Friday, January 27, 2012

The Borg Have Jobs

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com

/Cognoun: a toothed bar or wheel
Encyclopedia Galactica.

I wish I could tell new graduates: All those How-to-pass-a-Job-Interview booklets, with their advice to "research the company" have a secret agenda.


 I've recently been astounded by a new appreciation for old common advice on how to find a job... and what sort of worker to be, once hired.

My thoughts here begin with machines, then go to a computer expert's essay about jobs, and at last I consider democracy.

Machines. Said the Cylon to the human, "Are you alive?" Could you, dear reader, pass the "Turing test?" Not everyone can. I was talking to David Gerrold, a father and science fiction writer. He remarked that children could not always pass, that a kid will suddenly impulsively reach for an object and not know why. How can you tell if a machine has become "alive," has become an "artificial intelligence," has become, by definition, "self aware?" In the film 2010 the computer Hal shows it's self awareness when he asks, "Will I dream?"

The father of the computer age, Alan Turing, came up with a simple test. In Turing's day, a time of slide rules and vacuum tubes, no one knew how to build an artificial intelligence, but everybody knew that someday many people would be making the attempt.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Among Mortals


www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com


I tried not to feel inferior as I sat beside a young, pretty, exotic, confident and presumably rich businesswoman.

Society tells us that the richer you are the finer and smarter you are. Bill Gates, they say, is the smartest man in America. Such is the common wisdom about Bill, to be sure, but "they"... don't always say things I agree with. Businesspeople are surely rich and well esteemed, so much so that in my Toastmasters (public speaking) manual we no longer have summaries: now we have "executive summaries." Yes, everyone knows that business class people are richer than non business class and I don't just mean they get more legroom on the aircraft.

Passenger jets may be used by ballerinas on tour... but no sooner does the excitement of a window seat wear off than they have to retire. Oh, how strenuous, how short, is a dancer's career! Once there was a fine prima ballerina, beloved by thousands, who retired. The fine lady took some schooling, then took an anonymous entry-level business job... and found that her income was now better than at the peak of her dancing! OK, maybe her example "does not compute," but society still says the finer people are the richer people.

(Toastmasters)

I was sitting by this businesswoman, wondering whether I felt inferior or merely sad, while in a corporate boardroom. It was evening and we presidents of various toastmaster clubs were having an area level meeting. People join such clubs, and volunteer to be the president, partly for the social aspects. And socialize we did.

"Do you guys know of any business self-development books?" asked the young lady. As an avid reader I said to get Games Mother Never Taught You by Betty Harragan. I gave an example of a lesson from the book. The woman grimaced: "That one I've just learned, the hard way."

"Do you know how to write reports," she asked us "without feeling foolish or futile as you write?" As an avid writer I said to write out the goal of your report on a separate paper using a complete sentence. I do that for speeches. Then you may gain confidence by relating everything you write to your goal. My humble advice was the best we had to offer about reports. The chairman of our meeting, our area governor, wore a nice business suit and tie. He advised the young lady, as we chatted, to give little thought to her shortcomings and instead to build on her strengths. This advice was new to her. I chimed to support the governor's idea by noting that business guru Peter Drucker held strong views that a company should hire based on a person's strengths, on what she could use to contribute to the company.

In terms of cost-benefit, weaknesses are not worth spending time on.

Now, whence came our dread concern for fixing our shortcomings? We in that boardroom all had concerns. Maybe because we all figuratively had puritan ancestors. (The woman's literal ancestors were Asian.) In our culture the Chief Executive Officer started out in the mailroom, Benjamin Franklin kept a self-improvement chart and a tenderfoot became an eagle scout. Those are golden strands. But there's a darker strand woven into our culture. When and where did any little shortcoming become in our eyes a big monster to be slain? Maybe in the same place our nightmares start: in childhood.

(Genesis)

As a boy I read in Reader's Digest about a rich family. The family is having a not-so-functional supper: as the kids are loudly talking a young teenage girl says quietly,"I broke a school record in swimming today." Father storms, "Swimming! How about...!" (how can you be so below average at A and B, and why aren't you average at C yet, and how dare you be so very above average at D if you can't even do A properly?) So the father storms, topics swirl around, and the word "swim" is never whispered again. Not until bedtime. Then, by God's grace, the mother suddenly remembers and goes to the girl's room to ask about her success. Such family stories are as old as the book of Genesis.

