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)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

#600: The Deutsche Oper, one of the largest opera companies in Germany, has cancelled its production of Mozart's Idomeneo because the company had a character in the cast holding the severed head of the Prophet Muhammed and they knew there would be a violent reaction from Germany's Muslim community (you will note, no doubt, that I do not say feared there would be violence; when dealing with a sure thing you have to give up the conditional tense at some point or other, and this one falls in the same category as do bears shit in the woods). I was going to write something about this, and about the Pope's remarks as well, but it seems that I already have, so I will spare myself the trouble of writing another bit about this issue. Apropos absolutely nothing at all, this is my 600th post here in The Passing Parade. I wish I could say it doesn't seem like 600, but yes, it does seem like 600.

UPDATE: Sara tells me something in Russian and Tatyana tells me that the something that Sara is telling me is that the link to my previous post on a related subject is not working. So I have put my nose to the wheel and my shoulder to the grindstone and after long and arduous fiddling with the computer the link is still not working. Consequently, the following is the post from February I referred to above.

SOUND OFF: This being a free country and all, I figure I’m as entitled to my opinion the same as the next guy, so I’m going to take this opportunity to bloviate a little, if you don’t mind. There’s a great fight going on these days and some of the people you’d expect to be in the forefront of this struggle are surprisingly AWOL. The question facing Western civilization these days goes beyond the multicultural let’s-be-inclusive politically correct pap we’ve all been listening to for I don’t know how many years now. It goes beyond whether or not you find those Danish cartoons funny or in poor taste. Muslims throughout the world have responded to the publication of those cartoons by boycotting Danish products, denouncing Denmark in the media, and demonstrating outside of Danish embassies and consulates. All of this is, to my mind, legitimate protest; one need only remember the reaction to Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ,' Martin Scorsese’s 'The Last Temptation of Christ,' and Chris Ofili’s ‘The Holy Virgin Mary’ to know that the faithful of all religious persuasions dislike the idea of having their beliefs mocked or the idea that they should simply sit back and accept these insults without a fight. What any society, however, cannot accept is the threat and use of violence to enforce any one religion’s dogmas as civil law on those people who do not accept that religion’s doctrines. And yet, many of the people whom you would think would never under any circumstances accept a confessional exception for the tenets of Christianity or Judaism in the law seem fully willing to accept such an exception for Islam.

And why is that? There are many reasons, but the simplest one is the easiest to understand, and has the benefit of truth as well: they are frightened; they don’t want an Islamic rent—a—mob sacking their offices and harming their families, co-workers, and friends. Who are the they I am talking about here? The media, for one, which is censoring itself in a manner it would not dream of doing for Catholic or evangelical protestors, and seems more interested in playing gotcha with the Administration over the Vice-President's hunting accident that in showing the American people what the cause of all the rioting is. Not one major media outlet that I am aware of has actually published these cartoons, and I think it is a strange commentary on the American press that their main objection to this accident is that the White House did not stroke their outsized egos as much as they would have liked. The artists and Hollywood celebrities for another, who cannot wait to give us their opinions about everything under the sun whether we want to hear them or not, but who seem very quiet in the face of this blatant attempt to blackjack Danish press and artistic expression and leave it bleeding in the gutter. Where are the celebrators of transgressive art in this controversy? These are the same folks who can’t wait for some representative of the Catholic League to denounce their latest transgressive piece of dreck in order to gin up some interest in their work, but in this matter they find that there’s nothing to be said, nothing to be done, please go away and leave us alone; what you say may be true, but first we must cultivate our gardens.

This, I think, is not something I’m sure I believe: a few Danish cartoonists create the most brilliantly transgressive art of our young century, and the local purveyors of such art have nothing to say about it, preferring, no doubt, to find new ways of dipping crucifixes in bodily waste. This is all very far indeed from Voltaire’s cry of Ecrasez l’infame (Crush the infamy!) and Flaubert’s dictum that the job of the artist is to epater le bourgeois (shock the middle-classes). When Voltaire spoke of crushing the infamy of superstition, the Roman Catholic Church in France was as powerful in its way as the state itself, and equally interested in using the temporal power of the state to enforce Catholic religious teaching and dogma as the law of the land; the law forbade anyone from questioning the doctrines of the Church and blasphemy was as foul a crime as murder. And yet, Voltaire attacked the Church again and again, using his wit and invective to stir men’s minds against the dead weight of centuries of dogma and to get people to think for themselves.

Today, however, we have artists who want to be transgressive, but only if that gets them a show in a expensive gallery in SoHo, or, barring that, in some hot new edgy place like Beacon, and afterwards a nice wine and cheese party and then a good review in the New York Times’ Sunday Arts & Leisure section. Today, we have artists who want to crush the infamy, but only if the infamy provides some buzz for their work; today, we have artists who want to shock the bourgeoisie as much as Flaubert did, but not if the bourgeoisie close their checkbooks first and go home. No one wants to deal with maniacal critics willing to use riot and intimidation in order to protect what they deem holy. Today, we seem to have a media and an arts establishment utterly unwilling to show the American people what the fuss is all about and equally unwilling to say anything in defense of the very freedoms that make their livelihoods possible. It was easy for the media and the artists and the limousine liberals to criticize the Catholic Church’s objections to a painting of the Blessed Virgin that came complete with a lump of elephant dung and photographs of female pudenda cut from porno magazines, and talk about what a brave thing this was for the artist and the Brooklyn Art Museum to do in the face of Rudy Giuliani’s threats to cut the museum’s tax support, but in the face of Islamic mob violence these same people are saying nothing, doing nothing.

