Entry 780: Can’t We Give Scientists Something Better to Do?

Guarantee: All stories in this post are true.

I think most of us assume that scientists are pretty smart. It seems obvious to us that you have to be intelligent to get people to pay you for doing science, and we certainly couldn’t do it because we only managed to get through high school chemistry because Ms. Keneally took pity on us.

But maybe that’s just me.

In any case, judging from some recent headlines I’ve encountered, we may be overestimating our scientists’ brainpower.

For instance:

Scientists Finally Confirm That Uranus Is Surrounded by Fart Clouds
This story sounds more like it’s coming from an old Mel Brooks movie than a laboratory. While it’s obvious to all of us non-scientists that a planet called Uranus simply must by surrounded by fart clouds, some scientists went to great lengths to prove it:

“. . . (they) examined sunlight bouncing off Uranus as captured by the 8-meter Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. Scientists determined what sorts of molecules were inside the atmosphere by examining the light it reflected in infrared.”

The molecules they found were hydrogen sulfide, the same molecules that makes farts smell like farts. Well, okay. But can you imagine being the person who had to write the grant proposal for fart cloud research?

Scientists Are Calling for a Worldwide Ban on Glitter
No, they are not circulating a petition demanding that the Mariah Carey movie never be shown again. They claim that the “microplastics,” as they call glitter (because scientists can’t call anything by its fun name), have been getting into the oceans where they have been consumed by fish. According to a study, glitter was found in about one-third of the fish caught in the United Kingdom, giving rise to a new dish called Sparkly Fish & Chips.

I don’t think that the types of folks who enjoy glitter are likely to give it up for the sake of the environment, so the government should probably issue a research grant to develop biodegradable glitter, perhaps made from the scales of the fish that ate the old kind of glitter.

Caltech Scientists Create World’s Smallest Mona Lisa
As you probably know, the real Mona Lisa is disappointingly small, but the Caltech version is downright teeny tiny. It was made using a process known as DNA origami, which is used in the field of nanotechnology to reduce the size of programmable materials and also to make birds by elaborately folding individual pieces of confetti.

The image at right is blown up almost as much as Donald Trump’s ego so you can see it, but the actual size of her smile is only 100nm wide. And in case you’re wondering what an “nm” is, it’s a nanometer, and in case you’re wondering how big a nanometer is, 100 of them is equal to 0.00000393701 inches, which basically means I could say, “Hey, here’s a 50nm wide perfect replica of Kendall Jenner’s last selfie.”

 

.

 

And unless you had an extremely high-powered microscope or went through the trouble of zooming the screen a few hundred times, you’d have to believe me.

Next up for the Caltech folks: a microscopic Louvre.

Scientists “Transplant Memories” Between Sea Snails via Injection
This was a multi-step process. First, scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles took some sea snails and scared the hell out of them via electric shocks, thus training them to have a defense reflex when they were touched in their siphons, which is a snail body part that, frankly, the idiot snails shouldn’t have let people touch in the first place. Then the scientists took RNA, (which is like DNA only with an R), from those snails and injected it into other, non-electrified snails. Lo and behold, the new snails didn’t like their siphons to be touched either.

This technique may have a bright future in transplanting various phobias from one human to another, so, if you’d like to be afraid of something, the University of California in Los Angeles may be looking for test subjects. Just be sure to protect your siphon.

Scientists Can Now Keep a Pig’s Brain Alive Outside of its Body
A team of scientists has revealed that they were able to keep the brain of a pig alive outside of its body for 36 hours after it was decapitated. The brain was kept alive via a connection to a closed-loop system known as “BrainEX” (which I’m assuming is something other than the product shown at right), which pumps body-temperature artificial blood to the necessary parts of the brain to keep it alive. This research has tremendous potential applications such as being able to compliment a pig on its ham.

