Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Assimilation For Success

“In the Cold War, the West celebrated dissidents such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, and Vaclav Havel, who had the courage to challenge the Soviet system from within. Today, there are many dissidents who challenge Islam—former Muslims, and reformers—but the West either ignores them or dismisses them as “not representative.” This is a grave mistake…”
Heretic, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, page 221.

Hello Reader, 
Got Assimilation?

Americans make me smile fondly—you too? Only Americans, via Hollywood, could have come up with a villain like the Borg on Star Trek who say “You will be assimilated” —Americans treasure their individuality: In fact, they compliment each other on being different. (A distressing thing to hear in Japan) 

The Borg say the scary words “Resistance is futile.” —Americans hate feeling futile; they treasure having hope and optimism… Perhaps their trust and hope, in people and the future, is why they believe in democracy, although so many others believe democracy leads to national disorder.

I share optimistic American tastes in culture, especially in their music and science fiction, especially for their written fiction. While a European story about a dark totalitarian society might end on a gloomy note, a U.S. story would have a precious few striving for the light, and changing their society, maybe by managing to blow up a death star. 

When it comes assimilation, a certain U.S. book series, The Cross-time Engineer, by Leo Frankowski, is instructive. Although Frankowski is a regular American, his series hero, Conrad, is from a communist Poland. Conrad accidentally time-travels back to Polish feudal times—and is stuck there. Well. The urgent plot: Remembering history, Conrad knows that in ten more years the Mongol hordes are due to come raging through Poland to pillage, burn and kill all his new friends.

Luckily, Conrad is an engineer. Think of Jules Vern’s novel The Mysterious Island where the castaways arrive without even their pocket knives, yet they end up building windmills and irrigating crops planted in rows. The cross-time engineer resolves to improve the economy, enough to support what the classical republics of Greece and Rome enjoyed: a volunteer unpaid citizen-army. The first thing he does? Invent the crochet hook. 

Later Conrad feels guilty. His problem: Smelting ore into steel is a craft the engineer just doesn’t have. But he needs to mass produce armour and weapons for the new army. After all, the feudal tradition of innocent peasants bringing their farm implements into battle just won’t cut it, not against worldly Mongol warriors. So Conrad brings in some refugee southerners and their families. I forget who, probably Arabs to make Damascus steel. He offers them sanctuary in return for their work. Having majored in engineering, he can’t quite remember the sociological equations, but, suspecting the truth, he feels guilty from knowing: With this much critical mass, the southern families might not assimilate. They might remain separate within Poland for a few generations… or even a few centuries. Of course he feels guilty. 

Would a Pole of today, in this situation, feeling any guilt? No. Evidently not, because Europeans have told Arabs and other Muslims that they can have their own culture, their own voluntary enclaves and even their own schools. (Note: an enclave is chosen, a Jewish ghetto is imposed) They say this guilt-free. In contrast, Americans will bus schoolchildren—both their own and others—right across town if that’s what it takes to get them out of their enclave and assimilated. Americans know in their bones that assimilation starts with society having an intention to do so, and that common schools are a big help.

I don’t know why the Europeans weren’t instructed by the example of America, and warned by the example of Yugoslavia. A Muslim I met in London didn’t know either. In Yugoslavia, as you recall, after generations of failure to set an intention to “melt in” or assimilate, the factions resorted to mass “ethnic cleansing.” I wish I could say, “At least there was a silver lining to all that killing, at least the rest of Europe took heed, and then resolved to assimilate.” But I can’t.

I guess we North Americans, living in some of the oldest continuous democracies on the planet, have an unusual culture. In Canada, specifically, a royal commission reported that Canadians don’t mind someone having a different language, provided he or she also has one of the official languages. Nothing wrong with being bi-lingual, yes indeed, it’s good to be bi-cultural. 

Here in North America, I can imagine a bi-cultural Muslim girl bussing to church and school: On Sunday at church writing, “According to religion…” a woman’s word in court should be legally only half that of a man, and she should be stoned to death for certain offences. On Monday at public school writing, “According to science…” the earth is millions of years old. And then “According to the Constitution…” no one should be denied human rights.

