Saturday, February 26, 2011

Lettered ladies

Always the gentleman

The other day I found myself in the unaccustomed position of defending Sarah Palin. It was, I admit, a very mild defense, but a defense nonetheless. A member of the Friday lunch bunch was castigating the former half-term governor of Alaska for having attended five colleges (University of Hawaii at Hilo, Hawaii Pacific University, North Idaho College, University of Idaho, and Matanuska-Susitna College) on her way to a bachelor's degree in communications. Having attended and earned units at five different colleges myself, I did not consider persistence at a single institution to be a virtue in and of itself. (I did, however, complete degree requirements at four of them.)

The habitués of the Friday lunch bunch are mostly former journalists these days, the ink-stained wretches having supplanted the coterie of old legislative hands that used to frequent the TGIF observances. And “ink” is the right word, too. All of them served in the trenches when hot lead and metal plates and barrels of black goo were standard tools of the newspaper business. I don't go back quite that far, but I am accepted into this journalistic fraternity because I, too, have worked for a major metropolitan newspaper (but not for very long). Besides, I have seniority in the lunch bunch, being one of the last survivors of the original gang with state capitol experience.

We are a largely left-of-center group, naturally concerned that the president is not even close to being the extreme liberal of right-wing accusations, and cheerfully derogatory in our references to the various nut-case conservative cabals running Republican legislative caucuses throughout the nation and in entirely too many governors' mansions. Palin gets extra contempt from the Friday gang because of her journalistic pretensions and her slender résumé as a reporter (but not as slim as mine). It doesn't help her cause, of course, that even her prepared remarks come out as tossed word salads of right-wing talking points: blah, blah, blah ... American greatness ... blah, blah, blah ... Reagan ... blah, blah, blah ... God bless America ... blah, blah, blah ... war on terror ... blah, blah, blah. Jealousy is probably involved a little. Imagine pocketing $50,000 a pop for that kind of disjointed drivel, as Palin did at Stanislaus State University.

Despite her degree in communications (with an emphasis in journalism), Palin opted to hire a ghostwriter for her autobiography. She's apparently been too busy doing other things.

Like serving as a role model.

California has spawned a Palin camp follower who boasts that she is a “blogger extraordinaire” (that may be premature) with a master's degree in English on top of a bachelor's degree that included journalism coursework. This phenomenon was brought to my attention by a regular visitor to my blog (hi, Kathie!). She was puzzled by the prospect of an English major with a graduate degree who spews out this kind of breathless prose (spacing, spelling, and punctuation preserved from the original):
I'm a San Diego girl& patriotic American at heart!I graduated from San Diego State University in 2005 where I studied English & Journalism.I also have a Masters' Degree in English.I never thought I'd be setting up a blog,but feel I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share with readers topics that are important to me & I hope to you as well.I will use this blog as a platform of sorts to promote not only conservative values,but strong,conservative female candidates.Sarah Palin is the epitome of this female.Strong,sincere,classy,intelligent & graceful.I have heard individuals describe her as a modern-day Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan.It is she who has inspired me to get involved politically.The mere mention of her name sends the main-stream media into a tizzy.It is also my hope this blog will become a platform for conservative females everywhere.(God knows we could use more representing us).And yes,I also hope to prove that,contrary to popular opinion,it CAN be cool to be a young conservative.You can also catch me from time to time as a guest on #1 AK Talk Radio Host Eddie Burke's show where I discuss Sarah and national issues.
Odd stuff. While the political sentiments are obviously contrary to mine, I am struck by what an admitted English major does to the language. That can't help but catch my attention, if only for the moment. Does San Diego State University offer a master's degree in English as a third language? Was writing part of the curriculum? Optional, perhaps?

At least we can rest assured that she does not suffer from a narcissistic obsession with her own prose.

25 comments:

Improbable Joe said...

Wow. Writing like a fifth grader. Do schools seriously hand out English degrees to people who write below a high school level, or is it more likely that Sarah Palin's fans are as truth-challenged as their idol?

That previous sentence was more complex that anything you quoted, and I'm an engineering major.

Samantha said...

Honestly, despite my own upcoming reception of a degree in English, I put very little stock in any of them. The kind of word jumbles I've seen my fellow students write leaves me with no faith in an English degree meaning anything with regards to the writing ability of a graduate. It's easy enough to have someone correct your essays. It's almost as easy to have someone write them for you. Sometimes, all that is required is an ability to sound like you know what you're talking about in class discussions.

João Paulo said...

Please don't insult me. English is my third language and I don't use ampersands every other line...

Benji said...

I find myself more curios about the particulars as to how you defended Sarah Palin.

During the presidential campaign of 2008, when her daughter Bristol was pregnant or had just given birth, a rumor made its way around the Internet that the child was actually Mrs. Palin's. Dear Wife gravitated towards that rumor, and even though I detested the woman and her politics even then, I found myself defending her against that particular rumor as being unsubstantiated and speculative.

Anonymous said...

