H'rumphs

Love One Another (some restrictions apply)

Designed by Ken Davis

NOTHING MOVES ME more than a heartfelt tweet. Seriously. Don’t think I’m making fun here. I understand that the Twitter universe (“Twitterverse”? “World o’ Twits”?) is the current preferred method for connecting with the most people in the shortest amount of time. It’s certainly preferable to my generation’s method of communicating, which was to spray-paint the sides of barns.

But if the inspirational tweet is from a member of Congress—taking time away from doing the nation’s business in the most powerful city in the world, depending on where the Koch brothers are living at the time—I can get really choked up.

“My thoughts and prayers are with those in Oklahoma affected by the tragic tornado outbreak.”

Oozing with empathy and originality, this tweet was sent out by Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn a few hours after the extreme weather event in May that ravaged the town of Moore. What the tweet did not include—and his office quickly added, lest survivors searching through the rubble for loved ones got the wrong impression—was that the senator would not support federal relief funding unless it was offset elsewhere. If it’s not in the budget, according to Coburn’s long-standing philosophy, it’s not happening.

But let’s be fair: With a tweet you only get 140 characters, so in addition to the words “thoughts” and “prayers,” there’s barely enough room left over to express the important concepts of “freedom,” “liberty,” and “bootstraps,” three concepts people just love to think about when they’re crawling from under what used to be their house. Coburn’s point seems to be that when you’re covered with sheetrock, torn family photographs, and spray-painted sides of barns, the last thing you want is some government bureaucrat arriving with a meddlesome helping hand.

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"Only Fools Rush In ..."

Designed by Ken Davis

WITH SO MANY of our sacred institutions collapsing from within, it was a relief to hear that all charges have been dropped against an Elvis impersonator from Mississippi, thus sparing his worthy avocation from disrepute. Paul Kevin Curtis had been accused of sending poisoned letters to officials in Washington, D.C., but FBI officials soon came to their senses and realized that anyone who spends time impersonating a celebrity who’s definitely left the building probably couldn’t make a salad dressing with vinegar and oil, much less extract lethal chemicals from exotic plants.

Ricin was the poison in question, and seems to be the current compound of choice for disgruntled letter terrorists. Before that it was anthrax, an easy-to-produce material which, as it turns out, is what happens when you make salad dressing and get the ingredients wrong. A little too much balsamic, a couple nosy neighbors, and pretty soon the FBI wants to chat.

Fortunately, this man was absolved of all wrongdoing, guilty of nothing except the single act that sets him apart as a hallowed foundation of our society, the one institution that has consistently contributed to Americans’ self-esteem. Because as long as there are Elvis impersonators around, the rest of us will always feel happy and fulfilled. All of our important life decisions—some made in haste, others made in desperation, and each one now regretted—seem steadfast and well-considered, because they have kept us from going down the path of a celebrity impersonator.

Not to say they aren’t amusing—these men dressed like Liberace at a rodeo on the Fourth of July—and worthy of a moment’s nod of recognition. But then we turn and walk away, shuddering reflexively, happy that our lives of suffocating tedium are still better than a guy who regularly accuses people of being “nothing but a hound dog,” and then, in a display of unnecessary gratitude, chants “thangyou, thangyouverymush.”

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To Have and to Hold (and to Serve Six)

By Ken Davis

JUNE IS A special month, particularly for families celebrating ... uhm ... something. I forget. Fortunately, ever since I read a study suggesting that cholesterol-lowering statins can cause problems with ... with ... word retrieval, I realize now it has nothing to do with getting old, which many people my age are getting these days. It’s because I’m just another victim of an unscrupulous drug industry. (Drug company lawyer: “I understand that you think you took our drug, sir, but how can you be sure?”)

But now I remember why June is special: Our oldest daughter is getting married this month, and I can use our cover story as a reminder that I’m probably supposed to do something to help out. Although darned if I can remember what it is.

My daughter’s won’t be a gay marriage, which is trending this year, but it will be an alternative wedding, one of those nontraditional celebrations that doesn’t require me to dress up and “give away” the bride. (If I was going to give her away, I should have done it well before the wedding bills started coming in.) There’ll be no church to rent and no preacher to pay. The ceremony will be outside, probably in a tent, and we already have one of those. (It sleeps four. Nice size for an intimate gathering, if people don’t mind stooping during the service.)

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Lost and Found in Translation

MICROSOFT WORD is one of those computer programs that mimics the power of the human brain: It has enormous capabilities—specifically for document preparation—but we use only a tiny percentage of it, mainly to make signs for our yard sale next weekend. Naturally, we do this during office hours, since heaven knows the weekend will be busy enough.

