Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fools and Their Choices

When you walk along a dusty road in a dry valley, how can you tell if you are in Silicon Valley or in Syria? In a democracy or a tyranny? Among citizens or mere taxpayers? Look to the people: By their fruits ye shall know them.


I was young once. Last week, as the wind rustled red and gold leaves around the plaza, I was able to gaze out the plate glass at a red building. I remembered: There, in another time, when my head was in another space, I almost took another road. Thank God for the road not taken!

Today that building front has something out of Star Trek: motion detection sliding doors. In my youth, the doors were left up to me: I was the doorman. Wearing security guard livery. I felt silly, as this was in safe, gun-shy Canada.

The place, with a few demonstration machines already in place—such as the new nautilus hydraulic resistance machine—was to be a fitness center. It was still under construction; meanwhile there were many desks and trainer/salespeople all set to sign up the first customers. Was it all a scam? Would the trainers be too busy for individual attention, would the place be too crowded to enjoy, and would the customers find their “use anywhere” lifetime membership cards would not, in fact, be honored at centers in other cities? I was in no position to judge the future. 

However, I was in a good position to judge how the trainers were in the present. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” I could see how they treated me, and it wasn’t pretty. They despised the owners, and they were always chewing on each other’s arms and legs. The issue was not simply low pay: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Clearly they felt exploited, desperate and disrespected. How they treated me was merely a difference in degree, not in kind, from how they treated each other. Like I said, “not pretty.”

One of them was extremely over-weight for a fitness trainer. I suspected his disloyal bosses would fire him once the place was a going concern. And they did. In the meantime, perhaps as compensation, he saw himself as an extra good salesman, and one day, after sales were done, he had everybody meet in the big empty basement for a sales training lecture. That same day, after my shift was done, I took two classmates on a tour. We entered the huge basement from a little corner door. The others were tiny figures in the middle. In case the others thought, “Oh boy, here’s more customers!” I called over “They’re with me.” The extra-weight guy got all angry and yelled, “HEYYY!” I guess he was proud of his extra loud voice projection. My classmates were scandalized.

Later the only female there I liked, a thin attractive shorthaired blond, came over and reassured the guys that any friend of Sean was welcome. I told her they both lifted weights and were both enrolled in a diploma program in Leisure Services. (“The fatboy has just lost a sale.”)

My friends drooled over the pretty lady. When we were alone I broke the news: “In my day we said there were women that do, women that don’t, and women that do it with other women.”

“No way! You only want her for yourself!” We were all young. In a time when “bad” words like lesbian and homosexual were being replaced with the “good” unisex word gay, she was the first gay that I, or they, had ever knowingly met. I remember a trainer, the only male there I liked, watching her out the window one day, playing with her little boy and her dark partner, while the radio played,

“Gather moments while you may, collect the dreams you dream today, remember, the times of your life.” (Paul Anka)

He said it was so neat; I think we both filed the memory away. He soon escaped to get a job with the government liquor stores: A much better place for him. And me? I later went on to qualify, provincially, to teach aerobics, and still later I took anatomy, complete with cadavers, but I never went down the road to the commercial fitness industry, no sir. Today those fitness machines are gone, the dusty floors are empty—the company failed. Perhaps their culture failed.

Last week, from a warm lobby, I looked out the plate glass window, past cold blowing leaves, looking out from within a successful for-profit company. I thought: Here we wear blue jeans as rich computer nerds do, valuing substance, unimpressed by show, knowing we can get a job down the road if we are ever exploited. Historians will understand: We are like those democracy-loving colonial Americans who, as Benjamin Franklin noted, would quit and head off to clear land on the frontier if ever their boss tried to act like a disrespectful corrupt European. Cherish the middle class! Vive la Democracy!

Here at my company, where we have no “suits,” there is never any pyramid shaped “chart of organization” printed or circulated. Why? Easy: No one wants to feel “under” someone. In dusty Silicon Valley we see no vain pyramids. Here we enjoy lots of respect, no resentments, and productive work. I’m happy here. It just doesn’t get any better.

