Thursday, March 29, 2012

Screw Ups and Growth

Being a middle-aged man, I suppose I should be advising my young readers. That, and maybe reminiscing about soldiers I have known. ...OK... Here’s what I think: We all mistakes, but some make more than others. A lot more. Hence the noun “screw-ups.”

You will enter a room, hear the news of a big disgusting error, and ask, “Was it by (name of screw-up)?” People grimace, nod, and no one says you are being unfair in your speculation. I suppose the innocents among us might think mistakes are evenly distributed through the population, but worldly folks know better. Looking back, I don’t remember people being perceived as “mistake-makers” in high school, perhaps because I can’t remember that far back, or perhaps because life then was more routine. Meanwhile, from my late teens and early twenties, I clearly remember how “stuff happened” perhaps because, at work and in college, we were undertaking demanding group projects, being challenged by a multitude of little factors and decisions.

I’m not thinking of merely watching TV together at the university tavern as part of The Simpsons  Fan Club, but of, say, undertaking the complex business of putting on a venue, or producing the student newspaper. I used to scrutinize the error-prone people and wonder, “Why?” That, and “Do they realize they are perceived by the rest of us as being short on candlepower?” Here’s a diagnostic they could have used for themselves: In every instance, every screw-up would indulge in outraged gossip, loudly and excessively, behind another screw–up’s back.

I wonder: In later years, do they get their act together enough to blend in nicely? I think so. Once, and only once, I worked with an unfortunate error-prone middle-aged woman. I, unfortunately, was her manager. One day, with bitter humor, I even tallied up the many hundreds of dollars she had cost us, through various crazy incidents. Sigh! The perfect metaphor, for her and certain young people I’ve known, is “loose cannon.” The image comes from pirate ships. At sea, where waves have a random factor added to their regular motion, thick ropes and pulleys must bind a heavy cast iron cannon. If it ever gets loose… it rolls, pauses, rolls about, unpredictable, massive and almost unstoppable, breaking through rails, smashing limbs, and requiring everyone’s attention… The infuriating thing about “screw-ups” is their unpredictability: You can’t simply warn such fools in advance not to do certain things, because it never occurs to you that any sane person would ever—… Well, they say nothing can be made fool proof because fools are so creative.

In the case of my employee, I never had to ask “why,” for it was obvious: skin of rhinoceros, skull of lead. No feedback, emotional or factual, could ever get through…. I suppose she could well have used some therapy. Perhaps, if she couldn’t learn from the details of her specific mistakes, then she would be unable to form those overarching concepts that help the rest of us navigate through life. I realize that self-help books and business books will teach many good concepts, but I don’t suppose a book can ever teach life. One must therefore be open to on-going feedback.

Certainly we all learn from our specific mistakes, especially our naïve ones. I am thinking of a young lady who immigrated to Holland, made terrible mistakes with buying on credit, but in the end, after being willing to learn, she was OK. In fact, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, today a best-selling author, became a right honorable member of parliament. I suppose another word for naïve is unexposed. All of us, even Albert Einstein, will start out unexposed at our first job and school and community. That’s OK. Many young people will find out the hard way how long it takes food in the refrigerator to become a science experiment, and why Hamlet’s Uncle Polonius advises not to lend money to other youths. That’s OK too.

I would like to think the young dorks I knew, however brash and cocky, were open enough, and vulnerable enough, to have long since become fine upstanding citizens. Youth’s a time for learning.

I remember a young soldier in the reserves, Private Alexander. A bright lad, his father had been a physician in South Africa who gave up his practice there to bring his family over here to freedom. A willing lad, Alexander didn’t mind being barracked with a bunch of corporals. One day in barracks I couldn’t find a certain shiny precision milled part, my breechblock, essential to the workings of the Belgian self-loading rifle we were using at the time. Bypassing other corporals, I strode straight up to Alexander to demand it back. “I don’t have it!” he said, offended that I had singled him out… Later he sheepishly handed it to me. “It was in my combat jacket,” he admitted.

