Steve Dunham’s Trains of Thought
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Derailed trains of thought
“Après moi le déraillement”

Off the Deep End: Pothole State Park

Bugs From the Government 
Getting Out the Vote 
Governor for Life 
California or Bust 
Aggression Is Good for the Economy 
Chicken Little Was Right 
Talking Statues 
Pothole State Park 

Bugs From the Government

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

Wisconsin is suffering a plague of flies, and the plain-speaking, commonsense people of Wisconsin believe that the government is to blame. They say “they swear they’ve seen” black vans from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources “pull up to forest’s edge, swing open their doors and release flies,” according to the Chicago Tribune (this is absolutely true). There are also reports of black helicopters “releasing clouds of insects.” People refer to the pests as “government flies,” and that makes a lot of sense when the government calls the bugs “friendly flies” because the flies feast on caterpillar cocoons.

I have noticed that there are a lot of bugs around this summer. The air is also loaded with extra car exhaust (which, unlike Amtrak, is profitable and therefore OK with the government). Scientifically speaking, car exhaust should kill bugs. Therefore, if there are more bugs, they must be genetically engineered mutant bugs created by the government not only to protect bugs from humans but to prove that car exhaust does not harm the environment.

If you had millions of mutant bugs you had created, what would you do with them? Use them to create an expensive but dumb Hollywood sequel? No, you would try to get rid of them without anybody seeing you. You would try to make it look natural. You would paint your van black, unless you live in Spotsylvania, Virginia, where you are not allowed to wash your car and nobody can tell what color your van is anyway. You would drive up to the edge of a forest, open the van door, and shoo those flies out into the woods. If you were the government, you would also have black helicopters at your disposal.

Then if somebody mentioned that there were an awful lot of nasty flies around this summer, you would first of all deny having anything to do with it, and then you would say that they are good flies anyway.

So I consider it scientifically proven that the people of the heartland, who are close to the earth and far from Washington, DC, are correct in accusing the government of spreading a plague of flies in their state.

Here in Virginia, where we are close to Washington but far from Earth, we are having a lot of hot weather this year. A real lot of hot weather. Even in April. What, scientifically speaking, causes hot weather? Hot air. And (forgive me for stating the obvious) the biggest source of hot air is Washington, DC. Watch C-Span if you don’t believe me. So we are in the midst of another plague created by the government.

Also, not far from Washington, DC, the state of Maryland is under attack by voracious fish that can live out of water for three days. Our government claims that the fish came from China. If this were true, wouldn’t the United States be invading China right now in retaliation for this act of terrorism? Wouldn’t our government, at the very least, be sending black airplanes over China to release clouds of flies?

The fact that we are not at war with China proves that the mutant fish came from the same source as the mutant flies and all that hot air. The only thing to do is for citizens to take matters into their own hands. As several patriotic readers have said to me, “America is a great country. If you don’t like mutant flies and voracious fish and hot air, not to mention car exhaust, why don’t you go live somewhere else?”

I have a better solution. I will work to make a difference. I will run for president. My platform will be: No more mutant flies! No more mutant fish! Nice weather! Clean air! And all helicopters and vans must be washed and painted nice colors and clearly identified!

I look forward to moving into the White House soon, and when I address Congress, you can watch me on C-Span. Meanwhile, I’m going fishing, using mutant flies to catch mutant fish. I think I will need to fish with a shotgun.

Steve Dunham drives a black van for the government.

Getting Out the Vote

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

“I forgot to vote!” exclaimed my co-worker Mary. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, and I had noticed that there were signs everywhere with the names of political candidates.

“Oh, did Alexandria have its election for mayor?” I asked her.

“No, not for mayor!” she said. “I forgot to vote for American Idol!”

That proves the naysayers wrong. All those people who say that Americans are apathetic and not interested in the candidates or the issues just don’t understand political science.

Give the people something they care about and they will vote. Why, Mary said that people care so much about American Idol that they will cheat and vote many times.

OK, sometimes people cheat and vote more than once for political candidates. People even vote after they have died. And sometimes the vote counters count chads or dimples instead of actual votes. To me, these are all positive signs: they show that some people do care very much about elections.

However, people do not care about politics in the same way they care about American Idol. They vote for American Idol because they like or dislike a performer, and they love or hate a song. Also, compared to politics, American Idol is totally honest. What you see and hear is pretty much what you get.

In contrast, politics is far closer to advertising than to entertainment. With both politics and advertising, you just know that there are things they aren’t telling you. “Just say yes” is the heart of their message. Rarely do they count on your being satisfied. Instead, they bet that you won’t be unhappy enough to fight about it.

