On Donald Trump, and war as a means to an end ….

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If this blog was about book reviews, or cooking, or home decor, I’d probably never have moments when I think “some people are going to hate this post”. But this blog is BethBlog, a place for me to say everything I feel like saying whenever I feel like saying it, so I’ve had many of those moments. Because I can be quite a bitch, I kind of like the feeling of stirring the pot – of making people cringe. Some situations call for a bitch – beg for one – and I happily oblige. Other times, I just don’t feel like beating around the bush, so I go in for the kill. In any case, here I go again …. Some people are going to hate this post, for two reasons: 1) I’m saying that President Donald Trump has done something good and 2) I’m saying that violence is sometimes justified.

The civil war in Syria has taken a vast and terrible toll on Syrians. Nearly 500,000 Syrians have died as a result of the conflict over the past six years. Half of a million people – to put that in Canadian terms, Hamilton or Quebec City – and over 50,000 of these were children. President Bashar Al-Assad is raining hell on his country in the form of torture, starvation, bombs and chemicals. A steady tide of refugees has been washing up on the shores of many countries, everything they own on their backs and clutched in their arms, pleading for asylum – for protection, rest and hope. It’s a long, dangerous, crowded-yet-somehow-lonely path, with no guarantee of a happy ending. I’ve met some of them. I don’t even want to imagine the miseries they have endured. Their eyes haunt me.

What have we done about it? Well, so far, we’ve absorbed some of their stories, patched up some of their wounded, resettled some of their fallout. These are all good things, and we should keep doing them. But have we tried to stop the destruction? No – unless you call clucking and finger-wagging action. Every time this madman commits another horrific crime against humanity, we all line up to condemn it – and then we move on. As if Al-Assad gives a rat’s ass what we think of his murderous regime. As if, one fine day, he might stop what he’s doing and say “oh, gosh, I had no idea that what I am doing is so bad – I’m sorry, you guys”. Like a shitty parent giving unlimited chances and countdowns while their child wreaks havoc, the world wearily says “no, no, Bashar, that’s wrong – please stop, or we’re going to get really upset”. Then he keeps doing what he’s doing while we gamely ignore him. A shitty parent threat was levelled against Al-Assad in 2012 regarding the use of chemical weapons – then-President Barack Obama said that this was a “red line” that Al-Assad had better not cross. Up until then, America had stayed out of the Syrian conflict – but if chemical weapons came into play, Obama said, the game would change. In 2013, chemical weapons became a confirmed factor – and the Obama administration looked the other way. This past week, chemical weapons were used again. At least 86 people died in agony. Our darling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a war crime, and condemned it “in the strongest of terms”. Whoa, there, big fella!

Imagine if the world had reacted the same way when Adolph Hitler and his army started bombing, torturing, slashing, and gassing their way across Europe.  “Now, now, Hitler – this is not nice, and none of us like it. Stop it, or we’re going to get really upset. Oh! Look what you’ve done! Poland …. We just said stop – now we’re mad. Ugh. He’s done it again. There goes Holland. Would you look at that? That’s alot of Jews, gypsies and gays. Seriously, we can’t do a thing with this guy. He just keeps going. Ah, well. What can you do? Hitler! We’re so mad at you right now. #PrayforEurope #JewsArePeopleToo #HitlerBlows #WorldSoMad #NotMyGermany”  I have a feeling that things would have gone very differently than they did – and we certainly would not be celebrating the contribution of heroes to the security and freedom of our world every November 11.

Enter Donald Trump. Two days ago, America fired Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from which the chemical attack was launched. Citing the painful deaths of innocents, the continued destabilization of the region and the affect of that on Syria and the rest of the world – as well as our collective failure throughout six years of civil war to change the situation with words and sulking – Trump called on all of us to join America in forcing an end to the suffering. And he is right. Yes, the massively mocked, deeply hated, orange-haired buffoon that seems to have turned the highest office in the free world into a bad joke …. is right.

Violence is a dreadful thing. It’s evil. I hate it. But, sometimes, it is necessary. People – millions of them – desperately need our help against a force that is far more powerful than them and seeks to destroy them in every way. How can we continue to look away as the atrocity unfolds – and worsens – mumbling platitudes about peace and goodwill and brotherhood while Syria and its people burn? Al-Assad has not responded to criticism, argument, disapproval, condemnation or threat. It’s time to tighten the screws. If America’s strategic attacks can bring Al-Assad to his knees and save the Syrian people from hell on earth, I say fire away.

“I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.”  –  Ulysses S. Grant

Cause of death: Stupidity

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Last week, on my way home from dropping Ryan off at work, and Fiona and Bridget off at school, a car seemingly appeared out of nowhere and loomed in my rear window. I nervously increased my speed to make some space between us. This was unnecessary, as the car proceeded to shoot sideways into the right lane and roar past me. I like a good gander at a lunatic as much as the next person, so I glanced to my right. The driver was – of course – blabbering away on his cell. Not cupped close to his head surreptitiously, either, but shamelessly brandished about a foot away from his mouth like a bloody microphone. I watched in helpless horror as he ran a red light (nearly taking out a pedestrian) and faded from sight. If he dies driving that way – or, worse, kills someone else – the cause of death will have to be listed as “stupidity”. No matter what measures are introduced, and there have been many, some people still insist on chatting on their hand-held device while driving. Here in Ontario, the minimum fine is $400, and three demerit points are applied to your driving record. But that guy – and others I see daily – still want to yack and drive. For an extra dollop of stupid, there are people who text and drive. At least during a phone call your eyes are still on the road …. You can always tell who’s texting while driving because they are slow to react to everything and their eyes are fixed firmly on their lap.

