Saturday, July 30, 2011

Again, Done and Learned

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Larry’s Number One Rule For Life and Business:
Do what you said you would do,
When you said you would do it,
The way you said you would do it.
Larry Winget


My last posting to “take stock” of this essay site, Done and Learned, back in March 2011, was nearly 30 essays ago.

You ask: What’s new? Well, I’ve had the honor of having an essay translated into French. And not for France or Canada: For the US. This I know because I was translated over 75 times, while my statistics feature shows very few hits from France. So I know the translations are being done in the US, probably by a French class, while using the Google translation feature… To have a machine capable of translating languages is an old dream of science fiction, a dream especially poignant in Canada where we have not one but two official languages. I didn’t know the dream had been achieved: Isn’t anyone shouting it from the rooftops? Machines aren’t perfect; it translated the noun “mundanes,” a slang term I used, as being capitalized. But still, an amazing translation.

The translated essay was one that would appeal to young students, Japanese Anime Cartoons. I explained to the mundanes that not all cultures view cartoons as being for laughter or solely for children. It was one of my less artsy, straightforward essays, and maybe that’s a lesson for me: be less artsy. I could have helped the kids by immediately posting another teen oriented essay, such as Man and Girl, from my life before the age of tricky on-line predators, about me and young love… But, and it’s a big but, none of the hypothetical students, nor their teacher(s) could be bothered to write a comment on my essay-blog about what was going on. So then I couldn’t be bothered either. (Maybe in October I’ll post)

Over the last few days I’ve had at least 10 translations into yet another language, for yet another piece, one that touches on citizenship and why our friends from non-democracies, including visible minorities, don’t “get it,” and how they don’t join the volunteers in the National Guard.  That’s New Citizens and Soldiers from June 2013.

Such reservists, like many anime lovers, tend to be in their late teens and early twenties. When I was that age, before the web, I had a network of young ladies I would call up to socialize with. Ah, those long telephone calls of youth, remember? If I called and got an answering machine, and if I hadn’t called for any particular reason, then I would be embarrassed and just hang up. Not anymore. One day a young woman let me know she just dies of curiosity if she doesn’t know who called. I decided right then and there that my embarrassment was not more important than some one “just dying.”

Today, it seems to me, the same principle applies to translations. Even if there are only a few of you, about 10, in a community center learning about good citizenship, and you feel embarrassed about it, then you could still say “hello” to the writer in his comment section… Because I would at least like to know what language it is!

So what else is new? Since I write in English, you would expect that I would get more hits from the US, with its bigger population, than from Canada. And I do. But only since about the time of my last “taking stock” (Done and Learned) essay. (Before that I had more Canadians) What’s happened? Did Google change an algorithm? I suspect the web is not as level, nor as anonymous, as Google would like to pretend. I first began to suspect information was being kept on web users when I began to see how the advertisements that popped up were suspiciously local. Since then I’ve seen a newspaper article confirming this Orwellian spying.

I’ve noticed now that I always get a few hits from the US very soon after each new posting. Perhaps I am on some RSS feeds (The feed is like an e-mailed Google search page)

Also new is attracting a few people like me: Since my last taking stock essay, judging by my stats, a few people have been motivated to go through my archives to read old essays. I do that too, for my favorite essayists. (Who are listed in Surfing Essays in Feb 2011) It’s nice to think that a few others are  "keeners,"enthusiasts for essays, too.

At work I enjoy hanging out with the keeners. In our personal lives, of course, we choose different hobbies; we are all keen about different things. Same with our lives as citizens. Except for… going to war… If the nation doesn’t all get keen, if a war is not taken seriously, then, whether people at home realize it or not, they are being damaged. Why aren’t Americans together? And why aren’t they doing what they said they would do? Perhaps their trumpet blew a soft uncertain note. Perhaps the people did not think enough, or get “grounded” before their declaration of war.

They shouldn’t blame their government. As an executive said when planning a revolution, in my own words, “We have enough work to do trying to organize the underground, we can’t be worrying about propaganda as well. Let that be done by others. Besides, if the people don’t already know why we are rebelling, then there’s no good reason for us to revolt.” (See footnote)

So where is the US American’s sense of propaganda, urgency or interest? I have sympathy for them: In my lifetime, starting with the war on poverty, which was declared in congress one day in the1960’s, I have seen the US lose more wars than in all the previous generations combined. I can understand Americans not wanting to see themselves, yet again, as quitters or losers. But still, they need to step up and take responsibility, not leave the issue hanging. Perhaps they could “save face” by re-framing their war on terror, even if all they did was change the label to being a “campaign against terror.” As it is, after a certain essay of mine in April, I don’t know if the US people are all wimping out, or if blogosphere folks are abnormally apathetic. (I don’t have enough Internet experience yet to know)

According to several newspaper reports, President Obama may be hoping the issue will quietly die out: He has never uttered the phrase “war on terror.” Well, let’s hope he never takes up playing the trumpet… Here is a quote from my essay in April:
By this point I can imagine some U.S. reader sputtering indignantly, “Drinking water! (sputter) plausible denia—(sputter)… Are you crazy? Listen, Americans are really smart and really responsible—so there!”