Entertainment is different. Buying a movie ticket is like voting. No matter what the critics say, you decide whether a movie is great or whether it stinks, and your vote counts 100%. You decide where your money goes.

It is true that politicians have made some feeble steps toward merging politics and entertainment. President Clinton displayed his musical talent, and President Reagan displayed his acting talent. But neither one could be considered an idol. President Bush is famous for saying things wrong, but he is no comedian.

If only the political parties would nominate more actors and rock stars and sports heroes instead of lawyers, a lot more people would vote. Hollywood is awfully political already, so it would be a small step to get all our candidates from California. Tom Hanks would be a popular candidate. He survived a desert island, even if it wasn’t real. And he actually lost weight for that movie. That was real, and something that would earn the admiration of many voters. He would have to think twice before skipping “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because now he would be trying to get votes. This competition for votes would be an excellent and natural brake on self-righteous behavior.

Drawing more candidates from the entertainment and sports industries would give us the kind of up-front, take-it-or-leave-it blunt choices that we get with American Idol. Instead of politicians uttering mealy-mouthed weasel words meant to offend as few voters as possible, we would get candidates we would really love or hate. We would have the kind of electoral fervor they have in Alexandria, Virginia. Which makes me wonder whose names were on those signs. Were they really candidates for mayor, or contestants on American Idol?

Steve Dunham is a political scientist.

Governor for Life

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2001

Thank you, the good people of Virginia, for electing me governor. True, the early returns appear to favor Mark Warner, but I will certainly demand a recount. Your massive write-in campaign showed that voters demand a choice, however quirky. You also proved that, as the saying goes, if you fling enough mud, some of it will stick. Flinging mud was the specialty of the other two major candidates, and while they both ended up covered with it, I guess enough mud stuck to me to make me immensely popular with the voters.

As governor-elect, I will be sensitive to your concerns. As an ordinary person, I realize that ordinary people are sick of hearing about chads—hanging chads, chads with dimples, chad and Jeremy. However, you will have to bite the bullet one more time, because if I do not pursue this recount with every available resource, including chads, then one of the other candidates will end up stealing the race, and you don’t want that. One thing I will put an end to as soon as I am governor is dishonesty among political candidates.

Your absentee ballots are crucial. If you have already sent yours in, thank you. Send another. If you have not yet sent your absentee ballot, please do so right away. I am depending on the millions of absentee voters to turn the balance in my favor.

My election proves that I have what we politicians like to call a “mandate.” I have spent years trying to find a good job. Now that I have one, it is time to end Virginia’s antiquated system of granting governors only one term in office. I don’t want to have to do this all over again to become senator. It took me decades to find a good job, and now that you have given it to me, I don’t plan to let go of it. So with the voters’ mandate, I will be governor as long as I feel like it, which will probably be a good long time.

Knowing my frustration with telemarketers, tailgaters, and other troublemakers, you probably are expecting a flood of new legislation coming from the governor’s office. You are wrong. I am not opposed to big government. Now that the government is mine, it will get even bigger. However, we already have so many laws that they are not enforced anyway. The first thing I will do is get rid of the ridiculous signs that say things like, “No Littering! It’s the Law!” These signs are addressed to the very same people who are running stop signs, running red lights, speeding, etc.—all of which are against the law, and you can see how much that deters them. No, my fellow Virginians, we have enough laws. As governor, I will devote my time to personally enforcing the laws we do have. So look out, and think twice before calling me at 9 p.m. When I answer, “Governor-elect Dunham,” you will be apologizing profusely before you hang up, but it will be too late. I will have already traced your call. Then I will exact retribution with the full power of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Now, as I prepare to take office, I am getting ready for my first press conference, at which, grinning broadly, I will hold up a newspaper with a headline proclaiming Mark Warner the newly elected governor. Ha, ha!

Once in office, I plan to stay in touch with the common people. I am very concerned about taxes, for instance, and to save the state money, I plan to get as many free meals as possible. Please prepare your invitations and get them ready to mail. As governor, I will be happy to attend whatever function you are planning as long as you feed me and a few of my friends.

My election will benefit the state in every way. Business will grow because I will have more money to spend; taxes will drop, as I explained just a moment ago; unemployment will disappear, because I will provide jobs for all my friends. (As a side benefit, I will have many more friends.) Telemarketing will no longer be a problem, because I will have an unlisted number. Yes, my fellow Virginians, the best years are ahead of us.

Steve Dunham was just elected governor of Virginia and is waiting for the other candidates to concede defeat.

California or Bust

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

My search for meaningful employment is leading me to California, where there is a really good job opening. The voters there have decided to evict their current governor, and they are taking applications for a replacement. The Golden State beckons with its lure of prosperity, opportunity, and the good life.

