Dr. Shutdown, or how we learned to stop worrying and love a rat

R. Fink

Autumn smells were in the Capitol air: the musk of fallen leaves, the waft of late-session coffee breath and the acrid odor of veto stamps on freshly passed budget bills.

Once again, the Rat and his underlings played everyone's favorite office pool. When will the government shut down?

The pot had built considerably since the last big payout. Politicos' midterm pragmatism prevented any recent unscheduled vacations for the whiskered one and his ilk.

That caused the Rat some consternation, as he had sold back a bunch of leave time last year in anticipation of a mandatory break.

His advanced political system models seemed to be failing, despite all the spare compute cycles they consumed from agency desktops.

But the Rat's recently refined Budget Battle Simulator'with its new, core artificial stupidity program'began churning through data from the Congressional Record, recently exposed KGB documents and Dick Armey's dry cleaner. It put up all the warning flags, and the Rat decided to bet on a long winter's nap this year.

'After all,' the cyberrodent mused, 'it's good for my taxes. Deferring a little income until next year could help outweigh my rMachines Inc. profits.'

As a backup, the Rat set his allegedly intelligent software agents to monitor AM radio broadcasts around the country. If Don Imus kept telling Hillary jokes, the Rat would know it was time to head for deep shelter.

Alarm bells went off in the prognostication model after the Senate vote on the nuclear test ban treaty. Suddenly, any hint of bipartisanship evaporated like support for Newt Gingrich.

Ride on

'It's road rage time again,' the Rat assured his troops. 'This time they're going to need Judge Judy to referee the budget summit.'

Not that Mrs. Rat wouldn't appreciate having the furry one home a little more. She needs all the help she can get boxing up predistressed Zenith Data Systems Z-248s for the free-PC holiday rush. Her latest marketing campaign has caught fire with bargain hunters: 'This year, give your in-laws the gift that keeps on taking.' Never have so many committed their relatives to service contracts for so long, or with such gusto.

The question, of course, was whether the budget deadlock would result in a shutdown.

It depended on which side got tired of passing budget extensions first and saw an advantage in escalating the fight.

'I have faith in El Presidente,' the whiskered one said as he pondered his pool wager. 'He's just mad enough to throw the switch.'

'But how about the worst-case scenario?' an underling opined. 'They could just agree to keep passing temporary budget extensions until next year's elections, and let the new president and Congress take another whack at it.'

The perversity of such a proposal froze the Rat in his tracks.

'Heck, that could happen,' he exclaimed. 'It's the ultimate political face-saving maneuver.'

Then common sense returned. 'Of course, that might lead to actual voting next year out of public disgust with the whole system. And that could raise up a full roster of Dr. Strangelove scenarios that neither side wants.'

'What do you mean?' the acolyte asked.

'Two words,' the Rat said. 'President Ventura.'

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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