A son, east of Eden, was excellent at socializing and telling jokes and being generous and herding swine... but he thought he had to totally avoid his father and family. This was because he was below average at one itzy bitzy little thing: he was prodigal. When did fathers start saying that if you failed to meet just one condition, such as by being too prodigal, then you had failed to meet the condition for being "good enough" to be loved? Fathers never did. OK, maybe they briefly did, in the same way a little boy says, "...and I hate you!" Yes, the boy means it, but it passes. We adults know this. Children don't. If a girl becomes a woman while her father still occasionally storms then she will still wonder about him. This wondering won't pass; she won't ever feel secure.

Somehow, surely, these darker strands of society are connected, these dark beliefs about shortcomings and conditional love and richer being finer... I wish I understood but I guess I don't need to. It's enough to remember we are more alike than we are different. I am challenged because I dwell on stuff so much, my area governor is challenged by his use of a wheelchair and the businesswoman, well, surely she too has her story. I think all we can do is keep helping each other and striving for the good.



Sean Crawford,
East of Eden

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Allah Bless Cartoons in Danish Ecology


essaysbysean.blogspot.com
Another cartoon Essay is linked at the bottom

This month (August 2009) the Danish cartoons are in the news again. Yale university has "appeased in advance" (my words) any Muslims by not publishing the cartoons within a scholarly Yale Press book, a book that explicitly concerns the cartoons: They claimed they didn't want to "instigate violence." (their words) I think Yale is wrong, if not racist, to think U.S. Muslims believe in violence.

I'm not too surprised. Back in 1947, only two years after finishing a global war started by appeasement, Robert Heinlein published a young adult novel that takes place during an age of rockets. The teenage hero (who would have been a child in 1947) bursts out with something like, "But everybody knows appeasement is wrong!" Heinlein knew that human nature, alas, does not change.

A decade later, in 1957, Ayn Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged that wrong can be done "with the sanction (permission) of the victim." I see Yale as willing to be victim by giving permission to the censors, perhaps claiming the principle of avoiding violence to the school, while certainly forsaking the higher principle of Truth.

Principles matter. I long ago bookmarked a web essay by Clay Shirky called, "A Group is its Own Worst Enemy." His classic example is a computer internet group of mostly adults where some high school kids used excessive profanity. With their principle of "Individual Freedom" the adults "couldn't" stop the kids, so they disbanded the group instead. They forgot about other principles, such as civilized group survival.

As I write this the war on terror is continuing. As the rest of us stand up for democracy, where is Yale?

At a military funeral service, for a young man I knew, there was a program handed out, as in a church service. Mothers cried. The parents of Corporal Nathan Hornburg, consulted in writing the program, had a German quotation included: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing...


Lengthy related essay:

Allah bless cartoons in Danish ecology

Sean Crawford
Calgary, Alberta


Friday, January 13, 2012

Heroes are Soldiers

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com


Some misguided person, call him Smith, wrote into the newspaper forum to complain, saying that a man who serves in Afghanistan is not a hero. Smith says the man merely has a job, like being a welder or a carpenter. Not so. You, Mr. Smith, are expressing a belief that may be common and logical among peasants in the Third World... but we are in the First World.

As my old coach would say, let's review fundamentals of democracy, let's return to ancient Greece. An average guy like you, Mr. Smith, might pass the city gates into Corinth on a Saturn's Day morning. Then you will walk briskly to the Forum. It's a special place with a wide expanse of marble floor and columns holding up the roof. You hurry there to mingle and discus the issues of the day. Such spirited talks are meaningful to you because, in contrast to a dispirited Third Worlder, you believe that Corinth belongs to you and your peers, not to whatever government you have just elected. You own Corinth.

Looking around the Forum, and gazing past the columns to the surrounding streets, you will see only civilians: no generals, no paid full-time soldiers. That is because you and other healthy men will periodically go out to a grassy field and practice standing in three ranks to fight. In the event of war a person known for having sound judgment, a good farmer or merchant, would be appointed as the general.

