Dangerous Delusion

Growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan—a city with the second-highest per capita library use in North America, by the way, after Saskatoon—I knew no one who could not spell properly and write grammatically. Everyone in my immediate family was a good speller, including Mom with her grade 8 education, and it was the same within my circle of school friends.

Sure, there might have been some bad writers who were majoring in shop, but they’d been streamed into the lower forms and so I never hung around with them much except in grade 9 and 10 PhysEd class (which was more than enough because they were mostly bullies). I can say for certain that I never read anything they wrote, if they wrote anything at all. So I was pretty well isolated from bad English.

This blessed isolation continued through university. Aside from foreign exchange students, whose lack of English was understandable, people I knew at the U of R tended to write comprehensibly, subtly, and correctly. Mind you, I was in liberal arts, music, and journalism, but even the science and engineering students I met at bridge club could express themselves pretty well in writing. And since Canadian universities don’t offer athletic scholarships, only academic ones—which is as it should be—I assumed that the student body was made up of literate people like my friends and me.

And throughout all this time, the stuff I read—newspapers, magazines, library books, textbooks—had all been edited by real live professional editors, because editing was actually important back then. Even a humour magazine like National Lampoon was devoid of typos in the 1970s and ’80s (though when it was rebooted more recently, I’d sometimes find five per page, which disappointed me no end). Basically, the only people who published were professional writers whose words had been carefully proofread and edited for style.

What the hell happened, then? Why are people such godawful writers now? Well, I’ll tell you what happened: the internet happened. Bookstores are closing, newspapers and magazines are going bankrupt, and there have been library closures (even in Regina) because our computers give us immediate access to almost every bit of information worth having, plus a lot of other chaff. Why even leave the house?

An unfortunate side-effect of this is that information too easily obtained becomes less precious to the consumer, and a lot less “sticky”. When, in the past, you had to put some physical effort into research—putting on your shoes and coat, travelling to the library, hunting down the right books amongst thousands (there was no search engine, just the card catalogue and some excellent librarians), either lugging said books home or, if they were reference books, lugging them over to a big table, reading them to find the facts you wanted (again, no search engine, just eyes and patience) and making notes in longhand—the information tended to remain with you and cement itself into your brain. Now you just google and the info pretty well offers itself up to you on a silver platter. And it’s free, like the library!… well, unless it’s behind a paywall.

But I digress.

Because of the democratization of information, the internet is essentially a big vanity publishing house, and anyone with the right technology and a few bucks to register a domain name can start a blog and be an “author”. We have at our fingertips the ability to write down and distribute our thoughts directly to the entire planet, but sadly we have taken that to mean that we have the aptitude to do so, and this is a dangerous delusion.

This includes people whose English is abysmal, but who can’t or won’t pay for the services of a professional editor, and that means that a good four-fifths of the digital content out there is more or less garbage, littered with broken sentences, horrible syntax, elementary spelling mistakes, and other affronts to the language. What a dump!

But it’s not a generational thing. I find that it’s not just young people who have substandard language skills, but people from my generation too. It has gradually dawned on me that I’ve been surrounded by illiterates all my life and didn’t realize it, because these people never had a forum in which to grunt their views.

It’s well documented that there has always been in our population a depressing and tiresome strain of anti-intellectualism—not just non-intellectualism, which is tolerable, but actual, active hatred of intellectuals—that confuses book learning with elitism. Now, the real elites in society are the rich and powerful, not the smart and creative, but the lumpen lunkheads will have none of that talk because it threatens their carefully cultivated world view that they are being oppressed by people who live in ivory towers. They don’t like education. They don’t trust education. They don’t want education.

The annoying thing is, they have been emboldened (and easily exploited and manipulated) over the last few decades by certain political movements, usually, but not always, of a conservative bent, and now they just won’t shut up. Since the internet has given them tongues to speak, they quite shamelessly and, yes, proudly flaunt their ignorance, parade their ignorance, shove their ignorance down everyone’s throats. And while doing so, they use grammar that makes one wonder whether they’re totally uneducated or just mentally challenged.

This state of affairs wouldn’t be so bad, if only these unprofessional bloggers who believe they have so much to say would accept the occasional bit of instruction on how to say it, from people who have been writing and editing professionally for decades.

