Farts In The Arts

When Russell went off to Camp Seagull in the Carolinas as a young lad, Kish and I waited with trepidation for his first letter home.

Most camps in those days didn’t let kids call home for a few weeks.  Campers could write letters, but not call — the reasoning being that hearing Mom’s voice might just produce even great bouts of homesickness.  So we waited, and when Russell’s letter arrived we tore it open and read it eagerly.  We realized that he would be OK when we got to the part where he said he thought he would really like his cabin mates because “they all thought farts were funny, too.”

250px-firefartIt turns out that Russell and his Camp Seagull buddies had a lot in common with the ancient Sumerians, Shakespeare, and Jonathan Swift.

A recent article tackles the important and surprisingly under-researched topic of flatulence humor in literature.  It reports that the earliest known fart joke in history is also the oldest known joke, period — which tells you something about the significance of flatulence humor in human civilization — came from the Sumerians circa 1900 B.C.  It is: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”  Admittedly, it doesn’t really seem very funny these days, but let’s give the ancient Sumerians a break — since it was the very first known joke in history, we can’t reasonably expect Seinfeld levels of humor, and besides, we’re probably missing some important sound effects that accompanied the gibe and dramatically increased the humor quotient.

Of course, fart references were found in Chaucer and Shakespeare — where your British Literature professors might dismissively refer to them as “bawdy humor” — and in Mark Twain’s writing, too.   Jonathan Swift, who wrote Gulliver’s Travels, seems to have been weirdly obsessed with breaking wind.  Writing under a pseudonym, he penned an entire book on the subject called The Benefit of Farting Explained that articulated, in painstaking detail, Swift’s views on the different categories of farts.

So if you read or heard about the recent report about the unfortunate woman who passed gas during surgery in a Tokyo hospital, igniting a laser being used during the procedure, and thought it was funny even though the woman was burned as a result, you’re not alone.  Humans have been chuckling about farts since the dawn of recorded history — and probably for as long as humans have been around at all.

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A Modest Proposal From Ohio

An Ohioan’s vote is worth more than a Californian’s, or a Mississipian’s, or a Rhode Islander’s.  The objective facts prove it.  Every presidential election, the candidates visit daily and their campaigns spend like drunken sailors trying to win our vote.  In the Other America, the campaigns aren’t spending bupkis.

Ohio isn’t just the Mother of Presidents, it’s the Chooser of Presidents.  We’re the swingingest of the “Swing States” — the Don Draper on that blue field of 50 stars.  Every presidential election, we tip the balance.  We know it, you know it, and the candidates know it.

So . . . why not let us capitalize on it?  After all, capitalism is the American Way.  Our Ohio votes are like rich mineral rights or another valuable form of property.  We therefore propose that any Ohio citizen who wishes to do so be allowed to sell their suffrage.  The Ohio Secretary of State would establish an eBay-like website where willing Ohio voters would auction the ability to determine the presidential vote on their early voting ballot to the highest bidder during the bidding period.  Some voters won’t want to participate.  Others will want to sell early and get whatever they can for their previously inalienable right.  Still others will want to hold out until the end, taking the risk that their vote might be worth a lot more — or, if the election is by then in the bag for one candidate or another, worth nothing at all.  All sales would be final and the ballots completed according to the terms of the sale and certified as such by the Secretary of State.

Many strong public policy considerations support this modest proposal.

First, this proposal would teach every American that voting has value.  Americans who live in those boring states where the outcomes of elections are foregone conclusions can, for once, know the heady rush of participating in an election where their specially acquired vote will count and might actually be decisive.  We Ohioans are proud people, but we generously are willing to peddle our franchises and allow our fellow Americans to have that experience — for a price.

Second, this proposal would introduce more certainty in the process.  Ardent supporters of candidates who happen to live in other states will no longer need to fret about which way Ohio is heading, or try to make sense of competing polling data.  Instead, they can just visit the Secretary of State website, check out the “votes for sale” section, and get a running tabulation of the current sold vote totals.

Third, this proposal would eliminate the unseemly spectacle of candidates flipping burgers, bagging groceries, and engaging in other demeaning conduct to win votes.  It would end the inefficient, indirect route of enticing votes, through vicious attack ads, cloying TV commercials, and paid campaign staff, and allow for more direct transactions between motivated buyers and willing sellers.  And, in the process, the reduction in negative ads and harsh mischaracterization of opposing positions might actually increase the chance for productive compromise after the election is over.

Fourth, this proposal would increase the percentage of Americans who actually vote.  In Ohio, the percentage of voters likely would approach 100 percent as even politically disinterested people decide to cash in on their votes.  The increased percentages would please those foreign observers who are monitoring our elections and are accustomed to the free elections in their country, where prevailing candidates routinely receive more than 95% of the vote.

Fifth, this proposal would provide a needed stimulus for Battleground Buckeyes and thereby help our economy.  Why should automakers, “green energy” companies, and asphalt manufacturers hog all the money?  Ohio voters who receive thousands of dollars for their swing votes will put that money right back into the marketplace.

Finally, voters in other states will look at the Ohio experience, see how much their vote can be worth, and perhaps reconsider their hard and fast, down-the-ballot support for one party or another.  New Yorkers, Texans, and South Carolinians might decide that there is value to listening to other viewpoints and letting their votes swing, every once in a while.  That wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?

Jesse Jackson’s Modest Proposal

Jesse Jackson says that the United States Government can’t be a “tightwad” now.  Yes, that’s right — after the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in borrowed money on TARP funds, the “stimulus” package, “Cash for Clunkers,” bank bailouts, home ownership incentive programs, GM and Chrysler bailouts, and countless other examples of unbridled government largesse, Jesse Jackson says it is time to finally open the purse strings!  Otherwise, state and local governments may be forced to actually lay off workers to reflect lower tax revenues, and California college students who have enjoyed heavily subsidized tuitions might actually have to pay something close to what their college education actually costs!  What a cold world it would be if those things were to happen!

I had no idea that Jesse Jackson had such a subtle and keenly developed sense of humor.  Nearly 300 years later, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal finally has some competition in the satire category.