Feeling Helpless About Syria

Unless you live in a cave somewhere, you know what’s going on in Aleppo, Syria right now. And if you’re like me, you’re feeling pretty darned helpless about it. People are being slaughtered and I’m looking at my empty guest room. I’d take them all in if I could. I’d stack ‘em up like cordwood. At least they’d be warm and not have to worry about the world exploding around them.

But it’s not that simple. I wish it were. Contrary to what the Republicans would have you believe, it is extremely difficult to sponsor a refugee. I’ve looked into it.

This is the same level of helplessness I felt during the slaughter in Rwanda. And it’s the same frustration I continue to feel about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. No government seems to be willing to step up and do something about this atrocity. Everyone is looking the other way. People are starving. Children are dying. Women are committing suicide rather than be raped. Men are being blown to bits. And even the UN, despite various resolutions, seems loathe to intervene.

I did find a little comfort in this fundraiser for The White Helmets. This group of heroes has been saving lives in Syria, on a purely volunteer basis, since 2013. They’ve put themselves in the path of the bombs to pull people out of the rubble, and according to their website, have saved 73,530 lives to date. The stories on this website will break your heart.

They risk their lives every single day, while I stare at my empty guest room. I feel sick. And while raising money for this amazing group of people doesn’t seem like nearly enough to do, it’s all I can think of to do at this time. Won’t you help? Even as little as $5.00 will buy them a pair of safety goggles to protect their eyes. That’s better than sitting here watching the tears flow from mine.

I just donated enough for 5 goggles. I wish I could afford to contribute enough money for a gas mask or a defibrillator. I wish I could do more. But together, we can do a lot more than just sit and wring our hands. That counts for something, right?

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I’d much rather that you donate to the cause above, but after you’ve done that, if the spirit moves you, check out my refreshingly positive book for these depressingly negative times. http://amzn.to/2cCHgUu

The Majority Minority

The other day I was listening to an interview on National Public Radio. The woman who was speaking was a refugee from Yemen who had to flee that country under a hail of bullets, and had lost everything she ever had. She was discussing how hard it had been to get out of the country, and how no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help her.

I sat there for a long time after the interview, trying to imagine what it must be like to be surrounded by people who won’t let you leave a war zone and only want you dead. I tried to picture myself in a situation where everything I had worked for my entire life was taken from me, and there was no positive future on the horizon.

My reality is one in which I’m relatively secure. I don’t fear waking up with a gun pointed at my face. It’s a safe bet that the vast majority of the people that I love will not die violent deaths. And while I’ve had to struggle to get where I am, and have, indeed, suffered more than one setback in my life, I’m fairly certain that an RPG isn’t going to detonate in my living room. I won’t even be racially profiled by my local police force.

I can’t imagine how it must change you to live a reality other than mine. What do you become? How do you see the world? How do you survive? I haven’t done anything to deserve the luxury that I enjoy. And safety is a luxury. I just happened to be born the right color in the right place at the right time.

I am considered part of the majority. But as more of the world is war-torn and suffers from senseless tragedies, I have to wonder if my “norm” isn’t really in the minority, and if, perhaps, the darkness is not advancing. The sad thing is I have no idea what to do about it. But the very, very least I can do is appreciate my good fortune.

Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.
Somali refugees fleeing Yemen.

Epic Journey

If you read no other blog besides this one (I’m so freakin’ modest), you absolutely must check out that of Paul Salopek on the National Geographic website. He is the man who is taking the Out of Eden Walk, a seven year, 21,000 mile journey from the cradle of civilization in Ethiopia to the tip of South America. Currently he’s walking through Anatolia in Turkey, and his blog entry makes you feel as though you’re experiencing the tastes and sights firsthand.

A seven year commitment to anything in this era of twitter and divorce and all things instant is to be commended, but to do it on foot, all year round, in the harshest of weather… I can’t even be bothered to walk across the street to the mailbox when it’s raining out. I can’t imagine offering myself up for being footsore, tired, exposed, lonely, and vulnerable for seven weeks, let alone seven years. And this is a Pulitzer prize winning writer. It’s not as if he were desperate for work. Amazing. I want to meet this guy!

Following his journey will teach you much about culture, geography, hunger, climate change, politics, history, and war. It will cause you to think globally. I can’t imagine a more epic way to start the new year.

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[Image credit: NationalGeographic.com]

A Horrifying Anniversary That You May Know Nothing About

I’m 49 years old, and I’m just learning about something horrendous that happened on this day only a few years before I was born. I have no idea why this should be the case, other than the fact that I had a spotty and typically subpar Florida public school education.

