Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jonas on a Rather Important Distinction

It doesn't terribly worry me when bad people run around a free country pretending to be good. What worries me is when bad people run around a free country pretending that being bad is good. Or, as a surrealist libertine friend put it once: "A fling? One man's fling is another man's freedom fighter."

I'm not unduly bothered when, as in this case, some members of ETA -- Euskadi Ta Askatasun, a group that blows up people and things in Spain in the name of Basque separatism -- sneak into Canada on fake passports to chill out, or even to organize or to plot. Yes, it would be nice if we could detect forged documents more reliably, but a few fakes will always slip through. No big deal.

The big deal is when people who blow up things no longer need to forge documents to slip through. The big deal is when we welcome them because we can't tell a fling from a freedom fighter.

The big deal is when we refuse to identify ETA -- or the IRA or the Tamil Tigers or Hamas or Hezbollah--as terrorist organizations. The big deal is when Canadian leaders attend Tamil Tiger functions (Paul Martin) or shake hands with raving anti-Semites like Malaysia's Dr. Mahatir Mohamad (Jean Chretien) or cheer mass-murdering tyrants by shouting "Viva Castro" (Pierre Trudeau). The big deal is when we parrot the asinine sophistry that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

The big deal isn't the tangible terrorists who enter our country with phony papers, but the intangible enablers and apologists of terror who enter our hearts and minds with phony arguments. We can cope with the holders of false identities; it's the holders of false ideas who should concern us.

The fake ideas we protect are more dangerous than the fake identities we prosecute. A terrorist hiding in B.C. is less of a threat to Canada than a CBC commentator who can't tell a terrorist from a freedom fighter. Yet we urge the RCMP to arrest the first and would protest -- with me in the vanguard -- if they tried to arrest the second. Stupid? No, just the paradox of freedom.

George Jonas "False passports vs. false ideas"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Democratic candidate knows that you know that he has no clothes ...

... Which he's totally cool with. So long as you are. You are, right? ... Oh, well that's cool too. Or is it?

MR. RUSSERT: I'd like to go to Alison King of New England Cable News again for another question. Alison.

MS. KING: Thanks, Tim.

The issues surrounding gay rights have been hotly debated here in New England. For example, last year some parents of second graders in Lexington, Massachusetts, were outraged to learn their children's teacher had read a story about same-sex marriage, about a prince who marries another prince.

Same-sex marriage is legal in Massachusetts, but most of you oppose it. Would you be comfortable having this story read to your children as part of their school curriculum?

I'm going to start with Senator Edwards.

MR. EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely.

What I want is I want my children to understand everything about the difficulties that gay and lesbian couples are faced with every day, the discrimination that they're faced with every single day of their lives. And I suspect my two younger children -- Emma Claire, who's nine, and Jack, who's seven -- will reach the same conclusion that my daughter, Cate, who's 25, has reached, which is she doesn't understand why her dad is not in favor of same-sex marriage, and she says her generation will be the generation that brings about the great change in America on that issue.

So I don't want to make that decision on behalf of my children. I want my children to be able to make that decision on behalf of themselves, and I want them to be exposed to all the information, even in -- did you say second grade? Second grade might be a little tough, but even in second grade to be exposed to all --

MS. KING: Well, that's the point is second grade.

MR. EDWARDS: -- to all of those possibilities because I don't want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don't get to decide on behalf of my family or my children, as my wife, Elizabeth, who's spoken her own mind on this issue. I don't get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right.

But what I will do as president of the United States is I will lead an effort to make sure that the same benefits that are available to heterosexual couples -- 1,100, roughly, benefits in the federal government -- are available to same-sex couples; that we get rid of DOMA, the Defense Of Marriage Act; that we get rid of "don't ask, don't tell," which is wrong today, was wrong when it was enacted back in the 1990s.

I will be the president that leads a serious effort to deal with the discrimination that exists today.

