satire

Countdown to Destiny

Hrumphs.jpg
Illustrated by Ken Davis

AS ONE OF the few white males who has not declared his candidacy for president, I’m actually enjoying the relative calm before the upcoming election season. Our television shows are still punctuated by soothingly predictable commercials about luxury cars and erectile dysfunction. In a few months they’ll be railing against job-killing gay marriage and the evils of climate science, also job-killing, followed by the reassuring voice of a man who says “I apologize for this message.” (Kidding. But wouldn’t that be great?!)

At this point, with little at stake, the legions of Republican candidates are of interest only for their entertainment value, their speeches lacking in substance but their repetitive talking points ripe with possibility for drinking games. (Caution: When listening to Ted Cruz, don’t choose the words “constitution” or “unadulterated judicial activism” if you’re the designated driver.)

We’re at that sweet spot in time when Iowa is just a state known for its agricultural products (corn, I think), and when Hillary Clinton has not yet been compared to Hitler. If we think about politics at all, it’s to come up with reasons not to support Bernie Sanders. Because, if you set aside the oddity of a Vermont senator who still sounds like the Flatbush of his youth, there’s only one reason: his age. He’s 73, six years older than Hillary Clinton and decades older than Donald Trump, who is, like, 12, right?

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Google THIS, Google

Google

Illustrated by Ken Davis

IN THE FEW months remaining before our lives are completely taken over by computers, there’s still time to join the Resistance. Or start one, since most of us are unaware of the need to do so. I personally haven’t noticed because I’m waiting for my first heart attack to teach me how precious life is.

You’ve probably missed the warning signs because you’ve been too busy tweeting or friending people on Facebook. These seemingly innocent acts—designed mainly to reduce productivity at the office—are helpfully consolidating personal data for the ever-watchful mainframes to harvest later. And when the computers finally reduce us to a subservient species, unfriending them won’t save you.

Just to be clear, I’m not talking about the federal government’s massive monitoring of our phone calls, an effort that revealed most human conversation is not worthy of the monthly fees charged by Verizon, AT&T, or that new prepaid service called Boost, which I first thought was a nutritional supplement for old people. (The guy behind the counter looked at me funny when I asked what flavors it comes in. And when he tried to explain “pay as you go,” I was confused. With nutritional supplements, you pay, then you go, a little later.)

BUT THE GREATER threat is the increasing pervasiveness of artificial intelligence, probably the worst artificial substance ever created, if you rule out Cool Whip.

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Two Guys Walk into a Bar

Illustration by Ken Davis

FOLLOWING IS a conversation between an aging, award-winning humor columnist and a young man who, in his short life, probably only earned an award for Most Tattoos On One Arm.

Me: Excuse me. What’s that metal thing in your mouth?

He: It’s an electronic cigarette.

Me: Dude, you can’t smoke in here. Even if we’re the only ones in this hotel bar, and although it harkens back to simpler times, a time when men were men, and ...

He: There’s no smoke, just steam. It’s a noncombustible cigarette.

Me: Cool phrase that, “noncombustible cigarette.” Yours?

He: Nah. I heard it on a commercial. Some people call it an e-cigarette.

Me: Is that like e-mail? Or E. coli?

He: No. E. coli is bacteria that are dangerous to your health, possibly fatal.

Me: Nothing in common with smoking, then.

He: Right. It’s the latest thing, and it’s helping me quit combustible cigarettes.

Me: That reminds me. Did you know that after the helicopter was invented, people had to start calling airplanes “fixed-wing aircraft.” This little upstart invention changed the whole vernacular of the aviation industry. That makes me SO mad! Friggin’ helicopters!

He:

Me: So, back to this cigarette. What’s the point?

He: It delivers nicotine without second-hand smoke.

Me: Confining horrible medical consequences to the user, and protecting innocent bystanders.

He: Exactly. Plus, we can do it anywhere we want, like here, for instance.

Me: As opposed to huddled in small groups outside doorways in the dead of winter.