At which I can only reply, as gently as I can, “All of my readers are responsible. And you, dear reader, may well prove me wrong. Go ahead: try the “citizen thing.” Go to your downtown library, or bookstore, and ask them to include a war on terror section. Tell them how your fellow citizens want to seek out new information, new concepts, and boldly put their actions where their commitment is… I am sorry to say I think you will fail… Then you may write a comment here to tell the rest of us what happened.”

Since April I have referred my readers to that page from several other essays. The response? Nothing. At. All.

What’s new for me is learning something I regret to say: Perhaps Americans… don’t deserve my support. Perhaps I’m foolish to have spend my time composing some essays at the intersection of democracy and terror. It’s too bad. I still have deep sympathy for those who have lost loved ones. (When a boy I knew was killed in action I took time off work) As for me, at the risk of losing my spirit… perhaps I will declare a separate peace.


Sean Crawford
Wiser but sadder
July 30, 2011
Footnote
The “in my own words” part is based on a book, central to my December 2010 essay The Brass Cannon, entitled The Moon in a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Peace time, War time

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

I've been thinking.

Everyone knows "peace time," and nearly everyone knows that "war is hell," but too many fail to know what "war time" is. To see with only one eye of peace, or only one eye of war, is to lack depth of perception. Unfortunately, no one else has the ill breeding, or sense of humour, to write of war and peace in the same paragraph. But I do. We need both eyes.

Wars still happen to Canadians. Life became all too real for 40,000 Canadian tourists caught overseas in the summer of 2008. They demanded parliament to get them out when the Israelis invaded. Only with depth perception can we consider whether Canada could have helped Lebanon to prevent such an invasion, or, afterwards, to fix the causes. I will discuss Lebanon later.

I've been thinking that being "educated" is no indication of whether one "gets" war time. I once attended a professor's guest lecture, the sort with wine and cheese afterwards. The prof showed us slides of pages of Japanese scholarly articles from before the war. Most of us couldn't read the calligraphy, still, the pictures of people's heads told the story. Before fascism, explained the prof, but not now, the Japanese were conscious of being a multi-racial society.

After the lecture I sipped my wine standing with a mature Japanese lady who, like me, was from off-campus. We were joined by a young woman. She told us she had a degree, and was now halfway to a masters degree. She had an interest in art history she said, and there was a respected artist she liked, a household name. The young student had been astonished, and very disapproving, to see his war time racist anti-Japanese posters. In the telling us this she screwed up her face and shuddered. The Japanese lady and I merely exchanged looks. How could we tell this educated innocent girl she was being so ignorant?  We let it go.

I could have said that during war time you hate the enemy with all your heart and soul. On Guadalcanal, if I am around a narrow jungle trail and suddenly meet a Japanese, and we leap to fight in vicious hand-to-hand combat, then a poster that helped me to hate was a good thing.

With war comes a tunnel vision that makes you try to reduce your own casualties by focusing on killing the enemy. If you are preparing to land on a pacific beach then you rain down as many artillery shells as you can spare. (As a Canadian said about the controversial expensive gun registry, "If it saves even one life it's worth it") You are heedless of blasting the nice pretty palm trees, careless of the it-takes-a-thousand-years-to-grow coral. As your shells are falling you feel no pity: not for the big fat enemy general, and not for the poor little fellow beside him, his skinny unarmed trumpeter.

It might seem mad to bomb the general's little trumpeter, or his nerdy radar operator, but war is a tunnel vision, a madness; war is not a time for detachment or humour. Of course we can see such partisan times in civilian life too. To say, "There's no fairness in love and war" is to say there's no being "fair minded," not during certain isolated bubbles of time. I have certainly been known to tell jokes about God, in-laws and marriage... but never in church on the afternoon of a wedding. Certain beliefs and attitudes, at certain times, are just not done. As Grandma would say, first approach a marriage with both eyes wide open... and then going in you should shut one eye.