Hey, hey, everybody! Check it out! I'm John Edwards:

Er, uh, I'm not going to be the guy that tells anybody that same-sex marriage is okay. No sir! That's because, it is okay, and my position will be recognized to have been the most courageous one, once my political career is safely and uncontroversially at an end, and my kids take office. When they do, having spent their entire lives ignoring me as I was standing there in that corner, behind the grandfather clock there, saying nothing, they'll prove that I was wrong in saying the thing that I never said. Proving that I was right! Hating discrimination--which is what I do--is not a position, so it can't be an imposition. I hate impositions because they aren't positions at all, in a way. They aren't positions, but they have all of the discrimination of positions ... Believe, America! Believe! ... But without "believing" believing, if you follow me. And I don't mean the weird kind of following either. Rather, I mean the following of trust. Skeptical trust. Anyway, suffice it to say that same-sex marriage is, first and foremost, a matter for time-travel. And when the day comes that we're able to travel through time in a little aluminum outhouse type thing or--a garden shed, we'd better call it a garden shed--or whatever you like, really ... When that day comes we'll have same-sex marriage to thank for the greatest innovation in mankind's--humankind's, that is, and the LGBT community's-- history! And so I say: thank-you, same-sex-marriage-in-the- future!

I love this guy.

H/T Stand Firm

Culture, Class, Smoke and Mirrors

I happen to know that it takes rather more than it does the average person to make Jay Currie angry. So when he says that he's really, really angry you can bet that he's got a pretty good reason for it:

At one point my local was the British Ex-Servicemen’s Club out on Kingsway. Cheap beer, decent pool table, a bunch of old guys who had, foolishly enough, fought for King and Country and rather liked popping in for an evening’s couple of pints and a cigarette or seventy. They came from a culture which, well, smoked cigarettes.

Unfortunately they were white and British. Which does not cut it any more.

Emad Yacoub, who runs five restaurants in Vancouver, also attended Thursday’s meeting to ask council to protect hookah lounges.

“I support no smoking on the patios,” he said, saying it will make it easier for him since he won’t have to settle fights between his smoking and non-smoking customers.

But he said hookah lounges are essential for immigrants from hookah-smoking cultures, because it helps them deal with the depression common for newcomers and gives them places like they have at home. vancouver sun

Essential for immigrants from hookah smoking cultures…right, well, England was a cigarette and pipe smoking culture. Working class Canada was a cigarette smoking culture. A bunch of Greek guys I know who own restaurants in Vancouver come from cigarette smoking cultures. Punk rockers are a cigarette smoking culture But, hey, they are not Muslims and are unlikely to, in the midst of their depression, blow something up.

Watching this sort of craven pandering is just sad. Up until now the smoke Nazis have been beating the “health of the workers drum”…but, apparently, the health of the poor, likely Muslim, staffers in the hookah cultural clubs doesn’t matter.

One of the problems with multi-cult posturing and cultural sensitivity is that it leads to such brilliantly racist outcomes. By creating a special exemption for Muslims - who do seem to be the only immigrant group actively demanding these sorts of “cultural accommodations” we are basically declaring our Muslim citizens worthy of special treatment and, at the same time, unworthy of the health concerns which are purported to be the basis of general smoking bans.

But the bigger problem is that we are granting to noisy newcomers the rights which we have taken away from men who fought for Canada or England. And that should worry all of us a lot.

To which Mark Steyn adds:
The state, in other words, is prepared to treat Muslims as free-born adults who can weigh the "cultural value" (ie, the pleasures) of smoking against the health risks. But not the rest of us.
The cynic in me really wants to get it out there that (as Jay subtly suggests) this should not be interpreted as evidence that the state privileges Muslims over non-Muslims, but that our racist and imperialist heart still beats strong--under its thin, politically correct skin--as ever it did. That this merely comprises Phase 2 (one guess as to what Phase 1 was) of our genocidal agenda to rid the world of the threat of Islam, this time by insidiously killing off its adherents with lung cancer.

But no. This represents only the latest knot we were bound to tie ourselves in under the iron-clad direction of our national Boy Scout's handbook: the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Preceded by such dazzling feats of ethno-political dexterity as the Aboriginal Tobacco Strategy--which, rather sadly I thought (as I'm fairly certain it wasn't disingenuous), goes even further in securing its self-interest by couching its exceptionalism in Marxist terms: "Commercial Tobacco is a KILLER!" the slogan blares, "Traditional tobacco is a HEALER!")

