Saturday, December 5, 2009

Quote for the Day

(One in an occasional series)

11 November, 1955
Today on the pavement a fat domestic London pigeon waddling among the boots and shoes of people hurrying for a bus. A man takes a kick at it, the pigeon lurches into the air, falls forward against a lamppost, lies with its neck stretched out, its beak open. The man stands, bewildered: he had expected the pigeon to fly off. He casts a furtive look around, so as to escape. It is too late, a red-faced virago is already approaching him. "You brute, kicking a pigeon!" The man's face is by now also red. He grins from embarrassment and a comical amazement. "But they always fly away," he observes, appealing for justice. The woman shouts, "You've killed it--kicking a poor little pigeon!" But the pigeon is not dead, it is stretching out its neck by the lamppost, trying to lift its head, and its wings strive and collapse, again and again. By now there is a small crowd including two boys of about fifteen. They have the sharp, watchful faces of the freebooters of the streets, and stand watching, unmoved, chewing gum. Someone says, "Call the RSPCA." The woman shouts, "There'd be no need for that if this bully hadn't kicked the poor thing." The man hangs about, sheepish, a criminal hated by the crowd. The only people not emotionally involved are the two boys. One remarks to the air: "Prison's the place for criminals like 'im." "Yes, yes," shouts the woman. She is so busy hating the kicker she doesn't look at the pigeon. "Prison," says the second boy, "flogging, I'd say." The woman now sharply examines the boys, and realises they are making fun of her. "Yes, and you too!" she gasps at them, her voice almost squeezed out of her by her anger...Meanwhile an efficient frowning man bends over the pigeon, and examines it. He straightens himself and pronounces, "It's going to die." He's right. The bird's eyes are filming, and blood wells from its opened beak. And now the woman, forgetting her three objects of hatred, leans forward to look at the bird. Her mouth is slightly open, she has a look of unpleasant curiosity as the bird gasps, writhes its head, then goes limp.

"It's dead," says the efficient man.

The villain, recovering himself, says apologetically, but clearly determined to have no nonsense: "I'm sorry, but it was an accident. I've never seen a pigeon before that didn't move out of the way.

We all look with disapproval at this hardened kicker of pigeons...

The kicker moves off, but the woman goes after him, saying: "What's your name and address, I'm going to have you prosecuted." The man says, annoyed, "Oh, don't make such a mountain out of molehill." She says: "I suppose you call murdering a poor little bird a molehill." "Well, it isn't a mountain, murder isn't a mountain," observes one of the fifteen-year-olds, who stands grinning with his hands in his jacket pockets. His friend takes it up, sagaciously: "You're right. Molehills is murder, but mountains isn't." "That's right," says the first, "when's a pigeon a mountain? When it's a molehill." The woman turns on them, and the villain thankfully makes his escape, looking incredibly guilty, despite himself.

Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

And while I'm at it, what's the deal with having us read all these damned books?

A friend of mine who teaches at Grant MacEwen University in Edmonton, Alberta, had a visit last week from two students angry that he hadn't been appropriately impressed by an in-class presentation they had made the day before. And since they were in his office anyhow, I guess, they also decided to run down a number of other objections they had to his teaching style. Among their complaints: the professor was including information in his lectures that he did not put on the Blackboard summaries posted to the class website. In other words, students who were attending class had an unfair advantage over those who did not.

So, here's my question: do any of my compatriot bloggers on this site, or any of our myriad readers, have comparable stories of clueless entitlement in modern academe?