August 8, 2009

Today I Took A Little Walk

Category: History — Cranky @

Recently I’ve been bitten by the photography bug. It’s not the first time that I’ve been stung, but this time I’m hooked. The key to getting better, naturally, is practice, and today was a beautiful, sunny day. I decided to take a stroll through the southern half of St. Joachim Cemetery and take pictures of the flowers. A site like that would give me a chance to try different focal styles and layouts, and there were sure to be lots of scenes worthy of a snapshot. As it turns out many of the flowers were fake, but they were pretty anyway.

What I experienced was completely unexpected.

Knowing something about history, I should have known that a cemetery as old as this one would show signs of the world wars, but I didn’t even consider it until I found the corner where suddenly, instead of unique grave markers, there were rows of hundreds of identical headstones. Sure enough, they were military headstones, and most of them bore dates between 1900 and 1950. A large monument stood in this section, engraved with, “To the Memory of Those Who Died for King and Country in the Great War 1914 – 1919”.

In my experience wars are things that happen “somewhere else”, but right here, mere footsteps from my home, are the graves of several thousand soldiers who lost their lives. This thought brings home the realization that they really were “world wars”, and we were involved.

As I continued my walk, I saw an elderly lady watering a grave. I asked if she watered all of them, and she told me no, only those of her husband, and her friends. Her name was Ethel Peet, and her husband died 33 years ago. She took the bus from the far south side of the city in order to water that grave today.

She and I talked about the cemetery, and what it represented. Then we talked about the military area, and that’s when the conversation became fascinating. She was Estonian by birth, and she had fled the country twice, escaping the occupation of the country by both the Germans and the Soviets.

It’s amazing to hear about the World Wars from an eyewitness. She had happy stories, sad stories, and tragic stories. She called them “anecdotes, but true because they’re mine!” She had witnessed atrocities, and found laughter in basic humanity under any circumstances. She told me of how she lost close friends in the early 1940’s when the Soviets deported thousands of Estonians to Siberian labour camps, and how the social structure was layered in the so-called “classless society”.

I learned a great deal, and before I knew it, an hour had passed. She apologized for talking my ear off, and I thanked her for doing just that.

Today was a good day.

Here are some of my pictures.


September 28, 2008

You Owe Them. No Question.

Category: History — Cranky @

The toilet seat has been with us for centuries, and I think back with admiration on the early pioneers who went about making the perfect perch for the great throne. After all, when the seat was designed, there were no modeling systems, nor were there virtual design tools. In short, there were no short cuts.

Those who created the toilet seat did so using the only tools available. They had an idea, and they built prototypes and tested them.

Take a moment and consider what that seat does. It’s primary job is to gently spread apart the cheeks, exposing the sphincter, and to allow feces to be ejected with a minimum of interference. If you doubt the necessity of a careful design, cut yourself a perfectly flat seat and try it out. It will become clear to you that without the curvy design, evacuating your bowels would be a messier proposition. The makers of toilet tissue would love it – they’d sell vastly more product.

When they designed it, there was no other way. Somebody had to sit on that toilet, while somebody else had to examine the position and exposure of the volunteer’s anus. For that reason we owe them thanks. I wouldn’t want to do it.

They’re long gone, but their legacy lives on, even if their names did not. Next time you take your seat on the porcelain throne, light a match in honour of those dedicated rosebud-gazers who made the task so neat and sanitary for you.


November 26, 2007

"Look, Moses… I can't make it any simpler."

Category: History — Cranky @

In the Old Testament there comes a time when Moses ascends Mount Sinai and God lays down the law, so to speak. Ten Commandments, on two stones, spell out the rules by which man is to live. Whether you believe in the story or not, rules five through ten are undoubtedly good rules to live by. Honour thy father and mother, don’t kill, avoid infidelity, don’t steal, don’t lie about other people, and don’t lust after somebody else’s stuff.

Buried in those excellent rules is, “Thou shall not kill.” That commandment is very direct and simple, and of course it has been mostly ignored since then, even by those tasked with upholding these laws. I don’t know how that law could possibly have gotten missed – it’s prominently displayed right there with only nine other serious commands – and since then that law has been broken over and over in the name of God.

The United States is a Christian nation. We are reminded of that fact repeatedly by politicians, preachers and the media. While the constitution has language in it that has been interpreted as requiring a separation of church and state, the reality is quite different. They may be separated, but they’re certainly still seeing each other. At the very least they are “friends with benefits”. Even U.S. currency contains a declaration of faith, which is somewhat ironic given the fact that murder for wealth gives murder for religion a run for its money.

So why, given the basic Christian slant of the people and their government, is the United States still a country that allows the death penalty? When somebody is executed through capital punishment, the deed is performed in direct defiance of that commandment. The United States is saying, “These rules are mostly fine, but I think we’re just going to ignore rule #6. We’ll make up our own mind.” It’s undeniable hypocrisy.

“In God We Trust”, indeed. Capital Punishment is the U.S. giving God the finger.