Sean Crawford
Under a dusty prairie wind
Fall, 2012

~I wrote this after just finishing a lengthy graphic memoir, Marzi, about a girl growing up under communism. (By Marzena Sowa, art by Sylvain Savoia, translated by Anjali Singh, Vertigo) There is no middle class in her world, while the rich are the Communist Party members. What I found significant through Marzi’s eyes was an entire nation of people even more unhappy and cruel to each other than the people in the fitness center.

~Obviously this essay comes when the US has two different philosophies to choose from:
1)    The traditional worldview: focus on the upper class and then the rest of the country will be OK…. The problem, in most countries, is this focus is not held within a context of concern for all.
As I understand it, (and I may well have it wrong) the US variation, amidst despair for any normal business-as-usual economic health of the country, is to say the rich focus is temporary, as in tax cuts, and then in some undated back-to-normal future the rest of the country will again be focused on.

2)    The traditional Anglo-American view: focus on the middle class and then the rest of the country will be healthy, not only economically but politically too… This one has an historical track record, and also has the virtue of simplicity, as you don’t need to decide “how temporary” is the focus on the rich.

I favor option 2) because, historically, once the middle class declines it is very difficult to restore, if only for political-cultural reasons.

~When Rome declined it was, of course, partly for social reasons, not just economic. (they really messed up) For how a swift middle class decline is feasible for purely economic reasons see my book announcement of A Time To Start Thinking archived June 2012 under America Descending.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Television Appreciation
Television Appreciation
TV and A Sense of Time

I once posted a piece about television that included Babylon-5 and British TV; it prompted this comment:
“I do find it fairly hard to believe that Babylon 5 was the first to have such a strong continuous narrative in anything but what the US would call a miniseries. The episodic nature of TV surely makes it an obvious path to follow. Did it really take until the 90’s for someone to realize this?”
I winced, then relaxed as he continued honestly:
“I have to say, I can’t think of any US shows off the top of my head that had anything besides fairly slow and mostly inconsequential character arcs.”
commented by Vandelay, January 11-13 2012 on the Whedonesque board

A Sense of Time
I remember an interesting tall young man in his twenties, with cloak and broad hat, in the Bordertown series edited by Terri Windling, on the exciting boundary “where Earth meets fairy.” In a borderland of aloof fairies and teenage human runaways, the man is an enigma to the teens. A loner, not part of any teen rock bands, he appears quite human, yet he also seems very long-lived, like a fairy. The kids wonder about him.
One day a youth hears the man conversing as an equal with a near immortal elf, an elf who is being friendly, not aloof. They happen to be in a bookstore. As the teen listens, the penny drops: The young man’s “old memories” and “knowledge” are from reading.

I can relate. As a teen I knew the reason my peers were so into being the “now generation,” besides their egos, was they didn’t read. What I did not imagine then, and I’m still grasping now, is how so many grownups don’t read either. I’m sorry.

I’m not totally innocent about this. As a news reporter for my university student newspaper, writing for fellow students, I was careful to respect how we all have gaps in our knowledge. Therefore I would give obvious background to every continuing story, as if a student might have been out of the country at a research station; I would spell out every abbreviation in full the first time I wrote it, realizing “there are new babies being born every day who don’t know the abbreviation.” I never felt it was a chore to be always explaining things, as “they say” the lowest common denominator for newspaper readers is age 12, and university readers aren’t much better, while for TV the age is eight. In my journalistic life that was OK, no problem.

My problem was in my real life because the writers I read were all readers like me, all making easy references to historical events and historical popular culture, without ever needing to worry, as a reporter would, that people wouldn’t get it. Whenever I dived into the pages of fiction, or nonfiction, I was into a world where, as a physician would say, everyone else was “well oriented as to time and space.” Surfacing back into my other world, a world where many people don’t realize their potential, I would come back bereft.

