Humor

Space, the Final Cost Overrun

The International Space Station is a cramped scientific laboratory orbiting in an environment where temperatures on a good day top out at minus 273 degrees Celsius. (Celsius is the unit of measure named after President Bill Clinton’s daughter. It was a birthday present.) Despite the harsh conditions and a history of shoddy construction and repair, the space station last month officially became more comfortable than my own house.

They put in a second bathroom.

As of last November, there’s no more waiting in the space station when nature calls. Nor, for that matter, when Houston calls and astronauts are looking for a different place to hide during the daily inquiries from ground control. (Houston: “Umm, we noticed you concluded your last transmission with the phrase ‘I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob g’goo goo g’joob.’ We know you’ve been up there for more than eight months, but listen, we need to talk. Over.”)

After 10 years and almost $100 billion, the International Space Station has produced less useable scientific data than the International House of Pancakes. (Scientific American just reported that customers who order IHOP’s new “Big-Bucket-of-Pancakes Breakfast” are actually visible from space when they waddle back to their cars.) Regardless, with a second bathroom, a new gym, and an updated kitchen, the space station now has more comforts than the average American starter house.

In my own home, I have to wait for what seems like a full rotation of the earth just to get in and shave. But not the crew of the space station. With two bathrooms there’s no need for an impatient astronaut—having just consumed a large Tang—to hop up and down and shout “You wanna hurry UP in there?!” or, alternately, “I hear a newspaper rustling behind that door. You better not be reading the sports section IN THERE!”

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Sojourners Magazine February 2009
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This Is Not About the Economy

Made you look. Anyway, the world economy continues to spin downward despite my previous column on the subject, which was intended to bring needed comic relief to struggling world markets. Unfortunately, their dour assessments of the future prevented them from just tossing back their heads and letting go with a hearty chuckle. So I say, “Why so glum, overly leveraged world markets?” or, alternately, “Laugh, economy clown, laugh.” There, that should do the trick.

In contrast, I’m sure Sojourners readers have been “keeping it in perspective” and finding humor in the common experiences of the new economic reality, such as watching sheriff’s deputies place their belongings on the sidewalk in front of their former homes. “Careful with that antique china cabinet. It was my grandmother’s. Ha ha!”

But as bad as it is here, we Americans know that things are much worse in China, a place where children go to bed every night without flat-screen televisions. (They’re on back order.)

Not to mention the other things we can be grateful for, such as our health, which at least we have, unless you’re sick. But even then there is a bright side: You may have lost your health care when you got laid off, but as temporary president George W. Bush confidently assured us, treatment is as close as the nearest emergency room. (Hint: Bring a book. Maybe two.) Like a philosopher once said, unless we stand together ...

(Editor’s note: STOP! This is not helping. There’s not enough left in my 401(k) to buy a Sarah Palin campaign mug! And I REALLY want one! So quit the false platitudes and get back to your usual drivel that, unexpectedly, we find ourselves missing right now.)

Fine.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2009
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It's All His Fault

The following is an excerpt from economic philosopher Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations treatise, one of the driving intellectual forces behind contemporary market theory. Smith has been dead for a couple hundred years and can’t defend himself, so financial experts are blaming him for the United States running out of commas to put between the zeroes of our fiscal mess. Unfortunately, we can’t blame the real perpetrators because they are busy overseeing construction of their new mansions in the Hamptons, thus unavailable to reassure us that they’re fine, and we shouldn’t worry.

“Every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it; he intends only his own security; and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it ....”

Okay, dude, whatever.

Enough of Adam Smith. I thought it would be helpful to the discussion, but I started getting college flashbacks and then remembered I still owe a research paper to my psychology professor. It was due 35 years ago, but I’m happy to report that it’s nearly finished. Just as soon as I fill out the bibliography with a couple of encyclopedia references.

Suffice it to say that financial experts agree that Adam Smith would be unbelievably tedious at a dorm party, unless he brought the keg. (“Another tankard of stout ale, my good friends?”)

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Decision 2008

Editor’s Note: Okay, Ed, the lawyer has finished looking through your column to make sure it’s totally nonpartisan and that it doesn’t favor or oppose either candidate. With a few minor deletions, he says it’s good to go.

As Election Day approaches, more Americans are anxious about the nnnn future. With the world economy in nnnn—for example, Afghanistan’s opium crop is down by almost 19 percent—America’s nnnnn has never been more needed. And yet, after a grueling nominating process, no nnn candidate has emerged that could reassure the world that Washington, D.C., can be anything more than a big nnn pile of scheming nnnn.

But enough about Dick Cheney’s small group.

On the nnnnnnnn side, the candidate is nnnn nnnn, except for the fact that he’s nnnn and was born in Indonesia, or possibly Illinois, and that he fathered two children with a woman in Chicago. His campaign is promising a quick, bipartisan nnnn to every nnnn problem facing this nation, except for the problem of creating false expectations for bipartisan nnnn.

