Monday, June 20, 2011

Wizards and Extremists

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com
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.

(Communists)

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.

(Canada)

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.

(Constitution)

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.

(Extremists)

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.

(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.

(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
2007
Calgary, where yes, I've read The Feminine Mystique and yes, I've read The Ugly American too. Classics both.

footnotes:

~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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Focus and Commitment, For War and Peace

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Introduction
I have found a delightful 2011 book by economist Tim Harford called Adapt subtitled Why Success Always Starts with Failure. It includes some striking pages on how, in Iraq, the U.S. army finally achieved a state of "responsibility" ... although the "civil organs of U.S. society" in Iraq did not. Because civilian efforts at nation building, and teaching democracy, were non responsible they were inevitably non functional.
By non responsible I mean non accountable: As far I know the citizenry stayed on their couches and, in vivid contrast to the world war and the cold war, lay down as potatoes without eyes, letting the White House have a free hand.

I remain fascinated by the challenge of nurturing responsibility in citizens within large institutions.


Focus and Commitment
I dimly recall as a boy reading about the "executive stride" and the "firm executive jaw." It wasn't clear to me whether this was for executives to show leadership to others or if it was to psych themselves up to be leaders... Now that I'm an adult I "get it" that life for executives is not like on the factory floor where everyone can see the machines and see what needs to be done. No, the execs have lots to do, not enough time, and no clear path. So they hurry.

My west coast friend Brian Gregory, who owns a small insurance business, told me that he burst out laughing the first few minutes he ever stood on a sidewalk out east. In a big city he watched people with brief cases running past him, running while wearing suits that would need to be dry cleaned.

I once had a girl friend from out east. She didn't have a firm jaw but I wondered if, for easterners, "executive-ness" was contagious. In a shopping mall, on the escalator, she wanted us to stand to one side so people could squeeze past. Very few ever did so. I was perplexed. Can't a busy executive learn to separate work life from leisure? For the rest of us shopping is a leisure activity. If you ever see me marching down the mall with an executive stride it's only because I need to go put more dimes in the parking meter. Either that or I forgot to cut down and simplify my life for that day. We all forget how to live sometimes.

I've often read some one described as a "successful businessman." How nice. I've yet to find someone described as a successful plumber.

(Nurturing)

I've known more businessmen than entertainers. I once spent an evening mingling with young men and women from the youth group and traveling show Up With People. They had been touring South America. I was there because my friend of the evening was an alumnae of the group. I shook a good many hands that night: natural gentle handclasps. At the end of the night it hit me: no one had ever told these young artists to use an extra firm "I'm successful" grip. I realized, too, that a businessman with no clear path, lining up promoters and suppliers and guaranteeing deliveries and so on, needs all the credibility he can get. Hence his firm handshake. And hence how they all wear their suits: boring is best.

It was nice to see those young people on their first rung of getting into the real working world. I suppose the same lads who, back in high school, had displayed their lazy lack of integrity in group projects, will now be acquiring a work ethic. As Rudyard Kipling put it in his poem The Recruit," (They will be finally be) getting shut of doing things rather more or less."

A work ethic, for executives, is only the starting point. Since WWII, since management became a "practice," as in the practice of medicine, there has been much attention paid to the nurturing of managers. One of the reasons highly educated trainees start out down in the corporate mailroom is to give them a broad overview of the company. That, and to learn to be humble. During an executive's career there will be things that can taught swiftly, such as an equation for measuring return on inventory, and things that can only be learned over time such as concepts like humbleness, commitment and focus.
(Zen)

A colleague of mine, a lady of slight frame and slim ankles, tells of a business training course where she actually learned to karate punch a board in half. There was a zen to it. You had to focus. If you held back from fear or uncertainty then, instead of fracturing the board, you'd hurt your knuckle. You had to be committed to breaking your board. And -crash!- you could do it.

