Saturday, December 31, 2011


I remember me...I recall with fondness and goodwill the "me" that was alone at my kitchen table one Friday night. A single mother friend phoned. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Writing in my journal" I replied.

"What about?"

"Positive affirmations."

Then she asked, "What exactly are you writing?" And I told her.

My throat wasn't dry. My chest wasn't tight and puffy with fear. I didn't feel dumb or unworthy or a charlatan. My affirmations fit me like bark fits a tree; the words felt true, they were me. Somehow, in writing out those words for so many days, I had wrought a miracle, a miracle I had hoped for, but hadn't really expected.

"Life," my friend said "is full of surprises."

Sean Crawford,

at my kitchen computer, winter 2008
Besides my sole post of 2009, you might like the Gratitude one from July of 2010

Monday, December 26, 2011

At Otafest
Originally Published Victoria Day 2009
as a Chitchat/introduction, pre-essay,
to Hollywood Morality

This weekend I am at the University of Calgary at a festival called Otafest. You know the word trekkie? The vague equivalent in Japan is otaku, meaning "fan" of Japanese comics, or "manga," and of Japanese animation, or "anime." So I'm around hundreds and hundreds of people in costume. Meanwhile there is also a western Canada high school aged volleyball tournament going on and the coaches and parents are clueless. And a male coach my age, who sees the costumes every year but still doesn't know what's going on, expressed contempt: I think he's a mundane fool. At least a couple of ladies asked.

As a middle aged man I can recall watching the first aired shows of Star Trek. And something else: I can recall that in the 60's female fans were writing fiction of Kirk and Spock having a loving relationship. There was quite a lot of such female "fanfic" and no one quite knew why. Now I "know:" It was to fill the void of no such comics from Japan. Now there are lots of "yaoi" (boy meets boy) manga.

I know because Doctor Antonia Levi has driven across a dozen mountain ranges from Vancouver to give lectures. Yesterday her first otafest lecture was a "nerd magnet" where suddenly I was not the only "old guy:" There were over two dozen people, almost none of us in costume (like I said, nerds) and the room included at least a half dozen men and women my age. Doctor Levi told us about universal myths being encoded into Japanese popular culture.

Her next lecture, after a short break, was a "girl magnet:" lots of costumes, lots of energetic people under 18. It seems that in Japan nearly all of the yaoi readers are under 18—just like their approving mothers before them. But here in America any yaoifest will have an age limit of 18+. The girls yelled it wasn't fair; they screamed with approval when a boy in a wig and dress said his mother helped him with his costume.

As for me, middle aged: normally at slightest hint of impropriety I go "harumph!" and rustle my newspaper. As for these kids, they aren't bad: They aren't the sort to wear black leather jackets and sneak smokes behind the arena. They are wholesome. In fact, two of them work part-time in a public library! (Where there is some yaoi they aren't telling the librarians about!) When they grow up, some of them will attend lectures on cultural encoding.

I can't fault the girls for their belief in tasteful boy with boy romance. Meanwhile I will continue to do the middle-age thing of vigilantly monitoring our popular culture for stuff that is sexist or too violent or- you know what I mean.

Sean Crawford
Summer 20009


pyll said...
Sean, What a coincidence! I stumbled upon the anime Saint Seiya on youtube and while looking at the wikipedia entry, found the term yaoi. Interesting indeed! I'm glad that you had an opportunity to go to otafest... I would have loved to attend the lectures, but I'm sure that it will be just as good hearing it from you! Did you happen to connect with anyone at the festival? I've been to a couple of events like this, and they are a lot of fun, but the feeling fades as you go home. It would be nice to have some intelligent discussions with people. Did the speakers leave time for questions? Keep up the good work! p

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Student Activists

Student Activists
Occupy Wall Street, Part Three

In Part Two I concluded the Occupy Wall Street folks in the Calgary city plaza were not students- they were NEETs: not in employment, education or training. As well, they were NEETs with hubris.

Hubris, to the Greeks, meant excessive pride, as in not heeding the Gods, and it led to a fall. Today, to me, hubris means not heeding the public or history or common sense. In the recent past, as noted in Part Two, hubris has led to operating with the toolbox half empty, by rejecting “the older generation,” or folks in suits, or the working class. Now I place no trust in NEETs. But what of students? Near the end of Part Two I wrote: It remains to be seen whether hubris will render some, most or all of our educated youth ineffectual…

…As teens a lot of our energy went into protecting our egos. As an adult in my 20’s, I found that if I wanted to get active results in the real world, I would need to leave my ego at the door. Forget hubris.

I’ve been a student. At my college, I’m pleased to say, we heeded the old activist principle—violated by the occupiers—of having our public activities with a “closed” time frame, often of less than a lunch hour, rather than have an “open ended” gathering where gradually people trickle away, reducing the number of bodies and reducing the power of the spectacle. To quote from the man in my footnote to Part Two, “Anything that drags on becomes a drag.” So at college we ended things with a bang.

