Austrian telemarketers, pig-dogs and missed opportunities

One of the great things about fancy new cell phones is that they tell you the location of callers. I suppose they’ve done this for quite some time, but I only joined the 21st century late last year when, after 16 years of mediocre flip phone service, I reluctantly upgraded to an Android phone.

This came in handy earlier this week when I saw that I had an incoming call from Austria. I don’t know anyone from Austria or in Austria. In fact, the only people I know of from Austria are Mozart, Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Hitler. It seemed unlikely any of them would be phoning, so I ignored the call, just as I ignore any number I don’t recognize.

In retrospect, I missed a chance to try out my puerile German. While I speak extremely poor French, my German is utterly abominable, consisting of “Guten Tag,” Guten Morgen,” a couple of rudimentary sentences and the occasional derogatory remark.

I could have opened the conversation with “Guten Tag, du bist ein Schweinhund!” which translates to “Hello, you’re a pig-dog.”

I figure given my lack of contacts in Austria, it was most likely a telemarketer, so why not try out a little foreign invective, even if I was addressing someone I didn’t know with the casual form of the verb “to be.” They were calling me, after all.

Of course, they probably wouldn’t have understood me and simply hung up, but hey, I would have gotten a chuckle out of it. “Sticking it to those damn telemarketers!” That sort of thing. We take our victories where we can get them.

Speaking of the word Schweinhund, one has to admire the Germans’ ability to level an insult. Not just a pig, not just a dog, but a pig-dog. I’ve seen dogs that act like pigs, but I don’t think that’s what Schweinhund is all about.

One of my daughters has made friends with a German exchange student and she recently asked her friend if there was such a word as Schweinhund. The exchange student’s face lit up. “Ya, Schweinhund! How do you know this word?!?”

My daughter, drolly: “My dad uses it, often while driving.” It made the exchange student’s day to hear an insult in her native tongue.

I wonder if my daughter, were she studying in, say, rural Romania and had a Romanian friend ask if she knew the word “jackass” would light up similarly?

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Smartphone technology drags Luddite into 21st century

While I may not have been the last able-bodied adult in the Western world to switch from flip phone to smartphone, it certainly seemed that way at times.

Mind you, this generally wasn’t perceived as a negative, at least by me, particularly when watching hordes of students wandering across streets oblivious to everything but the little toy in their hands, or witnessing families in restaurants silently engrossed in their individual phones rather than talking with one another.

But with a passel of children who don’t do email and prefer instead to text, it was becoming increasingly obvious that I would have to make the move at some point.

An example: in the time it would take me to poke out a finger-by-finger response to one of my daughters’ texts, three more would arrived. Recognizing that, due to some sort of logarithmic progression, I could only fall further and further behind, I would at that point simply pick up the phone to stop the madness.

But what finally convinced me to make the jump a couple of months back was the incredible quality of smartphone cameras.

The above photo was taken recently by Daughter No. 1 at sunset in Lexington County, SC. I have used a Kodak EX with optical zoom for the past 10 years and even compensating for operator error, there is no way my camera could have managed a photo as stunning as that above.

Even more remarkable is that she doesn’t have a state-of-the-art 2017 model, but one that is somewhere between three and five years old.

The technological advances made in smartphone cameras have been nothing short of remarkable over the past 10 years.

“The main technical difference between smartphone cameras and standalone digital cameras is that smartphones use tiny lenses and tiny sensors. The smartphone’s results ought to be much worse. They are not,” according to The Guardian. “Smartphones produce high-quality results by using their powerful processors and built-in graphics engines to process the image data and compensate for their technical limitations.”

Best of all, phones with high-quality cameras that were quite pricey two or three years ago are now very affordable. The same will almost certainly be the case two or three years down the road with what is cutting-edge today.

One supposes it has never been easier or more convenient to take high-quality images at any time in history.

Inept Florida interpreter angers some, amuses others

The recent hurricane that devastated the Caribbean and Florida was no laughing matter. But officials in Manatee County, Fla., unwittingly added hilarity to a Sept. 8 press conference when they hired a bumbling interpreter for the deaf for an emergency briefing related to Irma.

