The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, July 30, 2005

LAWYERS AND HORSES: There is, unfortunately, no known scientific rationale, no appeal to the ordered logic of Mendelian genetics, the somewhat less ordered logic of Freudian psychology, the rigor of Darwinian natural selection, or even to some Durkheimian examination of the sociological origins of societal phenomena, which adequately explains why children of perfectly respectable parents choose to become lawyers. To knowingly and of one's own free will enter such a universally despised profession is something beyond the grasp of most rational human beings. One can understand, even sympathize, with an honorable man compelled by some dreadful concatenation of social and economic forces to become a criminal, or of a virtuous woman forced into concubinage to feed her family, but to actually want to be a lawyer strikes the disinterested observer as an unnatural and degenerate perversion somewhat akin to the compulsion to sell term life insurance to dwarves.

Whence this sudden need to practice law? Practicing before the bar is certainly remunerative, as is practicing behind the bar, especially on long weekends and before certain sporting events, but so are bank robbery, swindling old ladies out of their savings, and pandering, and these come without the personal obloquy that attaches itself, and rightfully so, to the practice of law. For some of these poor, unfortunate wretches passing the bar exam is the first step down a long and shameful road that leads to self-loathing, familial disgrace, and, horror of horrors, politics, the practice of which besmirches even the finest of reputations and leads inexorably to corruption, incarceration, and Congress.

One must wonder, given the heartbreak attendant to the subject, why anyone would study law when there are so many other, more useful subjects one can study. Life's syllabus groans under the weight of everything from African-American anthropology to the social history of Zen zymurgy in New Zealand and its effects on that nation's foreign policy, which are honorable and useful pursuits, benefiting humanity as a whole and at the end of the day providing the practitioner with a sense of having contributed, in some small measure, to the betterment of their community. A lawyer, by contrast, must make do with the feeling that, having had a major role in the making of society's rules, they have found new and innovative ways of helping their clients circumvent the very rules other lawyers helped create in the first place. The negative effects of this, on both a personal and societal level, are shocking.

If there were only a few of these intellectual pretzel makers, and I apologize to all real pretzel makers for using their ancient and honorable profession in this metaphor, then perhaps the rest of us would not mind their presence so much. All human societies, and many non-human societies as well, keep, for reasons best known to themselves, a class of parasites that feed off the host species. In beehives there are drones; sharks have remora; humans have lawyers when there are no civil servants available. But we have gone beyond what any host body can support; this country is plagued with an epidemic of lawyers. At last report there were more lawyers making and breaking the laws of this country than there are police officers to enforce those laws. No good can come of such a situation, what with tens of thousands of lawyers inventing new rules and then suing when some poor dolt does what his common sense tells him to do, not knowing that common sense is a poor substitute for having a lawyer. And so people and institutions must take steps to protect themselves from the ravenous flock of lawyers circling high above waiting for a chance to pounce on the poor would-be defendant. The differences between now and almost any period not awash with lawyers are easy to document.

Once upon a time, when luxuriant Republican beards and their teetotaling wives occupied the White House and there were no unclean ideals in the land, most public libraries, to use a familiar example, did not have to put up signs telling the public not to do things they should have the good sense to know not to do in the first place. These were times, for instance, when librarians did not have to put up signs saying, No Bicycle Riding in the Library, in the library’s front windows; the staff of that innocent time simply assumed, in their naïve way, that the public would know without being told that the nonfiction stacks were an altogether inappropriate venue for such an activity in the first place, and that secondly, no member of the bicycling public would want to ride a bicycle in the nonfiction stacks when the municipal solons provided paved streets for them to ride their bicycles on.

This golden age is now one with Nineveh and Tyre now, of course, succeeded by an age of dross in which the library must attempt to control every niggling detail of the public’s behavior. This largely futile effort necessitates a huge increase in signage everywhere that the eye can see, signs warning about the ill effects of this or that activity, until every square inch of wall space is covered with warnings for fear some bicycling enthusiast with more pedal power than brains should attempt to turn the reference area into a sporting venue and injure themselves whilst doing jumps over the Oxford English Dictionary, a scenario which quickly leads to the lawyer’s office and the courtroom in our litigious times. And the ban itself is causing some issues here; is banning bicycling riding a blatant act of transportational discrimination? The library, after all, does not ban roller-skating, skateboarding, wind surfing, pogo sticks, or racehorses inside the building; why then the emphasis on the hapless bicyclist?

As a civil rights issue I don’t think that this has much merit, although I would like to see Shetland pony races around and through the fiction stacks. The betting proceeds would ease the burden on the local taxpayers and as we are much closer to the great metropolis than Saratoga is, for example, library horse racing would make an ideal family outing for the jaded city dweller who doesn’t have the time or the energy to make a day trip up to Saratoga to play the ponies. And the library could clean up, figuratively and monetarily, by selling the manure off to local gardeners. Anything is possible, you know, if you just put your mind to it.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

OLYMPIC BASEBALL: The International Olympic Committee say they will drop baseball as a Summer Olympic event sometime in the immediate future, on the grounds that not enough people play the game internationally, a wildly unpopular decision in countries as politically and alphabetically diverse as Cuba, Japan, Venezuela, and the United States. These countries quite rightly regard this decision as shortsighted and simpleminded, and just the sort of thing your average sports fan can expect from the IOC, an organization largely staffed by European bureaucrats presumably too incompetent to waste their own governments’ money, and so these governments fob them off on the IOC, where they can waste other people’s money with equanimity.

Now, if I understand this correctly, for a sport to become an Olympic event people must play the sport in twenty-four countries on four continents. Baseball certainly qualifies under this dispensation: North and South America, Asia, and Australia, where baseball is not nearly as popular as other sports, such as rugby, I grant you, but the game is still played there. In fact, the head of the International Baseball Federation is an Italian, and whoever heard of Italian baseball, and before you start saying Tony Lazzeri, Joe DiMaggio, and Yogi Berra, remember, they played for the New York Yankees, not for Italy.

Now, I suppose if they want to get technical about it, and they will; bureaucrats look forward to getting technical with the same eager anticipation most people reserve for sex or winning the lottery; the IOC can point out that to Europeans, and to South Americans as well, baseball is not played on the required number of continents. The two continents known in the United States as the Americas, and in New York City as Sixth Avenue, are simply America to Europeans and South Americans, to the geographic consternation of the citizens of the former British-French-Dutch-Swedish (no kidding, there was a New Sweden in what is now Delaware, although half of them were actually Finns)-Russian-Spanish-Mexican colonies wedged between the 49th parallel and the Rio Grande, who mistakenly think the words America and American apply only to them.

This, of course, is codswallop when it is not being poppycock. The inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere can very rightly point out that they have a greater geographic right to being two continents, in that they are two large landmasses connected by the Chase Manhattan Bank, than Europe does, Europe being little more than a rather smallish peninsula with delusions of grandeur dangling somewhat precipitously off of Asia’s rather prodigious backside. And yet there does not seem to be any great hue and cry from the nations of the Western Hemisphere to call Eurasia a single continent and to eliminate sports from the Olympic Games on that basis.

And baseball is a wildly popular sport, unlike badminton or hammer throwing, which is popular only among striking carpenters, and then only when they are aiming the hammers at scabs crossing the picket line, or beach volleyball, which is less a sport than an excuse to check out hot American, Brazilian, and Australian babes with great buns; this sport, if you can call it that, will suffer an inevitable loss of popularity once the Saudi Arabian team becomes a medal contender. That’ll be something to see; you can do all sorts of things these days in those new, lightweight burqas.

If the IOC is serious about eliminating sports no one is interested in why don’t they start with archery or that whole spear-tossing thing? Does anyone actually watch these sports except during the Olympics? Do the people engaged in these sports actually get shoe deals or clothing lines, and do the beer companies line up to advertise during their events? I don’t think so, so let’s stop pretending that all sports are somehow equal and just drop them. I do think they should keep the discus throw, though, but only if they let pit bulls run after the discus and try to catch it in their mouths. If the dog catches the discus the man gets the medal; if the dog misses and then goes after the discus thrower and takes a bite out of his backside before the man can get behind a chain link fence, then the dog wins. Which is as it should be, I think; I notice that in the equestrian events the rider gets the medal, although the horse is doing all the work.