By definition, of course, I don’t expect “blue-collar” workers to read. I feel gentle, not irritated, when television episodes always have a “convention” whereby some character will always make an excruciatingly obvious comment on something, to make sure everyone watching at home “gets it.” In fact, I don’t even notice those silly comments anymore. My sadness, my mourning, is when “white-collar” college graduates don’t read about the world either. As my buddy Blair would put it, “They have not woven together a personal sense of history.” (Yet they still try to meddle with foreign policy) This I hadn’t expected when I was growing up.

TV and Time
Recently I was surprised to learn that even those who would appear to be avid watchers of TV are not, in fact, oriented to time and changing television culture.

Back in January I published a piece on the death of young Buffy Anne Summers. Someone linked it to a popular bulletin board for fans of all shows by director-writer Joss Whedon. It was Whedon who, after scripting the feature film version, made the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (BtVS) On the Whedonesque board my piece was labeled as “putting in context” the episode The Body. From a board comment, and from folks in my real life, I banged my nose against the fact young people don’t have any historical TV context. They had trouble believing that it was not until the 1990’s that the creation by Jan Michael Straczynski (JMS) of Babylon-5 (B-5) had broken trail for BtVS: With a dying hero, and strong character arcs, he created his episodes to be broadcast in order. I learned that young people took “shows in order” for granted. “It seems,” they thought “like such an obvious idea.” Not so.

Let’s backtrack. I’m old enough to have heard re-runs of radio shows like Gunsmoke, (my school band played the theme) The Lone Ranger, (cue William Tell Overture) and Dragnet (cue dummm dee DUM-dum) Many radio shows made it to the tube after black and white television sets were invented, often continuing with the same actors, such as Dragnet’s Jack Web as Detective Friday. “Just the facts Ma’am.” While children’s shows might be a serial, with the hero left hanging off a cliff, in order to get you to tune in next week, normally grownups would despise cliffhangers. Adult shows, on both radio and TV, were a series, with each episode having a tidy ending. Batman (on TV) used to spoof other shows by urging viewers to return to the “…same bat-time, same bat-station.”

And whenever you returned, if you did, nothing had changed. Not physically: Marshal Dillon did not save up his money and buy a ranch; Detective Friday did not become the Deputy Chief of Police. Not emotionally: Batman did not find a psychiatrist and work through his darkness. And poor Chekov: forever an ensign, always impetuous! Hollywood’s self interest was obvious: By keeping everything frozen, no growth allowed, Hollywood could keep the franchise going for as long as the ratings were there. Gunsmoke, after the radio version, went for a further 20 years on TV, continuing after Star Trek had come and gone.

For the boob tube, as soon as they stopped broadcasting teleplays live, which was very soon after bringing in the brave new medium, the new shows were no longer intended to be dramatic or moving. Forget Aristotle’s explanation of tragedy: In the family living room no one wanted catharsis. Not like going out with sweet anticipation to stage plays and the cinema. People didn’t want butterflies, they just wanted to relax in their living rooms and pass the time.

…Historians note: Producer Norman Lear re-introduced a form of “somewhat live” shows by recording “before a live studio audience” in the 1970’s with All in the Family. (Archie Bunker) “Going live” brings an escalating energy of performing without a net. People still didn’t want strong tragedy, but live worked well for comedy…

And yet, while plot and physical action is all very well… adults still wanted a wee bit of drama. I well remember nights at home, back in the days of neon lights, when shows often began with a narrator and some little portrait circles, showing the stars, “guest stars” and “special guest stars.” Here would be the drama: These guests, wearing a grey hat, could in the space of an hour change hats to white or black. They could learn a lesson. They were the only ones allowed emotional growth.