Another soldier in the barracks was older than the rest of us, so we called him “Uncle Burton.” An enthusiastic man, he later hyphenated his name to Patterson-Burton, to sound more traditional. A romantic man, he had undergone recruit training three times: with us, of course, with the Air Force back in college as part of ROTC, and then later with the Hong Kong police force where one day he earned a medal for gallantry. (Long story) At the time I knew him, as part of his unspoken service ethic, he had taken Alexander under his wing. Soon after the breechblock incident I took Burton aside to ask, “What’s with this guy?” Uncle Burton laughed gently and said, “One day at last something will click, and then he’ll be all right.” I took his word for it. This story has a happy ending. A year later I was enjoying some time alone in a nice sunny meadow at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, on the pacific coast. A tight group of serious young men came past doing some sort of leadership-initiative-thing. They were obviously doing naval officer training. And one of them was Alexander… I’m sure he became a fine commander.

Back when I was young, all the old alumni, of the same age I am now, would advise us to “get involved” during our campus years. While of course for students in general there is more than one reason for this advice, I think for error-prone students in particular, getting involved would be vital to growth. Needless to say, lounging on a bar stool watching The Simpsons has it’s place, but in order for something at last to click, a young person needs to be testing himself, or herself, against the complex realities of the world. You learn from friction. I would add to what the alumni said: Go beyond getting involved; try to be of service on an executive committee. Not to “learn leadership,” but simply to “learn.”

Come to think of it, for our various little groups and clubs and communities in everyday life, given how less involved most citizens are, you would likely end up, down the years, in a succession of leadership positions. As feminist Carla Krahn put it to me, “Once you start accepting responsibility, there’s no turning back.” Here in North America, well, call us filthy rich, but there are many, many groups crying out for volunteers.

Actually, it’s not our North American affluence that permits us to have groups; it’s something in our DNA that impels us to form groups. It’s a citizen thing. It was the French observer, Alexis de Tocquiville, who wrote, in 1835, in Democracy in America, how striking the prevalence of voluntary groups was. His classic, by the way, is still in print. Meanwhile, it was from a translated French sociology textbook, the title of which I’ve long forgotten, that I learned how in France they still aren’t into local citizenship as we are. An example from the text: If you try to lead people into creating a group for sandbagging the river, then they won’t follow you, because they will accuse you of “trying to be important.” Such a pity. No wonder the French are on their fifth republic. And maybe that helps explain why they were so pathetic at preparing French Indochina (Vietnam) for independence. (Quite unlike the US in the Philippine Islands)

...In large areas, when the French administrators left, nobody was there to take over. The French had never trained the Vietnamese to be administrators.
I'd come from the Philippines, where we trained local people to set up schools and colleges. But in Vietnam there were only one hundred doctors in the whole dam country, And they only had about a dozen lawyers. It was a very poorly trained country to take over and run their own affairs.
(Gen. Edward Lansdale, speaking to Al Santoli, in To Bear Any Burden)
When the South Vietnamese were trying to expand and develop their army to be big enough to resist communist invasion, they found the limiting factor, or bottleneck, to be the development of leaders. This is according to General Westmoreland, in command of US forces  giving assistance over there. He  found the problem was the lack of civilian organizations: This in turn meant a serious lack of leaders in the Vietnamese population as a whole. Hence the bottleneck. He explained this in A Soldier Reports.

Part of the problem in Vietnam, and back in France, is people wanting to be leaders solely for their own private purposes. (Instead of a healthy balance of motivations) This sort of selfishness corrupts individuals and businesses and nations. Here in America, well before the 2008 meltdown, business guru Peter Drucker was convinced that executives should not be overpaid. He himself lived in a modest home.

The historical record is clear: Humans weren’t designed to be overly self-centered… it’s not healthy. In my view, just as the cart follows the horse, you could first get involved to be of service, and then, as appropriate, your leadership actions will follow. As I see it, if a group wants to accomplish something, then the leaders will naturally emerge and grow. These conscientious leaders will then naturally seek out advice and formal training. Here in Calgary, free weekend training is offered in the volunteer world to Scoutmasters, athletic coaches, officers in Toastmasters, and others, while expensive weekend training is offered in the business world.

In this spirit of horse-and-cart, I advise young students to get onto a club executive in order to “learn,” and to “serve,” not merely to “be a leader.” I suspect there is a tad too much emphasis on being a leader these days. If Ayaan Hirsi Ali became a Member of Parliament, it is partly because, being a Muslim girl, her clan put no expectations on her, even though her father was an absent leader-in-exile.

