lördag, april 30, 2005

Funniest Line of the Day

Goes to James Wolcott in a Vanity Fair article about the loss of the truly great stand-up comedians. He described getting an e-mail about coming attractions to a particular theater: "Howie Mandel and Carrot Top. I don't mean to be harshin', but Howie Mandel, Carrot Top? What, no Gallagher?"

I wish I'd said that.
I wish I'd said a lot of what he says. Check out his blog. His chocolate chip reference is gonna stay with me forever.

fredag, april 29, 2005

Late Night

Last night the President said that without an overhaul, the social security program was headed for bankruptcy.

Except that the program probably wouldn't qualify under the new bankruptcy laws, so we are ok.

Ba dum bum.

onsdag, april 27, 2005

Blogging Ethics

The freedom of expression, as with all freedoms, comes with clauses. One of them reads, "Having an opinion doesn't mean you have to express it."

A mother had lost her only child in Iraq. She wrote a guest opinion piece in the local newspaper expressing her frustration over the Army's refusal to provide her with a photograph of her child's coffin as it was carried off the transport plane. She also challenged the administration's actions with respect to the War.

In response, a blogger posted her article on his own site, and took issue with what she had written. The woman read his post. She chose not to leave a comment. Instead, she wrote a letter and mailed it to him, the old fashioned way. The blogger reproduced her letter on his site, as well as his reply correspondence.

His act of posting her snail mail letter really threw me. As soon as I saw the "Dear Mr. Blogger" and realized what he had done, I audibly drew in air. It strikes me as having crossed the line of civility, where although both had been willing to talk to the public at large, one seemed to be asking to take the argument indoors and out of the public domain. I suppose the blogger was under no obligation to comply with the request, but still it felt oddly invasive to me.

I am reluctant to link to the blog because then I would be compounded the issue of a privacy breach, if that is in fact what it is. However, I would like to make a few suggestions to the blogger, in a kind of friendly, debate team captain sort of way.

1. WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! "I know how you feel. My eyes get wet when I think of the dying soldiers, too, and I don't even know them."

You spent your credibility on this one.

To put it into perspective you can appreciate, imagine that you have been kidnapped by Iraqi terrorists, ridiculed, threatened, placed in front of a television camera, and then beheaded. If you can somehow imagine the fear and the overwhelming appreciation of everything you are about to lose, you might still not reach the level of emotional devestation experienced by a woman who has lost her only child. For that, you have to be able to sense what it is like to (1) have an arm reach down past your throat and pull out every internal organ you have, leaving barely a shell behind and (2) believe that you will feel that sensation again and again for the rest of your life every time your eyes catch the glimpse of a soldier, of a child, of a wedding, a grandchild , with each Mother's Day advertisement, every Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthday - got the point?

Ok, let's move on and see what we've got next . . .

2. NOT YOUR CREDIBILITY, TOO? Governments shield the public from the realities of war. This "no coffins, please" stance is simply the back end of the propaganda game that anyone who has seen a 1940's movie understands. Holy Toledo, rent Buck Private if you are still in the dark. That flick even had pretty girls at boot camp to keep the boys happy. Wow. Dad didn't tell me about them. Neither media nor the government routinely posted casualty numbers until Vietnam. (There were those that opined that it was the nightly posting of war dead that helped turn the tide of public opinion on that war.) The mother of the dead soldier is angry with this President, to be sure, and you are not. It is not a new methodology, either. However, that does not mean that she is incorrect about a tactical political reason for keeping bad news out of sight.

As an aside, my recommendation is that the next time you discuss this issue with her, you avoid using that word "dehumanizing." The word works, perhaps, in a broad brush way when talking about the injured soldier, but to those who are receiving home only the remains of the full bodied children they sent off the year before, the word reaks of twisted sarcasm.

3. OMG, YOU LEFT YOURSELF EXPOSED. In the unlikely event that you are ever being judged in this ongoing debate by someone of Middle Eastern descent or, for that matter, someone with a world view, don't forget to add that you feel really, really bad for all the innocent people who have died, not just the Americans. Even if it is a lie. It smacks stronger of sincerity than the "I know how you feel" line at the beginning of your position paper.