Yes, my dalliance with Virginia politics is over. I would now be comfortably ensconced in the governor’s mansion if a few million absentee voters hadn’t let me down. However, the political experience I gained in my goobernatorial campaign should equip me to win handily in California. After all, I am eminently qualified.

California has water problems. I know how to deal with these. I fought the elements throughout four summers of drought in Spotsylvania, and you have seen the result this year. Now we have all the rain we need, and I have achieved fame as a drought-buster and rainmaker. Give me a few years as governor of California, and the state will have an ocean of water.

California has budget problems. I am very familiar with large-scale budget problems. The answer is to get the federal government to send you money. I am so good at this that I have received the same unwarranted tax refund twice from the IRS (this is really true). When I am governor, California will be getting so much money from Washington that the biggest problem will be how to spend it. I will take care of California’s budget problem.

California has transportation problems. I know all about transportation problems. I have driven broken-down cars, I have ridden broken-down buses, and I cannot cross the street without somebody in a hurry running the stop sign. The problem, as Californians have not yet realized, is that we have too much transportation. I will sit in the governor’s mansion and show them that you can be perfectly comfortable without going anywhere. Just stay home, kick back, and chill out, and all your transportation problems disappear.

Most of all, California has a leadership problem. California does not need a musclebound movie star with an Austrian accent to be its governor. No, California needs a governor who is strong but can still fit into the back seat of the limousine, who has movie-star looks without the vanity, and, if he has an accent, comes from New York. Yes, I am obviously the most qualified, and without a doubt the most popular, candidate for governor. All that remains is to collect my campaign contributions and count the ballots.

By the time you read this I will be the new governor of California. You are all welcome to come visit me in sunny California. Notice I did not call it an invitation. It will not be free. Bring plenty of money to spend. Bring your car. Bring some water. Together, we will solve California’s problems.

Steve Dunham is the leading candidate for governor of California.

Aggression Is Good for the Economy

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2004

The arms race is on again, this time between counties. My own county of Spotsylvania has acquired weapons of mass destruction, and I’m not just talking about suburban sprawl, either. Spotsylvania is now one of the nuclear powers. And I don’t mean the Lake Anna nuclear power plant, though I now wonder whether it includes a breeder reactor for plutonium. I am talking about nuclear armaments.

Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense (for the United States, not Spotsylvania), has stated* that there are “a number of counties that have access today to weapons of mass destruction.” This is really true. Because this is a sensitive political matter, he did not name the counties. However, Spotsylvania, which did not sign either the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty or the Nonproliferation Treaty, is one of the counties that is acquiring these weapons.

People have been ridiculing Spotsylvania as a Third World county for too long, and we’re sick of it. Our uppity neighbor counties point to Spotsylvania’s failure to support Virginia Railway Express and say that we’re lost in the 1950s, when highways were the wave of the future, not dinosaurs bypassed by evolution. To that we say, “Lost in the fifties, are we? Then start building bomb shelters, Stafford. Bypassed by evolution, are we? How about a few mutants, Prince William?”

Am I saying that Spotsylvania is a rogue state? Mr. Rumsfeld claims that some of these counties “are lead by people who don’t have things that buffer them or moderate behavior.” That’s a polite way of saying that our government is a bunch of lunatics who are out of control. And speaking of lead, I hope you have your computer well shielded, in addition to a large stock of food and a backup power supply. We are armed and dangerous.

Spotsylvania calls itself “aggressive.”* (All the quotes from counties are really true too.) No appeasement for us. If the rest of Virginia won’t give us the respect we deserve, well, we never stopped fighting the Civil War anyway. We will bomb our neighbors back into the Stone Age, or at least into the 1950s.

Now, you will have noticed that the Secretary of Defense mentioned “counties.” Spotsylvania is not the only member of the “nuclear club” in Virginia. Other aggressor counties include Loudoun and Caroline. Loudoun has an “employment driven model” for “long term household demand” that uses “4 scenarios: conservative, moderate, aggressive and highly aggressive.” They might as well talk about “lebensraum.” Caroline is likewise “poised to pursue an aggressive agenda.”

This is all consistent with state policy. The Virginia Economic Development Partnership’s Blueprint for Elected Officials calls for an “aggressive marketing” and a “local economic development program” that “targets key economic sectors.”

No wonder Donald Rumsfeld is worried. These counties on the fringe (in more ways than one) are ready to fight, and our unarmed, complacent neighbors won’t know what hit them. When it’s over, not only will Spotsylvania, Loudoun, and Caroline have conquered the world, we will have a great tourist destination: the battlefields of the second Civil War.

