The Shallot

I wrote these pieces a decade ago, which makes the Iraq story in particular very dated. Still, the following was an attempt to write in the style of The Onion; I hope you enjoy it.

The Shallot

Definitely Not America’s Finest News Source


Scientist: Woodchucks Would Chuck, If Only Given the Chance

MANKATO, MN – In a groundbreaking study published in the August edition of the journal Unnatural Acts, a team of scientists tackled one of the oldest zoological questions known to humankind: How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

“There were several problems with this project from the very beginning,” admitted team leader Dr. Adam Jacobsen of the Aphoristic Animal Institute in Mankato, Minnesota. “First, there was the conditional nature of the whole premise: “if” a woodchuck, you know. We had to determine not only whether such a feat is physically possible for the animal, but also whether they were the least bit inclined to chuck, period – that is, would a woodchuck even want to chuck wood? Or is it less a matter of woodchuck volition, and more a case of human interference with the woodchuck’s natural ability and desires: to rephrase the saying, ‘would the woodchuck chuck if only it were allowed to’?”

Semantics aside, the woodchuck’s decided lack of opposable thumbs, plus its inability to stand on its hind legs for extended periods of time, stymied researchers for months. Unsure how, or even whether, they could manage to get the creatures to launch any kind of wood product, the scientists came to the point where they were ready to “chuck the whole thing,” joked Jacobsen.

Eventually, an unnamed project scientist resorted in desperation to grinding pieces of wood into a pasty pulp, then feeding them to the woodchucks until they regurgitated – the aptly, if disturbingly, named “up-chuck” method. However, in addition to being scientifically and aesthetically unappealing, this practice was halted almost immediately by an injunction filed on behalf of the nauseous rodents by the animal activist group PETA.

PETA spokesperson Allison Yancey decried the study in general as a “travesty” and “a blatant exploitation of animals to satisfy some perverted sense of human curiosity.” Responded Jacobsen, “Well, that just goes to show you how hypocritical those so-called animal rights groups are, doesn’t it? After all, we’re the ones who set out to empower woodchucks; we were seeking to help them realize their full potential for chucking. You don’t see those ‘don’t wear fur’ types out there in the trenches. I mean, what if chucking wood turned out to be an inherent part of the woodchuck’s nature? Think of the implications!”

Previously, Jacobsen’s team had attempted a fourteen-week study of whether or not the early bird actually gets the worm. However, the results of this study were inconclusive, as it proved virtually impossible to establish a causal link between early-rising birds and early-eating birds. Said Jacobsen, “It appeared as though the birds that rose first were not necessarily hungry right away. Perhaps they were too groggy to think about procuring breakfast. Sadly, we may never know the answer: not only was our funding cut, but we had trouble finding scientists who were willing to get up as early as the birds.”

However, the woodchuck study proved more successful. Jacobsen and his partners resorted to a dual strategy, expanding the definition of “chucking” to include any sort of movement whatsoever. With one experimental group, the scientists tossed sticks and branches of various sizes at a number of woodchucks, and measured how far the limbs bounced off the animals.

The second group had it slightly easier: scientists merely placed various wood products next to the woodchucks and measured the extent to which each product was actually moved by the animal, if at all. “This, we felt,” reported Jacobsen, “best fit the original question, whether a woodchuck would have any interest in wood-chucking; and if so, would it know how to pursue that interest.”

Interestingly enough, some of them did. As reported in the article, nearly 25 percent of the woodchucks studied caused at least one piece of wood to move at least three centimeters. “As chucking goes, it’s not much,” acknowledged Jacobsen, “but we nevertheless feel that this is one small step for woodchucks, one giant leap for woodchuck-kind.”

Iraqi toy store scores profit with Plastic Bagtm

BAGHDAD – The warning on the side may read “This is Not a Toy,” but don’t tell that to Iraqi consumers. Baghdad’s newest (and, currently, only) toy store began stocking its shelves last week with the wildly popular Plastic Bagtm.

Says Khamil Barzani, the owner of Hezach abdul-Wahab (loosely translated as “Plenty of Nothing”), “Plastic bags are so much easier for us to acquire than, say, food, or medicine, or actual toys. I mean, the Americans are practically giving these bags away, like they were garbage or something.”

Barzani carries both new and pre-owned inventories of Plastic Bagtm. Since the introduction of the new toy, Hezach abdul-Wahab has been filled on a daily basis with shoppers apparently fixated by the wide array of colors and sizes available. “They come in, they stare at the blue and orange and green, they compare the newspaper wrappers with the trash bags. They can’t seem to get enough,” says Barzani.

Indeed, sales of Plastic Bagtm have already surpassed the store’s previous bestsellers, Unexploded Ordnance: The Home Game and Stray Piece o’ Crap.

Barzani reports that he came up with the idea for Hezach abdul-Wahab while running for his life during the recent American bombing campaign. “Everywhere I went, there were children playing with all sorts of junk – when they weren’t screaming for their parents, that is. At some point I realized, hey, I could make a buttload of money off these kids’ deprivation and their longing for some semblance of a normal childhood.”

Other Baghdad businesses that have sprung up in the wake of the American occupation include The Limb Exchange, where according to their slogan, “It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to buy a new arm and leg,” and The Virtual Grocer, where customers can choose from a wide selection of full-color, glossy photographs of the food products they wish they could eat.

According to U.S. Army spokesperson Col. Jeffrey Carson, “This is undeniable evidence of the positive influence the coalition presence is having in Iraq. The success of stores like Plenty of Nothing is an integral part of Iraq’s recovery and transformation into an overproducing capitalist economy with mindlessly materialistic consumers.”

“Besides,” continued Carson, “since plastic is a petroleum product, we feel that Mr. Barzani’s new Plastic Bag is encouraging the ordinary consumer here to ‘buy Iraqi.’ We may not have found any Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, but this is certainly one Toy of Mass Delight.”

And it’s not just a toy. Throughout the streets of Baghdad, even the casual observer can spot scores of people creatively employing their Plastic Bags to clothe their families, to draw water out of wells, and to secure tourniquets, to cite just a few examples.

Confronted with reports that dozens of children have accidentally smothered themselves by playing with a Plastic Bagtm, Barzani defended himself by saying, “Oh, well, maybe you think they’d prefer malnutrition or water-borne disease? Look, at least these kids can die with smiles on their faces now. Don’t you start telling us what we can and cannot use as toys, you occupying imperialist infidel!

“Hey, wait, come back – do you want to buy a bag?”

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