I wonder if this apathy in the face of real danger is because we are a softer people than we once were. Once upon a time, people knew that taking a moral stand meant taking a risk. In the past few months, the nation has lost Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King, both of whom knew that tyranny does not crumble easily and that bringing down such tyranny may cost you everything and everyone you love. In the past few months, Jack Anderson passed away, a man who dedicated his life to uncovering what actually went on in Washington, D.C. and bringing the secret into the public light, so that the American people could judge for themselves what their representatives were doing in their names, despite the pressure from the politically powerful to keep what he knew to himself. None of these people thought that what they were trying to accomplish would be risk free, or that those who stood to lose the most if the old dispensation were to join Marxism in the dustbin of history would go quietly into that good night. But they stayed in the fight, they stayed and fought for what they believed in. We don’t seem to do this anymore, we seem to say, as we often do about marriage, that this is for better or forget it, forgetting, as we make light of ourselves, that there are others watching.

Yes, there are others watching, for whom freedom of expression is a blasphemy, who believe, as St. Augustine did, that error has no rights, and everything not found in an ancient Arabic text is unworthy of existence. Perhaps the Caliph Omar did not order the destruction of the great library at Alexandria in the seventh century by saying that if the books in the library agreed with the Koran then they were superfluous, and therefore not necessary and could be destroyed, and if they disagreed with the Koran they were heresy, and therefore harmful and should be destroyed forthwith, but his co-religionists of today deeply believe that this is nothing more or less than the truth, and that even unbelievers must accept the dictates of the Prophet and the ummah, if they know what is good for them. These people will do everything in their power to reduce the corrupt and decadent West, the Dar al-Harb, the House of War, and its will to resist the coming of the True Faith, and there are more than a few of those people Lenin once called useful idiots willing to help them along. We see this in the anxious kowtowing to the notion that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance when we see every day that it is not; we see this in the twisting of news and language so as to avoid offending always sensitive Muslim sensibilities, and we see this in the playing up of Western mistakes and the playing down of Muslim ones. Robert Frost once famously defined a liberal as a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel. We, it seems to me, no longer want to take our own side in this argument, that we are content to let the Danes fight the good fight for freedom of expression. And if they fail, if they buckle under to the threats of mob violence, then what of it? What is Denmark to us, or we to Denmark, that we should trouble ourselves for them?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

THE GREATNESS OF SNUB POLLARD: We live in a fickle age, of course, where we tend to forget many a good man’s accomplishments almost before new grass grows on the man’s grave. It was always thus, I suppose, especially here in America, where a man’s accomplishments matter for little in this our that was yesterday what have you done for me lately attitude towards life. But this attitude, with its hint of rampant utilitarianism and uncorrected orthography, often cannot adequately describe the impact that a man’s life may have on others. In many cases, you find that the success or failure of a man’s life has little or nothing to do with a personal accomplishment, but in the example that he provides for others, or, sometimes, in the opportunity he provides other to do something of great merit. And so it was with the life of Snub Pollard.

We as a nation do not spend a lot of time thinking about Snub Pollard’s contribution to the commonweal, and perhaps it is best that we do not think about his contribution when we can be thinking of so many other things, like the price of tea in China, whether or not tanks should have kickstands, and why the members of the parking authority of the largest city in this county are a bunch of lying, thieving, semi-dyslexic rat bastards, of which more at another time. But let me ask you: you have, no doubt, at some point in your life, found yourself in a situation you are enjoying immensely, but you know that you have to leave because you have something else that needs doing and it won’t wait. You don’t want to leave, but you need to get a move on, just like Gene Kelly at the end of the Singin’ in the Rain sequence in the eponymous motion picture. The cop has stopped him, Gene sings the final little bit of the song, and then he hurries down the street, stopping only to give his umbrella to a man before the sequence ends and the movie goes to the next scene. The man Gene Kelly gives his umbrella to is none other than our hero, Snub Pollard, a great human being, a patriotic Australian, and the proud possessor of one of the most distinctive mustaches in Hollywood history, not that you would know any of that watching Gene Kelly palm off a used umbrella on the man and then depriving him of a screen credit.

