Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Notes on Thrift and Service

Hello Reader,
Got respect for an old era?

Here are various notes to complement last week’s essay, entitled Baden-Powell’s Era is Gone, about the life and times of (back then) the only living man to have founded an international organization.

Understanding Boy Scouts 
From Chapter one of Scouting For Boys, (1908) after explaining chivalry, and how the code of chivalry is like the Scout Law, comes this passage: 
You Scouts cannot do better than follow the example of the Knights.

One great point about them was that every day they had to do a Good Turn to somebody, and that is one of our rules.

When you get up in the morning, remember that you have to do a Good Turn for someone during the day. Tie a knot your handkerchief or neckerchief to remind yourself of it.

Last week, dear reader, I quoted about serving your country. It was from a larger section that began under the subheading Love Your Country:

My country and your country did not grow of itself out of nothing. It was made by men and women by dint of hard work and hard fighting, often at the sacrifice of their lives—that is, by their whole-hearted patriotism.

In all you do, think of your country first. Don’t spend the whole of your time and money merely to amuse yourself, but think first of how you can be of use to the common good. When you have done that, you can justly and honestly enjoy yourself in your own way.

Perhaps you don’t see how a mere small boy can be of use to his country, but by becoming a Scout and carrying out the Scout Law every boy can be of use.

Understanding Writers and Speakers:
~ Newspaper reporters can shorten a piece to fit on a page by simply lopping off the last paragraphs, but essay and fiction writers, in contrast, have to shorten their piece by plucking out adjectives, sentences, half paragraphs and more. Such a fun challenge. As Stephen King said, “(Second draft) equals (first draft minus ten per cent).”

Last week’s essay was written after I gave a five to seven minute speech at toastmasters: “Sean took seven minutes, fifteen seconds; perfect” said the club timer. It was both fun and frustrating to take out ALL the nonessential stuff as I was timing my speech. (I put back only a little for my essay) People could tell I had lots more I could have said. 
Two listeners said:
 “I want to know more about your knowledge/experience!”

“Your authentic way of sharing was engaging especially because you really know the history. Would love to hear more of your personal stories. You started with one at the start of your speech.”

Expanding the opening story: 
I had met the New Zealander at the Japanese Garden (no flowers) in Lethbridge. He informed me he had been to another Japanese Garden southwest of Edmonton that I had not known about—I’m going there! An international photographer, he had noticed me standing still, sometimes, to take in various angles—Soaking in the garden artistry is part of the meditation. 

As part of his being “being struck by B-P being from another era,” he said his grandfather could not remember the Boer War. Neither could mine, I guess, as Grandpa’s war was World War I. My dad was born during the year after the Armistice, in 1919. B-P died of natural causes during the second world war. According to Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, he was to be killed if the Nazis had occupied Britain. But as you know, the Nazis’ Operation Sea Lion failed because they failed to first win the Battle of Britain.

I told my toastmasters club how the statue of the man on horseback at Memorial Park, wearing the Scout hat, was from the Boer War. Incidentally,  Canada sent mounted soldiers from the Mounted Police. As best I can recall: The statue comes from a man found dead in a ditch, friendless, homeless, with no known relatives when he died. In his pocket was his Boer War army paper. People thought this ignoble ending to a man’s life wasn’t right. Eventually his relatives were tracked down in England, while Calgarians decided to honour Boer War veterans with a statue.

~A blanket pin, like a scotsman’s kilt pin, was rather like a giant silver safety pin.

~A billy tin was when you took a big empty can for coffee powder, or tomatoes, and punched two holes, then attached baling wire, (like for bales of hay, or newspaper bundles) so that you could hold the wire on a stick over your campfire. Better than borrowing your mum’s pot and getting it all black. 

~I am old enough to have seen baling wire replaced by frayed brown twine, replaced by blue and white plastic twine. In the barn, after we undid a bale to feed our dairy cow, we would throw the twine over a post to be thrifty, for in case we found a use for it. During my adulthood, our university newspaper used flat white plastic for our bundles.

Nostalgia for Public (Boarding) Schools
I wonder: Baden-Powell was from a boarding school, which in Britain is called a “public school.” Were the poorer boys from regular schools, who went on to work in the factories, equally enthusiastic about serving their country? I have a few tiny doubts, but I don’t see how we can ever know. History is written by the literate class.

