Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Brass Cannons Smash Reality

www.essaysbysean.blogspot.com

Hello Reader,
Got reality?

"Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."
George Santayana.


Preface

Clive James died last week. 
He was an Australian philosopher and broadcaster. 

The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) aired an old interview with him, and the BBC posted three links, including linking to an obituary.

As I'm sure James has, down the year I have wondered: Are tomorrow's war criminals already living among us, as children? Are we doomed to more wars and holocausts? Surely our safest path to avoid such things—although I know Vladimer Putin would disagree, as would the average guy in the street in China (They also disagree with justice for Hong Kong)—is to pursue "liberal democracy."

Clive James had a lifetime project: He wrote a tome, Cultural Amnesia, as part of his enthusiasm for democracy. His book excited me enough to indirectly lead to this essay that I first posted as The Brass Cannon back in December of 2010. I present it as my second re-run of 2019; the quotes that bookend it are from Clive's book.

Prologue

“… the liberal believes in the permanence of humanity’s imperfection, he resigns himself to a regime in which the good will be the result of numberless actions, and never the object of conscious choice. Finally, he subscribes to the pessimism that sees, in politics, the art of creating the conditions in which the vices of men will contribute to the good of the state.”
Raymond Aron, L’Opium Des Intellectuals p. 292

The Brass Cannon

The Brass Cannon. …Such a simple title, for such a big concept.

In the lengthy novel, the title object suddenly appears in the middle, is seen only for a paragraph, yet the shadow remains to the final page. 

The setting is an age when transport is so expensive that you generally bring only the clothes on your back. Hence the young viewpoint character is quietly amazed at the behavior of his traveling companion, his old professor. The prof doesn’t know if he will arrive alive, or, instead, suffer a heart attack from the escape of Earth’s vicious gravity. Yet, next to his body, Professor Bernardo de da Paz places a little brass cannon that he purchased on Earth. 

I sometimes wonder what would have been the affect if, on coffee tables scattered over America, that title had been there since the mid1960’s, glaring in mute accusation. The title of another novel from the same author, Stranger in a Strange Land, had been on the table at the house of the “idealistic” organizers of the tragic Kent State riot. “…Four dead in O-hi-o.” At the time I remember a few students quoting Mao: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” (or rifle or cannon)

The idealistic title The Brass Cannon, chosen by Robert Heinlein was, alas, changed by the editor, who apparently thought fans of sf wouldn’t recognize it as science fiction. (Idiot!) As for the actual title, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, it’s such a mouthful that I can’t bring myself to be critical of anyone who “disrespects” the book by calling it “Moon.”

An earlier version of Professor de la Paz would be the town doctor in Heinlein’s 1949  Red Planet subtitled A Colonial Boy on Mars. Like the Lunar doctor of philosophy, the Martian doctor of medicine was also a philosopher of simple things beyond the “biggies” like democracy and revolution. Once he reminisced about what television sets were originally intended for: His grandfather had witnessed TV sets in bars being used to show wrestling matches. I thought of this when the big expensive HD TV’s first came out: too expensive to be seen anywhere but in bars.

Another memorable line of the doctor’s, because he had been involved in local politics back on Earth, was (from memory) “Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.” 

Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps graft is as practical as a cannon. When my hometown of Calgary, Alberta was considering a “number of bags” limit on weekly garbage collection, an alderman disparaged the idea saying, “People will come out with bags the size of (the town of) Cochrane.” Money and practicality, not idealism, was again the deciding issue when City Hall considered the idea of changing all the residential speed limits from 50 kilometers per hour to 40 kph. I don’t recall whether the morality of subverting the integrity, the honest calculations, of the professionals of road engineering was even mentioned. What I do recall is that changing all those signs would cost one or more million dollars, and that, anyway, many drivers practically ignore their speedometers. The idea was dropped. (But got revived in 2019)

I enjoy driving. When I go cruising along in the good old U.S. of A. I am mindful of how, for an awake citizenry, the Constitution is a practical force: Hence I drive the “Military and Interstate Highway System” often shortened to “the interstate,” a road that, according to a professor, needed the plea of “military” use to get around the law, written generations before Hitler’s autobahn, against ever building any such road systems in the US.

After opening the sunroof and singing “Do you know the way to San Jose?” I might try a 1960’s advertising jingle from the Saturday morning cartoons of my youth: 

You can eat them on the run; eat them just for fun,
Eat them when you have a party,
When you want a snack, you can eat them from the pack,
Or warm and crispy, good and hearty,
Pop tarts, great new treat,
New-ew-ew from Kellog's,
Pop tarts.

Except they weren’t new. 

And they weren’t from Kellog's. 

Whoever had first started producing the tarts has gone the way of all unpersons. 