At my university, as at college, students were varied in their spirit. I knew many students who were newly adult and keen to know their brave new world. They found it meaningful to follow the news, both in the greater world and right on campus. So bright eyed. I dimly knew of other students too, but them I never got to know. They wouldn't care for campus news or student media: I think they were trapped by family or peer expectations that they were “s’posed to” go to university. For them, any youthful excitement had to come from weekends and student cabarets, because every week they were in a passive mode, feeling unresponsible, uninvolved, like in some glorified high school. I’m thinking of a man I mentioned in a previous essay. He felt no sense of campus affiliation; he said he attended “for my professional information.” It sounds to me like he was too fearful to reach out.

A spirited student activist won’t be someone who gives in to fear. No claiming to be bored or superior to other students. No leaning back, heh-heh, and chewing gum. But perhaps fear is a two sided coin, with the other side embossed: Hubris.

Back in high school I had hubris, we all did. My school was full of snobs, and shy people mistaken for snobs, and no doubt some kids were both at once. I would have been glad when reading the young adult novels by Robert Heinlein, about teens like me, with their middle aged mentors. I was glad the novels were devoid of characters in their 20’s, because the contrast with us teens would have just been too much for me. (Say, maybe that’s why graduate students are expected to absent themselves from normal student (undergraduate) affairs)

So I ask, “Is hubris rendering some university students ineffectual?”

Well, yes. Sometimes. Before me is Fast Forward, a typical weekly entertainment-newspaper, of the sort found in every big city. The first few pages, activist friendly, are always a critical look at the Establishment/Government/The System. Then come write-ups on independent bands, entertainment reviews and regular syndicated columns, the latter illustrated with irreverent 1960’s style cartoons. No sports. The young audience, despite preferring Star Wars to sports, still see themselves as cool; the keen young writers, who surely all have day jobs, romantically see themselves as responsible "writers." 

Up in Edmonton last week I had gone to see the feature film Margin Call. The (VUEWEEKLY) weekly paper there, the equivalent of Fast Forward, gave the show a balanced, fair review. The writer is Josef Braun. (Headlines, of course, are generated by the editor when laying out the page, and not by the writer) The headline reads ECONOMIC HUBRIS Though strangely paced, Margin Call finds some truth in its exploration of big business back dealing. 3/5 stars. (Roger Ebert gave 4/5) The call out reads “What ultimately makes Margin Call worthwhile above all is the way it cumulatively builds up to something like a revelation, one that isn’t novel but feels very true.” Fine. I had assumed Fast Forward down here in Calgary would have a good review too. But I forgot about hubris. Boy, was I in for a surprise…

While it goes without saying that students who want to understand, and then reform Wall Street, would seek out the medium of print, that is to say, use their flipping library cards! ... I took it for granted that students would also access popular culture, the stuff of water cooler talk. After all, it’s hard for an activist to “activate social change” if he doesn’t know where his non-university fellow citizens are coming from, and let’s face it: most of them are coming not from books but movies. Unfortunately, there’s been precious few such films. It must be hard to make business movies. They may be socially necessary, but cinematically difficult: It’s hard to have violence or sex, special effects or explosions, and the characters are apt to be old enough to be a young movie-goer’s parents—in boring suits no less! But sometimes it can be done. (Also there are fine feature-length documentaries such as Inside Job) Now, at last, here is one specifically about Wall Street.

The characters are not at a bank but at a Wall Street financial company: The difference is critical. Banks, by federal regulation, must protect their customers by having deposit insurance so the bank won’t go broke. The cost of this insurance is passed on to customers by providing much lower interest rates. Many customers prefer to settle for such security. Other companies, outside of federal law, are theoretically allowed to fail, while taking bigger risks for bigger profits. The people working there are not "productive capitalists" but wheeler-dealer brokers of money: Certainly not your stereotypical timid bankers.

Margin Call begins as no one, not even top management, has any clue of the coming melt down. In the first scene some workers are downsized. Naturally the survivors, and especially the workers just terminated, now have a chance to question their fundamental values and priorities. (Questioning doesn’t have to stop when you leave college) And then a company numbers wizard becomes a harbinger: He predicts a melt down. What would you do? Crawl into a bottle? Cooperate as in a lifeboat? Claw madly as in a jungle? Margin Call is about choices that were made, and characters that were formed, long before the demon of melt down was ever summoned.

I liked Margin Call. I am neither a businessman nor a math person. In fact, I once joked, “If only I could do math, I would have been an engineer, and today my bridges would be world famous!” Furthermore, at the risk of sounding like I “fail to take a grown up interest in the news,” I must confess I seldom read the business section of the newspaper. But maybe that’s OK, as I’ve come to suspect even real businessmen don’t, I think they only read the articles that directly pertain to them. My point is this: Although I don’t know any business or financial math, I was able to easily follow the conversations in the movie. So how to explain the Fast Forward review?

