Saturday, February 26, 2011

Surfing Essays

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com
Headnote: I posted a brief essay on Surfing At Work in January of 2011
Vocabulary for today: 
left brain and right brain:… Here is a simple definition; here is one by motivated people.   Gestalt: means the whole thing, as in "the whole is different from the sum of its parts." 

Here’s a milestone: my 100th post. (Or 99th) Discerning readers will know that for every 25 essays I like to do a post on the topic of “essays.” These days I have less interest in “essays” in isolation, and a keen interest in “essays on the web.”

So many computer users are what I would call "surfers:" people who click an awful lot ("clickers?") while at their computer. Even if they found a web page for World Peace they would keep their mouse hovering on the “backspace” button rather than give peace a chance. So what’s up with these surfers? And what is the effect of this ceaselessly pounding surf on the shores of society?

Since posting my 75th essay, on Essays and Blogs, I’ve been slowly adjusting to the reality of surfers and writers who don’t enjoy reading. I have been going from denial to anger to acceptance. The adjustment has been a lonely one: In this brave new cyber-world there has been, as yet, very little critical philosophy. Maybe I can add my own little philosophical voice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Willing

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com

“I dislike the lawless- but I prefer them to the listless.” (from memory)
Kurt Hahn, educator;
He became a prisoner after none of the “good Germans” were willing to back him up on the day when some brown shirts stomped a man to death on the street, the day Hahn publicly responded by saying a line had been crossed. (International pressure got him out to Britain before the war started)

I think society holds together like a two-stroke gasoline-powered generator, one without washers, nuts or threaded screws. Instead the metal pieces were struck through with long smooth pins. These pins, so pieces go with each other, are “willingness.”
Sean Crawford, survivor.

Willing

It was two years ago that a man old enough to have been in the Hitler Youth, a friend in my toastmaster club, said of me, “I see you as willing.” The occasion was a special night where we were coming up with descriptors for each other. I’ve had two years to ponder, ‘What the heck is “willing?’” I know a lot more now than I did then.

These days, in my condominium association, there are folks I recognize from being sociable with me, or with others, while, say, walking the dog or out in the parking lot. They are the same ones I see at the Annual General Meetings, year after year. And I suppose the “members” who vandalize are the same ones who won’t go any AGM’s—and they won’t read any of the condo newsletters where vandalism is deplored, either.

It’s as if being willing to read or be neighborly goes with being responsible.

Last week, when work was over for the day, I was among the tired commuters, now free of time pressure, gliding home on the Deerfoot Trail. (The freeway) I watched a tailgating fool who behaved bizarrely three times in a row. I suppose the fool felt entitled to be superior, different from the rest of us normal drivers. Here’s a thought: What if that fool’s brother offered him a free driver’s manual, or a free Defensive Driving course? Here’s my answer: The fool would not be willing to learn to be responsible. It's as if choosing inequality goes with not being willing to learn.

Years ago, back home, next to Asia-town, there used to be the Powell Street Grounds, a park that was half swamp. After some citizens drained it, I attended a ribbon ceremony, followed by an unforgettable weekend of cultural celebrations. They still have yearly one-day festivals. Such nice willingness... Meanwhile a young husband and father, a citizen of the US of A, has said on the web he won’t be involved in any causes, nor in politics, nor in his community. He only cares about his extended family, he said, so don’t knock on his door… I can see this guy as being willing to modify his melody once his little boys get into organized soccer—and find their playing field to be half swamp.

My mind wanders from that US guy to a certain big Asian nation that is family centered, perhaps excessively so, perhaps as a defeatist alternative to being willing to develop their community and democracy. I pity them: How can anyone, in this new century, still believe in communism?

Meanwhile, back in that guy’s homeland, it seems to me that a national government is like a national hockey league: The NHL, in order to exist, requires local rinks, local initiatives and farm teams. If that guy’s local community and nation both have democracy then it is only because others are willing to take local initiative and do that guy’s work for him. I think a guy who helps drain a field for the kids, or who coaches soccer, will also vote in a federal election. But a useless bum will do neither. And a nation of listless people will get the government it deserves. 

Folks who have never tried to drain a swamp truly have no idea how hard it is to face your alligators. Others know all too well: I have never known an experienced leader to be a back seat driver.

Looking down my back trail, down the years, my favorite people, including my favorite local leaders, have always been the ones who were “willing…” This includes, come to think of it, a willingness to humbly admit they were wrong and to change… I suppose if you’ve never been humbled you’ve never tried hard enough.