In contrast, her poor brother was always being pressured. His relatives, and other folks who were not leaders themselves, kept insisting he was going to be a leader… As far as I can tell, the boy was never being given any moral grounding. In what context was he to lead? Chivalry? Democracy? Universal Human Rights? He was never told why or wherefore he was to lead his people. The insistent strain broke the boy, leaving him a wreck, unable to even lead himself.

Never was the boy gently advised, with due humility, “Before you can be a good leader, you need to be a good follower.”

When I advise, “get involved,” and “learn,” I have an agenda: I mostly mean that by getting involved in the friction of life you learn all the self-leadership skills found under the umbrella term “executive function.” For this term I’m indebted to the blog of a farm wife, Penelope Trunk, who has Asperger’s syndrome. It seems that while executive function is something people could naturally learn, it’s not easy: In fact, for some children with certain medically diagnosed challenges, like Asperger’s, it must be explicitly taught. See link.

Here’s what I conclude: If a screwed-up young man wants to get off the “screw-up list” then he needs to get off the couch and learn to have a functional life. Then he won’t find himself frustrating other people.

As it happens, some of my relatives still frustrate me. Then I try to calm down by being patronizing, by telling myself, “Hey, they never had to pass college or work at a job that demanded any great functioning.” I try, only to feel my frustration well up again: “Arrg! Don’t talk to me about relatives!”

My friends all tell me they have crazy relatives, too. … If I want to laugh, I can watch folks going by on the sidewalk and reflect, “Oh-my-God, all those people have relatives!”

Sean Crawford,
March 30, 2012
~Stevey has a nice long essay (blog-rant) on achieving common sense, and testing for common sense in a job interview.

~This morning on my car radio I heard the news that a boy I once slept with, Bill Sampson, has died. He died probably from injuries received while being tortured in one of the terror-exporting nations, Saudi Arabia. We slept under snapped-together shelter-half's while training in the reserves, "in the Seaforths."

At 16, Bill made a mistake about his age and joined the Seaforth Highlanders militia in Vancouver, whose minimum age was 17. He stayed on for 18 months, wearing a kilt and participating in summer exercises.
"He was very proud," said his father. "It meant a lot to him because he felt he belonged in the regiment. It was dam good for him." See link.

Such a rebel: I remember Bill passing French class only because his school principle overheard him reading Paris Match, and comprehending it.

~The textbook mentioned above cleared up the mystery of why Paris police are so irritated when tourists ask for directions. It seems the police are not a service but a force, with loyalty to the central government--they are, after all, on their fifth republic.
For the French, central control trumps encouraging local citizenship. The text illustrates this by noting that an atlantic coast school district cannot so much as try to teach the industry of fishing to the students without first applying to Paris for  permission.
I suppose then a sort of pre-censorship would kick in, with French people stopping themselves in advance from thinking, getting away from creatively considering how to take initiative to make things better.

Oh well, I suppose the French can at least feel glorious in comparison to the Muslim terror-exporting nations, nations where the people torture and have even more self-censorship, even less initiative.

~I listen to anything Pete Drucker says, such as when he says executives should not be overpaid. I have written essays on this site about “anime.” Today there is a popular Japanese animated weekly TV show, based on a best selling novel, Moshidora, known as Management from Drucker (Not sure of the future English title, I don’t think it’s been translated yet) A high school girl has to replace her sick friend as manager for a baseball team. She goes to the bookstore to learn to be a better sports managER and by mistake picks up Drucker’s book on manageMENT. Then she applies the knowledge to the team during the baseball season.  Drucker is honored in Japan.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Loving Greek and Latin

I was walking past an office doorway in the Special Needs wing of Foothills Medical Centre when someone called my name. "Sean!" It was a dental student, here on a visa from China. A week ago he had attended my toastmaster club. A week before that I had met him for the first time on the sidewalk, downtown, and invited him to my club. Such a surprise to see him again. Small world, eh?

"Hi!" The man's formal schooling was all finished in China; now he was here to learn more by working with hospital dentists. He invited me to sit down. As I lounged in his cubbyhole he ran by me various lengthy dental terms. I was able to swiftly puzzle out the ancient Greek words in literal translation and figure out the dental meaning. I kept getting it right. "Hey!" He was so excited he called in a nurse to watch my efforts...