Were this an actual debate, I would have awarded you the following score:


__2___ 6 Directly clashed with Affirmative Team's points.

__0___ 2 Language and word choices were respectful of all persons at all times.

__n/a _ 2 Body language was respectful of all persons, at all times.

BTW, I will write a note to the Mom and extend my condolences. I will not post it here.

Worser Than That

John Bolton's appointment as the US's Ambassador to the United Nations gets more press, as the Senate Foreign Relations committee announces that it will be interviewing 24 more people to evaluate whether Bolton is the man for the post.

A little perspective is in order. Think about what it must be like to work for these leglislators and administrators. Even if you have an easy going boss by Washington's standards, there must be 6 days a year when you seriously believe your ass is on the line. If I were the boss of something, anything, I would probably be a tad demanding. If you put me in charge of some aspect of national concern, there would be days I could be a rather pain, I suspect.

Now, if you can imagine how rough it would be to work for these demanding men and women of power - men and women who can call up the best brains, the most eager graduates, and time-proven workaholics - then you must next realize what is happening here. These men and women, these guys, are the ones complaining that he is too harsh, too critical, a serial abuser, I believe someone claimed. Yes. Let's make him the diplomat.

Who's in charge here?

tisdag, april 26, 2005

Marriage and Water Closets.

Last night's lesson started with:

Är Adam gift?
Nej, det är han inte.
Han är inte gift.

The exercise is designed to teach me two ways to respond in the negative to the question, "Is Adam married?" Fortunately, the authors do not fool me. I know the true purpose is to subconsciously reinforce an unmarried state of affairs. Certainly the question could have been something like, "Is Adam a rock star," or the like. But no. See, the word "gift" in Swedish also means "poison," and I think that is telling. Don't you think that is telling?

But the point about marriage meaning poison must be soooo old and I never would have even brought it up, except then I found the words "I DO" on the back of a commode. Don't try to tell me that IDO is a commercial enterprise, the equivalent of the good old Standard toilet manufacturer over here. There are too many coincidences for my liking.

fredag, april 22, 2005

Employee Satisfaction Tests and Improbable Suggestions

I made the Home Depot paint mixer man laugh the other night. He lifted the lid of the just mixed paint to ask me if the color was good. I opened up my jacket and compared it against the paint splattered on my t-shirt.

I made the intellectual book store helpers laugh the other day. I asked them to see if Genius was out in books on tape yet. When it wasn't showing up, one of them said they would try "Bloom's Genius." I said that it seemed unlikely that even Harold would use the possessive in the title. The two assistants looked at each other and snickered, "Bloom? Don't count on it." (Okay, I was the straight person in that one, but I was way out of my element, so the fact that I could set one up with the brainiacs counts.)

At Ikea's home storage area, my youngest asked while running around the garbage can displays, "What do you need most Mom?" and I deadpan, "A babysitter." A worker off to the side laughs, suprising even himself.

The serious, home economics-type lady at the local fabric store, I got her to chuckle. Something I said about tying up my kids in gross-grain ribbon. The quiet receptionist at the physical therapist's office, I got her smiling by attacking her boss for making her sit at her computer all day without a lumbar support pad.

I have never gotten anyone who works at Office Max to brighten up. Ever.

I am not sure what this tells me. Maybe it tells me something about Office Max. Maybe it is just something about the kind of person who is willing to sell pens and paperclips all day. Maybe they are under surveillance. Maybe, kanske, my material isn't that good. Who knows.

Humor takes a lot of practice, but also a lot of listening and observation. Then, after you do all that, you try to put it into life's perspectives. This weekend my four year old suggested to her older sister that if the latter would allow the former to help her on a project, then it would get done sooner.

Well, we know that this is not true on so many levels. Four year olds are incapable of helping. But forget the kid angle. When was the last time someone offered to help you on something that you know how to do, and, gosh darn it, it didn't take longer? So, this genre of remark, the Improbable Suggestion, like every other genre, zings into my ears and turns on a different circuit in my head. After hearing her offer of assistance, I choked back, "Sure. Like the time you helped your older sister build the popsicle stick Brownstone for New York History class and the cat ended up stuck to your father's recliner," firstly because it was not true and would have confused them both, and secondly because it at best onlyfourth rate sitcom-type humor. So I will store that situation away, and find some other, funnier way to use it. Then I will test it on the toughest crowd I know.

tisdag, april 19, 2005

Do You Like My Hat?