Likewise, our brains can handle numerous complex tasks, such as learning multiple languages—a capacity I would never use, since I'm currently inside my home hiding out from the sequester—although for some reason the only thing it lets me remember from high school is that you should never talk to a football player's prom date, because you can get the snot beat out of you.

Similarly, Microsoft Word can do things you never asked for.

Recently a colleague was typing something religious for our next issue when Word suddenly offered to translate it into French, and then back into English again. Always open to distractions when typing religiously, my colleague clicked, "Well, sure, why not?" (Control/Shift/F2/blink) and the result revealed why it's often difficult to find common ground with people from other countries: They talk funny.

In some languages, for example, sounds we assume are caused by the speaker dislodging a hairball from his (or her) throat are actually words meant to communicate important messages about, say, a nation's willingness to go to war if not left alone, which the U.N. translator totally misses because he (or she) is thinking about that hairball.

Language can be funny that way. At least it is when Microsoft Word gets involved. For example, here is the second paragraph, above, translated into French and then back again into English by Word's built-in translation program:

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The Real Reason Americans Love Guns

THE DAY BEFORE President Obama's second inauguration (campaign code name: "Neener, neener, neener!"), Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell sent an email to constituents with a message somewhat lacking in a spirit of new beginnings: "The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out assault on the Second Amendment. They're coming for your guns."

This is disturbing. I don't have any guns, but I'm looking for places to hide them. And without guns, how will I protect my family from the coming assault? Can I hold off federal agents by flinging small appliances at them? Those I've got. In fact, I just got a new hand mixer. It's black and sleek, like the helicopters that will soon be circling over our homes. (Helicopter tip: Make sure the rotor blades have completely stopped before licking off the icing.)

Under Obama's new proposals, I'll probably have to register my appliances, or at least submit to a background check before I buy another one. Although I've heard you can avoid that if you get them at private appliance shows.

This latest attention to gun control prompted National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to take the stage and, looking directly into the eyes of the American people, vehemently deny that he is French. Additionally, he helpfully pointed out that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Or was it the other way around? To be honest I'm not sure what he said, because I got distracted by the wild look in his eyes, and the bits of saliva that gather in the corners of his mouth whenever he talks about guns. This guy really likes guns.

What I would ask Mr. "LaPierre" [giggle]—while keeping both hands out where he could see them—is this: How do you stop a good guy with a gun who's having a bad day? Or what if he's really depressed or angry at his boss for not allowing him to wear camouflage clothing to staff meetings?

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Living with Big Pharma

AS WE MOVE along in 2013, more initiatives will be coming on line from Obamacare (technically the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, although if you rearrange the letters it spells "death panels"). Starting next year, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for anyone with pre-existing conditions, which is good news for Mitch McConnell, who might want to have his permanent frown removed. Additionally, the law requires that all tea party members take a spoonful of castor oil before bedtime and wear coarse undergarments close to the skin. (Hey, it was a big bill, with lots of fine print.)

What won't change, however, is our relationship to the pharmaceutical industry, known as "Big Pharma"—which is not, as you may have thought, the nickname of a linebacker from one of our agricultural-state colleges, but rather shorthand for "companies that combine ground-breaking science with the business model of a crack dealer." No offense to crack dealers.

I recently had a personal experience with Big Pharma, after two weeks with a projectile cough that filled the middle distance with an alluring prismatic mist. Office colleagues did not appreciate my little air rainbows, so I contacted my doctor for advice, using the convenience of email rather than driving over and changing into a disposable paper gown which—and I feel strongly about this—does not adequately flatter the body of a mature man.

I described my symptoms with a level of detail that only a professional writer can do, using the lushness of the English language to create a memorable narrative of my condition and symptoms. Naturally, I expected my doctor to reply in kind. But she didn't: "You're sick. Here's a prescription." (Science geek.)

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Whistling 'Dixie' Off the Fiscal Cliff

SO HOW WAS your fall off the fiscal cliff? Did you drop straight to the bottom or bounce several times off jagged rocks on the way down, land in a bramble bush, and then stare back up at that annoying roadrunner? Ouch. (And why didn't the roadrunner jump off the cliff? Did he have a more reasonable approach to spending and taxation? Is he naturally more conciliatory with his opponents? Nah. He's just smarter about sudden dropoffs.)

I'm just asking because, as I write this, we're still heading toward that cliff, so I won't know if we drove off it, braked just short of it, or maybe stopped to ask directions from an old guy sitting by the side of the road in a tattered beach chair. "Yup, you keep going straight for a couple miles, then look for the coyote tracks."

There is no question that our nation is facing major fiscal imbalances—although, to be fair, our low wages are more than offset by high cholesterol. But hopefully the president—Barack "Whew!ssein" Obama—will have avoided the impending crisis by reaching a compromise with Republican leaders, although at press time it seemed he was drawing a clear line in the sand. Of course, that's easy to change because, you know, it's just sand.

