History


Zen Master Taigu Ryokan (1751 – 1831) was known for his equanimity and compassion, his aura, and for his smile. Ryokan was — and still is — a literary treasure, but he refused to publish his works while he lived.

He was a Zazen practitioner, loved to walk in the forest, and supported himself as a mendicant.

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He penned his famous Haiku in response to the theft of his meager possessions:

The thief left it behind:

the moon

at my window

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I just read an interesting article, which lead me to a Public Statement by Amnesty International  about a brave, altruistic Afghan woman who was killed for doing the right thing. The story is six years old, but bears repeating.

On the 25th of September 2006, Safiye Amajan, while on her way to work, was shot repeatedly by an armed motorcyclist who was linked to the Taliban. The Taliban claimed that her assassination was “…due to spying on the Mojahedin of the Islamic Emirate on behalf of the United States of America, under the guise of woman’s rights.”

Safiye Amajan was in her mid-fifties, and her ‘crime’ was more likely the fact that for years, despite repeated threats, she secretly ran a school for girls during the Taliban rule. After the Taliban’s repressive regime collapsed, and until she was murdered, Safiye Amajan was the provincial head of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA). During her time in MOWA she was instrumental in the establishment of several schools and vocational centers designed to educate women and girls.

Safiye Amajan surely knew her life was in danger, but she defied the oppressive dictates of the Taliban and continued her altruistic cause until her untimely death. It is people like her that boost my faith in humanity.

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When I was young I spent my Saturday mornings in our ‘TV room’, watching cartoons (and this may help to explain how I got to be the way I am…). There wasn’t anything else on TV on Saturday mornings (well, perhaps the other channel, though quite snowy, would be broadcasting stale news); the cartoon characters below are some of the most memorable (and a couple I only recall because of their odd names):

Loopy De Loop

Tennessee Tuxedo & Chumley

Atom Ant

Quick Draw McGraw (aka El Kabong), & Snuffles, his dog

Secret Squirrel and Morocco Mole

Squiddly Diddly

Ricochet Rabbit & Droop-A-Long Coyote

Peter Potamus

Super Snooper and Blabber Mouse

Dudley Do-Right

Snagglepuss

Commander McBragg

Top Cat

 

Touché Turtle & Dum Dum

Yosemite Sam

Deputy Dawg

The Mighty Heros (Strong Man, Rope Man, Tornado Man & Diaper Man)

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I had a view from Gabon yesterday, which induced me to decrease my geographical ignorance slightly. I gleaned most of the information below from the U. S. Department of State The Lonely Planet and Ebando.org. If anybody could further enlighten me, I would be grateful.

 [image credit: Ebando.org]

Africa; central-western coast

Population ~ 1.5 million

Major cities (population):

  • Libreville, the Capital (~675,000)
  • Port-Gentil (~150,000)
  • Franceville (~30,000)

Size: ~270,000 sq. km. (~ 100,000 sq. mi.); approximately the size of Colorado

Topography: a coastal plain; hilly, heavily forested interior; some savanna expanses in the east and south.

Climate: Hot and humid. Two rainy and two dry seasons.

The original inhabitants of the area that is now Gabon were pygmies, hunter-gathers, but they were displaced by the Bantu, who migrated from the  surrounding areas.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to visit Gabon, and the country’s name is derived from the Portuguese word gabao, a hooded cloak that resembles the contours of the Komo River estuary.

The Gabonese populace includes over three-dozen ethnic groups, almost all of Bantu origin. The different ethnic groups mix exceptionally well in Gabon; in part due to the unifying, official French language, but also due to the continuity of The Democratic Party of Gabon, which has worked to include all ethnic interests into their governance.

The coast of Gabon, similarly to Cameroon, was utilized during the evil days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade (according to accounts, the major areas used were the Niger Delta, the Laongo coast, and the coast of Angola). France abolished slave trade along the Gabon coastline in 1815, and a more civilized trade of manufactured goods for raw materials was instituted (I have an inkling that it was still an inequitable arrangement, but it was a step in the right direction).

Currently, there are over ten-thousand French living in Gabon (two-thousand with dual citizenship); and, although Gabon is now an independent Republic, France continues to maintain a dominant foreign influence. France first began to gain control of Gabon in 1839 by signing treaties with coastal Chiefs, and France’s occupation of Gabon in 1885 was precipitated by the mad rush of European countries vying for control of African countries. Gabon officially became the Gabonese Republic (République Gabonaise) in 1960.

Oil production and export dominates Gabon’s economy, but it is estimated that their oil reserves will be fully depleted by 2025. Fairly recently, plans to survive the future without oil reserves have been launched; and one of the plans, I assume, is to position Gabon as an ecotourism destination. Gabon’s President — El Hadj Omar Bongo — has designated 10% of Gabon’s land area as National Park, closing the areas to industry and opening them to tourists and conservationists. Gabon is apparently home to gorgeous beaches, tropical jungles teaming with wildlife, undulating savannas, and stunning estuaries.

