The Car As Terrorist Weapon

Yesterday’s brutal terrorist attack in London, England — in which a terrorist drove a car into innocent people walking on the Westminster Bridge near the Houses of Parliament, then jumped out of the car armed with knives and stabbed and killed a police officer before being shot by police — is just the latest terrorist attack in which the principal deadly weapon has been an automobile.

terror-attack-london-876957Not a car filled with explosives and fitted out to be a bomb — just an everyday car that becomes weaponized because it is driven by a fanatic who thinks that plowing into random people, leaving some dead and others grievously injured, somehow advances their twisted agenda.  Yesterday the everyday car that was turned into an instrument of evil was a grey Hyundai sedan.  How many grey Hyundai sedans do you see every day in your town?

Security experts call it “low-tech terror,” in which terrorists use common devices like cars and turn them into weapons capable of mass murder.  Terrorist attacks involving vehicles have happened elsewhere in Europe, but don’t think you can protect yourself simply by avoiding places like London, Berlin, Milan, or Nice, where those attacks have occurred — the terrorist attack on the Ohio State University campus, here in our heartland town of Columbus, Ohio, involved a car intentionally driven into a crowd that was created by the driver pulling a fire alarm that caused people to leave a building and congregate outside, where they became an inviting target.

So how do you protect yourself from an attack when any car that you see during your day conceivably could have become weaponized by a nut behind the wheel?  Security experts say you should exercise extra caution when you do anything that brings you into close proximity to lots of other people, like going to a baseball game or a concert or a busy shopping area.  Of course, the Ohio State attack did not involve any of those things — so perhaps we all need to keep our eyes open during the next fire drill, or when noon rolls around and workers leave their buildings to go somewhere for lunch, or family members gather for a high school graduation ceremony, or any of the other countless occasions that cause Americans to gather together.

It’s a new frontier in terror, and we’re just going to have to pay more attention when we’re out and about.  But I’m not going to avoid football games or musical performances or other events where people congregate just because some disturbed lunatic might drive a car into the people who are there, any more than I avoided such events because there was a chance that a nut in an explosive vest might be there, too.  The terrorists aren’t going to beat us or cow us into submission that easily.

Gardening As A Gateway

Russell’s friend Emily Staugaitis is one of those people who seems to be a kind of natural difference-maker.  Where other people see challenges she can identify opportunities, and she’s not afraid to tackle a big project — like trying to set up an urban apple orchard in a depressed part of the Detroit area.

https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f223578392f1807581212702f12foriginalOne of Emily’s projects is Bandhu Gardens.  It’s a collective effort that uses gardening to help Bangladeshi immigrants in the Detroit area use the green thumbs they developed while growing up in south Asia to connect with each other, and with local restaurants that are interested in fresh, locally grown foods.  It’s also a way for Bangladeshi women to make some extra money, achieve more autonomy in their households, and get a taste of the business world in our capitalistic society.

Last year, the Bandhu Gardens group collectively sold 120 pounds of greens, beans and peppers and 25 pounds of squash to restaurant accounts.  They’ve also hosted “pop-up” dinners, including some at local restaurants owned or operated by women, have begun to offer cooking classes, and this year will be selling their produce at a large public farmers market in Detroit.

It’s a classic American immigrant story, of how people come to our country and begin to make their way forward, drawing on their traditional experiences and know-how and applying them to realize opportunities in their new home.  Sometimes, though, it helps to have someone who can help to point out the openings and make the potential opportunities into realities.  Congratulations to Emily for helping to serving in that important role for some of the new arrivals to our land of immigrants!

Cart Culture

Ambergris Caye, where we’ve spent the last week, is an island.  It is home to a few  large trucks, a handful of minivans that serve as taxicabs, and lots of bikes and motor scooters — but by far the primary mode of transportation is golf carts.  They’re everywhere, and in San Pedro, the big town on the Caye, the carts are lined up and carefully locked with all kinds of mechanisms — chains, padlocks, and variations of The Club — as people go about their daily business.

