Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why I am Here

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Hello reader,
Why are you here?

Why are you here tonight? That was the question for us, in our night class in essay-writing. To answer, we had to write “free fall” and then read aloud. Here’s my answer:

 Of course I love my couch, and television, and popular culture: at home I have stacks of VHS, DVDs, Japanese figurines, cool posters—as well as some grown up original oil paintings. My point is, there are lots I could do at home—oh, and I have Internet too. So I could entertain myself for hours. But I’d rather feel productive. To me writing essays is productive because there is suspense: I never know if it will be any good.

For example, I own a certain Japanese cartoon “anime” series, full of violence, and I ended up doing an essay about that show. (Only 13 episodes beginning-to-end) But did I do it right? A young Safeway cashier saw my Japanese baseball cap, learned about my blog, and now I have to wonder: Is my essay too hard for her? Too grownup? Too serious and intellectual? Certainly it’s nothing a young anime fan would write or normally read.

But then again, my essay is about the truth of child abuse. In the show a man and a woman, newly adult, take in child runaways, one of whom has never seen a warm Japanese bath, and one of whom has denial to the point of memory loss. And these things do happen. So maybe a young reader would like to know about the wide world. And that is why I’m here tonight. To learn to write more stuff, more personal stuff, and I think it will be all right.

There will be other evenings for me to be at home enjoying nice non-violent anime, and sci-fi shows.


Sean Crawford
Calgary
Fall 2016

Footnotes:
(Again, I would remind people I am desperately seeking the Japanese figurine of Kuniko holding her boomerang overhead.)

~My grim essay is The Anime, Elfen Lied, archived June 2011.

~The opening song credits for Elfen Lied on Youtube are not hard for you to find. Instead, I offer here (link) some young fans performing in Latin the opening song, Ilium, in E minor using violins and a piano: The singer has a trained voice and good enunciation.

Although I was very moved by Elfen Lied, and although when I saw a young woman at a convention dressed all in bandages like Lucy in the show I burst out, “That is the best costume I’ve seen all weekend!” … still, I just can’t recommend Elfen Lied to anyone my age whom I don’t know. Too violent.

~So let me instead recommend a housewife-friendly 13-episode series that has been called “very gentle,” Some Day’s Dreamers, about a sixteen-year-old country girl alone in Tokyo, trying to learn to be a mage (wizard). The Japanese title translates roughly as, “What mages need to know.” Here’s the link to the sympathetic opening song, a song I like very much.  


~Today many high schools and colleges have an “anime club,” and many cities have an annual Japanese anime/media convention, one-day, (Camrose in October; Lethbridge until 2017) or all-weekend. (Edmonton and Calgary in the summer)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Digital Life and Newsprint Death

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Oh, and there we were all in one place
A generation Lost in Space
With no time left to start again
From American Pie by Don McLean


Hello reader,
got digital?

So there I was, at a Canadian Thanksgiving supper, in mid-October, where our host and cook was a grandmother named Judy. How strange, because “Judy” is a name I once associated with daughters like on Lost in Space and The Jetsons. Then again, we’re older now: those shows aired back in the vacuum tube days as TV changed from black-and-white to color: Strange, now, to watch daily reruns of Lost in Space going from the first season with futuristic space clothing being in black and white, and then to the next season showing space clothes in living color.

Grandma Judy’s rule for the thanksgiving supper table was: No baseball caps, and no digital devices.

A good rule. We all talked. After the women and children moved to the living room we remaining males, including three grown sons and the grandfather, talked some more. Often we noted with surprise and pleasure—and told Judy—that we were talking more than we have all year. This included wonderful turbulent talk about Yankee politics. Judy’s rule worked very well, partly because we couldn’t turn any swirling discussion into dead still water… not by some wise guy merely turning to his smart phone to look up a stupid fact.

Back at my house, smartphone functions are displayed on my laptop, where I have some blogs bookmarked: This means if a blogger’s creative philosophy or concept is just too new to me to believe, then I can return to his blog and try again, trying to assimilate his new view of our strange digital world.