The Calgary reviewer hated the movie. Hated the characters; hated the actors too. Writing like a whiny brat, and saying he had only a couple of dollars in his pocket, he said he couldn’t understand the business dialogue, even after the boss had said, “Explain it to me like I’m a golden retriever.” I sense alienation and isolation from the world of grown ups wearing suits.  I guess the writer had graduated, and was now going about his daily life, without ever picking enough knowledge of the world to converse at the level of a dog. How? And why make a virtue of his ignorance? The how and why is: Hubris.

When I saw the movie I was visiting Edmonton, and visiting a smart employee at the Princess Theatre, a guy so smart he had sounded crazy to a psychologist by predicting the melt down just months before it happened. After the 7:00 o’clock showing I stood by the man as he asked the people leaving if they liked it. Everyone was favorable. The house had been pretty full. I told him, “I sat at in the first row and before the house light went down I noticed something: Practically no one was under age thirty… All the guys who occupied Wall Street didn’t bother to show up!”

My conclusion, regretfully, is yes, some students are being rendered ineffectual by their hubris. 

It doesn’t have to be this way. The “activists” who organized the American Revolution had great self-confidence but not hubris. Benjamin Franklin, according to his autobiography, would say, “Perhaps… maybe… it appears to me…” My favorite US president (and Captain Kirk’s favorite too!) had the confidence to impressively stand up to all his generals, and to all his cabinet ministers, yet he was well known for being humble.

At work, recently, I was asked to “trouble shoot” by taking over a rowdy team. I had heard horror stories. No, I didn’t stride in with my “stern command presence.” Instead I was very polite and very humble. It all worked out. When I reported back, my boss responded, “Humble is good.” Perhaps being humble is an antidote to fear of others, or fear of self-judgment, because it disengages the ego. Maybe humble is healthier. It appears to me, in the face of this ever-changing world, “humble is realistic.” Being humble I can safely listen to others, and take a chance of being changed. And, willing to learn, I can even use my flipping library card!

And, finally… Humble means: Just because I can’t grandly change Wall Street overnight, that’s no reason to give up. There are many people out there working on small ways to change. And that’s OK. As for how to help them in large numbers to be focused and committed on Wall Street action, that would take a separate essay. (...And by now I’m just too tired to write a part four! Sorry. At least, not unless someone asks me.)

Here’s hoping for the humble path.

Sean Crawford
December 2011

~ I tacked on the prefix Wall Street to the title to, ahem!, patronize web-search laziness. That's 'cause I saw my first two essays were getting double the hits of this one. A pity, as my third one is the most constructive. (And then later added "Occupy")

 ~ For a longer look at the differences between students, between those with and without spirit, see my essay "Of Students, Alumni and Couches" from June 2010.

~I see that for the last month a lot of my essays have been at the intersection of citizenship and action. I won’t list them all here, (I presume you are bright eyed enough to view my home page archives) but I will note that Citizens, Jobs and the Liberal Arts is in October 2011 and I touched on Focus and Commitment way back in June of 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part Two

In Part One I had noted two Occupy Wall Street encampments in my city. Also, a) I examined the homeless camp being noneffective, and b) I noted how no one in power was examining the folks in the white middle class camp and their message to us: No “summing up.”

As Juliet would ask: Wherefore the occupation? I’m no expert, and I wasn’t raised middle class, but still, I feel qualified to examine the middle class occupiers. I think I’m old and humble enough to know hubris when I see it. Hubris, to the Greeks, meant having too much pride to heed the Gods, leading to a downfall. To me hubris today includes being too prideful to heed history, common sense and the public.

To me the issue is our unwillingness to critically look at the need for, and the process of achieving, social change. As a society we won’t bother looking if we feel no hope, and the youthful protesters, who might have sparked our hope, won’t bother looking if they have too much hubris.

As for social change, for Wall Street and beyond, the obvious question is: Should we bother? Is change even possible? Can we ever learn from history? My answer is NO and YES.

In the 1960’s many longhaired youth thought we could change ourselves, could come to believe in Love, replacing cold capitalism with altruistic communism. My own experience is: NO, we can’t “learn” to change the human heart. There were Hells Angels working at Woodstock. Given our limited time and energy, there will always be as many or as few robber barons as we allow, barons at the fords of streams, and barons where streams of money pass by. There will always be individuals in the street agitating for crowds to riot or go to war. I was in Vancouver the week after the 2010 hockey riot made headlines around the world. The young people who participated were the same people who would have told you, a week earlier, with a straight face, (Give peace a chance) “Rioting is wrong.”

We may never learn the horror of riots, or the horror of war... no, not permanently, but YES, we can learn tactics for managing everyday life. We can learn, say, that if we are willing to regulate then there will not be another Great Depression. Hopefully. But if we forget, and if both major US political parties proceed to de-regulate, then there will be a Wall Street melt down and a World Wide Recession. The overall silence about this disaster, where no one is being named, is partly because both US parties are guilty of de-regulation. Neither party is adult enough, humble enough, to take responsibility and show remorse. Instead they have Hubris.