* * * * *

... One of the most delightful things I ever did was take a one-semester university course in Greek and Latin. No making sentences, and very little (declensions) grammar. Just learning words. It's a good thing I don't get intimidated easily, for I felt alone in a huge lecture theater where everyone else was a future physician or biologist. I'm no scientist: I told my friends I was taking Latin because I needed to fill another science requirement "and I didn't want to cut up dead frogs." Since then a lot of students in my Community Rehabilitation program have followed "Sean's idea." If only I had taken it before I struggled through my course (with cadavers) in anatomy! (-tomy means "to cut")

The value for me has not been in "learning words for science" but in understanding words for everyday life.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Modest Condo

Note- NSW: The links are funny but not safe to read aloud in church.

Ah, dear reader, isn’t life queer? It’s amusing how we kid ourselves. I will be standing with other homeowners and we’ll all be proudly saying how our houses are worth a lot more than we paid for them. None of us will add that, if we did sell, any new house we might move to would also cost more… I’m-staying-put.

I’m old enough to remember when they invented home movies. One weekend, when grownups gathered, my Aunt Tilda brought over a big two-reel projector to show the clan. We turned out all the lights, and there it was: a clip of distant relatives silently going down an outside flight of stairs. No sound track, of course. “Oooh … awww” said the grownups. I didn’t care: The relatives were all strangers to me…. In those days, as might be expected, homeowners kidded themselves as to how much others cared. A popular joke at the time was the plight of a married couple trying to sneak out during a boring home movie… only to snag their ankle in the dark and pull out the power cord!

One day it was my turn to become a proud homeowner. And there I was, in my Toastmasters (public speaking) Club: Where the lights are so bright, not only is it impossible to sneak out, you can’t even doze off without getting caught. I surveyed my captive audience, and said brightly, “I’m going to tell you all about my new home!” I went easy on them.

Afterwards, a real estate agent, a man who, at the time, was less than a year from giving up his day job and becoming a full time realtor, thanked me for the speech, and told me he had learned a few things. I didn’t have the nerve to ask what had surprised him.

So here we are: I can write you a nice essay, all about my “new exciting home”… if only the home of a “cyber acquaintance” could be exciting. Don’t worry; I won’t fill the page with boilerplate, telling how my home is the same as so many others. Instead I ask: what would surprise you or my realtor friend?

Well, I’m at the city limits, using a boundary road that is city on one side, and farms, where the land drops down out of sight, on the other. By city I mean empty lots and flat roofs of industry, and big diesels. How cool! Call it a “guy thing,” but l love industrial areas. The farms, while not as exciting, are cool too, being adorned with rustic abandoned old buildings. No boring brown cattle, but instead, occasionally, lamas, goats and sheep. Sweet!

If you too would like to buy your own home, I might have some surprising advice.

As I see it, “a Boy Scout is thrifty,” and so am I. In fact, everybody in my clan is thrifty, which means I wouldn’t even consider buying in the beautiful city core. And no moving into a MacMansion, either. In the end, I made a nice choice: My place is down the road from the trailer park, in the last building you see going east out of town: a big economical four-story condominium block. Only four storys, because any more floors and the building code would have required ritzy steel frame construction. I was quick to grab a suite on the ground floor, right across from the garbage shed, where I can meet all my neighbors. Besides, the builders wanted an extra thousand bucks for every gain in height. That’s three thousand extra clams just to be on the top looking across at duplex roofs and satellite dishes. No thank you.

By buying a suite on the north facing side, I’m able to avoid the incoming solar radiation. My neighbors on the south side, unhappily, have to keep their fans running all summer. Either that, or buy really thick curtains, and keep them closed. Another delight to dodging those pesky photons: My original oil paintings won’t fade. My walls, of course, are painted “art gallery white.”

It was comedian Alan King, back in the days of home movies, who joked, “Anyone who owns their own home, deserves it.” I guess, in part, he was thinking of gruesome lawn mowing and sidewalk snow shoveling: I can’t believe realtors dare charge extra for a corner lot. I know what Mr. King would say, about anyone who buys one.

So there I was, determined to buy a modest condo, but where? Now, in the southern part of the city, which has extended far beyond the provincial park, you can get a lot of square footage for your buck, only… It’s a long commute, where the traffic flows along a couple of vital arteries. And I do mean vital: one little accident and everybody’s held up. And “time is life,” especially for a restless soul like mine.

