Thursday, September 29, 2016

Feminism Surrendered

Headnote ~Yes, I realize many regular people go through life making little or no effort to match their values to their words, but hey,  I’m a writer.

A Cloudy Night

It’s been a rough week.

You would think that, as a science fiction fan, I would be in favor of feminism: From seeing Kathryn Janeway as the Captain on Star Trek Voyager, or the admirals on Battlestar Galactica, or from reading David Gerrold’s book series about the ecological Chtorr Wars. Gerrold’s first person narrator usually doesn’t think to mention the gender of a soldier moving in the background.

You would say that, if you didn’t know the gloom I have felt this week. My mood is best illustrated by the science fiction animated Japanese TV series Gantz; specifically, by the ending credits:

As credits roll, three people are continuously walking towards the left of the screen, along dark deserted streets. As the Japanese would read, right to left, they are: a high school girl, a tall leader, and a shorter guy. They are wearing the embarrassing skintight black body suits Gantz has forced them to wear: Their lives are not their own. As they walk the gentle lyrics begin, “We all start out as pure and innocent babes. Even if you taste the bitter fruit, don’t be discouraged, walk straight.” (This week I am discouraged)

The lady who voiced the girl’s character said she cried to see the ending credits. Lyrics: “I’m lonely as floating ice.” (Me too) As they walk the girl abruptly stops, stands still, and fades to nothing. The other two are walking, but the leader, stops, turns around, stretches out his arm to her, and he too fades away. The last guy is walking, stops, turns around, and he is all alone. He bows his head. I can understand a sensitive viewer crying.

As regards the metaphor of people walking ahead, Mark Clifton wrote, in his 1962 satire When they Come From Space, something like, “If a man takes one step ahead of his time he is a genius, a star; if he takes two steps ahead he is a madman, a fool.” This week I am going around thinking the women’s movement has vanished behind me. I can stretch out my arm, but—they’re gone… Then why should I be a minority of one?

Last night I phoned up a university graduate who had hung out during her campus years with progressive ladies. Granted, she probably had to, since she was Gay and in those days there was a feeling that Gays, at least the semi-out of closet ones, were left of center. I asked her: What do you think of “guys” as a unisex term for men and women both? She told me that when she and her partner Jane were at a restaurant she felt contempt when they were addressed as “guys,” thinking, “Is our server too lazy to use an extra syllable to say ladies?” I sighed.

It was only a couple of years ago that I heard two teenage girls at a store counter, waiting to be served, ask each other what “Ms.” meant. They didn’t know. When I related this to a friend with a masters degree she said, “I think it means you’re divorced.” I sighed.

In fairness, she went through her undergraduate years without ever being an activist. I’m still chuckling over the time she was on campus calling long distance to book her place at a student weekend conference. She came down the hall to my office looking very small. She said, “… and I replied ‘No, I didn’t require vegetarian meals,’ and then I asked if I could have a room to myself. I added, ‘I’m homophobic…’and there was a long, long silence.” My friend, looking forlorn, asked me, “What does the word mean?” She had thought it meant not liking homo sapiens.

Words count. As Mark Twain would say, there is a big difference between lightning, and a lightning bug.  As Buddhists say, “Words build your world.” As professors of semiotics say, “Changing word-meanings reflect your changing world.”

And sometimes I despair at seeing the changed world being reflected to me as others are upset and offended at me saying “guys” for women.

In the award-winning science fiction novel Double Star the greatest statesman of the solar system says the public can only take so much progress. Then they need a rest. Two steps forward, one back. The historical record for my formative century, the twentieth, is clear. When my dad went off to war, Amelia Earhart could still fly heroically, and Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of the president, could still advance us all politically, making sure a token number of “Eleanor’s troops,” of “separate but equal” Blacks, could fight in manly combat roles.

It remained for the administration after Roosevelt’s, President Harry Truman’s, to dump separate black forces and integrate the armed forces as being omni-racial. In such contrast to President Clinton’s lengthy dancing around that finally produced “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Truman merely issued a mere one page document, which included a mechanism—inspections by senior officers—for enforcement.  

But society took a step backwards, eh? None of the ladies who piloted aircraft across the Atlantic during the war remained as pilots; there were never any peacetime female prime ministers in Britain after the lion, Sir Winston, stepped down. Not until, desperate from being “the sick man of Europe,” they needed the iron maiden, Margret Thatcher, to fix their economy. After that,  no more female PM’s until after the Brexit vote, after the male rats jumped ship. In Canada, the only female PM was the one appointed just before the ruling party lost all but two seats. Neither one of the two seats that remained were hers. No Canadian female PMs since. And today? Today the younger generation, both male and female, don’t see themselves as believing in feminism…

So who am I? Who am I to disagree with my society, which disagrees with feminism? If equal rights are now an opium pipe dream, then why should I be the sole floating ice, a madman, a fool?

