form with my company name, and sign make a a body shop for heaven's sake! I've been there a couple times since. I'm using pseudonyms now...Lenin, will be Plekhanov, and then Trotsky. I want to see if anyone will notice. Or understand.)

And this reminds me of an incident many years ago in Montreal, when Steve went in to a hotel to inquire about a room or two for us for the night. He went up to the desk and asked how much, and the girl told him he was at the desk for French speakers and must go to the desk (over there) for English.

OK, he went. Who appeared at the desk to serve him? You guessed it...the girl from the auto body shop!

Notes on Emptiness #3

Ah, the optimist and the pessimist...
Is the glass half full?
Is the glass half empty?
Forsooth!* The glass is utterly empty,
Even of itself.

* The unaccustomed use of such an archaic term is a direct consequence of having been captured in recent days by Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, such that I can no longer experience discursive thought except in terms of chivalry and king's ransoms.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Watching Samsara

Yesterday was one of those days when I became acutely aware of the meaning of the phrase "the terrors of samsara." What is the primary feature of samsara? Suffering.

It started with not enough sleep to satisfy a gnat, so that by noon I felt as if my mind was dragging my body through the universe by sheer force of will. You must know that feeling. That all you really want to do is just let yourself collapse. But you can't. Gotta keep going. Gotta make time.

I stepped out of the house at 8 am. into a dreary day with rain falling not hard but steady, climbed into Minnie Van Nice and within seconds was off and running. And that's what I do. Run. How I earn my living. Running. From pillar to post, here and there, to and fro, up down over and out. Nonstop most days. But I'm good at it because I really only have one goal: get the package delivered and go home. Home. That's always my ultimate destination. The sooner I deliver, the sooner I'll get home.

So that around noon I found myself hurtling down the 401 towards Toronto at an excessive speed (although not excessive enough for many others on that road), slicing through rain clouds at ground level, Gentle Giant loud and frenetic on the stereo, eyes in the back of my head watching out for kamikazes...Then it hit me...the noise, the grip on the steering wheel, the tension in my shoulders...this was it! Samsara for sure. And its primary characteristic. No amount of peanut butter M&Ms could sugarcoat the load of physical exhaustion and mental anguish I was experiencing at that very moment when what I wanted most was to somehow get home so that I could explore that vast unconscious land I like to call Oblivia.

I suddenly realized that the activity I was engaged in (in this case, delivering a display stand to a convention booth at the Royal York Hotel), the thing that I was spending my time doing, was about as close to meaningless as you could get and certainly futile from a broader perspective. Which led to the next realization: if I didn't get about the business of liberation from Samsara, the real business of this life and all lives, I was doomed to have to do this, or something very much like it, all over again. And that scared the hell out of me. All this again? How can I do this again?

In case you haven't noticed, existence in Samsara is hard. When even pleasures are tainted by suffering, how can it not be hard?

No control over it. We spend our lives trying to gain control of our, money, good food, happy pursuits...without thinking about how small these destinies are, really. And all we're really doing is setting ourselves up for the next uncontrolled version of where we are right now. The same struggle again. The same dragging your body through space. The same worry about the lunatic coming up fast behind you in the passing lane.

So I put on a tape of the Dalai Lama teaching. And what was he talking about? Dukkha -- suffering. And he said it's crucial that one recognize one's suffering, the ways in which suffering occurs, and the extent of it. You can't relieve suffering you don't know you have.

Well, I certainly recognized it yesterday. No problem there. Now I'm happy.

But of course, that's only temporary.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Flag Day

As I begin this post, it's still Feb. 15, so I can still say it's the 40th anniversary of the Canadian flag. (I seem to be marking a lot of anniversaries lately.)

I don't think much about the flag, really. Don't get all choked up and emotional when I see the huge banner flapping in the breeze above the Husky station just outside of London. And to tell the truth, I preferred one of the designs that didn't make it...the one with the three red maple leaves in the centre and the blue bars on each end...from sea to sea. To be completely accurate, though, you would have had to have a blue bar on the top as well...from sea to sea to sea. I was disappointed when that one wasn't chosen.

But after 40 years, I've grown accustomed to the flag's face. I like it well enough. And it has one outstanding characteristic: its simplicity and its boldness. It has two outstanding characteristics: its simplicity, its boldness, and its visibility...It has three outstanding...never mind.

I don't understand what the two red bars represent. Is it the two founding nations, English and French? If so, it should be one blue bar and one red. But that would disturb the symmetry of the flag, and I love symmetry unless I'm on an angular binge.