Target shooting, walking, water polo (unless they make it competitive by adding sharks; piranhas or killer whales will do if there is a shark shortage) should all go, along with almost any event left over from the ancient Greeks. I’m sure the ancient Greeks were very nice people when they weren’t busy fighting amongst themselves and enslaving Trojan women and gouging out their eyes with costume jewelry, but it’s time to move on. The only event I’d keep from the ancient Olympics is boxing, and then only if the boxers used the ancient Greek rules, complete with brass knuckles and knees to the groin, which makes this form of boxing a much more interesting affair than the modern version with its namby-pamby Marquis of Queensbury rules.

In short, the Olympics would be a much more interesting show if they World Wrestling Federation ran the Games instead of the IOC, and if baseball remained an Olympic sport. The only other sport I wouldn’t change at all is curling, which is played only in the Winter Games, as playing this game during the summer would significantly increase the number of athletes drowning to death. I don’t think curling has reached its full market potential, especially among women, many of whom would like to see men sweeping something up, however incompetent they may be at it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

7/26/1958: The birthday is less than a week away now, despite my best efforts to simply ignore its arrival this year, thereby so damaging its self-esteem that the crushed date would scurry off into therapy like one of Pavlov’s dogs diving for a bowl of Alpo and so leave me where I am chronologically. It is an undesirable age, to be sure, but I have grown into it and I prefer to stay in places I know than to move to others I know not of. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be in the cards and I will have to endure the kind-hearted ribbing of friends and family who shall insist on telling me that I am not getting older, I am getting better, whereas in reality I am not getting better, I am merely one year closer to death, a consummation devoutly to be avoided for as long as medically possible.

There is little practical value to being one year older than I am now. I can drink a beer whenever I want to or buy a pack of cigarettes if I felt the need, and I can go to the local mega-mall on a Friday or Saturday night without a chaperone, this last being a source of major contention here in our happy little burg these past few days. The corporation that runs the mega-mall decreed recently that unaccompanied teenagers may not congregate in the mall on the weekends without an adult present, thereby depriving the hormonal set of a major hangout and causing angsty shrieks of teenaged horror, which the management promptly ignored. So there is no joy in Teenville, the mighty mall is striking them out. I, on the other hand, may come and go as I please. I did this recently; I was there the other day waiting for the camera shop to develop the pictures I took of my cousin’s wedding.

These were easily the longest two hours of my life. The mall is full of stores selling clothes I would not wear, food I cannot eat, and movies I do not want to see. I eventually bought a bag of salted cashews, a diet Pepsi, and a couple of newspapers, the better to sit out the long ordeal. Time, as Einstein explained to us all, is relativistic; for a space traveler in a spaceship traveling near the speed of light a trip to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star to the sun, and back again would take only a few months of shipboard time, if that, while on Earth eight years would have passed. So it was at the mall. Two hours of terrestrial time passed in the two hours allotted to such passage by the powers that be, but in the several millennia of psychological time that passed ignorant armies clashed by night and day to see if you are the one, wise men steeped in ancient learning founded great religions, strange and terrible civilizations arose, flourished, and fell before the inexorable onslaught of the barbarian hordes, and a beautiful woman dressed in bed sheets told a man in a somewhat muddy bathrobe that she didn’t care what it said in the book, 42 wasn’t the answer to anything except six times seven. Then the cashews ran out and I checked my watch. The two hours were almost up and so I toddled along to the photo shop to get the pictures. Most of them came out fairly well, I thought.

I suppose this awareness of the passage of time also explains why I have no idea why a perfectly sane person would take up mountain climbing as a hobby. George Mallory famously answered, because it’s there, when someone asked him in 1924 why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest. This is now the all-purpose answer to the entire question of mountain climbing, and it does beat having to go to the podiatrist as an excuse for getting out of almost any parent-teacher conference you’d just as soon skip, but as an explanation it lacks a certain something, I think. First, even if you didn’t want to climb Mount Everest, even if years went by between your first impulse not to climb Mount Everest and your final refusal to leave base camp to make an assault on the summit because base camp is 25,000 feet up a mountain in Nepal and you are safely ensconced in your living room in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Nepal is the absolutely last damn place on the planet you would want to go except for Yankee Stadium, the mountain would still be there. In fact, Mount Everest is where it’s been for some tens of millions of years before Mr. Mallory so cogently pointed out the obvious, and it’s entirely likely that the mountain is not going anywhere in the immediate future. As a reason for anything because it’s there doesn’t really work, since bank robbers, Maoist revolutionaries, and your local sanitation department can all use this reason for the things they do. Because it’s there doesn’t really fly, not when you’ve given it some thought.

The persistence of mountain climbing as an organized activity, like the persistence of war or life insurance salesmen, is difficult for any reasonably intelligent person to grasp. Most people feel that there must be a larger purpose to life than the scaling of hypertrophied geographic features, although most people are unsure what that larger purpose might be and whether or not it involves an increased level of taxation; most larger purposes have some form of government backing these days. Mountain climbers would deny this vehemently, of course; for them, because it’s there sums up everything anyone really need to know about life. But does it? When pondering why anyone would want to climb a mountain one should begin by trying to find some practical benefit to the activity. In the past, being on a mountaintop provided some practical benefits. Armies throughout history have tried to take the high ground in order to see what their enemies are up to, and then there’s the whole notion of the Romantic hero, standing on the mountaintop looking down on a coarse and stupid world too petty to understand his artistic genius. This, of course, also helps you get girls, and anything that helps you get girls is definitely a practical benefit. Other practical benefits to mountain climbing include, among other things, the stylish fashion accessories that make the loss of any number of frostbitten fingers and toes that much more bearable.

Given that there appear to relatively few practical benefits to mountain climbing, what then of the impractical benefits? To begin with, one must point out the near impossibility of catching a bus back down the mountain. Having gotten to the top of the mountain under your own power, you must now get back down the mountain using the same method of locomotion, no matter how tired you are from the journey up. Dedicated mountaineers will pooh-pooh this, saying that climbing is an adventure, and who knows, they may even be sincere about this, but how much of an adventure can something be when you know where you’re going and how you’re getting there before you start and there’s nothing to do when you get there except go back to where you started from? You may as well say that going to the mail box is an adventure, as it could be if you didn’t pay off your credit cards last month, or that going to the supermarket for that sale on breakfast cereal is an epic worthy of a suburban Homer (Sing, O Muse, of the lad of twists and turns, Mikey, Laertes’s son, he won’t eat it, he hates everything…you know, that’s so much more impressive in the original Greek).

I believe, however, that the best way to determine why people do the things they do is to look at the results, to see just what it is they have willed into existence. “By their fruits you shall know them,” the Gospel according to Matthew counsels us, and there are few greater truths than that, although waxing your car being a sure sign of rain comes close. If we shall know mountain climbers by their actions then one must conclude that the purpose of mountain climbing is to find new and exciting places in which to litter.

By way of illustration, Mount Everest is the Holy Grail of mountain climbing, the figurative summit of any climber’s career, the point to which all climbers aspire to with and without breathing apparatus, the shining apex of all that is and should be in mountaineering. The actual summit, on the other hand, is awash in discarded equipment, empty oxygen bottles, candy wrappers, soda cans, and that healthy and nutritious whole wheat and tofu sandwich someone accidentally left there on there way to PS 72 in the Bronx back in 1987. Obviously, the accumulation of such an immense quantity of trash cannot be mere accident, the coming together of otherwise unconnected forces to form the phenomenon we know as simple coincidence. No one goes to the top of Mount Everest for the shopping or to find a job or to get that pair of dress shoes you haven’t worn since Jimmy Carter was President repaired; most of the year there’s no one and nothing up there except garbage. No, such an immense pile clearly points to prolonged and careful premeditation, a knowing use of the summit as a place to litter by people who want to litter without the inconvenience of a policeman ticketing them for their offense. I don’t know why mountain climbers feel that they must make these extraordinary efforts to hide their litterary compulsion; if they want to dump that hideous loveseat Aunt Sophie gave them for their anniversary six years ago they can always dump it in a back alley somewhere—Aunt Sophie will never know the difference; they won’t let her out of the home.