We could all use a Snub Pollard in our lives, no two ways about it. Take my previous screed, for example. There it sits, gleaming electronically out at you, all two thousand and something words of it, sprawled all over your computer screen like an obese blue whale with a bad case of flatulence, gluttonously taking up bandwidth that al-Qaeda could use to advertise the next all-jihadi square dance and goat humping contest. Now, in the sort of pieces we have here at The Passing Parade, the rule of thumb is the shorter the better. This sort of thing ought to weigh in at between 750 and 1,500 words; any longer than that and the audience is going to get antsy and start wondering when this movie is ever going to end. But the previous rant came in at about 2,800 words, a veritable behemoth in this genre. Even if you took out the digressions, and let’s face it, most of these essays are overly digressive to begin with, it’s still way too long. I suppose I could have edited it down a bit, but frankly, I would have been better off if old Snub had shown up in the nick of time and given me an excuse to stop.

Many celebrities and almost all politicians have a Snub Pollard on their staffs. Not the great man himself, of course; Snub Pollard slipped off the banana peel of life back in 1962; but his spiritual descendant, who is usually a short, balding man whose mustache is not nearly as interesting as Snub’s, and whose sole task in life is to look at his watch in with ever-growing worry while the great man enjoys the applause of the appreciative and altogether ungrateful electorate, who will be calling the pol nine different kinds of son of a bitch the next day, which is all right, I guess, since everything our ward-heeling blowhard just said in his stump speech derives in some way from the D’Israelian trinity of lies, damned lies, or statistics, so the people who vote this schnook in will get what’s coming to them. Our Snub wannabe will tear what’s left of his hair out trying to get the solon off the stage and onto the campaign bus for the next round of rubber chicken dinners in Paducah, Podunk, and Poughkeepsie, no easy feat, as you might imagine, since the one thing politicians love more than power is the sound of their own voices.

This leads inevitably, of course…well, maybe you won’t think it’s so inevitable, but while we here at The Passing Parade respect your right to have an opinion about the inevitability of the next sentence, we must point out that we are, in no way, shape, or form, under any obligation to agree with you and your opinion about the next sentence, which should be starting any moment now…any moment now……any second now………very, very shortly…………these silences are always a bit awkward, aren’t they, I must apologize for the delay, I really don’t understand what’s going on here, it’s never really happened before, you know, at least not as long as I’ve been working here with Akaky and the rest of the lads, we’ve been like the Three Musketeers, you see, all for one and one for all and all that sort of thing, so I can’t imagine why the next sentence is not available at the moment to discuss today’s other exciting theme with you, the effect of higher gas prices on the moral fiber of modern American birds of prey, a fascinating topic I’m sure you are all fantastically eager to learn about, I know we here were all fascinated beyond words with the subject matter when the next sentence brought it up at a story meeting last week, and he was very anxious to get going on the subject so as to bring it to you this week, and I’m sure he will, just as soon as he arrives…

[A musical interlude follows]

"...once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a Coolibah tree
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
You'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited til his billy boiled
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited til his billy boiled
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Up rode the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred
Down came troopers one two three
Whose that jumbuck you've got in the tuckerbag
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
And he sang as he watched and waited til his billy boiled
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me
Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong
You'll never catch me alive said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
You'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me..."

…I must apologize again for the delay, ladies and gentlemen, this sort of unprofessional behavior is totally unlike the next sentence, totally unlike him, you know, he is usually a solid, reliable, hardworking bit of English prose, a wonderful man once you get to know him, really, he’s just a bit shy at first with new people, as I suppose we all are, but really he is a wonderful man and a joy to work with, there must have been an accident on the train coming up from the city and I am sure he will be ready to go with that report just as soon as he arrives…

[music again]

"...the sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home
'Tis summer, the people are gay;
The corn top's ripe and the meadow's in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day;
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy, and bright,
By'n by hard times comes a-knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night;


Weep no more, my lady,
Oh weep no more today,
We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home,
For the old Kentucky home far away

They hunt no more for the 'possum and the coon,
On meadow, the hill and the shore,
They sing no more by the glimmer of the moon,
On the bench by that old cabin door;
The day goes by like a shadow o'er the heart,
With sorrow where all was delight;
The time has come when the people have to part,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night...


The head must bow and the back will have to bend,
Wherever the people may go;
A few more days and the trouble all will end
In the field where sugar-canes may grow;
A few more days for to tote the weary load,
No matter, 'twill never be light,
A few more days till we totter on the road,
Then my old Kentucky home, good night..."

