Thursday, November 24, 2016

Mortals Against Digital Dragons 

Headnote: the European Union is working on legislation, of 176 pages, for “freedom to be forgotten” where someone can legally instruct Google to remove data about them. It’s due to go into effect in 2018; it will apply to Canadian firms with an office there.

In two dimensions is a physical footprint,
in three dimensions is a digital footprint,
extending out of the past
like a long dragon
to breath fire on the present.
   Sean Crawford

Hello reader,
Got digital ethics?

Ethics, good manners, customary ways of doing things… It takes a while for people to get accustomed to new customs. When the World Wide Web brought in widespread hope and change, no one predicted things like, say, the appearance of trolls. When the trolls first appeared, no one knew instantly what to do about them. Cultures adapt, but it takes time: for individuals, for society overall, and for small virtual-societies of people linking on the Net.

Meanwhile, speaking of trolls, we seem to be developing anti-bodies such as the slogan, “Don’t feed the trolls” and essayists like Paul Graham are analyzing trolls and implying, in my own words, “The troll never sees a troll in the mirror.” Things aren’t hopeless.

On the Net, I have seen changes for electronic-mail etiquette; call it “netiquette.” Again a reason for hope, hope that changes for our digital life can still happen. Today I am hoping that if my young niece is shown on the social web joining the godless communist party then it won’t dam her forever in the eyes of proper church-going society. After all, every year a young radical comes to believe that Islam means peace, every year someone learns American History X.

I’ve been thinking of a man who, according to Wikipedia, was known in later life for being against racial segregation, yet who earlier in his life was in favor of segregation, of black Americans being forcibly kept away from other Americans. Should he have been allowed to change his mind? If he is a serving politician, then should he be allowed to implement measures that are anti-racist, if he used to be racist?

The man I’m thinking of once stood in front of a university door to deny entry by black students during his time as state governor. I’m sure glad Governor Wallace changed. His change was allowed, in part, because the Internet did not yet exist, because the Net did not say he had to stay consistent with his old beliefs, and because the Net did not say he had to be accountable to his distant past.

Can a man be both bad and good in one lifetime? Warden Clinton Duffy, walking in the concrete enclosed prison main yard, among twisted convicts, without any bodyguards, thought so—he was a walking miracle. The people who started Alcoholics Anonymous thought so—millions have since found AA as their way out. The slave trader in a wooden ship who wrote Amazing Grace thought so—and his song of praise is still being sung today, in our time of tiled space shuttles.

In our ancestor’s days of slow sailing ships they surely experienced change, at the level of society and groups, although I guess their society changed slowly compared to our rushing modern life. But change they did. And in their own lifetime they would have seen a few individuals who changed immensely. An old miser might learn a Christmas lesson in just one night. Some individuals might change by living among far away civilizations, or by going on lengthy sea voyages: There was a reason ship’s captains were allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies. If while traveling on the road to Damascus a person of Jewish heritage had a Christian revelation, well, too sad if his earlier words were kept freshly embalmed on YouTube.

Our mortal ancestors found their solution: The statute of limitations. If a man was lost at sea, or went into hiding in the misty wilds of Asia Minor, his wife could re-marry after seven years without losing her self-respect, keeping her membership in her church and community.

As for the ancient Greeks, they who seem like Yoda in certain areas, I don’t know exactly if they had seven-year statutes, but I suspect they did. I do know that after a war if they erected a battlefield victory sign then it was always made of wood, never chiseled in stone. It was intended to decay… The Muslim ideal of tribal feuds lasting decades and generations was not for the Greeks. (Would you believe Arabs still talk about the Crusades? Even far off Muslim-Americans, to them, are from one of the Crusader nations)

For today’s essay I would be suspicious if I thought I had a perfect, precise answer to the question of digital ethics—Of course I don’t offer any such answer: Surely social values take time to grow, starting from people feeling a little hope that their neighbors are reasonably open to change.

