David Jaggard's

Quorum of One

Issue number 25

January 6, 2000


Wet humor on the Web since 2000



This issue:




A look back on the events that shaped the 20th century,

with a particularly detailed account of the World Wars

January, 1900: Celebrations are held around the world to mark the beginning of the 20th century.  A great many pedants and wet blankets refuse to participate, parroting incessantly that the 20th century doesn't actually begin until January 1st, 1901.  The resulting dispute pits friend against friend, family against family, city against city and finally nation against nation, escalating into the armed conflict which would later come to be known as "World War Zero".

1901: Wilhelm Roentgen receives the Nobel Prize in Physics for his pioneering work with X-rays.

1902: Wilhelm Roentgen retires to the French Riviera, having made a fortune in the manufacture of cheap novelty eyeglasses that don't work as advertised.  In the city of Metropolis, a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet is assigned to cover the story.  He suspects that the editor in chief is just trying to get him out of town to reduce the competition for the attentions of an attractive young woman who was recently hired to do Club News and Obits.  "I can see right through your plans, Perry," he says...

Editor: Ahh, David?  I think we've had about enough of this pun.  Let's just skip to the Wright Brothers, shall we?
OK, here goes:

December 17th, 1903: Wilbur and Orville Wright make the first successful heavier-than-air flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  The saga of modern aviation begins.

December 18th, 1903: The saga of modern aviation grinds to a halt when Wilbur and Orville Wright abandon work on their aircraft and start spending all their time hanging around bars in Raleigh wearing long white silk scarves, mirrored pince-nez glasses, heavy brown leather swallow-tail coats with "The Correct Material" stenciled on the back and top hats with ear flaps cocked at a rakish angle.  Orville refuses to answer to his given name and insists on being addressed as "Fly-Gentleman".  Finally both of them are committed to the North Carolina State Home for the Self-Absorbed and the world has to wait until 1927 and Charles Lindbergh's historic transatlantic flight for air travel to really catch on.

1904: Work begins on the Panama Canal.  A classic palindrome is coined, later to be revised in the 1970s: "A person, a plan, a canal: PANOSREPA!"

1906: The triode vacuum tube is invented by Lee de Forest, leading to the development of the radio receiver.

1907: Mack Wobeale of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania starts going around telling anyone who will listen that the CIA has implanted a vacuum tube in his brain.  His claims are met with widespread disbelief, largely because the CIA won't come into existence for another 40 years.

1912: Henry Ford popularizes the automobile by making a practical, reliable vehicle that is affordable to the average citizen: the mythical Model T.  On March 19th of that year, speaking to his assembled staff, he utters a famous (and often abridged) quip: "The customer can have a Model T in any color he wants as long as it's within the visible spectrum of light.  Heh-heh.  Heh. . .  OK, I guess that's not so funny after all, huh?  Well, maybe you had to be there.  But you are here, aren't you?  Aw, make 'em all black for all I care!  Now get the hell back to work before I sack the lot of you!"

May 7, 1915: The British ocean liner Lusitania is torpedoed by a German U-boat and sinks with many Americans on board.  Uncle Sam is goaded into entering World War I, wins.  After the war, US Army intelligence learns that Germany had intended all along to goad Uncle Sam into entering the war.  Declassified documents reveal that if sinking the Lusitania hadn't worked, German special forces were planning to make fun of Uncle Sam's clothes, call him "ein vussy" and play keep-away with his hat.

1917: The Russian people, sick and tired of living in hopeless poverty and constant terror under the cruel, all-powerful Czar, fight a long, bitter revolution and emerge victorious, free at last to live in hopeless poverty and constant terror under the cruel, all-powerful Premier of the Communist Party.

1919: After World War I, radio becomes a national craze.  Soon every home in the US has a radio set.  Critics say that the invention is obviously destined to replace theater and the reading of books.

1920: Charles Ponzi invents the Social Security system.

1921-1928: Due to the unprecedented prosperity of the post-war years, the next decade is nicknamed the "Roaring Twenties".   Flouting "Prohibition", "flappers" flock to "speakeasies" where they dance the "Charleston" to the latest "jazz" and drink "bathtub gin" until they "barf" their "guts out" and "fall down" in "the" gutter"." *

1929: The public's fascination with the movies reaches fever pitch with the release of the first talking film, "The Jazz Singer".  Americans throng the movie theaters and Hollywood stars are worshipped as idols.  Detractors declare that the movies are clearly fated to supplant radio, theater and the reading of books.