In this day and age, when there are so many resources, not just print, it is wrong for anyone, not just educated people, to be ignorant before going into a war. And then, if we think the war is still worth doing, then it's worth shutting one eye. To research after going in, to ask for fresh obscene photographs while your war is still raging, is just obscene: It would be asking too much of yourself and others. Grandma would be scandalized.

Time heals. Only after a war is over might we regain perspective. We might then, perhaps, be amused at how the Canadians, during the Great War, changed the name of their city to that of a well known general, Kitchener. Before that? It was called Berlin. Fine, but to laugh at this during wartime is just not done. Not when certain soldiers are coming home early: The blind, the halt and the lame. Nor would this be a time to point out that maybe the war was based on a few trivial points of disagreement.

Let the hot blooded public stay hot, and let them delegate the peace negotiations to the coldblooded, formal diplomats. The rest of us just can't do it, any more than we could spank our children in cold blood. (Maybe we could, but then our children would never forget having Vulcans for parents)

A civilian comparison to war's madness could be a man who talks sensitively of "the sorrow and the pity" of French civilians in WW ll. He has no issues with appearing homosexual and he will, accordingly, gracefully weave and pivot past all the bar tables. Until he gets in a fight. Then tunnel vision—heedless—tables crashing, drinks smashing; not for even a second will he glance away to view with sorrow the collateral damage he is causing. Not until he has won or lost.

When the fight is over, it's over. One of my best drinking buddies was a bouncer. We met the night he manhandled me out the door... With peace the other eye dominates: The hate vanishes, respect shines, and people come home with Japanese wives. I once flew on a Canadian Forces plane to Germany beside a returning German wife.

The point is that war is a bubble in time. My nerves couldn't stand it otherwise. To have a "permanent war" is a contradiction, an oxymoron... to have hatred permanently, for cruelty not to be unusual, to have this for my whole lifetime, would destroy my soul, just as "permanent war" would surely destroy my nation by rendering us dispirited, cynical and corrupt. I suppose I've just described a modern Muslim terrorist, or the old republic of South Vietnam.

And what of Lebanon? Could Canada have helped? When the cruel Hezbollah were firing big rockets into Israel, but before they triggered the invasion by kidnapping two innocent peace time Israeli soldiers, could Canada have helped prevent the war? Of course: We already had RCMP in Haiti, and surely we could have sent more police to Lebanon to help arrest some Hezbollah and seize the rockets, but... our war eye was then closed. Just as it was closed when, with soldiers in Afghanistan, at first we kept lowering the nation's flags to half mast, as in peace time, every time somebody died. Surely, using our uncommitted  peace eye, once a few RCMP had been wounded, or killed, we would have "pulled out" and left the poor Lebanese to their fate.

Something similar happened when the US tried to guard relief food in the Somalian city of Mogadishu. Not having anyone to attack, no uniformed bad guys to engage the wartime eye, the peace time regular soldiers were not psyched up for the challenge. As described in the book Blackhawk Down, as few as 19 killed were enough to make the US back off from feeding people. The cynical equation flew around the world: If you can kill as many as 19 G.I.s (nobody knew how few) then the Americans will pull out. This "Mogadishu Doctrine" was true as far as it went, but it only went as far as peace time.

A war time viewpoint means that we lose our pity, and furthermore, we lose our denial of death. "As many" as 19 becomes "as few" as 19. In contrast, peace time is deny time. If tomorrow we were to begin building a Hoover dam we might proudly publish estimates of how many tons of angle iron and cement would be needed. But there would be no consulting of Workmen's Compensation Board statistics. Denial means no publishing scientific estimates of deaths.

I would think switching to a war time viewpoint is not like flicking on a solid state radio, perhaps it is more like warming up an old vacuum tube TV set. In regards to Lebanon, while those two kidnap victims had been in a peace time mode, I believe the rest of the Israeli army heated up to a war time mode. I say this because weary troops walking back after the cease-fire were so cut off from civilian concerns that they asked, "Did those two soldiers get freed?" This seclusion from news of the real world indicates a secluded bubble, a war time world where suffering casualties blunts feelings.

In our civilian world, of course, we use seclusion too: Aggressive football players start the season away in training camp. On certain U.S. campuses, according to the student football expose Meat On the Hoof, the players will have their own dormitorys and dinning facilities, ostensibly for teamwork and nutrition, but actually to be secluded from the liberal arts students who don't take football so seriously.

I wrote the following after the invasion:

What of the Hezbollah? From what I have read they had a war time viewpoint, and it seems this view is enduring past the cease-fire. Therefore, if a Lebanese policeman my age, a husband and father, paunchy and balding, tries to arrest a Hezbollah, and dies... then it follows that neither the Hezbollah, nor his wife, or his wife's good sister, will feel a single tear.

