from the September 1, 2004 edition of Tank and Driver
Putting aside the subjective question of style, no one in his or her right mind can doubt that the finest vehicle on the road today is the Hummer H2.
The H2 is by all standards an improvement over the original Hummer, which had a few impractical aspects. This latest model sports GM’s 6.0 liter V8, six seats (all of them sizeable enough to satisfy the demands of the more mature builds sported by today’s more highly-evolved species of the American gourmand), 6,700 pounds of pure muscle, an abundance of safety, and what even Consumer Reports concedes is “exceptional off-road ability.” In short, this state-of-the-present-art SUV more than lives up to the lively “Happy Jack” TV ads that boast of its many virtues.
But if, as GE has been known to advertise, Progress Is Our Most Important Product, Americans have a right to expect that even the present incarnation of the Hummer can, and should, be improved upon.
Thus it should come as no surprise that we at Myles Junior Think Tank (MJTT) have gathered our collective inventive brains and come up with an even grander road vehicle.
We have dubbed this project the T2. The name suggests a modification of the Pentagon’s latest, largest, and most lethal tank.
The interior will have all the amenities the successful citizen has come to expect (a 9 speaker audio system, electronic brake distribution, alloy wheels, tigerhide leather seats, satellite location system, night vision equipment, etc.), as well as an entertainment center featuring a 52 inch HDTV and three 25-inch computer terminals. It will seat a dozen sumo wrestlers comfortably.
Recognizing the environmental concerns of today’s discriminating buyer, the MJTT has devised a prototype large-scale hybrid engine that, attached to a continually variable transmission (CVT), will consume a mere 9.6 gallons to the mile.
It can be purchased in any of three colors: gray/black, medium black, and midnight black.
The metal tracks of the Pentagon’s model will be covered by a thick coating of rubber, providing a smooth ride both on the road and in the back canyons. Its 120-inch width will make it virtually rollover-proof.
The drivers’ seats will be housed in a turret, which will be located directly behind a 130 mm gun capable of blowing the heads off a pair of mating elephants.
It will be the safest car on the road, bar none—until, that is, the appearance of next year’s T3.
from August 15, 2004
In many ways political science remains in its infancy.
Take, for example, the familiar concept of the political spectrum. Though we all have a general sense of what it means, and pollsters use it with ease and confidence, it has not achieved the precision we have every right to expect a scientific notion to achieve.
Political organizations go to great lengths to give congresspersons precise scores on their voting performance or lack thereof. Senator Kerry, for example, is four points more liberal, we are warned, than the senior senator from his own state—the politician who is, in the public eye, the very quintessence of liberalism.
Now, we at MJTT do not doubt the existence of the political spectrum. Nor do we doubt that Senator K is more liberal than Senator K. But by four points? How do we know the number is not 3.783? Would not such an exact number help the befuddled voter as he or she prepares to punch, twist, or otherwise indicate his or her preference within the sanctity of the booth for which millions of American servicepersons have risked their very lives to defend? Would it not take the guesswork out of voting?
Under the charter granted to it a mere13.5 months ago by the U. S. Government, the Myles Junior Think Tank has thought about this problem extensively over the last fortnight. We are pleased to announce that we have found an exact, scientific solution.
We began by agreeing with the obvious, that the concepts “liberal” and “conservative,” or “left” and “right,” are precise and unambiguous. We proceeded to identify the issues on which a voter would naturally wish to take a stand: abortion, taxes, religion, the Iraq war, the Afghan war, the Balkan War, the Cold War, the Second World War, the First World War, the Spanish-American War, the Civil War, the War of 1812, the Revolutionary War, the Hamilton-Burr duel, the Hundred Years War, the Crusades, the Scopes Monkey Trial, etc. Then we proceeded, with the exactitude for which we as a nonpartisan think tank have become known, to assign the positions a person of voting age might take on each of these issues to one or the other of these clear, self-evident labels.
