Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Yankees and Northern Culture

Hello U.S. Readers, (and others too)
Since I believe your C.I.A. isn’t allowed to operate on this continent,
meaning: your spies can’t do “man in the street” echolocation,
I thought I’d offer you some intelligence,
while also providing you, in case you meet Canadians on your holidays,
with some dynamic conversation starters.

It occurs to me that my dear U.S. readers, affectionately known as Yankees, may be wondering: “Up north, what is Canadian culture? Presumably it’s different than ours.”

Yes it’s different. In fact, the Free Trade Agreement, which, once it was put in place, LATER, to the BIG SURPRISE of the average Canadian in the street, added Mexico and became the North American Free Trade Agreement, was only signed… after… Americans promised that Canadians would be legally allowed to keep their own culture. If you are of U.S. aboriginal decent, then you know how much the Great White Father’s promises are worth.

Part of us having our own culture includes a certain legal percentage of radio songs being mandated to be “Canadian content.” There were other legal things too—but fewer now, as I once read that every time the Americans legally challenge the Canadians, the Americans would always win. Was I surprised? Only at first, then I reflected, “It figures.” Part of your U.S. culture, with “plausible denial” by the man in the street, is that your country is so expert, expert I say, at imperializing.

Back when I was a boy, back when you guys officially believed America was a melting pot—I get the impression you have since mostly changed to believing in pluralism, maybe even making it official, but you would know better than I if such a change has happened—Canada switched to officially believing in a multi-cultural mosaic. Partly, I guess, this was a reaction to you guys being so extreme: I remember my school principal telling us how a bus driver was so rude to an English father and his son who were trying to cope with Yankee currency, “he almost made them get off the bus.” I “get it” how the driver was only doing what he and his peers thought was right: You can’t expect folks to melt in without a little heat.

In the early 1970’s a Royal Commission, without writing “unlike the dam Yankees,” reported that Canadians believed anyone should be allowed another language provided they had one of the two official languages,” English or French. I’m sure this was true at the time, and is still true in the vast majority of Canada. But I have grave doubts about whether this is now true for our big U.S.-sized city, Toronto. It’s big enough to have “housing projects” (as I learned after a heinous crime made the newspapers here out west) something Canada’s third, forth, and fifth largest cities, according to my direct casual observation, do not have.

A colleague told me he and his wife relocated from there to live here, in the west, for the sake of their son. This was because in Toronto, he said, it was too easy to always speak a certain nonofficial language. (Perhaps this is from Toronto’s “culture,” and lack of leadership, and not merely from its “big size”) He added that an arrogant idiot discouraged his move, saying that “the English” should learn to speak their language! Right now, outside of Toronto, using a foreign language is what reporters call “man bites dog.” (No journalist writes a headline Dog Bites Man) When a condominium board over in another province (not in Toronto) conducted their meetings totally in a foreign language, the news was reported out here in Alberta.

Back to the mosaic: Our theory is that each irregularly shaped nice pretty piece of tile is embedded in a floor that is common to all. Am I responsible for knowing the floor? As in our common constitution, culture, and so forth? Yes. Am I responsible for knowing each and every tile? No: When I took an evening university class in aboriginal culture, our longhaired Indian instructor told us calmly and confidently that he didn’t know anything about Vietnamese culture. He said we were in class to learn about indigenous culture for the first time. My classmates, I might add, were majoring in social work.

What I suppose the Royal Commission implied, if you substitute the word culture for language, was that we don’t mind anyone having a second culture, providing they also have the bedrock mainstream culture. At present, certain richer, more powerful Canadians, are saying our personal tiles should take priority over our common culture, but the average Canadian still does not believe this.

Perhaps because we are bi-lingual, perhaps because we have a greater percentage per capita than the U.S. does of immigrants, and of refugees too, I for one feel no special sacred awe for “language.” And so, for both the U.S. and Canada, my earnest plea is: Let’s not make a fetish out of language. As I see it, a person whose tile is, say, of indigenous heritage, can speak English and simultaneously have an aboriginal culture, a non-English one, just as a person can be a self-described Jew and simultaneously be an atheist. (If you doubt that last bit, go ask “a person of Jewish heritage,” not “a person of the Jewish persuasion”)

Meanwhile, I recently read where a U.S. mother was teaching her American-born children her native Portuguese. She was tired of fellow-Americans assuming that she was, along with teaching language, also raising her kids in her old country’s Portuguese culture—No way! She thought the idea was silly.  I think language merely reflects culture, it does not cause it. I believe religions and cultures are all social constructs: They don’t exist in nature; they aren’t magically tied to language. So I won’t fetishize language.

 I mentioned the “richer, more powerful” Canadians. The problem with “love of power” is that your political power doesn’t truly exist, does not materialize, until you can make others do things against their better judgment. I suspect that explains how political parties here, of the left, right and center, will so often go against common sense.

There has long been suspicion (ever since the days when a princess would go off to the continent to find her prince, without the active encouragement of the commoners) that rich folk have less attachment to their own country than we do. Maybe because they fly a lot. I read once that the British upper class wanted Britain to switch over from the pound sterling to the eurodollar: Mostly so they could easily go shopping when they flew to the continent. Luckily for Britain, the common people had a stubborn sentimental attachment to their traditional pounds, as eventually along came Brexit.

In the U.S. the congressmen are millionaires, to be sure, but I suspect the extra strong U.S. patriotism, as well as the usual politician’s healthy paternalism, mitigates any silly temptation to regard their fellow countrymen as being, as one L.A. and N.Y. businessman put it, “those people we fly over.” When I was young here in Canada, as it happens, we had a rich member of the "jet set," a "playboy," as all the media labeled him, who became our young prime minister. (I’ve learned a lot from the essays of Pierre Trudeau) Years later his son, raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, became our current young prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Now what?

Does ever-rich Justin have the same attachment to our bedrock culture as the man in the street? I would say not. Trudeau’s disconnected enough to have professed an admiration for the communist system of China.  

As you know, China would use violent force, if only it could, to “re-unite” the democratic republic of Taiwan, on the island of Formosa (population 24 million) with Mainland China. Luckily Taiwan can count on the free world for help: In practice this means: count on the U.S. navy. Call me a conspiracy guy, but I’ll always wonder if Trudeau was somehow behind a recent “man bites dog” story, widely reported here in Canada, of a Canadian official turning down a Chinese couple’s attempt to bring their adopted child with them to Canada, because the DNA of the (Chinese) child was different than theirs. Such a happy event for the communists!

I can imagine a Communist Party official seizing on that Canadian story to justify their infamous “one China” policy, to justify violently conquering an innocent republic… where even the very oldest of the senior citizens has always loved the green hills of Taiwan, has never known the evil of communism… as Taiwan’s DNA matches the mainland. So yes, I’ll always wonder if Trudeau was part of a conspiracy. We used to think it took five years to “become Canadian,” but now folks can become citizens of their adopted country in only three years. Forget DNA, look to the heart.   

When our previous (conservative) government tried to tell new immigrants that certain old world practices, such as honor killing of females, and female genital mutilation, would not be allowed in Canada, and were “barbaric,” Trudeau disagreed with that wording. When the previous government said that dual citizens guilty of terrorism here in Canada should be deported to their other country, the one they presumably prefer, and have their Canadian citizenship stripped away, Trudeau and his liberals disagreed.

Most glaring of all, within the last year he has said that Canada doesn’t have a common culture, that we “could be the world’s first postnational state, with no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.” (From his New York Times interview) To this, I disagree.

My dear American friends, rest assured that Trudeau’s words were considered newsworthy here in the north, because the average person who works for a living does not believe this. It would be instructive for you to set up a journalist with microphone and camera at any Canadian Greyhound station, to have a cross section of Canadian travelers, asking people whether they agree with Trudeau that Canada has no shared culture. I think your State Department would support my opinion here: The “silent majority” of Canadians would NOT agree.

It might seem nice to be part of something bigger than Canada, as big as the whole world, or the great wide galaxy, but experience tells us humans need a little sense of security from having a smaller, nice comfy common culture, or customs.

From the book Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) by Robert Heinlein comes my ending quotation: It is instructive to substitute the word culture for customs. The scene is an anthropologist explaining things to a teenage boy, to help him get oriented, after he has been adopted into a new tribe:

“...Customs tell a man who he is, where he belongs, what he must do. Every people need their customs. Better to have irrational customs than none; men cannot live together without them...”

Sean Crawford
Milky Way,
Western hemisphere of Terra,
In western Canada,
In sight of the Rocky Mountains,

~It was during a national discussion about signing the Free Trade Agreement (the agreement from before NAFTA) that I bought a big button that had the star and stripes but one of the stars had been replaced with a red maple leaf. The words on the pin were “No, eh?”

No offense to my U.S. readers, but I don’t want our two countries to use free trade to culturally merge: your culture is too different. For example, Canadians would never land the marines to protect the United Fruit Company against a legitimate government, the way you guys did.

~As I implied in my essay, I am sure the average U.S. citizen would deny believing in imperialism. Perhaps richer North Americans will more easily imperialize other countries because they feel less attachment to their own country. In Canada there are “election spending limit” laws. Recently Elections Canada reported foreigners were cheating, using extra money to influence our last election. The money was used not to influence pipelines in general, oh no, but to influence only two specific pipelines that would break the U.S. monopoly on our oil: Especially, the proposed first ever pipeline—none exist yet—to get our oil to the Canadian west coast “tidewater” so that the free market could set our prices.