Perhaps there is, in our age of environmentalism and recycling and separating the glass bottles from the plastic ones and both of them from the newspapers and old copies of Field & Stream, an aura of the utterly and irredeemably depraved about the whole concept of the litterbug, of the litterbug as anti-hero or as outlaw folk hero, like John Dillinger or Pretty Boy Floyd or the other Depression era bank robbers, the bandit everyone secretly wants to emulate. There’s something to that line of reasoning, I think, though what it might be is unclear, and frankly, I don’t feel like pursuing it, not at my age. I am getting entirely too old for that sort of thing, you know.

Monday, July 18, 2005

FISHKILL BLUES, ONCE AGAIN: The times do not admit of satire, as one ancient Roman sage publicly opined back in the the happy days when ancient Roman sage could publicly opine to their heart’s content without looking over their shoulders to see if Mr. Bartlett was hiding behind a bush waiting for them to say something quotable. I don’t remember which old Roman sage uncorked this particular bit of wisdom; ancient Roman sages were a garrulous lot, all told, much given to committing aphorisms between prolonged orgies and day trips to the Coliseum to watch the newest crop of gladiators wet themselves; but I am sure we can all understand the sentiment. Sometimes you see things that are so odd that it’s hard to make the reality any stranger than it is.

Novelists often have this problem. Use too many coincidences, too many sudden improbable twists, a fortuitous shift in the weather to influence your story, and your editor, your publisher, the critics, and the reading public will roundly denounce you and your work for being absurdly unrealistic; things like that simply do not happen in real life, our budding young artist will be told, and in no uncertain terms, too. A historian, on the other hand, is not bound by the timid tenets of literary realism, or to limit himself to what his public thinks should fall within some arbitrary boundary of the possible, and so may tell any story he chooses, however improbable it may be, so long as the story is true and the facts of the story are verifiable. If the standards of historical realism were the same as the standards of literary realism authors would not be able to tell the story of the Pig War, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, the American Revolution, or Heliogabalus feeding Christians to the eels, all of which are wildly improbable tales from start to finish.

So, with this as our philosophical background, we come to this bit of news. It may have escaped your attention; anything is possible, after all; but the animal-rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is calling upon the collected solons of the town and village of Fishkill, New York, to change the name of their jurisdictions to something that will at least display some small degree of empathy with the pain that fishing causes marine life, something like Fishinghurts, New York. PETA is offering, in exchange for the name change, some $15,000 worth of a soy-based faux fish product that the local schools can serve to students for lunch or use as lawn fertilizer.

Now, of the thirteen original United States, the state of New York is different from the others in one important aspect: the British had to start the others from scratch, using pacifist Quakers in Pennsylvania and convicts in Georgia, Catholics in Maryland and sexually repressed Red Sox fans in Massachusetts; New York, on the other hand, came ready made, complete with its very own hooker, an enthusiastic and energetic Dutch girl named Griet Reyniers, whose many children spanned the racial spectrum of the Dutch colony from European of one sort or another, meaning that they might be her husband’s offspring, who could tell, to definitely not European by any stretch of anyone's imagination; whatever the lamentable state of her morals, the one thing no one could ever accuse Griet Reyniers of is racism. The Dutch West India Company had New York up and running making money hand over fist when the Royal Navy sailed into the bay in 1664 for the city’s first big hostile takeover.

But for the forty years before that, however, the Dutch traipsed all over the countryside, giving Dutch names to places that already had perfectly serviceable Indian names. One of these places, a large stream filled with fish that the local Wappingers called ‘Um-gla-nick-cho’iftowega’sta, or ‘let’s get the hell out of here before the enviros start annoying us,’ the Dutch, in a frenzy of nominal non-imagination, called Fish Creek, or Viskill, which is pronounced Fishkill, since most upper class Englishmen will do almost anything to avoid having to speak or spell in a foreign language, unless said language is something like Akkadian or Latin, which are both deader than several metaphorical doornails and that possum by the side of the road, and the Englishman involved can thereby avoid the horrid prospect that his classical education may have taught him something useful. And so Fishkill has remained even unto this day.

The folks at PETA know all of this, they say; they know that the name, despite it hostile sound to Anglophonic ears, has nothing at all to do with killing, maiming, or otherwise rendering uncomfortable the lives of either fresh or saltwater fish. But the average person looking at a map, they say, has no way of knowing that. This strikes me as being a bit specious, to say the least. The average motorist looking at a map also does not know that the Pennsylvania border town of Matamoros name actually incites violence against North African Muslims and yet they still manage to avoid committing such mayhem, although the kids may be in some danger if they don’t stop jumping up and down in the back seat shouting, are we there yet, in our intrepid traveler’s ears.

And then there are all the numerous other kills spread up and down the length of the old Dutch colony. There are Otterkills and Beaverkills and one Wallkill that I know of, and the Kill Van Kull as well, and no, I don’t know who Van Kull was or is or why anyone would want to name a tidal strait after him or her. There is a Casperkill nearby too, although I am not at all sure how one would go about killing a friendly phantom, since the last time I checked one of the major job requirements for the haunting and chain-rattling set was that they already be dead at the time of their appointment, and why would you want commit mayhem on them in the first place? Ghosts, and in particular friendly ghosts, are hard to find these days; death, on the whole, seems to bring out the worst in ghosts, making them very cranky, especially in the morning before they’ve had a cup of coffee and a cigarette.

What is most disturbing about these demands for Fishkill to change its name is not that there appears to be no similar pressure on East Fishkill or Fishkill Plains to change their names, as if the direction or the lack of condiments had any bearing on the matter of fishing, but that there does not seem to be any pressure from PETA on anyone to change the name of the Arthurkill, the strait that separates Staten Island from New Jersey. Surely, if we are to deplore the violence against fish then violence against Arthur the Aardvark, Arthur Vandenberg, Art Carney, Art Tatum, Arthur Conan Doyle, and King Arthur and his brother, Mort, is equally reprehensible and worthy of condemnation.

But, frankly, I see no one bringing such pressure to bear by anyone. No one appears to care if your average Arthur is safe from harm, there are no angry shouts from PETA or loud marches and demonstrations from other environmental groups protesting the cruelty of greedy Norwegian and Japanese hunters as they track your average Arthur down to his two-story ranch house in the suburbs, and then mercilessly harpoon the defenseless Arthur as he tries to call the police, and then flense the blubber from the carcass, the blubber going to make perfumes and the meat turned into pet food. Here we can see the double standard that taints all such protests: the demand for the protection of a few at the expense of others who have just as much claim to such protection. If we have learned nothing else from the late and unlamented 20th century, surely we must know that you cannot protect the civil rights of fish without protecting the civil rights of Arthurs as well. Otherwise, where will those distinctions stop? If hunters can harpoon Arthurs without anyone raising a hue and cry about it, why not harpoon Clarences and Rodneys as well?

PETA may not see a problem here; they can always say that the A in their acronym stands for animals, not Arthurs, and that because of this they must limit their sphere of concern and that the Arthurs of this world must look elsewhere for protection. But if you see a man beating your neighbor’s halibut into insensibility with a baseball bat don’t you try to save the halibut from this monstrous crime? Or at the very least call the police? And if this is what you will do for the halibut, wouldn’t you do even more to save your neighbor, if for no other reason than he still has the snow-blower you lent him last January somewhere in the back of his garage? I think most people would; it’s a pity that PETA does not appear to think that this is worth their time and energy. Defending the rights of fish without defending the rights of Arthurs is ultimately a dead end game; only by defending the rights of both can we defend the rights of all, which is a vaguely silly sentiment now that I read it again. Well, these things have to end somehow, don't they? Might as well end on a high note, a clarion call to social action and all that. It gets everyone's blood pumping as they prepare for the big fight with the forces of social reaction. As for me, I think I'll just go to the movies.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

SUMMERTIME BLUES: Since nothing even vaguely clever is occurring to me at the moment, I will try adding a few links to some blogs with interesting things to say.