I believe it was common for “public schools” to have rifles, and train the boys in parade drill. I have that impression from George Orwell, from when he joined thousands of civilian volunteers going to Spain… 

—Another era: The big Spanish Civil War was some years before the ebbing guerrilla struggle in the movie Pan’s Labyrinth. Various brigades of international volunteers—brigades socialist, brigades communist, brigades anarchist—tried to stop General Franco’s army. The general, assisted by armed forces from Italy and Germany, sought to crush the republic and impose fascism. This was the war in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. And in Nicholas Monsaratt’s novel of a student going communist, This is the Schoolroom (link)— 

…Orwell said that when he arrived, due to his public school experience, he was made a leader right away.

~In the second part of the Doctor Who story (in the previous essay) the boys in school uniforms, with their strict teachers in flat academic caps, break out the school rifles: They mean to shelter innocent townsfolk, and defend their school against some murderous aliens. It was a nostalgia episode, showing sterner days. 

…Sad to think those boys—along with their whole generation—would all be gone to Flanders in a few years… 

…Strange to think entire societies, like individuals, can have blind spots… Orwell, who came of age after the war, wrote that his generation of schoolboys was a rebellious one, but they never knew why, not at the time. Like how my American generation, in the late seventies, would ask each other, puzzled, why we had less creativity and political involvement than our peers of ten years earlier. “Maybe because we have a less affluent economy” was the best I could reply, blindly, back in those post-Vietnam years.

Sean Crawford,
Once an army corporal,
Still proud,


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Baden-Powell's Era is Gone

And he sang as he sat, 
And waited while his billy boiled,
You’ll come a waltzing Matilda with me.

From the song, Waltzing Matilda

Eleven of the twelve men who walked on the moon were Boy Scouts.
source: Rocket Men

Hello Reader,
Got service ethic?

…Sir Robert Baden-Powell, retired British army general, also known as Lord Baden-Powell of Gilwell, also known as Chief Scout of the world, was the founder of the international Boy Scout movement… 

Recently, as a tourist in southern Alberta, I came upon an older man, a tourist from New Zealand. We had both been in Boy Scouts, and we had both used a billy tin. I said I had been to the Baden-Powell House in central London; and he said, “I am struck by how Baden-Powell was from another era.” Later, after I went away and thought about it, I was struck too.

Today I would like to tell you a little about the Chief Scout, and give you a two glimpses of a vanished era, glimpses of ‘serving your country,’ and ‘thrift.’

Robert Steven Smith Baden-Powell was born in 1857 in England, and attended a boarding school, like in Harry Potter, except that in those days, but not now, his school was all-boys. (Like in the novel Goodby Mr. Chips) Most boys at the time would have attended regular schools and gone on to, say, work in shops and factories around London, or gone off to be private soldiers in the army over in India. Meanwhile the richer middle class, from their boarding schools, would have gone on to, say, be office workers and bankers in London, or gone off to be colonial police officers in Burma, as George Orwell did, or be commissioned army officers in India, as Baden-Powell did.

B-P, as he is affectionately known to modern Boy Scouts, served in India, and then in Africa where he scouted against three First Nations. The Africans called him Impeesa, “the wolf who never sleeps” for his courage, tracking and scouting.  In South Africa he was a general during the Boer war against the Dutch settlers. It was a war the British kept losing, until they won, a war where the only time church bells rang all over Britain was for a success by Baden-Powell.  Afterwards, stationed in England, he was a celebrity. His book for adults in the army, Aids to Scouting was a big success, even being stocked in British schools as a textbook. I suspect the schools were not teaching scouting, rather, as with today’s Harry Potter books, it was probably to give boys who would otherwise never read a chance to do so.

One day, old B-P came upon some boys in the woods, and asked what they were doing. The boys, who didn’t know who he was, enthusiastically replied they were scouting: like in the book Aids to Scouting. Well, that gave B-P an idea. He spent a few years collecting books, talking to educators and scouts, and at last he conducted a field test, taking twenty boys of diverse socio-economic status on a camp out. Everything went well. He then published Scouting For Boys. Immediate success! Scouting grew by leaps and bounds all over the world!

