Loquacious High Five, Emma Clarke!

So given the semi-seriousness of the last couple posts, I’m going to try something new, which I’m calling the Loquacious High Five.

(‘Cause people don’t high five each other enough in this world, in my honest opinion.)

And I’ve already got one! Check it:

She’s a writer and voice-over artist in her native London.

But to most commuters riding the Tube, Emma Clarke is responsible three little pre-recorded words they hear each morning:

“Mind the gap.”

Unfortunately “the voice of the Tube” got the boot.

Clarke recently decided to have a little fun with her job by creating, then posting, a series of spoof announcements on her Web site. 

My favourites are this one , this one … and, oh yeah, this one. (TTC passengers, take note. This could very well be us, too.)

I had a few good chuckles at these.

Unfortunately, the folks running the London Underground weren’t on the same wavelength. In fact, they said she was criticizing the Underground System.

So they went and fired her.

This is only my personal opinion, but that’s dumb. (I also think the administrators in charge of the London Underground need a little more fibre in their diet.)

Not that Emma’s doing too shabbily. She does have other work to keep her busy. And when the story appeared on the Internet Monday, her Web site was flooded with people trying to access her spoofs. (Hence why it took so long for me to post this.)

For this, Emma Clarke gets my first-ever Loquacious High Five. Because if you can’t have fun and be a little cheeky with your work, then what’s the point?

*smack*

You can visit Emma’s web site – and blog, where she’s chronicled the events of the past few days – through this link. Enjoy.

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What’s The Deal With Tasering?

What in the sweet hell is going on these days with police and Taser guns?!

First there was the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport last month.

Five days later, a Montreal man died after an incident which involved him being zapped with a Taser (on the same day as Mr. Dziekanski, no less). At the time, he was being arrested for drunken driving and, according to the report I read, he became aggressive while being questioned at the police station, forcing officers to bring out the stun gun.

This past Thursday, an inmate died in a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia prison, after an incident in which police used the stun gun to subdue him. His widow said he was an aggressive psychotic who was off his medications when the altercation took place. A probe has been started, but it could take up to a year to find out what actually happened.

And NOW a man in British Columbia has died of his injuries, five days after police used a Taser, pepper spray and batons. Reports say the man was acting erratically in a store, and became agitated and combative with officers when they tried to deal with him. A probe has also been launched in this case.

I’m not a law enforcement expert, just your average citizen.

I understand there are potentially dangerous siutations where police officers hold the valid belief their safety’s at risk, so they do what they feel is necessary. 

But you’re trying to tell me that using x-amount of kilovolts of electric current on a person isn’t effective in subduing them?

‘Cause I think if I were shocked with one of those things, I would probably soil myself and become paralyzed with pain, at the absolute least.

It’s probably just me … but does anyone else think some police officials believe, because have the right to use those things, it gives them a licence to be even more violent with people they’re trying to restrain and subdue?

‘Cause in all these cases, all I’m reading from this is, in addition to using the devices, they’re stepping on necks, using batons, pepper spray, etc. And usually it’s a more than one officer dealing with ONE person. 

Perhaps I’m terribly mistaken, but to me this seems excessive.

Black-Focused Schools (The Epic Post)

One question I loathe being asked is, “Where are you from?”

Because if one of my white friends were asked that, they’d answer by stating their hometown,  and that would be the end of the discussion.

Were I to do the same thing, I’d get, “Yeah, but where are you from?” Because I couldn’t possibly be born and bred here. And it says to me that I can never quite fit in.

This came to mind when I read the most recent post of my fellow blogger, Phil Loses His Mind … who nearly lost his mind over an column written by the Toronto Star’s Royson James on Sunday, which dealt with the issue of possibly creating a black-focused school  in Toronto to tackle the problems with black at-risk students. 

Now, what I’m about to write isn’t because I have any grand solutions to the dilemma. But here’s how I’m feeling. 

I agree with Phil in the spirit of his post – to a point.

