H'rumphs

Not So Merry Christmas

Illustration by Ken Davis

DESPITE THE heart-felt and hand-written requests from thousands of American children in their Christmas letters, Santa has just announced he cannot bring them a new Congress this year. He tried, Santa wants us all to know; he tried hard. But he and his elves finally gave up when even the parts imported from China couldn’t make the thing work.

They first attempted to construct something with U.S.-made components, but it was almost as if the parts didn’t want to work together, like they had minds of their own. This surprised the elves since Congress—which has no apparent moving parts—hasn’t had a sentient thought in years.

However, as a small concession to all those disappointed little children, Santa this year will be honoring Christmas wishes that have traditionally been difficult to fulfill.

If Sally from Shreveport can’t get a workable electoral body in the nation’s capital, then she gets a pony. Simple as that. She asked for it last year—in fact she’s been asking for a long time—but this year she’ll get it. If her parents are not sure what to do with a 600-pound animal that requires constant attention and care, then maybe next time they’ll think twice before voting for a member of Congress who wears a three-cornered hat and proudly refuses to be treaded on, even though nobody’s trying.

And Jimmy in Toledo, if you still want that race car, that real race car, it’s no problem this year. His parents might not think it’s safe for a 6-year-old to have a vehicle that can reach 200 mph before flipping over in the cul de sac, but that’s what happens when mommy and daddy send crazy people to Washington, D.C. (Not to mention the problem of squeezing another car into their garage, which already has two SUVs with bumper stickers that say “Repeal Obamacare! I’m Not Sick!”)

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NASA's Earthbound Solutions

Illustration by Ken Davis

WITH THE HEAT of mid-year finally over—judging by the fact that Dallas has settled into a sweater-friendly 97 degrees—it’s time to look back and see what we’ve learned from another summer filled with unpredictable weather extremes.

For example, a couple weeks in August were actually extremely comfortable, which was no help to my crusade to convince Fox-loving friends that the earth is warming. Lately, even scientists have been of little use, adamantly refusing to blame rampant forest fires and extreme droughts on climate change. They insist on “analyzing” patterns of weather “over time” to honor “standards of science.” There’s nothing worse than climatologists dragging their feet when there are righteous accusations to be flung. Global warming is behind EVERYTHING wrong! You know it. I know it.

Okay, sorry.

But this summer had way too many examples of the extreme consequences of climate change, including deadly tornadoes, inundating floods, and town hall meetings that brought forth a storm of discontent. Unsuspecting members of Congress had left the comforting gridlock of Washington, D.C., and, failing to first check for a full moon, had innocently invited questions from constituents in their home districts. This is almost always a mistake. You really need to test the water before you just walk into a home district unprepared.

According to many vocal Americans sitting in air-conditioned town halls, climate change is a hoax, President Obama has still not been born in the United States, and he refuses to renounce his Kenyan birthplace. (Even though he wasn’t born there, it would be a nice gesture.) In a related matter, Texas senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz—is “notgonnahappenful” a word?—renounced his Canadian citizenship after discovering he was accidentally born outside the United States. It happens.

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Be nice. They're listening (and taking notes).

Illustration by Ken Davis

SINCE WE NOW know the federal government has been monitoring our every move for years—recording our telephone calls, reading our emails, trying to friend us on Facebook (“you have 295,984,457 mutual friends!”)—I wanted to clarify a few personal remarks that may have been misconstrued by NSA computers; computers which, I might add, are doing a heckuva job.

When I emailed a friend that I thought I “killed” at a recent gathering, I meant that I was particularly amusing that evening. I was not bragging about some heinous crime, which I would never commit anyway because, frankly, that’s not where the laughs are.

But “killed” looks bad in cyberspace, even though it’s something comedians want to do, as opposed to “bombed,” which is the opposite of “killed,” although NSA computers probably recognize a certain similarity between the two and automatically alert law enforcement officials. But again, the word “bombed” is a comedy concept meaning, variously, “wishing you were dead as an audience sits silently in judgment,” or for me, who entertains mainly in the homes of friends, “wishing you were dead, because people are laughing about you in the kitchen.”

But living in a free society means we shouldn’t have to watch what we say to avoid the unwanted curiosity of federal authorities. Heck, I get into enough trouble just trying to cheer up taciturn gatherings. (“Hey, is this a party or a funeral, hah hah?! What? Oh, sorry, I didn’t notice the flowers. Yes, he’ll be missed.”) On second thought, maybe a few days of secret CIA interrogation might do me some good. (“Were you under instructions from al Qaeda when you embarrassed your host by juggling the dinner rolls? Are there other social events you plan to terrorize or disrupt in the near future?”)

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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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