An American “bleeding heart” might cry out in alarm, saying surely my London Muslim friend and I are mistaken about the situation over there. Not so. It was a Dutch member of parliament, a Muslim herself, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who described Europeans as encouraging “enclaves.” It was an Australian, John Birmingham, who described Germany on page 411 of the trade paperback novel After America (Titan Books 2010)

QUOTE …”But I see nothing good coming of this, Caitlin. Back in 2001, well before the Disappearance, the Islamic Federation of Berlin, after twenty years of trying, finally succeeded in getting the city to allow purely Islamic schools to take in Muslim children. The city no longer controls those lessons, which are more often in Arabic than German and usually are held behind closed doors, especially for girls. Not long after that, the hijab became much more common. Girls began leaving school as early as possible. Groups of male students formed associations that now lobby for their schools to become fully fledged madrassas. It is a disaster for these children, and for Germany…” UNQUOTE

A disaster. Well. Call me an optimistic “can-do” North American, but I am convinced Europeans could still set their intention to change. 

After all, cultures change. Didn’t my grandparents see America change from extended families to nuclear families? My parents watched Japan and West Germany transform from devoutly believing in fascism to intently embracing democracy. I myself, born when Dwight Eisenhower was president, my favourite decade, saw my world change into the exciting, new improved culture we have today. As well, we in Canada went from believing Eskimos and Indians should and could assimilate, despite the critical mass of people on the isolated Indian reservations, to saying they should remain separate from the space-age culture of the non-aboriginal population, a dynamic population where today Chinese have replaced Ukrainians as the third largest ethnic group (after British and French). And believe me, that is a 180 degree turn around. Cultures change. 

When Ali troubled herself to warn Europeans about their enclaves, it was because she thought they could change. In her latest book, an international bestseller, she describes five ways in which Muslim culture should change, not only in Holland and Europe, but overseas, and in America too. It’s called Heretic subtitled Why Islam needs a reformation now. Well researched, full of examples. With 22 pages of references.

While the engineer, Conrad, is a loyal communist, I have to wonder: If a modern Pole traveled across time to the feudal age, or back to communist times, then what could he say to describe democracy?

He might say democracy requires an optimistic view of the people, a faith that the public doesn’t need to shrug off their burden of freedom and responsibility, certainly not through bowing down in admiration and submission to a king or a Central Committee. Democracy is the belief the public is the safest, although maybe not always the wisest, holder of power. Democracy means faith that most of the people, most of the time, will do the right thing, provided they have the information. 

Information must be thought about, processed, not blindly taken in. Democracy, then, means people must have permission to think. Nothing should ever be a “thought crime,” there should be no Nineteen Eighty-Four style Thought Police — And to support the required freedom of thought, to make sure they “have the information,” people must be legally free to speak, publish and distribute information… It’s no wonder, then, that no Arab public anywhere in the world, from the sparkling Atlantic to the wine red Arabian sea, has ever managed to stay free: Their religion doesn’t allow political free speech. 

It would be nice if Muslims could decide to separate the legal powers of church and state, but I see no sign of them doing so at present… while the optimistic North American in me remains ever hopeful.

Sean Crawford
December 2017

~I quoted how Muslim culture had changed within an Asian Soviet republic in my essay As Epilogue a Feminist Regards Muslim Uzbekistan archived October 2017, from a book I found at the London Tate Museum gift shop.

~My essay I Met a Muslim in London is archived September 2017.

~To document how Australians believe in North American-style  assimilation, not European enclaves, here is a blog by typical Australian Muslim who, needless to say, has no use for Arab-extremist. His second post is by a Muslim who ran for parliament.

~I still think of reading The Cross-Time Engineer whenever I take the electric trolley bus down Broadway past a certain pancake restaurant, where I read it on vacation years ago. 

~Will idealistic “can-do” American Muslims lead the rest of the Muslim world? Teach Muslims about reform? Like how the New York bishop taught the visiting Italian pope that in the “Big Apple” it’s OK for homosexuals to be catholic? Maybe. 

Or maybe not. From what little I can see, U.S. Muslims seem to have let all the air out of their tires. It’s as if they are in victim mode, but I don’t know enough to say for sure. Does anyone else know?