In a feature film, of course, anyone can grow. Or decline and fall. Interestingly, while Hollywood is known for stand-alone films, I’ve noticed in “recent” (to me) years, probably due to press packages from the publicity machine, the entertainment media has begun referring to the James Bond movies as a “franchise.” What “franchise” means, of course, is not only does Bond never grow up in terms of his own self-awareness, he is never aware of having previously saved the world, either.

Even after color TV arrived, in the mid 1960’s, episodes for the idiot box were still being franchised out. Any member of the writer’s guild could send away for the show bible and submit a script. The bible for Star Trek, I once heard, included a rule the crew could never return to the planet earth. There was a Cold War on, remember, and no wanted to get hung up on who had won. What the bible would never need to stipulate, because it would be common sense for any professional writer, was the Enterprise could save a little star colony, but never save the birthplace of humankind: Otherwise the rest of the series would be one long anti-climax. (OK, if you really must save the earth, then do so in a ST movie) As a franchise, with no character growth, and no climax, the ST episodes could be shuffled like cards and shown in any order. As they were in re-runs.

As for why they made episodes in a traditional franchise-style, a scene from the original Star Trek is instructive. In one of the first season episodes an air force policeman from the 1960’s is brought aboard the Enterprise. In order to keep this “accidental time-tourist” from changing history he is confined to the transporter room. Of course the “guest” needs to be fed. Well.

You may recall the USS Enterprise, in the original series, did not have “food replicaters.” While the crew, like on The Jetsons cartoon, could punch buttons and have a panel slide up to reveal a tray with food and drink,—wow!—such panels implied the food was like on The Jetsons: automatically made and conveyed. Not magically replicated using magical transporter “science.” Consider the real world: Back in the 1960’s, on an air base, a truck transport loading dock would never have a conveyer belt to the cafeteria; on a big navy ship, up on deck at the boat launch, there would never be a dumb waiter connected to the mess hall. Crewmen are at their stations only to work: Going to the mess hall is good for morale.

The obvious way, therefore, to feed the “guest” was for a crewman to carry in a food tray. Unfortunately, although Star Trek was the first sci-fi show based on realism, the episode dispensed with the crewman-and-tray: Instead the guest was fed, in the transporter room, using a sliding panel. Why? So they could dispense with the crewman… Why? The budget! They simply could not afford a “walk on” part. (I probably read this fact in David Gerrold’s book on ST) It is instructive to compare the limited bare cardboard walls of the original set to the intricate lush setting of the latest installment of the ST franchise, Enterprise.

Today our economy is more productive—and not solely from computers and automation. It takes fewer “man-hours” to produce a loaf of bread, and fewer hours, even at minimum wage, to produce the money to afford the loaf. We live in gorgeous affluence compared to how we lived as recently as a hundred years ago. Which means 21st century shows can afford, at long last, not only walk on parts, but full-time writer’s rooms too! Yes, shows are so affordable these days, they no longer need to be “brought to you” by a sponsor. It used to mean curtains to offend the sponsor with anything controversial, remember? Not anymore.

 When JMichael Straczynski came out in the 1990’s with a show about a space station he franchised a lot of the first season; one of my favorite writers, David Gerrold, (best known for writing The Trouble With Tribbles) wrote an episode where the young B-5 doctor learns not to “Yankee imperialize” his own medical ethics onto “the little foreigners.” I liked how, casting against cliché, the doctor on the station was NOT old or wise. I treasured B-5 because it was not action-thriller: it was a political-mystery. (No torn-shirt fistfights) With the novel’s thickening plot and rising action, in order to keep all the clues organized, and revealed only at the proper time, JMS ended up being his own one-man writer’s room: writing the scripts himself. This all worked out. Fortunately, he had earned his writing chops, and Hollywood credibility, composing scripts for Murder She Wrote.