That there's embarrassing-much that is telling about the sort of society that puts the horrors of fragrant blue clouds that disperse quickly into thin air, on a competitive footing with the apparent horrors of discrimination, has yet to register anywhere in any significant way. And until it does? Smoke 'em if yer Musl'em!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

When Language Says and Does Not Mean

Paraphrasing our Vicereine, Michaëlle Jean, regarding her position that the current debate in Québec about reasonable accommodation is necessary, the following words appear in today's National Post:
Ms. Jean said Canada has to deal with the question because the world is becoming increasingly diverse.
No doubt, I think I hear you saying, the author meant to say "Canada has to deal with the question because its world is becoming increasingly diverse." Being that, you know, if we're talking about race, colour and creed (which we are) one, really, can only say either that a) the world is diverse, or that b) a particular part of the world, hitherto of a specific type of homogeneity, is "becoming increasingly diverse" due to an influx (from the static and unchanging larger pool) of different races, cultures and creeds outside its borders. The idea that the entire, self-sufficient earth is actually, of itself, still producing entire new races of men out of thin air seems a bit, well, thick. What?

But I sometimes wonder.

Did the hack's pen truly slip here, or are we being given yet another insight into the post-Created World's delusions about its own potence? It wouldn't surprise me to discover that, deep down, Mme. Jean was under the impression that she was among the very first to dare to sport a hue of skin that wasn't white. Or, that her progressive brethren weren't altogether certain that Jews, Muslims or Homosexuals really existed until they gave them their acknowledgment.

Alas! Would that we could even say that their breed of hubris was unique in the world, to give a dust-bunny's-weight of credence to this absurd notion that we are, miraculously, increasingly more than the sum of our parts.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

From: Seer Snook's Compendium of Astrological Wisdom

LIBRA (September 23rd through October 23rd)

Ah Libra! Where would the world be without the likes of you?

Well ... For one, the loss of the month would make us all many, many years older, wouldn't it?

But seriously, Libra, we'd be less that category of men--the equivocators, the self-important busybodies, the moaners-on about every inordinate trespass--that burden our daily existence with, let's face it, so much jumped-up fiddle-faddle. That's time we could've just as easily spent having a smoke and reading the funnies, Libra. Don't think we don't resent you for it.

Of the Four Humours, you draw for the defining traits of your nature mostly on air. There's terrific irony in this, but which is likely as wasted on you as is any other subtlety. It is worth noting though that while you may fancy yourself the measure of all things you are more in the nature of being the measurer of all things. You're a Beaker, Libra, rather than a (clearly Gemininian) Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

Your dimples make it difficult for you to shave and, I'm afraid, this is something that you're just going to have to learn to live with, as your beard is patchy and not worth growing.

Your sign represents balance, but by the way you've been behaving you'd think it was an underscored Omega. You strut about in your fancy jacket, and your tieless shirt undone to that hairless, sculpted chest of yours as though God himself kept you on the payroll as a consultant ... But, if I may say so, Libra, hand-cobbled brogues and boot-cut jeans should never be worn together, even if you somehow manage to pull it off. It's exceptions like you that make the rest of us wonder who the layabout is that's supposed to be enforcing the rule. And real men don't wear perfume either. Any more than they slather down their thick, lustrous hair with expertly applied gobs of fragrant pomade. Are you sure, Libra, that you aren't a homosexual? (--Though, no doubt, you'll use that ambiguity to your advantage, along with all the others, in bedding your requisite two different women for the week ... Oh, the very thought of you makes me retch!)

But can I just remind you, Libra, that your sign governs the excretory functions? Yes. The excretory functions. You're a below-the-belt-ruler, the ether informs me, with a special emphasis on the buttocks ... Now stop it right there with all that beat-missingless talk about how you didn't need me to tell you that you're an ass man! This is real schoolyard ignominy, Libra, and no amount of urbane rejoining will see you out of it! I put it to you, sir, that poo is your provenance, and that you wear those immaculate, navy virgin wool, double-breasted blazers to hide the continental sweat swamps you keep under your arms! Go ahead and prove me wrong, Fontleroy!

Material Promise

Your lucky colours are baby blue and rose pink. Your lucky flowers are the violet, the rose, lily-of-the-valley, and the daisy. Your lucky stones are the moonstone, sapphire, beryl, and lapis lazuli. Your lucky birds are the dove and the swan.

( ... Like I say, Libra: gay!)

The Month in Libra (A Précis Governing All Signs)

A general note on home-divinations ...

