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Rube, as in Goldberg

BY BEAU ELLIOT | JULY 26, 2011 7:20 AM

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There is a wonderful — no, delightful and fabulous and funny and filled with deadpan Dada (which you should not try at home, because deadpan Dada is closer than it appears in the mirror when you shave) — video out there from the band OK Go involving a Rube Goldberg machine.

Not just any old Rube Goldberg machine — you can get one of those from any bill in Congress. Or any lobbyist proposing a bill for some congressional somebody or other to bring up.

Especially just about any Defense-spending bill. Take the $250 million apiece waste-extractor recombination mechanism device on the $100 million apiece subsonic attack helicopter, which will simultaneously extract and compound and recombine the crews' waste in said helicopter so that when said waste is vertically delineated over enemy territory, no one crew member's DNA may be identified.

OK, go. I exaggerate. No such waste-extractor exists, to my knowledge. Not to mention said helicopter. But you get the idea. These are the people who own the $500 hammer from the '80s. I believe it's sitting in the Pentagon, down one of those dusty, dank, seldom-used corridors where they stuck George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" banner. (Well, OK — there never actually was a $500 hammer, but the $500 hammer became the symbol of shoddy Pentagon spending practices.)
Think what that would cost these days. Even the people from Goldman Sachs would blush.

Well, no. Nothing, but nothing, makes the people from Goldman Sachs blush. I think it's in the contract you sign when you join: No Beau-ties, no measly 9.7 returns, no blushing. And if anyone from Planet Money of NPR/"This American Life" phones, we're not home. Never have been.

Ah, yes. Rube Goldberg lives on.

Except, of course, that he passed away in 1970, but details, details. Reuben Lucius Goldberg was a cartoonist, and he's also credited (by my imagination, anyway) with inventing the Reuben sandwich — which, you have to admit, is a complicated contraption of a sandwich.

You could, I suppose, see Rube Goldberg contraptions as metaphors for our times — which I kind of like, but then I never met a 4 I didn't like. Except for Mitt Romney, who never met a flop he couldn't flip. (It's a lot more complicated than you'd think at first glance.)

The OK Go 10,000-square-foot (give or take) extravaganza, in which some stuff gets destroyed in coolly complicated ways, seems a perfect metaphor for the debt-ceiling, budget-deficit brouhaha going on in Washington.

I mean, there are tons of complicated things going on, 10,000 press conferences per day with 100,000 talking points, and with all this flurry of motion and countermotion, what we end up with is: Nothing. Nada.

For instance. Not to pick on Republicans, but there's a large segment of them who seem to refuse to compromise on anything, while the Democrats, especially President Obama, seem intent on giving away most of the liberal store. (For that matter, a recent poll showed 53 percent of Republicans believe nothing all that bad will happen if the U.S. defaults on its debt — a belief that, according to most economists I've read, think is on hallucinogens.)

But whatever. This past spring, congressional Republicans passed a budget that included the so-called "Peace Dividend," the money the U.S. will save by withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But now, when Democrats try to include the "Peace Dividend" in their debt-ceiling proposals, the Republicans label it a budget gimmick.

Ah, yes. In this brouhaha, the accent is on haha.

Some days, you just want to say, OK Go.


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