JMichael Straczynski made TV history in part for having so many scripts made “in house,” while his super nova claim to fame, of course, was in persuading the studio heads to forget about trying for the usual open-ended franchise. Instead, he proposed the first ever “five year novel.” Unhappily, this meant the show would have to end. And the episodes would need to be shown in order. Happily though, just like a novel there could be an awesome build up to a climax. And, like a novel, it meant there was room for misfortune to befall the regular characters too, not just strangers in red shirts.

Later, when Joss Whedon went on to make Buffy, people joked Whedon’s actors could not hold out for a higher salary at the end of each contract year: In the Whedonverse “no one is safe!” Joss is famous for that, justifiably so, but it was JMS who broke trail for him. JMS also had two main characters doing something impossible in an old “brought to you by our sponsor...” series: getting addicted to substances. Hence a tragic downward arc, as inevitable as King Lear’s, as the episodes were shown in order… Special note: Until B-5, I would never write “TV” and “Shakespeare” in the same sentence. (Come to think of it, BtVS had a couple of addicts: one to hubris, one to magic)

B-5 was something new under the sun, for more than just arcs and episode order. Consider a traditional show like Gunsmoke. In that show, despite all the flying lead, if a regular character left the series, then he might be shown leaving on the stagecoach, or, in the case of Doc, departing offstage and leaving a letter to be read aloud. B-5 cut a brand new trail: The hero dies right onstage… tragically… like a Shakespearean hero. I remember how hard it was to be at work the next day. A few years later a young guy named Joss would create a world where there can be only be one magical vampire slayer at a time, and all the slayers die young…

I wonder if JMichael Straczynski provokes any jealousy in Hollywood now, like what happened to Columbus after twenty years. “Lots of people are crossing the Atlantic now; he didn’t do anything so great.” …Alas, poor JMS: Once his innovation paid off, “it seemed so obvious” to guys who don’t read. But no, someone had to show the rest of us it could be done.

Sean Crawford,
Wearing my “middle-aged man (reading) glasses”
Calgary 2012

~Down the years, for TV, I keep re-learning what I first learned from reading David Gerrold’s book The World of Star Trek.

~Joke: Q: Say, do you know the definition of an intellectual? A: Someone who can hear the William Tell Overture and not think of the Lone Ranger.

~Trivial apology: for my January Buffy piece I hit “post” when I staggered home near midnight, forgetting that I had meant to a) add my URL and b) determine the spelling of JMS. My web site was so modest, I never expected wake up to hundreds of hits. Hurray, there are Buffy fans in every time zone!

~I used to go out of town and rent a hotel room, back when I had no TV set, “just to watch B-5.” When my buddy Blair, who hadn't seen Buffy, told me Joss Whedon had a new series out, “comparable to B-5,” I couldn’t believe it. “Really? That good?” Really. In fact, months later, from word-of-mouth, the Firefly DVDs were flying off the shelves at Amazon. And the show? Canceled… before Thanksgiving, even… Why? Easy: The highly paid old executives at Fox aired it out of order! ...

~Blair’s Amazon review of Firefly—The Complete Series is the very best, right at the top, liked by 727 of 747. And yes, Blair mentions B-5.

~Come to think of it, it was in the 1990’s that Dark Horse comics was introducing Japanese manga (comics) to America, thus opening wide the anime (cartoon) gates. I bet JMS took note! Americans were shocked and pleased at how anime (and manga) had limited episodes made with an ending in mind: See my essay Japanese Anime Cartoons archived in May 2011.

 When anime came to America young fans were both amazed and gratified. As anime exporter Peter Payne of J-List (Dec 14 2011) puts it, “(anime is)… the freedom to create a story using the endearing medium of cell animation in which people actually died in dramatic ways instead of bailing out of the plane at the last minute, as they always did in those lame 80’s cartoons.” He added sarcastically, “I remember the days when TV studios would mix up the episodes of the anime you were watching because why wouldn’t you? There was no reason to show them in order.” Yes, broadcasters assumed anime was like children’s cartoons, with no story arc.  ...From The Death of  Buffy, archived Jan 2012

My two favorite anime are only 13 episodes long: I mentioned Lain, of Serial Experiments Lain, as one of my Three TV Nerd Heroes in September 2011; I devoted an entire essay to Elfen Lied, in June 2011.

