William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Category: Fun (page 1 of 90)

Two cannibals are eating a clown and one says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

Winners Announced In The Rename “Global Warming” Contest!

The thing that was Global Warming is to the left.

The thing that was Global Warming is to the left.

On 17 July we started the Rename “Global Warming” Contest. This produced 66 entries, which is a record for contests here. Thanks to everybody who participated. I think we’ve done a lot to assist our forlorn environmental brothers and sisters.

Forlorn? Yes. You see, for decades gloomy-eyed environmentalists have been telling us that Global Warming was going to destroy us all. Unless. Unless what? Unless they were put in charge of the world’s economy and the personal habits of each and every citizen of the planet (excepting those peoples excused through mandatory diversity and multicultural requirements, and also excepting those put in charge, of course).

These environmentalists sure scared the bejeebers out of a lot of folks with their talk of ever increasing dangerous calamitous unstoppable tipping point runaway Global Warming. Prediction after prediction of the excruciating horrific pitiless Death By Heat that awaited all of us were made, and were believed.

Only problem was that the weather didn’t cooperate with the forecasts. Oops and drat. And heartache among the enlightened when they realized their old catch phrases could not longer put the fear of Gaia into the congregation.

Thus was born (the tepid) “Climate Change”, a banal phrase that nobody in the world doubts, or ever doubted. And it isn’t even scary. It did have the advantage of being true, which “Global Warming” conspicuously lacked. But it never packed the oomph needed to attract the crowds.

A manic depression settled over the environmentalists, awful to see. The hyperactive melancholy became so bad that even rationalists began to feel sorry for the enviros, and thus, in the spirit of Christian love and brotherhood, was born our contest.

We wanted to find the phrase or phrases that would shake listeners to their core, to frighten them into making rash and stupid decisions like “Global Warming” did in the glory days. Have we succeeded? Let’s see.

Here are the list of notable and winning entries. Winners will be contacted by email and will be invited to write a 300- to 400-word essay on What I Learned From Global Warming, which will appear on this site (we’ll see who replies!).

(Oh, I did ask our pal Gav Schmidt to be a judge, but he never responded. I’ll be sure to let him know about the winning entries, so he and his fellow grant writers can start using them right away.)

Ironic and comical names were excluded automatically. Only the genuinely macabre made the cut.

Runners Up (in no particular order):

  • Mike (with shout out to Frank Hebert), “Global Weirding”
  • Sander van der Wal, “Climate’s Revenge”
  • GS, “Climapocalypse”
  • Mike B, “Anthropogenic Biosphere Calamity” or “ABC”
  • Bob Mrotek, “Ob Calefactionem Mundi”
  • Roadki11, “Anomalous Biospheric Collapse Dynamics”
  • RobR, “Acute Global Climate Poisoning”
  • Anders Valland, “Anthropogenic Climate Disruptive Catastrophe” or “ACDC”
  • vuurklip, “Catastrophic Climate Collapse”

Winners (in rough order of preference):

  1. Will, “Thermageddon”
  2. Bruce Foutch, “Climageddon”
  3. Alan Cooper, “The Anthropaclysm”
  4. Tom Scharf, “Ecopocalatastrophe”
  5. Sundance, “Global Greenhouse Gas Chamber”
  6. John, “Climactic Climatic Calamity”
  7. Yours Truly, “Apoplectic Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Atmospheric Aneurysm”

Readers: Pick Your Theme Song

It’s summer and everybody’s on vacation, except, it seems, Yours Truly. And whoever is left is over at Anthony’s place fighting the Kaya wars. (My side? Take a look at the guy who introduces Pielke Jr in this video. Would you believe any equation/identity introduced from a man who purposely spikes his hair? Fashion tip: Never do that.)

So with all this inactivity on our hands, it’s about time we settled on theme songs, which is to say, leitmotifs. A tune or snippet of a melody that, when heard, tells listeners Briggs has done it again.

Long ago, it had been suggested to me that this offering by Mac Davis would fit best:

But that was then. And since this is now a more humble and self-effacing self speaking to you, something softer and more enlightened is in order.

Note carefully: a theme song is not your favorite pop song. If it were, I might nominate Where Oh Where Are You Tonight? (apologies for not linking to a better version, but the rights holders keep having YouTube delete the good ones).