(Republic)

Two thousand years later, in 19th and 20th century America, Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman would be elected by their peers to be officers for the Blackhawk war and world war one. Of course Lincoln and his unpaid buddies couldn't afford uniforms. The Greeks were also too poor for uniforms, let alone full-time generals. While they were far poorer than a modern Third World country make no mistake: between their ears they were truly First World.

It's dangerous to view soldiering as a "job;" the Romans showed us this. For the first few hundred years their city on the seven hills was a shining example of virtue, both military and civic, an example that will gladden people's hearts as long as there are books. There was no conscription, no draft.

On a fresh dewy morning, outside the city walls on the field of Mars, the volunteers, unpaid, would stand in three ranks, heavy shields up, jabbing their short iron swords against an imaginary foe. Their arms and legs would ache, sweat would blind them, and still they'd practice. In the third rank would be middle-aged guys like me: we too were expected to go to war. "Every citizen owes his country twenty campaigns" went the popular saying. "But wait!" cries Smith, "I can't do twen-" Relax Mr. Smith, a campaign in those days often meant a weekend slave raid against another city state... just as they would be raiding us. Hence our city wall.

Have you ideals, Mr. Smith? As in Greece, the Roman citizen-soldiers had ideals; they weren't in it for the money. The army would supply the catapults, rations and so forth but no coins. Imagine: no faceless minions of an evil dictator, no working stiffs going through the motions. Instead a fundamental difference: an army of free men. The butcher, the baker, your merchant neighbor: men of volunteer spirit, like you. "Let's get this war over with so we can go home."

The volunteers were famous for their discipline. At the end of every single day's march, however tired, whatever the weather, they would build a fort to camp in. This meant ditches, ramparts, and a palisade. Backbreaking work. No other army would do that. But then they would sleep in blessed peace.

(Empire)

Generations passed. Eventually the army was regular: full-time and regularly paid. Still disciplined, still able to defeat any equal sized army of energetic fierce barbarians. By then the republic had garrisons across the sea. Unfortunately the past gave the Romans no warning of what was to come. From their overseas possessions flowed much wealth. Too much. The city became both rich and morally bankrupt. The new economics nearly extinguished the middle class.

Mass unemployment became normal and permanent. Happily, or so they thought, any Roman could receive what we of today would call the dole, welfare, or nanny-state allowance. Not only did they get free bread without having to sweat, but also the state would provide free events, called "circuses," such as chariot races and gladiator contests. These served to keep the idle masses, known as the mob, occupied. (Like how people on welfare are allowed a television) The old Star Trek episode, Bread and Circuses, takes place at the tipping point where virtue is being exchanged for decadance.

Not having history to guide them, the Romans must have been surprised by what happened next. Being idle with "bread and circuses" did something to their spirit... something terrible. They wouldn't volunteer to enlist in their army—although you got a free farm at the end of your life of military service—and they lost all interest in going to the Forum. No one said, "I'll write to my senator!"

The senators? In the movie Gladiator, just a little after the tipping point has passed, you can see how the senators had become mere paper tigers. Naturally, because their constituents had become wimps. I think in the film they are hoping the emperor hasn't realized this yet. Historically, after the first emperor got away with taking over the republic, the empire continued to expand for several generations but it was running on momentum. The Roman people continued to decline and rot.

(Empire and army)

And the army? Since rotten people don't volunteer, the Romans had to start enlisting paid barbarians. Unfortunately, the hired help will never be as self disciplined as owners. Over the years, as the legions became nearly all barbarian, the army gradually tossed away nearly all their heavy armor, piece by piece, until at last the only armor they wore were helmets. By the time Rome fell it was very hard to tell the "Roman" army from their foes.

The moral is clear: just as "people get the government they deserve" (are fitted for) so, too, do they get the army they deserve. Remember those United Nations troops from the Third World in Rwanda? They were useless for reducing the amount of genocide because they were non effective as soldiers. The ancient Greeks, on their rocky infertile islands, stand as a reminder: poverty is not the issue.

(Democracy)

In a democracy citizens have rights. As Abe Lincoln said during his first inaugural speech, the people have right to replace the government, and the revolutionary right to overthrow it. What "Honest Abe" was also talking about was responsibility. Not everyone is ready to face up to owning, and deserving, their government...