It also wouldn’t be so bad if they would read their posts out loud and fix the spelling and grammar before they hit Publish or comment on a message board.

Mostly, though, it wouldn’t be so bad if they, and everyone else, would realize that what they write is going to last indefinitely in the digisphere, unlike the stuff we used to read when words and images were published exclusively on dead trees. As Queen Eleanor says in The Lion in Winter, “Paper burns, and tears, and turns to pudding in the rain.” Pixels are forever.

So now I’ll address these new “authors”.

OK, you bozos who don’t know “its” from “it’s”, “your” from “you’re”, the various forms of “t(w)(o)o”, etc: I GET IT ALREADY! You don’t like to have your spelling corrected yadda yadda yadda, so you turn your offended and bumptious anger on the language “nazis”. And then the whole pack of illiterates pile onto the critics with messages like: “nobody cars / you no what he mean / she mak a litle mistake, so what? / this isnt scholl, ass hole / ur to pendantic / who mad u king shit of the turdpile?” and other more badly spelled and uncapitalized yadda yadda yaddas.

And yet, even though you and your bootless and unhorsed friends have been informed of the problems and you must know how to fix them by now, you persist in repeating the same stupid errors over and over and over, no matter how many times they’re—sorry, I mean “their”—pointed out. The recidivism rate for bad usage must be roughly 9 in 10.

Do you even hear the criticism? Are the lessons just not sticking for some reason, or… or… OR… and I sure hope this isn’t the case… is your non-improvement intentional? Are you wilfully refusing to do better out of sheer spite? Really? You’re acting out? So this is nothing more than your petulant little “fuck you, imma keep doing it” to anyone who dares to tell you when you’ve made a mistake? Are you really that pleased that you’ve been saddled with elementary school writing skills? How is it that you’re allowed near computers before you’ve mastered common three-letter words?

You know what? Don’t even bother answering. I’m done with you. Go eat your mom’s dick.

I Don’t Get Around (The Hodophobic’s Lament)

To the tune of “I’ve Been Everywhere” by Geoff Mack

It’s a big, wide world, baby, I should do some travelling,

So I make plans, and my brain begins unravelling.

I mean to call Air Canada, say let’s go on a trip,

But a paralyzing fear of travel has me in its grip.

Thank god I’ve got the internet, so I don’t need to roam,

When Ogema, Saskatchewan, has all I need at home.

CHORUS: I don’t get around, man.

I don’t get around, man.

I’m never outward-bound, man.

You know where I’ll be found, man.

I stick to my old home ground, man.

I don’t get around…

I’ve been to Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

CHORUS

I’ve been to Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

Ogema, Ogema, Ogema, Ogema,

And there was that day when I went to Radville,

CHORUS

(You think that’s bad? At one point, my fear of travel got so serious, 

I couldn’t even leave the house for two years!)

I went to the bathroom, kitchen, living room, bedroom,

Kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom,

Living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen,

Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, living room,

Sun room, rec room, TV room, attic,

And once in the yard for thirteen minutes.

I don’t get around, man.

I don’t get around, man.

I’m never outward-bound, man.

You know where I’ll be found, man.

My phobia is renowned, man.

(I know one world you haven’t seen!)

I don’t get around.

Sad candy

I just realized that so far this year, I haven’t seen any of those horrid, utterly tasteless suicide commercials for Cadbury Easter Creme Eggs—you know, the ones where these wretchedly depressed bonbons find new ways to splatter their own guts all over the place.

Good. “Spew the Goo” (or whatever it was called) was a creepy campaign that made suicide out to be a laughing matter. It isn’t, and misery is a cruel and depraved thing to sell product with.

Joyful food suicide may even be worse. When I see breakfast cereals such as Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats, who are fully aware that very soon after their warm milk bath they will suffer the gruesome, painful torture of being torn apart by huge teeth, partially dissolved in hydrochloric acid, and eventually pooped out of someone’s backside and flushed into the sewer, who are OK with this fate, and who even sing happy (though inexpertly scanned and incompetently rhymed) ditties about how delicious they are, it doesn’t really make me want to buy the product.

In Into the Woods, Stephen Sondheim wrote, “There’s no possible way / To describe how you feel / When you’re talking to your meal!” Well, yes, I suppose if you’re a psychopath or an unrepentant capitalist, “thrilled” might be a word you’d use, maybe even “orgasmic”, but I have no desire to talk to my food.