Those of you living in the other counties could make it easy on yourselves, though. You could surrender now.

*Steve cleans up government! In recent weeks, Rumsfeld’s statement and Spotsylvania’s statement of aggression have disappeared from the World Wide Web.

Steve Dunham lives in a bomb shelter in Spotsylvania.

Talking Statues

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2004

All high-level government decisions are made by statues that talk. For public consumption, the story is that our government has three branches: legislative, judicial, and executive. In reality, all serious matters are decided by the statues.

Take public drunkenness, for example: “Martin was convicted of being drunk on a public highway,” according to the University of Michigan Law School. (This is a real case and a real quotation.) “Officers arrested him at his home and took him onto the highway where he manifested a drunken condition. The Alabama statue states that anyone in a public place manifesting a drunken condition shall be convicted or fined.” A jury convicted him of public drunkenness. However, their decision was overturned because the law presupposes that the drunk is on the highway voluntarily, not taken there by police. This is really true. Clearly, the wisdom of human beings on a jury is deficient, whereas a statue possesses the wisdom of Solomon.

You also need a Solomon when you have a tie between presidential candidates. Who gets to demand a recount? It must be decided by wise talking statues, as I learned from a Yahoo posting: “Well, the statues state that a manual recount may be requested up to 72 hours after the general election while they also say that county returns must be filed with the state within 7 days.”

The statues monitor the elections fairly. “Florida statues state that a failure to make any required disclosures constitutes grounds for disqualification from being on the ballot,” according to a story in the St. Petersburg Times. Florida may have problems with its voting system, but fortunately can get disputes settled impartially by statues.

How big is a wading pool in Thornburg, Indiana, where some nervy residents were putting them in their front yards? “State statues state that a wading pool is 24" or less,” according to the homeowners association minutes. Imagine the rancor and contention if human beings had to resolve this on their own, quarreling about what constitutes a wading pool. Instead, I imagine the officers saying, “We must consult the statues.” Then they excuse themselves and go into a back room, where they say, “O wise statues, how big is a wading pool?” Personally, I would have not settled for the enigmatic answer the statues gave. I would have asked, “Is that 24 inches wide or 24 inches deep?”

You can see that the statues, when making their pronouncements, really get into the details. In Europe, where governments lean more toward socialism, the statues exercise even more control. For example, “Dental treatment is granted according to the statues,” says the European Union website.

So what are these statues? Are they busts of Washington and Lincoln? Roman gods? Saints? “As a child I was raised according to the statues of a devoted Roman Catholic,” wrote one college student in a term paper. On a biblical note, the People for the American Way website refers to “the sodomy statue.” I wonder whether it is made of salt.

However, I think that the governing statues are definitely images of Americans, because I have found* thousands of references to “federal statues.” For instance, “the Eisenhower Center is governed by federal statue.”

Also, the statues don’t seem to be divine. “For example, if a federal statue is on shaky constitutional footing,” it may be reviewed by the Supreme Court, according to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. The American Civil Liberties Union concurs: “Anytime a federal statue is declared unconstitutional, there’s a strong probability that the Supreme Court will review the case.” Also, one federal statue can be “preempted by another Federal statue,” asserts the Environmental Protection Agency.

So the statues seem to compete with each other, sort of like Roman gods. This leads me to conclude that American government is from Mars and Venus.

* Google did all the work.

Steve Dunham is a legal expert who consults the statues.

Chicken Little Was Right

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2002

It’s time to run for cover when the Air Force thinks the sky is falling. The flyboys and flygirls must at least think it’s a possibility, because in November, in Florida, the Air Force Materiel Command, and this is really true, is holding “Chicken Little Geophysics Week.” I cannot understand why I, as a serious researcher whose work is distributed on trains serving the nation’s capital and three very important states, have not been invited to cover this. I am tempted to resort to a technique used by less scrupulous researchers for less prestigious journals and start making things up. However, for once that will not be necessary, because the government, in formal announcements, has provided enough material to keep us all entertained for the rest of the ride into Washington. Please stop giggling before you arrive at work.

For mice and men whose plans went astray, back in February there was the “2002 RUE Policy and Strategy Conference.” I’ll bet that instead of “RSVP,” the invitations said, “Please bring your regrets.”

Also this past winter, the Navy advertised for “sumarine trainers.” Does “sumarine” mean underwater sumo wrestling? Maybe to become a Navy Seal you will have to participate in a televised challenge, like “Top Dog,” except it will be “Top Gun” or “Top Seal.”

