Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Thinking about Uncle

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Thinking about Uncle

Article excerpt

I recently read one of those forwarded joke messages--you have no choice when it's e-mailed by your father--and found myself chortling over its announcement of the discovery of Governmentium, a new chemical element with "one neutron, 12 assistant neutrons, 75 deputy neutrons, and 224 assistant deputy neutrons." Governmentium is inert, the e-mail continued, and can be detected only because "it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A minute amount of Governmentium causes one reaction to take over four days to complete when it would normally take less than a second"

This turns out to be a polarizing joke. If you are the sort of person who thinks that the federal government does a lot of good and necessary things, you're not supposed to laugh at wisecracks about Governmentium. Uncle Sam, in this view, is a darling little boy who never makes mistakes, and if you laugh at him you only help the bullies who want to hurt him. On the other side are those who feel a proud thrill when Uncle goes marching off to war but think he's a useless, meddlesome creature when he's around the house. …

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