Kellog's saw, copied, and then, to quote a confederate cavalry officer, got there “first-est with the most-est.” Maybe "That’s not fair!" not ideal, but that’s how things work in this world of Saturday morning tarts and toy cannons. As my friend, a religious fundamentalist small-business owner put it, “As long as you are within the letter of the law you are morally OK.” The executives at Enron did break the law, and were prosecuted. The men on Wall Street who plunged our entire planet into a recession didn’t, and weren’t. (One chuckles at the term which assigns agency, "Wall Street meltdown," being glossed over, and replaced by the no-fault term "recession")

It should come as no surprise that what happens within a practical democratic nation also happens between groups of nations. When I was with NATO I often went mountaineering in Switzerland. Along the mountain roads, quite blatantly, were inset rusty brown tank traps, still operational, these being a big part of the reason why Hitler’s autobahns were never extended into Switzerland. The point is not that the Swiss diplomats would sing songs of peace, in sweet harmony, with their cultured German counterparts, but, rather, the Swiss could give a sober accounting of the tank traps, steel cannons and so forth. It must have taken several days of diplomatic meetings to recite the entire military inventory.

As for the earliest brass or iron cannons, according to legend they often were inscribed with: “The final argument of kings.”

Any colony, whether on Mars or Luna, that builds their own cannons to enable them to safely open up their minds to be able to think, and then to argue “in favor of revolt,” is a colony that includes “dirty traitors” against the king. Unless they succeed. Then the former colony includes “founding fathers.” And the new state receives diplomatic recognition.

(Here in town a college stand up comic noticed that many a young student has had his father give recognition to having one’s “own roof.” He asked: What’s so magical about a roof?)

Sometimes cannons are set along the coast. My brother’s university dormitory, at UBC, “Fort Camp,” was an old barracks for the shore defense gunners. (Against the Japanese) Back in the old days of sailing ships the distance a shore cannon could project force was 3 miles. It is most assuredly not coincidence that for so many years the legal International Limit for territorial waters was also 3 miles. 

Meanwhile, from the age of sail and on through the steam age, one of the best navies has always been the Royal Navy. I remember as a youth, back when the limit was usually 3 or 12 (depending on the country) miles, reading a British navy book where all of the ship-to-ship missiles, and shore to ship,  had a range of 200 miles. While I was reading the book, world diplomats were meeting to discuss extending the International Limit.

I like cannons, and in writing this all too brief essay I don’t mean to discourage the idealism of any young students at Kent State or UBC. If the mass of men and women, unlike you and me, don’t voluntarily restrain themselves unless they are forced to, well, "it’s no biggie." In my own lifetime I have cherished seeing a goodly spreading of democracy and the furthering of international cooperation. For me, knowing the Rules of Human Behavior is like having rules for the writing of sonnets: it just makes things more fun. The Rules mean that good laws, whether in Calgary or internationally, will be practical, enforceable, and suggest a side effect of graft. “A force in motion continues until it meets an opposite motion.” 

It all starts with taking people as they are: They mean well, of course, and, like my dear religious friend, they need forces both judicial and physical, even brass cannons, to help guide them to stay safely on the road. From a distance I can watch generations of people passing by as they keep trudging along the low road to morality. 

The high road, lost in the misty uplands, is only for the angels.

Epilogue 

“In the course of the last forty years, the only part of the world that has enjoyed peace is the continent divided between two zones of political civilization both of them armed with atomic bombs.”

Raymond Aron, Les Dernieres Annees Du Siecle (The Last Years of the Century), p. 68



Sean Crawford
Calgary, at the ending of
The first decade of the second millennium
Footnotes
 ~ The man quoted above would be pleased to know that the European Union, instead of  an individual, was awarded the 2012 nobel peace prize

~The two quotes are from James Clive’s essay on Raymond Aron, from pages 32 and 39, quoted in Cultural Amnesia. ( a really exciting book)

~William Shakespeare did not invent the phrase “pot calling the kettle black” but he used the concept in one of his comedies, and he used a “cannon equivalent” in (I think) the comedy Twelfth Night. In Will’s day there was a problem with cannons: as they aged they weakened, and you never knew if one was going to burst into dangerous shards. So I laughed when a character retorted, “That was ill shot with elder cannon.”

2 COMMENTS:

  1. I've been looking all over for the "you can eat them on the run, you can eat them just for fun" jingle - I thought it was from Pop Tarts but couldn't verify it. I found your blog from a Google search. Thanks!
    Reply
  2. You're welcome.
    Thank you for explaining, for otherwise my statistics feature "search terms" would have showed your jingle phrase, and I would have wondered if you were a young intern from Kellogs or something...
    As you may already know, if your google search turned up another essay of mine, one where someone else was looking up that jingle. Small world!
    Reply

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Kind to Clerks


“In the end, only kindness matters.”
Jewel, singing These Hands

Hello Reader,
Got kindness?

It’s late November. Grey and cloudy. You may have seen that perennial favorite, The Value of a Smile at Christmas. So true. Now, how about the value of you and me being kind to clerks, during all seasons, regardless of cloudy weather?

Kindness is its own reward. After all, being kind reminds me that, unlike how I might have felt when I was unemployed, I am not alone, not some hard billiard ball on a cold plain bouncing off alien spheres: No, I’m a part of our warm human community. To be kind means I have to get off my couch and out of the house; kind means opening my eyes; kind means widening my heart for the priceless grace of seeing the careworn shoes of others. And that’s why tender green Boy Scouts will do good deeds, and seasoned old capitalists will give aide to charity. 

