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November 30, 2008

Back to Basics

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.

November 16, 2008

Politics (and Other Human Weaknesses) Explained, Part 2

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.

November 01, 2008

Politics (and Other Human Weaknesses) Explained, Part 1

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.