May 31, 2014

The Problem of the Hammer and the Nail

“Just because you have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.” 

So said Barack Obama in his speech this week at Westpoint where he explained what pundits are calling the Obama Doctrine, also known as official US foreign policy.  

Obama has been forced by critics to explain his foreign policy because it appears to lack consistency.  The hammer metaphor applies to the fact that the USA has developed the world's most powerful Hammer, it's military, which has the most weapons (Hammers),  and is capable of a military response (Hammer Time) whenever perceived American interests are at stake.  
When we say American interests, please read Corporate interests; follow the oil, follow the money.

This is The Hammer.  

And the "Nail(s)" in this metaphor are the multitude of situations, problems, and political developments in the world beyond the US borders that may require US intervention, or "hammering".  Problems within the US border can also require Hammers, but we can call this Policing the populace.  

Let us explore this metaphor in greater depth.  A hammer is a tool in the tool kit that is best used for applying directed and significant pressure to a pointed object (the nail); this force of pressure hopeully helps to drive that point (Nail) home.  

Is a hammer,  like a gun, only dangerous when used by someone who doesn't know how to use it, doesn't use it often, or can no longer focus on what it is they are hammering?  Many purple thumbs have lived to tell the story.  

My older brother once told me of his Shop teacher friend, who said to one of the students "hand me that wrench".  To which the student replied, "Which wrench?"
Shop teacher, "It doesn't matter.  I am going to use it as a hammer anyway."

 A hammer like a gun can be potentially dangerous or powerful in the hands of anyone who has one in their possession.  Guns don't kill people, People kill people, so says the NRA. There is a simplistic truth to that statement.  The next logical question would be the affect of having so many guns available, that when you go reaching for the remote, and instead pick up the gun, well, the story plays out every few weeks in America.

Hammers do not hammer nails; people with hammers do.   

Militaries, in most cases, do not hammer villages, kill innocent children, send children to foreign countries; political leaders order the military to do so.  This is basic Chain of Command.  In the US, which is a police/military state, the executive leader is called the Commander-in-Chief.  Besides surviving the 2 year campaign for the highest office in the land, what qualifications are required of these leaders before handed them the Hammers?  Look at the difference between a real leader like Romeo D'Allaire or Eisenhower ( men who served in the military) and "leaders" like Obama, Bush, Harper etc.  These same leaders who urge us to Support the Troops, do not support the same troops when they come home.  Even D'Allaire some 20+ years later admits he suffer from PTSD.  

My dad used to love to go to the hardware store.  He loved gadgets, and shiny objects.  The newest hammer in the tool kit are drones.  Drones are hammers that can be directed from a distance, so that there is less risk for the Hammerer to be hammered themselves in retaliation.  Just as guns don't kill people, and hammers don't hammer nails, similarly, drones do not kill children; the Presidents who order the military to carry out these orders are the ones who must bear that responsibility.   

Another phrase with regard to Hammers and Nails that we might want to remember: “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Sort of drives the point home.

May 25, 2014


 May 25 2007.


Black Betty licks her lips with the Devil’s Dust

In a hole in the back where the mirrors all rust

She can turn the clock back make a white man black

She owns your soul Gave you a heart attack

And she’ll serve you up right when you’re down that way

There you’ll talk to a rock Let him have his say

Everything goes blurry monkeys jumping in your heart

They say the devil’s in the details let’s go back to the start

Black Betty cuts a line through the crowd like a cat

With her nails so sharp that the mirror ball’s flat

With eyes like a needle she finds her way into your heart

She throws the best party but you got the best part

Now your blood went greasy but your hair stayed thick

And your fingers go sticky on her Lickety Stick

There’s a bowl full of bacon and a whipped up crowd

And the Devil Dust Daddy makes his Daddy so proud

Your lungs on fire there’s chicken wire in your heart

Just breathe through your nose if you’re so damned smart

You’re an emergency waiting This was not what you planned;

Gave your heart to the devil but you didn’t take her hand.

April 18, 2014

One Good One

Twenty one years and 9 months ago I made a decision  that changed my life for the better.