I've noticed how in a bookstore's business section, ever since James Clavel managed to finally get the ancient Art of War published in the western world, there have been various books about swords and rings and samurais. Not to mention several new translations of Art of War. (Incidentaly, tonight, April 2010, at the big box bookstore, I've counted 11 versions of Art of War, but none of them are poor Clavels!) The concept being taught is not to "work hard long hours," which anyone can do, but to have "Focus and Commitment," as only successful people do. And this pair of concepts is what executives may learn with great profit during their career. For me it's still exciting, still empowering after all these years. Show me a "board" and I will smash it!

As a child we took a poem that used the awesome Roman roads as a metaphor. You will recall they dug their roads a long ways down, rammed the earth, filled them with various layers of various grades of smashed rock, topped them off with paving stones, and ran them straight as arrows right through swamps and hills. Their roads, once built, endured for generations. The poetic refrain was, "He says with Roman fortitude I'll find a way or make one." As a young boy I read it but I didn't truly get it.

As a young man I heard that "Every good entrepreneur has a laser-like focus for his one current business. No side business. Just the one." At the time I sort of got it, thinking, "Is that correct? Are you sure?" As a middle-age man, today, I know.

(Battlestar Galactica)

To put this in terms of popular culture, I think of a music video by weird Al Yankovitch, "I'm Fat," a parody of Michael Jackson's video, "I'm Bad."
...Al wears a "tough guy" black leather jacket. Some one hassles him, saying, "You're not fat!" The would-be "tough guy," Al, responds fearfully, "J-just b-back off, man, just b-back off!"... As he speaks there is, I am sure, a hollow space in his chest.

In contrast, recently I saw a splendid scene in Battlestar Galactica. Adama has gone from the rank of Commander to Admiral but still hasn't remarried because his focus is elsewhere. He still sees certain pilots as his children; his son has died flying a viper. Adama is alone with a spinster who, come to think of it, had once regarded her now-deceased aide Billy as her son. He explains that a young couple is going to want to extract their child from enemy territory. She asks Adama, "Do you think they can do it?" He makes fixed eye contact. He has, I am sure, a hard stone of certainty in his chest, as he speaks, with focus, as one who knows: "... I will say this... If it were my child, there would be nothing, nor anyone, that could stop me."

Adama, of course, is heroically committed, against all odds, to getting the remnants of humanity to the lost 13th colony. One would certainly hope that commanders in today's U.S. armed forces would be as focused and committed as Adama. ...Uh, no... no, they haven't been so for some decades now.... At the start of the agony of Viet Nam the army asked the air force to produce WWII style slow propeller planes to provide accurate heavy ground support. However, the fly boys weren't committed to South Viet Nam.

(South Viet Nam)

They wanted only swift fighter-bombers like for fighting the next world war on the fields of Germany, fields where you can see your target a mile away. So the army resorted to the not-as-good expedient of light helicopter gun ships. But then the fly boys insisted the chopper pilots must be air force! I suspect the army's reply was not very gentlemanly. (See Backfire, which I have reviewed in an essay in Sept 2010)

The army was as uncommitted as the air force. Some one did a study, after Viet Nam, consulting the training records of many U.S. bases, to see if President Kennedy's directive, at the very start of the Nam involvement, was being followed. You may recall his rousing "We face a new enemy" speech. He wanted the army, accordingly, to train for small wars, guerilla wars, not just for a major war with the Soviets. The findings? In terms of training hours... a disgrace! No focus on small wars. The army wanted so badly to train for fighting Russians in Germany that they disregarded their president and commander-in-chief.

The British, who won their guerilla war against the communists in the Malayan jungle, were more determined. Their various armored cars, such as the Saracen and Scimitar, which saw service in West Germany, were designed to fit between the rows of rubber trees on a Malayan plantation. The British ran a prestigious jungle warfare school. Every single nation in the British Commonwealth, at the height of the Viet Nam war, that sent officers to attend, was sending senior officers ...The U.S., and only the U.S., was sending junior officers... The British weren't impressed. At the time we thought the U.S. army was merely stupid. Today, looking back, it seems as if the Americans didn't want to lose in Nam, but didn't truly want to win, either. I am sure such lack of committment was linked to the corruption at that time in the officer corps. (And no, corruption is not too strong a word)

As a Canadian, I should be quick to testify to my commonwealth friends that my yankee neighbors weren't always so pathetic. After Pearl Harbor they went into debt cranking out thousands of expensive planes. Who back then would have guessed that in 2005, years into a new war, they still would not provide enough walkie-talkies, toyotas or armored vests for their Iraqi police allies?

