"Humor Me" says Robert S. "Bob" Wieder

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Reading today about how we, meaning the human race, seem determined to blithely ignore the ominous implications for the survival of civilization that are raised by the increase in human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, I discover that fully 5 percent of said gases filling our air are composed of nitrous oxide.

Well there you go. No wonder so many of us tend to laugh it off.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Just got back from the first annual InterGalactic Beauty Pageant held on Pavonus III, and I think it's safe to say that, conceptually speaking, the Burning Man Festival has met its match. I'll file a more complete report down the road, but for now just a few highlights and general impressions of the first attempt to evaluate and rank the aesthetic attractiveness of all living things in the known universe.

Over three thousand life-supporting worlds were represented, with almost half of them inhabited by sentient beings. The judging was limited to the sentients, largely out of necessity, although there were charges of "cognitive elitism" lodged by some of the more progressive species. The Prime Directive was scrupulously enforced: no voting for any life form from your own home planet.

I'm proud and delighted to report that Earth landed three life forms in the top 100, no mean achievement given the sheer numbers of contestants. Kudos and hats off to: the rose (# 24), the yellow Labrador Retriever (#63), and the oyster (#9, and go figure).

The most attractive three alien life forms according the homo sapien judges were the sznigix, a desert crawling plant on Nifner (Deneb's fifth planet), the tarpatal, an aquatic color spouter from the oceans of Poit (Altair's giant solo planet), and the boccobochuca, an ectoplasmic air skimming creature of Oooohee (the third world in the Rigel system), which, as it happens, is a dead ringer for Sophia Loren.

No time to go into the various judging categories right now (Talent, Means of Locomotion, Best Use of Bodily Fluids, etc.) except to note that for Most Likable, it wasn't even a contest. Oprah Winfrey in a landslide.

Can't wait to show my slides.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


According to the Times Leader online--"Northeastern Pennsylvania's Homepage"--they have these nifty new electronic voting machines in Pennsylvania that permit voters to type in the names of write-in candidates, but Election Bureau officials are upset that voters are instead typing in vulgarities, especially what the T.L. article called "a pair of 'c' words," which I assume means that votes are now being literally and explicitly (as opposed to merely for all practical purposes) cast for c!nts or c!cks!ckers or both.

About time, I say.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


While reading an item reporting that Jodie Foster gave the commencement address at Yale this year and concluded her remarks by quoting Eminem, I also ran across the fact that comedian--and I use the word in its broadest sense--Yakov Smirnoff received a Masters Degree in Positive Psychology from the renowned Ivy League institution.

What a country.

Friday, May 12, 2006


USA Today reports that the vote on the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui was, repeatedly, 11 to 1 for giving him the spike, which means, as the dawn portends the day, that there will now ensue (a) a shitstorm of contemptuous fury that the pigheadedness of one individual resulted in massive injustice, or at least a massive case of justice denied, as well as (b) a great wave of praise for the courage displayed under historically immense pressure by one person of true character, integrity, and devotion to principle.

Personally, I probably would have voted with the loner for the first few ballots, at least, but I'm reasonably sure, given my lack of character, integrity, etc., that I would have caved in time for dinner. For me--and based on talk show calls, newscast interviews and so forth, for many others as well--Moussaoui was far more pathetic than evil, and all the more pathetic for his over-the-top effort to present himself as the embodiment of lethal and vindictive righteousness when he was in fact, and quite obviously, both irrelevant and useless.

And, not to put to fine a point on it, not exactly guilty. The verdict has produced at least one Call and Response in the debate:
C: "If this creep doesn't deserve the death penalty, who does?"
R: "Well, how about somebody who actually physically killed someone?"

Nevertheless, his scorn and callousness toward the victims' loved ones, including even those who spoke against his execution, and his jubilation over the very notion of dead Americans, do tend to leave the observer disposed to disemboweling the sonofabitch, or perhaps loaning him out to the U.C. archery team as a practice dummy. I can certainly understand the frustration and rage felt by those who truly believe he deserved to die. They deserve some release for their emotions. They deserve some satisfaction. So here's what I have in mind:

The Moussaoui Mean-Spirited Gift of the Month Club

Anyone can join, anyone can participate. All it involves is that each month, you send a gift to Zac the Knife, which you have chosen for its sheer cruelness of irony, its ability to underscore and heighten the grimness of life spent in close, constant, and solitary confinement. My first gift, for example, would be a kite.

Subsequent possible gifts, for those interested in joining the MM-SGMC, might include...
Hiking boots and compass
Copy of Playboy
Ping-pong table, paddles and balls
Carry-on luggage
Snorkle gear
Tango lessons

And remember, the important thing is that you don't have to spend a lot.
It's the thought that counts.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Nobody has asked me for my observations on the Colbert v. Bush episode at the big Washington Insiders Banquet or my opinion on the question of how truth-to-power acquits itself when compared to the good old days when people, especially those in the comedy performance trade, knew their place.

The most interesting aspect of all this for me was to discover, by listening to KQAK in the morning, specifically a spot of local radio hosted by former mayor Willie Brown and political/topical comic Will Durst, that a number of comedians, Durst among them, felt that Colbert was out of line for making Bush the butt not just of the majority of his gags, but of his entire set. Will, and evidently some others, embraced the comics' principle that if you are going to take a group's money, you do not then go on to ridicule them, unless that is the point of the performance.

I don't know how universally among comics this comics' principle is adhered to. I moonlighted as a standup comic for about 8 years, and for the most part, I agree: the audience is your source of income, and if they are meeting you even halfway--not drunk and drowning you out with babble or insipid heckling, etc.--you don't go for laughs by insulting them. Unless you're an insult comic, Rickles and Bobby Slayton being prime examples, but in such cases, everyone in the audience is, almost invariably, there with that understanding.