~What do you think? 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hatred and Canadian Muslims

This is for all of my fellow Canadians who are Muslims, especially overseas. And most especially for Muslim parents.

Hatred is morally dangerous.

I am not against hatred in its proper place: I can imagine a judge writing out a “hatred warrant.” Like a warrant for any morally dangerous thing, such as police wiretapping, the hatred warrant would carefully set out limits in time and space. I am not against hatred to help give energy for time-limited task. For example, I see nothing wrong with hating the Germans during World War II and, in the process, calling them Krauts, while referring to your sauerkraut as “liberty cabbage,” while at the same time, in the war factory, chalking Hitler’s name on the bombs.

But to hate harmless unarmed German prisoners penned up here in Canada (space) or to hate any Germans after the war is over (time) is wrong, wrong, wrong. That is not what the hatred warrant is made out for. (My father, overseas during the war, once gave cigarettes, one each, to a couple of German prisoners) With peace the old dark energy is no longer needed. In peacetime there will be new problems requiring new golden energy.

There is a scene I read in a book called North to Abilene about 19th century cowboys on a long cattle drive to the railroad. I found this scene again in an old black-and-white movie about UN fighter pilots in Korea. A young “southern” cowboy who was just a few years too young to have participated in the recent US civil war, or in world war two, is in a saloon, or perhaps he is in a Quonset hut bar with pilots not much older than him. The men include a “northerner,” or a West German. The ignorant youth folds his arms, leans back, and says he won’t drink with a former enemy. The other men, they who have all aged and suffered in the recent war, all unite in persuading him he is wrong. Surely it’s common sense: In peacetime, citizens in both the north and the south must work together to herd cattle, build railroads and make fast progress in creating a new and better country for our children, a country with our children safe from hatred and war. There is no time to waste looking backwards in hatred.

I don’t have all the answers to peace, no one on earth does. God is greater than we are. As an adult, my philosophy to encourage peace is simple: I join old veterans once a year at our Remembrance Day ceremony. We remember with peace in our hearts, with love and gratitude for those we lost… but we don’t remember any old hatreds. And by the way, veterans who had served in the Nazi German air force are welcome to join the Royal Canadian Legion. And they too will attend Remembrance Day.

Why remember hatred? The useful purpose for old hatred is… just what, exactly? Tradition? Because my uncle always said I’m “supposed to?” Or maybe the only “useful” purpose is a childish “because!” I would ask for these questions of hatred to be faced, and be answered, by Muslim Canadians now in universities as part of their typical student “meaning of life” discussions.

My mother never taught hatred. During my teens she always challenged me to think for myself: “If all your young friends jumped off the Empire State building, then would you jump off too?” If you are a young Muslim in university liberating your mind, either overseas or back here, then “just because some other Muslims take hatred for granted” is no excuse for you to blindly agree. One thing you achieve in university, besides experiencing what “culture shock” feels like, is learning that no culture is set in stone. We can change. We have our living God’s permission to live and grow. Of course, if you are my age you have already lived with change. Today I am moved to write this essay because many of my fellow Canadians are Muslims, having dual citizenship, and temporarily living overseas.

Let me say this right away: My understanding of the “Canadian tourists” in Lebanon, all 40,000 of them, (estimated) based on their NONrealistic demands on our government to instantly get them all out after the Israeli invasion, is that they had NOT realistically participated in democracy, not long enough to develop a realistic sense of what our government can do. Therefore I conclude they weren’t tourists: I guess they were prostitutes, without love, “using” Canada. But Canadian Muslims in Syria, (up to 4,700) and perhaps other places too, are different. This is according to External Affairs Minister John Baird. I recall Baird saying Canadians in Syria are over there are simply there because their families are there…

As for any overseas Canadian Muslim mothers and fathers, who might be reading this, I applaud your efforts. Of course you are teaching your children easy factual things, but cultural things need attention too. Don’t forget those uncles!

Obviously, you are teaching your Canadian children easy things such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a charter that serves as the bedrock, the floor of our multi-cultural mosaic. And you are teaching that as members of the United Nations our floor includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We don’t get human rights by coming to Canada: the rights are worldwide. Certain governments, such as the Godless communists, or the Islamist rulers in Iran who put themselves above God and the people, can only deny those rights, not grant them.

Canada was never a heated “melting pot” like the US, intent on having people wanting to be “real Americans.” As I dimly recall from an old Royal Commission report of the 1970’s, we say we don’t mind if a person has another language, (or culture) provided the person also has one of the official languages. (and the bedrock culture) We have the right to apply heat to achieve this. We will sear anyone who defies the charter or breaks criminal laws against private murder for the sake of “honor.” As well, since killing is wrong, we have no death penalty. I have hope that you are already teaching your children that.

While the words of laws on paper are easy to teach to your children, words in the heart are harder. How can you teach that hatred is wrong? I think, to quote the US founding fathers, you could tell your children that God meant us to walk around enjoying “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Unhappily, if you constantly pursue thinking about how you would hate a person, then that is like pouring poison into a cup with the person’s name on it, and then drinking the cup yourself! You are guaranteed to walk around feeling sick. Not happy, not God’s plan. Hatred is like fire: In wartime, a good servant, but in peacetime, a bad master.

In Canada, whenever the Indians start a campfire with tinder, or start to smoke a peace pipe with tobacco, it really helps if the tinder or tobacco has been “prepared” by being slightly burnt already. To start a fire with coal, of course, it helps if there are little embers still glowing. The problem with hatred is that it “prepares tinder.” Hatred is like those coal embers: It’s all too easy for an individual’s lingering hatred to burst into a big flame. And sometimes an entire nation is burned up.

While Canada believes in “multi-culturalism,” some other states believe in “pluralism.” That can work. Pluralism worked well in (part of the former Yugoslavia) Bosnia: the people lived together happily. But they also lived separately, with a belief in hearing words of hatred … And then certain individuals, for their own private gains, started to fan the little embers of hatred. Everyone went to war. And then those certain individuals, those third-rate criminal thugs, became rich and powerful at the expense of the larger community.

I used to think Bosnians had always had their flaming hatred, but no, that was not the truth, not at all. I only found this out from a weary world reporter, Chris Hedges, who was there. He wrote in detail about the peacetime build-up-to-hatred process in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning. He writes, “There was no need for the war in Bosnia. The warring sides invented national myths and histories designed to mask the fact that Croats, Muslims and Serbs are nearly indistinguishable. It was absurd nuances that propelled the war, invented historical wrongs, which, as in the Middle East, stretched back to dubious accounts of ancient history.” (p. 26)

As a soldier, during the cold war, I knew surprisingly little about hatred. We were trained to not to hate but to be aggressive, like athletes. The plan was that only after war broke out would we hate.

A fellow soldier, General Hillier, while over in Bosnia, reports finding school textbooks for innocent children. (p 148) “…and led me back into what had been the school library. He started showing me the textbooks that were still stacked up on the shelves. “I’ve got to show you this one,” he said.

“To this day I wish I’d kept the book he showed me. It said more about the conflicts in the Balkans than anything else I’ve read, heard or seen since. It was an illustrated history book for junior grades, the sort of book that kids under ten would have used in their history classes. It was all about how the tough Bosnian people (the partisans) had beaten the Nazis in the Second World War. It showed the stealthy and bloodthirsty “Huns,” with their distinctive German helmets, attacking the innocent people living in Bosnia. The Huns had fangs, with bright red blood dripping from them, and were pictured bayoneting babies and decapitating old people. According the book, the tough, resilient Bosnian population retreated to the forests and caves and survived despite the terrible times. It then went on to show them attacking the German soldiers and shooting and bayoneting them, with all of it depicted in colour pictures!”

