Monday, May 31, 2010

Overheard in the Sacristy

I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity. Eleanor Roosevelt

On Marketwatch I saw a few lines about the ‘Vatican’s soccer playoffs’, the Clericus Cup, the ‘Vatican’s football championship, played in the shadow of St Peter’s’. This immediately brought a smile to my lips. I remembered that beautiful little film ‘The Cup’ about Buddhist soccer monks. I wondered what a game of soccer played by ordained priests looks like. Do the wingers feint left then go right or do they consider that sinful? When the centre forward is flattened in the penalty zone does he immediately jump up and assure the referee that he is alright, actually he tripped over his own foot?
My curiosity led me to Google the Clericus Cup and my eye caught a blog called Overheard in the Sacristy.  The header photo immediately puts you in the frame of mind you feel when you enter a cathedral. The blog author is Father Loren Gonzales, ‘a priest of the Diocese of Phoenix AZ currently shepherding a parish in Peoria’. Here I found posts, among others, on the Clericus Cup (of course), the scientifically proven anti-depressant qualities of Frankincense, and the official church burial of the recently discovered remains of 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave, his sensational findings condemned by the Roman Catholic Church of the time. I thank my mother and fairy godmother for the curiosity and we will surely be keeping our ears open in future for what is Overheard in the Sacristy.

Today father Gonzales quite rightly dedicates a post to Memorial Day, We remember. He offers a prayer for the fallen, which I take the liberty to reproduce here.

Dear God our Father,

Your word tells us, “Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch” (Psalm 127:1).

Thank You for those who have guarded not only our cities, but our country, allies, and many other communities from unjust and unprincipled aggressors. On this Memorial Day, with a solemn and sacred spirit, we pause to remember and honor the brave men and women in our Armed Forces who gave up their lives for their fellow Americans at home and abroad. Many were young and many were married, with their loved ones praying for them back home; but they were each fighting to protect the freedom we enjoy when they were called to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Dear God, please bless our heroes and heroines with Your mercy, grace, and peace. Bless also their families and friends. May Your perpetual light shine upon them; and may their souls and the souls of all our faithful departed rest in peace. In Jesus’ name.


Friday, May 28, 2010

La femme chinoise

While I remember, I must share with you another piece of music and video by Maxence Cyrin. If you liked his version of Where is my mind? I am sure you will love this version of La femme chinoise (translates as ‘the Chinese woman’). This time I am including the original 1979 version of the song by Yellow Magic Orchestra so that you can really appreciate what Cyrin has accomplished. Here is the original:

And here is Cyrin’s beautiful transformation. Not only that, Cyrin has shown exquisite taste in setting this music to scenes from Wu Yonggang’s The Goddess (1934) with film star Ruan Lingyu. I found this creative music video very touching, I hope you enjoy it as much.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yiddish proverbs - faults and virtues

A little charm and you are not ordinary.
Charm is more than beauty.
No man suffers from another's sins - he has enough of his own.
Charity and pride have different aims, yet both feed the poor.
Charity covers a multitude of sins.
Charity excuseth not cheating.
One good deed has many claimants.
Spare us what we can learn to endure.
An imaginary ailment is worse than a disease.
A living dog is better than a dead lion.
If you lie on the ground, you can't fall.
It is far easier to spot faults in another than virtues in oneself.
The girl who can't dance says the band can't play.
It is the kindness and not the harshness in the headmaster’s voice that pushes tough boys to cry.
Understanding is something we're sure the other fellow hasn't got.
Laughter is heard farther than weeping.
What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul
Weeping makes the heart grow lighter.
One always thinks that others are happy.
Your neighbour’s apples are the sweetest.
Your pot broken seems better than my whole one.
All brides are beautiful; all the dead are pious.
If you're going to do something wrong, enjoy it!
A bad peace is better than a good war.
The soldiers fight, and the kings are heroes.
The whole world is a big town.
Measure the corn of others with your own bushel.
Make no more haste than good speed.
Show her the rudder, but don't steer her boat.
A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.
A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity.
We have far greater compassion for another's misfortune than our pleasure in another's good fortune.
When fortune calls, offer her a chair.