I knew about the Algerian War in which that country ultimately gained its independence from France. That independence was hard-won indeed, and that war was extremely dirty on both sides– full of torture, disappearances, bombings and atrocities too numerous to mention. What I didn’t know about was the Paris massacre of 1961, in which at least 40, but quite possibly 200 people died.

On October 17th, 1961 in the city of Paris, 30,000 Algerians staged a protest about the Algerian War. According to Wikipedia, “Many demonstrators died when they were violently herded by police into the River Seine, with some thrown from bridges after being beaten unconscious. Other demonstrators were killed within the courtyard of the Paris police headquarters after being arrested and delivered there in police buses. Officers who participated in the courtyard killings took the precaution of removing identification numbers from their uniforms, while senior officers ignored pleas by other policemen who were shocked when witnessing the brutality. Silence about the events within the police headquarters was further enforced by threats of reprisals from participating officers.”

In 1998, the French government finally acknowledged the death of 40 people on that tragic day. In 1999 the national assembly finally passed a law that allowed the term “Algerian War” to be used. What a shocking level of revisionist history to participate in for nearly half a century. But I doubt that any government can escape that accusation. God knows America can’t. I know I will never gaze upon the Seine in the same way again.

I couldn’t even tell you about how I recently learned about this event. It got overshadowed by my utter disgust that it isn’t more widely discussed. It made me wonder what else I am blissfully ignorant of. We live in a world in which there are so many brutalities that more and more of them fall by the wayside. So I decided that on this day I would bear witness in my humble blog, because 200 lives, even one life for that matter, is too precious to forget.

Please join me in a moment of silence.

deadalgerian

I got this image from an amazing article that can be found here.

Swamplandia

I’ll be the first to admit that I have entirely too much time on my hands. My imagination can sometimes take me to very strange places. Anyone who knows me well tends to shake his or her head and smile weakly at me when forced aboard one of my flights of fancy. This is one of those flights, so fasten your seatbelts.

Have you ever thought about how lucky we are to have the sun for reasons other than unrelenting heat? Because of the sun, the natural order of things it that everything tends to become dryer, not wetter. Imagine living in a world where we somehow still had warmth, but where soggy was the natural state. No one outside of Seattle can probably fully comprehend this concept.

In that type of environment, everywhere would be swampy. It would be hard to construct anything because the ground would be unstable. Everything would be slippery and slimy, and the air would be thick with the smell of mold and rot. We’d be more apt to move about by boat than by car.

People couldn’t wear clothing because it would become increasingly damp and heavy and you’d have a permanent case of raisin-finger, only all over your body. We’d probably have to evolve to have feathers and a thick layer of blubber just to stay warm and dry. Our mindset would have to be completely different to avoid going insane. The drip, drip, drip alone would probably do my head in.

Land on higher ground would be at a premium, and rich people would avoid the waterfront properties rather than flock to them as they do today. We would still wage war over oil, unfortunately, because that would probably be the only thing that would burn well, and people’s ability to have fire would be the key to their survival. Fire tenders would be esteemed members of society.

Isn’t it amazing how much we take natural law for granted? Aren’t you glad you’re dry? We really do have a lot to be grateful for.

Swamp

Swamp, by JJcanvas on deviantART

Jeannette Rankin: A Woman Who Stood Alone

Recently I watched a program about the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in it they mentioned in passing that after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt went to congress to ask them to declare war on Japan and there was only one vote against it. Think about that for a minute. That had to take guts. We all remember how much patriotic pressure there was after 9/11. Most of us alive today can only imagine how intense it was after Pearl Harbor.

The resolution passed the Senate 82-0, and in Congress it passed 388-1. Who would have the courage to stand up against 470 of his fellow politicians and overwhelming public sentiment, and say, rightly or wrongly, on public record for all eternity, “I disagree”? There was hissing in the gallery when that vote was cast, and an angry mob pursued the voter after the fact. I had to find out more about this person.

And what an interesting person she turned out to be. Yes, she. Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, was the first woman ever elected to the United States Congress, and ironically this occurred in 1917, when not all women in this country had the right to vote. She was for women’s suffrage, of course, and against child labor, and a devout pacifist her entire life. She voted against the war in Germany in World War I, and she led 5,000 marchers to Washington to protest the war in Vietnam. When she cast that single dissenting vote during World War II, she said, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.”

