Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Operation Just Cause

22 years ago today I was fast asleep. Under the veil of darkness, navy seals swam stealthily towards their targets. Weapons were locked and loaded and night vision goggles snapped into position. The overly confident enemy sharpened their blades of corruption. Bombs fell…whistling merrily as they descended upon poverty. Bullets flew, their traces glowing through the night like fireflies at warp speed. Cannons blasted; helicopters were hovering dragons spewing fire upon fortresses. Explosives were anonymously planted like carefully placed parcels under the Christmas tree.

City blocks singed. Ashes fell for what seemed like weeks. Looting was done casually and without remorse. Old appliances replaced new ones. Some fell from windows as shiny new microwaves and toaster ovens found their posts. People intently looked for matching shoes in heaps of merchandise strewn about, as if they were in the store during a sale. I saw one kid pulling a dryer on a sheet of cardboard, his friend pushing from behind, grinning with satisfaction over their bounty. Everyone in the city had new clothes, but this was far from a fortuitous holiday as thousands were suddenly homeless, refugees in their own streets.

The months, weeks, and days leading up to the conflict were filled with minor inconveniences. Sometimes we had to stay late at school for safety reasons. Infantrymen and their German Shepherds patrolled the school grounds. M16’s were as commonplace as backpacks and school books. With a multitude of military installations in the country, military personnel, vehicles, and weapons were ubiquitous ornaments on a tropical backdrop.

Curfews were eventually implemented. Checkpoints and searches became the protocol. Unlike airport security, we welcomed soldiers into our homes as it made us feel safe and gave us brief moments to express our appreciation. I remember my step-mom would make sandwiches and give them cookies, sodas, and caprisuns. It was obvious they appreciated the hospitality and the reprieve from their usual rations. I imagined some of them bragged to their buddies, while others stuffed their cargo pockets and greedily enjoyed their snacks in solitude.

Armored vehicles patrolled the streets instead of police cruisers. Tensions were measured by words from the phonetic alphabet...Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta, indicating the degree of alert. Things eventually became tense. Stories of Americans being detained and harassed quickly circulated. A car was shot up. Servicemen were killed. Panama’s dictator declared war. Weeks later he surrendered, blanketed by blaring rock n roll music.

Somewhere in the night, a new president was sworn in; a barrage of missiles and bullets pierced the humid air. Families huddled close together, a corrupt dictator fled, and bombs peppered the city like a falling deck of cards. Somewhere in the night, a teenage boy was dreaming as an invasion took place. 22 years ago today…I was fast asleep.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Southern Comfort

I recently read a friend's blog post where she had confessed to reading an article that suggested Southern manners shouldn't be taught to children because they are demeaning given their historical context. This immediately made me think of similar complaints that we tend to hear in more frequency during the holidays.

The idea of not teaching children manners is unfathomable to me. It points to a fundamental problem with society; not only people's aversion to teaching discipline and respect if it has any relation to religion or an undesirable historical context, but also to an egotistical and illusory concept of entitlement masked by a desire for political correctness.

Look, I say yes ma'am and no sir, because it's how I was raised to show respect to my elders, strangers, and to those for whom I work. If you find it offensive, express that to me and I shall refrain from saying it to you, out of respect. But to get enraged because it was said to begin with, or for you to want such practices eliminated from a child's upbringing because you are so vehemently insecure, hyper-sensitive, think the world should bend to your will, or because they have some historical context which you find offensive is a little ridiculous.

Unfortunately, most of our history as a race is littered with war, slavery, death, slaughter, and sacrifice, but from those ashes and from that bloodshed we have emerged, evolved, and hopefully gleaned the positive to pass on to future generations. It's inconceivable to me that people continue to hold on to the past and to victimize themselves and entire groups of people. Everything we do today has roots in some pagan ritual, some form of organized religion, some travesty, a rite of passage, or as a result of overcoming adversity in order to survive. Perhaps we should get rid of Thanksgiving because Indians were killed and Christmas because, God forbid, there's a baby involved who was believed to be a forgiver of sin. While we're at it, let's stop calling our country America because, for all intents and purposes, its a term mired in the genocide of indigenous people.

Okay, so perhaps Christopher Columbus day is a little stupid. I'll give you that. But I am going to continue opening doors, offering my seat, wishing people a Merry Christmas, saying yes and no Ma'am, and eventually teach my children to do the same. I would venture to say that anyone who takes offense to such trivial cultural gestures of politeness has issues far beyond what can be fixed by the mere elimination of them. I don't get offended when a Japanese person bows as he greets me, when Muslims witness Ramadan, or when the Chinese celebrate the new year a month after the rest of the world has, and do so in the name of warding off a mythical lion who apparently is afraid of loud noises and the color red. Who would have thought?

In the spirit of good will, peace, and family, I think we should embrace each other's cultural differences and spread good intention and cheer, regardless of why or how we came to do such things. In the end, we can't change our origins anyway, we can however choose to take these opportunities to share in the merriment, company, and joy of others, whether there is a nativity scene under a tree or the faint glow of a Menorah's candles on a mantelpiece. In either case, I'll be having a few drinks.....I hope that doesn't offend you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Good Reads

Whenever I mention Good Reads to people I often get facial expressions that suggest I asked them for a quart of blood, or if they know the exact distance to the moon. Due to society's digital addiction to social media, I imagine that most people would have heard about this site by now, but I guess it's never too late to learn you a lil sumthin sumthin.

So, Goodreads.com is somewhat of a social media site for people who like to read. It allows you to easily organize all of your books into different shelves, those you have read, are currently reading, and those which you would like to eventually get to. It has a great search engine, produces recommendations, keeps you updated on your favorite authors and genres, has book clubs, talks to facebook, and even links directly with amazon if you just can't wait to purchase something right away. As if those weren't enough features, it is similar to facebook in that you can add friends, see what they are reading, and read their comments about books they've reviewed. To get started, it scans your favorite email address to see if any of your contacts are already on the site. Me gusta.

The only thing I don't like about it, is that its newsfeed cannot be imported into hootsuite.com, another one of my favorite sites, that allows you to stream up to five social media sites for free onto one dashboard while monitoring or publishing to any or all simultaneously. It eliminates the need to have 5 different tabs open on your browser to update each individually. Brilliant. I'll talk more about hootsuite in another post. 

Goodreads has a reading challenge that keeps track of all the books you read in a year and helps you reach a specific goal. I like to think of it as a personal trainer. I picture an owl with a headband and sweats, pushing me to flex my brain for an extra page or two. I figure it was better than Richard Simmons in his nuthuggers. But hey, whatever motivates you. My goal this year is for a modest 30, which I'm pretty close to hitting. I think I may be closer than indicated, but can't remember the dates I finished certain books, so I'm not including those. When I do have the time to dedicate to fiction, time that isn't consumed by reading the Kama Sutra text books or articles, I generally keep a book a week pace. There's a widget on this blog that documents my latest reads. I don't always get around to posting my full reviews.

Anyway, for those of you who like to read, I thought I might suggest it. If you do decide to explore, or even be bold and sign up, my screen name is Mr. Poopie. His Sexy Caramel Highness and intrepid Ruler of the Universe was too long. Sometimes you just have to make small sacrifices...