It is understood (though perhaps not commonly understood) that astrological science is the cosmological pater familias of all the greatest and most powerful superstitions down the ages. Be it Manichaeism, Jacobinism, or Marxism, the conviction amongst their adherents has always been a variation on the same theme: that a) our universe is composed of roughly equal parts of good and bad, and b) it is only fair that each and every man be made (usually by force--but, of course, by teleologically negligible amounts thereof) to bear a materially equal burden of each.

I note this here because it has too often been my experience--as Chief Procurement Presbyter of the Clairvoyant's Guild, South-Eastern Ontario Branch--to hear of some poor bank clerk or middle-manager lamenting his lack of a basic grounding in astrological principles so's that he might divine precisely the amount of ill-fortune due his more successful friends and colleagues and, equally and oppositely, what is due him. But fear not! The seeds of your enlightenment are as abundant and as available now as ever they were! The secret to determining your inevitable future happiness (given all your present and past sorrow) is, to use the corollary of the transcendental terms of the Zoroaster, a simple matter of economics. Or, more precisely, of redistributive economics.

What can be expected when the sun has entered Libra will bear me out quite handily on this, what with all its tedious, narrow, and anti-intellectual emphasis on so-called equilibrium. To wit:

Expect, when in the Seventh House, that either all of your jokes will be disproportionately well-received, or disproportionately poorly received, depending on the average reception given your average, average joke per Zodiac Cycle (exceptions to this formula, of Purely Good Jokes (PCJ) and Purely Bad Jokes (PBJ), are inevitable--but given that they are themselves products of anomalous astrological disturbances that have nothing whatsoever to do with the vehicle of their terrestrial delivery, they are not considered statistically significant). So if you had a year of middling jokes that for some inexplicable reason managed to find favour with your average audience, then expect a month of icy silences, exasperated sighs, and outright offense at even the better material you use. Likewise but in reverse: if your jokes generally fall flat on their apparently flat-footed faces; expect staggered looks and back-slapping, invitations for after-work drinks, and sexual tension with the women of your office or social set who tend normally never to acknowledge your existence past a regretful sneer indicating that they notice you along with all the other blobs of gum on the pavement.

Seer Snook's advice? To the latter category: you can do no wrong! Honestly, none! So enjoy it while you can! You'll want a nice memory or two to see you through to next Fall. To the former category: best that you feign losing your voice for the month, or perhaps that you make-up a terminal relative or friend to explain your uncharacteristic quiet.

... 'Til Scorpio, then, Seer Snook bids you all farewell, and serenity through the impenetrable-to-all-but-him opacity of the existential Abyss!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Roger Scruton On Jokes and Art

Allow me, if you will, the boast of saying that I and the redoubtable Roger Scruton--the last true conservative philosopher--have been sharing a wavelength the last couple of months.

Impressed? No? ... Well, anyway ...

You'll remember that I have lately taken stabs at the apparent movement to tribalize art and comedy (I disdain to coin a term using elite or clique as its root, as such might imply even the smallest degree of sophistication), and I find that the good professor was similarly inspired in last month's American Spectator.

I've tried to edit the piece down to a couple of choice excerpts, but with very little luck:
It is as hard to circumscribe the class of jokes as it is the class of artworks. Anything is a joke if somebody says so. A joke is an artifact made to be laughed at. It may fail to perform its function, in which case it is a joke that "falls flat." Or it may perform its function, but offensively, in which case it is a joke "in bad taste." But none of this implies that the category of jokes is arbitrary, or that there is no such thing as a distinction between good jokes and bad. Nor does it in any way suggest that there is no place for the criticism of jokes, or for the kind of moral education that has a decorous sense of humor as its goal. Indeed, the first thing you might learn, in considering jokes, is that Marcel Duchamp's urinal was one -- quite a good one first time round, corny by mid-20th century, and downright stupid today.

Works of art, like jokes, have a function. They are objects of aesthetic interest. They may fulfill this function in a rewarding way, offering food for thought and spiritual uplift, winning for themselves a loyal public that returns to them to be consoled or inspired. They may fulfill their function in ways that are judged to be offensive or downright demeaning. Or they may fail altogether to prompt the aesthetic interest that they are petitioning for.