As for me, the vacation continues forthwith. My cousin got married yesterday in Jersey City, at a place down by the river where it looks like you can just reach out and touch Manhattan with your hand. Nice ceremony (the bride and groom wrote their own vows, both sets of vows too soppy for my taste, but then again it wasnt my ceremony, was it?); my cousin looked massively uncomfortable in the formal rig; the bride was beautiful, and I dont mean that she was beautiful in the sense that all brides are beautiful on their wedding day, which is demonstrably untrue, however much her mother may say otherwise; I mean it literally-the girl is a knockout, a veritable Viagra substitute. How he managed to land her is one of the great mysteries of the modern world, if you ask me.

And my cousin had a bagpiper lead him and the bride up to the altar. He came first, to the tune of 'Roddy McCorley,' and then the bride and her father came afterwards, to the tune of 'The Rose of Tralee,' even though her family is originally from Agrigento, a city on the western coast of Sicily. Maybe it's just me but I'm pretty sure that only at an Irish wedding, or in this case a half Irish wedding, will you find a man being led up to the altar to enter into the state of holy matrimony by a piper playing a song about a man being led to his own execution. I'm pretty sure the Italians missed the significance of the song, but the older Irish folks didnt; there were at least three old-timers who looked like they were going to burst out laughing listening to the piper. And so it goes.

Anyway, here we go:

Chris Byrne at The Anarchangel is having his troubles with someone who hasn't gotten the word that Islam is a religion of peace.

This past Friday our friendly neighborhood Curmudgeon let loose on the Gray Lady and lapdancing for Uncle Sam.

Dympha at The Gates of Vienna wonders if the cultural rot in Britain can be reversed.

And Semper Fi at The Passing Parade...the other one has some suggestions about what to do about the borders.

Friday, July 15, 2005

MORE DAMN WHINING: Whining is seldom very attractive, of course, which is something almost everyone can agree on despite their philosophical differences. The only major exceptions to this rule are the political leadership of minority parties. Here the whining, an unpleasant enough experience as it is, given that these people should know better, mixes with an easily detectable exasperation with the electorate for voting the majority party into power in the first place. This gives their whining a truly unpleasant edge that lingers in your average listener’s mind like a bad aftertaste in the back of one’s mouth and contributes to the minority party losing the next election by a landslide and staying in the minority.

This is truly upsetting for the political leadership of the minority party, since such people want to do stuff and the only thing the political leadership of the minority party can do is get on television and shake their heads in sorrow and tell the television audience who voted the majority party into power what a lousy job the majority party is doing and, by implication, what dolts the television audience were for voting for the majority party, thereby costing the minority party the next election and keeping them in the minority for a little bit longer. It’s no fun being in the minority, you see; the television people want drama, action, suspense, anything that’ll drive up the ratings sky-high or at least keep the viewer from changing the channel to the Food Network; and the majority party can keep the television audience interested by raising taxes or outlawing light beer commercials or nuking a small and hitherto uninteresting small island in the Indian Ocean off the face of the earth. The minority party can do none of these interesting things and so the television people only go to them to get interesting quotes, the same way sportswriters eighty years ago used to ask Two-Ton Tony Galento how he was going to do in his next fight (I’ll moider da bum!) against Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom and what he thought of the fight he just lost (We wuz robbed!).

Of course, political leaders are seldom as interesting as Two-Tony Galento, so they usually give a dry and listless answer accompanied by pursed lips and concerned looks about how the majority party is driving the Republic into the ground before the minority can re-establish itself as the majority and do the same thing in an even shorter period of time, since they’ve had all those years in the minority to think of new and interesting ways of driving the Republic into the ground. It is the duty of all minority political leaders to cultivate worried looks of concern, which is not all that hard to do since they are perennials; plant it once and they’ll keep coming up year after year like my mother’s meat loaf; and if your minority leader is not cultivating such a look you might want to drop them a line and ask them why the hell not. A minority leader who enjoys minority status and won’t look concerned while the majority makes a hash of everything that this country holds dear should just resign and apply for welfare; if you’re not going to do anything while taking government money then you should be honest about what you’re doing, and welfare recipients have to do work for their benefits these days—it’s an honest dollar, as opposed to a minority leader who won’t look worried for the money he’s making.

Which is all well and good, I guess, but this whine, like most of my others, is not about that. As you may have gathered, I am on what is laughably called a vacation, although a vacation where I spend most of my available time at the egregious mold pit where I work and not in, let’s say, on the beach in Brazil hardly counts as a vacation at all. One of the problems of vacationing, even this sort of pathetic non-vacation vacation that I am doing now, is that it takes your mind off the ball, as it were, and you start losing the insight that permits you to see the funny side of life here in the first decade of the third millennium. In short, I don’t have a lot to write about these days.

I think this current funk is just a reaction to a perfectly good idea falling flat on its face. A few days ago, before I went on this alleged vacation, I had an idea about a secret government program set up by the Drug Enforcement Agency designed to genetically modify marijuana in such a way that the next generation of marijuana seeds would produce a hopefully non-psychotropic philodendron instead. The program succeeds beyond the wildest dreams of law enforcement; Cannabis sativa, the hemp plant from which we get Panama Red, Maui Wowie, and Tijuana Tea, goes the way of the dinosaur, the dodo, and the liberal Republican, and vanishes from the face of the earth.

Well, the best laid plans of mice and men, being what they are, gang agley, and nowhere do they go more agley than here. The potheads of the world, deprived of their beloved weed, try smoking the philodendrons instead, which does not give your average stoner a nice buzz like grass does. What it does do is make them paranoid, since the philodendron is not at all happy by all the attention his wife, Rhoda, is giving to that flashy young amaryllis from down the street who made a fortune in tech stocks before the bubble burst. Made paranoid by the philodendron, the potheads march on Washington, D.C., specifically on the National Archives building where the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are stored. They want to slice up the documents, not as any sort of symbolic protest about the government finally and at long last depriving the documents of their last shred of meaning, but because the Founding Fathers wrote them on hemp paper, and for the potheads even a two hundred year old buzz is better than no buzz at all.

As I said, it’s not such a great idea in the first place and it kept falling apart on me every time I tried to do something with it. Now I’m sure you people are tired of me whining like this whenever I don’t have anything to write about so I’m just going to stop now and see if I can’t think of anything more worthwhile. Until then I’ll just sit here and not enjoy my vacation.

Monday, July 11, 2005

MASS APPEAL: I went to Mass this past Sunday, which may or may not be of any special interest to you. The Catholics among you are no doubt looking at each other and thinking, so what does he want, a medal, you’re supposed to go to Mass on Sundays, dummy! I realize this and my apologies for straining your credulity in such a ridiculous manner, but the fact of the matter is I don’t go to Mass as often as I should, and yes, I can hear you going tsk-tsk out there.

I suppose I could come with any number of deep theological reasons for my usual nonappearance: the fashionable neo-paganistic pantheism of the Zeitgeist comes immediately to mind, or lingering doubts about the existence of God and the problem of theodicy, or even the usual sob story about the nuns crushing my self-esteem when I went to parochial school. All of these are perfectly valid excuses, of course, but none of them really apply in my case. First, I am not one of those pantheistic dingalings who bow down before the mysteries of Nature and Mother Earth when they should be at home taking a shower. I mean, do these people watch the Discovery Channel or even a National Geographic special every now and again, or better yet, go outside and look at Nature up close and personal? Nature does not have a whole lot to recommend it on the veneration scale, except maybe for the Grand Canyon and Mt. Everest and my cousin Stevie’s ability to stand on his head without using his hands. Nature is chock full of beauty, no doubt about it, but that beauty stands cheek by jowl with some pretty disgusting stuff like ragweed and runny noses and flatulent elephants. Nature, to paraphrase the Russian novelist Vasily Aksyonov, who was actually talking about New York City when he wrote this, is like a snazzy broad who spends hours fixing her hair just right and then forgets to wipe her ass. And please do not email me about the politically incorrect language, email Aksyonov; I’m just quoting him.

