Month: March 2020

Stronger Than You Think

It was 80-years ago that I became involuntarily engaged in a world-wide war. I was 15 years old, four months short of my 16th birthday, when I listened with my mother and father and 18-year-old sister as British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared war on Germany.

It started a conflict which later enveloped the world in the Second World War.

There have been many other wars since WW2, but none encircled the globe until December 2019 when a strange new virus attacked a city in China and within months, spread with lethal force around the globe. At the time of writing this report, it shows no sign of abating.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes daily appearances on the front steps of his Ottawa residence, where his wife has tested positive for the COVID-19 and is serving a period of compulsory isolation, an integral part of government programs worldwide to halt spread of the virus until a cure or preventive vaccine can be found. Ignoring or defying compulsory isolation orders can result in heavy fines or prison sentences.

Personal hygiene is being emphasized as another essential step in the battle for control with an additional caution that personal contacts should never be closer than two arm lengths. It and the appeal for frequent washing of hands are two essential precautions – and,sadly, could be most ignored by the public.

The reality that no one can estimate how long this “virus war” will last makes for trying times for citizens who since WW2 and massed bombing of civilians ended have witnessed minor conflicts around the world, but have never been embroiled in front line fighting when loyalty and caring for each other can spell the difference between life and death.

Loyalty and caring for each other were all civilians could do in 1939 when leaders of democratic governments called for both, even as the world collapsed about them.

It was not always easy to respond, especially for families with a husband on far away battlefields and with wives at home caring for children and often aging grandparents. In my British homeland and across Europe in those dark days, rationing alone was an enormous challenge for every woman with a family to look after – often in a city a badly shattered ruin from nightly bombing.

In the UK weekly rations were recorded in “stamp books” which could be used at only one store selected by the customer and approved by the storekeeper.

Once rationing began citizens could register, shop and walk home each week with (for one person): One egg, four ounces of bacon, eight ounces of sugar, two ounces of tea, one ounce of cheese, two ounces of butter, four ounces of margarine (uncoloured), two ounces of lard and for those with a sweet tooth “preserves,” such as marmalade, but only eight ounces a month.

The meat ration was so small the authorities listed it by price rather than weight. It was one shilling a week which translated into six or eight ounces depending how friendly your butcher.

And, lest we forget, the famous UK “striped mint” sweets – eight ounces to 16 ounces a month depending on supply.

Now, let’s do a quick leap over the decades from then to now. The morning I started to write this, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth praised the people of the UK for again “coming together as one” to fight the present plague; United Nations Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez had a similar message; the President of the United States dreamed that tomorrow the world will have spun back to normal by Easter; and, my own PM, Trudeau, remained confident “the people” can win this fight as they won the last Global battle if they understand it may take a while.

How long? To conquer the bug some experts figure 18 months to find and distribute a cure and defence.

By comparison, the burden of surviving the rationing (and other) vicissitudes of WW2 commenced in January, 1939, (three months after the declaration of war) and lasted until June 1948 when the last food item “bread” was removed from the list.

Morale shaking rationing had lasted longer than “blitz” and the fighting and “the people” had bent on occasion, but never broke.

“People coming together” had made it possible to end well, as they can and will again.

A Gentle Lockdown; Patience Required

LOCKDOWN!! It has a fearful ring, however softly spoken; however long you thought forgotten.

Even in the assured comfort, calm and caring of my present place of residence, Berwick Royal Oak, memory brings back the rumble of a sliding cell door, the “clunk” as it slips in to “lock,” then the faint click of an eye-level peep hole which permits a guard to check, 24/7 on your wellbeing.

I had thought the passing of the years – at least 50 of them – had long ago moved from my fringe-fading memory bank the sounds and sight of Lockdown, when the word came bursting back in front page stories from around the world.

First, we read of hospitals and care homes in faraway places being “locked down” to keep at bay a malady that, left unchecked, could kill thousands. Next, came stories that “lockdowns” of those institutions were having difficulty confining the beast. The lockdown boundaries were expanded to included entire cities, then to districts and finally – in the boldest move ever taken to keep a highly contagious virus in check while searching for a more permanent solution to a global threat – the LOCKDOWN of entire countries.

