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EAGANBLOG ARCHIVE
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Requiem for a Retort
There used to be a feature in The Saturday Evening Post called "The Perfect Squelch." In each installment the little story was different, but the punch line always delivered a sly, conversation-stopping retort to some clueless doof. The stories weren’t jokes so much as mildly clever put-downs.

There has always been a need for squelches. Some people really do need to shut up, and getting them to do so has never been easy, especially if we want to do it without spilling blood. The best squelches turn the squelchee’s own words against him in some surprising way; most of them depend on the specifics of the situations in which they are uttered and can only be used that one time.

There are exceptions, though. We have been lucky to live in a time when there have been two such exceptions. Indeed, they have become perhaps the most popular squelches of all time. It is with sadness, however, that I must recommend the permanent retirement of these honorable idioms.

Let me give you an example of the first. Say that your mate won’t stop reminding you to take the recycling out to the curb for tomorrow’s pick-up. If this situation, in your view, calls for a squelch, then you would simply say, “Hey, recycle this.

It is a crude idiom, to be sure, but it uses silliness to soften the blow. And, like most good squelches, it is not a direct blow, but more of a carom shot. What makes this squelch different from others is that it is endlessly adaptable to the specifics of a given exchange. That is the secret of its longevity: “blank this” can be used successfully with almost any transitive verb. Some of its other domestic uses, then, might include clean up this mess, do this outside, vacuum this, and please chew this with your mouth closed. It’s impossible in these cases to tell what exactly is being suggested, and that’s what stops the conversation.

The hook, obviously, is a tangential reference to the speaker’s pubic region and the invitation to the squelchee to do something metaphorical within it. No overtly crude words are used, but an atmosphere of crudeness is created. Behind this idiom’s staying power is its performance as an open-source squelch. And the sillier the verb, the better the squelch.

The other reusable idiom is a cousin to “blank this”. “I’ve got your blank right here” has the same attribute of open source adaptability, except that this blank calls for a noun rather than a verb. Also, whereas “blank this” is open only to transitive verbs, “I’ve got your blank right here” can use any noun. And since there are many more nouns than verbs to begin with, it is a much more versatile form. I would argue, however, that it is not as good a squelch as “blank this”. It’s more about the crudeness and less about the silliness, especially when it is accompanied (as it often is) by a crotch grab. As in, "I’ve got your squelching idiom right here (grab)."

Despite all of their virtues, the freshness of these expressions is well past its expiration date. After sixty years or so of use, they have almost no power left to amuse. Their novelty as open source squelches is gone, and all that is left hanging is the crudity.

Still, we ought to honor these expressions before they finally disappear from general usage. They may not have been perfect squelches (only truly spontaneous wit can produce those), but they have served well over that time by closing the mouths of those who really need to shut up. For that alone, we should salute them. And while you’re at it, salute this.
Stay Right Where You Are
Okay, let's get the bad news out of the way first. We can't travel anymore. Travel is responsible for a full quarter of all the greenhouse gases we produce, so if we want to stop global warming, we'll just have to stop moving around.

Why do people even bother with travel anyway? If you want to see the Eiffel Tower, you just Google it, and there it is. You just saved yourself thousands of dollars and a lot of aggravation.

I know that travel is seen by many people as something truly wonderful. It's so broadening, they say. It renews the spirit, cures boredom, lets us see the world through new eyes. It's this scintillating escape from the soul-killing tedium of normal existence. Fine, I'll admit all that. But think about it - can't you get the same results by abusing drugs? All at a fraction of the cost in the comfort of your own home? You see? I'll bet you we won't even to miss travel when it's gone.

In fact, we don't even need drugs. Every dividend we pick up from traveling can also be found within a ten-mile radius of our homes. Are we so bereft of imagination, for instance, that we can't find a cure for boredom in our own back yards? Isn't reading a perfectly respectable way to get our broadening on? And if we really want to renew ourselves, why not get a heart transplant? It's covered by Obamacare, isn't it?

Besides, don't we all want to be home all the time anyway? When you're at home, you're in charge. There's no consulting, no planning, no voting. You decide what to do and when. You don't have to do anything, really, but if you do, there is a huge list of possibilities, all known and road-tested. You can eat cheap meals of predictable quality, sleep in a comfortable bed, and know exactly where everything is.

When you're out traveling, by contrast, you're moving through a world filled with uncertainty. Mistakes will almost certainly be made, resources cannot help but be wasted, time is bound to be squandered. You're constantly called upon to make critical decisions without adequate information, and the chances that you'll screw up only multiply the further you get from home. All the while, you're surrounded by strangers who speak only gibberish and who might be plotting against you right under your nose! You may be renewing your spirit, but you're doing it while walking blindfolded on a tightrope, and the slightest misstep would mean certain death.

Okay, that may have been a bit over the top. Let's be serious, then. Travel is fun. The unknown and uncertainty are actually kind of a rush. It tests your wits. It allows you to see yourself against a different background, to deepen your enjoyment of your time here on Earth. It's a gateway to knowledge and wisdom. And yes, we will miss it when it's gone.

But it's got to go. And we're not just talking about cars here. Did you know that just looking at an airplane can bring on species extinctions? No, we'll just have to stay close to home from now on - within a ten-mile radius, let's say, and only on foot, bike, or in electric vehicles.

So please, stay home …and save the Earth. If we don't, then we'll have to start addressing an even bigger source of greenhouse gases - farts.

And no, I'm not kidding.
Decline to State
Have you ever wondered which is our stupidest state? Our cruelest? Our most incompetent? There are multiple contenders for each title, of course, but why limit our inquiry with such narrow parameters? Why not simply ask, which of the 50 is our absolute worst state?