Here’s my humble little seed of an idea: Perhaps instead of saying that everything we post should always remain in cyberspace forever and ever, we might consider saying to each other there is an ethic of a seven-year statute… This would spare my niece.

As I see it: The Internet was put in place by people, and people can change their netiquette.

Aren’t library periodicals tossed out after seven years? If Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are applying for jobs with the United Nations, and some villain tries to post a controversial communist poem they once wrote together decades ago, or a poem-video of them reciting at a wild fraternity party, then shouldn’t I feel permission from my peers to figuratively throw out the post? Can’t I avert my eyes, hit a button and mutter something about statutes?

Our ancestors said, “Give a dog a bad name and you might as well hang him.”

Warden Duffy said, “Men are not leopards. Men change their spots every day.”

Sean Crawford
Somewhere on the Web,


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Return to 1926

Headnote: My mother died in August. Rest in Peace.

Call me a time traveler: From 1926, just three years after my mother was born, I found a romance novel for young ladies, Coming Through the Rye. Mum would have liked it—maybe she did. Here is the land of roadsters, mirthful illegal drinking, and girls with their hair bobbed. The heroine, as someone older remarks with approval, still has her hair long. Her name is Romayne, recently finished high school. (Now she is marriageable, to be read about by girls still in school) Romayne’s mother has long passed away; her father is what I would call “shabby rich”: distinguished, honest and proud. Her older brother has an honest job. Or so it all would seem, at first.

The story opens with Romayne taking a suitcase by train alone to spend a few days, along with other girls, at the home of a truly rich girl. But when she arrives, no one is there but the rich girl. No party. The girl, the very next day, will be going with her mother to Europe (by ship, of course) so she has canceled the party. She claims the notice of the party cancelation must be still in the mail. Claims. The truth is, the seemingly “honest” rich girl forgot Romayne. Here is the novel’s main theme: Some people are not what they seem, and some people don’t have good character.

In the book before me, half hidden by the end flap, is a pasted award notice: A girl in fifth grade, in a Canadian Atlantic province, was awarded the book for winning an essay contest. I wonder what became of her? That girl was like my late mother, who once won a big thick Robin Hood book by Howard Pyle. As a boy, Mum let me neatly pencil crayon in the full-page illustrations. Mum would have protected herself from feeling “less than” the rich society surrounding her by saying she was “poor but honest,” and muttering about “the English,” to feel ethnic pride. Maybe like an Arab-American today, who might mutter about Islam being a victim, and call herself Muslim, not Arab.

Poor Mum: She not only grew up poor, but then lived poor as a housewife. (Her first fiancĂ© was shot down in the Battle of Britain) We seldom had new books. All of our Hardy Boys books came from Grandma. Those books, Nancy Drew, and, in the 1950’s, Tom Corbet, Space Cadet, were all published by Grosset and Dunlap, as was Coming Through the Rye. I recognized the font like an old friend.

On the back of Rye are listed many titles. I suspected the lady called “Mrs. Hill” on the end flap was a shared pen name, as fake as Franklin W. Dixon. (Not so) Across the top reads: Inspiring, Wholesome Novels by Grace Livingston Hill. I am sure her view of Life and Romance was common in her time, which makes her book so fascinating, like traveling by time machine.

My wholesome mother once made her sister jealous by earning a prayer rug. Maybe, just like Romayne, my mom taught Sunday school and visited her students when they were sick in bed.

Back to Romayne: In her world, there are girls who don’t even try to be wholesome, girls who have never embraced honesty as a lifestyle choice. (I remember how one of my brothers, as he finished high school, hung around with cads: He said that, unlike his athletic and academic friends, they believed in “having a good time”) The dialogue in Rye shows such girls slurring their words: obviously a marker of their lack of self-discipline. Also, to show their lower class.