Image ‘Sound of Heavens’ from Yossef Sofrim

Friday, May 21, 2010

Yiddish proverbs - in adversity

The wheel turns round.
Confidence is half of victory.
If you ever need a helping hand you'll find one at the end of your arm.
He that cannot endure the bad, will not live to see the good.
If things are not as you wish, wish them as they are.
If we cannot do what we will, we must will what we can.
When one must, one can.
Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.
Trouble does not come alone.
Trouble is to man what rust is to iron.
Worries go down better with soup.
Fleas are not lobsters.
Bad habits are easier to abandon today than tomorrow.
The wagon rests in winter, the sleigh in summer, the horse never.
Tomorrow your horse may be lame.
You can't measure the whole world with your own yardstick.
Do not throw away the old bucket until you know whether the new one holds water.
Do not throw a stone into a well from which you have drunk.
Do not spit into the well - you might drink from it later.
If a link is broken, the whole chain breaks.
If a man is destined to drown, he will drown even in a spoonful of water.
If you do not want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.
Time is the best doctor.
The glaciers did not freeze overnight.
With time, even a bear can learn to dance.
You can throw a cat wherever you want, it always falls on its feet.
If each one sweeps before his own door, the whole street is clean.
If you want your dreams to come true, don't sleep.
Sleep faster, we need the pillows.
Uphill one climbs slowly, downhill one rolls fast.
Had you gotten up early, you would not have needed to stay up late.
Provide for the worst; the best can take care of itself.
Bygone troubles are good to tell.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Ching and mistrust in the markets

As I was watching the market mayhem today and reading about Germany’s decision to ban certain types of short selling I reflected about my recent post on I Ching hexagram 38. Opposition and how it could be applied to that decision. The markets seemed just to be regaining some poise following the announcement of the bailout for the Euro when Germany announced the ban on short selling. The markets interpreted this as a sign of panic or as a sign that the German Government knew something the market didn’t and investors promptly started selling off again. Having just written that post, I saw in this another example of misunderstanding and mistrust in a situation of ‘opposition’:

If we think, in pursuing our path, that everything is going against us, and we suspect that we are not getting the help we need, this hexagram tells us that we are mistaken; we are being helped, although we don’t realize it. We should not allow ourself to become isolated through mistrust.

The Germans would have been far better off not trying to support the Euro through ‘force’ for what they have attempted has had the opposite effect and has merely created more distrust and misunderstanding:

Fire and water never mingle. It is the same with enlightenment and worry. We cannot see with clarity as long as we are subject to restless fears. Opposition (misunderstanding) occurs because of mistrust, doubt, fear, or anxiety. Events which appear evil may provide the only means by which matters may be clarified and corrected. Before clarity can be attained mistrust must be eliminated by refusing to listen to our arguing ego.

The underlying problem, the truth of the problem, is not about controlling speculation, but about reducing debt and about the solidarity of the EEC in taking the necessary action. Address the underlying truth and there will be no need to use force.

If we are in a situation of opposition to someone because of misunderstanding, we inwardly go in opposite directions. This cannot be rectified by frontal attacks or brusqueness, or by wooing them. Mistrust bars this. We must simply go on our own way in dignity, and depend on the power of truth to gently penetrate through.

The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster - what really happened

At IKN (Inca Kola News), one of my regular financial haunts, I read this post about revelations from industry experts in the know about what really happened leading up to the explosion of BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon. In the comments section I found a link to  this article which sums up what happened in layman’s terms:

BP contracted Schlumberger (SLB) to run the Cement Bond Log (CBL) test that was the final test on the plug that was skipped. The people testifying have been very coy about mentioning this, and you’ll see why.
SLB is an extremely highly regarded (and incredibly expensive) service company. They place a high standard on safety and train their workers to shut down unsafe operations.
SLB gets out to the Deepwater Horizon to run the CBL, and they find the well still kicking heavily, which it should not be that late in the operation. SLB orders the “company man” (BP’s man on the scene that runs the operation) to dump kill fluid down the well and shut-in the well. The company man refuses. SLB in the very next sentence asks for a helo to take all SLB personel back to shore. The company man says there are no more helo’s scheduled for the rest of the week (translation: you’re here to do a job, now do it). SLB gets on the horn to shore, calls SLB’s corporate HQ, and gets a helo flown out there at SLB’s expense and takes all SLB personnel to shore.
6 hours later, the platform explodes.

What strikes me about this story is the probable role of morality in it and the consequences in the real world of moral and immoral decisions. Let me conjecture for a moment…
BP hires Schlumberger for their expertise to do a job. The Sclumberger man tells the BP man he should shut down the well because it is unsafe. Why would the BP man refuse? Schlumberger are the experts on that part of the operation. Could it be that Schlumberger has a company culture of safety first which allowed (and obliged) the Schlumberger man to refuse to work on the rig, whereas BP, as evidenced by the BP man’s decision, has a different culture?
The consequences of immoral decisions on Wall Street have no tangible, immediate, visible effects. The consequences of immoral decisions in the oil industry do: explosions, deaths, pollution, environmental disaster. Those things cannot be fixed by lowering an interest rate. Perhaps if the consequences of Wall Street immorality were a dozen dead brokers and a billion barrels of black crude floating down the streets of New York there would be a different Wall Street culture.

