H'rumphs

Chicken Run

After four trips to Honduras—enough time to meet the rigorous standards of scientific data gathering—I can finally conclude that roosters do not crow to greet the dawn, except by coincidence. It turns out they also crow the minute before dawn, and the minute after, and subsequently every minute for the rest of the day.

I observed this phenomenon mainly during the early morning hours, when most humans would expect a few hours of invigorating sleep. My bedroom window was above the local meeting place for area roosters who, unlike their American kindred, do not start their day on a rooftop, silhouetted by the rising sun, before providing the stern but compassionate guidance their broods depend on. Nope. They mainly just hang out and crow. Repeatedly.

Sadly, I saw many young chickens wandering around who clearly could have benefited from adult leadership. But their long-suffering mothers were too harried to provide it, so the young chicks lacked the role models so critical to today’s youth. So, after much study, I must reluctantly conclude that Honduran roosters have no observable domestic skills or duties.

This is not one of those “theories” like gravity or evolution, which scientists on the Kansas school board have responsibly debunked. No, this is objective fact. I know this because, like Jane Goodall and her mountain gorillas, I “lived among them” for a whole week. They emitted a constant annoying background noise—similar to the music of Enya—that provided the soundtrack to each evening’s sleeplessness.

They could have done something more productive, such as pecking sense into the local tarantula population, although I realize this is a long shot, since tarantulas have no natural enemies except military-grade munitions.

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But We Don't Look a Day Over 38

With THIS ISSUE we turn 40, as our cover notes. It’s also discussed in two articles, a column, and our editor’s page, not to mention the balloons. You couldn’t throw a dart at this magazine without being reminded of the fact that we’re 40 years old. We’ve been around the block a few times. Crow’s feet are appearing at the corners of our eyes, and we just ordered an ear-hair trimmer off eBay. (Although as a rule one probably shouldn’t buy previously owned tools for personal hygiene. These things often come with a history that we’d probably rather not know. But I digress.)

Fortunately, 40 is the new 34, or in my case, 38.

I showed up at the magazine two years after it all started, which is why I’m still known as The New Guy. Most of the editorial staff have been here nearly as long. In fact, our collective term of service at Sojourners adds up to more than 100 years. Which means that if we lay down in the hall, end to end, it would once again test the patience of the UPS guy, who would have to maneuver around us to deliver those packages that are so important to the mission of Sojourners (although to be honest most of them are from eBay).

WHEN GOD CALLED me to Sojourners, I was the art director of the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday magazine, a publication whose future was limited only by the fact that nobody read it. It was a short call from God, if memory serves, kind of like a tweet, only without the backslashes. (At least I think it was God speaking to me. I heard this still small voice, but it could have been the guy in the elevator whose foot I was standing on.) Today God probably reaches out with Twitter, or texts if more comprehensive instructions are needed. (“Put down your nets, and I will make you fishers of men. LOL.” Andrew and Simon Peter, tweeting back: “Um ... would you repeat that? Backslash, backslash, smiley face.”)

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Does the Emphysema Come in Menthol?

Starting in 2013, every pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. will include graphic images portraying the physical effects of smoking, although looking really cool when you're a teenager won’t be one of them. I’ll probably get a first glimpse when I step outside the office for my daily dose of second-hand smoke, thoughtfully provided by the one remaining addict who has so far resisted my intense campaign against the practice.

There used to be a group of smokers at the front entrance, working collaboratively to induct nonsmokers into their demographic of future emphysema sufferers. But after months of merciless debasement from me -- including once spraying air freshener into their midst -- they changed their self-destructive habits and are now living happy, smoke-free lives. Or they just moved around the corner. All but the one holdout, a stone-faced man of the muscular persuasion who, between mumbling to himself in a deep baritone and glancing around threateningly, seems more likely to crush me like a Marlboro hard pack than discuss his impact on the nation's health-care system.

I wonder if his attitude will change when he buys his first pack of cigarettes with the picture of a dead man on a morgue table, his bare chest crudely stitched up from neck to waist. He was presumably the victim of a lifetime of smoking, not to mention a hasty autopsy. (Either that, or somewhere there's a Home Depot manager trying to forget a chain-saw demonstration that could have gone better.)

The new labels will include close-up images of rotting teeth, unsightly cancer lesions, and decayed internal organs, as well as pictures of a woman dying of cancer, a guy smoking through a hole in his neck, and Michele Bachmann taking the oath of office. Okay, I made up the last one, although that would definitely make me stop smoking. And start drinking.

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'Now that I've found you ...'

So now we know why over the past few years our Internet service would sometimes slow to a crawl: Osama bin Laden was tying up the circuits Googling himself. Repeatedly. We found this out from watching videos that one of his three wives apparently took of him sitting in a comfy chair, wrapped in an afghan (or would we call it a pakistan?), drinking a Coke, and generally chilling out in front of a computer screen.

