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Wanted: Santa Claus

BY STEVE BATES

U.S. officials have added Santa Claus to the terror watch list. Yes, Santa, aka Kris Kringle, aka Father Christmas. He’s one bad dude, according to authorities.

Suspicion has centered on the North Pole resident for years. Living in proximity to Russia and wearing crimson clothing were the first “red flags,” according to one official, who asked not to be identified because his mother thinks he is working for some do-gooder nonprofit group saving the whales or some such nonsense.

But Santa has remained elusive. The FBI, CIA and NSA have been attempting to conduct surveillance of Santa for years, but they have not been able to locate his secret lair. Apparently, there’s a geographic North Pole and a magnetic North Pole and they are not the same. In fact, the magnetic one moves around, kind of like the island in LOST. Go figure.

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U.S. officials have secured various search warrants for Santa’s base of operations, should it be found. One involves what authorities describe as clear-cut pattern of invasion of privacy. It’s common knowledge that Santa knows when individuals have been bad or good. And he even knows when they are sleeping. “That’s just wrong,” said the unidentified official.

The U.S. Department of Labor and international child labor organizations are concerned about possible sweatshop conditions in Santa’s workshop. Under-age elves reportedly are forced to work long hours without seeing the light of day during the winter months. Further, these elves might be categorized as aliens in every sense of the word.

Recently, President Turnip vowed to add the North Pole to the list of countries on the so-called Travel Ban That Isn’t Really a Travel Ban Unless the Supreme Court Says It’s Okay to Have a Travel Ban.

The government is extremely worried that Santa Claus is in possession of advanced technology that could pose a direct threat to international transportation. “Having reindeer that can fly represents disruptive technology that, if replicated, could put most commercial airlines out of business overnight,” lamented another unidentified official.

The Department of Commerce is planning to file complaints with the United Nations and the World Court over the massive production and distribution of knockoff goods expected from Santa Claus in December. Officials said Santa lacks licenses to produce the iPhones, Legos and other brand name merchandise that will be discovered under Christmas trees.

State and local authorities are also getting into the act. They will be sending police to city and suburban neighborhoods around the country on Dec. 24 to attempt to thwart an anticipated spate of break-ins in which a man in a red suit attempts to gain access to private homes through chimneys.

However, officials concede that Santa Claus is not all bad. It is widely expected that people who behaved inappropriately during the past year—including many politicians, most Hollywood personalities and all Democrats—will receive coal in their stockings this year courtesy of Santa. “This will be another boon to the thriving U.S. coal industry,” tweeted President Turnip.

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Sex and Guns

BY STEVE BATES

This is a blog about men behaving badly. Some do it through sexual harassment and sexual assault. Some do it with firearms. While the latter is more serious, both cause lasting damage.

Is there a connection? Perhaps in a Freudian sense. Perhaps in another way: It’s all about power.

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Men who coerce teenagers and adults into unwanted sexual behavior might be looking for a glandular thrill. But I believe that many such perpetrators have another motive: to revel in their power over those who are more vulnerable than them.

It’s a psychological compulsion. “I can do this to you and you can’t do anything about it” is implied, if not stated, frequently in these situations. For the perpetrator, that might be the biggest thrill.

One of the things that is so disheartening about this behavior is that it often is displayed by people who have power already. They seem to be white, employed, even affluent. They have jobs that put them in control of others: government officials, Hollywood personalities.

I have never understood the need to control another human being. I can’t recall a time when I crossed a line in a sexual context. I didn’t even manage to get my first date until I was in college. There have been times when I wished that I had more influence in certain social settings. But my thinking has always been: If you have to beg for something or bully your way to get something, it’s not worth having. Maybe if I looked like George Clooney things would have been different. I doubt it.

I have never understood the attraction of owning a gun, either. I have fired guns. In the Cub Scouts I was required to display a degree of marksmanship to earn a badge. So my den took a trip out into the woods. One by one we took turns gazing down the barrel of a .22-caliber rifle and murdering innocent tin cans.

As I recall, I wasn’t a bad shot in those days, when my vision was pretty good. I fired off a couple of rounds at a target at a carnival as well. But that was it.

