The need for incompetence

Competence, incompetence — which is really worst?

[Poem by the great Ogden Nash. Read it aloud, this is for the ears and not the eyes.]

The miraculous countdown

Let me tell you of Dr. Faustus Foster.
Chloe was lost, but he was loster.
He was what the world for so long has missed,
A truly incompetent scientist.
His morals were good and his person cleanly,
He had skied at Peckett’s and rowed at Henley.
The only liquor that touched his lips
He drew through pipettes with filter tips.
He could also recite, in his modest manner,
The second verse of The Star-Spangled Banner.
Yet, to his faults we must not be blinded;
He was ineluctably wooly-minded.
When his further deficiencies up are summed,
He was butter fingered and margarine thumbed.
You’d revoke the license of any rhymer
Who ranked him with Teller and Oppenheimer.
It took him, and here your belief I beg,
Twenty minutes to boil a three-minute egg,
Which will give you a hint as to what went on
Whenever he touched a cyclotron.
There wasn’t a problem he feared to face,
From smashing atoms to conquering space,
And, should one of his theories expire,
He had other ions in the fire,
Even walking to work to save his carfare
For tackling bacteriological warfare.
For years he went to no end of bother
To explode this planet or reach another.
A more ambitious, industrious savant
You may have encountered; I know I haven’t.
One Christmas Eve he was tired and irked,
He had shot the works and nothing worked.
I’d sell my soul,” he cried to the night,
To have one experiment come out right.”
No sooner said than his startled eyes
Saw a ghostly stranger materialize,
Who, refraining from legalistic jargon,
Announced, “You have got yourself a bargain.
Here’s a pact with iron-clad guarantees;
Sign here, in the usual fluid, please.”
Faustus disdained to quibble or linger,
He merely remarked, as he pricked his finger,
It had better be good, your quid pro quo;
My blood is especially fine type O.”
Always in character, come what may
(He was down in his doctor’s records as A.)
A snicker was heard from the stranger weird,
Then he snatched the parchment and disappeared.
Faustus was filled with wild surmise
And roseate dreams of Noble Prize,
Now certain to drop in his lap with awful ease,
He thought, with the aid of Mephistopheles.
Behold him now in his laboratory,
A modern Merlin, hell-bent for glory.
With a flourish worthy of the Lunts
He triggered every project at once.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Blasted the air with roars and whistles,
Rockets punctured the midnight clear,
And the atmosphere and the stratosphere.
Before the human eye could absorb it
A giant satellite entered orbit.
With the germ’s equivalent of a howl
The bacteria issued forth to prowl.
Faustus shouted with joy hysterical,
And was then struck dumb as he watched a miracle.
He gazed aghast at his handiwork
As every experiment went berserk.
The bacteria, freed from their mother mold,
Settled down to cure the common cold.
Distant islanders sang Hosanna
As nuclear fall-out turned to manna.
Rockets, missiles and satellite
Formed a flaming legend across the night.
From Cape Canaveral clear to the Isthmus
The monsters spelled out Merry Christmas,
Penitent monsters whose fiery breath
Was rich with hope instead of death.
Faustus, the clumsiest of men,
Had butter-fingered a job again.
I’ve told you his head was far from level;
He thought he had sold his soul to the devil,
When he’d really sold it, for heaven’s sake,
To his guardian angel by mistake.
When geniuses all in every nation
Hasten us towards obliteration,
Perhaps it will take the dolts and geese
To drag us backward into peace.

What, me mad...??
What, me mad…??

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