As for the lingering doubts and the theodicy question, well, the doubts are just going to have to linger, I suppose. Despite the best efforts of any number of priests and nuns to convince me that they could prove the existence of God using human reason, I still think the whole thing is a fifty-fifty proposition at best, but I will go along with it and hope for the best. And theodicy? Earth to people who wonder about this: some of your fellow humans are creeps. They’d be creeps even if Satan didn’t exist; live with it and support your local police department. As to blaming the nuns, I could but I won’t; it wouldn’t be true. I didn’t mind parochial school that much, given that I had no basis of comparison except kindergarten, and I usually got on well with the nuns, except when they insisted that I do my homework. I never did homework, which seemed to upset them no end, and they were forever trying to figure out why I wouldn’t do it; the answer was I just didn’t want to do it, but they thought that was just me being a smarty-pants. Sometimes the truth is right there in front of us, but we just don’t choose to see it.

No, the reason I don’t spend a lot of time in churches is that all of the most embarrassing moments in my life have happened in churches. I stay away because if I’m not there whatever it is that’s out there trying to embarrass me will have to settle for whoever’s sitting in the pews. Now, I am sure that the Catholics among you are saying to yourselves, hey, he’s exaggerating, it really can’t be as bad as all that. Yes it is, take my word for it. There was the incident at the wedding, which I recounted just a short while ago here, which thankfully happened before the dawn of memory, and then there was my one time as a fifth grade church lector, where I got so nervous while sitting and waiting at the front of the church that I forgot to get up and do the second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the collection agency telling them that yes, the check for the eight day, seven night cruise to sunny Greece aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth –MDCLVII was in the mail, although Paul thought he shouldn’t have to pay; he’d booked a trip to Greece, not a shipwreck on Malta, but bill collectors, you’ll notice, will seldom, if ever, take the larger view of things. They just want your money, they want it now, and you can drop your complaints about the crappy service you got in the wastepaper basket on the way out the door.

I forgot a bunch of other things as well, and then dashed from the church in the middle of the General Intercessions. I’d gotten as far as the sick of the parish, halfway through the list of the local lame and the halt, when I bolted when the panic finally hit like a tidal wave that missed the express train because they’d forgotten to set the alarm clock the previous night and had to take the local into the city and had gotten into work a half hour late, and then I couldn’t fight the anxiety off any longer. I don’t think I ever ran so fast in my life; I was standing at the lector’s stand at the front of the church when the congregation began the response, Lord, hear our prayer, and I was out the back door and halfway across the parking lot when they got to the word prayer. My brother not the Navy lifer told me that Father Vincent looked as if someone just trumped his full house with four aces at the sight of me bolting out the back, and Father Vincent told me years later that he’d seen a lot of odd things over the years but watching me run out of the church took his prize for the truly strange. And don’t even get me started on that whole Easter thing; there is no humiliation like public humiliation, because people will talk about it for years and years to come.

But this past Sunday I went; the reason’s not that important, except to me and I won’t bore you with it. All the same, it was nice being at Mass again, especially as nothing went wrong and I didn’t have to do anything that would make me look like a complete idiot, which I always want to avoid, although not, as you can tell, always successfully. The church looked more or less the same as I remembered it from childhood Sundays spent squirming on the hard wood pews, which are as uncomfortable now as they were then; there were a few changes here and there, as you might expect—nothing ever stays exactly the same, but in the main the inside of the church looks the same as it did back in 1970. The missals (the books giving the prayers and Scripture readings for a given Mass on a given day, for you non-Papists out there) were the same too, except for the Communion instructions on the inner cover. I don’t remember the reminders that non-Christians cannot receive Communion, nor could, with certain exceptions, non-Catholics or Catholics conscious of grave sin, and there’s nothing like a Communion reminder telling you that you can’t receive Communion if you are conscious of grave sin to make your average lackadaisical Catholic like myself conscious of the grave sin we are in. I will definitely have to get rid of that stash of Playboys from the Seventies and early Eighties soon, or at least before the centerfolds become grandmothers. There’s something incredibly tacky about that, if you ask me.

What really struck me, however, was the second collection, the collection for the black and Indian missions. I’d forgotten all about that sort of thing. I remember as a boy the occasional missionary would come in and talk to all of us school kids about the great things the Church was doing in the utterly benighted part of the world the Church had sent him (or her) to, and I remember that most of those guys looked as if they wanted their religious orders to stop sending them to that utterly benighted part of the world and reassign them to another utterly benighted part of the world with a nearby pizzeria.

As a rule, I don’t really support the whole concept of missionary work. I’ve always held that people’s religious beliefs are their own business and that spending time, money, and energy trying to change their beliefs is a waste of all of the above, and more than a little impolite as well. If some South Seas islander wants to worship YumYum, the Indomalaymesomelamicropolymilkofmagnesian rutabaga goddess then who am I to say they shouldn’t? If they were sacrificing virgins to YumYum, assuming you can find a real virgin in this day and age, then I’d say go ahead and send in the Marines and stop them, but short of that what people believe is entirely up to them, in my opinion. I realize that I am employing a double standard there, but it’s a nice double standard, as double standards go, and it needs the job, even if the benefits package is lousy. This double standard also comes without all the Western patriarchy is evil attitudinizing employed by some people on the political and cultural left when they compare Western culture to the spiritual and ecological mores of non-Western tribal societies, which usually disappears when their pet noble savages do something that outrages the left’s pet shibboleths and brings the prodigal leftist back into the all-embracing arms of the dead white European male culture from which they sprang. Strange how that works, isn’t it?

But be that as it may, I dropped three dollars into the plate for the missionaries. Although I usually disapprove of this I figured, why not; I had the money, I was there in the church, and if three dollars isn’t enough to support a missionary then it’s certainly enough for the offended savages buy some condiments and a bottle of red wine to go along with their Catholic missionary. Although I don’t think much of the concept of missionary work, I would certainly hope that the Church does not lose the heathen to Presbyterianism, for example, simply because the doctrines of John Calvin produce a missionary with more of that delicious white breast meat people want than the dogmas of Catholicism do. If this is the case then I think the Church should do something about it; I don’t know what exactly, but something should be done. While putting feeding tubes down the throats of seminarians and stuffing them like geese for foie gras may not prove popular with either the seminarians or the geese; the birds won’t like the sudden competition for their jobs; forced feeding may prove necessary if the Church is to expand along with the seminarians’ bellies. Catholicism cannot be content to rest on its laurels while other faiths move forward, taking advantage of all the newest scientific techniques, and produce a larger and better-tasting missionary. The Church can’t, that’s all, it simply can’t.
DEVOLUTION: And I was right. I was once a flappy bird, according to TTLB, but now I've returned to a slithering reptile. Well, at least I'm still a vertebrate. That's something, I guess.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR: I am going on vacation next week for two weeks so my postings, which are already pretty spotty to begin with, will become even more spotty. I blog at work, something I can get away with because I am not a linker constantly on the lookout for something new to link to, but an essayist of sorts, which sounds a lot like bragging now that I read it, but is more or less true. I write these things out first at home and then bring the text into the office and type it into the computer. I do this after working hours; as these bits don't, as a rule, go on for more than 1,500 words and as I'm a fairly good typist on the computer (hopeless on a typewriter, though) I can do them quickly and not feel like I'm goofing off on the library's time. In any case, as I won't be here (for the most part) there won't be a lot of additions to what I've already got here. I will be back on the 25th, just in time to complain about my birthday the following day, and to see how I, once a flappy bird, have sunk in the TTLB system back into the ranks of the cold-blooded. And no, I am not going anywhere interesting; this vacation will be spent in a series of doctors' offices for the annual monitoring of my already crappy health. With any degree of luck, the doctors will tell me that I will hold together for another year, God willing and the river don't rise.
EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES: Noise in the high decibel range came from the back of the library the other day, as it is wont to do nowadays, a lot more noise than the your average library staffer usually hears from the back of your average public library. Once upon a time, of course, public libraries were always quiet and decorous places, places where the seeker after truth and wisdom could sit and read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, learn how to fix a rotary engine, or reflect on the stylistic devices used in the Attic Old Comedy as employed in the later works of Aristophanes, and could do so content in the knowledge that any boorish lout seeking to disrupt the decorum of the place would instantly bring down upon themselves the wrath of the librarians, a stern breed of women quick with a significant glare or a shush or a quiet, please, sir, spoken in so cold a tone of voice it could easily freeze the soul of even the most obstreperous side of beef. Those days are gone now, unfortunately, gone the way of all flesh, leaving us in a crass world in which public libraries are not as loud as construction area blasting zones, but only because so few people choose to bring high explosives into public libraries. I’m sure if someone gave the idea any degree of thought we’d have fireworks displays in the stacks here morning, noon, and night, and most of the patrons probably wouldn’t notice the noise at all.