One such girl’s mother becomes angry at finding out that her daughter, who has been claiming to be staying overnights with a friend to study stenography, has in fact been riding in cars with boys. (Sounds like a movie title: human nature never changes)

QUOTE (p 62) “Ain’t it bad enough to go with a young man that drinks and carries whiskey round in his car? I ask you, Frances May Judson, was you brought up to do things like that? You, a baby, that oughtta be goin’ to school yet, running round in the night to hotels in the woods, dancin’ with men you don’t know their names! I ain’t got words to tell you what I feel about it. It’s no use.”

“But, Mamma, he’s a real classy young man, and his car was something swell. We didn’t have whiskey either. It was a real refined kind of wine.”

“Fiddlesticks end! Don’t talk like as fool! … And whaddaya think a classy young man wants with a girl like you outta tha ten-cent store, an’ her papa runnin’ a truck? You don’t s’pose he was meanin’ to make real friends with you, did you? Them kind don’t. They wouldn’t wipe their feet on you before their own home folks. They just run with you to act crazy and then they throw you away and don’t care what becomes of you. Talk about classy young men, Frances Judson! There’d be some class to you ef you kep up that sortta thing. You wouldn’t be even in the workin’ class. You’d be outside where folks don’t count you at all. There ain’t never any of family been like that, child. We’ve always ben respectable, an’ that’s a sight cleaner an’ better than bein’ classy. Some time you’ll find that out. Now go upstairs and I’ll do my duty by you.” UNQUOTE

Through the window of our time machine we see that parents use corporal punishment, and we observe the police, portrayed in Coming Through the Rye, as not being too finicky about violence either.

In the end, Romayne finds romance—a proposal of marriage!—from a nice, young, highly respected attorney. Readers know before Romayne does whom she will wed, from reading the front flap: Can a girl bring herself to love a man who has sent her father and brother to prison?  The jailing happens in chapter two. Of course Romayne is shocked. Alas, people are not what they seem.

Romayne desperately needs to make a living. She ends up as a servant-secretary in a remote huge mansion with wide verandas. (Eventually, she faces gothic danger) The estate echoes the girl’s canceled party in chapter one: Here rich people drive up and stay; here the “beautiful people” break the law (during prohibition) by drinking liquor. A girl from high school days arrives as one of the guests; she spurns Romayne for being only a servant, and further, with ill will, she informs the host, Romayne’s employer, that Romayne is a criminal’s daughter. Again the theme: one can be rich and still be of poor character. (Romayne’s father and brother were bootleggers)

Character always counted with my mum; she always remembered how a certain prominent businessman cheated in high school. Mum would tell us this whenever he was mentioned on the radio. My dear mother, needless to say, was a happy virgin when she married—just like everyone else who read Mrs. Hill. One might ask: Did our post-Victorian ancestors, back in 1926, know about sex? What would you dare write about “romance” to that girl who won the book in fifth grade?

Perhaps you could hint, as in the above “…and then they throw you away and don’t care…”

The Victorians, of course, at the time of our western settlements, according to the written records they have passed on down to us, believed that men married women because women were so angelic, offering qualities that men lacked, such as tenderness, and so forth. Well, it wasn’t quite that way in 1926. After Romayne is reduced to selling her household furniture, a boy she knew in school tries to help, but he turns beet red and mops his forehead. Romayne speaks:

QUOTE (p 257) “What on earth are you trying to tell me, Chris? What is it you want to ask? Don’t be afraid to say it right out?” urged Romayne.