Two years ago, when that old friend said I was “willing,” he gave me one of the finest compliments I will ever receive.

Sean Crawford
Next to a little statue of Saint Maximilian Kolbe,
February 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Night with Evangelion 2.0

Recently I saw the movie called Neon Genesis Evangelion 2.0: You may (not) Advance. It’s Japanese animation, rated 14A. A big event: It played for one night only, in theatres across the land, including four here in Calgary.  It might return this winter.

As I type this I am wearing my “middle aged man” glasses—readers from the drugstore—that I carry in my pocket in a case that I ordered from Japan. My polyurethane case is as slick as an apple ipod, white, with straight and curvy black lines: Yes, it’s modeled after Rei’s plugsuit. Her name is there, in the reversed Japanese fashion. Ayanami Rei. She’s the poor girl who doesn't smile. The survivor in me can relate.

When I went right after work to the ticket wicket, hours early, I learned the show was nearly all sold out. Eh? Well of course! Young people will buy their tickets using technology! After retiring to the mall for some youthful Yankee junk food (KFC if you must know) I took my seat “early” and watched the theater, already mostly full, quickly filling up with excited fans. And yes, the kids really do hold up all sorts of hand held devices…

The last time I attended a special movie was at the Citadel, while visiting Edmonton, to see Orson Wells in The Third Man. At the time, already middle aged, I was a year or two younger than everyone else. None of the men there wore a baseball cap, and all of them wore a button up the front plaid shirt. Beards too. Not me, with my ball cap, jeans and T-shirt…

So there I was at Evangelion, a decade or two older than anyone else, and let me say: It was nerd heaven! Everyone wore a T-shirt. Me too. Next to me was a line of five young men who reminded me of something I had detested back in my youth: The guys in the center, talking excitedly, turning inward to each other, with their backs to the guy on the end, a fellow who was trying to be cool with being ignored and silent. Poor guy.

At the end of the flic I just had to chuckle. I’ve noticed how mundane moviegoers, whether they arrive by car or by foot, just as soon as the ending credits start to roll, seem to share a panicky senseless urge to escape. Not we nerds. A big clean up crew came in when the screen darkened for credits, but then they just had to stand in the corner… as almost none of us left… even though the words were in Japanese. The crew must have wondered, “Who are these anime fans?” At last the screen lightened and showed what we were waiting for: A preview of the next movie in the series. We’ll all be there!


Sean Crawford
Across the Pacific from Japan
A few speed bumps past my youth
February 2011

Footnotes:
~When I bought my third figurine of Rei, (an alternate universe version) at a comic store on Granville street in Vancouver, the woman at the counter said her boyfriend had two shelves of Rei figures, like a shrine.
~Last Sunday a member of the “over age thirty crowd,” a man with teenage boys, was over at my place. After seeing my anime figurines and tapestries he pulled up his sleeve to reveal his anime tattoo. Neat! Or as the kids would say, Sweet!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Knowing Nam

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Prologue: Excerpt from my anti-War on Terror essay, Pick Your Wartimes Well archived September 2013:
This new war effort, if indeed we are still at war, is different. No one has said “commitment.” Some people were saying right from 2001, remembering Nam, that the US people lacked “the right stuff” for a long drawn out war. You may recall how the North Vietnamese, besides saying Americans are all na├»ve, said Americans had no patience, and so all the Viet Cong had to do was keep not-losing until the Yankees went home. In fairness to the Yanks, they had merely designated the show as a non-war, as “a conflict,” where the People’s Republic of North Vietnam was not to be invaded, and South Vietnam was not to be occupied. Of the South: “It is their war and they have to win it.” If Nam been a “declared war," with commitment unleashed, then the exit strategy, “victory” would have been clear and easy-to-agree-on. A “war” would have meant an easy to coordinate-and-work-towards goal. But of course it was the South’s war, and the US continually had to be careful not to help too much, and not to undermine the self-esteem and effectiveness of the Vietnamese. Well. Maybe winning a non-war is not possible; maybe trying to win one is as crazy and useless as trying to prove a negative.


Introduction: I regret that people are oversimplifying Nam by forgetting the word "generation gap." At the time, it was like the hit TV show All in the Family, where young Mike (the meathead) and all his friends opposed the war, while his father-in-law Archie Bunker and all his friends favoured the war.