I’m fascinated by some blog essays of Professor Clay Shirky. He’s a computer genius; smart like Bill Gates, but with much wider social interests. Today I’m thinking of his thoughts on how journalism is changing

Here’s the link, still current as I write this, to a web page of Shirky. At the top is a public tweet broadcast by a man Shirky had criticized, saying to the public that he can’t respond because he’s on vacation, “…but for now, F--- you, Shirky.” (Dashes mine)

You see, Shirky had earlier wrote from a position of anger at seeing that man, a noted expert, being so knowingly dishonest about the chances for success of a wealthy old guy in California. The hapless old guy was idealistically trying to save print journalism by starting up a good newspaper—not realizing it was mission impossible. The paper folded. You can read it for yourself, as Shirky includes his original essay.

What fascinates me is not the human relations between Shirky and the expert, forget that noise. Instead, consider Shirky’s concept that traditional journalism is not on a decline, not on sloping path to one day level out at some new level of lesser relevance: No, because it’s on a death spiral.

Makes sense to me, because my old university student newspaper, which, according to my memory, would be normally be at least 36 cramped pages at this time of year, is only at a loose 18. The students at the paper know full well their young peers, for all their school spirit, would rather go on-line than read newsprint. I truly don’t like this change, and I re-e-e-eally don’t like to think that traditional newspapers are not sustainable… but then I read on his blog where Shirky, a university professor, writes that “for obvious reasons” at his campus you can no longer major in journalism, but you can still minor in it. A death spiral. Terminal.

Sure, I want to adjust to this reality, but I also want to be like that old guy thinking newsprint can still be saved. After all, as a boy I had a paper route; as an adult I was a student newspaper reporter. Back then, we would have been offended at the idea of our paper having a “fact checker.” To us, “journalistic ethics” meant we were always on “Scout’s honor.” As “gentlemen of the press” we were expected to be just as honest as any of our fellow students we saw walking on campus. Meaning: No matter how exciting a fact was, if we couldn’t attribute it (document) or have someone saying it, (quote) then we left it out. Such honesty was common sense.

Not now. For decades, of course, television “news,” being “moving pictures” with concern for Neilson ratings, has long been “infotainment.” Now, in our crowded digital age, I can see that new digital media, social and otherwise, ain’t just newsprint cut and pasted to the screen. No, because now I see junk journalism—no Scout’s honor. I see exciting link bait, “Ten things about X” and so forth, where getting your attention is more important than giving, as Detective Joe Friday said flatly, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

You may recall that Joe Friday was on the weekly radio cop show Dragnet, later a TV show. (And even a 1987 movie, lovingly reviewed by Roger Ebert) I can’t resist adding that Dragnet was taken from actual police files, where “only the names have been changed to protect the innocent,” and note how the deadpan Friday had no charisma at all. None. Not like a modern vivacious news anchor, or even some poor nerdy TV weatherman, wishing to stay intent on his introverted interest in isotherm lines, who now has to smile-smile-smile. In the digital age, plain truth without flashy exaggeration won’t sell. Duuum, dee-DUM dum. (Dragnet theme)

Here’s how I can adjust: By charitably reflecting that my neighbors have a right to give in to their weakness. Just like folks in my day. Back then, most students didn’t read our newspaper, or join any student club or leisure activity. Most would never find their school spirit at a corner cafeteria or in the still moonlight on the quadrangle. Forget saying excelsior! Even today, at the campus Olympic speed skating oval, the vending machines sell the athletic students “junk food” and “sugar water.” At the food court idealistic students can find fried food counters, but no vegetable bar. Folks would mostly wish to have ideals, for their lives, and for their digital media too, but the few who actually live up to their potential… are the exceptions. ’Twas always so.

Back when I was of student age, younger and more hormonal, I could get damp eyes, late at night, reading from an old collection of Poems Worth Knowing. The poems are still there, but lately I’ve allowed myself to be distracted. —Hey, at least I don’t drive distracted. But let’s face it: Nobody can make a living writing poetry full time anymore. I can accept this. An age without poetry or serious journalism? Seriously possible.