By opening up the discussion in this way, we can excavate everything that is ugly and poisonous about America. Not because we hate America, as some might charge, but because we are true patriots. Only by recognizing our flaws as a nation can we hope for a better future for all of us.

All right, now that we’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get down to mocking our country. First, let’s eliminate those states that are clearly not in contention — the entire West Coast, for starters, and any state on the Eastern seaboard from, say, Virginia north. Everybody knows these states are cooler and smarter. No offense. I’m also going to give most of the Midwest a pass because, in spite of being the home to a lot of extreme nutcases, they manage to keep most of these people in check and out of power. Alaska and Hawaii are not eligible because they are too young to know better.

That leaves mostly the Southern and Mountain West states. We can whittle our list down a bit more by asking which are refusing Medicaid expansion — a program that costs them practically nothing yet would provide healthcare to their neediest citizens. No matter what excuses come out of their mouths, their refusal to do so is nothing more than cruelty for political reasons. Of the remaining states still in the running, only Kentucky, Utah, and Arkansas pass this test (if only feebly in the case of the last two). Wisconsin and Michigan have refused to agree to the coverage, making them the only Midwestern states bad enough to still be in the running. No offense.

Fortunately for them, however, they are eliminated from the list because they pass my next test for awfulness: does the state try to teach creationism as science in its public schools? This test also lets Wyoming, Idaho, and North Carolina off the hook.

Alabama , Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas are still standing. If we now drop the states that are too inconsequential to worry about, we have our finalists:

Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. Wow, pretty bad all right..

Let’s drop South Carolina from consideration, okay? Their main claims to infamy are a particularly virulent brand of racism and a long string of bad people in public office: Jim DeMint, Strom Thurmond, Mark Sanford, Joe Wilson, etc, etc. (I won’t include Lindsey Graham; he’s just silly). Bad as it is, South Carolina just doesn’t measure up to the depth and breadth of awfulness of the other two.

So, how do we decide this? Both states already fail the tests I’ve mentioned; what are their other faults?

They each have a Bush brother, but Texas has W, so the point goes to them. They’re both unpleasantly hot, but Florida is sticky, so point to them. Both have passed laws that suppress voting, but it was Florida that screwed the pooch in the 2000 election. The governors are both putzes, but Rick Perry beats Rick Scott (or anyone else) in a clueless contest.

That leaves us tied. Here, however, one contestant begins to pull away. Florida is lame, but the Lone Star State is just plain mean. And the Sunshine State has nothing to match the assassination of a president — and his assassin. They don’t have the psychotic gun-love, or the drive for secession, or the unjustifiable egotism, or Ted Cruz, or the Dallas Cowboys. Only Texas has these, and I hereby declare it the clear winner in our search for the absolute worst state.

As I have said, we conduct this study not to divide or denigrate, but to pursue the hope that we will learn something about ourselves — all of us — that will help us become a better nation, a better people. And that something is … avoid Texas at all costs. No offense.
Free Insight
One of my resolutions this year is to try to know my own limits. I haven’t got the time to do everything, and I need to admit that to myself. Especially now, with the design of my perpetual motion machine nearing completion.

I’ll still have time for these little essays, of course, as long I don’t let them get out of hand. Sometimes a topic will come along, however, that is too broad, too deep, and too hairy to take on in such a small space.

Take calves, for instance. No, not young cows — the rear portion of the lower leg. It is my opinion that this body part has too long been neglected by science, the arts, and yes, philosophy. I just wish I had time to study them more deeply, but I don’t. My only hope is that others will step forward to do this important work.

Did you know that we are the only creatures that have calves? Chimps, our nearest cousins, have only the scrawniest of lower legs. Other bipedal animals, such as kangaroos and birds, have a whole different style of walking, one that does not require a shapely, powerful muscle on the lower limb. Some quadrupeds, such as the elephant and the hippo, certainly have sturdy legs all around, but none has the signature muscular protrusion seen on most humans. Am I the only one whose sense of wonder is piqued by this oddity?

It has been argued, furthermore, that it is not language that separates us from the lower beasts, nor our capacity for reflection, nor even our opposing thumbs — but rather our calves. Surely there is some grant money out there for such a hypothesis, just waiting for the right applicant.

The calf is also the most polymorphous of all body parts. It comes in an astounding variety shapes and sizes. At one extreme are the large, bulging calves sometimes seen on husky folk. These have no apparent connection to athleticism or strength and are clearly over-engineered for any practical use. At the other end of the calf spectrum are those slender, cone-shaped shafts that show no muscle definition at all. It’s a miracle that their owners can manage to stand erect. How is it that such limbs can belong to members of the same species? I implore my fellow scholars — this mystery cries out for research!

Calves, it should be noted, are as individual as fingerprints or faces. There is obviously a place, then, for calf recognition software in our crime-fighting arsenal — and a chance to strike it rich if you can come up with the appropriate technology. I’d develop it myself if I weren’t already booked solid. Do you have the know-how and entrepreneurial spirit?

One might even dare to say that the calf is a lens through which humanity itself — our physiology, our history, our destiny — could be viewed. My cursory review of the literature, however, has found surprisingly little serious thought on this idea. This is a shameful state of affairs, to be sure, but at the same time it’s an opportunity for some young philosopher to till this field’s fertile soil with the Slump-jump plow of his intellect. At the very least, I’ll bet people would pay to see that.

I hope that someone will pursue these challenges. I know my limits, and I cannot. And even if I am able to finish my perpetual motion machine, once I get it started … well, you see how it is.

All that I have time for now is to write this seed of an essay and hope that it finds an open mind in which to sprout, grow, and bear the fruit that we can all eat. How about yours?
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon