Betsy Devine: Funny ha-ha and/or funny peculiar

Making trouble today for a better tomorrow…

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Entries from April 2003

Nimoy versus Baggins, Bush versus Bush

April 30th, 2003 · 1 Comment

Hobbit: Still from 1968 Leonard Nimoy music video "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins"
In 1968–what innocent days–when people poked fun at themselves because it was fun–before “deniability” turned irony into a kind of armor–Leonard Nimoy took time off from Mr. Spock-ing to make a music video. If you haven’t seen “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins,” do your smile muscles a favor and look at this Quicktime version in a funny TV set. (If addiction sets in, you can download your very own .mov version.) Mmmm, Spock and Tolkien–could any baby-boomer ask for more?

Can politics still be fun? What politics? Nobody can criticize “the President” until our troops are out of danger! (Maybe in 2099?)

Nevertheless, Jon Stewart (Daily Show) found someone who would condemn the Iraq policies of President Bush–and that critical someone (the traitor!) was Texas Governor Bush in his 2000 presidential campaign. You can see a 12.4 M version of the hilarious “Candidate Bush vs. President Bush” foreign policy debate here. (Fortunately for the safety of our nation, Ashcroft has now removed candidate Bush to an undisclosed location, despite some treasonous whining by his lawyers.)

I identify with the peaceful hobbits in Nimoy’s song: “Now hobbits are peace-loving folks ya know, / They’re never in a hurry and they take things slow… ” I wouldn’t be thinking much about politics if it weren’t for seeing my lovely, peaceful, idealistic country the U.S. of A. turned into an ugly bully on the world stage–not to mention the number of my dear friends now out of work. That’s why I started fussing about who to vote for for President. I am proud to be supporting Howard Dean. Nuff said.

The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins

In the middle of the earth,
In the land of the Shire,
Lives a brave little Hobbit whom we all admire,
With his long wooden pipe,
And his fuzzy little toes,
He lives in a hobbit hole and everybody knows him,

Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s only 3 feet tall,
Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s the bravest little hobbit of them all,

Now hobbits are peace-loving folks ya know,
They’re never in a hurry and they take things slow,
They don’t like to travel away from home,
They just like to eat and be left alone,
But one day Bilbo was asked to go,
On a big adventure to the caves below,
To help some dwarves get back their gold,
That was stolen by a dragon in the days of old,

Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s only 3 feet tall,
Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s the bravest little hobbit of them all,

Well he fought with the goblins,
He battled a troll,
He riddled with Golum,
A magic ring he stole,
He was chased by wolves,
Lost in the forest,
Escaped in a barrel from the Elf King’s halls,

Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s the bravest little hobbit of them all,

Now he’s back in his home in the land of the Shire,
That brave little hobbit whom we all admire,
Just a sitting on a treasure of silver and gold,
A-puffing on his pipe in his hobbit hole,

Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s only 3 feet tall,
Bilbo, (Bilbo),
Bilbo Baggins,
He’s the bravest little hobbit of them all.

Tags: Learn to write funny

What I want to Know: Is There a Howard Dean Dance Mix?

April 28th, 2003 · 2 Comments

I don’t remember politics being so much fun…

Hanging out with the young caffeinated Dean crowd is keeping me busy and buzzy. And, to pick up the pace, now Georgia for Dean has come out with a peppy new dance mix.
The tune blends boinky dance music with bits of Dean’s tub-thumping “What I want to Know” speech at the California Democratic Party Dinner. Woo hoo! Click here to download the mp3–it is fun.

(Thanks for the link to Dean Call to Action Blog.)

Tags: Invisible primary

Dave Winer candidate could risk “Tagline-gate”?

April 28th, 2003 · Comments Off on Dave Winer candidate could risk “Tagline-gate”?

Academics are terrified of looking stupid–that’s why we make so many jokes about stupidity. In politics though–well, insert your favorite Bush quote. But politicians don’t want to look insincere.

“Some people have criticized the United States and the United States military for guarding oil fields and not guarding the Iraqi National Museum which had priceless antiquities in it. They say that this shows a fundamental lack of respect for Iraqi history. I want to remind those people of this: The oldest relics in the museum, 5,000 or 6,000 years old. That oil is 65 million years old.”

Jon Stewart

Philip Greenspun (check out his Harry-Potter analysis of the $100 million-a-year manager) has the most honest-sounding tagline I’ve ever seen on a blog: ” an interesting idea every three months; a posting every day”! Well, at least Greenspun probably meant it to be sincere. In fact, interesting posts show up a lot more often than he claims. Matt Drudge could make a nice case that they show up daily.