What of the Lebanese soldiers? Are they being secluded from other Lebanese, including the Hezbollah, in order to warm up to war time? Are they seeing "racist" posters of Evil Hezbollah? I totally doubt it. I totally doubt their sergeants are saying, "Listen up, stuff happens, none of us will live forever!" So despite Lebanon's cease-fire ideals, I'm sure they won't have the guts to disarm the Hezbollah.

What of U.N. soldiers? A senior Israeli officer, during the fighting, asked that any U.N. force be composed of combat troops, not "troops near retirement," not troops "seeking a vacation in the orange groves." That old Israeli knew that in peace time, when the soldiers on base know each other's faces, life is very precious. I remember in the Airborne we were shocked, the news flew around the base, when a sergeant died of a heart attack during a morning run.

To boot up to a wartime viewpoint requires a commitment. Will the U.N. troops make that commitment? Will they help disarm Hezbollah so that democracy is refreshed? Not if the troops are as lousy as the ones in Rwanda. We shall see. I for one will see with both eyes.



Sean Crawford

Calgary, Alberta

footnotes:

~ A longer version of this essay which included my military "aide to civil power" experience, Two Eyes for War and Peace was written in 2008 and posted to my new web site in 2009.
~All of the 40,000 tourists in Lebanon had passports; some loved Canada, others are believed to be prostitutes: They claimed to love Canada, but were actually using Canada they would a "customer, " to have a fire escape door.
~As a child I liked the story of The Little Trumpeter in the Read Aloud series. The beginning symbolized how Americans were watching football the morning of Pearl Harbour. As the good guys are watching baseball the bad guys quietly line up for battle at the edge of town. The little trumpeter is shown with long hair like a peacenik.
"'Blow!' And blow he did."
At a war crimes trial (his side drew mustaches on the statues in the park) he tries to escape what he deserves by claiming he doesn't even carry a gun. The King gets angry and locks him in the highest tower. Why? Because his trumpet started the whole thing. Looking back, I guess, dear reader, he symbolized civilians like me and you.

~It was in the shadow of the Hezbollah that I wrote my first two Battlestar Galactica essays.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sarah, Terminators and Feminists

essaysbysean.blogspot.com
The original Introduction was bookended by these two paragraphs:

As a teen my self-confidence and honesty was threatening to other boys, which really warped my behavior. ( I clammed up) Before liberation everyone's behavior was warped. I barely wish to recall what it was like for everyone to believe that any lone man in a large group of women was always more functional, with more leadership and can-do spirit, than everyone else in the group. But that's how it was in the pre-feminist years.

...

"Male" was the standard and female was second rate. For example there was a "morality scale" researcher, with a scenario where the man was faced with stealing drugs for his dying wife. The scientist made no allowance for females having morally valid yet different-than-his solutions, such as using dialogue... And it was not until years after "women's libber" was no longer in our vocabulary (we said "feminist") that a judge ruled that the legal defense standard, of acting just like any "reasonable adult" would do, must include the standard of the "reasonable female adult" too.

Sarah, Terminators and Feminists

Having a hatred for war and a fondness for feminists, I have a soft spot for the tormented Sarah Connor in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah is a single mother who knows that an atomic war is coming but instead of being paralyzed by her knowledge of Judgment Day she is determined to do whatever she can. One might assume that T2 is violent, (yes) action-filled (yes) and ... nonfeminist. (no) No, it is a moral movie: To see Sarah is to glimpse feminism. 

 For several years I was a nonvoting member of the University of Calgary Women's Collective and Resource Center. One of the other males at the center did that thing where a man dresses in spongy body armor head to toe, (cap-a-pie) and then the women are encouraged to hit him as hard as they can. The results may go beyond learning literal self-defense: On a metafilter web site a woman describes how from such practice she swiftly became empowered to react differently in so many aspects of her life. Feminists believe in empowerment.

 Were I to hit a man in such armor, my first blow would likely be at half strength, but then my next blow would probably land at mostly full strength. For a number of women, though, blow after blow is delivered at only a teeny fraction of what they are capable of: such is the power of social conditioning. Call it “learned helplessness.” In all fairness, those same women would strike desperately hard if their child was being threatened. I respect Sarah Connor for her self empowerment to strike hard: Not only does she learn to use various military weapons but even after she has a life sentence to the insane asylum, even when her life is over —or at least into limbo— she is determined to stay as physically fit as she can. In that hopeless jail, if she has nice muscles, it has nothing to do with attracting men. 