(Zen to fail)

Before me, from December 2005, is The Atlantic magazine with a 14 page cover story by national correspondent James Fallows about Iraq, called Why Iraq has No Army. 

As you know, the U.S. never committed the state department into Iraq (It was to be the army's show) and so, in reality, the U.S. never committed to their stated goal of teaching the Iraqis how to be democratic. ... So much for that goal. (The army has much less social expertise: people in the state department had predicted the so-called "surprise" looting of the museums. See Fiasco by Thomas Ricks)

Now, for U.S. citizens, their more modest "win" will be to have the Iraqi army and police force ready and willing to secure Iraq so the U.S. forces can leave. Presumably this is the number one priority, the laser focus, for folks in the U.S. and in Iraq.... Uh, no. At least, not in the space-time of 2005.

As of 2005 the Americans don't have the commitment. As Fallows notes, "The pentagon's main weapons-building programs are the same now that they were five years ago, before the United States had suffered one attack and begun two wars. From the Pentagon's policy statements, and even more from its budgetary choices, one would never guess that insurgency was our military's main challenge ..."(page 76)

As of 2005 they don't have the focus. A source, a marine colonel, angrily said to Fallows, "You tell me who in the White House devotes full time to winning this war." Fallows could find only one person: a former scholar, now a "special assistant," a woman who, for a year, had said nothing in the public record, neither in speech nor online. (page 74)

Despite the lone efforts of General Petraeus in Iraq... As of 2005, the U.S. deserves to lose. Perhaps I can say this unsayable thing only because, as a Canadian, I can be more objective than important learned U.S. writers.

"But wait! Please!" cries a voice from the gallery. "The U.S. is going into debt for Iraq, and is straining their military. They are trying hard!" Trying, eh? I come from north of Montana, up in Alberta cattle country. We say out here the only way to ride a fierce bronco is to get on and say you will ride. If you so much as think you will "try to" ride then you are doomed... You can't safely punch a board by "trying."

Certainly I like the Montana cowboys who come up to compete in our rodeos. And yes, I like the city folks who come up here too. I regret my best knowledge of Iraq stops about 2005—hey, it isn't my war!—so I won't comment about U.S. efforts as of 2008. ...Earlier I mentioned Adama having a stone of certainty in his chest. ...I just don't know if the average man, on the average U.S. city street, has the stones to win.



Sean Crawford

Inspired in 2005, posted to my "new exciting web site" April, 2008


A few of the original footnotes:

~The U.S. army low point was 2006. (As for what anyone (or you) can easily do for the 2011 war effort see my essay of April 2011 Are Yankees Stupid?)

~I am pleased that in April 2006 U.S. officers in the army and marines were passing around an e-mail of an Australian Colonel's views on counter insurgency. Maybe today's U.S. senior officers would indeed attend a British Commonwealth counter-insugency school. You may wish to google "Kilcullen" and "twenty-eight articles."

~The classic The Ugly American, a call for committment during the cold war, was written in the desperate hope that being ugly was not hard-wired into Americans overseas. After all, they can be nice at home.

The Ugly American shows how the French in Viet Nam were ugly too: being too arrogant to read the military writings of the man who defeated two armies where the officers had been to European war colleges: both the Imperial Japanese Army and the U.S. equipped Chinese army: Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Ze Dong)...

~Counter-insurgency is like flying on instruments: you dare not trust your instincts, no, not for another culture. Soldiers, however, are very comfortable feeling secure in their instincts. They are trained to be confident. They would regard as bizarre and alien the academic's ability to live with uncertainty and insecurity as a way of life. University, of course, is one long extended culture shock.
I was stationed in Germany as U.S. students were backpacking through Europe, while U.S. troops, avoiding any shock, were known in NATO for huddling on base.