Image from Space Gizmo

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Ching, therefore I Pod - Hexagram 38. Opposition

In my post I Ching for I Pod I told you about a great I Pod application for the I Ching from Flat Earth Studios. And I recently used it to consult the I Ching about that nasty bit of untruthfulness that I encountered at work and that angered me enormously. As I told you before, I have never consulted the I Ching without it being spot on in the pertinence of its advice. But this time I was more amazed than ever, as the answer it gave me was Hexagram 38, Opposition. Here is the text from the translation I use in this app (one of many), A Guide to the I Ching, by Carol K. Anthony (italics are mine):

This hexagram is synonymous with misunderstanding. Opposition arises from misconceptions. Either we misunderstood the Sage, or Fate, or the meaning of life, or the cosmic order of values, or ourself or others. People go in opposition to the correct way because they misunderstand the great truths that would liberate them from their fear to follow it.
If we think, in pursuing our path, that everything is going against us, and we suspect that we are not getting the help we need, this hexagram tells us that we are mistaken; we are being helped, although we don’t realize it. We should not allow ourself to become isolated through mistrust.
Fire and water never mingle. It is the same with enlightenment and worry. We cannot see with clarity as long as we are subject to restless fears. Opposition (misunderstanding) occurs because of mistrust, doubt, fear, or anxiety. Events which appear evil may provide the only means by which matters may be clarified and corrected. Before clarity can be attained mistrust must be eliminated by refusing to listen to our arguing ego.
If we are in a situation of opposition to someone because of misunderstanding, we inwardly go in opposite directions. This cannot be rectified by frontal attacks or brusqueness, or by wooing them. Mistrust bars this. We must simply go on our own way in dignity, and depend on the power of truth to gently penetrate through.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Universal Dinner Lady revisited

In my Ship’s log for May 2010 I said that with the coming of Spring there were suddenly far too many demands on my time and energy. I made the analogy that the The Universal Dinner Lady insisted on dancing even if I didn’t feel like it. I explained about the forces of yin and yang rising and falling in their natural rhythm. My girlfriend, who is very intelligent (she will read this), seemed to misunderstand the analogy and asked me if she was being too demanding. And she is Chinese, so if she didn’t understand, maybe others didn’t.
The Universal Dinner Lady is another way of saying the Tao. In Stephen Russel’s analogy, instead of being dowdy grumpy and mean as in our school days, she is portrayed as being sexy, generous, and playful. The Tao is the source of everything in this world. We can ask for anything and she will give. But instead of demanding our dinner ticket, she demands to dance. To get what we want we have to ‘follow the Tao’. We have to put ourselves into the position to receive what it is we want. And the forces of yin and yang are a good way to understand how that can happen. I tried to explain it but I will let Stephen Russel do it better. I was actually thinking of his explanation anyway. Here it is, from his best (in my opinion) book, Barefoot Doctor’s Guide to the Tao:

The Tao gives and the Tao takes away. When it gives, you’re full; when it takes away, you’re empty again, ready to be filled with something new. Knowing this won’t change your life. The cycle of alternation between yin and yang is inexhaustible. But it may soften the blow of the ebb and flow.

Yin is empty, yang is full. Yin is soft, yang is hard, Yin comes down, yang goes up. Yin comes in, yang goes out. Yin gets cold, yang heats up. Yin gets damp, yang dries up. Yin is quiet, yang is loud. Yin retreats, yang advances. (…)

Yin and yang, like night and day, turn into their opposite number on reaching maximum potential. Thus, as the night reaches its darkest moment, the sun is already sending its first tentative rays over the horizon, and those damn birds start their tweeting… As the day reaches its brightest point, the night is already lurking, ready to cover the sky once again. When the passing police siren reaches its loudest moment, the silence is already following in its wake.
It’s the same with the energy in your body. If you go to the extremes of physical activity (yang), you exhaust yourself, and you have to rest (yin). If you stop for long enough, you grow restless and go back out again for more (yang). Obviously, if either yin or yang goes beyond that point, thereby losing its connection with the other, you die. Unchecked yin makes you congeal. Unchecked yang makes you evaporate.
Possibly the most pertinent use of this classification is in distinguishing full (yang) from empty (yin) in your relationship with the world. When your energy to go out into the world is strong, i.e. yang, and the world appears to receive you, you are considered to be full and the world empty; that is, you go and fill the world. When the world is knocking on your door and screaming at you from all directions, the world is then full and you’d better be empty!