Dave Winer was kind enough to link to me as a supporter of Howard Dean, so it’s only fair to return the favor by linking to his pitch for Greenspun for president. But now, just days into his campaign, Greenspun could already be vulnerable to <drumroll>


I hope Winer and Greenspun read my blog and decide to throw their support to Dean instead. Maybe Greenspun in 2008, Dave….

Tags: Invisible primary

We have enough youth–how about a fountain of smart?

April 27th, 2003 · Comments Off on We have enough youth–how about a fountain of smart?

Insults are funny–peculiar and ha-ha. Google “insult jokes” and you get 8,000 results. Google “compliment jokes” and you get zero.

He who laughs last thinks slowest…

In ivory towers, the big insult is stupidity.
We tell “stupid jokes” about deans–the same jokes Dilbert tells about pointy-haired-bosses, often the same our ancestors told about cossacks.

How many deans does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Two. One to assure the faculty everything’s fine, and the other to screw the light bulb into a faucet.

They might have money and power, but boy are they dumb!

In the whuffie-powered world of webloggers, there’s something worse than stupid. I saw a blogger get mad the other day, you know the insult he came up with?

“That’s not interesting.”

They’ll have to write some new “Yo Mama” jokes around that one. Mmmm, that should be interesting…

Tags: Learn to write funny

Funny bits, happy bits

April 26th, 2003 · Comments Off on Funny bits, happy bits

One of the life’s pleasures is watching your kids amaze you. Translation: my daughter Amity just produced her very first brand-new weblog, “Nature is profligate“.

Amity writes about photogenic stuff, with links and photos reflecting her wide-ranging love of biology. A small sample:

This delightful creature is Bombadil, my polydactylous cat. He looks as though he has two paws (one large and one small) on each of his front feet. These paws are semi-opposable, and he does use them to grasp objects.

(If you’ve seen older versions of my blog, you’ve seen Bombadil’s brother-cat eying a plastic frog–it served as a header for all my Astroturf stories.)

If you know someone who likes biology, friendly writing, and gorgeous pictures, send that person to Amity’s weblog. But beware–I wasted a long time yesterday playing with quicktime movies of colorful octopi. The background blup-blup-blup noises are more hypnotic than little blue cocktails with paper umbrellas on top.

Anyway, thanks to Dave Winer and his Blogs at Harvard program for helping this happen!

Tags: Life, the universe, and everything

What’s Funny, Part 999: Shock Value

April 24th, 2003 · Comments Off on What’s Funny, Part 999: Shock Value

Modern comics get lots of laughs from shock value. Just imagine, however, how shocking this old nerd joke was, back in its long-ago heyday:

Columbus sailed the ocean blue
In fourteen hundred and ninety-two
Divide the son-of-a-bitch by two
And that’s how many watts are in a horsepower.

I love that joke for delivering not one but two shocks. First, you think it’s a kid’s rhyme you already know. Second, you’re still in the same rhyme but somebody’s swearing. Third, you’re in the workaday world of watts and horsepower-and the rhyme that got you there has disappeared. I’d like to see Eddy Murphy do better than that.

The opposite of shock value is also funny. For example:

On the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death, her children would visit the mausoleum at Frogmore. One year, as they knelt piously in prayer, a dove entered the mausoleum and flew about.

“It is dear Mama’s spirit,” they murmured.

“No, I am sure it is not,” contradicted Princess Louise.”

“It must be dear Mama’s spirit,” they persisted.

“No, it isn’t,” said Princess Louise. “Dear Mama’s spirit would never have ruined Beatrice’s hat.”

from Clifton Fadiman and André Bernard, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes (New York: Little, Brown, 2000).

Part of the fun comes from figuring out just what she’s talking about. Another thing I love about this story–Princess Louise is thinking scientifically. Even when urged to believe what she wants to believe, she sticks to the evidence. At least, that’s my excuse for sticking her funny story in my book of science jokes.

And one more example, since good things should come in threes:

“The species of whale known as the black right whale has four kilos of brains and 1,000 kilos of testicles. If it thinks at all, we know what it is thinking about.”

Jon Lien, “Whale Professor” at St. John’s University, Newfoundland, speaking to the Norwegian Telegram Agency (spring 1995).

Speaking of shocks, imagine my surprise when I learned Dave Winer linked to this post–sending many enthusiasts for Howard Dean my way. I asked Dave–why this page? He said he thought the whale testicles should be “out there.” Okay…

If you’re here to learn more about “Howard Dean for President!”–I’m just a fan, not an expert. I put two links on the right side of this page–both lead to groups where you can really find out more.