~Update: To not be ugly means to have enough respect to listen, and therefore allowing the locals to have their Teahouse in the August Moon regardless of your own opinion. The totaly bizarre mistakes of the U.S., such as enshrining ethnic loyalties and disbanding the whole army, are possible only if the Yanks didn't listen to a single soul, not even their Iraqi interpreters, taxi drivers and barbers, or even their own humble C.I A. field agents.

~Sweet! I've just learned that one of my childhood romantic figures, British General Orde Wingate, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, is a hero to the Israeli army!... He led WWII's largest allied special forces, the British Chindits, into the Burmese jungle behind the Japanese. The Chindits destroyed the myth of the Japanese as superior jungle fighters...
(I was a child growing up in the rainforest: I could relate.) Meanwhile, today's, uh, "Innocent American" probably thinks U.S. forces beat Japan single-handed... sheesh! No wonder Yanks avoided jungle warfare school.

~God bless America.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Witness to the Woes of the World

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Chitchat/introduction, pre-essay

Some people desperately need support groups where they can tell stuff, or hear others tell stuff, that society won't believe. It does me good to hear Buffy's friends Cordy and Anya blurt things out: I like how they have never known the tension of wanting to scream but needing to be silent. With them around, the gang never has an "un-spoken-of elephant" in the room.

During my lifetime I have seen a vast increase in what we can say.

Today it is so funny to put comic captions on old 1950s graphics because people at the time just could... not... speak. If this essay spends time on Dialogue Groups it is partly because I honestly wanted to advertise those groups, but also because some topics I cannot approach directly but must circle around.


Witness to the Woes of the World

A few years ago, after a wilderness spiritual weekend of "community building," four of us met along a side road, beginning to wend our way home. A man from the edge of the ocean looked me in the eye, clapped me on the shoulder and said, "You're a witness!" I wondered: How did he know? Because this was something I had long known about myself. I'm not bitter. I'm certainly not desirous, as an old mariner was, of grabbing someone and making them listen. Yes, I have seen things... but I concentrate on how precious people are, and I won't bother my fellows, not until the time is right.

Last night, after Dialogue Group was over, someone told me that none of my contributions ever bring the group down, that I am a guardian of the group. Yes, well, it disturbs me if others are disturbed.

During our evening of dialogue a few topics were woven together, and one of the strands was Witnessing. We began exploring what this meant after someone quoted a guru saying, "Our purpose is to watch the world unfold..." We quickly agreed this did not have to mean preaching, nor being passive and fatalistic. By the way, our Dialogue Group instinctively avoids "have to's," "should's" and other absolutes that might slam the door on inquiry.

The contribution I best recall is my own. I said: If I am meant to watch the world unfold then I can't be looking through a haze of marihuana smoke, nor can I dull my senses with beer or television. I would have to get out of my house to be in the world, and this might legitimately include going off to India for six months without guilt. (Someone across the circle had expressed doubts about going to India.)

I also shared something I had been slowly, for the last fortnight, allowing myself to consider. There was a sci-fi novel where a man stands on a mighty warship, a few meters away from his king, as the fleet sends bomb after bomb falling down to a planet. He watches in shock, speechless, lonely, as a technological society is blasted into the stone age. Weeks later he meets an expatriot who wails at him:

"You should have spoken! Yes you would not have changed the actions of the fleet, nor changed the mind of your king; yes, you might have been sent to the dungeon, but still, you should have spoken! ... You were a witness!"

In my life I face no dungeons, only disfavor. Should I be disturbing people? I am still trying to decide, but now, I think, I already know what my answer is going to be.



Sean Crawford

~ In a technical bookstore I found an interesting book, The Magic of Dialogue by Daniel Yankelovich. It explains Dialogue Groups well.

~ I won't blab which novel because you just might read it some day.