(And back when all the Scout Troops in the British Empire were listed in a corner of one newspaper page, one of them was led by my friend Brian Gregory’s grandfather; Brian once took me to see the old Scoutmaster. We found him doing a little wood project in his garage)

At the request of King Edward VII, General Baden-Powell resigned from the army to give scouting his full attention. This was a few years before the Great War, two decades before the Great Depression of my dad’s youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs and Boy Scouts B-P’s widow was the Chief Guide. 

From B-P one can glimpse a vanished era. What do you suppose was the opening line of Scouting For Boys? It was this: “I suppose every boy wants to help his country in some way or other.”

Here is an except from later in the book:
…Don’t be content, as the Romans were, and as some people now are, to pay other people to play your football or to fight your battles for you. Do something yourself to help keep the flag flying.

If you take up Scouting in that spirit, you will be doing something. Take it up, not merely because it is good fun, but because by doing so you will be preparing yourself to be a good citizen not only of your country but of the whole world. 

In the Doctor Who TV series there are episodes where the doctor is disguised as a teacher in a pre-war boarding school. One of the boys  has “the second sight,” visions, and he sees himself and a fellow student in a shell crater in Flanders Fields, just as a shell is coming right down on them. Tragic. Viewers know he will not dodge the coming war. That is what service meant, in those days.

And what of thrift? Today one hears of snowshoes and snowshoe bindings, various skis and ski bindings. When I was young, you heard of packs and packframes. (My first pack had aluminium tubing, to support a nylon pack) You could buy a sacklike pack in the army surplus store, made of webbing. Very common in my postwar youth. When I was in Wolf Cubs the local Scout troop made their own pack frames by joining two side boards, making slits all up and down them, and wrapping string all around. This was their frame, cheaper than getting a store-bought frame. 

The Scouts were as thrifty as possible: A billy tin was cheaper than buying a cooking pot; using blanket pins you could make your own sleeping bag, as shown in my Tenderfoot to Queen’s Scout manual. In that manual, along the path to Queen’s Scout (Eagle Scout) was a requirement: You must show your Scoutmaster you were regularly putting money aside as savings. I had no allowance, but I could save some of what I made by collecting beer bottles from parks and ditches. Later I had a paper route, still saving.

Of the ten parts of the Scout Law, the ninth reads simply, “A Scout is thrifty.” That’s it. Short and sweet. How many boys and girls today know the word “thrift?” At most, they’ve heard of a thrift store. How many adults, today, have in their vocabulary “being thrifty?” Many people are living pay cheque to pay cheque, but one should have enough saved to live on for a few months, for in case anything happens to your employer. So many folks buy on credit, or live a life style of being permanently in debt; while so few understand the horrors of credit card quicksand. The Japanese laugh at us, saying if Americans ever stopped buying on credit for even a single day, our whole economy would collapse. 

 Today maybe we daren’t, out loud, say the old words “citizen” and “serving our country,” but at least we can, barely blushing, say lesser things like “community service.” I remember when my toastmaster club moved into having evening meetings at Unity Church. For our first meeting, a man from that church donated his time to showing us where things were, and what to do. I recognized him as a retired city alderman, John Lord. “John! You’re doing your service work.” He smiled, replying, “Isn’t that what life is about?”

I miss the old era of Baden-Powell.

Sean Crawford,
Once a patrol leader,
Still singing,
Footnotes: NONE today—But to be polite: do you want footnotes?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Icebreaker Speech

Hello Reader,
Who are you?

I wonder if those youthful bloggers at Live Journal (blog) still do those self-quizzes, such as “Which Harry Potter character are you?” Or if the women’s magazines still have “What is your style of X?” Probably. 

One evening, years ago, I was in the student bar with a lady. Although both of us had jobs in the real world, we were in a student bar, hence our typical student meaning-of-life conversation. “I feel,” she said “like making a list of my accomplishments.” Being a man with a back pack (for my layers of clothing, books and working papers) I pulled out big sheets of paper for each of us, and we “went to it.” Then we shared. 

Her list included things from her entire life, such as the time she sneaked aboard a box car and rolled across the time zones. And me? I covered just the last month or so. My life had led up to such things as being able, that night, to have the self confidence and social skills to talk with the bartender. Something that was once impossible for an abuse survivor. My list reflected my life style of feeling gratitude for the moment.

