Saturday, April 24, 2004

Tivoli Therapy 

The DMG and I went to Tivoli this afternoon—our first joint trip there this season. It wasn't very nice weather—sort of cool and overcast—but we found our way to a table at a little bistro in the shadow of the new rollercoaster and split half a liter of wine. (She had about 2/3 of a glass to my two glasses.) It's been a rough couple of weeks for a lot of reasons I haven't (and won't) get into here, but a couple of glasses of wine on a Saturday afternoon at Tivoli can help take the edge off just about anything.

The whole "This Moron" thing began as a kind of therapy for me: acknowledging and celebrating my inner idiot helped me back down from the manic, over-achieving, anal-retentive jackass I'd become in my early thirties. Despite the progress I've made as This Moron, I still sometimes regress into That Jackass and get so wound up I can barely think. Sipping wine at Tivoli with my pregnant wife was a great way to smother the jackass and restore the relaxed moronic worldview.

The world is a ridiculous place. It's unhealthy to take it too seriously. It's always helpful to slow down and be stupid. We all need time to fart and belch and scratch our nasties. (Which isn't to say that's what I was doing at Tivoli, but I'm sure you get the point.) Things can get in your face and seem very important, very significant, and very unbearable... but it's important to keep a sense of perspective.

* * *

Also, now that I'm relaxed: we just saw Kill Bill, Part 1, on video. Why didn't anyone tell me this whole thing was Tarantino's "Count of Monte Cristo?" And why was it so much better as a Count of Monte Cristo than the actual Count of Monte Cristo that came out a couple of years ago? I'll tell you my theory: I think Quentin Tarantino is like the Dumas of modern cinema. L'amour et l'action!—and strong, strong women. (Is their a better female villain in literature than Milady?) It's not much of a theory, as theories go, but it sounds kind of smart so I'm going to hold onto it.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Friday Ramble 

The DMG is about to nod off so I just wanted to get a little caught up.

It was a bad tech week for our household. I've already mentioned the camera problems. The printer problems were even more bizarre.

We brought my old Laserjet 5P to an authorized HP service center for repairs. It hasn't worked for a while, but now that the DMG's working from home we thought it would be nice to have another printer up and running. The service center was out around Roskilde. We drove out, dropped it off, and authorized a diagnosis.

We got our quote in the mail yesterday: it will cost 4500 kroner to repair the printer, or 500 to junk it. Either way there's a 500 kroner "diagnostic" charge. We'd have been better off keeping it another few months as a doorjamb.

The letter gave us five days to decide. Fairly generous terms, as ransom notes go.

On a happier note, I had one of the greatest poker nights of my life last night. I dropped a lot of money very quickly but was blessed by the poker gods the rest of the evening. It got to the point where they were calling me "Last-Card Nagan" because I was winning so many hands on my last card. I had so many chips in front of me I had to dump them into a large measuring bowl—toward the end of the night I was assessing my performance by the deciliter.

We don't play for enormous amounts of money, so in the end I only won 290 kroner—about $50. But there's something about winning that's so much more important than money.

But money is nice too. Money is very, very nice. In fact, if I had to choose between losing horrifically to a bunch of friends but secretly getting a lot of money, versus beating the tar out of them but losing a lot of money in the process... well, hell, I don't actually know what I'd do.

* * *

I saw the most disturbing television spot I've ever seen this evening. It was for some kind of medical human-interest show—sort of like "That's Incredible" meets "Dr. Phil." Usually you watch people go through plastic surgery or marriage counseling or something. The episode being promoted this evening seemed to have a lot to do with the elimination of body hair. Specifically, the removal of body hair from the region between the legs. Specifically—and I'm going to get very graphic here, because the promo was very graphic and I'm not going to describe in words anything I didn't see in full, horrifying detail in the course of the spot—specifically, the program will apparently be covering the removal of hair from men's scrotums and anuses. So if you're wondering how far reality TV can go, my fellow Americans, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

* * *

Lastly, I just had to mention that in Studieskolen today we had to sing and dance. I say it again: living in Denmark is like living in an MGM musical.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Cognitive Dissonance 

I bought my daughter her first dress today.

I'd gone in to Føtex on my way home from Studieskolen to pick up some dinner stuff. At the front of the store, directly beside the entrance, were racks and racks of baby clothes on sale. My curiosity was piqued. I meandered toward the pigertøj racks, and a pretty little red-and-white checkered dress caught my eye. It was adorably feminine without activating the gag reflex that's so often provoked by all the pink frilly stuff in which the world's clothiers want me to swaddle my firstborn.

So I bought my daughter her first dress today.

That's not to say it was the first time I'd bought the Bean any clothes. The DMG informed me of this pregnancy about a week before Christmas, and I couldn't resist running out and buying a couple of pairs of baby socks to put in her stocking. Then, of course, we went berserk on gender-neutral clothing during our recent trip stateside. But all those clothes were bought for a unisex abstraction. Today's purchase was made for a particular person. A baby girl. My baby girl.

I bought my daughter her first dress today and it's weirding me out... in the best possible way.

And I fully expect that in about 45 minutes, when the DMG gets back from her aquatic pregnancy workout, I'm going to hear my wife criticize my taste in girls' clothing for the very first time. And maybe this will end up having been the last dress I buy for my daughter without responsible adult supervision.

I don't care. The deed is done, and I'd do it again.

I'm a Nazi? 

According to today's Almanac, I am indeed a Nazi. Then again, so are you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004


Wednesdays are my days off from school, and work hasn't really picked up enough to consume my every waking hour yet (though the time is not far off), so I've tried to make Wednesdays my "stop procrastinating" days—you know, the day on which I finally put my nose to the grindstone and grind it right off to spite my face.

One of the things on today's "cannot possibly be procrastinated any further" list was the repair of my camera. Called HP/Denmark. Was told they don't repair digital cameras; just swap them out with refurbished ones for a flat 1500-kroner fee (~ $225). Was advised to buy a newer HP model, which is available in some places for as little as 1300-kroner. It's an abomination to me that I can't get my existing camera repaired, but what can I do?

Attentive readers may recall my having mentioned the purchase of a new Compact Flash card while in the states. It was a great deal—256MB for $55 at Wal-Mart. It's about two weeks old now.

The new HP cameras don't take Compact Flash cards. They take "Select Flash" memory cards.

Maybe I ought to stick to crayons and construction paper...

Oh! And if you're wondering why there wasn't any Almanac today, it's because there wasn't. There may not be tomorrow, either. But it'll be back in regular production once I'm fully up-to-date on all this backlogged crap that's been accumulating on me. I apologize for its absence, but in weighing your disappointment (and I'm speaking to both of you!) against my peace of mind, I opted for the latter.

And by the way, the Teetotaller who commented on the flere/mere question is absolutely right... you get flere marbles, rocks, enemies, or catalytic converters, but you seek mere attention, fame, sunshine, exercise, etc. Countable nouns take flere, abstractions take mere. (Strangely enough, money in Denmark is a countable thing because it's considered plural. "Got the money?" "Yes, I have them.")

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Unbearable Nessness of Language 

It's easy to let language instruction become a springboard to philosophical reflection. When I say "philosophical," I don't mean anything especially sophisticated. I suppose what I really meant to say is that studying a foreign language can get you thinking, but I didn't want to imply that I wasn't thinking to begin with—though I probably wasn't.

(And I'm only a few sips into a glass of this Siglo Crianza, so I can't blame the wine.)

At some point last year on my magnificent bloggish I discussed the three commonest Danish verbs related to thinking: synes, tror, and tænke. Basically (and respectively) they translate to feel/opine, believe/expect, and cogitate.

I would ask, for example, what you synes about the situation in the Middle East, if you tror the movie starts at eight o'clock, or what you have been tænke-ing about.

The act of sorting these verbs out for myself forces me to distinguish between them, and to identify the corresponding areas of my native language—which act requires me to identify the borders between concepts such as thinking and feeling, and believing, and suspecting, and expecting, and so on.

Which is, frankly, a bitch. What do you think about the Sox? How do you feel about Jazz? Do you believe it matters? Do you suspect the train will be late, or expect it will be on time—or both?

We're very lazy with language, very loosey-goosey with the manner in which we apportion meaning and significance. So when we hold one language up in comparison to another and attempt to map out the correspondences, the overlaps, the edges, we end up with a sloppy epistemological soup.

(Please, please, please let me get a Googlewhack on "sloppy epistemological soup!")

I'm stewing in that soup right now—or am I souping in the stew? Either way, you catch my drift. (A phrase which would probably translate literally into absolute nonsense in almost any language.) Thinking about the constituent elements of language is like thinking about what you're doing during sex: you don't gain any particular insight and you're almost certainly missing the point.

The long and the short of this rant, therefore, is that studying Danish as intensively as I have been lately has gotten me thinking much too much about much too little. The important thing is to learn how not to make an ass out of myself speaking Danish, but since I invariably (and characteristically) make an ass out of myself in virtually every situation I step into, in any language, what's the point?

There is no point. But it felt damn good to get that off my chest. Okay, homework break is over... now, what's the difference between mere ("more") and flere ("more")?

