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Flags, shrouds, martyrs and the Fallen

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- burial flags, shrouds on the unknown, and the black banner seen from a new angle ]
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I feel grief.

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We are, by now, all too well aware of the cost of war in lives. Sometimes those lives are of unknown souls, perhaps belligerents, perhaps partisans, perhaps peace-makers, perhaps simple souls caught in the cross-fire…

Caitlin Fit Gerald has a suitable memorial for those recently dead in Egypt, which I won’t reproduce here because I would make her already scaled-down images even smaller and less impressive if I did — click through to The Dead, When The Dying Is Done, then click again to see the images at better scale.

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Sometimes the dead are our foes.

What interests me particularly on this occasion is seeing the Sunni Islamist black banner in what is for me a new context — draped like the Shi’ite flag of Islamist Hezballah on the martyrs of their faith.

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It raises for me another question: Hezbollah and the Salafi jihadists alike term their dead “martyrs”. We honor ours no less, wrapping them in symbols of that greater cause for which they gave their lives — “country” — and call them “patriots” to distinguish their cause, and “heroes” to salute their courage.

Yet they gave their lives. To indicate and honor this, we call them “the Fallen” — and perhaps in its quiet way it is enough.

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Further dangers lurking “in the kitchen of your mom”

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- for our bizarre humor section, and featuring the word beer-goggled ]
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These two headlines from today’s findings struck me as painting a dark picture of the dangers hidden in even the brightest of kitchens these days:

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I’ll have to admit that I was torn, though — that penis and toaster headline cried out to be paired with another — illustrate illustrating between them the follies prevalent in my country of origin, and the necessity of parental guidance for its denizens:

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Sources:

  • The Atlantic Wire, Google Pressure Cookers and Backpacks
  • The Guardian, Do try not to get your penis stuck
  • NBC News, Drunken Brits fall foul of a pigeon
  • **

    My own roots are Scottish, so I was particularly proud to see the paras in the Drunk Brits piece which read:

    The video showed a clip from security cameras at Scotland’s Edinburgh Waverley station in which two men dressed in kilts – possibly supporters of Scotland’s rugby or football teams – on a platform.

    One tries to kick out at a pigeon but misses and his momentum causes him to fall onto the tracks in front of a stationary train.

    “The pigeon will always win when you are beer-goggled,” the caption says, using a slang term for the altered perceptions of a drunk.

    I even learned a new hyphenated word in all this mad kerfuffle: will wonders never cease?

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    Turkey and the unicorn

    Monday, June 17th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- i don't do much in the way of cat pics, so here's a timely geopolitical unicorn for you ]
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    What with the Whole Wired World looking a bit both “1984″ and “Brave New” this week, and with Turkey clearly itching to up its rep as an authoritarian state, you might not think this would be the week a Turkish customs official would stamp a unicorn’s passport…

    What can I tell you? Someone did. A Turkish customs official allowed this young British girl, Emily Harris, into Turkey by stamping her unicorn’s passport.

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    If I was Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and I’m not, and unlikely yo be any time soon — I might want to give that man a medal for providing the one news item this week favorable to the Turkish tourist trade — at a time when images of tear gassings in hotels and water cannonades in parks can hardly be helping the country’s image as an attractive place to visit.

    Seriously — Public Diplomacy, one child’s passport at a time.

    And while you’re at it, quit gassing hotels with children in them, will you? It’s barbaric.

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    Human beings a whole lot more interesting than expected

    Thursday, June 6th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- human beings are a whole lot more interesting than was previously thought, evidence suggests ]
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    First, you should know that the English Defence League is, by its own account, “an inclusive movement dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism.”

    Now read on..

    Or as Qur’an 49.13 puts it:

    O mankind, We have created you male and female, and appointed you races and tribes, that you may know one another.

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    The Gospel suggests, Matthew 5.44:

    Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…

    and I am put in mind of this pair of images, both of which feature people I learned about for the first time in just the last couple of days:

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    Rev. Will D Campbell is the one shaking hands with Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy after the MLK assassination, in the top panel of the DoubleQuote above. He was a rare man — as the NYT puts is, “one of the few white clerics with an extensive field record as a civil rights activist” — which naturally reminds me, too, of my own mentor, Fr. Trevor Huddleston.

    C.P. Ellis was a Ku Klux Klan leader until he met civil rights worker Ann Atwater, with whom he is pictured immediately below Abernathy and Campbell.

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    Wait, there’s more –

    The first pair of images, above, comes from the UK, and the second pair from the US. So what’s the difference?

    Apparently, the Brits serve tea while the Americans sip whiskey

    Abernathy’s reverend friend is the gentleman described in the lower panel here, the one who drinks whiskey with Klansmen. Go figure: love trumps hate.

