Comic relief

Both John McCain and Barack Obama attended the Al Smith dinner, a traditional gathering of mostly New York Democrats devoted mainly to humor. Both candidates gave funny, self-deprecating speeches. A sample:

“This is a very distinguished and influential audience and as good a place as any to make a major announcement,” McCain said. “Events are moving fast in my campaign. And, yes, it is true that this morning I dismissed my entire team of senior advisors. All of their positions will now be held by a man named ‘Joe The Plumber.’

“Already my friends, my opponents have been subjecting Joe to their vicious attack machine. His voracity has been questioned by Barack Obama’s running mate, ‘Joe The 6-Term Senator.’ He claims that this honest, hard working small business man could not possibly have enough income to face a tax increase under the Obama plan. What they don’t know is Joe The Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.” . . .

“This campaign needed the common touch of the working man. After all, it began so long ago with the heralded arrival of the man known to Oprah Winfrey as ‘The One.’ Being a friend and colleague of Barack I just called him ‘That One,’” McCain said in reference to his bully-like tactics in the second presidential debate. “He doesn’t mind at all. In fact, he even has a pet name for me: ‘George Bush.’” . . . .

“It’s been that kind of contest and I come here tonight to the Al Smith Dinner knowing I’m the underdog in these final weeks, but if you know where to look there are signs of hope, even in the most unexpected of places, even in the room filled with proud Manhattan Democrats. I can’t shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me.

“I’m delighted to see you here tonight, Hillary.” . . .

Obama later took the podium and said he’s not necessarily “the chosen one,” but could in fact be a superhero.

“For the last few weeks John has been out on the campaign trail asking this question: Who is Barack Obama? I have to admit I was a little surprised by this question. The answer is right there on my Facebook page,” Obama said. “But look, I don’t want to be coy about this. We’re a couple weeks away from an important election. Americans have a big choice to make, and if anyone feels like they don’t know me by now, let me give them some answers …

“Who is Barack Obama? Contrary to the rumors you may have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-El, to save the planet Earth.”

He then launched into the genealogy of his birth name.

“Many of you know I got my name, Barack, from my father,” Obama said. “It’s actually Swahili for ‘That One.’

“And I got my middle name, obviously, from someone who never thought I’d be running for president.”

Satirist’s confession of faith

The satirist P. J. O’Rourke, usually a wild man, learned that he has cancer. He has written a remarkable column in the L. A. Times, reflecting in a humorous yet thoughtful way on death, morphing into a confession of faith in Christ. Read it all, while realizing he is a satirist and no theologian. Here is a sample:

I looked death in the face. All right, I didn’t. I glimpsed him in a crowd. I’ve been diagnosed with cancer, of a very treatable kind. I’m told I have a 95% chance of survival. Come to think of it — as a drinking, smoking, saturated-fat hound — my chance of survival has been improved by cancer.

I still cursed God, as we all do when we get bad news and pain. Not even the most faith-impaired among us shouts: “Damn quantum mechanics!” “Damn organic chemistry!” “Damn chaos and coincidence!”

I believe in God. God created the world. Obviously pain had to be included in God’s plan. Otherwise we’d never learn that our actions have consequences. Our cave-person ancestors, finding fire warm, would conclude that curling up to sleep in the middle of the flames would be even warmer. Cave bears would dine on roast ancestor, and we’d never get any bad news and pain because we wouldn’t be here. . . .

No doubt death is one of those mysterious ways in which God famously works. Except, on consideration, death isn’t mysterious. Do we really want everyone to be around forever? I’m thinking about my own family, specifically a certain stepfather I had as a kid. Sayonara, you s.o.b.

Napoleon was doubtless a great man in his time — at least the French think so. But do we want even Napoleon extant in perpetuity? Do we want him always escaping from island exiles, raising fanatically loyal troops of soldiers, invading Russia and burning Moscow? . . .

Death is so important that God visited death upon his own son, thereby helping us learn right from wrong well enough that we may escape death forever and live eternally in God’s grace. (Although this option is not usually open to reporters.)

HT: First Things

Is there a better way to pick a president?

Frank J. Fleming offers A Modest Proposal for Training Future Presidents:

If God got fed up with us — and who would blame Him — and stepped down, would we want an extensive, well-thought-out process for picking a successor? Would we want to make sure whomever we elected to rule the universe was someone we know to be responsible with the power over life and death and who wouldn’t just smite people because he’s bored?

And would we want to make sure he has a good understanding of physics so we know he won’t mess with Planck’s constant and destroy all matter? Or would we just pick someone off the street and say, “Hey. He seems nice. Let’s give him ultimate power over us all”?

Well, the American presidency is the next most powerful job after God, what with running the world’s most powerful nation and the ability to kill billions. You’d think we’d have a very solid process for figuring out the best person to fill the position, but we have been completely clueless on this for more than two hundred and thirty years. And the Founding Fathers weren’t much help on the task of picking a president, only listing two qualifications: he or she has to be thirty-five years old and has to have been born in this country. Nowadays, that limits the pool of potential applicants to about two hundred million people. Luckily we have a two-party system which somehow uses New Hampshire and Iowa to whittle down all the choices to two. . . .

In the current election, for example, people say they think Barack Obama would be a good president because he’s inspirational, but if you want inspiration, can’t you buy books or tape sets for that? Others say John McCain has the experience to be president, but experience at what? He’s been in the Senate a long time, but what do they do there? Vote on stuff? You could get the same experience just clicking on a lot of internet polls.

We even debate over which candidate will better improve the economy, which is kind of like trying to choose from a litter of kittens based on which one is best at controlling the weather (hint: it’s usually the calico). It’s like we don’t even know what a president does. No huge corporation is going to hire a CEO just because they just like the cut of his jib; they’re going to want a solid resume showing that the applicant is already experienced doing similar work.

Fleming, tongue firmly in cheek, offers one idea for doing it better. But might there be better ways to get better candidates? For example, how about choosing our president by taking the constitution literally? Just elect members to the Electoral College, none of whom are publicly committed to a candidate. We would be electing individuals known in each particular state whose judgment we trust. They would then select the president, arriving at a consensus by give-and-take and negotiation, possibly selecting someone most of us have never heard of.

Do you have any better ideas?

The Bigfoot researchers explain

The Bigfoot hoaxers explain, saying it was just a joke that got out of hand and blaming their promoter who rushed them into a news conference. What was in the freezer was actually a Bigfoot COSTUME bought on the internet. Here is a photo of what excited the world:


Comedy & Classical Education

I’ll be speaking on comedy and classical education on July 24-26 in Houston at the annual conference of the CIRCE Institute[Consulting and Integrated Resources for Classical Education], led by my former student and now classical Christian education guru Andrew Kern. The whole conference is on that topic, actually, which will be addressed by a number of other speakers as well (or better). The event will be held at the architecturally and artistically rich Our Savior’s Lutheran Church.

Go here for details and registration information.

Can anyone come up with any of the connections between comedy, classical education, and Christianity?

Hugo Chavez vs. The Simpsons

Venezuela has banned “The Simpsons” as being too corrupting and replaced it with “Baywatch.” Isn’t “Baywatch” more corrupting than “The Simpsons”?

I wonder what Hugo Chavez has against “The Simpsons”? I would argue that satirical humor is intrinsically dangerous to an authoritarian state. Whereas hedonism functions as something like an opiate to the masses.