As some rock dude would sing:
“Where have you gone, Joe Fri-i-day,
our lonely nation turns it’s eyes to you,
boo hoo hoo…
‘just the facts’ has left and gone away”

It’s so lonely to face the truth about our new, improved, good-for-the-kids digital world, but at least I know one way to be less lonely: No smart phones at the supper table.


Sean Crawford
October
Calgary
2016

Footnotes:
~My big look at Media Ethics was archived November 2012.

~I suppose Lost in Space came from the gold key comics Space Family Robinson, which came from the classic Swiss Family Robinson about a family of island castaways.

~Headline: More wretched news for newspapers; link to informative yet boring article.

~ In Canada, unlike in certain U.S. newspapers, in a story on Bill Gates, we wouldn’t put “many people believe Bill Gates is the smartest man in America” unless we could attribute it to a pollster saying it: As a fact, not an editorial opinion.

Therefore it was out of deference to my U.S. readers that I put Shirky “is smart like” Bill Gates. I didn’t want some Yankee looking up from his screen with, “But they say Bill Gates is the smartest!” … As print journalists know: Some of the biggest lies start with ‘they say’. Always attribute.

~If you still have a pre-digital age attention span, then you can attend past the lengthy beginning of this (link) MTV parody of the first music video ever broadcast, as Amy Burrel sings Digital life has changed who were are. She made it for her night school class. The cute kid in the video is Amy’s.


~The song being parodied, Video Killed the Radio Star, is one I have essayed about, attracting four “likes,” as Activists and Music Videos, archived December 2013.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

George Carlin and Diversity

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

It’s impossible to overestimate the importance of Jerry Hamza in my career and life.  Without Jerry, I don’t think I would have escaped from the financial and creative swamp that bad choices and drugs had landed me in by the late seventies. Without his support and unerring instincts I would’ve never had the confidence to go beyond stand-up and begin to explore comedy as art. Along the way he also became something I’d never allowed myself before: my best friend.

George Carlin,
Strident, funny,
and gracious in person
1937-2008,
R.I.P.


I can relate to comedian George Carlin, as seen on Youtube. There he stands: independent, realistic, with his roots in diversity. That’s a buzzword these days, “diversity.”

In Carlin’s case, he came not from New York City, but from an all-Irish neighborhood within New York: Nuns, schoolteachers, nuns as schoolteachers, cops, everyone he knew in the youth gangs—all Irish. I suppose New York was ahead of the rest of the U.S. in replacing their old traditional belief in “melting pot” with “pluralism”: In fact, I think New Yorkers had never melted in: “Who’s your rabbi?” was the question a politician, back in Grandpa’s day, would ask of any individual who wanted action or help on something: asking this literally of any Jews, and figuratively, I guess, of any member of any diverse group. The impoverished concrete jungle was rough; you gained power from your group, fronted by “your rabbi.”

Carlin was intelligent but poor. He made it to ninth grade, and went off to the air force at age 17—where he hung out with black servicemen. Not from being diverse, but from being independent of white conformity. If the only fellows in the barracks who listen to jazz records and toke up are black, well, that’s where you go.

I can relate. A friend once said, “You out-liberal the liberals” as I wouldn’t let fear of losing my “straight white privilege” keep me from doing the right thing. I couldn’t control my natural fear, but I could control my actions. Well. To this day one of my brothers thinks I’m homosexual. I think he’s frustrated.