In Linguaphone's Lesson 30, we get a more in depth look at Johan. I must assume that Johan is a typical teenage knucklehead. He falls asleep in class. He wants to be an athlete when he grows up. He is eager to get a job at the high paying local grocery on the corner. He wants the money so he can travel.

American teens work so they can get a car.

Big difference. Travel away from home allows a kid to be somebody else for a bit, to experiment with different affects, appearances, attitudes; to see what works and what doesn’t. One can make lots of mistakes and, presumably, learn from it. Fall in love a million times. Get your heart broken a million times. Learn how not to get insulted, or slapped, or insulted and slapped.

Americans, on the other hand, spend their money on a car so they can drive around the neighborhood and be seen on a regular basis by everyone who already knows them. There is no escaping how local people believe you to be at 17, and their impreteur becomes permanent.

Perhaps I am reading too much into Lesson 30.

Johan går i årskurs 9 på groundskolans högstadium
Johan goes in year course 9 at basic school, higher level.

See that? See the simple remark, "goes in 9th grade" and how Swedes will say that instead of "goes to 9th grade." And although certainly we say, "He is in 9th grade" so the difference is subtle, that subtlety makes it all the more frustrating. When listening to an ESL or ETL or English as a Fourth or even Fifth Language individual, the incorrect use of a preposition more than anything else triggers whatever form of bias, prejudice, or misconception on brain power and value as a human being one is likely to encounter at the hands of a native speaker. Getting the prepositions right is critical.

When Swedish friends came to visit, I offered to give "Go Dogs. Go" to their 13 year old boy. He made a face, as did my husband. I was totally dismissed, and I remember feeling a little put out about it. A lot put out, actually. This screwball language is my language and who were they to offer commentary on a book that ever so simply teaches the correct time to use under, over, around, on, in, out, above, at, during, and a series of declarative commands. May they both be cursed with questions about party hats their entire lives.

Anyway. So now I know. Johan goes in 9th grade. Got it.

söndag, april 17, 2005


My fourteen year old and I connect watching Sex in the City. I sit there and flinch. She asks me what's wrong. I say, "Nothing," while thinking that except for the location, the money, the looks, the clothes, the fame and the volume of friends, the situations seem uncomfortably familiar. At some point she will say, "Carrie reminds me of you. It's freaky. Have I ever told you that?" Well, except for the legs and the breasts and the stylish hair and impeccable taste in clothing and the fame and the decade or so between us, sure. Once again the fourteen year old is my favorite.

So of course, like all other kids, afterwards, she tells me she wants to learn how to waltz. I say, "I'll show you," and try to grab her hands. She says, "You are doing it backwards." "No," I remind her. "You are left handed. It has to be done like this, except that I am not sure if I am leading or not, but this is how I remember." Within seconds we start to float about her messy teenage bedroom.

"It doesn't feel right to have that hand up. That's so sexist. It's so not fair," she complains, although absolutely delighted over how perfect the movement seemed.

"Well, not fair, maybe - but the sexist thing, naaahhhh, can't blame that one on the guys. Maybe you will have to wait and not date until you meet the perfect left-handed guy who knows how to waltz. That will keep you in the hunt for the next 16 years. Homework done?"

We just don't do enough waltzing. That's what I always say.

lördag, april 16, 2005

Humor Hypothesis #1

1. The Smarter the Kid, the Bigger the Funnybone

My children have in chronologically descending order: good looks
My children have in chronologically ascending order: smarts
In the areas of physical fitness and social graces, they seem more as paint ball victims.

The eldest was born "Ready to take a memo, sir" serious, although certainly pleasant enough.
The middler made people laugh with oddball comments. I was "my son's a doctor" proud and bought Burns and Allen tapes for her, but she was not interested.
The youngest is downright doomed to a life of stand up.