But I've never cared for the cliff analogy. I think of a cliff as something you throw things off, like a stick you found, or a rock, or a Fox News pundit who is now talking positively about immigration reform. (Don't forget to make a wish before you make the toss.)

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Note to Stink Bugs: Die!

I DON'T WANT to keep harping about this climate change thing, but someone has to have the singular courage to stand up for the future of our globe. Someone, I mean, besides 98 percent of the world's climate scientists, the governments of every other industrialized nation, and millions of people around the world. Not counting those, I am that man.

Because I have seen the future of a warming planet, and it's not just fraught with melting glaciers and rising oceans. It's also got stink bugs.

Twice a year, Sojourners' editors and its highly esteemed art director drive to a cabin in the mountains of West Virginia to plan future issues. (I will pause briefly for Colorado readers to stop laughing convulsively at the suggestion that hilltops a few hundred feet above sea level can be called "mountains." But if I get carsick on the drive up, I'm calling it a mountain.)

After we arrived this fall—and my stomach finally calmed down—we settled into our usual method of magazine planning: a rapid-fire brainstorming of ideas both provocative and ground-breaking, but not so much that it keeps me awake. Then came the first telltale tapping sounds from the window.

A half-dozen stink bugs had gathered on the inside of the pane, with a dozen more on the outside, all of them repeatedly bumping into the window, unable to decide on one plan of action. But enough about Mitt Romney.

When next I looked at the window, it was covered with insects, blotting out most of the outside light, an apocalyptic scene that would have taken Stephen King 100 pages to develop, but which took only about 10 minutes in retreat time. (Retreat time is calculated using the following formula: Meeting agenda + coffee - dozing off = make more coffee.)

On a previous retreat, thousands of stink bugs had invaded the interior of the cabin, making it difficult to think and nap, especially when bugs were flying into our hair and pooping in our coffee cups.

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'Honey, We Are Home'

BELATED CONGRATULATIONS to Jesus Christ after recent research revealed that he might have been married during his short life. (Although, if he had to help with the dishes every night, it might have seemed longer.)

My immediate reaction was to wonder what you get a deity for a wedding present, even though it’s way too late. Their Pottery Barn listing is probably out of date, but that might be for the best, since all the cheap stuff would have been taken by now. (My oldest daughter is getting married next year, so I speak from experience that you’ve got to get in there fast and sign up for that salt shaker. Otherwise, you’re stuck buying an entire set of towels, or a food processor. She’s my daughter, but one must draw the line.)

Trying to get your head around the idea that the shortest verse in the Bible should be “Jesus wed,” the whole thing seems a little farfetched, but you can’t argue with possible science. Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King claims that a 4th-century papyrus fragment, written in the Coptic language of Egyptian Christians at the time, makes a reference to Jesus’ “wife.” King presented her findings at a recent gathering of the International Congress of Coptic Studies, which doesn’t seem like the kind of gathering that generates much Twitter traffic, unless there’s a private party in one of the rooms. (“Would you like to come upstairs and see my papyrus fragments?”)

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People of Earth...

THE SKIES LOOK different to me these days. The soft and tranquil clouds of my youth that often reminded me of cute Disney characters—a misty Dumbo drifting languidly overhead—have mostly been replaced by dark and threatening formations, more reminiscent of Disney’s lesser-known films, such as Godzilla vs. The Little Mermaid: This Time It’s Personal. More specific, the violently roiling skies of late are like a scene from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, where intense storm clouds heralded an alien invasion.

Which is why I always carry a prepared speech of surrender in my backpack, in case I need to immediately declare loyalty to a superior race. Although, so far, the alien presence has been pretty unimpressive, consisting mainly of crude, humanoid Kardashians attempting to assimilate quietly. One hopes that when the next prototypes arrive, they will better conceal the vaguely reptilian features of their planet’s indigenous life forms. Not to mention vice presidential hopeful “Paul Ryan,” whose hairline displays the telltale widow’s peak once thought to be a unique facial characteristic of earthly vampires, until NASA rovers spotted it on a rock on Mars. (Mars reportedly privatized its health care for seniors decades ago, and just look at the place now: not an elderly person in sight.)

BUT WHAT WAS I talking about? Oh yes, the weather. The typical forecast this summer included phrases such as “hurricane-force winds,” “damaging hail,” and “start hoarding toilet paper.” Of the four mature trees in our yard, only one remains, having survived repeated gale-force winds through pluck and attitude, although having a trunk the circumference of a grain silo probably helped. (I could never get my arms around it for a hug, back when I used to do that sort of thing.)

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