In the US the sherif in elected. Police powers are delegated to the sherif, but the people are still ultimately responsible. Are you willing, Mr. Smith, to own your responsibility? If funding for the police service runs out, are you willing to be deputized for a posse, or serve on a jury? If our armed representatives are sailing off on a troopship overseas, do you accept that they sail in your name? Some of those boys, recruited from small towns, are too young to vote, and know little of the world. The innocent boys are trusting that you and the other voting citizens gathered in the forum know what you are doing. Are you worthy of their trust? Or, instead, do you think the jury and police and army arise separate from the people, like some sort of magical virgin birth? In parts of the third world, sad to say, peasants view "their betters" as having "education" and "blue blood:" Quite separate, which gives the peasants quite an excuse to disown responsibility...

Sad to say, Mr. Smith, not everyone can face up to their role: Anyone who can breath is a civilian; someone who accepts responsibility is a citizen.

 I see reservists as literally citizen-soldiers; I see all of us, figuratively, as citizen/soldiers. Just like in Greece or Rome, we are living our democracy.

 To me, servicemen are a part of our nation's treasure. I find them to be both bold and shy. They never brandish their rifles in the air. When they march it is merely a formalized military walk, not a goose step. They never sing songs of glory, preferring to sing bawdy rugby songs. They will quietly say "duty" and "mission." Then they will boldly say "job" as a joke, as a figure of speech.

In a first world democracy the army does not choose to declare war—we choose. All of us provide the rations and catapults so that some of us can represent us in battle. I would ask you, Mr. Smith, to please forget about peasants, please get your head out of the Third World. If you misinterpet a soldier as being your mere "hired sword," if you treat him as such, then you, not he, are the barbarian. Our soldiers are embedded in citizenship; they are not "the hired help." The soldiers are us... the best of us. In our affluent land of air conditioning, couches and welfare nobody goes off and does a battlefield crouch by Death's doorway, exposed to the smells and sounds of war, as a "job"... ...if ever they do, then democracy is over.



Sean "Yes, I've read starship troopers" Crawford
Calgary, Alberta

Footnotes

~Yes I own a dictionary,  but "genocide," like the Roman "decimate," has lost its old 1940s precision to now mean "destroy a large part of." (A pity, since to decimate requires self discipline)

~I wonder if "bought the farm" was a reference to Rome, meaning getting your promised plot of earth, if only six feet long, without a lifetime of military service first? The origin of this U.S. term is "unknown."

~In David Gerrold's first book about an ecological infestation from off planet, A Matter For Men, a high school global ethics teacher, without using the term "bread and circuses," tells the kids that cattle are comfortable, while free men are willing to be uncomfortable.

~The Dutch are repeating Rome's "idle mob" decline. A Member of Parliament and Muslim refugee, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, documents this in her book Infidel.

The Dutch assume:

that Muslim refugees will be comfortable and happy staying on welfare...

and then becoming happy to aquire the burden of feeling ownership of their civic responsibility...

including being happy with the discomfort of accepting their responsibility for the community's Freedom of Speech. 

These assumptions are wrong, of course. Men aren't meant to be cows. Alas for the Dutch, history repeats...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Death of Buffy

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

"I know I come with an expiry date, but I want to last a really long time, like a cheeto." Buffy, when she's feeling happy. 
 "I come from a long line of "fry cooks" who don't live past 25." Buffy Summers, not so happy, talking in code, in public. 

Recently I re-read a web essay by film critic Roger Ebert, an essay about sad movies hard to re-watch. Among the comments, only three were about any TV shows, and of those, all three were about the same episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I have the BtVS series on my shelf, gathering dust like an old favorite book. In my heart the beauty survives.

I remember: In the end, just before the landing party beams away, Mr. Sulu is awed by the before-death recording of a lady, a very competent leader. He says he’s sorry she didn’t survive. Captain Kirk, equally struck, replies, “No, Mr. Sulu… Beauty—survives.”