Yes, I understand the Second Amendment right to own and use guns. And no, I don’t want to repeal the amendment or confiscate weapons. (Whatever happened to that rumored gun roundup that the Obama Administration was planning, alt-right people?)

Still, I don’t believe that those who wrote and enacted the Bill of Rights would have intended it to allow sick and deranged people to obtain weapons of mass destruction such as military assault rifles. The Founding Fathers would be angry at us if they could see the misery we have allowed to occur on a daily basis. They would call for an immediate uprising against the NRA and a re-wording or re-interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Americans, you are welcome to your guns. Please don’t use them against innocent people. What can drive someone to shoot up a school or a church or a concert? What sickness, what hatred, what lack of appreciation of the value for every human life could possibly drive someone to point that weapon at another person other than in self-defense?

Whatever pleasure a power-seduced person might get from sexual abuse or from shooting someone, it won’t last. These people need to find another way to exercise their power. If they can’t, we are in trouble.

Take the Fake News Quiz

BY STEVE BATES

Welcome to the October Fake News Quiz, in which we challenge our readers (or, some months, our reader) to determine which of these news items are true and which are fake. Here is this month’s lineup. Good luck.

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  1. Drew and Jonathan Scott, aka the Property Brothers on HGTV, are actually robots built by craftspersons working for the network. After trying unsuccessfully to cast a pair of human brothers with the necessary skills, Hollywood looks and aw-shucks demeanor, the HGTV team spent months secretly perfecting this pair of androids. The first attempts failed; the bad bots were re-purposed for other shows, notably the unfortunate remake of “Will & Grace.” Now that the robotic Property Brothers are fixtures on all-day TV, they are demanding better salaries and perks, like an upgrade from diesel fuel to refined plutonium.
  2. Aloof Acres, a gated community in the Hamptons, is offering buyers of new multi-million-dollar homes the option of additional utilities that will bring liquor directly into the residences. Along with water, gas and electricity, purchasers can choose from pipelines delivering scotch, bourbon, gin, vodka and–for the kiddies—chocolate milk. The meters can monitor the commodities remotely because electronic sensors measure consumption right down to the molecule. Temperature controls do pump up the price tags of these consumables, experts point out. However, as the president of the homeowners’ association puts it, “Don’t judge us just because we are rich and frequently drunk. Someone has to set standards.”
  3. Yoga for Pets, the franchise created by an out-of-work Zeppelin polisher and his wife in their Toledo, Ohio, basement, has spread to 43 states plus much of Europe and several of those countries that end in “-istan.” The secret to the success of the business is getting the pets’ owners to leave and not watch what happens during the yoga sessions. It would be too painful for the owners to realize how little their pets need them and how relaxed the animals become once the lights go down, the music comes on and it’s time to streettttcccchhhh. The business does have some mixed classes (dogs and cats); however cats and birds are required to take separate classes after several unfortunate incidents.
  4. Marijuana stores in the states where recreational use of pot is legal keep selling out of the new strain of dope that improves memory and decreases appetite. Most varieties of marijuana are known for impairing the memories of users, sometimes causing sleepiness. And, of course, most strains cause users to want to eat things that they otherwise would never think of consuming, like dippin’ dots and that carton of leftover Chinese food that has been in the back of the fridge for weeks. I mean, don’t even think of opening it. It could be—I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Oh God, I’m so hungry. I could almost eat quinoa. Oh, no, I think this is the wrong….
  5. The Unites States remains the only large developed country where military-style weapons and ammunition are allowed in virtually unlimited quantities in the hands of almost any resident, including nut jobs and potential terrorists. Despite the fact that a majority of Americans favor modest controls on the kinds of powerful killing machines that were never imagined by the backers of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the National Rifle Association and the members of Congress they control through threats and contributions continue to ignore the will of the people. And every week, more Americans are shot to death needlessly, including children.

ANSWERS: Of course, all five of these items are fake. Who would believe any of them?!