The interpreter, Marshall Greene, a lifeguard for the county, has a brother who is deaf, according to the DailyMoth, a video news site that provides information via American Sign Language. Greene mostly signed gibbering, referencing pizza, monsters and using the phrase “help you at that time to use bear big,” during the event. Other information signed to viewers was incomplete, members of the deaf community said.

While there’s no question that the county failed in its responsibility to the hearing impaired, watching a video of the press conference, with Greene’s signing translated into subtitles, is amusing to say the least. You can watch one of the videos here.

The county typically uses interpreters from VisCom, a professional sign language interpreting service. VisCom owner Charlene McCarthy told local media she was not contacted about providing services for the press conference and that Green was apparently not fluent in American Sign Language, according to the website AL.com.

Manatee County spokesperson Nick Azzara told the Bradenton Herald Greene was asked to interpret during the storm rather than have no one signing.

In retrospect, one suspects county officials now understand that it would have been better to have no one signing rather than an individual informing the deaf about pizza and monsters while a major storm worked its way toward them.

(Top: Manatee County, Fla., press conference held on Sept. 8 featuring interpreter Marshall Greene, in yellow.)

Reveling in the timeless joy of newspaper corrections

Having spent nearly 20 years in journalism all told, I saw plenty of unintentional errors show up in print, some by my own hand and others by friends and co-workers.

Given that thousands and thousands of bits of information appear in even the smallest daily newspapers, mistakes and subsequent corrections are a regular companion of journalists everywhere. Occasionally, they offer a bit of levity.

Most corrections, or their cousin, the clarification, are pretty straightforward, with the goal being to mend the mistake without repeating the error unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Sometimes, however, corrections are necessarily hilarious.

Consider this from the Oct. 30, 2014, edition of the New York Times, which came in the form of a letter to the editor:

To the Editor:

I was grateful to see my book “This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage” mentioned in Paperback Row (Oct. 19). When highlighting a few of the essays in the collection, the review mentions topics ranging from “her stabilizing second marriage to her beloved dog” without benefit of comma, thus giving the impression that Sparky and I are hitched. While my love for my dog is deep, he married a dog named Maggie at Parnassus Books last summer as part of a successful fund-raiser for the Nashville Humane Association. I am married to Karl VanDevender. We are all very happy in our respective unions.

Ann Patchett

Nashville

There’s also the unintentionally funny – although one is certain the reporter and editor didn’t get much of a chuckle out of having to put together the following, which appeared in the April 11, 1996, edition of the Spokane Spokesman-Review:

An April 5 story stated that Mary Fraijo did not return a reporter’s calls seeking comment. Fraijo died last December.

And then there are those corrections which leave one scratching one’s head as to how they could possibly have come about. Thus, we have, from the May 10, 2016, The New York Times, this:

Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about a theological battle being fought by Muslim imams and scholars in the West against the Islamic State misstated the Snapchat handle used by Suhaib Webb, one of Muslim leaders speaking out. It is imamsuhaibwebb, not Pimpin4Paradise786.

The number “786” appears to have some importance to some Muslims, at least on the Indian subcontinent; something about giving numeric values to the Arabic letters of the opening words of the Koran. However, it is not a widely held belief among Muslims.

Even so, one would think that given the overall conservative nature of most Muslim leaders, the handle “Pimpin4Paradise” would be viewed as a red flag – a bright, flaming- red flag.

One could see “Pimpin4Paradise786” maybe getting by, say, the editors at the local Peterborough Prattler, but the New York Times? Oy!

Georgia restaurant taunts with zenith of fast-food offerings

The above sign, spotted at Long John Silver’s in Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., reflects perhaps the greatest offering ever put forth by a fast-food establishment.

As I gazed up at the promotion for the “Butter Milk Cod” basket, my mind began spinning furiously. I’ve never eaten at a Long John Silver’s, which is known for seafood, but if any promotion were to get me inside, this would be it.

“Butter milk cod” held so many possibilities that a simple basket seemed ridiculously inadequate. And for just $5.99? Mind = Blown!