I married the most beautiful woman in the world, at least the most beautiful woman in the world to me, the woman who is salt to my pepper (and peter).  We had lived together for 13 years so we were not strangers, but a commitment was made with the institution of marriage, and  9 months later, almost to the day, our daughter was born.

In the movie Brokeback Mountain, one cowboy seals his love and fate with the line, "you complete me."  This means that you were incomplete before, and perhaps that there is some kind of finish line.

I can't say that either my wife or daughter complete me, because that seems so final, and also because there is still so much more to complete.  It's not a question of a glass being full or empty; at a certain point, you need to get more glasses.

What  I can say without hesitation is that my wife and daughter make my life better than it would be without them, that they bring so much life to my life, that I treasure all our many experiences together, both good and bad, and that they are without a doubt two of the best reasons to keep living.

We live for intimate moments in this life.   We crave intimacy, to come together.  Science proves this with quantum theory.  We are not meant for separation.

When you get to a certain age, people ask "are you in a relationship?"
Then they ask " is it a serious relationship?"
Then they ask "when can we meet this person?"
The next question is "when are you two getting married?"
Have you thought about having kids?
When are you having more kids?
Nothing seems to be enough for some people.

When I was asked "how many  kids do you have?", I always answered, one good one.

What more could I ask for?

One good one.

She is smart, funny, talented and a real stunner, as someone in her daycare once said.  Even the nurses at the hospital when she was born, said she is a beautiful baby, and we can say that because they all aren't beautiful you know, some are downright ugly.

I think ugliness tends to grow on people. With time.   Like a suit that doesn't quite fit.

When I was a child I would say to my parents that I was going to run away.  They said, fine.  You can go out like you came in, in your birthday suit.  The thought of walking naked out the door and down the street always stopped me from making my exit plans a reality.

My child is turning 21 today.  One day in the future, she will want to leave, and I know that.
While there are days when I would welcome this news, in reality it would leave a huge hole.   But that is life.  Huge holes.

As our children age and separate from the family, the intimacy that we knew when they were so small is usually long gone.

I remember reading her bedtime stories, and she would look at me with such rapt attention, then pulling me closer to her, and saying "puh".  Then she laughed.  Then she did it again.
"Puh".  And again.  It sticks with me what a strange intimate moment that was.  A closeness that cannot be duplicated in any other way.  

Or when she would tell me, Dad, I need a hug.  I demand a hug.  And I would oblige.   Or the night when I was reading her a story I had read her so many times before, and I stopped, and she starting reciting the story, word for word, verbatim for almost a page and half.   I was shocked, amazed but she was telling me loud and clear she was listening.

I remember the time  she was learning to skate, and went out to the middle of the ice and just sat down, oblivious to the rest of the kids or the class going on around her.

I remember walking into her second grade class and some other girl making a catty comment, and how I felt like punching an eight year old girl for being mean to my little girl.

I remember driving her to school so many days, years, and usually being late, and her telling me from the backseat one day, that's ok Dad, we are a family of liars.  OUCH!

I remember the day she graduated from high school, and everyone was supposed to write a slogan that described who they were.

She came out with a sign that read "Colour Outside the Lines."

That's my girl.

Happy Birthday!

February 10, 2014

The Hands of Time

Time is all around us.  It reminds us; it surrounds us, haunts us, envelops us in darkness and memories.  Ghosts rewind down empty hallways....

My good friend and I were talking today, and we went down a path that lead to a discussion of fathers.  Immediately I recalled my father's hands.

Why his hands you might ask?  I remember that last day of his life, and knowing that his life was near its end, and I took his hands in mine, and I felt the firmness, the solid meaty firmness of my father's hands, the meat and potatoes and way too much gravy firmament  of his hands, his hands in mine.  