One thing about golf carts:  although they seem puttery and slow and therefore safe, they remain motor vehicles, as capable of a fender bender as any car.  And, with no seat belts or other forms of passenger restraints, they can be dangerous in a collision.  We saw a rear-ender where a little girl in the trailing cart went flying into the windshield and came up stunned and crying.

For the most part, Kish and I stuck to bikes and our feet.

Sunrise, Sunset

When you go on a beach vacation, oohing and aahing about the sunrises and sunsets is an ironclad requirement.  There’s something about the combination of sun, clouds, water and a distant horizon that just grabs you — especially if you’re a landlocked Midwesterner.

Here at our resort in Belize, the sunrise part is easy.  Our cottage faces east, and when Old Sol peeks over the horizon you notice it immediately.  Step outside the front door, walk out onto the beach, and voila! 

The sunset requires a bit more work.  Just to the west of our resort is a kind of inlet, with small islands and plants dotting the surface.  You have to walk off the resort property, cross a dusty road, and stand and wait.  In some ways, it’s more visually interesting than the ocean.  Quieter, too — without the crashing surfing you can hear the birdsong and the lapping of the rippled water.  It’s a striking setting.

We’ve really enjoyed our trip to Belize, which ends today.

Sand Dollars

The basic Belizean unit of currency is called a “dollar,” but the $20 bill has a nice picture of a younger Queen Elizabeth on it, rather than Andy Jackson.  And if that’s not jarring enough, the dollar coin is a weighty hexagon — also with the Queen’s visage.  It would be a cool ball marker on the golf course, but it doesn’t seem like real money, does it?

After a while, you really don’t care.  It’s beach money.  Call it sand dollars.  You’re not taking it back to the states with you, and then trying to exchange it at some midwestern bank branch with a befuddled clerk trying to figure out the “exchange rate.”  If you brought it back, it would just end up in that box with the weird change in it, right?  So spend it while you can.  On your last day of Vay-Kay, head down the beach to that nice bar where the beer was especially cold, and give the barkeep and the cook an especially generous tip.  They deserve it!

The goal, ultimately, is to spend every paper and metal scrap of vacation currency before the departure plane leaves the runway.

Parrot Purgatory

Last night we went to a seaside bistro that featured a parrot to give the bar area a distinctive, tropical, piratical feel.  It was a beautiful bird, large and colorful, with that kind of wise look around the eyes that parrots always seem to have.

I felt sorry for that beautiful bird.  I’m sure it would rather be back in its nest in the jungle, but its wings were clipped, and it was confined to its perch with only a dish of peanuts before it.  Worst of all, some old guy was constantly in its face, repeating the same annoying whistle, over and over and over again, in hopes that the bird would imitate it.

But the bird didn’t.  It squawked and flapped and, I think, tried to ignore the guy.  Maybe the bird was just not interested, but I preferred to think that the bird was knowingly refusing to be some cheap entertainment for a boozy codger in a ball cap.  I’d like to think that parrots have pride, even in what must seem like parrot purgatory.

Caribbean Colors 

Kish and I came to Belize to get away from the grayness of a Columbus, Ohio winter.  We haven’t had to worry about snow this year, but we’ve had the standard dose of overcast skies that makes everything seem flat and monochromatic.

For people looking to restore a dash of color to their lives, Belize is just what the doctor ordered.  The buildings at our resort are painted bright colors; in fact, rather than room numbers each cabin goes by its color.  (Ours is “aqua.”).  The same is true of buildings in town.  The boats and floats are every color of the rainbow, the pool is a bright blue, and the radiating sunshine brings out every hue.  People wear bright clothing, and even the drinks at the bar seemingly are made with a goal of giving the rods and cones in your eyeballs a good workout.

It’s really nice to see bright colors for a change.