China, Germany, Italy, Spain lead the parade, others teeter on the brink like Canada and the United States of America. Canada is in there with the big boy only because we live, breath and move in-step with our giant US of A neighbour. We seem to have allowed ourselves to become followers of a bellicose bully.

If Canada – and for sure the USA – had been paying less interest in raising trade tariffs and more during China’s first skirmishes with Coronavirus, its expanded lockdowns and steady, if not yet complete, successes in control and confinement, we might be in better place today in the global fight. As China appears to be advancing in the fight, and with our good wishes we hope approaching victory, we are just beginning to tremble.

It may be difficult for the USA to ask China for help and guidance in the current battle, but this is one war where allies are needed and enemies are unaffordable.

As noted in my opening paragraph I am a resident in Berwick Royal Oak, a seniors retirement facility on Elk Drive in the shadow of Pat Bay Highway over which I watch cars and trunks hurtling at inflated speeds. It’s a good place to be and the three years since I checked in have been pleasant, the complaints few and none that could range as major.

In recent days “lockdown” has become the word of choice to describe some precautions that have closed our dining room, coffee shop, bistro and residents-only pub. We are fed in our rooms. Visits are allowed for the palliative or gravely ill. The Provincial Health Office will define classifications.

There are other minor restrictions –- two metre social distancing; no group larger than 10 in activities; cancellation of community events and outings; no private dinners quests and no guest suites.

In other words, a few annoying inconveniences, but NOT, definitely not LOCKDOWN! Not yet. But that will come if and when events leave no choice but real LOCKDOWNS in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto or Victoria? And our present misuse of the word will become all too apparent

If I survive the present plague (at 96 and with COPD lung problems I‘m high on the triage list), I’ll tell you the story of my brief sojourn in Fort Saskatchewan Jail where one late evening as shadows fell a cell door slammed, shut, locked; then silence.

That’s, LOCKDOWN – and much more than an inconvenience.

Nothing To Fear But Fear Itself – And Dangerous Politicians

Stayed up late a few nights ago in order to catch a non-rally speech by USA President Donald Trump. I have no logical explanation as to why I would give up the luxury of an hours pre-sleep in-bed reading for another empty word waltz by POTUS.

I must have been enticed by the clever news reporters on CNN who spin their elongated stories between endless commercials for pills and nostrums. Like good fly-fishers they end each news segment with a perfectly cast “fly” promising revelations of great important “after the break.”

So I watched, and dozed and watched some more until at last the pills and notions promising happier lifestyles gave way to a putty-faced President Trump. I have gathered that he is making this 10 pm special (for him unprecedented) fireside chat to explain to his people and the world just how the USA, the richest, mightiest smartest nation in the world is going slay the COVID – 19 dragon.

Trump had been insisting for weeks that the USA had been faring better most countries but now Coronavirus seemed to be getting a stronger foothold. He was careful to interpose when he could the reminder that Coronavirus “had started in China” with an unstated but obvious hint it was all China’s fault. He boasted about earlier travel and trade restrictions he had imposed to reduce trade and traffic and hinted his actions had keep COID-119 at bay in North American while Italy and Germany were being overwhelmed. He didn’t have much to say about the immediate future for the USA – but his own in-country experts have warned him and his citizens “the worst is yet to come” that “containment” was beyond them and a possible vaccine some months or even a year away.

President Trump offered no comfort. He just glumly dismissed a rampaging COID-19 as “a foreign virus” that would eventually run its course and disappear.

There are still a few of us around who can remember childhoods spent in an earlier world in great economic distress following the world-wide ‘flu epidemic of 1918 and global great depression of the 1930’s – or have parents or grand-parents who can remember. If you are someone who ever got bored with the “depression” tales of older folk, remembering them now could maybe inspire us all through the next few months, maybe years.

It will be worth recalling the attitude and actions of a young USA President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945) who, as his nation stumbled into ever deeper depression in the mid-1920’s, flung them a lifebelt, a recovery plan called The New Deal. It came with a Roosevelt confident shout to his people to rally and fight for economic recovery: “YOU HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF!”

The people heard,responded, and built a new nation on the rubble of the great depression.