“I’m asking you to marry me, Romayne!” broke forth the earnest boy. “I know I ain’t good enough. I don’t have your class and all that, but you’ve gotta be taken care of and that’s the only nice way I could do it. I’ll love you lot if that’ll make up any way. I’ve always loved you. You’ve been like an angel in my life, so pretty and so good, and so little! And I’ll learn anything you want’ and get to be the best I can—“

“Oh, Chris!” said Romayne with sudden tears in her eyes. “You dear Chris! Please don’t! It’s wonderful of you, but I couldn’t! I couldn’t possible ever marry you! I’m not going to marry anybody! But it’s not because you’re not good enough! Chris’ you’re the best thing I know. But I just don’t feel I could. I think a lot of you, but there’s something more to marrying than that. You have to love people in a different way. And I don’t love anybody that way! I don’t really! It wouldn’t be fair to you, you know.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t ask you to do that!” said Chris wistfully. “I’d do the loving, and you could have things your own way. I wouldn’t mind!”

“Chris, you are wonderful! And I’ll never forget it of you, never! That’s the biggest sacrifice a man make for a woman, to just put aside himself and let her have her way, and if I live a hundred years I’d never find a greater love than that, I knew. But Chris, that isn’t real marriage. I’m sure it isn’t. My mother has told me that. I could love you like a brother, and I will. My own brother has forsaken me, but you’ve done more for me than he ever did. But I couldn’t marry you! It would be wrong!”


“…, but you tried to give me yourself. I think it’s that’s the most beautiful thing anybody ever did. I shall keep it in my memory like a treasure and some day when you find a dear girl who loves you and whom you love, I shall tell her what a wonderful brother you’ve been to me, and how glad I am I wasn’t selfish enough to let you do what you offered, and saved you for her.”

“There’ll never be anybody else like you, Romayne!”

“There’ll be somebody better, Chris! Somebody who loves you that way! Somebody God made for you!” UNQUOTE

Yes, our ancestors knew about sex, and “that way.” If not the fifth grade boys, then at least the fifth grade girls. I’m still laughing at a teacher’s quip, “Girls at age fifteen are going on twenty-five, boys at fifteen are going on five.” Incidentally, Romayne and her fiance become dreamy lovebirds after an embrace.

A time machine vacation to 1926 is all very well, such a nice escape, but could there be any serious lessons to be learned from the trip?

You may recall how in the 1960’s, during my boyhood, hippies lived by handouts, as part of their hippie lifestyle. My mother, as a poor girl, once had sores in her mouth, so bad that she couldn’t talk, because she wasn’t eating balanced meals. Later, as a housewife with six children, Mum desperately tried to scrape pennies to give us proper nutrition. Of course she had no use for the longhaired hippies she saw eating stupid potato chips. (Crisps) I remember those hippies, and in later years computer pirates, justifying their drugs and their stealing by saying, “Prohibition never works.” I say, “(Expletive deleted!).”

For this next quote, think of any drug you like. In 1926 prohibition was for alcohol. Romayne is isolated, serving in a mansion:

QUOTE (p 305) There really was only one thing about her new position that troubled her, and that at times was very hard for her to endure. She found that it was almost unbearable to have so much drinking going on about her…. These people were the kind who had helped father to sin, and dragged her brother into what she could not help feeling was degradation. They drank partly to assert their right to do so, against the law of the land and the protest of a few fanatics—as they called them—who were trying to force everybody to do as they did

They drank on all occasions. Highballs and cocktails were ever being passed. Flasks were the order of the day upon all rides and picnics. It was everywhere and apparently all their kind used it. They drank when they were hot and when they were cold, when they were gay and when they were sad. Sometimes their high, excited voices and flushed faces made Romayne turn sadly away and feel that she could not possibly spend her days among people who were so utterly different from what she wanted to be. UNQUOTE.

“They” said the law came from fanatics. Peter Drucker, citizen and business writer, said the law came from parasites.

Those parasites were like today’s Green Party members, who have an overly focused green agenda, but the fanatic’s agenda was even more focused, they were even less concerned with the good of the country as a whole. Like today’s radical terrorists, the prohibitionists wouldn’t acknowledge the complexities of society, let alone try to weigh and balance funding, actions and priorities, all for the greater public good. No. As regards the body politic, then, they were not conventional citizens: The prohibition movement would use the structures of democracy, but without the spirit of democracy, using “swing” marginal votes to elect a politician based solely on their single issue.