It is true, however, that people no longer see works of art as objects of judgment or as expressions of the moral life. Increasingly, many teachers of the humanities agree with the untutored opinion of their incoming students, that there is no such thing as a distinction between good and bad taste. But imagine someone saying the same thing about humor. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday recount one of the few recorded occasions when the young Mao Tse-tung burst into laughter: it was at the circus, when a tight-rope walker fell from the high wire to her death. Imagine a world in which people laughed only at others' misfortunes. What would that world have in common with the world of Moliere's Tartuffe, of Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, of Cervantes' Don Quixote, or Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy? Nothing, save the fact of laughter. It would be a degenerate world, a world in which human kindness no longer found its endorsement in humor, in which one whole aspect of the human spirit would have become stunted and grotesque.

Imagine now a world in which people showed an interest only in Brillo boxes, in signed urinals, in crucifixes pickled in urine, or in objects similarly lifted from the debris of ordinary life and put on display with some kind of satirical intention -- in other words, the increasingly standard fare of official modern art shows in Europe and America. What would such a world have in common with that of Duccio, Giotto, Velazquez, or even Cézanne? Of course, there would be the fact of putting objects on display, and the fact of our looking at them through aesthetic spectacles. But it would be a degenerate world, a world in which human aspirations no longer find their artistic expression, in which we no longer make for ourselves images of the ideal and the transcendent, but in which we study human debris in place of the human soul. It would be a world in which one whole aspect of the human spirit -- the aesthetic -- would have become stunted and grotesque. For we aspire through art, and when aspiration ceases, so too does art.

Now it seems to me that the public space of our society has in fact begun to surrender to the kind of degradation that I have just described. It has been taken over by a culture that wishes not to educate our perception but to capture it, not to ennoble human life but to trivialize it. Why this is so is an interesting question to which I can offer only an imperfect answer. But that it is so is surely undeniable. Look at the official art of modern societies -- the art that ends up in museums or on public pedestals, the architecture that is commissioned by public bodies, even the music that enjoys the favors of the public subsidy machine -- and you will all too often encounter either facetious kitsch, or deliberately antagonizing gestures of defiance towards the traditions that make art lovable. Much of our public art is a loveless art, and one that is also entirely without the humility that comes from love.

IT DOESN'T FOLLOW that taste and judgment are things of the past. It doesn't follow that art has vanished from our lives or has lost its meaning. All that follows is that art is being driven from the public arena. It is no longer out there that you find it, but in here, in foro intero. Art is being privatized, with each of us striving to remain faithful to visions of beauty that we are no longer confident of sharing outside the circle of our friends. One cause of this is the democratic culture, which is hostile to judgment in any form, and in particular to the judgment of taste. The prevailing attitude is that you are entitled to your tastes, but not entitled to inflict them on me.


It seems to me, however, that the democratic attitude is in conflict with itself. It is impossible to live as though there are no aesthetic values, while living a real life among real human beings. Manners, clothes, speech, and gestures -- all require careful attention to the way things look. In every sphere of human life, from laying a table to giving a funeral speech, aesthetic choices are both necessary and noticed. Without them we cannot solve the vast problem of coordination that arises when a myriad private individuals crowd into a single public space. Hence, in the democratic culture, aesthetic judgment begins to be experienced as an affliction. It imposes an unsustainable burden, something that we must live up to, a world of ideals and aspirations that is in sharp conflict with the tawdriness and imperfection of our own improvised lives. It is perched like an owl on our shoulders, while we try to hide our pet rodents in our clothes. The temptation is to turn on it and shoo it away.

Here we see another motive for the desire to desecrate. It is a desire to turn aesthetic judgment against itself, so that it no longer seems like a judgment of us. This you see all the time in children -- the delight in disgusting noises, words, allusions, which helps them to distance themselves from that adult world that judges them, and whose authority they wish to deny. That ordinary refuge of children from the burden of adult judgment has become the refuge of adults from their culture. By using art as an instrument of desecration they neutralize its claims: it loses its authority, and becomes a fellow conspirator in the plot against ideals.
Two quick thoughts:

First, I can't help thinking that the Sydney Morning Herald's recent alchemical experiments with comedy render inadequate Prof. Scruton's assessment that "none of this implies that the category of jokes is arbitrary, or that there is no such thing as a distinction between good jokes and bad." The SMH, after all, was able to pull a "verdict of laughter" straight out of the void.

