Thursday, October 29, 2015

Criticism and Professionals

I am grateful to have learned the Secret of professional "criticism."

As a writer, before I talk about the Secret I really need to talk about that word. It says something about human nature when the word "criticism" has taken on negative connotations. How queer. For the denotation is neutral. Let's remember that when a scholar writes a piece of art criticism on Picasso, or a critical article on Shakespeare, his piece is apt to be very praise filled indeed.

A man my age is blogging about submitting manuscripts to his teacher as part of his continuing education class in Writing. The teacher is a "real writer" who has neglected, I think, to share his Secret of criticism. When the blogger gets his manuscripts back, covered with little blue corrections and advice, he feels disheartened, de-energized. He reports it takes him a while to bounce back, but at last he does. On his blog he said he wouldn't quit. That's good, of course, since professionals, of any form or calling, just don't quit.

I hated criticism as a young teen. We criticized each other all the time, remember? You might say we "got our kicks" by criticizing. I could have joined in with the criticizing of my peers in order to be a good sport, to blend in, but I didn't. Unlike my peers, I had already survived a harsh home. Years later, even as a manly soldier I still refused to camouflage myself that way.

One day, about age 40, I thought of how such criticism continues down the years. I was in an "art in rehabilitation" class, in a prairie border town, among housewives and rehabilitation workers. Over two weekends we tried our hands at all sorts of art, both visual and performing. Once our teacher broke us into groups and asked, "What if we had to do something to bring a group together?" One small group came up with a "trust exercise" where a person would lay on the ground while people walked around him. So we all tried it. A wife remarked, "My husband works in the oil patch. If one of his crew had to lie there, the others would kick him."

"Or at least," I agreed "keep threatening to do so."

After the class, driving along wheat fields, listening to sensitive country songs, I pondered the difference. The teenage criticism and "kicks" have seemingly continued with oil field workers. Why? Well, they lack the presence of women. And being stressed is surely a factor. Maybe they need to stay tough to encourage each other to do tough jobs. Certainly for their "hands on" work the cooperation required is mostly of a physical nature, not emotional or intellectual. No need to grow on the job. I suppose a career with no staff meetings could be a career with no "job requirement" to be "nice."

Not to say white-collar places are perfect. I have read newspaper features about office bullies; everyone's heard of certain businesses being populated by sharks. A middle-aged bar waitress once told me the patrons in a blue-collar bar had treated her better, more respectfully, that had the patrons in a businessmen's lounge. My guess is the boozing suits disrespected not merely the lady's workplace skills: I think they disrespected her very self.

In a world where we may have felt disrespected in the past, where we may somehow feel disrespect is imminent, looming close by in the present, it is no wonder that grown adults, including me, are so sensitive to negative criticism.

Sometimes criticism is necessary. I serve in a toastmaster (public speaking) club. Since our goal is self-improvement, every week it is my duty to criticize. People approach the club door from all directions, all walks of life. Maybe some of these people, in their life outside the club, may go hang gliding on the hill above Cochrane and shout, "Yippee!" Some folks may kayak down rushing water and shout, "Yahoo!" But as for public speaking... trust me, everyone goes, "Ulp!"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Student Facing Pressure

Here is an old post. My successful lawyer friend, who had once dropped out of medical school, was quite excited by this piece. He envisioned student newspapers noticing it and printing it. So I dreamed of that too…  As it happens, according to my hit count, this is my least-read post. How strange.

Passing school is hard enough without self-imposed pressure. Tom was a student in my boarding house taking medical lab technology. As the semester passed he kept trying harder, and worrying more- only to barely keep his head above water.

I remarked that back in high school I tried setting goals of several study-hours per night. My goals were too high. But the funny thing is, when I lowered my expected number of hours, my actual number of hours increased (although I still didn't meet my goals).

Since then I have learned from Nancy Greene that for world-class skiers the final barrier between winners and also-rans is not muscles or coordination but the pressure barrier. In students pressure may be mistaken for laziness, making us withdraw from others at the very time we should be honestly reaching out.