We then discovered that a Presbyterian right-to-lifer who attends church two and a half (2.5) times a month and wishes to raise taxes on the rich (defined as a family of four or less with a gross income over $250,000) by two (2.0) percent, who has within the last year come to believe that the Iraq War was a mistake but that the rest of our wars were just and proper, who is of the opinion that the wrong man was killed in the aforementioned duel and that the Hundred Years War lasted thirty-five (35) years too long, who thinks all the Crusades except for the ones designed for children were warranted, and who believes that evolution is God’s way of doing things, is 63.9 percent conservative.
What are the implications of this painstaking research?
Though we have not thought through all the findings, we have concluded that they have the capacity to take the guesswork out of voting.
This is how it will work. One week before any given election, a guide will be made available to all registered voters. This guide will consist of a single 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper on which will be printed a list of the twenty most urgent political issues of the day; under each of these issues the voter will find a simple choice: “liberal” or “conservative.” At the bottom of this straightforward test will be a simple formula that, when properly worked out, will produce an exact score, ranging from 0 to 100 percent liberal, or the converse.
On Election Day, the voter will enter the booth, punch in his or her score, and have that number recorded and matched with the name of the candidate with whom he or she agrees most. (The candidates will, of course, have taken exactly the same test three months before the fateful day, and the results will have been revealed.) When the polls close, computers will spit out the winners in an instant.
The advantages of this system are obvious. Besides providing the electorate the comfort of knowing that their collective decision is scientifically accurate, it will save said electorate the time and trouble of reading long position papers, clever slogans, bumper stickers, and ghost-written autobiographies of the heroic candidates. Nor, for that matter, will they have to listen and watch the spouses, children, and campaign managers of the various candidates say and do foolish things.
from August 1, 2004
Several mornings after the tête-à-tête with mon nouvel ami Jack Chirac, someone called and put me on hold. Soon a voice boomed out in a familiar faux West Texas drawl, “Howdy, mon podnah. How’d y’all like to head on out to Versailles this mownin’, have un good look-see, an’ plan le what you call it rénovation, do I have l’accent right?”
“Yes,” I lied tactfully, responding to the question of l’accent. “When would ya like ta pick me an’ mah entourage up?”
“Pardon, podnah, but isn’t that un split infinitive? And isn’t there a decent, cultured West Texas equivalent to the word “entourage,” from the Middle French? Hows about “associates”?”
“Jay-zus,” I muttered to myself. “I don’t know how long I can keep this up. Maybe I better stick to recorded speech.”
Jack picked up me and a healthy percentage of my MJTT (Myles Junior Think Tank) associates in a late-model Cherokee, and we were soon whizzing out to the suburb of Versailles to give the old place a look-see and suggest how it could be redone along American lines.
Price was no object, Jack cackled, waving a miniscule stack of euros under my nose.
Le Grand Appartement du Roi, where the king used to hang out when he wanted to be alone, was some kind of digs. After a bit o’ consultation with my entourage cum associates, we decided that it would make some kind of bunkhouse for the cowboys and should be renovated accordingly, with enough bunks to handle the entire French army and a corresponding number of pegs to sling their bullet-bedecked holsters over. I made a mental note, as is my wont, to furnish the place with enough gold-plated spittoons. Etc.
Le Grand Appartement de la Reine, the queen’s digs, is also worth commenting on. Me an’ my entourage were quick to the opinion that we could leave some of the frilly lace and such stuff alone; it would add class to the whorehouse (French: brothel) that would go nicely with the corresponding bunkhouse. We were pleased by the fact that the madam could have her own bedchamber. It was clear that the original architects had already given this place a helluva lot of good ol’ American pragmatic thought.
And oh, yes. The famous Hall of Mirrors (La Galerie des Glaces). After consulting with my posse, I decided to recommend to Jack and his gang that, since this was the site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, it could be ripped up and replaced with a replica of the Courthouse of Appomattox. This would satisfy the criterion that our mid-sized theme park would boast a mighty fine reference to the Civil War.
As churches go, le or la Chapel Royal wasn’t that hot of an item. Small, is what I’m saying, compared to something as up-to-date as the Crystal Cathedral. My podnahs noticed this pronto and commented. Jack apologized. No problem, I said, as quick on my feet as I am on my duff. We could turn this baby into the Little Brown Church in the Wildwood. Would this draw a crowd? asked Jack anxiously. One of my associates frowned, but I had caught Jack’s drift. I calmed him down by predicting that this was a real capitalist moneymaker.