(Quick! What's the difference between Newt Gingrich and Osama bin Laden? Answer: Newt had his three wives one at a time. Hahaha. I kid.)

Personal videotapes were just some of the items found in bin Laden's home after U.S. Navy SEALs attempted to deliver a covered dish and some flowers celebrating their long-delayed reunion. The U.S. military also wanted to drop off several bags of returned mail -- for some reason bin Laden had left no forwarding address during his frequent moves -- as well as a wedding gift, which was a little a awkward since it was at least one wedding behind.

But you know how it is when old friends are reunited, particularly in a region where celebrations traditionally include firing weapons wildly into the air: Someone makes a culturally insensitive joke, somebody accidentally knocks off a visitor's night-vision goggles, and then somebody goes home mad. Or gets buried at sea. Whatever.

But the good news: In reuniting with the world's most wanted criminal mastermind -- sorry, alleged criminal mastermind -- a lot of interesting items were discovered during the clean up. As someone who makes a point of helping tidy up during parties, I appreciate the thoroughness with which the Navy SEALs did their part to straighten up things afterwards, to the extent of even taking some of the mess home with them. Now that's being a good neighbor.

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Judgment Day 2.0

Whew! That was close. Looks like May 21 passed without incident, despite being the date that millions -- okay, dozens -- of Christians believed would be the day of the Rapture, their last Saturday on this Earth. It's possible God got busy on the weekend and forgot the prophecy that Christian broadcaster Harold Camping has been preaching for years. On the other hand, the large billboards that Camping's Family Radio Network put up around Nashville, Tennessee, should have reminded the Almighty -- on God’s occasional drives across Interstate 40 -- to double check the apocalyptic calendar.

Camping made news in 1994 when he and his followers staged a highly-publicized Rapture event, gathering to wait for the heavenly hosts to lift them off to heaven, after getting clearance from air traffic control (to avoid mid-air collision with other ascending believers). But the group eventually dispersed because, well, Jesus didn't make it. He could've been busy, or maybe got tied up in traffic. One never knows.

Camping later admitted he had made a miscalculation -- hey, you try to get this stuff right every time! -- but now claims to have developed a new method of determining the Last Day, one that uses an elaborate mathematical system to decipher clues hidden in the Bible. (Bible math is not an area with which I’m familiar, which probably explains why I blew that section on my SATs.)

And -- no foolin' this time -- Camping discovered the actual date of Jesus' return is May 21.

Which is why I got a haircut on May 20.

You want to look your best when Jesus comes back and renders judgment, and I figured a little trim might take the sting out of a wasted life. "You have sinned many times, my son. But I like the sideburns."

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July 2011 Sojourners
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We're Number 33 (We Rock!)

Speaking of my granddaughter, I was changing her diaper the other day, and in the contents I'm pretty sure I saw ...

(Editor’s note: Stop. One column about the new baby is enough. Our readers just don't care. Please, stick to current events and politics.)

... the face of John Boehner. He recently took the speaker's gavel from Nancy Pelosi -- who didn't cry -- and is leading the House with a bold plan to "read my lips," just as soon as they stop quivering. I considered alerting the media about my discovery, but I didn't want tea partiers camping outside my house, paying homage. ("It's a diaper miracle! Quick, deport an immigrant!")

Meanwhile, Speaker Boehner has settled in to the important business of Congress, namely, denying my granddaughter health coverage because of her pre-existing condition of being SO CUTE!!

(Editor's note: PLEASE, we're running a magazine here, not a Facebook page. You wanna tweet, go tweet. But not here.)

Fine. At first, Boehner presided over the reading of the entire Constitution, which took almost two hours or, in my current measure of time, 1.5 diapers, depending on time spent inspecting for likenesses of congressional leaders. Many new House members were surprised at first to hear no words from the Declaration of Independence, the Bible, or Guns & Ammo magazine, all of which they incorrectly attributed to our nation's founding document during their campaign. Then they were elected. Oh well, no harm, no foul.

Unfortunately, Boehner has struggled to keep his caucus in line, particularly the House freshmen, because you know how freshmen are: They get lost between classes, they go to bars with fake IDs, and then, under the influence of alcohol, they try to cut $100 billion from the nation's social safety net.

And then they stagger back to the dorm and throw up in their roommate's wastebasket.

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What? Already?

At the media's insistence, we've officially entered the 2012 presidential season -- mainly because the media would rather not report on the issues that actually affect people's lives, such as Charlie Sheen tweets. So we might as well join in by reviewing the GOP hopefuls before they become dried carcasses strewn across the Iowa landscape. ("Careful not to step in that! It's a rotting Newt.") We will forgo comment on the probable Democratic nominee, beyond pointing out that the term "three's a crowd" can also refer to wars.

At a time when federal budgets are so bad that the U.S. Senate chambers are being rented out for weddings (and the House clears out on Saturdays for a flea market), Americans are hopeful that presidential aspirants will bring bold and fresh ideas to carry our nation into the future.