Tom kept floundering. He said that my story sunk in when I repeated it after a month. It helped him, but eventually he was studying 24-hours a day, or so it seemed, and he was still headed for failure. I uged him to get help such as from the Student Resource Centre or Counseling Services. Tom, however, was too stubborn or proud. "But I already know what to do," he muttered "I just have to try harder." So I tried another tack, advising him to consult an instructor. "But that wouldn't do any good," said Tom, who still had some sort of psychological resistance. I said, "How do you know for sure? Remember, your instructor used to be a student himself. Maybe every year there are students like you. Maybe he knows some little study tricks."

So Tom got help. Never again was his outlook so bleak. It matters little what Tom's instructor said; the point is that Tom got outside of his own head, outside of his "closed loop" thinking. That's why he passed.

Still curious? Tom no longer was allowed to study around the clock on weekends. His instructor said, "You have to reward yourself." Tom was allowed on weekends to study only from noon to three. "With a noon start," I noted "you won't despair when you sleep in."

"Pressure" plus "closed loop" equals "bad scene." Happy studies, everyone.

Sean Crawford
(September 2012)
re-posted October 2015


~Originally published at my university student newspaper, The Gauntlet for Dec 8, 1994

~I learned in college not to kid myself that I would study more (i.e. make up for lost time) as midterm exams approached. For me any midterm extra motivation was nullified by the extra pressure. So instead I would trudge along at the same pace all year, right from day one.

~ I profited by the advice of successful guerilla leader Chairman Mao Tse Tung (Mao Ze Dong) who wrote in his military instruction manual to always give the troops eight hours sleep. For me the "loss" of study time was more than made up for by being able to listen well in class and being happily alert as I studied.

~What do you think?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Citizens and Elections

Sometimes Journalists
Speaking of Voting
Speaking of Elections
They Knew Back in Classical Times
About Polling Stations

Sometimes journalists have a vested interest in not reporting the news. For example, five years ago, during the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, an Alberta-based women’s hockey team, right after the final game, celebrated winning olympic gold by publicly popping a bottle of champagne… even though some “girls” were under the legal drinking age, being only 18 years old. As I recall, the “news” took up several paragraphs—and no one wanted to spoil a good story by reporting that in Alberta “women” can drink at age 18: not at 19 as in some more populated parts of Canada. 

And here in Alberta, incidentally, you can get your learners driving permit at 14. (Probably so you can drive around the edge of your big family farm—while in other provinces it’s 16) Voting in Alberta starts at 18. The legal age of citizenship, with voting and jury service—which creates our binding case law—is not something I take lightly.

Speaking of voting, reporters are doing stories on Canadians overseas, ex-patriots, who are offended they can’t vote. A man in California says angrily, (Globe and Mail, Oct 10, 2015) “This is something I believe is wrong—it should be citizenship over residency.” Emotion makes for good news stories. What the journalists leave out, of course, is the 40,000 “prostitutes” in Lebanon. No one even knew those “Canadians” were there until less than ten years ago when Israel suddenly invaded. Then they demanded the Canadian government get them out, tout suite.

I think “real” Canadians would have known our federal government just isn’t that capable.

I called them prostitutes—they certainly weren’t there as tourists—because they had hardened their hearts, pretending to love us, but actually only using us, getting Canadian citizenship as a fire exit in case the Israelis ever invaded.

I truly don’t believe they are raising their blessed children to believe that Canadian values, such as universal human rights and the Charter, are more important than the surrounding values of the Middle East. As Canadian reporters would know, some years back the province of Ontario was flirting with bringing in sharia (Arab) law, but only for Muslim-Canadians. (Perhaps people thought of how aboriginals can achieve justice with sentencing circles on reservations) The difference, to me, is that sharia is not just. My lawyer friend Blair was outraged at sharia. He would never have voted for it. I have no enthusiasm for 40,000 prostitutes participating in our elections.

Speaking of elections, in mid-elementary school we studied how elections worked. Looking back, perhaps this was because we lived in interesting times: This was during the years when new countries in Africa and Asia, having freshly achieved independence from Europe, were trying out their own elections. (The mode (average) year for new African states was 1960)

Maybe the lesson-module was taught province-wide, I don’t know. Anyways, children all over our school district learned words like “scrutineer” and “platform.” Enthusiastic students would telephone a party headquarters and request pamphlets. The word soon went out to all teachers, district-wide, to tell us not to telephone the New Democratic Party, as the NDP staff were volunteers, with limited pamphlets, and they couldn’t handle the workload from students.