I am forever awed by the beautiful competency of TV executive Joss Whedon’s handling of the death of Buffy Summers. I’m impressed, for example, that I’m not spoiling the plot, for any new viewers, by writing this, since Joss foreshadows her demise right from the first episode. In that one Buffy suffers the little death of quitting the cheerleading squad, and any chance of arm-in-arm friendship with the frivolous empty-headed Cordelia. Buffy takes this path not because cheerleading seems empty—Buffy herself was a cheerleader before becoming the slayer—but because Buffy has no time for it, not if she is to be patrolling for vampires to slay.

For Buffy, being the (definite article) slayer is not just something she “tries on” with, say, an adolescent joking half-focus. No, she’s deadly serious. This is her calling.

The first person to share Buffy’s secret is the school librarian, Giles. Old enough to be her absent father, Giles is her coach, her official “watcher.” Giles accepts responsibility for Buffy’s defense training. He likes her, while knowing slayers always die young. Always. His torment is unavoidable: Should Buffy not be allowed to spend her hours doing happy high school stuff, like going to evening sock hops? Should Buffy not enjoy her brief life? After all, eventually the law of averages will catch up to her. Or, on the other hand, should she try to extend her time on earth by putting her hours into defense training? Giles likes her, and so he mainly opts for training, mainly.

I suppose I would too… In prose, I can only think of two writers who would sometimes kill off the main character before the end of the book. One was Louis L’Amour, who received the Medal of Freedom at the White House: He certainly had the writing chops to pull it off. The other was a post-war writer of young adult novels, Robb White: He was writing for teens who had just lived through the Second World War. Today’s TV audiences, of course, live in a more sheltered time. For us, death is still somewhat controversial: I am reminded of a young man, some years ago, who received a police ticket for an obscene T-shirt: It read F--- Off and Die. In court, the judge let the man go free… after ruling that death was no longer an obscenity in our society!

In other cultures, such as Japan, people live closer to the bone. 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.

In the US, even live action shows had no story arc. The original Star Trek, for example, was a franchise. Any member of the Writers Guild could request the show’s ‘bible’ and then submit a script. No, the studio wouldn’t mail the tome to any “fan boy.” (Did we have that word then? I don’t think so) In Canada the CBC was showing live action shows from Britain, shows that were made to air in order, but the BBC shows were slower paced, and US broadcasters thought that US audiences would lack the patience for BBC.

This all changed when along came “a fan boy who made good,” a TV executive: JMS. Today J. Michael Straczynski is scripting comic books; long ago he paid his dues with long years in Hollywood, most notably as a writer of mysteries on Murder She Wrote. This writing stood him in good stead for his masterpiece, Babylon-5. For this he did constant clue dropping, foreshadowing, and then a quick payoff. JMS wrote his episodes himself, in order, and he kept faith with the viewers: If someone were shot they would be absent next episode, and reappear with their arm in a sling. Babylon-5 was the very first TV series ever conceived as a five-year novel… The first season, fans hasten to warn me, is normal average sci-fi. But then things really start to pay off: A new (lively eye candy) commander takes over, characters begin to grow or decline, and because viewers know the characters so well their deaths feel so harsh. With the fourth season the novel moves into high climax.

I am sure JMS broke trail for Joss Wedon’s BtVS. I chuckled when some young nerd characters on Buffy had some Babylon-5 collectors plates. (Obviously as a homage, because B-5 never sold plates) Thanks to B-5, BtVS too was written to be aired in order, with, for example, characters processing trauma through several episodes. Another debt to B-5: JMS did something Louis L’Amour and Robb White never did: foreshadowed the death of the main character. Referring to a dead planet, a Buddha figure says, “If you go to Z’ah’adoon, you will die.” But the character goes off because, like Buffy, he is trying to save someone dear. For the death of the B-5 Commander, JMS warned that although normally viewers were always trying to get new people to watch, for this episode they should keep it in the family… He was so right, it was so sad.

As for the episode noted above, “The Body,” people cried. Part of the sheer competence of the episode is how for that one episode Whedon had no music, no score to tell you what to feel. Something else: while music can give emotions, screen credits can screen off emotions. Whedon got the opening credits out the way by opening with a happy flashback; it might have even been scored. Then silence. Then the body. It’s Buffy’s mum… discovered by Buffy… Buffy doesn’t call one of her dear young (by now adult) friends: she calls her father figure, Giles, and they sit in silence.