Okay, forget that. But how about bold ideas from the past? Would that be okay?

We say this after learning of the surprising return of the Religious Right, a life form that most of us thought was weakened, if not in smelly decay. ("Don't step in that! It's a Haggard.") But apparently it's back. When did this happen? I thought fundamentalists had put down their flag hats and gone back to looking for ancient fragments from God’s Literal Week-At-A-Glance calendar. ("Day Four: Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven; pick up dry cleaning; call Mom.")

After all, Jerry Falwell has gone to his eternal rest -- and perhaps a good celestial talking to -- and the Christian Coalition hung its self-righteousness back in the closet, leaving former director Ralph Reed to the pitiable life of a highly paid political consultant whose only connection to Christianity is a Pat Boone haircut.

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Interview with the Prince of Darkness

(Editor’s Note: As the United States prepares for its inevitable takeover by special interests, Sojourners recently sat down with the godfather of them all, the National Rifle Association.)

Sojourners: Thank you for coming. Umm, is that a costume you’re wearing? I mean, those horns make you look like ...

NRA: What costume?

Sojourners: Never mind. Sir, a terrible tragedy recently took place in Tucson, one laid squarely at the feet of a handgun.

NRA: Handguns do not have feet.

Sojourners:  You know what I mean. Your insistence on almost no control of guns is one of the most outrageous abuses of our democratic system.

NRA: Guns don’t kill people, people do.

Sojourners: You never get tired of saying that, do you?

NRA: Not at all. Would you like me to say it again?

Sojourners: Each year, more than 30,000 Americans are killed by guns.

NRA: It’s the price we pay for free-dom.

Sojourners: Eight children a day die from gun violence.

NRA: It’s the price we pay for ...

Sojourners:  Stop with the empty words! Don’t you think you have some responsibility here?

NRA: Actually, no. I believe the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of inflammatory political rhetoric.

Sojourners:  Inflammatory political rhetoric does not have feet.

NRA: As I was saying, there has been a regrettable coarsening of our public discourse, and we need to keep talking about it.

Sojourners:  That way we don’t talk about guns, right?

NRA: Precisely. Because guns don’t kill people, freedom does. No, wait. Sorry, we only have two talking points, and sometimes I get them mixed up.

Sojourners: So, how much does freedom cost these days?

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Grandfathers Are Our Future

As the nation's leaders have warned us -- when they're not serving seconds on dessert to the wealthy -- our economic future is in jeopardy. If we do nothing to staunch the flow of government spending, we’ll be passing on an enormous debt to our grandchildren.

It’s a complex problem, but there's a simple answer: We need more grandchildren.

I'm starting immediately, having recently taken delivery of my first. And from her beautiful face and sweet demeanor you'd never guess her share of the national debt is about $600,000, give or take the taxes that deserving Wal-Mart heirs won't have to pay.

Her financial obligations aside, looking at this child reminds me of why superlatives were invented. In fact, WikiLeaks just released secret government documents disclosing that my granddaughter is cuter than anyone in the State Department.

Yes, her hair is a little thin in front, but the timeless solution of the comb-over is just one of many ideas I plan to suggest. Because, let’s face it, I need to make up for failing to raise my own daughters to be productive members of society. One is wasting her time protecting the environment, which Republicans say is no longer necessary. And the other -- the new mom -- is not a doctor (eliminating any use for the "My Kid's a Doctor and Yours Isn't" bumper sticker I ordered), preferring instead to be a hospital trauma nurse. Like that's hard.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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Groping for Answers at the Airport

As one would predict, many humor writers are taking cheap shots at the new pat-down rules at airports. But at Sojourners we're different. Call it maturity, call it patriotism, but we take seriously the security of our national transportation system and would never stoop to tawdry jokes about agents groping strangers. At least not in the first paragraph.

But now that we're comfortably in the second paragraph, we can [giggle] probe this issue more deeply and [snicker] get to the bottom of it. Frankly, Americans are expressing mixed feelings about the new federal policy of fondling private citizens at airports. Oh sure, this happens on a regular basis in restrooms visited by members of Congress, but to the general public it’s a new experience. On the one hand, the airport pat-down -- in combination with the full-body X-ray scan -- might be the only physical examination you can get without a co-pay.

Security official: "You're free to go, sir, but I'd have that prostate checked out. It's a little enlarged. Of course, that's not surprising for a man your age, but I would still suggest --

Passenger: "OKAY FINE!"

Security official: "Next passenger, please. Now bend your knees, and cough."

Airport pat-downs could also greatly improve American dating practices. No longer would unattached persons have to subject themselves to the sketchy club scene or sign up for dating websites such as eHarmony or MyMotherStillThinksI'mCute.ugh. A security pat-down makes all this unnecessary, and it greatly accelerates the standard social timetable. When somebody bends down in front of you and squeezes your thigh, you're already on, like, the second date.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2011
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