Monday, February 01, 2010

Cut-and-paste polemics

Mark Steyn makes me nostalgic.

About a century ago I worked briefly for the Canadian Government Travel Bureau, long since gone the way of all flesh. The Bureau was established to promote tourism in Canada. I was employed in a junior capacity to help answer inquiry letters from would-be visitors.

It was there that I was introduced to the wonders of standard paragraphing. There is a finite number of queries that a would-be tourist can make, and potted responses were prepared for each one, and assigned a number.

Although some sparse textual connective tissue was required, all we had to do at our level was to identify by their numbers the paragraphs to be used in an official response which--and this dazzled us at the time--could be reproduced in what looked like a personal letter, actually signed by the Director of the Bureau, Dan Wallace. (This was, of course, well before the days of IT.)

Cutting edge, we were. Off went the memos: "123, 18, 26, 71" (PEI. Lobsters. Beaches. Cabins.) and out went the letters.

It now appears that the young fellow at the next desk might have been Mark Steyn. For he, too, it seems, has adopted the use of standard paragraphs to assist him in his prolific generation of polemics. (Readers may recall a minor Conservative plagiarism scandal in 2008, but this goes well beyond that. Yet, to be fair, can one really plagiarize oneself?)

One imagines Steyn with his own small army of minions now, who send up similar numerical memos: "1, 26, 44, 7." (Muslim threat. Minarets. Burqas. Birthrates.)

Of course he has not descended to the level of the American humorist Gelett Burgess, who, in "A Permutative System," created six mock-philosophical paragraphs that could be rearranged in any order.
To give Steyn his due, he has considerably more paragraphs at his disposal. But one can't help wondering how he will deal with these awkward revelations. I find it hard to believe that a man of such amour propre would dismiss his own writing as "political boilerplate." The mean-minded among us, on the other hand, may hold no such reservations.

Big City Lib]

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