When my mom learned to drink, it was at a kitchen table with my Auntie Flora. For the rest of her life, whenever she got drunk, poor Mum would sound just like Flora. As a boy I could see Mum loved her beer, and in her old age she loved her hot water with whiskey. And all the while, as little boys and girls would be seeing their aunts and uncles drinking, the children would be playing at drinking too, by pretending to be cowboys in saloons. Against these facts, of course prohibition would not work—who’s going to deny dear Granny her hot toddy?

But if a drug like heroin, say, is not yet established in the civil ecology, if children don’t yet see beloved aunts shooting up with a needle, if no hero on TV is shown pirating, then yes, prohibition may work… If you do drugs in the privacy of your own home, then please don’t happily show me your needle, and don’t show my niece. As for piracy, please don’t show me what you’ve pirated—and don’t you dare try to justify yourself to me by saying, “Prohibition never works.” (Expletive)

Call me straight, but I’ve chosen to “take the high road,” same as Romayne and my dear mother.

There is another lesson from the days of 1926, back when there was a focus on social class, and I’m sorry to say it brings me no cheer.

As a boy I watched a TV series, later a 1987 movie with Sean Connery, called The Untouchables. Based on a book, pictured in the weekly TV credits, a book inspired after one of the detectives unthinkingly used Mum’s old phrase, “I’ll tell the cockeyed world.”

I remember a TV scene, where the city crime boss, on neutral ground, is criticizing the head of the detective squad, saying how poor he is. The detective ducks his head when the boss reaches out to show he can’t even afford a good haircut. At one level, this is crime versus being straight, rich city mouse versus country mouse. At another level, this reflects a society with only a little shrimp-sized middle class. Not the jumbo-sized class of my favorite decade, the 1950’s, but instead, an era where the many worked to keep the few in a good life. I don’t want to return to that 1926 world, but that’s where we are headed. Yes, we are.

The graph lines—which I have never seen shown in the media—are clear and utterly unmistakable. A fellow in a Robert Heinlein novel once said, sarcastically, “Water runs downhill, but praise the Lord, it’ll never reach the bottom.” The graphs are going down, down, down… while Michael Moore documents such things as the government secretly helping American businesses to relocate to foreign countries, and on and on. Unless something changes, the graphs won’t level off.

I don’t know the future. But I have seen 1926.

Sean Crawford

~I wrote of U.S. citizens being in denial where I reviewed the book A Time to Start Thinking in my essay America Down the Chute, archived May of 2015.

~I documented Michael Moore’s secret agent work in Mexico in The Madness of Michael Moore, archived March of 2016.

~As for the book’s title, the song Coming Through the Rye is as meaningless as the name for a car or racehorse. It happens to be an old tune in Japan, from before the post-war occupation, from before the Japanese would kiss. I once heard a Japanese boy at college, hanging around a working Japanese girl, using the tune to flirt.

There was a Japanese novel (translated to English) where a starving girl, at death’s door, at the war’s end, is hiding in a cave. She hears the tune and uses the last of her strength to come out, only to find an American devil-soldier was the one whistling. (Such fearful determined Japanese: the Bomb saved a lot of lives)

…During the occupation Japanese housewives devoured romance books by a G.I. that featured kissing. Decades later, his death of old age made the newspapers. Back in Scotland, Rye is a very old folk song where lassies have to lift their skirts with both hands to walk across the shallow Rye River, giving the lads a chance to kiss them in passing, according to the Art Linkletter Picture Encyclopedia for Boys and Girls. We sang Coming Through the Rye (in English) in school.

~The book cover sticker reads:
 The Sons of Temperance
is pleased to present this book to
…Darlene Rogers… student
of Grade …5… of … L. E. Saw Avonport… School
as a prize in the ESSAY CONTEST conducted by the
District Division and associates.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trolls on the Internet 

Hello Reader,
Got creepy trolls?
That’s a creepy topic, so let me ease into it, gradual-like, and end with trolls getting what they deserve. Ha!