That’s what I meant. Stephen Russel’s book is full of eye-opening insights like that which have stuck with me these last 10 years or so. I am sure I have integrated many and they have helped me probably in more ways than I realize. If this insight speaks to you, you should check him out, he is a delight to read.

Images: Aki Hoshino doing a good impersonation of the Universal Dinner Lady in full and empty mode.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Yiddish proverbs - money

Money is on many people’s minds at the moment. I know it is on my mind. We watch the financial crisis unfolding on TV or the internet like a slow motion train wreck. Sovereign debt crisis. Quantitive easing. Credit default swaps. Fiat currency collapse. Inflation-deflation. Moral hazard. Record gold prices.
It was much simpler in the old days (when I was a kid): you worked for money, then you spent it. Sometimes you even saved it to spend later. I agree with Paul Volcker: the last good innovation from the financial industry was the automatic teller machine. I also agree with Teddy Roosevelt:

Americanism means the virtues of courage, honour, justice, truth, sincerity, and hardihood - the virtues that made America. The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price ... the love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life.

The one good thing coming out of this whole international financial quagmire is that the collective consciousness is being raised about money and morals and the responsible government necessary to achieve financial health.

You can’t expect a viable economy if the only object of government policy is to be re-elected every four years. Sir Arnold Weinstock

We need to go back to basics. When you are exhausted you still have the strength to be simple.

Here are some Yiddish proverbs passed down the generations. They were valid back then, they are valid today but nobody thinks of them.

Golden dreams make men wake hungry.
Interest on debts grows without rain.
Money buys everything but good sense.
If you have nothing to lose, you can try anything.
Once poor, never rich.
Money doesn't grow on trees.
Money is round, so it rolls away.
If I dealt in candles, the sun wouldn't set; if I dealt in shrouds, people would stop dying.
Charge nothing and you'll get a lot of customers.
Every seller praises his wares.
Life is the cheapest bargain - you get it for nothing.
What you save is, later, like something found.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
A penny is sometimes better spent than spared.
A penny is a lot of money - if you haven't got a penny.
The heaviest thing in the world is an empty pocket.
He that cannot pay, let him pray.
A heavy purse makes a light heart.
A golden key will open every lock.
It costs money to sin.              
A trade makes you a king, but robs you of your leisure.
Gold's father is dirt, yet it regards itself as noble.
Golden dishes will never turn black.
Better an ounce of luck than a pound of gold.
When luck joins in the game, cleverness scores double.
A rich man who is stingy is the worst pauper.
A rich man's foolish sayings pass for wise ones.
With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too.
If the rich could hire someone to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living.
The truly rich are those who enjoy what they have.
Happy poverty overcomes everything.
He who comes for the inheritance is often made to pay for the funeral.
When the father gives to his son, both laugh; when the son gives to his father, both cry.

Image from Wikipedia: silver shekel minted in Jerusalem in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome in 68 C.E.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yiddish proverbs - the fool and the wise man

Here is the first of a series of posts featuring lists of Yiddish proverbs by subject. We start with the fool and the wise man. I think all cultures have such proverbs, certainly in English we do – fools rush in where brave men fear to tread etc. So it is a subject and a form that is well recognised and we eagerly soak up these new perspectives on an old subject.

As I was thinking of an intro I realized that there is really no such thing as a pure fool or a pure wise man. We are all fools on some subject or other and we are all relatively wise on some subjects. Not only that, we can be fools for short periods of time, for example when we are stuck (when we ‘do the same thing over and over expecting a different result’), when we are ‘dis-couraged’, or when we are angry. And even foolish people can take on the mantle of wisdom when they are fearless, when they speak the truth that others dare only to think, and when they are sincerely themselves.
So we all have something of a working relationship with stupidity and wisdom and I found that relationship very well put in this quote, which I just happened to fall upon today:

Every creative act is a sudden cessation of stupidity. Edwin Land

With that in mind, here are the collective insights of countless Yiddish generations on the fool and the wise man.