It was a hard episode but I know it was necessary. I know, having lived through the storms of Vietnam and AIDS, that it is just wrong for a parent to bury her child. Part of the craftsmanship of the show was making sure that Buffy’s mum passed on first. Later, partly because Buffy is so determined, the show makes plain as regards the departed mother what must have been in the show ‘bible’: Death is natural, and so mortals cannot be brought back. Of course this will apply to Buffy, too.

Slayers don’t make it past their twenties. Our determined heroine eventually copes by seeking out survival knowledge from wherever she can; she even consults a vampire who has killed two slayers. The truth is, as was said on the frontier: ‘No one is ever the fastest gun.’ But Buffy has a calling, she returns to facing life’s challenge. Near the end, she is going about with her mouth in a straight line: A pretty blond with no smile. Clearly, to viewers, it’s almost time Buffy was released from her burden. Then, just as she has with her life, and with her calling, Buffy Summers meets her last responsibility… head on, eyes open.

How many of us can say the same?


Sean Crawford
January 2012
“Tell Giles—, Tell Giles I finally figured it out, and I’m OK.”
Calgary
Footnotes:
~Another advantage of a series over a book is more time for the human things. For Oct 10, 2013, "In a Streaming World…" the question of whether one can still recommend Buffy was answered by one fan (Kissing Toad, at 21:39) that he loved how over the years the characters developed and "When Buffy died they didn't forget about it in 2 episodes, it was a big deal, as it should have been."

~Regarding film credits, in a movie “too good for Hollywood,” 12 Monkeys with Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis, before the story starts, some things that will pay later off have to be shown. Hence the really extended credits (I was irritated until I “got it”) as Willis is walking around in a post-apocalyptic world. Finally the credits stop and the story, for Willis, begins. (Note: My buddy Blair misheard the key line in the last scene- the word is “I'm an” not “I'm in.”)

On Youtube I found what must have been a series of summer promos for the next season of Buffy, sans Buffy.

~As for collector’s plates and other such, B-5 once did an episode to make fun of Star Wars-style merchandizing. Londo comes in angrily brandishing a figurine of his likeness. He is upset it has no, er, anatomically special features. He sputters, “Er- Do I have to spell it out for you?”
Susan Ivanova says, “Ohhh.” Grins. “You mean you’ve been symbolically cast- in a bad light!”

~As for the nerds who bought the plates, I’m still chuckling over the scene where they meet Spike. With his punk hairstyle, and super-obvious English accent, Spike is not one to suffer nerds gladly.
“You’re English, aren’t you?”
“Yes” (with wary disgust)
The nerd, brightly, “I’ve seen every episode of Doctor Who!”… Then, quietly, “I don’t care much for Red Dwarf, though.”

~NOTE: An alternate version of this, specifically focused on TV, and why pre-Buffy characters don't grow, is archived in October 2012, Television Appreciation.

~Roger Ebert link.
Regarding Comments: I have deleted only my own comments, because I was feeling vulnerable and stupid—I keep imagining the anonymous person who was too cold to comment with any more than a sentence fragment (instead of typing a complete sentence with a "please") being too cold to say "thank you," and then snickering at me for innocently caring enough to be helpful.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Don't Blog Too Fast

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

The recent  focus on activism through occupying Wall Street, while important,  has obscured the previous  focus on activism through blogging.
 In fact, I had forgotten the promise of brave new blogging until I found my old post of 2009.

Darn. Drat. Fooey. Only after I wrote this blog, as a draft, (without pressing "publish") did I start to slog through lots of search engine stuff. Result? I was probably wrong to write this. But I am too self indulgent to waste my writing time, so I am turning this into a lesson: Don't blog too fast. Here was the original:

A good goal of bloggers, according to the newspapers, is to be an alternative news source. Bloggers are good for getting the word out and then, I guess, the mainstream media gets involved.

So today, for once, instead of an essay, I could blog two aspects of something that seems to be missed by others. I'm thinking of the bailout negotiated for the North American auto makers.

First Aspect:

With people wondering whether the car makers are capable of properly using the bailout, capable of internal reform, it never fails to amaze me that no one refers to the work by the Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam.