This irritates me, and reminds me of the darkly entertaining Darwin Awards. Basically, these are tongue-in-cheek awards posthumously presented to people who’ve managed to remove themselves from the gene pool in breathtakingly stupid ways. And there are alot of stupid ways to die. Walking and texting …. right into oncoming traffic and open manholes, right off bridges and cliffs. There is now a Wikipedia page dedicated to people who are injured or die while taking selfies. Apparently, last year, more people were killed by selfie attempts than shark attacks. Selfies with guns, selfies on train tracks, selfies perched perilously on cliffs during storms …. People are trampled to death in pursuit of cheap electronics on Black Friday. Every year during the Stoning of the Devil in Mina, people are stoned, too – and crushed. According to the Washington Post, tens of thousands of people are killed by guns in America every year, whether accidentally or intentionally. Yet many Americans loudly and proudly defend their right to own and use any number of any type of guns. Not just the loopy ones no one listens to, either …. This is the Christmas greeting sent out by Michele Fiore, Republican and elected member of the Nevada Assembly:

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Merry ducking Christmas, everyone! (See what I did there? Fine. I made myself laugh, anyway.)

In 2015, two people were shot by toddlers. Yes, toddlers. Thirteen toddlers killed themselves, and more injured themselves or others. I guess gun-lovers love their guns so much they don’t ever want to put them away (or even employ the safety catch). In fact, the story that inspired today’s BethBlog rant is about a woman shot by her four-year-old son. In a karmic twist, Jamie Gilt is a high-profile pro-gun activist who has already introduced her son to target shooting with a .22. Two days ago, she was driving with two things in the back seat: her son and a loaded .45 semi-automatic. The boy picked up the gun, aimed at his mother and shot her in the back through the driver’s seat. It looks like she’ll live, and her son (thankfully) was unharmed. Less than a month ago, Gilt posted the following on her Facebook page:

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I guess now she needs to consider whether she needs an extra gun to protect herself from the child she is protecting with her gun.

A peek at the top causes of death in Canada in recent years reveals that we’re really good at killing ourselves slowly, too. Heart disease, stroke, respiratory illnesses, accidents and diabetes are numbers 2 through 6 (respectively). Yet people still keep eating like a fat man in a circus. People still smoke like chimneys and drink like fish. We know that we should wear seatbelts and helmets, that we should look before we cross, that we should leave space between ourselves and the car in front of us …. but how many of us do that every time? We have vaccines, but not all of us use them. Some people operate daycares that are only for the unvaccinated. Or, as I call them, petri dishes with no lids. Years of people using antibiotics incorrectly has resulted in a number of resistant strains of bacteria – superbugs. A surprising number of travellers ignore advisories and happily jaunt off to hotspots, then come home in enclosed spaces with recycled air to ignore quarantine recommendations. Some of us put our faith in quack medicine rather than science, sometimes with tragic results. For example, Alberta couple David and Collet Stephan are currently on trial for allowing their toddler son to die of meningitis rather than seek medical care for him (of course, they didn’t have him vaccinated, because vaccines do not grow on trees or fall from the sky in rain drops. Amazingly enough, water with maple syrup, juice with frozen berries and finally a mixture of apple cider vinegar, horse radish root, hot peppers, mashed onion, garlic and ginger root did nothing to improve his condition. They called an ambulance only after little Ezekiel stopped breathing. These idiots have three other children. Let’s hope they never suffer from more than a common cold, lest they become victims of stupidity-by-proxy, too. Most of us continue to buy huge quantities of mass-produced junk that is bleeding the planet dry of everything we need to live. We’ve been talking about the depletion of earth’s clean, drinkable water for decades; yet, selfish assholes still keep pouring it down the drain for the love of clean decks and cars, and green grass.

There really isn’t anything special about those shirts that say “I’m with stupid”. Because, these days, we’re all with stupid. It’s really just a matter of what kind of stupid is going to be listed on our death certificate ….

Disclaimer: No, I am not perfect. Sometimes I am very stupid, myself. I just hope it doesn’t kill me because then people will throw this blog post all over the internet and the headlines will say “blogger blogged about stupidity then died of it”. Then again, who can resist a shot at being famous? Hmmm ….

 

Music for a man who couldn’t sing ….

Tomorrow marks twelve years since an event that changed my life, and the lives of many others: the sudden death of my father, Cecil. This is us, on the last day we spent together. He was gone less than three months later.