Eventually, tired of trying to work out the many different options in my head, I put pen to paper and created my own “Butter Milk Cod Matrix” (patent pending).

As you can see below, there is an amazing number of delicious and nutritious choices that can be created when one has butter, milk and cod:

  • Butter;
  • Milk;
  • Cod;
  • Buttermilk;
  • Butter Cod;
  • Milk Butter;
  • Milk Cod;
  • Cod Butter;
  • Cod Milk;
  • Buttermilk Cod;
  • Butter Codmilk;
  • Milk Buttercod;
  • Milk Codbutter;
  • Cod Buttermilk; and
  • Cod Milkbutter.

Long John Silver’s Butter Milk Cod Matrix. Click to see larger version. (Remember, patent pending!)

Scanning the list of items created by the intricate matrix, I don’t know that there isn’t anything on it I wouldn’t consume, although I can’t say that cod milk or cod milkbutter would be the first items I would reach for.

Alas, when I finally pulled myself away from the sign and my “Butter Milk Cod Matrix” (patent pending), I was disappointed to find the Fort Oglethorpe Long John Silver’s not yet open.

As I pulled away toward Tennessee, it was with a heavy heat, my new-found craving for cod butter unsatisfied.

School board strikes a blow for the timid and fainthearted

Among memorable lines from the 1985 classic Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is one in which protagonist Pee-wee Herman tells admiring love interest Dottie that he doesn’t need anyone: “You don’t wanna get mixed up with a guy like me. I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.”

Were that movie made today, it would seem likely that last word would have to be substituted, most likely with something bland and insipid, such as “nonconforming dissenter” or “quirky eccentric.”

The word rebel scares people.

Consider that the South Burlington (Vt.) School Board recently voted to drop the “Rebel” name at South Burlington High School for the coming school year. For more than 55 years South Burlington High School has used “Rebels” as its nickname, said to be in recognition of the city’s secession from Burlington many years before. In its early years, the school had an old-style Confederate colonel mascot, but that was dropped decades ago.

Superintendent David Young told the school board in February that it had become “crystal clear” to him that the nickname “is interfering with all students’ ability to feel safe and included in our schools.”

No details were provided on how a word – one associated with individuals such as George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi – was “interfering with all students’ ability to feel safe and included … ”

According to an Associated Press story, the move to change the name came about because of a gradual shift in the largely white school, whose population is now nearly 20 percent nonwhite, said South Burlington High School Interim Principal Patrick Phillips. He said the nickname has created discomfort for some students.

I’m not aware of the racial makeup of South Burlington High, but according to the 2010 census, South Burlington itself was 90 percent white, 5.4 percent Asian, 1.9 black, 1.9 percent Hispanic. Two percent were classified as two or more races, and Native Americans, Pacific Islander and “other races” made up one-half of one percent or less of the town’s population.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that a significant percentage of non-white students haven’t moved into the school in recent years.

However, it seems somewhat condescending to assume that non-whites are automatically offended by the word “rebel.”

There had been a push to allow the community to vote on the mascot issue, but that was rejected by the school board.

South Burlington resident Sandy Dooley was among those opposed to a public vote.

“I think that every student, every child who participates in our education programs here in South Burlington has a right to be in an environment that in every respect supports his or her opportunity to take full advantage of what we’re offering here. And I think there’s ample evidence that the ‘Rebel’ identifier interferes with that,” she told the Associated Press.

Again, no evidence was provided on how the “rebel identifier” interferes with participation in education programs.

South Burlington students will vote today on three names to replace “rebels”: Huskies, Pride and Wolves. Inspiring. Jellyfish would seem more fitting, although it seems unfair to punish students for the sins of their lily-livered fathers, mothers and administrators.

No word on when the South Burlington School Board will take aim at striking Ethan Allen from its textbooks. After all, Vermont was founded by Allen and other “rebels” who sought independence from New York, seeing themselves “as a distinct region outside the legitimate jurisdiction of New York.”

Although Vermonters fought the British during the American Revolution, they didn’t join the fledgling United States at the outset of war, as both New York and New Hampshire wanted the territory for themselves.