Scientists Observe Male Dolphins Giving Gifts to Potential Mates
“He dove to the waters’ bottom,” researchers explained, describing the behavior of the smitten mammal, “dislodged a marine sponge, then used his snout to nudge the offering in the female’s direction.” The team plans further research into whether or not such efforts improve chances of mating success, or whether the female dolphin will choose the partner who nudges a Tiffany box in her direction.

See you soon.

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Entry 779: Maybe the Asteroid Will Kill Them All

I pride myself on knowing when a TV show has “jumped the shark.”

In case you’re not familiar with that term, it derives from an episode of the old sitcom Happy Days, when the show’s most popular character, Fonzie, water skied while wearing his trademark leather motorcycle jacket, and literally jumped over a shark.

Since then, a show is said to have “jumped the shark,” when the writers have run out of ideas but, since the show is still getting decent ratings, it stays on the air. Typically, this is when you see acts of desperation such as celebrity guest stars, family members you’ve never heard of before, or, in the old days, an actor named Ted McGinley, who made a career of joining the casts of TV series toward the ends of their runs so that he could preside over their demises. He did this with The Love Boat, Dynasty, Married . . . with Children and, yes, Happy Days.

Anyway, as I said, I’m pretty good at identifying “jump the shark” moments and, more importantly, I am able to divorce myself from a show when it happens, even if I have been watching for several years. I am fully able to say, “That’s it, I’m done,” and exit the room, leaving my wife holding the remote.

And that brings me to a show that is on the air right now that you’re probably not even aware of. It’s called Salvation.

CBS premiered Salvation last summer, and my wife and I started watching, mostly because we were too lazy at the time to find a new show to binge. The show was about an asteroid approaching Earth and mankind’s attempts to avoid a dinosaur-like extinction event. The program garnered exactly zero buzz. Nobody talked about it. It was just there, week after week, until Labor Day, and then it was gone, leaving the asteroid still something like 139 days away from Earth.

I really thought my wife and I were the only ones watching the damn thing, and that we’d never hear about it again, and that sometime around President’s Day, the asteroid would wipe us out.

And then, much to my shock, and with no fanfare whatsoever, Salvation was back last month. The asteroid, which had miraculously not moved all winter, once again began hurtling toward Earth. And my wife and I began watching again. I’m honestly not sure why.

Let me pause here to describe just how ridiculous this show is. I told you it was about an asteroid approaching Earth, but that’s not the only issue facing the world. In addition to the oncoming, civilization-ending space rock:

  • The former president of the U.S. is trying to stage a coup.
  • The entire fate of the world appears to be in the hands of an MIT graduate student and an Elon Musk-type character named Darius Tanz.
  • The graduate student’s professor is a Russian spy.
  • A group of hacktivists is threatening to drop nukes on major cities (they’ve already blown up Kansas).
  • The son of the Secretary of Defense was part of the hacktivist group and got killed in a police raid.
  • The Elon Musk character’s company is run by a computer named after an old girlfriend, who suddenly shows up, upsetting his current girlfriend who, until recently, was dating the Secretary of Defense, who had been dating a woman who was involved in the plot to overthrow the government until she was killed . . . by his formerly current girlfriend, the one now sleeping with Elon Musk.
  • The Elon Musk character has somehow become Vice President.
  • A saboteur has infiltrated the bunker where 160 people have assembled while they’re waiting to fly to Mars.
  • Everybody is sleeping with, or has slept with, or obviously will sleep with everybody else.
  • A local detective keeps interrupting asteroid averting activities to investigate the disappearance of his sister, who happens to be the woman who we know (but he doesn’t) had been part of the plot to overthrow the government and was killed by the Secretary of Defense’s former current girlfriend.
  • The asteroid itself was actually a weapon developed by the U.S. to drop on Russia.

I didn’t make any of that up. And I guess I should point out that the show is not a comedy, or at least, isn’t trying to be.

In any case, I’m sorry to report that I will never know how it all turns out. Because Salvation has jumped the shark.

I realize that any of the plot points above might have signaled that the we were about to figuratively see Vice President Elon Musk on waterskis, but it was, after all, only the second season, and I was waiting for a clear sign that the thinking was over for the show’s writers.