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In the years since his death, I’ve written pages about him. Diary entries. Poems. Tributes. Facebook statuses. Long, rambling emails to family and friends. All flowing from a wound that was inflicted the moment I found out that he was gone. Sometimes, the words are inspiring or even funny, if the wound has formed a thick enough scab. Sometimes, they are soggy with a grief that lingers even after all these years – or even angry, if the scab’s been ripped off by some trigger or other. At times, the words come easy – tripping over each other, sounding just right together. This is not one of those times. Rather than wrestle with words, as I often do, I’ve decided to turn to music. Dad loved music. He loved it loud. He loved it to the point of rattling cars and pictures popping off walls and blown speakers. I’ve put together a few songs he liked, and a few songs that remind me of him. I’ve included links, so you can listen along if you’ve got the time. (Sorry about all the advertisements at the start of the videos – I tried to avoid them, but they’re everywhere.)

He liked country music alot. In fact, he liked all things country. Cowboy hats and boots, broken-in jeans, big belt buckles. He had a whole collection of a big belt buckles; I wear them now. He liked wide-open skies, and the romance of the road. Every summer, he led a caravan of his siblings on six-week road trips from Newfoundland to Florida to California to the Yukon (and all points in-between). Some of my most enduring (and endearing) memories of him are from those trips, perhaps because, even as a child, you sense when your parents are truly happy – and you soak it in. “Big Wheels in the Moonlight”, by Dan Seals, a song he had on a well-played mix tape, captures it well. As does “City of New Orleans”, by Arlo Guthrie – a song he could sometimes be heard singing on those road trips. Badly, since the man could not carry a tune – yet, he sang all the time. This is something I still love about him.

The summer I was thirteen, we drove to Alaska. All the way there and back, a Johnny Horton tape made the rounds between the vans of families. “North to Alaska” by Johnny Horton was broadcast daily over the CB radio. Yes, every van had a CB in it. It was used for everything from announcing pit stops to tracing a van that had gotten lost to telling jokes. Sometimes, us kids would play with it – “breaker, breaker, any takers”, and you just might get one. Other kids, lonely truckers, concerned police officers and God knows who else.

Dad did everything fast – he ate fast, fell asleep and woke up fast, worked fast, drove fast. He loved Alabama’s “I’m In A Hurry” – that song was him. Everyone who knew him was always telling him to slow down. Now that he’s gone, I’m glad he never listened to any of us. He was only forty-four years old, and what killed him was a massive heart attack caused by an undetected birth defect. According to the autopsy results, had he been treated for his heart condition, he might have lived another year. In other words, he was never meant to last long. I believe that he sensed that, on some level, somewhere – that there was a voice inside him urging “go, go, go – you don’t have much time, do it all now”.

Maybe it was this same sense of urgency, of the preciousness of time, that helped him truly live. Because he didn’t just work hard, he played hard. He had an I-dare-you grin and a loud laugh. He held onto the wonder and joy that many people lose soon after childhood. A rainy night, to him, meant a clean car in the morning. He loved it, like Eddie Rabbitt’s song. He could often be heard singing “Centerfield” by John Fogerty – he was always ready to play. Baseball, yes, but his best game was hockey. He drove his snowmobile like the wind. He loved roller coasters and water slides. Sometimes, he was the biggest kid on the swings at the playground. As a teacher, escorting his students on field trips, he entertained busloads of teenagers by singing, over and over, Todd Rundgren’s “Bang the Drum All Day”. He knew they weren’t laughing with him, but at him, and he didn’t care. He was getting a day away from the classroom! Being talked about or laughed at never bothered him. Whenever I hear Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party”, I think of him and what he used to say. “People talking about you says more about them than you. Imagine what a sad life they have, with nothing to think about but what you’re doing!” And I try to live my life without worrying about what anyone else thinks of it …. There is such freedom in that.

Another song that comes to mind when I remember my father is “Oh Very Young” by Cat Stevens. Forty-four years really is “a short while”. This feels more and more true, the closer I come to it. There is a part of everyone that thinks their parents will last forever …. I never realized that I thought so, until I had to say goodbye to Dad – the shock of it was like a solid object, something I could touch and hold. And then there’s “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart. Beautiful words from a parent to a child, plans and hopes and dreams for a life of integrity and joy and love. But it wasn’t me who flew away – in the end, it was Dad. No matter. He gave me enough in his twenty-one years with me to last my whole life. Walk in like you own the place. Shake hands like a man. You’re as good as anyone else, and better than some. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Never give up. Sing from your guts. I love you. Like the Cooper Brothers sang, “The Dream Never Dies” – just the dreamer. The dream, like the song, is what lasts forever. I don’t run as fast as he did, but I don’t hesitate much. I know now how dear my life really is, and the people in it. When I want something, I’m not content to say “someday” – because I know that not everyone has a someday. Losing Dad was a hard, heart-twisting way to discover this truth, but I’m grateful that I did. I’m doing everything I can to make sure that I’ll have no regrets, and nothing left unsaid or undone. Thanks, Dad.

The song I’ll end this post with is a country song – “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn. The video is filled with cowboys and cheese but the words could easily have been written about my Dad. I’ve never forgotten the love in those hard-working, hard-playing, calloused, filthy, part-time-mechanic hands – or the pride and happiness in his face, that deep sense of contentment from a life lived well.