Monday, June 20, 2011

Wizards and Extremists
Three middle paragraphs of the original introduction went:

I don't know space-time mathematics but just like the postulates in math there are certain not-provable things, postulates, that I take as the bedrock for all else: From where I stand, I don't get to choose, or vote, on whether to opt in to the constitution. I am 100% responsible by virtue of my birth and citizenship.
This idea I got from a narrator's schoolteacher in David Gerrold's third Chtorr book.

Earlier still, I was a boy when a "dirty pope-lover" ran for office to be the president of the United States. Even though he was a Roman Catholic, explained John Fitzgerald Kennedy, his oath to God to protect the U.S. constitution meant he couldn't disobey God to obey the pope. I suppose this principle also covers Muslim sharia law or a mullah's fatwa (religious proclaimation or death warrant)

I won't ever become too extreme if my compass points to the constitution. My community will never go far wrong if we all are oriented towards Truth.

Wizards and Extremists

The sweet thing about being middle aged is being able to afford the latest hardcover adventure of a wizard without having to wait for the paperback. Before me is "a novel of the Dresden files" by Jim Butcher which has a cover sticker "As seen on Sci fi." (the U.S. cable channel) Entitled White Night, this latest file sees our hero, Harry Dresden, in modern day Chicago where physicians take seriously their Hippocratic oath of "First, do no harm." Dresden gets involved with various bad guys: the ruthless human crime boss of greater Chicago, the White Court of vampires, and an assortment of ghouls and things that go bump in the night. 

They are scarier than any real-world British "Doctor Death" yet easier to understand, unless, like me, you've known extremists before. I guess you've heard that seven British physicians and medical workers, Dr. Deaths, have been detained to face possible charges of attempted mass murder... terrorism.

The frustrating thing about being middle aged is watching history repeat... A nation is like an individual; life keeps sending the same lesson until it is learned. Down the years I keep seeing extremists of various labels but with the same mind set, a mind set antithetical to democracy. And I have seen, too, those whom Vladimir Lenin called "useful idiots" who support the extremists against us.

(History repeats)

An illustrative example of nonviolent extremists would be "lesbian separatists." This movement came after women's rights and gay rights. I am old enough to recall when feminism shone like a brilliant full moon casting a light of knowledge and awareness. Shining for those willing to leave their hearth fire of things familiar and step out into the cold darkness and see. I learned a lot from my campus Women's Collective and Resource Center. I watched down the seasons as the Center waned and at last was but a gibbous version of its old self. 

In the 1990s the Center was trying to have "brown bag lunches" down in the student council chambers where an invited guest could come and talk. The coordinator of the Center asked me how to best introduce a speaker. I said, "Think of a movie camera that starts out with wide shot and then comes in steadily closer. You could start by saying, 'Feminism takes in a good many areas; those lunch seminars cover only some of them. Last week we learned of X, this week we are learning about "lesbian separatists;" our guest today is...' "

Forget "guest." It was ugly. The coordinator couldn't attend; neither could the other feminists. The separatists formed the majority; they ran the meeting as they saw fit. Lesbian separatists believe (wrongly) that bisexuals are liars who are gay, that housewives are traitors and... At that meeting the separatists saw no harm in scaring off any new students who might be in attendance. They didn't care if new people never attended another lunch seminar, never went upstairs to see the Woman's Center, and never learned of the many areas of feminism. How ugly. 

This is not a surprise when you recall how totalitarians believe in total devotion to only their own creed. I learned more the next day. I was told how the lesbian separatists had recently asked to be part of the speaker's podium for the Take Back the Night March, promising to go along with the group agreements. But they had lied. They betrayed the organizers by breaking that promise. How believable.

To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Had I known about the separatists at the Night March I would have warned the coordinator, before the lunch meeting, by reminding her of how the communist parties in the U.S. and Britain had traditionally behaved. Or of present-day Canada. A volunteer at a student newspaper had alerted all the other campus papers. She warned us that if students put on a demonstration then a small group of reds would push to the front and try to mislead people that it was a communist organized event. I once saw this happen.


Leninists have never changed their spots. Back in the 1930s, in North America, they would find an idealistic guy like me and say, "We are building a new world where all are equal, no talk of "master" or "sir." All are to be called "comrade." So why don't you get a communist party membership too?" I would say I wasn't sure I quite liked the party. They would glow and say, "That's why we need people like you! To reform the party from within!" If I joined I would find out too late how they lied. No one was allowed to reform communism. Neither as individuals nor as a nation, as individual Chinese found out when they were tricked to "let a hundred flowers (of criticism) bloom" and as all the Czechoslovakians found out in 1968.