L’Opera. An easy one. Out with Offenbach, in with the likes of Rogers and Hammerstein and Irving Berlin. Oklahoma! would pull in a crowd; Annie, Get Your Gun would break all box-office records.
Jack was beginning to relax.
He then took us to Le Parc. Nice little garden, I thought, but where the hell are the mountains? I was, however, as graceful as an Irish-American writer can be. I instantly suggested that the place be redone as a battleground between the cowboys and the Indians, who could camp out in their teepees at the fringes. A real cash cow, I told the President.
Back at de Gaulle, we shook hands before departing on Air France. Merci, merci, Jack kept saying, Merci merci merci! Y’all have figgered out un parfait makeover.
“This time Versailles,” I said to him as me and my American podnahs boarded the plane. “Next time, le Notre Dame.”
from July 15, 2004
Immediately upon landing at de Gaulle Airport, the brain burnout symptoms my entourage and I had suffered were ameliorated. Though it was an overnight flight, we were not the worse for it, for the French plane we took came equipped with the morgue-like vaults I have recently invented. (See my Archive, May 15, 2004.) In a word, we slept like the dead.
Our limousine took us directly to the Hôtel sur la Rive Gauche. On the way, my newly-awakened brain recalled that I had had my aforementioned invention patented and that I was a victim of patent infringement. I made a mental note that, upon my return to America, I should call my lawyer.
Soon after my valet had deposited my extensive luggage in appropriate places and I had placed a substantial tip in his beggarly hand, all the while engaging in French formal banter, I sat on the side of my luxurious bed, admiring the tapestries. My brain entered the teeming mode. Here, I thought, I am in a parfait position to play a role to which I am not ordinarily accustomed, that of ambassadeur.
On a whim, I called the office of the President of France. A sleepy voice answered. I gave my name and requested a meeting with le Président. Yes, le Président would see me: he was acquainted with my work and found it admirable—perhaps this evening, in private chambers? Oui, that would be grand.
I was ushered into M. Chirac’s chambers at precisely 9 o’clock. Soon afterwards Jack, as he insisted I call him, arrived.
He was dressed for the occasion in the regalia of a faux West Texas cowboy: armadillo boots, Levis, chaps, Western shirt, turquoise-clasped string tie, and ten-gallon hat. A holster embedded with plastic bullets graced his pudgy hips; a plastic replica of a Colt .45 pistol was carefully stuffed inside its temporary parking garage.
“Monsieur . . ,” I began.
“No French, podnah,” he interrupted, affecting a West Texas drawl.
And so we conversed that evening in pidgin drawl. This, over barbequed ribs and many bottles of amber Dos Equis, the beer that made Mexico famous.
I had come to discuss the diplomatic differences between France and America, but this topic did not appear to capture his underestimated imagination. His secret ambition, he confided to me, was the Americanization of France, or at least of Paris and environs. Theme parks were a special interest. Did I have any ideas for one?
I suggested several. One based on the American Civil War. Another based on Davy Crocket and the Alamo. A third dedicated to the settling of the West and the battles between cowboys and Indians.
Did I think it possible to combine these fine ideas into one grand theme?
“I would have to give it fifteen minutes of intense thought,” I replied in my newly-acquired drawl, mixed as it was with the trace of state-of-the-art Irish brogue.
“What le hell,” he said. “Ah’ll outsource this baby, if y’all don’t donné un damn.”
I replied that I would be perfectly happy to sketch the outlines of this excellent project.
On the way back to my lodgings in the SUV my gracious host had provided, I made a mental note that upon my return to America, I would not call my lawyer.
from July 1, 2004
One year ago I signed on to this blog, flying back and forth from my native Dublin to Large Southwestern City twice a month in order to participate, along with three of my four fellow columnists, in the Round Table.
During that time I have founded and organized and chaired the Myles Junior Think Tank (MJTT), an institute for forming brilliant theories about making the world a better place in which to live. With the help of my associates at MJTT, as well as extensive confabs with colleagues at JPL and NASA, I have put forth ideas for (1) ridding the world of smog, (2) patching the depleted ozone layer that hovers above Antarctica and environs, (3) deriving power from the light of the moon and its cousin satellites of other planets, (4) reconstructing upper-class art museums so that they will be easier on the feet, (5) and reconstructing museums for the hoi polloi so that their floors will be easier on the feet.
