Category Archives: Thoughts

The Gentle Giant

Perusing Facebook this morning, I came across a post by a friend, Tim Jordan, who wrote a story about his grandfather. The story was quite moving and I asked him if I could publish it here, of which he gave me permission. So for your consideration, here it is.

My grandfather was in WWI.

That’s a fact that still absolutely confounds me but my mom was the youngest of 7 children, the only girl, and there was a significant gap between her and her youngest brother. I remember a picture from the newspaper of him at the train station holding a sign that said GO TO HELL GERMANY and that also confused me as a child because my grandfather was the gentlest of men and I couldn’t even imagine him saying hell, which along with butt and guts I considered the worst of words at that age.

My grandparents lived in Olla, Louisiana, more accurately on the outskirts of Olla, in the middle of fucking nowhere; an ill kept state road farting away into nothingness just before making it to their home. A home my grandfather carved out of the landscape using stones and trees from the very land where the house stood. It was purely functional, a small 4 room shack with a porch and a cistern off to the side, long sealed away before I was born and the source of many warnings I ignored. How I never ended up as a literal Timmy in the well I’ll never know.

Over the last 20 years or so I became more and more interested in Grandpa John and in talking to my mother we both began to slowly realize a pattern of severe depression and possibly psychosis. He never held a job for long and spent lots of time at home rarely moving from his favorite chair except to hunt the occasional squirrel. There were lots of other signs too but I won’t go into them here because I really want to go back to WWI.

Grandpa wasn’t in France long, maybe about three weeks, before he was sent back home. He was uninjured physically but most definitely suffering from what we would now call PTSD. He was never quite the same, outwardly the gentle giant we all knew, but prone to bouts of psychosis where he didn’t know where he was, vomited profusely, cursed up a storm, railing against the horrors he saw in the war. I heard some of these stories as a child, listening in where I wasn’t supposed to, and I can remember climbing up in his lap as a child to comfort him even though I didn’t understand at all what was going on with him. I never saw him in any of those states though. He was always so kind and loving and willing to hold us kids for as long as he could, before we wiggled away to chase the cats in the yard or catch lizards that were cute until they bit you.

Grandpa eventually fell and broke his hip, spent a while in the hospital, then came home and required a hospital bed and after care. I can’t say what happened to his mind at that point, maybe it was dementia, which runs pretty rampantly on the other side of the family, but it wasn’t like dementia I’d ever seen before. He just seemed to give up and sadly languished there for a decade or more.

He was mostly silent but would occasionally shock everyone by talking and letting us all know how aware he was about what was going on around him. Maybe those were just random moments of lucidity. In the 80s, small town America, physical and mental rehab weren’t exactly the norm so nobody really knows what was going on with him. Occasionally my grandma would wake up in the middle of the night to find that he had climbed out of bed and was sitting in his favorite chair. These moments made me profoundly sad for him.

When he died, the first of my grandparents to pass away, I was glad that he was finally at peace but I felt like I hardly knew the man yet at the same time I felt like he was a kindred spirit. We don’t have much left of him anymore. We have some pictures and my mom has his favorite coffee cup, a little dainty piece of china decorated with pink flowers.

I can always remember the day he died because of what my grandmother said one time when were visiting his grave. “He died on the longest day of the year,” she said. “It was certainly the longest day for me.”

 

Remembrance Day

Today, the 11th of November is Remembrance Day. The day we remember our fallen soldiers who fought and died for our way of life. Soldiers who were drafted or volunteered, to make the planet a better place. To fight oppression, and for us to live free.

In the Great War, our planet’s first war where countries all over the globe participated, we fought against German Nationalism. Germany sought to absorb the countries around it, relentlessly bulldozing their way through Europe. Further south, the fascist Ottoman Empire was doing the same thing. Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, The United States, and several countries of Europe and the Middle East fought against these war machines, pushing them back. Forcing Germany to surrender, and leading to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. We fought against fascism and nationalism, and we were victorious.

After the First World War, Australia (and other nations) took in refugees fleeing from their countries. Their homes were destroyed, their families killed, their possessions forgotten. They came from Europe, they came from the Middle East. Many of them did not even know that English was a language and had never heard it spoken before. Yet they came. They integrated, and they made our countries better for it.

During the Second World War, Germany, this time a fascist nation, which grew from the seeds of discontent, again decided to usurp Europe for itself leaving nothing behind. It wanted Great Britain, Russia and even Africa to itself. Several countries – Italy, Hungary, Romania, etc – allied with Germany, out of fear, or because they thought there would be more to gain by allying with them. In the east the Japanese Imperial Army, another fascist, nationalist country, were attacking and absorbing territory from China, Korea, Indonesia, and the rest of South East Asia, attacking the United States in Hawaii, even coming as close as to bomb Darwin, in the Northern Territory of Australia. Their ambitions proved fruitless as again Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, The United States, Canada, and many other nations joined forces to push back the conquering aggressors and end the war. Once again, the victory went to the forces fighting for freedom, and against fascism.

Once again, refugees fled their former countries, in Europe, in Africa, in Asia. Australia accepted not only refugees but people who just wanted a better life than living in war-torn Europe. Even soldiers who fought for the Axis powers were allowed to immigrate to Australia, rebuilding their lives here. We welcomed them with open arms, they integrated with us within a generation and our culture learned and grew from their input.