Some people, "useful idiots," don't believe in fire until they've been burned. I remember a young man I lived with. His father had laughed and hooted, "No one is trying to cross the Berlin wall going east!" The son remained anti-west. I suppose the modern equivalent would be a quiet Muslim father telling his loud Muslim son that in revolutionary Islamist Iran not only are the Dresden files banned, but none of the oil field workers there, not even the Muslim-Americans, are leaving their compound to obtain glorious Iranian citizenship.

It might seem strange to bring in a brave new world by using lies, but the sons of Lenin and the daughters of separation were True Believers. They had no dialogue with their doubts. They could walk along the campus sidewalk, like today's religious extremists, reciting their creed like walls of iron logic that fitted together for them too tightly to allow any light. They could be physically in a campus community but not of the cart wheeling dialogue on campus. Hence not of democracy in which dialogue, by definition, is critical. By the way, feminists, back then, were by and large democratic.


In Canada, where there are ten different (states) provinces, "separatism" is associated with certain people in the largely French-speaking province of Quebec. Not long after the cold war I chanced across the memoirs of a Canadian premier (think state governor) of Quebec. He was a separatist. When I read, "...the other nine provinces..." I figuratively gasped and stepped back: it was ugly but it made sense. This is how extremists, whether lesbian or Quebecer or Leninist, see us: we are all lumped together and, as well, lumped as "outsiders." (The other nine.)

(A stand-up commedian once quipped that Quebec separatists are like Animal Farm's Napoleon the pig: "All provinces are equal, but Quebec is more equal than others...) We are lumped as "those who may be lied to." Yet democracy requires a modicum of trust and truth... Am I being too harsh to use the "L" world on my fellow Canadians? No. The Canadian parliament, after the last Quebec provincial referendum on separating, had to pass a "clarity act" to prevent another dishonest referendum question. (The question had been worded for deceit) 

Put it this way: if you were a young antiestablishment idealist, an extremist, in Quebec who would normally vote communist, or socialist, or green, or anarchist, then yes, you too would believe in separatism. Being an idealist myself, it is embarrassing to know that only an accident of which province I was born in has prevented me from being a fool.

Of course some Quebec separatists, in the past, have believed in bombing and killing. A U.S. reader, at this point, might think my essay will now tackle the various tactical lessons learned from battling this terrorism. (At one point we even had to declare martial law.) Nope... I am thinking, rather, of a time in the 1980s. Perhaps U.S. citizens can learn from Canada's mistakes, eh?

Now, the U.S. of A. is about the only nation I know of to base its sense of national membership not mostly on sentimental shared geography, nor from a glorious war-filled history, nor from a unique language, but from a constitution. And a noble constitution it is. The president gets sworn in by swearing to preserve and protect it; servicemen swear to defend it from all enemies foreign and domestic. How noble.

In my Canada things are different. Human vanity means that here we named our constitution a "charter" in order to be different from the Yankees. Here our soldiers would feel too embarrassed to swear by "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms" and—trust me on this—none would say they would die for the charter. It's a cultural thing. And besides, the charter is too new to have any mystique.

Our colonies formed a democratic nation in 1867, being formed partly to avoid any action from the Yankees who might have post civil war feelings of expansion. (Hey, it's happened after other wars.) A rock song from my youth, by Barry Greenfield, has the refrain, "And the rain keeps falling from the clouds in Canadian skies; We were founded together but we never knew the reason why..." We didn't rush to write a constitution. This was partly because we all shared in a colonial parchment stored back in Britain. But really, shouldn't an adult nation write its own constitution? Well frankly, we were too scared to try.


But in the 1980s, after much effort, a long serving prime minister (PM), the pinko Pierre Trudeau, who was a French speaking Quebecer, managed to finally get our parchment repatriated and got us to write a new one. Then he retired. We all should have been very happy... ...

Two years later a PM from another political party decided to reevaluate the charter. He decided to open this can of worms apparently because the Quebec premier had not signed to ratify the charter. So with great hullabaloo the PM called a gathering of the ten provincial premiers... A lonngggg gathering. This first attempt ultimately failed while the common people, kept in suspense and hearing crazy proposals, got fed up. Then yet another long gathering was called. We got even more fed up... The premiers at last reached their agreement. This "new improved" constitution was called neither a reevaluation nor an amendment. It was called an accord. 

Now the whole nation was to vote on it. At the time, if any CIA agent had wandered into any bar or beauty salon he would have found people saying, in effect: 'I'm so fed up!... This accord feels wrong, it goes against my better judgment, but OK let's do it, since the separatists say this will appease them once and for all.'

But then one man spoke at a businessman's luncheon in Montreal. It was Trudeau, by then a retired shabby ex-PM. His speech made the front page all over the land. And all over, as I recall, every single editorial writer and politician stormed against the man. They raged: he is wrong, how dare a retired politician speak up so late in the accord process, and he is wrong! But it wasn't too late for the common people to disagree with the experts. Even within Quebec itself most people voted "no" to the accord.

The speech was sold as a nice little volume in my college bookstore; I forget if it was sold before or after the vote. I bought it and then hurried home to discover what happened on that day in Montreal. The speech boiled down to two things: the first point will not surprise any U.S. citizen. Trudeau explained that for a constitution to be effective it must be noble; it must not be changed every couple years like a mere set of by-laws. (It still feels too new; soldiers swear to the queen) His other point was this: The separatists were lying; they would never be appeased. We, the people of the cold war, were living with a half-denial view of communist propaganda: we were both knowing and unknowing. And so, when Trudeau said the separatists were lying, we knew.


Trudeau was a man who knew. He had mingled with idealists while writing his excellent essays that touched off the "quiet revolution" in Quebec. He had known lots of people of "-isms" and "-ists" and he could face knowing what they were like. His widow has recently revealed that he had told her that if terrorists kidnapped her or their children then he would not negotiate. How many politicians, even after 9/11, could face thinking through a scenario like that? Maybe an old Israeli has the courage to face it, but few of us could on this side of the pond.

Now we again need the courage to see. No useful idiots. No half-denial. How dare we be surprised that rich Muslim physicians might commit mass-murder? How could we have been like those old idiot apologists for communism? Our new apology version being: "Terrorism is caused by 'poverty and despair.'" (Several nonMuslims wrote this in the newspaper letters section after 9/11) Hello! The writing has been on the wall since 9/11! I for one can barely barely afford to go putt-putt to Montana in my rusty old car, barely afford a two-weeks-at-a time holiday, and I attend the cheaper adult education classes. In contrast the killers of 9/11 could afford to jet across the ocean to the U.S.A., live there in deceit for months, and take expensive flying lessons. And furthermore, one of the born-in-Britain transit suicide bombers, according to the NY city police, owned a Ferrari.

(Poverty of reasoning)

No, it was never about poverty. It was about a doctrine of permission to have your mind closed in advance against lumped-together outsiders. And then to lie to them as you lived among them. 

Don't call me a yankee-lover: I find U.S. Americans, at a distance, to be frustrating and ugly, but I also find them to be lovable, wonderful people when you are among them. The killers must have had their hearts walled off in advance like a prostitute's heart. Speaking of prostitutes, I seem to recall that, of the killers, only the pilots sinned with prostitutes just before 9/11. Maybe the pilots lied to the rest of the killers about the fate of the planes, eh?

Perhaps somewhere a non extremist muslim is trying to use reason with an extremist. Perhaps she is reasoning, "Remember when as children we would touch an object belonging to a disliked child? And then we would rush to touch another child saying we were passing on fleas? Well, when Osama bin Laden said he planned 9/11 partly because the boots of U.S. soldiers were touching Saudi Arabian soil, well, don't you think maybe he was being childish? Just a little?" ...My sarcastic comment? "Yah, sure, and perhaps a new thought is permitted inside an extremist's head for longer than a snowball maintains its form in hell."

And now I work six days a week, curse buying day-old bread, go without the light of foreign beaches and I wish that I could be Richard Corey... OK, I'm being self-indulgent, and exaggerating too, but I'm surely not as rich as my hometown computer wizard who could jet to Pakistan last month, only to be arrested on arrival for terrorism. (Sigh!) At least I can afford to buy novels about Harry Dresden, the Chicago wizard.


Dresden inspires me. He is a man whose gravestone, carved by a cruel fairy, says, He died doing the right thing. To save lives he has risked entering fairyland to make a deal with a cold fairy queen. 