A few months later I joined the public speaking organization Toastmasters International, headquartered in (where else?) California. At one’s local club, the first speech that everyone has to do is the one to introduce themselves: the dreaded “icebreaker” speech. “If you don’t know what to say,” someone advised me “you can tell us your family tree.” Not helpful. So I resorted to telling my club about my last week or so, and where my current accomplishments came from. I’m sure some of my listeners were miffed—they said so—but that was the best I could do.

This year, Toastmasters is having a big shake up: The headquarters has moved  to Colorado; now you have to have a computer; and everyone has to do some new “paths”… starting with re-doing the icebreaker speech. Easy in theory, since now I have years of doing speeches under my belt, very hard in practise. This week I was ready, I hoped, to stop hiding quite so much. I called it, “Things It is Time to Tell.”

Luckily the icebreaker time limit is only four to six minutes. Unluckily, we had a lack of speeches that night, so I was scheduled for seven to nine minutes: My actual time was nine minutes and two seconds. The best speeches, like good fiction, avoid generalities—instead, they put in “the telling details.” Me, details? About moi? That’s hard. At least I didn’t have to worry about being too immodest or too boring, because I know one thing for sure: Humans like to hear about other humans. Hence blogs and Live Journal. Hence published diaries like Go Ask Alice

I wanted to say that I left home early, not as early as Alice, but I didn’t have time to go there. I wanted to say, as I said in January of 2016 to a friend, (and later on this blog) that I lived through the final scene of Bladerunner, but I didn’t trust my voice, so I didn’t. That’s because I always speak in the moment—I even laugh at my own jokes, which you “aren’t supposed to,” but how can I help it? If I am in the moment? I did manage to say that I was once in a self help group where we could tell each other stuff that society wouldn’t believe, “and we would believe each other.”

How to begin? I stood on stage and said, “Economy.” I told my fellows that my dad drove a tiny Volkswagen beetle where the gas cap was under the trunk, where there was no gas gage because instead there was a reserve tank, and for a sun visor, instead of a stupid cloth rectangle there was a transparent green pull down, like a giant sunglasses screen. After my dad drove that little car into the ground he bought another two door beetle to be driven for many years, this one with an outside gas tank flap, a gas gage, and a silly cloth visor. And these were the cars where, if our family went out to have a Chinese dinner, we fitted in two parents and six children. Mother was a housewife. We were poor.

A young lady once told me of the time she nearly cried from being scolded by her teacher. The girl was in Home Economics class, sent to the back to fetch a mixmaster or a blender, I forget which, and she didn’t dare ask, lest people realize that at her house she had neither one: She guessed, and brought the wrong one—and since no one else in the whole class would make such a mistake, the teacher assumed she must be lazy and not listening. I think she cried after class. I told my fellow toastmasters, “If you’re poor, you don’t know.”

I said, “Remember when all of America stayed up to watch the moon landing, the first man stepping onto the moon? I stayed up watching the vacuum tubes on the kitchen radio.” Our radio set had no casing, for an arial it had a wire that went up the wall and along the cupboard. We used to have one television set, black and white, so my dad could watch his hockey games; it sat glistening in the rain out in the yard for years because Dad threw it out. Because the kids were fighting over which channel to watch.

You might think we would have some sort of protocol, or prime directive, for peacefully watching TV, but my family believed in being dysfunctional. (No telling details today)

Jump ahead years, and there I was: enrolled full time in the one year Professional Writing Certificate Course. Not to get a job, (because you don’t) but to have a year of improvement by being edited. One day I’m in the bar talking to Shawna. At the end of the year, when we booked a room on the third floor for our graduation, inviting parents, teachers and some colleagues from the field, Shawna had tears in her eyes. On her big day, her parents had criticized her. 

In other words, I’m not the only one from a dysfunctional background. But at least I have learned a few things. I can still remember my age that year, that night in the bar, because in order to ensure Shawna didn’t feel patronized, I had said, “This is stuff I can know now that I’m 36, that I wouldn’t have known when I was 26.” Her age.