No, a theme song tells people who are you, what you are about, and what you are going to do. It should accomplish this task in as few as notes as possible.

Yet must brevity be all? The most memorable television theme songs used to last a full minute; now they are five to ten seconds. But that’s because production companies have to make a profit. Ideally, Yours Truly would, too, but we can’t have everything.

There is no end to this post. I don’t have a candidate replacement in mind. I’ll work on it.

Meanwhile, I’d like to hear your theme songs, especially those of regular contributors. If any are at their computers, that is.

Note that links to YouTube are sometimes quarantined by WordPress. Best to cut and paste the URL directly. If yours seems lost, don’t worry, I’ll un-quarantine it in time.

Rename “Global Warming” Contest

contest

Andrew Jackson (‏@yodacomplex) reminded me of the screwy history of the thing that was Global Warming. The phrase has undergone many revisions, examples of which are:

  • Climate Change,
  • Climate Cataclysm,
  • Climate Chaos,
  • Climate Disruption.

Readers will have noticed the evident Anglo-Saxon preference for alliteration. If only the atmosphere would have cooperated with any of these terms, we’d at least have had a more interesting topic of conversation than The Consensus.

Consensus of what? Apparently that things are worse than we thought. I’ve pointed this out before, but if the same scientists, year after year, step to the microphone and announce “It’s worse than we thought” then the following two facts must hold: (1) these scientists are extraordinarily prone to error—can’t they ever get a prediction right?—and (2) therefore admitting membership in The Consensus is a political and not a scientific act.

Skip it. What’s true is that The Consensus was able to stir and heighten fear—even panic! even syndromes!—using the phrase “Global Warming.” Why no less than the very model of sober propriety, himself, Mr Al Gore, was made nervous enough to make a movie—and then make millions selling carbon indulgences.

Never mind. Familiarity bred its contempt and took the edge off Global Warming, but then so did the lack of global warming. So The Consensus switched to Climate Change. This was a winner in the limited sense that the climate always changes, so at least scientists wouldn’t be embarrassed by frequent flubbed forecasts. Fear rose.

But it never soared to the same heights as before. Hence quickly followed the other monikers. Yet honesty compels us to admit they were poor performers. The glory days of Global Warming are but a dim memory. People stopped caring.

This has had the effect of casting a pall over a once happy group of environmentalists. Before, Greenpeace operatives would chase you down the street, bean you over the head with their white three-ring binders, while cheerfully but adamantly delivering a “Do you have a minute to save the environment!” It was never a question, it was a mini-sermon. Whereas now they stand sullenly, offering only a weak grin and a view of their t-shirts, hoping this will be enough to enchant you into a conversation. Pathetic.

Think of all those who have devoted their lives to assuring us that the End Was Nigh! How sad, how bereft they must be! Christian charity, common human decency, requires us to take pity on these newly created intellectual vagabonds. It is our duty to cheer them, to show them hope is not lost. After all, we wouldn’t want them to all move to Belgium just so they could use that country’s generous disposal services.

Hence this New Contest to rename Global Warming. Let’s put the macabre back in meteorology! Let’s cause flesh to creep over climatology! Come on, gang: let’s get that sky falling again!

RULES

All entries must be made in the comment box below by 23:59:59 EDT 23 July 2014. One week, ladies and gentlemen.

I will be asking my pal Gav Schmidt (via Twitter) to be a judge. He might accept, too, since this contest is for his benefit. But upon his refusal or non-answer, I become the sole judge and jury.

Entries will judged on brevity, power to instill terror, memorability, and originality. The words of all entries must begin with capital letters (so I can find them).

Winners (there may be more than one) will be announced in a separate post and in this one. The winners, besides receiving the approbation due to them, will be invited to write a 300- to 400-word essay on What I Learned From Global Warming which will appear on this site. I will be in touch with the winners to arrange the details (so please use the right email when you register your entry).

Candidate #1

My entry, probably unbeatable, especially if I am to be the judge:

Apoplectic Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Atmospheric Aneurysm

Update I don’t want to single anybody out, but don’t forget the spirit of this contest. We’re here to help our sad brothers and sisters. That means a name like (I’m making this up) “Climate Silliness”, accurate as it might be, isn’t going to instill fear and panic.