~ Maybe God placed me so that others, a shade more fragile than I, would be spared the experience...maybe I am blessed to be a witness.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Anime, Elfen Lied

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

The Anime, Elfen Lied
A Meditation on Child Abuse


Os justi meditabitur sapientiam
(The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom)
- Iilium (lily), words and music by Kayo Konishi and Yukio Kondoh


I am watching the adult animated Japanese series Elfen Lied, despite, or because of, having been warned that it was sad...The boxed DVD promotional cover sticker (over Klimt pictures) reads, in part, "Gleefully nasty and incredibly stylish"-DVD Verdict; ... "Nyu is a babe in the woods, Lucy is a viscious killer; if only they didn't share the same body!"

I remember being self conscious, about fifteen years ago, during a breakfast with about a dozen people including science fiction author Lois McMaster Bujold. I decided to take the plunge: I said I knew a few people with multiple personality disorder (MPD) and so I was touched that Lois didn't exploit a major character in her Miles Vorkosigan series. The character had been purposely tortured as a child into having "split personalities" so that he could be a spy. I relaxed as Lois told us she had received three fan letters of thanks from persons with MPD. At the time my best friend had the first stage of MPD.

While society thinks that MPD is extremely rare, that isn't my own experience. There is an other world out there, a world that writer Lynn Okamoto of Elfen Lied knows about. When Lucy, her main character, has a vicious personality I thought at first this symbolized how in Japan homicidal rages are not unknown, partly due to the everyday repression of anger. But no, when I saw she had more than one personality I knew then she symbolized child abuse.

In this thirteen episode series a boy and girl who are newly adult move into an abandoned inn which includes a bathhouse. There they take in runaways, survivors of abuse and neglect. One of the kids has never even seen a hot bath—let alone a Japanese bath house. At her place they always washed her down with a hose of cold water.

I am thinking... of how, early in the process of women's liberation, a woman might go through a phase of avoiding all men. Similarly, I'm sure, child survivors, even when legally adults, may have a natural phase of seeing all parents, or people over 30, as the enemy. A big safe house of young people with a big safe bathhouse, in Elfen Lied, is the children's first ever place of happiness. Here they can converse in the kitchen and share things like, in the subtitled version, (not in the dubbed) a girl saying in despair she will never be good enough to be a mother.

In Elfen Lied (EL) a young lady in a lab coat says to other adults, sweetly, "every girl needs a mother." This same lady, from a child's point of view, is evil: she manipulates a young orphan to kill. The grownups in EL—smaller eyed and lacking the hair color variation of the kids—are not pretty inside.

From my adult point of view I can see how in real life many parents who do indeed, at one level, love their children, don't seem to do so. They may be over stressed and lacking in coping skills. Many years pass. After they exchange the harsh sprawling ranchhouse for a nice cozy condo, after they go from overworking to retirement, then at last they may seem to be, and actually are, sweet grandparents. But in the growing years their children may find them baffling and infuriating. It's understandable, then, that many episodes of EL have lots of blood flying around. This symbolizes—well, maybe it just symbolizes a good plot.

Another good plot detail is memory repression. It occurs to me that some viewers may have trouble believing that people could "forget." I believe it: our society barely knows the concept of "denial." In the film The Great Santini, played by Robert Duvall, there was a scene (later satirized in an Austin Powers spy movie) where the father, Santini, repeatedly bounces a basketball off the back of his son's head saying, "Are you going to cry now?" In the mass media version, safe for society to see, the mother talks to their son afterwards, defends Santini, and sincerely reminds her son that Santini has never hit her. How nice. The semi-autobiographical novel, by Pat Conroy, doesn't stop there: the boy immediately goes to his dresser drawer and takes out a T-shirt he has been saving for a year. He tells her that she always says that, but look, here is her own blood... I like that scene because I can refer people to it as an example of denial. I would feel foolish trying to tell of real life denial. Society, just like the mother—"No, no!"—doesn't want to hear it.