I went to a Toronto-area public high school. No fancy-schmancy school for the arts or avant-guarde alternative school. Just plain old high school, where half the answers in the back of the math books were wrong, and the class sizes were huge and unruly. Despite it being fairly multicultural, I was only one of a handful of black kids on the attendance sheet, in a number of classes I took.

I studied the Canadian history courses. I read the Shakespeare. I understand what Phil’s trying to get at. Which is why it pains me to disagree.

Phil said in his scathing letter to Royson James that we weren’t taught European history. We were taught Canadian history.

Um … Canadian history kind of is European history. Although the multicultural make-up has changed, Canada has been a predominantly white country for decades. A large number of the people who came here and took over indigenous land, as well a lot of the later settlers in the 19th century and beyond, were Europeans.

It’s only been in recent years that kids have been starting to hear about the other cultures who settled here and on whose backs Confederation gained some of its foundations.

I often remember in school, when people would try and promote Black History month. Some ignorant fool once said, “Why do we need Black History Month? You don’t see us asking for White History Month.”

And I wish I could have said back then, “It’s because you have it everyday, dumbass.”

Except for a couple days in February each year, I never saw anyone like myself in history books, or literature (unless – to use Shakespeare’s example – you counted Othello … but then he killed his wife after being psychologically manipulated by another character, which is another can of worms).

Any of those faces I saw or voices I hear came in the books I had the luxury to read outside of school.

There were a couple of black teachers at my school – one in biology, the other in math. Looking back, it was impressive. But after I no longer excelled in either subject, neither of them were of use to me, sadly.

It wasn’t until my first-year university Canadian history class when I finally saw an entire paragraph, which acknowledged the fact there were free black people in Canada around the time the United Empire Loyalists came to town. It would be much later on in adulthood when I would read for myself about the slaves who were here in Canada before that.

But back to the bigger picture. Do I think black kids are missing out on this in the current public school system? Hell, yes.

Do I think there are enough role models in the system to try and guide them? Nope.

Do I support the idea of an Afrocentric school? No. I’m not sold.

Why such a traitorous statement? “Why not give it a try?” advocates are asking. “Something needs to be done.”

Because as much as I support trying to surround yourself with positive images, ideas, and people that reflect, enrich and empower you, how will that translate when it’s time to go into the real world? 

Will post-secondary institutions value and acknowledge your education? How do you deal with an outside world that doesn’t have a particularly large number of black-focused universities or black-run businesses?

And how are you going to deal with other people? And by other people, I mean white people. Chinese people. Southeast Asian people. People of different beliefs. All kinds of people. Because when you leave school and enter the real world, you’re gonna have to.

Again, I grew up in the public school system. And I’m not from an affluent family, either. But I – and lots of other black students with a similar life story – did the work and got our diplomas. Some of us went to universities, others to colleges. And we’re doing not too shabbily.

So why did students like us succeed, while others today are failing? Were we better “programmed”? Did we get lucky with the teachers we dealt with? Because as far as I’m concerned – and not to say that it doesn’t happen at all – I don’t think that most of my teachers necessarily treated my white colleagues any differently than they treated me.

But I do think in a way the system is failing black kids. But because a lot of these kids are smart. It just seems like they don’t have the right medium to show their brilliance, to discover their true strengths and talents.

I think they’re up against a couple of things:

1) A government curriculum where a lot of teachers are making sure to get the required materials taught to these kids, on top of prep time and other duties. And they’re just pushing them through. They can’t spend the one-on-one time with kids that they might have used to. And I think this is across the board, not just with black kids.

2) I can’t say that I know what it’s like now to be a black kid in high school. But I’m sure when you show up to class, you’re already having to deal with a preconceived notion, held by teachers – not ALL, mind you – of what you can do.

All through elementary school, until I opened my mouth or put pen to paper, I’m sure those teachers thought they were dealing with just another cute black kid, who might disrupt class or have a hard time with readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic. (Or not. Who really knows?)

In a pre-university English class, one teacher couldn’t figure out why I was upset with the marks he gave me – until he opened my school file and saw I’d been an A+ student before I even parked my behind in one of his desks.

Can you imagine what a smart black kid from a single-parent family might have to try and prove, if he or she dares to take up that kind of challenge?