Everyone knows the Wired World is flat…
Yes, the World Web is flat, and as screen pages about funny cats streak across the continent on fiber optics at the speed of light, everybody, all over North America, must by jealous at all the good-looking housewife millionaires right here in Calgary. Jealous, I say. I see the ladies on my computer whenever I am looking at Ten Reasons to Look at Celebrities and Five Things You Didn’t Know About Star Wars.

Actually, you’ll see those same housewives if you live in Dallas, appearing on your computer as Dallas housewife make millions from her home, and you can too! Yes, and you can click too, and then have targeted ads following you around cyberspace. It seems there are squares left in the computer template for local advertisements. This is according to my computer professor, Tom Keenan. He recently searched the Internet for renting a car in Vancouver, and now ads are popping up offering car rentals with his exact dates for his trip. The exact dates! Companies are making money, Keenan says, by sharing with each other their data about you and me. Oh my. All the better to target you with ads, my dear.

I learned about this from a one-day Continuing Education class by Keenan, based on his book Technocreep subtitled The surrender of privacy and the capitalization of intimacy. I am recommending his book to you, although I haven’t even read it yet, because his class was real good.

Wow, technocreep. Creepy. Got trolls?

After class I drove downhill to the bohemian part of town to a coffee shop. There I could read the Globe and Mail for free. In the sports section, page S9, Saturday Nov 5, is a happy and sad story by Lori Ewing about Canada’s fastest woman marathoner, Lanni Marchant. Happy: Marchant’s a practicing criminal lawyer, over age thirty, and “she was invited to the House of Commons to speak on girls and women in sport.” Lanni Marchant made some good points about her sport being objective, no subjective judging. She meant that instead of office politics, or a focus on your race, religion or creed, winning is very clear. She said, “It didn’t matter what you looked like crossing the finish line.”

Sad: “A week later she was angrily defending her point. It seems more than a few people missed it entirely.” The trolls talked about her running uniform. “Risque” they said. Note: The Reuters photo in the Globe looks fine to me—and I’m living in the Bible belt. “They even picked her apart for a pair of Instagram photos of herself in a cocktail dress.” I can’t comment on any such dress: Here on the prairies, I’ve never been to a cocktail party in my life—but I did taste a martini once, during the winter Olympics.

I won’t quote the whole article, or all the troll stuff, but as Marchant said, “It’s pretty ugly, there are some pretty dirty things, it’s pretty vulgar, it’s pretty disgusting. And I hope that none of the men and women who are commenting on there have daughters.”

I sipped my coffee. I thought. I don’t know about you, but when I picture a troll, I see a male, overweight, poorly groomed, on a shabby old couch. I suppose such guys would be jealous of anyone who is more than a decade past high school yet still remains in good shape. In the coffee shop I got talking with a slightly older couple, grandparents from Edmonton, and like me they took Lanni Marchant’s side. I told them how a baseball player got revenge on trolls. They were impressed. I will explain:

Advice to team: Don’t read comments Such is the headline before me to a Calgary Herald sports section story from page E4, March 27, 2015, by Sam Cole. As I would, Cole eases into things gradually, starting with some amusing paragraphs about the atrocious spelling of ignorant trolls, noting: One day scholars will delve into whether, somehow, the root causes of the troll’s rage has sprung from his “inability to distinguish between there, their and they’re, your and you’re, its and it’s. That must be it.”

Cole looks at Jill Officer, on a Winnipeg Olympic-champion curling team. Her team (joking)
QUOTE …had the unmitigated gall to lose to Switzerland in the final of last week’s world championship…. the now-inevitable spate of vitriolic comments, and made her wonder why. What drives these people?