Second, was anyone else struck by the serendipitous (given recent, apparently not unrelated events) choice of words in this sentence: "For we aspire through art, and when aspiration ceases, so too does art"? Yes, indeed. Either that or the UN's recent declaration on Aboriginal rights is art. (Not quite certain what my point is here, but I can't help the feeling that it's an important and revealing one ... Perhaps you'll email me and tell me.)

EMG's Favourite New Read

The modern liberal hangs the success of society on the integrity of its institutions. On the other hand, the non-modern-liberal hangs the success of society on the integrity of its citizens.


Strangely, it puts us at odds, quibbling over a journey where the destination is agreed. We stand on the highway of life arguing: Go left! No right! One could suppose, I suppose, that all roads lead to where we're going and that left or right will get us there in the end, but I'm not so sure.

Consider this road that has lead us to the left or banked us to the east if we were originally facing south. Our almighty institutions have become just that...Almighty. Scrambling to try to provide an answer for all the problems and discomfort of its vulnerable sheep, including the weather. Begging for rules of protection. Thy rod and staff comforts us. The Angel of Blame leadeth us beside still waters and restoreth our soul to a blissfully soothed state.

Our children are suffering. Why aren't the schools doing something? Crime is flourishing. When will the courts save us? Our people are in poverty. Who has a program to save us?

Yes, who?

Alice the Camel "Who will save us?"

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wit Without Wit

I read that a crew of comic geniuses did a most unoriginal thing the other day and confused a bad joke with a good one, and had the whole awkward and unfortunate business blow up in their faces.

'Salright, lads. We've all been there before. Chin up! There'll be other, better, inspirations.

What's fascinating though is the impulse amongst some people to maintain that this decidedly bollixed attempt at a frolic still somehow managed to be funny. They don't seem to grasp that there wasn't, actually, a joke.

To be sure: whatever the talent from The Chaser's War Against Everybody comedy team might have intended to do--having got one of their party dressed-up as Osama bin Laden, and blagged a three car faux-motorcade through various check-points on their way to the APEC summit--it wasn't to be arrested and thrown in jail before they got there. Why? Well because there's nothing especially funny about watching a grown man in an Osama bin Laden costume getting arrested. One assumes this is a not uncommon occurrence at anti-Iraq war rallies the world over, and reactions to such politically controversial displays tend invariably to be divided between either serious approval or serious disapproval. Serious, you notice.

No. For the action of this elaborately staged attempt at a joke to have been funny and not just boring (or worse still: political), the performers needed to have gotten away with it! That is: they needed to have gotten away with OBL's apparent attendance of the summit--not some (for all we know) activist's. It was, as is all true comedy, an all-or-nothing proposition. The fact that these amateurs only got as far as nearly having it appear that OBL attended the summit means, then, that the joke didn't work.

And it really didn't. For my own part, I can say that my immediate reaction to the news was not to laugh, or even to smile, but to cringe. There's nothing worse than watching somebody going to such lengths for a joke only to have the thing fall flat on its face (particularly when one considers how easy--if incredibly ill-advised--it would have been for the OBL-impersonator to salvage the situation by, say, just looking confused at all the policemen and repeating "Where is the water closet?" over and over again in Arabic). That the Chaser's team were apparently aiming for humour's higher-brow brother, satire, only makes it worse. One goes from feeling bad for the clowns with the bad luck, to being a little bit resentful of the morons who, by the sheer magnitude of their failure, somehow managed to make you--thousands of miles away--feel embarrassed too.

And yet, like I say, there are some who are very keen that it should be known that they got the joke. An editorial appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald insisting that a "verdict of laughter"--whatever the hell that means--could not be denied. Well, sorry, yes it can. As I say, there was no joke; there was only a bit of scaffolding for a joke accompanied by a lot of nervous looking comedians apparently feeling in well-over their heads.

But to not be "in on the joke" turns out to be one of the greatest and most alienating of humiliations of our age, and thinking before you laugh can be a dangerous business in a clever clot world where even irony can be ironized. It's a risk that many won't take ... But it's a good rule of thumb, having thrown caution to the wind and committed yourself to one, never to then try to explain a joke you're not entirely certain you understand. Else you say things like this (my emphasis):
But the Chaser boys got to something even sillier yesterday: motorcades. What a fabulous joke. How can anyone need all those cars and vans and trucks? If you have 20, why not 40 or 60? Why only ambulances? Why not a couple of fire engines and a Mr Whippy van?
That's ranking up there in the top five of the saddest things I've ever read.

