Eradicate the optimist
who takes the easy view
that human values will persist
no matter what we do.

Annihilate the pessimist
whose ineffectual cry
is that the goal’s already missed
however hard we try.


Catching up on my email I see from Singapore Jake I have missed the birthday of Piet Hein, a Danish polymath and designer who wrote a series of short poems called Grooks. Gruk in Danish is an abbreviation of Grin and Suk (laughter and sigh).

Hein or rather Kumbel wrote literally thousands of grooks in English as well as some in Danish. His website has a biography with quite a few more grooks not found elsewhere on the web in both English and Danish, as well as an interesting explanation of his pen name, Kumbel Kumbell, that he adopted during the WWII German occupation of Denmark.

The production of a whole series of interrelated short texts is, of course, nothing new. Fine examples of this genre are the witty lines of Fritz Jürgensen, the ingenious nursery rhymes of Louis Levy and Storm Petersen’s ‘Flies’. Similar examples from other countries have come from Christian Morgenstern and Erich Kästner as well as the American Ogden Nash. But when it comes to both quantity and quality, Piet Hein’s Grooks are, even so, something special.

For a long time they appeared under the signature Kumbel Kumbell. Here is the reason why:Piet is the Dutch form of the name Peter or Petrus, which means rock, stone, and Hein is a way of spelling ‘hen’, the old Danish word for a whetstone. ‘Kumbel’, or ‘kumbl’ as it strictly speaking should be written, also means stone, though more a grave monument. In other words, Piet Hein, or Stone Stone can, in a way, be translated by Kumbel Kumbel. He originally wrote the second word with two Ls, also later the signature became just Kumbel – the name he is at least as well known by as his own.

A note about the poem selected above: this might not be the most representative of his poems. If I wanted one of those I could have picked an early one like: Little cat, little cat, walking so alone; tell me whose cat are you – I’m damned well my own. This week, while following the back trail of who links to me and who they link to in turn,  I have been cursed to have looked at some political blogs that in the year since the election have become little more than hate sites.

One local Chicago blog, Hillbuzz, used to be a good source of insider information about local political appearances by Hillary Clinton and other members of the Clinton family, but now it’s somewhat to right of both Stormfront and Attila the Hun. On the day after Christmas, they wrote a deeply offensive piece about “the latest attempt Muslims made to destroy a commercial airliner” and penned the following inflammatory words, “Terrorism could actually be solved in one easy step, that should go something like this: every time Muslims attack… any other Western target, a prominent mosque somewhere will be demolished.”

The comments fell into lockstep with the editorial tone, starting with the very first one: “We have the best special forces in the world. It is time to go hunting…” …the rest fell into line: “Crop dust…  Islamic holy spots with pig’s blood…”, “Any name perceived as muslim — any passport from a muslim country … a total transportation ban. Let them travel by camel.”

Do you suppose that when the news broke today that the would-be bomber’s father had warned U.S. officials about his son, the same website ran a story about “the latest Muslim attempt to save American lives”?  Of course not–it wouldn’t fit their narrative. Ironically, they say they won’t publish any hate speech against gays: “…you should be spreading your nastiness elsewhere, because it won’t be tolerated here.” Lovely people.  They only advocate  violence on the basis of religion.   This website used to be perceived as having a quasi-official status; let’s hope it doesn’t represent the views of the Clinton State Department.

On the other side of the teeter-totter from these crackpots sit people like Juan Cole and Noam Chomsky, who seem to be singing kum-bah-yah, but who succeed only in making the Palestinians’ grievances look illegitimate, and whose games are anybody’s guess. Maybe this one is the more appropriate poem:


For many system shoppers it's
 a good-for-nothing system
that classifies as opposites
 stupidity and wisdom. 

because by logic-choppers it's
 accepted with avidity:
stupidity's true opposite's
 the opposite stupidity.

2 Responses to “Grooks”

  1. Canehan Says:

    The real question seems to be how, after the US Embassy in Abuja had been warned about this man, he still got a US visa. Makes even more of a nonsense of fingerprinting everyone who arrives .. which is one reason the US is off my travel list.

  2. Nijma Says:

    The NYT says:

    Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name was not unknown to American authorities. His father, a prominent Nigerian banker, recently told officials at the United States Embassy in Nigeria that he was concerned about his son’s increasingly extremist religious views.

    As a result of his father’s warning, federal authorities in Washington opened an investigative file and Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name ended up in the American intelligence community’s central repository of information on known or suspected international terrorists.

    If someone in your family can get you kicked off an airplane just by talking to an embassy, there soon would be no one in my family able to fly, given our family propensity for Scandinavian style feuds.

    I have often wondered if I am on such a list, given the number of times my vehicle has been parked by the local mosque. I always always always get profiled at the airport, with my little blond hair, blue eyes, and transparently Scandinavian name, once even missing my flight. Teddy Kennedy was on the list, and had a terrible time getting taken off of it. He may still be on it, for all I know.

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