Instead, in 1777, Vermonters declared independence, wrote their own constitution and formed the Republic of Vermont, which lasted until 1791, when the state was admitted to the Union as the 14th state.

Others who could be in the South Burlington School Board’s crosshairs include the Founding Fathers, most certainly considered “rebels” by Great Britain; Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who led a rebellion against colonial powers and helped Haiti to freedom in the early 19th century; Martin Luther, who rebelled against the Roman Catholic church and helped usher in the Protestant Reformation; Nelson Mandela, famed anti-apartheid activist; most any of the American Civil Rights leaders, who were considered rebels by Jim Crow advocates; and religious figures such as Moses, Jesus Christ and Muhammad.

Fighting the good fight for those who love the ‘Muh-Crib’

mcribs

The basis of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is the right to petition; specifically, it prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people … to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In other words, if folks have issues, they have a right to take them before their elected officials, no matter how petty those issues.

A recent local government meeting in a Los Angeles suburb might have left one wondering if the Founding Fathers knew just what they were doing when they embarked upon the American experiment 240 years ago.

During a Nov. 24 city council meeting in Santa Clarita, Calif., about 35 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, a college-age woman (seen above) stepped to the microphone during the public comment segment and proceeded to take three minutes of elected officials’ time to implore council members to do something about the dearth of McDonald’s McRib sandwiches in the area.

The video, in all its lustrous glory, can be seen here.

I’ve enjoyed it several times and have a few thoughts:

First, my BS detector was on high alert. Most people can’t whip up this kind of passion to save their own kinfolk, never mind stand up for a fast-food dish made from obscure parts of what may or may not be a living creature.

Second, if you watch the video you’ll notice that not once does the “petitioner” pronounce the sandwich’s name correctly. Rather than “McRib,” it’s “Muh-Crib.” This could be comedic genius or stage fright or ignorance. Again, I leaned toward the first; if someone has this much zeal for a sandwich, one would think they would know how to pronounce it correctly.

Third, because WordPress no longer allows bloggers to post videos without paying an annual fee, I’ve included a transcript of the young lady’s performance below. It doesn’t do her justice, but it gives you an idea about the earnestness of her appeal. It’s mostly a long run-on sentence, and I’ve replaced “McRib” with “Muh-Crib” to give readers a better appreciation of the tone.

She begins by stating that she’s with the Santa Clarita Food Committee, then launches into a history of the “Muh-Crib”:

In 1982 a boneless barbecue pork sandwich was introduced to the United States and it was available for only during a limited time during the fall, which is called the Muh-Crib, but this year McDonald’s, they decided to give regional managers the power to decide whether to sell the Muh-Crib at their locations, and apparently only 55 percent of McDonald’s franchises nationwide have chosen to sell the Muh-Crib, which means 45 percent have decided to skip it, including the Santa Clarita area. And there are 10 McDonald’s here in Santa Clarita and none of them are selling the Muh-Crib. Specifically, the McDonald’s on Chiquella Lane next to In and Out (Burger) is not selling it and it has been replaced by an all-day breakfast, which I think is a really poor substitute. And consumers have had to resort to the mcriblocator.com, which gives disappointing results if you use it because the nearest sandwich was seen in the Bay Area. And to be honest, the removal of the Muh-Crib from the menu has affected my family because every Thanksgiving my family would, like, order a 50-piece chicken McNugget (sic) and, like, 10 Muh-Crib, it was, like, a tradition in our family. And now it’s, like … my family’s holiday spirit is kind of messed up and broken. So basically what I’m trying to say is, like, I come to you in this matter that I hope you members of the council can help and speak to these McDonald’s managers because I tried calling the hotline and they, like, don’t take me seriously. To me, Thanksgiving for my family without this Muh-Crib is like Christmas with snow. It just doesn’t make sense. So, thank you for your time and listening, and happy Thanksgiving.

How the council didn’t break out in laughter is beyond me, and it’s just further evidence of why I’m utterly unqualified to hold elected office.

After a bit of research, it turns out the “petitioner” is an individual named Xanthe Pajarillo, a California comedian. I applaud her and wish her well in her quest for a “Muh-Crib.”