David Bouchier

Presidential elections are emotional and sometimes hysterical events, and that’s not good. Elections are supposed to be based on thoughtful policies and sensible choices. Modern democracy was after all an invention of the Age of Reason in the 18th century. But today’s elections seem more like celebrations of unreason.

One of the more bizarre news stories of the past few weeks has been the plague of scary clowns. It seems that certain young men, who are clearly somewhat deranged, have been dressing up in clown costumes and going around scaring adults and children with creepy and threatening behavior. Real clowns are naturally outraged by this phenomenon. Clowns are meant to be fun, joyful, and above all harmless. I used to love seeing them at the circus when I was a kid, with their slapstick stunts and collapsing cars and deliciously messy cream pies.

Back in the 1960s and 1970s when we were all anticipating a nuclear war, a few exceptionally prudent or nervous people became what were called "survivalists." They headed out to some unimaginably remote part of the country – Montana seems to have been a favorite – found a suitably inaccessible location, and built houses with en suite nuclear bunkers, stocked with generators, food, board games, and videotaped episodes of The Survivors TV series.

The other day I received a surprise message from the British police, informing me that I was being fined £30 for a traffic violation. It seems that two months ago in the provincial town of Colchester I had strayed into a bus lane, and the proof was enclosed with the police letter: three photographs taken from different angles showing my rental car crossing a completely empty bus lane on a completely empty road. I can even remember the moment when this happened. I had swerved right into the bus lane to get into position for an awkward turn that I almost missed.

Inspired by the example of Christopher Columbus, many of us travel great distances for reasons that are not always well thought out. We don’t travel by sea any more of course: we fly. It is one of the many paradoxes of the modern age that, while long distance travel has grown infinitely faster and more convenient, short distances are much harder than they used to be. No conveyance in 1492 took as much time to cover three miles as the 57th Street crosstown bus in Manhattan, or moved as slowly as the Belt Parkway near Kennedy Airport.

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