Under President Obama many, many miles of new pipeline were built. The sole pipeline he opposed was the one that would have crossed over the U.S. to the Texas coast for international oil tankers. Coincidence? Elections Canada reported that foreign money came from an institute of U.S. millionaires. Nevertheless, I still believe the common people of the U.S. are good-hearted. I believe that if you passed a hat around among non-elite people asking for money to imperialize, then the average American would just say no. Hence the millionaires needed their institute.

Now good average Americans, who would normally despise cheaters, can plausibly deny knowing what their millionaires are doing to Canada.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Cultural Appropriation in Cowtown

Hello Reader,
Got CA?
Cultural Appropriation?

Don’t worry: I am well aware that opinions, to paraphrase a computer expert, “are as common as twitter accounts: everybody’s got one.” (“Ya, but I don’t”) Don’t worry that I will try to preach at you about the issue of CA. On the contrary, I will explain how I can’t do so. Not here in Cowtown.

My friend Betty passed me some handouts from a weekend class on metaphors. Apparently the sacred mystery of poetry is partially due to metaphor, to words meaning more than one thing, words reaching “beyond the emotional and intellectual” into deeper meanings. Wow! I didn’t know there was anything deeper than those two areas. I feel energized with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) like when I read about the nostalgic joy of American baseball, or about the joy of watching ice hockey during the playoffs. Now I’m under a spell: I want to join the community of literary readers too.

But then again, do I really want to join the literary set? They buzz like bees but where’s the honey? I ask because the buzzing of the “chattering classes,” in this otherwise merry month of May, is about the sadness of  “cultural appropriation,” or CA. Actually, they claim to be “offended,” but to me that’s a wimpy code word for a “deeper meaning” than offended: “feelings hurt,” and sadness. I think CA is a term that, like “political correctness,” PC, back in the 20th century, is not instantly self-explanatory but requires a series of steps, or stages, to understand. For example, stage one, at least for PC, is: Any person you write about is someone whose culture and peer group you are automatically “speaking for.”

Make sense? When I first heard the idea of stage one it was clear as mud. Now stack on some other rocket stages too, ones that are not perfectly computed to the tenth decimal place, with each added stage thereby increasing the chance of mission failure, and in the end we have a rocket from North Korea. …Stages, eh? Not instantly grasped? There’s a reason why strong ideologies, from communism to the Unification Church out of South Korea, require study groups.

Main Body
You may wonder: By this reasoning of PC and CA, if women have a different culture, then can a male write about a female character? New York Times best-selling author and feminist Rita Mae Brown, back when (1988) she wrote her advice–for-writers book, Starting From Scratch, answered “yes,” adding that straights should learn to write about gays, (she joked about “passing in reverse”) She even joked that Herman Melville had an extreme solution to the ‘speaking for’ problem: He put his characters in Moby Dick out at sea in an all-male ship. For my part, I haven’t gone sailing yet but yes, I’ve passed for being gay.

If I am fond of the nice Ms. Brown ~of 1988 U.S. deep south~ even though, if I might coin a metaphor, she gives off a rainbow spectrograph not of my own subculture, then it’s because I could see us happily sharing a mint julep together. Even if she wouldn’t find me nearly as funny as her. Unhappily, I think her nice sense of humor in 1988 was too broad—she called herself “an equal opportunity offender”—too broad to allow her to feel any nice enjoyment at being strictly, narrowly, politically correct …if in fact they even had the term PC back in her day, as it seems PC was only popularized after a 1990 N.Y. Times article, according to Wikipedia.

People didn’t say PC back when Brown was writing, except the people in communist study groups—which they called Marxist study groups, because they resented, nay, were offended, at being called “commies.” This was because they were stridently Marxist-Leninist, not to be confused with the other communists, the Stalinist-Khrushevists, who followed the Moscow party line, rather than the party line of China and Albania. I still regret how the “campus commies” had their weekly meetings right when I always had a more important weekly meeting to go to, so I missed my chance at seeing history. It was queer how they kept on having their study-meetings even after the Berlin wall came a-tumbling down: Those fanatics didn’t want to admit they were on the wrong side of history, that Albania would soon go capitalist. Oh well, at least they still have China.

ANOTHER FOOTNOTE Hey, I bet you thought of the line in the Sheryl Crow song where the girl’s boyfriend is a communist who holds meetings, while she’s gonna tell everyone to lighten up.

Perhaps I should have more precisely said it’s the “literary class” that’s all a-buzz during May, as I for one haven’t truly looked into CA. Why? Partly because: The tempest is back east, and I don’t feel I can comment on Easterners, because it’s not politically correct to comment on a culture I don’t know—it might annoy them. After all, I myself get miffed if Easterners try to say our two totally separate provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta both have an identical carbon culture, merely because they both have farmers and prairie grass. Fair is fair: let’s not comment on each other. If, like being under the spell of the World Series, Torontonians think CA is really important, then let them talk about it with their fellow Fans.

