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The Humor of Melvin Durai

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February 2007
The Humor of Melvin Durai

The death penalty -- it's not an ideal topic for a humor column, but it's the type of issue I once tackled regularly, back in the days when I was a humorist worth his weight in aluminum cans, as my wife reminded me recently. "You would have written about Saddam Hussein's hanging," she said.

"Really?" I asked. "What would I have written?" (This is how I get my wife to write most of my columns.)

"You would have written that if Hussein had called Bush, pleading for clemency, Bush would have said, 'I'll try to do what I can, Saddam. Hang in there.'"

"Anything else?"

"You would have mentioned that Hussein's half-brother was also sentenced to death, but wasn't executed on the same day. The Iraqis were tired of seeing the two of them hanging out together."

"You mean I would have filled my column with silly hanging jokes?"

"Yes, that's your style. Sometimes you can't help yourself.

But you would have also made some serious points. You would have said that Saddam Hussein murdered tens of thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands, and he shouldn't have been allowed to get away."

"Get away?"

"Yes, he got away from all the other charges that should have been brought against him. You would have written that he should have been kept in prison, should have been punished for the rest of his life, should have been forced to listen to Britney Spears songs."

"I would have supported such cruel and unusual punishment?

Isn't that worse than the death penalty?"

"Yes, but you oppose the death penalty, remember?"

"That's true, I do. But in Saddam's case ..."

"You can't make exceptions! You're either for the death penalty or against it. You can't say, 'Saddam, you're going to hang; O.J., you're going to play golf.' You can't do that. You have to be consistent, just as America has consistently gone after murderous tyrants, from Hitler to Idi Amin to Saddam Hussein."

"Idi Amin? Didn't he live it up in Saudi Arabia until his death in 2003? Didn't he have more fun than three nuns at choir practice?"

"Yes, but don't you remember all those speeches Clinton and Bush made about bringing him to justice? Don't you remember that America threatened to cut off diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia and, as a result, Saudi Arabia cut off Amin's escort service."

"They didn't let him drive his Ford Escort? What a shame.

Did they cut anything else off?"

"They usually do in Saudi Arabia. But you would have written that it's barbaric, just like the death penalty. You would have argued that a civilized society shouldn't be putting people to death, shouldn't be supporting tit-for-tat justice."

"Oh, come on. I would have never used the word 'tit' in my column. My mother reads it."

"Okay, but you would have definitely quoted Gandhi: 'An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.' You would have wondered what happened to the golden rule: 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'"

"Well, two wrongs don't make a right. I mean, if you caught your neighbor selling drugs to your children, would you sell drugs to his children? If you caught your co-worker stealing from your purse, would you steal from her purse? And if you caught your husband cheating on you, would you cheat on him?"

"No, of course not. I would cut off his ..."

"Hey! That's barbaric. What's wrong with you? How would you like it if someone cut off your ..."

"My what?"

"Uh ... never mind."


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