By forgetting the generation gap we are in danger of becoming like those jaded Europeans, with castles dotting their hillsides, who believe wars are imposed on the poor working class by the evil government and the upper-upper class. Those castles are nice, but over here we have a republic.

Knowing Nam
Ironically, the same sort of person who caused the agony of the South Vietnam “conflict” has now written some bizarre stuff about soldiers. Last year a person from generation X, “Peetee” (not her real blogger name) wrote that we shouldn’t have Veterans Day. (Remembrance Day) Among other things, she thought soldiers joined up solely for the money, and that armies and wars were like during Vietnam.

On her blog Peetee got over three hundred replies, some of them from people who had taken a big pay cut to serve, and so I don’t feel moved, here, to respond specifically to her narrow views. Nor will I link any trolls or hate-mongers to her, since blogger-folk, as part of their having no patience for essays, write for a really ephemeral statute of limitations.

Instead my concern is with the bigger picture, with folks like Peetee enabling war yet denying responsibility. How can I make sense of her? I think part of her problem is that being uninformed in two small areas, diplomacy and “gunboat diplomacy,” have led to her being grotesquely uninformed in one large area. I will explain.

Here in my company town, in the big factory, I believe it’s fine to delegate individuals to do union negotiations, while at the same time we delegate federal government representatives to do diplomacy overseas. Although such talks are done privately, without leaks, I can easily guess at what goes on. I think, some times, instead of turning the other cheek, my shop steward needs to act as if “two wrongs make a right.” In the international arena, although “it’s just not fair!” to seize assets on US soil, or to break a solemn contract with a poor fascist and suspend supplies of intricate spare parts for his military aircraft, such unilateral actions are surely better than going to war.

It’s usually best not to commit to going to war when a nation harbors pirates or, like North Korea, sends commandos on incursions below the border. Last year the communists fired artillery shells across the border and killed people. How to respond? As a character in a 1948 postwar novel by Robert Heinlein put it, one keeps order in a nursery using a willow branch, not a loaded gun. Hence South Korea will try to hold up incursions by using precise land mines, not blunt biological warfare. When there is a pirate village up the river one sends a navy gunboat with marines to burn the huts, not a blazing atom bomb.

 I suppose the marines belong to the president, as part of his being delegated by the US people to act in their name while not informing the people of the details. Likewise, here in town, the union representative is delegated by the workers to act against our natural enemy: management. From what I’ve seen of the US, the American culture involves the people having "plausible deniability." For example, plain folks are innocent as to how Yankees are viewed by ordinary people in Latin America, and why.

 Meanwhile, I suppose the army belongs to congress, as part of the people’s willingness to be accountable for committing to go to war. Such responsibility is a part of their culture: An oft-repeated US children’s cartoon from my youth shows ants lining up to receive army helmets, stamped down like bottle caps, and singing, “We have done it before, and we can do it again.” Remember? That’s the cartoon that ends with the victorious allies disagreeing on whether to divide the cake in half by north to south or east to west. Fistfights break out.

The makers of that cartoon would have grown up with the same sort of US high school textbooks I had in my basement, books that always made a point of emphasizing how the Roman army was not paid, and not conscripted, but was all volunteers serving for free. Not serfs but free citizens. (Naturally the army supplied the rations, catapults and so forth)

Surely the cartoonists, in showing the fistfights, expressed their dashed hopes of the postwar years where the allies quickly parted, dividing into the west and the communists. The Marxists wanted to rule the globe, converting us all to communism. Suddenly we lived in a terrible world, a world with air raid towers on the school grounds, where the Reds could pull a Pearl Harbor on us at any moment, when communism (snarl) was nearly as bad as Nazism, while knowing the next war would not allow any slow mobilization, not like last time. For the first time ever, the US needed a European-style standing army, in order to mobilize fast, an army with such numbers as could not be sustained except by a European-style conscription: The draft. (My French textbook, in the part where the students visit France, went: “Ou est votre cousin?” “Ill fait son service militaire.”)

In those tense days, before Peetee was born, I can remember how the world was divided into the first world, the good guys; and the second world, the dirty commies. The battlefield of this cold war, where both sides agreed not to use atomics, was the third world. Even when the swiftly advancing communist North Koreans sent the South Korean and US forces retreating almost to the sea there would be no atomics used, no B-52’s screaming over the border into the Soviet Union or China.