As a writer, Shawna observed people. What I remember her saying, one night, is that she saw me as wearing a good mask—but peering out at people. That, and she hated how I could get inside her head and mind read her so easily, “because of your abuse issues.” Whoah! At no time had I used the A-word to her. But yes, rolling the word around in my mouth I had to say it: I was an abuse survivor. It had taken me until age 36 to say it.

During that writing year we had to all interview someone as a feature magazine article exercise. (not for publication) I interviewed Shawna. Meanwhile, when the assignment was given, just as soon as the class over, the cool lady whom the class elected to be editor (for our magazine) rushed right across the room to claim me as her interview subject. Who, me? Well, ain’t that nice? And her story, which was seen only by our teacher and me, started off “Talking… with Sean Crawford, it is hard to believe that this warm and witty man—” hey, I am warm and witty!— “once had (no emotions), not even anger.” That was true. She quoted me saying, “One of my hobbies is getting cured.” Also true. Also known as “getting into recovery.” 

Many years ago, one dark night, as I was trudging the hill from the river to the university campus, I remembered how a memory had once popped in. And then I was angry. Angry all the way up the hill. This was on the weekend, the student bar was all but deserted, and I went in for a draft beer. Still angry. Finished it, still angry. Ordered another. Now, I don’t want to offend any recovering alcoholics, but one of my small joys in life was going into the student bar and happily watching the music television video channel on the giant screen. I didn’t want to waste another good beer by being angry instead of happy, but—I did. All the way to the bottom of the glass I was still was unable to get back to normal. I decided not to waste a third beer. 

On Monday I went across the road from the campus to the rehabilitation research institute and asked a good man I knew, explaining that I had been unable to turn off my anger. I asked, “Is that what normal people are like?” When you’re dysfunctional, you don’t know. Speaking slowly, he thought he could see how I would have repressed anger “… if the only time you saw anger was when someone was having their head torn off…”

… At this point in my essay, dear reader, I’m at well over a thousand words. (over 1,500) Time to end this piece. Now you know a little more about me, as much as I can tell in only nine minutes and two seconds. And by the way, no little Volkswagen for me: I drive a four door—so disabled people can get into the back—hybrid Prius. And, as a happy ending: Today I have a fine job where people say I’m a fine fellow.

Sean Crawford
Under a blue, blue sky

~Update: Volkswagon is ceasing production of the beetle in 2019. Link. 

~In my link to a CBC radio feature on sibling abuse, is someone who, like me, was well over age 30 before someone else used the word “abuse” —and then suddenly things made sense. See my essay Abuse Science, archived November 2017. 

~ Here is a half-paragraph cut and pasted from my essay on Oblomov, archived June 2016:

QUOTE “… due to your abuse issues.” Such a jolt. I filed the phrase away, a phrase I had never applied to myself, and didn’t much think about it. Until last week when I caught that CBC show on sibling abuse. And now I’m looking back; trying to admit things. As far as I can see, society may at long last, since the Columbine school massacre, realize that bullying can lower self esteem, but we aren’t ready to realize that ongoing abuse, as a man on the radio was careful to say, is utterly destroying of “soul” and “self-esteem.” He said it destroys “right to the core.” When he hitchhiked as a minor he was AMAZED that people were nice to him. (Yes, of course normal people at his school and in his community were nice, but soul-destruction cancels that out) I can relate. This may not sound logical, but such is the empirical evidence: Hail, flood and fire do not destroy people at the core. Abuse does. UNQUOTE 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Pre Patriot Day

Hello Reader,
Here’s the piece I promised last week, 
saying no one will read it,
as it’s too near Labour Day.

They say my city reminds people of Denver, in Colorado. Did you know that the biggest minority group of foreigners in my city is U.S. citizens? Many come to Calgary for white collar work in oil and natural gas. So on “Patriot Day”—Like most Canadians, my business calendar book is “made in the U.S.A.”— I could go into a downtown bar, between petroleum office towers, wearing my friendly flag lapel pin. Maybe get a free drink. On the other hand, how can I happily drink beer with “patriots” who are too lazy to have great regard for the words that fall out of their mouths? They say one grave thing, “War,” and do another. 

According to Psychology Today magazine there is a contract between innocent soldiers (many of them uneducated, too young to vote) and society, a society including the establishment, the older generation and lazy patriots. The servicemen: “I will do what you say, but you have to know what you are doing.”

