Jan 192013

Inauguration Day is this coming Monday, and Friday night, the roads around Washington DC were snarled with an extra couple of hundred thousand motorists, arriving here for the festivities.  As someone who works in downtown DC and lives in Great Falls, Virginia, just west of the Capitol Beltway, I recognize the right of every American to visit this lovely city and, furthermore, their right to drive to it if they wish.  They should not, however, treat the local residents as impediments to the progress of their Great Expedition To The Nation’s Capital.  Previous experience has shown me that, it matters not one whit if the pilgrim in question hails from Oregon, Utah, Illinois, Georgia, California, Maine, Tennessee, Montana, Texas or New York, once they finally make it here in their family truck or automobile, they are all equally likely – upon encountering our rather sparse metropolitan road system, consisting, as it does, of only a single circumferential freeway and a few Interstate spurs, with the remainder being mostly two-lane roads built between the surrender of Japan and the end of the Eisenhower administration – to lose their grip on sanity.  Yelling, screaming, shaking their fists, blowing their horns and promiscuously flipping the bird in every direction, they tend to distinguish themselves in our hearts quite impressively.  Oh, my goodness gracious – are they not used to proceeding across the American Legion Bridge at three miles per hour, hemmed in by a totally solid traffic jam on every corner, at seven-thirty in the evening?  Are their chattering teeth, floating eyeballs and increasingly boisterous children grating, perchance, upon their nerves?  Dare they, depending upon their direction, veer off US 495 to an exit, there to encounter the uncertainties of the Clara Barton or George Washington Parkways, or, even more disturbing, the inscrutable labyrinths of Bethesda or McLean, where any ill-advised wrong turn might find them stuck up the driveway of the CIA, the Defense Geospatial Mapping Center, or a well-armed foreign consular residence filled with trigger-happy occupants possessing both diplomatic immunity and fully automatic weapons having high capacity ammunition clips?  Yes, I know – it’s enough to render even nice, liberal Democrats like the ones who came here this weekend to celebrate the beginning of their nice, liberal Democrat President’s second term a tad more than testy, to say the least; which is why I lingered until well past ten at the Round Robin Bar after work on Friday, instead of trying to drive home through such a vast, chaotic and frantic porcine fornication as that. 
As so it was that I encountered Throckmorton, who works for the White House Office of Public Engagement, sitting all by himself, morosely but intently perusing something on his Apple notebook.  There were two empty beer glasses on his table, and as he looked up to catch the waiter’s attention for another, he noticed me standing at the bar and waved.  Interpreting his gesture as more of a call for help than anything else, I joined him.
“You seem mighty engrossed in your work,” I opened.
“Yeah,” he groused, “it’s rough, Tom, mighty rough.  We the People, The White House petition Web site, is totally swamped, and we’re obligated to respond to a huge boatload of them.”
“How big a boatload?” I inquired.
“Well,” he sighed, “it began with us promising to respond to any petition that got more than five thousand digital signatures.  Then we raised that to fifteen thousand, and then twenty-five thousand, which is where it was until Wednesday, when we upped it to a hundred thousand.”
“So what seems to be the problem?” I prodded.  “There can’t be that many petitions on We the People that have more than a hundred thousand signatures, can there?”
“No, not really,” he shrugged.  “If we had just said, ‘The new limit is now one hundred thousand,’ we wouldn’t be snowed under like this, but we didn’t – we grandfathered the petitions instead.”
“So,” I sought to confirm, “you’re saying that, if a petition was filed before January 16, 2013, and it accumulates more than twenty-five thousand signatures, the White House is still obligated to post an official response?”
“Exactly,” he grumbled, “and the same thing goes for the ones filed before the deadlines when we raised the limits from five thousand and fifteen thousand.  And now, the chickens are coming home to roost!  Because we grandfathered all those previous petitions with low signature totals, now our response backlog is exploding, and guess who gets to reply to a great, big wheelbarrow full of them?  Me!
“Well,” I philosophized, “it can’t be all that bad, can it?  You had that petition for the US government to build a Death Star, and the one where they wanted Obama to reveal his secret White House home-brew beer recipe – writing the responses to those must have actually been kind of fun, no?”
“Oh sure,” he fumed, “Jon Carson and Paul Shawcross and their buddies, they get to write the fun stuff.  And there are quite a few other ones like that, too – for NASA to build the USS Enterprise from Star Trek, and for us to claim the moon as a territory, for instance, or the one about building an elevator that goes up into outer space; and other amusing ones like the Great Unwashed demanding Piers Morgan’s deportation just because he’s in favor of gun control, or that PSY be prohibited from performing Gangnam Style at the White House, or banning Beyonce from singing the national anthem at the Inauguration, or having Joe Biden star in his own reality show.  Oh, yeah, Jon, Paul and their crew, they get to write all the cute responses that stand a good chance of them getting their names mentioned in the news.  But the rest of us have to deal with writing responses to stuff like this: ‘Petition to Assay and Validate the Federal Government’s Alleged 8,100 Tons of Gold.’  I have to write a response that explains why, and I quote, ‘professional auditors outside of the Mint, Treasury, GAO, Inspector General and Federal Reserve system,’ can’t be allowed to weigh, assay and sign affidavits proving the United States of America actually has the gold reserves it claims to possess.  And look at this one – I have to explain why the Obama Administration isn’t going to condemn the Catholic Church as a hate group because of what the Pope said about marriage in his Christmas address!  And speaking of religion, here’s another one, which reads, and I quote, ’Enforce the Tax Code, and Strip Violating Religious Institutions of their Tax Exempt 501(c) Status.’  Oh, great!  So now I get to explain separation of church and state to a bunch of virulent atheists or whatever who signed this thing!  And look at this – back in 2011, there was a petition for the President to, get this, Tom – ‘formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race.’  And guess who got to write the response to that one?  None other than Yours Truly, and then what did we get?  Another petition!  This one got posted last month, and it demands that a representative of the Obama Administration attend something called a ‘Citizen Hearing on Disclosure of Extraterrestrials’ to be held at the National Press Club, and I’m the one who has to write the response that says nobody’s coming!”
