Saturday, November 17, 2007

asc highlights: jimmy carter

we were treated to a fine address by president jimmy carter at this year's american society of criminology meetings in atlanta.

the former governor described a friendly yet today-mind-blowingly-incomprehensible competition in the 1970s among the governors of georgia, alabama, florida, and other states: who could reduce prison populations by the largest margin?

times have changed, eh?

the talk was a love fest that put a li'l tear in this public criminologist's eye. in particular, the ex-president rather forcefully urged the asc membership to take a more active role in documenting and describing human rights abuses in criminal justice.

there were lighter moments as well, of course. being an ex-president is a pretty good gig, as this ol' ice-breaking anecdote makes clear:

I remembered going through China and Japan in 1981, soon after I left the White House. At that time I was asked to make a speech at a small college near Osaka. When I got to this little college, everybody was so nervous, it made me nervous. So, I got up to make a speech, and I thought I would put the Japanese at ease-the students and professors and their parents-by telling a joke. It takes so long to translate English into Japanese that I didn't choose my funniest joke--I just chose my shortest joke. So I told my joke, and then the interpreter gave it and the audience collapsed in laughter. It was the best response I have ever had to a joke in my life.

I couldn't wait for the speech to be over to get to the green room and ask the interpreter, 'How did you tell my joke?' He was very evasive. But I persisted, and finally he ducked his head and said, "I told the audience, 'President Carter told a funny story. Everyone must laugh.' " So there are some advantages in having been president...

a few of my jokes have been translated at international meetings and, without exception, they've fallen flat. i've been tempted to insert a [THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUNNY] note for the translator, but president carter's approach seems far more effective.

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