 My grandfather lived in Vancouver. He knew the hubris of the Great War. “They say”—and lots of falsehoods start with they say—they say that people of Grandpa’s time didn’t know enough to de-glamorize war. Grandpa was a sergeant major in the artillery reserves. He told me he liked going to summer training camp (which would have been barely two weeks in those less affluent, less unionized times) because at camp the sergeants would ride horses, his only chance to ever ride.

In my day many of the longhaired hippies were no strangers to horses. They were middle class: rich. Not working class. Not poor like my dad who as a boy had felt bad that he couldn’t always feed his dog, or like my mother who still feels bad that she had to feed us on—never mind. The hippies could oppose “the system,” and idealistically live on handouts, only because, in reality, they were merely slumming. I despised them as soon as I saw allegedly “poor” hippies eating potato chips. No, these people had never known hunger; they felt no need for real food.

Hubris meant that Grandpa’s peers in the horse cavalry wouldn’t go look at tanks, and one officer even said what do we need aeroplanes for? "From the air everything is a blur." And when an original thinker like Winston Churchill got the allies to try the first ever combined army-navy operation, the invasion of the Dardanelles, the forces didn’t even know how to cooperate. Today the hubris may still lurk, but today’s tactic, according to rumor, is to impede the promotion of any officer who doesn’t cooperate.

Society learned, at great cost, that society’s toolbox needs a mix of tools, without the pride of favoring, say, the tank tool over the airplane tool. Or government over business. Or business over government. Not everyone learned. Not the Japanese, blinded by the hubris of their glorious fascism. My uncle Jack was in the pacific for world war two. After the war, during the first weeks of the occupation of Japan, there was an innkeeper who, in fear and trembling, deeply apologized for having a few allied officers, from both army and navy, staying under one roof!

Unfortunately, Uncle Jack’s children of the 1960’s were not much better. Hubris again. We youth claimed to want a revolution yet we said, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” And so we cut off the “older generation.” We threw away that tool. Such madness: How can you fix a punctured, bent tire, and fix it so it makes revolutions, with a half empty toolbox? The cold fact is people willing to do the tedious self-disciplined work of, say, following the Wall Street money, to see which company controls what other companies, are more likely to be over age 31 than under 21. If only the youthful Occupy Wall Street people could have reached out to such old allies, started a movement, and then a groundswell… but it was easier, for their pride, to ignore the public.

So who are the occupiers? They are youth: Impatient, unself-disciplined and unlearning of history. But wait—what about the college protesters who occupy Wall Street? Doesn’t university teach you to discipline your mind? Well, I’ll attend to students later in this essay.

I’m no College professor, I’m no learned expert. But I’m a witness. I can remember, back in the 1960’s, having some trouble enjoying the popular TV show Laugh-In, partly because I didn't like the cast trying so hard to be "hip." My biggest problem, though, was that while knowing how expensive every second of TV was, I was trying to watch a show with a longgg time between punch lines. I felt like someone was holding open the refrigerator door. Meanwhile, in those days an intellectual Hollywood screenwriter, Harlan Ellison, was doing TV columns in the medium of print. My favorite line of his is surely a heartfelt one: “Television is chewing gum for the eyes.” Ellison, of course, was an original rebel, not a blind conformist. How he happy he was to hear some precious airtime was to be donated to the younger generation. At last! Now the youth could explain their side of things, cross over the generation gap, reach into homes across America. Hurray! But then, well, what he witnessed was…

Of course average American workers can’t go to college, they won’t read Das Kapita, or any political theory, not even in comic book form, but at least they can see. They will, perhaps while chewing gum, watch the tube. And so it was exciting when somehow precious airtime, no doubt with commercials included, was given to the “now generation.” Here was their one and only chance for the longhaired idealists to educate people, to explain how the Establishment, the System, could be improved… and they blew it.

I never saw that broadcast, myself, but I read Harlan’s column afterwards. It was sad. Apparently the show started with someone in a mini skirt saying something silly and gleefully swinging a big hammer at a gong as a joke. And that set the tone. It was all the same: glee, more glee, and never any substance. Ellison was crushed.

History repeats, God knows. When the G-8 was meeting just outside town, near Banff, and when protesters, those rich enough, and free enough, to travel, came idealistically from all over the continent, I kept watching the newspapers day after to day. Would any of them write a letter or maybe even a column to explain to the public exactly why the G-8 was a Bad Thing?... Nothing. I remember the protesters once did a stunt where they stood in a line, and mooned the crowd, with letters written across their butts, but that was all they ever wrote. Easier to have glee, and anger too, than to think and reach out and communicate. So don’t expect the people of my city to know any more about the G-8, today, than do the people in any other North American city. I understand there was indeed an educational thing put one night in the university gymnasium, but that was by locals and for locals… older locals.

