Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Don't Get Fooled Again

(or Who Are We Kidding – Really!)

On December 28, the President of the United States addressed the nation, his speech opening I quote below:

“Good morning, everybody. I wanted to take just a few minutes to update the American people on the ATTEMPTED terrorist attack that occurred on Christmas Day…” (emphasis added)

I’m confused. I mean before we even get to what terrorism is all about, let’s just stop and ask what took place? A man, now referred to as an “alleged suspect” (I’m sorry – the wordsmithing and double talk is killing me) was able to successfully breach security and board a plane carrying explosives which he later detonated. Fortunately for those on the flight and their loved ones, it was not quite the detonation the terrorist was most likely hoping for. Some may wish to debate the use of the word detonate. Fine. It doesn’t matter to the argument, but for the record, if people heard a noise that sounded like fireworks going off, that is a detonation in my book. And some major daily newspapers have referred to a detonation.

So why are we dancing around this subject with the word “attempted”? What part of detonating an explosive device on a flight allows us to think of this as an attempted terrorist attack? Other than the plane falling from the sky, which may or may not have been the intention of the attack (and I think we can probably assume that it was the intent) I think at the point of detonation we are well past “attempt”. This was a terrorist attack, planned and executed, end of story.

In my opinion, the news media and American government desperately want us to believe that this was an attempt – as though something within our control or our capability prevented it. An Associated Press headline "Attempt to blow up airliner foiled" (emphasis added) is perhaps the most laughable extreme I have seen. I suppose this sort of propaganda works because as much as the news media and the government want us to believe this, we probably want to believe it more. So we take the little placebo, tell ourselves that all is well, and life goes on.

But let us dig a little deeper. While the President did not in his speech use words like “failed” or “unsuccessful” in respect of the terrorist attack, but they have appeared in the press. This to me suggests and even poorer understanding of what just happened. Failed? Unsuccessful? Try telling that to the passengers on that flight and their families. Try telling that to the thousands of people whose travel plans were disrupted or the comfort during travel was severely marred. Try telling that to the airline industry that will no doubt suffer at least a temporary reduction in business. What part of terrorism do people not get?

Terrorism has a range of definitions but in simple terms terrorism is the threat or use of violence against people or property for the purpose of intimidation. Do we think for one moment that if the plane had crashed that other than a military strike (against whom would be quite a puzzle), would we have seen anything different in all the knee jerk reactions and new measures at airports and on flights. I liked the hands folded on laps the best and want to invest in new seat belt technology that senses the position of the hands. Such belts should probably not allow an people the freedom to unfasten them, and might also contain biometric sensors that show if someone has the right levels of anxiety and excitement that might indicate he (or she) is about to attempt a terrorist act. Ridiculous – well of course it’s ridiculous – it might be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

So I contend that this was not just a terrorist attack, but a successful act of terrorism. The only person who didn’t get everything he was hoping for (from the perspective of the terrorist organization) was the terrorist who instead of being in paradise and enjoying all the pleasures that go with it, is probably in serious pain due to burns in his groin region and languishing in a US jail. Well maybe not languishing – he probably has better cable service than I do. I just hope his health care is no better than what I might need to get used to – but that’s another subject. Oh well the goals of the organization which is after all more important than that of the individual were well and truly met.

But just in case you are starting to doubt that everything is under control, you should be further calmed by watching the speech. You will notice that the President to further reinforce the low key nature of the whole event is wearing an open necked shirt. Hopefully this didn’t distract him too much from his vacation.

Closing thoughts – I don’t think I can sum it up any better than these classic lyrics from The Who…

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Girls in the House

A good friend of mine, my best man in fact once offered me sage advice along the lines of “Peter you have to trust me on this, but it will be well worth your while to watch a chick flick with Joy from time to time”. I won’t bother explaining why he said that – you can figure it out for yourself. It would be fair to say however I have heeded his advice and would have to say that it was good.

Many years later I have not just Joy, but three women in the house. So more often that I would choose, and with titles I would not give a second thought, I find myself watching a chick flick. Last night, it was “Julie and Julia”. Jilly received the DVD for Christmas and was keen to watch it. I think I was given a pass, which was tempting, but the idea of putting my feet up in front of the fire with my girls was appealing enough to overcome my other misgivings.

Turns out it was an OK movie – really – I’m not just saying that in case Joy should read this. The girls of course loved it. Mallory possibly driven by some sort of sensory trigger was instantly hungry and started looking through cook books before the movie was even over (I think she may have already seen it). While there was some interest in the possibility of boning a duck (firmly vetoed by Joy), the crowd favorite was boeuf bourguignon – which I must say did look good and if I hadn’t eaten too much at Sweet Tomatoes (salad and soup buffet) in a getaway date with Joy just prior to watching the movie, may have had me salivating also.

So with girls in the house, one thing inevitably leads to another. Recipes have been tracked down (afraid we don’t have the Julia Child cookbook), plans have been made, and tomorrow, boeuf bourguignon it will be.