You may recall from history, or the movie Casablanca, that after the French surrendered, the French police and army supported the Germans. Similarly, back in WWII there were partisans, the Chetniks, that supported the Germans in Bosnia. Four years after putting that textbook back on the shelf, Hillier returned to Bosnia. (p149)

“…little tiny girls and boys, about four years old, were all gathered together in a group dressed up in their traditional costumes to greet me. They were all singing a song in their sweet little voices, and I thought it sounded just beautiful. So I asked my interpreter… “It’s a song about when the Chetniks came, they killed my grandfather and my grandmother and now when I grow up I can’t wait to kill them.”

“I said, What?!””

“It was incredible, almost unbelievable to a Canadian what was being played out in front of all of us. The hatred was being promulgated from one generation to the next through their education system. It was a stark lesson in how hatred can perpetuate itself, and it made me appreciate Canada even more.”

I think the makers of those schoolbooks sinned against the children, they sinned against the children’s innocence, and they sinned against God, by teaching hatred. They didn’t know it, but they were “preparing” the kids for one day fighting the Bosnian civil war. Truly, as the Bard wrote, “The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children.” How sad. I am proud that Canadians went in to Bosnia to protect Muslims from the Serbians, while I am sad there never needed to be any war in the first place. Sad.

As teenaged army reservists in the Highlanders we would sometimes repeat angry gossip that the government was against us, for example, we’d make up a fresh rumor that “they” wanted to take away our kilts. As an old man I can laugh at us being silly. I’m not clear on why we said those things, or on why some no-longer-teenage Muslims today say that Islam is under attack.

Of course, your uncle might try to “justify” teaching hatred by claiming that right now it is “wartime” in the Arab world, and in East Africa, and in Indonesia too, and perhaps even among immigrants here in North America, that right now Islam is “everywhere under siege.” (Perhaps he should visit Canada and the US before he says this) I am reminded of an uncle who said being homosexual “is a choice.” From where I stand, both uncles are wrong. My God created me with permission to reason and question.

When some uncle tells me either of those lies I have God’s sacred permission to think, and to ask him three science questions: Who said so? Who’s he? How does he know?

I suppose over in a Muslim nation it’s not easy to raise children without hatred. But you have to try! As you know, Canadian parents, both here and overseas, all want to nurture our children to grow up to be able to “work and love.” In other words, we want them to become fit to get married. When you return to Canada, with your children getting old enough to marry, you will find a certain fact: All the young Canadian Muslims who are looking for a marriage partner… are all looking for some one whose heart is filled not with poison but with peace. The smiling Muslim Mayor here in Calgary (population over 1,000,000) was once a professor; we elected him because he was a loving man loved by his students.

“God bless the beasts and children.”

Sean Crawford
As summer turns into fall
Calgary 2012

~A good example of how Canadian Muslims believe in democracy: As you know, an individual down in California, according to an actor being interviewed on TV, lied to the actors about what the title of a short film was. And then, according to an internet observer, he very crudely dubbed over their words, changing their lines. He posted his film to Youtube. When his film got no reaction he posted it again, this time in Arabic. The short film insulting Prophet Mohamed has led Muslims overseas into hatred and violence. But not here.

Here in my city, on Saturday, 200 Muslims gathered, as reported by Damien Wood for the Calgary Sun for September 16: "Cries of "We love peace," "We love Mohammed" and "We must stop the hate" echoed through downtown Saturday"... Instead of believing in violence they hurt no one...  in fact, a Sun photograph shows Muslims kneeling in prayer at Calgary City Hall. I am so glad for Canadian democracy.

~ A Soldier First, subtitled Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War, by General Rick Hillier, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2009.
~ War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges, Anchor Books, 2003.