DAILY BRIEFING
Filthy Atolls

May 20 - I think my Danish is getting better, but I'm not sure how to say that in Danish. That's because they have all these different words for "think," depending on how confident you are that what you're saying is true—or whether it would even matter. (They also have words for "feel" and "believe" and so on, so it's more than just that.)

If you're expressing something that's purely your opinion you would say jeg synes. But if you're expressing an opinion or belief that might be mistaken, you would say jeg tror. (For example, "I synes this cheese smells like used diapers," but "I tror the sun will rise at about 3:30 tomorrow morning.")

I think this is interesting because, for example, I wouldn't quite know how to translate this very sentence.

Here's why: when I say that I think something is interesting, I realize that it's only my opinion—but it wouldn't be my opinion if I didn't think it was true. I'm no good at believing in things that I myself think are untrue. (If I was, I'd already be in Congress.)

On the other hand, I acknowledge that other people might not find this as interesting as I do (and have therefore probably already stopped reading and will miss all the upcoming stuff about bikinis), so I would probably use synes to say that I think this stuff is interesting.

But that's sort of a trap. By saying synes instead of tror I've pretty much acknowledged that what I'm saying is up for debate. If I'm in the Danish army and my commanding officer tells me that he synes we need to take that hill, hasn't he invited me to contradict him?

Okay, so they just issue orders in the military. Forget about the military. Think about realms where opinions about the possible and the probable come up against the need to curry favor. Restaurant work, for example—or Congress.

If you ask your waiter how the steak is tonight and he replies that he synes it's good, wouldn't you be a little less likely to order it? After all, he's admitting he could be wrong. On the other hand, if he tror it's delicious but it tastes like shoe leather, you'd probably be justified in at least a word of reproach.

I thought (in American English, thank God) that I might have misunderstood all this, so I asked the DMB. She said she synes I've got it all wrong. That just confused me further—was she implying some other Dane might think I was correct? She said she tror I was an idiot. I asked if that meant she doubted I was an idiot. She left the room.

So for all their epistemological daintiness, when push comes to shove the Danes still rely on the old standards.

* * *

I may have raised expectations unduly when I mentioned I'd be talking about bikinis. I was trying to. It was 47 years ago today (1956) that the first hydrogen bomb to be dropped from the air was exploded over the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. It was a much earlier (July 1, 1946) atomic detonation that originally inspired the bikini swimsuit.

According to U.S. Department of Energy, $90 million has been appropriated by Congress "to be used by the Bikinians to clean up their atoll" since 1990. How embarrassing must it have been for the guy who had to call the Bikinians and tell them we had soiled their atoll—that we wanted to help them clean their filthy atoll?

(Which isn't to say it'd be a cakewalk being called a Bikinian.)

* * *

The Chinese government imposed martial law on Beijing on this date in 1989, in response to student-led protests that had brought millions of people onto the streets. The demonstrations continued, however, until the brutal military crackdown on June 3 and 4 in Tiananmen Square, in which thousands of Chinese dissidents were killed by the Chinese military. In a June 9 speech, Deng Xiaoping announced that the government had suppressed a "counterrevolutionary rebellion" in which the "dregs of society" had tried to "establish a bourgeois republic entirely dependent on the West."

China still has a veto on the U.N. Security Council.

On this date in 1991, the Soviet parliament sort of approved a law that would allow citizens to travel abroad freely. They approved it "in principle," which is why I say they only "sort of" approved it. But they were on to something: by December 26 of that year, there wasn't a single Soviet citizen left in the country.

On May 20, 1867, Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Royal Albert Hall. And they call her the virgin queen?

Cher turns 57 today. She shares her birthday with Joe Cocker (1944), George Gobel (1919), and Jimmy Stewart (1908). Today is Constitution Reform Day in Cameroon, Independence Day in Cuba, and Flag Day in Sudan.

Happy Tuesday.

2002, The Moron's Almanac™

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