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Saturday, 26 March 2016

Terror


My wife, Nicola, and I were in a car accident in Africa that should have caused feelings of terror.  We were passengers in a “taxi” with eight or nine other people on our way from Nairobi to Tanzania when our driver spotted a Maasai man herding his cattle across the road.  After pumping his useless brakes a few times, he attempted to drive around the herd.  He swerved into the dirt beside the road smashing into the head of the lead cow.  Then, he attempted to swerve back on the road.   After a whoop from the husky woman seated beside Nicola, the driver attempted to return the car back to the tarmac.  The tires gripped the edge and we went careening off to the far side of the road.  The driver turned back.  The car rocked and then shot back in the direction we’d come.  He tried one more time to straighten it out before the vehicle started to roll and roll and roll.  Not once did the idiot think to take his foot off the gas. 
One of the few pics taken of the Savannah before the Accident
I watched the proceedings from the backseat with the same sense of disappointment I’ve felt when the protagonist dies at the end of a movie and I remember thinking, "I guess this is it."  Nicola’s vantage was that of the overhead camera with a third person perspective of the event. 

It wasn’t the end.  My first memory upon emerging from the crash was disbelief.  Not only was I still alive, but I was uninjured.  To be sure, I jumped up and down figuring that any cracked or broken bones would scream their objection.  I was elated.  Not once had I considered that Nicola would not be experiencing the same.  In point of fact, he left foot was hanging from her leg.  Her back hurt and she had difficulty breathing.

The Oxford dictionary defines terror as “extreme fear.”  It originates from the the 15th century Old French word terreur which in turn was derived from the Latin word terrorem meaning “fear so great as to overwhelm the mind.”  My question is when does fear become terror? 

The car accident in Africa filled me with fear but I wasn’t overwhelmed.  Taxis can cause me to feel terror, particularly those in the developing world driven by men at a speed where they’re only marginally in control.  At those moments, I want to scream at them.  But I don’t.  Just like in Africa, we’re usually in the car with other passengers.  I did offer a Cambodian driver ten American dollars if he’d slow down.  I don’t believe Nicola experiences the same kind of terror.

The first major terrorist attack on North American soil was followed by deep cuts in airfares.  In June of that year, I spotted tickets from Edmonton to Paris for $550.  That was our first European trip as a family.  Fear of flying was overwhelmed by my desire for travel. That wasn’t the case with many others.  Gerd Gigerenzer, a German academic specializing in risk, estimated that an extra 1,595 Americans died in car accidents in the year after the attacks of September 11th – indirect victims of the tragedy.  Sometimes, we have to override our fears with reason.  In 2008, there were 5 million automobile accidents in the U.S. compared with 20 plane accidents with only 5 involving serious injuries.

Nicola all hooked up after the accident
But, terror and terrorism aren’t defined by numbers.  They’re a feeling.  What it’s like to be in a crowd after the detonation of a bomb and then be almost sure there will be another and maybe another after that, I hope to never understand.  I feel almost dirty exploring the topic having so little understanding of what it must be like.  As when Nicola was lying on the African Savannah and I was desperately appealing to a bunch of rubber neckers for assistance in transporting her to the nearest hospital.  That was terror, not the accident.  I pleaded with a bunch of white people in tourist van after tourist van to help transport Nicola to the nearest hospital.  Who knew that help would come in the form of a black Kenyan micro-biologist who’d studied at the University of British Columbia driving a covered flatbed truck.  With the help of many African bystanders, we transferred Nicola onto and door and into the truck.  Once at the local hospital, he had me contacted the Canadian High Commission.  These two acts may have saved Nicola’s life and her future mobility.  The Canadian High Commission in Nairobi arranged for AMREF, the flying doctors to transport her to Nairobi.  An orthopaedic surgeon reset Nicola's foot. He would proceed with surgery on her back when the hole in her lung had healed.  When the doctor from the High Commission heard this, he arranged for a consultation with another specialist.  That specialist's prognosis was that the black spot next to Nicola's spine as revealed on the x-ray was a blood clot and not a bone chip.  The doctor from the High Commission then convinced our travel insurance company that Nicola didn’t need an operation Nairobi and should be transported by stretcher back to Edmonton.  