I have also (6) investigated the rumor that the universe is sinking, (7) inaugurated a state-of-the-art cremation service, (8) examined the possibility that there is global warming on Mars, (9) identified a sea creature as the “San Luis Monster,” (10) solved the problem of global warming for the new millennium, (11) drawn up the blueprints for an aircraft that will allow tired passengers to sleep in the prone position on their trans-oceanic flights, (12) checked the health of the presidential candidate representing the Dead Rights Party, and, among other feats, (13) consulted with a Pueblo Round Table colleague on the possibility that Jesus ascended to Mars.
(For details of these and other feats, see the Archives.)
We at MJTT are pleased to report that the world is indeed on a better footing, at least theoretically, than was the case a short twelve months ago.
We are not as pleased to report that we are currently suffering from a major case of brain burnout.
Has our response to this potential disaster been one of despair? It has not. Indeed, this problem has made us redouble our zeal to continue our God-given quest for perfecting His creation.
Following our tried-and-true method for solving pressing problems, we have (1) identified the current difficulty, (2) sought its cause, and (3) considered how to overcome it.
With regard to the first step, we have identified the problem of brain burnout as a case of substantial though not fatal brain burnout—a common malady among those of our ilk, a malady whose symptoms include headache, fever, and sore fingertips.
Second, we have identified the cause of this problem as overwork.
Finally, we have spent the last week to ten days thinking about how to overcome it.
Our tentative conclusion is that we should take a vacation.
We plan, however, to be back to fulfilling our sacred duty to present our world-saving thoughts for the next edition—unless, of course, Paris is more alluring than we could have imagined.
from June 15, 2004
At the end of our semi-monthly Round Table discussion, Ms. Talia la Musa asked me up to her room for a tête-â-tête that, she assured me, was of serious though Platonic intent.
I accepted her gracious invitation but not her offers of a cigarette and what she described as “a cold one.”
Once seated in a comfortable position, she leaned forward and asked my estimate of when the next “really humongous” meteor would collide with the earth. I thought for a few nanoseconds and proffered my considered opinion.
“In your considered opinion,” she continued, “would you consider that period of time short-term, medium-term, or long-term?”
“Considering the age of the universe?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she answered.
Again I went into a nanosecond muse. “Medium-term, I replied. Definitely medium-term.”
Her next question was similar to the initial one, though the subject concerned the next dangerous comet.
“Period of time?” she asked.
“Medium-term, though tending toward the long-term.”
“Aha,” she said, lighting what she referred to as her “sucker.”
She then appeared to change the subject of conversation. She sought to know if Mars could sustain metaphysical life, in the medium-to-long term.
“Much depends,” I answered, “on 347 variables—348, taking into consideration the nature of the metaphysical entity.”
Ms. la Musa surprised me by not asking me to list them. Instead, she merely asked, “What about now?”
I paused, then asked her an intimate question. “Do you have any specific metaphysical entity in mind?”
She glanced around the room, as if to determine if there were any listeners. “Jesus,” she finally whispered.
“Isn’t Jesus considered a metaphysical entity?” she asked aloud, her voice signaling a mix of incredulity and pique.
I thought back to my Irish Jesuit training.
“So I have been told,” I answered truthfully.
“That means there’s a good chance He’s up there now,” she said, her voice signaling wonderment.
“Perhaps,” I smiled.
Ms. la Musa seemed satisfied with this answer. And so, after finishing her proffered cup of herbal tea, I left for my laboratory, trying to imagine the import of that conversation.
from June 1, 2004
Arthur Unknown, editor of DQWA and Chair of the Committee to elect Ab Ennis, has asked the Myles Junior Think Tank to evaluate the health of the candidate this e-magazine has chosen to endorse. His selection of the MJTT for this task was based, he averred, on our impeccable reputation for objectivity, our first-hand, indeed detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the subject, and our low but not insubstantial bid.
