July 19, 2007


Conrad Cornered

I've left Conrad Black's recent conviction alone, mostly because, what's the point? It's been well-covered, badly- covered but mostly over-covered already.

But in today's New York Times, a writer from Calgary wrote a piece that made me smile and nod. "Yes," I thought. "That's it." Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's wrong-minded and foolish to try to sum up a large group of people with one or two nouns, unless it's 'warmongers', 'death hawks', or 'republicans'. But I'm getting sidetracked now.

Canadians are far more complicated than we are given credit for, and most of the tolerance we're so famous for is exhibited towards each other, as far as I can tell. We have enough nonsense here at home to contend with, and little time to be telling other nations how to live their lives. We would make very good in-laws.

But, as my favourite line in the linked piece says, " ...there is nothing so frighteningly passive-aggressive as a well-irked Canadian." This is where the Conrad Black thing comes in. This is the true summation of his trial, whatever the lawyers said be damned.

We do not like to see our famous Canadians behaving badly, not even in a but-we-secretly-do kind of way. We don't want to see Alanis Morrisette barfing outside the Viper Room (and we don't), we do not want to see our best comics in rehab (what if they cured the funny?), and we don't want to see any of our politicians in cowboy hats. Or on jet skies, Stock.

So when ol' Conrad got rich and got pompous and got busted, it would be easy to haul out the word sheudenfreude (well, not so easy, I had to look it up). But it's more than that. He dissed us. I remember writing a column back in 2005 about Conrad surrendering his Canadian citizenship because that is what got our passive-aggressive backs up. Live high, spend much, be long-winded for as long as you have wind - but don't go stomping out of the country like a spoiled brat because you don't like what's for dinner. When my editor ran the famous pic of Conrad as a cardinal (the Catholic kind, not the bird) and his wife as Marie Antoinette, I realized I actually only needed a headline and that pic.

I actually believe that Black has an awesome brain. His work is meticulous, his research unbelievable. But he's so buried himself in a pile of his own hubris that I can no longer even hear his cries for help. Dunno if I'd throw him a ring if I could.

Journalists have compiled lists of Black's best (worst?) examples of overspeak. They are jawdropping. It's like he's on a personal mission every day of his life to use only words that have more than 20 letters in them. I stumbled over the word for this the other day. Sesquipedialian. It means words that are a foot and a half long. I love this word. It is my new favourite.

I love most words. But unlike Black, I recognize that if you're talking and nobody wants to listen, it's a pretty lonely existance. Sure you're the smartest person in the room. Because you're the only one in it. Which just might end up being closer to the truth then he realized.

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