Another Navy announcement referred to the “Untied States Marine Corp.” I thought the “Untied States” is what happened in the Civil War. And the “Marine Corp”? (Not Marine Corps?) Sounds like the Bush administration, which always wants to “privatize” things that cost money, has decided to “privatize” the U.S. Marines. Now they are Marines, Inc. Sounds like it could be a Pixar movie.

In the “cushy contract” area, the Defense Contract Management Agency awarded a contract for “repair of repairables.” What happened to challenging assignments, such as fixing things that are broken beyond repair?

A Commuter Weekly reader who also pays attention to government notices sent me a Defense Department announcement that the Business Initiative Council “has approved four more initiatives, bringing the total of approved initiatives to 32.” “Why does this not surprise me?” she asked.

How about this announcement? “Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Seeks Partnerships With Industry To.” Maybe the rest is secret.

And you’ve heard of the brain drain? How about the sanity sewer? The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration advertised for a “safety assessment of McClellan sanity sewer system.” I guess those Californians have their minds in the gutter.

The people at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency have activities that are more well-rounded. They were looking for a conference center that offered “extra circular activities,” while the Department of Veterans Affairs wanted someone to provide “armored care service.”

The U.S. Special Operations Command announced that it was looking for “technical writters for operational rediness documents.” At least the command knows when it needs help.

They have different worries at the U.S. Mint, which was looking for a contractor to conduct an “employee moral survey.” It probably would include questions like “Do you believe it’s wrong to steal money from the government?”

I would worry about that, because Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill told a Senate committee that “the Secret Service conducts financial crimes and counterfeiting.” Actually, he said “conducts financial crimes and counterfeiting investigations,” but I was laughing too hard to hear the last word. He also said that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has “unique expertise in the use and misuse of firearms and explosives.” I too am pretty good at misusing firearms and explosives.

Finally, in the 21st century, we have a new answer to the question “Where do old soldiers go?” They don’t die, they don’t fade away. Now there is the “Biological Warfare Seniors Group,” which sounds like a bizarre retirement activity. But I’m not sure we’d be any safer if they became writters.

Steve Dunham warned everybody that the sky is falling, but nobody listened to him.

Pothole State Park

By Steve Dunham, copyright 2003

“A huge natural pothole hasn’t turned into the tourist attraction that local officials hoped it would become,” reported USA Today. This is really true. Archbald Pothole State Park is in Pennsylvania. It is a really big pothole: 38 feet deep, 42 feet wide—bigger even than some of the potholes in the streets of Washington, DC. Like some of the potholes in Washington, it has become a place of “trash dumping, vandalism and loitering.”

I imagine that the police in Washington charge people with an extra misdemeanor if loitering involves a pothole. “So, young man,” the judge would say. “Where did your parents go wrong, that you should spend your time loitering?”

“Your honor,” the police officer would interrupt, “it was near a pothole too.”

“Young man,” the judge would continue, “you are so far down the path toward a career of crime that I have no choice but to put you back on the streets.”

The judge would be following new sentencing guidelines, according to my plan to reduce overcrowding in Virginia’s prisons and help out the state parks, which are suffering from budget cuts.

If Pennsylvania can make potholes into state parks, Virginia can too. The cost to the taxpayers would be essentially zero, because potholes as tourist attractions need no maintenance. Left to themselves, they tend to become bigger and bigger. Localities would just sit back and watch the money flow in, as tourists come to gape at the pothole and then go shopping in local stores.

Every town and county in Virginia would soon be clamoring for a big pothole that could be designated a state park. That’s where our Young Man Gone Wrong comes in. “If you like potholes so much,” the judge would say, “you can go to Virginia and dig one for people to enjoy.”

Virginia, however, doesn’t just imitate other states. Virginia is big on public works projects as long as they don’t cost anything, and we would greatly expand our system of state parks just by putting up brown signs. And we wouldn’t stop at potholes. There is the famous Mount Trashmore (yes, it is real). All it needs is a brown sign designating it Mount Trashmore State Park. I-95 would become the Old Dominion Scenic Parkway. Abandoned cars in the woods would become Automotive Historical Monuments.

There’s just one snag I haven’t figured out: how the sheriff will distinguish a loiterer from a tourist. I will be gawking at a pothole and the sheriff will say, “All right, buddy, move along. No loitering here.”

“But, officer,” I will protest, “I’m a tourist! See my Drainage Ditch State Park T-shirt? See the bumper sticker on my car? It says, ‘Virginia Is a Shock-Absorbing State.’”

And where will I find myself? In front of a judge. “You’re old enough to know better,” he will say. “I have no choice but to put you back on the streets.”

Steve Dunham works on a chain gang in Virginia.

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