…all right, look, I don’t think I am spilling any secrets here when I say that the next sentence is a completely irresponsible idiot who hangs onto his job only because his mother comes from the same village in Ireland as Akaky’s mother, and Akaky would prefer not having to listen to his mother screaming at him for giving the next sentence the metaphorical boot, but that’s just my opinion, you understand; I don’t have to put up with Akaky’s mom the way he and his brothers do, I just work here, after all, I show up, I do my bit, and then I go home to the wife and the kids, not at all like the next sentence, who, you will pardon me for saying so, is a lousy two-timing bastard who cheats on his wife on a regular basis, and I’m not kidding about that, either, just ask the first sentence in the second paragraph of this thing, he came into work an hour or so after closing because he forgot to bring his laptop home with him, and he finds the next sentence in the men’s bathroom humping the receptionist, you heard me right, he’s humping the receptionist and she’s only a couple of years out of high school, if that, I don’t think she can even buy a beer and a pack of smokes legally in this state yet, I mean, what kind of idiot pulls something as stupid as that, and at your place of employment, no less, and you know if the next sentence knocks her up she’s going to sue him and Akaky for every penny they’ve got, and Akaky is not exactly rolling in dough to begin with, you know, and another thing, I really hate the way that creeps sucks up to Akaky; I don’t mind an ass kisser, I really don’t, everyone’s got to kiss some ass these days, there’s no two ways about it, but a brown noser is something else again, and you’d think Akaky would pick up on it, but he’s being his usual obtuse self again, and I could tell you any number of stories about that aspect of working here at The Passing Parade, so the next sentence gets away with his blatant pandering to Akaky’s political and literary prejudices, particularly Akaky’s penchant for Proust and those damn Russians with unpronounceable names and Faulkner and Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, of all people, Thomas Wolfe, I mean, who even reads Thomas Wolfe anymore, that’s what I want to know, but what really makes my skin crawl is listening to the next sentence talk about Proust like he ever cracked open one of those ten ton tomes, I know I couldn’t so I don’t even pretend that I know what the hell the next sentence and Akaky are even talking about when they go on about this character or that one, the next sentence must have read the Classic Comics version of Proust, if there is such a thing, the cheesy bastard, he really is a contemptible swine, if you ask me, I know I wouldn’t loan him a dollar, you’d never see it again, that’s for certain…oh, he’s here, is he, and I trust he’s completely sober, or is that too much to hope for…ah…well, let’s have at it then; here it is, the next sentence (I’m going for a drink, I’ve had enough of this bullshit for one day, I am so outta here).

We live in an age of increased interconnectivity, when the symbiosis between the automotive and the avian is becoming ever more complete, and where such symbiosis causes much consternation and dismay amongst many environmentalists and conservative political activists…umm, why are all of you looking at me like that?

Friday, September 15, 2006

NEPOTISM AND OTHER COMPLAINTS: Permit me an observation here before we go moving on to bigger and better things. My mother informed me this morning that she has finally and at long last gotten rid of the big pile of junk that has been moldering quietly into rust behind our garage ever since the Dutch stole our happy little burg from the Indians. The pile always annoyed my mother, who suffers from an uncontrollable surfeit of elbow grease and spends most of her waking moments trying to find new and strenuous ways of getting rid of some of it. My father, on the other hand, was a man fond of big piles of otherwise pointless junk, which he kept around on the ever-decreasing chance that he might need this metallic refuse some day, and would not, therefore, allow my mother to do anything about the pile of twisted metal behind the garage. My father, having passed away some two years ago now, is today no longer in a position to intercept my mother and veto her dislike of piles of any sort, and so this weekend she set to work. I am not certain why she felt the need to wait two years to commence the clean up. Perhaps she waited as a sign of respect for my father’s sensitivities or to make sure he was really dead before she went tossing his junk away, or maybe there were just so many other more important things to do first, but no matter what the reason for the delay, the junk’s gone now, thrown away, as my mother put it, kit and caboodle.

This leads inevitably, I think, to the burning philosophical question of just what is a caboodle and why can’t you throw it away without the kit? I fear I do not have an answer for this question; all I can say is in that in all of my extensive research I cannot find one case of anyone throwing away the caboodle and keeping the kit. Throwing away a kitless caboodle may be ecologically unsound, causing hallucinations and delusions of grandeur in many species of fish and leading some species of tuna to realize, for the first time in their lives, that they are wet. Tossing a caboodle minus the kit it came with may even be illegal, a crime on par with pulling the tag off of a new mattress, and I hesitate to contemplate what enormities someone who throws away the kit and keeps the caboodle is capable of. If the FBI is not protecting us from the depraved depredations of such fiends then someone in Washington is not doing the job we, the voters, have sent them there to do.

In other news, I should point out to anyone interested in this sort of thing that nepotism, very frankly, is not everything it’s cracked up to be, not by a long shot. I suppose that in a perfect world nepotism, like Communism and phrenology and recipes that hide the taste of liver, should work just fine, but this, as we all know is seldom the case. No matter how many onions and how much bacon you put on the liver, it’s still liver. Similarly, nepotism ought to lead to feelings of gratitude towards the relative that got you your job and that said relative has every right to expect that you will work hard and bring credit to your family in general and the relative who went out of his way when he really didn’t want to and found a way of getting you a job. You might think this, but you would be wrong.

No, I am not talking about the son of our happy little burg’s chief gendarme wanting to be a detective and suing the city because they passed an anti-nepotism law that keeps his daddy the Chief from promoting Junior over the heads of those candidates the Chief is not genetically and financially responsible for; that is a subject for another time, I fear. No, in this case I am trying to fathom how the niece can go toddling off to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina with some friends when she should have been here in the egregious mold pit working assiduously away at her teen health project job that I pulled absolutely no strings to get for her and not invite me to go along; I could use some beach time, but did she invite me? Hell, no, she didn’t!