He has entered the cruel vampire Red Court, and left again, protected only by their promise of safe passage. The most recent novel, White Night, finds him at one point collapsed from exhaustion in a ruined house alone with his deadly enemy, a vampire queen. No one else would know if she killed him but... she had recently, temporarily, given her word not to. ...Dresden deals with a crime boss: A friend asks later, "Is it safe to make the deal?" Dresden answers yes, because the boss gave his word. Dresden is a Good Guy, but he doesn't blindly lump all the Bad Guys together. He doesn't make deals with ghouls; he does value the boss for being a man of his word.

The Dresden files, as popular culture, represent something profound about a functional democracy. As New York Times best selling author Rita Mae Brown once wrote, "Even a bigot hates a liar." This respect for truth has long been embedded in our society. In merry old England there were no legends of vampire/betrayers. But the brownies, as everyone knew, would help you as long as you didn't go back on your agreement. Here on the plains we traditionally had to govern ourselves without royalty. In the old days, you would buy a sprawling half-unseen herd based on a handshake—and the head count would be correct. Out on the great plains to call a man a liar was to risk a duel at high noon.

Maybe things are different in the extremist heartland, where the Saudis have literally thousands of princes. The only two Arabian folk sayings to have jumped the translation barrier that I know of both imply deceit: 'kiss the hand you cannot cut off' and 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' Those who expected Iraq to instantly flip flop into democracy may have underestimated the need for a culture of freedom for truth.


And truth is what "useful idiots" will turn their heads away from. After 9/11 several journalists noted how lucky we were the recent tumbling of the Berlin wall around the (communist) Second World, and the subsequent exposure to the light, had vaccinated us against falling into becoming anti-west after 9/11. That was then. I suppose that as memory fades there will be a surge of useful idiots with anti-westernism, even among people of, say, Iranian heritage.

Meanwhile there are surging economies overseas. In my lifetime I expect the U.S. to return to being what it was during my father's youth: a major power. Still, I have every confidence in America. I say: Let the former Second World and the Third World have their propaganda and their corruption. (North) America may do well to play to her strengths: to an honest economy and a democratic respect for Truth.

"What is truth?" asked Pontius Pilate... Ms Brown notes it is especially important for writers to tell the truth. This means the poets, novelists, essayists and reporters... I am angry that recently certain reporters have let us all down. Some reported (wrongly) that the Koran (bible) had been flushed down prison toilets, others reported (wrongly) that they had obtained the president's service record. Perhaps those "journalists" are now like a certain TV vampire on Angel. Being given a soul, Angel is now atoning and seeking redemption. Or perhaps, instead, those unethical journalists will do nothing, just slide down to hell.

Sean Crawford
Calgary, where yes, I've read The Feminine Mystique and yes, I've read The Ugly American too. Classics both.


~I remember clearly reading in Macleans magazine that Quebec voted against the accord; I also remember reading in the same issue about a separatist Quebecer who was vulgar and angry at the "English." I can reconcile his bizzare lack of faith in his own neighbors: I have recently re-read an old essay of Trudeau's where Trudeau notes that separatists can never admit when they are wrong... So typical! I remember the communists here in town holding a weekly Marxist-Lenninist study group even after the Berlin wall had fallen.

~Here is an interview of a young Australian who is both an extremist and a useful idiot. (I won't say traitor) Off camera, in the street, I am sure he enjoys shouting angrily.

~Update: It wasn't only my neighours who thought that terrorism is caused by "poverty and despair" according to What Makes a Terrorist by economist Alan B. Krueger. In his book subtitled Economics and the Roots of Terorism he documents how world leaders thought so too. They were wrong, of course. 

The most important factor, according to Krueger's research, is the amount of civil liberties. (Copyright 2007) 

~ World-wide syndicated Canadian journalist Gwynne Dyer points out an irony- those young people who today believe in Muslim extremism (terror) are unaware that they are the very ones who 40 years ago would have believed in Marxist-Leninism. (i.e. become "Gawdless commies!")

~It was probably back in the 1980s that business guru (in a class by himself) Peter Drucker pointed out that fundamentalism was increasing worldwide -including in the affluent U.S.A.—as salvation by society was failing, to be replaced by salvation by religion. 

I found it so strange after 9/11 when not one person with a Bachelors of Business Administration ever wrote into the newpaper forum to repeat Drucker's words... I hadn't expected anyone with a Masters of BA to write in, since to me an MBA, or "yuppie union card," is not so much extra "education" as merely more business technical skills.

~Of course no one in Canada ever calls anyone a "Yankee-lover;" I just couldn't resist reminding U.S. citizens, with a jolt, that the good old U.S. of A. is not the center of the world. And neither is New York city.

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