An instructive example of those tense days comes from the Olympics. While the free world was adhering to the Olympic ideals of only sending amateurs, the Soviets claimed their ice hockey players were amateurs too… with their day jobs, as it were, being soldiers in the Red Army. In reality, of course, their team was full time professionals who probably never marched or fired a gun from one year to the next. As I recall no one, and I mean no one, dared accuse the Soviets of cheating: The Russians were just too big and scary to confront.

And then, one day, in the gulf of Tonkin, the communist North Vietnamese sent a few motorized gunboats, (MGB’s or MTB’s) the sort of craft which US navy calls Patrol Torpedo boats, to scare the US fleet... At the time the US president was using the equivalent of his marines: experienced career soldiers as “advisors” to the South Vietnamese... Swiftly the president got congress to pass the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution so he could legally escalate the war and send in a flood of conscripts.

Unfortunately, people like Peetee, to use a 1960’s phrase, were “part of the problem, not part of the solution.” Since the Vietnam conflict still wasn’t a declared war people like her felt no need to commit, no need to exercise their citizen oversight. They were horribly innocent of how the result was a fiasco, almost as screwed up as the occupation of Iraq.

The story gets worse: As a few correspondents over in Nam, and a few Ugly (to the establishment) Americans over there, all tried to mail out cries for sanity, tried to expose the fiasco… the Peetees of the world thought the lone voices must be wrong. To them the last war, WWII, was “normal” and so the army must be True and Good and Honest. Alas, if only the "older generation" editors hadn’t ignored the dispatches from those young reporters…

Back then Peetee would have been mesmerized, her eyes magnetically, fatally, drawn to the last war. (WWII) She would not “see” the conflict before her… and even today the American people, in their denial and avoidance, still have not resolved that conflict. (Nam) Unhappily, this isn’t news to any Iraqi who holds a library card.

It is obvious to me that today Peetee is again magnetized to the last war. (Nam) Evidently she thinks a “gunboat diplomacy” conflict, fought using conscripts, where half the public feels no commitment, and are in fact protesting and actively opposed, is “normal.” Peetee is wrong: Vietnam was a fluke, made possible in part by unnecessary ignorance.

People only line up for helmets if everyone else is doing so too. The cold war draftees were 19; the average age of a US soldier in WWII was 26. For any democracy, from the old Republic of Athens to today’s Australia, it’s insane to expect a 26 year old farmer to leave his wife and little children, to leave his crops half grown in the field, in order to go volunteer to serve in a war that is protested and opposed.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand” quoth my favorite president, Abraham Lincoln. 

There is a reason why Lincoln allowed federal elections to be held in the middle of a war, even as the Union kept losing, even as his advisors were sorely afraid he would lose his office: Lincoln wanted the people to feel free to democratically exercise their choice to elect someone else, someone who would NOT force the South to surrender.

Needless to say, neither in the North nor in the South did the people oppose their government as being  “older generation,” capitalist, "establishment," separate from the groovy “now generation,” or somehow alien to The People. Like I said, Vietnam was a fluke.

A public war is waged by the public. Too bad Peetee doesn’t get it.


Sean Crawford
“Looking back, it's hard to tell…
Spend your whole life working it out”
February 2011
Footnotes:
~For a different angle on Nam, comparing it point by point to the war on drugs, see one of my more popular (by hit count) essays A Young Girl's Guide to Wars and Drugs, archived March 2013.

~Here is an excerpt regarding idealists in Nam, an excerpt from a piece of mine on whether innocent people have anything to fear from idealists doing domestic surveillance, archived October 2013 The boldface is added:

I like Americans; I like how federal workers, including the various “guns and uniforms” crowds, are not like dispirited minions of Darth Vader (or middle east armies) who merely go through the motions. In fact, I am touched by how idealistic they are: I’m still chuckling fondly over Vietnam. After the Japanese left, the French fought there the same way as any other western army would, but the Americans in their turn were exceptional. Who else would have brought in grueling long range patrols, complete with special long-range rations, lonely snipers, the widespread phoenix assassination program, candy for the children, and all sorts of plans to “win the hearts and minds?” And who else, unlike Europeans, would have kept their hands off, no hiring and firing of bad Vietnamese officers, insisting the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam be allowed to screw up? “This is their war and they have to win it.”

It was during Nam I first heard the term mission creep. The grunts, I heard, started with a mission to defend the Vietnamese airport, presumably from foxholes along the perimeter. But then… they would go out on reconnaissance patrols, “reconnaissance in force,” combat patrols… forward listening posts, bigger posts, and “force protection” by dominating the area… “We need more troops!” And so it goes.