All Men Are Mortal: A New, Award Eligible Mini Play

wind

All Men Are Mortal

SCENE:

A windfarm in Absolute County, a dry patch of land out west.

CAST OF CHARACTERS:

BRANDON, a speechwriter for Earth Is It!
RUSS, Sheriff of Absolute County
BERT, a jovial retired country doctor
JAMES, employee of Green Wind
HJ, a mysterious dyslexic billionaire, owner of Green Wind
GEORGE, an illegal alien
BAMBI FREEDOM, a professional activist with Earth Is It!
DAV, an EPA bureaucrat
SCOTIAN, an EPA bureaucrat
LUIS, an EPA bureaucrat
SYLVAIN, an EPA bureaucrat
MIKE, the manager of the EPA bureaucrats

SCENE ONE

DAV AND SCOTIAN IN A FIELD STAND UNDER AN IMMOBILE TURBINE.

DAV: The serial number on this one’s sun bleached. Can you make it out?

SCOTIAN: No, I left my glasses back in the car.

DAV: Go get ‘em. We can’t leave until these forms are filled out. You know what Mike’s like.


SCOTIAN TRUDGES THROUGH THE FIELD. AFTER A FEW PACES, HE CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, CALLS OUT, AND DROPS STONE COLD DEAD, ONLY HIS FEET VISIBLE STAGE RIGHT. DAV PULLS OUT HIS BLACKBERRY.

DAV: It’s me. Remember what I told you would happen? Well, it happened. Yeah. Better send him. No, I won’t touch him.


DAV HANGS UP.

DAV: These Canadians just can’t take the heat.


ENTER STAGE LEFT, BRANDON AND BAMBI.

BAMBI: Excuse me, sir. Do you have a minute to save the planet?


BRANDON PULLS OUT HIS SMARTYPHONE.

BRANDON: Wait a minute. Here. Walk up to him again. I wanna get this…Hold on, let me answer this first.

BAMBI: Never mind him. Let me give you our brochure on the sustainability of wind.

DAV: No need, ma’am. I work for the government. If there’s one thing we understand, it’s the endlessness of wind.

BAMBI: You work for the government? Why that’s so wonderful!

DAV: It’s a noble cause, ma’am. Citizens need directing, and I’m just the man to direct ‘em. But you’ll have to excuse me. I have to check the serial numbers of these turbines.

BAMBI: Serial numbers?

DAV: Yes, ma’am. We have a master list of all turbines which companies are required to submit quarterly. After we receive them, we send armed agents into the field to ensure the serial numbers match. Those teams send their counts to field offices, which forward them on to DC. And then my team comes along to run a second-level verification of the numbers. We submit both the originals and our duplicates to our boss—who shares an office with an Office of the Interior functionary—who runs occasional triplicate checks. If fact, I’m expecting him here today. My boss, I mean.

BAMBI: But how can he check your work before you’ve even submitted it. I know the government is efficient, but it can’t be that efficient.

DAV: Ha ha. No, he’ll be checking last quarter’s results. That shows you the kind of intense time pressure we’re under. No sooner than have all the numbers have been verified for the past quarter, than we have to start all over again on the next.

BAMBI: Have any of the serial numbers not matched?

DAV: Not on my watch, ma’am. And if they did, the companies wouldn’t legally be able to sell the electricity generated from the mismatching units.

BAMBI: Why’s that?

DAV: For safety, ma’am. Our motto is: you can never be too sure.

BRANDON: Sorry about that. I had to respond to a tweet. We’re thinking of changing our catch line from “Do you have a minute to save the planet?” to “Do you have a minute to save the Earth?” Quite a controversy raging. Mind if I ask a question? Why aren’t any of the turbines spinning?

DAV: Because there’s no wind.

BRANDON: So how do you know if they work?

DAV: That’s a good question, sir. Each of them has a maintenance mode that switches them on. It draws electricity from the grid and spins the turbines.

BRANDON: Say, good idea. Let’s do it. I can get a few pictures. Use them for the blog. “Your EPA in action”, that sort of thing.

BAMBI: But won’t the blades disturb the eagles and other birds which are nesting on top of the posts?

DAV: No, ma’am. Eagles like to live in high places. And when the turbines are on, it gives them a chance to get some exercise. Here, let me show you.