During our thorough medical examination, which consisted of a plethora of both physical and mental probings, the first thing we noticed about Mr. Ennis was that he is dead. Though the common wisdom holds that dead persons are unfit for higher office, we must remind all interested parties of that old saw, Dead Men Tell No Tales. Thus, far from being a disqualification for the office of President of these United States, this fact is, in our judgment, a decided advantage.
Upon further investigation, we discovered (1) that Mr. Ennis has been absent from the travails that the living bear since the year 1958, and (2) that he has come through the delicate process of cremation with flying colors, despite the fact that the oven into which he was placed was of a quality inferior to that operated by the Myles Junior Cremation Service. He has recently been transferred from his original urn to one of our own making. He has also been outfitted with the state-of-the-art mobility equipment (arms, legs, fingers, toes) and functional apparatus (head, ears, acrylic ocular implants, a sniffing device, and a mouth equipped with a specially-designed Bose speaker system and a Sony tape recorder.).
He is not, however, equipped with sexual organs. We at MJTT do not consider this a major drawback, considering the job description he will, or would, be filling. In fact, we would go so far as to say that his lack of libido is a virtue, considering the long hours a president is rightly expected to spend at the job of keeping his or her campaign promises and the nation safe and prosperous.
Despite what some might consider handicaps, Mr. Ennis is also presentable. For formal occasions, such as delivering the State of the Union Address or holding press conferences in the East Room of the White House, he wears the finest suits, shirts, suspenders, shoes, sox, and ties available from the Sears Children’s Clothing Department. For less formal occasions, such as chopping sagebrush, hiking downhill, skiing, or driving tanks, he is outfitted by special tailors working under the auspices of L. L. Bean of Freeport, Maine.
He is able to dress himself.
On the point of mental acuity, we find Mr. Ennis to be alert and knowledgeable. He can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, though on occasion he leaves out the phrase “under God,” undoubtedly due to the circumstance that that controversial phrase was inserted approximately five or ten years before his death. He has memorized the names of 37 states, could spell 22 of them correctly and without hesitation, and, on a multiple-choice test, could identify the capitals of 29 of them.
In sum, we found the candidate to be physically fit, above average in intelligence, and ready for the daunting tasks that are strewn in his path.
from May 15, 2004
Renewable energy research has recently taken a giant step forward.
Scientists at Penn State have devised the Microbial Fuel Cell, a 15 cm long can that uses bacteria to break down human waste into electrons. Specifically, such waste is pumped into the tiny, sealed can, where it is broken down by clusters of bacteria. Depriving the bacteria of oxygen, the electrons are free to create voltage, which, as all attentive physics students know, is electric potential named after the Italian scientist Alessandro Volta (1745-1827), the inventor of Volta’s pile (singular).
In a word: waste in, power out.
How much power? Using the waste produced by 100,000 people, the current device would produce 5.1 kilowatts, i.e., 5,100 watts. According to our MJTT mathematician, this is enough to keep a 50 watt light bulb blinking for over four days—less if the 100,000 people are on the South Beach diet, more if they are the linebackers Penn State has been famous for producing.
Microbiologist Derek Lovley of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst concedes that generating power from human waste on a large scale is not immediately available. “The principle has been shown,” he says, “but there is a lot of work to do before this is widely used.”
This is no call to despair. Together with solar power, the potential is unlimited. When the moons we have borrowed from our fellow planets have exhausted their usefulness, and with humankind and the sun working in tandem, there is every reason to believe that in several millennia, life on earth will remain sustainable.
from May 1, 2004
My Dublin ponderings yielded fruit.
While strolling the streets of my hometown, I happened to pass a hospital named after one saint or another. This scene brought to mind the thought of mortality, followed closely by the image of a morgue. Not being a morbid person, I did not dwell on the aforementioned thought of mortality; my attention was drawn instead to the efficiency of the design of the morgue.
When contemplating such a design, the thoughtful mind is immediately drawn toward the vaults into which the cadavers are placed soon after the last rites have been administered by the attending priest and the medical profession has pronounced the former person deceased.
At this point, I sat down on a pigeon-bespattered bench, taking care to place a copy of the Irish Times on the spot on which I planned to rest and consider the implications of morgue design for the problem of happier trans-oceanic flight.