And then this happened: the Vice President is shot at point blank range (by the Russian guy from Arrow, no less–and they hadn’t even promoted a “crossover event”) and falls lifeless to the ground, only to sit up moments later to inform the President’s advisor (and his current girlfriend) that he was saved . . . “Thanks to a fantastic tailor in Bogotá.”

“A bulletproof shirt?” the advisor and girlfriend asks, because that would be the natural assumption.

“Graphene fiber antiballistic fabric,” the VP replies. “Very expensive, but light as a feather.”

Yes, a bulletproof shirt. And that’s when I said, “That’s it, I’m done,” and exited the room, leaving my wife holding the remote.

At least Fonzie’s jacket wasn’t made from graphene fiber antiballistic fabric.

See you soon.

P.S. I’m guessing the Earth will eventually be saved by Ted McGinley.

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Entry 778: Twenty Guns Too Many

A new study reveals that there are currently more civilian-owned guns in America than there are Americans.

There are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States– enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over. You know, in case one of the others jams.

This leads to the obvious question: My six-week-old granddaughter Sydney does not have a gun. So who has hers?

Seriously, though, my first thought upon seeing that statistic was, who the hell owns all these guns? I, personally, know very few gun owners . . . at least that I’m aware of.  Living in Connecticut as I do, I probably know more people who are hoarding croquet mallets than firearms. Although now that I know there are more guns than people, I’ll be extra careful not to cheat at my poker game. Somebody’s likely to be carrying.

To give you an idea how insane American gun ownership is, the nation with the next highest gun-per-person ratio is Yemen, where there is usually some sort of armed conflict occurring. Whereas the U.S. has 1.2 guns for every citizen, Yemen only has 0.52 guns per resident. And let me tell you–a half gun isn’t even all that dangerous! You can either point it or pull the trigger, but not both.

And here’s an even crazier statistic. Only about 3 percent of Americans–around 9.8 million people–own half of the nation’s  guns. So if there are 196.5 million guns dispersed among 9.8 million people, that means there are almost 10 million Americans out there who own an average of more than 20 guns apiece!

It’s pretty clear to me that anybody who owns 20 or more guns shouldn’t be allowed to own any guns. Consider what you’d think about the sanity of someone who owned 20 cats.

And, remember–for the the average to be over 20, there must be literally thousands upon thousands of people across our country with major arsenals in their homes!

It’s easy–and accurate–to blame our NRA-paid lawmakers for our armed-to-the-teeth citizenry. After all, it’s more difficult to lie to get a credit card than it is to lie to buy a gun . . . and charge it to a fraudulent credit card.

But there’s something more pervasive going on here. Even if there were no background checks at all . . . even if there were no restrictions . . . even if absolutely anyone, including convicted felons and six-year-olds, could stroll into a store and buy a gun . . . what the hell is it about Americans that make us want so many guns?

Why does America have 50% of the world’s firearms despite having only 5% of the world’s people?

Is it a Freudian thing? Are gun owners trying to make up for their shortcomings? Do they just sit at home looking at all their guns, like someone else might look at their Hummel figurine collection? Do their Hummel figurines have guns?

Do all those guns really make them feel more secure? Are the guns there because these people live in a perpetually frightened state?

And if they really think they need all those guns to defend themselves, what–or who–do they think they’re defending themselves from? Is Billy Joe Hornswaggle of Boligee Alabama expecting an all-out military assault any day now? And if, say, the Russians invade Boligee, how exactly does Billy Joe think he’s going to stop them, regardless of how many guns he has? Sure, he might take out a few Russkies before they flip a grenade or two through the window of his cabin, but at the end of the day, Billie Joe will be dead, and the Russians will be slightly better armed.