Partly because: the magazines and periodicals in question are ones I wouldn’t normally read, or even see on local sales racks, so who am I to comment? Partly because: I seemingly don’t care enough to even retain the names of people involved, and furthermore I don’t think they would be my friends… not even if I lived right next door to them. No mint juleps for us, ’cause I’m not rich enough and literary enough.

This issue I am not explaining today, this CA, is about writers, of cultures and subcultures, imagining stories that involve persons and settings that are of not of the writer’s own culture or subculture, while using the artifacts and ideas of those cultures. Bad enough to walk in another man’s shoes, but to carry his red boots across a cultural boundary is CA, “cultural appropriation.”

To a degree, maybe, this makes sense: After all, can an Easterner who believes in “housing projects for the poor” (which the Americans knew, for heaven’s sake, to stop building back in the 1960’s—see the comedy of Dick Gregory) possibly understand my smaller city, a cowtown where the roads department has a deer sighting everyday, and where I personally see rabbits every single day? I wonder what the biggest wild animal is in Toronto? Not a deer, surely. Maybe a squirrel.

I do read, honestly I do, just not literature. If I go into an authentic prairie coffee shop in the morning, the sort of place where the men are wearing baseball hats as unselfconsciously as men of 1955 Manchester are wearing tweed cloth caps, and then if we talk about our reading, well, our talk is not about rarified prose, only about prose as common and accessible as a television show. Our vocabulary does include some big words, but certainly not the term “cultural appropriation.” As we pass around the newspaper TV pages it wouldn’t occur to us to ask: Does Hollywood even have a culture?

Here on the prairies, last I heard, our third largest minority group is the Ukrainians, after the British and the French. All three groups enjoy the cinema. Suppose secret agent James Bond goes to Moose Jaw, and has an adventure inside the windowless exotic Elk Bone Casino. Eh? Suppose the movie scriptwriter has imagined local Non-Ukrainian females wearing traditional Ukrainian red boots, and nontraditional red leather skirts too, and, furthermore, suppose he imagines male casino patrons wearing nice business suits, and tuxedos too. Should regular folks worry about their image? “Oh no, Easterners are going to think we all wear our Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes to go do sinful gambling.” Should Ukrainian folks say, “They have appropriated our red boots”? Should all the folks together say, “Oh no, they’ll think all our local young ladies wear shameless red leather!”

At the heart of the matter: Is the writer, to use a PC phrase, “speaking for” Moosejawians? I’m sure my calm, weathered, white-haired coffee buddy with the John Deer hat is not worried about the image of “sinful” Elkbonians. Come to think of it, neither is he worried that he doesn’t know his metaphor from a simile. So my answers for Moose Jaw are “No, no and no.”

I hate to be honest but verily, in my humble Cowtown, most of us spend more man-hours watching the screen than we do reading, and most of our reading is intended as printed television. Writer Margaret Lawrence, who’s books are “Canadian literature,” books not to be shelved with the science fiction, even if they do take place in the fantastic future, has said, I presume with exasperation, something like, (I forget, so I’m kinda making this up) “Please understand: When we read, it’s not because we are too lazy to turn on the television set.”

I believe you Margaret, but I just don’t know about your “literature friends.” It seems to me your friends have long ago lost their wide-eyed “Zen beginners mind.” They have simply read too much, to the point where they all know a cliché when they see one, and they all despise clichés. This has consequences. This means they never write about kisses, car chases, cars rolling over and down ravines, exploding cars, lively folks jumping out of cars to have earnest gun battles and —er— heroes entering the bedroom. Clichés to Margaret’s friends, yes, but we regular folks expect to see this every night. We don’t expect culture. Not unless, maybe, we click around the dial to CBC or BBC America: “Ya gotta love your Doctor Who.”

But literary people? Methinks they don’t talk with great passion about the Doctor, or Torchwood, or anything else filmed in Cardiff. For them, it’s much easier to feel stirrings of interest in discussing cultural appropriation.

I don’t know any literary Easterners myself—how could I? —Yet in my mind’s eye they are buying their books in hardcover because they are so rich, their pockets stuffed with so many coins they don’t even jingle. Because I’ve noticed: If their book reviews or scholarly articles quote a page number, then it’s always for the hardcover page. Call me lazy, call me stuck in my own subculture, but I confess: At the end of the day, I simply can’t be bothered to tell them that my culture prefers paperbacks. Maybe I’m enabling them to appropriate my culture, to pretend in their writing that my culture, here in the same Canada we all share, prefers hardcovers too, eh? Well. Better if I relax, like the folks in Moose Jaw, and credit the readers, and the writers themselves, with knowing when they are pretending.

For my part, any precious coins that remain after bus fare and coffee go into my wee piggy bank, which happens to be in the form of—no, not a pig—the Doctor’s blue phone booth, also called his “blue box,” (You can look it up, it’s on the web) properly known as his “tardis.” (Note to literary guys: the word tardis is in my computer’s Oxford ROM dictionary—“Yowser!”) As for cool piggy banks, what the heck do Canadian literature guys use? Eh? ... All I can think of, maybe, is a porcelain Ann of Green Gables, complete with a slot in her sunbonnet. Or maybe a slot in the gables.