Escaping Irma

BY STEVE BATES

It was about 6 p.m. Monday when we noticed the men boarding up the shops and deploying sandbags around the waterfront area in Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, in the Lesser Antilles Islands of the Caribbean. Meanwhile, a pool party went on as scheduled a few yards away, with many of the guests from our resort drinking, dancing and splashing to the pounding beat.

Something was very wrong with this picture.

As it turns out, the revelers and the resort managers were not taking Hurricane Irma seriously. But it’s difficult for me to criticize them. The party participants had paid good money for their vacation. The resort needed to maintain some semblance of normality. And I was there, with my wife Jean, despite the fact that we knew before we left home that Irma was lurking somewhere west of our destination.

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We had departed from Newark on Saturday morning. After arriving, we chatted with the friendly car rental agent in Sint Maarten. Even then, three days before Irma made a direct hit on the Dutch-governed portion of the island, he had these words of advice for us:

“Go home.”

All through our truncated stay on the island—including a drive through the French half, known as Saint Martin—there were two constants: beautiful weather, and friendly local residents assuring us that they had survived previous hurricanes. We know now that there never has been a hurricane as strong as Irma was becoming. If there was a Category 6, she would have been a strong candidate. Sustained winds of 185 miles per hour for many days, with gusts up to 225.

We had barely unpacked on Saturday before starting to monitor Irma and think about options should we decide to leave.

On Sunday, our concerns grew. I bought only enough food for a few days, in case we decided to leave early. I felt almost silly lugging a big case of bottled water. But why take any chances? I started looking at flights out of Sint Maarten on Monday and Tuesday, using the Sint Maarten airport website as a starting point. There were not many flights out of the hurricane zone, and none directly to anywhere in the U.S.

On Monday morning, we were starting to realize that remaining on the island was probably too dangerous, particularly given our limited supplies of medications. By Monday afternoon, we knew that we had to leave.

Our cellphones would not work on the island, despite both of us having arranged for service there. The landline in the resort room was also balking. As I started surfing airline sites and secondary sites such as Kayak on my tablet, I realized that everyone else in the resort must have been doing the same thing.

Service got slow, then slower, then crashed.

“We can ride it out,” said Jean.

I kept trying to find a flight. A couple of times a site showed seats on a KLM flight scheduled to leave Sint Maarten late Tuesday and arrive in Amsterdam on Wednesday. It seemed like a long way to go. But the alternative was to ride it out—and risk a delay in getting home, among other things.

Each time I tried to book two seats on that flight, I went through the whole process down to the payment, only to receive a message saying “Sorry, these tickets are no longer available.”

“We can ride it out,” said Jean.

Internet down. Internet up. Internet slow. CNN providing dire news. I kept plugging away.

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Wait. What’s this? Business class seats to Panama City, Panama? Our only connection with Panama City was that last year one of our lost bags went there. But on Monday afternoon, getting off the island to anywhere was a priority. I would have paid up to the limit of my credit card for two flights to the South Pole.

I got through the booking process for Panama City, right through the payment. Then the “Sorry” message again. No such seats.

I tried a second time, with the same result.

The third time I tried to book the Panama flights, a screen display seemed to say that I had actually booked the seats. I stared incredulously at the tablet, afraid to say anything in case the world had decided to play yet another practical joke on us. I raced to another device and called up my email. Sure enough, two tickets, business class, with a confirmation number.

You could probably hear the happy screams back in the states. Still, I was worried that the airport would close or the flight would be canceled.

After a sleepless night, we drove to the rental car facility, where we were told that the airport was closing at noon. Our flight was supposed to be at 12:30. While waiting to process paperwork, I approached a woman who was sweeping the floor. “Where will you and your family go?” I asked. “There is a school made of concrete. Very strong,” she said.

By the time we entered the terminal, the atmosphere was fairly normal, other than a panicked tourist who kept running back and forth.

“She’s been doing that all morning,” our Copa Airlines gate agent said as she checked our passports and processed our bags.

“You seem awfully calm,” I said. She just smiled. Supreme confidence in her ability to handle anything—plus, I suspect, supreme trust in God’s will.

As we waited to board, flights were being canceled left and right. We had two gate changes, which I interpreted as good signs. You generally don’t change gates for planes that never arrive.

When our plane finally arrived from Panama City, a surprising number of people got off, including children. I could only hope that they were there to be help relatives on the island.

Our flight left right on time. Within 15 minutes I was fast asleep. Sometime within the next 18 hours, the airport was destroyed. There was no way on or off Sint Maarten. Six deaths occurred on the island. There was no running water. There was no food. Looting was reported.

As I write this, I think not only of the residents I met but also of the vacationers stuck on the island indefinitely. If some of them lack access to important medicine, the situation could become life-threatening.

The experience imparted a few lessons:

One, people are resilient when they have to be. They help each other when they need to. They are fundamentally good.

Two, natural disasters cause a lot of suffering. It is the poor who always suffer the most.

Three, another hurricane was headed for the Lesser Antilles, while Irma was aiming at Florida and another major storm was churning in the Gulf of Mexico. A huge earthquake hit in Mexico. The planet is warming. Maybe it has nothing to do with human activity. I wouldn’t bet on that.

Four, I’m never scheduling another Caribbean vacation during hurricane season. Mountains, here I come.

 

The Crucial Role of Dental Floss in History

BY STEVE BATES

The following passage is excerpted from the foreword to Volume 1 of my eight-part history of dental floss, now available from Doubledeal Books in a deluxe, leather-bound edition for $999.

The earliest known recorded reference to dental floss dates to 351 BC, when Alexander the Great, then a five-year-old and known as Alexander the Mediocre, spotted an unusual plant growing on the banks of the Tigris River. The boy immediately recognized the remarkable properties of the plant, which extruded long strings that dangled lazily in the fast-flowing water.

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Alexander harvested some of the plant’s seeds as well as the strings. The next spring, he planted the seeds in his mother’s garden and watched with delight as they grew tall and strong. However, some of the neighborhood boys taunted Alexander for this “unmanly” pursuit. This prompted many fist-fights and other turbulence, which helped shape the aggressive and downright nasty persuasion of the adult Alexander and made him into a hardened killer. Still, he had the best teeth on his block.

During the Crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries, many a soldier and religious pilgrim sought in vain for the source of the highly valued floss plant, whose origins had become lost in the foggy mists of thyme. Legend has it that three fortunate knights stumbled upon the riverside motherlode, for the trio were known to have exceedingly bright and fearsome teeth that shot laser-like beams of fire at their enemies.

During the 14th century, when the Plague ravished Europe, it became evident that only those who flossed regularly were spared the horrid disease. Alas, many annals of dental floss history failed to survive the Middle Ages. Vague rumors of hangings and assassinations employing floss were never confirmed nor disproved. However, the last of the Druids were said to have carved poems and prose honoring dental floss into the massive monoliths of Stonehenge in England. Historians are still trying to translate those minute markings for confirmation.

In modern times, the many innovative uses of floss have been well documented. For example, in 1998, when baseball slugger Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs during the regular season, he attributed his success to the heavy use of dental floss to hold together muscles, tendons and ligaments ravaged by the deleterious effects of steroids.

Today, some of the most popular and anemic fashion models have been photographed wearing evening dresses and swimsuits consisting solely of brightly colored strands of floss. Cutting-edge research centers on dental floss as a potential cure for some cancers, and it is considered a critical element in the production of an engine that could allow astronauts to fly faster than the speed of light.

End the Health Care Impasse

BY STEVE BATES

Americans are fed up with the failure of Congress to agree on a plan to eviscerate Obamacare. Fed up, I say! So let’s compare alternative solutions for ending the impasse and get on with it.

Please let me know which one of these options that you think is best. Then we’ll call Congress—call Congress, I say!—and tell them which bill one we, the American people, demand that they pass.

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TRIAL BY COMBAT: Let each political party choose its champion, put them in an arena, and let them fight it out to the death or until one concedes. Let’s assume that the chosen combatants are Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi. I’m not sure which one is meaner, but it’s high time we found out.