The Psychology Today research indicated that massacres and mistreatment of prisoners will not happen if society holds up its end of the contract.

In a fortnight I will post an essay on Idealists Among Us. The essay will be abstract; meanwhile, here are some concrete specifics I deleted from that essay.… I was startled to suddenly realize this is my only week left to post before Patriot Day, on September Eleven.

A foolish nation at war
I am angry because, regarding congress, and the War on Terror, over in Iraq, I recently did a google search. I found individual congressmen going over there on speed tours, going “Gosh wow.” Fine. But I found no sign of a congressional committee ever going over there to soberly investigate. No time allotted, for a committee or those individuals, to get away from the elite in the little walled off Green Zone in the capital, no time to talk intently with common American soldiers and civilians, no time for common Iraqis.  The congressmen wasted their jet fuel.

Sadly, history repeats. You may recall from the old national best seller, The Ugly American, how experts from the U.S. hung around in Saigon with the Vietnamese elite, never getting out to the countryside, never asking the humble rice farmers, who were the vast majority, what it would take to win their “hearts and minds” away from choosing communism. 

(But Robert Kennedy knew: he wrote a clear, public domain, essay on Vietnam as part of his bid for the presidency, before he was assassinated) 

I have to shake my head at that, just as I shake my head when the mistakes of Vietnam are being repeat-repeat-repeated for the war on drugs. Plainly, there’s not enough informed idealists over here, today, to keep our boys over there, back then, from having died partly in vain.

With mistakes being repeated, no wonder Matt Damon starred in the movie Green Zone. (Four stars out of five by film reviewer Roger Ebert) Sure, there were smart people in the Pentagon and the White House—but apparently the generals and officials were only smart like a Ph.D. who can’t tie his own shoes. Blazing incompetence. 

Where were the congressmen? Where were the idealists? Where… while during the “occupation” of Iraq, the entire world outside the U.S. knew the occupation was a fiasco? Instil Democracy? Rebuild the country to Saddam Hussein pre-war levels? Or even, as a worst case scenario, merely “teach the theory” of democracy? Fiasco, fiasco and “fiasco.”

Back home, I respect the Dixie Chicks for never saying “I told you so.” They merely played Shut Up and Sing. 

Here’s a link to the Guardian article by the pigeon who outed them.

Side note: To put the Dixie Chicks in context: Incredibly MASSIVE anti-war demonstrations in Europe were simply not being reported on the U.S. TV news. The Chicks said a phrase or two to indicate support for such a demonstration by Londoners, then “Just so you know…,” preceding their sentence about the president being from their home state. But their haters and lazy patriots, of course, didn’t wish to know context. Here’s Roger Ebert’s (link) movie review of Shut Up and Sing

Speaking of U.S. newscasters not reporting the European protests, some days ago the BBC did a story (link) on a U.S. family that had two children involved in two separate mass school shootings: I was riveted! But the only things I find on google have links back to the BBC, and not to any American newspaper.

Sean Crawford
North America,
Next to Montana,

~Perhaps the worst Yankee imperialism was when the Iraqis were creating their new constitution. Like the U.S. founding fathers before them, respectful of consensus, they needed some time. 

In the modern business world, any group facilitator can tell you the pitfalls of “rushing to completion,” or rushing to a vote, if this means that later the group won’t be confident in taking action on their vote. In other words, part-way through any Arab discussion a “vote” is merely a snapshot, frozen in time, of an opinion poll, a part-way opinion. But the Yankee occupiers arrogantly forced their “sacred vote” upon the Iraqis, as a decision maker. This when the Iraqis were almost finished discussing. “Close, but no cigar.”

For the quote below, “Bremer” refers to the U.S. leader (and ambassador) of the occupation; “this” refers to killing, chaos and civil disorder.

“If only Bremer had given us an extra day, none of this would have happened” he said ruefully. “We could have had the democratic government that the Americans promised us when they went to war.”
(Page 234) trade edition (Green Zone) with Matt Damon as a soldier on the cover, Imperial Life in the Emerald City subtitled “Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasakaran.

~Link to Roger’s two thumbs up review of Green Zone.. 

~The first time on this blog I used the label “hubris” was for an essay that, after establishing terms and concepts, zeroes in on the White House and Iraq, Reality Checks, archived October 2010.