And let’s be honest, he’s a little more nnnnnn than the rest of us.

Obama: You mean, because I’m nnnn.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2008
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Real Product: Manicured Ministry

We don’t think the good folks at Christian Tools of Affirmation Inc. had the story of Jael and Sisera (Judges 4:21) in mind when they developed their “Woman of God” manicure set, but it’s all we could think of when it came to “nail sharpening.” The set includes nail clippers, a plastic nail brush, two cuticle sticks, and a brightly colored, flower-shaped emery board—all tucked neatly in a travel-sized vinyl pouch printed with inspiration for “grace and peace” from 2 Peter 1:2. (Customized ministry messages for women sold separately.)

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Sojourners Magazine June 2008
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Investing for the Future

The economy, as you may remember from last month, is still in need of discussion, particularly in light of this special issue on personal finance and investing. For those unfamiliar with the term, “investing” essentially means saving money to buy things in the future that cost a lot less right now. (Both gasoline and milk, for example, are rising almost daily in price, leading one to the obvious solution of stockpiling them in the basement for a couple years—but not too close to the furnace, because the gas could go bad.)

Prudent financial planning has become a necessity since your parents are, at this very moment, blowing your well-unearned inheritance on frivolous things like food, medicine, and payments to Nigerian citizens who, because of their proud tradition of generosity, promise to return the money with interest just as soon as they receive your parents’ bank account number.

With the economy in apparent free-fall, investing wisely can be a challenging proposition. For­tunately, the age-old maxim of starting early still applies, as the following data show:

• If you are in the 25-to-35 age bracket, and set aside 5 percent of pre-tax income in stocks and bonds, your investments will grow—even if current economic conditions prevail—permitting you to retire comfortably by the age of 83.

• If you are in the 36-to-50 age group, you’re behind already. You should move into your neighbor’s garage to save on rent and invest half of your salary in stocks of strong growth industries, such as prison construction. This will permit you to retire at 92, though you’ll still have to work weekends. As a prison guard, perhaps.

• If, like me, you’re in your late 50s, you should seriously consider selling your organs for cash. But remember—and this is important: You can sell a kidney, since you have two, but not a liver, of which you only have one. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.)

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Sojourners Magazine May 2008
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Laugh Lines

I's late at night. I walk in the door after a meeting and my wife is laughing her head off. She asks me if I've seen the latest issue of Sojourners, holding up the “H’rumphs” page by Ed Spivey Jr. I said, “Twice.”She said, “We need to laugh more” and told me that she’d called her friend and read the entire article out loud to her. I mean, she’s that kind of friend. Thank you for this. Ed’s page is worth the price of the subscription. Keep up the good work. We appreciate what Sojourners is doing toward making the world a better place.

Tom Graham and
Jeanne Lambert
Oxford Station, Ontario, Canada

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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How About That Economy?

While Congress debates President Bush’s FY09 budget and tries to find the responsible middle ground between hopeless optimism and criminal self-delusion, economists are looking at the current fiscal crisis to determine whether the economy is:

a) at the beginning of a recession,

b) experiencing a mid-course correction, or

c) caught in a raging river of financial despair without a paddle, a life preserver or, for that matter, a Life Saver. (Not that fruit-flavored candy would help in a time like this, but I’ve found that eating a red one can turn a frown upside down. It’s my Happy Color.)

Many of you are already convinced this country is in recession, given that you’ve lost your job, or your home, or your savings. But I remind you that yours is merely anecdotal evidence of a downturn, and hardly germane to the broader economic conversation. You can’t just up and use the “r” word without proper credentials. That’s for the financial experts, who know what they’re talking about—since they talk about it all the time on television. And attractive people on television are never wrong.

According to these people—who, to their credit, live in at least one of the houses they own—a recession is only recognizable after it’s ended. I mention this only to reassure you that, as hard as things are for you right now, you really don’t have to worry. The experts will be just fine. Because they’re rich.

BUT RESPONSIBLE Americans need to get their economic house in order (those who still have a house), cut back, roll up their sleeves (those who haven’t sold their sleeves for food), and generally be more responsible with their spending.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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Best Product

The search for toys that teach children about the diversity in America’s history and inspire them to dream big led Sterling Ashby to found History in Action Toys in 2005. His line of lesser-known African-American heroes indicates the search may be over. The set includes aviator Bessie Coleman, mathematician and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, and explorer Matthew Henson. Ashby told Sojourners he wants to remind children that “you can do anything you set your mind to doing and you might start by finding a hero who can not only inspire you, but illuminate tangible steps to take to achieve your goal.”

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Sojourners Magazine April 2008
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God Bless C-SPAN

The voice of the people. Even the crazy ones.

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Sojourners Magazine March 2008
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