Friday, May 07, 2004

The Pot v. the Kettle, Part 47 

Michael Moore LIED! He lied to his supporters—his fans—his disciples—the very men and women he's been rallying to talk TRUTH to POWER.

Actually, this kind of thing doesn't surprise me. I doubt it surprises most sensible people. "Artist fudges facts to win publicity" isn't a new headline. And I'm sure Mr. Moore's supporters will now be treated to the treacly sort of self-justifying pap that always flows so abundantly from Mr. Moore's command HQ: he will explain the various nuances of the situation that make his lies such venial little things. And his shock troops will nod uncomfortably, preferring the unease of hypocrisy to the discomfort of acknowledging that their Shining Beacon of Truth is just another bilious gasbag sucking off the publicity teat.

(Sorry for the metaphor stew, there.)

I don't really care about Michael Moore's politics. I thought Roger & Me was hilarious. I thought Bowling for Columbine had its moments—as a comedy if not a documentary. He has a certain genius for capturing the absurdity of the ordinary. But I can't stand self-righteousness, and Mr. Moore has got to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of self-righteousness. (Or maybe super-heavyweight.)

So it's nice to see him take a little kick upside the head.

Cloudy Friday 

Today's Almanac is up: life as a Merchant-Ivory production, the pill, and Robespierre figure prominently.

Yesterday was a warm and beautiful day in Denmark, the first absolutely gorgeous day of the year. The long weekend begins today ("Prayer Day"), however, so the clouds have rolled in, the temperature has plummeted, and it's bound to start raining any minute.

Yeah. . . there's a drop now. . .

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Avocado Riff 

Today's Almanac is (finally) up. It deals with air-raids, conditioned responses, and tacos, among other things. It was posted late in the day because I had an early medical appointment (it's chronic rhianitus, not sinusitis, and I was prescribed nasal steroids instead of antibiotics, in case you're interested), immediately after which I had a meeting downtown, following which I had a very late lunch with the DMG and she persuaded me into walking around Frederiksberg Garden on this gorgeous, gorgeous afternoon.

But I'm not here to blog about any of that. And even though it's not what I actually want to write about, I absolutely have to begin with Glad Press'n Seal sealable plastic wrap. The stuff is amazing.

The DMG and I encountered it while we were loading up on goods at Wal-Mart during our recent trip back to the states. A friendly woman was demonstrating the stuff at a little table near the aluminum foil and plastic wrap section, and we were intrigued. We knew it wouldn't be available in Europe yet, since it was only just being introduced in the states, so we bought a couple of boxes and then forgot about them.

Yesterday morning I made myself a little sandwich to take as lunch to Studieskolen (brown-bagging it to school at age 39!). I used half an avocado. The DMG wasn't in the mood to eat the remaining avocado half for breakfast but didn't think it would survive until dinner. That's when she remembered the Press'n Seal. She tore off a paper-towel-sized sheet, wrapped the avocado in it, "pressed" and "sealed" per the helpful instructions on the side of the box, and put it in the fridge.

If you've ever dealt with avocados, you know how sensitive they can be. They begin to brown the instant they contact oxygen. Hell, they'll brown if they sense a mood change. So when the DMG suggested I have that avocado as my snack when I got home late yesterday afternoon, I was extremely wary.

"I wrapped it in that new stuff," she said. I withdrew the little bundle from the fridge, unwrapped it (with some difficulty), and beheld an avocado as fresh and green as it had been when I'd sliced it open that morning. It was astonishing.

I am now an unrepentant Press'n Seal partisan. It's the coolest stuff I've ever used. I've got some Camembert wrapped up in it right now—you can't even smell it! Press'n Seal does everything, and it's not as clingy and unwieldy as those filmy plastic wraps. I'm reminded of the Brooks & Reiner 2000-Year-Old-Man routine, in which the eponymous subject declares that the greatest human accomplishment of the last 2000 years is Saran Wrap.

If the 2040-Year-Old-Man ever gives an interview, I'd bet dollars to donuts he's singing a different tune.

* * *

Which gets me back to avocadoes, which is what I originally sat down to blog about.