The DMG, a practicing Dane with more than thirty years experience, offers her own sagacious answer:

"I don't know."


Suffer the Children 

Today's Almanac is up, and includes my annual essay on restoring peace in our classrooms.

Monday, April 19, 2004


It's been a rough day, a rough couple of days, and never mind the details. I thought I'd put the day to rest with a couple of scotches and a long hot bath, and I can't do a bath without something to read. So I hopped over to Arts & Letters Daily, which almost always has something good enough and long enough to satisfy my bathtime requirements, and printed out Political Correctness, or The Perils of Benevolence, by Roger Kimball.

I don't know anything about Roger Kimball. I'm not a regular reader of The National Interest. But that's absolutely one of the best articles I've read on the subject of political correctness in years.

Unfortunately I'm not one of those magnificent arbiters of abstract thought that's capable of admiring points of view I disagree with simply because they're well-stated. No, when I start lobbing superlatives at a given article, essay, or speech, it only means that the author or speaker camn awfully damn close to articulating my own point of view with perfect clarity.

Roger Kimball does that. I believe political correctness is a blight, a cancer, a horror, and a scourge. Whatever the intentions of its supporters, it is a destructive and coercive ideology that needs to be confronted with unflinching opposition at every turn. Roger Kimball seems to think so also. Give him a read and see what you think.

I'll go to bed now.

The War on Clutter 

Today's Almanac is up... Feng Shui, the War on Clutter, historical revisionism, and much, much more.

Sunday, April 18, 2004


...and so on?

For a while over on the Moron's Almanac I had a "word of the day" feature in the daily briefings. I'd present a Danish word or phrase (usually misspelled), its translation (usually inaccurate), and an example of usage (invariably inappropriate).

I'd like to start doing that again, and probably will (unless I forget), but I'm so excited about one word that it can't wait until tomorrow. This isn't just the word of the day—dagens ord—but the word of the year (årets ord). And that word is:


Which means, "the girl." Which means exactly what you think: we had an unscheduled look at the Bean yesterday, and we finally got a look at its naughty bits. At her naughty bits.

A girl! En pige!

We've got an M-centric short list for names: Madison, Molly, Madeleine, and Mathilde are leading the pack. As of this writing, and without consulting the DMG, I'd put Madison at 1:1, Molly at 3:2, Madeleine at 5:2, and Mathilde at 7:1. You want a longshot? How about Cheyenne at 10:1, Ingrid at 12:1, or Dakota at 15:1?

Feedback is welcome, but will have no impact on decision-making. Family members in particular are urged to refrain from expressing a favorite, insofar as our choosing a different name than the one you suggest will probably leave you wondering whether or not we chose the name just to spite you—and, vindictive bastards that we are, we probably will have.

So there it is. En pige!

20 Million Shoppers Must Be Wrong 

There's an interesting article in today's Sunday Times (Wal-Mart, a Nation Unto Itself). It's about a "conference on Wal-Mart" attended by "more than 250 sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and other scholars" last week at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

I thought to myself, how interesting! The rise and rise of Wal-Mart is obviously a culturally important phenomenon, and its success can probably tell us an awful lot about ourselves—about our values, our choices, our relationship with bouncing smiley faces.

As the article acknowledges,

With $256 billion in annual sales and 20 million shoppers visiting its stores each day, Wal-Mart has greater reach and influence than any retailer in history.

Obviously they're doing something right. After all, those 20 million shoppers aren't being forced to shop at Wal-Mart. But instead of scrutinizing its business model for the secrets of its success, the reporting suggests that the conference chose to explore what Wal-Mart was doing wrong. And the answer was predictable:

"Everything is based on the consumer first," said Edna Bonacich, a sociology professor at the University of California, Riverside. "Is this the way we want to live?"

Professor Bonacich's question is so heart-stoppingly stupid from an economic point of view that the person responsible for her economics education should be hunted down and killed. Oh! Wait! Never mind—she's a sociologist. The laws of economics don't apply.

Most of us do indeed want to live in a world where the consumer comes first. Really. Western civilization has built itself up on that very premise. We are consumers in almost every sense, shopping around for everything from our nose-hair trimmers to our heads of state. It's called freedom of choice. We love it and our civilization would collapse without it.

Which is precisely Professor Bonacich's point, I'm sure. "The way we want to live" would be a world in which everything is based not on the consumer, but on Professor Bonacich's theories.

Need a new lawnmower? Don't bother shopping around and finding the best deal for your hard-earned money... Professor Bonacich will tell you where to buy it. And you will obey Professor Bonacich.

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