Friday, October 27, 2006

Willing Ignorance

I've taught high school English, and so I can say with some authority that Sheila Copps' most recent Sun column could not have earned her, at the grade 12 level, anything better than a D. Indeed, it should be said that it would be a D, and not an F, only because the expectations regarding substance of argument are disproportionately lower at that level (and make up only about a third to a half of the total mark) than those for quality of writing ... So, to be clear, the evaluation rubric Ms. Copps would receive from me, attached to her comment-crammed and question-mark-riddled essay, would have C's under the categories of Application and Communication, a D under the category of Knowledge/Understanding, and a request that her parents initial the F under Thinking/Inquiry.* Under 'Comments' I would have written in red and underlined at least three times "Very choppy", "Edit your work, please", "Fatal inconsistencies in your argument", and "Too many serious factual errors".

I won't bother to give examples of the poor writing, given that there isn't a paragraph of the piece that doesn't require rereading at least once. Just read it and you'll see what I mean.

The thing that I find most troubling about this grossly incompetent scrawl--and I'm not being glib here: it troubles me to the lengths of considerable distraction and a very real despair--is the baselessness of almost every assertion of fact that Ms. Copps makes. Behold the true substance of her "passionate voice for a progressive Canada since 1984": pure, pig-shit ignorance! It would be to strain credulity to put it in any milder terms. Her passionate voice is the inarticulate gurgle of someone who has been too long in solitary confinement; her only progress (over the last 22 years apparently) has been to devise ever more resourceful ways to stay the accumulated weight of reality that should, long ago, have toppled the doors of her lightless little cell.

To wit:
  • Ms. Copps claims that the "climax" of Lent is a "religious [really?! -ed.] family-centred feast."
No it isn't, Sheila. Easter is a celebration of the resurrected Christ. Any "feast" is incidental; not, that is, climactical.
  • She claims that "the very notion of Christianity is tied to the belief that we are our brother's (and sister's) keeper."
No it isn't, Sheila. It's all very well to randomly (and loosely) quote scripture, but the very notion of Christianity is Jesus Christ. You know: God?! He died for your sins upon the cross? Rose from the dead three days later, and eventually ascended into heaven--where now, needless to say, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and all that? Ringing any bells? ... In any case, the very notion of Christianity is utterly miscarried in soundbites, Sheila--it's a religion after all, not a breakfast cereal.
  • She claims that "religious values are intended to promote social support and communal betterment" and that "communal support is also a core value of Judaism, Sikhism and Hinduism."
Um ... I guess you could say that religious values promote social support and communal betterment. But that's a kind of a conditional promotion. Social support, yes; communal betterment, yes--but in service of the given religion, right? Not out of deference to the overarching authority of early 21st century secular values (that is, à la "a driver's licence is a contract with the larger world" kind of values). And you do recognize, Sheila, that a religion like Hinduism has a pretty radically different concept of social support and communal betterment from the sort of thing you're talking about, right? What with its caste system and everything? What, exactly, is the Judao-Christian analogue for a Dalit again?

... I could go on and on with these--the above covering only four of the first six sentences, and there's much else here that's far riper--but you get the idea.

The problem, I guess, is a fairly simple one. The sort of person best qualified to speak knowledgeably to the finer points of Roman Catholicism, needs be a Roman Catholic. Likewise: the sort of person best qualified to speak knowledgeably to the finer points of the obligations of Canadian citizens, needs be someone with a fairly comprehensive working knowledge of the mechanisms of the Canadian state.

... That Sheila Copps is a Catholic and a former Deputy Prime Minister is, well, an imponderable ...

Honestly. What can you say? Other, that is, than: shoot me now! Please! Yes, with that gun! NOW!

One soon learns of the reputations made in this country--and the kind of weight they carry above and beyond the parametres of their making--that these people cannot be taken with mere grains of salt. You need the strong, ungainly, road-variety version of the stuff. And you need it in spades.


* I am, of course, exaggerating. Given, that is, that F's are pretty much forbidden in today's public schools.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Anti-Intellectualism 101: The Acronym

I guess it's moot for me to say that Joel Rubinovich lost my vote when, on my way to the St. Clair West subway station, I was handed this:

Moot because he never had my vote in the first place. I've never even heard of the guy. But neither, so far as I can tell, has anybody else. He has no website and, apparently, he has no platform--short of the imperative (printed on the reverse side of the above two-sided leaflet) to "STOP St. Clair In It's [sic] Tracks." (The "STOP" is in big red letters--implying great urgency, don't you know.) By which I take it that he means to stop the (ongoing) construction of a dedicated streetcar lane there.

But the merits and demerits of this streetcar business aren't my concern. Even if I did have a strong view of the matter, Joel would've lost my V.O.T.E. anyway. For the very reason that he thought it would be, what? cute? clever? hard-hitting but still straightforward? to turn a regular word with a clear meaning into this ridiculous acronym-acrostic-thing: Voice Of Toronto's Electors.

