Monday, November 16, 2009

Parvum Opus 347: The Weekly Gizzard

Dulce, utile, et decorum est pro patria scribere.


Writers’ Groups

Dea Robertson asked about writers’ groups, where people get together to read and critique each other’s work. They can be fun for some people but I don’t recommend them (though I do recommend writers’ conferences and workshops), and Dea actually has a good handle on them himself:

We have a lot of writers’ groups around Berkeley, naturally being that it’s Berkeley. Also at SFSU where I graduated from their renowned Creative Writing Department heaped with lots of writing talent. There are groups for novels, short stories, poems, playwrights, tech and journal writing, etcetera. As the list redundantly goes on, I bet you can imagine what writers make up these groups. I suggest some classifications such as the Wine and Cheese group, or even a Group Therapy Writers’ Group. Or maybe you’ve seen my particular pet peeve, the Meditative Group. That’s where lots of Sky Blue Critiques occur but nothing gets down to earth.

I only tried an amateur writers’ group one time. I decided not to go back after a woman thought I shouldn’t use the word “caesura” because she didn’t know what it meant. I read words I don’t know all the time, but sometimes I look them up.

As for professional critiques, once a published mystery writer offered to read one chapter of my mystery novel, and his critique was: (1) There were too many characters in the first chapter, it was confusing. But I checked an early Agatha Christie book, The Body in the Library, and she introduced a lot of characters in the first chapter. (2) He didn't like the name I invented for one character, Jim Rainbolt; it made him think of rust. (3) He thought the name of the PR/media production company I invented, MassInterface, was unbelievable. I talked to a New York agent about the same novel at a writers’ conference, and when I told her the heroine was early-to-mid-20s, she said dramatically, "Make her 28!" and that was it, that was her professional advice for commercial success.

Fred is my best critic so far.

The American Canon

Thanks to John McCarthy for sending this YouTube clip of 100 famous lines from movies. Perhaps naturalization officials should give a quiz on these as a qualification for American citizenship, along with the test on the Constitution or whatever they require.

Fisking and Handwaving

Fisk is a new word to me. It means a detailed criticism or analysis, named for a man named Robert Fisk, who was a subject of fisking, not the author. While looking this up I ran across handwaving, which seems to be the opposite of fisking, a term for a kind of argument that sidesteps the issue. I seem to have been on the receiving end of a lot more handwaving than fisking in the Examiner items, but Parvum Opum readers are great fiskers.

Altered Calls

From a Facebook list of what people do not want at their funerals: “No alter calls.” In some Protestant churches, the altar (-ar) call is the part of the service where the pastor invites people to come kneel at the altar to accept Christ as their personal savior (in the words of some churches). That may indeed follow or precede alterations, but alter is the wrong word. I’d kind of like to see an altar call at a funeral, though. Would people kneel at the casket? A lot of pressure there.

Education Update

[|||] It’s not only students who think English and math are subjects they won’t really need in life. Educators created “student-centered” learning and the use of calculators in math classes, which have lowered academic accomplishment as well as expected standards in math, not just the fuzzable subjects like English and history. Read Sandra Stotsky’s article about it. One of my sons had to use a calculator in middle school, at a time when he still needed practice, practice, practice, since math wasn’t his strong point. His teacher’s explanation was that they were going to focus on, uh, ideas or something, on developing their own math systems, perhaps. My theory is that there are a lot of lazy teachers, and the younger ones, having been subjects of “student-centered” learning already, are ignorant as well.

[|||] Talk radio discussion: Some schools are not teaching cursive writing anymore, so some middle-school students cannot not read the original Declaration of Independence, and some adults cannot sign their name in cursive. The point about cursive writing is that it is faster than printing. And there is that historical angle. Cursive writing isn’t hard to learn or hard to do. It is not, as one teacher said, like hieroglyphics. It is the writing of our own language.

It’s enough to make you put your hands in your head, as someone said on the radio.

How do you feel about that?