People need a rest. “The world has changed,” I tell myself. “Never mind the 1930’s,” I say, “forget the 1970’s.” Still, as the gentle lady sings at the end of Gantz, “I won’t forget, I won’t forget.”

The Morning Star

…Of course things look different in the new morning, when I consult my sensible fellow writers.

 Sean Crawford

~I wrote at great length about words in Words, Guys and Unisex archived in January 2014.

~I will avoid saying "guys" around conservatives, not to wimp out, but to copy the singer Jewel: In the end, only kindness matters. (Link to song)

~How amusing: If only back in university I had majored in liberal arts, then maybe my quotations for this essay would not all be from science fiction—and one pop culture song.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Old Lido Cafe

Every city should have a faded old family café. When the Lido—offering Chinese and western food—was open, rock star Robert Plant was quoted as raving over it; when the Lido closed, the local TV, radio, newspaper and two magazines all lamented the passing. On the final night, it was standing room only, and the walls were covered with paintings of the café: The paintings sold out. Some of those paintings were of the view from the crumbling alley, for the old Lido was loved from all directions. To feel like a cool regular, you came through the back hall, stepping up a big ledge from the days before wheelchairs.

Passing the freezer door and two small tiny toilets, you entered the main café, with the aisle leading between rows of plain brown vinyl booths ending at window booths. A turn to the left led to the counter with soda fountain stools, and, at one time, chrome fences holding the menus. Everyone loved the hand-made milkshakes. The chrome fences, on the formerly linoleum counter, (later arborite) had vanished back when the little personal juke boxes had been moved to the wall with the booths. That was when Ken Fung changed the Chinese red seats to brown.

Formerly with real vinyl records, now the little boxes hooked up to a machine downstairs. People loved to flip through the juke menus under glass, using a dial, and maybe write the numbers they wanted on a napkin—from an upright steel dispenser, of course. While each juke box had two volume buttons, for quiet or loud, the master volume dial was kept behind the counter—of course the management kept the sound low during the mornings, when all the customers preferred quiet. So you chose your songs and you put in your coins and enjoyed your music, new and old. I often played Patsy Kline, from my favorite decade; I always finished my set with Video Killed the Radio Star.

Once some ladies needed to push the window tables together, after more women kept arriving, and after I had relinquished my window table to them, and moved to a booth.  Then the oldest of them, their club president, leaned over the booth wall to offer me her card: I ended up joining their toastmasters club—and that led to years of enjoyment.

One day I moved from a large booth table to a small booth, so an entire aboriginal family could use fit around the table—that’s when the manager learned my name. Soon he trusted me to stay on after hours, finishing my coffee as a yard-high piece of cardboard was placed over the door glass: So we could safely allow some “members of the family” up from downstairs: two little dogs. No one ever told the health board.

Sometimes I would joke, “Don’t tell my mother I eat here so much” but it was a great place to hang out: family run, the children helping, lots of regulars—it was a family place where people knew my name. My home away from home. Not too posh. There was an art college up the hill, a huge Alcoholics Anonymous meeting across the road—no, we weren’t too posh.

Everyone knew the Lido. Once a clothing store manager, who had seldom been in the café, and never when I was around, heard a guitarist asking Sue the waitress, “Has Sean been in today?” Although her store was miles away, she guessed which Sean it was—and so they were talking together when I arrived. A homey café where strangers can talk—that was the Lido. 

Sean Crawford
Calgary 2016

~Here's a link to the local newspaper with lots of pictures.
~Here's a lot of representative reviews.
~I’m still chuckling over how that clothing store manager, in a mall, had seen me across the big hall chatting in the competition’s store. After I was gone she crossed the hall and her colleague asked her, “Do you know Sean? Isn’t he a hoot?” I was told this the next time I came by. (Probably the same day)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Knowing Lilacs

Needless to say, science fiction is intended as a thought experiment, not a prediction of The Future, which in this quoted book takes place about twenty years from now:
I remember Monty Harrison, who lived on my parents’ street. He’d gone on to join the Calgary Police. He said that on the first day of training the new recruits were told to “fit in or fuck off”—and they all just capitulated.
From Quantum Night by Robert Sawyer, Viking Press, 2016, page 109 (hardcover)

Lilac trees smell so nice, when they are in bloom. To me, lilacs are a part of my adulthood, as in: Getting out and about; feeling like a member of Calgary.