In some fairness, I have to say that the 20-gun average may be somewhat skewed by certain individuals like Mel Bernstein, originally of Brooklyn, but now of El Paso County, Colorado. Mr. Bernstein personally owns over 3,000 working firearms, not counting the two Colt 9mm submachine guns mounted on the front of his Harley Davidson. He also owns a 40-ton Russian tank which is probably not included in the national gun ownership statistics. Here is a photo of Mr.Bernstein in his bedroom, which doesn’t seem to have room for his wife, and probably doesn’t need to.

Americans’ love of guns really has to be its own special kind of insanity.

What the hell is wrong with us?

See you soon.

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Entry 777: Chair Man of the Bored

I’ll admit that I lead a mostly sedentary lifestyle, but it’s not like I spend all day sitting at my computer. Sometimes I sit at the dining room table. In the evenings, I sit on the couch, although, often, it’s more like reclining.

But, yes, I do generally spend eight hours or more a day staring at a screen and occasionally typing something of value. Because of that, I make sure I have a top-notch, ergonomically-designed desk chair so that all of my various ergons don’t get sore.

I’ve found, though, that after five or six years, my chair will say, “Enough already. Get the hell off me!” and I have to go out and buy a new one.

Every time I do, I go online first to discover the latest models. They all claim to use advanced design to overcome the negative effects of sitting. This is as opposed to the way I counter the negative effects of sitting, which is laying down and taking a nap.

My search revealed a chair that isn’t only not bad for me, but actually promises to be good for me. Although I almost never do anything that is supposed to be good for me (it usually involves exercising or eating kale), I decided I wanted to buy this Embody Chair from Herman Miller. Herman Miller is dead, so he doesn’t need his chair anymore.

Ha ha, just kidding. Herman Miller (the person) had nothing to do with the design of my chair, not only because of his aforementioned medical condition of being deceased, but also because he wasn’t a chair designer. He was just some guy who bought a furniture company in 1923.

Herman Miller (the company), however, is famous for some of its designs, like the Aeron Chair, one of the first mesh-backed seating apparatuses, considered a breakthrough in the industry because it allowed manufacturers to charge more while using less upholstery.

But my new chair, the Embody, is in a class by itself. And that class would be an AP class, because the website describes it as “intelligent.” “So intelligent,” says the website, “it actually helps you think.”

No doubt I need all the help I can get in that department, but that’s not why I wanted to purchase this particular chair.

“Spending too much time interacting with our various devices,” the website continues, “moving nothing but our fingers, can make us stiff and tired because our bodies are made to move.”

If you saw my body, you might disagree with that statement. You might also find it difficult to imagine what, if anything, my body was made to do.

”Embody has set a new benchmark for pressure distribution, natural alignment, and support for healthy movement in ergonomic seating,” says the site. And that is why I wanted this chair, even though I don’t really know what any of that means. Perhaps if I got the chair and sat on it in awhile, I’d be thinking better, so that will all make sense to me.

Anyway, since I refuse to purchase any ass-related furniture without first sitting on it, I went to a local business stuff store to try this thing. As I sat on the chair, it moved in all different ways, like one of those motion rides at Disneyland where your seat moves while you’re watching a movie of flying through space fighting Darth Vader, and you either experience the thrill of being in Star Wars or, in my wife’s case, get nauseous.

The chair had all kinds of levers and buttons and knobs, oh my! It seemed like every aspect of the chair was adjustable except for the person sitting in it. I’m very set in my ways.

“What does this lever do?” I asked the salesperson, Rose. “I’m not sure,” she replied. I think it makes it go up and down.” I pressed down on the lever and the whole chair tilted backwards.

“I’ll take it!” I said.

Rose and I discussed various options as if I was buying a sedan rather than a seat. I took level two material, and adjustable arms (vs. fixed arms or no arms), carpet casters and, I believe, automatic transmission.

I also paid extra to have the chair assembled, because I was no more likely to be able to put this thing together correctly than I am to assemble an Airbus. So the chair was just now delivered, and now I have to watch videos on the Herman Miller website to learn how to use the damned thing, because, in our modern world, the instructions for using a chair are no longer “Just sit down, idiot.”

