Humor

Lost and Found in Translation

MICROSOFT WORD is one of those computer programs that mimics the power of the human brain: It has enormous capabilities—specifically for document preparation—but we use only a tiny percentage of it, mainly to make signs for our yard sale next weekend. Naturally, we do this during office hours, since heaven knows the weekend will be busy enough.

Likewise, our brains can handle numerous complex tasks, such as learning multiple languages—a capacity I would never use, since I'm currently inside my home hiding out from the sequester—although for some reason the only thing it lets me remember from high school is that you should never talk to a football player's prom date, because you can get the snot beat out of you.

Similarly, Microsoft Word can do things you never asked for.

Recently a colleague was typing something religious for our next issue when Word suddenly offered to translate it into French, and then back into English again. Always open to distractions when typing religiously, my colleague clicked, "Well, sure, why not?" (Control/Shift/F2/blink) and the result revealed why it's often difficult to find common ground with people from other countries: They talk funny.

In some languages, for example, sounds we assume are caused by the speaker dislodging a hairball from his (or her) throat are actually words meant to communicate important messages about, say, a nation's willingness to go to war if not left alone, which the U.N. translator totally misses because he (or she) is thinking about that hairball.

Language can be funny that way. At least it is when Microsoft Word gets involved. For example, here is the second paragraph, above, translated into French and then back again into English by Word's built-in translation program:

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The Real Reason Americans Love Guns

THE DAY BEFORE President Obama's second inauguration (campaign code name: "Neener, neener, neener!"), Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell sent an email to constituents with a message somewhat lacking in a spirit of new beginnings: "The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment. They're coming for your guns."

This is disturbing. I don't have any guns, but I'm looking for places to hide them. And without guns, how will I protect my family from the coming assault? Can I hold off federal agents by flinging small appliances at them? Those I've got. In fact, I just got a new hand mixer. It's black and sleek, like the helicopters that will soon be circling over our homes. (Helicopter tip: Make sure the rotor blades have completely stopped before licking off the icing.)

Under Obama's new proposals, I'll probably have to register my appliances, or at least submit to a background check before I buy another one. Although I've heard you can avoid that if you get them at private appliance shows.

This latest attention to gun control prompted National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to take the stage and, looking directly into the eyes of the American people, vehemently deny that he is French. Additionally, he helpfully pointed out that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Or was it the other way around? To be honest I'm not sure what he said, because I got distracted by the wild look in his eyes, and the bits of saliva that gather in the corners of his mouth whenever he talks about guns. This guy really likes guns.

What I would ask Mr. "LaPierre" [giggle]—while keeping both hands out where he could see them—is this: How do you stop a good guy with a gun who's having a bad day? Or what if he's really depressed or angry at his boss for not allowing him to wear camouflage clothing to staff meetings?

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Living with Big Pharma

AS WE MOVE along in 2013, more initiatives will be coming on line from Obamacare (technically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although if you rearrange the letters it spells "death panels"). Starting next year, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for anyone with pre-existing conditions, which is good news for Mitch McConnell, who might want to have his permanent frown removed. Additionally, the law requires that all tea party members take a spoonful of castor oil before bedtime and wear coarse undergarments close to the skin. (Hey, it was a big bill, with lots of fine print.)

What won't change, however, is our relationship to the pharmaceutical industry, known as "Big Pharma"—which is not, as you may have thought, the nickname of a linebacker from one of our agricultural-state colleges, but rather shorthand for "companies that combine ground-breaking science with the business model of a crack dealer." No offense to crack dealers.

I recently had a personal experience with Big Pharma, after two weeks with a projectile cough that filled the middle distance with an alluring prismatic mist. Office colleagues did not appreciate my little air rainbows, so I contacted my doctor for advice, using the convenience of email rather than driving over and changing into a disposable paper gown which—and I feel strongly about this—does not adequately flatter the body of a mature man.

I described my symptoms with a level of detail that only a professional writer can do, using the lushness of the English language to create a memorable narrative of my condition and symptoms. Naturally, I expected my doctor to reply in kind. But she didn't: "You're sick. Here's a prescription." (Science geek.)