How do I know that? Last night, we happened across Abbott and Costello's Meet the Mummy, which segueued into Buck Private. She laughed until she lost control of all bodily functions, the clean ones I mean, like breathing and standing up. And it wasn't the rifle upside the back of the head-type routine that did her in, but Lou's face. When he shot a glance to let you know that he knew that you knew that he knew he was in trouble, she fell over. When his head shook - sometimes barely noticeably - to feign fear, the giggles came up from her toes.

Today I will introduce her to Gracie.

We spend a lot of time wondering what it is that makes kids sad. We should spend more time learning what makes kids laugh. It doesn't always have to be an expensive feature film showing Steve Martin with scrambled eggs all over his head, although that certainly works. Sometimes it is just a look, in anticipation of something a child is familiar with, that does the trick. The next time your child does something wrong by accident, try this: look at whatever it is, the milk on the floor, the door shut on a coat, the sneeze remnets suddenly blasted all over your eyeglasses, the side of the car into the side of the house, and with an exaggerated smirk, pretend to get mad - mad enough to be speechless - as if you are so confounded you cannot imagine what to say. Again and again and again, you start to point your finger as if to yell - at the kids, at the milk on the floor, at the boogers on your shades, the shattered support beam, but you are speechless. With a light in your eye, and overarched eyebrows, and hands on hips gesturing ridiculously. That is the anticipation that I am talking about. It difusses a moment that in the big scheme of things is never a catastrophe anyway, and, I have found, is bizarrely bonding and reinforces that you really are in control of the house because the darn kids never really know what to expect of you. (Be careful. If you are good enough at it, your performances may result in more spilled milk, so the first rule is, it has to be an accident. The second rule is Silence, although muttering and sputtering are allowed.)

Why can't we have more Lou Costello unwittingly charming a snake out of a basket as entertainment instead of Power Rangers, Fairly Odd Parents, and Bratz. It could not possibly be less expensive to produce than today's pablum. I think Spongebob comes close to working with the facial imagery that kids can connect with, but the animation is too far removed from reality and perhaps in too complicated - or bizarre - scenario to connect. The Seseme Street character Elmo has his moments in some of his solo videos, that produce belly laughs in my little chuckleheads. Surely the talent is out there to create true escapist humor that tickles kids through all their stages.

Next time your kid, or your significant other for that matter, seems out of sorts, walk or ride your bikes to the local video store and rent Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Walk out of the store without a single atom of sugar or salt. Try this shot of fresh air followed by a dose of pure humor and take note of how the rest of the day goes. Now that's therapy.

The Lowly Funny Guy

"Oh," sighed the grad student. "Instead of saying something poignant, I always took the easy way out and said something funny."

I bet it wasn't that funny.

"We're the guys," said the comedian, "Who couldn't get the girls on our looks."

Who wants the girls who want the boys for their looks? It's the girls who want the boys with the money, now those are the real hotties.

"We went into comedy because we couldn't be rock stars," explains Joe Black.

But imagine if you were. Serious tuneage with seriously funny lyrics. I am not even sure I can imagine. I mean, what do we have, tops, Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer? There is comedy and tragedy in theater and literature. Why not in music?

This was not where I was headed with this. Where I was headed was expressing how put out I was by hearing remarks three days in a row suggesting that humor is somewhere below canned tuna in the banquet of life.

It's just not. And I gotta come up with a funny way to explain it. A poignant way would be too easy.

torsdag, april 14, 2005



How many wives do you have to go through before you turn this time-killer into a sport, how many barstools, how many truckers' caps, how many boring weddings.

This, I understand Posted by Hello

But what, exactly, is this cover of Spanish for Know-It-Alls trying to say . . . Posted by Hello


"Here's a word you might enjoy: Besserwisser, a know-it-all," my husband offered. "It's German."


He was right. It is a useful word. We all know one. Or are married to someone who eventually becomes one or always was one but kept it inside better. Or something.

Wikiquote, translated by Google

"There are know-it-alls, who never understand that one has quite and an idiot can can be." Martin Boiler

I love these translation aids. They turn solid grammar and creative words into a garbled mess that most resembles the way my brain processes information.

