What we’ve lost

On the morning of November 9, when the votes were counted and we all knew that Donald Trump would become our next president, I put the following statement on social media:

Well, folks, it’s been a nice republic.

It got a positive response from friends on the left and the right. They all sensed that something very important had been lost, though it was hard to pinpoint what. But those who find profit in that loss are leaving no end of clues, and it’s our job to read those clues.

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Deus Ex Machina

Lightning struck, very close, and violent thunder shook the home of Harold Meltzer in Lower Hambat, Illinois. Sitting on his front porch, staring out, Harold did not react. There was nothing he could do. The storm had been raging for days. The river, already swollen by upstream snowmelt, would crest soon, and overwhelm the levee. That barrier, built to be so mighty, was now exposed as feeble against the wrath of nature. Once it failed, nothing could save the town.

Lower Hambat’s calls for help had gone unanswered. Emergency services were already deployed to the fullest at other locations along the river. Harold thought about his family home, and talons of despair constricted around his heart.

Harold’s neighbors also sat on their porches, looking out, watching the rising waters that measured the exact height of human futility. There was nothing to be done.

Then, something moved.

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The Lost Legend of Rocrates

[Editor’s note: Archaeologists have recently uncovered a new account of this Greek myth, written from a different perspective. As it turns out, the Greeks may have been a little less worshipful of their gods than we had thought. Here’s my translation.]

Once upon a time in ancient Greece there was a clever philosopher named Rocrates, who just happened to be a large boulder. Rocrates lived under a tree in the forest. A family of foxes lived in a burrow underneath him, and their kits played on top of him, and their activities kept him clean. Rocrates laid there for years, happily doing nothing except for thinking up Rocratic dialogues that made the citizens of Athens look dumb.

But nothing lasts forever. The weather changed, and conditions became rainy and moist, and it stayed that way for a long time. The foxes moved out in search of a drier home, and Rocrates noticed that he was getting covered with moss. He felt lonely and wet and itchy, and he didn’t like it one bit. But Rocrates was also very lazy and didn’t feel like cleaning himself.

Rocrates pondered: “Sure, I could flop around until I’ve scrubbed this moss off of me. But I hate doing things for myself. What if I could get somebody else to do it for me?”

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Misconquest

“Your invasion is triumphant, Admiral Lop! The enemy retreated the moment we appeared. We will force their surrender and enslave them. Soon this planet will be ours!”

Ashmole the Jelly delivered the report in his boldest voice. He knew the Admiral expected good news of him. Bad news was liable to cost him a tentacle or worse, and the damn things took longer to grow back the older he got.

“And the Living Mountains, have we taken them? I want to establish our capital there.”

“Yes, Admiral, I sent an expedition to survey them and learn their secrets.”

The invasion fleet from Cetaculon had been most eager to conquer the Earth, subjugate its inhabitants, and exploit its prodigious resources. En route, they sang joyous songs of slaughter. Since their arrival two days before, they had spread death and terror in all directions. None had found the strength to oppose them.

Admiral Flipf Lop stared down imperiously from the deep concavity of the Squishy Ultrapod, his famous throne. It inspired awe in all who saw it, as did Admiral Lop’s massive size. His tentacles rippled majestically beneath the mighty crest of his elongated head. “And our men? What are our losses?” The Admiral harbored a secret dread about Earth. This strange planet had rock formations so great they breached and divided the waters. Such dry, uninhabitable regions were unknown on his homeworld, and they filled him with superstition.

“Our losses are well below the typical number in a campaign of conquest, great leader,” Ashmole the Jelly began. But he quivered slightly, and Admiral Lop noticed it.

“Tell me!” Lop thundered. His eyes blazed menace.

“It’s nothing, Admiral, nothing! Very few losses. Only… we haven’t recovered their bodies.”

“Oh,” said Lop, growing bored. “Then go find them, give them a proper memorial, and carry on conquering.”

“But we can’t, Admiral. They simply vanished. It’s as if they ascended into the Vapors.”

“Bah!” Lop responded. “Ridiculous. The enemy took them somewhere. Go interrogate them more harshly.”

Here Bilious the Polyp interceded, his head emerging from a niche in the wall. “The Jelly presumes too much, Admiral. It is true that none have resisted our might. But we have not yet identified this planet’s rulers. We do not know whom to interrogate.” Ashmole floated nearby, looking embarrassed, and glared darkly at Bilious.

“Imbeciles!” shouted Lop, and filled the waters of his command chamber with a furious jet of ink. “Explain yourself, Bilious.”

Bilious swept ink from his face with several cilia, then continued. “We believe there is intelligent life here, Admiral, but we have not found it yet. We’ve captured whales, sharks, eels, dolphins, rays, squid almost as giant as you–but none of them comprehend our questioning. Nothing so far could communicate with us, much less abduct our soldiers without a trace.”

The Admiral contemplated. “What theories do we have?”

Bilious responded cautiously. “Nothing credible, Admiral. Our Science Officer offered nothing but heresies. He suggested there could be solid creatures above the surface of the hydrosphere.”

“What, in the Vapors?” Admiral Lop fluttered with astonishment. “Ridiculous! What would their flippers even do up there? What would keep their swim bladders from bursting? Air pressure?” Lop heaved with laughter at the absurdity, and the two lieutenants joined him nervously. “Life above the hydrosphere? I hope you’ve executed the fool.”

“Oh, indeed, Admiral, we fileted him for his blasphemy. But we have no other ideas.”

“Well, keep looking,” Lop commanded. “Focus your search around the Living Mountains. Ashmole, report to the punishment tubes; you’ll be penalized half a tentacle. Life in the Vapors! Ha, what nonsense,” he chuckled, as he sank deeper into the Squishy Ultrapod.

Meanwhile, above the surface of the ocean that Admiral Flipf Lop had conquered, fishermen hunted in boats, and grew wealthy by harvesting the newly bountiful sea life beneath them, especially around the Great Barrier Reef. Nobody questioned why there were more sea creatures in their nets, or why they seemed suddenly tastier than before.

If the clown nose fits, wear it

(Warning: It’s possible that I’m about to directly insult some of you.)

There’s a stupid and wasteful tradition, dishonestly masquerading as “charity,” that’s been going on in the UK for some years now, that has recently made its way to the United States. I’m talking about Red Nose Day. It’s coming up on May 26. The gimmick is: you buy a red clown nose for a dollar, and your dollar (or at least a small fraction of it, after multiple layers of administrative costs) gets used to “fight” something called “child poverty.”

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