Columns & Essays


by Jack Swenson

The beginning of the end of terrorism occurred with the opening of an entertainment park called Terror World on a tract of land outside of Crawford, Texas, in the year 2038 during the administration of Jenna Bush, the first woman President of the United States.

Terror World was the brainchild of an aged Paul Wolfowitz, the architect of the failed invasion and occupation of Iraq in the early years of the century. The elderly functionary generously credited former Secretary of State Colin Powell for sparking the idea with an observation in his memoir Mea Culpa published in 2008. Powell’s notion was that terrorism could not be understood nor defeated unless we were willing to consider the hypothesis that many if not all terrorists had no political agenda or ideology but simply liked to main and kill.

The idea that terrorism against the general population could be reduced or stopped entirely by addressing these base motives grew, Wolfowitz said, over the course of several years as subsequent events convinced him that Powell’s postulate was correct. An example was the failure in 2006 of the Iraqi constitution to undercut the insurgency in spite of the fact that, under pressure from the United States, the document had been amended to Pacify the Sunnis. Indeed, after ratification, violence increased, and before the withdrawal of our troops in 2011, a total of more than thirty thousand U.S. soldiers had died.

Dr. Wolfowitz said that he was also persuaded by his reading of dozens of transcripts of interrogations of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. To a man the suspected terrorists were unmoved by news of the death of Osama Bin Laden in Islamabad in 2007, but with almost no exception they broke into tears when told that included in the terms of their parole would be the provisions that former prisoners were forbidden to possess weapons of any kind, that they could not ride on busses, trains, or airplanes, and they could not watch American television.

Terror World was an instant success. Planeloads of terrorists were flown in, all expenses paid, to a newly constructed airfield outside of Crawford. The visitors, almost all of whom were young men, many but not all Muslim, were in high spirits if a little rowdy on the flights, according to the stewardesses, although nothing like American football players, they said.

The guests gawked in wonder as they were greeted at the gate by larger-than-life-sized Disney characters in black hoods shooting AK-47s wildly into the air. They would try, often unsuccessfully, to guess the identity of the disguised figures. “There’s Mickey!” a bearded fellow would cry. “No, no,” his friend would say, tugging on the sleeve of the other man’s fatigue jacket. “Look. See the bill? It’s Donald!”

The most popular attraction at Terror World was the double-decker bus that suicide bombers were allowed to ride. The passengers were British felons. Another favorite was a ride on a jumbo jet filled with members of MoveOn.org or employees of the New York Times. The jets were escorted by flights of F/A-22 Raptors to the border of California where the pilot was permitted to proceed to a target of opportunity in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. The inaugural flight reduced the Transamerica building in San Francisco to a pile of smoking rubble, eclipsing in the media, for a few days at least, the Barry Bonds, Jr. doping scandal.

Other attractions that were enjoyed by the foreign visitors were the Whack a Jew game and another called Pitch a Bible in the Toilet. The Virgin Brothel was also popular. Since no virgins of any age could be found in the South, the girls had to be imported from small towns in Iowa and Minnesota.

The number of terrorist incidents during 2039, the year following the completion of Terror World, dropped by fifty percent, and the results were even better the following year after an embassy was built and staffed within the confines of the park and the U.S.S. Cole was taken out of mothballs and transported to Lake Arrowhead.

The year after that the number of incidents dropped to fewer than two hundred, and by 2041 not a single terrorist action was reported, which led the President, during her State of the Nation address to declare, “The war is over. Bring the boys home!” And after a snappy salute, she added, “Mission accomplished!”

by Ben Blattberg

(reprinted from Winter 1997)

I almost cried the first time I saw a CD-ROM. Games are fun and good; they’re the dough of my cybercake. But CD-ROM cinematics are like heaven sent icing. It was so beautiful it might as well have been perfect. It probably was. I know definitely where it was: a friend’s house.

Did I mention the graphics were mag-great-beaut-etc. They were all above & more. But as the sights streamed into my eyes, to balance the near tears that were streaming out, methinks I heard a bit of a voice tell me:

“Now that you know what greatness tastes like, everything else will be bile to your tongue.”

And I knew in a way that it was true. And the same voice said again:

“Nothing is good or the opposite of good but thinking makes it so.”

It would have gone on, probably with something from Confucius or Play-Doh, but I stopped it by simply accepting what it said.

I remember my 512K Macintosh and the game “Asteroids,” where you’re a little ship blowing apart rocks. I loved that game.

Then I got “Dark Castle.”

Then a new computer.

More Ram.

A color monitor.

“spaceward Ho!”

“Simant.”

And now I was watching “Command and Conquer,” with beautiful colors + sounds + interface.