The design is so clean and uncluttered. The maple leaf, as it's presented, is immediately recognizable. It's a perfect icon. How could you improve on it? It's the heart of simplicity. (Although after all these years, I couldn't draw it if my life depended on it. Believe me, I've tried.)

Minor digression: This reminds me of a story. Years ago the band bought new lederhosen. We wanted to get fancy wide belts to go with them, and since at the time we were emphasizing our Canadian identity, we decided to have the red maple leaf embroidered into the centre of the belts. Unfortunately, Andy, the man who made both the lederhosen and the belts, couldn't draw the maple leaf either, and we ended up with six belts sporting large red marijuana leaves.

Anyway, I wouldn't change the flag. As I say, you couldn't improve on that icon. Like the province of Ontario considering "updating" its trillium logo. That I'll have to see. Again, it's a case of trying to change something that is already, to my eyes, reduced to its simplest iconic form. That trillium has worked for 30 years or so. If it ain't broke....

And one last thought about this. It seems to me that Feb. 15, Flag Day, would be the perfect midwinter statutory holiday. After all, it's the day after Valentine's Day. A perfect day to allow all those people suffering from love hangovers a little recovery time.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

A Fragment of Dresden China

Today is the 60th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Dresden. Thirty-five thousand people died in that action, most of them civilians.

Hmmm....Not that I'm taking sides, mind you. This is pretty much the only event of WWII in which Germans can say they were victimised. I can't help but notice that the number is about ten times larger than those who died in 9-11.

Yes, this was an act of war taking place during a declared war. It differs in that respect from the events of 9-11, although Muslim terrorists might dispute this. They might see 9-11 as either the official declaration of war or just another skirmish in the ongoing guerrilla struggle.

But the fact that so many of the Dresden dead were civilians shouts one word to me: terrorism. I doubt the allies had any goal in this bombing other than to demoralise the population. (What was left of it after the bombing.)

Not much different with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Nagasaki, I believe, had some strategic or military importance because of its industrial base. (Or wasn't there a military installation nearby? I can't remember.....(not having been there lately...)). But come on, really the purpose was two-fold: 1. to play with the new ultra-destructive toy; and 2. to beat hell out of the Japs. Both aims accomplished admirably.

What a strange world, eh? They say history is written by the victors. The winners define the vocabulary. When we think of Pearl Harbour and the less often mentioned destruction of the US fleet in the Phillipines the next day, even as Canadians, we think of the treachery of the Japanese. Even though, with just a little checking, we can easily discover that neither attack was any sort of real surprise. And both were, after all, legitimate military targets. (This assumes that you think anything about war is legitimate.)

Proof, once again, as if we need it, that no one is innocent. The Japanese were brutal in Hong Kong and China, inhumane to prisoners. The Germans brutal all over Europe. The Soviets brutal even to their own. The Americans now brutal in Iraq and Guantanamo. Canadians brutal in Somalia. The British brutal in so many of their colonies. And the Belgians...victimisers in the Congo and victims in Rwanda...The Israelis, the Palestinians. Everyone takes their turn.

On a sad level, this is an argument for the oneness of humanity. We are equal in our brutality. Do 6 million in the Holocaust outweigh 3 million in the Soviet Union during the 1930's? Do 35,000 in Dresden outweigh 3,000 in New York? Does the average of 3 Palestinians dead to 1 Israeli constitute an imbalance?

Not if we think of each life as infinitely precious.

How wonderful it would be if we all managed to do this now and then.

NHL Update

Five months of Bob Not-Quite-Goodenow and Gary How-Much-Are-You-Willing-To-Bet, man? Yechh!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Update on Max Schmeling

See, it pays to listen to CFRB now and then. (I'm still making this up out of my memory, but I believe Louis beat the hell out Schmeling twice.) CFRB tells me today though, that Louis and Schmeling became very good friends. ie. Schmeling was not a Nazi, and Louis was a magnanimous winner.
Max Schmeling died today. Or last night. Former heavyweight boxing champion. German. If I remember right, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, Schmeling got caught up in the whole Nazi master race ideology. I don't know whether he believed in it himself, but the regime used him for its own propaganda purposes.

And who beat him? I do believe it was Joe Louis. A black man. Americans were ecstatic. And this at a time when it would have been inconceivable to have him sitting in the front of the bus, let alone have an arena named after him......
Help! I've written and I can't get up!