~I wrote of Ali being dis-invited to speak at a university graduation in my essay Acid Blog, Stupid Yankee University archived May 2014, where I quoted CBC’s Rex Murphy saying, “Is this a university or a day care?” 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Smug People

Old Aesop tells this story:
A dog had fallen asleep in a manger. When the cow came by to feed he stood up and kept barking, so the poor cow could not get near her hay.  She said to the dog, “You cannot eat hay, yet you would deny it to me!” 
Moral? Don’t be a dog in the manger.

Hello Reader,
Got smug? 
Me neither.

Smug? I should know that word, as part of knowing people. Not to be a psychologist, but to be a writer. Not that I want to write the “great American novel.” Nobody I know does. Not that I want to write a best seller, either. Most folks I know would be happy just to be published. Somehow. Somewhere. And on that blessed day they’d be happy, surprised and even cheering, anything but smug—a word you don’t hear much. Coincidence? I think not. I think some people just don’t like “smug.” Not in others, I mean.

How strange. I would want my pet dog to be smug, if that were possible in a dog. I would want a smiling pre-schooler to walk over to me looking smug. And if I visit my grandpa, and he’s showing his man-cave or his latest wood carving, I would want him to be smug. Yes, but we give the very young and the very old a free pass in life, just as we don’t peer-pressure them to wear the latest clothing styles. But if a person in the mainstream wears a smile, a person we can relate to, then—watch out!

I don’t suppose a person humble in spirit would mind someone being smug. Not me. I’m no dog in the manger. But a lot of other folks sure are. I can say so because of the fate of the Segway. You know, that futuristic two-wheel contraption where people standing up can roll along the sidewalk, or mall corridors, or river park trails. Well then. Got Segway? Me neither. What happened? They were supposed to be the next big thing.

What happened, according to web-essayist Paul Graham, (link) was they were developed in secret without any prototype testing. What happened is that after they hit the market, users found out the hard way that other people thought they looked too “smug” standing easy as they rolled along. Paul said people in cars called out rude things. Not an affectionate “get a horse!” Rather, an abusive “Too lazy to walk, ya fuckin’ homo?”

Being a dog in the manger, I suppose, is a close cousin to being jealous. I didn’t understand this while growing up under abuse, as back then I couldn’t find it in my heart to be jealous of anyone. Not when I felt so worthless. During childhood I noticed that if I, or any boy, was friends with a girl then others would tease and scorn and escalate to get us to stop. Call me naive, but I never understood. Each time it took me by surprise. Now that I’m an adult with better self esteem I get it. Back then children were jealous. And I was too naive to understand they weren’t honest enough to face their own feelings.

Therefore if, say, you’ve been to Australia and picked up a cool hat, or you’ve been to East Asia and learned a way to carry your furled umbrella hands-free, then you’d better either keep a poker face or smile broadly like an idiot. A smug tiny smile will attract big social scorn! At least from passing cars.

Recently a radio announcer remarked to his studio partner that he feels angry resentment when he hears others laughing, although he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s that dog thing. I asked my waitress, Chelsey, at my hang-out greasy spoon: She doesn’t mind laughter; in fact, if she hears customers laughing, she’ll go over to their booth to see if she can join in. Yes, but Chelsey has a generous soul. She’s the sort I would call over to read aloud my a funny novel.

Meanwhile, if I’m reading a comic novel at my cafe booth and laughing long and loud… I attract angry jealous remarks. How strange, because no one would give a care, nor offer me any kindness, if I stood sagging against the juke box crying from hearing Good Night Saigon. No, maybe because for sadness they wouldn’t be jealous of my artistic depth of feeling. However, for me having fun and laughter, yes, they would be jealous. Anyways, I guess that’s why I don’t see anyone else laughing alone in public. Unless they are smiling broadly like an fool.

As for me becoming an excellent writer, well, maybe I should keep studying grammar. Wait, I know: I could laugh out loud, even when I’m alone in a cafe, and play that Beatles song on the jukebox, and then one day I too could be that “fool” on the hill, “seeing” the world and characters going around, using my “keen eye” of a “real writer.” 

I hope, dear reader, you have permission to laugh, too.

Sean Crawford
Fondly recalling the Lido cafe

~I wrote of the Lido in my essay The Old Lido Cafe, archived September 2016

~I’m still learning how some people can be so ridiculous in their jealousy: On the Internet comedy magazine site, Cracked, a commenter was quite angry when a comedian used a proper “an” not “a,” to say “an historical…” Heck, that’s not being snobbish, that’s just common sense, we all learned to say that back in elementary school. 