The near tears would no longer come. My eyes were dry. This rose would soon lose its bloom as soon as the next game came out. The voice was right.

But that morning I went home and installed “Asteroids.” I played it for awhile. It was fun. Black and white graphics, no sound, but it was fun.

by Eric Via

My family and I enjoyed a meal at one of our favorite cheapo all-you-can-eat joints last tonight - Golden Skillet.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Golden Skillet - it’s an all you can eat place that is not exactly high-class or fancy - it’s for folks who like to eat a LOT of good food for a few bucks each. The amount and quality of the food is reflected by the size of some of the Patrons of Golden Skillet!

Our waiter tonight, Jerry, was PERFECT! He called my wife “Lady”, he called me “Sir” (You can tell he doesn’t know me) He treated us as though we were in a high-class restaurant! He didn’t even seem to mind the macaroni and cheese my kids dumped on the floor, or even my ill wife’s nasty tissue on the table.

And Jerry the Waiter didn’t do the two things I despise most in a waiter or waitress - bothering us, and brown- nosing/entertaining us.

He didn’t BOTHER us - he was there when we needed him to refill our drinks and to make sure everything was okay - he sensed when we DID need something and was there to fill that need and not before and not after.

And Jerry The Waiter didn’t brown-nose us for a tip - he acted as though he really CARED how we were doing and wanted us to really enjoy our meal! I’m sick of what I call the “cute” waiters and waitress - usually college aged kids who wear their hair funny, act like MTV hosts, and try to be my FRIEND and ENTERTAIN me when I eat. I don’t WANT A FRIEND to serve me when I go out to eat - I want a WAITER OR WAITRESS to serve me….save the jokes they’re not funny and save the small-talk I don’t care. (Am I getting old or what!?)

(One of these “cute” waiters was once asked by a friend of mine if he could have the half-empty catsup bottle refilled - the waiter proceeded to say “I”ll take care of it sir” - put the bottle behind his back out of view, turned it upside down to get the catsup to the top of the bottle, held his hand over the bottom of the bottle to hide it, and swung the bottle back around to surprise my friend and his wife with his magic .. problem was, the LID wasn’t on tight and he ended up splattering my friend and his lovely wife with catsup. Cute magic trick…yeah right.)

Well it’s become a practice of mine to let managers of places (Stores and restaurants) know when someone is doing their job well - this is VERY important to do!

So I asked one of the other waitresses if I could please see the manager - of course to the workers this is a very scary request - they automatically ASSUME something is wrong or I’m going to complain about THEM - and some have even looked at me like I’m a jerk. (And I AM - but that’s another story)

So she scurried nervously away to get the manager - and he appears from the kitchen within seconds. (Managers are always fast on their feet. “Yes Sir - can I help you?” (There’s that SIR again - in a Golden Skillet…wow!)

“Your waiter. ..(I pause for effect and suspense) ..the one named Jerry…..

“Yes?” he says nervously.

“He was…. GREAT!” I say, and he lets his breath out in relief.

“My wife and I were very happy with his service and the way we were treated by him..he’s a great waiter and there should be more like him!” I say.

“Why THANK YOU SIR for taking the time to let us know!” he says, grinning like a mule eating briars.

So you see this is a FUN habit to get into - who knows, perhaps…HOPEFULLY, they’ll call this waiter into their office at the end of the night and let him know what a great job he’s doing - perhaps he’ll get a raise right before Christmas…perhaps he’ll get promoted..perhaps his wife, girlfriend, (or both) will give him something special in the sack tonight -who knows..but the most important thing to ME is that ONE MORE person out there will realize that hard work, manners, and politeness DO PAY OFF!

by Eric Via

Taking a trip to the store the other day in my car with my kids, I was swiftly brought to my senses by my son’s observation from the back seat:

“Hey Dad! - the flag at McDonalds was upside-down!!”

“Get outta here!” I said.

“No - it really was!”

“The American flag?” I asked.

“Yeah! At McDonalds, it was upside down on the flagpole!”

I strained my neck to look back, and, sure enough, I saw the United States Flag of America, the ol’ Stars And Stripes, flapping away in the December breeze UPSIDE DOWN!

DOH!

Without even thinking (why should I start now?) I whipped my old car around in a patriotic U-turn, all the while going over my flag etiquette; a flag flown at half-mast indicates mourning of an important person, and…a flag flown upside-down is either a sign of protest and discontent with the United States, or a sign of distress. I couldn’t recall seeing that McDonalds had any beef with the Federal Government (no pun intended), and I doubted that the place was being robbed at gunpoint and someone SNUCK out to lower the flag and raise it again upside-down on a Saturday morning.

I knew it was my obligation as a fine and outstanding member of society, an ex Boy Scout with honors, and an ex-Sailor in the US Navy to investigate this situation further.