Gabon looks like a delightful place to visit, but before you jump on a plane to enjoy its allure, heed a warning from Ebando.org’s website : Tourism in Gabon is still very underdeveloped. Westerners are a minority, few tourists, and their image is not always positive. It is strongly advised to exercise humility, diligence, and do your best to adapt to the local lifestyle.

The Martini

The origin of the martini is sometimes shrouded in myth, but one popular account suggests that it is the natural evolution of the Martinez cocktail:

— 2 oz sweet vermouth
1
oz gin
1 tsp maraschino liqueur
1 dash bitters
Stir. Strain into cocktail glass.

Garnish with a quarter lemon wheel —

The martini’s popularity skyrocketed during prohibition (1919 – 1933): whiskey took too long to mature; however, gin could be produced quickly and at a low-cost. With the end of prohibition, gin’s quality improved and the classic martini became even more favored by the fashionable crowd.

The concept of a dry martini, contrary to popular belief, had nothing to do with the content of vermouth. Originally, the only available vermouth was a sweet Italian variety. The French, bless them, produced a dry vermouth, which marked the beginning of the dry martini. The concept of a perfect martini has similarly been twisted: the term perfect pertains to any vermouth drink that contains an equal measure of sweet and dry.

So, what is a classic martini? For a start, the martini snob would insist it be stirred: shaking can create air bubbles, which results in a murky drink, indicating that too much water has been released from the ice cubes, causing the gin’s flavor to be ‘bruised.’

I use a metal shaker, but gently swirl the mixture for thirty seconds, which chills the liquid-nectar nicely, but doesn’t ‘bruise’ the gin. I use Bombay Sapphire Gin (not too expensive, pretty smooth), but tastes vary, so you may enjoy another brand more. And I use extra dry, Stock vermouth.

Thinking ahead:

For best results, keep the vermouth in the refrigerator, and cool the gin and the martini glass in the freezer for two hours prior to creation. Also — this is important — have plenty of ice cubes handy (martinis should be cold).  Have your favorite jazz (I prefer hard-bop from the mid-50s) or classical music cued on your sound system (if you must, listen to other music; after all, it’s your life). Some connoisseurs insist that the more formally you dress, the better the drink tastes, but I have no problems enjoying a martini in shorts and a T-shirt.

Ingredients (not quite a classic, but I like the measures below. Currently, I prefer close to a 5:1 gin/vermouth ratio, but please experiment: it’s your drink, for your enjoyment. Some people like to add a dash of Angostura bitters; all the power to them, but I don’t. If you don’t like green olives, you can substitute a lemon twist):

Slightly more than 2 ½ oz gin

Slightly less than ½ oz extra dry vermouth

2 or 3 large green olives (even people who don’t like martinis seem to enjoy the ‘tipsy’ olives. I like to share (but not my drink))

Lots of ice cubes

Standard Operating Procedure:

  1. Fill  a metal shaker (or mixing glass) with ice cubes.
  2. Pour the vermouth and gin into the shaker (or mixing glass)
  3. Swirl the shaker (or stir the mixture) for thirty seconds.
  4. Strain the liquid into a chilled martini glass (gently coax the last three drops out).
  5. Garnish with olives
  6. Enjoy; drink slowly, and your anxiety will dissolve.
  7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 as necessary (but be careful; martinis can be dangerous).

On April 7, 2011, the United Nations’ General Assembly declared April 12 as the International Day of Human Space Flight (at the 85th plenary meeting, 7 April 2011, resolution AVRES/65/271).

Fifty-one years ago (April 12 1961) a Soviet Cosmonaut, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin, journeyed into outer space in the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1), orbited the Earth, and returned. His historic flight made Yuri an international celebrity.  

He stood only 5 ft. 2 in. tall (1.57 m), but had an engaging smile and a remarkable public persona.

With the NHL playoffs official start yesterday, it’s apropos to mention that Yuri Gagarin was an avid hockey player (he was a goalie).

His death (on March 27 1968) was steeped in conspiracy theories: Gagarin and flight instructor Vladimir Servogin crashed and died during a routine training flight in a MiG-15UTI.

I didn’t live through the depression (I’m not quite that old), but it bothers me that young people use the term hobo in a derogatory manner. The stories my parents told me portray the typical depression era hobo that visited their homes as intelligent, hard-working, clean, and polite (I’m sure there were also unsavory sorts, as there are in all walks of life). [image of Hobo Marks found here]

Jobs were scarce during the depression, and hobos were a part of the rural landscape. They were differentiated from those who only worked when forced or did not work at all. Hobos shied away from cities, preferring the migratory lifestyle, where odd-jobs at farms and other rural homes could be exchanged for a meal or a night’s rest in a back room or barn.  Most hobos were men, of any age, but there were couples and solitary women hobos as well. I don’t think today’s rural society would trust  itinerant loners like they did during the depression; for good reason, I suppose: we live in different times.

