H'rumphs

Supreme Court Earns Free Air Miles

The recent Supreme Court decision expanding corporate “personhood” in elections has opened up a new world of possibility, and not just that the Roberts majority can ride in Halliburton’s Gulfstream anytime it wants. It also changes who I could have dated in high school. Had I known that personhood would one day be constitutionally attributed to businesses, I might not have been so disappointed when the head cheerleader reluctantly declined to be my prom date.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2010
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An Urgent Visit to the White House

It was a very special day, and I chose my necktie accordingly, a selection made easier by the fact that I only have two. One is covered with a photograph of brightly-colored fruit, a design that expressed my bold fashion sense during the roughly five minutes that photographic ties were in style. But these are more somber times than the summer of 1981, so I instead chose the beige tie with small blue medallions, a full decade newer, and the perfect understatement for meeting the president of the United States.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2010
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Thar It Blows...

I’ve been surfing the Internet, looking for ways to escape the coming apocalypse that ancient Mayans, using science available at the time, predicted for two years from now. This prediction was based on their assumption that the Mayan civilization would have run its course by 2012, instead of the weekend after they made the prediction, some 1,100 years ago. This really caught them by surprise. (Mayan scientist: “I figured that since we were the dominant Mesoamerican civilization we would be around for centuries, or at least until we could watch ourselves on the History Channel. On the other hand, we also thought we were descended from jaguars, which, on reflection, should have raised questions about our scholarship.”)

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Sojourners Magazine February 2010
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Offensive Medicine

The new year is dawning brightly—usually too brightly, depending on how late you stayed up on New Year’s Eve—and it is filled with hope and the unlimited possibility of a fresh start. For you, maybe. Me, I’m taking it one day at a time since I’ve got back cancer or something. It’s called basal cell carcinoma (sounds like the new dance sensation), and it’s spreading through my body as I write these words, possibly for the last time.

(Editor’s Note: Good lord, it’s only a PIMPLE! A dot! A drive-by procedure at the dermatologist. And don’t you dare take the whole day off!)

As I was saying, it’s a terrible condition. It starts as a tiny spot that, if left unattended, becomes a slightly larger tiny spot and eventually itches. In a very grave voice, my doctor told me I have only two choices:

• Surgery.

• Scratching.

I have tried the latter, but it’s hard to reach, even using a family member’s toothbrush. If I choose surgery, recovery time is unknown, and my colleagues at work might not see me for days, if not weeks, depending on whether I can change my Netflix account to 12 movies at a time. (Note to self: When caring friends bring over meals, hide the DVDs under devotional materials.)

My nursing-student daughter is strongly in favor of the surgical option (it was her toothbrush, after all), and says she looks forward to changing the bandage each day. Although, since she’s currently studying deep tissue trauma, she’d prefer that I play catch with a chain saw. She’d like the extra credit.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2010
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What Would Jesus Prescribe?

This being December, many of you are starting to go through closets finding raiment suitable for the children to wear in the upcoming church Christmas pageant. Note that adult after-shower wear may not be suitable for a child posing as a shepherd who, during the performance, may break the monotony of standing perfectly still for an hour by rummaging through a pocket and submitting to public view whatever object lies within. Hopefully, it won’t be the hidden pack of cigarettes you don’t have any more because you quit, and are only keeping for a friend because he’s just so weak.

I mention smoking—even though Sojourners readers are too smart for cigarettes, or at least they would hide them in a better place, maybe in that old Jerusalem Bible that seemed such a good purchase before they actually tried to lug it to church on a regular basis—because smoking is the number one health concern in this country, followed closely by obesity, diabetes, and political intransigence. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be treated with diet and exercise, although screaming loudly at town-hall meetings is considered good cardio.

Scientists report that this uniquely American condition of intransigence comes from the one gene we share with the mule, an animal best known for stubbornly refusing to budge during legislative mark-ups. Sorry. I meant when plowing fields, a more productive exercise than the current attempts at reforming health care. At least with plowing fields you get food, which then you can eat too much of and eventually become a huge burden on our health system.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Trouble in the Garden of Liberty

While purchasing a slingshot recently, I began to wonder what message this might be sending to my credit card company, a business that pays special attention to my spending habits out of what I used to think was a deep sense of affection, or possibly love.

But it turns out they routinely monitor purchases to determine demographic tendencies for repayment. (Who knew? I thought they were just figuring out what I’d like for my birthday.)

This practice is known by many names: profiling, market segmentation, and Being Even Bigger Jerks Than We Thought.

Apparently, if you’re careful with your money or seek value in discounted merchandise, you’re not to be trusted. If you shop at Target or Wal-Mart instead of blowing your paycheck at an upscale jewelry store, the credit card company assumes you’ll probably lose your job, miss a payment, or get into such a deep financial hole that the only fair remedy is doubling your interest charges. It’s probably in the Bible someplace.

Credit card computers also note purchases associated with lower-income demographics, such as used motorcycle parts and generic soda, products I now only buy through a third party to mask my frugality. I figure if it works for Mexican drug cartels buying their guns in the U.S., it could work for me and my Econo-taste Cola. (Actually, if drug cartels bought their guns from Nordstrom, they could get a lower rate on their credit cards, not to mention air miles to use for smuggling. With the new charges for baggage these days, it’s good to know that the kilo of cocaine in your underpants won’t trigger extra fees, although it may itch a bit.)