In times of crises, the temptation is to break down and leave actions and decisions to other people.  On the savannah, I was tempted to freak out at people in one of the tourist vans.  Maybe that would have forced them to act.  But I believe my patience was rewarded.  Now I feel the same about this latest scourge of terrorism inflicted on Europe by the Islamic State.  The powers that be shouldn’t panic and resort to carpet bombing or rejecting all refugee claims because they come from a person of Muslim faith.  Who knows where or what or with whom we may find answers to this crises?  Our salvation came in the form of an African micro-biologist driving a flatbed truck. 





Friday, 18 March 2016

Fair

            The word “fair” is of Germanic origin meaning pleasing or attractive.  Eventually it was the given the meaning it has today; “Impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination” as defined by the Oxford dictionary.  I first started caring about “fair” when my brother entered the world after I'd enjoyed two years of my parents' undivided attention.  Suddenly, I was the bad guy, the bully, the one  who should give way to the needs of his brother because they said, he was smaller and obviously more innocent.  My brother was many things but innocent was not one of them.  At age six, I remember standing in the hallway our first home and him saying that he could get me in trouble anytime he wanted.  Of course, a dare could never be left unchallenged.  “No way,” I said.  "Watch," he replies and then doubles over yelling that I’d punched him in the stomach.  When my dad and mom arrived he lay writhing on the floor.  I was asked what happened.  Had I not accepted his challenge I might have been more outraged and more convincing when I told them I'd done nothing.   They didn't believe me and I was duly punished.  My brother never admitted to the charade. 
           I was no angel.  My brother was great with the words.  If at first I didn't react, he simply escalate the level of insults to he arrived at "pig pen" which I just hated.  My mom used Lenny Penny as a term of endearment.  Then Brad Hannah, one of the neighbourhood got hold of it which was no big deal until his older brother heard who made the slight alteration.  I'd always react but I couldn't do anything to Brad's older brother or Brad for that matter.  But my brother would get a beating. Pathetic when I think back on it.  Injustice wasn't at the top of my mind when my dad got home and my brother told on me and I got punished.  
             The breakdown of chores was a different matter.  Somehow, starting from the age of eight, I was tasked with mowing the lawn in the summer and shovelling the snow in winter.  I don’t even remember what my brother did.  One hot summer day I took a break from mowing to join my mom and brother enjoying a drink in the shade of our plum tree and she remarked that she really liked to watch other people work.  Really Mom? I thought. Yet, when I complained that my brother did nothing, he always got the better of me.  He’d enumerate his pathetic list of tasks completed and how I hadn’t done anything.  Then he'd talk about the stuff I’d been given and he hadn’t received and then it was privileges I’d received and  he hadn’t.  One of our  babysitters got in  a lot of trouble from my mom because she had allowed me to play outside later in the night than he.  My brother was so angry he ran out into the street stark naked.  But he didn’t care what anyone thought.  He was mad.  If I'd done the same, I would have been traumatized for weeks.  After all,  I was outraged when other kids called me names.   My brother was an amazing manipulator of feelings and I'd get sidetracked by the smallest slight.  
            When Donald Trump refused to take part in a Republican leaders’ debate back in January, he claimed that he would not be treated fairly by Megyn Kelly.  He says, “She doesn't treat me fairly. I'm not a big fan of hers at all...If I think I’m going to be treated unfairly, I’ll do something else.”  This is after she’d helped moderate one of the previous Republican debates.  After accusing Trump of calling women everything from "fat pigs", to "dogs, slobs and disgusting animals," he accused her of having “blood coming out of her wherever.”  There’s a guy who can manipulate the idea of fairness.  When he refused to pledge that he wouldn’t run as a third party candidate if he lost the Republican candidacy, he told the media, “All I ask is fairness.”  Bill O’Reilly concurs that the media is not treating Donald Trump fairly.