When you’re in an environment where you have to behave a certain way because you’re surrounded by it … or you do it for survival’s sake … when you’re placed in a category and told, time and again, this is what you are, some kids eventually believe it and start playing the role. Because Lord knows, sometimes it’s a lot easier to conform than trying to fight against the current. And that’s a shame.

I do agree with Phil on his point about there needing to be more programs and services helping to change these kids’ attitudes, about life beyond the streets. And thing is, there ARE services out there. 

For example, earlier this week, I read about this group called The Black Pearls , who are trying to show that there are outlets f0r young black people – in this case, young black women – who show promise, and that if they have the medium to chase after what they want, they can make things happen. They can do their part to try and break the stereotypes which haunt them daily.

And I’m sure there are other organizations out there  in Toronto, trying to do the same thing. It’s just they get only a little support. They don’t get a LOT of support. 

Back to education: as it stands now, the first Afrocentric alternative school could potentially start in September of next year. If it does, there are high expectations that this has to work.  Really. Because if they fail to produce results, the nay-sayers will be among the first to say, “I told you so.”

I do think this is a wake-up call. The educational system needs to be re-evaluated. And there has to be different ways of teaching youth. And there needs to be some way to enrich the existing curriculum. Not just with images of African-Canadians (although it’s way past due). But how about Chinese-Canadians, Indo-Canadians and so on? They were part of the fabric of this country, too.

And if we can do that, maybe the question, “Where are you from?” won’t be such a stinger to people like me. Because maybe one day, when someone asks that question, a student of colour can pick up a Canadian history book, flip it open and say:

“Right here.”

The War on “Bad” Spelling and Misuse of Language

I love words.

I may not know every single one in the English language, but I truly love them. I love saying random things – maybe even slightly offensive things – just to hear the way they roll off the tongue.

I also feel like this when I write. I like seeing short words, long words, crazily spelled words on a piece of paper or a computer screen.

But I draw the line at poor spelling.  Especially from educated people who know better.

I’m in a profession where spelling counts. Or, at least, that’s what my university professors told me. I suppose I was only one of a handful who actually listened.

In a world where millions of dictionaries, both hardcover and paperback, are still printed year after year, the English language seems to be fighting a long, hard tug-of-war against laziness, electronic short-hand and spell check. And I wonder if it’s not losing.

The other day, my mom mentioned a local talk radio host, who has a show on in the evenings sometimes. Apparently during a segment several weeks ago, he used a word incorrectly. An older female caller phoned in, telling him the real meaning …

And she made the horrible mistake of mentioning she used a dictionary to find it.

Whaaaat?” the host drawled slowly. “You used a dictionary?”

“Yes,” the caller replied.

Reeeally?”

Yes,” she enthused.

A pause, then …

“Why didn’t you just use Google?”

Blink.

His reliable source of reference is Google? Where people misuse and misspell words ALL THE TIME?!

As if that wasn’t bad enough, someone also mentioned another instance to me – and I wish I could find the reference – in which educators were actually mulling over the idea to let kids in school spell things whichever way they wanted.

What’s the point in learning “spelling” in class if the kids won’t know the difference between what’s right and wrong?

Even yesterday on a New Zealand parliamentary Web site, there was a write-up about how “plumbing, gasfitting and drainlaying apprentices do not have to meet any spelling or writing standards when taking exams for plumbing registration“.

Aw, HELL, no. This nonsense has to stop.

I’m sure I sound right now like I’m either borderline anal-retentive or a touch obsessive-compulsive.

But damned if I have to apologize for my behaviour when it comes to atrocious spelling. 

Outside of work, or while I read e-mails – whatever. If I can understand what people are trying to say, fine. (There are friends that won’t even let that go, and frankly, I don’t blame them.)

But at work – where one of my co-workers has a dictionary on his desk, beside his computer monitor, and STILL refuses to spell things correctly, you can bet I turn into a spelling Nazi. 

A few weeks ago, he wrote something involving the name Guatemala.

Only he spelled it G-U-A-T-A-M-A-L-A.

I noticed it and changed it to the correct spelling.