The Korean war, and the Vietnam war were the next wars that these allied nations joined together for, fighting the aggressive expanding Communist Chinese in Korea, leading to the liberation of the southern part, which became the Republic of Korea. China supported the Vietnamese bid for independence from the French by providing arms and war equipment, as well as funds and soldiers. We fought this war to prevent the toxic nationalism of China from possibly spreading further through Asia and into the Pacific. Fears that communism and nationalistic policy would make its way throughout the world unless it was stopped fuelled the war that Australian, New Zealand, British and American soldiers (amongst others) died for. Communism and Nationalism was not compatible with our way of life, and we were not prepared to allow it to continue to flow out of China.

The Vietnam War created tens of thousands of refugees who fled in rickety boats from Vietnam. Many of their boats ended up in Australia, their occupants terrified and sick. We allowed them into our nation, we allowed them to integrate with our culture and become Australians. Our cultural backbone once again strengthened with their addition.

The Cold War lasted decades, from after the war until 1991. During this period there was only muted fighting. The Russians had supported the Chinese during the Korean and Vietnamese war. No actual fighting was done between the two great nations of the USA and Russia. However during this period, thousands upon thousands of people fled the Eastern Bloc into the west of Europe, over or under the Berlin Wall to West Germany. To the United States. To the UK, and to Australia. These people have also been important for our cultures.

Our allied powers once again fight against nationalism and fascism in the Middle East, against Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi, Assad and the Islamic State. We create refugees because we fight the terrifying ideals of their leaders. Their leaders who want to impose strict religious rule upon the rest of the world. To impose strict fascist laws upon every nation, and to control us with fear and threaten us with destruction. Their ideals that are not shared by a majority of their people, the people who flee towards freedom. The people who escape those countries in the most dangerous ways because it’s more safe to sit in the ocean on a boat barely holding together than stay under the rule of their oppressors for any longer.

We only strengthen our nation with the blood, sweat and tears of people who join our country to live free, who wish only to make their lives in a free country, to have their children in a free country, and for their children and their children’s children to grow up free.

Australia is a free country.

This is what our soldiers died for. Freedom. Against fascism, against nationalism, against war, and for the safety of the oppressed.

Lest We Forget.

Lest We Forget

Internet lies and how to fight them.

I’m not going to talk about Trump.

That’s not true. I’m going to talk about him. I’m going to talk about him a lot, I’m sure. But for my first post here, I’d like to focus on a more pervasive issue, one that I believe can be blamed for his rise, but which existed long before it, and will continue to be a problem after he is, god willing, gone. It causes far more problems than Trump supporting, including, but not limited to, vaccine denialism, climate change denialism, fear of genetically-modified food, and pretty much every conspiracy theory. That problem is the inability of the average person to critically evaluate sources and determine whether or not a website, meme, video, etc. contains accurate information.

I am now 26. When I was in school, we didn’t really cover this. We spent about an hour learning about what sources could and could not be cited for research papers. The class basically boiled down to “not Wikipedia.” No one taught us about hoaxes, or lies, or outdated information.

My upbringing taught me to mistrust sources, because my dad thought it was really funny to make things up and tell me about them as if they were true. So from an early age, I learned to double-check things – if Dad said something that sounded a little suspicious, I’d go ask Mom to confirm. But most people don’t have parents who lie to them for shits and giggles, I imagine, and so they miss out on what turned out to be one of the most important lessons I ever learned.

You can see this throughout the internet. People see a meme or link making an outrageous claim and they just share it, even become outraged over it, without checking the facts. Older people seem to be particularly susceptible, but young people are by no means immune. Many humorous examples can be found at http://literallyunbelievable.org/, which is dedicated solely to people who do not know that The Onion and ClickHole are satirical.

Let’s play a game. I’ll post a few images and you decide whether or not each one is trustworthy and accurate. These are images I have created. I have chosen apolitical subjects for these memes (at least, as of 10/27/2016 – I do not pretend to know whether these poor animals will someday become politicized through some strange turn of fate).

firegoosememe

This one can be discounted immediately. It is unbelievable and cites no sources. If you want to be particularly skeptical, you can look it up online anyway.

 

wolfpackmeme
This one is believable and cites credible sources. If you go to those citations, you will see that the information is backed up.

 

hummingbirdmeme

This one is a little surprising, but again, the citations back up the information.

This one seems kind of odd, right? Even if you study birds, you’ve probably never heard this. But wait — there are citations. But they are very small citations, and I didn’t do you the courtesy of putting them into TinyURL first this time. What happens if you type either of those URLs in (which no one will really bother to do)? SPOILER ALERT: the claim actually doesn’t appear anywhere in the cited work. I made it up, then linked to related pages on credible sites so that on the off-chance that someone DOES go to the links, but doesn’t read them, they’ll think I must be telling the truth.

A common method for disseminating incorrect information is to link to a source that agrees with the statement, but which is biased and/or a complete hoax. If you can’t find a certain claim from a real mainstream news site or a scientific journal, you can assume that it is not true. Of course, this is rather difficult to get people to believe now that we have certain candidates openly saying that “the media” (actually an incredibly vast group of people consisting of news networks, newspapers, radio stations, and websites) is always lying. That’s an issue I’ll address in another blog post, however.

How can we stop people from falling for hoaxes on the internet? Through education. Every single time you see someone fall for a hoax, point it out. This is easier said than done, especially if it’s a family member, but it’s very important. They may not like you for it. They may not even believe you. But you have a chance to convince not just them, but the people around them (including people silently watching an internet discussion), if you bring facts. Children in schools are now being taught how to tell a good source from a bad source — reach out to your local school district and ask if they teach this skill. They probably do. The people left behind are people in their mid-twenties and older, and they need to be called out when they perpetuate misinformation. We can change the culture of the internet if we stop letting these things stand unchallenged.