Monday, February 23, 2009

"Congratulations. You now understand the stimulus bill."

There's an email named "Congratulations. You now understand the stimulus bill." working it's way around the web and in blogs. There's one version here. The condensed version is this: An economics student asks his professor to explain the stimulus bill. The professor teaches by example as he has the student take one bucket after another from the deep end of the swimming pool to the shallow end, accomplishing nothing.

But that's not the full story. In passing from inbox to inbox this internet meme has somehow lost the second half of the story. Which follows:

This economics student had another professor to whom he posed the same question. This second professor also had a pool at home and also told the student to come to his home for a weekend project. This pool was at the base of a small hill in the professor's backyard. It looked like the small hill had at one time been lush and green and well-manicured, but since there'd been a drought for the past two years it was just dirt.

The professor told the student, "take a bucket of water from the pool, carry it up the hill and dump the water." The student did as told. "Take another bucket..." and so on. After a while the confused student said, "Why are we doing this? the water just runs down the hill right back into the pool. We're accomplishing nothing except, perhaps, to make your pool water dirty."

The professor said "come back and lets do it again next week."

This went on for a couple of months. Finally, the student was tired and exasperated. "Professor, I've been carrying water from your pool up that hill for two months, but hardly any of of it ever stays there because it almost all just flows back into the pool. The amount of water hasn't changed. The level of the pool hasn't changed. This has been totally unproductive."

The professor said, "look at the hill. what do you see?"

"Grass," said the student, "grass and flowers and bushes and weeds. Two months ago it was just dirt, and now it's a garden."

"Congratulations. You now understand the stimulus bill."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

An Elevated Conversation

I’ve long held firm to three cherished elevator fantasies. In the first fantasy, I’m trapped in a broken elevator with a beautiful woman. As it heats up she’s compelled to remove one item of clothing after another, as I do the same, until we’re overcome by circumstances and treat each other to hours of anonymous sex. In the second fantasy, I’m trapped in a broken elevator with an ice-cream delivery person. As the elevator warms we’re compelled to eat all the ice cream before it melts into a gooey elevator mess. The third fantasy goes one step beyond the first two. I won’t go into much detail, but it involves a broken elevator and a beautiful ice-cream delivery woman. I always thought that any of these three scenarios would be the most interesting thing I could ever possibly experience in a broken elevator. Until last Tuesday.

Last Tuesday I stepped into the elevator at the county courthouse. Just before the door closed a woman jumped in. She was beautiful and dressed to the nines in a fancy black lady suit. (I was dressed to the ones or twos, in sandals, jeans, dirty shirty, and dirtier jacket.)

Before the elevator had made it down an entire floor, it stopped with a small jerk, and the lights went out, soon replaced by the weaker glow of an emergency backup bulb.

“Elevator’s broken,” she said.

I had trouble getting any words out. I never thought I’d actually be in fantasy #1, otherwise it wouldn’t be a fantasy, now would it. I thought back, and couldn’t remember if there’d ever been talking during broken-elevator-scenarios, so I wasn’t sure what to say. “Um, huh, what?”

“Elevator’s broken,” she said again.

“Yeah. Look’s that way.”

“It’ll be broken for a while,” she said as she sat down, knees bent to retain her lady-like dignity in her short suit-skirt. “We may as well get comfortable. Tell me, what brings you to the courthouse?”

“Jury duty,” I said. “But I’m sure I won’t be selected. I never am.”

“Is that why you’re dressed like a slob, so you won’t get picked?”


“And is that a large bird dropping in your hair?”

“Toothpaste, actually. It’s to help make sure I don’t get picked. If things get too far I plan to yell ‘Tesla was wrong, they don’t call it Washington A.C., long live the backers of the united front!’ and then put some toothpaste—better yet, bird dropping--on my finger and brush with it.”

“Good plan.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling more comfortable my temporary companion. “What brings you to the courthouse?”

“I’m a lawyer with Weinstock & Dajani, the biggest and smartest law firm in the late 22nd century. I’ve traveled back in time to file a class-action lawsuit against PG&E, Chevron, and the California Public Utilities Commission, on behalf of the people of my time. We’re demanding $46 trillion dollars in damages.”

I said “OK, I’ll play along. This could be fun. Damages for what?”

“For causing loss of crops, loss of land, loss of life, loss of species, flooding, disease, and general worldwide devastation.”

“You’re talking global warming.”

“Exactly. Non-stop dissemination of carbon and other elements into the atmosphere in your time has caused havoc in my time.”

“And so you think the answer is for lawyers of the future to travel back in time to sue utilities and energy companies all over the world?”

“Not all over the world. For the rest of the world we send back scientists and engineers to explain the situation, and those countries cease their harmful ways. But that approach doesn’t work here. In the U.S. the only approach that works is lawsuits.”

“There’s no way California can come up with $46 trillion dollars. So even if you win, you’ll lose.”

“We’ll win, all right. And they’ll pay one way or another. But we’ll never see a cent so my time-travel work is always pro bono.”

“I don’t know what ‘pro bono’ is, but it sounds sexy when you say it.” OK. I didn’t really say that last one because I’d honestly forgotten about the whole sex-fantasy thing and was now caught up in her fantasy of time travel. Instead I said “Nice story, but you can’t travel back in time; the laws of physics say you can’t.”

“As I told you, I am from biggest and smartest law firm. The physicists didn’t stand a chance enforcing their laws once we brought them to the witness stand. We can time-travel whenever we want, provided we get a TT warrant from any Palestisraeli judge.”


“Correct. In about forty years the Israelis and Palestinians will form a single nation of Palestisrael. They’ll channel their intense and creative hatred toward each other into a shared intense and creative hatred toward the rest of the world. Within four decades Palestisrael will become the financial, civil, cultural, and legal center of the world.”

“Now I know you’re lying.”

“Fine don’t believe me. I don’t care. We don’t have much time, so I’ll be brief. I’ve already won my case. In order to avoid a payment that will bankrupt the people of your time you’re going to have to act now prevent the damage so that we won’t have cause to travel back and file lawsuits. You’re going to have to stop using fossil fuels. You’re going to have to switch to alternative energy sources and, until you do, use much less energy. That will include frequent blackouts for the next fifteen years, the first of which is currently happening and will continue for another forty-three minutes. I’ve read your blog in the internet archives, and I know what you like. So if you want to get on with the anonymous elevator sex we’d better get started.”

On the one hand, she was clearly crazy. On the other hand, she had already removed her jacket and was starting on her skirt.

Then she reached into her case and brought out a cup and two spoons. “I brought ice cream…” That sealed the deal.