A little while later, I discovered he changed it back. So I did what any foot soldier of the English language would do: I changed it again.

And what did he do? He changed it the hell back.

So I said in a loud voice, “It’s NOT Gua-TAH-mala. It’s Gua-TAY-mala! With an E!”

He didn’t change it after that.

But this is constant at work. I lost a small battle over the name Anne Frank, and threw up my hands last week after I noticed someone spelled Beirut wrong.

I seriously am beginning to think I should lobby to be the official spell-checker where I work. ‘Cause that’s ridiculous that seasoned veterans of my business can’t spell and it takes most fibres in my being not to yell at them.

I also honestly think that more people – and fantastic spellers at that – should take up the gauntlets and help fight against horrible spelling.

Seriously. Strength in numbers, yo. Who’s with me?

P.S.: It’s sort of funny to me reading this entry weeks later, since I noticed a few spelling errors in my haste to type this out. Someone pointed out my grammar was appalling. Well, I DID say I can turn into a spelling Nazi … not a grammar Nazi. But it’s good to have it pointed out once in a while.

This probably proves I spend too much time in front of the computer and not enough time reading books. Or dictionaries.

The Sacrilege of Sesame Street

notsesame.jpg

I’ve been told by a friend to blog more ’cause she’s getting bored at work with nothing to read.

So here’s something, which nearly made me pop a blood vessel in my neck yesterday:

My co-worker came across a story today – one of many, as it turns out – that the early episodes of Sesame Street are apparently no longer suitable for today’s toddlers.

I dug up the New York Times article, which was a review of the DVDs – the source, I’m sure, of many blog rants and articles today – and among some examples the reporter unearthed, of why early Sesame Street is now hazardous to preschoolers’ health:

– The Cookie Monster being well on his way to becoming a diabetic by eating all those cookies.

– Oscar the Grouch was going through life with his depression untreated and not wanting to improve his lot in life beyond that pigsty of a trash can.

– The smoking – and eating – of pipes by Alistair Cookie, a.k.a. Cookie Monster, which was modeling the wrong behaviour. (He’s a bad mofo, ain’t he?)

I’m not sure what Virginia Heffernan thought of the whole thing as she was writing this piece – maybe even she was shaking her head in disbelief – but I’m almost inclined to go ahead and pop that vessel bulging in my neck with a sharp pencil.

WHAT is this world coming to? First Santa, now this. Let’s face it, Big Bird’s already treading that fine line with his imaginary friend Mr. Snuffleupagus. And there was that obscene rumour a handful of years ago about roomies Ernie and Bert possibly being gay…

So happy, tickle-me Elmo can’t possibly be safe for long. I mean, some kids in the States get punished at school for hugging other students. The clock has to be ticking for The Fuzzy Red One’s demise.

But in all seriousness, I’m about to cross the line into “When I was a kid …” territory. If people are going to keep editing kids’ shows, prevent them from showing affection towards fellow human beings, even make them wear helmets to go tobogganing, what kind of adults are you going to end up breeding? 

Sure, things aren’t the way they were 20 years ago. But how is that okay for creating a whole new generation of mollycoddled automatons in the making?

I just think it’s completely skewed when you’re editing out puppets who eat fake pipes to make TV viewing more suitable, and getting childhood characters to watch their weight to influence young kids from getting fat …

But no one seems to be stopping, for example, the sales of video games where you can shoot people and run over hookers (which, by the way, is said to contribute to the inactivity and obesity of children, should they play said games for hours on end without seeing the outside world).

All right. Stop this society – I think I’m ready to get off. 

(Photo illustration courtesy of Kevin Van Aelst, accompanying the New York Times article linked above.)

Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids …

… Is almost here. I’m so excited!

If I have the guts I’m going to try and read something. But I’ll be just as happy listening to my friends and fellow readers and laughing my fool head off.

So if you’re in Toronto and have got nothing to do on a Monday night, come on over to the Victory Cafe for 8p.m. They’d be happy to have you.

For more, you can read the short promotional write-up on Torontoist, or a bit about it at the blog my friend started, right here.