I remember being angered, at the time of the G-8, at the sheer fascism of the young travelers that came here. I say “fascism” as being the opposite of democratic spirit. Not only were the youth uninterested in talking to me and my neighbors, but they spent an inordinate amount of their time and energy concentrating on trying to communicate with, and to educate, just eight—eight!—measly old white men. This in a city of a million souls. Had they no time to wander into beauty parlors, barber shops and beer halls? No time for greasy spoon cafes? ... Incidentally, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, Gary Mar, years before being sent to work as "our man in Washington," had the humility to come into a cafĂ© where I was drinking and sit down to ask for feedback… Had the rich youth too much hubris to believe in joint action? After all, here were a million bodies, right handy, ready to march. Or were these middle class kids prejudiced against admitting the less affluent classes like mine could ever learn? (“The proles will never revolt!”) Or had their schooling not made clear to them the joy of democracy over fascism?

As for schooling, before I touch the subject of college students, lets return to the folks with the nice store-bought pretty nylon tents: the local occupiers of Wall Street. I can say with confidence these folks failed to draw certain lessons from the earlier G-8 folks. This weekend, finally, the occupiers were kicked out. The summing up, I regret to say, came not from a political leader but from a local reporter. The Calgary Herald gave an entire page, A3, (Sunday Dec 11, 2011) to reporter Jen Gerson. Even on the last day, notes Gerson, with the protesters giving a press conference with “every media outlet in the city…cameras, recorders and notepads…” There was nothing of substance to report. At no time did a lengthy written statement ever come out of the occupation. Such youthful hubris. Such a waste.

So, again, who are the occupiers? If they lack the ability of a typical college student to draft a statement, if they can’t compose an essay, or even enjoy reading one, (let alone read a manifesto or Das Kapita) if they can’t think coherently and critically, then maybe it is because the campers weren’t attending classes, and furthermore, had no plans to ever feel engaged in learning. Maybe there were no students reading Calvin or Hobbs, no Leviathan, no students of economics or commerce with original insights into Wall Street or capitalism. And if so, if the Olympic Plaza occupation was barren of students, then maybe there’s no need for us to give up on all youth just yet. Maybe there is still a place for sparks and tinder from university intellectual romantic rebels and protesters. If there’s still hope for change, then there’s no need for us all to give up and be silent about Wall Street. It remains to be seen whether hubris will render some, most, or all of our educated youth ineffectual.

Who are the occupiers? Obviously not students. I believe they are, or were, what the Japanese call NEETs. It’s not a term I ever see over here: I only came across the concept this summer in an English translation of an anime. (Eden of the East) NEETs are a felt problem in Japan. A NEET is anyone not engaged in employment, education or training. At last I know the occupiers: NEETs with hubris.

It would be a mistake to hope such people would advance social change. The organizers of the American Revolution had self-confidence, but never hubris. They all had employment—and many were over age thirty... although they would not have called themselves "members of the older generation."

NEETs, eh? Surely college students deserve a separate essay, an essay building on what I’ve written here and in earlier essays. That is for another day. (A Part Three? Better call it Occupy Wall Street, Student Activists, For Dec 2011)

Because I have lived through social change I know more change could still happen. Change won’t be easy, it never has been. It surely won’t be done with a half empty toolbox. People of all generations and incomes, all the facets of our body politic, would need to feel involved. But I just don’t know if the NEETs are ready yet to add themselves to the social toolbox.

Sean Crawford
December 2011

I wish I could ask my late buddy Blair. I miss him at times like this.

"Keep the fairy dust from your eyes": My previous essay noted that, sometimes, to have the ability to see, and then to act, may require de-glamorizing youth mystique.

In the sci-fi series Harsh Realm, a series short-lived because the realm was too harsh for viewers, an early episode was named in homage to Leviathan.

Books: No, I haven’t struggled through Das Kapita myself, and I don’t expect others to, either. But there are easier classics to read. Anyone could get through Thomas Paine.
Equally clear is the work of Barak Obama’s long dead mentor (At least, “they say” he is the mentor) Saul Alinsky, a famous community organizer of his day. Before he died in 1972 Alinsky described his hopes and fears for student activists.

Alinsky, I think, would say the occupation is merely a “terminal tactic,” like a wave that crests, breaks and is gone forever. Wasted. Leading to nothing. Better to have a series of actions leading to an end game. I’m sure Alinsky would have tackled Wall Street if, and only if, the public had asked him. As it was, his invitations to help always came from discrete communities.

Here is a link, from a member of a minority group in New York city,  seeing the occupiers in NY as being greedy and hypocrites, because they hurt her neighbors.