Lilacs were closest when I was working fulltime and living in a cool part of town. My abode was in a building that looked like a castle, with lilacs lining our back yard. Once we had a summer picnic of the people from all five suites. One of the young residents was Japanese, and, after I briefly showed him my place, he said he’d never in all his years been invited to see what the off-basement suite looked like. From him I learned that, unlike crowded Tokyo, the north Main Island, Hokkaido, is similar to Banff. We had a skylight at the top of our stairs, the bubble type which I thought was so cool. So space age. Out in the yard the fragrant lilacs blew in the wind, standing there for so many years.

I wish I could say “standing there eternally,” but the place got sold, developed into a long condo block of stupid long suites, with back ally access to underground parking. Now, the only reminder of my place is a brassy manhole cover showing a front-elevation of the castle. At least I have a watercolor of the place that was slid under my door. At first I thought it was painted by the younger Japanese man, who did interior design, but actually it was from the older custodian, who had a day job as a police constable. (I still have it) In his off hours he dressed more like a hippie than a straight-laced cop: He must have chosen his profession before he had fully developed as a person. Now he was among peers he didn’t exactly respect.

He told me the cops didn’t respect people of lower-than-them socio-economic groups, only equal and above. That matches what a colleague has said about his well-known church, where the other members are arrogant around him, as they all make more cash than he does. So sad.

Back when I grew up I never saw lilacs; I think they grow in a cityscape. In our town every May we have the Lilac Festival on Fourth Avenue. On that crowded street one can feel like a member of Calgary, walking and viewing six-foot tables for charities and non-profits and artisan things, like crafts and soaps. The rich people from church may be there, but they are not on my mind, not when the festival is more for plain folk—yes, call them folk. The sort who go to folk festivals and community events. They associate their summer memories not with ritzy holidays overseas, but with local events here in town, among the lilacs.

Sean Crawford


Sometimes I run into a fellow, who works on Parliament Hill, who tells me he’s quite pleased to be in Sawyer’s book, with speaking parts. You know that stupid standard front-page disclaimer of “any relation to persons, living or dead, et cetera?” Sawyer writes about people now living, saying… Given this is a story in part about quantum physics, if they don’t like the future portrayed here, they can rest assured that in some other quantum reality they have different fates.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Sex, Muslims and Community

It’s strange to calmly, objectively, to watch two upset people argue—or a nation.

This morning in my car, September 7, I listened to CBC radio. There was a lot of talk about a local judge, Robin Camp, who has made headlines around the world for "blaming the victim" of a sexual assault, asking her why she didn’t fight hard,  “Why didn't you keep your knees together?” His attitude is being strongly condemned by his fellow judges and lawyers, and rightly so. The argument is that his views have no place in modern society with clear respect for women. Yet, in another time, here in local space, his attitude would have been normal. But Calgary has changed. Every community, in every space-time, even back in the bronze age, has needed to talk about sex and reach a consensus.

Take the Roman Catholics. My name is Sean (Irish Catholic) Crawford (strict Scottish Protestant) and in both my national communities we are quite uptight about sex and traditionally wear lots of clothing. Not so in Catholic France and Quebec, they’re not so uptight. Here in Canada, while we would like to believe that every nation is equal, a “Quebec nationalist” would say “No, ” explaining that his nation, within the state of Canada, is not the same as the in land of “the English.” Obviously he’s mostly wrong—no point in Quebec separating from Canada—but he’s partly right.

Just as how in Canada, even if we do have teams in the World Series, (baseball) we are not totally the same as the United States. In fact, Canada only signed the National Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, after the U.S. promised that Canada would be allowed to keep its culture. Accordingly, Canada’s Much Music channel is not a carbon copy of the U.S. MTV (music television videos), and, despite the U.S. having great wealth, Much Music has not been bought out, enfranchised or imperialized by MTV. Yes, imperialize is a strong word, but an abruptly threatened culture brings out strong feelings.  

Of course Much Music broadcasts in both language-regions of Canada. My favorite part of Much Music was on Friday nights, the Too Much for Much show, where they would bring into the TV studio a discussion group of thoughtful music lovers. They would show the young people, and the TV audience, rock music videos that were banned in the two parts of Canada. They’d play English language videos, big chart hits in the States, which would never be shown in Quebec. Too violent. The young adults would also be shown music videos with lots of skin—tasteful to Quebecers—that would never be shown in the States or outside Quebec.