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Whistling 'Dixie' Off the Fiscal Cliff

SO HOW WAS your fall off the fiscal cliff? Did you drop straight to the bottom or bounce several times off jagged rocks on the way down, land in a bramble bush, and then stare back up at that annoying roadrunner? Ouch. (And why didn't the roadrunner jump off the cliff? Did he have a more reasonable approach to spending and taxation? Is he naturally more conciliatory with his opponents? Nah. He's just smarter about sudden dropoffs.)

I'm just asking because, as I write this, we're still heading toward that cliff, so I won't know if we drove off it, braked just short of it, or maybe stopped to ask directions from an old guy sitting by the side of the road in a tattered beach chair. "Yup, you keep going straight for a couple miles, then look for the coyote tracks."

There is no question that our nation is facing major fiscal imbalances—although, to be fair, our low wages are more than offset by high cholesterol. But hopefully the president—Barack "Whew!ssein" Obama—will have avoided the impending crisis by reaching a compromise with Republican leaders, although at press time it seemed he was drawing a clear line in the sand. Of course, that's easy to change because, you know, it's just sand.

But I've never cared for the cliff analogy. I think of a cliff as something you throw things off, like a stick you found, or a rock, or a Fox News pundit who is now talking positively about immigration reform. (Don't forget to make a wish before you make the toss.)

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Note to Stink Bugs: Die!

I DON'T WANT to keep harping about this climate change thing, but someone has to have the singular courage to stand up for the future of our globe. Someone, I mean, besides 98 percent of the world's climate scientists, the governments of every other industrialized nation, and millions of people around the world. Not counting those, I am that man.

Because I have seen the future of a warming planet, and it's not just fraught with melting glaciers and rising oceans. It's also got stink bugs.

Twice a year, Sojourners' editors and its highly esteemed art director drive to a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia to plan future issues. (I will pause briefly for Colorado readers to stop laughing convulsively at the suggestion that hilltops a few hundred feet above sea level can be called "mountains." But if I get carsick on the drive up, I'm calling it a mountain.)

After we arrived this fall—and my stomach finally calmed down—we settled into our usual method of magazine planning: a rapid-fire brainstorming of ideas both provocative and ground-breaking, but not so much that it keeps me awake. Then came the first telltale tapping sounds from the window.

A half-dozen stink bugs had gathered on the inside of the pane, with a dozen more on the outside, all of them repeatedly bumping into the window, unable to decide on one plan of action. But enough about Mitt Romney.

When next I looked at the window, it was covered with insects, blotting out most of the outside light, an apocalyptic scene that would have taken Stephen King 100 pages to develop, but which took only about 10 minutes in retreat time. (Retreat time is calculated using the following formula: Meeting agenda + coffee - dozing off = make more coffee.)

On a previous retreat, thousands of stink bugs had invaded the interior of the cabin, making it difficult to think and nap, especially when bugs were flying into our hair and pooping in our coffee cups.

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Five New Christian Clichés to Avoid

Bless Your Heart. Photo by Jessie Pearl via Wylio.
Bless Your Heart. Photo by Jessie Pearl via Wylio.

I was pretty amazed by the popularity of the first lists of Christian clichés I created (linked at the bottom of this article). I think it was because so many Christians saw themselves somewhere in the list and others (maybe even some Christians!) have been on the receiving end of these clichés and resonated with my frustration in hearing them pretty much my entire life.

Since that initial series ran, I’ve been thinking about other things Christians often say that tend to do more harm than good. So here are a few more to add to the list.

Bless his/her heart: This usually follows one of two less-than-Christian kinds of statements. Either it’s said after some kind of thinly veiled insult or after a juicy bit of gossip about the person whose heart you want to be “blessed.” Examples include, “Did you hear Nancy’s husband got caught sleeping with his secretary? Bless her heart,” or, “He’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, bless his heart.”

If you’re from the South, you definitely know what I’m talking about.

QUIRK: PBS CEO Paula Kerger Addresses Big Bird Craze

SAVE THE BIRD meme by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.
SAVE THE BIRD meme by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

OK, the @firedbigbird tweets have been hilarious.

And it's almost understandable that America has given so much attention to the Big Bird comments from Tuesday's debate. (@Firedbigbird had more than 31,000 Twitter followers as of late Friday afternoon.)

I mean, Romney's comment was definitely a "zinger." 

We get it. It's funny. But come on. 

On Thursday, Public Broadcasting System (PBS) CEO Paula Kerger talked to CNN about the issue, and she couldn't believe the iconic children's TV star has gotten this much attention either.

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