And hey, as long as I’m sounding old: We all learned in grade school that Hallowe’en is followed by All Saint’s Day, not by the Mexican day of the dead. (which must therefore be November 2nd) Hence the apostrophe between the two e’s, for the missing v. The last evening of the month was the dark creature’s big chance to go abroad, on an “all hallowed evening,” before all the saints took over for their day.

~My spell check, as it happens, will allow Hallowe’en spelled both with and without the apostrophe.

~For the listening pleasure of all my humble, non-jealous, non-smug friends, my telephone digital answering machine goes:

“If you know what you’re doing, leave a message. If not, join the club.” 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Yankee B.S. and Doctor Who

Headnote: in North America, B.S. is the polite abbreviation for bull droppings.

Note: On the BBC TV show Doctor Who, which has run for over 50 years, just like a Phoenix, “the doctor” lives hundreds of years in successive different body-personalities. With his time travel box, for a special episode, he could meet his future selves.

Sad Head-quote: “I’m not just a time lord… I’m the last of the time lords.”

Hello Reader,
Got Yankee B.S.?

…I wonder what the poet Homer would have thought? …

Recently I found out that while our British cousins may not use our term “Yankee B.S.,” they know the concept too. I learned this by watching the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special, the one introducing the specific Doctor whom his future selves don’t like to talk about, played by John Hurt: He is the one who ended the Time War… by the utter genocide… of both the Daleks and his own planet of the Time Lords, Gallifrey.

In the second act, young Clara and Mum, the head of U.N.I.T., are in the “black archives.” That’s where alien technology is kept hidden away. The two ladies see an object locked in it’s own room, on it’s own display pillar, looking like an oversized leather wrist strap.
Clara: What is it?
Mum: Time travel. A vortex manipulator, bequeathed to the U.N.I.T. archives by Captain Jack Harkness, on the occasion of his death…No one can know we have this, not even our allies.
Clara: Why not?
Mum: Think about it. Americans, with the ability to re-write history. You’ve seen their movies.” 

I’m sure viewers laughed loudly…Clearly, our British cousins know of Yankee B.S.

It’s all so tiresome. I remember back in the 1970’s a boy in my school was collecting weekly magazines of Marshal Cavendish’s History of the Second World War in 96 weekly editions. They stacked like encyclopaedias. But the boy only collected for six months, until # 25, the Pearl Harbor issue, then he stopped. He told me, “Because now the Yankee B.S. starts.” (Besides, he was low on cash) I was collecting too, using my paper route money. My father used the same term, when he said I should stop collecting the issues. I protested “But Dad, I am smart enough to know Yankee B.S. when I see it, I am!” After a short power struggle, Dad finally admitted, “But I wouldn’t want to read it.”

“U.S. citizens,” (five syllables) also called Americans (three syllables) also called, by those who share the continent with them, “Yankees” (only two syllables) believe, according to their movies, that they won both world wars all by themselves. And that war is glorious, and that Yankee army men are far better than any other fighting force, past or present. I have to shake my head, reciting that sarcastic line, “Go tell it to the marines.” 

Someday I want to see again that U.S. Air Force movie made from the post-war novel, “Twelve O’Clock High,” because a family friend once said it’s the only U.S. war movie he ever saw without Yankee B.S. It’s the one where the hero gets shell shock: He has a nervous breakdown, and is relieved of command. In the novel, on the last page, with the hero relieved, it’s like becoming free from addiction: suddenly for him the very grass and trees become so much greener.

Homer, blind though he was, would not have been surprised to hear it. In the Iliad he describes Truth: a javelin tearing through a man’s bowels; a group of men in fear running like sheep before wolves; a defeated fighter pleading for his life at the knees of an armed warrior. Homer knew that war is not all glory. And something else: In his epic? No Greek B.S… No Trojan B.S…

This fall I heard a short version of the Iliad recited as prose by two middle aged fellows— they alternated —in a theatre underneath the British Museum. Afterwards a young lady asked me in surprise, “Is that really how it ends?” I said yes, and recited the final line. The poem starts years into the war, and ends with the war still going. 