Unlike other anime, EL cannot be categorized, except to say that compared to other anime it has a lot of blood, and a lot of nudity. An internet site tags EL with a really long list of categories, but declares, in the end, EL is "not classifiable."

For me Elfen Lied is a meditation on child abuse. I really enjoy the series and the opening song.

EL is like "apples to oranges" compared to my "favorite" child abuse anime. In my Silence and Three Favorite TV Nerds (May 2013) essay I said I liked the anime Serial Experiments Lain (SEL). EL portrays a far, far grimmer universe even though it was SEL, with an explicit child suicide, which required special permission from the Japanese censor board. The opening song for 13 year old Lain goes, "I am falling, I am fading, I am drowning, help me to breathe."

It's different for the opening of Elfen Lied: The camera pans past nice pretty anime versions of modernist paintings by Klimt. The characters are still, with closed eyes. The lyrics are sung in ...distant... sad serene Latin. And rightly so, as the kids are so cut off.

Cut off.



Update: I am so excited: I found an intense "review," written as a "reflection" for those who have already seen Elfen Lied. It reads like an essay; it refutes reviews that "don't get it," and it validates my own opinions.---Update-Sorry, the site got all changed, so the link is no good. (Maybe it's still in there, but so far I can't  find it) The writer said the stopped clock symbolized how the damaged characters had stopped growing, had their lives on hold—I would never have guessed.

Update II: I see that since the song Lilium was composed in 2005, for the anime, there have been live action versions. Here is an in-church choir version that for me is sad.

Update III: (August 2015) I was watching the final episode on Youtube and I thought, maybe, I saw postures from the opening song credits. I don't plan to re-watch it to check. But what I did find was an explanation of how the Klimt inspired art is modelled from actual priceless paintings. (Link)


Sean Crawford
feeling tired one evening in December,
2008
Tired Afterword:

Here in town I once knew someone who's mother knew about her being molested by the father but the mother angrily told the daughter it had to continue, to save the marriage, rather like on Elfen Lied.

When I was a boy, children in institutions were hosed clean as a group; I have seen it on film. I think the water was warm, I know the practise has stopped. (National Film Board, 1969, Danny and Nicky)

In Elfen Lied the mutants can sense if another mutant is near. In one scene an especialy vicious one approaches. A girl's face changes to utter terror. "She's come to kill me!" Utter knee trembling terror. She kneels, curls over and whispers, "It's only a matter of time. She's going to kill me!"... I wonder what it is like if you are a girl in a European immigrant Muslim family, trained through violence to have obedience, and then to know, fearfull, it is only a matter of time... as you are ordered to go on a family vacation back to the country of origin, a country where you may be murdered, honor killed, to ease the family's shame.

I mentioned honor killings in Europe of women and girls in a previous essay (July 2012) entitled Intentions and Default Behaviors. In Holland the police were apparently ordered to cease recording statistics on honor killings. Now "no systematic record is allowed" by the Department of Justice. I don't get it.

In Europe they will prosecute individuals who take holidays overseas to go be pedophile sex offenders. However, they will not enforce the law when families take a vacation to have younger daughters genitally mutilated, or to have older daughters left overseas, and put into virtual slavery, with their passports ripped up. Or be murdered.

This according to a former interpeter and Dutch Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali as documented in her book The Caged Virgin (copyright 2004) subtitled An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam.

Update: Story by Henry Chu, L.A. Times, London, dated Dec 20, 2008- of a woman, Humayra Abedin, being ordered back to Britain under the new 2007 Forced Marriage Act. The British high court also ordered her family not to harass, threaten or forcibly remove her from Britain to Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan). She had lived for six years in Britain before being allegedly held against her will and married off in Bangladesh. A local Bangladesh judge agreed with her return saying her family's behavior was "unacceptable."

Update: Canada, too: Friday Nov 9, 2012 Calgary Sun p 20, "Edmonton-Police rescued a 21-year-old Edmonton woman who was found forcibly confined in her home as she awaited an arranged marriage outside of Canada, say cops who have charged a man and woman."

Sorry to be too tired to give advice today, but at least I can be a witness.