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July 2015
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Book Groups For Dummies

Illustration by Ken Davis

AS AN occasional participant in a book group, I’m happy to report that the wine at the last one was pretty good. Also the fellowship, the spirited conversation, and, finally, before we ran out of time, discussion about the book, which consisted mainly of how most of us didn’t finish it, or start it. In my case, however, I couldn’t put it down.

It was The Lost City of Z, a recounting of an intrepid explorer’s frightening ordeals in the unforgiving jungles of the Amazon, which ultimately ended when he succumbed to cannibalism. It was a chilling read, one that convinced me to confine my travels exclusively to the continental United States. Because if there’s anything that ruins a good walk, it’s being eaten by your own species. According to the book, at the turn of the last century certain tribes in remote South America believed they could spiritually cleanse themselves by devouring their enemies. (Fortunately, that practice has died out, except for in a few red states during primary season.)

I read every word of that book, usually with the covers pulled tightly around me and all the lights on, while making sure that I didn’t appear delicious to anyone in the vicinity.

I ALSO READ every word of my next book, A Brief History of Time. In fact, I read every word twice. I’d read a paragraph, then I’d think real hard, trying to comprehend that at the beginning of time the universe was infinitely dense and infinitely small. I’d fail, of course, then I’d read it again, struggling to pay attention. I’d read a paragraph, and then wonder if we had enough milk in the house. I’d read some more, then wonder if Alicia in The Good Wife ever divorces her husband. I’m only on season two and ... DON’T TELL ME!

But I couldn’t fully grasp this book because, to quote Republican lawmakers, I’m no scientist. And watching every Star Trek movie (and then watching them again) doesn’t make you one.

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First World Problems...

Illustration by Ken Davis

WHEN YOU WORK for a Christian justice organization, it’s hard to complain about your petty personal problems. Dishwasher leaving spots on the glassware at home? Don’t mention it in the office or you get called out for a “First World problem.” Not happy with your cable company? “Dude, First World problem!” retorts a colleague, pouring coffee into his Amnesty International mug before a meeting on income inequality.

I work with people who have traveled the world working for peace and freedom, who have spent time in jail for their beliefs, but who show no sympathy when L.L. Bean messes up my order. (I purchased the medium winter pullover from their activewear collection, but they sent me a small. And it pinches when I lift my arms to pray during chapel.)

In short, my peers are saints working for a better world. And fortunately for them, they don’t have to look outside the office to see what’s wrong with that world, for I walk among them. I am he (or maybe him), the self-centered manchild whose personal preoccupations give a counterbalance to the righteous intentions of my colleagues. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it.

And that somebody needs new kitchen cabinets.

In my defense—I hurriedly explain to officemates rushing to their next strategy meeting on climate change, this time carrying coffee mugs from Greenpeace—our old cabinets are SO last century. In fact, they were made in the same century as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, a minor monarch whose death prompted the conflagration of World War I. But back to my cabinets.

See how I did that? I shifted from one of the darkest periods of the 20th century to trivial thoughts about new stuff in my house. And from new cabinets to thoughts of kitchen paint schemes is but a short step down the sordid trail to shameless self-indulgence. But such is the thrall of the First World and its petty charms that one can hardly escape.

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Like Giant Marshmallows on a String

Illustration by Ken Davis

IF YOU’RE TRAVELING by air to Washington, D.C., this winter, be sure to look out your window. You don’t want to miss the lovely patchwork of monuments that covers the city, or the scenic curves of the Potomac River, or the giant dolphin-shaped balloons within arms-reach of your seat in coach. But don’t try to pet them. Setting aside the problem of rapid decompression if you open a window, the balloons are property of the U.S. Army, and they don’t like people touching their stuff.

The balloons—I call them balloons, although they’re actually reconnaissance blimps designed to warn against hostile missiles—float about 10,000 feet above the ground, tethered by inch-wide cables, presumably not held on the other end by children at, say, the zoo. Each blimp looks like a huge white dolphin with an unfortunate—and apparently undiagnosed—abdominal growth protruding from its belly. Clearly, it’s something a qualified medical professional should look at. Of course, if it’s just a navel, there’s no problem. But it’s definitely an outie.