The Iliad has two living horses pulling a chariot, who can talk. They tell the charioteer driving them into battle that he won’t make it—he hears, and he just keeps going. But the Iliad has no wooden horse. If you didn’t know your history, didn’t know Homer was Greek, then it would be impossible to tell from the epic which side, Greek or Trojan, won the war. Not like Hollywood, eh?  Homer knew Truth, and the Greeks loved him for it.

Epilogue for Doctor Who
On Youtube, there is a sound track called Sad Man/Mad Man with a Box.
Now I understand. No glory.

When young Clara, companion to “the doctor,” looks into the eyes of old John Hurt, she tells him she can see he hasn’t destroyed Gallifrey yet: His eyes are too innocent.

Only the BBC would have a scene, in the 50th anniversary, where an utterly sane John Hurt, from the past, impatiently asks two of his future selves (The one who regrets, and the one who forgets) why they are both so childish—a frozen pause. A long pause. I think every viewer got it: Nothing like being the sole survivor of a genocide you caused to drive you forever mad. 

Sean Crawford
As snow lies cold
December 2017

~The “no Iliad B.S.” idea I got from Simone Veil’s classic work from during the Nazi occupation of France, The Poem of Force which I have on my desktop favorites. Here’s the link.

~I expressed my awe at the Trojan war in my essay Troy, the Iliad and Music archived January 2014.

~Link to a lengthy blog essay 10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America, complete with condensed TV scene, by blogger Mark Manson.

~You may wonder at the idea of a charioteer who keeps going even after he hears the news straight from the horse’s mouth. Could that really happen? Yes. 

My brother often played cards with a Canadian tank squadron commander who kept putting his newest replacement tank commander in the lead tank. One day the commander only lived because, when his tank was struck, his loader disobeyed the orders for the “order of escape,” by rushing up the commander like a mouse, and rushing out the hatch. When the commander went out the hatch he found the man’s body sprawled on the turret. The commander’s odds of surviving must have seemed, to him, to be as low as the odds for that fighter whom King David put in the front lines. (Because David, like Paris desiring Helen, wanted the man’s fair wife to be a widow)

On another occasion the squadron leader was wounded in his leg. But he was not given a fair treatment, long and proper: No, because the casualties were too heavy. Instead, he was merely given a steel pin so he could be sent back to the lines where he was needed. Like that Greek charioteer, he just kept going… 

…In my drawer I am keeping forever a black wrist band from when I was an honorary pall bearer for a reservist tank crewman, killed in action, whose body was shipped back here from Afghanistan. Corporal Nathan Hornburg. Heroes keep going.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Circles and Doctor Who

Headnote: His life? In the doctor’s own words: 
“The story of a daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away.”

Hello Reader,
Got memory?

Circles. My planet circles the sun and my life circles time. We meet people again, but we don’t always remember them.

In Canada, I abruptly left home after finishing grade 11. In mid-autumn, I wandered into a community centre and met someone I hadn’t seen since grade three. That’s a lot of circles past. Of course from childhood to adulthood our bodies had changed, but we still recognized each other—how cool to meet in a big city, miles away from our rural elementary school. She was selling hippie crafts, while her longhaired boy friend mutely glared at me.

I went away feeling that something significant had happened—but who could I tell? Who, on these mean streets of the naked city? Easy: I found a notebook, started a journal. 

Circles. It was Joni Mitchel who sang, back then, how we are all caught up in the circle game. “And the seasons, they go round and round…” Last month a lady new to my Free Fall Friday group, Suzanne, wrote of celebrating her wedding anniversary by hiking where she had hiked 30 years before. There were the same red rocks. Of course she remembered them: It had been a magical time.

And me, I had a magical time at university. There I was, in same world so many of my book heroes had known. Engineers in jungle outposts, or officers on boring route marches, would remind each other of science, quote poetry at each other, and refer to literature. “Do you remember your Milton, Captain?” (“Better so reign in hell than to serve in heaven”) I just loved it when my chaplain, on being asked to report during at a university meeting, quoted Bartleby Scrivener. 