Of course feminists can attract boyfriends and have families and worry about their children. Sarah’s tribulations are during the cold war, when all children, worldwide, are at risk. Some day our grandchildren may be baffled at how we could learn to live with the horror of missile silos, but we did, the same way we could ignore how women didn’t have equal rights: Humans are good at denial. During those dread times we could choose to try our best to stave off Armageddon, or we could be passive. In those strange days when most people would wimp out, be overwhelmed, throw up their hands in defeat... while I felt like Crazy Eddie who, after being condemned by the king to death, got the king to commute his death sentence "for one year" so that he could "teach the king's horse to sing..." then, in those trying times, I could always depend on the Women's Movement to keep up with me, to keep slogging away at my side. Feminists believe in peace.

 When a man confronted Eddie for being crazy enough to think a horse could ever sing, Eddie answered gaily, "A lot can happen in a year. The king might die. I might die. Or the horse might learn to sing." As a boy I learned the lyrics to a spiritual: "...Joshua fit (fought) the battle of Jericho, and the wall come a-tumbling down." During those years when I was encouraging people to "hold on" to "never give up" because there might be a miracle, I never imagined that one day a horse over in Berlin would sing. Sarah never gives up. She can't: She can't forget the vision of herself in a gingham dress, which Sarah could never wear, in a park with her children, whom Sarah could never know. Who can forget seeing her other self and the children in that searing deadly wind? Not Sarah. She won’t dial down her consciousness. Feminists are willing to know things.

 Given her obsessed lifestyle, with no chance to attend a weekly women’s consciousness raising group, it is unlikely Sarah would stop to think long enough to call herself a feminist. But she acts like one.

Sarah is barren of sisterhood yet in her lonely way, she finds a philosophy. In T2 she angrily confronts a scientist, Dr. Dyson, who will soon be largely responsible for triggering our Day of Judgment. Losing her temper she yells that people like him kill because they cannot create life, cannot feel a child growing. In the book version by Randall Frakes she goes on to point out that men's version of creating is to give their name to the guns that they create. Meanwhile, the Calgary Police Service has adopted a new service pistol and wouldn't you know, it is named after Mr. Glock.

 In my young adulthood I watched as a few "woman's libbers" got other women the freedom to have jobs as notary publics and judges, doctors and police officers. We take this for granted now, but not then. It was two years before my father was born that a few suffragettes got other women the vote. At the time it was hoped that women, on becoming part of democracy, might be a civilizing influence for world peace. But I guess there are not enough people like Sarah. 

 My own mother believes in peace, but I can't deny there are other cultures, equal to ours in the sight of Allah, but not the same as ours: There are places where mothers teach their children to hold on to a double standard for women, and for foreigners, to hold fast to their hatred, and, in the end, to value hatred over peace. “Oh well,” says Eddie and I, “at least in my father's lifetime no two democracies have ever declared war on each other, so perhaps as democracy spreads...?”

Democracy is where two heads are better than one. Sarah, unfortunately, has little access to the democratic give and take of free speech. Bereft of a circle of empowering sisters she is alone with her knowledge of the coming horror...

 Alone, Sarah almost destroys her soul but then she suffers a child to be her call unto sanity. As young John says to a robot, "Don't you get it? Haven't you learned anything? You can't go around killing people." And she cries.

 Feminism, being for equality, includes men too. As my dictionary says, it means “political and social and economic equality to men.” I am picturing, from just before "women's liberation," a “power to the people” 1960’s male activist: As he feels confident and equal, as he feels truly empowered, then he will no longer need the crutch of having women make the coffee.

A feminist visiting Sarah's asylum would ask if the patients, men and women, are being empowered to be all they can be, by growing as much as they can, by making as many decisions as they can. Democracy in America, as the French observer De Tocqueville once explained in his classic, is where a free people make little decisions, often, so they will grow fit for making big decisions, occasionally, at the voting booth. Perhaps democracy, then, is a prerequisite for people to be motivated to even care to know what growth is, let alone care, Allah willing, for the growth of women.

 When I first saw Sarah she was a simple, single girl. An emissary from the future warned her: She was going to find strength she never knew she had, grow in ways she never thought possible. And grow she did. 

 Sarah reminds me of my own world. It wasn't very long ago that editors would not publish Andrew Vasche's mysteries about an ex-con, Burke, who fights child pornography rings, because nobody could believe such rings existed. Now we believe. Feminists, at first feeling alone, and being told they were crazy, have helped us to know that such horror exists.