We did, however, notice this particular set of squeals, screeches, shouts, and shrieks, if for no other reason than it bore more than a passing acquaintance to someone conducting a human sacrifice in the children’s area. Clearly, the staff needed to restore order in that area, and as I drew the short straw I was the best man to restore the status quo antemunchkin. I trod slowly back towards the children’s area, rushing being inconsistent with the dignity of the public library as an institution, and then scurried back behind the front desk to put my shoes on, as wandering around this egregious mold pit in my stocking feet is equally inconsistent with the dignity of the public library as an institution, perhaps even more so, since I never got around to sewing up that hole in the right toe. Once properly shod, however, I advanced towards the children’s area, where the noise continued unabated, with a firm yet ominous step, each heavy footfall laden with portent and Thermidorean reaction, as I pressed forward to quell the Terror that walketh by day, although a Terror that walketh by day wouldn’t seem all that terrible, it seems to me, unless the terror worked for the Internal Revenue Service. Otherwise the Terror that walketh by day would just seem like any other pedestrian you see walkething from hither to yon pale river because they can’t find a place to park their car.

Upon my arrival in the children’s area, an event that went unnoticed by everyone, I immediately ascertained that the source of the noise was a large group of schoolchildren celebrating the arrival of summer by clubbing one other into unconsciousness with large print copies of the Harry Potter books. Some of the smaller and more easily concussed children lay on the floor to one side of the main bout, waiting for the repo man to collect their wits for them before returning to the fray. I stood there a moment, surveying the extent of the mayhem and satisfying myself that for all the screaming no one was actually bleeding all over our freshly shampooed carpet, and then announced, “excuse me, people," in as loud and menacing tone of voice as I could muster. To which one of the ringleaders of this donnybrook quickly announced, “it wasn’t me, it was them,” as if I hadn’t been standing there watching her bludgeon a small boy over the head several times with a much worn hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

I must admit that the impact of this brazen claim almost stunned me into insensibility. I mean, are there really adults stupid enough to believe such a claim? For me to give this child’s claim any credence whatsoever I would have to ignore the evidence of my senses, to disregard the years of experience I have acquired in dealing with this sort of situation, and to place this disturbance into some other intellectual framework wherein I could call this something other than what it was. And the child looked at me as if what she was asking me to do were the most natural thing in the world and not an activity designed to cause a cerebrovascular infarct in laboratory rats. I stared at the child for a moment, disbelieving my ears, and then said, are you nuts? The child looked somewhat surprised that her excuse had not gone over with the grace of an obese ballerina in work boots, and a moment later her nonplussed expression became one of sheer disbelief when I told her that she and her cohorts in cacophony had to leave the library. Her eyes opened wide and she reiterated her noninvolvement in the proceedings, to which I countered with a devastatingly witty, yeah, right, now leave the building.

After she trooped out of the building with her fellow mayhemistas, leaving in a huff and a snit, I sat and mulled for a while, mulling being a skill much sought after in the civil service, as opposed to moving, especially moving quickly and not in triplicate, which is not a skill very prized at all amongst civil servants, the implications of the child’s faux cries of innocence. I wondered as I mulled; I can do this, but only because I’ve taken the necessary courses and done the required lab work—please do not try this at home or without the proper safety equipment in close proximity—why the child would tell such a whopper, and such an old and easily disproved one at that. I told the same fib to a teacher in 1965 and it didn’t work for me then, either; in fact, I came out the worse for wear, what with a ruler laid across the knuckles of both hands—the nuns didn’t stand for that such nonsense back then; Vatican II was all very well and good, but the old guard and their tried and true methods still ruled the schools. I suppose what surprised me most was that any child in this day and age would use such a hackneyed excuse. Has there been no progress in excuse making since I was making excuses?

It hardly seems possible that in this day and age, when the events and culture of schoolchildren of 1965 are one with Nineveh and an old Tyre with worn out treads that your father picked up at the junkyard all those years ago just because he might need it someday, that children’s excuses would not have moved forward with the times, but it appears, at least from my vantage point, that that is in fact the case. I don’t understand this; children and the youth culture generate most of the progress in the information and media revolutions American society has experience in the past decade or so, and it’s a well-known fact that the best way to fix a broken computer without spending a fortune on a repairman is to step outside and snag the first passing nine year old you happen to see. This method is almost always successful and has saved our library thousands of dollars in computer repair and maintenance fees. We did have to expand the budget line for potato chips and orange soda, of course, but a comparative cost analysis shows that even with the extra food our maintenance costs are still significantly lower than they would have been otherwise. But for all this, children still seem wedded to the same old excuses I, and I suspect many of you as well, used when we were that age. Children, it seems, are spotty revolutionaries at best, demanding that everything change while at the same time demanding that nothing change, in the same way that they want to hear the same story read to them over and over again in the same way. For all their existence on the cutting edge of the modern technological world, what have you done for me lately is not something any child really believes in. ‘Tis a wonderment, as Yul Brynner often said in another context entirely.
SED QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES? : A policeman’s lot is never a happy one, as I’m sure you knew already. No sooner do all and sundry proclaim the virtues of the hero cop who single-handedly disarms a heavily armed miscreant with mayhem and larceny on his mind or solves some crime so complex that it would give Albert Einstein a mental cramp than the very same people who proclaimed his virtue on Sunday morning are denouncing him as a brutal, corrupt, racist pig on Thursday evening. The constant whipsawing between panegyrics and opprobrium can strain the nerves of many a good officer and drive him from the nuanced world of law enforcement into the Manichean arms of the fire department. Everyone loves fire fighters, after all, and the job has a clarity often missing from police work. No one, after all, thinks that pouring prodigious amounts of water on a fire violates the fire’s civil rights in some way, nor do most people care how a fire is put out so long as it is put out.

I bring this up because the local gendarmes are none too happy at the moment. The United States Department of Justice has publicly proclaimed, in a blow to the collective occupational ego, that our Finest aren’t as fine as they ought to be, what with those charges of brutality and all, and that the department’s leadership leaves something to be desired, that something being a bit ambiguous in the Justice Department’s report, but seems to rest on the belief that while Mack Sennett and his model of urban policing may have worked wonders a century ago, modern times requires the gendarmerie here to use more up to day methods of crime prevention and detection. The Feds were quick with suggestions to correct this lamentable situation, as we all are when we don’t have to pay to put the suggestions into effect, two of which are to count the number of bullets each officer goes out on patrol with and to forbid these very same officers from using their personal weapons when on official police business.

I understand the theory behind these suggestions but I must say our happy little burg will lose no small measure of sleep if the local department actually implements these ideas. The citizenry here have always slept well in their beds at night, content in the knowledge that our boys packed truly humongous heat in their squad cars. Heavy machine guns, assault rifles, and the odd RPG or two all went into the mix that protected the law-abiding citizen of our happy little burg from miscreants, malcontents, and feral Nutmeggers.