The back story of this exercise in typical adolescent ingratitude is this: two or so months ago, our children’s librarian mentioned to me that she was getting a grant from a foundation famous for its good works, a foundation famous for its rectitude and its sterling reputation for alleviating human suffering and advancing the education of the poor and the underprivileged with the vast fortune the foundation’s founder made in the nineteenth century selling second-rate opium to the Chinese, rotgut whiskey to the Indians, and lame slaves down the river to Mississippi. This foundation can well be proud that it has done everything the founder hoped it would do, including advancing the founder’s fondest wish of not going down in American economic history as the monstrously selfish, absolutely no-good, completely mercenary willing to sell his dead mother’s scalp to the Apaches in order to make a buck bastard that he really was. It’s amazing, or at least I think it is, how handing out free money to people will cause them to overlook a good many of your more unattractive personality traits.

The purpose of this grant, the children’s librarian explained, was to run a teen health program here. If I remember this correctly, I said something devastatingly witty, like, “…is that so…” in response to this information, while wondering why on earth she was telling me this in the first place. Teen health, you must understand, is not big on my list of priorities; I believe teens ought to be healthy; that way the general public will not feel guilty about calling the cops on these hormonal hooligans; but teen health is not an issue that impinges on my conscious mind at every other moment of the day, and has not done so for almost thirty years now. But our children’s librarian was very enthusiastic about the idea—civil servants, as a rule, are always enthusiastic about spending other people’s money; it is, after all, what we live for—so enthusiastic, in fact, that I began to wonder if she had hit her head while kayaking over the weekend and the concussion was finally beginning to set in. I was seconds away from calling an ambulance when she asked if my niece might like to be a “teen intern.”

Thoughts of summoning immediate medical help faded instantly, which was too bad, now that I think of it, since around here a 911 call always brings out a couple of ambulances, two or three fire trucks, four police cars and a drug-sniffing dog, a kid delivering pizza, and enough cops, firemen, paramedics, and gawking spectators to fill a small stadium. Our happy little burg puts on quite a show when the call comes in, primarily because people in this neck of the woods tend to be disgustingly healthy and are therefore not prone to dropping dead in their tracks on a regular basis. This tends to limit the opportunities of our emergency services people, many of whom move on to less happy little burgs where they can practice their craft on a more regular basis. The reason for the memory fade-out on my part is simple: the niece needed a summer job.

The niece, for those of you who are new to The Passing Parade, was once, as a child, an attractive young moppet who looked disturbingly like a poster child for the Nazi Party. It is difficult for words to describe just how blond haired and blue eyed the child was, the perfect young Aryan in every sense of the word; I always expected a vigorous chorus of Die Wacht am Rhein or the Horst Wessel Lied to break out from massed choirs of unrepentant storm troopers whenever the niece walked into a room. The pretty little moppet is now a tall and lovely young woman of fifteen, and is still blue-eyed; her blond hair is still, I presume, blond, although it is hard to tell these days, since her hair changes color as fast as her moods do. Last week the hair was red and green; if the Yankees win the World Series this year she will dye it blue and white, just to please her father, a rabid and regular worshipper at the Shrine in the Bronx. As you might imagine, it is difficult for such a tonsorial chameleon to find gainful employment, so concussion or no, I was grabbing while the grabbing was good, and said, sure, she’d like to apply, what would she have to do?

The work of a teen health intern is hard and lonely, an arduous trek through the soft underbelly of the American dream, consisting, as it does, of long hours spent in a darkened room watching television and gorging themselves on junk food bought at the taxpayers’ expense. If we had showers, free pizza, and unlimited calling on a library cell phone we wouldn’t be able to dynamite the damn kids out of the building. The niece would have to watch videos detailing the health issues facing today’s youth and then evaluate them at slightly more than the minimum wage. The videos are the modern descendant of those terrible physical hygiene movies we all had to watch in health education class back in the tenth grade. The genre hasn’t really changed since then; they’ve still got the same terribly earnest narrator trying to show that he or she is hip, if they still use that word, to the mores of adolescent culture, who tells the girls that boys are filthy perverted sex fiends who will lie to you and who definitely will not respect you in the morning, which is more or less true, if anyone still cares about that sort of thing these days, while telling the boys that girls are dirty creatures with a disgusting monthly habit and are chock full of loathsome diseases that will cause your johnson to turn black and rot off, and so the best thing you can do for your raging hormones is go home, take a cold shower, keep your hands to yourself, and maybe play an extended round of Parcheesi with your family and some friends. I’ve heard that at least one member of the community has complained about these videos, although I am sure I don’t understand why; those videos will scare kids off the whole idea of coitus for the rest of their lives, and isn’t that the point of the exercise?