Danish avocadoes are outstanding. Actually, I have no idea where they're grown, so I should probably only say, "the avocadoes available in Denmark grocery stores." They're big, plump, meaty, and seem to be available all year-round. Not only that, but, like almost everything else in Danish grocery stores, they're sensibly displayed. There's none of that helter-skelter, tumble-jumble anarchy of American avocado bins, in which bright green avocadoes jostle alongside those that have ripened to the appearance of prunes.

Here at my neighborhood Føtex, for example, there are two helpfully-labeled avocado bins.

"Ready right now," reads the label on the bin of soft, black avocadoes (I translate from memory).

"Ready in 3-4 days," read the label on the bin of hard, green avocadoes.

Did you notice the same thing I did? That's right, there's no bin for avocadoes that will be ready in 1-2 days. I've given it some thought and think I have the answer. At the end of each day, the 3-4 Day bin is reviewed for avocadoes that appear to be within two days of maximum ripeness. These are brought into the back room, where a team of specially-trained Danish avocado experts monitors their progress at regular intervals until ripeness is achieved. Ripe avocadoes are brought back to the Ready Now bin on a one-by-one basis.

"Well," you say, "but what's the point? Why not leave all the avocadoes out where people can decide for themselves what level of ripeness they're getting?"

But to ask such a question betrays your ignorance of Danish culture—or demonstrates that you weren't paying attention when I mentioned those specially-trained experts monitoring the progress of the interim avocadoes. Why do they do it? Because they know more about avocadoes than you do, and they need to earn a living. Besides, Danes need to be protected against the possibility of buying inadequately ripened avocadoes. What if someone wanted avocadoes on Friday, but bought some on Thursday that wouldn't be ripe until Sunday? What then? And what if this sort of thing were occurring all over Denmark, to dozens of people a day—what then?

The mind reels...

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

"Why Can't the English..." 

I've been having a hell of a time getting the hang of the Danish A's. When I'm reading aloud from a Danish text, I'll inevitably read most of the A's incorrectly. Two in particular screw me up: an "ah" sound and an "eh" sound. The particulars aren't important: I don't think many of my readers are linguists, and I'll be damned if I'm going to mess my page up with phonetic characters.

We had an exercise in Studieskolen today in which a voice on audio tape pronounced fifteen words, and we had to identify whether each word used an "ah" or an "eh" sound. Random guessing should have given me a score of about 50%. Instead, I got all fifteen incorrect.

What does this mean? It means I'm actually brilliant at discerning the sounds, but appalling at recognizing them in print—at making the cognitive connection between a written word and a particular sound. This is heartening, because it gives me the one thing I've been looking for all along: an excuse.

My excuse is not entirely original: it's that my parents relocated me from Long Island to greater Boston when I was ten years old, and I went from "cawffee tawk" to "pahked cahs" virtually overnight. I have subsequently lived for extended periods in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles, Queens, Connecticut, and now Denmark. This geographical disparity has given me excellent ears—I'm no Henry Higgins, but I'm pretty good at recognizing dialects from all over the U.S.

It has also, however, robbed me of any cohesive scheme of pronunciation. Up until five or six years ago, about the time I left Chicago, I'd still sometimes lapse into a Boston accent after a few drinks. Then, in New York, I found myself sometimes falling into nasal midwestern locutions—often without any alcoholic catalyst. By the time we left New York, I was already feeling the native pull of certain New York pronunciations.

So there you have it. A bona-fide, entirely reasonable-sounding explanation for my humiliating inability to pronounce Danish correctly. It may not help me much at school, but it's already doing wonders for my self-esteem.

And that, as we all know, is the important thing.


Today's Almanac is up: Danish liberation, Kent State, and the usual gibberish.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Sounding Off 

A lot of Nordic languages use "v" and "w" in exactly the opposite way they're used in the anglophonic world. That is, they pronounce "v" as we pronounce "w" (or "u"), and "w" as we pronounce "v."

Fair enough. Languages are different and I suppose every language is entitled to assign any pronunciation it desires to any letter.

This weekend it finally began to dawn on me, however, that Danes don't always soften their Vs into "wuh" sounds. At the start of a word, for example, a V is almost always pronounced as it is in English. But in the middle of a word, it's frequently softened into a "u" or "w" sound.