Being frugal, I do nearly all my shopping at big stores. Nevertheless, there is a local convenience store where I go inside saying, of course, a few words for our brief transaction, and, beyond that, I often manage an extra sentence or two. One time, the clerk remarked I wasn’t wearing my usual (My neighbor Totoro) baseball cap. Another day, he told me I was his favorite customer. I walked out into the night feeling blank. I didn’t know what to feel—maybe angry. Obviously his less frugal more important customers, the ones who fly in the door more often than I, and buy more stuff than I, aren’t his favorites. How baffling. Why were his frequent flyers ignoring him? Did they at least give him a smile? I guess I was angry.

In Calgary, by chance, I once met two excited teen age girls, in from the town of “Chesty,” who assumed I was visiting Calgary too. “You are our favorite customer! We like how you leave us magazines to read.” I knew them from the Chestermere donut shop, one where a young man had thanked me, saying he especially liked how I left a magazine-sized book on how to draw comics, manga, in the style of Japan and South Korea.  It was at the Chestermere Safeway (grocery store) that a cashier had told me that another cashier had asked her to tell me, “her favorite customer,” that she had moved to British Columbia. …I will confess I’m not positive which cashier she was. My point is: I have credibility for an essay on being nice to clerks.

Kindness. Knowing that smiles enrich the giver as much as the receiver, I “set my intention” to be nice. I remember what an old man once said: “I try to have everyone come away from me without feeling worse.” Also I remind myself that clerks may be on auto-pilot, amidst a dull routine, tired, with shoes that hurt their poor feet. I could therefore smile, and at least make eye contact, to welcome them as fellow beings. It logically follows that I could try to see them not as my means, but an end in themselves.

I got “people as means verses ends” thing off some European philosopher. (Kant) He thought regarding people as a means was beneath one’s dignity. Too often people are undignified, and don’t even know it: Some folks, for example, can be cruel and callous towards a professional ball player. To them, he is merely a paid means to their entertainment. 

Meanwhile an amateur, such as an Olympian, we watch with benevolence: She is not being paid, she is not there to be used by us, as a “sports object,” but instead she acts for herself and the “spirit of the Games.” Olympians will still compete even if the TV cameras are broken and the crowds absent.—And hey, don’t expect any cameras from Yankee imperialists: those clowns, while covering Vancouver 2010, couldn’t even show K.D. Lang singing Hallelujah. Not very kind to Canadians, eh?

Here’s a scene: I was in the “lobby” of Sobeys liquor store, just past the two cashiers. A  middle aged lady stood at a card table to give away free samples. Considering that maybe her feet hurt, and without treating her as a robot with a recorded sales spiel, I chose the red wine over the brown beer sample and some sort of novelty drink. She told me the red was made with “a hint of oak.” I shopped around the aisles, came back, and brightened her day by saying, “Some trivia for you: Speaking of ‘hint of oak,’ there’s a famous perfume in Europe that uses a hint of moss… but it’s not sustainable, because all the moss is being used up.” 

She was all ears, so I told her of going to a perfume exhibit (at Sutton House) with laboratory experts as part of the exhibit. As we talked, a cashier came over. Last week she had helped me settle on a backpack. She said, “That cooler pack you bought? I got one for my husband.” I nodded back to her, including both ladies in our talk, and said, “That’s the one where hubby will have a bottle opener on the front shoulder strap, (looking towards the first lady) and the insides are lined with reflective aluminum.” (for Steam Whistle beer) We three continued our moments of good fellowship. 

As Christmas approaches, I think even nonChristians can agree with Tiny Tim: “God bless us, everyone.” 


Sean Crawford
November
Calgary
2019

Footnotes: 
~Thinking of clerks, I remembered what a grandmother advised a girl about her date: If your date is less than nice and polite to your waiter, then he’s “not marriage material,” for he will one day be less than polite to you.

~Speaking of manga, and My Neighbor Totoro baseball cap, the last time I pointed curious parents towards specific animated comics, anime, was in URLs Again, archived September 2019. You know, I still haven’t posted my first URL piece: So I guess now I’ll save it for Christmas.

~I mentioned the perfume exhibit in my essay about Sutton House, archived as Welcome Without Savoir Faire, March 2018. 

~I’m not trying to offensively push onto you my 25th of December religion, but here are two sweetly offensive religious songs:
A song to offend cynics: (link) It’s Jewel singing These Hands (with God at the end)

A song to offend homophobes: (link) It’s out-of-closet K.D. Lang, but not at Vancouver 2010, no, it’s the one where she bows to Leonard Cohen, the creator of Hallelujah.

~The way I avoid feeling “used” by rude web surfers is by requiring my dear readers to take two seconds to go to my archives— because I am not a “link object!” 

(Note: When surfers of my Death of Buffy piece (January 2012) were impolite, I went back and took out the links I had made for them. But I left the essay) 

You may depend on it: Impolite people will never make a two-second effort. See No Links is Good Links archived July 2012.


Wednesday, November 20, 2019

H.G. Wells Knew People


Hello Reader,
Got human nature?

I will tell you who knew human nature: H.G. Wells. No wonder even today there is a fan club, a club that met this fall in Central London in the old war rooms to discuss Wells and his friend Sir Winston Churchill, with presentations by experts. I missed out, as I was in Canada.

In Well’s novel The New Machiavelli, he portrayed a political meeting of affluent liberals, where even though, in that age of conformity, the attendees were in their formal dress, each person wore some sort of individual, even eccentric, distinction. Yes! That is certainly true among the leftists I know, and I’m sure Wells knew why this is so, although maybe some things an artist cannot explain in words. That same novel had a scene where a lad finds someone else is meeting with a girl he fancies: Shivering butterflies—I can relate.

I can relate, as well, to a bearded man in my poem—(beards were fashionable in Well’s day, but they could hide expressions)—a man who habitually stuffs his emotions. I once said to a lady from offshore, “I’m proud to be North American, but you’ve got to admit: We don’t do emotions very well.” She moved her hand up and down against an invisible wall and said, “Yes, we say you guys are behind a pane of glass.”

As you know, “teamsters” is the name for the international union (North America) of truck drivers, from their days with a team of horses. Today I am relating to teamsters being romantic. Actually, I don’t know what the union is called in Britain, where the trucks are called lorries. 

Here are two poems.

Romantic Drivers Roll Along Dubbin Street

On a far-seeing day Dubbin Street traffic flows north-northeast
with cars, bikes and lorries,
one-tons and flat beds,
carrying soap and steel pipes.
Teamsters young and old,
have short range and long range hauls.
Drivers like young Falcon and Old Bull.

An invisible airwave carries CB traffic.

“This is Falcon, you there Old Bull, come on?”
“Old Bull here, north on Dubbin.”
“Me too. Nice day.”
“Well Falcon, does your son know this was a Roman road?”
“My boy’s just found out, quite excited.”

The lorries rumble north on a two-millennia old highway.
Down the centuries the road has sunk low between flanking hills.

Old Bull shifts in his seat.
“My young buck liked the Romans,
now he draws Martian machines standing over the ridge.”
“My boy draws them too. Sometimes, Old Bull, 
I imagine Black Smoke pouring down the hills.”

Silent airwaves.
The CB rasps.
“I remember… imagining that too.”

Canisters release inky vapor, coiling and pouring upward,
a gaseous hill that sank and spread itself slowly
pouring sluggishly down the slope of the land.

Traffic rolls north on Dubbin.


Dark Machine

Strange reports from Woking inspire me to grab a train.
At the station I rent a bicycle,
pedal past town, through heather and trees
until I stop—to gape up at the Thing.

On three tall legs the Thing towers,
matte black, 
devoid of emotion.
Alien metal absorbs all wavelengths of color—
It moves off in a swirl of legs on its mysterious errand.

I wildly try to warn a man in town about the Thing.
He gazes at me through black-framed glasses,
over a black bushy beard.
He listens without absorbing my words,
like a stone.

Somewhere on his life’s road 
the man had clenched his feelings,
pinched his reactions, 
dulled his curiosity.
Now, he would wait in town unknowing,
stiff and alone.


Sean Crawford
November
Calgary
2019

Remarks regarding television:
~Besides the BBC one, there is yet another War of the Worlds newly on TV. This I know from an online Variety (link)

I suppose fools in Hollywood will say this one is “too long for a miniseries” the way they did for Torchwood Children of Earth series, but they would be wrong—Eight episodes is normal enough for this European production of War of the Worlds, a regular series, filmed mostly in Britain and France, taking place in the 21st century. Quote: “… a new, and very loose adaptation of “War of the Worlds,” from Urban MythCanal Plus, Fox Networks Group Europe & Africa, AGC Television, and Studiocanal "

~Just like the British TV series Torchwood Children of Earth, European shows and Japanese anime series (as in noted in my Death of Buffy essay, archived January 2012) are not always like, say, a typical Hollywood police show, with a “murder of the week,” or a sci-fi fantasy with a “monster of the week,” where the series continues into infinity until a ratings slump. Instead these shows are a pre-planned number of dramas, made to air in-order, leading to a planned ending. 

My three favorite tragic Japanese cartoon (anime) shows for young adults all have only 13 episodes. 

The first ever in-order U.S. show was Babylon-5, a “five year novel” that inspired later in-order shows  like Buffy and Battlestar Galactica to air with rising action, climax, and then a terminal ending. Very moving.

Needless to say, there will always be a place for conventional Hollywood shows.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

How Humor Helps the Agenda

September, Friday the 13th, 2019

Hello Reader,
Got humor, as a precision tool to help a formal meeting?

Prologue
Purpose
Humor concepts
During a convention
The Theory
In conclusion 

Prologue
It’s so nice to think I can help people laugh, as I used to be “humor challenged”: That’s what comes of being a child survivor. What I forget is that others can be challenged too.

I was reminded recently at a writer’s circle. A few of us were casually gathered on a Sunday afternoon. I read a bit from my blog (April 2019) about the humor background of abuse survivor Pat Conroy, (The Great Santini) saying that it’s normal to X, (I forget) Y, (I forget) and Z (save up a funny event from the morning to tell folks when when they come home at night).  A dear writer looked surprised, (maybe for X or Y, I forget) and exclaimed, “I never do that!” She wasn’t a nerd—she had a gorgeous personality and a pretty smile—but she was, I guessed, a survivor like me.

Purpose
For her and others, to express 

some concepts of group humor for helping a meeting agenda. 

In the spirit of My College Mentor (archived January 2019) who said he could find “teachable moments” from our behaviour—we were truly a class with much to learn—I could try to find specific lessons from our AGM for the AWCS, also known as, aka, Annual General Meeting for the Alexandra Writers Centre Society.

Fellow readers, I don’t necessarily expect you to care about my fellow artists having an AGM, but I expect to better express things by using real life examples.

Humor Concepts
I was almost the first to comment for our first agenda item: Turns out folks badly wanted an AWCS credit card, but our bylaws we aren’t allowed any debt. I stuck up my hand to say that a bank debit card would not be debt, since it only spends money in the account. Someone swiftly pointed out: The reason individual staff were resorting to using their personal credit cards was that you could buy stuff over the telephone, and so forth. 

To forestall lots of “and so forth” explanations, and yes, to salve my poor ego, I said in a penetrating voice, “I just want to say: ‘Oh. Now-w-w I get it.’” Laughter.

Note: Yes, I was talking for my own ego’s sake, but also to set an example of safe participation, and to prevent the group wasting time explaining the “and so forth,” AND to help the group laugh. After all, AGMs can be awfully cut and dried. 

Concept: Before you joke, or speak up in a meeting, apply Sean’s patented 50% rule. If your purpose is not “50% or more” to help the group then don’t joke. 
Closely related: If you don’t know your purpose for speaking up, then STOP until you do. Taking a good full second to check your purpose can prevent a lot of empty words.

Fellow citizens, you may recall that in July I mentioned—or at least I meant to—some research from different corners of the world that showed that populist leaders such as Trump will get into power not because a given country is objectively rich or poor, but because of the “income disparity” within a country. 
(How President Reagan turned the key to start economic disparity in America is in Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, reviewed in my post An Experiment Called Civilization archived July 2019)

I mention economic disparity here because during our meeting we talked of building connections with the half-built grand edifice next door. Turns out we were approached by the future occupants. The new building will be for “active seniors” who are “very wealthy”: having walls of mahogany, and —say it with a hushed French accent— a concierge

Right before we talked of this, we had been talking about raising membership rates for all of us except our senior citizens, because, as a director said, “On a fixed income, it’s brutal out there.” As it happens, some of us writers are starving artists, AND let’s face it, “disparity,” since the Reagan years, can be “the elephant in the room” that everyone is pretending to ignore. And pretending not to be gritting their teeth about. 

So I spoke up with enthusiasm: “Well, I’m an active senior. After I cook a bowl of ramen noodles I’m going to actively take it over there and eat it.” Laughter, much laughter.

Concept: Taking up the group’s time with a quick reference to an “elephant” is never out of order. Come to think of it, that’s why society needs its artists. To put paint onto invisible elephants. Again, my joke was for others, not “about me.” (Although I pass for being a senior because my hair has gone white—also, I’m in my sixties, past the age of senior-hood in the UK)

Fellow rebels, you may like a reminder: The harshest truths, of course, can only be told with humor. In the court of the Red Queen, only the jester may tell the truth and keep his head on his shoulders… 

Again, the role of artists, including writers, is relevant here: I once saw a communist movie, with English subtitles, where a painter, devalued and scorned, yelled, “You (society) need me!” Even under godless communism, or an oppressive Muslim theocracy, there needs to be art. 

In talking about our AWCS membership rates, some folks compared them to various comparable artist organizations. Well. Can you name any? I hated to be harsh, but I spoke up, “(oh, I don’t know,) If I was a writer, I wouldn’t know that the Writers Guild of Alberta charged a fee, and (lowering my voice sheepishly) I wouldn’t care.” Much laughter. The executive director spoke up that we could inform folks about other organizations and…

Concept: A quick funny one-liner can be a catalyst. As in getting the director talking. Once something has been said, a perspective unblocked, or an elephant made real, then people can say more on the subject, or at least have it in their awareness. Laughter often comes from surprise, and surprise often comes from something new, something that needs to be added to the group’s vocabulary.

I believe humor is a precision tool: firstly as a practical means to help a meeting be more productive; then secondly as a means to quality of life. As when meeting 

during a convention.

Last month I attended a weekend for readers and writers, When Words Collide. Events started Friday at 1:00 p.m. On Saturday morning I attended the very earliest Words seminar of the day, where an author, Adam Dreece, stood at the front to share his hard-won wisdom about independent marketing and publicity. Some of us had staggered in hung over, some still waking up. Dreece was a conscientious fellow, who made reference to us meeting so early, and hoping he was teaching OK. Early in his lecture he paused to ask: “Any questions or comments so far?”

I decided to be supportive: My hand went up. “A comment. This is the best seminar I’ve attended all day!” Laughter.

Dreece said, “That’s the second best compliment I’ve had all day!” Laughter. Then he took time to inform us that he got that “second best” line from the old spy comedy Get Smart, adding that when he was with his kids driving past a tourist monument such as a Ukrainian giant Easter egg, he would exclaim, “Wow, that’s the second biggest Easter egg I’ve ever seen!”

Concept: Before you do an “increase our quality of life” joke take time to do my special check-for-time gut check, (not patented) asking yourself, “Is is OK to use the group’s time for this?” The fact that Dreece would ‘take my contribution and run with it’ is proof I had judged correctly. Come to think of it, if you don’t know, from doing your gut check, whether or not you are “grounded” and “centred” and “genuinely moved to speak” then you probably aren’t: Stay silent, there’ll be other chances to contribute.

The seminar rolled on. I was sitting beside Minkee Robinson, who has been published in the same British anthology as I, The Baby Shoes Project, (Named for the tragic Hemingway story) Late in the seminar Minkee was part of our “audience participation,” with something intelligent to say. Sometimes I can be intelligent too, so right after Minkee I shot up my hand again. “Yes?”

I grinned widely. “The lady beside me says, ‘This is still the best seminar she’s been to all day!’” Laughter and clapping. Yes!

“That is the third best compliment I’ve had all day.” Laughter.

Note: Saying indirectly, “The lady beside me says…” besides being funny in itself, allowed for a second of suspense; good jokes have suspense before the punchline.

Concept: Laughter is increased if there is repetition, or—and this is a form of repetition—if there is a reference to something said earlier in the meeting. You find this at events where there is a quick series of good humored speakers who keep spontaneously referring to something an earlier speaker had said. Sometimes successive speakers can really keep a theme going: The fact that all this wit is improvised, “live before their very eyes,” adds to the crowd’s enjoyment.

That’s all I have for recent concrete examples. Any nerd wishing to learn to do group humor would do well to start with the concrete, and then move to  

the theory 

I would remind you, dear reader, that my 50% rule applies to things such as venting your spleen, expressing your pet peeve and putting yourself into the spotlight. Don’t-don’t-don’t use up a whole formal group’s time for your own private purpose. Your spleen will still be there when you retire with informal friends to the bar. 

If, say, “getting attention” is only a minor part of your motivation then you will be forgiven: I always am. But if you’re being too egotistical, as the flip side of being too needy, then it’s like showing fear before a dog. Folks at a formal meeting or seminar will notice, and they won’t be charitable. So first do the gut check for time, and for the 50% thing too.

In conclusion, to review my points… Actually, the theory right above is your conclusion. And you can review each of my points by looking for words in bold. 

But if you still want a final word, then OK, this I believe: 
At the formal group level, properly and precisely employed, humor helps us all… and thereby helps world peace. 


Sean Crawford
September,
High River
2019

Footnotes:
~The theory of using humor to help a group advance against stormy winds of fear is in my essay Kubrick and Work or Fear archived December 2016.

~Today’s essay was held back from September to allow space for posting War of the Worlds poetry and essay re-runs, such as last weeks Sarah Connor one. Why? Because I am still trying to free up my time to maybe begin to start to attempt to tackle the writing of fiction.

~ The weekend convention title is a pun on the old Philip Wylie novel, later made into a 1950’s black and white movie.

~We liked hearing Adam Dreece. I haven’t read any of his fiction yet, but I enjoyed his book Five Critical Things for Successful Book Signings. It’s about far, far more than signings.

~Minkee Robinson has a story soon to be published in a school reader. Ca-ching! She only found her acceptance letter because she checked her spam folder. Close call!

~Sometimes I answer people: “My hobby? Writing essays.” As I see their eyes begin drooping from boredom, I hasten to say” Not academic ones, not like school kids write…” Then their eyes open again. But if, dear reader, you like academic writing, and you have some cash to spend, then here you go, here is your link to an article called Meeting Mirth… an article that I don’t ever plan to read myself.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Knowing Sarah Connor

essaysbysean.blogspot.com

It was two years before my father was born that a few suffragettes got other women in Canada the vote. At the time it was hoped that women, on becoming part of democracy, might be a civilizing influence for world peace. But I guess there are not enough people like Sarah. 
Sean Crawford, excerpt from below

Hello Reader,
Remember Sarah?

In the wake of the third Terminator movie—the others don't count; it has sure been a long time since T2—I decided to re-run a post by my idealistic younger self from ten years ago.