I wouldn’t want it to talk to me either. I wouldn’t want it to tell me it knows it’s condemned. I wouldn’t want it to beg for its life, because I’d feel guilty. And I certainly wouldn’t want it to be blithe about its doom, because that would make me feel even guiltier. At least M&Ms aren’t exactly happy about being eaten.

Oh yes, about M&Ms. In the commercials, they talk with, joke and watch TV with, and attend swanky parties and interact with people who regard them as food. How is it that they haven’t revolted against their inferior status and risen up against their human oppressors? Why have they put up with the genocide of billions of their chocolate brothers and sisters?

If advertising people are going to go to the trouble and expense of creating a reality where candy talks, shouldn’t that reality at least be logically consistent?

Or maybe that’s a tall order, since we ourselves inhabit a reality that isn’t particularly logical much of the time, a reality in which a few lucky, well-placed people have been fated to live in luxury, with more than enough for a thousand lifetimes, while more, many more, exponentially more, struggle to make ends meet, or are even homeless and destitute, or have no access to medical care or food or clean water, and suffer lives that are nasty, brutish, and short. Misery is their reality.

Misery also seems to be the reality of the characters who populate Skittles ads. There’s one currently running about some poor guy named Tim who has a kind of Midas-touch (but with Skittles) in which everything he touches turns to a bunch of candies, including his desk and his telephone. Tim’s office co-workers think it’s awesome, so he asks them if they would think it awesome not to be able to hold their newborn baby boy in their arms, and whether they fed and dressed themselves that morning, because HE didn’t.

I have no idea why he doesn’t just touch some other part of his body and put himself out of his misery. Another miserable person from this miserable campaign is the kid who has a fully formed Skittles tree growing out of his torso. He wants to go to college, but his mother refuses to have this parasitic tree removed because the family needs the money generated via the Skittles.

And then there’s the one in which there’s apparently some highly contagious disease called Skittles pox, which covers the face and body with multicoloured, fruit-flavoured scabs that are not only edible, but yummy!

I think all of these commercials come from a place of great, soul-starving sadness, and I don’t see how they move product. Has the advertising industry finally run out of good ideas? Well, actually, they ran out of good ideas ages ago. Talking food isn’t new at all.

You might notice that none of the products I mentioned are even animals, which is a completely different issue, but Saturday Night Live pointed out the inanity of talking food mascots in this parody commercial from the 1990s.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=215fc77fe7

What Do You Do in a Drunken Stupor?

Ford

For Mayor Rob Ford of Toronto…

  • WHAT DO YOU DO IN A DRUNKEN STUPOR? (Mayday!)
  • (to the tune of “What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor?”) 
  • 1. What do you do in a drunken stupor?
  • What do you do in a drunken stupor?
  • What do you do in a drunken stupor?
  • You lie every morning.
  • (CHORUS)
  • MAYDAY! ANOTHER CRISIS!
  • MAYDAY! ANOTHER CRISIS!
  • MAYDAY! ANOTHER CRISIS!
  • YOU LIE EVERY MORNING!
  • 2. Drink green beer till you’re almost inco-
  • herent and act like a total dink, oh.
  • Mess with a bike-riding, lefty pinko.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 3. Go to the ACC and wig out.
  • Grab the missus at home and pig-out,
  • You’re in a hole even Doug can’t dig out.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 4. Flee from Pride to your summer cottage.
  • Don’t wanna see any homo frottage.
  • What’s in your head doesn’t have much wattage.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 5. Hide inside from the Princess Warrior.
  • Try a little coke-induced euphoria.
  • Yeah, you’re sorry. We’re a whole lot sorrier.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 6. Go for a drive when you want to read, oh.
  • Call the guy from The Star a pedo.
  • Couldn’t look worse if you wore a Speedo.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 7. Chug an amount that is nearly monu-
  • Mental, and when you’re about half-gone, you
  • Get videoed with a crack-pipe on you,
  • You lie every morning.
  • 8. Make another video and run amuck, or
  • Scream you wanna body-slam a motherfucker.
  • Everybody’s lickin’ the Toronto sucker.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 9. Better get to rehab till you get sober.
  • Better quit fryin’ your frontal lobe, or
  • Ya won’t be around come next October.
  • You lie every morning.
  • 10. That’s what you do in a drunken stupor,
  • That’s what you do in a drunken stupor,
  • That’s what you do in a drunken stupor,
  • You lie every morning.
  • (LAST CHORUS)
  • MAYDAY! ANOTHER CRISIS!
  • MAYDAY! AND ANOTHER CRISIS!
  • MAYDAY! AND ANOTHEROTHER CRISIS!
  • YOU LIE EVERY MORNING!

Things to remember when riding the El in Chicago

Things to remember when riding the El in Chicago

1. Place your hand in front of your ear to block gamma rays from entering your head, while using your thumb to apply as much pressure as possible to your carotid artery.

2. For your safety, tall black people are required to sit on uncomfortable Swedish modern chairs, while short black people must sit near the large red and white screwheads affixed to train doors.

3. Operating a crossbow on the CTA is strictly prohibited. If someone starts shooting bolts at you, proceed as quickly as possible to another car. Passengers are advised to duck.

4. If you are unsure of how to escape crossbow bollts, the white, faceless gentleman will be happy to tell you where to go. The next stop is Addison. Doors open on the left at Addison.

5. Above all, avoid the gigantic black electrical spiders that roam the CTA tunnels in search of prey. Welcome to Chicago. We hope that your stay will be happy and safe.

Happy new year

I’ve been eagerly awaiting my present from Terry since before Christmas. It was sent “express” on the 16th. I managed to track it on the Canada Post website yesterday; the package had travelled over the course of eight days from Chicago to Laguna Niguel, California (utterly in the wrong direction), before arriving in Mississauga on Christmas Eve for more processing, with delivery expected on 3 January. 

This afternoon, there was a knock at my door. The guy who runs the spa in the front of my building had a package for me. Oh, good, it’s only the 31st! Merry Christmas to me!

It wasn’t the package I was expecting. The address was right, though the postal code wasn’t and the addressee was someone who’s never lived here in the two decades I’ve been in this apartment. But the sender was from Regina, so I figured it was from someone I knew who was just messing with me. Of course I had to open it.

Inside was a lovely present—not for me, but a first wedding anniversary gift for a couple I’d never heard of before. I examined the card inside for some clues, and then had a gander at the gift: number 32 of a limited run of 70 copies of a collection of short stories by this year’s Nobel laureate Alice Munro, signed by the author! Exactly the sort of thing I would covet… for a moment I hoped I wouldn’t be able to find them. 

But of course it really wasn’t mine, so I couldn’t be a jerk, and since it was their anniversary, I had to do all I could to find them. Besides, they were from Regina and so am I and, well, you know…

The first names of the couple were Hilary and Roslyn, so I assumed it was a nice lesbian couple celebrating their anniversary, but I didn’t know which first name on the card went with which last name on the package. Good thing there’s Google, so I typed in the last names, and right near the top of the page was their wedding registry. It turns out that Hilary is actually a guy, and he and Roslyn got married one year ago today, on New Year’s Eve.

Still no way of contacting them, though. The package had been sent to my address, and I had no idea if they were still in Toronto—though they must have been, because the gift was from his parents and of course they would know where their kids are. So I typed the incorrect postal code into the toolbar and got an address one block north.

Next step: go to 411.ca and type in the names and see if a phone listing came up that matched the address. Yep.

After a few rings a woman answered. “Hi, is this Roslyn? Happy first anniversary! I have a present for you from your in-laws. You’re going to like it very much.” She told me that my house number is the suite number of their condo. I put on my coat and shoes.

Roslyn seems nice, and I bet Hilary knows he’s a lucky guy. By the way, I took a side trip to Facebook and saw that Hilary and I have a mutual friend back home. Small freakin’ world is all I can say! And now that I know there are Regina people so close, I hope we will become friends. Territory folk should stick together. Territory folk should all be pals.

So that’s my good deed for the year, and just under the wire. You know, even if it takes some effort, it’s usually easy to make someone happy, though sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes it’s both. Happy Anniversary, Roslyn and Hilary! 

Oh, when I got home, there was another parcel stuck in my mailbox, this one from Terry. And it’s perfect. And it’s mine.