She also never married, despite many proposals, and she was highly educated. Those were two things that were extremely rare for her generation. Her first degree was in biology, and science is a field that is still underrepresented by women to this day, so you you can imagine what a good ol’ boy network it must have been in 1902.

Jeannette Rankin was a woman who bucked the tide. I never thought I’d say this about a Republican, especially a Republican woman, but I have nothing but admiration for the life she led. If you’d like to learn more about her, start here.

Jeannette

Practical Experience

Politicians make decisions every day that affect people’s lives. With great power comes great responsibility. When they negatively impact the world around them, I think they should personally feel that impact as well. Maybe then they would take their choices more seriously.

Governors of states that have chosen to forego the Medicaid subsidies, thus depriving millions of their health coverage, should cancel their own health coverage too.

Don’t think waterboarding is torture? Prove it. Experience it firsthand right there on the Senate floor.

Choosing to send thousands off to war? Send your own children. They should be first in line.

Supporting fracking? Offer up your own back yard for such treatment.

Against abortion and Planned Parenthood? By all means, adopt a crack baby with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Refusing to support the arts? Then everything within your field of vision, for the rest of your life, should be gunmetal grey.

Criminalizing casual marijuana use? Report to my office for your hair follicle test immediately.

Caught in a lie? Corporal punishment shall be meted out on camera in the Capitol rotunda.

Tempted to shut down the government? 5 minutes alone in a locked room with a grizzly bear from Yellowstone Park should take care of that.

Want to take away people’s pensions or Social Security? Yours should go, too, then.

Against immigration? Unless you’re an American Indian, get out.

Refusing to hold tobacco companies accountable? We’ll be happy to pump smoke into your home and office for the rest of your foreshortened life.

Don’t want to raise the minimum wage? Then the current one is now your salary.

Not taking steps to help the environment? May you only drink water from the Love Canal, breathe air from Beijing, and live on waterfront property on one of the islands that is sinking below the rising sea.

Refusing to sign off on a budget? Cough up your credit cards forthwith. Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of them.

As long as there are children in this country going without food, may you starve.

As long as there are people sleeping on park benches, may you never experience the comfort of a roof or a mattress again.

And for every false political ad that you choose to subject us to, may you be forced to watch 100 hours of Barney back to back.

Government without accountability ought to be a crime, and voting the bad politicians out should be a moral imperative.

Accountability

[Image credit: ACLU.org]

The Past, Present and Future of War

If I were an historian, I think an interesting exercise would be to see if I could pinpoint one day in history, just one single precious day, when no country on earth was at war. I think it would be a lot harder to find than any of us would care to believe.

Having said that, most of us have not experienced war firsthand. We see it in the movies, read about it in the news, and hear about it from those soldiers who have come home and are willing to discuss it. And no American alive today has experienced the impact of a war within our own borders.

We cannot comprehend what it must be like to be sitting at home, perhaps having a cup of tea in our bunny slippers, only to look out the window and see soldiers running toward us, intent on rape, death and destruction. We don’t know that razor sharp moment of clarity when we realize that in less than a minute our lives will never be the same. It would be impossible to guess what it must be like to walk for days, painfully aware that people who hate you without even knowing you are at your heels, only to wind up in a refugee camp where you have nothing and are little more than a prisoner of your fate for years to come.

Experiencing of war is the epitome of living in the moment, because your past and your future have been taken away. That’s something you don’t see in the movies much– that concept of the ruin that goes beyond time. They can depict the “now” of war with a fairly brutal accuracy, but what about the once and future impact?

When I think about how war reaches back and destroys the past, it upsets me even more than the brutality of the present. For example,

  • The oldest known archeological site on the planet is in Turkey, right on the border with Syria. This has always been a high conflict area. Even more sites are in Iraq. What will become of them? Will we destroy what the sands of time did not already succeed in wearing away?
  • When I think of the footage of the 1700 year old Buddha statues that were blown up in Afghanistan by the Taliban in the name of religion, I weep. Those priceless sculptures can never be replaced.
  • During times of conflict, historians and archeologists basically pack their bags and go away, never knowing what they will find when they are finally able to return.
  • Likewise, the vast majority of the art that was stolen by the Nazis during World War II is still not back in its proper place, and for every piece of art that they stole, they most assuredly destroyed even more. They certainly did their best to wipe out the literature that didn’t meet with their approval.
  • You also have to consider the cultural heritage and traditions that are abandoned when entire groups of people are uprooted and scattered or slaughtered outright.
  • And then there are the family heirlooms and photographs that get left behind.
  • War also breaks the lines of family history. When your parents are killed, you are left with so many unanswered questions about your family, and you have to live with the fact that you can never get those answers.