These were the hands of a man who grew up in the Great Depression, a man who always had great stories of his adventures growing up in East Vancouver.  How he used his last dime taking his girl home on the streetcar to Dunbar, then walking back to Granville and Broadway, he stops in at the Aristocratic.   He sees a neighbourhood man who was a boxer, a gangster perhaps.  The man says, Freddie, what are you doing out here at this hour?  So my dad tells him the story, and the man says, Well, Freddie, do you want to hang out with me the rest of the night?  If you help me with this favour I will make sure you get home safe.   Then he put a big roll of cash in my father's hands.
My dad was to hold this cash for him, and they ventured off  to various houses of ill-repute.  It was an adventure, and just one of the many adventures that my father used to tell.  Each time he told the same story, there was a new detail that was not revealed in the previous telling.  

How telling were the histories in his hands: the years working on the Great Northern Railway, when a  conductor grabbed him by the ear, pulling him on to the train as it was moving, which explained his cauliflower ear.  At least that was the story we got; what really happened to cause that mishapened ear will never be known now.   These were the same hands that laboured in the restaurant my mother and he started in Qualicum with the help of my grandfather.  The same hands that stirred the pot and held the restaurant soup ladle that resides in my drawer.  Just an ordinary soup ladle that one can find in any restaurant supply store, but still, it is imbued with the hands of my mother and father who used it so many years before the economic realities of running a restaurant crushed that dream.
These were the same hands that went off to war, that opened the door to the rooming house my mother stayed in while they were stationed in Halifax, sneaking past the landlady who was used to putting a stop to these kinds of late night visits of young people in love. 

These were the same hands that held my mother in his arms, so many nights, caressing her, holding her, creating eight babies(that we know of), seven of whom survived, one of which is me.

These same thick working man's hands of my father are so different than my own hands.  His fingers were thick while mine are thin.  His fingers short, while mine are long.  His hands so warm and my hands so cold, so icy cold today.  His wedding ring a simple gold band, which is the same as me.  I wanted a simple gold band, just like my father who was married to mother until the day he died.  

As I sat there looking into his sad eyes knowing this moment would haunt me the rest of my life, I felt the warmth of his hands in mine.  And later that night, after driving back to Canada from Olympia Washington with my sister, after listening to Smashing Pumpkins and screaming and crying in her Golf as we knew, we knew that this was the day, I was awakened by my wife's father, my father in law, who told me the voice on the other end of the phone had just told him that my father had died.  So we all got out of bed and met in the kitchen, and the whiskey was poured, and glasses raised.
A week later, sitting in a room with my mother and brothers, my brother said something about my father passing away, and my mother, without missing a beat, said, "He didn't pass away.  He died.  He is dead and he died."  No candy coating it here.  And that is my mother in a moment, a perfect mother moment that was so cold and matter of fact, so disimilar to everything else about her, but yet, like me, this duality exists.   The warmth and the cold.

Her hands are very different than my fathers.  Her hands are more like mine.  More like her mother, my Nana and her father, who died before I was born.  Long, cold English fingers, descended from the Huguenots, runaways from France, elegant, aristocratic hands, fingers that seemed destined to play the piano.  

Her hands were so soft, worn down and worn in from all the children, the laundry, the dishes, the endless cleaning that a house of seven children would bring.  

I remember my hunger for her hands.  How I wanted and craved the caress of my mother, wanting wanting always waiting and wanting more.   Lying in bed with scarlet fever, chicken pox, or measles (both German and non-German) my head burning with fever, and the bed spinning, and the room coming in and out of focus, the kind gentle hands of my mother, so cooling, so soft wiped my brow, brushed my cheek, and held my hands.

How those same hands found me in Atlanta, when at age 49, I had a heart attack.  There was my mother, before the dementia set in, by my bedside holding my hand, her little boy in bed. 

Those same hands now connected to the arms and body of my mother, whose mind is lost within her.  
Still,  she gifts me with her occasional laugh, what I take as recognition and a conspiratorial wink, making me think that just maybe she is still in there, not completely lost, but struggling to get to the surface of her congested mind.  

These are the hands of time, the hands of my mother and father, hands gone, and hands lost.  Johnny Thunders says, "You can't put your arms around a memory", but sometimes you can get a hand in there, grasping for fingers, pulling up these memories from the dark pool of time.