If Judgment Day is a moral movie then it must have karma. It's only right that a shrink who messed with Sarah's mind has his own mind blown, such is the shrink’s karma, but what of Doctor Dyson? How could a husband and father have a rendezvous with death? Easy: Because of Cyberdine Industries. That's where a suspended pteradactal alludes to nuclear winter, where their secret vault requires two keys, turned simultaneously, to open up. When I was a child of the cold war hearing the sad air raid sirens being tested, “sorrrrrryy,” we all knew that if the man in Washington ever “pressed the button” it took two keys to empty out the silos. In that vault at Cyberdine was the “button." There rested the preposterous robot hand and the impossibly advanced chip.

Dyson saw. He was a scientist and citizen who knew that science and democracy requires questions and transparency, knowing that if an invention requiring a previous series of steps suddenly appears, then either the steps have been kept secret or the device has been stolen; he was a scholar who knew how to search the science literature and scrutinize the newspaper files, those files which would have led him to Sarah Connor's story; he was a man of planet Earth who knew we all must be alert to question strange new paths of death, from factories putting mercury down pipes into the sushi of Tokyo bay, to pesticides killing the higher animals, to fluorocarbons rising up to blast the ozone; …and so when Dyson was ordered, "don't ask!" and when he agreed not to question that button in the vault, when he passed along those orders, when he silenced an idealistic young long haired scientist, then, like a good Muslim German, he failed in his duty as a scientist, citizen, scholar and moral human being. Dyson failed.

 "The future is not set," said the emissary to Sarah Connor. "There is no fate but what we make." I agree. I believe devoutly, “Our greatest enemy is despair.”

 So hurray for Sarah! For me it is almost worth the price of admission just to see, for one second, my hero do a victory hop and skip in the prison hallway. In that second I see a human being go from victim to survivor, from shuffling peasant to purposeful citizen. In that moment I see a person of holy fire: Sarah will always create her own empowerment.


Sean Crawford

Still traveling through time,
at one second per second,
Calgary 2009

footnotes:

~While I look for peace, I have also written an essay for a clear-eyed view of war.

~For more on karma and morality, see my essay Morality, Boys and Hollywood, originally entitled Terminators and Boys, of July 2013.

~I still get homesick reading the pre-feminist 1940's Martian Chronicles. We had thought the future was set, that we were fated to more gadgets but no social change.

~The biggest surprise ovation I will ever receive was at a weekly (for ten weeks) peace meeting.
The meetings were so big that a huge lecture theater proved inadequate for the first meeting; (people were sitting in the aisles) we subsequently had to use a music recital hall. Most of us were from off campus. After someone complained about the futility of declaring the campus a "nuclear free zone" I said that yesterday I felt the same, but here, today, I was trying to be positive, for such declarations are not an end but a means to an end, a way of moving us further along the road to a solution that we cannot conceive of yet.
Without mentioning Crazy Eddie I reminded them of other unpredictable miracles such as Alcoholics Anonymous and stopping the White (A-bomb) Train, miracles that offered a way out from a hopeless terminal condition.

I said building peace is like everyone working together on a giant mural while you can only see the one little leaf that you are painting so painstakingly. You don't just quit. Instead you have a blurred vision of this big world that we are all working towards... And then, starting from off on the right, everyone in the hall applauded long and loud in solidarity.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Housewarming Party, Happy and Gay

essaysbysean.blog.spot.com


So there I was... at a housewarming party where half the guests were heterosexual, the others Gay. Our hosts, in this detached two-storey home, were a God-fearing celibate lesbian, and a heterosexual couple shamelessly living in sin. You might think the guests would nervously clump into two groups but no, we mostly knew each other already, and besides—we were cool.

I was sitting on a kitchen counter when a gay woman gently brushed my hair back and said softly, "You really should see a hairstylist." A minute later I carried my beer into the living room where a dear dyke friend of mine said "Hello!" and "You should see a stylist."

I said, "That's what someone else just said."

"Who?"

"I don't l know her name, but she was at a party last week put on by GLASS (gay and lesbian academics, students and staff).

I grinned conspiratorially and said, "So you know what this means?"

"No."

"She thinks I'm Gay." My friend laughed, "You're like an undercover spy!" and called two people over. One was a Gay friend, one was her straight sister. She shared her mirth, explaining, "When Sean left home he lived by Vancouver's Chinatown where he learned a new culture. Now he's learning ours."

Later that night I stared into my drink and remembered my Vancouver years. One day, over cheap draft beer, a guy I really liked bar crawling with had brought up the topic of homosexuals. But I was not cool. He asked, "Is this making you uncomfortable?