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Sojourners Magazine November 2009
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Caught With Their Family Values Down

This month’s cover story is about sex, and there is nothing I can add to the topic that would not violate the rules of my parole, except to mention that a Nevada senator—who single-handedly prevented the District of Columbia from getting voting rights—recently had some sex issues of his own.

In a somber public statement that stunned his Republican colleagues (and probably sent them scrambling to delete personal e-mails, phone records, and credit card receipts), Sen. John Ensign admitted having an extramarital affair with a former staff member, which is wrong in most parts of this country, although on Capitol Hill they’re not sure. (“Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that after years of hard work raising money, earning the trust of my constituency, and rising to a position of enormous power, I CAN’T expect sexual favors from my staff?!?” one stunned elected official might have said in his sleep, off the record.)

I would not even bring up Ensign’s infidelity—since he has asked forgiveness and can rightly expect compassion from those of us who believe in the power of redemption—except for the fact that I want to make fun of him.

You see, the bill giving congressional representation to D.C. residents looked like it would finally pass in May, putting an end to decades of colonial servitude, not to mention taxation without representation, which figured powerfully in our nation’s early history. (Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty, or lower my taxes! Wait, that doesn’t sound convincing enough.”) But at the last minute, Ensign added an amendment that would eliminate the city’s authority to control gun ownership, a vindictive move that killed the bill.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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Was it Torture, or Value-Added Questioning?

With all the mixed signals we’ve been getting these days about the use of torture, it’s hard to know what to believe. I’ve always felt that torture was wrong, and that we shouldn’t do it except under extreme circumstances, such as to force producers of the Fox TV show 24 to stop glorifying it. (We could make them watch episodes of The Partridge Family over and over until they promise that Jack Bauer will use more acceptable interrogation methods, like maybe tickling.) But I’m starting to wonder if I’ve rushed to judgment.

Former—and for that, we are grateful—Vice President Dick Cheney insists that torture has saved countless American lives. (But then he’s the guy who said we’d be greeted as libertarians in Iraq—or was it librarians?—and he was wrong about that.)

When discussing torture, Cheney prefers to use the term “enhanced interrogation,” which sounds like a beneficial thing. “Interrogation Plus” might be another term, or “Value-Added Questioning,” and then afterward you get free air miles, or cash back. (“You’ve been very cooperative, possible terrorist. Now here’s a coupon for Ruby Tuesday.”)

So I’m left with the question: Is it a human rights issue or just a marketing challenge?

One man bravely attempting to provide an answer is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-Dixie), who recently said in a hearing, “Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.”

It’s hard to argue with that. After all, during the Spanish Inquisition, the Catholic Church got lots of useful confessions using Enhanced Stretching on the rack. Early American Protestants successfully rid their parishes of witches with an early form of waterboarding that they called “Baptism Plus.”

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Sojourners Magazine August 2009
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The Unkindest Cut

This is my first column in our bold new magazine design, which was created to bring state-of-the-art publishing innovations to our readers. Also, we were bored with the old design.

But now I only have room for 600 award-winning words, compared to the 800 award-winning words before. And now I only have 544 words left. Make that 536 words. Okay, 532. (Can you believe somebody actually has to fact-check this?) Doesthiscountasoneword?

Working in this small space, I’m reminded of Ernest Hemingway who, on a bar bet, wrote the world’s shortest novel: “Bartender ignores alcoholic author. Dies horribly.” No, that wasn’t it. Now I remember: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” (I’ll pause briefly so readers can pull themselves together.) And I wonder if I can apply the same technique to a shortened humor column: “Guy walks into a bar. Buys baby shoes. Leaves.” (Nope. I need room to express my legendary comic stylings.)

But let’s move along. Given the ongoing economic crisis in this country, Sojourners is announcing a new financial support program for struggling subscribers. If you are no longer able to pay for your monthly magazine, we will waive the cost, after putting you through a series of stress tests, much like what the banking industry is experiencing right now, only with fewer push-ups. (At least, I hope Treasury officials are making bankers do push-ups, while standing on top of them and—to make for a more memorable teaching moment—holding a bucket of hot coals over their heads. “Oops, dropped another hot coal. Sorry.”)

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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All the News That Sells

As I sit at my desk thinking up innovative ideas for the coming decade—MacArthur Mediocrity Grants, AIG offices relocating to Guan­tanamo, AIDS awareness seminars for the pope (“I don’t use condoms, so why should Africa?”)—my mind wanders and I think back to the sound the newspaper didn’t make this morning as it was tossed into our yard. What used to wake us with the thud of a small futon falling off the back of a truck now whistles through the air like an empty Slurpee cup, landing noiselessly. The Washington Post, one of the most influential newspapers in the nation, barely makes an impression on our grass, lying there like a discarded half-smoke somebody backed over in a parking lot. The difference is that half-smokes haven’t cut their staff, trimmed their pages, or reduced their award-winning business and books sections to less space than the daily advice columns. (“My sister’s boyfriend wants to attend my upcoming wedding but, given that he’s also my first ex-husband, I don’t feel comfortable with that. Am I being selfish? And how do you feel about purple cummerbunds?”)

I understand that newspapers have to downsize these days, given that the only remaining advertisers are:

Cell phone companies promoting technology for families to stay connected, even though teenagers would gladly pay extra not to.

Banks touting their strong balance sheets and continued commitment to fiduciary responsibility, shortly before they are taken over by the federal government.

Oil companies promoting their decades-long commitment to the environment, and wondering why we haven’t noticed.

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Sojourners Magazine June 2009
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