You may ask: Can you wear “Anne’s” sunbonnet? Here in our distinct culture of Alberta? Can you wear a bonnet, several time zones away from the different-yet-equal culture of Prince Edward Island, without culturally appropriating P.E.I.’s headgear? For that, I would refer you to any literary people—absent from my coffee shop—or to your computer search engine, which can explain CA far better than I can… as I’m trying not to bore you.

Now, with your permission, because I suspect James Bond, metaphor-wise, speaks to our need to glamorize our lives, just as if we could have 007 background music in real life, I will go off to see what I can appropriate from another British James Bond novel… complete with long guns, a zig zagging car chase, and maybe an ejector seat.

Sean Crawford

Sidebar on Northern Culture: held back for another post
~My newest metaphor: For advice on CA I would not advise you to ask just one person, rather, I like the metaphor of Derek Silvers, of asking around like a bat sending out “echolocation.” He writes, “Bounce ideas off of all your surroundings, and listen to all the echoes, to get the whole picture.”

~I have this week deleted two essays on my current Web Administrator’s Page because they were attracting spam robots: Anglicizing and Into Arizona.

~May is not over yet: Yesterday (datelined Toronto, of course) came another news story, interviewing a University of Toronto professor about the CA controversy, headlined Journalists are self-censoring? (Here’s the link)
The questions that were covered:
-The Sun asked Peterson, what are the implications for journalists?
-In some cases, the journalist apologized. Why wasn’t that enough?
-Does this promote censorship?
-What about the argument that journalists are being insensitive to other cultures?

~Rita Mae Brown’s Book, from back in the days of typewriters, is subtitled A different kind of writer’s manual. I see it gets only average reviews on Amazon, but I strongly disagree with those guys: I won’t loan my copy to anyone!

~ A book from my youth (You can tell by the stern title it was made during the 1960’s) about the Canadian civil war (Killing Ground) had for the viewpoint character a Ukrainian-heritage army officer. The reason, according to the author, was because Ukrainians were the third largest minority in Canada. I recall the character noting that middle grade officers, as part of the military subculture, would “unconsciously” take on the moustaches and the look of Anglo-Saxon officers.

As for “unconsciously,” I rather suspect: If any culture becomes self-conscious then it may no longer be a natural culture.

~I was moved to do an essay on the rebooted New Doctor Who back in February 2017 (my blog archives are to the right)

~I am a person of culture, I am so proud to say, so here is Britain's classical singer Katherine Jenkins performing in an episode of Doctor Who: (link)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Human Interest with Muslim Demons

Hello Reader,
If God made me white and liberal, then God had a reason. “I won’t be made (guilty), nor be idle with despair.” As Jewel sings.

Of course I like my “citizen” essays, but since we all like to hear about human beings, well, it’s time for a “human interest” piece about my life, or, if that’s too hard for me to share, at least about my flaming opinions. Self-indulgent maybe, but hey: It’s a blog thing.

As you may recall, blog is short for “(world wide) web log.” Originally, young folks, comfortable with computers, who rightly thought their lives mattered, would post a log (Stardate 3141.59) about their days and their fears, complete with photographs of what they had for breakfast. This required some effort. Today our “need to get attention” is more easily served by briefly tweeting. Like the U.S. president does.

As for me, I’m just as modest about my “ordinary half-boring life” as was my favorite dead-tree essayist George Orwell, or my three favorite essay-bloggers: Modest, all of us. For example, I barely know, in passing, that the other essayists have wives, but I don’t know what the wives have for breakfast, or what kind of shirts they wear… as their kitchen counter radio plays Major Tom. (Space Oddity)

If you and I didn’t want to get some attention, through our blogs, tweets, media and our conversations in-person at the watering hole, if instead we were totally self-effacing, then I guess we would be saints. And verily our lives without attention would be as plain as supper without salt: Oh well, at least as saints we’d save on the cost of beer and cigarettes.

As for thinking we all count, I’m still chuckling over someone’s T-shirt I spotted down in the States. You may recall the Yankees have been saying, “Black lives matter.” This T-shirt had big block letters to proclaim:


At the bottom: except isis, fuck those guys.

You might say those words against ISIL are “demonizing the enemy.” I would agree. I saw the T-shirt out in the Arizona desert, among plastic lawn chairs, as in: “the white seats,” as in: the expensive up-front section of a big outdoor country music festival. A performer reminded us to support our military. He added, “If you think supporting our military is political, then you can just leave now. Because supporting our American military is never political.”

That’s historically true: When little republics like Athens or Corinth would beat the drum everybody would rally around the flag. The drum, to use a metaphor, was kept silent until there was unity. Any political talk among the people mingling in the forum would happen before they finally voted and all clamored for war. Then: All of the people would support some of the people to carry out the wishes of the people. Historically.