Tags: Learn to write funny

Houseparties this Saturday for Howard Dean

April 23rd, 2003 · Comments Off on Houseparties this Saturday for Howard Dean

Supporters of former Vermont governor Howard Dean are organizing four house parties to be held this Saturday, April 26 in the Boston area.

You’re Invited

  • To help get our country back on track
  • To have your voice be heard
  • To “Stand Up” for Howard Dean on April 26

Andover 11 am – 1 pm, 12 noon conference call with Governor Dean RSVP to: Donald Miller, (

Barnstable 11 am – 1 pm, 12 noon conference call with Governor Dean RSVP to: Jackie Mitchell, (

Boston 4-6 pm, 5 pm conference call with Governor Dean RSVP to: Michael Cohen, (

Cambridge 3-5 pm, 4 pm conference call with Governor Dean RSVP to: Christopher Field, (

$35 Student $50 Suggested Donation $100 Sponsor

Don’t miss your chance to question the former Vermont governor about how to save the Democrats, the country and the world.


Because of FEC matching, the first $250 given by every donor is effectively doubled, so a $100 contribution is actually worth $200 to the campaign. This aspect of campaign finance is especially helpful for a campaign like Dean’s which is likely to have a large number of relatively small donations, in contrast to some of the other campaigns which will likely have larger, but fewer donations. Ten $100 contributions to the Dean campaign from grassroots supporters are worth $2000 to Dean’s election effort, while one $1500 donation to, say, Kerry or Edwards is worth only $1750.

I (Betsy) am bringing salty/crunchy things to the Cambridge party, but all parties will be great. Please do come if you can! And let me know if you want to come: betsy_devine (at) yahoo (dot) com (Thanks to Mike Weissman for the email I borrowed from to create this blog entry!)

Tags: Good versus Evil

Right-wing millionaires warn of left-wing elites

April 23rd, 2003 · Comments Off on Right-wing millionaires warn of left-wing elites

Voters beware!–a powerful elite controls the media, forces its ugly values into the classroom, and sneers with disdain at the average working American. That’s the big Republican meme these days. And who are the “elite” they hope voters will rise up against? (Hint–not the billionaires who run our country.)

We are the evil “elite.” Young couples marching for peace with their babies in strollers. People of color sending kids to college. Four-eyed professors who drive rusting Volvos. People who don’t get their news from Fox and their values from Rush Limbaugh.

When Democrats said the Bush tax cut was big for billionaires and lousy for most of us, Republicans were outraged. Bush called it “the typical class warfare rhetoric, trying to pit one group of people against another.”

But pitting one group of people against another is almost a family value for the Right. Southern Democrats pioneered the trick, holding onto power by keeping blacks from voting and keeping whites afraid of voting by blacks. (Republicans try to be subtler with the white-versus-black trick.) The big thing now is promoting “family values”, with the implied threat that if Democrats get elected your baby sister will star in lesbian porno.

When Pennsylvania’s Sen. Rick Santorum compared homosexuality to bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery, many people were outraged by his effort to spread–and benefit from–division and hatred. Dean, Kerry, and Lieberman spoke out against it. Republicans saw the liberal outrage as a PR bonanza –“proof” that the left is elitist and anti-family:

Conservative Republicans, including former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, rallied to Santorum’s defense. ‘I think that while some elites may be upset by those comments, they’re pretty much in the mainstream of where most of the country is,’ Bauer said.

In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gloated the Democrats’ reaction could cost them votes:

Many Americans have deeply held religious or moral objections to homosexuality, and it would not be unreasonable for them to take the Democrats’ attack on Santorum as an attack on their own values.

So, in conclusion

  • It is evil, divisive, unAmerican class warfare for economists to point out that the Bush tax cuts benefit billionaires.
  • It is noble and heartfelt to assert that American family life will be destroyed unless the law forbids “bad” sex between consulting adults.
  • And the “left-wing intellectuals,” the “self-styled experts,” the “Hollywood elites” who think homosexuals should be treated like human beings–we will be painted as the real enemy of American voters.

Tags: Not what it seems...

Bishops, fishmongers, and cabin boys on leave

April 21st, 2003 · Comments Off on Bishops, fishmongers, and cabin boys on leave

How universal is humor? You decide.

To my great delight, just sent me a famous joke book: Joe Miller’s Jests; or, The Wits Vade-mecum (N.Y.: Dover, 1963; facsimile of the original 1739 edition). If you imagine two-hundred-plus-year-old humor as prudish, check out #5:

“When the Lord of Ormond was young, and came first to Court, he happen’d to stand next my Lady Dorchester, one Evening in the Drawing-Room, who being but little upon the Reserve on most Occasions, let a Fart, upon which he look’d her in the Face and laugh’d. What’s the Matter, my Lord, said she: Oh! I heard it, Madam, reply’d the Duke, you’ll make a fine Courtier indeed, said she, if you mind everything you hear in this Place.”