One video demonstrated no fewer than seven operations to “tune and use your chair for maximum support.” According to the video, this was not so much to get the chair into a position in which I’m comfortable, but, rather, to get it into a position that forces me to sit the way Herman Miller thinks I should sit.

That’s just what I need–a chair Nazi! And a dead one at that.

I’m typing this now as I sit in my new chair, and I have to admit, it doesn’t feel a lot different than my old chair. Except that it’s not telling me to get the hell off it.

Yet.

See you soon.

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Entry 1776^: All Your Independence Day Questions Answered

Well, Wednesday is America’s big celebration, our day to show all the world how successful a true democracy can be until greedy, crazy people take over. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer some of your questions about the holiday.

Q. Why do we celebrate our independence on July 4th?
A. I’ll let one of our founding fathers, John Adams, tell you in his own words:

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations.“

Q. Wait–that says “the second day of July.”
A. Yeah, so what’s your question?

Q. Why is Independence Day on the fourth?
A. Well, the second was when the Continental Congress voted unanimously to declare independence. Adams was possibly not suggesting an “independence day” as much as a celebration of the first, and one of the few times, Congress unanimously agreed on something. (By the way, the vote was 12-0, with New York abstaining, possibly because it was stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike and didn’t make it to Philadelphia until the third.)

Q. So the 4th was when they actually signed the Declaration of Independence?
A. No, that would be August 2nd.

Q. So what the hell happened on the 4th?
A. Well, there was an extended happy hour at Ye Newe Taverne in Colonial Williamsburg which, in those days, was just Williamsburg. Also, that was when Thomas Jefferson finished writing the formal declaration. He then gave it to his slaves to run off on the mimeograph machine (this was before email). While there was a report that Jefferson, Adams, and Benjamin Franklin signed the Declaration on the 4th, Francis Lightfoot Lee, one of the founding fathers your founding mother didn’t tell you about, said the whole July 4th thing was, and I quote, “news that hath been faketh.”

Q. So the fourth has no significance at all?
A. On the contrary, it is a very popular day for presidents to die. Three of our early leaders, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, all passed away on July 4, two of natural causes and one when he choked on a hot dog. There hasn’t been a presidential death on the fourth since then, however, so I’d say we’re long overdue. Ahem.

Q. Speaking of signers, why is John Hancock’s signature so big?
A. Because he gave everyone a discount on their cart insurance.

Q. I hate when the Fourth of July comes on a Wednesday like this year. Nobody knows whether to take off Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday. How come Independence Day wasn’t moved to Mondays like all the other holidays?
A. Before voting on the Uniform Monday Holiday Act (UM . . . HA!) in 1968, Congress took a poll and discovered that Americans were just as stupid then as they are now. It turns out that many thought the actual name of the holiday was “The Fourth of July,” and that some people didn’t even know what it celebrated. (Common answers: Official Start of Summer, invention of the gas grill, beginning of hippie season, Cinco de Mayo). To avoid confusing folks by having the Fourth of July come out on, say, July sixth, Congress wisely kept it on the fourth.

Q. How do other countries celebrate July 4th?
A. Let me ask you a question: do you happen to recall taking part in a survey back in 1968?

Q. Why do we have barbecues on Independence Day?
A. That became a tradition beginning in 1822 in Chicago, when a meat packing plant caught fire on July third.

Q. How could the whole world come together in only two days to defeat the aliens?
A. You may want to change your Google search to “Independence Day movie.” And I don’t know. (As I wrote recently, it also seems implausible that Will Smith could learn how to deftly fly an alien spacecraft in such a short amount of time.)

Q. Why do we have fireworks on July Fourth?
A. Because it somehow seems appropriate, given our country’s history, that we celebrate our birth by blowing stuff up.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone, and see you soon.