Hobos had their own community and jargon and below are a few terms from the hobo lexicon (for a longer list click here):

Banjo: a small frying pan; a short-handed shovel

Bakehead: fool ; idiot

Barnacle: A hobo who stays in the same job for a long time

Blowed-in-the-grass: honorable

Bo-ette (also, road sister):  female hobo

Bullets: Beans (poorly cooked; hard)

Bum: a skid row alcoholic, not usually a freight train traveler, does not work

buzz: to beg

cacklers: white-collar workers

California blankets: newspapers

Cat (also: First of May): an inexperienced hobo

Caught the Westbound: Dead

Chuck a dummy: to pretend to faint (for sympathy)

Doggin’ it: Travelling by Greyhound (bus)

Headlights: eggs

Jane: a woman or girl

Lace curtains: whiskers

Mark: a hobo sign relaying information to other hobos (see below)

Mumbly pegs: a woman’s legs

Oliver: the moon

Paul Bunyan: an incurable, but amusing, liar

Snipes: cigarette butts.

[Image: Write on New Jersey]

Saint Patrick’s Day falls on March 17th, the day the world-renowned Patron Saint of Ireland died  (Note: Ireland has two other Patron Saints, Brigid of Kildare and Colmcille, but they are far less well-known).

Much of St. Patrick’s life is unrecorded; fortunately, two of his letters survive (the Declaration, and the Letter to the soldiers of Coroticus), which afford a glimpse of his life.

He was born into a wealthy family in Briton near the end of the fourth century. When he was sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders  and taken to Ireland where he was put to work as a shepherd.

After more than six years as a prisoner, he heard God’s voice in a dream telling him it was time to go home. He escaped by walking over two hundred miles to the coast and secured passage on a ship back to Briton, where he had another dream in which voices asked him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

Fifteen years later, Patrick was ordained as a priest, and, as he was well versed in the language and culture, he was dispatched to Ireland as a minister and missionary.

To ensure a successful establishment of his religion, he integrated established pagan rituals into the Christian messages.  For example, he designed the Celtic cross (a sun — a significant Irish icon — overlaid on the cross) to ensure a natural reverence for the symbol. He also taught the doctrine of the Holy Trinity by using the tri-leaved shamrock, which is why it is a traditional symbol of Saint Patrick’s Day.

To pacify his flock, he declined all gifts; as a consequence, the Irish royalty was insulted, and he was refused protection and was sometimes beaten, robbed, and shackled. But he baptized thousands, ordained priests to lead the emerging community, and converted the sons of kings, and wealthy women (some of whom became nuns).

There are also some legends regarding Saint Patrick that are more difficult to verify; chief among these is that he banished snakes from the island. According to the legend, during a forty day fast at the summit of a hill, snakes attacked him and he drove them into the sea.  It’s an intriguing tale; however, scientific data indicates that ‘post-glacial’ Ireland never had snakes (nor did New Zealand, Iceland, Greenland or the Antarctica).

Fortunately, after a few pints, any lyrical Irish myth is far more believable than the sober analysis of scientific malarkey.

Sláinte!

 

The Ides of March.

In the Roman calendar, Ides indicated a day in the middle of the month; and, in March, it was the fifteenth day.

In early history, Mars, the Roman god of war, was honored with a festival and a military parade on the Ides of March.

And, of course, in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar was assassinated (stabbed twenty-three times) on the Ides of March by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and a group of other Senators who feared his power and popularity (there were, according to the account of Plutarch (Mestrius Plutarchus) sixty conspirators in all).

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The quotes Beware the Ides of March and Et tu, Bruté?, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (~1599), are irrevocably etched into my memory. Caesar did not heed the soothsayer’s warning (from earlier in the play); and, during the assassination, he stopped struggling when he realized how deep the conspiracy was — when he discovered that his close and trusted friend, Brutus, was among the murderous conspirators.

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But Julius Caesar was extremely popular with the middle and lower classes, and the assassination precipitated civil war and the end of the Roman Republic.

Caesar was eventually made a member of the Nine Worthies; the Princes of men, heroes who epitomized the ideal qualities of moral virtue (particularly as regarded military courage and leadership).

The Nine Worthies so honored were: Hector, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Joshua, David, Judas Maccabeus, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon.

Commonwealth Day occurs each year on the second Monday of March.

The Commonwealth is a legacy of the British Empire; most of the original colonies have become republics (with their own head of state), and a handful of countries in the Commonwealth have monarchs from different royal houses. Currently, the Head of the Commonwealth is Queen Elizabeth II, and this is her sixty-first year in office (her reign began in February, 1952). Elizabeth II is also the monarch of sixteen Commonwealth members, known as the Commonwealth realms (Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, Realm of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom).

The members of the Commonwealth sustain and encourage the values as laid out in the Singapore Declaration of 1971 (democracy, human rights, good governance, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multilateralism, and world peace).

Happy Commonwealth Day!

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