A fool can ask more questions in an hour than a wise man can answer in a year.
A dead man is mourned seven days; a fool, his lifetime.
A fool is his own informer.
A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
A fool who can keep silent is counted among the wise.
If you seek a reputation for wisdom, agree with everyone.
A fool grows without rain.
The complete fool is half prophet.
Not everyone who sits in the seat of honour is master.
Send a fool to close the shutters and he'll close them all over town.
Send a fool to the market and a fool he will return.
A schlemiel lands on his back, and bruises his nose.
We are all schlemiels.
Hope may give a man strength, but not sense.
If the head doesn't work it's bad news for the legs.
When the stomach is empty, so is the brain.
Some people are like new shoes - the cheaper they are, the louder they squeak!
One fool is an expert on the other.
The crow flies high and alights on a pig.
A snake deserves no pity.
A chip on the shoulder indicates wood higher up.
A dog without teeth will also attack a bone.
Show a dog a finger, and he wants the whole hand.
Many complain of their looks, but none of their brains.

A wise man hears one word and understands two.
A wise man knows what he says; a fool says what he knows.
All signs are misleading.
Better ask ten times than go astray once.
He that cannot ask cannot live.
When a wise man talks to a fool, two fools are talking.
Hell shared with a sage is better than paradise with a fool.
Talking comes by nature, silence by wisdom.
Talk is worth a shilling; silence is worth two.
Talk too much and you talk about yourself.
Protest long enough that you are right, and you will be wrong.
Silence is also speech.
Beware of still water, a still dog, and a still enemy.
The wise man, even when he holds his tongue, says more than the fool when he speaks.
Time and words can't be recalled, even if it was only yesterday.
One good forewit is worth two afterwits.
Words should be weighed, not counted.
Words show the wit of a man, but actions his meaning. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Yiddish proverbs and sleepless nights

2h30 in the morning and I cannot sleep. I think of a wrong that has been done to me recently and anger wells up in me like a flood against the person responsible. I cannot reign in that rolling chariot of anger and sometimes I think that I don’t even want to. And for what? Words.
This afternoon, to take my mind off the anger, I sorted through some Yiddish proverbs that I have been planning to post on the blog. Regular readers will know that I often post quotations on the blog and in my travels I have come across a few Yiddish proverbs. I always found them very pithy, down to earth and jolting in their ability to make you see the truth. I discovered more reading Life’s Daily Blessings by Rabbi Kerry M. Orlitzky. This one for example:

If I would be like someone else, who would be like me?

I wish I had found that one when I was 15 years old and searching for my identity.

So this afternoon, as I sorted through my Yiddish proverbs, I began to think of the people who made these proverbs: all the generations of Jews who repeated these phrases to themselves and to their children so often that they became part of the Yiddish psyche. And I began to think how small my anger was. When compared to the possibilities of wrongs that one person can do to another, the wrong I had suffered was small. ‘Fleas are not lobsters.’ If you cannot sleep because of a few miserable words, what would you have done if you had lived through the Second World War for example, where wrongs done were counted in loved ones taken, imprisoned, killed?

I saw in these Yiddish proverbs, that wrongs have always been and will always be and that my wrongs are not something out of the ordinary at all. Every proverb is a witness of the experiences and wisdom of many people in times gone by. It took away some of the sting.
But still I won’t rest well until ‘the wheel turns round’ and truth comes out.

The entire world rests on the tip of the tongue.
Truth never dies, but lives a wretched life.
Truth is the safest lie.
When the light is crooked, the shadow is crooked.
Half an answer also says something.
A half-truth is a whole lie.
A word is like an arrow - both are in a hurry to strike.
A slap heals but a harsh word is remembered.
He who puts up with insult invites injury.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ship's log - May 2010

Spring is here (even though it snowed in Montreal last week) and suddenly (it seems) there are far too many demands on my time and energy. The universal dinner lady insists on dancing even if I don’t feel like it. In the winter it seems acceptable to curl up and hibernate with a good book or 20. But not in spring. Now the garden demands attention, work demands attention, the stock market demands attention, and my health and sanity demand attention. Oh yes and the blog demands attention. The rise and fall of our energy level, our willingness to dance with the world, has a natural rhythm: sometimes we are full of Yin, sometimes full of Yang, sometimes there is a balance. When you know this, it is easier to accept and to manage your energy level and to begin to regain that balance.
To give you an idea how ‘bad’ it is, I bought 2 books last week: ‘The 150 Most Effective ways to Boost Your Energy’ and  ‘Intentions and Goals: A Journal to Help You Discover Your Best Life.’ I haven’t had the time and energy to read them yet (*cough*) but I did flick through a few pages and I will leave you with a few very inspiring and pertinent quotes from the latter book. After all this is an inspirational blog you know:

The unexamined life is not worth living. - Socrates

Our bodies communicate to us clearly and specifically, if we are willing to listen to them. – Shakti Gawain

What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond