Tag Archives: war

Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Four Things in War Movies That Would Never Happen

movies, war, fighting, chevalier, horses, swords, armor, king arthur, battle, mayhem

Clive Owen in King Arthur

I love historical films, or period piece movies, where the setting is of a different time and especially of a different culture. Once you go pre-Industrial era you’re dealing with huge (or sometimes small) battles involving cutlasses, swords, spears, maces, arrows, catapults, boiling oil, inaccurate muskets, canons and a whole host of hand to hand combat. With the medieval era or early there is still this romanticism about the noble knight, a holdover from Victorian notions that Hollywood has embraced. Sure, war scenes have become gorier, with bodies being skewered and sliced, and blood spraying everywhere. Reality would be the reason the directors would give. But even they fall victim to romanticism, so that even if a movie looks historically accurate in terms of costume and setting, they’ll veer in actual actions and attitudes.

  1. The mounted fighter will leap off his horse to battle the hordes on the ground. Not in a million years. The difference between a mounted fighter and one on fought was astronomical. Horses and armor were so expensive that those who had these items were pretty much guaranteed to be knights. The term chevalier comes from the Latin caballarius meaning horseman. It was the French word for knight and a noble. Because of the expense of a horse the knight would not give up his mount easily, nor would he lose the advantage he had of literally being head and shoulders above the crowd. It meant superior mobility, better viewing of the battle and powerful blows from above. The knight would stay mounted as long as he could, until he was either pulled off his horse or his horse was killed.
  2. The noble knight wears no helmet in battle or tears it off in the final face-to-face with the foe. So, what is the point of wearing armor if you remove parts of it, especially when fighting the more experienced warrior? Armor, like those horses, was expensive and you didn’t want to lose your helmet amongst the gore on the field. Not to mention, leave you head bare to being sliced up? I’ll mention here too that the helmets are usually tied, buckled or clipped on to stop them from toppling off with any knock. Maybe not all were, but they would have covered the faces and necks and would not sit jauntily atop the head. I’m no armor expert but I know enough that you have to affix your armor so it stays in place. Clive Owen as Arturius (Arthur) above wore his helmet in battle but his dying comrades didn’t always.
  3. Armor is black, especially if you’re noble or a bad guy. Before about the 1600s black was a dye color that was extremely difficult to procure, if you could get it at all, and came from black walnut and oak galls. It was therefore very expensive. If you managed to get some of this dye,would you waste it on armor when it was going to get scuffed and hacked at? No. You’d use it on your clothing. The lower classes got the more washed out colors of blue, green, brown, yellow and pink. No one would have black armor unless the metal itself was black and that too would have been rare. Even if movies have no battles this is the biggest mistake made.
  4. Traveling through the snowy, cold mountains with your cloak billowing behind you, if you’re wearing one. Early armor was made of leather boiled in beeswax. Then there was chain mail and later, plate metal. Some armor could be a combination of two or three of these things. Any metal was cold so warriors always had padding beneath, for keeping the metal off the skin to stop chafing, bruising and cuts, and to insulate. If it was cold enough to wear a cloak and still need to wear your armor while traveling through hostile territory, you would have it billowing nobly behind you. What’s the point? To look like Superman? It certainly wouldn’t serve the purpose it was made for, which was warmth. Everything in those early centuries was handmade and not cheap to replace.

I’m sure there are more inconsistencies and inaccuracies in those movies that show battles. I won’t even touch on the World War movies as I don’t watch many of those. If you have any pet peeve with Hollywood’s mutilation of history, let me know.

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Trench Party: Remembering WWI

News from the war: I spent Thursday November 11 Remembrance Day (Veterans Day in the US) in the trenches with the men (and the women) of our nation. Just like those terrible times of World War I I was told, “You’ll have to spend time in the trenches, maybe even storm the barbed wire before you can go to the home front. The home front will be cold and after that you can go to the French bistro” (which one person interpreted as brothel).

As a war correspondent I actually didn’t have gumboots or true mudsy rain gear. To prepare for this run of Vimy Ridge, where the Canadian Corps defeats the German Sixth Army, I dressed warmly and interviewed the soldiers. The roles of women do include being in the trenches but more as nurses, entertainers, drivers and war correspondents. Some women wore pants but I was wearing a respectful nearly ankle length linen dress and a wool, double-breasted trench coat. For food, I brought a baguette, a cheese round with a slice out of it, two apples and a bottle of wine. After all, during the war, one would have to scrounge and take what was available. It’s fall so the applesWWI, war, trench party, remembrance, death, homefront, Vimy Ridge would be greatly appreciated. I also brought little squares of chocolate (2 to a package) wrapped in foil and handed them out as rations. (I don’t know what was rationed in WWI but chocolate, bread, rubber were just a few in WWII.)

As can be seen by the above pictures there was indeed a trench with barbwire. It wasn’t very deep, nor very wide and sandbags were too expensive to bring in. On the wall (a canvas sheet) of the home front there played images of the war and sound effects abounded. You would think those muddy trenches would be empty but in fact there were many people in them throughout the night. When I asked Captain Gilchrist, a doctor on the front lines what the most prevalent injuries were, he told me, “Scurvy, trenchfoot and the French disease.” Trenchfoot is a terrible rotting that happens from perpetually wet and enclosed feet. The French disease, this correspondent cannot speak of here.

Spirits were generally high in the trenches with a good pot of coffee and tea, as well as some other spirits cheering the soldiers. One young lad who might have snuck into the army told me, “It’s very muddy in the trenches and I had to dig.”  Another said, “We had to bail a lot and sleep in them.” Not all sentiments were as hardy with another saying, “Don’t do it!” and “Fodder, that’s what they feel they are.” An unnamed commander was more jovial. “The men are doing a cracking job…a victory for democracy. By George!”

Probably the most popular feeling was expressed by one soldier. “We’re going to give ’em high hell, were giving 110% and we’ll be home by Christmas. God is on our side.” I had brought some poems by famous poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox and read a few to the troops in the trenches. They clamor for her poems as it makes them think of home and better times.

On the home front people were eating squirrel pie, corned beef stew, with bread, hot tea and some Screech to keep them warm. It was dry but chilly though the old stove worked valiantly against the cold November night. Gas masks lay at the ready, along with copies of the newspapers whose headlines are all about the war. The sentiments on the home front varied as people are thinking more about the future and not just surviving the elements and the enemy. Several troops home from the war reported “War is horrid,” as well as the feverish lad who told me “I miss my mommy almost as much as I miss my left leg.”  Other returning soldiers shared their revulsion with “The trenches are like graves,” “They’re fetid,” or such epithets as “The Italians suck seagulls,” and the rest is not printable.

Another doctor sadly reported that, “It’s a tragedy but it’s the mental scars that will ruin this generation. Shell shock is everywhere.” The home front also holds militant thinkers who would like to see the war ended any way they can. “When the waking masses organize against this blood bath we’ll overthrow the imperialist war mongers and put an end to war forever!” The man refused to give his name.

For those who get leave, officers and others stationed near the towns, a night in the French bistro can bring good cheer. Food was abundant in the ways that the French appreciate it. A variety of breads and cheeses, even some pate’ was available. As well, someone must have found a hidden store of wine because we drank heartily that night. A rumor was on the wind of the war coming to an end. One soldier badly affected by the French disease kept mumbling that no one understood his jokes. With a bit of wine everyone laughed wholeheartedly with him. Another war-assaulted victim told me that the rats were good with salt and a bit like gopher. We were lucky to be fed so well and have enough lanterns to light the place.

WWI lasted from 1914-1918. It was a defining war for the role of Canadians, and my friend Sam, who organized the party, said it was more important in the aspects of Remembrance Day than WWII was. He’s right of course since Remembrance Day came in to commemorate the end of the war on November 11, 1918. Unfortunately, we’ve had many wars since and the wars continue. Sometimes they are wars of the masses but most often they are wars of ideals caused by a very few but with a deadly fallout. I find it eternally sad that people can’t just let each other live in peace and that so many have died needlessly. This is what I remembered.

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Rationing During the World War

I wasn’t around during either World War so can only use my imagination, history texts and those oh-so-accurate Hollywood movies for my impressions of it. My parents both had been in the tail-end of WWII. I can also take memories as my mother has told me a few stories about those times.

Velorution_vintage_poster_pin_up_giWhen I was a child my mother had this drawer in the china cabinet (a pretty old and shoddy one) that was full of stuff. It had playing cards, some with girly pinups (of my father’s), ashtrays, rumoli chips, cribbage boards, coasters and whatnot. It also had a small stack of postcards. Where they came from I’m not sure. Some were joke or funny postcards but all were illustrated as opposed to photographs. A few of these had those classic pictures of a woman, pin-up style of course, showing stockings and peeks of underwear.

One particular card I remember had a woman holding her hand over her mouth as her underwear puddled around her feet while she watched a man change her tire. I recall other cards with the dropping underwear thing and just never got it. It wasn’t until my mother told me that rubber was rationed in the war that I started to understand.

When the Japanese and Germans cut off supply lines for various items, the UK, Canada and US (along with needing various items to feed the troops) brought in war rationing as well as other countries affected by the war. Rationing lasted from 1942-47 in Canada, from 1942-46 in the US and from 1939-1954 in the UK. Obviously European countries were harder hit as they were directly in the line of fire and did not have the range of resources that N. America had.

Rubber was needed for tires and other items so it was rationed on civilian cars, but it also affected fashion. There were no elastic waistbands in underwear, nor straps on bras. And no wonder women cherished the silk stocking from France. Clothing in general, especially in Europe was rationed as well and people were only allowed to buy so much in a year and had to use ration coupons for everything. Of course rationing affected all types of food as well.

My mother told me about the problems of wearing the button underwear of yesteryear. The buttonholes were given to stretching, which often caused a malfunction of the underwear. She said she saw this well-dressed woman walking along the street one day and slowly this pink fabric began to creep below her coat. The woman stopped, stepped out of her underwear and kept walking, leaving the pink offender behind. Women often put safety pins into their underwear to secure it better. Imagine our world now, if we had nothing that stretched. That would eliminate almost all underwear out there including yoga and exercise wear, bumpers, steering wheels, tires, boots, shoes, electronics from phones to kettles, you name it.

We don’t realize how much we have and in a world of the world wars, people were cut off from various supplies. My mother also commented on chocolate and while she was stationed in England a friend was sent several squares of chocolate. Not even a whole bar. Her friend shared with my mother and they would take one small bite of chocolate. She’d stare in windows at pastries she couldn’t afford with her rations.

We live in the have and have not world now. A third world country has people who won’t read this. They’re not thinking of internets or blogs or social networking. They’re thinking of how to get another meal and finding enough shelter. In North America, for almost all countries, the poorest people have TVs and phones and several sets of clothes. They may be of poor quality and made of stretchy material that was so hard to get so long ago, but they have the essentials.  We toss out clothing that is out of fashion by a few months. We get rid of clothes that are too tight or too big.

During the war, people would have made do, or would have taken up needle and threadmake-do-and-mend to adapt. In some ways it wouldn’t be a bad thing to bring back some rationing. Too many countries are using resources at a phenomenal rate, depleting trees, water, minerals beyond our ancestors’ wildest nightmares. We waste millions of tons of stuff a year that gets sent to landfills, and yet, we want more. If our society continues to live in the more is better attitude and that a person’s success is judged by how much they accrue, well then, we certainly won’t have more in fifty years.

Everyone needs to take a history lesson, thank their lucky stars and consider how we could use those mindsets that were done for war but could be done for economy today. I’m sure I would moan with everyone else if rationing came in (where backyard gardens also flourished) but I would make do and be no worse for wear.

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Movie Review: 9

Recovering from Thanksgiving meant that one day I did a lot of sleeping. I also went and saw the movie 9 playing in the local Dolphin Theatres, a 2-cinema venue that has no center section of seats but just right and left…oh, and no heat, but it’s cheaper and close. I had seen a trailer for this animation and Tim Burton’s name was involved so I thought it would be good. Of course, ole Tim hasn’t batted 100. I tried to watch James and the Giant Peach (have and love the book) but I just kept falling asleep. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was an unfortunate timing with the child abuse lawsuits against Michael Jackson, and Sweeney Todd was just slow.

So Tim can get it and then miss. But one thing is for sure, his eccentric sense of imagery and pacing often add an otherworldliness to his films. Of course he does like to choose the quirky topics. So 9 is not the first animation that Burton has been involved with, though here he is only the producer along with Timur Bekmambetov. Shane Acker is the writer (screenplay by Pamela Pettler) and it is based on a short animation Oscar nominated in 2005.

The movie opens right away with a hand stitching together a puppet/mannequin. There are no credits, no film title (though there might have been and somehow I missed it in the subtlety). It just begins so the voices of each character aren’t really discernible as a particular actor. At the end you find out the voices of each doll being was played by well-known actors: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau, Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, Fred Tatasciore (the least known but then the character 8 is an overlarge, thuggish brute who speaks little). I wonder if  Hollywood’s penchant for using famous names in animations actually pays off. I could care less if the voice is Johnny Depp or Joe Blow as long as it suits the character.

So the movie opens with 9 being made and coming alive, a little stitched doll, with humanlike movement, intelligence and expression. He discovers a world destroyed by the vagaries of war and any human shown, the scientist who made him and a dead girl in a car, have no rot. In fact the humans have become inanimate, while the constructs have become animated. Those are really the only people in the film, whether dead or alive, except for some film flashbacks.

The cause of the “presumably” worldwide devastation was a war run by a dictator and a scientist’s wondrous invention that was taken from his control. That there is a close similarity to Hitler’s Third Reich and the inventions of J. Robert Oppenheimer (considered father of the atomic bomb) and the fears of Einstein is no coincidence. Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagavad Vita back in his day: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Interestingly the actor who plays the scientist’s voice also has the name of Alan Oppenheimer.

The second world war is in fact iconic and symbolic to anyone born in the 21st or 20th century, so it is only natural that it is the template for wars in any movies that aren’t specifically historical. The time is hard to tell because there are advanced technologies (the thinking Fabrication Machine that can build and create new machines) to old phonographs. I would presume the creators wanted to keep it iconic and timeless on purpose. The tale is one of daring and fear, of curiosity and power. 9 worsens the situation but then tries to right his wrongs, at great cost to everyone.

The characters all have male voices except for the bold and fearless 7, played by Jennifer Connelly, but it’s hard to discern a sex per se of dolls that are sewn and sexless. They have no way of reproduction and they have no genitalia. Yet there is definitely the hint of a friendship/love forming between 7 and 9. Which is probably what puzzles me most about this world. The scientist created them. They are the essence of humanity but they have no way of bringing more life to the world, or do they? The ending gives a hint of change.

The story itself is not really new in plot but presented refreshingly enough. 9 can assuage his guilt of the others losing their lives by redeeming their souls. As many tales are, it is a tale of redemption and of good or the just conquering evil. Overall, I found 9 well done; the animation and the textures of each fabric made doll, the shine of broken statues, the dinginess of bombed out buildings adds to the complexity of the scenes. Yes it still looks animated and the humans look least real of all but then it would have been hard to do otherwise.

Technology starts out as a bad thing here, which we often see in mediocre science fiction but it is presented fairly, showing the good aspects (the dolls) and that people, not science can warp machines. Though in truth the machines are imbued with a life and intelligence that makes them sinister and vindictive. The movie was enjoyable and tense at times in evading mechanized monsters. I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

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It’s a Nutty World

This is not my parent’s world and I suppose it’s not my world either. At least it’s not in the sense that when I was a child or when my mother was a child, allergies were relatively rare to unheard of. And if someone had an allergy it was asthma. There wasn’t once in my twelve years of grade school that anyone had a deadly allergy, nor that we had to not eat or wear something at school because it could kill someone. It just didn’t happen. Or it did, but it was an extremely rare thing.

I recall in art college my boyfriend developing a patchy rash on his legs. He went to the doctor wondering if it was something he had eaten. The doctor told him you couldn’t get a rash from eating anything. I said, BS, people die from food allergies. So it did exist, the deadly anaphylactic allergies, but not enough that even all doctors believed it then. So what happened? Why has the world changed so much?

My mother has often said, “You never heard of leukemia when I was a kid. It was only after the War that people started getting it.” Now, I’m not a doctor but I have several theories on the increase in allergies. I likewise never had any issues as a kid and now have food allergies.

Overall, there are several factors that I believe add to the increase in and the great number of dangerous allergies. As little as a hundred years ago, people were still mostly using horses, staying in their cities and villages and travelling rarely. It was pretty hard for the common person to taste a pineapple or even get chocolate regularly (unless they lived in countries that had these all the time). The diet was pretty much what our culture is now trying to move back to: the 100-mile diet, or don’t eat anything that isn’t grown within a hundred miles of you.  One reason is to support the local agricultural economy. The other is that if you and your ancestors grew up in one region then the flora in your belly are used to and more adapted to certain food combinations.

Another reason for the increase in allergies is what we put on or in the ground. The highest incidence of celiac disease in the world is in Italy (with Ireland coming in second). Celiac means people can’t eat gluten, the substance found in wheat and therefore pasta, bread and other such items. How could it be that at least 600 hundred years of pasta eating has caused celiac disease? If it was this bad 200 years ago I’m sure the Italians would have stopped eating pasta long ago. Someone also once told me that a friend of his, anaphylactic to peanuts, tried organic peanuts and had no reaction.

So then it’s what we’re spraying on the plants, and it’s what’s going in the ground. Altering plants through genetic modification or grafting to new strains through time might make them hardier to grow in all climates and environments, but it might also make them harder for us to digest. This also means what’s in the air, those pesticides and the exhaust of cars and factories, is changing the oxygen composition and adding other metals poisonous to the human system, not to mention other animals and plants.

I developed more allergies after having to take amoxycillin and then prednisone. None are life-threatening but they’re damn inconvenient, causing rashes, swelling, diarrhea, and palpitations. The drugs fall into the aspect of what is in the ground and the air, or what we’re creating that is artificial. Our bodies don’t have millennia of these drugs, nor does the DNA passed down by our ancestors.

So we’re looking at modified food, fabricated food and drugs, unknown elements in the air, the ground and ourselves and more food than our ancestral bodies should be used to. The highest incidence of dairy intolerance is in Asian groups. In fact, people who are able to digest milk are a minority in the world populations. Anyone who is Asian who has eczema should look at cutting out dairy. After all, their ancestors lived for centuries if not longer, without dairy.

We’ve changed our world so much that people are dying from being around nuts, not even having to ingest them, just breathing in that air. Maybe it’s Mother Nature’s way of population control but I would think it’s more humankind’s blunder into changing things without understanding the repercussions first. It’s time that we looked before we leaped. Even if we cut out one of the factors I’ve listed, it would still take time for everything to settle and there are the other issues. But if you or someone you know is starting to be affected by what they eat (let alone what they breathe), then these are a few markers to look at first.

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Terror of the Air: Cold War Memories

When I was a child growing up in Calgary, there was an air raid siren in our neighborhood, at the corner where the Chinese store was. Yes, we did call the little corner store the Chinese store, as it was run by Chinese, yet this was never a derogatory term. I believe the air raid siren was across the street by the gas station. It was very tall, with a thick pole about the width of two light standards. It had to be about 25-30 feet high, with a big megaphone shaped horn at the top and all of it painted bright silver (or maybe that was the metal).

The top of ours was something like this, though the pole was round.

Ours was similar in style though the pole was round.

This Cold War artifact was very present in our memories and daily life. For one they would test it yearly and it sounded just like those WWII sirens you hear in the movies. I think. I was a kid so it’s hard to remember exactly. But the testing didn’t continue through every year.

Yet I remember that we were told to hunker down should a bomb drop and hide under our desks. There was a film they showed us, grainy black and white. I think it was sometime before grade 4 and I remember it being about bombings, maybe about Hiroshima because people were running from bombs dropping and the only image that seared into my brain was that of someone being vaporized by the bomb and leaving a skeletal imprint on the building behind them.
 
We were a generation growing up with fear of a world war, reminded by our parents and grandparents who may have lived through the horrors. We were after the generation of love and peace, the anti-war movement but were influenced by it nonetheless. Love and peace and hippy power had invaded and surely we were protected from the terrors of war. Yet we had those ever present reminders like the air raid siren.
 
My mother also had a gas mask, one of those old style ones with a corrugated rubber tube and
Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

Almost exactly like my mother's except it was a black hose and mask.

then a red tin at the end. What that tin was for, I’m not sure. It couldn’t hold air and I had no faith that it had ever filtered anything. Maybe it was just to convince people they were safe. The mask could have been hers from the war but I it might also have been a second hand one she bought when she was spraying insecticides on her plants. We would play in it and pretend we were monsters but not that often, because it was hot and steamy in there.I think for awhile there was an old army jacket hanging around, either my mother’s or my father’s. Most of these items disappeared by the time I was twelve except for the gas mask that no one used, and the air raid siren, now silent and ominous of a former era.

One day, when I was a teenager the siren went off. I don’t know if it was a test or some valve or button failing after all the years. But that terrible wail filled the air. Most of us ignored it, after a glance to the clear blue sky, but I remember these two little kids, about seven, who crying in sheer terror ran helter skelter for home, sure that the bombs were about to drop. I don’t know what they’d been told about wars, what mind curdling films they had been shown, but obviously the horror of war was a real thing for them.

When I was sixteen and in school, we heard the siren go one day. We were at least ten blocks diagonal away from it, yet it was pretty clear. No one bothered paying attention. After all, where do you go if the bombs are dropping? There were no bomb shelters that had ever existed in our area, bombs were more lethal from what we knew, and radiation would get us no matter what. Shortly after that, the air raid siren disappeared.

I would have off and on through the years, nightmares that were end of the world scenarios. Sometimes the bombs had dropped, sometimes it was just deadly radiation and sometimes the Nazis were chasing and persecuting me. They obviously were a form of stress  dream but one that would wake me in the middle of the night.

We are a generation that has seen war mostly from afar (except those in the military) yet that terror is a reality for some people every day. War is still not the thing of the past and it is more deadly than ever before. Perhaps that’s why my dreams are still spattered with war scenarios and movie realities. It would be nice some day that war is just a make believe thing but I think it will be a long time until humanity evolves to that next level.

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Happy Barackobamaday

It’s got a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

It’s Obama Tuesday and the end of an old regime is being punted far and wide. We must not forget to thank George Bush. After all, he’s given us such lovely catch phrases as “axis of evil,” “war on terror,” and not new to him alone but well beaten into the ground: “weapons of mass destruction,” except these ones were make believe.

But then, George should have known what they looked like because which country is the only one to have ever used a weapon of mass destruction? Why the US of course, on Hiroshima. And therefore you’d think he would have a few fellas who would know what they looked like, but even they couldn’t find any in Iraq.

We can thank George for invading other countries, for incarcerating prisoners of war in Guantanamo without voice, counsel or aid because he called them terrorists. Sure, some may have been but without any legal aid, how do we know? George’s voice and his catch phrases made me cringe so much I couldn’t stand listening to him.

We can thank George for bringing the US dollar to its lowest point in recent history. And though it could be argued he’s not directly to blame for these things, I’m sure there is lots of correlation between the highest price of oil, the financial crashes, oh and the highest number of troops dead since Viet Nam. Thanks, George. You’ve made sure you won’t be forgotten and you’ve replaced tricky Dicky as the most reviled president ever. Yep, that makes you number one. In fact, Al Capone kinda looks nice in comparison.

Let’s not forget that Georgie has also brought us very close to World War III, with threats to Iran and Korea. But that’s all right, he knew he was right and God was on his side (weren’t the Crusaders saying this as they skewered men, women and children too?), and he has remained unrepentant. There’s seems to be one light burning in the dim fog of George’s eight-year folly; he did supposedly bring more aid to a beleaguered and often overlooked Africa. No one is pure evil (I hope.)

In Vancouver, pubs and cafes are planning on holding Barack parties tonight. Remember, this is Canada where we don’t make a fuss if a movie star walks by us and we don’t party crazily for our own (lackluster) politicians, let alone a US president. But let’s face it, next to George Bush, even Nixon could have done better. That Barack Obama is charismatic, good looking and a great orator certainly doesn’t hurt. That he seems to have integrity and is of mixed race is even better. He will hopefully not be (possibly never could be) as bigoted as Bush’s regime. (Does anyone remember hurricane Katrina and the reticent aid there?)

But Barack has a huge pile of doo-doo to clean up and George even wrecked the shovels. That’s a lot to carry and he’ll be walking a tightrope between not fulfilling the wild dreams and wishes of Americans and in doing what he can with a now much more limited budget. I doubt he’ll be perfect. We are, after all, human. But I really hope Barack will keep his religion far from his politics. It’s fine to be religious, just not to push that into your governance.

Barack, I wish you well. The hope of not just a nation falls on your shoulders, but the hope of the world. We know you’ll pull us back from the brink of suicidal, egomaniacal war. But you have corrupt systems left, right and center to deal with (let’s see, car companies, oil companies, CIA, FBI, weapons manufacturers, fundamentalists, NRA, etc.) and they make up some of the foundation of good ole America.

I’ll raise a toast to Barack tonight as a light that can only get brighter. And I’ll say so long, Georgie. Don’t let the White House gate whack your ass on the way out. Hope your resume is up to date. But who knows, maybe we’ll see you in the news again when they charge you with war crimes.

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Dare to Remember

This was originally published when I wrote for Fearsmag.com. It had to do with our fears and memory.

For everyone, memory is an important aspect of our personalities as well as our culture. Many people are proud of their lineage, and how far back they can trace their ancestors. History is what makes the world. What happened in the past? Did we learn from our mistakes, did we repeat them? Without memory we would be simpler creatures and our world, our inventions and our differences would not be so great.

Science fiction author Gene Wolfe wrote a book called Soldier of Arete, which is about a man whose memory is only a day long. Unless he writes every thought and event down he does not remember from one day to the next what happened in his past, what he accomplished, how he failed or whom he liked and loved.

Amnesiacs must blunder about feeling a certain panic, not knowing how they lost their memories or what they liked or who they were. For some it might be a freeing experience from who they were, but then, they wouldn’t remember so how would they know? For most it would be the cutting loose of identity that would be frightening, suddenly in a world that you know you are part of, but not knowing in what way to act nor what you thought.

November marks the month of remembrance. In Canada it’s called Remembrance Day, in the U.S. Veteran’s Day (once Armistice Day). This day, Nov. 11th was chosen originally in the U.S. by Woodrow Wilson to commemorate the end of World War I. To commemorate means to bring to memory, to remember. Marked forever in our calendars is the day the war ended, when we are to remember all those who lives were lost so that we could keep our freedom.

Just think, without memory we would have no ceremonies—no birthdays for who could remember when they’re born, no Valentine’s Day for who could remember who they loved, no Easter or Christmas for who would remember the significance of a religion started two thousand years ago, no Hallowe’en, no Presidents’ Day, no Mother’s Day, no Father’s Day. Without memory, would God or religion, life or death matter in the same way? No one would remember your accomplishments so fewer would strive for fame. Movies might still exist, if someone could remember how to make them from day to day, but after you saw a film, you would forget it and the stars would be ciphers once again.

As much as our personalities make up who we are by framing our world in a particular perspective and in how we react to any given situation, our memories also make up who we are. Memory is described as the mental processes that modify our behavior in light of previous experiences. We are the sum of our parts. What we remember and how we remember it makes us who we are today. I remember having a small, metal fridge as a child. I loved that fridge; there was nothing special about it but one year it was replaced with a big, shiny new fridge and many little plastic vegetables. Yet, I wanted that old fridge and to this day remember it. Did my parents know how significant the first fridge was? I doubt it. They probably don’t even remember the fridge at all. I, myself, can’t remember why I liked the first fridge so much but I will never forget it. Memory’s a tricky thing.

So here we are, in November and we should remember. Remember what was lost and what was gained. Remember what war does so that it won’t be repeated. Well, we see how well that’s going and how long that memory sticks. For many people not old enough to have relatives in any war it’s hard to think about what we should remember, unless we’re taught it in school. But what exactly, should we remember? The good times? The bad times? And what should we forget? Past slights, embarrassments and failures?

In the course of selecting the memories that are important, we also order them as to the most significant. My fridge memory is not too significant today. The painful memory of being teased at school left a deeper wound and made my personality shift. I used to be shy but learned you had to be tough and louder and laugh first if you didn’t want to get hurt. That’s what I remember.

People who have been abused often have blocked their memories. That horrendous event is far too painful or frightening to bring up and their psyche cannot cope with it. It’s still in there, buried behind some neuro-synaptic door and only the right key can trigger the lock. The person with the buried memory may still have a very screwed up life because of what happened but the psychological detectives have to uncover the secret before they can find a cure. And of course, there’s that risk of implanted false memories. Through hypnosis, psychotherapy and brainwashing, the mind can be reprogrammed to believe something did happen the way it was suggested. Our memories after all are only electrical zaps stored in our brains.

I know someone who suffers from multiple personalities. She’s got quite a few, from a boisterous tart to a sinister old man. The severe abuse she suffered through her young life fragmented her memory and her brain made up different personalities to deal with various situations. What does she remember and what do her other five personalities remember? Is any particular version more truthful or are they all? Like our sight, our memories can play tricks on us. Do we question, “Did it really happen the way I remember?” Some memories fade so that we really can’t quite remember what we did on a particular day, what someone said, or where we were. Yet, other memories are as sharp as broken glass, waiting to stab us with the poignancy of a mortifying or an ecstatic moment.

November might also be a time for many to reflect on what we’ve accomplished through the year. Often the year seems to have flown by. Oh migod I never did finish that novel. I forgot to call so and so for the third month running. Why do we remember and why do we forget? The workings of the mind are still a mystery for all the studies that have been done. Although there are many memories I would rather forget (and damn that mind of mine, it’s not letting me) I’m still grateful I have a choice of memories and that I haven’t forgot what’s important in my life. Now, if I could just remember where I put my keys….

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Double-Speak: A Rose by Any Other Name?

I don’t know when we decided to reword the English language to actually obfuscate what is really being said. Perhaps it’s been done through history. Obviously speeches and what’s written descriptions have definitely given different shades of truth, and as we know, history is written by the winner. The truth of history wavers between downright propaganda and lies, to the cold, hard unembellished facts. That means no adjectives like “horrendous, spectacular, brutal, amazing.” Just reporting what happened.

In this current world propaganda is more likely to be found than cold, hard truth, and everything in between is where most “truth” lies.

Once upon a time there were housewives. Now they’re domestic engineers but the term is dissolving back into housewife or the more popular stay-at-home mom (or dad). There used to be stewardesses, but now they’re airline attendants, which is more appropriate because there are men and women, though stewards for all would work fine. There used to be mailmen but now there are letter carriers. Changing terms for gender equality in the workplace is one thing, but then there is the world of politics and sensationalism.

The one that always drove me crazy, and still does, is collateral damage. So, what, it makes it better if we say that people weren’t blown to smithereens in a bombing but there was collateral damage from the bombing? Puhleese, it’s still dead people. Who cares about the buildings. We care about people and it could easily be reported as people killed and a building destroyed. And while we’re mentioning bombs, it’s now an improvised explosive device. Did homemade bomb no longer cover the fact that some are made in the field? Perhaps we should call them field improvised explosive devises, or we could just say bomb. Oh and there is also the incendiary roadside device.

Who thought of these things? Is there a think tank being paid comfy salaries to come up with “better” words for roadside bomb and land mine? More words, more syllables, is somehow better. Someone out there must think these terms are more accurate, or maybe they’re just more all-encompassing, therefore watering down the image of what really is happening.

It seems the areas where words take on longer, more sophisticated versions of themselves, is especially in the world of violence. War, bombing, terrorism, murder, rape. Oh yeah, rape. A person no longer rapes someone. They now sexually abuse them. Sexual abuse covers a larger range of issues, from butt pinching and fondling to brutal rape. Wait a minute. Brutal rape? Is any rape not brutal? Nope, but the media might say brutal rape. Maybe that’s why they went to “sexual abuse” as the term; to cut down on the colorful adjectives. But sorry to say, rape is rape, no matter how you word it.

I can’t help but see this double speak as some sort of attempt to be a polite society or to cover up the facts and keep people dumbed down. I’ve always been interested in language and etymology. I’m sure there are many more examples out there and maybe this is part of the era of political correctness but I fail to see what makes a longer description as more accurate. Sometimes a spade is just a spade.

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