Except when it's not. Which is also pretty often.

This afternoon I asked our teacher for an explanation of when I should pronounce a non-leading V as "vuh," and when I should pronounce it as "wuh."

She explained that it receives the hard pronunciation when it follows a short vowel, unless it's one of the cases in which it's actually softened, which is about fifty percent of the time. Not only that, but the consonants P, T, and K are often pronounced (respectively) as B, D, and G when encountered in the middle of a word, although sometimes they're not. This explanation went on for about ten minutes and included the use of a diagram as well as frequent recourse to a map of Denmark to point out relevant regional differences. At length she erased the diagram, shrugged, and explained that there were in fact no rules covering these usages.

Sometimes it's vuh and sometimes it's wuh, but it depends on the particular sense of the word you're using, where you are, who you're talking to, and, presumably, what kind of toothpaste you use.

I don't hold this ambiguity against the Danes (although I'd like to). The same sorts of bewildering contradictions can be found in the usage of almost any language, including English. Consider the different pronunciations of "ou" in the following sentence:

Wouldn't you be dour throughout a four-hour course on flour?

Either you know it or you don't. And if you don't, nobody's going to be able to explain it to you.


Sunday, May 02, 2004

A Weighty Matter 

The New York Times has no sense of humor. For proof, see Demonizing Fat in the War on Weight.

In that article you'll learn of what appears to be the vanguard of the backlash against growing concerns about the nation's health. You'll hear law professor Paul Campos declare that obesity is being used "as a tool of discrimination," that the obsession with getting Americans to be healthier has "disturbing similarities to the eugenics movement," and that obesity is "primarily a cultural and political issue."

(I'm not sure what this last is supposed to imply: isn't pretty much every national issue primarily cultural and political?)

Mr. Campos, author of the forthcoming "The Obesity Myth," observes that:

The war on fat is unique in American history in that it represents the first concerted attempt to transform the vast majority of the nation's citizens into social pariahs, to be pitied and scorned.

Follow up question, Mr. Campos? How do you ostracize the "vast majority" of any group? How do you make two-thirds to three-quarters of the population social outcasts?

Well, it doesn't really matter. Because when you really look at the numbers, Kathleen LeBesco informs us (she's an associate professor of communication arts at Marymount Manhattan College, and therefore an obviously reliable source), that "at the root of the current slimness craze is an effort to stigmatize certain groups."

In her new book, "Revolting Bodies:"

Ms. LeBesco writes that African-American and Mexican-American women are particularly targeted as obese in contemporary culture. "All of the discourse about fatness is about pathologizing the individual," she said in an interview, also likening it to the eugenics movement.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 44 million Americans (about one in six) are obese. The Times article doesn't mention that. It doesn't mention the swelling costs to our healthcare system. It doesn't talk about the real medical issues involved with obesity. (Although it does cite Mr. Campos as saying that "In fact a moderately active larger person is likely to be far healthier than someone who is svelte but sedentary.") It doesn't actually mention any statistics at all, because statistics would only get in the way of what really matters. What really matters? There's one little keyword dropped twice: in the article: eugenics.

Hm... eugenics. Sounds familiar. Wasn't there some crazy government a few decades back that made eugenics a kind of theme? Oh, right! The Nazis!

The Nazis strike again! You don't have to be a conservative, free-marketer, or defense hawk to be a Nazi in America anymore. Now you just have to eat a sensible diet and go to the gym a couple of times a week.

Not your type, eh? Nazi bastard!

But it wouldn't really be a Times article without the inevitable nod to those superior continentals:

[Peter Stearns] notes that the French have been more successful at weight loss than Americans, partly, he says, because weight loss in France is based on aesthetics, not morality.

That's right. The French are better because they're shallow sons of bitches. See, if I look at a fat chick like the one pictured above and think, "Gee, that poor girl is really hurting herself with all that extra weight. She ought to take care of herself." Well, that's moralizing and it's bad. But if I think, "That is one ugly fat broad," I'm being aesthetic, and that's good.

There's so much more to rant about here, but I have so little time to rant. End transmission.

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