BAMBI: Oooh! It’s so exciting! You’re right! Look! They’re taking off! But aren’t they flying too close to—eek!

BRANDON LOOKS UP JUST AS TWO BIRDS CRASH INTO HIS FACE, CRUSHING HIS SKULL.

BAMBI: Brandon! Oh, poor Brandon! How could it have happened!

DAV: Simple enough, ma’am. Each of these birds weighs about 7 kilograms, and each fell 150 meters or so. That generates 103 thousand Newtons of force, which is roughly—let me think—yes, about 76,000 foot pounds. More than enough to crush ten skulls.

BAMBI: But it’s so awful!

DAV: It’s just physics, ma’am. But don’t worry. I see the help I called for has finally arrived.

ENTER SYLVAIN, STAGE LEFT.

SYLVAIN: Another one?

DAV: Ma’am, if you’d help my colleague move the body over to the car, I’d sure appreciate it. Like I said, we’re expecting our boss, and he likes to see things in order.

SYLVAIN: You can get the legs, ma’am.

SYLVAIN AND BAMBI CARRY THE BODY STAGE RIGHT. AT THE EDGE, SYLVAIN SUDDENLY DROPS THE BODY, WIPES HIS BROW, MOANS AUDIBLY, CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, AND KEELS OVER, ONLY HIS FEET SHOWING.

DAV: SOTTO VOCE Canadians.

SCENE TWO

RUSS STANDS TALKING TO DAV, JAMES, AND BERT UPSTAGE, BAMBI SITS NEAR THE BODIES SILENTLY WEEPING.

DAV: Just like I said, Sheriff. The heat got to ‘em.

BERT: Could happen, Rusty. It’s a hot one, and these fellows from the north are prone to apoplexy. Of course, we won’t know for sure until the autopsy.

JAMES: Sheriff, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to switch off the turbine.

RUSS: Okay with me. I can’t see as we need it.

DAV: Just a second, Sheriff. EPA regulations forbid the switching off of a turbine until an environmental impact assessment is performed.

RUSS: But didn’t you just switch it on?

DAV: Yes, sir, I did. But the impact assessment for switching these on has already been done.

JAMES: I can tell you HJ won’t like it. Green Wind has already paid all the fees—

DAV: —You have no choice. None of us does. The regulation exists. The regulation is all you need know.

JAMES: Yeah, well, she won’t be happy.

DAV: You needn’t worry. While you were attending to the bodies, I called the regional office and asked for an impact team. They should be here with the forms shortly.

JAMES: I don’t think you understand just how angry she can be. Hell to pay isn’t in it. Why I remember one time…wait. Forms?

DAV: Certainly, forms. We need to file an Environmental Impacts Assessment request. That’s submitted to the regional office for approval, which is usually granted, as long as the serial numbers match. If they don’t, we have to file for an exception. That goes right to headquarters for expedited processing.

JAMES: Expedited?

DAV: A joint meeting of the assessment and maintenance group meets every three weeks—

JAMES: —Three weeks!

DAV: I know. Fast, isn’t it? But don’t forget the EPA has always prided itself on efficiency. Anyway, if the joint committee gives its okay, their recommendation is sent on to the Third Second Secretary of Regulations who has to give it the final stamp of approval—

JAMES: —Finally we reach finally—

DAV: —And then all such stamped recommendations are passed to the First Second Secretary. If she says okay, then the whole process works in reverse and then the Impacts Assessment can be said to have passed. As soon as the paperwork gets back to your hands, you can switch off the turbine. That is…

JAMES: I can’t wait to hear.

DAV: As long as you have a Turbine Toggle Training Certification from OSHA, of course.

RUSS: Enough of this. I’m more concerned with those bodies in this heat than this d—d turbine. Bert?

BERT: Let’s just say that if there were a wind, we’d be glad to have it at our back. As it is…Say, why are these things in this valley, anyway? Hardly ever windy here.

JAMES: We applied to locate them on the crest over there, where there’s a steady breeze, but the EPA said a rare type of forked swallow sometimes once a decade might use the route along one of the ridges for their migration. So we decided to scrap the whole plan and invest in solar. But the contract we had to sign with the government said we had to build or pay daily fines of tens of thousands of dollars. It was cheaper to build and take the loss on the turbines.