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    To get the full charge of these various stories, you might want to read:

  • Woolwich Attacks: Muslim Leaders At York Mosque Invite EDL In For Tea
  • EDL March With Muslims In Ipswich In Memory Of Lee Rigby
  • Rev. Will D. Campbell, Maverick Minister in Civil Rights Era, Dies at 88
  • The Ann Atwater approach
  • **

    Of course, the type of beverage you offer on these occasions must depend to some extent on the dietary habits and restrictions of both parties…

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    The easy way or the hard way?

    Saturday, June 1st, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- thinking more in terms of challenge than of threat, and skipping via Chicago Law, Everest, and Handel's Messiah to a Venn diagram of the workings of conscience ]
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    Well, I don’t always read the Chicago Law Review cover to cover, or even at all to be honest — but I confess I did like this opening paragraph from George Loewenstein† & Ted O’Donoghue†† (love those daggers after your names, guys):

    If you ever have the misfortune to be interrogated, and the experience resembles its depiction in movies, it is likely that your interrogator will inform you that “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” The interrogator is telling you, with an economy of words, that you are going to spill the beans; the only question is whether you will also get tortured — which is the hard way. In this Essay, we argue that much consumption follows a similar pattern, except that the torturer is oneself.

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    Here’s the easy vs hard contrast I was thinking about as I googled my way to the Law Review — as you’ll see, it has nothing to do with interrogation:

    **

    So, a little background. Jason Burke has been covering Everest for The Guardian lately, since it has been almost exactly sixty years since Hillary and Tenzing were the first to “conquer” the highest peak on earth — and one of his reports caught my eye — Everest may have ladder installed to ease congestion on Hillary Step:

    It was the final obstacle, the 40 feet of technical climbing up a near vertical rock face that pushed Sir Edmund Hillary to the limit. Once climbed, the way to the summit of Mount Everest lay open.

    Now, almost exactly 60 years after the New Zealander and his rope-mate, Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, stood on the highest point in the planet, a new plan has been mooted to install a ladder on the famous Hillary Step, as the crucial pitch at nearly 29,000ft has been known since it was first ascended. The aim is to ease congestion.

    That’s what the upper panel, above, is all about — and I think it contrasts nicely with the bottom panel, which shows a rurp. Should you need one, you can obtain your own Black Diamond rurp here.

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    Rurps are awesome. Here are two descriptions of them, both taken from the mountaineering literature, and neither one of them focusing in too closely on the poetry of the name…

    Steve Rope, Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, p. 107:

    Chouinard’s “rurp” was obviously something special. An acronym for “realized ultimate reality piton,” this ludicrously small fragment of heat-treated steel opened our eyes to untold possibilities.

    and Chris Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 273:

    It was about the size of a postage stamp. The business end was the thickness of a knife blade and penetrated only a quarter-inch into the rock. With several of these Realized Ultimate Reality Pitons, or rurps, Chouinard and Frost made the crux pitch on Kat Pinnacle (A4). It was the most difficult aid climb in North America.

    Chouinard named this postage-stamp-sized thing the realized ultimate reality piton (RURP) because if you willingly and literally hang your life on that quarter-inch of steel, you’re liable to realize, well, ultimate reality.

    Zen — yours for $15 and exemplary courage.

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    Here’s my question: should we make the hard way easier?

    When is that a kindness, and when is it foolish?

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    In its own way, of course, a rurp is an assist — it makes the hard way a tad easier for the serious climber.

    As indeed would the proposed “ladder” on Everest: here’s why it might be not-such-a-bad idea:

    This year, 520 climbers have reached the summit of Everest. On 19 May, around 150 climbed the last 3,000ft of the peak from Camp IV within hours of each other, causing lengthy delays as mountaineers queued to descend or ascend harder sections.

    “Most of the traffic jams are at the Hillary Step because only one person can go up or down. If you have people waiting two, three or even four hours that means lots of exposure [to risk]. To make the climbing easier, that would be wrong. But this is a safety feature,” said Sherpa…

    Besides, the idea is to set it up as a one-way street…

    Frits Vrijlandt, the president of the International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation (UIAA), said the ladder could be a solution to the increasing numbers of climbers on the mountain.

    “It’s for the way down, so it won’t change the climb,” Vrijlandt told the Guardian.

    Ah, but then there’s human nature to consider:

    It is unlikely, however, that tired ascending climbers close to their ultimate goal will spurn such an obvious aid at such an altitude.

    Bah!

    **

    Shouldn’t we just level the top off, as Handel and Isaiah 4.4 suggest, and as we’re doing in the Appalachians?

    A little mountaintop removal mining, a helipad, and voilà — even I could make it to the summit!

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    But to return to Loewenstein† & O’Donoghue†† — their paper’s full title was “We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way”: Negative Emotions, Self-Regulation, and the Law — how can a theologian such as myself resist a diagram such as this?

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