Let's remember, folks, that the plural of anecdote is not data.

That is, while the young woman's prose is, without a doubt, rather awful, to generalize from this one case to larger claims about degrees in English in general (and writing ability--or lack thereof) is a bit of a stretch, don't you think?

It's possible or likely she graduated with a very low GPA. I've had students over the years, some of them English majors in fact, who barely got by--not only in my courses but also those of my colleagues. However, given enough time, they did earn their degrees. Sad, yes, but true nonetheless. (And keep in mind, too, that the curricula in most English Departments center around the study of literature, not writing--they're not the same thing.)

And maybe the young woman thinks her blog is a good forum for a sort of free-flowing prose style, where she lets ideas and words spin out from her fingertips without much (or any) thought to revision and/or editing.

I'm not defending her, of course. I've been teaching writing at the college level for 20+ years now, and I absolutely believe in the importance of clear, concise, correct prose. (This explains, for instance, why I'm a big fan of Zeno's blog!)

Her larger crime is her defense of Sarah Palin. That she has two college degrees and is still a fan of that nitwit is what bothers me far more than her prose failings. :-)

Anyways, thanks for reading. . .

Zeno said...

Benji, there's not much to say in terms of particulars. I merely pointed out that it was not automatically a mark of shame to have attended multiple colleges in the pursuit of a degree.

Desculpe, João Paulo! I didn't mean for you to suffer collateral damage from my gibe. As a second-language English speaker myself, I am acutely jealous of your multiple languages. Only my English is reasonably functional. Perdão!

Sili said...

What's wrong with ampersands? They were good enough for Darwin.

Zeno said...

But, Sili, ... every other line? (And I'm pretty sure she doesn't regard Darwin as an appropriate role model.)

Don't Panic said...

Sorry everyone. I must apologize; as, apparently, I am to blame for some of that. See, I'm one of those dreadful people who still uses two spaces after a full stop -- just as I was taught in high school typing class circa 1976. Thusly , I and other similar miscreants have created a dearth of spaces in the open market and supply can not keep up with demand. MyBad.

Kathie said...

As the culprit who brought the Sarah-worshipping blog in question to Zeno's attention, please allow a few observations and clarifications:

1. I first became aware of Rachelle Friberg's blog because she was on "Wheel of Fortune" last year. When, after the first "toss-up" puzzle, Pat Sajak routinely asked the contestants what they did, Rachelle described herself as a part-time volunteer at the elementary school where her father teaches in San Diego (fine thus far, assuming they don't teach creationism or ID). Then, in a slightly embarrassed and uncomfortable manner, she added that she was also a journalist, namely a frequent contributor to radio phone-in talk shows and blogs -- as those these were professions! -- which is what bristled my antennae, prompting me to do a little online searching, where I soon discovered her blog. What I've wondered since then is whether Rachelle is PAID to maintain it, and/or to phone in to talk shows and post comments on other blogs (e.g., it's rumored that some ultra-right wing commenters on "Washington Post" political columns are paid to support those causes online).

2. As someone who's responsible for the creation, care and feeding of two websites (albeit of literary bents, not overtly political ones), I know how important it is to me to make my work letter-perfect in order to make the best possible impression on my visiting readers. Thus I'm puzzled by Friberg's lack of a space following each period and comma in her self-profile -- how difficult is proofreading anyway? -- not to mention her overuse of the word "also" (particularly near the beginning of each of her last three sentences, although Palin's noted for using the "also...too" construction extensively, so perhaps it's a subtle homage? Nahhhh!). Sili, I'm not as concerned re the ampersands, although they are a bit annoying (or overly cutesy, perhaps); while it's true they were good enough for Darwin, that was some 150 years ago.

3. Re attending several colleges: I'd draw a distinction between Zeno having attended four universities en route to a doctorate, and Palin having had five stints at four colleges en route to a Bachelor's degree. I also tend to be suspicious of anyone who, while majoring in Journalism or Communications, never participated on a school newspaper, radio or TV station.

4. João Paulo, please trust me on this: your English is impeccable compared to Sarah Palin's. I stand in awe of your multilingual fluency.

5. Benji, back during the 2008 Presidential campaign I too was curious about the rumors that the Down Syndrome baby was actually daughter Bristol's, rather than Sarah's. So, I visited a website supporting that claim, where I saw among the alleged "proof" a photo of Sarah wearing black slacks, a black top, a loose brightly-colored (red, as I recall) suit-jacket, and around her neck a long scarf that hung down her front and over her tummy. First of all, I've been known to dress the same way in order to minimize my own surplus avoirdupois, and if one stared long enough at the supposedly incriminating photo of Sarah it become plausible that she was a slender woman well along into a pregnancy. So, where Zeno's willing to cut Palin some slack re multiple colleges, I'm willing to concede the point re disguising her pregnancy through artful dressing.

Kathie said...

"...Palin having had five stints at four colleges en route to a Bachelor's degree."