DAV: The Endangered Species Act is there for your protection, sir.

BERT: Anyway, why don’t we put a tarp over the bodies until the ambulance gets here.

RUSS: I think I have something in the trunk.

RUSS EXITS STAGE LEFT, COMES BACK LATER WITH A BLANKET.

BERT: Meanwhile, I’ll see what I can do for that young woman.

DAV: That ambulance better hurry, doctor. You know the regulation. If the bodies lie in any one place for more than sixty-five minutes, they are considered to have been buried. And then we have to a ground water contamination assessment before they can be moved.

BERT: Regulation be…

JAMES: What’s taking those forms so long? We can’t stand out here all day.

DAV: I emphasized the need for haste, sir. He said he’d run. It’s only about four miles to the field office.

JAMES: Run! Why didn’t he drive!

DAV: The Carbon Pollution Act requires that agents travel by the mode which releases the least carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere. It depends on the weight of the agent, of course, but as a rule of thumb anything less than about six miles requires we go on foot. There’s a balance between the amount of CO2 from exhalation—running shortens the distance—and that used in the electricity plants which charge the batteries of our cars. Besides, in this heat, the cars don’t hold a charge more than four hours.

ENTER LUIS, STAGE RIGHT, OUT OF BREATH.

LUIS: Sorry I’m late, sir! GASP. But you caught me just as I came back from counting the customers leaving Happy Burger. COUGH. You were right. GASP. They exceeded their allowed number of daily customers by over thirteen. WHEW. And probably more…but I knew how urgent this was.

LUIS PULLS PAPERS FROM HIS SHIRT, HANDS THEM TO DAV, SHRIEKS, CLUTCHES HIS CHEST, AND DROPS DEAD.

DAV: Oh no! This is awful!—

RUSS, WHO HAD JUST RETURNED, TAKES OFF HIS HAT AND PUTS IT OVER HIS HEART.

RUSS: —The poor man.

JAMES: SOTTO VOCE Must have been a foreigner.

DAV: I knew that Happy Burger was breaking the law! And we had the proof needed to shut them down forever. But there was no way that Luis could have filed the proper forms before coming here. We have to start the investigation all over!

RUSS: But the man is dead! Have you no heart?

DAV: Do not think me cruel, Sheriff. Luis knew the dangers involved when he signed up for the job. The life of the EPA agent is one of continual sacrifice. But he was just one man. Whereas Happy Burger was acting in an unsustainable manner by exceeding its daily customer quota and putting us all at risk! I could almost weep, except that as part of my oath I had my tear ducts fused shut. Oh!, the horrible unsustain—

BERT: —What the heck is that?

AN EERIE HUM FILLS THE AIR, AND THE LIGHTS RAPIDLY DIM, LEAVING ALL IN BLACK SILENCE.

SCENE THREE

ALL ARE LAYING ON THE GROUND, INCLUDING GEORGE. ALL SLOWLY RISE, THEIR WITS ASTRAY.

GEORGE: What happened?

DAV: THICKLY What…must have been a rapid increase in ambient carbon dioxide—

JAMES: —Carbon dioxide my eye—

DAV: —That caused us all to pass out. Did anybody else have ringing in their ears?

RUSS: I did.

DAV: That proves it. It fortunate I was here to document it. I’ve been saying for months we need to strengthen regulations.

RUSS: Wait a minute. Who are you?

GEORGE: My name is George. I was just passing by.

JAMES: That’s a great hat, mister.

GEORGE: Thanks. I saw the crowd and wondered if I might be of any assistance.

DAV: No need, sir. The EPA is here.

GEORGE: EPA?

DAV: The Environmental Protection Agency, sir.

JAMES: You haven’t heard of the EPA?

GEORGE: I’m not from around here. Does the environment need protecting, then? Can’t it take care of itself?

JAMES: From my angle, it surely can.

DAV: He’s joking, sir. If it wasn’t for the government protecting the environment, there’d be no environment to protect. There’d be no air to breathe and no land upon which to walk. Life without regulation would be black chaos. Without the government mandating the actions of its peoples for their own good, the people might do anything.

GEORGE: It’s logically true that they might do anything that they can do, but would they do anything? I mean, would people pollute themselves out of existence? Wouldn’t the effects of any environmental damage be self-limiting?