It seems to me that the man has come damnsome close to achieving the impossible here: he has managed simultaneously to over-complicate and crudely simplify. I mean, was the concern that, come election day, we would forget what we had to do? Rhymes with boat, Martha, I know that much. It's a verb, and today's the day that were s'posed to do it. Whatever it is. The word has a really clear meaning, Joel! This is hardly a Never Eat Shredded Wheat situation! (Mnemonic, strictly speaking, but you take my meaning.) What on earth were you thinking, filling all that space with something so inane and pointless?!

But perhaps there is the hint of soon-to-be-proposed reforms (from Joel's eventual provincial leadership campaign) to be gleaned from this. Just imagine! Curricula that require sentences that look like Scrabble boards. Novellas (the lives of average, saucepan-faced girls, coming of age on the Prairies) of close to 10,000 pages!

Still. This acronym business isn't as simple as it looks ... I thought I'd be really cheeky and come up with one of my own, but this was the best I could do:

Not really an acronym, is it ... Well, a Joel-calibre B.R.A.I.N. teaser, then. Ha!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Waugh On Being Hopelessly Upper Class

'... How right you were, Guy, to fix yourself up with this racket. I've been round the other Commandos. Not at all the same sort of fellows. I should like to write a piece about you all. But it wouldn't do.'

'No, it would not. Not at all.'

'Don't misunderstand me,' - the night air was taxing his residue of self-command - 'I don't refer to security. There's an agitation now from the Mystery of Information to take you off the secret list. Heroes are in strong demand. Heroes are urgently required to boost civilian morale. You'll see pages about the Commandos in the papers soon. But not about your racket, Guy. They just won't do, you know. Delightful fellows, heroes too, I dare say, but the Wrong Period. Last-war stuff, Guy. Went out with Rupert Brooke.'

'You find us poetic?'

'No,' said Ian, stopping in his path and turning to face Guy in the darkness. 'Perhaps not poetic, exactly, but Upper Class. Hopelessly upper class. You're the "Fine Flower of the Nation". You can't deny it and it won't do.'

In the various stages of inebriation, facetiously itemized for centuries, the category, 'prophetically drunk', deserves a place.

'This is a People's War,' said Ian prophetically, 'and the People won't have poetry and they won't have flowers. Flowers stink. The upper classes are on the secret list. We want heroes of the people, to or for the people, by, with and from the people.'

The chill air of Mugg completed its work of detriment. Ian broke into song:

'When wilt thou save the people?
Oh, God of Mercy! When?

The People, Lord, the People!
Not thrones and crowns, but men!'

He broke into a trot and breathlessly repeating the lines in a loud tuneless chant, reached the gangway.

Out of the night the voice of Brigadier Ritchie-Hook rang terribly: 'Stop making that infernal noise, whoever you are, and go to bed.'

Guy left Ian cowering among the quayside litter, waiting a suitable moment to slip on board.

Evelyn Waugh Officers and Gentlemen

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Waugh: Dialogue

'Good afternoon,' said Guy.

Claire looked up, said, 'Good afternoon,' and wiped his dog's face with a silk handkerchief. 'The snow is very bad for Freda's eyes. Perhaps you want Colonel Tommy. He's out climbing.' Then, after a pause, politely: 'Have you seen last week's paper?'

And he held out the Rum, Muck, Mugg and Eigg Times.

Guy gazed about him at the heads of deer, the fumed oak staircase, the vast extent of carpet woven in the local hunting tartan.

'I think I've seen you about in Bellamy's.'

'How one longs for it.'

'My name is Crouchback.'

'Ah.' Claire had the air of having very shrewdly elicited this piece of information, of having made a move, early in a game of chess, which would later develop into mate. ' I should have some Kümmel if I were you. We've unearthed a cache of Wolfschmidt. You just score it up on that piece of paper over there.'

There were glasses on the central table and bottles and a list of names, marked with their potations.

'I'm here for training,' Guy volunteered.

'It's a death trap.'

'Have you any idea where my quarters will be?'

'Colonel Tommy lives here. So do most of us. But it's full up now. Recent arrivals are at the coastguard station, I believe. I looked in once. It smells awfully of fish. I say, do you mind much if we don't talk? I fell fifty feet on the ice the other morning.'

Guy studied last week's Rum, Muck, Mugg and Eigg Times. Claire plucked Freda's eyebrows.

Soon, as in an old-fashioned, well-constructed comedy, other characters began to enter Left: first a medical officer.

'Is the boat in?' he asked of both indiscriminately.

Claire shut his eyes, so Guy answered: 'I came in her a few minutes ago.'

'I must telephone the harbour-master and have her held. Anstruther-Kerr has had a fall. They're bringing him down as fast as they can.'

Claire opened his eyes.

'Poor Angus. Dead?'

'Certainly not. But I must get him to the mainland at once.'

'That is your opportunity,' Claire said to Guy. 'Angus had a room here.'

The doctor went to the telephone, Guy to the reception office.

Evelyn Waugh Officers and Gentlemen

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

From: Conversations with Snook (The Younger)


Do Not Go Gently, I think it's called ... That's my favourite fuckin' poem. [Singing] Do not go gently into that good fight. Na, na, na, na-na, na, na, na-na, night ... 'Sfuckin' beautiful, man! The lyricism and whatnot? Fuckin' beautiful. But that's the way it was back then. You know?