Nutmeggers, you ask? Yes indeed, Nutmeggers; the line between civilization and barbarity is not that far away from us. You may find this hard to credit, but our happy little burg is a sea of tranquility, only without the lunar lander and the rest of the junk we left up there, but it is a tenuous tranquility at best, bought with eternal vigilance and box tops. The river forms the natural line of defense between the depredations of the Nutmeggers and our town, and we are on the wrong side of the river, you see. We stand upon the eastern shore, on the same side as these heathen savages, with only a bridge to get the women and children away should all our strength come to naught and the Nutmeggers break in upon us. And directly across the river from us, well, the less said the better of that slough of urban despond. Should the Nutmeggers attack we cannot expect any assistance from those sloughers, who will hem and haw and wonder what the sack of our happy little burg has to do with them; some of them will, no doubt, allow themselves a schadenfreudenous cackle of glee as they contemplate our predicament.

So between the Nutmeggers waiting for their chance to charge across the border to sack and pillage the local malls stand our brave (and heavily armed) boys in blue and the mountains that have always guarded us. These mountains were once taller than the Himalayas in the halcyon days of the silent era, but after The Jazz Singer came out, that was that, the end of a long and distinguished career. The mountains, like Moses, were slow of speech and spoke with an odd sort of accent, as though they were trying to recite Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner with a heavy cold while a half-mad duckling tried to hatch in their throats, and after a while they couldn’t even get character parts. So they got out of the business entirely; half of show business is knowing when to make a graceful exit, they say; and wound up in the military after Pearl Harbor. Today the mountains form the glacis that protects this our demi-paradise from the envy of less happy lands, especially the blighted universe of the Nutmeggers.

The mountains can’t do it alone, of course, not in our modern age where occupational specialization is the order of the day, and the gendarmerie must do their parts, as they always do. As I mentioned before, we sleep well here knowing that our local patrolmen has everything they need to send the weasel Nutmegger coming over the border, playing the mouse in the absence of the cat, scurrying back to their stinking hellholes posthaste and yelping in pain. Nutmeggers are an unusually scurvy crew of knaves, much given to giving their children silly nicknames, raising tobacco from the dead, and restoring early 20th century neo-Jungian archetypewriters to their original condition. A rum lot at the best of times, as I’m sure you’ll agree, and entirely untrustworthy. A civilized person can scarcely imagine the orgy of rapine and pillage that would befall us if the local gendarmes, the same lads that the Feds would disarm over some perceived laxity with firearms, did not maintain their eternal vigilance, so if they want to carry some extra weaponry the more power to them, I say.

I am sure that there are some here who will support the Feds’ position; the last Nutmegger raid was a while ago and most people only remember dangers while they are still fresh in their minds. These are the same people who will tell you that there was never really much of a problem to begin with, that the whole issue got blown out of proportion by people who should have known better, and that if we understood the Nutmeggers better then we would all get along like so many pickles in a jar. Such foolish attitudes invariably create fresh disasters; these people will sing a different tune when Nutmegger border ruffians burn their houses to the ground and steal their daughters away across the border and force them into concubinage. Then there will be regrets galore and I’ll enjoy saying I told you so; for an otherwise counterproductive emotion schadenfreude certainly feels good, like your first bite of an especially rich and creamy chocolate bar.

I will not argue that some of our local police officers use their weapons, official and unofficial, in an inappropriate manner; I think we can all do without them shooting out the electrical transformers just because they explode in a tremendous shower of sparks, leaving our demi-paradise in the dark for weeks at a time, and I will certainly agree that mowing down a peaceable citizen for the crime of dunking a jelly doughnut, the jelly being either strawberry or raspberry—the reports are unclear at this time—into a cup of decaf coffee with two sugars and just enough half and half to turn the coffee a darkish khaki color was an overreaction on the officers’ part, understandable as such a reaction might be to the discerning connoisseur of coffee and doughnuts. One must say in the officers’ defense, however, that the misguided citizen chose to abuse a doughnut in a Dunkin Donuts full of police officers, thereby provoking the reaction he faced, and that he will recover nicely, according to the last press reports, just as soon as the doctors finish stitching him back together again. Perhaps the offending officers did what they did because the doughnut in question was a jelly doughnut and that there might have been a different reaction had the doughnut in question been cinnamon or even a cruller. I hope not; this sort of privileging one doughnut over another smacks of racism of the worst sort and has no place in modern American policing.
AFRICAN DEBT: I’m sorry, but I know I haven’t been paying as much attention to the foreign news as I ought to; the world seems to be in a uniformly bad state these days, which is more or less the condition it was in when I stopped paying attention to the nouvelles de Outremer back in 1977. The world is in a terrible state o’ chassis, said O’Casey’s Paycock back in the day, and so does General Electric’s nowadays, except with high definition and stereo sound where available. This is actually a bit heartening, I think. In this our postmodern age, where change comes as fast and furious as a scared acid-stoned chameleon trying to climb a tree before some tenth-rate predator has it for lunch on the Discovery Channel, it’s comforting to see that some things are pretty much the same as you remember them from all those years ago; it gives one a sense of continuity, I think. But I trust you will forgive me if I am a bit hazy on some of the specifics; I haven’t really been keeping up as much as I should.

Now there’s been an awful lot of press coverage these last few months about the problem of African debt relief, the concept behind this being that the poorest African countries would get to write off the loans they’ve made without the bank repossessing their car, which is a sweet deal if you can get it. I wish I could’ve gotten in on it; I’m about four payments away from finally paying off my Ford Taurus and I wouldn’t mind not having to shell out the money while not having the bank shred my credit rating to confetti at the same time. I don’t think that’s going to happen, though; in my experience bankers are rarely this charitable, although I’m sure there are a great many honorable exceptions to this rule, so please don’t email me telling me what a great guy your banker is and saying that I shouldn’t be maligning people like this. I’m sure your banker’s the salt of the earth, the cat’s meow, and the bee’s knees; I’m just going on my personal experience here and in my personal experience bankers tend to be fairly hard with a buck and not all that fond of hearing that they aren’t going to get their money back, plus interest compounded daily.

But the issue at hand is African debt relief, not my debt relief, a subject only I and my bank have any interest in, and in the past few months the pundits have pontificated, as if you could stop them from pontificating, often and at length on the subject, tut-tutting their political masters’ sudden fiscal caution on this issue, pointing out that it’s not like these very same governments haven’t dropped more money than all of Africa owes combined on any number of domestic boondoggles they'd just as soon forget over the years. Popular music stars have gotten into the act as well, generally bemoaning the pitiful efforts of the rich nations to alleviate the scourge of African debt in the same apocalyptic tones as Ezra Pound’s denunciations of usury (With usura hath no man a house of good stone…and so on and so forth; you get the picture) and demanding that the rich nations do something, anything, to solve the problem. Many of these pop stars believe in the cause so fervently that they’ve staged mammoth concerts all over the world dedicated to the proposition that if they sing long enough and loud enough someone—who that someone may be remains a mystery, but I'd bet on Guy Lombardo fans—will pay them a lot of money just to shut the hell up, and they could then donate this money to debt-ridden Africans.