From my formative years I retain a memory: A slushy evening, miserable, the windows on the bus pitch black, standing and swaying, glum, longing for home, and vowing: “When I finally settle down, I will never commute by bus for more than 45 minutes… and if by car, never more than 30.” Yes, I’ve heard rumors of how people in Southern California commute for longer, while traveling much slower, but somehow, their foolishness is no consolation to me.

When we look for a new home, I think we kid ourselves. We have a clear idea of the maximum price we can afford, and the commute time we can afford, and off we flit to go to look at houses. Only to weaken and say, “I could commute a little more, shovel a little more sidewalk. Yes, maybe I could pay a little more per month.” Well.

More money for more floor space? One problem is that even if the new house is "big enough," then, as with big downtowns and big parks and big office headquarters... after a time, you adjust, and then you wish it was ten per cent bigger. Like my new paycheque. You just can't win.  

The real problem is: life is short, and mortgages long. Another memory: While in university, rarely would I take a maximum course load. Usually, after some doubts, I would settle for a normal course load. Occasionally I would even take a semester with a reduced course load. And then, in each and every semester, when it came to midterm exams, I would be struggling, “Arrg! I don’t know how I’m managing… Thank God I didn’t take any more courses!” The lesson? No matter how small your mortgage, it will be a millstone around your neck; you’ll be awfully glad you didn’t weaken and try to pay a little extra.

It’s like when we were teenagers and I gave my little sister dating advice, kidding myself that she would listen to a big brother sporting a hickey: “Decide in advance how far you will let a boy go, and then stick with it!”

Sean Crawford,
Listening to spring birds twittering in the parking lot,
With enjoyment,
Because my modest mortgage, on my tiny "ships cabin" is all paid off,
March 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

Allah Begat Danish Cartoons
The Original Title: "Allah Bless Cartoons in Danish Ecology" is now being used for a very short related essay.

"... I do sympathize with cultures of various space-time locations, including feudal, military and desert Arab... "

Not so long ago an issue exploded overseas and the echoes will be reverberating for a long time. Last night a drop-in to my toastmasters club held up a copy of The Economist. She said the European magazine showed its bias with its phrase "a liberal society must have freedom of speech." The issue, to her, is whether freedom of speech (in Europe) includes the right to insult Muslims (in the non-European parts of the world). The issue, of course, is some Danish cartoons were published to accompany a prose piece on freedom of speech. (In other words, the prose part came first.) The resulting non-European fatal riots spread to the far side of the world.

Remembering the "classic sin of the censor," I believe the people in North Africa and West Asia are not reading, or even being told about the prose part, and are being told about, but not seeing, the cartoons they would have censored. Of course no Muslims or anyone else over here rioted. Nor in Europe. Obviously we in North America "don't get it" and I doubt Europeans do either.

(Human factor)

Humans often don't get it. If my wife and I fight over the issue of a soggy tea bag left on the counter, then quite often the issue is not really the tea bag but something psychological, something just below the level of our verbalization and our consciousness. I suspect the issues in the minds of Asian Muslims are not actually cartoons. I suspect, too, these secret issues, only half-formed and half admitted, will not and can not be explained on the six o'clock news.

Television, by its very nature, will not help us to understand. My wife might barely be able, in a lengthy long-distance telephone call, to explain her frustration with me to her dear sister, using code words they both understand. But you can't expect my wife to put her anguish into a sound byte for television... So forget the boob tube. Ignore the idiot box. Television, with its love of moving pictures and its aversion to "talking heads" (as in "lengthy" explanations and discussions) is just not the place to explore such issues. No, some things require the thoughtful slowness possible only by using print.

Hence I write essays.

Many wise men and woman are already doing sound bytes on freedom to insult and freedom of speech. I would like to sidestep their focus, draw back from cartoons and, instead, shine a light sideways on certain cultures, certain solitudes, beginning with Europe. At the end I will return to The Economist.

ABCDE Part One

In the English speaking world, one of the oldest pieces of literature is the Canterbury Tales. Back in high school, as I recall, no one worried that Muslim and Protestant fundamentalists might be insulted by the Miller's Tale. (images) I enjoyed studying the classic but, to my regret, we didn't get to the miller's story. Too bad, 'cause other kids told me they relished his tale for being bawdy. Someday I hope to go back and read that one. My class, reading the stories in order, only got a few stories in. I missed out because the Canterbury pilgrims told their tales in order of social rank: the knight, of course, got to tell his story first, and so on, down the feudal pecking order.