“I stand corrected,” I admitted.  “It’s abundantly clear to me now that very few people would envy you your job.”
“Maybe if they clean out septic tanks for a living,” he growled, accepting another beer from the waiter and chugging about half of it in one gulp.  “Look at what else they’ve given me! ‘Raze the City of Chicago,’ ‘Recognize the Sasquatch as an Endangered Species,’ ’Replace the Bald Eagle with the Wild Turkey,’ ‘Annex Israel as the Fifty-First State,’ ‘Annex Cuba as the Fifty-First State,’ ‘Annex Quebec as the Fifty-First State,’ ‘Declare Spanish the National Language,’ ‘Allow US Government Business to be Conducted in Swahili,’ ‘Mandate States to Declare an Official State Cocktail,’ ‘Require States to Name an Official State Calisthenic,’ ‘Make Possession of Tobacco Products a Federal Drug Crime,’ ‘Issue an Executive Order Reversing Global Warming,’ ‘Institute a $100 per Foot Federal Bounty on the Burmese Python, Python Molurus Bivittatus,’ ‘Lift the Federal Ban on Sale and Consumption of Dog and Cat Meat,’ ‘Ban Knives, Golf Clubs, Tire Irons and Metal Pipes Just Like Guns,’ ‘Order the FDA to Permit Sale of Frozen Road Kill Across State Lines,’ ’Mandate Separate Restrooms for the LGBT Community in All Facilities Participating in Interstate Commerce,’ ‘Allow States to Reinstitute Rule of Thumb Laws…’ Hell, I don’t even know what that last one means!”
“Back in the day,” I told him, “it was legal for a man to discipline his wife and children by beating them with a wooden rod no greater in diameter than his thumb.”
“Oh, my God,” he exclaimed as he read the petition text, “you’re right.  That’s what they want!  And I have to write the official White House response, explaining how come they can’t, because this happens to be the freaking twenty-first century!  And look at this one, ‘Require a Certified IQ Score of at Least 100 to Hold Public Office.’
“That’s probably not constitutional for federal elected officials,” I opined.  “And there’s no way it’s constitutional for the federal government to set standards for state or local elections – Tenth Amendment and so forth, you know.”
“Oh, here’s the solution to the budget deficit,” he sneered, “a petition to ‘Tax Beards and Mustaches by the Inch!’  Or how about this – ‘Institute a National Computer Registry of Pit Bulls and Their Owners.’”
“That one,” I remarked, “almost makes sense.”
“Think so?” Throckmorton asked.  “So tell me then, what do you think of a petition to, quote, ‘Order the CDC to Declare a Federal Quarantine on All Properties Infested by Bedbugs?’”
“That one,” I allowed, “makes slightly less.”
“Oh, here’s a beauty,” he continued after reducing his beer glass to slightly less than a quarter full, “’Subsidize Purchase of Off-Road Vehicles for National Security and Emergency Preparedness!’  Looks like they took that idea from the federal income tax deduction for home mortgages.  And this one looks like it was thought up by somebody with an environmental policy degree – ‘Require Purchase of Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Credits for Cremations.’  And here’s one from the radical vegans, ‘Ban Use of Leather Products by the Federal Government,’  and another from the direct-action suburban faction, ‘Allow Gardeners to Kill Deer on their Property Using Arrows, Lances, Slingshots, Atlatls or Boomerangs.’  What in blue blazes is an atlatl?”
“A launching device that uses leverage to increase the speed of a spear aimed at animal prey,” I explained.
“And…” he wondered, “you can actually kill a deer with a boomerang?”
“Hunting versions,” I assured him, “are widely available for sale on the Internet.”
“What isn’t widely available for sale on the Internet these days?” Throckmorton muttered as he finished off his beer and signaled for yet one more.  “Hey, look at this one – ‘Change the Name of North Dakota to South Manitoba.’  Could that actually make sense, do you think?”
“About as much sense,” I assessed, “as having a White House We the People petition Web site in the first place.”
“Interesting you should mention that,” he observed, “because I also have this one.  It reads, quote, ‘We demand a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition…’ blah, blah, blah… and it ends, ‘We would also like a cookie.’  And, in addition, I’m expected to respond to a petition which says, quote, ‘We petition the Obama Administration to ignore ridiculous, publicity-baiting petitions (like this one) created to get media and tweeters’ attention…’ blah, blah, blah, “…this facility is becoming farcical.  Indeed, this petition itself is merely link-bait, to demonstrate the point.  If you’d like media to stop making fake stories out of fake petitions, sign below.  Not that it will do a damned bit of good.’”
“It sounds,” I suggested, “like those two might be ready to start work at the White House Office of Public Engagement.”