^By total coincidence, this is actually Entry 776. But given the subject matter, how could I not add the 1?
*Francis Lightfoot Lee was a real person, who really signed the Declaration of Independence as a representative of Virginia. He was not an ancestor of Robert E. Lee, nor was he descended from Native Americans, as his middle name might lead you to believe. I can’t find any reference to the origin of “Lightfoot,” so I’m going to assume it was a nickname given to him when he was a star midfielder in the nascent American soccer league** or, later, when he won the first season of Dancing With the Hessians.
**The American soccer league was so bad, the game wasn’t played here again for over 200 years.
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Entry 775: Bait and Switch

Okay, first of all, it’s a diagram of an earthworm, so get your mind out of the gutter. Although, given today’s topic, maybe that’s where it belongs.

From time to time, I’ve wondered in this blog about the continued existence of certain creatures, particularly the 17-year cicada, which seems to serve no other function than being annoying, and the 4-year (or less) trump, which is just as annoying, but much more dangerous.

Today I would like to question the purpose of the lowly earthworm.

Earthworms are members of Oligochaeta family (some of them by marriage). Most people tend to ignore them, unless your name is Opie and you’re whistlin’ a tune while headin’ on down to the pond with your fishin’ pole. In black and white.

I, however, cannot disregard the worms because my dog Riley thinks they are delicacies.

We’ll be walking along on a summer morning, and Riley’s mouth will be scraping the curb, vacuuming up dried earthworms as if he’s at a buffet. I guess they’re a source of protein, but I don’t know about the caloric intake; it’s hard to find “earthworms” on a Weight Watchers chart.

Riley only likes the earthworms when they’re dried out and shrunken, like worm jerky. If they’re plump and juicy, he passes. If they’re still wriggling, he takes a wide route around them.

I know how he feels. As I mentioned recently, I don’t like to meet my food before it’s cooked. I don’t even like having to pick a live lobster out of a tank at a restaurant. I’m there to eat, not to shop. All the lobsters in the same weight class look the same to me anyway. If you force me to choose, I’ll select the one that has escaped its rubber bands just for the potential of seeing a chef running around with a crustacean attached to his hand.

Where was I?

Right, earthworms.

Here is a creature that spends its whole life in the soil, feeding on live and dead organic matter, which sounds yummy. Then one morning, it decides to crawl out onto the pavement where it soon turns into worm leather. That’s it. That’s all she wrote. Not much of a résumé, if you ask me.

Sometimes, if it has rained at night, you’ll see dozens of them in the morning–a veritable wave of worms–in various stages of dying. It’s a wormapalooza! At least Riley thinks so, as he tries to pick out the deadest ones.

In their defense, earthworms do have some interesting abilities. For one thing, they’re hermaphrodites. Each one has both male and female sex organs so that, even when they masturbate, they might not be satisfied. They still have to mate, though, and here is an actual picture of earthworm copulation.>>>

I bet you didn’t wake up this morning thinking you’d be looking at worm porn today.

Also, some worms can regenerate, like a legless, segmented Doctor Who. So if a hedgehog only eats part of one, that part might grow back, only to be devoured again. This could go on and on until the worm crawls out onto the pavement (which, come to think of it, might be its way of committing suicide), only to then get eaten by Riley.

In fact, earthworms seem to exist solely to be food for other animals. What kind of life is that? “What do you want to be when you grow up, Willie?” “Well, dad, I’m hoping to be eaten by a robin. Cousin Jack got swallowed by a beetle and he’s the family laughing stock.”

In conclusion, I’d like to point out that, no matter how terrible you may think your life is . . . even if you live in poverty . . . even if you work for the White House . . . at least you’re not waiting around to be eaten by a thrush.

I hope that thought, along with the photo of worms having sex, has brightened your day.

You’re welcome, and see you soon.

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Entry 774: Tag, You’re It

I live in an ungated gated community, which is to say, there are two pillars that you drive through to enter, but no gate, or guard, or anything else that would keep someone out. We’re considering building a wall, but, for some reason, Mexico refuses to pay for it.

The security of my area, or lack thereof, has nothing to do with this post. I just needed to establish that there is a somewhat enclosed community of some 40 homes governed by an association. And this association decided to have a community tag sale.