Every society, so the scholars tell us, has some sort of ranking. Even in the "worker's paradise" of the Soviet Union there were those of higher rank, such as Communist Party members. Scholars tell us too that every society has to evolve some tales and customs that serve to reinforce the ranking of society. Such evolution is not, of course, a conscious thing. When the Soviets, less than a hundred years ago, first formed the "people's army" they had no saluting of commissioned officers. After all, there had never been saluting of noncommissioned officers such as sergeants. All the army would be equal. Yet by WWII saluting had been brought in. I am sure they couldn't say why saluting would lead to success in battle, any more than they could give a scientific explanation as to why parade ground drill was necessary. Rather, they just knew, beyond words, that saluting officers was important for a military society.

Surely the people of the Canterbury society also "just knew." In the Tales it is written that the pilgrims left the speaking order to random chance. That is to say, they drew straws. No medieval audience was surprised when this resulted in the knight going first and so on. To them it felt right. At church they would have heard the priest say, "Bless the squire and his relations, and keep us in our proper stations." My guess is the priest was not part of a conspiracy; I think his prayer was part of a semi-conscious collection of "ways" that meshed to maintain feudal society. (In the space age, as a child reading the Wizard of Id syndicated comic strip, I laughed at how the spook was always in the dungeon for the quote crime unquote of shouting, "The king is fink!")

(Red queen)

Another "way" was the old folk saying, "A cat can look at a king." Alice recites this in Wonderland as the cheshire cat looks at the Red Queen. The queen is like an over confident religious leader. She gets angry, he just grins at her. "Off with his head!"... only his head has no body! The folk saying, I believe, was a code to warn that no person could look at the king, meaning: no one could give the king a dirty look. (silent) "Dumb insolence" is to this day an offence in the British army.

The army, of course, remains the last resort of diplomats. Years ago, like many teenagers who had a father in WWII, (many of us got crew cuts like our heroes had worn) I was an amateur historian of the British Commonwealth armies. Back then I read several versions of the allied diplomatic frustration with the Arabs in WWII. Whenever Arab leaders in the Near East or North Africa were asked to joint the fight for freedom against the evil Axis, the reply was always a puzzled look followed by, "So what's wrong with a dictatorship?" I think when we understand Arabs we will understand Muslims, and to understand Arabs we must understand desert Arabs.


In the desert each man has his weapon. He won't literally salute but he may bow or use respect worlds like "my sheik" and "sir." The sheik is like a king, or a general, telling the nomads when to break camp, where to graze next, and whom to attack. Like good soldiers, no one believes in dumb insolence or disrespect, and no one feels permission to think for themselves, at least, not the same permission a citizen feels. The whole society "just knows" this. It feels right. Parents need not tell their children, "Mustn't question a mullah's (priest's) teaching of the scripture, dear." People just know that "insults" are wrong for the social order, for keeping people in their stations.

Bless the squire and his relations,
and keep us in our proper stations
common English prayer

And all of this leads inevitably to an educated Arab community leader saying on television, here in North America, back (1989) when I was in college, something like, "If someone insulted Queen Elizabeth then of course you would kill him, so why can't you understand us killing Rushdie for his his insult?" (Rushdie's insult? He wrote an artistic fantasy novel. He wrote it not as "popular culture," but for the cultured minority who read literature that regular folks never hear of.) And so I watched how this English-speaking Arab, a good and honest product of his culture, knew in his bones the correct thing to say and do... provided he was talking about the days of Queen Elizabeth the first!

I am saying any society is like an ecology where tales and folk sayings and "salutes" mesh together to serve that society. I suppose this all sounds like I am encouraging respect for Muslims. Yes. More accurately I'm trying to encourage respect when crossing ecological-boundaries. To cross over into any Muslim country is to travel not merely in space but in time. From QE II to QE I. When time traveling you must expect that to change one single thing, such as freedom of speech, in an interlocking ecology, is like trying to roll a stone uphill.

A functioning culture reveals itself in many little ways. Take a certain U.S. proverb: "The president puts on his pants one leg at a time, like everybody else." My guess about Arabs is they still can't feel safe saying that about "my president" or "my mullah."