Here's what full-time writer and former journalist John Scalzi said on his blog, Whatever, for November 3, 2019:

As I walked out of the film last night I posted a five word recommendation of this film: “It gets Sarah Connor right.” This actually matters because despite the name of films, the “Terminator” films are about Sarah Connor, and the arc of her life dealing with the terrible fate that life has dealt her: Victim to fighter to avenger. Sarah Connor is realistically (within the context of these films) damaged by this fate of hers; particularly in this film she’s a PTSD wreck. And, well, she would be, wouldn’t she. It’s important that the Terminator films show her this way. It’s for better or worse the grounding the films need to make every other absurd thing that happens in them function on the level of plausibility.


My old blog essay:
Having a hatred for war and a fondness for feminists, I have a soft spot for the tormented Sarah Connor in the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Sarah is a single mother who knows that an atomic war is coming but instead of being paralyzed by her knowledge of Judgment Day she is determined to do whatever she can. One might assume that T2 is violent, (yes) action-filled (yes) and ... nonfeminist. (no) No, it is a moral movie: To see Sarah is to glimpse feminism. 

 For several years I was a nonvoting member of the University of Calgary Women's Collective and Resource Center. One of the other males at the center did that thing where a man dresses in spongy body armor head to toe, (cap-a-pie) and then the women are encouraged to hit him as hard as they can. The results may go beyond learning literal self-defense: On a metafilter web site a woman describes how from such practice she swiftly became empowered to react differently in so many aspects of her life. Feminists believe in empowerment.

 Were I to hit a man in such armor, my first blow would likely be at half strength, but then my next blow would probably land at mostly full strength. For a number of women, though, blow after blow is delivered at only a teeny fraction of what they are capable of: such is the power of social conditioning. Call it “learned helplessness.” In all fairness, those same women would strike desperately hard if their child was being threatened. I respect Sarah Connor for her self empowerment to strike hard: Not only does she learn to use various military weapons but even after she has a life sentence to the insane asylum-prison, even when her life is over —or at least into limbo— she is determined to stay as physically fit as she can. In that hopeless jail, if she has nice muscles, it has nothing to do with attracting men—she is trying to Be Ready. 

Of course feminists can attract boyfriends and have families and worry about their children. Sarah’s tribulations are during the cold war, when all children, worldwide, are at risk. Some day our grandchildren may be baffled at how we could learn to live with the horror of missile silos, but we did, the same way we could ignore how women didn’t have equal rights: Humans are good at denial. During those dread times we could choose to try our best to stave off Armageddon, or we could be passive.

In those strange days when most people would wimp out, be overwhelmed, throw up their hands in defeat...
if I felt like Crazy Eddie who, after being condemned by the king to death, got the king to commute his death sentence "for one year" so that he could "teach the king's horse to sing..."
 then, in those trying times, I could always depend on the Women's Movement to keep up with me, to keep slogging away at my side. Feminists believe in peace.

 When a man confronted Eddie for being crazy enough to think a horse could ever sing, Eddie answered gaily, "A lot can happen in a year. The king might die. I might die. Or the horse might learn to sing."

As a boy I learned the lyrics to a spiritual: "...Joshua fit (fought) the battle of Jericho, and the wall come a-tumbling down." During those years when I was encouraging people to "hold on," to "never give up," because there might be a miracle, I never imagined that one day a horse over in Berlin would sing. Sarah never gives up. She can't: She can't forget the vision of herself in a gingham dress, which Sarah could never wear, in a park with her children, whom Sarah could never know. Who can forget seeing her other self and the children in that searing wind of death? Not Sarah. She won’t dial down her consciousness. Feminists are willing to know things.

 Given her obsessed lifestyle, with no chance to attend a weekly women’s consciousness raising group, it is unlikely Sarah would stop to think long enough to call herself a feminist. But she acts like one. Sarah is barren of sisterhood yet in her lonely way, she finds a philosophy.

In T2 she angrily confronts a scientist, Dr. Dyson, who will soon be largely responsible for triggering our Day of Judgment. Losing her temper she yells that people like him kill because they cannot create life, cannot feel a child growing. In the book version by Randall Frakes she goes on to point out that men's version of creating is to give their name to the guns that they create. Meanwhile, the Calgary Police Service has adopted a new service pistol and wouldn't you know, it is named after Mr. Glock.

 In my young adulthood I watched as a few "woman's libbers" got other women the freedom to have jobs as notary publics and judges, doctors and police officers. We take this for granted now, but not then. It was two years before my father was born that a few suffragettes got other women the vote. At the time it was hoped that women, on becoming part of democracy, might be a civilizing influence for world peace. But I guess there are not enough people like Sarah. 

 My own mother believed in peace, but I can't deny there are other cultures, equal to ours in the sight of Allah, but not the same as ours: There are places where mothers teach their children to hold on to a double standard for women, and for foreigners, to hold fast to their hatred, and, in the end, to value hatred over peace. “Oh well,” says Eddie and I, “at least in my father's lifetime no two democracies have ever declared war on each other, so perhaps as democracy spreads...?”

Democracy is where two heads are better than one. Sarah, unfortunately, has little access to the democratic give and take of free speech. Bereft of a circle of empowering sisters she is alone with her knowledge of the coming horror...