THE STATE FAIR: Remember when you petted cute goats and ogled your neighbor’s ribbon-winning apple pies? Me neither. But some people go to state fairs. We could rent a booth and display all the competing health care bills for the judges to poke and sniff and pass their judgment.

BATTLE OF THE ROBOTS: Kind of like trial by combat, but this time we could use robots. There would be 38 of them—one for each version of the Republican health care plan that has been put forth so far. The robot with the most effective health plan would surely survive onslaughts from the others and come out victorious.

GAME SHOW: I know that reality television and the leadership of our country seem like they do not mix, but why not have a “Price Is Right,” “Jeopardy,” or even–dare I say it–an “Apprentice” episode devoted to picking the best health care bill. No Congressional Budget Office personnel would be eligible. (“I’ll take Trashing Medicaid for 400 Billion, Alex.”)

PIN THE TAIL ON THE… Donkey, or Elephant. Whichever you prefer. Draw lines all over the chosen animal and fill in each resulting section with a different health plan. Then blindfold your favorite senator and have him or her take a stab at it. Literally. And let’s leave the blindfold on for the rest of his or her term.

FOREIGN INTERVENTION: I hear that the Israelis and Palestinians are willing to sit down and negotiate a peace deal among warring members of Congress. It’s that bad.

THE EASY WAY OUT: Just change a few words and add a few commas here and there in the Obamacare law. Then claim that it has been repealed and replaced. Everyone goes home a winner. A winner, I say!

Kicking Off My Bucket List

BY STEVE BATES

I have no plan to die anytime soon. But I have been thinking lately about my mortality and all the things I want to do before I pass on. So here’s a first crack at a bucket list. I’d like to hear about what is important to you. Maybe you’ll persuade me to amend my list.

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Here goes:

  1. Visit Egypt

I want to cruise the Nile River and tour the pyramids. But mostly I want to get confronted by terrorists and punch one in the face. Might as well go out swinging.

  1. See One Washington Sports Team Win Something

The baseball, football, hockey and basketball teams in D.C.—well, most of them—are pretty good at times. Until it comes to the playoffs. Then they melt like butter. Just once….

  1. All the Stuff Steve Martin Wished For

Remember that terrific “Saturday Night Live” Christmas skit? The one in which he wishes that all the little children could hold hands in harmony—and a few other things. I want all that. You can watch the skit here.

  1. Three Straight Spring Days Without Rain

It hasn’t happened. It probably never will. I’m getting used to talking my daily walk in the rain. But please, just three days.

  1. Be a Contestant on “Celebrity Stalker”

Okay, there is no such show. But there should be. And when there is, I want to compete for cash or prizes by stalking some overrated, overpaid actor or model on some obscure cable channel.

  1. Grow a 50-Pound Tomato

My garden is a source of great spiritual satisfaction, not to mention vegetables, fruit and flowers. And my gardening book won two awards. Still, there’s got to be some new challenge to keep me covered in mud year after year. So that’s my goal.

  1. Discover Clothes That Don’t Shrink

First of all, it seems ridiculous that a guy can wear the same clothes over and over and they wear out after a mere 10 or 15 years. But the fact that the waistlines on my pants keep shrinking—even without them being washed—is just too much.

  1. Find a Use for Laundry Lint

Speaking of washing, this thing about laundry lint is really bothering me. We pull it out of the dryer and just toss it in the trash. That’s millions of tons of useless waste filling our landfills every day. There are people devoted to cutting down on plastic that enters our oceans and other goody-goody projects. They should find something to do with laundry lint. Maybe they can turn it into, I don’t know, laundry.

  1. Discover a Cure for Sarcasm

Some people tell me that they never know when I’m being serious and when I’m being sarcastic. I tell them: It’s easy. I’m never serious and I’m always sarcastic. But now I hear that there might be a cure for sarcasm that involves only a partial lobotomy. Sign me up.

  1. Have a Real President Again

Forget the other nine bucket list items. I don’t even care that much whether the next president is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Vegetarian or Philatelist. I just want a president who surrounds himself or herself with good people and listens to their advice. And doesn’t start any wars.