My guess about Europeans is if they are big on telling non-Europeans about freedom of speech then one of the reasons is they want to be Right. Perhaps their ego says that to be Right means they must have full agreement for speech freedom, agreement from everyone in every space-location all over the world. Perhaps they forget they may not be right for non-democratic countries, and not even right for Europe, not if they go to a time-location of more than three hundred years ago.

Today Europe is a continent-sized ecology. It's perfectly OK to have freedom of speech there. It's OK for European Muslims, Atheists, Christians and Royalty to share warm greetings and friendly insults and bad insults and conversations amongst each other. And it's OK to give a European girl a rabbit for a pet. What's not OK is to carry a rabbit from Europe to Australia...

If someone from Saudi Arabia, who watches the idiot box all the time, suddenly takes a jet plane to Denmark, then buys just one newspaper and carries it back to Arabia... I get suspicious. I think he is flying with the devil. But there is still a chance for goodwill. If the better angel of his nature can respect the term "political correctness" then he must ask the Danish, including the Danish Muslims, whether or not he should riot. I read in the newspaper how the mass of Danish Muslims advised the people overseas not to overreact. But foreign Muslims didn't respect Danish Muslims enough to believe them. And so people died.

In any ecology that is pre-democratic, the people are not like citizens, rather, they are like peasants. They will respect leaders among their royalty and their church but will not respect the masses, not in their own land and not in Denmark. Too bad the Muslim religion militates against democracy. Only as democracy arrives will they come to believe, through experience, in the fellow we know as "John Q. Public."

In the meantime one hopes the people of the continents of Europe and non-Europe could come to respect the boundary between them of a "moral ecology." We in North America could assist them by spreading the news about these eco-boundarys. We could encourage people overseas to control their ego and not carry rabbits.

ABCDE Part Two

Here in North America we set a good example. If a Texas criminal kills babies, and if he flees to Canada, then the good Texas rangers won't send a posse across the national boundary to hunt him down and string him up. Although the Texans, proud and loud, believe in a legal death penalty, they respect how Canadians do not believe a death warrant is morally right. The Texans won't extradite the criminal unless they promise not to kill him.

Wouldn't this same principle of respect apply when Rushdie comes to London Ontario? Or to London England? No need to apologize for the "insult" of assigning him police bodyguards. No need to get into a big long argument with a mullah as to whether or not his fatwah (religious death warrant ) is correct. No need to be Right. Nope. Simply, gently, whisper that Rushdie is in a different ecology now.

I do sympathize with cultures of various space-times, including feudal, military and desert Arab. I sympathize as well with modern day Europeans. I think I know why, in their Economist, they say that "a liberal society requires freedom of speech." Biased? Is "liberal society" a biased term? Surely even if Europeans elect Conservative Party leaders like North America's Stephen Harper and George Bush then they will still say they have a "liberal society." Who can blame them?

It's like how here in Canada, although parliament hasn't declared war since before I was born, we don't call this "normal time." We call it "peace time" ever reminding us that war is the horrible alternative. And so all Europeans - be they Muslim, Atheist, Christian or anything else - they all share a cultural memory of the horrible alternative. They knew the Red Queen... They wish never again to have a society where royalty rules, no one may think, and insults... mean death.

Sean Crawford

putting on my pants in front of the cat
winter 2008.8

~ For more on the context of principles see my intro-chit chat essay of January 2012 for Allah Bless Cartoons in Danish Ecology.

~ On the Calgary Herald letters page for August 19, 2009, Vanity Fair and Slate Magazine columnist Christopher Hitchens, explaining the book that the Yale (university) Press is censoring, writes that it "tells the story of the lurid and preplanned compaign of "protest" and boycott that was orchestrated in late 2005... By the time the hysteria had been called off by those who incited it, perhaps as many as 200 people around the world had been pointlessly killed." As I said in my essay, it was not the Danish Muslims who wanted the violence.

~Update: Rex Murphy, on p. 36-38 of Canada writes "Part of the answer, it seems to me an important point to underscore, is that it is not just the original twelve cartoons, but at least three others- all more offensive than any of the originals... were included in a dossier ... the deeper mischief, it may turn out, was not their cartoons but the supplemented dossier...
I am far from convinced that in this "cartoon debate" one faction has not attempted to rig the facts and—in part—achieve political goals under the cover of faith. If that is so, there's a blasphemy all will agree on."