The children’s librarian explained all of this to me with the same sense of wonder that she would use if she had just found the lost continent of Atlantis in her cereal bowl that morning, and I started to wonder if I ought to call 911 anyway, just to be on the safe side. I didn’t, though; I simply thanked her and told her that I would tell the niece about the job the next time I saw her. Now, you may not have realized this from your reading of The Passing Parade, but I am a prodigious forgetter of important messages, people’s birthdays, and where I left my car keys the night before, which accounts for the terrifying panic attacks I experience nearly every morning. If you have an important message and you want me to deliver it, your odds of my remembering what it is you wanted me to tell whoever you wanted me to tell this important message to are roughly the same as your number coming in up in the New York State Lottery. But people do hit the number on occasion, and this time I actually did remember to tell the niece. She was the one who forgot to apply for the job, which is a saga in and of itself, but I’ll save that for another time. The kid got the job eventually, despite her best efforts to avoid gainful employment. And so, having made almost no effort to find work for this ungrateful whelp, she up and wanders away to Myrtle Beach for a week without giving me the courtesy of declining the invitation to accompany her gracefully. No, she just went, leaving me with nary a barbecued grit in sight, assuming you can barbecue grits. I suppose you can barbecue anything, if you apply yourself and turn up the heat.

In the purely hypothetical department, along with the phoenix-skin cowboy boots and the official history of the Confederate States Air Force, you can find the Proceedings of the Royal and Imperial Society for the Advancement of Astronomical Knowledge of Fluj-da—Romin—ja, as the locals call the now dwarf planet we know as Pluto. Astronomy is not really a hot topic on Pluto; the vast majority of the population labors from morning to night and to the night after that without the morning for two weeks sitting and then to the next morning until ten o’clock, whereupon they stop and commune with nature, which has a bad habit of dropping their calls since the plumbing is not everything it ought to be. Then they go back to work again, the planet’s, or rather the dwarf planet’s, main industry being sock weaving, a fact that usually surprises visitors no end, as the inhabitants have no feet to put the socks on nor any inclination to do so even if they had, as the locals travel everywhere by Checker cab. Consequently, there are mile high mountains of socks outside all of the major population centers that no one either wants or needs, and many irate citizens feel that the government should confiscate the mountains of socks from the current owners and feed the socks to the poor, who currently live on a steady and protein deficient diet of pirated copies of the Beatles’ Rubber Soul album and diet Dr. Pepper. Faced with this sort of wild-eyed communist agitation on a regular basis, it’s no wonder that astronomy gets short shrift from the local population, and that no one cares, therefore, if the Royal and Imperial Society for the Advancement of Astronomical Knowledge of Fluj—da—Romin—ja decides after many years of intensive research that the third thingy from the big yellow dot in the sky cannot possibly be a planet, as the term planet is defined on Fluj—da—romin—ja, since the erstwhile planet is entirely too wet to support Life as we knew it, which may be why Life’s a Sunday supplement these days.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

COMMENTS: We here at The Passing Parade, and by we I mean me, since I am solely responsible for most of what passes for content here; specially trained Norwegian joke trolls handle the blog when I am not available; do not as a rule comment here in our pages about what goes on in other people’s blogs. Furthermore, we do not, as a rule, reply to comments made on this blog, a statement that is demonstrably untrue, but which sounds lofty and more than a little elitist, if you ask me, as if I were some sort of Uberblogger above such mundane concerns as commenting on other people’s comments in my own comments section. In this case, however, I will make an exception to the rule I haven’t been following in the first place and make a comment about a comment.

Snoopy at Simply Jews detects a logical flaw in the following sentence from my last post: "…the highway department is resurfacing Main Street to give themselves something to do and to hoodwink us into believing that they are doing something….’” He is wondering, as well he might, how the highway department here in our happy little burg could simultaneously be giving themselves something to do while hoodwinking the public into believing they were actually doing something. Snoopy is a naïve lad, obviously out of his depth in confronting the Byzantine and labyrinthine maze that is the bureaucratic mind at work, or not work, as the case may be. He is in luck here, though, since what would appear to be a logical flaw worthy of the Protocols of the Elders of Poughkeepsie is, in fact, easily explained to even the most ignorant household plant.

Highway departments from one end of this our Great Republic to the other routinely send out road crews to do nothing but sit in their trucks by the side of the road and drink coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season. If these highway departments did not send out road crews to sit in their trucks by the side of the road and drink coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season, these road crews would not sit in their trucks by the side of the road and drink coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season; they would be sitting at the offices of the highway department, not sitting in their trucks, but still drinking coffee and talking about how the Mets are doing this season.

Now, to the uninformed mind it would appear that it makes little or no difference if road crews sit in their trucks by the side of the road or sit at the offices of the highway department and drink coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season; either way, the road crews are still sitting and drinking coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season and not repairing the roads, which is the ostensible reason why the highway department employs road crews in the first place. The simpleton who believes this is not fit for civil service work and should therefore attempt to find work in the private sector, where such crude utilitarianism has its place. No, what you see as a group of men in unfashionable orange hard hats sitting in trucks and drinking coffee while talking about how the Mets are doing this season is only the most visible manifestation of a profound and usually unseen battle for bureaucratic survival.

The civil service, for all its bland and conformist outer appearance, is in reality a Hobbesian place where bureaucrats routinely try to expand their empires, deprive others of funding, and in general act in a way not conducive to the orderly functioning of government. The bureaucrat has not been born would not willingly gut his own mother with a dull fish knife in order to get a 15% increase in their annual budget, more office space, a fax machine, and maybe an extra box of rubber bands. The highway department is no different than any other bureaucracy in this regard. If the road crews were not sitting in a truck by the side of the road you know the rest they would be at the highway department offices doing the same as above, where other denizens of the civil service, a service not otherwise known for its civility, could see them and wonder why the highway department is getting all that money for its road crews to sit in a truck so on and so forth when their department could get that money and do nothing with it better than the highway department can.