Called The Reckoning, in 1986, it explored the U.S. corporate automotive culture, comparing and contrasting it to the auto corporations of Japan. The U.S. companies were shown as arrogantly slow to change: for example, the Europeans had commonplace front wheel drive ten years before the U.S. did. Halberstam's book could have been titled The Wake up Call.

Second Aspect:

I found a passage in a book by business guru Peter Drucker, currently for sale. In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, from 1999, on page 76 it reads, "But, as almost everyone outside GM immediately realized, the Saturn did not compete with the Japanese makers. All its sales came at the expense of declining—if not dying—GM brands such as Oldsmobile and Buick.

It was denied money for expansion—that money went instead into futile attempts to "modernize" Oldsmobile and Buick plants. It was denied money to develop new models—again that money went in to Oldsmobile and Buick redesigns. And the UAW began to whittle away at the Saturn's new and successful labor relations for fear that Saturn's example in building management-labour partnerships might spread to GM's other plants."

Neither Oldsmobile nor Buick has benefited. Both are still going downhill. But the Saturn has been all but destroyed. And both GM and the UAW have continued their decline."

Drucker writes, "... one possible solution might have been to do simultaneously two things: (1) kill the dying Oldmobile and (2) run with Saturn's success as hard as possible, give it all the money and people it needed but set it up as a separate company free to compete aggressively with all of GM's old products and for all GM' s old customers."

Adding it up:

I "don't get it" that the bailout plan has included the Saturn being canceled. I don't know enough to make judgments, but I thought I'd do my first ever blogger thing, and put this out there for wiser heads out east to follow up on as they may deem fit.
-original ends-

Search engine results:

Oldsmobile was revamped and then, after all that money, canceled a few years ago. Saturn was also revamped but was selling poorly. I have read comments posted where some people said they foresaw the canceling of Saturn. All the commenters, knowledgeable about cancellations and line-up revamping and things, perceived GM management as being "a bunch of morons." It looks like Buick is still being manufactured as "one of four (surviving) GM nameplates."
So maybe I need not be so suspicious that Saturn is being canceled.

A Grim, sordid lesson:

As I recall, during the confusion of the start of the war on terror, a blog went all around the globe when a college student blogger said his teacher had previously seen and had a copy of the "fresh footage" being shown of Arabs on the day of 9/11 dancing with joy in the streets.—Ooh, conspiracy against Muslims!—Later the teacher denied this to the blogger... and so then the blogger recanted. But by then his story was whirring around the world... (see snopes.com)

I think every blogger should try to have the same integrity as a newspaper reporter. Don't guess. Either correctly attribute (in this case, quote the teacher, with permission, by first and last name) OR check the facts yourself first hand. As an old army captain told the narrator in David Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr, (quoted from memory) "Be sure! The test is, 'Can I rip of your right arm if you're wrong?'"

I may not be serving with that captain but nevertheless for me, as a citizen in a democracy, it is simple common sense to treat information as any gentleman would.

Sean Crawford
Originally published with cumulatively zero hits,
in July of 2009

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Yet Again, Done and Learned

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

No single theme today; I’ll try to make it interesting for you, dear reader.
There have been some surprises since my last “taking stock” essay, (Again, Done and Learned) of 35 posts ago.

Regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, I posted three lengthy pieces on change, both for individuals and our culture. Lengthy. Obviously I must have been pondering social change ever since living through the 1960’s. Still, it was such a surprise to have so much to say. In fact, I wrote that I was too tired to write a Part Four, which would have been about a higher level of mass organizing. Luckily for me, no commenters said they wanted a Part Four, so I can guiltlessly turn my hand to easier pieces.

Again I’ve had a few people (according to my statistics application) surf deep into my archives (120 essays) but this time– at last! – the surfers included some Yankees, too. Before this, only Europeans were keen enough to surf. Maybe this says something about we Americans, eh?

I’ve been translated again, into Portuguese this time; and again it’s not by people overseas in Brazil or Iberia, but by folks in the US of A. At least, I think it’s the USA, as these guys, about ten of them, couldn’t be bothered to say hello in the comment section. Not that I’m offended, exactly, as I suppose this is average behavior: Historically, only one in ten lepers thanked Jesus for curing them.

