I like to spot sentences that have probably never been uttered. This hobby is like bird watching but without the inconvenience of the outdoors. The trick is that the unique sentences have to be natural, not just a bunch of random words strung together. Take for example the following question: Did you hear about the inflatable Swiss dog turd that attacked an orphanage? That sentence qualifies even though I wrote it myself, because the event actually happened.
Luckily no orphans were injured in the attack. And no one is more relieved, so to speak, than the artist who squeezed out that masterpiece. I mean, if just once in your entire life you create a huge inflatable turd that injures an orphan, it sort of erases anything else you might do. You'll always be that guy.
I wonder how you get rid of a huge inflatable turd when you no longer want it. Do you take it to the dump just to be ironic? Or do you rent it on weekends for kid parties?
I'd probably put stucco on it and make it my home. That way when company came over, and I hadn't bothered to clean up, I would just say, "I'm sorry our house looks like crap." Everyone would laugh and laugh, and not even care that the floor is seven layers of toys, clothing, and miscellaneous remote controls. Anyway, if you accept a dinner invitation inside a giant turd, you probably started out with low expectations.
And what if the inflatable dog turd gets punctured? Would the first person to notice exclaim "Holy crap!"? And if not, would that person regret the missed opportunity for the rest of his natural life? I know I would. I have trouble releasing that sort of thing. For me, it would be like training all my life for the Olympics and forgetting to set my alarm on the day of my event. It would haunt me.
After drawing about 7,000 Dilbert comics, you might wonder how many times this has happened before. My best guess is that is has happened at least 70 times, some instances more egregious than others. That's because there are only about 100 different jokes in the universe. All jokes are rehashes of something that came before. The best you can do is disguise them.
It makes me wish I had been born around 1,900 B.C. when the first great innovation in humor was invented: the fart joke.
After that, every seemingly new fart joke was nothing but a rehash. I've used the fart joke several times in Dilbert, with just enough subtlety to get published. Here's one
The joke in both Dilbert comics is about 4,000 years old. And that assumes the Sumerians didn't steal the joke from someone else.
My strip that runs today (August 1, 2008) is only a second cousin to the fart joke, and maybe the naughtiest thing I ever got away with.
I fantasize about running for President, but in the same way I fantasize about being Batman. I wouldn't want either job, but it's fun to think about how I'd handle certain situations. One situation that pops up all the time is when a reporter asks a candidate to respond to his opponent's campaign promises to do the impossible. My fantasy answer would be "My opponent thinks voters are stupid."
The great thing about that answer is that it would generate world headlines. Second, it would resonate as being honest and accurate. You'd have to make sure you weren't making unrealistic promises yourself, and that's the hard part. But it would be a killer line.
Calling your opponent names, like flip-flopper, clearly works to some extent. But telling voters that your opponent thinks THEY are stupid would work even better, especially if it is clearly true that he thinks that.
I've also been working on good sound bites for both Obama and McCain. Obama's sound bite is easy. He took heat for suggesting a specific timetable for withdrawal before he had visited Iraq and talked to the generals. That seemed dumb. Then he made the best political move I have ever seen, by saying a President has to see the bigger picture, so generals in Iraq can't be the ones to determine when we leave. Agree with him or not, it was a brilliant political move. He needs to capture that in a soundbite: "Generals fight wars. Presidents make peace." It sounds like universal wisdom. That's a good sound bite.
Now that the Iraqi Prime Minister wants the U.S. to leave on Obama's timetable, McCain's biggest issue is gone. Even if you think McCain was right about the surge, it is no longer relevant to the election. No one cares that an old guy once made a good decision. The average voter doesn't know enough about economics to make the economy a powerful issue for McCain, and it's too late for him to start hammering on social issues. So McCain's sound bite needs to be something vague yet persuasive. I suggest: "Do voters prefer words or actions?"
The great part of that sound bite is that everyone is programmed to automatically prefer words to action. And to the extent that Obama is viewed as a great orator, and McCain is seen as more of a man of action, you start thinking the sound bite actually means something. And phrasing the sound bite as a question forces the listener to automatically answer it, thus reinforcing it in the irrationsl part of the brain. It is the political equivalent of "If the glove doesn't fit, you must acquit." It sounds like a reason to the unreasonable part of your brain, which unfortnately makes most of your decisions.
The other sound bite I have been thinking about wouldn't work for the election, but it's funny: "Change is good until it's your turn to be the diaper."
Do you have a better sound bite for this election?
[Disclaimer: I don't think either candidate meets the minimum standard to be president. And I won't have a preference until I complete a poll of economists that I'm working on now.]
My favorite fantasy in this genre is imagining what I could say to a kid that would make him think he should substitute his own judgment for mine. My fantasy argument goes like this:Kid: Can I climb on the roof?
Me: No. You'd get hurt.
Kid: I'll be careful. And my friend Brian climbs on his roof all the time. He never falls off.
Now at this point you realize that regular reasoning isn't going to win the day. You have to resort to the "Because I said so" fall-back, but while effective, that never seems like a clean win to me. To the kid it appears you don't have a good reason and you're just being an ass about it. That's why I fantasize about the rest of the discussion going this way:
Me: Do you know who invented the roof?
Me: It wasn't a kid. In fact, nothing important has ever been invented by a kid. Do you know why that is?
Kid: I don't care.
Me: It's because your brain won't be fully developed until sometime in your twenties.
Kid: I'm not listening TRA-LA-LA-LA-LA!!!
Me: You don't understand why you can't go on the roof because your brain isn't developed enough to understand the risk involved.
Kid: You suck. I hate you.
Me: I'll make you a deal. If you can find anything in this house that was invented by a kid, I'll admit that kids know as much as adults and you can climb on the roof. Use my computer, which incidentally was invented by adults. Go nuts.
(seven hours later)
Kid: Golly. Not only was I wrong, but probably stupid as well, and perhaps a little bit insane. I now adopt your viewpoint as my own. Would you like a bite of my sandwich?
Me: Thanks, but the last time you washed your hands was in amniotic fluid.
This makes me wonder what would be the very worst name you could give a kid to guarantee he or she gets beat up three times a day. You can play at home. How about...