Over 30 circles ago, when Suzanne was named Sue, and all of our campus acquaintances were single, I had known her. You may wonder: How could I still remember her, many circles later, when she appeared one morning at Free Fall Friday? Easy: From my journal. Not by re-reading it, but from having written in the first place. You see, back in the 19th century Abraham Lincoln had told his law partner, Herndon, that by writing and reading out loud, thereby engaging his senses: visual, auditory and physical, he could inscribe memories into his brain. As Abe put it, “like etching on a steel plate.”  Just so. As for me, it helps that university was a marvellous place where I walked in daily gratitude. Just like Sue walking past red rocks, when she was first married. (No, she doesn’t remember me, and yes, I have my precious degree)

Circles. The planet Earth revolves, we are all circling around time, and meanwhile, on the planet Gallifrey, the Time Lords have a system of writing that is not like wedges of cuneiform, but like circles. Coincidence? I think not. 

Eh? You’ve missed the references? Cuneiform was the writing of Mesopotamia, on clay tablets, before they imported Egyptian papyrus from the marshes of the Nile. Gallifrey is in my computer spell checker, as is that time machine called the Tardis, that blue telephone box owned by the mad man on the BBC’s Doctor Who. Unlike Gallifrey, the Tardis is also in my Oxford dictionary as a proper noun. As for “blue box,” that’s searchable on the Internet.  Cool, eh?

As we all circle through time you might well ask, “What is the meaning of life?” I don’t know, but I can say that Paul Graham, a web-essayist and computer-millionaire, says he spends his money on experiences rather than material possessions. Makes sense. I keep a journal to etch in my experiences. Call me a nerd, but I’d rather experience watching  Doctor Who on TV than own a widget. I’m so glad I experienced going to London… and going on a Doctor Who walking tour.

Two folks from Saskatchewan, who had been to the same prairie conventions as I, were on the tour. On a bridge over the Thames they had me use their camera while they held up a green Roughriders flag. Of course they held up their sonic screwdrivers, too.

A week later I went on a walking tour for Jack the Ripper. As three of us gathered for the tour—the other two were from Leeds and Birmingham—we talked; we discovered we were all “Whovians”: fans of “the doctor.” And when our guide showed up, a fun young blond with a little child at home, you can imagine our delight when she arrived wearing blue Tardis earrings! 

Of course I would have gone to the Who Shop anyways, but our Jack the Ripper guide said to be sure not to miss it, as there is a BBC props museum concealed in the back. For charity. You enter through the Tardis, with the inside walls filled with circles, of course, and you discover, of course, that “it’s bigger on the inside.” I’m happy to say I had my picture taken using a key to the Tardis, and then stepping through the door. The donated props included three Daleks, and the costume worn by Vincent Van Gogh. Later I picked up Van Gogh stuff in the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. 

I regret to say that two items I had crossed the wide Atlantic to find were NOT, alas, in the Who Shop, (Nor at Forbidden Planet) but at least I could buy some T-shirts and CDs. My wall space at home is all filled up, so I didn’t buy a black and white portrait of a young Victorian lady over the caption, “Run, you clever boy, and remember me.” Of her line, if you know the scene, you could say: “It was beautiful, and it was sad.” 

As for T-shirts: Alas, a French T-shirt of the soufflĂ© girl in her red dress, “C’est fille impossible,” was one size too big for me. I deeply sympathize with how she courageously held off all those Daleks, for so long, all alone. If it were me, I would go mad.

And now, memory intact, as I am circling through the void, what keeps me sane are the shows I watch, the people I see and the folks I touch through my blog.

Sean Crawford
Cherishing my experiences 

In Ian Brown’s (journalist, married, with children) recent memoir-diary of the year he was age sixty, he notes that he had somehow lost track of two decades, although he wasn’t quite sure which two. I can relate. 

As a partial remedy for “lost decades” I like the Simplicity Journal. It comes with a ribbon bookmark, and a pen loop, complete with pen. Each two page spread includes a quarter page with lines for writing: Something that touched my heart; Something Good; Something Funny; Lesson Learned; Challenges; and Thoughts for the day.

Music of Doctor Who
Fans of the doctor make Youtube clips of TV scenes with music. 

In a song, the purpose of a chorus is like having a TV news anchor: To have the comfort of returning to something known. When I’m shaving, I like to hear the following (linked) three videos, in succession. Maybe for you these repetitive songs, without any chorus, would seem awfully boring. But not to me, not when I am deeply moved by the episodes the songs are from.

