Monthly Archives: February 2016

Alas! Ethan Couch’s woes

It would be great if I could turn today’s column into a feel-good story in which everybody lives happily ever after.

Yes, it would be great, but not in this case. I refer to Ethan Couch, a Texas teen whose carelessness (he and his buddies stole cases of beer from a Wal-Mart), and Ethan, with driver’s permit in hand (but no real license), drove at speeds of 70 mph before plowing into a group of people who had stopped to assist another driver.

Four people who had stopped to help change the tire of the stranded motorist died. They’re not coming back.

And what about Ethan? Well, a judge (who has chosen not to seek re-election) fell for the testimony of a hot-shot specialist who blamed it all on “affluenza.” You probably heard the term for the first time back in 2013, when the accident (why do they call actions caused by carelessness and stupidity “accidents”?) took place. A psychologist, G. Dick Miller, representing the Couch family, explained that Ethan’s extremely wealthy family created a lifestyle for the youth that made it impossible for Ethan to accept responsibility for his actions. Continue reading

Those guys on Tough Street . . .

The number is 732 and counting. That’s how many installments of Work of Art have appeared in the Optic since 2003. I plan to make it to 1,000. And I’ve never missed a week, even when traveling with family to far-off places like Denmark, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Hungary and Tecolote.

“Don’t you ever run out of ideas?” some people ask. Well, yes, and many a Monday night and early Tuesday morning I’ve paced the floor, trying to conjure up a topic. It usually works.

In the ‘70s, I was doing work on a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia. My thesis adviser told about how that central-Missouri city just had to have been the most covered small town in America. A writer for a non-university publication once wrote a brilliant extended piece on the Missourian’s motto that “If it moves, interview it; and even if it doesn’t move, interview it anyway.

The opening illustration of the magazine article shows a battery of college reporters, camerapersons and news photographers crowded around a boy sitting under a tree, seated at a table that contained a pitcher of lemonade and paper cups. The kid had decided to raise the price of a glass of lemonade from 10 cents to 15, and student journalists were ready to engage in fisticuffs to get the big scoop. Continue reading

And as for you . . .

My son, a resident of Copenhagen, Denmark, for several years, often finds time to skim American-English newspapers, excerpts of which he forwards to me and to Facebook friends on this side of the Atlantic.

Has Adam picked up an affliction from his dad? I thought I was the only one in the family to sit mesmerized after observing something that’s strangely worded.

One of the most common misuses of the language — and the one Adam chose to comment on — deals with the misuse of the words “literally” and “figuratively.” The two are often confused. As are many people.

My son has — literally — picked up some of his dad’s hyper-attentiveness to the language and its misuses. In a post this week, Stan forwarded a mug shot of some movie star with a caption that reads, “Top 10 actresses that will literally take your breath away.” Continue reading

Becoming so Americanized

American pop culture apparently redounds throughout the world. And just when I begin to feel sorry for some non-Americans, as they seem to struggle with American English, I get a surprise.

In our travels across the Atlantic, we’ve observed how remarkably similar things really are. At a McDonalds restaurant in Basel, Switzerland, we sat near crowds of teens swallowing Big Macs while texting and listening to popular American music. The only difference seemed to be that the default additive to a Swiss order of fries is mayo instead of catsup.

We had a brief conversation with the Swiss youngsters, whose answers were tinged with accents we’re not accustomed to. They answered clearly, even if the natives injected “like” and “ya know” into several sentences the way we Americans do.

These mannerisms convinced us that American pop culture must be everywhere. All of these experiences came to mind this weekend as we hosted a foreign exchange student, Rama Safitri, from Indonesia, who joined our European exchange students and our granddaughters for fun and games. Continue reading