Joe Miller, like Jay Leno or any jokester, gets you to laugh at his story by using shorthand–recognizable people, places, and things. (For Lord Ormond and Lady Dorchester, think Clinton and Lewinsky.) And Joe, like Jay, uses people-as cliches. Jay knows you’ll recognize and chuckle at yuppies, hippies, and Senators. Joe knows the same about Bishops, fishmongers, and cabin boys on leave from a man o’ war.

One of my favorite Joe Miller jokes (if you didn’t grow up going to Mass every Sunday, will you get it?)–is #82:

“Two Gentlemen disputing about Religion, in Button’s Coffee-House, said one [of] them, I wonder, Sir, you should talk of Religion, when I’ll hold you five Guineas you can’t say the Lord’s Prayer, done, said the other, and Sir Richard Steele shall hold Stakes. The Money being deposited, the Gentleman began with, I believe in God and so went cleverly thro’ the Creed; well, said the other, I own I have lost: I did not think he could have done it.”

Some witty people claim that humor is universal and all good jokes are old jokes. Oh yeah? May I just point out Joe Miller has not one light bulb joke.

Tags: Learn to write funny

More about my friend Barbara

April 19th, 2003 · Comments Off on More about my friend Barbara

Barbara wanted to keep her figure and her mobility and strength and she kept them all. When she was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the spring of 2000, she was already 80-something–but not old. She had been getting ready to be a senior citizen.

Barbara’s idea of getting ready to be a senior citizen involved things like jetting off to London with her friend Irma for a week of going to plays, or cruising all around the isles of Greece.

Barbara started the Barbara-Betsy carpool. That was true of most things in our relationship. In any relationship conducted in the early morning hours, Barbara had a natural advantage. She was awake. She was refreshed by the boisterous give-and-take of breakfasting with a small beloved dog. She was wearing lipstick. She was eager to talk about what had happened the day before and to speculate about the events ahead.

She was often ready to go with some piece of advice. I received lots of Barbara’s advice over the years, all of it thoughtful. Any advice that could be construed as criticism was always indirect.

For example, I remember one week when almost every day Barbara would just happen to see somebody shuffling along without picking up his feet–or her feet. These people were everywhere. “Look at that man!” Barbara would exclaim, as we sat at a stop sign. “Don’t people realize how it looks? Out for a walk, and he’s shuffling along like the thousand-year-old man. Stride, stride!” Or after Early Birds class, “Did you notice Susan today? Just dragging her feet around like two lumps of lead. Terrible. It makes her look so old.”

Well, as I said, all these talks took place in early morning hours, so it took me almost a week to say to myself, “That’s funny, all of a sudden, Barbara sees people everywhere dragging their feet.” And then it took me a microsecond more to say–“Wait a minute–I must be dragging my feet.” So I made a special effort to pick up my feet and stride. And on that day, all of the shuffling people with lumpy lead feet vanished from Princeton. So I think I was right.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses say that most of Earth’s very good people don’t end up in heaven. Instead they get strong new bodies and a new life in a second but perfect Earth. I think that would suit Barbara very well.

Barbara was very grounded, full of enthusiasm and zest for real things. You go through a whole lot of springtimes in ten years of driving together. Every year, Barbara was full of enthusiasm for the first crocus–the first daffodil–the first tulip–the blooming of the magnolia trees. In autumn, every euonymous bush or glowing red sugar maple would make her exclaim.

Princeton was her place. She grew up in Canada, but she had given her heart to Princeton years ago and everywhere she and I drove was full of memories. There’s a house on Mercer Street–not hers or mine–that is “the best house in the world for giving parties. The living room is a jewel box–a perfect jewel box.”

One of the pleasures of Earth, and I hope the Jehovah’s Witness heaven will remember to include this, is serendipity. Barbara and I got to be friends for no good reason. We just happened to end up spending time together. We were different in many, many ways. But we shared an enthusiasm for natural beauty, a love of Princeton, and a lot of admiration for our fellow Early Birds. She was my true friend–and I am still her true friend. I still keep my coins in the coin purse she gave me. When I wash my dog, I’m wearing the oilcloth apron she brought me from London. When the beauty of springtime–or summer, or autumn–catches me unaware, I can clearly hear Barbara say, “Well now, look at that.” And Barbara, if you can hear me, I do really try to pick up my feet as you did, and stride, stride!

Tags: Stories