Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Proper Journalism and Truth

“Oh no, not this old topic!” 
Question for Sean: "Could you take a fresh, delicious slant on this?"
Answer: Maybe, in the context of citizenship.

Hello Reader,
Got proper journalism?

Journalism starts with the Truth… That’s the only way we know of, right now, to have a democracy. Truth. 

In our new time of electronic media, tablets and fake news, it can be important to know what proper journalism is—or was—but I don’t think everybody knows. 

Think of old times, when electricity was confined to lightening in the sky. Did you know that a certain founding father, back in the days of the thirteen colonies, was a news printer? Benjamin Franklin believed in democracy—wait, that’s old history, and history puts some people to sleep. Better jump ahead to newer history, jumping ahead “four score and seven years.” (Gettysburg Address) Now, hear that thumping?

It’s a dewy morning, rows of tents, birds chirping, and teenage soldiers craving sleep. During hard training, sleep is extra blessed, of course. They are trying to burrow into their blanket roll, when: thump, thump, thump. All over the camp, probably one early riser for each tent, soldiers are up early, crunching their rifle butts into a pail of coffee beans. The thumping sound is inescapable. One might ask: Why doesn’t the army supply coffee already ground up? Easy: The Department of War can’t trust the civil contractors that would supply the coffee, can’t trust them not to adulterate the coffee grains. I guess in those days the U.S. economy was not yet affluent enough to pay government food and drug inspectors. The thump-thumping surely wasn’t from Americans trying to be libertarian.

The fighting ended, peace returned. Strange: When the conflict started, some would argue the Constitution was a contract made between 13 state governments. But only a few years later, and continuing down to our present day, people were forgetting the number 13, and agreeing with Abraham Lincoln: The Constitution was a contract with the “people,” and only the “people” could set the Constitution aside. “Freedom” meant “government of the people, by the people and for the people.”

For any nation, then or now, some might think that only an elite with noble blue blood is fit to run the country. Like folks in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where they also think they don’t need freedom of speech. But not the U.S. Here the founding fathers decided not to allow any noble hereditary titles: No dukes or earls, because even way back in those days of buckled shoes, back in those impoverished years of neither electricity nor steam power, the founding fathers believed that “the people,” if they had freedom of speech, were capable of running the country themselves. “Democracy,” someone once said, “is the proposition that most of the people, most of the time, will do the right thing, provided they have the information.” Of course, the people can’t govern unless information, spoken and written, keeps on freely flowing. Not like in Arabia. (No wonder the Saudi King is battling terrorists: There is no peaceful way for those people to be heard) 

Let’s skip years ahead, to the time of my golden boyhood. Imagine if someone goes over to the coffee factory and finds out the coffee powder is being adulterated. “A-ha!” In America, even if the coffee factor was owned by the fearsome nephew of Vladimir Putin, you could freely go tell everyone, “A-ha!” A journalist could spread “the news.” But not “the gossip.” The difference? 

Here’s gossip: “Hey, that factory scandal? I think the Mayor is involved. Sean said he suspects the factory inspectors are dishonest. Maybe Donald Trump owns the factory…” Human nature being very prevalent, qualifiers like ‘I think,’ ‘Sean suspects’ and ‘maybe’ are soon dropped. Ouch! To err is human. And onward goes the gossip, steadily morphing along the way. 

Journalism though, unlike gossip, never morphs. Anything printed by a journalist is accurate and fit to go permanently into the encyclopedia, there to rest for posterity. How? Key word: Attribution. “According to the minister of food and drugs, the coffee tested out at…” And, “‘Six tons of coffee are transported by rail per day, according to Rail CEO Sean Crawford,’ adding ‘the new rail cars would allow…’” 

Of course a writer won’t need to attribute that the capital of France is Paris, on the river Seine, but if he wants to quote the tonnage that docks there, the number of wharf rats, or the percentage of babies bitten by rats per year, then he needs to attribute things to the port authority or the community health board. During the years when Napoleon took over, or, unhappily, this very year in Arabia or Russia, a reporter might not dare offend rich dock masters, but those countries aren’t democracies. The people there are unhappily paying their price for not having freedom of speech.