The idea was that residents could sell their junk and then make a “suggested” donation of 20% of the proceeds to the association, which would use it for various upgrades such as purchasing new lounge chairs for the community pool to replace the chairs with the vinyl straps that have been disintegrating so that, anyone with an ass such as mine might fine themselves falling between the slats and unable to extricate themselves from the vinyl prison that their arms and legs were now sticking out of, flailing around as if the person was about to become the first ever to drown in a lounge chair. On dry land.

Where was I? Right–the tag sale.

So my wife Barbara and I had a few hundred things we wanted to get rid of, but we didn’t want to schlep all of it down our steep driveway to the curb, so we made our merchandise selections based on size. Whatever was taking up the most room in our garage or basement was what we decided to sell.

We tagged everything with little stickers. Whatever we thought we wanted to get for an item, I marked up 20% to cover the association’s suggested cut. This resulted, for instance, in a bunch of DVDs tagged at $1.20 each and an electric snow thrower (an ill-advised purchase because it needed an extremely long extension cord) going for $30 instead of $25.

The day of the sale, many people came from a nearby community that is similar to ours. “I’d like to purchase this microwave oven,” said one fellow, “even though you have previously cooked your food in it and I have no idea if it works. But why is it $12.00?”

“It was $10,” I explained, “but I added 20% for new lounge chairs.”

The man became angry. “What? When we had our tag sale last year, we didn’t add anything to our prices. This is unfair, and you know what? When we have our next sale, we’re going to add 30% to all furniture! We know how your community likes our community’s furniture.”

That’s when my neighbor strolled over from his table and joined the discussion. “Well we’ve noticed that your neighborhood never has any tools for sale,” he told the outsider. “We’re avid do it ourselfers here,” he paused and looked pointedly at me, “present company excepted.” I nodded in agreement, and he continued. “We always have a tool surplus. But if you want any of our used tools, you’re going to have to pay 40% extra.”

Around this time, a professorial-looking woman who didn’t live in either of our communities but was merely visiting a friend, pulled me aside. “I see what you’re doing here,” she whispered. “You’re trying to use your neighborhood tag sale to satirize the way Trump has started a trade war with his tariffs.”

I had to admit she was right.

“But you’ve got it all wrong,” she told me. “Totally backwards. What you want is for this idiot who is considering buying a used, possibly non-working microwave oven to have to pay more because his community added a surcharge, not because your community has 30-year-old lounge chairs at your pool, which, by the way, is a very nice pool, and should significantly increase your property values.”

She wasn’t finished yet. “What’s more, the only reason that other neighborhood would put a tariff on your neighborhood’s goods is if they were producing their own used microwaves and didn’t want your inferior used microwaves infringing on their domestic used microwave market.”

The microwave guy joined our little tête-à-tête. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just buy a few of these DVDs. How about six for $5?”

I was about to agree when the professorial-looking woman interrupted: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. For all you know, he may intend to copy that intellectual property in his community and make lower-cost editions of When Harry Met Sally.”

“So you’re saying we shouldn’t even have a tag sale?” I asked her.

“That’s right. Selling used goods is bad for the economy, because if, say, this gentleman purchased your used microwave–and by the way, is that dried up marinara sauce I see on the inside?– it could cause a slowdown in microwave manufacturing and ultimately a recession.” She paused and looked around secretively. “Also, I have some very fine lounge chairs I’m trying to get rid of.”

“I’ll bring that up with the board,” I replied as I began packing up our junk. “Now, do you have any ideas about what we should do with all the children from other neighborhoods we have locked up just inside our gateless pillars?”

She did not. And if there’s one distressing thing I learned from the tag sale, it’s that I actually have something in common with President Trump.

Neither one of us has a clue about international trade.

See you soon.

P.S. As I’m sure you guessed, most of this post is fictional, although we did, in fact, have a community tag sale, with a 20% suggested “tariff” to go toward, among other things, new lounge chairs. China did not threatened to retaliate.

P.P.S. We got five bucks for the microwave.

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