In 1941 President Roosevelt (one of the few to win three Presidential elections) rallied a badly shaken nation the day following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. In a nation wide radio address he had to choose between a truthful account of the battle so singularly won by Japan or a muffled sugar coated version.

His opening words were: “December 7, 1941, is a date which will live in infamy.” They eliminated a strong “keep USA neutral” movement and united the nation in cause as the US joined WW2 and it became the Great World War.

Opting for blunt truth in time of calamity wasn’t an exclusive US claim. Sir Winston Churchill chalked up a quite amazing record starting on the amazing day of May13, 1940, when he reported to the House of Commons for the first time as Prime Minister.

There were a few technical parliamentary matters to be addressed and they were handled quickly before Churchill brought every member – and the nation – up to date with no soft comfort zones.

He asked the House to forgive him if he didn’t provide all the details they would like on his first day on the job. But, he said: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat…We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind….”

Those words reached the general population via radio and newspaper and praise for Winston eventually reached the House and Churchill modestly said: “Mr. Speaker,  I have never promised anything or offered anything but blood, tears, toil, and sweat, to which I will now add our fair share of mistakes, shortcomings and disappointments….When I look back on the perils which have been overcome, upon the great mountain waves through which the gallant ship (of State) has driven, when I remember all that has gone wrong, and remember also all that has gone right, I feel sure we have no need to fear the tempest. Let it roar, and let it rage. We shall come through.”

It’s worth remembering as we once again travel a dark uncertain road made frightening by vain leadership south of the 49th parallel, and a seemingly bewildered administration north of the 49th.

Some historians claim that great leaders usually emerge and lead us to safer places when gravest danger threaten. If there is only fraction of hope that could be true – I think we’re ready.

More Wisdom By Disposition Than By Age

Sometimes you learn more from politicians when they lose than you ever did from their successes.

Take Michael Bloomberg, for example, the multi-billionaire former Mayor of New York who withdrew from the presidential election race in the USA last week. He stepped down with regret but no animosity toward the thousands of Democrat Party voters who had rejected his heavily-financed bid for nomination as the party’s choice in the next election.

Bloomberg could well have been upset at the blunt rejection of his cash-funded bid for party membership support but chose instead the high road of loyalty to a Democratic Party cause and personal integrity. He said he was “clear-eyed” about the rejection of his bid to be nominated as the chosen presidential candidate, accepted it without reservation and then added:

“I will not be our party’s nominee, but I will not walk away from the most important political fight of my life – and that is victory” when the USA decides whether to re-elect or replace Donald Trump in the presidency.

With that said, he announced his full support to former Vice President Joe Biden, who had been propelled into the lead in the same primaries that had spelled the end of Bloomberg’s bid.

If it seems a little strange for a beat-up, former Canadian daily newspaper columnist, now blogging once a week, to be sticking his nose into a United States election, there are no apologies here. I share a geographic “circus tent” with the U.S., and whenever the “elephant” rolls over, Canadians pay attention.

And, there is no doubt that the “elephant” is more than a little restless these days since President Donald Trump took over the White House and proceeded to topple his country from world leader to world buffoon or bully – depending on his morning or midnight Twitters.

President Trump often boasts about his wealth but never mentions his list of bankruptcies. Michael Bloomberg leaves mention of his billions to others and doesn’t have much time for the arrogant affluence of the man now running the White House in defiance of Congress.

We have to wait a while longer before the Democrats finally name their candidate to challenge President Trump at the polls. But, if Biden holds his present lead and does topple Trump from his imaginary royal throne, I have a couple of suggestions for the first President Biden cabinet:

Ask Bloomberg to take over foreign affairs and get the USA back to a respected world leadership role. He’s a man who could match an Arab prince in high stake negotiations, and he thinks like the philosopher Plautus (254-184 BC): “Not by years, but by disposition, is wisdom acquired.” A wise man with his established achievements has long been needed. 

And, put Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in charge of any and all negotiations and discussions on gun laws. Film and distribute key meetings to news outlets – especially the one where the gun lobby concedes defeat, as it surely will if faced with Warren or Sanders in high dudgeon on gun control.