I Would Pay For That: on Syria, the Super Bowl, and Survival

A note to my fellow revelers:  I woke up this morning thinking about a business idea I’m putting out there for the taking when current events worked their way out of my mind, where I must have been mulling them over in the past several days, and into this post.  It winds but if you bear with me, I hope you’ll agree it matters.

Business idea.

Watching the Superbowl and its just as widely watched commercials, a viewer could have no doubt the year we live in.  The build-up to 2012 as possibly the last year of the humankind has been great.  Now marketers are capitalizing on, while poking good fun at, the hype.  From Chevy’s “2012” commercial where those who survive the Apocalypse are, of course, those who were in their Silverados when it happened, to movie trailers feeding on schadenfreude and seizing the zeitgeist.  In the lineup are Marvel Comic’s The Avengers, which shows a scene whose celluloid vision is now overly familiar: a city destroyed, with cars overturned and smoke billowing from random corners of the screen, which in the next scene become firebombs roaring through a city’s narrow streets.  A voice over tells us, “The world has changed.”  Then there’s Battleship: another city street that in one moment is peaceful and calm while a family waits with bored and impatient faces to get through yet another typical big-city traffic jam, when out of the sky alien machinery comes crashing down like a giant pinball, overturning cars and sinking full highways in its path.   Ominous, machine-like heavy breathing segues into random sounds of destruction, hard rock and occasional digital bleeping to lay the soundtrack.  In the same opening tone of the Avengers trailer, we hear an official-sounding voice inform an apparently other official person, “We’re looking at an extinction-level event.”  And there you have it.  The preview to 2012.  Hollywood style.

But what’s the reality?  In two words: change hurts.  The globe has been going through growing pains, notably and obviously, beginning with last year’s Arab spring, where people in the Arab world banded together to overthrow dictators and protest human rights abuses and economic conditions.  It sparked an era where people across the globe are coming into their own as activists and change agents.  Next came the protests stateside starting in the fall and continuing as a still fledgling movement with its battle cries sounding out against inequality and injustice on an array of fronts from the economy to food production.  People everywhere, it seems, are waking up and saying, “I’m not gonna take it anymore.”  Fill in the blank, of course, for whatever your “it” may be.

While the bravado behind these movements is inspiring, and will likely provide a wealth of Hollywood fodder in the years ahead, as Syria is currently showing us, change invites resistance that, when tested, can become an all-out offensive.  NPR features an article today of the story of a former regime-backer, Younes Al-Yousef, who agreed wholeheartedly with the government that the protesters, or “terrorists,” were to blame for all the discord.  That was, until he saw the government he supported kill its own citizens to tamp out the protests, and witnessed himself, a former cameraman for a pro-government TV station, as a pawn in their unfair play.  He has since fled the country, and survives for now to tell another Syrian horror story.  I listened yesterday to a Skype interview on NPR of another citizen, Omar Shakir, a blogger and citizen journalist stuck in Syria and hiding out with no food and little electricity, hoping the killers simply will not get to him and his comrades.   The sound of gunfire is heard, as well as jokes being told between friends, for the purpose, he explains, to “encourage ourselves … so we can feel better.”  He describes rockets and Russian tanks and machine gun used against his fellow civilians.  The day before, the hospital was hit by a rocket.  He describes mass killing, and explains that every man in his town is wanted and will be killed.  He clearly understands this to include himself and his friends.

Where does this leave us — us, the viewer, the outsider, the consumers of hard-core media coverage and soft-core celluloid versions of our fears and nightmares (the former telling stories that have uncomfortably uncertain outcomes and the latter guaranteed to let us work out these anxieties and sleep easy at night).  It leaves me to do what I do best when I start to get overwhelmed with things I can’t control: reel the focus back to a micro level.  Ask myself if I am prepared for the unpredictable.  Ask myself if there is anything I can do to help my neighbor.  Which brings us back to the business idea.

If there were a service of a person who is well-versed in disaster preparation and recovery, I would pay that person for their wealth of knowledge and recommendations, and for doing some of the leg work on those preparations still unmade in this household.  We have water, for example, but no generator.  I have put off buying a generator (which, yes, I do think most households should have) because I am overwhelmed by the thought of doing the research on which is the most reasonable (economic, space-saving, reliable, and easy to use) generator to have.  This is just one example of why I would pay someone good money (and put money into our economy) to do the legwork for me.  My partner’s father does this type of work on a city-level.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t be ensuring at least a basic measure of preparedness in our own homes.

Now, what to do about Syria?  Like most of the rest of the world, I don’t know yet.  Cash isn’t flush right now and it doesn’t seem like throwing money at a problem as out of control as this is going to do much good at the moment.  If I thought it would do some good, though, I would do it.  My own brief research hasn’t turned up any reliable channels for getting relief to the Syrian people.  If anyone else has found otherwise, though, please let us know.

At least our government (one of the good ones – and, yes, I believe that but I’m not so foolish to think that that couldn’t change) is working with other governments to take a stance.  The U.S. has imposed increasingly stringent sanctions against Syria.  This week, the U.S. closed its embassy there.  Also this week, the U.S. joined the international community in condemning the tragedy unfolding in Syria.  China and Russia, in a move described by England as “incomprehensible and inexcusable,” vetoed the U.N. resolution against Syrian president Bashar al Assad.   Just days earlier, in backroom negotiations, the U.S and allies had dropped a demand for UN sanctions and an arms embargo against Syria in exchange for Russia’s support on the resolution.  Like a squabbling child who refuses to play nice even after making up, Russia is once again on the wrong side of the room.  Back in May 2011, Amnesty International asked for global help to the growing crisis in Syria.  In this Youtube clip, Salil Shetty, Secretary General, calls for the international community to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, an asset freeze, and for accountability, with only a weak response from governments across the globe.  Many individuals, however, had even by then expressed their support in petitions to protect peaceful protests in Syria.

While I, and others, are waiting and watching for what we can do to help, I am also trying, like others, to simply keep myself informed and help others be aware because surely someone who does not yet know about the depth and extent of the atrocities (recent estimates are 6000-7500 civilians murdered) just may be the person with the answer.