Regarding glee, above, and the comments on protest being not an end in itself, below, here is a passage from The Dictator's Learning Curve subtitled Inside  the Global Battle For Democracy by William Dobson, 2012, p 226:
"For the group's leadership, ...(the movement is at a crossroads) The trouble is they know that some of the group's lieutenants, a second-tier leadership of say twenty to thirty people, are split on their objectives. Some fully share their more professionalized goals. Other, they fear, almost enjoy protesting for protesting's sake. These members would be quick to call a more pragmatic campaign a sellout of the movement's purest revolutionary goals..."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Boomers Are Not Special

Headnote: "We" means my generation—although I disagreed, I know how "we" thought... "We nerds" means me, specifically—I did not conform with the rest of the herd into rebelling: I kept my independence.

Normally we like to have praise for the youthfull baby boomers in their glory days of campus protest. Today I would like to stomp on the 60's mystique- trample it down and bury it. Beyond a regard for the truth I have reasons: 1) to put "occupy wall street" into clearer perspective, and 2) to be willing to face modern behaviour. For now, let me say it is indeed Politically Correct for me to bash the boomers: I was born in the 50's. I remember where I was when the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan (variety) Show.

After walking a trail down the long decades I felt at last financially secure enough to risk some university courses. This meant studying alongside young people: first generation X and later gen Y. Whether from youthfull competitiveness or whatever, some of them expressed being fed up with the boomer's 60's hype... Me too.

I remember how every Sunday night I'd watch a Beatles derivative, The Monkeys, on TV. Their theme song went "...we're the young generation, and we've got something to say..." What we said was, "Don't trust anyone over 30!" and we cautioned against being judgmental. A popular ironic button went "Here Comes the Judge." This while being judgemental of the "establishment" and the "older generation." As we saw it: Our parents, incredibly, didn't know that war is wrong. Imagine! In their day, we told ourselves, no one had realized the importance of giving peace a chance. They were too old to learn that love is the answer, peace is the way. Lord knows we tried to tell them, over and over again, my friend. We tried with our words and with our song lyrics. "I'd like to build the world a home, and furnish it with love..." So went the cola song that our school band played.

(In the groove)

And if you were a nerd like me, back then? Whether from Stockholm syndrome, (boomers were savage with anyone who disagreed) emperor's new clothes syndrome, or whatever—You wouldn't be a spoilsport. You were probably literate enough to know that after the horror of the Great War people tried to avoid a second world war by demonizing arms and peace time soldiers, by trying to make war almost unspeakable and thereby almost unthinkable. During the little fascist wars of the 30's, in mainland Asia, Africa and Europe, it was not just economics but also ideology that kept the armies of the English speaking world so small.

And then later, in the 60's, as we youth reinvented the peace wheel, we nerds either kept silent or, like my friend Keith, shouted slogans along with everyone else. Talking about my generation: We thought we were so special. Every previous generation, we thought, had forgotten what it was like to be young while we were new improved and, like I said, special. And we had our new rock music to prove it.

We would put down the rich kid who tried to feel good from racism while we felt OK with feeling good from temporalism. (time-ism) Special indeed. A "generation gap" meant the older folks were not "with-it," not hip. We had "our" music which "they" despised and would never understand. Now I am finding it harder to keep a straight face around aging boomers as generation X is followed by generation Y while the beat goes on. Surely it's time to put this snootiness behind us.


I hate to be a nerd spoilsport but hey, I am a nerd and I hate prejudice. Temporalism, which sounds so innocent coming from a fresh teen who still has baby fat, sounds sadly inappropriate coming from gaunt people old enough to have teenagers of their own.

Suddenly I envision old pony tailed men sitting in a row on a campus quadrangle. They are protesting, chanting, "Hey hey, ho ho, temporalism has to go." Behind them students of religious studies are passing by. Philosophy students are passing too. And further away, in time and space, a sage is passing through Chinese villages in his quest for a king who will support peace not war. The kings of the Chinese city states valued that man's war knowledge. He, Confucius, always told them the same thing: if they carried out his ideas of economic development, and gave the peasants a more democratic deal, then the king would be unconquerable. The very peasants of the fields would rise up from the land to defend him against another king's horses and men. Alas, Confucius never did find a king worth working for. But at least he tried. Such a good man. At the risk of offending my mainland Chinese readers I must say I think confucianism, as a religion or a philosophy, will be with us long after communism has left the building.

One of his acute observations was this: As he approached a village he would hear music. From this he could discern the people's character before he even met them. To me today it's obvious: if youth in Asia and America are characterized by an enthusiasm for rock music it is because they are so youthfull. Not smarter. Not better. Just different.

(Oh wa oh)

In the mid-sixties, suddenly, the electric guitar spread as fast as today's i-pod or cell phone. Folk music suddenly plummeted out of favor. Electrics killed the acoustic guitar.

I remember how every fall the radio disc jockey would intone, "Rocktober" and play, "The history of- rock 'n- roll!" In his booth the DJ would press "play" and a forgotten star would proclaim, "Rock 'n roll is here to stay!" meaning: To heck with our old parents complaining about our newfangled awfull music. Of course R'nR actually came from an earlier time than the 60's, being from the acoustic 50's. How I love that era of cruising and sock hops, of Archie and Betty. Remember Archie's affordable old ford model T?