I love my girls. Food and time spent together over a meal are valued in our house. The reality of having teenagers (more or less) is that our life including evenings gets very busy, but we usually manage to have some family meals every week. Even the girls seem to miss family dinners if there is an extended spell without one. We are so blessed that Joy loves to cook and constantly manages to not only take care of all the other never ending household chores, yet still plans out and prepares interesting meals. Sure there are some family favorites that will appear with reasonable regularity, but Joy’s creativity means monotony is not something we need to fear at the dining table. I love it that the girls enjoy working in the kitchen with her. Possibly Jilly enjoys it more, but it is not uncommon for either of them to want to cook something. I am sure they will enjoy the preparing of this special meal tomorrow almost as much as I am sure I will enjoy eating it.

Bon appétit

PS. If it looks spectacular, perhaps I will explore how photos can be added to a blog post.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I Love the Beach

I grew up several miles from the Coral Sea in northern Australia. Some of my fondest memories as a boy are tied to the sea. I remember riding my bike from our farm to a saltwater inlet to fish or catch crabs - crab pots balanced precariously on my handlebars. I remember late nights sitting on docks with fishing and other boyhood friends as I got older, probably smoking cigarettes. I remember the awesome Mangrove Jack I caught one time camping with the Boy Scouts - and how good it tasted cooked over an open fire soon after.

I think though that one of the powerful ties I have to the beach and the sea beyond is it holds some of my fondest memories of doing things with my dad. Family day trips to Clifton Beach or Palm Cove were a regular. Often this would be with other family friends and there would be a hoard of us kids playing on the sand and in the water. We also holidayed at the beach on occasion with our trusty caravan towed endless dusty miles by our old “Kingswoods”. One of these, again with several other families at Rose Bay near Bowen included several games of hockey on the beach and led to my taking up the sport and lifelong enjoyment of it. There were late nights with my dad alone on the waters of Smith Creek catching prized mud crabs from our small dinghy using “dilly” pots some of which dad had woven the mesh himself. We also had a larger 20 ft boat we would take to the reef. Often this was with two or three of dad’s workmates so I felt very grown up to be out with them on 1-2 night trips. One of my funniest memories is hearing a loud splash followed by my dad yelling as we were stirring one morning in a mainland bay we used to come into late in the night to shelter and catch a few hours sleep. Dad was in the water holding onto the anchor rope with one hand, and the bow rail with the other. He had ventured up to take a leak, and the screws holding the rail to the deck had given out as dad leaned on it.

Now with a family of my own, we still enjoy time at the beach. Today we will pack and leave the shores of Cancun, but not before taking one last morning walk along the beach. My bride says I am to wake her for this one so we can go together. Joy loves being at the beach although has some misgivings about sand - and early mornings. This week then is the perfect compromise of ocean views from our deck, a pool that almost spills into the sea, and lots of other family here with us so some mornings were free from the noise of stirring children.

Mallory my oldest loves the beach as much as I do. One of my favorite memories of this year was a morning walk with her on the beach in Florida the day we dropped her at the Teen Missions base so she could spend most of the rest of her summer vacation with a team serving the poor in Haiti. I do not know what we talked about as we ambled along the waters edge, stopping here to pick up a shell, or there to reshape the beach with our feet and watch the water rework it. I just remember spending the time doing it.

Wandering along the water's edge is definitely one of my favorite things to do at the beach. There is something about the energy in play as the waves and the land relentlessly collide. At that point I feel like I am seeing the hand of God as he reworks the shoreline - not because it is imperfect, but because he is infinitely creative. I also feel the awesome power of God is on display. In my career in the mining industry, I have seen many millions of cubic meters of earth moved around - at some single mines, approaching a rate of a million cubic meters a day. This takes a lot of effort and yet God moves this much material around at the shoreline every day - effortlessly - that is amazing. Energy is a big deal these days, especially how we produce it. We use a lot and yet there is probably more energy at work in the tide and the waves than all our power plants and oil consumption combined. Incredible!

Here in Cancun the beach has been badly eroded by hurricanes in recent years. Mexico contains contrasts often more evident than in the USA or Australia although the same extremes in poverty exist there too. So it is somewhat difficult to watch (with an engineers curiosity – I’ll spare you the details) the reconstruction of the beach by the local authorities, no doubt at considerable expense so well off holiday makers like myself can relax in a tropical paradise. A rather sanitized tropical paradise at that – not here on the hotel strip do you see the hovels, the potholed streets, the beggars, the stray dogs, or the trash you find with little effort in other areas. Even the beach is raked off by hotel staff to ensure our vacation is perfect.

But this is not a simple question. Take away the attraction, the illusion of tropical paradise and the tourists may stop coming. What then for the thousands of hotel and tourism industry employees? This question is in no ways and attempt to justify the expense or our being able to enjoy the week we have just had. It is what it is - a question ... no easy answers, no simple solutions. I wonder how many of these complex questions do I overlook without a moments thought - safe in my comfortable life and the fortress of my own opinion?

And what of the beach? It carries on in an endless state of flux. We make our futile efforts to reshape it and bend it to our needs, but the wind and the waves in the end prevail – we hold sway for only a moment in time.