A lesson in humor: Bush’s position on the environment

Elton Wong

Sometimes the most common human experiences are difficult to explain. Suppose, for example, that an extraterrestrial came down to earth and asked you to explain what pain was.

Assuming our visitor had a physiology completely different than ours, even the most eloquent and descriptive writer would find it difficult, if not impossible, to convey the idea.

Humor is another example. Something that seems hilarious in one culture is not guaranteed to raise so much as a chuckle in a different culture or in a different language.

If we return to our extraterrestrial visitor, communication involving a feeling like pain combined with a concept like humor would be a total non-starter. It wouldn’t even get of the ground.

Try playing our extraterrestrial friend Frank Zappa’s song “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?” or the Simpsons episode where Ralph Wiggum exclaims “it tastes like … burning!” The alien would be totally mystified.

If I may interject my own opinion, I’ve always found absurdity to be the greatest source of humor.

Whether taken to the extreme in a style like Monty Python or tempered with witty social and theological commentary like in The Onion or “A Modest Proposal,” great humor can be found in the random, the nonsensical, the flagrantly illogical, the horribly wrong.

I have recently found the greatest example of Zen-like distillation of absurdity, and I don’t even know whom to thank. The comment comes from an unnamed White House Spokesperson who recently said to CNN.com “this administration has taken any number of bold steps towards protecting the environment.”

This statement ranks right up there with the sketch in which John Cleese tries unsuccessfully to return a dead parrot to the pet store.

The reason of course is that the Bush administration has shown itself to be full of overachievers when it comes to environmental issues. And when I say “environmental issues” I of course mean “damaging the environment as fast as possible according to big business interests.”

First there was that whole arsenic thing, in which Environmental Protection Agency head Christie Whitman repealed the Clinton administration’s standard for arsenic in drinking water, to replace it with the old standard from the 1940s. In a statement, Whitman said that there was insufficient evidence concerning the health risks of arsenic.

Of course, the National Academy of Scientists thought otherwise, but better sorry than safe, I guess. Especially if you’re in the Bush administration and you get lots of money from the coal and chemical industries.

When I first learned of the arsenic controversy, I assumed Whitman was evil, a tool of big business special interests. But now I think that she is basically a good person who has been forced to bow to political pressures. I suppose this is really the same thing as being a corporate tool, but let’s not get caught up in semantics.

Anyway, Whitman earned some points in my book recently when she sent a memo to Bush saying that America’s stance on global warming was essential to issues of international credibility.

Basically, Whitman encouraged Bush to take a strong stand to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which had been a campaign promise in the first place.

Bush responded days later by pulling out of the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement that has been stewing for a decade, whereby all developed nations agreed to reduce emissions by modest amounts.

Understandably, this provoked international outcry. Whitman did the right thing, but Bush completely undermined her, and her future with the administration is in jeopardy.

Fortunately, her future employment prospects are good. I hear Afghanistan’s Taliban is looking for a new multicultural ambassador.

In addition to violating campaign promises and undermining the position of the United States in the global community, this decision flies in the face of the wishes of the American public. In a Time-CNN poll released Sunday, two-thirds of Americans said that Bush should develop a plan to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses.

In spite of all this, it is exaggeration to say that Bush doesn’t care about greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, although the vast, vast majority of carbon dioxide released into the air comes from the burning of fossil fuels, some of it comes directly from people.

Any freshman in Biology 201 can tell you that humans, as aerobic organisms, metabolize oxygen into carbon dioxide.

Bush figures that if his political contributors won’t let him reduce industrial pollution, he can at least cut down on emissions by allowing dangerous amounts of arsenic in drinking water and cutting health care to uninsured children.

Arsenic and lack of health care tend to cause death, which means there will be fewer people metabolizing oxygen into carbon dioxide.

So although Bush has made a few wrong moves, he has shown through these bold initiatives that his heart is really in the right place. Say what you want about the guy, but he is trying. Somewhere, Jonathan Swift is looking down and smiling.

Elton Wong is a senior in genetics and philosophy from Ames.