DAV: We can’t afford to find out, sir. And though I’m sure you’re asking for the purest motives, we are coming awfully close to forbidden territory.

GEORGE: Forbidden territory?

DAV: Yes, sir. The Freedom of Speech act forbids people to interfere with the government in the performance of its duties. The government’s speech must remain free, which is only common sense.

RUSS: I’m afraid he’s right about that, mister. If there weren’t free speech, there’d be no chance of a civil society.

JAMES: Free speech, my eye.

RUSS: Careful, now. You’re just upset.

JAMES: Darn right I’m upset. You would be, too, if you knew how she could be. I just know this is going to be my fault! Wait! There she is!

SOUNDS OF A CAR ROARING UP, DOORS SLAMMING. HJ AND MIKE ENTER STAGE LEFT.

HJ: I demand to know what is here going on!

JAMES: I tried to tell, them, ma’am. But—

MIKE: TO DAV DAV.

DAV: TO MIKE Sir.

HJ: What are these bodies? Who switched the on turbine! Why is everybody around standing! Why isn’t anybody anything doing!

JAMES: We are, ma’am. I’ve already started filling out the proper forms—

HJ: Forms! Yet way another for the government to take money my! As if haven’t I paid dear enough!

AT THE SOUND OF THE WORD ‘MONEY’ BAMBI COMES TO LIFE, AND RUSHES THE TURBINE. BERT PURSUES HER.

BAMBI: Money! All you bloodless capitalists care about it money! Nobody cares for the planet!

HJ: Get down here from there!

JAMES: Yes, ma’am!

HJ: I’m not going to have another lawsuit on handS my!

BAMBI HAS CLIMBED HALF WAY UP THE TURBINE, FOLLOWED BY BERT THEN JAMES.

BAMBI: I’ll show you the value of money!

BAMBI JUMPS TO TURBINE BLADES INTENDING TO CAUSE THEM DAMAGE. SHE IS SLICED NEATLY DOWN THE MIDDLE, EACH PART DEPOSITED ON EITHER SIDE OF THE STAGE.

DAV: I don’t have the forms for this…

MIKE: Now, now. No need for concern. We can sort it all out.

HJ: No concern need? Are crazy you! Sheriff, your duty do! Get off them!

RUSS CLIMBS THE TURBINE AFTER BERT AND JAMES.

RUSS: You two get down from there! Don’t make me come up after you!

JAMES: I don’t know how to get down!

HJ: TO GEORGE Something do!

GEORGE: Me? I’m only an observer.

HJ: Observer?! What kind of nonsense that is? Get them off there of!

HJ, FILLED WITH RIGHTEOUS FURY, SCALES THE TURBINE WITH THE OTHERS. ALL ARE SHOUTING. DAV STANDS CATATONIC.

DAV: Forms…forms…

GEORGE: Your colleague appears damaged.

MIKE: Yes. It happens sometimes. No need to worry.

GEORGE: No?

MIKE: No. I have plenty of agents at my disposal.

THE TURBINE, FINALLY OVERCOME BY THE WEIGHT, TILTS. THE SPINNING BLADES HIT THE GROUND, BREAKING TO PIECES, SHRAPNEL FLYING EVERYWHERE. JAMES, DISMEMBERED, ALL FOUR LIMBS, FALLS TO THE GROUND WEEPING. THE LACK OF BLADES CAUSES THE MOTOR TO OVERHEAT AND THE TURBINE CATCHES FIRE. BERT IS CAUGHT IN THE BLAZE. HE TRIES TO GRAB THE MOTOR BUT THE FORCE FLINGS HIM LIKE A COMET INTO THE DISTANCE. HJ, ENRAGED AND IN A BLIND FURY, CATCHES UP TO RUSS AND THROTTLES HIM, CHOKING THE LIFE OUT OF HIM.

HJ: Me why!

THE TURBINE POST SPINS AND FALLS TO THE GROUND, MERE INCHES FROM DAV, CRUSHING HJ.

DAV: No forms…

DAV GRABS HIS HEAD AND FALLS LIKE A PLANK ON HIS FACE. A LONG PAUSE AS WE CONSIDER THE WREAKAGE, SMOLDERING RUINS, AND BODIES.