"No."

"Because your shoulders are really hunched and fingers are gnarled around your glass."

Years later I was at a hotel for a student weekend conference where some of us were vegetarian and some of us were out of the closet. Some older working man, a nonstudent who "didn't get it," it shouted down a stairwell, "I'm not gay!" Newsflash—Gays don't care if you are Gay; Chinese don't care if you are Buddhist... Chinese don't care if you are hopeless with chopsticks; Gays don't care if you are hopeless with fashion. My advice to old nonstudents: 'live and let live' and don't take yourself so seriously.

Since then I've learned why losing my prejudice is called getting liberated: because I lose a big weight off my smooth shoulders, a weight I didn't even know I was carrying.

Today my world is lighter, my heart is brighter—and I get invited to more parties.



Sean Crawford
as 2008 transforms into 2009,
into terra incognita

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Alive and Alert, for Life and Work

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Early one evening in the twenty-first century, as Princeton and I were walking through China town, on our way to have some noodles, I spied something on the curb. Aha! I snapped it up. It turned out to be a ladies wristwatch with jeweled inner workings. It had obviously been laying there for some time.

Princeton was surprised that I’d noticed; I was surprised that others hadn’t noticed. Or rather, half surprised: I am starting to realize that others don’t have the advantage of my brothers and I, for back in the good old days, back when we were in Wolf Cubs and Boy Scouts, we were often admonished to “be alert” and “be observant.” Were you?

Looking back, I wonder if our scoutmasters had a secondary purpose beyond the obvious one, of course, of adding an alert quality to our lives. Perhaps, as with our daily good deed, they also wanted us to know that special quality of life that comes of getting our minds off ourselves. In those years life meant more than swimming in electronics and accumulating stuff. Character counted. It’s been a long time since I heard, “A scout is thrifty;” it’s been a couple of generations since I’ve seen a certain joke sign in the workplace: “Be alert… We need more lerts.”

Today, looking beyond China town to the office skyscrapers, I wonder: What’s on the minds of the folks in the highest places? I’m thinking of some guys who are bizarrely overpaid. In my youth no one ever dreamed that one day our rich respected community "leaders," those chief executive officers who are setting an example for their vice presidents and for their other workers and for all the rest of us… No one imagined that one day the CEOs would drop “good deeds” and “being thrifty” to believe in greed and easy credit. I cannot imagine them, or their vice presidents, ever leading a Boy Scout troop. Can you? Perhaps it’s time to readjust our respect, time to see bizarre CEOs as being decoupled from the community. It’s too bad.

I’ve lived through a period when scouting was common—eleven of the twelve Apollo moonwalkers were Scouts—and then on to a time when I can walk under an evening moon in China town past an unnoticed ladies wristwatch. If people today aren’t being observant, then what are they doing? I think of the man who always walked the same sidewalk to work every day for a year. One morning he was amazed. Overnight, somehow, someone had put up a big tree! This while leaving the ground miraculously undisturbed! I have to chuckle: Maybe the man hadn’t been very alert, but at least, when he finally got around to seeing the tree, he also observed the ground.

Obviously that man, to put things in Star Trek terms, was warping along to work everyday with his scanners and sensors turned off. Or, to put things in my grandfather’s terms, “The dang fool was walking along wearing horse blinders.” No doubt you’ve seen those black squares along a horse’s eyes to keep the beast from noticing anything to the side.

Scanners? As a typical male I like radar. And I like scanning as I roar along the road with a stick shift, or, when I’m softly walking in the dewy morning along a hunting trail. When I was a young soldier on foot patrols I was the most alive: It was life and death to keep my head on a swivel. Now I’m middle aged and my neck is still, yet I think I remain alive to the world; I think I keep the corners of my eyes open. As for wearing horse blinders… is that a lifestyle choice? Or is that a default from never knowing any different?

And what about sensors? What about listening? A folksinger, John Prine, sings a comic song: “My wife goes to Mars.” Can you picture it? In the kitchen, Sunday morning, the husband observes a glittering bird out the window. “Hey, there’s a rare jeweled blackbird.” The wife doesn’t look, doesn’t move a single muscle. She’s off on Mars… I know a husband who won’t go to Mars, not anymore. He’s still smarting from losing money: His wife made him fork out for a hearing test.