So for the highway department bigwigs, having the road crews sit around and yada yada yada is less important than they not sit around yeah yeah yeah where other members can see them sitting around for Christ’s sake why don’t you end this bit, it stopped being funny three paragraphs ago. If the guys in the road crews don’t want to do anything, that’s fine, that’s what the civil service is for; they just can’t not do it at City Hall. Consequently, the road crews must go and sit in their trucks by the sides of the road when will this tag ever end, which has the added benefit of convincing the public the crews are doing something, whereas they actually aren’t doing anything. I trust this clears up Snoopy’s confusion.

We turn now from matters bureaucratic to matters horticultural. As a rule, I try not to say as a rule, since as a rule I say as a rule for no real reason, but in general, we here at The Passing Parade do not have strong opinions on humanity’s relationship with the flora and fauna that surround us. Flora and Fauna are very nice in their place; they even supply their own beer and prophylactics, which is a good thing, I think, since I hear there’s more fauna in Fauna than just her name. Be that as it may, the Gnome at Down on the allotment** has been conducting an experiment as to whether or not marrow will ever take the place of Miracle-Gro in the rarified world of botanical steroids. The Gnome got the idea from his grandfather, which should have told him everything he needed to know about the alleged efficacy of this idea. I was very fond of my grandparents, but I recognized that in many ways they had not kept up with the times. My grandmother, for example, was absolutely convinced that she could cure scarlet fever with mustard plasters. Now I am sure that stockholders in Gulden’s would love entering the always lucrative over the counter pharmaceutical market, but I am sure most of them would like to know what the business plan is here, what are the chances of expanding the market and employing Gulden’s Spicy Brown Mustard as a cure for diabetes and halitosis, and whether or not that little Japanese guy who wins the hot dog eating contest at Coney Island every year could sue the company for malpractice if some beer-bellied Italian guy from Jersey City beats him in next year’s Fourth of July shove hot dogs into your face as fast as you can without vomiting contest.

Predictably enough, the Gnome’s experiment has met a small patch of absolute failure, thereby proving once again that there is now and will always be a serious mismatch between modern agricultural science and primitive peasant superstition. In response to this, I have advised the Gnome not to seek out a police officer and sacrifice him to some Glaswegian fertility goddess in a burning wicker man. While I realize that this sort of thing is very popular with a good many Scottish horticulturalists, the crime problem in Scotland is now such that the wholesale sacrifice of constables is proving detrimental to the maintenance of public order. Over the years, it has become more and more difficult to recruit police officers in Scotland for just this reason; very few people are interested in employment that ends in third degree burns and conversion from the Scottish Kirk to zucchini; and suitable replacements are now harder to find since the government disbanded the Argylls and the Black Watch. In what might be a hopeful note, however, the Inverness Garden Club has turned a battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers into a very nice stand of tomatoes, with a border of azaleas. It was, in many people’s opinion, a dignified way for the KOSB’s to go, much more dignified than, for example, winding up on a highway department road crew sitting in a truck by the side of the road drinking coffee and talking about how the Mets are doing this season, not that anyone in Scotland gives a rat’s ass about how the Mets are doing this season one way or the other. *

*For otherwise uninterested Scots, the New York Mets are in first place in the National League’s Eastern Division.

**For reasons that surpasseth understanding, Haloscan is sending everyone who tries to go to Down on the allotment back to The Passing Parade. Since you are already here, you don't really need to click a link to get here, but if you want to go to see what the Gnome is up to then just type in your address bar and then press enter. Or you can go to the link conveniently located in the blogroll for your dining and dancing pleasure.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

CIVIL SAVANTS: As I sit here writing this, it is raining cats and dogs here in our happy little burg, my campaign to replace these somewhat innocuous metaphorical beasts with toads and wombats having proved spectacularly unsuccessful. I haven’t given up hope entirely, but I will admit that even a cursory look at the current state of biometeorological metaphors in the English language would seem to indicate that there is no great demand for change in this area and that as a result any campaign for change in the face of such apathetic linguistic inertia is likely to go nowhere and to get there quickly. But the presence of the rain, however you choose to describe it metaphorically, is not stopping the highway department from ripping up Main Street.

Specifically, the highway department is repaving Main Street, although why they are choosing to do this now is something of a mystery to the citizenry, considering that the highway department repaved Main Street last year as well and there was no real need to redo the thoroughfare this year. But they’re doing it, and they’re being loud about it, too. I am sure that some of you are no doubt thinking that I and the other citizens of our happy little burg should commend the highway department for its great foresight in maintaining the roads and saving the taxpayers a fortune in future repair bills. Well, you can believe such rot if you like; it’s a free country, after all, and people can believe any silly thing they like—how else to explain the political career of Ned Lamont—but I, for one, am not buying it for a minute. The highway department is resurfacing Main Street to give themselves something to do and to hoodwink us into believing that they are doing something.

