Sunday, July 24, 2016

My Life in a Backpack

We were checking in at Carcassone airport for our Ryanair flight to London. I had paid for one checked back of 20 kilograms; as it turned out, I could have gotten away with a smaller charge for a 15kg bag, but with Ryanair (and other low-fare airlines) having an overweight bag could cost you even more, so pay a little upfront to eliminate the risk of paying later. (Ryanair's CEO once proposed to charge passengers to use the toilet on the plane during a flight!)

The queue was quite long and only two agents to handle the 40-50 people checking bags. For a good 30 minutes, I got to observe the people snaking through the stanchions with me, and could probably write an interesting short story with them as characters. D-L sat over yonder and waited, and of course struck up a conversation with the woman seated next to her.

As he was tagging my suitcase, the young man asked if he could check my carry-on luggage -- my backpack -- gratuit ... for free! My initial reaction was near-shock that Ryanair would offer anything without charge. Even the drinks and snacks on board are cash or credit card.

But then I realized something even more important. I simply did not want to be separated from the things in the backpack: my computer (and power cord), iPad (and power cord), camera (and power cord), tape recorder (and power cord), papers I had brought to work on, notebook, pens.

With the exception of Donna-Lane, my day-to-day life is contained in that computer. All my work files, financial records, thousands of photos, my connection to family and friends all over the world.

That's why those electronic devices are in the backpack. That's why they don't leave my possession, except when I have to place them in the tray to go through security (and then I don't go through the scanner until they do). The idea of risking them getting lost enroute to and from the luggage hold of an airplane is anathema.

Oh, I know all about backups. Yes, I could replace the computer, iPad, etc. within a day or two and be back in business. But what of the instant "fix" I might need from scrolling through emails and Facebook if I am without an iPad for hours and hours? What of scanning the news of the world headlines on Drudge? How could I survive without cute kitten videos?

No, thank you, young man. Keep your hands off my backpack.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Do I Need to Think About Open Carry?

I am, by nature, a trusting soul.

I am becoming less so.

I don't yet see terrorists and drug dealers under the bed, but I am aware of them in the shadows of the streets.

Today, I was walking along a road in our usually quiet village, on my way to where Donna-Lane had a doctor follow-up visit.

A dark car swung off the road, and I assumed they were going to park. Instead, the driver, a woman in her late 20s perhaps, stopped alongside me and was asking me something.

In my trusting soul mode, I moved closer to the car to try to understand what she was saying. She seemed to be looking for a location, a street or a business. But with my limited hearing and limited French, I couldn't pick up her rapid-fire French. I probably had no idea of the location she sought even if I could understand her. It was pointless to have even listened to her question, except to try to be polite, rather than ignoring her and keep on walking.

Seated next to her was a young man, perhaps 15 or 16, dark complected, possibly of Arabic heritage, wearing a hooded sweatshirt. He didn't look sullen but he didn't look friendly either.

After I'd told them I didn't know of the place they were seeking, and they drove off, I thought about what might have happened in view of recent events like the murders by truck in Nice or the random street shootings in Phoenix. The woman or teen might have had a gun and shot me. Or since guns are much harder to obtain in France, they might have jumped out of the car and slashed me with a knife. (There was no one else on the street that I had noticed.) Or they might have had an accomplice stuff me in the trunk to kidnap me for ransom -- good luck with that, given my bank account -- or just to kill me because I'm a Western white guy and automatically the enemy.

It probably would not have mattered to them that we buy our meat from the two Halal butchers in town. Or that we are friends with a wonderful artist from Morocco. And with a former Ambassador to the US from a Middle Eastern country. Or that one of our dearest "family of choice" is a couple from Syria.

I don't like the feelings of suspicion. I prefer to take people at face value until they prove otherwise.

I don't like to think about maybe carrying a knife as self-defence when walking around the streets (Swiss Army, of course). In London, I stuck a metal nail file in my pocket as we headed to the theatre district after dark.

I have never been inclined to own a gun -- too dangerous with children or grandchildren around. Though I wouldn't mind have a taser handy. My best defence is probably a golf club -- that I know how to use, and it could do serious damage to a kneecap!

Wonder what people would think if I "openly carried" a sand wedge on the streets?

Friday, July 15, 2016

Future Fear

I fear for the future of my grandchildren.

And I am frustrated by my inability to influence the type of changes that would put the world on a more positive trajectory.

Everywhere you look there is an amplification of intimidation, terror, violence, senseless killing.

The root of the problems, in my view, is the lust for money. The symptoms may include racial and religious hatred, inconsistent application of justice, armed conflict between and within nations. But look closer and at the core of every divisive issue is money or lack thereof.

When the US and its puppet states drop bombs from drones on wedding parties in the Middle East, it begets radicalized jihadists who shoot up Paris or Orlando and drive lorries through holiday crowds in Nice. And then nearly ever non-Muslim in the Western world looks with mistrust on nearly every Muslim in their neighborhood or on the trains and undergrounds. And vice versa.

Why the drone bombs? Well, it started with oil, didn't it? And then kinda got out of hand? But consider, too, that someone -- mostly US defence contractors -- have been making bucketfuls of money from war and the constant spectre of war. Not to mention so-called nation-building reconstruction projects. Follow the money.

I have seen, up close, so-called Christian preachers who rail against the alleged sins of others as a blatant fundraising tool, then personally pocket much of the donations. And maybe spend some of it on their own sins. (To be fair, I have also known good, self-sacrificing preachers who are truly interested in the spiritual and physical well-being of others.) The same sort of self-aggrandizing rhetoric is true of some imams who spew and spread hate while enjoying supposedly off-limits pleasures. Follow the money.

A presidential candidate is given a pass for gross and most likely criminal negligence by political appointees, while a young person is incarcerated in a for-profit prison for a very minor offense (often a trumped-up charge). Are we surprised at the anger? Couldn't be because Wall Street wants their corrupt friend and congenital deciever Hillary pulling the strings for the wealthy, could it?

How is it that, despite the increasing terror incidents, immigration crises, civil wars, and superpower tensions that the Dow Jones -- the faux barometer of economic health -- is racing to new records?

When I was growing up, there was a sense that the next generation would build on their parents' generation and thereby enjoy a somewhat better life. And the next generation, and the next ...

I fear we have lost that sense of an ever-improving society. I fear that we have shifted into a state of endless attack and counterattack with the innocents caught in the middle. I fear that when my grandchildren are ready to inherit the world ... there may not be much a world left to inherit.