Google will also translate these for you.

Peter Hohl
From Iceland
Intelligent Insults

Just a sampling. I will keep looking, but later. I have a day job. Sort of.

måndag, april 11, 2005


Over two years ago, I bought Linguaphone UK's Swedish translation program. First thing I ever bought in pounds. I have no idea how much it cost, exactly, but it was a ton o'dough. I did not care. See, my husband will not speak Swedish with us. I have begged and he has promised, but instead of simple commands and slow repetition, he blurts out whole paragraphs at a time. "That is how I understand immersion works," he explains.

Immerse this.

Then, because I challenge his methodology and he is a man and he is a Nordic Man, he shuts up. Then, because I am a woman and a rare pain-in-the-ass type woman, I retaliate. We would show him. We will learn it without him. This means horrible pronunciation and a snobby Stockholm accent instead of his southernly Malmö one. My plan was proceeding on course until I lost cassette 4.

I searched everywhere. I even called the lady who bought my old car and asked her to look under the car's carpeting (she swears she did, but I have my doubts). Without it, I could not go forward. I could have read the materials and move on with my life and cassette 5, but every attempt I made to leap frog over cassette 4 met a dismal, anemic end.

Getting ready to toss out an old gym bag, I went through ever pocket, even the invisible one on the front that is useless for anything but a hair clip or a man's comb. There it was, cassette 4. I was so happy even my daughters smiled. At 6:45 am on a Monday morning before a school day full of tests and raging teenage hormones, they smiled. "This is going to be one great day!" I told them, too happy to be sane.

Then I grabbed a load of laundry for the basement and fell down the stairs.

söndag, april 10, 2005

Howdy, Neighbor

There are many foreign places in this country, and an interview with investigators in the five-year search for Eric Rudolph (who pleaded guilty on Saturday for bombing the Olympics in Atlanta, an abortion clinic, a family planning center, and a gay club) reminded me of that. One of the folks featured on an NPR interview commented on how just plain ignorant federal investigators were when they came to Mr. Tolerance's home town in North Carolina. People on the street, the interviewee explained, like to look you in the eye and get personal.

I remember that happening to me.

I was walking a cold, practically deserted Midwest main drive looking for a liquor store, when a man stared me down. His sole purpose for the connect, it turned out, was so that he could bid me a good day and comment on the weather. I felt like I just met the local lunatic, and thought to myself, "There but for the grace of fortune . . . " I began wondering about the odds of having the first person I met be the town mumbler, when man #2 two passed by and asked how I was doing. After he passed, I stopped, turned, and stared after him.

"I have heard of places like this," my companion reported.

We continued to our destination, the only thriving business on the block except for the Steak and Ale restaurant directly across the street. After loading up on wine with a cork and heading back to the car, we had difficulty balancing bags and keys while standing alongside the locked door. A woman rushed over and offered to help. We gave her one of the bags containing our sustenance for the next three days.

We had seen four whole people, including the liquor store's son (who annoyed my companion by thinking that a Barolla was a fancy string tie) and we went native.

Way unsettling.

I suppose it was rude of the rigid, calculating FBI agents to interfere with Sunday service and Wednesday Church suppers. It is no less rude for townspeople to think that everybody they encounter knows the routine, or, regardless of circumstances, is obliged to follow it. Me, I didn't mind going with the flow. Heck, I'll drink wine out of a screw top or even something spelled "Lite" if that is what you have to offer. I can get along with people, at least until I have had too much to drink and start arguing. But criticizing federal officers involved in a frustrating manhunt for a killer because Miss Congeniality and her guy counterparts did not demonstrate the right, um, deference to local customs, is just the kind of story that keeps me happy to be a big city gal. Cities teach perspective.

"I know," they laughed. "Let's teach the FBI agents a lesson and not cooperate."

tisdag, april 05, 2005

Naked Windows

The Design Magazine for Sunday's NYTimes had a familiar type of advertisement. A woman was holding up a small section of curtain against a picture window, and the caption read, "Light." Well, actually, she is taking away light. The curtain, no matter how sheer, takes some of the sunbeam down. It cannot help it. It is science. This type of "say the opposite of truth and people are more prone to believe it" advetising has been fashionable f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I am tired of it, but no one asks my opinion on these things, so I do not waste much time on it. I am more likely to instead wonder why we as consumers (to say nothing of constituents) are so gullible.