My memories of elementary school are clear: Never did I hear anyone hear anyone say the line I heard a 12-year old girl say on CBC radio last week. She had been taking some sort of civics at school. She said, “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.” Such a sad, pathetic, despairing line.

Back in elementary school I was enthusiastically reading history texts about the ancient Greeks and Romans being proudly devoted to citizenship. They never recorded for posterity any such line, a line I didn’t hear until years after I was an adult.

They knew back in classical times that actions and decisions and thinking have to engage citizens year round. As our first female prime minister, Kim Campbell, said, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” (“Snap elections” in Canada are called by surprise, by the party in office, and usually last about a month) 

Perhaps she meant that any person waiting, to discuss-and-think, until after a snap election has been called is as irresponsible as a college student waiting until the last possible night before thinking through the implications of his due-next-morning research paper. I think she mostly meant that during an election you have barely time for sound bites, slogans and feeling rushed, no time for open-minded deliberate thinking, little or no patience for chewing over explanations.

I am sure some folks, in their despair, would say the public has no responsibility for taking action year round, because the public, they would say, has no authority. No classic citizenship, only a peasant-like endurance; only a brief flash of power, like a firefly in the dark on election night. This despairing, powerless point of view is probably what produces the desperate line, “If you don’t vote you have no right to complain.” If voting is all there is, they reason, then they have to hype it up, even if the line sounds like a cry of weakness. Of course, the fellow-Canadians they are hoping against hope to goad into voting are just like the folks in Lebanon: “they just don’t get it.”

Our ancestors were no giants. They gossiped and complained as much as we do today. Yet, in place of despair they had dignity. They felt the rank of “citizen” was the highest honor in the land.

Sean Crawford
Calgary and Vancouver
October election week
About Polling Stations:
I could be wrong, (not really) but I think advanced polling stations were intended for folks with disabilities, folks going out of town, and for other special reasons. I think the government in recent years has been pushing advanced polls as merely another option, a convenience. Hence the early-voting statistics are up this year, with lineups at the advance polls. Journalists are reporting the lineups, but they aren't reporting just when the government changed to advanced polls being for mere convenience.

Because I will be in another time zone on Election Day, I voted early for the first time, and I can tell you, the atmosphere was different than I’m used to. The lineup did not feel happy; people were silent and uncertain. Partly because the place was a lot smaller than a regular polling station—the staff must have been surprised by the turn out of people voting for convenience.

I don’t want voting to ever be convenient; and, even though I’m a science fiction fan, I certainly don’t want voting to ever be done by pushing a button while sitting at home on my couch. (As some have proposed—I suppose the technology already exists)

When I hit the polling station, even during the last hour before closing, I find a nice positive energy in the air. I feel a certain community spirit towards those who are as committed as I am to doing their duty. Not because they “have to,” or have been goaded, but because they quietly think it is the proper thing to do, even if nobody else notices. But we who are there, we notice each other. 

How amusing: Passing through Kamloops (see I found the anti-Sean. I mention him not to laugh at him, but to fairly balance my post with "the other side." On page A9 for Tuesday October 13 of the above publication, I  find a letter to the editor headlined It is high Time We are able to a vote Online with the quote call-out "The process of voting should be updated, streamlined and made for (sic) more accessible and convenient for everyone." 

The writer, Brian Husband complains about his experience at an advance poll without giving any reason as to why he felt entitled to vote in advance—presumably he wanted convenience. 
He then writes, "…it just stands to reason I should be able to sign in, prove my identification through a username and password and vote. I should not have to get into my car, burn fossil fusels and find the one and only location, open only during certain hours and not available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

...I may be starting to sound like a grumpy old man,  but who can tell me why this has to be so difficult when it could be so easy? 

No wonder young  people don't bother to vote."

Well dear readers, I could tell Mr. Husband why, by giving him this blog post to read, but he might find it too long to be convenient. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Too Fast, Too Wrong

Mercifully, I missed the fall of Saigon because I was at mountain school. We were so engrossed in surviving the course that only once did we lift up our heads to ask about South Vietnam. The base camp chef had a radio. He answered us, “Situation still unchanged.”

