The Moron's Weekend Briefing

Apr. 25 - Americans are often accused of having no culture. We haven't done much to repudiate this idea, although one could (given enough whiskey) argue that our indifference to culture was one of our culture's defining characteristics.

After all, it was the American John Dillinger who said, "When I hear the world 'culture,' I reach for my revolver." Mr. Dillinger may have been understating the circumstances required to remove his gun from its holster, but his words have stayed with us because they resonate with that wonderful American contempt for anything that considers itself above contempt.

So when I notice that it was eighty years ago this Saturday--on April 26, 1923--that England's Duke of York married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in Westminster Abbey, I'm not impressed. One child of privilege married another. American royalty has its own milestones this weekend: Count Basie died on April 26, 1984; Duke Ellington was born on April 29, 1899; and Ella Fitzgerald, the "First Lady of Song," was born on April 25, 1918.

This brings me to one of the striking cultural differences between the states and Denmark: that of literature.

(I'll work on my transitions.)

I have vowed to learn Danish as well as any Danishman, and toward that end I've been trying to stick to Danish language media. About a week or two ago I bought a book that the DMB thought might help me get started learning Danish in earnest. It's Gunilla Wolde's Totte og katten Kisser, the English translation of which would be Totte and Kisser the Cat, and it's a marvel. I'm absolutely engrossed, and couldn't like it any better if I understood it.

In this book, the young lad Totten (the apparent subject of a series of philosophical treatises, like Plato's Alicibiades), visits his grandmother and discovers that she has a cat named Kisser. Totte plays with the cat, pets it, and frightens the poor creature to the extent that it hides from him under a cabinet.

And so we have our antagonist, protagonist, and conflict. It's very clear-cut stuff, especially when translated for me by the DMB. The rest of the story, however, which I've had to translate for myself, is far more complex.

The grandmother appears out of nowhere, wielding scissors. She instructs Totte to legislate the cat. Totte attempts to do this by means of some wire, but the legislation fails and the cat merely licks a fish, immerses his head in a bowl of chowder, and enters rigor mortis.

Totte subsequently curls into a fetal position beside the cat and either falls asleep or dies. There is no further mention of the grandmother, the scissors, or legislation. And with that the story ends.

The ambiguity about death is striking in this book, because the DMB assured me this was a children's story. But I suppose the Danish child must develop an appreciation for the uncertainties of mortality: what is the Danish winter but a a six-month metaphor for death?

More curious than this treatment of death, and more shocking than the visual representation of feline rigor mortis, is the matter of legislating a cat. For all the bloviation emanating from Washington, you rarely hear of a cat being legislated. This may turn out to be one of the great unremarked-upon cultural, or at least political, differences between our cultures.

I'm probably not alone when I say there've been plenty of times when I wanted to legislate my own cats--but I wasn't sure I had the consitutional authority to do so. It's worth looking into. I'd email my congressman, but I don't know if the restraining order has expired yet

Anyway, there's clearly plenty for me to learn here.

This being a weekend briefing, I'll close with the usual birthday and holiday information.

Renee Zellweger turns 34 on April 25. She shares her birthday with Talia Shire (1946), Al Pacino (1940), Meadowlark Lemon (1932), Ella Fitzgerald (1918), and Edward R. Murrow (1908).

Carol Burnett turns 70 on April 26. She shares her birthday with Duane Eddy (1938), I.M. Pei (1917), and John James Audubon (1785).

April 27 is the 181st anniversary of Ulysses S. Grant's birthday. Others born on that day include Sheena Easton (1959), Casey Kasem (1932), and Jack Klugman (1922).

April 25 is ANZAC Day in Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, and elsewhere; Sinai Liberation Day in Egypt, Flag Day in both Swaziland and Denmark's Faroe Islands, Liberation Day in Italy, and Revolution Day in Portugal.

April 26 is Union Day in Tanzania.

April 27 is Saur Revolution Day in Afghanistan, Veterans' Day in Finland, National Resistance Day in Slovenia, Independence Day in Sierra Leone and Togo, Freedom Day in South Africa, and Constitution Day in Yugoslavia.

Enjoy the weekend.

2002, The Moron's Almanac™

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