Could, I asked myself as I sat there in the pensive though not vacant mood, the principles of morgue design be applied to the passenger jumbo jet?
Yes, was my answer.
How, I continued, could this be accomplished?
By replacing passenger seats with vaults!
These vaults could be equipped with a slender but firm mattress; a pillow; a reading light, for those who cannot or do not wish to sleep; an electronic device allowing the passenger to read the latest edition of Don Quixote Writes Again; an individual movie screen, with a menu of film selections, including contemporary fare as well as classics such as Gone With the Wind, High Noon, and Airplane!
My mind then scurried about, seeking potential problems with this brilliant idea.
What about those who suffer from claustrophobia?
This gave me pause, until I settled on the idea of providing each vault with a tape recording of a Buddhist meditation lesson.
What about the frail elderly, who are in such a medical state that they may expire before reaching their destination?
An easy solution: hook them up with the monitoring apparatus employed by licensed, responsible hospitals.
Suppose two persons, for example a married couple traveling together, wish to share the same bed?
Simple: double-wide vaults, for which a discount could be made available.
How would such an aircraft load its passengers?
Widen the aisles between the stacked vaults and furnish the plane with gurneys. Establish more stringent criteria for selecting flight attendants: hire only those who are able to hoist, say, 300 pounds from a gurney into a vault.
Wouldn’t all these measures be expensive?
Certainly. But the cost could easily be recovered by the fact that the plane could carry twice the number of passengers as in the present awkward, unpleasant arrangement.
Thus, I concluded, the idea of a vault-designed trans-oceanic carrier could be translated into a system that is efficient, passenger-friendly, and lucrative.
Immediately upon arriving back in America, I applied for a patent, which the MJTT lawyers apprise me is pending.
from April 15, 2004
A recent trip across the Atlantic, or, as we veteran fliers dub it, the Pond, was the occasion for my latest “aha” experience.
I was flying from Large Southwestern City, which hosts the illustrious Round Table at Hôtel Adios, to my native city of Dublin, on a flesh carrier the identity of which I shall desist from naming.
The sun set as our jumbo jet took off from JFK, filled with fellow Irish passengers on their annual pilgrimage to the homeland.
We were one hour into the flight when the bombshell of my idea hit.
But allow me a digression to provide background. On my frequent trips abroad, I make it a point never to take reading material. Nor am I enthralled by the television fare such overnight flights commonly proffer. I merely sit. An occasional thought flows through my usually-teeming brain. Between trips to the rest room I attempt, if not to sleep, at least to nap. “Attempt” is le mot just; I am seldom, if ever, successful.
The frequent flier will recognize the anguish of this ordeal.
But to the bombshell. My rising irritation with this ordeal led me to consider the possibility of a logical panacea. Glancing around the section of the cabin in which I and my fellow-travelers were temporarily and rudely ensconced (Ed. Note: Why not go with “imprisoned”? Keep in mind your audience.), I did a quick calculation of the number of persons (NP), following this with an educated guess of the cubic footage the average person occupies (CFAPO). I then multiplied the two (NP x CFAPO). After performing these simple exercises, into the details of which I will not wander, I strode carefully down the aisle of my section of the cabin, discovering by this method the length of said section (LSS). Then I reached for the ceiling and was able to determine the heighth of said section (HSS), both at its apex (A) and lowest point (LP). I subsequently estimated the width of the cabin section (WCS). In this way I was able to calculate the approximate cubic footage of the cabin (CFC).
The rest of my computation consisted of dividing (NP x CFAPO) into (CFC). “Aha,” I then proceeded to tell myself, “the resulting number (X)” (I will not give the value of X; one must take into account the fact that different aircraft will yield different X’s) “is of a much higher order than is necessary for humane trans-oceanic flight.”
To put this insight into the language of the common layperson: There’s more room in a jumbo jet than you thought.
The corollary of this well-considered axiom is that, with proper design, the bodies flying about the friendly skies in a plane can be made more comfortable. Or, to be more specific, there is no reason an ordinary person in coach class can’t get a good night’s sleep while hopping over an ocean.
While in Dublin, I, like Mary before me, pondered these things in my heart.