At base camp our life was physically easier as we did our team exercises in problem solving. We did challenges like “How can we use these scraps from the barn to get the team over the laser beams—don’t slip!” And of course we did the classic “How can we get the team up and over a blank four meter high wall?”

A few years later, in A Soldier Reports, the man in charge over in Vietnam, General Westmoreland, claimed the insurmountable bottleneck for creating an effective South Vietnamese army was teaching corporals and captains and even generals to be leaders. I say, “Golly General, don’t they have mountains in Vietnam too? And doesn’t their culture include generations-old models of leadership?” (Yes, they have historically had to fight to keep out the Chinese)

For our base camp problems, different groups found different solutions. We were not solely team building. We were growing as individuals, which meant that in the future we would each be better team players. Our problems were metaphors for the real world of, say, a corporate meeting room. For any given problem we might experience a couple of loud shallow extroverts being too fast to get the group to do it their way, while a couple of deep slower thinkers, with a much better plan, might be ignored. You learn to be more inclusive after someone falls four meters.

I suppose every generation has to re-learn common sense. Perhaps today’s generation, which increasingly discourages "deep reading" and newspapers, while encouraging shallow moving pictures and the “6 o’clock infotainment,” is a little slower to learn than most. Such is my suspicion after reading this week’s blog\mini-essay by Scott Berkun, entitled The Fallacy of Quick Answers. During the comments he added:

{“Part of the problem is fighting for the floor—in some workplaces if you don’t jump in early it’s hard to get heard. There’s a perceived advantage to speaking quickly. If the person with the most power in the room doesn’t lend their authority to those who think slower (e.g. “Hey Sally, you’ve been quiet so far – what do you think?”) then those who are merely better at reacting get more influence than they should.”}

I suppose a corporation is a typical aspect of our society and of our increasingly less thoughtful media. As Scott commented:

{“This line of thinking reminds me how useless much of the punditry on television is, since people are forced to give quick answers to very big questions. It can’t possibly represent their best thinking, or even in some cases any thinking at all.
Any time a big question is asked, and the expert is not allowed to say, “I don’t know and no one else does either” there is something flawed in the assumption anything intelligent is going on.”}

In the years since Vietnam I’ve watched people. Perhaps, with the leadership efforts of many common folk, the current situation will one day be seen as a mere pendulum swing and not, God help us, a permanent change.

During Vietnam the soldiers should, in theory, have been highly motivated to study the Vietnamese culture, As you know the, the problem was to “win the hearts and minds," to get the villages, one by one, to convert to democracy, and get them to NOT convert to communism. Such was the theory, but—Here’s a group problem for you: How do you take the Ugly out of the American?

Soldiering is for professionals: wars are traditional, you “go by the book,” take the high ground and defend the mountain passes. Counter insurgency is for amateurs: your war is “new,” each culture is different, and your “terrain” is the culture. Understanding folks in the valley can be more important than killing insurgents in the hills. Iraq is no exception. The media-raised generation of preppies who flew to Iraq to supply snappy answers for the poor little natives should have read prose about Vietnam, if only to dent their arrogance. One passenger on a flight to Iraq said he felt disgusted when he saw the other passengers all reading books on the occupation of Japan and Germany, when they should have been reading about Arab culture.

The systemic problem with a nation—with you and I—being too fast with snappy answers, and being too ugly to take the time to slowly listen, is well illustrated by Iraq. Americans made decisions where everybody, not just the local experts, but everybody, such as interpreters, barbers and taxi drivers, would have said, “Are you crazy? You can’t just…” But they did. (To name just one example: disbanding the entire armed forces. ) 

Reading Berkun’s piece this week I posed my own problem: What could I contribute to the comments? I was pleased Berkun's readers knew the effect on discourse of being too fast, but no one had seen the value of slowing down enough, even during a national crises, to refuse to announce a thesis. During Vietnam we badly needed a national discourse. Our problem: Should we help or not? Stay or go? But people were too fast. Even little groups of university students felt impelled to begin any discussion first stating whether they were for or against staying in Vietnam. That’s no way to seek the truth.