* “Abigail’s Song” by Welsh singer Katherine Jenkins, live stage version. She played Abigail in a Christmas episode. It’s actually NOT the version I play, but for mine the fan video clips might reveal too much plot to you.

* “The Long Song” with still photos from the episode where religious people sing. Their song had been constantly sung for generations to keep a mighty god asleep… but in the end they sing to wake the god up! The sad, defiant words at the end were by the doctor, about his long, lonely life as the last of his kind. He often tries to have human companions with him so he doesn’t go mad… (also to make sure he doesn’t become emotionally closed off and dead to the universe) 

*In Latin, here’s the song the gentle Ood sing for the tenth doctor to honour and comfort him at the end of his story.

…bonus Youtube: If you don’t mind stills that reveal the episode, then here is the sympathetic song “Chances,” performed by Athlete, with lyrics, from the episode where they give some aide and comfort to the greatest painter who ever lived. Don’t worry, the episode doesn’t show Vincent’s untimely death, but commenters who have seen the episode say they cry.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Little Humour

Hello Reader,
Got Humour?

I thought today I would attempt a humour piece, because I need the practise.

… At work and leisure I try to do the Right Thing, like everybody in those books says to do. 

Well, one time I was a young man, with no job, just a poor kid from the farm, off in the big city. How to get work? Well, of course, all the self-help books say the Right Thing is obvious: Just have Enthusiasm and really Believe In Myself. Oh, and have a marketing gimmick.

What could I do for work? Being from the farm I knew how to shovel manure, and how to have a strong back, but that was about all. So naturally, I went off to that clunky office building at the zoo. Once there, I suppose I should have gone to “Human Resources.” Actually, back on the farm, we called it “Personnel.” But hey, the books said to believe in myself, so bypassing Personnel I went down a little hallway to see the “Admin-istrative Ass-istant,” what we farmers call the “secretary,” because she had a desk right outside the door of the president himself: El Prezidente. The big cheese.

The Admin Ass was older than my mother, looking like an frowning dried up crab apple. All pumped up with enthusiasm, I shouted, “I’m here for a job!” She seemed unimpressed at the news, looked at me over her glasses, and asked,
“Have you a degree in marine biology?
“In land biology?”
“In microbiology?”
“Then we can’t use you. No openings. Sorry.”
“Oh…” Then I summoned my enthusiasm: “Well, can-I-see-the-president?”

I could see his door, marked “President.” I was looking right at it, like a pointer hunting dog. The secretary noticed the direction of my gaze, and repeated, “No.” But I remembered the books said to be persistent, so I narrowed my eyes and leaned forward, just like the best pointer would. As I had hoped, the secretary noticed. Too bad she added, “I said ‘no.’” I was leaning still further, about to fall over, when the presidential door opened, and the Man himself walked out. 

I thought to myself, ‘Quick, what would Horatio Alger do?’ Obvious the lad would show his pluck by following Mr. Big down the hall… so I did, right at the man’s heels. It was a short dead end hall with a small door at the end. No time to use my marketing gimmick. Quick—What would Alger say?

“Sir, if you give me a chance, you will never regret it!… I-would-be-proud to-be-a-member of-the-zoo!” The great man never stopped walking—he seemed in a hurry—but said over his shoulder, “Can you do marine biology?
“Land biology?”
“Uh… umm…” I thought for a second. “No.”
“Then young man,” he said now at the end of the hall, reaching for the door handle, “I can’t help you.” I would have followed him through the door, but the room inside was only about the size of an outhouse, complete with toilet seat. I jammed my foot in the door!

“Sir,” I shouted desperately, “I have a strong back!”
He grimaced. “You’re hired! Now get-your-foot-out-of-the-door.”
When I went back down the hall and told the secretary my good news, I saw her show expression for the first time.

*** *** ***

Many weeks of happy employment went by, with me using my strong back. Have you seen those nice big rocks lining the path to the Safari restaurant? Those are mine. Pretty good, eh?

One day I was putting rocks along the path to the gorilla cage —I mean, “enclosure—” and I was kneeling and tamping a stone into place —that’s a zoo word, “tamping—” when I looked up, and standing over me was the president. He was holding out a square cream-coloured envelope. “Young man, I have something for you.” His envelope was the wrong size for holding money, but still, I just knew it was something special. He grimaced and said, “We have to have diversity on our board, so I’m inviting you and your partner to our board’s supper-meeting. Dress is formal.”