Does it make them feel better to rub salt into an open wound? Do they think she and Jones, Kaitlyn Lawes and Dawn McEwen weren’t trying? “It’s pretty common knowledge that losing sucks,” Officer wrote. “Our team knows that and so do our fans… But…I am left wondering why here are still those few people who sit behind the mask of their computers and insist on being rude, mean and downright hurtful to not only us, but anyone who lives in the public eye. UNQUOTE

A ways into his article Cole writes, “But prolonged exposure to the stupidity and crassness of the trolls is a depressing reminder that there are a lot of sadistic dimwits in the world, with too much time on their hands. It’s better not to know what the lunkheads are saying, although there is a second option…”

Cole reports that “former Major League pitching star Curt Schilling tweeted congratulations to his 17-year old daughter on being accepted into college and starting her softball career. …(His tweet drew) a series of obscene, sexually explicit tweets from various males, stating what they would do, or like to do, to his underage daughter.”

So Schilling tracked them down and “published their names and occupations in a 1,700-word essay with the subtitle: ‘There are repercussions to your actions in the real world.’ Some were students at the college. He got them suspended, or kicked out. Some were adults. He got at least one man fired.”

I’m glad. I might be a fancy writer who takes a smart one-day university class, but I’m no guilty white liberal: I can muster no sympathy for trolls. And neither did the nice grandparents next to me.

It’s a small world: The grandmother was taking a course in Edmonton from Shirley Serviss (sic) about essay writing. And she had seen me read at the (Princess) Alexandra Writers Centre about three years ago. So she wrote down my website address. That very night my blog acquired a new follower. I wonder if it was her?

Sean Crawford

~Twitter is important now, as noted in my essay Twenty-Five Blogs. (Archived October 2016) Tweets, and other social media too, although not very lengthy, have overtaken blogs.

~Here is a TV screen of the baseball guy, being phone interviewed by a man in headphones, explaining his position in depth. The blue link to his lengthy blog essay is a little ways below the screen.

~For copy editors, when leaving a “wrong word” in a story, the Latin (sic) can stand for: Said In Copy.
For my essay today, the term (sic) stands for: Spelled In Conversation.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Universities Are No Longer Normal

Hello reader,
Climbed any ivory towers lately?

I may have been open to having my views shaken up during my youthful campus years, but these days it’s hard for me to believe in change. For example, several times I have read in Canadian sources that marijuana is no longer the weak stuff of the 1960’s, but instead is several times more powerful. (And more damaging to growing brains, too) I read this, but then I have trouble retaining it.

Similarly, I have trouble with Clay Shirky’s evidence that U.S. universities have been getting several times more weaker since the early 1960’s. “Surely not!” I say. Yah, but there’s evidence. Here’s the link to Shirky’s essay. Scroll past his two journalism essays, down to his next "The End of Higher Education's Golden Age" blog post.

Apparently, what we in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains think of as a “normal” university down in the States is in fact confined to those few household names that we have heard of even out here in the west. So forget movies like The Mona Lisa Smile and The Paper Chase, and students being on a noble quest with intellectual talks over coffee about “life, the universe and everything.” Forget the TV show with excited undergrads talking about their exciting learning in the background while a sad Buffy Summers, the vampire slayer, as a nonstudent, enviously visits her friend’s college. The average real world campus is just not that good, the students not that committed. At least, not in the States.

In fact, my own Canadian degree is (at least) equal to a U.S. masters degree. This is according to my professors. They said they will attend North American conferences for professors of rehabilitation, where they find that, even if they show the course outlines for our degree, the U.S. profs re-e-e-eally don’t want to admit that our undergraduate program is better.  

What staggered me was reading how only a minority of teachers are real professors, and how only a minority have tenure. As a worker in community disabilities this disturbs me because research findings for achieving abstract equal rights, or even for such concrete equal rights as curb cuts for strollers and wheelchairs, require “speaking truth to power.”  