Henry Ford had famously said that a customer could have a car in whatever color he wanted—as long as it was black. As "affluence" came to the land there appeared a new thing called "marketing" and "market segmentation." Cars began coming in various colors while being designed for various socioeconomic groups. Back in the roaring 1920's Betty's father could barely afford a record player for his family. And a soda pop was a rare treat. By the 1950's he could give young Betty her own record player. He gave her a big allowance too, big enough for her to afford lots of soda pop, as well as several single-song 45 rpm records. And a market was born. In my day, with vacuum tubes abruptly replaced by transistors, teens could suddenly afford a personal radio. And a market grew.

To consume from this new market did not require being smarter or better than previous generations; there's no mystique, no mystery: you just had to be born at the right time.

(Dig it)

My mother once darned my socks. Not any more. Hand-me-downs are no longer common. As affluence has increased history has repeated. Lately I have been seeing articles about a surprising new market: "tweens." Parents are lamenting how their pre-teen girls want to dress like their sexual pop idols—and can afford to do so.

The arrogant boomers, with their temporalism, believed that not all decades are equal. It follows, by their own logic, that maybe this current decade is less equal.

Maybe the latest "now generation" is devoted to a sort of mental inbreeding... ignoring library texts for text messaging to each other, forsaking hard reading, hard thinking and high culture in order to invest their time in using twitter, face book and screen games. Maybe the willingness to invest their man hours in anything requiring self discipline and tedious effort is now being postponed by a decade or more... Or maybe not.

I was only slightly disturbed to read a new up-to-the-minute book review of The Dumbest Generation, a book which posed such questions. What truly disturbed me was the reviewer noting that baby boomers—those old campus protesters, those high I.Q. university graduates—are constitutionally unable to face such questions about modern behaviour. Blinded by their creaky old belief in youth mystique.

But the question of whether youth of today have less willingness should be faced.

"Hey hey, ho ho, youth mystique has got to go."

Sean Crawford

originally posted at
the end of the summer of lovely 2008


I remember Ed Sullivan.

I understand that today kids have personal TV's in their personal one-kid bedrooms, in their one-child families. How bizarre. In my day TV's still had vacuum tubes and the whole family would watch together: Dad in the easy chair, older people in other chairs, children squished on the couch and the youngest ones on cardboard boxes or on the floor. Younger kids, in those days, commonly fell asleep trying to watch big kid shows. We all conversed together about the performers on Ed's variety show, such as tight rope walkers, puppets, tap dancers and, of course, singers.

Looking back, I guess Ed got into televison before the standards had tightened up; then the people liked him so much the studios couldn't get rid of him. He had real stiff shoulders, a stiff manner and he looked more like Richard Nixon than Regis Philbin or any handsome Hollywood entertainer. He was real and we liked him.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Part One

Is your town occupied too? In towns across the land, protestors are “Occupying Wall Street.” In my city, although ordinary people are making some common sense observations about the protestors, I have yet to see any comprehensive “summing up” of the occupiers by any elected officials. How annoying.

Even if a “first minister” (premier) or a “first citizen” (president) has little actual power, it is an expected part of their position for them to have moral power. As in Ronald Reagan being the first politician to alert us to the existence of the deficit, or like John Kennedy explaining how the cold war insurgency was something new. I expect my leading figures, even if they are just figureheads, to set our agenda, to prioritize. I expect them to inspire us, as a body politic, to focus on a few things… And to put into perspective national front page stories such as the Occupation of Wall Street. I’m sure you’ve read the stories.

In my town the occupiers are in two main encampments. The most conventional, with store-bought pretty nylon tents, are in the town square, Olympic Plaza. This plaza was created in the 1980’s as homage to the town square in Sarajevo, a plaza for joy-full gatherings during the Sarajevo Olympic games. Now our public space is occupied, endlessly, by a gathering without joy. Perhaps the Olympic Plaza includes a few homeless, while the most homogenous gathering is on the river island, being entirely of homeless persons. By all reports, neither encampment is like a pioneer town. No, they are both more like The Lord of the Flies. Their professed belief in “freedom!” sounds like a “cop out.” Individual citizens are remarking on this, saying how the occupiers have no rules or organizers or central message, that is to say, it’s as if they were still children with authority issues, but still… nobody official is saying so.

…For this essay, this Part One, my focus is the homeless camp. Respecting how perhaps most Internet readers prefer posts to be overly short, and overly focused, I will overly stick to what I know…

If the homeless on the island were capable of organizing, if they were capable of policing the grounds for litter, of electing an occupation-village mayor, of agreeing to be bound by the deliberations of their town hall meetings; in short, if they were capable of being as self-reliant as our pioneer ancestors, then I what I know is they would be just like me—and I have never lived homeless. I’ve been poor, yes, and I’ve starved; I’ve had to dress in layers for insulation, like a bag lady, because my starved body wouldn’t produce heat; I’ve had my legs on fire after climbing a single flight of stairs—but I’ve never been a homeless person. Nor gone on welfare.

My choice, years ago, was clear: If I wanted a bungalow with a white picket fence, and if I didn’t have good steady job, (I did contract work) then I would need to pay a price. I would need to replace freedom from responsibility with acceptance of responsibility; in short, I needed to share a bungalow with other people. Happily, in a multi-bedroom shared house, my part of the rent would be much less than, say, for sharing a bachelor apartment. How easy. At least, it was easy for a boy whose ancestors had lived in longhouses and gathered for barn raisings and quilting bees. No need to elect a house mayor, not when we gathered around a kitchen table and agreed to police the area, and agreed to simple guidelines such as whether we should label our food in the fridge. Maybe we couldn’t afford a dishwasher, but Ann could wash and I could dry while I asked her about her day. Home sweet home. I could ask her, “Read any good books lately?”

I recently read Charisma, by Steven Barnes, where Barnes quotes a successful war hero, civil rights leader and self-made millionaire, Alexander Marcus, as saying, “A choice, once made, creates its own path.”

If a potentially homeless person, like Ann, can’t afford the first month’s rent on a boarding house or apartment then she has choices. The easy way out is a shelter, which, like a youth hostel, must empty out every morning. There the residents, according to a shelter volunteer, break down into three groups: one third there from mental health issues, one third substance issues and one third there from circumstances. From that choice, I don’t know if there’s any path leading onwards. The better choice and path, it seems to me, is to get a windfall of cash by accepting the responsibility of Social Assistance: Welfare. What would you do?

I suppose welfare varies from state to state, but hey, work with me here, I am trying to do a thought experiment with you: If, hypothetically, your state’s welfare won’t pay for a nice apartment then you’d need to pay a price for giving up the freedom of being homeless. Your “path” would be lined with Housemates. However, they might be a living example of a more functional life. What if, unlike you, your housemate buys a monthly bus pass first thing, before he spends all his welfare cheque? Wouldn’t he then be a living rebuke to you and your “freedom from responsibility” lifestyle? Ouch.

What else might this new path entail? Obviously there would be free psychotherapy and support from a social worker. I feel silly writing this, but it seems to me that taking this path would mean developing minimum skills for adult responsibility, clear communication and basic politeness, such skills as needed not just for holding a job but for simply hanging out at home… not to mention those kitchen table meetings. While your social worker could teach you communication skills, most likely you would grow into your various skills as a child does, by trial and error from your housemates, like some sort of 24-hour alcoholics anonymous meeting. Growth is good.

The best thing of all, and the worst thing of all, if you’re an anarchist wanting “freedom from everything,” would be your support from your social worker, and from your housemates too, supporting you to become responsible enough first for volunteer work, then part-time work, then a full-time job, perhaps at minimum wage at first… A choice, once made, creates its own path.

But wait a minute—would you want to even begin to learn basic politeness? A pretty lady of my acquaintance says homeless beggars “should be shot” because they are so mean to her on the street. No, not every light bulb wants to change.

How queer. Make a choice, commit to your choice, and one day, at the end of your path, there’s a job and your very own white picket fence… Yes, I know, I make it sound so attractive. But it’s not for every dim bulb. Easier to claim your “freedom,” beg, and remain homeless.

Sean Crawford
November 2011
Calgary, Alberta
(Part Two will be posted in due course)

~The “no money left for a bus pass” example came from a single mother classmate. She worked in a shelter for prostitutes, and one day she said through gritted teeth if her teenage son had so little maturity she’d feel ashamed.

~Part of the genius of alcoholics anonymous is that nothing is merely handed to a recovering alcoholic. In their open-to-the-public headquarters I have noticed that even a mere ten-cent leaflet is not free. The drunk must somehow find a dime. (Find an empty pop bottle?) Call it finding self-respect. Before you get all weepy white liberal on me, remember that AA has a better track record than white university medical degree professionals.

~More on "nothing is merely handed": In my city, one day, I heard talk of building a new shiny residential tower for the homeless. They already had a smaller building. That same day I watched as two homeless chaps approached an office-retail tower. I correctly predicted something: They bypassed the polite sign saying to save energy by entering the revolving door. Instead, quite unlike anyone else, they reefed open the handicapped door. Obviously, handing them a bigger tower is no good if between their ears they see themselves as still homeless, still separate from accepting membership in the responsibilities of society.

~Perhaps, through gritted teeth, I should be ashamed of my fellow rich white liberals who toss money to poor beggars. These feel-good liberals are, as one would say in alcoholics anonymous, “enabling.” Call it slackervism. The tossers enable those poor blokes to merely subsist, to avoid welfare, to thereby to have daydreams, perhaps, but no real hope of a future. Grrr.