Wow! So after work I ran straight home to tell my dear wife. Ran down the sidewalk, that is, right along the river, as we lived in walking distance of the zoo. “Gosh!” I said, “isn’t this swell?” 

…Days later, on a fine summer evening, we walked down to the Safari room, she wearing her formal black dress, me wearing my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. First person we saw, outside the dinning hall, was a stranger in a nice business suit, rather like mine. I whispered to the wife, “Everybody’s dressed up, like us.” But I was wrong. Turned out the man was a waiter. We entered the big dinning room, with the big long table, and—Oh my Lord! The ladies all had black dresses, like my wife, but the men—they all had tuxedos. Drat! Foo-ey! Blast! I’m always the last to know.

We found our name plates and took our seats. I kind of sank down into mine, feeling small, and let my wife do all the talking. The lady next to her was a microbiologist, the fellow across from us said he was a marine biologist. The man next to me was busy talking to his neighbour, but I think I overheard he was a land biologist. I just sank still further into my seat. If anybody asked, maybe I could say I was a geologist, with a specialty in tamping. 

During the supper I couldn’t remember to do any Right Things from all those self-help books on How To Socialize. I just sank down still further into my seat, and avoided eye contact. My wife was fine, I could hear her and the lady beside her: They were comparing their tattoos.

During the business part, the coffee was keeping me awake, …suddenly I didn’t need any coffee anymore. —Suddenly the president was looking right at me. “You’re from a local farm. Maybe the zoo should have an exhibit of the local ecology, eh? Stand up, and take a minute or two, to give us your thoughts on what we could include.” So I stood, said ‘gulp!’ and ‘erk!’ …and I tried to do the Right Thing. The rest of the evening was a blur. Things only came back into focus when at last my wife and I were walking home.

*** *** ***

…Now, of course, not just at work but in my leisure time too, I try to do things right. As leisure, my wife and I both attend a weekly toastmasters club to learn public speaking. In fact, this includes impromptu “one to two minute” speeches after being given a surprise topic. For this we always had an “evaluator:” a person supposed to give us, and the rest of the listening club, feedback on how we had just done with our “gestures,” our “vocal variety” and other things too. Was “supposed to.” And sometimes, a listener in the club would get as angry as a witch, (rhymes with b-itch) angry: “because the evaluator “merely” retold what the speaker just said!”

That evening, as we walked home, with my brain all blanked out, it was a no-brainer to ask my wife for her evaluation of my talk. I spoke up as soon as we were clear of the zoo. “Dear,” I said, “forget the vocal variety, forget the gestures. All I want to know is: What the heck did I say? Did I sound like an idiot?” 

She said I did fine, really fine. I relaxed. And then she cheered me up by asking me to do my special marketing thing: So I did—We walked home along the river with me singing to her, in my very special opera voice…

The end

Sean Crawford
At the zoo,
Which is indeed by the river,
Where I have a membership,
Which gives me free parking,
Winter, 2017

~No, I don’t sing opera. In fact, at work, if I’m around others, I would purposely sing like a kid. But then I was “outed.” Someone was hiding behind a tree to smoke. She heard me pushing someone’s wheelchair while singing like Bing Crosby, and then she told everyone I have “the voice of an angel.”

~Horatio Alger is like Pollyanna: If you read many self help books you soon learn those names. I haven’t read any novels about Alger yet, but I sure enjoyed Pollyanna. To me her story was just as good as Sarah Crew’s, and better than Ann’s. (of Green Gables) 

~Speaking of formal suppers, sometimes a medieval feast would include peacock as a delicacy. Last week when the zoo guys were moving the peacocks to their winter digs, once of them adventurously flew right over the wall of the lion’s enclosure. That day some lion ate better than I did.

~Here on the prairies we see gophers everywhere, such as along the town railroad tracks and underneath multi-lane pedestrian overpasses. Maybe that’s why there’s none on exhibit at the zoo. But at the London Zoo, they have something children like: Gopher tunnels you can crawl through! Complete with a few rainproof little domes where you can pop up and look around, just like a real gopher.