For all sorts of citizenship things, you need freedom to speak… and publish. A professor from the U.S. spoke to us at a “weekend” rehabilitation conference. I remember two things about him: First, he was courteous enough to use bar graphs, instantly understandable, rather that simply put up numbers that I would have needed to translate in my head. Second, I recall the story he told us about why he criticized a big institution for persons with disabilities—and what happened next.

Turns out the institute board of directors included prominent people, including a household name TV journalist whom I will not reveal here. Given that institutions are not a growth industry, I guess the hurt was to their vanity, not to their incomes. Some of the board angrily went to the State Governor and said, “We want him fired!” The governor went to the president of the university, saying, “I want him fired!” Who went to the faculty head, “I want him fired!” who softly, sadly replied, “I can’t fire him. He has tenure.” Just imagine if the poor professor had researched the U.S. occupation, intended for the purpose of “teaching democracy,” in Iraq.

So yes, even in this enlightened age, we still need tenure to protect freedom of speech. Maybe the best of us, such as those two 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, would not be corrupted by power, would never act or speak vindictively, but surely others of lesser rank are not so noble. (joke)

In North America, the broken trust between ivory tower and high school, as regards English marks, means all high school graduates must take a “bonehead English” test before the semester even starts. In Canada, this goes back to the 1970’s: I remember getting into community college just under the wire. Years later I remember avoiding a waste of time and money —they charged a day’s net pay for their English test! — by going to the registrar clutching a bunch of my student newspaper clippings.

At the same time, the old days of students dropping a full letter grade average from high school as they went up to the big leagues seems to have been dropped. And high schools now seem far easier, with far fewer dropouts than in my day. I remember just once in Canada—because it was too controversial—seeing a university ad campaign to attract high school kids with only a C+ average. (A boy and girl in jeans were bent far over, saying 65% saves you a seat!) Yes, but a full grade drop would put them at D+.   

My own campus used to be a three year degree, like in Britain or (I hear) like certain degrees in the province next door: The fourth year was added not to the top, but to the bottom, according to the Vice President Academic, as “a high school make up year.” Well. Can we creatively use that fact? Can we creatively use our intuition that many students do not go to university to  “get educated” or to “find themselves,” or to appreciate their time/space location in the world, but instead merely go to the campus to “get a job”? Can we creatively meet these modern needs?

I am not convinced folks graduating from university in the U.S. have achieved effective open mindedness, not enough for considering such questions. Too bad, because it is clear from reading Shirky that the trend of ever-larger enrollment and caretaking, (and ever lower I.Q’s) without ever-larger funding, means that something has to give. Seriously. Universities have changed like marijuana, and the good old days are gone, gone, gone.

Sean Crawford

~Warning: Furey’s column (see headnote) can raise your blood pressure. It has several links, but I still haven’t aggravated myself by reading any. Here’s Furey’s link.

~The U.S. situation concerns me because, as with so many trends, Canada follows along behind. For example, U.S. universities initiated grade inflation during the 1960’s to help students to stay in school where they couldn’t be drafted—but the inflation was retained after the conflict was over. Now, in Canada, I have it on good authority (not from the V-P) that a certain local faculty gives an average mark not of C, but of C+.

~I was part of the university chaplain center. We met formally with the Vice President Academic once a year. It was at one of those meetings that she told us about the added fourth year.

Here's from Tobias Wolfe being interviewed in The Missouri Review:
Two days ago, I gave an hour’s lecture on Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan nych, ” a very important story. Two-thirds of these young people are going to go into the sciences, in one way or another—medicine, computers, physics. They’re not going to be humanists, at least not by occupation. This is a chance to help them frame questions about themselves, to help them learn the habit of questioning what they do, how they’re spending their lives. And there’s no better story for raising these questions than “Ivan Ilych.”

I feel like I’m doing something in the world that’s a good thing to do, when I’m doing that. I would miss it.