Mark Steyn writes amusingly, as always, on the language of therapy seeping into business as it’s already infiltrated education and nearly everything else. We’ll be hearing a lot of it from Major Nidal Hassan’s legal defense. I get it. That boy’s not quite right in the head because he got his feelings hurt when people called him names. But it will be in pseudo-technical psychological jargon.

Reminds me of when I went to see the movie Judgment at Nuremberg as a teenager. One of the defendants in the trial, a doctor who’d been responsible for the deaths of Jews, felt some remorse though he’d knowingly participated in the Nazi program. I think he was the character played by Burt Lancaster, which made him more sympathetic. I was 15 and as soft-headed as I was soft-hearted and I told my date that I thought he ought to have gotten clemency because he was sorry. Even he laughed at me, but it took me years to figure out why.

Meanwhile, the language of the media isn’t as sharp and clear as in that movie. The incident at Fort Hood has been called a “tragedy”. “Tragedy” today so often is used to mean terrible misfortune. I prefer Chaucer’s classical definition:

Tragedy is to say a certain storie,

As olde bookes maken us memorie,

Of him that stood in great prosperitee

And is yfallen out of high degree

Into misery and endeth wretchedly.

The traditional understanding, or literary definition, of tragedy is a terrible outcome that stems from a person’s character. Thus I always thought that “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” is really the tragedy of the Montagues and the Capulets, not of the two young lovers.

The killings at Fort Hood were also not a tragedy of the victims. Major Hasan was a man of somewhat high degree, but not high enough in his own estimation, not high enough compared with the entire non-Muslim world in which he had flourished. I don’t feel much sympathy for him as protagonist of this drama. Who else is the tragic hero here, the person whose character and behavior led to this disaster, and who, like Oedipus, should now be putting out his own eyes?

This is not to detract from Major Hasan’s guilt (oh, I know, innocent till proven guilty but there’s no mystery about it). It’s just that if you want to take the soft “more to be pitied than blamed” or the pseudo-scientific psychological stance, you’ll have to come up with another guilty party. A lot of people in the Army knew exactly what Hasan was about.

Speaking of mythical Greek tragedy, I ran across this in Jok Church’s Sunday cartoon strip on science, “You Can”, of all things:

These days the word myth has fallen on hard times — if we use that word, people might think we’re talking about something fake, or lying. But humans think in at least 2 languages: mythos and logos. Ancients used mythos to explain things that were unknowable.

This is like the deterioration of the word rhetoric, which means skill in speaking, but has sunk to mean empty words. True, fine rhetoric is often empty, but simple language or even poor language is no guarantee of truth either.

The Gritty Bits: My Week on

Maybe I should call The Gritty Bits “The Gizzard”. Anyway, I want to point out that my October 31 prognostication that Obama-as-Mao T-shirts could be expected in the next presidential campaign. But China already came up with Oba-Mao shirts and buttons and more in honor of his visit. And someone is selling Oba-Mao T-shirts on

"Oba Mao" T-shirts appear sooner than predicted

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

On October 31, I wrote here that in the next campaign, we might see T-shirts with Obama as Mao, continuing the...

Trial by a jury of their peers in New York City

Friday, November 13th, 2009

The 9/11 hijackers — presumed innocent, of course, as civilians, not enemy combatants — are to be...

Change uncomfortable statistics with school busing and early prison release

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

In her City Journal article "There's a Quota for That," Heather MacDonald writes that Tucson's...

Major Hasan's pre-traumatic stress syndrome

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Apologists for the alleged Fort Hood murderer, Major Hasan, say, among other things, that he was traumatized by (1)...

Millions are behind the Fort Hood massacre

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The murders by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood last week were not the typical work of a psychotic mass...


I know there was a big glitch in last week’s PO. I could call it a technical glitch but it was my own carelessness in copying and pasting.

And this week I’m running late. Or is it early? I may be working my way back to my original mid-week schedule, which I would prefer.



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Dulce, Utile, et Decorum (Sweet, Useful, and Proper), title of new collection of Parvum Opus, Volume I

BUMPER STICKER: Dulce, Utile, et Decorum

No Pain, No Pain

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Flash in the Pants

If you're so smart why aren't you me?

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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; 2009 issues are 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 2009. 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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