I can’t resist digressing: Speaking of down south, I’m still chuckling over an episode of Reba, the country singer, where the principal of her daughter’s school, a woman, tells Reba “At our school, we don’t believe in sex.”

Reba replies, “How’s that working out for you?” …I can’t imagine what Arabs would think if they showed Reba over there. Probably the show is censored from Saudi Arabia for being too western. What’s hardest for Arabs to believe: that young Yankee students are so non-sexual, or that a principal can be a woman?

Over in France, generations ago, they must have had a dialogue between Catholics and Protestants and Jews and others, between the folks along the windy English Channel and the hot sultry Mediterranean. And what they eventually decided was their own business. The French may not be the same as us, but they are entitled to their own customs, and equal in the sight of God. (Better to share illogical customs, than no customs at all)

As is every community. Equal, I mean. Take the bronze age; take Odysseus, (Ulysses) well known for his valor at walls of Troy. At one point in his odyssey after the war he is shipwrecked all alone, his clothes torn away during a fierce storm at sea in the night. Homer, the blind poet, tells us he then sleeps naked, sheltering in a dense clump of trees. At dawn a princess comes by to wash clothes. When Odysseus steps out into the open he holds a leafy branch across himself. Homer makes it clear that Odysseus does so from a courtesy towards the girl’s sexual feelings, and not from his feeling any shame about his body. Odysseus can expect to be fed and clothed because, in that savage age, travel and commerce were protected by making hospitality a duty. The Greeks had reached a consensus  that hospitality was customary, and full sun tans were OK.

In our own time best-selling author Louis L’Amour wrote an historical novel, The Walking Drum. It’s about a brave Christian wandering into Muslim territory. At one part, the hero finds himself hiding behind some roadside bushes with a Muslim lady he knows. A troop of his Muslim friends ride by. He starts out of the bushes to hail them—but the girl desperately holds on to him, tries to pull him back, like Sarah Connor fighting to hold back her armed boyfriend from the police. “They’ll kill you!” She pulls desperately, “They’ll kill you!” And they would.

I once read about a modern-day culture—I forget whether it was a Muslim one—where if ever a young man and woman are alone together, then everyone in their society assumes they have had sex. As best I recall, it’s because the girl is assumed to be submissive, the boy to be forceful. In such a society, where the genders are kept separate and in groups, I suppose nobody sees any need to teach the boy self control, or to respect a lady’s right to say no, or to clearly respect women as worthy equals. Let them submit…. Which could ultimately mean: family submit to father, father submit to clan and sheik, everyone submit to social pressure strong enough to make you kill your own sister, meaning: ultimately a society bowing in submission to their dear dictator. Well.

Maybe, then, it’s not entirely the grotesque incompetence of the U.S. president that led to America’s great failure in their mission to teach democracy to the Iraqis. (All that occupation, all for nothing) No doubt there are modern Muslim professors who are saying that submission to God does not mean submission to the government, does not mean agreeing to the Ayatollah’s death warrant (Fatwa) for Salmon Rushdie. I wonder: Are they winning that argument within their society?

As for modern France, the big difference about the French, to me, is how they can handle their liquor. As a boy, I heard people speculate that the French people’s secret was they would let their young children drink a little wine at the table with adults. Giving the kids a gradual exposure. I don’t know, but I know that for our major sporting events, for years we couldn’t let ourselves have beer at the games, and when that later changed, we couldn’t be allowed to have any glass cups or bottles. Compared to the French, we “weren’t good enough.” Thank God light aluminum cans have come along.

As for beer, I never hear any beer commercials on CBC radio. Today, (September 7) after the news about that ignorant judge, came a radio program called The Disruptors, about how various disruptions, technical and social, are creating a new Canada.

The CBC heard from a young Romeo and Juliette. Juliette is native-born. Romeo came here from Bangladesh when he was 17. He wants to marry. Both his parents met the girlfriend. They say they will never speak to him again if he marries Juliette. Why? Because she has her own car, her own job, and therefore she doesn’t need him; “she’ll get bored of you in two months and leave.” Now it’s been over two years and Romeo still can’t change their minds. His alternative, he said, to keep his dear parents in his life, is to let them arrange a marriage to a stranger for him, like they do in Asia…. When it comes to cultural disruptions, the only thing Canadians can do is keep talking with each other through the radio, other media, and in person.

(I had a daydream where I was Romeo, telling my parents, “We were planning to live halfway between both sets of parents, but if you are going to cut yourselves off from me, then I will live near my wife’s parents, and call them my dear Mom and Dad.”)