Or is it, "Palin having had six stints at five colleges en route to a Bachelor's degree"? Could someone please fact-check this for us? Thanks.

Zeno said...

As far as I'm concerned, the most curious thing about Sarah Palin's last pregnancy was her willingness to put herself and her offspring at risk by flying from Texas back to Alaska after her labor had begun. It seemed a highly irresponsible action by an expectant mother in her forties. (Did she think the child would be unduly disadvantaged by being a native-born Texan?) The various conspiracy rumors that were aired in 2008 were amusing but not that interesting. Anyway, Gov. Palin brought it on herself by treating her pregnancy as a cloak-and-dagger affair. (She likes transparency in others, but doesn't see it as applying to herself.)

Kathie said...

Zeno, it wasn't just that Palin flew back from Houston (which has world-class hospitals) to Alaska after her water allegedly broke, but that instead of going directly to an Anchorage hospital upon landing, she shlepped that last leg to the Wasilla hospital(!). THAT was what made me wonder what she was trying to hide.

Walt Wiley said...

How dare you people question the work of someone who has a master's in English. (Wait, I think that's a "Masters'" -- up, plural possessive.) Anyway, she's the expert. And a professional journalist who makes her living calling in to talk shows and writing on blogs is someone we all could take lessons from.

cody said...

The lack of a space following periods is interesting. Many people were taught to double space following periods (as Don't Panic mentioned). I guess few teachers knew that double spacing was a rule for typing in monospaced typefaces, like a typical typewriters (and oddly the blog you quote? Unless you changed the font?). It helps the reader differentiate periods and commas, which are a small smear away from identical. (Unlike proportional typefaces common on computers.)

Another interesting typesetting rule is how you want to avoid lines exceeding 70 or 80 characters, due to increased eyestrain—so don't punish students for using large margins!

(And I'm a B.Sc. in Math-Physics, though admittedly detail-oriented.)

Please spread the explanation about double spacing, maybe we can stop this superstition in its tracks!

Zeno said...

It's just a monospaced display font, Cody. You can see the original proportionally spaced text here.

By the way, it took me years to break the typewriter habit of following each period with two taps of the spacebar. Somehow I've never made the evolutionary transition to no spaces. ;-)

David Ratnasabapathy said...

Two spaces after a period are recommended when typing in Emacs, most excellent of text editors. The spaces help Emacs identify the ends of sentences, enabling users to leap between them at the touch of a key chord.

Kathie said...

Anyone who looks at Rachelle's blog will be alarmed by far more than just her failure to fix the punctuation in her profile:
www [dot] conservativegirlwithavoice [dot] com

This adult woman seems obsessed with the Palins, in the manner of a 'tweener girl besotted by Justin Bieber, or that homicidal officer of Selena's fan club... Just check out some of Rachelle's choicer photo captions:

"Sarah is the epitome of strong woman, a great mother!!!"

"Sarah with the embroidered coverlet I sent her for her birthday!!!"

"Chuck Heath [Sarah's father] at the Wasilla book signing Wearing a "Going Rogue Book Tour 2009" polo we embroidered the family!!!"

"Krisha, Kristina, Chuck Heath and Me" [what, no triple exclamation points?]

"Sally Heath [Sarah's mother] and Me"

"Little Tripp wearing the "Wasilla, AK" beanie we sent the Palin family!!!" ["we"?]

Yowza, if I were a member of the extended Palin clan, I might start looking into restraining orders 'round about now, cuz that's one scary-sounding chick.

Kathie said...

Among the paltry ten blog followers are Rachelle herself and someone using a photo of Sarah -- which would tend to make the casual peruser of the blog think it was Palin herself -- although running a mouse over the image reveals that the name accompanying it is "Misty." Is it more to laugh or cry?

Tualha said...

"Sarah with the embroidered coverlet I sent her for her birthday!!!"

Hmm, I have an idea...

Step 1. Mail SP a nice article of clothing , with a nice letter, signed Something Nessus.
Step 2. She blogs about it, mentions it on her TV show, or whatever.
Step 3. Everyone educated in the classics has a good laugh at her expense.

Heidi said...

I went to look at the blog after this post and the writing was equally atrocious - particularly in the entry where Rachelle announces that she's writing a book. This goes much further than symbol choice and punctuation - verb and tense errors were frequent. As someone who IS a journalist, I'm embarrassed.

João Paulo said...

Zeno: you know I was joking. There is no need for you to apologize.
Kathie: thank you for your compliment. Even though you think highly of my multilingual fluency let me tell you that last year a Dutch friend of mine belittled me because I could only speak (fluently) 3 languages. This happened on January 2nd and I still remember one of his New Year's resolutions: to be a better person and a nicer friend...

Zeno said...

João Paulo: I always take everything you say completely seriously. How can I doubt any statement by a man with such a keen appreciation of fine literature?

Kathie said...

...besides, Zeno, you need João Paulo to translate your novel into Portuguese :-))))

João Paulo said...

I'm blushing now...