 Alone, Sarah almost destroys her soul but then she suffers a child to be her call unto sanity. As young John says to someone else, "Don't you get it? Haven't you learned anything? You can't go around killing people." And Sarah cries.

 Feminism, being for equality, includes men too. As my dictionary says, it means “political and social and economic equality to men.” I am picturing, from just before "women's liberation," a “power to the people” 1960’s male activist: As he feels confident and equal, as he feels truly empowered, then he will no longer need the silly crutch of having women make the coffee.

A feminist visiting Sarah's asylum would ask if the patients, men and women, are being empowered to be all they can be, by growing as much as they can, by making as many decisions as they can. Democracy in America, as the French observer De Tocqueville once explained in his 1835 classic, is where a free people make little decisions, often, so they will grow fit for making big decisions, occasionally, at the voting booth. Perhaps democracy, then, is a prerequisite for people to be motivated to even care to know what growth is, let alone care, Allah willing, for the growth of women.

 When I first saw Sarah she was a simple girl. An emissary from the future warned her: She was going to find strength she never knew she had, grow in ways she never thought possible. And grow she did. 

 Sarah reminds me of my own world. It wasn't very long ago that editors would not publish Andrew Vasche's mysteries about an ex-con, Burke, who fights child pornography rings, because nobody could believe such rings of men and women existed. Now we believe. Feminists, at first feeling alone, and being told they were crazy, have helped us to know that such horror exists.

If Judgment Day is a moral movie then it must have karma. It's only right that a shrink who messed with Sarah's mind has his own mind blown, such is the shrink’s karma, but what of Doctor Dyson? How could a husband and father have a rendezvous with death? Easy: Because of Cyberdine Industries.

 That's where a suspended pteradactal alludes to nuclear winter, where their secret vault requires two keys, turned simultaneously, to open up. When I was a child during the cold war hearing the sad air raid sirens being tested, “sorrrrrryy,” we all knew that if the man in Washington ever “pressed the button” it took two keys to empty out the silos. In that vault at Cyberdine was the “button." There rested the preposterous robot hand and the impossibly advanced chip. 

Dyson saw. He was a scientist and citizen who knew that science and democracy requires questions and transparency, knowing that if an invention requiring a previous series of steps suddenly appears, then either the steps have been kept secret or the device has been stolen; he was a scholar who knew how to search the science literature and scrutinize the newspaper files, those files which would have led him to Sarah Connor's story; he was a man of planet Earth who knew we all must be alert to question strange new paths of death, from factories putting mercury down pipes into the sushi of Tokyo bay, to pesticide sprays killing the higher animals, to fluorocarbons rising up to blast the ozone; … and so when Dyson was ordered, "don't ask!" and when he agreed not to question that button in the vault, when he passed along those orders, when he silenced an idealistic young long haired scientist, then, like a good Muslim German, he failed in his duty as a scientist, citizen, scholar and moral human being. Dyson failed.

 "The future is not set," said the emissary to Sarah Connor. "There is no fate but what we make." I agree. I believe devoutly, “Our greatest enemy is despair.”

 So hurray for Sarah! For me it is almost worth the price of admission just to see, for one second, my hero do a victory hop and skip in the prison hallway. In that second I see a human being go from victim to survivor, from shuffling peasant to purposeful citizen. In that moment I see our lady of holy fire: Sarah will always create her own empowerment.


Sean Crawford
Still traveling through time,
at one second per second,
November
Calgary
2019

footnotes:
~For more on karma and morality, see my essay Morality, Boys and Hollywood, originally entitled Terminators and Boys, of July 2013.

~I still get homesick reading the pre-feminist 1940's Martian Chronicles. We had thought the future was set, that we were fated to more gadgets but no social change.

~Roll call:  Alexander Kalishnikov, (AK-47), Heckler and Koch, (HK33), Mills bombs, (British grenades) Maxim, Vickers, Samual Colt, Henry Derringer, Gatling, Winchester, Browning,  Beretta, Martini-Henry (Kipling's troops) Lee-Enfield (my dad's rife) Ross (the infamous dysfunctional rifle) Gerber (the commando knife) ... and others too, down a long line.

~The biggest surprise ovation I will ever receive was at a weekly (for ten weeks) peace meeting.
The meetings were so big that a huge lecture theater proved inadequate for the first meeting; (people were sitting in the aisles) we subsequently had to use a music recital hall. Most of us were from off campus.

After someone complained about the futility of declaring the campus a "nuclear free zone" I said that yesterday I felt the same, but here, today, I was trying to be positive, for such declarations are not an end but a means to an end, a way of moving us further along the road to a solution that we cannot conceive of yet. 
Without mentioning Crazy Eddie I reminded them of other unpredictable miracles such as Alcoholics Anonymous and stopping the White (A-bomb) Train, miracles that offered a way out from a hopeless terminal condition.

I said building peace is like everyone working together on a giant mural while you can only see the one little leaf that you are painting so painstakingly. You don't just quit. Instead you have a blurred vision of this big world that we are all working towards... And then, starting from off on the right, everyone in the hall applauded long and loud in solidarity.