The window ad takes me one step further. I wonder why we as Americans are so darn uptight. Curtains, shades, blinds - they all remind me of one of my favorite topics: Naked Windows.

Swedes, deprived of the light yet never deprived of visuals regarding the human body, rarely cover their windows. They crave the light and rarely have to worry about voyeurs. I like the clean line of a good window, myself, but as I sit at my desk in the living room sometimes at 2 or 5 am, I cannot help but wonder why I am still alive. There are no fewer than 6 big windows in that room looking out onto a oft-traveled sidewalk in the middle of a big American city. There I sit, exposed to the world in typical blogging clothes. There I sit, unbothered, undisturbed, unharrassed, unrobbed.

On those nights when I get a big edgy, I will ask myself:

Why can we not have curtains at least in some windows? I was thinking that maybe in the window in the living room that faces the busy street and which for the present doubles as a showcase window for the "Berlin Mall"?

Varför kan vi inte ha gardiner åtminstone i några fönster? Jag tänkte att kanske i det fönster i vardagsrummet som vetter mot den livliga gatan och som för närvarande dubblerar som skyltfönster för "Berlin Mall."

Sometimes, what I really want to say is, "Enough with the light, already."

William Safire taught me "Enough!" in Iraqi: Kifaya
Parents in Italy taught me "Enough!" in Italian: Bosta
Parents in the grocery store teach me "Enough!" in American all the time: "If you don't stop it this minute I will kill you." "Enough" will do, too.

Swedish requires four vanilla words to get this message across, which tells me that they don't have to say it very often. Otherwise, it would be reduced to one or a series of rough words. They say: Nu för det vara nog. (Now for it to be enough.) Hmmm. Very civil. Very civil, indeed.

So I got to wondering.

A. Wide-open exposure seems to have the opposite effect of what one might assume,
B. Complaining about the lack of curtains takes more words than I can remember at one sitting, and
C. Swedes must not have a shorthand obnoxious version for, well, anything.

If my ABC's are correct, then maybe the Swedes have the right idea. My business partner says about First Amendment issues that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Maybe fewer closed drapes would keep us all a little safer. Sort of like,

"You want the television that for some reason takes three remotes to work, be my guest" or

"A house that has plastic toys in the living room does not have diamonds in the bedroom, you know that" or

"If you enter this house and disturb my ability to publish this post, then you will die."

lördag, april 02, 2005

Just a Dane

Today is the birthday of Hans Christian Anderson. Not a Swede, but a Dane.

A stranger from Denmark will not hesitate to tell me that they think the people from Sweden are, well, um, boring.

A Swede will smile in absolute satisfaction over the news that Swedish men have a higher sperm count than Danish men, even if he has no intention of putting the statistics to the test.

The Norwegians bristle at the thought of being under the heavy Swedish yoke for a couple of decades. One can only imagine the brutality of it all.

Imagine a native of Mobile Alabama, one from New York City, and another from Portland Oregon forced to hang out together. A couple of common denominators, yes, but I would not recommend that any one of them leave the table if he or she is concerned about people talking behind his or her back.

So I was not surprised in an NPR broadcast this morning, to hear a Dane Diana Crone Frank blame a faulty misperception of the author on the fact that one of the first translators was done by a woman better versed in Swedish then Danish, and that has made all the difference.

What misperception? His stories are miserable and unkind even when translated by someone other than someone speaking Swedish. Read the original Little Mermaid. If you think Disney is scary, wait.

fredag, april 01, 2005

Time Again

Time's most recent cover. On the issue of deciding between life and death, may I suggest:

1. Something medical
2. Something judicial
3. A tug of war between family members
4. An all white jury in Texas deciding the fate of a mentally retarded, 14 year old African American on trial for a capital crime.

Anything but the white light to God. Does paying attention to all this make me a crank?