There are two of these blimps, each 243 feet long and weighing, well, nothing, because they’re filled with helium, the gas that would have been used in the Hindenburg had the construction crews been smokers. (Smokers may not be smart, but they’re fast learners.) The blimps float above the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, just outside D.C., in some of the busiest airspace on the East Coast, and trail about two miles of cable connected to the ground. What could possibly go wrong?

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Charlie Hebdo: Comedy As an Act of Courage

phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

phipatbig / Shutterstock.com

I love Jon Stewart. I mean, like “maybe jump the fence” love him. His presence on The Daily Show has spoken to and with my generation through some of our most formative years.

And yes, he tells fart jokes (which I also love). And yes, he editorializes, (which is nearly ubiquitous in “legitimate news” streams anyway). But he also often names what people are thinking, feeling, or what they can’t even put into words.

And then he helps us laugh about it, and at ourselves.

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, however, he took a more sober tone when talking about the slaughter in the headquarters of the French satire magazine, Charlie Hebdo. One comment in particular that he made stuck with me, not because it was funny or witty. Rather, it pointed to something we all need to consider more seriously, I think.

Meet the New Boss (looks familiar)

Illustration by Ken Davis

IN MID-JANUARY, the gavel of power will change hands in the U.S. Senate. Mitch McConnell, in a touching act of cross-party reconciliation, will reach across the aisle and forcefully pry the symbol of legislative authority from the desperate grip of Harry Reid. Although the outgoing majority leader said after the midterms, “I have been able to strike a compromise with my Republican colleagues, and I’m ready to do it again,” Reid later clarified that what he meant was the compromise he would strike would be across the knuckles.

After warding off repeated blows, however, McConnell will be the new leader of the Senate, a massive change in political power that will go virtually unnoticed to the public, since he and Reid are both grim-faced, elderly white men whose rare smiles cause parents to cover their children’s eyes and bring their pets indoors.

Indistinguishable in their sour demeanors, they are like brothers separated at birth: two joyless Caucasian babies muttering in their hospital cribs, already soured by the knowledge their lives will be spent in fruitless conflict, the only bright spot being they’ll have comfortable leather seating at work.

Both men are well into their seventh decade, with most of their adulthood spent in politics, another reminder that the true power of incumbency is simply outliving everybody else.

You would think that the many benefits of longevity would include a lifetime of wisdom but, for these two men, sitting long at the feast of reason is no guarantee of peckishness. (Sorry. My router is down and I’ve been reading 19th-century English literature instead of streaming videos of cute animals. It’s the baby kangaroos I miss the most.)

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A Winter to Remember, Beforehand

Illustration by Ken Davis

AS WE BLITHELY head into what we assume will be another warm winter—given the effects of global warming denied only by the ExxonMobil wing of Congress—we would do well to heed the warning of the nation’s oldest weather forecaster. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the coming winter will be particularly cold, with deep December snows to write home about, if you can get to the mailbox.

I first heard this forecast on the radio, driving home from another of the many craft festivals we attended this fall. We enjoy the talented local musicians and artisans, the copious amounts of free samples, and the chance I get at every handmade soap tent to complain that their cheese tastes funny. (I love doing that. It never gets old.)

The only drawback to fall festivals is the unavoidable encounter with dulcimer players. I listen politely for as long as I can stand it, then cry out, “Can you play ‘Free Bird’ on that thing?!” I do this to restore my sanity, if only for a moment. With its gentle, bell-like tones, dulcimer music is like a droning mosquito that you can’t kill. (The main problem with a hammer dulcimer is the hammer is too small and not made of metal. And they don’t hit it hard enough. I would hit it much harder.)

The dulcimer makers are proud of their craft, and offer them for sale, stacked together like so much firewood, dried and waiting for some conscientious humanitarian with a match to put an end to the madness.

But I digress.

GRANTED, IF BIG snows bring Washington to a standstill this winter, nobody would notice on Capitol Hill. But I wanted to be ready at home, with lots of supplies and plenty of rock salt for the sidewalks. (Winter tip: The best way to get a car out of deep snow is to place a dulcimer under each tire.)

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