Late in Carlin’s career he stopped doing jokes about dogs and cats, driving habits and department stores. Instead he started doing angry jokes about the world. As Carlin learned at last regarding his stage comedy, italics his:
QUOTE (p 247) Laughter is not the only form of success. Boy, what a liberating recognition that was! UNQUOTE

Success could be making people think. So idealistic. Of course, then he needed to become an informed idealist. Here’s the previous, younger Carlin:
QUOTE (p228) “…I didn’t have any synthesized sets of feelings or information about politics. Beyond a few one-liners about racism or Vietnam I had no coherent point of view. It was more a question of: “Let’s just get HIIIGGGHHH! Yeah, man, I’m against this and I’m against that, but who the fuck knows why?”” UNQUOTE

That’s from George Carlin’s memoir, Last Words with Tony Hendra. I am sure George would want me to include Tony’s name, as George was a gentleman. For example, when he wanted to use ideas from Jurassic Park for his Save the Planet sketch, he got permission from Michael Crichton… (Remember Jeff Goldblume’s character? In the movie he merely gets to say, “You did it because you could, without asking whether you should!” But in the book version he gets several good long passages for speaking against hubris) …I know Carlin asked him, because Crichton said so on his web site where, until around Crichton’s death, Carlin’s Youtube sketch was embedded.

Carlin again:
QUOTE (P234) “My new direction was slowly making itself known to me—by the reading I was choosing and the things I was tearing out and circling in periodicals. I was beginning to keep what amounted to a journal in another form: a record of my reactions to issues.” UNQUOTE

I smile to think of the older Carlin having reactions, because, like his father who beat him, at an earlier stage George didn’t have much access to his feelings. I can relate. Today, like Carlin, I don’t join any political parties, although I know maybe I should. In Carlin’s case, in his memoir he admits readers might find it “escapist” that he doesn’t join parties and things, but he likes all people as individuals, and he thinks they lose something when they conform to a group. In Carlin’s defense, let’s remember he was a wide-ranging comedian, which to me means he shouldn’t be tied down
to one race, religion or (political party) creed.

Like Carlin, I may be left-wing, but I’m also like him in being independent.

QUOTE (p 232) “…The habits of liberals, their automatic language, their knee-jerk responses to certain issues, deserved the epithets the right wing stuck them with… Here they were, banding together in packs, so that I could predict what they were going to say about some event or conflict and it wasn’t even out of their mouths yet. I was very uncomfortable with that. Liberal orthodoxy was as repugnant to me as conservative orthodoxy.” UNQUOTE

I learned the word “orthodox” as a child from the science fiction novel Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell. After that, I’ve avoided being orthodox, even as I leaned left. If I’m a liberal, then maybe it’s because I read science fiction. You know that amazing inter-racial kiss on the original Star Trek? (Kirk and Uhura) Maybe it was controversial to watchers of the telly; but not to readers of sf. Not to me.

But here’s the thing: I get homesick reading about the white picket fence towns in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, written back in the 1940’s. If tomorrow I wrote a detective novel set in a sprawling U.S. Mars colony, with gleaming hydroponic tanks, then I might include slums for my gritty hero to walk down, but not enclaves of diversity, let alone walled ghettos. I say: Forget diversity.

A cry of disbelief, directed down at me from the peanut gallery: “What? —You can’t forget diversity! (It’s so true, good and beautiful) Don’t you want to nurture and fertilize it?”  

Let the last words be George Carlin’s, (p 158) italics his:

I used to be Irish Catholic. Now I’m an American. You know—you GROW.


Sean Crawford
October
Calgary
2016

Footnotes:
~Last Words by George Carlin
with Tony Hendra
Free Press
New York, NY
2009
Trade paperback edition, quoted here, November 2010
A Memoir,
with Introduction by Tony Hendra

~I think Crichton was a guest on the PBS Charlie Rose show more times than any one else: I wish Crichton’s estate would put the Charlie Rose interviews back on his web site…


~I wrote of Crichton and the “politicization of science” in my essay Angry With Michael Crichton archived November 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Twenty-Five Blogs

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Hello reader, got blog?

I always like it when I can f-i-i-inally document what I’ve said here, by quoting someone else:
It’s an interesting time to be doing a blog, still, because I think it’s safe to declare the Age of Blogging well and truly over, inasmuch as personal blogging as been superseded in nearly every way by social media, including Twitter (my favorite), Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat and so on and so forth. I’m not planning on mourning blogs in general — as a phenomenon they had their moment and it was a relatively good one — but it is interesting to watch the blog tide recede, with just a few die-hards left to do them old-school, like I do.