A journalist, then, is always on Scout’s Honour. No lies, no exaggerations, and no guesses. As she is typing a music story, a reporter can’t be guessing, “Well, I’m pretty sure the Beatles were playing in Hamburg in 1960, and the guitarist was Pete Best—“ Stop! Take your fingers off the keyboard and go find out. Saying “pretty sure” is a guess. Being a good citizen, a reporter is like a Lady or gentleman, speaking accurately and properly. We all know how within a family careless messy speech can damage trust, hurt feelings. At the city and state level, careless speech, drifting into lying speech, hurts democracy. Hurts all of us.

(Incidentally, Ringo replaced Pete Best in 1962)

Do newspapers employ “fact checkers?” NO! There are three categories of people who check themselves before they blab: Ladies, gentlemen and journalists. Saying “I was fairly sure” is no defence; in fact, it’s downright immoral. 

Of course in real life, in casual conversation, a non-journalist can say “I think…” Or “I am guessing that…” I do, all the time. But not at the keyboard. And I would never delete the prefix “I am guessing that…” and then hit send, putting my fake news out onto the World Wide Web. Warning: Our legal system regard keyboards as formal, as not being anywhere near as casual as person-to-person speech. Therefore defamation of character in print (libel) merits harsher penalties than something said out loud (slander) at a private party.

We are lucky. As our information is flowing, “we the people” are feeling a responsibility to be “of the government.” Take jury service. Not even a  gifted man like Bill Gates, “one of the smartest men in America,” if he was visiting Canada, would be allowed to serve on a Canadian jury. Juries are a part of the government, part of “legislation,” as they are establishing “case law.” As for “we the people,” by using our freedom of information and thought, (and serving on juries) we are of course feeling a “sense of agency.” 

It all ties together: Agency, freedom of speech, a free and ethical press… We’re lucky. The nations where the common people don’t feel agency, where they say with slumped shoulders, “What’s the use?” are the nations vulnerable to a quick violent change of government, what Napoleon called a “stroke of state,” or coup d’etat.

… Well. In the course of tying things together, trying to understand Truth and proper journalism, I’ve typed over a thousand words. What a wide ranging essay: Starting from 13 colonies, on past the brand new French Republic, where the newly enfranchised citizens did not yet have enough sense of agency to resist Napoleon… and finally stopping at modern times where in some states freedom is still expressly unwanted. Journalism, proper or not, is always there.

Conclusion: In my everyday life, if an Internet post triggers my outrage button, then, with my finger hovering over the send button, before I send along along fake news to my aunt in Boston, I can ask: Is it by a proper journalist? With attribution? Or is it outraged gossip, morphing along like a babbling brook? A citizen’s duty is to be ethical.

… …

... Afterthought: After being truthful, the next concern… for a good foxy news reporter, is being “balanced” and “unbiased.” … I learned precisely how to do so as a university student reporter—but that would be another essay for another day.

Sean Crawford
Sad Update: Today, Thursday March 15, according to CBC on my car radio, the news is being carried by several U.S. publications, including the Wall Street Journal, that President Trump lied about Canada. There is no news, so far, on whether respected U.S. businessmen care. Back in the 1980's Rita Mae Brown, raised in the U.S. south, noted that even a bigot hates a liar. That was then. 

Footnote: Have you heard? After the killing of a 23 year old journalism student, one of the worst states for terrorism, Pakistan, is rethinking whether people should be legally free to speak blasphemy. Over there, blasphemy is a capital offence. If such laws are becoming controversial in Pakistan, then unfortunately it’s not from realizing things are connected, with “speech freedom” being the infant twin of “political freedom,” but from finding themselves repeating the history of “the crucible” of the Salem witch trials. Or “the sorrow and the pity” of vigilanteism in post-war France. Here’s a link to the BBC. 