Ironically, given Berkun’s topic of going slow, I felt that, since it was a blog, I should comment with only a swift sound bite, not an essay. I wrote:

{"Since Vietnam I’ve had a long time to think. At the time, it didn’t matter whether the conversation-discussion was to be five minutes or fifty minutes, everyone thought they were supposed to first give a quick answer and only then discuss And/Or defend.
I could have answered, “I don’t know; which aspect would you like to consider and explore with me?” To answer in this way would have required me to have the self-discipline to decide in advance to withstand hot peer pressure towards a snap answer.
The hot pressure was especially silly considering that even leaders in Washington, according to an historian, could not have passed an easy one-semester community college course on the Vietnamese. No such course was offered."}

(For how Washington couldn’t pass, see my essay Backfire, archived September 2010)

I passed mountain school. Glad to be home, I went to my dad’s low kitchen cupboard where he kept his old newspapers. I re-arranged them all by the date. Then I read them,  feeling Saigon fall, one by one.

Sean Crawford
July 2010 
October 2015


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Khadr the Kid meets the Code of the West

As you can see, I am still busy, still posting the odd re-run.

Context for a Re-Run
Recently Omar Kadhr, now a grown man, was in Calgary for the film festival showing of a documentary about his case. If Calgary's largest invisible minority group, U.S. workers, are offended that he is not stuck down in a dungeon, well, possession is nine tenths of the law: He's in Canada now to finish his sentence, and we are the ones to decide his fate. And no, we don't believe in a "Gitmo (Cuba) dungeon."

The Code of the West and Khadr the Kid

Had you gone for a walk in Babylon, thousands of years ago, you might have chanced upon a big flat pillar. A king named Hammurabi had made it, and it was a beautiful thing. For inscribed upon it, for everyone to see, were laws. He had taken various beliefs and practices and precedents and rules and had them all codified into laws. How wonderful. No longer could a spoiled prince, rich landowner, or corrupt village chief make up the rules as he went along. These laws, or codes, were to apply to all, equally to Hammurabi himself and to the humblest farmer. This pillar, this "Code of Hammurabi," was a milestone in the advance of western civilization.

Many leagues northeast of Babylon, and thousands of years away in time, in Afghanistan, a Canadian lad of 15, one Omar Khadr, has been captured and this has gotten me to thinking about codes.

Meanwhile here in my city a prominent Muslim leader of a "supreme council," a male, has repented. Earlier he tried to use a code, "Alberta human rights," to silence a local publisher of Danish cartoons. His attempt failed. Now he wants to talk straight with the publisher, in accordance with, he says, "the code of the west." I am inclined to ignore that Muslim leader and focus instead on that code, and on any other codes that apply to my countryman, Omar Khadr.


He was overseas with male family members while his Egyptian-born father was killed in Pakistan by Pakistan armed forces (father killed, brother wounded) as members of Al Qaeda. All four of the Khadr boys trained at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Captured by NATO forces, Omar Khadr has two strikes against him: A) allegedly killing a U.S. army medic, and B) allegedly being an "unlawful combatant." This label means he is viewed as not having bound himself by any code from any government, such as Canada, nor by the Geneva convention.

Codes are important to any society. Remove the codes and society dissolves into individual atoms. The margins of society may have fewer, looser codes, but codes nevertheless. For example in the hills of the former Yugoslavia, where violence is traditional and where traditional houses, therefore, have no first floor windows, there is nonetheless a code against killing women or males under a certain age. Even criminals in the organized Italian mafia exempt underage boys.

The United Nations has a code against underage soldiers. Canadians find the idea of "child-soldiers,"' as in Africa, repulsive. When I enlisted as a minor my father had to sign a legal consent form.

I swore an oath. I was to forsake my big comfy TV couch; I was to be a soldier with proper humility toward my queen and country. Many couch potatoes have seen how in Planet of the Apes the gorillas, not having humility, brandish their rifles in the air. This was considered too egotistical for lawful soldiers; I was to forget about using my army rifle for my own purpose and focus instead on serving the queen. This meant no hunting, no firing at tin cans or scarecrows, and, of course, no vigilante ism.