At my company we try to be thrifty, of course, yet late last year we decided it made sense to provide everyone with a month-at-a-glance day timer. One day I quizzed the five workers in my leadership class: Although they were alert enough to keep their ears open during staff meetings, none of my students had been alert enough to notice that for every month their day timer included a time management tip. I was only half surprised, not at all miffed. What does anger me at work and in the community is when we are in a group, in a meeting, and individuals put their personal agendas above the group, such as by gossiping with a person next to them. At this I am still surprised.

As a chairman I try to avoid such unworthy behavior by running a tight ship. For example, if I am asking people to look in their day timers then, amidst the rustling, I will discourage anyone from speaking to the motion before us. “One thing at a time.” As a regular member, during a meeting, if I need to unobtrusively check my day timer for a group related purpose, then I feel responsible to set my sensors for maximum, or at least to be flipping my laser focus swiftly back and forth from the meeting to my day timer. What I won’t ever do is slack off and idly check my day timer to see when the next ice hockey game is: That would be unworthy of me. What I won’t do is take the guy in the next seat along with me to Mars: That would be too degrading. For me, being alert means noticing and hearing.

In my lifetime I’ve gone from seeing giant blinking computers, to the invention of little onboard computers for Apollo space crews, to seeing, here on earth, “wage slaves” fading into history. It is a truism that a modern business requires more computers, a much flatter organizational pyramid, and more work by teams. Today these team members, more than ever before, need to be educated, informed and empowered. Not like slaves, nor like peasants, but more like citizens: they each need to feel responsible. Therefore, while it might seem cost effective to send only the chairman off for training in “functional group meetings,” it is probably better to train the whole group to the standard of accepting responsibility for their meetings.

Not every one wants responsibility… just as, in my boyhood, not every tenderfoot wanted to stick around long enough to become a good Boy Scout. Human nature, of course, means there will always be employees who have their minds on themselves, not on the group task. And rather than merely blame the chairman, or blame those individuals, it might be better for me to reflect how these tenderfeet represent the integrity of all of us, me included, at the group level. And then get to work to try to raise the standards of us all.

 As you know, a team’s professionalism rests on a base of integrity. Unfortunately, there is a limit as to how high the group's standards can ever get, a limit as to how much professionalism the staff can ever have, if their CEO, for whatever bizarre reason, doesn’t have integrity himself: This was demonstrated in my youth by the people of South Vietnam.

Lest we forget: I recall an instance where a Vietnamese general demonstrated he felt no sense of service to his army or his nation: During a panicky retreat in 1973 he pushed a private out of his jeep to make room for a refrigerator. And as surely as night follows day none of the privates would exert themselves to serve either. So although the South Vietnamese army should, in theory, have been well practiced and hardened by years of fighting the Viet Cong... in 1975 the army fell like dominos before the merely peace time army of North Vietnam.

Needless to say, the South Vietnamese business CEOs were surely no better than the generals they sent out to fight, no better than the politicians they elected. Truly a nation gets the government it deserves.

And now I walk in China town, as the skyscrapers loom over all of us, and I wonder: What sort of CEOs are we coming to deserve? What do we stand for? And am I being alert to what those CEOs are doing? As a citizen, as part of a board of directors, I share my role-responsibility, but as an individual I answer to my own conscience… and so I have the utmost respect for an individual CEO, Robert Townsend, who turned down a board’s pay raise, in order to stay loyal to the other employees.

In my workplace, as in my private life, what I can do is keep on being alert… The world needs more lerts.


Sean Crawford
Where vigilance is the eternal price of freedom,
Relaxing with half-closed eyes over a beer during the Calgary stampede,
July, 20111

Footnotes:
~“Eleven of the twelve Apollo moonwalkers were Scouts” is in Rocket Men (p. 49) by Craig Nelson

~ The refrigerator incident is in Bright Shinning Lie by former Vietnam correspondent Neil Sheehan.

~“That’s your integrity at the group level” comes from the hero taking a human potential course in a third book, A Rage For Revenge, of The War Against the Chtorr series, about fighting an ecological infestation, by David Gerrold.
During his course, by the way, the hero learns to handle his rage. Or so he thinks. In the fourth book, after he hits bottom, he is forced to re-examine his rage at a deeper level.

In the first book, with the “real” world leaders all dead, a dysfunctional meeting symbolizes how the young heroes, and the second string world leaders, are still learning to be responsible. Early in the war New York City, along with the United Nations building, has been lost. Now, as a supposedly important world science conference is convening in a convention room in Denver, the hero watches while the chairman forlornly taps his glass to start the meeting… but all the delegates just keep on talking, raising their voices to be heard against each other. It takes a while to get started.

Gerrold once said his series was about on-the-job training for a hero. I’ve learned along with him. I highly recommend The War Against the Chtorr series.