October 1929: In a horrendous fiery debacle, the German dirigible Hindenburg crashes into the New York Stock Exchange.  Or vice-versa.  Something like that.  Anyway, the United States is plunged into economic depression, thereby fixing the non-bus-related journalistic usage of the word "plunge" for the next 100 years.

1930-1938: Throughout the 1930s, America's economy stagnates as unemployment, bankruptcy, foreclosures on family farms, soup kitchens, panhandlers and bread lines become commonplace.  Everyone who lives through these trying times makes a solemn vow.  And that vow is: "If I ever have children, I'll never let them forget about this for one second.  Grandchildren, for that matter."
        In desperation, many people turn to a life of crime. Flamboyant criminals capture the public's imagination, some attaining the status of folk heroes.  In 1936, "Handsome Jack" McGurn, "Pretty Boy" Floyd, "Baby Face" Nelson, "Cutie Pie" O'Connell and "Button Nose" Feldstein escape from Alcatraz, make their way to New York City and evade arrest by joining Radio City Music Hall's renowned "Rockettes" chorus line.

1939: Hitler invades Poland.  His charismatic hold over the German people makes "Adolf" one of the most popular names for boys born in that country.

1940: Hitler's army overpowers Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France and starts hammering Great Britain mercilessly with aerial attacks.  It looks like the United States will have to go to war once more.

1941: Germany's ally Japan bombs Pearl Harbor.  The United States rolls its eyes, sighs dramatically and, moving as though encumbered by heavy weights, enters the war, wins.

1946: The Nuremberg War Crime Trials are postponed for seven months while waiting for the courts to clear a huge backlog of cases filed by parents of 7-year-old boys petitioning to change their names from "Adolf" to almost anything else, including "Brutus", "Judas", "Vlad", "Caligula" and "Richard Milhouse".

1947: The Central Intelligence Agency is founded, with the motto "Two out of Three Ain't Bad".  That very same year sees the invention of the transistor, making it possible to reduce radios to one-thirtieth the size of the old vacuum tube sets, much to the relief of Mack Wobeale of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who is still alive.  But just barely, to hear him tell it.

1949: In the years following World War II, television becomes a national craze.  Soon every home in the US has a TV set.  Opponents assert that the invention is indisputably foreordained to obliterate cinema, radio, theater and the reading of books.

1950-1959: In spite of the constant threat of nuclear annihilation, ubiquitous bald-faced racism and sexism, stultifying conservatism, fuzzy television reception, unreliable birth control and staggeringly moronic popular music including both "Purple People Eater" and "Witch Doctor",  the 1950s would later come to be revered as some kind of utopian era.

1955: For many years, popular music professionals had known that what was then called "race music", or Rhythm 'n' Blues, had the potential to appeal to a wider public, but at the time they didn't dare try to market black artists to white audiences.  As legendary record producer Sam Phillips recounts, "We knew that if we could find a white singer who sounded black, we could sell R'n'B to white kids too.  And then one fateful day a young man from the South came along, and as soon as we heard him sing just one note, we knew that that singer, the one we had been looking for all along, was definitely not Bill Haley."

1957: Jonas Salk develops the first polio vaccine, saving the "Baby Boomer" population from a crippling scourge.  Children all over the country are told, "It won't hurt."

1960: John Fitzgerald Kennedy is elected President of the United States, becoming the first Roman Catholic ever to hold that office.  His detractors claim that he will "take orders directly from the Vatican."  In retrospect, we can assume that if those accusations were right, Pope John XXIII's instructions to Kennedy were as follows:

1) In keeping with the teachings of the Holy Mother Church, make sure that effective oral contraceptives come into everyday use throughout the country, triggering a sexual revolution that will weaken and forever alter the institutions of marriage and the family.
With the basic tenets of Christianity always in mind, pursue and escalate a futile and illegal war in a formerly idyllic Southeast Asian country, resulting in the deaths of thousands of American servicemen and countless innocent civilians of all sexes and ages while devastating the economy and ecology of the entire region for decades to come.
See if Marilyn is free for dinner on Thursday.

November 22, 1963: To this day, everyone who was alive on that fateful day can remember in vivid detail exactly where they were and what they were doing when they had their first sexual experience.  Also, some of them can pretty much remember where they were when they heard the news that JFK had been assassinated.  Then there's a whole lot of people who used to be able to remember but forgot in about 1973 after their 847th joint.