         
   The Wildrose Party has created an “Equalization Fairness Panel” to ensure that Albertans get their fair share of equalization payments.  He says that what’s happened in the past isn’t fair because Albertans haven’t received any return from the payments they’ve made.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, "equalization" is a transitive verb meaning to make equal, to compensate for, to make uniform especially to distribute uniformly.”  And to review, fair is the “Impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination.”  If in the past, Alberta has been wealthier than other provinces, then they would be giving, not receiving money so Brian's "Equalization Fairness Panel” would be a non-starter.  I would suspect that, for Brian, fair means what is ours is ours and fuck the rest of the provinces.  
 The Alberta NDP also likes the word however the context is not so confusing.  They want fair resource royalties, fair referring to citizens of Alberta and not the oil companies, mostly foreign owned.  Fortunately for those companies, the Alberta Royalty Review set out to review the Royalties claimed they were already “fair” so we’re all good.  The NDP government would also like to restore fairness to Alberta’s tax system.  In the context of the conversation, fairness would be more tax to be taken from those earning over $120,000.  There are lots of Albertans, some crazy mad, who think the NDP version of fairness is not so fair.  
            Lately, I’ve seen “fair” used by students when they write about whether wealthy Canadians should help support the less fortunate.  For many of them, taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor is just not fair.  If someone works hard for their money, they shouldn't have to give it to someone who sits around on the couch all day.  “Fair” means nothing to me because it has to have a context.  “Fair” for whom?  My brother?  My students?  Their parents? That moron Donald Trump and his supporters?  The Wildrose party?  The NDP?  
           For fuck’s sake, I’ve long ago forgiven my brother and I understand my students but he rest?  Really stop.  Put your demands in a context that makes sense.  Donald baby, you treat women like shit.  You think they deserve it, then say so.  Or not.  Just don’t go into a pout because one gets the better of you.  Or the Wildrose?  You think the whole Canadian thing is a drain on the Canadian economy.  Just come out and say it.  Quit the pouting.  And the NDP.   Just please, don’t use that word.  Say that everyone deserves a minimum standard of living and the rich can give up a few dollars without even knowing that it's gone.  
            When I think of fair, I think of the person who’s just been told they’ve been diagnosed with cancer or their child has been in a fatal car accident or they live in country caught in the middle of a civil war where they've narrowly escaped death from the shrapnel scattered by a barrel bomb dropped by government forces.  Or that person who can’t feed their starving child or the adolescent girl born to a Moslem family in Somalia and the women of her family are celebrating her upcoming circumcision.  Or that individual's house that has been destroyed by fire or wiped out by a tsunami. 


            If you think you’re not being treated fairly, find another word because there’s always a context.  I didn’t think it was fair that my brother did fuck all at home while I was out mowing the lawn or shoveling the walk or riding my bike to the store to get the milk.  Then again, I didn't have to worry about getting the crap beat out of me every time our parents left the house.  And Megyn Kelly probably doesn't think it’s fair that a pig like Donald Trump gets to call her unfair after she's attempted to make him accountable for his vile statements about women.  
            Nothing's fair.  And yet, I'm lying in bed last night thinking about the article emailed on my behalf to the local newspaper about our daughter who recently graduated from Cambridge University. My wife was given credit for having written it and I thought, "That's not fair."  

Monday, 7 March 2016

Genitals


A stewardess with West Jet is suing the company for wrongful dismissal after she accused a pilot of assaulting her.  He’d invited her for drinks on the balcony of his hotel room during a layover in Maui.  Then he grabbed her, dragged her to the bed and began groping her genitals.  And that got me thinking, genitals?  Why genitals?  I mean guys are obviously genitals, what with all the different parts just hanging there.  But why women?  When I posed the question to my wife she said, why don’t you write a blog post about it?  And I thought, why not?  But before I did that, I thought I should do some research And I did and now I feel stupid because, after all, I am supposed to be an educated guy and I did once teach sex ed to Grade 9 students.  My favourite lesson was on STDs where I utilized the assistance of a flip chart.  As I faced the students, a description of the STD would appear on my side of the chart and the students would see an poster size, photographic image of of the STD in all its Technicolor glory.  Their reaction on every flip was priceless.  How I loved that lesson. Obviously, it was the students who were learning and not me.  When I told my wife how stupid I felt after my brief investigation of female genitals via Wikipedia, she just laughed.  Then I said, “You wondered, didn’t you?” and she said “Yah,” which just goes to show but then again, I still feel stupid.