This was on CBC radio one, where they speak English. Over in France, society is talking about whether to allow burkas at the beach. Some are feeling abruptly threatened, imperialized. It’s strange to be an objective person, watching upset people within a nation arguing. I’m a long way from Europe, and so what do I know? —but I do know this: I’ve seen people argue before. I know that often there is a big elephant in the room, unspoken of by both parties, maybe unseen by both, maybe existing just barely below the subconscious waterline.

At least they have lots of media in France as a means for public discussion, so that they can eventually achieve consensus... but not right away. Eventually, maybe the water will drain to reveal the elephant. Here’s a thought: If there is an elephant, what might it be? What chain of logic might be too lengthy, and/or too embarrassing, to say out loud? I can reason that if it’s too embarrassing for them, then it would probably be embarrassing for me as well, even over here, so far across the Ocean Blue.

Forgive me if I make you cringe and blush along with me, but here is my thought experiment:

Atheist-Catholic mother: When you wear a burka, when you refuse to set an example to your children, then you are reciting to your son and daughter the standard Muslim line that males can’t be expected to control themselves: That, instead, the burka has to do their controlling for them. Don’t you know that boys can have gradual exposure to women by seeing ladies in newspaper advertisements and TV commercials for sports cars and cleaning supplies? That having a community and churches and schools where both genders are present, within an atmosphere of clear respect for women, is a Good Thing? If you don’t set the example and “teach your children well,” then when your boys grow up they will molest my girls in the crowded streets on New Years Eve. As a mother, how can you allow that?

Such a big mouthful, too big and embarrassing to say.

Muslim mother: While I would never offend my neighbors by telling them so out loud, I secretly reject the French dream of assimilation. Truly I do. Instead, I want a separate community enclave, or separate nation, where my all grandchildren’s children will be totally, purely Muslim. If I will myself to believes—so I can lie to my children—that French men and women, boys and girls, are all sexually promiscuous, then it is for my children’s own good. 

In contrast, if my girl learns that males can and should control themselves, then won’t she feel contempt for undisciplined Muslim boys? If she gets values from outside our enclave, and gets a car and a job, then won’t she become equally as attractive to non-Muslims as to Muslims? And might not that mean typical European-atheist grandchildren?

And my son? If he brings shame to our community by, say, rejecting his uncle’s call to help in honor killing his female cousin, or if he won’t join in loudly despising a cousin he’s known all his life, if he reacts with disgust against the “supposed to” shame by firmly reaching out to other communities, such as the Jewish or Catholic… If he reaches out, from NOT judging them as being horribly promiscuous for not wearing burkas, then might not he meet a Catholic or atheist girl? (But not a Jewish girl, never!) And if I respond by telling him that his father and I will never speak to him again, then … once again, I’ve lost my chance for Muslim-only grandchildren. As a mother, can’t you understand my need to have grandchildren who are pure?

Again, too long, too embarrassing. Easier to just wear a burka on the beach.

What I can’t know is what the elephant is, although I think I’ve now partly illuminated it. What I can feel certain of is this: If both sides, over in France, talk silly about burkas hiding terrorists, and Muslim women wearing Jewish stars, then the payoff for both sides is they both get to avoid talking about whatever elephant is actually there.

Sean Crawford
September 7, 2016

~To paraphrase an ancient Roman: Forgive me for a long blog post, but (my deadline allows only today to write) I didn’t have time to write a short one. (I post Thursdays) Incidentally the small town of Sundre has an excellent used bookstore; I did a road trip there today.

~Speaking of music videos, here is my favourite history teacher singing about Odysseus.

~Part of the unbelievable U.S. incompetence, like a punch-in-the-gut, is they didn’t decide their mission was to transform Iraq into the first-ever Muslim democracy until after the invasion, without first seeking input from the State Department. Meanwhile, the general in charge had drawn up plans to be fully pulled out by six months from the start of the invasion.

~Obviously I can’t expect newspaper interviews to shed any more light for me than what French people are already saying to each other. The elephant won’t be trapped in newsprint.

After all, during the Vietnam War, when all the pros and cons for staying in were being bandied about, I don’t recall anyone saying in newsprint, for people in Canada and France to read, “Yes, but if we pull out, then we will have lost, and we will be losers.” No, but it was understood secretly.

~After Vietnam Terry Orlick, God bless him, came out with cooperative games, using parachutes and such. (His work is so popular that folks can now buy colorful game-parachutes, no need for army surplus ones) Without saying “loser” he said he invented New Games because he saw “competition” as being a big reason for Vietnam.