1965-1970: The Beatles and the "flower children" subculture start a fad among young men for long hair, a fashion trend which instantly becomes a life-and-death issue that overshadows the Vietnam War, civil rights and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. "Hey!  Hippie!  Are yew a boy or a gurl? Hawhawhawhawhaw!!" is considered to be the height of acerbic wit in many circles.
        The use of marijuana, long a staple of the jazz scene, becomes commonplace among the nation's youth (except for those who would later run for public office).  Aggregate SAT scores drop 14 points nationwide and the average intelligence level of conversations among Americans under 30 plummets all over the country due to the preponderance of idiotic drivel such as the following verbatim quotes from real-life exchanges the author of this article witnessed or (alas) participated in between 1969 and 1977:

"The only reason to get high is to try to reach the ultimate high, man."

"Well, man, the way I figure it: if I'm busted, I'm busted."

"Ken!  You can't turn down here!!  This is a ONE-WAY STREET!!!" [sound of 500 blaring automobile horns, screeching brakes]
" I'mmm juuuust nowww realizzzzzin' thaaaaat. . ."

"So what are you doing these days, man?"
"Oh, I try to hang out. . ."

"We need to carry guns to protect ourselves from the pigs."
"That's just bringing ourselves down to their level."
"It's either their level or no level at all, man."

"Beethoven was into hash."
"How do you know that?"
"You can just tell."

"It's OK.  You can do anything stoned.  I took my SATs stoned."

1968: Strong, healthy, polio-free baby boomers are now 22-year-old Yippies disrupting the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, throwing excrement in policemen's faces and shouting the slogan "Never Trust Anyone Over 30".

July 20th, 1969, 3:22 pm EDT: The Apollo 11 lunar landing module touches down on the moon.  The entire world falls silent for a moment as astronaut Neil Armstrong climbs down the ladder and utters the fabled quote, "One small step for man -- or do I mean a man?  Some men?  A few guys?  Anyway, one giant leap for the share price of the General Foods corporation, makers of Tang (registered trademark)."

July 20th, 1969, 3:24 pm EDT: The silence around the world is broken by a deafening chorus of people carping, "If they can put a man on the moon, they can. . . (pick one:)

a) make a lightbulb that never burns out."
make panty hose that doesn't run."
make a carburetor that gets 250 miles per gallon."
make a computer small enough to fit onto the average desktop and somehow link it up with other computers all over the world, like maybe through the telephone lines or something, thereby making access to information of every type and description easy and inexpensive, before the end of the century."

1972: US President Richard Nixon, because he is not a crook, runs for a second term on the Republican ticket.  In spite of the fact that he is a virtual shoo-in for reelection, he decides, for the simple reason that he is not a crook, to play dirty anyway, and sends what the government calls "covert operatives" and what everyone else calls "felons" to break into Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Building in Washington, D.C.  This decision turns out to have disastrous consequences for Nixon, for the Republican party, and for the American people:

In what is no doubt the biggest, most significant development since the end of World War II, a surprise turn of events frees millions of people from the yoke of their long-time oppressor.  Whole generations who had become accustomed to living in constant dread of sudden subjugation and torture were finally released from the iron grip of their heartless tormentor, free at last to breathe the sweet, heady air of liberty!  For indeed, 1989 was the year that Barry Manilow was assassinated by a crazed gunman outside the Dakota Apartments in New York City.  No, wait -- that was John Lennon. And nine years earlier.  Oh yeah: 1989 was the year that the Berlin Wall fell on the Soviet Bloc, scattering bits of the Iron Curtain all over the Warsaw Pact, thus marking the end of the Cold War.

1990-1999: After the Cold War,  the personal computer becomes a national craze.  Soon every home in the US is hooked up to the Internet.  Naysayers proclaim that the invention is unmistakably on an unswerving path to eradicate TV, cinema, theater, radio, the reading of books, the art of conversation and sex.


 2000: Sex is, in fact, replaced by a $90 virtual reality "home entertainment" system that simulates the visual and tactile sensations of love-making so accurately, and with any partner of the user's choice, that hardly anyone bothers with real-life human relationships any more.  To order, send a check or major credit card number with expiration date to...
[Editor's note:
David seems to have the only computer in the entire world that has actually broken down suddenly due to the Y2K bug.  We'll have the rest of that information for you in the next issue.  I hope.]


  * Terrible confession: I inadvertently (really) paraphrased this joke from Dave Barry. Didn't realize it until years later when rereading one of his books.


 ©2000 by David Jaggard.  All rights reserved worldwide.