"What do you call a pizza party after the pizza's gone?"
"What do you call a pizza party after the pizza's gone?"
Dear friends and other patient readers,
Despite appearances, I'm working on part 3 of my series on the deceptiveness of communication. I'm trying to whip it into readability, so I can deceive you better.
In the meantime, let me take a moment to remind you all what this website owes its existence to.
Ten years ago this month -- or maybe last month? -- I was out shopping for groceries. The same way I do every ten years. On the way home, I turned on the radio and heard three guys talking about vampires, or snow, or something. They mentioned a couple of area villages where the peasantry was dumbfounded by the vampires and snow.
Soon, I caught on that they were pretending to read fake news items that reflected poorly on the small towns surrounding our community. Naturally, I fell in love.
This radio show was a recent startup on community station 90.1 FM, a replacement for the recently departed "Eclectic Seizure" program. The new show featured three guys doing improv comedy for two hours, with music breaks.
At that point, the show didn't have a name. The hosts dubbed it The Unnamed Comedy Show and solicited suggestions from their audience. After a while they came up with their own name and switched to soliciting milkshakes from their audience.
Which turned out to be the right thing to do. World leaders, take note. You can do better than exchanging food for oil, or blood for oil, or even blood for cookies & OJ. Comedy for milkshakes is the key to our energy future.
As of now, What Jail Is Like has been on the air for ten years, and off the air for eight years. Things can only get better from here.
The What Jail Is Like FAQ has a lot more information on how these comedic radio prodigies conquered our nation's domestic and foreign policy. I'm not here to provide information, just to bear witness.
And post some long-delayed episodes.
The FAQ contains general information about what's in the episodes and how to get them.
These episodes are from the long-ago era of 1999. To give you some idea of how long ago that is, 1999 was before terrorists discovered America. Before they waded ashore and planted the proud banner of exploding airliners across the land. When colors like yellow and orange, and even red, roamed free instead of being brutally enslaved for "terror alerts".
Peaceful natives grew corn and exchanged primitive "emails" -- and even "letters" -- that had yet to replace all vowels with the letter Z. And black gold was almost free for the pumping, although some folk whispered legends of an ancient, forgotten ritual known only as "full service".
Little did they know that full service had not disappeared, but was in full flower in the form of What Jail Is Like.
These particular episodes are pretty timely. For instance, they talk about certain holidays that we share with our distant ancestors of 1999. And the improv-comedy shenanigans are way ahead of their time.
Seriously, I know of no other show like What Jail Is Like. I basically owe whatever sense of humor I have to this show. Every so often I have to go back, listen, and remind myself that giants once walked the earth -- and be thankful that I was there to witness it. I hope you will join me.
So Obama will be President in two months. Since his name is now plastered on t-shirts and White Houses, Rush Limbaugh figured it couldn't hurt to stick it in one more place. Rush is now calling the current state of the economy "The Obama Recession."
Meanwhile, Georgia Congressman Paul Broun took the Obama clause and tacked on a Hitler rider. Apparently, since Obama proposed forming a Civilian Reserve Corps to maintain the nation's infrastructure in the event of an emergency, what this really means is that Obama is building a force "as strong as the army" as possible precursor to a totalitarian takeover. Apparently, no longer content with inconveniencing Labor-Day travelers with closed lanes and detours, the nation's highway workers plan to rule us all with an iron steamroller.
So who makes up stuff like this and says it in public? Kooks, right? Fanatics, self-marginalizers and other soon-to-be-former leaders of the free world. Not us. Not normal people.
Two-three years ago, I posted pretty regularly to the alt.slack newsgroup under the name Ergonomicon. alt.slack is a forum for the Church of the SubGenius, that famous parody cult of non-joiners and other smartypants who don't want to go along to get along. Once a year, the Church gets together to celebrate the annual end of the world. What could be kookier?
The Church is not tax-exempt, and therefore not a real church. However, this fact is lost on a lot of alt.slack posters -- along with other, more tangible citizens. Once in a while, they decry this fake church as a false religion.
Which is totally untrue, because the Church of fake kooks turns about to be a magnet for real religious kooks. In practical if not spiritual terms, this means that alt.slack is flooded with kook spam.
Back in the day, one of these particular kooks cranked out an astonishing number of moralistic conspiracy screeds. At least I think they were screeds, because what they really were was unreadable.