During my father's war many a boy who served first in the Hitler youth and then as a "very-minor-soldier," would, like me, follow the army code. (In the war the age of enlistment in Canada and the U.S. was 16) Imagine some teenage Nazis stationed west of Paris while DeGaule's Free French Army was advancing. Imagine the young soldiers having landmines. Question: Do they disobey the Geneva convention? In their fierce Nazi hatred of the French people, both civilian and military, do they plant mines to kill and main while knowing such maiming will have no significant effect on battle? Or do they lay their mines in proper minefields, with each concealed mine charted, (by pacing off) and with canvas mine tape (like police tape) around the field and proper signage?

Note: Minefields are generally laid in front of your defensive barbed wire where they can be covered by your rifle fire. (Mines are too easy to lift unless so covered.) After the battle it is simple to lift your own charted field. I have done so.

Answer: History tells us the Nazis, proud self-respecting soldiers, did indeed follow the Geneva code. My father's first German sign to learn was achtung minen.....You may recall the goal of war is not to win a battle but to produce a better peace. A landscape littered with illegal mines is not "better."

My dad survived the war and raised five fine sons. He may have told us not to steal, but he never had to tell us not to kill. This we soaked up from our culture, a culture where trusted elders served on boards of directors, met in parliament, oversaw the police force, and kept society running smoothly with humble regard for majority wishes and minority rights. A terrorist, in contrast, knows no humility: neither for his elders, nor for the majority. He recognizes no legal checks and balances, no codes but his own.


After my father's war isolated Japanese soldiers held out in the jungle for decades. These brave souls were not terrorists. To them the fact that Japanese people were still alive and standing meant the war was still continuing. Under fascism, they had been told Japan would fight to the last person. When Corporal Yokoi returned after twenty-eight years on Guam he insisted on returning his rifle, still in working order, to the emperor. As with Rambo, the best way to bring such soldiers in from the jungle was to locate their lawful old commanding officers.

It is chilling to watch old U.S. army film footage of Japanese civilians on Saipan, including women with their children, killing themselves rather than surrender. And it's awfull to read translations of the postwar classic manga Barefoot Gen, available in most comic book stores, which has graphic depictions of civilian mass suicides on Okinawa. But it's gratifying to know that the Japanese social and legal code meant that once the duly appointed authority, the emperor, ruled against suicide, this couldn't happen again. He proclaimed his ruling on public radio after the second atomic bomb.

The problem facing today's United Nations is obvious: If we want to ban the use of landmines, because of their misuse by people with no self-respect, or sign a treaty to end the war on terror, then how? The former has been done with legitimate governments who sign for their people. But there is no legitimate Arab government that cross-border terrorists or unlawful combatants feel any humility towards. In a normal war soldiers are simply penned up in prison indefinitely, without prejudice, until the peace treaty is signed.

Canada today is part of the UN, part of NATO and part of the war on terror. Where does Khadr fit? Penned up indefinitely? Or given a trial according to a law with a minimum and maximum sentence? The maximum sentence for treason, in time of war, is death.

I live on the Canadian prairie. I think if you buy the average rancher a beer and talked of Khadr then he might, and it's unlikely, say "Dirty traitor" for his first sip. More likely he'd say, "Stupid moron." But he wouldn't sustain the anger. I think for the rest of his glass, if you stayed on the topic, the rancher would feel disgust and tiredness. I can't judge public opinion in Canada towards Khadr: the topic is too weary for us to have thought much about it.

We have in Canada an act of parliament, the youth criminal justice act, where minors can only serve a maximum of three years for criminal offences. We also have a dangerous offenders act where an adult deemed dangerous can be jailed indefinitely.

(Code of the West)

People offshore must be baffled that we aren't pushing loudly for the youth act— and not for the indefinite one. The folks at Amnesty International, respected for their letter writing campaign for political prisoners down in third world countries, are pressuring the U.S. to have Khadr's trial moved to Canada, and are presumably wondering why the mass of Canadians aren't rising up to follow suit. Amnesty probably knows more about political prisoners than about Canadians or enemy combatants.