I don’t know whether the Americans covered the story… as part of their trying to be world leaders… against terror… I do know the BBC covered it in various languages.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Welcome Without Savoir Faire

Hello Reader,
Got savoir faire?
(A French word for like, you know, being elegant and stuff)

Sutton House part One
Sutton House part Two

I heard a strange story on the web, third hand, after it had been on facebook. 

It seems a mother had a son, a boy whom rude guys on facebook would call a “loser.” I don’t know what age. She took him to a fancy “sports cars only” dealership to have them sit inside a car, on leather seats, to absorb a vision of winning… hey, It might change her boy’s life. But when they walked in and she asked to sit inside a sports car the salesman replied, “We don’t do that here.” Mother and son left feeling so bad… I’ll get back to them.

So there I was, alone in central London, at mid-day, walking past the South Korean embassy, when I noticed a tiny sign about an art display. I entered the embassy—only to find there was a fancy party or something with plates of good food. Surely not for fellow ambassadors: no tuxedos. Maybe it was for fancy business investors. I don’t know, because I took one look— and ducked down the stairs: OK, I fled down the stairs.

There was no one below but a pretty South Korean. Was I welcome, I asked, to look at the art? “Yes.” I did so. The art was all one piece, lighted like a Christmas tree, stretching over three rooms in the basement. Could I look at the books on the shelves? “Yes.” I did, and then we talked. 

I figured she was working hard, tired, and maybe her feet were sore her from her high heeled office shoes. So I spoke nicely to brighten her day; she even offered to take my photograph, with my own camera. There was a TV, with a DVD Korean soap opera just starting. I knew that all the housewives over in Japan are watching the Korean dramas, so I settled in, with English subtitles, thinking, “Wow.” I stayed, feeling quite at home, for an hour. Too bad I’ll never know how the show ended. Such a nice experience.

Sutton House, part One

From the embassy I turned left and walked along the Thames riverbank. There was an impressive building, across the multi-lane, labeled Sutton House. So I crossed the street and went up to the door. Inside to my left was a free exhibition of tattooist’s art. Not of tattoos, no, the exhibit was for respecting how the best tattooists were also good artists. Here were their paintings. I wandered through and then wandered upstairs. Maybe that was a mistake—suddenly I was among young men and women in formal black-and-white clothing. It was London Fashion Week, as I well knew, and here was a fancy fashion gathering. 

The young people were the staff for the cloakroom, the “hoers doh-vers” tables, and so forth. I asked: If I stay out of the food rooms, am I welcome here? “Yes.” I’m a poor kid from the prairies who can’t even pronounce “hoers doh-vers,” let alone spell it. Am I still welcome? Yes. The Londoners didn’t even notice the hayseed in my hair, not after I figured their feet were tired from standing, and I talked with them nicely to brighten their day. 

Outside was a huge courtyard, just like in those old movies on the late show, a square filled with crews from TV and radio, with managers and young models, and their parents too. I don’t have much savoir faire, not like an international model, but I could surely relate to the plain parents. So I asked my young new black-and-white acquaintances: As I am “only” a wandering tourist, may I go outside, to pass through the square to find the street? “Yes.” So I did. I saw that some of the models being interviewed weren’t wearing much clothing. I whispered “Ooh la la.” Such a nice experience.

…Ok, dear reader, time to get a nice cup of tea
I mean, let’s face it, we mostly have a small attention span, being conditioned by the television show-time between commercials.…

Sutton House, part Two  

Three years later, I’m walking along the Thames and hey, there’s Sutton House. So I crossed the street. I wandered upstairs. Two older white haired ladies were taking tickets for something, and they confirmed my memory that there had been a fashion thing there. “Ooh la la,” said one of the ladies. I said, “I know what you mean.”

There was a perfume exhibit, with a gate charge. I entered in, only because I had already photographed the exhibit poster for my camera. (Because what if someone saw my photo, and asked if I went in?) The exhibit was well done—in fact, I wish I could shake the hand of whoever planned it. 

