Monday, April 5, 2010
Concerning Circumcision

Any of you who have been to my book signings know I tend to move back and forth between reading my stuff and doing Q&A.

I do this partly to break up the potential monotony of an hour of straight reading, and partly because I really like to answer questions. Any sort of question, really. That's part of the reason I became a teacher, I think. And it probably factored into my decision to keep writing my College Survival Guide for about 10 years.

I even, believe it or not, wrote a sex advice column for a while. Under an assumed name.

When I do Q&A at a reading, there are some things that get asked a lot. Things like, "Where do you get your ideas?" or "Do you base your characters on real people?"

Then there are the questions that don't get asked very often. Like, "Do you like cats?" or "How do you feel about circumcision?"

This last question got asked when I was down in Lexington. Strangely, wasn't the first time I'd been asked. I actually wrote an column on it back when I was doing the Survival Guide. As luck would have it, I had a copy of that column with me. So I read it.

After the reading when I was signing books, someone said, "You should post that one up on line."

"I probably should," I said.

So here it is...

***
Dear Pat,

I'm in a weird situation. Normally I pride myself in minding my own business. I keep my nose out of my friends affairs (literally) and generally keep my opinions to myself.

But recently I ended up doing some research into circumcision. Not female circumcision, which everyone in their right mind generally admits it barbaric and creepy, but good old fashioned guy circumcision. The type that's done to almost all newborn boys here in the good old U S of A.

I found out not only is it totally unnecessary, but it's generally bad for the little kids. Despite the fact that it's the standard thing here in the US, where almost 90% of guys are circumcised.

My problem is, I have a friend who is about to give birth. Maybe to a little boy. Now that I know all the horrible things that can result from Circumcision, I feel like I should try to tell her about it so she won't do it.

But isn't this kinda sticking my nose in where it doesn't belong? I can't think of a good way to approach her. I mean, I don't have a penis myself, so I can't really speak from experience. I have been with guys both cut and uncut, and I was surprised to find out how much I liked the unedited penis. But again, I doubt that's the right way to approach things with my friend.

How can I mention this to her without offending her for getting in her business?

Student Not Into Penis Slicing.

Your College Survival Guide, the place to go when you really need to learn the finer points of dick discussion etiquette. I'm like Miss Manners with tourettes.

Alright, SNIPS, I'm going to glide right by a few too-obvious jokes about your nose, and get right to the business of answering your question. Back when I was younger I would have taken this as a golden opportunity to make a lot of wang jokes.

But I've matured since then. So, instead, I'm going to slide as many innuendo-laden puns into the column as humanly possible. Also, just to make it a challenge, I'm going to use a new euphemism for the male member each time I refer to it.

First I feel like I need to correct one of the statements you made in your letter. Uncircumcised fellas are more common than you make them out to be. Back in the 1960's about 90 percent of baby boys got the chop, but the circumcision rate these days is closer to 60%, as more and more people get clued in to the situation by helpful folks like you and me.

Secondly, the proper slang term for an gent's uncircumcised dangle-bob isn't "unedited," it's "director's cut." Occasionally it's even a "special edition director's cut," but that's very rare.

Hmmm. You're right though. This is a touchy subject. But there's a big difference between being pushy, and just giving your friend some valuable information. Still, it should be handled delicately. Here are some opening lines you might want to avoid:

"Jenny, lately I've been thinking a lot about your baby's penis."

"Have you ever thought that hacking a chunk off the end of your newborn's wing-wang might not be the best way to welcome him into the world?"

"Y'know, if I was going to have sex with your son, I'd prefer him to be uncircumcised."





The more I think about it, maybe you don't want to try to get a rise out of her. Instead maybe you could just try to bring it up casually instead.

Maybe quoting a few facts would be the way to go. Don't be accusatory, just point out why, exactly, chopping someone's fireman off isn't cool. Point out that since the foreskin actually has about a third of the penis' nerve endings on it, cutting it off it pretty much the same as a partial clitorectomy. In plainer terms, it's like cutting off a good chunk of a little girl's clit. As you said in your letter: barbaric and creepy.

Think of it guys. You know how you think your Johnson is pretty awesome now? Imagine if it was 33% more awesome. Yeah. I know. It boggles the mind. I expect some manner of radiant light would constantly be emanating from my pants. Most of us would never leave the house. The fact that a piece of my winkie was torn off without my approval leaves me feeling a little bent out of shape. Figuratively speaking.

You could also direct your friend to a good website or two, so she can gather her own facts. www.notjustskin.org has a remarkably well-researched and easy to read FAQ on the subject. Including some information about how the surgery might be seriously traumatic for the newborns involved.

In closing, for all my fellow fellows out there, if your parents gave your special purpose the snip, don't hold it against them. Because, y'know, that would be pretty weird.

***

It's interesting to note that I wrote this a couple years before I became a dad. It was nice, actually, having done this research ahead of time. Because I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to circumcise the baby if it was a boy.

But even if I hadn't done the research, I probably would have been convinced when I saw The Circumstraint:



That's really what it's called. It's the plastic thing they strap your baby down onto so he doesn't struggle around too much while they're trying to cut off a piece of his dick. The nurses thought I was kinda weird for wanting to take a picture of it.

