"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Thursday, January 06, 2011

What we talk about when we talk about snark

While I greatly enjoyed this essay by John Sewell on how Toronto Mayor Rob Ford should go about cutting the fat cats off the gravy train, its pretty clear most people reading and commenting on it don"t realize it isn't any more about the police than Swift's Modest Proposal was about nutrition. However, as sharp as Sewell's razor cuts, when it comes to snark, satire and sarcasm, nothing can touch this for pure evil genius.

Letter to the Earth
by Mark Twain

Abner Scofield
Coal Dealer
Buffalo, New York

     I have the honor, as per command, to inform you that your recent act of benevolence and self-sacrifice has been recorded upon a page of the Book called Golden Deeds of Men; a distinction, I am permitted to remark, which is not merely extraordinary, it is unique.
     As regards your prayers, for the week ending the 19th, I have the honor to report as follows:
     1. For weather to advance hard coal 15 cents a ton. Granted.
     2. For influx of laborers to reduce wages 10 percent. Granted.
     3. For a break in rival soft-coal prices. Granted.
     4. For a visitation upon the man, or upon the family of the man, who has set up a competing retail coal-yard in Rochester. Granted, as follows: diphtheria, 2, 1 fatal; scarlet fever, 1, to result in deafness and imbecility, Note. This prayer should have been directed against this subordinate's principals, the N. Y. Central R. R. Co.
     5. For deportation to Sheol of annoying swarms of persons who apply daily for work, or for favors of one sort or another. Taken under advisement for later decision and compromise, this petition appearing to conflict with another one of same date, which will be cited further along.
     6. For application of some form of violent death to neighbor who threw brick at family cat, whilst the same was serenading. Reserved for consideration and compromise because of conflict with a prayer of even date to be cited further along.
     7. To "damn the missionary cause." Reserved also -- as above.
     8. To increase December profits of $22,230 to $45,000 for January, and perpetuate a proportionate monthly increase thereafter -- "which will satisfy you." The prayer granted, the added remark accepted with reservations.
     9. For cyclone, to destroy the works and fill up the mine of the North Pennsylvania Co. NOTE: Cyclones are not kept in stock in the winter season. A reliable article of firedamp can be furnished upon application.
     Especial note is made of the above list, they being of particular moment. The 298 remaining supplications classifiable under the head of Special Providences, Schedule A, for week ending 19th, are granted in a body, except that 3 of the 32 cases requiring immediate death have been modified to incurable disease.
     This completes the week's invoice of petitions known to this office under the technical designation of Secret Supplications of the Heart, and which, for a reason which may suggest itself, always receive our first and especial attention.
     The remainder of the week's invoice falls under the head of what we term Public Prayers, in which classification we place prayers uttered in Prayer Meeting, Sunday School, Class Meeting, Family Worship, etc. These kinds of prayers have value according to classification of Christian uttering them. By rule of this office, Christians are divided into two grand classes, to wit; (1) Professing Christians; (2) Professional Christians. These, in turn, are minutely subdivided and classified by Size, Species, and Family; and finally, Standing is determined by carats, the minimum being 1, the maximum 1,000.
     As per balance sheet for quarter ending Dec. 31st, 1847, you stood classified as follows:
     Grand Classification: Professing Christian.
     Size: one-fourth of maximum.
     Species: Human-Spiritual.
     Family: A of the Elect, Division 16.
     Standing: 322 carats fine.
     As per balance sheet for quarter just ended -- that is to say, forty years later -- you stand classified as follows:
     Grand Classification: Professional Christian.
     Size: six one-hundredths of maximum.
     Species: Human-Animal.
     Family: W of the Elect, Division 1547.
     Standing: 3 carats fine.
     I have the honor to call your attention to the fact that you seem to have deteriorated.
     To resume report upon your Public Prayers -- with the side remark, that in order to encourage Christians of your grade and of approximate grades, it is the custom of this office to grant many things to them which would not be granted to Christians of a higher grade -- partly because they would not be asked for:
     Prayer for weather mercifully tempered to the needs of the poor and the naked. Denied. This was a Prayer-Meeting prayer. It conflicts with Item 1 of this report, which was a Secret Supplication of the Heart. By a rigid rule of this office, certain sorts of Public Prayer of Professional Christians are forbidden to take precedence of Secret Supplications of the Heart.
     Prayer for better times and plentier food "for the hard-handed son of toil whose patient and exhausting labors make comfortable the homes, and pleasant the ways, of the more fortunate, and entitle him to our vigilant and effective protection from the wrongs and injustices which grasping avarice would do him, and to the ten dearest offices of our grateful hearts." Prayer-Meeting prayer. Refused. Conflicts with Secret Supplication of the Heart No. 2.
     Prayer "that such as in any way obstruct our preferences may be generously blessed, both themselves and their families, we here calling our hearts to witness that in their worldly prosperity we are spiritually blessed, and our joys made perfect." Prayer-Meeting prayer. Refused. Conflicts with Secret Supplications of the Heart Nos. 3 and 4.
     "Oh, let none fall heir to the pains of perdition through words or acts of ours." Family Worship. Received fifteen minutes in advance of Secret Supplication of the Heart No. 5, with which it distinctly conflicts. It is suggested that one or the other of these prayers be withdrawn, or both of them modified.
     "Be mercifully inclined toward all who would do us offense in our persons or our property." Includes man who threw brick at cat. Family Prayer. Received some minutes in advance of No. 6, Secret Supplications of the Heart. Modification suggested, to reconcile discrepancy.
     "Grant that the noble missionary cause, the most precious labor entrusted to the hands of men, may spread and prosper without let or limit in all heathen lands that do as yet reproach us with their spiritual darkness." Uninvited prayer shoved in at meeting of American Board. Received nearly half a day in advance of No. 7 Secret Supplications of the Heart. This office takes no stock in missionaries, and is not connected in any way with the American Board. We should like to grant one of these prayers, but cannot grant both. It is suggested that the American Board one be withdrawn.
     This office desires for the twentieth time to call urgent attention to your remark appended to No. 8. It is a chestnut.
     Of the 464 specifications contained in your Public Prayers for the week, and not previously noted in this report, we grant 2, and deny the rest. To wit; Granted, (1) "that the clouds may continue to perform their office; (2) and the sun his." It was the divine purpose anyhow; it will gratify you to know that you have not disturbed it. Of the 462 details refused, 61 were uttered in Sunday School. In this connection I must once more remind you that we grant no Sunday School Prayers of Professional Christians of the classification technically known in this office as the John Wanamaker grade. We merely enter them as "words," and they count to his credit according to number uttered within certain limits of time; 3,000 per quarter-minute required, or no score; 4,200 in a possible 5,000 is a quite common Sunday School score, among experts, and counts the same as two hymns and a bouquet furnished by young ladies in the assassin's cell, execution morning. Your remaining 401 details count for wind only. We bunch them and use them for head winds in retarding the ships of improper people, but it takes so many of them to make an impression that we cannot allow anything for their use.
     I desire to add a word of my own to this report. When certain sorts of people do a sizable good deed, we credit them up a thousand-fold more for it than we would in the case of a better man -- on account of the strain. You stand far away above your classification record here, because of certain self-sacrifices of yours which greatly exceed what could have been expected of you.
     Years ago, when you were worth only $100,000, and sent $2 to your impoverished cousin the widow when she appealed to you for help, there were many in heaven who were not able to believe it, and many more who believed that the money was counterfeit.
     Your character went up many degrees when it was shown that these suspicions were unfounded. A year or two later, when you sent the poor girl $4 in answer to another appeal, everybody believed it, and you were all the talk here for days together. Two years later you sent $6, upon supplication, when the widow's youngest child died, and that act made perfect your good fame. Everybody in heaven said, "Have you heard about Abner?" -- for you are now affectionately called Abner here. Your increasing donation, every two or three years, has kept your name on all lips, and warm in all hearts. All heaven watches you Sundays, as you drive to church in your handsome carriage; and when your hand retires from the contribution plate, the glad shout is heard even to the ruddy walls of remote Sheol, "Another nickel from Abner!"
     But the climax came a few days ago, when the widow wrote and said she could get a school in a far village to teach if she had $50 to get herself and her two surviving children over the long journey; and you counted up last month's clear profit from your three coal mines -- $22,230 -- and added to it the certain profit for the current month -- $45,000 and a possible fifty -- and then got down your pen and your checkbook and mailed her fifteen whole dollars!
     Ah, heaven bless and keep you forever and ever, generous heart! There was not a dry eye in the realms of bliss; and amidst the hand-shakings, and embracings, and praisinqs, the decree was thundered forth from the shining mount, that this deed should outhonor all the historic self-sacrifices of men and angels, and be recorded by itself upon a page of its own, for that the Strain of it upon you had been heavier and bitterer than the strain it costs ten thousand martyrs to yield up their lives at the fiery stake; and all said, "What is the giving up of life, to a noble soul, or to ten thousand noble souls, compared with the giving up of fifteen dollars out of the greedy grip of the meanest white man that ever lived on the face of the earth?"
     And it was a true word. And Abraham, weeping, shook out the contents of his bosom and pasted the eloquent label there, "RESERVED": and Peter, weeping, said, "He shall be received with a torchlight procession when he comes"; and then all heaven boomed, and was glad you were going there. And so was hell.
By command


"and then he"ll settle down in a quiet little town and forget about everything"

RIP Gerry Rafferty -- I guess he never managed to "give up the booze and the one night stands."

My oldest friend had this single and we listened to it endlessly in the summer of '78 as we hung out in his backyard, much to considerable annoyance of his neighbours, I'm sure. Stealer's Wheel was a pretty good band. And City to City is still a great record. Apparently his first band included Billy Connolly.


Is there some kind of intelligence test you have to fail to be on FOX?

Shorter Bill O'Reilly:
"Fucking magnets - how do they work?" (for the meme-challenged, go read this)

One of my father's favorite jokes goes something like this:

"The Thermos is one of the greatest inventions of modern man and also one of the world's great mysteries. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, but how does it know?"

To you and me and my dad - and anyone else who managed to pass science class in elementary school - this is a funny joke. I suspect it might be the kind of conundrum that would keep Bill O'Reilly up all night.

I know, I know - someone on FOX News saying something stupid is so rare it only happens on days that end in a 'Y' - but big bad Bill outdid himself this week, further proving that the Enlightenment of the 17th century hasn't quite caught on in some segments of North America.

Leaving aside O'Reilly's usual abrasiveness and tendency to ask a question and then refuse to allow the guest to answer it, and his boneheaded, reducto ad absurdum insistence on blaming the victims of every con artist in history, and his eagerness to take offense at a campaign by a group of atheists that is obviously intended to provoke controversy and encourage people to admit the emperor is stark naked, let's look at his oh-so-clever dismissal of atheism.

Quoth the Billo:

"I'll tell you why [religion is] not a scam. In my opinion -- alright? Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that. You can't explain why the tide goes in."

 To quote a prominent political figure "Yes, we can" - I guess Bill's unfamiliar with the old adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. This is shooting fish in a barrel with a grenade launcher. I can't believe I have to point this out, but we've known how and why tides work since Newton laid it all out in 1682. Maybe this a result of Bill's antipathy toward Islam - he just doesn't trust math because it is all done with arabic numerals - or maybe he thinks gravity, like evolution is just a theory. And yet, Billo makes an obscene amount of money talking on the TV and is considered by millions to be a smarter than those pinhead liberal eggheads.

Hat tip to the Booman Tribune


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

In which I am cited in passing

 While virtually nothing from the lengthy (and very longwinded on my part) interview she did with me made it into the story, a nice piece on who is and who isn't a real journalist by Ryerson Review of Journalism Managing Editor (Online) Michelle Medford cites my Fisking of Christie Blatchford's column on who she thinks is (Christie Blatchford and most other Globe employees) and isn't (everyone else) a journalist in light of the arrests of numerous reporters during the G20 police riots.

Ms. Medford is also an aspiring film critic who blogs at cinefilles.