Lots of cultured elegant museum staff about. Here’s the hard part: The public is supposed to smell the perfume and then write down impressions. What impressions? I confess: With my body language I may have implied that I’m an awkward “real man” who doesn’t know anything about perfume. 

Me, cultured? I mean, I don’t even know how to properly hold out my pinkie when I drink tea, and yet there I was, in a fancy London museum. Turns out I was welcome to be there, to write down my impressions of what I thought for each scent, writing on stiff manila paper, to be collected and hung on a two hole binder. Perhaps I was even more welcome by the museum staff after I reflected that their feet probably hurt, they were probably tired, and so I talked nicely to brighten their day. I remember, when one exhibit included sage, explaining how we use smudging to produce a sacred space.

At the end I met a man from a perfume lab. He gave me a scented stick to smell. Then a candy. Then, when I turned to smell the stick again—it was now completely odourless! Proof that smells can cancel out: No wonder a lot of ingredients go into a perfume. A nice experience.


From the sports car dealership the boy and his mother left feeling down. The boy asked why people are so mean, the mother replied it was because their sort don’t look like buyers.

A thought experiment: What if I had been there with the boy? Remembering that the salesman’s feet probably hurt, I would have talked nicely to brighten his day… As “a poor kid from the farm,” I would have explained that I truly didn’t want to buy a car, but that I honestly thought I might change the boy’s life, by getting him to envision winning. And, of course, then ask the man if we were welcome to sit inside a car, like winners.

Hearing my honesty, the salesman could have reflected: You can’t be in sales unless you’re a positive thinker. Maybe he himself had started out in a small prairie town selling old jalopies but now look at him: In the big city! Selling fancy cars! Maybe he would have even invited us to go sit on some pristine leather seats. (Which would scare me) Or probably not. (Whew!) 

Either way, for the boy, just hearing the man’s backstory, with everyone standing tall as respected equals, could have been just as good as stooping to duck into a car. Lord knows I don’t have as much savoir-faire as, say, people who have sports cars, but still, I think I could have managed to offer the boy a nice growth experience.

Yes, indeed.

As a traveler from the British colonies—I used to live down in British Columbia—I have come to know one thing for sure, to paraphrase Maya Angelou: After posh people pour you tea, in gracious welcome, they won’t remember whether you could properly stick out your pinkie, or what you said, they will only remember how you made them feel.

Sean Crawford
On the Canadian prairies,
The great plains,

Note: ~Of course “sore feet” is surely a metaphor, meant as much figuratively as literally. But hey, you already knew that…

Sidebar: For any perfume lovers, here’s the what the explanatory Perfume “postcard” says: (minus the first paragraphs)

From the self-taught to the classically trained, these perfume provocateurs reveal how they came to create signature fragrances that deviate from the traditional cues of the natural world, challenging convention and enabling us to smell unique.

This pioneering exhibition — the first of its kind in the UK —will explore the origins of modern perfumery and reveal the industry’s historical innovators, before inviting you to journey through a series of interconnected rooms where each perfume will be experienced in unique and surprising ways. Perfume offers a privileged insight into a changing industry and a refreshing challenge to the way we think about fragrance.

This exhibition also features a fully functioning laboratory, where you can interact with professional perfumers to see up close the skill and science behind a fragrance.

~Sure I’m a nerd—or maybe an elegant intellectual. No wonder I bypass Las Vegas, Miami, Maui and all the other places regular folks go… in favour of rainy old London: I enjoy good indoor museums.

~If I was in the bar telling you this story, I would have time to tell you all about the various perfumes, and how very often I was right in guessing the scents. Amazing, eh? Turns out you are supposed to be right; the making of perfume is a real art. There are even enthusiastic blogs about perfumes. I was so awesomely privileged to be there. … And yes, probably I will never, in this life, buy any gorgeous perfume for myself —oops, I mean, buy men’s cologne. But still, privileged.

And you should have seen the attached gift shop.