While part of me, the scientific part, can acknowledge the fact that something like this helps keep the baby safe during the procedure. The rest of me is filled with a mute horror at the thought of someone tying my baby down onto this thing so they can cut him. Not because he *needs* it. Just, y'know, because. Tradition. And stuff.

A lot of times when people meet Oot, they say things like, "He's such a happy baby." Or "He's so friendly and trusting."





Sometimes I want to reply, "Well, we got things off on the right foot by not cutting off a piece of his dick."

Can you imagine what sort of an introduction that must be to the world? There's a big, long squeeze, then suddenly everything is really bright and cold. Maybe you get a bit of a cuddle and a taste of breast. Then you're strapped down and someone cuts off a piece off one of the most sensitive areas of your body. Welcome to being alive, little guy.


That's all for now, folks.

pat

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Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Perils of Translation: Babelfish.

Alright folks, while I'm dealing with the aftermath of the fundraiser, here's a question from the mailbag.

Pat,

You've mentioned your translators on your blog before, generally in glowing terms. I don't really see what the big deal is. You wrote something great. You made something out of nothing. But they're not doing that. They're not really making anything, they're just.... copying it.

Plus, don't you think that what they do is rapidly becoming obsolete? They already have programs that can translate languages. One wonders why they bother having people translators at all.

Your fan,

Steve

At first, Steve, I thought you might be pulling my leg with this e-mail. "Nobody could really think translation was easy," I thought to myself. "He has to be putting me on."

Then I realized that I've been having a crash course in the perils of translation over the last year and a half. And I remembered that most Americans are pointedly, painfully monolingual. And I remembered one of my friends saying as a joke, "How hard can it be to learn French? French babies do it all the time...."

So I'm going to take this question at face value, Steve. The truth is, translation has got to be one of the hardest jobs there is. Period.

First off, you have to be fluent in two languages. Not just kind of fluent, but *really* fluent. You need to understand the culture of the language you're translating from, and the idiomatic speech.

Like what I said up there in my first paragraph. "Pulling my leg" is an idiom. It doesn't mean what it actually says. If you're pulling my leg, it mean you're playing a joke on me, teasing me.

There are a thousand little things like that stand in the way of true fluency, and you can't just copy them over into the new language and have them make any sense. For example, if I said, "You have a bird," in Germany, I'm not actually saying anything about a bird. What I'm actually saying is that you're crazy.

Secondly, you have to decide if a translation is going to be true to the letter of the work, or true to the spirit of the work.

What do I mean by this? Well... I'm reminded of what one of my favorite professors said when I asked him which version of the Odyssey I should read. I was looking for the best translation, and I trusted him, because he had a good old-fashioned classical education and could actually read Latin and Greek.

"It's not really an issue of the best translation," he said. "My old classics professor used to say, 'a translation is like a woman. It can be beautiful, or it can be faithful, but it can't be both....'"

Sexism aside, I think this strikes to the heart of the issue. A word-by-word translation is going to be clunky and awkward. But a beautiful one isn't going to actually say the exact same thing as the original. A translator needs to walk that fine line between. Or rather, they have to dance madly back and forth over that line.

And as for translators being replaced by computer programs? I give a hearty laugh. Translation is not a science, it is an art. And as such, it belongs solely in the realm of humans.

Most everyone knows about Babelfish. Let me show you what something looks like when I use that program to translate something from English to German and back again. If this were as simple as plugging numbers into an equation, we should end up with the same thing we started with, right?

Here's a paragraph most of you probably recognise:
I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.
You may have heard of me.
After Babelfish.
I stole princesses back of sleeping truck kings. I burned down the city of Trebon. I spent and with my reason and my life left the night with Felurian. I was away-driven of the university at a recent age, than most people are inside permitted. I step ways by moonlight, which others are afraid, in order to speak during from the day to. I spoke loved women and written Lieden, who let the Minnesänger cry with Gods.

They can have heard of me.
And that's using German, a language so closely related to English that if they were people, it would be illegal for them to get married.

Look what happens when you do the same think with a language that's *really* different, like Japanese:
I stole the king woman from wheelbarrow king of sleep. I burnt under the town of Trebon. I passed the night of Felurian, my sanity and went away with my life both. I was discharged rather than being able to allot most people from the university of a younger age. I the other people between day step on the road with the moonlight which is feared in order to speak concerning. I God, to the song by the document which makes the woman and the wandering minstrel cry who are loved spoke.
It can inquire about me.
Yeah. I think the translators' jobs are safe for another year or two.

pat

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Sunday, November 23, 2008
For Whom the Bell Tolls

The blog has been a little overwhelmed lately with the Heifer Fundraiser. And while that's a good thing, I thought I'd take a day's break and post up something funny. Expect more news and prizes in a day or so....

This is a column I wrote for the College Survival Guide. I thought I'd re-post it now because it seems timely for several reasons....

I wrote this back when I was going to grad school in Washington State. When the end of that semester rolled around, I was overwhelmed. I ended up staying in Washington four extra days so I could finish a paper, and that meant that I missed my family Christmas. I felt awful about it. I still do.