However, at least one poor soul decided to read them anyway -- and be amazed at what they implied about the indomitability of the human spirit. Or something.
That amazement kicked off a thread about the nature of kookdom. Toward the middle, I threw in my two cents. The thread is well worth reading, even if the subject matter gets a little disgusting.
As the thread grew, I thought some about what makes kooks so kooky, what makes fanatics so self-justifyingly fanatical. And of course, I came up with a half-assed idea about the origin of human language and culture to justify it all.
My idea is in the thread, so I won't repeat it in detail. If you want to see the whole thing, search down the thread for the name Ergonomicon. (Strangely enough, not my given name). If you don't want to read the whole thing, then briefly my idea was this: language and culture evolved as replacements for the waning human sense of smell.
Now do you see why Part 1 of this series focused so much on belabored stink-based metaphors?
Bear with me.
All social animals need a way to identify who's in their group and who's not. In my fantasy world of how things work, the way they do that is by sniffing each other's butts. However, humans don't really have that option anymore, since our butts are no longer at eye level.
Fortunately our mouths are at eye level, so language is a good replacement. And even better, culture is all around us, no matter where we look. What better ways than to broadcast your group affiliation?
Actually, calling language and culture a "replacement" for scent is the wrong word. To really describe what they did to the human race, you'd have to use terms like "hostile takeover". The innocent prehistoric rituals of butt-sniffing and poo-flinging were transmuted into something far more protean and insidious.
See, if you compare language with the sense of smell, there's a big difference. A social animal with a sense of smell has one thing -- a butt. Assuming consistency of diet, the animal is powerless over the smell of that butt. Another animal, sniffing that butt, can only smell the way the butt actually smells. In other words, butts don't lie.
But language, on the other hand...
To be continued. Again.
Back in January 2001, there was a president named Bill Clinton. He was packing to leave the White House, having just floated an air biscuit of presidential pardons to shady guys hiding out in Switzerland. This on top of his having stunk up a blue dress, and then lying about it. Phew!
Enter George W. Bush. You might remember that this man liked a particular letter of the alphabet, the one that starts with W. You might also remember that, upon assuming the office of President, Bush strode into the White House to fulfill his campaign promise to throw open a window and let in the fresh air of honor, dignity and asexual bipartisanship.
But he found a mess. All White-House keyboards had been systematically relieved of their "W" keys. Furthermore, the outgoing President Clinton, in addition to leaving his political stink behind, had also left more tangible products from his nether regions. Just what you'd expect from such a low character!
Except none of it turned out to be true.
In response to these complaints of key-swiping and poop-leaving, the Government Accountability Office swung into action. The first question it asked was -- what were the damages?
That was the only question it had to ask, because the damages were zero. Zip. It was all made up. Nothing but a good story, a pungent smell to waft through the noses of good citizens everywhere and wake us up to W's new America.
Now, at the rear end of W's eight years in office, comes another typographical stinkbomb. Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama recently gave a speech in Ohio while standing in front of a number of flags. Every other flag looked American, but the rest looked different. They were the right colors and had stripes and stars, but all featured a big "O".
Enter Bob Grant -- longtime radio host, inspiration to Rush Limbaugh, and flag critic. Something stinks, he told America. This O thing is just wrong. If Obama would go and do something like this -- make a flag in his image, or at least in his first initial -- he must be a despot.
Except that the flags weren't Obama flags. They were Ohio flags. As in flags representing the State of Ohio, where Toledo is and where Obama's speech was delivered.
So again. Zero. Zip. Nothing but a good story, a smell to cause the noses of decent, non-state-flag-recognizing Americans to sniff in outrage.
I didn't pick these examples merely as representatives of election-year inanity, which they are. I picked them because there's something more fundamental at work here, something that's been with us a long time. Something that -- assuming Obama carries the presidency -- we will see and smell much more of in the next four years.
To be continued in Part 2.
Back in March, I wrote most of a piece on the near-collapse and subsequent fire sale of investment bank Bear Stearns. However, the simultaneous near-collapse of my ability to form coherent sentences caused investors to lose confidence in the piece, and I was forced to to sell my language-comprehension skills to J.P. Morgan Chase for pennies on the dollar.
Financial observers and English teachers at the time noted that my failed post was simply a consequence of the blog market adjusting itself, and that no regulatory oversight by grammar or syntax was needed.