I can assure anyone offshore that my fellows believe in law. Moreover we believe that our American cousins, who are holding Khadr, also normally believe in the machinery of law, however slowly the wheels are turning in this unprededented "war (on terror) time" case. Sometimes if a Canadian is convicted overseas we can arrange for him to serve his sentence in Canada. If a young Candian freedom fighter, or dope smuggler, in the 1980's Ukraine was captured by the Soviets then his trial would be in in the Soviet Union. Then we might we extradite him, but only after a trial. (Today, of course, the Ukraine is independent.)

I cannot see myself saying gently to a U.S. citizen, "Well of course you guys believe in American justice, you even have a TV show named that, and certainly you guys have one of the most democratic nations in the world, I know you do. And I know you guys assuredly believe in the rule of law... But I kind of think of Kahdr as "the exception that proves the rule" and I'd like his trial to be in Canada..." No, I could not say that with a straight face and keep eye contact, not unless my eyes were narrowed in anger.

The issue is now moot. The U.S. people, by electing President Obama, have signaled their intention to cease having any exceptions. I am sure Obama will close the navy prison.

A major reason for our supporting American justice is: We too are North American, we too value the code of the west.

Europeans need to understand that U.S. culture, as is Europe's, is western, tracing its heritage back to such icons as the code of Hammurabi. But more recently U.S. culture has been shaped by their frontier, which not all Europeans understand...

...Life was hard. People would help each other with barn raisings and charity, but there was no dole, no social assistance. If you stole a man's horse then he couldn't ride across the range to look for work. And so you were condemning him to starvation. No wonder horse thieving here, unlike in Europe, was a hanging offence.

Work was hard. It was scary to drive a herd a herd across a river; a good cowboy was called "a man to ride the river with." Brand a man as a "coward" and you might just as well hang him: no one would want him around; he would starve. So if you called man a coward then you had better be right. If wrong, then he would surely protect his name by challenging you to a duel.

(The quick and the dead)

Deals were made on a handshake so a man needed a reputation for honesty.... Many Americans hold the image of a scene in a saloon. Some one's voice drops to his solar plexus. "Are you calling me a liar?" A hush falls over the bar. People move out of the way. Unlike a European code duelo with seconds at dawn, the duelists will fight their own battle, immediately. The public's job is to ensure that the duel moves to the street with no cowardly back shooting.

Out west the idea of a "twenty two year old fraternity boy" would have been as ludicrous as a man wearing a little apron. Every lad wanted to bypass adolescence as swiftly as possible. He wanted to do a man's work as "a man a among men." As well, he wanted to strap on a man's gun belt. Then if he called you a liar or if he stole your horse... And no, there was no youth justice act for horse thieves...

What if some peach fuzzed Billy the Kid challenged you to a duel? A dilemma— The difference between the quick and the dead is a millisecond. Could you shoot a kid? If your scruples cause you to slap leather just a little bit slower, if you draw your gun but hesitate on the trigger, then your wife is a widow...

Of course it's easy to say, "It'll never happen to me, someone else will be challenged." But what if it did happen, maybe to your sensitive friend, and what if he was tempted to hesitate...? In the U.S. this dilemma had to be solved in advance and it was. The public agreed: "Old enough to wear a gun is old enough."

And these are the people who hold Khadr.

Sean Crawford
West of range road 284

(Originally December 2008

Update, 2011

~For what you can do in the war on terror see the sting in the tail of my essay Are Yankees Stupid? for April 2011.


~ Regarding Amnesty International, Dutch Muslim Member of Parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her book Infidel notes that Amnesty does not keep statistics on how many women are the victim of honor killings, nor the number of woman flogged in public for fornication, or executed for adultery. (p 296)
Eventually she was able to get the government to track "honour killing" (of women) statistics in just two of Holland's 25 police districts. (p 309) "After that, people stopped telling me I was exaggerating."

~ The last Japanese to surrender was in 1980. Others lie in places known only to God.

~ He had once been an eager 22 year old. Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda was 52 years old when his direct superior, Major Taniguchi, now a bookdealer, came to get him, alone, except for an innocent Japanese student. Onoda almost immediately commenced giving a long detailed military report. It took all night in the major's tent... ...Onoda's mother and father were still alive…
Update: Lieutenant Onoda has passed away, age 91, January 16, 2014.