The above quote is from science fiction writer John Scalzi. His blog Whatever, on September the 13th observed it’s 18th birthday. I have Scalzi’s blog bookmarked. Someone commented:
         I think that it’s not so much that “Age of Blogging” is over, it’s just that those without anything to say aren’t saying it anymore. They ran out of steam. Those with something to actually say continue on.

That sounds right to me. Then I guess the remaining blog readers will be those willing to build up a head of steam over something to read, not those who resent having to read anything, be it books or screens, not those who, if they must read a screen, will resort to skimming. I used to despise how so many bloggers skim-skim-skimmed the web—and then felt entitled to comment. You know, I feel sorry for anyone who skims Stephen King. Or poetry.

In the past if I wrote about the state of blogs, saying the hysteria was dying down, then it would be when I was doing my periodic “twenty-five blog-titles” piece. Like today.

Now it’s been another web-administrator’s entire page-full of blog post titles, and of course I could ponder the last 25 essays and write about, “What does it all mean?” I could. Better yet, hey! —It’s my one day to be self-indulgent, my “one post in 25 day,” so today I can blog to you what I had for breakfast, what I saw on TV last night, and my opinion of the show—or wait, that’s what social media is for: And it’s what so much blogging used to be.

Of course I care about you dear reader, and you care about me—but surely not enough to care what I had for breakfast. I see that two of my favorite bloggers, John Scalzi and Scott Berkun, go in for a balance of social media and blog posts. Mostly they tweet. That’s OK, balance is good. “Everything in moderation” said the Greeks. You can find my own tweets at—no you can’t, I don’t do tweets.

Meanwhile, I am sensing a trend for “future book writers” to become bloggers. Reason? So they will have a blog “platform” to assure publishers they have a “reading audience” ready to convert into a “buying audience.”

“All the better to convince a publisher to buy my manuscript, my dear.” Well, I disagree. Yes, I know, my disagreement is a glum thought for would-be writers, so I tried for some humor as I expressed my skeptical side in my essay My Blog is not a Platform archived February 2016.

Good thing I have a sense of humor, as today I can only report to you sweet nothing—nothing in my life has changed over the past 25 weeks. I am so dull. At least I recently competed in a humorous speech contest for toastmasters, going from club to area level. Maybe I’ll write it down for my blog. Want funny?

Recently, I experimented with cranking out a long post (on sex and community) the day before deadline. Because it was timely. Result? I don’t know what I would have created with more time, but over the next few days I had to keep editing and trimming. Also I experimented with putting concepts in italics to help people spot where early thoughts re-emerge later in that long essay. Too bad many of my readers would have missed my final version, complete with music video link. Never mind. Just as well it appeared during my annual circa Labor Day readership slump.  

Another change is that my dear old mother has died this summer, and that has been a cause for humor—No, not her death, my inheritance. Sure, I’ll get a wee poke of coins, to be swallowed up by my retirement account, but not until at least after Christmas, probably not until Easter. You see, two of my six siblings, a day’s travel from each other, are co-executors, and when it comes to procrastination, even for getting money, my family is famous, famous I tell you. Maybe Easter is too optimistic. …Mother was 93. You would have liked her. (When her mind was sound) She had a good run.

I’ve run out of steam. See you next week.


Sean Crawford
October
Calgary
2016
Footnotes:
~My last 25-pager was in March of 2016.

~I’m banking essays so that I can stop writing them for a while, and only do fiction—but essays are so tempting!

~I took a class once where everyone had to go often onto the university web site, and then to our department site to comment. Unfortunately, the open computer rooms were on telephone dial-up, while the university home page was in full color! Grrr! There’s a reason I don’t put any pictures on my site! (A lot of people down in the U.S. use telephone lines for their computer, according to the newspaper. My sister does too)

~My skeptical perspective on scholars using the net for fluff, not student essays, back on my campus as the web first emerged, is archived as Essays and Blogs, June 2010.

~ “Heyday” is an actual word. (And “actual” has several meanings)

~Remember kids, never “buy a pig in a poke.”