But what's funny is that my sister cut the column out of the Pointer (the college paper that originally printed the Survival Guide) and took it home for Christmas. Then, when everyone was gathered at home on Christmas eve, Jamie read the column for the family.

General agreement was that it was just as good as having me there. Probably even better in a lot of ways.


*****
Dear Pat,

Well. I see in the Pointer that if we have something to piss and moan about, we are supposed to let you know. So here we go.

The other day I was walking past the University Center. I was cold, but I knew I had to get to the next building for my next class. I was tired, but I knew I had to keep going and make it through the day. I was hungry, but I knew I would have to wait until I got home because I had no money.

While I was approaching the UC building (dreaming about what kind of food I wish I could go and buy) I hear a bell ringing and thought to myself, "No way, they don't have a Salvation Army guy here at the college." But sure enough, I got a little closer and I saw that friendly old guy waving his bell in front of his cute little collection pole.


I couldn't help but glare at him in the way that said "I hate you" and I did, at that moment, hate that man, whoever he was. I glared at him the whole time until I was passed him. I made damn sure he saw me glaring too, I don't care what he thought.

I am broke. Isn't everyone here at the college????


I am a full time college student (who happens to live alone) and I work close to 40 hours per week at some cheesy restaurant trying to pay my bills and get an education. Rent, car payment, bills, you know what I mean. No matter what, I never can get ahead enough to even feel like I can treat myself to a nice hot meal.

All the money we students are spending here at college, not to mention the (expensive) parking meters, and yet the college has enough balls to set up a collection for more money. I don't even have enough money to support myself. You stand here wanting us to help out the less fortunate when we are the less fortunate. We have nothing.


Well. If ya like my piss and moan story-that's great. I feel confident that you know what I mean here and I hope you help in writing something up on this in your paper, maybe the bell guy would then go away.


Marie

Well Marie, I had a strong response to your letter. Actually, I had two responses, each of them utterly irreconcilable with the other. Luckily, due to an end-of-the-semester psychotic break, I have two fully formed personalities willing to give their opinions on the matter.


Nice Pat's Response

I know for a fact that the Salvation Army guy isn't a new thing. I used to see him there in front of the UC every year, and I'll admit my reaction was somewhat similar to yours. I felt put-upon.

As my dad always said, you can't get blood from a stone, or pity from a freshman during finals week. Why were they trying to milk me when I was already dry?

Truth is, even well-intentioned college students are usually strapped for cash, especially at the end of the semester. Because of that I always felt the bell ringer could have been put to better use somewhere else. In the mall. Outside Wal-Mart. On the square at bar-time. Onstage, next to that big pole at the New Yorker....

[editor's note: The New Yorker is a local strip club. Or at least, that's what I've heard.]




(This column's illustration from the anthology)


Evil Pat's Response

Marie, it's not that you're poor. It's that you've has been trained to drool when the bell rings. What do I mean by that? I mean this: You've bought into the system, and the system has made you its bitch. Sure I feel sorry for you, but the fact remains that it's your own damn fault.

I understand that you work 40 hours a week in addition to school. Fine, but don't expect pity from me just because you follow some outmoded protestant work ethic.

"But I need the money!" I hear you cry.

Bullshit. You think you need the money. The truth is you spend your money on non-essential items. Just like everyone else who's been inculcated into the three-step easy-bake American dream.

1) Work hard to get money.
2) Use money to buy things.
3) Use things to achieve happiness.

"But I don't have things! I'm barely making it from bill to bill!"

Bullshit. I know that you're living in some manner of extravagance because as an undergrad I made on average of 6000 dollars a year. And with that colossal sum I paid my tuition, had my share of hot meals, bought presents for my girlfriend, and still had enough to drop a couple of bucks in the bellringer's bucket come Christmas time.

How did I achieve this miracle? Well, I never had a car for one thing. I survived nearly a decade in Stevens Point without one, walking to my various jobs and carrying my groceries home.

I never had the luxury of living alone either. Well….that's not really true. For a year I lived in a one-room apartment with a bathroom down the hallway. It cost me $140 per month, everything included. My friends called it ‘The Pit.' I stayed there because it was cheap, and that freed up my money for other things, like nudie magazines, leather pants, and grain alcohol.

Here is the unvarnished truth. If you're poor and in college, you're not really poor. You're just indulging in certain luxuries beyond your means. However, there are people in the country that are genuinely poor. People who don't have cars, or even nasty little one-room ‘pit' apartments.

Most importantly, those people don't have a support network of friends and family who are willing to help them out if something bad happens. What those people do have is The Salvation Army. They buy toys for poor-kids and shut-ins for chrissake. You can't find any fault with an organization like that.

So pony up, pig-licker, and give some jingle to the bucketman.

*****


Years later, I know more than when I wrote this column, and because of that I can, actually find fault with an organization like the Salvation Army because I know they actively discriminate against gays. It's sad, but I just can't feel good about cheering them on anymore.

To an extent, any charity is better than no charity. But I believe that smart charity is the best charity of all....

More soon,

pat

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