Saturday, December 13, 2008

Parvum Opus 305 ~ Allegedly Happy Holidays

Alleged Appalling Acts

In a December 10 editorial, “Appalling acts by the Ill. governor”, the Cincinnati Enquirer took a peculiar tone regarding the [alleged*] crimes of Illinois governor Rob Blagojevich, who wanted to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. He also wanted to force the Chicago Tribune to fire several editors who criticized him. After detailing Blag the Retailer’s [alleged] misdeeds, the Enquirer editor wrote:

And that’s not even counting the most “heinous” allegation of all ~ that he tried to coerce the Chicago Tribune to fire editorial board members who were critical of him. Is nothing sacred?

Then more paragraphs about the investigation, etc., concluding with:

And by all means, let’s leave those editorial writers alone.

Why the flippant tone? Trying to squelch the press, however seedy the press has become, is just about as serious as selling a Senate seat. If the writer intended to be self-deprecating, instead he (or she) sounds as if the whole story is a bit of a joke.

The Blagojevich story came up in my classroom, and a couple of my (foreign) students just said he was stupid. Their first reaction was not that he did something reprehensible, but that he was stupid for talking on the phone, where he could be recorded (and of course ought to have known he was being recorded). Then a young man from Senegal said that the U.S. is the most corrupt nation in the world, but wouldn’t say where he got that piece of information. It was more likely to have come from another teacher than from another foreign student, I would guess. I’ve heard from many of my foreign students that their home countries are vastly corrupt; by comparison the U.S. is a safe haven. For instance, you can’t do business in Moldova without bribing government officials; in Mexico, you don’t call the police if you’ve been robbed; in Venezuela, you can get in serious trouble for publishing or broadcasting criticism of Hugo Chavez. Allegedly.

* A reporter called a gunman in the Mumbai hotel that was the recent site of major carnage “the alleged gunman” even as he was standing there on camera with gun in hand. Did the reporter think he might be proved not to have been holding the gun?

Without a Clue

Dave DaBee referred me, or all of us, to a New York Times column by guest columnist Timothy Egan, “Typing Without a Clue”, in which he complains that people are getting book contracts who don’t write or speak well. His examples are Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber (Samuel J. Wurzelbacher), who is also subject to much personal abuse by Egan. Think Egan deeply cares about good writing, or ... did he fail to get a book contract himself? And, does he care about Democrats who get book contracts even if they’re not really writers? Surely he knows that publishing is all about making money, and names in the news have a greater chance of selling books than yet another opinionated blogger. Publishers hire writers to fill the “as told to” or “written with” slot on the cover of books by celebrities who are not writers. (And as much as I’m interested in language, I don’t equate verbal skill with good character. Sometimes it’s quite the reverse.)

Aspiring writers are always annoyed to find that yet another book by a lesser writer, or in some cases, by a non-writer, is on the shelves. Years ago a friend of mine, who was trying to get started writing romance novels, told me that romance writers were cheesed off because beefcake model Fabio got a book contract. He was well suited to posing for the covers. Yet he got the money while working writers (except his ghost writer) were frustrated.

Christmas Feats

TV ad: “The holidays come but once a year.”

This latest attempt to avoid saying “Christmas” led to this stupidity. Holidays come all over the year (except August), though “the” holidays have a few more crowded together in the winter. But “the” holiday is still Christmas. The “reason for the season” is not the annual tree sacrifice.

But to show that I’m not a Scrooge about other people’s fear and hostility-based renaming of Christmas, I recommend to you The Real Festivus by Seinfeld writer Daniel O’Keefe, whose father invented Festivus. The book outlines Festivus traditions of “bare-bones celebration of second-rate miracles and hopeless regrets”: the simple aluminum Festivus Pole; the Airing of Grievances where at the dinner table (spaghetti, meatloaf, whatever) participants inform family and friends of the ways in which they've been a disappointment; and the Feats of Strength, when the head of the family is wrestled to the ground and pinned. Is it an accident that the book lists on Amazon starting at $6.66?

On a brighter note, one of my Muslim students unexpectedly gave me a Christmas card.

Classical Education

Victor Davis Hanson discusses the decline and fall of classical education, the foundation of the traditional liberal arts curriculum, in “The Humanities Move Off Campus”.

It is unfortunate that a degree is necessary for so many jobs that really don’t require that classical education, and certainly few students are interested in a classical education or scholarship in general. They have to pay plenty for what is often wasted education and the curriculum has suffered too.

The Dutch

The Dutch, as you will remember from grade school history, settled New York (formerly New Amsterdam), and left behind place names such as Harlem and the Catskills. They also inspired a number of unflattering idioms:

did the Dutch = committed suicide

Dutch treat = everyone pays his own tab

Dutch uncle = someone who speaks roughly, chews you out when necessary

Dutch rub = painful scalp massage

Other nationalities have their fair share of opprobrious epithets too, of course. I wonder, though, why the Dutch faded out of public fame, other than leaving us with the sense that the prefix “van” in front of a name means “rich New York family”?

Be Prepared

What to buy for the person who has too much: tourniquet wear. This is a serious line of clothing for people in dangerous professions that has built-in tourniquets that can save you from bleeding to death. Maybe you’ll never need it, but you just might need to know what it means in case it comes up in conversation. Or, you can be the first in your crowd to mention it at your next holiday party.

A Keeper

Here’s a typo you can use: neighborheads. Perhaps “community leaders” comes to mind, but to my mind, neighborheads are the hippies next door. Long ago and far away, “heads” were people who used recreational drugs other than alcohol and tobacco.

Whittle and Purley Update

Synchronized spooning team Jem Whittle and Shirl Purley of Ontario may have more than the usual impediment to getting accepted in the Olympics with their radical Cubing the Circle routine. Adding revolutions around a bonfire to the spin/rotation made it nigh impossible to keep the regulation blanket in place, as required, and it’s not so easy keeping the blanket out of the fire, either. The third dimension of spooning turns ~ something like synchronized somersault rolls ~ makes it totally impossible. Will this disqualify them from competing with other teams now? Or will a new classification of synchronized spooning break out? Watch this space. (Shirl, by the way, is Shirley’s preferred moniker, as she’s informing reporters now. Sorry, Shirl.)


Read The Wish Book, a novella by Rhonda Keith, free online.

New interview with bluesman Sonny Robertson.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2008. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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WHEN SONNY GETS BLUE! Check out the video and music clips of great blues man Sonny Robertson and the Howard Street Blues Band at and, with his new original song, "A Different Shade of Blue". And listen to Judy Joy Jones’s interview with Sonny.

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