I think that I’ve mentioned here that one of the attributes needed to be a truly great civil servant is the ability; some would call it God-given, while others maintain that it is the end result of countless hours of devotion and single-minded preparation and practice—to seem as if you are doing something when you are, in fact, doing nothing. All civil servants aspire to this almost Zen—like state of perfect active inactivity, but only a few can say they have achieved it. The rest of us just totter along to the best of our limited ability, which explains why, on rare occasions, civil servants actually achieve something. This is not at all a good thing, as you might imagine, and will often lead to an official inquiry to determine whether the successful completion of a bureaucratic task was an accident, something that’s been known to happen, even in the civil service, or whether this was a deliberate attempt on somebody’s part to make the rest of us look bad. Should the latter scenario prove the case, the miscreant will fall victim to a departmental reorganization that will render them redundant, and so cause their immediate reassignment to the department of motor vehicles, where everything they do or don’t do will be incorrect, no matter how well they do whatever it is they are doing or not doing. That’s just the way it is down at the DMV.

Now, the best sorts of civil service jobs are the ones that keep the public far away from the civil servant. These are a little harder to find than your average civil service job—for reasons I am not sure I fathom, you can’t find job listings for these spots down at the Department of Labor—but they are worth looking for; if you can land a job that involves having the United States Marine Corps or the 82nd Airborne Division protect you from the public then so much the better; there are few things in life that will convince an irate taxpayer to leave you alone with your inactivity faster than a sucking chest wound. Also desirable are jobs where you have your very own top-secret stamp. Being able to do nothing and then declare that public knowledge of what you’re not doing is a crime helps foster amity towards one’s fellow man, calms the digestion, and makes for a long and fruitful career. That’s why there are so few of these jobs and why the competition for them is so great. Once someone’s got one of those jobs, they tend to hang onto it for dear life, so the only thing the rest of us can do is find some other line of public employment, preferably something that does not require dealing with the public for prolonged periods of time.

As I’ve mentioned, those jobs are the least desirable, which is why they are so hard to fill. There are the occasional exceptions, of course; for some reason or other, people still insist on becoming social workers or teachers in fairly large numbers. Watching reality corrupt idealism is always a painful thing, and you would think that after a while someone would catch on, but that rarely happens; every year there’s a brand new crop of high minded, enthusiastic, idealist young people who want to go out and reform the irredeemable and educate the uneducable. It is always a wonder to me that some people stay with teaching and social work for as long as they do, but some people enjoy trying to catch Sisyphus; there is no accounting for tastes, I guess.

The worst of all possible jobs are at the department of motor vehicles, and so, from one end of this our Great Republic to the other, civil service personnel departments routinely staff the DMV with those people too intelligent, too dumb, too lazy, or too recalcitrant to fit into the square peg approach to life and work the civil service favors in its employees. This dumping of the bureaucratically misbegotten into a single department means that customer service at the department of motor vehicles is almost always lousy, the staff is almost always snotty, and the line of irate taxpayers waiting to find out that they don’t have the right forms is almost always excessively long. If the line doesn’t go out the door, around the corner, and down the hall to the candy machine then someone behind the counter is not doing their job properly.

The people at the highway department, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about the irate taxpayers too much. Irate motorists, who may or may not be taxpayers, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. There’s nothing like the sight of guys in Day-Glo hardhats and orange vests along a highway to set some people off. We’ve all seen this guy, I think; the guy who thinks it’ll only take him an hour to drive to work, but forgets to factor in the traffic, the lights, and all those signs apprising the motoring public that the highway department will be ripping up the road at a point in the near future designed to maximize our guy’s motoring inconvenience. Steam will not actually issue from this guy’s ears, and he will not, in fact, spit molar dust all over himself, but he will honk his horn more than a guy who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon ought to, and he will spew bile and billingsgate obscene, scatological, and profane all over the next coffee-drinking, Mets-loving Day-Glo hardhat he sees. If you feel the need to do this, you should wait until your car is moving away from the scene of the slowdown, as the guys in the highway department are usually stronger than you are and can kick your ass just for laughs if they feel like it.

This brings us back to Main Street, where the highway department is dropping fresh, piping hot asphalt on the street to replace the old and stale asphalt that didn’t really need replacing in the first place. Just before this, the street sweepers came through, although why anyone would clean a street before dumping hot asphalt on it is something of a Rosicrucian mystery to me. Given that I haven’t seen the street sweepers since the last time the highway department unnecessarily repaved Main Street, my guess is that the highway commissioner wants the public to see all of his machines working on this project. This makes the highway department look busy and productive, and has the added benefit of making the highway commissioner look good, which he really wants these days, since there’s a lot of talk about him running for mayor next year, and a freshly paved Main Street is a much better campaign ad then some pathetic Vote for Me sign along the roads coming into town. It’s also a lot cheaper for him as well; it’s not like he’s paying for this campaign ad himself, is it?