But this was not a club gig, performed in a standup comedy venue for people out to hear somebody tell jokes or say things amusingly enough to make them laugh and forget the wretched hopelessness of...
Sorry, getting off the track there.

Again, it wasn't a comedy club gig. Nor was it your typical private comedy performance for some gathering of professional or social group members being rewarded with a few laughs. It was a performance in a situation where people knew there was some likelihood of jokes being made at their expense. This has been the case at these Press Club events since the Early Bob Hope Era. The jabs were much milder then, but nobody in the audience--or the White House--was being widely accused of stealing elections or violating the Constitution or leading us toward a Christian theocracy back then either.

Again, I'm getting off the track. And here's the track:
Colbert was very indiscreet, impolitic, rude and maybe even unprofessional in zapping Bush, but this was a gathering of top-level politicians, media pros, and political fixers and shakers, hardball survivors with skin like kevlar, not the Livermore Kiwanis or Pep Boys' Golden Palm Managers. There has always been a kind of "roast" subtext to these affairs. These are people who make their own rules to fit the situation. Colbert was simply behaving in kind. The verdict: Not out of line.

P.S. As I noted in an e-mail the other day, one Colbert gag that particularly resonated with me was that the Secret Service code name for new White House Press Secretary Tony Snow was "Snow Job." As it happens, a related thought had been popping up recurringly in my thoughts the past few days: "Tony SNOW? They picked a guy to spin to the press and his name is SNOW? How did this fly right through the radar? What, was there nobody named Hal Totalbullshit available? Darleen Packofselfservinglies wouldn't leave her job flacking for Wells Fargo?"

I still can't get over it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Has it happened to you?

All your life you've politically been somewhere between Adlai Stevenson and Abbie Hoffman and then one day you begin to notice some leakage in the proud Goodyear blimp of your ideological constancy. You find yourself diverging, even lurching, from the path of truth and right, or rather, truth and left. You assume that this is merely a single-issue fluke, and not the beginning of some gradual abandonment of a political belief structure that you no longer find habitable. Then again, maybe this is how it started for the neocons. Are you losing faith?

Or was it just all those Mexican flags waving in the air that struck an otherwise dormant nativist nerve?

Hi there. My name is Bob (hello, Bob) and I'm a liberal who's having trouble with the intractably knotty issue of what is known as illegal immigration or undocumented entry or cultural invasion, depending on where and with whom you find yourself trapped into discussing the topic.

There are a dizzying array of sociological, economic and political aspects to this subject. Most of the major ones have been endlessly argued and rhetorically flogged far beyond my ability or desire to contribute anything: the morality of "rewarding criminality" by allowing border-sneakers, and those who hire them, to go unpunished; the logistical impossibility of actually enforcing the law; the salutary or devastating effect on the economy, and so on.

There is, however, one note in all this contention that seems to strike nobody but me as discordant. It's a phrase that has been invoked so endlessly as to have become a graven truism, but one that is not altogether accurate, and perhaps disingenuous.

"We are a nation of immigrants."

Are we, really?
And in any case, so what?

To begin with, albeit at the risk of gross oversimplification, the United States is a nation of people mostly like me, at least in one sense: I am not an immigrant. I was born here. So were my parents, and their parents, and their parents. Beyond that, I'm genealogically unclear, but the point is that while my residency here is the result of some prior migration by my forebears, my family has been here long enough to render the concept of immigration inapplicable. For most of us, it simply loses all relevance after two or three generations. The US is the result of immigration, but it is not a nation of immigrants.

Unless you're a rigid historical purist, of course--and in that case, the fact is that every nation is a nation of immigrants, with the exception of wherever you believe the human race first originated, whether that be sub-Saharan Africa (evolutionist), the Garden of Eden (creationist), or the spot upon which our alien progenitors from a distant galaxy first deposited our spawn (Tom Cruise). In any case, every other part of the earth was settled by humans migrating from that origin. Residents of the US merely happen to inhabit the last major hunk of real estate to open up in this global human diaspora.

And even if all Americans are "the children of immigrants," what has that fact to do with the subject at hand, which is the tidal wave of humanity that seems to keep flooding onto our shores from the south without benefit of either invitation or permission?

I reject the description of these understandably ambitious people as "illegals," which is as prejudicial and degrading as "illegitimate" was when it was used to refer to those born out of wedlock. Nevertheless, the word "immigration" as we use and understand it implicitly includes the element of some officially sanctioned procedure. The dictionary may define it neutrally, as the mere movement of people from hither to yon to take up residency, but for all practical purposes our definition is far more limited. If you go by Webster's, "immigration" is as much what the Mongols did to China and the Huns did to Europe as it is what legions of Irish and Italians did in crossing the Atlantic a century ago. That's one reason we don't go by Webster's.

I don't mean to even remotely equate the current cross-border phenomenon with the economic ruin and cultural devastation that have historically characterized such hostile mass migrations. But neither does this phenomenon equate with the specific and legally defined process of "immigration." And trying to classify those who reject that process and enter the country illegally as "immigrants" makes no more sense than referring to shoplifters as "customers."

Moreover, the fact that our population has been largely inflated by immigrants is in no way a persuasive argument that this trend be allowed to continue. The one nation on earth that most thoroughly embodies the "nation of immigrants" concept--Israel--also happens to be the strongest and most convincing argument against open borders and the unrestricted flow of foreign nationals across them.