However, a recent groundswell of demand for that failed post has led to several more near-collapses on Wall Street, thus making my piece relevant again. All I can say is -- thank you. I'm humbled. Your $700 billion check will be arriving shortly.
Ah, for the heady days of March 2008 and the winsome innocence of $30-billion bailouts. Come with me and bask in the notalgia...
All the recent discussion about poor people, high mortgage interest rates, and how they turned out to be a foundation of clay for our magnificent financial edifices has masked the discussion of a much larger issue than the market in subprime mortgages. Namely, the market in credit default swaps.
No one seems to know exactly what credit default swaps are or what their real value is, only that you can make money by selling them to people. Something like $45 trillion (yes, trillion) in credit-default-swap business has been transacted. That's three times the annual US GDP.
So what are credit default swaps? They are explained as being something like insurance against institutions defaulting or otherwise not paying their debts. Until its near-default, Bear Stearns was a major player in this market.
A near-default that was avoided by a $30 billion dollar loan from the Fed.
So. Pop quiz. In order to save the market in institution-default insurance, when one of those market institutions threatens to default, you need:
a) $45 trillion in institution-default insurance, or
b) $30 billion in taxpayer monies.
Apparently, the choice is clear.
Given the Fed's stellar performance in their first test of economic-fiasco avoidance, they might be looking for new Everests to climb. Here is one suggestion: bail out the US Mint.
Since the decline of the dollar, the cost of manufacturing Benjamins has risen by nearly three thousand percent. To print a single dollar bill now costs $100.05. Clearly action is needed.
If the Fed bails out the Mint, the Mint can provide a sizeable long-term return by only printing money that already exists. Aside from the obvious benefit of slashing waste, this has the added bonus of getting the Mint in on the ground floor of the Green Economy. It will simply recycle those dollars back to the Federal Reserve, where they will be stored safe for reborrowing by the Mint. The real winner will be the U.S. taxpayer.
However, some critics say this will only work until the world runs out of Scotch Tape to hold the aging bills together. At which point the Fed may be forced to declare that each shred of a $100 bill is worth $10. This seems appealing at first glance, but it is simply manufacturing money out of nothing. In the best case, the government will be forced to nationalize the manufacture of Scotch Tape, absorbing the cost by borrowing against future money-recycling revenues.
In the end, the best option might be to offshore the printing of US money to more business-friendly countries. This would give us the best return for the lowest cost. Now, protection of the US Mint from overseas competition might appear desirable, but in the long run it reduces our competitiveness and weakens the economy. In these troubled times, it's critical for everyone to support free trade.
9/11. No matter where we were or what we were doing on that day, none of us can ever forget what it meant. The horror of seeing the World Trade Center in flames, the shock of our newfound vulnerability to those who hate us, our sympathy for the victims and our admiration for those who put their lives on the line to save them...and our undying resolve to move forward together to bring those responsible to justice. Now, on this anniversary, as on all anniversaries future and past, we make the solemn vow -- Never Forget.
Yes, the collective feeling inspired by 9/11 belongs to all Americans, and it will last a lifetime. But that doesn't mean it's "one-9/11-fits-all!" Now, on the seventh anniversary of the most deadly attack on US soil, we bring to you --
My911. With all the power you've come to expect from the 9/11 brand, but now with the flexibility to match even the most 9/11-demanding lifestyle.
Do you appreciate the sense of resolve that the deaths of 3,000 victims gave you and your leaders, but wish the victims themselves had been a little more deserving? My911 is the answer. With one click of the mouse, you can change the full list of 3,000 names -- of stock traders, maintenance staff and first responders -- to be the editorial staff of Mother Jones magazine. Now, when the remaining liberals and east-coast elites carp about the administration's systematic lack of preparedness for 9/11, you can enjoy a shiver of schadenfreude.
As a bonus, New York's first responders need not risk their own lives for fifth columnists such as these. Instead of dying on that day and slowly sickening over the years to follow, as happened on the conventional 9/11 -- these heroes can stay safe in their fire stations and police stations and emergency rooms, secure in the knowledge that a blow has been struck against America's enemies.