Average maybe, but not the expected behavior of a "gentleman," whom Confucius called a “true man.” A sage once split the atom for me of “average/normal.” He told me an average man could run one mile; while it’s normal for a man to be able to run four miles. Since then I’ve sided with Confucius in trying to be true to myself.

The translated essay was the one explaining Japanese animation, my second most popular post.

As it happens, the only essay with more hits is Olympics and Boards. (Feb 2010) I don’t know why folks like it. For that piece, my “compare and contrast” thinking was aided by my earning a diploma, (in recreation therapy) having an Olympian for a roommate, (track and field) and my having served as the chairman of the board, of a for-profit company. (Full Circle Adventures)

While some essays are well trod, others are seldom explored. In fact, some of my oldest pieces have a visitor count of zero. This I know, because as the “blog administrator” I am privileged to see the “cumulative hits” for each post. With my settings at “show 25 titles per screen page” I can scan my body of work with only a few clicks. As it happens, the zeros are only low down on my earliest page. It still feels odd though. Here I am, a real writer, one who scrubs and polishes his pretty little prose, only to look back, seasons later, and notice hit counts of zero. Strange. And so I have been doing… reruns. But should I? Is this right?

Um, yes, there’s precedent for trying to sneak in some reruns. The song “mercy, mercy me” got re-released: But this was only after cutting out my favorite part, the sonar pings. And Cher gave her bank account a boost by re-releasing “I’ve got you babe:” But this was only after tacking on an introduction with Beavis and Butthead. Those two idiots! I would rather Cher had tacked on some sonar! The trick, of course, is once you tack or delete, then you can pander to your audience by giving them the excuse that your piece is “new” and “improved.” And why not say it’s “exciting,” too?

My, such a fine line between pandering and patronizing. Could you even say, “insulting?” Nope! The same public that “consumes” TV and electronics seems to be far beyond noticing any insults. I’ve certainly read a lot of copy about Beavis and Butthead, and almost none of it has been unfavorable.

Many Internet users, of course, although they are “reading” the screen, are the same zombies who would not be reading at all, but passively watching TV, if only they weren’t at a computer. Still, dear reader, if you’re alive enough to read essays, and “only a live fish swims upstream,” then you don’t need me to be pandering. For you, my reruns can be un-new and un-improved.

Regardless of hit counts—hit counts be damned!—Every writer, in the dark hour of the wolf, must wonder whether his output has any meaning. Recently I noticed—and “recently” is the truth, I’m not pandering—that of the 25 titles on my last page, the second most number of hits were to a rerun of Angry With Michael Crichton. No surprise there, since Michael is world famous. My surprise is: The most hits were for a (Blair, being Smart) a testimonial to my friend, the late Blair Petterson. I’m touched, I hadn’t thought anyone would notice.

Truly Blair had friends around the world.

Sean Crawford
January 2012
Footnote: Hour of the wolf: “It’s the time between 3:00 and 4:00 in the morning. You can’t sleep, and all you can see is the troubles and the problems and the way your life should’ve gone but didn’t. All you can hear is the sound of your own heart.”
Susan Ivanova, in Babylon-5,
by J. Michael Straczynski, 1996

Update, to groan or laugh: So, on Wednesday, Jan 12, I came home after finishing a long shift at 11:30 p.m. and decided to post from my "word." I should have waited until I was fresh in the morning. Not only did I misspell the man (JMS) I had spelled rightly, in the above footnote, but I forgot to type in my URL, something I have never forgotten before. Groan, laugh.

Too bad, because I had over 500 hits by morning, and over 1000 when I came home from my day shift.
So far, the hit counts for my most popular posts are only in the 3 digits, and only after a long time. Now here is 4 digits, in 24-hours.
Why? 'Cause it's a "fanboy" post, and so I guess it's OK that I forgot the URL: Such people won't return to an essay site, anyways. Sour grapes.

~The really good news: JMS twittered, "Yeah, it's a nice little piece, thanks for the heads up." This, from a colleague, means more to me than being clicked on by curious web fans. A nice little piece.

~Oh, and remember that one leper out of ten? That one guy must have been special, because from fanboys I am at zero comments per thousand. Fanboys.