The elephant not in the room
Updated: Oct 26
When I was a young lad in Sydney, Australia there was a category of jokes called 'shaggy dog stories'. What the connection was between these stories and hirsute hounds remains a mystery. However my father used to tell a beauty, which went like this:
Two men are sitting alone in railway carriage. One is reading a newspaper. To the astonishment of the other, whenever he has finished reading a page of the paper, the first man tears the page out, screws it up into a little ball, and throws it out the window of the moving train. After observing this performance repeated over and over, the other man is overwhelmed with curiosity. 'Excuse me,' he says politely, 'but I can't help noticing what you are doing. Why are you doing it?'
The first man doesn't hesitate. 'It keeps the elephants away,' he explains.
'But,' protests the other man, 'there are no elephants out there.'
'Effective, isn't it?' the first man responds.
It seems to me there's a fair bit of this going on in contemporary politics. People announce they have a plan to solve a non-existent issue. Once the plan is launched, the issue is seen to have gone away because it never existed in the first place. Their plan has worked brilliantly, its proponents then announce.
Schools seem to be particular targets for this brand of nonsense. I watched a woman on US television the other day expressing concern about 'furries'. For the uninitiated, 'furries' are children who are convinced that they are a cat or dog. What bothered this particular lady was not so much the crazy children but that schools are now providing litter trays in the school's regular lavatories to cater for 'furries' who need a loo. There is not a syllable of truth in any of this claptrap, but the Education Department of the state of Michigan felt obliged to conduct a thorough investigation before announcing that, as far as it could see, there were no litter trays in any of their schools' toilets. Soon will be the perfect moment for the newly-elected governor of Michigan to announce that from now on litter trays are banned from all the state's school lavatories. After a decent interval, the governor will be able to claim 100% success.
This really IS saving the best until last. Again the source is US televison. A reporter is quizzing people in the street about gun law reform. His next subjects are a late-middle-age couple.
He pops the question. Gun law reform won't work, the couple aver, until people tackle the REAL problem. The real problem, it turns out, is not the ready availability of military grade weapons or even mental health issues. What is this hidden problem? The couple were unanimous. 'Demons,' they said. Apparently demons are responsible for gun violence in the United States.
What an opportunity for an ambitious governor! Table a law which makes it illegal to sell guns to demons, or to people possessed by demons. Cash-strapped members of the clergy could be offered part-time work on their less busy days (Monday to Saturday) at gun stores carrying out on-the-spot exorcisms before any money or guns change hands. For a modest fee they could even issue a dated and signed certificate, including photograph, confirming the exorcism and guaranteeing that the certificate holder would be demon-free for the next 12 months. After 12 months the certificate would need to be renewed, for another fee. Solved!