War also shatters the future. For example,

  • During times of war, countries stop investing in their infrastructure. What would be the point?
  • Obviously the concept of creating jobs, encouraging invention and innovation, and nurturing foreign investment is relegated to the back burner.
  • Education also becomes a low priority when you are just struggling to survive.
  • Anger, bitterness, and physical as well as mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress have a long-term effect on societies which cannot be adequately measured, but should not be overlooked.

When war is waged, it’s almost as if someone drops a bomb in the middle of the vast plains of time, and the shock waves go both forward and backward in the continuum. There’s really no wholesale way to recover from that.

We are a belligerent species, so a certain amount of war is inevitable. But when nations choose to deploy troops, they should first rise above our concept of time, and realize that “now” is not all that matters.

Rest in Peace, Pete Seeger

It’s a rare thing when I’m moved to actual tears when a public figure dies, but I have to admit the tears are flowing now. The world has lost yet another amazing man.

Pete Seeger was one of those unique people who lived his convictions every minute of every day. He spoke out against war and racism, stood for civil and worker’s rights, and was a champion for the environment. He was blacklisted and arrested and repudiated, but he never gave up.

He believed that messages could be passed through music. To that end he gave us such songs as “We Shall Overcome”, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer”, and “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

We have lost much.

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I’m sure one of the people grieving the most today is folk singer Arlo Guthrie. Here’s what he posted on his facebook page:

I usually do a little meditation and prayer every night before I go to sleep – Just part of the routine. Last night, I decided to go visit Pete Seeger for a while, just to spend a little time together, it was around 9 PM. So I was sitting in my home in Florida, having a lovely chat with Pete, who was in a hospital in New York City. That’s the great thing about thoughts and prayers- You can go or be anywhere.

I simply wanted him to know that I loved him dearly, like a father in some ways, a mentor in others and just as a dear friend a lot of the time. I’d grown up that way – loving the Seegers – Pete & Toshi and all their family.

I let him know I was having trouble writing his obituary (as I’d been asked) but it seemed just so silly and I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite or plain stupid. “They’ll say something appropriate in the news,” we agreed. We laughed, we talked, and I took my leave about 9:30 last night.

“Arlo” he said, sounding just like the man I’ve known all of my life, “I guess I’ll see ya later.” I’ve always loved the rising and falling inflections in his voice. “Pete,” I said. “I guess we will.”

I turned off the light and closed my eyes and fell asleep until very early this morning, about 3 AM when the texts and phone calls started coming in from friends telling me Pete had passed away.

“Well, of course he passed away!” I’m telling everyone this morning. “But that doesn’t mean he’s gone.”

Goodbye, Pete Seeger, you wonderful human being. If anyone deserves to rest in peace, you do. You fought for that right your entire life.

I will leave you with one of my favorite Pete Seeger songs, which couldn’t be more apropos at this moment.

Dogs for Defense

Proof positive that we Americans are not the people we used to be: shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a program was created called Dogs for Defense. Citizens were asked to volunteer their dogs to be trained to help with the war effort. They were to become sentries, scouts, messengers and mine detectors. For some reason they specified that these dogs must be pure bred.

More than 10,400 families volunteered their dogs for this initiative, and only 549 came home, many to live with their handlers rather than the families who gave them up.

Today, this could never happen. For starters, we are now of a mindset where we don’t expect to sacrifice anything for war. If you tried to impose food rationing for example, riots would break out. I also think we are no longer the starry-eyed patriots we once were. I don’t think that any war has been considered noble since WWII.

Give up my dog? Not on your life. Not unless the front line was right down the street from my house. Not that my dogs would be much help. One is terrified of men based on his brutal start in an abusive puppy mill, and the other is such a lover he’d be kissing the enemy on the nose and begging for Snausages.

Over the years, our love of our pets has become more intense as well. In the 40’s, despite the “boy and his dog” image, pets were often relegated to the back yard and tossed table scraps. Veterinarians were a rare indulgence basically reserved for farm animals, and dry dog food was only just coming into vogue. Annual medication for pets has really only been popular for the past 20 years. I think if people in the 40’s knew we’d be taking our dogs to groomers and dressing them up for Halloween, they’d have laughed.

Moot point entirely. Now the military has its own dogs. Standard Poodles (I kid you not) and German Shepherds are on patrol at Guantanamo even as we speak.

It’s really interesting to see how public perception about various issues evolves over time, isn’t it?

dogs for defense