Argument in favour of universal post-secondary education suggests renewed emphasis on How To Formulate An Argument should be at top of Uni's agenda

Little Karen Zhou, of the always-hysterical Toronto Star Community Editorial Board, undertakes today to argue that post-secondary education is something along the lines of being a basic human right.

She says:

Being interested in education, a recent newspaper column caught my attention.

It was about there being too many students in our universities. The author's argument was that university is a place reserved for society's "brightest," dismissing as second-class those who would be better off seeking a job in the oil sands.

The latter, the columnist argued, are a waste of time for universities and do not deserve a chance at higher learning, unlike their "brighter" counterparts.

In contrast, I believe the majority of students should be encouraged to go on to higher education because in a knowledge-based economy, a higher education is not a choice but a requirement.

Okay, Karen. Not the most graceful start to an essay, but I think I'm following you. You could've mentioned who this columnist is, what the piece was that she wrote, and where it appeared but ... Well, just go on.

The writer of the column attributed the poor performance of students to some intrinsic distaste for advanced education.

However, she ignored the fact that universities play a critical role in shaping a student's character and experience. How somebody fares has a lot to do with the academic environment and its support structure for students.

Erm ... Hold up there, sweetheart. You seem to have lost the thread a bit. You said a second ago that your position was that "in a knowledge based-economy, a higher education is not a choice but a requirement." Were, uh ... Jeez, this is a little awkward but, uh ... Were you gonna bother substantiating that claim with anything like proof before you skipped on over to this gassy "character and experience" business? (And I trust "character and experience" aren't the best you've got because, you know, everything from the Merchant Marine to proponents of a return to corporal punishment tend to fall back on the same exact justifications.) ... But I interrupted you. No doubt you'll come back to your thesis presently.

It is the university's responsibility to encourage and engage young minds in [sic] big ideas and new ways of thinking about the world. This is true whether one is in the humanities or the sciences. And universities have fulfilled this responsibility well, judging by the large number of students who have done incredibly well in the [sic] intense academic atmosphere.

At the same time, there are also those who become disenchanted with university. It is this latter group that the university has failed in terms of providing a satisfying undergraduate experience. It is regrettable that so many could not take advantage of a unique [??? -ed.] learning opportunity.

Okay, Karen, now you've completely lost me. And as I peruse the remainder of your essay I see that there's no hope of retrieving a single relevant, let alone cogent, point from the lot. I mean, what the hell does all this chit-chat about "satisfying undergraduate experience," the need for "undergraduate mentorship programs," and "informed decisions about academic choices" have to do with the basic point under contention: that a University education either is or isn't an essential component of a healthy, so-called "knowledge-based" economy? (Indeed, given the recurrence of these vapid and jargonistic phrases, one gets the unsettling impression that you gleaned the entire substance of your little essay only from various blurbs on various University brochures ... And did you really end your piece with that platitudinous, rent-an-insight "Learning is a two-way street"? My God, girl, what post-secondary institution did you go to?)

What fearful irony that a defense of the necessity of universal post-secondary education should itself supply some of the worst tendencies to lazy, irrelevant and conspicuously (and relentlessly) contradictory thinking about these days. I should hope anyway, Karen, that your "undergratuate experience" was very "satisfying" and "unique" indeed, to make up for all that time (and money) you couldn't be bothered spending actually learning something.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Apotheosis becomes Nemesis

First dentistry was painless;
Then bicycles were chainless
And carriages were horseless
And many laws, enforceless.
Next, cookery was fireless,
Telegraphy was wireless,
Cigars were nicotineless
And coffee, caffeinless.
Soon oranges were seedless,
The putting green was weedless,
The college boy hatless,
The proper diet, fatless,
Now motor roads are dustless,
The latest steel is rustless,
Our tennis courts are sodless,
Our new religions, godless.
Arthur Guiterman Gaily The Troubadour (1936).

To which that great intellect John Barber might reply:

“You make it sound like a bad thing, mister. What’re you? One of them creationonists? One of them Spanish Inquisisitors? Ma! Get my rifle! We gots us a Spanish Inquisisitor here, and I ain’t lettin’ him put me in no Iron Maiden!”