“Are you really going to tell them Daddy?” asked my daughter.

“Of course honey. I have to!” (”I have to!” - how corny - perhaps I should step into a phone booth first and change my clothes?)

I barged into McDonalds with a mission, but there was a big line in front of me. I checked my pockets for change and found I didn’t even have enough for a coffee. Not wanting to look like I came in there JUST to tell the manager his McDonalds was under distress I grabbed 3 packets of catsup and took my place in line…I’m not quite sure what this was supposed to do - but I think I was thinking that if I had the catsup in my hand the manager would think I was actually eating there and didn’t come in just to interrogate him about the flag.

Luckily before it was my turn I saw the manager heading out to the parking lot to bring someone an order, I stopped him at the door.

“Did you know your flag is upside-down out there?”

His eyes got big. “Get outta here!” he said with a smile, and without missing a beat headed back to the back of McDonalds yelling “Carlos! CARRRRLOS! CARLOS!”

I assumed Carlos was the outstanding young McDonalds American whose responsibility it was to raise the flag every morning.

I tossed the catsup packets back into the bin and headed for the car - mission accomplished.

Outside, I looked back up at the upside-down flag whipping in the breeze and smiled. I got in my car to watch and soon out came Carlos, a young Mexican-American probably 17 years old. He didn’t see me - and I watched him walk to the flagpole, look up, scratch his head like a cartoon character, and stare. He stared at that flag for perhaps 15 seconds, I’d guess trying to get a mental image of what the American flag is NOT supposed to look like when it’s raised.

I pulled back out onto the highway.

America…baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and McDonalds.

Perhaps the upside-down flag that morning at McDonalds really WAS a distress sign for McDonalds?

“McDonalds - over 3 billions served…We can serve you good ol’ American fast food, a cheeseburger and Coke, we can offer you an early American heart attack, we can serve our country’s senior citizens a discount coffee, but our workers don’t really have to have a clue how to fly our flag.”

by Carl Miller

Let’s talk about abortion.

Maybe not. Let’s talk about . . . spontaneous orgasms.

Do you realize that if men could have spontaneous orgasms the entire complexion of male/female interaction would change?

I mean . . . My God.

My friend, Hal Lowe, and I were talking about this the other night on the way to the strip club, uh, I mean on our way to . . . an all-night Bible study at church.

Hal was talking about wet dreams. He’s had a couple and they’re like holy mysteries to him. I’ve never actually had one. Oh, I’ve had sex dreams. I’ve had plenty of sex dreams. But I’ve never woke up in the morning and had to clean my sheets. Not that I haven’t cleaned my sheets. Oh, I’ve cleaned my sheets plenty of times.

“Do you realize that if we could tap into whatever it is in our brain that let’s us do that in our dreams,” Hal ranted, shaking like a wino in a frat house on Friday night. “That that would . . . change everything?”

You could be sitting in a bar surrounded by beautiful women and it just wouldn’t matter. You wouldn’t care. Women? Who needs ‘em? I can spontaneously orgasm. Watch this . . .

Men wouldn’t have to worry about what kind of car they drove or how big their penis happened to be. It just wouldn’t be an issue. Granted, those things are usually more of an issue to the men then they are to the women but I think you get my drift. Men, all men, would have the same level of confidence that men with cool cars and/or large peni have always been blessed with. The kind of confidence that attracts women.

But the beauty of it would be that the tables would be completely turned. In the world of the SPONTANEOUS ORGASM!!!!! men wouldn’t need women. Instead of vice-versa, which is the way it is in the real world.

Women would be coming up to us in bars.

“Hey, uh, can I buy you a drink, uh, or, uhm, something. Heh.”

And you, the man, could just look at her and make that scoffing sound.

“Pfft (close proximity to the scoffing sound). Nah. I don’t need you. I can spontaneously orgasm. Watch this . . .”

Of course, if you could spontaneously orgasm then what the hell what you be doing in a bar?

But wherever you met a woman the traditional things which matter now would no longer be of any significance in the world of the SPONTANEOUS ORGASM!!!!!

“So,” she might say to you at the . . . all-night Bible study at church.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a rivet fiddler,” you might say if, for instance, you happened to

fiddle rivets.

“Really,” she might respond if, for some mysterious reason, she continued talking to you. “Much money in that?”

“Nope. Not a dime.”

“Oh?”

“I had to go through the cushions at my neighbor’s house to scrounge up the change to buy this beer.”

“But this is an all-night Bible study at church,” she might say if she’d been paying attention.

“Really,” you might respond if you suddenly realized you’d forgotten that you quit going to bars since you can now spontaneously orgasm.

“Well, I’ll be damned. So it is. So it is.”