What if, foolishly, we would attempt to fight before we felt an appropriate certitude in our decision? The Bible has that covered: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” and “A house divided cannot stand.” If you do, God help you, blow an uncertain note, if the people “blow it,” then it still remains appropriate to emotionally support your “countrymen at arms,” beyond all politics, while at home we are acting as swiftly as possible to sort out our political conscience.

Historically, such is the way of a healthy republic.

Sidebar History:
The classic “uncertain note” would be the “Vietnam conflict” —the official army term— during my youth. Americans used under-voting-age Cold War conscripts—the conscription being ALREADY in progress—as part of the greater Cold War effort.

The smaller localized conflict in the Republic of South Vietnam was never formally endorsed nor declared to be a war by the U.S. people, the “body politic.” In fact… even though the contested battleground was officially the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, to convert them to democracy, while preventing them from converting to communism… it is documented that all of the important leaders in Washington, let alone regular citizens, could not have passed a simple community college exam on the hearts and culture of the Vietnamese.

The Americans never called up their National Guard and their reserves; they had no recycling, or any other sort of war effort, on the “home front.” Such a dim uncertain trumpet.

As for me, as a Bohemian sings, “I’m just a poor boy, from a poor family…” and yet I easily mingled enough, in the desert, among affluent fans in the white seats. I can say with assurance the rich people had ample empathy for working people, trailer trash and, as Loretta Lynn sings, a coal miner’s daughter. Furthermore—here starts my flaming opinions—those country fans could sympathize with the dear boys and girls whom America would send into harm’s way. Unlike certain elite

—Oops! I wonder if I have just offended some Guilty-White-Liberals? You know, the elite so comfortable to stay-at-home while letting impoverished guys like me do all their fighting for them. As for that anti-ISIL T-shirt, before my Canadian readers call it prejudiced against innocent ISIL-Arabians, remember this: The U.S. has declared War on Terror. This means, by definition, Americans have to “demonize the enemy.”

I live on planet reality. Maybe on fantastic Mars the patriotic social workers and saints, during wartime, are flying in their bombers and pressing their buttons while sobbing, “This will hurt me worse than it hurts you.” Not me. I would look down through my plexi-glass at the flashing anti-aircraft guns and say, “Screw those bastards.”

Historically, no one has ever been able to make war-time sacrifices, such as great tax increases… or leaving their crops half-grown in their fields, or leaving their college degree half-finished, or leaving their National Football League cash-cow to go off and join the fight, not until they had first demonized the enemy.

My dear Canadian readers: If, hypothetically, Canada declares War on Terror, and then, if you and your friends don’t demonize the enemy, then to me it logically follows: You might as well do tax decreases just like Bush junior did, and let your war be fought by “others” such as civil servants. In uniform. Which would suit corrupt liberals just fine. But know this: You surely are confused or a liar if you call that a “war.” I know one thing for sure: Even a bigot hates a liar.

A thought: If someone asks in bewilderment, “Why do some people view Hilary, Obama and Bush junior, despite their diversity of gender, skin color and party membership, as being all the same, all elite, all peas in a pod?” then at last I have an answer… Now, during World War II, young Bush senior was in uniform, a pilot, shot down by fascist AA guns in the Pacific and then rescued by a submarine. Yes, but can you imagine those three young peas, Hilary, Obama and Bush junior, serving out in the Pacific, fighting on Hacksaw Ridge? (Film) Me neither.

In contrast, I can imagine a (future) President Kennedy volunteering in WWII, President Truman volunteering in WWI, and President Lincoln volunteering in the Blackhawk war, where his peers elected him to be a lieutenant. Everyone respects Lincoln: By his plain words and his down-to-earth humor, we know he had too much inner dignity to ever want to join the elite.

Forget the elite: I can easily imagine President Trump sharing my foxhole. I’d probably have to tell him to keep his head down as he occasionally fired off a few rounds and shouted insults across no man’s land at the evil Nazis. When the time came to race across the field to the enemy lines, through thick dust and smoke, so thick that no one would ever know if we secretly wimped out or not… I could surely count on Trump to keep up with me as we dashed into the fire...

As I was saying at the top: Of course we all want to get attention, but let’s not tell false news with our tweets, blogs and social media, not about ourselves. For example, I would hope that by honestly blogging that I have an “ordinary half-boring life,” my readers aren’t struck by FOMO—fear of missing out. And hey, let’s not get confused about the definition of war. Let’s not lie to ourselves.

Sean Crawford

Human Interest Religion Sidebar: held back for some other week.
~The used bookstore in Sundre has a separate room for treasured old books; I drive the nicely scenic 22 north from Cochrane.

 ~The movie Hacksaw Ridge is like Saving Private Ryan: heavy casualties. But the grim film is still worth it, being a moving testimony to one man’s faith, a God-fearing man. He wouldn’t touch a rifle, yet he won his country’s highest honor, presented to him by President Harry Truman. At the end of the movie, people clapped for a long time. I have the old hardcover version, unearthed in Sundre, on my shelf. (The Unlikeliest Hero by Booton Herndon)

~A person of color, with laughing eyes, teased me, “But you’re a liberal.” My eyes flashed, “But I’m not guilty!”

~If God made me white and liberal, then God had a reason. I won’t be made guilty, nor be idle with despair. As Jewel sings.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Human Meeting

Hello Reader,
Got meetings?

Headnote: Toastmasters International is a worldwide organization of clubs where people “learn by doing” to do leadership and public speaking. And yes, this may include raising our glasses for a toast!

Michael Cody, DTM, was dead. (Distinguished Toastmaster)

He had his heart attack during our meeting, in early March. We did CPR, held his hand, and after the 9-1-1 guys left we held hands in a circle. He never did regain consciousness—it took 75 minutes to restart his heart. At next week’s meeting we held a memorial, and we taped it for Michael’s mother. (And put it on Youtube, something I essayed about it in After the Memorial, archived in April) But it wasn’t enough.

In early May, at the end of our meeting, at the part when we take a minute or two to ask “Any announcements?” Lera looked disturbed. She speculated that members were avoiding our club because of the shock of that night: We might need further healing, and this just couldn’t wait until our retreat (for teaching and workshops) in late June. As a few people tried to comment on the speculation, like trying to talk while standing on a shifting empty oil drum, I thought to myself: This can’t be addressed in a couple minutes during announcements, and it must be addressed. As a group. Well before June.

I spoke from my deep center, “Next week in place of a speech I could facilitate us to plan for further healing.” People agreed. A man with much experience in the business world, that is to say, quite experienced in meetings, immediately volunteered to be my “speech” evaluator. By the way, according to the Calgary Herald, members of Toastmasters progress so fast because every thing is evaluated. This means all speeches, all help-the-meeting roles, and even the entire meeting.

I used the term '“facilitate” a discussion' because, while not everyone knows this, there is a huge difference between a teacher, chairman, workshop leader… and a facilitator. The former all show up with their own desires and wants for “their” group. You might imagine a yoga teacher arriving with her plans to stretch people’s ligaments, a chairman wanting a team to reach a decision, a workshop leader wanting “his” workshop participants to master “performance objectives.” To a facilitator, though, the group belongs to the group: I leave my ego at the door.

The “group” might want to do yoga or make a decision; contrawise, they might want to spend the whole hour sitting in yoga clothes discussing the river flood. My pet peeve, then, is an expert claiming to be a class “facilitator.” Forget that noise. I say: teach, lead or get out of the way. (Incidentally, there are proven ways to facilitate an anxious group to face making a decision)

My club meets at Unity Church. The windows are colored glass; the floor is linoleum. We put tables, with white tablecloths, in a horseshoe, with people speaking on a carpeted six inch podium, we call “the stage,” at one end. (Behind it is a big proper stage, but we leave that for the church) I like how modern folding chairs have seats that are padded, not steel. Before our regular meeting started I had first prepared a flipchart (Note: After graduation, out in the “real world,” flipcharts are preferred over blackboards, partly because they can be prepared in advance)

So there I was, standing in front of my peers, ready to facilitate. What could I do? Besides saying, first off, that as facilitator my role was to be neutral and not sway the group.

My first consideration was that this was an ambiguous situation—we had never done this before. So I showed them my flip chart, with the entire discussion agenda all on one page. I was secretly reminded how some folks at the movie theatres find it soothing if the trailers have given away the entire plot before they see the film. So I displayed the entire meeting, very clearly. I wrote in some timings, while saying I was only doing so to give us a sense of structure, as I had no idea how our times would work out, “We’ve never done this before.” I promised to keep them informed about time, and would ask the group if we needed more time. We sure did! Instead of a usual 7 – 9 minute speech, we took 25 minutes. It was OK; everyone said the time just flew by.

On the chart I wrote topic one, “do we need further healing?” and topic two, “what can we do?” As facilitator, I did NOT write decide or plan, not until the group decided to “write” that. Above the two topics, I wrote the two groups involved: we who are “present,” which we can be “clear” about, and those “not present,” that we are “less clear” about. Of course we needed to do both “groups”, and I promised to facilitate us to do one group at a time, as well as one topic at a time. I kept my promise.

Under topic two, I wrote two things: ‘share with the group anyone’s death-healing experience verbally,’ (which we never did) and ‘chart possible ideas.’ I showed them the second chart page, labeled, “ideas,” and under that, “NOT a commitment.”

I knew from meetings in the working world that many people “don’t get” the concept of brainstorming, and they don’t realize that for any ideas that get printed onto the chart, you needn’t say, “It must be true (truly important) or they wouldn’t have printed it.” To emphasize that we are not committed, during our “kick ideas around” phase, to anything we write, I printed an idea at the top, one we could all laughingly agree we wouldn’t do, even though it “seemed” sensible. (Our prime minister had suffered the death of his father, nevertheless, “telephone Justin Trudeau” was not something to commit to doing) Later I ended up squiggling in amendments to our ideas… which we could all see and ponder, as our ideas were happening, in real time.

At last a third page became our Action Page, with what we would do, and when, and who would do what to implement our plan. And by this time we felt confident in our plans; we wouldn’t get cold feet later. Call such visible concrete actions the product of the meeting, a product that would not be possible, or at least not be optimum, without the process of invisible emotions and opinions.

To me the “process part” is way more challenging, more fun. At one point heads were nodding in agreement as it sadly made sense that we should have our healing outside of the church, and also outside of our regular meeting time… then one individual pointed out, in effect, that when you fall off a horse you have to get back on, therefore our healing should be right here. Because the individuals were deep in the process of being open to new ideas, and not stuck on what we had already said, the man’s idea instantly crystalized the group. Heads began nodding that yes, we should meet right here… I can assure you that made the planning much easier!

It all began with me standing there, facing a collection of still eyeballs: My peers. I had once heard that the success or failure of a meeting is set up in the first ten minutes. So I tried to be light hearted and inclusive as I showed the flipchart. Next? Imagine the silence that might follow if I simply said, “Now, does anyone want to share?”… As it happens, we are a strong group, used to yoga and spiritual things. I was suddenly inspired: “Hey, do you guys want to do 30 seconds of silent meditation?” I asked, while holding up my wristwatch. They said, “Yes!” I timed it for us. “Time’s up.” I’m sure it helped. To me, it’s all part of the process.

The first speaker was a white haired old soldier, complete with tattoo. He was surprised to find emotions coming up as he talked to us. Someone said that as she drives by the church every day, she doesn’t say to herself, “Toastmasters.” She says, “Michael.” Yes, we needed more healing.

I had to be a taskmaster, allowing people to vent a little, but not to get into healing. To cut people off if needed, so we could keep moving forward on our planning. To acknowledge sadness, to respect emotion, to show humor— and all the while, to keep us moving. No indulging in too-long personal stories, no running away from our task into digressions. A facilitator is like an orchestra conductor, keeping us all at the same pace. On the same page. In control of ourselves.

On the flipchart, you may recall, I had included “people not present.” Well. We found we didn’t need to share what anyone had specifically said, not after we who were present had already agreed we had a need to heal. Lera had previously scanned down a list of members. She pulled out her list and peered at it. We used a minute to consider which absent members needed personal calls—to merely announce the healing meeting, not getting too personal, we said. We used a minute to decide who would call whom. A minute well spent. By the way, during the meeting I saw no need to rigidly have every person speak, or have every person speak for a rigid amount of time. Those of us who were silent participated well by listening intently.

During our club evaluation phase, that night, my evaluator told the club, “This discussion was a great credit to him.”

Like all clubs, we have mini evaluation slip everyone fills out. We call them “love notes.” Someone wrote to me, “…We got results! and that is success!” Now we have a plan, and we will carry it out in two weeks.

Many people wrote something like, “Thank you for taking this on.”

Sean Crawford

~In my essay Getting a Sense of Humor, archived April 2017, I compared myself to Science Officer Spock, complete with blue shirt. Not very emotional. As it happens, when I was a young “man among men,” certain emotions, such as fear, were just not relevant.

Talk about denial: I have been told that football players in the locker room will lie to each other, avoiding eye contact, saying, “I want to get out there and hit!” Sure, I think sarcastically, and be hit, too! Now that I am an old bald guy, denial of emotion does not serve me. And it truly does not serve while I am chairing a group. Like an artist, I need to see things, see certain emotions the group is not yet ready to face.

~About my own ego: You know how you keep having to make mini corrections to your steering wheel as you drive? Of course I would have to mini correct the group. Well, I would have to correct myself too, as sometimes I would misjudge the corrections needed for my peers. In a mini way. Luckily folks would just ignore me when that happened, as we kept rolling along. It’s so nice to have left my ego at the door. Supposedly.

~One of my regular readers once wanted to know what I look like: During the memorial on Youtube, during the initial everybody shares go-around, I was one of the last to speak. During the part where individuals go up on stage to share, I was one of the last ones (fondly acting out how Michael wore his belt, as people laughed) I haven’t viewed the whole tape yet, simply because I was there, in real life.

~I wrote of our group listening intently, and being in control of ourselves. If on the World Wide Web you read that so many bloggers “hate meetings,” then maybe it’s because their peers and managers lack self-discipline. My theory is: Managers know they should keep their egos in check and do the right thing, while everyone knows what a functional meeting looks like, but folks just can’t bring themselves to be functional. Such a dreadful pity.