Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sudanese Teddy Bear

I was going to rant about the insanity of a woman arrested, dragged from her home in shackles, because the seven year old students in her class named a teddy bear Muhammad. But I decided not too, because it's too absurd, and now that the judge found her guilty and sentenced her to 15 days in jail, hard-time, I presume, just like Paris Hilton had to serve, it's time to move on to other absurdities.

But still, the thing that got people in Sudan all lathered up about this was the alleged insult to the prophet of Islam. He's dead, isn't he? And how can a dead person be insulted? He has no feelings to be hurt, and no thin skin to be pierced. I could call a teddy bear Teddy Roosevelt, spit on it, poke its eyes out with a stick, dip it in honey and bury it up to its neck in an ant hill, and nobody would threaten me with jail.

If only we could live in a world where the insult is the insulter's problem, and not the insultee's. Where I grew up, kids, when insulted used to chant "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." In Sudan, this just isn't so.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Is Fertile full of fertilizer?

I was going to write this letter to a small-
town* weekly newspaper in northwestern Minnesota, but my wife, who is from the town, wouldn't let me send it because, well, she said "my sister still has to go to church every Sunday, and show her face at the recreational center during the week."

In the end, I directed the letter, in a form much edited and censored, to one of the newspaper's columnists:

I am writing to you because you are the only person from Fertile whose email address I could find, and who has a column in the town's newspaper.

All my wife will let me say is "congratulations to the Larsons on their new venture."

But that isn't what I really want to say. But since, according to my wife, it's a small town, and people's feelings and appearances must not be hurt, I won't say much more.

[at my wife's insistence, this was taken out of the letter I sent:]
I hope the people of Fertile have the sense to take a little bit of constructive criticism with humor, and understand that anything I say is said with affection. I am a native of New York City and I am married to a daughter of Fertile, MN. I have learned during the nearly 10 years I have been involved with this wonderful woman, that there is more difference between people from Fertile and NYC than there is between people from NYC and Tokyo, Japan. Be that as it may, Fertile seemed a nice enough place when I visited, except for the mosquitoes and the weak coffee.

Being married to a native of Fertile, I cannot help but stay in touch with the goings on there. And I have discovered something you need to know.

[this made it in:]
Do you know you got trouble, right there in Fertile city, and it's spelled with a capital T-R-O-U-B-L-E, and it's name is MODESTY. That's right, modesty. Because, if I understand my wife and my sister-in-law right, people that are proud of what they do, and let others know it, are not respected or respectable. There's something wrong with a frown at someone's accomplishment instead of a hearty congratulations and keep up the good work.

[Here's some of the good stuff she made me take out of the letter:]
Now mind you, what I'm about to say has my wife rather annoyed with me, because just as modesty can be a problem, shaking the bush is, too. But as she knows, I am one hell of a bush-shaker. I say let the berries fall where they may.

What brings this up was an article in the Fertile Journal trumpeting the opening of a bed and breakfast, The Willow Creek, right there, in Fertile. Now I saw this and I said to my wife, now isn't that nice, Fertile's got a B&B, and it looks like a nice place, too. The only thing I scratched my head about was why the proud new owners chose to decorate it in 1940s style, a period noted for not being notable in American home decorating for reasons I prefer to not discuss, as that would be a bit of a digression.

Reading on, my wife and I discovered that my wife's aunt, Ida Johnson, lived in that house, and my wife used to play in the attic. This brought back found memories, and we chuckled about it, and how nice it is that the house is going to be taken care of now. And as my wife reminisced, she remembered how her niece was friends Carole Bevolden, now Carole Larson, the new owner, and my wife was Carole's sister's friend, and they were they were always getting in teenage trouble, because that's what teenagers do.

"So," I said, "what's the problem, it's obvious that Carole Bevolden grew up nice, and became a nurse, a worthy profession."

And my wife said "nursing runs in that family, her sister's a nurse."

And I said, "there's nothing wrong with that."

My wife and her niece grew up nice, too.

"But," my wife said, "my sister isn't going to approve because she doesn't like it when people are self-promoting."

And there's the problem. Because it isn't just my sister-in-law that has a problem with self-promoting. According to what I've heard from reliable sources, people in Fertile, in general, have a problem with self-promotion, and, as I said, this is a problem.

When someone does something good, and that thing is a commercial venture, that person has a responsibility to him or herself and anyone else involved in that venture to go out there and blow a horn and bang a drum. There were surely hundreds or thousands of mousetrap inventors who starved waiting for the world to beat a path to their door, but the world never did because nobody ever heard about that mouse trap. And here's somebody opening a bed and breakfast in Fertile, MN, I mean, where is Fertile MN? Nobody I know except for people who know my wife know where it is, and they wouldn't know if I didn't take the trouble to show them on a map , and make sure they know that the tallest building in town's the grain elevator, and that even though Fargo's the nearest city, and Fargo isn't much of a city, the people are nicer and smarter than those people in the Coen brothers movie, and yes, not much happens there, and much of that not much is about the same as it is everywhere else, but the people there like it, and they get to eat Northern and Walleye, and we don't but so what? We have other pleasures.

So Carole Bevolden Larsen, should be this weeks toast of Fertile, for giving Fertile something nicer than a motel as a place to spend a night or the weekend or even longer, when coming into town and not wanting to put the in-laws out for a weeks stay - or perhaps, being the cranky kind of guy I am, preferring to not have to always be polite to my hosts.† I don't want to be condescending and say that the Larsen's have brought a bit of civilization to Fertile, when I was there, Fertile seemed as civil as any place I've ever been - but it isn't a commercial hub, and so let's forget about modesty and instead of disapproval for being proud and saying it out loud, all of the good of Fertile should get out there and let everyone know that something good is happening there.

By the way, when my sister-in-law asks me why I'm not out visiting over the Christmas/New Year Holiday, I always answer with a question: What's the temperature? Usually the answer is something below zero Farenheit, which allows me to say "there's the reason." I'm from a place where the temperature usually stays in two digits, and those two digits are always above zero.

But winter's coming, so I hope you dress warm, and enjoy it.

* Hyphen's used in an effort to preserve the horizontality of the text. See my previous post.
† I was going to mention the fact that the guest bed at my sister-in-law's home isn't good for my back, but I was asked to not say that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Is the hyphen dying?

I am a little behind on the news, so you too may not have heard: The end of the hyphen is at hand. What's next? No more semi-colons? Of course, the colon is safe because academics and pundits need them for the titles of their books.

The decline of the hyphen was reported in September, when the new Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was published with approximately 16,000 compound nouns either concatenated or separated.

Angus Stevenson, editor of the Shorter OED, said "People are not confident about using hyphens anymore, they're not really sure what they are for."

Ok, what are they for? Emphasis, for one, because if you put a hyphen in a word, it looks more important, right? And it's sort of like a word perineum, a nice place to rest your chin. I think they should be required for oxymorons, sort of like a double-headed arrow with the barbs removed, so that the brain-thickened, hyphen-challenged bloggers get the point.

Stevenson also said "Printed writing is very much design-led these days in adverts and Web sites, and people feel that hyphens mess up the look of a nice bit of typography. The hyphen is seen as messy looking and old-fashioned."

In this day-and-age of spell- and grammar-checkers, all it takes is a few lines of code to create an automatic de-hyphenator. Write your blog entry, have it spell-check your work, and voilá, no more messy, old-fashioned looking hyphens.

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