Now, as I understand this, and please correct me if I am wrong, we, we being the rich nations, are cynically exploiting the debtor masses of Africa, enriching ourselves on whatever it is we are enriching ourselves on. The rich nations, from what I understand, could not be as rich as they are without exploiting to the nth degree whatever it is we are exploiting in Africa and denying the Africans the right to exploit whatever it is we are exploiting that they are sitting right on top of and then making them pay huge amounts of money that they don’t have in the first place to buy whatever it is we exploited and turned into something else and shipped back to them. Africa is a cornucopia of something or other, and the sooner the rich nations stop their exploitation of whatever it is they are exploiting in Africa the sooner the Africans can exploit it, whatever it is, for their own benefit, unless it, whatever it is, damages the environment all of God's, assuming that you believe in God, creatures must share in some way, such as putting the collective nose of some species of migratory water fowl out of joint because African exploitation of it, whatever it is, will damage this water fowl’s breeding grounds in a manner that soft lights, romantic music, and an extra bottle of good wine can’t solve. Environmental damage is never permissible, even if tens of thousands of Africans starve because of it, the it here being environmental damage and not the it the Africans want to exploit for their own benefit, whatever it is. So instead of Africans using and exploiting it and paying their debts with the profits brought by it, whatever it is, they, they being the starving Africans and not some hitherto unmentioned they like the Salvation Army, the Navajos, or the Rockettes, must listen to rich pop stars by the dozen sing song after lugubrious song about how miserable they are, this they being the starving Africans who can’t pay their debts and already know how miserable they are without any musical assistance from rich pop stars who can pay their debts, or at least one assumes they can pay their debts, the they here being the rich pop stars who can pay their debts (we think) and not the starving Africans who can’t, although I would imagine that singing about debt relief is not what you could call a surefire moneymaker that'll head to the top of the charts with a bullet, if you see what I mean; it's not at all the sort of thing your average fiscally conscious record company would bet a large advance on like gangsta rap paeans to the joys of gratuitous sex and pointless violence. Anyway, I think that’s about right, or have I missed something along the way?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

LONDON: I wrote this on 11 September 2004, but it more or less sums up how I feel about the scum that bombed London today and what should be done with them.

9/11: I could say something about the events of three years ago, but these three men sum up what I think we should be doing and what I hope we continue to do.

“Kill them, sir, kill every man!” Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, CSA.

"The proper strategy consists in inflicting as many telling blows as possible on the enemy's army, and then causing the inhabitants so much suffering that they must long for peace, and force the government to demand it. The people must be left with nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war."
Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, USA.

"The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, USA.

"War is upon us, none can deny it. It is not the choice of the Government of the United States, but of a faction; the Government was forced to accept the issue, or to submit to a degradation fatal and disgraceful to all the inhabitants. In accepting war, it should be 'pure and simple' as applied to belligerents. I would keep it so, till all traces of the war are effaced; til those who appealed to it are sick and tired of it, and come to the emblem of our nation, and sue for peace. I would not coax them, or even meet them half-way, but make them so sick of war that generations would pass away before they would again appeal to it." Lt. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, USA.

This is how I felt about 9/11, about Bali and Madrid and now London as well. My apologies if you find the sentiments offensive, but it's how I feel.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

HEY, READ THIS: Before you do anything else today, check out Iowahawk's latest guest commentator, a man with definite opinions about the American involvement in Iraq and what needs to be done there.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

ESTER OF WOOD ROSIN AND HER ADVENTURES ON THE BIG FARM: We all want to make more money, of course, that’s the American way, and librarians are no exception to this rule, although if we really wanted to make more money we should have listened to our mothers and gone into a more lucrative line of work like computer design or loansharking. Librarians don’t even have the chances to pick up some honest graft that other civil servants have. No one pays us off the way a labor contractor will pay off a housing inspector to ignore the thirty Mexican migrant workers the contractor's got stuffed in a two room apartment just before apple-picking time; no one is that interested if we pack the shelves between parenting and cover letters with illegal aliens, pornography, free pizza, or dirty socks. In the great metropolis to the south there is a police corruption scandal every twenty years or so, scandals that will rock the metropolis to the very foundations of its being in a way the previous scandal that rocked the metropolis to the very foundations of its being didn’t for reasons that surpasseth understanding, and banner headlines in the metropolitan tabloids will scream SCANDAL!!!, with several exclamation points for added emphasis so as to carry the news far and wide to every hamlet and hamster hole in the nation. Hollywood may even make a movie of the whole sordid business, if they can get someone bankable for the lead, but for all of this peculation, there has never been a scandal involving the metropolis’ great public library, and I don’t think anyone would care if there was. The vast American movie going public is not going to spend money watching a flick about undercover library cops out to nail crooked librarians for filching money out of the fines drawer. It just ain’t going to happen.

But the librarians here would still like more money, especially the part-timers. Why would any part-timer want to work in this egregious mold pit for the scanty wages we pay them when they could get a fulltime job complete with benefits somewhere else? The logic of this contention is irrefutable, which is why one of this bibliographic Petri dish’s part-time librarians is moving on up to bigger and better things. He’s been working a few hours here, a few hours there, leading a peripatetic occupational existence wandering from library to library in search of a dental plan. But no more; he leaves us shortly for a position at the legal library of one of our local prisons, incarceration being a major industry in this neck of the woods, and a place where he will have to refer to his staff of felons as guests.

That’s right: guests. Apparently only uniformed corrections officers may refer to our local hoosegows’ resident population as inmates, felons, convicts, criminals, etc.; for all other employees of the Department of Correctional Services, itself a misnomer since they are not providing anyone with a service and correcting criminal behavior is not the service they are not providing, the required appellation is guest. The problem we have here is that these people are not guests in any sense anyone even remotely familiar with a dictionary would understand that word to mean.

If, for example, I invite some people to my house for a party or for a small get-together I expect that they will come and enjoy themselves and then leave at a reasonable hour with my home in more or less the same condition they found it in. I know there’ll always be the occasional minor catastrophe: someone will break a glass or smash some of the “good” china or flood the bathroom floor by putting too much paper in the toilet. One must learn to expect the odd disaster here and there as we wander through this vale of tears, but I think we all expect our homes will still be standing at the end of the evening’s festivities, and how much more than that do you want, really? I, for one, do not stand on ceremony; I am to social events what McDonalds’ is to cuisine: eat, drink, and get out, and if you want to go home before the rest of the guests because you’ve got to get the babysitter home by nine or to water the geraniums then go right ahead, I won’t stand in your way. Far from it, in fact; you can get lost with my blessings.

The guests we are speaking of, however, unlike the guests at my hypothetical dinner party, did not answer an R.S.V. P. or give a call back when someone left a message on their answering machine, which is generally how I get people to come to my house, although free food and drink will draw a crowd no matter what time of day or night it is, invitation or no invitation. No, this lot invited themselves to their current digs, despite the best efforts of their lawyers to get them off, and because of their efforts to get into these places the state will go to great lengths to hang on to them, using barbed wire, high walls, and the most advanced surveillance systems available from the lowest bidder so as not to lose the pleasure of their company anytime soon. You’ve got to admire a host who’ll put themselves out like this for their guests. I know I wouldn’t do it; for me someone who does not take the hint when you start washing the dishes in your pajamas is definitely not a guest in my book, or in Noah Webster’s either, no matter what edition you look at, but is a being firmly ensconced in a different category altogether, that category usually not repeatable in mixed company.

I think part of the problem is that the state insists we call these people something we know they aren’t. They’re not guests: they are convicts, as I am sure they know all too well. Sometimes you can get away with this sort of thing. If you take a look at the ingredients in your average can of soda you will probably see something called ester of wood rosin. Ester of Wood Rosin is not, as the soft drink makers would have you think, Anne of Green Gables older and not as attractive sister, or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’s larcenous and none too bright rag-picking cousin from the big city, nor is Ester of Wood Rosin a character in some exceptionally literate soft drink commercial.

No, Ester of Wood Rosin is the sap left in tree stumps once the lumber companies have cut the trees down and turned them into newsprint. It keeps the other stuff in your soda from coming out of solution and forming a nasty looking layer of scummy ickyness at the top of your bottle, a layer that will cause you, the consumer, to swiftly put (and yes, I know I am splitting an infinitive there so please don’t write me and point it out to me) that bottle of your favorite soft drink back on the shelf where you found it and shiver violently. So think about that the next time you sit in your favorite chair, drinking a cold soft drink and checking the sports pages to see how the Yankees are doing this season (don't get me started on this or I'll have a stroke). You wouldn’t think of eating your newspaper and washing the paper down with a generous swig of your soda—that, after all, would be silliness raised to the nth level, even if newpapers compare favorably with wheat germ in fiber content and prolonged newspaper consumption lessens the incidence of colon cancer in laboratory rats—but that’s what you’re doing anyway, whether you think it’s silly or not.

Friday, July 01, 2005

So...enough about you, let's talk about me... Posted by Picasa

Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the Supreme Court, or so I have been told. So let's get our hard hats on, boys and girls, it's gonna be a rough summer. Posted by Picasa