As a safety feature, My911 lets you customize all first responders to be immune to airborne toxins. This way, none of them will sicken -- and thus be ungrateful when they are denied medical coverage for their conditions. But this is probably overdoing it. After all, any first responder is welcome in the emergency room at any time. In reality, none of them lack medical coverage.
But not only can you save the lives of those worth saving. For the first time ever, My911 gives you the power to say "I told you so!"
Sure -- just like everyone else, you rallied around the President when he vowed to take down the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein -- before he made an even worse attack on us. You cheered when Baghdad fell, and you cheered when we shipped demonstrators into Baghdad to cheer when we pulled down Saddam's statue.
But then, every claim the President made turned out to be false. Worse, we were stuck in Iraq for years to come, overextended and unable to deal effectively with genuine threats to our security. Oops.
But wait! It's My911, here to rescue you and everyone you love from the crumbling tower of your own hubris!
With My911, there's no need for the mushroom cloud of all that Iraqi hot air to leave a smoking gun of embarrassment in your life. My911 has an embarrassment-removal feature that enables you to go back in time, so you can bury all the WMD you want anyplace you want. Now, when they dig up Saddam's army of atomic Republican Guards, slumbering in burqas of depleted uranium, only awaiting the command "Jihad!" to awake and lay waste to the world -- now you can say "I told you so."
If you want to go all the way, you can even erase the unfinished chemical plant that US firm Bechtel contracted to build in Iraq after the gassing of all those Kurds in 1988. Now, San-Francisco-based Bechtel need never face the shame of having threatened to evade the sanctions against Iraq which Congress was on the point of signing into law -- because none of it ever happened! With a clean slate, Bechtel can now accept all those no-bid Iraq contracts with no doubt as to the purity of its intentions.
Talk about your San Francisco values!
But why reverse-engineer Iraq when you can edit al-Qaeda? My911 is there to help. Prior to 9/11, Osama bin Laden and his cohorts complained of the American presence in Saudi Arabia -- in effect, an army of infidels occupying the Muslim holy land. In fact, al-Qaeda did more than complain -- they vowed to strike back.
But now, you can just waft our pre-9/11 troops out of Saudi Arabia and plop them down in Iraq. Now we win the war on terror before we've even had to fight it! And not least, Osama bin Laden's complaints have been cleansed of any taint of legitimacy. Now, if he ever attacks us again, we can have the comfort of knowing that it's truly because he hates our freedom.
Are you a leader in one of our two major political parties -- at least, the only one of the two parties that counts? Want to hold a convention in St. Paul Minnesota to select a presidential nominee, and want a high level of security -- but worry that having police make warrantless raids on organizations with names like "Food Not Bombs" will send the wrong message? Even if it's generally agreed that terrorists enjoy food?
That's a lot of responsibility, but now you can master it. My911 crashes through the door of political discourse, armed with a concussion grenade of free expression. My911 can create a custom-tailored video of the finest moments of your 9/11 -- moments powerful enough to put the opposition on the ground with its hands behind its head, all in the cause of sound public policy. Because unless you show a montage of suffering and destruction, how will Americans know you're on their side?
In fact, there's nothing that My911 can't do for you. Unhappy that the Afghan regime we've fought to preserve produces ninety percent of the world's heroin? Not to worry -- you're just a few keystrokes away from a joint announcement from the DOE and the FDA that poppies are the revolutionary biofuel of the future -- second only to terrorists themselves. Just imagine -- the freedom of the open road, powered by the corpses of those who hate it!
Unhappy that our troops are stuck in Iraq for tour after tour, enduring merciless heat? Just tell My911 to say "No" to global warming and get the next Ice Age going. Then take that thickening Arctic polar cap and ship it to Iraq, where it can do some good. At last, we can put those transportation biofuels to worthy use -- and our troops can be proud of their new responsibilities, guarding polar bears from extinction!
Irked at the shortsightedness of the bygone British Empire, which drew the Afghanistan/Pakistan border straight through the Pashtun tribal lands -- thus making the border porous and indefensible against modern-day evildoers? My911 can not only change 9/11 -- it can give you a whole new Fourth of July. Now, thanks to My911, instead of just having declared our independence from Britain, we conquered them. In one day. And drew the borders of their empire, and all world's countries, where they should have damn well been drawn in the first place.
My911. The only 9/11 you'll ever need.
I have all the time in the world.
Time is money.
Thus I have all the money in the world.
No, you can't have any.