GEORGE: PHILOSOPHICALLY Does this sort of thing happen very often here?

MIKE: From time to time.

GEORGE: Is this what your colleague meant by protecting the environment?

MIKE: Collateral damage can’t really be avoided, you know. But it’s all for the best. Consider the benefits. Why, in this small incident we have reduced the surplus population and subsequently increased sustainability by a significant percentage!

GEORGE: Most efficiently, too. I wonder if you’d mind coming with me and explaining your techniques to my leaders? We have a surplus population problem, too.

MIKE: It would be my pleasure.

GEORGE AND MIKE WALK OFF INTO THE DISTANCE. END.

Fireworks!

4727558424_83e4969293_b

The first one that says “grand finale” gets it. It’s over when it’s over.

I spent a year of boyhood in Chicago, 1975. Actually, Oak Park. An enormous creaky house one block from the Chicago city limits. UFOs were in the air—and on television. There were areas of the house into which I would not go unescorted.

Fireworks were legal. So was the idea that you could set your kids loose in the neighborhood with only the warning “Be home for dinner.”

Who was it that said the past is a foreign country?

We would collect pennies and nickels and trade them for weapons of minimal destruction, or WMDs. We’d take off down the alleys on our bikes lighting bottle rockets from smoldering punks held in our teeth, holding the rockets just until ignition to get a better aim. Not unlike jousting.

My favorites were the plastic green grenades which looked exactly like those my grandpa used to hoist at Germans. Inside was a cardboard tube with a fuse. Tremendous thick clouds of white smoke. But they were expensive. So we’d buy the little round smoke bombs, light two of them and jam them into the grenade. Almost the same effect, but you ran the risk of melting the plastic.

They had this one tiny firecracker the thickness of spaghetti. To show your bravery, you lit one and exploded it in your hand. Some guys pretended to do the same trick with the regular-sized WMDs, but we told each other too many stories of fingers flying in all directions to do it for real. Somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who heard of a guy who lit one he was biting. No takers there.

The elusive goal was a cherry bomb, or M-80, said to be illegal. They were supposed to look like an over-sized smoke bomb and be the equivalent of a quarter stick of dynamite. Rumor always had it the kids in the next neighborhood had one. Massive explosions were attested to. Eyewitness reports were plentiful. But none of us ever had one.

Next best thing was to tape a bunch of regular firecrackers together, twisting their fuses into one. If you did it right, these would go off more or less at once. Looking back, I don’t know how powerful these were. We tried to blow up a bike tire with one. No success.

The same trick, incidentally, can be done with bottle rockets. Tremendous boost in take-off speed. And with snakes, those little cylinders of carbon which when lighted unspool to great length. A pile of five or six would release as much smoke in the air as a press conference by Chuck Schumer.

Remember those little green army men? I had battalions of them. Some came equipped with plastic parachutes, which worked if you were careful about throwing the man in the air just so. Well, all experiments to send a parachuter up with a bottle rocket failed. Oh, he’d soar into the wild blue yonder, all right. Sometimes. But he’d always stick to the stick of the rocket—the parachute would never deploy—or fall off at take off. If anybody ever solved this engineering problem, I’d be glad to hear of it.

Since I am, I blush to say, the Statistician to the Stars, I must present the total of all deaths caused by the WMDs in my neighborhood: 0.

Fingers blown off? 0. Teeth shattered? 0. Eyes poked out? 0. Maimings of any kind? 0.

Burns? Well, one or two, here or there. Mostly from holding the punks or the bottle rockets too long, or just as likely from gripping the match incorrectly or from picking up a thought-to-be-cool spent sparkler. Yes: we used to carry packs of matches everywhere.

But even though no mayhem ensued, it is a logical truism that it could have! And this mere possibly is enough for the more effeminate among us to quail and quake and to invoke the ever-present urge to San Francisco the problem, i.e. to ban, ban, ban. For your own good, naturally.

The “grand finale”, by the way, is the end of the fireworks show, the point where dozens of rockets are sent up at once, an end with a bang. It is the event which is always announced half a dozen times before it really happens.

Happy Fourth of July! But be careful about attending a parade or looking at a flag. You might turn into a Republican.

Older posts

© 2014 William M. Briggs

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